DOE Cultivating Cellulosic Biofuels

The Department of Energy has said it will invest up to $33.8 million in four separate cellulosic biofuel research projects, money that will be matched by industry partners to total some $70 million. This investment is part of the nearly $1 billion the government plans to invest in biofuels. (Late last month the DOE unveiled $114 million for small-scale biorefineries.) This announcement targets projects working to lower the cost of enzymatic cellulosic ethanol, or “biomass saccharification,” the Holy Grail of biofuels.

The money will be split among four projects with four different industry partners, all of them large, transnational biotech companies, and will be invested over the next four years. The companies the DOE is investing in are:

  • DSMDSM Innovation Center Inc. (Parsippany, NJ): Part of Dutch chemical giant Royal DSM, their Innovation Center is working with fungal systems to produce enzymes that would break down lignocellulosic biomass into sugars. DSM is working with scientists at Abengoa Bioenergy New Technologies, Los Alamos Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratory.
  • GenencorGenencor (a division of Danisco USA) (Palo Alto, CA): A producer of industrial enzymes, Genencor is working with fungal cellulase as well, trying to coax as much of the cellulolytic enzymes out of Trichoderma reesei fungi. Genencor will be working with the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado.
  • novozymesNovozymes Inc. (Davis, CA): With 47 percent of the global enzyme market, the Danish biotech giant Novozymes is the world’s largest producer of industrial enzymes and microorganisms. The company will use the DOE money to improve the efficiency of their current cellulases. Some of the research will take place through Novozymes’ operations in China, which is currently working with the China Resources Alcohol Corp. to research cellulosic biofuel and is building a pilot plant in the Heilongjiang province.
  • VereniumVerenium Corp. (San Diego, CA): Formed in 2007 as part of the merger between enzyme maker Diversa Corp. and Celunol Corp., Verenium develops enzymatic cocktails under the brand name “Fuelzyme-CX.” Much of Verenium’s research in cellulosic biofuels is aimed at exploring the myriad of enzymes that exist in the gut of termites.
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