Clariant, ExxonMobil and Renewable Energy Group collaborate to boost cellulosic biofuel research

Clariant announced that it has signed a joint research agreement with ExxonMobil and Renewable Energy Group (REG) to evaluate the potential use of cellulosic sugars from sources such as agricultural waste and residues to produce biofuel, which has the potential to play a role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Clariant’s sunliquid pre-commercial plant in Straubing, Germany.
Clariant’s sunliquid pre-commercial plant in Straubing, Germany.

The new partnership expands a previously announced agreement for joint research between ExxonMobil and REG, in which the companies successfully validated the ability of REG Life Sciences bio-conversion technology to convert sugars from cellulosic biomass into biodiesel through a single-step process.

The new agreement with Clariant allows ExxonMobil and REG to further optimise REG’s bio-conversion process using previously tested and benchmarked cellulosic sugars created through Clariant’s sunliquid process. The companies’ ultimate objective is to combine Clariant’s and REG’s processes into a seamless cellulosic biomass-to-biodiesel technology.

“Over the past three years, our work with REG has led to important advances in genetically improving REG’s proprietary microbes for a beneficial use in facilitating the conversion of cellulosic sugars into biodiesel,” said Vijay Swarup, vice president of research and development at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company.

“Applying Clariant’s expertise and knowledge will help us better understand and advance a key stage in the overall cellulosic conversion process, and hopefully lead to the development of scalable biodiesel technology.”

Clariant is a leading company offering integrated technologies and solutions for converting agricultural residues such as wheat straw, rice straw, corn stover and sugar cane bagasse. Clariant‘s sunliquid process features chemical-free pre-treatment, the integrated production of feedstock and process-specific enzymes and thus high yields of fermentable C5 and C6 sugars.

Clariant will conduct trials at its pre-commercial plant in Straubing, Germany, using different types of cellulosic feedstock that will be converted into sugars for conversion by REG and ExxonMobil into high-quality, low-carbon biodiesel.

“We are committed to innovation and R&D, together with a focus on sustainability, as main pillars of Clariant’s strategy. Our sunliquid technology platform is a key outcome of this commitment. We are proud that two strong allies in the biofuels industry have selected Clariant as their partner and are excited to work with them on further leveraging this unique technology for converting cellulosic biomass to fuels and chemicals, including biodiesel,” said Christian Kohlpaintner, member of Clariant's executive committee.

REG Life Sciences technology has proven its broad applicability to industries as diverse as flavour and fragrance, specialty chemicals and transportation fuels. Through its partnership with ExxonMobil, REG has developed proprietary technology that utilises industrial microbes to convert complex cellulosic sugars into low-carbon biodiesel in a one-step fermentation process.

“ExxonMobil has been an exceptional partner in developing this promising technology. We are delighted to be able to add Clariant to the team with its market leading sunliquid technology. We believe we have assembled a dream team for conversion of cellulosic biomass to low carbon biofuels and are excited about the promise of this collaboration,” said Eric Bowen, vice president of REG Life Sciences.

The partners will also work on a conceptual engineering study to validate the feasibility of the integrated process comprising the technologies of all parties.

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