Novozymes now a partner in ethanol projects in Denmark, China

By Holly Jessen | April 30, 2012

In the space of two days, Novozymes announced two partnerships in international cellulosic ethanol projects. The ethanol enzyme giant said April 25 it had formed a partnership with Chinese Shengquan Group to produce cellulosic ethanol for solvents and biochemicals. A day later, Novozymes revealed it was joining a consortium intent on building a cellulosic ethanol plant in Maabjerg, Denmark.

The project in Denmark includes an already in-place biogas plant and a biomass-fired cogeneration plant. The consortium, which also includes national energy giant DONG Energy A/S and several local utility companies, is working to build a cellulosic ethanol plant at the same site. The project is known as the Maabjerg Energy Concept and is located in western Denmark. The cellulosic ethanol facility, when complete, would produce 73 MMly (more than 19 MMgy) of ethanol from straw.

“The economic models for second generation bioethanol have thus far been based on a stand-alone plant. That can't really work, but in the Maabjerg Energy Concept we can use the by-products from the bioethanol production to produce biogas, district heating and electricity,” said Jorgen Udby, CEO of Maabjerg Energy Concept. “This is possible, since we already have a biogas plant and a biomass-fired cogeneration plant at the site, and this gives the concept a completely different basis for sustainability, both technically and, of course, financially.”

The ethanol plant would also produce two valuable coproducts, about 185,000 tons of molasses and about 120,000 tons of lignin fiber. The molasses would be used to produce biogas, which would require an expansion of the recently completed biogas facility. The adjacent facilities would produce about 94 million cubic meters of biogas, much of which the company says can be upgraded to natural gas, as well as district heating for 20,000 households and electricity for several thousand homes. Novozymes will help with a pilot study of the project’s technical and financial possibilities. “Maabjerg Energy Concept is a concrete example of how waste biomass can replace fossil fuels in various ways, and the plant has the potential to become a true biorefinery, an important step along the road to a biobased economy,” Poul Ruben Andersen, Vice President for Bioenergy at Novozymes. “Plants like this could be built all over the world, because they can use many different types of waste as inputs and produce many different kinds of outputs.”

Thomas Dalsgaard, executive vice president for Generation at DONG Energy, said the group was excited about Novozymes involvement. “Maabjerg Energy Concept is highly ambitious and innovative, and not just by Danish standards, and could create a brand new platform for Danish bioenergy,” he said. ”Having Novozymes on board gives the project a real boost.” (Cellulosic ethanol developer Inbicon A/S is a subsidiary of DONG Energy.)

In early March, Maabjerg Energy Concept said about 10 million Danish kroner ($1.78 million) has been invested in the project. In the next phase, which is expected to take until spring 2013, it is estimated that another 30 million Danish kroner must be invested in order to make the final decision on the project. 

The Chinese project is set to start commercial production of cellulosic ethanol for solvents and biochemicals in June, utilizing Novozymes technology. “Shengquan is a global first mover in this industry, which is on the verge of materializing right now,” said Poul Ruben Andersen, vice president for Bioenergy at Novozymes. “Shengquan has profound experience in chemical production and is a leading company in commercializing cellulosic ethanol.”

Shengquan uses xylose from corncobs to produce furfural, a monomer for resin production. Novozymes enzymes will be used to convert corncob residues to cellulosic ethanol. The Chinese company’s cost model has shown that using a byproduct of their current production process results in cost-competitive production of cellulosic ethanol.

Novozymes pointed to a recent Bloomberg New Energy Finance study concluded that China could produce more than 89 MMly of biofuel from only 20 percent of the available agricultural residues alone. This would replace 37 percent of China’s gasoline consumption by 2030. The numbers would be even higher, the study said, if biomass from other sources, such as forestry residues, household waste and energy crops, were included.