Earlier this year we caught up with Alan Novak, Director of Alternative Fuels for Emerson Process Management, to discuss last December’s BioEnergy Summit.

In that post we touched on how, depending on your perspective, biofuel and bioenergy production represent either unmitigated hype and controversy on the one hand, or the potential promise and hope for a sustainable clean energy future based, in part, on an abundant renewable fuel source on the other.

No matter your outlook, the principal challenges (or failings) with biofuels remains feedstock availability, sustainability, and potential for scaling to a level sufficient for satisfying any significant portion of global energy demand. This is where the work of Novak and Emerson come into play. Working with industry leaders, entrepreneurs, researchers, and policy wonks, Novak seeks to help tackle these challenges so that the promise of biomass as a viable fuel and energy source for the future can become reality. And sooner rather than later, as there is little time to waste.

Since the inaugural BioEnergy Summit in Madison, Emerson has held two more, one in Denver last March, and one last May in Atlanta, Georgia. We like to check in with Novak every so often to get the latest insights from the front lines. There’s more going on, of course, than one short blog post can adequately cover, but following are some highlights of our recent conversation.

Company watch

“On track” in Georgia

Range fuels is “on track” to begin operation in 2010 of its first commercial-scale cellulosic biofuel plant in Soperton, Georgia; the first such operation in the United States. When fully operational, the plant will produce 100 million gallons annually of ethanol and methanol using non-edible feedstocks, mostly timber and waste wood from nearby forestry operations. Emerson continues to  play an important role in the project, assisting Range Fuels with process engineering and automation technologies.

Government watch

On the legislative front, Novak expressed concern that legislators and leaders in Washington are creating feedstock sustainability conflicts between Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards (RPS) and mandated biofuel requirements. With legislators working toward a federal RPS and a biofuel mandate of 36 billion gallons by 2022, conflicts between varying are likely, Novak fears. He an his colleagues are working closely with policy-makers in Washington to help craft reasonable legislation that will lead to sustainable biomass feedstocks for both RPS and biofuel production.