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Comet, BioAmber in big cellulosic sugar partnership

Jim Lane

In Ontario, Comet Biorefining has signed an off-take agreement with
bio-succinic acid producer BioAmber (BIOA)
for cellulosic dextrose from Comet’s upcoming first commercial plant
in Sarnia, Ontario. The dextrose will be produced from agricultural
residues using Comet’s innovative technology.

The agreement also provides increasing shape to the development
of an biobased industrial cluster in the Sarnia region of Ontario
— a corn-growing region where farmers will provide agricultural
residues which will be processed into industrial-grade cellulosic
dextrose by Comet. In turn, BioAmber will be the offtake partner
for those sugars, and use its own proprietary technology to
produce biobased succinic acid and high-value derivative chemicals
including 1,4-butanediol (BDO) and tetrahydrofuran (THF).

The off-take agreement also includes provisions for Comet to
supply dextrose to future BioAmber manufacturing facilities and
provides BioAmber with certain exclusive rights in the fields of
succinic acid, BDO and THF. BioAmber itself is the subject of an
historic set of off-take agreements, including those with Mitsui
and Vinmar for global distribution of its renewable chemicals.

The partners also noted that Comet’s facilities can be built on a
smaller scale enabling greater flexibility to locate production
closer to biomass supplies and lower a region’s greenhouse gas
footprint.

BioAmber investing in Comet

The companies disclosed that BioAmber had provided an equity
investment in Comet in 2015 and its CEO Jean-Francois Huc is now
joining Comet’s board of directors.


Where’s the feedstock?

The off-take agreement is the culmination of development work
performed by Comet and BioAmber as part of BioIndustrial
Innovation Canada’s recently completed cellulosic sugar study.

The one remaining question in the supply chain from cornfield to
customer is how the supply-chain will be managed to assemble
agricultural residues for Comet’s process.

Questions abound.

How these will be shipped, stored, avoid pre-fermentation or fire
incidents that have been experienced at other cellulosic depots.
How the payments will be made to growers, how the logistics of
delivery will be arranged. How indeed the residues will be cleaned
of dirt, dust, tennis shoes, rakes, combine harvester parts, metal
scrap and other items that have come into cellulosic refineries
from the field. Whether the bales will be square or round, how
they will be tied and untied, where they will be stored from
harvest to delivery to the factory gate.

How will the material be pre-treated at scale, how will it be
chopped down into fragments small enough for the process to
handle, at a rate and cost commensurate with the economics of the
overall project?

How the greenhouse gas emissions will be calculated and audited,
and how the process will be certified for sustainability — for
those chemical off-takers of BioAmber’s interested in certifying
to their own customers that these new materials are contributing
to a low-carbon society, and by how much?

All examples of standard questions that companies must answer,
for themselves or in partnership with logistics companies. It’s
not the same as the corn or cane economy — not by the longest
shot, and though Comet has doubtless with its partners in Sarnia
and in the BioIndustrial Innovation Canada roundtables worked much
of this out, we’ll all be awaiting more detail.

Front-end troubles have plagued the commissioning cycles of
several cellulosic biorefineries — though they are not only making
sugars but fermenting them into ethanol. So, these questions
—although doubtless well advanced in terms of answers — are
relevant and pertinent.

We expect that some of them may be answered as soon as the first
week of June, when Comet Biorefining chairman Andrew Richard
addresses ABLC Feedstocks 2016. Additionally, Sandy Marshall,
board chairman of Bioindustrial Innovation Canada, will make an
address.

Marshall will be presenting on two studies. The first: setting up
the corn stover value chain from the farm to the mill for the
Comet project in Sarnia. Cost, quality, storing, delivery, and
more. The second: on establishing a farm Coop, the Cellulosic
Sugar Producers Co-op. Sandy worked closely with the BIC team on
completing these studies and has been involved in numerous farmer
meetings as well.

Reaction from the principals

Andrew Richard, Chairman and Founder of Comet Biorefining, said,
“Having off-take agreements in place with bioeconomy leaders like
BioAmber demonstrates the market’s confidence in our technology
and products. As a trusted feedstock partner, Comet is helping to
build a successful bioeconomy hub in Sarnia, Ontario, close to
plentiful biomass. We are extremely pleased to welcome
Jean-Francois Huc as a member of our board.”

Jean-Francois Huc, BioAmber CEO commented, “We have tested many
second generation sugars and Comet offers dextrose that is on par
with dextrose from corn, both in terms of quality and price. Comet
has proven this by operating a large demonstration plant in Italy,
setting them apart from others. Comet has also put together a
unique value chain in Southwestern Ontario, bringing together
farmers, technology, off-takers and government. We are looking
forward to participating in their exciting growth prospects.”

The Comet backstory

Cellulosic
Sugar Producers Cooperative collaborating with Comet Biorefining
to develop agricultural biomass supply chain

Comet
to build 30K ton biomass sugar plant in Ontario

Comet
Biorefining hires Rich Troyer, formerly of Coskata, as CEO

The BioAmber backstory

Mitsui
invests $25M in BioAmber JV; raises stake, will “play a stronger
role”

Renewable
chemicals, disruptive cost: The Digest’s 2016 8-Slide Guide to
BioAmber

BioAmber:
Biofuels Digest’s 2015 5-Minute Guide

Jim Lane is editor and
publisher  of 
Biofuels Digest where this

article

was originally published.
Biofuels Digest is the most widely read  Biofuels daily read
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