Mascoma on the move with partnerships

By Timothy Charles Holmseth
Boston-based cellulosic technology company Mascoma Corp. entered into key strategic relationships in July to advance its efforts in building a commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in Michigan.

In early July, Mascoma announced a strategic collaboration with Associate British Foods PLC. The two companies will develop advanced conversion methods to produce cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass, hardwood and sugarcane bagasse. Mascoma will focus on engineering, fermentation and process development, while ABF's Finland-based affiliate Roal Oy will center on enzyme development.

According to Mascoma spokeswoman Angela Bonarrigo, the company is eyeing Chippewa County, Michigan, as a possible site for a 40 MMgy cellulosic ethanol facility, which is expected to be operational by 2012. Feasibility studies are being conducted for one particular site, and if deemed usable, it will be acquired through a land swap under negotiations with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. "It is exciting that the birthplace of the American automobile industry is becoming a leader in next-generation biofuels," said Mascoma Chief Executive Officer Bruce Jamerson.

Legislation recently passed in Michigan will offer special incentives to Mascoma to pursue the endeavor. The Centers of Energy Excellence program needs only to be signed into law by the governor before Mascoma will become eligible for a $15 million grant. Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm expressed support of developing a facility with Mascoma in June. "Mascoma's next-generation biomass-to-ethanol technologies are integral to wide-scale ethanol production, and this plant will put Michigan on the leading edge of technology that will create well-paying jobs for Michigan citizens," she said.

In late July, Mascoma announced it would no longer be pursuing a joint venture with the University of Tennessee Biofuels Initiative to build a pilot-scale cellulosic ethanol facility in Vonore, Tenn. "After years of discussions, we could not reach agreement on the details of the business arrangements, and we realized our business interests are no longer aligned," said Kelly Tiller, director of external relations for the biofuels initiative. The initiative subsequently partnered with DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol LLC to continue plans for the Vonore plant.