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by Michael Kanellos

Amyris amended the preliminary paperwork for an initial public offering yesterday. The company now says it hopes to sell 5.3 million shares of stock for $18 to $20 a share.

If successful, the IPO could net the company nearly $122 million, according to the S-1 document.

Amyris hopes to produce a wide variety of fuels from organisms concocted in the laboratory. Founded from research conducted at UC Berkeley, the company has actually produced fuel from organisms snacking on biomass. Typically, an organism will eat biomass like sugar cane and secrete alcohol. Amyris' genetic manipulation gets the organisms to secrete hydrocarbons like biodiesel instead. That shift increases the value of the output. CEO John Melo in late 2008 talked about producing biodiesel for $2 a gallon with the process that also emits far fewer greenhouse gases than regular diesel.

It has also struck deals with Brazilian companies to produce fuel in South America. Because the fuel produced in Brazil will be a hydrocarbon and not ethanol, it isn't subject to tariffs when brought to the U.S. Hats off to clever lawyering! The company has also discussed putting plants in Alabama.

Now, here is your ugly reality moment. Oil sells for around $75 a barrel and many start-ups and the investors that back them have discovered that getting to market is a time-consuming, cost-effective endeavor. Range Fuels and Mascoma, among others, have experienced delays and continue to spend large amounts of time fund raising. Amyris itself has raised $244 million from investors.

As a result of the difficulties of making it in fuel, many have branched out into producing oils or chemicals for industrial concerns or food producers. Aurora today confirmed a story we wrote a month ago that it was retreating from trying to produce fuel to make Omega 3s for the food industry instead.

Amyris can do this. Its first product is a synthetic version of artemisinin, a malarial medicine. Natural artemisinin grows in mangrove swamps in China and can be costly to harvest. Pharmaceuticals sell for far more per gallon than fuel. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave Amyris $40 million a few years ago to develop the drug.

Nonetheless, the company has emphasized fuel in recent years. In December, it paid $82 million to Brazil's São Martinho Group for a 40 percent stake in an ethanol mill project that the parties hope will be operational by 2011 or 2012. The Brazilian company already controls three ethanol plants that make about 600 million liters (158 million gallons) of ethanol per year. Soon after, it entered into agreements with three other Brazilian companies -- Acucar Guarani, Bunge Limited (NYSE:BG) and Cosan (NYSE:CZZ)-- to produce ethanol and high-value chemicals.

The company had 2007 sales of $6.1 million, 2008 sales of $13.9 million and 2009 sales of $64.6 million. The profits from those years were, just kidding -- the company lost $11.7 million in 2007, $41.8 million in 2008, and a whopping $64.4 million in 2009. That big jump in revenue in 2009, however, came because the company booked, and then resold, ethanol from other companies. It had nothing to do with a biological breakthrough. We heard about the proposed public offering back in February and Amyris filed its first S-1 in April.

Codexis (NASDAQ:CDXS), another biofuel company, went public earlier this year. It was kind of a dud. Shares of Codexis went out at $13 and now wallow between $8 and &9. PetroAlgae (PALG.OB, ) recently filed an S-1 that has come under intense scrutiny from investors. Gevo, which makes biobutanol, filed an S-1 for a $150 million IPO last month.

Disclosure: No positions

Source: Amyris Biotechnologies: Another Biofuel Company Seeks Public Funds, Let the Criticism Begin