Industrial biotechnology company LS9 announced Tuesday morning the close of a $30 million round of funding led by BlackRock, a firm with over $3 trillion in assets. All of LS9’s previous investors also participated in this round, including Khosla Ventures, Flagship Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners, and Chevron's CTTV Investments.
With a name like LS9, you know the company has to handle some kind of potentially deadly chemical that, if leaked into the population, would turn everyone into zombies, ushering in an apocalyptic bottle-necking effect that would spare a handful of people immune to the contagion.
Close. But not quite.
LS9 produces renewable petroleum fuels and sustainable chemicals. But isn’t petroleum bad? Yes, which is why there is no actual petroleum used in the creation of the fuels. The company uses a one-step fermentation process that uses patented “DesignerMicrobes” to convert renewable feedstocks to ultra-clean fuels. The company’s technology allows for greater genetic control over the design of the fuels to make them chemically identical to petroleum.
The company also discovered and engineered a new class of enzymes that can convert fatty acids into hydrocarbons. LS9’s fuels are designed to have a higher energetic content than ethanol or butanol and to be virtually identical to gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. Furthermore, its patented technology aims to avoid the problems that seemed to crop up with fuel alternatives like ethanol, such as forest-clearing to create arable land for cornfields, as well as the ethical dilemmas that come with growing food to create fuel.
In June 2010, the EPA awarded LS9 the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award, the Agency’s highest award.
LS9 plans to use the new funds to make its fuels available on a commercial scale. The company is confident that it can do this within the existing fuel infrastructure—essentially, using traditional gas stations to deliver ultra-clean petroleum alternatives instead of gasoline. This will be interesting to see as the new electric vehicle fleets unveiled by GM and other car manufacturers take to the streets in 2011. The primary concern about electric vehicles, at this point, is infrastructure. How environmentally friendly is it to plug a car into a wall socket and charge it all night to keep it juiced up? Not ideal for those of us who dream of one day living off the grid (it’s probably never going to happen for me, but sometimes I think it would be cool…).
And then there’s the problem of how to recharge on the go. With many of the new electric vehicles needing 8+ hours to fully recharge, some companies, like Better Place, are offering battery swapping solutions (swap your drained battery for a new, fully charged one), but for a hefty price.
LS9 promises a solution that would definitely be easier for consumers to adopt, and could possibly be a more environmentally sound alternative to both petroleum-based fuels and mass electricity leeching.
Image source: LS9.com