House Spending Bill Cuts Renewable Energy Programs

Two renewable energy programs designed to help make America more energy independent were slashed in the spending bill passed Tuesday night by the House Appropriations Committee.

The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) which provides grants and loan guarantees to agricultural producers and rural small businesses to help purchase renewable energy systems, including ethanol blender pumps, was cut from the current $75 million to just $1.3 million, but that was at least a slight victory since the program was slated for elimination. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) sponsored the amendment which salvaged the small amount that will allow USDA to continue to operate the program for the time being. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack just announced in April that the program could be used to install blender pumps, with a goal of installing 10,000 pumps nationwide in the next five years. Last week, he was in Tennessee promoting the program.

At the same time, the committee provided no funding for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) in the fiscal year 2012 appropriations bill, despite pleas from a variety of agriculture, biofuels and even environmental organizations. “BCAP is just beginning to take shape in transforming rural America’s contribution to the nation’s renewable energy supply,” the groups wrote in a letter to committee leadership. “BCAP provides critical assistance to help farmers and foresters plant and collect next generation, purpose grown energy crops and other biomass that are key to ensuring the near‐term commercialization of low‐carbon advanced biofuels, power, and products. Failing to strongly fund BCAP in FY 2012 will severely stunt the development of these new dedicated energy crops just at a time when they are needed to further develop domestic sources of energy.”

The bill now goes to the full House for a vote but is likely to change substantially in the Senate.

New Oxfam Report: Growing a Better Future

A new report, “Growing a Better Future,” has the ethanol industry up in arms over its accusation that U.S. biofuel policy is leading to world hunger. The report kicked off a new worldwide GROW campaign spearheaded by the organization. The report covers the symptoms of today’s broken food system: growing hunger, flat-lining yields, a scramble for fertile land and water, and rising food prices while the GROW campaign attempts to overcome these issues.

The report predicts that the price of food, already at a record high, will more than double in the next 20 years. In addition, by 2050, demand for food will rise 70 percent, yet the report says the world’s capacity to increase food production is declining. A contributor to these issues: global climate change and pro biofuel policies throughout the world.

“Our world is capable of feeding all of humanity yet one in seven of us are hungry today,” said Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director of Oxfam. “In this new age of crisis, as climate change impacts become increasingly severe and fertile land and fresh water supplies become increasingly scarce, feeding the world will get harder still. Millions more men, women and children will go hungry unless we transform our broken food system.”

Both Growth Energy and the Renewable Fuels Association acknowledge that Oxfam is partially correct in their identifying the role that high oil prices and international trade have on the price of corn. However, they diverge with the report on biofuels being a cause of starving “millions of people” as the report purports.

“Oxfam is wrong to propose ending the Renewable Fuel Standard or the biofuels tax credit, as these are the most effective policies we have to displace oil – a primary driver of rising grocery prices,” said Jim Nussle, Growth Energy President. “It is unfair and erroneous to single out ethanol for high food prices, especially because the U.S. ethanol industry uses just three percent of the global grain supply on a net basis.”

RFA President Bob Dinneen highlighted the significant improvements in agriculture over the past few decades and called for more widespread adoption of improved agricultural practices worldwide. “The same opportunities at varying scales are available to farm communities in developing nations. Together with improved farming technologies, local biofuel production can provide developing rural economies with the kind of economic prosperity needed to become more food secure,” concluded Dinneen.

Ethanol Industry Supports Veterans

Memorial Day may be over but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about our veterans for another year. This past holiday, Clean Fuels Development Coalition (CFDC) and the FlexFuel Vehicle Awareness Campaign partnered with the Volunteers of Underage Military Service (VUMS) with a procession of ethanol and hybrid electric vehicles in a Memorial Day parade in Washington, D.C. The purpose of the event was to showcase the role ethanol has in the country’s quest for national security and domestic clean energy.

One of the participants of the event was Marine Lt. Col. (ret) William C. Holmberg, a VUM and board member of American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE). “Our slogan is There is no National Security without Energy Security,” said Holmberg. “Groups like CFDC, Ethanol Across America, the Flexible Fuel Vehicle Awareness Campaign and ACORE work every day to increase that awareness. Marching together in the shadow of the Washington Monument, the Capitol, and the memorials helps people get the connection that much of the unrest around the globe has links to oil. Increasing our supply of domestic fuels makes our nation safer and more secure, plain and simple.”

The procession included the CFDC/Ethanol Across America FlexFuel Chevy Avalanche and Novozymes’ FlexFuel Vehicle promoting biomass to ethanol. Today there are more than 9 million flex fuel vehicles on the road. Doug Durante, director of the Ethanol Across America program noted that if these vehicles ran on fuels such as ethanol the country could immediately reduce its reliance on foreign sources of oil and military costs associated with protecting oil interests.

“It is an honor for us to be part of the salute to all those who have served. Our generation sees the loss of jobs, wealth, and military cost of importing more than 60% of our oil, and we have an opportunity to do something about it,” said Durante. “If reducing our dependence on oil keeps us out of one less conflict, and keeps young Americans from having to be memorialized, then we should all be working toward that goal.”

Col. Holmberg concluded by adding, “Alternative fuel, high-mileage vehicles and ethanol are our front lines in securing a more secure energy future for America, and, by the way, major artillery in our climate change battles.”

DFCast: The Biofuels Industry Gets Married

The biofuels industry got married when a first generation ethanol plant walked down the isle with a second generation algae plant in Shenandoah, Iowa. BioProcess Algae and Green Plains Renewable Energy (GPRE) tied the knot and celebrated their anniversary last month with the announcement that their first babies, a set of Grower Harvester bioreactors, went online. This marked the last phase into adulthood – the algae plant is months away from commercial scale production.

Tim Burns, CEO of BioProcess Algae said this project is about both co-location opportunities as well as adding value to carbon. The algae plant will utilize the waste streams of the ethanol plant including waste nutrients and waste water. In addition, the algae plant uses the carbon dioxide from the corn ethanol plant to grow and thrive. Suddenly a product produced from a first generation ethanol plant with what amounts to negative value now has a tremendous positive value to a second generation plant. When people figure out that carbon from things such as a first generation ethanol plant has value, others will be on board, said Burns.

Years ago, Todd Becker, CEO of Green Plains Renewable Energy, said his company began looking for emerging technologies that could add value to his plant. These included adding things such as inedible corn oil extraction technology, but also the partnership with a second generation biorefinery that could utilize their plant’s waste streams. His company recognized the incredible partnership before any others and this fall his company along with BioProcess Algae will be building their algae farm, the last phase before they begin to produce commercial scale algae biofuels.

In the future, Becker and Burns both believe that every first generation biofuel plant will marry a second generation technology and with these marriages, the biofuels industry will rise to the challenge of producing billions upon billions of gallons of domestic renewable energy for America.

Learn more about the first biofuel marriage here: Domestic Fuel Cast

You can also subscribe to the DomesticFuel Cast here.

Students In India Study Water Hyacinth for Ethanol

Students around the world are in search of new alternatives to fossil fuels. Several biotech students in Surat, Gujarat are studying the water hyacinth as a feedstock to produce ethanol. The students are looking for ways to reduce fuel costs – earlier this month the Central government announced that the price of fuel would increase five rupees across the country. Ethanol is also of interest because it can be used as a fuel for heat and light as well as a transportation fuel.

“Our objective of the project is to produce ethanol, which is a cheaper source of energy. Currently, ethanol is produced from grinds and sugarcane, but they are costing between 12-15 rupees per piece. We want to help cut down the price of fuel in the market, by using waste material, which is called Eichhornia (Water Hyacinth), which grows plenty in the wastewater and fresh water,” said R.K. Krishnamurthy, a biotechnology professor in an article in DailyIndia.com.

Krishnamurthy continued, “In another way it is creating pollution to the water bodies. We want to use those materials which is available at a throw away cost, it is freely available.”

The water hyacinth is considered an invasive pest by researchers; yet, it could be a viable ethanol feedstock because of its abundance in hydrosphere. The research team is collecting samples, then they wash them and dry them overnight at high temperatures. From there the dried water hyacinths are crushed and treated with diluted Sulphuric acid. Eventually, yeast is added and the plant is fermented to ethanol.

The students are racing against the clock. They are trying to produce a product to help mitigate the rising cost of fuel as well as meet the government’s goal of increasing biofuel production and use by 2012.

Shweta Patel, a biotechnology student added, “By 2012, we aim to increase the production of ethanol and reduce pollution by 10 percent in our area. Our target is to create as much as bio-ethanol and help the government.”

Turning Glycerin to Soap Could Add Profits

A byproduct of the biodiesel production process is crude glycerin. The boon of the biodiesel industry has helped to create a glycerin glut and many biodiesel producers are having to dispose of the product rather than sell it. However, Diesello Verde S.A., based in Costa Rica, has developed technology that could provide biodiesel producers with a new revenue stream for the glycerin – eco-friendly, natural cosmetics products such as glycerin soap.

Diesello believes that using low value waste stream provides significant competitive advantages for biodiesel producers, especially with the multi-billion dollar green product industry. As margins on biodiesel production are typically tight, diversification of products can add additional revenue to the producer.

The company believes that by exploring new product development within a biodiesel company’s existing infrastructure, they can expect greatly improved profitability, lower production costs, and a larger and more diverse client base. As such, they will visit a plant, assess its current technology and products, and then create a strategy to expand the business into revenue generating cosmetics products, such as glycerin soaps.

NASCAR Driver Kenny Wallace to Keynote Southeast Bioenergy Conference

NASCAR Series Driver Kenny Wallace and co-host of the shows Race Day and Victory Lane, will be giving the keynote address during the 2011 Southeast Bioenergy Conference on August 9-11 in Tifton, Georgia. Wallace drives the No. 9 American Ethanol Toyota Camrey and is currently ranked 7th in the Series. Last week, Wallace completed his 500th Nationwide start bringing his career stats to nine wins, 10 poles, and nine seasons in the top 10 driver points. He has also won the Nationwide Series Most Popular Driver award three times.

NASCAR announced earlier this year it would race using Sunoco Green E15, a blend of 15 percent ethanol. To learn more about the fuel and the people who grow the crops and produce American ethanol, Wallace has spent time at ethanol plants and on farms.

Wallace will kick off the conference on Monday, August 9th at 8:30 am followed by a general session focusing on Global Markets for Biofuels and Bioproducts. Other sessions include Southeast Forestry’s Bioenergy Potential, Promising Energy Crops For the Southeast, Innovative Approaches to Ethanol Production, E85, E15 – Creating a Biofuel Infrastructure System, Efficiencies From Combined Heat and Power, Energy From Waste, and more. Mike McAdams, Executive Director of the Advanced Biofuels Association will also be giving a presentation on Building Cooperation and Coalitions.

The conference boasts a wide-range of speakers including Professor Li, Tsinghua University; Christianne Egger, Upper Austrian Renewable Energy Agency; Hagan Rose, Eco Energy; Phillip Jennings, Repreve Renewables, and more.

Registration is now open. Click here to learn more about the conference and to register.

Pathway to Develop Sustainable Aviation Biofuels Industry

In 2010, the Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest (SAFN) was formed to determine how the Pacific Northwest could create a viable and robust biofuels industry with the goal of creating fuels for the aviation industry. Yesterday, a 10 month study conducted by Climate Solutions has determined that the Pacific Northwest has the diverse feedstock, fuel-delivery infrastructure and political will needed to achieve their goals. However, the report stressed that creating an aviation biofuels industry will depend upon securing early government policy support to prioritize the aviation industry in U.S. biofuels development.

Partners in the program include Boeing, Alaska Airlines, Portland International Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Spokane International Airport and Washington State University.

“It is critical to the future of aviation that we develop a sustainable supply of aviation biofuels,” said Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Jim Albaugh during a press announcement. “Airlines are particularly vulnerable to oil price volatility, and the aviation community must address this issue to maintain economic growth and further mitigate the environmental impacts of our industry.”

Dr. John Gardner, vice president for advancement and external affairs at Washington State University noted that there were three goals of the report. The study aimed to verify what the sources of biomass would be; what the supply chain would be and the steps needed to make it happen; and what policies might be barriers.

To create a market for aviation biofuels, the study outlines an integrated approach recommending the use of diverse feedstock and technology pathways, including oilseeds, forest residues, solid waste and algae. In addition, the study outlines the long-term importance of securing aviation biofuels as a top government priority and using the aviation industry to drive growth in domestic production.

Bill Ayer, Alaska Air Group Chairman, noted that consumers care about the issue of high fuel costs and sustainable future fuels and the airlines are taking the issue seriously. Continue reading

Sabine Biofuels Formed to Produce Biodiesel

A new venture was announced today between Endicott Biofuels (EBF) and Holly Biofuels, a subsidiary of Dallas-based petroleum refiner Holly Corporation. The two companies formed Sabine Biofuels LLC to build and operate a 30 million-gallon-per-year biorefinergy to produce biodiesel from inedible fats. The facility is currently under construction in Port Arthur, Texas.

“This joint venture will assist Holly in meeting its biofuel obligations under the federal Renewable Fuel Standard,” said George Damiris, senior vice president for Supply and Marketing of Holly. “We are looking forward to our partnership with Endicott on this venture, and possibly others in the future.”

Sabine Biofuels will employ patent-protected Davy technology and licensed to EBF in North America.

David Robinson, CEO of EBF added, “We are extremely pleased to join forces with Holly on this opportunity. Both of our companies understand the value of finding renewable, economic sources of transportation fuel to supplement traditional petroleum sources. We believe the combination of Endicott’s unique, proven process with Holly’s industry-leading petroleum refining, distribution and marketing capability will make Sabine Biofuels the absolute leader in biorefining.”

GRFA- Diversification of Global Fuel Supply Needed

The G8 Summit and the OECD’s annual International Transport Forum has kicked off today in Leipzig, Germany to discuss the future of transportation on a global scale. During the event, the Global Renewable Fuels Alliance (GRFA) is calling on them to immediately adopt the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Technology Roadmap: Biofuels for Transport. This roadmap suggests that biofuels could account for more than one quarter of the world’s transport fuels by 2050.

Bliss Baker, spokesperson for the GRFA, said, “Meetings like these are crucial opportunities to address energy security issues that must not be wasted. In April the IEA provided a comprehensive roadmap for reducing our crude oil reliance which included the widespread use of biofuels and we must take advantage of this opportunity.”

GRFA noted that record gas prices have occurred worldwide during the month of May. Baker stresses that a diversified fuel supply system will “alleviate our crippling reliance on crude oil.” This is the same strategy promoted by the IEA report. To support the organization’s position on biofuels, Baker highlighted two U.S. university economists who found that the presence of ethanol in the U.S. fuel supply kept gasoline prices 89 cents lower per gallon than if ethanol were not blended in the fuel. He also conveyed that even OPEC recognized in a recent forecast that “energy efficiency policies along with the use of biofuels will put downward pressure on oil consumption worldwide.”

Some of the findings of the report included:

• Biofuels providing 27% of global transport fuel by 2050
• Avoiding 2.1 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions by displacing gasoline
• Achieving these targets without compromising global food security

“The GRFA has long advocated that biofuels are the best way for the world to reduce its reliance on crude oil. In light of the IEA’s findings it is imperative that the G8 and OECD recognize the vital role biofuels can play in solving some of the world’s energy security problems,” Baker concluded.

California Fuels Report Released

A new report, “Projected Outlook for Next Generation and Alternative Transportation Fuels in California 2010-2030,” has been released. The report concludes that with current investments and advances in alternative fuels over the past several years should lead to a significant displacement of petroleum-based fuels like diesel and gasoline. The report was released by Fueling California and Orange County Business Council and was authored by research experts at University of California, Irvine, the Automotive Club of Southern California and Tiax, LLC.

“Historically, California has been a trend-setter for the rest of the world in the transportation and fuel sectors,” said Mr. Sturtz. “California represents one of the largest fuel markets in the world and also houses some of the most technically innovative people, research institutions, and businesses to create an environment that incubates innovative and next-generation technologies. “These market factors coupled with a unique set of state government regulations that are creating a push for alternative fuels points to a large market that could potentially provide commercial benefits to all components of the fuel supply chain.”

While the report suggests a reduction of fossil-fuel based transportation fuels, because it takes between 10-15 years to change a fleet, by 2030 at least 75 percent of the fuels used will still remain petroleum-based. The report discusses three principal drivers for development of alternative fuels worldwide: reducing greenhouse gases, energy security, and urban air pollution. The report also discusses state policies, socio-economic factors, market forces, and business environment in California. Continue reading

Federal Fleet to Use Alternative Fuels

President Obama wants the federal fleet of more than 600,000 vehicles to use alternative fuels by 2015.

The goal of the Presidential Memorandum issued today implementing new Federal fleet management practices is “to cut oil imports by one-third by 2025 and to put one million advanced vehicles on the road by 2015.”

By December 31, 2015, all new light duty vehicles leased or purchased by agencies must be alternative fueled vehicles, such as hybrid or electric, compressed natural gas, or biofuel. Moreover, agency alternative fueled vehicles must, as soon as practicable, be located in proximity to fueling stations with available alternative fuels, and be operated on the alternative fuel for which the vehicle is designed. Where practicable, agencies should encourage development of commercial infrastructure for alternative fuel or provide flex fuel and alternative fuel pumps and charging stations at Federal fueling sites.

U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, U.S. General Services Administrator Martha Johnson and White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley came together to make the announcement on Tuesday and to look over alternative fuel options like the new Chevrolet VOLT electric vehicle.

The ethanol industry was pleased that the administration is interested in getting more flex-fuel vehicles. “By ordering the purchase of Flex Fuel vehicles capable of running on a range of ethanol blends, and encouraging installation of Flex Fuel pumps, this Executive Order will help us achieve the President’s energy security goal of reducing our dependence on foreign oil,” said Chris Thorne with the ethanol group Growth Energy.

National Biodiesel Board (NBB) chairman Gary Haer, vice president of Renewable Energy Group (REG), said the White House directive provides more opportunities for biodiesel growth in the federal fleet which uses more than 66 million gallons of diesel fuel and 6.5 million gallons of biodiesel each year. “Dozens of local governments, universities and other institutions already are using biodiesel to help green their fleets,” said Haer. “It’s something the federal government could do immediately, without leaving the taxpayer a big bill for new equipment.”

Biodiesel Board Webinar on Food, Fuel and Land Use

Experts on a National Biodiesel Board webinar Tuesday explained how biofuels production can lead to more efficient and environmentally friendly energy future and help feed the world’s poor.

The on-line event drew more than 100 participants, including government regulators, military personnel, scientists and students. The event was promoted among college students as part of the Next Generation Scientists for Biodiesel effort.

Both Dr. Stephen Kaffka of the University of California/Davis Department of Plant Sciences and Keith Kline with the Center for Bioenergy Sustainability at Oak Ridge National Laboratory talked about how the world can and should produce both food and fuel.

“Biofuel feedstocks or residue use should be considered from a cropping system’s perspective and not just as separate enterprises,” said Kaffka. “It isn’t really a food versus fuel issue but rather a more efficient and environmentally sound cropping system versus those that are less so.”

Kaffka talked about how California has been discounted by the USDA in its Road Map for Biofuels estimate of biomass production per region, but he believes that crops like safflower, which is an oilseed that has a deep root system and can recover residual nitrogen at greater soil depths, could be grown very efficiently and productively in that state. “Some of the crops that might have roles for biodiesel feedstock can have significant agronomic and environmental benefits as well,” he said.

Kline believes that bioenergy done correctly on a global scale could do much to address food insecurity and poverty. “If we can alleviate poverty, we can probably alleviate a lot of food insecurity,” he said. “Some people in Africa have looked at this and concluded that bioenergy is not only compatible with food production but it could also greatly benefit agriculture in Africa.”

Kline says farmers he has talked to in developing countries want to feed their families and have something they can sell. “If they can grow something that’s good for food, and fuel, and fodder and feed, and anything else that you can imagine, it’s all the better,” he added.

You can listen to the whole webinar here.

UPS Begins Using Biodiesel at U.S. Hub

UPS is now using biodiesel blends at its Louisville, Kentucky hub. The company recently installed a biodiesel fuel tank and fueling station at its Worldport facility. This will enable fuel operators to blend specific percentages of biodiesel starting from a B5 blend (5% biodiesel, 95% diesel) up to B20. Biodiesel blends of up to B20 can be used in any diesel engine without any modifications.

The 30,000 gallon biodiesel tank and station at Worldport fuels nearly 200 vehicles and diesel equipment, most of which help load packages on and off the planes. Worldport is the size of 80 football fields and each day loads 100 airplanes and processes 416,000 packages an hour.

“There is a finite amount of petroleum-based fuel available from our planet so it is important that UPS and other companies invest in ways to use alternative fuels and technologies, including biodiesel,” said Scott Wicker, UPS Chief Sustainability officer. “This project helps us reduce our dependence on fossil fuels with the added benefit that it will also reduce air pollution and carbon emissions.”

Joe Jobe, CEO of the National Biodiesel Board considers UPS’s switch to biodiesel “monumental”.

“For a giant like UPS to use biodiesel is not only an outstanding vote of confidence for biodiesel, but an example of how America’s first advanced biofuel will fuel the drive towards genuine corporate sustainability,” said Jobe.

BIOfuel From Algae Technologies Project Launched

A new international project is kicking off to produce biofuels from algae. The BIOfuel From Algae Technologies (BIOFAT) project is supported by nine partners based in seven countries and the goal is to show that ethanol, biodiesel and bioproducts call all be produced at large scale from algae. Algae supporters believe algal biofuels can be produced in an efficient, economic and environmentally sustainable way and the BIOFAT team intends to prove this with the algorefinery – a facility that can produce high-value co-products in addition to biofuels.

Abengoa Bioenergy’s subsidiary Abengoa Bioenergia Nuevas Tecnologias (ABNT) will be the coordinator for the project. According to BIOFAT, the project will be carried out by a transnational consortium drawn from the academic, industrial and public sectors that includes the University of Florence (IT), A4F-AlgaFuel (PT), Ben-Gurion University (IL), Fotosintetica & Microbiologica (IT), Evodos (NL), AlgoSource Technologies (FR), IN SRL (IT) and Hart Energy (BE). Consortium members were selected to provide research diversity and expertise to the project.

In addition to creating algal biofuels, the BIOFAT project will also demonstrate the integration of the entire value chain in the production of ethanol and biodiesel. The research process will begin with strain selection and proceed to biological optimization of the culture media, monitored algae cultivation, low energy harvesting, and finally technology integration. Training will take place on existing microalgae prototypes in Israel, Portugal and Italy, then scale up the process at a 10-hectare demonstration plant. The project is expected to last four years and produce about 900 tons of algae annually on the 10-hectare plant.