Syntroleum will look to explore its options for its gas-to-liquids business, which turns natural gas into either conventional oil or diesel fuel, as well as its renewable energy business, which produces various technologies for recycling fuel and refining byproducts.

Syntroleum joins Denver-based BioFuel Energy Corp. as another alternative fuel producer to hand an investment banking mandate to Piper Jaffray this year in hopes of a sale. On March 27, Denver-based BioFuel Energy, which transforms corn into biodeisel fuel at its two plants in Fairmont,

Minn., and Wood River, Neb., retained Piper Jaffray's Halverson to lead an auction process for the company's assets. The decision came just after BioFuel said it had defaulted on about $8.2 million in debt.

But unlike BioFuel, which had about $188 million in total debt and just $9 million in cash on hand when it hired Piper, Syntroleum appears healthy. The company had just $1.1 million in liabilities as of Dec. 31, and almost $16 million in cash and cash equivalents. It has no near-term debt payments.

Investors were initially encouraged by the announcement, sending Syntroleum's shares up 2.3% Wednesday to a close of $7.55 per share.

Shares, however, have come down since and closed at $7.29 per share Thursday. Syntroleum has a market capitalization of about $73 million.

Written by Michael D. Brown

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