Qteros biofuels start-up closes Chicopee facility
Qteros, a once promising biofuels company that had its origins in research done at University of Massachusetts at Amherst, has closed its Chicopee fermentation facility, part of an apparent retrenchment.
In November, it was reported by the Boston Business Journal that Qteros, which has its home office in Marlborough, replaced its chief executive officer and laid off many of its employees.
Susan B. Leschine, a UMass microbiologist whose research was the basis for the formation of Qteros, said the company’s problems are more financial than technological.
“The company has made significant advancement in the technology, but there are always these issues of continuing the flow of investment funds,” she said.
Leschine, who has remained at UMass and is not involved in the day-to-day business of Qteros, said she believes Qteros has pulled back as it considers options.
Listed in 2010 by Biofuels Digest as number 21 among the 50 hottest companies in bioenergy, Qteros based its process on a microbe found in the early 1990s in the soils around Quabbin Reservoir.
Dubbed the “Q microbe,” it proved to be highly efficient in converting plant materials into ethanol and was expected to dramatically lower costs for ethanol producers.
Leschine initially identified the microbe’s unusual abilities.
The company, which began in Amherst as SunEthanol in 2007, raised a reported $52 million in investment funds as it progressed, including money from Soros Fund Management LLC, Valero Energy Corporation and BP AE Ventures.
Its 15,000-square-foot plant in Chicopee, which was anticipated to open in mid-2011, was intended to be a demonstration fermentation facility for the company’s process.
Qteros officials did not reply to repeated attempts in recent days to contact them by phone or email.
The offices at the Chicopee facility at 150 Padgette Street were empty and locked Wednesday, and the telephone number for the plant is out of service. One individual with business ties to the building, which houses several other companies, said Qteros’ offices were vacated more than a few weeks ago.
A spokesman for the company managing the building, Development Associates of Agawam, would not comment on the status of the lease or on the status of Qteros there. However, he said more information about the tenancy at the address should be available in the next month.
Allan W. Blair, the president of the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts, said, “It’s unfortunate that the startup was unable to get the traction in the marketplace to move to the next stage of growth.”
Qteros, which employed about 50 people at its height, planned to license its process to ethanol producers. However, there were many other companies developing similar technologies and the competition for limited investment funds was fierce.
In January 2011, Qteros announced a partnership with Praj Industries of India, one of the world’s leading builders of ethanol plants. At the time, Praj officials said they hoped to retrofit existing plants with equipment to use Qteros’ process.
A spokesman for Praj Industries did not return an email or call this week seeking a comment on the status of its relationship or plans with Qteros.
In a statement to the Boston Business Journal in November, the new chief executive officer at Qteros, Mick Sawka, said, “The company is continuing to develop the Q Microbe platform with Praj in India as well as at our facilities in Marlborough.”