Biofuel industry speeds up enzyme demand
// 01 mar 2007
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
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
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.
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.