University of Maryland research that started with bacteria from the
Chesapeake Bay has led to a process that may be able to convert large
volumes of all kinds of plant products, from leftover brewer’s mash to
paper trash, into ethanol and other biofuel alternatives to gasoline.
That process, developed by University of Maryland professors Steve
Hutcheson and Ron Weiner, is the foundation of their incubator company
Zymetis, which was on view today in College Park for Maryland Governor
Martin O’Malley and state and university officials.
"The new Zymetis 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, which 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.”
“Today, Marylanders are leading the nation in scientific discovery
and technology innovation,” said Governor Martin O’Malley. “We must
continue to invest in Marylanders like Steve Hutcheson and in their
revolutionary ideas to protect our environment, create jobs, and
75 Billion Gallons a Year
The Zymetis process can make ethanol and other biofuels from many
different types of plants and plant waste called cellulosic sources.
Cellulosic biofuels can be made from non- grain plant sources such as
waste paper, brewing byproducts, leftover agriculture products,
including straw, corncobs and husks, and energy crops such as
When fully operational, the Zymetis process could potentially lead
to the production of 75 billion gallons a year of carbon-neutral
The secret to the Zymetis process is a Chesapeake Bay marsh grass
bacterium, S. degradans. Hutcheson found that the bacterium has an
enzyme that could quickly break down plant materials into sugar, which
can then be converted to biofuel.
The Zymetis researchers were unable to isolate the Bay bacterium
again in nature, but they discovered how to produce the enzyme in their
own laboratories. The result was Ethazyme, which degrades the tough
cell walls of cellulosic materials and breaks down the entire plant
material into bio-fuel ready sugars in one step, at a significantly
lower cost and with fewer caustic chemicals than current methods.
Hutcheson projects a $5 billion enzyme market for biofuels. The
energy bill passed by the U.S. Senate in December mandates oil
companies to blend in 21 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol with
their gasoline by 2022.
Inventors of the Year
Hutcheson and Weiner won the university’s Office of Technology
Commercialization Inventor of the Year Award in 2007 in the Life
Science category for their enzyme system invention.
Founded in 2006, Zymetis entered the university’s MTECH
VentureAccelerator Program, which provides hands-on business assistance
to faculty and students interested in forming companies around
university-created technologies. “MTECH VentureAccelerator helped us
validate our market,” says Hutcheson. “They found space for our
company. They helped us with licensing our technology, forming
financial and business plans, and establishing trademarks.”
Zymetis also sought expertise from MTECH’s Bioprocess Scale-Up
Facility (BSF) staff to determine how to mass-produce S. degradans. The
BSF is part of the MTECH Biotechnology Research and Education Program,
an initiative dedicated to research, education and the development of
biotechnology products and processes for Maryland companies.
Source : University of Maryland. March 2008.