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Total and Amyris Recommit to Biofuel Joint Venture

Having suffered from production snags and delays, Amyris gains $82 million comnmitment from Total to make fuels from sugar cane.

Biotech company Amyris has secured a $30 million commitment this year from oil giant Total to expand fuel production from sugar cane.

An Amyris demonstration facility in Brazil. Credit: Noah Friedman-Rudovsky.

Amyris yesterday announced that Total will budget $82 million over the next three years for further research and development around biofuels and the two companies intend to create a joint biofuel venture. It is an expansion of an existing partnership between the two companies to make fuels in Brazil. 

The investment, announced with Amyris quarterly earnings, puts Amyris more firmly on the biofuel track. Earlier this year, the company’s operations in Brazil ran into snags making biofuels and scaled back production plans, (see “Why Amyris is Focusing on Moisturizers, Not Fuel, for Now”.) 

The deal with Total “reaffirms” the companies’ commitment to making renewable farnesene from sugar cane, which can be converted to diesel and jet fuel. “In addition to Amyris’ continued development of jet and diesel businesses in Brazil independently, this enhanced collaboration provides a global platform for the future growth in fuels under a future joint venture with Total,” Amyris CEO John Melo said in a statement.

Amyris has designed genetically engineered microbes to consume sugar and make desired products, such as fuel and industrial chemicals. Scaling up the process and competing with petroleum-derived products, however, has proved challenging for Amyris and a host of other biofuel and biochemical companies, leading to delays and failed companies.

A number of small biotech companies have chosen instead to make higher-margin chemicals from sugar cane or corn, (see “To Survive, Some Biofuels Companies Give Up on Biofuels.”) Over the longer term, biofuels offer the potential of a much larger market. 

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