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.

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BIO’s Pacific Rim Summit Kicks Off with Discussion of Synthetic Biology

BIO’s Brent Erickson, host of the Pacific Rim Summit on Industrial Biotechnology, welcomed attendees to the opening plenary session with some observations about trends developing for the coming year. “I have been involved in industrial biotechnology for over a decade now and the changes I have witnessed over the past five years are sweeping, extraordinary and encouraging,” Erickson said. The trends that he identified in his remarks include:

  • Industrial biotech is spreading globally, and some of the most robust commercial developments are occurring in Asia;
  • Despite the global economic challenges all companies face, significant investments are still being made in industrial biotechnologies and processes;
  • As commercialization of large-scale biofuels facilities has slowed, due to financing constraints, commercialization of renewable chemical platforms has surged ahead;
  • Worldwide demand for oil will create even more demand for industrial biotech products over time, as oil prices continue to climb;
  • We are beginning to see new combinations of biocatalysis and conventional catalysis that will lead to exciting new renewable chemical processes;
  • Synthetic biology is a new engine for innovation and will increase the rate of innovation in the laboratory and reduce the time to commercialize new products.

Synthetic Biology BIOFAB Project

The Summit also hosted a session on a new BIOFAB project during the first full day. Dr. Drew Endy of Stanford led a discussion of the rapid pace of discovery in biotechnology and the challenge that presents for business models and safety and security networks, possibly requiring changes to current practices. Synthetic biology envisions reducing the the time and money spent on developing new biotechnology applications by allowing developers to work with DNA through a common programming language, analogous to computer programming, according to Endy. But that is an extraordinarily difficult thing to do.
The BIOFAB, according to Endy, is “a public-benefit facility producing the parts, tools & standards powering the future of biotechnology.” The first project of BIOFAB intends to question a central dogma of biology, that “one can construct, but not design, genomes.” Initial results are being generated, showing that a gene “expression operating unit” can be modeled with a high degree of predictability.

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.

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.

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.