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Novozymes launches platform to convert corn fiber into ethanol

TAGS: Business
stevanovicigor/iStock/Thinkstock grain silos in background of green corn field
Fiberex technology aims to break down tough fibers in corn typically only used for animal feed.

Novozymes announced Sept. 16 the launch of Fiberex, a comprehensive platform based on novel enzymes and yeast strains to convert corn fiber into ethanol. Fiberex is specifically aimed at breaking down tough fibers in the corn, providing producers with greater operational flexibility. The technology converts a low-value byproduct into a high-value, low-carbon fuel while also enabling the production of significantly more corn oil.

"Through advanced biology, biofuel producers looking to diversify can now unlock new markets and avenues of profitability,” Novozymes vice president for bioenergy Brian Brazeau said. “Working with Novozymes and our expert analytics and engineering partners, producers can use Fiberex technology to transform their corn fiber, typically only used for animal feed, into low-carbon, high-value cellulosic ethanol.”

Novozymes is a technology leader in fiber conversion, enabling new revenue for biofuel producers from low-carbon credits such as in California and the Environmental Protection Agency’s cellulosic renewable identification number credits. Through Fiberex, Novozymes said it is collaborating with the biofuel industry to further expand the boundaries of corn-based ethanol – literally breaking down some of the barriers between what are considered conventional biofuels and advanced biofuels.

Converting more tough feedstock

According to Novozymes, low-carbon fuels are a crucial part of transportation that enable domestic energy, a cleaner environment and better livelihoods for rural America and beyond. Most ethanol is made from the starch in corn kernels, whereas the fiber is much more difficult to use, being a complex matrix consisting of cellulose, hemicellulose, starch, protein, oil and minerals.

The cellulose is rigid and partially crystalline in form, while the hemicellulose is highly branched and amorphous. Novozymes’ Fiberex enzymes are specifically designed to break down this complex matrix, resulting in more corn oil and converting the fiber into simple sugars that are easily converted into ethanol.

“Ethanol producers know their business best. We now make available industry-leading technology and are putting our bio-innovation in top gear to convert every last pound of fiber in corn,” Brazeau said. “Realizing the importance of fiber-based ethanol in reducing our carbon footprint, improving co-products and increasing value for producers, we have embarked on a mission to develop biology that can convert all of this tough feedstock into low-carbon ethanol. It is time to reimagine ethanol.”

As part of the platform announcement, Novozymes is also launching the first Fiberex products: Fiberex R1, a technology specifically designed to provide maximum ethanol in separate fiber-to-ethanol processes, and Fiberex F1, a cellulase enzyme designed to provide fiber conversion for in-process technologies. Additional solutions, to launch in 2021, are in proof-of-concept trials now.

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