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U.S. Department of Energy to Invest up to $33.8 Million to Further Development of Commercially Viable Renewable Fuels

February 26, 2008 - 11:29am


ORLANDO, FL - U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Andy Karsner today announced that DOE will invest up to $33.8 million, over four years, (Fiscal Years 2008-2011) for four projects that will focus on developing improved enzyme systems to convert cellulosic material into sugars suitable for production of biofuels.  Building on President Bush's goal of making cellulosic ethanol cost-competitive by 2012, these projects aim to address key technical hurdles associated with mass production of clean, renewable fuels, such as cellulosic ethanol.  Combined with industry cost share, up to $70 million will be invested in these projects, with a minimum 50 percent cost share from industry.  Assistant Secretary Karsner made today's announcement while delivering keynote remarks at the Renewable Fuels Association National Ethanol Conference in Orlando, Florida.

"Success of these projects will play a pivotal role in the rapid development and deployment of renewable fuels to reduce emissions and dependence on foreign oil, and fundamentally change how we power our vehicles," DOE Assistant Secretary Karsner said.  "Supported by the President's ambitious plan to dramatically reduce U.S. gasoline consumption by 20 percent in ten years, the Department is on track to bring online more clean, abundant, affordable and domestically produced biofuels at a rate and scale that will have a substantial impact on our entire transportation sector.  In the interest of the environment, and energy, economic and national security, biofuels must continue to play a significant role as we work to diversify our nation's energy sources and provide a balanced portfolio of science and technology solutions to help meet the rapidly growing demand for energy worldwide."

These four projects seek to more cost-effectively and efficiently breakdown processed biomass into fermentable sugars, a significant challenge in converting biomass into fuels.  Projects were selected based on their demonstrated ability to reduce the cost of enzymes-per-gallon of ethanol by improving an enzyme's performance.  Selected projects must demonstrate the ability to produce enzymes at a commercial-scale, and have a sound business strategy to market the enzymes or enzyme production systems in biorefinery operations.

Today's announcement is also part of over $1 billion DOE has announced within the last year for multi-year biofuels research and development (R&D) projects, all of which seek to advance the Bush Administration's long-term strategy of enhancing the nation's energy, economic and national security by reducing our nation's reliance on foreign oil through increased energy efficiency and diversification of clean energy sources.  Integral to these R&D projects include ongoing examination of reducing greenhouse gases, and land, water, and fertilizer use.

Projects announced today also complement the Department's January 2008 announcement in which four projects were selected for a total of up to $114 million in DOE funding to build small-scale biorefinery projects to be located in Commerce City, Colorado; St. Joseph, Missouri; Boardman, Oregon; and Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin.  These small-scale biorefineries will test newer, novel refining processes.  Other major DOE-led biofuels R&D projects include up to $405 million in DOE funding for three Bioenergy Centers; and up to $385 million in DOE funding, over four years, for the development of six commercial-scale biorefineries, which will focus on near-term commercial processes.  With all of these projects, which reflect a coordinated approach to addressing all technological aspects of making biofuels more commercially viable, the amount of fossil fuel used to produce the biofuels is significantly less than that associated with gasoline - on average as much as 90 percent less over the lifecycle.

Cellulosic ethanol is a renewable fuel made from a wide variety of non-food materials, including agricultural wastes such as corn stover and cereal straws, industrial plant waste like saw dust and paper pulp, and energy crops such as switchgrass, specifically for fuel production.  By relying on a variety of feedstocks, cellulosic ethanol can be produced in nearly every region of the country, using material grown locally.  Though it requires a more complex refining process, cellulosic ethanol contains more net energy and results in lower greenhouse emissions than traditional corn-based ethanol.

Negotiations between the selected companies and DOE will begin immediately to determine final project plans and funding levels.  Funding is subject to appropriations from Congress.  Selected projects include: 

DSM Innovation Center Inc. (Parsippany, NJ): Development of a Commercial Enzymes System for Lignocellulosic Biomass Saccharification.  This project will employ DSM's internal, proprietary fungal systems to develop new approaches to improve enzymes for the conversion of pre-treated lignocellulosic biomass into sugars suitable for fermentation into cellulosic ethanol.  Team Members: Abengoa Bioenergy New Technologies (Nebraska); and DOE's Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories (New Mexico).

Genencor - a Division of Danisco, USA, Inc. (Palo Alto, CA): Enhancing Cellulase Commercial Performance for the Lignocellulosic Biomass Industry.   This project plans to reduce the enzyme-dose level required for biomass saccharification by improving the specific performance of the Trichoderma Reesei mix of fungal-based cellulases to facilitate production of cellulosic ethanol from sugars produced by the saccharification process.  Team Members: DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (Colorado)

Novozymes, Inc. (Davis, CA): Project Decrease - Development of a Commercial-Ready Enzyme Application System for Ethanol.  This project aims to improve performance of Novozymes' most advanced enzyme system by decreasing the dosage of enzyme required to hydrolyze biomass into fermentable sugars suitable for cellulosic ethanol production.  Team Members: Novozymes North America (North Carolina); Novozymes A/S (Denmark); Novozymes (China) Investment Co. Ltd; DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (Washington) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (Colorado); the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique University (France); and Cornell University (New York).

Verenium Corporation (San Diego, CA): Commercialization of Customized Cellulase Solutions for Biomass Saccharification. This project will leverage Verenium's advanced enzyme development capabilities to commercialize a cellulase enzyme system to produce a more cost-effective enzyme solution for biomass saccharification processes that will also tolerate conditions that enable more efficient process economics in producing ethanol from cellulosics.

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Media contact(s):

Julie Ruggiero, (202) 586-4940