MBI, SunEthanol to scale-up fermentation method

By Anna Austin
Web exclusive posted August 29, 2008 at 12:32 p.m. CST

In response to the increasing market demand for cellulosic biofuels, SunEthanol Inc. has formed a partnership with MBI International to scale-up a fermentation method that will utilize SunEthanol's Q-Microbe which effectively digests and ferments cellulosic feedstocks to ethanol in a single-step process.

Dr. Sarad Parekh, vice president of research and development at SunEthanol, said the company was impressed by MBI's multidisciplinary expertise, rigorous and disciplined scale-up approach, and specialized on-site pilot-plant facilities. MBI has 25 years of experience in fermentation technologies and process scale-ups, and has frequently partnered with universities and end-user companies to pull early innovations toward commercialization.

Bobby Bringi, president and chief executive officer of MBI, said his company minimizes risk by demonstrating commercial viability at meaningful pilot-scale. He expects MBI to bring several assets to the table in this partnership. "One of them is expertise relating to fermentation and scale-up processes," he said. "We've been doing it for a long time. Secondly, we also have the bench and pilot-scale fermentation infrastructure in our facility." Bringi added that a third element MBI possesses is a unique expertise in biomass processing and pretreatment.

Currently, MBI is actively working to scale-up AFEX, an ammonia fiber expansion biomass pretreatment technology developed at Michigan State University. "That is something that we can combine with our traditional fermentation process," Bringi said. "So we believe it's kind of a unique combination. And since the whole idea is to use biomass-based feedstocks as the substrate for the fermentation process, this is what MBI will bring to the table-the expertise and infrastructure to collaborate with companies to de-risk new technologies."

Bringi said MBI has a great deal of experience that will be brought into the partnership. "One example of a successful process that we've helped to scale-up and de-risk is the polylactic acid (PLA) process that we developed with Cargill Inc.," Bringi said. "This was some years ago, but it is an example of an important part of our track-record." The PLA biodegradable plastics technology is now broadly in use around the world in both fibers used in clothing and carpets, as well as in plastic for food containers, garbage bags and car parts.

"MBI's mission is to accelerate bio-based technologies from early stage to practical application," Bringi concluded.