ABLC 2019 Round-up

April 7, 2019 |

If you missed ABLC last week or were so busy networking with others in the industry, we’ve got a quick round-up of the biggest ABLC news you don’t want to miss.

ABLC 2019 kicked off on Wednesday with about 540 delegates in Washington, D.C. at the U.S. Department of Agriculture building complete with secret service protection and escorts for some big-name super star speakers, with a pretty exciting vibe in the room.

In ABLC terms, nothing moved up so dramatically this year as much as the numbers of strategics from oil companies, which doubled to more than 30 delegates, and financial industry professionals, which also were up sharply in attendance though almost nothing from private equity, family offices and independent High Net Worths.

The Times Have Found You and Caught Up with your Vision,” said former Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus in his opening keynote as the Advanced Bioeconomy Leadership Conference got underway. His speech could someday be turned into a top 10 hit song:

“Now, make sure you do not make perfect the enemy of good. Deploy the technologies of today and keep working on the innovations for tomorrow, but don’t delay because those new technologies will one day arrive. Move into this generation, and then to the next, and then the next. The world is rapidly turning toward a better type of bottom line, and companies that are buying carbon offset will one day be buying into solutions that are better.”

Wednesday afternoon, the Digest introduced U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue who took the stage and observed, “I love risk takers, entrepreneurs like all of you here. Taking products from agriculture, new developments, and creating jobs in rural America, support bioeconomy that you are all creators.”

Purdue also said that public policy plays a huge role, and we should “Give you the rules and you’ll figure out how to play by the rules, stop changing the rules because it goes back and forth and slows things down.”

You can read more about the first day of ABLC 2019 here.

“Celebrate good times, come on”

While we may not have played Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration” song during the conference, we sure were humming it on Thursday. Celebrations, awards, and networking were the themes of ABLC 2019’s Day 2 over to the Mayflower Hotel that started with a Domestic Policy Forum – very appropriate for a conference in D.C. and considering policy affects everything we all do. Talk of refinery waivers was one of the big issues buzzing around the room – in fact, 4 of the 6 panelists are suing the EPA. But there was still plenty to be happy about and celebrate…

Hope. We had hope and very positive messages from U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa who accepted the Holmberg Award for Lifetime Achievement. Senator Grassley told the ABLC audience we have a job to do and that is to remind those who don’t like alternative energy of how good it is. And don’t worry, we won’t be alone. “My work in this area is not done,” said Senator Grassley.

“Homegrown renewable fuels are good for the consumer, good for the environment, good for rural America, good for economics, good for national security and energy independence…nothing negative in my opinion. Like that Campbell’s soup song – good, good, good,” said Senator Grassley.

It was an award-filled day. The Global Bioeconomy Leadership Award went to POET CEO, Jeff Broin, whose inspirational message was that we have “nearly endless opportunities” and shared not just the business aspects of what POET has done but the human aspect behind what they do and why they do it, as well as their “Seeds of change” project that is changing lives around the globe.

The Industry Horizons Forum later in the morning featured major CEOs from around the world, with Jennifer Holmgren, LanzaTech’s CEO sharing that, “We care about carbon recycling because we care not just about climate change but because every man, woman, and child has clean air to breathe” and reminding us of the big picture of why we do what we do. DSM Biobased, Fulcrum Bioenergy, Shell’s Advanced Biofuels, and Praj Industries also shared their technologies, latest developments, and vision for the future.

World Energy’s CEO, Gene Gebolys graced the ABLC stage to talk about global deployment, as did Peter Nieuwenhuizen, CTO of Nouryon (formerly AkzoNobel), and Pat Gruber, CEO of Gevo who both shared their market perspectives. Gruber encouraged the audience to not compromise the world for future generations and that the technologies are here to improve things, so “let’s do it!”

The afternoon was marked with various breakout sessions that got into the nitty gritty on renewable chemicals, sustainable aviation, advanced biofuels, finance and investment, digital biology, sustainable technologies, regulatory issues, and hot technologies.

Speaking of hot technologies, the day ended with much fanfare and celebration for the 2019 “50 Hottest Companies in the Advanced Bioeconomy” rankings. LanzaTech took the #1 spot again – it was third year at the top for LanzaTech, which also ranked #1 last year. Renewable Energy Group (#2), Ginkgo BioWorks (#3), Amyris (#4), Enerkem, (#5), Beyond Meat (#6), Genomatica (#7), Praj Industries (#8), Impossible Foods (#9) rand Fulcrum BioEnergy (#10() rounded out the top 10. Get the scoop on all Top 50 companies here.

The Sorries and the Sorrows

Amongst the Washington, DC cognoscenti they are known as SREs or SRWs, those small refinery exemptions from compliance with the Renewable Fuel Standard that are killing US ethanol profitability, killing US farmers and killing land value and the associated state tax revenues across the U.S. Heartland, but they are adding up, and these days amongst the Digestscenti are known as the Sorrows and the Sorries.

In the case of the latter, as in “Sorry, thanks for all the votes in the 2016 Presidential elections, but that was then and this is now.” A farm crisis is brewing fast, the likes we have not seen since the 1980s, and the policymakers have much to answer for in conjuring up the cocktail of bad policies in trade and energy policy that are sowing the winds afore the 2020 Presidential election cycle, though exactly who will rep the whirlwind remains to be seen.

Without a doubt, the Sorrows and the Sorries were the talk of ABLC 2019 in the “Department of Perplexing Challenges”, there must have been a dozen presentations that made reference to them, but no solutions have been found yet that speakers were willing to publicly comment on. Thought we noted all the high-level policy advisors and biofuels producers huddled in conclave and we expect that a dramatic shift in policy — away from the “educate and persuade” approach of the past two years — is imminent.

The Low Carbon drama in the other Washington

Meanwhile, there was buzz over the proposed Low Carbon Fuel Standard in Washington state, and a provision inserted by that state’s Senate Transport committee that would allow obligated parties to opt out of compliance for a flat fee of $6 per ton of CO2 emitted. Which is sort of like allowing Americans to opt-out of complying with speed limits near schoolyards or an annual price of one dollar — it’s not the revenue implication, it’s the danger to public safety that is on the table. We hear that the bill may have to be amended on the Senate floor.

SAF in a half paragraph

Sustainable Aviation Fuels – they call it SAF in Washington, D.C. but they ought to call it StAFf, you always go further by proposing we spend more on staff in D.C.

But good news for SAFophiles. Rina Singh, recently with BIO’s Industrial & Environment section, has been tapped at the new VP for Policy of the Alternative Fuel & Chemical Coalition (AFCC), which in many ways has been formed to make a policy push for sustainable aviation fuels.

The GranBio and American Process process

There has been so much back-and-forth on the GranBio and American Process deal that GranBio VP Ken Hill took the ABLC stage to clarify. American Process remains an independent company and will continue to compete in all its markets except we believe nanocellulose, and will retain some access to the R&D facility API built in Georgia. What GranBio has acquired is a whole raftful of intellectual property relating to cellulosic ethanol and other product sets including nanocellulose.

The ABLC Secret Speaker was revealed — former Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, Vice Admiral (ret.) Phil Cullom — and his message on the dire situation with climate change was highlighted by his story of the dramatic transfer to safer locations of sensitive U.S. research interests in the Arctic, as they had become imperiled by warming seas and melting ice. He warned about the potential for U.S. security exposure along the north of Alaska as an Arctic sea lane opens. Looking at his eloquent enumeration of the cost advantages of moving goods from Europe and Asia to the Americas via the polar sea, we noted how much more narrow is the Bering Strait between the U.S. and Russia than the Strait of Hormuz — another risk point for the North Pacific as if we needed one as tensions continue to simmer in the South China Sea.

A spoonful of sugar helps the EMP medicine go down

A spoonful of sugar helped the medicine go down when former CIA Director Jim Woolsey took the stage to warn dramatically against centering too many U.S. assets around the electric grid, championing them of energy diversification in the name of resilience, but offering a hilarious and dead-on impression of Henry Kissinger in relating an anecdote from the days of the 2008 McCain campaign as an opener for his warnings on securing ourselves against the risks of electromagnetic pulse attacks.

The Impossible Whopper and that other Impossible Whopper

The Impossible Whopper was in the news coming from Impossible Foods’s HQ in announcing their expansionary business deal with Burger King. We wonder if the Impossible Whopper was more related to the rationale being offered by oil refiners in defining their need for hardship exemptions from the US Renewable Fuel Standard in the face of high refiner profit margins. But certainly Impossible Foods is on the move, and though we wonder about the fate of the Beyond Meats’ IPO, (which was announced five months ago and where is it, exactly?), we certainly heard an awesome amount of buzz about meat without the cow, milk without the cow, leather without the cow, eggs without the chick, and chicken without the bird. No sector moved up so dramatically in the Hot 50 this year than advanced foods.

Tech Talk

On Friday, ABLC 2019 closed out with tech talk – the morning started with a federal perspective and programs discussion and led into Industry Horizons Addresses from BASF, Amyris, Neste, and Algae Biomass Organization where they spoke more about the innovative technologies behind what they do. What it all came down to, however, was that it’s “all about the consumer.”

Jim Greenwood, CEO of BIO contributed a bioeconomy address and shared some big numbers that are cause for celebration. With biofuels, 852,000 jobs are created in the U.S., $185 billion in economic output, $46 billion in wages, 1.9 barrels of oil replaced with biofuels in first decade of RFS.

Biochemicals brought up just as much optimism and excitement as Greenwood shared that the renewable chemicals market reached $252 billion in 2012 and could easily reach $441 billion very soon. He estimates that renewable chemicals account for about 9% or $2.8 trillion of worldwide chemicals market and that it could reach 11% or 3.4 trillion by 2020. While that sounds like some Star Trek futuristic date, it’s only a year from now, which makes these numbers even more remarkable and something to sing about.

And since we all like more money in our pocket, we appreciated Greenwood’s comment that about $1 per gallon on average is saved by U.S. consumers using biofuels.

Greenwood’s perspective on politicians is that all they care about is “jobs, jobs, jobs.” With 1.6 million jobs of the U.S. biobased economy, the sector has proof in the pudding to show politicians that we are a crucial piece to improving America and Greenwood called the 2018 Farm Bill a “big victory for our sector.”

The day continued with market perspectives from Clariant, Iogen, Aemetis, and the FBI. Afternoon breakout sessions focused on biogas and RNG, some more on renewable chemicals and advanced biofuels, and of course since we are all concerned about policy, a public policy workshop and due diligence workshop were also big hits.

The Wolves were hungry for Value

No ABLC would be complete without the WOLFPACK to conclude a powerful conference. What seemed more like a stand-up comedy routine ready for TV, James Iademarco from Strategic Avalanche, David Dodds from Dodds & Associates, Paul Bryan from Sandia National Labs, Joel Stone from Convergence, and Michele Rubino, an Independent Consultant – transformed into wolves as they devoured and dissected 6 fuel and chemical companies – Amyris, Bolt Threads, Carbon Engineering, Modern Meadow, Ryze Renewables, and Xyleco.

Modern Meadow came out alive and well – no cow but with bullish positive commentary from the wolves and more utterly mad cow jokes than any conference should ever have. Carbon Engineering was ripped to shreds and with more thumbs down than wolves had thumbs. Bolt Threads fared similar to Modern Meadow with some wolves feeling more neutral than bullish. The wolves offered up positive vibes on Amyris, referred to Amyris as a success story of adaptability and survival, and expressed excitement about their CBD deal and recent sweeteners work. The wolves seemed to like Ryze Renewables, not just for their catchy name, but for their renewable diesel and offtake deal with Phillips 66. Xyleco didn’t fare so well with wolves saying they just “don’t get it” and lots of skepticism on their technology, their patents, and their future.

So if you missed ABLC 2019, you missed some great laughs, a lot of learning, and powerful networking, but don’t despair. You can watch some of the sessions on BioChannel.TV.

That’s the ABLC recap and we look forward to seeing you all again soon. Stay tuned for the fall ABLC conference details to be announced soon.


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