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Agrivida and Syngenta Ventures to collaborate on low-cost sugars from cellulosic biomass for fuels and chemicals

Agrivida’s cell wall degrading (CWD) technology. Poster from 2010 ARPA-E Summit. Click to enlarge.

Agrivida, Inc. and Syngenta Ventures will collaborate to develop advanced crop technology that will provide low-cost sugars from cellulosic biomass for a variety of industrial applications including biofuels and biochemicals without requiring external enzymes for biomass hydrolysis.

Agrivida is developing masked plant cell wall degrading (CWD) enzymes that are dormant when the plant is in the field but can be activated after harvest, under processing conditions with specific temperature and pH. Under the terms of the agreement, Syngenta licenses to Agrivida access to crop technology and intellectual property in return for Agrivida equity. Syngenta Ventures is the venture capital arm of Syngenta, one of the world’s leading agribusiness companies.

Agrivida will bolster its existing technology portfolio, including its proprietary intein [segments of proteins] trait platform, with technology licensed from Syngenta that will be used to develop new traits for multiple crops, including corn, sorghum, switchgrass and miscanthus. Agrivida’s traits will make next-generation bioproducts more affordable by significantly decreasing biomass processing costs associated with non-food agricultural residues and dedicated biomass crops.

The combination of Agrivida’s proprietary intein platform with Syngenta’s technology will allow us to provide an integrated solution for feedstock and enzyme delivery to a wide range of industrial customers. Technologies developed through our collaboration will provide growers, processors, seed partners, and all members of the value chain with crops that enable cost-effective products from cellulosic biomass, and in turn helps to transform this emerging industry.

—Mark Wong, Agrivida CEO

In July, Agrivida announced breakthroughs in its development of sugar production from enzyme-expressing crops at the annual BIO industry conference, which followed recent awards from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) (earlier post) and Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA–E) (earlier post) to further develop its proprietary technology platforms in sorghum and switchgrass.

The results reported at the BIO meeting showed increased cell wall degradation by up to 100% compared to non-engineered plants, while significantly decreasing enzyme loadings, following a mild pretreatment and heat activation. The study presented at the meeting determined that embedding Agrivida’s engineered enzymes in the cell walls of the crops was an effective strategy for improving the biofuels processing characteristics of the plants and dramatically decreasing external enzyme loadings, while still protecting the plants’ development and growth the scientists said. The study compared the appearance, processing characteristics, and other parameters of the intein-modified plants with non-engineered, native plants.

Agrivida transgenic corn stover was demonstrated in this study to have a conversion of more than 60 percent of cellulose to glucose, compared to approximately 30 percent seen with the control plants. Further, the enzyme loadings used with Agrivida’s engineered plants can be reduced well over 50 percent and still provide improved performance relative to the full enzyme loadings on non-engineered plants, thereby significantly lowering external enzyme requirements. Our new data provide additional proof that Agrivida transgenic crops can facilitate cellulose degradation in a way that greatly reduces the need for hydrolytic enzymes and expensive pretreatment processes. This capability suggests that cellulosic ethanol production can be greatly expanded at lower costs and with fewer emissions, chemicals, and other downstream requirements.

—Michael Raab, Ph.D., President of Agrivida

The ability to reduce external enzyme requirements is a critical development that should help enable the growth of the cellulosic biofuels industry, Raab says. In the absence of such technology, the external enzyme production capacity build-out required to meet the US Renewable Fuels Standard would exceed a cost of $5 billion. Agrivida’s plant traits aim to eliminate those enzyme production costs for producers.

In earlier studies, Agrivida had reported that embedding CWD enzymes in plant material during the growth phase enables more efficient processing of biomass by initiating hydrolysis of plant polysaccharides from within the plant.




There is no need to take valuable stuff like sugar to make fuels and also there is no need to give subsidies to big or medium business to get fuels.

All it take is small cheap home biofuels machines sold at canadian tire or reno depot or home depot or walmart at 200$ and more and we make fuels with papers, scrap wood, mud, garbages, co2, water, solar panels, windmills, old tires, s&it, so on. We can easilly make almost any quantity of butanol, propane, fart gas, ethanol, electric charges, etc, etc.


Stop buying any cars except used ones until manufacturers take their responsabilities and don't sell you the problem of paying high costs with pollution to run their cars. It's easy to fit a solar panel on the roof to recharge the battery and make hydrogen gas and the car is always fill-up with energy. If they don't do that then someone else will do and stop any expenditure toward gm, ford, chrsler, toyota, subaru, daihashu, nissan, mazda, honda, mercedes, buggati, aston-martin, gobverment of canada, epa, us goverment, ontario goverment, quebec goverment, british columbia goverment, saudi arabia goverment, zimbawe goverment, haiti goverment, britist goverment, news channels, newspapers, cia, kgb, gestapo, russia goverment, aol, green car congress, swiss banking system, etc.

Just make home biofuels with s*it, etc with a machine brouth at reno-depot or canadian tire or build by yourself.


This seems to advocate biodegradable fuel crops. After seeing what Monsanto did to the farmers with Roundup Ready soy seed, I would rather not go down that path.

We can grow switch grass on 100 million marginal acres of farmland not now in production with minimal use of water, pesticides, herbicides and fertilizer. Each acre can produce 12 tons of biomass harvested twice per year producing 100 billion gallons of biofuel.

Combined with present biomass supplies, natural gas and coal we can be OPEC imported oil free in 10 years. I advocate a moon shot scale program the will not only get us free of middle eastern oil, but free of all OPEC oil in 10 years.


The moon shots worked with known chemistry, and didn't have a firm cost target to beat. Even then, they had a major setback with the Apollo 201 fire and very nearly a failure on the first launch with the "pogo". Trying to replace oil with biofuels is far less certain, and you're at the mercy of the weather to boot.

Electric propulsion has no such uncertainties. If the Volt had a half-size battery option, its price could be cut by thousands of dollars and still save piles of fuel for the average driver. That's where we need to go.


The projections do not support that. No one thinks that we will have 100 million EVs on the road in the next 10 years. We can have 100 million true FFVs on the road in 10 years.


Why do you keep mis-stating the issue? It doesn't matter how many FFVs we can make; we can't make enough ethanol to feed them all on E85.


If we can make enough for half, then that is progress. I am not misstating anything, it is you that promotes the belief that EVs are the solution that is misleading. If we went down your path, then we would be even more dependent on OPEC oil in ten years.

If we can make enough for half, then that is progress.
The entire US corn crop, converted to ethanol, would supply about 20%. Cellulosic is so far off it's insane to bet on it.
it is you that promotes the belief that EVs are the solution that is misleading.
In the real world, people using the Chevy Volt for their daily driving are averaging 150+ MPG. That's substituting electricity for over 75% of liquid fuel, and it's just a first-generation PHEV. Driven carefully, that substitution could reach 100% for many users.
If we went down your path, then we would be even more dependent on OPEC oil in ten years.
Quite the opposite. If we rely on biofuels, the hard limits on feedstocks will hammer us even if we get cheap bulk conversion to liquids; that leaves us dependent on petroleum for the remainder, and OPEC oil will be horribly expensive if we can get it at all (G. Britain shipped 50% of its post-peak exports in just 3 years after peaking, and now it's an importer... and S. Arabia is roughly at peak NOW). There is no similar limitation on electric generation, and we can make batteries from any number of things (the Salton Sea geothermal brines have a lot of lithium that's currently going to waste).

What we really need to do is to get serious about cutting demand. Our floor for motor fuel prices should probably be around $5/gallon; if that gets people to buy Cruze Ecos and Fusion hybrids instead of SUVs, GREAT! You argue for biomass, I argue for batteries; we can make petroleum users pay for its costs and let the market sort it out.


Get off the corn ethanol rant. 100 million cellulose FFVs will go much further towards reducing oil imports than 1 million EVs.


Thought I would mention this coal and natural gas to ethanol method.


Get off the corn ethanol rant.
I'll be happy to, when the RFA demands that the blend mandate and blender's tax credit be repealed and ethanol from cellulose becomes cheaper and more abundant than ethanol from starch.
100 million cellulose FFVs will go much further towards reducing oil imports than 1 million EVs.
Production of cellulosic ethanol is now expected to be about 6.5 million gallons per year. That is 0.065 gallon (about one cup) of ethanol per vehicle over your 100 million FFVs, and would drive the typical 20-MPG-on-ethanol vehicle about 1.3 miles per YEAR.

Each Chevy Volt, driving 10,000 electric miles per year at an avoided 1/35 gallon/mile, saves 286 gallons of fuel per year. Saving 6.5 million gallons a year requires less than 23,000 vehicles. Each Leaf, iMiev and Focus EV will probably achieve similar figures.

The electrics are coming. They come not to be compatible with the petroleum-powered system, but to bury it.

The coalplantsengineering link is crazy. Ethylene is energetically uphill from methane and carbon.



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