Issue Date: January 9, 2012
BASF, DuPont Back Biofeedstocks
Chemical giants BASF and DuPont have made equity investments in two young industrial biotech firms focused on biomass-based feedstocks for chemicals and fuels. The start-ups say the corporate backing will help them reach commercial-scale production quickly.
BASF invested $30 million in cellulosic sugar firm Renmatix, based in King of Prussia, Pa. Renmatix has developed technology to extract C5 and C6 sugars from cellulosic biomass using supercritical water. The sugars can then be fermented to produce biofuels or basic chemical products. The company claims its new process is significantly less expensive than current cellulose digestion systems that rely on enzymes, acid hydrolysis, or gasification.
The technology “could allow us in the future to broaden our use of renewable raw materials while improving the cost-effectiveness of our value chains even further,” says Josef R. Wünsch, senior vice president for modeling, formulation research, and technology incubation at BASF.
BASF’s support was part of a funding round for Renmatix that raised an additional $20 million from other investors. In its early years, Renmatix was funded entirely by renowned venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. The overall $50 million investment will allow Renmatix to plan for a commercial sugar plant, CEO Mike Hamilton says. “We will announce the location of a 100,000-ton-per-year facility in the first half of this year,” Hamilton tells C&EN.
Separately, DuPont invested an undisclosed sum in NexSteppe, a plant-breeding company focused on growing crops optimized for production of biofuels and biobased chemicals, including sweet sorghum, high-biomass sorghum, and switchgrass. In addition, DuPont’s Pioneer Hi-Bred seed business will share knowledge and technologies with NexSteppe to help it accelerate the commercialization of new hybrid crops in the U.S. and Brazil.
“Big chemical and oil companies are now betting on orders-of-magnitude cost savings through biochemical innovations,” observes Dallas Kachan of Kachan & Co., a cleantech consulting firm. “These new firms are attracting the brightest scientific minds,” Kachan adds, “which translate into new, usable technology.”
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