Sayings and images from 12 years traveling on the bioeconomy road

July 28, 2019 |

Today, the Digest turns 12.

Since the Digest was launched in July 2007, we’ve had the privilege of telling the amazing success story of the bioeconomy— new applications, companies, and platform technologies have been pouring out of research labs and many of them are deploying rapidly at commercial scale. If you’ve seen the rise of renewable diesel, the expansion of renewable natural gas, the wide dispersal of advanced vegan foods, or the revolution in omega-3s, plastics, fabrics, protein, skin care and more, you’ve seen it too. What began as a handful of technologists working on a handful of feedstocks to produce one or two key molecules has become a rainbow of amazing stuff.

Along the way, we formed a few few observations that we’ve tucked away in the back of our journalist’s notebook — we hope some will amuse and provide some insight.  They’re short, and in alphabetical order, and we would like to celebrate our 12th birthday by sharing them with you.

Thank you to each one of our 3,829,576 readers – you’ve made this an awesome ride.

The Futurol advanced biofuels demonstration plant in Champagne-Ardennes, Framce

Able was I ere I saw lignin.

Ah, the clear thinking and pain tolerance that flows from the use of Someone’s Else’s Money.

Absolutely, as Rogers and Hammerstein said, Climb  Ev’ry Mountain, except the Thermodynamic one

A friend in DC is a friend indeed.

A person who makes their living selling research will usually try and sell you some more.

Algae are not puppies, they are little wolves.

Algae, I heard somewhere, is ancient Arabic for “the company grows slower than the biomass does”

Allow us to summarize. You can finance a liquid renewable fuel as long as the market is solid, especially if you are making solids, and the market for solids is liquid, and your liquidity is solid. Adding solids to your liquids will make you more solid, and eventually more liquid. If you know what I mean. In other words, to get altitude, all you need is a little more grounding. So that clears up that.

Opening of Algenol’s pilot scale facility in Ft. Myers, Florida

Among feedstocks, waste makes haste.

As Jennifer Holmgren says, never fall in love with a feedstock.

As Napoleon said: Never make decisions based on assumptions about what the other guy is thinking

Ask any poppy farmer – distributors rule the earth unless interrupted by cartels.

Ask not what the oil majors can do for you, ask what you can do for the oil majors.

At the opening of the Dupont Cellulosic Ethanol plant (now Verbio) in Nevada, IA

Bacteria are using you, not the other way around.

Before embarking on a biofuels venture, chew and digest a car, just for practice.

Big Oil, Big Chemicals, and Big Ag will be the only enduring friends you will have.

Build the smallest thing you can.

Beauty is in the eye of the debtholder.

Before you invest, check the mass balance.

Enerkem’s commercial-scale plant in Edmonton. Alberta

Climb one hundred feet above your proposed site – whatever you can see, that’s your feedstock.

Confuse the enemy and plant seeds of doubt

Refueling with biofuels at sea, central Pacific Ocean

Date what you see in the lab, marry what you see in the demo

Darn it, why can’t microorganisms understand plain English?

Do not begin an algal biofuels adventure until you have found an affordable way to get the algae out of the water, or the water out of the algae.

Don’t expect a government hand-out, or a hand-up, but if you expect a hand-slap, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Don’t think gallons per acre, think dollars per acre.

Don’t’ think megatonne, think negatonne

Dude, it’s the residue.

Opening of the Novozymes enzymes plant in Blair, Nebraska

Easier to use an organism than make one.

Eat humble pie at every meal.

Even bad companies can make money in great times, great companies make money in bad times

Every feedstock will eventually cost too much.

Everybody in the world has the best catalyst.

Everything tracks oil prices.

Opening of the POET-DSM cellulosic ethanol plant in Emmetsburg, IA

Fats and fast are two different things.

Find the smartest people in the world, then hire someone else.

First comes the cash flow, then the world domination.

The ENI cellulosic biofuels plant in Crescentino, Italy

Half of your cost will be the pipes.

High oil prices make investors want to fund fossil fuel projects, not alternatives.

History is like the greatest constitutional monarch of all. As majestic, diverting and entertaining as it is, history has no direct power over us. It only retains the power to encourage and to warn, and in that endeavor, the closer we are connected to history and see ourselves inside the story, the more we draw lessons of real value, and that is why the story of our friends, relations, neighbors, fellow citizens and ancestors is something that can be of real value to study.

Hit your milestone, or someone surely will hit you.

How Green Was My Valley of Death

Checking out biomass at a Lallemeand facility

I wish that the world was a lot more like Iowa.

I Wood iI I Could

If you are making CO2, you are losing carbon.

If you are thinking long-term, think about it in Mandarin.

If you make a million using someone else’s garden, they are going to want it back.

In finance, begin with the exit in mind.

In life, you do not get what you want, or what you deserve, or even what you negotiate. You get what everyone else overlooked at the time.

Indirect impacts will never be well enough understood for policy purposes.

Groundbreaking at the Clariant advanced biofuels plant in Romania.

“Invictus revisited”

Out of the market that buries me
Black as the pits of Chicago or Seoul,
I “thank” whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable shorts and trolls.

In the fell clutch of my quarterlies
my plan now but a mushroom cloud
Under the bludgeonings of analyses
My shares are nuked, my team is cowed

If I overpromise did, and underdeliver too
And loometh not Bulls but market Bears,
Yet in the shareholder lawsuit queue
Shall ye find me hustling preferred shares

It matters not how bad the data
How sadly our pilot fails
I shall reposition this: just a beta
Tomorrow, friends, we find the Holy Grails

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speak at the launch of the Great Green Fleet, San Diego, CA

It is not what you know, or who you know, but what you do with who you know.

It rained all night the day I left, the biomass was dry, the hype so hot, we burned to death,  investor don’ you cry

In a Moore’s Law environment, the number of suckers born every minute doubles every two years.

Incentives are like people, cutest when they are young and small.

Investor at the climate change pitch event:  I was shaken, not stirred.

If you think 100 Years of Solitude was bad, try pitching biofuels in Silicon Valley

If your technology is uncool, put “nano” on the front of it.

It’s a small step from Wonder Crop to Blunder Crop

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood field questions at ABLC

John Benemann tells me, if algae looks good, we’re in big trouble.

“Joint venture” is an Old English phrase meaning “you’re paying for it”.

The Qualitas Health commercial algae site in Columbus, NM

Land use change is caused by land zoning, not crop prices.

Let Not Your Motto Be: 1, 2, skip a few…99,100.

Look it up, the oldest profession is agriculture, the second is stock-jobbing.

The 1944 Soybean-based car celebrated at the Petersen Automotive Museum, Los Angeles, CA

Maize is a craze, cane’s insane, but grass and wood are always good.

Make all your failures fail quickly.

Malthusians and Luddites are everywhere.

Many bad things start with the pretreatment.

Measure twice, cut once, overpromise nonce

Meet a spec, let someone else make one.

Microalgae is the wild, wild wet.

Money smalls like terpenes and terpenes smell like money

More important than land use change is land use intensification

More important than peak oil is peak investor patience.

More valuable than diamonds and the harder to find is the hard data

At a nexus of sugar cane biofuels and renewable hydropower, Brazil’s Igassu Falls forms an imposing border between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay

Network like crazy. No one can do it alone.

Never enter a field that is exactly five years away from commercialization.

Never move water, no matter what they tell you.

No matter what you think you are inventing, you are inventing something else.

No one knows anything about tomorrow.

No one will give you infrastructure for Christmas.

Abengoa’s waste-to-energy plant in Salamanca, Spain

Ode to [Redacted Company Name]

Hath, er,
Jammed up)
Trust me!
We are
X-rayed and

Paul Kamp’s Led Zeppelin tribute band rocks it out at a Renewable Fuels Association event

“Off we go, into the wild green yonder” doesn’t quite cut it any more

One amazing success will drive a thousand admirers on to your Band Wagon

Opponents don’t really want biofuels to exist without subsidies, they want biofuels to go away.

Propel Fuels pioneered a slew of new outlets in Southern California, including this one in Claremont, CA.

Partner early and often. Things go better with Koch.

People are interested in their opportunity, not your opportunity.

People never exaggerate so much as after a pilot, during a conference, or prior to a cap raise

Petrochemical companies are filled with very smart, often very frustrated people.

Plants have had 500 million years to learn how to protect their sugars.

Prepare for the worst. It’s coming.

A cheeky Hot 30 photo vote from Genomatica

Seek truth, seek wisdom, and above all seek hydrogen.

Sell a problem, deliver a solution, not the other way around

Sing your musical scales with Julie Andrews and me: “DOE spray me fast a lot of dough”

Smart people follow fuel prices, smarter people follow fish meal prices

Solve one very big problem and partner for everything else.

Somebody didn’t tell you something important.

Someone else is doing it too.

Someone in the oil industry is laughing right now at your concept of scale.

Petrobras’s impressive R&D facility in Rio de Janeiro

That fourth law of Thermodynamics, also known as the Law of the Conservation of Experts, states that everything will be described as impossible until you pay me enough to state otherwise.

The autobahn of excess leads to the palace of restructuring.

The bad news with jatropha is that no one has ever domesticated it.   The good news with jatropha is that no one has ever domesticated it.

The devil is in the demo.

The funny thing about Stealth mode is that no on notices you, until it’s too late for you.

The genome is the mother of all opportunity.

The only limitation on the power of propaganda is the rate at which people fall for it.

The just-compelted ZeaChem demonstration facility at Boardman, Oregon

The road to Hell is paved with compelling spreadsheets.

The secret of life is in Tom Sawyer, that is, getting everyone to paint the fence for you

The winner is the one who mastered the value chain, not the use case

The world is stranger than a lab.

The world will only be changed by ideas that make money for someone

There are lies, damned lies, and scale-up projections.

Mechanizing the sugar cane harvest, São Paolo state, Brazil

There are very few successful fuel producers for very good reasons.

There is no green premium, just a green pillory you get to sit in once in a while.

There is no patent on foolishness, it is in the public domain and used all too frequently.

There is not a food shortage, there is an income distribution problem.

There isn’t enough fresh water for anything, much less everything.

There’s too much oxygen in your bio-oil.

Think twice about getting the upper hand over a Brazilian.

Groundbreaking at the Fulcrum BioEnergy Sierra Biofuels plant near Sparks, NV

This Magic Microbe /
So Different and So New /
Someone is Stealing right now /
Out from Under You

Thou that first reacheth oil price parity and hath unlimited affordable feedstock shall inheriteth the earth.

Thrilling, your magic algae, until a grazer eats it

To every presentation on a biofuels investment opportunity, bring a copy of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Too many companies are joined at the hype.

Try explaining “food vs fuel” to the horse you’re riding around on.

The Commonwealth Innovation Forum — a side event of the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia’s Gold Coast — covered the bioeconomy in depth. Here, Malta PM Joseph Muscat gives a keynote on opportunity.

Values drive habits, habits drive actions, actions change the world. So if you want to change the world, start with values.

Value, like Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, is found upstream

Vocês serão mais felizes se você compreender o que isto diz

An industry working group huddles at USDA headquarters in Washington, DC

We were for fuels until there were chemicals, and for algae until there was natural gas, for jet fuel until there were fragrances, and for CNG until there were skin creams. We were for enzymes until there were gasifiers, and we were for corn sugars until there were cane sugars, and we were for cellulosic sugars until there were gas streams. We were for biomass until there was fracking, fuel cells until there was Tesla, feed without the fish until there was meat without the cow. And what really annoys those of us who’ve been around in this sector is the lack of policy stability.

What this world needs is a good five-cent sugar.

Whup me, beat me, sadly mistreat me, I will never reveal my catalyst

What this country needs is a good five-cent cigar, and a good 5-cent sugar, and is going to get neither.

What’s a renewable chemical? It’s a biofuel trying to raise a Series C venture round.

Write nothing to anyone that you would not feel comfortable seeing on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

DSM’s stunning biotechnology innovation center in Delft, Natherlands

You are attacking someone else’s business model and livelihood. Don’t complain when they try and send you to the devil.

You are not the first one to discover the opportunities in Africa.

You are the CEO of a corporation called “you”.

You better figure out where the phosphorus is coming from.

You cannot think too small.

You never know until you know, and then unfortunately you know.

You think you are developing a technology, but you really are building a company

Your microorganism has no idea what you are doing.

You can think win-win, but did Genghis Khan?


99.999% of the planet’s people have no idea who you are, or why you matter, and won’t.

BioChannel.TV’s The New Voices drills down into the bioeconomy issues of the day.

Behind the cameras at BioChannel.TV

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