Former Pennsylvania Gov. Mark Schweiker has left his post as president of PRWT Business Process Solutions to join Renmatix, a King of Prussia company that says it has a high-pressure process to turn wood and farm waste into a source of fuel and chemicals under the brand name Plantro.
"The offer amounted to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Schweiker told me. He called the biochemicals business "an opportunity to make industrial history and lower our dependence on foreign oil."
Renmatix moved its headquarters from Georgia to Philadelphia last year, after former Rohm & Haas executive Michael Hamilton was appointed its chief executive. Its headquarters, on Allendale Road near the King of Prussia shopping centers, employs 20. Work has begun on an adjoining lab; the complex will eventually house 150.
Schweiker's job will include scouting possible plant sites in Pennsylvania and other states, as well as lobbying governments for help. He said that Gov. Corbett, a Republican like Schweiker, had invited the firm north and that the company and state had been negotiating "a combination of tax credits and grant funding, mostly tax credits," to sweeten the move.
Schweiker said he and Hamilton were recruited to Renmatix by partners of the Silicon Valley investment firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers. Renmatix investors, including Kleiner partner John Doerr, have committed $50 million to the company, $30 million from the German chemical giant BASF. Wilmington-based DuPont Co. spent $6 billion last year for Denmark-based Danisco, which is developing a rival, enzymes-based biofuels process.
Schweiker's previous employer, PRWT, is, with its affiliates, a nearly $100 million-a-year (in sales) business that manages the Philadelphia Parking Authority impoundment lot, New Jersey E-ZPass, and other government services.
PRWT, founded by Willie Johnson and run by Harold Epps, was also, on Schweiker's watch, the operator of a former Merck & Co. Inc. antibiotics factory in Riverside, Pa. That complex included a biological-materials production facility that was picked by California-based Solazyme as the site for a federally subsidized biofuels project in 2009. Solazyme and Department of Energy officials didn't return calls on the status of that project. Schweiker wouldn't comment on whether that plant was a possible Renmatix site.