Cheaper enzymes lead to biofuel breakthrough

Some pretty big news on the biofuel front today, as two Danish companies that make enzymes for the production of biofuel announced that they have developed new enzymes that can cheaply convert agricultural waste into cellulosic ethanol.   Cellulosic ethanol is recognized as a better solution for biofuel production than corn ethanol, since cellulosic ethanol can be made from all sorts of agricultural waste products, like wood chips, corn cobs, straw, grass, etc.

The two Danish competitors, Novozymes and Genencor (a division of Danisco), are both presenting their findings this week at a Biofuel Conference being held in Orlando, Florida. Biofuel  enzymes are used to break down the agricultural waste into cellulose so that it can be turned into alcohol, and are currently the major cost drivers in the production of cellulosic ethanol.   Both companies are claiming that their new enzymes dramatically cut the cost – Genencor’s new version of its Accellerase 1500 enzyme (called Accellerase DUET) results in higher yields while using only one third of the amount, while Novozymes says their new CTec enzyme reduces enzyme production costs to $.50 / gal, which will lower the total cost to produce a gallon of cellulosic ethanol to $2.25 and making the price of cellulosic ethanol very close to the cost of corn ethanol and gasoline.

Novozymes has several pilot and demonstration sized plants already underway, and they expect to have full scale commercial cellulosic ethanol plants in operation starting in 2011.   Genencor has been talking with Dupont about a production joint venture.

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