Aviation Industry an Enormous Growth Challenge for Biofuels

To meet the demand for sustainable aviation biofuels with algae, the industry would have to build a new plant every month for the next 20 to 30 years, Biojet Corp. Chairman Chuck Fishel noted during Tuesday’s General Plenary Session at BIO’s World Congress.

Michael Lakeman of Boeing put forward a more cautious goal of meeting 1 percent of jet fuel demand with biofuels by 2015. That would still require 60 million gallons, though, and from Boeing’s perspective, they must be truly sustainable.

Fishel still worries whether the airline industry is an attractive market for algae and advanced biofuels. Biotech companies can make more money by pursuing low-volume, high-value chemicals than high-volume, low-value jet fuels. So would airlines be able to compete for these sustainable solutions?

Navy Director of Operational Energy Chris Tindal, however, is far more certain about the Defense Department’s needs for sustainable biofuels, particularly from algae. The Navy has set a goal of using 50 percent renewable energy by 2020 and launching the Great Green Fleet by 2016. Currently, the military uses about 2 percent of all energy used in the United States, with most of that represented by transportation fuels. So, it is a niche market, but one that still requires cost competitiveness as well as a sustainable level of greenhouse gas emissions.

Navy Asst. Sec. Chris Tindal Speaking at the 2011 BIO World Congress

Tindal also made clear that what the Navy wants is to be able to pull into ports around the world to refuel with biofuels. Relying on a single large producer of fuel and a long worldwide supply line would recreate one of the problems with the military’s reliance on oil.

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is on fire!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

The average container ship can carry about 4,500 containers. This blog was viewed about 20,000 times in 2010. If each view were a shipping container, your blog would have filled about 4 fully loaded ships.

In 2010, there were 27 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 158 posts. There were 10 pictures uploaded. That’s about a picture per month.

The busiest day of the year was June 29th with 186 views. The most popular post that day was Algae-Based Biofuels.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were bio.org, BIOtech-NOW.org, alternative-energy-news.info, corncommentary.com, and convention.bio.org.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for biofuels, biofuel energy, biofuels and climate change, industrial biotechnology, and advanced biofuels.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Algae-Based Biofuels June 2010
4 comments

2

GHG Lifecycle February 2008
3 comments

3

Biofuels Defined February 2008
11 comments

4

Biotech & Biofuels February 2008

5

Industrial Biotechnology: Biobased Products, Biofuels, and Synthetic Biology March 2010

The Latest in Advanced Biofuels and Climate Change

“Four more BIO interviews remaining in the pipeline (woohooo!). This one is my interview with Dennis McGrew, Genomatica’s new executive vice president of business development and chief business officer.”

So begins the post by Doris de Guzman of ICIS Green Chemicals .

Guzman interviewed Dennis McGrew, Genomatica’s new executive vice president of business development and chief business officer.

“Genomatica,” Guzman writes, announced at the BIO industrial biotech conference that it was able to achieved pilot-scale validation of its bio-based 1,4 butanediol (BDO) at 3,000 liter-batches, a 100-fold increase from lab scale within two months. The scale-up was performed at MBI, a not-for-profit technology company affiliated with Michigan State University’s BioEconomy Network.

The next step is another 10x scale up between 20,000 and 50,000 liters within the next several months. Genomatica plans to have an integrated demonstration facility to come online in the second half of 2011, and commercial production either late 2013 or early 2014 for their bio-BDO.”

“We’ve taken BDO through piloting and demonstration phase on our own but for other products in the pipeline, we’re looking to partner more early. Partners will help drive the selection of which products from amongst the other 19 chemicals that we can work on — that will be a primary criteria from which one of those to move forward,” said McGrew,

“Another update,” writes Guzman, ” is Genomatica confirming that they have shelved the bio-methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) project for now. McGrew said they were able to show proof of concept for the chemical in the course of 4 months but current market opportunity is not as compelling compared to BDO.”

“Genomatica started research on bio-MEK in the second half of 2008, when corn ethanol producers were being squeezed. At the time, the company expected to produce MEK from plants being idled by ethanol producers. The downtrend in global economy and change in ethanol economics have made the bio-MEK project not as attractive, said McGrew.  “We want to focus on driving BDO as quickly as possible instead of focusing to develop two projects simultaneously,” he added.”

Earth2tech announced their top 15 algae fuel start-ups

“Two and a half years ago we put together this cheat sheet on 15 algae fuel startups you need to know, which turned into one of our most popular posts of all time. But boy have things changed since then. In early 2008 GreenFuel Technologies was still in business, Aurora Algae (then called Aurora Biofuels) was still focusing on fuel, Petro Algae hadn’t yet filed for an S-1, and it was unclear then that Craig Venter’s Synthetic Genomics was going to become a dark horse in the algae fuel world. Here’s our updated 2010 version of our original 15 algae fuel startups bringing pond scum to fuel tanks.”

And they are….

1.  Solazyme

2.  Aurora Algae

3.  Synthetic Genomics

4.  Petro Algae

5.  Sapphire Energy

6.  Bioalgene

7.  Phycal

8.  Live Fuels

9.  Solix Biofuels

10.  Aquaflow

11.  Bionavitas

12.  Seambiotic

13.  Bodega Algae

14.  Algennol

15.  General Atomics

According to Solve Climate News

Another biofuel company is about ready to go public.  This time it’s Gevo.

“Colorado-based Gevo makes isobutanol, a second-generation biofuel that it says has a number of advantages over ethanol and biodiesel, including higher efficiency and the ability to be transported through existing pipelines. But the company’s proprietary technology produces and separates isobutanol using a fermentation process that still needs food crops like corn, wheat, sugar cane or sugar beets as a feedstock”

“With the promise of cellulosic ethanol — biofuel from non-food sources — still a distant vision, Gevo is hoping investors will see the $150 million initial public offering it announced this month as a smart bet that provides a bridge to the future.”

Solve Climate News writes,

“It’s [Gevo] banking on a business model that involves retrofitting existing ethanol plants, which it says can cut the time and capital required to get a production facility running.

“The technology they have is promising,” as is their plan to build upon existing facilities, Tammy Klein, assistant vice president of Hart Energy Consulting, told SolveClimate News. But ultimately, she said, the company’s decision to file for an IPO probably has more to do with tight credit markets and a lack of access to capital during the economic downturn than the strength of the biofuels sector as a whole.

“Raising capital is an issue,” Klein said. “That’s why Gevo is doing this.”

“For Gevo—which tallied $660,000 in revenue and $19.9 million in losses in 2009—and its brethren” writes Solve Climate News, “success may be a matter of riding out an initially tough market, according to a 2009 report by market research and consulting firm Pike Research.

“In the near term, the biofuels market looks like a train wreck,” Pike’s managing director Clint Wheelock said in a statement when the report was released. “The economics of ethanol and biodiesel are not yet competitive with petro fuels, and governments have pulled back some of their support.

“However, in the 10 to 15 year timeframe, the outlook remains very positive. The long-term commitment of national governments to foster robust biofuels markets remains solid, and technological advances and economies of scale will dramatically improve the economics of biofuels versus petroleum.”

In Pennsylvania things aren’t looking up for biofuels.

According to Erin Voegele of Biodiesel Magazine,

“Legislation currently pending in Pennsylvania could negatively impact the state’s biodiesel industry. On Oct. 6, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives adopted an amendment, SB 901, which seeks to impose a new fuel tax on businesses that sell biodiesel fuel by amending the state’s Biofuel Development and In-State Production Incentive Act of 2008.”

According to John Kulik, executive vice president of the Pennsylvania Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, the amendment would levy a new fee, or tax, on companies that sell biodiesel within the state. Under the amendment, each convenience store, service station, truck stop or other retail location selling biodiesel would be required to pay a new $100 fee in addition to existing local, state and federal fees and taxes.

According to information released by PPMCSA, some of its members have also expressed concern over a $5,000 blender fee contained in the proposal. The association notes that the new fee could severely impact its members’ ability to import regular diesel and blend biodiesel from surrounding states, which could have a significant impact on fuel distribution patterns and the price of fuel.

The amended legislation establishes a total of four of these registration fees:

  • $5,000 for each biodiesel manufacturing facility within the state
  • $5,000 for each location within the state where biodiesel is blended
  • $100 for a person, other than a person that operates at a biodiesel production or blending facility, that sells, offers sale or otherwise transfers biodiesel or a biodiesel blend within the state, whether or not the that person operates a location within Pennsylvania where such activities are conducted
  • $100 for each location, in excess of one, within Pennsylvania where a registered person sells, offers for sale or otherwise transfers title of biodiesel or a biodiesel blend

Odd Coalition Warns Capitol Hill About Synthetic Biology

Friends of the Earth joined forces today with the University of North Dakota’s Energy and Environmental Research Center, a well-known advocate of clean coal technology, to present a new report on Synthetic Biology to Congressional staffers. While the report specifically vilifies the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), representatives of BIO, including myself, were physically barred from attending the presentation.
The report contains a great deal of factual information about progress in synthetic biology and algae research, along with an accurate depiction of many groups’ and countries’ shared vision for a bioeconomy. But unfortunately, the information is garbled within an anti-corporate, anti-science and anti-biotech agenda, coupled with a failure to distinguish between technologies that are in use today and merely theoretical discussions at university labs.

Video of Plenary Sessions from BIO’s World Congress

BIO’s World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology held 6 plenary sessions, featuring Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and DOE Asst. Secretary Cathy Zoi. Additionally, a World Economic Forum report on the Future of Industrial Biorefineries, detailing the potential economic contribution that industrial biotechnology can make, was presented by Novozymes CEO Steen Riisgaard. And a survey of the industrial biotech and advanced biofuel industry by McKinsey & Co. took the pulse of executives in the industry.

In the June 28 plenary session, DOE Asst. Sec. Zoi announces funding totaling $24 million for three algae biofuel research consortia.

During the June 29 plenary session, Ag. Sec. Vilsack indicated that the Obama administration supports biofuel development as a means of boosting rural employment and economic development.

Novozymes CEO Riisgaard followed Vilsack, saying that “converting biomass into fuels, energy, and chemicals has the potential to generate upwards of $230 billion to the global economy by 2020.”

Earlier that day, McKinsey & Co.’s Raoul Oberman presented the findings of a survey of the industry, including that more than half of respondents said there is currently insufficient capital to support growth of the industry.

World Congress on Industrial Biotech Begins in Washington

On the opening day of BIO’s World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing in Washington, DC, new announcements came from the Department of Energy, ZeaChem, Elevance and DSM.

The DOE’s Assistant Secretary Cathy Zoi, head of the office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, announced funding of $24 million for three research groups addressing key hurdles in commercializaiton of algae. The money will be split among the Sustainable Algal Biofuels Consortium, the Consortium for Algal Biofuels Commercialization, and Cellana, LLC Consortium.

The DOE also released the National Algal Biofuels Technology Roadmap.

Elevance announced a joint venture with Wilmar International to build a commercial-scale manufacturing facility in Surabaya, Indonesia with an initial capacity of approximately 400 million pounds of its renewable waxes and oils. The facility will be located within Wilmar’s new integrated manufacturing complex now under construction and is expected to come online in 2011.

DSM announced formation of a joint venture with Roquette Freres — to be called Reverdia V.o.f. and to be headquartered in the Netherlands. The venture will combine Roquette’s sugars with DSM’s fermentation technology to produce succinic acid, which is a building block chemical for nylon and other plastics. This follows another French succinic acid plant, Bio Amber.

ZeaChem announced achievement of milestones in scaling up their biorefinery process.

A session at the World Congress focused on commercialization of algae biofuels, with DOW, UOP Honeywell, Raytheon, and HR BioPetroleum presenting updates on the partnerships they’ve formed. The discussion turned to jet fuels and chemicals as way to ensure any algal process is sustainable — it can ensure economic viability and reuse of all byproducts.

Algae-Based Biofuels

Last week the Triplepundit wrote a post called, Breaking the Cost Barrier on Algae-based Biofuels.  The piece noted that the technology was promising and then provided a summary of where things are today

And just where are things?  Today biofuel companies are currently seeking to scale the commercial production of algae and are pursuing several engineering approaches to the design of an economical system for growing algae. The industry is also investigating use of closed systems and open pond systems. In closed systems, engineers can precisely regulate algae growth conditions. Closed systems include both photobioreactors for photosynthetic algae strains and traditional bioreactors (enclosed tanks such as those used in other microbial growth) for those, such as cyanobacteria, that do not require sunlight. Open pond systems have been used in many settings, but can be sensitive to various environmental factors, such as contamination by other algae strains, or variations in nutrients, heat and light. Pond systems covered by thin plastic films and combination closed/open systems are being developed to control these factors.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is working with teams led by Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) and General Atomics to produce cost-effective military jet fuel (JP-8) from algae. Testing is expected to begin in 2011. The Navy’s Defense Energy Support Center has also purchased and begun testing algae-derived diesel distillates from Solazyme. And Continental Airlines and Japan Airlines have successfully tested Jet A from Sapphire Energy and UOP Renewables in commercial jets, including Boeing 737 and 747 planes.