Mascoma Corporation, the leader in cellulosic biomass-to-ethanol development and production, has raised $30 million in its second round of venture funding.
Today ethanol in the U.S. is made primarily from corn, a resource with multiple uses with limits to its long term capacity. Ethanol made from cellulosic biomass (e.g. grass, wood, and various agricultural and forestry wastes) takes advantage of significantly lower raw material cost, more plentiful and varied feedstocks, and expands the potential for ethanol to blend with and displace gasoline with a cleaner, renewable, domestically-produced liquid fuel.
Converting cellulose to ethanol involves two fundamental steps of breaking the long chains of cellulose molecules into glucose and other sugars, and then fermenting those sugars into ethanol. In nature, these processes are performed by different organisms:
Fungi and bacteria that use enzymes called cellulases to “free” the sugar in cellulose, and
Other microbes, primarily yeasts, that ferment sugars into alcohol
Mascoma's technology is based the bioengineering of the ethanol-producing microbes to reduce the number of steps in the conversion process. Mascoma’s ongoing R&D is focused on collapsing the many biologically mediated steps involved in ethanol production into one simple step. Mascoma’s lead organism for thermophilic Simultaneous Saccarification and Fermentation (tSSF) is Thermoanaerobacterium saccharolyticum. Results were recently presented at the 28th Symposium on Biotechnology for Fuels and Chemicals describing the successful modification of this organism to produce stoichiometric quantities of ethanol from a xylose feed. This strain is attractive for use in a tSSF configuration as the elevated fermentation temperature can substantially reduce cellulase requirements in an industrial processing operation.
This round of funding represents a major milestone for Mascoma, and will be used for further research, the development and construction of new demonstration facilities, as well as designing commercial facilities for additional buildout. “We are focused on developing further cost efficiencies in commercializing cellulosic ethanol, and attracting new partners in complimentary spaces,” said Mascoma President and Director Dr. Colin South.
Mascoma is poised to transform the current model for ethanol production,” said Vinod Khosla, founder, Khosla Ventures. “Mascoma’s research and innovation in the field have solidified our leadership position in commercializing cellulosic ethanol technology, and we expect a great and positive impact on the industry and consumers alike.”
The financing was led by General Catalyst Partners, with additional participation from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Vantage Point Venture Partners, Atlas Venture, and Pinnacle Ventures, as well as existing investors Khosla Ventures and Flagship Ventures.