Bill Gates Dumps His Stock in Berkeley Biofuel Partner

By Richard Brenneman
Thursday June 05, 2008 - 03:49:00 PM

Bill Gates, the money man behind the company that has formed the first corporate/ UC Berkeley ethanol partnership, is dumping his shares. 

According to filings placed with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, Gates has been steadily dumping his shares in Pacific Ethanol, which has teamed with the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) to build a cellulosic ethanol plant. 

JBEI, based in new quarters in Emeryville, is a joint partnership of UC Berkeley with three affiliated national labs (Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore and Sandia) and the Carnegie Institute. 

While Gates had announced he might sell his 10,501,000 shares last November—a 20 percent share of the company—it’s only in the last five weeks that he has been dumping the stock in earnest. 

Gates owns the shares through Cascade Investment, a Kirkland, Wash., limited liability company of which he is the sole owner, and Cascade’s SEC filings show the stock’s steady erosion in value. 

While the stock was selling at $11.24 a share last Sept. 21, it had dropped to $5.37 by March 13, and the reported latest sales by Gates on Monday reveals a low of $3.36. 

The stock last traded Wednesday at $3.16. 

In one 11-day period, between May 5 and May 16, Gates sold 727,300 shares, and by Monday, his total holdings had dropped to 1,475,224 shares. 

JBEI was funded by a $135 million grant from the federal Department of Energy, and the federal agency has put up $24.3 million for a Pacific Ethanol plant in Oregon that would transform plant fibers—rather than sugars—into ethanol. See: http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2008-03-14/article/29460 

Corn ethanol, which is derived from the easier-to-refine plant sugars, has sparked intense protest in Mexico and other lands because the poor blame the demand for corn by ethanol refiners for sending the prices of tortillas soaring. 

But cellulosic fuels are much more difficult to refine, and the two Berkeley projects are aimed at finding new processes through patented genetically modified crops and microbes to produce fuel from the tough, fibrous parts of plants. 

The programs are aimed at finding fuels to keep Americas cars and trucks on the road and airplanes in the air. 

So-called cellulosic fuels are also being explored by another and richer UC Berkeley project, the Energy Biosciences Institute, which is funded with $500 million from British oil giant BP.