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Converting woody biomass to intermediates allows carbon-negative products

| By Scott Jenkins

Construction has begun on a market demonstration facility for manufacturing chloromethyl furfural (CMF) and hydrothermal carbon (HTC) from a variety of waste biomass feedstocks. With subsequent chemical transformation, these flexible intermediates can be converted into final products, such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET) packaging and carbon black, that are carbon-negative (net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere), according to an ISO-compliant third-party lifecycle analysis (LCA).

The new market demonstration facility, being built by Origin Materials (West Sacramento, Calif.; in Sarnia, Ont., will eventually consume 25,000 tons per year of feedstock. It is expected to be completed at the end of 2022. Origin is also planning a world-scale commercial facility to be completed in 2025.

“Many companies have made ‘net-zero’ carbon commitments without fully appreciating the carbon footprint of the materials from which their products are made,” explains John Bissell, co-founder and CEO of Origin Materials. “This unique platform technology allows a pathway for a range of carbon-negative final products.”

The process works by feeding woodchips or other biomass, such as pulp waste, rice hulls, or cardboard, into a reactor containing hydrochloric acid (HCl), organic solvents and catalyst material. The reactor converts C6 sugars bound in cellulose into CMF, and C5 sugars from hemicellulose into furfural and levulinic acid. The lignin in the biomass is converted to HTC. The process is a reactive extraction, after which an aqueous phase containing the HTC is separated from the organic phase. The organic phase is sent to distillation, which yields the major product (CMF) and recovers the solvent.

“Once the CMF is converted to para-xylene, it can link up to the existing supply-chain infrastructure for PET bottles and packages,” Bissell notes, and “carbon black can be made from the HTC with two desirable qualities: particle morphologies that are similar to those of petroleum-derived carbon black and no detectable polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are human carcinogens.”

Bissell says the company has established offtake agreements for products made from the chemicals produced at the new facility.