|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.