Rentech After Fischer-Tropsch

by Debra Fiakas CFA A long article appearing in early March 2014 on Biofuels Digest about Emerging Fuels Technology (EFT) gave me pause.  The article has since been removed from the site but it was an interesting primer on Oklahoma-based EFT’s use of the Fischer-Tropsch process to convert carbon-based feedstock to liquid fuel, otherwise called Gas-to-Liquids. While Emerging Fuels Technology has been listed in Crystal Equity Research’s Alternative Chemicals Group of the Beach Boys Index of companies trying to harness energy from the sun through biomas, I must admit the company had not been taken seriously.  ...

Earnings Round-Up: ADM, Green Plains, Syngenta

Jim Lane Green Plains In Nebraska, Green Plains (GPRE) announced net income for the quarter was $42.2 million compared to net income of $25.5 million for the same period in 2013. Revenues were $829.9 million for the fourth quarter of 2014 compared to $712.9 million for the same period in 2013. Net income for the full year was $159.5 million compared to $43.4 million for the same period in 2013. Revenues were $3.2 billion for the full year of 2014 compared to $3.0 billion for the same period in 2013. Fourth quarter 2014 EBITDA was $90.7 million compared to...

Cellulosic Feedstock: The Gap Between Switchgrass And High Yield Corn

Jim Lane  As the first wave of cellulosic biorefineries launch is there really enough affordable feedstock for the next wave? Can growers make enough money to justify the switch…and risk? For several years, the questions that have perplexed actors in the advanced bioeconomy have revolved around policy stability and the effectiveness of the new technology: can new advanced fuels be affordably produced and will there be a market for them? Years ago, these were the same questions that were asked about petroleum. Today, when people talk about petroleum and long-term availability (when they choose not to...

Cosan: Brazillian Sweetheart

by Debra Fiakas CFA The first thing we think about Brazil in the context of alternative energy is sugar cane and ethanol. In the last growing season Brazil producer 596 million tons of sugar cane, a feat that secured Brazil’s position as the largest sugar cane grower in the world.  About 55% of the crop was used to producer ethanol and the balance ended up as sugar.  Brazil’s sugar cane industry association has predicted that despite a severe drought, the 2014-2015 growing season will be even more productive with expected sugar cane production in the range 632...

The 10 Hottest Trends in Algae

Jim Lane  Algae has been touted as the ultimate platform for fuels, chemicals, nutraceuticals, proteins even cancer therapies. There’s been a rate of progress that would impress any devotee of Moore’s Law and a series of wacky claims that would impress any devotee of P.T. Barnun. So, what are the real trends? We’ve traveled several years now since the “Summer of Algae” when it seemed like half the venture capitalists in life sciences were forming algae ventures, or thinking about them. Since then a cluster of research projects and proto-companies have been...

Rentech: Pulp, Pellets and Fertilizer

by Debra Fiakas CFA A shareholder group has taken aim at alternative energy and fertilizer producer Rentech, Inc. (RTK:  Nasdaq), offering a slate of nominees for the next election of directors.  They claim Rentech management is overpaid and doing a very poor job of executing on the company’s strategic plans.  The nominees were a focus of discussion in the last post.  Now we will take a closer look at Rentech’s operations. The majority of Rentech’s revenue is generated from the sale of fertilizer products from the Company’s plants in Dubuque, Iowa and Pasadena, California.  Rentech earns...

Rentech: Do We Want The Sharpest Pencil?

by Debra Fiakas CFA Last month a shareholder group led by two of Rentech’s largest shareholders sent a letter to the biofuel developer’s board of directors.   Rentech, Inc. (RTK:  Nasdaq)) is adrift, the group claims.  The alternative energy business has failed.  The fertilizer plant is a bust and the wood pellet project is never going to deliver adequate return on invested capital.  What is more management is paid too much for the size of Rentech’s operations.  The group wants its own slate of nominees in the proxy for director positions. Rentech leadership responded to the letter with...

The Farm Bill: 5-Minute Guide to the Energy Title

  Jim Lane Only 5 min BigStock Photo What’s in that Durn-tootin’ US Farm Bill, anyhow? For the harried taxpayer, some relief. For energy security and rural economic development, targeted investments that now head to the legislative floor. Here are the need-to-knows. In Washington, the House and Senate Agricultural committees have now passed their respective versions of the proposed 2013 farm bill, which would take effect for fiscal 2014 through fiscal 2018. Both bills have energy titles meaning that, should they find passage, as expected this summer,...

Casella Waste Systems: Cheap Enough to Recycle?

by Debra Fiakas CFA Solid waste has been one of the business types that has a natural hedge against macroeconomic distress.  No matter how bad things get, as long as our neighbors draw breath there will be trash to handle.  Casella Waste Systems, Inc. (CWST:  Nasdaq) sits in the shadow of larger waste handlers such as Waste Management (WM:  NYSE) and Republic Services (RSG:  NYSE).  Consequently, it is often passed over by investors despite a significantly better profit margin. One of the reasons investors might not take Casella seriously is its history of net losses.  However, the...

Biobased and Biofuel Investments: A System

Jim Lane A Biofuels and Biobased investment primer: An 18-combination, 8-character system for classifying bio investments Here’s our investment primer on how to size up the risks and the rewards and tune them to meet your goals. And, a system for organizing opportunities. So, you’re thinking about investing in bio? Here’s the good news – you’re not alone. Here’s the bad news – you’re not alone. There are retail, private equity, hedge fund, sovereign wealth, strategic, grower, VC and institutional investors snooping around too, and making active investments. For one thing, carbon’s making a comeback as the...

Ceres and Syngenta to Promote Sorghum in Brazil

Jim Lane Ceres, Inc. (CERE) and Syngenta sign a major deal to stimulate sweet sorghum adoption. Brazilian producers seek paths for expanding ethanol production. What are sorghum’s chances of being the darling of the expansion story? In California, Ceres, Inc. (CERE) announced that it has signed a sweet sorghum market development agreement with Syngenta. The companies will work together to support the introduction of sweet sorghum as a source of fermentable sugars at Brazil’s 400 or more ethanol mills. Under the agreement, Syngenta and Ceres intend to collaborate on small-scale trials as well as larger demonstration-scale...

Ceres, Inc.: a 5-Minute Guide

Jim Lane Address: 1535 Rancho Conejo Blvd., Thousand Oaks, CA 91320 Founded: 1996 Annual Revenues: $6.6 million (Fiscal Year ended Aug. 31, 2011) Type of technology: Plant biotechnology, gene marker-assisted breeding and other genomics Fuel Type: Biomass is the common denominator to advanced biofuels, biopower and bioproducts and is independent of the end-fuel molecule. Major investors: Ceres is a public company. Its common stock trades on the Nasdaq Global Market under the ticker symbol CERE. Pre-IPO investors include Warburg Pincus, Soros Private Equity Partners, GIMV and Oppenheimer. Past milestones: Completed IPO...

Running from the bear: Making Biofuels From Municipal Solid Waste

By Ed Hamrick Municipal solid waste in Berlin. Photo by S. Müller via Wikimedia Commons Remember the one about the two guys in the woods who are seen by a hungry bear? They start running from the bear, and one guy says to the other guy “Why are we running? Everyone knows you can’t outrun a bear”. The other guy says “I don’t need to outrun the bear, I only need to outrun you”. Any company can find a market for their ethanol if they can make...

Solazyme: a 5-Minute Guide

Jim Lane Year founded: 2003 Annual Revenues: $38 billion (DuPont overall for 2011) $1.2 billon (Industrial Biosciences unit for 2011) Company description: Solazyme, Inc. is a renewable oil and bioproducts company that transforms a range of low-cost plant-based sugars into high-value oils. Headquartered in South San Francisco, Solazyme’s renewable products can replace or enhance oils derived from the world’s three existing sources – petroleum, plants and animal fats. Initially, Solazyme is focused on commercializing its products into three target markets: (1) fuels and chemicals, (2) nutrition and (3) skin and personal...

Bio-Power Shows Competitive Edge

David Appleyard   IRENA, the International Renewable Energy Agency, has published a study on the costs of biomass power generation, concluding that the most competitive projects can generate electricity at a cost as low as US$0.06/kWh. Bio Power Plant With Storage Of Wooden Fuel photo via BigStock Around the world, large quantities of agricultural and forestry wastes go underutilised and the agency argues that using these wastes as a feedstock to provide power and heat can cost less than electricity from the...

Ag Goddess Smiles Favorably on Ceres, Investors Frown

by Debra Fiakas CFA Recently, in compiling our lists of remarkable small-cap stock trades, I was surprised to find the shares of Ceres, Inc. (CERE:  Nasdaq) among stocks setting new 52-week lows.  Ceres has only been trading since its initial public offering in February 2012, when the company sold 5.0 million shares at $13.00 per share.  After a brief trade higher in the early spring, Ceres shares have been steadily losing ground, finally setting an all-time low of $6.02 last week. Named after the Greek Goddess of Agriculture, Ceres is a self-styled energy crop producer.  Ceres...