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The Next Generation is Here Today

June 18, 2013
“It is gratifying to see these companies coming to scale and new technologies that don't fit our typical view of feedstocks being developed,” said Mark Bunger, Research Director of Lux Research, Inc. “Biotechnology and industrial biotechnology are just getting started and we'll continue to be blown away by the developments in the industry throughout our lifetimes.” Lux was discussing the great strides being made in the development of feedstocks and the next generation of biorefineries at BIO’s 10th Annual World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology Plenary Panel, Feeding Next Generation Biorefineries in 2013.

Moderated by Trevor Theissen, President of BioAg at Novozymes, the panel of feedstock producers and experts discussed the progress in deploying conventional and novel feedstocks around the world, and the challenges feedstock providers face as they attempt to build and expand a marketplace for biobased raw materials.

As he was introducing the panel, Theissen noted that his normal focus at Novozymes was outside developing feedstocks for biorefineries, but his works on the crop development side shared the same goals as the other members of the panel, work with crop producers to grow more with less; whatever the product.  Theissen went on to add that biotechnology will help us achieve these goals by developing crops that can feed more people; make more fuel; and produce more fiber.

As Theissen turned it over to the panel, we heard that the next generation of biorefineries are not a fanciful idea for the future, but are here today, producing commercial gallons of cellulosic fuel.  Paolo Carollo, Executive Vice President of Chemtex International highlighted his company’s 20 million gallon per year cellulosic ethanol plant in Italy, which began delivering cellulosic ethanol to consumers this past spring.  His company is now partnering with others around the world to bring this technology to areas where you have the feedstocks available and working with farmers to collaborate in developing high yielding, low cost biomass crops to supply future next generation biorefineries.

Jack Finck, Director of Business Development for Industrial Oils and Chemicals at Solazyme echoed Carollo’s sentiments that the next generation of biorefineries are here today. Solazyme is set to have three facilities come online in three continents, North America, South America, and Europe, providing the commercial space for the new feedstocks being grown to meet the demand for renewable fuels. Finck went on to add that this technology is not just about tailoring fuels for a better environment.  This technology is developing products to improve human health in the form of low saturated oil and healthier structured fats. He concluded that for all in the industry to continue to grow together it would require additional partnering with feedstock producers and downstream users – relationships that are being fostered during this week’s BIO 10th Annual World Congress.

Ensuring that the feedstocks would be in place for the new biorefineries being led by companies such as Chemtex and Solazyme were feedstock developers on the panel, Mike Jostrom, Director of Renewable Resources, Plum Creek Timber Company and Anna Rath Founder and Chief Executive Officer of NexSteppe. Jostrom mentioned that while Plum Creek is new to BIO he was finding the World Congress to be a fantastic platform to interface with researchers, developers, and end users, to discuss the opportunities to be had using sustainable forest biomass and finding new partners to work with going forward.

Jostrom went on to discuss how utilizing wood fiber benefits society, the biotech industry, and forests and forest owners. Emphasizing, forests capture CO2 and utilize it as a resource means not removing fossil CO2 which is not renewable such as forests. Wood fiber benefits the biotech industry because it is a sustainable supply chain already in place, since demand for forest harvests peaked in 1997 and has been declining ever since leading to a 50 percent increase in the amount of wood in forests since 1950. Utilizing wood fiber for biotechnology will benefit forests and forest owners by giving them incentives to clear dead growth and residuals by providing them with a high value market for their product.  Encouraging them to keep their lands forested, healthy and productive.

Rath discussed how the profile of feedstocks has gotten progressively higher in recognition within the World Congress. That the industry has gone from people having a lot of great ideas to people talking about feedstocks that are close enough to be crops that are economically viable for producers and downstream users. From NexSteppe’s perspective, the new focus is on getting more BTUs from crops per acre in a way that reduces their carbon footprint, their land use footprint, and harvest cost. Through the developments being made in feedstocks by NexSteppe, biorefiners will be able to be able to greatly optimize their output through the new feedstocks being developed.

As the panel began wrapping up, Theissen noted, that he was excited he had been brought out of his normal sphere of in the development of agricultural products to learn about the “really cool stuff taking place in the industry.”  He concluded by echoing the sentiments of the participants, that the next generation of biorefineries are here today and the partnering that takes place at an event such as BIO’s 10th Annual World Congress will give them the opportunity to find the feedstock developers they need to provide the next generation of clean burning fuels.