Novozymes and NREL reduce enzyme cost


Novozymes has achieved its project goal to reduce the cost of enzymes for biomass-based fuel ethanol production to USD 0.10-0.18 per gallon in laboratory trials (a 30-fold reduction since 2001). Enzymes are no longer the main economic barrier in the commercialisation of biomass technology.

In January 2001, supported by funds from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Novozymes and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) entered into a collaborative research subcontract totalling USD 14.8 million over three years, with a one-year extension worth USD 2.3 million granted in April 2004. The project sought to dramatically cut the cost of converting cellulose biomass from corn stover into sugars for the production of fuel ethanol and other valuable products. Once commercially viable, a process of this type could help reduce dependency on non-renewable and petroleum-based energy and raw material sources.

By using its comprehensive range of proprietary biotech tools to identify new enzymes, engineer and boost catalytic activity, and increase production yield, Novozymes has successfully reduced the overall enzyme cost for the process of converting corn stover to ethanol to USD 0.10-0.18 per gallon in laboratory trials. This 30-fold reduction from the starting point of more than USD 5 dollars per gallon in 2001 is due to a combination of pre-treatment technology developed by NREL and novel enzyme solutions from Novozymes.

Based on its four years of focussed research in this area, Novozymes has developed unique expertise in the conversion of corn stover and other biomass feedstocks, expertise that will encourage broader industrial applications beyond fuel ethanol. For example, Novozymes' work may make possible the use of corn stover as an alternative feedstock for products currently derived from petrochemicals.

However, successful commercialisation of the biomass-based process for production of fuel ethanol and other useful products is still dependent on further refinements of the enzyme technology, establishment of a formal collection system for biomass, further progress in overcoming the technical barriers in biomass pre-treatment, optimisation of current yeast organisms, as well as financial incentives for industry to invest in facilities utilising biomass instead of corn starch as feedstock.

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