Yesterday Royal DSM N.V., the global Life Sciences and Materials Sciences Company headquartered in the Netherlands announced a major breakthrough in the technology to produce second generation biofuels more efficiently and cost effectively. I wondered what second generation Biofuels were and decided to delve a little deeper into Biofuels on the whole and then get to the discovery part.
Once in a while I see these buses passing by with huge signs on them saying “Soybean Powered or Sunflower Powered etc…” I have understood they run on biofuels or sometimes plain vegetable oil in place of fossil fuels! I have thought “wow! How green is that!” and then I start looking at it in detail as I wish to adapt it to for my vehicles too…
Source of Picture Wikipedia
Then I realized most biofuels in the US is Corn or Soy based, so I thought let me take a look at the US agricultural sector. That’s when I realized that in the US with a population of approximately 300million, there are only 3 million farmers left and they produce enough food to feed 2 Billion people! Most of this feed is not used as food but transformed into bio fuels and cattle feed. This is when almost a billion plus people go hungry in the world everyday! To me it is basic common sense not to use food which can feed the hungry to create biofuel and I wondered how it made economic sense too… To understand it I decided to understand Biofuels better.
What Are Biofuels?
Biofuels are a wide range of fuels which are in some way derived from biomass (meaning any plant matter). Biofuels are gaining increased public and scientific attention, driven by factors such as oil price spikes, and concern over greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels. Biofuels are mostly manufactured from grains and oil seeds which is essentially food and requires large amount of fertilizers etc to grow.
What are First Generation Biofuels?
Biofuels manufactured from food products like soybeans, sugarcane, corn, Palm oil etc are called First generation Biofuels and they are not considered a viable alternative to Fossil fuels as their mass production will impact food supplies and biodiversity. Not to mention the subsidies required to make them financially viable alternatives.
Bio-ethanol is an alcohol made by fermenting the sugar components of plant resources. Ethanol can be used as a fuel for vehicles in its pure form, but it is usually used as a gasoline additive to increase octane and improve vehicle emissions. Bio-ethanol is widely used in the USA and in Brazil.
This is where Second Generation Biofuels come in. Second generation biofuels can help solve these problems and can supply a larger proportion of our fuel supply sustainably, affordably, and with greater environmental benefits.
The goal of second generation biofuel processes is to extend the amount of biofuel that can be produced sustainably by using biomass consisting of the left over non-food parts of current crops, such as stems, leaves and husks that are left behind once the food crop has been extracted, as well as other crops that are not used for food purposes (non food crops), such as switch grass, jatropha and cereals that bear little grain, and also industry waste such as woodchips, skins and pulp from fruit pressing etc…
A Breakthrough in Second Generation Biofuels
Every Year hundreds of thousands of tons of vegetable / vegetation waste goes into landfills. Royal DSM N.V., the global Life Sciences and Materials Sciences Company headquartered in the Netherlands announced a major breakthrough in the technology to produce second generation biofuels. This breakthrough will help second generation biofuels to become more cost effective and to become a viable alternative to both first generation biofuels and conventional fossil fuels.
As mentioned earlier second generation biofuels do not compete with the food chain because 1. food waste and bio waste is used to make biofuel and the plantss used can be grown on land that is deemed less suitable for food production. By enabling second generation processes the biofuels industry will be able to greatly improve its sustainability as it continues to grow and replace fossil based fuels.
DSM’s breakthrough comes as a result of two separate innovations;
The First of which relates to its enzyme technology; Its research on a fungal organism that typically thrives in compost heaps or on fallen trees has helped the company identify enzymes that are able to break down biomass into its constituent sugars much more efficiently compared to products and prototype formulations available in the market today.
DSM’s second innovation lies in its new advanced yeast technology. Through classical strain improvement combined with metabolic engineering DSM has developed an advanced yeast strain that is capable of converting all the major sugar components found in biomass to ethanol. It has been estimated that, taking a mixed sugar fermentation as an example, the overall ethanol yield using DSM’s advanced yeast can be improved by up to 100% as compared to the yield of standard yeasts used today.
John Monks, Business Director Bio-Conversion Solutions at DSM commented: “By leveraging our century-long heritage in industrial biotechnology, we have been able to develop highly innovative conversion solutions for the emerging second generation biofuels industry. DSM holds a unique position in this field, and among our industry peers, based upon our ability to creatively combine enzyme and yeast technologies in an integrated way. This places DSM firmly at the forefront of new technologies that will enable the sustainable production of second generation biofuels, which will likely become the default transportation fuel of the future. I’m extremely proud of DSM’s achievements to date in this field and look forward to being able to announce further innovations from our programs that support future generations of bioethanol.”
DSM’s approach to market development and business model for second generation biofuels is also innovative. Rather than opting for the classic industry model of remotely producing and bulk selling enzymes and yeasts, DSM is working with customers and partners to develop more localized, on-site production. The company views this approach as the most sustainable in the long run, because it bypasses long and expensive global supply chains and to truly integrate conversion technology into the biofuel process itself.
You can read the entire press release here
DSM N.V. website
Suggested Reading -
Run Your Diesel Vehicle on Biofuels : A Do-Yourself Manual