Renewable Energy Group Acquires LS9

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Jim Lane

A stunner at NBB. Renewable Energy Group (REGI) deploys its balance sheet and takes aim at renewable chemicals as it acquires the storied LS9.

In Iowa, Renewable Energy Group (REGI) announced it has acquired LS9 for a purchase price of up to $61.5 million, consisting of up front and earnout payments, in stock and cash. Most of the LS9 team, including the entire R&D leadership group, will join the newly named REG Life Sciences, LLC, which will operate out of LS9’s headquarters in South San Francisco, CA.

Under the terms of the agreement between REG and LS9, REG paid $15.3 million in cash and issued 2.2 million shares of REG common stock (valued at approximately $24.7 million based on a trading average for REG stock) at closing. In addition, REG may pay up to $21.5 million in cash and/or shares of REG common stock consideration for achievement of certain milestones over the next five years related to the development and commercialization of products from LS9’s technology.

The technology

LS9’s proprietary technologies harness the efficiency of the fatty acid metabolic pathway of microorganisms and are expected to make a wide range of renewable chemicals for large, diverse markets such as detergents and personal care, as well as renewable fuels. LS9’s technology platform can utilize diverse feedstocks including conventional corn and cane sugars, low-cost crude glycerin from biodiesel production, and cellulosic sugars. LS9 is a cornerstone investment for REG Life Sciences, which also plans to develop adjacent and complementary fermentation technologies.

All about LS9 here in our 5-Minute Guide to their technology and story.

Follows the Syntroleum acquisition

Last month, REG announced that it would acquire substantially all of the assets of Syntroleum Corporation (SYNM), and assume substantially all of the material liabilities of Syntroleum, for 3,796,000 shares of REG common stock worth $40.08 million at today’s market close.

Syntroleum has pioneered Fischer-Tropsch gas-to-liquids and renewable diesel fuel technologies, has 101 patents issued or pending, and owns a 50% interest in Dynamic Fuels, LLC, a 75-million gallon renewable diesel production facility in Geismar, Louisiana.

”Syntroleum and its 50%-owned subsidiary Dynamic Fuels represent an attractive entry path for REG into renewable diesel,” Oh continued. “They have invested substantial resources in their Bio-Synfining technology, which enables the economical conversion of lipid-based biomass into diesel and jet fuel. Their technology and products complement our core biodiesel business.”

Restarting in Iowa and Texas

In October, REG was primping up its core biodiesel business in Iowa when it held a ribbon cutting ceremony to formally open their recently acquired biodiesel refinery in Mason City and announced it has begun a $20 million project to upgrade the plant to a multi-feedstock facility. REG completed the acquisition of the former Soy Energy, LLC refinery on July 31, 2013. REG immediately began efforts to repair and re-start the plant and began producing biodiesel on October 1.

And back in July, REG re-opened the former North Texas Bio Energy plant it bought in November. The waste cooking oil and fats biodiesel plant in Western Bowie County can produce 15 million gallons of biodiesel annually.

Reaction from REG and Khosla

“This acquisition is a major step in realizing REG’s strategy to expand into the production of renewable chemicals and other products,” said Daniel J. Oh, Renewable Energy Group President and CEO. “The industrial biotechnology platform and robust patent portfolio LS9 has been building will now be combined with REG’s proven production and commercialization capabilities to accelerate the commercial introduction of renewable chemicals to meet increasing customer demand for sustainable products.”

“LS9 is a leader in developing technology for the next generation of chemicals and fuels to be produced from renewable feedstocks rather than petroleum,” said Vinod Khosla, founding partner of Khosla Ventures, an investor in LS9. “REG’s proven capabilities, track record for execution, and access to lower cost feedstock make it an ideal partner to commercialize LS9’s technology.”

What’s it all mean?

Two takeaways.

1. LS9′s investors bail with a so-so deal. Keep in mind, LS9 raised $75 million in its four public funding rounds. $5M in 2006′s Series A, $15M in a 2007 Series B, $25M in a 2009 Series C that brought in Chevron in addition to Flagship, Khosla and Lightspeed, and $30M in a 2010 Series D that added BlackRock. Not to mention sweeteners given to insiders, and the founder’s stock.

But there’s upside in the REG shares if the shares double and LS9′s team hit their milestones the investors may recoup their investment and more.

2. Renewable diesel and chemicals. That’s what’s hot and that’s where REG is pointing its long-term strategy, as a complement to biodiesel, as it charts its path forward and also puts its strong balance sheet to work.

Is this more about renewable diesel or chemicals? We think the latter, short-term. The Syntroleum acquisition creates the short-term capacity for renewable diesel – LS9′s strengths lie also in areas such as surfactant alcohols and other designer molecules. And we see REG having the market heft to take this to scale when the technical readiness is there.

The feedstock problem

As with biodiesel, LS9′s technology bumps up against a feedstock problem it requires reasonably pure sugars, for now. Although Jay Keasling’s lab has done work to expand LS9′s capabilities to waste biomass.

Jim Lane  Jim Lane is editor and publisher  of Biofuels Digest where this article was originally published. Biofuels Digest is the most widely read  Biofuels daily read by 14,000+ organizations. Subscribe here.


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