renmatix, beyond the news

Sometimes you simply want a news update and you are go to a site that provides just this; updates. There is however a chance, a danger that they start discussing technology and start confusing the situation.

This concept came to the forefront the other day as I read through a recent GigaOM article on Renmatix.  It reported on financing from Waste Management. It was for sure of the news sort.  This is fair enough.  But, now you want to learn a bit more, particularly about the technology.  What if you want a clearer picture of the company and how it fits in the “ecosystem”?  Such news articles don’t help in this quest.  Often the answer is digging and assimilating the various bits of information yourself.

Before turning to Renmatix let’s think about the GigaOM article and how it handled the technology.  To cut to the chase, the article confuses the technology.  First, it throws around the term “trash” quite a bit.  This term seems too broad.  It usually implies a whole waste stream including metals, plastics, paper and organic waste.  It is only organic waste that is of relevance here.  Dealing with chlorinated molecules as may be found in plastics is a much different beast and there is no energy value in metal.  The second term of interest is “sugars”.  As a start one might consider sugars, which is Renmatix’s desired end product, to be an intermediate hydrocarbon that could go on to be used as building blocks for larger compounds appropriate for fermentation.

Now let’s think about Renmatix.  I had not thought about them for a bit now, but on seeing this article I did go through the archives.  Two articles from the fall of 2011 came to the surface.  The earlier of the two was in the NY Times.  It provided some basic detail to the two step process used by Renmatix and quoted John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.  The latter article appeared in Technology Review.  Again some basic process details were provided.  More interestingly though there were quotes from either side of the fence, regarding the use of supercritical water in biomass processing.  Both articles are worth a read.

The final thing that I want to touch on is the patent situation.  Let’s say the proponents are correct and Renmatix can provide an economic source of sugar feedstock with their two step process.  Further, maybe the whole concept of using two steps is novel and non-obvious or maybe there is some particular aspect therein that sets the process apart.  In either case it will be of interest to see what patent applications are filed.  If they have made the process economical and emerge from the carnage around cellulosic ethanol there will be plenty of interest in how they did it.