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    Some $170 billion in new technology development projects, infrastructure equipment and construction, and biofuel refineries will result from the ethanol production standards contained the new U.S. Energy Bill, says BIO, the global Biotechnology Industry Organization. According to Brent Erickson, BIO's executive vice president "Such a new energy infrastructure has not occurred in more than 100 years. We are at the point where we were in the 1850s when kerosene was first distilled and began to replace whale oil. This technology will be coming so fast that what we say today won't be true in two years." Chemical & Engineering News - January 07, 2007.

    Scottish and Southern Energy plc, the UK's second largest power company, has completed the acquisition of Slough Heat and Power Ltd from SEGRO plc for a total cash consideration of £49.25m. The 101MW CHP plant is the UK’s largest dedicated biomass energy facility fueled by wood chips, biomass and waste paper. Part of the plant is contracted under the Non Fossil Fuel Obligation and part of it produces over 200GWH of output qualifying for Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs), which is equivalent to around 90MW of wind generation. Scottish & Southern Energy - January 2, 2007.

    PetroChina Co Ltd, the country's largest oil and gas producer, plans to invest 800 million yuan to build an ethanol plant in Nanchong, in the southwestern province of Sichuan, its parent China National Petroleum Corp said. The ethanol plant has a designed annual capacity of 100,000 tons. ABCMoneyNews - December 21, 2007.

    Mexico passed legislation to promote biofuels last week, offering unspecified support to farmers that grow crops for the production of any renewable fuel. Agriculture Minister Alberto Cardenas said Mexico could expand biodiesel faster than ethanol. More soon. Reuters - December 20, 2007.

    Oxford Catalysts has placed an order worth approximately €700,000 (US$1 million) with the German company Amtec for the purchase of two Spider16 high throughput screening reactors. The first will be used to speed up the development of catalysts for hydrodesulphurisation (HDS). The second will be used to further the development of catalysts for use in gas to liquid (GTL) and Fischer-Tropsch processes which can be applied to next generation biofuels. AlphaGalileo - December 18, 2007.

    According to the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE), Brazil's production of sugarcane will increase from 514,1 million tonnes this season, to a record 561,8 million tonnes in the 2008/09 cyclus - an increase of 9.3%. New numbers are also out for the 2007 harvest in Brazil's main sugarcane growing region, the Central-South: a record 425 million tonnes compared to 372,7 million tonnes in 2006, or a 14% increase. The estimate was provided by Unica – the União da Indústria de Cana-de-Açúcar. Jornal Cana - December 16, 2007.

    The University of East Anglia and the UK Met Office's Hadley Centre have today released preliminary global temperature figures for 2007, which show the top 11 warmest years all occurring in the last 13 years. The provisional global figure for 2007 using data from January to November, currently places the year as the seventh warmest on records dating back to 1850. The announcement comes as the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Michel Jarraud, speaks at the Conference of the Parties (COP) in Bali. Eurekalert - December 13, 2007.

    The Royal Society of Chemistry has announced it will launch a new journal in summer 2008, Energy & Environmental Science, which will distinctly address both energy and environmental issues. In recognition of the importance of research in this subject, and the need for knowledge transfer between scientists throughout the world, from launch the RSC will make issues of Energy & Environmental Science available free of charge to readers via its website, for the first 18 months of publication. This journal will highlight the important role that the chemical sciences have in solving the energy problems we are facing today. It will link all aspects of energy and the environment by publishing research relating to energy conversion and storage, alternative fuel technologies, and environmental science. AlphaGalileo - December 10, 2007.

    Dutch researcher Bas Bougie has developed a laser system to investigate soot development in diesel engines. Small soot particles are not retained by a soot filter but are, however, more harmful than larger soot particles. Therefore, soot development needs to be tackled at the source. Laser Induced Incandescence is a technique that reveals exactly where soot is generated and can be used by project partners to develop cleaner diesel engines. Terry Meyer, an Iowa State University assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is using similar laser technology to develop advanced sensors capable of screening the combustion behavior and soot characteristics specifically of biofuels. Eurekalert - December 7, 2007.

    Lithuania's first dedicated biofuel terminal has started operating in Klaipeda port. At the end of November 2007, the stevedoring company Vakaru krova (VK) started activities to manage transshipments. The infrastructure of the biodiesel complex allows for storage of up to 4000 cubic meters of products. During the first year, the terminal plans to transship about 70.000 tonnes of methyl ether, after that the capacities of the terminal would be increased. Investments to the project totaled €2.3 million. Agrimarket - December 5, 2007.

    New Holland supports the use of B100 biodiesel in all equipment with New Holland-manufactured diesel engines, including electronic injection engines with common rail technology. Overall, nearly 80 percent of the tractor and equipment manufacturer's New Holland-branded products with diesel engines are now available to operate on B100 biodiesel. Tractor and equipment maker John Deere meanwhile clarified its position for customers that want to use biodiesel blends up to B20. Grainnet - December 5, 2007.

    According to Wetlands International, an NGO, the Kyoto Protocol as it currently stands does not take into account possible emissions from palm oil grown on a particular type of land found in Indonesia and Malaysia, namely peatlands. Mongabay - December 5, 2007.

    Malaysia's oil & gas giant Petronas considers entering the biofuels sector. Zamri Jusoh, senior manager of Petronas' petroleum development management unit told reporters "of course our focus is on oil and gas, but I think as we move into the future we cannot ignore the importance of biofuels." AFP - December 5, 2007.

    In just four months, the use of biodiesel in the transport sector has substantially improved air quality in Metro Manila, data from the Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) showed. A blend of one percent coco-biodiesel is mandated by the Biofuels Act of 2007 which took effect last May. By 2009, it would be increased to two percent. Philippine Star - December 4, 2007.

    Kazakhstan will next year adopt laws to regulate its fledgling biofuel industry and plans to construct at least two more plants in the next 18 months to produce environmentally friendly fuel from crops, industry officials said. According to Akylbek Kurishbayev, vice-minister for agriculture, he Central Asian country has the potential to produce 300,000 tons a year of biodiesel and export half. Kazakhstan could also produce up to 1 billion liters of bioethanol, he said. "The potential is huge. If we use this potential wisely, we can become one of the world's top five producers of biofuels," Beisen Donenov, executive director of the Kazakhstan Biofuels Association, said on the sidelines of a grains forum. Reuters - November 30, 2007.

    SRI Consulting released a report on chemicals from biomass. The analysis highlights six major contributing sources of green and renewable chemicals: increasing production of biofuels will yield increasing amounts of biofuels by-products; partial decomposition of certain biomass fractions can yield organic chemicals or feedstocks for the manufacture of various chemicals; forestry has been and will continue to be a source of pine chemicals; evolving fermentation technology and new substrates will also produce an increasing number of chemicals. Chemical Online - November 27, 2007.

    German industrial conglomerate MAN AG plans to expand into renewable energies such as biofuels and solar power. Chief Executive Hakan Samuelsson said services unit Ferrostaal would lead the expansion. Reuters - November 24, 2007.

    Analysts think Vancouver-based Ballard Power Systems, which pumped hundreds of millions and decades of research into developing hydrogen fuel cells for cars, is going to sell its automotive division. Experts describe the development as "the death of the hydrogen highway". The problems with H2 fuel cell cars are manifold: hydrogen is a mere energy carrier and its production requires a primary energy input; production is expensive, as would be storage and distribution; finally, scaling fuel cells and storage tanks down to fit in cars remains a huge challenge. Meanwhile, critics have said that the primary energy for hydrogen can better be used for electricity and electric vehicles. On a well-to-wheel basis, the cleanest and most efficient way to produce hydrogen is via biomass, so the news is a set-back for the biohydrogen community. But then again, biomass can be used more efficiently as electricity for battery cars. Canada.com - November 21, 2007.

    South Korea plans to invest 20 billion won (€14.8/$21.8 million) by 2010 on securing technologies to develop synthetic fuels from biomass, coal and natural gas, as well as biobutanol. 29 private companies, research institutes and universities will join this first stage of the "next-generation clean energy development project" led by South Korea's Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy. Korea Times - November 19, 2007.

    OPEC leaders began a summit today with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez issuing a chilling warning that crude prices could double to US$200 from their already-record level if the United States attacked Iran or Venezuela. He urged assembled leaders from the OPEC, meeting for only the third time in the cartel's 47-year history, to club together for geopolitical reasons. But the cartel is split between an 'anti-US' block including Venezuela, Iran, and soon to return ex-member Ecuador, and a 'neutral' group comprising most Gulf States. France24 - November 17, 2007.

    The article "Biofuels: What a Biopact between North and South could achieve" published in the scientific journal Energy Policy (Volume 35, Issue 7, 1 July 2007, Pages 3550-3570) ranks number 1 in the 'Top 25 hottest articles'. The article was written by professor John A. Mathews, Macquarie University (Sydney, Autralia), and presents a case for a win-win bioenergy relationship between the industrialised and the developing world. Mathews holds the Chair of Strategic Management at the university, and is a leading expert in the analysis of the evolution and emergence of disruptive technologies and their global strategic management. ScienceDirect - November 16, 2007.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Biofuel enzyme developer Verenium achieves technical milestone, receives $500,000 from Syngenta

Verenium Corporation, a developer of next-generation cellulosic ethanol and high-performance specialty enzymes, announced today that it has achieved an important technical milestone associated with a research program with European biotech firm Syngenta AG. As a result of the feat, Verenium will receive a $500,000 payment from Syngenta.

The milestone deals with the development of 'third-generation' biofuel systems, based on crops that grow their own bioconversion enzymes - in this case, they turn corn starch into sugars. This eliminates the need for biorefineries to add separate liquid enzymes to process starch into ethanol, reducing costs (previous post).
This progress in the biosynthesis of starch brings the enormous potential of biofuels another step closer. Traits specifically designed to increase productivity of biofuels linked with Syngenta elite genetics and input traits that protect the crop's yield potential are intended to bring increased productivity for growers and cost-effective sustainable production for biofuels manufacturers. - Ray Riley, head of research and product development in corn and soybeans for Syngenta
A core component of the research effort utilized Verenium's DirectEvolution technology to engineer the properties of a key enzyme - alpha amylase - in the biosynthesis of starch.

The technology is based on the knowledge that proteins are large, complex molecules made up of a unique sequence of smaller subunits called amino acids. There are 20 different naturally occurring amino acids, each having unique chemical properties, which cause the protein to fold up into distinct three-dimensional structures that define their particular function. A change in just a single amino can greatly affect the function of a protein such as an enzyme or an antibody. It is a cell's genes that contain a specific DNA sequence that dictates the order and type of amino acids that make up each protein made by the cell.

Verenium possesses patented, state-of-the-art gene evolution technologies, which it calls its 'DirectEvolution' platform, that enable the optimization of proteins at the DNA level. Two complementary methods comprise Verenium's DirectEvolution platform: Gene Site Saturation Mutagenesis (GSSM) and Tunable GeneReassembly (TGR) technologies. The suite of DirectEvolution technologies provides potentially significant competitive advantages, including the ability to generate the broadest amount of genetic sequence diversity, the ability to make fine changes across an entire gene, and the freedom to use unrelated genes when recombining starting genes. Additionally, both GSSM and TGR technologies are able to modify codons to achieve increased protein expression for manufacturing without changing the fundamental amino acid sequence (schematic, click to enlarge).

GSSM technology creates a family of related proteins that all differ from a parent protein by at least a single amino acid change at any defined position or at each position along the protein sequence. GSSM technology can produce all possible single amino acid substitutions at every position within a protein sequence, removing the need for prior knowledge about the protein structure and allowing all possibilities to be tested in an unbiased manner. The library of variants created using GSSM technology is then available to be expressed and screened for improved properties. The GSSM library can be screened for novel enzymes with characteristics such as increased ability to function at high temperature or a targeted pH range, increased reaction rate or resistance to deactivating chemicals:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Beneficial mutations identified from a GSSM screen can then be combined in a combinatorial fashion using the 'GeneReassembly' process to create a superior version of the parental protein. GeneReassembly technology allows blending of gene sequences independent of sequence homology. Multiple variations can be introduced at precise positions within the genes. The complexity of the variant library can be fine-tuned by the number of parental genes used and the average number of variations used in the reaction. Moreover, the number of variations can be modulated to reflect the resilience of the targeted gene family to mutations. In addition, any structural information available can be incorporated into the sequence design, and codon usage can be optimized during the reassembly process to maximize expression in the selected production host. Verenium’s GeneReassembly method represents the next generation of gene-blending evolution methods.

Verenium applied these DirectEvolution technologies to develop the key enzyme embedded into Syngenta's genetically modified strain of corn that grows the bioconversion enzyme. This corn strain expresses high levels of alpha amylase — a thermal-tolerant digestive enzyme developed by Verenium that turns the corn’s starch into sugar for ethanol. The engineered plants are designed to reduce costs by eliminating the need for mills to add liquid enzymes. The Corn Amylase (Amylase-T) seeds do not increase the yield, rather they make corn easier to process which translates into substantial savings for mill operators. Syngenta has announced that pilot trials have been successfully conducted and that it anticipates launch of this product in 2008.

The company earlier succeeded in utilizing its DirectEvolution suite to reassemble genes from microorganisms found in the deep sea to produce a high-performance enzyme for economical ethanol production - its first commercially available biofuel enzyme, Fuelzyme-LF.

Verenium Corporation
is a leader in the development and commercialization of cellulosic ethanol, an environmentally-friendly and renewable transportation fuel, as well as high-performance specialty enzymes for applications within the biofuels, industrial, and health and nutrition markets. The Company possesses integrated, end-to-end capabilities in pre-treatment, novel enzyme development, fermentation, engineering, and project development and is moving rapidly to commercialize its proprietary technology for the production of ethanol from a wide array of feedstocks, including sugarcane bagasse, dedicated energy crops, agricultural waste, and wood products. In addition to the vast potential for biofuels, a multitude of large-scale industrial opportunities exist for the Company for products derived from the production of low-cost, biomass-derived sugars.

Verenium's Specialty Enzyme business harnesses the power of enzymes to create a broad range of specialty products to meet high-value commercial needs. Verenium's world class R&D organization is renowned for its capabilities in the rapid screening, identification, and expression of enzymes—proteins that act as the catalysts of biochemical reactions.

Verenium operates one of the nation's first cellulosic ethanol pilot plants, an R&D facility, in Jennings, Louisiana and expects to achieve mechanical completion of a 1.4 million gallon-per-year, demonstration-scale facility to produce cellulosic ethanol by the end of the first quarter of 2008. In addition, the Company's process technology has been licensed by Tokyo-based Marubeni Corp. and Tsukishima Kikai Co., Ltd. and has been incorporated into BioEthanol Japan's 1.4 million liter-per-year cellulosic ethanol plant in Osaka, Japan – the world's first commercial-scale plant to produce cellulosic ethanol from wood construction waste.

Schematic: suite of protein and enzyme discovery tools: mutating amino acids, screening improved proteins and combining detected changes to find the most promising protein. Credit: Verenium.

Verenium Corporation: Verenium achieves financial milestone in research collaboration with Syngenta - January 8, 2007.

Verenium: DirectEvolution technology.

Biopact: Syngenta to trial third generation biofuel crop that grows its own bioconversion enzyme - November 12, 2007

Biopact: Diversa and Celunol merge to become Verenium - June 21, 2007

Biopact: Third generation biofuels: scientists patent corn variety with embedded cellulase enzymes - May 05, 2007

Biopact: Agrivida and Codon Devices to partner on third-generation biofuels - August 03, 2007


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