Short Rotation Woody Crops Ideal for Energy

Research from the University of Tennessee Center for Renewable Carbon has found that fast growing, short rotation wood crops (SRWC) are ideal as a biomass source to produce bionergy and biofuels. The research will be featured over the next three months as the Southeastern Partnership for Integrated Biomass Supply Systems’ (IBSS) Woody Crop Whistle Stop Tour that will feature Auburn University’s tractor-trailer scale mobile biomass gasifier. During the tour, the gasifier will demonstrate how to turn biomass into electricity on a small scale. Partners include North Carolina State University, ArborGen, University of Georgia, Auburn and UT.

On Tuesday, September 30, 2014 the tour will stop in Columbus, Miss., for an IBSS/Advanced Hardwood Biofuels (AHB) Field Day. Based on two years of successful experiments in the Southeast and Pacific Northwest with fast-growing cottonwood and hybrid poplars, IBSS, AHB, GreenWood Resources, and ArborGen have partnered to establish a 70-acre hybrid poplar plantation. Mississippi State University has also been an integral partner throughout the process, assisting in research and helping with field day activities. At this stop, visitors will get a close-up view of the SRWC system and learn about new research on genetics, stand establishment, disease problems, wildlife impacts and biomass harvesting logistics.

Cottonwood Tree (Istock photo)On Friday, October 10, the tour will stop at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture East Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center in Knoxville for a half-day Woody Crops Field Day. Visitors to the event will learn first-hand about new energy crops like fast-growing hybrid poplar and their importance as a feedstock for the emerging biofuels industry. This event will coincide with the IBSS Annual Meeting, so many experts will be on hand to answer questions about bioenergy production.

Stops are also planned for September 13, 2014 at Auburn’s Ag Discovery Day and November 19 at the Alabama Joint Leadership Development Conference (JLDC). Details about each event can be found online at at the IBSS website.

The IBSS Partnership has also been involved in research to develop drop-in liquid fuels, such as gasoline, diesel and jet fuel for use as a replacement for grain (corn)-based ethanol. The project produced some 1500 gallons of a “green” diesel fuel from Southeastern-produced pine and poplar biomass and technology provided in part by industrial research partners.

Tim Rials, director of the UT Center for Renewable Carbon and a biochemist, contends that the U.S. should invest in the Southeast for the production of biofuels. “Our region can produce a variety of biomass feedstocks including dedicated crops such as switchgrass and sorghum, along with dedicated woody crops and forest residues,” he said.

The goal of the IBSS partnership is to demonstrate the production of advanced biofuels from sustainable sources of lignocellulosic biomass. Initially, the partnership has focused its efforts on perennial switchgrass and short-rotation woody crops like eucalyptus and poplar. Rials said each dedicated crop has inherent performance and cost advantages for specific conversion technologies. “We are working to match the economic and environmental performance of each feedstock with a preferred conversion platform so that the ultimate product, the particular biobased fuel, will be reliable, available and affordable.”

Grants for Biomass Energy Offered in Nebraska

TREES Heat Nebraska1The home state for Arbor Day, the national holiday honoring trees, is handing out some money to help develop woody biomass into energy. The Nebraska Forest Service is offering two cost-share assistance grants that could cut utility costs for private, for-profit and not-for-profit organizations.

Part of the new TREES Heat Nebraska program, these grants are designed to help establish woody biomass utilization markets, specifically for heating and cooling and for generating electricity…

Organizations that could benefit include municipalities, universities, colleges, schools, hospitals, correctional facilities, livestock and agricultural facilities and horticulture greenhouses.

“The grants will help cover the upfront costs of installing wood-fueled energy systems,” said Adam Smith, NFS forest products utilization team leader. “Historically there has been a lack of capital assistance for the development and installation of these energy systems, often derailing potential projects. Utilizing these grants will allow organizations to more quickly benefit from fuel savings—potentially realizing a 50 percent energy savings per month,” Smith said.

Two different types of grant funding are available:
1) cost-share assistance to public, private, for-profit and not-for-profit agencies or organizations located in Nebraska to purchase and install woody energy systems, including the construction of new systems and the renovation or expansion of existing energy systems;

2) cost-share assistance for contractual services for technical engineering feasibility studies that investigate the potential for wood energy use. NFS encourages facilities to engage with NFS early in the project planning process.

You can find more information at nfs.unl.edu/trees-heat-nebraska.

Kentucky Gets NSF, State Grants for Biomass

nsflogoA total of $24 million in National Science Foundation (NSF) and state grants will fund research efforts on biomass in Kentucky. This story from WKU Public Radio at Western Kentucky University says the five-year, $20 million NSF grant will be in addition to $4 million from Kentucky’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research.

“The focus of this $24 million dollar interdisciplinary multi-institution research effort will be to strengthen Kentucky’s bio-economy and develop new applications for established and emerging industries,” said [University of Kentucky President Eli] Capilouto.

There will be targeted investments at 10 Kentucky research and higher education institutions, including all of the comprehensive universities. Rodney Andrews, director of the UK Center for Applied Energy Research, is principle investigator. Andrews says a carbon material, found in most all energy storage, can be derived from biomass.

“Okay, so we’re looking at can we tailor that biomass so that when it is converted to carbon, it has a better structure than what we have now? Making those more effective, safer. But, we also have that component of how do we do large scale? How do we use this to implement into our grid system?” asked Andrews.

The overall goal of the project is to figure out and engineer bio systems for energy, environmental and industrial applications. In addition, it’s expected to create new opportunities for students in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines.

Bluesphere Plans to Turn Landfill Methane into Power

Blue-Sphere-Corporation-logoIsrael-based Bluesphere Corp. has announced a plan to convert the methane gas coming off U.S. landfills into clean energy. Company officials say it can be done with technology that is already available.

Methane can be converted into energy by drilling pipes into the landfill. Through these pipes methane is directed into a gas turbine or internal combustion engine which converts the gas into electricity. The electricity can either be used on-site or sold to the local electric utility and fed into the grid.

Bluesphere CEO Shlomi Palas commented, “A large number of the landfills in the U.S., particularly in the southeastern region, are not productively using methane gas emitted from landfills. These landfills are the oil fields of the future.”

“We believe we can offer a very favorable partnership to current landfill owners by providing the equipment, expertise, and power purchase agreements to convert what is now an unused asset, methane gas, into a revenue stream. We’ve been in talks with state representatives looking to increase green energy production and reduce methane emissions. They have invited and welcomed our efforts to work with landfill owners in their jurisdictions on methane-to-electricity conversions.”

Bluesphere officials believe this is a win-win-win-win situation, as they’ll generate revenues for landfill owners and Bluesphere, while cleaning up the environment AND generating clean, renewable energy.

Canada Handing Out New Grants for Biomass Research

manitobaResearchers looking to turn biomass into energy will get some help from one of the Canadian provinces. Manitoba has doubled the Biomass Energy Support Program funding to $1 million, with the additional $500,000 of new funding targeted to applied research projects that will support the growth of the biomass industry.

“Manitoba’s green economy creates new opportunities for biofuel manufacturers and additional markets for producers,” said [Agriculture, Food and Rural Development Minister Ron] Kostyshyn. “Research and development is needed to build capacity across the province and address any gaps in our biomass sector. Through this strategic investment, we can support even more Manitoba farms and businesses as they invest in a more sustainable future.”

The new funding will be directed to applied research projects that address gaps or identify opportunities for business and technology development in the biomass sector. The minister noted that priority will be given to projects with short turnaround times that support Manitoba’s coal-reduction strategy and that project results will be shared with producers, processors and other stakeholders.

Eligible biomass fuels include:

– Agricultural residue such as wheat and flax straw, sunflower hulls or compacted biomass-like wheat and oat pellets;
– Forestry residues such as wood chips or salvaged timber; and
– Biomass crops such as switchgrass, willow and poplar.

Researchers wanting some of the available funds need to apply by Sept. 1. More information is available at www.manitoba.ca/agriculture/innovation-and-research/biomass-energy-support-program.html.

Renewable Energy Continues to Gain

Renewable energy continues to gain as for the month of July all new U.S. electrical generating capacity put into service was from renewable sources according to the latest “Energy Infrastructure Update“. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Energy Project’s report fond that there was 379 MW of wind installed, 21 MW of solar and 5 MW of hydropower.

Office of Energy Projects July 2014 Energy Infrastructure UpdateFor the first seven months of 2014, renewable energy has accounted for more than half (53.8%) of the 4,758 MW of new U.S. electrical capacity that has come on line with solar (25.8%) and wind (25.1%) each accounting for more than a quarter of the total. In addition, biomass provided 1.8 percent, geothermal 0.7 percent, and hydropower 0.4 percent. As for the balance, natural gas accounted for 45.9 percent while a small fraction (0.3 percent) came from oil and “other” combined. There has been no new electrical generating capacity from either coal or nuclear thus far in 2014.

Renewable energy sources now account for 16.3 percent of total installed operating generating capacity in the U.S.:

  • Water – 8.57%
  • Wind – 5.26%
  • Biomass – 1.37%
  • Solar – 0.75%
  • Geothermal steam – 0.33%

“This is not the first time in recent years that all new electrical generating capacity for a given month has come from renewable energy sources,” noted Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “And it is likely to become an ever more frequent occurrence in the months and years ahead.”

Leaf-Cutter Ants Could Hold Key for Biomass

leaf-cutter ant1A fungus from leaf-cutter ant gardens could be key in how biomass gets broken down into bioenergy sources. This article from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory says researchers working with colleagues at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center are using metabolomic and metaproteomic techniques to examine the dynamics of nutrient turnover in the gardens of leaf-cutter ants to discover how sugars, key in biofuels production, can be released.

The team found that numerous free amino acids and sugars are depleted throughout the process of biomass degradation, indicating that easily accessible nutrients from plant material are readily consumed by microbes in these ecosystems. Accumulation of cellobiose and lignin derivatives near the end of the degradation process supports the research team’s previous characterization of lignocellulases produced by the fungal cultivar of the ants.

Their results also suggest that derivatives of urea may be an important source of nitrogen in fungus gardens, especially during nitrogen-limiting conditions. No protein-free arginine (“free” arginine) was detected in the team’s metabolomic experiments, despite evidence that the host ants cannot produce this amino acid, which is a key nutrient for the ants. This suggests that biosynthesis of this metabolite may be tightly regulated in fungus gardens. These results provide new insights into microbial community-level processes that underlie this important ant-fungus symbiosis.

The article goes on to point out that the study yields important information on how metabolomics can help us understand how microbes can break down plant material to release the raw materials needed to make biofuels.

Dutch Researchers Develop Catalyst to Get Oil from Biomass

utwenteoilResearchers in The Netherlands have developed a catalyst that helps get more energy from biomass to more closely match more conventional sources of oil-based energy. This article from the University of Twente says the new, simple catalyst improves the quality of this oil before it is even transported to the refinery and was selected as part of the follow-up technology from CATCHBIO, the national research program looking to make sure Europe acheives 20 percent of its fuel from renewable sources by 2020.

The oil in current-generation biofuel does not come from fruit or seed, such as palm or rape seed oil but, for example, from plant residues, pruning waste and wood chips. As a result, there is no longer any undesirable competition with the food supply. Converting plant residues, which take up a lot of space, into oil simplifies transport considerably and the product can go directly to a refinery. Blending with crude oil is already possible. However, the quality of this oil does not yet equal that of crude oil. It has a lower energy content per litre, is acid and still contains too much water. The catalyst developed by Prof. Leon Lefferts and Prof. Kulathuiyer Seshan’s group Catalytic Processes and Materials (MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology/Green Energy Initiative) significantly improves the quality and energy content of the oil.

This is realized by heating the oil in nitrogen to 500 degrees Celsius and by applying a simple catalyst: sodium carbonate on a layer of alumina. By using this method, the energy content of the oil can be boosted from 20 to 33-37 megajoule per kilogram, which is better than crude oil and approximates the quality of diesel. The technology, recently defended by PhD candidate Masoud Zabeti, is already being tested by KIOR in Texas, USA, on a small industrial scale, with a production of 4,500 barrels of oil per day. The quality of the oil can be improved even more by adding the material caesium, as well as sodium carbonate. “By doing so, we can, for instance, also reduce the aromatics, which are harmful when inhaled”, says Prof. Seshan.

The technology is being studied in cooperation with several other European universities and research institutes.

SG Preston Announces Renewable Diesel Project

SG Preston (SGP) has announced the planned development of a 120 million gallon renewable diesel facility in Lawrence County, Ohio. The $400 million bioenergy facility will be the world’s largest producer of renewable diesel when finished in 2017 according to SGP.

SG Preston logoThe company said a key component of the facility’s development is the licensing of their advanced process technology that has been successfully proven at commercial scale at other locations. According to SGP, this advanced technology efficiently converts waste feedstock into renewable diesel – chemically identical to petroleum-based diesel- and can be used as a drop-in replacement in vehicles. In addition, SGP said this technology allows them to customize its biofuel offering by adjusting fuel characteristics to meet various operating environments (extreme cold or heat) of the end user without diluting energy content in the GHG reduced fuel blend.

“For SG Preston, this is an important milestone and part of a larger vision of partnering with leading, global refining technology partners and local communities to develop a portfolio of renewable diesel and renewable jet fuel refineries targeting 1.2 billion gallons per year, or 20% of the federal RFS2 biomass-based mandate for biofuels,” said R. Delbert LeTang, CEO of SG Preston. “We see a blue sky opportunity to deliver customized, renewable fuel to government, the petroleum industry and other private users throughout the United States and we look forward to partnering with the people of southern Ohio to build new industries and new economic opportunity.”

Other partners in the project include the Lawrence County Economic Development Council, which is investing 62 acres in land and other incentives. The Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth and JobsOhio were also instrumental in securing the investment and technology to play a role in the future of southern Ohio.
Pre-engineering studies for the facility are expected to begin in September 2014, with commercial operations targeted for 2017.

Bill Dingus, executive director of Lawrence County Economic Development Council, added, “This project will be of significant economic importance to southern Ohio, bringing long-term employment and income to the region. We look forward to supporting the development of new energy technologies, and passing on the benefits of commerce and cleaner air to local residents.”

UC Riverside Researchers Enhance Biofuel Yields

University of California, Riverside researchers have developed a versatile, virtually non-toxic and efficient way to convert raw ag and forest residues along with other plant matter into biofuels and biochemicals. Professor Charles E. Wyman is leading the research team and their patent-pending method coined Co-solvent Enhanced Lignocellulosic Fractionation (CELF) and they believe they are another step closer to solving the goal of producing biofuels and biochemicals from biomass and high enough yields and low enough costs to become viable.

“Real estate is about location, location, location,” said Wyman, the Ford Motor Company Chair in Environmental Engineering at UC Riverside’s Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT). “Successful commercialization of biofuels technology is about yield, yield, yield, and we obtained great yields with this novel technology.”

Charles Cai UC RiversideThe key to the technology, according to Wyman, is using tetrahydrofuran (THF) as a co-solvent to aid in the breakdown of raw biomass feedstocks to produce valuable primary and secondary fuel precursors at high yields at moderate temperatures. These fuel precursors can then be converted into ethanol, chemicals or drop-in fuels. Drop-in fuels have similar properties to conventional gasoline, jet, and diesel fuels and can be used without significant changes to vehicles or current transportation infrastructure.

Compared to other available biomass solvents, THF is well-suited for this application because it mixes homogenously with water, has a low boiling point (66 degrees Celsius) to allow for easy recovery, and can be regenerated as an end product of the process, explained Charles M. Cai, a Ph.D. student working with Wyman.

The research, focused on lignin, was recently published in Green Chemistry: “Coupling metal halides with a co-solvent to produce furfural and 5-HMF at high yields directly from lignocellulosic biomass as an integrated biofuels strategy.”

Students Present Research at Ethanol Conference

Several University of Minnesota students are giving the ethanol industry a preview of their cutting-edge research in biofuels, biochemicals and bioproducts during the 27th Annual Ethanol Conference in Minneapolis. One such student is Sahana Ramanna who is a PhD student who is working on improving the pre-treatment technologies used for biomass, specifically Aspen.

Sahana RammanaRamanna explained that one of the most difficult and energy intensive parts of converting biomass (aka cellulose) to sugar is in the initial phase. Using 3D imaging, similar to the technology used for brain scans, she and her team are able to test “pre-treatment” strategies and see how it affects the structure of the biomass.

Ultimately, Ramanna said they are looking to increase the amount of biomass that can be converted into biofuels and other biochemicals and products, thus increasing the amount of biofuels. In addition, the processes they are looking at would significantly improve the energy efficiency during this process. Next steps – refining the process for Aspen and then testing it on other forms of biomass.

Listen to Sahana Ramanna discuss her research here: Interview with Sahana Ramanna

Another student I spoke with is just beginning his PhD studies and has spent the last year working on an interesting biofuels project. Joseph Molde works in the BioTechnology Institute and he and his team are working on a process called hydrothernmal carbinization using distillers grains (DDGs), a bi-product of ethanol production.

Joseph Molde U of MWhat is really neat is the process is producing two new possible co-products: liquid carbon and biochar. The liquid carbon can be used as an organic fertilizer on fields, while the biochar can be used in various applications including biomaterials and biochemicals. Molde said that similar research has been taking place in Europe, but not much has been done with biochar here in the states.

Molde also noted that the process improves efficiency throughout the production process – just one more way the ethanol industry is working to improve its technology and environmental footprint – while also adding valuable additional co-products to an ethanol plant’s portfolio. He said they are scaling up the technology now and that he hopes to see it in commercial scale application in the next five to 10 years.

Listen to Joseph Molde discuss his research here: Interview with Joseph Molde

View the 27th Annual Ethanol Conference photo album.

U.S. Biogas Producer Map Unveiled

The 2015 U.S. Biogas Producer Map and list is now available from Biomass Magazine. The online map plots the location and status of all U.S. biogas production from on-farm facilities and waste water treatment plants producing grid-connected bioenergy.

2015 Biomass Map“We’re very excited to take our first step towards bringing our biogas data and map offering to the same level our readers and audience enjoy in the biomass power, pellets, advanced biofuel, ethanol and biodiesel segments,” said Tim Portz, vice president of content and executive editor at BBI International, the publisher of the magazine. “Biogas is an exciting piece of the larger biomass-to-energy space that is experiencing great momentum right now.”

BBI said they are investing substantial resources into the project due to a lack of aggregated data on biogas production available to the public. According to Portz, “The biogas industry is a challenging one to get your arms around from a geospatial and data perspective. Digesters are deployed into so many different industrial and agricultural applications and they are capable of producing heat, power or vehicle fuels. They are unique in that way and drawing a box around which digesters to include was a challenge.”

The team at Biomass Magazine focused on creating a comprehensive and accurate dataset available for anyone looking to find information about biogas producers. “We decided two years ago that for an online map to be of any value, we had to move towards dropping the pin right on top of the facility,” added Portz. “For a long time, our online maps were like most of the others that are available. The pin was dropped on a zip code or a street address of an administrative office. We went through the effort to identify the exact latitudes and longitudes of each facility in the industries we cover and the difference is immediately apparent.”

The biogas producer map currently highlights on-farm digesters and wastewater treatment plants that deliver electricity to the grid. Over the course of the next several months Biomass Magazine will be adding community digesters and digesters that deliver a thermal load to industrial facilities such as breweries.

USDA Selects 36 Energy Facilities for Biomass Deliveries

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has selected 36 energy facilities in 14 states to accept biomass deliveries as part of the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP). Biomass owners who supply these bioenergy facilities may qualify for BCAP delivery assistance beginning July 28, 2014. BCAP was reauthorized in the 2014 Farm Bill.

bcap_logo_368Of the total $25 million per year authorized for BCAP, up to 50 percent ($12.5 million) is available each year to assist biomass owners with the cost of delivery of agricultural or forest residues for energy generation. Some BCAP payments will target the removal of dead or diseased trees from National Forests and Bureau of Land Management public lands for renewable energy, which reduces the risk of forest fire.

“This program generates clean energy from biomass, reduces the threat of fires by removing dead or diseased trees from public forest lands, and invests in rural businesses and new energy markets,” said Tom Vilsack, USDA ag secretary. “The fires we are seeing right now in the west underscore the need for forest restoration and fire prevention. Pairing this effort with forest restoration on public lands will help guard against these fires while promoting economic opportunity for rural communities.”

Farmers, ranchers or foresters who harvest and deliver forest or agricultural residues to a BCAP-qualified energy facility may be eligible for financial assistance for deliveries. The USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA), which administers BCAP, will begin accepting applications from biomass owners from July 28 through Aug. 25. Deliveries of residues for approved contracts may be made through Sept. 26, 2014.

Crop Residues, Manure Hold Great Potential for Bioenergy

Crop residues and manure hold great potential as bioenergy sources, especially in areas such as the Midwest where row crops and livestock provide all the ingredients. This report from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) says those resources will need some help, though, from the right policies, practices, and investments.
UCSreport
UCS analysis finds that by 2030, U.S. farmers could sustainably produce up to 155 million tons of crop residues, many times the current level of production. U.S. livestock could produce another 60 million tons of manure, to be turned into clean-burning biogas.

The right policies, practices, and investments will help these clean energy sources realize their potential—with huge benefits for farmers, communities, and the environment…

Fuel and electricity made from agricultural biomass is potentially clean too. With the right practices, ethanol made from crop residues can produce 90 percent fewer lifecycle emissions, compared to gasoline.

Many states could significantly scale up their use of crop residues and manure. The largest include Iowa, a leading producer of corn ethanol, and Arkansas, the nation’s top rice producer.

Texas and California offer a lot of potential as well because of those states’ large agricultural outputs.

Renewable Energy Provides 56% of Electrical Generation

According to the latest “Energy Infrastructure Update” report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Energy Projects, solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, and hydropower provided 55.7% (1,965 MW of the 3,529 MW total installed) of new installed U.S. electrical generating capacity during the first half of 2014.

  • Solar provided 32.1% (1,131 MW)
  • Wind provided 19.8% (699 MW)
  • Biomass provided 2.5% (87 MW)
  • Geothermal provided 0.9% (32 MW)
  • Hydropower provided 0.5% (16 MW)
  • Most of the balance (1,555 MW – 44.1%) of the new generating capacity was provided by natural gas while no new coal or nuclear power capacity was reported

solar installationAccording to the SUN DAY Campaign, the dominant role being played by renewables in providing new electrical generating capacity in 2014 is continuing a trend now several years in the making. Over the past 30 months (i.e., since January 1, 2012), renewable energy sources have accounted for almost half (48.0%) or 22,774 MW of the 47,446 MW of new electrical generating capacity.

If calendar year 2011 is also factored in, then renewables have accounted for approximately 45% of all new electrical generating capacity over the past 3 1/2 years. In fact, since January 1, 2011 renewables have provided more new electrical generating capacity than natural gas (31,345 MW vs. 29,176 MW) and nearly four times that from coal (8,235 MW)

Renewable energy sources now account for 16.28% of total installed U.S. operating generating capacity: water – 8.57%, wind – 5.26%, biomass – 1.37%, solar – 0.75%, and geothermal steam – 0.33%. This is up from 14.76% two years earlier (i.e., June 30, 2012) and is now more than nuclear (9.24%) and oil (4.03%) combined.

“A new report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) is projecting that renewable energy sources will account for only 24% of new capacity additions between now and 2040,” Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign, noted. “However, the latest FERC data coupled with that published during the past several years indicate that EIA’s numbers are once again low-balling the likely share – and probably dominant share – of renewables in the nation’s future energy mix.”