Small technology startups are driving a wave of new bio-based chemicals and materials technologies, and their growth is catalyzing the biggest change the global chemicals industry has seen in decades. In a recent report (client registration required), Lux Research applied its Lux Innovation Grid to rate 106 startups competing in seven technology areas, ranging from renewable feedstocks like algae, GM crops, and waste gases, to downstream processing in pyrolysis, gasification, and synthetic biology.
This week’s graphic displays the likely winners and losers who are fielding thermochemical processes, which promise the bounty of bioprocessing without the need for engineered microbugs. Unlike bioprocessing, thermochemical technologies create compounds via more scalable catalytic and conventional chemical methods. The Dominant quadrant’s five innovators make the field one of the strongest in the bio-based chemicals and materials space.
Among the top innovators is Elevance, which uses metathesis to convert plant oils into glycerin, esters, and biofuels. Its high Technical score derives from its simple chemical process and capital-light manufacturing, which combine to yield a disruptive process. But Elevance also has ongoing collaborations with Cargill, Materia, Dow Corning, Tetramer Technologies, Stepan, Wilmar International, and others, all of which fueled the company’s $100 million IPO filing.
Also in the Dominant quadrant is Virent, which develops fuels and chemicals from soluble sugars. It rates highly on Business Execution because of its management team’s industrial and scientific backgrounds and investments from Cargill, Honda, and Shell. Moreover, the company has a partnership with HCL Cleantech, which supplies cellulosic sugars. Its technology signifies a unique and effective way to convert sugars to alkanes that may then be catalytically converted to a slew of materials (client registration required).
Both Red Lion Bio-energy and Siluria occupy the High Potential quadrant, but that’s about all the two companies have in common. Red Lion, whose process combines aspects of pyrolysis and gasification to convert biomass to syngas, faces business challenges because its gasification technologies are capital-intensive. Meanwhile, Siluria Technologies has a unique catalyst support technology designed to efficiently convert natural gas (fossil or biogas) to ethylene. While its approach is notable and potentially very valuable, the company is only in its fourth year and has not made much commercial progress yet. It has raised about $17 million in venture funding to date, but it lacks chemical industry connections through management experience or partnerships.
Source: Lux Research report “Assessing Innovator Evolution in Renewable Materials and Chemicals.”