USDA Looks to the Forests for Renewable Energy

usda-logoHarvesting biomass from forests is not only helping those forests’ health, it’s helping the country achieve energy independence. This news release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture says the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) has removed 200,000 tons of biomass that could have been a fire risk and was turned into biofuels.

“This initiative helps to retrieve forest residues that are a fire risk, but otherwise are costly to remove,” said [Agriculture Secretary Tom] Vilsack. “In just three months, working with private partners across the country, the program helped to reduced fire, disease and insect threats while providing more biomass feedstock for advanced energy facilities.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm Service Agency administered the program earlier this year. Eligible farmers, ranchers or foresters participating in BCAP received a payment to partially offset the cost of harvesting and delivering forest or agricultural residues to a qualified energy facility. Up to $12.5 million is available each year for biomass removal.

This past summer, 19 energy facilities in 10 states participated in the program.

Genera Gets Financial Boost for Biomass Operations

genera1Biomass supply company Genera Energy is getting some financial help to expand its biomass operations. This company news release says WindSail Capital Group is investing in the company, giving Genera the resources to scale up its energy crop production and supply chain operations, further expand the portfolio of biomass feedstocks and geographies it covers, and expand the working capital of the company as a whole.

“We look forward to working with the WindSail Capital team, and we appreciate their recognition of the complexity and value of the upstream supply of biomass for a variety of fast growing bio-based markets,” said Kelly Tiller, Ph.D., CEO and president of Genera Energy Inc.

“We see Genera Energy as building the key supply chain infrastructure to help accelerate the bioenergy industry,” said Michael Rand, co-founder of WindSail Capital Group. “As a services business with a market leading position and strong growth prospects, Genera is a terrific fit for our type of capital.”

Genera officials say the investment is not just a significant achievement for Genera, but an important milestone for the bio-based economy as a whole.

CT Biomass Pellet Maker Looks for Expansion Space

frogcityfuelA Connecticut-based biomass pellet maker is looking for room to grow. Engineered Carbon Solutions (ECS), the maker of Frog City Fuel, says it is still gaining commitments towards a mid-size manufacturing facility located in the southeast part of the state.

[T]hree entities have stepped forward and offered in excess of $1M in property, grant / loans and property tax abatement. We are in discussions with a confidential private company regarding a well-maintained facility in SE CT. This building facility would make an ideal location for our proposed manufacturing facility and if completed, would cement their position as an equity partner. The host town has, in turn, offered a tax abatement program which further reduces projected operating costs. Lastly, CT state officials have begun a process of committing as much as $400 thousand in grant / loans and are very excited about the prospect of a new manufacturing startup in state.

Frog City Fuel is made from local, waste stream post-consumer materials.

Pacific Ag CEO to Speak at BIO Pacific Rim Summit

pacific-agThe CEO and founder of the nation’s largest agricultural residue and forage harvesting business will be discussing biofuel feedstocks on a panel at the BIO Pacific Rim Summit in San Diego this week.

Bill Levy of Oregon-based Pacific Ag will take part in the panel which will explore the realities faced by feedstock producers in today’s marketplace. Panelists will delve into issues in production and logistics, feedstock availability, ability to scale, competing applications for feedstock use, and new markets.

“There are many concerns surrounding the economic feasibility of harvesting biomass for food and fuel. The biggest hurdle of biomass conversion is price and volume predictability,” said Levy of his panel remarks. “What Pacific Ag offers is a sustainable supply at a consistent price necessary for industrial uses of biomass.”

Pacific Ag is leading the biomass harvesting revolution and has been expertly handling biomass logistics for more than 16 years – longer than any other U.S. company. Today, Pacific Ag is the exclusive biomass harvesting and logistics company for Abengoa’s cellulosic ethanol plant located in Hugoton, Kansas and is also working with DuPont’s cellulosic ethanol facility expected to go online in early 2015.

The “Feedstocks: A Global Comparison” panel is taking place Tuesday, December 9, at 8:00 am PT during the BIO Pacific Rim Summit.

Georgia Biomass Plant to be Built

albanyboilerThe approval of a nearly quarter billion dollar biomass energy is closer to fruition. This article from the Albany (GA) Herald says the Albany-Dougherty Payroll Development Authority approved a $250 million bond issuance for the project to be built next to the local Procter & Gamble campus.

“It does appear (P&G, in conjunction with Albany Green Energy, which will manage the plant) is going through with this project,” PDA attorney Jay Reynolds said. “They’ve asked that we approve this bond resolution so that the tax abatements you previously approved will be in place by the first of the year.

“This is the culmination of something this board has been working on for a long time.”

The biomass plant will create steam energy that will be used to power P&G-Albany facilities, allowing the world’s largest home products manufacturer to realize global green initiatives it has established for its plants. Another vital cog in the construction and management of the plant is a plan that will allow Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany to utilize the plant for energy as well.

Not only will the plant provide power for the P&G facilities, it will allow the U.S. Marine Corps base at Albany to be the first Department of Defense installation in the country to realize net-zero energy consumption.

Oregon Aims to Cut Biomass Tax Incentives

OregonFlagBiomass producers in Oregon could lose out on some production tax credits, if the state gets its way. This story from Oregon Public Broadcasting says the state’s Department of Energy proposed a change that reduces tax incentives for biomass facilities.

Matt Krumenauer, a senior policy analyst with the agency, said the tax program was intended to offset the costs of producing, collecting and transporting biomass.

“We’ve analyzed the program and found that those costs for animal manure are much less than similar production or collection costs for other types of biomass,” he said.

Krumenauer said the tax credit provides incentives that are sometimes 10-times higher for animal manure than for other types of biomass, such as wood.

The losses could total up to nearly $5 million a year, based on current credits being handed out. The change would have to be made by the state legislature and signed off by the governor.

U.S. Census Bureau Releases Renewable Energy Stats

For the first time the U.S. Census Bureau is now publishing economic census statistics for wind, geothermal, biomass and solar electric power generation. Between 2007 and 2012 revenues rose 49 percent from $6.6 billion to $9.8 billion. The electric power generation industry saw an overall decline of 1.2 percent in revenues from $121.0 billion to $119.5 billion between 2007 and 2012. The overall decline was driven by the fossil fuel electric power generation industry, which saw revenues decrease from $85.4 billion to $79.7 billion, or 6.7 percent, during the same five-year period.

Renewable Energy RevenueIn the 2007 Economic Census, wind, geothermal, biomass, and solar electric power generation were included in the broad “other electric power generation” industry but were not given separate designations. Beginning in the 2012 Economic Census, these industries had been broken out with the “other electric power generation” industry limited to only tidal electric power generation and other electric power generation facilities not elsewhere classified. Among the newly delineated industries (wind, geothermal, biomass, solar and other electric power generation), the number of establishments more than doubled in five years, from 312 in 2007 to 697 in 2012.

“As industries evolve, so does the Census Bureau to continue to collect relevant data that informs America’s business decisions,” said Census Bureau Director John H. Thompson. “Industries that use renewable energy resources are still relatively small, but they are rapidly growing.”

Specifically revenues for the wind electric power generation industry totaled $5.0 billion in 2012, the highest revenues among the industries using renewable energy resources. Hydroelectric power generation followed with revenues of $2.4 billion. Geothermal electric power generation had revenues of just under $1 billion ($995.4 million), followed by biomass electric power generation, with $934.6 million in revenues, solar electric power generation, with $472.4 million, and other electric power generation, with $59.0 million.

Together, these industries were a relatively small portion of the electric power generation industry, collectively accounting for just 8.2 percent ($9.8 billion) of total industry revenues in 2012. Fossil fuel and nuclear electric power generation are still the major revenue sources of the electric power generation industry, comprising 66.7 percent ($79.7 billion) and 25.1 percent ($29.9 billion), respectively, of total revenues.

Wind Power Sees Gain in U.S.

Wind power provided over two-thirds (68.41%) of new electrical generating capacity in October 2014 in the U.S. according to the latest “Energy Infrastructure Update” report. Five wind farms came online during the month in Texas, Nebraska, Michigan, Kansas and Colorado. These projects added 574 MW of new capacity.

eiaIn addition, seven “units” of biomass (102 MW) and five units of solar (31 MW) came online accounting for 12.16% and 3.69% of new capacity respectively. The balance came from three units of natural gas (132 MW – 15.73%). Moreover, for the eighth time in the past ten months, renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) accounted for the majority of new U.S. electrical generation brought into service. Natural gas took the lead in the other two months (April and August).

Renewable energy sources now account for 16.39 percent of total installed operating generating capacity in the U.S.:

  • hydro- 8.44%
  • wind – 5.39%
  • biomass – 1.38%
  • solar – 0.85%
  • geothermal steam – 0.33%

“Congress is debating whether to renew the production tax credit for wind and other renewable energy sources,” noted Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “The continued rapid growth of these technologies confirms that the PTC has proven to be a very sound investment.”

VIASPACE Grows Desert Biomass for Biofuels, Feed

viaspacelogo2A proprietary variety of grass could be providing fuel for vehicles and feed for animals in the desert southwest. Biomass grower VIASPACE, Inc. says the results of the first two harvests of Giant King Grass grown at the University of California Desert Research Center (DREC) in Holtville, Imperial County, California are showing good signs as a viable biofuel feedstock and animal feed.

The results reported were for Giant King Grass harvested at approximately 8 feet tall for animal feed. Four representative sections of each planting type (replicates) were harvested by hand and fully characterized. Samples were also sent to Dairy One Forage Laboratory in Ithaca, New York for nutritional analysis.

The single node planting yield for the first harvest on September 2, 2014 was 37.4 fresh tons per acre (7.2 dry tons) and 58 days later, on October 30, 2014, the yield for the second harvest was 31.4 fresh tons per acre (5.4 dry tons). The crude protein level for the second harvest was 17.3% of dry matter. The whole stalk planting yield was about 27% lower with a crude protein level of 14.7%.

[Dr. Oli Bachie, Agronomy Crop Advisor, University of California Cooperative Extension] stated during the presentation, “This is the most giant grass I have ever seen. It is truly gigantic in terms of the biomass crops we are growing in the Imperial Valley.” Dr. Bachie emphasized that although the first two harvests were very impressive, the research program will continue for at least one year and the overall results will be compiled and published in the future.

VIASPACE is growing Giant King Grass in 11 locations in eight countries around the world for electricity production, biogas, biofuel, pellet and animal feed applications.

Report: Brazil to Lead in Biomass Power

According to a new report from GlobalData, Brazil will overtake the U.S. in biopower energy. Brazil’s biopower installed capacity will rise from 11.5 GW in 2013 to nearly 17.10 GW by 2018 when it will overtake the U.S. as the world’s leading biopower market.

Global Biopower Market – Capacity, Generation, Market Size, Major Feedstock, Regulations, global data logoand Key Country Analysis to 2025,” finds that the U.S. had the world’s largest biopower installed capacity in 2013, with 15.43 GW, but this will only rise to 16.49 GW by 2018. The country will witness slow growth due to its large existing capacity, which has saturated the market.

Harshavardhan Reddy Nagatham, GlobalData’s analyst covering alternative energy, said of the findings, “A major share of the US’ biopower capacity was installed in the 1980s and 1990s, meaning the country already had 12.82 GW by 2006, while Brazil only had 3.59 GW by that time. The nascent Brazilian market is being driven by the government, which has made it necessary for local utility service providers to obtain at least 2 GW of installed biomass capacity through auctions annually, for ten years from 2007.”

Nagatham points out that while there is a possibility of feedstock supply interruptions due to increased deforestation in certain areas, the rise in sugarcane plantations is expected to compensate for this. “The abundance of sugarcane in Brazil makes the installation of biomass technology a very viable option for power generation. Biomass projects will also generate electricity from both sugarcane waste and non-food energy crops, such as eucalyptus and pine trees.”

Biopower will face competition from other sectors, such as hydropower, natural gas and wind. The report finds the biggest challenge to bioenergy will be Brazilian utility companies’ inclination towards wind power and the large drop in wind energy capital expenditure. However, it is predicted Brazil will see a positive outlook for biopower through 2025.

U.S. Renewable Energy Industry Ready to Step Up

A new goal was announced during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing this week to double renewable energy in the 21 member economies by 2030. The renewable energy industry collectively came out and said they are ready to do their part. This new goal was a follow-up to last year’s commitment to encourage technology transfer and efforts to lower costs and attract private investment to the renewable energy industry.

“We appreciate the leadership that President Obama and the rest of these world leaders are showing on the critical task of rapidly scaling up low-carbon energy sources,” said Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association. “Here in America, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind Vision for the growth of our industry, we can quadruple wind power by 2030 and save consumers money doing it, if policymakers keep supporting state renewable standards and federal tax incentives to attract the necessary private investment.”

Linda Church Ciocci, executive director, National Hydropower Association said on behalf of the hydro electric industry, “Hydropower is poised for growth and ready to meet America’s renewable energy goals. From powering the 97 percent of the nation’s dams that remain unpowered to upgrading our existing facilities, opportunities exist to double hydropower’s contribution to the electricity grid, while strengthening our economy and providing more Americans access to clean, low-cost electricity.”

“GEA applauds the APEC goal of doubling renewable power,” added Karl Gawell, executive director, Geothermal Energy Association. “New geothermal power development underway in the U.S. and nearly all of the APEC countries will provide more than electricity, building thousands of megawatts of new geothermal power will spur economic growth, create new jobs and ensure environmental health for future generations.”

The highlight of the summit was a surprise negotiated emissions deal between the U.S. and China to curb climate change. The deal includes new targets for the U.S. and China to stop emission growth by 2030 and to create momentum around climate talks leading into the global climate conference taking place in Paris in 2015. Continue reading

Arkansas Biomass Industry Expecting Big Growth

arkansasflagA building desire for woody biomass and a glut of forest materials has Arkansas set to be a major player in that sector of renewable energy, not just in the Midwest, but around the world. This article from the City Wire, which serves Northwest Arkansas, says the state’s biomass industry got some help this summer by some timely multi-million dollar investments in commercial biomass and by Europe’s desire to use the green fuel.

On July 30, Zilkha Biomass Energy announced plans to build a proprietary black wood pellet manufacturing plant in Monticello that company officials said could be easily integrated into the energy grid as a clean energy alternative to coal-powered electricity.

“Power companies across the globe are looking for renewable energy alternatives and biomass wood pellets stand as one of the most practical and cost-effective solutions,” said Jack Holmes, CEO of Zilkha Biomass Energy. “This plant in Monticello will be one of Zilkha’s largest and will help us capture more of the growing biomass energy market.”

Grant Tennille, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, is one of the state’s biggest cheerleaders for the biomass industry.

Now, Tennille said, Arkansas is poised to become a big player in the biomass sector as the wood pellet market takes off in Europe.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, wood pellet exports from the U.S. nearly doubled last year, from 1.6 million short tons (approximately 22 trillion Btu) in 2012 to 3.2 million short tons in 2013. More than 98% of these exports were delivered to Europe, and 99% originated from ports in the southeastern and lower Mid-Atlantic regions of the country.

Given the fact that the European Commission wants to reduce EU greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels, increase the renewable portion of EU energy consumption by 20 percent, and improve EU energy efficiency by 20 percent, and the large amount of woody biomass Arkansas offers to help meet those goals – an estimated 19.8 billion kilowatts (kwh) of electricity that could be generated using renewable biomass from the state – it’s no wonder the biomass future looks so bright in Arkansas.

Algae Biomass Organization Gets New Leaders

ABONew leadership is coming aboard the Algae Biomass Organization (ABO). The trade association for the algae industry announced that Tim Burns, Co-founder and Board Member of BioProcess Algae LLC, has been appointed Chair and Martin Sabarsky, CEO of Cellana, Inc. has been appointed Vice Chair of the organization’s Board of Directors for the 2014-2016 term.

Burns and Sabarsky will be leading ABO’s board, which guides the organization in its mission to educate the general public, policymakers, and industry about the benefits and potential of algae to provide sustainable solutions for commodity chemicals, fuels, food, and feed applications, as well as for high-value applications such as, nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics, among other applications. In addition, ABO’s board works closely with its executive director to advocate for policies that can accelerate the development of key market segments and commercial-scale algae production facilities for the full range of products that can be made from algae.

ABO’s board is comprised of representatives from multiple sectors of an industry that is experiencing more investment and seeing new commercial facilities opening or being planned around the world. Board members come from industry sectors that include academia, professional services, algae biomass producers, technology suppliers, project developers, and end-users.

“Tim and Martin are highly regarded algae industry leaders, and I’m looking forward to collaborating with them as we move the industry forward,” said Matt Carr, Executive Director of the Algae Biomass Organization. “Their expertise in CO2 utilization and the entire range of algae-derived products will be invaluable to ABO’s efforts to improve policy, markets, and investment opportunities for all our members.”

ABO also thanked outgoing Board Chair Margaret McCormick for her contributions made to ABO and the algae industry at large. She’ll maintain a position on the board.

NC State Breaks Down Cell Walls

According to Quanzi Li, the greatest barrier to producing biofuels is from stubborn plant cell walls that resist being broken down into biofuel ingredients. Li is the lead author of a paper published in Plant Biotechnology Journal about North Carolina (NC) State’s Forest Biotechnology Group biofuel research progress. Cell walls contain desirable cellulose and hemicellulose, which is “covered up” with lignin, the substance that contributes to the strength of wood but gets in the way of biofuel production.

In the case of wood, the lignin must be removed and then the resulting cellulose is converted to ethanol. Production begins with an expensive pretreatment, followed by enzyme use to release the sugars that can be fermented to produce ethanol. Li and her team are focusing on simplifying the process in various ways.

NC State lignin researchNC State’s team has created genetically modified trees with reduced lignin content. “Normally when you reduce lignin, plant growth is negatively affected, which also reduces biomass production,” explained Li. “However, we now know that we can produce transgenic plants with strong cell walls and normal development but much less lignin.”

Fast-growing trees with high energy content could grow on marginal land without disrupting crop production. NC State has worked extensively with black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa). Forest Biotechnology Group researchers in the College of Natural Resources have developed engineering models that predict how 21 pathway enzymes affect lignin content and composition, providing the equivalent of GPS directions to guide future research.

This comprehensive approach, which involves genes, proteins, plant chemical compounds and mathematical models, fits into a systems biology perspective that’s the key to future breakthroughs, Li said. She added, “Progress has been made in many areas, but we still lack a complete understanding of how the cell wall is formed. We have to have a better idea of the factors that control its formation to produce better biomass for biofuels.”

ONR Expands Green Reach in Asia-Pacific

The Office of Naval Research (ONR) is expanding its work in Asia-Pacific’s renewable energy sector. The announcement was made during National Energy Action Month where the Navy is promoting energy efficiency and conservation by participating in and hosting events around the world. The announcement comes after ONR’s work with the Chiang Mai World Green City that was established two years ago at Chiang Mai Rajabhat University with support from ONR. It uses solar cells, batteries for energy storage and a direct-current (DC) microgrid to power more than 20 buildings over 200 acres, including residences, offices, businesses and a vegetable farm.

Navy National Energy Month poster“Each new partnership we establish moves the United States and our allies closer to energy independence,” said Dr. Richard Carlin, head of ONR’s Sea Warfare and Weapons Department. “This system is unique in that it uses direct current to power an entire community. While this concept is perfect for isolated and remote communities, it also could be used in the future on naval installations and even ships at sea to bring power to our Sailors and Marines wherever they are.”

Scientists in Thailand plan to establish another smart grid-powered village at the University of Phayao and introduce sustainable technologies to military barracks and other communities throughout the country.

ONR now has turned its attention to Vietnam, where there is an abundance of solar, biomass, wind, geothermal, hydro and other rich renewable energy sources. The U.S.-Vietnam collaboration also will take advantage of investments made in Hawaii, where ONR is sponsoring a study of electrical grids for three naval bases. As part of that initiative, the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) and the Applied Research Laboratory at the University of Hawaii are working with the Naval Facilities Engineering Command to develop an action plan for the Navy’s energy needs in Hawaii.

“We are expanding our research collaboration to Vietnam to build off the success in Thailand and to support the United States in our pivot to the Asia-Pacific region,” said Dr. Cung Vu, ONR Global associate director for power and energy. “Vietnam’s remote rural, mountainous and island areas will benefit from ONR’s microgrid research, and the Navy will be able to increase its understanding of energy-efficient technologies through another key partnership.”