DFCast: Biofuels Take Flight

In the past few months, biofuels have taken to the skies with a multitude of successful flights conducted by both the military and the commercial airline industry. This news has been even more welcome with the achievements taking place during the aftermath of the Rand report predicting that aviation biofuels would not play a role in the next few decades. But where biofuels really took flight was during the Paris airshow, which kicked off with the transatlantic flight from North America to Paris using a 50/50 biofuel blend derived from camelina.

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack attended the Paris Air Show and told the audience that “extraordinary progress has been made in the last 12 months.” He continued by saying, “I think we’re nearing a tipping point” in terms of building momentum toward use of biofuel on commercial flights. I think [biofuel powering airline flights is] not long-term. In the short term you’ll see the benefits.”

To further spur the development of biojet fuels, the European Commission launched the Biofuels Flightpath, a roadmap to achieve the goal of using 2 million tonnes of aviation biofuels per year by 2020. Prior to this announcement, back in the U.S., Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest released a comprehensive report to speed up the commercialization and use of aviation biofuels in the Northwest. In addition, ASTM officially approved renewable jet fuel standards.

The region has been a leader in the U.S. in the movement to more sustainable airport practices as well as in the movement to adopt renewable fuels. Lawrence J. Krauter, CEO of the Spokane International Airport, one of dozens of entities participating in the Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest initiative, noted, “The course is clear that aviation biofuels are key to the future of sustainable air travel. We can no longer base our future on imported petroleum, especially if the United States wants to remain an aviation leader. The SAFN study proves domestic biofuels are feasible and offers an economic opportunity for us to remain competitive as an industry and move toward a sustainable, domestic fuel supply.”

Learn more about the flight of biofuels here: Domestic Fuel Cast

You can also subscribe to the DomesticFuel Cast here.

REG Files for IPO

The largest biodiesel company in the U.S., Renewable Energy Group, has filed its registration statement for an initial public offering. The number of shares to be offered and the price range for the offering have not yet been determined. UBS Securities LLC and Piper Jaffray & Co will be acting as joint book-running managers for the IPO. In addition, Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, Incorporated and Canaccord Genuity, Inc. will be acting as co-managers.

Although not yet effective, a registration statement relating to these securities has been filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Prior to the time the registration statement becomes effective, these securities may not be sold, nor may offers to buy be accepted. REG says the offering is only being made by means of a prospectus.

A copy of the prospectus relating to these securities may be obtained, when available, from: UBS Securities LLC, Attention: Prospectus Department, 299 Park Ave, New York, NY 10171, (888) 827-7275 or by contacting Piper Jaffray & Co., Attention: Prospectus Department, 800, Nicollet Mall, Suite 800, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55402, (800) 747-3924 or via email at prospectus@pjc.com.

Louisiana Moves Forward On Sugar-to-Ethanol Plant

Louisiana is one step closer to being the first state in the U.S. to boast a sugar-to-ethanol plant. The Louisiana Public Facilities Authority Board of Trustees has approved bonds worth up to $70 million to help build the plant in Lacassine. The plant is a project of Louisiana Green Fuels (LGF) and is 80 percent owned by Andino Energy and 20 percent owned by Lake Charles-area sugarcane farmers. The refinery will be built by a manufacturer based in India where the plant would be pre-built and shipped to Lake Charles in late summer and be in place before the next year’s cane harvest begins this October.

“Because of increasing oil prices and concerns over the environment, interest in the alternative fuel industry is growing,” said Thomas A. Antoon, chairman of the LPFA Board, in a press statement. “This new sugar-to-ethanol plant will move our state into the forefront of the growing alternative fuel production industry and should have a favorable economic impact on southwestern Louisiana.”

The sugar-to-ethanol plant will be sited near the Lake Charles Cane-Lacassine Syrup Mill that has been in operation since 2006. The ethanol plant will use syrup produced at this plant along with can molasses sourced from other sugar mills in the state to produce the fuel. LGF anticipates the ethanol will be sold to the city of Houston as well as the state, that both have ethanol mandates in place.

The bond approval is considered a preliminary approval for additional bonds and LGF says these bonds lend credibility to the company’s effort to court private investors. To date, Andino Energy along with a cooperative of Lake Charles farmers have spent nearly $40 million to buy land and secure contracts for sugarcane and sweet sorghum farmers. According to Alex Santacoloma, co-owner of Andino Energy, this is the reason the bonds are needed to help build the ethanol plant.

Grain Production Not Keeping Up With Demand

According to Purdue University agricultural economist Chris Hurt, grain crops are being “gobbled up” faster than farmers can grow them. This could lead to trouble down the road if production doesn’t catch up. Hurt says there have been two major demands surges on commodities in the past five years. One is the rising use of corn for ethanol production being driven by biofuel mandates and high oil prices. The second is increased soybean purchases by China being driven by the country’s growing income and food demand.

“These greater levels of usage have placed a strain on the agricultural production system, resulting in low inventories that leave little room for any production shortfalls,” Hurt said. “Producers certainly have responded to try to meet those demands, but what we’ve seen is that demand has really outpaced the ability of the world to supply.”

Hurt said wheat stocks are in better shape than corn and soybeans that are near “bare minimums” in the U.S. In the past, he said there was enough for 46-60 days or more but anticipates that this won’t be the case after this fall’s harvest.

“With corn, it looks like we could be down to about a 24-day supply at the end of this marketing year,” said Hurt. “That, of course, means any further threats to the 2011 crop yields would send markets into deeper shortages and higher prices.” Continue reading

Scouting for Biofuels Crops in Indian Creek Watershed

The Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory is looking for the best biofuels crops to grow in the northeast Illinois Indian Creek Watershed.

CTIC TourDuring a recent field tour of the watershed sponsored by the Conservation Technology Information Center, Argonne agronomist Cristina Negri said they are looking at alternative crops that can efficiently use nitrogen to grow on marginal land in the area. According to Negri, the purpose of the Biomass Production and Nitrogen Recovery project is to “find a way to bring biofuels into the big conservation equation.”

Negri participated in the CTIC tour to learn more about the production practices being used by farmers in the watershed and also gave a presentation on the Argonne project: Cristina Negri Presentation

CTIC Indian Creek Watershed Project Field Tour Photos

Texas Looks to Algae As Next Cash Crop

According to Texas AgriLife Research scientists in Corpus Christi, microalgae may be the next cash crop. There are an estimated 200,000 to 800,000 species of microscopic freshwater and marine microalgae, yet only 35,000 species have been described. Researchers around the globe are trying to discover the best algae species for producing biofuels.

“It’s a huge, untapped source of fuel, food, feed, pharmaceuticals and even pollution-busters,” said Dr. Carlos Fernandez, a crop physiologist at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Corpus Christi. He is studying the physiological responses of microalgae to the environment.

Fernandez said researchers are only beginning to scratch the surface of discovering algae’s secrets. Yet he believes farmers will one day soon be growing microalgae on marginal land that won’t compete with fertile farmland or for fresh water. One of the secret’s that needs to be unlocked is how to most effectively grow algae. Therefore, Fernandez constructed a microalgae physiology laboratory to study how algae is affected by temperature, salinity, nutrients, light levels, and carbon dioxide.

“We have four bioreactors in which we grow microalgae to determine the basic physiological responses that affect its growth,” explained Fernandez. “We will then integrate these responses into a simulator model, a tool we can use in the management of larger, outdoor systems.”

The study is also looking to find algae that can produce large amounts of lipids or fats, that are converted to biofuels such as biodiesel or biojet fuel. In addition, the research team, that includes members from Texas AgriLife Mariculture labs in Flour Bluff, are looking at a residue that remains after the lipids are extracted as a source of animal feed. Finally, they will also evaluate algae as a source of fertilizer for soil.

Fermandez said Corpus Christi is the perfect place to conduct the research for several reasons including access to seawater to grow the microalgae, large acres of marginal land and lower evaporation rates than in arid areas so water requirements are reduced. In addition, he noted that local power plants and oil refineries are good CO2 sources and there is a good network of higher education institutions in the region.

Grasses Better Option Than Corn for Biofuels

According to a new study from Colorado State University (CSU) in collaboration with the University of Illinois, using grasses to produce biofuels is a more economical and environmental better option than using corn. Led by CSU research scientist William Parton, his research team found using grass species, such as switchgrass, in the same land area as used to grow corn (the Midwest Corn Belt) could result in an increase in ethanol production, a decrease in nitrogen leaching (Dead Zone) and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Furthermore, the research concluded that replacing corn with perennial grasses could increase the productivity of food and fuel within the region without causing additional indirect land use changes. The study was published in the online version of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

“Raising perennial biofuel crops on previously cultivated land in the United States will result in massive reductions in greenhouse gas fluxes from agricultural systems,” said Parton. “Growing perennial biofuel crops on low-production agricultural land can result in large environmental benefits such as improved air and water quality as well as increased ethanol production and sustained production of corn and soybeans.”

Parton said the research supports additional efforts in studying methods of producing ethanol from biomass crops, and despite the fact that biomass to ethanol is not currently economical, biomass crops have the potential to benefit the Corn Belt in ways corn cannot.

“We have found that perennial biofuel crop growth has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas fluxes and nitrogen leaching from agricultural systems while maintaining current food production for human consumption,” continued Parton. “Production of corn-based ethanol simply cannot compare to the 15 percent to 30 percent reduction in nitrogen leaching into the Gulf of Mexico when perennial crops are grown for ethanol production.”

Book Review – Energy, Convenient Solutions

I read an unusual book this week. “Energy, Convenient Solutions,” by Howard Johnson. The book was part Energy 101, part manifesto, part conspiracy theory. It began with a look at various forms of energy ranging from fossil-fuels to biofuels – to nuclear energy. From there, Johnson laid out his manifesto, per se, or his ideas on energy, our current state and what the future could or should look like. The end of the book reviewed factors that make it difficult to effect change as well as highlighted several “hate campaigns” that have been lobbied against big oil and nuclear energy.

Johnson says the real purpose of the book is to present many different ideas about the generation, transport and use of energy. “The study of these ideas and the efforts to make them into realities can result in excellent and viable solutions in years, instead of decades. Creative solutions are sure to be found that require few and inexpensive infrastructure changes and by using both new and existing technologies.”

Now, before I continue, some of you will accuse me of being in the pockets of Big Oil. I’m not. I’m simply reviewing the author’s book and the thoughts contained therein. What makes the diversity of energy books so compelling is the fact that each author has his or her own ideas, predictions and solutions.

Speaking of predictions, Johnson outlines a few in his book. First, he notes that the largest energy growth sector is expected to be in electricity and the largest growth product will be nuclear energy followed by geothermal. He believes there will be a decline in coal-fired power plants unless carbon sequestration technologies come a reality, and also believes wind and solar energy will require long-term substantial subsidies to compete, and even so, may never be cost competitive. In addition, he predicts hydropower will stay fairly stagnant due to environmental concerns and finally believes electric vehicles will dominate and vehicles fueled by liquids (such as gas or biofuels) will be phased out. Needless to say, like so many others, Johnson does not believe first generation biodiesel or ethanol is a solution but does have hope for things such as algae-based biofuels. Continue reading

SCS Offers Sugarcane Certification Program

The U.S. corn ethanol industry is not the only form of ethanol production often under fire. Brazil’s sugarcane industry is also accused of not producing the crop, nor the fuel, in a sustainable manner. As a result, the EU Renewable Energy Directive was created to address concerns including labor and environmental issues. In response, Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) has become an accredited body for the Bonsucro standard for sustainable sugarcane. The standard is supported by leading worldwide companies including Coca Cola, Kraft Foods, and Baccardi.

The Bonsucro certification standard addresses labor and environmental concerns that are often associated with sugarcane production and companies that ask for certified products can be ensured they are more sustainably produced. In addition, the standard includes criteria related to legal compliance, biodiversity and ecosystem impacts, human rights, production and processing, and continuous improvement.

Other companies driving change include the oil industry who is ramping up renewable energy production through the purchase and production of sugarcane ethanol. The Environmental Protection Agency has designated sugarcane ethanol as an advanced biofuel that lowers greenhouse gas reductions by more than 50 percent as compared to gasoline. How a feedstock is produced factors into a fuel’s carbon intensity score (the carbon reduction of the fuel as compared to 100 percent gasoline) and policy such as California’s low carbon fuels standard is driving agricultural production changes.

“Our Bonsucro accreditation fits perfectly with our history as a leading certifier of products with significant environmental and social benefits,” said Dr. Robert J. Hrubes, Senior Vice President of SCS.

NBB Testifies During EPA Hearing

Earlier this week, the Environmental Protection Agency held a hearing to discuss the latest renewable fuels proposal. One goal of the hearing was to determine if current 2011 mandates will be met by the obligated parties and to ensure the industry can produce enough fuel. Also under debate is whether the 2012 mandates are too high. Joe Jobe, the CEO of the National Biodiesel Board, was one of several industry leaders who testified during the hearing.

Jobe testified the EPA’s proposal represents a modest and sustainable level of growth in the biomass-based diesel program that is consistent with the availability of the diverse feedstocks used to produce biodiesel including used cooking oil, used waste grease and vegetable oil. Jobe also noted that biodiesel is the only EPA-designated advanced biofuel being produced on a commercial scale across the country.

“While we believe these are conservative targets for the U.S. biodiesel industry, we applaud the EPA for proposing a reasonable increase,” Jobe said in a statement after the hearing. “As America’s only EPA-designated advanced biofuel to reach commercial-scale production nationwide, we are ready to meet the challenge.”

The biodiesel industry currently has more than 1 billion gallons approved with the EPA and is on track to achieve the EPA’s 2011 standard of 800 million gallons. This year, average production is nearly 75 million gallons per month with a high of 82 million gallons during May.

The proposed biomass-based diesel requirements for next year are set at 1 billion gallons and nearly 1.3 billion gallons for 2013. It should be noted that biodiesel not only qualifies, and makes up almost the entirety of the biomass-based diesel category, but it is also approved as an advanced biofuel. In fact, biodiesel made from corn oil has the lowest carbon intensity score of all commercial scale biofuels.

“We’re confident that we can meet these production goals. In doing so, we’ll help cure America’s oil addiction with a clean-burning renewable fuel while creating good-paying American jobs,” said Jobe. “This program was developed to wean the country off foreign oil with cleaner homegrown fuels, and we believe it’s working as intended.”

Alt Fuels & Vehicle Lecture Announced

The American Lung Association in Minnesota is offering a free lecture on alternative fuels and vehicles that are currently available in Minnesota. The event will be held on Wednesday, July 20th from 6:30-8:00 pm CST, at the American Lung Association in Minnesota’s building located at 490 Concordia Avenue, Saint Paul. The lecture is taking place in the Mississippi room. The focal point will be vehicles that can use cleaner fuels such as E85, biodiesel, propane or natural gas. This the the second lecture in the “Clean Air Choices” series focused on air pollution in Minnesota.

“Vehicle emissions are the single largest source of air pollution in the state of Minnesota, but we are also a leader in cleaner alternative fuels and vehicles,” said Robert Moffitt, a spokesperson for the American Lung Association in Minnesota. “Unlike many other parts of the country, Minnesota drivers have choices they can make that can reduce air pollution and the harm it causes to our health. The purpose of this lecture is to explain what these choices are.”

Parking is free, and light refreshments will be served. To reserve a spot, call Courtney at (651) 262-5084 or email Courtney.Blankenheim@lungmn.org.

Hino Trucks Approved for B20

Hino Trucks has approved its product line of class 4 and 5 cab overs as well as class 6 and 7 conventional trucks for use up to a 20 percent biodiesel blend (B20). The company says all of its 2011 and 2012 model year trucks powered with its 3-Series engines are approved to use up to B20 blends that meet ASTM D6751 and D975 standards. In addition, B20 is also approved to fuel Hino’s new diesel-electric hybrid cab anticipated to be released this fall.

“It is our strong commitment to design and assemble trucks that are at the forefront of environmental friendliness and that help to reduce our overall dependency on foreign oils,” said Glenn Ellis, Vice President of Marketing and Dealer Operations for Hino Trucks. “By offering the class 4 and 5 market a diesel-electric hybrid cab over that can use up to B20 biodiesel, our customers now have an option for a commercially acceptable alternative fuel truck.”

According to Hino, they are the only company that offers class 6 and 7 conventional trucks to meet the 2010 EPA emission requirements without the use of credits. Hino trucks built prior to model year 2011 are approved to use B5 blends.

REG New Owner of SoyMor Biodiesel

Renewable Energy Group (REG) is the new owner of the SoyMor Biodiesel LLC facilities located in Albert Lea, Minn. The purchase included SoyMor’s biodiesel plant as well as its soy lecithin facility. The 30 million gallon per year (mmgy) biodiesel plant has been idle since 2008 and REG is already in the process of hiring 20 full-time employees for the various positions including administration, plant operators and load-out staff.

“Renewable Energy Group is proud to add this production-proven, strategically-located facility to our network of owned and operated biorefineries,” said REG’s CEO Jeff Stroburg. “With nationwide demand for biodiesel growing steadily through implementation of the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS2) and Minnesota’s continued biodiesel consumption leadership, we expect to quickly ramp up production at REG Albert Lea, LLC.”

REG is currently the country’s largest biodiesel producer and this addition brings the company’s annual biodiesel nameplate production capacity to more than 210 mmgy. Prior to the purchase of SoyMor, REG was the contractor and manager for the 30 mmgy refined vegetable oil feedstock biodiesel facility that began production in April 2005. As part of its strategy, REG will upgrade the plant’s technology to enable the facility to produce biodiesel from a multitude of feedstocks such as lower cost natural fats and oils including used cooking oil and inedible corn oil produced by corn ethanol plants.

Stroburg added, “With a foundation in agriculture and expertise in domestically-produced, renewable energy, REG is proud to bring green-collar jobs to this rural economy while supporting ag producers in Minnesota and across the Midwest. Our REG manufacturing team is already on-site at the facility to re-start the biodiesel process in order to have high quality, REG-9000® biodiesel available in the market very soon.”

Codexis Scales Up Cellulosic Enzyme Production

Codexis has confirmed plans to scale-up the commercial manufacturing of its proprietary cellulase enzymes. These enzymes are manufactured to convert lignocellulosic biomass to fermentable sugars, and ultimately bioproducts including biofuels, biochemicals, and bio-based performance ingredients in household products such as laundry detergents and shampoos. The enzymes will be produced at the Fermic S.A. de C.V. facility located in Mexico City, Mexico.

Prior to this commercial launch, they produced the enzymes at 20,000 liter scale. This achievement represented the first time an enzyme product was manufactured and using their Codexis CodeXporter enzyme expression system. In addition, the cellulase enzymes were created using the Codexis CodeEvolver direct evolution technology and plans to use this product to support biofuel projects and their market expansion into biochemicals.

“High-performance cellulase enzymes will soon be in high demand for cost-effective production of renewable products from biomass,” said Alan Shaw, Ph.D., President and CEO “This is both an important commercial milestone for Codexis and a significant development for customers, who are responding to market demand for sustainable products.”

Researchers Study Alage in Roman Baths for Biofuels

Here is an interesting place to find feedstock for biodiesel – the Roman Baths. University of Bath researchers in the Department of Biology & Biochemistry are studying the algae growing in the Roman Baths as a source to produce biodiesel. The algae, growing in high temperature waters of the bath, may be a key to meeting growing biofuel needs.

Holly Smith-Baedorf, a PhD student, has made this project her own. “Algae are usually happiest growing at temperatures around 25 degrees celsius and that can limit the places in which it can be cultivated on a large scale,” said Smith-Baedorf. “Areas where these ideal conditions are available also usually make good arable areas and are therefore needed for food production. In an ideal world we would like to grow algae in desert areas where there are huge expanses of land that don’t have other uses, but the temperatures in these zones are too high for algae to flourish.”

Where the conditions seem to be ideal are the Roman Baths. Smith-Baedorf explains that algae cells are quite versatile and can change any of their characteristics in response to their environment. Therefore, the protected environment provided by the baths make it an ideal environment for adaptation and thus research and the team has identified seven different types of algae in the baths.

Another area she is studying is the ability to remove the oil from the algae – an important element to producing cost-effective algal biofuels. Therefore, the research team is also looking for a species of algae with a weaker cell wall, high oil content and the possibility to use cheap filtration techniques, keeping production costs low.

The research team is led by Professor Matt Davidson and also includes collaborators from the University of the West of England. The team is growing seven types of algae harvested from the Roman Baths over a range of temperatures and comparing them to ‘control’ algae known for being good for producing biodiesel at normal temperatures.

Professor Rod Scott added, “The results of this study will help us identify whether there is a particular algae species among the seven identified in the Roman Baths that is well adapted to growing at higher temperatures and also suitable for producing sufficient amounts of biodiesel to make wide-scale production viable.”