Enzyme maker says it can get more ethanol out of corn

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, November 1, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO — Enzyme maker Novozymes A/S yesterday said it has found a way to eke more ethanol out of corn.

The Denmark-based company unveiled its Avantec enzyme, a molecule that it says can help produce ethanol using 2.5 percent less corn and 2.5 percent less energy. The enzyme could save the typical U.S. ethanol plant 22,500 tons of corn a year, Novozymes said.

Avantec is a “vitamin shot” for the industry, said Peder Nielsen, Novozymes’ executive vice president.

“Corn is the single biggest input cost for an ethanol producer, and as prices have gone up, profits have disappeared,” Nielsen said in a statement yesterday. “It allows you to save a lot of corn and still produce the same amount of ethanol. If you’re an ethanol producer in today’s market, that’s a real boost to your bottom line.”

In ethanol production, enzymes are used to break down corn and other feedstocks into sugars, which can then be fermented and converted into alcohol-based fuel.

Novozymes, the world’s largest producer of industrial enzymes, introduced its new product during the advanced biofuels industry’s annual markets conference here in San Francisco. The three-day event each year draws the CEOs and other top executives of the major companies working to scale up the next generation of biofuels.

Also at the conference, Novozymes announced it had formed a partnership with Beta Renewables, a biofuel company that will begin feeding biomass into one of the world’s first advanced biofuels plants, a 20-million-gallon-per-year facility in Italy, in about two weeks.

Beta is also working to build a plant in North Carolina that will be able to convert several feedstocks, including wheat straw, wood and Arundo donax, into biofuel.

The deal will pair Novozymes’ enzymes with a pre-treatment process developed by Beta, executives at both companies said. The enzyme maker will acquire a 10 percent share in Beta and is paying $115 million as part of the agreement.

The goal, said Beta CEO Guido Ghisolfi, is to produce advanced biofuels that compete economically with corn ethanol and petrochemicals.

“We are de-risking the operation. And I think this industry needs to be de-risked,” Ghisolfi said. “This industry for a long time has rightly promised, sometimes overpromised and sometimes underdelivered. Now we want to deliver.”