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.”

USDA Promotes Rural Wood-to-Energy Projects

usda-logoRural energy projects from wood on the land where it’s grown are getting a boost. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded more than $2.5 million in grants to develop wood energy teams in 11 states and an additional $1.25 million for nine wood energy projects.

“Renewable wood energy is part of the Obama Administration’s ‘all of the above’ energy strategy,” [Agriculture Secretary Tom] Vilsack said. “Working with our partners, the Forest Service is supporting development of wood energy projects that promote sound forest management, expand regional economies and create new rural jobs.”

The federal funds will leverage more than $4.5 million in investments from USDA partners. Under the terms of the agreements announced today, private, state and federal organizations will work together to stimulate the development of additional wood energy projects in their states. Activities may include workshops that provide technical, financial and environmental information, preliminary engineering assessments and community outreach needed to support development of wood energy projects.

Grant recipients are from: Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

In addition, USDA announced money to use woody material from the National Forest System lands, such as beetle-killed trees, to improve forest health and aid in wildfire prevention. More information is available on the Statewide Wood Energy Teams (SWET) and Wood to Energy Grant Recipients website.

DOE & USDA Announce Bioenergy Projects

Ten projects will receive funding aimed at accelerating genetic breeding programs to improve plant feedstocks for biofuel production as well as biopower and bio-based power. The U.S Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded $12.6 million in research grants designed for harnessing nonfood plant biomass to replace US DOE Energy logofossil fuels and chemicals. The agencies note that feedstock crops tend to require less intensive production practices and can grow on poorer quality land than food crops, making this a critical element in a strategy of sustainable biofuels production that avoids competition with crops grown for food.

“Biofuels and bio-based products offer the potential of homegrown American resources that can reduce our dependence on imported oil and also cut carbon emissions,” said Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz. “This advanced research is helping us to lay the groundwork for biomass as an important part of the low-carbon future.”

The winning projects are located in California, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Texas, and Virginia. DOE’s Office of Science will provide $10.6 million in funding for eight projects, while USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) will award $2 million to fund two projects. Initial funding will support research projects for up to three years.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack added, “Innovative research is a critical link to stimulating rural economies and creating jobs across America. These awards are part of the Obama Administration’s “all of the above” energy policy. These projects will not only support our efforts to provide a sustainable and domestic energy source for the nation, but also improve the lives of rural residents.”

New projects to be funded this year will build upon gains in genetic and genomic resources for bioenergy and biofuels. The projects will accelerate the breeding of optimized dedicated bioenergy feedstocks through a better understanding of complex interactions between bioenergy feedstock plants and their environment, allowing the development of new regionally-adapted bioenergy feedstock cultivars with maximal biomass or seed oil yield and traits leading to more sustainable production systems, such as minimal water usage and nutrient input requirements.

Renewables Make Up Nearly 90% of New Power in May

FERCA new report shows that renewable energy sources made up nearly 90 percent of all new electrical generating capacity in the U.S. in May and more than half the new capacity this year so far. A news release from the SUN DAY Campaign, a non-profit research and educational organization that promotes sustainable energy technologies as cost-effective alternatives to nuclear power and fossil fuels, says that a new “Energy Infrastructure Update” report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Energy Projects shows that wind, solar, biomass, and hydropower provided 88.2 percent of new installed U.S. electrical generating capacity for the month of May, and for the first five months of 2014, renewable energy sources accounted for 54.1 percent of the 3,136 MW of new domestic electrical generating installed.

Since January 1, 2012, renewable energy sources have accounted for nearly half (47.83%) of all new installed U.S. electrical generating capacity followed by natural gas (38.34%) and coal (13.40%) with oil, waste heat, and “other” accounting for the balance.

Renewable energy sources, including hydropower, 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 more than nuclear (9.24%) and oil (4.03%) combined. *

“Some are questioning whether it’s possible to satisfy the U.S. EPA’s new CO2 reduction goals with renewable energy sources and improved energy efficiency,” noted Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign.”The latest FERC data and the explosion of new renewable energy generating capacity during the past several years unequivocally confirm that it can be done.”

You can read the full report here.

Genera Partners with Tennessee on Biomass Project

genera1An innovator on biomass feedstock supplies has teamed up with the University of Tennessee (UT) on a program to develop regional systems for the sustainable production of bioenergy. This Genera Energy news release says part of the company’s partnership on the Integrated Biomass Supply Systems (IBSS) with UT’s Center for Renewable Carbon program includes bringing on two summer interns from Auburn University: Alexus Brown, from Birmingham, Alabama, a senior majoring in ecological engineering, and Mary Catherine Rubisch, from Weaverville, North Carolina, a senior majoring in biosystems engineering.

The internship program is part of the Southeastern Partnership for Integrated Biomass Supply Systems (IBSS), which also includes North Carolina State University, the University of Georgia, ArborGen, Inc., and Ceres, Inc. IBSS is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which focuses on developing regional systems for the sustainable production of bioenergy and biobased products. The goal of the IBSS Partnership is to demonstrate the production of advanced biofuels from sustainable sources of lignocellulosic biomass. The program focuses on perennial switchgrass, and short-rotation woody crops such as eucalyptus and pine.

“We are thrilled to welcome Alexus and Mary Catherine to Genera Energy this summer as part of the IBSS Partnership,” said Kelly Tiller, president and CEO of Genera Energy. “They have both come to East Tennessee eager to learn about innovative biomass feedstock supply chain solutions. The IBSS program is a key resource in training the next generation of biomass industry leaders in the Southeast.”

IBSS partners aim to find cost-efficient, effective ways to fulfill the supply and demand for biofuels, while minimizing and managing risk, and providing satisfactory return on investment for farmers, to meet the USDA’s goal of producing 22 billion gallons of biofuel, annually, by 2022.

Biodiesel, Woody Biomass Get Massachusetts Grants

massstateseal1Some biodiesel plants and woody biomass operations are some of the benefactors of $3.5 million in grants handed out by Massachusetts’ Department of Energy Resources. This news release says the money comes from Alternative Compliance Payment (ACP) funds, money paid by electricity suppliers that do not meet their statutory Renewable Portfolio Standard obligation to purchase a sufficient percentage of renewable energy.

“By developing the infrastructure needed to support the adoption of renewable heating and cooling technologies, we will increase consumer options to reduce both the use of fossil fuels and the amount of money spent by Massachusetts homeowners and businesses to heat and cool their buildings,” [said DOER Commissioner Mark Sylvia.]

These are the first grants from the new Massachusetts Renewable Thermal Business Investment Financing Program, which is designed to provide financial support for businesses seeking to establish or expand distribution, manufacturing or marketing of renewable thermal technologies or supply chain infrastructure. A variety of technologies are eligible including woody biomass, grass pellets, advanced biofuels, biogas, solar thermal, and inverter driven air and ground source heat pumps.

Northeast Biodiesel and Cape Cod Biofuels picked up $540,000 and $280,000, respectively, while wood pellet companies Rocky Mountain Wood and Maine Energy Systems each got about $1 million each.