CORNY STUFF – A VISIT TO THE HOME OF US BIO-FUELS FOR BIO WORLD CONGRESS ON IB

Read all about the a-maize-ing things the IBioIC team got up to at BIO World Congress 2019!

There were many eyebrows raised when BIO announced last year that its 2019 World Congress in Industrial Biotechnology and AgTech would be held in Des Moines, Iowa. This was followed by a rush to Google Maps and Expedia to find out exactly where Des Moines is, and just how easy it’d be to get there! This was a significant departure from the tried and tested formula of major city locations; would people attend?...would it lose its international appeal?…should IBioIC attend?

Well we did, and all concerns were unfounded. Attendance (over 900) was considerably higher than previous years, boosted by 50% first time attendees and the welcome was over-whelming.  There were balloons and signs awaiting us at the airport and banners all over the city announcing that #BIOWC19 was in town – it even made the local news.  We welcomed BIO’s improved conference format with the introduction of a “start-up stadium” for new companies, “super-sessions” for Ag tech, and fewer but better focussed “breakout sessions”.

Iowa is an agricultural state, with 85% of its 53,000 square mile area available for arable farming, the highest in the US. It has 45 bio-refineries, the most of any US state, with the US producing more bio-fuels that the rest of the world put together. All of this made Iowa a logical and informative location for an international IB conference.

This year’s focus was unsurprisingly directed toward bio-fuels with an unashamed, but justified, promotion of Iowa as a place ready for inward investment. There was much talk about diversified bio-ethanol plants producing more than one product, updates on the progress in 2G bio-ethanol technology, and the need to combine food production with fuel/chemical production such that they are less in competition. Other take-aways included:

  • If all of the US corn production was converted to bio-fuels only 10% of US crude oil demand could be replaced, therefore reducing crude oil consumption overall is still a priority.
  • Reducing crude oil consumption for ground transportation and heating actually mean that there is more crude oil available for aviation fuel and chemical production.
  • US wood resources are a largely untapped opportunity for biofuel production due to regulatory classifications around uses. The US forest is 765 million acres (40 times the size of Scotland), with enough spare capacity to sustainably produce 11.4 billion gallons of bio-ethanol per year, double the current consumption.
  • From the feedback received from other delegates, Scotland is seen to be making real progress in the delivery of our National Plan for IB and in some areas, envied for its capabilities in terms of having a vehicle such as IBioIC to help drive forward the bioeconomy. It was also clear that the issues we face are common throughout the world.
  • Whilst much has been made of the food versus fuel (feedstock) debate, there is an emerging view that the next concern will be competition for waste streams, and what is the best use of these resources.

Roger Kilburn announced the launch of the updated Scottish Bio-refining Roadmap in an opening presentation entitled “BOI (bio-refining outside Iowa) rather than BIO”. The presentation focussed on the feedstocks available in Scotland, the development of sugar-beet growing for fermentation feed, and the significant potential opportunity for combining carbon dioxide with renewable hydrogen. Roger invited those present at the conference to talk with the IBioIC delegation about how they might support these developments. This resulted in many interesting discussions most notably with Cargill and LanzaTech.

We were pleased to see a number of our member companies (Altar, EuropaBio, Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant, Biocatalysts, BCNP and Holiferm) attending and presenting over the course of the conference, whilst showcasing some of the latest innovations coming from Europe.

We have long recognised that all this conference participation is thirsty work and what better way to quench that thirst than sharing a ‘wee dram’ on our exhibition stand! Ever popular, IBioIC hosted its now well-established whisky tasting with an addition of Scottish gins this year and Roger talked our guests through the offerings attracting an eager crowd. The tasting was well attended and gave us a chance to meet lots of new contacts & acquaint ourselves with old ones.

On top of this, IBioIC pre-arranged over 20 partnering meetings and are excited by the follow up activity with people keen to hear more about our activities in Scotland and to understand how they can get more involved. 

Another excellent addition to the #BIOWC19 programme this year was the opportunity to tour some of Iowa’s bio-refining facilities.  On Thursday, Roger and Ashley headed to Newton to tour the REG facility. The plant produced 30 million gallons of biodiesel from a combination of animal fat, used cooking oil and topped up by fresh corn/rapeseed oil. Jude and Steve visited Eddyville, about 90 minutes outside Des Moines, for a tour of the Cargill biorefinery and Iowa BioProcess Training Centre.  The Eddyville site refines corn into a number of different products including food ingredients, corn starch, feed and germ as well as corn oil.  Such is the scale of the facility that the site ships enough corn syrup to fill 200,000 bottles of Coke every day!!  The tour was finished off with a delicious BBQ corn lunch – the corn in Iowa tastes amazing!!

The team was busy this year and leaves Iowa tired….in a good way and knowing a lot more about bio-fuels and corn!