I’m noticing a small trend of ex-CEOs of renewable chemical firms jumping to head start-up companies that are using natural gas for feedstock.
One recent one that I just came across is Ed Dineen, former CEO of LS9, who will now will head Siluria, a company that develops technology and processes for converting natural gas to chemicals and fuel, according to this article from San Francisco Business Times.
The blog first reported about Siluria in October 2010 when I interviewed ex-CEO (and now reportedly delegated as president) Alex Tkachenko. Siluria was a Silicon Valley-based start up company that begun in 2008 as a spin-off from Cambrios Technologies co-founded by MIT bioengineer Angela Belcher.
Back then, Tkachenko said Siluria’s technology was based on a breakthrough catalyst that can convert natural gas specifically methane to ethylene under the process called oxidative coupling of methane (OCM). Siluria said it has designed a unique nanowire catalyst which was grown using inexpensive inorganic metals that has the properties to efficiently activate methane to form ethylene in a milder condition ( a couple of hundred degrees lower) compared to using existing catalysts.
The problem with OCM processing is the low per-pass yield of ethylene and the high yield of unwanted carbon oxide by-products such as carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. Tkachenko said back then that they were able to bypass this problem because of the lower temperature conditions which kept the methane from burning up.
According to an article (subscription based) from ICIS published today, Siluria is reportedly seeking a site for a demonstration plant that will produce ethylene from methane through OCM.
Since early 2012, the company reportedly has been producing ethylene from methane on a smaller scale at two pilot plants. Siluria is said to have already hired a siting contractor, with the plant expected to become operational by late 2014.
As I’ve said, I’ve been noticing several ex-CEOs and renewable chemical firms going to a more “less risky” business by entering the natural gas industry.
Another example is Alan Shaw, ex-CEO of Codexis, who now heads a new start-up company called Calysta Energy. Calysta said its proprietary biological gas-to-liquids (BioGTL) platform also uses methane as feedstock to produce transportation fuels and high value chemicals. Calysta Energy was formed in 2011 is a spinout of DNA 2.0, a major provider of synthetic genes for industrial and academic use.
Shaw was also joined by former Codexis vice president and general manager William (Bill) Rothwell, who last year was appointed Calysta Energy’s senior VP of business development.
There is also former cellulosic ethanol developer Coskata, which has diverted its feedstock focus from corn to natural gas. Coskata is using a novel synthesis gas fermentation platform using combined biochemical and thermochemical methods called Hybrid Biothermal process, which can then produce both ethanol as well as chemicals that contain up to six carbon atoms.
Coskata has a pilot facility in Warrenville, Illinois, and a demonstration plant in Madison, Pennsylvania. The company actually has partnered with French oil firm Total on the development of microorganisms and syngas fermentation platform to produce propanol from biomass, waste and [or] fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas.
Coskata also has a collaboration deal with Japanese chemical company Sumitomo although it did not disclosed what particular project they are working on. The companies said they are collaborating to develop commercial-scale projects that will be deployed in Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Thailand and other Asian countries. Sumitomo will screen local partners, conduct feasibility studies and establish joint venture entities to develop, own and operate plants.
The last time I heard from Coskata in terms of executive hiring was in August 2012 with the election of John A. Crum and Christopher A. Helms to the company’s Board of Directors.
Finally, here is a “Executive Musical Chair” list just to keep tabs on some of the recent hirings and firings within the renewable chemicals and biofuel industries….
- Myriant Expands Senior Management Team with the Appointment of Arne P. Duss, Ph.D., as Senior Vice President of Strategy and Corporate Developmen