About John Davis

Domestic Fuel welcomes our newest blogger, John Davis. John is a 20 years+ veteran of traditional news and is getting his first taste of this "new media." We've known John since Chuck hired him to work at the Brownfield Network in January, 2000 after he served an 11 year stint in the U.S. Air Force as a broadcast journalist. John lives in Jefferson City, Missouri with his wife, two sons, two dogs, a cat, a mouse, and a fish! You can read more about him and his thoughts at his own website John C. Davis Online.

PERC: Winter Propane Supplies Looking Good

propane-logo1Propane supplies going into the winter are looking good this year. The Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) is citing U.S. Energy Information Administration information that expects a warmer winter and a propane stocks up 17 percent from a year ago in the Gulf Coast and Midwest, along with a 12 percent increase in production from 2013.

“These are positive signs,” said Roy Willis, president and CEO of the Propane Education & Research Council, “but our industry is working hard to ensure our customers are prepared. Propane retailers across the country remain focused on safety and encouraging customers to consider early fills, automatic refills, and payment programs now before cold weather hits.”

PERC launched a $5.5 million consumer safety and preparedness campaign in early September directing residential heating customers and agribusiness operators, among others, to propanecomfort.com. On the site, propane customers can take a quiz to determine if they are prepared for winter and review energy efficiency tips. Visitors can also sign up for news updates from PERC.

“Preliminary numbers for the campaign show that nearly 20,000 customers have already taken advantage of our online resources and we expect to see continued engagement as we get closer to winter,” said Willis.

PERC will TV ads through Thanksgiving in 30 states most affected by deliverability challenges and temporary price increases last winter.

USDA Researchers Advance Advanced Ethanol

usda-logoResearchers for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are making advancements on an advanced biofuel, cellulosic ethanol. This article from the USDA says the scientists at the Bioenergy Research Unit in Peoria, Illinois, have recently completed studies on multiple approaches that could help streamline cellulosic ethanol production.

In one study, a team led by ARS chemical engineer Bruce Dien looked at using switchgrass, a perennial grass native to the prairie, for ethanol production. The team concluded that biomass producers could optimize cellulosic ethanol production by planting Kanlow variety—a lowland ecotype—and harvesting at either mid-season or post frost. Results from this study were published in Environmental Technology in 2013.

ARS chemist Michael Bowman led another study of switchgrass xylans, which is challenging to convert to sugars with enzymes because of its complex chemical structure. Bowman determined that structural features of xylan remained the same as the plant matures, even though the amount of xylan changed with maturity. This is good news for biorefiners, because it suggests that they can use the same biomass hydrolyzing enzymes to break down xylans in all switchgrass biomass, no matter when the crop is harvested. Results from this study were published in Metabolites in 2012.

The article also gives progress reports on work with microorganisms needed to ferment xylose—molecules that make up xylans—into ethanol and promising field trials with a yeast strain that grew almost four times faster than other strains that contained XI enzymes and one that could produce ethanol at significantly greater yields than other yeasts engineered to ferment xylose to ethanol.

Amyris, Solazyme Recognized for Green Chemicals

green_chemistry_logo_clearTwo biotechnology companies have been recognized for their contributions to making green chemicals. Amyris and Solazyme, Inc., received awards in the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge for industrial biotechnology applications that produce farnesene and algae oils. The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) sent its congratulations to its member companies on receiving the awards, which recognize industrial biotechnology’s contribution to reducing pollution at the source.

BIO President & CEO Jim Greenwood said, “Industrial biotechnology applications once again are recognized in the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge for their ability to prevent pollution. Today’s award for Solazyme marks the first time that a microalgae biotechnology application has been recognized. Solazyme’s algae oils are a sustainable alternative to petroleum. Likewise, Amyris’ farnesane is a breakthrough renewable hydrocarbon that displaces petroleum in diesel and jet fuels. I congratulate both Solazyme and Amyris on receiving their accomplishments.”

Amyris received the Small Business Award for its design of farnesane, a hydrocarbon building block that can be converted into a renewable, drop-in diesel or jet fuel.

Solazyme received the Greener Synthetic Pathways Award for oils produced through microalgae fermentation. These oils can be tailored to replace or improve upon traditional vegetable oils and petrochemicals.

The Environmental Protection Agency has been handing out the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards each year since 1996. About a third of the nearly 100 annual awards given were awarded to biotechnology and biobased applications.

EIA: Farms Big Energy Users and Producers

Farmers are using… but also making… a lot of energy. A new report from the U.S Energy Information Administration shows that American agriculture used nearly 800 trillion British thermal units (Btu) of energy in 2012, or about as much primary energy as the entire state of Utah. While growing and harvesting the crops and the energy needed to raise livestock are significant expenditures (with crop operations consume much more energy than livestock operations), those same farms are also big contributors to our nation’s fuel supply.

Energy makes up a significant part of operating expenditures for most crops, especially when considering indirect energy expenditures on fertilizer, because the production of fertilizer is extremely energy-intensive, requiring large amounts of natural gas. For some crops like oats, corn, wheat, and barley, energy and fertilizer expenditures combined make up more than half of total operating expenses. The proportion of direct to indirect energy use varies by crop. For example, corn, which is also used as an energy input for ethanol production, has relatively low direct fuel expenditures but has the highest percentage of fertilizer expenditures.
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The energy consumed in livestock operations is almost solely direct energy consumption and is relatively low compared with crop operations, both as a percentage of total operating expenditures and on a total energy basis…

In addition to being major energy consumers, some farms are using renewable resources to produce energy. Wind turbines, methane digesters, and photovoltaics are the most common on-farm renewables. Renewable energy can help to offset the need for purchased energy. In some cases, the renewable energy produced on farms is sold to electric power suppliers, providing additional income for farmers.

The report also says that water and chemicals used in agriculture can be big users of energy resources.

Teen Biodiesel Maker Honored with HALO

Jessie J, Nick Cannon, Lulu Cerone, Yash Gupta, Alanna Wall, Nicholas Lowinger, Cassandra LinIt’s no secret that we think the folks who make biodiesel are angels, but one actually now will get her own HALO! Cassandra Lin, a teenager from Westerly, Rhode Island is part of that area’s Project TGIF, Turn Grease Into Fuel, a student-led project where restaurants and residents recycle their waste cooking oil, it gets turned into biodiesel and is donated to charity to support families who require heating assistance. She’ll be honored by the kids’ TV network Nickelodeon with one of its HALO – Helping and Leading Others – awards. The star-studded musical event is being held in New York City and showing across all Nickelodeon networks, streaming on the Nick.com website and the Nick app on Sunday, Nov. 30, at 7 p.m. (ET/PT).

“We’re taking over New York City with the hottest music performers and the most awe-inspiring kids for one huge fun night at this year’s Nickelodeon HALO Awards,” said [pop music star Nick] Cannon. “The HALO Awards embodies the altruistic spirit of the holidays with its positive message and I can’t wait to celebrate the terrific work of these young heroes.”

If you live in Rhode Island, Project TGIF has more information about drop-off locations and details on its website.

NBB: Soy, Livestock and Biodiesel Go Together

As the world celebrated World Food Day yesterday, the folks at the National Biodiesel Board (NBB), along with their friends at the American Soybean Association (ASA), make the case that the biodiesel industry, soybean growers and livestock producers are an important part of the food chain.
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“The world has a protein gap that needs to be filled,” said American Soybean Association World Initiative for Soy in Human Health Chairman Andy Welden. “Our crop offers soybean meal for livestock feed and human food, which at the same time, creates an abundant supply of soybean oil for biodiesel.”

October 16 is annually recognized as World Food Day. The 2014 Theme is Family Farming; Feeding the world, caring for the earth. The United States produces more than 3.2 billion bushels of soybeans a year, offering an abundant supply of meal for human foods and livestock feeds as well as oil for biodiesel and other uses. U.S. soybean growers also participate in support sustainability programs for conservation and other environmental practices.

NBB also pointed that increased biodiesel production benefits poultry and livestock farmers, as increased amounts of soy oil for biodiesel production also means more soy meal is available for livestock feed and human food. The group added that, according to the United Nations, 805 million people are estimated to be chronically undernourished in 2012–14. But that number is actually down more than 100 million over the last decade, in no small part because of the ASA’s World Initiative for Soy in Human Health (WISHH) that assists developing country entrepreneurs and leaders in filling the “protein gap” with nutritious soy-based foods as well as livestock and aquaculture feeds.

Along with reducing the cost of livestock feed, biodiesel also adds value to animal fats. In 2013 demand for fats and oils for biodiesel production increased the value of beef tallow an estimated $567 million, pork fat an estimated $165 million, and poultry fat by more than $51 million, making the production of animal protein more economical.

Honeywell’s UOP Tech for Military’s Renewable Diesel

honeywell-uop-logoTechnology from Honeywell’s UOP LLC will be used to produce renewable diesel. This company news release says the technology was secured under the U.S. Department of Defense Advanced Drop-in Biofuels Production Project.

Emerald Biofuels LLC will use Honeywell’s UOP/Eni Ecofining™ process technology to refine non-edible oils and animal fats into renewable diesel, also known as Honeywell Green Diesel™, which is a drop-in replacement for conventional diesel derived from petroleum.

Emerald is being supported by a $70 million contract from the Defense department project, which is focused on creating economically viable production capacity for advanced drop-in biofuels, including feedstocks, refining, transportation and logistics. Emerald is expected to produce 85 million gallons of renewable diesel per year under the project.

“Our renewable process technology leverages UOP’s 100 years of refining expertise to produce Honeywell Green Diesel, a drop-in diesel that, unlike biodiesel, is chemically identical to petroleum-derived diesel and does not require changes to engines or fuel infrastructure,” said Veronica May, vice president and general manager of UOP’s Renewable Energy and Chemicals business unit. “This proven technology is being used in commercial production today.”

The Advanced Drop-in Biofuels Production Project is the military’s program to create assured, affordable and economically viable production capabilities and capacities for items, such as drop-in renewable fuels, essential to national defense.

For the last two years, UOP has licensed Ecofining technology to Emerald to produce 85 million gallons per year of Honeywell Green Diesel at a facility on the Gulf Coast. Ecofining technology is also being used by Diamond Green Diesel in Norco, La., to produce renewable diesel from used cooking oil and other feedstocks.

Researchers to Turn Biomass into Plastic

While turning biomass into energy has been most of the talk, some researchers are looking at turning biomass into a more valuable product: plastic. This article from the University of Wisconsin-Madison says researchers at that school, along with scientists from the University of Minnesota and Argonne National Laboratory, will use a $3.3 million U.S. Department of Energy grant to explore ways to produce renewable plastic precursors and other substances from biomass.

huber1“We’re trying to make very high-value commodity chemicals from biomass that can be used to make different kinds of plastics and plasticizers,” says George W. Huber, a professor of chemical and biological engineering at UW-Madison. “So many people have been focusing on fuels, which are a pretty low-value product — $600 or $700 per ton — but we’re going to be making products that are worth more than $5,000 per ton.”

Joining Huber on the UW-Madison portion of the grant are Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering James A. Dumesic; chemical and biological engineering Professor Christos Maravelias; chemical and biological engineering research Professor Bill Banholzer; and chemistry Associate Professor Ive Hermans. This team of researchers, who also are affiliated with the Wisconsin Energy Institute, bring to the project combined expertise in biomass conversion, process design, techo-economic modeling of biochemical and biofuels production, and catalysis.

Researchers at Argonne will provide high-throughput tools for screening large amounts of catalysts used in the biomass-conversion process, and University of Minnesota researchers will contribute expertise in separating products from the reactants and solvents used in their production.

The three-year project involves both elaborating the basic scientific principles involved in converting biomass into useful chemicals that are otherwise petroleum-derived, as well as developing efficient processes that can be scaled up in order to make bio-based production more competitive with petroleum refining.

Small Biodiesel Maker Closing Indicative of RFS Problem

yokayo1While the closing of one small biodiesel maker in California might not seem like big news, it’s certainly indicative of the problems facing the industry, big and small producers alike. This story from the Ukiah (CA) Daily Journal says that Yokayo Biofuels, which turned waste cooking oil into biodiesel, has closed.

[Kumar Plocher, Yokayo Biofuels' CEO] says the biggest reason for their closure was due to a lack of government support both at the state and federal levels. He explains that the carbon credit programs, those where petroleum companies are required to buy a certain amount of renewable fuels, allowed his company to bank carbon credits, normally valued high based on demand. This year state and federal value levels were very low: the state’s due to tampering by global companies that flooded the market and at the federal’s due to the Obama administration and the EPA. “Every year the federal government is supposed to raise the requirement of renewable fuel that should be purchased. At the beginning of 2014, they did not do that; they kept it static. They waited until September to announce a tiny increase, and by that time the damage was done and carbon credits were worthless all year. Every mid-term election year, the dollar per gallon subsidy that goes to biofuels has been absent; they wait until after the election.”

Plocher’s complaint is a common one among advanced biofuel makers and their advocates this year. In fact, at the recent National Advanced Biofuels Conference & Expo, Michael McAdams, founder and president of the Advanced Biofuels Association, said the partnership between the federal government and industry has to have clarity and certainty, but that’s not been the case lately.

“What we haven’t had in the last two years is certainty for the people I represent in the advanced and cellulosic sector,” McAdams said.

Similarly, Bob Dinneen, CEO and president of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), pointed to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s estimates that corn prices will hit an eight-year low because of the government’s failure to follow through on the promises made in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

“Indeed, today’s USDA report should be the closing argument in the debate over the 2014 RFS final rule,” Dinneen continued. “When farmers made their planting decisions for the 2014 season, they anticipated that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the White House would continue to enforce the statutory RFS volumes. But in one fell swoop, the EPA’s proposed rule wiped away demand for 500 million bushels of corn and grain sorghum. Now, farmers are faced with corn prices below the cost of production and the risk of returning to an era of increased reliance on federal farm program payments.”

There is a little good news in all of this. Plocher was able to sell Yokayo Biofuels’ biodiesel assets to like-minded Simple Fuels.

Biodiesel Research Leads to Biochar Grant

isubiochar1Researchers at Iowa State University looking into ways to make biodiesel more profitable have found a way for farmers to cash in on biochar, a charcoal-like substance used as a carbon sequestering resource. This article from the school says ISU students Bernardo Del Campo, Juan Proano and Matthew Kieffer are expanding their horizons and have picked up a U.S. Department of Energy for $150,000 to help make the idea a reality.

“In the beginning, it was biodiesel and consulting. It was playing around as a club figuring out ‘How do we do biodiesel? How do we help the farmer?’ Proano said. “In that phase, we figured out that Biochar could be a good addition in order to improve the health of the soils on a farm.”

As the group began looking at the idea of making a profit with the research they had done, it became apparent that a change needed to be made.

“People have been doing this pretreatment for some time, but we did it [for] pennies. It was a really reduced budget.” Proano said.

From there, the company began working with around 20 individuals from many different backgrounds and ethnicities to make different products from another bio-renewable resource, Biochar.

The article goes on to explain that biochar starts as sawdust, and through biomass pyrolysis, the sawdust is turned into the biochar, which acts like a sponge to help clean up farm chemicals from streams and rivers while also enriching the soil.

Study Looks at Biodiesel Particulates

keenebiodiesel_research1While it’s a pretty well established fact that biodiesel produces fewer particulates than its petroleum counterpart, researchers on a new study want to see if those fewer particulates are also less harmful. This story from Keene State College in New Hampshire says they are using real-world testing to see if those biodiesel particulates are less toxic.

“We began this project using exposure as our measurement of health,” [Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Nora Traviss] explained. “We examined whether or not the pollution created by biodiesel combustion resulted in higher exposure for workers than the pollution created by petroleum diesel. It was very much an exposure assessment.”

With the cooperation of the Keene Recycling Center, Dr. Traviss and her research team mounted particle impactors in the operator’s cabs in machinery at the Center, collecting samples of both petroleum diesel and biodiesel exhaust. The impactors can separate out different sizes of extremely tiny particles, which lets the researchers see exactly what the drivers are breathing. This approach makes Dr. Traviss’ study different from all the others, which collect samples from diesel engines set up in a lab. Dr. Traviss’ samples are real-world. “The exhaust we’re collecting is diluted in the air, it’s going through chemical reactions from the sunlight, and it’s combining with other molecules in the air,” Dr. Traviss explained. “We’re studying the quantity of the particulate matter the driver is breathing and its unique chemical composition, which we hypothesize will be different from particles collected directly from the tailpipe.”

So far, Traviss’ team has confirmed that the amount of particulates in biodiesel exhaust is indeed lower than those from petroleum diesel, although they also found that they are chemically different. They’ll now be using a $400,000 grant from the National Institute of Health to test the toxicity of those particulates.

Report Sheds Light on Biodiesel RINs Behavior

irwinWhat the federal government ends up doing about the proposed amount of biodiesel and ethanol to be blended into the nation’s fuel supply will have an effect on the valuable renewable identification numbers (RINs) used by blenders and fuel producers. This report from the University of Illinois is the latest in the series of articles from the school’s Ag and Consumer Economics expert Scott Irwin, which tries to predict what RINs will do in the short and long term. In the article, Irwin explains that when the amount of ethanol required to be blended under Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) hits and exceeds the so-called E10 blend wall (10 percent of the entire country’s transportation gasoline usage), then biodiesel becomes a de facto substitute for the ethanol RINs.

Since the level of D4 biodiesel RINs prices drives the level of D6 ethanol RINs prices when the renewable mandate exceeds the E10 blend wall, it is important to understand the drivers of the level of D4 prices. In this regard it is helpful to think of the price of a D4 biodiesel RINs as consisting of two components–intrinsic and time value. The intrinsic value is given by the current biodiesel blending margin, while the time value reflects the chance that blending margins will be even larger (bigger losses) in the future. The typical split between intrinsic and time value of D4 RINS in recent years has been about 60/40. The empirical analysis highlights the key role of three factors in driving D4 prices: i) soybean oil prices; ii) diesel prices; and ii) the $1 per gallon blenders tax credit. Soybean oil prices are the primary driver of biodiesel prices, which together with diesel prices determine the blending margin. The (negative) blending margin for biodiesel has been unusually low in 2014 due to declining soybean oil and biodiesel prices, as well as relatively stable diesel prices. The on- and off-again nature of the blenders tax credit introduces considerable uncertainty into the pricing of D4 biodiesel RINs. It appears that RINs traders currently believe there is a low probability of the tax credit being reinstated retroactively for 2014, otherwise D4 prices and time values would be much lower. There is the potential for a precipitous decline in D4 RINs prices if the market is surprised and the tax credit is eventually reinstated.

The analysis also states that what is making the issue even more complicated is the uncertainty of what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will actually do after proposing a year ago to drastically cut the RFS numbers for both ethanol and biodiesel. While a final answer was promised for last summer, speculation is that EPA might now wait until after the November elections.

Argentina Biodiesel Exports on the Rise Again

argentinaflagAfter falling off the last couple of years, biodiesel exports from Argentina are on the rise again. This article from the Business Recorder credits the country’s cut in sales taxes last May that look to allow biodiesel exports to double this year compared to last.

Under pressure to jumpstart activity in the sector, the government cut biodiesel export taxes to 11 percent from 21 percent in May. Now the South American grains powerhouse is on track to double exports of the fuel this year to 1.4 million tonnes versus 700,000 tonnes in 2013, said Luis Zubizarreta, president of Carbio, the chamber of biodiesel producers and exporters.

“In the first four months of this year exports remained very low. Then the tax cut allowed us to become internationally competitive again and we’ve been able ship a good amount of our product,” Zubizarreta said in an interview earlier this week. Carbio expects Argentina to produce 2.35 million tonnes of biodiesel this year, well above the 1.8 million tonnes projected by the chamber at the start of the year. “We are still not at 100 percent capacity,” Zubizarreta said, “but the industry has started functioning well again.”

The article says the Argentine exports have been hurt by Europe’s increased tariffs on biodiesel from the South American country. Argentina used to be the world’s biggest biodiesel exporter before those tariffs stopped much of that business. Argentina is fighting the tariffs at the World Trade Organisation.

Study: 20% Biodiesel Fine for Heating Homes

nora1A new study shows that a 20 percent biodiesel blend is fine for home heating use. The National Oilheat Research Alliance (NORA) says they tested blends of ASTM D6751 biodiesel with both standard and low sulfur heating oil and found that the 20 percent blend can be used in heating oil without incident.

Field experience with Bioheat® fuel (blended heating oil and biodiesel) has been overwhelmingly positive. A recent service organization survey conducted by NORA and Brookhaven National Laboratory observed that some 35,000 buildings are currently using Bioheat® containing more than 5% biodiesel with no issues…

Winter operability is essential in serving oilheat’s customers. Biodiesel blends can have a significant impact as the feedstock affects its winter characteristics. Wholesale suppliers and retail marketers need to be sure the product they sell is right for the temperatures at which it will be stored at and used. An outside tank in Maine may need a different product than an indoor tank.

NORA says it has been working with the National Biodiesel Board and the oil heating industry state leadership groups to make sure biodiesel used in home heating oil is of the highest quality to eliminate any issues, especially during the coldest weather when homes need to be heated most.

California Biodiesel Maker Gets $4 Mil State Grant

communityfuelsA California biodiesel maker is the beneficiary of a $4 million state grant to help the refinery become more efficient and expand its range of feedstocks. This news release from Encinitas-based Community Fuels says the California Energy Commission grant will help put in the new equipment at the company’s Port of Stockton advanced biorefinery and help the state meet its goals of reducing emissions and increasing production and use of renewable fuels within California.

“Community Fuels is currently completing two projects: expanding production capacity and building an advanced biofuel terminal. This new award is for a third, distinct project that is complementary to our current projects. We planned our business to be built in an incremental manner while we validated various technologies and market conditions. This new project will position Community Fuels to serve the future needs of California’s transportation fuel market.” says Lisa Mortenson, Co-Founder and CEO of Community Fuels.

“Grant funding accelerates the pace at which we expand our capabilities. Our team has a strong track record of completing grant-funded projects; each project that we successfully complete helps to build confidence in our business and our long-term growth opportunities.” says William Crooks, Corporate Controller of Community Fuels.

Community Fuels officials added they will use their on-site, BQ9000 laboratory to help in design and commissioning efforts.