Ethanol company partners to produce renewable diesel

By Kris Bevill | April 08, 2008
Web exclusive posted April 25, 2008 at 10:49 a.m. CST

Amyris, a California-based technology company, and Crystalsev, one of Brazil's largest ethanol distribution and marketing companies, are joining forces to produce renewable diesel from sugarcane on a commercial-scale by 2010. Once production begins, the companies plan to produce 1 billion gallons of renewable diesel worldwide within five years.

The joint venture, Amyris-Crystalsev Pesquisa e Desenvolvimento do Biocombustiveis Ltda, will be based in Brazil and will employ local producers and sugarcane mills. Amyris will hold the majority stake in the venture and will provide the technology needed to produce the product. Crystalsev, which will hold the remaining stake in the new company, will contribute its commercialization expertise to the project.

A separate agreement was made between Amyris and Santelisa Vale, the second largest ethanol and sugar producer in Brazil and majority owner of Crystalsev, to supply 2 million tons of sugarcane crushing capacity for the venture. Santelisa will also provide technical and engineering expertise on the conversion of traditional ethanol plants into renewable hydrocarbon fuels plants.

"This partnership represents a historic first for the global transportation fuels industry," said John Melo, chief executive officer at Amyris. "By securing a significant supply of the most sustainable feedstock and collaborating with our world renowned partners Crystalsev and Santelisa, we now have the ability to take our pioneering technology out of the lab and rapidly scale production toward supplying the needs of the worldwide renewable fuels market."

The renewable diesel produced by Amyris-Crystalsev will be made using Amyris' technology to create hydrocarbons through sugar fermentation. Because the hydrocarbons have the same molecular structure as traditional petroleum fuels, the company said its renewable diesel will be compatible with the current infrastructure. Today's engines will be able to use the fuel with no modifications necessary and, according to the Amyris, the renewable diesel will also be usable in jet engines.

Amyris-Crystalsev plan to open a research and development facility in Campinas, Brazil, in June and a pilot plant in the same location by early 2009. The facilities will be strategically located between Brazil's largest city, Sao Paulo, and the country's sugarcane region.

According to Amyris, the project's technology can also be used with a wide variety of feedstocks. Plans are being made to expand feedstock options as well as to make the technology available to other sugar-ethanol producers in the future.

Amyris is a privately-held company whose investors include DAG Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and TPG Biotech.

Crystalsev produces more than 2.4 million tons of sugar annually and employs 30,000 people in Brazil.

Santelisa Vale is the first company in Brazil to achieve energy cogeneration from bagasse. The company expects to crush 18 million tons of sugar cane in 2008 and will also produce 25 million bags of sugar and 770 million liters (about 203 million gallons) of ethanol.