Posts Tagged ‘biofuels’

Who’s Your Daddy?: A Special Report on key biofuels investors and investments


In Florida, Biofuels Digest released its list of current investors backing the Hottest 20 Companies in Bioenergy. (Note: The Hottest 50 companies in Bioenergy rankings for 2008-09 were released last December).

FUENTE – Biofuel Digest – 13/07/09

Overall, of the top 20 companies, two were privately held by individual private investors (POET and Aquaflow Bionomic), two are public (BlueFire Ethanol and Novozymes), five are subsidiaries or joint ventures of major industrial firms (DuPont Danisco, Iogen, UOP, Petrobras Biocombutives, and Abengoa Energy), and 11 are backed by venture capital.

Among auto makers, Honda is backing Virent, while GM is invested in Mascoma and Coskata. Cargill and Sumitomo are among other major corporate investors.

Among oil companies, BP is backing Qteros and Synthetic Genomics; Marathon is backing Mascoma; Valero is invested in Qteros and ZeaChem; Petrobras has its own biofuels subsidiary, and Shell is invested in Iogen. BP and Total are invested in ventures outside of the Hottest 20 including BP-DuPont’s butanol venture, and Gevo. Valero is also invested in Solix Biofuels, the algae-venture.

Among “name investors”, George Soros’ Soros Fund Management is invested in Qteros, Bill Gates’s Cascade is invested in Sapphire Energy, and the Rockefeller family’s Venrock is invested in Qteros and Sapphire Energy.

Of the 11 companies backed by venture capital, 45 different firms have investments. Khosla Ventures (Coskata, Range Fuels, Amyris and Mascoma) has the most investments in the Hot 20; VantagePoint (Solazyme, Mascoma, Cobalt); Kleiner Perkins (Amyris, Madcoma); Pinnacle (Cobalt Biofuels, Mascoma); and Harris & Harris (Solazyme, Cobalt) are firms with more than one investment in the Hot 20.


1. Oil companies coming in. BP, Shell, Total and Valero have invested new funds in the past year, during a period when VC investment has been slowing.

2. Of the 62 major investors, 15 chose the gasification route through Coskata or Range Fuels; 15 backed algae ventures; six backed biobutanol; eight placed bets on green diesel made from engineered microbes; one is focused on jet fuel, and 26 invested in cellulocis ethanol (the individual categories do not add up to the total of 62 due to multiple sectors by certain investors).

3. Biobutanol has received strong support in new rounds for Cobalt and Gevo (which is outside the Hot 20); plus ZeaChem’s process allows it to produce the four-carbon fuel.

4. VCs are looking beyond ethanol. Of the 45 VC firms, 32 placed bets on butanol, algae biofuels, or green diesel.

5. Corporate investors placed nine bets on cellulosic ethanol technologies, while eight moved into advanced biofuels. Corporate invesotrs such as Shell and Total have made investments in companies outside the Hot 20.

6. Renewable chemicals are becoming more important all the time. Two recent injections, a series C funding of ZeaChem and an investment by Dow Chemical into Algenol (just outside the Hot 20) are examples of the trend. Proctor & Gamble has also invested in LS9 (also just outside the Hot 20) with renewable chemicals as a focus.

Invested companies are producing fuels in several areas, including:

  • Algae: Sapphire, Solazyme, Synthetic Genomics, Aquaflow Bionomic
  • Butanol: Cobalt
  • Green diesel: Virent, Amyris
  • Jet fuel: UOP
  • Cellulosic ethanol: Mascoma, DuPont Danisco, Petrobras, Iogen, Qteros, Abengoa, POET, Novozymes, BlueFire Ethanol, ZeaChem

Overall, the Hot 20 and their investors are:

1. Coskata (Globespan Capital Partners, General Motors, Khosla Ventures, GreatPoint Ventures, Advanced Technology Ventures, Blackstone Group, TriplePoint Capital, Sumitomo, Arancia)

2. Sapphire Energy (ARCH, Wellcome Trust, Cascade Investment, Venrock)

3. Virent Energy Systems (Stark Venture Investors, Cargill, Honda, Advantage Capital)

4. POET (private)

5. Range Fuels (Morgan Stanley, Khosla Ventures, Passport Capital, BlueMountain, Leaf Clean Energy Pacific Capital Group, CalPERS).

6. Solazyme (Braemar Energy Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners, VantagePoint Venture Partners, Roda Group and Harris & Harris Group)

7. Amyris Biotechnologies (DAG Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and TPG Ventures)

8. Mascoma (Marathon Oil, Khosla Ventures, Flagship Ventures, General Catalyst Partners, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Vantage Point Venture Partners, Atlas Ventures, Pinnacle Ventures)

9. DuPont Danisco (DuPont, Danisco)

10. UOP (Honeywell)

11. ZeaChem (Globespan Capital Partners, PrairieGold Venture Partners, MDV-Mohr Davidow Ventures, Firelake Capital and Valero)

12. Aquaflow Bionomic (120 private investors)

13. Bluefire Ethanol (public)

14. Novozymes (public)

15. Qteros (Valero, Venrock, Battery Ventures, BP, SorosFund Management, Long River Ventures, Camros Capital.)

16. Petrobras Biocombutibles (Petrobras)

17. Cobalt Biofuels (Pinnacle Ventures, Vantage Point Venture Partners, Malaysian Life Sciences Capital Fund, @Ventures, LSP and Harris and Harris)

18. Iogen (Shell, PetroCanada)

19. Synthetic Genomics (Draper Fisher Juvetson, Meteor Group, Biotechonomy, Plenus, BP, Asiatic Centre for Genome Technology).

20. Abengoa Energy (Abengoa)

Author: J. Lane


Ants offer potential new solution for biofuels


Scientists from the University of Wisconsin, the Joint Genome Institute and Emory University study the natural bioreactors in rainforests for possible applications in the biofuel sector.

FUENTE – CleanTech – 06/07/09

The study of ants, fungi and bacteria could offer new methods of producing biofuel from plant materials, according to new research released today.

Scientists from the University of Wisconsin, the Joint Genome Institute and Emory University have been tracking the symbiotic relationship between the three groups of organisms in the rainforest. Together, the three can consume 880 pounds of dry leaves a year, maximizing the energy harnessed from the leaves through a bioreactor process refined over 50 million years, according to a report from Discovery News today.

Exactly how is the mystery, and it has prompted Roche to offer a grant to sequence the genomes of 17 organisms, which includes various species in each of the three groups. Further study of the process could result in highly efficient methods of processing plants into biofuels, the scientists said.

The three groups are entirely dependent on each other for survival. Leaf cutter ants bring sections of leaves back to their underground nests, feeding the leaves to fungi.

Then, according to Discovery News:

The fungi secrete enzymes onto the leaves that break down various molecules, leaving behind sugar that the ants use as food. Once the fungi have broken down all they can, the ants remove the leaf pieces from the fungal garden, carry them to the surface and discard them in heaps around the nest. Bacteria continue to break down the leftover leaves, so the waste doesn’t overwhelm the ant colony. … Without the fungi, the ant colonies die. Without the ants, the fungi cannot survive. The bacteria are dependent on both for their food.

The researchers say they think further research could help them discover new enzymes or techniques to produce biofuels.

The reserachers aren’t the only ones looking to nature to crack the biofuel puzzle.

Biofuels could clean up Chernobyl ‘badlands’


CONTAMINATED lands, blighted by fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, could be cleaned up in a clever way: by growing biofuels. Belarus, the country affected by much of the fallout, is planning to use the crops to suck up the radioactive strontium and caesium and make the soil fit to grow food again within decades rather than hundreds of years.


FUENTE – New Scientist – 27/06/09

A 40,000 square kilometre area of south-east Belarus is so stuffed with radioactive isotopes that rained down from the nearby Chernobyl nuclear power station in 1986 that it won’t be fit for growing food for hundreds of years, as the isotopes won’t have decayed sufficiently. But this week a team of Irish biofuels technologists is in the capital, Minsk, hoping to do a deal with state agencies to buy radioactive sugar beet and other crops grown on the contaminated land to make biofuels for sale across Europe.

The company, Greenfield Project Management, insists no radioactive material will get into the biofuel as only ethanol is distilled out. “In distillation, only the most volatile compounds rise up the tube. Everything else is left behind,” says Basil Miller of Greenfield. The heavy radioactive residues will be burned in a power station, producing a concentrated “radioactive ash”. This can be disposed of at existing treatment works for nuclear waste, he says.

The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency is not so sure, however. Its head of waste, Didier Louvat, told New Scientist that, while the biofuels process should be safe, neither Belarus nor Ireland has an adequate way of disposing of the radioactive residues at present. “The disposal facilities Belarus set up after the Chernobyl accident are not acceptable, so they will need safe storage until they have something better.”

Belarus has been tight-lipped about the project, though it is clearly keen to tackle the problem. Last September Andrei Savinkh, Belarus representative at the UN in Geneva, called decontamination of the soil “the number one priority for the Belarus government”.

Chernobyl is in Ukraine, close to the Belarus border. But prevailing winds meant 80 per cent of the fallout from the burning reactor fell in Belarus. Both were then part of the Soviet Union. The accident left vegetation and soils heavily contaminated with strontium-90, caesium-137, plutonium and americium. The most heavily polluted areas remain evacuated but 8 million people live in a much wider contaminated zone.

Farmers grow some grain crops here. The radioactive material concentrates in roots and stalks, which they plough back into the soil after harvesting. So the soil is almost as contaminated now as it was after the accident. The Belarus government hopes that by growing biofuels and using the whole plant, it can cleanse the soil. “Instead of centuries of natural decay [of the radionuclides] this process will cut the time to 20 to 40 years,” Savinkh says.

Greenfield plans to build the first biofuels distillery next year at Mozyr, close to one of the most contaminated areas (see map). The €500 million plant will turn half a million cubic metres of crops a year into 700 million litres of biofuels, starting in 2011. As many as 10 more plants will follow provided funding can be raised, says Miller. The European Union reckons it will need about 25 billion litres of bioethanol by 2020 to meet green fuel targets.

One of Greenfield’s partners will be Belbiopharm, a state biotech company that wants to develop genetically modified crops able to clean the soil more quickly.

The hope is that in the long run these measures will make life safer for local people. A study in 1999 by Nick Beresford of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Lancaster, UK, found that tens of thousands of people in the contaminated region are consuming dangerous levels of radioactivity in their food.

Author: F. Pearce

New low-energy desal process could be used to make biofuels


Highly efficient heat exchangers hold the key to Terrabon’s AdVE process, which the company is combining with a biomass process to make transportation fuels and potable water.

FUENTE – CleanTechnica – 24/03/09

Houston-based Terrabon plans to begin engineering work in April on its first commercial plant to demonstrate a new method of desalination using highly efficient heat exchangers.

Terrabon just received approval from the city council of Laredo, Texas, to build and operate the $1.6 million two-year project with partner Texas Engineering Experiment Station. The demonstration project is expected to desalinate 50,000 gallons of brackish well water per day using about five heat exchangers. Construction is expected to be complete in 2009.

CFO Malcolm McNeill told the Cleantech Group that Terrabon’s desalination process has the advantage over reverse osmosis in being cheaper and less energy-intensive. But the technology isn’t limited to well water. Terrabon is in talks to use a related process to turn municipal solid waste into two products in high demand: potable water and transportation fuel.

The technology originated at Texas A&M University, which sold the exclusive worldwide license to Terrabon in 1995. Professor Mark Holtzapple developed the proprietary desalination technology, dubbed AdVE, by refining a commonly understood desalination process, advanced vapor compression evaporation.

In advanced vapor compression evaporation, salty or brackish water is placed against a metal plate that is heated on one side. The result is condensation that separates out the salty materials.

Holtzapple added proprietary heat-exchange techniques that greatly enhanced the heat-transfer rate. AdVE strings together a series of the heat exchangers to pull out the impurities in a stream of water. The resulting process lowers the capital costs and operating costs when compared to a reverse-osmosis desalination plant, McNeill said.

A report from Lux Research last week projected a compound annual growth rate for desalinated water of 9.5 percent over the next decade, thanks to “a rising wave of new water treatment technologies all aiming to challenge the incumbent reverse osmosis.”

In terms of the capital expenditure required, AdVE has an estimated cost of $2.85 per daily gallon of water processed, while reverse-osmosis desalination is about $5.10. Operating costs are projected to have a similar spread: $1.65 per 1,000 gallons for AdVE, and $4.95 for reverse osmosis (RO).

“The heat-transfer coefficient with AdVE is very efficient, while RO is very energy intensive,” McNeill said. “Higher heat transfer means you need less energy to get the same job done, and that’s your biggest operating cost.”

Terrabon sees enormous potential for its water technology and is already in talks with potential clients in Europe.

“The U.S. is behind the curve because it hasn’t taken this problem seriously,” McNeill said. “The Southeastern states, Texas, New Mexico, and even the Northeast are all starting to wake up to it.”

The technology could be used to provide potable water to ships at sea. But the most lucrative application could produce potable water and transportation fuels by combining AdVE with the process that Holtzapple was originally developing at Texas A&M.

AdVE resulted as a spinoff of MixAlco, a biomass-to-fuel conversion process developed by Holtzapple to produce mixed alcohols. In MixAlco, biomass—such as municipal solid waste or energy crops—is fermented. Water is then removed to produce organic salts, which are treated with chemicals to be made into fuels such as gasoline, diesel or jet fuel. AdVE came about as the method by which Holtzapple removed water from the fermented materials in order to create organic salts.

That MixAlco technology alone has been the focus of Terrabon’s activity to-date, and the company is in talks to deploy it. The company spent $3 million to build its SemiWorks plant in Bryant, Texas, which is set to begin fermenting sorghum in the next couple weeks. By April or mid-May, Terrabon expects to see the product from that fermentation. After a few cycles with sorghum, Terrabon plans to use the facility to test the process on municipal solid waste.

Terrabon is working with the city of Port Arthur, Texas, to build a small plant designed to turn 50 tons of waste per day into organic salts, which would then be sent to a local refinery. Engineering work has started, and Terrabon is negotiating with the city on the use of the municipal waste and location of the project.

The plant is estimated to cost $34 million, so Terrabon has applied for funding through the Texas Emerging Technology Fund and the U.S. Department of Energy. Terrabon expects the plant to produce 1.5 million to 1.8 million gallons of gasoline per year.

Once the Laredo and Port Arthur plants prove the technologies, Terrabon expects to be able to move forward with a AdVE-MixAlco combination plant that could take in 200 tons per day of municipal solid waste and 160 tons of additional materials, including lyme, inoculates and sewage sludge. Terrabon says that input could produce 4.5 million gallons of gasoline per year and 85,000 gallons per day of potable water.

“Cities like Laredo are going to need this type of technology, so our hope is the 50,000 gallon per day project in Laredo will lead to a 200 ton per day municipal solid waste processing facility,” McNeill said.

Terrabon is still a small company, with fewer than 10 fulltime employees in addition to the consultants. The founders put about $4 million into the company between 1995 and 2007, much of which obtained the license from Texas A&M. In 2007, an undisclosed investor contributed $1 million, and Terrabon secured some bridge financing in 2008 and early this year.

Now, Terrabon is seeking to raise $5 million in funding, with a portion expected to close in the next couple weeks.


Author: E. Ritch