Mascoma gets $30M for cellulosic ethanol — in bid to replace gasoline

mascoma2.bmpMascoma, a start-up that is trying to become the first commercial developer of cellulosic ethanol — something some environmentalists see as the Shangri La of alternative fuel — will announce tomorrow it has raised $30 million more in venture funding.

Funding for the Cambridge, Mass. company was led by General Catalyst Partners, and included Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Vantage Point Venture Partners, Atlas Venture, and Pinnacle Ventures. Existing investors Khosla Ventures and Flagship Ventures participated.

Khsola Ventures’ Vinod Khosla and Kleiner’s John Doerr between them spent millions to support the Calif. Prop. 87 “oil tax,” which would have funded alternative energy research. It was defeated last week, so this funding suggests they remain undeterred.

Currently, ethanol is made from corn, and is relatively expensive to produce, and remains more expensive than gasoline. But scientists say ethanol can be made much more cheaply by breaking down and converting cellulosic material (grass, wood, agricultural and forestry wastes) into ethanol. Several efforts have experimented with cellulosic production but none have become commercial ventures yet — and experts say it will be a couple of years yet before cellulosic production is ready for primetime. Once ready, it may be blended with, or even displace gasoline entirely.