News From the East Bay Green Corridor

Emeryville's Amyris Brings Sustainable Biofuel to New Markets

Founded in 2003 by Jay D. Keasling, Ph.D, UC Berkeley professor of chemical engineering and bioengineering, Amyris first entered the clean tech scene by applying synthetic biology as a solution to some of the world’s most pressing problems. Its unique bio-based technology created a dependable and affordable source of artemisinin, an effective anti-malarial drug.  Amyris’ royalty-free license facilitated wider access to life-saving malaria therapeutics by those who need them most. The drug should be widely available in Africa in 2012. Keasling was awarded the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s first Biotech Humanitarian Award for his work on the project.

At first blush, a malaria drug may not seem to have much in common with Amyris’ current projects.  The connection lies in a new field of science called synthetic biology. Using DNA building blocks, Amyris’ scientists experts can create high-quality, reliable supplies of different molecules, which can then be converted into valuable substances. Amyris' trailblazing contribution to biofuels is Biofene™, a renewable version of the hydrocarbon molecule farnesene created from fermented sugarcane.

The company plans to sell its first Biofene™ commercial product, the biodiesel line No Compromise®, by 2012. Along with transportation fuels, the unique substance can also be used in cosmetics, industrial lubricants, flavors and fragrances, plastics and polymers, and consumer goods. Amyris' first production facility, a joint venture in Brazil with Usina São Martinho, will open in the second quarter of 2012. In August of 2011, the company announced that it will locate its first U.S. manufacturing facility at Tate & Lyle Ingredients Americas in Decatur, Illinois. It also recently signed a multi-year supply agreement with Nikko Chemicals for distribution in the Japanese market.

Biofene™ has received positive attention from the flavors and fragrances (“F & F”) industry, which has increasingly sought eco-friendly ingredients. Working with plant genes, Amyris produces natural oils and aroma chemicals more cost-effectively and sustainably than traditional sourcing methods. Earlier this year, the company entered into an agreement with Givaudan, the “F&F” industry’s global leader, to develop a new fragrance derived from Biofene™. Givaudan is looking to Amyris to help it “shape and lead the sustainability approach in the flavours and fragrances industry.”

Joel Velasco, Senior Vice President of External Relations for Amyris also sees several promising opportunities for local application of the company’s unique technology on larger scale demonstration projects with public transit systems, public and private fleets, construction and power generation. Velasco believes these applications will further demonstrate the effectiveness of Amyris renewable diesel at reducing petroleum dependence, reducing harmful tailpipe emissions, along with being a Low Carbon Fuel Standard compliance strategy.

Amyris employs 250 people in Emeryville, including scientists with backgrounds in biochemistry, microbiology, genetics and chemical engineering. Velasco says that it “absolutely” plans to remain in Emeryville for years to come.

For more information about Amyris, visit the company's website at

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