Process Management

News last update:6 Aug 2012

Biofuel industry speeds up enzyme demand

As a result of the booming biofuel industry, the US enzyme demand, which amounted to $1.6 billion in 2005, is expected to reach $2.2 billion by 2010, according to a recent market study by the Freedonia Group.

Overall market growth in enzymes through 2010 will be 6.9% annually. Right now, the enzyme market is focused on production of ethanol fuels from corn and other biomass, which is strongly encouraged by the US government.

Break down starch
There are two enzyme markets for ethanol, says Jack Huttner, vice president of biorefinery business at major enzyme producer Genencor International, a unit of Denmark's Danisco. The first, he says, is an existing (and booming) worldwide market for enzymes that break down starch from corn and other crops into simple sugars that can be fermented into ethanol. Still in the development pipeline, he adds, are enzymes that will be needed to make ethanol from cellulosic biomass such as corn stalks, prairie grass and wood chips. This cellulose-to-ethanol industry "doesn't yet exist," says Huttner. But the advanced enzymes required for this application, he adds, are "one of the most exciting future markets."

Finding the right genes
Genencor is working on commercial development of enzymes that will be suitable for future cellulosic biofuels production. Similar projects are cuurently carried out by other big players in enzymes, including Syngenta, Diversa, DuPont, Novozymes, and Codexis.

Syngenta hopes to make the necessary enzymes for cellulose-to-biofuels in green plants. Steve Eury, a Syngenta executive, says the goal is to transplant naturally occurring genes for the required enzymes into the cells of these plants, which could then produce the desired enzymes in high yield. Plant-expressed enzymes, he adds, "can provide the lowest cost capability to make enzymes" for biofuels, compared with traditional production methods such as fermentation.

Diversa, which is collaborating with Syngenta on its biofuels program, is looking for genes that code for cellulose-degrading enzymes in a variety of different places in nature. According to Dan Robertson, vice president for enzyme technology at Diversa, some of these genes have even come from the stomachs of cows, which naturally digest cellulose. He says Diversa has proprietary selection and screening technologies to find genes best suited for various industrial tasks, including enzyme production of biofuels in high yields.

Enzyme cocktails
Any commercial process for enzymatic cellulose conversion, says Robertson, will probably involve enzyme "cocktails," containing anywhere from two to six enzymes tailored to particular cellulosic feedstocks. The first enzyme products stemming from the Syngenta-Diversa collaboration should be available in about five years, says Eury.

Related links:
Freedonia Group
Dossier AllAbout Bio Energy

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