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.

More Accurate ILUC Carbon Accounting

Dr. Jesper Hedal Kløverpris and Dr. Steffen Mueller have proposed a new approach to measuring the climate impact of biofuels related land-use changes (ILUC) as opposed to other land use changes: “Baseline Time Accounting Concept” and believe it should become an integrated part of future ILUC studies. According to the researchers, this model incorporates baseline time accounting into ILUC models, leading to a more accurate assessment of global warming impact. The peer reviewed study was published in the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment.

Jesper and Mueller explain that climate impact estimates are more precise when indirect land use emissions from the conversion of land at the agricultural frontier are compared with emissions resulting from the baseline conversion the same land. Historically, ILUC models assume a static land baseline although land use trend regionally differ.

“As many others, I have always been uncomfortable with the annualization method applied for time accounting in most previous ILUC studies because it is basically arbitrary,” said Kløverpris. “A more sophisticated approach was required to assess the actual climate impact of indirect land use change. Baseline time accounting is our proposal for a more scientifically rigorous way of dealing with the time issue in ILUC studies as the science is refined.”

More specifically, the approach incorporates two agricultural land use dynamics that they say is missing from previous time accounting models. The first is accelerated expansion which occurs in regions such as Latin America where agriculture area is expanding. Biofuel production may move up by a year or more the ongoing conversion of land to agriculture.

Globally, explain the researchers, the agricultural area will continue to expand for some decades, so a piece of land converted as an indirect result of biofuels production today would have come into production at some point regardless. That may not continue to be the case but one of the points with baseline time accounting is to assess biofuels production under the conditions prevailing when the biofuels are produced. If global land use dynamics change, so does the climate impact of ILUC.

The second dynamic is delayed reversion  Continue reading

Solar Jobs on the Rise

The Solar Foundation (TSF) has reported in its third annual National Solar Jobs Census that the U.S. solar industry employs 119,016 people, an increase of 13.2 percent from the previous year. The solar job census measured solar industry growth between September 2011 to September 2012. Based on 2012 data collection, TSF also revised the 2011 total jobs number from 100,237 to 105,145. According to TSF, during the same period, employment in the overall economy only grew at a rate of 2.3 percent, while the fossil fuel electric generation industry shed 3,857 jobs or nearly 4 percent of its workforce.

“The solar industry has grown at significantly higher rates than most other industries in the past several years, making it one of the foremost creators of new jobs in the United States,” said Andrea Luecke, TSF Executive Director. “Our census findings indicate that these new jobs are highly skilled in nature, including solar installation, sales, marketing and software development. These new solar industry jobs are sustainable, cannot be outsourced and play a critical role in our country’s economic recovery.”

There were several drivers of employment growth according to the census. Nearly one third of employers who responded to the survey cited the continued decline in component prices as the primary driver. State legislation enacting Renewable Portfolio Standards or authorizing third-party system ownership and federal tax incentives were other leading drivers.

“The National Solar Jobs Census 2012 provides a solid point of reference about solar industry employment that wasn’t available three years ago,” said Philip Jordan, Chief Business Officer at BW Research Partnership. “The Solar Foundation’s research is allowing training providers, job seekers and the public to understand the solar job market with a high degree of confidence.”

Danny Kennedy, co-founder and president of Sungevity and author of Rooftop Revolution, noted that the finds validate the continued boom in business growth the industry has experienced during the past year. During 2012, Sungevity expanded to six new states and the company created 100 new direct and indirect jobs. “Solar power is an American invention and it is exciting to see it become one of the fastest growing job engines in America,” added Kennedy.

The full report will be presented at the Clean Energy Workforce Education Conference on November 14th in Albany, New York.

Quick Cook Method Turns Algae Into Oil

Researchers from University of Michigan have developed a way to “pressure cook” algae for as little as one minute and transform up to 65 percent of the algae into biocrude. Phil Savage, a professor of chemical engineering at U of M, said the research team is trying to mimic the process nature uses when creating crude oil, and his algae of choice is green marine micro-alga.

To make their one-minute biocrude, Savage and Julia Faeth, a doctoral student in Savage’s lab, filled a steel pipe connector with 1.5 milliliters of wet algae, capped it and plunged it into 1,100-degree Fahrenheit sand. The small volume ensured that the algae was heated through. Previously the team heated the algae from 10 to 90 minutes and saw the best results when treating the algae for 10 to 40 minutes at 570 degrees. A small batch of algae can reach this temperature in one minute.

Savage and Faeth aren’t sure why the one-minute results so much better until they do more experiments. “My guess is that the reactions that produce biocrude are actually must faster than previously thought,” Savage surmised. Yet Faeth suggests that the fast heating might boost the biocrude by keeping unwanted reactions at bay. “For example, the biocrude might decompose into substances that dissolve in water, and the fast heating rates might discourage that reaction,” Faeth said.

Continue reading

Solar Planet Power Helps Schools Go Solar

Solar Planet Power has helped several elementary and high schools in West Jefferson and Blacklick, Ohio go solar. The company commissioned a number of ground and rooftop solar projects during October with each project using ReneSola photovoltaic (PV) modules. Solar Planet has more than 10 megawatts of solar power projects contracts in place to install solar power systems in more than 20 school districts, 10 municipalities, and other facilities including university buildings, hospitals and airports, and has already ordered $200 million in solar PV products from ReneSola.

“Construction on the first round of projects took only 45 days to complete,” said Siyd Tawana, president of Solar Planet. “It was truly a pleasure working with ReneSola to secure the company’s high-efficiency 250 W and 255 W modules in a timely manner. It has turned into a great partnership. We have high expectations when selecting modules for the projects we currently have contracted in our home state of Ohio. We are planning to expand to states on both coasts and look forward to completing those new projects with ReneSola, our long-term partner, whom we believe offers the best quality, size options and efficiencies in today’s solar PV marketplace.”

During 2012, ReneSola, based in San Francisco, California, will deliver 2.2 GW to 2.4 GW of solar PV modules and wafers worldwide.

Kevin Chen, president of ReneSola America, noted, “The American markets are still ripe with tremendous growth potential. With more and more states coming on line and others increasing their renewable portfolio standards, companies with outstanding reputations, such as Solar Planet and ReneSola, will flourish. We look forward to forging more partnerships with other leading developers like Solar Planet to grow the number of high-quality, cost-effective PV projects in North and South America.”

Sapphire Energy & ISB Further Develop Algal Biofuels

Sapphire Energy and Institute for Systems Biology (ISB), have formed a strategic partnership to further the development of algae biofuels. The two companies will focus on applying systems biology solutions to algae with the goal of significantly increasing oil yield and improving resistance to crop predators and environmental factors.

Nitin Baliga, director of Integrative Biology at ISB, said of the partnership, “Sapphire is dealing with one of the most complicated problems known to humans: how to make fuel from a renewable resource. Together, we have complementary expertise that will allow us to understand, reverse engineer and rationally alter the gene networks for fuel production in algae.”

According to Alex Aravanis, Sapphire Energy’s chief science officer, said that the company has developed “the premier biotechnology platform” for producing and harvesting algae.  “By working with ISB to apply their systems biology approach, we’re able to more rapidly identify genes and regulatory pathways that can increase yield and move us toward our goal of making Green Crude a market viable, crude oil alternative.”

The companies hope to reverse engineer the gene networks in algae and create strategies that will significantly improve the yield of green oil and crop protection. They also hope to significantly reduce the time to market.

Most recently, Sapphire began operating the first phase of its 300-acre commercial demonstration Green Crude Farm, also known as an Integrated Algal Bio-Refinery, in Columbus, New Mexico, in partnership with the US Department of Energy. Once in full production, The Green Crude Farm is expected to produce approximately 100 barrels of Green Crude per day, and be completed the end of 2014.

Ferrellgas Acquires Flores Gas

Ferrellgas Partners has acquired Flores Gas of El Paso, Texas. The deal will increase Ferrellgas’s propane network across the state. This is the company’s second acquisition since August 1, 2012.

“Flores Gas is a family-owned business that has a nearly 20-year history of providing the best propane service in and around El Paso,” said President and Chief Executive Officer, Steve Wambold. “It has grown during that time to become one of the largest and most respected propane retailers in the area. We’re thrilled to welcome this outstanding business, its employees, and its customers to the Ferrellgas family.”

Ferrellgas serves approximately one million customers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Federal Tax Credit Success

Former Governor Mitt Romney would like to see the estate tax eliminated and he would also like to end the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy production. Speaking on ag issues in this Presidential election on the nationally syndicated radio program AgriTalk, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said that he appreciates Romney saying he’s for the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), “but he’s not for the wind tax credit which is unfortunate because that’s going to cost a lot of jobs in rural America. We need to not only continue focusing on biofuels, but renewable energy as well.

Both President Obama and Romney have advocated for an expansion of domestic energy production in order to boost the economy and create jobs. They also agree that increasing energy independence is critical to national security. It’s how to get there that they disagree on – the role government should play in subsidizing energy production and regulating its environmental impact.

Farmers for Romney Co-Chair Bill Northey, and Iowa Ag Secretary, says Romney’s position comes from a desire to simplify the tax system. “Looking at a lot of different tax credits and trying to make it easier for folks to be able to reduce rates, and therefore he has opposed the wind energy tax credit,” said Northey. “Many of us in Iowa are still very supportive of the wind energy tax credit. We’ll have lots of discussion with him as we look at the overall picture.”

Northey also said it’s day and night between those two candidates in the opportunities to become self sufficient in energy production.

According to the American Wind Energy Association, record growth in the wind power industry can be attributed to the success of the Production Tax Credit (PTC). In August, the U.S. wind industry surpassed 50 thousand megawatts of installed electrical generation capacity for the first time. This is enough energy to power 13 million averaged sized homes each year. So far in 2012, the country has added 4,728 megawatts of wind power, and AWEA says there are several factors driving this growth including the expansion of U.S. manufacturing, technological advances and the Production Tax Credit.

AWEA CEO Denise Bode says this is what a successful policy looks like when it’s working. But will wind continue to be a bright spot in the U.S. economy? Bode says that depends on Congress. The PTC is set to expire on December 31st and Bode says it has incentivized more than $15 billion dollars a year in private investment in U.S. wind farms.

Extending the PTC is part of an overall tax extenders package that Congress is set to debate during the lame duck session following the November 6, 2012 election. Bode says without the extension, 37,000 industry jobs will be lost within the first quarter of 2013.

Valero Idles Two Midwest Ethanol Plants

Valero Corporation has idled its ethanol plants in Linden, Indiana and Albion, Nebraska due to low margins. In addition, three of its other plants are operating at reduced capacity. Back in June, the ethanol plant in Albion was idled due to the high cost of corn, restarted the plant in mid-September after corn prices fell and now has idled the plant again since margins did not improve.

According to an article in the Lincoln Star Journal, additional issues that may be affecting ethanol profit margins is the falling demand and cost for gasoline. In the past month, the nationwide average drop in a gallon of gasoline is 26 cents per gallon.

According to the most recent Energy Department data, ethanol production has fallen 17 percent this year but despite the reduction, inventories remain higher today than this time last year.

Valero also announced during an earning calls that its ethanol business segment lost $73 million in the third quarter compared to a profit of $107 million during the same timeframe in 2011.

Calculator Gives Growers Energy Crop ROI

University of Illinois agricultural economists have been calculating the costs for farmers to produce biomass energy crops, and as a result have created a feedstock cost and profitability calculator for farmers to make their own assessments using their individual agribusiness parameters.

Illinois Ag Economist Madhu Khanna says farmers can customize the costs based on their current farming operation, current returns on the land they are considering converting and determine what it would cost to put the land in production to grow an energy crop. Using these calculations, a grower can then determine the minimum price they would need to be paid in order to make a profit.

Khanna recommends farmers gather information about their current operating expenditures before using the calculator, such as the discount rate. She says if farmers are thinking of growing energy crops purely as an investment decision, then they should be interested in getting the same return from their investment in an energy crop over time as they would get if they put the money in the bank. That is the discount rate they should use, she says, so if the bank would give them four percent then they should at least get a four percent return on growing an energy crop instead.

INEOS BioEnergy Plant Begins Production

The INEOS New Planet BioEnergy (INPB) biorefinery is now producing renewable power using its bioenergy technology. The electricity produced is being used to power the facility and the excess power is being added to the grid. At full production, the Center is expected to produce 8 million gallons of advanced cellulosic bioethanol and six megawatts (gross) of renewable power using renewable biomass.

Here is how the process works. Biomass feedstock, including yard, vegetative and agricultural, waste goes through a gasification process, and syngas is created. Heat is then recovered from the hot syngas and fed into a steam turbine and used to generate electricity. The electricity then powers the Center and the excess does onto the grid to help power homes in the local Vero Beach, Florida community.

“The production of renewable power is a significant benefit of our technology. The power generated improves the energy efficiency and greenhouse gas savings of the facility while contributing to the base load of renewable electricity for the local community,” said Peter Williams, CEO of INEOS Bio and Chairman of INPB. “We look forward to rapidly rolling out this technology globally to provide the benefits of bioethanol and renewable power from waste to local communities.”

INPB’s facility was the first large-scale project in the U.S. to receive registration from the EPA using vegetative waste materials as the primary feedstock.

Novozymes Adds Avantec to Enzyme Portfolio

Novozymes has added a new enzyme product to its portfolio called Avantec. According to the company, Avantec enables corn ethanol producers to obtain an extra 2.5 percent ethanol out of the corn thereby improving effieciency and profitability of biofuel production.

“Corn is the single biggest input cost for an ethanol producer, and as prices have gone up, profits have disappeared,” said Novozymes Executive Vice President Peder Holk Nielsen. “Avantec is a vitamin shot for the industry. It allows you to save a lot of corn and still produce the same amount of ethanol. If you’re an ethanol producer in today’s market, that’s a real boost to your bottom-line.”

Nielsen says a typical ethanol plant uses around 900,000 tons of feed-grade corn per year to produce 100 million gallons of fuel ethanol, 300,000 tons of animal feed (DDGS) and 8,500 tons of corn oil. With Avantec, however, this same ethanol plant can save 22,500 tons of corn while maintaining the same ethanol output.

In the United States, corn is the most used feedstock to produce ethanol and is also the biggest cost component for an ethanol plant. Advantec improves the starch conversion to sugar (the sugar is converted to ethanol). “Most U.S. ethanol plants convert 90-95% of the available starch, so there is significant potential for plant owners to increase output and maximize profits,” added Nielsen. “In fact, if all ethanol plants in the U.S. started using Avantec, they would save 3 million tons of corn.”