Renninger had started Amyris from a spiral notebook in his backpack.
Amyris’s breakthroughs in bioengineering–and its plans to make biofuels from Brazilian sugarcane–promised to transform how the world’s businesses produce energy, cosmetics, and medicine. Then reality (and Wall Street) got in the way.
The climb up the steel steps is dizzying–like ascending the tower of a European church, except the steps lead to a platform bolted to the side of a gleaming new chemical plant. Here in Brazil, under a brilliant blue sky, Eduardo Loosli, the plant manager, pauses to explain a vision of the future. “I used to manage a Molson Coors beer manufacturing plant, and it’s not all that different,” he says, leaning on a railing and surveying the scene around us. Directly below is a cityscape of huge stainless-steel tanks. Out beyond the tanks, and stretching far into the distance, are dense greenfields of sugarcane.
Yeast turns grain into beer, Loosli says. Here, in this new plant, genetically engineered yeast created by the plant’s owners–the California biotech company known as Amyris–turns sugar into liquid fuel. At the end of the platform, Loosli points to two special “seed” tanks. “The yeast enters the system here,” he says. When production starts, a glass flask of Amyris’s special strain will be poured into each tank, and the yeast will multiply until it becomes a thick, hungry broth. For two weeks, the yeasty stew chews up as much as 1.2 million liters of energy-rich cane syrup. The end product is farnesene, which can be adapted to a seemingly perfect replacement for petroleum-based diesel. Not only does farnesene-based diesel cut pollutants from vehicle exhaust pipes, but since it derives from cane syrup, it is also a renewable resource. These cane fields surrounding the plant are thus the rough equivalent to bottomless oil wells.
FastCoExist – DANIEL GRUSHKIN
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