SBIR Phase II: High performance monomers from biomass

Period of Performance: 04/01/2017 - 03/31/2019


Phase 2 SBIR

Recipient Firm

Visolis, Inc
1904 Haste St. Array
Berkeley, CA 94704
Firm POC, Principal Investigator


The broader impact/commercial potential of this Small Business Innovation Research Phase II project is to develop a new technology that combines advanced bioengineering with traditional chemical manufacturing. This hybrid approach will allow production of high value chemicals for the polymer industry using biomass at a lower price than current petrochemical based processes. This unique approach allows for the retrofit of existing ethanol fermentation facilities in rural areas with a bolt-on chemical upgrading unit to produce chemicals with far higher value than ethanol, improving the economics of operating these facilities and creating new jobs. The initial chemical product targeted by this project has an estimated $100M annual market and is used in manufacturing a variety of consumer products including specialty polyurethanes, inks, and UV degradable plastics which can be dramatically expanded to $1B by 2020 through cost reductions enabled by this new technology. Eventually, this approach combining existing fermentation facilities with a bolt-on chemical processing unit can be used to produce carbon-neutral fuels that are fully compatible with gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel at price comparable to current petrochemical fuels. This project, while here focused on the higher value polymer market, will enable later development of cost competitive fuel production technology. The objectives of this Phase II research project are to demonstrate at pilot scale a complete downstream process capable of manufacturing the target chemical from the intermediate platform molecule produced with fermentation. In upstream Visolis work, the key intermediate has been produced using fermentation facilities hosted at the Advanced Biofuels Process Demonstration Unit at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories and the National Renewable Research Laboratories (NREL) at pilot scale, and based on current performance metrics the intermediate can be manufactured at prices comparable to ethanol at commercial scale. The goals of this downstream project are to utilize the intermediate generated using a 9000L scale fermentation facility at NREL to demonstrate cost-effective production of the target product from this intermediate. The work includes construction of a pilot scale high pressure chemical reactor, production and testing of several catalysts for performance in producing the target molecule at different process conditions, optimization of the chemical production process, evaluation of the process and catalyst for long-term stability, purification of the products to the levels required by customers, and technoeconomic modeling to inform the design of a commercial facility.