The Hottest Slides from 2013 ABLC-Next, Part II: bioenergy’s biggest movers do their shaking

October 17, 2013 |

ABLCNext-hot-slides-2In California, ABLC-Next has concluded for this year — and the convergence of advanced biofuels leaders in R&D, commercialization, policy and finance will reconvene in Washington DC on April 21-23 of next year.

This week, we’ll be providing highlights from this years presentations. Today, part II of our look at the hottest slides from ABLC-Next.

Jay Keasling, CEO, JBEI

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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.

Fred Cannon, KiOR

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From a technology and progress towards commercialization point of view, KiOR’s had a pretty good year — bringing a technology from plant completion towards steady-state production. But with every slip along the way they’ve been roughed up by a set of critics who take the view that new technologies should produce no more disruptions than the average consumer might face in a McDonald’s drie-through. — it reminds us of how Ontario premier Bob Rae described his first year in office as “like learning the violin in public.”

In the mid-morning keynote on the conference’s first full opening day, KiOR CEO Fred Cannon presented this slide, outlining the typical challenges that advanced biofuels technologies and enterprises are hearing from critics. He encouraged companies to get out on the offensive, and have ready answers for typical questions — and provided them in this slide — noting that the objections are common to many early-stage technology companies, but “expectations are higher for our industry” he noted.

Arunas Chesonis, CEO, Sweetwater Energy

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One of the news highlights at ABLC — a joint venture between Naturally Scientific and Sweetwater Energy to establish an end-to-end solution for converting biomass, via sugars, to high-value oils. The approach combines Sweetwater’s renewable sugars technology and Naturally Scientific’s sugars-to-oils platform, which features continuous production using tissue culture technology. Too early to tell if the technology could work feasibly at economic scales — but Chesonis averred “it totally works, as a technology” — and, if successful, this would be a landmark in creating a new pathway for the production of high-value, tailored oils.

Vonnie Estes, Managing Director, GranBio

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Fort sheer magnitude of ambition and pace towards converting ambition into reality, no company made a stronger splash at ABLC-Next than GranBio — which also became the first company to vault into the Top 10 of the 50 Hottest Companies in Bioenergy in its first year. In this slide, GranBio’s US head, industry veteran Vonnie Estes, highlighted the $1.8 billion in planned investment by the company through 2020 — and, with the company backed by one of Brazil’s most prominent families, the Gradins — there’s a distinct sense of “reality” when we measure the overall industry response to GranBio’s plans on our “hype or reality” scale.

Brian Foody, Iogen

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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

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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.

Kirk Haney, CEO, SG Biofuels

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We thought this was a hot slide for, once again, demonstrating the value of a strong hybrid and biology program in new biomass crops. Global commodity crops such as corn, soybeans, rice and wheat have been on the receiving end of transformative technology investment for decades — but in the case of the “blunder crop of biofuels”, jatropha, it wasn’t really until companies like SGB starting applying traditional crop development business practices, such as establishing strong biology chops and intensifying yields through a world-class breeding and R&D program, that jatropha has finally begun to close in on delivering on its substantial promise. It’s a cautionary tale for all newer crops — in this slide, the benefits of doing the “hard yards of plant development” are obvious to see.

Tim Zenk, Vice President, Corporate Affairs, Sapphire Energy

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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.

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