New Zealand’s Foundation for Research, Science and Technology (FRST) recently approved NZ$45.6 million (US$33.8M) in contracts for alternative- and bio-fuels research as part of a record NZ$785 million (US$582 million) in funding with more than two dozen research organizations in the foundation’s main 2008 investment round.
At the top of the awards for fuels contracts is a three-year, NZ$12-million (US$8.9 million) project by LanzaTech to develop a low-carbon biofuel that can be used with gasoline in blend ratios of up to 90% in older cars. LanzaTech is the developer of a process using bacterial fermentation to convert carbon monoxide into ethanol, and has backing from Khosla Ventures, among others. (Earlier post.)
The LanzaTech FRST project is to develop a second-generation “low-carbon petrol” biofuel from industrial flue gas waste that is targeted at the older Japanese imports that are large part of the country’s fleet.
Many older New Zealand cars are second-hand imports from Japan that cannot run successfully on petrol blended with more than three per cent ethanol, and many newer cars cannot run on ethanol blends above 10 per cent. LanzaTech’s proposal is to produce fuel from industrial gas waste that has the potential to replace up to 90 per cent of petrol without infrastructure changes or engine damage.—Murray Bain, Foundation chief executive
The introduction of low carbon transport fuels is an important route to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Ethanol is a first generation biofuel and a great place to start, but LanzaTech see an opportunity to develop technologies to produce fuels that are more similar to petrol in terms of their handling and performance.—Dr. Sean Simpson, co-founder LanzaTech
The FRST contract will enable LanzaTech to develop and scale up to an investor-ready stage a commercially viable process for producing low carbon gasoline, a second generation biofuel with higher energy density than ethanol.
The Foundation has invested smaller amounts from its TechNZ suite twice before in LanzaTech, but this investment of NZ$4 million a year for three years represents a major increase and is designed to help the company bring its technology closer to commercial operation. A pilot plant design has been developed that will allow biofuel production to be demonstrated at scale over the next 12 months.
The second-largest amount of funding (NZ$7.05 million, US$5.2 million) went to Verenium Corporation and Scion for the next stage of development by the New Zealand Lignocellulosic Bioethanol Initiative, a trans-Pacific research collaboration.
This initiative builds from previous collaborative research among Verenium, New Zealand’s Crown Research Institutes Scion and AgResearch, and New Zealand’s largest pulp and paper producer, Carter Holt Harvey, which recently announced the completion of a study which evaluated the infrastructure, technology and economics of a transportation biofuels facility using New Zealand softwood plantation forests as a potential feedstock.
The FRST award will support the further evaluation of the viability of producing cellulosic ethanol from New Zealand’s softwood forest resource through pre-treatment and enzymatic processing. Verenium will be bringing its enzyme and fermentation technologies to this program.
The Foundation for Research, Science and Technology is the funding agency that invests on behalf of the New Zealand Government in public good research, science and technology and in assisting firms with research and development initiatives. These investments are made to enhance the wealth and well being of New Zealanders. The primary production sector represented the single biggest area FRST made investments in with this funding round, according to Bain.