June 22, 2012

BIO 2012 Coverage Update

By Sam Nejame, founder of Promotum, a management consulting firm
specializing in technology commercialization and business development.

Wrapping up a week at BIO. Collection of interesting things seen and heard.

The Biofuels and Biobased Chemicals track kicked off boldly with a panel
comparing the outlook for Industrial Bio with Pharma Bio. Pretty scary
when you consider it took 30 years before recombinant drug cos. reached
meaningful profitability. Superstars Amgen and Genentech aside,
biotechnology was still crawling out the abyss in 2006. What did we
learn? Companies need to be honest and investors need patience.

Leveling the playing field. I’m always shocked when I see numbers for
government subsidies to the oil industry. John Hamer of Burrill reminded
me oil subsidies run ~$2.6B/year. Tough to wean an industry off subsidies
it’s enjoyed since 1926.

Benefits of renewable diesel more than just RINs. A panel covering
sustainability and GHG certification discussed biodiesel use in mines.
Good to see air quality (reduction in particulate, carbon monoxide, etc.
from diesel generators) and worker health benefits acknowledged.

The right stuff and single molecule “drop-ins.” Fuel standard
complexities can be maddening. Andrew Held, Virent, gave a brief primer
on jet fractions. Yep, those light ends are there in case you need to
restart the engine midair.

Moore’s law of biotechnology. I’ve been looking for the right way to
explain industrial biotechnology to clients for some time. How is it
tools that could previously only be used for products costing $10,000/kg
can now be used to make specialty chemicals, polymers… and even fuel? See
Nature 458: 719-724 (2009). Special thanks to Heather Youngs at EBI.

Scott Vitters, with Coca-Cola’s PlantBottle program, described successes
and obstacles in the company’s renewable packaging efforts. Coke
currently sells 1.8 billion servings/day with 50%-60% of their “value”
delivered in PET packaging. The company says it’s committed to 100%
renewable material at some point.

Former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, architect of the $700 billion
Troubled Asset Relief Program, that saved numerous banks and other
financial institutions in 2008, appeared in Tuesday's Key Note with holes
in the soles of his shoes. Austerity for all!

Final thoughts: Isn’t it a little strange that the renewable fuels
industry is the only industry that must meet LCA requirements? And it
doesn’t get paid for the GHG reductions? Did you know there’s something
called “the Ethical Oil movement?” I guess green moms are just going to
say “No!” to Nigerian distillate.
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