GreenFuel Hit By Big Layoffs—Nearly Half Staff Let Go This Morning

1/12/09Follow @bbuderi

GreenFuel Technologies, the Cambridge, MA-based algae farming company that was seemingly rebounding from technical setbacks and massive layoffs in the summer of 2007, has this morning laid off close to 50 percent of its staff. We received a tip about the layoffs this morning, and they were confirmed by CEO Simon Upfill-Brown in a telephone call.

“We’re still in the middle of this,” Upfill-Brown said. “The facts are it’s about 19 people, just under half” the total staff.

We have closely followed the progress of GreenFuel since just days after our launch in the summer of 2007. As we reported at the time, GreenFuel had to suddenly close down its algae bioreactor systems, which seek to convert carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel plants into clean-burning algae-based biofuels, after the systems started producing more algae than the company could process. The setback led to the layoff of half of the company’s staff, and then-CEO Cary Bullock shifted to a sales role and was temporarily replaced by Polaris Venture Partners general partner Bob Metcalfe, who remains as chairman of the board.

Since that time, the company has signed a big, $92 million deal to build an algae plant in Spain. And this past summer, it hired a permanent CEO, former Dow Chemical executive Simon Upfill-Brown. I sat down with Upfill-Brown in October to discuss that deal. And this morning the GreenFuel CEO said that changes in how to go about delivering on that project were behind the latest round of layoffs.

Previously, he noted, the company had intended to do detailed design and engineering work for the Spanish project in-house. Now, he says, “the detailed engineering and all that will be outsourced.”

“We’ve got to weather this economic storm as best we can…” Upfill-Brown said. “This is the right thing to do.”

Last May, GreenFuel received $13.9 million in capital from existing investors that included Polaris Venture Partners, Access Private Equity, and Draper Fisher Jurvetson under an extension of its Series B round. When I interviewed him last fall, Upfill-Brown said the company still needed to secure a Series C financing round that he had hoped would have already been done. In this morning’s call, he said that the company is still trying to close a C round, but that the failure to do so was not an issue in the new layoffs.

He also expressed optimism about the company’s overall direction. “We pretty much feel GreenFuel is ahead [of other biofuels companies]…We’re going to keep plugging away, stay ahead,” Upfill-Brown  said.

We’ll be adding the GreenFuel layoffs to our Boston Tech Layoff Tracker.

Bob is Xconomy's founder and editor in chief. You can e-mail him at bbuderi@xconomy.com, call him at 617.500.5926. Follow @bbuderi

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