Commercial Conversion

EdeniQ, Logos Technologies engineer corn-to-cellulosic technology
By Kris Bevill | April 15, 2011

Cellulosic ethanol technology that began being developed in 2006 is on its way to becoming commercial, following the final approval of $20.5 million in cost sharing from the U.S. DOE. Last April, the DOE released $2.8 million of the award to EdeniQ Inc. and Logos Technologies Inc. to design and engineer its trademarked Corn-to-Cellulosic Migration pilot plant at EdeniQ’s headquarters in Visalia, Calif., located about 45 miles southeast of Fresno. In February, the agency approved the remaining $17.7 million, signaling the companies’ success in meeting the design and engineering goals, and paving the way for the completion of engineering and construction of the plant. The total cost of the project is $25.5 million, of which EdeniQ has agreed to provide 20 percent. Funds from the DOE were made available through its Integrated Biorefinery Program.

EdeniQ has been operating a pilot facility at its headquarters since 2008. It will now be retrofitted for its CCM technology, which consists of a proprietary pre-treatment step known as the Cellunator, which mechanically breaks down multiple types of biomass, followed by enzymatic hydrolysis to convert the biomass to sugars and fermentation to convert the sugars to ethanol.    

Planned feedstocks include corn stover initially, followed by woody biomass and switchgrass. When commercialized, the technology can be applied to traditional corn ethanol plants in one of two ways: as a bolt-on addition to the corn ethanol stream, or as a total retrofit. “The Corn-to-Cellulosic Migration technologies add tremendous value to our already robust corn ethanol industry by allowing them to incrementally add on cellulosic ethanol production and take a leadership role in this exploding biofuels market space,” says EdeniQ CEO Brian Thome.

The retrofit of EdeniQ’s pilot plant is scheduled to be complete by the end of the year, with commissioning planned to commence in 2012. By 2013, the company expects to commercialize its technology.

The timing fits for corn ethanol producers who are increasingly becoming interested in diversifying their processes to produce various products. Dan Derr, project manager for Logos, which is handling the project management, engineering support and project life cycle analysis for the CCM project, says this technology “most certainly” meets the federal government’s renewed call for renewable fuels production. The process results in a coproduct similar to distillers grains, but also generates electricity, which makes it very interesting to private investors seeking to get a piece of the renewable energy industry. Perhaps more importantly, it could also allow corn ethanol producers a way to include cellulosic ethanol in their revenue streams. EdeniQ officials say their early conversations with corn ethanol producers have shown that many are interested in the possibilities their technology has to offer. “Many have said they are very interested in developing the capability to add on the capacity to convert stover and other biomass into ethanol to diversify their risk and increase the scope of their operations,” says Peter Kilner, vice president of business development.

The main focus of EdeniQ officials now centers on developing proprietary yeasts and enzymes. Tom Griffin, vice president of technology at EdeniQ, says the company is employing a combination of externally developed and internally developed enzymes. “The approach is to look for and get rights to key enzymes that come from a range of organisms,” he says. “We’ve taken these enzymes and incorporated them into organisms that can do other things, particularly to make ethanol but not only that.” The company’s most notable collaboration so far has been with the USDA Forest Service’s Forest Products Laboratory, which has produced promising advancements regarding the C5 yeast. “We have very exciting leads in terms of our yeasts and enzymes that are being applied to our CCM project,” Griffin says. “We believe they will prove to be superior in terms of their throughput and robustness and ultimately, cost. But equally, and maybe even more so in terms of our uniqueness, is the way we are bringing our pretreatment technologies to the platform as well and integrating these with our yeasts and enzymes.” 

—Kris Bevill