For many people, the word "oil" connotes fuel, but industry insiders know that black gold also makes a wide variety of chemicals and materials.


And just as biofuel companies have worked to develop fuel replacements from crops, a new company hopes to use materials such as soy, canola and corn to create bio-versions of some of the other petrochemicals. 

Agricultural giant Cargill and catalyst developer Materia announced Wednesday they have spun off Elevance Renewable Sciences, a newly minted company that already has scored $40 million in a round led by TPG Growth and TPG Biotechnology Partners.

The company claims its approach will use renewable or natural oils to create products currently derived from oil, such as cosmetics, as well as anti-microbials and lubricants for industrial applications. It already has one product on the market: a commercial-grade wax for candles.

To do this, Elevance said it is borrowing a next-generation catalyst technology jointly developed by Materia and Robert Grubbs, a Nobel laureate and chemistry professor at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif.

The company sprung from a collaboration between Materia and Cargill that was formed when the two received a $1.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy in 2004.

Cargill and Materia did not divulge how much they invested in the company, but said they plan to remain commercial partners and investors and expect Elevance to reach more than $1 billion in sales by 2016.

In another collaboration looking to curb the use of fossil-derived oils, Shell and biofuel company Virent Energy Systems said Wednesday they have teamed up in a joint research–and-development venture to convert plant sugars directly into gasoline and gasoline blends, rather than into ethanol.

The two said the collaboration could bring about new biofuels that could be used at high blend rates in standard gasoline engines, which potentially could eliminate the need for specialized infrastructure.

Shell isn't the only oil company developing new biofuels. Among other examples, BP in 2006 announced it was partnering with DuPont to develop biobutanol, which potentially could get better gas mileage than ethanol and be transported in oil pipelines.