A naturally occurring microbe could hold the key to converting cellulose into ethanol in a single step, without the need for costly enzymes.
SunEthanol of Amherst, Mass. is commercializing the discovery to produce ethanol from biomass in a simpler and more cost-effective manner.
According to the company website, “SunEthanol has the full genome sequence of this remarkable microbe and is working to push the boundaries of its unique properties and to develop the Q Microbe for full-scale cellulosic ethanol production.”
The Q microbe was discovered by (SunEthanol founder) Dr. Susan Leschine and Tom Warnick from UMass Amherst in soil found near the Quabbin Reservoir in Western MA. It is a naturally occurring anaerobic microbe and is not dangerous.
SunEthanol is working in partnership with some large ethanol industry partners. It is targeting a pilot plant to be in operation in 2009. SunEthanol will supply the cellulosic industry with “Q microbes”, technical know-how and the key components for a cellulosic ethanol bio-reactor platform.
“SunEthanol has unique technology that if proven to be commercially feasible will be a positive step forward for cellulosic ethanol.” said Bill Honnef, VeraSun Senior Vice President, Sales and Marketing. “While we believe corn-based ethanol production will continue to play a key role in our industry long into the future, ethanol from cellulosic feedstocks will complement corn-based ethanol in meeting the growing global demand for renewable fuels. We continue to evaluate technologies that have the potential to efficiently convert cellulose to biofuels.”