Alternative energy startup Renmatix has raised $14 million from Bill Gates and global energy firm Total to make fuel from non-food organic sugars.
“We’ve worked eight years to make renewable chemicals cost-effective,” said Mike Hamilton, CEO of Renmatix, in an interview with VentureBeat. “We now have a renewable alternative energy path away from fossil fuels.”
Philadelphia-based Renmatix has now raised more than $140 million from investors, including chemical giant BASF and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Even though oil prices are down, the world will eventually run out of fossil fuels. And that’s why Renmatix wants to build biorefineries that convert cellulosic sugars from non-food materials, such as wood pulp, into a form that can be used for fuel.
Hamilton said that the new investment in commercializing Plantrose will help drive the first wave of Renmatix licensees building Plantrose-enabled biorefineries in diverse global markets like Canada, India, Malaysia, and the U.S. At the same time, that activity will facilitate further market development in downstream bioproduct applications.
In a statement, Gates said, “To effectively address climate change, we need to develop an energy infrastructure that doesn’t emit greenhouse gas and is cost competitive. A critical component in this effort must be to decarbonize the industrial sector. Another is the possibility of cost competitive biofuels. Renmatix provides an innovative process that is an exciting pathway to pursue.”
Publicly traded Total, which also invested in 2015, is expanding its investment and has signed a licensing agreement with Renmatix to produce a million tons a year of annual cellulosic sugar. The license represents significant revenue potential for Renmatix that extends over the lifetime of the agreement.
“At Total, our ambition is to become the responsible energy major. We want to make low-carbon businesses a profitable growth driver accounting for 20 percent of our portfolio in 20 years’ time. Meeting these goals is what has led to setting up and expanding our collaboration with Renmatix,” said Patrick Pouyanné, chairman and CEO of Total, in a statement.
The patented Plantrose process uses supercritical water to reduce costs associated with converting biomass to cellulosic sugars, the critical intermediary for second-generation biochemical and biofuels, such as ethanol. With faster reactions and virtually no associated consumable expenses, Renmatix’s supercritical hydrolysis economically enables low-cost sugars.
As an example, Hamilton said a paper mill could convert wood pulp into cellulosic sugars, which could become the foundation for fuels that the paper mill could then run on. Renmatix believes Plantrose sugars are competitive with oil, at $40 to $50 a barrel.
Hamilton acknowledged there’s still a long way to go.
“Think of the world’s need for oil and gas on a daily basis,” he said. “Millions of barrels of oil are produced. We are a long way from being able to do that. But we can make a significant contribution.”
The company has 85 employees, and Hamilton said engineering designs for biomass facilities are expected to be created in 2017.