Biotech Looks at Biomass

The biotech industry is taking the lead in discovering and developing Renewable Energy sources from biomass that will be healthier both for humans and for the environment, according to Genetic Engineering News.

Larchmont, New York, September 10, 2002 [] The U.S., in particular, is refocusing its biomass program to help the country wean itself away from oil dependence, according to the Sept. 1 issue of GEN. “Last May, the House of Representatives passed a bill authorizing US$5 million this year and US$14 million per year from 2003 through 2007 to finance biomass research and build biorefineries that will transform biomass into chemicals, energy and fuels,” said John Sterling, managing editor of GEN. “The Department of Energy also is seriously interested in replacing petrochemicals with biomass to produce gasoline, electricity, plastics and other products.” Cargill Dow, a joint venture between Cargill and Dow Chemical recently inaugurated a new US$300 million biorefinery facility in Blair, Nebraska to produce polylactide (PLA) polymers for fibers and plastic packaging. The company will harvest carbon in living plants produced through photosynthesis. Carbon stored in plant starches can be broken down to sugars that are then transformed into PLA fibers for use in clothes, cups and packaging. Novozymes Biotech was awarded a second year of funding in February as part of its three-year contract from the DOE to develop more cost-efficient enzymes to produce ethanol, an alternative to gasoline for cars. And Genencor is working to develop improved cellulase enzymes designed to improve the efficiency of industrial processes, including the production of fuel alternatives, paper, textiles and food. “The biomass industry is currently small, but it is growing rapidly as a result of government and private support,” said Sterling. “Last year, for example, Burrill and Co. established a US$50 million biomaterials/bioprocess fund to support the development and application of enabling life science technologies, such as genomics and genetic engineering, to biomass.” Other companies involved in biomass that are covered in the GEN article include AgraQuest, Athenix, BASF, DuPont, Metabolix and Tepha.
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