Volume 88 Issue 33 | p. 13 | News of The Week
Issue Date: August 16, 2010

Industrial Biotechnology: Firms Move To Commercialize Biobased Fuels And Chemicals

Department: Business
News Channels: Environmental SCENE
Keywords: Biobased Fuels, renewable fuels, Biobased Chemicals

Four green technology firms have taken significant steps to advance the production of renewable fuels and chemicals.

In the first instance, Solazyme has raised $52 million to help it commercialize large-scale fermentation of algae-based oils for fuel and chemical production. Braemar Energy Ventures and new investor Morgan Stanley led the financing round. A little more than a year ago, the California-based company raised $57 million from a similar group of investors (C&EN, June 15, 2009, page 15).

In another case, SG Biofuels plans to build an R&D center in San Diego to further develop Jatropha curcas, a shrub native to Central America, as a low-cost, sustainable oilseed source of diesel fuel, jet fuel, and chemical feedstocks. The firm’s molecular biologists will use the lab and a 42,000-sq-ft greenhouse to incorporate genetic traits into the shrub for enhanced yield and easy harvesting.

And two companies are advancing biobased butanol. Gevo has signed an agreement to acquire Agri-Energy’s ethanol facility in Luverne, Minn., for an undisclosed sum. Gevo will retrofit the plant to produce isobutyl alcohol, which can be blended into gasoline or converted into isobutylene to make plastics. Cobalt Technologies, meanwhile, has hired the engineering firm Fluor to provide construction services for the fermentation-based n-butyl alcohol plants it is planning.

Three of the four companies are based in California. Andrew Thomson, an analyst for advisory firm Cleantech Group, points out that California firms garnered 70%, or $1.1 billion, of U.S. venture capital investment in green technology in the second quarter of this year. The second top state was Massachusetts, followed by Colorado, where Gevo is based.

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