New Biofuels Projects Funded

Ten new government-funded research projects were announced today to help accelerate bioenergy feedstock production.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited a waste-to-energy bioprocessing facility under construction in Florida today to announce that the Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Energy (DOE) have awarded 10 grants totaling $12.2 million to spur research into improving the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of growing biofuel and bioenergy crops. The grants are part of a broader effort by the Obama administration to develop domestic renewable energy and advanced biofuels, providing a more secure future for America’s energy needs and creating new opportunities for the American farming industry.

“USDA is helping our nation develop the next generation of biofuels to grow jobs and generate energy from new, homegrown sources,” said Vilsack. “Combining DOE’s leadership in genome-scale technologies with USDA’s experience in crop improvement will accelerate the efficient production of biofuels.”

The 10 projects are located in California, Colorado, Illinois, Florida, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Virginia.

Vilsack made the announcement at the INEOS New Planet BioEnergy facility in Vero Beach, Fla., which was granted a conditional USDA loan guarantee earlier this year to help build and operate a biorefinery capable of producing 8 million gallons per year of cellulosic ethanol and 6 megawatts of electricity.

Today’s USDA and DOE joint announcement will also benefit Florida by providing grant funding to the University of Florida in Gainesville to improve energy production from cane biomass. The project will produce a range of foundational genetic resources and genetic makers for energy cane breeders to efficiently develop energy cane cultivars with increased biomass production and reduced input requirement.

Florida Farm to Fuel Event Reorganizing

New dates have been scheduled for a conference on the future of energy in Florida.

FL Farm to FuelThe 6th annual Farm to Fuel Summit had been scheduled for August 3-5 in Orlando but was postponed in May after the Florida legislature approved the transfer of the State Energy Office from the Executive Office of the Governor to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services effective July 1.

“With the new responsibilities, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is taking a more comprehensive approach to energy policy,” said Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam “On October 26 through 28, the Department will host an event where elected officials, academics and key stakeholders in the energy industry will come together to discuss the future of energy in Florida.”

Putnam promises more details to come soon.

Synterra Energy Takes Commericalization Step Forward

Synterra Energy has taken a step forward in bringing advanced biofuels to commercial scale with the merger of Pacific Renewable Fuels and Chemicals and Red Lion Bio-Energy. Synterra will now own key intellectual property and assets designed for waste biomass conversion. This announcement signals the company’s move to commercial scale production of renewable fuels, chemicals and power from waste biomass from in integrated biorefinery.

“The Red Lion thermochemical conversion system and the Pacific Renewable Fuels and Chemicals catalytic synthesis process are industry leading technologies in their own right,” said Robert Schuetzle, CEO of Synterra Energy, Inc. “The integration of our two technologies creates a seamless proprietary biomass conversion system under a single commercial provider. The resultant innovative process integration is a design that provides process efficiencies, lowers unit capital cost, reduces the risk of securing adequate feedstock supplies, and mitigates technology risk of mixing and matching multiple platforms from separate process vendors.”

Synterra was awarded a $25 million DOE grant back in 2009 to demonstrate the commercial readiness of its integrated biorefinery technologies (IBR). Shortly thereafter, the 30-barrel per day demonstration project was initiated as the third scale up of its technologies. The company says it is able to produce biofuels, bioenergy and biochemicals with less impact on the environment and higher energy efficiencies as compared to other technologies. For example, the company says its synthetic diesel is a high-quality, zero-sulfur drop-in renewable fuel that has 89 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions than petroleum derived diesel fuel.

“Synterra Energy and its legacy organizations, Pacific Renewable Fuels and Chemicals and Red Lion Bio-Energy, have recruited top technical and business veterans from the alternative energy, petrochemical, multi modal transportation and logistics, catalyst, and environmental industries with extensive experience in research, development, demonstration and commercialization of new technologies,” added Alex Johnson, the company’s Chairman. “With this talented team of professionals, Synterra’s integrated approach to process design and experience in modularization of distributed plants, we have a compelling formula for further commercial success.”

SDSU Studies Production of Biochar, Bio-Oil from Biomass

South Dakota State University (SDSU) is researching the future, one is which rural landscapes would no longer be dotted with grain elevators but rather with pyrolysis plants that would convert energy crops to fuel or “bio-oil”. This bio-oil would be passed along to other refiniries to produce products such as drop-in fuels or biochemicals while the plants would recycle the syngas produced during the process into an emerging product – biochar. Biochar can be integrated into the soil to help rebuild soil nutrition and sequester carbon.

The USDA has given SDSU a $1 million grant, $200,000 for the next five years, to help scientists design a feedstock production system for optimum energy production of bio-oil while also exploring the possible benefits of biochar.

“We’re looking at this from a whole system approach, and we’re looking at various components in this whole system,” said SDSU professor Tom Schumacher, the project director “Historically, the distributive nature of crop production gave rise to a network of grain elevators to separate and coordinate the flow of grain to the processing industry. A network of rail lines added new infrastructure to improve efficiency. For lignocellulosic feedstocks, a corollary to the grain elevator would be a collection point that would be within 10 to 30 miles of production fields.”

The purpose of the collection points is to receive, sort, pre-process or process feedstocks using pyrolysis. Pyrolysis uses high temperatures in the absence of oxygen to break down organic materials. This technology produces both a bio-oil as well as syngas that can be used to fuel the plant, and biochar. The biochar would be tested in fields around the plant to see how it performs in repairing soil health and as a carbon capture technology.

More specifically, the SDSU study will use a technique called microwave pyrolysis that heats the feedstock by exciting the individual molecules, making it very accurate and easy to control. They will then study how the biochar performs when varying the pyrolysis processing parameters. The feedstocks that will be tested include corn stover, switchgrass and wood biomass.

“There’s a lot that’s unknown about specific types of biochar,” said Schumacher. “There is no single characteristic that can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of biochars. Biochar’s pH and other characteristics can vary widely depending on what feedstock and process was used to produce it. That could make biochar beneficial to the environment, neutral, or possibly even harmful, depending on its characteristics.”

Clean Energy Policies Could Boost Midwest Economies

According to a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), clean energy policies would boost Midwestern economies. Last week, the Brookings Institution released a study that found the private-sector “green” economy in the Midwest already employs nearly 40,000 people. However, “A Bright Future for the Heartland: Powering the Midwest Economy with Clean Energy,” estimates that this number is already higher and will continue to grow.

In particular, the report found that the Midwest has great potential to produce electricity from renewable resources including wind, biomass and solar. Iowa is already the leading state for wind and biofuels and other Midwestern states like Minnesota are following close behind. The UCS report says that renewable energy has the ability to cut home and business energy bills, drive billions of dollars in new business investment and create thousands of jobs. All of this can happen, says the report, while reducing the use of energy created by coal.

“Adopting stronger clean energy standards can help transform the region’s economy,” said Steven Frenkel, director of UCS’s Midwest office. “Generating more renewable energy will put people back to work manufacturing the components needed to power the clean energy economy, such as wind turbines and solar panels. At the same time, reducing energy use can help keep Midwest businesses competitive by cutting their energy costs.”

The study analyzes the possible impact of a clean energy strategy that would help the economy. The duo approach includes policy combined with the adoption of energy efficient technologies. More specifically, the “proposed” policy would require 30 percent of each state’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030 coupled with the goal of a 2 percent reduction in annual power consumption by 2015 with an additional 2 percent reduction each following year. The study also found that while individual state policies can have an impact, the greatest achievement would happen if all states acted together.

Claudio Martinez, UCS energy analyst and report author added, “Few places in the world have the combination of a great renewable energy potential, a strong manufacturing base and the skilled workforce needed to realize that potential. And the Midwest is one of those places.”

Farmers Participate in Rural Champions of Change

Last week leaders from rural communities met with President Obama along with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, as well as the president’s Domestic Policy Adviser Melody Barnes as part of the White House Rural Champions of Change roundtable. One of the attendees was Eric Rund a farmer from Pesotum, Illinois. He is also the CEO of Green Flame Energy. He was one of 18 people from 16 different states who were invited to share their ideas on how the country can improve the quality of life in rural communities and promote economic growth.

“I was honored to be selected for the Council and have the opportunity to share with national policy makers what biomass production can do for farmers, rural communities, job creation and energy independence,” said Rund. “I invited the President to visit my farm to see first-hand what we’re doing to create change.”

Rund has been an early adopter when it comes to biomass research. He is actively developing biomass markets and has been working with local home owners, community school districts and businesses to educate them on how they can utilize biomass energy produced by local farmers.

The meeting Rund attended was just one in a series of meetings being held in DC this summer as part of the White House Rural Council and the White House Business Council to improve economic conditions and create jobs in rural communities. Champions of Change recognizes Americans who are accomplishing great achievements in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.

First Zero-Waste Biochemical Refinery In Production

The country’s first zero-waste biochemical refinery is now up and running in Missoula, Montana. The facility is owned and operated by Blue Marble Biomaterials and uses a combination of clean technologies to produce specialty biochemicals that can be used in the food, cosmetics and personal care markets. Each year the biorefinery will produce 72 tons of biochemicals, and its only “waste” is purified water and pellet fuel for wood boilers.

“This biorefinery is an excellent example of how the U.S. can ensure global leadership in advanced manufacturing: we have developed cutting edge technology which combine the fields of biology, chemistry, and industrial manufacturing to produce petroleum replacing chemicals,” said Blue Marble CEO Kelly Ogilvie. “These products will reinvigorate the meaning of Made in America: more lean, more clean and sourced from our abundant renewable natural resources.”

Last week, President Obama announced intentions to invest $500 million in U.S.-based advanced manufacturing technologies via an Advanced Manufacturing Program. The Blue Marble co-founders, Ogilvie and James Stephens, served on the council that worked with the president in forming the program.

The system uses a range of plant feedstocks to produce the biochemicals. The facility uses a photo-bioreactor containing algae to purify wastewater and waste gas from the fermentation system. In addition, the solid waste generated during the production process is pelletized for use in wood-burning furnaces and stoves. In the future, the company intends to power its facility with the waste gas and pellets created during the process in onsite gasifiers.

“Natural systems are the inspiration for our processes. Just as in nature, we see waste as nutritional; in this case, wastewater, waste gas and waste solids are industrial nutrients for both our system and the surrounding economy,” added Stephens. “We believe this principal is key to reducing not only environmental impact but also operational cost.”

Ag-Waste-to-Energy Technology Licensed by HB Energy

Homeland Biogas Energy (HB Energy) has announced they have signed an exclusive licensing agreement with Achor Anaerobic LLC to use their “achorlytic” enzyme and digestion-inoculating technology to increase the productivity of its anaerobic digestion projects. HB Energy is a division of Homeland Renewable Energy (HRE), a company focused on producing energy from agricultural waste and they will also work with Achor to license the technology to third parties.

“With the benefit of Achor’s technology and our project design, construction and operating skills, we are well placed to develop our pipeline of new large-scale AD plants, serving our customers in livestock farming and food processing,” said Rupert Fraser, Chief Executive Officer of HRE. “Achor’s technology will enable us to build larger scale anaerobic digestion plants with more competitive economics, so that we can produce truly renewable energy while removing waste problems for farmers and food companies.”

The enzymes increase biogas production from digestible materials including animal and food wastes. The two companies are currently in the process of testing the enzyme at HB Energy’s facility in Wisconsin and preliminary indications are that the improvements are significant. HB Energy uses the ag waste to produce energy including biogas or electricity. To date, they have more than 15 large scale development projects in the works ranging from 3 MW to 20 MW.

Chris Barry, cofounder of Achor and originator of the achorlytic approach to accelerating and enhancing anaerobic digestion, added “Achor Anaerobic is delighted to be working in partnership with HB Energy. The business, engineering and planning base provided by HB Energy provides the perfect platform for the exploitation and expansion of our technology. We aim to make HB Energy the most advanced and profitable AD company in the US and beyond through enabling them to get the very best from the feedstocks available. We will work with them on innovative design and development that will be ‘game-changing’ in the field of anaerobic digestion and bioenergy.”

New Energy & Commodities Investment Team Formed

Cary Street Partners has formed a new Energy & Commodities Investment banking team focused on energy and its related sectors including traditional and alternative energy as well as agriculture services. Joining the new group is Craig Shealy who was formerly the founder of Osage Bio Energy, currently up for sale. Shealy will serve as managing director and group head.

“We are delighted Craig has joined Cary Street Partners and will be leading our Energy and Commodities team,” said Mark Gambill, chairman. “Over the past decade we have experienced a growing demand for investment banking services from our energy clients. Craig’s hire is yet another step in the on-going expansion of Cary Street Partners’ investment banking business. We welcome his deep industry knowledge, extensive client relationships and successful track record. His breadth of experience, including most recently as the founder of Osage Bio Energy, will provide a unique perspective in serving the needs of our energy industry clients.”

Shealy will begin growing the groups’ portfolio in the ethanol, biodiesel and biomass industries and he says there is enormous opportunities for consolidation in the ethanol and biodiesel markets. He also notes that there is growth capital available for innovative and viable development projects and he believes Cary Street Partners will provide an excellent platform to serve companies in the energy and ag sectors.

“I am extremely excited about helping meet clients’ needs for capital and strategic advice as the energy and commodity-based industries continue to grow and entities seek out consolidation and liquidity opportunities,” added Shealy.

NASCAR Driver Kenny Wallace to Keynote Southeast Bioenergy Conference

NASCAR Series Driver Kenny Wallace and co-host of the shows Race Day and Victory Lane, will be giving the keynote address during the 2011 Southeast Bioenergy Conference on August 9-11 in Tifton, Georgia. Wallace drives the No. 9 American Ethanol Toyota Camrey and is currently ranked 7th in the Series. Last week, Wallace completed his 500th Nationwide start bringing his career stats to nine wins, 10 poles, and nine seasons in the top 10 driver points. He has also won the Nationwide Series Most Popular Driver award three times.

NASCAR announced earlier this year it would race using Sunoco Green E15, a blend of 15 percent ethanol. To learn more about the fuel and the people who grow the crops and produce American ethanol, Wallace has spent time at ethanol plants and on farms.

Wallace will kick off the conference on Monday, August 9th at 8:30 am followed by a general session focusing on Global Markets for Biofuels and Bioproducts. Other sessions include Southeast Forestry’s Bioenergy Potential, Promising Energy Crops For the Southeast, Innovative Approaches to Ethanol Production, E85, E15 – Creating a Biofuel Infrastructure System, Efficiencies From Combined Heat and Power, Energy From Waste, and more. Mike McAdams, Executive Director of the Advanced Biofuels Association will also be giving a presentation on Building Cooperation and Coalitions.

The conference boasts a wide-range of speakers including Professor Li, Tsinghua University; Christianne Egger, Upper Austrian Renewable Energy Agency; Hagan Rose, Eco Energy; Phillip Jennings, Repreve Renewables, and more.

Registration is now open. Click here to learn more about the conference and to register.

FAO Studies Pros & Cons of Bioenergy

FAO has released a new report that contains methodology designed to aid policymakers assess the pros and cons of investing in the bioenergy industry. The “Bioenergy and Food Security (BEFS) Analytical Framework” was written to help governments evaluate the potential of bioenergy as well as assess its possible food security impacts. The framework was developed over a three-year time frame and cites development and field tests that took place in Peru, Tanzania and Thailand.

The report is comprised of a series of step-by-step evaluations that seek to answer critical questions regarding the feasibility of bioenergy development and the impacts on food availability and household food security. In addition, social and environmental dimensions are also considered. The paper also serves as a platform for bringing key ministries and institutions together so they can work on the same page.

“Our goal is to help policy-makers take informed decisions regarding whether bioenergy development is a viable option and, if so, identify policies that will maximize benefits and minimize risks,” explains Heiner Thofern, who heads FAO’s Bioenergy and Food Security (BEFS) project.

The drive to biofuels have been driven by both worries over greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels as well as high oil prices and energy security concerns. FAO believes that one important benefit of investments into the bioenergy sector is that it could spark much-needed investment in agricultural and transport infrastructure in rural areas. This would create jobs and boost household income. These benefits could lesson both poverty and food security concerns. FAO has also conducted separate studies that show small-scale bioenergy projects not designed for export markets can improve food security and help boost rural economies.

“FAO has been saying for years that under-investment in agriculture is a problem that seriously handicaps food production in the developing world, and that this, coupled with rural poverty, is a key driver of world hunger,” says Thofern. “Done properly and when appropriate, bioenergy development offers a chance to drive investment and jobs into areas that are literally starving for them.”

Yet while there are major potential benefits to bioenergy production, FAO warns there are also potential negatives. They write that large-scale biofuel production could come at the expense of food production, leading to less food available, and higher food prices. In addition, deforestation is also a concern. Therefore, potential risks and benefits need to be weighed.

Biomass Industry Execs Discuss Future

biomass conferenceAll energy of the bio variety – biomass, biogas, biodiesel and biofuels – were represented at the 4th International Biomass Conference and Expo on Monday during a panel featuring executives of seven different industry organizations.

Moderator Tom Bryan, Vice President of BBI International, asked the panel was what the top priorities for their organizations are this year.

“Just getting parity for algae,” said Algal Biomass Organization Executive Director Mary Rosenthal. She says they are also working on educating lawmakers about algae and keeping the funding they currently have for development from departments of energy, agriculture and defense.

Charlie Niebling with the Biomass Thermal Energy Council said they would like to see thermal incorporated into a true federal Clean Energy Standard. “We still face real challenges in just making sure people understand the role that thermal plays in addressing energy challenges in our country,” he said.

Biomass Power Association CEO Robert Cleaves says they support the development of a federal Clean Energy Standard as well and they want to retain the USDA Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP). “BCAP for existing facilities may be the only game in town as a bridge to somewhere,” he said.

Inclusion and parity are also important for biogas, as well as working on a fundamental change in waste management. “Discontinuing policies that simply take all this organic matter, put it in a hole in the ground and create environmental issues. Instead we need to create policies to divert that to higher, better and multiple uses.” said Norma McDonald of the American Biogas Council.

For members of the Renewable Fuels Association, president Bob Dinneen says what is most important is education and certainty. “We’re looking at a situation where our tax incentive expires the end of this year,” Dinneen said. “What we’re trying to do is get to some reform of the existing incentive that reflects the fact that the industry has indeed grown, that will allow the industry to continue to grow and evolve, but do so in response to fiscal realities in Washington DC now.”

“The biodiesel industry is an example of what can happen when you have total policy failures in Washington DC,” said Joe Jobe with the National Biodiesel Board, referring to the non-renewal of the biodiesel tax for a year that caused many plants to shut down. Jobe says the industry is going strong again and plants are re-opening but they would like to see the tax credit extended again at the end of this year. “We just need a little more time to get a little more mature.”

Finally, Advanced Biofuels Association president Michael McAdams stressed the importance of keeping the Renewable Fuels Standard in place. “The RFS2 is the single most important public policy in the United States for first, second and third generations biofuels,” he said.

Listen the panel talk about priorities here: Biomass Conference Panel

Loss of DOE Loan Gurantee Program “Would Be A Tragedy”

There is a lot of action in the “Beltway” these days surrounding biofuels. One such conversation is around the fate of the Department of Energy (DOE) Loan Guarantee Program. A group of policy makers want to end the program, which right now is funded with Reinvestment and Recovery monies. However, energy companies, such as Pleasanton, California-based Fulcrum Bioenergy, would be dead in the water. CEO Jim Macias said if this program ends “it would be a tragedy.” Not only for his company, but for the entire alternative energy industry as a whole.

Fulcrum Bioenergy is in the process of building a waste-to-ethanol plant just outside of Reno, Nevada using ordinary household garbage and converting it to ethanol, electricity and biochemicals. The plant is fully permitted, engineered and equity financed and the company is in the final stages of documentation to close on a DOE Loan Guarantee that is the final piece for their financing. Once that piece is in place, Fulcrum will start construction and begin producing renewable ethanol at the end of 2012. It is important to note that Fulcrum has been working on the DOE loan for more than 2 years.

When the first plant in Reno is complete, it will produce 10 million gallons of ethanol per year and 16 megawatts of electricity. From there, Fulcrum plans to roll out 20 more sites, already selected, and Macias said the feedstock contracts are already in place. When these 20 sites are in production, they will produce 1 billion gallons of ethanol per year from garbage.

Yet if the DOE Loan Guarantee program gets axed not only would his project die, but any project that has been awarded DOE Loan Guarantees since 2009 would lose their funding.

“It’s very challenging for first-of-a-kind commercial plants to to get fully funded in normal economic times, and federal support for new technologies like this, loan guarantees play a very valuable role in closing the funding gap. We’ve raised all the equity capital to construct it including coverage for potential overruns, and the DOE loan guarantee provides a very important step to help these emerging technologies.”

Macias said its important for emerging technologies to receive government support during good economic times, but even more critical now due to the lack of capital fund and bank credit caused by the ongoing recession. He stressed that the loan guarantee program has played a critical role in helping these technologies that are ready for commercial demonstration to get there.

Macias concluded that if the DOE Loan Guarantee Program is rescinded, it would set back the industry. He also said it would be “devastating to breaking our [America's] dependence on imported oil and reducing the price of oil.”

You can listen to my full interview with Fulcrum Bioenergy CEO, Jim Macias here: Jim Macias Discusses DOE Loan Guarantee Program

CHOREN Makes Progess on Biofuel Plant

Rainer Bomba, Undersecretary of State in the Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development, visited CHOREN’s Beta plant at Freiberg in the German state of Saxony. His purpose of the visit was to discuss the progress of CHOREN on producing sustainable advanced biofuels and their role in achieving climate protection targets.

“Last year, the Beta plant completed several campaigns of synthesis gas trial production, successfully producing from wood a synthesis gas that is free of tar and aromatics on an industrial scale,” said CHOREN’s CEO Marcell Ulrichs.

Bomba said of his visit, “Industrial-scale BTL production may turn into a milestone in the future use of bioenergy. Therefore I very much hope that the development work of recent years will be rewarded and that the plant will run smoothly. We are planning to make greater use of renewable energies in the transportation sector, too. That includes biofuels – and BTL has particularly high potential in this respect, because far more biological material can be used than is currently the case.”

CHOREN said that there are several benefits of their biosynthetic fuel including significant CO2 reduction, no competition with food production and excellent compatibility with existing drive systems. The Beta plant in Freiberg has an annual capacity of 18 million litres of BTL (biomass to liquid) fuel. CHOREN said they are very active in various projects around the world to construct more BTL plants due to the need for sustainable biofuels.

Professor Dr. Jürgen Leohold, Head of Group Research at Volkswagen AG and a member of the CHOREN supervisory board, added, “BTL is a key technology in reducing greenhouse gas emissions sustainably in the transportation sector.”

Renewables In and Out of Obama Budget

There are renewable winners and losers in the FY2012 budget proposed this week by President Obama.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the president has included funding in the budget “To promote the domestic production of renewable energy, we invest in renewable energy programs related to commercialization; research and development; education and outreach; and energy efficiency and conservation. We are also focusing our loans to rural electric cooperatives to support the development of clean burning low emission fossil fuel facilities and renewable energy deployment. Developing a nation-wide renewable energy industry will create hundreds of thousands of jobs in rural America, while helping us reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and reducing risks to our environment.”

More specifically, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu says the budget includes $3.2 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs and $300 million in credit subsidies to support approximately $3-4 billion in renewable energy and energy efficient projects. Funding for renewable energy technology would increase over all by 70 percent, including $425 million to support the “SunShot” solar power initiative, $64 million for offshore wind farms, $59 million for geothermal power initiatives.

However, hydrogen energy and fuel cell research would be cut by about 40 percent, a move that the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association (FCHEA) calls those cuts “misguided and harmful to American competitiveness.”

“After investing billions of American dollars and years of effort, we simply cannot walk away from our commitment to these critical technologies,” said Ruth Cox, president and executive director of the FCHEA. “Fuel cells are the microprocessors of the Energy Age and they are already transforming the energy network through distributed generation of clean, efficient and reliable power.”

In the good news category, Big Oil takes a big hit in the budget, eliminating some $3.6 billion in tax subsidies for the oil, coal and gas industries.