PSM Most Cited Ethanol Plant Hazard

In 2010, process safety management (PSM) was the most common cited hazard at ethanol plants by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). The data was published by Albert Patin with South Dakota State University. This year PSM citations are appearing to be on the same course as OSHA has been arriving unexpectedly at ethanol plants across the country assessing fines. More visits are expected. This is why Improving Process Safety Management is the feature of Part 4 of the Biorefinery Safety Series.

So what exactly is process safety management in the context of a biorefinery? It provides guidance on the control and use of highly hazardous chemicals (See Part 1: How to Properly Handle Chemicals in a Biorefinery), according to Nate Vander Griend with ERI, a company that has its roots with ICM dating back to 2003 and in 2006 became a stand-alone company. Vander Griend said that risk management planning is generally part of an environmental program, which ERI now provides.

“On the safety side, managing your risk is quite a bit different,” said Vander Griend. “You must get a safety program in place that not only meets OSHA requirements but exceeds them, and encompasses all the ethanol industry best practices.” He continued by explaining that there have also been property safety issues that have been a recent concern as it relates to process safety management. This encompasses how the plant is built, operated and the type of testing that happens to prevent catastrophic events such as the release of hazardous materials.

Listen to my interview with Nate Vander Griend here: Ethanol Safety Series Part IV: PSM Most Cited Ethanol Plant Hazard Continue reading

International Groups Urge Ending Fossil Fuel Subsidies

Two international organizations are recommending reform of fossil-fuel subsidies to improve the economy and the environment.

IEAAn analysis by the International Energy Agency (IED) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that governments and taxpayers spent about half a trillion dollars last year supporting the production and consumption of fossil fuels and that removing such subsidies would raise national revenues and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

oecdOECD and IEA say fossil fuel subsidies “create wasteful use of energy, contribute to price volatility by blurring market signals, encourage fuel smuggling and lower competitiveness of renewables and energy efficient technologies.”

The G20 leaders in 2009 agreed to phase out subsidies that “encourage wasteful consumption, reduce our energy security, impede investment in clean energy sources and undermine efforts to deal with the threat of climate change”. According to the IEA, since that agreement subsidies for fossil fuel globally have increased by $110 billion to $409 billion in 2010 and could reach $660 billion by 2020 despite the G20 countries commitment.

Global RFA“As we strive to develop alternatives to oil we must recognize that alternative fuels are not competing on a level playing field,” said Bliss Baker, spokesperson for the Global Renewable Fuels Alliance. “These massive multi-billion dollar crude oil subsidies completely outweigh current biofuel incentives and are a serious obstacle to the development of cleaner greener alternatives. Oil has a huge competitive advantage financed by global taxpayers.”

Baker notes that the G20 will meet in France next month and the issue of oil subsidies is on the agenda. “It is time for the G20 to show leadership and reverse this practice of never-ending subsidies to big oil,” Baker said. “It is time to move beyond crude oil and into a world with sustainable alternatives such as biofuels and other renewable forms of energy.”

Proposed Farm Bill Includes Advanced Biofuels

Senator Dick Lugar (R-IN) and Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R, IN-3rd) have introduced a farm bill that they say would save $40 billion and includes provisions that support the development of advanced biofuels.

“We offer our bill as a thoughtful option for consideration by the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, as well as the Congressional Deficit Reduction ‘Super’ Committee charged with making real federal spending cuts by the end of the year,” Lugar said of the bill they have entitled “The Rural Economic Farm and Ranch Sustainability and Hunger Act” or REFRESH.

In the energy section, the legislation would “extend the current loan guarantee authority to help demonstrate new technologies, processes, and techniques for production of advanced biofuels and co-products.” It would also reform the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) to focus on “demonstrating opportunities for farmers to diversify their income through rearing bioenergy crops and improving techniques and equipment for collecting biomass from the land for delivery to advanced biofuel production.”

The bill would would also reform farm programs, update conservation programs and close nutrition program eligibility loopholes. It also proposes to repeal the mandatory federal sugar program, allowing for market pricing of sugar.

Farm and Ethanol Groups Warn Against RFS Changes

A coalition of seven agricultural and biofuels organizations sent a letter this week to two members of Congress who have introduced legislation to modify the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS2), warning that it is unnecessary and could lead to higher prices at the pump.

The organizations were reacting to a bill introduced by Representatives Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Jim Costa (D-CA) that would reduce or eliminate the volumes of renewable fuel use required by the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) based upon corn stocks-to-use ratios.

The groups point to a recent analysis by economists at the University of Wisconsin and Iowa State University that found growth in ethanol production reduced gasoline prices by an average of $0.25 per gallon, or 16 percent, over the entire decade of 2000-2010. “In 2010, for example, the authors found that the use of ethanol reduced wholesale gasoline prices by an average of $0.89 per gallon,” the letter stated, adding that the result of an immediate reduction in ethanol output “would be a dramatic increase in U.S. gasoline prices and the resulting increase in U.S. gasoline imports would also cause world gasoline prices to increase in the short run.”

Speaking to concerns over high corn prices, the groups wrote, “Numerous studies have concluded that the RFS is a minor contributor to corn prices. The most recent study, a July 2011 analysis commissioned by the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development, found that corn prices would have been exactly the same in 2009/10 if both the RFS and Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC) had not existed.”

The groups are the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE), the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), Growth Energy, the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), the National Farmers Union (NFU), the National Sorghum Producers, and the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA).

More analysis on the issue can be found on the RFA E-xchange Blog.

Ag Secretary Criticizes Report on Biofuels

The U.S. Department of Agriculture was one of the government agencies that sponsored a report on biofuels released yesterday by the National Research Council, but the secretary of agriculture is critical of the findings.

“I think they’re basing conclusions on old information that’s not as accurate as it once was,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack during a press conference on another subject Tuesday afternoon. “I think it’s unfortunate that reports based on, in my view, outdated information are suggesting that we ought to just give up the ghost.”

“We’re not going to give up on this industry,” Vilsack continued. “This industry’s too important to the United States, it’s too important to rural America, it’s too important to our future in terms of national security and it’s too important to the whole innovative culture we’re trying to accelerate in this country.”

Listen to Vilsack’s comments here: Tom Vilsack comments on NAS Report

BIO Encourages Commercializing Advanced Biofuels for Military

BIOAdvanced biofuels can be commercialized rapidly for military use, on military timelines, with adequate support and coordination of efforts by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Defense and Energy, according to comments submitted by the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) to the Air Force’s Request for Information on the commercial status and market for advanced drop-in biofuels.

“The U.S. military and the nation as a whole face a significant national security threat from U.S. dependence on foreign sources of energy and ongoing price volatility. The military requires access to adequate fuel supplies in strategic locations, and biorefineries producing advanced biofuels from multiple feedstocks represent perhaps the best option for meeting this military need,” said Brent Erickson, executive vice president of BIO’s Industrial & Environmental Section.

Erickson noted that while individual advanced biofuel producers have achieved milestones toward commercial development of a diverse array of feedstock and technology combinations, full commercialization has been limited by the severely constrained market for private capital. “Coordination of efforts by the USDA, DOE and DOD to address the market challenges could significantly accelerate production of the volumes necessary to meet the energy security needs of the U.S. military,” Erickson said. “Some advanced biofuel companies already have worked with the Department of Defense (DOD) or with commercial airlines to test and certify advanced biofuel/petroleum blends, and more are poised to do so.”

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.