Wood chips, switchgrass and other non-edible parts of crops, also known as “agricultural waste” have been touted recently as good biofuel sources. However, extracting the necessary sugars that would further on get converted into fuels had been proven hard to accomplish. Renmatix, a Georgia-based company, has found a new process to quickly extract the sugars by using water in supercritical state.
Often used as an industrial organic solvent (yes, water in its supercritical state can be a solvent), supercritical water helped with coffee decaffeination and pharmaceutical processes. Now, Renmatix uses it in a large-scale biomass-to-fuel process that promises to make biofuels like biodiesel and ethanol compete with fossil fuels.
“The process breaks down a wide range of non-food biomass in seconds, uses no significant consumables and produces much of its own process energy,” says a company press release. “Current methods of breaking down biomass require expensive enzymes or harsh chemicals, and can take up to three days to yield sugars. With its water-based approach, Renmatix is able to provide cellulosic sugar affordably and on large-scale.”
Three tons of woody biomass are already getting converted into sugars at a pilot plant in Kennesaw, Georgia. Another research and developement center has recently been open in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.
“In the twentieth century, petroleum was the basis for making materials, chemicals and fuels. In the twenty-first century, sugar is replacing petroleum as the raw material for those industries. Renmatix will provide those sugars faster and cheaper than anyone else,” says Mike Hamilton, Renmatix CEO.
John Doerr, who invested in Google, Amazon, Sun Microsytems in their early days, is now a board member. Also a partner at Kleiner Parkins Caufield & Byers, a venture capital company, he will support Renmatix in their quest to cheaper and cleaner biofuels.