Biofuel Producers Thrive Despite Cheap Oil

According to a new report, “How Alternative Fuel Companies Will Compete with $50 Oil,image001many biofuel producers are still able to thrive despite dropping oils prices nearing $50 per barrel. Lux Research evaluated 25 alternative fuel producers to identify the ones most likely to compete with cheap oil and found that renewable diesel producers Neste Oil and Diamond Green Diesel, gasification specialist Red Rock Biofuels, and Edeniq, which makes cellulosic ethanol, were among 13 alternative producers of fuels best positioned for cheap oil.

Lux Research analysts used its database of 400 alternative fuel producers to select 25 companies – from seven technology families, four feedstock types and three stages of development – for detailed analysis.

Among their findings:

  • Neste Oil, Diamond Green are benefiting from cost cuts. Thanks to lowered production costs achieved through feedstock diversification, renewable diesel producers Neste Oil and Diamond Green Diesel were the clear leaders in Lux’s model. On the other hand, Solena Biofuels and Joule Unlimited were among the laggards on account of delayed production and commercialization.
  • Developers move to alternate markets. Amid low oil prices, high-profile companies such as Solazyme, Amyris, and Gevo have shifted decisively toward specialty chemicals and nutraceuticals this year. Sapphire Energy also has shifted away from fuels and now targets nutraceuticals, producing Omega-3 EPA from its algae.
  • Oil majors remain a pillar of support. Believing cheap oil to be a short-term phenomenon, oil majors have remained prominent supporters of alternative fuel developers across various technology platforms. For example, Total has added to its existing portfolio in biofuels and bio-based chemical companies by investing in Renmatix, a biomass-to-sugars company.

“$50 oil was never an afterthought for technology developers,” said Yuan-Sheng Yu, Lux research associate and the lead author of the report. “Many companies have technology roadmaps for cheaper alternative fuels. Not all of them will actually achieve that benchmark, but some will – while others will find alternate markets or, ironically, use support from oil majors to survive until prices rise again.”

Biofuels Leaders Ask President for Meeting

A dozen organizations and companies representing biofuels interests this week sent a letter to President Obama asking for a meeting on proposed rules under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) due to come out next month.

fuels-americaThe letter comes on the heels of an analysis from the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) showing how EPA delays in setting volume requirements (RVOs) under the RFS have resulted in the loss of some $13.7 billion in investment in advanced biofuels like cellulosic ethanol. The letter was signed by BIO, the Renewable Fuels Association, Growth Energy, Advanced Ethanol Coalition, National Corn Growers Association, Association of Equipment Manufacturers, POET, DSM, Novozymes, and Abengoa.

“The EPA’s proposal in 2013 was an enormous disservice to you and your legacy, Mr. President,” the letter states. “Prior to the release of that proposal, we had asked to meet with the EPA, but were rebuffed. We would like to work with you to ensure that the mistake is not repeated.”

In addition to the letter and the analysis from BIO, the Fuels America coalition is running digital ads this week on Politico’s Environment & Energy section that say, “Will the next generation of biofuels be created in the United States or China? It’s up to you, Mr. President. Support the Renewable Fuel Standard.”

RFS Uncertainty Chills Advanced Biofuel Funding

biologoA new analysis from the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) finds delays in rulemaking for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) have chilled necessary investment in advanced and cellulosic biofuels.

According to the analysis, the industry has experienced an estimated $13.7 billion shortfall in investment over the past two years as the Environmental Protection Agency has delayed setting volume obligations for biofuels under the RFS.

(EPA) was nine months late issuing the 2013 RVOs and is more than 17 months late in issuing the 2014 rule. Further, the agency has made cellulosic biofuel producers wait an average of 29 months (more than two years) for approval of production pathways. Currently, 29 companies have unresolved petitions filed with EPA and they have been waiting on average more than 32 months for resolution. A majority of an estimated $13.7 billion shortfall in investment for cellulosic and new advanced technologies should therefore be attributed to EPA’s delays in issuing timely rules.

Brent Erickson, executive vice president of BIO’s Industrial & Environmental Section, notes that the situation came about just as plants were beginning to reach the commercial stage. “The chill in investment has had the heaviest impact on cellulosic biofuel developers,” said Erickson. “The delays in rulemaking have also undercut the industry’s ability to create new employment opportunities, resulting in the loss of more than 80,000 direct jobs.”

According to BIO, the industry has invested more than $5 billion in first-of-a-kind demonstration and commercial-scale biorefineries around the world. The analysis finds that as of April 2015, there are five commercial cellulosic biorefineries with a combined capacity of more than 50 million gallons within the United States and registered to meet the goals of the RFS, along with several pilot and demonstration plants. Additional commercial biorefineries are under construction.

Iowa Gov, Lt Gov to Tour Cellulosic Ethanol PLant

QCCPsyngentaQuad County Corn Processors (QCCP) and Syngenta will host Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds for a tour of the cellulosic ethanol production facility in Galva, Iowa, Tuesday, April 21. The QCCP plant is the first commercial cellulosic ethanol production in the state.

QCCP recently passed the 1 million gallon milestone for cellulosic ethanol production using Cellerate™ process technology. Cellerate is a collaboration between Syngenta and Cellulosic Ethanol Technologies, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of QCCP. Cellerate process technology is designed to increase an ethanol plant’s production by allowing the corn kernel fiber to be converted into cellulosic ethanol. With Cellerate, the biofuels industry now has the technology available to create 2 billion gallons of additional cellulosic ethanol – all from corn already being processed.

Think Tank Ponders Cellulosic Ethanol Link

3rd-wayA new report from centrist think tank Third Way ponders the quest for cellulosic biofuels and concludes that the pathway is via corn ethanol.

This report confirms what the biofuels industry has been saying for some time now – that you cannot have cellulosic ethanol without the continued production and support of grain-based ethanol,” said Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis.

One of the takeaways from the Third Way report is that, “proposals to reform the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) would discourage engagement from the corn ethanol industry” and thus delay commercialization of cellulosic ethanol and steer investment overseas.

Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) president Bob Dinneen says the report highlights the importance of consistent policy for the continued evolution of biofuels. “Legislative efforts to undermine either will set the nation’s energy and economic future back generations,” said Dinneen. “Third Way should be commended for adding a thoughtful component to this ongoing discussion and I can only hope that it is read with interest by Senators Feinstein and Toomey.

“(T)he biggest point, coming from a thought leader in the space like Third Way, is that Congressional intervention on the RFS would be highly detrimental to the deployment of cellulosic biofuel,” said Brooke Coleman of the Advanced Ethanol Council.

“The success of the conventional ethanol industry has driven serious investment in the cellulosic industry and there is an important linkage between them,” says Adam Monroe, President Americas for Novozymes which produces enzymes used for cellulosic ethanol production. “Tinkering with the corn portion of the RFS now will only hurt both industries.”

The report also concludes that “companies with an extensive background in the corn ethanol industry are cracking the cellulosic code,” and continued investment from these companies in facilities and innovation is critical to growing U.S. cellulosic capacity.”

EPA Changes Cellulosic Waiver Credit Provisions

epa-150The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued final rulemaking this week to clarify the data sources and methodology used to calculate the Cellulosic Waiver Credit (CWC) price.

Under the rule, EPA has calculated the CWC prices for 2014 at $0.49 and for 2015 at $0.64. According to the EPA document, “The price of CWCs are determined using a formula specified in the Clean Air Act (CAA). The cellulosic waiver credit price is the greater of $0.25 or $3.00 minus the wholesale price of gasoline, where both the $0.25 and $3.00 are adjusted for inflation.”

The direct final rule also amends the regulations to remove the CWC prices from the code of federal regulations allowing them to be announced in a more timely fashion on EPA’s website.

Partnership Accelerates Cellulosic Ethanol

nec15-cellerateAt the National Ethanol Conference last week, the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) presented Quad County Corn Processors (QCCP) with the RFA 2015 Industry Award for the development of a process that led to the plant producing the very first gallons of cellulosic ethanol last year.

Cellerate process technology is a collaborative effort between Syngenta and QCCP’s subsidiary company Cellulosic Ethanol Technologies LLC that QCCP licenses to other ethanol plants. Cellerate, which was previously known as the Adding Cellulosic Ethanol process, was invented by QCCP plant engineer Travis Brotherson, pictured here with Jack Bernens of Syngenta.

I talked with Travis and Jack about what Cellerate can do for the industry as a whole and individual plants in this interview: Interview with Quad County Corn Processors and Syngenta

2015 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

RFA Presents Ethanol Industry Awards

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) honored industry leaders during the 20th annual National Ethanol Conference in Grapevine, Texas this week.

nec15-awardBob Reynolds, president of Downstream Alternatives, received a Lifetime Appreciation Award for his role in the expansion of ethanol in today’s transportation fuel market.

Presenting the award, RFA CEO Bob Dinneen said Thompson spent his entire professional career working on fuel quality issues. “When he founded Downstream Alternatives, he did so to make sure that as renewable fuels, like ethanol, were introduced to the market, consumers would see no degradation in product quality,” said Dinneen.
2015 RFA Lifetime Award, Bob Reynolds

During his career, Reynolds authored numerous studies on the transportation and logistics of oxygenated fuels and was deeply engaged in projects involving fuel blending, product quality assurance, and terminal operations. In his nearly three and a half decades of working with the RFA, Reynolds had a hand in nearly every aspect of the downstream portion of the fuels industry. The ethanol industry continues to benefit from his work in developing fuel standards and technical guidelines for auto manufacturers and his ability to find common ground within the oil and automotive industries.
Interview with Bob Reynolds, RFA Award Winner

nec15-quad-awardIn recognition of their achievements in advancing the use of cellulosic ethanol technology, RFA presented Delayne Johnson and his Cellerate team at Quad County Corn Processors (QCCP) with the 2015 Industry Award.

“Delayne and his team have worked tirelessly toward making the production of cellulosic ethanol a reality,” said Dinneen. “The company helped officially kick off a new era, not only for the company but for the entire biofuel industry, when it opened its 2-million-gallon cellulosic bolt-on facility in Galva, Iowa, last September. Their breakthrough technology reflects their leadership in the industry and their commitment to innovation.”

Cellerate process technology is a collaborative effort between Syngenta and QCCP’s subsidiary company Cellulosic Ethanol Technologies LLC that QCCP licenses to other ethanol plants. Cellerate, which was previously known as the Adding Cellulosic Ethanol process, was invented by QCCP plant engineer Travis Brotherson.

2015 RFA Industry Award, Quad County Corn Processors

Cellerate process technology is a collaborative effort between Syngenta and QCCP’s subsidiary company Cellulosic Ethanol Technologies LLC that QCCP licenses to other ethanol plants.

2015 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

New President for POET-DSM Joint Venture

POET DSM logoPOET-DSM Advanced Biofuels has announced that Dan Cummings will serve as first president for the joint venture.

“Dan has more than 25 years of experience in the energy sector, and we’re excited to have him leveraging that knowledge to grow cellulosic ethanol production for the world,” said Jeff Lautt, Chairman of the POET-DSM Board. “We look forward to Dan taking the reins and leading this joint venture into 2015.”

cummingsCummings, who previously served as President and Director of INEOS New Planet BioEnergy, will oversee day-to-day operations of POET-DSM, represent the joint venture publicly, and coordinate functions between the parent companies. He will also act as the central point of contact for external relations, which includes all technology licensing activities for POET-DSM worldwide.

“This joint venture has already proven it can change the world, and I look forward to working with the individuals who helped make that happen,” Cummings said. “After two decades in the energy and clean tech sectors, I’m excited to start this new journey with POET-DSM.”

POET-DSM announced the startup phase in September for its 20 million-gallon-per-year cellulosic ethanol plant, which will later ramp up to 25 million gallons per year. The Emmetsburg, Iowa plant, dubbed “Project LIBERTY,” uses corn cobs, leaves, husk and some stalk to make renewable fuel. The joint venture is now marketing its LIBERTYTM Technology package to third parties for continued energy development.

Sorghum for Cellulosic Ethanol Update

While corn stover might be the big talk recently in the cellulosic ethanol game, sorghum could emerge as an alternative to the feedstock for the advanced green fuel. During the recent American Seed Trade Association CSS 2014 and Seed Expo in Chicago, Leah Guffey caught up with Scott Staggenborg of Chromatinasta-css-14-chromatin, a sorghum genetics company, and they talked about using sorghum for cellulosic ethanol.

“People forget that many of sorghum’s original uses were for animal feed, so biomass yield is important and digestability is important,” said Staggenborg. “So if you think about cellulosic ethanol production, it’s just really a big, steel or concrete digester, rather than a four-legged digester.”

He went on to say that with the 40,000 varieties of sorghum availability, his company is taking advantage of traditional breeding and modern molecular methods to get the most out of sorghum, especially for cellulosic biofuels. One of the breeds he points to as having great potential for biofuels is sweet sorghum, which he compares to an annual sugarcane, except sorghum has to re-established each year from seed.

“It’s high biomass, and it has high juice yields, as well as high sugar yields,” Staggenborg explained. “Those three combined result in high sugar yields per acre, and that’s the goal of our breeding program, as well as altering the composition of the sugar itself.”

He added that the Renewable Fuels Standard is a big driver in making sure there is a market for sorghum-based, or any other feedstock-based, cellulosic biofuel.

“The RFS establishes a market, establishes a need, sort of primes the pump for the demand, until it becomes something that widely available, although it’s already widely accepted, and allows a fledgling industry to move forward.”

You can hear all of Leah’s interview with Scott here: Scott Staggenborg, Chromatin