INL Energy Systems Laboratory Dedicated

The Energy Systems Laboratory (ESL) on the Idaho Falls Research and Education Campus has been official dedicated by the Idaho National Laboratory (INL). John Grossenbacher, Battelle Energy Alliance president and INL laboratory director, hosted special guests including elected officials and U.S. Department of Energy 8596211992_a1835eb9b3representatives, U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho and Jeff Sayer, chairman of Idaho’s Leadership in Nuclear Energy (LINE) Commission and Director of Idaho’s Department of Commerce.

The new facility has 54,000 square feet of reconfigurable laboratory research space, plus a large laboratory for biomass characterization and is LEED Gold certified.

“Our new Energy Systems Laboratory adds significant research capabilities that will contribute to the timely, material and efficient transformation of America’s energy systems and infrastructure,” said Steve Aumeier, Energy and Environment associate laboratory director, who is responsible for research in the new ESL. “The impact of research at ESL is to enhance the nation’s global competitiveness by advancing energy security through integration of clean energy systems, advancement of energy storage technologies, and biomass design and analysis,” he added.

ESL contributes significantly to efforts to integrate low-carbon energy onto America’s electrical grid, reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign-sourced fossil fuels by researching bioenergy and electrical vehicle performances, and increasing energy efficiency in manufacturing, critical materials supplies and used nuclear fuel systems engineering.

Switchgrass Versus Heating Oil

According to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), using switchgrass pellets could be a cheaper source of energy, instead of fuel oil to heat homes and businesses in the Northeast. Agricultural Research Service (ARS) researcher Paul Adler led efforts on a lifecycle analysis that compared costs of energy generation from coal, natural gas, fuel oil, and switchgrass in the form of energy-dense cubes, briquettes, and pellets.

burning switchgrassThe researchers calculated the economic outlays associated with switchgrass production throughout the supply chain, as well as greenhouse gas emissions generated by switchgrass production, densification, and conversion to heat and power. This included the first lifecycle inventory of switchgrass seed production and greenhouse gas emissions associated with seed production.

The analysis indicated that 192 pounds of “carbon dioxide equivalent,” or CO2e, was emitted for every ton of switchgrass dry matter that was sown, harvested, and delivered to densification plants for processing into pellets. CO2e is a measurement used to compare the emissions from various greenhouse gases based upon their global warming potential.

The researchers calculated that using switchgrass pellets instead of petroleum fuel oil to generate one gigajoule of heat in residences would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 146 pounds of CO2e. Totaling all costs associated with installing an appropriate residential heating system and fuel consumption, the team concluded that each gigajoule of heat produced using switchgrass pellets would cost $21.36. Using fuel oil to produce the same amount of heat would cost $28.22.

Adler is now working with Plainview Growers to determine how the carbon footprint differs between heating greenhouses with biomass and heating them with fuel oil. The results of the research were published in the journal, Environmental Science & Technology.

Abengoa US Formed

International company Abengoa has announced the creation of a new American subsidiary, Abengoa, US, which will be responsible for all its business in the country. The formation of the new subsidiary supports the company’s strong commitment to the U.S. market.

abengoa logoAccording to the company, Abengoa US has assets in excess of $5.8 billion, more than $1.7 billion in shareholders’ equity, and its revenues account for approximately 20 percent of the company’s total sales.  Today, U.S. projects are coordinated from three offices located in Washington D.C., St. Louis and Denver with R&D+i centers in Denver and St. Louis. In addition, the company has projects completed or underway in 12 sates.

Currently,, Abengoa US is engaged in various landmark projects in the country, including Solana, the world’s largest solar plant using parabolic-trough solar-thermal technology based in the Arizona desert, which has up to six hours of electricity storage, and one of the first commercial second-generation bioethanol plants located in Hugoton, Kansas, which will come into operation at the end of this year.

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.

What Do People Think About Biofuels?

What do people in the Southeast think about biofuels? Do they support biofuel ventures? Who will grow the biomass? Will those in established industries fight against it? These are just a few of the questions researchers from the University of Georgia and the U.S. Forest Service are asking as part of studies in locations throughout the Southeast suited for biomass development.

The researchers will use a mix of ethnographic methods to help understand public opinion about bioenergy and also to provide policymakers and business owners with the information they need to make sustainable energy production viable throughout communities.

Corn Stover: Biomass Photo Joanna Schroeder“We’re planning to work on the ground throughout the Southeast,” said Sarah Hitchner, a co-investigator and post-doctoral research associate at UGA’s Center for Integrative Conservation Research. “A lot of people talk about biofuels as being an obvious win-win, but it’s more complicated than that.”

Supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which funds research projects on sustainable bioenergy through its Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, the research team will begin in Soperton, Georgia-formerly home to Range Fuels and now the Freedom Pines Biorefinery owned by LanzaTech-and then moving on to other areas in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida and North Carolina. While visiting local communities, the researchers will participate in the daily activities of community members and conduct in-depth interviews with a variety of stakeholders, such as landowners, industry representatives, potential employees and county commissioners.

“A big part of this kind of research is to listen to as many perspectives as possible,” said Peter Brosius, professor of anthropology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, director of the Center for Integrative Conservation Research and co-investigator in the study. “From there you begin to see patterns emerge.” Continue reading

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.

Online Bioenergy Systems Class Set for Spring 2013

With the success of its online bioenergy classes, the Center for Advanced BioEnergy Research (CABER) in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) at the University of Illinois (U of I), is offering the online class Bioenergy Systems (ACES 409) for the Spring 2013 semester. The class begins on January 15, 2013 and ends on May 7, 2013 meeting Tuesday evenings from 6:30 pm to 9:30 pm CST.

ACES 409 Bioenergy Systems is an online introductory survey course of a wide range of bioenergy issues from the life cycle of biofuels to feedstock production to end-product utilization. Lectures will be presented by the course instructors as well as several experts from industry and academic research. Presentations will be delivered via an online virtual environment an online tool that enables students to interact with presenters and other classmates.

“We’re excited to offer this class in bioenergy online. We’ve been teaching it on campus for five years and have had students from around the world take the online version of the class. The diversity among students and countries provides rich opportunity for discussion of technology and policy in various countries,” said Dr. Hans Blaschek, Director of CABER. “Technology is changing so quickly in the bioenergy arena. This class should be beneficial to people throughout the world who are interested in learning more about bioenergy technology and research initiatives at the U of I.”

Students will learn about individual bioenergy issues as well as how each issue fits into the broader bioenergy context and the challenges that remain. This course was designed for students wanting to know more about the status of current bioenergy systems in the U.S. and the opportunities that lie ahead.

Click here to learn more and to register.

Algae Can Draw Energy from Other Plants

Bielfeld University Professor Dr. Olaf Kruse has a class he won’t forget. His biological research team has made what they consider to be a groundbreaking discovery – the green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii not only engages in photosynthesis, but is also able to draw energy from other plants. The team believes this could have a major impact on the future of bioenergy.  Findings were released in the online journal, Nature Communications.

According to Kruse, it was believed that only worms, bacteria and fungi could digest vegetable cellulose and use it as a source of carbon for their growth and survival. In contrast, plants engage in photosynthesis of carbon dioxide, water and light. Yet through a series of experiments, Professor Dr. Olaf Kruse and his team cultivated the microscopically small green alga species in a low carbon dioxide environment and observed that when faced with such a shortage, these single-cell plants drew energy from neighboring vegetable cellulose instead.

So how does this work? Kruse explains that the alga secretes enzymes (so-called cellulose enzymes) that ‘digest’ the cellulose, breaking it down into smaller sugar components. These are then transported into the cells and transformed into a source of energy and abracadabra – the alga can continue to grow.

“This is the first time that such a behaviour has been confirmed in a vegetable organism,” noted Professor Kruse. ‘That algae can digest cellulose contradicts every previous textbook. To a certain extent, what we are seeing is plants eating plants.”

So does this trick happen with also forms of alga? Kruse says preliminary findings indicate this is in fact the case. And based on this hypothesis, this unique property of algae, the presence of celulose enzymes could be of interest for bioenergy production. There would no longer be a need for organic materials to feed the fungi that are currently used to extract the enzymes needed to break down the cellulose.

INEOS BioEnergy Plant Begins Production

The INEOS New Planet BioEnergy (INPB) biorefinery is now producing renewable power using its bioenergy technology. The electricity produced is being used to power the facility and the excess power is being added to the grid. At full production, the Center is expected to produce 8 million gallons of advanced cellulosic bioethanol and six megawatts (gross) of renewable power using renewable biomass.

Here is how the process works. Biomass feedstock, including yard, vegetative and agricultural, waste goes through a gasification process, and syngas is created. Heat is then recovered from the hot syngas and fed into a steam turbine and used to generate electricity. The electricity then powers the Center and the excess does onto the grid to help power homes in the local Vero Beach, Florida community.

“The production of renewable power is a significant benefit of our technology. The power generated improves the energy efficiency and greenhouse gas savings of the facility while contributing to the base load of renewable electricity for the local community,” said Peter Williams, CEO of INEOS Bio and Chairman of INPB. “We look forward to rapidly rolling out this technology globally to provide the benefits of bioethanol and renewable power from waste to local communities.”

INPB’s facility was the first large-scale project in the U.S. to receive registration from the EPA using vegetative waste materials as the primary feedstock.

Biodico & Navy Sign Advanced Biofuels Contract

Biodico has signed an agreement with the U.S. Navy for the development and evaluation of advanced biofuels and bioenergy. The goal is to jointly develop renewable fuel and energy technologies that are appropriate for use at U.S. Naval and Department Of Defense (DOD) facilities worldwide. The co-project is supported, in part, by grants from the California Energy Commission.

The collaboration between the Navy and Biodico will optimize the operation of sustainable biorefineries producing renewable petroleum diesel equivalent liquid fuels, bio-based products and energy using renewable resources. The goal is to lower the per gallon cost of production of the alternative energy source and also to push the advanced technology into the marketplace for commercial scale production.

Biodico’s President and Founder, Russell Teall, said, “As part of this agreement we are building a sustainable biorefinery at Naval Base Ventura County that will produce biofuel and bioenergy at prices competitive with unsubsidized conventional fuel and power. The facility is privately funded, with some of the innovations supported by grants from the California Energy Commission. Sen. Pavley’s landmark initiatives have helped make this project possible.”

Through on-site production of liquid biofuels, biobased products and alternative energy, the Navy can get closer to reaching its goal of reducing its dependence on petroleum by 50 percent by 2020. This, in turn, will provide the Navy access to secure forms of energy. Work under the new contract will include a range of technologies including but not limited to transesterification, gasification, gas to liquids, hydrogenation, anaerobic digestion, catalysis, and the production and processing of feedstocks and co-products.

“This announcement is an exciting outcome of the collaboration between Biodico, the Navy and the California Energy Commission,” said California State Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills). “This work is a direct result of California’s commitment to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. The collaboration between Biodico, the Navy and the California Energy Commission will enhance our national security, provide new jobs and improve the environment. It will demonstrate and commercialize advanced biofuel and bioenergy technologies that will be utilized throughout the world. The integration of sustainable agriculture with renewable combined heat and power produced on-site will produce inexpensive advanced biofuels.”

2013 Clean Energy Challenge Kicks Off

The 2013 Clean Energy Challenge, funded by the Clean Energy Trust, has kicked off with more than $300,000 in cash prizes waiting to be won. Researchers, students and entrepreneurs with transformative clean tech business ideas based in the Midwest, are encouraged to submit their businesses and concepts through the Clean Energy Exchange.

The Clean Energy Challenge is a two-track competition for projects in different stages of development. The Early Stage Challenge is for clean tech projects with fully-developed business plans and established start-up companies. The Student Challenge is for students in eight-state Midwest region who have a great idea, and need assistance in developing a clean energy business.

“The very best clean technology innovations are being developed in the Midwest and the Challenge ensures that those ideas are presented to the venture capitalists, businesses and investors who can bring them to market,” said Amy Francetic, executive director of the Clean Energy Trust. “The cash prizes and commercialization support kick start Clean Energy Challenge Finalists, which have all gone on to receive significant venture and federal funding.”

Applications are encouraged from Midwest entrepreneurs working in: Energy Storage; Hydrogen & Fuel Cells; Geothermal; BioEnergy; Solar Technologies; Wind Energy; Water-Energy Nexus; Recycling and Remediation; Energy Efficiency; Building Materials; Energy Management; Smart-Grid; Next Generation Transportation; and Manufacturing Efficiency.

Finalists will receive mentoring from the Clean Energy Trust in preparation for the Challenge finals taking place in Chicago on April 4, 2013. The judging panel is comprised of nationally renowned investors and clean technology business leaders. The application deadline is December 3, 2012. Complete rules and eligibility for the Challenge are available at www.cleanenergytrust.org.

“Semi-dwarf” Trees May Enable a Green Revolution

Researchers at Oregon State University recently published results of a study looking at the advantages of growth traits of “semi-dwarf” trees. Through genetic modification, advantageous growth traits could be developed to grow trees better suited for bioenergy or more efficient water use in a drier, future climate.

According to the research team, this approach is contrary to the conventional wisdom of tree breeding which operates under the philosophy that larger and taller is better. Yet similar to how the green revolution in agriculture helped crops such as wheat and rice produce more food on smaller, sturdier plants, this same strategy could be successfully applied to forestry.

“Research now makes it clear that genetic modification of height growth is achievable,” said Steven Strauss, an OSU professor of forest genetics. “We understand the genes and hormones that control growth not only in crop plants, but also in trees. They are largely the same.”

In a study published in Plant Physiology, researchers inserted a several genes into poplar trees, a species often used for genetic experiments, and valuable for wood, environmental and energy purposes. The report details 29 genetic traits that were affected, including growth rate, biomass production, branching, water-use efficiency, and root structure. All of the changes were from modified gibberellins, plant hormones that influence several aspects of growth and development.

The researchers found that the range and variation in genetic modification can be accurately observed and selected for, based on hormone and gene expression levels, to allow production of trees of almost any height. Other genes could be modified to produce trees with a larger root mass that could make them more drought resistant, increase water efficiency, increase elimination of soil toxins, and better sequester carbon. This could be useful for greenhouse gas mitigation, bioremediation or erosion control.

Although researchers can already point to beneficial results of genetic modification of poplar trees, and eventually other trees, it may be difficult to actually use the research for the greater good.

“The main limitation is the onerous regulatory structure for genetically-modified plants in the United States,” Strauss said. “Even short, safe and beneficial trees are unlikely to be able to bear the high costs and red tape inherent to obtaining regulatory approval.”

Sweet Sorghum Leading Southern Bioenergy Crop

A lot of research has gone into studying sweet sorghum’s potential as a bioenergy crop. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has found that there are several attributes of the feedstock that make it uniquely suited to produce biofuels. One assest is its lower need for water, making it an ideal crop to grow in drought prevalent areas. In addition, it has low nitrogen fertilizer requirements and high biomass content. This according to molecular biologist Scott Sattler and Jeff Pedersen with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

Sweet sorghum produces sugar that can be converted to biofuel. The fibers in the feedstock left over after the juice is extracted can be burned to create electricity. Sorghum and sugarcane are good crops for the southeastern part of the U.S. because they are complementary crops and can extend the biofuel production season. Both feedstocks also use the same equipment so a grower would not need to invest in new technology to plant or harvest either crop.

The sweet sorghum research is part of USDA’s work in studying biofuel crops to meet the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) mandate of 36 billion gallons of biofuel by 2022. Of this total, 21 billion gallons will come from sources other than grain-based ethanol, of which sweet sorghum is one possible feedstock.

Other teams are also studying sweet sorghum including a group led by geneticist William Anderson with the ARS Crop Genetics and Breeding Research Unit in Tifton, Georgia. This team is working on identifying desirable bioenergy genes and working on improving them. To date, the team has studied 117 genotypes from the ARS sorghum germplasm collection with more research underway.

Institute for Energy Innovation Breaks Ground

The future Wilton E. Scott Institute for Energy Innovation is one step closer to reality today at Carnegie Mellon University with the official groundbreaking ceremony. The center will be focused on research and education to improve energy efficiency and develop clean energy sources. The institute was made possible by a lead gift from CMU alumni Sherman Scott (E’66), president and founder of Delmar Systems, and his wife, Joyce Bowie Scott (A’65), a trustee of the university. The institute is named for Sherman’s father, Wilton E. Scott.

A report recently issued by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development highlighted the need for energy-related workers before the end of this decade. One goal of institute will be to develop new innovative energy technologies and create an improved understanding of how to promote wide adoption through better regulation and public policy.

“The Scott Institute is a university-wide effort that brings together more than 100 CMU professors and researchers to solve some of our toughest energy challenges,” said CMU President Jared L. Cohon. “I thank Sherman and Joyce Bowie Scott not only for their generous gift, but also for their vision in helping to create this institute. They realize the fundamental importance of developing sustainable energy solutions for America and the world.”

The institute will support teams of CMU engineers, scientists, economists, architects, policy specialists and others who will collboratively tackle a range of issues, including developing more efficient energy solutions that reduce carbon emissions; smart grid technology to enable the use of large amounts of variable wind and solar power; and new advanced materials and processes to produce and store energy, increase efficiency and reduce waste.

Sherman Scott, who built Delmar Systems into a leader in mooring systems for the offshore oil and gas industry, added, “By bringing together experts from a range of disciplines, Carnegie Mellon is the perfect place to help meet the energy challenges of the future. Energy is a precious resource, and Carnegie Mellon’s systems approach can create solutions that ensure we produce and use energy more efficiently.”

California Releases 2012 Bioenergy Action Plan

California has released its 2012 Bioenergy Action Plan with the goal of improving the timeline to market of energy development, job creation and protection of public health and safety. The state defines bioenergy as energy produced from organic waste such as forest, urban and agricultural that would otherwise go into a landfill or be burned. The state is looking at Bioenergy to help create new jobs, protect the public from issues such as wildfires, landfill pollution, dairies, wastewater treatment facilities and other waste.

“Swift action on bioenergy will create jobs, increase local clean energy supplies, and help businesses grow in California,” said California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird. “Increasing bioenergy opportunities will also help California meet its climate change goals and protect public health and safety.”

The 2012 Bioenergy Action Plan was developed by a combination of state agencies and outside experts as directed by California Governor Brown. The plan contains more than 50 recommended actions to increase the use of organic waste, expand research and development, reduce permitting and regulatory challenges and address economic barriers to bioenergy development.

“Bioenergy is an exciting new frontier for agriculture,” said Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, one of the agencies that collaborated on the report. “It creates jobs, reduces energy costs and reduces pollution. Early adopters are already realizing these benefits and are blazing the path towards self-sufficiency for agriculture.”

Expanding bioenergy development benefits California agriculture by providing an onsite or local source of clean energy, either electricity or liquid fuels for farm and other vehicles. The state currently produces about 600 megawatts of electricity and 50 to 100 million gallon equivalents from organic waste each year. The state hopes to double these numbers through the execution of the plan recommendations.