Syngenta introduces its first biotech corn trait for boosting ethanol production. Enogen is a corn amylase technology that makes starch conversion more efficient, which improves the productivity of the dry grind ethanol process.

“This trait is designed to provide significant benefits to the dry grind ethanol industry,” says Jack Bernens, Syngenta technology acceptance. “For an ethanol plant producing 100 million gallons of ethanol, the Enogen corn hybrid will drop $10 million to the plant’s bottom line, primarily through increased throughput efficiencies and a reduction in energy and water requirements.”

Boost to the bottom line
In traditional ethanol production, enzymes in liquid form are added to grain to transform starches to sugars. This step is not needed with Enogen technology because the enzymes are expressed directly in the grain. This makes starch conversion more efficient.

“Ethanol producers could see benefits of 8 to 10 cents per gallon and increased overall efficiency,” Bernens says. Estimates are that a 100-million-gallon ethanol plant also can reduce water usage by 450,000 gallons, electricity usage by 1.3 million kWh and natural gas usage by 244 billion BTUs.

Enogen will be produced through a closed-end production system from producer to ethanol facility. Ethanol plants will contract directly with nearby growers for production and delivery of corn to the ethanol plant. “There will be a very tight track-and-trace system in place to ensure all product goes to ethanol plants,” Bernens says.

The National Corn Growers Association has applauded USDA deregulation of amylase products like Enogen for all markets. However, some processor groups disagree and express concern that the trait can cause problems in some food-processing functions —causing some end-use products to degrade, for example. But officials are quick to point out that it is a processing issue and has nothing to do with the product’s safety. Corn amylase is approved in Japan, Canada, Mexico and several other export countries. In 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found it to be as safe as conventional corn for food and feed.

“We have developed a system that goes beyond most identity-preserved systems,” Bernens says. He explains that Enogen corn will not be grown in areas that traditionally sell to facilities that use corn in food or industrial starch products.

Contracts
Syngenta is targeting the western Corn Belt for release of Enogen corn hybrids in 2011 and will be involved in every step of the process. “We will license both the ethanol plant and the grower, and the plant will contract with the grower,” Bernens says. “We will also work with ethanol plants to test Enogen corn and show the value in the plant. Once the ethanol plant sees the value, the plant will contract out what they need.”

Pricing for the Enogen seed has yet to be determined, but Bernens says in addition to a premium for the product, yield tests have shown no yield penalty with the trait.

“We certainly think a significant percentage of producers could derive benefit from the product,” Bernens says. “It is a unique trait and will have a much slower gear-up than traditional corn traits. But as more plants get on board, we expect a significant increase in the next three to four years.”