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California biofuel firm Ceres plans public offering

January 25, 2012|By Marla Dickerson
  • Ceres CEO Richard Hamilton (right) and Dr. Richard Flavell, chief scientific officer,check out switchgrass grown from the company's seeds.
Ceres CEO Richard Hamilton (right) and Dr. Richard Flavell, chief scientific… (Ceres Inc. )

Renewable energy seed maker Ceres Inc. is planning to go public.

The privately held Thousand Oaks company wants to raise more than $100 million to expand its production of genetically modified seeds for crops used for biofuels, according to a filing this week with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Ceres plans to sell 5 million shares at $21 to $23 each, according to the filing, and has applied to list its shares on NASDAQ under the ticker symbol CERE.

Biofuels have gotten something of a bad rap in the U.S. thanks to corn-based ethanol, which critics have dissed as an inefficient fuel that has driven up food prices while doing little to curb greenhouse gases.

Ceres is among a cadre of companies working to produce fuel from inedible plants including switchgrass and miscanthus.

Operational since 1997, Ceres boasts puny revenue and a long string of losses. But some well-known names have placed bets on its plant science.  Agribusiness giant Monsanto Co. owns a 6.2% stake in Ceres, according to the filing. Other major stockholders include private equity firm Warburg Pincus and venture capital firm Oxford Bioscience Partners.

Ceres plans to use the proceeds of the stock sale to build facilities, ramp up hiring and production and invest in research and development. No word on the timing of the IPO.

California is a hotbed of renewable-fuel companies, including Amyris Biotechnologies in Emeryville, Cobalt Technologies of Mountain View, Solazyme Inc. of South San Francisco, Los Angeles-based OriginOil Inc. and Sapphire Energy Inc. of San Diego.

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