Lux Research report sifts biorefining field for winners, losers

By Bryan Sims | December 29, 2011

In a report recently completed by Lux Research Inc. titled “Refining Alternative Fuels Innovators into Winners and Losers” the Boston-based research firm ranked a number of biorefining firms according to technology class and other factors to determine those that may have a leg up in the industry over their competitors. 

The report was generated as part of Lux’s Research Alternative Fuels Intelligence regular ongoing market intelligence service on coverage of the alternative fuel and biobased chemical industries. According to Andrew Soare, Lux analyst and lead author of the report, the firm interviewed between 120 and 150 individual companies, including more than 450 interviews with key stakeholders, analyzing and ranking each based on a range of specific metrics such as IPO score, partnership score, employee count, revenue cash and so forth.

“We rank all these individual companies based on the same metrics and from these individual metrics formulate overall scores, which rank them on specific grids and then we group them by their technology class to compare synthetic biology to other synthetic biology companies and so forth,” Soare told Biorefining Magazine.

In the report, Soare highlighted how enzyme companies like Codexis and Novozymes appear to be best positioned to dominate the preatreatment technology segment with their focus on converting nonfood-based cellulosic biomass into fermentable sugars, adding that others like HCL CleanTech also offer opportunity in this space. The report highlighted how other emerging companies in this segment like Proterro and Renmatix, although yet unproven, show promise but are kept in check by business reality, Soare said.

“A big part of our coverage at Lux in alternative fuels is the pretreatment of cellulosic materials into sugars,” Soare said. “So far, it’s too expensive and that’s why there isn’t a clear winner, but there is a lot of investment and partner activity within this particular space, which is promising.”

He added, “I think the important thing with the pretreatment folks is that it’s not going to be one solution that’s going to be applied everywhere. The fact of the matter is, as the industry transitions to next-generation feedstocks, it’s going to be different in every region. For example, the U.S. might use corn stover, but sugarcane bagasse in Brazil, or it might be rice husks in India. Because there’s always different feedstocks, it’s not going to be one simple solution that applies everywhere but more like a patchwork of individual solutions for different geographies.”

The report also highlighted how bioprocessing companies—firms that use synthetic biology and other techniques to design microorganisms to produce compounds chemically identical to petroleum-derived fuels—are epitomizing flexibility, a necessary trait in the industry. Companies like Amyris Inc., Solazyme Inc. and Gevo Inc. were noted as leaders in this segment with all having made IPO offerings in 2011. The report determined that other companies such as LanzaTech, Aemetis (formerly AE Biofuels) and ZeaChem all have made significant advancements and are showing promise while others like Qteros and Mascoma appear to be losing ground.

The report also picked leaders in the gasification, pyrolysis and biomass torrefaction segment. These alternative methods for converting waste or biomass into fuels are less populated, but each offers a few strong players, according to Soare. With respect to gasification, Enerkem Inc. and Germany-based Agnion Energy Inc. dominate, fueled by investments from Waste Management Inc. Lux’s report determined that Agilyx Inc., BTG-BTL and Ensyn are the dominant players in pyrolysis. France-based biomass torrefaction technology developer Thermya earned similar high marks.