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Clariant to build flagship cellulosic ethanol plant in Romania

Switzerland-headed speciality chemical major Clariant has announced the approval by its Board of Directors to invest in a new full-scale commercial plant for the production of cellulosic ethanol from agricultural residues using its sunliquid technology. With an annual production capacity of 50 000 tonnes, the new plant is to be built in Romania.

Clariant’s pre-commercial sunliquid demonstration plant in Straubing, Germany. The technology offers a completely integrated process design built on established process technology. Innovative technology features include the integrated production of feedstock and process specific enzymes and simultaneous C5 and C6 fermentation (photo courtesy Clariant).

According to a statement, the facility will be a flagship site, confirming competitiveness and sustainability of the sunliquid technology at commercial scale thus supporting Clariant’s licensing business strategy.

Clariant is continually investing in the development of sustainable products and innovative solutions such as sunliquid. This pioneering process demonstrates the production of efficient and sustainable advanced biofuels and has great potential as a technology platform for a variety of bio-based materials. It is a further illustration 0f Clariant’s successful innovation strategy, as this technology provides additional growth potential to an already strong portfolio, said Christian Kohlpaintner, Member of the Executive Committee at Clariant.

New business division

To further focus on the commercialization of bio-ethanol, licenses and enzymes, the company has set-up a new Business Line Biofuels & Derivatives, as part of the Business Area Catalysis. As of January 2018, all activities and costs related to the sunliquid technology platform will be transferred from Corporate Costs to the Business Line Biofuels & Derivatives.

In September this year, it announced a successful step towards increasing the commercial attractiveness of its sunliquid technology by signing the first technology license agreement with Enviral, a member of the Envien Group.

“After five years of operating our pre-commercial sunliquid plant in Straubing, Germany, and thorough process demonstration we are now ready to scale-up to the next level. It is the next big step into an attractive market and a significant advancement in the successful commercialization of this highly innovative and sustainable technology”, said Dr Markus Rarbach, Head of Start-up Business Biofuels & Derivatives at Clariant.

Almost carbon-neutral

The investment, the amount of which has not been disclosed, also brings substantial economic benefits to the region. By locally sourcing feedstock, greenhouse gas savings can be maximized and additional business opportunities arise in the region along the value chain.”

The next steps are detailed engineering studies before groundbreaking and start of construction, which is planned for 2018 at the currently undisclosed site location in southwestern Romania. The plant is anticipated to deliver its first batch of product in 2020. According to Clariant, peak sales from the sunliquid cellulosic ethanol plant are expected to be in the mid double-digit million range.

At full capacity, the new plant will process approximately 250 000 tonnes of wheat straw and other cereal straw annually. This will be sourced from local farmers bringing substantial economic benefits to the region while maximising greenhouse gas (GHG) savings.

Co-products from the process will be used for the generation of renewable energy with the goal of making the plant independent from fossil energy sources thus making the cellulosic ethanol an almost carbon neutral advanced biofuel.

The straw is converted into cellulosic sugars followed by fermentation of cellulosic sugars to cellulosic ethanol. Cellulosic sugars also have the potential to serve as a building block for future production of bio-based chemicals.

Clariant’s sunliquid technology is a completely integrated process design built on established process technology with integrated production of feedstock and process specific enzymes and simultaneous C5 and C6 sugars fermentation, which the company says, ensures “best in class” commercial performance.

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