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COPENHAGEN, Dec 18 (Reuters) - Denmark's Novozymes , the world's largest enzymes producer, will stick to its plans to develop transportation fuel made from agricultural waste, despite an oil price rout that has left oil-based products cheaper for consumers.
Some analysts have expressed concern that a lower crude oil price might dampen investor interest in alternatives, but Novozymes said on Thursday that it aims to provide enzymes to 15 advanced bioethanol plants by 2017, up from five, generating 1 billion Danish crowns ($165.7 million) in revenue.
Raizen, a joint venture between Shell and Brazilian ethanol company Cosan, on Wednesday began production at what is only the world's sixth advanced bioethanol plant in Piracicaba, Sao Paulo. Novozymes' enzymes are a key enabler.
The transportation fuel, also known as cellulosic bioethanol, is made of plant waste or biomass, such as straw, corn cobs and sugarcane bagasse -- instead of from food crops like corn or sugar, as with conventional bioethanol.
"We have invested in this since 2001 because we believe in the long term potential," Sebastian Soderberg, vice president for biomass conversion for Novozymes, told Reuters, brushing off the recent drop in the oil price to 2009 lows.
"We believe that it will be competitive with oil-based products, but it would obviously take a longer time for us if the oil price stays at this level. But commodity prices fluctuate," he said.
He said it was to early to determine an oil price at which the biofuel would be competitive.
The new $100 million Piracicaba plant, whose technology is provided by Canada's Iogen Corporation, will convert biomass into 10.6 million gallons per year of cellulosic bioethanol.
Novozymes partnered with Beta Renewables, part of Italian chemicals group Mossi Ghisolfi, to open the first commercial plant in Crescentino, Italy last October, with annual capacity of 19 million gallons a year (mgy).
Since then biofuel company POET has opened a 20 mgy plant in the United States, and biotech start-up GranBio has started operations at a 22 mgy facility in Brazil.
Novozymes will also be supplying enzymes to Longlive , which has a license to produce cellulosic bioethanol in China, and to a project in Sarawak, Malaysia for the first advanced bioethanol plant in South East Asia.
$1 = 6.0359 Danish crowns Reporting by Teis Jensen; Editing by Clara Ferreira Marques