It seems that BP is trying to make up for lost time — the worldwide oil giant has invested $90 million in cellulosic ethanol company, Verenium. This is BP’s first foray into the world of cellulosic ethanol (ethanol derived from non-food crops), and man is it a gigantic one.
The money will be distributed to Verenium over the next 18 months, with a likelihood of further investment and cooperation beyond that point. Under the agreement, BP will have broad access to Verenium’s research, production facilities, and technology.
Although relatively late to the fray, BP thinks this investment gives them the “most advanced technology for transforming [cellulosic material] to biofuels,” as Sue Ellerbusch, president of BP Biofuels North America said.
Verenium claims to have the edge in cellulosic ethanol production through genetic engineering of the microbes required to turn the cellulosic material (switchgrass, wood chips, sugarcane bagasse, miscanthus) into ethanol.
They also claim to have developed specialized enzymes that speed the ethanol-making process along. As Verenium points out, enzymes are important to the cellulosic ethanol process in the same way that spark plugs are important to igniting fuel in your engine.
We’ll see where this goes, but that’s a lot of cash and a serious confidence boster to Vernium’s shareholders.