Biomethodes, a French biotechnology company that recently launched OptaFuel US Inc. in Abingdon, Va., is the Global Ideas Winner for France in the CleanTech Open competition, and was one of six finalists in the Global Cleantech Open Ideas competition.

CleanTech Open is a non-profit organization that finds, mentors, monitors, and passes judgment on clean energy companies, providing opportunities for the best to meet investors and potential customers. There were more than 1,000 applications from countries around the world for the Open Ideas competition, with teams from 23 countries traveling to the Global Forum in San Jose, Calif.

Biomethodes develops optimization solutions for proteins and enzymes that convert plant materials into sugars for use in the biofuels, biocatalysis, and animal feed markets. Their U.S. spinoff, OptaFuel, will commercialize technologies developed in France and technologies invented by Percival Zhang, associate professor of biological systems engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech. Initially focusing on woody biomass from timber operations in the region, the pilot plant will also experiment with other types of feedstock and is a stepping stone to a full-scale commercial facility in southwest Virginia.

Created with support from the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission, OptaFuel will develop the new technologies to transform local non-food biomass into biofuels, biomaterials, and biochemicals. "We see this project as an opportunity for economic development and to be a part of a sustainable, clean energy future, certainly in keeping with the Tobacco Commission's energy (research and development) initiative. This award is further endorsement of the technology from international business and energy leaders." said Delegate Terry G. Kilgore, chairman of the Virginia Tobacco Commission.

In 2009, Biomethodes signed an exclusive worldwide license with Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties Inc. to technologies that efficiently breakdown the tough cell walls of plant materials to release sugars that can be fermented into ethanol without using high pressure or high temperature. According to the company, the pre-treatment process works at 122 Fahrenheit (50 Celsius) instead of almost 400 F (200 C), resulting in no sugar degradation and the separation of other highly profitable products, such as lignin and acetic acid. By combining their pre-treatment process with Biomethodes’ hydrolysis enzyme optimization technology, the company’s integrated solution optimizes production of enzymes and reduces enzyme cost to 15 cents per gallon, instead of the usual $1-1.50 per gallon.

For more information about the biomass processing technology, contact Greg Hess, Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties senior licensing associate, at 540 443-9219.

For more information about Optafuel, contact Anthony Scime. The original OptFuel announcement was March 3, 2011.

The CleanTech Open announcement of winners in France was issued Nov. 14, 2011. Winners of the Global Ideas competition were announced Nov. 17, 2011.


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