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.

French Firm to Develop Va Tech Ethanol, Hydrogen Technologies

French firm Biométhodes has inked an exclusive deal with Virginia Tech’s Intellectual Properties Inc. division to option-to-license the school’s processes to convert biomass into ethanol and hydrogen.

This story from the school says the processes were invented by Percival Zhang, assistant professor of biological systems engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech:

An integrated biorefinery pilot plant in Virginia is envisioned to advance the process for the conversion of biomass into ethanol and valuable co-products, focusing especially on biomass pretreatment. The process for transformation of biomass into hydrogen will be developed in France and will be validated through a biohydrogen fuel cell prototype and small-scale model car.

Zhang developed a novel and innovative process for releasing sugars that can be fermented into ethanol from non-food sources into sugars that can be converted to ethanol. His process uses enzymes and mild and recyclable physicochemical conditions that do not require high pressure or high temperature. The gentle pretreatment process also results in no sugar degradation and separates other highly profitable products, such as lignin and acetic acid. “More revenues from lignocellulose components other than sugars would be vital to the success of biomass refineries,” said Zhang.

According to Gilles Amsallem, Biométhodes chief executive officer, “The pilot plant will integrate two major technologies – Virginia Tech’s pretreatment process, which breaks down the biomass, and Biométhodes’ hydrolysis enzyme optimization technology to improve the cellulose degradation into fermentable sugars.”

Virginia Tech officials believe the ethanol production from biomass can reach into the billions of gallon a year with Biométhodes scaling up the hydrogen end to deliver fuel cells for cars.

Big Easy Bouncing Back with Biodiesel

Nearly three years after Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans, destroying a large portion of the city and trashing more than half of its 370 buses, the city is getting some public transportation fueled by biodiesel.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that the eight new biodiesel buses arrive just as skyrocketing gas prices are helping increase ridership:

The vehicles were built by the Orion bus company based in Ontario, Canada. At 35 feet long, the bus is smaller than the standard RTA coach.

Currently, 29 of the buses are in the New Orleans area, with 10 more arriving from New York in the next few months.

The release of the brand-new buses comes at a time of increased reliance on the RTA. From April and May of 2007 to April and May of this year, ridership has increased 53 percent, RTA spokeswoman Rosalind Cook said.

Many of the new riders have been using public transportation in light of rising gas prices, Cook said.

These new buses are more comfortable than the older buses and have better access for riders with disabilities. Plus, of course, they run on cleaner-burning, renewable biodiesel.

PA Gov Signs Biodiesel & Ethanol Incentives, Mandate

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has signed into law measures that will provide incentives to biodiesel producers while mandating a rising scale of biodiesel percentages in all diesel sold in the state.

This story from FoxBusiness.com has details:

“Pennsylvanians are struggling with higher fuels costs,” said Governor Rendell, who signed House Bill 1202 and Special Session Senate Bill 22 into law at the National Armory in Montgomery County. “Record-high fuel prices are straining family budgets and pinching the bottom lines of our businesses. We need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and keep our energy dollars in Pennsylvania, to invest in our economy and create jobs.”

Here are the requirements for biodiesel percentages and what is believed to be the first cellulosic ethanol mandate in the country:

All diesel fuel sold at retail must contain:

— 2 percent biodiesel, once in-state production reaches 40 million gallons;

— 5 percent biodiesel, once in-state production reaches 100 million gallons;

— 10 percent biodiesel, once in-state production reaches 200 million gallons; and

— 20 percent biodiesel, once in-state production reaches 400 million gallons.

All gasoline sold at retail must contain:

— 10 percent ethanol, once in-state cellulosic ethanol production reaches 350 million gallons.

Pennsylvania is also investing $5.3 million for in-state biodiesel producers each year through 2011. Those producers will also be able to cash in on a 75 cents-a-gallon subsidy. The bills are expected to add a billion gallons of biofuels a year to the state.

Scientists to DOE: “Keep Working on Biodiesel”

A committee of scientists that helps the government make decisions is recommending that the U.S. keeps working on biodiesel.

This story from Biodiesel Magazine says a National Research Council committee looking at the 21st Century Truck Partnership, a group of of federal government agencies and private industries, has told the U.S. Department of Energy to continue research into the green fuel:

The review was conducted at the request of Patrick Davis, director of the U.S. DOE’s office of FreedomCAR and Vehicle Technologies. It looked at the high-tech goals and research and development efforts put forth by the partnership, as well as further evaluate the program’s progress and direction and comment on the overall adequacy of the program.

The committee’s findings were published in the book, titled “Review of the 21st Century Truck Partnership.” In it, the committee recommends that the DOE continue its work with biodiesel developers and users to assure compatibility when blending biodiesel with regular diesel. It also said that current DOE work to find an alternative fuel to petroleum has been focused on resolving biodiesel issues, but the agency hasn’t provided a timetable for a successful resolution of those efforts. “Successful deployment will require resolving operational issues and updating the biodiesel specifications,” the review stated. “DOE should develop specific plans, including key actions and timetables, for 5 percent replacement of petroleum fuels.”

The DOE will take the advice into consideration.

Where to Grow Alternative Energy

The world faces a daunting task in replacing what’s known as the “cubic mile of oil” consumed worldwide each year. But like any gargantuan task, it all starts with small steps.

To help those small steps grow into sustainable replacements for our dependence on petroleum, this article from Forbes has some suggestions where the most fertile ground in the U.S. would be for alternative energy:

In Texas, for instance, that means wind…
The mountain passes and ridge tops of the Trans Pecos have the highest average wind speeds in Texas. The mountains in the state’s northwest region roll off the southern tip of the Rocky Mountains, and a maze of mountains and valleys funnel the wind into extreme speeds by the time they pass over ridge crests and mountain tops of the Guadalupe and Davis mountains…

Although solar energy varies less from season to season than wind energy, it still depends heavily on local environmental conditions. The town of Inyokern in southern California has the best environmental conditions in the country. Ensconced on the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Inyokern covers 11 square miles of Kern County in the dust-choked Mojave Desert. Those 11 square miles receive more solar insolation annually than any other comparably sized locale in North America…

For current commercial processes, the highest concentration of biomass is in the Corn Belt states of Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota. But the long-term prospects for biomass are best with non-food based feedstocks such as switchgrass, wood chips and forest residues.

In addition, Alaska and Hawaii have great potentials for geothermal energy.

As you can see, there’s no one silver bullet for replacing oil. But if we use the places best equipped for each area’s strengths, maybe can get kick that greasy addiction.

Rocket Scientists Seek New Wind Energy Sources

Scientists with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are using nearly 10 years of satellite information to figure out where is the best place on the oceans to put up wind energy turbines.

This UPI story says they’re using NASA’s QuikSCAT satellite to search for homes for offshore wind farms:

QuikSCAT, launched in 1999, continuously tracks the speed, direction and power of winds near the ocean surface to predict storms and enhance weather forecast accuracy.

Ideally, offshore wind farms should be located in areas where winds blow continuously at high speeds and NASA said the new research identifies such areas. An example of one such high-wind area is off the coast of Northern California near Cape Mendocino.

“The protruding land mass of the cape deflects northerly winds along the California coast, creating a local wind jet that blows year-round,” NASA said.

Other good places around the world include Tasmania, New Zealand and Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America.

Algae-Biodiesel Nears Commercial-Scale in New Mexico

Researchers at a facility in New Mexico have reached a significant milestone in their hopes of producing biodiesel from algae.

This story from the Carlsbad (NM) Current Argus has details:

The Center of Excellence for Hazardous Materials Management recently harvested commercial-scale quantities of algae from its test salt water ponds located at New Mexico State University Agriculture Science Center in north Eddy County, according to Wren Prather-Stroud, spokeswoman for the nonprofit organization based in Carlsbad.

She said the produced oil appears to have all the right profiles for making high quality biodiesel fuel.
The algae are harvested from the ponds and pressed into a green paste, from which the oil is extracted.

Since 2006, the center has been conducting applied research in growing, harvesting and extracting oil from algae to find the most productive species to provide a biofuel.

The center hopes to produce enough algae oil to feed a commercial-sized biodiesel plant in the next 18-24 months.

USDA Not Horning in on Livestock Feed

A federal ag department researcher says the U.S. Department of Agriculture is not trying to take the by-products of biofuels out of the livestock feed system… just trying to find more uses for what’s leftover after biodiesel and ethanol are produced.

This story from redOrbit.com says Kurt Rosentrater wants to assure livestock producers that his studies on using dried distillers’ grains (DDGs) to make plastics are not intended to divert feed from the livestock industry… something he has been doing at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service North Central Agricultural Research Laboratory in Brookings, S.D., since 2004:

“The thing that was on everyone’s mind back then was the 10 million-ton question: What are we going to do with all this distiller’s grain?” he says. “This was back when it was 5 (million) or 6 million tons a year production. And now it’s 16 (million), 17 (million), 18 million tons, so people are asking me, ‘Why are you taking this valuable feed and putting it in plastic?’ ”

Rosentrater says he’s not. He wants to take the remains after the feed components are extracted and use that for bio-plastics.

“We’ve only taken a couple steps down that path right now, but that’s ultimately where I’d like to see this go,” he says. “So can you provide the animals their livestock feed and biodiesel, if you pulled the oil out, and other things, and then what can you do with what’s left?”

DDG production this year reached 17 million tons, the vast majority of which went to animal feeds in the cattle, swine and poultry industries.

Because of this, Rosentrater does not see a need right now to find new things to do with DDGs.

“But five years from now, 10 years from now, when we have the large-scale bio-refineries working on corn, ligno-cellulosic materials and other biofuels, there will be a need potentially at some point to say, ‘What can we do with this if it has no animal feed value?’ ” he says.

A key point of Rosentrater’s research is to find something better than oil for products we use every day… a point that ethanol and biodiesel producers are also trying to do.

Pickens Picks Wind for US Energy Plan

Billionaire oilman T. Boone Pickens is choosing a decidely non-petroleum source as the solution for America’s energy woes: wind power.

As you might remember from my post on May 20th, Pickens has invested $2 billion in a 667 turbine wind farm in Texas. Now, he wants to translate that passion for wind to the rest of the country. This story from CNN says he held a press conference today to unveil “The Pickens Plan,” which calls for investing in domestic renewable resources such as wind:

In a news conference outlining his proposal, Pickens said his impetus for the plan is the country’s dangerous reliance on foreign oil.

“Our dependence on imported oil is killing our economy. It is the single biggest problem facing America today,” he said. Video Watch Pickens discuss plan for wind power »

“Wind power is … clean, it’s renewable. It’s everything you want. And it’s a stable supply of energy,” Pickens told CNN in May. “It’s unbelievable that we have not done more with wind.”

Pickens says a wind corridor, stretching from Texas to Canada across the breezy Great Plains, could be filled with thousands of wind power generators, providing 20 percent or more of the nation’s energy needs. He adds the plan could be implemented withing 10 years and promises to work with whoever becomes president:

“We are going to have to do something different in America,” Pickens told CNN. “You can’t keep paying out $600 billion a year for oil.”

World Bank Report Not Secret, Not Anti-Biofuels

An article that ran in the British newspaper, the Guardian, claimed that the World Bank had kept secret a report that said biofuels were responsible for 75 percent of the rise in food prices. But now it turns out that the report was not secret and the number was not nearly that high.

This story in the Wall Street Journal says the World Bank is making it known that the Guardian just didn’t get it right:

Bob Davis of the WSJ spoke with Donald Mitchell, the author of the draft report—which wasn’t secret at all, but a working paper. And like all working papers, it doesn’t reflect the official position of the World Bank.

The report was meant to contribute to a World Bank position paper on rising food prices, which was released at the Bank’s spring meeting in mid-April.

The final April report didn’t include his specific calculation. But, Mr. Mitchell says, “I never saw that as political.” Instead, he says he believes the changes were made because of “editing.” He said that he has been encouraged by World Bank management to explore the issue of biofuels and the overall rise in food prices. “I had input” into the final report that was released at the spring meeting, he said.

Now, because of the misinformation put out by the Guardian, the World Bank is trying to finish up the report by the end of this week to set the record straight. A draft of that report indicates that higher energy prices are the real culprit for any rise… something that biofuels backers, such as National Biodiesel Board CEO Joe Jobe, has been saying all along and reiterated that point today:

“The U.S. Secretaries of Agriculture and Energy say that biofuels-related feedstock demand plays only a small role in global food supply and pricing. Worldwide, the estimated increase in the price of soybeans and soybean oil would increase the global food commodity price index by 1-2 percent. In the U.S., according to the Department of Energy and USDA, food prices have increased by about 4.8 percent. Of that increase, ethanol and biodiesel consumption accounted for only 4 or 5 percent while other factors accounted for 95-96 percent of the increase.

Jayhawks Brew Up Biodiesel for a Buck

Researchers at the University of Kansas are making biodiesel… and it’s costing only $1-a-gallon to make the green fuel.

This story from the Lawrence (KS) Journal-World says Prof. Susan Williams is using the school’s leftovers with intentions of putting the biodiesel back into the university:

With her raw materials virtually cost-free — used cooking oil from campus dining facilities, leftover methanol from chemistry researchers and potassium hydroxide (lye) from the hardware store — the associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering and her colleagues can brew up biodiesel for less than $1 a gallon.

And with their biggest customer poised to start burning the fuel, Williams’ team is looking beyond Mount Oread and into a market that could use some alternatives to Middle Eastern crude.

“It can make a huge difference,” she said. “People don’t really have a lot of confidence right now in biofuels, because they’re really not familiar with them. The more we can do to educate people and help them understand the impact they can have, it’s a good thing.”

The project is gaining attention outside Lawrence, among regulators, academics and even fuel marketers themselves. All are angling to find reliable, consistent data that can indicate which alternative fuels might offer the best economic value, mechanical efficiency and environmental benefits.

So far, Williams’ team has brewed up only about 700 gallons of biodiesel… certainly not enough to make a huge impact on any energy market. But it’s a good start. And the next move is to start testing the clean, cheap fuel in some university equipment, such as lawnmowers.

Biodiesel Helping Ohio Schools

It’s the middle of summer, and the last thing on students’ minds is how they’ll get to school. But those rides to classes this fall might be a bit cleaner as more schools across the country switch their buses over to biodiesel.

In Ohio, schools are getting incentives to run their diesel buses on the cleaner-burning biodiesel. This story from the Marion (OH) Star says the money is to help make up any difference in the cost between petroleum-based and plant-based fuels:

The Ohio Department of Development started taking applications in January for grant funding up to $25,000 for schools that commit to using B20 fuel, which is a blend of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel.

Since the grant’s introduction, more than 20 Ohio schools have been approved for reimbursement in the difference between using biodiesel and petroleum diesel. Engines do not need any modifications to make the switch from petroleum to biodiesel. Soy biodiesel costs anywhere from the same as petroleum diesel to 10 cents more per gallon, according to CleanFuelsOhio.org. [Shelby Brammell, an educational consultant representing Clean Air for Kids] said it can cost up to 20 cents more.

Brammell is making the circuit around county fairs this summer to see how much interest there is in biodiesel for school buses. And after she tells parents that the green fuel is as biodegradable as sugar and 10 times less toxic than table salt, that interest increases dramatically.

Now, if only we can increase the students’ interests in scholarly activities that much.

PA Trying to Keep Up in Biodiesel Incentives, Mandates

Pennsylvania lawmakers have passed a bill that would significantly increase that state’s incentive to biodiesel makers and another that would mandate that every gallon of diesel be blended with biodiesel.

This story in the York (PA) Daily Record says the bill from Sen. Robert Tomlinson (R-Bucks) would up the incentive to 75 cents for each gallon and is expected to help the green energy industry while helping local farmers:

The incentive program would be capped at $5.25 million per year. No company could receive more than $2 million per year. Mark O’Neill, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, said an existing 5-cent incentive in Pennsylvania pales in comparison to incentives that top $1 per gallon in other states.

He said increasing the subsidy will create greater demand for soybeans, indirectly benefiting local farmers as the state’s six biodiesel companies increase production.

Pennsylvania producers say robust incentives in states such as Iowa and Indiana have allowed out-of-state companies to undercut their prices. Twenty-four states offer a production incentive of some kind, said Ben Wootton, president of Keystone BioFuels in Cumberland County.

“It’s killing all the producers in Pennsylvania,” Wootton said.

Rep. Eugene DePasquale, D-West Manchester Township, who backs the plan, said he believes spurring domestic biodiesel production is a “national security issue.”

“I strongly believe that we have to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” he said. Continue reading

Florida Gov Signs Alt Energy Bill

Florida Governor Charlie Crist has signed a comprehensive alternative energy bill that is being touted as putting his state on the right foot for beginning true energy independence, while being realistic.

This story from the Walton Sun says the new law will encourage investments in alternative and renewable energy technology and will help reduce greenhouse gases:

This follows a year after the governor issued three executive orders with the intent of reducing greenhouse gases, increasing energy efficiency and removing market barriers for renewable energy technologies such as solar and wind energy.

However, Lynn Erickson, corporate communications for Gulf Power, said “We know that wind isn’t a viable option in Florida since only a couple of places can be used. It’s the same thing with solar.”

Last year’s proposed emissions standards were as stringent as California’s, said Erickson.

The newly passed energy bill puts a “more realistic tone” on it, but by issuing those executive orders he has kick started the whole process for alternative energy in Florida, said Erickson.

The article says Crist has also recommended for the 2008-2009 fiscal year a $200 million energy and climate change package, that includes $50 million for solar, wind and other renewable energies; $42.5 million to promote and develop biodiesel and ethanol in the state; and $107.5 million to encourage and develop green industries.

New Biodiesel Feedstock Brings Promise and Problems

Camelina is growing in popularity as a feedstock for biodiesel for its high oil content, hardy nature and short growing season… especially popular in the Northern Plains, such as Montana, where conditions can be a bit tough.

But this story from The Prairie Star, a Great Falls-based publication serving Montana and parts of Wyoming, says researchers are offering some advice to overcome some of the oilseed’s shortcomings:

“What I see is it’s a rotational crop to improve wheat production,” said Kent McVay, cropping systems specialist at the Montana State University’s Southern Agricultural Recearch Center (SARC) in Huntley, Mont.

Weed control, however, can be a major limitation to camelina production, McVay said. Therefore, it is critical to select fields where prior management has led to limited weed pressure and weed seed production.

Camelina is resistant to flea beetles which are an economic pest of canola in Montana environments.

McVay said MSU is studying camelina used in rotation and in long-term rotations. The university is also researching camelina variety trials and water use of the oilseed.

McVay said the oilseed has also been studied at both Huntley and in Wyoming. “It will take a couple of years to really know if you get a yield boost using this type of rotation.

The article points out that, right now, there are no herbicides for camelina. McVay advises growers to cut down the broadleaf leaves if they’re going to rotate this crop.