New enzyme makes cellulosic ethanol production cost-efficient

In February 2010, Novozymes launched the first commercially viable enzymes for the production of biofuel from agricultural waste. Breakthroughs in enzyme technology over the past 10 years have enabled cellulosic ethanol to become a cost-competitive alternative to gasoline. Novozymes’ new Cellic® enzymes enable the biofuel industry to produce cellulosic ethanol at a price down to USD 2.00 per gallon.

Extraordinary advances in enzyme development have reduced the enzyme cost for cellulosic ethanol by 80% in recent years to approximately 50 cents per gallon of ethanol applying Cellic with the best available process technologies. Novozymes allocated significant resources to the project, and we also received development grants totaling USD 29.3 million from the US Department of Energy.

Novozymes has partnered with a wide range of leading companies in the biofuel industry to help accelerate process technology development and implementation. Coupled with further improvements in enzyme efficiency, Novozymes expects the cost of producing cellulosic biofuel to be further reduced in the coming years. 

Cellulosic ethanol is produced by using enzymes to break down the cellulose in biomass into sugars that are then fermented into cellulosic ethanol. Cellic has proven effective on many different feedstock types, including corn cobs and stalks, wheat straw, sugarcane bagasse, and woodchips. Cellulosic ethanol is estimated to reduce CO2 emissions by 90% compared to petroleum-based fuels.

A number of pilot- and demonstration-scale facilities are in operation all over the world, while the first commercial facilities are expected to be operational within the next couple of years. With these facilities under development and the launch of Cellic, the industry is well on its way to commercializing cellulosic ethanol.