Hemp, soy, mustard, sunflower and palm oil can all be used to make biofuels, so why not elephant dung and World War Two-era fungus? Copenhagen-based Danisco A/S is using the fungus, which was discovered during WWII eating soldier’s cotton tents, for its enzymes that break down plants for ethanol. Once ethanol is produced, Amsterdam food company CSM NV uses yeast developed from enzymes contained in elephant dung to manufacture biofuels.
Danisco A/S and CSM NV’s processes don’t occupy a niche market–Jens Riese, head of biofuels at McKinsey and Co., estimates that enzymes and biofuels for second-generation cellulosic biofuels could be worth $5 billion a year by 2025 in a $60 to $80 billion overall plant-based biofuel market. And while Danisco’s use of the fungus enzymes for biofuels may be new, the enzymes have been used by Genencor since the 1980s to stonewash jeans, bleach paper, and treat animal feeds for nutrition value.
Next up for Danisco and CSM: improving the enzymes and yeasts and working with U.S. partners DuPont and Poet to connect the supply chain from plant to ethanol. DuPont and Danisco have already collaborated on a $70 million Vonore, Tennessee-based pilot plant to turn energy crops and plant waste into fuel. The plant will begin production in December. The sooner full-scale production gets started, the better; advances in enzyme technology and U.S. subsidies could make cellulosic biofuels competitive with conventional food-based biofuels by next year.