SunEthanol, a company that is developing microbes to produce cellulosic ethanol, announced on Nov. 18 that has raised $25 million in Series B financing and that it is changing its name to Qteros Inc. The funding will allow the company to scale up its process from the pilot plant to commercial operations, and hire additional engineers and scientists, company officials said. Plans call for a demonstration plant by 2010 and commercial production in 2011.
The two year old Hadley, MA company is developing the Q Microbe™ (Clostridium phytofermentans), a lollipop-shaped microscopic organism that the company claims has unique properties that make it ideally suited to the production of cellulosic ethanol from a variety of non-food plant materials. Dr. Susan Leschine, Qteros’ Chief Scientist and co-founder, is the University of Massachusetts, Amherst microbiology professor who, nearly 10 years ago, first collected a sample of the Q Microbe™ near the Quabbin Reservoir in Massachusetts. The Q Microbe, was nearly perfect for the job, as found in nature, with an unusual ability to dynamically adjusts to the type of organic matter it’s processing; the company is only engaged in “classical genetic engineering”, which basically means selective breeding.
Currently, throughout the industry, the largest cost components are the feedstock and the enzymes used for the bioconversion. The Complete Cellulose Conversion (C3) process (formerly the Q process) can use very low cost feedstocks and does not use any enzymes. With only one-step of bioconversion, the C3 process is much more efficient—and less costly—than other conversions now in use. Its Q Microbe™ simplifies the process, eliminating the need for a separate enzymatic breakdown step. Instead of the conventional enzyme and yeast process, C3 technology consolidates multiple steps into a single bioconversion step, resulting in a lower cost of production. This process is less costly than conventional corn starch–production technology and allows for the use of many types of plant material.