Cellulosic ethanol collaborations abound

By Kris Bevill
In January, the cellulosic ethanol industry was surprised to learn that the world's largest automaker General Motors Corp. had invested in Coskata Inc. and planned to test the company's cellulosic ethanol on GM vehicles by early 2009. GM followed that announcement with a similar investment in Mascoma Corp. in early May. The move quickly became one in a series of important investments and announcements for the blooming industry.

GM's undisclosed monetary investment will help Mascoma develop cellulosic ethanol using its patented single-step consolidated bioprocessing method. Following GM's investment, Mascoma also received a $10 million boost from one of the largest U.S. oil refiners, Marathon Oil Co. The investment will provide funding toward Mascoma's research and development, and cover construction expenses for its operating facilities. Mascoma spokeswoman Kate Casolaro said the company is currently building a demonstration facility in Rome, N.Y., where it plans to begin producing cellulosic ethanol by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Coskata announced in late April that it had selected a location for its 40,000-gallon-per-year commercial demonstration plant near Pittsburgh. The modular plant is currently being built by Zeton Inc. in Burlington, Ontario, but will be installed in Madison, Pa., approximately 30 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

Two major European companies, Süd-Chemie AG and Linde Group, have teamed to develop and market plans for the production of second-generation biofuels. The partnership, which the companies said is the first of its kind in the continent, will involve using a biotechnological process to produce cellulosic ethanol from plant matter, such as wheat straw, corn stover, grasses and wood. Süd-Chemie will contribute its knowledge in the biocatalysis and bioprocess engineering sectors, while Linde's subsidiary Linde-KCA-Dresden will provide the engineering expertise. The partnership is currently constructing its first pilot plant in Munich, Germany.

As for feedstocks, Monsanto Co., an industry leader in testing, breeding and developing crops for cellulosic biofuels production, has partnered with Mendel Biotechnology to advance the company's bioenergy seeds and feedstocks business. While the two companies have worked together since 1997, this latest agreement allows Monsanto to apply its knowledge of crop testing, breeding and seed production to perennial grass seed varieties being developed by Mendel.