Biodiesel – The Fuel That Pays for School

For one lucky Minnesota high school senior, biodiesel is going to be the fuel that pays for school. The $1,000 Clean Air Choice Biodiesel Scholarship will be awarded to the student who writes the best 1,000 word essay about the benefits of biodiesel to Minnesota. The second place winner will be given a $500 scholarship.

The scholarship that was announced during the annual Education Minnesota Professional Conference in St. Paul is administered by the American Lung Association in Minnesota. The organization supports and promotes biodiesel as a clean air choice that reduces fuel emissions. The award is sponsored by the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council.

Rules and the online entry form can be found at www.cleanairchoice.org.

Five Things You Should Know About Solar

Inovateus Solar, based in South Bend Indiana, has proposed five things you should know about solar.  The free white paper, “The Good News About Solar: Five Facts You Should Know,” delves in to five areas about solar energy that demonstrates why solar energy should be a part of the energy mix. The five reasons:

  1. 1.  The U.S. Solar Industry Continues Strong Growth.
  2. 2.  The Cost of Solar Continues to Drop Dramatically.
  3. 3.  Solar Power Creates Jobs.
  4. 4.  Solar Incentives are Only a Fraction of Coal, Oil, and Gas Incentives.
  5. 5.  Solar is an Essential Part of the Energy Mix.

“We compiled this research to let people know about all the great things going on with the solar energy industry,” said Inovateus President T.J. Kanczuzewski. “The solar industry is growing at an exponential level. Out of a thousand success stories, a few solar companies have had a rough go of things because of increasing competition. But this competition is important, because it is weeding out weaker players. The majority of solar firms are thriving in a tough economy.”

“The attention these few companies get from the media sometimes puts a bad spin on solar,” added Kanczuzewski. “We’d like to let people know the truth about solar and how it fits prominently into the energy mix for our future.”

Upward Biodiesel Trend Continues

The biodiesel industry has another solid month in September producing 86 million gallons of biodiesel. Year-to-date, production is around 843 million gallons and if strong production numbers continue will set a new total biodiesel production record in 2012. The industry set a record in 2011 producing 1.1 billion gallons.

Biodiesel production is reported under the EPA’s Biomass-based Diesel category in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) numbers show a total of 96.5 million gallons of Biomass-based Diesel produced for the month of July, including renewable diesel production.

Habitat for Humanity Homes Go Solar

Habitat for Humanity has constructed 12-home new affordable housing development in Oakland, California with the aid of Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s (PG&E) Solar Habitat program. In its sixth year, the Solar Habitat program provides solar power to Habitat homes built in Central and Northern California, and to date 416 solar-powered Habitat homes have been completed.

“Today, the City of Oakland celebrates yet another partnership with Habitat for Humanity and PG&E. Together, we are transforming a site that has long been vacant in this community,” said City of Oakland Council President Larry Reid. “We look forward to how the development of these 12 new Solar Habitat homes on Edes Avenue can change an entire neighborhood and are excited about several additional Habitat for Humanity developments in the area.”

This year, PG&E donated $1.27 million for the program and will be enough to provide solar panels for 64 homes. On average, the solar energy produced saves the home owner about $500 per year in electricity costs. Each solar panel generates nearly 300 kilowatt house per month.

“Habitat for Humanity’s mission of making homeownership a reality for deserving families in California and around the world is one PG&E is proud to support,” said Chris Johns, PG&E President. “Through our flagship Solar Habitat program, PG&E and Habitat for Humanity are bringing clean, renewable and affordable energy to homes and neighborhoods across PG&E’s service area, particularly to those that historically have been underserved and overlooked. Together, we’re building a brighter future for the people of this State.”

Janice Jensen, President and CEO of Habitat East Bay/Silicon Valley said they are tremendously thankful for the support. With the help of the city and PG&E, to date 128 Habitat homes have been completed in a one-mile radius and the homes are both financial and environmentally sustainable.

Using Compost to Fuel Compost Cars

For those of you who are slacking off this afternoon and surfing the web looking for cool stories about renewable energy, well look no further. I have found the current greatest idea of the month: converting compost into fuel and then fueling cars made out of compost. Are you hooked?

Okay, so this is really not a real technology. The Onion is currently doing a spoof on Ted Talks and their lastest installment is on the greatest energy innovation of all time – compost. And it’s hilarious. The “innovator” says, “So how does it work? It’s quite simple. Instead of using gas, it uses compost.” He calls this concept, “compostization,” which he then describe the implementation plan. And leaves the fake audience with this thought to mull over, “Behind every great achievement is a visionary. I’ll be your visionary and you do the things I come up with.”

Yes, I must admit, I too would like to be your visionary and have everyone else do my work. That would be awesome!

I’m sure some of you are going to want to post a comment or send me an email or tweet that says it’s not funny to joke about something as serious as the need for new alternative energy sources. While I am an adamant believer that we do need to continue to develop innovatives technologies to produce energy, we also need to take a moment and be a less bit serious and have a little fun at our expense. And compost cars is just the ticket. I leave you with this famous quote, “Surround yourself with people who take their work seriously, but not themselves.”

Genuine Bio-Fuel Produces Biodiesel in Seconds

Florida-based Genuine Bio-Fuel says it has developed a new production process that refines biodiesel fuel in seconds using ultrasonic shearing technologies. Traditionally, it takes several hours to produce biodiesel using batch reactors and the result, says the company, is varying qualities of biodiesel, by-products, water consumption and contaminated water discharge. Genuine Bio-Fuel says using this technology limits future technological advancement.

“Batch reactors are too cumbersome and limiting, said Executive Vice President Jeff Longo. The batch process is time consuming, taking anywhere from a couple of hours to days to complete. Plus, it is not conducive for using a variety of alternative feedstocks of variable quality.”

The company invested in developing a new technology that would reduce operational costs, reduce energy usage and produce high quality fuel. The result was to use ultrasonic shearing that uses sound waves to bond a catalyst to feedstock, which creates a chemical reaction.

During the ultrasonic process, according to the company, the feedstock and catalyst are simultaneously added to the tank and passed through a chamber of ultrasonic sound waves. These sound waves jumble the elements so violently that they become instantly bonded together. After this reaction, the mixture flows into another tank where any remaining raw components will be expelled through a centrifuge – unlike the batch process, which uses water. From there the fuel is passed through an ion exchange polishing tank to polish the final product.

Longo says today Genuine Bio-Fuel is the only plant that truly uses continuous-flow, ultrasonic, shear-mixing technology to product biodiesel. In the process, the company also cut production time and costs, it energy use is about 60 percent below industry average, and there is no need for excessive heat and pressure.

Green Metrics Missing in Biofuel Debate

According to Jody Endres, College of Agricultural, Consumer & Environmental Sciences, and The Energy Biosciences Institute at the University of Illinois, and Daniel Szewczyk, academia has failed to create green metrics in measuring the pros and cons of biofuels. A framework to evaluate what constitutes a “green” economy is needed along with measurement metrics.

Endres and Szewczyk note that energy policies such as the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), E.U. Renewable Energy Directive (RED), and the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) require increasing amounts of biofuels to reach goals. When pointing out the benefits of biofuels, the White House touts the environmental, energy security and green economic benefits. In addition, supporters also say a biofuels economy “generates economic activity that preserves and enhances environmental quality while using natural resources more efficiently”.

Yet for the past several years a campaign against biofuels has been mounting, with the current drought across the U.S. fueling the food versus fuel debate to new levels.  Dissenters say that ethanol is causing the price of feed for livestock and poultry in particular to go up and many global associations accuse ethanol of causing food shortages. In light of this myriad of criticism, the biofuel industry is concerned they will lose Congressional and public support, which would be detrimental to the development of advanced biofuels.

Setting aside the arguments, the authors say that best hope in the battle for funding and biofuels’ public image is the potential for creating a green economy in rural America. The study of “greenness,” as opposed to only generic economic development, say the authors, is critical because “greenness” distinguishes and justifies bioenergy sector subsidies in an extreme climate of budget austerity and political polarity.

In response to bioenergy compliance, efforts are beginning to seek to measure the economic and social benefits of environmental improvements within the broader meaning of “bio” fuels. Federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Department of Defense (DOD) also appear to recognize the need to develop social impact metrics that tie to environmental achievements for project funding decisions. In the future, it is the hope that compliance will be in part measured by a biofuels’ green metrics.

U of A Wins ‘Underground’ Biodiesel Grant

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health awarded a $1.4 million grant to the University of Arizona‘s Mel and Enid Zumerman College of Public Health along with the department of mining and geological engineering. The three-year project will compare exposure and health effects of miners using diesel versus biodiesel fueled underground mining equipment. During the past few years, miners have shifted to the use of biodiesel-blend fuels in an effort to reduce exposure to particulates from engine exhaust.

Study results will have a dual purpose. Researchers be able to determine the effects of biodiesel-blend fuels in the mining community, and also apply data to establish the beneficial or detrimental effects on the everyday people who are exposed to biodiesel-blend fuels through vehicular emissions.

“Exposures to diesel particulate in underground mining often exceed existing standards,” said Dr. Jeff Burgess, the study’s principal investigator and a professor at the UA Zuckerman College of Public Health. “Biodiesel blends are being employed to reduce these exposures, yet there is no information on whether this increases, decreases or fails to change the toxicity to miners of equipment emissions. This study will help determine the health consequences of using biodiesel fuel blends in the underground mining setting.”

“Information on the health effects of conversion to biodiesel fuels in occupational and environmental settings will also help to inform future policy decisions,” added Burgess.

The research team from the UA College of Public Health includes co-principal investigator Eric Lutz, assistant professor and co-investigator Chengcheng Hu, associate professor. Ros Hill, professor of practice in the department of mining and geological engineering and director of the UA San Xavier Mining Laboratory will assist in the study.

Will Global Biofuel Investments Continue?

Historically, 2009 was a hard year for biofuels. Biofuel spending was down to $5.6 billion from $15.4 billion in 2008. Investments in the industry focused on cellulosic technologies and sugarcane. This according to NRG Expert’s World Biofuels Report.

The report cites sugarcane-based biofuels as being the most competitive with oil and also have the lowest greenhouse gas emissions. The worst – biofuels produced from palm oil and soybeans. Fuel produced from either of these feedstocks do not meet EU sustainability criteria. The highest investments were for technologies focused on developing biofuels from feedstocks such as jatropha and algae. Yet investments in jatropha are tapering off, according to the report, because research has shown it to perform poorly in field trials and consumes more water than expected.

To court investments on the cellulosic side, the report says the technology must incorporate other core areas of business, such as developing biochemicals or high value products along with the production of the biofuel.

Moving in to 2012 and beyond, many biorefineries are operating below capacity due to the U.S. drought. Many mergers and acquisitions have taken place with many oil companies buying advanced biofuel technology. U.S. companies are having difficulty raising capital unless they are focused on the emerging Latin America or South East Asia markets.

While the report focuses on what has happened since 2009, it also looks at several strategies biofuel producers could employ to be more competitive in the tight investment market. For example, palm oil producers can retrofit by adding methane capture equipment to their plant as an effort to meet EU biofuel criteria and generate revenue selling electricity produced from methane.

The report predicts that raising oil prices will help biofuels be more competitive and new blending mandates could create a bigger market. In addition, more countries are expected to enter the sector on a commercial scale including Columbia, the Philippines and Thailand.

Federal Court to Hear Arguments Against Cali LCFS

Last December, U.S. District Judge Lawrence O’Neill ruled California’s Low Carbon Fuels Standard (LCFS) unconstitutional. However, a stay was issued allowing implementation of the law until a federal appeals court hears arguments in the case. This is set to take place this week.

The Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) is lobbying for the end of the LCFS. Executive Vice President Michael Whatley said, “We are optimistic that through these proceedings, it will become clear the LCFS is an unconstitutional and destructive program that will hurt California’s consumers and kill jobs. Even those supporting California’s LCFS have acknowledged its legal risk. CARB’s claims of LCFS benefits have been debunked by study after study. At the end of the day, the LCFS will double gas prices and cost our economy billions of dollars – all while failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

CEA cites several studies showing that LCFS is harmful to consumers. In June 2010 Charles River Associates released a study that says it would cost the loss of between 2.3 and 4.5 million jobs; increase the price of gasoline and diesel up to 170 percent over the next 10 years; and will decrease the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) 2-3 percent.

The organization also cites a study from the Boston Consulting Group that adds that a LCFS will result in the loss of 25-35 percent of California’s refining capacity and the closure of 5-7 of the state’s refineries. And yet another study they cite is from Barr Engineering that poses a significant carbon emission increase could occur under a LCFS program.

While I’m not here to pick sides, it is interesting to note that both sides use the argument that “study after study” has debunked the view of the other side. I’ll let you decide what to believe.

SLICE Award Winners for Clean Energy Announced

Seven winners received the 2012 State Leadership in Clean Energy (SLICE) Awards given by the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA). The award recognize state programs that are most effectively accelerating the adoption of clean energy technologies.

This year’s winners are New York’s Clean Energy Business Incubator Program and On-Site Wind Market Development Program, both administered by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA); Connecticut’s Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority’s (CEFIA) CT Solar Lease Program; the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center’s Commonwealth Solar Hot Water Pilot Program; the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission’s Residential Wood-Pellet Boiler Rebate Program; and two projects by the California Energy Commission: the University of California, San Diego Microgrid, and the Synchrophasor Research and Development Program.

“Despite challenging economic conditions and uncertainty over continuing federal support, the SLICE Award-winning state programs have demonstrated innovation, supported emerging technologies, and advanced clean energy markets,” said Mark Sinclair, Executive Director of CESA. “After a decade of experience working with clean energy funds across the country, CESA feels confident that these programs represent the best of what’s out there today.”

Winners were chosen by a panel of six judges that included representatives from the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Renewable Energy Lab along with experts from several other energy organizations.

Tuscon Clean Cities Wins Oil Displacement Honor

During the 2012 Clean Cities Peer Exchange and Vehicle Technology Deployment Workshop, Tuscon Clean Cities Coalition was awarded the Top Award for Greatest Displacement of Petroleum Using E85. The award came from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) who thanked the coalition for the work they are doing to reduce petroleum consumption.

There are around 100 Clean Cities coalitions across the United States. These groups bring together stakeholders in the public and private sectors to deploy alternative and renewable fuels, idle-reduction measures, fuel economy improvements, and emerging transportation technologies. DOE cities Clean Cities coalitions as also advancing the nation’s economic, environmental, and energy security by supporting local actions to reduce petroleum consumption in the transportation sector.

Robert White, Director of Market Development for the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), thanked Tuscon Clean Cities Coordinator Colleen Crowninshield for her dedication and hard work. White, who has had the opportunity to work with Colleen and her coalition, also congratulated her on her success. It is interesting to note that the winning coalition, was not from the Midwest – rather the Southwest.

“The DOE’s Clean Cities Program has been instrumental in expanding the use of alternative fuels and decreasing our dependency on foreign oil. The efforts of Coordinators like Colleen Crowninshield highlight the impact to the ethanol industry, but also to consumers and fleets across the country. It also stresses the importance of infrastructure development nationwide, as the most successful Coalition with E85 is not from the Midwest, it is from Tucson, AZ,” said White.

Enogen Trait Technology for Ethanol

Syngenta has signed a commercial agreement with Plymouth Energy of Merrill, Iowa to use grain featuring Enogen trait technology in 2013. According to the company, Enogen trait technology eliminates the need to utilize liquid alpha amylase enzyme in dry grind ethanol production. Once incorporated into an ethanol production process, the plant will see improvements in ethanol production and also reduce energy, gas and water usage.

“As profit margins in the industry continue to shrink, we’re always looking for ways to be more efficient,” said Eamonn Byrne, CEO of Plymouth Energy. “We believe Enogen grain can help us do that and ultimately boost our bottom line.”

Plymouth will begin using Enogen grain for the first time in the fall of 2013. Currently, Syngenta is working with growers who provide corn to the ethanol plant to contract them to grow Enogen corn for 2013. Growers who sign on will deliver the specialty grain next fall. Enogen grain production contracts require growers follow specific, yet simple stewardship protocols. In return, growers are paid a premium price for each bushel of Enogen grain delivered to the ethanol plant per the contract terms.

David Witherspoon, head of renewable fuels for Syngenta, added, “Enogen corn adds tremendous value for both ethanol plants and their local communities. With Enogen corn, ethanol plants not only create greater profit potential for their business, but they help put money back in the growers’ pocket as well.”

2013 Clean Energy Challenge Kicks Off

The 2013 Clean Energy Challenge, funded by the Clean Energy Trust, has kicked off with more than $300,000 in cash prizes waiting to be won. Researchers, students and entrepreneurs with transformative clean tech business ideas based in the Midwest, are encouraged to submit their businesses and concepts through the Clean Energy Exchange.

The Clean Energy Challenge is a two-track competition for projects in different stages of development. The Early Stage Challenge is for clean tech projects with fully-developed business plans and established start-up companies. The Student Challenge is for students in eight-state Midwest region who have a great idea, and need assistance in developing a clean energy business.

“The very best clean technology innovations are being developed in the Midwest and the Challenge ensures that those ideas are presented to the venture capitalists, businesses and investors who can bring them to market,” said Amy Francetic, executive director of the Clean Energy Trust. “The cash prizes and commercialization support kick start Clean Energy Challenge Finalists, which have all gone on to receive significant venture and federal funding.”

Applications are encouraged from Midwest entrepreneurs working in: Energy Storage; Hydrogen & Fuel Cells; Geothermal; BioEnergy; Solar Technologies; Wind Energy; Water-Energy Nexus; Recycling and Remediation; Energy Efficiency; Building Materials; Energy Management; Smart-Grid; Next Generation Transportation; and Manufacturing Efficiency.

Finalists will receive mentoring from the Clean Energy Trust in preparation for the Challenge finals taking place in Chicago on April 4, 2013. The judging panel is comprised of nationally renowned investors and clean technology business leaders. The application deadline is December 3, 2012. Complete rules and eligibility for the Challenge are available at www.cleanenergytrust.org.

Book Review – Rebuild the Dream

This week I read Rebuild the Dream, by Van Jones, which ironically turned out to be a great book to read with the presidential election just three weeks away. Personally, I believe this country is in an economic mess and I wonder at the so called leaders in Washington who threw up their hands and left early without making several key policy decisions that have such an economic impact. But I realize these leaders are in DC because we the people put them there. In an age of instant entertainment TV, Americans seem to no longer go to the polls and vote on import issues like economy and foreign policy and rather vote on social issues. It has been this way, as far as I can tell, since President Regan was in office.

What, I’m sure you are wondering, does my diatribe have to do with Rebuild the Dream? A lot. Van Jones hits the mark in the book about the economic struggles this country is having and offers suggestions on turning things around. And it starts at the grassroots level with people just like you and I.

Jones’s true calling is working with the private sector and policy leaders to spread the benefits of green job opportunities into struggling communities. Many of the green job opportunities he refers to include educating youth and adults about things such as solar panel installation and installing wind turbines. Many will recall that for a short time, Jones worked as part of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy (he did not work directly with President Obama). Quite frankly, I think his work has and will continue, to have greater impact in the private sector because this is where true change evolves and succeeds as his book aptly demonstrates.

But what the book really focuses on are the main insights Jones has gleaned from reviewing the past years of political struggle in the U.S. (2003-2011).  He focuses on three areas in the first part of the book: the political movements around Barack Obama in 2007-2008; the Tea Party movement in 2009-2010; and the emergence of Occupy Wall Street and the 99 percent movements. (I am part of the 99 percent and more than likely you too are part of the 99 percent.) Continue reading