Virdia, a California-based company that develops cellulosic sugars for chemicals and biofuels, will open a technology center and demonstration facility on the campus of the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research.
The facility is designed to demonstrate on a pilot scale the proprietary process that Virdia has developed for converting cellulosic biomass to fermentable sugars and lignin. In addition, the facility will produce commercially representative samples of cellulosic sugars and lignin for commercial applications.
“Siting our technology center and our demonstration facility in Virginia is the next key step toward commercial production for us,” said Philippe Lavielle, CEO of Virdia. “Virdia’s products are cost-competitive, and are setting new standards for industrial uses of cellulosic sugars and lignin. The technology is being established in pilot scale, and we now look forward to the opportunity to demonstrate it on an even larger scale. Looking ahead, our next step will be to site a commercial facility near sustainable sources of biomass.”
Virdia’s facility in Danville will be established with 34 employees in place. The company expects to hire as many as 50.
Applications for the sugars range from renewable fuels and fuel intermediates, renewable chemicals and materials, and nutritional additives for the animal feed industry. The high quality lignin in dry or soluble forms has proven to be a valuable feedstock for plant-based plastics and other thermo-chemical transformations. Virdia’s sugars are already being tested for use in several industries – most recently by Virent as a feedstock for high-performance drop-in jet fuels.
“Virdia is making huge strides in the emerging bioeconomy, and I am pleased the company has decided to site its new technology center in Virginia,” said Bob McDonnell, governor of Virginia. “The development of sustainable and clean sources of energy is a necessary component of our all the above energy strategy, and Virginia is proud to welcome Virdia to the state in pursuance of cleaner energy, scientific innovation and economic stimulus.”
A public ribbon-cutting event and tours will be held on Wednesday. At that time, the IALR is officially opening the newest addition to its campus in Danville, the Sustainable Energy and Technology Center (SENTEC).
The IALR was started in 2002 to bring technological growth to the area and revitalize the southern Virginia economy. SENTEC is a research and development center on the IALR campus. It was originally founded to develop enhanced bio-based fuels and materials.
“Virdia is entirely in line with our vision for IALR and innovation on our campus, as their CASE™ process and subsequent products have the potential to serve a vast array of applications, from food to energy and beyond,” said Dr. Liam Leightley, executive director of IALR.
SENTEC was funded by more than $8.5 million in awards and grants, primarily from the Virginia Tobacco Commission but also from the Higher Education Trust Fund and the city of Danville.
Virdia has invested nearly $10 million in its Technology Center, for a total investment of nearly $19 million in the region.
“Constructed with funding from the Virginia Tobacco Commission, SENTEC will be a primary contributor for the development of a bio-based industry in the Tobacco Commission region,” Leightley added. “R&D projects will be pursued that are directed toward the development and introduction of biomass crops, assessment of conversion technologies, development of co-products from conversion processes and feasibility studies for installing biorefineries in Southern Virginia. SENTEC will be able to transfer knowledge from throughout the world for the benefit of Southern Virginia.”
SENTEC comprises 25,000 square feet of research laboratories, spaces and offices. The building itself has several sustainability initiatives implemented, including a vegetated roof, a rainwater cistern, recycled flooring, advanced HVAC systems and other energy-saving features. Danville architect Dewberry and general contractor New Atlantic Contracting, Inc. of Winston-Salem anticipate LEED Gold Certification from the US Green Building Council, which is determined once the building has been operational for at least one year.
SENTEC and the innovation that Virdia brings to the area are the latest steps forward in the transformation of Southern Virginia toward an economy that embraces technology, while drawing on the region’s agricultural assets.