Sugar Fuels Base Oil JV


Amyris and Cosan on Thursday outlined plans for a joint venture to develop, produce and commercialize renewable base oils made from a hydrocarbon that uses sugarcane as its feedstock.

Emeryville, Calif.-based Amyris genetically modifies microorganisms to produce defined molecules for use as renewable chemicals and transportation fuels. Cosan of Sao Paulo, Brazil, is among the largest producers and processors of sugarcane, sugar and ethanol.

The joint venture is to market the base oils globally, used as an ingredient in a broad range of industrial lubricants, Amyris Chief Financial Officer Jeryl Hilleman told Lube Report. Hilleman confirmed the joint venture could possibly work with additive companies later on to develop additive packages that would work with the renewable base oils.

Initially, the joint venture will source a key hydrocarbon known as farnesene from other Amyris production facilities, and the two parties will share marketing and operating costs. Whether a new manufacturing plant will be needed to produce the base oils is to be determined by the joint venture, according to Hilleman.

By applying Amyris synthetic biology to modify yeast to produce targeted hydrocarbon molecules, the joint venture intends to create base oils from plant sugar sources. The joint venture plans to use sugarcane as a feedstock in a standard fermentation process in which Amyriss modified yeast converts the cane syrup to farnesene, known under the brand name Biofene.

Biofene is then finished chemically to create high-end base oils. That involves transforming the C15 hydrocarbon we produce via fermentation (farnesene) to a longer chain hydrocarbon, Hilleman explained. Simple chemistries are applied to accomplish this.

The base oils are designed to reduce smoke and odor, and also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 80 percent compared to petroleum-sourced base oils. The companies claim their base oils are also biodegradable, perform well in cold weather and have high-performance viscosity properties.

This joint venture demonstrates our ability to reach into large, established markets with a paradigm-changing renewable product and a near-term commercialization outlook, said John Melo, Amyris CEO. According to Amyris CFO Hilleman, there is no specific target date yet for producing and marketing the renewable base oils.

Amyris technology can greatly expand the range and value of products that we can derive from sugarcane and improve Cosans portfolio outside of the Cosan/Shell joint venture, said Marcos Lutz, chief executive officer of Cosan.

In August 2010, Cosan and Shell signed binding agreements for a joint venture to produce and commercialize ethanol and power from sugarcane and distribute a variety of industrial and transportation fuels through a combined distribution and retail network in Brazil.Neither company contributed its lubricants business to the joint venture.

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