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LS9 Makes “Major Breakthrough” in Cellulosic-based Fuel Production

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Khosla Ventures-backed LS9, which is using a genetically modified version of e.coli bacteria to make diesel, announced Wednesday that it has made a “major breakthrough” in the production of biofuels and chemicals from cellulosic biomass. The company, working with researchers from the University of California at Berkeley and the Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute, said it has developed a microbe that can produce advanced biofuels directly from cellulosic biomass, such as woodchips, in a “one-step” fermentation process that eliminates the need for additional chemicals and industrial processes.

LS9 aims to produce biofuels and renewable chemicals to replace conventional petroleum-based products, and the company said this breakthrough will enable it to do this at lower costs. Biofuels ultimately will need to compete against conventional fuels on the open market, and any technological advancement that lowers production costs should make LS9 more competitive.

The startup currently operates a 1,000-liter pilot plant in South San Francisco, Calif., that produces vehicle-ready diesel from so-called first generation feedstock like sugarcane. But the long-term goal of LS9 is to produce biofuels and chemicals using cellulosic feedstock (energy crops, plant waste, etc), which the company says would reduce the total, life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions of its products.

Last year, CEO Bill Haywood said LS9 has been in the process of building a demonstration plant that it aims to complete this year. Spokesman Jon Ballesteros told us today that the company is on track to have the demo facility up and running in the “earlier part of this year.” Ballesteros wouldn’t say how large that facility would be, but Haywood previously told Earth2Tech that it would have an annual capacity of 2.5 million gallons.

Last September, LS9 raised $25 million in a third round of funding from oil giant Chevron’s venture capital arm and others, though the round was less than the $75 million-$100 million the company was asking for earlier in the year. But some critics have questioned the environmental benefits of biofuels that rely on any land-based plants, and recently venture capitalists have focused more on algae-based fuel startups such as Solazyme and Solix Biofuels.

5 Responses to “LS9 Makes “Major Breakthrough” in Cellulosic-based Fuel Production”

  1. This is it.

    I really think this is it. Check out this is essentially petroleum without an oil rig directly replacing the fuel in your car/truck with out the need to modify your engine or the current petroleum distribution structure ie pipelines etc. This is the “Google” of the energy industry. Its game play changes everything, be sure to invest in this when it hits the stock exchange. This is huge, as in has the potential to shut down Saudi Arabia oil and render that oil obsolete kind of huge. I have no interests in ls9, i am not even in the U.S i am a Ugandan but know from simple research that this is game changing huge. The E. coli is the key

  2. We are already hauling muni wastes much farther in case you are not paying attention to the mess we’re in. Hauling celulostics to a plant at distance is still a net savings. I wonder though, about separating cellulose from plastic. That is does this new system need refined inputs? In which case its just another mining system and an end use. We could use a dirty feedstock converter

  3. Unless their major breakthrough addresses how one is supposed to haul all this low-energy density feedstock (plant waste) to a processing plant, then I don’t think they’ve solved this problem.

    The hauling problem means you can’t haul plant waste more than about 25-50 miles. That means the processing plants need to be small (and seasonal). Which means high cost.

  4. Sounds fantastic! I would love to see the transportation industry powered by bio-fuel and electric. Can you imagine what it would be like if everyone could grow and harness all of the energy they needed on their own? Wind and solar has made it possible for the consumer to produce power, but storage is still an issue. If we could bring the positives of bio-fuel into partnership with wind or solar, something big could happen in the present, not the future.