With oil prices climbing, will biofuels and green chemistry revive?
It seems that way. Both Amyris and Gevo, which aspire to make biofuels and chemicals, have conducted successful IPOs, and Solazyme may file the preliminary paperwork for one by the end of the month.
"The sugar economy could liberate the polymer industry using ethanol," said Alan Shaw, CEO of enzyme maker Codexis in a separate interview yesterday.
An additional $45 million for equity for Genomatica adds another environmentally friendly biomass log to the fire. The company creates genetically modified microbes capable of producing industrial chemicals typically produced from petroleum and energy-intensive processes. It has created a biological version of BDO, a major industrial chemical, and last month announced an alliance with Waste Management to create microbes that can turn landfill materials into industrial chemicals. Genomatica thus touches on two of the three Rs of greentech: replace (fossil fuels) and recycle. Reduce (energy consumption) is the third.
The biological revolution -- a total of $84 million has been invested in Genomatica so far -- in manufacturing is taking longer than expected. Bugs simply cannot make chemicals as fast or in the same quantities as can thermochemical equipment. But progress continues and the appeal of manufacturing powered by the magic of the metabolic process remains alluring. Many startups, like Genomatica, have come out of San Diego.
Waste Management is one of the investors in this latest round and, as last month's deal shows, could become a strong strategic partner for Genomatica when it comes to commercialization. WM is shifting from being a garbage hauler to a materials services company. WM's internal goal is to triple its recycling load by 2020 -- call them the GE of Garbage.
RU-Com, a firm financed by Russian industrialists, and VantagePoint Venture Partners also became investors. Earlier today, 1366 Technologies, which makes next-generation wafers for crystalline silicon solar panels, announced an investment from VantagePoint. (Returning investors include Alloy Ventures, Mohr Davidow and Draper Fisher Jurvetson.)
Genomatica hopes to demonstrate that it can mass produce BDO, a key ingredient in spandex, in a pilot plant in 2011 and open a commercial scale plant in 2013.