Posts tagged “KiOR”
In January of this year, as I do each year, I made several predictions for 2014. One was that natural gas prices would be higher. That prediction is looking pretty solid, with natural gas inventories this week dropping below 1 trillion cubic feet for the first time since 2003 — 49% below the level of one year ago. As I have argued in recent articles, this is likely to mean a year of higher natural gas prices than what we have become accustomed to over the past couple of years.
Among the other predictions I made for 2014 was “KiOR will declare bankruptcy in 2014.” While it is still a bit early to write KiOR’s (NASDAQ: KIOR) obituary, the patient is looking pretty unhealthy. I have been getting a lot of emails asking for comment on their recently released annual report, and I would have had something posted already, but I was traveling during the first half of the week. So let’s dissect what has happened. CONTINUE»
What 60 Minutes Got Right
Following the recent 60 Minutes story The Cleantech Crash, Katie Fehrenbacher at Gigaom wrote a very good article called What 60 Minutes got right and wrong in its story on the “cleantech crash”.
In contrast to some who reacted with righteous indignation against the notion of any troubles in the world of cleantech, Katie noted, “60 Minutes got some key things right in the story”, notably that cleantech HAS crashed from a venture capital (VC) perspective.
Cleantech often requires much longer time horizons and higher capital expenditures before a VC has a chance of seeing a return on the investment. And as I have explained in the past, you can’t really afford to have a 10 percent success rate if that entails building 10 capital intensive biofuel plants before achieving success. It’s a very different model than a couple of guys starting an Internet company in their garage. You run out of money pretty quickly when building plants that fail to perform. CONTINUE»
In the previous article, I graded the 2013 predictions that I made a year ago. I scored well on the direction of oil and gas prices, the shrinking Brent-West Texas Intermediate (WTI) differential, and continued growth in US oil production (although it grew even faster than I expected). My only complete miss was that I expected approval for the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline. (The southern leg, incidentally, is scheduled to begin shipping oil this week from the major crude oil storage hub at Cushing, Oklahoma to the Gulf Coast near Houston).
Today I offer up my predictions, and the reasoning behind them, for what I think will transpire in 2014. One thing I have learned in making predictions is that they must be specific, and not subject to interpretation at the end of the year.
“The US oil industry will continue to thrive” is much too vague. “The price of crude will rise” is also too vague, because perhaps crude rises for part of the year, or perhaps some crudes rise and some don’t. On the other hand, “The average price of Brent crude will be higher in 2014 than in 2013” is specific and measurable. CONTINUE»
Ask and Ye Shall Receive
Last week, The Economist posed the following question: “What happened to biofuels?” The biofuels in question are so-called second generation biofuels that are produced from trees, grasses, algae, — in general, feedstocks that don’t also have a use as food. The appeal is obvious to anyone concerned about the world’s dependence on petroleum, and further worried that a major shift to biofuels will cause food prices to rise. So let’s address that question.
Entrepreneurs Revive a Century-Old Idea
About a decade ago, a number of entrepreneurs began to use their political influence to convince the US government that the only things keeping the US from running our cars on advanced biofuels was lack of government support, and interference from oil companies. These advocates eventually won over enough political support that state and federal governments began to funnel large amounts of taxpayer dollars into advanced biofuel ventures. President Bush spoke of running cars on switchgrass in his 2006 State of the Union address.
The federal government sought to deal with supposed oil company intransigence with a mandate requiring gasoline blends to contain growing volumes of corn ethanol initially, but starting in 2010 advanced biofuels as well. The federal government mandated that by the year 2022 the fuel supply had to use 36 billion gallons of biofuels, with 21 billion gallons coming from advanced biofuels. CONTINUE»
This week, the EPA announced that it was adjusting the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) in order to reflect market realities. As originally proposed earlier this year, the rule called for 14 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol, but the final rule sets a requirement for 6 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol this year.
However, as all the news stories focus on how the EPA has “backed down”, what goes overlooked is that there is finally a cellulosic biofuel industry in which commercial production has started.
KiOR’s biorefinery in Columbus, Mississippi started commercial production in March using wood chips to produce cellulosic fuels, and Ineos just announced on July 31 that their Indian River BioEnergy plant in Florida has begun operations to make biofuels from plant waste. Both of these are now operating at full commercial scale. Whether they’re making money yet, we don’t know, but the fact that they’re producing large volumes of cellulosic biofuels may be a historic turning point. These developments are important steps towards developing a real advanced biofuel industry that can help move us toward a point where we have other options for how to fuel our cars and trucks.
Chemicals and Fertilizer Industries
In last week’s post Who Wins from Rising Natural Gas Prices?, I discussed the sectors that would benefit from rising natural gas prices. This week, let’s talk about the potential losers.
Natural gas is an important feedstock for the chemicals and fertilizer industries, so higher prices could pressure those sectors. Oil companies with significant chemical operations could also see this business segment take a hit, but based on ExxonMobil’s (NYSE: XOM) advocacy of liquified natural gas (LNG) exports, it clearly believes the net effect of rising natural gas prices on the company would be positive.
Dow Chemical (NYSE: DOW), on the other hand, has come out strongly against LNG exports because of the potential cost to its own business and that of other heavy users of natural gas. Ironically, last week the Department of Energy granted a permit to a facility called Freeport LNG — in which Dow owns a 15% stake. Dow’s answer to that is that they invested in the facility when it was supposed to be an LNG import facility.
But the risks to the chemicals and fertilizer industries are well-known. What isn’t as well-known is the risk from higher natural gas prices to the biofuels sector. This may be counterintuitive, since renewables like wind and solar power become more competitive as natural gas prices increase. CONTINUE»
First Qualifying Cellulosic Ethanol
Last year, to much fanfare, the first batch of qualifying cellulosic ethanol was produced (i.e., it qualified for credits under the EPA program for certifying ethanol for sales). I reported on the development at that time.
Western Biomass Energy LLC, a subsidiary of Blue Sugars Corporation (previously KL Energy) reported the major milestone of claiming the first cellulosic ethanol tax credits under the RFS2 for a 20,069 gallon batch of cellulosic ethanol produced from bagasse (sugar cane waste) in April 2012.
However, regular readers are aware that for years I have been deeply skeptical that cellulosic ethanol as envisioned by — and ultimately mandated by — the US government will be an economic and scalable fuel option. The obstacles to success are significant, and I have described them in detail on many occasions.
In this week’s episode of R-Squared Energy TV, I answer questions about POET’s Project Liberty, about why KiOR might need a natural gas pipeline, and whether there are better options out there for utilization of waste heat from electrical generating plants.
Some of the topics discussed this week are:
- POET’s prospects for success with their cellulosic ethanol venture
- The synergy of co-locating a cellulosic ethanol plant next to a corn ethanol plant
- Why a renewable energy company might require natural gas
- Options for utilizing energy from waste hot water
In this week’s episode of R-Squared Energy TV, I answer a few questions about pathways to biofuels, cellulosic ethanol, and Vinod Khosla. I have to apologize this week, because the microphone was a bit away from my mouth, so the volume is lower than normal.
Some of the topics discussed this week are:
- Some of the commercially viable pathways for turning biomass into energy
- The prospects for drop-in fuels
- The shift in Vinod Khosla’s optimism over the past 5 years
- What I think Vinod’s statements to the Wall Street Journal really signal
The Big Names in Biofuels
So you’re hoping to strike it rich by investing in LanzaTech. Or Solazyme. Or KiOR. Or Gevo. After all, some of these companies recently had high-profile IPOs, and they are clearly “hot” given all of the press coverage devoted to them. So perhaps you have decided you want to get in on a potentially unique investment opportunity.
I get more e-mails and phone calls about investments than on any other topic. And it’s not just individual investors. I hear from institutional and private equity investors trying to determine what’s true and what’s hype, and asking whether KiOR or LanzaTech might turn out to be the Google (GOOG) or Apple (AAPL) of biofuels. Before offering any guidance, the first thing I try to do is establish your reason for investing. Are you looking for — in the words of former Fidelity Magellan’s Peter Lynch — a “ten bagger?” Are you looking for a hedge against the end of the oil age? Is this money that you are fully prepared to lose?
The second thing I would ask you is whether you really understand the company, their business model, their competition, and their potential technical challenges. (This is typically why people e-mail me — because they have questions about these things). Let me offer an example from my own investing history to demonstrate why these issues are important by telling you about the worst investing mistake I ever made. CONTINUE»