Biotechnologies and the conversion of biomass
TOTAL is exploring a number of opportunities for developing biomass depending on its nature, accessibility and sustainability. The Group’s objective is to sell high-performance molecules in targeted markets (fuel, lubricants, special polymers, chemicals, etc.). The focus of New Energies is on the biochemical conversion process for this biomass.
In 2010, Amyris Inc., an American company listed on NASDAQ, was TOTAL’s first significant equity investment in biotechnology. At year-end 2014, TOTAL held 17.2% of the company. A collaboration agreement with Amyris was signed covering research, development, production and marketing of biosourced molecules. Amyris owns a cutting-edge industrial synthetic biology platform designed to improve and optimize microorganisms that can convert sugars into molecules of interest through fermentation. Amyris also owns a research laboratory and pilot units in California and Brazil. Amyris has successfully started and operates a plant in Brazil that converts 30 million liters of sugarcane juice into molecules of interest for perfumes and cosmetics as well as farnesene, a molecule of interest for a number of chemical or downstream oil markets, including specialty products and fuels (diesel or jet). In June 2014, the bio-sourced jet fuel produced by Amyris received the certification required to be sold to airlines (for blends of up to 10% in jet fuel derived from hydrocarbons), allowing its use in commercial flights in the second half of 2014, in partnership with Air France and KLM, as well as GOL between the United States and Brazil, thereby providing the technical demonstration of this new jet fuel source. Large-scale deployment will take several years, as a cost reduction program is necessary to make the molecule competitive with fossil jet fuel.
In addition, the Group continues to develop a global network of R&D partnerships in technology segments that are complementary to Amyris’ platform (deconstruction of lignocellulose, synthetic biology, metabolism engineering), including with Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI, United States), Novogy (now wholly-owned, United States), the University of Wageningen (the Netherlands) and the Toulouse White Biotechnology consortium (TWB, France).
The Group is also studying the longer-term potential for developing a cost-effective phototrophic process for producing biomolecules through microalgae bioengineering and associated processes.