Condoleeza Rice to join board of Houston biofuels firm

Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has agreed to join the board of directors of Houston-based biofuels firm KiOR, the company announced today.

Rice, who served as the country’s top diplomat from 2005 to 2009 under President George W. Bush, will assume the post on July 11.

KiOR, backed by billionaire venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, has developed a proprietary technology to convert non-food biomass into a crude oil substitute. The oil can be further refined into gasoline or diesel blends that can be blended with petroleum-based fuels and “dropped in” to the nation’s existing fuel infrastructure without modifications. In that way, it is different from ethanol, the most widely used alternative fuel in the U.S., which requires separate pipelines, storage and distribution systems to handle it.

KiOR also says its process for producing gasoline and diesel blendstocks emits 80 percent less greenhouse gases than the process used to make conventional gasoline and diesel.

KiOR currently operates a demonstration plant in Pasadena, which the company calls the world’s first to produce renewable crude oil from biomass. At that plant, the firm is converting wood chips into the crude substitute.

The company is planning its first commercial scale plant in Columbus, Miss., with plans to build others in Georgia and Texas at a later date. Several companies including Hunt Refining, Catchlight Energy and FedEx have already agreed to buy fuels produced at the plant.

To help fund its growth, KiOR is also planning an initial public stock offering. Lead underwriters are Credit Suisse, UBS and Goldman Sachs.

In addition to her role as a KiOR board member, Rice is currently a professor of politcal economy in the Stanford Graduate School of Business, senior fellow of public policy at the Hoover Institution and a professor of political science at Stanford University.

Previously, she’s been a board member at Chevron Corp., the Charles Schwab Corp., the Transamerica Corp. and the International Advisory Council of J.P. Morgan. Today, she sits on the boards of Makena Capital, a private endowment firm, and energy software company C3.