JUNE 2009

Mascoma declares biofuel breakthrough

Mascoma Corporation announced that the company has made major research advances in consolidated bioprocessing, or CBP, a low-cost processing strategy for production of biofuels from cellulosic biomass. CBP avoids the need for the costly production of cellulase enzymes by using engineered microorganisms that produce cellulases and ethanol at high yield in a single step.

“This is a true breakthrough that takes us much, much closer to billions of gallons of low cost cellulosic biofuels,” said Michigan State University’s Dr. Bruce Dale. “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.”

In a recent Forbes article, biofuels expert Helena Chum of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, commented on CBP, saying “This is the golden dream. All of the processes in one super-organism. That would be the lowest cost possible.” A prominent DOE/USDA research agenda states that “CBP is widely considered to be the ultimate low-cost configuration for cellulose hydrolysis and fermentation.”

Multiple research advances presented by Mascoma chief technology officer Dr. Mike Ladisch at the Symposium on Biotechnology for Fuels and Chemicals in San Francisco provide proof of concept for CBP. These include advances with both bacteria that grow at high temperatures, called thermophiles, and recombinant cellulolytic yeasts such as:

Thermophilic Bacteria

•Production of nearly 6 percent wt/vol ethanol by an engineered thermophilie, an increase of 60 percent over what was reported just a year ago;

•The first report of targeted metabolic engineering of a cellulose-fermenting thermophile, Clostridium thermocellum, leading to a reduced production of unwanted organic acid byproducts; and

•Selected strains of C. thermocellum that can rapidly consume cellulose with high conversion and no added cellulase, and grow on cellulose in the presence of commercial levels of ethanol.

Recombinant, Cellulolytic Yeast

•3,000-fold increase in cellulase expression;

•A significant 2.5-fold reduction in the added cellulase required for conversion of pretreated hardwood to ethanol; and

•Complete elimination of added cellulase for conversion of waste paper sludge to ethanol.

In February 2009, Mascoma’s pilot facility in Rome, New York began producing cellulosic ethanol. The demonstration facility has the flexibility to run on numerous biomass feedstocks including wood chips, tall grasses, corn stover (residual corn stalks) and sugar cane bagasse. The facility will provide process performance engineering data sufficient to support construction of 1/10th scale and commercial scale biorefineries in Kinross, Michigan, with support from the Department of Energy and State of Michigan.