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Archive → December, 2010

Santa Brings $100M to Elevance, $30M to LS9

Nothing says Happy Holidays like a $100 million funding round.

Elevance Renewable Sciences raised $100 million in its third round of venture funding. The start-up, based in Bolingbrook, Ill., uses olefin metathesis to make renewable specialty chemicals from natural oils. If the phrase “olefin metathesis” rings a bell, its because the innovation’s developers were awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, a fact that Elevance mentions as often as possible.

Aside from the Nobel Prize, Elevance is distinguished by the notable fact that it will have a 200,000 ton-per-year commercial plant online next year. The plant will be in Surabaya, Indonesia, at the current production site of its joint venture partner, agriculture firm Wilmar International.

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EPA Memo Reignites Honey Bee Controversy

Credit: Agricultural Research Service/USDA

In a recent story about agricultural chemicals used as seed treatments, I learned a bit about the possible connection between neonicotinoid insecticides and colony collapse disorder in honey bees. The biggest seller in the neonicotinoid category is clothianidin, made by Bayer CropScience and marketed as Poncho among other names.

This story has been active for years starting in Europe, and more recently in the U.S. Currently, scientists believe that CCD may have a number of causes, including the variola mite and viruses spread from Asian bee varieties. Some researchers think pesticide burdens may add to stress on bees

A recent EPA memo that was leaked to a Colorado beekeeper and sent to the media (I received the memo from the Pesticide Action Network of North America) suggests that in the U.S., clothianidin was given approval for use on corn crops without strong scientific evidence that bees would not be harmed.

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Syngenta to license gene tech to Agrivida

Agrivida plants.

Agrivida's modified switchgrass. Credit: Agrivida

Biotech start-up Agrivida has announced that it is now in a research alliance with Syngenta Ventures, the venture capital arm of agro-giant Syngenta. C&EN visited Agrivida in the summer to learn a bit about the company’s technology. Agrivida is working to develop versions of energy crops like corn, switchgrass, miscanthus, and sorghum that have enzymes enabling the breakdown of cellulose in the plant, which would decrease ethanol production costs and the need for expensive enzymes.

To keep the plants from turning to mush before harvest, Agrivida is also developing a protein switch called an intein, that would, in the words of company founder Jeremy Johnson, “has the ability to cleave itself out and reconnect the rest of the sequence” of genes that code for the enzyme.

The deal with Syngenta means that Agrivida will have access to crop technology and intellectual property in return for Agrivida equity. Back in the summer, cleantech analysts pointed out that a deal with a major agricultural firm – with access to a huge marketplace of farmers – would be the ideal next step for the firm.

Over the weekend, Agrivida’s scientists presented new experimental data at BIO’s Pacific Rim Summit on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy in Honolulu. The company reported that their engineered crops can reduce production costs by over 30 percent, and would allow ethanol producers to decrease enzyme loadings by over 75 percent, compared to today’s processes.