Broadening the Scope

DSM to expand offerings for cellulosic producers
By Kris Bevill | August 15, 2011

Life sciences and materials sciences company Royal DSM has acquired Netherlands-based C5 Yeast Co. for an undisclosed amount in a move that should advance its already unique position as an enzyme and yeast provider for second-generation biofuels production.

Volkert Claassen, vice president of strategy and key partnerships for DSM’s biobased products and services division, says that while DSM already had the capability to convert both C6 and the elusive C5 sugars to ethanol, C5 Yeast Co. offered a few variations that were extremely attractive. “Before we joined with the C5 Co. we had done our own work with xylose and had developed quite a strong position in arabinose as well,” he says. “So we had the combination, but we didn’t have exactly the same xylose enzyme that C5 Co. had. Also, the C5 Co. had early IP [intellectual property] filings which gave them a good position. On top of that, they had developed a number of important business relations where they had a chance to trial this yeast already at large scale. We bring those things together and it turns out we now have a very broad market presence with this, but we also have big versatility in the fact that we can use several yeast strains depending on the situation.”

Various preprocessing treatments can negatively impact yeasts in different ways, so it is vital to develop yeast strains that can be used effectively with those treatments and produce ethanol efficiently. “That is where the focus of our work is now,” Claassen says. “The key is to make it robust, to make it work under the different conditions.” DSM is heavily focused on the U.S. because it offers the most favorable overall conditions for the commercialization of cellulosic ethanol, but Brazil is becoming more aware of its potential ethanol production from sugarcane bagasse, which until recently has been used only to burn to generate electricity, Claassen says.

Like other enzyme and yeast developers, DSM has a number of strategic partnerships with cellulosic ethanol producers, including Abengoa, to test its enzymes and yeasts. The acquisition of the C5 Co. brought with it that company’s partnerships with producers and technology developers such as Mascoma Corp. and Chemtex.  

—Kris Bevill