Funny thing about the biofuels business. Roughly 200 companies are pursuing the perfect biofuel -- as cheap as fossil fuels, adaptable to today’s infrastructure, low-carbon, sustainable and no threat to the food supply or to tropical forests. But even cutting-edge startups that say they have the puzzle just about solved can’t raise the money they need to get into commercial production.
“Everyone wants to be the first to finance the second plant,” says Arnold Klann, the CEO of biofuels firm Blue Fire Ethanol. “No one one wants to be first to finance the first one.”
“Banks are not willing to lend,” Klann said. “They’re risk averse.” The industry needs the support of banks or the public markets because a commercial scale will cost upwards of $100 million, more than the venture capitalists now financing the industry want to put at risk. Publicly-traded Blue Fire makes ethanol from wood wastes, urban trash, rice and wheat straws, and it was awarded a $40 ...