DOE to Fund Enzyme Projects for Cellulosic Biofuel

U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Andy Karsner said 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.

These projects aim to address key technical hurdles associated with mass production of clean, renewable fuels, such as cellulosic ethanol. Combined with industry cost share, up to $70 million will be invested in these projects, with a minimum 50 percent cost share from industry. 

"Success of these projects will play a pivotal role in the rapid development and deployment of renewable fuels to reduce emissions and dependence on foreign oil and fundamentally change how we power our vehicles," Karsner said.

The projects seek to more cost-effectively and efficiently break down processed biomass into fermentable sugars, a significant challenge in converting biomass into fuels. Projects were selected based on their demonstrated ability to reduce the cost of enzymes-per-gallon of ethanol by improving an enzyme's performance. Selected projects must demonstrate the ability to produce enzymes at a commercial-scale, and have a sound business strategy to market the enzymes or enzyme production systems in biorefinery operations.
Cellulosic ethanol is a renewable fuel 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.

Negotiations between the selected companies and DOE will begin immediately to determine final project plans and funding levels. Funding is subject to appropriations from Congress. Selected projects include:

DSM Innovation Center Inc. (Parsippany, N.J.): Development of a Commercial Enzymes System for Lignocellulosic Biomass Saccharification. 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, Calif.): Enhancing Cellulase Commercial Performance for the Lignocellulosic Biomass Industry. Team members: DOE'sNational Renewable Energy Laboratory (Colorado)

Novozymes, Inc. (Davis, Calif.): Project Decrease -- Development of a Commercial-Ready Enzyme Application System for Ethanol. 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, Calif.): Commercialization of Customized Cellulase Solutions for Biomass Saccharification.

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