Sorghum Could be Aviation Biofuel Feedstock

SorghumLouisiana State University is getting $17 million from USDA to study how to turn sugar cane and sorghum into biofuels.

The project is one of the five announced yesterday by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, focused on developing aviation biofuels from various types of biomass. “We have an incredible opportunity to create thousands of new jobs and drive economic development in rural communities across America by continuing to build the framework for a competitively-priced, American-made biofuels industry,” said Vilsack. “Over the past two years, USDA has worked to help our nation develop a national biofuels economy that continues to help us out-innovate and out-compete the rest of the world while moving our nation toward a clean energy economy.”

Through new and existing industrial partnerships, this project will use energy cane and sorghum to help reinvigorate the Louisiana sugar and chemical industries.

SorghumThis new project is in addition to a study funded this year at LSU by the Sorghum Checkoff to demonstrate sweet sorghum’s potential for significant yield in a relatively short growing period and its ability to be a steady feedstock supply for biorefineries through improved production management.

“Results from these studies would provide information producers need to most effectively plant and harvest sweet sorghum,” said Kun Jun Han, LSU sweet sorghum specialist. “It would also be useful to biofuel industry personnel when considering site locations, as well as local community leaders working to encourage biorefineries to locate in their area.”

Han said the study will investigate a wide range of planting dates for sweet sorghum to determine the impact on biofuel properties, such as biomass yield, sugar yield and fermentable sugar composition.

From mid-March to May 2011, sweet sorghum was planted at two-week intervals and again during June and July. Some sweet sorghum will be harvested in the early seedhead development stage, which should allow for multiple harvests per year. Meanwhile, other sorghum plants will be harvested at the more traditional stage of late seed development. Results from both harvests will be studied to find which is most effective.

Read more.

USDA Announces New Aviation Biofuels Projects

At the Seattle-Tacoma Airport on Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced five major agricultural research projects “aimed at developing regional, renewable energy markets, generating rural jobs, and decreasing America’s dependence on foreign oil.”

Altogether, the five-year program will deliver more than $136 million in research and development grants to public and private sector partners in 22 states. University partners from the states of Washington, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Iowa will lead the projects, which focus in part on developing aviation biofuels from tall grasses, crop residues and forest resources. Vilsack made the announcement with partners from private industry, research institutions, and the biofuels industry.

Among the five projects are two $40 million grants to Washington State University and the University of Washington to study the feasibility of producing jet biofuel from woody feedstocks in the Pacific Northwest. “This is a significant investment in biofuel production research, and the work at both Washington State University and the University of Washington will help ensure that Washington state remains a national leader in renewable energy research and development,” said U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA).

Senator Maria Cantwell added, “The investment announced today will leverage the resources of our entire region, helping build up a biofuels supply chain and boost clean energy job growth across the nation.”

The WSU project will focus on converting closed timber mills into bioenergy development centers to develop a regional source of renewable aviation fuel for the Sea-Tac Airport. Weyerhaeuser Company is a participant in the WSU project as part of the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance. As a subcontractor to the WSU-led grant, Weyerhaeuser will focus on determining the feasibility of sustainable production of woody feedstocks for use in biofuel and value-added products and exploring ways to convert woody biomass lignin components into value-added bio products.

“This region has a wealth of research capability and knowledge,” said Sea-Tac Airport Managing Director Mark Reis. “We recognize in order for us to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we cannot do it without aviation biofuels.”

Read more here.

New DOE Report Asseses Energy Technology

The U.S. Department of Energy has released a brand new report that recognizes the importance of renewable energy for the nation’s future.

The inaugural Quadrennial Technology Review report (DOE-QTR) is billed as “an assessment of the Department’s energy technology research and development portfolios” establishing a framework for energy technology activities and priorities.

“Innovation in energy technology is going to be central to solving our energy challenges,” said John P. Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “New energy technologies can reduce the cost of energy services to firms and families, improve the productivity of manufacturing, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, increase the reliability and resilience of our energy infrastructure, and reduce the risks from climate change, even as they strengthen and sustain U.S. competitiveness in global markets.”

The DOE-QTR defines six key strategies: increase vehicle efficiency; electrification of the light duty fleet; deploy alternative fuels; increase building and industrial efficiency; modernize the electrical grid; and deploy clean electricity. According to the report, “Reliance on oil is the greatest immediate threat to U.S. economic and national security, and also contributes to the long-term threat of climate change.” The DOE-QTR promotes “out of the box” ideas for improving all types of energy alternatives, including battery and fuel cells, biofuels, solar, and wind, with a strong emphasis on modernization and efficiency.

Read the report here.

USDA Approves Payments for Advanced Biofuels

USDAUSDA will make payments to more than 160 energy producers in 41 states “to support and ensure the production and expansion of advanced biofuels.”

“Renewable energy production will create tens of thousands of direct, American jobs; thousands more indirect jobs, and clean electricity to power millions of homes. The payments I am announcing today represent the continuing commitment of the Obama administration to work with producers to provide the biofuel necessary to reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign energy sources,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

The payments are authorized under the Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels (Section 9005 of the 2008 Farm Bill) and are made to eligible producers to support and ensure an expanding production of advanced biofuels. Payments are based on the amount of biofuels a recipient produces from renewable biomass, other than corn kernel starch. Eligible examples include biofuels derived from cellulose, crop residue, animal, food and yard waste material, biogas (landfill and sewage waste treatment gas), vegetable oil and animal fat.

The payments total nearly $80 million and range from a low of just over $1000 for Kaapa Ethanol in Nebraska to a high of nearly $10 million for Hero Bx in Pennsylvania for “biodiesel mechanical.” Some of the bigger payments being awarded include $6.2 million to Renewable Energy Group for biodiesel trans esterification, $4.8 million to Smarter Fuel of Pennsylvania for biodiesel from waste products, $4 million to White Energy in Texas for ethanol, $3.2 million for Louis Dreyfus Agricultural Industries for biodiesel from waste, and $2.6 million to ADM for biodiesel trans esterification.

For a list of all recipients, click here.

Consumer Fuel Choice Campaign Launched

Ethanol, biodiesel, propane, natural gas, electricity – even regular gasoline – consumers should have choices at the pump and a new campaign is urging lawmakers in Washington to make that happen.

More than 20 worldwide leaders in the effort to commercialize next-generation transportation fuels today announced the new campaign, called FuelChoiceNow. Among the companies that have joined the effort are Abengoa Bioenergy, Battery Ventures, Propel Fuels, and Qteros.

“The purpose behind FuelChoiceNow is to promote consumer choice at the pump,” said Susan Hager, vice president of corporate communications and government affairs for Qteros. “The advocacy group does not promote one alternative fuel over another, we’re here to advocate for consumer choice.”

The group intends to educate and urge lawmakers to enact policies that promote open fuel markets in the United States. “Today in the United States, the transportation fuel market is not an open market, it’s not competitive,” Hager said. “What we’re advocating is room for innovation and new technologies for consumers to choose from.”

FuelChoiceNow has launched a website, along with a Facebook fan page and Twitter account, to encourage a grassroots effort toward expanding fuel choices.

Listen to or download interview with Susan Hager here. Susan Hager of Qteros

Urbee Car Unveiled At Winnipeg Art Gallery

What might the future of transportation look like if fossil fuels cease to exist? If mechanical engineer Jim Kor, along with 11 other engineers and designers, is correct it will look like the Urbee Car. This visionary vehicle is an electric-ethanol hybrid that has been under development since 1996 and was finally unveiled at the Winnipeg Art Gallery over the weekend.

This two-passenger, aerodynamic car is ultra-lightweight and requires only one-eighth the energy of a small, conventional car. It features a single-cylinder, eight-horsepower engine. And the body is manufactured with a three-dimensional printer, yet it’s set to last up to three decades. What else is different about this car? It has no trunk.

Kor, president of Kor EcoLogic, believes one day all cars will be shaped like his. “True progress means using less horsepower,” said Kor in the Winnipeg Free Press.

Less power indeed. His car only has eight horsepower whereas even the smallest cars on the market have at least 68 horsepower. Today, Kor and his team are testing the Urbee to ensure that it is safe to drive on the road.

Several hurdles remain before the car can go “mainstream”. The company must raise at least $1 million to build a second prototype and from there they will build the first 12 working cars- one for each member of the team. Kor anticipates when the car comes to market, it will have a price tag between $30,000 – $50,00. He anticipates the price will go down when the car reaches mass production. In addition, the price will also go down because three-dimensional printing is faster and cheaper than moulds.

While it may take quite some time before this car hits the road, the concept of the electric-ethanol hybrid should take off faster.

How to Engage Your Employees in Safety

To have a profitable business you need to operate safely while producing a high quality product. You can produce a high quality product but if your employees are getting hurt while you’re doing this, you’re not going to be in business long. So it’s important that you engage your employees into your safety program from top to bottom. And that’s the topic of Part 3 of the Biorefinery Safety Series.

To learn how to get people involved, I reached out to Joe Korpi with the Renewable Energy Group (REG), the largest biodiesel company in the country. Korpi said that many safety programs are struggling to answer that question.

“One of the things we’ve discovered is that too often the safety program focuses on the what. What happened in the past? What shouldn’t have happened in the past? How did we make mistakes in the past? One of the things we’ve decided to do here at the Renewable Energy Group, and it seems to work very well in all of the different industries that are trying it, instead of focusing on the what, focus on the why,” explained Korpi. “Train the employees on why they need to do the things they need to do, and, focusing on what specific actions, or behaviors the employees need to be able to demonstrate so they can do our safety programs correctly.”

There are several levels of “accidents” at a biorefinery. The first is the near misses or unsafe acts. These don’t actually result in an “accident”.  The next level is where someone is hurt a little bit, say a burn. Then you have your recordables and then your reportables where you have to call OHSA within eight hours. Korpi said the best practice is to focus on those unsafe acts or near misses. In this situation, you identify something that could have happened but didn’t and focus on ensuring an accident doesn’t occur in the future.

Listen to my interview with Joe Korpi here: Biorefinery Safety Series Part 3: How to Engage Your Employees in Safety Continue reading

Tips For Methanol Safe Handling

Chemicals are an everyday part of operating a biorefinery facility as we learned in Part 1 of Biorefinery Safety Series. Chemicals are also an integral part of biodiesel production. Therefore, it is vitally important that all employees at a biodiesel facility, whether a large operation on a small backyard operation, learn, practice and live safe methanol handling techniques. So today, Part 2 of the Biorefinery Plant Safety Series is going to look how to safely handle methanol.

To learn more, I spoke with Greg Dolan with the Methanol Institute. The association does a lot of work with the National Biodiesel Board because methanol is a key component in biodiesel production.

A gallon of biodiesel is on average between 10-15 percent methanol, said Dolan who explained that you take the oil, could be soybean oil or vegetable oil, add methanol, then add a catalyst and you produce biodiesel. Part of the end product will be some waste methanol and some glycerin and with some production technologies, that methanol can be put back into the front end of the process.

What happens if you don’t handle the methanol safely? Things go boom.

Dolan said methanol is a flammable and toxic chemical and methanol has to be handled properly. “Some of the same precautions we use handling gasoline are also used in handling methanol. For instance, you need to use the proper materials for storage. There are specific guidelines for unloading and loading of methanol at a facility. You also need to pay attention from doing any hot work around any methanol storage. That is something you really want to stay away from. Most accidents we’ve seen at biodiesel facilities result in doing hot work around methanol storage,” he said.

Listen to my interview with Greg Dolan here: Ethanol Safety Series Part II: Methanol Safe Handling Continue reading

White Paper Answers Questions About Ethanol

A new white paper released by Gold Eagle Co aims to answer questions about ethanol blended gasoline. Gold Eagle sells aftermarket fluids and additives such as STA-BIL Ethanol Performance Improver.Petroleum Production, Distribution and Discussion of the use of Ethanol Blended Gasoline” answers such questions as, How is gasoline produced? What is ethanol’s impact on gasoline? What is phase separation? and more.

“Through our conversations with our retail customers and consumers, we believe there is a need to educate the general public on the gasoline refinery process because there is much mis-information, particularly when it comes to ethanol-blended gasoline,” said Mike Profetto, vice president of Product Engineering at Gold Eagle Co.

“We developed a white paper to shed light on the complexity of gasoline – particularly the refining and distribution process and explain the technical aspects as to why gasoline is designed to meet ASTM specifications. The report also highlights the history of ethanol and governmental requirements for biofuels through 2022 and defines ethanol blend fuel specifications and its use throughout the U.S.,” he continued.

In 2010, as estimated 13.23 billion gallons of ethanol were produced in the States. Also in 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency approved the Green Jobs Waiver, allowing the use of E15 in cars and light duty trucks 2001 or newer. However, E15 was not approved for small engines, marine and other specialty engine types.

“We believe that by staying informed about ethanol’s functionality and impact on vehicle performance, automotive repair personnel and consumers alike can help ensure they take proper preventative measures to ensure their vehicles continue to operate smoothly,” added Profetto.

Renewable Fuels Month Proclaimed in Nebraska

September is officially Renewable Fuels Month in Nebraska now after a proclamation signing by the governor today at Husker Harvest Days.

Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman joined state soybean board chair Lisa Lunz, NASCAR Nationwide driver Kenny Wallace and Alan Tiemann, chairman of the Nebraska Corn Board, in making the declaration. “Nebraska’s renewable fuels sector contributes to local communities by providing good paying jobs for thousands of Nebraskans,” said Gov. Heineman. “Renewable fuels are a critical component of becoming energy independent and by providing an alternative to imported oil. We are fortunate to have a strong biofuels industry with thousands of Nebraskans working to fuel America.”

The proclamation was coordinated through the Nebraska Corn Board and Nebraska Soybean Board, who hosted the event at Husker Harvest Days to recognize the contributions of Nebraska farmers and agribusinesses to the nation’s renewable fuel supply.

How to Properly Handle Chemicals in a Biorefinery

I’ve spent the last few weeks speaking with people in the biorefining industry in an effort to learn more about safety issues and best practices. The result is a series on Biorefinery Plant Safety and part one focuses on chemical safety. Chemicals are a necessary component of producing ethanol or biodiesel. On the ethanol side, some plants use chlorine dioxide or sulfuric acid in various aspects of the process – both in fermentation (to kill infections) and as a cleaning agent. On the biodiesel side, methanol is a commonly used.

Many things can happen when working with chemicals – slips, burns, fires, and explosions- and the biofuels industry has not been immune from any of these issues. While no one would tell me exactly what has caused some recent fires or explosions, I believe understanding cause and effect of mishandling chemicals/or properly handling chemicals, should reduce chemical accidents.

To learn more, I spoke with Scott Berger, with the Center for Chemical Process Safety, formed by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. Their goal is to improve guidelines and improve practices to prevent major chemical accidents such as fires, explosions and toxic gas release. Formed in 1985, they have published more than 100 guidelines with the work being done by their 140 plus members in the chemical, refining, biorefining, and other similar manufacturing businesses.

Berger noted that it doesn’t matter which chemical you decide to use in your facility, every material has a hazard. “If you don’t respect that hazard, don’t identify that hazard, don’t manage the hazard properly, then you can have a problem.”

What is the right way to communicate chemical safety? Berger said the first thing is that management has to recognize that they’re dealing with hazardous materials and then they have to commit that they are going to manage those hazards. He said because without that recognition and that commitment, nothing will happen. From there they need to implement a management system for managing the hazardous materials and the hazardous process.

Listen to my interview with Scott Berger here: Ethanol Safety Series Part I: How to Properly Handle Chemicals in a Biorefinery Continue reading

Day in the Life of Biofuels Photo Contest

Biofuels Digest editor Jim Lane is looking for photos depicting “A Day in the Life of Biofuels” for an upcoming photo essay and he’s paying $1000 for the best photo he gets.

“It has to relate to biofuels in some way – as a consumer, researcher, policymaker, producer, journalist, feedstock grower, industry supplier, student, enthusiast, carmaker, mechanic, and so on,” Lane says. “Could be a grower riding a combine, a hand working in the field, an employee at a producing biorefinery, end users users filling a vehicle – a marketing team brainstorming, a policymaker speaking – anything you can think of relating to biofuels – the more visually creative, the better. Could be about you, your business, your colleagues, your town, your car, your farm, your research project, your product – your call. Documentary, serious, downbeat, upbeat, sad, funny – up to you.”

Lane says all photos submitted with a caption will be published in Biofuels Digest with a credit. Multiple photo submissions are welcome, but additional photos will be published on a space-available basis and Lane says photos “are subject to acceptance by the Digest on the basis of reasonable taste.”

Find out more here.

Canadian Firm Developing Industry Oilseed Crops

Vancouver-based Linnaeus Plant Sciences has been awarded $1.2 million in support from Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) to further advance production of green alternatives to petroleum oils.

SDTC support will help Linnaeus advance production of camelina and safflower-based oils as renewable feedstock that can substitute for petroleum in a variety of high-value, non-fuel applications including polymers, lubricants, surfactants and other valuable industrial materials.

“Through our support for cutting-edge clean energy technology we are creating high-quality jobs and protecting our environment,” said Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver. “This project demonstrates our leadership in driving technology innovation to help create a vibrant clean energy industry in Canada.”

“We’re interested in a greener, more sustainable future for farmers and for all Canadians,” said Linnaeus’ President and CEO, Jack Grushcow. “This is significant support from SDTC. It will help us position these crops as viable substitutes for petroleum in a range of important products. Work being done in the laboratory and on the farm will help shape a more carbon-neutral planet for future generations. We are committed to ensuring that these crops deliver products that command sufficient value to allow the entire value chain to operate at a fair profit.”

“Technologies that will help Canada become less dependent on fossil fuels while creating value for farmers will be key in the country’s transition to a green economy,” said SDTC President and CEO Vicky Sharpe. “We are pleased to be adding this promising project to our portfolio.”

Linnaeus Plant Sciences has developed an integrated process to produce a variety of value-added, renewable, industrial feedstocks from camelina and safflower, for use in various industrial applications.

Students Launch Facebook Campaign to Raise Cash for Biodiesel Program

Rockwood Summit High School located in Fenton, Missouri is on the hunt for dollars to help expand their biodiesel project. But they are not selling candy bars or giving car washes on a Saturday afternoon. They have taken to Facebook to promote their fundraising campaign.

The fundraising campaign is not limited to Rockwood Summit High School. Famous Footwear and Converse have come onboard to offer up to $100,000 to any school that receives at least 75,000 votes in their contest. Of that money, $75,000 will go to the school for their project a $25,000 academic scholarship will go to the student who submitted the essay on behalf of the winning school.

The students at Rockwood Summit hope to build an educational renewable fuel facility if they win. Today, the school’s 80 gallon processor is stored in only 15 square feet of space. The monies will be used to expand the space with extra to grow. Next projects? Researching turning algae into biodiesel.

The students also want to take their biodiesel projects to the street and educate the local community about the environmental and economic benefits of the renewable fuel. They also hope to teach younger students the science behind biodiesel production.

So how do you help them win? Visit the Famous Footwear Facebook page here, and click on the Step It Up For Your School tab. From there, you need to “like” the page then click “Cast Your Vote,” and from there search for “Summit.” To take it on home you just need to Vote for them. Now tomorrow, repeat, and keep repeating until they win.

ACE Announces Winner of Merle Anderson Award

The winner of this year’s Merle Anderson Award goes to USDA Under Secretary for Rural Development Dallas Tonsager for his support of the ethanol industry. The honor was given by the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) following their ethanol conference. Tonsager, who said he was pleased to win the award, was honored for his lifetime commitment to the promotion of both agriculture and the renewable fuels industry and more specifically, his work on implementing the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).

The REAP program is currently helping retailers in rural communities install E85 pumps and blender pumps which offer consumers various blends of ethanol that oftentimes include E20, E30 or E40.

“I am excited to receive this honor that recognizes the work that USDA is doing to help our nation develop home-grown energy that creates jobs, helps to break our dependence on foreign oil, and moves our nation towards a clean energy economy,” said Tonsager.

Merle Anderson was the founder and first president of ACE and currently serves as Chairman Emeritus of the ACE board of directors. Brian Jennings, ACE executive VP added, “His work in developing blender pump infrastructure has been tireless and Dallas has always been a champion for the ethanol industry. It means a lot for rural America to have Dallas working in Washington on behalf of agriculture and the ethanol industry,” Jennings said.