Lallemand acquires Mascoma's yeast development business

By Susanne Retka Schill | November 05, 2014

After three years of working as partners in introducing the biotech yeast trademarked TransFerm to the ethanol market, Lallemand Inc. has purchased the yeast development business from Mascoma Corp. The companies announced Lallemand has acquired the Mascoma company name and trademarks, all of its proprietary and patented yeast strains and associated technologies, as well as its entire research and development team located at its leased research facility in Lebanon, New Hampshire.

“This transaction is an extremely positive event for the Mascoma employees, for Lallemand, for the technology and for the biofuel, biochemical industry as a whole,” Bill Brady, president and CEO of Mascoma Corp., told Ethanol Producer Magazine. “It’s the story of a company that took an idea out of Dartmouth College and developed it into a meaningful business. It’s been acquired by a big company and will expand from here.”  While admitting that is difficult to let go of a piece of the business, Brady said a new name and plans for the remaining technology surrounding the consolidated bioprocessing platform will be announced in the weeks or months ahead.

Acquiring the R&D team means Lallemand will continue to improve the TransFerm and TransFerm Yield plus yeasts, said Craig Pilgrim, vice president, marketing and product development for Lallemand Biofuels & Distilled Spirits. “They do a lot of pure research. There are improvements in the pipeline for the existing products, but also second generation products that should be coming out soon.”

The new biotech yeasts are beginning to penetrate the market, Pilgrim said. “We introduced them about two years ago at the Fuel Ethanol Workshop and right now about 2 billion gallons of ethanol are produced with them, that’s roughly 35 to 37 plants, with eight more that are trialing right now. So that’s about 20 percent of the market.”

The initial TransFerm yeast was engineered to produce its own glucoamylase enzyme. In the second strain, TransFerm Yield plus, the Mascoma scientists used synthetic biology to incorporate a metabolic pathway in the yeast to reduce glycerol production, keeping sufficient levels for the fermentation process while increasing ethanol yields. Results from 104 fermentations reported on the website show a reduction in glucoamylase ranging between 30 and 50 percent, reduced glycerol levels of between 23 and 43 percent and an ethanol yield boost ranging between 2.7 and 4.8 percent.

The new biotech yeasts have a GRAS rating (generally regarded as safe) and are included by the Association of American Feed Control Officials in the definition for distillers grains. Essentially a drop-in replacement for conventional yeast, the biggest change for ethanol producers adopting the biotech yeasts has been to switch from dry to liquid yeast, Pilgrim said. “Once they find the benefits in handling and being able to automate, most people really like the liquid yeast,” he added.