U.S. Department of Energy to Invest up to $33.8 Million to Support Development of Biofuels

U.S. Department of Energy

Last week, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Andy Karsner announced that DOE will invest up to $33.8 million over four years for four projects (listed below) that will focus on addressing key technical hurdles associated with mass production of clean, renewable fuels, such as cellulosic ethanol.  Specifically, these projects will work on developing improved enzyme systems to convert cellulosic material into sugars suitable for production of biofuels.

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 saw dust and paper pulp, and energy crops such as switchgrass, specifically 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.  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.

In addition to the DOE funding for these projects (which is subject to Congressional appropriation) there will be also be a minimum 50% cost share from industry.  Including the industry cost share, the total funding for these projects will be up to $70 million.  The selected companies and projects are:

DSM Innovation Center Inc.
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.
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.
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
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.

In commenting on this announcement, DOE Assistant Secretary Karsner said:

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 … 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.

This news is part of over $1 billion that DOE has announced within the last year for multi-year biofuels research and development projects; these other announcements include:

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