Researchers to Turn Biomass into Plastic

While turning biomass into energy has been most of the talk, some researchers are looking at turning biomass into a more valuable product: plastic. This article from the University of Wisconsin-Madison says researchers at that school, along with scientists from the University of Minnesota and Argonne National Laboratory, will use a $3.3 million U.S. Department of Energy grant to explore ways to produce renewable plastic precursors and other substances from biomass.

huber1“We’re trying to make very high-value commodity chemicals from biomass that can be used to make different kinds of plastics and plasticizers,” says George W. Huber, a professor of chemical and biological engineering at UW-Madison. “So many people have been focusing on fuels, which are a pretty low-value product — $600 or $700 per ton — but we’re going to be making products that are worth more than $5,000 per ton.”

Joining Huber on the UW-Madison portion of the grant are Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering James A. Dumesic; chemical and biological engineering Professor Christos Maravelias; chemical and biological engineering research Professor Bill Banholzer; and chemistry Associate Professor Ive Hermans. This team of researchers, who also are affiliated with the Wisconsin Energy Institute, bring to the project combined expertise in biomass conversion, process design, techo-economic modeling of biochemical and biofuels production, and catalysis.

Researchers at Argonne will provide high-throughput tools for screening large amounts of catalysts used in the biomass-conversion process, and University of Minnesota researchers will contribute expertise in separating products from the reactants and solvents used in their production.

The three-year project involves both elaborating the basic scientific principles involved in converting biomass into useful chemicals that are otherwise petroleum-derived, as well as developing efficient processes that can be scaled up in order to make bio-based production more competitive with petroleum refining.

Tanzania Mini-Grid Project Underway

Continental Energy Corporation, an emerging international energy investment company, announced that its Tanzanian affiliate, Ruaha River Power Company Ltd. has begun construction of the Phase-I development of its Malolo Mini-Grid. They have also begun signing up first subscribers from a waiting list of 400 customers. The Mini-Grids are being installed in an area surrounding the village of Malolo and three nearby villages, all located in the Kilosa District, Morogoro Region, Tanzania.

The Malolo Mini-Grid is the first of four separate, isolated rural “Mini-Grids” to be built, owned, and operated by the Ruaha Power, from which Tanzania flagit intends to generate, distribute, and sell electrical power directly to consumers at pre-payment meters. When complete, the four Malolo Mini-Grids will have a combined generation capacity of 300kW and each Mini-Grid shall directly deliver 75kW of power to a combined total of approximately 2,500 identified residential, commercial, and light industrial customers.

Phase-I of the Malolo Mini-Grid development is expected to begin delivering power by the end of the first quarter of 2015. It involves the installation and commissioning of the first embedded generators, a 25kW hybrid biomass gasifier and a 25kW diesel generation plant, together with more than four kilometers of low voltage distribution network.

The distribution network will be constructed to standards sufficient for connection to the national grid at such time as it may be extended into the Malolo Mini-Grid area. A 21,500 square-foot site near the village of Malolo has been acquired for the first generator house and power line easements have been arranged. Civil works and the construction of the first powerhouse and office has begun and are expected to be complete by year end.

A Phase-II development is planned to add solar PV capacity to complete a hybrid biomass-solar PV-diesel powered Mini-Grid. Ruaha Power plans to duplicate the Phase-I and Phase-II development at each of the other three villages, one after the other, upon completion of Phase-II of the first network.

How to Establish Biobased Production Chains

The Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RV0), Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research has developed a method that can help companies and government authorities create biobased chains, from source materials to end products. The method was developed out of a need for companies to develop successful production chains for the production of biofuels or biomaterials from biomass-based resources.

According to senior scientist Wolter Elbersen at the institute for Food & Biobased Research, the method is mainly intended for businesses and investors looking to establish a biobased production chain locally, or for export to the Netherlands or other EU countries. “They often have trouble evaluating whether developing a biobased production or export chain is feasible or how it can be done commercially,” said Elbersen. “This method provides an insight into which factors are at play.”

Setting Up International Biobased Production ChainsThe method is a step-by-step plan for the development of a biobased export chain. It includes a classification of the various types of biomass.

Scientist Jan van Dam at Food & Biobased Research explained that an analysis was made of which crops and products are most suitable, and how market demands are expected to develop. “We then described how businesses or investors can use a SWOT analysis to evaluate whether a local crop is a good starting point for the development of a biobased trade chain. This includes factors such as the availability of the crop and the infrastructure, security of supplies, costs and the degree to which the source material can be produced in a sustainable way.”

The method also offers a list of criteria for determining the most suitable location for converting the source material into tradable products. It deals with questions such as which country has the best infrastructure and the most educated employees? Which location offers the lowest operational costs and the best logistics? And where do the co-products or by-products have the most value? This involves issues such as heat for heating networks, CO2 for CO2 fertilisation or lignin for new chemical products.

Is there Enough Feedstock for Gen 2 Ethanol?

Last week Biofuels Digest Editor Jim Lane posed the question: Is there really enough affordable feedstock for the second generation ethanol wave? According to Robert Kozak of Atlantic Biomass Conversions an co-founder of Advanced Biofuels USA, “Yes, if we realistically address the financial realities of feedstock producers and feedstock buyers.” He reviewed the current weaknesses in current biomass development philosophy for feed, fuel, chemicals and biobased products and penned his findings in a white paper.

Advanced Biofuels USA Biomass Crops white paperKozak looked at a several possible biomass feedstocks including switchgrass, miscanthus and other grasses to dandelion roots and carrot and sugar beet residues. He concludes that the combination of saturated markets and increasing production costs may soon cause corn growers to either start returning land to the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and other programs (and increasing U.S. taxpayer costs) or to find other crops. In response, he advocates taking a closer look at what we have learned about biomass conversion technologies over the past 10 years along with farm policy.

In the paper he writes, “So, with approximately 20-25 percent of current US corn production being used for fuel ethanol, the questions for growers become: Could portions of this land be used for lower nutrient input biomass crops that would produce comparable income from ethanol or other biofuels and biomaterials? Could corn land not within current shipping distance of existing ethanol refineries also be used for biofuel/biomaterial crops? … I think the right answers to these questions could not only retain current grower incomes but more importantly, could be an opportunity to build the foundation of a true Advanced Biofuel and Biomaterial System.”

Kozak proposes root crops as a viable solution to these challenges. He bases his arguments on cell wall structure, lack of pesky lignin, and potential for over-wintering in situ to address storage logistics, etc. He acknowledges that these are very preliminary thoughts on a complex issue which deserves greater scrutiny. He also suggests convening an action-oriented conference or a series of workshops where experts involved in all aspects of the subject can gather for intense discussions.

Biomass-to-Biofuel Plant Gets USDA Loan Guarantee

coolplanetA Louisiana biomass-to-biofuel operation received a $91 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This news release from USDA says the agency will back the loan under the Biorefinery Assistance Program to finish building the Cool Planet plant at the Port of Alexandria in Louisiana.

The Cool Planet facilities will produce approximately 8 million to 10 million gallons of reformate per year at full capacity. Often referred to as a “drop-in” fuel, reformate is an ingredient in gasoline and jet fuel that can be added during the regular refinery process. Many biofuels, like ethanol, are fuel additives that are instead blended into a finished product to oxygenate fuel. Reformate enhances the energy content of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. Pine chips will be the feedstock source for the Cool Planet facility, but the company can use almost any type of renewable cellulosic material.

Another benefit of Cool Planet’s facility is that it will produce biochar, a bioenergy byproduct that has been noted for its ability to sequester carbon and potentially reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas levels.

Google Ventures, BP, ConocoPhillips, GE, Exelon and NRG Energy are also kicking in on the project, in addition to USDA’s contribution. Cool Planet is putting $50 million in its own equity into the project.

Arizona Pellet Fuel Maker Gains Quality Standard

forestenergyproductsAn Arizona company that makes wood pellets and biomass into residential and commercial-grade pellet fuel gained an important quality acccreditation. Show Low, Arizona’s Forest Energy Corporation is the sixth company to qualify for the Pellet Fuels Institute’s (PFI) Standards Program, a third-party accreditation program providing specifications for those types of fuels.

“We are thrilled to welcome Forest Energy Corporation into the PFI Standards Program,” said Jennifer Hedrick, Executive Director of the Pellet Fuels Institute. “It takes time, effort and dedication to qualify for the program and we are proud to see how much the Standards Program has grown in a year and a half. We thank these companies for leading the way and we look forward to many more program members.”

To meet the criteria of the PFI Standards Program, participants work with an independent accredited auditing agency and testing laboratory. Random monthly audits are performed at production facilities to ensure qualified companies are following a quality assurance and quality control program. Pellets are tested according to the program specifications, also on a monthly basis. By taking these steps, participants ensure that their pellet quality remains consistent.

Forest Energy Corporation joins existing program members New England Wood Pellet, Curran Renewable Energy, American Wood Fibers, Lignetics Inc., and Marth Peshtigo Pellet Co. meeting the standard that now covers nearly half of the pellets manufactured for residential heat consumption within the United States. Those qualifying are able to display the PFI Quality Mark on their pellet bags, showing consumers their qualification to the program requirements.

ReEnergy Lands $289 Mil Biomass Plant Contract

ReEnergyBiomass power plant builder ReEnergy Holdings LLC landed a nearly $289 million contract to provide renewable energy for the U.S. Army’s Fort Drum in upstate New York, home to 37,000 soldiers and family members and employing nearly 4,000 civilians. This news release from ReEnergy says it’s the largest renewable energy project in the history of the U.S. Army.

“This is good news not only for ReEnergy, but for Fort Drum and the North Country region. This will enhance energy security and position Fort Drum as a leader in meeting the military’s ambitious renewable energy goals,” said Larry D. Richardson, the chief executive officer of ReEnergy Holdings. “The ReEnergy team is proud to assist the U.S. Army in meeting its renewable energy goals, and looks forward to enhancing the North Country’s green energy economy.”

The ReEnergy Black River facility, located inside the fence at Fort Drum, has 60 megawatts of generation capacity. Before it was idled in early 2010 by its former owner, the facility primarily burned coal to produce electricity.

Starting November 1st, the facility will turn out all of Fort Drum’s electrical load.

IRENA: Biomass Could be 60% of World’s Renewable Energy

irenareportBiomass could make up 60 percent of the world’s renewable energy sources – one-fifth of the globe’s total energy supply – by the year 2030. That’s according to a new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), which forecasts a major role for modern, sustainable biomass technologies in the report titled, “Global Bioenergy Supply and Demand Projections for the Year 2030.”

“Sustainable bioenergy has the potential to be a game-changer in the global energy mix,” said IRENA Director of Innovation and Technology Dolf Gielen. “Sustainably sourced biomass, such as residues, and the use of more efficient technology and processes can shift biomass energy production from traditional to modern and sustainable forms, simultaneously reducing air pollution and saving lives.”

The new IRENA report shows that approximately 40% of the total global biomass supply potential would originate from agricultural residues and waste, with another 30% originating from sustainable forestry products.

The report also points out that these biomass resources do not compete with food production requirements, such as land and water, and could make significant cuts to global greenhouse gases.

Bugs Way Ahead in Biomass-to-Energy Production

termite1While scientists have been working for years to come up with the best ways to break down biomass for energy production, termites perfected the technique more than 30 million years ago. A new study from the University of Copenhagen and the Beijing Genomics Institute show that termites have been able to use fungus and gut bacteria contributing enzymes for final digestion.

Fungus-farming termites are dominant plant decomposers in (sub)tropical Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, where they in some areas decompose up to 90% of all dead plant material. They achieve near-complete plant decomposition through intricate multi-stage cooperation between the Termitomyces fungi and gut bacteria, with the termites managing these symbionts by providing gut compartments and nest infrastructure. Researchers at the Centre for Social Evolution, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen and Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI, China) discovered this by analyzing plant decomposition genes in the first genome sequencing of a fungus-farming termite and its fungal crop, and bacterial gut communities.

“While we have so far focused on the fungus that feeds the termites, it is now clear that termite gut bacteria play a major role in giving the symbiosis its high efficiency”, says Associate Professor Michael Poulsen, who spearheaded the work.

Experts believe there could be implications for large-scale industrial bioreactors being developed today.

UK Firm Fires Up Straw-Fired Energy Plant

glennmontA renewable energy investment firm has opened a 38 megawatt straw-fired plant in the United Kingdom. Glennmont Partners announced the start of operations at the Sleaford biomass facility.

The plant was built by a consortium of Burmeister & Wain Scandinavian Contractor A/S and Burmeister and Wain Energy A/S. Glennmont purchased 100% of the equity in the project in December 2011, and financed the construction through a debt package provided by NIBC Bank NV, RBS, Siemens Bank GmbH and Unicredit Bank AG.

Sleaford will generate enough electricity to power 65,000 homes as well as providing free heat to local sports clubs and community facilities. It will create and support jobs in local agriculture and has been built to perform to the highest environmental standards.

Joost Bergsma, Managing Partner of Glennmont, said: “Sleaford is a landmark deal not only for Glennmont but for the UK biomass industry as a whole. Glennmont has committed itself to leading the way for institutional investors to realise exceptional value from the renewable energy market, and Sleaford is an excellent example of this.”

Glennmont Partners has a renewable energy portfolio of more than 300MW of biomass, wind and solar power in France, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and the UK.

Researchers Get More Out of Trees for Bioenergy

spainbiomassResearchers in Spain have found a way to manipulate the genes of trees to get more biomass to make more bioenergy. In a joint venture between the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM) and the National Institute for Agricultural Research and Experimentation (INIA), the scientists figured out how to increase biomass production in a forest with altering the growth, composition or wood anatomy of the trees.

Lateral buds of most of the woody species in warm and cold areas do not sprout in the same season that they are born. These buds, called proleptics, remain latent and do not grow until the following spring. However, some lateral buds sprout during the same season such as poplar trees, other salicaceae species and many tropical species. This way, a syleptic branching can increase de amount of branches, leaf area and the tree growth in general, mainly during their first years of life.

On that basis, researchers at UPM have used a biotechnological procedure to modify the gene expression levels of RAV1 (Related to ABI3 and Viviparous 1) that increases the development of sylleptic branching of woody species. Thus, researchers have found a way of increasing biomass production of a poplar plantation. This process of genetic modification is potentially applicable to any woody species and using their adaptive features to a particular habitat.

The researchers say this will give them better control over biomass production levels without year-to-year variances.

Texas A&M Gets Grant for Biomass-to-Energy Project

swregionaldairy1Texas A&M is part of a nearly $16 million nationwide grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in part to fund projects for turning biomass into power. This article from the Stephenville (TX) Empire-Tribune says A&M’s AgriLife Research received money under the USDA’s Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) to help fund a two-year program to demonstrate developing technologies for water purification, treatment and recycling and power generation using biomass at Tarleton State University’s Southwest Regional Dairy Center.

More than $780,000 has been allocated for the two-year project, which aims to demonstrate a proven water treatment and recycling technology developed by Global Restoration and a biomass conversion system developed by [AgriLife Research scientist Dr. Sergio Capareda, associate professor of biological and agricultural engineering at Texas A&M] and others at Texas A&M to produce electrical power.

Capareda says the technology demonstrations will convert dry manure produced by the milking herd at Tarleton’s dairy center into heat and electricity for on-site use. The project also plans to develop resource-conservation practices in handling wastewater and solids from animal manure at the facility while developing several spreadsheet-based monitoring systems.

“The Global Restoration group will take on the water coming out of the facility and the dairy’s lagoon, and purify the water so it may be recycled,” Capareda explained. “This generates large amounts of dry manure, which will be used by our system to generate heat and electrical power.”

Officials say the project could eliminate or at least reduce the size of open ponds, as well as offer another power and revenue stream for farmers.

Procter & Gamble’s $230 Mil Biomass Project Moves Forward

albanybiomassA project to put a massive biomass facility at a Procter & Gamble facility in Georgia is moving forward. This article from the Albany (GA) Herald says the $230 million biomass facility has received the go-ahead from local officials and some tax incentives that will ensure the project comes to fruition.

The resolution gives the principles of the agreement, who will be united in the project as Albany Green Energy LLC, two years in which they will not be required to pay local taxes. After that, over the next 21 years, Albany Green Energy will pay $375,000 annually in taxes.

[P&G Global Business Development Manager Bob] Bourbon, who develops business partnerships for P&G Corporate, called the agreement on the biomass project “a partnership on steroids.” He noted that each of seven partners — Georgia Power, the Georgia Public Service Commission, Sterling Energy Assets, Procter & Gamble Corporate, Constellation New Energy, the federal government and the Payroll Development Authority — is vital to the project reaching the end zone.

“Take any one of these partners out of the equation, and it wouldn’t work,” Bourbon said. “Using my football analogy, yes, we’re at first-and-goal, but everyone who gets that close to the goal line doesn’t score. Everyone involved in this project is doing everything possible to make it work. If it doesn’t, there will be a very good reason.”

The 20-year partnership deal is seen as giving the local community a very steady economic anchor, while bringing more clean energy to the region.

The plant is expected to go online in the summer of 2017.

Largest 100% Biomass Plant in North America Opens

AtikokanGS1North America’s largest power plant fueled 100 percent by biomass opens in Canada. Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG) Atikokan Generating Station (GS) is now operating on biomass after undergoing a massive reconstruction after being a coal-fired plant, and according to Engineering and Technology Magazine, it will be capable of generating about 900 million kW/h of electricity per year – enough for 70,000 homes.

“The conversion of Atikokan will ensure a clean, reliable, sustainable and local supply of electricity for the region,” said Bob Chiarelli, Minister of Energy. “I am very happy to see this facility playing an active role in helping us deliver on the commitments in our Long-Term Energy Plan.”

“Ontario is a leader in green energy production and technology and the conversion, of the Atikokan Generating Station is a great example of innovative new opportunities available in Northern Ontario,” said Bill Mauro, MPP Thunder Bay-Atikokan. “This facility will create and maintain well-paying jobs right here in our community and will contribute to Ontario’s clean energy strategy.”

“Northwestern Ontario is on the leading edge of some very exciting new mining and forestry developments and I am very pleased that our government is taking action to meet the future energy needs of our region,” said Michael Gravelle, MPP, Thunder Bay-Superior North. “This project is not only providing more clean power to Ontarians, it is creating promising new economic opportunities and sustainable jobs for Northwestern Ontario in the green energy and forestry industries.”

Officials say the plant is already running on locally sourced wood pellets.

Genera Energy Introduces BIN-SPEC

Genera Energy has introduced a new feedstock management program module to reduce biomass feedstock variability: BIN-SPEC. According to the company, the preprocessing system delivers a consistent biomass product to a customer’s specifications with the least amount of variability and at a lower cost.

“After producing and harvesting a biomass crop, significant processes and steps must take place to convert a field crop into a uniform format feedstock with the exact size, chemical composition and moisture to meet the needs of each end user,” explained Kelly Tiller, Ph.D., CEO and president of Genera Energy. “We are now able to announce BIN-SPEC as the final link in our proprietary biomass supply chain management system.”

Genera-BIN_SPEC-Graphic-300x171Along with Genera’s other feedstock management systems, Energy Grange and Supply ASSURE, BIN-SPEC was developed through years of R&D and in-the-field testing aimed at consolidating and simplifying the entire biomass feedstock process, offering benefits to landowners, farmers and feedstock end users for the biofuels, biochemical and biopower industries.

While much research has focused on feedstock specific conversion technologies, Genera Energy noticed a gap in the study and field tests of biomass particle size during the preprocessing phase and as a result, developed BIN-SPEC to address this and other problems, offering a repeatable solution that reduces costs, increases efficiencies and provides a consistent product for end users.

Genera’s BIN-SPEC preprocessing management system looks at every step before, during and after preprocessing for each specific end user, assuring a tailored feedstock product specifically for use with BIN-SPEC designated equipment that will produce a biomass product with the least variation. While preprocessing biomass feedstocks is not new, Genera has focused on improving the process by reducing energy consumption, increasing efficiencies, and optimizing the process. This optimization ultimately leads to a lower cost, more consistent feedstock for the end user.

Keith Brazzell, Genera Energy COO notes that variation in feedstock product can be a costly problem for refineries. That was why BIN-SPEC was developed – to add value to a customer’s conversion process.