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The 50 Hottest Companies in Bioenergy: Who's Hot, Hotter, Hottest Now?

What kind of year did the 2010-11 Hot 50 have? Who's getting hotter? Who missed out last year but has had a mighty hot year all the same, and merits consideration.

To answer these questions, the Digest has drawn up a company-by-company brief.

1. Amyris. Monster year for yeast-based advanced sugar fermentation into fuels, lubes, chemicals. Customers appearing out of the woodwork. CEO John Melo reportedly buying Brazil, possibly Mars, in the race for capacity. Authors of “One Billion Things to Build Out of Biofene.” Got to Brazil before anyone else. Beloved more by the French (specifically, Total) than Jerry Lewis or Thomas Jefferson. DOE grantee.

2. Solazyme. Oversubscribed IPO (for algae-based) advanced sugar fermentation into renewable oils for fuels, chemicals, personal care and food products. San Francisco is putting another freeway in to handle the Biz Dev traffic. Currently capacity sold out through 2525. Scouring Craigs List for fermenting capacity. Top prospect for a sales call if thou art selling steel, or ground. In Brazil, in France; partnered with Qantas for aviation biofuels. DOE grantee.

3. POET. The Monsters of the Midway. Aimed at 3.5 billion gallons, and these guys don’t mess around. This company is basically China disguised as an ethanol venture. Discount at your peril. DOE grantee, and DOE loan guarantee.

4. LS9. A technology that makes scientists gush and weep. Founded off George Church/Chris Somerville scribble on a napkin. Building a demo in Florida. Seriously snooping around Brazil for the right deal. When will the technology be really, really ready for prime time? If soon, look out, it’s a competitor-killer. DOE grantee.

5. Gevo. Another IPO, high-flyer this year, and bought a Luverne, MN ethanol plant, to switch to isobutanol by June. Makes isobutanol, jet fuel via fermentation of corn starch. Either the single most undervalued stock on NASDAQ, or a 50 million gallon ethanol venture with a $300M market cap. We’ll know by Q1 next year. DOE grantee.

6. DuPont Danisco. Likely to lose the “Danisco” following Dupont/Danisco merger. Don’t take it from us, take it from BP: “The only two companies really getting ready for real scale are BP and Dupont.” Cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass, corn cobs; first commercial plant planned for Iowa. DOE grantee.

7. Novozymes. Aloof but magnificent enzyme developers. Fearsome competitor. Ruthlessly ratcheting down the cellulosic biofuels enzyme costs, down more than half in the past two years. Says cellulosic ethanol is four years away, down from five. Picked up a nice patent infringement win over Danisco. Sales climbing at 3X global GDP.

8. Coskata. Raising money. Open for business. Investors have blanched at the dilutive price of scale-up financing options, so far presented. Major project ready to go in Alabama. Rumors swirling of an imminent acquisition or other strategic shift, if they can’t break through by early 2012. Locking horns with INEOS Bio over trade secrets. USDA loan guarantee.

9. Codexis. Shell, Shell, Shell, Shell, cheap sugar, Shell, Shell, bagasse, Shell and Shell. Buying up IP from Maxygen was a masterstroke. Enzyme developer, based on gene shuffling technology.

10. Sapphire Energy. A Zillion Gallons or Bust. Massive scale, minimizing cost is dictating every choice in their New Mexico build-out. The biggest open pond venture — “if rice works, why not algae”. Collapsing 1,000 years of development into 10 years, can they get there? Serious mojo, man. DOE grantee. USDA loan guarantee.

11. Virent. Pilot done, now going for scale. Everyone’s Fave for the sugar-to-diesel route not using fermentation. Uses a thermochemical process. Expected to develop in Brazil, US. DOE grantee.

12. Mascoma. IPO filed. Massive hope on this one. No one on the outside is quite sure why they haven’t broken through to scale. Would help if Valero hit the accelerator, the way Total did for Amyris. Consolidated bioprocessing of wood to biofuels, chems. Acquired SunOpta pretreatment, now Mascoma Canada. DOE grantee.

13. Ceres. The most serious effort going, by a country mile, in developing switchgrass and energy cane. Salt-tolerance, drought tolerance, nutrient take up, yield improvement on their target list.

14. Cobalt Technologies. Biobutanol’s Street Cred gang – doing their demo now. Big deal in Brazil just went down. It’s n-butanol, more opportunities in chems than isobutanol. Why make a $2 fuel when you make a $5 chemical, sez CEO Rick Wilson. Developing jet fuel for the US Navy.

15. Honeywell’s UOP. The veggie oil to jet fuel upgrading technology of choice. Also partnered with Ensus in Envergent, the pyrolysis venture. DOE grantee.

16. Enerkem. Haley Barbour’s other pet, besides KiOR. Canada’s Garbage+magic play, first commercial in Alberta. Fave of landfill operators. DOE grantee.

17. BP Biofuels. Backward integrating – currently wooing growers from Texas to Brazil. Only interested in world domination. Well on the way. Cellulosic ethanol and biobutanol in US, sugarcane ethanol in Brazil. Theme is “advantaged biofuels” vs “advanced biofuels”. Invested in Qteros, Chromatin.

18. Genencor. Accellerase Trio came out this year. Developing bioisoprene. Launched its open development initiative – think AppStore.  Serious partnering with anyone, everything that needs an enzyme. Watch out on this one, seriously. Dupont paid huge freaking dollars to get a hold of this, they want to get their money out, will be pressing pedal to the metal.

19. Petrobras. Were going medium big on biofuels. President Roussef had a word. Now, going HUGE on biofuels.

20. Abengoa Bioenergy. The Spanish conquistadores. Hugoton, Kansas – cellulosic ethanol from corn stover via enzymatic hydrolysis. Dyadic partner. Now on the fast track. DOE grantee.

21. Qteros. The little biovarmint that could – consolidated bioprocessing on the nanoscale. Hooked up with Praj in India. Investors include BP.


22. Joule Unlimited. A Bolshevik Process – completely revolutionary, transformative on economics, sustainability. Looks like a solar panel, but makes molecules instead of electrons. Will it work at scale? 2012, we’ll know a lot.

23. Shell. JV’d with the Brazilian Leviathan, Cosan. Also invested in Iogen, Codexis, Virent.

24. BlueFire Renewables. Oughta be a BFR logo next to “persistence” in your dictionary of choice. Light on capital, long on proven cellulosic ethanol pilot hours. Acid hydrolysis. Acquisition opportunity. DOE grantee.

25. Rentech. Spinning out ammonia business in new IPO. Shopping for technologies that need a hot front end gasifier for collaboration, investment. Colorado PDU completion is imminent. Uses the Fischer-Tropsch process in a low-cost way. DOE grantee.

26. Algenol. Broke ground on algae-to-ethanol demo in FL. Modified algae sweat ethanol inside specially designed bioreactors. DOE grantee. Paul Woods’s low-cost drive making Wal-Mart look like a money-is-no-object-boutique. Goal is $1 per gallon ethanol at scale – if they hit that mark, a game-changer on alcohol-to-jet.

27. ZeaChem. Demo finished Q4 2011. Monster yields. Cellulosic ethanol and acetic acid at pop(u)lar prices. DOE grantee. Later on, a C3 and C4 platform open up.

28. PetroAlgae. A/k/a ProteinDuckweed. Human trials on micro crop protein could open up vast new markets. Developing in Chile.

29. Neste Oil. World leader in cellulosic biofuels by volume – palm feedstock getting controversial. Massive scale-up in Singapore, Rotterdam, Finland.

30. Synthetic Genomics. Huge ExxonMobil deal, so heavily advertised that its science team is joining AFTRA. Craig Venter says natural algae will fail, only synth bio will work. The rest of you all can go home now.

31. LanzaTech. Ferments steel mill off gases into ethanol. CTO Sean Simpson often mistaken for Ronald McDonald when visiting China. He doesn’t mind – likes that “billions and billions served” association.

32. Iogen. From stealth to fame and back to stealth again. Shell’s interest now owned by Raizen. Under new management.

33. OriginOil. Developing and delivering algal technologies to MBD Energy in Australia. Made serious run for title in Transformative Technologies. CEO Riggs Eckelberry has rabid fan base.

34. Range Fuels. On the comeback trail, following “oops” on scale-up. Lost Vinod’s love.

35. ExxonMobil. The mother of all balance sheets, generally considers biofuels a joke. Sweet on cyanobacteria, though advertising budget possibly larger than actual external investments to date. Exploring a modification of the human genome to suppress the “hate Big Oil” trait.

36. Cargill. A capital P private company. Quietly investing, watching, waiting. Deep into NatureWorks, invested in Virent. Ag commodity monsters, some ethanol, biodiesel.

37. SG Biofuels. Major tie-up with Life Technologies to develop jatropha genetics toolkit. developed JMax jatropha 2.0.  They Might Be Giants.

38. Butamax. Biobutanol heavyweight. Dupont-BP JV busy suing Gevo, knocking down costs.

39. Terrabon. Transformative Technologies 2011 winner by a country mile. Waste Management, Valero all over this garbage-to-drop-in-fuel play. Technology is called MixAlco.

40. Cosan. Most of its assets now tied up in Raizen JV with Shell. Neede the massive capital base for global domination plans.

41. Verenium. A billion dollars of investment into this $30 million company. Has monster IP in enzymes. Happy to be back to Diversa model, after Celunol misadventure.

42. Waste Management. Investing furiously. Terrabon, Enerkem, Harvest BioPower, S4 etc etc etc. Frequently double-dates with Valero. These dudes have vision and checkbook.

43. IneosBio. The Rodney Dangerfield of advanced biofuels. What are these guys doing at #43? Going for scale, have balance sheet, first IBR completion imminent. Not a Coskata fanboy.

44. Dynamic Fuels. Nearing full capacity production at 75 million gallon renewable diesel plant. Turn animal ickies into fuels. JV between Tyson and Syntroleum. US leader in renewable diesel current capacity.

45. Fulcrum Bioenergy. Filed for IPO. Shhhhh! In quiet period. developing waste-to-fuels project using MSW, near Reno. Technology aggregator, built for speed.

46. KL Energy. Dowen in Brazil, allied with Petrobras on development of cellulosic biofuels. Pretreatment magic. Had first 1 million capacity US cellulosic ethanol at Wyoming demo.

47. KiOR. Pyrolysis kings. Monster IPO. Vinod’s current main squeeze. Building scale all over Mississippi. Most people falling over in admiration, after visiting facilities. A couple of prominent in-the-know hold-outs giving the thumbs down. We’ll know who’s right, soon.

48. Chevron. The quiet monster behind Solazyme, Catchlight. HQ people known for making snippy, snarky comments about biofuels.

49. Monsanto. Michael Pollan organizing the Occupy Monsanto movement, we hear. Partnered with Sapphire Energy. Ferociously smart management, keep a close eye, time to make a bet.

50. Inbicon. DONG Energy’s cellulosic play – would likely be ranked higher if not from tiny Denmark. 2.4 million gallon demo in Kalundborg is the cellulosic ethanol capacity champ at present. Hasn’t quite knocked out need for subsidies in cost model yet.

Some companies that missed out in 2010-11 but merit a close look (in alpha order)

Aemetis (formerly AE Biofuels) – cellulosic ethanol
American Process – cellulosic ethanol
Anellotech – pyrolysis
Arbor Gen – feedstock developer
Aurora Algae – algae to feed, fuel, nutraceuticals
Avantium – renewable chems
BioProcess Algae – algae bolt-on to ethanol plant
Blue Marble Biomaterials – renewable chems
Catchlight Energy – cellulosic ethanol, JV of Weyerhaeuser and Chevron
Chemtex – cellulosic ethanol
Chromatin – gene stacking feedstock trait developer, big on sorghum
ClearFuels – gasifier, now owned mostly by rentech
Comet Biorefining – low cost cellulosic sugars
DSM – enzyme developer, acquired Martek
Dyadic – enzyme partner for Codexis, Abengoa
EdeniQ – cellulosic ethanol
Elevance Renewable Sciences – renewable chems and fuel-capable. IPO filed.
Ensyn – pyrolysis partner of UOP (In Envergent)
Fiberight – cellulosic ethanol
Genera Energy – feedstock developer/aggregator
Genomatica – #1 in renewable chems Hot 30
GeoSynFuels - 5CSTM Process for cellulosic ethanol, other bio-based products
GlycosBio – renewable chems from glyererine
HCL Cleantech – cellulosic ethanol and front-end partner
Ignite Energy – pyrolysis
Lignol – cellulosic ethanol
Live Fuels – fish eat algae, recover fish oil
Mendel Biotechnologies – feedstock developer (miscanthus)
OPX Bio – renewable drop-in fuels, chems
Phycal – algae to fuels
Praj Industries – first-gen, advanced biofuels engineering
Propel Fuels – downstream distributor, market maker for E85, biodiesel, advanced biofuels
Proterro – low cost cellulosic sugars
Renewable Energy Group – #1 biodiesel producer. IPO filed.
Solix – algae photobioreactor developer.
SynGest – renewable ammonia
Syngenta – corn, sugar developer. Enogen unit delivers corn amlylase inside plant
Targeted Growth – camelina and jet fuel developer
TMO Renewables – cellulosic ethanol
Verdezyne – renewable adipic acid

This article was originally published on Biofuels Digest and was reprinted with permission. 

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