TMO Closes £11M Funding Round for Cellulosic Ethanol Technology; Targeting US Entry With Novel Thermophilic Bacterium
UK-based TMO Renewables Ltd, the developer of a novel thermophilic bacterium and process for converting biomass into fuel ethanol (earlier post), completed an £11 million (US$18 million) financing round from a range of institutional shareholders and private investors. The funds will be used as working capital, primarily to support TMO’s entry into the US market.
The US is the key geographic area of focus for TMO; its board sees many opportunities in this marketplace for the bacterial ethanologen, whether it is retro-fitted to improve existing corn ethanol plant yields by 10% to 15%, or applied to new-build, ‘non-food’ cellulosic biofuel facilities.
TMO’s process is based on a novel thermophilic organism. (TMO = thermophilic micro organism) By exploiting the high temperature that the organism favors, fermentation can be performed at temperatures in excess of 60 °C. Since very little cooling or heating is required, there is a significant saving in energy. The thermophile grows and produces ethanol very rapidly, and is able to maintain itself at this higher temperature and the resulting intermediate product (the beer) passes on to the purification steps without the need for any additional input of energy.
The organism also has a preference for consuming the longer chain sugars that derive from the breakup of biomass. The combination of this appetite for complex sugars, the speed at which the organism works and the temperature of the process, sponsors a more cost effective process, according to TMO. The speed of the fermentation is rapid so vessels reduce in size, driving down capital costs.
TMO selected a wild type organism isolated from a composite heap—a geobacillus bacterium—that grows on a very wide range of carbohydrate substrates and produces, in its wild form, a substantial amount of lactic acid as a byproduct.
TMO altered the internal metabolism of the cell to eliminate the production of lactic acid. This gave the organism the opportunity to produce increased amounts of other organic acids, such as acetic acid, but more particularly conferred the ability to produce ethanol.
Re-application of the engineering toolkit to this intermediate organism resulted first in a further intermediate with a very substantially increased metabolic rate and then with Strain TM242—the process organism—with no propensity to make unwanted side products and capable of growing very quickly on a wide range of substrates, with the desirable by-product being ethanol.
Existing shareholders such as Jupiter Asset Management, Noble Group, RAB Capital and many of TMO’s retail investors, as well as new investors Presnow Limited, Diverso Management, and Libra Advisors, participated in the round.
Presnow invested a total of £4 million in TMO and offers knowledge of the ethanol and agrarian sectors in both the USA and Brazil. Diverso, a cleantech private equity fund, contributed £2 million as part of this round. Diverso specializes in renewable and cleantech opportunities in China, and therefore brings to TMO an active channel into the rapidly growing Chinese renewables market.