The VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has launched, as co-ordinator, the NEMO project (Novel high performance enzymes and micro-organisms for conversion of lignocellulosic biomass to bioethanol), a collaborative research effort involving European research institutes and companies to develop technologies for the production of cellulosic ethanol.
The NEMO project, which has received funding of €5.9 million (US$8.4 million) from the EU’s FP7 (Seventh Framework Programme), is aimed at developing technologies to produce cellulosic ethanol from agricultural and forestry waste, such as straws and wood chips, via a fermentation pathway. Total cost of the project will be €8.2 million (US$11.7 million).
The production of ethanol by fermentation consists of four stages: the pre-processing of the raw material; the conversion of carbohydrates from polymers into sugar; the fermentation of sugar into ethanol using microbes; and the distillation of ethanol. Different technologies are being globally developed for pre-processing the raw material.
The NEMO project seeks to provide the most realistic but widely applicable technologies for delivering the biomass sugars and then fermenting the sugars that could be exploited broadly by European industry. The project is focusing on:
Identifying and improving enzymes for hydrolysis of biomasses relevant for Europe. Novel enzymes are identified and improved through various approaches, based on screening, broad comparative genomics analyses, and protein engineering.
These efforts are intended to generate more thermostable enzymes for high temperature hydrolysis; more efficient enzymes for hydrolysis of the resistant structures in lignocellulose such as crystalline cellulose and lignin-hemicellulose complexes; enzymes with reduced affinity on lignin; and efficient thermo- and mesophilic enzyme mixtures that are optimized and tailor-made for the relevant biomasses for Europe and European industry.
These novel biocatalysts will be tested in an iterative manner in process relevant conditions, including also pilot-scale operations, to ensure that the novel enzymes and microbes will be superior in real process conditions.
The generation through metabolic engineering and mutagenesis and screening approaches of robust yeast strains that have a broad substrate range and can (co-)ferment C6 and C5 sugars to ethanol with high productivity (rate and yield), and that are significantly more stress tolerant, i.e. inhibitor, ethanol and thermotolerant than the current S. cerevisiae strains used in ethanol production.
Identifying optimal enzyme, microbe and process regime combinations to provide a basis for the development of the most economic and eco-efficient overall processes.
NEMO-derived technology improvements are also applicable for the efficient and economic production of other biofuels and bulk chemicals.
The NEMO project members are: VTT (Finland); Lunds Universitet (Sweden); University of Helsinki, Universiteit Utrecht (the Netherlands); VIB (Belgium); Chalmers Tekniska Högskola Ab (Sweden); Johann Wolfgang Goethe Universität Frankfurt am Main (Germany); Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (Switzerland); Universite de la Mediterranee D’aix-Marseille (France); Universita Degli Studi di Milano (Italy); Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen (the Netherlands); Univerza V Ljubljani (Slovenia); Chemtex Italia srl (Italy); Dyadic Nederland BV (the Netherlands); Green Sugar GmbH (Germany); Sekab E-Technology (Sweden); Syngenta Crop Protection AG (Switzerland); and Roal Oy (Finland).
The EU has set a recommendation for its member states with the aim of replacing 5.75% of traffic fuel with biofuels by 2010 and a mandatory target of 10% renewable energy sources in traffic by 2020.