Not All Chemicals Are Created Equal™

This is indeed an honor for Myriant. We have been invited to Washington to tell the Myriant story in front of hundreds of diverse stakeholders involved with various aspects of the bioenergy supply chain. The two-day event, being held at the Washington Convention Center July 31st through August 1st, is Biomass 2013. Co-hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) and Advanced Biofuels USA, it is considered one of the most prestigious and important annual forums of its type held anywhere in the world. Advanced Biofuels USA, by the way, is a nonprofit organization focused on promoting public understanding, acceptance, and use of advanced biofuels. This year, marking the sixth annual conference, the focus is on the theme: How the Advanced Bioindustry is Reshaping American Energy.

My presentation on behalf of Myriant will be one of four at an Opening Plenary Session, starting at 10:10am on the first day of the conference, on the topic of Celebrating Successes – The Foundation of An Advanced Bioindustry. To be moderated by Neil Rossmeissl, Bioenergy Technologies Office, U.S. Department of Energy, the other presenters will be Bob Dinneen, President and CEO, Renewable Fuels Association; Thomas Foust, Director, National Bioenergy Center, National Renewable Energy Laboratory; and, John Kasbaum, Senior Vice President of Commercial, KiOR, Inc.

As noted in the program preview provided by the DOE, this year’s conference will highlight the successes of the bioenergy industry over the past 20 years and provide a forum to exchange ideas, showcase new technologies, and discuss opportunities for the future. Also important to us is the fact that this year’s conference will also focus on new directions for BETO and possible future funding opportunities. My personal hope is that it fosters open dialogue among key bi-partisan constituents who can accelerate the growth trajectory of the industry.

Like previous BETO conferences, the event will feature speakers from Congress, federal agencies, industry, and environmental organizations. Among the most notable will be Ernest Moniz, Secretary of Energy, U.S. Department of Energy; and, Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Part of my job is to monitor, and influence when possible, federal legislation that affects the bio-based chemicals industry. To be honest, some days I just wish some laws and appropriations would be made permanent, bringing an end to the twice every decade political wrangling. But recently, courtesy of Yahoo News, Jerry Hagstrom of the National Journal Daily, is featured for his piece that illuminates the folly of legislative and appropriation permanency when it comes to the Farm Bill. In summary, his point is, things change. The article, entitled Farm Bill’s Roots in Old Laws Should Be Sustained, provides multiple examples of how and why some measures that may have been right in the 1940′s, for example, wouldn’t make sense today. He argues, rightfully I think, that five year cycles with the benefit of experiential hindsight gives legislators a better idea of how best to alter various aspects to reflect changing times. Permanent legislation, on the other hand, is hard to change.

My point is simply this: a permanent circa 1950 Farm Bill, for example, could not have anticipated this era’s emergence of bio-based chemical production, biomass potentials, and national/international bio-refinery possibilities and benefits. Today, these are apparent, and this explains how and why the current U.S. Senate version of the Farm Bill includes support for bio industry initiatives. Yes, the wrangling can be tedious and nail-biting at times, but change happens, the process acknowledges this, and that is a good thing.

We have long emphasized that bio-based chemical operations can be important jobs creators, especially valuable to people in parts of the country and the world where unemployment prevails at levels higher than national averages. But that this is true is no longer just an assertion on our part. Recent statistics just released in the 2013 Louisiana Manufacturers Register® specifically cite our newly operational plant in Lake Providence as a contributor to the state’s 2.9% jump in industrial employment over the past year, outpacing the national average.

If you take a moment to scan the article about this finding, courtesy of the Fort Mill Times, it becomes apparent that traditional oil, gas, and chemical operations are contributing to Louisiana’s industrial employment uptick as well.  But that’s never been in dispute. In contrast, however, many have been slow to accept, or steadfastly doubtful, that renewables-based businesses can generate good jobs at good wages in volume, too. Plus, our jobs have a sustainability edge in our view since our refinery doesn’t rely on a feedstock widely acknowledged to be of finite supply.

You may recall at the end of May we announced that with our partner ThyssenKrupp Uhde, we successfully scaled and achieved commercial production of bio-succinic acid at Uhde’s biotech commercial validation facility in Leuna, Germany. More recently, at an official inaugural event for this facility, ThyssenKrupp took the opportunity to not only highlight the size and scope of this operation, but to confirm in no uncertain terms the company’s strong and leading commitment to the continuous production of bio-based chemicals.

In a news release marking the occasion, ThyssenKrupp CEO Dr. Heinrich Hiesinger spoke to the company’s view of the global market opportunity driving their bio-based chemicals vision: “Modern biotechnology is one of the key technologies of the 21st century. Biotechnological processes, products and services play a role in almost all areas of our daily lives… ” To fairly judge the potential global impact of that direct statement, consider that in fiscal year 2011/2012 ThyssenKrupp generated sales of €40 billion. And, the company has 150,000 employees working in over 80 countries.

As for the capacity of the multi-purpose fermentation plant, more than 1,000 metric tons of biochemicals such as lactic acid and succinic acid can now be produced at this facility annually.

If there’s been a reason why green values have been slow on the uptake at some traditional companies, the reason may be in discovery at The Dow Chemical Company and others. Right now, for example, in this article by Mark Weick and Sissel Waage entitled, When will your company begin accounting for nature? courtesy of the GreenBiz blog, the authors argue for the adaptation of traditional accounting methods to more appropriately measure environmental metrics. Mr. Weick, by the way, is director of sustainability programs and enterprise risk management at The Dow Chemical Co. Ms. Waage is the director of biodiversity and ecosystem services at BSR which is an organization that develops sustainable business strategies and solutions through consulting, research, and cross-sector collaboration.

For many of us, if not all, sustainability has always had its intuitive benefits. But like the value of love, loyalty, trust… it hasn’t always been so easy to place a numeric value on it. This has been especially true for traditional number crunchers calculating profit and loss using spreadsheets that don’t necessarily have a row or column or formula for …integrating natural capital and ecosystem services into corporate accounting…

It’s an interesting read and I think a sign of the times and of things to come. As more corporate leaders and stakeholders are given the real numbers behind the true monetary value of environmental metrics, the green movement will continue to gain momentum and support.