OPINION: Notes from the Advanced Biofuels Summit

Small musings from Sam Nejame on the recent Advanced Biofuels Leadership Conference held in Washington D.C. last week. Sam Nejame is a management consultant to the biofuel and renewable chemical industries.


Despite ongoing political and economic challenges, the mood of attendees at the Advanced Biofuels Leadership Conference last week in Washington DC was one of guarded optimism… with the largest outstanding issue (beyond financing) the continuing search for economically viable cellulosic sugars.

Things seen and heard or should have known in no particular order …

  • Waste Management says every Fortune 200 company has a “Zero Landfill” strategy. Good for recycling, good for groundwater. Not so good if you sell landfill space. Hence investments in Fulcrum BioEnergy among others.
  • SynGest says the United States’ largest trade imbalance is not in oil, it’s in fertilizer. The maker of “Bio-Ammonia” goes upstream to produce the “feedstock of feedstocks.”
  • Proterro makes sucrose via cyanobacteria trickling filter. Really? Wow. Take that sugarcane!
  • Chromatin is making farnesene in plants. Terpenes in plants? Shouldn’t they be making Taxol?
  • Jefferies and Co. analyst, Laurence Alexander noted a dry spring will likely bring continued drought and a down year for corn production. “You can see it coming.” Ouch.
  • Virdia, the cellulosic sugar company, claims they are cost competitive with corn at $4/bushel.
  • A panel of industry trade groups bemoaned the slow pace of cellulosic fuel development and worried it might threaten the whole RFS mandate. A point echoed by US Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack.
  • Likely outcomes from the November election could be dire. If Romney wins, expect incentives to sunset with the new administration pushing a massive tax overhaul.

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