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US-Estonia partners announce first commercial biorefinery

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Sweetwater Energy, a Rochester, NY-based biotechnology company and Estonia-based AS Graanul Invest, is going to build a commercial-scale integrated biorefinery that will produce cellulosic sugars and ‘highly pure’ lignin from 50,000 tons of local hardwood each year. In addition, the plant will allow the two companies to work with corporate partners to create and optimise new products from sugar and lignin.

The plant will be the first to incorporate Sweetwater’s Sunburst pre-treatment technology, which the company says splits biomass into its constituent parts faster and more effectively than any commercial process currently available. The goal is to lower greenhouse gas emissions, lower water and chemicals usage while deriving significant value from all components of wood.

The agreement grants Graanul, which owns 11 large-scale wood-pellet production plants in the Baltics an exclusive territorial license to incorporate the Sunburst technology into its existing plants, as well as into future plants throughout the Baltic States.

“Graanul has a long history of innovation in the wood pellet industry, and we’re demonstrating that again with our partnership with Sweetwater,” says Raul Kirjanen, CEO of Graanul. “Our real-world expertise coupled with Sweetwater’s technological advancements will introduce biofuels, biochemicals and other green products at competitive prices into the global markets.”

“As a global leader in biomass processing, Graanul has been focused on green objectives,” says Peep Pitk, R&D manager for Graanul. “With Sweetwater and our partners in Europe, this large-scale innovation will allow us to convert virtually 100% of the sustainable and renewable wood processed using this technology into high value carbon products that people use every day.”

The plant is fully funded, and has been made possible through significant investment and collaboration between the two companies. The project utilises Sweetwater’s patented technology and Graanul’s existing infrastructure as one of the largest producers of wood pellets in the world.