Dr Edward Green: 'Liquid bio-fuels will ultimately replace petrol and diesel'

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Dr Edward Green established Abingdon-based Green Biologics Ltd in 2003 (www.greenbiologics.com; 01235 435710)

Following an academic career that included research at the universities of Manchester, Rice (Houston) Texas and Gothenburg, Dr Edward Green, 40, did the unthinkable: he set up his own company. Unthinkable, perhaps, several years ago but Dr Green is one of an increasing number of entrepreneurial academics who commercialise knowledge arising from their own research. Raising finance is the usual challenge for academics but Dr Green decided to earn what he needed. "Our approach was to start with consulting and contract research so that we generated revenue from day one," he says. "And as we grew the business, we were able to devote resource to our own projects and develop products."

Dr Green's expertise lies with thermophiles: heat-loving micro-organisms that provide nature's own environmental waste treatment service. While the most familiar system based on thermophiles is the garden compost heap, they can also be used in an industrial setting to convert sugars derived from plant material (bio-mass) into valuable products. And because they operate at higher temperatures than other industrial micro-organisms, they can deliver fast and highly-productive processes.

Green Biologics has isolated thermophiles from a range of compost environments and has built a library of these micro-organisms capable of converting waste plant material into valuable chemicals. Of particular interest are the bio-fuels butanol and ethanol which unlike fossil fuels, are renewable, CO2 neutral and don't contribute to global warming.

If this all sounds a bit high-tech, remember that man has been using yeast to convert grain into alcohol for thousands of years. "Liquid bio-fuels, based on ethanol or butanol, represent the 'next generation' since they will extend and ultimately replace fossil fuels such as petrol and diesel. We believe that butanol will replace ethanol as the bio-fuel of the future," says Dr Green. "It offers similar energy per litre to petrol and yet, unlike ethanol, it can be mixed with diesel as well as petrol."

However, in the short-term, Green Biologic's first product is likely to be a compost accelerator - a cocktail of selected thermophiles suitable for both commercial and domestic use.

Over the last three years, Green Biologics has moved from theoretical science towards a platform technology with a clear product focus. As a result, the company has already overcome the "science to product" hurdle that many high-tech businesses fail to address. "Our products have great potential since our production methods will be cheaper, faster and cleaner than conventional processes which are reliant on the petrochemical industry," says Dr Green. "And best of all, our products will be derived from sustainable resources." Many companies like to call themselves "green" but Green Biologics undoubtedly has the right credentials.