On July 31 and August 1, 2013, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) held its sixth annual "Biomass 2013: How the Advanced Bioindustry is Reshaping American Energy." Over two days, attendees heard from Senators, Representatives, Obama Administration officials, and representatives of industry on the current and future progress of the biofuels, renewable chemicals, and biobased products industries. The Biomass 2013 website, including detailed information on the conference and its program is available online.
During the conference, speakers discussed the immense progress that has been made in just the last few years within the biofuels, renewable chemicals, and biobased products industries, as well as the legislative, financing, and other challenges that still lie ahead. They discussed the benefits that have accompanied the growth of these industries, including the thousands of well-paying jobs created throughout the country, particularly in rural communities. In addition, brief descriptions of some of the key announcements made and stories of success told during the conference further demonstrating the growing progress and maturity of the industry are summarized below.
INEOS Bio announced that it is now the first company producing cellulosic ethanol on a commercial scale at its Indian River BioEnergy Center in Vero Beach, Florida. A copy of this announcement is available online. Algae biofuels producer Sapphire Energy announced that it has paid off its entire United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Loan Guarantee under the Biorefinery Assistance Program in the amount of $54.5 million. A copy of this announcement is available online. These two announcements help to reinforce the message that the advanced and cellulosic biofuels industries are real and are progressing toward commercialization, especially with the help of policies including the federal RFS and loan guarantee programs.
Sue Hager, Myriant, discussed how a $50 million cost sharing cooperative agreement from DOE helped the company successfully start up its flagship bio-succinic acid plant located in Lake Providence, Louisiana. A copy of this announcement is available online. Hager reported that Myriant's bio-succinic acid plant is the first of its kind and scale in North America and has an annual nameplate production capacity of 30 million pounds of bio-succinic acid, which can be used to make numerous consumer products, including paints. Hager stressed several policy initiatives that would help promote biofuels, renewable chemicals, and biobased products, including one that would broaden the Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT) to value biorefineries as real property and passage of the Senate version of the Farm Bill, with mandatory funding for biorefinery assistance.
Attendees heard from the heads of all the major biofuels trade associations. They echoed the success and progress that has been made in the last few years and discussed their efforts to advocate on Capitol Hill and within the Administration to ensure continued support to facilitate research, development, and commercialization of the biofuels, renewable chemicals, and biobased products industries. All leaders mentioned the importance of the RFS and the current threat to it led by the refining industry and its supporters.
Several policymakers also presented during the conference touting their support for the U.S. biofuels, renewable chemicals, and biobased products industries. They all remarked on the tough battle industry is facing, as opposition is ramping up against the RFS, federal funding for biofuels, renewable chemicals, and biobased products and other programs designed to promote the industry. USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack reiterated his support for the RFS and encouraged attendees to urge Congress to pass the Senate version of the next Farm Bill, which includes mandatory funding for biofuels, and for the first time broadens eligibility to renewable chemicals and biobased products. In addition, Secretary Vilsack discussed how USDA is working hard to find funding to help industry, especially in light of the budget sequester. For instance, he told the audience how USDA had recently restarted the biobased labeling program after having to pause it due to the sequester. He commended the recent successes of INEOS Bio and Sapphire Energy noted above.
Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) expressed support for the biofuels industry and touted Iowa's renewable energy production, including growth in ethanol plants and wind energy. He mentioned that renewable fuels help reduce dependence on foreign sources of oil. He also asserted his continued support for the federal RFS and called the audience to advocate that: (1) the RFS and biofuels are saving consumers money at the pump; (2) RFS and biofuels are not diverting food to fuel, any such suggestion is "hogwash"; (3) production of corn is at a record high because of biofuels; (4) biofuels are contributing to clean air and clean environment; (5) the RFS is necessary to drive investment in advanced and cellulosic biofuels, which have even greater environmental benefits; and (6) the RFS is needed to ensure a level playing field for alternative fuels.
Representative John Garamendi (D-CA) talked about his background as a rancher in California. He expressed his support for industry and made the point that biomass is used for many things beyond biofuels, including renewable chemicals and biobased products. He stressed the importance of these industries and called on the audience to urge policymakers to continue their support. To make his point that such advocacy is needed now more than ever to help protect support for the promotion of biofuels, renewable chemicals, and biobased products, Representative Garamendi detailed several provisions in various appropriations bills industry opponents have successfully passed. These provisions include several on which we have reported this year such as those in the House, which passed a version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which would limit DOD's ability to procure and promote advanced drop-in biofuels for military use.
Michael Carr, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) discussed the importance of public-private partnerships and need for continued investment for the ongoing development and commercialization of biofuels, renewable chemicals, and biobased products. He made the point that there is much momentum and now is not the time to stop government support. In addition, Dan Utech, Deputy Director for Energy and Climate Change at the White House Domestic Policy Council discussed the President's commitment to take action against climate change. As part of this effort, the Administration recognizes the importance and opportunity of biofuels, renewable chemicals, and biobased products.
Valerie Reed, Acting Director, Bioenergy Technologies Office, DOE opened and closed the first day of the conference. She spoke of DOE's commitment to industry and discussed its efforts to help promote development and commercialization, including the renewable carbon fiber initiative and upcoming workshop taking place on September 3, 2013, in Chicago, Illinois on natural gas-biomass to liquids. Reed remarked that DOE workshops and funding opportunities are some of the most important tools DOE uses to get information to industry about potential assistance.
Newly sworn-in DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz spoke on the last day of the conference. The press release detailing his complete remarks is available online. Secretary Moniz described various DOE initiatives to help facilitate further development of renewable chemicals, biobased products, and biofuels. He also announced that DOE is making an investment of more than $22 million in four projects intended to help "develop cost-competitive algae fuels and streamline the biomass feedstock supply for advanced biofuels."
Algae Fuels Investments
Secretary Moniz announced that DOE would invest a total of $16.5 million on the following algae biofuel projects:
• Hawaii Bioenergy ($5 million DOE investment): Based in Lihue, Kauai, Hawaii Bioenergy will develop a cost-effective photosynthetic open pond system to produce algal oil. The project will also demonstrate preprocessing technologies that reduce energy use and the overall cost of extracting lipids and producing fuel intermediates.
• Sapphire Energy ($5 million DOE investment): Headquartered in San Diego, California, Sapphire Energy will develop a new process to produce algae-based fuel that is compatible with existing refineries. The project will also work on improving algae strains and increasing yield through cultivation improvements.
• New Mexico State University ($5 million DOE investment): For its project, New Mexico State University will increase the yield of a microalgae, while developing harvesting and cultivation processes that lower costs and support year-round production.
• California Polytechnic State University ($1.5 million DOE investment): California Polytechnic State University will conduct research and development work to increase the productivity of algae strains and compare two separate processing technologies. The project will be based at a municipal wastewater treatment plant in Delhi, California that has six acres of algae ponds.
Investments in Feedstock Chain for Advanced Biofuels
Secretary Moniz also announced the following nearly $6 million investment:
• Project led by Columbus, Ohio-based FDC Enterprises to reduce harvesting, handling, and preprocessing costs across the entire biomass feedstock supply chain. The project will receive a nearly $6 million DOE investment. The FDC Enterprises project will work with independent growers and biofuel companies in Iowa, Kansas, Virginia, and Tennessee -- including POET, ADM, Clariant International, and Pellet Technology USA -- to develop new field equipment, biorefinery conveyor designs and improved preprocessing technologies. The project will also develop and deploy feedstock quality-monitoring tools to reduce sampling and analysis costs, and conduct real-time analysis of feedstock characteristics such as moisture content and particle size.