La Belle au bois dormant (“The Beauty in the Sleeping Woods”).

We recently had the opportunity to share the story of International Furan Technology (Pty) Ltd at the Innovation and Investment Forum of WFC2015: XiV World Forestry Congress in Durban

"Story telling is one of the great African traditions and in that tradition, honourable delegates, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, your Excellency Naledi Pandor, Minister of Science and Technology, let me try to share with you our story of

  1. how we took a biorefining idea first to the labs, then
  2. got it financed and
  3. commercialised it.

In order to do that, I shall first introduce you to the chemical, its market place and then highlight in five or so minutes a journey that started in 1998."

The slide's narrative, which follows-on from Gianluca's theme of the "Sleeping Beauty", can be downloaded here (by registered users).

WFC2015, XIV World Forestry Congress

Subtheme 4: Encouraging product innovation an sustainable trade

Dialogue 1 -4: Innovation and Investment Forum

Sub session 3: From the Labs to the Marketplace

Thursday 10 Sep 2015, 08h30 – 11h20.

Chair:  Jukka Tissari (FAO)

Keynote: Charlie Clarke (Sappi): SA biorefinery development

Panel (left to right)

Elizabeth de Carvalhaes (Ibá, Brazil)

Jegatheswaran Ratnasingam (Univ Putra Malaysia)

Philipp Steiner (CEO of International Furan Technology (Pty) Ltd)

Johann Görgens (Univ. of Stellenbosch, SA)

Chris Nicholson (IDC, South Africa)

Riikka Joukio (Metsä Group): Bioproduct mill and a globally unique ecosystem for bioeconomy

Moderator: Ms Roberta Annan

Erkki Hellen (VTT, Finland): New opportunities with nanocelluloses and foam technologies



  • Furfural
  • Biorefineries
  • Pulp Mills
  • BBSBiorefining™...


 One-pot furfural conversion, using a zeolite catalyst

Our International Furan Technology (Pty) Ltd subsidiary supplies biomass processing technologies for the manufacture of furfural (and other bio-renewable chemicals). We therefore have our 'radar screen' set on new processes or down-stream product developments and as a result, the following research caught our interest.

Heterogeneous, stable catalyst promoting acid and reduction routes to bio-products.

Abstract [1]

Aiming at the valorisation of furfural via sustainable routes based on process intensification and heterogeneous catalysis, the one-pot conversion of this renewable platform chemical to useful bio-products, namely furfuryl alkyl ethers (FEs), levulinate esters (LEs), levulinic acid (LA), angelica lactones (AnLs) and γ-valerolactone (GVL), was investigated using a single heterogeneous catalyst, in 2-butanol, at 120 °C. Various chemical reactions are involved in this process, which requires catalysts with active sites for acid and reduction chemistry. For this purpose, it was explored for the first time the catalytic potentialities of modified versions of zeolite beta containing Al and Sn sites prepared from commercially available nanocrystalline zeolite beta via post-synthesis partial dealumination followed by solid-state ion-exchange. The post-synthesis conditions influenced considerably the catalytic performances of these types of materials. The best-performing catalyst was (Sn)SSIE-beta1 with Si/(Al + Sn) = 19 (Sn/Al = 27), which led to total yield of bio-products of 83% at 86% Fur conversion, and exhibited steady catalytic performance for six consecutive runs. A systematic catalytic study using the prepared catalysts with different bio-products as substrates, together with the molecular level and microstructural characterisation of the materials, helped understand the effects of different material properties on the specific reaction pathways in the overall system. These studies led to mechanistic insights into the reaction network of Fur to the bio-products in alcohol media, upon which a kinetic model was developed for the first time. The superior performance of (Sn)SSIE-beta1 in various steps was related to the dealumination degree, dispersion and amount of Sn-sites, and acid properties. Continue



  • Biorenewable Chemicals
  • Furfural
  • Levulinic Acid...


Green is the New Cool!

Insulation mats made form recycled PET bottles are already commercially available. They are very effective e.g. as geyser blankets or as roof insulation, are easy to install and pose no health threat.

Since we covered our geysers with PET-fibre blankets, the electricity consumption dropped by 15% (P. Steiner)

Carbon Capture

Put it simply: Carbon sequestration is about capturing CO2 that is emitted as a result of burning fossil fuels (e.g. oil, coal or gas) and storing it underground (for ever), thus lowering the CO2 levels and reducing global warming. For a more detailed explanation, have a look at wikipedia, where you will also find a concept of how a biomass business, like ours, can contribute to a negative CO2 footprint.

Furfural is made from 100% Natural Carbon

100% of the carbons in the furfural molecule are made by nature, through photosynthesis of CO2 and water. Furfural is made from the hemicellulose fraction of the biomass (see "how it is made?"). The hemicellulose is of no use to the food/feed value chain. 

Hemicellulose, is also the second most-abundant organic material in nature, typically representing 25–35% of lignocellulose by mass.

Furfural and Carbon Capture, Storage & Energy Savings

Furfural is a versatile chemical building block that is made from plant carbon. Therefore, any material that is made from furfural and that lasts 'forever', is a form of carbon storage. Using such materials to reduce (domestic) electricity consumption, will further reduce CO2 emission, where gas or coal-fired power-stations are used to generate the electricity that is used for heating or cooling a house.

The pathway from furfural to PET is explained in our "a truly biobased TPA for PET" article ( May 2015).

  • Furfural
  • PET
  • Bioplastics...


A single pass harvesting system, developed by farmers for farmers to unlock a viable renewables businesses.

Since 2002, DalinYebo Trading and Development (“DalinYebo”) has been looking for supplies of corncobs to make biorenewable chemicals. In 2010, as part of the award winning Cobelec business plan[1], DalinYebo undertook a survey of the mielie farming locations throughout South Africa. It was determine that there is sufficient usable biomass (maize-cobs) availability as a basis for the roll-out of the GreenEnergyPark™ concepts[2]. A GreenEnergyPark™ consists of simple and profitable applications for the transformation of biomass to energy (electricity) and/or chemicals.


How does one harvest corncobs?

With the drive for energy independence in the USA and the vast quantities of mielies (maize) planted, agricultural equipment manufacturers have been developing different ways to collect corncobs. The most outstanding collector was a system that has proven affordable and was developed by agricultural engineers who also are mielie farmers. Their on-the-go cob harvester is able to collect grain and corncobs in a single-pass with self-contained add-ons to the combine and the grain collection cart (see above picture). This system is easily adapted to South African farming practises.

For what will corncobs be used?

Quite simply, the corncobs collected will be used for the production of biorenewable chemicals and energy. Initially the main product will be an industrial chemical called furfural[3] The residue from this production will be used to e.g. generate power for furfural production and any other agro-processing industry operations in the area.


What is “furfural” and what is a “GreenEnergyPark™”?

Furfural is a liquid chemical, which is made from biomass such as corncobs, oat hulls, sunflower husks, sugarcane bagasse and that finds industrial application in the manufacture of resins (esp. for moulds in steel industry). It is also a building block and intermediary for other chemicals, polymers and plastics and also used in automotive, construction, aviation, chemical, pharmaceutical industries. The global market for furfural is growing and in 2010 the demand exceeded its supply. It has been industrially produced from different agricultural residues since 1922.

Based on a stable supply of corncobs, the co-production of furfural and energy (steam and electricity) is an ideal platform for agricultural processing operations to be grouped into or near a GreenEnergyPark™. This GreenEnergyPark™ could also serve existing processing facilities like grain milling, feed drying and fertilizer mixing, as well as benefit future farming related businesses.

DalinYebo has a secure long-term off-take for furfural, which therefore has the potential to immediately add (FOREX) revenue to mielie farming. In the long term, a GreenEnergyPark™ provides many possibilities for increased revenues to other farming related operations.

How much will it cost?

The overall investment for a new furfural plant that processes about 60,000 t of corncobs per year will be in the order of R50 million to R60million. Based on the biomass supply commitment, there will be co-investors from the global industry leaders. Investments by the farming community or other SA companies are welcomed. The modification cost to the agricultural equipment is minimal in the context of the overall business returns. The project payback period is around 4 years.

What are the risks?

The biggest risk is not to do anything about it! Timing is everything: Currently there are international investors who would like to visit South Africa as soon as possible to evaluate SA farmer’s willingness to supply corncobs on a long-term basis. This is an opportunity that is not to be missed.

I’m interested, how can I find out more about this opportunity?

For those interested in participation in this business opportunity, particularly with regard to corncob supply, are invited to meet representatives of the project promoters. The website contains background information about the GreenEnergyPark™ concept. More information will be provided and questions answered during our presentation. There will also be an opportunity for private meetings with farmers and/or other parties (e.g. contract harvesters) who have a serious interest.

Contact Details (Project Promoters):

DalinYebo Trading and Development (Pty) Ltd: 

or Brent McKeon, Marketing Director

Plant Earth Biopower:

or Mr. Mzwandile Sithole

or Prof. Mark Laing



  • Cobelec™
  • GreenEnergyPark™
  • Corncobs...


Biobased terephthalic acid (TPA) for polyethylene terephthalate (PET)

Although beverage companies like Coca-Cola Ltd. have adopted biobased-PET since 2009, they use petroleum based TPA and therefore the PET's percentage biomass carbon content is a mere 20%. In a February 2015 publication [1], researchers propose a viable synthetic route, shown in Figure 1 (below), for the preparation of biobased TPA from furfural alone, which is produced industrially from inedible cellulosic biomass.


Fig 1 - Furfural to TPA [1]

The researchers now aim to reduce the number of process steps to two and increase the overall yields.

Furfural is an ideal biomass resource, as it is traditionally produced from cellulosic and waste biomass such as corncob, corn stock, and rice hull. Furthermore, it is extremely abundant, with a global output of 500,000–1,000,000 tonnes/year.


PTA is expected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 5.3% from 2011, reaching 66 million tons in 2020, with Asia-Pacific expected to account for around 82% of its demand. [2]

Also See:

image   Polyester From Furfural (November 2014)

image   Furfural as feedstock for PET alternatives (December 2013)

image   Important chemicals for the production of biomass-based monomers (Nov 2013)

image Renewable platform chemical and building block (October 2013)

image   Moving the field of furfural and its by-products into the limelight it deserves


[1] Synthesis and Verification of Biobased Terephthalic Acid from Furfural

[2] CBI Research: China and India to Lead Global Purified Terephthalic Acid Demand Growth by 2020 (accessed: 19 April 2015)


Since 2001, DalinYebo provides knowhow:

To convert biomass to value added products that are used in industries such as steel, wood, pharmaceutical, automotive, agricultural chemicals, industrial chemicals, etc.

For the agri (biomass) processing, sugar, pulp&paper, etc. industries, we provide knowhow and technology to convert (residual) biomass to chemicals and energy.

For owners of biomass we offer technology and market access, creating investment opportunities in the cleantech space.

The essential technical challenge facing us, and the world in general, is the complete beneficiation of cellulosic material. We strive to provide viable and practical solution. Contact us to discuss the economic potential of your biomass.
  • PET
  • Polyesters
  • Byproducts...


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