DOE to Invest $34 Million in Enzymes for Cellulosic Ethanol Production

February 27, 2008

DOE announced on February 26 its selection of four projects to develop improved enzymes for breaking down cellulosic biomass material into sugars, which can then be fermented into ethanol. The DSM Innovation Center, Genencor, Novozymes, Inc., and Verenium Corporation were all chosen by DOE for their proven ability to reduce the cost of ethanol by improving the performance of the enzymes. Among the many partners on the projects are four DOE national laboratories: Los Alamos National Laboratory, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratories. For all four projects, DOE intends to invest up to $33.8 million over the next four years, subject to congressional appropriations, and when combined with the cost sharing from industry, up to $70 million will be invested in the effort.

Cellulosic ethanol is produced from a wide variety of non-edible plant materials, including corn stover, cereal straws, sawdust, paper pulp, and switchgrass. Cellulosic ethanol could be produced in every region of the country using locally grown materials, while producing a fuel that creates less greenhouse gases than corn-based ethanol. Within the last year, DOE has announced that it will invest $1 billion in biofuels research and development, $114 million in small-scale cellulosic refineries, $405 million in bioenergy centers, and $385 million in commercial-scale cellulosic refineries. See the DOE press release and DOE's Biomass Program Web site.

DOE and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) also announced the latest members of the Biomass Research and Development Technical Advisory Committee in mid-January. The Committee was founded as part of the Biomass Research and Development Act of 2000 and assists DOE and USDA in meeting national goals that support energy security and rural economies. The chosen committee members, of which six are new and seven are reappointed, will serve three year terms. See the DOE press release and the Biomass Research and Development Initiative Web site.