Elevance: Cargill Backs Biochemical Startup

elevanceNot satisfied with nibbling at big oil’s transportation fuel market, agro-industrialists are now pushing to take the “petro” out of the petrochemical business. The newly launched Elevance Renewable Sciences is a biochemical venture that says it will use soy, canola and corn as feedstocks to produce a variety chemicals and materials. Created to commercialize the work of agricultural giant Cargill and catalyst maker Materia, Elevance has launched with $40 million in funding from TPG Growth and TPG Biotechnology Partners.

With Cargill, the world’s second-largest privately held company, backing Elevance, it seems poised to make good on its rather bold goal of generating $1 billion in sales by 2016. Lisle, Ill.-based Elevance is also taking some Big Oil folks with it. The company’s CEO is K‚ÄôLynne Johnson, most recently of Innovene, BP’s petrochemical division, and who previously worked for BP proper and Amoco.

Elevance already has an established product in performance waxes, premised on the Nobel Prize-winning research of Robert Grubbs of Caltech, called NatureWax and plans to add lubricants, functional oils, antimicrobials, additives and other chemicals to that roster. The core technology is olefin metathesis chemistry, which uses a metallic catalyst to convert oils into a huge variety of products with few byproducts or hazardous wastes.

But Elevance represents yet-another non-food pressure on global agriculture. As governments wrangle over the environmental efficacy of biofuels, Elevance’s debut on the biochemical scene means food has yet another non-food market pulling on its price. With Cargill’s access to a huge amount of feedstocks crops and cellulosic biofuels still “just around the corner,” it looks like more grain could be diverted from feeding people to feeding chemical reactors.