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.

Where is BIO: Amy Ehlers, Advanced Biofuels Technology Trends and Policy Opportunities

Last week, Amy Ehlers, Policy Manager in BIO’s Industrial and Environmental Section, gave a presentation in the Sustainability and the Environment track at the 2010 DOE Biomass Conference in Washington, DC. The title of the panel was: A look at the effect of Federal climate change legislation on the bioenergy sector and the title of her presentation was: Advanced Biofuels Technology Trends and Policy Opportunities. The session was moderated by Liz Marshall, Resource Economist, Biofuels Production and Policy Project, World Resources Institute and other panelists included Brent Yacobucci, Specialist in Energy and Environmental Policy, Congressional Research Service, Nathanael Greene, Director of Renewable Energy Policy, Natural Resources Defense Council and Dr. Adam Liska, Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Systems Engineering, University of Nebraska.

Ms. Ehlers highlighted industrial biotechnology as the key enabling technology for producing biofuels and biobased products like bioplastics and renewable chemicals to aid in reducing our dependence on foreign sources of oil, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Industrial biotechnology is the application of life sciences to improve traditional manufacturing and chemical synthesis manufacturing processes by using micro-organisms like bacteria and fungi as well as enzymes to improve manufacturing processes and make new “biobased” products and materials, including biofuels, from renewable feedstocks. Our member companies are using this technology to improve the yield, efficiency and energy inputs in first generation biofuels production, develop new feedstocks such as purpose-grown energy crops, broaden the use of algae technologies, make advancements in end molecule diversification for fuels and increase focus on renewable chemicals and bioproducts.

Currently there are over 40 planned or pilot production biorefineries all over the United States. The total job creation potential for the biofuels industry could reach 123,000 in 2012, 383,000 in 2016, and 807,000 by 2022 if the 36 billion gallon renewable fuel standard is met. In addition, industrial biotechnology can save the world up to 2.5 billion tons of CO2 per year. EPA’s analysis for the renewable fuel standards found that cellulosic biofuels reduce emissions by 110% compared to the gasoline baseline.

However, to realize the potential of this technology, there are serious issues that need to be addressed. For example: The issue of indirect land use change needs a conclusive policy approach; cap and trade legislation needs carbon accounting for advanced biofuels; financing policy needs programs that de-risk invest and tax incentives; and to advance the technology and product diversity we need a variety of feedstocks, conversion technologies, and products to achieve relevance and sustainability.

The benefits on all fronts reach far beyond ethanol, even beyond biofuels. The integrated biorefinery is the goal. Similar to a petroleum refinery, the integrated biorefinery has one feedstock going in, multiple products coming out. The benefits are numerous: an economic business model, energy efficient facilities, lowering dependence on foreign oil, lowering fuels, products and chemicals prices, boosting regional/rural economies, creating thousands of new permanent jobs and significantly reducing green house gas emissions compared to petroleum counterparts.

Finally Ms. Ehlers recommended that as the federal and several state governments contemplate and draft comprehensive climate change legislation and regulations, it’s important to keep in mind the benefits of industrial biotechnologies, biofuels and bioproducts and not inadvertently deter commercialization of some of the most promising greenhouse gas reduction technologies ready to be deployed. Specifically, biofuels should not be reregulated in a carbon regime as they are already regulated under the renewable fuel standard and biobased products need to be recognized and treated equally as these products provide green house gas emission reduction benefits by replacing petroleum use. Also, with regard to bio-power we need to consider how biomass feedstocks used for electricity be regulated in climate legislation, will biopower feedstocks be held responsible for indirect land use change like biofuels and how this could affect feedstock pricing for biofuels and biobased products. In closing, Ms. Ehlers reminded the audience that you can’t have a low carbon future without significant contributions from the biofuels and bioproducts industries.

From Pacific Rim Summit: Specialty Crops, Renewable Feedstocks & Sustainability

This panel on the second day of the Summit consisted of Richard Gustafson from the University of Washington, Gillian Madill, an independent consultant representing views of the environmental NGO community and John Sheehan, from the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota.

While Mr. Gustafson and Mr. Sheehan gave informative talks on lifecycle assessment modeling and sustainability issues, Ms. Madill lit up the room with her talk titled, “Environmental Concerns with Energy Biotechnologies.” Ms. Madill started the conversation with the assertion that the environmental community and the biofuels community have the same goal, to supply energy in a new way that preserves the environment and our earth. Renewable energy and technology are tools to get to that end.

The environmental community has several valid concerns over widespread biofuels production. They see biofuels as a transition technology on our way to an energy future less dependent on liquid fuels, some would say zero liquid fuels. Zero because of the belief that no biofuels are carbon neutral. The question asked by environmental groups is, Why incentivize an unsustainable industry? Some concerns raised by Ms. Madill on behalf of the environmental community include deforestation of sensitive lands such as rain forests, environmental degradation, incorporation and containment of genetically engineered crops and organisms and intellectual property protection.

The biofuels industry plans to be a sustainable industry, but it is a new industry on the verge of commercialization with a formidable competitor. Ms. Madill’s point was that the environmental community and industry, while striving for some common goals, are currently at odds.

As I expressed to Ms. Madill, at the heart of this debate is the fact that most of the controversy centers around land use and protecting sensitive ecosystems. If biofuels went away tomorrow, other industries would compete for those same sensitive areas. After all, solar and wind farms require significant acreage as well, not to mention building schools or highways or the new grocery store that just opened in your neighborhood. Any industry that has a footprint will at some point, one can only assume in a future low carbon world, be mandated to quantify their lifecycle assessment, including land use and potentially indirect international land use, as biofuels are today.

My suggestion would be to partner to serve the common goal, protection of our vital and sensitive areas and resources which are important and treasured by all.

Wrong Question: Can Biofuels Be Carbon Friendly?

The Science Insider blog last week hosted an interesting debate between Tim Searchinger, Princeton visiting scholar, and John Sheehan, of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, regarding the recent policy proposal in the pages of Science by Searchinger et al. to “fix” the carbon accounting of biomass for bioenergy and biofuels in U.S. legislation and the successor to the Kyoto protocol, by giving credit only to biomass that can be managed in such a way as to sequester additional atmospheric carbon in the soil. As Searchinger puts it in the recent debate, “bioenergy only reduces greenhouse gases if it results from additional plant growth or in some other way uses carbon that would not otherwise be stored.”

To be sure, use of bioenergy can only reduce the overall level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by sequestering carbon in the soil (in root systems). And yes, individual biofuel or bioenergy producers could use only new biomass that has recently pulled carbon from the atmosphere (although other environmentalists may differ on that) or biomass that would otherwise be left to decay and emit the stored carbon anyway. The question then is whether there is enough of this type of biomass to meet energy needs.

But that is not the point of the current Kyoto protocol or of U.S. cap-and-trade legislation. Their shared goal is to reduce overall GHG emissions, over time, ideally lowering the cap until emissions reach equilibrium.

Searchinger cites recent modeling studies to say that not employing his fix to global carbon accounting “would lead to the loss of most of the world’s natural forest because clearing those forests for bioenergy becomes one of the cost-effective means of complying with laws to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” However, the fossil fuel industries are certain to receive allowances under the U.S. legislation. Employing a carbon accounting model that treats biomass as equivalent to fossil fuel would definitely make continued reliance on fossil fuel the cost-effective alternative.

Another interesting response to the Searchinger et al article comes from Geoff Styles of the Energy Collective, who extends the carbon accounting argument to electric vehicles. All alternative energy sources can be opened up to particular scrutiny. What is needed is a truly accurate and balanced accounting of fossil fuel use to compare these arguments.

The only other political option would be to drastically cut use of all energy. Models do project that the current worldwide economic recession has brought about a reduction in climate emissions by cutting energy use.

Searchinger does note that biomass and biofuels have the potential to balance greenhouse gas emissions – depending on land management. A better question here is whether his models can show that fossil fuel use also has the potential to balance greenhouse gas emissions with proper land management.

Weekly Industrial and Environmental Bio Blog Roundup

This week we start off with a little Road Music, From Bluegrass to Switchgrass, from our colleagues at the Biofuels Center of North Carolina. They’ve put together a nice set of bluegrass pieces. To listen visit their web site.

Gas2.0 announces this week that BP could start selling biofuels in 2010, writing that,

“BP has partnered with Verenium to bring a commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol facility online next year to start bringing alternative fuels to a gas”

Wednesday, according to the Government Monitor,Tom Vilsack announced,

“the publication of nine additional BioPreferred product categories which will now be eligible for Federal procurement preference.”

Making, “more Than 1,000 Biobased Products Eligible For Federal Procurement,” the Monitor reports.

You can find USDA biopreferred on Twitter, and on the Web at:

So what’s the deal with this conversation on whether or not biofuels are carbon friendly? We at BIO have certainly have had a lot to say on the matter and you can find all our opinions on our biofuels page.

However, our opinions aside, the folks at the journal Science, where the initial study and follow-up policy paper were published say that they are giving us the inside story, by holding a moderated conversation between Tim Searchinger and John Sheehan—kind of interesting, take a look for yourself.

That’s all for this week. See you next week!

Record soy exports expose critical flaw in land use theory

As has been pointed out multiple times on this blog, there are serious flaws in the theory of indirect land use change (ILUC) and the models used to predict it. But that’s not where the flaws end. There are also significant errors in data. As National Biodiesel Board CEO Joe Jobe said in a recent interview regarding ILUC theory: The elements that are not predictions, that are known, quantifiable data are actually wrong.

Well, another piece of known, quantifiable data came out today and again it exposed the flaw of ILUC theory. As you can read from a Growth Energy policy briefing (pdf), the theory of ILUC is essentially that corn for ethanol displaces other crops, namely soy, and therefore farmers in Brazil cut down the rainforest to grow soy and fill the demand.

The problem is that the theory does not square with known, quantifiable data. The U.S. Soybean Export Council released export data for U.S. soy export marketing year 2008-2009, which ended September 30, 2009. It was the third record year of soybean exports in a row as exports increased 11% from the previous marketing year. These record exports come at the same time that ethanol production is rapidly increasing. If the theory of ILUC was correct, an increase in corn used for ethanol should result in a decrease of soy exports, not an increase. How much more data contradicting the theory do we need before we put this theory out to pasture?

Industrial and Environmental Biotech in the Blogosphere

This week we start off with a United Nations report that urges caution on biofuels. Green Inc, a New York Times blog writes,

“The study concluded that whether a biofuel is climate-friendly or not depends largely on whether it is based on crops or production residues. Biofuels of the latter category were generally considered beneficial for the environment, and generating electricity locally from waste materials was found — in most cases — to be more energy efficient than converting biomass to liquid fuels.”

This paper was also written about in the blog, Futurism Now, the post called, Biofuels Will Increase Global Warming According to Study

They explain,

“That is because the land required to plant fast-growing poplar trees and tropical grasses would displace food crops, and so drive deforestation to create more farmland, a powerful source of carbon emissions.”

Not so fast, check out the Sustainable Production of Biofuels.

And biofuels continues to be the topic of the week. The biofuel review writes this week about a report from the Imperial College of London. The report has an upbeat tone about the future of biofuels and The biofuel review ends their post with a quote from Clare Wenner, Head of Renewable Transport at the Renewable Energy Association that says,

“Imperial College London has verified the results which show that these fuels can be produced in a sustainable way. With the right legislative framework, including the implementation of environmental rules under the Directive, it will be possible to limit indirect land use effects. Land will always be used for food and fuel, and the overall balance of these impacts could be positive as far as food is concerned. In fact, it seems likely that wheat-based biofuels production will not affect the amount of wheat exported by the EU as a whole.”

Then it’s more biofuels from Creamer Media’s Engineering News

According to Engineering News,

“Pretreatment and gasification technologies are on the verge of making second-generation biofuels a commercial reality, according to new analysis from Frost & Sullivan, entitled ‘Worldwide Market Analysis of Second Generation Biofeedstock.”

Engineering news interviewed Frost & Sullivan senior research analyst Phani Raj Kumar Chinthapalli,

“The use of second-generation biofuels is expected to reduce 
the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG), particularly carbon 
dioxide (CO2), from combustion engines by 80% to 85% in comparison with conventional fossil fuels. The lifecycle emissions for second-generation biofuels are in the negative range, which implies consumption of CO2 rather than emission.”

That’s it for this week, see you next week.