A California company has received a $4.9 million grant to build one of the first forest-sourced biomass gasification plants. Phoenix Energy‘s joint venture, North Fork Community Power’s project, received the money from the California Energy Commission to build the plant, as well as funding research into the emerging field of forest biomass use.
The plant will utilize local forest biomass sustainably sourced from restoration and fuel reduction activities on local forest lands, including the Sierra National Forest. The biomass will be used to make electricity, heat and biochar – a solid carbon byproduct that is used as a soil conditioner and filter media. The project will also be one of the first projects to use forest-based fuel under California’s new SB 1122 bioenergy law.
“This project is a fantastic community story and an example of what can be accomplished with a robust a public/private partnership,” said Phoenix Energy CEO, Gregory Stangl. “In the North Fork community, a sawmill was the main employer for years, and local jobs evaporated when it closed down in the 1990’s. This facility will not only make an impact on reducing fire danger and stopping wasteful ‘pile and burn’ disposal of excess forest material, but will bring back permanent jobs to a town where the forest economy used to provide them. California is littered with communities up and down the Sierra foothills with a similar story,” continued Stangl.
The plant will be built in phases with an initial 1 MW financed mainly by the California Energy Commission grant and private and community investors.
A clean-tech company in Canada is looking to build a $13-million commercial plant to turn biomass into pellets. This article from Halifax’s Chronicle Herald says Sustane Technologies Inc. will make the biomass pellets from landfill waste.
The demonstration plant, which would be at Chester’s Kaizer Meadow landfill, is slated to be operational in mid-2016.
Warden Allen Webber said Tuesday that Sustane CEO Peter Vinall approached the municipality about six months ago about helping to commercialize the technology.
“At that point in time, he was really looking to attract our waste to a facility he intended to build in another municipal unit,” Webber said in an interview.
“We met with him on several occasions and convinced him that the most appropriate location would be Chester because we owned a landfill and did control 30,000 tonnes of waste, both of which he needed.”
The plant would take about 40 percent of the waste in the landfill and convert it into the fuel pellets, and the technology is hoped to save municipalities 20 percent in the landfill and disposal costs.
Researchers at the University of Houston have discovered a polymer made from biomass that could end up being a key ingredient in a new organic material battery. This article from the school says the discovery promises a low-cost, environmentally friendly energy source.
The discovery relies upon a “conjugated redox polymer” design with a naphthalene-bithiophene polymer, which has traditionally been used for applications including transistors and solar cells. With the use of lithium ions as dopant, researchers found it offered significant electronic conductivity and remained stable and reversible through thousands of cycles of charging and discharging energy.
The breakthrough, described in the Journal of the American Chemical Society and featured as ACS Editors’ Choice for open access, addresses a decades-long challenge for electron-transport conducting polymers, said Yan Yao, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the UH Cullen College of Engineering and lead author of the paper.
Researchers have long recognized the promise of functional organic polymers, but until now have not been successful in developing an efficient electron-transport conducting polymer to pair with the established hole-transporting polymers. The lithium-doped naphthalene-bithiophene polymer proved both to exhibit significant electronic conductivity and to be stable through 3,000 cycles of charging and discharging energy, Yao said.
The researchers say the discovery opens the door for cheaper alternatives to traditional inorganic-based energy devices, including lithium batteries, and could make for cheaper electric cars one day.
A California firm has bought a biomass plant in Connecticut. This article from the Sacramento Business Journal says Greenleaf Power has agreed to buy the 37.5-megawatt Plainfield Renewable Energy plant.
Greenleaf did not disclose a value for the transaction, which is expected to close later this year. But the Washington Post reported the sale price was $30 million in cash and $80 million in secured notes. The seller was Leidos Holdings Inc. of Reston, Va.
Plainfield becomes Greenleaf’s sixth plant, along with facilities in Mecca, Tracy, Humboldt County, Susanville and Quebec City. The acquisition brings Greenleaf’s total renewable energy capacity to more than 180 megawatts.
The plant in Connecticut opened at the end of 2013 and burns waste wood. The plan is to sell the electricity to Connecticut Light and Power under a long-term agreement.
A proposed biomass plant in Oregon is getting closer to getting off the ground, if it can just find a buyer for the energy it produces. This article from The Columbian says the city of La Pine could get a wood-burning power plant.
“It’s just been on hold due to market conditions,” said Rob Broberg, president of Biogreen Sustainable Energy Co. “And we plan on holding out until we are able to market and sell power.”
The company must find an energy buyer to make the planned plant economically viable, said Rick Allen, La Pine city manager.
“They need to find a power company that wants to buy their power,” he said. “That’s really the issue.”
The $75 million, 25-megawatt biomass plant would produce enough electricity to power about 19,000 homes, Broberg said. The plant would burn wood — limbs and other scrap left over after logging, debris from thinning projects and urban waste — to heat water, create steam and turn a turbine.
Biogreen has been trying to build a biomass plant in the forest-surrounded city of La Pine for more than five years.
The University of Iowa has selected REPREVE RENEWABLES to provide agricultural and business development services for their Biomass Fuel Project. The goal of the project it to assess and improve environmental aspects of new and existing biomass crops and subsequent fuels. In addition, REPREVE RENEWABLES’ perennial grass, giant miscanthus, will be used to power the U of I’s power plant, whose has a goal of using 40 percent renewable energy by 2020.
REPREVE RENEWABLES will employ its Accu Yield System – a proprietary, precision agricultural system, to plant and establish giant miscanthus. According to the company, use of the Accu Yield System reduces the cost of establishment and increases yields, two factors that will make this project economically feasible.
REPREVE RENEWABLES will move forward by securing land commitments for 2,500 acres in the Iowa City area, including the Eastern Iowa Airport where giant miscanthus will be grown to improve soil and water quality by reducing soil erosion.
“The University of Iowa is a leader in sustainability, just as REPREVE RENEWABLES is a trailblazer in biomass production and logistics,” said Jeff Wheeler, CEO of REPREVE RENEWABLES. “The Biomass Fuel Project provides the opportunity to achieve breakthrough renewable energy solutions. Working as a team with the local community, we can create new revenue sources for farmers and landowners, improve the soil, mitigate erosion and runoff, and increase the use of renewable energy to reduce the carbon footprint. We are honored to be a part of the University’s 2020 Vision.”
University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers
Photo: UW-Madison Chemistry Department
have come up with a new approach to combine solar energy conversion and biomass conversion.
In a study published this week in Nature Chemistry, University of Wisconsin-Madison chemistry Professor Kyoung-Shin Choi and postdoctoral researcher Hyun Gil Cha discussed their research to split water into hydrogen, a clean fuel, and oxygen using photoelectrochemical solar cells (PECs).
They developed a novel PEC setup with a new anode reaction. This anode reaction requires less energy and is faster than water oxidation while producing an industrially important chemical product. The anode reaction they employed in their study is the oxidation of 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) to 2,5-furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA). HMF is a key intermediate in biomass conversion that can be derived from cellulose — a type of cheap and abundant plant matter. FDCA is an important molecule for the production of polymers.
“When we first started this study, we were not sure whether our approach could be really feasible,” Choi says. “However, since we knew that the impact of the study could be high when successful, we decided to invest our time and effort on this new research project at the interface of biomass conversion and solar energy conversion.”
Read more from UMW.
The largest biomass plant in the United Kingdom has opened in Scotland and promises to help the UK meet a goal of 11 percent of non-electrical heat demand by renewable sources by 2020. This story from the BBC says the RWE Markinch Biomass plant in Glenrothes replaces the former 1950s coal and gas-fired power station on the site of Tullis Russell.
It represents a reduction in fossil fuel-related carbon dioxide emissions by around 250,000 tonnes per annum,
The new facility is already providing all of Tullis Russell’s electricity and steam requirements, with excess electricity generation being fed into local networks.
Paul Coffey, chief operating officer at RWE Innogy, said: “RWE has taken biomass combined heat and power technology in the UK to the next level.
“The Markinch plant is providing Tullis Russell with a state-of-the art low carbon power source, and exporting enough energy into the local network to power around 45,000 homes.
“With a multi-million pound investment and over 2.6 million man hours spent constructing the plant we’re delighted it is fully operational and has surpassed efficiency targets for energy production and emissions.”
The project was started in 2009 with construction completed in 2014.
Europe-based Global Bioenergies says it has made the first isobutene production from waste biomass. This company news release says it used its proven method of using first generation feedstock, such as wheat-derived glucose, and adapted it use non-edible resources, such as wheat straw, corn stover, sugar cane bagasse or even wood chips.
Various companies are presently debottlenecking the conversion of second generation materials into fermentable sugars. These technologies have now matured to commercial scale, with five plants having started operations in the last 24 months. This industry ultimately has the potential to provide fermentation processes with low-cost sugars derived from abundant resources.
Global Bioenergies has recently established collaborations with nine companies from three continents developing the most promising technologies to convert various resources (straw, bagasse, wood.) into fermentable sugars. Preliminary tests have resulted in successful second generation isobutene production at the laboratory scale, with process performances similar to the ones observed using wheat-derived glucose.
Frederic Paques, Chief Operating Officer at Global Bioenergies comments: “We have now demonstrated experimentally that our isobutene production process is compatible with a range of second generation resources. Using impurity-containing sugar solutions is usually difficult in classical fermentation processes that lead to liquid compounds, because the accumulation of such impurities in the culture broth makes purifying the product more complex. Our process, which is based on the production of a gaseous product, alleviates these issues and will allow us to use the
cheapest types of feedstock.”
Company officials add that they want to apply this method to the manufacturing of transportation fuels such as gasoline and jet fuel.
Up to $8.7 million in federal funding is being made available for next-generation bioenergy development in biomass. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is funding the bioenergy research and education efforts and will be publishing the final rule for a program that provides incentives for farmers and forest landowners interested in growing and harvesting biomass for renewable energy.
“USDA’s support for innovative bioenergy research and education supports rural economic development, reduces carbon pollution and helps decrease our dependence on foreign energy,” said [Agriculture Secretary Tom] Vilsack. “These investments will keep America moving toward a clean energy economy and offer new jobs and opportunities in rural communities.”
USDA will publish the final rule on the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) in tomorrow’s Federal Register. BCAP provides up to $25 million each year in financial assistance to owners and operators of agricultural and non-industrial private forest land who wish to establish, produce, and deliver biomass feedstocks to a qualifying energy facility. The rule includes modifications to cost sharing, eligible types of biomass and other definitions. Stakeholders are encouraged to visit www.regulations.gov to review program details and provide comments during a 60-day public comment period. Comments are due by April 28, 2015. The full program will resume in 90 days on May 28, 2015. Additional information on application dates will be announced this spring. For more information on the program, visit the web at www.fsa.usda.gov/bcap.
USDA is also looking for applications for research and education grants through the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI), a joint program through NIFA and the U.S. Energy Department (DOE) to develop economically and environmentally sustainable sources of renewable biomass, increase the availability of renewable fuels and biobased products to help replace the need for gasoline and diesel in vehicles, and diversify our energy portfolio.
Procter & Gamble (P&G) has announced a deal with retail power supplier Constellation to build a 50-megawatt biomass plant that will help run one of P&G’s largest U.S. facilities, as well as provide electricity for the local utility. This company news release says the facility will be built near P&G’s Albany, Georgia paper manufacturing facility and help the company come closer to its 2020 goal of obtaining 30 percent of its total energy from renewable sources.
For more than 30 years, the Albany facility has successfully used a smaller onsite biomass boiler to convert wood scraps into renewable steam, providing about 30 percent of the total energy. The new facility will replace P&G’s aging boiler with a highly efficient combined heat and power biomass unit. Incoming biomass will provide 100 percent of the steam, and up to 60-70 percent of the total energy used to manufacture Bounty paper towels and Charmin toilet tissue.
“At P&G, we are committed to improving the environmental sustainability of our products across all aspects of their life cycle – from manufacturing, packaging, delivery and consumer use,” said Martin Riant, P&G Executive Sponsor of Sustainability and Group President, Global Baby and Feminine & Family Care. “As this project enables us to operate one of our largest global plants with a renewable energy source, it will reduce the environmental footprint of two leading brands, Bounty and Charmin. We see this as a win for our business, consumers, partners and the environment.”
Construction is already underway at the site and is expected to begin commercial operation in June 2017.
A new study says that using biomass to make electricity could make the Western United States carbon-neutral. This article from the University of California-Berkley says researchers there have shown that if biomass electricity production is combined with carbon capture and sequestration, power generators could actually store more carbon than they emit.
By capturing carbon from burning biomass – termed bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration (BECCS) – power generators could become carbon-negative even while retaining gas- or coal-burning plants with carbon capture technology. The carbon reduction might even offset the emissions from fossil fuel used in transportation, said study leader Daniel Sanchez, a graduate student in UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group.
“There are a lot of commercial uncertainties about carbon capture and sequestration technologies,” Sanchez admitted. “Nevertheless, we’re taking this technology and showing that in the Western United States 35 years from now, BECCS doesn’t merely let you reduce emissions by 80 percent – the current 2050 goal in California – but gets the power system to negative carbon emissions: you store more carbon than you create.”
BECCS may be one of the few cost-effective carbon-negative opportunities available to mitigate the worst effects of anthropogenic climate change, said energy expert Daniel Kammen, who directed the research. This strategy will be particularly important should climate change be worse than anticipated, or emissions reductions in other portions of the economy prove particularly difficult to achieve.
“Biomass, if managed sustainably can provide the ‘sink’ for carbon that, if utilized in concert with low-carbon generation technologies, can enable us to reduce carbon in the atmosphere,” said Kammen, a Professor of Energy in UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group and director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) in which the work was conducted.
The findings are published in the online journal Nature Climate Change.
According to the latest “Energy Infrastructure Update” report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) Office of Energy Projects, new renewable energy sources generated more capacity than natural gas in 2014. Sources including biomass, geothermal, hydroelectric, solar and wind provided 49.81 percent (7,663 MW) of new electrical generation brought into service. Natural gas accounted for 48.65 percent (7,485 MW). By comparison, in 2013, natural gas accounted for 46.44% (7,378 MW) of new electrical generating capacity while renewables accounted for 43.03% (6,837 MW).
New wind energy facilities accounted for 26.52 percent of added capacity (4,080 MW) in 2014 while solar power provided 20.40 percent (3,139 MW). Other renewables – biomass (254 MW), hydropower (158 MW) and geothermal (32 MW) – accounted for an additional 2.89 percent.
For the year, just a single coal facility (106 MW) came online; nuclear power expanded by a mere 71MW due to a plant upgrade; and only 15 small “units” of oil, totaling 47 MW, were added.
Renewable energy sources now account for 16.63 percent of total installed operating generating capacity in the U.S.:
- water – 8.42%
- wind – 5.54%
- biomass – 1.38%
- solar – 0.96%
- geothermal steam – 0.33%
Renewable energy capacity is now greater than that of nuclear (9.14%) and oil (3.94%) combined.
“Can there any longer be doubt about the emerging trends in new U.S. electrical capacity?” noted Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “Coal, oil, and nuclear have become historical relics and it is now a race between renewable sources and natural gas with renewables taking the lead.”
The Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA) along with the Trade Chamber (CCEE) have created the Seal Green Energy certificate that confirms that company’s are using at least 20 percent of electricity produced from renewable sources.
Green Seal Energy certification works with the Bioelectricity Certification Program that will allow the exchange of information between UNICA and CEEE is confirmation that the electricity produced from a sugarcane production facility is generated from sugarcane biomass. The certification will also show that a company meets the criteria set out in the Sugar and Alcohol Industry Paulista Environmental Protocol, signed by the government of St. Paul and the sugarcane industry in 2007.
The President of the Board of Directors of CCEE, Luiz Eduardo Barata Ferreira, said of the new program, “The verification by the CCEE, that the criteria for plants and consumers will allow the Seal Green Energy become a differential that will add value for both the generator and buyer of energy produced from biomass of cane sugar.”
In 2014, 20.815 million gigawatts/hour (GWh) of electricity from biomass was produced, 20 percent higher than achieved in 2013. This amount would be able to supply 11 million households. UNICA also cites that if there was no electricity derived from sugarcane biomass, CO2 levels would be 24 percent higher.
Elizabeth Farina, president of UNICA added, “With the full energy use of sugarcane biomass, the technical potential of this source could reach 20,000 MW by 2023, which corresponds to the energy produced by two plants Itaipu. And certainly, this certification program will help to take advantage of increasing their potential.”
Plant geneticists including Sam Hazen at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Siobhan Brady at the University of California, Davis, now have a handle on the gene regulatory networks that control cell wall thickening by the synthesis of the three polymers, cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. This breakthrough could have a positive impact on developing more efficient production technologies to convert cellulose to biofuels and biochemicals.
The authors say that the most rigid of the polymers, lignin, represents “a major impediment” to extracting sugars from plant biomass that can be used to make biofuels. Their genetic advance is expected to “serve as a foundation for understanding the regulation of a complex, integral plant component” and as a map for how future researchers might manipulate the polymer-forming processes to improve the efficiency of biofuel production.
According to the researchers, the three key components, found in plant tissues known as xylem, provide plants with mechanical strength and waterproof cells that transport water. Working in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, Hazen, Brady and colleagues explored how a large number of interconnected transcription factors regulate xylem and cell wall thickening. Results appeared in a recent issue of Nature.
The researchers write in the paper that “understanding how the relative proportions of these biopolymers are controlled in plant tissue would open up opportunities to redesign plants for biofuel use.” Hazen, Brady and colleagues’ study identified hundreds of new regulators and offers “considerable insight,” the authors say, “into the developmental regulation of xylem cell differentiation.”
Specifically, using a systems approach to identify protein-DNA interactions, they screened more than 460 transcription factors expressed in root xylem to explore their ability to bind the promoters of about 50 genes known to be involved in processes that produce cell-wall components. Hazen says, “This revealed a highly interconnected network of more than 240 genes and more than 600 protein-DNA interactions that we had not known about before.”