Heard On The Floor at ABLC Day 2  – Listen to the wind of change

March 3, 2018 |

ABLC 2018 continued on March 2nd with as much drama and buzz as it did the day prior with a blustery day and heavy winds causing some flight cancellations and power outages in the D.C. area, but much like the biofuels industry, the Mayflower Hotel held up against the changing winds and kept the lights on. ABLC speakers told us to listen to the wind of change, much like Scorpions sang to us in 1990 with “The future’s in the air, I can feel it everywhere, Blowing with the wind of change.”

The theme for Day 2 of ABLC 2018 was that, much like the weather outside and Scorpions’ song, the winds are changing. Starting with the Federal Perspective and Programs Forum first thing in the morning, we heard from Harry Baumes from USDA who announced 5 more projects projecting to achieve financial closing in 2018 and an application cycle currently open until April 1st, followed with some sad news about the USDA’s Biofuels infrastructure project coming to an end and the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) not getting any funding anymore even though it had lots of successes The good news was that the USDA’s Biopreferred program is even attracting money in Trump’s budget (so far).

Things are changing so fast he has to check his texts constantly for the latest, said Bob Dinneen from Renewable Fuels Association. Slamming the PES and how their problems aren’t because of RFS but because of PES’s past decisions, Dinneen called them “the poster child of RFS reform.” He shared some tidbits from yesterday’s White House meeting (that Senator Grassley didn’t share on his phone call from yesterday’s ABLC stage), including that Senator Ted Cruz took up PES’s charge, making the case to the White House yesterday that the RFS is causing all these problems and needs reform. Dinneen said the good news is that others from industry were there and made the opposite case, that no, the RFS is working and we need it. The battle continues.

A mid-morning surprise speaker was Jim Woolsey, former director of CIA who emphasized energy security and that our electric grid is a highly connected smart grid that is tied to everything but if something goes seriously wrong, it could take months or years to fix – making it “a really stupid grid, not smart grid.” Woolsey said the same is true of biofuels production and distribution systems if they can’t come back from accidents or malevolent interruptions. His advice is that “we stop firing at each other and instead work together in coordinated, effective, and above all, resilient ways.” In case we didn’t get this former CIA Director’s warnings, Woolsey flat out said we are “essentially in a second cold war with Russia, making it even more important than ever to stop our vulnerability, now and fast.”

It wasn’t all bad news about fighting for RFS and energy security fears, as good news abounded in the breakout summits and on the floor.

The Industry Horizons Forum offered positive outlooks for the future of biofuels with updates and forecasts from Raymond James’ Pavel Molchanov, cellulosic king Clariant’s Martin Mitchell, and Pramod Kumbhar from Praj Industries. Carbon War Room’s Adam Klauber offered the latest advancements in sustainable aviation biofuel with a very positive forecast for liquid fuels even with the advancement of EVs. Gerry Ostheimer from Sustainable Energy for All talked about the U.S. being stuck compared to some other countries in terms of advancing sustainable biofuels, but he also had a positive forecast with the progress made so far with SE4All as well as the global below50 campaign.

Biobased chemicals and materials keynote speaker and winner of many of the Digest’s Hot 30 awards, Christophe Schilling from Genomatica said to stay tuned for exciting announcements soon about a new relationship for a European distribution partner. Genomatica also celebrated their first paying customers in the cosmetics area in January, thanks to their biobased alternative replacing a former carcinogen used in cosmetics. Schilling shared a sense of enthusiasm about the impact of technologies to bring sustainability more to the mainstream in the chemical industry.

The Renewable Chemicals Summit included David Sudolsky from Anellotech who shared some news about Suntory-Anellotech’s latest 100% biobased plastics for beverage bottles and received some fun moneymaking ideas from moderator David Dodds on potential uses for their “biowater.” Markus Pompejus from BASF launched two new coatings and paints last week and talked about the many opportunities for biobased products in the chemicals, enzymes, biopolymers and performance biologics worlds. Theodora Retsina from American Process said clients and consumers are demanding new, better, more sustainable products which is our opportunity to meet this demand with biobased products.

ABLC’s Biogas Summit had some interesting answers to the question “Where is biogas going?” starting with Brian Foody from Iogen who said biogas is shifting away from power and toward fuels because “fuels offer a better market.” Foody also predicts that “biogas will be the dominant cellulosic biofuel in America,” and that it will be a long term solution for all 50 states with huge potential on the market side. Mike Hart from Sierra Energy reminded us how much trash we humans produce and shared how Sierra Energy converts trash to treasure via FastOx gasification. Sierra Energy can accept any feedstock, including batteries, tires, and more, operating at 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit to make it come out as 90% syngas and 10% liquid stone or metal, all of which can be used for end products. No emissions, no ash, no dioxins, massively scalable, and doesn’t use water, makes it attractive for environment and economics. Hart announced that although they completed their first commercial plant last year, their system isn’t available until next year for sale and they already have 1,600 inquiries globally for their system.

The last ABLC day wrapped up with the ABLC Wolfpack including James Iademarco from Strategic Avalanche, David Dodds with Dodds & Associates, Ron Cascone from NEXANT, Paul Bryan an independent consultant, and Joel Stone from ConVergince. While they didn’t howl at the moon, they were voracious, vicious wolves analyzing 8 major projects with points and counter-points, otherwise known as pros and cons. The projects included Prairie Catalytic Greenyug/ADM in Nebraska, LanzaTech in China, Synvina in Netherlands, Fulcrum BioEnergy in Nevada, POET-DSM in Iowa, Cargill/Calysta in Tennessee, Enerkem in Alberta, and REG Geismar in Louisiana.

Regardless of where the wind takes us over the next few months, check out ABLC NEXT in San Francisco this fall and join us at next year’s ABLC 2019 in Washington, D.C.

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