Agrivida, Developer of Cheap Biofuel Tech, Seeks Deals to Broaden Commercial Horizons
Agrivida scientists plan to be at an event this week supported by the U.S. Department of Energy in the Washington, DC, area, where the startup will show industry leaders its way of providing cheap sugar for making cellulosic biofuels and chemicals.
The Medford, MA-based firm has been on somewhat of a roll as of late. In December, the company announced a collaboration with the Swiss agribusiness giant Syngenta. Agrivida also gained attention in July when it showed that its engineered crops could greatly boost the efficiency of the process of extracting sugars from the crops for biofuel production.
Michael Raab, the firm’s president and an inventor of its technology, says that a big focus for his firm nowadays is to find partners among cellulosic biofuels processors that can help his small company commercialize its technology. Raab’s firm is offering the producers a potential way to significantly reduce the costs of an expensive step in making cellulosic ethanol—the sugar production process. This is the step where the cellulosic biomass gets exposed to pricey chemicals and enzymes and high temperatures to extract sugars from the feedstock that can be fermented into ethanol or other fuels and chemicals.
Commercial cellulosic ethanol doesn’t really exist yet, but companies such as Mascoma of Lebanon, NH, and Qteros in Marlborough, MA, have recently revealed deals to help them advance their processes for making such fuel in larger batches.
While part of the promise of cellulosic processing is the ability to make a variety of products from sources such as grass and plant waste, it’s tough to get the sugar out of these sources compared with traditional feedstocks like corn kernels and sugarcane. Raab says that the enzymes used in the process for plant feedstocks such as grass or corn stalks can add 50 cents per gallon to the cost of ethanol. That is where Agrivida’s technology comes in.
The company develops crops with cell walls that contain inactive versions of the enzymes that are normally added during the process. The company has engineered the enzymes so that they are only activated at certain temperatures and acidity levels during processing. Without this switch capability, Raab explains, the enzymes would cause the crops to wilt before they are harvested.
“We think it’s really going to be … Next Page »