Biomass for Biofuels Will Promote ‘Earth Grab’

Experts estimate that the biofuels boom could grow to be worth more than $1 trillion and has brought agriculture back to center stage, but according to advocates with Food Secure Canada (FSC), this movement will not feed people nor mitigate climate change. On Friday, November 26, 2010, FSC is hosting Earth Grab, a community forum that will discuss the growth of biomass for biofuels, their impact on food security and climate change and offer alternatives ideas and solutions.

According to Jim Thomas of ETC Group, an international research institute located in Ottawa, Canada the fossil fuel economy is transforming rapidly into a bio-economy. “Plants, trees and forests are the new oil fields. They’re above the ground, and they’re easy to grab,” said Thomas.

Thomas, along with other leaders spearheading the global farm movement from Brazil, Mali and Haiti will be presenting during Earth Grab. The forum officially kicks off the Food Secure Canada national conference that takes place at University of Montreal from November 26-28.

Earlier this month, ETC Group released a new report, “The New Biomassters,” that detailed how global energy, forestry, agribusiness, chemical, and biotech companies are creating a bio-economy built on converting biomass into fuels and other products. According to the report, the result has been a “global grab” of plants, lands, ecosystems, and traditional cultures.

“The emerging global bio-economy is worth trillions, and it threatens to eat up our crops, forests and other plant life,” said Thomas. “However, what’s being sold as a ‘green’ switch from fossil fuels to plant-based production, is in fact a red-hot resource grab on the lands, livelihoods, knowledge and resources of the peoples of the Global South.”

Based on this scenario, Brazil is seen as one of the worst offenders, Continue reading

Survey Says…Growers Ready to Grow Energy Crops

America’s growers are ready and willing to produce biomass for advanced biofuels and biopower and have the land to do so according to a survey released by Ceres, Inc. The survey of U.S. growers showed that 71 percent of respondents were very interested or interested in growing dedicated energy crops. In addition, 77 percent of the respondents said they had underutilized land on which they could grow energy grasses like miscanthus, switchgrass or sorghum.

This survey comes on the tail of a recent announcement by the USDA regarding the final rules for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP). The program pays eligible growers a incentive to grow biomass crops for use for biopower or to create biofuels.

Ceres is counting on the growth of biomass for bioenergy and most recently announced that they have developed the first salt tolerant crop, switchgrass. This is a huge advancement especially for agricultural areas that have ceased to produce crops due to the high levels of salt in the water supply. Eventually, Ceres will be looking for farmers to grow their proprietary energy crops.

One of the main reasons survey respondents had for growing energy crops was the ability to diversify their current operations. Other reasons given were better use of marginal land and spending less time, money and resources on crop management. In addition, 70 percent of respondents were open to engaging in long-term contracts and 48 percent said they would anticipate putting at least half of their acreage in long-term contracts.

“This is one of the areas where we were interested in learning more about, since reliable feedstock supplies will be critical for new bioenergy facilities to obtain project financing,” said Gary Koppenjan who directs communications and product marketing for Ceres. “What constitutes a long-term contract will likely be an area for discussion, but it appears the suppliers and users are on the same page.”

This non-scientific survey was completed during the summer of 2010 and was skewed to growers in the Southeast United States since that is an area particularly suited to grow energy crops.

Biomass Diesel Featured at Green Cars LA Auto Show

A biomass-based synthetic diesel is being featured at the Green Cars LA Auto Show Ride & Drive event.

Rentech, Inc. says its synthetic RenDiesel(R) fuel is powering an Audi A3 TDI, coming on the heels of the recent four-day, 1,000 mile endurance drive that is part of the 2010 Green Car of the Year Tour:

During [last month’s] drive, the Audi A3 TDI averaged 43 mpg on RenDiesel fuel, which is greater than the EPA average highway fuel economy rating for that car. The RenDiesel fuel used on the drive was produced from natural gas and can also be made from biomass. The renewable RenDiesel fuel to be produced from biomass using Rentech-SilvaGas gasification technology at Rentech’s Rialto Renewable Energy Center is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on a lifecycle basis by as much as 97% over conventional diesel fuel and by a comparable amount over electric vehicles. A vehicle using RenDiesel fuel is also expected to be as much as two times more fuel efficient than one running on ethanol. RenDiesel fuel contains approximately 60% more energy per gallon than ethanol and diesel engines typically achieve 20-40% more miles per gallon than gasoline engines. RenDiesel fuel also produces fewer volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions than ethanol or traditional diesel and has lower tailpipe emissions compared to traditional diesel.

Rentech’s Rialto Renewable Energy Center is expected to produce about 640 barrels per day of renewable synthetic fuels, primarily RenDiesel fuel, and approximately 35 MW of renewable electric power (RenPower) from urban green waste diverted from landfills.

OPEC Slams International Biomass Programs

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) slammed global biomass programs in its most recent oil report while at the same time raising oil demand forecasts for 2011. The organization was highly critical of global incentives designed to aid companies who are focused on developing biofuels from biomass and reducing the use of fossil-fuel based energy.

In the report, OPEC writes, “Although these government subsidies are helping the biofuel industry, the negative effect on the environment is vast and the programmes place a burden on the public budget.” OPEC cites a statistic that says biofuel tax credits are costing tax payers $500 million each year but they fail to note that global oil subsidies topped more than $312 billion last year.

In particular, OPEC cites concerns of deforestation in places such as Brazil and also environment and land use issues in countries such as South America and Asia, and criticizes the biofuels programs of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Africa has also been highlighted as a country that will be negatively affected by biofuels policy.

In the report, OPEC estimates demand for its oil next year will reach 29.2 million barrels per day (bpd), up 1.4 per cent from the 28.8 million bpd projected for this year. The country cited as having the biggest impact on increased oil use is China. This updated number is 400,000 bpd higher than last month’s forecast. Last month also went down as the highest oil output month so far this year with 29.3 million bpd.

Here in the states, daily ethanol production is nearing 1 million barrels per day (b/d)  with 895,000 b/d produced the week ending November 12, 2010. The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) reported that the daily production numbers were up 18,000 b/d from the week prior and the 4-week average daily production topped out at 879,000 b/d. Daily ethanol production represented 10 percent of daily average gasoline demand that dropped to 375.89 million gallons per day. In addition, stocks of ethanol are now at 16.7 million barrels.

Iowa Power Fund Awards Three Energy Projects

The Iowa Power Fund has awarded three energy projects in the state more than $4.2 million. The decisions were made yesterday during the board meeting which took place at Grand View University. When combined, the three projects will generate an additional $21 million in leveraged funds. To date, the Iowa Power Fund has awarded more than $47 million to 37 projects focusing on energy research and development, early stage commercialization and education.

Ames-based AmbroZea was awarded $1.5 million for its work in the ethanol industry. The company will be applying high-protein expression biotechnology to further optimize multi-tasking yeast for commercial deployment.

Boone-based Avello Bioenergy, Inc. was awarded $2.5 million to help the company build a demonstration scale biomass plant, using local “farm-raised” feedstocks. The company is partnering with both the private industry and academics on the facility. The grant also include an educational component to reach out to researchers and students at Iowa State University and the Iowa Farm Bureau to benefit farmers.

The third award was given to Des Moines-based Indigo Dawn to focus on energy efficiency in renovated buildings.

New Solar Farm in Taylorsville, NC Powers Homes

A new solar farm in Taylorsville, NC is up and running and powering numerous homes and businesses in the community served by EnergyUnited. The solar project consists of 4,224 photovoltaic (PV) panels that can generate enough energy to power 150 homes. Unlike some solar systems that are designed using conventional fixed-tilt technologies, this project uses a tracking systems to follow the sun’s movement during the day, increasing the capture of sunlight, thusly increasing the amount of energy produced. It also reduces the amount of land needed for a solar project.

EnergyUnited provides electricity to residents of 20 counties in the state, and will buy all the energy produced from the one-megawatt (MW) solar farm. The company signed a 20-year power purchase agreement with DEGS, a division of Duke Energy. This is DEG’s third completed solar project with a 1-MW PV solar farms in Shelby, NC and a 14-MW facility in San Antonio, TX.

“At EnergyUnited, we’re committed to helping build a clean energy future for our members,” said Wayne Wilkins, CEO of the cooperative. “The solar farm, along with power produced at the Iredell County landfill, allows us to meet state requirements for renewable energy, while continuing to provide reliable energy services at competitive prices.”

North Carolina passed a Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard that requires utilities to purchase 10 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2018. As such, EnergyUnited will receive the associated renewable energy credits (RECs) generated by the solar project.

“Our goal is to help customers make strategic investments in renewable energy in a way that’s affordable and practical,” said Greg Wolf, DEGS senior vice president and head of its commercial solar business. “We’re pleased to add EnergyUnited to our growing list of quality customers.”

In addition to its renewable energy contracts, EnergyUnited is also researching potential investments in hydropower, wind power and biomass projects.

New Controversial Biofuels Report Released

According to a new study released this week, the European Union (EU) plans to increase its use of biofuels over the next 10 years and it will require 69,000 square kilometers of new land causing climate change to become worse. “Driving to Destruction” was commissioned by a coalition of environmental and development NGOs and the study reports that by 2020, 90 percent of the 9.5 percent of biofuels will come from food crops.

“Biofuels are not a climate-friendly solution to our energy needs. The EU plans effectively give companies a blank cheque to continue grabbing land from the world’s poor by growing biofuels that fill our cars rather than their stomachs,” said Laura Sullivan, ActionAid’s European Policy and Campaigns Manager. “Europe’s energy policies are putting millions of people in danger and threaten Africa’s fragile food security.”

The global biofuels community is not taking the report lying down. “As a matter of record, our industry has always welcomed the debate about biofuels sustainability in large part because the alternative – more oil – is by definition unsustainable,” said Bliss Baker with the Global Renewable Fuels Alliance (GRFA). “However, NGO’s that use this debate as an opportunity to stoke fears and sell memberships in their organizations do a disservice to us all.”

According to the report, an area over twice the size of Belgium will need to be converted into biofuels plantations putting poor communities in danger if European countries use industrial biofuels to meet their renewable energy targets by 2020. Even more, the report claims that when indirect land use change is taken into account, a highly contested theory, biofuels will emit an extra 27-56 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year – the equivalent to an extra 12 to 26 million cars on Europe’s roads by 2020. Lastly, the report states that under the plans, 5 countries will be responsible for three quarters of all extra emissions. The UK, Spain, Germany, Italy, and France are projected to produce the most extra greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels.

Baker continued, “The research is chalk full of allegations disguised as facts. The report repeatedly makes statements as if they are facts such as ‘…the EU plans WILL result in the conversion of up to 69,000 sq. km of land for the use of biofuels.’ Sounds ominous but for the one word “upto.” It could be 1 square kilometer that gets converted. The point is they don’t know how many kilometres will be converted (if any) and predicting it with any degree of confidence has yet to be demonstrated anywhere.” Continue reading

Is Clean Diesel a New Alternative Fuel?

There is a surge of new diesel vehicles entering the U.S. market place in response to the need for better fuel economy along with lower fuel emissions. The diesel industry has been promoting low diesel fuels, and in some cases, diesel fuel has been labeled an “advanced fuel.”

For example, Rentech has created a diesel fuel called RenDiesel that can be produced using a variety of sources ranging from biomass to natural gas. The company has proposed building a renewable energy center in Rialto, Calif., that could produce approximately 640 barrels a day of synthetic fuels and 35 MW of renewable electric power from urban green waste diverted from landfills. According to RenTech, RenDiesel would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 97 percent when compared to conventional clean diesel fuel as well boast greater emission reductions over electric vehicles.

The company also claims that RenDiesel produces emissions lower in particulate matter (PM), nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur oxides (SOx) and carbon dioxide (CO2), as well as fewer volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions than ethanol or traditional clean diesel. The fuel meets California Low Carbon Fuel Standards, and it is already being used as an ultra-clean synthetic jet fuel. It has the potential be twice as fuel efficient as a car running on ethanol.

“Diesel vehicles such as the Audi A3 TDI and synthetic drop-in fuels such as renewable RenDiesel provide powerful solutions to reducing tailpipe and greenhouse gas emissions as well as the need for domestically produced fuels,” said D. Hunt Ramsbottom, President and CEO of Rentech in a company press release. “These solutions are magnified when renewable RenDiesel powers an A3 TDI, making it one of the most viable and near-term means for emissions reductions,” Mr. Ramsbottom added.

Another company producing clean diesel is Advanced Refining Concepts that has created a product called GDiesel. The fuel combines conventional ultra-low sulfur diesel with natural gas and is developed through the company’s proprietary process called ClearRefining. GDiesel can be used in diesel vehicles with no modifications. Continue reading

USDA Speaks, Ethanol Industry Reacts

The ethanol industry praised USDA Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack today and expressed gratitude for his department’s commitment to fulfill the administration’s goal of transitioning to renewable energy. This morning at the Press Club in DC, Vilsack announced a series of measures aimed at supporting the rural economy and reducing dependence on foreign oil that include support for corn-based ethanol.

“The Obama Administration has shown strong leadership on the issue of domestic biofuels, putting forward a vision that recognizes the importance of the existing industry and the potential of new technologies. Domestic ethanol production is one of the few bright spots in a gloomy economic forecast, providing tens of thousands of jobs in hundreds of rural communities all across the country,” said Renewable Fuels President and CEO, Bob Dinneen. “By expanding the scope of American ethanol production to include new feedstocks from grasses to wood waste to algae, the industry can extend the benefits seen in rural America to every corner of the country.

As part of the announcement, Vilsack said the USDA would reinstate the Biomass Crop Assistance Program. Another important initiative would encourage the installation of blender pumps.

“If we truly want to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, create jobs and improve our environment, we need to ensure that our entire vehicle fleet and fuel infrastructure are ready to use expanded U.S. ethanol production. Each additional flex fuel vehicle and blender pump gives consumers the option of filling up with clean, renewable ethanol to create a more secure energy future for this country,” remarked Tom Buis, the CEO of Growth Energy.

While the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) support all the initiatives laid out in USDA’s plan, they also called for the passage of the soon to expire tax credit. Continue reading

USDA Announces Biofuels Initiatives

As part of the Obama Administration’s effort to promote production of fuel from renewable sources, create jobs and mitigate the effects of climate change, Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced a series of measures during a speech to the National Press Club in Washington.

“Domestic production of renewable energy, including biofuels, is a national imperative and that’s why USDA is working to assist in developing a biofuels industry in every corner of the nation,” said Vilsack. “By producing more biofuels in America, we will create jobs, combat global warming, replace our dependence on foreign oil and build a stronger foundation for the 21st century economy.”

The Secretary announced several measures, including the publication of a final rule to implement the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP). Under the BCAP final rule, USDA will resume making payments to eligible producers. The program had operated as a pilot, pending publication of the final rule. Authorized in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, BCAP is designed to ensure that a sufficiently large base of new, non-food, non-feed biomass crops is established in anticipation of future demand for renewable energy consumption.

The nation’s largest ethanol producer, POET, welcomed finalization of rules for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), saying it will help launch the biomass market near the site of their planned cellulosic ethanol plant. “The 85 farmers we have contracted with to deliver 56,000 tons of biomass this fall are nearly finished harvesting, so the final BCAP rule comes not a day too soon,” said Jim Sturdevant, Director of Project LIBERTY for POET. “We will now apply for our cellulosic ethanol plant to become an approved Biomass Conversion Facility (BCF) so that local farmers can become eligible for matching payments for the biomass they will soon deliver.”

POET is in the midst of the world’s largest commercial harvest of biomass for cellulosic ethanol. Farmers around Emmetsburg, Iowa are baling corn cobs and light stover for delivery to POET. In order to store the bales, POET recently completed construction of a multi-million dollar stack yard next to where the first commercial cellulosic ethanol plant will be built.

Read more about Vilsack’s announcement here.

Commerical Ethanol Technology & Research Worshop On the Horizon

The third annual Ethanol Technology & Research Workshop is on the horizon. Sponsored by Biofuels Journal and the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE), The workshop is being held in St. Joseph, Missouri on October 27-28th and includes a tour of the of the LifeLine Foods corn fractionation ethanol production plant. The focus of this year’s session are commercial technologies that are helping to put producers on ahead of the efficiency and profitability curve.

Presentations will focus on how to improve an ethanol plant’s bottom line with the newest technologies available. For example, presenters will discuss turning thin stillage into biogas to displace natural gas, advanced dryer technologies and fractionation technologies. Other topics will include some of the latest advances in advanced biofuels and cellulosic ethanol research.

Speakers include Steve Shivvers, Tri-Phase; John McDowell, EISENMANN; Doug Rivers, ICM; Dr. Henry Daniell, University of Central Florida; a panel on advanced biofuels hosted by John Caupert with the National Corn to Ethanol Research Center; and Ron Lamberty with ACE will give an update on the State of the Industry as we head into the end of the year; among others. The keynote speech “How the Ethanol Industry Impacts the U.S. Economy,” will be given by John Urbanchuck, Technical Director for Entrix Inc.

Registration is still open. Click here to learn more about the workshop and to register.

Iowa State Develops, Tests Biomass-based Asphalt

Researchers at Iowa State University have developed a biomass-based asphalt that will be tested this fall on a bicycle trail in Des Moines.

This school press release says the bio-oil replacement for non-renewable petroleum is added to the mixture known as Bioasphalt:

If the demonstration and other tests go well, “This would be great stuff for the state of Iowa,” said [Iowa State University’s Christopher Williams], an associate professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering.

He said that’s for a lot of reasons: Asphalt mixtures derived from plants and trees could replace petroleum-based mixes. That could create a new market for Iowa crop residues. It could be a business opportunity for Iowans. And it saves energy and money because Bioasphalt can be mixed and paved at lower temperatures than conventional asphalt.

Bio-oil is created by a thermochemical process called fast pyrolysis. Corn stalks, wood wastes or other types of biomass are quickly heated without oxygen. The process produces a liquid bio-oil that can be used to manufacture fuels, chemicals and asphalt plus a solid product called biochar that can be used to enrich soils and remove greenhouses gases from the atmosphere.

Officials hope that if this test of 5 percent Bioasphalt is successful, they’ll be able to use higher blends later.

NREL Releases BioEnergy Mapping App

Want to know where are the biorefineries in the U.S. are located? There’s an app for that. The National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) has released a new bioenergy mapping portal, BioEnergy Atlas, that identifies biomass feedstocks, then overlays that information with the ethanol and biodiesel facilities both on and off-line. You can also see map information for transportation infrastructure, power plants, fueling stations, and more. The tools are coined BioPower Atlas and BioFuels Atlas.

The portal was created with funding help from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Blue Skyways Collaborative and the Department of Energy’s Biomass Program. Not only is the map able to identify current biorefinery locations, but can also show where copious amounts of biomass are available for harvest without plants located in the region. Perfect for those looking for areas of untapped energy potential.

According to NREL, BioEnergy Atlas is targeted to a multitude of users including government and state agencies, universities, the petroleum and pipeline industries, research institutions, vehicle manufacturers, investment firms, GIS companies, private citizens, and media.

States Scale Back RPS’s As Senate Ramps Up RES Efforts

As several senators make one last push for a federal Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) to be enacted before the close of the 111th Congress, several states are considering scaling back their current Renewable Energy Portfolios (RPS). At the federal level, groups such as the bipartisan Governors’ Wind Energy Coalition cite an RES as a way to give the country an economic jolt and regain a leadership role in development and manufacturing. At the state level, organizations against the RES support moves to scale back renewable efforts claiming that the economic cost of moving to wind, solar and biomass will in fact cause more economic turmoil, not economic prosperity.

An increase in the debate regarding a federal RES has come from two sources. Last Monday the Governors’ Wind Energy Coalition sent a letter to Senate Democratic and Republican leaders saying, “A strong RES is the most economically-efficient way to advance clean domestic energy and immediately create jobs in renewable energy manufacturing, construction of new projects and associated transmission, and ongoing operation and maintenance of these facilities.”

The letter was addressed by Govs. Chet Culver (D-Iowa) and Don Carcieri (R-RI), who lead the Governors’ Wind Coalition and early this year released a report detailing wind opportunities throughout the country.

The letter continued, “We wish to work with you and with the Administration to help shape federal energy legislation this year. The economic stakes are high for our states, and we see a narrow window of opportunity for Congress to enact a long overdue reworking of federal laws governing renewable energy.”

The letter was followed up by a press conference yesterday held by several bi-partisan senators who introduced a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) bill. Continue reading

Fed Grant to Help Turn Montana Biomass into Energy

A Montana company has picked up a $350,000 federal grant to build a plant that will turn wood chips and algae into energy.

Algae Aqua-Culture Technology
will use a proprietary process uses a greenhouse-based algae growth system and an anaerobic biodigester to transform a blend of the wood waste and algae into high-value methane for power generation:

“Algae’s amazing productivity offers the ultimate path to a green economy,” according to an elated Michael Smith, AACT’s CEO and Grant Project Manager. “This award is not only gives AACT the initial funding it needs to move into full production, it also gives the timber industry a new way to capitalize on the bounty of Montana’s forests while also reducing Montana’s carbon footprint.”

“The AACT Green Power Housesm (GPH) will help Montana create new, long-term jobs for the woods products industry–and eventually for Montana’s farmers, factories, waste treatment plants and energy production facilities,” Smith said.

Money for the grant comes from the federal stimulus act.