Category Archives: Amyris, Inc.

Amyris tanks to another record low, $2.61

UPDATE: The $2.87 low of our original headline has been beaten. Now trading at $2.78. Ouch.

UPDATE II: Another bottom of $2.62, though it’s bounced back to $2.82 as we write an hour before the closing bell.

UPDATE III: Shares closed at $2.81, eleven cents down from the previous record low, but 19 cents above today’s record low.

A bad start to the day for the UC Berkeley-spawned genetic engineering, initially bankrolled by Bill Gates and once worth $33.85 13 months ago.

You can follow the stock here.

Amyris selling off U.S. ethanol distribution arm

The announcement was contained in a filing with the Security and Exchange Commission reporting a change in a 2008 agreement between the Emeryville-based genetic engineering company and French bank BNP Paribas, which had extended a line of credit to the company founded by UC Berkeley bioengineer Jay Keasling.

Here’s the key sentence:

The Company and AFL entered into the Amendment to extend the maturity date pending the Company’s transition out of the AFL business, and plan to repay all amounts remaining outstanding under the Credit Agreement, and to terminate the Credit Agreement, as of the new maturity date.

AFL is Amyris Fuels LLC, described this way in the company’s 2011 annual report:

Amyris Fuels was established to help us develop fuel distribution capabilities in the U.S. Amyris Fuels currently generates revenue from the sale of ethanol and reformulated ethanol-blended gasoline to wholesale customers through a network of terminals in the eastern U.S.

The move doesn’t impact Amyris’s plants to eventually produce other fuels in significant quantities, though the company’s only commercial success thus far has been in the production of chemicals for the cosmetics industry.

The company’s stock rebounded slightly today from last week’s record low of $2.92, closing trading Monday at $3.04.

Amyris was started with cash from Bill Gates to produce a cheap anti-malarial drug, though the final product will sell for about the same price as the existing version, derived from wormwood plant farms that support thousands of Third World farmers.

Company founder Keasling long ago abandoned ship, and has already started a new company to rival Amyris.

Even with today’s recovery, Amyris shares are selling for less than a tenth of what they commanded at last year’s high.

Amyris sets still another record low, $2.92

UPDATE: Dropped another six cents as we were writing. It was $3.17 when we started.

UPDATE II: Dropped another three cents.

UPDATE III: Down another cent.

UPDATE IV: Down yet another penny.

UPDATE V: And another cent. Wow, five record lows so far today. The two buck range draws night.

UPDATE VII: The plummeting stock dropped below three bucks, down to $2.92.

FINAL UPDATE: Shares closed for the week at $3.02.

That’s six cents below yesterday’s record nadir for the UC Berkeley genetic engineering company started with money from Bill Gates and backed by French oil giant Total and a former Qatari prime minister.

Yet another record low for Amyris, $3.23

That’s a dime below yesterday’s record, though shares of the UC Berkeley-spawned genetic engineering firm has gain back a nickle as we write.

UPDATE: Shares ended the trading day at $3.27, six centers below the previous record low.

Down from a high of $33.85 in March 2011, the company’s shares have hit one new low after another in recent weeks.

Amyris, founded by UC Berkeley “bioengineer” Jay Keasling, will announce its first quarter financial 8 May.

Amyris hits another record low, $3.33 a share

UPDATE IV: Shares closed for the day at $3.36, less than a tenth of what they were worth a mere thirteen months ago.

UPDATE III: Down again.

UPDATE II: They dropped three cents more to $3.47.

UPDATED The shares dropped another penny.

And the day is young, with the stock going for two three six  seventeen cents less than the last record low set by the UC Berkeley spawned company that still has dreams of turning  crops into fuel for internal combustion engines.

AviationBrief reports that more doubts are surfacing about the drive to turn plants into cost-efficient fuels:

“It’s hard, hard, hard,” to produce biofuels that compete with hydrocarbon fuels, said one industrial chemist. He estimated that crude oil would have to reach $ 125 to $ 150 per barrel for biofuels to be competitive. And public support for biofuel production may not be as generous as once expected, now that budget pressures are becoming more stringent.

Amyris CEO John Melo told conference attendees that his company remained committed to producing biofuels while noting that these represent the “highest risk, cost and challenges in scale-up” and require large balance sheets or partners with large balance sheets.

Nevertheless, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told attendees that advanced biofuels remain a key component of President Obama’s all-of-the-above strategy to limit the impact that foreign oil has on our economy and take control of the U.S.’s energy future.

Read the rest.

Jay Keasling, who started Amyris with backing from Bill Gates, is long gone from the company, heading up a federally-funded UC Berkeley research center downstairs form Amyris in same Emeryville building as well as launching yet another start-up to compete with his old one.

Here once again is Keasling in happier times two years ago when he was confidently declaring that the scale-up woes that have afflicted his former company simply weren’t gonna happen [starting at 1:55]:

But, hey, with Keasling’s former boss at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Steve Chu now serving as Secretary of Energy and Vilsack relentlessly pushing the agrofuel notion, what’s to lose? Except for all the money lost by Amyris investors since the stock peaked at $33.85 last year.

Surprise, surprise!: Big oil dominates agrofuels

Finally, a leading market research firm is discovering something ewe’ve been noting all along: The whole field of agrofuels is dominated by the corporateers of Big Oil.

Here’s the press release [via Reuters] announcing  a new research report from  Lux Research Alternative Fuels Intelligence service. The report itself is behind a paywall:

Oil Incumbents Building Empires to Dominate Biofuels and Other Alternative Fuels

Large corporations such as Chevron and BP dominate partnership networks, which connect nearly 80% of the 753 firms active in alternative fuels, says Lux Research.

Over the past decade, hundreds of start-ups, corporations, financiers, and universities have developed compelling alternative fuel technologies, such as bio-based jet fuel and cellulosic ethanol. Now, as alternative fuels march to scale, partnership networks in this field are increasingly dominated by the same giant multinationals that control petroleum, according to a Lux Research report.

“As alternative fuel technologies go to market, aligning with the right partners is a necessary stepping stone. The massive incumbent fuel producers, refiners, and distributors can be the competition, but they’re also the key to integrating novel technologies into a century-old industry,” said Andrew Soare, Lux Research Analyst and the lead author of the report titled, “Mapping Empires, Goldmines, and Landmines in the Alternative Fuels Network.”

“The public market successes of Gevo, Amyris, and Solazyme have been based on their sound partnership portfolio, in addition to a robust technology platform,” he added. “As a result, they’ve been able to lead the way to the market, building commercial facilities this year and next.”

Lux Research analysts traced the history of the alternative fuel social network across national, industry, and technology lines from 2005. Among their findings:

  • The partnership web is far-reaching. Relationships in alternative fuels form a complex network of 800 partnerships among 753 companies, where almost every relevant company is connected to another. In fact, 79% of the companies in the space are connected in one large web.
  • Biological technologies form the major nodes. While many technologies are well-represented, it’s the few biological processing companies such as LanzaTech, Amyris, and Gevo that have built the more extensive partnership portfolios. The biological processes are inherently flexible with organisms capable of consuming several feedstocks and producing several end products.
  • Oil and gas majors are the glue in the network. Key downstream companies such as Valero, Shell, BP, and Chevron are building empires based on strong networks of partners that bring technology to combine with the majors’ resources, channels, and scale. Technology developers such as Novozymes and Amyris and next-generation ethanol players like Mascoma, Coskata, and LanzaTech form their own mini-networks.

The report, titled “Mapping Empires, Goldmines, and Landmines in the Alternative Fuels Network,” is part of the Lux Research Alternative Fuels Intelligence service.

Amyris, the UC Berkeley corporate spinoff crated by Cal “bioengineer” Jay Keasling, is backed by French oil giant Total.

And on the subject of Amyris, company shares came within a penny of their all-time low of $3.54 set last week before recovering by market close to $3.60.

Amyris hits yet another new low, $3.59

UPDATED: Shares of the UC Berkeley-spawned genetic engineering company found by Jay Keasling [who's long gone from the Emeryville company he founded with Bill Gates' money and on to a new venture in his life as a serial entrepreneur] hit yet another new low today, recovering to $3.61 at close.

Trading volume remains low, with most of the corporate shares in the hands of institutional and corporate players, who are sticking in for the long haul.

The latest lows put share prices at less than a tenth of what they were selling for a mere 13 months ago, and less than a quarter of the IPO price.

Amyris is prominently featured in the first video posted below.

Synthetic biology, Berkeley’s new lab, land grabs

Two videos from the sponsors of the 28 March conference “Unmasking the Bay Area Bio Lab and Synthetic Biology: Health, Justice and Communities at Risk.”

We’ve previously reported on the conference, organized by activists to raise profound questions about the plans of UC Berkeley and the Department of Energy to create a sprawling new second campus for Lawrence National Laboratory on the nearby Richmond shoreline.

First up is a video of the press conference held the day before the conference and featuring some of the speakers who would appear the following night, including Marcy Darnovsky of Center For Genetics and Biology, Jim Thomas of ETC Group, Nnimmo Bassey, Executive Director of Environmental Action Rights Nigeria, Gopal Dayaneni with Movement Generation: Justice and Ecology Project, Becky McClain with Injured Workers National Network IWNN, Steve Zeltzer with California Coalition For Workers Memorial Day, and moderated by Jeff Conant of The Global Justice Ecology Project.

And here’s an extended interview with Nnimmo Bassey conducted by Steve Zeltzer of the California Coalition For Workers Memorial Day.

Bassey, executive director of Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria and chair of Friends of the Earth International, is the 2010 of the 2010 Right Livelihood Award — often called the Alternate Nobel Prize because it is awarded by the Swedish legislature the day before the Nobels are handed out in the same city, Stockholm. The prize is given for “working on practical and exemplary solutions to the most urgent challenges facing the world today.”

Much of Bassey’s work has centered on the devastation wrought on his country by oil companies like Chevron, which “has sunk its claws and talons into Richmond,” and, like Shell, BP, and other oil companies is moving into agrofuels.

He addresses issues ranging from rapacious oil companies to the ongoing corporate land grabs underway in the global South by corporateers of the North as they gain control of vast acreages to grow crops to convert to fuel for the internal combustion engines of the north.

Videos of the full conference are also available online from Synbiowatch:

Part One.

Part Two.

Amyris nosedives again, new low of $3.64

Could the UC Berkeley-spawned genetic engineering company be heading to a record of consecutive down days?

Amyris shares continue their nosedive today, hitting $3.64, and are fast approaching a point where they’ll be worth ten cents on the dollar for last year’s high of $33.85.

As we write, shares are going for $3.7o, matching yesterday’s record low, and down sixteen cents from the opening bell this morning. UPDATE: Shares closed for the day at $3.70.

Tradining volume is minuscule, 241,000 shares exchanged today out of 52.3 million shares outstanding, most of which are held by major institutional players. French petro giant Total holds the largest single bloc, with 11.9 million shares in its pocket.

Amyris plunges to another record low, $3.72

Shares of the UC Berkeley-spawned synthetic biology firm founded by Jay Keasling, the head of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s bioengineering program, dove to another record low today, recovering by the closing NASDAQ bell to $3.86, still fifteen cents lower than the stock opened this morning.

Shareholders at the Yahoo! message board for the company have been complaining lots lately, wondering why company officials haven’t made any public statements to reassure them.

Investors who bought a year ago paid as much as $33.85 a share, while the initial public offering on 28 September 2010 opened at $16.50 a share. One has to wonder about the strange silence of Amyris corporate officers in light of the ongoing debacle for shareholders.

Drug resistance, Berkeley, and the biobuckaroos

When Bill Gates bankrolled UC Berkelely “bioengineer” Jay Keasling to launch corporate genetic engineering firm Amyris, Gates’s professed goal was the creation of a cheap antimalarial drug to replace the plant derivative armtemisin.

Produced from the wormwood plant Artemisia, the drug is the most widely used compound to clear the body of the parasite which causes the devastating tropical killer.

Gates and Amyris founder Jay Keasling announced they would create the drug from a genetically tweaked intestinal microbe, producing a product that would radically reduce the price to consumers in Africa and Asia.

By the time they had turned over the process to pharmaceutical giant Sanofi-Aventis for non-profit commercial production, any thought of “cheaper” had vanished. The chemical will sell for the same price as the naturally derived product, while potentially devastating the lives of peasant farmers who currently produce enough of the crop to meet all current needs.

But the Big Pharma player would get access to more markets, and their representatives could peddle other for-profit drugs — a win for Sanofi-Aventis, but a loss for thousands of peasant farmers.

Amyris went on to repurpose itself as an agrofuel company, partnering with French oil giant Total to launch pilot programs in Brazil, where sugar cane is the feedstock of choice — a crop that relies of massive land-clearing efforts, including newly designated sites in the Amazon rain forest.

While Keasling promised that “scaling up” programs from the realm of the experimental to full-scale refineries wouldn’t be a problem, reality intervened, and production plans have been, er, scaled down, leaving the company for now in the role of a supplier of chemicals to the cosmetics industry while Amyris stock has plunged from a high of $33.85 last year to as low as $4 on Thursday.

And now comes word of an alarming development that could be bad news both for the Amyris not-so-cheap artmesinin as well as for the Third World’s wormwood farmers.

Resistance discovered in Southeast Asia

A new study by a team of medical scientists from Thailand, Britain, and the United States just published in The Lancet, Britain’s premiere medical journal, reports that strains of Plasmodium falciparum — the parasite responsible for the ravages of malaria — have emerged in Cambodia and are spreading to Western Thailand and Myanmar.

To quote from the report’s conclusion:

Genetically determined artemisinin resistance in P falciparum emerged along the Thailand—Myanmar border at least 8 years ago and has since increased substantially. At this rate of increase, resistance will reach rates reported in western Cambodia in 2—6 years.

The World Health Organization reported on the emergence of resistance two years ago:

“If we do not put a stop to the drug-resistant malaria situation that has been documented in the Thai-Cambodia border, it could spread rapidly to neighbouring countries and threaten our efforts to control this deadly disease,” said Dr Hiroki Nakatani, Assistant Director-General of WHO.

Resistance along the Thai-Cambodia border started with chloroquine, followed by resistance to sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine and mefloquine, drugs used in malaria control several years ago.

Malaria poses a risk to half of the world’s population and more than one million people die of the disease each year. The malaria map, or the area where it is prevalent, has been reduced considerably over the past 50 years, but the disease has defied elimination in areas of intense transmission.

Bryan Walsh of Time has more on the latest developments:

In another study published in Science, researchers at Texas Biomed and their colleagues managed to get close to isolating the genes in the malaria parasite that convey resistance to artemisinin. That will help scientists understand how artemisinin interacts with the parasite, and how resistance takes place over time. In the future, it may even offer clues on how to alter treatment to cancel out resistance — to adapt to the parasite’s adaptation. “Mapping the geographical spread of resistance can be particularly challenging using existing clinical and parasitological tools,” Texas Biomed’s Dr. Tim Anderson said in a statement. “If we can identify the genetic determinants of artemisinin resistance, we should be able to confirm potential cases of resistance more rapidly. This could be critically importing for limiting further spread of resistance.”

Drug resistance is inevitable — the more a treatment is used, the faster resistance will often develop, and the fact is that there are some 250 million cases of malaria a year. The only hope is to try to root out resistant-malaria where it occurs, and stop the chain of resistant transmission. That was hard enough in Cambodia, but with drug-resistant malaria spreading to Thailand and likely Burma as well — a desperately poor nation with a threadbare medical system — it will only get tougher. And if resistant malaria spreads to Africa, where the disease is still a catastrophe, perhaps millions more could die, as Francois Nosten of the Shoklo Malaria Research Unit in Thailand put it:

We are in a race against time to control malaria in these regions before drug resistance worsens and develops and spreads further. The effect of that happening could be devastating. Malaria already kills hundreds of thousands of people a year — if our drugs become ineffective, this figure will rise dramatically.

Read the rest.

So what’s the takeaway?

One clear conclusion from all this is that the panglossian pronouncements of the “bioengineers” and their financial backers must always be taken with a grain or ten of sodium chloride.

Consider this from Jay Keasling, reported by Megan Molteni in Richmond Confidential:

Keasling’s lab recently used yeast that would normally produce ethanol (like the yeast used in beer brewing) and engineered it to instead produce artemisinin—an effective anti-malarial drug currently produced from expensive plant sources. Through partnerships and licensing agreements with drug and chemical companies Sanofi-Aventis and Amyris, Keasling said more than 100 million people per year will get access to the drug that otherwise wouldn’t have it available.

A hundred million people who don’t have access?

While supply and demand of artemisin are almost equally matched at the moment, the price of the drug has been falling, which is one reason higher than predicted costs for the Amyris-created product won’t have any impact on the consumer but could have devastating impacts on farmers.

A2S2, the Assured Amyris Supply System, was created specifically to support the farming system which still produces all the world’s supply of the drug to ensure that current needs are met.

Bill Gates, the sugar daddy behind Amyris, is also a major player in the agrofuels industry — and had major holdings in another company which has partnered with another enterprise founded by Keasling, the Joint BioEnergy Institute [JBEI], created by the Department of Energy and run by UC Berkeley in partnership with a joint partnership of UC Berkeley with Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore, and Sandia national laboratories and the Carnegie Institute.

Pacific Ethanol is a corporate partner of of JBEI, and Gates held 20 percent of the stock in the Sacramento-based ethanol refiner until the shares tanked in 2008.

Gates hasn’t bought into Amyris since the stock went public. Perhaps he learned something.

JBEI continues to run at full steam, but its venue would change from its current location in Emeryville [upstairs from the headquarters of Amyris] to the new Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory billion-dollar-plus complex in nearby Richmond if the lab wins approval at the site — which has a century-long history of contamination by toxic industrial waste, another subject we reported on extensively back in our days with the Berkeley Daily Planet.

Oh, and by the way, UC Berkeley fought a successful call by the Richmond City Council for oversight of the toxic waste cleanup of the site by the state Department of Toxic Substances Control.

Amyris dives to another record low, $4.00 a share

UPDATE: When we first posted this the low was $4.18. We’ve updated the headline.

UPDATE 2: And we updated again, after another drop to $4.12.

UPDATE 3: Yet another plunge.

UPDATE 4: The stock closed at $4.06.

The Emeryville-based UC-Berkeley spawned genetic engineering continued its downward spiral this morning, with shares opening at yesterday’s closing price of $4.38, then, minutes later, diving to $4.18.

That’s a spectacular fall for a stock that was trading at $33.85 on 28 February 2011 opened at $16.50 when the company’s initial public offering debuted on 28 September 2010.

Amyris hits another all-time low: $4.37

UPDATE: The good news: Shares were up at closing from the record bottom . . .by precisely one penny.

Shares of the UC Berkeley spawned genetic engineering company opened at $4.60, then quickly dropped.

The high was $33.85, set a year ago.

The collapse continued despite the optimistic pronouncements of CEO and former BP executive John Melo, speaking at the Advanced Biofuels Leadership Conference today.

Biofuels Digest summarizes:

Amyris CEO John Melo kicked off the first day of ABLC by re-affirming the company’s commitment to fuels while noting that they represent the “highest risk, cost and challenges in scale-up” and required large a lance sheets or partners with large balance sheets. In an candid address, he reviewed the lessons learned by the company in its scale-up efforts. He contrasted the increasing speed and efficiency of scale-up construction, compared to the difficulties of commissioning plants and bringing them up to full productivity. Melo noted the rapid progress commercially in product lines such as squalane, observing that the company had become “a significant player in squalane” even at this early stage of the company’s commercial development.

Anolther bad day for Amyris, share hit $4.62

The biotech firm started by UC Berkeley “bioengineer” Jay Keasling came within seven cents of its all-time low of $4.55 set just last month, after opening at $4.90 with this morning’s opening bell.

That makes seven of today’s shares worth what one share cost just over a year ago and down from a dollar from last Wednesday.

Maybe investors who bought high are trading their shares in for the latest synthetic fuel company, Enerkem, which is offering an IPO Wednesday. The new company plans to turn solid municipal waste into fuel — call it shit into money, rather than vice versa, which is what Amyris shares have been doing of late.

The downslide hasn’t prompted an exodus of any of the major institutional holders, with the market play dominated by smaller individual trades. Who knows, if the shares keep going down, the institutional holders could buy out the rest and take the company private again.

The biggest problem Amyris has faced: What works in the test tube hasn’t “scaled up” to be cost effective at the huge volumes needed to sustain a commercial fuel operation. Here’s a video of Amyris founder Keasling produced by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory from two years ago, when he was saying scaling up wasn’t a problem:

Amyris’s scaling up problems forced the company to announce a hold on the plans to produce large quantities of synthetic fuel this year, with efforts redirected to turning out costlier chemicals used in cosmetics.

Stakeholders weigh in on UCB GMO complex

A forum critical of UC Berkeley’s plans to ramp up genetic engineering research at a planned massive new second campus of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Richmond drew a capacity crowd to the David Brower Center Thursday night.

One speaker after another ripped into the potential consequences of the university’s grandiose plans, including the human and environmental devastation certain to be wrought on Africa and Latin America.

We will be posting several articles on the gathering, but we will begin with a focus on some of the ways the lab’s end products could impact other lands targeted by the lab’s emphasis on using genetic engineering to transform living plants into fuel.

A resonant voice from Nigeria

29 March 2012, Nikon D300, ISO 2500, 60mm, 1/250 sec, f3.5

Nnimmo Bassey, holding a copy of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Environmental activist Nnimmo Bassey, executive director of Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria and chair of Friends of the Earth International, ripped into comments made a day earlier by Jay Keasling, UC Berkeley professor, founder of three genetic engineering companies, and head of the Department of Energy-funded Joint BioEnergy Institute [JBEI], which is slated to relocate to the new Richmond campus.

In an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Keasling had dismissed criticisms by Bassey and others that any successful program to use genetically altered microbes to create fuel from plant matter would wreak ecological and human devastation in Africa, Latin America, and Asia:

Nor would food croplands be sacrificed for new biofuels, Keesling [sic] said. The countless acres needed would be wastelands where only otherwise useless plants like switchgrasses would be grown for biofuel, he said. “There’s really no market for that kind of land,” he said.

“Even with the hype,” Bassey said, it’s certain that the target is the tropics. “Even all the biomass in our forests can’t provide all the energy that is required,” he said.

“Thast so-called ‘wasteland’ is somebody’s land, Bassey said. The world’s pastoralists thrive on lands marginal or unsuitable for farming. “People do live in the Sahara desert. People do live in the Kalahari Desert. People do live in the desert here in the United States.”

The one sure result of a global land grab is conflict, he said. A second is the introduction of genetically modified organisms [GMOs] into more nations where they’ve been previously banned.

Bassey, whose words flow in resonant, almost musical bass tones, is a winner of the 2010 Right Livelihood Award, often called the Alternate Nobel Prize because it is awarded by the Swedish legislature the day before the Nobels are handed out in the same city, Stockholm. The prize is given for “working on practical and exemplary solutions to the most urgent challenges facing the world today.”

Much of Bassey’s work has centered on the devastation wrought on his country by oil companies like Chevron, which “has sunk its claws and talons into Richmond,” and, like Shell, BP, and other oil companies is moving into agrofuels.

As Time magazine noted three years ago

It wasn’t an oil spill that made Nnimmo Bassey an environmentalist. It was a massacre — the 1990 assault by Nigeria’s armed forces on the village of Umuechem, where residents of the oil-rich Niger Delta had accused the Shell Petroleum Development Company of environmental degradation and economic neglect. In two days of violence, 80 people died and nearly 500 houses were destroyed. “We woke up from a sleep and … everything was collapsing around us.”

Read the rest.

He also warned that, once unleashed, GMOs are bound to spread.

With biotechnology posed to trigger massive lands and the human misery that follows, “Humanity must regain its memory of being human. . .and agree that greed and conflict will not get us anywhere.”

“We are not just on this planet for ourselves.”

The view from Brazil

29 March 2012, Nikon D300, ISO 2500, 60mm, 1/800 sec, f3.5

The green areas are cane plantations

Maria José Guazzelli of Brazil’s Center for Ecological Agriculture focused on the impacts of the metastasis of sugar cane plantations to fuel her own nation’s massive ethanol industry.

And it is sugar cane which is fueling the champagne dreams of investors in the Jay Keasling-launched Amyris which, with the financial backing of French oil giant Total and other corporateers, is using cane fibers left over from ethanol processing and genetically engineered microbes in a thus-far unsuccessful attempt to launch a new agrofuel industry in Brazil.

Already “a huge monoculture which is linked to global warming and deforestation,” Guazzelli said, sugar cane has been embraced by the Brazilian government, which has estimated that cane plantations could cover as many as 160 million acres — an area equivalent to the state of Texas.

And while the government initially declared the Amazon Basin off-limits to industry expansion, officials are now saying the basin’s west central region may be suitable for still more planting. “Now we have added rain forest.”

Just as the Portugese introduction of cane during the colonial era depended on slave labor, so does it today. “Sugar cane in Brazil means slave labor.”

The work is hard, dangerous, and poorly paid, and, as we noted before, reports of actual slavery — confined workers kept in miserable conditions and unable to leave — are common on the corporate-owned latifundia.

Land grabs are seizing soil suitable for food crops and devastating both rain forest and savannah, Guazzelli said, but the nation’s Development Bank continues to pour money into the industry.

A dissenting view from campus

29 March 2012, Nikon D300, ISO 2500, 60mm, 1/250 sec, f3.5

Ignacio Chapela knows what its like to feel  the wrath of the genetic engineering corporateers.

The UC Berkeley plant microbiologist has been targeted by companies in the GMO game, with attempts to destroy his reputation and ultimately cost him his job — finally winning tenure only thanks to a lawsuit.

Chapela and David Quist found proof that genes from genetically engineered corn had jumped the border and grafted themselves into the genomes of native varieties in Chapela’s homeland, Mexico — whose indigenous people had nurtured the grass-like teosinte over the course of millennia into modern-day maize.

Monsanto launched a black propaganda campaign, and university administrators denied tenure even though the faculty of his own college had voted overwhelmingly in his favor.

“I am really privileged to be among the very few faculty members who would even set foot in this gathering,” Chapela began.

DNA can’t be understood as an isolated molecule in a lab, he said. “It is really the living context of DNA that people use.

While hundreds of billions have been sunk into commercialization of the fruits of genetic engineering and synthetic biology — the craft of piecing together chemical segments to create to-order strands of DNA — the industry has yet to turn a profit, Chapela said.

But with the vast flood of corporate cash pouring into the nation’s universities, including BP’s $500 million agrofuel-focused grant to UC Berkeley, “it has had a very effective outcome” in the silence of potential scientific critics, “either because they’re afraid or hopeful they will be able” to capture some of that corporate cash.

“I worry mostly about the takeover of the last line of defense the public has to confront technological craziness.”

Chapela said the influx of corporate money puts scientific credibility at stake.

In 2010, a New York Times headline declared the BP oil spill plume “is no more.”

The newspaper cited a paper published in Science, Chapela said, that declared  “a new microbe had appeared in the Gulf of Mexico, ate up all that oil, and just as miraculously disappeared.”

The paper was authored by a host of scientists from UC Berkeley.

Yet the newspaper didn’t note one critical fact: “Every single member of that team was compromised by deals with BP.”

A passionate stakeholder from Richmond

29 March 2012, Nikon D300, ISO 3200, 60mm, 1/50 sec, f3.5

Henry Clark added fire to the heat that had come before.

A Richmond environmentalist, Clark heads the West County Toxic Coalition, and he knows the university’s site very well from his service on the Community Advisory Group appointed by the California Department of Toxic Services to clean up chemical contamination at the university’s Richmond Field Station and adjoining Campus Bay property, part of which is included in the university’s plans.

Both sites were massively contaminated by a century of chemical manufacturing, which included blasting and percussion caps made from toxic mercury, pesticides, herbicides, and countless other chemicals, and even experiments with splitting uranium bars with electron beams.

Clark marched on picket lines at the site, walking with Gayle McLaughlin of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, who was elected mayor midway during the site cleanup campaign, and Jeff Ritterman, a heart surgeon and Physicians for Social Responsibility activist later elected to the city council, where he too endorsed to the project.

“The City of Richmond has put itself out onto a limb, knowing there were many questions that had not been answered at the time,” Clark said. “They looked at it as a cash cow to bring in revenue and jobs.”

After working for years for a cleanup at the site, “we’re still not sure what’s there. Are we going to bring in the lab to add more?”

At the minimum, he said, Richmond residents need answers. “We need full disclosure” of what’s being done at the lab, along with penalties when disclosure isn’t provided.

“We’re not going for the okey-doke this time. We need clear, definitive answers.”

And if Richmond wants more jobs, he said, the city must invest in solar asnd wins technology.”

Clark won perhaps the loudest applause of the night.

NEXT: Questions raised about workplace safety.

Amyris adds agribiz executive, stock dives

You’ve got to hand it to Amyris, genetic engineering company started by UC Berkeley’s own Jay Keasling, the subject of our previous post. First, they add a Qatari princeling to the board, and now a money man from one of the world’s leading agribuisness giants.

Here’s the company’s announcement:

Amyris, Inc., a leading renewable chemicals and fuels company, today announced that Steven R. Mills has been appointed Chief Financial Officer effective May 2, 2012. Mills will replace Jeryl L. Hilleman, whose intent to depart during the course of this year was first announced in August 2011.

“Steve’s three decade career at ADM brings the set of skills we need as we enter a new growth stage for our Company,” said John Melo, President & Chief Executive Officer of Amyris. “As we near completion of our first purpose-designed, industrial-scale renewable hydrocarbon plant, Steve’s tested financial and strategy expertise will help ensure Amyris remains on a strong path to meet our customer and investors expectations.”

Mills joined ADM in 1979 and served in various senior treasury and accounting roles, including as Chief Financial Officer from 2008-2010. During his most recent assignment, Mills served as ADM’s Senior Executive Vice President, Performance and Growth where he helped drive growth through business development and acquisitions until his retirement from ADM in February.

“Amyris is leading the way in an array of renewable chemicals and fuels. I’m looking forward to joining Amyris’s extraordinary team at a time when the Company is bringing its technology to full-scale production and commercialization,” said Steve Mills.

“As we welcome Steve to Amyris, we bid farewell to Jeri, who joined us four years ago as our first CFO. We are grateful for Jeri’s many contributions, which include Amyris’s successful initial public offering in October 2010. Jeri’s commitment to a smooth transition over the last several months is evidence of her remarkable ongoing commitment to Amyris,” concluded John Melo.

Amyris retained Alyse Bodine and John Strackhouse of Heidrick & Struggles for this executive search.

We find more details in the company’s Form 8-K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission:

On March 23, 2012, the Company and Mr. Mills entered into an Offer Letter (the “Offer Letter”), under which Mr. Mills is expected to commence employment with the Company on May 2, 2012. The Offer Letter provides for an initial annual base salary for Mr. Mills in the amount of $450,000. Mr. Mills will also initially be eligible to receive an annual performance-based bonus of up to $150,000 based on his achievement of performance objectives (and following his second year of employment, he will be eligible to receive an annual performance-based bonus of up to at least 35% of his base salary). In addition, the Company has agreed to pay Mr. Mills a $125,000 stipend for his use in connection with his relocation to the San Francisco Bay Area, subject to repayment, net of taxes, if Mr. Mills resigns other than as a result of constructive termination within 12 months of his start date. The Company also agreed to reimburse Mr. Mills for up to six months of rental expense for an apartment in the San Francisco Bay Area while he secures permanent accommodations, and for up to eight round trip airfares (between Illinois and the San Francisco Bay Area) for Mr. Mills and his spouse per year for two years.

In connection with Mr. Mills’ appointment, following his commencement of service, the Company agreed to grant Mr. Mills a stock option award and a restricted stock unit (“RSU”) award under the Company’s 2010 Equity Incentive Plan. The equity awards to Mr. Mills consist of: (i) a non-statutory stock option to purchase 420,000 Continue reading

SF Chronicle recycles agrofuel propaganda

We attended a press conference yesterday organized by the folks who are putting on tonight’s conference called by critics of UC Berkeley’s plans to build a huge new campus of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory devoted in large part to genetic “engineering.”

Also in attendance was San Francisco Chronicle writer David Perlman, who wrote up a report for today’s edition, in which we find this marvelous quote dealing with one major focus of the new complex, agrofuels:

Nor would food croplands be sacrificed for new biofuels, Keesling [sic] said. The countless acres needed would be wastelands where only otherwise useless plants like switchgrasses would be grown for biofuel, he said. “There’s really no market for that kind of land,” he said.

Read the rest.

Keasling, as the named is actually spelled, must have awakened with a considerably longer proboscis today if there’s anything to that Pinocchio tale.

Consider, for instance, that Amyris, one of the companies he started in his spare time as a UC Berkeley “bioengineer,” has partnered with French oil giant Total to development fuel plants in Brazil.

And they’re not using “useless plants” like switchgrass as the biological grist for their GMO mills: They’re using sugar cane, as a Chronicle story has reported.

Yeah, someday they hope to be using “useless plants.” But so far they haven’t figured out a way to do it.

So if you watch what they do rather than what they say, a far different picture emerges.

Now let’s do a bit more debunking.

Note that he says the “countless acres that would be needed would be wastelands.”


Those acres he’s talking about were taken out of production under the federal government’s Conservation Reservation Program because they were lands that are highly susceptible to erosion.

The program was created to avoid a repeat of the massive dust storms that led farm states to bud a decade the “Dirty Thirties.”

But they don’t just want the land. They want payments to ensure farmers don’t lose out if farming those sensitive lands doesn’t pay off.

Consider this from a January article by Todd Neeley of The Progressive Farmer:

With all the discussion about what should be in and what should be out, an advanced biofuels group has hopes that the next farm bill will provide support for advanced biofuels and a budding biomass industry.

In a news release from Advanced Biofuels USA, the group calls for retaining more agricultural land, setting a national biomass/biofuel policy and to help those advanced biofuels projects walking through the so-called ‘valley of death’ — the often risky period of time between development of new technologies and the ongoing ability to fund them, and the commercialization of those technologies.

In addition, the group said in its release that it would like to see current government farm payments “replaced by a combination of income derived from the sale of biomass and tax credits.

“For example, if the value of biomass payments falls below established CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) payments, the difference would be made up with tax credits. CRP land owners would keep any excess over the established CRP payment.”

Read the rest.

For more background, see here.

Keasling likes to talk about how he hails from Nebraska farm country.

Maybe he should read a little more history.

Amyris adds a royal to its board of directors

Yep, the troubled UC Berkeley-spawned genetic engineering products company bankrolled by Bill Gates has added a princeling and former Prime Minister of Qatar toits  board.

A brief bio of the newest member of the Emeryville company’s board from Wikipedia:

Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifa Al Thani(born 1959, Doha) was a Prime Minister of Qatar from 29 October 1996 to 3 April 2007. He presently serves as an advisor to the Emir and often represents him at ceremonial events and receptions.

He is the eldest son of the former and 8th Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani, and the Emir’s 3rd Lady, Sheikha Rudha bint Jassim Bin Jabr Al-Thani. In long form, his name could be rendered as Abdullah bin Khalifa bin Hamad bin Abdullah bin Jassim bin Muhammed Al Thani. Sheikh Abdullah is the younger half-brother of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the current Emir of Qatar, to whom Abdullah is currently an advisor.

Read the rest.

Here’s the text of the announcement filed Thursday with the Securities and Exchange Commission:

On March 15, 2012, the Board of Directors (the “Board”) of Amyris, Inc. (the “Company”) approved an increase in the size of the Board from 10 to 11 directors and appointed HH Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifa Al Thani of Qatar as a Class I director (whose term will expire at the Company’s annual meeting of stockholders to be held in 2014), effective immediately.

His Highness was designated to serve on the Board by Biolding Investment SA (“Biolding”), a company controlled by His Highness, under a letter agreement (the “Letter Agreement”) the Company entered into in February 2012 in connection with a private placement of the Company’s common stock. Biolding purchased 2,595,155 shares of the Company’s common stock for approximately $15 million in the private placement, representing approximately 4.6% of the Company’s outstanding common stock as of March 9, 2012. In connection with such financing, the Company agreed to appoint one person designated by Biolding to serve as a member of the Board and to use reasonable efforts, consistent with the Board’s fiduciary duties, to cause the director designated by Biolding to be re-nominated by the Board in the future. These designation rights terminate upon a sale of Amyris or upon Biolding holding less than 2,595,155 shares of the Company’s common stock. The additional description of the Company’s agreements with Biolding set forth in the Company’s Current Report on Form 8-K filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on February 28, 2012 is incorporated herein by reference.

The Company will provide His Highness with any standard compensation approved for non-employee directors.

The Company will enter into the form of indemnification agreement with His Highness that it has entered into with its other directors and that is filed as Exhibit 10.01 to the Company’s Registration Statement on Form S-1 (File No. 333-166135). The indemnification agreement and the Company’s restated certificate of incorporation and restated bylaws require it to indemnify its directors and executive officers to the fullest extent permitted by Delaware law.

Gee, does this mean Amyris board meetings will get Secret Service protection?

They certainly need all the held they can get, since the stock is trending downward again [$5.18 as we write] after a brief spike of $5.45 earlier in the week. And that’s down from last year’s all-time high of $33.85.

And note that the company, which has losses totaling more then $327 million in the last three years, is incorporated in Delaware, where taxes are less than here in California. Given that the company owes its very existence to the taxpayer supported work of researchers from the UC Berkeley campus, maybe its time for a state law mandating that companies begun as university spinoffs be incorporated in the same state that nurtured their very existence.

Of course there’s no profit to tax, is there?

Amyris reveals the risks of buying their stock

Share of Amyris [previously], the UC Berkeley-spawned genetic engineering firm started with bucks from Bill Gates, continue their modest recovery from last week’s all-time low of $4.45 a share, closing the day at $5.58.

But any investor considering a share purchase in the company as anything other than a wildly speculative bet should take a look at the risk disclosure in the Securities and Exchange Commission filing required to float those 4,173,622 new shares needed to keep the company running.

Here’s the money quote:

To commercialize our products, we must be successful in using our yeast strains to produce target molecules at commercial scale and on an economically viable basis. Such production will require that our technology and processes be scalable from laboratory, pilot and demonstration projects and industrial-scale test runs to commercial-scale production. Up to and through most of 2010, our primary focus was research and development. In 2011, we commenced commercial manufacturing operations at three contract manufacturing facilities: Biomin in Brazil, Antibióticos in Spain and Tate & Lyle in the U.S. We have very limited manufacturing experience and cannot be sure that we will be successful in establishing these or future larger-scale production operations in a timely manner and on a scale that will allow us to meet our plans for commercialization. We are outsourcing to contract manufacturers and other third parties some of the production process development work associated with commercial scale-up and such third parties may not perform such development work at the level we expect. Furthermore, our technology may not perform as expected when applied at commercial scale on a sustained basis, or we may encounter operational challenges for which we are unable to devise a workable solution. For example, in 2011 at our contract manufacturing facilities, contamination in the production process, problems with plant utilities, lack of automation and related human error, process modifications to reduce costs and adjust product specifications, and other similar challenges decreased process efficiency, created delays and increased our costs. Such challenges are likely to continue as we and our contract manufacturing partners develop our production processes and establish new facilities. We may not be able to scale up our production in a timely manner, if at all, even to the extent we successfully complete product development in our laboratories and pilot and demonstration facilities and conduct successful industrial-scale test runs. If this occurs, our ability to commercialize our technology will be adversely affected, and, with respect to any products that we are able to bring to market, we may not be able to lower the cost of production, which would adversely affect our ability to sell our products and achieve profits. Similarly, our ability to produce the volume of Biofene covered by our existing agreements is based in part on our ability to achieve substantially higher production efficiencies than we have to date. We may never achieve those production efficiencies.

Amyris stages a comeback on massive trading

Shares of the UC Berkeley-spawned genetic engineering outfit Amyris closed at $5.49 today on unusually heavy trading [nearly three times the average] as traders figured the company had hit bottom with last week’s re cord low of $4.45.

Message boards late last week were nothing that folks who trade according to the magical formulae of charts were predicting a rise, and it looks like they may have created a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for shares to top last year’s high of $33.85.