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.

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.

Cavitation Tech Inks Deal for Biodiesel, Food Oil Reactor

cti-logoMaker of devices and systems for refining edible oils and biofuels, including biodiesel and ethanol, Cavitation Technologies, Inc. (CTi) will have one of its reactors installed at a soybean processing plant. The company’s agreement with Desmet Ballestra Group will see CTi’s vegetable oil refining system process approximately 500 tons of soybean oil with full installation and operations coming in 2015.

President Igor Gorodnitsky comments, “We are excited to have our first system sale in fiscal 2015. We believe that fiscal 2015 will encompass a combination of the benefits our technology brings in vegetable oil refining, production of ethanol and biodiesel, water and petroleum treatment. Our invaluable relationships with our licensees, the Desmet Ballestra Group and GEA Westfalia provide our company with very strong business partnership with global technology leaders.”

CTi anticipates approximately $350,000 in revenue from this sale. This is CTi’s 12th system put in North America.

ADM, Mizzou to Open New Biofuel Research Center

cafnr1The University of Missouri’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and its College of Engineering have teamed up with Archer Daniels Midland Company to open a new research center focusing on biofuels and food production. The ADM Center for Agricultural Development was designed to give students more of a hands on approach in learning the latest theories of biofuel development, food production and energy processing.

“As the global population continues to grow, the world is looking toward agriculture to create viable, sustainable solutions to some of the world’s most pressing needs – like an abundant food supply and advanced renewable fuels,” said Michael D’Ambrose, ADM senior vice president and chief human resources officer. “To help our industry meet this challenge, ADM is pleased to invest in the University of Missouri and the next generation of agricultural leaders.”

Leon Schumacher, professor of agricultural systems management helped coordinate the project and said the lab will allow students to step out of the classroom and into the lab where they will team with peers and faculty on projects and equipment typical in the rapidly-changing agricultural industries

Schumacher said the lab allows students to select critical issues facing agriculture and brainstorm solutions, develop a timeline and budget, make decisions, take the initiative to test solutions in the lab, and be accountable for results. Schumacher said this is the best approach to develop team skills needed by industry.

ADM donated $1 million to renovate the labs that will help students to “learn to work as a team and tackle problems in a systematic way,” officials said. They also expect the labs will be key in finding solutions to the problem of fueling and feeding an expected world population of 9 billion by the year 2050.

MN Lung Association MN Picks Biodiesel Essay Winners

Cleanairchoicelogo2The American Lung Association in Minnesota has picked the two winners for its 2014 Clean Air Choice Biodiesel Essay contest.

John Wheaton, a recent graduate of Minnetonka High School, was the first place winner with his essay, “Impacting a new generation: my journey toward educating the community on the benefits of biodiesel.”

Wheaton, a resident of Deephaven, Minn., has long had an interest in alternative fuels and vehicle technologies. He heard about the scholarship while attending a meeting at the American Lung Association in Minnesota headquarters. He will receive a $1,000 check for his winning essay.

The second place winner is Hannah Korri of Duluth. A recent graduate of Two Harbors High School, Hannah wrote of her concerns that vehicle emissions from traditional petroleum fuels threatened the “…crisp, clean air found only in our Northland.” She will receive a $500 check for her winning essay.

The Clean Air Choice Biodiesel Essay contest is open to all high school seniors in Minnesota, and officials will be announcing information on the 2015 contest soon.

Renderer Acquires Biodiesel Operation

bakernewleafA renderer and recycler has acquired a controlling interest in a Southern California biodiesel operation that turns fats and oils into the green fuel. This article posted on Feedstocks.com says Baker Commodities, Inc., which has been a long-time supplier of fats and oils to the biodiesel industry, now controls San Diego-based New Leaf Biofuel, and the move will allow Baker to expand into other markets that vertically integrate with its rendering operations.

“We are excited to have New Leaf Biofuel as a division that will continue the recycling of fats and oils into an environmentally clean and sustainable fuel for all Californians to use,” said Jim Andreoli, Jr, Co-President, Baker Commodities. “As renderers, we in the industry have been recycling fats and proteins for hundreds of years, and to be able to use these materials to further support our society’s needs is a natural fit for our rendering business.”

Since 2006, New Leaf Biofuel has been converting used cooking oil into ultra-low carbon biodiesel, which is used in commercial and municipal fleets throughout California. New Leaf Biofuel President Jennifer Case and her husband Tyler Case, Vice President of Operations, are excited to work with Baker as the general operators of New Leaf Biofuel. “We couldn’t be happier about becoming part of Baker Commodities,” said Case. “We are both family-owned businesses and share very similar philosophies and corporate sustainability goals. We’re excited to help the company in its future growth.”

Baker has been rendering and removing grease since 1937.

Neste Oil Moves Away from Microbes for Renewable Diesel

nesteoil_logoRenewable diesel maker Neste Oil says it will move away from turning microbes into the green fuel and concentrate on other feedstocks, such as forestry and agricultural waste. This company news release says the Finland-based Neste Oil wants to increase the number of renewable inputs used for the renewable diesel.

“Our microbial oil pilot plant at Porvoo has demonstrated that we have the technical capability for producing microbial oil,” says Neste Oil’s Senior Vice President, Technology, Lars Peter Lindfors. “Seen in terms of sustainability, using waste and sidestreams generated by agriculture and forestry as well as industry has a very important role to play in the future, and we have successfully used straw, for example, to produce microbial oil. Two years of in-depth microbial oil research at the pilot plant has generated a lot of valuable know-how and extended our patent portfolio, and we will be able to use the results of this work in other research projects.

“The time is not yet ripe for a commercial-scale microbial oil plant, however. Lignocellulose material is not a financially competitive industrial feedstock for producing renewable diesel using the microbial oil process at the moment. We will continue researching agricultural and forestry waste and residues, and believe that lignocellulose inputs will play an important role in future renewable applications,” says Lindfors.

The release does not say how this could affect a recent deal with U.S. algae producer Renewable Algae Energy (RAE) to supply algae oil as an alternative feedstock for Neste Oil’s NEXBTL renewable diesel for the future.

More Biodiesel Use Means More Attention to Seals

More use of biodiesel in heavy machinery, such as construction and agricultural equipment, means operators need to pay more attention to what kind of seals they use in the machines. This news release from Freudenberg-NOK Sealing Technologies says that those engine and transmission seals need to be made of validated elastomeric materials that withstand unique operating conditions or they will prematurely fail.

“As the large earth moving equipment and other heavy machinery becomes cleaner by using biodiesel fuels, manufacturers are going to experience more motor oil contamination in their engines from this fuel,” [Joseph Walker, global director, Advanced Materials Development for Freudenberg-NOK Sealing Technologies] said. “Biodiesel fuels have a much higher boiling point and the fuel is miscible with the engine oil. This means more fuel remains in the oil during use and this diluted oil mixture impacts engine and component operation.”

While industry studies that examine the impact of oil-fuel dilution on lubricants exist, this is the first time a company has undertaken efforts to understand how oil-fuel dilution affects sealing elements, he noted.

“This comprehensive study was designed to close that gap,” Walker said. “We realized that if we understood how these biodiesel fuel oil mixtures impacted elastomeric materials on a molecular level, we could determine which ones would perform best and longest for our customers and require the fewest seal replacements. And the dilution of the engine oil with biodiesel fuel does have pronounced effects on both lubricant and seal life.”

Freudenberg-NOK officials also note that the issue can be more pronounced in the construction industry where heavy machinery is being constantly leased and operated for long periods between maintenance cycles.

Walker will present his company’s finding’s at today’s SAE 2014 Commercial Vehicle Engineering Congress (COMVEC) in Rosemont, Ill.

Minnesota Biodiesel Exceeds Quality Standards

nbb-logoBiodiesel in Minnesota is more than meeting quality standards – it’s exceeding them! The National Biodiesel Board (NBB) reports that some recent field testing from more than 30 random retail stations scattered throughout the state of Minnesota showed biodiesel blends greatly exceeding important fuel quality parameters set by the industry.

“Biodiesel fuel quality is at an all-time high across the industry,” said Scott Fenwick, National Biodiesel Board technical director. “The recent results from the Minnesota testing is just another example of why consumers can feel confident filling up with biodiesel blends.”

A key indicator of fuel quality in biodiesel blends is oxidative stability, which is a measure of degradation caused by exposure to oxygen. Plymouth, Minn., based MEG Corp., a fuel consulting company, took blind samples in September from retailers across three regions in Minnesota — north, metro and south.

All of the samples taken surpassed the minimum required specification for oxidative stability and most of the samples were three to four times better than the minimum. Fenwick said higher values indicate even better stability, and this new real-world data is important as some original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) look for more assurances that biodiesel blends are meeting specifications at the pump. The minimum stability requirements within the current biodiesel specs only recommend for biodiesel to be stored for up to six months which is more than enough time for most diesel applications.

Minnesota just completed the first summer of a successful run with 10 percent biodiesel (B10) in diesel fuel statewide, which was considered a success in no small part because of the high quality of the fuel in the system.