Bay Bacterium Discovery Could Turn Waste Products Into Ethanol

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (March 15, 2008) – Governor Martin O’Malley on Monday joined a crowd of University of Maryland scientists and students in College Park to announce the discovery of a bacterium that could lead to the production of 75 billion gallons a year of carbon-neutral ethanol.

Zymetis Inc, a tenant in the University’s Mtech incubator program, has discovered a bacterium found in the Chesapeake Bay that, when fully staged, could potentially lead to the production of 75 billion gallons a year of carbon-neutral ethanol. The bacterium, called Saccharophagus degradans, creates a mixture of enzymes—through a patent-pending system developed by College of Chemical and Life Sciences Professors Steve Hutcheson and Ron Weiner—that breaks down almost any source of biomass, or plant life, into sugars, which are then converted into ethanol and other biofuels.

At the press conference, Governor O’Malley presented Zymetis with a $50,000 Department of Business and Economic Development grant to the company.

“Marylanders are leading the nation in scientific discovery and technology innovation,” said Governor O’Malley. “We must continue to invest in Marylanders like Steve Hutcheson and in their revolutionary ideas to protect our environment, create jobs, and improve lives.”

Zymetis is the newest company to join the university’s Technology Advancement Program, one of 18 state-supported technology incubator programs statewide. A recent report from the Maryland Technology Development Corporation underscored the significant economic impact of Maryland’s thriving incubator network. Specifically, Maryland’s 18 incubators employ over 14,000 people, contribute over $800 million in salary and benefits to Maryland households, and return over $100 million in state and local taxes, according to the Governor's office.

“Zymetis’ new technology is a win for the State of Maryland, for the University and for the environment,” said University of Maryland President C.D. Mote, Jr. “It makes affordable ethanol production a reality and makes it from waste materials. This benefits everyone, and supports the green-friendly goal of carbon-neutrality. It also highlights the importance of transformational basic research and of technology incubators at the University. Partnership with the State enables University of Maryland faculty and students to commercialize new discoveries quickly.”

“We believe we have the most economical way to produce biofuels from cellulosic material,” said Steve Hutcheson, CEO of Zymetis Inc. The University of Maryland’s incubator program and State grants were not only helpful, they were an essential part of our success.”

About Zymetis

Zymetis was founded in 2006 by Steve Hutcheson, a professor in the college of chemical and life sciences at the University of Maryland, whose research, along with colleague Dr. Ron Weiner, resulted in Zymetis’ core technology. Dr. Hutcheson took leave from the university to launch Zymetis, which later entered the university’s MTECH Venture Accelerator Program. The program provides hands-on business assistance to faculty and students interested in forming companies around university-created technologies. The program helped Zymetis validate the market for the discovery, found office and lab space for the company and helped license and trademark the technology. Zymetis licensed the technology from the university through UM’s Office of Technology Commercialization. Zymetis’ technology is covered by one issued and six pending patents. The University of Maryland is an equity partner in the company.

About their discovery

Zymetis Inc. has developed a cellulosic ethanol production process that can break down any plant-based material into ethanol. The company’s process is less expensive than alternative methods of ethanol production, including other cellulosic ethanol production processes. Zymetis’ enzymes have the potential to decrease the cost of cellulosic ethanol production by as much as 33%, making it competitive with gasoline. If federal projections of at least 20 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol are realized, the market for enzymes will exceed $5 billion by 2022. In the meantime, Zymetis has developed enzyme technologies that can be sold to existing corn-based ethanol plant operators today to improve both their profitability and yield by more efficiently using the feedstock.

Zymetis is also working with a waste paper processing facility to turn scrap fiber into ethanol. This work could result in a full-scale production facility by the end of the year—a drastic difference from the projected five-year development time for other enzyme-based cellulosic ethanol facilities.

About the MTECH Technology Advancement Program (TAP)

The Technology Advancement Program expedites the maturation of young firms by providing extensive hands-on business support from experienced and entrepreneurial staff, access to funding sources, technical expertise and turn-key infrastructure. With successful graduate companies such as Digene Corporation and Martek Biosciences, TAP has helped its current client companies raise $20 million in funding since 2004 alone.

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