New Biological Platform Converts Corn Fiber into Ethanol

The world leader in bioinnovation based in Denmark, Novozymes, unique in enzymes and microbes for more than 70 years, has launched Fiberex, a comprehensive platform based on novel enzymes and yeast strains to convert corn fiber into ethanol. Fiberex is specifically aimed at breaking down tough fibers in the corn, providing producers with greater operational flexibility. The technology converts a low-value by-product into high-value, low-carbon fuel while also enabling the production of significantly more corn oil.

The Fiberex® platform consists of biological solutions that work in various stages of the ethanol production process

“Through advanced biology, biofuel producers looking to diversify can now unlock new markets and avenues of profitability,” says Brian Brazeau, Novozymes’ Vice President for Bioenergy. “Working with Novozymes and our expert analytics and engineering partners, producers can use Fiberex technology to transform their corn fiber, typically only used for animal feed, into low-carbon, high-value cellulosic ethanol.”

Fiberex facts, typically, the starch in a corn kernel is converted into ethanol while the rest of the kernel ends up as low-value animal feed. In this remaining part of the kernel, there is a high amount of corn fiber with little to no value to the animals. Corn fiber is made up of similar building blocks as starch but is tough to break down and convert into something more useful. Breaking down this fiber and converting it to ethanol provides significant environmental and economic benefits to ethanol producers and consumers. Ethanol producers can now unlock new profit streams by tapping into fiber and accessing higher value ethanol with better return on investment.

Fiberex enables extraction of more corn oil – expanding a major revenue stream. Moreover, producers can obtain savings from reduced energy demand and water usage. The platform also creates a future path for higher co-product quality and value

Novozymes is the technology leader in fiber conversion today, enabling new revenue for biofuels producers from low-carbon credits such as in California and EPA’s cellulosic RIN credits. Through Fiberex, Novozymes is collaborating with the biofuel industry to further expand the boundaries of corn-based ethanol – literally breaking down some of the barriers between what is considered conventional biofuels and advanced biofuels.

Low-carbon fuels are a crucial part of transportation – enabling domestic energy, a cleaner environment, and better livelihoods for rural America and beyond. Most ethanol is made from the starch in corn kernels, whereas the fiber is much more difficult to use, being a complex matrix consisting of cellulose, hemicellulose, starch, protein, oil, and minerals.

The cellulose is rigid and partially crystalline in form while the hemicellulose is highly branched and amorphous. Novozymes’ Fiberex enzymes are specifically designed to break down this complex matrix – resulting in more corn oil and converting the fiber into simple sugars that are easily converted into ethanol.

“Ethanol producers know their business best! We now make available industry-leading technology and are putting our bioinnovation in top gear to convert every last pound of fiber in corn,” says Brian Brazeau. “Realizing the importance of fiber-based ethanol in reducing our carbon footprint, improving co-products, and increasing value for producers, we have embarked on a mission to develop biology that can convert all of this tough feedstock into low-carbon ethanol. It is time to reimagine ethanol.”

As part of the platform announcement, Novozymes is also launching the first Fiberex products: Fiberex R1, a technology specifically designed to provide maximum ethanol in separate fiber-to-ethanol processes, and Fiberex F1, a cellulase enzyme designed to provide fiber conversion for in-process technologies. Additional solutions, to launch in 2021, are in proof-of-concept trials now.