Startup: SunEthanol CEO Jef Sharp Talks Funding

Everyone’s trying to crack the code of cellulosic ethanol, that is, figuring out an affordable and efficient way to turn plant waste and other non-food crops into fuel. One of these companies, Amherst Mass.-based SunEthanol, just raised its first round of funding from corn-based ethanol producer VeraSun Energy (VSE), Battery Ventures, Long River Ventures, and AST Capital.

SunEthanol CEO Jef Sharp tells us that the funds will be used to figure out how to commercialize the “Q Microbe,” a natural microbe that can convert cellulose directly into ethanol without using costly enzymes. Sharp wouldn’t disclose the size of the round.

Scientists at the University of Massachusetts found the microbe in a reservoir years ago, isolated it in the lab, and have since discovered that it can be used to produce biofuels. Attempts to commercialize cellulosic ethanol have been under way for years, but a recent influx of funding for the biofuel-generating process, from both the government and private sector, signifies the interest in getting the technology to market is finally getting some traction.

Still, it remains to be seen if SunEthanol’s Q Microbe can convert enough biomass into ethanol at speeds that would make it cost competitive with traditional ethanol and other alternative fuels. “There’s a strong possibility that this could happen,” said Sharp. “We need to get to the point where you can be writing a story about our ethanol plant going under construction.”


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