Amyris, the UC Berkeley-spawned company that began as a Bill Gates-funded startup to genetically tweak an antimalarial drug that would sell for much less than it’s naturally derived counterpart [that failed] then switched to being a publicly trade agrofuel manufacturer [that didn’t pan out for shareholders], then switched to a using those GM bugs to making chemicals for cosmetics and perfumes, saw its stock hit a new record low today of six cents over six bucks, two pennies less than yesterday’s record low.
The stock collapsed Friday after Company President John Melo announced the switch after the company had failed dramatically in its efforts to meet planned production targets.
The stock had hit an all-time high of $33.89 s year ago, before the collapse.
Shares have recovered a but since the morning’s low, to $6.25 as we write.
BiofuelsChat.Com offered an analyses of what it all means, including a quote for company CEO and former BP vice president John Melo:
Melo, who noted that he is “proud of team’s accomplishment and humbled by the challenges,” said that the company would no longer set production targets, but would instead make quarterly announcement of production volumes achieved.
Critics are bound to point out that the company went to the public markets in its IPO without conducting a more thorough demonstration of its technology at sufficient scale, to eliminate the risk of problems of this magnitude happening post-IPO (and after the company had issued targets of 40-50 million liters of production in 2012).
It can be expected that the announcement will cast a pall over companies that are coming to market without demonstrations of the technology at sufficient scale, and could well have a knock-on effect on the valuation of other companies also using advanced fermentation technologies and still going through scale-up.
Meanwhile, federal agrofuel funding is becoming a target of some Congressional Republicans, though how zealous their campaign will be remains an open questions, given that many of them come from farm states.
Another project killed
One recent casualty is a series of programs from an Energy Department experimental funding program
Biofuels Digest reports:
In Washington, the DOE has halted a research project at Iowa State University funded by ARPA-E to develop biofuel feedstock from an aquatic micro-organism for failing to reach research milestones. About 56% of the $4.4 million grant was used. Politicians against increasing APRA-E funding as proposed by President Obama’s new budget are using it and other halted ARPA-E projects as examples to reject the program.
But there’s a funny little story behind the cancellation, involving the initial reluctance of the office Secretary of Energy Steven Chu to reveal the cancellation, as the Mathhew L. Wald reported at the New York Times’s The Caucus blog reported earlier this week:
In fact, said Steven Chu, the Energy Secretary, “nearly 35 projects” were not meeting their objectives, and with the agreement of the private companies or laboratories that had gotten the grants, the programs were being cancelled and the unspent money given back to the government. The grants typically run into just hundreds of thousands of dollars each; sometimes, a few million.
Dr. Chu, a Nobel Prize winning scientist, repeated a maxim he said he had learned early in his career: “It’s O.K. to fail, but fail fast, and move on.”
So what ventures failed?
Dr. Chu said that the department would release the names. But the head of the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy, which was developed to model the better-known Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, said he could not release the information, for “privacy reasons.”
Finally someone at DOE must’ve heard from a lawyer that the privacy excuse was bullshit, and that night some of the names were finally released, as the blog reported in an update:
The largest amount recalled, $1.9 million, was to Iowa State University for work on an algae intended for biofuel production; others included a method for capturing carbon dioxide from the flue gas of coal-fired power plants, and a way to purify water using carbon nanotube membranes.
Fuels and nanotechnology were Chu’s favorite new technology during the job he held before he went to Washington.
As head of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Chu was a major player in landing Berkeley the $500 million in BP money to fund the Energy Biosciences Institute, which focuses on creating fuels from plants, recovering oil from the Canadian tar sands, and includes research on using nanotechnology to make fuels. Chu also oversaw the creation of the lab’s Molecular Foundry, the research center’s major focus for nanotech development.
Agrofuel may go to Gitmo
But there’s one place biofuels are getting some favorable considerable, and that’s Gitmo, the Maerican military base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
The Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg reports:
There also have been email exchanges about whether the base could grow algae, as biofuel, inside a floating field of wastewater discharged into Guantánamo Bay. “NASA scientists are exploring this technology,” says base spokesman Terence Peck. “No decisions have been made for experimental locations as of yet.”