An ambitious, University based, USDA sponsored research project investigating
the sustainable production and distribution of bioenergy and
bioproducts for the central U.S.

Energy Company Total Makes Investment in Renmatix

By Ali Lenger, CenUSA Communications Intern

In the past, the market for switchgrass has been limited. CenUSA has been helping to change this by engaging with commercial companies interested in purchasing perennial feedstock. This year CenUSA is working with Renmatix to seek expanded commercial opportunities for switchgrass and other perennial grasses.

Renmatix has entered a joint development agreement with the New Energies Division of French multi-national Total, one of the largest integrated oil and gas companies in the world. Under the agreement, the two companies will use Renmatix’s proprietary Plantrose® process to extract sugars and lignin from biomass.

“As an emerging company, it’s important that we receive support and we’re very happy to have a partner such as Total, and collaborate with them,” said Frank Lipiecki, Research and Development Director at Renmatix and a co-project director for CenUSA’s Commercialization Objective. “It provides us with a way to tailor our technology to their specific needs.”

Renmatix is a technology licensor in the forefront of renewable science. Their proprietary Plantrose® process takes “building blocks”, usually cellulosic sugars or lignin, drawn from biomass to create sugars for biofuels and biochemicals These sugars can be used to produce more efficient biofuel and biochemical production. The goal is an expanded the market for biofuels and other materials.

“One aspect of our relationship is very collaborative,” said Lipiecki. “Anytime both parties are committed and working together in a collaborative fashion, it’s much more likely to achieve a successful outcome.”

The Plantrose Process® 

The Plantrose Process® uses supercritical water to deconstruct biomass feedstocks into xylose from hemicellulose and glucose from cellulose.  After the biomass is chopped to the correct size and slurried, it undergoes ‘hemi-hydrolysis’ where the biomass is dissolved in water and heated to a specific temperature. The hemicellulose from the biomass dissolves into the water, becoming a xylose liquor sugar stream. After the solid is separated, it continues to the next step, 'supercritical hydrolysis' where supercritical water is used to solubilize the cellulose, creating a glucose liquor sugar stream and lignin, a solid.
Above: The steps of the Plantrose Process®. Credit: Image provided by Renmatix Inc.
The cellulosic sugars extracted from this process are a little different from the type of sugar you put in your morning cup of coffee. For example, xylose, a five carbon sugar (or C5) and glucose, a six carbon sugar (C6) are used to create a variety of materials such as fibers or biofuels. DuPont, a science and engineering company, has extracted glucose from corn to create a new material for carpeting.  And according to Lipiecki, lignin, the solid produced from the Plantrose Process®, can be burned and used for heat or electricity, supplementing or replacing fossil fuels. Other high value industrial uses for lignin, including injection molding are being explored.

This year, CenUSA has partnered with Renmatix, providing them with switchgrass samples to expand the range of feedstocks used in the Plantrose Process®. A successful collaboration with Renmatix, and by extension, Total may offer key commercial breakthroughs and increase the commercial value of switchgrass and other perennial grasses.

For a visual explanation of the Plantrose Process® check out this short video from Renmatix: