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Synthetic Sugars Developer Lands $3.5M Venture Financing

Cyanobacteria (Energy.gov)

Cyanobacteria (Energy.gov)

Proterro Inc. in Ewing, New Jersey, a developer of synthetic sucrose for biofuels and chemicals, secured $3.5 million in new venture financing. The company also says the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued a notice of allowance for the genetically engineered bacteria used in its production process.

The company combines genetic engineering with chemical engineering to produce sucrose, the basic sugar fermented into ethanol and other biofuels. The process, says Proterro, genetically alters microorganisms to directly produce sucrose and other disaccharides for industry, such as trehalose, glucosylglycerol, and mannosylfructose. This technique can replace current methods of extracting sugars from plant-based feedstocks, both cultivated crops and grasses, that are time-consuming and expensive, and produce sucrose at a fraction of the cost of current methods — less than $0.05 a pound.

Braemar Energy Ventures, a venture capital company specializing in energy technologies and a current investor, led the financing, joined by current investors Battelle Ventures and Innovation Valley Partners, as well as new investors Cultivian Ventures and Middleland Capital. Innovation Valley Partners is an investment fund of Battelle Ventures, which is a spin-off from Battelle Memorial Institute that manages national laboratories for the U.S. Department of Energy.

Proterro’s CEO Kef Kasdin says the financing will enable the company to optimize its genetic engineering methods and add to its patent portfolio. “The funds also will enable us to accelerate the path to business partnerships,” says Kasdin, “through piloting a full-scale photobioreactor and completing designs for our demonstration-scale facility.”

The notice of allowance from USPTO covers the engineered cyanobacteria genes and genetic code used in Proterra’s sucrose production process. Cyanobacteria (pictured at top) are blue-green in color and obtain their energy through photosynthesis. “These engineered cyanobacteria,” notes Kasdin, “which require a combination of only water, carbon dioxide, sunlight and nutrients to produce sucrose in a biosynthetic process at consistently high yields, are unique to us.”

A notice of allowance indicates that an invention is entitled to a patent, and the USPTO intends to issue a patent for it.

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Hat tip: Fortune/Term Sheet

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