Industries Account for 30% of Energy Use in US

According to the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Energy Manufacturing Consumption Survey, the industrial sector used more than 30% of the total energy consumed in the U.S. in 2011. Why should you care? Because this sector includes biorefineries, manufacturing facilities that produce parts for wind turbines and solar panels and segments of the agricultural sector as well.  It also includes much of what you see in a supermarket – from the food to the packaging to the shelving and cold cases to the raw materials mined and refined to produce and transport the products.

The survey, along with the most recent Annual Energy Outlook 2012 report, show that the recent economic recession strongly affected the industrial sector. It has definitely affected the entire alternative energy industry. A key initiative of biorefineries in particular has been improving energy efficiency while reducing energy consumption.

Butamax Patent Portfolio Expands

Butamax Advanced Biofuels has been granted another patent 8,273,558 (‘558 patent). The company is focused on developing commercial technology for the production of biobutanol, with a focus on the fuel market. One aspect the company has been working on is capitalizing on sugar conversion via the enzymes paired with yeast.

Yeast only expresses certain enzymes in small compartments of a cell and thus limits the availability of these enzymes to convert sugar to biobutanol in high rates and significant quantity. The company developed modified genes that express key enzymes in the larger area of the cells, and this is the technology covered under 558 patent. The modified genes increase the volume and rate of isobutanol produced. The 558 patent also protects blending the isobutanol produced through the modified yeast cells with fossil fuels.

Butamax is working on refining its technology in several research facilities across the world including Hull, England. During the 2012 Olympics, the facility provided biobutanol to BP for its use in fueling portions of the Olympic fleet.

States Battle Over ‘Food Before Fuel’

According to an analysis by the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), “food before fuel” is a fight between states. After reviewing eight waiver requests from governors submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a common argument was farmers in other states have to provide their states’ livestock industries corn. The waivers request a halt, or lowering, of the amount of ethanol that should be blended into fuel as mandated by the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The current drought that has impacted the majority of the U.S. is causing heated discussions about who should get the corn.

It wasn’t until recent years that farmers in the U.S. could grow corn at a profit. Instead, most had to rely on federal payments or subsidies. Interestingly, while corn farmers in the Midwest created a new and growing market with ethanol and its by-products, those in Southern states where the waivers were primarily filed, lagged behind the U.S. average in achieving profitability. The core reason: growers were focused on only one market, the livestock industry.

It should be stressed that the corn used for livestock feed and ethanol is NOT the corn used in your corn tortilla. That said, yes, humans are indirectly eating the corn when eating meat (unless the animal was grass fed). But what many don’t understand or choose not to acknowledge, is that one by-product of ethanol production is a high protein based distillers grain, or high-protein animal feed. So you are not losing the entirety of the corn bushel to produce ethanol – that same bushel is also producing feed. In otherwords, a bushel of corn produces food AND feed AND fiber.

The analysis points out, rightly so, that what the growers in the Southeastern states should be looking for ways to increase their profitability. “Additional markets for corn – such as conventional biofuel production – could add value to corn grown in Southern Seaboard states.”

The wonderful thing about market dynamics, and the way the RFS was written, is that they are working. The marketplace is sorting out the difference between supply and demand and to intervene would only create a more negative impact than the drought has already.

Click here to read BIO’s RFA Waiver Analysis.

Fuel Your Natural Gas Vehicle at Home

The Gas Technology Institute (GTI) is partnering with the Center for Electromechanics at the University of Texas at Austin (UT-CEM) to engineer ways to fuel natural gas vehicles at home. GTI has been focused on making natural gas vehicles more competitive in the marketplace, and last week I brought you the story about how their FuelMule fueled up natural gas buses during both the republican and democratic conventions.

There are two major barriers to widespread adoption of natural gas vehicles. One is infrastructure and two is cost. With a $4 million grant to develop a cost-effective compressor for at-home natural gas refueling systems, these two issues could become a part of the past. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), through its Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), is funding this cutting-edge project. It is part of DOE’s new program, titled Methane Opportunities for Vehicular Energy (MOVE).

The team will develop a compressor that will use fewer moving parts. The goal is to replace current technology, which comprises multiple pistons and cylinders, with a single cylinder and piston moving through a linear motor. This easier to use system will also be a safer fueling technology. Current technology costs around $4,000 but this new system would cost less than $2,000.

Researchers will also work with Argonne National Laboratory to identify and apply a cost-effective surface coating for the inside wall of the cylinder. “With their help, we look to identify a coating system that will extend the longevity of our one moving part—the component most susceptible to wear and maintenance,” said Tony Lindsay, GTI RD&D Director, who will oversee the project.

Free Biodiesel Producer Conference Call

Lee Enterprises Consulting is hosting a free conference call for those in the biodiesel industry on Tuesday, October 2, 2012 beginning at 2:00 pm CDT. There are several key topcis and speakers featured during the call.

1. “Recent OSHA Developments in Safety and Process Safety Management for Biodiesel Plants,” presented by Nathan Vander Griend with ERI Solutions. OSHA is currently conducting focused inspections under the chemical facility National Emphasis Program (NEP) to verify compliance with the PSM standard (29 CFR 1910.119) at covered facilities that include biodiesel and ethanol biorefineries. Inspections are underway and Vander Griend will counsel producers on PSM requirements and compliance.

2. “Selling Your Biodiesel with RINS: Promoting RIN Integrity,” presented by Susan Olson, Genscape’s RIN Integrity Network. With the volume of biomass-based diesel set at 1.28 billion gallons for 2013 under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), producers need to under what obligated parties need to know to ensure security when buying biodiesel and the associated RINs. Key measures to improve the integrity, transparency and liquidity of the biodiesel and RINs markets will be discussed along with a roadmap to RIN integrity and a pathway to a more efficient biodiesel market will be presented.

3. “The Effect of the New Health Care Legislation on Biodiesel Plants with Employees,” presented by Jim Schmidt, Eide Bailly, CPAs & Business Advisors. With the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in effect, individuals will be required to have health insurance as of January 1, 2014. The Act provides certain incentives and penalties to individuals and businesses related to obtaining or providing health insurance. This session will provide a high level overview of the Act, and how you can obtain information that will allow you to make decisions that are beneficial and cost effective for your business and your employees.

Click here to learn more about the conference call and to register. The event is free but space is limited.

Texas A&M Showcases Vertical Axis Wind Turbines

Three 20-kilowatt vertical axis wind turbines are now generating energy for Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi. The turbine trio is the largest vertical axis wind turbine installation of its kind in the United States as well as the largest of their kind. The main campus also installed a 4-kilowatt wind turbine that can be horizontally lowered and opened for education and research.

When the entire wind energy network is complete, there will be 11 wind turbines with a combined capacity of 92 kilowatts. The 20-kilowatt wind turbines are 75 feet tall, while the 4-kilowatt turbines stand at 40 feet.

“The wind turbine project is an exciting opportunity to show how the University is emerging as a leader in renewable energy,” said President Flavius Killebrew. “This initiative will not only provide students and faculty with excellent learning and research opportunities, but will open doors for future generations who want to pursue this green technology.” The turbines have real-time data collection for faculty and students in engineering to analyze on a network.

The initiative was funded by a $955,000 Distributed Renewable Energy Technology Stimulus Grant from the State Energy Conservation Office and the U.S. Department of Energy. The University then matched $265,000 in funds, for a total of $1.2 million for the project.

The wind turbines were distributed by 3eWerks, manufactured by Urban Green Energy and installed by Nouveau Construction and Technology Services.

According to Dr. L.D. Chen, associate dean of Engineering and Computing Sciences and director of the School of Engineering and Computing Sciences added that with the increase in community wind power technology and projects, the small wind turbines are an excellent laboratory for faculty and students.

Porterville Unified School District Adds Solar

School systems continue to be high adopters of solar energy. This week Porterville United School District (PUSD), located in California, has begun generating electricity from its 3.7 megawatt solar system. Installed across six schools, the system in its entirety has the capacity to reduce the district’s electricity costs by nearly $44 million over the next 25 years.

“This project will allow Porterville Unified School District to significantly reduce our electricity costs at the schools receiving these systems and recover valuable funds needed for our academic programs,” said Superintendent Dr. John Snavely. “By partnering with SunPower, we are maximizing our savings as well as the District’s use of clean, renewable energy. It is the right thing to do for our students and our community.”

The solar system, featuring SunPower solar panels, has two major components: ground-mounted solar arrays and solar shade structures in school parking lots. The solar systems were financed through Qualified School Construction Bonds (QSCBs), allowing the district to own the systems and receive the full benefit of the energy cost savings and incentive payments.

“Porterville Unified School District can rely on its high efficiency SunPower solar systems to deliver guaranteed performance for the next 25 years or more,” said Howard Wenger, SunPower president, regions. “SunPower works with school districts across California to reduce operating costs and repurpose the savings to the classroom. It is extremely rewarding to deliver needed savings to our public schools with power from the sun.”

SunPower is also collaborating with PUSD’s Successful Pathways program. The goal of the program is to prepare students for technology based careers that includes studying various factors of solar energy such as engineering, mathematics and more.

Oregon New Home to Large Wind Farm

The Shepherds Flat Wind Farm, owned by Caithness Energy, is operating near Arlington, Oregon, and has the ability to generate 845 Megawatts of clean energy per year. A kick-off event marked the official commissioning of the wind farm.

“This is a great day for Gilliam and Morrow counties, for Oregon, and for the rest of the United States,” said Senator Wyden, who attended the ceremony. “This project proves that we can create jobs and lift up the rural economy by generating clean, carbon-free, renewable energy while still allowing local ranchers to graze their herds on the surrounding land just as they have for generations. That’s why I fought so hard to make sure Shepherds Flat stayed on track, and why I’m proud to be standing here today.”

Many of the state’s political leaders were on hand for the “first turn of the wind turbine” including Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and Oregon Representative Greg Walden. The wind farm is one of the largest wind farms in the world. According to Caithness Energy, the wind farm will eliminate 1.483 million metric tons of CO2 annually, the equivalent of taking approximately 260,000 cars off the road. Producing an estimated 2 billion kWh each year, the wind farm will have an annual economic impact of $37 million for the state. Additionally, the project employed over 400 workers during its construction, and will permanently employ 45 workers.

The commissioning of Caithness Shepherds Flat could be one of the last new wind farms to go online this year if the Production Tax Credit (PTC) is not extended. Many wind manufacturing companies have already begun to lay off vital workers due to industry uncertainty. But at least for today, the industry has something positive to celebrate and an example of how the wind energy industry is benefiting America in many ways.

“Caithness Shepherds Flat is a prime example of smart energy – energy that simultaneously bolsters the economy, creates American jobs, and enhances our environment for future generations,” added Derrel Grant, Vice President of Development at Caithness Energy. “By utilizing domestic renewable energy, Caithness Shepherds Flat will help make our country energy independent and our economy prosperous.”

Disconnect Between Biofuel Mandates & Demand?

A new study, Global Biofuels Outlook to 2025, authored by Hart Energy, finds a disconnect between mandates established in the U.S. Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) and Renewable Energy Directive in the European Union, and actual market demand. While many have speculated this to be the case, it has not been highly discussed.

The study, focused mostly on biodiesel and ethanol, analyzes local and global drivers, public and fiscal policy developments, production capacity, feedstocks, and supply and demand projections through 2015, 2020 and 2025. Both first generation biofuels, as well as advanced biofuels along with ethyl tertiary butyl ether (ETBE) were included in the analysis.

The study focused on four key regions:

  • North America: the United States, Canada, and California (U.S. state)
  • EU-27: Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom
  • Latin America: Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Peru
  • Asia Pacific: China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea, and Thailand

Biofuel demand in all regions combined is estimated to be 5.4 percent by energy content by 2025 (110 million toe). Total ethanol demand is projected to reach over 35 billion gallons and biodiesel over 14 billion gallons. In terms of energy, market demand is estimated to increase by 23 percent from 2015 to 2020 and another 16 percent from 2020 to 2025. The projections, however, may not be met if supply is not available, and supply will depend on feedstock and capital availability.

“The U.S. vehicle market simply cannot accept more ethanol,” said Tammy Klein, assistant vice president of Hart Energy. “It’s not a matter of lack of supply or lack of commercial development of cellulosic ethanol.”

Maelle Soares Pinto, director of Hart Energy’s Global Biofuels Center, said the situation in Europe is similar. “The vehicle pool cannot use the amount of ethanol or biodiesel necessary to meet the Renewable Energy Directive. The European Union’s sustainability criteria also constrain the type of biofuels that can be used to meet the mandates and the situation could get worse if the EC’s proposal for ILUC factors is approved in its current form.”

Iowa E15 Sales Strong

E15 sales in Iowa are proving to be strong right out of the pump. This may be a poor metaphor, but the good news is that Linn Co-op Oil Company, the first retailer to officially sell E15 in Iowa, has seen sales soar to more than 30 percent of the day’s sales after an open house event on Friday, September 21, 2012. The ethanol fuel blend is the most tested fuel blend in the history of the U.S. and is approved for drivers of owning a 2001 or new vehicle, SUV or light-duty truck.

“Friday’s open house event at Linn Co-op proved to be a great success,” said Lucy Norton, Iowa Renewable Fuels Association Managing Director. “Attendees showed a deep interest in E15, specifically asking for the fuel and provided a large uptick in E15 sales. Iowa motorists are excited to have another high-octane, low-cost ethanol option that supports local jobs and contributes to the state’s economy.”

As part of the introduction of E15, Linn Co-op held an open house on Friday, September 21, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with lunch served from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. E15 customers received a 15 cent discount on each gallon of E15 purchased.

To introduce E15 to Marion residents, the IRFA, Iowa Corn and the Iowa Power Fund Community Grant Program are sponsoring a media campaign that includes radio and print ads, billboards and direct mail. The campaign will run throughout September. A similar campaign is available to any Iowa retailer who offers E15 for 2001 and newer vehicle owners, says Norton. Retailers preparing to offer E15 in the future are urged to contact the IRFA for promotional assistance.

“E15 is bringing in many new customers to Linn Co-op,” added Jim Becthold, Service Manager for Linn Co-op Oil Company. “During our open house event, I saw countless new faces from all over the county. Also, a great deal of our customers specifically asked for E15 and Friday’s sales reflected that.”

Sweet Sorghum Leading Southern Bioenergy Crop

A lot of research has gone into studying sweet sorghum’s potential as a bioenergy crop. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has found that there are several attributes of the feedstock that make it uniquely suited to produce biofuels. One assest is its lower need for water, making it an ideal crop to grow in drought prevalent areas. In addition, it has low nitrogen fertilizer requirements and high biomass content. This according to molecular biologist Scott Sattler and Jeff Pedersen with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

Sweet sorghum produces sugar that can be converted to biofuel. The fibers in the feedstock left over after the juice is extracted can be burned to create electricity. Sorghum and sugarcane are good crops for the southeastern part of the U.S. because they are complementary crops and can extend the biofuel production season. Both feedstocks also use the same equipment so a grower would not need to invest in new technology to plant or harvest either crop.

The sweet sorghum research is part of USDA’s work in studying biofuel crops to meet the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) mandate of 36 billion gallons of biofuel by 2022. Of this total, 21 billion gallons will come from sources other than grain-based ethanol, of which sweet sorghum is one possible feedstock.

Other teams are also studying sweet sorghum including a group led by geneticist William Anderson with the ARS Crop Genetics and Breeding Research Unit in Tifton, Georgia. This team is working on identifying desirable bioenergy genes and working on improving them. To date, the team has studied 117 genotypes from the ARS sorghum germplasm collection with more research underway.

Institute for Energy Innovation Breaks Ground

The future Wilton E. Scott Institute for Energy Innovation is one step closer to reality today at Carnegie Mellon University with the official groundbreaking ceremony. The center will be focused on research and education to improve energy efficiency and develop clean energy sources. The institute was made possible by a lead gift from CMU alumni Sherman Scott (E’66), president and founder of Delmar Systems, and his wife, Joyce Bowie Scott (A’65), a trustee of the university. The institute is named for Sherman’s father, Wilton E. Scott.

A report recently issued by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development highlighted the need for energy-related workers before the end of this decade. One goal of institute will be to develop new innovative energy technologies and create an improved understanding of how to promote wide adoption through better regulation and public policy.

“The Scott Institute is a university-wide effort that brings together more than 100 CMU professors and researchers to solve some of our toughest energy challenges,” said CMU President Jared L. Cohon. “I thank Sherman and Joyce Bowie Scott not only for their generous gift, but also for their vision in helping to create this institute. They realize the fundamental importance of developing sustainable energy solutions for America and the world.”

The institute will support teams of CMU engineers, scientists, economists, architects, policy specialists and others who will collboratively tackle a range of issues, including developing more efficient energy solutions that reduce carbon emissions; smart grid technology to enable the use of large amounts of variable wind and solar power; and new advanced materials and processes to produce and store energy, increase efficiency and reduce waste.

Sherman Scott, who built Delmar Systems into a leader in mooring systems for the offshore oil and gas industry, added, “By bringing together experts from a range of disciplines, Carnegie Mellon is the perfect place to help meet the energy challenges of the future. Energy is a precious resource, and Carnegie Mellon’s systems approach can create solutions that ensure we produce and use energy more efficiently.”

Using ‘Old’ Tools For Better Biodiesel

Findings from studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists, and published in the Journal of Near Infrared Spectroscopy, have shown that “old” stand by techniques could help optimize oilseed yield for biodiesel production. For more than 30 years, near infrared (NIR) reflectance spectroscopy has been used to measure protein, moisture and oil levels in whole grains.

Dan Long, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) research leader, is heading up the study to learn how remote sensing tools could assess oil quality and quantity before and after harvest.  ARS is USDA’s main scientific research agency and supports the USA in finding new ways to develop bioenergy.

Long used a special NIR sensor to assess seed oil content in 226 canola samples from Montana, Washington and Oregon. Seed oil concentration is used to estimate extraction efficiency, which is the percentage of oil recovered in relation to the amount of oil in seed.

Using this technique, oil concentration in the samples ranged from 32 percent to 46 percent with an average error of .73 percent. Long believes that NIR sensors could be installed in seed crushing facilities to rapidly and continuously measure the oil content of clean seeds flowing into the expeller, where they are crushed to obtain the oil. Long believes that using NIR to monitor extraction efficiency could enable workers to adjust the choke setting on the expeller to compensate for oil loss in meal.

Improving the oil ratio would boost profits associated with seed processing and lower the costs of oil feedstock that is used to produce biofuel. NIR measurements might also help reduce the number of acres needed for oilseed feedstock production by maximizing seed oil extraction rates in the seed crushing facilities.

Solar Cell Reading Light for Children

As you spend the weekend sprawled on the couch watching football and reading the newspaper, don’t take for granted the light that helps you watch TV and read. In many emerging countries, light is created by burning a kerosene lamp which is equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. Yet without light, people in third world countries without electricity are left in the dark.

Osei Darwka, president of Ghana Telecom University and a fierce advocate of education, wants every household in his country to replace kerosene –– the fuel commonly used in home lighting –– with a healthier, safer, more environmentally friendly alternative that will allow schoolchildren to read and study in the evening.

The solution? A LED reading light that is eight times more efficient than in incandescent light bulb. The reading light was developed by John Bowers and his team at the University of California Santa Barbara and the Institute for Energy Efficiency. The LED light contains a solar cell that is efficient enough that a small area will provide a sufficient charge for the LED. Just two hours of light each day provides one hour of illumination. And operating with a single rechargable battery means the cost is kept low- much lower than the cost of kerosene.

So far, over 20,000 lights have been sent to 43 countries.

This is just one example of how students, professors and alums of the University of California are recreating “The California Dream” and helping to improve the world. This story is the first in University of California’s “Onward California” series. The episodes feature John Bowers and the value he and his team are bringing to society.

Energy Mix Must Reflect Future

A new report released by the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) argues that European Union (EU) electricity market rules must reflect the energy production mix of the future. This will help ensure a flexible power system with a large-scale uptake of wind power and other renewable energy sources.

The report comes as the Single European Act – creating a single market in goods, capital, people and services – turns 25. However, there is still no single market in electricity. EU Heads of State have agreed that Europe should have an internal energy market by 2014, but the EU is not on track to meet that target.

To this end, the report recommends creating a level playing field for renewable energy sources by tackling structural market deficits such as:

  • Removing regulated prices and excessive market concentration to enable small-  and medium-sized power generators to enter the market.
  • Removing coal, gas and nuclear subsidies before they are removed from mature renewable technologies like onshore wind.
  • Creating functioning markets covering larger geographical regions within Europe so as to reduce the need to balance variable renewables like wind and solar.
  • Developing intraday and balancing markets at national and cross-border levels.
  • Creating new markets for ‘grid support services,’ supporting the functioning of the grid to ensure a secure supply of electricity, instead of introducing market-distorting capacity payments.

“The European wind industry strongly supports the creation of a single market in electricity,” said Paul Wilczek, Senior Regulatory Affairs Advisor, Grids and Internal Electricity Market, at EWEA. “If Europe is serious about decarbonising the power sector in a cost-effective manner, it has to create a market that facilitates this transformation. EWEA’s new report sets out how a single market in electricity could simultaneously create benefits for all producers and consumers and integrate renewable energy sources.”

This October the European Commission is set to publish a communication on the internal energy market which is expected to contain an action plan to take Europe closer to a single energy market.