Advanced Biofuels Could Be Commercialized in 1-3 Years

Progress in advance biofuels has been slow for the past two years. But industry leaders reported a quickening pace towards commercialization last week in San Francisco at Advanced Bioenergy Markets, one of the last major gatherings of industry CEOs before the close of the year.

In contrast to the “five years away” and subsidy-driven discussions that framed advanced biofuels conversations just two years ago, CEOs are widely reporting that they expect their companies to reach commercial scale within 12-36 months, with costs in the $0.75 to $2.50 per gallon range.

In San Francisco, CEOs such as AE Biofuels’ Eric McAfee, however, warned that a significant breakdown in the structure of the Renewable Fuel Standard, and other signs of policy instability, had posed significant threats to the investor confidence necessary for the raising of equity and debt for the deployment of renewable transport fuels at commercial scale.

At the same time, traders have been sharply affirming their views on the key upstream sugarcane industry, and the key downstream companies such as GM and Ford, among world leaders in the deployment of flex-fuel vehicles.

According to Queensland Sugar Limited chairman Alan Winney, international sugar prices are expected to stay “above 20c/lb over the next four to five years and could spike to more than 30c to 40c/lb,” he said in remarks published by the associated press in a round-up from the company’s annual meeting.

At the same time, investors have pushed the expected overall valuation of General Motors, now in the process of pricing its IPO, to $63 billion, up from an initial filing range of $50-$56 billion.

Among the voices at ABM this year:

Tim Potter, CEO, Butamax: “We are looking at a 3 year payback, and 30 percent increase in income [for licencees of our biobutanol technology]. We are still on target for 2012 corn to butanol, and sugarcane in the 2013-14 period.”

Kirk Haney, CEO, SG Biofuels: “We are seeing a 100 percent improvement with JMax compared to jatropha 1.0, and we are at eight times the yields of soy. Jatropha has 5 million acres planted today, 30 million is expected by 2015. Jatropha 1.0 returns of around 8 percent, which are not an institutional grade prospect, are 26 percent today with jatropha 2.0, with a cost of $1.40 per gallon today, or $58/barrel.”

John Scott, CEO, PetroAlgae: “We’re working with more than 200 indigenous organisms, with the key being the maximum exposure to the right light. We are at 4 times what nature does in terms of growth rate for undomesticated plants, and if they say ‘We use everything but the squeal’ in the pork industry, there’s no squeal, so we use everything.”

John McCarthy, CEO, Qteros: “We are looking at cash operating costs of $1.00 per gallon by 2013, which is where we think you have to get to. In 30 to 60 days, we expect to announce a transformational partnership.”

Bill Sims, CEO, Joule Unlimited: “We are already at 10,000 gallons per acre for ethanol, and we expect to reach a cost of $30 per barrel of oil equivalent for diesel, and 58 for barrel of oil equivalent of ethanol. Next fall we expect to start the commercialization scale effort, and we have a pretty good chance if succeeding.”

Wayne Simmons, CEO, Sundrop Fuels. “We expect to have our first plant online in 2013.”

Doug Berven, Director, corporate affiars, POET: “Give us a loan guarantee and a market and we’ll build, based on the economics we see today. We’re at $2.35 per gallon now, capex, opex and no subsides, and expect to be at $2.00 when our first plant is built, down from $6 per gallon when we started.”

Eric McAfee, CEO, AE Biofuels: “Hundreds of millions of dollars ere invested against the chart that details the mandates imposed by the Renewable Fuel Standard, but this chart is lying to you, the mandate is not enforceable. People who work in the oil and gas industry are not stupid – they see hat if they invest in advanced biofuels capacity they will have to buy and blend the fuels, but if they don’t, they won’t.”

Alan Shaw, CEO, Codexis: “Sugar is the new carbon, and the future of our company is direct fermentation of sugar to fuels and chemicals. We aim to be the Microsoft of cleantech, because we see our partner Shell as the IBM, a company that has the ability to take these technologies to scale.”

Harrison Dillon, president, Solazyme: “In the past, it’s been “what you get is what you get” with petroleum, soy, canola. You designed your technology around the limitations of the oil. Today, we start the conversation with our partners with, “What kind if oil would you like?”

Bill Haywood, CEO, LS9: “We’re on track for commissioning of our Florida facility, which will begin to take us to commercial scale, in 2012.”

Richard Hamilton, CEO, Ceres: “Can we decarbonize without bioenergy? No. Can we provide both feed and fuel? When clinically obese outnumber the hungry by 2 to 1, and of the 800 million hungry people in the world, 500 million are farmers, we see that what causes hunger is a vicious cycle of poverty, driven by poor governance. The world record for maize production was once held by Zimbabwe, which now sees yields of around averaging 25 bushels ore acre. That’s a scandal.”

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