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Highlights from 2013 ABLC-Next; Hot Slides, Hot Perspectives, Parts I, II, III, IV and V

Submitted by on October 15, 2013 – 4:23 pmNo Comment

by Jim Lane (Biofuels Digest) As ABLC-Next concludes, here is the first installment in a review of the hottest slides, stories, intrigue and perspective from the Big Conversation amongst the bioeconomy’s elite.

… (see these slides and others  herehere,  herehere and here.)

Kef Kasdin, CEO, Proterro

Kasdin showed some of the fiurst images seen of the Proterro pilot system, which aims to produce low-cost sugars from CO2, sunlight and water. The system, which will be piloted in Florida, features a collapsible low-cost polyethylene cylinder where the patented cyanobacteria grow on vertical fabric panels, water and nutrients drain by gravity on panels, and CO2-augmented air, flue gas inflate the cylinder. Using off-the-shelf materials, the systemn is designed to produce sugars at rates of 145 tons per acre per year — almost 30 times the rate of sugarcane — with no cellulose, hemicellulose or lignin to remove.

Graham Noyes, Partner, Stoel Rives

A highlight for conference delegates, a copy of “The Law of Biorefineries and Advanced Biofuels: A Guide to Business and Legal Issues.” This guide draws on Steol Rives’ experience in first-generation biofuels while focusing on the particular challenges and legal issues facing next-generation biofuels and biochemicals. It’s available for free download here.

Doug Rivers, Director, ICM

Rivers pointed attention from the debate between first-generation biofuels and second-generation, by highlighting the ICM generation 1.5 and generation 1.75 approach – integrating cellulose at existing facilities. This technical approach provides up to 2.1 billion gallons of combined starch/cellulosic ethanol per year with 3.1+ gallons per bushel yield at existing grain ethanol plants. The approach reduces capex to $1.50-$2.50 per gallon — compared to 4-8X as much from greenfield design models.  READ MORE


Part II

Jay Keasling, CEO, JBEI

In a comprehensive keynote from the frontiers of synthetic biology and industrial biotech, Dr. Keasling (this year’s Carver Award winner for achievement in biotechnology) highlighted a major JBEI initiative in using synthetic biology to change the character of lignin inside plants. After noting the difficulties in accessing sugars for biomass processing due to lignin’s recalcitrance, and noting that efforts to simply reduce the amount of lignin in plants had resulted in less lignin but slower plant growth rates, Keasling highlighted a new approach based around “stops” introduced into the plant’s genetics.

Brian Foody, Iogen

In highlighting the importance of having a technology partner who has been through a full round of development of its technology to prove it under robust operating conditions, Iogen COE Brian Foody took the prize for “telling it like it is” at ABLC-Next with a series of slides on the theme of “you have a hot cellulosic technology, now what could possibly go wrong” — looking at all the niggling, but must-solve problems that creep up in a new technology, outside of its core process but significantly affecting performance. Good news for fans of Iogen and Raizen, those problems are solved in the Iogen technology as the company heads for scale in Brazil.

Richard Hamilton, CEO, Ceres

Among the several presentations on feedstock technologies at ABLC-Next, this slide stood out for making the case how best to introduce a new crop in a manner that can win fast adoption — in this case, developing an advanced sweet sorghum that can extend the traditional growing season for sugarcane producers and give them at-scale volumes of feedstock that provide for all-year-round sugar production.

Ceres is noted for its work on numerous crops, including switchgrass — but here’s a crop that doesn’t have to wait on the construction of an entire new value chain, in the form of new cellulosic biofuels capacity. Accelerating to market, and finding interim strategies to prove technology and generate cash — a strong theme at ABLC-Next this year, and sweet sorghum is being seen as a real break-out star technology of this type.

Tim Zenk, Vice President, Corporate Affairs, Sapphire Energy

In an overview of algae and its reception in Washington and other capitals, Zenk offered up a compelling slide asking why a goldfish counts on the list of USDA-approved statutory commodities — but algae farms like the Sapphire Energy Green Crude Farm do not.   READ MORE


Part III

The Voices in the Conversation — giving you their outlook on the most important issues and trends:

Christophe Schilling, CEO of the Hot 30 #1 ranked company, Genomatica; Jim Rekoske, head of UOP’s biobased business unit, Lee Edwards, CEO of Hot 50 and Hot 30-ranked Virent; Stephen Emmert, head of Boeing’s environmental strategy unit; Eric McAfee, CEO of Aemetis; REG’s Eric Bowen, VP of Corporate Business Development & Legal Affairs; Joel Velasco, SVP of External Relations at the Hot 50 and Hot 30-ranked Amyris; Bill Brady, CEO at Hot 50 perennial favorite Mascoma; and Han Chen, CEO of Algenetix and a partner in Kapyon Ventures, a San Diego-based incubator and venture capital firm.

Jim Rekoske, head of UOP’s “All things bio” business unit


A perennially popular speaker at ABLC, on the floor and off, Rekoske this year used his time to primarily highlight work done by a UOP partner, AltAir, which is retrofitting an existing petroleum refinery near Los Angeles to add 30 million gallons in advanced biofuels capacity, with United agreeing to a 15 million gallon offtake and deliveries expected to commence in 2014.

Lee Edwards, CEO of Hot 50 and Hot 30-ranked Virent


Though Virent is primarily known in the advanced biofuels world for its partnership with and investment from Shell, and its partnership with and investment from Coca-Cola on the chemicals side — CEO Lee Edwards had this slide highlighting work Virent has running with three DOE-organized consortia.

In this case, the National Advanced Biofuels Consortium, and Project Blackbird, part of a DOE biochemicals initiative, and Project Phoenix, part of a DOE thermochemical initiative aimed at paraxylene, and benzene. One of Virent’s most appealing aspects has been its ability to stretch its equity by fitting in to a series of DOE consortia and initiatives that add R&D capital from DOE — as well as leveraging assets at partner companies and labs such as Catchlight Energy, LSU, INL and Iowa State.

It’s a theme that Kapyon Ventures partner Han Chen emphasized as a necessary component in a contemporary financing strategy for early-stage bioventures in this market — definitely a theme under the general subject of creative financing.

Eric McAfee, CEO of Aemetis

One of the tired clichés rolled out by incumbents when new technologies appear — not just in fuels, but almost any industry — is that costs will soar if sustainability is comprehensively addressed. That reducing carbon costs money.

True or false?

According to Eric McAfee – entirely untrue — using the real-world example of putting technologies in place at Aemetis that reduce carbon and cost.

In the case of a standard corn ethanol plant — 80 carbon units and 5 cents per gallon in profitability. With the introduction of milo and biogas at his Keyes, CA ethanol plant — carbon units are reduced almost by half, yet profit soars to $0.18 per gallon. An advanced technology under development that will utilize CO2 from fermentation to feed algae — well, McAfee projects it will reduce carbon by an additional 50%, yet raise profits as high as $2.24 per gallon.  READ MORE

Part IV

John Kasbaum, KiOR’s SVP of Commercialization

Roy Johnston, Director, Waste Management Corporate Venturing

Martin Mitchell, Business Development Manager, Clariant

Markus Pompejius, Head of Research Bioactive Materials and Biotechnology, BASF

Daphne Preuss, CEO, Chromatin

Eric Pryor, CFO, Fulcrum Bioenergy

Theodora Retsina, CEO, American Process

Alan Shaw, CEO, Calysta Energy

Bob Ames, VP, Fuels Commercialization, Solazyme

Rebecca Boudreaux, President, Oberon Fuels

Martin Mitchell, Business Development Manager, Clariant


One hopes that, with all the deployment of cellulosic biofuels technology that is underway, the cliché that cellulosics are “five years away” have been exploded forever. But…just in case, and for those just now bringing their technologies forward, Clariant provided an excellent roadmap in the “what it takes” and “how long it takes” department, in highlighting their cellulosic ethanol technology. Martin Mitchell, in this slide, encapsulated the key points — have a pilot plant operating for a long period, a demonstration plant running for an extended period (e.g. 12 months), ensure technology validation at that demonstration plant level, and have a technology-package ready for industrial scale. Do all that, from launch of the pilot to commercial-ready, in five years or less — and you are on the same timeline as the industry heavyweights.

Theodora Retsina, CEO, American Process


Although American Process has been most closely associated with its complete cellulosic biofuels package — of late, the company has been much in focus because of its capabilities in producing low-cost renewable sugars. Here in this slide, CEO Theodora Retsina highlights a complex chain of relationships that turns that sugar stream into a value stream. Thought it was a matter of making sugars and shipping them to an ethanol producer? Think again. In this case, retsina highlights opportunities for butanol and ethanol conversion from xylose and mannose. But glucose, she suggests, will go to the sugar markets and to chemical processors. And she highlights the advantages in co-locating with power plants for power & heat. In short, there’s an industrial symbiosis building up — where you can see power, renewable sugars separators, fuel biorefineries and chemical plants potentially sharing a central location, close to biomass feedstock and rail logistics.

Bob Ames, VP, Fuels Commercialization, Solazyme


Now, of late there has been a huge amount of attention on Solazyme’s higher-value products in cosmetics and longer-chain tailored oils — but what about its origins as a fuels technology. Still highly active — and in this slide, VP of Fuels Commercialization Bob Ames explodes a myth we have heard over and over: that fuels customers will not pay a premium for renewable fuels over fossil fuels.

Not true, says Ames. It may well be true that customers will not pay more for comparable attributes — but renewables do not have comparable attributes, as it turns out. In this slide, he goes through the head-to-head comparison.

Lower maintenance costs, reduced heat signature, high altitudes possible, longer flights possible, storage life in years instead of months, environmental advantages. All of these, he notes, translate into better operating conditions, improved market share, or lower costs for airlines. Why wouldn’t they pay more to make more? The evidence is growing, says Ames, that they will pay more for proven overall savings or reduced risk, whether that savings comes strictly off the fuel bill or is realized elsewhere in their operations.   READ MORE


Part V

Brent Erickson, EVP & Head, Environmental & Industrial Biotechnology Section, BIO

Brooke Coleman, Executive Director, Advanced Ethanol Council

Mike McAdams, President, Advanced Biofuels Association

Lauren Harmon, VP, Government Relations, LanzaTech

Chris Tindal, Director for Operational Energy, US Navy

Paul Bryan, former DOE Biomass Program chief

Chris Groobey, Partner, Wilson, Sonsini

John May, Managing Director, Stern Brothers

Mark Riedy, Partner, Kilpatrick Townsend

Steve Watson, Head of Product Management, Elsevier Biofuel


Brent Erickson, EVP & Head, Environmental & Industrial Biotechnology Section, BIO


One of the bright surprises of 2013? The revival of E85 ethanol as a strategy for compliance with the Renewable Fuel Standard. Much of that is being driven by high fuel prices and low corn prices.

Brooke Coleman, Executive Director, Advanced Ethanol Council


Remember taxes — that’s the message from the Advanced Ethanol Council’s Brooke Coleman, who notes that tax policy has traditionally driven new energy adoption. In this case, Coleman adds that the industry has something important to defend (the Production Tax Credit) and much on the table that might be gained — for example, access to Master Limited Partnerships that could open up a new channel of investment for biofuels project deployment.

Chris Tindal, Director for Operational Energy, US Navy


Speaking of good news, the Navy’s Chris Tindal reports in this slide the basic thrust of US Navy policy on green fuels adoption — and the news is good. One supposes that the Navy has more experience with weathering adversity in pursuit of long-term goals and victories.


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