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December 05, 2022 | Tom Ballard

Trillium Renewable Chemicals announces more than $13 million in funding

They money comes from a Series A funding round and a DOE grant.

Knoxville-headquartered Trillium Renewable Chemicals (TRC), a start-up we first spotlighted in this January 2022 teknovation.biz article and later in a June 2022 article, has just made two concurrent announcements that will further propel the company’s commercialization pathway.

One involves a Series A funding round, the other a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Together, they add more than $13 million to the company’s coffers as Trillium advances its innovative Bio-ACNTM process that sustainably converts plant-based feedstocks into valuable chemicals like acrylonitrile and acetonitrile.

Corey Tyree

“It took a lot of work to get here,” said Corey Tyree, President and Chief Executive Officer of the nearly two-year-old company. “I remind our team that we built a pilot plant and raised $24.1 million in 20 months.”

The Series A involves a first closing of $5.5 million that was led by Hyosung Advanced Materials Corporation, based in Korea. Current investor Capricorn Partners, located in Belgium, also participated. Hamburg, Germany-based HELM AG has also agreed to join the Series A round to bring the total to $10.6 million. In a separate but complementary announcement, DOE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office has added to the mix, awarding Trillium a non-diluted $2.5 million award to accelerate commercialization of the company’s process to manufacture bio-based acrylonitrile in conjunction with development partner Mid-Atlantic Technology, Research, and Innovation Center (MATRIC) where work has been underway at a pilot plant in Charleston, WV.

“This funding takes us to the final pre-commercialization stage,” Tyree explained, emphasizing that enterprises from four different countries participated in helping further commercialize the revolutionary process. He anticipates that Trillium will be raising a significant Series B round in about two years to construct the world’s first commercial plant to produce acrylonitrile.

Pictured at the West Virginia facility are Dave Fisher, Chemical Plant Operator (left), and Chief Engineer Aiguo Liu.

“Demonstrating our technology at scale is job one,” Tyree said. “Financial backing from HELM AG and Hyosung advances Trillium to demonstration scale. The addition of strategic investors also validates our technology and our potential. With funding from quality partners, we can realize our potential to become a leading producer of renewable chemicals.”

As noted in our previous coverage, acrylonitrile is currently manufactured from oil and gas derivatives to make a diverse range of consumer and industrial goods including carbon fiber, plastic, textiles, flocculant, synthetic rubber, and other valuable materials. These materials are used in finished products such as apparel, auto parts, aerospace parts, medical gloves, toys, consumer electronics, personal care products, sporting goods, and water treatment chemicals.

Trillium’s Bio-ACNTM process will provide customers with a safer, more sustainable alternative to fossil-based acrylonitrile by using renewable feedstocks like glycerol. The patented technology that the company licensed from Birmingham, AL-based Southern Research relies on high-performance catalysis requiring no biology. Through traditional thermochemical processes, Trillium has discovered a cost-competitive way to make acrylic molecules.

“We are excited to be a partner with TRC for this innovative technology development and the commercialization pathway,” said Young Joon Lee, Vice President at Hyosung. “Sustainability is at the heart of Hyosung’s future growth strategy, and we firmly believe that our strong partnership will take us to the next level of industry leadership in renewable chemicals space.”

Andreas Woschek, Executive Vice President at HELM AG, also emphasized sustainability in his comments. “HELM is highly committed to growing its chemical business via sustainable solutions. Our engagement in Trillium marks another milestone in delivering tangible actions via our sustainability strategy. The combined skillsets of the partners supporting Trillium now provides an exciting opportunity to commercialize the innovation of bio-based, low-carbon Acrylonitrile to the market.”

For Capricorn Partners’ Rob van der Meij, who sits on Trillium’s board of directors, and Wouter van de Putte, the mix of investors was particularly noted. “It is great to have such constructive co-investors that bring significant value to the company for the scale-up and market introduction,” they said.

As Trillium designs, builds, and operates a market demonstration unit, Tyree emphasized the importance of the DOE funding, not just as non-diluted capital but for another reason.

“This project brings together participants across the supply chain to accelerate progress by supporting our next major commercial milestone,’ he said. “The unit will produce the volumes needed to qualify as a supplier. And it will provide the information we need to further de-risk and design a commercial plant. Trillium is proud to be amongst the awardees.”

One of those supply chain partners is Solvay S.A. which will validate the product for use in manufacturing of carbon fiber and also perform an independent ISO 9001 lifecycle analysis. Another is Koch Modular Process Systems LLC which will provide a front-end loading engineering design of a first commercial plant.