Biofuels conference draws a crowd

Feature Story

Sold-out event was rooted in the overwhelming interest in the emerging biofuels industries across private, public sectors

The Environmental Business Association of New York State presented a state-focused conference on biofuels on March 14. The conference was sold out well in advance, with more than 275 participants, 30 speakers and 25 exhibit tables. The Environmental Business Association of New York State, Inc. represents New York State’s Environmental Business Community, and its members implement cutting-edge technologies that are both good for the environment and good for the economy.

The conference came about from the realization of the intensity of interest that currently surrounds the rapidly emerging biofuels industries across the private and public sectors.

‘I’ve been in the energy practice for about 30 years and in that time there have been other things that have been important but there are very few things that have captured the imagination, not only of the policymakers but of investors the way alternative fuels have at this point,” said Bernays T. (Buz) Barclay, a partner in the Energy and Power Practice and the Climate Change Practice of the North American business law firm Torys LLP. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the New York State Environmental Business Association and was the conference chair. ‘It is absolutely the hottest topic in the US. I think we could probably have a biofuels conference every day and put bodies in the seats.”

Given the economic charter of the association, another goal was to define and prioritize the business and policy issues that will be crucial to successful development of these industries for the benefit of many sectors of New York’s economy. EBA/NYS provides non-governmental leadership, which the organization noted had been by a variety of parties. ‘Biofuels is an area that the EPA has been active in since 1996, and our organization actually led a successful coalition that put the state’s first tax credit for biofuels on the books in 1997,” said Ira Rubenstein, executive director of the environmental business Association of New York State, Inc. ‘We were considerably ahead of the curve and worked with a lot of individuals and organizations collegially to do that. We thought that it made sense to undertake a similar level of activity now that it’s 10 years later when were in the next cycle of development. There is considerable interest not only in the availability of alternatives for fuel that are sustainable but in the long-term economic restructuring and job growth that these efforts are likely to generate.

The conference also saw the adoption of the New York State Renewable Fuels Industries Task Force, dedicated to the economic development of all renewable fuels sectors in the State of New York through cooperation, knowledge sharing, education, identification of best practices, and advocacy in the public and private sectors. ‘We expect a committee to be very dynamic,” said Barclay. ‘We’ll be soliciting the members of that task force for their priorities in policy development, education, we want to be a clearinghouse for information and while we don’t necessarily want to be a spokesman for the industry we can hopefully be a repository, and perhaps even a catalyst, a for the development of best practices for the industry. We are going to be having additional renewable fuels conferences probably every two or three months for the remainder of the year. The first conference having been somewhat of a survey course where we talked about all of the issues and now we are going to be targeting different specific elements of the industry in subsequent conferences. In one conference we might look at technical issues, and other policy issues and other economics and financing’that kind of thing. I expect those three conference is at least over the course of a year.”

Buz Barclay, conference chair, Torys, LLP (left) and Ira Rubenstein, executive director, EBA/NYS.

‘We’ve had about 50 people show interest in being actively involved in the task force and I would hope we can do a physical meeting in the next couple of weeks where we can sit down with those people and say, okay what’s important to you unless if we can do some initial ranking of priorities,” said Rubenstein. ‘As an organization we tend to be very externally directed by members so I’m particularly interested to see what these businesses say is important to them so we can focus on how to make them successful given their priorities.”

The New York State Energy Research and Development Agency, a public benefit corporation created in 1975 by the New York State Legislature, also provided support for the meeting. NYSERDA derives its basic research revenues from an assessment on the intrastate sales of New York State’s investor-owned electric and gas utilities, and voluntary annual contributions by the New York Power Authority and the Long Island Power Authority. Additional research dollars come from limited corporate funds. Some 400 NYSERDA research projects help the State’s businesses and municipalities with their energy and environmental problems. Since 1990, NYSERDA has successfully developed and brought into use more than 170 innovative, energy-efficient, and environmentally beneficial products, processes, and services. These contributions to the State’s economic growth and environmental protection are made at a cost of about $.70 per New York resident per year.

Ruth Horton of NYSERDA

‘NYSERDA was very helpful not only in assisting and putting together the agenda but bringing on board a number of the speakers and panelists” said Barclay. ‘They were very enthusiastic about it and were big supporters about trying to catalyze policy in support of alternative fuels.” Barclay added that further support came from the state government, with elected state and county representatives and staff members of Lt. Gov. David Paterson in attendance.

The audience at the conference reflected the range of players looking to explore the potential of biofuels. ‘We had a really broad audience’people who were in the business, people who wanted to be in the business, manufacturers of product, transporters, suppliers and distributors. We had people from the financing and development computer looking to see if they could facilitate these products,” Rubenstein said. ‘We had potential users who are trying to understand what availability would look like and government officials looking at both usage and permitting issues.”

Companies representing a fuel oil perspective included Tri-State Biodiesel and Bio Holdings, LLC. New York-headquartered TSB is currently in the process of building New York City’s first biodiesel production facility, with an extensive waste cooking oil collection business in operation in the metro area. TSB is currently rolling out urban biodiesel projects in two additional cities and has plans for several more in the coming years.

John Fox of Homeland Energy, spoke about their experience in developing commercial scale biodiesel production facilities, and discussed New York State’s role as a customer.

‘It was tight from a space perspective, but everybody was very interested and it worked out pretty well because everybody got the chance to know each other,” said Eric Friedman, vice president of sales and marketing, Fuel:Bio Holdings,. ‘It was an interesting cross-section of people–I met people from all around the state and outside the state as well. All of the speakers had at least some useful information, and I thought on the whole that it was a very effective event.”

Elizabeth, N.J.-based Fuel:Bio Holdings, LLC. is a commercial producer of biodiesel, using proprietary technology and chemistry to produce ASTM D6751 product from virgin feed stock sources such as soy and palm oils. Fuel:Bio One, LLC. is the first production facility located in Elizabeth. Its state-of-the-art facility is fully automated and can produce up to 50 million gallons of biodiesel per year.

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