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Genomatica To Go Public

Biobased Chemicals: Initial public offering plan follows partnership and new product announcements

by Melody M. Bomgardner
August 29, 2011 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 89, ISSUE 35

Credit: PR Newswire
Genomatica’s engineered microbes produce butanediol from sugar.
Credit: PR Newswire
Genomatica’s engineered microbes produce butanediol from sugar.

Biobased chemicals firm Genomatica has filed for an initial public offering of stock worth up to $100 million. The move follows successful public launches of biobased chemicals companies including Amyris, Gevo, and Solazyme.

California-based Genomatica’s first product is butanediol (BDO), a feedstock for polyurethanes and spandex. The firm’s BDO is derived from sugar, which is fed to an engineered strain of Escherichia coli. On the basis of demonstration-scale tests with sugar processor Tate & Lyle, Genomatica says it can produce the intermediate at lower cost than petroleum-based processes.

The Aug. 23 IPO disclosure came just days after Genomatica announced a joint venture with Italian plastics maker Novamont to commercially produce BDO in Italy. The venture includes a 40 million-lb-per-year plant slated to open by the end of 2012. Novamont will use the intermediate chemical to make its compostable Mater-Bi plastic.

The partners plan to build the BDO facility on an existing industrial site and share in the earnings. Novamont CEO Catia Bastioli says the scale-up of Genomatica’s process will support her firm’s strategy of reviving former industrial locations through the construction of biorefineries. Bioplastics demand has shot up in Italy since the country banned single-use, nonbiodegradable shopping bags on Jan. 1.

Genomatica expects its second product will be butadiene, which is used to make synthetic rubber, engineering polymers, and latex. The firm says it has produced pound quantities of butadiene from renewable feedstocks. The company points out that butadiene is commonly obtained as a by-product of ethylene plants but that those operations are increasingly consuming lighter feedstocks derived from natural gas, rather than oil, resulting in decreased butadiene output.

Andrew Soare, a cleantech analyst at Lux Research, predicts that Genomatica stock will be popular with investors. “It is one of the stronger companies in this field,” he says. “We’ve seen a definite shift by investors to chemicals from biofuels.” Although Soare believes the firm’s low-cost claims require a leap of faith for investors, he says its strong platform chemicals and its progress with partnerships suggest a solid cost structure.



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