Turning Cow Manure Into Brown Gold

In the heart of Wisconsin, a project is underway to produce energy from a resource that is in little danger of running low: cow manure, or “brown gold.” Thanks to a $7 million grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI), the University of Wisconsin-Madison and several state companies have formed a consortium to pilot the conversion of dairy farm manure into useful product streams—a project that is expected to have significant environmental and economic benefits.

cute cowThe Accelerated Renewable Energy (ARE) project is already in progress at the 5,000-cow Maple Leaf Dairy in Manitowoc County, where animal waste is separated into different streams, or fractions, of processed manure. After small plant fibers in the manure are separated out and anaerobically digested to create biogas, liquids from the digestion process are used to fertilize crops, while leftover solids can be converted into useful chemicals and bio-plastics. Larger plant fibers, on the other hand, make great animal bedding and mulch, as well as a starting material for ethanol fermentation.

WBI director and Biological Systems Engineering (BSE) faculty member Troy Runge, who is a co-investigator of the project, is interested in supporting a renewable energy economy through the development of value-added products from biomass. Runge’s lab is analyzing the ARE project’s separation techniques to improve their efficiency and economic performance.

“We are performing many of the same separations that occur on the farm, but in the controlled environment of the lab to both measure and optimize the system,” says Runge. Continue reading

Stover Harvesting Requires Careful Management

According to Purdue University researchers, removing corn stover from agricultural fields to produce cellulosic ethanol requires careful management to avoid adding greenhouse gas emissions and soil erosion to the environment. However, environmental impacts from stover removal can be reduced by switching to no-till corn or adding winter cover crops, but these practices likely would increase production costs, researchers reported in a study, “Environmental and Economic Trade-Offs in a Watershed When Using Corn Stover for Bioenergy,” published in Environmental Science & Technology.

“Some crop rotation and tillage combinations are more environmentally benign than others,” said Ben Gramig, a Purdue agricultural economist and the study’s lead researcher. “But there are water quality and greenhouse gas tradeoffs when collecting stover.”

As Gramig explains, stover is the parts of a corn plant that remain after grain harvest. Greenhouse gases from cropfields are released into the atmosphere when carbon escapes disturbed soils during stover removal. Emissions also occur when nitrogen fertilizer is applied to the land or crop residues decompose. Plowing fields loosens soil and, when combined with removing stover, causes increased soil erosion.

The study examined the environmental effects and costs of stover collection from eight corn-soybean rotation and continuous corn systems in a watershed typical of the eastern Corn Belt. The comparisons were made by combining results from watershed and greenhouse gas computer simulation models and minimizing the cost of stover collection, to select which farming practices to use in an agricultural watershed.

Continue reading

Thank a Farmer Today

This week is Ag Week. Have you thanked a farmer yet?

For those of you reading this post and wondering why you should thank a farmer, remember that they not only produce our food, but also our fuel and fiber. Growers are planting and harvesting crops that are used to create biofuels – biodiesel, ethanol, cellulosic and soon algal-based biofuels.

Need some inspiration? Watch country singer James Wesley music video, “Thank a Farmer.” You can find James’ song on YouTube and purchase it at iTunes.

ENOGEN: Profitable for Corn & Ethanol Producers

Growers looking for a more profitable corn crop should consider planting ENOGEN corn. Ethanol producers looking for more gallons from a bushel of corn should look to farmers growing ENOGEN corn. I learned about the emerging corn trait designed specifically for ethanol production from Jeff Carver who is the ENOGEN Accounts Manager for Syngenta, when we spoke during the Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit.

irfa-13-carverCarver explained that the trait is expressed in the endosperm so it works really well in the ethanol production process. He said the competitiveness of the hybrid is great for the farmer as well. “It transcends value across both the ethanol plant and the direct payback to the farmer.”

So why is this trait unique? Carver said that one difference is that it is an end-use trait that is expressed in the endosperm. During the hydrolysis of the protein, it allows for a very rapid viscosity break. This allows the plant to reduce the amount of water used in the process. With that, based on market conditions, the plant can either push additional through-put through the plant or actually slow the plant down to produce more ethanol.

So in a “corn kernel” you’re actually producing more ethanol from the same bushel of corn. Carver also discussed the benefits of the trait for the production of dried distillers grains and corn oil.

The ENOGEN program is designed around ethanol production and there are trials currently underway. Ethanol plants who are interested in joining the next trial (2014 and beyond) should contact Jeff now.

Listen to my interview with Jeff Carver here: ENOGEN Corn - Profitable for Corn & Ethanol Producers

View the IRFA Renewable Fuels Summit Photo Album.

More B For Me Please

More B For MeMore biodiesel please. If you were on the look out for biodiesel it could definitely be seen during the 10th Annual National Biodiesel Conference in Las Vegas. Last year was a roller coaster year for the industry but some good things happened, one of which was the $1 per gallon tax credit coming back. Another – increasing the volume of biodiesel as part of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

Biodiesel can be a good tool in a farm business but Alicia Clancy, Manager of Corporate Affairs for the Renewable Energy Group (REG) said that biodiesel can play a bigger role than it currently is. What does she mean? Biodiesel can be used in farm equipment such as tractors and trucks and many use B2 blends. But, said Clancy, equipment and many trucks are approved to use up to B20.

Choose BiodieselIt is this fact that spurred the biodiesel promotion, More B for Me. Clancy said the goal of the promotion is to increase awareness of biodiesel use in farming equipment. As part of the campaign, farmers (or consumers) are encouraged go to their local co-op or gas station and ask them to offer higher blends of biodiesel and then use blends up to B20.

Here is how it works. Go to www.morebforme.com to register. You must be a farmer in Iowa (although everyone should ask for more biodiesel). REG, along with all the sponsors of the program including the Iowa Soybean Association and the soybean checkoff, Iowa Biodiesel Board and the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, is giving away 10 – $1,000 dollar certificates at the end of March, just in time for planting season.

Listen to my interview with Alicia here: More B For Me

2013 National Biodiesel Conference Photo Album

USDA Releases Climate Change & Ag Study

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has released a comprehensive report that synthesize the scientific literature on climate change effects and adaptation strategies for U.S. agriculture. The report, “Climate Change and Agriculture in the United States: Effects and Adaptation,” was created a an input to the National Climate Assessment with scientists from the federal service, universities, non-governmental organizations, industry, tribal lands and private sectors contributing to the peer-reviewed study. It is open for public comment until

“These reports present the challenges that U.S. agriculture and forests will face in this century from global climate change,” said William Hohenstein, director of the Climate Change Program Office in USDA’s Office of the Chief Economist. “They give us a framework for understanding the implications of climate change, in order to meet our future demands for food, feed, fiber, and fuel.”

The reports indicate how climate change is affecting U.S. farms, forests, grasslands, and rural communities. The report finds that while U.S. agriculture and resource management have long histories of successful adaptation to climate variability, the accelerating pace and intensity of climate change presents new challenges to be addressed.

nbb-13-vilsack1For example, the report indicates increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide, rising temperatures, and altered precipitation patterns will affect agricultural productivity. Climate change will exacerbate the stresses already occurring from weeds, insects, and disease. The report finds that increases in the incidence of extreme weather events will have a greater influence on agricultural productivity. 

In addition the report finds that over the next 25 years, the effects of climate change on agricultural production and economic outcomes for both producers and consumers in the United States are expected to be mixed, depending on regional conditions. Beyond 2050, changes are expected to include shifts in crop production areas, increases in pest control expenses, and greater disease prevalence.

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack gave a few remarks about the study during the 10th Annual National Biodiesel Board Conference & Expo. Listen to his remarks on climate change here: USDA Climate Change & Ag Study

2013 National Biodiesel Conference Photo Album

2013 Waste to Biofuels Market Analysis

According to a recent white paper from Renewable Waste Intelligence, there are two key issues facing the biofuels industry: consumers and vehicle manufacturers must be persuaded to adopt new, more environmentally friendly gasoline blends; and advanced biofuels manufacturers must demonstrate commercial capability and play catch-up to Environmental Protection Agency targets for production.

With feedstock prices high for several feedstocks, including corn for ethanol and soybeans for biodiesel, many producers are looking for alternative feedstocks, or to move into “advanced” biofuel production. An interesting phenomena is that as waste feedstocks are more readily adopted for biodiesel production, such as yellow grease, animal fats, waste oil, etc. are used, the feedstock prices increase.

Screen Shot 2013-01-09 at 11.18.44 PMThis is one reason, according to the white paper, that producers are looking to lower-cost feedstocks and a burgeoning market is waste. The white paper cites 2005 EPA estimates more than 246 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) was generated with 133 million tons sent to landfills, 79 million tons recylcled and 33.4 million tons used to generate energy. Of this, millions of tons that is ordinarily sent to landfills would make a suitable feedstock.

In many cases, local governments pay for waste to be shipped to a landfill, the average is $42 per ton. However, by citing a biofuels facility near municipal processing facilities, biofuel producers can benefit from undercutting these costs while achieving “negative” feedstock costs, according to the paper. Some analysts have noted that MSW prices could eventually increase, as happened with other waste feedstocks, technological barriers make it unlikely for this to happen any time over the next decade.

The quest for the best technologies and most affordable feedstocks will continue for many years. Many of these issues will be discussed during the 3rd Annual Municipal Solid Waste to Biofuels and Bioproducts Summit being held in Orlando, Florida February 20-21, 2013. Click here for more information and to register online.

Corn, Ethanol Industries Drive Rural Economy

Screen Shot 2013-01-08 at 11.36.43 PMAccording to a new study released by the Missouri Corn Growers Association (MCGA), the state’s corn and ethanol industries are adding to the state’s bottom line. The study, conducted by the University of Missouri Commercial Agriculture Program, reported that the corn and ethanol industries injected $12 billion into Missouri’s economy from 2000 to 2011. Each year, the state’s ethanol industry utilizes around 100 million bushels of corn to produce nearly 300 million gallons of ethanol and 825,000 tons of distillers grains, a high protein livestock feed. In 2011, Missouri corn production alone added over $1 billion in value to the state’s economy and together the two industries supported 67,000 jobs.

“This research substantiates the tremendous economic benefits corn and ethanol production bring to Missouri,” said MCMC Chairman Jim Stuever, a corn grower from Dexter, Mo. “They are significant drivers for the state by creating jobs, generating tax dollars and increasing vitality of rural communities.”

Over the 12 years studied, the combined benefits to the state’s economy from the corn and ethanol industries were:

  • $12 billion in economic value,
  • $5.3 billion in labor income, and
  • $2.2 billion paid in local, state and federal taxes.

“This is truly a success story for agriculture and the state of Missouri,” noted MCGA President Rob Korff, a corn farmer from Norborne, Mo. “The state’s ethanol industry was built on the faith and dedication of hardworking farm families and support from state leaders.”

During the 12-year period, the ethanol industry yielded a 6:1 return, a net value of over $600 million, on the state’s investment. According to the study, Missouri’s six majority farmer-owned ethanol plants alone generated the following direct and indirect benefits to the state: $734 million in economic value; $416 million in labor income; and $174 million in local, state and federal taxes.

Farm Bill Extension Without Energy Funding is Job Killer

With the 112th Congress unable to come to terms and pass a new Farm Bill, the current bill was extended for nine months while the 113th Congress works to pass a 2013 Farm Bill. Although the bill is extended as part of the American Taxpayer Relief of 2012, it was extended without energy title funding that includes programs such as the Rural Energy for American Farm Photo: John Helmstetter FarmAmerica Program (REAP), Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) Biorefinery Assistance Program (BAP) and the Biobased Markets Program (Biopreffered). The news was not greeted with enthusiasm by the agricultural and renewable energy industries.

“We are deeply disappointed that Congress ignored the bipartisan bill drafted by House and Senate Ag Committee leaders,” said Lloyd Ritter, Ag Energy Coalition co-director. “By eliminating mandatory funding for energy title programs, the agreement cuts short vitally important job creation and economic growth in rural America.”

According to Ritter, these programs have helped to revitalize rural America, develop new agricultural markets, and reduce the need for direct payments to farmers. In addition, says Ritter, these programs have unlocked private capital for construction of the nation’s first cellulosic and advanced biofuel biorefineries. As part of this movement, more than 150,000 acres of underutilized, such as marginal land, in more than 150 countries.

Last year, the U.S. Senate passed a version of a five-year Farm Bill that set mandatory levels each year for renewable energy and energy efficiency programs. A slightly different version of a five-year Farm Bill was passed by the House Agriculture Committee that provided discretionary funding for these programs. Draft legislation for a one-year extension of the current Farm Bill agreed to by the House and Senate Ag Committee leaders and released at the end of December 2012 set mandatory funding levels for 2013. However, the extension did not pass with these funding levels included and will ultimately cause harm to the momentum of agriculture’s role in renewable energy.

GROWMARK System to Acquire Meier Oil Products

GROWMARK logoGROWMARK has announced it will be acquiring Meier Oil Production and Manito Transit. Both businesses have been family owned since 1936 and consisted of a trucking company, fuel terminal facility in Ashkum and bulk fuel facilities at Kankakee, Pontiac, Sheldon and Champaign, all in Illinois.

Kevin Carroll, GROWMARK vice president, Energy, said the acquisition strengthens the GROWMARK System through collaboration between Evergreen FS, Heritage FS and Illini FS and GROWMARK Energy.

“This will allow our local companies to work more efficiently as part of the broader GROWMARK System to serve this expanded market,” said Carroll. “We have a strong heritage of being a reliable supplier of refined and renewable fuels and lubricants. Adding the Meier Oil business enhances our heritage and provides customers meier-oil-logoongoing access to quality products.”

Mike Meier, President of Meier Oil Products, said the transaction reinforces his family’s commitment to the community and to superior customer service. He noted that all the cooperatives are respected members of the industry and communities they serve.

“As such, they share our commitment to our employees and to providing quality products at competitive prices. We are honored our customers will have access to a reliable supply of products and can count on ongoing quality customer service,” said Meier.

USDA Supports Sustainable Bioenergy Production

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded $10 million in research grants to help develop production of bioenergy and biobased products. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack made the announcement while visiting Michigan State University, one of the grant winners.

Ford Concept Car with Biobased materialsWhile there, Vilsack mentioned the growth potential of biobased products as detailed in a recent study by Iowa State University (funded by USDA) that found that while biobased products in automobile manufacturing is increasing, there are still many parts that can be replaced with biobased materials.

“USDA and President Obama are committed to producing clean energy right here at home, to not only break our dependence on foreign oil, but also boost rural economies,” said Vilsack. “These projects will give us the scientific information needed to support biofuel production and create co-products that will enhance the overall value of a biobased economy. Today, with a strong and diversified U.S. agricultural sector, the American automobile industry has a greater incentive for expanding use of biobased products while supporting good-paying jobs here in the United States.”

USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded the grants through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). AFRI’s sustainable bioenergy challenge area targets the development of regional systems for the sustainable production of bioenergy and biobased products that: contribute significantly to reducing dependence on foreign oil; have net positive social, environmental, and rural economic impacts; and are compatible with existing agricultural systems.

Projects were awarded in four areas: 1) policy options for and impacts on regional biofuels production systems, 2) impacts of regional bioenergy feedstock production systems on wildlife and pollinators, 3) socioeconomic impacts of biofuels on rural communities, and 4) environmental implications of direct and indirect land use change. Click here to view a full list of the winners.

ISU Researchers Growing Algae in Poultry Houses

A research project conducted by several Iowa State University (ISU) researchers is studying the feasibility of growing algae in poultry houses. Poultry manure generates ammonia, a health and safety concern for both animals and workers. Ammonia can burn the eyes, but if released into the atmosphere, could also cause acid rain. But if Honwei Xin, professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering at ISU he will turn a challenge into an opportunity.

Juhyon Kang, graduate research assistant in food science and human nutrition is joining Xin in the research and are working together, according to an article in the Iowa State Daily, to design and develop a bioreactor that will filter  ammonia out of the exhaust air. The gas will then be repurposed to grow algae in a controlled environment.

“We want to improve the environmental stewardship of the poultry operation,” Xin said. “It would be a perfect match if we could remove ammonia from the exhaust air in poultry houses and use it to grow algae.”

Algae can be used to create a myriad of products including biofuel, biojet fuel, biomaterials, biochemicals and animal feed. Algae thrives on gases that for humans, can negatively affect health such as carbon dioxide and ammonia.

Kang said tests have shown that up to 96 percent of the ammonia is removed from the [air] exhaust. She is currently working on scaling up the algal bioreactor ro commercial scale while other team members study optimal algae growth conditions, analyze algae to produce feed and exploring optimum amounts of ammonia concentration for the algae to grow.

Xin added, “Algae can serve as a feedstock for biorenewable energy or [an additive] for animal feed. It’s a win-win situation; you kill two birds with one stone.”

Green Plains Sells Agribusiness Assets

Green Plains Renewable Energy (GPRE) has completed the sale of 12 grain elevators located in northwestern Iowa and western Tennessee to The Andersons. The sale include approximately 32.6 million bushels of GPRE’s reported agribusiness grain storage capacity and all of its agronomy and retail petroleum operations. GPRE expects to report a pre-tax gain from this sale in the fourth quarter of 2012 of around $46 million. XMS Capital Partners served as financial advisor to Green Plains in the transaction.

National Biodiesel Board Elects Governing Board

National Biodiesel Board members selected their trade association leadership, electing three returning governing board members and four new members to serve on the leadership committee to lead America’s advanced biofuel.

Officers elected to lead the board are:
• Gary Haer chairman, Renewable Energy Group, Inc.
• Ed Ulch, vice chair, Iowa Soybean Association
• Ron Marr, secretary, Minnesota Soybean Processors
• Steven Levy, treasurer, Sprague Operating Resources

Biodiesel board members also voted to fill seven board member spots. Board members elected to the Governing Board included treasurer Steven Levy and:
• Greg Anderson, Nebraska Soybean Board
• Jennifer Case, New Leaf Biofuels
• Mike Cunningham, ASA
• Brandon Foley, Sanimax
• Tim Keaveney, HERO BX
• John Wright, Owensboro Grain Company

Bob Metz, Robert Stobaugh, Kris Kappenman, Ed Hegland, and Jim Conway also continue to serve on the Governing Board.

Farm Foundation Blog: Food & Fuel for 9 Billion in 2050

How do you keep an expected world population of 9 billion people by the year 2050 fed AND meet the world’s energy needs? Our friends at Farm Foundation are taking on those challenging questions, hopefully with some good answers through their new blog, AgChallenge2050.org.

“It’s an opportunity for more people to be involved in the conversation,” said Mary Thompson, Farm Foundation’s Vice President, Communications, adding there are four key areas of consideration: role of science and technology in agriculture, farm and food policy, adaptability resistance, and human capital needs in agriculture and the food system. “We have contributors who will be twice a week posting new ideas and new perspectives in those four areas, and we will encourage all types of stakeholders to come in and be part of the conversation.”

And don’t forget, Farm Foundation has another one of their forums coming up this Wednesday, November 14th looking at what the recently completed election means to agriculture, food and rural policies. It will be held at the National Press Club in Washington, DC and webcast. Click here for more information.

Listen to Cindy’s interview with Mary here: Mary Thompson, Farm Foundation

2012 NAFB Convention Photo Album