Testing proves scalability of Cobalt's pretreatment process

By Cobalt Technologies | March 08, 2012

Next-generation n-butanol developer Cobalt Technologies announced the achievement of major progress toward commercial scale by successfully demonstrating its biomass pretreatment process. In cooperation with Andritz, a globally leading supplier of technologies, equipment and plants for the pulp and paper industry, Cobalt tested its dilute acid hydrolysis pretreatment process, the first step in  its process to convert sugars into n-butanol for use as a renewable chemical or fuel.

“Demonstrating our high-yield pretreatment process is a key milestone for Cobalt as we prove that our n-butanol technology will efficiently work at commercial scale and at an attractive low cost,” said Bob Mayer, CEO of Cobalt Technologies. “This is a very exciting time at Cobalt as we continue our path to commercialization and deepen our relationships with key partners.”

Cobalt conducted the testing in the Andritz pulp and paper mill demonstration facility in Springfield, Ohio, which is specifically designed to validate new processes before commercial-scale implementation. Cobalt’s dilute acid hydrolysis pretreatment process, which extracts sugars from lignocellulosic biomass, was validated on woody biomass, bagasse and agricultural residues.

“We have extensive experience and expertise in process know-how and technologies for biomass processing and were eager to work with Cobalt on this project,” said Bertil Stromberg, vice president of biofuel for Andritz.

Using Andritz’s proven pulp processing equipment, Cobalt tested its pretreatment process on both a batch and continuous basis, proving both its flexibility and efficiency for potential customers. These runs, while processing up to 20 bone-dry tons of biomass per day, successfully extracted sugars from the biomass without the use of enzymes to produce the desired liquid hydrolysate—a liquid-based sugar that is then converted into n-butanol.

“The hydrolysates produced at Andritz’s demonstration facility have been fermented successfully at our facility in Mountain View, Calif., without the need of any conditioning to remove inhibitory compounds,” said Mayer. “By proving we can meet, and in some areas, exceed our commercial targets and cost metrics at this scale, we are now well-positioned to leverage this critical milestone to support our ongoing commercialization efforts.”

This milestone not only proves the ability of Cobalt’s pretreatment process to scale-up, it also marks the first phase of Cobalt’s partnership with specialty chemical company Rhodia in Brazil to develop bio n-butanol refineries throughout Latin America utilizing bagasse as a feedstock.  

With the completion of the pretreatment demonstration trials, Cobalt will now move on to demonstrate its advanced non-GMO strain performance at commercial scale.