Qteros Switches CEOs to Accelerate Progress, New Chief Says

1/13/10

Qteros, the Marlborough, MA-based developer of cellulosic ethanol technology, has brought on industry veteran John McCarthy as CEO and bid adieu to former chief executive Bill Frey. The company announced McCarthy’s appointment this morning.

McCarthy, who joined the startup last week, was the executive vice president at Cambridge, MA-based cellulosic ethanol developer Verenium (NASDAQ:VRNM). He said he led Verenium’s landmark 2008 deal (worth $90 million) with energy giant BP to collaborate on the development of ethanol made from non-food sources, or cellulosic ethanol. This is the type of deal McCarthy is now working on bringing to Qteros, he said.

Qteros—which is developing microbes to reduce the normally multi-phased process of producing ethanol into a single step—has raised around $30 million in venture capital from deep-pocketed investors such as Battery Ventures, BP Ventures, Valero Energy, and Venrock Associates, to name several. Yet under the leadership of former CEO Frey, who joined Qteros in mid-2008 after serving as an executive for chemical industry juggernaut DuPont (NYSE:DD), a major corporate partnership on par with the Verenium-BP deal has eluded the startup.

“The company is at a stage of development where the board and the investors felt that we really needed to accelerate to the next level of development and felt that I was the right person for the job,” said McCarthy, who was previously the chief business officer at Lexington, MA-based biotech chemical firm Microbia.

Qteros (formerly SunEthanol) is among a number of startups such as Lebanon, NH-based Mascoma that are developing microorganisms that can help turn feedstocks such as corn stalks, switch grass, woodchips, and other cellulose-based materials into ethanol. McCarthy said that the Qteros technology is capable of producing ethanol at a price similar to traditional corn-derived ethanol. And as the price of gasoline rises, he said, the firm’s process could eventually yield ethanol that is priced competitively with petroleum-based fuels.

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