Qteros lays off staff, appoints new chief executive officer

By Bryan Sims | November 22, 2011

Massachusetts-based cellulosic ethanol developer Qteros Inc. has gone through a reduction in staff, and longtime CEO John McCarthy “has stepped down,” confirmed the newly appointed CEO Mick Sawka with Biorefining Magazine.

Prior to becoming CEO, Sawka was Qteros’ senior vice president of commercial development and engineering where he was responsible for developing and executing the company’s global commercialization strategy, including spearheading Qteros’ commercial development and partnering initiatives, as well as leading the company’s engineering and process design efforts.

While he wouldn’t disclose specific details on what prompted Qteros to reorganize the ranks of its leadership, the decision was a natural result of an emerging cellulosic ethanol company working toward the best, most practical means to commercialization.

“All companies, startups especially, evolve and follow their unique paths over time and Qteros is no exception,” Sawka said.

Qteros’ novel technology platform uses a highly efficient “consolidated bioprocessing” platform centered on the company’s proprietary Q Microbe microorganism, Clostridium phytofermentans. A unique anaerobe, the bacteria acts as a naturally occurring biorefinery capable of producing virtually all of the enzymes required for biomass degradation into pentose and hexose sugars, while simultaneously cofermenting all the sugars into ethanol as its natural metabolic end product. Additionally, the Q Microbe is feedstock flexible and can produce high yields of cellulosic ethanol from a broad range of nonfood biomass feedstock such as sugarcane bagasse, corn stover and cobs, as well as other dedicated energy crops.

In January, Qteros and India-based engineering firm Praj Industries Ltd. agreed to a strategic partnership, which was to run over the course of 18 to 24 months, where Qteros would retrofit Praj’s existing fully-integrated pilot ethanol facility in Pune, India, and subsequently use the design as the foundation for delivering fully integrated engineering design packages.

Prior to its partnership with Praj, Qteros subsequently secured $22 million in a Series C round of financing. Qteros is backed by several venerable investors in the alternative energy industry, including, among others, Venrock Associates, Battery Ventures, BP, Soros Fund Management LLC and Valero Energy Corp. 

Despite the leadership change and reduced staff, Sawka said the company will continue to put resources into developing the Q Microbe technology platform in conjunction with its ongoing partnership with Praj.

“Based on the data that the company has generated to date and the development that we’ve done along the way with our strategic partner, Praj Industries, as well as their continuing confirmation of the positive data that we have, we remain confident as a company that we have some of the best economics en route to cellulosic ethanol production in the industry, and the board has asked under my leadership that we continue to develop that process,” Sawka said.

“We continue to develop our process in conjunction with Praj. We’re continuing to put resources into developing the Q-Microbe technology platform end-to-end, which means not just the fermentation process but from biomass handling all the way to [cellulosic] ethanol production.”