$2.3 Million DOE Grant Will Support MBI, Novozymes Partnership

MBI International, the Lansing, MI-based subsidiary of Michigan State University that helps companies scale up bio-based tech endeavors, has partnered with Novozymes to win a $2.3 million U.S. Department of Energy grant. The grant will support the development of new enzyme-based methods to convert corn stover into sugars, which can then be turned into biofuels, plastics, or polymers, says Allen Julian, MBI’s chief business officer.

Julian explains that, following a corn harvest, stalks are left behind on the fields they’re grown in. Some of this material, the stover, is plowed back into the earth to serve as a fertilizer and the rest can be gathered to provide the raw materials in biofuels and other products. MBI has a trademarked biomass processing technology called AFEX that pre-treats the corn stover and then Novozymes extracts the fermentable sugars.

“There’s a lot of value in the sugar content of corn stover,” Julian says. “It becomes an important raw material used in fuels and chemicals.”

Julian says the technology is important because it’s expensive to store and transport biomass materials on their way to the refinery. AFEX, which has been under development for a few years, can be installed and used close to farms, allowing dense biomass pellets to be stored or shipped to biorefineries in other states and countries.

Novozymes, which split off in 2000 from the Danish corporation Novo, is a multi-billion-dollar global industrial biotech company. It operates the world’s largest enzyme fermentation plant in China for use in the bioethanol industry. Allen says Novozymes was “very keen” to work with MBI because AFEX is seen as one of the promising new biomass pre-treatment technologies. (Without pre-treatment, only a fraction of the sugars are available for extraction.)

Julian says MBI is in the process of doubling its bench scale capacity and growing its pilot facility. In February, it will finish the installation of a one ton-per-day, pilot-scale AFEX reactor, which was made possible after a $4.3 million DOE grant. “We have one foot in the university environment and one foot in the corporate world,” he adds. “We’re really uniquely placed because of MSU’s strength in crop science and all the technologies associated with biomaterials.”

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