The second day of our sixth annual conference, Biomass 2013: How the Advanced Bioindustry is Reshaping American Energy, is complete. If you missed our live tweeting or couldn't attend the conference, check out some of our key highlights below.

Opening Keynotes, Representative John Garamendi and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

Representative John Garamendi (D-CA) gave a powerful keynote address that really made us think. Garamendi  called biomass one of the solutions “to multiple problems that face this planet,” claiming one can “feel the potential.” “Biomass has enormous potential in energy, chemicals, food, and more. We need to open our mind about biomass. It’s more than energy,” Garamendi stated. He also spoke with frustration about the restrictions on biofuels use contained in the National Defense Authorization Act that recently passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, and dramatically listed proposed cuts to appropriations for both the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) in the Fiscal Year 2013 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill now  under consideration in the House Appropriations Committee. 

Garamendi closed with a call to action for “those of us who believe in the future” to strive towards maintaining the level of work in the field to harness the “extraordinary potential for agriculture” within  biomass.   He urged the audience constituents to invite their Congressmen to come see their plants, their facilities, and farms, and demonstrate to those on the Hill the exciting developments that are happening right now in bioenergy.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack followed with the second opening keynote and used his rousing speech to illustrate the importance of biomass within rural communities. Vilsack noted that biomass is “reshaping the economic future of this country,” and adding unique value to agricultural communities by preserving long-standing, historic American cultural principles based on the hard work and long-term effort that comes from working the land. It is in these communities that biomass can serve as a new and innovative industry that will support and interest the younger generations that live in rural communities, encouraging them to continue working agriculture, Vilsack explained. He added that these individuals will aid in rebuilding the rural community and the middle class, while also assisting in reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. “The reality is, we can’t continue to rely on fossil fuels,” the Secretary stated.  He closed by asking that attendees look at the bigger picture—beyond the ‘dollars and cents’—to see that being a part of the growing bioeconomy is also helping to preserve American values and rural cultural traditions.

Secretary Vilsack speaks at biomass2013

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. (Photo courtesy of the Sapphire Energy)

Promoting Sustainability

Following the opening keynotes, the second day of Biomass 2013 had a heavy emphasis on sustainability. Martina Otto, head of the policy unit at the United Nations Environment Programme, spoke about the global impact of biofuels and the need to keep sustainability as a priority. Otto’s presentation was followed by a discussion with representatives from the University of Illinois, the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement, Colorado State University, and Farm Credit East. The panelists discussed ecological constraints and research challenges to promoting sustainable biofuels, while closing with a positive look ahead to the various potential that bioproducts hold for our planet.

Breakout Sessions

The afternoon continued with a set of breakout sessions, where attendees could choose from presentations on synthetic biology, end use and certification, roadblocks to deployment, and cooperative opportunities with conventional refineries and biotechnologies. 

Afternoon Keynote, Secretary Ernest Moniz

Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz provided an exciting afternoon keynote address to the assembled stakeholders.  He noted that the United States spends approximately one billion dollars every day on foreign-sourced oil, drawing immediate attention to the need for domestically-sourced, reliable fuels.  To make strides to displace traditional petroleum, the Secretary drew attention to the successes of the integrated biorefinery program, which has enabled the official opening of the first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol biorefinery in the country. 

Moniz also highlighted his directions moving forward under President Obama’s “all of the above” energy approach. “We start with the requirement of looking to minimize absolute greenhouse gas emissions. We pursue the science and technology so that our resources can be enabled in a low-carbon world,” Moniz explained. “We have to work with the private sector to move commercial projects forward.” One of the most exciting moments came with his announcement of the recipients of more than $16 million in funding for algae research and more than $5 million in funding for feedstock logistics research. A full video of his speech can be viewed below:

Demonstration and Deployment Successes

Following the Secretary’s riveting speech, several announcements and presentations were given  on demonstration and deployment successes. Representatives from Ensyn, BIO, Abengoa, Sapphire, and INEOS Bio provided updates on the significant progress their projects have made so far. Brent Erickson, the Executive Vice President of BIO, touched upon the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS): “The RFS is important not just for biofuels—it also drives biotech innovation,” he said. 

Gerson Santos, the Executive Vice President of Abengoa, announced that their waste-to-bioenergy plant had officially initiated operations at a demonstration scale. Jaime Moreno, the Vice President of Projects at Sapphire Energy, discussed their green crude farm project, which produces drop-in crude oil from algae, sunlight, and carbon dioxide. Sapphire has been particularly successful in garnering outside support for their work, having raised more than $340 million from private investors and U.S. government funding combined. INEOS Bio’s Vice President, Dan Cummings, discussed how their commercial-scale biorefinery—along with the others present—has contributed to meeting President Obama’s biorefinery goals a year ahead of schedule. 

Closing Remarks, Valerie Reed

Acting Director of the Bioenergy Technologies Office Valerie Reed closed out the two-day conference with congratulations to the grant recipients announced by Secretary Moniz. She thanked attendees for their presence and thoughtful contributions, and offered the Office’s gratitude for all of the stakeholders, presenters, and project partners that have enabled the tremendous progress made over the last year.