TRAVERSE CITY, MI – While media and industry attention seems to be shifting toward the electrification of vehicles, cellulosic ethanol producer Mascoma Corp. is charging ahead toward the alternative fuel’s eventual commercialization.
CEO Bruce Jamerson says Mascoma, which is based in New Hampshire and employs 100 people, including 75 engineers, has had no trouble getting funding in the era of plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles and pure electric vehicles.
“What I’m finding is the investment interest is getting to be more strategically focused,” he tells Ward’s. “In other words: corporate investors. I think going forward with our company you’re going to see more focus on strategic investors vs. venture capital investors.”
Mascoma has raised $100 million in capital from the private equity world but now is working on partnerships with many groups, including oil and electric companies.
Jamerson says Mascoma soon will announce a partnership with an oil company that will take a by-product it generates using wood pulp to create cellulosic ethanol and make an “unusual product.”
The material, lignin, is a wood fiber that makes plants rigid and is similar to coal “before it’s been in the ground for a million years,” Jamerson says during his speech here at the 2009 Management Briefing Seminars.
Mascoma also uses lignin in experiments at its Rome, NY, plant, opened last year.
The fuel company is readying a similar plant to open in Kinross, MI.
That plant is a joint venture between Mascoma and forest-management firm J.M. Longyear. The plant, Frontier Renewable Resource, also is being opened in partnership with the state of Michigan and the U.S. Department of Energy.
The plant’s location in the eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan makes perfect sense, Jamerson says, because of that area’s very plentiful but currently underutilized forests due to a slump in the paper and pulp industry.
He says there’s four-five times more pulp wood available in the eastern UP than Mascoma needs.
Also, underutilized farm land in the UP could be used to grow other feedstock for cellulosic ethanol, such as switchgrass.
The Kinross plant has an 80 million-gallon (303 million L) capacity but the initial phase is limited to 20 million gallons (76 million L) of ethanol, Jamerson says. Ground reportedly will be broken for the plant later this year or early next.