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.