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.