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Edenspace Systems Licenses MSU Technology for Endoplant Enzymes to Optimize Cellulosic Ethanol Production

Edenspace Systems Corp., a Kansas plant biotechnology company that develops new crops for biofuels and environmental cleanup, has licensed Michigan State University (MSU) technology that modifies the corn genome to express enzymes (endoplant, or “in-plant” enzymes) within the corn biomass needed to convert cellulose into fermentable sugar. (Earlier post.)

The transgenic corn plants produce these enzymes only in their leaves and stalk, and store them in sub-cellular compartments (the vacuoles).

The most recent version of the MSU engineered corn developed by Professors Mariam Sticklen—Spartan Corn III—now uses three enzymes from different sources: the thermophilic Acidothermus cellulolyticus E1 endo-cellulase; the fungal Trichoderma reesei (CBH1) exo-cellulase; and, the most recent addition, the microbial Butyrivibrio fibrisolvens H17c beta-glucosidase.

Edenspace expects to use the MSU technology to release biofuel corn varieties directly to growers as well as sublicensing the technology to other companies that want to add the gene to their corn varieties. The company also will investigate using the technology in other biofuel crops such as sorghum, switchgrass and sugarcane.

We’re excited to start commercializing this technology. We’ve been collaborating with Dr. Sticklen on this research for the past four years. This is a very productive extension of that work.

—Bruce Ferguson, president of Edenspace

Because of the regulations surrounding the release of transgenic crops, Ferguson estimated that it would take at least three years before the new biofuel varieties were available commercially.

In June, Edenspace received a two-year, Phase II Small Business Innovation Research grant from the US Department of Agriculture to support continued Edenspace development of enhanced switchgrass varieties with traits such as endoplant enzyme expression that reduce the cost of producing ethanol and other biofuels from plant leaves and stems.

Begun in 2007, the project has a total budget of $645,000 that includes funding from the Kansas Bioscience Authority.

The company is developing enhanced varieties of corn, sorghum, switchgrass, and other crops to enhance their energy performance by incorporating genes that express cellulases, thereby reducing the cost of producing biofuels from plant biomass.

Producing enzymes in the plants themselves, rather than in microbial bioreactors, is expected to substantially reduce pre-treatment and enzyme costs. Integrating high-efficiency endoplant enzyme crops with biofuel production and distribution systems is projected to double per-acre ethanol yields, reduce the cost of cellulosic ethanol by 20%, increase farm income per acre by 25%, and relax pressures on farmland availability and water use.

Comments

Henry Gibson

There is not enough land area total to supply a substantial part of the US energy use by using biomass. Are the Europeans going to refuse to buy transgenic ethanol or the corn from tne US? ..HG..

Polly

Growing some of the enzymes for fermenting the cellulose in the crop is an cunning approach.

"Integrating high-efficiency endoplant enzyme crops with biofuel production and distribution systems is projected to double per-acre ethanol yields, reduce the cost of cellulosic ethanol by 20%, increase farm income per acre by 25%, and relax pressures on farmland availability and water use."

Double the per-acre biofuel yield is very impressive.
In the past plant breeders have focused on increasing crop yield.
Now that the plant breeders are turning their attention to the fuel potential of the non-crop biomass, it is very likely that they will be able to substantially increase the fuel co-product yield.

The article mentions applying the technique to sugar cane. Sugar cane combined heat and power plants already generate all of their process heat and electricity by burning some of the bagasse, and even generate a surplus of electricity for export to the grid.
According to wikipedia, not all of the bagasse is currently used in Brazil because Brazil has cheaper Hydro Electric Power available. If the excess bagasse could be fermented into biofuel instead, it would increase the potential for large quantities of biofuel to be exported to the USA to supplement US ethanol supply and displace imports from OPEC. Congress needs to make a deal with Brazil on a tariff structure which facilitates clean biofuels from both the USA and Brazil while taxing fossil fuels to fund their external costs such as military expenditure in the Persian Gulf.

sjc

Polly,

That is correct and Brazil is working on using the cane cellulose after crushing. We have 30 million acres devoted to corn for ethanol in the U.S. If we used the stalks and not the corn we would have 60 million tons of biomass and could make 6 billion gallons of ethanol just from the stalks.

michael Bryant

if that 30 million acres was use to grow switchgrass Then if each ton produces 100 gallons of ethanol. Than it could produce 18 billion gallons. That if get minimum yield of 6 tons per acre. 27 billion high yeild. so far the person to land ratio is 1 person per 3 acres.

LOUIS UYS

Why not grow crops like napier fodder (elephant grass)in countries like Mozambique ,where it grows naturally

gr

Amending the tariff structure for biofuels the world over should be a major energy priority. Imported E85 with .55 cent/gal tax does not protect US farmers as much as retard development of competitive technologies.

Removal of the import tariffs and incentives to gas station owners to install E85 pumps - would be a good start on building an alternative liquid fuel bridge.

NCyder

So, if I eat the corn, will it create rotgut in my ... gut?

je

'Are the Europeans going to refuse to buy transgenic ethanol or the corn from tne US? ..HG..'
Being European, I hope so.

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