Calysta: Biofuels Digest’s 2015 5-Minute Guide

April 5, 2015 |

5-Minute-Guide-logoCalysta is using biotechnology to enable development of sustainable consumer products from methane, the principal component of natural gas. Calysta represents the synthesis of biobased technologies and abundant supplies of natural gas, one of the world’s most abundant, economical forms of carbon.

Calysta has two business units.

Calysta Nutrition, with principal operations in Stavanger, Norway, develops and produces high quality protein for commercial aquaculture and livestock feed. It was created through the 2014 acquisition of Norway’s Bioprotein, to address the rapidly growing worldwide demand for high quality protein, particularly from the expanding middle classes in emerging nations. Calysta is continuing the development of methane-based protein as a direct replacement for current commercial sources of protein in animal feeds, especially fishmeal. This technology is based on the gaseous fermentation of methane.

Calysta Energy, with principal operations in Menlo Park, CA, is developing the Biological Gas-to-Liquids and Biological Gas-to-Chemicals technologies using methane.  These technologies allow conversion of a plentiful and sustainable energy resource into high value chemicals and transportation fuels, with cost and performance advantages over current processes, and without competing for food, land or water.

With the acquisition of Bioprotein, Calysta diversified into the nearly $400 billion nutrition market.  The company emerged from stealth mode in October 2012 as a spinout of DNA2.0, the largest US-based provider of synthetic genes for industrial and academic use. It was established to use natural gasas an advantaged feedstock for high value industrial chemicals and liquid transportation fuels that are cost-competitive, scalable and reduce environmental impact.


Technology developer and licensor.


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The Situation

In January, Calysta took a big stride forward in raising a $10 million Series B investment round. The round saw financing led by Walden Riverwood Ventures and Aqua-Spark, venture firms from the US and the Netherlands, respectively. Nicholas Brathwaite, Walden Riverwood Ventures and Mike Velings, Aqua-Spark, will join the Calysta Board of Directors. Calysta intends to use the Series B investment to advance development of high value nutritional products for fish and livestock as well as traditional chemical products.

The financing also included additional investment from previous investors, including Pangaea Ventures Ltd from Calysta’s Series A round, and current Calysta officers and directors.

Former Codexis CEO Alan Shaw is leading Calysta as President and CEO, and co-founder Josh Silverman is CTO – Silverman established and led R&D partnerships and product development collaborations for five biotechnology companies, including Avidia through acquisition by Amgen.

“There are obvious issues in biomass feedstocks,” said Dr. Shaw in an interview with the Digest. “You can see it when companies like Amyris wobble, that it is time to move on from strictly a biomass fermentation approach. They are disadvantaged for making hydrocarbons at this time. The biology is working, but we have to look at other feedstocks.”

Past Milestones

In November 2014, the US DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office announced a grant of up to $2.5 million to NatureWorks, one of the world’s leading suppliers of bioplastics, in support of an ongoing program that aims to sequester and use methane, a potent greenhouse gas, as a feedstock for the company’s Ingeo™ biopolymers and intermediates.

The grant supports an ongoing multi-year joint development program between NatureWorks and Calysta, with the specific goal of transforming, via a fermentation process, renewable biomethane into lactic acid, the building block for Ingeo. Ingeo naturally advanced bioplastics and intermediates are used worldwide in a host of consumer and industrial products.

In July, 2014, Calysta announced the company has achieved 8-fold improved performance over traditional fermentation technologies in a high mass transfer bioreactor. The bioreactor technology, from the acquisition of Bioprotein earlier this year, is under development for efficient methane-to-liquids fermentation processes, enabling rapid, cost-effective methane conversion into protein, industrial chemicals and fuels.

In June 2014, Calysta announced it has successfully fermented methane into lactic acid, under a research collaboration with NatureWorks.  Lactic acid is the building block for NatureWorks Ingeo lactide intermediates and polymers used in consumer and industrial products worldwide.

In May, 2014, Calysta acquired Bioprotein SA, Norway.  This technology uses gas-fed fermentation to produce feed-quality protein with high nutritional value.  BioProteinTM feed is approved in the European Union for use in the human food chain in salmon, as well as in multiple livestock animals including pigs, chickens, and cattle.  The product and manufacturing technology are already validated at scale and can be rapidly deployed for commercial production.

In January 2014, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory announced a collaboration with start-up company Calysta Energy on a new technology to convert natural gas to liquid fuel. The process involves taking natural gas from oil and gas operations, and converting it to methanol that can be used as a fuel or converted to other useful chemicals. Often small amounts of natural gas produced at oil and gas operations are flared off or vented into the environment when the amount does not justify a pipeline to transport the gas.

In December 2013, Calysta announced completion of a Series A financing round totaling $3 million. The financing was led by Pangaea Ventures Ltd., and included current Calysta officers and directors. Purnesh Seegopaul, Ph.D., General Partner at Pangaea, will join the Calysta Board of Directors. Calysta intends to use the Series A investment to advance development of biological routes to high value industrial chemicals and fuels based on methane, an advantaged feedstock from natural gas.“We are delighted to welcome Pangaea to Calysta as an investor,” said Alan Shaw, Ph.D., Chairman, President and CEO. “Demand for new technology solutions in industrial chemicals and fuels has created a global market opportunity. This financing positions Calysta to continue rapid development of scalable, economical pathways for these important new products based on our BioGTL and BioGTC natural gas conversion technologies,” he said.

Feedstock diversification was at the heart ofannounce that Calysta Energy and NatureWorks entered into an exclusive, multi-year collaboration to research and develop a practical, world-scale production process for fermenting methane — a potent greenhouse gas (GHG) — into lactic acid, the building block for Ingeo, lactide intermediates and polymers made from renewable materials. If the collaboration results in the successful commercialization of this first-of-its-kind technology, the cost to produce Ingeo would be structurally lowered, and the wide range of Ingeo based consumer and industrial products could be produced from an even broader set of carbon-based feedstocks, complementary to what is already in use by NatureWorks.

In January 2013, Calysta Energy was awarded a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase 1 grant from the National Science Foundation. The grant supports development of a production platform for a new class of modified lipids (fats) with applications in a range of industrial products including plastics, detergents, and cosmetics. In particular, the research will focus on development of precursors for biobased biodegradable plastics which can serve as drop-in replacements for current petroleum-derived plastics. The size of the grant was not announced.

Future Milestones:

Commercial scale technology deployments with its licensors


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