Sugar-based fuel firm Renmatix secures investment from Bill Gates


Billionaire and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is investing in yet another company in biofuels and biochemicals. Renmatix, specialising in affordable cellulosic sugars, has secured a US$14 million investment, led by Bill Gates and French firm Total. Renmatix has developed a process that converts plant waste and biomass into sugars that can be converted into biofuels and bio versions of chemicals.

Philadelphia-based Renmatix has now raised more than US$140 million from investors, including German chemical giant BASF and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

The company intends to use the funds to commercialise its Plantrose process that will help drive towards the first wave of Renmatix licensees building Plantrose-enabled biorefineries in diverse global markets like Canada, India, Malaysia, the US and elsewhere. In parallel, that activity will facilitate further market development in downstream bioproduct applications.

Gates led the round, but it also included funds from French oil giant Total, which after an initial investment in 2015, has expanded its investment and has additionally signed a licensing agreement with Renmatix for 1 million tonnes of annual cellulosic sugar production capacity, at Total's discretion to build corresponding facilities. The license represents significant revenue potential for Renmatix, extending over the lifetime of the agreement.

"At Total, our ambition is to become the responsible energy major. We want to make low-carbon businesses a profitable growth driver accounting for 20% of our portfolio in 20 years' time. Meeting these goals is what has led to setting-up and expanding our collaboration with Renmatix," said Patrick Pouyanné, Chairman/CEO of Total.

The patented Plantrose process uses supercritical water to reduce costs in conversion of biomass to cellulosic sugars, the critical intermediary for second-generation biochemicals and biofuels. With faster reactions and virtually no associated consumable-expenses, Renmatix's supercritical hydrolysis economically enables a multitude of renewable process technologies to access the market for ‘high volume, low cost, broadly sourced' cellulosic sugars that is compounding today. From this well established foundation in industrial sugars, the company continues to expand its product portfolio by valourising additional bio building block intermediates, including Omno polymers and crystalline cellulose.

"This continued progress marks the pronounced acceleration of a new, sugar based, chemistry regime. One that can go beyond conventional oil based products for cleaner, more sustainable solutions," said Renmatix CEO, Mike Hamilton. "While we're working with partners to capitalise on the vast opportunity for biobased transformation in markets as diverse as the US and India, this investment from Gates and Total together – shows recognition of our technological achievements, and magnifies our commercial momentum. That acknowledgment and Total's signing of the million-ton license, are compelling indicators of our Plantrose technology's maturation towards biorefinery scale."

Gates has previously backed the now bankrupt biofuel maker KiOR, algae fuel maker Sapphire Energy, and ethanol producer Pacific Ethanol. Last year, Gates and a group of billionaires announced their commitment to invest in early-stage high-impact energy companies in an effort to create solutions to fight climate change.

Renmatix’s Plantrose process challenges conventional sugar economics by cheaply converting cellulosic biomass – from wood waste to agricultural residue – into useful, cost-effective Plantro sugars and additional bio building blocks. Renmatix is privately held, with a technical centre in Pennsylvania, a Feedstock Processing Facility (FPF) in New York, and production operations at the Integrated Plantrose Complex (IPC) in Georgia.


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