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Plants-to-hydrocarbons company Virent Energy lands funding

Second round brings $21 million to commercialize process for converting biomass to liquid fuels.

Virent Energy Systems on Thursday said it has secured $21 million in financing to develop processes for converting biomass to gasoline and other liquid fuels.

The second-round investment was led by Stark Investments and Venture Investors with Series A investor Cargill Ventures also participating.

The company, which was spun off from the University of Wisconsin, has developed a proprietary catalyst that can convert the sugar in biomass to hydrocarbons.

Its fuel technology was originally developed for hydrogen, which the company continues to invest in. But this round of funding was driven primarily by interest in extending its existing process to liquid fuels, said Mary Blanchard, Virent Energy's director of marketing and strategy.

It intends to make gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. Its process can also be used to make industrial chemicals.

The funding will be used to commercialize the technology, which is now working in its labs, said Blanchard.

The biomass-to-hydrocarbons conversion is a low-temperature, low-pressure thermochemical process, she said. The company expects to have a pilot plant operating in three or four years and a full commercial operation in about five years.

Its initial feedstocks will be sugar cane or sweet sorghum but the company is also working on converting cellulosic sources.