“Super-Organism” Leads to Cellulosic Breakthrough

Joanna Schroeder

mascoma_logoThe golden dream may have become reality today as Mascoma Corporation announced a major technological breakthrough in the process strategy for production of biofuels from cellulosic biomass known as consolidated bioprocessing, or CBP. The major advantage of CBP is that is significantly reduces the cost to produce cellulosic ethanol by combining several steps into one through the use of a “super-organism”.  The high cost of cellulosic ethanol production has been a major concern facing the industry, and a barrier to entering the consumer market as a competitive fuel. This may now be a thing of the past.

CBP eliminates the need for the production of expensive enzymes that are typically needed to break down the lignen and covert it to sugar. Rather, Mascoma is using engineered microorganisms that produce cellulases and ethanol in one step. “This is a true breakthrough that takes us much, much closer to billions of gallons of low cost cellulosic biofuels,” said Dr. Bruce Dale, with Michigan State University. “Many had thought that CBP was years or even decades away, but the future just arrived. Mascoma has permanently changed the biofuels landscape from here on.”

Mascoma’s claims were proven during the 31st Symposium on Biotechnology for Fuels and Chemicals in San Francisco, during a demonstration given by Dr. Mike Ladisch, Chief Technology Officer. Additional advances with both bacteria that grow at high temperatures, coined thermophiles, and recombinant cellulolytic yeasts have been discovered.

These advances reduce the operating and capital costs required for cost-effective commercial production of cellulosic ethanol. This is great news and even more so in light of yesterday’s announcement of the creation of the Interagency Working Group which includes the funding of building and producing next generation biofuels.

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