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Biotech, Energy Company Partner on Renewable Fuel, Chemicals

Flowering sorghum (Agricultural Research Service/USDA)

Flowering sorghum (Agricultural Research Service/USDA)

The synthetic biology company Amyris Inc. in Emeryville, California and the French oil and gas company Total have agreed to collaborate on research and production of renewable fuels and chemicals. The agreement expands on an existing R&D relationship between the two companies.

Amyris and Total agreed to accelerate the pace of their current partnership to deploy Amyris’s Biofene, a renewable replacement for petroleum-based polymers, and develop renewable diesel fuel based on this same molecule produced from plant sugars. The existing collaboration, begun last year, aims to bring new renewable fuels to market at commercial scale. Total says it has committed $105 million in funding to this program.

Total and Amyris have also agreed to form a 50-50 joint venture company that will have exclusive rights to produce and market renewable diesel and jet fuel worldwide, with operations expected to begin in the first quarter of 2012. The venture will have as well non-exclusive rights to other renewable products such as drilling fluids, solvents, polymers, and biolubricants.

Amyris’s technology is based on genetic engineering and screening processes that make possible changes in the way microorganisms process sugar. By controlling these metabolic pathways, the company says it can design microbes, primarily yeast, to function in established fermentation processes to convert plant-sourced sugars such as those from sugar cane or sweet sorghum into the desired molecules.

Amyris operates laboratories and a pilot plant in California as well as a pilot plant and demonstration facility in Brazil.

Read more: Companies Partner on Renewable Fragrance/Flavor Materials

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