International Sugarcane Biomass Utilization Consortium (ISBUC)

REPORT ON THE INITIATIVE TO ESTABLISH THE INTERNATIONAL SUGARCANE BIOMASS UTILIZATION CONSORTIUM (ISBUC)

A meeting of interested parties was held at Mount Edgecombe, South Africa, on 11 July 2006 to consider whether there was benefit or value in setting up a consortium under the ISSCT umbrella to promote the exploitation of biomass. The meeting was attended by 19 people from 8 different sugar-producing countries (Australia, Brazil, India, Mauritius, South Africa, Swaziland, Thailand, USA).

The meeting was held the day before the ISSCT Management Workshop. This was arranged in hopes of having a good attendance. The meeting was not fully representative, and some apologies were received, notably from Cenicana, Columbia.

A copy of the agenda is attached. The first part of the meeting, reports from various sugar-producing countries, was interesting and informative. Copies of the PowerPoint presentation were recorded on the CD provided at the end of the Management Workshop.

The proposal dated 17 February 2006, circulated prior to the meeting, was discussed in some detail. The proposal with modifications suggested during the meeting is attached. The concept adopted is that the agreement between parties should be simple, hopefully obviating the need for a constitution. This relies on the good faith of all participants, and assures that the simpler the agreement, the easier it will be for all parties. Free interchange of information is the key to the success of ISBUC.

The main issues surfacing in the discussion were:
  • The generation and protection of IP. While it is assumed that a great deal of the collaboration will not generate IP, being more in the way of facilitating and contributing to the progress, some allowance for IP must be made.
  • “Buy in”, and commitment. Most of the participants at the meeting represented research organizations. How easy will it be to get “buy in” and commitment from companies as well as research organizations?
  • Scope of activities. An inventory of all parties’ areas of work or interest would be useful. What should the scope covered by the consortium be?
  • There seems to be more interest from agricultural researchers in producing high biomass cane than from processors. However, it was decided that the production of biomass, except in so far as it affects processing, would not be part of this initiative but would be left to other bodies of ISSCT, namely the Breeding Section.
  • Pro-active plan. One of the early tasks should be to plan the research necessary, locate suitable research providers, rather than wait for proposals.
  • Priorities. The setting of priorities would need some discussion. It was proposed that two or three research tasks should be identified at the outset for the consortium’s attention.
  • Is there a need for ISBUC, in view of other organizations active in biomass exploitation?
Barriers to the formation of ISBUC were discussed in detail and were seen to be significant. However, a poll of attendees at the end of the meeting indicated that all were in favor of taking the concept further, with two exceptions. (SASRI and BSES felt that the exclusion of development of sugarcane biomass varieties excludes their participation, given their mandate. However, Australia and South Africa would be represented by other institutions). It seems that getting agreement on the details will be more difficult than getting agreement in principle.

It was decided that a follow-up meeting should be held to coincide with the ISSCT Co-product workshop in Brazil in November.

It is recommended that the following actions be taken:
  1. Work towards the formal establishment of ISBUC at the next meeting.
  2. Update the circulation list and circulate all interested parties with the proposal.
  3. Circulate a draft confidentiality agreement.
  4. Undertake an inventory of research and interests of all parties, as a preliminary work plan proposal to the next meeting.
  5. Consider inviting commitment before the next meeting.
  6. Look into funding for research on biomass by donor agencies and other bodies e.g. US Department of Energy, European Union, World Bank, Rockefeller Foundation.
  7. Set aside a day or two, (Friday, 17 November 2006, and perhaps Saturday 18 November 2006) for the next ISBUC meeting in Brazil.

P. W. Rein
J. C. Autrey