Former Biofuels CEO Leaves it Behind for Natural Gas

Biofuels life cycle

By Jon LeSage

Alan Shaw, chemist and for­mer CEO at Codexis Inc., the first bio­fu­els com­pany that went pub­lic on the stock mar­ket, has left bio­fu­els for nat­ural gas.

Now CEO of Calysta Energy LLC, Shaw is at odds with bio­fu­els com­pany. He says it’s impos­si­ble to eco­nom­i­cally turn crop waste, wood, and plants like switch­grass into vehi­cle fuel.

Other bio­fuel com­pa­nies have been feel­ing the pinch in recent years – Amyris Inc, and Gevo In. are among pro­duc­ers that have yet to make fuel on com­mer­cial scales and have slid since their ini­tial pub­lic offerings.

Since 2008, com­pa­nies have invested about $3 bil­lion in the US devel­op­ing processes that turn bio­mass into new types of vehi­cle fuel.

Some com­pa­nies such as Poet LLC and Aben­goa SA have done well pro­duc­ing stan­dard corn ethanol used in 10% of US gaso­line. But busi­nesses shoot­ing for next-gen advanced bio­fu­els such as cel­lu­losic ethanol have faced sev­eral obstacles.

Codexis kicked off its bio­fuel pro­gram in 2006 with back­ing from Royal Dutch Shell. That ended last year in August when Shell pulled away from the bio­fuel research pro­gram. Codexis pulled its atten­tion away from fuel and focused instead on the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals mar­ket. Shaw had left Codexis in Feb­ru­ary 2012.

Shaw’s new job is the California-based Calysta, which is devel­op­ing a type of bac­te­ria known as methan­otroph, or “methane eater.” It con­verts the car­bon in gas into diesel through a fer­men­ta­tion process.

Another major bio­fuel com­pany has changed gears over to gas – Coskata Inc. last year switched to gas from wood waste for its first com­mer­cial project.

Nat­ural gas wasn’t expected to be as abun­dant as it is now in the US – this one is dif­fer­ent than nat­ural gas being extracted from methane. Its gas-derived fuel made with biotech­nol­ogy. It’s not going to be clean from car­bon diox­ides but it may be a viable source of nat­ural gas, which is see­ing a lot more demand in the market.

Source: Bloomberg