Financing in place, Cobalt ready to deploy n-butanol in Brazil

Publicado em 10/12/2012

Ethanol Producer Magazine, em 05/12/2012

With the announcement of new investment from Bunge Global Innovation LLC, Cobalt Technologies’ n-butanol development is ready for deployment in Brazil. “We’re in a position now where the demonstration plant is fully funded and we have secured funding for commercial deployment,” said Bob Mayer CEO.

Bunge’s commitment follows an earlier agreement with specialty chemicals company Rhodia Poliamida e Especialidades Ltda. Rhodia is a member of the Solvay group, the world’s tenth largest chemical company, Mayer explained, which has headquartered its solvent division in Brazil. As a big user of normal butanol, partnering with Cobalt gives Rhodia an opportunity to integrate backwards into raw materials, Mayer said. On the feedstock side of equation, Bunge is one of the five top sugar companies in the world and, with eight sugarcane mills in Brazil, has a ready supply of excess bagasse. “They can leverage one of the byproducts and add value,” Mayer said. “Plus it’s important for them to have an offtake partner, which we have in Rhodia.”

Testing of the Cobalt n-butanol technology has begun in Brazil at the Laboratório Nacional de Ciência e Tecnologia do Bioetanol facility in Campinas. The work done at the new national laboratory for cellulosic ethanol will help to optimize the process, Mayer said, “doing everything with Brazilian raw materials, Brazilian water and Brazilian air, to really localize the process.”

Site selection for a one-tenth scale demonstration facility is under way, with plans to have it built during the sugarcane off season and operational in the first half of 2013, Mayer said. The terms of the agreement include considering co-location of a commercial-scale biorefinery at a Bunge sugarcane mill. The size will be dependent upon the mil location but will be in a range of 45,000 to 90,000 ton, with the maximum size capable of producing about 30 MMgy of n-butanol, Mayer said.

Cobalt launched its pilot testing facilities in early 2010 at its headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. Earlier this year, Cobalt announced the successful demonstration of its technology at two larger facilities. The company’s dilute acid hydrolysis pretreatment process was validated at the Andritz pulp and paper mill demonstration facility on woody biomass, bagasse and agriculture residues. Fermentation trials were done in cooperation with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Multiple fermentation campaigns at the 9,000 liter-scale facility confirmed high sugar conversion by the bacteria and high yields of butanol. “We’re dealing a biocatalyst that ferments C5 and C6 sugars simultaneously,” Mayer said, adding that they have developed a fermentation process that can be done in fast batches or continuously. The company has also worked at reducing distillation costs through its propriety dehydration process. “We’ve worked to drive down capital cost and operating cost.”

“We’re targeting a 40 to 60 percent cost reduction relative to petro butanol,” Mayer added, which is a result of both the high yields and selectivity of the Cobalt process as well as feedstock cost. “In our process, feedstock might represent 20 percent, or even a little less, of total cost,” he said. “If you look at petro butanol it’s 85 percent of cost.” Plus, he added, biomass prices will be a lot less volatile than petroleum.

The Bunge strategic investment was part of a Series E Preferred Stock round. All institutional investors from previous rounds participated in the Series E Preferred Stock round, including Pinnacle Ventures, Malaysian Life Sciences Capital Fund, VantagePoint Capital Partners, The Whittemore Collection, Ltd., Life Sciences Partners (LSP), @Ventures and Harris and Harris. Cobalt was advised by Pacific Crest Securities.