Verenium acquires oil partner, expands worldwide availability

By Kris Bevill
Cambridge, Mass.-based Verenium Corp., a cellulosic ethanol producer and enzyme developer, has conducted a recent series of deals that has brought the company much publicity and funding.

In August, petroleum giant BP Corp. agreed to invest $90 million in Verenium over the next 18 months in exchange for rights to current and future technology held within the partnership, production facilities and agronomics expertise. Upon closing the deal, BP handed over an initial $24.5 million with three additional installments of $20.5 million to follow over the next year. Verenium will also be receiving monthly payments from BP at a rate of $2.5 million per month in order to fund the company's ongoing initiatives.

A BP executive said Verenium's demonstration-scale cellulosic ethanol production plant in Jennings, La., which is projected be in the process optimization phase by year's end, was a major factor in BP's decision to partner with the company. "Not all biofuels are created equal," said Sue Ellerbusch, president of BP Biofuels North America. "This deal puts us at the front of the cellulosic biofuels game." Ellerbusch added that BP sees miscanthus, sugarcane bagasse and energy cane as ideal feedstocks for sustainable biofuel production.

Verenium is experimenting will all three of those feedstocks at its Jennings facility.

Prior to the BP announcement, Verenium had expanded its global reach by collaborating with Tokyo-based Marubeni Corp. to provide its proprietary cellulosic technology for a 790,000-gallon-per-year ethanol plant currently operating in Thailand. Marubeni had previously licensed Verenium's technology for another small production facility in Osaka, Japan.

In New Zealand, Verenium and its research partner Scion received a three-year, $5.4 million grant from the New Zealand Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, which will be used for the continued development of a research collaboration.