Advanced biofuel industry leaders: 'Now is the time to unite'

By Anna Simet | September 11, 2013

Industry leaders at the National Advanced Biofuel Conference & Expo had an adamant, clear-cut message for attendees: If there were ever a time to unite and work together as one force, it is now.

During the kickoff general session, Advanced Biofuel Association President Michael McAdams urged biofuel industry members—whether biodiesel, renewable diesel, cellulosic or first-generation ethanol producers—to protect what they have built over the past 30 years; specifically, the renewable fuel standard (RFS).  “During the next several weeks, we’ll be in the throws [of the RFS’s fate],” he said.

AFBA Chairman and CEO of Sundrop Biofuels Wayne Simmons joined McAdams on stage, magnifying the significance of trade associations and their relationships with members, as well as essential camaraderie between members. “We have members in all different stages of development and are quite diverse…being a part of an industry association allows a company to really magnify its voice. There are a lot of diverse viewpoints, so there has to be a balance…we need to make sure we’re all integrated and focused the same way. We don’t want anyone in competition with each other; the best thing for everyone would be to produce more advanced biofuels.”

McAdams discussed a key July RFS hearing on Capitol Hill, which he described as “a bit theatrical,” and “tilted against higher blends of ethanol.”  During the hearing, which played out seemingly well for the industry, both stakeholders and non-industry members opposing the RFS were intensely questioned.

On what’s in store in the wake of the July hearing, McAdams said there will be potential legislative action no later than the first or second week of October in the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, and the Senate has indicated it will potentially hold a hearing the end of September or early October.

As for the ultimate fate of the RFS, McAdams said indications suggest the RFS will not be repealed, but it also won’t be left as status quo. “Everybody in this room has a lot at stake between now and October…for three years I’ve been saying ‘it’s coming, it’s coming,’….and now it’s here. When your industry associations ask you to write a letter or make a call, you need to do it this time.”

Following McAdams and Simmons, National Biodiesel Board CEO Joe Jobe and Renewable Energy Group Inc. Vice President of Sales and Marketing Gary Haer took the stage, kicking off the conversation by discussing the successes the biodiesel industry has achieved over the past three years.

Jobe described the industry as being in the midst of a period of robust growth, emphasizing that NBB’s goal of biodiesel representing 5 percent of the diesel pool—or about 2 billion gallons—by 2015 will be met [sooner than anticipated].

Jobe admitted NBB’s new goal—10 percent of the on-road diesel fuel pool by 2022—is aggressive and would require some technological breakthroughs, but said he’s confident the industry can get there.

Echoing some of Simmon’s sentiments of the importance of industry trade associations, Haer said a key to success is keeping industry members united. “We have tremendous diversity….members in all states, representing all types of technologies and feedstocks…everyone has a different perspective.”

Jobe said the NBB had recently extended its membership to renewable diesel producers. “The greatest temptation for biodiesel and renewable diesel is to differentiate the two fuels and disparage one to make the other look good, but we’ve been working very hard at avoiding that.”

Jobe also touched on the stringent fuel quality efforts the biodiesel industry has made over the years, and admitted that a lack of specifications and blending data for renewable diesel has been an NBB concern. To combat any potential issues, in order to become a member, a set of criteria must be met by renewable diesel producers. “We have common goals in the space…it just made sense to work together to grow the industry,” Haer said.

Concluding the conversation, Jobe reiterated the significance of all stakeholders fighting for the RFS. “We have to stay together,” he said. “We have to remain united and not splinter out and cannibalize the effort. If we can do that, we have an extremely bright future for advanced biofuels and all biofuels.”

The final speaker on the panel was Tim Burns, president, CEO and cofounder of BioProcess Algae, which was one of two conference tour locations Sept. 10.

BioProcess Algae has a commercial demonstration facility alongside Green Plains Renewable Energy-Shenandoa. Completed in 2009, the algae production facility reactors reuse CO2 emissions and waste heat from the ethanol plant.

Burns said the opposition to the RFS is large, so the industry needs to collaborate and support each other rather than compete. “We need many success stories as possible, and we’ll achieve this through solidarity and working together…we’ll meet on competitive terms, hopefully, in about 10 years down the line.”

Burns highlighted the significance of the tax benefits Iowa provides to algae growers—the same as other crops such as soybeans receive—and the positive impact it has had on BioProcess Algae. “Iowa gets ag...and understands that there are things we need, not just want. [Iowa] has been a great place for us to be doing work.”

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