New enzyme offers corn-ethanol plants increased yield

By Holly Jessen | October 30, 2012

Novozymes launched a new enzyme for corn-ethanol production on Oct. 30. Avantec, a trademarked product, allows ethanol producers to increase ethanol yield by about 2.5 percent, said Peder Holk Nielsen, executive vice president of Novozymes.

The company has been working on the “very, very significant piece of innovation” for some time, Nielsen told Ethanol Producer Magazine. With use of Avantec, a typical 100 MMgy U.S. ethanol plant could go from using 900,000 tons of corn a year to 877,500 tons of corn and still produce the same amount of ethanol. “Most U.S. ethanol plants convert 90 to 95 percent of the available starch, so there is significant potential for plant owners to increase output and maximize profits,” Nielsen said. “In fact, if all ethanol plants in the U.S. started using Avantec, they would save 3 million tons of corn.”

The enzyme was tested during trials at ethanol plants, where the majority experienced a 2.5 to 3 percent increase in ethanol yield. Overall, the numbers ranged from zero to as high as 4 percent, he said, adding that the amount of residual starch a plant can convert with use of Avantec depends on the exact configuration of the individual plant and other factors. In other words, while some ethanol producers will see little or no benefit from using the new product, the majority of plants will see a pretty significant increase in yield. “Some people are going to smile all the way to the bank,” he said.

Thanks to technological advancements in enzymes, Novozymes has helped the ethanol industry increase starch conversion by about 5 percent during the past five years, the company said. With this new product, there’s still about 4 to 5 percent residual starch that is not fermented into ethanol. “This is not the total end of this journey, there is still more to go,” Nielsen said.

Considering that corn prices are high right now and supplies are tight, the product does have a high value proposition. However, its launch wasn’t what he would call great timing. “It hasn’t felt like that in the last half year, I have to say,” he said. For one thing, the company found it difficult to complete trials of Avantec at ethanol plants thanks to the current economic conditions facing the ethanol industry.

The corn-ethanol enzyme announcement came the day after Novozymes said it had formed a strategic partnership with Beta Renewables. The agreement to jointly market cellulosic ethanol enzymes was a way to increase Novozymes chances of making a fast inroad in building the second-generation industry, Nielsen said.