Capital Infusion

How the investment window is opening in the biorefining sector
By Bryan Sims | May 20, 2011

Despite a recovering economy, a number of biorefining firms are obtaining the necessary capital to take their technologies to the next level. Mountain View, Calif.-based biobutanol developer Cobalt Technologies, for example, landed $20 million in Series D financing in April. The deal was led by The Whittemore Collection Ltd., the investment vehicle of Parsons & Whittemore, formerly one of the world’s largest manufacturers of pulp.

Chief financial officer Steve Shevick says the added capital will enable Cobalt, in collaboration with American Process Inc., to build a 470,000-gallon-per-year demonstration facility in Alpena, Mich., which is currently under construction. The plant, anticipated to be the nation’s first cellulosic ethanol and biobutanol production plant utilizing biomass sources, is scheduled to be operational by second quarter 2012.

Shevick wouldn’t disclose how much of the $20 million would be going toward financing the Alpena project, but admits that the funding Cobalt received is an indication that investor confidence may be mounting to aid commercial development.

“Many data points indicate a greater belief in the biorefining industry, not just our Series D, but also the successful IPOs of Amyris and Gevo, the pending IPOs of Solazyme and KiOR, and a growing number of strategic relationships being formed between startup biorefining companies and major fuel, chemical, agriculture and consumer projects companies,” Shevick says. “As [investors] have emerged from the recession they are now taking a look at the products and technologies of the future, and that’s biorefining.”  —Bryan Sims