Moving Science

Southern Research Institute Signs an Agreement with HCL CleanTech to Help Develop a New Biofuel Production Process in Durham, North Carolina

April 1, 2010

DURHAM, N.C. – HCL CleanTech, a US-Israeli biofuels technology development company, has selected Southern Research Institute in North Carolina as the hosting site and operator of its first pilot plant to produce low cost fermentable sugars, high-quality lignin and tall oils from North Carolina pine trees. The pilot plant is now under construction at Southern Research and will begin operations this summer.

“HCL CleanTech will invest millions of dollars to move the company to North Carolina and build the pilot plant,” said Eran Baniel, president and CEO. “We evaluated other sites across the U.S., but chose Durham because of the facilities and expertise here at Southern Research, and the warm welcome we encounter from everyone here. Looking forward to commercialization of our process, we hope that with state and county assistance, and a successful pilot, we might provide the pulp and paper industry with a new opportunity.”

Southern Research’s advanced energy research facility, located in Durham, helps develop and prepare new clean energy technologies for commercialization. Researchers there are currently developing four different technologies that convert America’s diverse carbon resources into high-value products such as clean diesel fuel, jet fuel, ethanol, fermentable sugars, electric power, and bioproducts. Southern Research works with commercial, government, and research institutions that seek to develop and commercialize advanced energy technologies by designing, building, and testing pilot-scale prototypes of these technologies.

“We are honored that HCL CleanTech chose to come all the way from Israel to North Carolina because of our unique energy lab and the other resources North Carolina offers developing biofuels companies,” said Stephen Piccot, director of Southern Research’s operations in North Carolina. “Like our other bioenergy technology clients here in Durham, we are here to help HCL CleanTech realize their dream of developing affordable bioenergy and bioproducts. Finding alternatives to foreign oil are necessary for our nation, our state, and our children’s future. That’s why Southern Research built this energy development lab.”

Once HCL CleanTech’s pilot-scale facility is built and commissioned, Southern Research engineers, scientists, and technicians will begin operating the unit this summer. Some goals of that effort are to determine optimal operating conditions, define operating characteristics, and seek technology optimization paths HCL CleanTech can integrate into its first generation commercial plants. Sugars, lignins and tall oils produced at the facility will be distributed for testing of integration to more than 40 companies across the U.S. and internationally who have the technologies to convert the sugars to biofuels and bioproducts and have requested to try the sugars, the lignin and the tall oils from the pilot plant.

HCL CleanTech has developed a proprietary technology to make an old, industrially proven German process converting lignocellulosic biomass to fermentable sugars for fuel production economically attractive. These fermentable sugars are considered a gateway to advanced biofuels (biobutanols, biodiesel, jet fuel, etc.) and biochemicals (bioplastics, etc.) Modern chemical technology makes the implementation straightforward and immediate. HCL CleanTech’s use of concentrated hydrochloric acid (HCl) efficiently hydrolyzes cellulosic materials and allows a large variety of feedstocks to be used with minimal configuration. HCL CleanTech has developed other proprietary technologies to de-acidify lignin and separate tall oils – both high quality byproducts to the sugars.

“We’d like to thank Southern Research’s efforts to facilitate HCL CleanTech’s move to North Carolina,” CEO Eran Baniel continued. “They were joined by the warm welcome extended to us by the Biofuels Center of North Carolina, and many of the players active in the North Carolina Cleantech world—the Department of Commerce of North Carolina and the director of the Government of Israel Trade and Investment Office.”

HCL CleanTech received Series A financing by Burrill & Company and Khosla Ventures, as well as Zohar Gilon, the lead seed investor, and the founders. Southern Research and the Biofuels Center of North Carolina are collaborating to ensure HCL CleanTech’s experience in North Carolina is a positive one.

“It is great to see the material support the Biofuels Center is providing to HCL as it builds its first generation commercial biofuels plant here in North Carolina, based on the technology being piloted for them at Southern Research,” said Mr. Piccot. “Together, Southern Research’s laboratories in Durham and the Biofuels Center are a potent force for attracting and nurturing green technology industries here in North Carolina.”

About HCL CleanTech

Incorporated in December 2007, HCL CleanTech Ltd is a technology development company co-founded by two of Israel’s most prominent Industrial Chemical Research scientists—Prof. Avraham Baniel (over 35 years Applied R&D and Management of IMI – Israel Mining Institute – and teaching at the Casali Institute of the Hebrew University) and Prof. Ari Eyal (Prof. of applied Chemistry, senior advisor to many firms worldwide) Since May 2009, HCL CleanTech Ltd is fully owned by HCL CleanTech Inc whose offices are at the Biofuels Center of North Carolina, Oxford NC.

About Southern Research

Southern Research Institute is a not-for-profit 501(c) 3 scientific research organization that conducts advanced engineering research in materials, systems development, environment and energy, and preclinical drug discovery and development. Our more than 550 scientific and engineering team members support clients and partners in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, defense, aerospace, environmental and energy industries. Southern Research is headquartered in Birmingham, Ala., with facilities in Wilsonville, Ala., Anniston, Ala., Frederick, Md., and Durham, NC and offices in New Orleans, La., Washington, DC and Kiev, Ukraine. Southern Research has considerable experience in developing and evaluating technologies for the power industry.

About The Biofuels Center of North Carolina

The Biofuels Center is a private non-profit corporation funded by the North Carolina General Assembly to develop large capacity for biofuels statewide in coming years. The Center implements sustained state policy, assists companies and all parties within the biofuels community, and works to meet North Carolina’s goal: by 2017, 10% of the state’s liquid transportation fuels will come from biofuels grown and produced within the state.


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