Live from the Pacific Rim Summit: Energy Crops Have their Day in the Sun

Biofuels & Climate Change

Day 1 of the BIO Pacific Rim Summit on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy kicked off Wednesday in surprisingly sunny Vancouver, British Columbia, with a series of presentations suggesting that purpose-grown energy crops (PGECs) may soon have their day. In the opening session in the Biomass Production and Utilization breakout track, Chris Roach of Ceres, Inc., reminded conference-goers that, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Billion Ton Update, PGECs have the greatest potential of any feedstock source to supply biomass for production of fuels, chemicals or power, but have thus far remained for the most part on the sidelines when it comes to commercial-scale cellulosic biorefinery projects.

John May of Stern Brothers & Co. attributed this to the fact that feedstock supply ranks as one of the top risk factors for investors looking at biorefinery projects, and called for a systematic approach to managing feedstock risk. In response, Roach suggested the concept of a “turnkey feedstock supply entity” that could handle crop establishment, harvest, storage and transport to create a “bankable feedstock supply solution”, rather than expecting farmers to take on all the risk themselves. Expect buzz to build around this concept in the coming months.

Paolo Carollo of Chemtex International followed by reporting that one of the first commercial projects to incorporate PGECs, Chemtex subsidiary Beta Renewable’s 20-million gallon biorefinery in Crescentino, Italy, is on track to start production by the end of 2012. The plant will utilize Arundo donax (along with wheat straw) to produce cellulosic ethanol and other biochemicals.

In the Day 2 breakfast plenary entitled “Flying Green: Why Airlines See a Bright Future in Biofuels”, Steve Fabijanski, Chief Executive Officer for Agrisoma, reported that more than 500 farmers in the Canadian prairies have established Agrisoma’s oilseed PGEC, carinata, which has strong potential as an aviation biofuel feedstock.

This afternoon, four of the leading teams in engineering of feedstocks for energy production will report on The Role of Breeding, Genomics and Plant Biotechnology in development of PGECs.

View a more in-depth report on the “Flying Green” plenary here, and stay tuned for more updates from the Pacific Rim Summit.

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