In This Edition
EESI Feature Article
Federal Initiatives Updates
State Initiative Updates
Research and Technology Updates
Update on BioTown, USA
By Eric Burch, Indiana Office of Energy and Defense Development
The BioTown, USA project in Reynolds, Indiana continues to move forward.
This model project, where a community is committed to generating as
much if not more energy than they consume from renewable sources is the
first of its kind in the United States. This is a joint project between
the Town of Reynolds, The Indiana State Department of Agriculture, and
the Indiana Office of Energy & Defense Development. BioTown is all
about renewable energy, whether its waste-to-energy technology or
While the BioTown, USA accomplishments are many – biodiesel and E85 are
being offered at the gas station in Reynolds; more than 150 residents
drive flex-fuel vehicles; and the town committing to biofuels – there
have been bumps in the road. Like any pioneering project, the road to
success is uncharted and often winding.
Ground was broken in March, 2007 on the Technology Suite. The Technology
Suite will consist of three different waste to energy technologies, an
anaerobic digester, a gasifier, and a biodiesel generation package.
The feedstocks for the Suite include livestock and industrial waste,
and potential municipal waste as well. Shortly after the groundbreaking,
the BioTown Development Authority decided to go with a different project
leader. Energy Systems Group (ESG) has been selected as the company to
develop the Technology Suite moving forward. ESG will develop the Technology
Suite in phases, beginning with a digester. They are currently working toward
an agreement with a power company to purchase the electricity produced by
a digester. They are also finalizing contracts for renewable waste to go
into the digester. When those agreements are in place, construction will
begin. ESG is estimating that construction work on the digester will begin
in about 30 days, and the first electricity from the Suite to be generated
by the end of 2008.
In addition to the change in technology provider, the state and the
partners found additional grant opportunities that would reduce or eliminate
any capital expenditures by the town for new infrastructure. Because
many of the grants have to be done prior to construction, the grants
are being pursued and construction has not started.
Through a joint U.S. Agriculture Department and U.S. State Department grant,
representatives from BioTown, USA traveled to Germany in October, 2007
to meet with residents of Bioenergy Village. Juehnde is Bioenergy
Village, the German version of our very own BioTown. The exchange
mission resulted in the beginning of a long-term partnership between
the two towns, a shift in German impressions of American energy
attitudes and momentum gained from lessons learned by Germany’s own
version of BioTown.
With nearly 750 residents, Juehnde is the first village in Germany to
produce its complete heat and electricity supply from bioenergy. The
BioTown delegation met with the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, German Parliament
members, and various organizations related to bioenergy.
The German Bioenergy Village project planning began in 1998, and the
village officially reached self-sufficiency in energy production in
June 2006. Juehnde’s plant provides heat and water to the village and
also sells electric energy onto the electricity grid. It took the
German community nearly 8 years to bring its project to reality.
BioTown USA representatives took heart in realizing our own initiative
is only just over two years old.
Other activities now underway at BioTown, is the development of a Visitors
Center, that will provide a gathering point for the many groups from
around the country that have sought to tour BioTown, USA. It will
include interactive displays and demonstration projects. The Visitor’s
Center will be open in April, 2008.
Researchers, planners, professors and students from Purdue University
and Ball State University are getting together to design the BioTown
Education Center. This permanent facility will be located at the site of
the Technology Suite. It’s hoped when this facility is completed it will
provide an educational experience to visitors not only about the technology
used at BioTown, USA, but a variety of other renewable and alternative
energy technologies. This facility is not expected to be complete
How Will the US meet the New Renewable Fuel Standard and Address Environmental Sustainability?
Many reports as well as news articles have been released highlighting
positive and negative externalities of the growing bioenergy industry.
Questions around greenhouse gas emissions, economic development,
international impacts (including land use changes and property rights
of indigenous people) have all illustrated conflicts with many of the
original goals of advocates for bioenergy production. Expectations that
bioenergy, specifically renewable fuels, would be a part of the US
national security strategy to break the country’s ‘addiction to oil’ as
well as the strategic use of these fuels as part of a greenhouse gas
reduction regime are being called into question.
Last year’s action on energy legislation resulted in the passage of the
Energy Independence and Security Act or EISA (P.L. 110-40). The EISA
has been proclaimed by some energy experts as a landmark bill designed
to increase renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. This
law includes several important provisions, including an expansion and
extension of the Renewable Fuel Standard or RFS (first authorized in
the Energy Policy Act of 2005 P.L. 109-58). The RFS requires 9 billion
gallons of renewable fuel to be used in 2008, increasing to 36 billion
gallons by 2022. Of this requirement, 21 billion gallons must be
advanced biofuels, including cellulosic biofuels and biomass-based
diesel. The important inclusion of the RFS by Congress illustrates its
dedication to the growing role that it expects renewable fuels to play
in addressing climate and national security issues.
Concerns over meeting the requirements of this large RFS and about the
environmental and social impacts of renewable fuels have not gone
unnoticed by Congress. Programs have been under development for the
last year which will help the expanding renewable fuel industry address
national security and climate change. These programs may be found in
the House and Senate-passed farm bills –Farm, Nutrition, and Bioenergy Act of 2007 and Food and Energy Security Act of 2007, respectively.Objectives
of these programs (discussed below) include: diversification of
feedstocks, development of appropriately-scaled projects and needed
Diversification of feedstocks for renewable fuels and other biomass technologies
will have to occur if the country is going to meet the recently passed RFS.
The transition to cellulosic energy crops from traditional row crops may be
very risky, especially if markets are not fully developed. The Biomass Energy Crop Transition Assistance (Senate) and the Biomass Energy Reserve (House) provisions are designed to provide incentives to farmers and foresters to grow bioenergy crops in a sustainable manner. This
program also provides an incentive for producers to harvest, store, and
transport biomass to bioenergy facilities. If these new feedstocks are
grown in a way that do not change land use (such as winter cover crops)
some concerns around biomass may be addressed. Additionally, the Biomass Inventory Report
will help the whole country identify new feedstocks including waste
streams, which also do not require a land use change, but can be used
to produce bioenergy.
Concerns about sustainable usage of agriculture residues as well as forest
thinnings for large-scale production facilities is understandable given
the challenges the country faces with the increased demand for energy.
Bioenergy production facilities that are appropriately scaled to
biomass availability may be propelled forward in new farm bill
programs. One such program that addresses this issue is the Community Wood Energy Program (modeled on the successful Fuels for Schools Program)
which provides financial assistance for communities that wish to use
woody biomass as the primary energy source in schools, hospitals,
libraries, and other public buildings. These projects may not exceed 2
megawatts for electric power production or 50,000,000 Btu per hour for
heating. The program provides small grants for the creation of
community wood energy plans and more substantial grants for upgrades
and acquisitions in equipment and technology. Furthermore, the Future Farmsteads Program
will equip five farmhouses (and its surrounding land) in diverse
regions of the country to demonstrate energy efficiency and local,
on-farm production of energy from diverse feedstocks. The program will
serve as a visual, working example for rural communities, showcasing
technologies and energy solutions appropriate to the locale.
Continued research, demonstration, deployment and, most importantly,
commercialization of new technologies is encouraged in the House and
Senate farm bills through several programs. Key areas of research
include: sustainable production; social and economic impacts of
production; and technical applications, including conversion of
materials, harvesting and storage infrastructure. For example, the Renewable Wood Biomass for Energy
program establishes a research and development program focused on
developing technologies for the utilization of low-value biomass (such
as hazardous fuels treatments in at-risk communities) for energy.
Another program which has a long history of successful projects is the Biomass Research and Development Initiative
which has as one of its objectives to produce a “diversity of
sustainable domestic sources of biomass for conversion to biobased
fuels and biobased products.” This program may be vital in identifying
how to utilize organic waste streams and residues, which do not induce
a land use change, for conversion to renewable fuels.
The current challenge is to ensure that clean and sustainable bioenergy
becomes an integral part of agriculture policy. Although it is
exceptional to see these programs included in both farm bills, there is
a giant disconnect in the minuscule funding levels for all of these
important energy programs and the significant role that they are going
to need to play, not just in reaching the new requirements of the RFS,
but in addressing the pressing issues of the 21st Century – national
security and climate change.
Federal Initiatives Updates
U.S. House of Representatives Now Eating From Biobased Dishes
The cafeterias serving the U.S. House of Representatives are now using
biobased dishes and utensils and offering composting receptacles for
the biodegradable materials. The change is part of the “Green the
Capitol” program initiated by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
There are a few minor obstacles to the biobased transition: the company
that manufactures the flatware doesn’t make soup spoons yet; only teaspoons
are available. And some staffers have complained about the compostable
straws, which don’t maintain their rigid shape when used in hot coffee.
“We have had a few people observe that [straw] phenomenon and we had to
tell them, ‘Sip your coffee like a normal human being,’” said Jeff Ventura,
a spokesman for the Chief Administrative Officer, the House official who
oversees the cafeterias. “We’re trying to save the planet here.”
Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi’s Office. “Six
Months of Progress: Green the Capitol”. 10 December 2007.
USDA and DOE Announce New Members of Biomass R&D Technical Advisory Committee
On January 15, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Acting Secretary
Chuck Conner and U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Samuel
Bodman announced the appointment of six experts from diverse fields to
the Biomass Research and Development Technical Advisory Committee. The
new committee members will serve a term of three years and include Gil
Gutknecht, Co-Chair, of Consultant; Richard Hamilton, CEO of Ceres
Inc.; Jay S. Levenstein, Deputy Commissioner of the Florida Department
of Agriculture and Consumer Services; Shirley J. Neff, President and
CEO of the Association of Oil Pipe Lines; Tom Simpson, Executive
Director of the Railway Supply Institute; and Richard F. Timmons,
President of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad
Association. Seven other members of the Committee were reappointed to
serve another term.
The Biomass R&D Technical Advisory Committee was established by the
Biomass Research and Development Act of 2000 and provides advice to USDA
and DOE on strategic planning and procedures for reviewing and evaluating
proposals for funding. It also encourages closer collaboration among
federal and state agencies, industry and growers.
State Initiatives Updates
Pilot Project in Kansas Will Let Stations Sell a Variety of Ethanol Blends
Motorists in Kansas will soon have an opportunity to fill their tanks
with ethanol fuel blends intermediate between the ubiquitous E10 (10%
ethanol, 90% gasoline) and the flex-fuel standard E85 (85% ethanol, 15%
gasoline). These new fuel options will be made available as a result of
a pilot program being launched by the Kansas Department of Agriculture
to encourage the installation of new pumps and equipment at retail fuel
venders across the state. While flex-fuel vehicles are designed to
utilize blends up to and including E85, any standard gasoline engine is
able to use E10 and, in fact, it is often sold unlabeled and
undifferentiated from straight gasoline. It is also possible to fill
regular vehicles with blends higher than E10. A recent study suggests
that many vehicles will experience increased efficiency and mileage
using blends such as E20 and E30. The Kansas Department of
Transportation is involved in a similar investigation and could soon
endorse blends higher than E10 for use in all vehicles. Right now, auto
manufacturers only guarantee the use of E10 in regular-fuel vehicles.
According to Lisa Taylor, a Kansas DOT spokesperson, “We advise vehicle
owners that running a higher ethanol blend might void their warranty
because automakers have only endorsed E10 blends… But if there is no
warranty issue and a consumer wants to see how an E20 blend performs,
that’s an option.”
Phyllis Jacobs. “Pilot Project in Kansas Will Let Stations Sell a
Variety of Fuel Blends”. The Wichita Eagle 30 December 2007.
See BCO 43 Article "Research Shows Some Ethanol Blends Get Better Gas Mileage than Gasoline”
South Dakota Governor Proposes Biodiesel Tax Cut, Biobased Procurement Policy
On January 8, South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds announced in his State of
the State address that he would introduce a bill to decrease the tax on
biodiesel blends by 2 cents per gallon, a reduction equal to that
currently given to ethanol blends. “The advantages of biodiesel are
less engine maintenance, fewer emissions, no loss in fuel economy, and
it opens up another market for our soybean farmers,” said Governor
Rounds. The governor also stated that he would introduce a bill to
allow a preference for the purchase of biobased products by the state
government in order to increase South Dakota’s use of non-petroleum
products. This preference would extend to biobased products that are up
to 5% more expensive than conventional products.
Oregon Tax Credits Encourage Purchase of Clean-Burning Wood, Pellet Stoves
Interest in clean-burning wood and pellet stoves has been increasing
this year in Oregon, due in part to the Oregon Residential Energy Tax
Credit Program. In December 2007, the state legislature approved a tax
credit of 25 percent of the net cost of installing qualified stoves (after
deducting the estimated average first year energy savings) up to a
maximum of $300. Stoves must be installed with a dedicated outside
combustion air intake and be certified to emit no more than 4.5 grams
of smoke per hour for non-catalytic wood stoves, or 2.5 grams per hour
for catalytic wood or pellet stoves, to receive the credit. “People
now have an incentive to choose cleaner stoves,” said Mark Kendall,
Senior Policy Analyst of the Oregon Department of Energy. Several
cities in Oregon also require that homeowners upgrade to stoves that
generate fewer soot particulates when selling their homes, but the
state was unable to pass such a measure in 2007.
All users of wood and pellet stoves in the state are receiving support
through another initiative, the Biofuels Consumer Income Tax Credit,
which credits $10 for every ton of pellets and fire wood purchased.
Currently, about one quarter of Oregon homes burn wood or pellets for
Individual homeowners are not the only ones tapping government incentives
to use Oregon’s renewable woody biomass resources. With funding from the
U.S. Forest Service and the federal Economic Development Administration,
the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council is assisting schools, businesses,
and others with large-scale heating needs to install biomass boiler systems.
Avoiding the high costs of natural gas is one of several benefits to
recipients of Central Oregon Biomass Boiler Initiative funding. According
to the initiative’s coordinator Robin Snyder, “Woody biomass heat doesn't
just save us money in Central Oregon, it means jobs, energy independence,
clean air, and a healthy ecosystem."
Indiana Supports Biomass-to-Energy Project
I Power, a manufacturer of combined heat and power systems, has received
a grant through the Indiana Office of Energy and Defense Development’s
(OED) Biomass Feasibility Study Program, which was established to
develop technically and economically feasible biomass-to-energy
projects. I Power will study the use of anaerobic digestion and
gasification technology to convert cow and pig waste into energy, as
well as examine environmental issues such as soil nutrients, ground
water, and landfill use. “We consider this a very positive move for I
Power and the State of Indiana in terms of product opportunity and
environmental impact and we appreciate the OED’s vision and initiative
in implementing such a program,” said I Power President Terry Pahls.
The results of the study will also be useful in future applications
for funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Section 9006
Anaerobic Digester Financed by Combination of Pennsylvania Incentives and Federal Grant
The Brubaker Dairy in Mt. Joy, Pennsylvania has become an example for
local farmers on how to take advantage of federal and state incentives
to finance renewable energy systems. The farm installed an anaerobic
digester with $600,000 from the Pennsylvania Energy Harvest Grant
Program, which has been funding advanced energy projects since 2003,
and the Pennsylvania Resource Enhancement and Protection Act provided a
tax credit for the use of best agricultural management practices. The
project also received $223,249 from the U.S. Department of
Agriculture’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Grant Program
provided by Section 9006 of the 2002 farm bill.
Anaerobic digesters use bacteria to convert cow manure or other organic
waste into methane, mimicking the natural decomposition process in the
absence of oxygen; the methane is then used to generate electricity.
North Carolina Biofuels Center Begins Research
With a goal of identifying advanced biodiesel and ethanol feedstocks and
processes, the new North Carolina Biofuels Center began work on January
2. The center was established by the General Assembly in 2007 with a
$5 million appropriation and is based in Oxford at a former Tobacco
Research Station. John Ganzi, president of the Biofuels Center,
believes the state is well-prepared for an advanced biofuel industry,
saying, “We are already a leader in biotechnology; agriculture is a $60
billion a year enterprise in the state; and the state has a history of
collaborating across sectors of society to effect change.” North
Carolina plans to make 10 percent of the liquid fuels sold in the state
home-grown biofuels by 2017.
Maine Governor Announces Wood-to-Energy Initiative
On January 9, Maine Governor John Baldacci announced a Wood-to-Energy
Initiative in his State of the State Address. The first step of the
initiative will be transitioning state buildings from oil-based heat
and power systems to wood pellets, wood chips, and other renewables.
“This not only saves money for Maine taxpayers, it generates the
investment and business activity to grow Maine’s economy,” stated
Governor Baldacci. Financial incentives for homeowners and small
businesses to move away from their reliance on oil will be part of the
The Governor’s announcement comes during a period of high heating oil
prices, up more than a dollar from last year to a statewide average of
$3.34 per gallon. Approximately 80 percent of Maine residents use oil
to heat their homes, compared with 10 percent that use wood.
Research and Technology Updates
Study Finds 540% Net Energy Value for Switchgrass-Based Ethanol
A five-year study found that switchgrass-based ethanol contains 540% more
energy than is used to grow, harvest, and process the perennial
feedstock. Researchers from the University of Nebraska Lincoln studied
switchgrass fields up to 20 acres in size located on farms in Nebraska,
North Dakota, and South Dakota, and also found that greenhouse gas
emissions from the production of switchgrass-based cellulosic ethanol
were 94 percent lower than emissions from gasoline production.
“This clearly demonstrates that switchgrass is not only energy efficient,
but can be used in a renewable biofuel economy to reduce reliance on fossil
fuels, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance rural economies,”
said co-author Dr. Ken Vogel, a research geneticist with the U.S.
Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service and a
professor in the University of Nebraska Lincoln’s agronomy and
horticulture department. Previous studies had shown a smaller net
energy gain, but only analyzed research-scale plots of land typically
under 100 square feet.
Dr. Vogel and his colleagues are developing the feedstock for use on marginal,
highly erodible lands with the intent that switchgrass would not replace
food crops on quality farm land, thus causing forest or other land to be
converted to agricultural use.
USDA Researchers Improve Rate of Cellulosic Ethanol Production with New Yeast Strain
Researchers at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) of the U.S. Department
of Agriculture (USDA) in Madison, Wisconsin have engineered a yeast strain
that improves the rate of cellulosic ethanol production from xylose wood sugar by 22%. The amount of ethanol produced was also increased by 11% according to Dr. Thomas Jeffries, lead researcher.
“We are proud of the work of Dr. Jeffries at our Forest Products
Laboratory. Improving production of biofuels from woody materials is an
important goal for the Forest Service and continues a long tradition of
biomass utilization research,” said USDA Forest Service Chief Abigail
Kimbell. “Improved efficiency in converting woody biomass to energy
provides additional opportunities for stewardship of both public and
private forested lands by making more efficient use of materials
generated from forest management activities.”
The research was sponsored by Xethanol Corporation. Xethanol President and
CEO David Ames commented, “This is more evidence our research and
technology strategy is taking the company in the right direction –
potentially reducing the cost of making ethanol from non-corn sources,
and helping our country cut its dependence on foreign oil.” Under its
cooperative research and development agreement with FPL, Xethanol will
have the right to commercialize the technology.
http://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/pressroom/newsreleases/nr-other/nr-2005dec05--crada-xethanol-corp.pdf (pdf format)
Researchers Optimize Biodiesel Production from Chicken Fat
Scientists with the Max Blackwell Technology Center at the University
of Arkansas have developed a methodology for the optimization of biodiesel
production from chicken fat. This waste product is readily available,
abundant and considerably less expensive than soybean oil or other
food-grade feedstocks. Unlike these refined food oils, however, raw
chicken fat contains free fatty acids that react during conversion to
produce byproducts. These byproducts, soaps and gels, make it difficult
to generate high yields of biodiesel cost-effectively. This study, part
of a masters thesis by graduate student Brian Mattingly, provides data
that will allow researchers and biodiesel producers to evaluate costs
and product yields for two conversion methods and two types of fat.
Mattingly said the research will help producers choose the most
economical conversion method based on specific composition of different
grades of chicken fat. The study concluded that a simplified,
single-step conversion process may be cost-effective when using high
grade fat (<2% fatty acid content), while a multiple-step process
may be necessary for low grade fat (containing up to 6% fatty acids).
In the end, according to Mattingly, it comes down to simple economic
analysis and it is too soon to determine when and if biodiesel from
chicken fat will be able to compete in price with petroleum-based
Study Shows B20 Performs Comparably with Pure Diesel over Long Term
Preliminary results have been announced from a study on the performance
of B20 (20% biodiesel, 80% diesel) used in semi-tractors throughout all
seasons. The data from the first year reveal that trucks running on B20
achieved slightly lower fuel efficiency – 6.15 miles per gallon – compared
with those driven on 100% petroleum-based diesel – 6.29 miles per gallon,
a difference several times smaller than the variability in gas mileage
between individual drivers. "Right now, the B20 performs similarly
to the 100% diesel fuel in this study," said Don Heck, coordinator
of biotechnology and biofuels programs at Iowa Central Community College,
a sponsor of the study. “Oil test data shows no appreciable differences
between the fuels. We expect that the B20 group of engines will show
less wear than the control group." When mixed with a commercial fuel
additive, B20 was also shown not to cause any problems when used in
Other sponsors of the study include the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA),
Decker Truck Line Inc., Caterpillar Inc., the National Biodiesel Board (NBB),
Renewable Energy Group, Inc., and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Ed Ulch, an ISA director and treasurer of the NBB, projected that “when
the engines are torn down at the completion of the study, the final results
are expected to show less engine wear with biodiesel.”
Thar Technologies Developing Cleaner Biodiesel Production Process
Pennsylvania-based Thar Technologies Inc. has received a $1.9 million
grant from the National Institute of Science and Technologies to develop
a cleaner biodiesel production process. The technology uses liquefied
carbon dioxide instead of the air pollutant hexane to extract oil from
oilseed crops and algae, as well as from fossil fuels such as oil shale
and low-grade coal.
Pennsylvania’s seven existing biodiesel plants are operating well below
their total capacity of about 87 million gallons per year (MGY) because
of the “uneven playing field” created by nearby states’ subsidies, according
to Pennsylvania Biodiesel Producers Group spokesman Ben Wootten. "The state
right now is consuming between 8 million and 10 million gallons of biodiesel,
but most of the biodiesel is coming from out of state. That's because
states like Indiana offers a $1-a-gallon tax credit, and Iowa offers
what amounts to a $1.50-a-gallon credit. Pennsylvania has a grant
program, but it offers a 5-cent-a-gallon rebate," Wootten said.
The state’s biodiesel producers may get a boost if Pennsylvania Senate
Bill 22 passes the House this year. The bill, passed by the State Senate
in December 2007, would provide a 75-cent per gallon subsidy up to a
maximum of $2 million per biodiesel producer.
The CEO of Thar Technologies Dr. Lalit Chordia says its process is profitable
with biodiesel selling at $2.30 a gallon, even without subsidies. The
company hopes to build a 40 MGY biodiesel facility in Western
Pennsylvania, with operations beginning in 2010.
Diversified Energy Corporation Working on Biofuel Similar to Gasoline
Arizona-based Diversified Energy Corporation has reported that it is
three to four years away from commercializing a process to make a biofuel
that could be used in place of unleaded gas. The Centia™ technology converts
animal fat or algae or agricultural crop oils into straight-chain
hydrocarbons that can be modified for use in jet, diesel, or gasoline
engines. “The hurdles we have to pass now are no longer scientific.
Now, it’s a matter of engineering and scaling up the technology to make
it commercially viable,” said Diversified Energy President and CEO
Phillip Brown. He also added that Centia biofuels could be distributed
in existing pipeline infrastructure, as opposed to ethanol which can
Washington University Collaborating with USDA to Develop Butanol Process
Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL) and the U.S.
Department of Agriculture are collaborating on new technologies to produce
butanol from lignocellulosic materials such as wood, straw, and corn stover.
Dr. Lars Angenent, WUSTL assistant professor of energy, environmental
and chemical engineering, uses a mixed culture of thousands of different
microbes to convert the cellulose material into butyrate, an acid. The
butyrate is then fermented into butanol.
"The advantage of mixed cultures is that it can take just about any waste
material, and through our manipulations, convert it into something
valuable,” said Dr. Angenent. “For instance, I can alter the pH in
this culture. By keeping it neutral, I can get methane gas, but when I
lower the pH, I can get butyrate. If I have a pure culture, on the
other hand, I have to worry about other organisms slipping in and
altering or contaminating the environment.”
Compared to ethanol, butanol is considered to be a superior biofuel, if
the production technology can be further developed and commercialized.
Butanol is less corrosive, which makes large-scale transportation of
the biofuel through pipelines more plausible. Also, butanol is a
four-carbon alcohol, giving it a higher energy value than ethanol, a
UCLA Researchers Develop Method for Production of More Efficient Biofuels
Researchers at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied
Sciences have produced advanced alcohol fuels using a genetically-modified
strain of the common bacterium Escherichia coli. The research team
modified the amino acid biosynthetic pathways in E. coli to produce
several branched-chain high alcohols from glucose, a renewable sugar,
including isobutanol, 1-butanol, 2-methyl-1-butanol, 3-methyl-1-butanol
and 2-phenylethanol. These higher-chain alcohols offer many advantages
over the ethanol currently being used as a fuel source – they boast
energy densities similar to gasoline, have higher octane ratings, are
non-corrosive, and do not absorb water. Microbial synthesis promises to
make mass production of advanced alcohol fuels feasible as a
cost-effective substitute for gasoline.
Swiss Group Announces New Biomass Drying Technology
Swiss Group of Companies recently announced the development of a biomass
drying technology that will be used to produce wood chips and pellets
from eucalyptus and pine trees in Brazil. The drying method uses
electromagnetic rays, which according to Swiss Group President Edda
Silvestro dehydrates the biomass without the use of high temperatures.
Silvestro said, “It acts by simple molecular agitation, so the rays
only remove water but not the inner hydrocarbons of the wood, which are
extremely energetic.” Swiss Group will build its first facility with
the new technology this year, with plans to produce about 200 tons of
wood chips per hour for European power plants.
Hydrous Ethanol Could Mean Big Savings and Pipeline Compatibility
Dr. Frits Dautzenberg, founder of California-based Serenix Corporation,
has found that blending higher percentages of ethanol with regular gasoline
renders the dehydration step of the ethanol production process
unnecessary. “If you have a fuel-alcohol and gas mix, and it picks up
water from the atmosphere, you get three phases—water, gas and
alcohol,” said Dr. Dautzenberg. “If the ethanol concentration is beyond
10 percent, then the water in the mix is taken up by the alcohol, and
then water and gasoline are completely compatible.” He believes the
ethanol blends could go as high as E20 (20% ethanol, 80% gasoline) or
E30 (30% ethanol, 70% gasoline).
If ethanol producers eliminate the drying process, they could reduce
their costs by 20 cents per gallon and significantly reduce their overall
energy footprint. And if further studies confirm that higher hydrous ethanol
blends such as E20 remain as a homogeneous water-gas-ethanol mix, this
could have important implications for a future ethanol infrastructure.
Because of corrosion concerns over ethanol blends higher than E10, ethanol
is not currently transported via pipeline and instead is moved across
the country on railcars, trucks and barges.
Controversy over Biofuels and Net GHG Emissions
Converting rainforests, peatlands, savannas or grasslands in Southeast
Asia and Latin America to produce biofuels will increase global warming
pollution for decades, if not centuries, according to a study published
online in Science Express on February 7 by the University of Minnesota
and the Nature Conservancy. The study claims that such land conversions
for corn or sugarcane (ethanol), or palms or soybeans (biodiesel)
release 17 to 420 times more carbon than the annual savings from
replacing fossil fuels. The study notes that some biofuels do not
contribute to global warming because they do not require the conversion
of native habitat. These include waste from agriculture, forest
biomass, native grasses and cellulosic biomass grown on marginal lands
unsuitable for crop production.
A second study--written by a group of researchers from Princeton
University, Woods Hole Research Center and Iowa State
University--concluded that over 30 years, use of traditional corn-based
ethanol would produce twice as much greenhouse gas emissions as regular
gasoline. Biofuel industry officials--as well as administration and
congressional officials--said that it is unfair to judge ethanol in its
current form, because the industry continues to make technological
advances. James L. Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on
Environmental Quality, said "Like any issue, there are ways to do it
right and there are ways to do things wrong, and the same is the case
to biofuels. We move as rapidly as we can to second-generation
[biofuels] because those offer the best opportunity for a low
In a letter to Science dated February 14, Michael Wang, Argonne National
Laboratory, and Zia Haq, DOE Office of Biomass Program, offered a
critique of these two studies. The authors argue that a number of
factors influence land use changes and that we cannot accurately
determine the effects of biofuels production without a “clearly defined
baseline for global food supply and demand and cropland availability,”
an element that was lacking in the current studies. Wang and Haq also
argue that the studies do not adequately account for increases in per
acre crop yields. In the United States, corn yields have increased by
nearly 800% for corn in the last century, with average per acre
increases of 1.6% between 1980 and 2006. Furthermore, the authors of
the letter maintain that much of the data used to build the models in
these studies is outdated or inappropriate.
In February 7 testimony to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural
Resources, Carol Werner, Executive Director of the Environmental and
Energy Study Institute (EESI) said, "EESI supports the inclusion of
indirect land use effects in the definition of ‘lifecycle greenhouse
gas emissions.’ A ton of carbon is a ton of carbon, whether it is
produced directly as a result of the production process or indirectly
as a result of market effects… Until we have the knowledge and the
tools to accurately measure these indirect effects, the wisest course
of action would be to focus on feedstocks that do not induce land use
changes and therefore do not result in indirect greenhouse gas
emissions. Fortunately, our nation possesses abundant and readily
available feedstocks that satisfy this criterion. These feedstocks
include dedicated energy crops, such as algae and some grasses (those
that grow on nonagricultural land), as well as an abundant supply of
wastes and residues from agriculture, forestry, livestock production,
urban wood debris, and clean construction debris.”
Texas Facility First to Feed Manure-Derived Methane into Commercial Pipeline
New Hampshire-based Environmental Power Corporation announced on January 22
that its pipeline-quality biomethane production facility in Texas is
now operating at full commercial-scale. The Huckabay Ridge facility
uses anaerobic digestion to convert cow manure into purified natural
gas that is then injected into a commercial pipeline for distribution,
a first in the United States. The Lower Colorado River Authority and
Pacific Gas & Electric have made purchase agreements for the
biogas, which can be used for heat or power generation.
In addition to reducing dependence on fossil fuels, Environmental Power’s
eight anaerobic digesters solve a major environmental problem by
keeping the waste of 10,000 cows out of local waterways. “There are an
awful lot more dairies that would probably like to have a way to get
rid of their waste,” said Travis Brown, a renewable energy community
service specialist from the Texas Office of Rural Community Affairs.
“We need more projects not only in Erath County but in other parts of
Vermont Utility Recognized for Innovative “Cow Power” Program
In its December 2007 issue, Power Magazine named Central Vermont Public
Service’s anaerobic digester program as one of the five “top plants”
that produce renewable energy. The Cow Power program allows customers
of the utility to purchase electricity generated from methane derived
from cow manure for a premium of 4 cents per kilowatt-hour. The owners
of the dairies receive 95% of the hourly market price for the power
they generate plus the 4 cent premium, a steady stream of income that
protects them against milk price volatility. The excess heat generated
by the digesters can also be used to heat water and buildings, saving
up to $15,000 a year in fuel costs.
Currently Cow Power has more than 4,500 customers who have chosen to
purchase 25%, 50% or all of their electricity from the network of local
dairy digesters. One large subscriber is Green Mountain College, which
will eventually purchase about 1.2 million kilowatt-hours per year from
Cow Power. “This is a great step for us toward a sustainably powered
campus,” said Green Mountain Provost Bill Throop. “We are very happy
to be supporting not just renewable energy but also the regional
economy and the family farms that are so important to the Vermont way
Panda Ethanol Receives Permit for Manure-Fired Refinery
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality granted an air quality permit
to Panda Ethanol, Inc. for a 115 million gallon per year ethanol plant
to be built in Sherman County, Texas. Like the majority of existing
ethanol plants in the United States, this facility will produce ethanol
fuel from corn starch. What sets it apart from other ethanol plants,
however, is the source of its energy. Instead of using natural gas or
another fossil fuel, the Sherman County plant will be powered by biogas
generated from up to 1 billion tons of cattle manure annually. By using
biogas as an energy source, Panda estimates that it will be displacing
over 360,000 barrels of oil a year in addition to the estimated 2.6
million barrels of oil that will be offset by the ethanol fuel itself.
Arizona Power Plant to Use Diverse Sources of Woody Biomass
Renegy Holdings Inc. is building a $53 million, 24-megawatt power plant
near Snowflake, Arizona that will use several sources of woody biomass for
its energy source. Forest thinnings, burnt trees, and paper sludge
offered for free by a local newsprint mill will be burned to produce
low-carbon electricity. The Snowflake White Mountain Power Plant will
keep many thousands of tons of green waste out of landfills as well as
provide a market for small diameter trees that must be thinned in order
to suppress unnaturally large forest fires. “We just think the
opportunity is so vast,” said Renegy CEO Robert Worsley. “There are
billions and billions of tons of waste sitting in the forests right
now.” Arizona Public Service and Salt River Project have agreed to
buy electricity from Renegy after the plant begins operations this
spring, a move that will help the state’s two largest electric
utilities meet Arizona’s renewable electricity mandate of 25% by 2025.
Sources: http://www.renegy.com/documents/AZRepublicArticle121207.pdf (pdf format)
Biobased Erosion Control Material Approved by Oregon DOT
On December 19, Washington-based Forest Concepts LLC received notice that
its wood-based erosion control material was approved for use on Oregon
Department of Transportation projects. WoodStraw™ was engineered to be
resistant to high winds, promote re-vegetation, and prevent erosion for
at least three years. Being made from low grade scrap veneer –
primarily Douglas fir – it is a biobased alternative to petroleum-based
plastic erosion control systems. WoodStraw has been used in a variety
of projects in the western United States since its introduction in
2005, including one of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport’s runways,
a bridge in King County, Washington, and areas in Southern California
and Utah burned by wildfires. Forest Concepts specializes in the
commercialization of new uses for small diameter woody biomass that is
available as a co-product of healthy forest management practices.
GM Invests in Cellulosic Ethanol Company
On January 13 at the North American International Auto Show, General
Motors (GM) announced it has partnered with Illinois-based Coskata Inc.
to commercialize a waste-to-ethanol process. GM took an undisclosed
minority stake in the bioenergy company, which has developed a process
to convert materials such as crop residue, wood chips, and municipal
solid waste into ethanol at a cost of only $1 per gallon. “GM is
enabling Coskata to produce the next generation of biofuels -- without
using a food source -- making it economically viable and commercially
available," commented Bill Roe, Coskata President and CEO.
GM will begin using Coskata ethanol in test vehicles by the end of this
year, when a 40,000-gallon commercial demonstration biorefinery begins
operations. A full-scale, 100 million gallon per year facility is
scheduled to come online by 2011. GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner
acknowledged that electric vehicles will take over much of the market
in the future, but cellulosic ethanol is a near-term solution to the
fossil fuel problem, commenting, "Nothing else we can do gets even
close to that kind of impact that soon.”
Chevron Partners with Solazyme to Commercialize Biodiesel from Algae
Chevron Corporation and biotech company Solazyme Inc. announced an agreement
on January 22 to develop and commercialize biodiesel derived from algae.
On the same day, Solazyme announced that its algae-based biodiesel had
performed successfully in long distance road testing under typical
driving conditions, including below-freezing temperatures, in an
unmodified diesel engine. The challenge is to scale up production and
drive production costs down to the company’s goal of $45-50 a barrel.
“A lot of the work now is focused on chemical engineering to improve
the processes so we can bring the costs down,” said the CEO of
Solazyme, Jonathan Wolfson. “We have a high degree of confidence we
can be to a commercial scale and commercial economics in two to three
Ecological Society of America Warns of Environmental Impact of Biofuel Industry
The Ecological Society of America (ESA) released a position statement on
January 10 that warns that the country’s biofuel industry will continue
to degrade our natural resources in the absence of certain
precautions. “Current grain-based ethanol production systems damage
soil and water resources in the U.S. and are only profitable in the
context of tax breaks and tariffs. Future systems based on a
combination of cellulosic materials and grain could be equally
degrading to the environment, with potentially little carbon savings,
unless steps are taken now that incorporate principles of ecological
sustainability,” according to the ESA. The necessary principles
include consistent monitoring of net energy values and environmental
impacts of growing biofuel crops, conserving ecosystem services such as
flood control or water filtration, and ensuring that policies
incentivize the development of a variety of feedstocks.
New York City Company Fuels Its Trucks with Biodiesel
FreshDirect, a deliverer of fresh and prepared foods in New York City,
announced that it has begun fueling its trucks with B5, a blend of 5%
biodiesel with 95% diesel, supplied by Tri-State Biodiesel. FreshDirect
had been donating its leftover cooking oil to the biodiesel producer since
the summer of 2007. By using B5 in their trucks, “we are closing the
loop and powering our vehicles with the very same clean and efficient fuel
that we have contributed to producing,” according to Adrian Williams,
Senior Vice President of Transportation for FreshDirect.
Tri-State estimates that FreshDirect’s transition to the biofuel will
eliminate approximately 7.5 million pounds of carbon dioxide that would
otherwise have been emitted in its deliveries to over 250,000 customers.
“We applaud FreshDirect for being a biodiesel pioneer here in New York
City,” said Tri-State CEO Brent Baker. “Not only will this transition
to clean burning biodiesel fuel result in a big drop in the air
pollution levels, but it also helps to bring biodiesel on as a
mainstream fuel for the many trucking fleets of the city.” Other
harmful pollutants such as carbon monoxide, sulfur, and particulates
will also be reduced compared to the amounts emitted by pure diesel.
Farmer Co-op to Supply Grass Material for Electricity, Heat Generation
Four hundred farmers in western Missouri and eastern Kansas have formed a
co-op to supply a pellet plant with cellulosic material such as
switchgrass, corn stover, and out-of-condition hay. The Show Me Energy
Cooperative is the country’s first producer-owned biomass cooperative
according to founder Steve Flick, and provides a new economic
opportunity for farmers with marginal land. "It's a fantastic idea
because these perennial crops require no tillage or anything after
establishment, and they create a wonderful root structure," said Dr.
William Casady, an associate professor of agricultural engineering at
the University of Missouri Extension. "These crops will grow on these
marginal soils and help protect them."
Montreal-based Evergreen BioFuels Inc. will soon open a $6.5 million plant
to convert the co-op’s raw materials into dense, inch-long “Power Pellets”.
At least half of the 100,000 tons of Power Pellets produced will be
co-fired with coal to generate electricity. "Our goal is to produce
millions of tons of renewable energy pellets to displace coal use,”
said Mark Drisdelle, CEO of Evergreen BioFuels. “If adopted on a
global scale, this has the potential to displace billions of tons of
greenhouse gases, which are responsible for today's climate change
crisis.” The pellets will also be used to heat about 20,000 homes and
Japan Ministry of Agriculture Announces Support for Biofuel Projects
On January 25, Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture announced its budget to
support the development of a biobased fuel and chemical industry.
Making use of Japan’s vast forest resources, up to 1 billion yen
(approximately $9.3 million) of the next fiscal year’s budget will be
dedicated to wood-based ethanol projects. “We’re looking for a
cellulosic technology using enzymes and yeasts to cut down the size of
such a plant,” said Satoshi Ishihara, director of the technology
development office at the Ministry’s Forest Agency. Also announced was
a plan to spend 3.2 billion yen to support consortiums of farmers,
engineers, and regional governments to produce ethanol from other
cellulosic material, such as rice stems, and use it locally.
Japan currently has one commercial cellulosic ethanol plant in Osaka that uses waste wood collected from construction sites.
Use of Camelina for Biodiesel Production Expanding in Montana
Federal biodiesel production tax credits have encouraged farmers in Montana
to plant more camelina, a locally-appropriate feedstock related to canola
and mustard. According to a Montana State University study, 20,000
acres were planted with the oilseed crop, which can grow on marginal
land and requires minimal water and nutrient inputs, two years ago.
Last year, that number had increased to 50,000 acres.
Section 12321 of the Senate farm bill expands the definition of agri-biodiesel
to make camelina-derived biodiesel eligible for the $1.00 per gallon
production tax credit. The Senate Farm Bill also would make camelina
eligible for certain farm supports and would establish a camelina pilot
insurance program. The House version of the farm bill does not include
any provisions specific to camelina, and it remains to be seen what the
final bill will contain after it goes to conference between the two
The state of Montana is taking steps to grow its local camelina industry.
Montana’s Agro Energy Plan, funded by a Workforce Innovation in Regional
Economic Development (WIRED) grant from the U.S. Department of Labor,
reimburses first-time camelina growers up to $1.30 per pound.
Seattle-based Targeted Growth and Houston-based Green Earth Fuels have
formed a joint venture company called Sustainable Oils to take advantage
of this regional feedstock. "We have created a better feedstock for biodiesel,"
said Tom Todaro, CEO of Targeted Growth. "Camelina can be rotated with
current Montana crops, it grows in land with lower agricultural value, and
it doesn't significantly increase the use of fertilizer or irrigation water."
Sustainable Oils plans to open a 100 million gallon per year biodiesel production
plant in Montana by 2010, using camelina as its primary feedstock.
Sources: Richert, Catharine. “Camelina Poised to Collect Big Farm Bill Credits.” CQ Weekly. Jan 21, 2008.
http://dli.mt.gov/wired/01152008SeedReim.pdf (pdf format)
Blue Sky Awards Nominations Now Open
WestStart-CALSTART, a non-profit organization that works with the public
and private sectors to develop advanced transportation technologies, is
accepting nominations for its 2008 Blue Sky Awards. The awards are designed
to recognize leadership and innovation in implementing clean, sustainable
transportation options and bringing new vehicle technologies to
market. Among the criteria being evaluated are energy efficiency,
greenhouse gas emissions, and technological sustainability.
Nominations are due by March 31, 2008 and more information is available
Entergy Offers Grants for Environmental Projects
Entergy Corporation, an integrated energy company, has announced it is
accepting applications online for the company's ninth annual
Environmental Stewardship Grant program. This program provides support
to community-based projects that address energy efficiency and provide
sustainable solutions to preserve the environment. Priority is placed
on projects in locations where Entergy has customers and/or employees,
especially portions of Arkansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan,
Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York, Texas, and Vermont.
Applicants must be an established organization with a mission or charter
consistent with improving the environment, and must also have 501(c)(3)
tax-exempt status. Projects should improve or address a significant
environmental need in the region. This year, Entergy has increased the
total amount of grant money available by 40 percent to $350,000, up
from $250,000 in 2007. While grants typically range between $5,000 and
$25,000 each, more may be awarded for worthy projects. Applications are
due by March 10, 2008. More information and the online application are
available at http://www.entergy.com.
Writers: Jetta L. Wong, Jesse Caputo, and Laura Parsons
Editor: Carol Werner
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