NBB: 2009 conference focuses on change

By Ron Kotrba | January 15, 2009
Web exclusive posted Feb. 3, 2009, at 2:35 p.m. CST

The four-day National Biodiesel Conference and Expo, themed "Leading Change Now" kicked off Feb. 2 in San Francisco. National Biodiesel Board Chief Executive Officer Joe Jobe began immediately by discussing the "enormous adversity" the industry has endured over the past year. Without sugarcoating anything, Jobe acknowledged the struggle that producers have faced operating within the delta of two volatile commodity markets.

As quickly as he began talking, Jobe paused and the lights dimmed as a short film began playing. Ominous music played in the background while the film highlighted the troubles biodiesel producers faced in 2008 and portrayed the Grocery Manufacturers Association's attack campaign against biofuels. "The biodiesel industry is absolutely and irrefutably under attack by those trying to protect the status quo," Jobe said.

He added that some people say they are for biofuels � "advanced biofuels" � and use it to their advantage to try and eliminate current biofuels policies knowing that no advanced biofuels technologies exist in a mature state today to introduce any appreciable gallonage into the marketplace.

Once the GMA's campaign let up slightly, the economy tumbled. The downturn in the economy sent oil prices down, virtually ruining biodiesel blend economics. "Once again alternatives are being suffocated out of the market," Jobe told the conference audience of more than 2,000.

"The biodiesel industry is as diverse as America itself," he said optimistically. "We need to recommit to unity, and overcome adversity by leveraging our diversity."

The current wave of attacks on biofuels centers on indirect land use. Jobe said it's absurd to expect biofuels producers to have to account for this when no other industry has to do the same. "You can't include one variable for one industry yet exclude it for the others," he said. "This issue is poised to intentionally stack the deck in favor of petroleum. It is junk science," he added, saying let's just call it what it is. "Unfortunately we have to take these attacks during such poor economic conditions. But we have truth and science on our side."

Later, a panel, moderated by Randall von Wedel and including the "green team" for the city of San Francisco and the county, told the audience about their experiences over the years in getting biodiesel widely accepted in the city by the bay. The panel included Vandana Bali, San Francisco Department of Environment; Mike Ferry, San Francisco Fire Department; Karri Ving, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission; and Marty Mellera, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

Just after the panel discussion, Jobe presented von Wedel with the NBB Impact Award for his years of work in biodiesel, especially in its acceptance in the Bay Area. Von Wedel is the founder and principle chemist of Cytoculture International and inventor of the pHLip Test-a 10-minute field test with striking accuracy.

In addition, industry partnership awards were given to Ronald Hayes of Missouri and Randy Jennings of Tennessee.
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