Virent Raises $21M, Renewable Fuels


virent1.jpg Update: We just chatted with Virent CEO Eric Apfelbach, who told us the company already has a pilot project “somewhere in the U.S.” Apfelbach also says that the company hopes to do an IPO “in a few years time.” Good luck with that.

As traditional biofuels — ethanol and biodiesel — increasingly show signs that they’re not as sustainable as the planet needs, startups are trying to work out the kinks for the next generation. One such startup is Madison, Wisc.-based Virent Energy Systems, which says it has raised $21 million in a second round of funding led by Stark Investments and Venture Investors, and including Cargill Ventures.

Virent, founded in 2002, uses a thermochemical process developed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to create biofuels and hydrogen. The company needs a lot of funds to help it commercialize its technology, which likely won’t go into production for at least another four to five years. With today’s round, Virent has now raised a total of $40 million.

One of the holy grails of next-gen biofuels is the ability to make them compatible with existing petroleum-based infrastructure and vehicles. Virent says its low temperature “bioforming” process can produce fuels that can — in theory — be used with current vehicle systems. The company also says its fuels will be price competitive with gas and will have a 20 percent to 30 percent price advantage over ethanol. But it’s got some startup competition — Khosla Ventures-backed LS9 is also working on ‘renewable petroleum,’ which is supposed to be used in traditional vehicles systems, too.

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