GRFA: FAO Director General’s Comments Misguided

As the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture draws to a close in Berlin, the Global Renewable Fuels Alliance (GRFA) has challenged new United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) Director General Jose Graziano Da Silva on his critique of biofuels and their alleged impact on commodity prices.
Global RFA
“Mr. Da Silva has failed to recognize that the rising price of energy is the primary driver in the rising cost of all commodities including corn and sugar,” said GRFA spokesperson, Bliss Baker.

Many international organizations have back tracked on their criticism of biofuels based on research which has found biofuels to have played a very minor role in the escalation of food prices globally. In fact, David Hallam, the FAO’s own Deputy Director has said that “unexpected oil price spikes could further exacerbate an already precarious situation in food markets.”

“Mr. Da Silva would do well to listen to the International Energy Agency’s dire warnings about our energy security future when commenting on biofuels,” said Baker. “The IEA concluded that biofuels could provide 27 percent of total transport fuel by 2050 and avoid around 2.1 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions per year when produced sustainably without jeopardizing food security,” said Baker.

The GRFA has repeatedly called for an increase in the use of biofuels to help reduce the world’s crippling reliance on crude oil.

“I would urge the new FAO Director General to focus on the real cause of high food prices – the rising cost of energy,” added Baker.

Science Magazine Spotlights Seaweed to Biofuel Technology

The cover story in the latest issue of Science Magazine showcases a California-based company’s technology that converts seaweed to biofuel.

The research article details breakthrough technology developed by scientists with Bio Architecture Lab (BAL) using a microbe to extract the sugars in macroalgae that could further the use of seaweed as a feedstock for advanced biofuels and renewable chemical production.

“About 60 percent of the dry biomass of seaweed are sugars, and more than half of those are locked in a single sugar – alginate,” said Daniel Trunfio, Chief Executive Officer at Bio Architecture Lab. “Our scientists have developed a pathway to metabolize the alginate, allowing us to unlock all the sugars in seaweed, which therefore makes macroalgae an economical alternative feedstock for the production of renewable fuels and chemicals.”

“It is both an incredible scientific achievement and a distinguished honor to be published in Science, and I am very proud of our team,” said Trunfio. “It is yet another strong validation of BAL’s breakthrough technology.”

Seaweed can be an ideal global feedstock for the commercial production of biofuels and renewable chemicals because in addition to its high sugar content it has no lignin, and it does not require arable land or freshwater to grow. Globally, if three percent of the coastal waters were used to produce seaweed than more than 60 billion gallons of fossil fuel could be produced. Today, in many parts of the world, seaweed is already grown at commercial scale. BAL currently operates four seaweed farms in Chile and has had great success in growing seaweed at economically viable production yields.

BAL was a beneficiary of the highly selective U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) awarded to DuPont, for the development of a process to convert sugars from seaweed into isobutanol.

USDA Launches Clean Energy Website

The U.S. Department of Agriculture this week launched a new energy website to provide quick access to the agency’s energy efficiency and renewable energy data.

The website,, provides access to all USDA energy resources, including: agricultural, forestry, economic, and social data. This is done in part through a set of new complementary web-based tools: the USDA Renewable Energy Investment Map, the Renewable Energy Tool and Energy Matrix. These tools focus on USDA’s energy, energy efficiency and renewable energy investments and projects; provide information and data to a broad spectrum of stakeholders; and empower the user with the ability to easily navigate USDA’s energy web resources. In addition, the site provides a link to all USDA state and local offices and energy resource coordinators.

The new website was welcomed by the Ag Energy Coalition (AEC). “USDA’s Energy portal demonstrates the positive impact the Farm Bill energy title and related programs are having on job creation, national security, and the environment,” said Coalition co-director Lloyd Ritter. “The Ag Energy Coalition believes Rural America will be a continuing force for change in the advancement of sustainable energy and renewable chemicals production in the years ahead. With the right policies in place, and requisite funding, the promise of a rural renaissance focused on clean energy solutions will become a reality.”

The Ag Energy Coalition includes a membership of organizations and companies representing a variety of clean, renewable energy and bioproducts stakeholders.

USDA and Airline Companies to Discuss Aviation Biofuels

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is hosting a media roundtable with aviation business leaders today to discuss the important role of American-produced biofuels in the civilian aircraft and airline industry, and in the military.

Participants in the discussion with Vilsack will include John Tracy with The Boeing Company and Billy Glover of Boeing Commercial Airplanes; Alex Marren with United Continental Holdings and Jim Rekoske, Vice President and General Manager of Renewable Energy & Chemicals for Honeywell.

In January, 2010, Vilsack and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to encourage development of advanced biofuels to be used in the Great Green Fleet that will demo in 2012. USDA has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to help the commercial airline industry utilize biofuels as jet fuel. USDA has also invested significantly in research projects to advance the aviation biofuels industry.

The roundtable discussion is being held this afternoon at 12:45 central at Boeing Corporate Offices in Chicago.

Gov. Branstad Will Address IRFA Summit Jan. 24th

IRFA Terry BranstadIowa Governor Terry Branstad has made the state a leader in renewable fuels production and public policy, therefore he will address the 6th Annual Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit on January 24th.

“Leadership from the top makes a difference and Governor Branstad has made a big difference for Iowa’s ethanol and biodiesel producers,” said Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) Executive Director Monte Shaw. “Under his leadership, Iowa has taken a lead in proactive public policy for E15 and biodiesel. The renewable fuels community looks forward to hearing from the Governor regarding the implementation of these policies.”
Iowa RFA
Branstad will address the Summit at 11:30 a.m. on Jan. 24. Other feature presentations will include four-star General Paul Kern (U.S. Army, ret.) who will discuss foreign oil’s impact on U.S. military operations. Former Reagan National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane will address breaking America’s addiction to foreign oil. Executive Director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, Dr. Gal Luft, will spell out the real national security threats posed by our country’s dangerous dependence on foreign petroleum.

The Summit and trade show are free and open to the public but pre-registration is required. The event will be from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial/Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center in Des Moines.

Pilot Biorefinery Dedicated in Perry, Florida

Florida State Representative Debbie Mayfield dumped a load of sugarcane waste to dedicate a new pilot biorefinery this week in honor of her late husband, Stan Mayfield.

uf ethanol plantThe dedication ceremony involved Mayfield pulling the lever on a front-end loader to dump a pile of pulverized sugarcane stalks, officially delivering the first shipment of feedstock to the facility, which will now be known as the Stan Mayfield Biorefinery Pilot Plant. The plant is located in Perry, Florida and is a cooperative venture between the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and Buckeye Technologies Inc. The facility will be operated as a UF/IFAS satellite laboratory researching the use of inedible plant material to produce fuel ethanol, such as sugarcane waste.

When fully operational, the biorefinery will produce up to 400 gallons of fuel ethanol and 5,000 pounds of organic acids for bioplastics each day. Some of the researchers’ goals include testing a wide variety of feedstocks, such as crop residues and yard waste, and finding ways to save money on production costs.

Stan Mayfield was a member of the state House of Representatives from 2000 until his death in 2008 and was instrumental in securing a $20 million appropriation from the Florida Legislature to fund the biorefinery. A UF graduate, Mayfield was a strong advocate of renewable fuels, environmental protection and economic growth.

Pacific Biodiesel Continues Growth

hawaiiDuring a visit to highlight renewable energy use by the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also spotlighted the Hawaii-based biodiesel producer that supplies much of the fuel used there.

Pacific Biodiesel “is the oldest biodiesel producer and refinery in the country, started in 1996,” said Vilsack during his remarks on Tuesday at the memorial, noting that USDA has provided assistance to help that company grow. “We provided recently a $5 million business and industry loan to Pacific Biodiesel to allow it to continue to expand its capacity.”

hawaiiThat loan, announced in February 2010, is being used to construct a $10 million, 5.5 million gallon per year biodiesel production plant in Kea’au on the Big Island. Pacific Biodiesel vice president and co-founder Kelly King says Big Island Biodiesel will be the companies 13th biodiesel plant. “We’ll be owning and operating five of them, the other ones we built for clients throughout the mainland, from the east coast to the west coast,” she says, with capacity ranging from a half million to six million gallons.

“We started in Maui, where we actually had the first available biodiesel pump for the public,” said King. “Back then, most of our customers were environmental hippies who would come and pay 70 cents a gallon more for fuel and thank us and tell us to keep the change!”

King says Pacific Biodiesel operates on a community-based sustainable model set up locally to benefit local communities. While all the plants can use any type of oil feedstocks, much of them operate on used cooking oil. “It can use the most degraded oils up to the purest oils,” she said. “The degraded oils make the best feedstock because it’s the cheapest!”

King and two of her Pacific Biodiesel team members were excited to be part of the secretary’s appearance at Pearl Harbor and to have him recognize the importance of renewable fuels in the Aloha State.

Listen to an interview with Kelly King here: Pacific Biodiesel VP Kelly King

Photos from Secretary’s visit to Pearl Harbor memorial to promote biofuels

Sunn Hemp Shows Promise as Biofuel Source

USDA researchers say the tropical legume sunn hemp (Crotalaria juncea) is a fast-growing annual that farmers in the Southeast could incorporate into their crop rotations and it could be used as a biofuel source.
A study, conducted by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in Florence, S.C., supports the USDA priority of finding new sources of bioenergy. Results from the study were published in 2010 in Biomass and Bioenergy.

ARS agricultural engineer Keri Cantrell, agronomist Philip Bauer, and environmental engineer Kyoung Ro all work at the ARS Coastal Plains Soil, Water, and Plant Research Center in Florence. They compared the energy content of sunn hemp with cowpea (Vigna unguiculata), another common regional summer cover crop, in 2004 and 2006.

Both crops were grown in experimental plots near Florence and were harvested on the same day three times in each study year. The last harvest for both years was conducted right after the first killing freeze of the season. The scientists measured potential energy production of both feedstocks via direct combustion. This provided the feedstocks’ higher heating value (HHV), which indicates how much energy is released via combustion.

In 2004, when there was ample rainfall, the resulting sunn hemp biomass yield totaled more than 4.5 tons per acre. This is equivalent to 82.4 gigajoules of energy per acre, close to the energy contained in 620 gallons of gasoline and well in the ballpark of other bioenergy crops, which have yields of anywhere from 30 to 150 gigajoules per acre.

The HHV for sunn hemp biomass exceeded the HHV for switchgrass, bermudagrass, reed canarygrass and alfalfa. Although reduced rainfall resulted in lower hemp biomass yields in 2006, sunn hemp’s HHV for both study years was 4 to 5 percent greater than the HHV of cowpeas.

Read more about this research in the January 2012 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

NBB Comments on EPA’s Approval of Camelina Oil

The EPA has published a final rule approving camelina oil as a feedstock under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2).

Today, the National Biodiesel Board (NBB) released the following statement in support of the ruling.

“Biodiesel’s evolving feedstock diversity is one of its greatest strengths, and we’re pleased to see the EPA recognizing camelina as yet another feedstock that meets the agency’s standards as an Advanced Biofuel,” said Anne Steckel, vice president of federal affairs at NBB. “As it has with other biodiesel feedstocks such as animal fats, recycled cooking oil, soybean oil and canola oil, the EPA’s proposal shows that biodiesel produced from camelina oil reduces greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 percent compared with diesel fuel. This is good news for our industry and will give biodiesel plants another tool in the toolbox as they continue producing record quantities of America’s Advanced Biofuel.”

BASF Invests in Cellulosic Sugar Company

BASFGlobal chemical giant BASF has invested $30 million in a Pennsylvania-based company that has developed a process to produce cellulosic sugars for renewable chemicals and biofuels.

BASF, through subsidiary BASF Biorenewable Beteiligungs GmbH & Co. KG led a $50 million financing round in the technology firm Renmatix Inc.

BASFRenmatix has developed the patented Plantrose™ platform whereby industrial sugar can be produced from lignocellulosic biomass (wood, cane trash or straw). In the Plantrose technology, biomass is split into cellulose and sugar in supercritical water at high temperature and pressure in a two-step process.

Industrial sugars are important renewable resources for the chemical industry and can be used, for example, to produce biofuels or basic chemical products and intermediates by fermentative processes. The availability of industrial sugars in sufficient quantities and at favorable cost is therefore important for the competitiveness of the products.

Biofuel and Chemicals Made from Wood Biomass

Researchers at Aalto University in Finland have developed a method using microbes from wood biomass to produce butanol suitable for biofuel and other industrial chemicals. Butanol is particularly suited as a transport fuel because it is not water soluble and has higher energy content than ethanol.
Until now, starch and cane sugar have been the most commonly used raw materials in butanol production. In contrast, the Aalto University study used only lignocellulose, otherwise known as wood biomass, which does not compete with food production.

Another new breakthrough in the study is the successful combination of modern pulp and biotechnology. Finland’s advanced forest industry provides particularly good opportunities to develop this type of bioprocesses.

Wood biomass is made up of three primary substances: cellulose, hemicelluloses and lignin. Of these three, cellulose and hemicellulose can be used as a source of nutrition for microbes in bioprocesses. Along with cellulose, the Kraft process that is currently used in pulping produces black liquor which already can be used as a source of energy. It is not, however, suitable for microbes. In the study, the pulping process was altered so that, in addition to cellulose, the other sugars remain unharmed and therefore can be used as raw material for microbes.

When wood biomass is boiled in a mixture of water, alcohol and sulphur dioxide, all parts of the wood – cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin – are separated into clean fractions. The cellulose can be used to make paper, nanocellulose or other products, while the hemicellulose is efficient microbe raw material for chemical production. The advantage of this new process is that no parts of the wood sugar are wasted.

In accordance with EU requirements, all fuel must contain 10 percent biofuel by 2020. A clear benefit of butanol is that a significantly large percentage – more than 20 percent of butanol – can be added to fuel without having to make any changes to existing combustion engines. The nitrogen and carbon emissions from a fuel mix including more than 20 percent butanol are significantly lower than with fossil fuels. For example, the incomplete combustion of ethanol in an engine produces volatile compounds that increase odor nuisances in the environment. Estimates indicate that combining a butanol and pulp plant into a modern biorefinery would provide significant synergy benefits in terms of energy use and biofuel production.

Alliance AutoGas Achieves EPA-Certification

Alliance AutoGas is now EPA-certified to convert more than 200 vehicle types to propane autogas utilizing the Prins System. The company is a conversion equipment provider and co-founding partner of American Alternative Fuel.

American Alternative Fuel privately funded these EPA certifications to ensure fleet owners and managers nationwide can choose from a wide variety of vehicle makes and models when converting to clean-burning autogas. With more than 200 eligible vehicles, this is the largest privately financed portfolio of autogas vehicle certifications in the United States. New certifications include the latest model years for the popular Ford Crown Victoria and E-series vans and additional certifications for several medium duty GM platforms.

Fleets running on autogas see savings on both fuel and maintenance costs. Autogas is an average of $1.25 per gallon less than gasoline and many Alliance AutoGas fleets report reduced maintenance needs and increased vehicle engine life after shifting to autogas. In addition to the cost-savings benefits of autogas, it is also a clean-burning fuel that is 90 percent domestically produced.

Alliance AutoGas provides both bi-fuel and propane-dedicated conversions using Prins vapor and liquid injection technology. The bi-fuel Prins VSI system gives drivers peace of mind because vehicles automatically switch back to gasoline if the autogas tank runs low when a fueling station cannot be reached.

Largest Government Purchase of Biofuels Announced

The largest government purchase of biofuels for military application was announced today.

U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack jointly announced that the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) signed a contract to purchase 450,000 gallons of advanced drop-in biofuel.

The biofuel to be purchased is made from a blend of non-food waste (used cooking oil) from the Louisiana-based Dynamic Fuels, LLC, a joint-venture of Tyson Foods, Inc., and Syntroleum Corporation, and algae, produced by Solazyme. The fuel will be used in the U.S. Navy’s demonstration of a Green Strike Group in the summer of 2012 during the Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC), the world’s largest international maritime exercise.

“The Navy has always led the nation in transforming the way we use energy, not because it is popular, but because it makes us better war fighters,” stated Secretary Mabus. “This unprecedented fuel purchase demonstrates the Obama Administration’s commitment to seeking energy security and energy independence by diversifying our energy supply.”

“In March, the President challenged me, Secretary Mabus, and Secretary Steven Chu to work with the private sector to cultivate a competitively-priced—and domestically produced—drop-in biofuel industry that can power not just fighter jets, but also trucks and commercial airliners,” said Secretary Vilsack, “Today’s announcement continues our efforts to meet that challenge. This is not work we can afford to put off for another day.”

The biofuel will be mixed with aviation gas or marine diesel fuel for use in the Green Strike Group demonstration.

Read more from USDA and listen to press conference of the announcement.

USDA Announces Insurance Program for Biofuel Crop

USDAThe U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced a new pilot program of insurance for camelina beginning with the 2012 crop year.

According to a release from USDA, “Camelina is an oilseed crop with the potential to create new renewable energy markets in the United States, generate rural jobs here at home, and decrease America’s dependence on foreign oil. The new pilot program will be available in selected counties in Montana and North Dakota for the 2012 crop year, with a sales closing date of February 1, 2012.”

biofuelsCamelina, an oilseed, is a rotation crop for wheat that can be established on marginally productive land. It is an annual, short season plant. Biofuel from camelina is an ideal jet fuel substitute. USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists have long-term studies underway to examine ways to use camelina as a bioenergy crop for producing jet fuel for the military and the aviation industry. In addition, earlier this year USDA announced two Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) project areas devoted to developing camelina as biofuel in several states, including Montana. USDA is also part of several partnerships to develop oilseeds and native and perennial grasses as a biofuels.

Find out details of the program from USDA.

OriginOil Announces Algae Appliance

During the 4th Algae World Asia conference in Beijing, China, OriginOil announced it’s newest algae extraction technology – Algae Appliance. This entry-level commercial algae harvesting system was designed to help producers process algae at a low cost and without chemicals.

Algae Appliance is set for release in the first half of 2012 and is a continuous flow ‘wet harvest’ system that has the potential to remove up to 90 percent of water volume. Field testing will begin shortly and the companies are looking for additional project partners.

MBD Energy’s Technical Director Larry Sirmans, and an OriginOil Australian partner, said of the technology, “This Algae Appliance should be very beneficial to producers and researchers who are developing the most efficient processes for growing algae at commercial scale.”

Bill Charneski, OriginOil senior director of product engineering added, “We are continuing to scale up our technology at MBD’s pilot site in Australia. Now, everything we have learned is going into a standardized entry-level system to help the worldwide algae industry meet the high demand for sustainable, low-cost algae production.”

The company anticipates that this technology, and ultimately algae production, will help to meet the renewable aviation fuels demand of the commercial airline industry and of the various branches of the U.S. military.