Top 10 Moments at ABLC 2015…so far

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Ambassadors, naval attachés and counselors from 11 nations gather at ABLC 2015 to honor US Secretary of Energy Ray Mabus for his leadership on energy security. Joining them in this photo are the winners of the 2015 Biofuels Digest Awards. 

Day 1 highlights at the Advanced Bioeconomy Leadership Conference

1. Most Dramatic moment. By far, the most dramatic moment was ABFA president Mike McAdams’ speech calling for RFS reform. However, not far behind were remarks by Advanced Ethanol Council executive director Brooke Coleman’s analysis that the ABFA goals, several of which he said that “almost everyone in the room agreed with” were “dead in this Congress”, saying that reform of cellulosic waiver credits involved proposals that were sought in 2007 Energy Independence & Security Act and “we couldn’t get then, when we were stronger politically than today, and we won’t get now in this Congress.”

2. Surprise speaker. When the16th Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and former Undersecretary of the Navy, Jim Woolsey, took the stage for a surprise address on energy security — discussing the recent volatility in oil prices in geopolitical terms, how low oil prices destabilized the economies of regional powers rivals such as Russia and Iran — and praising the development of all forms of domestic energy production. Competition at the pump, he said, is essemtial.

3. Best attended speech. The hub-bub of activity on the sidelines diminished notably when the US Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus took the stage to deliver the Global Bioenergy Leadership Address and said that the Navy would continue in its effort to diversity the fleet’s fuel supply to fight the impact of petroleum cost volatility on fleet readiness, and fight the existential threats that rising sea levels and climate change posed to the US, its allies (particularly in the Pacific Rim), and naval faciilities in coastal regions.

4. A light-hearted moment. Following the dramatic first morning policy session, Jim Lane took the stage to apologize that EPA was not speaking this week at ABLC. “We invited EPA in 2014 and 2015 to give an address here at ABLC, but we have not yet heard back from them definitiively on either invitation. There is a rumor, however, that in about two months EPA may respond with a final word on the 2014 invitation.”

5. A moment of silence. ABLC delegates observed a moment of silence in honor of the life and achievements of Guido Ghisolfi, the CEO of Beta Renewables, who died tragically last week. Ghisolfi was posthumously awarded the Holmberg Award for Lifetime Achievement, and Paolo Carollo accepted on behalf of the Ghisolfi family, Beta Renewables, Chemtex and Grupo M&G.

6. Some red-carpet glamour. It might have been he clicking of the biotech paparazzi at the photo wall where dozens of industry personalities were on hand to accept their Top 125 People in the Advanced Bioeconomy awards, or the screening of an extended clip from the debut episode of The New Voices, the new original talk-show series on industrial biotechnology where DuPont’s Jan Koninckx joined regular panelists Rebecca Boudreaux (president, Oberon Fuels), Eric McAfee (CEO, Aemetis) and Claire Curry (transport industry associate, Bloomberg New Energy Finance) in a segment of the show on the arrival of cellulosic ethanol at commercial scale. But certainly the days of dry powerpoints and charts have given way to something with a little more style than seen in recent years.

7. Speaking of glitz and glamour, ambassadors of Singapore, Fiji, Micronesia, Papua New Guinea and The Philippines, and naval attaches and embassy counselors from India, Sweden, France, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, and Thailand were on hand for the first day’s ceremonies and festivities, The shutters were clicking when Secretary Mabus, the Ambassadors and attaches, and the winners of the Biofuels Digest Advanced Bioeconomy Awards (Gran Bio, Abengoa, POET-DSM, Raizen, REG, Fulcrum BioEnergy, Honeywell’s UOP and LanzaTech) gathered on stage for photos.

8. After Spruce Capital co-Chairman Roger Wyse announced the first closing of a $150 million biogreentech venture fund, he observed that “I assure you, no one who participated in the closing of this fund and the fund-raising effort could fail to understand what a difficulat environment it has been for capital raising by the CEOs of many of the companies we’ll be looking now to invest in.” After Wyse spoke about rhe investment thesis of the new venture fund, one wag was heard to observe, “too bad for the next speaker after half the room chases Roger out the door looking for venture capital.” But news of another fund-raising venture fund focused on sustainable agtech reached the conference floor during the Top 125 People reception, and Citi’s Mike Eckhart noted that his company has set a $100 billion lending target for clean tech over the next 10 years after recording $50 billion in the last 10.

9. Upbeat CEOs. Jennifer Holmgren of LanzaTech, John Melo of Amyris, Vincent Chornet of Enerkem, Kevin Weiss of Byogy, Theodora Retsina of American Process took the stage in the Industry Leadership & Outlooks session, and were consistantly upbeat — though acknowledging a tough capital-raising environment.

10. “I’m still standing”. Despite the gloom around Christmans over falling oil prices and continued policy instability in the US, a record number of C-level executives and personalities were in attendance at ABLC this year, said the conference team. More than 130 C-suiters were in the crowd of more than 400 at ABLC this year.

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