In Texas, Terrabon filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection; the company's operations will cease and a trustee will be tasked with liquidating the company's assets for the benefit of creditors.
The complete Chapter 7 announcement is here.
In a statement, Terrabon’s leadership said that company could not obtain additional corporate funding to finish developing and engineering its first commercial-scale plant. Suspension of operations resulted in lay-offs of approximately 60 full-time employees, effective with the bankruptcy filing.
The storyline is clear enough: Terrabon had a financing round planned for this year, which Waste Management was expected to lead. In August, Terrabon learned that Waste Management would not be participating in the round – part of what Terrabon was informed was a cutback in WM’s overall capital investment following a late July corporate shake-up.
What does Terrabon make?
Terrabon produces high-octane gasoline using its MixAlco technology. MixAlco is an acid fermentation process that converts biomass into organic salts. The resulting non-hazardous organic salts, or bio-crude, would be then shipped by truck, rail or pipeline to a Valero refinery or other centralized processing facility where it would be converted to a high-octane gasoline that can be blended directly into a refiner’s fuel pool, avoiding many of the blending and logistics challenges presented by ethanol.
As of last year, Terrabon had exceeded its goal of producing 70 gallons of renewable gasoline per ton of MSW using its patented acid fermentation technology.
And last fall, Terrabon announced that it has been awarded a $9.6 million, 18-month contract by Logos Technologies to design a more economical and renewable jet fuel production solution for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
The announcement capped off a month in which unconfirmed rumors concerning Terrabon’s struggles in its latest financing round increased in frequency and intensity. By Wednesday, the Digest wrote:
“But we expect that we have not seen the last round of rationalization by a major strategic – perhaps not even the last major announcement this month. Watch those companies that have had their strategics on board for three years, or more. It’s hard for strategics to make shifts in less than three years without looking unserious – without the data to make decisions – but three-year time windows are usually enough for portfolio rationalization to occur. Not to mention that effective corporate godfathers often move up or out within three years.”
The WM reorganization
In the last week of July, Waste Managementannounced a decision to eliminate 700 positions – 2 percent of its overall workforce – and a flattening of its management structure as well as reductions in corporate support staff.
The plan was announced after WM profits fell to 45 cents per share for Q2 (down from 50 cents in Q2 2011) and well down from consensus analyst expectations, pegged at 53 cents. It was the fifth quarter in a row of falling margins at WM, and a second consecutive quarter of missing analyst expectations.
At the same time, WM maintained its shareholder dividend – putting presumed pressure on capital outlays such as represented by the investing activities of the Organic Growth Group, tasked with finding growth opportunities synergistic with the WM’s objective of maximizing value from waste, including converting them into biofuels, renewable chemicals and energy.
WM’s representative on the Terrabon board, WM Senior Vice President Carl Rush – chief of the company’s organic Growth Group, took early retirement in the corporate restructuring.
Other financing options at Terrabon
Terrabon quietly laid off 40 staff in late August in an attempt to reduce the cash burn and buy more time for refinancing. Other investors in Terrabon were sympathetic, but unable to fill the void on short notice. Valero, for example, had faced a similar situation at Qteros in the past year – while stepping up at Mascoma with increased investment aimed at helping that company proceed to complete its first commercial plant. Last summer, Valero announced that it OK’d the financing of the Diamond Green renewable diesel project off its balance sheet, and pulled out of the DOE loan guarantee program.
A flutter of hope
In the last week of August, hopes grew that Waste Management would be able to continue to support its complete set of planned investments, when WM and Renmatix announced a joint development agreement to explore the feasibility of converting post-consumer waste into affordable, sufficient-quality sugars for manufacturing biobased materials. At the time, it was reported that WM had joined global chemical giant BASF and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in Renmatix’s Series C raise, now totaling $75M. More on the WM, Renmatix deal is here.
In addition, WM continued to participate in Genomatica, joining the $41.5M Series D round that was announced August 3rd, and which included Alloy Ventures, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Mohr Davidow Ventures, TPG Biotech, and VantagePoint Capital Partners – with WM as the chief strategic. But Terrabon was unable, ultimately, to secure another round of WM support.
Reaction at Waste Management