A private company founded by the head of one of two UC Berkeley programs created to turn plants into fuels for planes, trains and automobiles is launching a commercial venture to turn sugar cane into diesel fuel.
That marks a major shift for the company created by a UC Berkeley scientist who said he wasn’t interest in turning food crops into fuels.
Amyris Technologies, a company founded by UC Berkeley bioengineer Jay Keasling, announced the move Wednesday on PR Newswire, a commercial service companies use to issue press releases.
Amyris is now headed by John Melo, a former executive of the British oil company BP plc., which is sponsoring the $500 million Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), currently housed on the UC Berkeley campus.
Melo was hired at the same time UC Berkeley was applying for the BP grant.
Keasling heads the Joint BioEnergy Institute, based in Emeryville and funded with a $135 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. Amyris is headquartered two stories below in the same building.
Keasling and EBI director Chris Somerville, who has developed genetically engineered crops for agroindustrial giant Monsanto, have said on several occasions that their programs weren’t focused on converting crops used for human consumption into fuels.
However Amyris, which gained worldwide attention after the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded their program for creating an antimalarial drug with genetically engineered microbes, is now embarked, with Brazilian ethanol producer Crystalsev, on a biodiesel program that he hopes to have running commercially within two years, Melo said in the PR Newswire press release.