Top 17 for 2017

December 23, 2017 |

2017 was a roller coaster year. There was a paradigm shift in biofuels, technology advancements, innovations abounded, politics chaotic. Some companies shut down and disappeared like the Hobo vanishing in the snow atop the Polar Express. Some companies showed leadership and stayed strong getting through any challenge, like the Hero Girl who proved to be a solid example for others to follow.

But in the end, biofuels are pushing forward – not necessarily like a high-speed, short-distance Acela Express train, but a steady, reliable, Superliner train that is in it for the long-haul. So sit back with a cup of hot cocoa, enjoy the view out your window, and take a ride with us as we look back on our 17 top stories of the year.

We’ll start with the most clicked on article published in 2017.

#1 Ethanol and biodiesel: dropping below the production cost of fossil fuels?

The most clicked on story from 2017 is all about money. Well, mostly. It’s about the price of oil and what that means for renewable fuels and biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel. It looked at the cost for a barrel of oil and what it tells us about renewable fuel credit markets and actual carbon and fuel markets.

#2 Heat Death: Joule Unlimited collapses as oil prices flag, time passes, pressure mounts

Bad news sells well, they say, and in this case bad news about Joule Unlimited led to it being one of the Digest’s most clicked on stories of the year. One of the more striking outcomes from the DOE Bioeconomy 2017 conference in Washington D.C. was confirmation of the demise of Joule Unlimited. So there you have it, the Polar Express scene where the train spirals downward and slips all over the ice was intense, but they got back on track. Sadly, that didn’t happen for Joule and it vanished like the Hobo disappeared into magical dust.

#3 DowDuPont to exit cellulosic biofuels business

Another of the year’s top stories was DowDuPont’s announcement that it intends to sell its cellulosic biofuels business and its first commercial project, a 30 million gallon per year cellulosic ethanol plant in Nevada, Iowa. We talked about how DowDuPont must shift focus to finding a buyer for the cellulosic business and building on its strong business lines in enzymes, yeasts and biomaterials that will keep it chugging away as a major player going forward.

#4 Shell goes carbon negative, signs commercial-scale deal with SBI

Shell made big news with their announcement of going carbon negative and their deal with SBI Bioenergy giving it access to a fuel that emits Minus 14 grams of CO2 per megajoule of energy. That means the atmosphere gets less carbon, with every mile you drive. You motor your way to a global emissions solution. Bet the Polar Express Conductor would have liked a carbon negative train to replace that CO2 emitting Baldwin 2-8-4 locomotive.

#5 50 Hottest Companies in the Advanced Bioeconomy 2017

Like the coal fire powering the Polar Express train, these companies are hot! One of our most popular pieces are all about the 50 Hottest Companies in the Advanced Bioeconomy, as voted by the invited international Selectors and subscribers of The Digest. Lanzatech came out on top with the #1 spot.

#6 Ethanol battle escalates amid rumors of RFA-Icahn deal

A division within the ethanol industry early in 2017 caught the eye of our readers with rumors of a deal that surfaced between the Renewable Fuels Association and Carl Icahn, shifting renewable fuel obligations away from oil refiners, in return for Icahn’s support for a Reid Vapor Pressure waiver for E15 ethanol that has been holding up efforts to expand the market for ethanol.

#7 The Top 100 People in the Advanced Bioeconomy 2017

People are interesting, and people were interested in our article about people. So check out the top 100 people in the advanced bioeconomy for 2017 – maybe you are on the list! And hey, if not, maybe you are at least on Santa’s good list. And there’s always next year!

#8 Beta Renewables in cellulosic ethanol crisis, as Grupo M&G parent files for restructuring

Another bad news day that caught Digest readers’ eyes was the Crescentino cellulosic refinery built and operated by Grupo M&G, which was the world’s first commercial-scale refinery. It was to be shut down as a part of a restructuring effort for the debt-laden parent company.

#9 ENVIA Energy’s GTL plant is underway, produces first biofuels

A special article about a special project sourcing landfill gas and waste biomass made headlines in 2017. Back in February in Oklahoma, the team behind the ENVIA Energy gas-to-liquids plant confirmed that the first Fischer-Tropsch product was successfully produced at the company’s first commercial-scale plant in Oklahoma City.

#10 Breaking the Bottleneck – POET-DSM achieves cellulosic biofuel breakthrough

The Digest reported quite a bit on POET over the years, but in November, POET made a huge announcement about achieving a breakthrough in cellulosic biofuels production. The company solved the critical challenge in pretreatment, overcoming what has been a top hurdle to commercialization for producers around the world. With the newly installed pretreatment system, POET is now fine-tuning downstream processes and preparing for future licensing efforts that will spread this technology around the world.

#11 Fermentation Frontiers: Top 10 Trendlines in industrial biotech fermentation

Readers loved our bubbly fermentation article about the fervent ferment in fermentation these days. The Top 10 Trendlines that emerged in the headlines for this piece included Genomatica’s 1,3 butylene glycol, Cargill and Evolva next-gen sweeteners, cellulosic projection shift at EPA, feedstock advances, new processes and organisms and much more.

#12 Biofuels: ethanol’s growth is spelled I-N-D-I-A

This article looked at where ethanol growth would come from this year, as exports to China were expected to drop. While we didn’t consider the North Pole, we looked at Canada, Brazil and China but found opportunity in India, as ambition in India for renewables so far outstrips — by a country mile — the production reality.

#13 Diamond Green Diesel expanding to 275M gallon capacity to meet booming renewable diesel demand

Lucky #13 was an exciting announcement that Diamond Green Diesel facility in Norco, Louisiana was expanding its annual production capacity of renewable diesel from 10,000 barrels per day to 18,000 bpd (275 million gallons per year), using Honeywell UOP’s Ecofining process technology, with expected completion of the expansion in the second quarter of 2018.

#14 Thailand announces $11.3 billion 10-year plan to build sugarcane and cassava bioeconomy

Here we analyzed the news from Thailand’s government that they were launching a 10-year plan to build a bioeconomy hub for the region with private and public-sector investment expected to reach $11.3 billion as it focuses on sugarcane and cassava to feed modern biorefineries that will produce biofuels, biochemicals, and biopharmaceuticals. Perhaps some readers started packing their bags and moving to Thailand.

#15 The Hot 40: 40 Hottest Emerging Companies in the Advanced Bioeconomy, 2017-18

The 40 Hottest Emerging Companies in the Advanced Economy rankings recognized biotechnology innovation and achievement in fuels, biobased chemicals, nutrition, health, synthetic biology, and materials, and specifically recognized emerging companies founded in the past 10 years. Who came out #1? Gingko BioWorks!

#16 BioChar’s Buzzing and Cool Planet’s $20M cap raise is feeding it

It was all about BioChar for this one, including Cool Planet’s $19.3 million in Series A financing and note conversion to commercialize its Cool Terra and Cool Fauna engineered biocarbon products. It also was about how Cool Terra’s Engineered Biocarbon platform helps increase crop yields through improved soil health, beneficial microbes in the soil, and one of their new products, Cool Fauna, which has significant potential in animal health and nutrition applications.

#17 MetGen, Sweetwater unlocking lignin – the roughest, toughest, ornieri’st material that ever bushwhack’d a pioneer in the Valley of Death

The science of lignin engaged readers in this piece about MetGen, Sweetwater Energy. We uncovered the true value of lignin, the latest developments with lignin, and why the answer to many of our questions is…lignin.


So raise your cup of hot cocoa and toast some marshmallows to 2017…quite an interesting year in biofuels. Luckily, we had more ups than downs and we are still on track to advance the bioeconomy. Cheers to the many successes, and even the failures, for we learn from failure. And don’t forget to believe…believe in biofuels, believe in our future, believe that we can make a difference.

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