Genomatica plans to use the funding to complete a demonstration project to prove its green chemistry technology can work on a commercial-scale. The company plans to build and start operating a commercial plant by late 2013.
The company engineers organisms to produce chemicals that can be used to make a variety of products and has been working on commercializing its first product, the 1,4-butanediol, or BDO, that can be used to make spandex, running shoes and plastic auto parts.
Genomatica has engineered E. coli to turn sugar into BDO, and it has been running a pilot production of BDO in Michigan since last summer. The pilot facility can produce 3,000 liters of BDO, and the company plans to expand that to over 10,000 liters this year, the company’s CTO, Mark Burk, told us last month. The demonstration project and commercial facility also will use sugar as the feedstock.
The company, founded in 2000, is already investigating other types of feedstock so that it won’t have to rely only on sugar. Genomatica secured a patent last year to create organisms that can turn synthesis gas, or syngas, into chemicals as well.
Syngas can be made from a variety of sources, including natural gas, coal and biomass, and turned into electricity, fuels and other chemical compounds. Burk said syngas will cost less than sugar because syngas can be made from so many materials and isn’t subject to the whims of the commodities market.
“We need to lower the feedstock cost,” he told us. “Syngas is one of the most flexible and versatile feedstocks from a wide range of materials – any organic matter can be gasified.”
Many companies are trying to produce ethanol using syngas made from renewable sources, such as wood chips, plants and trash. Genomatica’s technology development deal with Waste Management will use syngas from trash to produce chemicals. The deal provides another opportunity for Waste Management to make money from the municipal wastes it collects. Here’s a detailed look at Waste Management’s investments to turn trash into a variety of products.
The latest round of investment brings the total amount raised by Genomatica to $84 million. Other new investors include VantagePoint Venture Partners and Bright Capital. Existing investors such as Alloy Ventures, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Mohr Davidow Ventures and TPG Biotech also put money into the new round.
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Photo of Genomatica’s bugs to make BDO, courtesy of the San Diego State University