Biomass pretreatment development gets $1 million boost in funding

By Holly Jessen | January 31, 2011

One year after receiving $1 million grant from Ohio Third Frontier, SuGanit Systems Inc. is getting another $2 million from the same group to establish a cellulosic ethanol pilot plant in Toledo, Ohio. The company, which has been collaborating with the University of Toledo to develop a biomass pretreatment and cellulosic ethanol production process, wants to establish the pilot plant near the current research facilities. “We are in the final stages of committing to that location,” said Praveen Paripati, founder and president of SuGanit.

The Reston, Va.-based start-up company plans to have the pilot plant set up by the end of summer and have it operating by the end of 2011. From there, SuGanit hopes to continue scaling up toward a commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant. “Late next year we should be in the demo stage and late 2014 we are hoping to be in the commercial stage,” he told EPM.

Paripati, who has a background in electrical engineering and computer science, founded SuGanit in 2006. The company began funding and collaborating on research being conducted at UT after discovering the university was working on a couple of technologies that he found very interesting. The two technologies are an ionic liquid pretreatment of biomass and production of ethanol from both glucose and xylose, a five-carbon sugar. Feedstocks used in the conversion have ranged from corn stover, wheat straw, alfalfa, switchgrass and poplar. “We have had pretty good continuing success,” he told EPM.

The pretreatment process starts with a relatively new type of chemical followed by hydrolysis, or using enzymes to break down biomass. The process is “extremely versatile” and highly effective, Paripati said. The ionic liquid pretreatment allows the use of regular yeast with no genetically modified organisms to convert glucose and zylose to ethanol.  “We think we have worked out mechanism to do that effectively using natural yeast,” he says.

The Ohio Third Frontier, which helps create new technology-based products, companies, industries and jobs, is administered by a commission made up of three state officials and six regional representatives appointed by Ohio’s Governor. Programs like this one are extremely valuable to companies like SuGanit, Paripati said. “This is a good compliment to what the U.S. DOE and USDA are doing,” he added.

SuGanit was one of seven alternative energy companies to receive awards from Ohio Third Frontier for fiscal year 2011 on Jan. 27. On the same day, another six awards were passed out in the area of photovoltaics and fuel cell work. In all, the commission gave out a total of $14 million in funding for the fiscal year 2011. "With Ohio's rich history in manufacturing, we want to continue to stay on the cutting-edge of advanced energy, allowing our companies to grow and create good-paying jobs," said Mark Kvamme, director of the Ohio Department of Development.