Venture Capitalist Marianne Wu On Why Now Is The Right Time For Biofuels

November 18, 2011

Marianne Wu | Photo by  Toby BurdittPhoto by Toby Burditt

"It's a really exciting time in biofuels and biochemicals," VC Marianne Wu says. "We're looking at massive markets, increased demand, and significant advances in biology and chemistry. A lot of people assume that green biofuels mean higher prices or worse performance. That's changing. The companies we're investing in give customers the proposition that the fuel is green, performs the same or better, and is cheaper. One of our companies, Zeachem, uses chemical engineering to turn woody biomass into ethanol and basic chemicals, and it does so with the highest yield, lowest carbon footprint, and lowest cost. Zeachem is a biorefinery model, which is like the traditional model: A single petroleum refinery makes many products--solvents, chemicals, heating oil, gasoline. We're replicating what traditional refineries have always done: Take a feedstock and turn it into lots of different products. Biology can do the same."

Fast Company: Why is the time right, in terms of the market, for investing in biofuels and biochemicals?
Marianne Wu: "Although there's a lot of debate over what the overall price of oil is going to be, there's a general consensus that we've transitioned to a high-price-of-oil kind of regime. And there's a lot of volatility, which causes tremendous train for the chemical producers. Consumers, too, are really interested in getting greener and more sustainable chemicals and fuels, and they're pushing on manufacturers to increase their renewable and sustainable content. So there are a bunch of market forces driving this."

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