Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Producing biomass, or targeting specific compounds?

In a post on 8 January 2013, Biofuels Digest described the technology of Sapphire as directed to

Green Crude, a renewable biofuel made solely from photosynthetic microorganisms (algae), using sunlight and CO2 as their feedstock. It can be refined directly into drop-in replacements for gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, using the existing petroleum refinery infrastructure.

The first claim of Sapphire's published US 20100297749 recites:

An integrated biorefinery (IBR) capable of producing jet fuel, diesel fuel, and gasoline from a single biofeedstock, comprising: an open pond production unit of at least 350 acres for growing an aquatic non-vascular photosynthetic organism that produces an oil composition; a processing unit for extracting said oil composition from said organism; a refining unit for refining said oil composition to produce jet fuel, diesel fuel, gasoline or some combination thereof, wherein said refinery performs one or more process of cracking, transesterification, hydroprocessing, and isomerization of said oil composition; a waste processing unit for processing residual matter from said processing unit; and a conduit for delivering at least one product from said waste processing unit to said production unit for use in growth or maintenance of said organism.

The patent application received a non-final rejection on January 12, 2012 and was abandoned on September 25, 2012. The PTO records no child continuity data.

The first claim of Sapphire's published US 20120055081 recites:

A catalytic cracking process for cracking oil from algae comprising, extracting oil from algae to form a feedstock comprising at least one of a sesquiterpene, a diterpene, a triterpene and a tetraterpene; and contacting said feedstock with a catalytic composition comprising a large pore molecular sieve, wherein the large pore molecular sieve is a 12-ring zeolite.

Claim 1 was later amended, replacing -- a sesquiterpene, a diterpene, a triterpene and a tetraterpene -- with the specific compounds --cuparene, farnascene, phytol and squalene -- , and a notice of allowance was issued on August 29, 2012 with US 8,292,975 issued on October 23, 2012 .

The compound name --farnacene-- is misspelled in both the amendment and in the issued patent:

A catalytic cracking process for cracking oil from algae comprising, extracting oil from algae to form a feedstock comprising at least one cuparene, farnescene, phytol and squalene; and contacting said feedstock with a first catalytic composition comprising a large pore molecular sieve, wherein the large pore molecular sieve is a 12-ring zeolite.

The term farnesene refers to a set of six closely related chemical compounds which all are sesquiterpenes.

The company Amyris has also been interested in producing farnesene. From the Amyris website

Amyris, Inc. (NASDAQ: AMRS) announced today that it has signed definitive agreements with Glycotech, Inc. and Salisbury Partners, LLC for Glycotech to provide chemical processing at Salisbury’s Leland, NC facility to convert Amyris’s Biofene™, or renewable farnesene, into finished products for a wide range of applications. The parties expect that Amyris’s No Compromise® squalane will be the first Amyris product processed for commercial sale in the facility. The facility can also provide finishing services for other Amyris renewable products, including industrial lubricants, polymers and transportation fuels. All products will be owned and distributed solely by Amyris.

See also the update on 14 Feb. 2012 from Kevin Bullis at MIT Technology Review:

Amyris wants to make clear that it isn’t giving up on its current, relatively small scale, biofuel production. Some of the farnesene Amyris makes is being used to make diesel fuel for buses in Brazil, and Amyris will continue to make farnesene for fuel until the joint ventures are up and running, says Joel Velasco, senior vice president for external relations. As Amyris adds more farnesene capacity this year, some of that, too, could be used for the production of fuel, he says.

While Amyris doesn’t disclose precisely how much fuel is made from its farnesene, based on the number of buses it supplies, Amyris seems to be making a few hundred thousand liters of fuel per year. Commercial fuel production, to make economic sense, typically needs to be on a much larger scale—hundreds of millions of liters per year.

Bullis had written of Joule Unlimited in May/June 2010:

Joule's bioengineers have equipped their microörganisms with a genetic switch that limits growth. The scientists allow them to multiply for only a couple of days before flipping that switch to divert the organisms' energy from growth into fuel production. While other companies try to grow as much biomass as possible, Afeyan says, "I want to make as little biomass as I can." In retrospect, the approach might seem obvious. Indeed, the startup Synthetic Genomics and an academic group at the BioTechnology Institute at the University of Minnesota are also working on making fuels directly from carbon dioxide. Joule hopes to succeed by developing both its organisms and its photobioreactor from scratch, so that they work perfectly together.

As to the idea of "invention," Bullis included the text

Still, it's a risky strategy, since it departs from established processes. Usually, a startup sets out determined to do something novel, says James Collins, a professor of biomedical engineering at Boston University and a member of Joule's scientific advisory board, "and it falls quickly back on trying to find something that works ... an old thing that's been well established." Afeyan, however, has pushed the company to stay innovative. This summer, it will move beyond lab-scale tinkering; an outdoor pilot plant is currently under construction in Leander, TX.

One notes that the figure in the Bullis article is of tilted flat panel reactors, which Joule seems to have abandoned in its facility in Hobbs, New Mexico.
See IPBiz post
Joule's horizontal bioreactors in Hobbs, New Mexico


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