GlycosBio technology nears commercialization

By Lisa Gibson
Posted March 9, 2010, at 10:25 a.m. CST

Texas-based Glycos Biotechnologies Inc. is producing lactic acid and advanced ethanol in a pilot commercial-size facility with the capacity to produce 150,000 liters of chemicals. It's a major benchmark in the company's quest to commercialize its microbial technology.

The biochemical company is metabolically engineering microbial strains to consume nonsugar-based, low-value feedstocks for the production of chemicals and advanced ethanol. Those feedstocks can include multiple waste streams, such as glycerin from the oleochemicals industry or free fatty acids, according to GlycosBio CEO Rich Cilento. So many biochemical companies focus on sugar-based feedstocks that they build fierce competition and can hurt each others' progress. "If a third of those companies are successful, it will really affect commodity prices for sugar," he said. "Sugar is obviously a very, very important global commodity." Not only does GylcosBio's strategy eliminate the risks of sugar-only feedstocks, but it also provides product flexibility and a larger addressable market opportunity for producers, according to the company. In addition, the technology platform is cost competitive with the petrochemical industry, while maintaining 45 percent to 55 percent gross margins from plant operations.

Initially, GlycosBio used the common lab microbe E. coli in its process, but expanded its expertise and has been operating its pilot plant in Hempstead, Texas, since November 2009. "We have a portfolio of microorganisms, both E. coli and non-E. coli," Cilento said. "Our strategy is to have a number of microorganisms that can create a portfolio of biochemicals." The front end of the company's process, which includes the microbe, feedstock and fermentation, is the same for any end product, although the microbe or feedstock will differ. But separation from the fermentation broth differs depending on the desired end products, Cilento said. The resulting specialty chemicals can be used as building blocks for a wide range of applications including biodegradable and non-degradable plastics, as well as for surfactants and fuels, according to the company.

GlycosBio's strategy is to develop joint ventures with companies that produce waste streams compatible with its technology platform. Instead of licensing its process, GlycosBio will leverage the partners' expertise and integrate its own technology for a shared plant. "We produce it as a partnership and sell it as a partnership," Cilento said of the biochemical products. The company has established one partnership and another is close to finalization, but Cilento declined to release details. "We've been making a lot of progress, but we've been stealth," he said. About four other partnerships are in early stages of discussion and Cilento hopes to have six to 10 ventures active (under construction or operating) in the next 12 to 18 months.

"People are confident in investing in our technology," he said. "People with waste feedstocks are calling us and we're at a point where we're ready to help them make a product from their waste streams."