Gevo, the Pasadena, Calif., based developer of synthetic biofuels just wrapped up a $17 million third round of funding. New investors Burrill & Co. and Malaysian Life Sciences Capital Fund joined cleantech regulars Khosla Ventures and Virgin Green Fund; the biofuel start-up has already raised over $30 million since the beginning of last year.
Like competitors LS9, OPX Biotechnologies and Amyris (see our prior coverage here, here and here), Gevo is trying to change the face of the biofuel industry by using synthetic biology to engineer enzymes and microorganisms to convert cellulosic crops and waste into advanced biofuels like isobutanol and butanol. Butanol, the company claims, is superior to first-generation biofuels like corn ethanol in several respects: It has a higher energy content; does not absorb water and can easily be transported through the existing gas infrastructure; and — perhaps most importantly — can be directly pumped into current vehicles.
Gevo says its metabolic and process engineering techniques will facilitate the commercial-scale production of second-generation biofuels and bring costs down to compete with current biofuels, like corn ethanol. The cost of producing cellulolytic enzymes hovers around 20 – 50 cents per gallon of ethanol produced; the cost of producing a gallon of corn ethanol, on the other hand, is only about 3 – 4 cents.
The company is working on an alternative jet fuel for Richard Branson’s Virgin Airways and is otherwise focusing on optimizing the conversion efficiencies of its proprietary microorganism strains and enzymes.