Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

LS9 Scores $30 Million To Turn Biomass, E.Coli Into Fuel

There is no shortage of creative startups aiming to find the next big petroleum replacement, but few have gained as much traction as LS9. The company just scooped up $30 million to turn genetically-modified e.coli bacteria into diesel fuel. That brings LS9's total investments to $75 million. Investors include heavy hitters like BlackRock, Khosla Ventures, and Flagship Ventures. What makes the company so special?

LS9 claims that it can produce biofuels directly from cellulosic biomass in a one-step fermentation process (e.coli ferments the biomass). The company explains:

LS9 UltraClean products are a family of fuels produced by LS9 DesignerMicrobes created through the power of synthetic biology. Starting from low-carbon, natural sources of sugar such as sugar cane and cellulosic biomass, these renewable fuels will fundamentally change the transportation fuels landscape and set the stage for petroleum displacement. LS9 UltraClean™ fuels have higher energetic content than ethanol or butanol and have fuel properties that are essentially indistinguishable from those of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.

The company is already operating a 1,000-liter pilot plant in South San Francisco that makes pump-ready diesel fuel from first-generation feedstocks (sugarcane). Eventually, though, LS9 hopes to scale up the production of diesel fuel from biomass (woodchips, plant waste, etc.), with the ultimate goal being a replacement for petroleum. If LS9 can do that, it could virtually eliminate our reliance on traditional petroleum.

That is, of course, a long way away. And LS9 isn't the only company using designer microbes to make sustainable products. A San Diego startup called Genomatica recently developed a process that turns sugar into commercial grade 1,4-butadeniol (BDO), an industrial plastic used to make fibers like Spandex. 

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.