Announcing a New Advanced Biofuels Forum at

Announcing a New Advanced Biofuels Forum at

From time to time over the past year and a half we've examined and re-examined the concept of value chains in the alternative fuels universe. By this we refer to the journey from the feedstock or source through the processing facility, and from thence to the distribution and marketing networks, and finally to the end users.

Only a handful of alternative fuels have well established value chains in place, while most of the alternatives that have been getting a lot of attention in the media such as butanol, green gasoline, and algal biofuels, have nothing at all resembling a complete value chain. Indeed, in some cases not even a single link has been forged. This is particularly true of many of the fuels based upon novel production processes, where bench scale or pilot implementations are the norm, but no commercial production is yet taking place.

Value chains will only emerge for next generations fuels when the individuals and organizations capable of providing the links can envision the overall form that the mature industries will take. They will have to imagine the industry as it ultimately will before they can begin to construct it as a functioning entity.

If, for example, you're a farmer, you won't plant high yield, dedicated fuel crops unless you are certain that there are processing facilities ready to buy them. If you've developed a processing technology, you won't proceed beyond the pilot stage unless, on the one hand, you can nail down dependable sourcing for feedstocks, and, on the other hand, you can tap into some sort of distribution network for your fuel product, or, failing that set up individual contracts with high volume users.

The problem in fostering such relationships is that the spheres in which the individual organizations which comprise the links operate are so different. Farmers or landfill operators have no natural affinity for the industrial chemists who are busy attempting to perfect low cost paths to volume production from biomass. Nor are such chemists likely to have relationships within all of the niche industrial applications for motor fuels where their products could find a market.

What one has instead are the elements that could form a cohesive community of alternative fuels participants but only scattered local linkages among those elements.

A forum could be the first step in the maturation of the industry—a vital first step. It could allow anyone at any level of the industry to learn who is participating at any other level. And it could provide a pool of shared knowledge and resources upon which all could draw.

Obviously, some within the industry will feel that hard won knowledge should be held close to the vest because it provides one with a competitive advantage. We believe otherwise. Advanced biofuels production and distribution will be by its very nature an assemblage of local industries, at least well into the midterm. Biomass is at once diffuse and bulky, and is best processed close to its source, while the fuels produced are best consumed in local or regional markets. There are no biomass equivalents of the super giant oil fields, the super tankers, and the hundred thousand barrel per day refineries. Biofuels must proceed down a different path than petroleum has.

If you are pathfinder, we invite you to participate in the Forum. The Forum is part of the Clean Energy Journal with which I am affiliated and which may accessed at

We trust you'll find the experience engrossing, informative, and ultimately profitable.