Harvesting Bioenergy from Switchgrass

Recently, scientists have made progress on finding the key genetic elements responsible for controlling lignin production in swtichgrass though monitoring of mRNA transcripts. This discovery brings switchgrass one step closer to being used as a source of bioethanol. See full story at Scientists Turn Genetic Keys To Unlock Bioenergy In Switchgrass.

Biofuels Outlook Update

Invest in biofuels today. At least, 2 people think you should — Vinod Khosla of Khosla Ventures, and Dr. Jens Riese of McKinsey & Co. who gave keynote speeches at the World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing.

An article from TheAutoChannel discussed this in further detail, but I want to highlight some important points from the post:

In a speech titled “The Role of Venture Capital in Developing Cellulosic Ethanol,” Khosla outlined the range of technologies currently being commercialized to convert cellulosic biomass to transportation fuels. Khosla said that the U.S. Department of Energy’s recent grants to cooperatively fund biorefineries that produce ethanol from cellulose is an acknowledgment that the technology is moving faster than expected. He said that a 100 percent replacement of petroleum transportation fuels with biofuels is achievable, and predicted that ethanol from cellulose technology will be cost competitive with current ethanol production by 2009.

Dr. Jens Riese of McKinsey & Co. also addressed the World Congress plenary session with a speech titled “Beyond the Hype: Global Growth in the Biofuels Industry.” Riese predicted that global annual biofuel capacity would double to 25 billion gallons over the next five years and could reach 80 billion gallons – meeting 10 percent of world transportation fuel demand, enough to replace the annual oil production for fuel of Saudi Arabia – by 2020. According to McKinsey & Company’s model, biofuels can economically replace 25 percent of transportation fuel with crude oil above $50 per barrel. He concluded that the race is on to build a biofuels industry and that companies should invest now.

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Pharma and Biotech Update

Pharma seeking patents on old drugs, and a 40x increase venture capital spent on biofuel-related companies:

An article from CNN talks about big pharmaceuticals looking to acquire new patents on old drugs to fend off generic competition. They are using the creative minds of their in-house, legal teams to try to “work the system” to their advantage… see Big Pharma teaches old drugs new tricks for the full story.

On the biotech side, there was a report today that discussed a 4000% year-over-year increase in the amount of venture capital spent on biofuel companies from 2005 to 2006. The majority of the funds were geared toward genetically engineering enzymes in the production of bioethanol.

Biofuel Investment Jumps 4000%

Dramatic increases in Venture Capital in the area of Biofuels was realized in 2006. I just caught wind of an article from the Associated Press, Biotechnology that highlights one of the largest one-year increases in venture-backed funding I have ever seen.

An interview at Associated Press with Ron Pernick, who co-founded Clean Edge (a company tracking venture capital investment), said that “Venture capital investment in biofuels has increased from less than $1 million in 2004 to $20.5 million in 2005 to $813 million last year [in 2006]. Much of that investment is flowing to biotechnology companies that genetically engineer microbes that produce enzymes needed to break down crops into alcohol.” If we’re cracking out the calculator, that’s about a 4000%, or 40x increase year-over-year! Now, it is extremely helpful to the venture investors, and the companies, that the US Department of Energy (DoE) has awarded $385 million over the last four years (to six companies, albeit) to develop ethanol.

Please see Biofuels Spark Biotech Rally for the full article.

Some other relevant links include: Biotechnology Industry Organization, and US DoE.

Are you investing an a Biofuel company yet? Maybe you should jump on that wagon before it leaves town…