In This Edition
The Environmental and Energy Study Institute has moved to a new office in downtown Washington, DC to accommodate its growing staff. The new address is:
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On March 14, the president signed into law a bill extending the 2002 Farm Bill to April 18. This came after months of unsuccessful informal negotiations between the House, Senate and the Administration. The main issue of contention in these negotiations was additional funds needed to support key farm bill programs such as nutrition, conservation, disaster aid and energy.
Shortly after the extension, the House and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairmen and Ranking Members reached an agreement on a ‘Framework’ bill allocating an additional $10 billion (over the existing baseline) among the different titles of the farm bill. Other key members of the negotiations, including Senate Finance Chairman Baucus (D-MT) and Senate Budget Chairman Conrad (D-ND), found the ‘Framework’ unacceptable because it included reduced funding for the disaster aid program created by the Senate Finance Committee last fall. More recently, there have been negotiations over the $10 billion figure itself, as well as the acceptability of the funding mechanisms available to reach that number. Unfortunately, time is running out and a compromise must be brokered which will benefit farmers, foresters and ranchers preparing for the upcoming planting season.
On April 9, the House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) announced the names of farm bill conferees appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). This is seen by many as a positive indication that consensus on the bill may be near.
Although the portion of the ‘Framework’ allocated to energy programs is considerably less than what EESI would like to see, we are encouraged that the Congress may be moving forward to finish a bill. Sustainable and diversified energy production provides a great opportunity to change the agriculture and forestry sectors across the country. The inclusion of renewable energy as a new ‘crop’ or revenue stream in these sectors could not have come at a better time, but until this bill is enacted farmers and foresters will move slowly in a world of uncertainty. EESI hopes that the new deadline will allow Congress to finalize this much-needed farm bill.
Renewables and USDA’s Rural Development Utilities Programs
As the use of renewable power grows to help meet growing demands for electricity, USDA’s Rural Development Utilities Programs has provided nearly $165 million for projects to deliver electric power from renewable fuels since fiscal year 2001. While most of these funds were obligated for landfill gas, other projects, including biomass, heat recovery and wind power, are providing increased electrical capacity nationwide.
Recipients of Rural Development Electric Program dollars are the nation’s rural electric cooperatives. Among the reasons rural electric cooperative utilities invest in renewable energy is because they are owned by the business and residential consumers they serve, and increased use of alternative fuels receives strong community support.
For example, among the landfill gas projects Rural Development’s Utilities Programs has funded is a 3 megawatts unit for Wisconsin’s Dairyland Power, designed to power 2,500 homes. Nearly $40 million of Rural Development Utilities Programs’ funds have been allocated for landfill gas projects during the past five years. Once at full operating capacity, these projects are expected to produce 30 MW of electric power.
Dairyland, a generation and transmission electric cooperative utility in Wisconsin, uses a total of three landfill gas-to-energy plants to produce enough power for 10,000 homes. The co-op, according to Neil Kennebeck, Dairyland’s director of planning, noted that they are ahead of state regulatory requirements for use of renewables. “Dairyland has been developing alternative energy sources since 1998,” Kennebeck said.
In addition to producing electric power from landfill gas, Dairyland added a biomass energy project to its portfolio with a $9.8 million Rural Development loan. The project’s anaerobic methane digester uses “cow power” to provide electricity for 1,500 homes. Dairyland’s long-term goal is to create up to 25 MW of renewable electricity via the manure digesters to power approximately 20,000 homes.
While Wisconsin uses cow power, a $28 million Rural Development Utilities Program loan in Georgia will fund a chicken and wood project. Plant Carl will be the first plant in Georgia to convert poultry litter and wood waste into electricity. Designed to generate energy by converting poultry litter and woody biomass into electricity, the plant is viewed as a potential state-of-the art model that can be duplicated in other areas.
There is plenty of fuel for Plant Carl, with over 3,600 poultry houses within a 20-mile radius of the site. This plant will require litter from only one-half of those chicken houses. Besides supplying 20 megawatts of electrical power, Plant Carl will mitigate the impact of poultry farms on the environment.
One of the largest single renewable power projects of the Rural Development Utilities Programs is through a $36 million loan for Basin Electric Power Cooperative in North Dakota. Basin’s heat recovery project is designed to capture waste heat from pipeline compressors to generate over 20 MW of electricity. Basin is also invested in wind power, and among the recipients of Rural Development loans to finance production of electric power from wind energy. Basin’s original Rural Development loan of $3 million funded two small wind projects; the generating and transmission cooperative has since added 136 MW of wind energy to their portfolio.
The variability of wind can pose problems and limit its use as a source of electric power. While North Dakota is among the windiest locations for wind power, wind power is a feasible alternative in other parts of the country.
Illinois Rural Electric Cooperative built their first wind turbine in Illinois in May, 2005. A $1.3 million loan from USDA Rural Development Utilities Programs supported the project. Sean Middleton, the co-op’s manager of engineering, said that the co-op was studying the feasibility of wind power when they discovered that they had “utility grade wind right in our back yard.” How does Illinois wind compare to the Dakotas? Middleton said that “The 30 percent full capacity we see in Illinois would likely be closer to 40, 50 or even 60 percent capacity in the Dakotas.”
Biodiesel production plants around the country are shutting down or delaying construction thanks to the high price of soybean oil. New Jersey-based BioEnergy of America filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January, halting construction on an 80 million gallon per year facility in New Jersey and shutting down operations at its two facilities in Colorado. In March 2008, Iowa-based Renewable Energy Group withdrew its plan to launch a $150 million initial public offering that was to have funded three new production facilities. SoyMor Biodiesel has also shut down its Glenville, Minnesota plant due to cost of soybean oil in March.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, the price of soybean oil has nearly doubled over the last year. “It’s a nationwide problem for the biodiesel industry,” said Myke Feinman, editor of Biofuels Journal. “The feedstocks are the majority of the costs for those plants and the costs of those feedstocks have been very high because the cost of soybeans has been so high and soybean oil has also been high.”
Potentially making things worse for American biodiesel producers is the upcoming expiration of the $1 per gallon “blenders” excise tax credit, set to end on December 31, 2008. However, Congress is considering extending the tax credit until December 31, 2010 with the pending Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2008 (H.R. 5351). The bill, which has been passed by the House of Representatives and introduced in the Senate, would also require the biodiesel to be produced for use within the United States to qualify for the credit. Much of the current supply of American-made biodiesel is shipped to Europe, where demand is higher.
Although the vast majority of the biodiesel produced in the United States comes from soybean oil, a variety of alternative feedstocks do exist. Some companies use animal fats or leftover cooking oil, known as yellow grease, while others look to canola oil or imported palm oil. Several start-up companies are working vigorously to develop algae as a commercially viable feedstock. And in March 2008, Georgia-based Alterra BioEnergy received funding from the OneGeorgia Authority to research the weed camelina as a soybean substitute. “As technology developers realize new ways to grow oil crops, or produce oil from existing crops, that will go a long way to help,” said David Specca, acting director of Rutgers EcoComplex, a Rutgers University research center. “In the next three to five years, biodiesel will be a big percentage of our alternative fuel.”
The National Biodiesel Board (NBB) is trying to help the industry by working to develop alternative feedstocks and increase the oil content in currently used oilseed crops through breeding. The trade association also wants to ensure the long-term sustainability of American biodiesel production, especially as feedstocks such as palm oil – often criticized for its deforestation implications abroad – become more economically attractive compared to domestic soybean oil. “If we’re shipping feedstocks in, what does that do to our energy independence and our energy balance?” said Emily Bockian Landsburg, manager of business development at Philadelphia Fry-O-Diesel and chairwoman of the NBB’s newly created Sustainability Task Force. “We need to realize that if we increase those social and environmental benefits, we increase the value of our fuel. True environmental and social sustainability is inextricably linked to economic viability.”
H.Res. 1084 – To provide for consideration of H.R. 2016
S. 2827 – To repeal section 526 of the Energy and Security Act of 2007
S. 2821 – To continue clean energy production incentives
H.R. 5705 – Clean Energy Partnership with India Act of 2008
H.R. 5648 – Emergency Wildland Fire Response Act of 2008
S. 2761 – Recapture Excess Profits and Invest in Roads (REPAIR) Act of 2008
H.R. 5575 – Moratorium on Uncontrolled Power Plants Act of 2008
S. 2730 – Clean Energy Investment Bank Act of 2008
H.R. 5541 – Federal Land Assistance, Management, and Enhancement (FLAME) Act
H.R. 5529 – The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) Act of 2008
S. 12 - Homeownership, Manufacturing, and Economic (HOME) Act of 2008
S. 2660 - Green Chemistry Research and Development Act of 2008
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service recently coordinated a tour of New England bioenergy facilities for several community leaders from Southeast Alaska to show them the possibilities for using local biomass for energy. "This trip proved to them that it's possible to use biomass from local, renewable resources for energy production," said Rob Clark, a forest resource management group leader from the Forest Service's Durham, New Hampshire field office. "Instead of shipping their paper and cardboard to Seattle for recycling, we showed them options to recycle it locally into fuel to heat buildings or produce electricity. That saves money and makes sense." The group visited seven facilities that produced either wood-based fuel or used biomass for local heating and power, including a wood pellet production plant, a special needs educational facility, a biomass power plant, a college campus, paper and cardboard densification materials production plants, and a hospital.
The Nature Conservancy's Keith Rush also participated in the tour and commented, "We believe healthy forests and healthy communities go hand in hand. The Nature Conservancy is working with the Forest Service and community partners, exploring how the byproducts of restoration and forest thinning can generate local economic benefits. The tour provided ideas to investigate further." Jim Gould, mayor of Thorne Bay, Alaska, said that job development was the principal reason for considering bioenergy in his community and that many of the technologies he saw could be applied in Southeast Alaska.
On March 18, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the recipients of a total of $5 million for developing and evaluating emission control technologies for agriculture production practices. Among the eleven universities to receive funding are the University of Pittsburg; for research on the use of stable isotopes as monitoring tools to understand residual agricultural pollutants; West Texas A&M University, which will develop bioremediation techniques for reducing odors at feedlots; and Ohio State University and Washington State University, who will develop processes for recovering ammonia from agriculture atmospheric emissions. The awards ranged between $250,000 and $600,000 and were administered by USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) through the National Research Initiative Air Quality competitive grants program.
State Initiatives Updates
On March 17, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter announced that the Governor's Energy Office (GEO) is seeking applicants for $100,000 in funding for community-scale projects that use woody biomass for heating. The incentives are part of the Community Biomass for Thermal Usage Program, whose goal is to provide capital for projects that benefit local communities and demonstrate long term availability of woody biomass supply, including material from wildfire fuel reduction and forest restoration activities, bark beetle kill, and urban waste. "Using Colorado's large woody biomass supplies is a clean way to produce heat while addressing problems associated with beetle kill and using waste products from fire mitigation efforts," said Governor Ritter. "By offering financial and technical assistance to projects that use community produced wood chips or manufactured pellets, we are helping our communities participate in the New Energy Economy while addressing forest health issues and promoting local economic development. The long-term benefits are greater energy security, environmental security and economic security for our communities and our state." The GEO expects to award funding for three to ten projects this fiscal year.
South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds signed SB 148 on March 11, reducing the current tax on diesel fuel if it is blended with at least 5 percent biodiesel. The tax break of 2 cents per gallon will kick in when the state's biodiesel production capacity reaches 20 million gallons a year and at least 10 million gallons actually have been produced; it will end in the quarter after 35 million gallons of subsidized biodiesel have been sold. "As diesel costs continue to skyrocket, this tax break will help ease the pain at the pump for consumers while helping to develop our state's biodiesel industry," Rounds said. "Biodiesel is an ideal alternative to petroleum-based fuel. It will not reduce mileage, and because of its increased lubricity, it is better for the engine." The tax break will be offset by transferring $800,000 from the Petroleum Release Compensation Fund reserve to the Highway Trust Fund, in which fuel tax revenues are deposited to pay for road construction and repairs.
Research and Technology Updates
On March 5, the State of Minnesota released the results of a study that tested the performance and compatibility of E20 (20% ethanol, 80% gasoline) in unmodified gasoline engines. Several standard passenger vehicles, gas-electric hybrids and delivery vehicles operated on E20 over the course of a full year were found to have similar power and performance as those run on E10 (10% ethanol, 90% gasoline), a blend already certified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and nearly all automobile manufacturers as acceptable for gasoline engines. Lab tests also showed that E20 is compatible with various metal, rubber and plastic vehicle fuel system components.
"Using homegrown renewable fuel is an important part of Americanizing our energy future and unhooking our country from foreign sources of oil,” said Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. “This study shows that we can safely increase the amount of ethanol blended with gasoline for use in today’s vehicles.” Governor Pawlenty signed legislation in 2005 that requires all gasoline sold in the state to comprise 20 percent ethanol beginning in 2013. Minnesota will need a waiver from the EPA before implementing E20 sales in the state.
"It is critical that the federal government act soon to approve higher blends of ethanol and ensure that market demand keeps pace with future ethanol production,” said U.S. Senator John Thune (R-SD). “This study will help federal regulators as they consider approving higher blends of ethanol such as E20 for non-flex fuel vehicles. By increasing the blend of ethanol, consumers get more choices at the pump, we reduce dependence on foreign oil, and we lay the groundwork to build our domestic ethanol industry for years to come."
Researchers are still analyzing the results of emissions tests, the final component of the E20 study. The results to date can be found here: http://www.mda.state.mn.us/renewable/ethanol/default.htm.
Sources: http://www.mda.state.mn.us/news/releases/2008/nr-2008-03-05-e20.htm http://www.theindependent.com/stories/03092008/new_ethanol09.shtml http://thune.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=PressReleases.Detail&PressRelease_id=621&Month=3&Year=2008 http://www.rapidcityjournal.com/articles/2008/03/09/news/local/doc47d237f212b30569336299.txt
University of Maryland scientists Dr. Steve Hutcheson and Dr. Ron Weiner have developed a cellulosic ethanol process using a bacterium found in salt marsh grass in the Chesapeake Bay. The bacterium Saccharophagus degradans, or “sugar eater”, produces a mix of at least 70 different enzymes that rapidly break down hard cellulosic plant material into simple sugars, which can then be fermented into ethanol. These developments could lead to a commercially-viable method of producing ethanol from a variety of cellulosic materials, since the bacterium is easily reproduced in the lab and the enzyme mix, patented as Ethazyme, performs the degradation process at a significantly lower cost than current methods.
Dr. Hutcheson hopes to launch a 3.5 million gallon demonstration cellulosic ethanol refinery by early 2009 through his start-up company Zymetis Inc. and in partnership with Virginia-based Fiberight, a company that extracts cellulose from municipal solid waste. “The new Zymetis technology is a win for the State of Maryland, for the University and for the environment,” said University of Maryland President C. D. Mote, Jr. “It makes affordable ethanol production a reality and makes it from waste materials, which benefits everyone and supports the green-friendly goal of carbon-neutrality.”
Cornell University is constructing a Biofuels Research Laboratory to study the pretreatment, bioconversion and fermentation stages of cellulosic ethanol production. The new facility was made possible by Dr. Larry Walker of the Biological and Environmental Engineering Department, who is using $6 million of a $10 million grant from the Empire State Development Corporation for the construction. "Although corn-based ethanol production is the current state-of-the-art technology, the future development, success and sustainability of the U.S. ethanol industry hinges on developing and converting perennial grasses and woody biomass, cellulosic biomass, to ethanol," said Dr. Walker. "Cellulosic ethanol production could be economically advantageous for New York State because we know how to grow grasses and woody biomass, and we know how to implement biotechnology." The state-of-the-art lab will open in January 2009, and the Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering will offer a new master's of engineering program with a focus on biofuels beginning fall 2008.
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) has published research in the journal Environmental Science and Technology that shows many blended diesel fuels do not contain the advertised percentage of biodiesel. Scientists sampled biodiesel from more than a dozen distributors across the country and found that blends labeled as B20 (20% biodiesel, 80% diesel) actually ranged from 10% to 74% biodiesel. “There is a lot of good feeling about biodiesel, but if we are going to sell it, we have to make sure what is being sold is accurately prepared,” said Chris Reddy, a WHOI associate scientist who led the research. “It is a matter of credibility and consumer confidence.”
Smaller fuel retailers often create B20 and other biofuel blends with a method called “splash blending”, where a certain amount of biodiesel is poured into a container of petroleum-based diesel. Inaccurate measurements or inadequate stirring can lead to the inconsistent proportions found in the study. In areas with a more mature biodiesel industry, such as Minnesota which requires all diesel sold to contain 2% biodiesel, distributors avoid these problems by using computer-controlled mixing equipment. Blends higher than 20% biodiesel can damage hoses and gaskets in vehicles made before 1993.
On March 23, the Steel Tank Institute presented the results of a study showing that biodiesel and biodiesel blends are safe to use in underground steel storage tanks. The Steel Tank Institute found that the low carbon steel typically used for underground storage tanks resists corrosion with biodiesel and biodiesel blends, and in most cases, surface rusting was actually a little higher with pure Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel. Don Scott, a technical engineer with the National Biodiesel Board (NBB), said the findings were consistent with what the industry has seen. "In nearly a decade of experience covering hundreds of millions of gallons of biodiesel being used, we have not experienced any problems with the compatibility of biodiesel blends in underground storage tanks," Mr. Scott said. "Biodiesel is non-toxic and biodegradable, and we are committed to promoting and encouraging environmentally safe storage and handling procedures." The study was co-sponsored by the NBB and the National Oilheat Research Alliance.
On March 26, the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) released a report that finds gasoline prices continue to rise despite a decrease in consumer demand and an increased use of ethanol blends. "Rising Gasoline Prices: Why Can't Consumers Catch a Break", available at http://www.consumerfed.org/pdfs/2008gasolineprices.pdf (.pdf format), reports that ethanol is priced about 40 cents per gallon lower than gasoline, and is currently blended into two-thirds of gasoline sold in the United States. "For half a decade the major oil companies have exercised their market power," said Dr. Mark Cooper, CFA Research Director and author of the report. "In response to record high prices, consumers are cutting their consumption and lower priced alternatives, like ethanol, are expanding supplies."
The lower cost of ethanol blends may or may not be reflected in the price at the pumps in the next few months. The report states that if demand remains soft, blenders may be pressured to pass those savings on to the consumers. However, if oil stays around $100 per barrel and refiners maintain margins as high as previous summers, CFA predicts that consumers could see gasoline prices increase by as much as 75 cents per gallon by Memorial Day.
Source: http://www.consumerfed.org/pdfs/Cooper_gas_prices_PR_3-26-08.pdf (pdf format)
California-based BioSolar, Inc. has announced the development of a BioBacksheet for photovoltaic cells. Dr. Stan Levy, chief technology officer of BioSolar, said that "this backsheet material is a composite utilizing two different sustainable resources, each of which has the necessary Underwriter's Laboratories Relative Thermal Index (UL RTI) to be accepted by the major photovoltaic manufacturers." BioSolar reports that producing backsheets from biomass instead of petroleum can reduce costs by 50 percent, and the BioBacksheet should be available to crystalline silicon photovoltaic module manufacturers in mid-2008.
Scientists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) have found a way to turn sugar beet pulp into a filler material that could bring down the cost of producing polylactic acid (PLA), a biobased alternative to petroleum-derived plastics. Victoria L. Finkenstadt and LinShu Liu, who led the research as part of the Quality and Utilization of Agricultural Products Program, found they could use an ethanol byproduct called sorbitol to plasticize the beet pulp before mixing it with melted PLA. The resulting composite material could potentially be used in items such as water bottles, packaging, wallboard, and pressed furniture. “The idea is to tailor composite materials to have a wide range of mechanical properties,” said Dr. Finkenstadt. Although using the beet pulp filler makes the PLA more cost-competitive, the chemists found that it also decreases tensile strength. Dr. Liu’s group is trying to improve this property by chemically modifying the pulp.
If the composite material becomes commercially viable, it could provide a new source of income for the sugar beet industry. The industry currently generates about 40 million tons of pulp, selling it as a relatively low-value livestock feed or paying for its disposal.
According to a March 23 article in the journal Nature Geoscience, black carbon – a component of soot produced from biomass burning and diesel and coal combustion – could have as much as 60 percent of the warming effect of carbon dioxide, making it the second largest cumulative contributor to global warming. V. Ramanathan, an atmospheric scientist from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, and Greg Carmichael, a chemical engineer from the University of Iowa, found that the warming effect of black carbon is about 0.9 watts/meter2. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had released estimates last year of only 0.2-0.4 watts/meter2. The authors of this report said previous estimates rely on computer models that do not account for factors such as the amplification of black carbon’s warming effect when it mixes with other aerosols.
About 25-35 percent of black carbon comes from China and India, where wood and animal waste are often burned for cooking and coal is used for household heating. The authors suggest that “[P]roviding alternative energy-efficient and smoke-free cookers and introducing transferring technology for reducing soot emissions from coal combustion in small industries could have major impacts on the radiative forcing due to soot.” Europe also generates significant amounts of the pollutant because of its heavy use of diesel for transportation fuel.
The good news is that black carbon only remains in the atmosphere for weeks at a time, so a reduction in emissions could quickly lessen its cumulative warming effect. This is compared to carbon dioxide, whose warming effect will be felt for more than a century after being released into the atmosphere.
On March 4, San Francisco utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) began operations on its first manure-to-energy project. BioEnergy Solutions built the system that traps methane gas produced by the anaerobic digestion of manure from the 5,000 cows at Vintage Dairy in Fresno County, California. The methane is then scrubbed to remove corrosive materials, injected into PG&E’s pipeline, and burned to produce enough electricity for 1,200 homes. Other nearby dairies will join the project in the near future, eventually providing enough biogas to power a total of 50,000 homes. Dairy owners will receive a share of the profits from the sales of energy and associated carbon credits. “Using proven technologies, we design, build and operate highly-efficient biogas systems that enable dairymen to meet new air quality requirements and help utilities meet their goals for the production of energy from renewable sources,” said David Albers, Bioenergy Solutions President.
California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard requires utilities to produce one additional percent of their energy from renewable resources each year until reaching 20% by 2010. The BioEnergy Solutions project will bring PG&E’s qualifying renewable portfolio to an expected 14% for the year 2008. PG&E has also signed an agreement with Colorado-based Microgy, Inc., which will build a similar project later this year. The utility estimates that biogas could one day provide 5% of its total natural gas needs. “With nearly two million dairy cows in California, there is great potential for the state’s agriculture and power sectors to work together to address the challenges of climate change,” said Roy Kuga, PG&E Vice President of Energy Supply.
The Commissioners of Larimer County, Colorado have approved a project to convert landfill gas to energy. At a cost of about $1.5 million, Timberline Energy, LLC will build and maintain the system to capture methane produced from the natural anaerobic digestion of municipal waste. The methane, of which adequate amounts could be generated for more than 50 years after the collection system is installed, could be burned for electricity or compressed and filtered into pipeline-grade natural gas.
Although the Larimer County Landfill is relatively small and is not required by law to collect methane, the county’s Solid Waste Director Stephen Gillette has been trying for years to find a use for the emissions. “It’s the right thing to do,” said Mr. Gillette. “We can’t continue to waste valuable resources.” High natural gas prices and the potential to earn renewable electricity credits have made this small project more financially viable for Timberline, which will also be required to pay a royalty to the county on its sales.
Sources: http://www.fortcollinsweekly.com/article/20080302/NEWS/981079575 http://www.coloradoan.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080227/NEWS01/802270302/1002 http://www.larimer.org/bcc/feb%2026%2008/Landfill.htm
On February 29, Chevron and timber producer Weyerhaeuser announced a 50-50 joint venture called Catchlight Energy LLC to develop new conversion technologies for lignocellulosic biofuels. "For renewable fuels to make a meaningful contribution we have to move beyond food-based feedstocks," said Mike Wirth, Chevron's vice president for global refining and marketing operations. Mr. Wirth also said that, in addition to improving the conversion process, Catchlight will need to find timber harvest and transportation methods and fuel distribution systems that make the entire business model commercially viable. Both companies will contribute funding, background technology, and employees to Catchlight, which will be led by Michael Burnside of Chevron.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has introduced a new tool to help developing countries identify the food security implications of developing a bioenergy industry. The Bioenergy and Food Security Modelling Analytical Framework was designed by economists from the FAO, Copernicus Institute of the Netherlands, and Oeko-Institut of Germany, and assesses the technical biomass potential, biomass production costs, the economic bioenergy potential, macro-economic consequences, and national and household-level consequences for food security.
According to a paper by the International Food Policy Research Institute, the predicted biofuel expansion in some countries is projected to drive maize prices up by more than 20 percent by 2020. In a drastic expansion scenario, maize prices may rise more than 71 percent and food-calorie consumption in sub-Saharan Africa is projected to fall by more than eight percent. The World Food Situation: New Driving Forces and Required Actions also points out that some farmers could plant energy crops like jatropha or tropical sugar beet that would not compete with food crops, and that a bioenergy industry can “offer large new markets for higher priced products for agricultural producers that could stimulate rural growth and farm incomes.”
Alexander Müller, FAO Assistant Director-General for natural resources and the environment, commented that what the new tool “will provide is the possibility to make an informed decision; the countries then will have to make their own policy choices.” It will be tested in Thailand, Tanzania, and Peru before being made available to the entire international community.
On March 13, the European Association for Bioindustries, or EuropaBio, introduced their environmental sustainability criteria for biofuels at the World Biofuels Markets in Brussels. The principles of sustainability include the development of an EU or global certification program to ensure biofuels are produced in an environmentally sustainable way and the insistence that biofuel production should not jeopardize a country's food security or the integrity of forests, soils and waterways. EuropaBio also supports a greenhouse gas reduction target that would start relatively low – to allow the use of first generation biofuels in order to establish the necessary infrastructure – and then increase over time to encourage the development of more advanced and climate-friendly biofuels. Johan Vanhemelrijck, Secretary General of EuropaBio, commented that "it is very important that sustainability criteria are technology-neutral, transparent, and based on scientific evidence and on clear definitions.”
In February 2008, Minnesota-based Corn Plus began powering its 45 million gallon per year ethanol plant with wind turbines. The turbines, with a 2.1 megawatt output, supply about half of the biorefinery's energy needs. “We’re the first ethanol plant to ever do it (wind production),” Corn Plus General Manager Keith Kor said. “I think that others will follow suit. We’re just trying to reduce our energy inputs and trying to be a low-cost producer. I think they look very nice next to an ethanol plant.” The wind power replaces coal- and nuclear-derived electricity that would otherwise have come from the grid.
The turbines are 99 percent owned by John Deere, which can claim a tax credit for which Corn Plus is ineligible. In eleven years, after the tax credit ends, ownership of the turbines will revert to Corn Plus.
The recent slump in the housing market has led sawmills around the country to cut back on operations, leading to a scarcity of a valuable byproduct: sawdust. Sawdust is used in a wide variety of industries, from agriculture to auto manufacturing to bioenergy, where it is compressed into wood pellets used to heat homes and other buildings. The shortage of sawdust has led to a steep increase in price, from about $25 per ton to more than $100 in some parts of the country.
Source: Millman, Joel. “Sawdust Shock: A Shortage Looms As Economy Slows.” Wall Street Journal 3 March 2008.
Southern communities considering adding woody biomass to their electricity portfolio can use information from the Wood-to-Energy Outreach Program, supported through a cooperative agreement between the U.S. Forest Service, the University of Florida and the Southern States Energy Board, to make that decision. In the fall of 2007, the program introduced its Biomass Ambassador Guide, which explains how to determine if a community is receptive to using wood for energy and provides educational material to aid the community in the decision -making process. The guide contains presentation slides that can be adapted for use in various outreach activities as well as handouts on case studies of existing wood-to-energy facilities and a community economic profile from each state in the Forest Service’s southern region. Generating electricity from woody biomass may be an excellent option for many Southern communities due to their proximity to the pulp and timber industries; periodic wood thinnings and slash are byproducts from forest management activities, and have little market value outside of the bioenergy industry.
The Biomass Ambassador Guide can be found here: http://www.interfacesouth.org/woodybiomass/
On March 17, The Southern Alliance for the Utilization of Biomass Resources (SAUBR) announced its decision to become absorbed into The Southeast Agriculture and Forestry Energy Resources Alliance (SAFER), creating a unified organization better equipped to advance the use of biomass in the South. SAUBR's mission is to develop a biomass industry in the South to enhance energy security, maintain healthy forests, promote a clean environment, and revitalize rural economies. SAFER seeks to improve agriculture-, forestry-, and energy-related policy as well as advance research and commercialization efforts. One of SAFER's current projects is the Southern Bioenergy Roadmap, which will provide an inventory of bioenergy resources in the region. The new alliance will allow for communication among an even wider group of stakeholders including landowners, industry, government, academia, and civil society.
Source: http://www.saferalliance.net/renewsouth/safer-press-releases/2008/3-17-08.pdf (pdf format)
Solena Group, Inc., a bioenergy company based in Washington, DC, has announced an $18 million contract to build a 15 MW bioelectricity system in the Galicia region of Spain. The plasma gasification facility will heat forest, agriculture, industrial and municipal wastes to about 5,000°C, converting the biomass into syngas. The syngas is then cooled, cleaned, and fed into a gas turbine to produce base-load electricity. All carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions are sequestered and used as nutrients in the production of phtyo-plankton biomass used to generate even more bioenergy. “Our ability to use a wide variety of biomass as feedstock to create a renewable Bio-syngas offers a cost effective option to meet today’s demand for alternative energy sources and to fight climate change,” said Dr. Robert Do, president and CEO of Solena Group. “In addition, Solena’s clean energy process overcomes the volatility of natural gas prices and avoids the expensive costs of transporting and distributing liquid natural gas or gas pipelines.”
Sources: Solena Group Press Release: “New Commercial Order for Breakthrough Biomass Technology that Produces Carbon-Free Energy from Waste”. January 30, 2008.
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Environmental and Energy Study Institute
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The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) is a non-profit organization that works at the nexus of policy and innovation to promote environmentally sustainable societies. EESI was founded in 1984 by a bipartisan group of Congressional Members dedicated to finding environmental and energy solutions. EESI provides credible, timely information and innovative policy ideas through coalition building, media outreach, publications, briefings, workshops and task forces on the issues of energy efficiency and renewable energy, transportation, smart growth, agriculture and global climate change. Carol Werner leads the EESI team as executive director.
BCO is a free newsletter. EESI's valuable work in energy, climate change, agriculture, transportation and smart growth are made possible through financial support from people like you. Please donate now. Your tax-deductible contribution will help EESI develop innovative policy solutions for a cleaner, safer, healthier world. EIN: 52-1268030. For more information, visit www.eesi.org or contact Susan Williams at swilliams [at] eesi.org or (202) 662-1887.