Monday, March 15, 2010

World Biofuels Markets Amsterdam Looks at Microbe Energy

The world's big biofuels conference is meeting in Amsterdam this week.  It is focusing on microbial fuels, and micro-energy crops.
The microbes divide into three main camps _ those that are used to capture sugars and oils for extraction and fuel conversion (a.g. microalgae, lemon), catalysts such as the enzymes produced by Genencor and Novozymes, and microbes that consume a feedstock and secrete a fuel (not completely unlike the cow, who consumes hay and emits methane, but in a far more elemental and fungible way than simple rumination). LS9, Amyris, Qteros and Joule Biotechnologies are among those who have such a “magic bug,” – by far, Joule’s is the most mysterious to date – but it is the only one who can make a fuel from carbon oxide and water, rather than a simple sugar.

Let’s review the key microbes, proteins and microcrops and the latest news as World Biofuels Market convenes.


Genencor has released its Accellerase group of enzymes, while Novozymes released its Cellic line of enzymes with a focus on driving celluloisic ethanol production costs to $2 per gallon. Verenium meanwhile, released Xylathin to improve the economics of producing enzymes from cereal grains. DSM estimates that the global market for enzymes, yeast and other micro-organisms for ethanol will be $500 million in 2010, with “rapid growth thereafter” as cellulosic ethanol production takes hold.


Most recently, Amyris Biotechnologies announced that its subsidiary Amyris Brasil signed partnership LOIs with Bunge, Cosan, and Açúcar Guarani to develop renewable specialty chemicals and fuels from sugarcane. The products will be distributed by Amyris. Amyris intends to bring its renewable fuels and chemicals to market starting in 2011 through production at Boa Vista mil, where it recently purchased a 40 percent stake. Starting between the 2012 and 2013 crushing season, Amyris intends to build production through “capital-light” agreements in which Amyris provides technology and plant design and mill owners contribute capital to convert their mills to produce Amyris renewable products.

The letter of intent agreements with Bunge, Cosan and Guarani should cover Amyris’s planned production through 2013-2014. Combined with the Boa Vista mill, this results in a combined crushing capacity of over 12 million tons, and a potential capacity of up to 26 Mgy of renewable diesel fuel. Amyris said that it will invest up to $200 million in the project.

Amyris produces its renewable fuel by synthetically altering the metabolic pathways of microorganisms, such as yeast, to engineer “living factories” that transform sugar into products such as diesel fuel and jet fuel. Among the company’s investors are Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Khosla Ventures, The Texas Pacific Group, Votorantim, and Grupo Cornelio Brennand.


Last month, a research team including members of the Keasling lab at the DOE’s Joint BioEnergy Institute and LS9 announced a major breakthrough in their ability to make renewable diesel and other advanced biofuels directly from cellulosic biomass in a one-step process. Consolidated bio-processing — converting pretreated biomass in one step to a renewable fuel, eliminating the two-step procedure of using acids or enzymes to extract sugars, and then fermenting sugars into fuel — is considered a critical path element in driving down the costs of cellulosic biofuel towards cost parity with gasoline, and has been widely described as “the holy grail of biofuels”. The particular breakthrough here is that – to this point, the small number of companies that have developed an organism capable of CBP — most notably, Mascoma and Qteros — have been working with ethanol as a target fuel.

Last week, GlycosBio provided an update to the Digest on the latest in its commercialization efforts, confirming negotiations undergoing with “multiple” partners for its glycerine-based chemicals, including lactic and acetic acid, and ethanol. CEO Rick Cilento emphasized the company’s non-sugar based approach to producing higher value products in an environment where sugar prices have doubled globally in the past 18 months. The company draws its glycerine feedstocks from the oleochemicals industry or free fatty acids, and is currently capable of producing target chemicals at parity with the cost of petroleum-based chemicals, and maintaining a 45-55 percent gross margin on production. The company uses a series of microbes, primarily off the e.coli platform, but now expanded to include non e.coli-based organisms at this stage.

The Q microbe

In January, we reviewed the latest with Qteros, a pioneer in one-step, consolidate bioprocessing of biomass into cellulosic ethanol. The company’s signature IP is the “Q Microbe”, a species of clostridium, which is a naturally-discovered (but subsequently enhanced) consolidated bioprocessor that consumes (pre-treated) biomass, converts to simple sugars and then converts into ethanol. “What we’re really making is cheap sugars. Once you have that you have compounds that are identical to precursors for many useful products,” CTO Kevin Gray said in describing the company’s mission. The Q Microbe’s major promise: it saves 30 percent on the cost of cellulosic conversion, can realize 100 gallons of ethanol per ton of corn stalks and, according to EVP Jef Sharpe, “Qteros will not need fossil fuel inputs for fertilizer or distillation of the ethanol because the lignin portion of the plant material will be burned to generate the heat necessary to refine the ethanol. There will also be leftover green electricity created.”


Last week in Japan, Nippon Oil and Hitachi Plant Technologies announced a radical new technology to grow and harvest renewable oils from Euglena, pond-dwelling single-celled organisms, of the kingdown Excavata, that have both heterotrophic abilities to consume foods as well as photosynthesize energy using chloroplasts. The joint venture has developed a culturing system to produce Euglana at higher productivity rates than corn or sugarcane, and the project leaders say that their current goal is to reduce production costs below $3.00 per gallon ($0.80 per liter), and aims to convert the oils to renewable jet fuel. The venture partners say that they expect to produce Euglena biofuel by 2015.


In Indonesia, the national government has approved PetroAlgae protein for importation, and use as a raw material in animal feed in Indonesia, after the Ministry of Agriculture completed testing. According to a statement by PetroAlgae, “Licensees of the PetroAlgae production system will be expected to follow the Guidance and Procedures for the Registration of Animal Feed in Indonesia.” The protein is a co-product of PetroAlgae’s core bio-crude (renewable fuel feedstock) production system, using a variety of microcrops but currently commercializing a production system based on lemna. The announcement clears the way not only for PetroAlgae operations in Indonesia, but in neighboring countries which would utilize Indonesia as a secondary market for the protein co-product.


In Thailand, Digest subscriber Andrew K. Salzer writes, “we are currently producing and consuming 14 tons of Wolffia Globossa — also known as Asian watermeal — per day for duck feed. We utilize the duck manure to grow the W. Globosa as well as three kinds of carp and two kinds of tilapia, with no purchased feed for the fish and no urea for the aquatic plants. We have also seeded the ponds with a local freshwater clam to remove algea, bacteria, viruses, ammonium and phosphate. We project that 100 tons per day of W. Globosa could be harvested from our 100 hecatares of ponds.” (Editor’s note: this equates to 100 grams per square meter per day, or up to 2.5 times that achieved sustainably in previous microcrop projects, including algae.) Wolffia is a microscopic flowering plant — so small that 12 plants could “tastefully fit on the head of a pin” according to — which at one point was rumored to be among the platforms for Joule Biotechnolgies’ process. Wolffia is a member of the lemnacea family. PetroAlgae is currently licensing a process based on lemna.”


In addition to the focus on microbes, algae will continue to be very much in focus. _BiofuelsDigest

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