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Elcriton works to create next-generation biofuels

Jan. 15, 2010--Born from research conducted in an academic laboratory, Elcriton Inc. was created in December 2008 to develop innovative technologies to address sustainable energy and chemical production in the United States and beyond.

The company evolved from work in the laboratory of Eleftherios (Terry) Papoutsakis, Eugene du Pont Chair of Chemical Engineering at the University of Delaware, and president of Elcriton.

Elcriton is housed in the Delaware Biotechnology Institute (DBI) and conducts research supported by Small Business Innovation Research Grants (SBIR) from both the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the US Department of Energy (DOE).

“National policy is moving us towards alternative fuels. The bioengineering work in our lab, and the opportunity to pursue this important direction through a new enterprise, is very exciting,” said Papoutsakis.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) mandated that 16 million gallons a year of transportation fuel be replaced with biofuel, which is fuel made from renewable, sustainable agricultural waste also known as biomass. Currently, the gasoline supplement consumers see at the pump is ethanol, which is often made from direct food sources, like corn.

The goal of EISA is to promote research and commercialization of next-generation biofuels that are better replacements of gasoline compared to ethanol, and are produced from waste biomass, such as corn stalks. EISA success will ultimately protect the country's food supply, create a sustainable means for domestic fuel production and benefit the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Elcriton is immediately addressing EISA goals by developing a bacterium that will convert biomass into a biofuel called butanol.

“We are actively working on designing what we believe to be better bacteria to help in this process to convert biomass into biofuel,” said Bryan P. Tracy, lead scientist and principal investigator for Elcriton.

Tracy also noted some of the challenges associated with ethanol, the prevalent biofuel available to consumers at the pump. Ethanol is corrosive and absorbs water, making it hard to transport in gasoline pipelines. In addition, ethanol requires engine modifications when used at high blends with gasoline.

Today, consumers see “E10” or the like at gas pumps indicating that the fuel is a mix of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline. However, ethanol cannot be used in its pure form or at high blends (for example “E85”) in a vehicle without flex-fuel modifications.

In contrast, butanol is less corrosive, and does not absorb water as well. Thus, it can be pumped through the current gasoline infrastructure, and be used in essentially all car engine technologies, even as pure butanol.

Through the genetic engineering of bacteria, Elcriton hopes to achieve a one-step process of adding the bacterium to the biomass and watching it convert the biomass into fuel. Elcriton is currently working to expand and create partnerships with companies that can assist in mass-producing butanol in the near future.

Their goal for commercial production is before the end of 2013. However, biofuel is just the first venture for this fledgling company.

“Elcriton is focused on biofuels now, but we are allowing our innovations to lead the way into new opportunities to replace fossil fuel chemical production with renewable, biomass derived chemicals,” said Papoutsakis.

Elcriton is just one of several companies that have been formed through work in the labs at DBI, and is focused on sustainable, environmentally friendly energy resources for the future of this country and others.

Article by Laura Crozier