Companies Developing Modified Microorganisms for Ethanol Production (Part 3)

Since posting Part 1 and Part 2 of this blog entry, some other companies have come to my attention as working on improved microorganisms for ethanol production. This entry will add information about these companies and update the listing of companies published in the earlier entries. 

The following table lists the companies that that are developing engineered or modified microorganisms for the production of ethanol. 

  • Arbor Fuel, Inc.*
  • BioEnergy International
  • Deinove
  • DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol LLC
  • Glycos Biotechnologies
  • GreenTech America
  • Joule Biotechnologies*
  • Mascoma Corporation
  • Microbiogen Australia Pty Ltd. (non-GMO)
  • Promethegen Corporation
  • Qteros
  • TMO Renewables Ltd.
  • Verdezyne, Inc.*
  • Verenium Corporation

Several of these companies are also developing other fuels, and those marked with asterisks have been profiled in other sections of the blog. 

The following additional profiles have been adapted or excerpted from company websites and/or other publicly available information, and I don’t assume any liability for the accuracy, comprehensiveness or use of the information.

Arbor Fuel, Inc. is a technology company formed to utilize the power of biotechnology for the production of second generation alternative fuels. I had profiled Arbor in my blog entry on companies developing butanol-producing organisms, but the company is also developing modified microorganisms for commercial production of ethanol. I attended an interesting and entertaining seminar on February 25 presented by Arbor president and founder Steven Henck, hosted by the Yale & CURE Biohaven Entrepreneurship Series in New Haven, where I learned more about Arbor and its technologies. In addition to the activities relating to butanol that I described earlier, the company has developed laboratory yeast strains expressing heterologous genes allowing the digestion of cellulose to glucose, and the direct fermentation of 5-carbon sugars like xylose to ethanol, and has demonstrated efficacy of these strains at bench-scale. Dr. Henck said that the company is developing more robust industrial yeast strains carrying the same genes, which would be used in commercial ethanol production processes: cellulosic feedstocks would first be pretreated using conventional physical/chemical methods, and then the engineered yeast would be used to convert celluloses and hemicelluloses to ethanol. The company is currently seeking its B round of funding, which would be used in part to establish a pilot plant for ethanol production. 

BUTALCO GmbH, a Swiss company also profiled in my blog entry on companies developing butanol-producing organisms, is developing new production processes for both ethanol and butanol using lignocellulosic feedstocks. In late February 2010, Butalco announced that it will begin to use its proprietary new yeast technology to produce ethanol from agricultural waste in a pilot plant in southern Germany. The company says these microbial catalysts are capable of delivering up to 30% yield increases in cellulosic ethanol production. The company will use a pilot plant that was recently built by Hohenheim University of Stuttgart.   

Deinove is a French biotechnology company specialized in the development of breakthrough industrial microbial processes for the production of 1st- and 2nd-generation biofuels, chemical commodities and compounds of industrial interest using Deinococcus and other radio-resistant bacteria. Deinococcus species are unique in nature in that they can tolerate extremely high doses of radiation; high enough to kill most microorganisms. Deinove has shown that Deinococcus species “naturally” present most of the characteristics of an ideal microbe for producing ethanol cost-effectively, and the company is developing novel industrial processes that harness the natural and engineered biodiversity of Deinococcus and other so-called “super-resistant” genera. Deinove hopes that its proprietary processes could provide a powerful alternative (from industrial and environmental perspectives) to yeast, E. coli, Clostridia and many other micro-organisms used in industrial processes.  

According to its website, Deinove’s R&D strategy includes: identifying and patenting valuable properties of the Deinococcus genus; screening for candidate strains that overproduce ethanol, lactic, succinic, fumaric and butyric acid; enhancing the fermentation potential of these strains through genetic engineering and other evolution technologies (DNA shuffling, etc.); and validating fermentation performance at pilot scale. Deinove has isolated ethanol-producing thermophilic strains capable of utilizing  lignocellulosic biomass, together with Deinococcus strains that produce organic acids of industrial interest. All of these strains can be grown under favorable operating conditions (resistance to solvent, wide pH range, culture conditions). Deinove is exploring new synthetic pathways for molecules of industrial interest – pathways which could replace traditional, petrochemical-based processes or non-optimal biotechnological processes based on other micro-organisms.  Deinove is developing molecular biology tools for engineering the candidate strains and providing them with the requested properties.   

It is quite intriguing to see a company focused on using Deinococcus microorganisms for biofuel production. This species, because of its uncanny ability to withstand such high doses of radiation, has often been discussed as a possible host organism for remediation of mixed wastes comprising both hazardous and radioactive materials, but in spite of considerable research interest in these unusual bacteria, they have not been used in any meaningful commercial way to my knowledge. It will be interesting to follow Deinove’s progress with the use of this organism for ethanol production. 

Verdezyne, Inc., a company profiled earlier in my blog entry on biodiesel and other fuels, is developing genetic engineering techniques and processes for producing industrial chemicals and fuels from microorganisms. In addition to the activities profiled in the earlier entry, Verdezyne is developing modified microorganisms for ethanol production. 

D. Glass Associates, Inc. is a consulting company specializing in several fields of biotechnology. David Glass, Ph.D. is a veteran of nearly thirty years in the biotech industry, with expertise in patents, technology licensing, industrial biotechnology regulatory affairs, and market and technology assessments. This blog provides back-up and expanded content to complement a presentation Dr. Glass made at the EUEC 2010 conference on February 2, 2010 entitled “Prospects for the Use of Genetic Engineering in Biofuel Production.” The slides from that presentation are available at