Novozymes Ignites Yeast Wars

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Novozymes (Copenhagen:NZYM-B; OTC:NVZMY) moved into yeast this week with a new organism, Innova Drive.

It’s saccharomyces cerevisae — the workhouse yeast that has been powering wine fermentation since the days of Noah and the Ark. But here’s a new strain engineered to cut fermentation times up to two hours, and yield boosts of up to two percent.

A 2% yield increase and a 5% faster rate of production — let’s illustrate it — would mean something like 7.1 million gallons per year of more ethanol from the same standard 100 million gallon nameplate plant. Retailing at up to $10 million dollars, per year (yes, you’ll need to put more corn into the plant to get the second benefit, but otherwise this is conceptually free of opex and capex requirements.)

So, excitement level to industry? Rate this alongside the appeal of the last must-have toy on the last shelf of the last store on the hour before Christmas Eve closing time.

The backstory to innovation: yeast

Yeast work hard and, like you and me, they get stressed. Ethanol fermentation at the micro-organism level, it’s a hellish, dystopian world.

Despite all the available alcohol, life for engineered yeast is no fraternity party, but a hellish, dystopian, stressed-out existence. But more contented yeast give better results, as the results from Novozymes’ engineered strain is proving.

As this article from Azhar, Rodrigues et al opined, “Stressful conditions like an increase in ethanol concentration, temperature, osmotic stress and bacterial contamination are the reasons why the yeast cannot survive during the fermentation.”

Not to mention that s. cerevisae strains been bred over many years to do things that they were not originally supposed to a) do at all or b) do as fast as they do. And that adds to the stress.

Stressed yeast — well you, get Least Mode instead of Beast Mode. They respond to stress by downshifting their metabolism, more unwanted by-products, and a slowing down of fermentation. Lost opportunity, slower rates, high yeast loadings. The money fizzles out to the left and the right.

The Novozymes Opportunity

Now, s. cerevisae is the Coca-Cola “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing,” of organisms — it’s an empire of (genetic) diversity. But the strains haven’t changed much over the years.

Novozymes used its expertise in enzymes to develop a perfectly matched yeast that delivers higher ethanol yields and reliable performance. The result is a game-changing solution for the industry that sets a new standard for fermentation performance.

Scenes from Novozymes’ R&D labs.

The Innova platform uses a completely new yeast strain not seen before in the ethanol industry and brings novel characteristics, which ethanol producers are asking for.

During fermentation, Innova Drive produces a novel, higher-performing glucoamylase enzyme. The enzyme is twice as effective as glucoamylases produced by other yeast products in converting sugar into ethanol. And, when ethanol producers pair a specially designed, complementary Novozymes fermentation enzyme with Drive, the combined performance allows producers to maximize ethanol conversion and starch conversion efficiency.

Better Together, but Not Required

Yes, Innova Drive works best when paired with Novozymes enzymes — but for those committed or contracted to others for enzyme supply, note that this is not a required combo. Innova Drive will work well with anyone else’s enzymes. Better Together, though, to borrow the British slogan against Scottish independence.

“We are leveraging the synergies of our best-in-class enzymes and new yeast. The enzymes expressed by the yeast, in combination with carefully tailored companion enzyme products, give you a cocktail of enzyme activities that will feed the yeast in an optimal manner throughout fermentation,” says Novozymes biofuels business director Brian Brazeau.

The new yeast is also tougher, continuing to ferment in adverse conditions such as higher organic acids and temperatures. This stress resistance increases ethanol output and reduces operational costs. “Yeast is a major bottleneck that requires constant care and attention. Innova Drive is a response to the needs of the ethanol industry, and resets expectations for how tough a yeast can be,” Brazeau noted.

Everyone can get as much as they want, now

Though every plant will want to trial it, there’s plenty of Innova Drive to go around. “Everyone can get as much as they want, right away,” Brazeau told The Digest.

More to come

Innova Drive is Novozymes’ first yeast product, with more to come. The company continues to focus on developing integrated solutions to help ethanol producers improve plant performance with dedicated support and technical service.

The Bottom Line

Producers would be crazy not to trial it, with these kinds of yield improvements and fermentation times on offer. Not to mention, a tougher yeast that might reduce incidents of infections and so forth.

But as Novozymes advises, this is only the beginning. And we can’t wait to see what the response will be from other giants in the yeast business, from the likes of LeSaffre, Lallemand and DSM. They’ll have a response, you can bet on that — and it could be the Novozymes will have just ignited a dazzling era of yeast innovation in the realm of fuel ethanol production, which is an overwhelmingly large-volume market for the makers of yeast.

All that to the benefit of ethanol producers and thence to the fuel customer. Let the Yeast Wars Begin.

Jim Lane is editor and publisher  of Biofuels Digest where this article was originally published. Biofuels Digest is the most widely read  Biofuels daily read by 14,000+ organizations. Subscribe here.


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