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Amyris, a synthetic biology startup focused on fuel production opened its first pilot plant in Emeryville, Calif. today. The company plans to use sugarcane to make diesel, jet fuel and gasoline that would be chemically similar to petroleum equivalents.

The strong smell of yeast and a palpable level of excitement were heavy in the air this morning at the opening of Amyris’s first pilot plant, located in Emeryville, Calif. Technicians in white lab coats were busy harvesting some of the first few gallons of the company’s “No Compromise” diesel fuel. The “No Compromise” branding, Amyris CEO John Melo said, is meant to communicate that this biobased diesel is “as good or better performing than petroleum diesel, without compromise to the environment or economics.”

amyris

The company, which crafts synthetic biological organisms to produce chemical compounds, will fine tune its process in Emeryville over the next year-and-a-half, and it aims to begin commercial production by June 2010 in Brazil. The initial feedstock for the plant will be sugar from sugarcane, but any sugar would work with the company’s genetically-modified yeast. Melo acknowledges that cellulosic feedstocks are coming up fast, and in 5 to 10 years he says Amyris might partner with or acquire a cellulosic biofuel company.

Melo described the company’s business model as “a capital-light model to scale up fast.” The company plans to partner with existing ethanol plants and convert a portion of those partners’ production capacity to make diesel and other chemicals using Amyris IP. The startup will then buy the products back from the refiner and take them to market, Melo said. The startup has already formed a joint venture with Santelisa Vale, Brazil’s second largest sugar grower, called Crystalsev, which aims to produce 200 million gallons of fuel a year by 2011 at several of its existing ethanol plants at a price of less than $2 a gallon.

The Brazilian partnership, Melo explained, gives Amyris access to ports and ships to export the fuel. Amyris plans to import it to the U.S. and sell its to large customers, like Wal-Mart and the U.S. government. Foreign ethanol is hit with a 54-cent-per-gallon tariff as it comes into the U.S., but Amyris would be importing hydrocarbons, not ethanol, and therefore avoid the tariff. Amyris is already marketing other companies’ biofuels in the Southeast to make sure its distribution channels will work.

To date, Amyris’ strategy hasn’t seamed particularly “capital light.” The company has raised more than $120 million in capital (see previous coverage here and here) from heavy-hitting cleantech and biotech investors, including Kleiner Perkins, Khosla Ventures, TPG Biotech and DAG Ventures.

  1. [...] Brazil, synthetic biofuel producer Amyris said that it expects to produce 200 Mgy of synthetic, biomass-based diesel by 2011 from its j…. The company’s biorefineries, based on bioengineered yeasts that eat sugar and secrete [...]

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  2. [...] Brazil, synthetic biofuel producer Amyris said that it expects to produce 200 Mgy of synthetic, biomass-based diesel by 2011 from its j…. The company’s biorefineries, based on bioengineered yeasts that eat sugar and secrete [...]

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  3. [...] Amyris Opens Synthetic Diesel Pilot Plant: Biofuel startup Amyris started production of its “No Compromise” synthetic diesel fuel and officially opened its first pilot plant at its headquarters in Emeryville, Calif. [...]

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  4. [...] Amyris Opens Synthetic Diesel Pilot Plant: Biofuel startup Amyris started production of its “No Compromise” synthetic diesel fuel and officially opened its first pilot plant at its headquarters in Emeryville, Calif. The Debt Markets Cramped T. Boone’s Wind Plan: Pickens says he was originally planning to finance his 4,000-MW wind farm in Texas with 30 percent equity and 70 percent debt financing, but more recently the debt markets have caused a “financial hangup.” [...]

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  5. [...] Amyris Opens Synthetic Diesel Pilot Plant: Biofuel startup Amyris started production of its “No Compromise” synthetic diesel fuel and officially opened its first pilot plant at its headquarters in Emeryville, Calif. [...]

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  6. [...] Amyris Opens Synthetic Diesel Pilot Plant in Emeryville, CA. The company, which crafts synthetic biological organisms to produce chemical compounds, will fine tune its process in Emeryville over the next year-and-a-half, and it aims to begin commercial production by June 2010 in Brazil. [...]

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  7. [...] Amyris opened its first pilot plant in Emeryville, Calif. back in November, and showed off some of the first few gallons of the company’s synthetic diesel fuel, which it had branded as “No Compromise,” meant to communicate that the fuel is “as good or better performing than petroleum diesel, without compromise to the environment or economics,” Amyris CEO John Melo told us. [...]

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