From biomass to biofuel – Why on-site enzyme production is the future

Biorefineries that convert residual biomass into useful fuels and chemicals are starting to spring up across the globe. No surprise given their ability to turn previously worthless waste into valuable end products such as fuel for vehicles.

There is, however, a problem and it all comes down to the humble yet powerful cellulase enzymes used to turn biomass into sugars. These enzymes are produced at only a few key facilities in North America and Europe before being shipped to biorefineries around the world. This means they are expensive, which creates a significant cost barrier to the broader deployment of biorefinery concepts.

But what if biorefineries could produce their own tailored enzymes on-site? The good news is that they already can. With a little help, of course.

At VTT, we believe that on-site enzyme production is the way forward for two reasons: lower costs and the possibility to tailor the enzymes to specific raw materials and processes.

When it comes to costs, on-site production ensures a consistent supply while also cutting out the need for costly concentration, formulation, and transport. Instead, biorefineries are able to pump the liquid enzymes directly into the process as needed.

On-site production also overcomes the “one size fits all” challenge faced with commercially produced enzymes, which can’t be tailored to better suit a biorefinery’s specific raw material or production processes. With the capability to produce their own enzymes on site, biorefineries can find the perfect formula and develop a local product that delivers better results – all for less money.

The greater flexibility offered by on-site enzyme production should also enable new business models for processing other waste products or producing non-ethanol products, including those with smaller volumes than a typical first-wave biorefinery producing ethanol.

When it comes down to it, no one transports yeast to biorefineries to run fermentations, so why should enzymes be any different? As the majority of the world’s biomass is located in regions like South America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia, the significant cost savings enabled by local supply mean that the shift towards on-site production will become reality in the not too distant future.

Learn more about our thoughts on onsite enzyme production by joining our upcoming webinar: https://makingoftomorrow.com/on-site-enzyme-production-to-cut-costs-in-biorefining/

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Simo Ellilä
Research Scientist
simo.ellila(a)vtt.fi

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