Mezmerized by cheap oil? Looking to bioeconomy challenges within industry’s control.

December 14, 2014 |


mezmerizedLost your biobased mojo? Mesmerized by tumbling energy prices? Tired of the “calls to inaction”?

Why not REnew, REthink, REfocus on renewable energy’s solvable challenges – starting with The Digest’s REFocus 2015 survey.

(Skip to the 2015 REfocus Survey, right here)

The global worryfest over oil prices intensified this weekend when OPEC head Abdullah al-Badri told reporters that “The [oil market] fundamentals should not lead to this dramatic reduction,” but denied that OPEC’s decision to continue current levels of production, as global stockpiles grew, was a moved aimed at driving oil prices so low that it would interrupt growth in US or Russian output.

One of the Digesterati writes:

“I’ve just returned from the Middle East and the talk there was along the lines of ‘well we’re quite relaxed about seeing crude down to around $50’… the reasons discussed around the table I was at were many and various but one theme was consistent:  “We would not mind seeing the US shale and tar production reigned in.” My take on this is they might be targeting a price between $50-$60 which is at or below the marginal cost of shale production.”

Bad times in climate talks

At the same time, climate talks in Lima, Peru staggered to the finish line over the weekend, producing what was described by WWF climate chief Sam Smith a text that “went from weak to weaker to weakest and it’s very weak indeed.” The agreement was immediately blasted by an array of NGOs.

Lidy Nacpil, coordinator of Jubilee South Asia Pacific from the Philippines said,

“What has happened in Lima is that the world has said it wants to bury its head in the sand and not look at the weak and unjust 2020 climate targets again. Make no mistake, not revisiting our 2020 targets is to set us on track for 4C of warming and risk many more storms like that which hit our homes in the Philippines this week. Lima has failed the people of the world, Paris must not ignore the urgency of the crisis or its agreement will not be worth the paper it is written on.”  

Harjeet Singh, Lead on Resilience and Climate at ActionAid International added,

“This outcome provides nothing meaningful on finance, loss and damage, and pre-2020 action,” and all parties pointed to a new divide growing between industrializing and industrialized nations on the one hand, and more slowly developing nations on the other.

Refocusing on positive actions

All of which reminds us here in DIgestville of what has come to be known as the Serenity Prayer since it emerged out of Yale divinity circles in the 1930s:

O God, give us the serenity to accept what cannot be changed,
The courage to change what can be changed,
and the wisdom to know the one from the other.

Along those lines, another Digesterati calls industry attention away from global climate change agreements and oil prices — which might be effectively lumped together under the heading of “what cannot be changed” — and towards the pace towards commercialization in the advanced biofuels industry.

When asked to suggest topics for discussion at ABLC this spring, he writes:

If I could pick a topic I would consider breakout sessions to discuss how to advance the industry more quickly than what’s been demonstrated over the last 5 years and in [light] of lower crude prices. The industry was struggling before and have to imagine even more so in the future.  We really need a different model. The current one is simply not working and many folks I talk to believe it’s a waste of taxpayer money.

Our friend makes a good point — for here is perhaps something that can be placed under the heading “what can be changed”. And thereby we are expected to have the courage to tackle it, and the wisdom to focus on commercialization timelines in spite of poor progress on climate change, or a weak market in oil.

We’ve written previously that good companies do well in good times, but great companies do well in bad times.  Towards that end, here are some questions we might all ask ourselves.

1. Do you agree that a priority topic to work at is “how to advance the industry more quickly than what’s been demonstrated over the last 5 years.”

2. Do you agree that, in light of lower crude oil prices, the industry will struggle “even more in the future”?

3. Crucially — and especially if you have answered “YES” to the first two questions, what priorities should be different in commercializing next-gen biofuels, in your view?

The issues

In our correspondence with readers, we generally hear about six priorities for industry attention, to accelerate the pace towards commercial-scale.

1. Settling the controversy around the Renewable Fuel Standard and other comparable mechanisms around the world where legislative action is intended so that “if you produce the fuels, there will be a market for them.” Readers and their trade associations have routinely written in recent years that “policy instability” is the greatest danger they see to the Advanced Bioeconomy.

2. Moving past the E10 ethanol saturation point — specifically in the United States — where industry, readers write, has the production capacity and economics to increase ethanol output but runs into limits on blending ethanol into gasoline stocks.

3. A more robust set of tools for assessing technical readiness and for piloting and demonstrating new technologies — to conserve capital better for those projects that have the greatest chance of reaching commercial-scale.

4. Structures that offer affordable project finance capital to first-of-kind and second-of-kind commercial projects. Needs include more control or a clearer view on long term feedstock costs, the same for offtake prices, and a more robust assurance of technology readiness that addresses perceptions of “technology risk”

5. A closer cooperation between R&D and commercial entities, to better ensure that government supported R&D better supports increased technical readiness and economic viability at next-gen projects.

6. Accelerating the development of sustainable, affordable, reliable, available feedstocks and their supply chains.

Taking positive steps: Step one, measure.

Are these the issues, in your view? Are there others? What, in your view, are the best answers to these questions or others you feel the industry must address in 2015, which might be many things but surely could be The Year of Answers.

As Winston Churchill once observed, “there is someone who know more than anyone, and that is everyone,” and in that spirit we’d like you to help us kick-off what we expect will be a lively discussion all this coming year in The Digest about how to solve fundamental industry challenges, and focus attention on items in the “what can be changed” bucket.

We expect that ABLC, in DC this March 11-13, will provide a broad-based venue to consider and consolidate progress from discussions that may be conducted online and one-to-one between now and then.

In short, here’s a 4-question, 3-Minute Survey for you to take to begin the conversation — and if you have views to share on solutions, or priorities — now is a great time get focused on positive actions.

Your answers will help provide a solid foundation for positive industry discussion and calls to action — and you have my thanks for taking 3 minutes today (for the record, or anonymously) to help the industry chart new directions for 2015.

 

 

 

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