A first-of-its-kind summit in Madison, Wisconsin later this week will bring together researchers, innovators, policy makers, entrepreneurs and other industry leaders to discuss best practices for large-scale commercialization of second generation biofuels.
The BioRefinery/BioEnergy Summit, taking place on December 11th, is hosted by Emerson Process Management, a company that specializes in analysis, measurement, and automation of industrial processes and plant operation for oil & gas and other heavy industry. Emerson’s goal is to bring to bear their experience in plant operation, process automation, and analysis for the emerging biofuel industry. By establishing best practices for the biofuel industry, large-scale commercial production becomes viable.
I had an opportunity to speak with Alan Novak, Emerson’s Director of Alternative Fuels, about the upcoming summit and the outlook for biofuel and bioenergy.
Reducing risk through automation
Determining best practices and incorporating process automation for plant operations requires a relatively small capital outlay, Novak told me, and will significantly reduce risk for startup biofuel projects as they seek to move their work from the laboratory to commercial production.
This is the challenge for biofuels, bringing the promise of emerging technologies to market, reducing the risks involved, and determining best practices for commercial production.
Alternative fuel becomes “imperative fuel”
The International Energy Agency just released their World Energy Outlook for 2008. The report predicts a worldwide shortage of more than 28 million barrels of oil per day by 2030. The future availability of fossil fuels, along with the environmental, political, and security costs of its continued use, make an imperative of what is now generally considered “alternative” sources of fuel.
Biofuel’s forward motion
The time is ripe for the summit happening in Madison this week, says Novak. Even with the precipitous drop in oil prices and the train wreck that is the current state of the economy, significant flows of venture capital continue for bioenergy projects, as well as large grants from the Department of Energy. He cites companies like Colorado-based Range Fuels, who has received $70 million in grants from the DOE, and is looking to start a pilot commercial cellulosic ethanol plant in 2009. Or Virent Energy Systems
“bioforming” process, reported on previously here in Gas 2.0, that converts carbohydrates to a hydrocarbon equivalent of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.
On the legislative front, Novak praises the work of the Advanced Biofuels Coalition in educating and lobbying Congress on needed legislation and policy initiatives from the federal government to bring “subsidy parity” and meaningful support to the biofuel industry.
A first step
As is so apparent in all fields of renewable energy and sustainability, biofuel technology stands poised to play its role in the coming energy revolution. The upcoming summit in Madison addresses the urgency of the revolution, bringing together key figures in the industry to converse, educate, and exchange ideas. Topics will include:
- Government perspective on the importance of bioenergy
- Feedstock availability/ sustainability
- Process and feedstock research methodologies
- Pilot plant to production scale up
- Governmental and legislative support for alternative fuels development
- Best practices in project implementation
- Role of automation technologies in risk mitigation and schedule optimization
The summit this week is the first of its kind, but not the last. Novak told me that Emerson plans several more of these events (the next one tentatively planned for next April) in hopes of working toward the common goal for all participants in the biofuel industry: helping America meet its future energy demands from sustainable feedstocks.
After all, biofuel development and commercialization isn’t an alternative – it’s an imperative.
Stay tuned for a followup report after the summit.
Image credit: Emerson Process Management