Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Taking On Congress' Favorite Biofuel

For a young company, Virent Energy Systems seems to lead a charmed life. The Madison, Wis., biofuels outfit has pulled in more than $30 million from venture capitalists while striking strategic relationships with the likes of Cargill, Honda Motor and Royal Dutch Shell.

Watch Virent Chief Executive Eric Apfelbach's crisp PowerPoint presentation on the company's business, and you'd probably want to get a piece of this action too. Virent has a low-temperature, low-pressure, catalytic process for turning carbohydrates (sugars) into gasoline, diesel and other fuels. Its 70 employees now make a gallon or so daily. Targeting gasoline as its first fuel, Virent hopes within five years to raise that production to 10 million to 15 million gallons annually.

The jump from several hundred gallons to 15 million will require extraordinary chemical engineering, a feat Apfelbach sounds confident his company can pull off. Engineering a hospitable climate in Washington, D.C., however, could be trickier.

"We have to make sure that we don't get locked out," worries Apfelbach, 47. "We just don't want to get killed by policy.

Full story at Forbes.com