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UMass-linked biofuel company revived

AMHERST — Biofuel company Qteros, based on a microbial discovery by researchers from Sunderland and Leverett, is being revived by its founders after shutting down earlier this year.

The company, which got its start in Amherst as SunEthanol, is rooted in the muck of partially decayed leaves at Quabbin Reservoir found by Susan B. Leschine, a University of Massachusetts microbiology professor from Leverett and her research assistant, Thomas Warnick of Sunderland.

Chief Executive Officer Stephan Rogers, of Amherst, announced this month that he and two business partners have acquired the intellectual property assets, microbial strains and research data associated with production of the Qteros biofuel and have a new licensing agreement with UMass.

Rogers, who was part of the original team that raised $35 million for the startup in 2007, said in a statement that a less capital-intensive model is being pursued.

“Part of our strategy to quickly get to market is to partner with others who have deep experience in microbial research to help us jump start the process,” Rogers said.

Assisting Rogers in the new Qteros are chemical engineer Judy Giordan of Pelham, as chief technology officer, and John Steedman, formerly of BP alternative energy ventures, as a business adviser.

The biofuel was developed following the discovery of the Q microbe by UMass microbiologist Leschine of Leverett at the Quabbin in 1996. The Q microbe was found to be highly efficient in converting plant materials, such as wood chips, switch grass and agricultural waste, into ethanol, and was expected to lower ethanol production costs.

“The Q microbe is an excellent source of ethanol, which remains a very viable transportation fuel and will continue to be so going forward,” Leschine said.

As Qteros began to grow, it established its headquarters in Marlborough and had a $3.2 million fermentation plant built in Chicopee. That plant shut down in April. In 2008, then Amherst Town Manager Larry Shaffer tried unsuccessfully to find sufficient space in Amherst for the company’s officers and manufacturing.

The licensing agreement with UMass provides research support to Qteros, and potential financial benefits to the university.

William Rosenberg, executive director of the UMass Commercial Ventures and Intellectual Property office, said in a statement that early stage high-technology startups can have difficulty achieving commercial success.

Income from commercialization of academic research at UMass was $53.9 million for budget year that ended June 30, according to information from the Commercial Ventures and Intellectual Property office.

There are no immediate plans for laboratory or office facilities for the new Qteros, and it is uncertain whether they would be located in western Massachusetts when those plans develop, Rogers said.

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