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New Novozymes Enzymes for Cellulosic Ethanol Enable Production Cost Below US$2 Per Gallon

The decrease in enzyme cost brings the low end of cellulosic ethanol production cost below the high end of corn ethanol production cost. Source: Novozymes. Click to enlarge.

Novozymes has launched what it called the first commercially viable enzymes for production of biofuel from agricultural waste.

The new Cellic CTec2 enzymes enable the biofuel industry to produce cellulosic ethanol at a price below US$2.00 per gallon for the initial commercial-scale plants that are scheduled to be in operation in 2011. This cost is on par with gasoline and conventional ethanol at the current US market prices.

Fermentative cellulosic ethanol production uses enzymes to break down cellulose in biomass, following pretreatment, into sugars that can be fermented into ethanol. Cellic CTec2 has proven to work on many different feedstock types, including corn cobs and stalks, wheat straw, sugarcane bagasse, and woodchips.

Novozymes’s CEO Steen Riisgaard, who announced the launch at a press briefing at the Renewable Fuels Association’s 15th Annual National Ethanol Conference, noted that:

When I was employed 30 years ago as a researcher, I was put on this project. We had to give up for awhile, but we started again 10 years ago. It is a big thing to be standing here today.

Advances in enzyme technology reduce the dose by up to 50%, resulting in a use cost of as low as $0.50/gallon. Source: Novozymes. Click to enlarge.

Advances in enzyme development have enabled the reduction of the enzyme dose by up to 50%, resulting in an enzyme use cost of as low as $0.50 per gallon—reflecting a reduction in enzyme use cost for cellulosic ethanol by 80% over the past two years. Novozymes said it has allocated unprecedented resources to the project, and the company has also received development grants totaling US$29.3 million from the US Department of Energy.

Novozymes has partnered with leading companies in the biofuel industry worldwide, such as POET, Greenfield Ethanol, Inbicon, Lignol, ICM, M&G, CTC, COFCO, Sinopec, and PRAJ to help accelerate process technology development and implementation. Coupled with further improvements in enzyme efficiency, Novozymes expects the cost to produce cellulosic biofuel to be further reduced.

Cellulosic ethanol will be cheaper. Our partners expect production costs to fall below USD 2.00 per gallon once their first commercial scale plants are fully operational, and the cost will continue to drop in the future.

—Steen Riisgaard

A number of pilot- and demonstration-scale facilities are in operation globally, while large-scale commercial facilities are under construction and scheduled to be operational in 2011.

Novozymes welcomed the recent support from the Obama Administration in the form of the RFS2 rules from the EPA (earlier post), saying it will reignite investments in new biorefineries across the US. However, the company noted, removing the E10 blend wall to enable a move to higher blends such as E15 and the promotion of E85 are still needed to meet the cellulosic ethanol targets defined by the Renewable Fuel Standard.

To achieve the full potential, cellulosic ethanol needs infrastructure development, expedited funding to build commercial scale plants, and increased ethanol demand.

—Steen Riisgaard


Account Deleted

It is truly historical if ethanol from cellulosic biomass at 2 USD a gallon is within reach. The CEO of POET (world’s largest ethanol producer) has said it is possible to produce about 85 billion gallon of ethanol from all existing sources of cellulosic biomass in the US.1). Total US gasoline consumption is about 100 billion gallons so together with corn ethanol and higher mpg per vehicle it should be possible to quit fossil fuels in the US without any extra cost to the consumers.

POET also said in November 2009 that their current cost was down to 2.35 USD per gallon of cellulosic ethanol.2). In all likelihood that price was also based on Novozymes 50 cents per gallon for enzyme use. From what I have read at various sources the costs break down for cellulosic and enzymatic ethanol production is now as follows:

50 cents for enzymes per gallon.
75 cents for cellulosic biomass per gallon (based on the assumption that 80 gallons can be made from 1 ton of dry biomass that cost 60 USD per ton to procure. Some of this biomass is also used for making processing energy. For comparison one bushel of corn makes 2.8 gallon of ethanol so at 3.5 USD per bushel that will be 1.25 USD of corn per gallon of ethanol).
75 cents for capital costs per gallon (for comparison it is known to be only 25 cents per gallon for corn or sugar ethanol).
Leaving 35 cents for other issues such as labor.
Total 2.35 USD per gallon.

I don’t have inside information on this so I may be a little wrong. Since the biomass is not burned as in catalytic ethanol production there is also a potential to produce valuable bi-products from this enzymatic ethanol production. However, I guess that at this time they probably burn whatever residuals that cannot be converted to ethanol.

In any case the future looks exceedingly bright with regard to abandoning fossil fuels.


1) (see CNN money)


Excellent points Henrik. They also have significant motivation to push forward as quickly as possible to make it cheaper because competition is coming from the electric car producers.



Whether butanol, ethanol or methanol made from biomass, we need to reduce our use of petroleum in the near future.


'Cellulosic Ethanol Enable Production Cost Below US$2 Per Gallon' is wonderful, if true.

It is also dangerous, because oil firms/sheiks are not going to allow anything, especially not some farmers, to muscle out their monopoly.

As oil history shows, whether they have to short term undersell, crush, war, buy, law lobby, misinform - there will be attacks and setbacks.


This is fascinating: look how FAST year over year production costs and enzyme use costs per gallon ethanol are dropping. In just another few years it should cost them pennies on the dollar for enzyme costs per gallon ethanol. Widespread adoption of electric cars will be slow - widespread use of cellulosic ethanol could be fast if it is cheap enough.


My 140 pound sister-in-law watched auto commercials and naturally realized she required one of those new multi-ton SUV's for her 40 mile daily commute.

For fuel savings, she once filled up with E-85% ethanol. Later, after a dozen mpg, E85 wasn't available and she refilled with regular unleaded.

The 'engine trouble' light went on and she rushed the SUV to the dealer. Ford told her this is normal when 'switching' fuels and the charge is $85 to reset the engine computer.

Not that big oil and auto would ever colude, but how much ethanol do you think she uses now?


For production costs, at the high end of the range, costs in 2007 were $8 a gallon (US), in 2010 costs at the high end are $4 a gallon. So by 2013, production costs at the HIGH END could be CHEAPER than corn ethanol (which apparently remain constant) with future advancements...this could be a radical game changer!


Good point kelly; biofuels, BEVs and fuel cells only address the supply side of the transportation energy equation. We still need to address the demand side whatever energysource we end up using; we need lighter, more aerodynamic vehicles.


I can get E85 five miles away, but it is not cellulose and I have to go out of my way to get it. I have been meaning to ask the station owner how they did it. I would like to know the story with the oil company franchise.

Aureon Kwolek

This report is good news for consumers. When you lower the cost of biofuels and increase the fuel supply, that puts downward pressure on fuel prices. This will also lower the cost of goods and services and ultimately the cost of living.

Hendrik: I definitely agree with your approach – that ethanol has the potential to displace all foreign oil. That is, as long as we have engines designed to consume it. Half of GM vehicles sold in 2012 will be flexi-fueled. That’s a giant step in the right direction. Also engines will have direct injection and be smaller, lighter, and turbocharged. That will further optimize them for ethanol, the cheaper fuel, with little or no loss of mpg and a much cleaner burn than gasoline.

Hendrik: Total US gasoline consumption is NOT 100 billion gallons a year. Right now it’s roughly 133 billion. When crude oil and gasoline prices shot-up in 2008, gasoline consumption dropped about 5% on average – down from 140 billion gallons a year before that. It leveled-out in 2009.

There are several other factors influencing the cost of corn ethanol. You also get distillers grains livestock feed from the same corn, which represents about 1/3 the weight. Last year, sales of distillers grains doubled and the value is going up.

You also can get 7% more fuel by extracting the non edible corn oil, a biodiesel feedstock, using the GreenShift extraction process. This is sweeping the industry. So if you’re getting 460 gallons of ethanol per acre, you will also get roughly 30-32 gallons of corn oil from the same corn, that the plant sells at 20-30 cents a gallon in bulk. These co-products offset the cost of corn processed for the ethanol.

Also look at corn production being enhanced by exploiting the cobs and a portion of the stover (leaving the stem and roots in the ground to preserve the soil). In many cases, cellulosic ethanol will be integrated with corn ethanol refineries, wherever they exist. This will create synergies between corn ethanol and cellulosic ethanol derived from local corn cobs and stover. It will also further impact the cost of corn production and corn ethanol refining downward. So, it may be 3-5 years before cellulosic ethanol gets up and running and costs the same to produce as corn ethanol, and even then, wherever there is a corn ethanol plant, the two types of ethanol will be integrated and synergized.

Corn ethanol is evolving too, in parallel with cellulosic. Next generation corn ethanol is also integrated with adjacent livestock feeding operations - that exploit onsite low cost wet distillers grains (low energy - no drying). The adjacent livestock manure goes into methane digesters, producing adjacent biogas-methane for corn ethanol refining production power. This displaces natural gas for refinery production power, which is part of the current cost of producing corn ethanol. Digesters produce twice the amount of energy you would get if you burned the biomass instead, especially if you had to dry it first. The digester byproducts will also be made into fertilizer or perhaps even more ethanol, getting even more out of the waste products and lowering the cost of the fuel further. This isn’t anything earth shaking. It’s just reconfiguring and managing the resources and technology you already have.

There is also new technology coming to corn ethanol refineries – Algae. That’s because you already have nutrient-rich waste water “centrate”, waste CO2, and waste heat – the ideal growth medium for Algae. Growing adjacent Algae on corn ethanol waste products and digester effluent, will revolutionize the biofuel industry. 15-20 years from now, instead of making ethanol directly from corn, we may feed the corn sugars to algae and duckweed. Then make both ethanol and biodiesel, and diversify into a whole bunch of other co-products – made from the algae.

Algae expands the spectrum of synergistic co-products that can be produced at the same site – more ethanol, direct biodiesel for local farmers, nutriceuticals rich in omega 3 oils, complete protein food supplements for humans and livestock, bio-fertilizers and bio-plastics, and even surplus electric power for the grid. Green Fields is already integrating an algae pilot plant into one of their ethanol refineries, and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln is performing a government grant to develop algae and to integrate algae with corn ethanol. This may, include the integration of feeding onsite livestock distillers grains and algae, producing manure based biogas for production power, and recycling NPK rich digester effluent to fertilize the algae.

A 3-way integration: corn ethanol, algae, and livestock mitigates the methane off the manure, the emissions off the displaced natural gas, and the CO2 off the corn ethanol refining. Integration, displacement, and mitigation will put corn ethanol in the category of advanced biofuels.

As I have mentioned before, the highest use for ethanol is to put it in a 50-50 solution with water, which is still flammable. We can run an ICE with this, or we can run it through a compact, inexpensive fuel processor, which strips all the hydrogen out of the ethanol and half the hydrogen out of the water. Hydrogen reformed from 50-50 ethanol-water – onboard the vehicle - for ICEs, fuel cells, micro-turbines, and range extender engines.

Ethanol water can also be reformed or electro-vaporized to displace home heating oil or natural gas. It can also be scaled-up for power plants, to replace natural gas and coal. Ethanol refineries may also become electric power plants.

Hendrik: I definitely agree with you that “… the future looks exceedingly bright with regard to abandoning fossil fuels…”


With CAFE, HEVs, PHEVs and FFVs we might just get annual gasoline consumption down to 100 billion gallons per year. This would be a good first start on getting some sanity applied to the situation.


ai_vin wrote "we need lighter, more aerodynamic vehicles." ... We do? I don't. I like big heavy solid safe vehicles - but my stomach churns when I think of dependencies on big oil, including the arabs and Hugo Chavez. I'd love to give my business to American farmers (growing energy crops that won't affect food prices) to power my vehicles instead of Exxon, BP,the arabs or Hugo Chavez.

Tim Duncan

ejj, I agree 100% with being careful of who we do business with, so as not to buy bullets for the wrong guns. But, if Biomass takes off big time, farm ground will get more expensive across the board. In other wards there is no completely free lunch and those that are not willing to recognize a good compromise from a bad one are being foolish. If utopia is what you require to be happy, I commend your drive for perfection. Someday we may meet all the ideals of today. But it will still a compromise, a compromise of timing.

I picked up threads above on the supply side and the consumer side, but a major, oft overlooked biofuel advantage is also engine efficiency. Alcohols properly used in reduced displacement, high compression engines give diesel like thermal efficiency, but at lower engine prices, and less emissions & GHG output. See MIT separate tank work or the recent Ricardo “any blend will do” EBDI concept in GCC. Why not an MIT concept, using E85 instead of 100 proof in the separate tank as they proposed? Same relatively manageable efficiency penalty if E85 is not always in extra tank, but much more practical as there are many places with E85 available now, and many more to come as progress continues as above.

Account Deleted


You are right the annual us gasoline consumption is 140 billion gallons (2007) not 100B as I wrongly remembered. On top there is an annual diesel consumption of about 40 billion gallons. 1) Thank you for noticing.

You know a lot I can see. Interesting to hear about coproduction of livestock and corn-ethanol and about the use of digesters to obtain biogas for ethanol processing and nutrition for algae production. That seems like a huge potential to get more out of this business and further lower the cost of corn ethanol while also reducing its CO2 life-cycle impact. The substantial amounts of CO2 that is produced from the fermentation of the sugars to ethanol could also be used to boost this algae production.

Ideally the coproduction of corn oil as well as oil from algae could be used to make biodiesel to power the trucks and other vehicles for related harvesting and transportation. But it seems they already are working to make that happen as well.


You mentioned motivation. Novozymes is the world’s largest producer of enzymes and they have spent almost 200 million USD to develop the enzymes in mind. This is more money spend than any other product that they have developed. Clearly they are motivated and the reason is the potentially astronomically large market for such enzymes. Globally you could probably do 400 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol and even saying they will only get 25 cents per gallon when this market really takes off it will still be a 100 billion USD a year industry for this particular product. That is motivation.



Henrik: Neither biodiesel nor any kind of liquid fuel made from cellulose can yield independence from petroleum.

A couple examples will suffice to prove this. Take corn oil. If memory serves, the yield is about 1 quart per bushel. This means that the potential annual yield of the US corn crop is in the neighborhood of 3 billion gallons per year; even if you doubled both the acreage and the yield per acre you would not come close to satisfying US demand for diesel, let alone other distillates. The idea of supplying US refineries solely from corn squeezings is ridiculous.

Consider cellulosic liquid fuels in general. The Billion-Ton Vision document estimated a potential of 1.3 billion dry tons per year of biomass from the USA; at 17.4 GJ/ton, this is 2.3e19 (2.3*10^19) J of raw energy. The net yield from conversion processes to motor fuels is perhaps 50%, so call it 1.1e19 J of motor fuel. The energy content of gasoline is about 120 MJ/gallon, so 130 billion gallons of gasoline contains about 1.6e19 J of energy. The best scenario for cellulose falls short of replacing gasoline by about 1/3; it has no chance at all of replacing the entire 4.2e19 J the USA gets from crude oil.

The real problem is that the field-to-wheels efficiency of such fuels is well under 10% (closer to 7%). Electricity has no problems reaching efficiencies of 70%, slashing the size of the problem by a factor of 10. Burning nearly-raw biofuels (like pyrolysis oil) in combined-cycle powerplants could raise field-to-wheels efficiency to roughly 30% (70% pyrolysis * 60% CCGT * 70% plant to wheels) and put biomass in the running.

If you say that this is a radical change from BAU, you're right. BAU is a dead end, and the sooner this is recognized and taken to heart, the better.

Account Deleted


As I mentioned in order to quit fossil fuel we need biofuels >in combination< with higher mpg. Without the latter we will still fail I agree. As you argue electric propulsion is far more efficient than IC engines so the largest potential to quit fossil fuel goes through increasing the use of electric drive-trains (increasing mpg) and not just through increasing biofuels production.

The problem is how to get rid of fossil fuels without impoverishing consumers with expensive transportation solutions, such as, biofuels at 5 USD a gallon or average EVs at 45000 USD. What is needed is biofuels at 2.5 USD a gallon at the gas station and mainstream EVs, like the Leaf, at 22000 USD and none of these prices should include any subsidies or leases.

Indeed, I think that biofuels for land transportation will only be a transition phenomenon. In the very long-term I imagine biomass will only be used to make plastics, asphalt and fuels for aviation and shipping. Land transportation will be nearly all electric because of better and less costly batteries and because an extensive infrastructure of fast charges and battery swap stations will solve the range issue for EVs (even long-haul trucking). To illustrate, total oil consumption in the US is 20 million barrels per day or 306 billion gallons per year. Land transportation consumes 140B gallons in gasoline plus 40B gallons in diesel. This could nearly all be replaced with BEVs and the remaining 126B gallons of oil for use in aviation, shipping, heating oil, plastics, asphalt etc should then come from a new biomass industry that will replace the oil and gas industry. With all these BEVs around to do grid leverage it will enable wind power to do most of the electricity production without any problems and at lower costs than any other kinds of electricity generation. At least this is how I envision it but before I also fully believe this vision I would like to see mainstream EVs at 22k USD and cellulosic ethanol at 2.5 USD at the gas station without any subsidies.

Corn contains about 1.18% of oil so you only get a quarter of a liter from a bushel of corn or a gallon of biodiesel from about 15 bushels of corn. This should be enough to harvest the 15 bushels and transport it to the ethanol refinery and to transport the produced ethanol to the gas station. This is what I meant, that it would be nice to see the ethanol refineries also produce the diesel for their own processing needs.

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