75 people worth knowing in the advanced bioeconomy

March 5, 2015 |

ABLC-1aNext week in Washington DC, the advanced bioeconomy industry gathers for ABLC 2015, the Advanced Bioeconomy Leadership Conference.

With the 75 leaders we’ve selected for plenary presentations, you might ask, why them, why are these topics vital, why now?

Policy people to know at the present time

Next week, the heads of the major advanced bioeconomy trade groups look at the post US mid-term election dynamics, including the RFS, tax and trade Issues to set the Legislative and Policy Agendas critical to supporting the rapidly developing bioeconomy.

It’s a diverse set of interests in the bioeconomy. All need policy stability, but some need new pathways approved, new feedstocks OKd, some need the RFS, some are cheering on Low Carbon Fuel Standards as we’ve seen employed in California and now we are expecting in Oregon. Some are looking for export opportunities, some fear carbon-advantaged or cost-advantaged molecules coming in from abroad. Some need R&D support, some need help with Valley of Death issues such as first commercial-scale plant financing.

In the past, we’ve had 4-5 people on our initial policy panel. This year, it’s been expanded to 7. Every year since ABLC was founded, we’ve had Brent Erickson of BIO, Mike McAdams of the Advanced Biofuels Association, and also Brooke Coleman from the Advanced Ethanol Council (since it was formed). They form the “troika” of leadership on RFS, Farm Bill/feedstock and pathway issues for virtually all advanced fuels and chemicals, between them.  This year, we’ll also have Matt Carr of the Algae Biomass Association for the first time on stage — the algae platform being so vital to the future of the advanced bioeconomy, and home to enormous innovation in R&D and also commercial models.

This year, we also felt it was essential to have Joe Jobe, CEO of the National Biodiesel Board — people wrongly think of biodiesel as a “first-gen fuel” when it is in fact the world’s most popular, and America’s favorite advanced biofuel. Sometimes we think it is a victim of its own success, for too many assume that unless you are in a lab, it can’t be advanced. But biodiesel is vital to the fight on emissions — and is the leading renewable molecule available on the diesel side. Not to mention that we see a whole lot of algae producers looking admiringly at the “virgin oil” commercial model of combining meal (for animal feed markets), speciality products, and fuels (using a lipid fraction) — as the right way to get to commercial scale.

This year we also felt it is imperative, in an age of fracking and electric vehicles and other types of alternative fuels and vehicles, to have Todd Foley of the American Council on Renewable Energy with us, to help put alternative transportation fuel into the context of the overall policy on renewable energy, and in the overall context of infrastructure shift. And knowing how many producers are introducing novel molecules, we have Kathleen Roberts of BRAG to address opportunities and challenges  with the Toxic Substances Control Act, administered by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, that regulates the introduction of new or already existing chemicals.

Joining us as a moderator will be former acting Undersecretary of Agriculture and acting Assistant Secretary of Energy (EERE) Doug Faulkner.

Deployment and adoption

For adopters of renewable fuels and chemicals, the pressing issues that cause adoption of alternative molecules or drop-in renewables are performance, cost volatility, energy security, sustainability, and infrastructure.

Perhaps the most enduring drivers over the past 10 years have been energy security and climate change — two reasons that alternative fuels and chemicals remain popular with national leaders concerned by the headlines surrounding ISIS, instability in the Middle East, the financing of terrorism, rising oceans, and more violent weather.

No leader over the past five years has been more “out in front” on adoption of alternative fuels than US Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, who considers alternatives to be vital to national security, and has driven forward on the Great Green Fleet that will take a lead on domestic energy and climate change through cost-competitive, drop-in advanced biofuels. In fact, no force has led like the Navy in not only saying that advanced fuels must be “drop-in and cost competitive” — but finding ways to ensure that happens through development and deployment.

That’s why we are proud to award him our highest honor, the Global Bioenergy Leadership Award and to have him join us for the Global Bioenergy Leadership keynote, which will focus on energy security and national security issues. We’re also noting that a number of Pacific Rim nation ambassadors — allies in naval affairs, and threatened by the rising seas of climate change — will be on hand as we congratulate Secretary Mabus on his award.

Adoption goes far beyond advanced, drop-in fuels. For one, there is the vital arena of renewable chemicals, and we Markus Pompejus, Vice President for White Biotechnology, North America at BASF, the world’s largest chemical company, to lead us in examining the best opportunities on the chemicals side for new molecules or drop-in speciality chemicals.

And there is also the challenge of new fuels that require infrastructure change. For many years, ethanol has been fighting that battle, and biodiesel too — pumps, vehicles, fuel certification, fuel registration, pathway approvals, terminal and shipping infrastructure and more. But there are even newer molecules coming forward now, and we have Rebecca Boudreaux, president of Oberon Fuels (maker of DME fuels) , joining us to take us through the landscape for infrastructure-incompatible fuels that have compelling cost and carbon advantages.

Deploying advanced technologies around the globe

To succeed, it is increasingly apparent that companies have to not only have great technologies, they must work globally, with partners where possible, work the timelines for reaching scale, and continually reinvent processing technologies to reduce risk and utilize advantaged feedstocks.

We have six key advanced bioeconomy executives to look at the path to scale and steady-state production, the introduction and adoption of new technologies for novel or traditional feedstocks, new and novel markets for advanced processes, the investment climate for advanced technologies, and the building of companies that complement strong science.

Developing in China, Malaysia, India, New Zealand and the US at the moment, the “hottest company in the sector” is LanzaTech and they’re a poster child for the globalization the industry is going through. CEO Jennifer Holmgren will take us through that story. John Melo, CEO of Amyris we’ve invited — as a company based in the US but deploying in Brazil, and working with a host of partners to find new applications for a novel molecule, from fuels to fragrances. Also we thought it was imperative to have Vincent Chornet, CEO of Enerkem — who not only is developing in multiple countries for multiple products, but is the first to reach commercial-scale with the longed-for new feedstock, municipal solid waste.

Another company, in this case earlier in its development path, is Byogy — in this case we’re looking at more off-the-shelf technologies but a global development path with novel feedstocks and new markets, including jet fuels, and brining in significant airline partners into the space, while developing in the US, Brazil and Australia. Another developing in both Brazil and the US is American Process — running a signature facility in Georgia but deeply involved in GranBio’s deployment in Brazil, and CEO Theodora Retsina will take us through those challenges and opportunities.

In looking at the transition from first-gen to next-gen, we have a number of voices on stage to address the issue, first up Doug Rivers, Director of R&D for ICM, who will profile the legendary engineering company’s approach to “Generation 1.5” technology — as a lower-risk path to the advanced sector.

Financing the Advanced Bioeconomy – what’s working, what’s next?

“Follow the money” goes the famous like from All the President’s Men, and it’s good advice for this capital-intensive sector. No matter how exciting the technology, money is what will take it along the journey through technical readiness, and then through the journey to a first commercial scale plant and beyond.

We’ve invited 6 experts on financial markets and financing to look at the path forward and market attitude toward public companies and IPOs, the path across the Valley of Death, financing first commercials, and government programs and policies that foster deployment at scale.

Michael Eckhart, Global Head of Environmental Finance, Citigroup is one of the industry’s legends — as a noted long-time renewable energy developer himself, then as a financier and also as the long-time head of ACORE. Joining him are “the gang of three” who have been most closely associated with turning loan guarantee opportunities into closed project financing deals — Mark Riedy, Partner, Kilpatrick Townsend; John May, Managing Director, Stern Brothers, and John Kirkwood, partner, Kreig DeVault. Though a magnifying glass is often recommended for Mark Riedy’s dense slides, they’re a treasure trove of current data on what’s working, and where the windows of opportunity lie in a raft of government programs. We’ve also invited one of the most incisive, closely-followed energy analysts, Pavel Molchanov of Raymond James & Associates to look at public companies and the public equity markets, and Taite McDonald, Sr. Advisor, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati will look at emerging opportunities in debt and equity financing.

For sure, we’ll look at the possibilities for master limited partnerships, sovereign financing, family offices and a wide assortment of capital opportunities.

Doing the due diligence

When looking at companies, we usually have a presentation from the company itself — often the CEO — so, it’s how the company sees itself. But how does the market see the company? In what has proven to be perhaps the most popular session at ABLC, we’ve invited back David Dodds, Principal, Dodds & Associates and Ron Cascone, Principal Consultant, NEXANT, and look critically and objectively at 10 companies in rapid-fire order.

What’s strong, what’s weak? What about the technology or proposed markets is solid? What in the business proposition and path to scale remains to be proven? It’s the presentation panel that directly led to the the televised program The New Voices, on BioChannel TV.

The ABLC Deployment & Development  Keynote

We’ve been hoping for some time to have one of the best thinkers and speakers in the world of energy, Assistant Secretary of Energy Dave Danielson, join us at ABLC for a strategic keynote and overview of the space. He’ll have to speak quickly to get it all in during 20 minutes, but we’ve asked him to address:

1. Development, primarily. How the DOE sees the landscape of opportunity and the missions it is on — the technologies that  ARPA-E moon-shots; the most promising technology classes in the earlier-stage, pre-pilot technology; the platforms that are looking good at more advances stages of technical readiness — i.e. ready for a technology demonstration.

2. Overall strategy. On a broader scale, where bioenergy fits in within the “all of the above” energy strategy — with CAFE standards, electric vehicles, fracking technologies, it’s a renaissance in US energy —

3. Infrastructure change. It’s an issue with EVs, with nat-gas vehicles, and with several bioenergy molecules such as ethanol and biodiesel. What can be done and what will be done, and how — from retail or fleets outlets to terminal infrastructure and vehicles themselves.

4. The pace of innovation. Sometimes it feels that innovation is coming on so fast, an industrial technology class can seem obsolete before it has had time to deploy. Is that true? What can be done about it, what is being done to crush the development timelines?

The government agencies and their programs

It seems logical to deepen that view on development and deployment with five experts look at the latest government agency programs at DOE and USDA — including the next wave of financing opportunities through the DOE’s Loan Programs Office, grants and awards through the Bioenergy Technologies Office, programs and perspective out of the Farm Bill with USDA, and an overview of the fuels marketplace itself for 2015 and beyond from the US Energy Information Administration.

From the mighty DOE Loan Programs Office, Valri Lightner, who many remember at ABLC from her time in the old Biomass Program office. Then, the king of the Bioenergy Technologies Office himself, the erudite and entertaining Jonathan Male, followed by the USDA represented by its popular Director of Energy Policy, Harry Baumes. Mindi Farber-DeAnda, US Energy Information Administration, takes us through the latest numbers on fuel demand, supply and the outlook for renewables, and we asked Dr. Richard E. Engler, Senior Policy Advisory, Bergeson & Campbell, to join in to take a holistic view of agency opportunity.

Industry Leadership —The Big Guns

These days, the deployments are getting larger, the renewable fuels players are getting larger, the next technologies like cellulosic have gone from beakers to millions of gallons, and blue-chip companies are stepping into the sector in greater numbers. So, we put together a session of The Big Guns — and we’ve added in a look at the upstream world of feedstocks, and the rising challenges in company-building, especially finding and keeping great people.

We started with the biggest advanced biofuels producer we could find — here in the US, that’s Renewable Energy Group, and we’re delighted that REG CEO Dan Oh will be joining us to outline the opportunities in biodiesel and renewable diesel — but also to look at how companies like REG can become multi-feedstock, multi-product players — like small Cargills in the making, if you will. Right after, we have a major address from Bill Feehery, the president of DuPont Industrial Biosciences, as we look at the slew of deployments and new technologies that a) are coming and b) could come, out of DuPont’s labs, all across the value chain.

Then, the current reigning champions of cellulosic ethanol in capacity, Abengoa BioEnergy and GranBio — are joining us, and we’re delighted to have Chris Standlee, who’s been a driving force for a long time here in the US market when it comes to cellulosic; and GranBio CEO Bernardo Gradin, who was known for a number of years as CEO at Braskem before starting GranBio and startlingly leading it to a place in the first-rank of global cellulosic ethanol in just a few years, including a #2 tanking in the Hot 50.

Speaking of Brazil, one of the hottest ideas going around for some time has been to supplement sugarcane (in the offseason) with sweet sorghum — the added advanced biofuels and chemical production implications are huge, and we’ve invited NexSteppe CEO Anna Rath to explain them and take us through the landscape of opportunity, and maybe she’ll share some of her NexSteppe cachaça with you, afterwards.

To be a Big Gun, you have to build a Big Company, and to investigate how companies are seeing and managing the opportunities, we’ve invited Gary Weihs of Kincannon & Reed, and he’ll be armed with the findings from a special survey we’ve been doing on company building in recent weeks,

Finally, one of the biggest of the Big Guns, and certainly one that is changing and diversifying as fast as Renewable Energy Group — that’s Green Plains, and we have Green Plains CEO Todd Becker of  with us for his first solo address. We’ve asked him to take a tough, critical look at the advanced biofuels landscape and “tell it like it is” in terms of what the opportunities are there for partnership with the platform companies of Green Plains’ size and larger. Now, Green Plains is the JV partner in BioProcess Algae and is developing that technology in Shenandoah, Iowa — so this is a CEO who sees opportunities, but will explain how dreams turn into reality and on what terms.

For a solo address on the opportunities in advanced fuels off the algae platform — we’ll not only hear a little from Todd, but we’ve invited the #3 company in the sector, Algenol to present, and CEO Paul Woods will take us through where algae is, and how to take it to fuel-scale.

In a session that begins Thursday afternoon, we’ve invited six high-level executives will continue to present technologies with first commercials under construction or in commissioning — broadening the feedstock and processing technology range — with Howard Janzen, CEO, Cool Planet and Brian Foody, CEO, Iogen we’ll look at fast-emerging new technologies that are on the cusp of first commercials or commissioning right now

In addition, via an address from Mark Beemer, CEO, Aventine Renewables, we’ll be looking at bolt-on opportunities and how first-gen plants and their ownership look at the landscape of opportunities to find the right mix of technology, ROI and a fit with the feedstocks and economics of first-gen technologies now already established at scale. We’ll look at two newer technologies out of Europe in the cellulosic field, with Tom Corle, CEO, Leifmark and Martin Mitchell, Director, Clariant to look at Inbicon and Clariant, respectively.  Finally, we’ve asked Kelly Tiller, CEO, Genera Energy, to take us through the logistics of building a supply chain for all these Big Guns.

The hot renewable chemicals and feed markets and technologies

So far, we’ve mentioned mostly fuel-centric companies and integrated biorefineries making both. What about the pure-plays on the chemical side — and what about companies evolving from a fuel-centric strategy towards integrated fuels, chemicals and feed? In the BIOCHEM 2015 program, we look at the reach for scale, the financing environment, the policy imperatives, the offtake opportunities and more.

We look at the opportunities and progress in glycols, alcohols, olefins and organic acids including butadiene, BDO, DDDA, adipic acid, paraxylene, ethylene glycol, propylene, isopropanol, methyl-methacrylate and acetic acid.

Our opening address is by Christophe Schilling, CEO, Genomatica, the #1 company in the sector — who will be looking not only at the company’s success with BDO, but the opportunities with butadiene and beyond.

Then Tom Van Aken, CEO, Avantium will take us through the yxy platform and paraxylene opportunities with Coca-Cola among other partners, after that, Ray Miller, CBO, Verdezyne through the opportunities in the nylon market and more; Kyle Teamey, CEO, Liquid Light will talk about chemicals made from CO2, and James Levine, CEO, Sapphire Energy is expected to do some previewing of the broadened Sapphire commercial strategy. Joel Stone, President, Green Biologics will address n-butanol and the ethanol conversion strategy, while Len Rand, CEO, xF Technologies presents an emerging technology aimed at furans and some novel molecule opportunities there.

But we also want to look at he critical chemical (and fuel) intermediate. That’s low-cost renewable sugars. When will they arrive, and how affordable and how sustainable will they be? That’s been a question everyone has been intently focused on, and we’ve asked Mike Hamilton, CEO, Renmatix to address that.

Downstream military and aviation markets

In our Global Leadership keynote, we looked at the military as a driver of adoption. But there’s so much more to cover in a sector where there is no electric plane on the horizon, and in a global economy where air travel is becoming more and more important, but is incredibly tricky to regulate on carbon. The airlines have set stringent carbon-reduction targets, and that makes them a natural, world-scale deployment partner for advanced biofuels.

In the aviation & military biofuels summit, developed in partnership with the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI), we turn our focus toward the developments in the middle distillate marketplace, specifically towards jet and marine diesel biofuels.

In the first session, our panel walks us through the landscape of supply chain development. We focus in on fuel acquisition, fuel suppliers, supply chain challenges, feedstock development and projects  associated with accelerating deployment. Rob Myrben, Sr. Managing Director, Fuels Optimization, A4A will do  Scene-setting: Outline the various ways the aviation community is engaging in this developing market. Mihir Thakkar, Dir. Environment & Sustainability, United Airlines will lead a discussion of United Airlines engagement. Bob Sturtz, VP Business Development, World Fuel Services, will provide Fuel supplier perspectives, as an offtaker, or as a partner with producers and fuel users in offtake agreements

Then, Steve Csonka, Executive Director, CAAFI will do more Scene-setting: Our public-private-partnership activities – addressing the full supply chain. After that, Jim Hileman, Chief Scientist, FAA Office of Environment & Energy will offer a quick summary of the full range of FAA engagement efforts, including collaborative efforts with other Federal Agencies, and Todd Campbell, Energy Policy Advisor, Rural Development, USDA will highlight working with the industry on feedstock development efforts. At the state and regional level, Ben DeVries, CEO, Treasure Coast Education, Research and Development Authority (FL) will give a case study of a local development opportunity being linked to aviation’s interests through a CAAFI State Initiative engagement. Finally, Mark Rumizen, CAAFI Cert/Qual Lead, FAA will provide a summary of recent and expected qualification activity, as well as a preview of our efforts to streamline ASTM qualification and approval progress

And then, what about the fuels? We’ve invited five experts takes us through a set of emerging technologies that are on the path towards deployment at scale. We look at technical readiness, qualification, the financing, the policy environment and US Navy support for alternative fuels, feedstocks, project locations, investors, and the production economics, both CAPEX and OPEX. Jim Macias, CEO, Fulcrum Bioenergy, and Terry Kulesa, CEO, Red Rock Biofuels are recent grant recipients in the Navy program. At an earlier stage of development, we’ll have Charles Wyman, CEO, Vertimass, Glen Johnston, Chief Development Officer-Jet Fuel, Gevo, and Karl Seck, CEO, Mercurius Biofuels.

So where do we take it from here? What are next steps for the industry?

Having done the education, where’s the dialogue on how to implement improvement throughout the industry? We’ve set up two workshops to do just that.

The first, “Powering Prosperity: Bioeconomy Policy to Stimulate Growth,” we’re presenting in partnership with the Council on Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics (C-FARE).

To realize economic development, energy security, and environmental goals, policies must be adaptive to the rapidly changing marketplace. Policy makers need to have an awareness of and ability to incorporate the implications of volatile oil prices, shale gas, and policy uncertainties, while also strengthening risk-mitigation strategies. A comprehensive approach is required, one that grows both the demand and supply sides of the bioeconomy, while recognizing the complementarities among bio-based fuels for transportation, heating and electricity-and biochemicals.

We’ll have Wally Tyner, Purdue University presenting on the implications of contemporary energy and agricultural market conditions for the bioeconomy; Mark J. Riedy, Kilpatrick Townsend, on the obstacles to growing the bioeconomy? What are the energy and industrial policies needed to move forward. Then, Dennis Hall, Ohio State University. on the paths for moving forward?

We’ll also have a special Case-Study Panel on Aviation Fuels Successes, with Steve Csonka of CAAFI back on stage, Jason Bergtold, Kansas State University, and Joseph Bryan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy

In our second workshop, we’ll look at Prices and Market Stability: Oil prices, renewables prices, RINs, carbon monetization, RFS and Low Carbon Fuel Standards

To realize economic development, energy security, and environmental goals, markets must provide the necessary stability for new technologies to thrive. Yet, volatile oil prices, policy uncertainties, a roller-coaster in renewables commodity prices, uncertainty in carbon markets, have dampened investor interest, and increased interest.

In part one, we’ll look at Oil Prices, What happened, what’s the outlook? Then, the Renewable Fuel Standard and Low Carbon Fuel Standards, what stability options are there for industry? After that, we’ll look at carbon prices and monetization – what are the markets and prospects? Finally, fuels and chemical prices – will the roller-coaster stop, or what alternatives are there? We’ll have Bill Brown, Sr. Analyst, US Energy Information Administration, Rick Gilmore, CEO, GIC Group and Philip Sheehy of ICF as session leaders to spark and sustain an interactive dialogue.

The Bottom Line

There are a lot of issues, plenty of opportunity, but plenty of land-mines. We hope we’ve secured the 75 who can nail all the hottest topics with expert perspective. For sure, we’re looking forward to seeing all the powerpoints, the perspectives and the learning, as the industry moves deeper into the deployment phase.

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