UK firm produces high-energy 'Hycadiesel'

By Luke Geiver | September 13, 2011

Hycagen Ltd., a U.K.-based advanced biofuel startup, uses the same feedstocks traditionally used by the biodiesel industry, but Hycagen doesn’t make biodiesel. Formed in 2008 by three men who were also instrumental in the development of a successful biotechnology and pharmaceutical company called Chiroscience Plc, Hycagen produces a fuel they call Hycadiesel. The fuel is made using an enzymatic catalyst technology platform. According to Alan Roth, CEO and co-founder of the company, the process uses a hyperstabilized reusable lipase enzyme catalyst that assimilates the combined feedstocks into the Hycadiesel at mild temperatures, which, he adds, generates only the desired fuel with zero waste. “The only processing step required after the reaction is filtration of the catalyst for reutilization, and the fuel is ready for use as is,” Roth said.

The enzyme process cancels out the need for dealing with glycerol waste, use of caustic alkali, methanol distillation recovery and the product wash steps needed with conventional biodiesel processing, Roth said. And because the process does not create waste products, Roth said the resulting Hycadiesel has a 30 percent higher energy content than conventional FAME biodiesel per unit of starting oil.

The company has tested various mixtures of the product in small diesel engines and found no difficulties resulting from use. “After use,” Roth explained, “the injector of the engine was inspected and found to have remained clean. In addition,” he said, “we have had further tests done by the fuels company Inertek.” Through the testing with Inertek, Roth and his team were able to achieve a cetane number for the Hycadiesel that Roth said meets the present U.S. specifications.

In addition to the Hycadiesel product, Roth also said the company has two other product lines in development that use a similar process approach. The first line is in the category of advanced biofuels, Hycajet, and the second product line falls into the category of biobased chemicals. Using the enzymatic catalysis approach, the company hopes to make products for the flavors, fragrances and pharmaceutical markets.

“What distinguishes Hycagen is not our enzymatic catalysis per se,” said Roth. “Most of the biofuels industry is based on enzymes one way or another. Our distinctive approach is to uniquely combine extensive expertise in chemistry and enzymatic science to fundamentally design superior, cost-efficient renewable[s].” While the majority of the advanced biofuels industry is focused on “biofuel products which are less than ideal in terms of physical properties, energetic content and manufacturing processes,” Roth said Hycagen instead is, first, looking at the necessary chemical and physical properties needed of a fuel, and then develop the process to manufacture them economically from renewable feedstocks.

The company was initially formed in part by the Cambridge Angels, a group of investors based in South England that focus on technology and biotechnology, and is currently working to secure more funding to advance the Hycagen suite of products. 


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