Madison clean-tech company hosts agriculture secretary [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]
(Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) April 19--MADISON -- Virent Inc. hosted U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Wednesday, as the Department of Agriculture sought to highlight manufacturing job opportunities from production of bio-based products.
The Madison clean-tech firm is deploying technology to make renewable fuels and chemicals from the sugars of plants, using a chemical conversion process.
Virent recently signed agreements with the Coca-Cola Co. to produce paraxylene from plant sugars. Paraxylene is a key ingredient that Coca-Cola needed to make beverage bottles entirely from renewable sources.
The Madison firm was one of three vendors selected by Coca-Cola to supply the paraxylene, and is working with the beverage producer under a three-year agreement.
The company uses a chemical conversion process to create fuels and chemicals from sugars of plants such as corn stalks and pine tree needles.
Virent employs more than 120 people, up from a handful when it was founded nearly 10 years ago, said Chief Technical Officer and co-founder Randy Cortright.
Vilsack touted the opportunities for farmers to grow crops that are specifically geared toward production of chemicals and fuels, saying the opportunities beyond transportation fuels from bio-based products represent "an unlimited capacity to reshape this economy."
Virent is developing plans to build commercial scale bio-refineries in the next several years, one for the plant-bottle chemical for Coca-Cola and another for transportation fuels, said Cortright.
The company is expected to compete with other biofuels technology firms for federal assistance to build commercial bio-refineries that would supply fuel for the U.S. Navy. The Obama administration last year announced a $510 million program that would support the development of three or four bio-refineries around the country. The program is jointly funded by the Navy, Department of Agriculture and Department of Energy.
Vilsack said decisions on which firms would be selected could be made by the end of the year.
(c)2012 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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