This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

April 20, 2005

Novozymes and NREL Cut Cost of Converting Biomass to Ethanol

Bird's-eye view of the pilot plant, which consists of eight large vessels interconnected with a complex network of piping.

Novozymes' new enzymes will be tested at the Abengoa Bioenergy pilot plant in 2006.
Credit: Abengoa Bioenergy

Novozymes A/S announced on April 14th that it has successfully achieved a 30-fold reduction in the cost of enzymes needed to convert biomass to ethanol. Since early in 2001, Novozymes has been working with DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to reduce the cost of producing ethanol from cellulosic biomass, specifically the cobs, stalks, and leaves of corn plants, which are collectively referred to as corn stover. As opposed to starchy biomass sources such as corn kernels, such "woody" sources require special pretreatments and enzymes to release their carbohydrates and convert them into ethanol. The cost reduction was achieved through a combination of an improved pre-treatment process developed by NREL and new enzymes developed by Novozymes. Abengoa Bioenergy—an ethanol producer operating in both Europe and the United States—plans to test the improved process at its pilot plant in York, Nebraska, in 2006. See the Novozymes press release and the Abengoa Bioenergy Web site.

According to a recent study by the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a short-term target of replacing up to 13 percent of petroleum-based fuels with biofuels appears feasible in the United States and Europe, using available cropland. And although some people worry that converting crops to fuels can hurt world food supplies, the FAO finds that producing energy from biomass could be a key to eliminating extreme poverty and hunger throughout the world. The FAO notes that biomass energy projects bring economic development opportunities to rural areas, creating jobs and generating new sources of incomes for farmers. See the FAO press release.