Wednesday, December 22, 2010

LS9 Synthetic Biology Receives Another Round of Funding

LS9 EColi

LS9 has held onto its previous group of investors and added BlackRock, for a $30 million venture funding round.
LS9 uses a one-step fermentation process to convert renewable plant-based materials into a diverse portfolio of fuel and chemical products. The company has successfully operated its pilot plant in South San Francisco, California for more than two years and announced the acquisition of a larger-scale production facility in Okeechobee, Florida in January 2010. In June 2010, LS9 won the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award. _GCC

More on the underlying LS9 approach:
Pushing the frontiers of synthetic biology and industrial biotechnology, LS9 has perfected an elegant 1-step fermentation process that uses patent-pending DesignerMicrobes™ to efficiently convert renewable feedstocks to a portfolio of "drop in compatible" UltraClean™ fuels and sustainable chemicals. LS9's unique technology provides a means to genetically control the structure and function of its fuels and chemicals, enabling a product portfolio that meets the diverse demands of the petroleum economy.

LS9 has developed a new means of efficiently converting fatty acid intermediates into petroleum replacement products via fermentation of renewable sugars. LS9 has also discovered and engineered a new class of enzymes and their associated genes to efficiently convert fatty acids into hydrocarbons. LS9 believes this pathway is the most cost, resource, and energy-efficient way to produce petroleum-replacement products and industrial chemicals. This translates into efficient land and feedstock use and directly addresses tensions between food versus fuel and chemical production. _LS9

As long as one does not expect immediate profits from companies such as LS9, investing in such technology is a rational part of an overall energy portfolio. It is a long-term prospect, like its many well-financed cousins in the advanced biofuels research field.

The underlying science is sound, although problems of conversion to profitable commercial scale may take a decade to solve, and another decade to achieve scaleup. In the meantime, supply and demand questions are likely to drive energy & fuel prices like a whipsaw. But once advanced synthetic fuels achieve profitable scale-up (~20 years... AFE), they are likely to put a price ceiling on crude oil of around $60 a barrel in 2010 USD, according to Al Fin energy analysts.

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Blogger Bruce Hall said...

It would be interesting if their process could use landfill waste as source stock. Imagine converting all of that bio-garbage into aviation fuel.

9:32 AM  
Blogger al fin said...

Most modified microbes such as these require specific feedstocks. But as you say, an omnivorous strain of microbe that could convert landfill trash to high value fuels, chemicals, plastics, feeds, etc. would be useful.

I suspect that multiple species either in staged reactors or coexisting synergistically, would suit the bill better than a single species.

Eventually, it may all be done abiotically using nano-tech biomimetic catalyst pseudo-enzymes, which will function under much harsher conditions than most organisms are capable of functioning under at this time.

2:43 PM  

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