OPX Biotechnologies raising $45M for next-gen biofuels

Are the recent biofuel IPOs paving a path for newer biofuel firms to getting funding? Well, four-year-old OPX Biotechnologies, which uses genomics to make biofuel production more efficient and economic, is in the process of raising a $45 million round of equity, and has closed on $37 million of that funding, according to a filing.

The company made news recently by announcing a partnership with chemical giant Dow Chemical (s DOW) to turn sugar into a bio acrylic acid — the petroleum-based version of acrylic acid is used in plastics, paint products and diapers. When I interviewed the company a couple years ago, they explained the company’s innovation as a speedy full genome search and gene modification technology platform that is 1,000 to 5,000 times faster than conventional methods.

In conjunction with the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program, which gives small grants to high-risk early-stage companies, OPX is also working on engineering a microorganism that makes biodiesel from hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The DOE gave OPX $6 million for this research. Previous investors in OPX include Mohr Davidow Ventures.

A few other next-gen biofuel companies have been funded in recent months including CoolPlanetBiofuels, which attracted investment from Google (s GOOG) and a consortium including GE, NRG Energy and ConocoPhillips. Another one is Enerkem, which gasifies various forms of waste — everything from old telephone poles to mixed municipal garbage — and then turns that syngas into various fuels including methanol and ethanol. Enerkem gained funds from oil refiner Valero and trash king Waste Management.

While using bio feedstocks — like sugar, waste, energy crops — to power vehicles in large numbers is a long way off, so-called biofuel companies are now finding some success selling biochemicals. In addition to OPX and its bio acrylic acid, companies like Solzayme and Amyris (s AMRS) are tackling bio chemicals first, before turning to fuel.

These smaller, but seemingly abundant, specialty chemical, cosmetic, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical markets are giving companies some of their first revenues and commercialization agreements. As a result, biofuel companies are some of the only ones that have waded into the public market in the greentech field, and companies that have gone public in recent months include KiOR (s KIOR), Gevo (s GEVO), Amyris (s AMRS) and Solzayme (s SZYM).