Reflections on Advanced Biofuels Markets Conference, San Francisco, November 8-10
by Stefaniya Becking (Advanced Biofuels USA) Advanced Biofuels Markets conference held in San Francisco on November 8-10 provided a great gateway to get plugged into the biofuels industry. The conference offered an excellent line-up of speakers and provided plenty of opportunities to start relationships and forge partnerships with people in the industry.
Three interconnected themes at this conference caught my attention.
The first theme was the message (I would even say a resolution) to have a business model that does not rely on subsidies or government support given the uncertainty in regulatory landscape and government subsidy programs. It was refreshing to hear the basic message (versus complaints about cuts) reiterated several times by leaders like Guido Ghisolfi (CEO at Beta Renewables S.p.A.), Lee Edwards (CEO at Virent), Yom-Tov Samia (CEO at IC Green Energy) and Mark Niederschulte (COO at INEOS Bio). This message was simple: make better and cheaper bio-based products.
The second theme was a palpable worry about securing capital. During the “Public and Private Finance and Investment” session of the conference, a number of strategies were discussed for project financing. Some strategies are common sense like keeping projects capital light by design to attract investors’ interest, other strategies are more ingenious like using export import banks for international projects (Cindy Thyfault, CEO at Westar) and establishing technology insurance to hedge the risk. Despite the frustration related to the sluggish economy, it is inspiring to see how the constraints bring innovation to bloom.
The third theme was the necessity to forge partnerships as a strategy to raise the capital and deal with feedstock security issues. Leaders like Alan Shaw (CEO at Codexis), Bob Walsh (CCO at ZeaChem) and D. Hunt Ramsbottom (CEO at Rentech Inc.) emphasized this message. It was interesting to hear the reflections on what makes a successful partnership. Not surprisingly, just like in marriage, compatibility is the key to the ultimate success. In this case, the compatibility as an umbrella term includes aligned interests, complimentary know-how and complimentary cultures.
As a person new to this field, I find this time incredibly exciting despite financial challenges facing the growth of this industry. This is the time when a number of companies have already operational pilot and/or demo plants and are planning to launch full-scale commercial plants in year 2012. This is a busy and risky time with the opportunity for great rewards on the not-too-distant horizon. READ MORE