Innovative research designed to lower the cost of lignocellulosic biodiesel
Madison, Wisconsin – July 1, 2015
The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded Xylome Corporation $150,000 for a Phase I Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) grant to develop a Novel process for lipid production from industrial byproducts. The grant, which starts on July 1, 2015, will focus on metabolic engineering a yeast to produce fatty acids for biodiesel production.
The successful completion of this project will facilitate conversion of existing biofuel and biomass byproduct streams into useful commercial fatty acids while reducing processing costs. In the longer term, the technology could enhance production of higher value second-generation biofuels. Xylome’s proposed technology could produce approximately 1.2 million gallons of biodiesel/yr. worth about $4 million from the byproducts of a single 70 million gallon ethanol plant. Beyond sugars from byproduct streams of existing ethanol plants, Xylome’s technology platform could facilitate fatty acid production from cellulosic and hemicellulosic sugars serving as a feedstock for cellulosic biofuel production.
The first objective of this Phase I research project is to enable lipid production during growth. The second will be to relieve biological constraints. The project will alter regulation of genes that limit production and introduce pathways that expand capacity. Yeasts, and fungi synthesize lipid when given excess carbon and limiting nitrogen, but low levels of lipid synthesis occurs during cell growth. Normally lipid only accumulates in cellular vacuoles after cell division has stopped. This requires extended cultivation times, and the amount of lipid that can be formed is constrained by the cell volume. The proposed approach will overexpress the enzymes for lipid synthesis so that the engineered cells will produce oil during growth while maintaining high levels of metabolic activity. New pathways will be introduced along with processes that will enable continuous lipid recovery. These modifications should enable a) lipid production in continuous high-density culture, thereby overcoming inherent low rates of lipid synthesis, and b) continuous separation of lipid, thereby alleviating the need for cell harvest, rupture and extraction. Xylome plans to increase its staffing to take on the new NSF-sponsored project.
Move adds space, equipment, meeting rooms and support
Madison, Wisconsin – April 1, 2015
Xylome Corporation expanded its research space and acquired new equipment and facilities for microbiological and molecular biology research in its move to the University of Wisconsin Research Park. The addition of chemical and P-2 biocontainment hoods along with HPLC, additional incubator and shaker space, the MGE Innovation Center in UW Research Park provides substantial support with meeting rooms, high speed internet and the opportunity to interact with many other biotechnology companies.
Technology package covers unconventional yeasts for the production of biofuel, renewable chemicals
Madison, Wisconsin – September, 2014
MADISON, Wis. – Xylome Corporation has reached a deal with the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) that gives Xylome the right to develop and market unconventional yeasts for the production of biofuels and renewable chemicals from cellulosic and hemicellulosic feedstocks.
The licensing agreement covers several technologies, including: the genetic transformation of widely studied native xylose- and cellobiose-fermenting yeasts; highly effective sugar transporters; and mutations in key genes that enhance xylose metabolism. Also covered are metabolically engineered yeasts for the synthesis of ethanol and other products, and cultivation conditions that enable co-fermentation of glucose along with xylose and cellulosic sugars.
The vast majority of yeast metabolic engineering efforts are aimed at conventional brewing and bread-making yeasts, however, conventional yeasts do not use all the cellulosic and hemicellulosic sugars found in biomass, so they must be genetically modified. To get around this problem, Xylome has developed naturally occurring, non-GMO yeasts that natively ferment the sugars from cellulosic feedstocks.
At the same time, Xylome’s technology enables genetic modification of these non-conventional yeasts to synthesize novel products. By targeting non-conventional yeasts that use a wider range of low-cost feedstocks Xylome can start from yeast platforms that have higher native capacities for product formation. Therefore, Xylome’s non-GMO yeasts can be used to convert cellulosic sugars into biofuels and can be genetically modified for synthetic biology applications as well.
“These technologies, along with Xylome’s accumulated know-how and proprietary platform strains, constitute a solid foundation for commercial development of unconventional yeast technologies,” says Thomas Jeffries, president of Xylome Corp.
“The genetic and processing technologies covered under these agreements have already proven their worth in laboratory and pilot trials,” says Jeffries. “Xylome expects to conduct commercial trials, production and ongoing development for target markets in the U.S. and abroad. The strong native fermentation capacities of our non-GMO platform strains along with effective, flexible genetic tools create a very powerful combination.”
Xylome is currently working with several companies to evaluate low-cost feedstocks from cellulosic and other sources. Technology covered under the current agreement was developed in conjunction with the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC).
Xylome Corporation is a privately held biotechnology company based in Madison, Wisconsin, that specializes in the development and deployment of non-conventional yeasts for the fermentation of cellulosic, hemicellulosic and other low-cost mixed sugar sources to renewable fuels and chemicals. Xylome’s leadership has many decades of experience in yeast physiology, biochemistry, molecular biology, metabolic engineering, fermentation scale-up and bioprocess engineering. Xylome intends to provide highly effective bioprocess technologies to existing biofuel, feed and chemical producers in order to reduce their processing costs and increase byproduct valuations. Xylome is actively seeking collaboration with grain ethanol producers, potential suppliers of low-cost byproduct waste streams, pretreated substrates and hydrolysates.
The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) helps steward the cycle of research, discovery, commercialization and investment for the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Founded in 1925 by Professor Harry Steenbock as an independent, nonprofit foundation, WARF manages more than 1,600 active patents and an endowment of $2.6 billion as it funds university research, obtains patents for campus discoveries and licenses inventions to industry. For more information, visit warf.org.
About Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC)
GLBRC is one of three Department of Energy Bioenergy Research Centers funded to make transformational breakthroughs that will form the foundation of new cellulosic biofuels technology. GLBRC is led by UW–Madison, with Michigan State University as the major partner. For more information on the GLBRC, visit www.glbrc.org.
Certain statements in this press release may constitute “forward-looking statements” within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. These forward-looking statements include statements that are not purely statements of historical fact, and can sometimes be identified by our use of terms such as “intend,” “expect,” “plan,” “estimate,” “future,” “strive” and similar words. These forward-looking statements are made on the basis of the current beliefs, expectations and assumptions of the management of Xylome and are subject to significant risks and uncertainty. Investors are cautioned not to place undue reliance on any such forward-looking statements. All such forward-looking statements speak only as of the date they are made, and the company undertakes no obligation to update or revise these statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise. Although the company believes that the expectations reflected in these forward-looking statements are reasonable, these statements involve many risks and uncertainties that may cause actual results to differ materially from what may be expressed or implied in these forward-looking statements.
By Celia Luterbacher, Wisconsin Energy Institute
Madison Wisconsin, Friday, April 26th, 2013
Tom Jeffries is a scientist in the truest sense of the word. His passion for studying biofuel is evident as he describes is 40-year career in the field, yet he emphasizes that he is careful not to favor one technology over another.
Instead, Jeffries relies on pragmatism to guide his research.
“Yeast are very resilient, there is a long history of their commercialization, and we understand the technology,” he says of yeast’s role in converting plant biomass to ethanol.
“Making it work economically is what’s hard.”
Jeffries, a Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center scientist and University of Wisconsin-Madison bacteriology professor, has recently published a paper describing a new type of yeast that can ferment plant sugars to ethanol much more efficiently than other species. He thinks this microscopic critter could have a big impact on economical commercial biofuel production.
“Yeast are probably the most practicable way to get renewable fuels today,” Jeffries says.
Though yeast may not be the first thing to spring to mind when the subject of renewable energy is raised, these single-celled organisms are metabolic powerhouses. For biofuel researchers, Saccharomyces cerevisiae is nothing short of a household name thanks to its appetite for sugars from cellulosic-or non-food-plant material, and its ability to ferment them to ethanol.
But Jeffries’ interest has been captured by Spathaspora passalidarum, a highly specialized yeast species that grows in the bellies of wood-boring beetles. Because it plays a key role in the beetles’ digestion, S. passalidarum is naturally adapted to fermenting sugars found in wood that S. cerevisiae can’t process. While S. cerevisiae is able to ferment simple sugars like glucose and sucrose, S. passalidarum is also able to convert xylose, cellobiose, arabinose, and galactose to ethanol.
Finding an organism that can ferment xylose is a particularly important breakthrough for biofuel researchers, because xylose is an essential building block of hemicellulose-a polymer that makes up about 20 percent of most plants.
“People tend to think that yeasts are all the same, but they’re not,” says Jeffries. S. passalidarum can use cellulosic and hemicellulosic sugars efficiently, whereas S. cerevisiae cannot unless it has been genetically engineered.”
Jeffries hypothesizes that these two yeast taxa diverged as long ago as 180 million years, around the time that flowering plants began to evolve. It is possible that while S. cerevisiae evolved in association with insects that consume sugars from flowering plants, S. passalidarum instead took up residence in the mid-guts of passalid beetles-large insects of an inch or more in size that inhabit rotting logs. Their unique habitat requires S. passalidarum to ferment sugars found in the wood pulp ingested by their beetle hosts.
“S. passalidarum has all these metabolic capacities that we must to engineer into S. cerevisiae … they have them already because they’ve evolved in that environment,” explains Jeffries.
The biofuel benefits of the new yeast, which was first discovered in 2006 by biologist Meredith Blackwell of Louisiana State University, are more than just theoretical. Jeffries, who founded biotechnology startup Xylome in 2007, is already looking for ways to produce the yeast on a commercial scale and integrate them into the existing bioenergy infrastructure.
Jeffries is interested in providing technologies to independent corn grain ethanol producers that will help them shift their focus to cellulosic feedstocks. For example, with S. passalidarum‘s unique fermentation abilities, these companies could produce ethanol from the leaves and stalks of corn plants (corn stover) rather than the kernels. Jeffries predicts that this approach could help ethanol producers ameliorate ‘food versus fuel’ issues, as well as increase output by up to 50 percent.
“There are 122 independent ethanol production plants, each with an average capacity of about 50 million gallons per year, that produce 40 percent of all the ethanol in the U.S. from corn grain,” Jeffries says.
“They have the infrastructure, they have the distillation facilities, they have the fermentation facilities … so you don’t have to make a lot of changes to these producers to be able to add corn stover as a feedstock.”
Jeffries has also been in conversations with GLBRC collaborator MBI, a Michigan company specializing in the de-risking and scale-up of bio-based technologies. MBI is working to produce commercial quantities of corn stover that has been pretreated to make it more easily processed to ethanol. The pretreatment process, known as AFEXTM* was developed by GLBRC researcher Bruce Dale at Michigan State University.
A unique advantage of the AFEXTM process that it turns loose, dry cellulosic biomass into dense pellets-pellets that resemble corn grain in size and shape.
“If we could use AFEXTM pellets as a fermentation feedstock, that would provide an abundant, cost-effective sugar source for microbes to convert into biofuels like ethanol, as well as bio-based chemicals,” says MBI President and CEO Bobby Bringi.
Much of the rhetoric surrounding sustainable energy involves references to new technological frontiers and sweeping innovations. But Jeffries says that an industrial shift to cellulosic feedstocks-aided by yeast that can naturally process them to ethanol-is promising precisely because it would require only slight changes to the way grain ethanol producers currently operate.
“A lot of people think about biomass and bioenergy as major changes to the existing technology, and that’s not really the way technology evolves-technology evolves at the margins,” he says.
“When you are going commercial with [a technology] it has to work … it can’t work 90 percent of the time, or even 95 percent of the time. It has to work. So industry tends to look for incremental, rather than earth-shaking, changes.”
*AFEXTM is a registered trademark of MBI.
News story by Matthew Weaver of the Capital Press – August 26, 2016
Xylome’s development of native yeasts that use unconventional sugars has significant implications for farmers and the processing industries.
Molly Sequin, Business Insider – June 3, 2016
A novel yeast, Spathaspora passalidarum, readily converts sugars from agricultural residues into sustainable, renewable biofuels.
04 Jun 2016 Francisco Ferreira da Silva
Brazil’s on-line news Económico reported on Xylome’s development of native yeasts for fermenting agricultural byproducts.
Beetle-dwelling yeast holds promise for biofuel production
April 26th, 2013 | Wisconsin Energy Institute