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.

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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.

Weekly Blog Round Up

Biofuels are big in Iowa. So big in fact, that according to domesticfuel.com

Iowa State University will get $8 million of a $78 million U.S. Department of Energy grant to research and develop advanced biofuels.”

“These Iowa State research projects are paid for by stimulus bucks … the same money that is funding the $44 million to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Mo. (…..) and the $34 million (plus $8.4 million in non-federal, cost-share funding) that is going to the National Advanced Biofuels Consortium led by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash.”

Biofuels Digest is running a special update on biomass and algae. That is, they are showcasing meeting highlights, from the Pacific West Biomass Conference in Sacramento. One hot issue according to Biofuels Digest was the,

“conflicting definitions of biomass and what qualifies as a legitimate source or conversion process. The conflicts run across the standards for earning carbon credits and renewable energy credits, attaining the Renewables Portfolio Standard (for utilities), meeting AB32 carbon reduction goals, and meeting California Integrated Waste Management Board landfill diversion goals. These issues reach beyond California since the State’s standards strongly affect those of many other States.”

Other topics discussed were amplifying feedstocks, biomass investment, learning from one another, and diversity of the biomass industry cluster.

Green Inc. a New York Times blog writes about increased funding for biofuels. They have this to say,

The United States Department of Energy announced last week more than $80 million in financing from the economic stimulus package for a new national program dedicated to biofuels research.
The goal is not only to develop high energy, dense fuels, but also to figure out how to use existing infrastructure as much as possible to save costs, said John Holladay, head of biomass research at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, one of the groups leading the program.”

And that is why biotech innovation brings us hope for a better future.

Biotech in the Blogosphere

New Mexico is ready to develop a biofuels plan according to KRQE.com and the Associated Press,

They write,

“New Mexico’s elected officials want to develop a strategic plan to make the state a leader in the biofuels industry.

Gov. Bill Richardson said New Mexico is in a good position when it comes to biofuels, given its combination of economic policies, business infrastructure, natural resources and scientific expertise.

State leaders and the Southwestern Biofuels Association are planning a series of meetings over the next three months that will bring together dozens of experts from industry, science, education, agriculture and government to begin developing a roadmap for growing the state’s biofuels industry.

Officials expect to have a proposal completed by mid-April. The public will have an opportunity to comment on the plan.”

We look forward to seeing that proposal and will keep you posted.

Automotive.com takes on the topic of algae

in, “Algae-based Biofuels faster to produce than Conventional Ethanol, E85, Biodiesel”

Algae is fast becoming a new area in industrial and environmental technology, with wide ranging possibilities. Stay tuned to our site for updates in the area.