Lallemand launches new Convergence yeast, enzyme platform: could save ethanol producers $1M/year in replacing all external fermentation enzymes

September 14, 2020 |

In Wisconsin, Lallemand Biofuels & Distilled Spirits has announced a next generation advanced yeast and enzyme platform called Convergence, which combines a new yeast that generates virtually all the glucoamylase (GA) required for fermentation combined with a small amount of complementary exogenous enzyme.

The bottom line impact for a corn starch ethanol producer would be in the range of $1 million per year, according to Lallemand Biofuels & Distilled Spirits President, Angus Ballard.

The TransFerm and Alcolase background

“Our dream was to express through yeast all of the enzymes required for fermentation and displace all of the glucoamylase,” Ballard told The Daily Digest. “Could we get to 100 percent. It seemed unobtainable, but here we are. We do find that it’s better if we add Alcolase in very small quantities, but it’s a tote not a tank.”

TransFerm CV5 is a genetically modified yeast strain that combines best in industry yield enhancement technology with extraordinary levels of glucoamylase and trehalase expression. This yeast generates between 80% and 100% of the enzymes required in fermentation.

Alcolase 146 is a high-performance glucoamylase blend developed to maximize the fermentation performance of TransFerm CV5. This product provides optimal results at a significantly lower dose than other commercial enzyme blends. When used with TransFerm® CV5 it is supplied at no extra charge.

Worth noting that the TransFerm CV5 product not just the previous version with extra expression. LBDS redesigned the base frame and increased the robustness through directed evolution.

BASF, you’re being touted…

There are unsung heroes in every technology advance, many of them sitting right now in a lab in Lebanon, New Hampshire, which LBDS acquired in the Mascoma acquisition in 2014 and has substantively expanded and enhanced. These folk are the real deal in genetic engineering.

And LBDS’s Ballard took special note to frame the role of a partnership with BASF labs in San Diego. With Lallemand, BASF co-developed a new enzyme essential in this breakthrough. Asked about change in the style and pace of collaboration in COVID times, he noted that “there’s been a staggering change in what we can do through Zoom and Teams, we wouldn’t haven’t dreamed of today’s capabilities in co-development across the globe a few years back, it’s not without their challenges, collaborators have their own pace and culture, so you have to work at managing a relationship, but the benefit is there.”

The LBDS story has also been a story in partnership. Actually, the original Mascoma technology that led to the launch of the original TransFerm back in 2013 started as a partnership.

“From the first conversations,” Ballard recalled, “we were excited. Some at Mascoma at first we’re nervous that ‘Lallemand going to see us as a competitor, how is it going to work?’. And Yes, we’re in the market, but our future success is tied to the success of the industries we supply. Our attitude was ‘if you have new technology – we see you as a collaborator not a competitor.’ And that’s how we started the process of bringing Mascoma’s incredible ability in genetic modification and genetic engineering talents to our strengths in product development, manufacturing and marketing. It ended up being the easiest acquisition because we both saw the value. As a small-start up, Mascoma was struggling on the cash side as they all do and for us it was very important that they survived. When we acquired Mascoma, our vision went beyond fuels and towards our position as a of supplier yeast and bacteria, mindset of the commercial potential, and we have a GM yeast in our brewing business today and there are other business lines which might employ GM yeast.

“Something had evolved (with Mascoma and Lallemand) but we wanted to ensure, because it wasn’t just the tools, or the technology, it was the people, with this ability to do metabolic engineering.”

Progress to date

The news is fresh to many but not all — the technology has been trialling in 10 facilities around the US, where LBDS and partners confirmed the performance under live conditions. For now, it’s focused on the US market. It’s slower to obtain the regulatory approvals for this GM yeast for the Canadian, Brazilian, Argentine and other markets where corn starch ethanol — so that remains an expansion opportunity as those approvals are gained.

Next steps

Lallemand confirmed that it has the capacity to roll-out the technology with new ethanol producer customers — the trial process takes up to six weeks and Ballard noted that for an ethanol producer using traditional dry yeasts instead of a GM product, the financial impact could be well over the $1 million figure. “There are not many ways you can add a million to the bottom line without capital costs,” Ballard noted.

The LBDS backstory

Back in 2013, the emergence of the original TransFerm and TransFerm Yield+ rocked the industry when pilot-scale tests at ICM showed that TransFerm Yield+ consistently demonstrated ethanol yield improvements of up to 4%. TransFerm and TransFerm Yield+, were manufactured and distributed by Lallemand and jointly marketed and sold by Mascoma and Lallemand through their partnership, until the acquisition.

In March 2019, we reported that BioTork, LLC and Lallemand Biofuels & Distilled Spirits (LBDS) announced the formalization of a collaboration for the development of improved yeast strains for the ethanol industry. Located in Gainesville, FL, BioTork is a privately-owned biotechnology company focusing on the development of microbial strains and bioconversion processes capable of producing bio-based chemical commodities such as lipids, fuels, enzymes, plastics and other valuable compounds from affordable and renewable feedstocks. Its optimized microorganisms provide the improvements and robustness needed for cost effective industrial bioconversion processes. Lallemand Biofuels & Distilled Spirits (LBDS) is a business unit of Lallemand, Inc. Based in Duluth, GA, Lallemand Biofuels & Distilled Spirits is the leading supplier of fermentation ingredients and value creating technical services to the global fuel ethanol and distilled beverage industries.

In April 2019, we reported that DSM and LBDS signed a joint agreement under which DSM grants to Lallemand a non-exclusive, royalty bearing license to DSM’s low-glycerol yeast technology patents (U.S. Patent No. 8,795,998). The license agreement is part of a settlement that was reached following a 2018 US Federal Court jury verdict in Wisconsin. The referenced technology in the agreement is for use in the fermentation of first-generation biofuels.

In October 2017, we reported that Lallemand Biofuels & Distilled Spirits, acquired Lactic Solutions LLC. Lactic Solutions has been developing genetically modified lactic acid bacteria products specifically for the biofuels industry. According to their press release, these new products will create value for fuel ethanol producers through higher ethanol production yields and reduced consumption of antibiotics. This acquisition will be integrated into LBDS. The Lactic Solutions technology was developed by Professors Jim Steele and Jeff Broadbent from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Utah State University, respectively.

Lallemand is a privately owned company specializing in the research, development, production, marketing and distribution of yeast, bacteria and other microorganisms for use in the food ingredient, human nutrition, animal nutrition, baking, wine, beer, distilled spirits, biofuels, plant care, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. Lallemand has approximately 4,000 employees located in more than 40 countries, on all continents.

The Bottom Line

Consolidated bioprocessing used to be called the Holy Grail — that is to say, saccharification and fermentation, one step, one bug. So, let’s note that the Grail has been found, something that was reserved for Sir Galahad in the Arthurian cycle of tails, yet seems to have been accomplished this year by a team of technologists working on the bench in Lebanon, NH and San Diego, CA and elsewhere. I guess we’ll have to refer to them as the Knights of the Round Benchtop, or perhaps in a nod to the ethanol producers as the Knights of the Round Fermenter. In any case, grail located, now available, as they say in late night television advertising, call now.

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