Celunol is a leader in the effort to commercialize the production of cellulosic ethanol. The Company’s technology achieves high ethanol yields from cellulosic biomass at costs competitive with conventional ethanol processes using sugar and starch crops as feedstocks.
The company operates the Jennings pilot facility, on a 140-acre company-owned site in Jennings LA, designed to produce up to 50,000 gallons of ethanol per year. Celunol commenced operation of its newly expanded pilot facility in November 2006.
It is building a 1.4 million gallon demonstration facility to produce ethanol from sugarcane bagasse and wood, targeted for completion in mid 2007. This will be the first commercial scale cellulosic ethanol plant in the United States. Later, the Company is planning a commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol facility at the site.
Celunol’s technology enables almost complete conversion of all the sugars found in cellulosic biomass. This efficiency advantage, combined with the low input cost of cellulosic biomass, results in superior economics in the production of ethanol.
Celunol’s biomass ethanol technology offers numerous marketplace advantages:
• Feedstocks costs will be lower, and less volatile, than corn.
• Cellulosic ethanol facilities can be fueled by lignin waste streams derived from the process itself, avoiding the high and volatile price of natural gas as a boiler fuel for steam and electricity.
• Plants can be located outside traditional ethanol manufacturing areas and near end-use markets, creating a transportation cost advantage.
• Plants handling agricultural or urban wastes, pulp and paper sludge, etc. can simultaneously meet acute waste remediation needs, earn tipping fees, and yield valuable products.
Cellulose contains glucose, the same type of sugar—a six-carbon (C6) sugar—that is found in cornstarch and that can be fermented to ethanol using conventional yeasts. However, hemicellulose contains mainly non-glucose sugars—five-carbon (C5) sugars. Conventional yeasts cannot ferment most non-glucose sugars to ethanol with commercially acceptable yields.
Celunol's technology is based on the metabolic engineering of microorganisms. Its key element is a set of genetically engineered strains of Escherichia coli bacteria that are capable of fermenting, into ethanol, essentially all of the sugars released from many types of cellulosic biomass. This trait enables Celunol to achieve the required efficiency to make the process commercially feasible.
Celunol will use SunOpta's patented pre-treatment equipment and technology in the Jennings facility. SunOpta’s pretreatment and hydrolysis technology will prepare sugar cane bagasse and possibly hard wood waste for conversion into ethanol.
Carlos Riva, President and Chief Executive Officer of Celunol, noted the advantages of acquiring the SunOpta technology, "Incorporating SunOpta's biomass pretreatment system into our proprietary process will further enhance the operating efficiencies of our Jennings facility, and will advance the rapid commercialization of Celunol's cellulosic ethanol technology.
"The demonstration system is planned to be on-site in Jennings the first week in February 2007. Another six to eight weeks after that they’ll be operational,” said Murray Burke, vice president and general manager of SunOpta's BioProcessing Group, meaning a U.S. commercial demonstration plant will be producing ethanol from lignocellulosic materials.
The company has also licensed its technology to Marubeni Corp., a Japanese conglomerate, which has recently started up, the worlds first commercial cellulosic ethanol facility in Osaka, Japan that employs wood waste as a feedstock. The Osaka Project utilizes wood waste as feedstock in producing up to 1.3 million liters of cellulosic ethanol annually. A second phase, planned for completion in 2008, will increase production to 4 million liters per year.
Celunol, formerly BC International, was renamed last year, with four new venture capitalists on board, the company is well-backed financially. One such investor is Vinod Khosla, founder of Sun Microsystems. Other investors include Braemar Energy Ventures, Charles River Ventures and Rho Capital Partners.
Celunol Corporation, a privately held, technology driven company, moved its headquarters to Cambridge, Massachusetts in January 2007. It is leveraging its patented and proprietary biotechnical processes to commercialize the production of cellulosic ethanol—a convenient, environmentally friendly fuel—from a wide array of low-cost, domestically abundant biomass feedstocks.