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Turning Obstacles into Opportunity: Ethanol Industry Demonstrates Incredible Resilience and Versatility While Battling COVID-19, Says Novozymes

June 24, 2020

Coronavirus, Membership


The COVID-19 pandemic spelled chaos and devastation for many as it spread across the globe this spring. While the health crisis lingers as we work towards a new normal, it has given ample opportunity for business leaders and companies to think outside the box when looking at partnerships, collaboration, and meeting the needs of their customers and stakeholders. For Novozymes, a major biotech provider in the ethanol industry and world leader in biological solutions, COVID-19 has been an opportunity to put their partnerships to work in collaborating on solutions that address shifting demands and promise long-term value.


Novozymes’ North American headquarters is located in North Carolina, which has facilitated a robust partnership between Novozymes and the state’s largest university. North Carolina State University (NC State) is home to the Golden Leaf Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center (BTEC) program, which aims to train the next generation of biomanufacturing workers through its pilot infrastructure and research capabilities. In August 2019, Novozymes’ philanthropic arm, Novo Nordisk Foundation, gave $27 million to NC State for biopharmaceutical manufacturing and $30 million to improve crop resilience.



BTEC’s mission overlaps with that of Novozymes in preparing future industry leaders to continue learning how best to innovate practices using the latest advances in science and technology. According to Novozymes, we are on the cusp of a biological revolution where biology will be a primary tool for manufacturing in the future.

“We believe that we are entering the ‘Age of Biology’,” said Brian Brazeau, who serves as the President of Novozymes North America and Vice President of their Bioenergy division. “The United States’ ethanol industry has contributed to pioneering this transition as one of the globe’s most successful bioprocessing industries. Our collaboration with

BTEC allows us to contribute to this transition by training the next generation of leaders in biology.”


As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the ethanol industry’s demand and fuel sales plummeted, it also provided the industry with a new market that was experiencing significant growth—hand sanitizer. NC State was struggling to find a supplier to source hand sanitizer as they look to reopen their campus in the fall. Together, Novozymes and BTEC were able to put their collaboration to work by producing 600 gallons of hand sanitizer for the NC State community.


Like ethanol, hand sanitizer production is a biological process and requires ethyl alcohol as the primary ingredient that kills viruses and germs. By May 2020, BTEC was using the World Health Organization’s formula (as well as Novozymes’ expertise) to produce hand sanitizer.


“The COVID-19 pandemic provided a series of unique challenges that allowed creative minds to come up with creative solutions, one of which was utilizing a partnership that we had already formed to create with a new solution to meet the health and safety needs of our valued partner,” said Brazeau. “This partnership has truly been a strong example of quickly seizing opportunities to make a real, tangible impact in our community.”


As a multinational company with over 6,000 employees, Novozymes has leveraged their resources to make a positive impact and assist communities across the globe in battling the COVID-19 pandemic. Because the company prioritizes innovation and hands-on collaboration, they are already looking toward the future and figuring out more ways they can assist the ethanol industry in pursuing new markets and strategies for growth.


After the FDA lifted regulations that allowed fuel ethanol producers to produce ethyl alcohol for use in hand sanitizer, many in the ethanol industry quickly pivoted a portion of their production to contribute to combating the shortage and provide hand sanitizer to high-priority locations, such as hospitals, first responder units and nursing homes. Now, dozens of ethanol plants have utilized their technical expertise and business acumen to form partnerships with companies outside of their industry and build new markets that allow them to diversify their revenue streams.


“The ethanol industry has demonstrated incredible resilience while battling the COVID-19 pandemic,” Brazeau concluded. “Although it’s not been easy, this crisis has allowed us to use ethanol in a new way, and more importantly, has sparked inspiration around finding new uses for ethanol that give us more stability as well as new ways to use biology to impact new audiences. We are excited about the conversations now taking place and look forward to finding new ways to leverage this incredible and versatile product.”


This post is part of the Renewable Fuels Association’s #RFACommunityPartners series spotlighting individual member companies’ heroic responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Jackie Pohlman