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Verenium Commissioning Cellulosic Ethanol Demo-Scale Plant; Targeting Cost of $1.34/Gallon

Verenium expects a production cost of $1.34/gallon (outlined in red) from its first-generation technology, with further reductions to come. Click to enlarge.

Verenium Corporation has begun the commissioning phase at its demonstration-scale cellulosic ethanol facility in Jennings, Louisiana. The plant is rated to produce 1.4 million gallons per year using specialty enzymes and the company’s proprietary technology to convert non-food biomass to ethanol.

Verenium says that it is tracking to its goal of beginning construction in the middle of next year on a 30 million-gallon-per-year commercial plant. In a briefing with analysts and investors, Verenium said that it was expecting a production cost of $1.34/gallon for its first-generation technology.

Verenium is striving to consolidate the steps in its current process (top) to be closer to the simpler corn ethanol process (bottom). Click to enlarge.

Verenium was formed in 2007 by the merger of Diversa Corporation and Celunol Corp. (Earlier post.) Diversa brought a broad array of enzymes derived from bio-diverse environments as well as patented DirectEvolution technologies. The key element of Celunol’s technology was genetically engineered Escherichia coli bacteria that can ferment both C6 (hexose) and C5 (pentose) sugars present in cellulosic biomass.

Professor Lonnie Ingram at the University of Florida, from which Celunol licensed its technology, modified the E. coli—which could use both 5- and 6-carbon sugars, but produced very little ethanol, with the ethanol-producing capabilities of Zymomonas mobilis. Z. mobilis is a good ethanol producer that is highly alcohol-resistant, but is also very sensitive to its environment, is not very hardy, and can mostly use only glucose.

Rather than engineer this organism [Z. mobilis] by adding pathways to use different sugars...rather than engineer that strain to use one pentose or galactose or a dozen other sugars we wanted it to use, we said we’ll just take the part that’s involved in ethanol production, and transplant it into E. coli. And this is our generic approach. And after doing that, we had 95% of the theoretical yield of ethanol.

We went ahead and deleted all the other pathways [succinic acid, lactic acid, formate, acetate, CO2 and hydrogen] so that the only pathway our organisms have to grow under anaerobic conditions is to make ethanol. If they grow, they must make ethanol. If they grow faster, they must make ethanol faster. If they grow to higher densities, they must make more ethanol.

—Prof. Lonnie Ingram

The resulting company has integrated, end-to-end capabilities in pre-treatment, novel enzyme development, fermentation, engineering, and project development, supporting Verenium’s basic strategy of build, own and operate. It is targeting the production of ethanol from a wide array of cellulosic feedstocks, including dedicated energy crops, sugarcane bagasse, agricultural waste, and wood products.

The company also will engage in selective licensing opportunities. Verenium’s process technology has been licensed by Tokyo-based Marubeni Corp. and Tsukishima Kikai Co., Ltd. and has been incorporated into BioEthanol Japan’s 1.4 million liter-per-year cellulosic ethanol plant in Osaka, Japan—the world’s first commercial-scale plant to produce cellulosic ethanol from wood construction waste.




The recent energy bill by congress mandates that the increased biofuel production requirements must be made from non-food sources. IOW, cellulosic ethanol. I think there is some viability to going that route. But I completely agree algae biofuels have the most potential. Sapphire Energy recently made some very bold claims:

But large cellulosic ethanol facilities are already under construction, so we already have a proven alternative source:
“Range Fuels’ Soperton plant is expected to produce 16m gallons of ethanol biofuel annually from logging waste and grasses.”

Let's not give up on cellulosic ethanol until large volume algae fuel production has been proven.

Roger Pham

Thanks, Emosson, for the insightful comment. Indeed, direct solar energy has far greater potential than any agricultural solution.

I would like to add that synthetic fuels such as methane and hydrogen, along with battery electricity for local commutes, will hold the most promise long into the future. Synthetic fuels can be made from surplus wind, solar, geothermal, nuclear energy, and even from coal and waste biomass if necessary. Future human societies cannot exist without a form of stored synthetic fuels, to be produced in seasons of excess renewable energy production (spring, falls and summer)and to be consumed in season(s) of high rate of energy production (winter).

Methane can be used directly in ICE-vehicle today and for all surface transportatiion application. Hydrogen will require additional infrastructures, but will be much more efficiently synthesized and consummed than methane.

Waste cellulosic biomass will be far more valuable in the future as feedstock for plastic production and for the chemical industry, as well as for production of aviation fuel, which must have very high energy density in comparison to methane and hydrogen.


up here in western Canada we have 9- 12 million hectares of pine kill affected forests ready to be converted to cellulosic ethanol. This area is dumping a million tons of carbon to the atmosphere per year, just rotting away. For the sake of the enviroment and giving this affect on the acidic composition of the neighbouring ocean... isn't cellulosic conversion logical ?



I was not talking about using any more fertile soil, I was talking about using waste biomass which does not compete with food production.

Nor was I talking about fueling cars, again can you makes plastics and jet fuel from electricity?


diggstr1: "This area is dumping a million tons of carbon to the atmosphere per year, just rotting away. For the sake of the enviroment and giving this affect on the acidic composition of the neighbouring ocean... isn't cellulosic conversion logical ?"

If we let it "rot away", CO2 is released.

If we convert it into fuel and burn it, CO2 is released.

Since the convert-to-fuel option will itself put more CO2 into the air -- gathering up the feedstock, processing, etc -- then if the 'environment' is the sole driver of logic, we should let the stuff rot.

Unless we can find a way of burying it all. Tie a rock to the trees and throw them into the ocean?



It could be carbon neutral or negative if a percentage of that biomass is turned into plastics or solid materials.



"Recent incremental improvements is just too little too late to perpetuate the species... A few ICE gas guzzlers vehicles will be preserved in museums for our grand children to see."

Your first statement appears to negate the opportunity for the second.


Vertical Integrated Biorefineries can achieve public objectives."Next Generation" bio-fuels producers will cause less distortion and move the bio-economy to more sustainable and positive climate change outputs. Cellulose is the most common organic compound on earth. Making ethanol from cellulose dramatically expands the types and amount of available material for bio-fuels production.Bamboo is a fast growing grass, GHG Reducer, soild stabilizer, grows anywhere and planting once per seven years with higher ethanol yields than corn or cane. Studies have shown "bio-fuels made from waste biomass or from biomass grown on abandoned agriculture lands planted with perennials incur little or no carbon debt and offer immediate and sustained GHG advantages".

Earl Retherford

I have been following Verenium for some time. Their R/D expertise is incredible. They have developed a library of 12.5 Billion genes from bacteria. They can access it from there " biogenic Google" search engine.
Ethanol is getting all the attention now but if Butanol is a better fuel I'm sure they could figure out how to make it.
Another point about electric vehicles is that battery technology and fuel cells are progressing but it still may be a few years before they are practical and economic. Verenium is planning a full scale plant by 2010 and many more around 2012. Some research has indicated E20 may work very well in our current vehicles and even produce gas mileage equivalent or better than gasoline.

Healthy Breaze

@Earl R.

It's very doubtful E20 can delivery the same MPG as standard gasoline in today's ICE. There' just less energy density and the elevated octane does not make up for it.

That's not to say E20 won't have other advantages. As long as it is proportionately cheaper than standard grade fuel, most people who don't need the maximum range per tank full of gas will probably still use it.

There is still the storage and transport problem with ethanol that butanol seems to eliminate.


@Healthy Breaze

It's very doubtful E20 can delivery the same MPG as standard gasoline in today's ICE. ... As long as it is proportionately cheaper than standard grade fuel

In a few years you'll be luckey to get anything to put in you tank


I think I am ready for a nuke plant in my backyard, now ...

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