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U.S. Biotechnology Firm Plans First Commercial-Scale Cellulosic Biofuel Plant

A U.S. biotechnology company is planning to build the nation’s first commercial-scale cellulosic biofuels plant in Mississippi, where it will be able to use wood chips and other plant matter as an alternative to corn in the production of ethanol.

Virdia, a California-based company formerly known as HCL Cleantech, says it has raised $100 million in private and public funds to build the plant, which could go into production as soon as 2014.

While the technology to convert woody biomass into cheap sugars that can then be made into ethanol and other specialty chemicals has long existed, the industry has never achieved commercial scale because of the economic and environmental costs associated with the process, including large amounts of salts left over at the end of the production.

Virdia officials say they have developed a technology that recycles the hydrochloric acid used in the process, creating a system that is cheaper and cleaner. The company, which plans to sell its cellulosic sugars to fermentation companies, says the technology could make cellulosic sugars cost-competitive with sugars made from corn.

Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.