I had the pleasure of briefly speaking to LS9’s new CEO Tjerk de Ruiter this week and I was pleasantly surprised that he remembered this newbie “green” reporter back in 2008 when I interviewed him about Genencor’s bio-isoprene and biofuel projects.
If readers recall last week, the blog posted about LS9’s announcement of De Ruiter’s appointment as the company’s new CEO after Ed Dineen stepped down to remain as member of LS9s board of directors. De Ruiter joined LS9 as chairman of the board in August last year. His resume included being the last CEO of biotechnology company Genencor before DuPont bought Genencor’s parent company Danisco for $6.3bn in 2011.
There was a speculation brought last week about the possibility of LS9 closing with rumors of staff layoffs. The company assured that this isn’t the case although De Ruiter did admit that getting financing is indeed difficult for most start-up renewable chemical companies looking to take the next commercialization step.
Developing next-generation chemicals takes time to achieve, he said, and many investors are too impatient. However, De Ruiter believes that the company’s genetically-modified E.coli is now ready for its microscopic close-up as according to him, yield goals for producing sugar-based fatty alcohol and fatty acid methyl ester (popularly known as biodiesel) have already been achieved in the LS9’s demonstration plant in Okeechobee, Florida.
|LS9 Okeechobee, Florida facility|
According to De Ruiter, what sets them apart from other companies in this renewable chemical and biofuel space is the ability to manipulate E.coli and that it is already a proven robust microorganism that can convert any type of feedstock, even tough cellulose polysaccharides without the additional use of expensive enzymes.
The goal now for the company is to get a partner that will help finance and produce their fatty alcohol and biodiesel in a commercial-scale plant. By the way, their partner Procter & Gamble is still in the table, said De Ruiter, and is also waiting for LS9 to be able to produce its fatty alcohols in a bigger scale where they can use the chemical to make surfactants — a $5bn market with various applications most of which goes to cleaning products including detergents. Fatty alcohols itself is a $500m global market.
LS9 is still eyeing Brazil as their first commercial location and negotiations are currently taking place, said De Ruiter. Fatty alcohols will be the first product that will come out of this Brazilian plant in response to Latin America’s growing demand for surfactants.
“This year will be all about developing partnerships and getting investor money to move forward to commercialization stage,” said De Ruiter. “We plan to be involved in the commercial production of our fatty alcohols but our strategy is to also license our technology in the future.”
De Ruiter avoided mentioning any timelines or milestone goals until the company is able to secure partners and be able to prove commercial-wise that their E.coli is worth every penny that their investors have sinked into it.