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Green Biologics Awarded £560,000 for Cellulosic Biobutanol Development

21 January 2007

Gbl
GBL has developed a proprietary library of thermophiles and thermostable enzymes for a variety of applications. Click to enlarge.

Green Biologics (GBL), an Oxfordshire (UK) biotechnology company, has received £560,000 (US$1.1 million) in funding to support the development of its fuel biobutanol product—Butafuel—from cellulosic biomass. The Department of Trade and Industry-led Technology Program is providing £250,000 (US$494,000), and shareholder investors and business angels are providing the rest.

Using its library of thermophiles and thermostable enzymes, GBL has isolated a cocktail of thermophilic microorganisms for the rapid enzymatic hydrolysis and release of fermentable sugars from biomass. The company plans to integrate this patented hydrolysis technology with a proprietary butanol fermentation process.

Panel_image_biofuels3
The Butafuel process flow. Click to enlarge.

Green Biologics will partner with EKB Technology, a specialist in process technology, to develop the advanced fermentation process for butanol with improved yields.

The major barrier to butanol production has been the high cost of the conventional starch fermentation process. Our expertise in microbial strain development, together with EKB’s innovative process technology and the use of non-edible food stocks, should lead to a step change in the economic viability of the manufacturing process—we are aiming for a two- to three-fold reduction in cost. We are effectively using our knowledge of enzymology, microbial physiology and fermentation to optimize and ‘re-commercialize’ the butanol fermentation process.

—Dr Edward Green, Green Biologics Founder & CEO

Butanol (C4H10O) is a four-carbon alcohol in widespread use as an industrial solvent. Originally produced by fermentation starting nearly 90 years ago (using Clostridia acetobutylicum), butanol shifted to becoming a petrochemically-derived product in the 1950s as the price of petrochemicals dropped below that of starch and sugar substrates such as corn and molasses. Virtually all of the butanol is use today is produced petrochemically.

Butanol has a number of attractive properties as a fuel. Its energy content is closer to gasoline than ethanol’s. It is non-corrosive, can be distributed through existing pipelines, and can be—but does not have to be—blended with fossil fuels. Butanol itself could be reformed for hydrogen for use in fuel cells, and the production process itself produces hydrogen.

In June 2006, BP and DuPont recently announced a collaboration with British Sugar to produce biobutanol in the UK. BP provides a route for butanol into the transport fuel market and aims to blend butanol with gasoline at its 1,200 filling stations. (Earlier post.)

Green Biologics Ltd was founded in 2003 by Dr Edward Green, Chief Executive Officer, and is located at Milton Park, Oxfordshire.

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January 21, 2007 in Biobutanol, Biotech | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)

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Comments

It's good to hear about more butanol ventures. I hope that they're successful.

We should be really careful about all of these bio-engineered organisms. Did you know that the miracle BT gene has made it into corn as far as Mexico? Monsanto didn't predict that, and we don't know what will happen when (not if) these new Frankensteins get loose. In our rush to save the world and make a lot of money doing it, there should be some careful consideration of how to keep these Genies in the bottle.

Eric: as I understand it, nature has been crossbreeding and allowing genes to get loose for hundreds of millions of years. And in ways not predicted by our simplistic theories of even fifty years ago.

What are the GM genes supposed to do that is different? And why would it be bad? Would you propose a scenario?

I'm with K. As described in the book 1491, corn itself is a man made bio-engineered crop.

As for the venture, I think butanol has many advantages over ethanol, so I am glad someone is working on producing it from cellulose. Best of luck to them.

all these bio projects it wont be long before we produce 90million barrels a day and dont have to use oil any more

K,

The difference is that nature and man has in the past been doing its experiments at a gradual pace, which allowed for an evolutionary style of development. Anything we bioengineer but cannot control may aggressively invade feedstocks humanity has depended on for hundreds of years if not millennia. Eric's example is a very good one of how we are putting our foodchain at risk. We don't really know what the long-term effects will be if GM crops take ofer the planet and invade the space of known crops. One unanticipated virus or predator can affect our food supply in a very grave manner if we lose our diversity.

K's point is a valid question to ask with anything we bioengineer. What happens if engineered enzimes escape into the open? What are the scenarios? Are there potentially harmful enzymes where we also have choices for using more benign ones? Looking at solving the problems from a larger systemic perspective will be beneficial in the long run.

Jørgen,
The first threat we face from GM organisms is antibiotic resistant bacteria. That is because bacteria apparently have the ability to exchange DNA even between different species. While the threat is real, it has (so far) failed to destroy civilization.

DNA exchange between higher organisms is far more limited, although it does happen. The question is: What are the real world threats? Take the BT gene that made it to Mexico. Did it do any harm? Did antbody other than the scientist even notice any effect of the BT gene? Is this a case of Frankenstein on the loose, without anybody noticing? I am not advocating ignorance, but let's not play up ungrounded fears.

In this case, the GM organism would contain heatstable enzymes. In the real (cold) world they would not compete too well. Most GM strains of bacteria have difficulty surviving in the real world.

And let's remember that an enzyme is a biological catalyst. It is not as if an enzyme is going to eat you alive...

Thanks for the answer Jorgen. I can't say I'm convinced, but opinions differ on many things besides biology.

I do agree that monoculture poses great economic risk to specific regions. When you only have one uniform cash crop it is subject to biologic threats from disease, insects, and organisms. It is also subject to economic threats of the market or from better substitutes.

Quite a number of programs, schemes, and repositories have been tried to keep older lines of plants and domestic animals alive to avoid the monoculture problem.

My guess would be that men using biological agents as weapons will do more harm than what 'gets loose'.

But who knows? I try to remember Eisenhower's maxim: 'the worst things don't happen'. He used it when advisors forecast disaster. Yet by nature he was careful and would have totally agreed with your last sentence.

Can you point us in direction for further inf on biobutanol?

I think there would be many millions of us that would drop gasoline for biobutanol in a heartbeat if given the chance even if there was little or no cost savings.

Also, I don't think this company's process uses GM-organisms, it uses bugs its found in soil samples etc, it just manages to find the ones that can make butanol. In any field, there's zillions of "bugs", and you can find just about any chemical-capability if you look hard enough. Personally, I don't mind if they're GM or not, the technology has moved on a lot since the early 1990's, I'm most keen to find out how to convert my car for the last few years I hope to have one!!!

Jack "2 wheels better than 4" Hemlock

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