Category Archives: Amyris, Inc.

Amyris warns on funding, layoffs; aids military


Amyris Inc. [previously and extensively], the much-ballyhooed genetic engineering spinoff created by UC Berkeley with the promise, never fulfilled, of creating cheap, cleaning burning fuel from plant cellulose, has yet to make a nickle, and in it’s latest quarterly report for the Security and Exchange Commission has warned of money woes, possible layoffs, and research cutbacks.

But there’s one notable bright spot: The company is working to create genetically engineered microbes for the Pentagon.

First the bad news, from the Emeryville-based company’s latest Form 10-Q filing:

The Company has incurred significant operating losses since its inception and believes that it will continue to incur losses and negative cash flow from operations into at least 2017. As of June 30, 2016, the Company had negative working capital of $108.3 million, an accumulated deficit of $1,066.0 million, and cash, cash equivalents and short term investments of $2.5 million. The Company will need to raise cash from additional financings or strategic asset divestments as early as the third quarter of 2016 to support its liquidity needs. These factors raise substantial doubt about the Company’s ability to continue as a going concern. The financial statements do not include any adjustments that might result from the outcome of this uncertainty. If the Company is unable to continue as a going concern, it may be unable to meet its obligations under its existing debt facilities, which could result in an acceleration of its obligation to repay all amounts outstanding under those facilities, and it may be forced to liquidate its assets.

As of June 30, 2016, the Company’s debt, net of discount and issuance costs of $44.7 million, totaled $181.4 million, of which $80.0 million is classified as current. In addition to upcoming debt maturities, the Company’s debt service obligations over the next twelve months are significant, including $21.0 million of anticipated cash interest payments. The Company’s debt agreements contain various covenants, including certain restrictions on the Company’s business that could cause the Company to be at risk of defaults, such as the requirement to maintain unrestricted, unencumbered cash in defined U.S. bank accounts in an amount equal to at least 50% of the principal amount outstanding under its loan facility with Stegodon Corporation (or “Stegodon”), as assignee of Hercules Capital, Inc. As discussed below, the Company has received a waiver of compliance with such covenant through October 31, 2016. A failure to comply with the covenants and other provisions of the Company’s debt instruments, including any failure to make a payment when required would generally result in events of default under such instruments, which could permit acceleration of such indebtedness. If such indebtedness is accelerated, it would generally also constitute an event of default under the Company’s other outstanding indebtedness, permitting acceleration of such other outstanding indebtedness. Any required repayment of such indebtedness as a result of acceleration or otherwise would consume current cash on hand such that the Company would not have those funds available for use in its business or for payment of other outstanding indebtedness. Please refer to Note 5, “Debt” and Note 6, “Commitments and Contingencies” for further details regarding the Company’s debt service obligations and commitments. The Company also has significant outstanding debt and contractual obligations related to capital and operating leases, as well as purchase commitments.

In addition to the need for financing described above, the Company may take the following actions to support its liquidity needs through the remainder of 2016 and into 2017:

Effect significant headcount reductions, particularly with respect to employees not connected to critical or contracted activities across all functions of the Company, including employees involved in general and administrative, research and development, and production activities.
Shift focus to existing products and customers with significantly reduced investment in new product and commercial development efforts.
Reduce production activity at the Company’s Brotas manufacturing facility to levels only sufficient to satisfy volumes required for product revenues forecast from existing products and customers.
Reduce expenditures for third party contractors, including consultants, professional advisors and other vendors.
Reduce or delay uncommitted capital expenditures, including non-essential facility and lab equipment, and information technology projects.
Closely monitor the Company’s working capital position with customers and suppliers, as well as suspend operations at pilot plants and demonstration facilities.

Implementing this plan could have a negative impact on the Company’s ability to continue its business as currently contemplated, including, without limitation, delays or failures in its ability to:

Achieve planned production levels;
Develop and commercialize products within planned timelines or at planned scales; and
Continue other core activities.

Furthermore, any inability to scale-back operations as necessary, and any unexpected liquidity needs, could create pressure to implement more severe measures. Such measures could have an adverse effect on the Company’s ability to meet contractual requirements, including obligations to maintain manufacturing operations, and increase the severity of the consequences described above.

But the Pentagon came calling with cash

In a story we missed last September, the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Project Agency coughed up $34.5 million from the agency’s Living Foundries program.

And just what is that program?

Find out, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Charts of the day II: The Amyris debacle continues


Amyris [previously and extensively], the company the University of California, Berkeley held up as a shining example of a campus-spawned startup and founded by a prof who was once the darling of the financial press, continues its descent into financial oblivion, with the stock selling for a mere 34 cents today, just one percent of its post-IPO high $33.85 on 28 February 2011.

Two charts track the stock’s plunge [which is bad news for French oil giant Total and the Singapore government’s sovereign wealth fund Temasek Holdings, the company’s largest shareholders].

The first chart comes from NASDAQ, the exchange which had listed the stock until the company filed a Notice of Delisting after shares plunged below the $1 level and turned the company’s offering into a so-called penny stock, presents the most genteel look at the plunge by using an algorithmic scale to tone down the bad news:

blog aMYRIS

The second chart, from the Financial Times, uses the more common sensical arithmetic scale:

BLOG Amyris 2

Either way, it’s bad news — for Amyris, for its shareholders, and for the University of California officials who are hell-bent on turning the greatest university system in the country into a tool of the corporation.

Amyris plunges to new record low, recovers


Amyris Inc. [previously], the UC Berkeley-spawned GMO start-up bankrolled by Bill Gates, Al Gore, and Arab oil sheikhs plunged to less than three shares for a buck before adding on six cents a share by the close of market Tuesday.

The record low of thirty-one cents a share was more than a hundred times below the post-IPO high of $33.85 less than five years ago.

The modest recovery was spawned by news that the company, which abandoned its goal of producing cheap fuel from plant cellulose in favor of turning out basic oils and compounds for cosmetics, had signed a new deal with perfume and flavor firm Givaudan to produce scents for perfumes.

The stock woes haven’t hut company founder and UC Berkeley bioengineer Jay Keasling, who sold his stock soon after the IPO, pocketing a eight-figure payoff, a sum that would be worth in the low six figures if he’d held on to his stock.

UC Berkeley-spawned Amyris shares collapse


The decline and fall of Amyris share prices, via NASDAQ.

The decline and fall of Amyris share prices, via NASDAQ.

Amyris Inc. [previously], the company started by UC Berkeley “bioengineer” Jay Keasling to create affordable fuels from using technology created to genetically engineer yeast to produce the most widely used antimalarial drug, hit an all-time low of forty-one cents per share today, down from the post-IPO high of $33.85.

Part of the reason is contained in a 20 June filing lodged by the company with the Security and Exchange Commission:

On June 14, 2016, Amyris, Inc. (the “Company”) received a letter from The NASDAQ Stock Market LLC (“NASDAQ”) notifying the Company that it is not in compliance with the requirement of NASDAQ Listing Rule 5450(a)(1) for continued listing on the NASDAQ Global Select Market as a result of the closing bid price of the Company’s common stock being below $1.00 for 30 consecutive business days. This notification has no effect on the listing of the Company’s common stock at this time.

In accordance with NASDAQ Listing Rule 5810(c)(3)(A), the Company has 180 calendar days, or until December 12, 2016, to regain compliance with NASDAQ Listing Rule 5450(a)(1). To regain compliance, the closing bid price of the Company’s common stock must be at least $1.00 for a minimum of 10 consecutive business. If the Company does not regain compliance during such period, it may be eligible for an additional compliance period of 180 calendar days, provided that the Company meets NASDAQ’s continued listing requirement for market value of publicly held shares and all other initial listing standards for the NASDAQ Capital Market, other than the minimum bid price requirement, and provides written notice to NASDAQ of its intention to cure the deficiency during the second compliance period. If the Company does not regain compliance during the initial compliance period and is not eligible for an additional compliance period, NASDAQ will provide notice that the Company’s common stock will be subject to delisting from the NASDAQ Capital Market. In that event, the Company may appeal such determination to a hearings panel.

The Company is currently evaluating its available options to resolve the deficiency and regain compliance with NASDAQ Listing Rule 5450(a)(1).

In other words, Amyris is now officially what’s called a “penny stock,” and stock valued at under a buck and restricted to trade on minor markets.

And while Amyris has promised and failed to deliver on its cheap fuel promises and shifted its development aims to tweaking its yeast to produce genetically engineered cosmetic chemicals, Bill Gates, an original investor from the company’s earliest days, gave Amyris $5 million in April to help cut costs on production of the drug for which he originally bankrolled Keasling and his students.

The drug is produced in Europe and Amyris realizes no profits from its sale.

But now comes more bad news and a possible reason for the continuing decline of the price of Amyris shares.

From the University of British Columbia:

The rapid decline in effectiveness of a widely used anti-malaria drug treatment on the Thailand-Myanmar border is linked to the increasing prevalence of specific mutations in the malaria parasite itself, according to a paper published in The Clinical infectious Disease Journal.

The mutations in specific regions of the parasite’s kelch gene – which are genetic markers of artemisinin resistance – were the decisive factor, the authors say, in the selection of parasites that are also resistant to mefloquine. This resulted in growing failure of the widely-used anti-malaria drug combination of mefloquine and artesunate, the first artemisinin combination therapy (ACT) on the Thai-Myanmar border.

Led by Dr. Aung Pyae Phyo of SMRU, the study used data from a 10-year study of 1,005 patients with uncomplicated P. falciparum malaria at Shoklo Malaria Research Unit (SMRU) clinics on the Thai-Myanmar border in northwest Thailand.

“This study demonstrates for the first time that artemisinin resistance leads to failure of the artemisinin partner drug, in this case, mefloquine. This means that the first line artemisinin combination therapy (ACT) introduced here in 1994 has finally fallen to resistance,” says François Nosten, Director of SMRU.

Resistance to artemisinin combination therapy drugs (ACTs) – the frontline treatments against malaria infection – poses a serious threat to the global control and eradication of malaria. If drug resistance spreads from Asia to the African sub-continent, or emerges in Africa independently, as has happened several times before, millions of lives, most of them children under the age of 5 in Africa, will be at risk.

The study shows that, contrary to the view sometimes expressed that resistance to artemisinin is not a direct threat, it is in fact responsible for the rapid demise of the partner drug and the failure of the drug combination, resulting in patients not being cured and further transmission of the malaria parasite.

“The evidence is clear: Artemisinin resistance leads to partner drug resistance and thereby the failure of artemisinin combination treatments,” said Oxford Professor Nicholas White, Chairman of the Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit (MORU) and chair of the Worldwide Antimalarial Resistance Network (WWARN).

From the paper, a graph describes the rise of artemisinin-resistant genetic variants.

From the paper, a graph describes the rise of artemisinin-resistant genetic variants.

Given the very limited number of effective drugs, it is urgent to eliminate P. falciparum from the areas where it has developed resistance to the artemisinins, said Prof. White: “The spread of artemisinin resistant Plasmodium falciparum is perhaps the greatest threat to our current hopes of eliminating malaria from the world.”

A unit of the Bangkok-based MORU, SMRU is based in the refugee camps and migrant communities along the Thai-Myanmar border. Led by researchers based at SMRU (Thailand), the study was funded with the support of the Wellcome Trust (UK).

Reference:

Pyae Phyo A et al, Declining efficacy of artemisinin combination therapy against P. falciparum malaria on the Thai-Myanmar border (2003-2013): the role of parasite genetic factors [open access], Clinical Infectious Diseases, published online 16 June 2016.

Amyris Inc. sinks to all-time low, 61 cents a share


Once hailed by UC Berkeley brass as the preeminent startup, founded by the university’s genetic engineering rock star, and on course to save the world from depleted oil reserves by turning plants into transportation fuel, Amyris Inc. [previously] plunged to a record low this week of 61 cents a share, down from an all-time high of $33.85.

From NASDQ:

BLOG Amyris

Amyris was founded by UC Berkeley genetic “engineer” Jay Keasling who with and his students had engineered yeast to produce an anti-malarial drug, and declared they would used the same technology to produce low carbon fuels from cellulose.

Shortly after the IPO Keasling sold his stock, pocketing a ten-figure paycheck and heading back to campus. Investors, including Bill Gates [who had funded the anti-malarial research], a venture capital firm that numbered Al Gore among its principals, Mideastern royals and a Southeast Asian government, plus the oil giant Total and sundry investments piled on.

But the fuels never materialized, at least at anything approaching commercial prices, and the company wound up selling “all natural” cosmetics made from the excrement of those GMO yeast.

First quarter adjusted net losses losses for 2016, announced Tuesday, totaled $32.7 million.

Shares bounced back somewhat Friday, closing at two centers higher than the record low, perhaps on this news, filed with the SEC:

As previously reported, on April 8, 2016, Amyris, Inc. (the “Company”) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (the “Gates Foundation”) entered into (i) a Securities Purchase Agreement (the “Purchase Agreement”), pursuant to which the Company agreed to sell and issue 4,385,964 shares of its common stock (the “Shares”) to the Gates Foundation at a purchase price per share equal to $1.14 (the “Gates Foundation Investment”) and (ii) a Charitable Purposes Letter Agreement (the “Letter Agreement”), pursuant to which the Company agreed to use the proceeds from the Gates Foundation Investment to develop a yeast strain that produces artemisinic acid and/or amorphadiene at a low cost and to supply such artemisinic acid and amorphadiene to companies qualified to convert artemisinic acid and amorphadiene to artemisinin for inclusion in artemisinin combination therapies used to treat malaria. The entry into the Purchase Agreement and the Letter Agreement was previously reported in the Company’s Current Report on Form 8-K filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on April 11, 2016, which is incorporated herein by reference.

On May 10, 2016, the Company and the Gates Foundation closed the Gates Foundation Investment, resulting in the issuance of 4,385,964 Shares to the Gates Foundation for proceeds to the Company of approximately $5.0 million.

In other words, Gates is paying the company to deliver the same product he originally funded Keasling and his students to develop.

And the earth below: San Francisco Bay


From NASA’s Earth Observatory, a look at San Francisco Bay at night, with the nocturnal lights of San Jose on the lower left, and the cities of Stockton and Modesto captured by the larger masses of light toward the right of the image:

Astronaut photograph ISS037-E-2604 was acquired on September 25, 2013, with a Nikon D3S digital camera using a 50 millimeter lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by the Expedition 37 crew. It has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory as part of the ISS National Lab to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by William L. Stefanov, Jacobs at NASA-JSC.

Astronaut photograph ISS037-E-2604 was acquired on September 25, 2013, with a Nikon D3S digital camera using a 50 millimeter lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by the Expedition 37 crew. It has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory as part of the ISS National Lab to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by William L. Stefanov, Jacobs at NASA-JSC.

Batshit crazy: Berkeley may close chem dept.


From Science:

The University of California (UC), Berkeley, is considering disbanding the university’s College of Chemistry to help cope with a cash crunch at one of the country’s most prominent public universities. According to an article in today’s Daily Californian, the university’s flagship campus is $150 million in debt, and faced with flat income from tuition and rising costs. Though no decisions have been made, closing the College of Chemistry and absorbing its departments into other university colleges is just one of the many plans being considered to save money.

The College of Chemistry dates back to 1872. Today, it’s home to 101 faculty, as well as 1492 students and postdocs.  Its chemistry and chemical & biomolecular engineering departments are regularly listed among the top worldwide. Thirteen of the college’s faculty and alumni have won Nobel Prizes. And since 1940, College of Chemistry scientists either led or participated in the discovery of more than a dozen humanmade elements, including berkelium, californium, and seaborgium.

Supporters of the college have started a petition asking Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks to scrap the idea of disbanding the school. As of this morning, more than 2250 people have signed the petition. Among the signees is Carolyn Bertozzi, a former Berkeley chemistry professor, who recently moved to Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, and posted a comment on the petition’s webpage quipping that the only beneficiaries of the move would be competing institutions.

“UC [Berkeley] College of Chemistry has impacted the chemical sciences, indeed the world, more than any counterpart at any other institution. Dismantling this paragon of excellence is only a good idea if you are at Stanford!” Bertozzi wrote.

Apparently they’re not a profit center, or trendy like, say Jay Keasling, the “bioengineer” who promised us cheap, clean-burning fuel from genetically engineered intestinal bacteria and gave us only a company that pitches cosmetics on Home Shopping Network.

What more to say?

In other Berkeley news, a headline from the London Daily Mail:

Four women report being drugged at two Berkeley fraternity parties the same weekend as an alleged sexual assault at a third fraternity on campus

  • Two of the students claim they were drugged at the Chi Psi fraternity house and two others say they were drugged at the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity
  • A sexual assault was also reported on Friday night at an unnamed fraternity
  • The news comes just weeks after a suspect was implicated for three sexual assaults near People’s Park and the UC Berkley campus

Quote of the day: Bill and Melinda, Gateskeepers


We’ve written extensively about the role of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in privatizing the worker of public university researchers, folks then work they did at, say, UC Berkeley, then turn into mechanism for private profit, and in so doing belie the hypocrisy inherent in their declarations of altruism.

Now Gated Development: Is the Gates Foundation always a force for good? [PDF], a major report by Mark Curtis for Global Justice Now takes a close look at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and comes to the same conclusion:

[T]he trend to involve business in addressing poverty and inequality is central to the priorities and funding of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. We argue that this is far from a neutral charitable strategy but instead an ideological commitment to promote neoliberal economic policies and corporate globalisation.

Big business is directly benefitting, in particular in the fields of agriculture and health, as a result of the foundation’s activities, despite evidence to show that business solutions are not the most effective. For the foundation in particular, there is an overt focus on technological solutions to poverty. While technology should have a role in addressing poverty and inequality, long term solutions require social and economic justice.  This cannot be given by donors in the form of a climate resilient crop or cheaper smartphone, but must be about systemic social, economic and political change – issues not represented in the foundation’s funding priorities.

Perhaps what is most striking about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is that despite its aggressive corporate strategy and extraordinary influence across governments, academics and the media, there is an absence of critical voices. Global Justice Now is concerned that the foundation’s influence is so pervasive that many actors in international development which would otherwise critique the policy and practice of the foundation are unable to speak out independently as a result of its funding and patronage.

Amyris: From agrofuels to First World cosmetics


It’s either a classic case of bait-and-switch, or else the classic example of the failure of genetic engineers to make the products they promise.

Here at esnl, we’ve devoted lots of coverage to Amyris Inc., the company founded by one of UC Berkeley’s shining stars, “bioengineer” Jay Keasling, celebrated by leading publications and the darling of the liberal media, an “aw shucks’ kid from Nebraska who just happens to be a Ph.D. at a leading university and one of science’s leading openly gay celebrities.

With big bucks from Bill Gates, Amyris and his post grads founded Amyris Inc.

Keasling had hit the limelight when he and his team promised to create the basic front-line antimalarial artemisinin by genetically tweaking yeast cells to extrude precursor molecules.

But by the time they finished and ramped up to industrial-scale production, the drug sold on a non-profit basis for the same price as the conventional drug, meaning that the only economic outcome was the loss of a few thousand Third World farmers who grew the plant from which the drug was derived.

And in Third World malarial hot spots, resistance to the drug has begun to surge.

Amyris, backed by big investments from BP, the Mideast, and Singapore, then announced its plans to market those cost-competitive fuels derived from cellulose left over from sugar cane production and other plant sources, digested by those same microbes with different genetic tweaks.

The University of California held up the company as a sterling examplar of the for-profit spinoffs of Berkeley researchers. Amyris, media reports claimed, was offering the world the hope of clean-burning fuels, green replacements for the world’s dwindling reserves of fossil fuels, even though some of Keasling’s own colleagues were openly skeptical.

Well, forget that. The investments kept coming, but no cost-competitive fuels were ever produced.

Amy Harder covered the new reality for the 21 December print edition of the Wall Street Journal, which we discovered in a dentist’s office, waiting to drive a doped-up friend home after a wisdom tooth extraction.

From her report, which doesn’t appear online:

Amryris, a California-based biotech company, provides oils extracted from yeast for some 400 fragrance and cosmetics brands, including L’Occitane Provence, Elizabeth Arden Inc, and Clarins.

Amyris launched its first direct-to-consumer product earlier this year, a yeast-derived face moisturizer called Biossance. The moisturizer, which Amyris boasts is 100% plant-derived, costs $58 per 1.2-ounce bottle.

And what, you may ask, happened with the Mayris promise to create cost-competitive transportation fuels derived from cellulose digested by those same genetically modified microbes?

A federally funded demonstration project ended two years ago, and, the article reports.

Last year, about one-third of Amyris’s business was related to fuels; today it is 20%, and by next year [company president John] Melo predicts, it will be 5%.

Now he is working to convince investors the firm isn’t what it was a few years ago — an energy company tied to the oil market. “There’s a significant misperception,” he said. “People still think out economics are connected to oil prices.”

So from providing cheap, low emissions fuel for a world facing a climate disaster, Amyris has moved on.

And Keasling, the Wunderkind of UC Berkeley, pocketed millions when the company went public, leaving well before the reality set in.

To quote the Bard of Avon:

O, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, That has such people in’t!

Chart of the day: Resistance to malaria drug


UC Berkeley “bioengineer” Jay Keasling became a media darling after Bill Gates decided to bankroll Amyris [previously], a company that would tweak the genes to the antimalarial drug artemisinin which would be far cheaper than the standard version, refined from plants grown by small farmers in Africa and Southeast Asia.

By the time all was said and done, production of the GMO-derived drug was given to a Big Pharma outfit and produced at a price that was no cheaper than the existing drug.

The net result: Small farmer saw their incomes cut.

The notion of artemisinin as a panacea for the disease, a cause Gates no doubt saw as a way to use his wealth to do good, has been soundly defeated, as indicated in this graphic from the 31 July 2014 edition of the Wall Street Journal:

BLOG Artemisinin

World Malaria Day offered some key numbers in April:

BLOG Malaria

Keassling’s company repurposed itself to reengineer the bugs to produce cheap fuel from plant cellulose, fuels more efficient than the ethanol derived from more readily refined plant sugars.

The company went public with much fanfare and media hype, and stock soon rose to $33.85. But as the hype proved just that, shares began to fall, currently selling for $2.13 a share. But Keasling sold out early and walked away with an eight-figure payoff.

And the search for a more effective antimalarial is on.

BP abandons its cellulosic agrofuel ambitions


Yep, the British oil giant’s dream that spawned the largest corporate academic grant in history is dying, reports Bloomberg:

BP Said Planning to Close US Cellulosic Operation by End-1Q 2015

BP Plc (BP/) plans to close down its U.S. cellulosic operation by the end of next year’s first quarter, according to a person familiar with the development.

The business was part of an effort to find ways to produce ethanol from sources such as switchgrass, wood chips and agricultural waste as an alternative to biofuels from food crops. BP Biofuels North America paid $98.3 million in 2010 for Verenium Corp.’s cellulosic biofuels business. The purchase included facilities in Jennings, Louisiana and San Diego.

Cellulosic biofuel is a liquid fuel made by extracting sugars out of grass. At the time of the purchase from Verenium, BP executives said they intended to be a leader in the industry in the U.S.

BP is exploring options to sell the demonstration plant in Jennings, a technology center in San Diego, the Highlands feedstock farm in Florida and some activities in Brazil, Houston or London, spokesman Brett Clanton, said in an e-mail.

The British firm, once known as the Anglo Iranian Oil Company, failed in its bid to leverage the power of American academics here at the University of California at Berkeley in partnership with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to create a  genetically engineered microbe capable of turning plant fiber into fuel at a reasonable cost.

The half-billion-dollar grant, the largest ever given to a public university, created the Energy Bioscience Institute, housed in a taxpayer-funded building in downtown Berkeley, which housed a team of scientists from the university and the oil company.

The pact between the university and the petro giant was negotiated in secret and the deal was announced without consultation with the university’s academic senate, prompting a general furor and student and faculty protests, leading to an eventual submission to the senate, where debate was tightly controlled and the outcome a foregone conclusion.

Leading the charge for the deal was the-then president of the UC Board of Regents and spouse of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Rich “Greasy Thumb” Blum, who is currently adding to his millions by selling off the historical legacy of the U.S. Postal Service, for which the CBRE Group, Inc. which he chairs draws a tidy commission.

Back in the days when we reported for the Berkeley Daily Planet, we covered the controversy surrounding the project and senate vote, and were persuaded by the evidence offered by Tad Patzek, then a petroleum geologist on Cal’s faculty, and others such as Cal plant microbiologist Ignacio Chapela that BP’s vision was based on flawed and ecologically dangerous scientific premises. The deal was also riddled with conflicts of interest, and research was underway before the deal was even signed.

Now even BP is giving up on the dream.

Another fuelish dream slowly dies. . .

Some of the biggest boosters of the BP deal have made millions of agrofuel dreams by building up and selling off companies using genetic engineering techniques developed while on the public payroll,

The most notable example is Amyris, which gave Cal “bioengineer” Jay Keasling a nice ten-figure profit when he cashed out. Amyris promised to develop cost efficient fuels far more energy efficient than ethanol.

Good thing for Keasling that he cashed out when he did, since even massive cash infusions from Bill Gates, French oil giant Total [BP’s major European competitor along with Shell], and the Singapore government’s investment company haven’t been able to save the company’s dream.

The only commercial products the company’s been able to produce in commercially viable quantities have been cosmetic oils, not vehicle fuels. . .which may account for which the firm’s shares are currently selling for $2.42, down from the post-IPO high of $33.85.

We really wonder what’s happening inside that massive building in Downtown Berkeley where BP’s scientists toiled away in hopes of fulfilling their oh-so-profitable fuelish dreams. While the deal was heavily covered at the time it went down, it’s been virtual silence ever since.

Now that BP’s abandoned its production dreams in the U.S., hopefully one of the local papers will pick up the lead and follow through.

Was the U.S. behind the Paraguayan coup?


That’s certainly a reasonable suspicion about the strange constitutional coup that two weeks ago overthrew President Fernando Lupo. And if that’s the case, the reason becomes abundantly clear in a story from Mexico City’s La Jornada via a translation at Aletho News:

A group of US generals reportedly visited Paraguay for a meeting with legislators on June 22 to discuss the possibility of building a military base in the Chaco region, which borders on Bolivia in western Paraguay. The meeting coincided with the Congress’s sudden impeachment the same day of left-leaning president Fernando Lugo, who at times has opposed a US military presence in the country. In 2009 Lugo cancelled maneuvers that the US Southern Command was planning to hold in Paraguay in 2010 as part of its “New Horizons” program.

More bases in the Chaco are “necessary,” rightwing deputy José López Chávez, who presides over the Chamber of Deputies’ Committee on Defense, said in a radio interview. Bolivia, governed by socialist president Evo Morales, “constitutes a threat for Paraguay, due to the arms race it’s developing,” according to López Chávez. Bolivia and Paraguay fought a war over the sparsely populated Chaco from 1932 to 1935, the last major war over territory in South America.

The US has been pushing recently to set up military bases in the Southern Cone, including one in Chile and one in Argentina’s northeastern Chaco province, which is close to the Paraguayan Chaco, although it doesn’t share a border with Paraguay [see Update #1129]. Unidentified military sources say that the US has already built infrastructure for its own troops in Paraguayan army installations near the country’s borders with Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil; for example, an installation in Mariscal Estigarribia, some 250 km from Bolivia, has a runway almost 3.8 km long, in a country with a very limited air force.

Now consider a 21 September 2009 SECRET/NOFORN diplomatic cable from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the American embassy in Asuncion, Paraguay referring to U.S. Special Forces training operation then underway in the country:

One year into office, President Lugo is confronted by the reality of governing with a fractured ruling coalition, an antagonistic Congress, and entrenched systemic corruption. Lugo has proven resilient, and thus far has weathered deliberate destabilization efforts that included a wave of small explosive devices and bomb threats in Asuncion. Nevertheless, rumors of coup-plotting persist along with a continual erosion of Lugo’s political capital. Given the current environment and the absence of written status protections for all DoD personnel in Paraguay, their presence poses a potential political risk. At any point, those who oppose Lugo or merely wish to weaken his ties to the United States may publicly raise the issue of U.S. forces in Paraguay and speculate about their role in a way that undercuts U.S. interests. In addition, there is a potential personal risk to U.S. forces on training missions in Paraguay without the benefit of status protections or equivalent.

Then consider this excerpt from another cable, a SECRET dispatch sent to Washington on 2 June 2008 by Deputy Chief of Mission Michael J. Fitzpatrick in Asuncion:

Sensitive reporting indicates that some members of Lugo’s inner circle have ties to representatives of Venezuelan President Chavez. These Lugo insiders claim that he supports Chavez’ plans for Latin America; Lugo has stated publicly and privately (to Embassy officials) that he will not align himself with Chavez. Lugo volunteered to OAS chief of electoral mission (and former Colombia Foreign Minister) Maria Emma Mejia early April 21 that while Chavez was the first president to congratulate him April 20, he does not know Chavez and was delighted that the U.S. Ambassador was in fact the first caller to congratulate him and to offer support for his government. One party in Lugo’s coalition, the P-MAS (Paraguayan Movement towards Socialism), receives Venezuelan financial support.

And here’s an excerpt from another cable, a SECRET/NOFORN 18 June 2007 dispatch from Ambassador Craig Kelly in Santiago, Chile:

Our growing economic relationship with the pragmatic leftist government in Uruguay puts the lie to the claim that greater trade and investment with the U.S. is tantamount to betrayal of local populations. This is critical because poor countries, like Uruguay, are vulnerable not so much to Chavez’s ideology but to his petrobolivars. We need to draw attention to and build on these success stories borne out of engagement with the U.S., as alternatives to Chavez’ vision of a region cut off from the U.S. Even Paraguay’s leftist priest-turned presidential candidate Fernando Lugo has stated he is closer to Bachelet or Lula than to Chavez.

Now let’s add another ingredient to the mix: Genetically modified soybeans peddled by American companies, as noted in an 18 June 2008 cable from Economics/Political Chief James Story at the U.S. Consulate in Sao Paulo: and titled U.S. SCIENTISTS VISIT BRAZIL FOR MOU ON BIOFUELS:

With peasant farmers threatening land invasions to demand land reform and end perceived environmental abuses, Paraguay’s soybean producers last month staged a two-day demonstration intended to call the government’s attention to rural turmoil. Hundreds of medium- and large-scale soy producers parked their tractors on Dec. 15 and 16 along the sides of the roads in 13 departments, creating a so-called “tractorazo”, underscoring the importance of peasant labor to agricultural production. The protest by soy producers comes after months of marches on Asuncisn and threats of land invasion by thousands of small and landless peasants, or campesinos, demanding agrarian reform and an end to the spraying of toxic agro-chemicals. Handling the tensions that fueled it marks a key test for President Fernando Lugo, a former Roman Catholic bishop who took office Aug.15.

Incidentally, the same cable also mention Amyris, the UC Berkeley-spawned and Bill Gates-enabled genetic engineering company that hopes to make a fortune off of using GM bugs to harvest fuel from plants.

A final bit of context

The so-called constitutional coup that led to Lugo’s ouster followed a bloody confrontation between peasants and police at the site of a massive agricultural plantation the peasants claimed had been illegally seized by a leading supporter of the opposition Colorado party.

So we’re getting the picture of a nominally leftist leader with uncomfortable relations with both an ambitious American military and the peasants’ demand for land reform and their deep dislike of American agribusiness and its monopoly on seeds.

Forgive us if we suspect some deep politics at work, favoring both the Pentagon and global corporations like Monsanto which provide the patented seeds to the latifundistas.

Congress torpedoes Navy, Pentagon agrofuel plans


Both houses have approved legislation that blocks the Navy from buying agrofuels — petroleum substitutes derived from plants, typically grown on industrial Third World plantations — unless they cost no more than conventional fuels.

Their action also bars the Pentagon from funding agrofuel refineries, a major blow to the Obama administration embrace of plant-based fuels, driven largely by Energy Secretary Steve Chu.

It was Chu who, during his tenure as head of the Alwrence Berkeley National Laboratory, played a leading role in winning UC Berkeley that $500 million BP agrofuel research grant and shifted research at the Department of Energy lab toward agrofuel research.

The Pentagon’s agrofuel efforts were initially shaped by Air Force Gen. Charles Wald, the same general also responsible for drafting plans for Africom, the Pentagon’s command for controlling the continent which has seen an ongoing wave of land acquisitions by agofuel corporations.

Just how important is the Pentagon’s agrofuel agenda? Swell, consider one simple fact: The world’s largest single consumer of oil is the U.S. military.

Oh, and the Pentagon’s biggest oil supplier? That would be BP.

The story from Noah Shachtman, writing at Wired’s Danger Room:

The Navy’s ambitious renewable energy plans aren’t sunk quite yet. But they took a major hit Thursday, when the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to all-but-ban the military from buying alternative fuels.

The House Armed Services Committee passed a similar measure earlier this month. But the House is controlled by Republicans, who are generally skeptical of alternative energy efforts. Democrats are in charge of the Senate Armed Services Committee. And if anything, the Senate’s alt-fuel prohibition goes even further than the House’s. If it becomes law, if would not only sink the Navy’s attempt to sail a “Great Green Fleet,” powered largely by biofuels. It would also sabotage a half-billion dollar program to shore up a tottering biofuels industry.

Like their counterparts in the House, senators prohibited the Pentagon from buying renewable fuels that are more expensive than traditional ones — a standard that biofuels many never meet. In addition, the committee blocked the Defense Department from helping build biofuel refineries unless “specifically authorized by law” – just as the Navy was set to pour $170 million into an effort with the Departments of Energy and Agriculture to do precisely that.

>snip<

Like their counterparts in the House, senators prohibited the Pentagon from buying renewable fuels that are more expensive than traditional ones — a standard that biofuels may never meet. In addition, the committee blocked the Defense Department from helping build biofuel refineries unless “specifically authorized by law” – just as the Navy was set to pour $170 million into an effort with the Departments of Energy and Agriculture to do precisely that.

Read the rest.

What might the impact of the Congressional action be?

Consider the case of Amyris, the local company started by Chu protégé and former employee Jay Keasling with the help of some Bill Gates money.

Amyris hopes to make synfuel with the help of genetically engineered microbes, but the diesel fuel they’ve churned out costs a whopping $29 a gallon, no sale under the pending legislation.

If the measure makes it into law, we can expect a major shakeup in the already rickety agrofuel industry.

Amyris, which has been struggling with low stock prices since peaking last year at $33.85, only to fall to $1.57 last week, has managed to make it back up to $2.65 as we write, slightly about the company’s liquidation price, if you don’t factor in that $150 million or more they’d have to pay their major investor if it all falls apart.

Amyris shares up again on investment news


Stock of the genetic engineering outfit started by UC Berkeley “genetic engineer” Jay Keasling with Bill Gates money have been edging up from their record low of 18 May.

When we reported Monday that “green” tech investment banker and Amyris board member John Doerr had bought more shares of Amyris, the SEC announcement of a second major buyer and two smaller ones who pocketed an equal value of shares hadn’t made it online.

But now the form is up, and the buyer of the same number of shares as Doerr [211,864 shares for $499,999] fellow Amyris board member Arthur D. Levinson, who chairs Genetech as well as Apple, where he replaced the Steve Jobs in November.

Smaller buys were made by two other board members, venture capitalist and former BP executive Ralph Alexander [21,186 shares, $49,999], and Google CFO and Senior Vice President Patrick Pichette [20,000 shares, $47,200].

A tagline on Seeking Alpha succinctly describes the reaction: A private placement is boosting shres [sic] of Amyris.

Stock rose on Monday’s news, and shares continued up today, closing at $2.36, up from the day’s opening of $2.12.

That’s up almost 80 cents from Friday’s all-time low, but there’s a way to go before it hits last year’s high. That would be $33.85.

Amyris shares bounce back a bit on stock sale


After dropping bad news after Friday’s market close, Amyris dropped some positive news today before market opening, sending the stock briefly up to $2, before dropping to $1.83 at market close.

Today’s close was 26 cents above the record low set Thursday.

The good news was that the company managed to sell $4.1 million worth of stock, presumably the same shares Fidelity agreed to buy in February, then declined to consummate earlier this month

The details from the company’s filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission:

On May 18, 2012, Amyris, Inc. (the “Company”) sold 1,736,100 shares of its common stock in a private placement to certain non-employee directors and related parties for aggregate gross proceeds of approximately $4.1 million (the “Placement”). The Placement was completed pursuant to a series of Common Stock Purchase Agreements, each dated May 18, 2012 (the “Purchase Agreements”), which the Company entered into with the following purchasers: Ralph Alexander, Foris Ventures, LLC (an entity affiliated with John Doerr), Arthur Levinson, Naxyris SA (an affiliate of NAXOS Capital Partners, of which Carole Piwnica serves as a director), and Patrick Pichette. The per share purchase and sale price for the shares of Common Stock purchased in the Private Placement was $2.36, the book value per share of the Company’s common stock, as determined in accordance with the corporate governance rules of The NASDAQ Stock Market.

Before the sale, Doerr, a partner at Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers [KPCB], controlling 3.7 million shares. A major player in so-called green tech investment, KPCB includes among its partners former Vice President Al Gore.

A record low closing for Amyris; loan problems?


Shares closed today at $1.59, the lowest end-of-market-day closing price ever and only two cents above the record low ever recorded during a trading day.

Amyris also dropped another end-of-the-day filing on the Securities and Exchange Commission, extending a bridge loan because anticipated funding from a Brazilian government development bank still hasn’t materialized.

Here’s the contents of the form 8-K filing:

This Current Report on Form 8-K is being filed by Amyris, Inc. (the “Company”) to disclose a further extension of the maturity date for the Banco Pine S.A. bridge loan disclosed in the Company’s Current Report on Form 8-K filed on December 28, 2011. As background, on December 22, 2011, effective December 21, 2011, Amyris Brasil Ltda. (“AB”), a Brazilian subsidiary of the Company, entered into a loan agreement with Banco Pine S.A. (the “Lender”) under which the Lender provided AB with a short term loan of R$35,000,000 (approximately US$17.5 million based on the exchange rate as of May 17, 2012) with a maturity date of February 17, 2012. The bridge loan was an advance on anticipated 2012 financing from Nossa Caixa Desenvolvimento, the Sao Paulo State development bank, and Lender, under which such banks may provide AB with loans of up to approximately R$52 million as financing for capital expenditures relating to the Company’s manufacturing facility at Paraíso Bioenergia S.A. in Brazil. On February 17, 2012, AB entered into a supplemental agreement to extend the maturity date for the bridge loan from February 17, 2012 to May 17, 2012.

On May 17, 2012, AB entered into a further supplemental agreement (the “Supplement”) with the Lender under which the parties agreed to extend the maturity date for the repayment of the loan from May 17, 2012 to August 15, 2012. Under the Supplement, in connection with the extension, AB is obligated to pay R$129,150 (approximately US$65,000 based on the exchange rate as of May 17, 2012) as tax on the financial transaction as required by Brazilian law.

Amyris plunges to yet another record low, $1.64


UPDATE III: Lowest-ever closing price of $1.58, a penny up for today’s all-time low.

UPDATE II: $1.57.

UPDATE: Make that $1.60.

The steady downward spiral continues for the stock of Amyris, launched by UC Berkeley bioengineer Jay Keasling with bucks from Bill Gates.

Shares of the Emeryville company traded at $33.85 fourteen months ago when its promises to produce cost effective mass quantities of fuels derived from plant fiber by genetically engineered microbes were much ballyhooed by the press and UC Berkeley praised the company as an archetype of the start-up enterprises the university would spawn to solve the world’s problems and revitalize the local economy.

But with the cost of diesel production at $29 a gallon and their Brazilian refinery plagued by contamination woes, the company has proven a nightmare for small investors who believed the hype.

Should the stock plunge below a dollar, the company could be yanked from the NASDAQ stock exchange. . .

Surprise, surprise: Amyris hits yet another new low


Just a penny less than yesterday’s new record low, with shares reaching $1.85 in early trading today.

That’s exactly $32 less per share than just 14 months ago. Not a good sign for the UC Berkeley-spawned genetic engineering company started with funds from Bill Gates.

UPDATE: Down more  to $1.80. If it drops below a dollar, the stock could lose is NASDAQ listing.

UPDATE II: That’s where it closed, after a drop to $1.79, the new record low.

Amyris, the corporate Rodney Dangerfield?


The late comedian Rodney Dangerfield is most famous for a single line:

Once upon a time, the UC Berkeley-spawned, Bill Gates-endowed startup did get more than its share of respect, thanks to the celebrity status of founder and Cal “bioengineer” Jay Keasling, who’s appeared on The Colbert Report and was named Scientist of the Year for 2006 by Discover Magazine.

In 2010, Keasling was confidently declaring that the genetically engineered microbes he’d help develop to turn plant fiber into fuel in the laboratory could be scaled up from the test tube  to refinery scale operations with no problems, ensuring commercial quantities of fuel to stave off the peak oil crisis.

That, of course, has proven a fantasy, with Amyris now paying $29 bucks for every gallon of diesel fuel derived from its patented, genetically engineered microbes.

With losses soaring, the company’s stock has tanked, plunging from a high of $33.85 14 months ago to today’s new record low of $1.86.

The company’s rapid descent toward penny stock levels has thrown a damper on new companies seeking to issue initial public offerings, dubbed “the Amyris effect” by Biofuels Digest editor Jim Lane.

Now comes more news about the company’s toxic impacts on the IPO sector from Kevin Quon of Seeking Alpha in a story about the failed IPO of Enerkem, a much-ballyhooed company which hopes to turn sewage into fuel.

Here’s the money quote, particularly that last sentence:

The implications of the company’s withdrawal from its IPO process casts a long shadow upon the public biofuel space. Similar market condition issues were faced with an IPO of Ceres (CERE), a biofuel crop specialist, which faced delays in its own IPO back in early 2012. Yet the largest ramifications are both reflected by and reflective of the current market conditions of recent biofuel companies that underwent an IPO in the past two years. Companies like Amryis (AMRS), Gevo (GEVO), and Codexis (CDXS) all continue to trade under their IPO prices. For its part, Amryis had even helped contribute to the industry collapse through its inability to scale up its production facilities problem-free.

Read the rest.

Amyris has proven very adept at one process, the reverse of what Enerkem had planned: Turning cash into trash.

Amyris hits another record low, $1.86


For shareholders of the UC Berkeley-spawned genetic engineering company, the news just keeps getting worse.

Follow the downward-bouncing stock here.