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.

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.

International Developments in Algae Commercialization

The Pacific Rim Summit on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy hosted a webinar to discuss U.S. and Canadian government efforts to support commercial development of algae for biofuels, chemicals, pharmaceutical and food ingredients, and the long list of applications being considered.

Valerie Reed of the U.S. Department of Energy, noted that the U.S. Economic Recovery Act provided $800 million for new and existing projects, with $480 million to be allocated to pilot- and demonstration-scale biorefineries that can produce advanced biofuels, bioproducts, and heat & power in an integrated system. Algae has the potential to be a big player in this selection, she said.

She also noted that Congress has directed the DOE to spend $35 million specifically on research, development and deployment of algae biofuels.

Patrick McGinn of Canada’s National Research Council, outlined Canadian programs to support research and development of biomass, including algae. The NRC is producing and experimenting with different pathways to convert algae to biofuels, with the goal of creating a high-quality data set on their overall yields, energy and carbon balances.

A recording of the webinar can be downloaded at bio.org.

You can also listen to a streaming version at http://www2.eintercall.com/moderator/presentation/Playback?id=4d83d2db-9c43-4011-a04d-25d13c5d0672.rpm.