BIRD Energy Grant Awarded to Virent, HCL CleanTech

Joanna Schroeder

A $900,000 BIRD Energy grant has been awarded to Madison, Wisconsin-based Virent Energy Systems, Inc. and Isreal-based HCL CleanTech from the BIRD Foundation along with the U.S. Department of Energy and the Isreali Ministry of National Infrastructures. BIRD Energy is a program for the U.S. and Isreal to jointly develop renewable energy.

Virent and HCL have partnered on a $2.1 million project that combines HCL’s proprietary lignocellulosic conversion technologies that produce cost competitive non-food sugars with Virent’s BioForming technology that converts plant sugars into hydrocarbon molecules similar to those now refined from petroleum. These sugars can then be used as chemicals or as “drop-in” fuels for cars, trucks, trains, and aviation that can be transported using existing pipelines.

“Economically converting plentiful cellulosic biomass into renewable, fungible hydrocarbon fuels and products will enable broad market acceptance and is the most realistic alternative to displace petroleum and create a clean energy transportation sector in the coming years,” said Lee Edwards, Virent CEO. “Virent has proven it can transform cellulosic, non-food sugars into environmentally superior hydrocarbon fuels with the same energy content and performance as petroleum fuels. “Utilizing HCL CleanTech’s cost-effective biomass hydrolysis technology to provide inexpensive cellulosic sugar feedstocks may be a key component of a complete and sustainable biofuels solution.”

The sugars will be processed at HCL CleanTech’s demonstration plant operating at Southern Research Institute in Durham, North Carolina and will then be sent to Virent’s facility in Madison, Wisconsin for conversion into biofuels and biochemicals.

“We expect to have the sugars ready for Virent before the New Year [2012] and are confident the integration with Virent and the leading biopolymer producer will create new opportunities in the bio-fuels and bio-products space,” said Eran Baniel CEO of HCL CleanTech.

As part of the BIRD project, HCL CleanTech will also provide pine sugars to a leading biopolymer producer for evaluating fermentation into hydrocolloids that historically are produced from cane or corn sugars for use in a broad range of personal care, food and beverage applications.

Bob Jansen, head of HCL CleanTech Engineering noted that the company built the demo unit at a size that will allow them to scale up directly to a small commercial facility. If all goes as planned, it will be integrated into a paper mill by the end of 2012.

biofuels, Cellulosic, Ethanol, International