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Technology helps ethanol producers' efficiency

Updated: 2013-11-07 16:07

After just one year on the market, Danish enzyme maker Novozymes Avantec is now used to produce over 20 percent of total corn ethanol volumes in the US. Another enzyme, Novozymes Spirizyme Achieve, is used to produce over 10 percent of US corn ethanol after being on the market for only four months. The two enzymes enable producers to squeeze more ethanol out of the corn while saving on energy and chemicals, improving profit margins and efficiency, and reducing their environmental impact.

"Avantec and Spirizyme Achieve are doing even better than we could have hoped for," says Niels Miles Frandsen, marketing director for biofuel at Novozymes, the world's largest enzyme maker. "Ethanol producers run a tight operation and are constantly looking for ways to improve their production. This technology allows our customers to save a lot of corn and still produce the same amount of ethanol."

Corn is the key raw material in biofuel production in the US and by far the biggest cost component for an ethanol plant. After the corn is harvested, the kernels are ground into cornmeal, and water added to make a mash. Enzymes convert the starch in the mash to sugar, which can then be fermented to ethanol.

Avantec and Spirizyme Achieve convert starch to sugar more efficiently than any other enzyme product on the market. On average, Avantec increases ethanol yield by 2.5 percent while reducing energy usage by 2 percent. Spirizyme Achieve increases yield by 1.5 percent while reducing energy usage by 3 percent.

"The enzymes give our customers a choice," says Frandsen. "They look at corn and ethanol prices and can then decide to buy less corn and maintain the same ethanol output or increase throughput without increasing input costs."

A typical US ethanol plant uses around 900,000 tons of feed-grade corn per year to produce 100 million gallons of fuel ethanol, 300,000 tons of animal feed and 8,500 tons of corn oil. With Avantec and Spirizyme Achieve, such a plant can either save 36,000 tons of corn while maintaining the same ethanol output or produce an additional 4 million gallons of ethanol without increasing input costs. Either way, profits improve substantially.

Avantec was introduced to the market on Oct 30, 2012, while Spirizyme Achieve was launched on June 10, 2013, along with Novozymes Olexa, an enzyme that works by freeing up oil bound in the corn germ. Used together, the three enzymes can increase ethanol yield from corn by up to 5 percent and corn oil extraction by 13 percent, while saving 8 percent in energy.

The US is the world's biggest biofuels producer, and ethanol accounts for approximately 10 percent of gasoline consumption in the US transportation sector.