LS9 Scales Up in Chemical Business As Biofuels Industry Re-Tools
by Bernadette Tansey (Xconomy) The South San Francisco company LS9 recently produced five tons of industrial chemicals from plant sugars at a Florida demonstration facility, a step toward proving that its genetically engineered microbes can manufacture carbon compounds and fuels at a commercial scale.
Chief executive officer Ed Dineen says the private company is eager to raise money to finance the company’s next stage, but it’s harder these days.
…Both LS9 and Amyris use synthetic biology to turn microbes into manufacturing units. Each has re-designed entire metabolic pathways in microorganisms to make them efficiently produce quantities of marketable chemicals. Once such companies begin to scale up their processes, their fortunes depend less on lab wizardry and more on other factors that no one company can control, such as crop prices, agricultural trade policies, and manufacturing contracts.
…Amyris already sells renewable diesel to fuel about 200 city buses in Brazil, says spokesman Joel Velasco. In its main efforts at expansion, the company has completed about 45 percent of the construction on a plant in Brazil in a joint venture with Grupo São Martinho, one of the country’s largest sugar producers. It halted work on that factory to build a smaller one at the Paraiso Bioenergia mill, also in the state of São Paulo. Amyris expects to start commercial production at Paraiso in early 2013, and will use the lessons learned there when it restarts building at São Martinho, Velasco said.
Amyris will make a compound called farnesene under the brand name Biofene, which can be modified to produce fuels and other commercial products such as industrial lubricants or cosmetics.
…Dineen says LS9 also has the flexibility to make either fuels or higher-priced, higher-margin products, which he calls “value chemicals.’’
…The stumbling block is the price of sugar, which makes investors reluctant to finance the large demonstration plants that could prove that renewable production methods can work at a commercial scale, (Noubar) Afeyan (CEO of Flagship Ventures) says.
… Although the financing environment is weak at the moment, Dineen says, investors with a long-term view are maintaining their interest in the renewable fuels and chemicals space.
“The technology we’re working on will be commercialized; it will have an impact,’’ he says. “It’s only a question of when.’’ READ MORE