DuPont innovation chief sees no threat to biotech from shale gas

14 November 2012 01:57  [Source: ICIS news]

PHILADELPHIA (ICIS)--Emerging US energy independence will not erode the nation’s biotech industry, DuPont’s chief innovation officer said on Tuesday, predicting that a broader use of natural gas will raise prices for the energy resource and that biofuels will continue to have a role.

Thomas Connelly, DuPont's executive vice-president and chief innovation officer, said at a biotech industry conference that the increasing availability of shale gas and unconventional oil will broaden the US energy base.

As the keynote speaker for the inaugural International Forum on Commercialising Global Green, Connelly was responding to a question about a new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA). The IEA report forecasted that by 2020 the US essentially will be energy self-sufficient and a net exporter of natural gas, and that by 2035 the US will be a net exporter of crude oil.

In earlier panel discussions at the forum, some biotech officials expressed concerns that with the advent of US energy independence, the need for biofuels and other alternative energy sources could evaporate, especially for those that are taxpayer-funded.

“I would respond to that by saying that we need a broader, more varied energy portfolio, we need broader energy base,” Connelly said.

“I’ve only seen excerpts of the IEA report, but I think there was a focus on natural gas, and I think that will have an impact on the electric power industry, especially versus coal-fired plants and other ways to generate electricity, so it will have a big impact there,” he said.

“For transportation, it is really hard to beat the energy density associated with liquid fuels,” Connelly added, noting that “compressed natural gas may work for vehicles with limited-radius range, but we think that liquid transportation fuels, including biotech liquid fuels, will have a significant role to play in the future”.

“I would say that from a feedstock standpoint, natural gas, if abundant and cheap, and I believe it will be both abundant and cheap – although given the current differential value between petroleum and natural gas there has to be arbitrage to some extent, so if you see $100 oil I don’t think you’re going to see $2 natural gas or even $3 or $4 natural gas – natural gas will find a level somewhere,” he said.

“I think it [natgas] will be advantaged, but I don’t think it will be advantaged to the extent that we’ve seen over the last year or so,” Connelly added.

“And I finally, I am very interested in natural gas as a feedstock for other applications as well,” Connelly said, suggesting that increasingly broader use of natgas will leave space for continuing biotech development.

The two-day industrial biotech conference runs through Wednesday this week.

The event was organised by the Society for the Commercial Development of Industrial Biotechnology (SCDiBIO), an affiliate of the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA).

Paul Hodges studies key influences shaping the chemical industry in Chemicals and the Economy

By: Joe Kamalick
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