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A Look at 12 New Technologies that Could Change the Biofuel Industry (Part 1)

A Look at 12 New Technologies that Could Change the Biofuel Industry (Part 1)

As the bio-based revolution moves into the commercialization stage, new products and enabling technologies continue to surface that offer tantalizing opportunities.

In recent months, there has been so much emphasis on companies moving from the development to commercialization stages — not least companies like Solazyme, Gevo, Amyris, KiOR and Ceres going through the IPO process — that innovation-stage companies have been gaining less attention than usual.

Yet, even in an era where venture capital has been harder to come by (Why? See these 42 article links under the rubric, “The VC Model is Broken” ) — some great technologies have been getting out of the starting blocks.

Some of these companies are practically brand-spanking new – others have been flying under the radar for several years.

What do they have in common? First, they are smaller-scale, less capital-intensive ventures than some of their predecessors in the 2007-2010 venture boom era; they have deeper management benches in their early stage – including veterans of earlier industrial biotech rounds of innovation; they focus more on integrated biorefinery models with multiple products; and, most especially, on producing, or improving the market for, drop-in molecules that do not require infrastructure change or adoption of novel molecules by their intended customers.

In this two-part series, we will look at 12 companies that are making their mark.

Today, we showcase Altranex, FarmMax, Kiverdi, Polnox, Saffron Eagle, and Sylvatex.

Altranex Energy

Bedford, Massachusetts

The technology:

Altranex is developing what it is has branded as Green Kero, a sustainable fuel additive can be blended with biodiesel, petro-diesel and home heating oil. In their biodiesel additive, they believe they can push the cloud point for biodiesel down below -30C.

The technology can be retrofit onto existing biodiesel refineries and is expected to produce fuel at as low as $60/bbl (think, in this case, ultra low-cost biodiesel, typically made from waste feedstocks).

Why it’s hot:

Not only can Altranex deliver a kerosene additive for the booming biodiesel market – and potentially opening up a much broader adoption among truckers in, for example, Canada and Northern Europe, the company has opportunities for developing drop-in jet fuels through its low-cost kerosene technology.

As opposed to Fischer-Tropsch technologies that use a significant amount of hydrogen to power their reactions and push the production costs, and capital costs, skywards, Altranex uses electrochemical processes to breakdown plant oils down and then deoxygenate them – so, if you will, subtracting oxygen without requiring hydrogen to get the job done.

Stage of evolution and recognition:

Altranex is still in the prototype stage, but managed to reach the semi-finals in the CleanTech Open and the MassChallenge last year.

Team includes:

Dr. Chad Joshi, President & CEO Chad Joshi is an experienced C-level executive and entrepreneur with over 25 year of experience in energy efficiency, alternative energy and related industries. Dr. Glenn Horner, VP Research, was a founder of Aprilis where  he served as VP Business Development, after a long career at Polaroid.

More on Altranex.


Des Moines, IA

The technology:

FarmMax’s Residue Recovery System is a cost-effective, single-pass biomass harvesting system. With RRS, By utilizing our system, a producer can avoid the problems associated with pulling a collection device behind the combine for residue, including stop/starting while collecting, or added trips to the field for bales that cause soil compaction.

Since the RRS is self-contained as combine add-ons, it eliminates the problems associated with towing heavy collection systems behind the combine in rough terrain or wet conditions. The speed and maneuverability of the combine remain unchanged. It combines three distinct technologies.

The CleanBoot is added to the rear of the combine. The CB sorts, cleans and collects the desired material through a unique, patented system and unwanted material is discharged. The TopTank is the second component; the additional collection tank is sized to keep the machine moving and is built to unload on the go. The third component is the Auto Folding Grain Extension. This gives the machine increased grain capacity for productivity and easy field to field transport by folding the tank flat from inside of the cab.

Why it’s hot:

There’s been a lot of chat about biomass recovery – but who is really innovating in developing technology, for example, to revolutionize cob recovery.

Cob use was popular in the 1950s, back in the days before in-field processing, when the corn, still on the cob, was placed in corn cribs to dry, and separation was done at the granary. Back then, Quaker developed a technology to use corn cobs to produce furfural and industrial solvents – but since, then, cobs have been a fairly forgotten feedstock, left in the field to rot.

As new technologies have emerged to utilize cobs, its prompted a recognition that no one ever really developed cob harvesters. In this case, FarmMax has been hard at work developing a combine that can really do it all – adds the cob collection and processing right into the process – a single-pass system, as opposed to the two-pass systems that are being deployed by POET Biomass, which goes after the sobs and stover once the corn is picked up.

“Single-pass harvesting systems for grain and biomass are one of the best options to reduce the carbon footprint of farming as America works to find additional answers to address our energy needs.” That’s the FarmMax vision – well deserving of close attention from the industry.

Stage of evolution and recognition:

The technology has been demonstrated in Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois, the Dakotas and Minnesota. Currently seeking funding to advance towards commercial production. The company has been earning its keep supplying feedlots in Iowa, Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska with corn cobs, which they have turned to increasingly for feed in light of rising ear corn prices.

Team includes:

Tyler and Jay Stukenholtz are brothers and agricultural engineers, from Nebraska City, Nebraska. Beth Stukenholtz handles the marketing.


Berkeley, California

The technology:

Kiverdi is in the class of gas fermentation companies – like, say, Coskata, INEOS Bio or LanzaTech, and a modular bolt-on to syngas production processes, such as commercially available gasification or steam reforming technologies. Their differentiating point? The ability to produce a wide range of commercially useful mid- and long-chain carbon molecules using proprietary microbes, co-designed bioreactors, and integrated operations.

The result? In prospect, a high margin, low Capex waste-conversion technology that can use agricultural carbon-based wastes, natural gas (particularly stranded natural gas), biogas, LPG, or petcoke, to manufacture petrochemical replacements and drop-in fuels.

Why it’s hot:

Most bio-based gas-fermentation companies produce alcohols. Kiverdi produces oils – so think of it as a little like Solazyme, in some of their product strategy and opportunities on the oil side, with a technology that can handle low-cost off-gases as a feedstock.

Among gas fermentation companies, Kiverdi has some fascinating opportunities with higher-value markets. For example, oils and oil-derived chemicals that are sold into the $24 B surfactant market, the $375 billion market in personal and household care products, the $16 billion market in lubricants, or the $8 billion market in oilfield chemicals .

Stage of evolution and recognition:

The company is going through scale-up with a goal of producing its first conversion module in 2013. Already, Kiverdi has picked up some impressive wins, being named among the Top 25 Eco-Startups at the NREL Industry Growth Forum; winner, California region in the Cleantech Open,  for Air, Waste and Water; and, the company was a top 5 finalist for the MIT Clean Energy Prize–Top 5 Finalist.

Team includes:

CEO Lisa Dyson is a former management consultant at The Boston Consulting Group and holds a PhD in physics from MIT, with startup experience in internet-based technologies.  CTO John Reed is inventor of the core technology, and a vet of R&D at MIT, LLNL, and LBNL.

More on Kiverdi.


Lowell, Massachusetts

The technology:

Polnox addresses the the poor thermo-oxidative stability of bio-oils (from vegetable and non-vegetable oils) due to their structural composition, a flaw that prevents wider-scale application. Polnox’s novel DT-mPM technology addresses with novel antioxidants that offer multiple-times better performance than commercial antioxidants.

Why it’s hot:

There isn’t a technology in the bio-sphere that offers the combination of low capex and opex like the pyrolysis technologies – yet, they are hindered by this poor stability and usability, primarily from having too much oxygen content.  Major types of existing antioxidants (hindered phenols and aromatic amines) are relatively ineffective in biofuels and biolubricants.

Beyond the global demand for antioxidants, running at $1.3 billion today, or about $2.60 per pound,  this technology is notable for how it might open up demand for pyro oils.

Stage of evolution and recognition:

Still at prototype stage, Polnox was a runner-up in the Technology Innovation Awards from Wall Street Journal, and won a Small Business Innovation Research Award from NSF.

Team includes:

Dr. Ashok Cholli is President and CTO. He is experienced in developing scientific innovations into commercially viable products. He also has a rich experience in building a team with entrepreneurial spirit, and working with external partners, including investors. Dr. Cholli has been awarded 23 Patents in the past four years. Several patents are pending with USPTO. Dr. Cholli has also published more than 130 papers in leading national and international journals.

More on Polnox.

Saffron Eagle Biofuels


Washington, DC

The technology:

The company is mostly in stealth mode – and is based on a block of patents from JBEI  that produces 5-carbon alcohols, based on a a fermentation process using genetically modified e.coli, and work on a wide variety of cellulosic feedstocks.

Why it’s hot:

Beyond isobutanol, there’s iso-pentanol. 5-carbon hydrocarbons form about 20 percent of the molecules in gasoline, and have 5 percent more energy density than butanol and 35% more than ethanol. So here’s a drop in solution for that 20 percent – exactly how they would blend in isopentanol, not yet understood based on the limited information about Saffron Eagle. But they also could make good starring points for longer-chain molecules.

It’s a molecule worth noting – combining high energy content, no infrastructure change, less soluble in water than ethanol or butanol, and in this application, based on non-food feedstocks.

Stage of evolution and recognition:

Selected for the DOE Emerging Technologies program.

Team includes:

Two rock stars. Jeffrey D’Souza is CEO and co-founder of Saffron Eagle Biofuels; a 10-year vet of Deutsche Bank and a member of the EERE Advisory Committee assembled by the Secretary of Commerce.  Co-founder is Jay Keasling, head of JBEI, and co-founder of Amyris as well as  one of the foremost authorities in synthetic biology, especially in the field of metabolic engineering.


San Francisco, CA

The technology:

Sylvatex has developed what it is branding as “SmartDiesel,” a cleaner-burning, diesel substitute biofuels – in essence, an ethanol-water-diesel blend.

Water-diesel blends have traditionally been prepared as macro-emulsions, which are thermally unstable and prone to separation, and as a result require specialized equipment and agitation for preparation and storage. SmartDiesel is a micro-emulsion where the polar water and ethanol components are encapsulated by a surfactant to form tiny bubbles called micelles. Additionally, because the water and ethanol are encapsulated in the polar head of the micelles rather than being present on the surface of the fuel, they do not come into contact with the engine components and do not pose issues regarding corrosion.

Why it’s hot:

In short, imagine getting many of the advantages of biodiesel – a cleaner-burning fuel with renewable components, without having to make biodiesel.

A number of companies over the years have pursued with with water- or ethanol-based diesel additives, aiming to enhance combustion and reduce unwanted side products, resulting in reduced emissions of NOx and PM when compared to conventional diesel or biodiesel.

Few alternatives to diesel fuel have been adopted in the marketplace. Reduced flashpoint, thermal instability, gelling at low temperatures have been factors, as well as cost of fuel, infrastructure or engine change, or storage and transportation costs.

Stage of evolution and recognition:

Seed stage. Was a CleanTechOpen Semifinalist (received runner up in transportation), voted “most likely to succeed” at Silicon Valley Launch, and “most likely to receive funding” at PortTechLA.

Team includes:

Virginia Klausmeier is co-founder and CEO of Sylvatex; prior to this, she managed the new development ideas for a fortune 500 medical device company and led the US clinical and biomechanical research. Kristen Aramthanapon is the director of technology for Sylvatex Inc. where she has been leading the development required for obtaining EPA registration, CARB approval, formulation optimization, and partnerships required for pilot projects. Prior to this she was the lead chemistry developer for Wolfram Research.

More on Sylvatex.

By. Jim Lane

Source: Biofuels Digest

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Leave a comment
  • Sue on June 29 2012 said:
    So are they using cobs for energy yet?

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