Bioenergy Insight Conference 2017: Q&A session with Louisiana Forest Products Development Center's Richard Vlosky

The Bioenergy Insight Conference, a world-leading bioenergy event, will be held in Edinburgh, Scotland, on 4 and 5 October 2017, covering the whole bioenergy supply chain.

The show will focus on all the new developments and the latest challenges.

Topics covered in the seminars include the global biomass market, financing bioenergy projects and ensuring sustainability at scale.

The debut event will be co-located with the Biofuels International Conference 2017, which is in its tenth year.

Major names including National Grid, Fram Renewable Fuels, Enviva, Scania and Green Investment Bank will be at the conference.

Among them will be Richard Vlosky, director of Louisiana Forest Products Development Center. He shares his thought on the bioenergy industry below.

What role can bioenergy play in the low-carbon economy?

Cellulosic-based biofuels in general provide a carbon storage capability in the form of biomass. In the case of wood-based bioenergy, carbon originates from a renewable resource-trees, whereas traditional fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas are not renewable. Although these fuel sources are still abundant, their contribution to climate change is forcing many to examine renewable alternatives. The recently signed Paris Accord on Climate Change is an example of global efforts to shift to non-fossil fuel energy sources. Cellulosic-based bioenergy also results in lower carbon emissions than fossil fuel alternatives.

What will the policy and operational landscape look like in 2018 in the US?

At the federal level, under the current administration, there is a roll back of the movement to renewable bioenergy and biofuels. Congress created the renewable fuel standard (RFS) programme to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and expand the nation’s renewable fuels sector while reducing reliance on imported oil. This programme was authorised under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and expanded under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. However, if the regulatory environment under the Trump administration translates into shifts in directives and policy towards coal and fossil fuel development, the landscape for renewables will be less robust than what we would have otherwise experienced in the next 3-4 years. Many US states have maintained Renewable Fuel Standards and some states and cities have remained committed to the Paris Climate Change Accords even though the US at the national level has not signed the agreement.

What is the next trend of the industry?

The next trend is the current trend, that of a growing global infrastructure for wood pellets for electricity generation. This sector is beyond the nascent stage and is beginning to reach the growth phase of the product lifecycle. Torrified wood is still in the early stages of adoption and will likely grow in the same trajectory as wood pellets over the next 2-3 years. Bio-based fuels can be produced from a variety of feedstocks such as algae, miscanthus, energy (sugar) cane, sweet sorghum and wood but will remain out of large -scale production with natural gas and oil prices holding at historical lows.

What is set to be big for bioenergy for the rest of the year?

The wood pellet sector will continue to grow through the rest of 2017 and into 2018 as new markets develop. The markets to watch for significant growth are Japan and South Korea, two countries that are committed to transition away from fossil fuels and nuclear power. Other Asian countries may follow this path with Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia in particular as higher potential markets.

What represents the biggest threat for bioenergy?

The biggest threat to bioenergy development is a changing menu of incentives, subsidies, and mandates for major players on the supply side (the US and Canada) and on the demand side (the European Union). These countries/regions are already pulling back on generous incentives to produce bioenergy. Profitability will likely decline and prices paid by end-users will likely increase if this trend continues.

What is the next thing industry should do more of?

Pray that major oil and gas producers such as OPEC (oil) and the United States (natural gas), curtail production resulting in higher prices for these fuels. With this strategy in doubt, investors and corporate participants in the bioenergy sector will likely be more risk averse with a resulting decline in investment in bioenergy/biofuels.

Vlosky will be speaking at 10.00am on Day Two of the Bioenergy Insight Conference & Expo 2017. His talk is entitled ‘update on the wood-based bioenergy sector in North America’. Don’t miss out.

Register now for Bioenergy Insight Conference & Expo 2017 for two days of essential learning to network with experts, sharpen your bioenergy knowledge and improve your skills, on 4-5 October.

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