Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Amyris Scale-Up of Farnesene from Cane Fermentation Proceeding

25Feb2011 More: This is a good example of a high-value chemical use for the following technology, providing early profits to finance development of more high volume products such as biofuels:
Amyris Inc. made an agreement with Swiss company Givaudan to develop an ingredient for perfumes.

Givaudan is based in Vernier, Switzerland. It will use Amyris’ product “Biofene” (farnesene) for perfume products that could be created as early as 2012. _bizjournals
Amyris' farnesene can be channeled into dozens of different product lines.
“The ability to modify microbes [means] we can be the Microsoft of fuels and chemicals, where we are in effect writing the software that goes into the fermentation tank,” he says. “That, to me, was game changing.” Melo directed the company to work on diesel, the world’s most widely used transportation fuel and one that is often in short supply. Producing the right type of molecule proved surprisingly easy. Within six weeks, the scientists had switched a single enzyme in their artemisinin producing bugs and begun producing farnesene, the oil they had identified as a potential precursor to diesel.

“They look like very different projects—one is a medicine and one is a fuel—but the metabolic route is similar,” Collier says. “That was the big advance of Amyris.” Farnesene is a pleasantsmelling oil that accounts in part for the odor of apple skins. By performing one additional chemical step, hydrogenation, Amyris can turn the yeast-produced farnesene into farnesane, a highly combustible fuel with properties similar to those of diesel. _TechnologyReview
Through different finishing steps, we can turn farnesene into a renewable diesel, a surfactant used in soaps and shampoos, a cream used in lotions, a number of lubricants, or a variety of other useful chemicals. _Amyris

Amyris Biotech is an Emeryville, California, synthetic biology company founded by Berkeley's Jay Keasling. The company was founded with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to produce synthetic artemisinin -- a powerful drug used to treat malaria and other deadly diseases.

Amyris scientists discovered that they could also ferment farnesene -- a synthetic diesel precursor -- with minimal changes to the yeast fermentation platform. Farnesene has many uses in multiple industries, besides being easily converted to a synthetic diesel.

Amyris has close ties to the Brazilian sugar cane industry, and is proceeding on schedule to scale-up its farnesene fermentation process in order to reach commercial scales and economies of production. The latest news from Amyris is that it has achieved multiple successful fermentation runs of its farnesene-producing yeast, in fermentors of both 100,000 and 200,000 litre sizes.
Amyris, Inc., a renewable hydrocarbons company, announced that it has completed multiple runs of its fermentation process using its engineered yeast to produce Biofene, Amyris renewable farnesene, in 100,000 and 200,000 liter capacity fermentors. These runs were completed through contract manufacturing operations in North America and Europe. The results of these fermentation runs, including yields, were consistent with previous runs at smaller scale.

...Amyris expects to commence commercial production of Biofene in the second quarter of 2011 and ramp production through manufacturing arrangements with entities including Biomin and Tate & Lyle. In addition, Amyris and Grupo São Martinho, a leading sugar and ethanol producer in Brazil, have commenced site preparation on their joint venture production facility at Usina São Martinho. All of these facilities will utilize fermentors with capacities ranging between 100,000 and 600,000 liters. _GCC
More on the Amyris project:
Nine years ago, Amyris’s technology was still a bench project in Keasling’s Berkeley laboratory. Researchers had been looking at ways to coax microörganisms to produce commercially useful products. By adding DNA from plants and bacteria, Keasling’s lab eventually designed new bacteria and yeast cells that could make large quantities of sopentenyl pyrophosphate. With its five carbon atoms, the chemical is a sort of Lego block of the natural world; from it, plants and animals build isoprenoids, members of a large class of molecules that includes the anticancer drug taxol, vitamin E, and scents such as those of grapefruit and the pheromones of female cockroaches.

Keasling knew the invention was valuable, and in 2001 he filed the first patent application of his career. “We wanted to apply the tools to a real problem,” he says. The chance came in 2004, when the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation decided to donate $42.6 million to a project that would manufacture the antimalaria drug artemisinin with the aid of Keasling’s made-to-order microbes.

Artemisinin is currently derived from the sweet wormwood plant, grown mostly in Africa and Asia. Supply of the drug is unsteady, and prices swing wildly; they reached $1,100 a kilogram in 2006. By using genetically modified yeast to produce it from sugar, Keasling’s approach promised to solve the supply problem and dramatically cut the price. With its chance of saving thousands—perhaps millions—of people who might otherwise die of malaria, the project has become a symbol of synthetic biology’s potential to change the world for the better. The Gates money paid for the rapid expansion of Amyris, which Keasling and three of his postdocs founded to carry out the malaria project. By late 2005, says Amyris’s chief technical officer, Neil Renninger, some at the company were spending “nights and weekends” thinking about what other problems their technology could solve.

Amyris estimates that the isoprenoid family includes some 50,000 different types of molecules, so it was far from clear where to focus next. “When we began pitching the VCs, we said there are some drugs we think are interesting, and nutraceuticals, and even fuels—what do you think?” recalls Renninger. But it was hard to find a project as meaningful to Amyris’s scientists as malaria. “This was really a culture of people that want to save lives and not make a lot of money,” he says. “So when you throw making grapefruit flavor in front of them—well, it’s not too interesting.” _TechnologyReview
Our intention is to create a new “fene economy,” in which farnesene serves as the base chemical building block for a wide range of renewable products to replace existing products that are derived from petroleum, plant or animal sources and that may be of lower quality or higher price. We have entered into an agreement and non-binding letters of intent with Brazilian sugar and ethanol producers which provide us with access to approximately 12 million tons of sugarcane crush capacity annually. As of the first quarter of 2010, this capacity represented approximately 10% of the total crush capacity of these sugar and ethanol producers. We believe that if we are successful in converting these arrangements into operating bolt-on production facilities and if we continue to execute successfully on our research and development and commercialization programs, we will have the development capability and production and distribution relationships necessary to achieve approximately 600 million liters of farnesene production and high value product sales annually. However, achieving this volume of production and sales will require us to achieve a substantially higher level of production process efficiencies than we have to date. _Source
The only news being reported here, is that Amyris continues to progress in its scaleup of farnesene fermentation production. The larger picture clearly demonstrates that there are many paths to biofuels -- beyond ethanol from maize or cane.

Sooner or later, cellulosic sugars will become more affordable than sugars from food crops. When that happens, entire food and agricultural enterprises may well be overturned. Try to keep an eye on this development if you are invested in food or agriculture -- or biofuels.

Before you blame biofuels for high costs of food, it might be better to keep in mind the multitude of other factors which go into the pricing of food, besides one sliver of demand for a few crops. Crop poduction is flexible -- weather permitting -- but oil prices and capricious government policies in both emerging and advanced countries can important factors. Of course, a more proximate cause of food shortages in third world countries is the actual governments of those same third world countries, and their generally corrupt and counter-productive policies.

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