Sustainable Biodiesel Summit unites wide range of producers

By Luke Geiver | March 14, 2011

For nearly a week, biodiesel enthusiasts ranging from commercial-scale to micro-sized producers convened in Pittsboro, N.C., for the 2011 Sustainable Biodiesel Summit, sharing data, perspective and positive stories of the industry. “It’s always good to touch base with the sustainable biodiesel community,” said Matt Steiman from the Dickinson College biodiesel project. “There is always something to learn.” Steiman, who shared with the attendees his experience starting and helping run the biodiesel project at the Pennsylvania college that helped shape the best practices guide used by the state, which is also is conducting glycerin composting research, was just one of several presenters who provided an overview of a unique biodiesel project. Preceding the one-day summit, Piedmont Biofuels held a three-day biodiesel intensive workshop that included discussion detailing their innovative enzyme catalyst process, and a tour of its pilot facility.

“Piedmont Biofuels is a really special place,” Steiman said. “They kind of cross over between industrial and small-scale.” With help from Novozymes members, Rachel Burton, Piedmont’s research director, led a series of demonstrations over the course of three days that included sulfuric acid processing, followed by the enzymatic approach Piedmont is deploying. “Novozymes spoke about what the enzymes are, how you use them and other applications outside of the bioenergy sector,” Burton said.

During the one-day summit that followed the Piedmont workshops, Steiman said he had the chance to network with other like-minded producers. “Just like the big guys that have the opportunity at the NBB conference,” he said, “it’s a networking opportunity for those who are in it for sustainability reasons.”

Jon Van Gerpen, professor and department head of biological and agricultural engineering at the University of Idaho, provided a presentation on the opportunities in the industry that both Steiman and Burton commended. “I talked about the economic constraints right now with rapidly rising feedstock prices,” he said, “and although we have what looks like some real economic incentives with the tax credit and the high prices for RINs, it seems like we are in a race with the incentives.” That race, as Van Gerpen called it, happens as producers push to make economical fuel amidst rising feedstock prices. “The biodiesel guys are working under any margin they can find.”

Apart from his own presentation, Van Gerpen said that there was a lot of discussion about a pathway for small producers to participate in some of the incentive programs, and to be able to sell RINs or collect the tax credit. Along with Piedmont Biofuels and Central Carolina Community College, the summit was put on by the Abundance Foundation, a group aimed at sustainability education ranging from local food production to renewable energy. For more on the summit, visit or check out Piedmont Biofuels’ energy blog written by Lyle Estill in which he comments on the events.

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