Bio Fuels/Enzyme Technology Paving the Way For Advanced Bio Fuels

Editor: Dominik Stephan

With a new technology, enzyme specialists Novozyme expect significant improvements in the production of advanced bio fuels from agricultural residues and waste. Now, as the first commercial scale bio–refineries are about to be brought on–stream, this new technology is put to the test.

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Europe could save up to 54 percent in greenhouse gas emissions by conevrting only 17.5 percent of its agraic residues to next generation bio fuels, a Bloomberg report states. (sPicture: Novozymes)
Europe could save up to 54 percent in greenhouse gas emissions by conevrting only 17.5 percent of its agraic residues to next generation bio fuels, a Bloomberg report states. (sPicture: Novozymes)

Bio fuels have been one of the big bio–technology buzzwords for the last decade. And, although first results are promising, sustainable second generation bio fuels yet have to prove their viability. One sticking point has always been the fermentative conversion of raw materials to fuel ethanol. Now the industrial biotechnology company Novozymes states its new enzyme technologies are able to ouperform its older technologies by about 1.5 times – With first commercial operations now going on–stream, this claim will be put to the test soon.

Biotechnologies offer vast potentials: A recent report Bloomberg New Energy Finance came to the conclusion, that about 50 percent of the global demand for gasoline could be replaced by bio fuels by 2030. Only 17.5 percent of the global agricultural residue would suffice to generate millions of jobs while significantly reducing the global economic footprint, the analysts say.

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Put to the Test: First Commercial Plants Go On–Stream

Advanced bio fuels are about to prove their worth: “The first plants start commercial production of advanced bio fuels this year,” says Novozymes’ CEO Steen Riisgaard. “Novozymes has signed supply deals with a number of the leading players in this field, and we’re thrilled to supply the enzymes that will enable an advanced bio fuels industry and contribute to job creation, economic growth, and energy security.”

New Enzyme Technology for Advanced Biofuels

The biotechnology company had recently unveiled its latest development, Cellic CTec3, an enzyme that enables cost-efficient conversion of biomass to ethanol and performs 1.5 times better than Novozymes’ previous market-leading product, Cellic CTec2, the company states. According to Novozymes, biofuel producers need only one-fifth of the enzyme dose compared to competing enzymes when using CTec3. This could help to reduce the cost of producing ethanol from biomass to approach the level of corn ethanol and gasoline, company speakers explain.

“With our new product, Cellic CTec3, and the first plants starting commercial production, this is a huge step forward in the transition from an oil-based economy to a bio-based economy. We will continue to develop more efficient enzymes to further reduce the total cost of producing advanced bio fuels,” Riisgaard explaines.

The World's Largest Bio Fuels Plant

“With Cellic CTec3 Novozymes again demonstrates its unique ability to deliver timely innovation, which we are using to build the world’s largest advanced biofuel plant. We’re confident that we will continue to realize process improvements together far into the future,” says Guido Ghisolfi, Vice President of M&G Group, which is scheduled to open a facility in Crescentino, Italy, producing 13 million gallons of ethanol per year from wheat straw, energy crops, and other locally available feedstocks.

Municipal Waste Can Be Turned Into Value

“Novozymes helped us show the world that it really is possible to turn municipal solid waste into valuable biofuel. Novozymes is a partner that truly believes there are no limits to innovation,” says Craig Stuart-Paul, CEO of Fiberight. Fiberight will open a small-scale plant in Lawrenceville, Virginia, this year, and a plant producing 6 million gallons per year in Blairstown, Iowa, in 2013. Both plants will convert municipal solid waste into biofuel.

Effective Enzymes For Bio Fuel Conversion

Advanced bio fuels are produced from cellulose in biomass such as wheat straw, corn stalks, household waste, or energy crops such as switchgrass. The biomass is first broken down into a pulp. Enzymes are then added, turning the pulp into sugar that can be fermented into fuels, feed, and chemicals.

Highly effective, it takes only 50 kg of Cellic CTec3 to make 1 ton of ethanol from biomass. By comparison, it requires at least 250 kg of older enzyme products to make the same amount of ethanol, Novozyme states.

250 Million Gallons of Bio–Ethanol in 2014

Global production capacity of ethanol from cellulose is estimated to reach about 15 million gallons in 2012 and 250 million gallons in 2014. Market analysts Bloomberg estimate that the advanced bio fuels industry has the potential to create millions of jobs, economic growth, and energy security worldwide.

Growth, Jobs and Environemntal Benfits – What Advanced Bio Fuels Can Do

Looking at the US alone, the Bloomberg study Moving towards a next-generation ethanol economy' shows that using less than 20% of the available agricultural residues the US could produce more than 18 billion gallons of ethanol every year, replacing 16% of its gasoline consumption by 2030. This would create 1.4 million jobs and reduce CO2 emissions from gasoline-based transportation by 11%. The numbers would be even higher if biomass from forestry residues, household waste, and energy crops were included.

The Renewable Fuel Standard, a legislative mandate on the use of renewable fuels in the US, targets production of 16 billion gallons of cellulosic bio fuels by 2022.