Algae-based Biofuels to Get $25 Mil from Feds

US DOE Energy logoAlgae-based biofuels will be the beneficiaries of a government-backed effort to get the fuels made from microbes down to less than $5 per gasoline gallon equivalent (gge) by 2019. The U.S. Department of Energy announced $25 million to reduce those production costs, hopefully down to an eventual goal of $3 gge by 2030.

The funding announced today will support projects in two topic areas: Topic Area 1 awards (anticipated at 1–3 selections) will range from $5–10 million and focus on the development of algae cultures that, in addition to biofuels, produce valuable bioproducts that increase the overall value of the biomass. Topic Area 2 awards (anticipated at 3–7 selections) will range from $0.5–1 million and will focus on the development of crop protection or carbon dioxide utilization technologies to boost biomass productivity in ways that lead to higher yields of algae.

You can learn more about this funding opportunity here, including signing up for an informational webinar to be held on Wednesday, October 8, 2014.

Urban Air Initiative Launches Public Campaign

Urban Air Initiative has launched a public awareness campaign with the first phase the launch of a new website. The consumer-focused site draws attention to the problem of toxic compounds in gas with a call to action for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate some of the most harmful components in fuel.

fixourfuelAccording to Urban Air Initiative President David VanderGriend, “There’s a problem with the air we’re all breathing and it stems from what’s in our gasoline. It’s something that’s too small to see, but too big to ignore.”

The new website is fixourfuel.com and explains why the country needs to clean up gasoline and protect public health through lowered emissions from vehicles said VanderGriend.

“The website takes a story-like approach to make a complicated subject easier to understand. “Right now, toxic compounds called aromatics are added to gasoline to provide octane boost,” added VanderGriend. However that boost is hurting your health. Aromatics, such as benzene, come out of the tailpipe as invisible, odorless ultrafine particles (UFP’s). These UFP’s have been linked to ailments from lung cancer and stroke, to birth defects and developmental disorders in children.”

Under the Clean Air Act, EPA is required to remove these harmful aromatics from gasoline, but not enough is being done. According to Urban Air Initiative officials, there are cleaner and cheaper options available, such as mid-level blends of ethanol. Increased use of these mid-level blends will reduce toxic aromatics and UFP’s.

Fuels America Campaign Focuses on Nat’l Security

As the U.S. government fights ISIS, this week oil fields became a target in the war on terror Fuels America is running a new series of ads online, radio, cable and in the Washington, D.C. market. The ads tell the public and decision makers that the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) could end American’s addiction to foreign oil. The radio ads will run for one week, and the television ads will run during the Sunday morning talk shows as well as Sunday, Monday and Tuesday programming.

The ad warns that the Obama Administration’s proposal to gut the RFS would leave America’s renewable fuel industry—and the thousands of American jobs it supports—at the mercy of the oil industry. Meanwhile, maintaining a strong Renewable Fuel Standard would support American innovation and thousands of American jobs that can’t be outsourced.

The President’s decision on the EPA’s proposal is expected in the coming days. It is currently under review with the Office of Management and Budget and it is not actually known if the final volumes will be lower than the year before and lower than mandated by the legislation. Fuels America points out this the public unveiling of the final 2014 rule comes as oil producing regions around the world remain unstable. As a net importer of oil, every gallon of domestic biofuels the U.S. produces means less foreign oil we must import from hostile foreign regions.

Those ads come alongside a digital campaign that includes a Politico Morning Energy Sponsorship by the Fuels America coalition, which says “Despite the mess in the Middle East, the Obama Administration is calling for a 1.3 billion gallon cut in America’s renewable fuel production—making us even more foreign oil dependent,” and “With turmoil in the Middle East, this isn’t the time to cut back on the clean, domestic alternatives to foreign oil.”

EPA Inaction on RFS Increasing GHG Emissions

According to a new white paper, inaction by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on finalizing the 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) rules is increasing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) equal to 4.4 million additional cars on American roads. The paper, published by the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) updated earlier estimates of GHG emissions due to the proposal to reduce biofuel use during 2014.

Brent Erickson, executive vice president of BIO’s Industrial & Environmental Section, said, “During the U.N. Climate Summit this week, the Obama administration is sure to promote the regulatory actions it has taken to reduce climate change emissions from stationary sources such as power plants. But regulatory inaction on the RFS has opened the door to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.”

BIO logo“Last November, EPA proposed a steep reduction in the use of biofuels in order to avoid hitting the so-called blend wall – a proposal the administration still has not finalized,” continued Erickson. “What the agency failed to consider is that demand for transportation fuel has been increasing – the United States is now using several billion gallons more gasoline and diesel than projected. The so-called blend wall is an invention of the oil industry and has simply been a red herring.”

In March 2014, Erickson and coauthors published the study, “Estimating Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Proposed Changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard Through 2022.” That study demonstrated that if EPA reduced biofuel use under the RFS, as the agency proposed in November 2013, the U.S. would experience an increase in greenhouse gas emissions and forego an achievable decrease in emissions.

In the updated white paper uses new data on transportation fuel demand for 2013 and 2014. The U.S. is now projected to use 2 billion gallons more gasoline and 0.5 billion gallons more diesel in 2014 than previously projected.

Erickson concluded, “The administration must finalize the 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard using a methodology based on biofuel production and continue the program’s successful support for commercialization of advanced and cellulosic biofuels. The renewable fuel industry has already created hundreds of thousands of good jobs and boosted economic growth.”

Orrie Swayze: EPA is Destroying Grain Prices

Orrie Swayze, from Wilmont, South Dakota is a long-time ethanol advocate and has been involved with the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) since its inception more than 20 years ago. He has been following the progress of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) writing of the final 2014 final rule for the Renewable Fuel Standard and as a retired farmer, he is not happy with their direction. While no one knows what the renewable volume obligations will be for obligated parties this year (yes, the EPA is way behind should be releases the proposed rule for 2015 in November) there is grave concern among the renewable fuels industry that volumes will be lower than mandated by the law and from years past.

orrieSwayze is speaking out. “The EPA deceitfully created E10 blend wall destroys free enterprise’s role deciding corn prices because it locks a potential new five billion bushel demand for corn out of the market,” he says. “Free enterprise cannot play a legitimate role in corn and auto fuels markets when EPA’s dishonest policies limit ethanol’s auto fuels market participation to ten percent. Countering free enterprise principles EPA picks gasoline as auto fuels market winner by deceitfully claiming high octane E30 is illegal to use in and damages standard auto engines.”

He notes that unlike gasoline, ethanol does not contain or emit harmful tailpipe emissions that are particularity harmful to children and the elderly. “Therefore it isn’t Clean Air Act defined tampering or illegal, as EPA alleges, to fuel standard autos with E30 because it decreases known human carcinogenic tailpipe/evaporative emissions 30 percent,” explains Swayze.

“Importantly, auto companies urgently request EPA to raise minimum gasoline octane levels,” he continues. “Autos endorse ethanol’s high octane E30 but ridicule low octane E15. E15 cannot provide E30’s air cooling turbocharging effect and 93 ‘safe’ octane that’s required for optimized, efficient high compression engines. Engines autos need to be competitive in international markets plus meet 2017 café standards.”

South Dakota farmers have a deep experience of producing corn and ethanol with the state producing nearly a billion bushels of corn plus a billion bushels of ethanol each year. “We all have hit EPA’s fraudulent blend wall evidenced by a dollar plus lower tumbling corn prices and necessarily all grain/ethanol prices,” says Swayze. “The economic impact of government’s war on E30 use in standard autos creating the e10 blend wall will obviously extort several billion dollars annually from SD’s economy alone.”

Swayze concluded, “Incredibly state government, corn and ethanol organizations assure the blend wall stands firm today: They irresponsibly agree with EPA’s big oil sponsored fabrications that built the blend wall: E30 is illegal to use in and damages standard auto engines.” He is asking corn growers associations and ag associations to stand firm on ethanol and be more proactive in fighting Big Oil who is perpetuating myths about ethanol.

Impact of Ethanol Mandates on Fuel Prices Nill

Professors Sebastien Pouliot and Bruce A. Babcock with Iowa State University’s Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) have released a new paper, “Impact of Ethanol Mandates on Fuel Prices When Ethanol and Gasoline are Imperfect Substitutes“. The authors note papers that consider the two transportation fuels “equal” have been of limited use in informing current policy debates because the short-to-medium-run reality is one of sets restrictions on how ethanol can be consumed in the U.S.

Mandate Impacts on GasThe authors’ objective of the paper was to improve understanding of how these restrictions change the findings of existing studies. The paper estimated the impacts of higher ethanol mandates using a open-economy, partial equilibrium model of gasoline, ethanol and blending whereby motorists buy one of two fuels: E10, which is a blend of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline, or E85 which is a high ethanol blend. The model is calibrated to recent data to provide current estimates.

Mandate Impacts on EthanolThe authors find that the effects of increasing ethanol mandates that are physically feasible to meet on the price of E10 are close to zero. In other words, White House fears of higher RIN prices due to higher gas prices are unfounded. The report also shows the impact of the size of the corn harvest on E10 prices is much larger than the effects of mandates. However, increased mandates can have a large effect on the price of E85 if the mandates are increased to levels that approach consumption capacity. These findings show that concerns about the consumer price of fuel do not justify a reduction ethanol mandates under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

The 2014 RFS rule is currently under review with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Is Obama is Own Worst Enemy on Climate?

The People’s Climate March” has received worldwide attention to kick off Climate Week in New York and an ad in the New York Times is asking if President Obama is his own worst enemy when it comes to climate. The ad tells the president that if his administration accepts the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to alter the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFScreen Shot 2014-09-22 at 11.37.27 AMS) he “will have inadvertently done more to damage [his] climate legacy than [his] worst enemies.”

The ad warns that the proposal would let oil companies off the hook for blocking competition from American renewable fuels, and prompt an exodus of investment in cellulosic ethanol—the world’s cleanest motor fuel—to China and Brazil.

In the ad, the Advanced Ethanol Council and Biotechnology Industry Organization caution President Obama that investments in additional cellulosic production beyond these four plants will likely shift overseas if the President adopts the flawed methodology of the EPA proposal, regardless of whether he decides to actually raise the renewable fuel targets in the rule. This month, two commercial scale cellulosic ethanol biorefineries came online in Iowa and Abengoa will be hosting a grand opening for its cellulosic ethanol plant in Kansas in October.

Maryland Gets New E85 Station

Three Brothers/A1 Auto Repair and Protec Fuel joined forces to launch a new E85 station in Baltimore, Maryland. The public can now fuel with E85 at 3041 Frederick Avenue thanks to partners Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board (MGPUB) and the Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC, Clean Cities Coalitions.

Three Brothers Car Repair E85 pumpThis is the first E85 station for owner Paul Goeller whose stationhttp://www.a1autothreebroscarrepair.com/ also features an auto repair business: A1 Auto Repair. “I noticed all the flex-fuel vehicles coming through and was surprised there was nowhere to fuel with E85 in Baltimore,” said Goeller. “As a mechanic, I wanted to give a choice that not only is better for the environment and our country, but has certain engine benefits such as higher octane, performance and a cleaner engine.”

Paul Spies, eastern shore farmer and president of MGPUB said of E85, “We invest in projects that support U.S. jobs and protect our environment, and the opening of this E85 station well fits that mission. Ethanol is farm-grown and renewable, and today’s answer for replacing petroleum-based fuels from volatile foreign markets. As our domestic alternative fuel industry grows, we expect to provide even greater benefits for U.S. consumers, the environment, and our farmers.”

E85 is a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline that can be used in flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs), as can gasoline. Automobile manufacturers such as Ford, Chrysler, Nissan, Toyota and General Motors all produce FFVs.With more than 16.5 million FFVs on the road, there is strong need for more stations offering higher level blends of ethanol. Visit GoE85.com to check if your vehicle can run on E85 and find more station locations.

“Many cars have flex-fuel capability, whether the drivers know it or not,” added Steve Walk, a VP of Protec Fuel who helped the station add the E18 pump. “Alternative fuels like this, as well as E15 fuel or other ethanol blends, benefit air quality in sensitive areas such as big cities like Baltimore.”

Gevo’s Plant Co-producing Isobutanol & Ethanol

Gevo’s plant in Luverne, Minnesota is now co-producing isobutanol and ethanol with one fermenter dedicated to isobutanol production and three fermenters dedicated to ethanol production. With the completion of the last phase of capital for SBS, Gevo has begun to produce and ship isobutanol in railcar volumes.gevo logo

This equipment facilitates the extraction of isobutanol from the plant, which should enable Gevo to boost production levels of isobutanol by debottlenecking the downstream side of the plant. This distillation equipment was commissioned in early September and is already showing improved results at the plant, such as:

  • A doubling of isobutanol batch sizes;
  • A 50% reduction in isobutanol batch turnaround times;
  • Consistent yields of >90% based on starch content; and
  • A continued decrease in isobutanol production costs towards targeted
    economic rates.

“We are on track with the SBS. We completed the installation of our isobutanol distillation column and it operates well. We are continuing to boost isobutanol production levels while simultaneously driving cost out of our production processes. We are pleased to be shipping both ethanol and isobutanol in railcar quantities. This isobutanol is destined for the solvents and specialty gasoline blendstock markets, as well as to supply our demo plant in Silsbee, TX, to convert our isobutanol into hydrocarbons such as bio-jet fuel and isooctane,” said Dr. Patrick Gruber, Gevo’s CEO.

Gruber continued, “By installing the last phase of capital at Luverne, we remain confident that we will be able to achieve production levels of 50-100 thousand gallons of isobutanol per month by the end of 2014. As we continue to learn and optimize the isobutanol production process, we believe we can ultimately increase our production rate to approximately 2-3 million gallons of isobutanol per annum under the SBS, while we are producing ethanol in the other three fermenters.”

Minnoco Expands Higher Ethanol Blends in Twin Cities

Independent fuel retailer Minnoco is expanding its outlets with 18 new locations joining the brand. When completed, the brand will feature 24 retailers, many of whom will be offering higher blends of ethanol, such as E15, and biodiesel to consumers.

“Our owners believe we have a competitive advantage by offering more fuel choices like E15 to consumers,” stated Lance Klatt, executive director for Minnoco. “Our new brand not only draws in consumers for more affordable fuels but is also a great business model for retailers.”

Minnoco signLeveraging existing convenience store and automotive repair locations in many cases, retail owners are moving away from a branded oil contract into the independent brand of Minnoco. “With Minnoco, I’m able to offer E15 as a more competitive fuel to my customers at a much lower price vs. regular,” explained Rick Bohnen, president of Minnoco and owner of Penn Minnoco. “This is a better business model for me because it significantly reduces my operational costs vs. branded fuels and I’m able to pass the savings on to consumers.”

In addition, Minnoco retailers have more freedom to offer biofuels that are grown and produced in Minnesota. Though the product offering will vary slightly by retail location, Minnoco will be offering E15, E30, E85 and diesel along with regular grades of gasoline.

“All of our regular 87 gas already contains 10% ethanol,” explained Jerry Charmoli, Minnoco owner and a mechanic for more than 30 years. “E15 is approved for vehicles 2001 and newer and we’ve had zero problems, in fact my customers love the cost savings and extra performance.”

In response to the announcement today by Minnoco, Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis said, “Minnesota has always been a leader in offering renewable fuels to consumers. I am glad to see an increasing number of service station owners and convenience stores offer a higher performing, less expensive, renewable fuel option. Minnoco understands what consumers want, and also appreciates the importance of improving our environment, creating and supporting jobs right here in America that cannot be outsourced, and reducing our dangerous addiction to fossil fuels and foreign oil, all while saving consumers at the pump.”

Bobby Likis Car Clinic Globalcast Features Ethanol

likis-logoBobby Likis Car Clinic recent globalcast featured topic was ethanol with guest Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA). More specifically the two discussed issues around the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

During the program, Dinneen explained that the RFS and ethanol production saves consumers money at the pump, decreases America’s foreign oil dependence, and helps rural America. He discussed the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed cuts to the RFS and the negative impact those cuts would have on consumers and investment in next-generation ethanol.

Dinneen said, “In today’s environment of misinformation and spin, it is absolutely vital that consumers know the truth about ethanol and understand the role the Renewable Fuel Standard plays in furthering America’s energy independence, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and lowering the price of gasoline for drivers.” He adds, “I was proud to join Car Clinic’s Bobby Likis to give an overview of the political, regional, and agricultural factors that play into the future of ethanol production and explain the benefits of ethanol to drivers all across the country. Their votes of confidence in the RFS will count in the upcoming election.”

Likis, who is an automotive and ethanol expert, reflects, “When presented with facts – which Bob Dinneen delivers in easy-to-understand terms – American consumers and voters are smart enough to make the right decision at the polls in November. That’s how the RFS was passed in the first place. Clearly, the RFS has delivered to voters: lowering prices at the gas pump; reducing dependence on foreign oil; stimulating regional economies; giving the environment a fighting chance; and incenting investors to keep their money in the US as they research and develop new seed and other technologies to increase efficiencies and crop yields.”

RFA Submits LCFS Comments to CARB

The California Air Resources Board has released a proposal to transition to a new version of the GREET model that is used to determine a fuel’s greenhouse gas reduction score or more specifically, the direct lifecycle carbon intensity as part of its Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). CARB has proposed to use Argonne National Laboratory’s latest version of GREET as the basis of its update to the original California GREET model, which was RFANewlogointroduced in early 2008 and has been in use for the past six years.

Geoff Cooper with the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) has submitted comments to CARB and writes, “We believe Argonne’s GREET1_2013 model contains a number of important improvements and updated inputs that more accurately reflect the current CI performance of corn ethanol and many other fuel pathways … it is encouraging to see the LCFS regulation finally catching up to the actual state of the industry.”

RFA believes CARB’s migration to the newer GREET version is a step in the right direction, but “several additional revisions to CA-GREET2.0 should be considered.”

Cooper outlines three specific changes that RFA would like to see CARB address to the new GREET model:

  • CARB should integrate the Argonne GREET1_2013 default assumptions on ethanol co-product feed (i.e., distillers grains) displacement rates.
  • CARB should revise the CA-GREET2.0 model’s treatment of emissions from agricultural lime application based on new data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
  • CARB should adopt the GREET1_2013 methodology for estimating land use change (LUC) emissions in lieu of CARB’s current standalone GTAP methodology.

“Adopting these recommendations would further reduce corn ethanol’s direct CI score by 8–10 percent, and would slash CARB’s current ILUC factor by approximately 70 percent,” according to Cooper. “Integrating RFA’s suggested revisions, along with the proposed changes already planned by CARB, would better reflect the actual nature of ethanol’s lifecycle carbon intensity and confirm ethanol’s ability to significantly reduce GHG emissions relative to gasoline.”

ACE Urges Support for STB Reauth Act of 2014

The American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) is urging leaders of the Senate Commerce Committee to support S. 2777, the Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Ace of 2014. In a letter, Brian Jennings, executive vice president for ACE writes U.S. corn-based ethanol is the most economical transportation fuel in the world. And when factoring in its favorable blending economics along with the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), ethanol is capable of comprising more than its 10 percent share of the U.S. gasoline market.

ACElogo“But in order to do that, reliable and timely rail service is critical,” the letter states. “Unfortunately, during most of 2014, railroads have failed to provide reliable and timely service. Logjams built-up this winter due to extreme cold and snow which reduced the speed and size of trains, and all year long it has appeared that railroads have provided favorable service to crude oil shipments at the expense of ethanol and agricultural commodities….”

“Many of ACE’s ethanol producer members are captive shippers and have reported chronic rail service disruptions this year, such as delayed tank car arrivals, insufficient tank cars received for ethanol off-take, loaded cars parked and overdue for power to arrive, and turn-around times that have doubled. As a result, storage tanks at ethanol plants are full and many of our members have been forced to slow production or worse yet, shut down operations at a time when demand for ethanol is on the rise because of its low price and clean octane benefits, writes Jennings.

The letter continues, “To cope with unreliable rail service, some biorefineries have invested in additional storage or considered adding unit train capability, but it is hard to justify those investments without meaningful commitment by the railroads that service will improve. Moreover, we are concerned that a record harvest of corn and soybeans this fall could make a bad situation on the rails even worse.”

Jennings notes that while the S. 2777 does not immediately nor comprehensively overcome all the problems, it is a step in the right direction.

E15 Could Help Lower Gas Prices at the Pump

The end of summer is here and with the season change, “summer gasoline” and its Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) requirements will also come to an end. With fall in view retailers who want to offer E15 to their customers may now do so.

“We’re seeing reports and predictions of lower gas prices, with some celebrating the fact that the price is ACElogodown to $3.39 nationwide,” said American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) Senior Vice President Ron Lamberty. “In the Midwest, where E15, E30, and E85 are more widely available, even E10 prices are already under $3.00 in some markets. Ethanol adds octane and lowers prices because it provides competition for higher priced, lower octane gasoline.”

“E15 brings environmental benefits as well,” continued Lamberty. “Recent studies highlight the reduction in cancer causing emissions offered by E15. E15 means cleaner, higher octane fuel at a lower price and fuel marketers are starting to realize that. Fuel retailers like CHS/Cenex and Protec have taken steps to make E15 available in more markets soon and others will follow.”

Lamberty is encouraging retailers to take note of the growing number of vehicles that can use E15. E15 use is covered under warranty for most cars and light trucks sold in the U.S. for the 2013, 2014, and 2015 model years, and some automakers approve it for 2012 vehicles. That’s 30 million vehicles or more with more vehicles hitting the roads each week that are approved for E15 use.

“This is exactly why Big Oil fights so hard and spends so much time and money to convince EPA and elected officials that the 10% “blend wall” is real, and why they have contract restrictions that prevent branded stations from offering E15.” Lamberty concluded, “It’s not the 5% market share that could be taken by E15 that worries Big Oil – it’s what competition for that 5% does to the prices they can charge for the rest of the gallon. More ethanol means lower prices.”

RFA Calls on EPA to Undo Unfair Fuel Regulations

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) is calling on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy to address the unfair fuel volatility regulations that keep the sale and expansion of E15 from occurring. Because E15 does not have the same 1 psi Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) as E10, the ethanol fuel blend can not be sold during summer months. In a letter to McCarthy, Bob Dinneen, CEO and president of RFA writes that EPA’s failure to put E15 on the same footing as E10 has been a substantial roadblock to the rollout of E15.

According to the letter, “…faced with a hopeless decision every spring: stop selling E15 during the summer volatility control season, or secure the appropriate low-RVP gasoline blendstock. For most retailers, neither of these options are acceptable business decisions.”

RFANewlogoDinneen says the EPA continues to handicap market opportunities for E15 by effectively making it a seasonal fuel. This causes retailers and marketers to be hesitant to invest in a fuel that can only be offered part of the year. “Our biggest frustration is that there is simply no legal or environmental justification for EPA’s unequal volatility treatment of E10 and E15. If the Administration is serious about addressing greenhouse gas emissions and keeping gas prices in check, it should immediately correct this gross inequality,” said Dinneen.

RFA points to the larger implications of the RVP restriction in the letter writing, “Slow market adoption of E15 has unnecessarily complicated compliance with the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and led the Agency to embrace the oil industry’s ‘blend wall’ concept in the proposed rule for 2014 Renewable Volume Obligations. The bottom line is that E10 and E15 should be treated consistently in the marketplace with regard to RVP….There is simply no sound technical justification, no air quality benefit, and no economic rationale for denying equal RVP treatment for E15 and E10.”