Corn Amylase: Improving the Efficiency and Environmental Footprint of Corn to Ethanol through Plant Biotechnology

John M. Urbanchuk and Daniel J. Kowalski
Bruce E. Dale and Seungdo Kim
Michigan State University

Treatment of starch-based grain with an alpha-amylase enzyme is essential to convert available starch to fermentable sugars in the production of ethanol. In an effort to improve the efficiencies of corn-based ethanol production, Syngenta has developed a new variety of corn that expresses alpha-amylase directly in the seed endosperm. This technology represents a novel approach to improving ethanol production in a way that can be integrated smoothly into the existing infrastructure. Between October 2007 and December 2008, Syngenta, in collaboration with Western Plains Energy, LLC, of Oakley, Kansas, conducted a commercial- scale trial of Corn Amylase. The results of this trial confirmed many of the potential benefits identified in laboratory trials, which include significant reductions in the amount of natural gas, electricity, water, and microbial alpha-amylase required to produce a gallon of ethanol. These savings are realized through the unique characteristics of Corn Amylase that enable ethanol producers to increase throughput at the plant without the typical tradeoff of losing conversion yield. Corn Amylase, therefore, will reduce the demand for natural resources, the consumption of fossil fuels, and the emission of greenhouse gases. Corn Amylase will also reduce utility costs at the plant and improve the energy balance (compared to ethanol produced from conventional corn).

Key words: Alpha-amylase, corn, energy balance, ethanol, greenhouse gas, throughput, trial.