BP announces $90m investment in cellulosic ethanol

BY MARJORIE KORN, MEDILL NEWS SERVICE

BP plc [[BP]] announced Wednesday it is entering into a $90 million partnership with Verenium Corp. [[VRNM]] to expedite the commercial production of cellulosic ethanol.

In a press release, Sue Ellerbusch, president of BP Biofuels North America, said, “BP is very pleased to be entering this important relationship with Verenium. We believe energy crops like sugar cane, miscanthus and energy cane are the best feedstocks to deliver economic, sustainable and scaleable biofuels to the world. This deal puts us at the front of the cellulosic biofuels game.”

U.S. production of ethanol is currently overwhelmingly derived from corn, but cellulosic ethanol—the technology for which is currently available but is not yet commercially viable—would break down the cell wall of plants to extract sugars to ferment into ethanol.

Some believe that cellulosic ethanol will be able to simultaneously solve U.S. dependence on foreign oil while circumventing the so-called “food vs. fuel” debate by utilizing a feedstock (like grasses) that would not redirect commodities to energy production.

Verenium, the Cambridge, Mass.-based developer of “next-generation cellulosic ethanol and high-performance specialty enzymes,” announced its second quarter earnings Thursday. Total revenues for the three months ended June 30 rose 65 percent, from $11.1 million to $18.3 million. The company posted a net loss for the quarter of $16.4 million, or 26 cents per diluted share, compared with a loss of $55.2 million, or $1.13 per diluted share in the year-earlier quarter. Verenium outperformed the estimate of analysts at Zacks Investment Research of a loss of 28 cents per diluted share.

So for this micro cap company, the $90 million in total funding over 18 months is significant.

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