Hard-drinking microbes get new CEO

Mascoma, the company that wants to make ethanol with wood chips and microorganisms, has appointed Bruce Jamerson as its chief executive officer.

Jamerson had been president of VeraSun, a South Dakota company that makes ethanol out of corn.

Mascoma, which grew out of research at Dartmouth, hopes to begin producing cellulosic ethanol by the end of the year. Rather than use food crops like sugar cane as a feed stock, cellulosic ethanol is created out of . And, instead of relying on heat and chemical processes to convert plant matter into alcohol, the company exploits the metabolic property of microorganisms, a concept that's gaining a lot of momentum.

Mascoma says it differs from other ethanol companies in that its microbes can perform two tasks in creating cellulosic ethanol: the microbes can turn cellulose into sugar, and then sugar into alcohol. Most microbes die when alcohol concentration gets up to 50 percent or so; that's why beer and wine aren't as strong as vodka.

So in a nutshell, the company is exploiting living beings that can stand a lot of liquor to root through garbage for them and make things of value. I think I had relatives that did this. Talk about refurbishing your 19th Century business model for the Internet era.

The company is part of the microbe mafia being assembled at Khosla Ventures.

Although many investors, futurists and analysts believe that humanity will need to find petroleum alternatives, it's a risky endeavor. Just take VeraSun for an example. Last year, the company held an IPO and saw its stock rise from $23 to $30 on the first day of trading. Since then, corn prices have risen and ethanol prices have declined, sucking the profit out of the ethanol business in general.

VeraSun now trades at around $17.50.


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