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Archive → February, 2011

Codexis Puts Enzyme to Work for Clean(er) Coal

This week in Washington, DC, energy luminaries associated with the ARPA-E program are gathering to talk about clean energy technologies and present a progress report on what the program’s grants have made possible.

coal-fired power plant

Enzymes to clean coal? Credit: U.S. Department of Energy

Biocatalyst firm Codexis has helpfully offered a preview of its update on a research project aiming to cut down on the downsides of carbon capture technologies for coal-fired power plants. The so-called “clean coal” technologies can nearly double costs and lower the amount of electricity produced by power plans, the company points out.

Codexis will present data from its ARPA-E sponsored research project that uses modified carbonic anhydrase enzymes to capture carbon dioxide from power plant emissions.  

Carbonic anhydrase enzymes are highly reactive – they exchange carbon dioxide into our lungs when we exhale. The Codexis version functions in the high temperatures and industrial conditions of the flue gas environment. The project has demonstrated enzyme stability in solvents in temperatures up to 75 degrees C. The use of these enzyme-powered solvents could reduce the energy needed for capturing carbon by 30%, says the firm.

Codexis, which went public in April, is best known for its long-term biofuels partnership with Shell. In May, it received a $4.7 million grant from ARPA-E  for development of innovative technology to remove carbon dioxide  from coal-fired power plant emissions.

Bayer MaterialScience, PPG Get Presidential Shout Out

Yesterday, President Obama was at Penn State to press for more federal support of green buildings. In his speech promoting the Better Buildings Initiative, he suggested that many in his audience might not consider green buildings to be “sexy.” But I suspect that chemists have many reasons to find green buildings to be pretty darned appealing.

Bayer makes spray insulation for commercial building roofs. Credit: Bayer MaterialScience

For one thing, green building materials research – like that conducted by a clean energy hub in Philadelphia headed by Penn State - can earn chemical firms a Presidential shout-out. The hub includes corporate partners Bayer Material Science, which is working on new materials for insulation and facades that save energy, and PPG Industries, whose researchers are creating walls that reflect sun and windows that reflect infrared, according to the President’s remarks.

He pointed out that making buildings (and homes) more energy efficient is a green upgrade that comes with no tradeoffs. The whole point of retrofitting (or building green from the start) is to save on energy costs. The roadblock, though, is the initial upfront cost, which is a cash expenditure. The President’s initiative - through tax credits and financing help – is supposed to minimize the up-front sticker shock. He’d like to pay for the cost of the program by rolling back “subsidies to the oil companies,” saying, “it’s time to stop subsidizing yesterday’s energy.”