We contributed the proprietary biotechnology “software” that has made it reality - by enabling POET’s “hardware” to mass-produce ethanol from agricultural residue. Achieving it required a smart convergence of our scientific competences across many areas of DSM.
The biomass to ethanol challenge
Innovation doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, for the DSM science community, the seeds of success can be traced back to Project Everest, one of the industry’s first initiatives in “White Biotech” back in 2006.
A broad range of cross-competence expertise in Biological, Chemical, Analytical and Engineering Sciences was required to tackle the challenge.
Project Everest’s goal was to optimize the effectiveness of enzymes in transforming the complex sugars in cellulosic biomass to ethanol while significantly reducing their cost. Not easy, as it involved trying to improve different enzyme components and processes, and make them all cheaper to use at the same time, which in turn involved multiple layers of complexity.
An important initiative that helped make this a reality was an open innovation research project that enabled faster development and testing of enzyme strains – which resulted in a major breakthrough in 2008 when we finally identified enzymes with a suitable thermostable performance. The next task was optimizing the cocktail composition along with the application process and conditions. To obtain optimal cost-efficient yields and thus make the project viable, further breakthroughs would be needed in yeast science.
Mobilizing advanced yeast
Academic research indicated it was feasible to grow yeast on complex C5 sugars – as well as on regular C6 sugars – to produce ethanol. So in 2009, an advanced yeast research project kicked off focused on effectively mobilizing C5 yeast in this way. By 2010, we had developed a suitable yeast strain with good performance - further solidified in 2011 by the acquisition of a key competitor in this field.
All key elements of the enabling biotechnology were therefore in place when POET and DSM found each other in fall 2011. The 50-50 joint venture, in which POET provided the necessary “hardware” and DSM the biotechnology “software”, was a major investment for both parties – but one that we both believed in. POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels LLC was thus announced in early 2012.
New sugar platform
Today, as the two companies gear up to license the LIBERTY™ technology package around the world, we continue to make new breakthroughs that benefit the biofuel industry. In the first half of 2014, a new, next-generation yeast strain was successfully scaled up for production of ethanol from plant residue: This opens the door to even faster fermentation and a much higher yield. Equally important, the Bright Science behind Project LIBERTY has delivered a whole new sugar platform for DSM – giving us the foundation for a whole new range of compounds and products in various bio-based value chains.