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.

New Calif. Law to Crack Down on Biodiesel Grease Thieves

california_state_flagThe State of California will be cracking down on thieves of a popular biodiesel feedstock – used cooking grease. This article from the San Diego Union-Tribune says the new law is expected to be signed into effect soon and will have tougher penalties, including starting at $1,000 for first-time offenders.

Backers of the legislation hope harsher penalties, along with new provisions for roadside inspections and record keeping, will translate into more action by law enforcement and prosecutors. Individual oil thefts often qualify as petty theft but cumulatively cost biofuel companies and restaurants millions of dollars each year…

Restaurants, from fast-food to four-star, share in the profits by setting their waste oil aside in liquid containers ranging from 55 gallon drums to 15,000 gallon vats.

Imperial Western Products, which operates in California, Nevada and Arizona and collects oil from hundreds of restaurants in San Diego County, estimates 25 percent or more of its contracted oil gets taken before its trucks arrive.

David Isen, asset protection manager for the Coachella-based company, said thieves have used heavy equipment to haul away locked containers entirely. Motion sensors have helped him document oil theft in the early morning hours. Perpetrators responded, he said, by showing up later and blending into the morning bustle, or posing as cardboard collectors.

“Nobody is afraid of the enforcement,” he said. “We’re losing millions of dollars a year, our company alone.”

California actually has some pretty strict regulations on kitchen grease hauling but not many enforcers. The new law hopes to close some of the loopholes thieves have been exploiting.

Algae & Safflower Biodiesel Flies Across Salt Flats

Bonneville_BiodieselRacetruck_ustA truck running on biodiesel made from algae and safflower seed oil was tearing up the salt flats known for their speed records. This story from KSL in Salt Lake City, Utah says the Utah State University truck first set a record of nearly 135 miles per hour… about 30 miles faster than a small-engine diesel truck has ever gone before… using regular diesel. Then it was time to put the biodiesel blend to the test at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Michael Morgan, a research assistant at Utah State University, was out to prove something.

“Not only can we run it in our everyday cars, but when we want to, come here and run it as fast as we possibly can,” he said.

The diesel fuel his team made with algae and safflower seeds can stack up to the real thing, he said.

“I know that the world only has so many resources. We’re using them up quickly,” he said.

The 20 percent biodiesel blend pushed the truck over 100 miles per hour, but since the salt flats does not take records made using biodiesel, it was just for exhibition.

The group from Utah State dedicated the run to former colleague Dallas Hanks, a great biodiesel advocate from the school who died of cancer this past June.

“We want people to know about the work that he did,” Morgan said.

Nat Gas, Solar and Wind Lead Power Capacity Adds

During the first half of this year, natural gas, solar and wind lead all sources when it comes to new utility-scale generating capacity to come online. This report from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) says that 4,350 megawatts (MW) of new utility-scale generating capacity came online, with natural gas making up the lion’s share of those additions but solar and wind made bigger proportional gains compared to the first six months of 2013.
Utility-scale capacity additions in the first half of 2014 were 40% less than the capacity additions in the same period last year. Natural gas additions were down by about half, while solar additions were up by nearly 70%. Wind additions in the first half of 2014 were more than double the level in the first half of 2013.

Of the states, Florida added the most capacity (1,210 MW), all of it natural gas combined-cycle capacity. California, with the second-largest level of additions, added just under 1,100 MW, of which about 77% was solar and 21% was wind, with the remaining additions from natural gas and other sources. Utah and Texas combined for another 1,000 MW, nearly all of it natural gas combined-cycle capacity with some solar and wind capacity in Texas.

In addition to the large additions by natural gas, solar saw strong year-on-year growth, adding 1,146 MW. Wind basically more than doubled the amount added in the same period last year, putting 675 MW generating capacity online.

Spanish Biodiesel Plants Get Boost from Foreigners

300px-Flag_of_Spain.svgBiodiesel plants in Spain have hit records in output and exports, thanks to foreigners who have come in a re-opened many idled facilities. This article from Argus says in May, biodiesel production in Spain hit 140,000 metric tonnes – a record and 50 percent higher than a year ago. And through May, biodiesel production in the country was 400,000 metric tonnes for 2014, up nearly 40 percent from a year earlier and close to the previous record high output in 2011.

Rising Spanish production has followed the first-quarter restart of the country’s largest biodiesel plant, the 600,000 t/yr Infinita unit at the Mediterranean port of Castellon. Plant operator Indonesian palm oil and biodiesel producer Musim Mas has struck deals to buy or operate 1.1mn t/yr of Spanish biodiesel production capacity and avoided the EU’s 2013 Europe-wide tariffs on biodiesel imports from Indonesia and Argentina, under anti-dumping legislation.

Instead, Musim importing and refining palm oil at Castellon to supply domestic demand, as well as eyeing exports.

And other foreign firms are buying cheap Spanish biodiesel capacity. Singapore based producer Ennovor has taken over a 60,000 t/yr facility at Huesca, north of Zaragoza. The company specialises biodiesel production from used cooking oil and waste animal fats.

The rise in production is obviously helping Spain’s biodiesel export market, setting a record 115,000 metric tonnes in March and another near-record 111,000 metric tonnes exported in May. For the first five months of 2014, Spain has licensed 488,000 metric tonnes of biodiesel for export, nearly doubling the amount from a year earlier.

The article also cites European Union tariffs on Argentinian and Indonesian biodiesel imports for the growth in Spain’s outputs and exports.

New Tool Helps Biodiesel Producers Evaluate Catalysts

swricfb1A new tool installed at a research institution in Texas will help biodiesel producers and refiners of other fuels evaluate better the catalysts they use. This news release from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) says the custom-designed circulating fluidized bed (CFB) helps turn biological feedstocks and heavy crude oils into refined fuel samples that clients can assess for quality and profitability, more quickly than previously used systems, cranking out samples of about a half liter per hour.

The 15 foot tall, 150 square foot CFB is in operation and available to respond to the current push for biofuels, which require catalyst-aided processing of raw materials, or feedstock, derived from biological materials such as algae, corn or wood, or from refinery products such as heavy crude oil. Clients can use a CFB to evaluate new catalysts and determine how plant-derived, bio feedstocks and bio oils can be efficiently integrated into refineries.

The CFB system converts biomass, material derived from plants or wood, to organic liquids using fast pyrolysis, a thermal conversion of organic material in the absence of oxygen. It also can emulate a fluidized catalytic cracking (FCC) unit, a refinery process to convert complex hydrogen molecules to simpler molecules, to convert lower-valued feedstock to higher-value products such as gasoline or diesel. For example, fluidized cataltyic cracking is commonly used in producing gasoline from crude oil.

SwRI’s new circulating fluidized bed is flexible in operation to test both fast pyrolysis processes for biomass-to-biofuels conversion technologies and FCC refinery unit operations.

“In the U.S., a pilot-sized CFB such as ours is unique since conventional FCC testing equipment is smaller and produces very small quantities of material for testing,” said Eloy Flores, an assistant manager in the Fuels and Energy Development Section in SwRI’s Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Division. “We can produce enough material for fuel specification or standardized testing. In addition, we are capable of high riser velocities associated with biomass fast pyrolysis.”

Part of what SwRI does is certify biofuels for on-road use through emissions testing.

Biodiesel Imports Set Record for Year-to-Date

census-logoThe U.S. is importing biodiesel at a record rate for the year so far. This article from Platts cites U.S. Census Bureau data that shows imports reached a 2014 year-to-date record in July of 69,474 metric tonnes, more that twice the previous record set in March. Low palm oil prices seem to be the big driver, although biodiesel imports are far below last year’s overall levels when reinstatement of the $1-a-gallon federal tax credit made it profitable for blenders.

The top origin for US biodiesel imports in July was Indonesia at 24,043 mt, up 60% from the previous month and the highest since December 2013 when 52,350 mt were imported.

Traders attributed the surge in imports from Indonesia to lower palm oil prices.

A couple of producers from Indonesia are already registered with the EPA and would be capable of generating RINs if they ran an approved feedstock. Although palm oil has not been approved as an eligible feedstock to generate RINs under RFS2, grandfathered biodiesel plants — construction of which started prior to December 19, 2007 — can assign RINs with a D6 code to palm oil-based biodiesel if they keep up with the appropriate documentation.

Also, for the first time this year, imports from Argentina were recorded at 18,217 mt. A massive 441,772 mt were imported from Argentina in 2013.

More imports are seen coming from Argentina – a sign traders are pretty confident the blender’s credit will be restored and made retroactive. Political watchers believe that restoration could happen after November’s elections.

NBB Offers Webinar on Biodiesel Classroom Safety

biodieselclassroomLots of the next generation of biodiesel producers today are biodiesel students. But making biodiesel can require handling of some hazardous material, so that’s why the National Biodiesel Board is offering the webinar, Biodiesel in the Class Lab: Ensuring Safety, on Sept. 25th from 4:00 – 5:00 p.m. Central time:

NBB is teaming up with the Methanol Institute to present this interactive webinar, which will help students and teachers understand the basics of biodiesel production and safety. You’ll also hear from a high school chemistry teacher who built a biodiesel lab, helping him earn the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators for 2014.


Mike Morgan, Next Generation Scientists for Biodiesel Co-Chair/Utah State
University/Biochemistry Undergrad
Scott Fenwick, National Biodiesel Board Technical Director
Larry Lavin, Methanol Institute Senior Manager for Government & Public Affairs
Darrin Peters, Rockwood Summit High School Chemistry Teacher

For more information and to reserve your webinar seat, click here. Better hurry, though, because space is limited!

Waste-to-Biodiesel Jet Fuel Project Gets Loan Guarantee

Fulcrum BioEnergy logoA company that plans to turn municipal waste into renewable jet fuel has received a government loan guarantee for the project. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced the $105 Million loan guarantee provided through the Biorefinery Assistance Program for Fulcrum Sierra Biofuels, LLC to build a biorefinery to produce jet fuel from municipal solid waste.

“This represents a huge step forward in the development of clean, renewable, job-creating American fuels,” Vilsack said during a speech at the National Clean Energy Conference. “The nation is entering a new energy age that will make us more energy independent, cut carbon pollution and strengthen our economy, especially in rural communities where clean fuels will be produced.”

USDA is awarding Fulcrum a $105 million Biorefinery Assistance Program loan guarantee through Bank of America, N.A. to construct a facility in McCarran, Nev., to convert municipal solid waste to biodiesel jet fuel. USDA Rural Development’s loan guarantee represents less than half of the $266 million project cost. The plant is expected to produce 11 million gallons of fuel annually.

This is the first loan guarantee USDA has made for the production of bio jet fuel.

Last month, we told you how Fulcrum got investment backing from China’s Cathay Pacific Airways and negotiated a long-term supply agreement with Fulcrum for an initial 375 million U.S. gallons of sustainable aviation fuel over 10 years… about 2 percent of the airline’s current fuel consumption.

USDA is working on three more loans for biorefineries in Iowa, North Carolina and Oregon, turning woody biomass, municipal solid waste and energy grasses into renewable fuels.

Pennsylvania Biodiesel Plant to Re-Open

pennsylvaniasealAfter being shuttered for the past three years, a biodiesel plant in Pennsylvania is looking at new life. This article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says Pennsylvania Biodiesel in Monaca, which had operated from 2007 through 2011, is poised to re-open, despite the uncertainty in the biodiesel market right now.

It’s not clear why Pennsylvania Biodiesel shut its doors in 2011. [Ed Vescovi, who ran the plant from 2007-2011,] said he doesn’t know if the plant was profitable, since financial information was kept under wraps by the former owner. He can tick off a list of variables that turned against the biodiesel industry at the time: the expiration of a 75-cent-per-gallon state tax credit given to biodiesel producers; a federal tax credit available some years and lapsed during others; and the state’s 2 percent biodiesel mandate that didn’t kick in until 2010.

“I believe the plant is a very good plant. I know that it makes good quality biodiesel. The issue is, is the biodiesel market a good, stable market?”

The market for biodiesel is entirely driven by state and federal mandates, which have been in flux.

Nationally, the Environmental Protection Agency through its renewable fuel standards, requires oil companies to blend biodiesel into their product or buy renewable fuel credits from others that do.

For the first time since the mandates went into effect in 2007, the EPA is considering lowering the biofuel thresholds in the face of incredible oil industry opposition. The agency still hasn’t said what the 2014 target should be and hasn’t settled on one for next year.

Another point of uncertainty is whether the federal $1-per-gallon federal blenders tax credit will be restored retroactively, if at all, after expiring at the end of 2013. Throw in European trade tariffs that have basically kept the American version of the green fuel out of Europe, and there might not be a lot of optimism. But Vescovi is giving a measured amount of trust that it will work out.

“I don’t think we’re going be millionaires on it,” he said. “But I think it can survive.”

Schools Getting Smarter with Biodiesel

schoolbusesStudents all across the country are back in classrooms this week, and biodiesel is providing a clean and smart way for them to get there. This article from the Durham (NC) News & Observer says school districts in Durham, Johnston and Pitt counties will run on biodiesel made from used cooking oil.

The three school systems are among the first to sign on to an alternative energy program called Biodiesel 4 Schools, which converts used cooking oil into biodiesel.

Dean Price, CEO and co-owner with Stephen Caldwell of the waste cooking oil company Green Circle North Carolina, started the program in 2012 in hopes of helping to boost the local economy.

“We’re trying to create a new industry in the Triangle, one that’s local in nature, agriculturally based and can be renewable,” Price said.

Price collects the oil from local restaurants, such as King’s Sandwich Shop in Durham. After passing through a filtering process at a plant in Benson, the oil is converted into biodiesel fuel by Piedmont Biofuels in Pittsboro.

“I think it’s a huge positive influence, and it’s right in line with a lot of things that are going on in Durham,” said T.J. McDermott, owner of King’s. “Durham is growing, and to be able to participate in a clean-burning fuel, that’s what we should all be doing.”

With more than 24 million children riding some 440,000 buses to and from school each day, the National Biodiesel Board says this is just one example of schools across the country that are helping their students breathe easier with clean-burning biodiesel.

Air Force Turning Waste into Synthetic Diesel

synthetic-diesel1It takes a lot of energy to run the world’s most powerful military, and the U.S. military is looking at more non-petroleum options for its operations. This article from my favorite scientific blog, Armed with Science, talks about a method by the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Advanced Power Technology Office (APTO) to turn synthetic gas (syngas), which could be collected from waste sites even at the most forward of bases, into synthetic diesel.

APTO utilized a company with extensive experience in the Fischer-Tropsch (F-T) synthesis process. In this application, syngas is passed through a sealed reactor vessel over copper condenser tubes that are coated with a cobalt catalyst. Applying proper heat in the reactor causes a chemical reaction that results in synthetic diesel fuel. The fuel can be used in ground vehicles or diesel generators to create electricity for base operations.

The initial demonstration system, contained in a steel-framed skid for portabililty, produced less than one barrel of fuel per day. Further system refinements could increase the output, with the capability to improve to 10 barrels. Test results showed that the created fuel successfully operated a 20kW diesel generator.

The team created its own syngas supply through a methanol dissociation process, but APTO has other ongoing efforts to supply syngas through Waste to Energy systems that use biomass or municipal solid waste to create syngas.

Not only does this help ensure a fuel supply, but it also helps a base reduce its waste, while helping keep us less energy dependent on some parts of the world that might not be that friendly towards us.

Methes Energies Unveils New Catalyst for Biodiesel

Methes1Biodiesel processor manufacturer Methes Energies has unveiled a new catalyst for biodiesel production. This company news release says the Methes PP-MEC catalyst will provide a new pre-treatment process for high free fatty acid (FFA) biodiesel feedstocks, including non-food grade corn oil, and Dorf Ketal Speciality Catalysts LLC (“Dorf Ketal”) will make the new catalyst for Methes.

The PP-MEC catalyst is a major active ingredient in this new process. Working with Dorf Ketal allows Methes to count on a reliable manufacturer of specialty catalysts with an experienced management team who can provide that catalyst to Methes or its customers on a world-wide basis.

John Loewen, COO of Methes, said, “We are very pleased with our relationship with Dorf Ketal. The fact that they can manufacture our PP-MEC catalyst is great and gives us the peace of mind that we were looking for. I believe that the market potential is enormous for this new process so we wanted to make sure that we had a catalyst manufacturer that would be able to follow our growth not only in North America but around the world.”

In addition to making biodiesel processors and equipment, Methes also produces the green fuel from two plants in Ontario, Canada.

USDA Develops Switchgrass with Bigger Yield, More Biofuel

libertyResearchers working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have developed a variety of switchgrass that produces bigger yields and more biofuel. Rob Mitchell with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Nebraska gives credit to retired geneticist Ken Vogel who developed the Liberty variety of switchgrass.

“He was able to identify an upland type and a lowland type that had similar genetics so they were able to be crossed. He made greenhouse crosses and then took those crosses to the field and right away saw a real big increase in biomass production,” Vogel says.

Field testers in Nebraska and Wisconsin noticed that not only were they getting more biomass, but they were also getting more biofuel out of the biomass produced, in addition to good stand establishment and winter survivability… key points for the Upper Midwest where Mitchell expects the Liberty variety to be grown for biofuels.

“I anticipate that Liberty is going to be at its best in that Central Plains and Midwestern region. It probably won’t go much further south, because they really don’t deal with winter hardiness issues in the southern U.S. like we do in the Central Great Plains and the Midwest,” he said.

FAPRI: Corn Prices Down, Ethanol Future Depends on EPA

FAPRI logoCorn prices are down, and the future of ethanol seems to hinge upon what the government does on the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). A new report from the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) at the University of Missouri shows that there have been sharp declines in the price for grains and oilseeds used to make ethanol and biodiesel. But the green fuels’ futures seem to hang on what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does with its much-anticipated decision on the RFS:

· The potential for record corn and soybean crops has weighed on prices for grains and oilseeds. Corn and soybean prices for the crops harvested this fall could be the lowest since 2009.

· Corn prices fall to $3.89 per bushel for the 2014 crop. Even with a projected decline in 2015 U.S. corn production, prices remain around $4 per bushel in 2015 and beyond.

· Ethanol production prospects depend, in part, on EPA decisions about how to implement the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). With lower prices, ethanol exports continue to increase in 2015.

You can read the entire FAPRI report here.

OriginOil to Take Demo System on the Road

As extreme drought continues to grip most of California, the maker of a system that cleans up water to gather algae (for later applications, such as biodiesel) and take out contaminants from industries such as oil and gas, will be taking a demonstration of its technologies on the road. OriginOil says it will show off an industrial system already cleaning up frack in the Bakersfield, Calif. area and hopes to cash in on the state’s $7.5 billion dollar bond issue to address water issues.

OriginOilbakersfieldwatersampleEckelberry also reported that OriginOil and its partners are preparing to benefit from portions of this bond issue, with an industrial demonstration system already processing Bakersfield-area frack and produced water.

In response to industry requests, Eckelberry also said that the company plans to take a demonstration system on the road starting as early as September.

You can read OriginOil’s full take on the situation here.