International group gathers for biodiesel congress

By Jerry W. Kram | January 01, 2008
More than 480 people from more than 50 countries gathered in Vienna, Austria, in early November for the International Congress on Biodiesel, organized by the American Oil Chemists' Society.

The conference, themed "The Science and the Technologies," was aimed at people working on the technical side of the industry, said Michael Haas, general chairman of the congress and a biochemist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service. "We put a lot of energy into assembling a high-quality, balanced international program," he said. "We had scientific presentations and poster sessions on a number of topics ranging from governmental policy and new chemistry for making biodiesel to engine performance on biodiesel."

Haas said the event also aimed to provide a platform for global-scale networking. "It was a tremendous opportunity for people who had seen each others' work and heard each others' names to really meet each other," he said. "I myself met people with whom I had e-mail correspondence for four or five years."

The importance of biodiesel quality, the need for international quality standards, the sizeable exportation of biodiesel from the United States to Europe, shrinking margins due to high feedstock costs and shifting government policies toward biodiesel were among the many issues discussed in and outside of each session. "Biodiesel producers in Germany are hurting because of high feedstock costs and dropped tax protection," Haas said. "The fact that more than half of all biodiesel produced in the United States is exported to Europe, and the strain that this is putting on the relationship between the U.S. and European biodiesel communities, was the most surprising thing I heard at the meeting."

On the technical side, Haas said there was substantial work presented on solid phase catalysis for biodiesel production. Other sessions included engine performance and emissions, glycerol utilization, new feedstock supply, government policy and tax situations worldwide, fuel properties, new production technologies, quality assurance specifications, and life cycle and sustainability analysis.

Despite challenges in the industry, there were signs of optimism for the long-term viability of biodiesel production. "I think there was a feeling of optimism, that the industry had already overcome so many roadblocks and was looking toward the future," Haas said. "If you think about what we are going to learn over the next two years-if jatropha is as good as it is said to be and if algae are a viable feedstock-we'll see the appearance of biodiesel production in new countries around the world."

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