6th Process Optimization Seminar Nears Sell Out

Back by popular demand, the 6th Process Optimization Seminar will take place on September 28-29, 2011 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. To date, more than 120 ethanol plants have participated and 300 plus people have been trained. I was able to speak with Tom Slunecka, the VP of Marketing for Phibro Ethanol Performance Group this morning, one of the founders of the training seminars, to learn more about the upcoming event. The other supporting companies are Fermentis, Fremont Industries and Novozymes.

Slunecka told me that the training seminars came about by the request of the ethanol industry itself. This seminar was designed a little differently – it is set up so that after two days, an attendee can go back to his or her plant and immediately put the information learned to work. Also unique to the seminar is that class size is small and this fosters good interactions with the instructors and other attendees.

“One thing we’ve also held as a core of the Process Optimization Seminars is that the class sizes are small. So the one-to-one relationship between the trainer and those who’ve come to learn new technologies, is a very personal one,” explained Slunecka. “You’re right there, you’re with the instructor, you’re class is small with folks that are doing the same thing you are. So the flow of information back and forth is really refreshing.”

Listen to my interview with Tom Slunecka here: The 411 on the POS Seminars

He also stressed that the instructors make sure they are giving information that is usable, immediately, as soon as the operators get home to the plant. And this is important, he said, because training is paramount to how well a plant is going to run and how profitable that plant is running.

Success stories have come out of each of the five seminars to date and Slunecka said many plants have told him their ethanol yield per bushel has gone up. “Maybe only a point or two but that can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars for that plant.”

All indications are that this will be yet again another sold out show. Slunecka said they have been so overwhelmed with the response of the industry that every single one of these training seminars has been sold out. So hurry and register – there are only few slots left and the early bird registration date is nearing. To learn more and to register, visit www.processoptimizationseminar.com.

Clean Green Minnesota Bean Appears at State Fair

The American Lung Association in Minnesota presented “The Clean, Green Minnesota Bean” over the weekend during the Minnesota State Fair. Randy Hilliard with the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI) gave a presentation to the fairgoers from the Sustainability Stage of the Eco Experience Building. The topic? Soybeans.

Hilliard discussed the market for plastics, fabrics, cleaners and other bio-based materials, all made from soybeans, which can be used in place of materials made from petroleum. Supporters of “The Clean, Green Minnesota Bean included the United Soybean Board, Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council, Twin Cities Clean Cities Coalition and the American Lung Association in Minnesota.

Using crops such as soybeans and corn to create products rather than using petroleum is not new. Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, used soy plastics back in 1935 and every vehicle that rolled off the assembly line contained nearly 60 lbs, or one bushel of beans in the form of gearshift knobs, horn buttons, window frames, accelerator pedals, and more.

It may have taken multiple decades, but Detroit is once again looking to soy plastics. The AURI and Minnesota Soybean Growers Association recently held a conference in Mankota, Minnesota to discuss the potential of bio-based plastics to grow jobs in the state.

Corn for Ethanol Predicted to Stall

According to an article in Agrimoney, growth in U.S. corn ethanol production is expected to stall due to reduced predictions on this year’s corn harvest along with the fact the industry has basically reached the blend wall. Also a factor has been record high corn prices which have already caused a few plants to stop production.

Goldman Sachs has estimated that corn use by the ethanol industry will increase 50m-100m bushels in 2011-2012 while Rabobank believes the number could be up to 130 million bushels. On the flip side, the International Grains Council (ICG) predicts corn usage by the industry will stay steady with demand from foreign biofuels producers also slowing.

“After rising sharply in recent years, corn used for the manufacture of fuel ethanol is forecast to show very little growth [worldwide],” the said IGC.

Today, the ethanol industry has surprised the livestock industry as the largest consumer of corn.

Despite lower corn harvest forecasts for this year, what is predicted will still be one of the highest harvests on record. However, the IGC still anticipates weakening production prospects for corn and cut its world corn output forecast by 10m tonnes to 849m tonnes. The corn crop is expected to reach around 12.9 billion bushels.

IRFA Calls for Texas Gov. To Oppose E15 Ban

Last week during the Ethanol Conference in Des Moines, Iowa, the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) was given an award for its work on promoting ethanol. Their work continues this week as the association sent a letter to Texas Governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry, to oppose Congressional efforts to ban E15, a blend of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline. Perry is traveling to Iowa to campaign.

In the letter, authored by IRFA President Walt Wendland, “IRFA members want to welcome your campaign for president to Iowa. We look forward to a thoughtful dialog on our Nation’s energy future. One pressing issue is an attack on consumer freedom and enhancing America’s energy security.

Recently Members of Congress from Texas and Oklahoma have introduced amendments to the FY2012 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill that would essentially ban E15, a legal competitor to petroleum based gasoline. IRFA calls upon you to publicly oppose amendment #6 by Rep. John Sullivan (R-OK) and amendments #9 and #10 by Rep. Michael Burgess (R-OK).”

IRFA has noted that several other candidates have expressed support for E15 including Former Gov. Matt Romney, Rep. Michelle Bachmann, Rep. Ron Paul, businessman Herman Cain, former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, and former Senator Rick Santorum.

EPA is currently in the process of finalizing regulations that will implement its E15 approval. To date, no other fuel blend has been tested more than E15.

US Navy Completes Successful T-45 Biofuel Flight

The U.S. Navy has successfully flown a T-45 training aircraft using biofuels at the Naval Air Station (NAS) in Patuxent River, Maryland. The flight was completed by the “Salty Dogs” of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 flying on biofuel mixture of petroleum-based JP-5 jet fuel and plant-based camelina. The T-45 “Goshawk” is a tandem-seat aircraft used by the Navy and Marine Corps to train pilots on carrier and tactical mission operations.

“This successful test flight brings us a step closer to meeting the Navy’s energy security goals,” said Vice Adm. David Architzel, commander, Naval Air Systems Command. “My congratulations to the Navy fuels team here at NAVAIR for playing an instrumental role in proving the viability of biofuels to power naval aircraft.”

The T-45 is the fifth Navy aircraft to successfully test the biofuel blend. Previous Previous aircraft tested include the F/18 E/F, MH-60S, F/A-18 D, and most recently, the MV-22. The move to biofuels is being driven by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus’ goal is to cut the Navy’s oil usage in half by 2025.

“This test of the T-45 with a 50/50 blend of biofuel represents another significant milestone in the long list of detailed flight test and demonstrations of the F-18 Super Hornet, the MH-60S, and the V-22,” said Rear Adm. Phil Cullom, Director of the Chief of Naval Operations Energy and Environmental Readiness Division. “Our commitment to the aggressive test schedule for drop-in replacement fuels for JP-5 and F-76 keep us on pace for the 2012 demonstration and 2016 deployment of the Great Green Fleet.”

Additional biofuel test flights are scheduled for later this year.

NextGen Biofuels Fund Accepting Applications

If you are an advanced biofuels company based in Canada that needs funds, then you might not have to look any further than the NextGen Biofuels Fund. The fund was created by the Government of Canada to support development of advanced biofuels. Currently, Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) is issuing a Call for Applications.

“By helping to create biorefineries, the NextGen Biofuels Fund also aims to add value to renewable fuel production while diversifying the economy in rural and agricultural areas and supporting market and technology transitions in the forestry sector,” said SDTC President and CEO Vicky Sharpe. “This will be crucial in helping Canada to transition to a bio-based, sustainable economy.”

The NextGen Biofuels Fund is able to support up to 40 percent of eligible project costs and the funds are repayable based on free cash flow over a period of 10 years after the project is completed.

To be eligible, a project must:

  • • Be a First-of-Kind facility that primarily produces a next-generation renewable fuel at large demonstration-scale.
  • • Be located in Canada.
  • • Use feedstocks that are or could be representative of Canadian biomass.
  • • Have demonstrated its technology at pre-commercial scale.

For more information on how to apply, visit www.sdtc.ca.

Crusin On A Biodiesel Bike

“When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the bands which have connected them through an ineffective national energy policy, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, but all sources of access to energy are not,” reads the Declaration of American Energy Independence.

The Declaration was signed last week during several Energy Patriots events held in Fort McHenry in Baltimore, MD; York, PA; and Philadelphia, PA. The event was sponsored by AmeriGeen, a Manheim-based biofuel supplier.

Several Energy Patriots were on hand including Don Lingle, an instructor with the Lancaster County Career and Technology Center who rode his biobike to the event in York. Not only has he built his own custom motorcycle to use biodiesel, but last year he helped his students build a biobike using a four-cylinder Volkswagen turbo engine that ran on 100 percent biodiesel produced from the cafeteria’s used cooking oil.

Lingle said in an interview with the York Daily Record, “It smells like the fair – the York Fair. When people drive behind you, they want to know where that smell is coming from.”

Also participating in the event was Tom Washburn, the president of Aero Energy, who three years ago began selling only energy products produced in America. These products include BioHeat, a home heating product that is blended with biodiesel and gaining traction in the Northeastern region of the country.

Washburn noted that it won’t be long until more cars and motorcycles begin to use biodiesel and he believes torque and power will be even better. “People are just afraid right now. They don’t want it to mess up their motorcycle,” he concluded.

Ethanol & FFV’s Promoted During State Fair

Today marks the first day of the 142nd Nebraska State Fair and the Nebraska Corn Board along with the Nebraska Ethanol Board (NEB) are on site to promote ethanol and flex fuel vehicles. The two associations have booths set up in the Exhibition Building to focus on ethanol education.

The groups are splitting duties: NEB will focus on FFV awareness and the economic benefits ethanol provides to both local and state communities and the national economy. “Ethanol is a cleaner, more inexpensive, renewable alternative to gasoline. Drivers want fuel choice, and high ethanol blend fuels like E85 allows them to save money, support Nebraska’s economy, and reduce pollution,” said Todd Sneller, Administrator of NEB.

Next door, the Nebraska Corn Board will have a blender pump on display with jars of corn representing corn production from 1930, 2011 and the future, complimented with a video showing the faces of Nebraska farmers.“There are approximately 100,000 FFVs in Nebraska and nearly 90 percent of consumers don’t know they drive a flex fuel vehicle,” said Kim Clark, Ag Program Manager from the Nebraska Corn Board. “The Nebraska State Fair is a great opportunity to educate consumers from all parts of the state about flex fuel vehicles and ethanol.”

On Saturday, September 3, from 3:00 – 4:00 pm, there will be a “Do You Flex Fuel?” presentation. On hand to answer questions will be an auto mechanic, fuel retailer, ethanol expert and automobile salesperson. Finally, to showcase ethanol in action, the groups will host an ethanol blended fuel promotion beginning Saturday, September 3rd through September 5th. FFV drivers will see discounts on mid-level ethanol blends include a 20 cent discount on E20, 30 cents on E30 and 85 cents on E85. Click here for details on the FFV fuel promotions.

NCGA Highlights NASCAR Program at ACE Event

During the American Coalition for Ethanol Conference this past week in Des Moines, Iowa, the attendees were treated to a presentation on green NASCAR initiatives including their use of ethanol, by Bart Schott, the president of the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA). During the session, Schott highlighted the media attention that has been focused on the Series’ use of E15 as as well as how its American Ethanol alliance partners have used the sponsorship as a springboard to communicate the benefits of domestically produced corn-based ethanol.

American ethanol became a NASCAR sponsor in order to reach its 80 million plus fans. As such, the league switched the fuel used by all three series to Sunoco Green E15 during the 2011 season. Scott said this has become a platform for both the ethanol industry as well as NASCAR to highlight the environmental benefits of ethanol, as well as its performance and security benefits. In addition its an opportunity to promote the role American farmers play in the movement toward biofuels.

“An average size ethanol plant adds $275 million dollars to the state economy annually,” said Schott. “Furthermore, it creates 1,540 jobs, both directly and indirectly, in rural America at a time when increasing employment opportunities in our heartland is critical. With ethanol we avoid sending oil dollars overseas and actually create job opportunities for hard working Americans.”

Scott said that through the end of June, positive messages about ethanol were delivered to nearly 6 million NASCAR fans through the televised races. This exposure equates to more than $7.5 million. This is important audience because NASCAR fans are three times more likely to purchase products and services from sponsors than non-fans.

“In addition to more traditional advertisements aired by NASCAR to promote ethanol, television coverage of races has emphasized the importance of ethanol in a multitude of ways,” said Schott. “From in-car cameras and mention by announcers to the placement of the American Ethanol logo on the fuel port of every car, this initiative generated an additional $2.8 million dollars in broadcast exposure media by the end of June, when the season was only half over.”

He concluded by stressing that the need for ethanol is too great and the opportunities too boundless for the nation to maintain the status quo.

New Biodiesel Terminal Opens in St. Paul

A new large biofuel blending terminal is now open in St. Paul. Opened by Rosemont Clean Energies, they believe the facility is the only one of its kind and scale in the Upper Midwest. The “green” built, non waste generating terminal offers biofuel injection blending, is located next to a large-scale rail spur and has nearly a half million barrels of storage capacity. It can receive and ship products by rail, cars, trucks, tanks, and pipeline.

“Biofuels are here to stay,” said Tim Yocum, one of the principles and chief manager of Rosemount Clean Energies. “Canada just announced a 2 percent biodiesel requirement. Minnesota is going to 10 percent next spring. This new terminal will allow greater distribution of biofuels right where crops are grown and biofuels are produced.”

“Combine this with our refineries’ ability to produce ultra-low sulfur diesel from North Dakota and Canadian crude, and we have opened a huge channel for energy independence through local supply,” he added.

Rosemount says another advantage they offer is the efficient mechanism to actually test biodiesel in the marketplace.

“Initially, the industry struggled with the roll-out of biodiesel.The ability of this terminal to customize products through injection blending ensures greater accuracy and a consistent product that takes the reliability question of fuel out of the equation,” said Yocum.

“Now,” assures Yocum, “we can perfect biodiesel and additive blending in a highly efficient manner, collaborate with all parties to find an efficient medium to deliver new products to the marketplace, and offer marketers and energy users a range of high-performance products specific to their applications and market demands.”

Green Scissors 2011 Released

Remember the Green Scissors report from last year that suggest to save money cut ethanol subsidies? Well, the latest version is now available. Green Scissors 2011 says that ending a half trillion in environmentally harmful subsidies will go a long way to solving our budget woes. The report, sponsored by Friends of the Earth, The Heartland Institute, Public Citizen, and Taxpayers for Commonsense, provides a roadmap for savings up to $380 billion over five years. The group says this equals the amount the congressional Super Committee has been charged with cutting in half the time.

The authors write in the report, “While all four groups have different missions, histories, goals and ideas about the role of government, we all agree that we can begin to overcome our nation’s budgetary and environmental woes by tackling spending that is not only wasteful but environmentally harmful.”

So what do they want to cut? Fossil fuel, nuclear, alternative energy, and crop subsidies to name a few. They also want to cut land and water projects and kill road projects along with some Army Corps of Engineers water projects.

According to the report the federal government could end the following programs and save the United States:

  • $72,000,000,000 for general revenue transfers to the Highway Trust Fund
  • $30,000,000,000 for crop insurance
  • $4,820,000,000 for Oil and Gas Royalty relief

Several lawmakers reacted to the report and Rep. Earl Blumeanauer (D-OR) said, “The 2011 Green Scissors Report is a reminder that it’s time for Congress to have a serious, rational discussion about cutting the budget. With painful budget cuts already under discussion that will require American families to make sacrifices, it is only fair, for example, that we also stop the handouts to our richest oil companies.”

Hey, I’m all for cutting budgets and its good to see that the report recommends cutting energy subsidies across the board, but I must ask what would happen to our energy bills if poof, over night they’re all gone? Will we we lose our innovation in alternative energy technologies and be stuck with the status quo? Now how environmentally friendly is that?

TESSA – A Car That Heats Your Home

I came across this story today and thought it was kinda cool. TESSA is a car that uses stored heat from the engine to produce heat energy that can be used in homes for hot water and central heating. This “new age” car will be showcased for the first time at Nextgen, a free environmental trade show taking place October 5-6 in Warwickshire, UK. Nextgen is co-located with two other events that focus on renewable energy technologies such as solar, wind, bioenergy, and hydro power generation.

TESSA stands for Thermal Energy Storage and Saving Automobile and the prototype is a Land Rover Freelander. Atmos Heating Systems fitted the SUV with a thermal energy storage and transfer system.

“We are delighted to be able to demonstrate the energy and carbon saving benefits TESSA offers at Nextgen. We have developed and patented a means of storing waste heat on board the vehicle, and a practical means of transferring the stored heat into a building for use as hot water and/or space heating,” said John Thomason, General Manager of Atmos Heating Systems.

Today an internal combustion enegine only manages a mechanical power efficiency averaging around 30 percent. The remaining 70 percent is dissipated as heat, through the radiator coolant system and the exhaust. Although some of the coolant system energy is used to heat the interior of the vehicle, the rest is simply lost.

“In other industries such horrendous waste would not be tolerated, and with the transport sector responsible for 40% of carbon emissions, this must not be left to continue. Whilst our technology does not reduce CO2 emissions from the vehicle, it utilizes heat that is otherwise wasted, resulting in lower fossil fuel consumption in the home and thereby an overall net benefit to the environment,” said Thomason.

The thermal heat technology can be integrated with other renewable technologies in the home such as solar thermal and heat pumps. In addition, it can be retrofitted with vehicles using biofuels instead of gas and diesel fuels to ensure additional environmental benefits.

From Farm to Biorefinery

Today American farmers are producing twice as much corn on virtually the same amount of acres as a generation ago. This makes them the most productive and efficient of any farmers around the world. Similarly, productivity and efficiencies are being mirrored across domestic ethanol production.

The Renewable Fuels Association has begun a series on efficiency and as part of the dialogue, RFA Vice President Geoff Cooper takes on the critics who claim that both farming and ethanol production is simply too energy-intensive. Cooper says those critical of farmers and by extension ethanol producers, will tell you that the tremendous growth in corn production is due to increased fertilizer use.

Yet Cooper says these are not the facts. USDA data shows that 2010 application rates of three common macronutrient fertilizers (nitrogen, potassium and phosphate) were the same or below the application rates seen in the early 1980s. As such, nitrogen application per bushel of corn has decreased more than 30 percent since this time while potassium and phosphate usage per bushel is down nearly 40 percent.

Also reduced between 1987 – 2007 is water, energy and land usage required to produce a bushel of corn according to Keystone Alliance. For example, the energy requirement (as measured in British Thermal Units or BTUs) to produce one gallon of ethanol has dropped by 28 percent since 2001, to just shy of 26,000 BTUs. Cooper says that compares to 77,000 BTUs found in one gallon of ethanol. Electricity demand has fallen by 32 percent and water use has decreased by 47 percent.

“As the data clearly demonstrate, America’s ethanol producers are mirroring the efficiency gains of the American farmers upon whom they rely for feedstock,” said Cooper. “As existing processes evolve and new production technologies emerge, ethanol production in the U.S. will not only increase in volume, but also in efficiency. Without a doubt, today’s ethanol industry is high-tech and increasingly energy efficient.”

Elusieve Process Removes Fiber From Corn

A new way to remove fiber from corn has been discovered by a professor from Mississippi State University (MSU). He calls his process Elusieve and has filed for a patent. The process was invented by Dr. Radhakrishnan Srinivasan of the MSU Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering with some help from University of Illinois professor Dr. Vijay Singh who believe the process will improve both ethanol production efficiency as well as dried distillers grains (DDGS).

“Corn has mainly starch, fiber and protein. We are removing the fiber, so the starch is increased in concentration. Therefore, you can produce more ethanol,” Srinivasan said in an interview with Mississippi Business Journal.

Srinivasan explains that pigs and chickens cannot digest fiber well. By removing the fiber from its feed, which consists primarily of DDGS, ground corn flour and soybean meal, the energy content of the feed is improved and reduces the need for expensive ingredients such as fat and enzymes. He believes the Elusieve process will be adopted by feed mills to separate fiber downstream of the bins where the feed is stored.

Today, there is one pilot plant using the Elusieve technology at MSU and its using a combination of sieving and air classification, called elutriation, to separate out the fiber. From there, the feed is sieved into four sizes and air is blown through the three biggest to carry away the fiber. Ultimately this process increases protein of feeds like DDGS and also increases starch content.

Other researchers are working on technologies to remove fiber from corn but Srinivasan said his is less expensive and less complicated. His has already received the patent for DDGS via Elusieve.

Private Investments for Alt Energy At Four-Year Low

According to new research from Lux Research, investments in the alternative fuels sector have reached a four-year low of $930 million for alternative fuel start-ups in 2010. However, 2010 was also a record-breaking year for investments to companies with flexible technologies that can use a variety of feedstocks to produce a variety of products at $698 million. Lux says that if this trend continues, then start-ups with less flexible technologies will be forced out of the industry.

Hedging Bets with Flexibility in Alternative Fuels,” has shown that since 2004 more than $6.4 billion in investments have been made in the alternative energy industry but in recent years, investors are giving more to less. The winners follow one simple principle: flexibility in feedstock or end product. Lux Research analyzed 333 investments in 170 unique start‐ups since 2004, breaking down investments by technology, fuel, geography, and investment stage.

“The recent successful IPOs of Amyris, Solazyme, and Gevo all reflect the larger industry trend of investing in more flexible end‐product technologies,” said Andrew Soare, a Lux Analyst and lead author of the report. “A handful of fuels‐focused start‐ups continue to draw investors, including waste‐to‐fuels companies Enerkem and LanzaTech, and cellulosic ethanol companies Qteros and Mascoma. But flexibility is part of their DNA as well, in that they derive fuels from multiple feedstocks.”

Several key conclusions include:

• Synthetic biology’s inherent flexibility is a wise investment, but not the only one. Synthetic biology has attracted the most funding since 2004: $1.84 billion or 28.4% of the total. But investors shouldn’t ignore other flexible technologies.

• Investments will favor fewer companies in later stage funding. Most alternative fuel technologies today are past the point of initial seed funding, and are seeking capital to scale up manufacturing. Those closest to scale will continue to raise large Series C and Series D rounds, while less advanced companies will struggle to land moderate earlier rounds, resulting in more failed start‐ups over the next few years.

• Expect new corporate investors to enter the space. Expect forward‐looking corporations to bring additional industries into the fray, such as pulp and paper, food and beverage, and non‐obvious downstream brand owners such as UPS.