October 28, 2011

BioFuels Digest

The 50 Hottest Companies in Bioenergy: who is hot, hotter, hottest now?

As the new Hot 50 looms, we look at how much hotter, colder the current Hot 50 have been this year. Who will stay on the island, who is waiting in the wings?

Readers: Subscriber and selector voting in the 50 Hottest Companies in Bioenergy for 2011-12 winds up shortly, and we will announce the new Hot 50 “live” at Advanced Biofuels Markets in San Francisco in two weeks.

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. 10-to-1 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 next March. 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 4 years away, down from 5. 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. Major project ready to go in Alabama. Rumors swirling of an imminent acquisition, 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.

Visit http://bit.ly/vdutXn for the full list.