Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Quest for Bioenergy Enzymes: Novozymes

Danish company Novozymes is investing $200 million in a Nebraska enzyme plant. That is a significant investment for the company -- particularly in an economic downturn. But the best way to be ready for higher prices for a commodity like oil is to be first in line with an economical substitute.
...Novozymes is the world's biggest enzyme maker, and its products account for about 60 percent of the market in the biofuel industry.

Enzymes are strings of protein that can serve as catalysts in many natural and manmade processes. Those include breaking down starch in corn - a vital step in ethanol production.

Novozymes is also a player in the emerging cellulosic ethanol business, and it is working with the nation's largest ethanol company, Poet LLC, on a pilot cellulosic ethanol plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa, that is expected to begin operating in 2011.

Cellulose is the woody material in branches and stems that makes plants hard, and the ethanol industry is developing ways to produce fuel from cellulose economically. Once the costs of cellulosic ethanol are similar to corn-based ethanol, companies will be able to produce ethanol from straw, corn stalks, wood pulp and other inedible agricultural leftovers.

Hansen said Novozymes has 150 researchers working to improve the enzymes it produces to break down cellulose and reduce their cost. Novozymes has reduced the cost of cellulosic ethanol enzymes to about $1 per gallon, and the company expects to cut that cost to about 50 cents per gallon next year.

Hansen predicted the technology will be ready to produce cellulosic ethanol by the end of 2010... _Bioeneryg
Enzymes can turn cellulose into more than just ethanol. But since the US government is currently backing ethanol as a gasoline additive, it makes sense to invest in EtOH -- for a start. Long term, butanol and other fuels and valuable chemicals makes more sense.

What is the advantage of the enzyme approach over the gasification / pyrolysis / torrefaction approach? Potentially higher efficiencies and profits. It is always about efficiency and profit.

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