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Physiomics, Green Biologics Limited and North Energy Associates to develop advanced fermentation process for biobutanol to make it cost competitive with 1st gen biofuels

Physiomics, an Oxford, UK-based systems biology company, Green Biologics Limited (GBL) and North Energy Associates Limited were recently awarded a total grant for £268,000 (US$424,000) from the Carbon Trust for a project to demonstrate an Advanced Fermentation Process for Butanol.

The aim is to improve the microbial fermentation process for producing renewable butanol using solventogenic Clostridia. The project will focus on improvements in butanol productivity using a novel bioreactor design together with improved microbes and cheaper more sustainable feedstock found in the UK. Example feedstock includes sugar beet pulp, distillers dried grains & solubles (DDGS) and municipal solid waste.

The advanced butanol fermentation process should reduce production costs below $500/tonne making it cost competitive with first generation biofuels. In addition, the use of renewable and sustainable feedstock supports significant savings in net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the UK, which could total 1,230,000 t eq. CO2/ annum by 2020.

GBL will lead, coordinate and manage the project. GBL will deliver improved biocatalysts and demonstrate a novel fermentation process at laboratory and pilot scale. Physiomics will model microbial population and provide input into how best to optimize the fermentation process.

North Energy will complete life cycle assessment (LCA) of the process on model biomass feedstock applicable to the UK.

The project will occur in two stages: the first stage of the project is due to be completed by 31 March 2011 and the second stage is due to complete 18 months later on 30 September 2012.

Full grant funding (for the second stage) and continuation of the project beyond stage 1 is conditional on achieving certain technical milestones during stage 1 for which Physiomics will receive approximately £31,000.

The grant is from the Carbon Trust’s Entrepreneurs Fast Track scheme which provides a customized package of research and development funding, expert advice and enhanced networking opportunities to the leading UK clean tech ventures with the highest growth potential.

Physiomics shall grant GBL an exclusive licence to use the intellectual property they develop during the project for butanol production. In return, GBL shall pay Physiomics a royalty upon commercialization that is commensurate with their contribution to reducing the cost of butanol production.



Are bio-fuel research being duplicated in many places for grants and patent rights or is it to find better ways of doing the same thing?

What happened to the BP-Dupont Butanol project in the last two years or so?


Some research probably is being duplicated, and grants help make that happen. But one lab may get different results due to some process tweak or different perspective. That is what discovery is all about. I expect, however, that the funding sources are trying not to fund exactly the same approach, but seeking different approaches. Competition should help us get there faster.

Commercialization is a different matter, and I too would like to know what the BP-Dupont situation is.


The DOE has helped focus attention in these areas more so than in the past. It will take a systems coordinated approach to get it all moving in the right direction. Markets have their place, but when something needs to be done in the near future, we can not leave it up to chance or the whims of profit seeking. That is reactive and it takes too long to turn it around after the fact.

Stan Peterson

When my firm was actively involved in recycling waste hydrocarbon compounds into liquid fuels, we swiftly discovered that almost all government grants of this type are next to useless. They are of such insufficient size as to fund only repetitive paper studies over, and over, and are insufficient size to accomplish much at all.

The bureaucrats like it that way too. It takes as much bureaucratic overview for a grant of a size as it does for one 10 times larger. With 10 grants there is a need for rather useless review to fund 10 times the bureaucrats.

When explained to me from the eyes of a cynical politician, they would much rather dole out 10 insufficient grants to 10 groups, than one grant of sufficient size to 1 group, that might actually accomplish something of value.

Cynically, there are more votes to be garnered in such a process; and the dangling of the next possible grant carrot, insures the votes they purchased would remain loyal.

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