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SunEthanol Secures Funding to Commercialize Consolidated Bio-processing Technology for Cellulosic Ethanol

SunEthanol Inc. has secured Series A funding, including an investment from corn ethanol producer VeraSun Energy, to support commercialization of its consolidated bio-processing (CBP) technology based on the “Q Microbe” (Clostridium phytofermentans). Consolidated bio-processing condenses the multiple steps of biofuel production into a single process, potentially resulting in a lower cost of production.

C. phytofermentans is an anaerobic, cellulose-fermenting microbe that rapidly degrades and ferments cellulose, pectin, starch, and xylan to produce H2 and “exceptionally large amounts of ethanol,” according to Dr. Susan Leschine at the University of Massachusetts, who reported the discovery of the microbe in 2002.

SunEthanol has licensed the technology from the university, and Dr. Leschine serves as a senior advisor to SunEthanol.

The recent sequencing of the C. phytofermentans genome foundseveral putative cellulases, proteinaceous nanocompartments, a cornucopia of sugar transport systems, and other enzymes.”

C. phytofermentans is of particular interest for the production of high concentrations of ethanol during cellulose fermentation. Two to four times more ethanol than acetate are formed, suggesting that C. phytofermentans possesses unusual fermentation pathways. Hydrogen production approaches maximum amounts expected based on the amounts of non-gaseous products formed. Moreover, C. phytofermentans is amenable to genetic manipulation. Genomic analyses and associated research strategies will advance understanding of complex processes involved in the degradation of abundant plant biopolymers, and allow researchers to develop practical applications for C. phytofermentans , including the bioconversion of cellulose-containing municipal wastes and agricultural products to fuels such as ethanol and hydrogen.

—JGI organism description

SunEthanol believes that the Q Microbe’s (Dr. Leschine isolated C. phytofermentans from a microbial community in forest soil near the Quabbin Reservoir in Massachusetts) CBP process can be used with a wide variety of plentiful biomass feedstocks including switchgrass, corn stover, wheat straw, sugar cane bagasse, and wood pulp. It can potentially be used in all parts of the world where biomass is plentiful.

In addition to VeraSun, other participants in the Series A round are Battery Ventures, Long River Ventures and AST Capital.



John Schreiber

I wonder if C. phytofermentans can coexist with Clostridium butyricum to add some butanol to the yield? C. phytofermentans does not ferment sucrose, does anyone know if C. butyricum can ferment sucrose, and if so perhaps C. butyricum could be used in a second stage?

ABE fermenters like C. butyricum are efficient fermenters of cellulose but their production of mix products is a disadvantage due to the increase energy of separating those products from each other and due to their greater dilution in water. ABE like fermenting bacteria like C. phytofermentans that only produces one product in high relative concentration (ethanol) is a advantage.

P Schager

If low ethanol concentration in the microbes' bath is a problem, it should be solved by a combination of low pressure distillation and solar energy heat for the first distillation stage. (The only distillation stage, once further upgrading of the concentration is done using more-efficient membrane separators.)

As long as the enzyme people are charging too much, I'd say alternatives like this are critical guarantors of a timely biofuel 2.0 future.

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