Enzymes to produce biofuels from sawdust

The world’s first facility to produce cellulosic ethanol from sawdust will use Novozymes’ enzymes. It marks an exciting step for regions rich in soft wood.


A sawmill site will home the first biorefinery to use sawdust to produce cellulosic ethanol at commercial scale. St1 Biofuels will construct the facility in Kajaani, Finland, and Novozymes’ enzymes will power the complex conversion into biofuel. The biorefinery will initially produce 10 million liters of cellulosic ethanol, but this can be scaled up to an annual output of 50 to 100 million liters.

“I am delighted that our enzymes have been chosen for this pioneering project,” says Sebastian Søderberg, VP of Novozymes’ Biomass Conversion. “It marks an important step for Finland and other countries around the world that have ample softwood supplies.” 
Energy from sawdust
Sawdust, or wood dust, is a by-product of the forestry industry and is composed of fine particles of wood.  Softwood comes from trees like pine that have needles instead of leaves. With Finland as the home of a major softwood forest industry, the country has an abundance of sawdust.
The complex structure of this biomass contains fermentable sugars which can be used for the production of cellulosic ethanol. This biomass is more difficult to convert into ethanol than traditional starch substrates from grains. The process uses steam-explosion to open up the cellulosic structures of the sawdust, followed by enzymatic hydrolysis to extract the sugars for ethanol fermentation.
“Northern Europe has a large industrial sector based on forestry, and this opens up many possibilities,” Sebastian Søderberg says. “The biomass and specialist knowledge is available here, and the long-term political framework is in place in Finland, which all works together to enable the commercial production of cellulosic ethanol based on softwood.”
Investment supports the ambitious targets for biofuels in Finland
The construction of the biorefinery supports Finland’s climate and energy strategy. The country has implemented a mandate to increase the share of renewable energy in transport up to 20% by 2020.

Total investment is expected to be €40 million of which an investment grant will cover 30%. Construction is scheduled to begin in the second half of 2015, with production expected to start in 2016. 
The agreement between St1 Biofuels and Novozymes is not expected to impact Novozymes’ financial outlook for 2015.