It’s Time to Go Back to School

It’s never too late to go back to school. The Center for Advanced BioEnergy Research (CABER) in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) at the University of Illinois is now offering an online class in bioenergy systems (ACES 409) for the Spring 2011 semester. The class meets on Tuesday evenings from 6:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. CST beginning on January 18 and ending on May 10, 2011.

The class is designed as in introductory survey course covering a wide range of bioenergy issues including agronomy of bioenergy crops; harvest, storage and transportation issues; biobutanol and biodiesel production, lifecycle analysis and environmental implications, and more. Lectures will be presented by the course instructors as well as by selected experts from industry and academic research.

The classes will be delivered online at, a site optimized for online learning that allows students to interact, real-time, with presenters and other participants.

“We’re excited to offer this class in bioenergy online. We’ve been teaching it on campus for three years and have had several requests to offer the information in an online format,” said 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.”

In addition to gaining an understanding of each topic presented and progress made in that area, students will learn how each issue fits into the broader bioenergy context and the challenges that remain.

Course tuition and fees are $1,167 for 3 credit hours. Registration is currently open and available until January 18 or until the class is full. You are not required to be a current student of U of I to enroll in the class. To register, go to, select “NON-DEGREE Registration.”

GM Reaches Zero-Landfill Plants Goal

General Motors has announced that it has reached its global operations commitment set in 2008 to convert 50 percent of its 145 plants to landfill-free status by the end of 2010. Currently, 52 percent, or 76 of its worldwide facilities, now take all its waste generated from normal operations and reuse, recycle or convert it to energy. GM’s first facility to achieve landfill-free status was an engine plant in Flint, Mich., in 2005.

On average, more than 97 percent of waste materials from GM’s zero-landfill plants are recycled or reused and less than 3 percent is converted to energy at waste-to-energy facilities, replacing fossil fuel use.

“We’re committed to reducing our environmental impact,” said Mike Robinson, vice president of Environment, Energy and Safety Policy at GM. “Whether it’s a facility that’s already achieved landfill-free status or one of the many that are nearly there, every site is serious about finding ways to reduce and reuse waste.”

The first step in the process for each plant was for employees to focus on reducing the amount of waste generated. From there, as much as possible, the waste was recycled. Each month, the plants monitor, measure and report on their performance against waste-reduction goals. The collected data, that originally set the stage for the landfill-free initiative, demonstrates what materials are being generated, reused and recycled, and reveals areas for improvement. Ultimately, The results helped form a process that enables all facilities to replicate best practices.

According to a GM news release, this year the company has recycled or reused 2.5 million tons of waste materials at its plants worldwide that would fill 6.8 million extended-cab pickup trucks. If parked end-to-end they would stretch around the world.

“It’s all about being creative, lean and rethinking traditional manufacturing processes,” said John Bradburn, manager of GM’s waste-reduction efforts. “When you think of what it would take for a family of four to not produce any trash for a year, that’s quite a task. This is 76 sites around the world and about 70,000 employees committed to the cause.”

Bradburn continued, “I believe our employees were willing to engage because they could relate to what it means. People don’t want to be wasteful; they want to help the environment. It’s become a sense of pride for those that work at those facilities, and it reflects in quality and throughput.”

Top 50 Hottest Companies in Bioenergy

Biofuels Digest has announced its “Top 50 Hottest Companies in Bioenergy” and this year’s top spot goes to Amyris, a renewable fuels and chemicals developer based in Florida. The rankings recognize innovation and achievement in bioenergy development and are determined by 50 percent of votes from a 75-member panel of international selectors, and 50 percent of votes from subscribers of Biofuels Digest and Renewable Chemicals Digest.

Rounding out this year’s Top 10:

  1. 1.     Amyris
  2. 2.     Solazyme
  3. 3.     POET
  4. 4.     LS9
  5. 5.     Gevo
  6. 6.     DuPont
  7. 7.     Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol
  8. 8.     Novozymes
  9. 9.     Coskata
  10. 10.  Sapphire Energy

Of the top 50 companies selected, 37 were based in the U.S. while 13 were international. In addition, 15 companies are focused on cellulosic ethanol development (down from 19 in 2009-10) and 5 are developing algae-based energy solutions (down from 7 last year). Sixteen of the companies are focused on developing “drop-in” renewable biofuels such as biobutanol, renewable diesel, green gasoline, and renewable jet fuel. This category has increased from 15 companies in last year’s poll. Lastly, 13 companies are producing technologies to create renewable chemicals.

New to this year’s list: Cargill (#36), Butamax (#38), Cosan (#40), Waste Management (#42), Dynamic Fuels (#44), KiOR (#47), Chevron (#48), and Monsanto (#49).

Click here to see the full “50 Hottest Companies in Bioenergy”.

Giant Miscanthus Field Day Scheduled

repreveREPREVE Renewables of Georgia is planning to prepare for the start of 2011 spring planting with the first annual Freedom Giant Miscanthus Field Day next month.

As holder of the exclusive license for the commercialization of Freedom giant miscanthus, the company will use the field day to educate growers and landowners about the planting and harvesting of the biomass crop, and provide live demonstrations and educational presentations by industry experts. Freedom Field Day will be held at REPREVE Renewables’ main farm in Soperton, GA on January 13, 2011.

“With spring planting season in March, it’s important for REPREVE Renewables to educate land owners and growers on the benefits of Freedom giant miscanthus,” said Phillip Jennings, COO of REPREVE Renewables. “Our goal is to provide growers with the planting stock and guidance they need to establish commercial-scale plots, as quickly and economically as possible. Hosting this event is the perfect opportunity to provide our customers and potential customers with the knowledge and facts that will help in making important crop decisions for 2011 and years to come.”

The Freedom Field Day is open to the public, but advance registration is required. More information can be found here.

Survey Says…Growers Ready to Grow Energy Crops

America’s growers are ready and willing to produce biomass for advanced biofuels and biopower and have the land to do so according to a survey released by Ceres, Inc. The survey of U.S. growers showed that 71 percent of respondents were very interested or interested in growing dedicated energy crops. In addition, 77 percent of the respondents said they had underutilized land on which they could grow energy grasses like miscanthus, switchgrass or sorghum.

This survey comes on the tail of a recent announcement by the USDA regarding the final rules for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP). The program pays eligible growers a incentive to grow biomass crops for use for biopower or to create biofuels.

Ceres is counting on the growth of biomass for bioenergy and most recently announced that they have developed the first salt tolerant crop, switchgrass. This is a huge advancement especially for agricultural areas that have ceased to produce crops due to the high levels of salt in the water supply. Eventually, Ceres will be looking for farmers to grow their proprietary energy crops.

One of the main reasons survey respondents had for growing energy crops was the ability to diversify their current operations. Other reasons given were better use of marginal land and spending less time, money and resources on crop management. In addition, 70 percent of respondents were open to engaging in long-term contracts and 48 percent said they would anticipate putting at least half of their acreage in long-term contracts.

“This is one of the areas where we were interested in learning more about, since reliable feedstock supplies will be critical for new bioenergy facilities to obtain project financing,” said Gary Koppenjan who directs communications and product marketing for Ceres. “What constitutes a long-term contract will likely be an area for discussion, but it appears the suppliers and users are on the same page.”

This non-scientific survey was completed during the summer of 2010 and was skewed to growers in the Southeast United States since that is an area particularly suited to grow energy crops.

USDA Announces Biofuels Initiatives

As part of the Obama Administration’s effort to promote production of fuel from renewable sources, create jobs and mitigate the effects of climate change, Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced a series of measures during a speech to the National Press Club in Washington.

“Domestic production of renewable energy, including biofuels, is a national imperative and that’s why USDA is working to assist in developing a biofuels industry in every corner of the nation,” said Vilsack. “By producing more biofuels in America, we will create jobs, combat global warming, replace our dependence on foreign oil and build a stronger foundation for the 21st century economy.”

The Secretary announced several measures, including the publication of a final rule to implement the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP). Under the BCAP final rule, USDA will resume making payments to eligible producers. The program had operated as a pilot, pending publication of the final rule. Authorized in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, BCAP is designed to ensure that a sufficiently large base of new, non-food, non-feed biomass crops is established in anticipation of future demand for renewable energy consumption.

The nation’s largest ethanol producer, POET, welcomed finalization of rules for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), saying it will help launch the biomass market near the site of their planned cellulosic ethanol plant. “The 85 farmers we have contracted with to deliver 56,000 tons of biomass this fall are nearly finished harvesting, so the final BCAP rule comes not a day too soon,” said Jim Sturdevant, Director of Project LIBERTY for POET. “We will now apply for our cellulosic ethanol plant to become an approved Biomass Conversion Facility (BCF) so that local farmers can become eligible for matching payments for the biomass they will soon deliver.”

POET is in the midst of the world’s largest commercial harvest of biomass for cellulosic ethanol. Farmers around Emmetsburg, Iowa are baling corn cobs and light stover for delivery to POET. In order to store the bales, POET recently completed construction of a multi-million dollar stack yard next to where the first commercial cellulosic ethanol plant will be built.

Read more about Vilsack’s announcement here.

Florida Waste to Biofuel Plant Progress

A Florida company has announced today that it is three permits closer to opening the BioEnergy Center, the first commercial waste to energy facility in the US.

INEOS Bio’s first commercial project in the United States has secured key permits to build its waste to bioenergy facility in Indian River County, Florida.

The BioEnergy Center will be developed entirely within the existing footprint of a former agricultural processing facility. The DOE Finding and Environmental Assessment established that the BioEnergy Center would have no adverse impacts with respect to sound, traffic, air quality, water quality or to threatened or endangered species. The assessment also found that no changes to land use, planning or zoning were necessary and will not result in any significant change to the existing visual quality of the site and surrounding area. As part of the extensive assessment, the DOE requested input from various entities including Federal, state, local agencies, elected officials, tribal interests, businesses, organizations and members of the general public.

The BioEnergy Center will generate eight million gallons of third-generation bioethanol each year from renewable biomass including yard, wood, agricultural and vegetative wastes. The Center will also generate six megawatts of renewable electricity. The facility will be the first to use INEOS Bio’s advanced BioEnergy technology, the world’s leading feedstock flexible technology for advanced biofuels. The technology breaks the link between food crops and ethanol production. At the heart of the INEOS Bio technology is a patented anaerobic fermentation step, through which naturally occurring bacteria convert gases derived directly from biomass into bioethanol.

Unlike other technologies that rely on one primary source of feedstock, the INEOS Bio process can produce bioenergy from numerous feedstocks, including forestry and agricultural waste, sustainable energy crops, construction waste and municipal solid waste. This flexibility allows facilities to be built anywhere that a renewable biomass feedstock is available, providing jobs and locally sourced energy for urban and rural communities. The Indian River facility is scheduled to begin construction in 4th quarter of 2010 and begin production in 2012.

New Algae Incubator Program Launches

The National Algae Association is launching a new Algae Production Incubator Program for qualified algaepreneurs. The program begins on October 1, 2010 and is considered the first Algae Production Incubator starting in the U.S. More specifically, it will be a new algae farming cooperative.

For people and companies who are interested in developing algae for various markets including jet fuel, green diesel, biodiesel, biogasoline, bioplastics, nutraceutical, pharmaceutical, cosmetics, organic fertilizer, and livestock, poultry and fish feed, then this program may be for you. It is aimed for entrepreneurs that have not been able to achieve funding through traditional means.

Coincidentally, I am in San Diego this week participating in an algae tour. The city has successfully built an algal research hub, and today, has more than 30 algae companies in various stages based in the region. I’ll will be bringing you stories throughout the week about the companies we visit.

Hopefully, the success of the Algae Production Incubator Program will lead to similar community biofuels programs throughout the country. To learn more about the program, contact the National Algae Association.

NREL Releases BioEnergy Mapping App

Want to know where are the biorefineries in the U.S. are located? There’s an app for that. The National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) has released a new bioenergy mapping portal, BioEnergy Atlas, that identifies biomass feedstocks, then overlays that information with the ethanol and biodiesel facilities both on and off-line. You can also see map information for transportation infrastructure, power plants, fueling stations, and more. The tools are coined BioPower Atlas and BioFuels Atlas.

The portal was created with funding help from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Blue Skyways Collaborative and the Department of Energy’s Biomass Program. Not only is the map able to identify current biorefinery locations, but can also show where copious amounts of biomass are available for harvest without plants located in the region. Perfect for those looking for areas of untapped energy potential.

According to NREL, BioEnergy Atlas is targeted to a multitude of users including government and state agencies, universities, the petroleum and pipeline industries, research institutions, vehicle manufacturers, investment firms, GIS companies, private citizens, and media.

Sustainable Oils Leads in Camelina Biojet Fuel

Bozeman, Montana-based Sustainable Oils is working toward an important goal. They are working to produce advanced biofuels using sustainable methods and feedstocks. One of their prime energy crops is camelina, which has a naturally high oil content and relatively low input costs (the crop needs little water or fertilizer and is suited well to grow on marginal land). It is also an excellent rotation crop with wheat.

Sustainable Oils‘ focus is on the aviation market and they have partnered with Boeing Company as well as UOP, a Honeywell Company, to bring renewable aviation fuels to market. But the big question is can the renewable aviation fuels withstand the extreme pressures of both commercial planes as well as military jets?

To find out, the U.S. Navy and Air Force both selected Sustainable Oils, as did Japan Airlines, as a fuel partner for several tests and so far the results have been promising. Sustainable Oils President Scott Johnson told DF, “We’ve seen strong demand for camelina biojet and expect that demand to continue to grow in the coming years. The success of the 2009 Japan Airlines test flight, as well as with the 2009 Navy and Air Force test flights, demonstrate that our fuels meet the quality and performance requirements that these aircrafts demand. We’re going to continue to work closely with the U.S. military and commercial airlines to provide the next generation of domestically produced, renewable aviation biofuels that help reduce emissions and enhance energy security.”

Despite the promise that biojet fuels hold, there are grave concerns among the biofuels industry as to its future. The biodiesel tax credit expired at the end of 2009 and has not yet been extended. In addition, the DOE loan guarantee program, that was in part designed to ensure that advanced biofuels companies could have access to much need monies, has stalled with funds not dispersed to companies that have already been awarded the loans. These two issues have created a hesitancy among private investors to infuse much needed dollars into the industry to be used to go from pilot-scale projects to commercial scale production.

I asked Johnson how the lack of the biodiesel tax credit was affecting both his company and the industry. He replied, “Let’s be clear. The petroleum industry not only has a 100 year head start on the renewable fuels industry, but it also has received, and continues to receive billions of dollars in subsidies, incentives and other financial benefits.” Continue reading

Federal Ag & Energy Depts. Team Up for Bioenergy

The U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Energy have teamed up to hand out some research awards to designed to improve and accelerate genetics in plants for bioenergy production.

This USDA release says the announcement from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Energy Secretary Steven Chu will make $8.9 million available:

“Cost-effective, sustainable biofuels are crucial to building a clean energy economy,” said Secretary Chu. “By harnessing the power of science and technology, this joint effort between DOE and USDA will help accelerate research in the critical area of plant feedstocks, spurring the creation of the domestic bio-industry while creating jobs and reducing our dependence on foreign oil.”

“Developing a domestic source of renewable energy will create jobs and wealth in rural America, combat global warming, replace our dependence on foreign oil, and build a stronger foundation for the 21st century economy,” Secretary Vilsack said. “This scientific investment will lay the foundation for a source of fuel made from renewable sources.”

The research grants will be awarded under a joint DOE-USDA program focused on fundamental investigations of biomass genomics, with the aim of harnessing lignocellulosic materials–i.e., nonfood plant fiber–for biofuels production. Emphasis is on perennials, including trees and other nonfood plants that can be used as dedicated biofuel crops. Since such crops tend to require less intensive production practices and can grow on somewhat poorer quality land than food crops, they will be a critical element in a strategy of sustainable biofuels production that avoids competition with crops grown for food. Combining DOE’s leadership in genome-scale technologies with USDA’s long experience in crop improvement will help accelerate development of such specialized crops and improve their effectiveness as feedstocks for biofuels production.

The Energy Department will be handing out $6.9 million for seven projects across the country and USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture will give $2 million for two projects in Illinois and Texas.

Waste to Cellulosic Ethanol Project in Michigan

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm recently helped launch the new American Process Inc. (API) waste-to-cellulosic ethanol clean energy project in Alpena.

API, in partnership with San Antonio’s Valero Energy Corporation, received $4 million from the Michigan bioenergy Centers of Energy Excellence (COEE) program to establish a pilot scale biorefinery at the Decorative Panels International hardwood plant in Alpena. The $4 million in COEE funding to API helped secure a U.S. Department of Energy grant for $17.9 million. The biorefinery will convert the process waste effluent from the plant into cellulosic ethanol, sodium acetate and clean, warm water. The project has potential to be replicated across the state in other biorefineries, pulp and paper mills, and food and agricultural processing plants.

API has invested $10 million in the project and estimates that replication across Michigan in existing industries alone could create annual economic value of $200 million within 10 years.

Senators Introduce Domestic Energy Bill

amy klobuchar amy klobucharSenators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Tim Johnson (D-SD) introduced legislation yesterday that “focuses on developing and deploying safe, reliable domestically grown and produced energy.”

According to the senators, the Securing America’s Future with Energy and Sustainable Technologies Act (SAFEST) establishes strong renewable energy and energy efficiency standards, incentives for developing biofuels and biofuel infrastructure, and targets for the availability of advanced vehicle technologies.

Specifically, the legislation would:

* Establish a strong renewable electricity standard of 25% renewable energy by 2025
* A strong energy efficiency resource standard (1 percent per year)
* A long-term extension of tax credits for ethanol and biodiesel
* New incentives for biofuels infrastructure and deployment
* Targets for the availability of advanced vehicle technologies

Ethanol organization Growth Energy praised the bill, which would provide incentives for blender pumps and pipelines, as well as flex fuel vehicles (FFVs). “Legislation that requires automakers to produce flex fuel vehicles and retailers to install blender pumps would provide more drivers with a choice of mid- and high-level ethanol blends and create thousands of good-paying green collar jobs that can’t be outsourced,” said Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis. He says the legislation also addresses the controversial concept of Indirect Land Use Change and provides equity by allowing all feedstocks that meet the 50 percent Green House Gas reduction requirements to qualify as an advanced biofuel.

Ceres Develops First Salt Tolerant Energy Crop

Now this is interesting. I was reading earlier this morning in Cadillac Desert about how agriculture in many areas is suffering from water issues that include too much salt. The salt damages the soil, kills the crops and ultimately the land is taken out of production. Today, there are over one billion acres of cropland that have been abandoned around the world and 15 million acres just in the U.S.

However, this may become an issue of the past. Today, Ceres, Inc., a company focusing on the development of energy crops, announced that it has developed a plant that could bring new life to millions of acres of abandoned or marginal cropland damaged by salts. According to the company, results in several of their crop tests, including switchgrass, have shown high levels of salt tolerance.

Ceres reported that its researchers tested the effects of very high salt concentrations and also seawater from the Pacific Ocean, which contains high concentrations of salts, on energy grass varieties such as sorghum, miscanthus and switchgrass, currently being grown in their greenhouses located in California. These sources of biomass are being considered to produce fuel and electricity.

“Today, we have energy crops thriving on seawater alone, said Richard Hamilton, Ceres President and CEO. “The goal of course, is not for growers to water their crops with seawater, but enable cropland abandoned because of salt or seawater effects to be put to productive uses.”

The next step in Ceres’ research is to evaluate energy crops with its proprietary salt-tolerant trait at field scale. Should the results be confirmed, the company says that biofuel and biopower producers will have more choice for locating new facilities, have more productive options for marginal land and ultimately, the ability to displace even greater amounts of fossil fuels.

Hamilton concluded, “In the end, this is not so much a salt trait, but a productivity trait and a land-use trait. I am convinced more than ever that techniques of modern plant science can continue to deliver innovations that increase yields and reduce the footprint of agriculture. Improved energy crops will enable the bioenergy industry to scale far beyond the limits of conventional wisdom.”

Algae Association Has Successful Workshop

Got nice note from our friend, Tamra Fakhoorian with the National Algae Association’s Mid-South Chapter, who just recently completed a workshop in Huntsville, Alabama, entitled, “Algae: Mining Wastewater for Nutrients, Fuel, and Fertilizer.”

She tells us they had a good mix of attendees from all over the country who heard presentations from some of the nation’s leading experts on algae and its impact on the bioenergy field:

In addition, attendees learned of algae’s tremendous potential as a cost-effective bioremediation tool for wastewater streams, effecting a more stable and healthy ecosystem. Two such algae bioremediation systems were well represented by Mark Zivojnovich’s presentation on HydroMentia’s Algal Turf Scrubber and Lucas McConnell of Renewergy unveiling his company’s vertical algae system for nutrient recovery. Open pond scenarios for wastewater nutrient mining were described by Dr. Kimberly Jones of Alganomics and Dr. Aron Stubbins of Virginia Coastal Energy Research Consortium.

“Our goals for this workshop were to first raise awareness of the algae/wastewater connection for a wide variety of valued end products and using algae for bioremediation. Next, we focused on the many sources of point and non-point sources of wastewater and discussed algal growth system applications. Third, we placed emphasis on why we must address our nation’s finite phosphate supply and how algae is perfectly equipped to reclaim it from wastewater streams,” said workshop coordinator, Tamra Fakhoorian.

Attendees had comments, such as “Great event! Each presenter complimented the other with valuable information. Great question and answer session at end of day to touch on subjects not mentioned by presenters.”

Tamra promises more events and workshops in the future. If you’re interested, just contact Tamra at