Q Microbe achieves unprecedented ethanol outputs

By Lisa Gibson
Posted July 21, 2009, at 4:54 p.m. CST

Massachusetts-based Qteros achieved unprecedented lab results in the performance of its complete cellulosic conversion technology, the company announced Tuesday.

Its Q Microbe can achieve outputs of 70 grams of ethanol per liter of fermentation broth, or 9 percent ethanol by volume, in a single-step process on industrially pretreated cellulosic biomass feedstocks such as corn stover, sugarcane and woody biomass, according to the company. The threshold for commercial production of cellulosic ethanol is considered to be 50 grams per liter. Qteros says this breakthrough makes its process the most economic to date.

The microbe was discovered about 12 years ago in Massachusetts' Quabbin Reservoir by a University of Massachusetts research team led by Susan Leschine, a microbiologist at the university. It was collected in a sample for another survey and its potential was not realized until about eight years later. The microbe combines the fermentation and hydrolysis steps into one and uses its own enzymes.

In the last year alone, the Qteros scale-up team has increased ethanol concentrations by a factor of five in the solution that's produced when the Q Microbe hydrolyzes and liquefies biomass, according to President and CEO William Frey. Even though it has reached world-class outputs with a nongenetically engineered strain of the microbe, the company expects to make further improvements by taking advantage of ongoing efforts in molecular genetics and strain development, according to Qteros.

"We knew from the beginning that the Q Microbe was an extraordinary microorganism," Leschine said in her announcement Tuesday at the World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing in Montreal, Canada. "These results confirm what we predicted: Qteros and the Q Microbe can make cellulosic ethanol a commercial reality."