The Brew Barons: Masters of advanced fermentation, driving the redefinition of biofuels: Pt 2

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Jim Lane

Will the new fermentation technologies completely shatter preconceptions about biofuels and bio-based products – and redefine the way in which Western Civ approaches the production of fuel, food, feed, and fiber? The new Brew Barons are working hard to make that so.

See part 1 of  ‘Brew Barons’, here.


The LanzaTech process increases industrial energy efficiency by capturing waste gases (CO, CO2) and converting them to valuable fuels and chemicals. LanzaTech provides an opportunity to produce large volumes of low carbon fuel and chemicals at low costs using a countries own resources, reducing dependence on foreign imports and GHG footprint.  Simply utilizing the available steel mill waste gases, LanzaTech could produce more than 30 billion gallons of ethanol per year.  This would have a significant impact on the global energy landscape.

Two weeks ago, LanzaTech signed a memorandum of understanding with Posco, a Korean conglomerate with interests in steel, power, energy, engineering and construction, to convert the steel maker’s flue gases to ethanol and other value added products. LanzaTech uses its gas fermentation technology to produce ethanol and also 2,3-Butanediol (2,3-BD), a key building block used to make polymers, plastics and hydrocarbon fuels. It has investment from K1W1 (New Zealand), Khosla Ventures (US) and Qiming Venures (China) as well as funding from the New Zealand and US governments.

LanzaTech CEO Jennifer Holmgren commented, “This means that LanzaTech is now working with 2 of the top 5 global steel manufacturers (some would say the #2/3). From my perspective this shows the traction that the LanzaTech technology is receiving in the market place and the potential impact that our technology is likely to have in the coming years.  We are creating a nice pipeline of commercial projects so that as we get to scale – we don’t do it one commercial production facility at a time but multiple commercial production facilities in parallel with a variety of partners globally.”

In January,  IndianOil and LanzaTech signed a Memorandum of Understanding to collaborate on a demonstration of LanzaTech’s proprietary gas fermentation technology collaboration in a technology demonstration at one of the India Oil refineries. that will enable IndianOil to produce fuel grade ethanol.


The cryptically-named LS9 uses a e.coli-based fermentation to convert of renewable plant biomass into advanced biofuels that are drop-in compatible with the existing infrastructure.  The same technology platform enables the production of a diversity of high-value chemicals.

Last month, LS9 announced the initiation of a second development and commercialization partnership with Procter & Gamble.  This additional partnership draws on LS9’s unique technology to broaden the portfolio of renewable chemicals to be used in P&G’s consumer products. It followed a $30M series D financing round led by BlackRock that came just as the company reached #4 in this year’s 50 Hottest Companies in Bioenergy.

In 2010, LS9 announced a major scientific breakthrough that will significantly lower the cost of producing “drop‐in” hydrocarbon fuels that are low‐carbon, sustainable and compatible with the existing fuel distribution infrastructure. This breakthrough has allowed LS9 to accelerate its technology and demonstrate alkane production at pilot scale.

In the article “Microbial Biosynthesis of Alkanes” published in Science magazine, a team of LS9 scientists announce the discovery of novel genes that, when expressed in E.coli, produce alkanes, the primary hydrocarbon components of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. This discovery is the first description of the genes responsible for alkane biosynthesis and the first example of a single step conversion of sugar to fuel‐grade alkanes by an engineered microorganism.

Biofuels Digest profiled LS9 most recently in “LS9 raises $30M, adds BlackRock – what does it mean?”


The unique technology developed by Mascoma Corporation uses yeast and bacteria that are engineered to produce large quantities of the enzymes necessary to break down the cellulose and ferment the resulting sugars into ethanol.  Combining these two steps (enzymatic digestion and fermentation) significantly reduces costs by eliminating the need for enzyme produced in a separate refinery.  This process, called Consolidated Bioprocessing or “CBP”, will ultimately enable the conversion of the solar energy contained in plants to ethanol in just a few days.

In January, Mascoma announced that Valero Energy  has joined as an investor in the company. Further, Mascoma, Valero, and Mascoma’s operating subsidiary, Frontier Renewable Resources, (jointly owned with J.M. Longyear) have signed a non-binding letter of intent to support the construction of Mascoma’s 40 million gallon cellulosic ethanol plant in Kinross, Michigan.  Groundbreaking on the project is slated for later this year.

Under the terms of the letter of intent, Valero would potentially invest up to $50 million of the equity required to finance the project through Frontier Kinross LLC, a subsidiary of Frontier, and would enter into an off-take agreement for the project’s ethanol production. As further support of the project, Valero will provide project development and construction oversight services.

Frontier will use hardwood pulpwood, which is selectively harvested, naturally regenerated, and is an underutilized, abundant resource in the area surrounding the Kinross biorefinery. Mascoma’s 200,000 gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year demonstration facility in Rome, New York, has demonstrated the viability of the technology over the past two years and sets the stage for the commercial facility.

Mascoma recently announced the acquisition of SunOpta BioProcess Inc. (SBI), a world-leading fiber preparation and pretreatment company, creating a company with comprehensive capabilities for converting non-food cellulose (wood chips, energy crops and organic solid waste) into ethanol and high value co-products. With the addition of SBI and Valero, Mascoma has now covered the entire process of commercializing cellulosic ethanol, from raw materials supply, to pre-processing, through Mascoma’s CBP process and into final distribution.

Novozymes (NVZMY.PK)

Novozymes’ core technology for the biofuels industry is enzymes that break down different types of feedstock into fermentable sugars for conversion into ethanol.  Within this area, Novozymes develops solutions for two distinct types of ethanol technology: cellulosic ethanol and starch-based ethanol.

Novozymes cellulosic ethanol work is the largest endeavor the company has ever undertaken, with over 150 scientists dedicated to the effort.  Not only is Novozymes’ developing and offering the leading enzyme solutions for cellulosic ethanol technology, but we have also expanded our research focus into optimizing the pretreatment, hydrolysis and fermentation process steps.

In 2010 Novozymes launched the first commercially viable enzyme for the cellulosic ethanol industry, Cellic® Ctec2.  The 1.8X average performance improvement over a variety of feedstocks is enabling our partners to reach a commercially viable enzyme cost window and overall production costs.  We
have also worked with many of our partners to help optimize their process technology in order to lower enzyme use cost and find the right balance in process tradeoffs to lower capital and operating costs.

As the world leader in bioinnovation, Novozymes produces enzymes that optimize the conversion of grains such as corn, barley, wheat and other starch raw materials into ethanol. Unrivalled in their performance and ease of use, our enzymes enable higher yields, faster throughput and lower processing costs. Our tailored solutions – including custom enzyme blends – match the specific needs of our customers’ processes for liquefaction, saccharification, fermentation enhancement, and viscosity reduction.

Novozymes’ enzyme solutions provide robust performance on a wide variety of feedstocks. Cellulosic ethanol employs biomass feedstocks such as corn stover, wheat straw, sugarcane bagasse, woody residues, switchgrass, etc. For starch-based ethanol, the primary feedstocks are corn, barley, wheat, sugarcane, etc.

OPX Biotechnologies

OPXBIO is a Colorado-based company using biotechnology to convert renewable raw materials into biochemicals and biofuels. Applying its proprietary EDGE™ (Efficiency Directed Genome Engineering) technology, it will manufacture bio-based products that are more economical and sustainable than petroleum-based alternatives.

OPXBIO’s first product will be bioacrylic, which will be the chemical equivalent of petroleum-based acrylic, which is currently an $8 billion market that is growing at 4% per year. OPXBIO intends to produce bioacrylic at a lower cost ($0.50/lb) than petroleum-based ($0.65 – 0.75/lb today) and will commercialize bioacrylic through a joint venture with the first plant being operational in 2014.

OPXBIO’s second product is biodiesel, which it is working on through a $6 million grant from the U.S. DOE ARPA-E program. The company is partnered with the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) and Johnson Matthey to biologically produce biodiesel through fermentation from carbon dioxide and renewable hydrogen.

OPXBIO’s EDGE technology allows it to optimize the microbe and bioprocess 1,000 to 5,000 times faster than traditional genome or microbial engineering, and it is extremely robust allowing OPXBIO to work on multiple products and utilize numerous feed stocks.


POET doesn’t get enough attention for its market-leading efforts in deploying enzyme-based cellulosic ethanol. Its 25 Mgy Project LIBERTY complex, which is now scheduled to commence construction in early 2012, awaits the outcome of a loan guarantee application from the DOE. But POET has been a leader in pushing the limits of fermentation technology in first-generation ethanol as well. It can produce up to 3.0 gallons of ethanol per bushel of corn with its proprietary BPX technology. BPX also reduces energy needs for fermentation by 8 to 15 percent compared to other ethanol production processes.

Last month, POET reported that farmers are now allowed to deliver bales of biomass to the company’s storage site in Emmetsburg that will supply the company’s future cellulosic ethanol plant. When operational, the facility will accept 300,000 tons of biomass but for now, area farmers harvested 56,000 tons of corn cobs, leaves, husks and some stalk this fall.

Farmers had been waiting to deliver the biomass to POET while guidelines for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) were finalized. Farmers on last week began completing the application process, and they started delivering bales soon after.

Last August, POET commenced construction of a new 22-acre biomass storage facility that will house up to 23,000 tons of biomass bales. The facility will form part of the Project LIBERTY complex. Meanwhile, potential suppliers of biomass to the plant have received  $100,000 in incentive payments towards establishment of their own harvesting systems. Farmers associated with the POET project will start the collection of a 56,000 ton harvest of corn cobs and light stover, which will be used as feedstock for the Project LIBERTY facility.

The facility will eventually consume 300,000 tons or more of biomass, which according to POET’s released figures could be sustainably harvested from a 468 square-mile area. By contrast, a 100 Mgy corn ethanol plant can be sustained by a 325 square-mile area using POET’s process.


Qteros’ CBP platform is based on its broadly protected, feedstock-agnostic micro-organism, the Q Microbe.  Qteros’ near-term feedstock strategy includes corn stover, wet distiller grains (WDGs) and bagasse processed at cellulosic ethanol facilities that are co-located with existing corn and sugarcane ethanol plants. Longer term, Qteros plans to focus its strategy on greenfield facilities processing energy crops (e.g., sorghum and energy cane) which represent the greatest opportunity for global commercial scale production of cellulosic ethanol.

The Q Microbe is one of Qteros’ key competitive advantage as the organism possesses the native ability to hydrolyze a broad array of biomass and efficiently ferment all sugars into ethanol.  As such, Qteros is optimizing a micro-organism with native biological capabilities versus attempting to engineer one from scratch. Specific ethanol-producing attributes of the Q Microbe include: The preferential digestion of oligomeric versus monomeric sugars which significantly reduces pretreatment severity; the natural production all enzymes required to digest biomass; and a natural ability to simultaneously co-ferment all C5 and C6 sugars, thereby streamlining unit operations and reducing costs. Additionally, the Q Microbe is an anaerobic organism which minimizes production-related contamination risks associated with aerobic production processes.

In January, Qteros and Praj Industries announced  a strategic partnership to accelerate commercialization efforts for industrial-scale cellulosic ethanol production.

Under the agreement, Qteros and Praj will collaborate on a highly focused, multi-year development program with the objective of rapidly developing and commercializing Process Design Packages (PDPs) that enable cellulosic ethanol production using Qteros’ Q Microbe-enabled CBP platform and Praj’s technology and expertise in the conversion of biomass to ethanol. This unique licensing model serves to provide both a highly efficient and low-cost solution to the market, while also allowing Qteros and Praj to deploy their capital in an efficient and leveraged manner. Importantly, the companies plan to retrofit Praj’s existing pilot plant in Pune, India with Qteros’ technology platform, which will then become the foundation for accelerated production scaling as part of its commercial planning.

At the same time, Qteros announced that it closed the initial $22 million tranche in its Series C financing, with an undisclosed group of new and existing investors. The completion of this $22M financing is expected to provide sufficient funding to accelerate the Company’s development and commercialization plans.


The company generally shies away from promoting itself as an algal biofuels company, because it focuses its messaging around its products rather than its process – same, by the way, as Budweiser.

Biggest news lately – a partnership with Qantas to develop renewable jet fuels, and the widely-circulated expectation that Solazyme will file its S-1 registration form for an IPO by the end of March.

The Qantas deal? Solazyme announced that it has begun a collaboration with Qantas, to pursue the potential for commercial production of Solazyme’s microbial derived aviation fuel, Solajet, in Australia. This represents the first collaboration in the Asia-Pacific region to explore the use of Solajet in commercial aviation.  There is currently a six billion liter a
year demand for aviation fuel in Australia.

Qantas is also working with another US company, Solena, to determine the feasibility of using MSW for production of biojet fuel.

Solazyme’s unique renewable oil production process uses microalgae to convert biomass directly into oil and other biomaterials, a process that takes a matter of days and can be performed in standard commercial fermentation facilities cleanly, quickly, and at low cost and large scale. Its renewable oil and bioproducts technology has manufactured tens of thousands of gallons of oil –  in fact in 2010 alone we will produce approximately 100,000 gallons of oil.  Solazyme’s latest technology breakthrough on tailoring the oil by carbon chain length and saturation offers a distinct advantage to its partners in the fuels and chemicals industry.  The oils that Solazyme produces can act as replacements for fossil petroleum and plant oils and compounds in a diverse range of products from renewable chemicals to cosmetics and food ingredients.

Solazyme made the decision several years ago to grow heterotrophic algae in the dark and harvest renewable oils – and have become the unquestioned leader in the quest to make an integrated biorefinery commercially successful in the production of renewable oils for fuels, foods and other bio-based products. Along the ways they’ve racked up an impressive array of partners, and won contracts to supply biofuels to the US Department of Defense. More importantly, in every way, they have personified throughout their organization what it means to be an advanced bio-based company – in the ways that they have triumphed, and in the ways they have faced adversity.”


The company’s technology is called MixAlco – an advanced bio-refining technology used by Terrabon’s experienced staff of chemical engineers to convert low-cost, readily available, non-food, non-sterile biomass into valuable chemical precursors such as organic acids, ketones and secondary alcohols that can be processed into renewable hydrocarbon fuels.

The biomass used as feedstock includes biogenic municipal solid waste (MSW), sewage sludge, forest product residues such as wood chips, wood molasses and other wood waste, and non-edible energy crops such as sorghum.

Terrabon can produce mixed secondary alcohols (a mix of isopropanol, 2-butanol, 3-pentanol, 2-pentanol, etc), green gasoline, green diesel and green jet fuel.  At the moment Terrabon is focusing on producing green gasoline and jet fuel.

In January, Terrabon revealed that it has exceeded its goal of producing 70 gallons of renewable gasoline per ton of MSW using its patented acid fermentation technology, MixAlco, paired with CRI/Criterion’s renewable fuel catalyst technologies. The company’s demonstration plant in Bryan used cafeteria waste and paper shreddings from Texas A&M University for the trial.


Verdezyne is a privately held company developing and commercializing novel genetically engineered microorganisms for use as “factories” to manufacture chemicals and fuels, using renewable feedstocks. Verdezyne’s unique microorganisms permit greener, cleaner and more cost effective production of chemicals and fuels as compared with traditional methods. The Company is commercializing its technology through partnerships with leading chemical and fuel manufacturers.

Verdezyne is a product-focused company that is leveraging its technology platform to optimize the metabolic pathways, microorganisms and fermentation processes that enable economical production of renewable fuels and chemicals, focusing in this stage of development on biobased adipic acid (a platform chemical), and bioethanol, made from C6 sugars, C5 sugars (biomass, cellulosic sugars), plant-based oils, by-products from plant-based oil processing, paraffins


ZeaChem combines the best of biochemical fermentation and thermochemical processes into a hybrid process that achieves 40% higher yield than other cellulosic processes. ZeaChem’s patented biorefining process uses an acetogen – a naturally occurring species of bacteria adapted to digest the tough carbon chains of cellulose – to extract the maximum amount of energy available from the feedstock. ZeaChem offers the highest yield, lowest production cost and lowest carbon emissions profile of any known biorefining process

ZeaChem’s patented process offers the highest yield, at the lowest cost, with the lowest fossil carbon footprint of any known biorefining method. Incorporated in 2002, ZeaChem is headquartered in Lakewood, Colorado and operates a research and development facility in Menlo Park, California.

ZeaChem’s 250,000 gallon per year demonstration scale cellulosic biorefinery is currently under construction in Boardman, Oregon.

In December, ZeaChem obtained a guaranteed maximum price, under the Engineering, Procurement and Construction agreements with engineering firm Burns & McDonnell, for construction of its demonstration cellulosic ethyl acetate and ethanol plant in Boardman. The company also announced that it has secured full construction funding for the core facility. The $25 million grant from the U.S. DOE will be used to fund the independent front and back-end cellulosic process components, enabling ZeaChem to produce fuel grade ethanol as well as intermediate chemicals from non-food related biomass.

The core unit of the biorefinery is currently under construction at the site location in Boardman and foundations are being poured, and the company will begin producing 250,000 gallons (annually) of cellulosic ethanol in 2011.

Jim Lane is the Editor and Publisher of Biofuels Digest.


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