Despite layoffs, Mascoma continues project plans

By Anna Austin | November 03, 2008
Web exclusive posted Nov. 19, 2008 at 2:47 p.m. CST

Massachusetts-based Mascoma Corp. announced it has laid off five to 10 employees, including its President Colin South and two vice presidents.

Ethanol Producer Magazine confirmed the layoffs Nov. 17 with Mascoma spokeswoman Kate Casolaro. The company employs approximately 120 people. Casolaro said the layoffs make up less than 10 percent of the company's workforce.

South, who helped found the company in 2005, has more than ten years of bioprocess design, construction and operation experience in the biotech industry.

According to Mascoma's Web site, South is the former chief executive officer of ViaLactia Biosciences and was Fonterra Cooperative Group's general manager of health and nutrition in Auckland, New Zealand.

In addition to South, two vice presidents were also among the employees laid off. At press time Mascoma was not releasing their names. "The current economic downturn and associated challenges in the capital markets definitely factor into this decision," Casolaro said.

In early October, Mascoma received $26 million in funding from the U.S. DOE to build a 40 MMgy commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol facility. In its December issue, EPM reported Mascoma had selected Kinross township, Mich., for the plant's official site, and would begin construction in 2010. (Read "Mascoma furthers cellulosic ethanol plans.")

Despite the layoffs, Casolaro said the company remains on target to open its first commercial plant in Michigan between 2011 and 2012. "The volatility of oil prices is a strong reason to stay on task, developing an alternative fuel that will help reduce the nation's dependence on oil," she said.

Uses proprietary microorganisms and enzymes developed at the company's laboratories in Lebanon, N.H., Mascoma is collaborating with research partners to identify, patent and deploy a new generation of microbes and low-cost processes for producing advanced cellulosic ethanol technologies using non-food feedstocks. The company is currently operating its first demonstration-scale facility in Rome, N.Y.