Engineering Enzymes in Energy Crops

Conditionally Activated Enzymes Expressed in Cellulosic Energy Crops
Graphic of Agrivida's technology
ARPA-E Award: 
Medford, MA
Project Term: 
01/15/2010 to 12/31/2014
Project Status: 
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 
The U.S. relies almost exclusively on petroleum-based fuels to power its cars, trucks, and planes. Fossil fuels like petroleum are subject to price instabilities that impact consumers, and they produce harmful emissions. Biofuels produced domestically from biomass are a promising alternative. However, the methods used to turn biomass into fuel are currently too costly and inefficient to make these biofuels a commercially viable alternative to fossil fuels.
Project Innovation + Advantages: 
Enzymes are required to break plant biomass down into the fermentable sugars that are used to create biofuel. Currently, costly enzymes must be added to the biofuel production process. Engineering crops to already contain these enzymes will reduce costs and produce biomass that is more easily digested. In fact, enzyme costs alone account for $0.50-$0.75/gallon of the cost of a biomass-derived biofuel like ethanol. Agrivida is genetically engineering plants to contain high concentrations of enzymes that break down cell walls. These enzymes can be "switched on" after harvest so they won't damage the plant while it's growing.
Impact Summary: 
If successful, Agrivida would decrease the production cost of domestic biofuels by up to 20%.
Increasing production of domestic biofuels could help the U.S. cut foreign oil imports by 33% in 15 years.
Widespread use of biofuels, biopower, and other bio-based products has the potential to conserve 1.26 billion barrels of oil, 58 million tons of coal, and 682 million tons of carbon dioxide from 2020-2030.
Widespread use of biofuels would help reduce and stabilize gas prices for consumers.
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Jonathan Burbaum
Project Contact: 
Dr. R. Michael Raab