Newsletter – April 2016
“Now we’ve got to accelerate the transition away from dirty energy. Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future…”
Barack Obama, Discours sur l’Etat de l’Union, 12 janvier 2016
The energy and environmental transition taking place today is more real than ever.
The holding of the COP21 conference in Paris last December attests to a growing world-wide awareness of environmental issues. In 2015, global warming accelerated: compared with the previous record, set in 2014, global temperatures increased by 0.13°C (equivalent to an increase of 13°C within a century!) The world is now waiting for an appropriate response, which must necessarily involve a transition towards a world where use is made of energy and materials producing lower levels of greenhouse gases.
Green electricity generation has been on the rise for the last 10 years: today, electricity from wind and solar energy represents more than 5% of the electricity produced in France. This green power is used for lighting and heating, and has just recently begun to be used to power automotive urban transport.
Global Bioenergies is contributing to the energy shift by offering solutions where renewable electricity cannot be used. For us, this means converting renewable resources into:
- gasoline, to reduce pollution for long-distance automotive transport;
- jet fuel, to limit the negative impact of air transport;
- materials, to limit greenhouse gas emissions by the chemicals sector.
The fuels or materials that are produced using renewable resources generate between 2 and 5 times less greenhouse gas than their counterparts produced using fossil resources.
Some countries have positioned themselves as champions of locally produced energy and of a circular economy, with Germany and Scandinavian countries taking the lead. France has a specific role to play in the domain of industrial biology, where it can rely on a strong agriculture and a tradition in microbiology inherited from Louis Pasteur.
Global Bioenergies was founded on the basis of disruptive innovations making it possible to convert renewable resources (sugar, grains, and waste from agriculture, forestry, and industry) into hydrocarbons.
Seven years later, these ideas have become a reality, first in our labs and since last year, in our industrial pilot. In 2016, we will see the culmination of our development work, with the start-up of operation of an industrial demonstration plant with a capacity of 100 tonnes per year.
One of the main aspects of our technology is the direct production of a gas by fermentation, making the product cheaper and easier to purify. From the production of gaseous molecules by fermentation has arisen an innovative concept: a “hybrid” manufacturing plant, born of the marriage of fermentation and petrochemistry.
The first plant of this type is expected to be launched within three years in Pomacle-Bazancourt, near Reims in France. The project is being led by IBN-One, a joint venture created recently by Global Bioenergies and Cristal Union, the second largest sugar producer in France. One of its strengths is product flexibility: using the same molecule – isobutene – one can produce not only fuels, but also plastics, rubbers, paints, solvents…
First, second and third generation resources.
One of the primary assets of Global Bioenergies is its technology’s flexibility. We are working to adapt our process to different resources, whether they are first generation resources (sugar and grains), second generation resources (agricultural and forestry waste), or third generation resources (industrial waste gases, atmospheric CO2). It is thus with the constant concern for reducing impact on food markets that Global Bioenergies is preparing the industrial launch of its process.
A challenging market environment.
Not all market indicators are green: the tremendous rise of shale oil in the United States and the spectacular fall of oil prices since September 2014 are momentarily putting energy transition stakeholders under pressure.
However, the programmes being implemented by Global Bioenergies have not been impacted by these tumultuous market conditions. Rigorous cash flow management has made it possible for the Company’s operations to continue their normal course. In particular, the timetable for the construction of the Leuna demonstration plant has remained unchanged.
‘‘Global Bioenergies has always been extremely attentive to how it manages its cash flow.Our cash position, which stood at €10.4 million at 31 December 2015, was reinforced by raising funds of €6.5 million in January. Our visibility now goes beyond the start-up of the Leuna demonstration plant, a major milestone in value creation for our company. We have the means to achieve our ambitions.’’
François-Henri Sahakian, Global Bioenergies, Chief Financial Officer
How will the oil market evolve over the next few years?
As the world was preparing for oil prices to peak, a sudden flow of oil from shale cracking has radically altered the landscape. It seems that this situation will be merely transient, and the market is already beginning to settle under the combined influence of a reduction in oil produced by shale cracking in the United States and increased demand from emerging economies. In fact, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the oil surplus should be eliminated in the third quarter of 2016.
The massive investment cutbacks made by oil companies in the last few months could even lead one to believe that an over-correction could go very far in the opposite direction. The cyclical nature of energy markets is nothing new.
The Company is poised to fully participate in the energy and environmental transition, one of the major challenges for the coming years.
At what price per barrel does the Global Bioenergies technology become competitive?
The Global Bioenergies Isobutene process can be used in certain markets where oil prices are $50 per barrel. Other markets, especially in the area of commodity chemicals, will open up when oil prices reach $80 per barrel. Eventually, over the longer term, the huge market comprising all fuels will open up when oil prices once again exceed $120 per barrel, in the absence of any regulatory or tax incentives.
Global Bioenergies has always fulfilled its promises.
We do what we say, and we say what we do, is a defining mark of the Company culture, traced back to the conditions of its founding. Indeed, when it was created at the end of 2008, the distinctive feature of Global Bioenergies was its creation entirely from scratch, rather than as a spin-off from an academic institution or industrial group. This meant that the company’s credibility relied solely on its ability to achieve concrete results in the short term, and on continuing to deliver on its promises.
First of all, the Company was able to develop the fundamentals of its technology: the Isobutene process, which was purely theoretical in 2008, is now functioning in a laboratory at a high-performance level (70% of targeted commercial yield announced in July 2015). Based on this foundation, the Company has confidently moved forward with the industrialisation and scale-up of the process, all while continuing its incremental optimisation.
As a result of such work, and as a natural corollary, the intellectual property portfolio exploited by Global Bioenergies now comprises approximately 30 families of patent applications. Twenty-seven patents have already been issued in 11 countries/regions, including Europe, the United States, China, and Japan.
Furthermore, the Company’s portfolio of projects and patents does not stop with isobutene: there is a pipeline of programmes involving other molecules (butadiene and propylene) following in the footsteps of the Isobutene programme.
The scientific and industrial achievements have enabled Global Bioenergies to enter into agreements with both private partners (Audi, Arkema, Cristal Union, Synthos, LanzaTech) and public institutions (Bpifrance, ADEME, the German Research Ministry). Here again, we have kept our promises. The numerous press releases announcing the reaching of milestones or key stages under these agreements attest yet again to the Company’s tenaciousness in keeping its word.
Slowly but surely, the Company has succeeded in attracting some of the most experienced managers in the industry, in France, Germany and the United States. It is this tight-knit team, united around the Company’s projects and values, that is advancing Global Bioenergies’ ambition to become one of the key players in the energy and environmental transition.
The Isobutene process is entering the final phase of its development.
Since the spring of 2015, our industrial pilot project has enabled us to produce and deliver the first samples of isobutene and isooctane to our partners, Arkema and Audi. Over the past few months, we have received orders from many industry stakeholders belonging to varied fields. Beyond the testing of samples, these stakeholders are preparing for a time when large volumes of biological isobutene will be available, once the IBN-One industrial unit is operational.
We are anxiously awaiting the launch of our demonstration plant. Construction at the site of the refinery in Leuna, Germany, will be completed in summer 2016, and operations will start up shortly thereafter. It is built on the model of the future commercial plants. Overall, the installations represent an investment of approximately €10 million, covered by a subsidy from the German Federal Government (€5.7 million) and by a loan from four French banks (€4.4 million).
The Leuna demonstration plant, with a yearly capacity of 100 tonnes of high purity isobutene (>99.7%), represents the last phase in the development of the process. It will enable us to deliver to a growing number of industrialists, thus paving the way for the signing of commercial agreements ahead of the opening of IBN-One. This demonstration plant is on the critical path leading to Global Bioenergies’ success. The entire Company, in France, Germany and the United States, has marshalled to meet the challenge of being prepared for this critical juncture.
“Audi is preparing to join the energy transition. We have examined a large number of technologies and we believe that Global Bioenergies is one of the few to offer a concrete and credible solution. The two principal next steps we see on the path towards our concept of renewable fuel, known as Audi e-benzin, consist of upscaling Global Bioenergies’ Isobutene process towards the demonstration scale, already underway in Leuna, as well as ensuring that the technology can work with non-biomass derived feedstock according to Audi’s e-fuel strategy.”
Reiner Mangold, Audi, Head of Sustainable Product Development
Global Bioenergies in 5 years’ time.
Looking beyond the demonstration plant, which will begin operations this year, our sight now focuses on IBN-One, our first full-scale plant project. It consists in the building of a commercial plant in Pomacle-Bazancourt, near Reims in France, where non-food-grade beet sugar will be converted into 50,000 tonnes of biosourced isobutene each year.
With beet quotas ending in Europe, it is logical to expect a significant increase in sugar production. Sugar-industry players will need to find additional markets. The participation of Cristal Union (a leading European sugar producer) in the IBN-One project can be understood in this context.
‘‘The Cristal Union Group, whose mission, among others, is to find profitable markets for what the members of the cooperatives produce, has anticipated the end of the sugar quotas in 2017 by adopting a proactive policy of developing biofuels and their natural extension to plant chemistry. Our first capital investment in Global Bioenergies in 2011, similarly to our current capital investment in IBN-One, embodies the Group’s development strategy.’’
Xavier Astolfi, Cristal Union, Deputy CEO
The business model of Global Bioenergies involves granting licenses to operating industries. The Company’s stake in IBN-One will be progressively diluted as the different stages of financing for the industrial unit move forward. The Company will generate revenues through an operating licence for the process, which has already been signed between Global Bioenergies and IBN-One.
Part of the isobutene that is produced will be converted into isooctane on-site. Isooctane is the only bio-fuel that can be mixed with gasoline in any proportion. This property makes it possible to qualify isooctane as a “drop-in” biofuel. With its octane index of 100 and its low volatility, isooctane is a “premium” biofuel that enhances gasoline performances.
In France, the mandatory percentage of biofuel to be included in fuels is set at 7% (measured in energy content). However, the average percentage tops out at 6% because of technical limits related to the “blend wall” between ethanol and gasoline. The isooctane produced by IBN-One will make it possible to overcome this blend wall.
IBN-One provides a twofold answer to an environmental constraint, which has been transformed into a tax incentive by legislation, and also to a need for additional markets for European farmers.
In France, the Energy Transition Act has provided that fuel must contain 15% of bio-fuel by 2030, an increase from the current level of 7%. All of Europe is heading in the same direction, and the other OECD countries should follow suit. This opens up the prospect of a whole series of plants being built over a wide geographical area. These future plants will enable the creation of numerous stable jobs in rural areas, and will contribute to Europe’s industrial recovery.
Alongside biofuels, IBN-One will also produce high-purity isobutene for the chemical industry. Isobutene is used in manufacturing rubber, different types of plastic, and additives for paints and cosmetics.
Within a year from now, we expect Global Bioenergies to possess a mature technology, ready to be deployed on a large scale. The Company is therefore preparing to play a significant role in the coming energy and environmental transition, by helping some of the industries tied to fossil hydrocarbons make the shift towards the use of renewable resources.
The next few months and years will testify to the success of this ambitious goal.
7 REASONS TO BELIEVE IN THE FUTURE OF GLOBAL BIOENERGIES
- Industrial biology will make it possible to provide renewable alternatives to fuels and materials of fossil origin, and represents one of the pillars of the coming energy and environmental transition.
- The Global Bioenergies Isobutene process leads to real gasoline, mixable in any proportion with gasoline derived from petroleum, and to materials that are indistinguishable from their fossil equivalents.
- The founding principle of the process – producing gaseous hydrocarbons in a single step, through direct fermentation – is simple, efficient, and economical.
- The process is supported by high-level science, as shown by the patents, results, and industrial partnerships forged by the Company.
- Industrial biology is one of the areas where France excels, which is supported by a strong agricultural sector and a history in microbiology, the legacy of Louis Pasteur.
- Technology maturity and economic and environmental necessity are starting to converge.
- Global Bioenergies has succeeded in creating an experienced, tight-knit team around the Company’s project and its values, and has always kept its word.
“Over the three decades of my active involvement in industrial biotechnology, there have been profound improvements in the technological capabilities and commercial insights required for its success. I am convinced that the field will take on more and more importance as the energy and environmental transitions that are underway continue to strengthen. I consider Global Bioenergies to be very well placed to deploy its innovative technologies in this world where both industry and society ask for sustainable, affordable, and low carbon fuels and materials.”
John Pierce, Global Bioenergies, Chairman of the Board