|Genomic sequence of Z. mobilis—a key player in DuPont’s BioRefinery. Source: Center for Biological Sequence Analysis, TDU|
Two DuPont research leaders provided an update on the company’s strategy to develop next-generation biofuels at the third annual World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing.
In June, DuPont and BP announced a partnership to develop, produce and market next-generation biofuels, starting with biobutanol. (Earlier post.)
Our strategy is simple and consistent with the mega trends we are seeing globally. We are making new chemicals, such as Bio-PDO [earlier post], and new fuels, such as biobutanol, from agricultural crops. And we are simultaneously developing new ways to convert abundant plant cellulose fibers to biofuels so that even larger volumes of these valuable materials can be produced. Our strategy is designed to deliver the science needed to begin to transform global economies so we are less reliant on oil by enabling the adoption of efficient, high-performance, bio-based technologies.—John Pierce, DuPont Bio-Based Technologies vice president
DuPont has a three-part strategy for biofuels, according to biofuels research manager William D. Provine. The strategy entails:
Improving existing ethanol production through differentiated agricultural seed products and crop protection chemicals;
Developing and supplying new technologies to allow conversion of cellulose to biofuels; and
Developing and supplying next generation biofuels with improved performance.
Seed & Crop Protection Solutions. DuPont subsidiary Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. has selected more than 135 seed hybrids marketed through its IndustrySelect program. The program brings specialized grain traits that improve the efficiency of ethanol production. The seed and crop protection research pipeline includes yield traits in seeds and other products that will further improve ethanol production efficiency.
Integrated Corn-Based BioRefinery (Cellulosic Fuels). DuPont and the US Department of Energy are jointly funding a four-year research program to develop technology to convert corn stover into ethanol. This is consistent with the company’s strategy to develop technologies that can convert energy crops such as grasses, and agricultural byproducts such as straw and corn stalks, into biofuels and biochemicals.
The Integrated BioRefinery program will significantly increase the amount of ethanol per acre achievable by using corn grain and stover on the same amount of land. The technology package will be complete next year, and the company is currently developing options for the construction of a demonstration plant.
DuPont has developed a fermentation process in collaboration with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to allow high conversion of both C-6 glucose sugars and the difficult to ferment C-5 xylose sugars to ethanol at high yields. The BioRefinery technology uses an enhanced bacterium—Zymomonas mobilis—to make these conversions. This organism is found in the tropics where it normally lives in the sugar sap of the agave plant, a plant that is commonly used to make tequila.
Biobutanol Partnership with BP and Advanced Biofuels Pipeline. DuPont’s partnership with BP to develop biobutanol is based on its strategy to bring advanced biofuels to market to expand the use of biofuels in gasoline.
Biobutanol will be the first product available and offers improved performance. It enhances ethanol-gasoline blends by lowering the vapor pressure when co-blended with these fuels; it enhances fuel stability of biobutanol-gasoline blends, giving it the potential to be distributed via the existing fuel supply infrastructure; it improves blend flexibility allowing higher biofuels blends with gasoline; and it improves fuel efficiency (better miles per gallon) compared to incumbent biofuels. Biobutanol is targeted for introduction in 2007 in the United Kingdom. Additional global capacity will be introduced as market conditions dictate.