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Shell and Codexis to Collaborate on Next-Generation Biofuels

Codexis uses its MolecularBreeding platform for directed molecular evolution to produce biocatalysts. Click to enlarge.

Shell Oil Products US, a subsidiary of Shell Oil Company, and Codexis Inc., a privately held biotechnology company, will collaborate to explore enhanced methods of converting biomass to biofuels. Terms of the newly announced agreement were not disclosed.

Codexis is a developer of biocatalytic chemical technologies for pharmaceutical, industrial chemical and energy applications. In 2005, Codexis and Cargill announced a major breakthrough in developing a novel microbial process to convert corn sugar to a specific chemical intermediate that could lead to the development of a new renewable chemical platform that could eventually replace some petroleum-based products. (Earlier post.)

Our proven biocatalytic approach should provide the critical pathway to developing economically feasible alternative transportation fuels from renewable resources.

—Alan Shaw, Ph.D., Codexis President and CEO

Codexis’s uses proprietary technology for directed evolution and strain development to rapidly generate novel biological catalysts. These catalysts fall into two categories: enzymes and fermentation strains.

The Codexis directed evolution platform (“MolecularBreeding”) uses DNA shuffling to generate a library of novel genes or genomes via recombination of selected starting or parental genes or genomes.

Codexis then screens the encoded library of novel enzymes or strains for those possessing desirable and improved properties and repeats the process until the resulting enzymes or strains meet or exceed the desired efficiency benchmark.

Codexis claims that its shuffling process is dramatically faster than conventional cell genetics techniques and can increase product development speed by several orders of magnitude. Patents in its intellectual property portfolio cover molecular biology methods for generating the gene libraries (gene shuffling) and strain variants (genome shuffling) as well as methods for expressing the enzyme variants and screening them at a high throughput.

Shell has been involved in developing biofuels for more than 30 years, and believes it is the world’s largest distributor of transport biofuels today. The company sold nearly 800 million gallons (3 billion liters) of biofuel in 2005, mostly in the United States and Brazil. Shell also markets fuels containing biocomponents in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, the Philippines, Sweden and Thailand.



_Walking the line while investigating/exploting the possibilities of biotech will be daunting. The organisms must be up to snuff, but unable to survive in the wild. This is to ensure we do not get some superbug that eats all sugars (and derived polymers) on the planet, and denudes it.
_I would go with BTL. It would be expensive, but $400-500 billion, over a decade, would be enough to replace all imported oil, and some natural gas used for electric generation. Biomass production, and agri/forestry/city-suburban waste collection would have to be stepped up. One caveat would be that coal (+ H2O) might have to fill in for a while, until biomass catches up to demand.


While BTL from waste collection is very attractive as waste management, a feedstock for industry and a fuel for trucks and trains, would it solve air quality problems? It seems to me that you would have to convert it (with appropriate pollution control) to Electricity or H2 to clean up our cities air.

An Engineer

You are right. I can't see enzymes and "genome shuffling" competing with BTL.

There is a reason (other than all the conspiracy theories) why we use liquid fuels for transportation. BTL offers the opportunity to continue along this road, without replacing all existing vehicles or fuel distribution infrastructure.



I understand why we use liquid fuels (energy density, handling, conveniance and history), I'm just not sure why we would want to continue to use something as noisy and polluting if there is an alternative. I'd love to breath fresh air in a city where I can actually hear the birds sing for a change. While I think BTL is a wonderful in comparison to fossil petroleum, I think we can do better.


I think the directed evolution approach is much safer in terms of potential harm done if it escapes and breeds with naturally occurring organisms as compared to the transgenic approach the chemical companies have taken with engineering our food crops, which are breeding with organic crops.


Agree with all of the above. Already there is herbicide resistant canola (used to make oil for biodiesel) that could become a superweed.

The trouble with BTL seems to be the need for multimillion dollar reactors. If they could be scaled down then liquid fuels could be made locally. That's one area where the ethanol subsidy could be redirected.


Perhaps instead of syn-gasoline or syn-diesel from BTL, we can use butanol, or dibutyl ether (which is like n-octanol, but w/the O at the middle instead of at the end).

Scaled down distributed production vs scale of economy. Perhaps we can meet in between. Large, widely distributed plants at strategic locations w/rail, water transport, roads, and pipelines, and near population centers and agricultural regions (Chicago, Pittsburgh, St Louis, NYC, Beaumont, etc.).
_I do agree that they are expensive, with plants running in the 4-5 billion dollar range for 100,000 bbl daily production capacity.

An Engineer

Here's the way I see it: the "breath of fresh air" alternative does not mean much if it is not workable. I also think you are not giving BTL its full due. BTL fuels are much cleaner than their fossil equivalents, containing essentially no sulfur or aromatics.

Hydrogen is not going to happen, due to its properties, which won't change regardless of how much money is spent on research. You can believe me now, or wait 10+ years while DOE burns through several $millions to come to the same conclusion.

Electricity has some potential, especially in PHEV, I believe. Notice that the electricity must be generated, and you are still left with the need for a clean and renewable source.

An Engineer

I believe that is beginning to change. As reported a few days ago, right here on GCC: "ZeroPoint’s Biomass Gasifier is designed to standardize variable cellulosic and other biomass feedstocks and optimize high yields of high-quality syngas in real-time with greatly increased capital and operating cost efficiencies at much smaller scales as compared to traditional gasification technologies."

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