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VentureBeat: LS9 takes $15M to synthesize petroleum alternative

By Chris Morrison 10.7.07

LS9, a Silicon Valley startup that hopes its technology may one day help replace petroleum, has taken $15 million more in funding.

The San Carlos, Calif. company uses synthetic biology to modify microorganisms in order to produce high-energy fuels, including to power cars (see our previous coverage).

According to the company’s own projections, it is two to three years from commercializing and selling a synthetic fuel. LS9 recently recruited president Robert Walsh, who brings several decades of supply-line experience from Royal Dutch Shell.

Despite the huge potential returns from producing synthetic fuels, the number of startups in the field is limited by the small pool of knowledgeable experts in synthetic biology. One pioneer is Craig Venter, who recently added to his own human genome project fame by announcing he is capable of creating life. His own company, Synthetic Genomics, is a competitor to LS9.

Other companies competing in the area include Amyris Biotechnologies and Codexis. Each startup is betting on its own proprietary methods to replace petroleum-based fuels.

LS9’s most recent $15 million in funding was led by Lightspeed Venture Partners. Flagship Ventures and Khosla Ventures, the company’s original backer, also participated. The company has so far taken a total of about $20 million.

Related article: LS9 says it has produced petroleum-like cleaner fuel

By Matt Marshall 07.30.07

LS9, a San Carlos, Calif. company, says it has developed a petroleum-like fuel made out of renewable sugars, pointing the way to a potentially more efficient type of clean alternative to dirty crude oil.

Executives of the Silicon Valley company tell the Wall Street Journal they have produced hydrocarbon from sugar by mixing it with a microbe they’ve developed.

Unlike ethanol or biodiesel products being developed by a growing roster of other companies, this substance is a “biocrude” that lacks oxygen, like petroleum, they say. The molecular similarities mean the liquid could be pumped into the existing refining system and processed into gasoline, which LS9 officials see as the primary advantage of their approach. Ethanol, by contrast, requires separate facilities.

The process still must withstand external scrutiny, but will outlined today by Stephen del Cardayre, LS9’s head of research and development, in a talk before a Denver conference on industrial microbiology today.

The company is backed by at least $5 million in backing from Khosla Ventures, among other investors. Vinod Khosla, leader of that firm, has invested in a array of ethanol companies, and has come to see the huge challenges of creating alternative distribution system for fuel. This is one more way for him to hedge his bets.

Tagged co:Ls9

Related Press Release

Oil industry veteran to direct commercial development of DesignerBiofuels(TM) Products

SAN CARLOS, CA – July 30, 2007 – LS9, Inc., the Renewable Petroleum Company(TM), has named Robert Walsh its new President, effective immediately. Walsh will lead the rapid commercialization of LS9 DesignerBiofuels(TM) products, including a pilot facility leading to commercial production.

Walsh, a renowned transportation fuels executive, brings more than 28 years of global petroleum industry experience including 26 years at Royal Dutch Shell. From 2001 to 2005, he was General Manager Supply for Shell Europe Oil Products where he was responsible for $30 billion in annual revenue. Walsh replaces Doug Cameron of Khosla Ventures who has been acting CEO of the company during the past year. Dr. Cameron will remain actively involved with LS9 as a Board member as well as a member of its Scientific Advisory Board.

“We have been extremely pleased with the rapid technical progress LS9 has made in demonstrating the feasibility of producing hydrocarbon fuels through biotechnology,” said Noubar Afeyan, Co-founder and Chairman of LS9 and Managing Partner of Flagship Ventures. “With the addition of Bob to the team, we can now move quickly towards commercializing these proprietary products.”

LS9 DesignerBiofuels(TM) products are a family of fuels produced by microbes that have been specially engineered via recently developed methods of industrial synthetic biology. Starting from raw materials that are natural sources of sugar such as sugar cane and cellulosic biomass, these renewable fuels stand to fundamentally change the biofuels landscape and set the stage for widespread product adoption and petroleum displacement. LS9 hydrocarbon biofuels have higher energetic content than ethanol or butanol and have fuel properties that are essentially indistinguishable from those of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. One of the company’s products is a Designer Biodiesel that overcomes the key challenges associated with existing vegetable oil-based biodiesel including quality consistency, scalability of feedstocks, product economics, and cold-flow properties.

“After years of leadership roles in the traditional petroleum industry and responsibility over all aspects of the hydrocarbon supply chain, I can see clearly how LS9’s products will fit into existing infrastructure and deliver significant value to partners and consumers compared with other biofuel alternatives,” said Walsh. “LS9 has the opportunity to fundamentally change the transportation fuel equation, which makes me incredibly excited to join this talented team.”

About LS9
LS9, Inc., the Renewable Petroleum Company(TM), is a privately-held biotechnology company and the pioneer in the commercial development of hydrocarbon biofuels. LS9 is pursuing industrial applications of synthetic biology to produce proprietary hydrocarbon biofuels that are compatible with existing fuel distribution and consumer infrastructure. LS9’s patent-pending DesignerBiofuels(TM) products are custom engineered in the lab to address immediate market needs for clean energy alternatives to petroleum. The company was founded in 2005 by leading scientists along with specialized venture capital firms Flagship Ventures and Khosla Ventures. LS9 is headquartered in San Carlos, California, in the heart of Silicon Valley.

© 2007 LS9 Inc. All rights and its sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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