Ceres takes bioenergy seed business public

By Kris Bevill | May 26, 2011

Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based energy crop seed developed Ceres Inc. filed papers with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on May 23 for an initial public offering in hopes of raising up to $100 million to fund the expansion of its business. Specifically, the company is seeking to expand its operations in Brazil, establish additional collaborative agreements to commercialize cellulosic biofuels, and continue to develop intellectual property for further product improvements.

Ceres has spent several years developing dedicated energy crop seeds for biofuels and bioenergy production. Among them are sweet sorghum, high biomass sorghum and switchgrass varieties, which the company markets under its Blade Energy Crops brand. According to the company’s S-1 filing, Ceres believes Brazil is the most promising initial market for its products. A joint venture between Brazil’s Grupo São Martinho S.A. and Petrobras Biofuels recently planted and harvested Ceres’ sweet sorghum to produce ethanol and power using existing agricultural equipment and processing infrastructure. Similar projects are also in the works with other Brazilian ethanol producers, including Archer Daniels Midland Co.’s Brazilian subsidiary. Ceres stated in its filing that the success of the first commercial-scale planting proves the “drop-in” nature of its sweet sorghum products. The shorter growing cycle and reduced water and fertilizer requirements of the sweet sorghum compared to sugarcane should encourage greater use by Brazilian mills because it will allow them to extend their typical 200-day production schedules by about 60 days, the company stated.

Ceres is also collaborating with cellulosic biofuel producers and has sold seed to or conducted joint trials with California-based EdeniQ Inc. and Hawai’I BioEnergy LLC, among others, according to its SEC filing. The company also recently entered into a collaborative agreement with Valero Energy Services Inc. to evaluate dedicated energy crop supply strategies.