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Harvard and SunEthanol to Collaborate on Improving Cellulosic Ethanol Yield from Bacteria

Harvard University’s Office of Technology Development and SunEthanol, Inc., a biofuels technology company developing consolidated bio-processing (CBP) technology based on the “Q Microbe” (Clostridium phytofermentans) (earlier post), have entered into a new research collaboration agreement.

Under the collaboration, Harvard Medical School researchers will work to develop new genetic strains of the Q Microbe—which Dr. Susan Leschine at the University of Massachusetts reported in 2002—to produce ethanol from a variety of plentiful biomass feedstocks, including switchgrass, corn stover, wheat straw, sugar cane bagasse, and wood pulp.

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.”

The goal of the Harvard research will be to produce new genetically modified strains that might be capable of delivering higher yields of ethanol than the native source, a critical step in creating an economically viable alternative to the production of ethanol from corn. The research will take place in the laboratory of George Church, PhD, a professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Center for Computational Genetics.

The Church laboratory will apply its expertise in DNA synthesis and genome engineering to create modified strains that will then be tested by scientists at SunEthanol for improvements in biomass conversion and ethanol production. SunEthanol will have an option to license any of the strains created under the partnership.



More good news but why have they waited for so long. Had they started 6-7 years ago, the results may be here by 2005/06 and factories by 2007/08.

With a 2008/09 start, end results will not arrive for another 7-8 years. By that time many others will already be in full production.

tom deplume

Cellulose to ethanol is looking to be more difficult than expected. Gasification techniques which can use the entire plant are well understood with commercial plants already under construction. Is there some miracle microbe waiting to be created which could do the job much cheaper than gasification? Don't bet on it.


Harvey - we might as well ask why did it take so long to invent the wheel? Necessity is the mother of invention and until things appear necessary... It is good news.



I guess that we were convinced to love our 4-tonne polluting fossil fuel guzzlers, too much to want something else.

Many of us will never believe that a one-tonne BEVs will do the job just as well, if not better.

Necessity is very often created. Our Big three learnt to do that many years ago.

With enough PR and repeated ADDS you could sell 1 1/2 tonnes motorized baby cribs and 200-inch HDTV to many future couples.

Henry Gibson

If a car can burn pure ethanol, it can also burn pure methanol with slight modifications. Methanol can be made quickly from wood, dried corn stalks, coal, oil and natural gas, and methanol was used in many racing cars for safety until ethanol became more politically correct. Engines can now be built to work more efficiently on alcohols when they are used so that the lower energy content is less important. All future fuel fermentations should be butanol oriented, since it has higher energy per gallon and can be substituted directly for gasoline. Any hydrogen that is produced can be recycled to bacteria with CO2 to make more ethanol or butanol. Large coal to Liquid fuel factories must now be built near the US strip mines where the energy value of a barrel of oil can be had for a tenth the price. It will destroy the US economy if energy prices and liquid fuel prices are allowed to remain high or go higher for any reason including combatting global warming. Under no circumstances will any biofuel become cheaper to make and more available than coal derived fuels; there is not enough land even for cellulostic fuels as was demonstrated in Iceland and England and other places centuries ago and now being demonstrated in Africa...HG...

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