Detroit’s NextCAT Hopes to Light a Fire Under Idled Biodiesel Producers with New Catalysts

5/17/10

A funny thing happened on the way to the green economy. Real-life market forces have a way of foiling the best-laid plans of mice, men, and government incentives. When petroleum diesel was 4 bucks a gallon a couple of years ago, biodiesel seemed like such a deal. But then, says Derrin Leppek, of Detroit-based biodiesel catalyst developer NextCAT, “the price of petroleum diesel dropped, biodiesel was no longer competitive, and soybean prices went through the roof.”

So, says Leppek, 80 percent of the biodiesel producers in the United States sit idle. Government regulations and environmental concerns may be increasing demand for biodiesel, but market realities are holding them back. That’s where NextCAT comes in with what it says is a solution to the problem. Its technology can take biomass that’s less expensive than food feedstocks—like soybeans, corn, or sunflower—and convert nonfood feedstocks like algae and recycled cooking oil into fuel.

NextCAT, which is located at the TechTown business incubator in Detroit, signed an option agreement to produce technology developed at the National Biofuels Energy Laboratory at Wayne State University in Detroit. The company also recently received $50,000 from the Michigan Microloan Fund and another $50,000 from the First Step Fund, newly created by the New Economy Initiative, a Detroit-based philanthropic partnership.

That $100,000 will take the company a long way—far enough to conduct its first pilot plant test sometime in the next 90 days. Leppek is a technology commercialization fellow at Wayne State on loan full-time to NextCAT. The university pays his salary. Founder Charles Salley and other executives are working without compensation.

Leppek says the company has “also received indications” that it will receive a … Next Page »

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