SBIR Phase I: Development of Novel, Inducible Processing Traits in Corn for Ethanol Production
This Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I research project will produce corn with processing traits optimized for ethanol production. The corn will be modified by embedding inactive amylase enzymes into the crop that can be activated during processing steps. The polysaccharide degrading activity of the enzymes can be switched on after harvest, resulting in controllable, accelerated liquefaction and saccharification of corn to fermentable sugars without additional enzymes, thereby lowering the cost of ethanol production. Producers currently buy enzymes for ethanol conversion, and reducing this cost in a commodity market would have a significant impact. Additionally, this will demonstrate the feasibility of embedding lignocellulosic degrading enzymes into biomass, a step to further the development of a cellulosic ethanol industry. Commerically, the technology will lead to the production of varieties of corn which contain modified amylase and glucoamylase enzymes to streamline the liquefaction and saccharification steps required for ethanol production. These new corn varieties would create over $350MM /yr in value for ethanol producers through increased yields of fermentable sugars from corn grain and decreased operating costs. More importantly, long term views for the ethanol industry predict a shift to using lignocellulosic biomass as a feedstock. By embedding enzymes into the lignocellulosic material itself, the cost of degrading the biomass for ethanol conversion could be greatly reduced, enabling the use of an inexpensive and abundant source for ethanol production. This would have the social and environmental benefits of increased rural development, decreased greenhouse gas emissions, and reduced reliance on foreign oil imports.
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