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Founders & Leadership

Lee Lynd, Bill Brady, Kristin Brief, Chris Herring



Energy | Food & Ag
Investment Area

Unlocking sustainable fuels with better biology

The transportation sector accounts for a quarter of global carbon emissions, but resists easy solutions. Light vehicles have a clear path to electrification, but heavier vehicles flounder under today’s battery technologies. For applications that remain difficult to electrify—like aviation, ocean shipping, and long-haul trucking—biofuels are a singular option. They have the potential to not only meet liquid fuel needs, but to do so while being carbon negative. In many biofuel production processes, the concentrated waste CO2 streams can be captured and stored, resulting in a net removal from the atmosphere. The current industry is based on easily-fermented feedstocks such as corn and sugarcane, but the aim is to expand the range of inputs to meet the full global need. “In order for sustainable biofuels to be produced on the scale necessary to realize their potential for climate stabilization, we need to increase production from inedible ‘cellulosic’ feedstocks, like agricultural and forestry residues, grass and wood,” explains Lee Lynd, professor of engineering and biology at Dartmouth College’s Thayer School of Engineering.

Terragia, a startup with roots in the Lynd Lab at Dartmouth and co-founded by experienced innovators in biofuel development, aims to unlock cellulosic biomass as a resource for the production of ethanol and other biofuel molecules. Terragia’s technology promises disruptive cost reductions in cellulosic conversion thanks to an innovative process that leverages genetically engineered microbes developed by Lynd and his colleagues. “After decades of research, it has recently become clear that better biology is within our reach,” says Terragia CTO and co-founder Lynd. “Our approach is based on a simple idea: start with nature’s best.”

Terragia’s strategy is to convert nature’s best lignocellulose fermenting microbes into high-performing industrial microorganisms—allowing for groundbreaking efficiencies with potentially transformative economics. “We now see that thermophilic, anaerobic bacteria are decisively more effective at producing fermentable sugars from cellulosic biomass than the cellulase enzymes of aerobic fungi upon which the current industry is based,” explains Lynd. Terragia’s technology allows for the consolidation of biologically-mediated steps into one unit operation; and avoids the thermochemical pretreatment and fungal cellulase that has increased the cost of current lignocellulosic technologies. Having spent decades developing the genetic tools specific to these microbes, Lynd and his colleagues seek to leverage these alternative approaches in an effort to make cellulosic ethanol prices directly competitive with fossil fuels.

Building on lessons learned from the initial wave of cellulosic biofuels, Terragia aims to partner with existing biofuel producers by co-locating cellulosic ethanol production at existing biofuel production facilities. “We are initially targeting feedstock and deployment opportunities that maximize profit margin and enable rapid rates of replication,” says CEO Kristin Brief. “Following validation of colocated plants, we aim to expand to multiple feedstocks, products, and geographies to access a market of over $1 trillion while realizing gigatons of greenhouse gas savings.”