Enzyme Evolving Ethanol

A new corn seed from Syngenta will speed up the ethanol process.

Syngenta has made a technological breakthrough that could significantly improve the economics of biofuels by streamlining the way corn is converted into ethanol, according to a Financial Times report.

CEO Michael Pragnell says the company has developed a corn seed incorporating a crucial enzyme that would cut out one of the steps in producing ethanol. The corn amylase enzyme has received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for bulk trials after pilot projects showed it could eliminate the need for the enzyme to be added separately in making ethanol.

"What we’ve done is to grow the enzyme in the corn. That will accelerate manufacturing by removing the need for enzyme deliveries to biofuel plants," Pragnell tells the Financial Times. "We are now in our first month of bulk trials. So far, all the pilot trials have shown a positive yield increase."

It will take around nine months for tests to prove the seed performed to expectations and the company hopes to have a product on the market for the 2009 growing season. Bulk trials will focus on ensuring the seed has at least similar yields to existing varieties and can function across the range of ethanol production processes, according to the report.

Other seed and chemical groups, including Monsanto and DuPont, have been pursuing ways to streamline ethanol production, but Syngenta is the first to win FDA approval.

About 35 percent of each year’s corn harvest is wasted as so-called corn stover. "The real holy grail is to identify an enzyme that can convert the waste from the corn crop," he says in the Financial Times article. "If we could develop an enzyme that could also be grown in the crop, that would allow us to convert all that waste into ethanol, then we are really on to a winner. That’s the real prize."

(Source: Financial Times)
 

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