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Life-Science Discoveries Revolutionize Auto Fuel, BIO Says

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Recent announcements by industrial biotechnology companies illustrate the rapid development of life-science tools that are enabling the United States to shift to cleaner-burning renewable fuels, the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) said this week.

“By opening the door to advanced biofuels in the U.S. transportation fuel market, the new energy law and Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) will help put advanced biofuels in consumers’ gas tanks sooner than anyone thought,” stated Brent Erickson, executive vice president of BIO’s Industrial and Environmental Section.

“Industrial biotechnology companies have made extraordinary leaps in applications for biofuel production, from discovery of new microbes and enzymes for cellulosic ethanol production to creation of novel ones that can actually produce hydrocarbon molecules. Making the benefits of these technologies available to consumers will require adoption by automakers and fuel refiners, and the new energy law wisely provides incentives for them to do so,” Erickson said.

Recent announcements by industrial biotechnology companies developing advanced biofuel technology include:

• Gevo, Inc. of Pasadena, Calif., announced this month that it will develop a method for modifying E. coli bacteria to efficiently produce advanced biofuels such as biobutanol. This technology also enables production of chemicals – such as isobutanol and 2-phenylethanol – from renewable resources.

• LS9 of San Carlos, Calif., announced in November 2007 plans to rapidly commercialize its synthetic biology technology to produce hydrocarbon biofuels and chemicals from renewable resources, with a pilot facility in 2008 and market availability within four years.

• Coskata, Inc., of Warrenville, Ill., announced this month its plans to produce next-generation ethanol from biomass through microbial digestion of synthesis gas.

Erickson continued, “These successive improvements in biofuels technology are just the start of America’s transition to a biobased economy. Biotechnology companies are producing new agricultural feedstocks, biobased plastics and chemicals from renewable resources. The biobased economy will generate new opportunities for investment in clean technologies.”

A year ago, McKinsey & Company estimated that the worldwide biofuel market would be worth $61 billion by 2010. Since adoption of the new energy law, McKinsey’s revised estimate of the value of the U.S. market alone is as much as $70 billion by 2022. With the additional investment of more than $100 billion that will be needed to construct at least 300 new biorefineries, the new energy law could add as much as $170 billion to the U.S. economy in advanced technology development, biofuel production, and infrastructure construction.

The energy law mandates use of 600 million gallons of advanced biofuel beginning in 2009, climbing to 21 billion gallons by 2022. This amount of biofuel will replace 1.5 million barrels per day of oil, according to McKinsey. Further, the flexible fuel vehicle credit program that was extended until 2019 by the new law provides incentives to automakers to create vehicles that can use biofuels.

Erickson concluded, “The renewable fuels and fuel efficiency standards that are now law have created a huge opening for advanced biofuels in the U.S. transportation fuel market. Industrial biotechnology companies are ready and able to meet the challenge of sustainably increasing production of cellulosic and advanced biofuels to accomplish the goals of the new renewable fuels standard. Make no mistake about it, this will be an ongoing project larger than both the Manhattan Project and the Apollo Project combined.”