Breakthrough reported in biofuel processing

PHILADELPHIA--Here in a warehouse comprised of little else besides plywood, steel beams, and concrete, bioindustrial startup Renmatix announced a new process that it says allows it to produce cellulosic sugars--from which some types of biofuel are derived--more cheaply than ever.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers investor John Doerr, and others were in attendance here at Renmatix's unfinished headquarters in the Philadelphia suburb of King of Prussia as the company revealed its new process, developed at its facility in Kennesaw, Ga.

Renmatix says its industrial-scale process breaks down cellulose through something called "supercritical hydrolysis," which uses water at high temperatures and pressures to quickly solubilize cellulose from sources such as wood. The process doesn't require enzymes or chemicals, and can break down non-food biomass in seconds, as opposed to days.

It's a process that has been used in the pharmaceutical and food and beverage industries (coffee decaffeination, for example), but in bioindustry has never yielded enough sugar from biomass to pursue at commercial scale.

The company says the process produces much of its own process energy and uses no significant consumables, though it's clear that water consumption looms large for the process.

Will Renmatix's new process usher along a shift from petroleum-based fuels to bio-based alternatives? It remains to be seen, but lowering the cost of biofuels without encroaching on agricultural needs is essential if bio-based renewable fuels are to be a success.

This story was first published at Smart Planet.

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