Biofuel, Company initiatives, News Roundup

Qteros back from the ashes

Remember cellulosic ethanol developer Qteros (formerly Sun Ethanol), which shuttered its operations last year in April, and auctioned off its pilot biofuels manufacturing facility in Chicopee, Massachusetts?

The company’s technology called Q Microbe developed by the University of Massachusetts Amherst was touted as a very efficient ethanol-producing organism using biomass feedstock.

Unfortunately, Qteros was one of the several other advanced biofuel and traditional biofuel players that were hit by adverse biofuel market conditions last year.

Late last month, three of Sun Ethanol’s original founders announced the revival of Qteros as the new CEO Stephan Rogers, who formerly served as Sun Ethanol’s chief operating officer and assisted in raising $35m for that earlier startup, have acquired Qteros’ intellectual property assets, microbial strains developed over the past five years, and research data related to the assets.

The new Qteros plans to pursue a less capital-intensive business model through partnership with companies that have deep experience in microbial research to jump-start the business, and further on, to license its technology to customers instead of building its own plants.

Serving as chief technology officer is Judy Giordan who formerly served Henkel Chemical US, International Flavors & Fragrances, and Pepsico in the same capacity. The new Qteros also brought in John Steedman, formerly of BP alternative energy ventures as a business advisor.

The new owners also hope to partner again with UMass Amherst. Qteros said it has finalized its licensing deal with the university for all products produced by the Q Microbe including chemicals in November.

As Qteros plans to work with partners on research, Rogers said there is no immediate need for laboratory or office facilities, but the company expects to start up a small lab by mid-2013.

BIOFUEL CASUALTIES OF 2012

There had been several bankruptcy filing, company closures and plant idling last year in connection with biofuels.

  • In September, Houston, US-based bioenergy company Terrabon filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection. The company said it was not able to obtain additional corporate funding last year to finish developing and engineering its first commercial-scale plant.
  • In October, Metro Fuel Oil Corp. announced the sale of its 110m gal/year multi-feedstock biodiesel production facility in Brooklyn, NY, which was still under development and was about 90% complete. Metro Fuel Oil also filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy
  • Indiana, US-based New Energy Corp. filed for bankruptcy protection in November after it received a letter from the US Department of Energy asserting a termination event concerning a $33m DOE loan. The company was unable to find a buyer for its 100m gal/year ethanol plant. The company’s debts are between $50m to $100m.
  • Canada-based BIOX Corporation cancelled its plans to construct a 100m liter/year biodiesel production facility in New York Harbor. BIOX has also idled its 67m liters/year biodiesel facility in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, citing adverse market condition for biofuels.
  • BP cancelled its plans to build a commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol facility in Highlands County, Florida, which was expected to produce 36m gal/year of cellulosic ethanol.
  • Coskata cancelled its plans to pursue cellulosic biofuel production using biomass feedstock after shelving its planned $100m IPO. Coskata initially planned to use the proceeds from the IPO to build a facility in Alabama to produce ethanol from wood waste. The company instead is now pursuing natural gas-based synfuels.

Companies that idled their biofuel plants last year include Bunge-Ergon Vicksburg LLC‘s 54m gal/year Mississippi ethanol plant; Valero Energy’s Nebraska and Indiana ethanol mills each with 120m gal/year capacity; Soy Energy LLC’s biodiesel facility in Mason City, Iowa; and Southwest Georgia Ethanol’s 100m gal/year ethanol facility in Mitchell County, Georgia.

About Doris de Guzman

Will Green Chemistry save the world or is it hype? Doris de Guzman examines alternative processing, new technology, R&D and other sustainability initiatives aimed at preventing pollution; replacing ingredients; and using renewable feedstocks in Green Chemistry. She has been covering the oleochemicals market for 15 years and spread her beat to inorganics, biofuels and green chemistry.

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