The Bio-Buzz: Heard on the Floor at Bio Pac Rim

December 10, 2013 |

BIOAs the industrial biotechnology industry descends on the city where it can be safely said to have a home-court advantage, here’s what’s got people buzzing at BIO’s Pac Rim annual Summit.

In California, 400 industry leaders, a record for this event, are gathered in San Diego this week for BIO’s Pac Rim Summit, which has traveled as far as Vancouver, Malaysia and Hawaii in recent years but finds itself in sunny southernmost California just in time for a cold snap that has growers eyeing the thermometers with some trepidation. But if it was cold outside, a warm tone was set in the official welcome, from San Diego Congressman Scott Peters, a member of the Armed Services Committee, who noted that one-third of the San Diego economy is related in some way to biotechnology and a total of 220,000 jobs in all flow from the sector into the local economy. That’s a lot of fermenters.

Congressman Scott Peters

“Support in Washington for the bioeconomy tends to be more bipartisan than some other issues we work on,” reflected Peters. “The impact is felt all over the country — technology companies, growers, researchers, medical, fuels, chemicals, agriculture, manufacturing. “But DC is not exactly the center of change, there’s a small-c conservatism and a rigid cultural setting, and there’s a lot for Washington to learn about innovation. “About thinking about healthcare not just in terms of a spend, but the returns. Thinking about fuels that goes beyond a technology [petroleum] that was developed for the Model T. “How can we help? My experience is that smart researchers find money, but we work on helping form a recognition that basic scientific research and basic protection of intellectual property are fundamental to progress.” Asking specifically about topics like potential repeal of the Renewable Fuel Standard, Peters commented, “I have thought for some time that repeal is not very realistic. There’s a lot of inertia in Washington, as everyone knows, and inertia favors the legislation that is already there.” What about algae and the opportunities in biofuels, especially with the US Navy that continues to maintain a huge presence in San Diego? “We’ve had a huge champion in Navy Secretary Mabus, and Leon Panetta at defense when he was there. I think that Secretary Hagel is on board. What’s important to recognize is that the purpose of Armed Services interest biofuels and other renewables is not to hug trees, but to diversify its energy supply. It was interesting to me that I had a visit from the Marine Corps recently on energy. Their interest? Solar energy, and the opportunities they have in the field with those technologies and the increased mobility it can provide their forces.”


Fuels America and “defend the RFS” was on a lot of lips this week. BIO made a special note of encouraging companies to get active in Fuels America, which is leading a counter-offensive on the Hill. Among their tidbits? Speaking about chain restaurant owners who are opposing RFS2, Glover Park Group’s Jaafar Rizvi writes: “According to a September poll, 93% of Americans eat fast food. 87% of Americans believe the cost of oil/gasoline is a major factor driving food prices. Another large majority, 87%, agree that fast food restaurants should support cost-saving alternative fuels. Speaking of the Hill, Aventine Renewables president Mark Beemer , testifying on the Hill, “expressed frustration over possible wavering by the EPA over the Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) issue and feared that if the agency doesn’t make the obligated parties follow through, those obligated know they’ll have found a way to end-run the law. “Congress was fully informed of the blend-wall issue with RFS2 when it was established, that rising RIN values would be the stick, not the carrot, imbedded in the legislation that would incentivize the distribution of E85 and E15.”


The emphasis was heavily on Southeast Asia this week, as befits a conference focused on the Pacific Rim. A trio of panelists, Heliae CEO Dan Simon, Malaysian National Innovation Agency EVP Bas Melssen and Genomatica CEO Christophe Schilling took on the topic at the luncheon with veteran Burrill & Co venture capitalist Roger Wyse. Among the highlights to consider – abundant feedstock, fast-growing markets for proteins and chemicals as well as fuels, lack of options in low-cost natural gas, and a culture of partnerships including the public-private kind.

Sad news from Brazil

Shocking news swept the floor this afternoon that New Energy Farms president Dean Thiessen was murdered in Brazil. According to reports, Thiessen and NEF’s CEO Paul Carver were completing a business development tour in regional Brazilian, when their car was stopped by roadside bandits at gunpoint. Local sources told media that one of the robbers panicked and shot Thiessen when the biomass executive was unhooking his seatbelt to retrieve and hand over his wallet. Carver, who performed CPR in an attempt to keep Thiessen alive while help was summoned, survived the attack.

Proterro lands key patent for biosynthetic sugars

Proterro,  the only biofeedstock company that makes sugar instead of extracting it from crops or deconstructing cellulosic materials, has been issued a United States method patent protecting its unique biosynthetic process that combines transgenic sugar-producing cyanobacteria with a robust photobioreactor. Using only CO2, sunlight and water, Proterro dramatically lowers the cost of sugar production, unleashing the economic value of biofuels and biobased chemicals for industry partners. The process, which yields a fermentation ready sucrose stream, has proven to be 30 times more productive on an acreage basis than sugar cane. We expect to have more from Proterro CEO Kef Kasdin as the week unfolds.

Renmatix and Virent to partner on Bio-based Packaging

New Routes in Sustainable Chemistry Aim to Deliver Broader Supplies of Affordable Bioplastics Biobased packaging is indeed in the news this week as an early go-to-market opportunity for companies focused. If there was any doubt after an Evonik/ LanzaTech announce yesterday, Renmatix and Virent announced a strategic collaboration to convert affordable cellulosic sugars to renewable chemicals and bio-based packaging materials. Under the terms of the multi-phase development project, Renmatix’s Plantrose platform will be evaluated and potentially optimized to provide an affordable sugar stream for Virent’s Bioforming process for the large-scale production of bio-based paraxylene. Note: We expect to have more from both Virent and Renmatix on their progress towards commercialization on this and other fronts later this week.

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