Novozymes to make enzymes for biodiesel

By Kris Bevill | July 14, 2008
Denmark-based Novozymes A/S has taken the lead role in a $3 million project to research and produce biodiesel using an enzymatic process. The project, which will take place over the next three and one-half years, is being financed by a grant through the Danish National Advanced Technology Foundation.

The intention of the project is to develop a replacement technology to the chemical production currently being used by biodiesel companies around the world. "The chemical process demands raw materials of high quality that can often also be used as food," said Per Munk Nielson, project leader and senior science manager for Novozymes. "With a process based on enzymes, we will be able to use raw materials of poorer quality, such as animal fats, recycled restaurant oils and waste products-all materials that cannot be used as food."

Nielson told Biodiesel Magazine that the project is a joint effort between Novozymes; the Danish Technical University; the University of Aarhus in Arhus, Denmark; and Emmelev Biodiesel. According to Nielson, the University of Aarhus will be in charge of enzyme kinetic studies and the investigation of methods for analysis to be used during the production process. The Danish Technical University will provide chemical engineers to design reactors and the operation parameters, as well as experts to conduct life-cycle assessments of production. Emmelev Biodiesel, a Danish biodiesel producer in Otterup, Denmark, will contribute process know-how to the development project.

Novozymes, already known worldwide for its enzyme technology, will work to make enzymes for the biodiesel production process available at a cost-effective price. "We will require looking for enzymes that are not available to the market today, meaning we need to find lipases with sufficient stability in the process that can be reused for many production batches," Nielson said. "Recent new technology achievements make us believe it will be possible to match the catalyst costs similar to costs for chemical catalysts."

Nielson mentioned several benefits of biodiesel produced from an enzymatic process in addition to the benefit of cheaper feedstocks with high free-fatty-acid contents. An enzymatic process can be run at lower temperatures, requiring less energy than traditional methods. Also, he said Novozymes expects enzymatic processing to have positive impacts on "environmental indicators," such as carbon dioxide levels.

Nielson added that several scientific articles have stated that an enzymatic production method is technologically possible. However, current enzyme prices are too high for the process to be feasible. "We believe we can reduce the enzyme cost in this process significantly," he said. "Combined with a dedicated effort in process development at the universities, the enzymatic process can be cost-efficient."
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