SunOpta has signed a Joint Development Agreement with the Dutch company Royal Nedalco—one of the largest ethanol suppliers in Europe—under which SunOpta will license Nedalco’s patented pentose fermenting yeast for the production of cellulosic ethanol in North America.
Furthermore, SunOpta will work with Nedalco to include SunOpta’s technology and systems for cellulosic ethanol production into their planned new grain ethanol facilities in Europe.
A significant challenge in producing cellulosic ethanol is the ability to ferment both hexose sugars (glucose) and pentose sugars (xylose), since pentose sugars can represent up to half of the available fermentable sugars in cellulosic biomass. The baker’s yeast used in starch ethanol plants cannot ferment xylose or other pentose sugars
A consortium including Nedalco, Delft University of Technology and BIRD Engineering—all located in the Netherlands—developed a patented and novel pentose fermenting yeast that is capable of high conversions of pentose sugars as well as the hexose sugars into cellulosic ethanol at high yields. (Earlier post.)
The team is genetically modifying Saccharomyces cerevisiae to enable the anaerobic fermentation of xylose as well as glucose. The Dutch team inserted a gene derived from a fungus (Piromyces) found in elephant feces into S. cerevisiae, and then subsequently improved the modification through evolutionary engineering.
Nedalco is adding ethanol capacity in the Netherlands and the UK including a 200 million liter (53 million gallon US) grain ethanol plant that will produce road fuel. Nedalco plans to use their pentose-fermenting yeast in this new facility.
SunOpta intends to study the capability to produce fuel grade cellulosic ethanol using by-product streams high in hexose and pentose sugars from its US fiber operations incorporating this new yeast.
SunOpta, Novozymes and China Resources Alcohol Corporation (CRAC) recently entered into a Joint Development Agreement for the development of cellulosic ethanol in the People’s Republic of China based on SunOpta’s patented and proprietary biomass conversion technology and Novozymes’ enzymes. (Earlier post.)
“Evolutionary engineering of mixed-sugar utilization by a xylose-fermenting Saccharomyces cerevisiae strain”; Marko Kuyper, Maurice J. Toirkens, Jasper A. Diderich, Aaron A. Winkler, Johannes P. van Dijken, Jack T. Pronk; FEMS Yeast Research, Volume 5 Page 925–July 2005; doi:10.1016/j.femsyr.2005.04.004