AE Biofuels, now Aemetis, to add renewable rubber to ethanol line

By Kris Bevill | November 15, 2011

AE Biofuels Inc. has a new name and, with it, a plan to expand the product line at existing ethanol plants. The company announced Nov. 15 that its shareholders have approved the company’s name change to Aemetis Inc. and that its stock symbol will now be OTC: AMTX. The new name is a combination of the company's previous name and Zymetis Inc., a biotechnology company acquired by AE Biofuels in June. The origins of the combined word (“AE” means “the one” in Scottish and “Metis” means “prudent wisdom” in Greek) are meant to refer to the prudence and wisdom of replacing petroleum with renewable sources of chemicals and fuels, the company said in a statement.

Chairman and CEO Eric McAfee said the change of name also reflects the company’s commitment to the concept of an integrated biorefinery that uses multiple feedstocks to produce multiple products. The key to Aemetis’ strategy is to extend the production of corn-based ethanol plants. “We’ve taken a unique approach in that we believe the ethanol industry is a platform to expand feedstocks going in and higher margin products coming out,” he said. “We’re not interested in shutting down ethanol plants and re-starting them to produce other things. By expanding the biology of the first-generation plant, you can diversify the feedstocks and expand the product line.”

Specifically, Aemetis plans to produce corn-based ethanol, cellulosic ethanol and a renewable form of isoprene, a rubber most commonly used in the production of tires. Corn ethanol production will continue as usual, but by utilizing a specialized enzyme cocktail developed AE Biofuels/Aemetis and installing additional process tanks, the bran portion of the corn can now be used to produce cellulosic ethanol, McAfee said. Additionally, a separate line of process tanks housing another microbe, known as the Z-Microbe, can be used to convert some of the milled corn to isoprene. By using this approach, McAfee said a 60 MMgy corn ethanol plant can add 20 MMgy of isoprene production, simply by adding a new line of process tanks. The isoprene line won’t require significant additional power or water sources and can be operated by the ethanol plant’s staff, he said.

Aemetis plans to install its Aemetis Biorefinery technology platform at its 55 MMgy corn-based ethanol plant in Keyes, Calif., and will begin producing isoprene in 2012. Commercial-scale isoprene production is expected to begin in 2013, according to McAfee. The company is also exploring the possibility of becoming a technology provider for joint ventures with other corn ethanol producers. McAfee said isoprene currently represents a $2 billion per year market. About 80 percent of isoprene produced is used to manufacture tires, therefore the market for isoprene is expected to stay strong due in part to increasing demand for vehicles in China and India. “The tire business right now is booming,” he said.