SunEthanol is now 'Qteros', cellulosic startup raises $25 million to focus on next generation biofuels

November 21 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: 2016   Rating: 1

At Memebox’s The Energy, we have argued that the future of bioenergy is likely to be shaped by algae and bacteria rather than the short-term distraction of corn or plant derived fuels. While we do not expect corn ethanol to disappear overnight, major investments are now shifting towards companies involved in next generation biofuels that tap the conversion power of microbes not plants.

What happened?
The company formerly known as SunEthanol has raised money and changed its name to Qteros to emphasize its focus on cellulosic fuel production. The $25 million Series B financing round included investments from Venrock, Battery Ventures, BP and Soros Fund Management LLC

The company is now pushing forward on scaling up volume production of ethanol biofuels produced from its proprietary Q Microbe (Clostridium phytofermentans). This ‘super-bug’ is an anaerobic, cellulose-fermenting microbe that rapidly degrades a wide range of biomass material to produce H2 and ‘exceptionally large amounts of ethanol’. Commercial efforts around Q Microbe grew out of research from the microbe that was discovered in the woods by a professor from the University of Massachusetts

Qteros claims that its lollipop-shaped Q Microbe can breakdown a wide variety of biomass while using one less (expensive) step in the fermentation to fuel process.

Why is this important to the future of energy?
There is obviously a tremendous need to produce new forms of energy. Tapping biology to convert biomass waste to fuel is a powerful idea.

Europe has already set high targets for biofuel production and the US Congress has incrementally expanding mandates for 36 billion gallons a year of biofuels — 16 billion gallons of which must be advanced (non-food crop based) biofuels.

Qteros is trying to capture a piece of that 16 billion gallons, and it could make a lot of money along the way.

What to watch

Times are tough for corn-derived ethanol producers, as costs rise and fall around the uncertainty of commodity prices. In the past 18 months corn ethanol giant VeraSun went from campaign season poster child to bankruptcy court, and more money is likely to be lost by farmers and producers on the downside of the ‘hype’ cycle that drove the construction of ethanol plants around the country.

But the future looks much brighter for companies involved in next generation fuels related to cellulosic ethanol and algae derived fuels. Yes, there is likely to be a bubble and then a burst, but we are not looking at the same dynamics of over-investment that occurred in the corn biofuels world. Next generation biofuels offer a very different set of solutions and are not as tied to seasonal agricultural production and subsidy politics.

It is a long road ahead for next generation biofuels, but the promise has not changed. The challenge is going to be scaling up to high volume production while keeping costs down. If Qteros can figure this out using Q Microbe, it will make its latest investors very happy!

Qteros Press release

Image Wikimedia image of Clostridium

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Learn more
Joint Genome Institute

Professor Susan B. Leschine

Research paper _Clostridium phytofermentans sp. nov., a cellulolytic mesophile from forest soil_ by Thomas A. Warnick, Barbara A. Methe! and Susan B. Leschine from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst

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