When I became involved in the American Biofuels Council three years ago, the push for biofuels was at its highest point in the technology hype cycle. Now, in Arizona, under the aegis of the Desert Biofuels Initiative, a non-profit social venture advancing sustainable regional biofuels, companies in the state are collaborating to produce and sell real products.
As everyone knows, after every hype cycle is the disappointment: in the case of biofuels, that disappointment came from soaring world food prices--due to the diversion of corn and soy from food stock to biofuel, and the concomitant grain shortages and rise in prices. Falling swiftly into disfavor, ethanol and soy-based biofuels declined in popularity, and the entire midwest suffered job losses.The same media that hailed biodiesel as as means to energy independence derided it as consuming more energy in its production than it saved, and causing the global poor to head for starvation.
But all biofuels are not made of food stocks. At the 2nd Annual Desert Biofuels Summit in Scottsdale, Arizona, I heard about biodiesel companies making fuel from many different non-grain sources. Many of them are already successful; others are starting in the unique collaborative, open source environment provided by DBI.
Here's a summary of companies that presented today, although not all of them.
Waste Vegetable Oil (WVO) Companies
1.Arizona Biodiesel, makes B99 biodisel from waste restaurant grease. Its CEO,Dan Rees, believes the biofuels industry was founded to be local and use local waste materials. He believes biodiesel should use local resources to benefit the local economy and benefit the local environment.
2.Amereco Biofuels Corp. was developed to meet the standards for soy diesel. Its plant is geared for 15 million gallons a year. All its products are made from recycled ingredients.
Algae and Jetropha Companies:
3. Biofeedstocks Global LLC, a startup, is planning nursery operations to plant jetropha in Arizona, and is in R& D working with a closed loop algae system.
4. Algae Biosciences, part of the Northern Arizona Center for Emerging Technologies, produces algae in contaminant-free salt water aquifers near Holbrook, AZ, where there's a pristine salt water aquifer from a long-dried up sea!. The company is producing a wide range of products, of which algae-based biodiesel is a byproduct.
6. Energy Derived is dedicated to the development of energy efficient algae production systems for the creation of algae-based biofuels.. Their goal is to have every farmer grow an acre of algae and produce his own fuel. Apparently, drying algae is a relatively energy-intense issue; the company has attacked that problem.
7. Diversified Energy Corporation is a privately held company specializing in the advancement of a series of promising alternative and renewable energy technologies, including a biofuels conversion process that can take any renewable oil and produce transportation fuels that are physically and chemically identical to petroleum, and an algal biomass cultivation system that is scalable and economical.
8. PetroSun - is an example of a company that originated as an oil and gas exploration company, but and went from there into using microbes for cleanup and enhanced oil recovery, and from there into bacteria and algae as sources of fuel. By no means a startup, they have a million acres of land leases in Arizona and New Mexico to cultivate algae for biofuels.
9. Desert Sweet Biofuels is another company that has changed its focus. It will use the facilities and work accomplished by Desert Sweet Shrimp to pioneer the husbandry and production techniques required for the economic production of algae Biofuels and biodiesel. Involved in aquaculture for 14 years, the company managed fields in Ecuador, and has switched to Arizona because of its warm dry climate, perfect for growing algae.
10. My personal favorite, although perhaps not the biggest investment opportunity: Verde Biotrailors, which produces pre-engineered mobile biofuel processors that can be located on a job site, handle smells and spills better than a processor located in a building, and can be cleaned up at a car wash. The units sell for $12,500 and bring biofuel processing to the people.
Some of these companies are not startups by young people; I'm also seeing a group of middle-aged scientists trying to commercialize technologies they've been working on for years out of true conviction. There was so much energy around the Workshop that I can't believe there isn't more support for these obviously important companies.