Mascoma furthers cellulosic ethanol plans

By Anna Austin | November 03, 2008
Boston-based Mascoma Corp. continues its mission to produce cellulosic ethanol on a commercial scale with recent advancements in the lab and the finalization of a site for its first commercial-scale plant in Michigan.

Researchers at Mascoma and Dartmouth College's Thayer School of Engineering in Hanover, N.H., have genetically engineered a thermophilic bacterium that can be used in a fermentation process to secrete ethanol as its only detectable organic product. The scientists found that the microorganism, which can grow at very high temperatures, may have the potential to significantly lower the cost of cellulosic ethanol production because it doesn't need enzymes or yeast to produce ethanol. The Dartmouth/Mascoma study was published online in early September in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

In early October, Mascoma received $26 million in funding from the U.S. DOE for the construction of its commercial-scale facility. These funds are in addition to $23.5 million from the state of Michigan. The company first announced its intent to build the plant in July 2007.

The company recently announced that after an extensive review process of various sites, Kinross township, Mich., was chosen because of support provided by the state of Michigan, and the extensive availability of wood and agricultural waste as feedstocks in the Upper Peninsula.

Mascoma has partnered with Marquette, Mich.-based timber, mining and project management company JM Longyear to form a new company called Frontier Renewable Resources, which will own the plant. Additionally, Mascoma will collaborate with Michigan State University and Michigan Technological University to adjust the company's technology to available feedstock supply chain options. Mascoma has also partnered with Associate British Foods PLC to develop advanced conversion methods. General Motors Corp. and Marathon Oil Corp., investors in Mascoma, are also providing project support.

The 40 MMgy plant will use mixed hardwood chips and other nonfood biomass materials as feedstocks. A Mascoma spokeswoman said the company has targeted a construction start date of 2010, with a construction timeline of 18 to 24 months.