Considering our business involves replicating a process that normally takes millions of years, catalysts are essential to the processing speed and flexibility offered by Virent’s technology. A catalyst is a substance that is used to increase the rate and control the direction of chemical reactions to convert soluble carbohydrates into hydrocarbons. A unique aspect of this continuous chemical transformation is that the catalysts are never consumed — they simply provide the place where the chemical changes take place.
Catalytic conversion of plant sugars gives Virent several key advantages over competing technologies:
Unlike interrupted batch conversion processes such as fermentation, Virent’s fuel and chemicals production is continuous. A few hours after we begin the BioForming® process, the desired products are generated on the back end. The required volumes of fuel or chemicals we are producing are created non-stop, which means improved efficiency and a shorter time-to-market.
Because catalysts are not living, they are very reliable to work with. Catalysts are commonly used in refineries and petrochemical facilities today, so robustness and scalability of catalytic conversion has already been proven. Because catalysts are dependable, we are able to meet production volumes quickly and reliably.
Compared to microbes and bacteria, a catalyst is not limited to a specific feedstock molecule. This functionality is what allows Virent’s process to be feedstock flexible – a wide variety of plant sugars can be put through Virent’s BioForming process at once, and a catalyst can convert them all in the same production cycle. This flexibility translates to lower costs as we can blend or change feedstocks as market forces dictate.
Unlike other processes that are designed to produce a specific molecule which then requires further processing, catalytic conversion can be tuned to produce a wide variety of molecules. Catalysts can be customized to match complex fuel or chemical properties and offer true drop-in replacements. This flexibility allows many cost competitive products to be manufactured from the same facility, for improved efficiency while enabling over 90% of customer petroleum replacement needs.