Renmatix tech seeks to disrupt biomass sector with low-cost plant-based fuel production

Source: Monica Trauzzi, E&E • Posted: Wednesday, July 15, 2015

This week, U.S. EPA presented Renmatix with the Presidential Green Chemistry award for its technology that uses supercritical water to cost-effectively break down plant material into sugars that can then be used to produce biofuels and renewable chemicals. During today’s OnPoint, Mike Hamilton, CEO of Renmatix, explains how this technology could disrupt the biomass sector and discusses his company’s short-term investment outlook.

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Monica Trauzzi: Hello, and welcome to OnPoint. I’m Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Mike Hamilton, CEO of Renmatix. Mike, thanks for coming on the show.

Mike Hamilton: My pleasure.

Monica Trauzzi: So, Mike, this week U.S. EPA presented Renmatix with the Presidential Green Chemistry award. Talk about what makes your process and your company unique.

Mike Hamilton: Yeah. Good question, and we’re honored to be receiving the award, very prestigious award. We have a unique technology, allows us to make cost-effective sugars, which people can use to make downstream renewable fuels and chemicals competitive with fossil fuel-derived routes. And we deploy a technology called supercritical hydrolysis where we use water to elevate pressures and temperatures. So very innovative technology, incredibly cost-effective in terms of downstream being competitive with oil equivalents or fossil fuel routes, and proud that the EPA’s recognized that and see this as an enabler to help the future of the industry go forward.

Monica Trauzzi: And rather than focus on building large plants and facilities, you’ve decided to distribute this technology to companies. So who’s using the technology? How have they had successes?

Mike Hamilton: Great question, and I think in this future economy, it’s around collaborating with other large companies, other companies who can kind of take the technology downstream. So as we look at the fuels industry or the chemicals industry where we see these renewable applications, we’re working with BASF out of Germany, one of our large partners who potentially a biorefinery builder in time. UPM’s a large pulp and paper company who will deploy the biomass ultimately downstream, and recently Total, a large French company, has come onboard big in the fuels market. So we feel really blessed with the partnerships we have. We’re a licensing company. We’ll license our technology to these partners, who are the builders of the biorefineries.

Monica Trauzzi: Something that stood out to me is that you’ve managed to make the process a low-cost one. You know, and we see so many advanced fuels struggling to make themselves cost-effective. What was the process of becoming economically viable?

Mike Hamilton: Yeah, so firstly we’ve got a great technical team, and smart people often do great, amazing things. That would be the first commentary. But we just take water. We deploy water at pressure and temperature in what’s called its supercritical state, and we’re able to solubilize rapidly cellulose, in particular from hemi-silos or woody biomass, for example, and then we capture that, and once it’s captured, people can then ferment downstream into a chemical or a fuel, so it’s really just the power of water smartly managed in what we call supercritical hydrolysis as our technique to deploy that.

Monica Trauzzi: So how does this technology and the work that you’re doing fit into the broader context and the broader conversation on biofuels and biofuels as part of the U.S.’s energy mix?

Mike Hamilton: So the more we can make cost-effective sugar from particularly what we’d call nontraditional sources, for example, woody biomass or different forms of ag residues or even different forms of grasses which are increasingly growing in more arid parts of the country. If we can, you know, take that material and extract their valuable sugar, in this course, a five-carbon or a six-carbon sugar, economically, we can then take that downstream and ferment it into a fuel, and in so doing, you know, offer that as a solution of renewable fuels for part of the portfolio of fuels we need throughout the country. And Total recently — one of the largest fuels companies in the world — just this past February or March partnered up with Renmatix, and we’re going to work with them in kind of how do we provide more aviation fuels in the future, and it all starts with really cost-effective sugars enabled by Renmatix’s Plantrose technology.

Monica Trauzzi: What is your outlook for new investments and opportunities for growth?

Mike Hamilton: Yeah, we feel real good about it. I mean, we’ve had some very prestigious investors in the company and are excited about our growth. That will remain our focus working with our key partners, probably look to announce another partner in the coming months, and our growth prospects look encouraging. We hope to be in a place in 2016 with one of our partners where we’re announcing a large-scale biorefinery utilizing our technology, likely here in the U.S., and we’re excited as that comes up. That would be the beginning of the deployment and rollout of our technology. So times look exciting and very encouraging for us.

Monica Trauzzi: What do you see as the future and the next steps for nonfood-based biomass stocks?

Mike Hamilton: I think there’s a lot of great options. I grew up in a pulp and paper mill town, and that town, unfortunately, lost its mill and somewhat depleted. The irony is that woody material still has grown. Those trees can be, and often with the right companies, are sustainably harvested. So I see the redeployment of a lot of those mills that are either shut and/or underutilized as prospects and locations for future biorefineries. By putting in what we would call a super-critical hydrolysis unit at some of those mills to leverage what’s already there and the infrastructure which exists, to then allow companies and our partners to then take those sugars downstream to make renewable fuels or chemicals on those existing sites as well. So I’m pretty excited about that model, all enabled through cost-effective sugar, and we, Renmatix, as the EPA has kind of acknowledged us here this week, I think we’re a disrupter, both economically and technically, but we also have an implementation plan with these large partners which is fully in place.

Monica Trauzzi: Very interesting. We’ll end it there. Thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate your time.

Mike Hamilton: Thank you. Thanks.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We’ll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]

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