Codexis, Raizen team to optimize ethanol, produce biochemicals

By Bryan Sims | September 28, 2011

Redwood City, Calif.-based biotech outfit Codexis Inc. and Raizen Energia S.A., a joint venture between Royal Dutch Shell and Brazilian ethanol giant Cosan, have signed a joint development agreement to develop an improved first-gen ethanol process with potential of expanding the collaboration to include the production of biobased chemicals.

As part of the agreement, the two firms will deploy Codexis’ trademarked CodeEvolver directed evolution technology platform to improve Raizen’s current ethanol production process from sugarcane-derived sugar. The agreement will focus on a range of targets, including improving the performance of yeasts now used in ethanol production. Both companies anticipate pilot production to launch at Raizen’s Bonfim mill.

Codexis will retain commercialization rights and Raizen will receive preferential commercial terms. Successful developments under this collaboration, according to a statement by Codexis, will be covered by subsequent agreements.

“This agreement is very timely since sugarcane ethanol in Brazil clearly needs to continue improving productivity to achieve yields in the years to come,” said Raizen CEO Vasco Diaz. “Raizen and Codexis strongly believe that investing in technology is a critical path to achieve this.”

Brazil is the world’s second largest producer and consumer of ethanol with 700 billion gallons of ethanol produced in 2010. In April, Raizen completed a share transfer transaction to became Codexis’ largest shareholder, which allowed Raizen to appoint a representative to Codexis’ board of directors.

“We are delighted to announce our first agreement with Raizen,” said Alan Shaw, president and CEO of Codexis. “Working together, we expect to quickly improve the performance and cost structure of first generation ethanol, now in use throughout Brazil. We look forward to a productive and long-term development partnership.”

Codexis said in a statement that the collaboration may potentially expand into the development of biobased chemicals but the company responded to Biorefining Magazine in email correspondence stating the firm couldn’t disclose specifically which biochemicals they might be at this point.

In July, Codexis teamed with Chemtex, a global technology and engineering company wholly-owned by Italy’s Gruppo Mossi & Ghisolfi, to jointly develop and produce biobased detergent alcohols—a $6 billion global market—to be used in a variety of consumer products such as surfactants, laundry detergents, shampoos and other consumer products. The collaboration includes development of second-gen detergent alcohols derived from cellulosic biomass.