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US Forest Service grants award to Aemetis for ionic liquids sugar extraction

In the United States (US), Aemetis, Inc., a renewable natural gas (RNG) and renewable fuels company focused on negative carbon intensity products, has been notified of a grant from the US Forest Service toward the commercialization of a Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) patented process that extracts cellulosic sugars from waste orchard wood, waste forest wood, and other biomass using ionic liquids.

Walnut shells for disposal. The Central Valley of California produces more than 1.6 million tons of orchard waste and nutshells annually from around 1 million acres of almond, pistachio and walnut orchards (photo courtesy Markku Björkman).

The Central Valley of California produces more than 1.6 million tons of orchard waste and nutshells annually from around 1 million acres of almond, pistachio, and walnut orchards. (Above) walnut shells for disposal. Using JBEI patented technology exclusive to Aemetis for agricultural waste wood feedstock, the Aemetis Carbon Zero production plants are designed to convert below zero carbon feedstocks (waste wood and ag wastes) and renewable energy such as solar, renewable natural gas (RNG), or biogas into energy-dense liquid renewable fuels (photo courtesy Markku Björkman).

The sugars from waste wood could potentially be used to produce high-value cellulosic ethanol at the existing 65 million (US) gallon (≈ 246 million litre) per year Aemetis ethanol plant.

The remaining lignin material is expected to be used in the production of negative carbon intensity, cellulosic hydrogen for use in renewable jet, and diesel production at the Aemetis Carbon Zero 1 plant being built in Riverbank, California (CA).

The ionic liquids technology has the potential to extract sugars from waste wood at an industrial scale to create valuable biofuels from materials that otherwise may contribute to forest fires, creating air pollution and carbon emissions as well as property damage and loss of life. We look forward to the eventual deployment of this technology to use forest wood waste to supply Aemetis ethanol plants with low-cost cellulosic sugars and provide lignin as a feedstock for other uses, said Larry Swan, Wood & Biomass Utilization Program Leader, US Forest Service Pacific Southwest Regional Office.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) Bioenergy Technology Office (BETO) has identified more than one billion tons per year of renewable, low carbon intensity, low cost, waste wood from forests, orchards, and other biomass sources that can be used for biofuels and biochemicals production.

Exclusive technology license from JBEI

The DOE has provided extensive funding for process technologies that convert this abundant, domestic feedstock source into renewable fuels, resulting in patented technologies such as the ionic liquids sugar extraction process developed by the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) in Berkeley, CA, and exclusively licensed to Aemetis by the JBEI.

Aemetis has an exclusive license from JBEI for a patented process that extracts cellulosic sugars comprising up to 55 percent of woody biomass, and we have already produced cellulosic ethanol that tested equal in performance to traditional ethanol. This breakthrough technology was initially developed with US$3 million of grant funding from the California Energy Commission and this US Forest Service grant will further advance our plan to build a commercial production plant, said Dr Goutham Vemuri, VP of Technology Development at Aemetis.

The Carbon Zero 1 biorefinery is scheduled to be completed and begin operations in 2023 with a capacity of 45 million gallons (≈ 170 million litres) per year of renewable jet and diesel fuel, then double production capacity to 90 million gallons (≈ 340 million litres) per year by 2025.

We are thankful to the US Forest Service team members who have supported our efforts to reduce the amount of waste wood in forests, improve the health of forests and reduce orchard wood field burning while producing valuable, low carbon intensity biofuels. Our planned deployment of the sugar extraction plant supported by this grant is expected to occur as we construct the Carbon Zero 1 renewable jet and diesel production plant in Riverbank, CA, said Eric McAfee, Chairman, and CEO of Aemetis.

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