Toughing Out Turbulence

A concentrated group of serious industry players committed to the advanced biofuel and chemical industry gathered downtown Minneapolis in mid-October, for an intimate discussion of policy issues, progress, new technologies and the industry’s outlook.
By Anna Simet | October 29, 2014

A concentrated group of serious industry players committed to the advanced biofuel and chemical industry gathered at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Minneapolis in mid-October, for an intimate discussion of policy issues, progress, new technologies and the industry’s outlook.


The National Advanced Biofuel Conference & Expo kicked off with a federal biofuels policy panel featuring Mike McAdams, president of the Advanced Biofuel Association, Joe Jobe, CEO of the National Biodiesel Board, and Matt Carr, Algae Biomass Organization executive director.


After lamenting the damage that a dysfunctional Congress has inflicted on the industry over the past two years, and uncertainty surrounding renewable volume obligation  (RVO) numbers, renewable fuel standard (RFS) pathways, the compliance division of the Quality Assurance Program, the on-again, off-again tax code and unpredictability as to whether Congress will get anything done in any amount of time, McAdams expressed optimism for a potential change of direction after the midterm election in a few weeks. “Though there’s a good chance of a Republican takeover of the Senate, which could break loose some legislative and regulatory circumstances that have taken place over the last couple of years…if it does happen, and we are able to move some things forward, we could reaffirm that the federal government recognizes the importance of cellulosic and advanced biofuels industry…that will clear up this lack of certainty, which would be very, very helpful.”


Following McAdams, National Biodiesel Board CEO Joe Jobe highlighted the success the biodiesel industry experienced in 2012 and 2013, but delved into its major struggles following a leaked U.S. EPA RVO proposal draft. “If it was designed to have a chilling effect on markets and on RIN values, then it achieved its purpose, because RIN values began to drop at that point,” he said. That, coupled with an expired blenders tax credit, resulted in a very tough year for the biodiesel industry, particularly from small- and medium-sized producers.


Jobe concluded by saying that he’s cautiously optimistic that the EPA will ultimately get it right, even though it will have taken them a year to do so.


Algae Biomass Organization Executive Director Matt Carr emphasized the huge potential algae has to alleviate some of today’s most pressing sustainability issues, but pointed out that the sector has moved beyond its youthful, exuberance phase that drew many “looking to strike it rich,” and has boiled down to serious players focused on strategic partnerships, diversifying portfolios and looking overseas for first production facilities.


Carr provided several examples of developments amongst companies looking at higher value markets while domestic biofuel policy remains uncertain, but was quick to add that the industry hasn’t moved away from fuels. “It remains a main driver,” he said.


For the algae industry, a big piece of missed opportunity lies within the Clean Power Plan proposed rules for new and existing power plants, from Carr’s perspective. “There is this really dynamic and exciting set of technologies, many of which are biobased, to use waste CO2 to create fuels and products…to really turn CO2 from a problem into an opportunity, a revenue generator opportunity for utilities  and a way to address climate change...”


Carr said that right now, the way EPA has written proposed rules for existing power plants, there’s some acknowledgement of carbon capture and sequestration  and underground storage, but no discussion at all on reusing that CO2.”


Following the policy panel was a biofuels plant management and investment executive roundtable featuring Mike Jerke, CEO of Guardian Energy Management LLC; Brian Kletscher, CEO of Highwater Ethanol and Randall Doyal, CEO of Al-Corn Clean Fuel.  Two days of technical breakout sessions ensued, covering topics including new routes to advanced ethanol, momentum biogas producers are experiencing in the advanced biofuel markets and innovation in biodiesel and renewable diesel approaches, and an Oct. 15 stover collection field day at Poet-DSM’s Project Liberty in Emmetsburg, Iowa.

Author: Anna Simet
Managing Editor, Biomass Magazine
asimet@bbiinternational.com
701-738-4961