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U.Md. Scientists Announce New Energy Technology

Bay bacterium discovery could turn waste products into Ethanol.

SOURCE: Office of Gov. Martin O'Malley

A bacterium found in the Chesapeake Bay could potentially lead to the production of 75 billion gallons a year of carbon-neutral ethanol.
On March 10, Governor Martin O’Malley 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.

“Marylanders are leading the nation in scientific discovery and technology innovation,” said Governor O’Malley in a prepared statement to the press. “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 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.

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.

University of Maryland President C.D. Mote, Jr. said that Zymetis "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.”

“We believe we have the most economical way to produce biofuels from cellulosic material,” said Hutcheson. 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.

Zymetis is also working with a waste paper processing facility to turn scrap fiber into ethanol.

In the last year, the State of Maryland has taken a number of actions to help protect the environment and restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay, including creating the Chesapeake Bay 2010 Trust Fund; establishing BayStat; creating the Climate Change Commission; signing the Clean Cars law; launcheing the EmPOWER Maryland Initiative (setting the most ambitious goal in the nation to decrease per capita energy consumption 15% by 2015); fully funding Program Open Space; restoring Maryland’s leadership in Smart Growth; joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative; and boosting renewable energy into law making solar energy more affordable.

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This story was published on March 13, 2008.