Novozymes opens $200M Neb. enzyme plant

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2012

Danish enzyme maker Novozymes began operations today in what it’s calling the largest U.S. biofuel-enzyme factory.

The $200 million project in Blair, Neb., will supply ethanol plants both in the United States and abroad with enzymes for converting sugars and starch to biofuel.

“This facility is going to service pretty much the entire corn ethanol industry in the U.S.,” said Peder Nielsen, Novozymes’ executive vice president of enzymes.

The new plant uses similar technology for both corn ethanol and cellulosic ethanol, taking in agricultural feedstocks and feeding them to microorganisms that produce enzymes. After refining them, Novozymes will ship out tens of truckloads a day to ethanol plants.

The third generation of the Cellic CTec enzyme line, an enzyme family created by Novozymes for cellulosic ethanol, will be produced at Blair.

While Nielsen would not reveal the specific capacity of the plant for business reasons, he said it will be much larger than Novozymes’ pilot plant in Franklinton, N.C., and provide about 90 percent of the company’s biofuels revenue.

Novozymes, a $1.9 billion global company, currently makes about $320 million from its biofuels business and has about 60 percent of the U.S. enzyme market for biofuels.

The company searched the world for a site for the plant and chose the Nebraska location over other potential sites in China mainly because the customer base in the Midwest meant that transportation logistics would be easier, Nielsen said. It is also positioned to take in key raw materials from neighboring Cargill Inc.

Nielsen said the project was delayed twice — once in 2008 because of the financial crisis, and once last year when the Missouri River flooding left Novozymes without a means to transport large modules.

In 2010, the Department of Energy awarded Novozymes a $28.4 million advanced energy manufacturing tax credit for the plant. The tax credit expired at the end of last year and is one of two tax incentives the Obama administration is pushing Congress to support.

Adam Monroe, president of Novozymes North America, is also pushing for federal policies that support the biofuels industry, using the launch to drum up enthusiasm for the renewable fuel standard and E15, or gasoline blended with 15 percent ethanol.

In interviews this week and last week, he called both the standard and the introduction of E15 critical for his company and the cellulosic biofuel industry.

“The technology and the investment is ready and there — it’s just a matter of making sure there’s a place for these molecules to go,” he said a week ago. “I’m not concerned about whether we can produce it or not, and whether or not we’re ready to produce it. It’s more a matter now of making sure there’s a place for these fuels to go.”