San Diego’s SG Biofuels Announces Strategic Alliance with Life Technologies

Xconomy San Diego — 

It’s been almost a year since San Diego-based SG Biofuels stepped out of the shadows to announce its plans to produce biodiesel and feedstock substitutes from Jatropha, a hardy shrub that produces golf ball-size seeds with high oil content.

Today, the company is announcing it has formed a strategic alliance with Life Technologies (NASDAQ: LIFE), the Carlsbad, CA-based maker of genetic diagnostic equipment, laboratory instruments, and other biotech supplies. In striking the deal, SG Biofuels CEO Kirk Haney tells me, “We have a company with a $9 billion market cap that is recognizing and validating the global opportunities for Jatropha.”

Greg Lucier, Life Technologies’ CEO, is expected to highlight the deal in a presentation this morning at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco, according to Haney.

Jatropha, a non-edible crop that can be cultivated in poor climate and soil conditions, has been hailed as a biofuel crop of the future. But Dutch researchers ignited a fiery debate over the suitability of Jatropha as a source for biofuel when they published a study seven months ago that found Jatropha requires five times as much water per unit of energy as sugarcane and corn, and nearly ten times as much as sugar beets. The following month, a Wall Street Journal blog reported that BP had dispensed with a $1 million investment it had made in Jatropha with a British partner, D1 Oils.

SG Biofuels’ Haney, however, emphasized the due diligence that Life Technologies conducted before entering into the partnership being announced today. “They’ve done a deep dive on our company, and they’ve validated our technology,” Haney says. SG Biofuels says the alliance brings together its genetic resource center, which features “the largest and most diverse library of Jatropha genetic material in the world,” with Life Technology’s advanced biotechnology and synthetic biology tools.

Haney says that this combination of resources and expertise will give the partners the opportunity to unlock Jatropha’s potential as a profitable and sustainable biofuel feedstock. As an example, Haney says, a Jatropha variety that grows well in Mexico may not grow well in Africa. But using Life Technologies’ tools it would be possible to produce Jatropha cultivars that are better suited for Africa’s growing conditions. “Sequencing the genome will allow us to rapidly develop region-specific cultivars from the promising traits we’ve already identified,” Haney says in a statement to be released this morning.

It is not clear, however, how the alliance is structured, or what resources Life Technologies is providing. Haney declined to provide any information about financial terms of Life Technologies’ partnership with SG Biofuels. He says the startup that was founded three years ago now has 25 employees, but he would not identify SG Biofuels’ investors or say how much capital the startup has raised.

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