Fermentation Compatible XI

Given the combined impacts of global climate change and our dependence on foreign sources of energy, the need for domestically produced, sustainable energy is of vital importance. In the near-term, such sustainable energy sources will need to dovetail with the existing energy infrastructure. Ethanol is one such fuel which is already being used to address these critical issues and ten billion gallons per year is already blended into our fuel supply. Federal mandates (Renewable Fuels Standard or RFS) require that the amount of ethanol in the nation’s fuel supply rise to 36 billion gallons by 2022. Since corn ethanol is expected to peak at less than half that number, more than 18 billion gallons a year of cellulosic ethanol are required to meet the standard.

Trillium FiberFuels has been working to develop technology to support the emerging cellulosic ethanol industry. By focusing on the portion of biomass sugars that do not ferment easily, Trillium has developed a novel process that converts these sugars into sugars that can be converted into ethanol using conventional yeasts. Although the technology is robust and will be immediately rolled out in some industrial settings, the operational expenses with certain feedstocks—such as grass straws—raise the price per gallon of ethanol produced and prevent it from being a competitive solution for these feedstocks. Our approach to the commercialization of the fermentation compatible enzyme will reduce operational expenses and make the technology competitive with all known solutions in this field. Trillium intends to deploy the technology in existing corn ethanol plants as well as cellulosic ethanol plants slated for construction in the coming years.

This project is a collaboration between Dr. Christine Kelly of Oregon State University and Trillium FiberFuels to develop an enzyme compatible with fermentation conditions (pH and temperature). This enzyme will dramatically expand the range of applications for which Trillium’s technology is cost competitive. In addition, this project would provide the technical foundation to move the gene responsible for the enzyme into a high productivity microbial host which will further reduce the critical operational expense of the enzyme.