Amyris Inc. (AMRS) is seeking to make renewable fuel that can compete on price with crude oil with a process that uses hot water to convert wood waste into sugars, said Chief Executive Officer John Melo.
Amyris, a biotechnology company based in Emeryville, California, gets most of its sugars from cane farms in Brazil and is looking for cheaper alternatives to produce diesel fuel and plant-based chemicals, he said.
The company is evaluating a process developed by Renmatix, a startup that produces sugars from wood waste. Water that’s under high pressure and heated to to about 400 degrees Fahrenheit (204 Celsius) can instantly break down cell walls and release sugars, Chief Executive Officer Mike Hamilton said at a media briefing with John Doerr, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
“When you’ve got John Doerr and Amyris behind you, that increases your chances of scaling up,” Alejandro Zamorano Cadavid, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance in New York, said today in an interview. “It’s a new and interesting technology that could drive down costs.”
The Renmatix process is unlike most biofuel production because it doesn’t require chemicals to extract sugars from hardwoods and other biomass feedstocks, Melo said. Amyris then uses micro-organisms similar to yeast to ferment the sugars into fuels.
“I’m searching the world for cheap sugars,” Melo said at the briefing yesterday in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, where closely held Renmatix is building a research facility and headquarters. “I like this because it’s simple.”
Renmatix has a pilot plant in Georgia that produces three tons of sugars a day from wood, and is shipping the product to potential buyers for testing including Amyris and DuPont Co.
“Renmatix is on the edge of getting to the money,” Melo said. “In three to five years we should have competitive sugars from biomass.”
Renmatix wants to form partnerships with companies such as DuPont and Amyris to help it build its first full-scale plant next year, Hamilton said in an interview. To reduce transportation costs, the facility must be within 75 miles of large forest resources, he said.
Doerr is on Renmatix’s board and the Menlo Park, California-based venture capital company has provided funding for the company.
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