The Road Not Taken and Genomatica’s Renewable Chemicals Strategy

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the biofuels sector. Just a few weeks ago, for example, J. Craig Venter declared that biofuels are dead unless the federal government adopts a carbon policy.

In developing Genomatica’s business model in 2007 and 2008, Schilling says the company chose a road that has skirted the biofuels bust. At that time, Genomatica also decided against building a commercial-scale facility and producing its own industrial chemicals from energy grasses and other sustainable raw materials.

“We were not going to be a chemical producer,” Schilling says. “We would be a chemical technology licensor,” comparable to UOP, a business now owned by Honeywell that holds thousands of patents in petrochemical cracking, processing, refining, and equipment design.

Genomatica CEO Christophe Schilling, CFO Michael Keane

Michael Keane (left) and Christophe Schilling

To advance its technology, Genomatica is looking to license its intellectual property, and the company has been forging strategic alliances with industry partners around the world. In July, for example, Genomatica signed a partnership with the Italian chemical giant Versalis and Novamont, an Italian company that specializes in making bioplastics from renewable agricultural raw materials, to produce butadiene—the raw material needed to make the synthetic rubber used in tires, footwear, and other products. “The focus really is to be the [sustainable] technology partner for the chemical industry,” Schilling says.

“What we did not know [five years ago] is that oftentimes to license technology, the licensor sometimes has to put up some capital to help build a pilot plant,” Schilling says. In another deal with Novamont, for example, Genomatica is making a … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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