Energy Department Selects Four Companies for Cellulosic Ethanol Funding

WASHINGTON, DC, February 29, 2008 (ENS) – The U.S. Department of Energy, DOE, has decided to invest up to $33.8 million for four projects that will develop improved enzyme systems to convert cellulosic material such as switchgrass and paper pulp into sugars suitable for production of biofuels.

The funding will cover Fiscal Years 2008-2011 in an effort to meet President George W. Bush’s goal of making cellulosic ethanol cost competitive by 2012. Funding will depend on appropriations from Congress.

These projects aim to address key technical hurdles associated with mass production of cellulosic ethanol, which does not utilize food crops to produce the fuel. Instead,

Combined with industry cost share, up to $70 million will be invested in these projects, with a minimum 50 percent cost share from industry.

Corn stalks left in the field after the ears are harvested are known as stover. They may form a feedstock for ethanol production when the technology is developed to extract their sugars.

(Photo by Bob Allen courtesy NREL)

DOE Assistant Secretary Andy Karsner made today’s announcement while delivering keynote remarks at the Renewable Fuels Association National Ethanol Conference in Orlando, Florida.

“Success of these projects will play a pivotal role in the rapid development and deployment of renewable fuels to reduce emissions and dependence on foreign oil, and fundamentally change how we power our vehicles,” DOE Assistant Secretary Karsner said.

“In the interest of the environment, and energy, economic and national security, biofuels must continue to play a significant role as we work to diversify our nation’s energy sources and provide a balanced portfolio of science and technology solutions to help meet the rapidly growing demand for energy worldwide,” said Karsner.

These four projects seek to more cost-effectively and efficiently breakdown processed biomass into fermentable sugars, a significant challenge in converting biomass into fuels.

Projects were selected based on their demonstrated ability to reduce the cost of enzymes-per-gallon of ethanol by improving an enzyme’s performance. Three of the projects are wholly American, while one includes partners from Denmark, France and China.

Selected projects must demonstrate the ability to produce enzymes at a commercial-scale, and have a sound business strategy to market the enzymes or enzyme production systems in biorefinery operations.

Cellulosic ethanol is a renewable fuel made from a wide variety of non-food materials, including agricultural wastes such as corn stover and cereal straws, industrial plant waste like sawdust and paper pulp, and energy crops such as switchgrass, grown for fuel production.

By relying on a variety of feedstocks, cellulosic ethanol can be produced in nearly every region of the country, using material grown locally, Karsner said. Though it requires a more complex refining process, cellulosic ethanol contains more net energy and results in lower greenhouse emissions than traditional corn-based ethanol.

Negotiations between the selected companies and DOE will begin immediately to determine final project plans and funding levels.

The selected projects are:

* DSM Innovation Center Inc. of Parsippany, New Jersey: Development of a Commercial Enzymes System for Lignocellulosic Biomass Saccharification. This project will employ DSM’s internal, proprietary fungal systems to develop new approaches to improve enzymes for the conversion of pre-treated lignocellulosic biomass into sugars suitable for fermentation into cellulosic ethanol. Team Members: Abengoa Bioenergy New Technologies (Nebraska); and DOE’s Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories (New Mexico).

* Genencor – a Division of Danisco, USA, Inc. of Palo Alto, California: Enhancing Cellulase Commercial Performance for the Lignocellulosic Biomass Industry. This project plans to reduce the enzyme-dose level required for biomass saccharification by improving the specific performance of the Trichoderma Reesei mix of fungal-based cellulases to facilitate production of cellulosic ethanol from sugars produced by the saccharification process. Team Members: DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (Colorado)

* Novozymes, Inc. of Davis, California: Project Decrease – Development of a Commercial-Ready Enzyme Application System for Ethanol. This project aims to improve performance of Novozymes’ most advanced enzyme system by decreasing the dosage of enzyme required to hydrolyze biomass into fermentable sugars suitable for cellulosic ethanol production. Team Members: Novozymes North America (North Carolina); Novozymes A/S (Denmark); Novozymes (China) Investment Co. Ltd; DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (Washington) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (Colorado); the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique University (France); and Cornell University (New York)

* Verenium Corporation of San Diego, California: Commercialization of Customized Cellulase Solutions for Biomass Saccharification. This project will leverage Verenium’s advanced enzyme development capabilities to commercialize a cellulase enzyme system to produce a more cost-effective enzyme solution for biomass saccharification processes that will also tolerate conditions that enable more efficient process economics in producing ethanol from cellulosics.

This funding announcement is part of over $1 billion the Energy Department has announced within the last year for multi-year biofuels research and development projects.

The four newly funded projects complement the DOE’s January 2008 announcement in which four projects were selected for a total of up to $114 million in federal funding to build small-scale biorefinery projects to be located in Commerce City, Colorado; St. Joseph, Missouri; Boardman, Oregon; and Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. These small-scale biorefineries will test newer, novel refining processes.

Other major DOE-led biofuels R&D projects include up to $405 million in DOE funding for three Bioenergy Centers; and up to $385 million in DOE funding, over four years, for the development of six commercial-scale biorefineries, which will focus on near-term commercial processes.

With all of these projects, which reflect a coordinated approach to addressing all technological aspects of making biofuels more commercially viable, the amount of fossil fuel used to produce the biofuels is up to 90 percent less than that associated with gasoline, Karsner said.

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