Genomatica, a startup that creates genetically modified organisms that secrete industrial chemicals, will have a big partner when it goes to Asia.
Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation, the eighth largest chemical maker in the world, signed a broad memorandum of understanding with Genomatica that will explore building a plant for bio-BDO, Genomatica's signature chemical, in Asia as well as collaborating on other biological chemicals. Right now, most chemicals come from fossil fuels. Coaxing microbes to make them cuts down on mining, exports, and atmospheric pollution. It's all great! Now the price just has to come down.
It's only an MOU, but Mitsubishi is a giant in the field, so it's a big deal. The large chemical companies like Dow and DuPont have also begun to focus more intently on biologically-produced chemicals. DuPont, after all, bought Danisco last year, one of the two big makers of industrial enzymes. Green giants -- sprawling conglomerates with thousands of employees, billions in assets and decades of experience -- will be the pathway to success for most greentech startups. Venture-backed companies will either get bought or become partners with them to survive. Get ready to sit in the back seat: few of you will be the next Google.
Mitsubishi is also an investor in Genomatica, which has raised $84 million to date. RU-Com, VantagePoint and Waste Management (i.e., the GE of Garbage) are also investors. Another fun note: Genomatica comes out of San Diego and the bio cluster that has given birth Sapphire Energy, Intermolecular and Wildcat Discovery Technologies, among others.
--Better Place, the people who want swap electric batteries out of cars, signed a deal with China Southern Power Grid Co., the eighth largest utility in the world. Better Place will aim to build supply networks, charging stations and swapping stations in Guangzhou, China's third largest city. Jason Wolf, who runs Better Place in North America, told us recently that the company will set up charging networks first in Denmark and Israel (expect the Israeli network to take shape toward the end of this year) and then hit up China and the U.S. Partnering with a giant like CSPG certainly helps.
Better Place is perhaps the most controversial company in green technology. Some say the battery swapping/charging network concept will lower the price of electric cars to realistic levels and provide a better driving and charging experience. Others say the numbers don't add up. Opinions are divided over CEO Shai Agassi too: visionary leader or just a chick magnet with a PowerPoint? Personally, I like the Better Place concept -- cars on the Better Place network will age far slower than regular cars -- but the finances represent a daunting challenge. A 'cell' of charging and swapping stations for a metropolitan area runs around $150 million.
--General Electric has retrofitted its refrigerator factory in Decatur, Ala. to curb cyclopentane, a greenhouse gas.
--Finally, Axion International -- which makes pylons and building components from recycled plastic milk jugs -- has raised an additional $7.6 million. Axion has a new CEO ,too: Stevel Silverman. Silverman might help Axion move from the cute, novel stage of startup-dom to become more of a full-fledged company. Still, former CEO Jim Kerstein gave us one of the best quotes during a profile in 2009.
"Plastics were the Great Satan," said Kerstein. "You could pull a milk jug out of a landfill and say, 'Good God! This has been here since 1973.' But if you take a negative and turn that around with an application that requires longevity, that's a positive."