Lux: Alternative fuel companies reach for real revenue in 2013

By Holly Jessen | February 22, 2013

A 32-page report by Lux Research picks winners and losers in 2012 among alternative fuel developers. The state of the market report, which is provided only to clients, also predicts that many companies will generate real revenue in 2013, adding that others are doomed to fail.

“Several expensive next-generation plants expected to come online, the outlook is poised to dramatically change for budding fuel developers and major corporations alike,” said Andrew Soare, analyst and the lead author of the report. “For this industry to actually move the needle on the fuel mix, it needs revenue—or else plants number two, three and beyond will never materialize.”

The report, which is titled “Leading Alternative Fuel Developers Race to Real Revenue in 2013,” compares the results of a similar report completed last year. The total number alternative fuel players went from 146 to 156 companies in eight fields: crop modifiers, pretreatment, algae, gasification, bioprocessing, pyrolysis, torrefaction and catalytic conversion.

In the pretreatment category, Lux Research identified 21 key players working on biomass-to-sugars technology. At the top of the list were Beta Renewables and its partner Novozymes, companies considered to be dominating the pretreatment space. Other dominant players include Dyadic International, Codexis, Renmatix, Blue Fire Renewables, REAC Fuel and Virdia. Sweetwater Energy and Cellulose Sciences were two companies named as having high potential while Iogen, Blue Sugars, Inbicon and EdeniQ were considered to be undistinguished.

The report put gasification technology developer Enerkem into the dominant category while Fulcrum BioEnergy was categorized as a long shot, despite the award of a $105 million USDA loan for its $180 million 10 MMgy ethanol plant. Gasification of municipal solid waste and waste biomass has drawn the attention of developers, investors and government agencies. “But this distinguishing attribute comes only to those willing to wager with a hefty capital infusion,” the report said. “Range Fuels’ $300 million letdown that ended in a sorry liquidation illustrates the realistic scenario investors mull over.”

There are alternative fuel bioprocessing companies with momentum and maturity, the report said. Of the 30 analyzed, 13 were considered dominant, including Gevo, Solazyme, and Poet LLC, at the top. Of those 30 companies, 14 listed ethanol as the main product or one of the main products to be produced. Four of the companies were targeting butanol, with Gevo considered more mature and positive than competitor Butamax, which was judged as dominant but with a wait and see qualifier. The two other butanol companies listed were Cobalt Technologies, dominant, and Phytonix Corporation, a long shot.

Of the key players in the crop modification arena, Agrivida Cellulosic, a company working on engineered biomass to produce fuels, chemicals and animal feed, was categorized as dominant. ArborGen, which is working on breeding and genetic modification of trees, and Leaf Energy, a plant-based platform for producing enzymes/molecules for biofuels and other applications, were named as high potential.

The algae companies face dim prospects, the report said. A total of 29 algae companies were studied, with 23 considered to be long shots. Algae Tec barely qualified as dominant, the only company in this sector to achieve that rating.

Lux Research used its innovation grid, rating companies on technical value and business execution. Companies with strong showings in both axes were considered dominant, the company said.