Watkin goes down in biofuelled flames

As befits a pioneering biofuels entrepreneur, Karl Watkin has really gone out with a bang at D1 Oils...

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

On Monday Watkin announced he was going to quit his non-exec role at D1 Oils, the company he founded to make biodiesel from jatropha seeds – and used the opportunity for a furious tirade against the stock exchange, fund managers, analysts, biofuel critics and various others besides.

Apparently, they’re all to blame for the company’s current woes. D1’s share price has tanked in the last year, from a high of £2.84 back in July to a low of 50p this week. The latest fall – a 40% drop on Friday after the company revealed that a refinery problem might force it to sack almost a third of its staff – was clearly the last straw for Watkin, who’s thrown his toys out of the pram in spectacular fashion by resigning in disgust.

This decline is nothing to do with D1’s strategy, you understand. Watkin reckons jatropha is the future of biodiesel (and he says Bill Clinton agrees with him), but the dullards in the City lump it in with inferior feedstocks like soya and rapeseed. In a statement, Watkin said that he had ‘become increasingly frustrated by the inability of the investment community, governments and NGOs to differentiate D1’s strategy’ from that of rival biodesel suppliers.

The AIM market also came in for some serious stick. Watkin told the Times that he was ‘sick to death’ of people short-selling AIM-listed businesses. ‘The majority of companies on AIM have had the stuffing kicked out of them,’ he growled. “People have been kicking the s*** out of the stock.’

But not everyone’s convinced by the merits of jatropha. Friends of the Earth told the Guardian that its trees were often grown in an unsustainable way and yields were often lower than expected. Oh, and it can apparently be poisonous to both humans and animals. Which is not ideal for a miracle fuel.

Watkin is unlikely to fade quietly into the background. A serial entrepreneur, he made a fortune during the dotcom boom with Just2clicks.com (even though it eventually failed) and has been starting businesses (with varying degrees of success) ever since. In fact, reports are already suggesting that he wants to put his money where his mouth is, by leading a buyout to take D1 private again.

And we’re glad about that, even if nobody else is – his shares might not be good value, but his anti-City rants certainly are...

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