C5-6 Technologies plans to release its first products—a suite of enzymes to improve the efficiency of current methods for fermenting corn to ethanol—in the second half of 2008. Although the long-term goal is to make ethanol from nonfood, cellulosic biomass, “corn will stay around and its use will grow,” says Biondi. It is predicted that the current 7 billion gallon annual production rate of ethanol from corn will grow to 15 billion gallons by 2015.
The company’s first product, named CornBuster™, will improve the yield of ethanol from corn by 3%. At a typical drymill corn-to-ethanol manufacturing facility that makes 50,000-gallon batches, CornBuster will boost the annual production from 1 million to 1.5 million gallons while starting with the same amount of corn, according to Biondi. C5-6 Technologies is conducting the final pilot-plant trials of CornBuster and completing the regulatory process, as well as raising A-round venture capital.
Also in the pipeline is SoyBuster™, which contains thermostable enzymes that convert low-value carbohydrates in soy meal into ethanol, while concentrating soy’s protein, increasing its value. The enzymes discovered by the company will replace expensive and harsh chemical methods presently employed to disrupt recalcitrant cellulose in biomass.
Novel ideas for degrading biomass are exploding, and it is not clear which technologies will win out. It is clear that “the current paradigm of using fungal enzymes is not cutting it in the real world,” says Dr. Mead. Such enzymatic approaches are not economically feasible because they take too long to work. “The company that finds blends of enzymes with higher specific activities to process biomass rapidly and cheaply will win out,” he says.