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BIO Rosalind Franklin Award Winner Provides Remarks at #BIOWC16

April 27, 2016
President and CEO of NexSteppe Anna Rath was presented the 2016 BIO Rosalind Franklin Award at the 2016 World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology in San Diego on Tuesday April 19. BIO established the Rosalind Franklin Award to honor an outstanding woman in the field of industrial biotechnology and bioprocessing.

Anna Rath delivered her acceptance remarks at this year's Conference. BIO captured these remarks and provided some highlights below:

...In receiving this award, I read up a bit on the life of Ms. Franklin...Given that one of the things NexSteppe is focused on is optimizing biomass for combustion to be able to displace coal, and much of what we do would not be possible without the work done by Ms. Franklin, I find it entertaining and a bit ironic that we have coal to thank for some of her early career development...

..For anyone not familiar with NexSteppe, we are a global seed company committed to enabling the bioeconomy by developing high-quality, cost-effective, scalable and reliable feedstocks for the entire range of biopower, biogas, advanced and cellulosic biofuels and biobased products...

...With all of that as background, let me say that this is an interesting time in the history and development of industrial biotechnology to be receiving this award. The industry is faced with challenges on all fronts:

  • The lowest oil prices in thirteen years, and other commodity prices following suit

  • A lack of policy support and stability in precisely those countries, like the United States, that everyone expected to be champions of and leaders in the bioeconomy

  • Theoretical concerns about land use change, and, particularly here in the US, climate change deniers, having undue influence on policy debates

  • The G20 still spending $452 billion per year subsidizing fossil fuel production relative to only $121 billion spent globally in subsidies for renewable energy production

  • The Brazilian economic and political crisis – the worst recession in more than two decades...

  • A global economic slow-down..

  • A generally difficult fundraising climate for early-stage companies, with public markets difficult to access, valuations on some high-profile privately held companies dropping, and acquisitions of new technologies by many of the agricultural, energy and chemical majors effectively on-hold due to the collapse in commodity prices..

Nevertheless, if we look out beyond the current environment, there is significant light at the end of the tunnel. Here’s my top ten list of reasons to be optimistic:

1. Advances in the industry - Technology development and infrastructure build-out is moving forward for biobased products and advanced and cellulosic biofuels...
2. Gathering momentum around climate change - The US-China agreement on joint climate action was initiated in November 2014 and reaffirmed in September 2015. Having the #1 and #2 emitters on board then paved the way for COP21, a historic agreement on climate change signed at the end of 2015...
3. Broader environmental issues related to fossil fuels continue, and there is increasing global awareness of these issue
4. Increasing realization that the concepts of “food v. fuel” and ILUC are not grounded in reality - Global level data shows that between 2000 and 2010, increases in farming intensity resulted in a significant net increase in harvested hectares for food, feed and fiber production even as total agricultural land shrank and biofuel production increased.
5. Elimination of fuel subsidies
6. Resurgence of energy security concerns – While energy independence is a misnomer in a globally connected commodity world, a decline in the US industry at the hands of low prices, and the current refusal or inability of OPEC to do anything about these low prices, definitely dents the perception of increasing energy security and the complacency that this perception has created.
7. Rebalancing of global currencies
8. Brazil - Its history as a leader in the bioeconomy, its agricultural prowess and the land opportunity it provides all remain.
9. China - Has gone one step further than removing subsidies or caps and actually implemented a $40 floor on the price of oil, with proceeds going into an energy security fund...They’ve publicly admitted that one-fifth of all farmland has levels of heavy metals high enough that these hectares should not be used for production of food or feed crops. This creates a massive opportunity for dedicated industrial crops that can provide both remediation and renewable energy.
10. What happens when commodity prices recover? - Significant reductions in R&D budgets amongst the agricultural, chemical and oil majors, in response to low commodity prices, means that as commodity prices do come back, these companies will be on the hunt for growth opportunities...

..So, I encourage you all to see beyond the short-term negative factors currently affecting our industry, and to remain committed to realizing the brighter, cooler and cleaner future that all of our technologies enable.