The TIPping Point: Technology, Investment, Policy, and the advanced bioeconomy, Dioxide Materials, Genomatica, ADM, InnovaFeed, Aemetis, Nova Pangaea, and the UK are showing the way

November 24, 2020 |

It’s possible to summarize the advanced bioeconomy in three words, technology, investment, policy. These are the sine qua non, the foundational forces. Technology without investment and policy is a bunch of pretty things on a shelf, policy without technology or investment is bound to fail, and investment without technology or policy is bound to go into something else. 

Policy gives the carbon foundation which allows the value of addressing an externality, greenhouse gas emissions, by building viable technology projects that mitigate or replace. On top of policy comes technology, that gives us the alternatives to business as usual. Investment is what turns alternatives into an a new, sustainable mainstream.

Everything must work together. There’s no point in mandating one path, building feasible technology for a second, and financing a third. That’s what we have done by charting a policy aimed at all-electric vehicles, building the best technology for actually reducing emissions in the form of low-carbon fuels, and ensuring through our financial system that money overwhelmingly goes into the fossil fuel exploration. We finance the one, build the other and mandate a third — it seems non-sensical, but that’s what the world is doing, right now, more or less.

But there are areas where we are seeing a better approach — some, now reaching deployment, or organizing the forces that will lead to it. Let’s look at some of the good signs today.

Deployment in Carbon Capture and Use: Dioxide Materials

In Florida, CO2 to Formic Acid conversion was conducted with Dioxide Materials’ three-compartment electrolyzer design and the results are published in the Journal of CO2 Utilization. The current results demonstrate the long-term stability of 1000 h operation of the three-compartment design CO2 to formic acid electrolyzer at industrially relevant current densities with high formic acid product concentration and high formic acid FE’s. The electrolyzer design and data provide a pathway in the commercialization of electrochemical CO2 reduction to formic acid.

Deployment in sustainable nylon: Genomatica

In California, Genomatica signed a first-of-its-kind deal with Aquafil to build a demonstration scale facility to produce the largest quantity of 100% renewable nylon-6 ever available. Responding to surging consumer interest in sustainable products, the material will go to leading global brands eager to explore and develop renewable products, create showcase goods and test feedback with customers. The deal is a 50-fold expansion over previous production levels.

This multi-year agreement provides the foundation for a more sustainable nylon value chain by expanding a longstanding Genomatica partnership with major European nylon producer Aquafil. The two companies teamed up in January 2020 to produce the world’s first ton of bio-nylon-6 precursor at pilot scale. The first production runs are slated to create 50 tons of bio-nylon for pre-commercial use by Genomatica’s brand partners, with the demonstration plant to continue supporting product needs until commercial scale plants are in operation.

The produced material will be used to develop renewably-sourced products, replacing traditional nylon that generates upwards of 60 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually. Under this agreement, initial volumes of bio-nylon ingredients will be available in the latter half of 2021.

Deployment in sustainable protein: ADM, InnovaFeed 

In Illinois, ADM and InnovaFeed announced plans to collaborate on the construction and operation of the world’s largest insect protein production site, in Decatur, Illinois. The facility will be owned and operated by InnovaFeed and will co-locate with ADM’s Decatur corn processing complex, with ADM supplying feedstocks, waste heat and more. 

Insect feed has become an increasingly popular protein ingredient for the agriculture and aquaculture industries. Construction of the new high-capacity facility is expected to create more than 280 direct and 400 indirect jobs in the Decatur region by the second phase. Construction is targeted to begin in 2021. When both are complete, the plant would have a target annual production capacity of 60,000 metric tons of animal feed protein derived from Hermetia Illucens, a type of fly with exceptional nutritional qualities; the plant will also have the capability to produce 20,000 metric tons every year of oils for poultry and swine rations, and 400,000 metric tons of fertilizer.

Proving technology: Nova Pangaea

In the UK, Nova Pangaea Technologies has successfully developed and trialled its first E10 fuel on a motorcycle at its headquarters in Redcar, UK. The trial which took place on 30th October featured Nova Pangaea’s breakthrough process, REFNOVA, which converts 2nd generation non-food feedstocks such as woody and agricultural residues into valuable products for biofuels, biochemicals and biopolymers. 

The fuel was produced by Nova Pangaea’s sustainable fuel partner, Coryton, at their base in Essex, UK. Nova Pangaea’s REFNOVA process sustainably converts plant residues from forestry and agricultural processes and turns it into the base products for biofuels, biopolymers and biochemicals. The technology is a world-first, patented process developed by the Redcar, UK based company. Significant commercial interest in 2nd generation technology is worldwide. 

Assembling finance: Aemetis Biogas 

In California, Aemetis Biogas has been awarded $7.8 million in matching grants through the 2020 California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) Dairy Digester Research and Development Program (DDRDP). Aemetis Biogas was awarded approximately 50% of the total projects awarded in the 2020 DDRDP grant cycle. The combined project will annually displace approximately 6.9 million gallons of petroleum-based diesel fuel, eliminate approximately 2.6 million metric tons of CO2 equivalents, and create over 100 project related jobs in California’s Central Valley.

In December 2020, Aemetis will begin construction of its biogas upgrading facility that will allow the company to inject RNG into PG&E’s natural gas pipeline by the end of the first quarter of 2021.

Assembling policy: Sustainable Aviation Fuels

In Washington, Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D-CA) introduced the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Act, legislation to incentivize the production of sustainable aviation fuel and help the aviation sector reduce carbon emissions. The Sustainable Aviation Fuel Act would create a new blender’s tax credit for SAF, linked to carbon reductions. It would authorize $1 billion in federal funding for U.S. projects that produce, transport, blend, or store SAF. It would authorize $175 million in research funding to push the limits of existing SAF technology. It would require the EPA to establish an aviation-only Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) similar to California’s successful transportation-wide LCFS.

For the purposes of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Act, only SAF that achieves at least a 50% reduction in greenhouse gases compared to fossil jet fuel on a lifecycle basis will qualify for the various incentives in the bill. Multiple types of SAF have been certified by ASTM International as safe for use in airplanes up to certain maximum blending limits.

Bringing it all together: The UK’s 10-Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution

In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson introduced his 10 Point Plan “to mobilize £12 billion of government investment, and potentially 3 times as much from the private sector, to create and support up to 250,000 green jobs.” He said that the plan would turn the UK into the world’s number one centre for green technology and finance, laying the foundations for decades of economic growth by delivering net zero emissions in a way that creates jobs and allows us to carry on living our lives. 

“There will be electric vehicle technicians in the Midlands,” Johnson said, “construction and installation workers in the North East and Wales, specialists in advanced fuels in the North West, agroforestry practitioners in Scotland, and grid system installers everywhere.”

The points of the plan are:

  • Point 1: Advancing offshore wind
  • Point 2: Driving the growth of low carbon hydrogen
  • Point 3: Delivering new and advanced nuclear power
  • Point 4: Accelerating the shift to zero emission vehicles
  • Point 5: Green public transport, cycling and walking
  • Point 6: Jet zero and green ships
  • Point 7: Greener buildings
  • Point 8: Investing in carbon capture, usage and storage
  • Point 9: Protecting our natural environment
  • Point 10: Green finance and innovation

The complete plan can be found here. 

The Bottom Line

As the UK suggested, you need technology, investment and policy working together to build a sustainable economy. The UK plan is pretty prescriptive — it selects winners, wind but not solar, nuclear but not zero emission vehicles but not an end to coal, low carbon hydrogen but not really making the case for hydrogen vehicles, and not doing much for heavy road transport and machinery. Greener buildings in a time when office space is becoming less and less important to society. Marine and jet biofuels without a yield revolution in the feedstocks they are made from.

So, we’ll see how prescriptive plans work out. The UK could have done something far more useful in the form of a low-carbon fuel and power standard, and financing demonstrations in the UK of pilot-scale technologies around the world conditioned on first commercials being deployed there. that would have placed more trust in markets to find the best technology sets. 

The good news is that the UK is taking an integrated approach, even if it feels a little like “we at Whitehall know best” and shows a certain distrust for the good English people to figure out their future. The same English stock from which the founders of the industrial democracies of the United States, Canada and Australia and New Zealand sprang, not to mention their work in helping to build the economies of India, South Africa, Hong Kong, Argentina, Malaysia, Singapore, and more. 

Let’s not quibble, integrated approaches are better than running off in three different directions all at once, as the United States has done in ensuring that the money goes to fossil fuels, the policy supports EVs and the technology that works best in knocking down the carbon scores gets trapped inside the bioeconomy with nowhere to go. So, Rule Britannia! even if Rules Britannia might need some work.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Category: Top Stories

Thank you for visting the Digest.