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

5/17/10

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Small Business Innovation Rearch Grant from the National Science Foundation as early as July.

“But what we’re looking for in the next nine to 10 months is a half-million in funding,” Leppek says. “And that will get us through pilot and scale testing and enable us to enter the market.”

Without getting too technical about types of feedstocks, their prices, levels of free fatty acids, the process of transesterification, and other fun stuff of interest to specialists in the field—you can read about the technology here and see a technical paper here—NextCAT, in a nutshell, believes it has a better, cheaper, more-efficient way of sparking the entire process. Simon Ng, NextCAT’S CTO and interim associate dean of research at Wayne State’s College of Engineering, has helped to uncover a new class of catalysts that have the ability to convert a wide range of oil feedstocks to biodiesel while, at the same time, simplifying the biodiesel production process. 

Turning inexpensive waste grease oil and animal fats into suitable feedstocks for biodiesel production. should enable a restart of the 140 (out of a total of 173) biodiesel producers currently idled by high feedstock costs, according to NextCAT. The company says that by opening the door to these less expensive feedstocks, NextCAT’s catalysts will save biodiesel producers at least $1 per gallon. The global biodiesel market was 4 billion gallons in 2009 and, largely due to government mandates, is projected to grow at 10 percent anually over the next five years, according to figures supplied by NextCAT.

NextCAT plans to enter the U.S. market first to retrofit existing idle plants as demand increases because of government mandates. Federal regulations require 1 billion gallons of biodiesel in fuel blends by 2012. The company projects revenue of $18 million in 2014, assuming a usage fee of $0.125 per gallon of biodiesel produced. For a plant that produces 10 million gallons per year, the company says, that equals $1.25 million a year. Catalysts last about a year, so revenues are recurring.

It’s a good time to go to market, then, says Leppek. The next 90 days will see pilot testing at a European catalyst manufacturer and, he is quick to add, “we’ll also perform one in Michigan as well.”

And that, NextCAT believes, is how innovation can solve problems associated with the conflict between government plans and market realities.

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