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Bill Gates invests in biofuel specialist Renmatix

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Business magnate and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has joined French oil giant Total in investing $14 million (€12.4m) in US biofuel specialist Renmatix.

The company has developed a process that converts plant waste and biomass into sugars that can be converted into biofuels and bio versions of chemicals. The company hopes that this investment will help it to reach commercialisation.

Industry demand for competitive alternatives to petro-derived molecules is gaining traction, despite recent market pressures, Renmatix said in a statement. In the interest of expanding that supply, Renmatix’s Plantrose process provides an enabling technology for profitable biorefineries.

This investment in commercialising Plantrose 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 bio-product applications.

Gates said: "To effectively address climate change, we need to develop an energy infrastructure that doesn't emit greenhouse gas and is cost competitive. A critical component in this effort must be to decarbonize the industrial sector.

“Another is the possibility of cost competitive biofuels. Renmatix provides an innovative process that is an exciting pathway to pursue."

One million tonnes

Gates is joined in the round by Total TOT, the global energy major which, after an initial investment in 2015, has expanded its investment and has additionally signed a licensing agreement with Renmatix for one 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 Pouyann, chairman and 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 valorising 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.

He added: "While we're working with partners to capitalize on the vast opportunity for bio-based transformation in markets as diverse as the U.S. 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."