LS9 Pockets $30M for Renewable Fuels, in Deal Led by BlackRock

Xconomy San Francisco — 

LS9 got itself a new CEO earlier this month, and now it’s got a lot more cash in the bank, too. The South San Francisco-based developer of renewable fuels—whose technology is based on synthetic biology research at UC Berkeley and Harvard University—has pulled in $30 million in equity financing, according to a regulatory filing today.

The deal was led by BlackRock, the $3 trillion (yes, with a “t”) global private equity firm, and included all of LS9’s previous backers—Flagship Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners, and CTTV Investments, the venture capital arm of Chevron Technology Ventures. The company plans to use the cash to boost commercial production, and further development programs.

LS9 has been on our radar since the week we opened our San Francisco bureau in June, when I featured its effort to prove its renewable fuel process can actually work at industrial scales. The company, founded in 2005, has been honing a technology in which it swaps in and out a few enzymes inside bacteria so that instead of converting sugars into fatty acids, they could become super-efficient factories for converting sugars into fuels like diesel. Change out other enzymes, and LS9 can also make higher-priced industrial chemicals like the ones that go into soap or toothpaste.

By July, the company published an important paper outlining its work in Science, which it said forms the basis of a one-step process which it says should be able to produce renewable fuel at $50 a barrel. Earlier this month, it hired a new CEO to oversee an operational push to make it happen. His name is Ed Dineen and he’s the former chief operating officer of LyondellBassell Industries, a $30 billion petrochemical company.

Nothing like what LS9 is attempting has been done at the size and scale of today’s fossil fuel production. LS9 has been operating a small pilot plant in South San Francisco for two years, and has been seeking to make its next big step up at an industrial facility in Florida. The company’s task, and Dineen’s, will be to show investors that this process can truly make the leap from tiny lab batches of fuel, to the real thing in industrial settings.

“We are very pleased that this outstanding group of new and existing investors has demonstrated their commitment to LS9’s mission to bring renewable chemical and fuel products to market,” Dineen said today in a statement.

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