Better "Bugs" Lead to Cheaper Ethanol from Biomass
New Agreements Could Boost U.S. Biofuels Industry
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Golden, Colo., Nov. 10, 1999 - Continued advances in genetic engineering are
at the heart of two agreements that could further bring down the cost of
making ethanol from biomass and boost the U.S. biofuels industry.
A new cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) and
licensing agreement have been signed between the U.S. Department of Energy's
(DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Arkenol Holdings of
Mission Viejo, Calif. The agreements focus on developing new strains of
genetically altered bacteria for use in converting rice straw to ethanol at
a planned Arkenol refinery in Sacramento, Calif.
NREL and Arkenol researchers point out that such new bacteria strains
could also be used to bring down the cost of chemicals and products from
other biomass feedstocks.
"These agreements are good for DOE and the Laboratory because they help
us get some of our pioneering research in genetically engineered organisms
into wider use," said Mark Finkelstein, director of NREL's Biotechnology for
Fuels and Chemicals center.
"The basic research done by NREL has significant economic value when
deployed with Arkenol's sugar production technology," said Rus Miller,
Arkenol Holdings' Chief Operating Officer. "We are delighted to have found
this capability to deliver strains well suited to our needs and the people
ready to improve their performance."
Under the CRADA, NREL will develop superior strains of a patented
bacterium that could lead to faster and more efficient - and therefore
cheaper - fermentation of rice straw into ethanol. The bacterium, Zymomonas
mobilis, was originally genetically engineered at NREL to ferment both five-
and six-carbon sugars. Most biocatalysts ferment only glucose, a six-carbon
By fermenting both sugars simultaneously, Zymonomas mobilis can expand
by up to 40 percent the amount of biomass material that can be successfully
converted into ethanol. Under the agreement, NREL will also generate data
and materials useful for Arkenol acquiring engineering guarantees for their
planned facility in Sacramento.
The licensing agreement will give Arkenol rights to use the
NREL-developed microorganisms at its Sacramento facility.
The CRADA is cost-shared, with Arkenol contributing approximately 20
percent of the $400,000 cost of the research.
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