Are Manufacturers and Investors Looking for the Same Thing From Industrial Biotech?

The morning plenary session at BIO’s World Congress featured Jenny Cross from Mohawk Industries, makers of carpets, and Steven Mirshak of DuPont Tate & Lyle, suppliers of a biobased ingredient for Mohawk, discussing what consumers are looking for and how industrial biotech can meet their needs. Cross noted that their consumer research indicates that the typical consumer is looking for quality and durability, with price and “green” attributes coming second.

One point that Cross emphasized is that the carpet and flooring industry is a mature industry, with established (very old) capital infrastructure and well defined markets. To increase their revenue, the industry can’t raise prices — it must lower costs of production. So industrial biotech applications must fit into existing infrastructure without adding to capital costs.

Interestingly, in the lunch plenary with venture capital investors Michael Curry of Investeco Capital, Kef Kasdin of Battelle Ventures, Bill Lese of Braemar Energy Ventures, and Don Roberts of CIBC, all the speakers reiterated the search for capital-light opportunities. Following the recent economic downturn, venture capitalists are looking for companies with lower capital requirements and lower risks, which means they must have either lower up front costs or shorter timelines to return on the venture investment.

Roberts emphasized that recent IPOs — such as Gevo and Amyris — show good value by keeping capital costs low, ensuring steady low-cost raw material supplies, and planning to reach profitability quickly.

BIO World Congress Begins with Newsmakers

BIO’s 2011 World Congress got off to a strong start in Toronto, with news announcements from G2 BioChem and others throughout the morning.
The big news from BIO was the presentation of the George Washington Carver Award to Royal DSM CEO/Chairman Feike Sijbesma. Sijbesma discussed the evolution of DSM from a coal mining company to a chemical company and now to a global life sciences and materials company. For Sijbesma, this transformation mirrors the current Green Industrial Revolution.
Feike Sijbesma’s acceptance speech is available as written.

Download audio of speech: Royal DSM Chairman/CEO Feike Sijbesma Accepts the 2011 BIO George Washington Carver Award
As evidence of the Green Industrial Revolution, DSM announced plans to build a bio-succinic acid plant in partnership with Roquette. The plant would open in Italy in 2012 if all goes according to plan. BP announced investment in Verdezyne, a California company building a platform to produce adipic acid, which is a building block for nylon.
Genencor published the results of a new survey of consumer acceptance of biobased household products. In a survey of U.S. and Canadian consumers, from 30 to 40 percent of respondents indicated they have heard the term “biobased products.” More than two-thirds indicated they’d be willing to purchase them for their environmental sustainability, if they were comparable to non-biobased products on cost and effectiveness.

Pacific Rim Summit Focuses on Drop In Fuels for Military

BIO’s Pacific Rim Summit came to a close on Tuesday, but not before giving attendees a preview of what the industry expects to be two of the hottest trends for 2011, as recorded in a recent BIO/Biofuels Digest poll.

Department of Defense interest in biofuels is expected to increase, due to the national security implications of reliance on oil. As Chris Tindal, director of Operational Energy for the U.S. Navy, explained to attendees of the Summit, “While the Department of the Navy is a significant consumer of fuel, neither DoN nor DoD can affect the price of oil. Therefore, both are at the mercy of the market – both the stability of supplies and fluctuations in price.”

Tindal noted that the DoD used 119 million barrels of petroleum in FY08. The Blue Navy used 29.4 million barrels (not including Marine Corps). And the airline industry and the Department of Defense collectively consume 1.5 million barrels of jet fuel per day. The Navy has set a goal of replacing 50 percent of petroleum in the commercial fleet by 2015.

Tindal also noted that the Defense Energy Support Center and the Air Transport Association of America signed an Alternative Fuels Pact on March 19, 2010. The pact sets shared goals of spurring the development and deployment of commercially viable and environmentally friendly alternative aviation fuels.

Commercialization of Bioproducts
Paul Bryan, Biomass Program manager at the Department of Energy, gave some detail behind the second expected trend for 2011, that attention will be given to bioproducts and renewable chemicals in addition to biofuels. Bryan emphasized that we need to “develop technologies and supply chains to replace the whole barrel and all products made from crude today.” Because so many products are made from each barrel of petroleum, and biofuels displace a portion of each barrel, oil refineries have no incentive to make a shift.

If we reduce total petroleum usage as a percentage of one market, we need to think about how that impacts other markets. The most obvious issue is that we have to replace diesel and jet in proportion to gasoline, since their combined volume is approximately three-quarters that of gasoline, and their markets are projected to grow significantly faster than that for gasoline. But other products are important, too. The largest chunk of the ‘other products’ in the barrel is the petrochemical industry, virtually all of which is based on crude oil and natural gas.

Biofuels Digest Surveys Readers on 2011 Industry Trends

Biofuels Digest, the world’s most widely read biofuels daily, is asking readers to rank the trends that will drive the biofuels and biorefining industry in 2011. Will Congress debate new energy legislation? Which federal agency will support construction of the first commercial advanced biofuel biorefinery, USDA, DOE or DOD? How important will biobased products and renewable chemicals be as advanced biofuels producers look for an economically viable model?

BIO member companies weighed in to suggest the trends. Now, we’re encouraging everyone interested in the industry to read Biofuels Digest and rank the trends they think are most important.

BIO and Biofuels Digest will co-publish the top trends in coming weeks and continue watching throughout the coming year.

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.

Final Notes from BIO’s World Congress

On June 29 at BIO’s World Congress, Steen Riisgaard, CEO of Novozymes, and Stephen Tanda, Board Member of Royal DSM N.V., released a report from the World Economic Forum on The Future of Industrial Biorefineries. The report says that a biorefinery value chain could create revenue for agricultural inputs ($15 billion US), for biomass production ($89 billion), for biomass trading ($30 billion), for biorefining inputs ($10 billion), for biorefining fuels ($80 billion), for bioplastics ($6 billion) and for biomass power and heat ($65 billion) by 2020.

You can download and listen to the press conference Release of report on The Future of Industrial Biorefineries.

The highlight of the final day of the World Congress was a debate between Princeton Visiting Scholar Tim Searchinger and MSU Professor Bruce Dale, moderated by Univ. of Minnesota’s John Sheehan. Sheehan sought to explore both the strongest and weakest parts of the arguments for and against including an indirect land use penalty in the carbon lifecycle of biofuels and bioenergy. For him, the central question in the debate is whether or not the world is running out of land to use — for all purposes, not just agriculture — meaning that any new use, such as biofuels, inevitably causes a shift of use somewhere else.

For Searchinger, the central point is that the traditional lifecycle of biofuels and biomass energy accounts a credit for using carbon stored in crops and trees. Bioenergy, he argues, should only get credit for new sources of carbon that it creates or for using carbon that would have decayed and entered the atmosphere anyway, but never for carbon that is already stored.

Dale took an optimistic view that a switch to bioenergy — and away from petroleum — would spur the creation of additional carbon stores. This could be accomplished through increased productivity and yield on the same amount of land, for instance, and through regrowing of crops and biomass sources so that the credit given to bioenergy is repaid quickly.

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.