Materials Science

Advancing bio-based chemicals and fuels

By David Sudolsky, President & CEO of Anellotech

David Sudolsky, President & CEO of Anellotech, explains that by targeting the production of renewable chemicals and fuels from

David Sudolsky, President & CEO of Anellotech, explains that by targeting the production of renewable chemicals and fuels from non-food biomass, Anellotech’s sustainable technology Bio-TCat has completed its R&D program and the company is currently planning construction of its first licensed commercial plant. Anellotech also is advancing its new breakthrough plastics chemical recycling process. Plas-TCat uses plastic waste as a feedstock through the same technology platform.
Founded in 2008, Anellotech was set up to develop a technology platform to create more sustainable products. Demand for greener everyday household goods, such as food and drinks packaging – as well as more sustainable ways to power our transport, like biofuels – continues to rise.
Anellotech has created a pathway to 100% bio-based drop-in aromatic chemicals and fuels from non-food biomass. By using proprietary Bio-TCat technology, chemical producers and brand owners can meet environmental sustainability goals thanks to the process’ lower carbon footprint and cost-efficiency.

Allenotech 2019-05 Figure 1.pngTo date, over $85 million of cash and in-kind funding has been raised by Anellotech, coming from industry-leading strategic partners. The company’s R&D team has accelerated cost-competitive technology development and commercialization through long-term partnerships, with industry leaders Suntory, Toyota Tsusho, IFP Energies nouvelles (IFPEN), Axens and Johnson Matthey.

Creating an efficient, cost-competitive and scalable bio-based process is a significant challenge. However, Bio-TCat technology is making that goal a reality. Alongside development and licensing partners IFPEN and Axens, Anellotech is now planning for design and engineering of its first commercial plant. Engineering work has begun and the next phase of construction is planned for the second half of 2020. Anellotech also is moving forward to using plastic waste as a feedstock for chemical recycling through its new Plas-TCat process.

Innovative technology creating bio-based aromatics
Bio-TCat technology produces a mixture of bio-based benzene, toluene, xylene (BTX) – as well as larger aromatics – all of which are chemically identical to petroleum-derived counterparts. The family of liquid products made in the Bio-TCat process are called AnelloMate and include:

  • ‘AnelloMate BTX’, a naphtha containing over 90% bio-BTX
  • ‘AnelloMate Distillate’, a middle and heavy distillate range hydrocarbon mixture.

AnelloMate products offer a unique opportunity as cellulosic-sourced biofuels with the same properties as conventional fuels, including fungibility in fuel distribution systems.

 Bio-TCat’s product slate provides greater flexibility and the opportunity to serve dual product markets. If renewable chemicals-to-polymers markets are the targets, AnelloMate BTX can be separated to make high purity bio-based aromatic chemicals. If the goal is to make fuels, it makes a high-octane gasoline/petrol blendstock. In both cases, the Anellotech Distillate stream is used as bio-marine fuel, or it can be upgraded to make diesel or jet fuel blendstocks.

Bio-TCat thermally breaks down biomass which is then catalytically converted into BTX in the same reactor. This single-step process uses a proprietary zeolite catalyst, which Anellotech has jointly developed with Johnson Matthey, to produce bio-BTX with commercially-attractive yields.

Going directly from biomass to BTX in one step avoids highly-oxygenated bio-oil intermediate products, often seen in multi-step pyrolysis processes avoiding the need to use significant amounts of costly hydrogen.

Allenotech 2019-05 Figure 2.png

Bio-TCat has been demonstrated at Anellotech’s TCat-8 pilot plant in Silsbee, Texas with extensive time onstream, operating for 7,500 hours. TCat-8 has been converting wood into hydrocarbons, performing mass balances, confirming product yields and catalyst performance, collecting data needed for commercial scale design, improving operational performance and running the unit making AnelloMate products for product development work.
TCat-8’s operation has confirmed product yields and catalyst performance. Process control and process reliability insights have also been obtained – critical factors for commercial operation and design.
Many applications and uses
BTX aromatics produced using the Bio-TCat Process can be used in a range of chemical applications to make commodity plastics such as polyester (polyethylene terephthalate or ‘PET’), polystyrenes, polycarbonates, nylons, ABS (acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene) and polyurethanes, which are used to manufacture consumer goods such as beverage bottles, food packaging, clothing, footwear, carpeting, automotive and electronic components. BTX component benzene is also used to produce LAB (linear alkyl benzene), a strong surfactant used in laundry detergents.
Anellotech also has developed MinFree technology, an innovative, biomass pre-treatment process. With patents pending, MinFree has been demonstrated to significantly reduce the mineral (ash) content of loblolly pine at a 20 metric ton/day scale. Month-long trials converting MinFree-treated, low-mineral pine into bio-BTX at Anellotech’s pilot plant showed extended, economic catalyst life.
MinFree is expected to provide similar results with other woody biomass like eucalyptus and hard woods as well as agricultural residues like cotton straw, sugarcane bagasse and corn stover. We believe these advances could provide expanded feedstock flexibility and performance to many different applications.
Alternative waste feedstocks
So far, Bio-TCat aromatics have been produced using loblolly pine feedstock from the southern United States. Loblolly pine is abundant, low-cost and there is an existing, highly-efficient supply chain for growing, harvesting and transporting millions of tons for industrial applications.
However, the MinFree and Bio-TCat processes can be adapted to use other non-food biomass inputs. Anellotech is now selecting and testing additional feedstocks for further commercialization.
With plastic waste representing a significant societal challenge, Anellotech plans to leverage its technology, laboratory facility, pilot scale infrastructure and partnerships to economically convert plastic waste into commodity chemicals. Using the Plas-TCat process, these resulting product aromatics and olefins can be used to make virgin polymers to use in food and beverage packaging, textiles and plastic components for consumer products, the automotive industry and other markets. Plas-TCat also will allow conversion of mixed plastics streams, including composite films.
By using Plas-TCat to recycle plastic waste, companies could produce aromatics and olefins directly and these products will be more valuable compared to producing straight pyrolysis oils. An expectation of valuable products with a high yield could potentially pay for plastic waste feedstock in countries without subsidized trash collection infrastructure. Anellotech’s pilot plant is already in place – only minor modifications would be needed to handle plastic feedstock instead of wood.
Textiles are another alternative feedstock being explored through the new process Tex-TCat, which also leverages the Anellotech technology platform. Under consideration for conversion are cotton fabrics, synthetic fabrics (polyester, nylon, Lycra/Spandex, etc) as well as blends to turn into valuable aromatics and other chemicals to use as a ‘drop-in’ replacement for the petroleum-derived aromatics used to make the same virgin synthetic fabrics, or biofuels.
Creating 100% bio-based PET bottle
Another focus has been on commercializing bio-paraxylene – Anellotech has collaborated with Suntory, one of the world’s leading consumer beverage companies, in this effort. Bio-paraxylene is the key missing component needed to make 100% bio-based PET bottles. Suntory currently uses 30% bio-based PET for its Tennensui brand of mineral water but the aim is to make a 100% bio-based PET for Tennensui and potentially other brands in the future.
A BTX sample produced at TCat-8 has already been converted into high-purity bio-paraxylene, and larger volumes are now being prepared to make a 100% bio-PET resin for prototype bottle manufacture and product testing. These high-purity bio-paraxylene test samples have met the ASTM international specifications for downstream derivatives including PET conversion. This will be the industry’s first production of bio-PET from continuous, cost-effective processing of non-food biomass.
Sustainable technology confirmed by LCA
Made from renewable feedstocks, Bio-TCat products enable significant GHG reductions when compared to identical chemicals currently made from crude oil. This was confirmed by Jacobs (Jacobs Engineering Group Inc.), who conducted an in-depth review of Anellotech’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) lifecycle analysis (LCA) using its industry-respected refinery and petrochemical process models.
The LCA compared Bio-TCat aromatics produced using sustainably-sourced loblolly pine feedstock from the southern United States, to petro-aromatics produced in the US Gulf Coast from three crude oils, which represented a range of carbon intensities. Jacobs employed their proprietary models for oil production, transportation and refining to estimate the carbon intensity of producing high-purity paraxylene and benzene products.
The results found that CO2 emissions for producing paraxylene and benzene from pulpwood using Anellotech’s process are estimated to be 70–80% lower than emissions for identical petro-based chemicals made from crude oils. If Bio-TCat is configured to make renewable gasoline and distillate fuel blendstocks, the reduction potential exceeds 90% as fuels are burned to make energy.
Commercialization, partnerships and future plans
Anellotech is seeking to extend its strategic collaborations and license Bio-TCat to customers who want to capitalize on the improved sustainability and competitiveness of its technology to build and operate commercial plants. Biomass suppliers, chemicals manufacturers, refiners, brand owners and others across the supply chain are welcome to enquire about joining the Anellotech alliance network.
Research programs for chemical recycling of waste plastic and waste clothing are underway. Strategic partner engagement is welcome for both development funding and complimentary expertise in the waste supply chain, and future commercial plant locations.
The company will continue to work with its partners to ensure performance, delivery and quality – essential as Anellotech moves ever-closer to delivering its first commercial Bio-TCat plant.
David Sudolsky, President & CEO of Anellotech Inc, 401 North Middletown Road, Pearl River, NY 10965, USA
T: +1 845 735 7700
Bio-TCat, Plas-TCat, AnelloMate, MinFree and Tex-TCat and registered trademarks of Allenotech.