Election Insight 2012

An “Election Insight 2012” report was issued shortly following the elections on November 7, 2012 by SNR Denton, and provides interesting insights into what political issues will take the forefront in the next four years. The report highlights winners and losers both at the federal and local levels as well as provides a short list of who could take over several key appointed positions. It also gives a top level discussion of what key issues will be addressed during the upcoming lame duck session, as well as over the next four years.

Of interest to our readers is the overview of several areas: renewable energy, environment and the tax extenders package. Here is a samling of the highlights:

  • The 112th Congress returns for a lame duck session beginning next week and the major topic of discussion will be the combination of expiring tax provisions and across-the-board spending cuts (sequestration) including discussion of retroactive extension of expired provisions including research and development tax credit, the production tax credit for wind energy, and other “tax extenders”.
  • Several major policy areas that will be on the agenda for the next Congress: debate on the future of American energy; and job creation and economic growth. The issues above are forecast to become part of the broader debate over the economy.
  • The energy sector also will draw attention in the context of tax reform, with debate continuing on tax policy affecting both oil and gas companies and renewable generators.
  • President Obama’s corporate tax reform plan calls for a lowering of the corporate tax rate from 35%to 28%, and reducing the manufacturing income rate to 25%. To pay for these proposals, the president would eliminate several business tax breaks, most notably subsidies for oil companies.
  • Obama’s plan would make the Research and Development (R&D) tax credit permanent and the tax credit for renewable electricity production permanent.
  • Obama’s plan would require companies to pay minimum tax on overseas profits and remove tax deductions for moving production overseas, while giving a 20% income tax credit for the expenses of moving back to the U.S.
  • The next terms will bring continued debate on the future development of American energy resources,  Continue reading

Generation 1.5 Ethanol

According to a new Issue Brief: Generation 1.5 Ethanol: The Bridge to Cellulosic Biofuels,” the shortfall of cellulosic biofuel production in the U.S. is threatening the existence of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2). Authored by Philip W. Madson, P.E., president of KATZEN International for Ethanol Across America, the growth of the biofuels industry will be facilitated by modifying RFS2 to shift away from the singular focus on cellulosic biofuels by implementing policies to promote a wider range of advanced biofuels.

Today, there are only two pathways approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Brazilian ethanol produced from sugarcane and grain sorghum to ethanol produced at plants using biogas in combinate with heat and power (CHP) technology. The paper argues that developing additional advanced biofuels, or Generation 1.5 ethanol, will be the bridge to Generation 2.0 biofuels, or cellulosic biofuels.

“Unfortunately, RFS has been implemented in a manner that has led the biofuels industry to its current no-growth predicament,” Madson writes in the Issue Brief. He also notes that requiring 16 billion gallons of biofuels to be “cellulosic” and thus reduce greenhouse gas emission by 60 percent, ignores the benefits that could be realized from “non-cellulosic” advanced biofuels.

Madson continues, “By mandating growth to principally cellulosic biofuels, the RFS2 effectively handcuffs the biofuels industry and forces it to put its limited resources into the development of Gen 2 biofuels, which simply cannot be commercially deployed on the prescribed schedule.”

Generation 1.5 Ethanol offers several steps to be taken to encourage the development of advanced biofuels. First, solidify market demand; mandates and requirements alone are not going to be enough. This can be done through increased production of flex fuel vehicles and more choice of higher biofuel blends at the pump. Second, current RFS programs could be amended to allow any feedstock that can demonstrate compliance with the true intent of the RFS to quality as an Advanced Biofuel and essentially do away with the narrowly focused cellulosic requirement.

Ultimately, the paper argues, while working within the framework of RFS2, all the benefits can be realized by simply removing the requirements for cellulosic biofuels and removing the cap on advanced biofuels from other feedstocks.

Click here to download Generation 1.5 Ethanol.

SuperShuttle Celebrates 75th Propane Shuttle

SuperShuttle celebrated the addition of its 75th propane autogas shuttle  in Phoenix, Arizona during the “Shuttling Arizona to a Cleaner Future” event. In attendance were area council members, Michael Johnson and Jim Waring; Valley of the Sun Clean Cities envoys; and industry representatives from the National Propane Gas Association and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

The company has been using propane autogas shuttles with ROUSH CleanTech autogas engine fuel systems since 2009 and demonstrated during the event that propane is a clean, cost-effective alternative fuel. The event also featured a refueling demonstration and ride and drive.

“SuperShuttle is the largest national shared-ride organization in the U.S. Sharing rides is considered environmentally friendly, because combining rides reduces our carbon footprint and reduces the congestion on our roadways,” said Dave Bird, executive vice president of operations for SuperShuttle International. “It makes sense to step up our game with alternative fuels like propane, particularly in markets where air pollution is a major concern, such as Phoenix.”

During its lifecycle, each SuperShuttle propane autogas shuttle is estimated to release 175,000 fewer pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than it would have operating on gasoline. SuperShuttle, as a whole, will emit 13 million less pounds of carbon dioxide into the skies of Phoenix over the next five years using these 75 vehicles. Unit franchisees operating propane fueled shuttles are said to be saving an average of $200 per week or $10,400 per year.

Delaware Offshore Wind Project Gets Green Light

The first lease for commercial wind energy development in federal waters has been given to an offshore wind energy project approximately 11 nautical miles off the coast of Delaware. This is the first lease awarded under the Department of Interior’s “Smart from the Start” program to ensure environmentally responsible offshore wind energy development along the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf.

“Delaware has remarkable offshore wind potential, and harnessing this clean, domestic energy resource will create jobs, increase our energy security and strengthen our nation’s economic competitiveness,” said Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior. “The Administration has implemented a true all of the above approach to American energy, with renewable energy from sources like wind and solar doubling since the President took office, while at the same time domestic oil and gas production has increased each year, with domestic oil production currently higher than any time in almost a decade and domestic natural gas production at its highest level ever.”

The lease grants NRG Bluewater Wind Delaware LLC the exclusive right to submit one or more plans to Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to conduct activities in support of wind energy development in the lease area. The company may submit a Site Assessment Plan (SAP) with a proposal to conduct site assessment activities, such as the installation of a meteorological tower or meteorological buoy, and/or submit a Construction and Operations Plan (COP) to propose construction of the actual wind facility and cabling to shore.

“This lease is the result of many months of hard work and collaboration among BOEM, our Federal partners, the Delaware Renewable Energy Task Force, and other stakeholders,” said BOEM Director Tommy P. Beaudreau. “I congratulate NRG Bluewater Wind and we look forward to their progress in standing up offshore wind energy generation under this lease.”

In its original project proposal, NRG Bluewater proposed a 450-megawatt project offshore Delaware, with estimates that the project could generate enough power to supply electricity for over 100,000 homes.  The lease area, composed of 11 full OCS blocks and 16 partial blocks, has been located to avoid interfering with current coastline activities including major shipping lanes into and out of Delaware Bay, a proposed vessel anchorage ground and a munitions disposal area.

Filmakers Capture ‘Fueling the Future’

The third annual “Fuel the Future” video contest, sponsored by Faegre Baker Daniels, for Iowa high school students has begun. This year, the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) is searching for the best student-produced “campaign-ad” video that educates Iowans on why they should choose E15 and or biodiesel at the pump. The top three video entries will win prices in the amount of $1,000, $600 and $400 and winning videos will be debuted during the 2013 Iowa Renewable Fuel Summit on January 30, 2013.

“The polls may be closed in Iowa, but IRFA is asking Iowa high school students to keep the election cycle going by creating a campaign-ad video encouraging consumers to choose E15 and biodiesel at the pump in 2013,” said IRFA Communications Director T.J. Page. “With attacks from ethanol and biodiesel opponents ramping up, we can’t wait to see how Iowa high school students set the record straight on renewable fuels. And we hope all Iowans will vote with their fuel tanks by asking for E15 and biodiesel in 2013.”

The “Fuel the Future” contest is limited to students currently attending high school (grades 9-12 in a public, private or home school) in Iowa.  Video entries should not exceed two minutes in length and should be submitted to IRFA via DVD, flash drive, or secure web link.  All completed video entries must be received in the IRFA office by January 18, 2013, to be considered for the contest.

For more information, including the official entry form and contest rules, please visit the Fuel the Future website. The winning video from last year’s contest, produced by Sam Ennis of Ames High School and titled “I Got You Ethanol”.

CSP Plant Construction Begins in South Africa

Many in the U.S. may know Abengoa for its ethanol and cellulosic pilot plant initiatives. However, the diversified company has begun construction of two concentrating solar power (CSP) plants in South Africa: 50 megawatts (MW) solar power tower Khi Solar One and 100 MW parabolic trough plan KaXu Solar One. The two plants are just two of 28 renewable energy projects announced by the South Africa Department of Energy in late 2011 with a goal of bringing 17,800 MW of renewable energy online by 2030.

Abengoa is partnering with the state-owned Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), South Africa’s largest development finance institution. The company will build, operate and maintain the plants and owns 51 percent of the projects while IDC holds 29 percent, and the Black Economic Empowerment program maintains the remaining 20 percent. The two CSP plants have already signed long term power purchase agreements with Eskom, South Africa’s power utility.

Khi Solar One and KaXu Solar One, located in the Northern Cape Province near Upington and Pofadder, respectively, will use advanced technology to provide South Africa with clean energy while reducing the area’s use of coal and creating local jobs and industry in the region. In addition to reducing the country’s carbon dioxide emissions by about 498,000 tons each year, the construction of Khi Solar One and KaXu will create roughly 1,400 local construction jobs on average per annum, peaking near 2,000, and about 70 permanent operation jobs. Numerous direct and indirect jobs will also be created to fulfill the needs required by the plant and its construction.

Abengoa and the IDC are stimulating economic development in the area while building South Africa’s solar industry. South Africa has one of the best solar resources in the world with great potential to be a leader in concentrating solar power generation.

Energy Version 2.0 Website Revealed

USDA has revealed an updated version of its Energy website, launched in January 2012. The site now provides additional resources, new reporting features and investment data current through August of this year. The website is co-linked with several other USDA initiatives include their Energy Investment Maps, Renewable Energy Tool, Energy Matrix and Investment Project Reports. Some of the enhanced features of USDA’s Energy Web include:

Energy Investments Map data has been updated to include fiscal year 2012 data, the map legend and data layer, previously designed to toggle between two screens, were combined for easier operation and fast results. The map description has placed in a separate pop up window “About this Map” to visually enhance the Energy Investment map and also supports efficiency.

Energy Investment Report page now enables user access to all energy technologies data that are associated with the Energy Investment Map.  The data can be sorted by program, year of obligation, payment type, total dollar amounts and state/county/district, providing various project details. There are pie charts, graphs and report listing to emphasize investment data.

Renewable Energy Tool now includes easy access links to a number of tools available across USDA agencies with information “pop-ups” describing tool.

According to USDA, the energy website is a work in progress and additional enhancements are underway for next year including enhancements for the mapping feature of the Renewable Energy Tool to include types of data and information such as land use for producing biomass and energy crops, cost to produce crops alternative crops, competition for biomass, fuel stations, state and federal policy, USDA guidelines for and financial assistance, and state and federal office locations for agriculture, energy, environmental protection, and conservation. Initially the focus is transportation fuels.

Sweet Biodiesel!

University of California, Berkeley scientists may have found that using a fermentation process once used to covert starch into explosives, developed by the first president of Israel, chemist Chaim Weizmann, can be used to covert starch to biodiesel. The refined process produces a mix of products that contain more energy per gallon than ethanol, and scientists believe it could be commercialized within 5-10 years.

Although today the process is more expensive per gallon than traditional transportation fuel, it would drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions that many researchers believe is one of the major contributors to climate change. This was a driver of the research.

“What I am really excited about is that this is a fundamentally different way of taking feedstocks – sugar or starch – and making all sorts of renewable things, from fuels to commodity chemicals like plastics,” said Dean Toste, UC Berkeley professor of chemistry and co-author of a report on the new development that will appear in the Nov. 8 issue of the journal Nature.

Weizmann’s process employs the bacterium Clostridium acetobutylicum to ferment sugars into acetone, butanol and ethanol. Dubbed ABE for the three chemicals produced, it was used by Britain to produce acetone, needed to manufacture cordite, a material used to replace gunpowder during World War I.

The research team refined the process and developed a way of extracting the acetone and butanol from the fermentation mixture while leaving most of the ethanol behind, and also developed a catalyst that converted this ideally-proportioned brew into a mix of long-chain hydrocarbons that resembles the combination of hydrocarbons in diesel fuel. Tests showed that it burned about as well as normal petroleum-based diesel fuel. Researchers believe it could be a “sweet biodiesel”.

The process is versatile enough to use a broad range of renewable starting materials, from corn sugar (glucose) and cane sugar (sucrose) to starch, and would work with non-food feedstocks such as grass, trees or field waste in cellulosic processes. Toste explained that you can tune the size of the hydrocarbons based on the reaction conditions to produce hydrocarbons typical of gasoline or longer-chain hydrocarbons in diesel and even branched chain hydrocarbons in jet fuel.

Researchers said the diesel produced via this process could initially supply niche markets, such as the military, but that renewable fuel standards in states such as California will eventually make biologically produced diesel financially viable, especially for trucks, trains and other vehicles that need more power than battery alternatives can provide. And since this diesel significantly lowers GHG emissions, the research team believes it could help reduce global warming.

Obama Wins. Did Renewable Energy Win?

President Barack Obama has been elected to a second term to lead the United States. While not clairvoyant,  I suspect the defining turn in support for Obama was the convergence of hurricane Sandy and Mayor Michael Bloomberg throwing his support behind Obama with the statement that he is the climate change President. If he is in fact the president for climate change, this should mean positive things for renewable energy. But for this to happen, all of our national and state leaders will need to be climate change leaders.

On the heels of the President Obama’s winning speech, many in the renewable energy industry, such as the National Corn Growers Association, lauded his win and called for the continuation of the path toward change that would lead to energy independence.

“The ethanol industry appreciates the support of President Obama and his administration over the last four years and we look forward to furthering our work with them, continuing to produce a cleaner burning, home-grown renewable fuel,” said Tom Buis, CEO for Growth Energy. He added that his organization is looking forward to working with the president, his administration and Congress in a bipartisan manner to help expand access for biofuels.

POET’s CEO Jeff Lautt said in a statement that his company felt that the role of renewable energy was evident throughout the election and he is optimistic for the future of the biofuels industry.  “As President Obama noted this fall, ‘Biofuels are an important part of reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil and creating jobs here at home.’ I look forward to continued support for the Renewable Fuel Standard to ensure that more and more drivers have access to clean fuel produced here in the United States,” he added.

It’s going to take more than industry associations and alternative energy companies to work for success. It will also take consumer organizations rising up from local communities to spur change and the first step in this is better energy and climate education for all Americans (yes, our country is full of energy and environmental illiterate citizens). There’s a lot to do. Let’s get back to work.

Field to Fryer to Fuel

Here is a new twist on an old idea: rather than simply recycling used cooking oil into biodiesel, a new initiative will locally grow canola, press the seeds into oil, deliver to local restaurants, pick up the used oil, and then repurpose it into biodiesel. The pilot project, known as Field to Fryer to Fuel (F3) received a $130,000 grant from the Biofuels Center of North Carolina from AdvantageWest to help the state develop a clean energy industry.

The project consists of three core activities: feedstock testing and analysis to assess the economic viability of a large-scale biodiesel and renewable biochemicals production facility in the region; demonstration the F3 business model; and the completion of a biofuels end-user market survey of large consumers of diesel fuel for transportation and heating oil.

“Our objective with this collaboration is to develop and expand Western North Carolina’s hub of clean energy industries,” said Matt Raker, vice president of AdvantageWest’s green-tech program, AdvantageGreen. “A cluster analysis we published with Land-of-Sky Regional Council and other business and community members of the EvolveEnergy Partnership identified biofuels as an area of great potential for our region. We expect this project to measurably advance biofuel production and commercialization.”

Field to Fryer to Field is underway with nearly 50 acres of canola seed already planted on the Biltmore Estate. The crop will be harvested in the spring of 2013 and then the seeds will be pressed into food-grade oil in a mobile unit supplied by Appalachian State University and then processed and refined Blue Ridge Biofuels’ facility.

The resulting 7,000 gallons of food-grade oil Continue reading

Last Call for Biodiesel Tax Incentive?

With the end of the year soon approaching, the National Biodiesel Board (NBB) is calling for the reinstating of the biodiesel tax incentive that expired at the end of 2011.  With a Congressional lame duck session on the docket for mid-November, the group is encouraging biodiesel stakeholders and supporting Americans to make a final push for the support of the tax incentive.

According to a statement from NBB, the biodiesel incentive has strong bipartisan support and points out that nearly every state in the county has a biodiesel plant. To keep the fuel flowing, NBB is asking Congress to pass a tax incentive package that include’s a $1 per gallon biodiesel tax credit.

So calling all biodiesel supporters. NBB has set up a Fueling Action advocacy website that will provide you with draft letters to Congress and local legislators as well as talking points and other educational tools to help you spread support for biodiesel.

Praj Industries Scales Up Demo Plant

Praj Industries, who has been working on developing second generation technologies for the production of biofuels, is scaling up its demonstration research and development plant program, “Lignocellulose to Ethanol”. For the past four years, the company has been operating a pilot plant to produce ethanol from feedstocks such as bagasse, corn stover and more and is now ready to move closer to commercial scale production.

“The successful demonstration of various parameters at the demo-commercial plant will put Praj at the forefront of the biobased economy and in the race for commercial scale second generation biofuels,” said Pramod Chaudhari, Praj’s Executive Chairman during a welcome address at the recent FO Licht, World Ethanol Conference at Munich. “While this plant size is appropriate for emerging markets, with our past experience of quick scale up, it will be well within Praj’s capability to scale the capacity even up to 10 times. I am pleased to say that Praj will be the first Company in the tropics to set up such an integrated facility.”

Praj is taking steps to set up a 10 million litre demonstration commercial plant in India. This plant will seek to demonstrate technical and commercial viability as well optimization of water and energy integration and develop other areas of the value chain including feed products. To date, the company’s engineering package is ready for deployment and they are seeking investors and partners.

The demonstration plant is expected to be operational in early 2013 and cost around $25 to $30 million U.S. dollars to complete.

Driving Forward Agenda Announced

Next year’s 18th Annual National Ethanol Conference (NEC): Driving Forward, sponsored by the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) will help the ethanol industry continue to lead the nation to a stronger, more energy independent America. With an agenda supporting this goal, the event will highlight many regulatory, marketing and policy issues including:

  • Perspectives on the Future of the RFS
  • Expanding Renewable Fuels Globally
  • Washington Legislative Roundtable
  • The Reality of Distributing and Dispensing 36 BG of Renewable Fuels
  • Future Fuels and Higher Octane
  • Dispelling the Myth of the Phantom Fuel
  • E15: Measuring Success

The event will kick off on February 5, 2013 and on the 6th, RFA President Bob Dinneen will deliver that State of the Industry address. Other sessions include: Perspectives on the Future of the RFS; Expanding Renewable Fuels Globally; Washington Legislative Roundtable; Panel Discussion: The Reality of Distributing and Dispensing 36 BG of Renewable Fuels; and more.

To see the full agenda and register, visit the Driving Forward website.

REG Reports 3rd Quarter Financial Results

The Renewable Energy Group (REG) has reported its third quarter financial results. Revenues were $322.9 million, an increase of 26 percent compared to revenues of $256.5 million for the same period in 2011. Third quarter 2012 adjusted EBITDA was a loss of $2.3 million, a decrease of 105 percent compared to $46.7 million for the same period in 2011. A few other third quarter highlights:
  • 2 million gallons sold, up 40 percent year-over-year
  • Cash flow from operations of $6.2 million
  • Adjusted EBITDA loss of $2.3 million due to risk management transactions and RIN price declines
  • Distribution expanded with new terminal locations in New Mexico and California
  • Acquired a 15 million gallon-per-year multi-feedstock plant in New Boston, Texas, after the close of the quarter

“REG achieved meaningful success in the quarter, even with the adjusted EBITDA loss that was caused by accounting for risk management positions and RIN price declines,” said Daniel J. Oh, President and Chief Executive Officer of REG. “Our revenues continued to increase, our gallons sold were up 40 percent compared to third quarter 2011, we acquired additional production capacity at an attractive price, and we expanded distribution.”

Oh continued, “We remain optimistic about the growing biodiesel industry and are especially pleased with EPA’s formalized 2013 Renewable Volume Obligation (RVO). With an RVO that is 28 percent above this year’s, the industry demand outlook is solid. Our acquisition of the New Boston, Texas facility is evidence of our long-term confidence and our commitment to remain a leader in the industry.”

Students Rock Ethanol

High school senior Jason Girouard from Brimfield, Massachusetts has won the Ethanol Rocks video contest sponsored by the National Corn Growers Association. Girouard was awarded $1,500. Freshman Emily Yue from Gilford, Connecticut and senior Lewis Kloster of Minneapolis, Minnesota were both awarded second-place honor and $500 a piece.

“The purpose of the contest was to get youth interested in learning about renewable fuel while having fun,” said NCGA Ethanol Committee Chair Chad Willis. “However, I think we may have turned a few of the more inquisitive kids into ethanol evangelists. The enthusiasm about their learning experience was the biggest payoff of the project.”

Students from across the U.S. submitted entries and learned a bit more about ethanol along the way. Many focused on co-products produced during the ethanol production process such as distillers grains and CO2 used to carbonated beverages. Yet what judges found most intriguing was seeing the experiences of an urban American who walked into a corn field for the first time.