The key to making biofuels and biochemicals from sources such as wood and grass, rather than food crops, is finding a cheap way to break down hemicellulose and cellulose into sugar that yeast and other organisms can ferment. Once you have the sugars, making ethanol and other chemicals has already been proven on a commercial scale.
A startup called Renmatix, which we wrote about here, is developing a novel process that uses supercritical water to produce the sugars. It claims the process can produce sugar at costs low enough to compete with producing sugar from sugar cane.
The company got a vote of confidence today with a $30 million investment from a division of the large chemical company BASF, which hopes to use the technology to increase its use of renewable raw materials. In addition to the BASF funding, Renmatix raised $20 million from other sources.