Inexpensive cellulosic ethanol is essential for the development of liquid fuel products from non-food materials. Several companies are already involved in building pilot plants or small commercial plants to produce cellulosic ethanol. (see cellulosic ethanol category for more information) One of the major cost constraints on the process is the cost of the enzymes used to convert these materials into sugars. To this end the DOE announced four projects to conduct further research on enzymes. The following is adapted from the DOE press release:
U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on Feb. 26 announced that DOE will invest up to $33.8 million, over four years, for four projects that will focus on developing improved enzyme systems to convert cellulosic material into sugars suitable for production of biofuels. Combined with industry cost share, up to $70 million will be invested in these projects, with a minimum 50 percent cost share from industry.
Cellulosic ethanol can be made from a wide variety of non-food materials, including agricultural wastes such as corn stover and cereal straws, industrial plant waste like saw dust and paper pulp, and energy crops such as switchgrass, specifically for fuel production. By relying on a variety of feedstocks, cellulosic ethanol can be produced in nearly every region of the country, using material grown locally. Though it requires a more complex refining process, cellulosic ethanol contains more net energy and results in lower greenhouse emissions than traditional corn-based ethanol.
Funding is subject to appropriations from Congress. Selected projects include:
DSM Innovation Center Inc. (Parsippany, NJ): Development of a Commercial Enzymes System for Lignocellulosic Biomass Saccharification. This project will employ DSM’s internal, proprietary fungal systems to develop new approaches to improve enzymes for the conversion of pre-treated lignocellulosic biomass into sugars suitable for fermentation into cellulosic ethanol. Team Members: Abengoa Bioenergy New Technologies (Nebraska); and DOE’s Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories (New Mexico).
Genencor - a Division of Danisco, USA, Inc. (Palo Alto, CA): Enhancing Cellulase Commercial Performance for the Lignocellulosic Biomass Industry. This project plans to reduce the enzyme-dose level required for biomass saccharification by improving the specific performance of the Trichoderma Reesei mix of fungal-based cellulases to facilitate production of cellulosic ethanol from sugars produced by the saccharification process. Team Members: DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (Colorado)
Novozymes, Inc. (Davis, CA): Project Decrease - Development of a Commercial-Ready Enzyme Application System for Ethanol. This project aims to improve performance of Novozymes’ most advanced enzyme system by decreasing the dosage of enzyme required to hydrolyze biomass into fermentable sugars suitable for cellulosic ethanol production. Team Members: Novozymes North America (North Carolina); Novozymes A/S (Denmark); Novozymes (China) Investment Co. Ltd; DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (Washington) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (Colorado); the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique University (France); and Cornell University (New York).
Verenium Corporation (San Diego, CA): Commercialization of Customized Cellulase Solutions for Biomass Saccharification. This project will leverage Verenium’s advanced enzyme development capabilities to commercialize a cellulase enzyme system to produce a more cost-effective enzyme solution for biomass saccharification processes that will also tolerate conditions that enable more efficient process economics in producing ethanol from cellulosics.