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March 12, 2010
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TribblesThe Trouble with Gribbles

Hype, Scale and warp speed in the development and financing of biofuels

An unlikely organism called the gribble has been generating a fair amount of attention in the popular press this week. The ship rot-inducing worm has been hailed by a UK-based research group for its skill in converting wood cellulose into simple sugars - and, hence, its potential as a micro-organism for consolidated bioprocessing for biofuels.  

The discovery has induced a backlash. Today's media funk appears to be a snide skepticism about the gribble's industrial scalability, and the "hyperbolic press releases" with which bioenergy discoveries are announced.

Sifting through the competing claims regarding "breakthroughs" is part of the fun of covering bioenergy - after all, there are (as of now, I just checked) 19,723 references to the word "Breakthrough" in Google News today, and I am fairly sure that not every one of them offers a cure for cancer, the discovery of the Higgs Boson, or an end to the common cold. 

The trouble with gribbles is not entirely unlike the "Trouble with Tribbles," a Star Trek episode in which the Enterprise is nearly overrun by an exploding population of lovable yet rapidly-reproducing animals. The very fecundity of bioenergy research is inducing skepticism.

Another topic on the minds of writers is the lack of scale - the failure of the advanced biofuels industry to produce 100 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol as called for by the 2010 Renewable Fuel Standard has been attracting an inordinate amount of attention.

More on Tribbles, Gribbles, scale, "where are the 100 million gallons?", the state on energy financing, and some options for Green Asset Securitization, at
Green Trackers
Producer News

In Washington, the Advanced BioFuels Association unanimously elected Lee Edwards, CEO of Virent Energy Systems, as Chairman and Robert M. Ames, Vice President and General Manager of Tyson Foods, as Vice Chairman at its winter board meetings. The ABFA is a lobbying organization focused on advanced biofuels, and headed by ABA President Mike McAdams.

In Hawaii, HIPPO (Hawaii Pure Plant Oil), the first commercial biofuel platation in the islands, said that it will expand production from 250 acres to 1000 through land leases after test results from a two-year jatropha cultivation project yielded its first test gallons of biodiesel. HIPPO is currently raising $1.3 million for a mechanical harvester and a jatropha oil press. 

Many people become entrepreneurs and start their own companies because of the 'freedom' they desire," writes Dr. Rosalie Lober in "The Commercialization Chellenge", her latest Bioenergy PROFITS Principles column."In the biofuels arena, as in other smaller enterprises, less financial resources and fewer expert functions result in a 'commercialization challenge' after the research and electronic drawings and renditions of what could be, reach the economy of scalability phase."
BF International
World Opinion

Greentech Media: "The Gribble worm is more known as a pest that eats the hulls of ships.  It turns out the bacteria in its stomach produces the requisite enzymes that can break cellulose into simple sugars...Whether the Gribble worm's process is scalable is another issue, but such minor details do not seem to make it into the hyperbolic press releases announcing these 'discoveries.' "

From The Nation: "Johann Hari's impeccable research implicates most of the environmental groups you've heard of as selling their missions for funding from oil and coal companies.  While not related directly to Indirect Land Use, the latest thing to plague biofuels, Hari offers a compelling explanation of the role these NGO's play in focusing the spotlight on emissions in faraway lands so we don't have to make tough emission reduction decisions right here at home.  The Big Oil, Big Green lovefest gets better, but you are going to have to read it to find out why one person said, "We're close to a civil war in the environmental movement."
International News

In India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee are holding firm on the increase in excise and customs duties on petroleum products. Revenue Secretary Sunil Mitra on Wednesday ruled out any changes in the tax proposals in the budget pertaining to these items while maintaining that the increase in MAT (Minimum Alternate Tax) from 15 per cent to 18 per cent would also stay.

In China, China Integrated Energy, a leading non-state-owned integrated energy company, announced that it expects to exceed its previously updated guidance for calendar year 2009 revenue and net income of $265 million and $35 million, and updated guidance on its plans to expand biodiesel production.

In India, Daimler AG, which sparked the development of Jatropha biodiesel with its spectacular B100 cross-country test drives in 2002, is back in India. This time the company has launched a new jatropha plantation project in South India, for which it has already planted first 100 hectares. It is working with village communities in Tamil Nadu, supplying  both funds and expertise from its  successfully completed research projects.
Core Informatics
Research News

In Washington state, the Harris Group has released a compelling, short white paper on the criteria for selection of industrial sites for bioenergy projects - leading with site attributes, regulation and community support. The white paper, among other items, outlines a spreadsheetbased comparison methodology. The free whitepaper can be downloaded via
Policy and Policymakers

In Washington, a group of 18 state governors have written to Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, House speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Republican congressional leadership to urge the Senate and Congress to limit the power of the EPA to regulate CO2 under the Clean Air Act, citing economic impacts.  The Supreme Court cleared the way for such regulation in a landmark 2007 ruling.
Consumer, Fleet, Event News

In Washington, the Global Advanced Biofuels Scale Up Summit 2010 announced its speaker line-up for the conference, scheduled for June 22-23 in DC. Among CEOs are Michael Butler of Cascadia Capital, Rick LeBlanc of Chemrec, Bill Haywood of LS9 and Sean Sutcliffe of Gren Biologics.  The EPA's Margo Oge, and John Ferrell - head of the DOE's Biomass Program, as well as senior officials from DOD, USDA and the European Commission are also on the program.
Advanced Biofuels Leadership Conference: DC, 4/27-29, 2010

ABLC - congress
In Washington, the Advanced Biofuels Leadership Conference announced that it has closed registrations for the event, maintaining its focus on an intimate setting for real networking and dialogue, and a limited number of attendees.

The US Department of Energy, Iogen, Chromatin, PetroAlgae, Dupont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol,  Remfuel, and Fluor, have signed on as sponsors for the three-day event, which includes more than 50 CEOs among the 180+ attendees.

Agenda and speakers. The conference agenda is here.

Advanced Biofuels Tracking Database and other Free Downloads

Exclusive to Digest subscribers - and free.

1. Advanced Biofuels Tracking Database - download your free copy, tracking 50+ pilot, demo and commercial projects.
2. Biofuels Investments details 81 investments made in 2009 by biofuels companies or in the biofuels sector, totaling $8.737 billion in 18 countries.
3. Biofuels Jobs
details a series of studies outling the impact of biofuels on the green jobs economy.
Financial News

The Biofuels Digest Index™ (BDI), a basket of public biofuels stocks, declined 0.34 percent to 67.13 on Big Grain weakness.  For the day, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) dropped 2.65 percent to $29.44, while BP advanced 0.73 percent to $56.60. Among smaller caps, Biofuels Energy (BIOF) gained 4.00 percent to $2.86. Overall, advances and declines were even for the day.  
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