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Biofine seeking investors to scale up wood-based biofuel technology in Maine

Biofuels Digest - Thu, 05/04/2017 - 10:03pm

In Maine, Biofine is seeking investors to help it scale up the wood-based biofuel technology developed by the Forest Bioproducts Research Institute. The company invested $200,000 in an old small-scale biofuel plant that was converted to run on the technology and demonstrate its viability. It’s now ready to scale up at the Old Mill facility where it is being tested or at other mill sites across the state that have shut down in recent years due to a decline in the pulp and paper industry.

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California Coastal Commission set to vote on Marine Bioenergy’s kelp project

Biofuels Digest - Thu, 05/04/2017 - 10:02pm

In California, the California Coastal Commission is set to vote on May 10 whether Marine Bioenergy’s ARPA-E funded open sea kelp farming project in conjunction with the University of Southern California’s Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies can go forward. The team seeks to trial commercial-scale kelp farming using the technique it has developed for biofuel feedstock in the Catalina Channel in Southern California. Commission staff highlighted in a report potential environmental concerns if the torpedo anchoring system proposed doesn’t work as it should and either is impossible to remove or doesn’t stay put, leaving equipment to stay in the ocean indefinitely.

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Yellow grease thefts on the rise in line with higher biodiesel prices

Biofuels Digest - Thu, 05/04/2017 - 10:01pm

Across the US, yellow grease thefts are expected to increase come spring as demand for biodiesel continues to increase, pushing up prices to about 25 cents per pound, triple the price back in 2000 before the Renewable Fuel Standard mandated blending biodiesel. Biodiesel prices are up 12% since late February, prompting further demand for used cooking oil and waste fats, and in turn boosting thefts. In the three northeast states where Buffalo Biodiesel collects UCO, thefts have increased so much that the company hired a private investigator to bust thieves and even put out a reward.

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Pennsylvania biofuel producers indicted over RIN fraud

Biofuels Digest - Thu, 05/04/2017 - 9:59pm

In Pennsylvania, a Pennsylvania biofuel producer and two of its officers have been indicted on conspiracy and false statements charges for participating in a scheme that generated over $10 million in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) renewable fuels credits (RIN credits) at Keystone Biofuels, Inc., a company that purported to produce and sell biodiesel for use as transportation fuel.

Ben Wootton, 52, of Enola, Pennsylvania; Race Miner, 48, of Buena Vista, Colorado; and Keystone Biofuels, Inc. were indicted by a grand jury in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Wednesday.

According to the indictment, Wootton and Miner were co-owners of Keystone Biofuels, Inc. located in Shiremanstown, Pennsylvania and later in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. Wootton, serving as President of Keystone Biofuels and Miner, serving as Chief Executive Officer, are alleged to have participated in a scheme with other coconspirators to fraudulently claim RIN credits on non-qualifying renewable fuel. Although the credits required that the fuel pass standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), the fuel produced by Keystone did not meet this standard, the grand jury alleges, and was placed into commerce despite being “off-spec.” The conspirators also allegedly generated fraudulent documentation and manipulated samples to be sent to laboratories for testing as part of their scheme. Keystone, Wootton and Miner also allegedly made false entries into an EPA tracking system in violation of the Clean Air Act.

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UK biofuel supplies fall nearly 3% on year April-January 2017

Biofuels Digest - Thu, 05/04/2017 - 9:58pm

In the UK, biofuel supplies fell during the nine-month period of April to January 2017 by nearly 3% on the year to 1.15 billion liters. Ethanol supplies saw a sharp 6% drop to 571 million liters while biodiesel supplies fell 2.4% on the year to 545 million liters. At the same time, fossil diesel supplies rose more than 3% while gasoline supplies fell by 1.7%. Of the total biofuels supplied during the period, 884 million liters complied with sustainability criteria.

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Hong Kong researchers cut 2G ethanol production costs by inhibiting tricin production in rice

Biofuels Digest - Thu, 05/04/2017 - 9:46pm

In Hong Kong, researchers from Hong Kong University and Kyoto University have determined that by inhibiting tricin production in the rice plant, energy production can increase by 37%. Researchers think the genetic engineering will eventually take over for the costly chemical process of producing glucose for ethanol production from cellulosic material such as rice straw. The same technique can be applied to corn and sorghum, all without impacting crop yields, so the researchers hope to find corporate partners to help scale up the technology.

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US biofuels and grains industry supports Canada’s push towards a Federal Clean Fuel Standard

Biofuels Digest - Thu, 05/04/2017 - 9:44pm

In Washington, Growth Energy and the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) joined the U.S. Grains Council (USGC) in submitting comments in response to Environment and Climate Change Canada’s (ECCC) Discussion Paper on a Federal Clean Fuel Standard (CFS).

Representatives of the three organizations just completed a visit to Canada to discuss that country’s newest environmental initiative with regulators and industry and share details of the U.S. experience with its Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS).

The U.S. and Canadian renewable fuels industries have much in common. Ethanol production in both countries is largely from corn and uses similar processing technologies, technology mixes and coproduct streams. Additionally, both have shown dramatic improvements in their respective greenhouse gas (GHG) profiles over the past decade with further improvements expected in the years ahead.

The U.S. and Canada also benefit from free trade preferences under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which has paved the way for significant bilateral trade between Canada and the U.S.

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The Digest’s 2017 Multi-Slide Guide to Cellulosic Biofuels – When, Where and How?

Biofuels Digest - Thu, 05/04/2017 - 4:45pm

The Digest had a well-received webinar on cellulosic ethanol, featuring in-demand industry consultants Michele Rubino  and Michael Schultz, on hand to detail the very latest in a wide array of approaches to making cellulosic biofuels from wastes, energy crops and more — the conversion technologies, the markets, the barriers and the key issues. The slides from that presentation are here below.

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Hi Octane Fans and Ethanol Haters

Biofuels Digest - Thu, 05/04/2017 - 4:05pm

Now it is springtime and the water is high on the Crooked River in north central Oregon, but you’ll find the anglers there all the same. If they are not casting today  on the most beautiful stretch of rainbow trout-heavy river in America, you can find them unlocking the secrets caches of the caddisfly, and they’ll test some of those real-deal caddis against their best tied flies.

This is US highway 26, which eastwards out of the metropolitan centers of the west coast offer a hilly, verdant introduction to the disciplines and delights of fly fishing.

One of the greatest and most unexpected bonuses of an eastward journey along Highway 26 is that the vehicle mileage unexpectedly improves. Especially if you happen to be piloting an SUV — and big AWD vehicles are de rigeur for residents of the Western mountain ranges who must from time to time navigate 3-meter snowdrifts and roads that require an all-wheel drive vehicle, and often snow chains as well.

Mileage magic

There’s no real magic to the better mileage, but it’s welcome.

First of all, you’ll get the highway miles that you never seem to fully capture on the coast, amidst all the stops and starts that urbanization imposes from the traffic lights to the traffic snarls. That jump can be dramatic — and a thirty percent jump in fuel economy is pretty common for highway miles.

But there’s an extra kick in the mileage that you might not have expected, and that’s in the altitude itself:

In the case of gasoline engines, the higher altitude theoretically leads to lower fuel consumption due to lower throttle frictions due to the wider throttle opening. From the other side, as the air is less dense at higher altitudes, the vehicle aerodynamic is changed and this also leads to lower fuel consumption 

And there’s a third kick – high octane gives you more power, too. Sliding along the coast roads in a small sedan, you’d hardly notice it, especially with an E10 fuel. You might notice, if you are a sensitive driver, that when you put in E85 into your sedan and try and accelerate from a standing start, the car really pops — or, you get your usual acceleration without quite so much flooring of the gas pedal.

In the high plains, there are all those up and downs of the folded western mountains — and that thirst for a little power that an SUV needs to get rolling when on an incline — well, it can help with fuel consumption and driving a high-octane fuel can make a small difference in the pocketbook — and also in the sensation that there’s, as Exxon used to put it, a tiger in your tank.

For all those reasons, it’s reasonably surprising to have read about one driver’s journey along the road from Idaho Falls in into the wonders of Jackson Hole — also a journey from ethanol indifference to becoming an ethanol-hater.

It’s become something of a cult in recent years. In the US and Canada, according to, there are some 12,000 outlets that sell ethanol-free gasoline. That’s almost four times the number of outlets that sell a high-ethanol blend such as E15, E30 or E85.  And these days you can buy anti-ethanol swag — bumper stickers and t-shirts are the more popular items.

The Path to Ethanol Loathing

But here’s the tale our friend tells.

In late July 2013 my wife and I were on a 13 day road trip, The second night we stayed in Idaho Falls. The next morning when leaving I stopped at a Sinclair station and noticed they sold 93 octane Premium with no ethanol. Since I was down to below a 1/4 of a tank I decided to give it a try. I have a 2005 Nissan Murano and on that trip had a Thule cargo box on top. We had been averaging 20-22 mpg on 91 octane gas with ethanol. When I refueled again in Jackson Hole Wyoming, I couldn’t believe my increase on mpg. It had gone up to 28 mpg. I checked it 3 times to make sure it was correct. This one stop for gas made a believer out of me. 

As an experienced western driver would tell you, it’s 90 miles or so from Idaho Falls to Jackson Hole, and the driver in question is piloting a Nissan Murano SUV with a tank that holds 21.7 gallons. The refueling would have changed the mix from something like E10 to around E2 or E3, and added a little less than 1 percent to the energy density. There’s a slight octane bump, and it looks like we’re traveling quite a bit in the high country — he refueled a 21 gallon tank that was recording 28 MPG. There’s some big country miles on the wide-open highways.

What does a Murano usually do? Eerily enough, a 2017 Murano is rated at 21 for city driving and 28 for highway driving.

In our case, this is a 2005 Murano? The average mileage for a 2005 Murano is 18.7 MPG (based on a data set of 989 fuel ups and 314,890 miles tracked).

What does the data tells us? More or less, there’s not much in the energy density here. A reasonable conclusion is that we are seeing a little kick from extra octane and a shift to country miles. That’s the kind of one-time benefit that, generally, anyone enjoys.  You note the gain, smile at good fortune, and go back to watching the bison.

But here, we saw the birth of a believer.

There’s an emotion attached to this fuel. Some people seem to love it, others to hate it — not so much relating back to hard data as much as hard attitudes and values into which a simple re-fuel seems to fit.

Values are driving habits, it appears. Hate government regulation – have that “Don’t Tread on Me?” attitude. Ethanol blending mandates are a well-suited target for frustration. If you look at a map of ethanol-free outlets, you see an absolutely enormous number of them in the Upper Southeast — the I-85 corridor between Atlanta and Charlotte, and the I-81 corridor north from Chattanooga are packed with them. Yet, nothing in Chicago — and there are plenty of boat owners around Lake Michigan and plenty of lawns, too.

It’s not weedwacker country — the Upper Southeast, that is — but it is the reddest of red-state country.

The E85prices brigade and the hard data on price

Originally run as a crowd-sourced, privately-owned website, was ultimately acquired by the Renewable Fuels Association and tracks the spread between various ethanol blends and ethanol-free gasoline.

Today, for example, reports that the average E85 price nationally is $1.97, compared to a $2.38 price for standard E10 blends, and $2.62 for ethanol-free gasoline.  E30 blends — considered by several experts to be an “optimal blend” of ethanol in terms of engine efficiency, checks in at $2.01 per gallon.

Now, a car that travels 30 miles on a gallon of gasoline can expect to travel around 29 miles per gallon on E10 fuel unless there is a specialized engine that can take advantage of the high octane content to improve engine compression — and that can substantially reduce the mileage gap.

So, it’s interesting. If you can travel 29 miles for $2.38 (the price of E10), and 30 miles for $2.62 (the price of ethanol-free gasoline), the driver is paying $0.24 for that last mile.

Over a year spent traveling 13,000 miles (that’s the average in the US) in a vehicle that gets 25 miles per gallon (for E0, and 24 mpg for E10 — that’s the US average), the E10 user will spend $1289 for fuel. The ethanol-free customer will spend $1362.

So, it’s $73 extra to wave the flag of ethanol freedom, more or less.

High Octane — the Racer’s Edge

There’s a flip side to all this, and that’s a small but growing cadre of high octane aficionados — many of these are converts from racing fuels.

“The benefits of using E85 such as increasing power, reducing emissions, along with the lower fuel prices made the switch inevitable,” said Propel customer Tony “Speedmaster” Lee. “The overall increase in horsepower and torque was like night and day between 91 (gasoline) and E85. The E85 made it so that the tuner could squeeze more power, raise the boost, and operate at a lower engine temp.”

“E85 is truly connecting with today’s smart, savvy drivers who want more value from their fuel than gasoline is giving them,” said Rob Elam, CEO of Propel.  “Millennials are our fastest growth segment, as more drivers of high performance cars are seeking a powerful fuel to meet their needs.”

Get High! The Hi-Octane Society

Over the next month and half, Propel Fuels will host 6 stops of the 105 Octane Tour around Northern California. At each stop, along with the attractive lower fuel price, Propel will give away swag, answer questions about E85 and sign members up for the Hi-Octane Society.

Here’s the technical rationale. E85′s octane rating is considerably higher than premium gasoline (105 vs. 91 octane) and is comparable to racing fuel, increasing vehicle horsepower and acceleration, especially in higher compression engines.

Bottom line, you get around the track a little faster with high-octane fuels.

And, there’s a low-price lure. Propel Fuels will offer Flex Fuel E85 for $1.05 per gallon at several retail locations to drive awareness of the fuel’s high octane rating which provides increased power and acceleration, while reducing emissions and air pollution. E85 is a clean-burning alternative to petroleum gasoline that is performance-optimized for use in Flex Fuel vehicles.

Dates and Propel locations for the 105 Octane Tour are limited to Sacramento, the home of Propel — there are five more in total.

●      May 10th, 10am-2pm  – Florin  (8062 Florin Rd.)

●      May 17th, 10am-2pm  – Roseville  (999 Sunrise Ave.)

●      June 7th, 10am-2pm  – Placerville (151 Main St.)

●      June 14th, 10am-2pm  – West Sacramento/Harbor Point (705 Harbor Pointe Pl.)

The Bottom Line

The signs that bipartisanship is eroding over renewable fuels is unmistakable. We see changes in mileage that can be easily and readily assigned to changes in driving conditions — why are people so upset about it? And we might point out that there’s an octane booster in there, even for pure gas. If it’s ETBE, it may be made from gasoline but it still is an oxygenate, contains oxygen and so on and so on.

But what’s the anger about? John Muir once wrote that man might go up into the mountains from a hundred walks of life, but he came down a conservationist, filled with the rapture of what had been seen.

What brings a man down these mountains filled with indignation about his fuel economy?  It’s weird. Ethanol-free gasoline is feeling like a political touchstone — a symbol of resistance, a symbol of a point of view.

We used to see it the other way around.

Biodiesel customage approached cult-like status at various times over the years. There was a period when Veggie Vans had an edgy cool, and hippies and rockers alike would roll in on biodiesel-powered vehicles to festivals like Burning Man or SXSW. That wave perhaps peaked in 2009 when the first cut of Josh Tickell’s film FUEL won the Audience Award for best Documentary at the Sundance Festival. But that ardor has cooled. The rise of the Hi-Octane Society appears to be more about ethanol’s performance attributes – about racing fuels.

Why the anger, the suspicion? It’s a trend to watch not only for renewable fuels but for anyone who measures the rise or fall of extremism in any of its guises.

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Port of Rotterdam sees 6% increase in biofuel throughput in 2016

Biofuels Digest - Wed, 05/03/2017 - 5:32pm

In the Netherlands, biofuel throughput at the Port of Rotterdam increased 6% in 2016 over the previous year at 4.8 million metric tons. Biodiesel including both methyl esters and HVO saw the biggest growth with 3.5 million tons recorded, up 23% on the year, half of which came from Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia but nearly a quarter came from Spain. Ethanol accounted for 1.1 million tons, with UK, US and Peru topping origins while the remainder was ETBE.

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ANP says Brazilian hydrous ethanol demand hit 1 billion liters in March

Biofuels Digest - Wed, 05/03/2017 - 5:31pm

In Brazil, national fuel agency ANP said hydrous ethanol demand began to recover in March at the highest levels since December at 1 billion liters, but the figure was still 11% down on the year. More than 93% of consumption was in the center-south region where a return to the crush provided more supply availability and school holidays increased driving. ANP data showed that prices were 74% of gasoline prices, still above the 70% parity rate but lower than 76.8% seen in February.

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North Korea may be encouraging farmers to grow hemp for drone fuel

Biofuels Digest - Wed, 05/03/2017 - 5:30pm

In North Korea, Radio Free Asia is reporting that the government is pushing farmers to grow hemp instead of soybeans not to produce cooking oil as claimed but instead to produce biofuel to power drones. The country relies entirely on fuel imports from China and has recently been exposed to spiking prices in light of a possible fuel embargo as tensions between the two countries increase. Hemp has been grown for cooking fuel in the country since the 1980s.

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Singapore Airlines launches first of 12 biojet flights on San Francisco route

Biofuels Digest - Wed, 05/03/2017 - 5:28pm

In Singapore, Singapore Airlines (SIA), in partnership with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), has started operating a series of 12 ‘green package’ flights over a three-month period on its non-stop San Francisco-Singapore route.

Featuring SIA’s latest-generation and most fuel-efficient aircraft – the Airbus A350-900 – the ‘green package’ flights are the first in the world to combine the use of biofuels, fuel-efficient aircraft and optimised flight operations. CAAS is facilitating the use of these optimised flight operations and Air Traffic Management (ATM) best practices which reduce fuel burn and carbon emissions for the flights.

The first of the 12 flights, SQ31, departed San Francisco at 1121hrs (San Francisco Time) on 1 May 2017 and arrived in Singapore at 1910 hrs (Singapore Time) on 2 May with 206 passengers on board.

The initiative supports the efforts under the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint (SSB) 2015 to develop Singapore as a Leading Green Economy, where businesses adopt more efficient and sustainable processes and measures to reduce their resource and environmental impact, and contribute towards a Sustainable Singapore. The flights will also raise awareness of sustainable biofuels for aviation and provide the industry with valuable insight on the economics, logistical requirements and performance of biofuels.

Over the three-month period, flight SQ31 will be powered by a combination of HEFA (Hydro-processed Esters and Fatty Acids), a sustainable biofuel produced from used cooking oils, and conventional jet fuel. The biofuel, produced by AltAir Fuels, will be supplied and delivered to San Francisco by SkyNRG in collaboration with North American Fuel Corporation (NAFCO), a wholly owned subsidiary of China Aviation Oil (Singapore), and EPIC Fuels.

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Biofuel market doesn’t provide enough kick for Missouri miscanthus

Biofuels Digest - Wed, 05/03/2017 - 5:26pm

In Missouri, miscanthus farmers are happy with the results they’re getting on their 3,700 acres of marginal land they’ll grow the crop on this year, in no small part thanks to the price stability offered by Renew Biomass who harvests, bales and markets the crop for them. But the market isn’t biofuel because oil prices are too low and Iowa farmers are growing corn for ethanol, though if prices could match what pet food manufacturers are paying for the fiber, then the market for the miscanthus would switch. No one is holding their breath for that to happen though.

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Green Plains already talking about expansion of Beaumonth ethanol terminal

Biofuels Digest - Wed, 05/03/2017 - 5:25pm

In Texas, Green Plains says it is finalizing the contracts for its ethanol import/export terminal in Beaumont that could be online by the middle of this year, and already talk about expansion is underway though any investment plans will be on hold until phase 1’s capacity is contracted. The facility is meant to offer an alternative to the Houston terminal that can sometimes be impacted by fog, providing another route to the Gulf of Mexico for ethanol shipments.

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Nigerian researchers develop biogas process for chicken manure and invasive plants

Biofuels Digest - Wed, 05/03/2017 - 5:24pm

In Nigeria, researchers developed a process to pre-treat chicken droppings, and then have anaerobic microbes digest the waste and Mexican sunflowers together. Eight kilograms of poultry waste and sunflowers produced more than 3 kg of biogas — more than enough fuel to drive the reaction and have some leftover for other uses such as powering a generator. Also, the researchers say that the residual solids from the process could be applied as fertilizer or soil conditioner. The authors acknowledge funding from Landmark University (Nigeria).

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Brazil to vote on ethanol import tariff Wednesday

Biofuels Digest - Wed, 05/03/2017 - 5:23pm

In Brazil, northeastern sugar millers are concerned that the Ministry of Finance will work in favor of foreign ethanol imports from the US rather than protecting their domestic industry when the proposed reinstatement of an import tariff on ethanol comes up for a vote at the Brazilian Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday. The agriculture ministry is suggesting a tariff of 17%. The tariff was suspended in 2011 until 2019 but a 63% increase in ethanol imports last year, especially to the north-northeast region has raised concerns.

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The Digest’s 2017 Multi-Slide Guide to Biobased Plastics

Biofuels Digest - Wed, 05/03/2017 - 4:20pm

The Digest had a well-received webinar on biobased plastics, featuring Drop-in Fuels 2020 author and in-demand industry consultant Will Thurmond and NEXANT principal Ron Cascone, on hand to detail the very latest in a wide array of approaches to making anything from clear plastic bottling via bioparaxylene or FDCA, or advanced packaging materials and fibers. The slides from that presentation are here below.

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Amyris Joins the Sweet Fleet, and DARPA lends a hand

Biofuels Digest - Wed, 05/03/2017 - 4:04pm

Back in September 2015, we reported that Amyris inked a multi-year agreement with the US Defense Advance Research Projects Agency, the famed DARPA that gave us everything from kevlar to the Global Positioning System and the Internet — the goal in this $35M agreement with the Biological Technologies Office was to create new research and development tools and technologies — compressing the time to market for any new molecule by at least 10-fold in both time and cost.

The story expanded this week when we heard from Amyris that it had completed strain engineering and optimization to 26 key metabolic precursors across multiple organisms – including many different pathways beyond terpenoids allows Amyris to develop an industrial-scale fermentation process for virtually any biological molecule.

In addition to the expansion of the range of metabolic precursors, Amyris has revealed that it has now expanded its high-throughput yeast strain construction and testing pipeline to several other industrially-relevant organisms.

Living Foundries

The DARPA was called Living Foundries.

The molecules were anticipated to include chemical building blocks for accessing radical new materials that are impossible to create with traditional petroleum-based feedstocks.

These advancements have the cumulative effect of drastically reducing the R&D costs and timelines for developing a commercial process for any biological target, irrespective of the final application of the molecule. This is empowering Amyris with additional resources to develop next-generation capabilities to further advance its competitive position and accelerate its capabilities to produce go-to-market sustainable supply solutions at industrial scale for its partners.

“The DARPA-funded TIA has allowed us to continue our pioneering efforts at applying automation, next-generation analytics, and machine learning algorithms to find biological solutions to the bio-manufacturing sector,” said John Melo, Amyris President and CEO. “Amyris has always been at the forefront of utilizing big-data analytics and cutting-edge tools in the biotechnology sector, and our recent R&D results continue to pave the way toward expanding our footprint in multiple markets where fermentation-derived products offer our partners and consumers a sustainable, scalable source of supply.”

The new sweetener

Not completely unrelated to Amyris’ new-found chops in strain construction is the news that Amyris has “made significant progress” in the development of its healthy sweetener product technology and expects industrial production to occur in 2018.  We reported on this earlier this week in our sister publication, Nuu — here.

Amyris is making a No Compromise sweetener and says it is “on track to be the low cost leader at industrial scale production” with a natural-like sweetener with very low calories that is sustainably sourced. Amyris’s target is to sell the world’s leading sweetener at a lower cost than sugar without any negative taste. Consumers love soda but hate sugar — Amyris wants to make soda taste the same and be healthy. The company expects this product opportunity in partnership with its partner to deliver over $100 million in annual revenue by 2020.

Beyond conventional sugar as a starting point

One of the things that the announcement portends is a step beyond conventional sugars as a feedstock in a conventional way. Note that Amyris will be selling at a lower cost than sugar.— and that rules out starting from conventional sugars in a conventional way.

One possibility? The company could be targeting something like xylitol — which is a C5 sugar and used as sweetener. Or, sorbitol — which is a C6 sugar alcohol that the human body metabolizes more slowly than conventional sugars. A patent search has not yet revealed any particular targets coming out of Fortress Amyris.

Polyalcohols are often used in foods like gum or even toothpaste because they offer the sweet taste without the cavities. However, they aren’t cheap as they can’t be found easily in nature and when produced industrially, they need very specific and controlled environments making it a pain for wide scale production.

We reported in Nuu last December that the Institute of Chemical Research of Catalonia and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology researchers found a way to get polyalcohol sweeteners like mannitol or ribitol from cheap renewable sources like glucose. By being able to reorganize sugar atoms, researchers found a way to get the valuable polyalcohols from regular sugar easily and more affordably, bringing a smile to candy, gum and toothpaste manufacturers around the world.

Scientists Find Cheaper Way to Create Valuable No-Cavity Sweeteners from Sugar

Or, the company is proceeding from a novel sugar precursor where it can generate a higher yield. such as starting from unprocessed cane juice, which has the molasses still in the mix (in conventional white sugar refining, all the molasses is removed).

So, there are questions to be answered and we are standing by on that.

“Our focus on supplying the lowest cost, best performing products into Health & Nutrition and Personal Care markets by partnering with the leading brands has very strong momentum,” said John Melo Amyris President & CEO. “Our efforts to give the consumer sustainably sourced, best performing products without dangerous ingredients is really starting to payoff. We believe we have the leading market position for sustainable, healthy sweeteners and we are very excited about helping the world transition away from unhealthy sugars and accelerate the use of healthy sweeteners by providing the consumer a better taste experience and our partners better economics.”

The Race for a Next-Gen Sweetener

The race for the next big sweet-tooth satisfier has been heating up significantly.

We reported in April that Cargill and Evolva inked a major collaboration pact for the production and commercialization of EverSweet, the next-generation stevia sweetener. This product is on track for a 2018 launch, securing its first-mover advantage.

Over the next three years, principally in 2018 and 2019, Evolva expects to invest an estimated USD 60 million in the combined fermentation and bioprocessing facilities for EverSweet and its other products. The recent CHF 30 million equity commitment from Yorkville serves as a foundation for this investment and Evolva expects to secure an additional project financing package of around CHF 30 million by end 2017, which will enable full execution of the plans.

Stevia Wonder: Cargill, Evolva head for EverSweet’s commercial-scale in 2018

We reported in Nuu in February that MIT spin-out Manus Bio is using multivariate modular metabolic engineering to design microbial pathways that produce larger volumes of commercially interesting compounds.

Using MMME, the company has developed a fermentation-based process to produce Rebaudioside M with greater than 95% product purity. Currently, the alternative sweetener is derived in low yields from the stevia plant.

“Slapping genes together to make a product is fine, but this doesn’t give you a platform for producing something economically,” Stephanopoulos says. “There’s a big jump between making a few milligrams of a compound and a few grams, which is what you need to make it commercially viable.”

MMME involves using enzymes to “cut the linear pathway into a network of separate, distinct modules that can be more easily controlled and modified.”

Manus is also working on developing a route to nootkatone, a grapefruit extract that is a natural insect repellent. Traditional nootkatone production methods cost several thousand dollars per kilogram.

MIT Spin-Out Reports Metabolic Engineering Breakthrough

We also reported last October that S2G BioChem had entered into a license and collaboration agreement with Mondelēz International — a leader in biscuits, chocolate, gum, candy and powdered beverages — to help commercialize a sustainably-sourced supply of the food ingredient xylitol using a proprietary co-production technology.

Commercial-scale production of the sustainably-sourced food ingredient xylitol is expected to begin in 2018. Mondelēz owns billion-dollar brands such as Cadbury, Nabisco, Oreo, Trident and Dentyne.

S2G BioChem, Mondelēz to collaborate on new sweetener process

We also reported last November that DSM asked Europe’s food safety regulators to approve the use of stevia produced using fermentation. The popular sweetener has already been okayed for consumption in Europe, although the regulation stipulates it be produced via water extraction of the Stevia rebaudiana plant followed purification and recrystallization. DSM’s process uses fermentation with a genetically engineered yeast to steviol glycoside.

DSM seeks approval for new stevia pathway

The Bottom Line

New targets at new speeds — that’s what DARPA is trying to change. Clearly they’re looking not only for next-generation materials that have advanced properties with potential military applications — they’re looking to endow friendlies with the capability to make them faster. That not only changes the economics; it changes the potential that science can respond more effectively to the shortages, disruptions, and theater-level strategic opportunities that conflict brings.

The connection between DARPA and sugar might not be obvious. Of course, not everyone saw the point of demonstrating an internet, either, back in the days of ARPA.

The connection here is that a commercially-relevant challenge like a sugar alternative — and the race to get to market at the lowest cost — presents an opportunity to develop tools that DARPA will need for a host of molecules that no one knows how to make affordably and commercially — if we know how to make them at all.

Stronger materials, more flexible materials, materials that think, materials that respond to conditions — whether it is lightweighting military vehicles or providing better protection to military personnel, or just finding things that explode better — DARPA has a real stake in developing manufacturing and, for military applications, speed has an incredible premium.

DARPA shares a passion for pace with every company chasing a new sweetener — and also with every investor who would like industrial molecules to come out at scale, faster, from the new industrialists like Amyris. The collaborations are getting mighty interesting.

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