A fledgling Maryland company that hopes to combine a humble Chesapeake Bay bacterium with worthless trash to create ethanol biofuel has received a $50,000 "challenge grant" from the state.
Gov. Martin O'Malley presented the check yesterday to Steven Hutcheson, chief executive officer of Zymetis Inc., after touring the University of Maryland scientist's College Park laboratory.
The cash is intended to help Zymetis expand its production process to a commercial scale. Hutcheson said he has raised $1.5 million from investors, including $100,000 of his money.
He hopes to produce the renewable biofuel at a rate of 3.5 million gallons annually by late this year. The Curtis Bay area is one site location under consideration for the demonstration plant. The other is in Virginia.
The federal government estimates the nation will produce 21 billion gallons of ethanol from cellulose by 2022. If that is realized, manufacturers' production lines would require $5 billion worth of enzymes like those that Zymetis makes - each year.
Zymetis believes that its enzyme mix, called Ethazyme, will be the cheapest and most efficient on the market. But the company has plenty of competitors.
Hutcheson, a microbiologist, is on leave from College Park. His company has been nurtured by support and advice from a state business "incubator" on the campus. The state is an equity partner in the startup company and licenses key patents to Zymetis.
"Our state government has been an important partner in this effort," O'Malley said after touring Zymetis' lab.
The state supports 18 business and technology incubators around the state, organized under the MTECH Technology Advancement Program.
The infant companies employ 5,000 people and paid $840 million in salaries in 2006, said David W. Edgerley, state secretary of business and economic development.
Ethanol is used primarily as a gasoline additive, reducing the consumption of gasoline, boosting octane ratings and cutting air pollution. Almost all of it is produced from corn.
To produce ethanol, Zymetis starts with a bacterium discovered along the Virginia shores of the Chesapeake Bay in 1986.
Called Saccharophagus degradans, it has proved to be a efficient factory for producing the enzymes needed to break down the cellulose in plant matter into sugars, Hutcheson said. The sugars are combined with yeast and fermented, like beer, to produce ethanol, a form of alcohol.
Zymetis's ethanol would be cheaper to manufacture, he said, with no impact on food prices, because it is derived from cellulose contained in waste paper, industrial and agricultural waste, such as cornstalks and email@example.com