Biofuels industrials shift focus to waste, Asia as World Biofuels Markets 2012 opens

March 12, 2012 |

1500 industry leaders expected to gather in Rotterdam as oil prices, aviation dominate thinking on growth, in 100-leader industry survey.

World Biofuels Markets Industry Survey Results: A peek into the crystal ball for biofuels

by Nadim Chaudhry, CEO, Greenpower Conferences

As we gear up for the 2012 World Biofuels Markets event in Rotterdam, March 13-15, we asked more than 100 biofuels leaders to answer a few quick questions about their perspective for future of the biofuels industry. Their responses give us a look into a crystal ball for 2012 and onward.

In general, our respondents see a shift in feedstocks from crops to waste. They see the biggest growth opportunities for biofuels in Asia, but point to government policy and high oil prices as the triggers for continue global growth. Last, they see the commercial aviation industry as well as the US Military taking the lead in advancing aviation biofuels.

MSW gains momentum

We asked our leaders their thoughts on which next generation feedstocks they thought would be the most promising in 2012. The responses were fairly evenly split among municipal solid waste (MSW at 26%), Nonfood energy crops (such as camelina and jatropha at 24% and algae (at 20%). Cellulosic trailed slightly at about 17%.

The prominence of MSW suggesting that not only is waste ideal because it reduces landfill demand, methane gases and is a low cost feedstock, but also likely because  of promising advances in technology and commercialisation from companies such as Enerkem and Fulcrum Bioenergy. Although waste gas did not perform well (8 %), we consider that to be in the same general category, and with companies like LanzaTech launching pilot plants later this year, this category could come into play.

Close on the heels of MSW are the non-energy feedstocks like jatropha and camelina – the latter which has received significant testing and use by the US military and commercial airlines.  Many believe that because these projects don’t need additional R&D but rather just scale in production, they are viable near-term alternatives.  The responses suggest that 2012 could be the year that algae truly becomes an option, with several commercial pilot plants coming online this year we’ll know a lot more about the future of this promising feedstock.

Asia is the future

What about beyond 2012? Respondents were clear in their belief that the future investments in biofuels companies in the coming decade will be in Asia – with nearly half of recipients identifying this region. Europe (17%) and North America (15%) placed a distant second and third, respectively.

Our take? First, it’s simple math – economic development in Asia is increasing demand for energy and investment typically follows demand. But second, I also have to wonder if the political uncertainty surrounding clean energy development in the US and the environmental concerns about biofuels in Europe are dampening the investment climate in those regions.

In fact, we see some evidence of this in the responses to our question about which factor will most influence investments. By far and away the global price of oil is seen as the major driver, with 44 percent. But government mandates followed with more than 27 percent. We’re seeing mandates or policies in Asia spur development of clean energy, whereas in the US and Europe policies are subject to the forces of political parties that have not yet been able to fully commit to long term clean energy policies.  Of course, if oil prices continue their unprecedented rise, it’s possible that supportive alternative fuels policy could follow.

Aviation remains hot

One sector that is truly global is the aviation industry, and more than two of three respondents (68.7%) believe this industry will be most influential in driving use of biofuels in the future. The US Military, which has conducted significant tests of a range of biofuels and has committed to fueling half of its fleet with biofuels by 2020 was also seen as a major driver of use (22%).

Looking at the answers to these questions holistically, I think it’s safe to assume that the biofuels industry continues to evolve by creating new opportunities from breakthrough technologies, seizing existing opportunities created by economic growth and energy demand, and addressing environmental and economic challenges.

Nadim Chaudhry is the Founder and CEO of Green Power Conferences, the market leader in renewable energy conferences. He is passionate about sustainability and founded GPC in 2003 with a mission to help connect businesses, investors and policy makers to commercialise renewable energy technologies.

Official survey results will be released during the World Biofuels Markets and BioBased Chemicals conference, March 13-15 in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Follow Nadim and World Biofuels Markets on twitter @nadgreenpower and @wbmnews.

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