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New Biofuel Technology to Diversify U.S. Energy Portfolio

September 26, 2012 - 4:09pm

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Agrivida, a biotechnology firm, is developing a plants with enzymes that will help reduce the costs of biofuels. | Photo courtesy of Agrivida.

Agrivida, a biotechnology firm, is developing a plants with enzymes that will help reduce the costs of biofuels. | Photo courtesy of Agrivida.

Meeting a big challenge like enhancing our nation’s energy security requires collaborative solutions from the private and public sectors. One example where collaboration has been integral to success is the development of advanced biofuels. With support from the Energy Department, a partnership between a leading clean energy startup and an ethanol producer has the potential to create a new biofuel technology that will increase access to alternative fuel sources for Americans and reduce our dependence on imported oil.

Agrivida -- a developer of biotechnology programs for feedstock and feedstock processing -- is bioengineering plants that will advance biofuels production. Currently, to convert plant matter to usable energy sources, expensive enzymes are added to the harvested crops during the fermentation process. But with the help of a $4.5 million grant from the Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E) as well as funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agrivida has found a way to produce and control the activity of these enzymes in the plants themselves, speeding up the fermentation process and potentially reducing biofuel costs dramatically.

Now the company is partnering with POET -- one of the world’s largest ethanol producers -- through a four-year agreement to enhance biofuel production by finding ways to use non-food parts of the corn plant and new production methods to make ethanol. Before this partnership, Agrivida worked to develop engineered corn plants can produce cellulosic ethanol from their leaves and stalks, and POET focused on developing large-scale ethanol production. Working together, the team will focus on combining Agrivida’s innovative engineering technologies with POET’s facilities and production methods to reduce the costs of commercial cellulosic ethanol production.  

The successful implementation of this engineered enzyme biofuel could decrease the cost of domestic biofuels by up to 20 percent and increase production of advanced domestic biofuels, helping to support the Obama Administration’s all-of-the-above strategy to develop every source of American energy, enhancing U.S. energy security, reducing America's reliance on imported oil, and supporting new jobs and industries.

For more on this new technology, check out the program sheet from ARPA-E.

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