Volkswagen Focuses on Ultra-Low-Carbon Mobility

Volkswagen of America, Inc. is continuing to roll out plans for its holistic approach to e-mobility. Beginning with the launch of the zero-tailpipe emissions 2015 e-Golf model later this year, Volkswagen will invest in carbon reduction projects to offset emissions created from e-Golf production, distribution and up to approximately 36,000 miles of driving. Volkswagen also named SunPower as the official solar energy partner power provider. Volkswagen believes they will be one of the first high-volume manufacturers to deliver a truly holistic approach to ultra-low-carbon mobility.

volkswagen-egolf-charging-620To help determine its carbon offset projects, Volkswagen has teamed with 3Degrees, a renewable energy and carbon offset services provider. By investing in carbon reduction programs, Volkswagen said they will offset the e-Golf’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that result from its production, distribution and from the estimated emissions produced from keeping the vehicle charged through the initial 36,000 miles of the vehicle’s life. Volkswagen of America chose to include carbon reduction efforts in California and in Texas with projects geared towards forestry conservation and landfill gas capture.

“Volkswagen feels it is important to look beyond the benefits of driving a vehicle without tailpipe emissions and to take a holistic approach to e-mobility,” said Oliver Schmidt, general manager, Environment and Engineering Office, Volkswagen Group of America. “We now have the ability to offer offsets that approximate the emissions created from production, distribution and the initial 36,000 miles of use.”

Volkswagen-supported projects included the Garcia River Conservation-Based Forest Management Project, located in Mendocino County, Calif., to protects and preserves a 24,000-acre native redwood forest, increasing carbon sequestration and storage, while also helping to restore the natural wildlife habitat. The company is also supporting the Big River and Salmon Creek Forests, located in Mendocino County, California, and the McKinney Landfill project, based at a closed landfill in McKinney, Texas.

“Volkswagen is showing leadership by including carbon offsets standard with this e-Golf electric vehicle,” added Steve McDougal, President of 3Degrees. “As more people choose low and no emission cars, Volkswagen is making it possible – and easy – to think comprehensively about the greenhouse gas emissions profile of a vehicle.”

Cathay Pacific Airlines Invests with Fulcrum BioEnergy

Cathay Pacific Airways is the first airline investor in Fulcrum BioEnergy, Inc. The investments was made as part of the airline’s biofuel strategy and to help it achieve a target of carbon-neutral growth from 2020. Fulcrum is focused on the development and commercialization of converting municipal solid waste into sustainable aviation fuel or “biojet fuel”. Cathay Pacific also has an option for further investment.

“We are very pleased to become the first airline investor in this sustainable biofuel developer. We are well aware of the impact the aviation industry has on the environment Cathay-Pacific-Logoand have been doing a great deal to minimize our own impact,” said Cathay Pacific Chief Executive Ivan Chu. “We are pleased to have identified Fulcrum as a strategic business partner that has the necessary vision and technological know-how to help Cathay Pacific pursue the use of biojet fuels. These fuels are an important component of our sustainable development strategy, under which we aim to achieve carbon-neutral growth from 2020.”

Cathay Pacific has also negotiated a long-term supply agreement with Fulcrum for an initial 375 million U.S. gallons of sustainable aviation fuel over 10 years (representing on an annual basis approximately 2% of the airline’s current fuel consumption) that meets all the airline’s technical requirements and specifications. Fulcrum plans to commence construction of its first commercial plant later this year and to build large scale, waste-to-renewable jet fuel plants at multiple locations, including locations strategic to the Cathay Pacific network, primarily in North America.

Cathay Pacific Biofuel Manager Jeff Ovens said of their technology, “Fulcrum has successfully demonstrated a process of converting municipal solid waste feedstock into sustainable aviation fuel at its scale demonstration facility. The feedstock will be pre-sorted to remove any recyclables prior to being processed into fuels. The company has proved that its technology is viable and has supply commitments in place for feedstock needed for the fuel production. These supply commitments will cover both near-term and future developments.”

According to Jim Macias, CEO of Fulcrum BioEnergy, jet fuel produced by Fulcrum’s waste-to-fuels process will reduce lifecycle carbon emissions when used in aircraft or road Fulcrum logotransport by more than 80 percent when compared to traditional fuels derived from crude oil and other fossil sources. This process also reduces the amount of municipal solid waste going into landfill sites and the methane gas emissions that result from this. If not captured, methane gas is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming contributor.

“We value our strategic relationship with Cathay Pacific, one of the world’s premier airlines. Cathay Pacific shares our vision and plan to bring a whole new source of sustainable fuel to the airline industry,” added Macias. “A new fuel that has the exact same molecules as fossil fuel but is cleaner, lower in carbon, renewable and lower cost than traditional fossil fuels. Cathay Pacific is really stepping up to help accelerate deliveries of this fuel to the market. This relationship adds to Fulcrum’s existing feedstock, technology and fuel off-take partners that enhance Fulcrum’s low-cost business model for the production and sale of large volumes of low-carbon, jet fuel.”

BioEnergy Bytes

  • BioEnergyBytesDFScottMadden, Inc. has joined forces with Energy Central to present an interactive webinar, “State of the Energy Industry: A Mid-Year Review,” on Friday, August 22, 2014, from 12:00–1:00 PM EDT. This free webcast will be based on ScottMadden’s upcoming Energy Industry Update, a semi-annual publication featuring their view of recent significant events and emerging trends that is received by more than 10,000 industry leaders. During this 60-minute webcast, ScottMadden industry experts will share their views on renewables, fossil generation, and transmission and field questions.
  • As students across Georgia return to the classroom this month, Georgia Power’s Learning Power program will go back to school as well. Learning Power is a statewide education initiative focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects. The initiative is designed to bring energy education to the classrooms for students at no cost to schools. Through the program, education coordinators visit Georgia schools to present special hands-on STEM-related lessons highlighting energy basics such as simple circuits and energy efficiency, plus activities that help students understand how energy is made and distributed from generation facilities to their homes.
  • FirstEnergy Corp. is offering education grants for creative classroom projects planned for the 2014-2015 school year. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Classroom Grants of up to $500 will be awarded for teacher professional-development initiatives and creative, individual classroom projects for grades prekindergarten through 12. The grants are available to educators and youth group leaders located in communities served by FirstEnergy’s 10 electric operating companies, and in communities where the company has facilities or does business. STEM grant applications must be submitted by September 19, 2014. Grants will be awarded based on the recommendations of the FirstEnergy Education Advisory Council. Winners will be notified by October 13, 2014.
  • Sunnova Energy Corporation has today it has secured an additional $110 million in financing specifically allocated to support the growth of its solar service offering to homeowners and promote strategic market expansion. The $110 million joins the previously announced $145 million to facilitate an increase in new customers.

WBIA to Host Free Ethanol Webinar

The Wisconsin Bio Industry Alliance (WBIA) is hosting a free webinar on Google Hangouts August 12, 2014 at 2:00 pm EST to discuss the results of their ethanol poll. Recently, the WCGA released a poll showing Wisconsin citizens favor the use of ethanol in fuel by a 2 to 1 margin. Sixty percent of individuals support blending ethanol into gasoline versus only 32 percent who oppose.

WBIA logo“Less than one third (32%) of participants were unsupportive of ethanol blends in their fuel,” said Joshua Morby, executive director of the Wisconsin Bio Industry Alliance. “Clearly the public understands what Big Oil is doing their best to cover up and ignore: Ethanol is cleaner-burning, efficient, and homegrown right here in Wisconsin.”

The webinar will include a detailed analysis of the responses from WBIA and WCGA representatives. The webinar will be available as a live YouTube stream through Google Hangouts. Viewers can post comments and ask questions before, during, and after the webinar.

Audi Moves to Improve EV Owner Experience

A3-sportback-etron-exterior-08Audi of America has announced the launch of a new program: Audi energy. The program is designed to improve the electric vehicle ownership experience as well as reduce the carbon footprint that comes with vehicle production, distribution and driving. Ultimately, the program will produce a new plug in hybrid vehicle – the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron – estimated to be available in the U.S. in mid 2015.

The program has three elements associated with the A3 e-etron:

  • At-home Audi-designed Level 2 charging developed with Bosch Automotive Service Solutions;
  • Audi will purchase carbon offset certificates in California and Africa to offset GHG emissions; and
  • Sunpower will provide optional home solar power system for Audi owners including a new home energy storage solution to capture additional solar energy.

“The Audi A3 Sportback e-tron will offer drivers an eco-conscious vehicle ownership experience,” said Wayne Killen, General Manager, Product Strategy and Launch. “Audi energy takes this to the next level with solutions that allow for sustainable fuel driving and a lower carbon footprint. We believe this will be one of the most comprehensive offering in the industry today.”

Hawaii Funds BioTork Advanced Biofuel Technology

The Hawaii Department of Budget and Finance is now authorized to issue special purpose revenue bonds not exceeding $50,000,000 for the purpose of planning, permitting, designing, construction, equipping, and operating BioTork Hawaii LLC’s commercial facilities. Recently, the state passed legislation to assist in funding a zero waste project that converts crops, crop residues, dedicated energy crops and ag waste into sustainable biofuels and co-products.

According to BioTork, their bioconversion development efforts in Hawaii date back to 2010 when it began research of its technology. The company uses a “proprietary evolutionary optimization approach,” and “enhances the performance of non-GMO microorganisms under real-world industrial conditions in an unrivaled cost efficient way”. The conversion process takes a few days to cycle in a heterotrophic environment, meaning no sunlight is needed, to create oil for biofuel and high-protein feed.

bioTork“The passage of this legislation greatly enhances BioTork’s efforts in Hawaii. It demonstrates the attractiveness and the potential of our technology, which is focused on the bioconversion of agricultural waste, into a higher value product,” said Eudes de Crecy, CEO of BioTork.

Basing its efforts on the requirements of the “Hawaii Zero Waste Program,” BioTork entered into collaboration with the Daniel K. Inouye Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center. Since that time Hawaii committed $4,800,000 in research, development and capital improvement funding through a contract with DKI-PBARC to focus on BioTork’s evolution technology. Some of these funds have been committed through the state’s barrel tax allocations, which target energy and food security initiatives. Other funds have been appropriated through legislative capital improvement program allocations.

“At BioTork we firmly believe that in many circumstances there is much more value in converting carbon rich organic biomass into high value products, than just burning it, burying it or using it as fertilizer in the field. The model we pursue is to breed the good microbe candidates to specifically address the locally available biomass sources, using natural methods and to create much more value to the local and global economy,” added Tom Lyons, CSO of BioTork.

With the additional support of special purpose revenue bond funding, BioTork Hawaii LLC will be able to fuel the third step of its development program. This would involve scaling up to build and operate commercial facilities that will have the capacity to convert agricultural crops and by-products such as albizia, sweet potatoes, papaya, sugarcane bagasse, glycerol and molasses to biofuels and high-protein feed.

BioEnergy Bytes

  • BioEnergyBytesDFThe 6th Annual OPIS RFS2, RINs & Biodiesel Forum is being held October 16-17, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. Sponsored by OPIS, the company notes those impacted by the RFS are frustrated with EPA’s recent announcement of extending the 2013 RFS deadline a third time — this only adds to the aggravation of the already late 2014 final targets. The event will teach attendees what they need to know to stay in compliance and avoid fines of up to $37,500 per day per violation from our top experts. Other topics include comprehending the complexities of EPA’s new QAP program, staying on top of the latest RVOs and creating a rock-solid compliance strategy.
  • Bond Dickinson’s Planning & Infrastructure team has advised on two successful offshore wind farm consents this summer, the latest of which represents its sixth Development Consent Order. The firm advised E.ON Climate & Renewables on the development of the Rampion offshore wind farm off the Sussex coast together with the underground onshore cable route and a new substation near the existing substation at Bolney, Mid Sussex. The development was granted consent to go ahead on July 16, 2014 by Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. This follows the consent granted for East Anglia ONE in June, the first of Bond Dickinson’s successful offshore wind farm consents this summer.
  • Lumos Solar, a Boulder, Colorado based design-centric solar product company, has announced that TD Bank has chosen Lumos LSX frameless solar modules to cover their retail drive-thru structures. These structures provide essential shade and protection from the elements for bank customers as well as producing clean, renewable energy, helping TD Bank meet their sustainability goals.
  • ContourGlobal, an international power generation company, has announced that it has acquired an additional 122.6 MW of installed wind capacity in Brazil through a transaction with Casa dos Ventos. The transaction expands ContourGlobal’s operations in the attractive Chapada do Piaui wind complex located in Brazil’s windy northeast adding a new 59.2 MW fully contracted wind project (Chapada III) located adjacent to its existing Chapada I and Chapada II wind farms. Additionally, ContourGlobal has acquired Casa dos Ventos’s minority interest of 5% in Chapada II and will acquire its minority interest of 15% of Chapada I as well as its minority interest of 15% in the 160 MW Asa Branca wind farm that ContourGlobal placed into operation in September 2013.

Boeing & SAA Collborate on BioJet Fuel From Tobacco

Boeing, South African Airways (SAA) and SkyNRG are partnering together to develop aviation biofuel from a specific type of tobacco plant. SkyNRG is currently expanding its production of Solaris, an energy crop hybrid derived from the tobacco plant. Pilot farming of the plant, which is effectively nicotine-free, is underway in South Africa with to end goal of producing advanced biojet fuel from the seeds. As the program expands, Boeing expects emerging technologies to increase South Africa’s aviation biofuel production from the rest of the plant.

The project is an effort to expand the support of South Africa’s goals for improved public health along with economic and rural development.

Tobacco Photos“It’s an honor for Boeing to work with South African Airways on a pioneering project to make sustainable jet fuel from an energy-rich tobacco plant,” said J. Miguel Santos, managing director for Africa, Boeing International. “South Africa is leading efforts to commercialize a valuable new source of biofuel that can further reduce aviation’s environmental footprint and advance the region’s economy.”

In October 2013, Boeing and SAA agreed they would work together to develop a sustainable aviation biofuel supply chain in Southern Africa. As part of that effort, they are working with the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials to position farmers with small plots of land to grow biofuel feedstocks that provide socioeconomic value to communities without harming food supplies, fresh water or land use.

Ian Cruickshank, South African Airways Group Environmental Affairs Specialist said of the expanded project, “By using hybrid tobacco, we can leverage knowledge of tobacco growers in South Africa to grow a marketable biofuel crop without encouraging smoking. This is another way that SAA and Boeing are driving development of sustainable biofuel while enhancing our region’s economic opportunity.”

“We strongly believe in the potential of successfully rolling out Solaris in the Southern African region to power sustainable fuels that are also affordable,” added Maarten van Dijk, Chief Technology Officer, SkyNRG.

BioEnergy Bytes

  • BioEnergyBytesDFPattern Energy Group LP has acquired the Logan’s Gap wind project from Pioneer Green Energy. Logan’s Gap is a 200 megawatt (MW) wind project to be built in Comanche County, Texas. As the developer of the project, Pioneer Green Energy began work of a significant nature in 2013 and executed a 10-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. for approximately 60% of the project’s expected production.
  • Pacific Energy Solutions (PES), an energy project development company specializing in renewable technologies, has entered into a binding contract with the U.S. Navy to supply approximately 30,400 MWh of electricity annually to the Navy for use by Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force activities in the State of Hawaii. PES will supply this electricity to the Navy over a 25-year Power Purchase Agreement term. A groundbreaking ceremony was conducted on July 24, 2014 at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. The ceremony was presided over by the Secretary of the Navy, the Honorable Ray Mabus, who was joined by the Governor of the State of Hawaii, Neil Abercrombie.
  • Sparq, Inc. a company focused on municipal and utility scale renewable energy, is now offering it’s solar energy service to residential customers beginning August 1, 2014. Sparq’s new Residential Solar Service will make it possible for homeowners across the Southwest to save thousands on their utility bills. Sparq’s existing partnership in the utility market will be expanded with Lightway Green New Energy Co. to provide high-standard solar panels and equipment designed specifically for residential applications.
  • From 2014 to 2035, worldwide gas consumption by the road transportation sector will fall 4 percent, the report concludes according to a new report, “Transportation Forecast: Global Fuel Consumption,” from Navigant Research. Gasoline consumption for road transportation will continue to rise through 2021, reaching 367.3 billion gallons a year, but then start to fall thereafter, declining to 348.1 billion gallons a year in 2035.

SG Preston Announces Renewable Diesel Project

SG Preston (SGP) has announced the planned development of a 120 million gallon renewable diesel facility in Lawrence County, Ohio. The $400 million bioenergy facility will be the world’s largest producer of renewable diesel when finished in 2017 according to SGP.

SG Preston logoThe company said a key component of the facility’s development is the licensing of their advanced process technology that has been successfully proven at commercial scale at other locations. According to SGP, this advanced technology efficiently converts waste feedstock into renewable diesel – chemically identical to petroleum-based diesel- and can be used as a drop-in replacement in vehicles. In addition, SGP said this technology allows them to customize its biofuel offering by adjusting fuel characteristics to meet various operating environments (extreme cold or heat) of the end user without diluting energy content in the GHG reduced fuel blend.

“For SG Preston, this is an important milestone and part of a larger vision of partnering with leading, global refining technology partners and local communities to develop a portfolio of renewable diesel and renewable jet fuel refineries targeting 1.2 billion gallons per year, or 20% of the federal RFS2 biomass-based mandate for biofuels,” said R. Delbert LeTang, CEO of SG Preston. “We see a blue sky opportunity to deliver customized, renewable fuel to government, the petroleum industry and other private users throughout the United States and we look forward to partnering with the people of southern Ohio to build new industries and new economic opportunity.”

Other partners in the project include the Lawrence County Economic Development Council, which is investing 62 acres in land and other incentives. The Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth and JobsOhio were also instrumental in securing the investment and technology to play a role in the future of southern Ohio.
Pre-engineering studies for the facility are expected to begin in September 2014, with commercial operations targeted for 2017.

Bill Dingus, executive director of Lawrence County Economic Development Council, added, “This project will be of significant economic importance to southern Ohio, bringing long-term employment and income to the region. We look forward to supporting the development of new energy technologies, and passing on the benefits of commerce and cleaner air to local residents.”

UC Riverside Researchers Enhance Biofuel Yields

University of California, Riverside researchers have developed a versatile, virtually non-toxic and efficient way to convert raw ag and forest residues along with other plant matter into biofuels and biochemicals. Professor Charles E. Wyman is leading the research team and their patent-pending method coined Co-solvent Enhanced Lignocellulosic Fractionation (CELF) and they believe they are another step closer to solving the goal of producing biofuels and biochemicals from biomass and high enough yields and low enough costs to become viable.

“Real estate is about location, location, location,” said Wyman, the Ford Motor Company Chair in Environmental Engineering at UC Riverside’s Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT). “Successful commercialization of biofuels technology is about yield, yield, yield, and we obtained great yields with this novel technology.”

Charles Cai UC RiversideThe key to the technology, according to Wyman, is using tetrahydrofuran (THF) as a co-solvent to aid in the breakdown of raw biomass feedstocks to produce valuable primary and secondary fuel precursors at high yields at moderate temperatures. These fuel precursors can then be converted into ethanol, chemicals or drop-in fuels. Drop-in fuels have similar properties to conventional gasoline, jet, and diesel fuels and can be used without significant changes to vehicles or current transportation infrastructure.

Compared to other available biomass solvents, THF is well-suited for this application because it mixes homogenously with water, has a low boiling point (66 degrees Celsius) to allow for easy recovery, and can be regenerated as an end product of the process, explained Charles M. Cai, a Ph.D. student working with Wyman.

The research, focused on lignin, was recently published in Green Chemistry: “Coupling metal halides with a co-solvent to produce furfural and 5-HMF at high yields directly from lignocellulosic biomass as an integrated biofuels strategy.”

ACE Celebrates “Power by People”

This morning during the opening session of the 27th Annual Ethanol Conference, the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) launched a new campaign featuring the people of ethanol. Their redesigned website features personal and authentic stories of the people who built and continue to innovate the ethanol industry. In addition, ACE released a new video, “The Home Place”.

ace14-jennings“Instead of keeping the industry’s most valuable players on the bench and pouring all our trust and money into playing defense with facts-alone, ACE’s Power by People campaign features the compelling and positive stories of the individuals and families who built the ethanol industry and those who support and continue to benefit from ethanol,” said ACE Executive Vice President Brian Jennings during his state of the union address this morning.

“The story of ethanol is a profile in courage about grassroots people who, without any precedent to guide them, set out with their families and neighbors to rescue their communities from economic disaster by building ethanol plants,” continued Jennings. “For far too long the stories of these people have gone untold, and that’s why ACE is launching the new Power by People campaign.”

Jennings said the organization has produced several video testimonials from people of all walks of life that ACE members can use to promote ethanol on their websites, through social media, and in meetings with the public. He also noted the group plans to continue and expand the campaign in the months ahead.

Listen to Jennings’ opening comments at the ACE conference: Brian Jennings, ACE Executive VP

View the 27th Annual Ethanol Conference photo album.

BioEnergy Bytes

  • BioEnergyBytesDFDyadic International, Inc. has signed a collaboration agreement to commercialize second generation biofuel and bio-based chemical technology with Compagnie Industrielle de la Matière Végétale (CIMV). CIMV’s patented approach of separating the three main components of plant material allows both production of high quality cellulose and hemicellulose, especially well-suited for the enzymatic process, and Biolignin, a pure form of lignin that may be sold commercially as a high value, environmentally friendly alternative to petroleum-derived chemicals. Under the collaboration agreement, Dyadic and CIMV will work together to develop more efficient, fully integrated processes to produce environmentally low impact biofuels and bio-based chemicals.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture has published a roadmap for America’s farmers and ranchers to measure their greenhouse gas emissions and evaluate opportunities for reducing them. The new Greenhouse Gas Report provides thorough guidelines for understanding how different management practices influence GHG emissions on farms, ranches and forests. By helping landowners better understand their impacts, farmers, ranchers and forest owners will be better equipped to calculate their emissions and account for these impacts through voluntary participation in GHG mitigation or carbon sequestration projects across the country.
  • Canadian Solar Inc. has supplied 4 MW of Canadian Solar PV Modules for the Spanish Town Estate Solar project, recently acquired by NRG Energy Inc. The project is located in St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands and utilizes 14,400 high-efficiency Canadian Solar CS6X-P 305 Polycrystalline PV Modules. Construction of the Spanish Town Estate Solar project began in April of 2014 and is expected to generate enough electricity to power more than 1,500 homes. It is expected to create nearly 100 direct and indirect jobs during construction and to inject a total of approximately $3 million into the local economy.
  • The California Energy Commission (CEC) awarded $4.3 million to Linde North America to construct retail hydrogen fueling stations in Northern California. The stations will be located at the Oakland International Airport and on Toyota owned property in San Ramon, California, adjacent to Toyota’s San Francisco Regional Office and Parts Distribution Center. The award is part of $46.6 million funding program the CEC has committed this year to expand the retail hydrogen fueling infrastructure within the state.

Report Shows Oil Companies Paid 11.7% Tax Rate

According to a new report from Taxpayers for Common Sense, oil companies paid only 11.7 percent of the U.S. income in federal taxes over the last five years. This is compared to the statutory 35 percent corporate tax rate paid by other companies.

“This is a perfect example of how the oil industry is allowed to play by a different set of rules than everyone else,” commented Jeremy Funk, communications director with the ETRcover4nonprofit organization Americans United for Change who supports choice at the pump through biofuels. “They can dodge billions of dollars in taxes, and Washington lets them get away with it. This is the same industry that is now fiercely lobbying the White House for yet another special interest favor: gutting the Renewable Fuel Standard and allowing more foreign oil into the U.S. gasoline supply at the expense of cleaner, cheaper renewable fuels made in America. Isn’t the system rigged enough in Big Oil’s favor without Washington helping them become a monopoly at the pump, too?”

The country is still waiting the final rules from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFs) that if passed as proposed, would reduce the amount of domestically produced biofuels at the pump while increase foreign oil. Funk points out that gasoline costs more than renewable fuels such as ethanol, and the EPA proposal would cost Americans millions of dollars at the pump, ‘killing’ American jobs. Funk also said that because the EPA proposal effectively allows oil companies to block access to the marketplace by refusing to install fueling infrastructure for renewable fuels, it will be particularly devastating to America’s emerging advanced biofuel industry.

To achieve such a low current tax rate, oil companies were able to take advantage of special tax breaks and loopholes that allowed them to defer more than $17 billion in taxes they would have otherwise owed, explained Funk. One “small” oil company, Apache, earned $6 billion in profits between 2009 and 2013 but deferred its entire tax bill. Not only did the company avoid paying any taxes, but it actually reaped a tax benefit worth $220 million according to Funk.

The report concludes with a damning indictment of the oil industry’s deceitful rhetoric about its tax obligations:

“Oil and gas companies may pay a lot in income taxes, but it is not to the U.S. government. Indeed, the “current” federal income tax rate of some of the largest oil and gas companies – the amount they actually paid during the last five years – was 11.7 percent. The “smaller” companies included in the study which reported positive earnings only paid 3.7 percent. Many of the tax provisions available to the oil industry are not available to other taxpayers, giving these companies a significant tax advantage. The language the industry uses gives the impression that it pays a high federal income tax rate. The American Petroleum Institute cites an industry-wide effective tax rate of 44.3 percent. In reality, the amount oil and gas companies pay in federal income tax is considerably less than the statutory rate of 35 percent, thanks to the convoluted system of tax provisions allowing them to avoid and defer federal income taxes.”

Students Present Research at Ethanol Conference

Several University of Minnesota students are giving the ethanol industry a preview of their cutting-edge research in biofuels, biochemicals and bioproducts during the 27th Annual Ethanol Conference in Minneapolis. One such student is Sahana Ramanna who is a PhD student who is working on improving the pre-treatment technologies used for biomass, specifically Aspen.

Sahana RammanaRamanna explained that one of the most difficult and energy intensive parts of converting biomass (aka cellulose) to sugar is in the initial phase. Using 3D imaging, similar to the technology used for brain scans, she and her team are able to test “pre-treatment” strategies and see how it affects the structure of the biomass.

Ultimately, Ramanna said they are looking to increase the amount of biomass that can be converted into biofuels and other biochemicals and products, thus increasing the amount of biofuels. In addition, the processes they are looking at would significantly improve the energy efficiency during this process. Next steps – refining the process for Aspen and then testing it on other forms of biomass.

Listen to Sahana Ramanna discuss her research here: Interview with Sahana Ramanna

Another student I spoke with is just beginning his PhD studies and has spent the last year working on an interesting biofuels project. Joseph Molde works in the BioTechnology Institute and he and his team are working on a process called hydrothernmal carbinization using distillers grains (DDGs), a bi-product of ethanol production.

Joseph Molde U of MWhat is really neat is the process is producing two new possible co-products: liquid carbon and biochar. The liquid carbon can be used as an organic fertilizer on fields, while the biochar can be used in various applications including biomaterials and biochemicals. Molde said that similar research has been taking place in Europe, but not much has been done with biochar here in the states.

Molde also noted that the process improves efficiency throughout the production process – just one more way the ethanol industry is working to improve its technology and environmental footprint – while also adding valuable additional co-products to an ethanol plant’s portfolio. He said they are scaling up the technology now and that he hopes to see it in commercial scale application in the next five to 10 years.

Listen to Joseph Molde discuss his research here: Interview with Joseph Molde

View the 27th Annual Ethanol Conference photo album.