Amyris Picks Up Another $21M For Synthetic Bio

Amyris Biotechnologies, a startup using synthetic biology to replace petroleum, has added another $21 million to its already sizable $70 million funding round. This brings the total for its ongoing series B round to $91.35 million. The company confirmed the funding with us this morning, which was first reported by VentureWire.

The Emeryville, Calif.-based startup has some of the most prominent cleantech VCs backing it, including DAG Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Kleiner Perkins and TPG Ventures. Add this to the $20 million Amyris got in 2006 and its funding is now up to over $110 million.

The company is trying to make microbes that will chomp through biomass and pump out petroleum-like molecules. The approach is similar to that of several startups, including Gevo, LS9 (both Khosla bets), and Craig Venter’s Synthetic Genomics, which are all trying to make biomass into fuels that act more like petroleum than biofuel. The advantage is that, if successful, the startups could produce fuels that are 100 percent compatible with existing infrastructure and vehicles — no flex-fuel engines or alt-pipelines necessary.

Amyris is already working to get its technology into the most developed biofuel market out there — Brazil. Through a partnership with Crystalev, a subsidiary of sugar and ethanol giant Santelisa, Amryis is applying its technology to sugarcane bagasse. Amyris tells us Crystalev has also provided it with some funding to help push its synthetic diesel program forward.

Amyris, which now has about 170 employees, started off as a pure synthetic biology company, not a biofuel startup. Its first project was to engineer a microbe to pump out an anti-malarial drug. While visiting Sand Hill Road VCs looking for money, the founders realized there was a lot of interest in the potential to engineer fuel-producing bugs. Now, with more than $110 million in venture capital, Amyris is working on getting three different fuels — bio-diesel, bio-gasoline and bio-jet fuel — to market by 2010. Amyris tells us this latest funding will be used to push its bio-diesel process out of the lab and into a pilot plant.