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Supporting the development of a sustainable society through the active use of biomass.

Plant materials are composed of chains of sugars, such as cellulose and hemi-cellulose. We at bits contribute to building a sustainable society through the use of biotechnology to produce renewable energy and industrial materials from plant-based materials.

Development of Second Generation Bio-ethanol

Bio-ethanol has a long history as an alternative fuel; bio-ethanol produced from starch (ex: potatoes) has been mixed with gasoline since before World War II to increase self-sufficiency. Today, the production of the "second generation bio-ethanol" from non-food plant material, so as not to have competition, is becoming urgent. By combining the efforts of our research team and other industry experts, we hope to develop effective production methods for bio-ethanol.
One of the hurdles we face is the difficulty in breaking down plant materials into individual sugar molecules. At bits, we are researching the most effective use of enzymes and microbes for breaking down sugar and the most effective processing methods on an industrial level.

We provide solutions on Bio-ethanol production starting from core technology to industrial manufacturing methods.


Kashiwanoha Soft Cellulose Utilization Project

In 2009, the Japanese government granted funding for a 3-year project that examined the viability of producing bio-ethanol from “soft cellulose” such as rice straws. The funding was granted to 4 regions in Japan: Hokkaido, Hyogo, and Akita prefectures, as well as at Kashiwanoha in Chiba prefecture. Each region is developing their own strategy and technology for the project.

Please click here to see the process at our pilot plant.


Glucose-tolerant BGL

“Cellulase” refers to a mix of enzymes comprising of endoglucanase (EG), cellobiohydrolase (CBH), and beta-glucosidase (BGL) that catalyze the saccharification of cellulose. During the saccharification process, the conversion of cellobiose into glucose with BGL is a key step because cellobiose inhibits EG and CBH activities. Commercially available cellulase made by Trichoderma reecei lack this BGL, so its addition is the best way to improve the saccharification of cellulose. Excess glucose inhibits BGL activity, therefore efficient BGL that are not easily inhibited by glucose are especially of great interest.

Glucose-tolerant BGL and its production system was constructed using the ASPEX* technology that was jointly developed by BITS and Asahi Glass Co. These mutant BGLs show tolerance to glucose, which is maintained until the end of the saccharification process. Comparative tests between our glucose-tolerant BGL and Novozym 188 on LBKP showed that the addition of glucose tolerant BGL doubled sugar yield (1.7 times with Novozym 188). By increasing the efficiency in use of biomass, the cost of production can be lowered.
If you would like more information on our enzymes, please contact us.
* ASPEX ; Asahi Glass Schizosaccharomyces pombe Expression System

C5 Sugar Transporter / HGT2

One of the problems faced with biomass use is the inability to effectively utilize C5 hemicelluloses such as xylose and arabinose. In bioethanol production for example, there are very few microbes that are naturally able to convert xylose into ethanol. Microbes that are able to do so include the bacteria Zymomonas mobilis, and the eukaryotic microbes Pichia stipitis, Candida shehatae, and Pachysolen tannophilus. These microbes however, do not have the characteristics needed for large-scale industrial use.

Saccharomyces cerevisiae, commonly known as Baker’s yeast, is not naturally able to utilize xylose, but it is able to produce alcohol through fermentation. This ability has made them an excellent candidate for genetic modification to add the ability to utilize C5 sugars. Once xylose is taken up, it is metabolized through the pentose phosphate pathway and undergoes glycolysis. However, the process is extremely slow even for genetically modified S. cervisiase, making them unsuitable for industrial use. Problems with enzyme redox balances and the buildup of substrates due to slow metabolism are some areas that require further research and development. Another problem with using S. cervisiae in xylose fermentation is that pentoses (C5 sugars) are not taken in as well as hexoses (C6 sugars) would be by the microbe.

Research at Kyoto University lead by associate professor Watanabe has focused on P. stipitis, which is naturally able to utilize xylose, and the genes responsible for their uptake. Genetic sequences that are thought to be responsible for C5 uptake have been isolated and analyzed. Within the sequence, a new xylose transporter HGT2 was discovered, raising the possibility of using this gene to increase the use of xylose in bioethanol production. Real-Time PCR analysis also showed that the genes most expressed were not the SUT genes as previously thought, but the above mentioned HGT2 genes.

BITS has been working with Dr. Watanabe to develop ways of making this HGT2 and microbes modified for pentose intake viable at an industrial scale. We hope that this discovery will not only be useful in bioethanol production, but also to clients wishing to utilize xylose in other ways.
If the HGT2 may be of use for your business, please contact us and we will be happy to discuss its potential with you.

“Let us help you improve your first step in the fermentation process”


Solutions for Utilizing Biomass

"Biomass" is defined as a "renewable, organic energy resource excluding fossil fuels". There are various types of biomass, processing methods and differing economical potentials. We at bits provide our clients with information based on the following characteristics of biomass.
  • Analysis of the nature of the biomass resource
  • Processing methods and technology
  • Material use
  • Pre-assessment of production capability/capacity/efficiency

We provide support to our clients hoping to utilize biomass resources.