Solazyme, Bunge set sugar-to-oil JV in Brazil
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Solazyme Inc SYZM.O finalized a joint venture agreement with agriculture group Bunge Ltd (BG.N) to build a 100,000-tonne sugar-to-oil production facility in Brazil, the companies announced on Tuesday.
The announcement boosted Solazyme shares 12 percent to close at $16.03 on the NASDAQ, slightly down from their six-month high hit earlier in the day.
The planned facility is one of a fleet of advanced biofuel and biochemical plants scheduled to begin operations the coming years around the globe.
High crude oil and chemicals prices and advances in enzyme technology have prompted companies to move to scale up operations and try to compete with traditional oils in many markets.
The new plant will be operated under a 50-50 joint venture and is expected to cost between $90 million to $110 million to build, Solazyme Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Wolfson said in an interview.
The first production from the plant, which is adjacent to Bunge's Moema sugarcane mill, is expected in the second half of 2013, and will be sold into chemicals and fuel markets in Brazil.
The companies expect little difficulty in selling output from the plant, according to Ben Pearcy, Bunge's managing director for sugar and bioenergy, since the oil could be easily substituted for existing supplies that are imported into Brazil.
That 'drop-in' capability for the oil and Solazyme's ability to tailor the oil for different products was key to making the project attractive, Wolfson said.
"There are a lot of real opportunities," Wolfson said. "When you start up a project like this, you want to de-risk it as much as possible."
The shares of loss-making Solazyme made their debut in May last year and the company has attracted investor attention as one of the first in the sector to begin selling products on the market, although its shares are down about 20 percent since their launch.
The company's biodiesel has drawn interest from the U.S. Navy, which has run ships on the fuel, as well as airlines.
Wolfson said the company did not need raise funding to cover its share of the new facility's construction, but added the partners may seek some project financing.
According to Solazyme regulatory filings, the finalization of the joint venture allows Bunge to exercise 250,000 warrants in Solazyme at $13.50 per share of the 1 million Solazyme had previously granted it.
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