A Successful Startup

Agrivida’s enzyme approach could forever change cellulosic ethanol
| June 17, 2011

Agrivida may be the frontrunner for a new enzymatic approach to breaking down cellulose, but its story is more of a reminder that, in the biorefining industry, not all good ideas go to waste. Formed by a couple of chemical engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology nearly six years ago, the company has developed an innovative approach to genetically modify plants such as corn to house the same enzymes that will eventually be used to break down the biomass during cellulosic ethanol production. While innovative ideas and approaches to push the advanced biofuels industry to real commercialization are plentiful in this space, in most instances those same ideas are eventually lost or forgotten. This is not the case with Agrivida.

The USDA’s Secretary Tom Vilsack can attest to that. Vilsack toured the Boston-based facility and listened to Mark Wong, CEO of Agrivida, who says the visit was “very exciting.” But even the high of Vilsack’s visit shouldn’t cloud the true potential of this young company, Wong says. “At some point we’ll have to form a partnership with one of the big corn seed companies who have most the market share.”

And, that idea—along with the theory that Agrivida could work with the major enzyme players to develop a process involving biomass grown with an inserted enzyme system followed by the inclusion of an enzyme cocktail like that of Novozymes—will also, according to Wong, not go to waste. “We are in discussions with those companies,” he says.  —Luke Geiver