Novozymes will make enzymes for biodiesel

By Kris Bevill | May 14, 2008
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Web exclusive posted May 30, 2008 at 3:51 p.m. CST

Denmark-based Novozymes A/S is leading a $3 million project to research and produce biodiesel using an enzymatic process for the next three and a half years. The project is being financed by a grant through the Danish National Advanced Technology Foundation with the intention of developing a replacement technology to the chemical production currently being used by companies around the world.

"The chemical process demands raw materials of high quality that can often also be used as food, said Per Munk Nielson, senior science manager for Novozymes A/S and project leader. "With a process based on enzymes we will be able to use raw materials of poorer quality, such as animal fats, recycled restaurant oils, and waste products, all materials that cannot be used as food."

Nielson told Biodiesel Magazine that the project will be a joint effort between Novozymes, the Danish Technical University, Aarhus University and Emmelev Biodiesel. Aarhus University will be in charge of enzyme kinetic studies and the investigation of methods for analysis which will be used during the production process. The Danish Technical University will provide chemical engineers to design reactors and the operation parameters, as well as experts to conduct life cycle assessments of production. Emmelev Biodiesel will contribute process know-how to the development project.

Novozymes, already known world-wide for its enzyme technology, will work to make enzymes for the biodiesel production process available at a cost-effective price. Nielson explained how the company plans to accomplish this: "We will require looking for enzymes that are not available to the market today, meaning we need to find lipases with sufficient stability in the process that can be re-used for many production batches. Recent new technology achievements make us believe it will be possible to match the catalyst costs similar to costs for chemical catalysts."

In addition to the benefit of providing a method to use lower-cost feedstock, Nielson said there are several other benefits of an enzymatic process to make biodiesel from feedstock with high free fatty acid content. An enzymatic process can be run at lower temperatures, requiring less energy than traditional methods. Also, he said the enzymatic processing is expected to have positive impacts on "environmental indicators" such as carbon dioxide levels.

Nielson added that several scientific articles have stated that an enzymatic production method is technologically possible, but that enzyme prices are too high for it to be feasible. "We believe we can reduce the enzyme cost in this process significantly," he said. "Combined with a dedicated effort in process development at the universities the enzymatic process can be cost-efficient."

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