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Bioethanol R&D

Research pacts seek to bring cellulose-based ethanol to market

by Michael McCoy
November 6, 2006 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 84, ISSUE 45

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Credit: NOVOZYMES
Cellulase enzymes are a focus for Novozymes researchers
8445notw2_novozyme.jpg
Credit: NOVOZYMES
Cellulase enzymes are a focus for Novozymes researchers

Two new R&D agreements have been signed between enzymes companies and ethanol producers, both with the goal of economically converting cellulose into fuel ethanol.

One collaboration links Novozymes, the world's largest enzymes company, with Broin Companies, the largest dry-mill ethanol producer in the U.S. The agreement builds on an earlier R&D pact that yielded an amylase enzyme that Broin now uses to break down cornstarch in its BPX ethanol production process.

BPX also will be the foundation for a second-generation process that produces ethanol from corn stalks and other cellulosic biomass, according to Broin CEO Jeffrey S. Broin. He says he's optimistic about "our ability to continue developing the technology to make cellulose-to-ethanol conversion a reality in the next four to six years."

The second agreement is between a smaller enzymes company, Dyadic, and Abengoa Bioenergy, a Spanish firm that calls itself the world's second-largest ethanol producer. Under the deal, Abengoa is buying $10 million in Dyadic stock; Dyadic will use the money to research a cost-effective enzyme system for Abengoa's cellulosic ethanol process. Abengoa is building a small cellulosic ethanol facility in Spain and is considering a larger one in the U.S.

These agreements are the latest deals aimed at making ethanol from raw materials other than corn. President George W. Bush catapulted the concept into the public's consciousness in his January State of the Union address, when he called for cellulose-based ethanol to be "practical and competitive" within six years.

Other recent commercialization initiatives include one announced last month by Broin and DuPont under which Broin will modify one of its cornstarch ethanol plants in Iowa to run on DuPont cellulosic ethanol technology (C&EN, Oct. 16, page 25). Likewise, the Canadian ethanol producer Iogen wants to build a cellulosic ethanol plant in Idaho or Western Canada.

Companies such as Broin and Iogen are hoping to snag some of the $160 million that the Department of Energy plans to divide among two or three commercial biorefineries over the course of three years. The government has said it will announce the winners of the funding in January.

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