Biodiesel Conference Blog

See what's happening at the National Biodiesel Conference…

Podcasts Available

NBB conference 08All of the posted audio from the 2008 National Biodiesel Conference is now available in podcast form for subscriber downloading by going to the sidebar link or clicking here. There are a total of 30 audio podcast files this year including interviews, presentations and press conferences.

There are over 200 photos in the Flicker Photo album and we did a total of 33 posts so far from the conference and might still have a couple more to do yet. Hope you enjoyed the coverage this year.

Local Users of Biodiesel

Besides absolutely perfect weather and a fantastic location right in the middle of some of the biggest attractions in the world (including Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, and Cape Kennedy just down the road a little ways… just to name a few), Orlando was a great location for this year’s National Biodiesel Conference and Expo because of the good example the area shows in the use of biodiesel.

Earlier, we told you about Universal Studio’s use and expansion of the use of biodiesel at its theme park. Universal is using biodiesel for all of its mobile diesel engines, including the JAWS ride.

SurvantA couple of other local Orlando-area entities recognized at the “Eye on Biodiesel” awards ceremony for their use of biodiesel include Florida Power and Light (which won the NBB’s Initiative Award) and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (winner of the Pioneer Award).

Director of Florida Power and Light’s Fleet Services George Survant, talked about his company’s use of biodiesel during a press conference following the awards program. The utility converted its entire diesel fleet of almost 2500 vehicles to B20.

“There are so many reasons this is the right thing to do at the right time,” Survant said. “We’re pleased to be a leader in this.”
He says the fuel comes from North Florida and the soybeans are locally grown.
Listen to Survant’s comments from the press conference here:[audio:]

ChessonBruce Chesson with NASA Transportation picked up the Pioneer Award for his agency, as NASA was recognized for switching to B20 in 2003 in its fleet of 144 diesel-powered vehicles.

“It was pretty much the easiest of switchover any alternative fuel that we could go ahead and operate,” Chesson said. He also hinted that NASA is looking at some type of renewable fuel for its rockets… but couldn’t give any details just yet.
Listen to Chesson’s comments here: [audio:]

Closing Session Focuses on New Feedstocks

Biofuels industry experts discussed new feedstocks today in the final general session of the 2008 National Biodiesel Conference and Expo in Orlando, Fla.

NBB conference 08Alan Weber, economic consultant to National Biodiesel Board, led a forum with Dr. Jack Brown from the University of Idaho (who is Scottish so he brings a European perspective to the biodiesel feedstock business), Keith Bruinsma, Vice President of Corporate Development for ethanol producer VersaSun (which is not far from biodiesel as you’ll hear in the clip), John Sheehan, Vice President of Strategy and Sustainability for Live Fuels (which is developing algae-based biodiesel), and John Soper, Senior Research Director for Soybean Product Development for Pioneer International (bringing the seed developer’s perspective to the conversation).

It was a fascinating discussion with one of the most interesting aspects being how all of the panelists, although having varied perspectives and interests that would seem to be contrary to each other, really came together in their evaluation of the need for additional feedstocks. Some had the perspective that non-traditional feedstocks such as rapeseed should be used. Some looked to algae with its potential to produce thousands of gallons of oil per acre. Others saw the development of higher-oil-yielding, new strains of soybeans and corn to meet the demand. What struck me was how each panelist saw the worth in developing ALL of these ideas… not just one magic bullet to face the feedstock issue.

Listen to Weber facilitate the discussion with a question about the different feedstocks and roadblocks to their development: [audio:]

See 2008 National Biodiesel Conference Flicker Photo album here.

Biodiesel Energy Balance Increases

The energy balance for biodiesel is better than ever.

At a press conference this morning in Orlando, a new analysis was unveiled that shows the energy balance of biodiesel is a positive ratio of 3.5-to-1. That’s an increase from 3.2 to 1 determined by the Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) and USDA in 1998.

Read the press release here.

NBB conference 08The new research conducted at the University of Idaho in cooperation with USDA.

“The bottom line is that the energy balance of biodiesel has definitely improved in the last decade,” says University of Idaho Department Head of Biological and Agricultural Engineering Jon Van Gerpen, who credits Assistant Professor Dev Shrestha and graduate student Anup Pradhan for their work on the study. “The increase in soybean yields and a decrease in herbicide use greatly contributed to the increased energy balance. Meanwhile, energy used for crushing soybeans is significantly lower than what was reported in the NREL study.”

You can listen to an interview with Van Gerpen here: [audio:]

Tackling the Food Versus Fuel Issue

NBB conference 08One of the most popular sessions at the conference was on the whole “food versus fuel” issue. Speakers at the session included Chris Schroeder with Centrec Consulting, Jim Duffield with USDA and John Urbanchuk of LECG, LLC.

Duffield, pictured here at the podium, spoke to the conference last year and noted that at the time he said corn and soybean prices were high. Today they are at all time highs and he says, “of course, they’re not going to go up forever, but at least in the short run, the next year or so, I don’t think we’re going to see these prices drop back.”

You can listen to an interview with Duffield here: [audio:]

NBB conference 08All speakers made the point that biofuels may be getting the blame for higher prices, but energy costs in general are a much bigger factor. Urbanchuk says raw commodity prices play a very small role in food prices. “In fact, the work that we’ve done indicates that energy prices have roughly twice the impact that any individual commodity such as corn and soybeans do in determining retail food prices.”

He says that food items where corn and soybeans play a major role only account about 25 percent of the food basket.

The panel also drove home the point that additional feedstocks will help alleviate the food versus fuel debate and that it is important for the industry to educate the media and consumers about the real reasons behind higher food prices.

You can listen to an interview with Urbanchuk here: [audio:]

New Sustainability Task Force Chair

NBB conference 08Sustainability is the key to the future of biodiesel and to that end the National Biodiesel Board announced a new Sustainability Task Force at the conference this week. Heading the task force is Emily Bockian Landsburg of Philadelphia FryoDiesel.

Emily says it’s critical for NBB to address this issue head-on and the time is now. “I’m thrilled to be able to share some of the work that we’ve been doing at the Sustainable Biodiesel Summit with a larger audience,” Emily told the opening general session.

She says the job will be challenging but she is looking forward to it.

You can listen to an interview with Emily here: [audio:]

Living Legend Addresses NBB Conference

Teresa AllemanThere’s a few times in your life when you get to see a true living legend in person. This morning was one of those occasions as I watched Astronaut Jim Lovell talk to a captivated audience of biodiesel industry folks at the morning general session of the 2008 National Biodiesel Conference and Expo.

Talk about an inspirational speech! The man, who defied all odds and led his crew from a sure icy death in the vacuum of space when the Apollo 13 mission to the moon had a massive equipment failure, held the audience spellbound for more than 50 minutes as he told the story of how they overcame great adversity to make it back safely to the Earth.

“Always Expect the Unexpected”

Lovell talked about how his team on the spacecraft moved quickly to preserve their dwindling resources so at least they would have a shot at making it home. But they were not alone. There was help back at Mission Control.
Listen to Lovell’s account and how he relates it to the biodiesel industry overcoming unforeseen circumstances: [audio:]

“I Shouldn’t Be Here.”

Lovell told this morning’s gathering that he should not be there except for the teamwork, dedication and ingenuity of those involved. And he reminded the audience that they could choose to be one of three types of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened.
Listen to Lovell’s inspirational closing here: [audio:]

Welcome to Super Tuesday!

Super Tuesday openingIn just a few hours, we should start getting the results of the Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses, as voters in 24 states go to the polls to decide who will be the Democratic and Republican standard bearers for the November 2008 general election.

This morning at the opening session of the 2008 National Biodiesel Conference and Expo in Orlando, Fla., Gene Gebolys, the chairman of the NBB’s Regulatory Committee opened that meeting reminding the audience how important the day is to the future of the biodiesel industry.

“The direction that this country will take depends on what happens today. Our industry is at a crossroads. We need to be successful now more than any other time in our industry’s history,” Gebolys told the crowd.
Hear Gebolys’ comments here:[audio:]

He was joined on stage by Manning Feraci, the NBB’s director of governmental affairs, and Lisa Ryan with the NBB’s political action committee.

Feraci said it is the “big three” in Washington that will determine biodiesel’s future in this country: the renewal of the federal tax incentive that keeps biodiesel competitive with petroleum, the CCC Bioenergy program, and the new Renewable Fuels Standard that will target biodiesel production at 500 million gallons a year in 2009 and a billion gallons a year by 2012.
Listen to Feraci and Gebolys discuss the big three: [audio:]

Ryan stressed the importance of going all out to be successful politically this year. “We cannot have a half-baked effort going forward if we really want this to be successful.”
Listen to Ryan’s comments here: [audio:]

All three stressed the importance of working as a team to get Washington to give the biodiesel industry what it needs to be viable.

Biodiesel Getting Better

A new study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) shows the quality of biodiesel has made significant gains from just a couple of years ago.

Teresa AllemanDuring a session completed just moments ago at the 2008 National Biodiesel Conference and expo here in Orlando, Fla., Teresa Alleman, a senior chemist with NREL says 90 percent of the biodiesel her lab tested met national fuel quality standards.

“We hit some of the most important (specifications) for engine operability, and we were able to sample about 70 percent of the producers in the market. The high success rate of meeting the specifications is good news for the industry,” Alleman said.

She says they tested specifications such as flash point, free and total glycerines, metals, water and sentiment levels, and oxidation stability… just to name a few. Alleman says a previous test in 2005 showed a 15 percent failure to meet specifations and 59 percent off specifications in 2006… although she points out the 2006 number was from jobbers and terminals, not at the producer level.

She hopes this new report will give consumers more confidence in biodiesel.

“I happen to drive a diesel Jeep, and this tells me that when my husband fills up (with biodiesel) before he picks me up from the airport to get home, I will get home!”

Listen to the whole interview with Alleman here: [audio:]

Honoring Miss Lola

NBB conference 08Now here is a real biodiesel champion.

Last night, the NBB honored staff member Lola Helming, with the Dedicated Service Award. Helming has been the office coordinator for 15 years and was NBB’s first official employee. Most who have contacted the NBB headquarters have received Helming’s warm greeting, and she has helped to keep the office running smoothly from biodiesel’s research days to the half-billion gallon industry it has become.

Congrats to Miss Lola!

Making Magic Happen with Biodiesel

JawsUniversal Studios announced today that it will increase the amount of biodiesel it is using at the popular Orlando theme park.

In a press conference today at the 2008 National Biodiesel Conference and Expo, David Winslow, Senior Director Engineering and Environmental Sustainability Technical Services, for NBC Universal, says the park is converting the ourboard engines that take guests from the park’s hotels to the attractions to B20 biodiesel. In addition, the percentage of biodiesel will be moved up to B50 and possibly even as high as B100 down the road.
David Winslow
The resort has already been running biodiesel in all of its mobile diesel engines, including its work trucks and employee shuttles. Winslow says the expansion of the use of biodiesel is only natural. “It’s the right thing to do for our environment. The resort is running cleaner, smoother, and greener thanks to biodiesel.”

So when guests go to see the Jaws attraction, they’ll be able to jump out of their skin as the mechanical shark makes his deathly lunge fueled by biodiesel.

I went to Universal just a few minutes ago to see firsthand how they are using the green fuel. Although Jaws was closed for scheduled maintenance, I still got to see behind the scenes where they fill up all of the vehicles with B20 biodiesel.

Check out this short movie I made (not quite Spiderman, but I’m working on it!).

Also, you can hear all of Winslow’s press conference he held today here: [audio:]

General Session Entertainment

NBB conference 08Country music singer Michael Peterson likes to look at things just a little differently and in today’s general session he entertained the crowd with a sweet song about life “From the Grave to the Cradle.”

Michael is a great advocate for biodiesel and he is a wonderful entertainer and all around nice guy. He is preparing for a new tour that’s all about making a difference in the world and he promises to be talking about biodiesel wherever he appears. Check out the tour site

You can listen to Michael’s song here: [audio:]

NBB Vice Chair See Challenges & Opportunities Ahead

National Biodiesel Board Vice Chairman Gary Haer says he is amazed at the turnout for this year’s National Biodiesel Conference and Expo in Orlando, Florida. He says the thousands of attendees at the event seemed to be determined to take on the challenges that are ahead.

Haer, who is also a VP of Sales and Marketing for Iowa-based Renewable Energy Group, has a producer’s perspective on the biodiesel industry. I had the chance to chat with him for a few minutes about where he says the industry heading.

NBB conference 08First of all, he says there is a real void in the number of people who are trained to work with biodiesel. That’s why he was happy about this week’s announcement that the U.S. Department of Labor has joined with his company to come up with a curriculum to ramp up training and share Iowa’s industry expertise. Iowa Biofuels Training International (IBTI) is pairing up with educational institutions and biofuels producers with potential green collar workers. The programs are designed to train individuals for full-time ethanol and biodiesel laboratory, maintenance and operations positions.

Of course, the biggest issue facing the industry right now (and of course, the buzz around the conference) is the high cost of feedstocks. “We are faced right now with very high feedstock costs that are making profit margins compromised and sacrificed. It’s very difficult to find those opportunities for profitable sales today.”

He says the next 12 months will be very challenging, but he’s optimistic after that. “Then I think the market will make some adjustments. We’ll see some new feedstocks, new research that will level the playing field, and the market will sort those things out as we get into 2009,” Haer noted.

He adds that 2009 is when the Renewable Fuels Standard really gets going for biodiesel with a government standard of a billion gallons a year to be produced in the next few years.

You can all of my interview with Gary Haer by clicking here: [audio:]

“Eye on Biodiesel” Awards

NBB conference 08The fifth annual “Eye on Biodiesel” awards were presented today at the conference general session.

Two Florida-based industries were presented with top honors. Florida Power and Light received the “Initiative” award for using B20 in their entire diesel fleet of almost 2500 vehicles. Director of Fleet Services George Survant, here with Joe Jobe, accepted the award.

NBB conference 08In addition, NBB presented the Pioneer award to NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center for switching to B20 in 2003 in its fleet of 144 diesel-powered vehicles. Bruce Chesson with NASA Transportation was spotlighted for his work and he accepted the award on-stage from NBB Chairman Ed Hegland, NBB CEO Joe Jobe and country music singer Michael Peterson.

NBB conference 08Other awards presented included the Impact award, which was presented to GROWMARK, Inc., for demonstrating its ongoing commitment to the advancement of the biodiesel industry. The company’s bidiesel sales grew from 10,000 gallons in 2000 to an estimated 22.7 MILLION gallons in 2007. GROWMARK’s marketing manager for alternative fuels Mark Dehner, pictured here with Michael Peterson, accepted the award.

NBB conference 08The National Oilheat Research Alliance received this year’s Industry Partnership award for its efforts in Bioheat heating oil education. NORA president John Huber accepted the award, pictured here with Ed, Joe and Michael.

NBB conference 08The Inspiration award this year went to David E. Harris Jr., general manager of transporation services for Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. Harvard made the switch to B20 five years ago and now fuels 68 vehicles with the blend. Harris meets with potential biodiesel users, represents Harvard at biodiesel evetns and its the leading member and Harvard representative on the EPA’s Greater Boston Breathes Better program. He is pictured here with Joe.

NBB conference 08Tom Smallwood of the US Marine Corps accepted the “Influence” Award from Michael for use of biodiesel in the Marine Corps. Under Tom’s leadership, use of biodiesel has skyrocketed since 2001. Ninety percent of Marine Corps bases now use biodiesel.

NBB conference 08Finally, Cummins, Inc. was presented the “Innovation” award for the company’s multi-year research efforts on engine compatibility with biodiesel blends which led them to be one of the first companies to support the use of biodiesel blends in their diesel engines. Edward Lyford-Pike accepted the award on behalf of Cummins.

Read the NBB press release here.

Riding & Driving with Michael Peterson

One of the things the National Biodiesel Board is showing folks at this year’s convention (and outside the convention for that matter) is how biodiesel performs as well as, if not better than, any petroleum diesel out there.

To prove the point, the board has a “Ride-and-drive” event where the general public can get behind the wheel of a 2008 Dodge Pickup, a Jeep Cherokee, or a Volkswagen TDI and truly see for themselves how well these vehicles perform on the greener biodiesel.

One of those taking up the offer was country music star Michael Peterson, who took the Dodge Pickup around the block.

Here’s a quick video I shot as he returned from the ride and had some great comments about how well it performed:

Training for “Green Collar” Jobs

The number of “green collar” jobs is on the rise in America. By 2015, the biodiesel and ethanol industries will create more than 240,000 full-time jobs in all sectors related to renewable fuels production, economic experts project.

Biodiesel curriculum developer Renewable Energy Group today joined with U.S. Department of Labor at the biodiesel conference to announce a new program to ramp up training and share Iowa’s industry expertise. Iowa Biofuels Training International (IBTI) pairs educational institutions and biofuels producers with potential green collar workers. IBTI’s programs are designed to train individuals for full-time ethanol and biodiesel laboratory, maintenance and operations positions.

NBB conference 08“Today, the state of Iowa leads the nation in ethanol and biodiesel production,” said IBTI executive director Joe Brehm. “We have seen the need for skilled employees in our own state, and are looking forward to offering hands-on, cutting-edge training for green collar job candidates.

Brehm, pictured here talking with Orlando Sentinel reporter Jerry Jackson, says “IBTI is ready to partner with domestic and international educational institutions and biodiesel and ethanol producers who would like to take advantage of Iowa’s expertise in producing clean-burning renewable fuels in these fast-paced industries.”

You can listen to an interview with Joe here: [audio:]

NBB conference 08Bill Sanders, director of workforce innovations with US Department of Labor, talked about how the Bush administration has made training jobs for the energy sector a priority.

“We need to retool workers, bring them up to speed, give them the skills quickly, because industries such as biofuels cannot grow unless they have the right talent pool,” said Sanders.

Joining Sanders in today’s press conference were Jeff Stroburg, CEO of REG and NBB’s Joe Jobe (pictured), as well as Dr. Mick Starcevich, president of Kirkwood Community College in Iowa.

You can listen to an interview with Bill Sanders here: [audio:]

You can listen to an interview with Jeff Stroburg here: [audio:]

You can listen to an interview with Mick Starcevich here: [audio:]

See 2008 conference photos on theFlicker Photo Album from the 2008 National Biodiesel Conference by clicking here.

The First Oil Producers Back on the Job

One of the big issues at this year’s conference is the search for additional feedstocks for biodiesel. Solazyme, one of the conference sponsors, is looking at the viability of making biodiesel out of algae as an alternative to more expensive conventional sources. In fact, the folks from Solazyme brought a sweet ride to the conference… a Mercedes Benz C320 that runs on the green fuel made from the green algae.

SolazymeI caught up with Jonathan Wolfson from Solazyme and asked him some questions about how his company was able to produce the fuel from what some people might see as an unlikely source.

He pointed out that algae are the original oil producers on the planet. “Frankly, the last time you filled up your car with any petroleum fuel, chances are the oil that fuel was made from came from algae, maybe a hundred million years ago. The strategy has been to take the original oil producers, which, by the way, are the most efficient oil producers and collapse that 100-million-year process into a few days,” Wolfson says.

Listen to my entire interview with Wolfson by clicking here: [audio:]

EcoJet on Display

EcoJetJay Leno’s EcoJet is on display at the conference trade show in the New Holland booth.

This futuristic car runs on 100% biodiesel and Jay had it custom designed by General Motors. It actually has a jet engine in it and has been on tour around the country.

Steve says that the car is very light weight cranks out 650 horsepower and should be able to hit about 220 mph, although I’m not sure anyone has actually tested it at that rate of speed yet. At that rate it could give the Indy cars a run for their money!

See more pictures on theFlicker Photo Album of from the 2008 National Biodiesel Conference by clicking here.

An Opportunity to Take on Challenges

This morning, the 2008 National Biodiesel Conference and Expo started the day with a general session, where NBB CEO Joe Jobe briefed attendees on the state of biodiesel and the direction he sees it heading.

Joe JobeDuring a quick break between the numerous events at the conference (including his time with Agritalk this morning as pictured here), I caught up with Joe to get some of his thoughts.

He said biodiesel had an excellent year in 2007, gaining the Renewable Fuels Standard that will see biodiesel grow to a billion gallons a year in this country in the next few years. In addition, he says public recognition and acceptance of biodiesel continues to grow as well. “We went from 45 percent awareness to 65 percent awareness in just one year,” Jobe says.

But the tremendous growth has not been without its challenges. Among those, the biggest has been the simultaneous instabilities in the ag commodities and energy markets… both of which the biodiesel is extremely dependent on. “For every penny a pound soybean oil prices rise, the price of biodiesel rises 7.5 cents per gallon. And we’ve seen prices rise by nearly 30 cents in just the last 18 months,” said Jobe. He says the rise came as many producers had refineries and projects in the works.

Jobe is still very optimistic, however. On the horizon, he sees research finding more, sustainable, higher-yielding feedstocks that will continue to help the industry grow. Legislatively, he is hopeful the federal tax incentive for biodiesel will be extended. But he admits with 2008 being a presidential election year, it will be challenging to keep biodiesel in the front of lawmakers’ and the average citizen’s minds. “So we’ve got to really energize folks… to get them engage in government policy to get that done,” Jobe said.

He says this conference is an opportunity for the industry to get together to take on these challenges facing it.

Listen to my whole interview with Joe here: [audio:]

Change the Way You Look at Things

MichaelCountry music star Michael Peterson was one of the featured speakers at this morning’s “Ride-and-drive” event at the 2008 National Biodiesel Conference and Expo in Orlando, Florida.

Cindy grabbed Michael for a quick interview right after he returned from a test drive of a 2008 Dodge Ram 3500 diesel pick up truck running on B20. As he stepped out of the vehicle, he joked how he was just sure the organizers meant for him to take the truck home (sorry, Michael!). But, seriously, he really loved the way the vehicle drove and its acceleration.

During his interview, Michael said he’s been traveling the country, spreading the good news of biodiesel: what it means for our economy, ecology, and the education of our youth. “There are so many possibilities inherent in this product and the development of it,” Michael told Cindy.

Peterson at Ride and DriveWhile soybeans might be the biggest, most conventional feedstock for biodiesel, Michael says we need to find alternatives to what’s become a too costly feedstock for too many producers. He says the whole nature of the biodiesel business is one of innovation because the people involved are not afraid to look at things in a new way. “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

Listen to Cindy’s interview with Michael here: [audio:]