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.

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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.

Chemurgy Is Back with a Vengeance

The Economist recently published two stories that succinctly make the case for continuing to reduce our reliance on oil. The more recent story outlines the use of industrial biotechnology for plastics, and another earlier story details research and development of biotech fuels that go beyond ethanol.

In “Better Living Through Chemurgy,” reporter Vijay Vaitheeswaran compares today’s industrial biotechnology companies with the chemurgy movement of Henry Ford, who sought to make cars and fuels from agricultural products, and George Washington Carver, who developed hundreds of industrial uses — paints, dyes, glues — for peanuts, sweet potatoes, and other crops that would diversify the cotton-dominated agricultural economy of the South. What’s new today, according to Vaitheeswaran, is

Advances in bioengineering, environmental worries, high oil prices and new ways to improve the performance of oil-based products using biotechnology have led to a revival of interest in using agricultural feedstocks to make plastics, paints, textile fibres and other industrial products that now come from oil.”

Why replace oil with agriculture?

The big advances in oil-based polymers happened decades ago, whereas the number of patents granted for industrial biotechnology now exceeds 20,000 per year. Such is the pace of innovation, says Tjerk de Ruiter, chief executive of Genencor, a industrial-biotech firm that is now a division of Denmark’s Danisco, that processes that once took five years now take just one. And Steen Riisgaard, the boss of Novozymes, insists that new technologies can indeed push old ones out of the way, provided they are clearly superior (and not just greener).

In an article just a week prior to Vaitheeswaran’s, reporter Geoff Carr surveyed the landscape of biotech fuels that are coming in the near future, in an article called, “Grow Your Own.” Carr calls an announcement by Amyris and Brazil’s Crystalsev to develop a new form of biotech diesel a parable about how “biotechnology may have cut its teeth on medicines, but the big bucks are likely to be in bulk chemicals. And few chemicals are bulkier than fuels.”

All parts of the chain of developing biofuels — feedstocks such as grasses, trees and algae, transformation of feedstock to sugar, and fermentation of the sugar into chemicals and fuels — are “the subjects of avid research and development,” according to Carr.

Carr concludes, “If America wants it, biofuel autarky looks more achievable than the oil-based sort.”