Thursday, September 20, 2007

Synthetic Biology Bio-Fuels Startups...

Lots of activity in synthetic biology biofuels startups....

Amyris Biotechnologies, a CA Bay Area-based startup using synthetic biology to create fuels to replace petroleum, recently announced that it has raised the first portion of a $70M VC investment round (on top of $20M it previously raised from Khosla Ventures, Keiner Perkins, and TPG Ventures).

Amyris has plans to make bio-gasoline, bio-diesel, and bio-jet fuels and hopes to hit the market by 2010.

The basic strategy is to genetically/metabolically engineer organisms that can convert sugars/cellulose into fuel molecules that do not mix with water, so that they are easily separated out, avoiding the financial and energy costs associated with distilling ethanol. And then the challenge is doing it as an industrial scale. After this investment, Amyris is valued at $470 (!).

There are three other main players in this area: LS9, Gevo, and Synthetic Genomics.

LS9 is a CA Bay Area startup initially funded by Flagship Ventures and Khosla Ventures. MIT alum and Energy Club member, David Berry, has played a very active role in founding and growing this company, in part for which he was awarded Technology Review magazine's Innovator of the Year. The university based co-founders were Chris Somerville (Stanford) and George Church (MIT-Harvard).

Gevo is based in Pasadena, CA and has been financed in part by Khosla Ventures and Virgin Fuels. Gevo has licensed tech from the labs of Frances Arnold at Caltech.

Synthetic Genomics, a Craig Venter startup based in Rockville, MD alongside Venter's researcher centers and also with offices in La Jolla, CA, has developed a minimal genome bacterium that they hope will give them a key advantage in engineering organisms to make fuels. They recently raised a 2nd round of financing, after which they were valued at $300M. MIT Sloan alum and Energy Club member Gaye Bok is currently their head of business development.

Will any of these companies 1.) successfully create organisms that can create hydrocarbons and 2.) more importantly will they be able to produce at scale at a reasonable cost?

Weigh in!


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