Aaron Hawkins on advanced biofuels and an underutilized corn kernel
On the first full day of the 2015 Fuel Ethanol Workshop and Expo (FEW), Novozymes Scientist Aaron Hawkins presented “Use of Innovative Enzyme Technology for the Generation of Advanced Biofuels from Grain” to a large crowd of ethanol advocates at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
“Novozymes has been heavily involved in the fuel ethanol industry since its inception,” said Hawkins. “We think there are still significant opportunities ahead for producing advanced biofuels from underutilized or previously-inaccessible parts of the corn kernel.”
Hawkins’ talk was purposed at providing examples of different enzyme solutions Novozymes has developed for the biofuels industry, with a specific focus on corn as the feedstock material.
Developing the cellulosic ethanol industry
In the early 2000s, enzyme use cost dominated the total product costs for cellulosic ethanol production. According to Hawkins, Novozymes has since reduced enzyme use costs by over ten-fold, which has helped their partners commercialize the first wave of biomass ethanol plants.
In the past year alone, four additional commercial-scale second generation ethanol plants have come online: Two in the United States and two in Brazil. Though there have been initial challenges with ramping up the plants to full capacity, Hawkins remains confident that the technology will reach maturity and become a significant avenue for renewable fuel creation across the world.
Applying learnings to the starch-based ethanol industry
Novozymes has, at the same time, been exploring ways to employ the learnings and innovations developed for biomass applications within the starch-based ethanol industry.
Hawkins went on to cite Novozymes’ Spirizyme® Achieve, the first fiber-degrading glucoamylase. According to Hawkins, Spirizyme Achieve is blended to break down cell walls and access additional starch, which can increase ethanol yield and lower overall energy costs.
But, despite the recent developments, the speaker explained that there is even more opportunity available to refiners to take advantage of currently under-utilized parts of the corn kernel—corn fiber, for example. For most ethanol plants, the majority of the corn kernel’s fiber moves untouched through cook, fermentation, and distillation before ending up in Dried Distiller’s Grains (DDGs) where it adds little value.
“Utilizing corn fiber could significantly increase ethanol production levels, particularly in the United States,” said Hawkins.
It’s a captive feedstock in the sense that it’s already being brought to plants and therefore represents very low hanging fruit for the production of cellulosic ethanol,” said Hawkins. “It’s a very significant opportunity because if there was 100% adoption of a cellulosic ethanol process based on corn fiber—if corn fiber represents 8-9%of the kernel by dry weight—that could give us over 1 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol capacity in the US alone.”
Innovating for the production of biodiesel
Hawkins rounded off his talk by introducing much of the crowd to Novozymes’ new lipase product that launched this year. The product, called Eversa®, is the first ever enzymatic solution for the production of biodiesel. The enzymatic process offers unprecedented feedstock flexibility for biodiesel producers because it can operate on any oil or grease source regardless of free-fatty acid (FFA) content.
“I’ve told you today about two different enzyme innovations that [Novozymes has] that we believe offer an opportunity to capture some of the significant value that’s available for parts of the corn kernel that were previously underdeveloped or were inaccessible,” finished Hawkins. “We at Novozymes are prepared with these different enzyme solutions to help you achieve whatever your particular process goals may be.”
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