ZeaChem announces commercial production of ethanol, chemicals

By Holly Jessen | March 13, 2013

ZeaChem Inc. announced on March 12 it had reached a milestone in commercializing its integrated biorefinery technology for the production of biofuels and bio-based chemicals. The company’s 250,000 gallon per year demonstration facility in Boardman, Ore., has officially produced commercial-grade cellulosic ethanol and chemicals and is in the process of ramping up to full production levels.

“The start of cellulosic production is a significant milestone for ZeaChem as we demonstrate our highly efficient biorefining technology, develop the first commercial biorefinery project, and expand global development opportunities,” said Jim Imbler, president and chief executive officer of ZeaChem, in a prepared statement. The company also released a nearly seven minute video about the facility, which was posted to YouTube March 11. 

Industry organizations quickly stepped in to congratulate the company, including Jim Greenwood, president and CEO of the Biotechnology Industry Organization. “The advanced biofuels industry is making visible progress in bringing innovative technologies to the market,” he said. “Companies continue to make investments, put steel in the ground, create jobs and develop technologies for homegrown advanced and cellulosic biofuels that reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and contribute to a cleaner environment.”

Brooke Coleman, executive director of the Advanced Ethanol Council, said ZeaChem’s announcement “demonstrates the significant progress” being made by the advanced biofuels industry. “Jobs are being created, capital is being spent, and production is coming online,” he said. “The advanced biofuels industry is growing rapidly and is a critical component to an all-of-the above national energy strategy.”

ZeaChem announced that it had completed construction of the demonstration facility the end of October. The facility employs a two-carbon atom (C2) technology platform for the production of cellulosic ethanol and intermediate chemicals, such as acetic acid and ethyl acetate. With process adjustments, the technology can produce three-carbon atom (C3) products, including propionic acid, ethyl propionate, propanol and propylene. “Together, ZeaChem's C2 and C3 products address a collection of end markets of more $1 trillion,” the company said in a press release.

The demonstration facility will prove the process for commercial-scale production. ZeaChem is working to build a 25 MMgy woody biomass- and agricultural residue-to-cellulosic ethanol plant adjacent to its demonstration plant in Boardman. The company announced in January 2012 that it was selected for a $232.5 million conditional loan guarantee for the project.