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.

Canola Genome Could Unlock Biodiesel Potential in Plant

PatersonResearchers have unlocked the genome for canola, and their discovery could mean a better plant for biodiesel. The University of Georgia says its scientists are part of the international team that published the genome of Brassica napus, better known as canola, in the journal Science.

“This genome sequence opens new doors to accelerating the improvement of canola,” said Andrew Paterson, Regents Professor, director of UGA’s Plant Genome Mapping Laboratory and co-corresponding author for the study. “We can use this knowledge to tailor the plant’s flowering time, make it more resistant to disease and improve a myriad of other traits that will make it more profitable for production in Georgia and across the country.”

The Plant Genome Mapping Laboratory played prominent roles in the sequencing both B. rapa and B. oleracea in 2011 and 2014, respectively.

“Understanding the genomes of B. rapa and B. oleracea was key to piecing together the canola genome,” Paterson said. “It’s like a genetic love triangle between the three species, with canola sometimes favoring genes from B. rapa or B. oleracea or sometimes both.”

Researchers believe the knowledge will eventually give them a more sustainable feedstock for biodiesel production.

Iowans Want More Biodiesel and Candidates’ Support for It

IowaBiodieselBoardLogoAs one of the nation’s leaders in biodiesel production, it comes as no surprise that Iowans are supportive of the green fuel. But a new survey shows that support is practically through the roof! The Iowa Biodiesel Board says a new survey of registered voters shows that more than three-fourths of those asked not only support biodiesel, but they want the federal requirement for the fuel to increase. And nearly the same amount say a Congressional candidate’s support for the Renewable Fuel Standard was an important factor in their voting decisions.

The 77 percent figure came in response to the question, “Do you support or oppose expanding the national Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires blending some renewable fuels into the nation’s fuel supply, to increase biodiesel use in the United States?”

What’s more, 69 percent said a Congressional candidate’s position on the RFS was “very” or “somewhat” important.

There are four U.S. House seats and one U.S. Senate seat up for election in Iowa.

The survey comes as biodiesel producers are feeling a lot of market pressure because of the Obama Administration’s proposal to slash the RFS biodiesel target far below last year’s production of nearly 1.8 billion gallons. It also comes as candidates are making a big push for that November vote.

Multi-tasking Could be Key for Algae-to-Diesel Ops

algaesystemsA company from Nevada thinks it has found a way to make a profit turning algae into renewable diesel: multi-tasking. This article from the New York Times says Algae Systems, which has a pilot plant in Alabama, believes it will be able to turn a profit by doing several other things while turning the algae oil into a usable fuel, namely, making clean water from municipal sewage, using the carbon-heavy residue as fertilizer and generating valuable credits for advanced biofuels.

“We think it is a really elegant solution,” said Matt Atwood, the chief executive. At its heart is a “hydrothermal liquefaction” system that heats the algae and other solids in the sewage to more than 550 degrees Fahrenheit, at 3,000 pounds per square inch, turning out a liquid that resembles crude oil from a well.

The company sent the liquid to Auburn University, where scientists added hydrogen (a common step in oil refining) to produce diesel fuel. An independent laboratory, Intertek, confirmed that the diesel fuel met industry specifications. The thermal processing has caught the attention of independent scientists. The Department of Energy recently awarded a $4 million grant to a partnership led by SRI International for further work on Algae Systems’ hydrothermal processing system.

Engineers hope the system could dispose of a variety of unwanted or hazardous materials. It also destroys pathogens in sewage.

Developers of the high-temperature processing technology say this method is much less energy intensive than more commonly used practices that dried out the algae and broke down the cell walls to separate the oil from the microbes.

Neste’s Renewable Diesel Keeps Summer Festivals Green

Nestefestival1While summer rains this year might be keeping lawns green, a renewable diesel maker in Finland says its fuel is keeping summer festivals ecologically green. This news release from Neste Oil says its NEXBTL renewable diesel helped generate electricity at the Flow Festival in Helsinki and the Neste Oil Rally Helsinki Battle street circuit race.

NEXBTL diesel generated 45% of the electricity used at the Flow Festival and powered the machinery at the festival site. Using the fuel resulted in a 22 ton reduction in emissions, equivalent in emission terms to nearly three round-the-world flights.

“Using Neste Oil’s renewable diesel to generate electricity offered us an excellent way to reduce our carbon footprint,” says Flow’s Production Manager, Emilia Mikkola.

“NEXBTL diesel has proved itself an excellent fuel for generating electricity, as it has in other areas,” according to Kaisa Hietala, Neste Oil’s Executive Vice President, Renewable Products. “When used to power on-site generator sets, the premium quality of the fuel and its purity cut exhaust emissions and eliminate the odor associated with conventional diesel.”

This isn’t the first time Neste’s renewable diesel kept the party going during a summer event. Last year, NEXBTL diesel was used to generate electricity at the Down By The Laituri Festival in Turku and the Tall Ships Races Helsinki event.

Calif. Gets First Anaerobic Digester to Turn Manure into Biogas

DVOdigester1California gets its first anaerobic digester that will turn manure from a dairy farm into biogas. Wisconsin-based DVO, Inc. announced it has nearly completed work on the anaerobic digester scheduled to open at Calgren Renewable Fuels on September 30, 2014 in Pixley, Calif.

The DVO anaerobic digester, built by Andgar of Ferndale, Washington, is designed to hold approximately 1,400,000 gallons of manure and organic waste. Each day, the digester will receive 55,000 gallons of solid and liquid waste from Four J Farm Dairy, a nearby dairy farm with approximately 2,000 head of cattle.

Biogas, one of the many valuable byproducts of the anaerobic digestion process, will replace thousands of gallons of natural gas currently being used by the Calgren on-site cogeneration facility to produce 55 million gallons of ethanol each year.

Biosolids, another beneficial byproduct of anaerobic digestion, will be sent back to Four J Farm Dairy to be used as a high-quality and low pathogen count cattle bedding. Liquid nutrients from the digestion process will also make its way back to the farm to fertilize growing crops.

DVO officials say the digester will reduce farm waste greenhouse gas emissions by more than 90 percent, while also cutting down on pathogens and odors.

Researchers Help ID Non-Invasive Species for Biofuel

pennycressWith a host of new plants being discovered for their biofuel-producing qualities, everyone wants to make sure what is being grown doesn’t become a destructive invasive plant. To that end, researchers at the University of Illinois have developed a set of regulatory definitions and provisions and a list of 49 low-risk biofuel plants that growers can choose.

Lauren Quinn, an invasive plant ecologist at U of I’s Energy Biosciences Institute, recognized that most of the news about invasive biofuel crops was negative and offered few low-risk alternatives to producers. She and her colleagues set out to create a list of low-risk biofuel crops that can be safely grown for conversion to ethanol but realized in the process that regulations were needed to instill checks and balances in the system.

“There are not a lot of existing regulations that would prevent the planting of potentially invasive species at the state or federal levels. For example, there are currently only four states (Florida, Mississippi, Oregon, and Maryland) that have any laws relating to how bioenergy crops can be grown and that include any language about invasive species—and, for the most part, when those words do appear, they are either not defined or poorly defined,” said Quinn.

In approving new biofuel products, Quinn said that the EPA doesn’t formally consider invasiveness at all – just greenhouse gas emissions related to their production. “Last summer, the EPA approved two known invaders, Arundo donax (giant reed) and Pennisetum purpurem (napier grass), despite public criticism,” added U of I professor of agricultural law A. Bryan Endres, who co-authored the research to define legislative language for potentially invasive bioenergy feedstocks.

One of the issues the researchers tackled first was defining an invasive specie as “a population exhibiting a net negative impact or harm to the target ecosystem.” Once that definition was in place, they were able to put together guidelines that are simple for regulators to understand. Quinn hopes the definitions and suggested regulations could become part of a revised Renewable Fuels Standard administered by EPA.

Some of the feedstocks of concern include pennycress, which has a high risk for invasion, jatropha and some Miscanthus species.

Preaching Conservation with Biodiesel and Ice Cream

icecreamexp1Three recent college grads have been spending their summer winding across the country handing out free ice cream from a truck running on biodiesel. Caleb Kruse, Cameron Kruse and Jordan Fatke have been trekking through what will be 33 states by the end of the Ice Cream Expedition, an effort funded by National Geographic, designed to show conservation from a child’s point of view and share free scoops of Magnolia Tropical Ice Cream as a conversation starter.

They will also encourage children to sign a pledge to explore and protect a place that is meaningful to them, such as a local pond or a backyard garden. Magnolia will be donating all of the ice cream for the trip, and the available tropical flavors will be avocado, mango, guava and a mix of purple yam and coconut…

“I’ve always wanted to drive across the country, and a friend once jokingly suggested I do it in an ice cream truck, and the idea took hold,” said Caleb. “The ice cream truck holds a unique position in a community and can be used as a platform to start talking to people, especially kids — and that’s who we’re trying to inspire.”

“National Geographic Kids is proud to be supporting these Young Explorers in their expedition across the United States,” said Rachel Buchholz, editor and vice president of National Geographic Kids and a committee member of the Young Explorers Grants program. “Through their work, they’re inspiring kids to explore their world as well as protect it. And who doesn’t love free ice cream!”

Along with the love of ice cream, maybe these guys will foster a little love for one of our favorite fuels, biodiesel.

By the way, they’ll be at the Atlanta Botanical Garden today, handing out free ice cream and talking conservation from 11 a.m. – Noon.

Leaf-Cutter Ants Could Hold Key for Biomass

leaf-cutter ant1A fungus from leaf-cutter ant gardens could be key in how biomass gets broken down into bioenergy sources. This article from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory says researchers working with colleagues at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center are using metabolomic and metaproteomic techniques to examine the dynamics of nutrient turnover in the gardens of leaf-cutter ants to discover how sugars, key in biofuels production, can be released.

The team found that numerous free amino acids and sugars are depleted throughout the process of biomass degradation, indicating that easily accessible nutrients from plant material are readily consumed by microbes in these ecosystems. Accumulation of cellobiose and lignin derivatives near the end of the degradation process supports the research team’s previous characterization of lignocellulases produced by the fungal cultivar of the ants.

Their results also suggest that derivatives of urea may be an important source of nitrogen in fungus gardens, especially during nitrogen-limiting conditions. No protein-free arginine (“free” arginine) was detected in the team’s metabolomic experiments, despite evidence that the host ants cannot produce this amino acid, which is a key nutrient for the ants. This suggests that biosynthesis of this metabolite may be tightly regulated in fungus gardens. These results provide new insights into microbial community-level processes that underlie this important ant-fungus symbiosis.

The article goes on to point out that the study yields important information on how metabolomics can help us understand how microbes can break down plant material to release the raw materials needed to make biofuels.

Dutch Researchers Develop Catalyst to Get Oil from Biomass

utwenteoilResearchers in The Netherlands have developed a catalyst that helps get more energy from biomass to more closely match more conventional sources of oil-based energy. This article from the University of Twente says the new, simple catalyst improves the quality of this oil before it is even transported to the refinery and was selected as part of the follow-up technology from CATCHBIO, the national research program looking to make sure Europe acheives 20 percent of its fuel from renewable sources by 2020.

The oil in current-generation biofuel does not come from fruit or seed, such as palm or rape seed oil but, for example, from plant residues, pruning waste and wood chips. As a result, there is no longer any undesirable competition with the food supply. Converting plant residues, which take up a lot of space, into oil simplifies transport considerably and the product can go directly to a refinery. Blending with crude oil is already possible. However, the quality of this oil does not yet equal that of crude oil. It has a lower energy content per litre, is acid and still contains too much water. The catalyst developed by Prof. Leon Lefferts and Prof. Kulathuiyer Seshan’s group Catalytic Processes and Materials (MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology/Green Energy Initiative) significantly improves the quality and energy content of the oil.

This is realized by heating the oil in nitrogen to 500 degrees Celsius and by applying a simple catalyst: sodium carbonate on a layer of alumina. By using this method, the energy content of the oil can be boosted from 20 to 33-37 megajoule per kilogram, which is better than crude oil and approximates the quality of diesel. The technology, recently defended by PhD candidate Masoud Zabeti, is already being tested by KIOR in Texas, USA, on a small industrial scale, with a production of 4,500 barrels of oil per day. The quality of the oil can be improved even more by adding the material caesium, as well as sodium carbonate. “By doing so, we can, for instance, also reduce the aromatics, which are harmful when inhaled”, says Prof. Seshan.

The technology is being studied in cooperation with several other European universities and research institutes.

Oregon Clarifies Biodiesel Rules

OregonDeptofAgThe Oregon Department of Agriculture has clarified some of its rules about what needs to be sold as biodiesel. The agency says it sent notices to more than 400 retailers that they can’t market diesel with 6 to 20 percent biodiesel as “diesel.”

“We have investigated a number of consumer complaints alleging that certain retail fuel establishments are advertising diesel on their street signs at a significant discount relative to the competition,” says Steve Harrington, ODA’s Weights and Measures Program Manager. “When the consumer pulls in to fill up, they find out they are getting B20 and not the normal B5 diesel. B20 does not meet the legal specification for diesel and may not be marketed as such.”

During the 2013 Oregon legislative session, HB 2435 was passed which exempts diesel fuel blended with a minimum of 20 percent biodiesel (B20), derived from used cooking oil, from the state highway excise tax on fuel, which is 30 cents per gallon.

In response, ODA has sent out a notice addressed to all gas stations having licensed dispensers, both retail and card lock, advising them of the legal requirements for advertising B20. Essentially, B20 is required to be clearly advertised both on the street signs and dispensers so that the consumer may make an informed buying decision. If the prominent markings on the dispenser indicate that the product is diesel, then the product must meet with the diesel specification or it will be ordered off sale by ODA until the product labeling is corrected.

The agency says the 30-cent price discount without the tax makes B20 especially attractive for consumers, but officials worry it doesn’t meet some vehicle manufacturers’ specifications.

Feds: Propane Inventories Growing Strong

Propane uses, especially Midwestern farmers, are hoping to avoid a repeat of last winter’s high prices, low inventories and logistical and infrastructure challenges that caused some real problems last year. The latest information from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows that while inventories are below average, they’re above the numbers from a year ago and are trending upwards in the last few weeks.

While inventory levels in the Midwest remain below the five-year average, above-average builds over the past six weeks are an encouraging trend. Last year, propane inventories in the Midwest (PADD 2) for the week ending August 9 were 21.5 million barrels, 3.4 million barrels below the five-year average. This year, PADD 2 propane inventories for the week ending August 8 are 23.4 million barrels, 1.9 million barrels higher than last year, but still 1.6 million barrels below the five-year average. However, in each of the past six weeks, PADD 2 propane inventory builds have surpassed their five-year averages, leading to a steady improvement in stock levels relative to their historical norms…
propaneAug2014a
Last year, demand for propane used to dry crops in the Upper Midwest surged just before the start of winter and, as a result, propane inventories at distribution terminals were low before the start of winter heating season. In addition, distribution infrastructure challenges, pipeline maintenance, and rail delivery delays reduced supplies. This year, inventories are building earlier; however, there have been changes in infrastructure that could impact supply. The Cochin Pipeline, which delivered propane to the Upper Midwest from Canada, has been reversed and repurposed, removing a major source of propane supplies to the region.

Propane market participants have responded to the events of last winter and the Cochin reversal by diversifying supply sources. Instead of relying on propane delivered from Canada via Cochin, the region will now rely more on several existing pipelines to deliver propane north to the Upper Midwest from Conway. Additionally, propane rail capacity in the region has expanded via new propane rail terminals throughout the region. Finally, existing distribution terminals have added tanks, thus expanding storage capacity.

The report goes on to say that there will be continued infrastructure challenges for winter propane deliveries in the Midwest and the Northeast will have to rely on imports from Canada. In addition, an expected record corn harvest this year could put pressure on supplies again in the form of propane used for crop drying, but that will depend on fall weather patterns and harvest timing. How cold the winter is will as be the the most important and most difficult-to-predict factor influencing the propane supply-demand balance this winter.

Imperium Secures Financing to Expand Biodiesel Production

imperiumImperium Renewables, Inc. will get an infusion of financing that should let it expand its biodiesel production. This company news release says it picked up an additional $10 million in working capital from Umpqua Bank.

“Umpqua Bank’s knowledgeable team continues to find smart, flexible financing solutions that Imperium needs,” said John Plaza, president and CEO of Imperium Renewables. “These resources will help us continue to grow and diversify our operations in biodiesel production and sales.”

Seattle-based Imperium Renewables develops proprietary technology and processes to produce biodiesel, a clean-burning alternative fuel whose global demand is growing due to its environmental benefits, including lower carbon dioxide emissions. Its Imperium Grays Harbor facility can produce up to 100 million gallons of biodiesel annually. The additional working capital supplied by Umpqua will position Imperium to expand production and sales.

The move modifies Imperium’s 2012 agreement with Umpqua and bumps up total working capital from Umpqua to $20 million while maintaining the company’s revolving line of credit with the bank.

Propane Expands Use on the Farm

propane-logo1Farmers across the country are turning more and more to propane for their operations. A new study sponsored by the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) shows that farmers looking to cut fuel costs, increase efficiencies, and meet strict emissions standards are turning to the clean-burning fuel.


Propane is currently used by more than 40 percent of farms in the U.S. According to a survey conducted by PERC and Artemis Strategy Group, the most common uses for propane among farmers are building heating (47 percent) and grain drying (35 percent).

The survey also showed that the role of propane on farms is changing, as more farmers are choosing propane to fuel vehicles and irrigation systems over other alternative fuels such as natural gas. According to the survey, 14 percent are using propane to fuel a vehicle on the farm (compared with natural gas at one percent) and five percent are using propane for irrigation (compared with natural gas at two percent).

“The results show that farmers trust propane as a reliable, convenient, American-made fuel,” Cinch Munson, PERC director of agriculture business development, said. “Every year, new, fuel-efficient propane-powered irrigation engines, grain dryers, work trucks, and forklifts are hitting the market. As more options become available, more farmers will turn to propane for greater efficiency and fuel savings.”

The survey also shows that farmers like using propane, as favorability ratings hit about 84 percent for propane, compared with 61 percent for natural gas and 33 percent for heating oil. PERC also touted its partnerships with equipment manufacturers with research and development investments to commercialize new propane-powered products or advance the energy efficiency of existing applications.

Bacon-Biodiesel Bike Makes Cross-Country Trip

baconbike1Bikes, biodiesel and bacon… what more could a guy (or gal) want? In what could be the tastiest source ever for biodiesel, a motorcycle fueled by bacon grease biodiesel has driven to the West Coast. This article from the Austin (MN) Daily Herald says hometown Hormel Foods Corp. is sponsoring a motorcycle that runs on biodiesel made of bacon grease for the Aug. 29 International Bacon Film Festival in San Diego, Calif. and is being filmed along the way for a movie called “Driven By Bacon” to be shown at the film festival.

Hormel representatives say the marketing push is an exciting opportunity to spread the word about Hormel’s Black Label Bacon brand and will likely be used as a promotional tool in the future.

“It was a really exciting idea,” said Nick Schweitzer, brand manager for meat production at Hormel.

Several people, including Charlie Smithson of CSE Engineering and Taylor Bamber, Smithson’s work partner, will also be on the trip to troubleshoot problems with the motorcycle.

Smithson and Bamber custom designed the motorcycle based on a 2011 Track T-800CDI model.

Officials say the motorcycle could end up in Hormel’s Spam Museum.

Fire Dept. Saves Money & Lives Brewing Up Own Biodiesel

rioricofdA southern Arizona fire district is saving lives and money by brewing up its own biodiesel to run in its trucks. This article from the Nogales (AZ) International says the Rio Rico Fire District has been making its own biodiesel from waste cooking oil since 2008 and figures what was made kept thousands of dollars in places better spent, such as saving lives.

Since 2008, [firefighter Mark] Gerbert and others at RRFD’s Station No. 1 have been cooking up thousands of gallons of biodiesel in a surprisingly sophisticated lab funded by a $90,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency. The primary purpose of that grant was to reduce food oil waste and cut down on emissions, but the financial benefits of the project have also been significant. According to administrative manager Marcela Ceballos, the fire district has saved nearly $40,000 in fuel costs in the last three fiscal years alone.

“Like milk, diesel keeps going up,” [firefighter Frank] Granados said.

Gerbert said that most of the district’s engines can run on the B50 blend they make, which is a half-biodiesel, half-petroleum diesel blend.

When Herbert started with the project, he was short on know-how.

“I didn’t know a frickin’ thing about this when I got started,” he said.

Now, six years later, he expertly cooks waste oil into clean biodiesel with ease and explains each step of the process with the skill of a high school chemistry teacher.

The firefighters do warn people not to try this at home.

Area restaurants and homeowners wanting to help out are encouraged to contact the Rio Rico Fire District to arrange to donate their waste grease.