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.

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.

DOE Awards Grants to Biofuel, Chemical Biorefineries

Last month, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced 19 biomass projects that would receive renewable energy grants under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The list included 14 pilot, 4 demonstration, and 1 commercial-scale project, receiving a total of $561 million in grants ranging in size from $2.5 million to $81 million. The projects will be located in 15 different states.

Additionally, Vilsack announced a $54.5 million Biorefinery Assistance Program loan guarantee for Sapphire Energy, one of the projects that received a grant to turn algae into jet fuel and diesel. The project will be constructed in Columbus, New Mexico.

Most interesting about the list is that it is not limited to liquid transportation biofuels. Many of the projects will co-produce renewable chemicals — specifically mentioned are plans to produce potassium acetate, ethyl acrylate, and succinic acid.

The grants are intended to underwrite an equal share of private investment in the projects. That may confound the prediction of Seeking Alpha’s Neil Dikeman, who predicts, “The last petal of the last bloom off the biofuel rose falls by the anniversary of Pearl Harbor in 2010.” While small biofuels producers may not have “the horsepower, expertise, or balance sheet” to compete against the oil giants, the production of renewable and specialty chemicals may provide a handhold in the market.

Pacific Rim Summit: Renewable Chemicals

Two companies commercializing different techniques to produce chemicals from renewable resources gave presentations this morning at BIO’s Pacific Rim Summit.

Christophe Schilling, CEO of Genomatica in San Diego, outlined the company’s strategy for making butanediol (BDO) directly from sugars. BDO is a polymer used in things such as spandex, betadine, and car parts including tires. Genomatica says its process uses 30 percent less energy, reduces CO2 and GHG emissions, and produces a 40-60 percent saving in capital expenditures. Plus, there is a $3 billion existing market.

Sam McConnell of Myriant described his company’s strategy for making succinic acid, which is a chemical intermediate that can be converted into many other products. Myriant is partnering with the University of Florida and Buckeye Technologies on a plant in Perry, Fla., which they project to be completed in 2010. The output of the plant is already 80 percent sold, according to McConnell.

A recording of the session is available from bio.org.

Webinars for Reporters: Pacific Rim Summit to Host Forums on Algae, Cellulosic Biofuels and Renewable Chemicals

BIO will host three webinars from the Pacific Rim Summit on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy in Honolulu, featuring companies, researchers, and policy makers at the forefront of efforts to commercialize algae applications, cellulosic biofuels, and renewable chemicals.

1.International Developments in Algae Commercialization
Valerie Reed, U.S. Department of Energy;
Patrick McGinn, Institute of Marine Biosciences, National Research Council, Canada;
Ravi Shrivastava, Defence Research Development Organization, India.
Monday Nov. 9, 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. EST
(12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. PST
10:00 a.m to 11:30 a.m HST)

2.Meeting the Challenges of Commercializing Cellulosic Ethanol
William Baum, Verenium Corporation, http://www.verenium.com;
Kevin Gray, Qteros, http://www.qteros.com;
James Imbler, ZeaChem, Inc., http://www.zeachem.com.
Tuesday Nov. 10, 2:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. EST
(11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. PST
9:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. HST)

3.Commercialization of Renewable Chemicals
Christophe Schilling, Genomatica, http://www.genomatica.com;
Steven J. Gatto, Myriant Technologies, LLC, http://www.myriant.com;
Bhima Vijayendran, Battelle Memorial Institute, http://www.battelle.org.
Wednesday Nov. 11, 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. EST
(11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. PST
9:00 a.m to 10:30 a.m HST)

RSVP: A password will be required to participate in each webinar. The webinars will be available at https://biotechnology.webex.com/biotechnology. To reserve space and receive password instructions, please contact Paul Winters, Communications Director, BIO at 202-962-9237 or pwinters@bio.org.
These sessions are presented live from the 2009 Pacific Rim Summit on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy, being held Nov. 8-11, 2009 in Honolulu. The Pacific Rim Summit is the only global conference dedicated to building innovative collaborations in industrial biotechnology across the Pacific. http://www.bio.org/pacrim/.