A big issue for biofuels producers, especially those in the cellulosic branch, is trying to come up with enzymes that can crack the multitude of biomass structures to unlock the sugars within, and thus, unlock the fuel trapped within.
“The enzymes have always been one of the Achilles’ heels of the cellulosic side,” Mark Emalfarb, CEO of Dyadic International, a biotech company that turns DNA into the proteins and enzymes for a variety of uses, including biofuels production, told me at the recent Advanced Biofuels Leadership Conference. “We have a fungal cell that we have created from a Russian fungus that for the last 20 years we’ve developed into a protein factory,” encoding genes with different enzymes to get the sugars for biofuel production.
Because there are differences in what will unlock the sugars every biomass variety, Mark says Dyadic’s process is helpful because it can make all these different enzymes from one fungal cell and one fermentation. “We’re not making five different fermentations and blending five different enzymes together, it’s all produced simultaneously out of the same cell line.” He points to one of their licensees, Abengoa Bioenergy, building a 25 million gallon cellulosic ethanol plant in Kansas, which using this technology allows them to make their own enzymes for half the cost … sometimes the difference between operating in the red or in the black.
“This enables you to do things you couldn’t do before, and to do them on-site without the profit margins the enzyme companies want to charge will make the difference,” Mark says.
Listen to more of my interview with Mark here: Mark Emalfarb, CEO of Dyadic