Enzymes are fragile — they don’t like things such as chemicals or heat. And as enzymes are increasingly being put to work in the cleantech world, stabilizing enzymes that can be used in renewable energy applications is becoming a valuable technology. St. Louis, Miss.-based Akermin, which is working on developing this enzyme-stabilizing technology, said this week it received almost $5 million in a Series A funding.
Investors in Akermin’s round included Prolog Ventures, OnPoint Technologies, Chrysalix and St. Louis Arch Angels. The company’s now raised a total of $8.5 million towards commercializing its stabilized enzymes, which it says could lead to bio-batteries and better fuel cells.
Akermin is a St. Louis University spin-out company formed in 2004 by chemistry Professor Shelley Minteer and her grad student, Nick Akers. The company received more than $250,000 in grants and licensing waivers from the school, then landed $400,000 in seed money from BioGenerator, a non-profit investment organization that looks for “strong science.”
Akermin is the sole licensee of Minteer’s work. If you’ve forgotten your high school biochemistry, enzymes are the proteins that living organisms use to catalyze reactions within our bodies. But enzymes are sensitive to things like chemicals and heat, and using them to help catalyze a fuel cell has been difficult because they break apart too quickly to be of use. Akermin’s hope is that its “stabilized enzymes” will enable enzymes to take the place of catalytic metals in a wide variety of fields, namely fuel cells and food processing.
The company brought Louis Hruska on as president and CEO in May 2007. Akers and Minteer remain with the company as CTO and Chief Scientific Officer, respectively.
Akermin plans to use its new funding “on the prototype development and first commercial production of specialized biofuel cells including thin-film cells sometimes referred to as ‘bio-batteries.’” However, in the long-term, it appears they see themselves as a “platform” company that will license its technology.