Biochemical Industry Growth Spurt

How quickly they grow. A report, released recently by Lux Research (Boston), says venture funding in biobased chemical and materials hit a peak of $806 million in 2010, but the size of recent acquisitions and flurry of public offerings indicate it has matured past its “pre-commercial childhood.” Gone are the days of the grand challenges that attract VC funds; mundane day-to-day operations and challenges have arrived (I’ll have more on the future of biobased chemicals and materials funding later this week, following an interview with Lux Research Director Mark Bünger).

The report’s arrival was particularly timely for me, since today I added Cobalt Technologies, a Mountain View, CA-based start-up developing a biobased n-butanol process, to my growing list of companies with significant chemical industry partnership deals (table).  I first wrote about Cobalt in 2009, when it was still called Cobalt Biofuels and the recession was in full swing. Today, the company announced a partnership with Rhodia to develop n-butanol refineries based on bagasse throughout Latin America. The deal is a big step for Cobalt as it scales up its technology (I spoke to CFO Steve Shevick today; more on that later as well; there is a game on tonight). Rhodia gains potential access to  biobased source of n-butanol for solvents production (and stays in step with Sasol, which recently secured most of Gevo’s isobutanol production capacity for the next two years for its own solvents business).

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