Switchcraft: Metabolix Bioconverts Itself into Yield10, Focuses on Crop Yields
by Jim Lane (Biofuels Digest) In Massachusetts we have had more signs of the pivoting underway in the advanced bioeconomy with the news that Metabolix is changing its name to Yield10 Bioscience and will focus on developing disruptive technologies for step-change improvements to crop yield to enhance global food security.
The company is hard at work re-thinking how it talks about its past as a developer of renewable chemicals. These days, you’ll find Yield10 chatting up its “extensive track record of innovation based around optimizing the flow of carbon intermediates in living systems.”
And it’s true, at one time Yield10 was “a planned spinout that will commercialize crop science innovations that Metabolix and its partners have developed over the last 10+ years. Target crops will include key row crops (corn, soybean, canola, sugarcane, sorghum, alfalfa) as well as industrial and energy crops (e.g. Camelina and switchgrass). The increased fixed carbon will be directed to products of interest through Yield10’s advanced metabolic engineering capabilities.”
The spin-out was announced back in 2015. Then, the spin-out became the company, in a shift the company originally signalled last October in a presentation to investors. And now the shift is complete.
So, this is quite a bit about Yield10. But it really is more about the jettisoning of the old Metabolix.
(R)enewable chemicals have been almost perfectly exposed to the market.
In fact, it may be the only truly laissez-faire sector out there anywhere near the world of petroleum, which benefits from accelerated depreciation in the upstream exploration area as well as the favorable tax treatment available through Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs), which are only available to fossil fuels.
And here’s the old saw in the business of chemicals and fuels: when your business model is running out of steam, go upstream. Companies that historically were founded around refining — such as Standard Oil — long-ago found that there’s good money to be made in exploration and production.
The rocky road for independent trait companies
Now, trait development is to crop yield as fracking is to oil & gas yield — getting more out of the same underlying resource, by squeezing more drops of product out. Many are active in the field — some with conspicuously more success than others. Ceres ultimately sold out to Land O’Lakes last year after its trait development program took longer and cost more than expected. Mendel Biotechnology sold out to Koch Industries in 2014 after a long set of collaborations with Monsanto, Bayer, and a big collab with BP to develop miscanthus for cellulosic fuels. But companies like Chromatin and NexSteppe have been doing especially well in the world of sorghum, and have remained independent. READ MORE / MORE and MORE (Yield 10)