Ag Secretary Visits Ohio Ethanol Plant

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland toured the POET Biorefining plant in Marion, Ohio today and talked ethanol with industry stakeholders.

Vilsack and Strickland took part in a roundtable discussion with representatives from POET, the Ohio Corn Growers Association, Ohio Ethanol Producers Association and the Ohio Department of Agriculture as well as the federal Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service.

During the visit, Vilsack voiced support for increasing the ethanol blend level to 15 percent. “We are working at USDA to develop a roadmap for how to build that [ethanol] nationwide industry,” he said. “We understand it starts with allowing the capacity we have today to maximize its input. That means increasing the blend rate to 15 percent. I have been advocating for that, will continue to advocate for that, and I believe it will happen. Obviously I wish it had had happened now, but I believe it will happen sometime this fall.” Vilsack also stressed the need for increasing blender pumps and getting more flex fuel vehicles on the road.

Yesterday, Vilsack toured Quasar Energy Group in Wooster, Ohio to observe new technologies being utilized to generate larger supplies of biogas derived from cellulosic biomass. USDA, along with the State of Ohio, provided funding to support the development of the new facility.

The funding was used to install an anaerobic digester that processes 25,000 wet tons per year of organic biomass including food wastes from local food producers, crop residuals, grass and manure from livestock operations of the Ohio State University-Agricultural Technical Institute (ATI). Based on its electric generation capacity, this bio-digester can supply roughly one-third of the electricity needs of the Ohio Agricultural Research & Development Center (OARDC) campus.

Purdue Develops Mobile Biofuels Processing Method

Mobile processing plants might hold the key to harvesting agricultural waste on the farm for biofuels production.

purdueChemical engineers at Purdue University have come up with the concept and developed a new method to process agricultural waste and other biomass into biofuels. The method would utilize various types of biomass, including wood chips, switch grass, corn stover, rice husks, and wheat straw.

The approach would solve one of the major problems in using agricultural waste for biofuels – transporting the biomass to a plant for processing. “It makes more sense to process biomass into liquid fuel with a mobile platform and then take this fuel to a central refinery for further processing before using it in internal combustion engines,” says chemical engineer Rakesh Agrawal.

The new method, called fast-hydropyrolysis-hydrodeoxygenation, works by adding hydrogen into the biomass-processing reactor. The hydrogen for the mobile plants would be derived from natural gas or the biomass itself. However, Agrawal envisions the future use of solar power to produce the hydrogen by splitting water, making the new technology entirely renewable.

The method, which has the shortened moniker of H2Bioil — pronounced H Two Bio Oil — has been studied extensively through modeling, and experiments are under way at Purdue to validate the concept.

Read more here.

America’s Slippery Slope of Support for Renewable Energy

Our country is quickly sliding down a slippery slope. Not too long ago, we were the leaders in renewable energy – wind, solar, biofuels. Today, not only have the major technological advancements come from overseas, our manufacturing facilities, entrepreneurs and investors are going, or have gone overseas as well.

Where are they going? Brazil. India. China. Why? Because these countries have the winning recipes for success: cohesive energy policy, long-term incentives and private investors. These are the exact three things we do not have in America.

We have other problems. We have states like California, that purport leadership in green policies and renewable energy, who make it nearly impossible to get permits for projects to meet its “green” initiatives.

Yesterday, Martifer Renewables Electricity dropped its plans to build a 107MW hybrid solar-powered biomass plant in California. The reason? After nearly 2 1/ 2 years, they have yet to obtain permits. Another company run out of California due to difficulty in obtaining permits, Blue Fire Ethanol – a next generation bioenergy company.

It may not be too late to head back up the hill but there are some things that must be done. Continue reading

Ceres Develops First Salt Tolerant Energy Crop

Now this is interesting. I was reading earlier this morning in Cadillac Desert about how agriculture in many areas is suffering from water issues that include too much salt. The salt damages the soil, kills the crops and ultimately the land is taken out of production. Today, there are over one billion acres of cropland that have been abandoned around the world and 15 million acres just in the U.S.

However, this may become an issue of the past. Today, Ceres, Inc., a company focusing on the development of energy crops, announced that it has developed a plant that could bring new life to millions of acres of abandoned or marginal cropland damaged by salts. According to the company, results in several of their crop tests, including switchgrass, have shown high levels of salt tolerance.

Ceres reported that its researchers tested the effects of very high salt concentrations and also seawater from the Pacific Ocean, which contains high concentrations of salts, on energy grass varieties such as sorghum, miscanthus and switchgrass, currently being grown in their greenhouses located in California. These sources of biomass are being considered to produce fuel and electricity.

“Today, we have energy crops thriving on seawater alone, said Richard Hamilton, Ceres President and CEO. “The goal of course, is not for growers to water their crops with seawater, but enable cropland abandoned because of salt or seawater effects to be put to productive uses.”

The next step in Ceres’ research is to evaluate energy crops with its proprietary salt-tolerant trait at field scale. Should the results be confirmed, the company says that biofuel and biopower producers will have more choice for locating new facilities, have more productive options for marginal land and ultimately, the ability to displace even greater amounts of fossil fuels.

Hamilton concluded, “In the end, this is not so much a salt trait, but a productivity trait and a land-use trait. I am convinced more than ever that techniques of modern plant science can continue to deliver innovations that increase yields and reduce the footprint of agriculture. Improved energy crops will enable the bioenergy industry to scale far beyond the limits of conventional wisdom.”

World Economic Forum Sees Bright Biofuels Future

A new report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) concludes that converting biomass into fuels, energy, and chemicals has the potential to generate upwards of $230 billion to the global economy by 2020, most of that in the United States. The report, produced in collaboration with Royal DSM N.V., Novozymes, DuPont and Braskem, says that the biorefineries industry could supplement demand for sustainable energy, chemicals and materials, aiding energy security.

The report on the Future of Industrial Biorefineries was unveiled today during a keynote address at the BIO World Congress conference by Steen Riisgaard, CEO of Novozymes. “We need an energy replacement that comes at oil’s low price, but without its high environmental cost,” said Riisgaard. “Over time, cars, trucks, and even airplanes are going to run on sustainable low-carbon fuels derived from biomass. Plastics and chemicals will be made from plants rather than petroleum. As a result, biorefineries will infuse billions of dollars into the economy and create more than 800,000 new jobs.”

Riisgaard highlighted the U.S. as the world leader in developing biorefineries, accounting for more than 40,000 jobs. “While the U.S. has a head start, the race itself is only at the beginning,” said Riisgaard. “America’s competitive advantage cannot be taken for granted. If the U.S. wants to be a leader in developing these new clean energy technologies, it must build on the progress it’s already made. Congress and the Departments of Energy and Agriculture must ensure that the U.S. has a coherent and comprehensive strategy for the bio-based society and not just fragments of measures here and there.”

The report concludes that the development of the bio-based economy is at an early and high-risk stage and that government has a key role to play in providing seed support to the emerging bio-based sector and creating the market to ensure that it becomes established and successful as quickly as possible.

Read the full report here.

ZeaChem Claims Successful Ethanol Conversion

ZeachemBiomass refinery developer ZeaChem today announced the successful production of ethanol at a capacity that can be scaled to commercial production.

According to a news release, ZeaChem’s results have been confirmed by third party vendors and the company will now demonstrate the integration of its biorefining processes at its 250,000 gallon per year Boardman, Oregon biorefinery, announced earlier this month. The company plans begin cellulosic ethanol production at the plant next year.

Using off-the-shelf catalysts and standard equipment in an innovative way, ZeaChem produced ethanol from ethyl acetate through a process called hydrogenation –a common industrial practice that is readily scaled to commercial levels.

“Through the successful production of ethanol, we’ve completed ZeaChem’s C2 carbon chain suite of products, which includes acetic acid, ethyl acetate, and ethanol,” said Jim Imbler, president and CEO of ZeaChem. “The next step is to integrate these known processes to achieve the ultimate target of commercial production of economical and sustainable biofuels and bio-based chemicals.”

ZeaChem’s technology uses a bacteria found in termite guts in an anaerobic fermentation process that produces no CO2 emissions.

SunBelt Biofuels is Now Repreve

repreveSunBelt Biofuels and Unifi Inc. have formed a joint venture called REPREVE™ Renewables to develop and commercialize bioenergy crops, including Freedom™ Giant Miscanthus.

According to the companies, Freedom Giant Miscanthus is a heat and drought tolerant perennial that yields up to 25 tons per acre. It was developed at Mississippi State University and is the first and only University-released, licensed and branded variety of Giant Miscanthus available. The new venture plans to develop Freedom planting stock for sale to U.S. growers, who will in turn sell the energy crop as feedstock to the bioenergy and biofuel industries in the U.S. and E.U.

East Coast States Form Offshore Wind Consortium

A group of 10 states along the U.S. East Coast have signed an agreement with the the Department of the Interior to form the Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy Consortium. says the group will also promote solar and biomass power:

Federal approval of Cape Wind, the United States’ first offshore wind farm near Cape Cod, essentially gave offshore wind the green light up and down the nation’s coasts. This agreement by the DOI and 10 East Coast states essentially assures us that wind energy will be developed in abundance with the full support of federal and regional governments.

The 10 states to sign the memo are: Delaware, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Virginia. Six states also formed intergovernmental “leasing task forces” to develop and facilitate leases for private companies to build offshore wind farms. Florida and South Carolina did not sign the memo, but are developing leasing task forces as well. Apparently, Georgia is cooperating in some way, shape or form.

The efforts are expected to help create green jobs in construction, operation and manufacturing of renewable energy systems in the region. In fact, the Department of the Interior has set up a renewable energy office in Virginia to help coordinate the efforts.

USDA Nears Finish of Biomass Crop Assistance Rules

USDA officials say they are close to finalizing the rules for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), a measure that was in the 2008 Farm Bill and is designed to encourage farmers to grow new crops for energy production. But there’s still some work to do before it is finally implemented.

“We have put out a proposed rule, received over 24,000 comments, we’ve evaluated those comments and are in the process of then working on writing the final rule based on the proposed rule and the comments we got,” says Jonathan Coppess, Administrator of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency. Plus, he says the ag department will need to do an environmental impact statement.

Coppess says there two main provisions in BCAP: 1. the assistance for establishment provision, that has the federal government reimbursing farmers for 75 percent of the costs of establishing a new biomass crop; and 2. matching payments for the collection, harvesting, storage and transportation of biomass products.

The rule should be ready by this fall, however, there is one more hurdle to clear. Congress still has 60 days to comment.

Plant to Produce Synthetic Oil from Biomass

A new plant is in the works that will produce synthetic oil from biomass that can in turn be made into transportation fuel.

The process is called “fast pyrolysis” and two companies, Ensyn Technologies Inc. and Tolko Industries, have announced that they will build the world’s largest fast commercial pyrolysis plant in High Level, Alberta. When completed, the new plant will be capable of processing 400 bone dry tonnes of biomass per day into 85,000,000 litres (22.5 million U.S. gallons) of pyrolysis oil annually.

Canadian RFAGordon Quaiattini, president of the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association called the announcement a breakthrough in more ways than one. “It is a landmark partnership between the renewable fuels and forestry sectors. It highlights yet another commercial breakthrough for next generation technologies. And it marks the first and most impressive plant of its kind anywhere in the world,” said Quaiattini.

The announcement also brings together the bio-energy and forestry sectors in a new and exciting fashion with the formal partnership between Ensyn and Tolko. Increasingly, cellulosic and other advanced technologies present new value-added opportunities for the forestry sector leveraging waste wood and by-products.

ZeaChem Breaks Ground on Biorefinery

ZeachemBiomass refinery developer ZeaChem broke ground last week in Boardman, Oregon for a 250,000 gallon-per-year facility that will eventually be used to turn wood and other feedstocks into cellulosic ethanol.

The plant will initially use ZeaChem’s technology to produce ethyl acetate, which the company says is a salable chemical intermediate and precursor to cellulosic ethanol. With a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the company is scheduled to begin production of cellulosic ethanol in 2011.

ZeaChem has contracted with GreenWood Resources (GWR), a Portland-based timberland investment manager, to obtain sustainable hybrid poplar tree feedstock from nearby farms. Because the technology is feedstock agnostic, ZeaChem will also process trials of herbaceous crops, agricultural residuals and other renewable biomass resources.

Biotechnology to Expand Use of Biomass In China

Novozymes continues to lead the way in biomass technologies with their new announcement that they are partnering with Dacheng Group, a major starch processing company based in China, to develop technologies designed to produce household cleaning products and plastics from agricultural waste. Both plastics and cleaning products typically have petroleum as one of their ingredients.

As part of the partnership, Novozymes will share its enzymes for converting biomass to sugar and then Dacheng Group will convert the sugar into glycol. Dacheng Group has the first commercialized plant in the world to produce plant-based glycols. Glycols are biochemicals used in household cleaning products and cosmetics as well as used as building blocks for making polyesters and plastics.

Xu Zhouwen, Chairman of Dacheng Group noted, “Dacheng and Novozymes have complementary technological advantages in the biomass-to-chemical industry and share the vision for the future that renewables such agricultural and forestry residues or even urban organic garbage should be important energy and material sources.”

China currently produces 700 million tons of ag waste per year, including corn and wheat stovers, rice straw and more. Currently, most of the waste is burned contributing to the country’s serious air pollution problems.

“This collaboration with Dacheng Group is another important step toward the future biobased society,” said Steen Riisgaard, CEO and President of Novozymes A/S. “Biotechnology will open the pathway to a biobased society in which renewable agricultural residues can be converted into biochemicals and nearly substitute the role that petrochemical industries have been playing since the industrial revolution.”

In addition to this agreement with Dacheng to produce biochemcials for bioplastics. Novozymes has partnered with Braskem in Brazil and Cargill in the United States on similar projects.

Navy Flies Truly Green Hornet on Biofuel

UPDATE: Please note that it was brought to our attention that we misidentified the biomass-based biofuel being used in this test. This version of the story has been corrected. We apologize for any confusion.

It’s known as the Hornet, but a U.S. Navy F/A-18 can truly add the term green to its moniker after flying the war bird on a 50-50 mix of biofuel and conventional petroleum-based jet fuel.

The Navy made the test flight, the first of its kind with the camelina-based biofuel, at the Naval Air Warfare Center in Patuxent River, Maryland, flying at more than the speed of sound. Montana-based Sustainable Oils, the maker of the camelina biofuels, says the flight marks an important milestone in the use of biofuels in military aircraft:

“The success of the Navy’s Earth Day flight again demonstrates that camelina-based jet fuel meets the quality and performance requirements that these aircraft demand,” said Tom Todaro, CEO of Sustainable Oils. “We look forward to continuing to work with the U.S. military, as well as commercial airlines, to provide the next generation of domestically-produced aviation biofuels that create revenue and jobs in rural areas, decrease greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign energy sources.”

According to the U.S. Navy, the Green Hornet performed as engineers expected, successfully completing all aspects of the test flight. Yesterday’s flight won the praise of Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, who has provided ongoing leadership in the Navy’s focus on renewable energy and attended the test flight.

“The alternative fuels test program is a significant milestone in the certification and ultimate operational use of biofuels by the Navy and Marine Corps,” said Secretary of the Navy Mabus. “It’s important to emphasize, especially on Earth Day, the Navy’s commitment to reducing dependence on foreign oil as well as safeguarding our environment. Our Navy, alongside industry, the other services and federal agency partners, will continue to be an early adopter of alternative energy sources.”

As you might remember from my post on March 25, the U.S. Air Force flew an A-10 Warthog on a biofuel provided by Sustainable Oils last month.

USDA Biomass Crop Assistance Program Successful

According to Jonathan Coppess, USDA Farm Service Agency Administrator, biomass producers, energy facilities and communities are benefiting from USDA’s Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP). Through April 2, 2010, USDA has approved 4,605 agreements for the delivery of more than 4.18 million tons of biomass and paid eligible biomass owners $165,274,695 in matching payments under BCAP’s first phase. BCAP was established in the 2008 Farm Bill.

“We’ve had dozens of reports from biomass producers, energy facilities and communities that are benefiting from BCAP payments right now, which shows the incredible potential of this innovative program,” said Coppess.

The program authorized USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) to help those producing biomass by providing matching payments for the collection, harvest, storage and transportation of eligible biomass delivered to approved facilities to convert it to biofuels. FSA service centers across the country have issued payments of up to $45 per dry ton for eligible biomass deliveries. Biomass is any organic matter that is available on a renewable or recurring basis including: agricultural commodities, plants, trees, algae, and other animal, vegetative and wood waste materials.

“Congress directed USDA to establish a program to encourage farmers and forest landowners to help develop the biomass supply chain and accelerate energy independence, rural economic development and renewable sources of energy,” said Coppess. “Since we issued initial guidance last June, BCAP has gathered momentum and our efforts to expedite matching payments provided valuable, real-world information and experiences that will inform the crafting of the final regulation, as well as some much-needed economic stimulus in many rural areas.

Once the final rule for the program is approved, it will provide funding for producers of renewable biomass who establish new biomass crops within select geographical areas and will continue to provide matching payments for deliveries of eligible materials. Click here to access charts showing BCAP Collection, Harvest, Storage & Transportation Component and Summary Reports.

O’Hurley Part of Plan to Turn Hog Waste into Energy

It might have been quite the load when J. Peterman said , “You may know it better as Myanmar, but it’ll always be Burma to me.” But now the man who played Elaine’s bombastic boss on Seinfeld is turning literal crap into energy.

John O’Hurley, who also is known for his hosting role on the TV game show Family Feud and on Dancing with the Stars, will now be part of an company that turns hog manure into power. This article from Biomass Magazine says O’Hurley and his new company Energy-Inc. have inked a deal to put in a system at High Ridge Farm in Greenville, N.C., that will turn the waste from the farm’s 3,000 hogs and into electricity:

O’Hurley said his interest and convictions in renewable energy aren’t a surprise to those who know him, and described the company’s initiatives as the result of a two-year ramp up. “The technology hasn’t had a presence in this country, but it’s been used with quite a bit of success for the last 10 years or so in Europe and Asia because fuel prices, historically, have made it a comfortable environment,” he said.

Now that the technology has been improved since its migration to the U.S., it has evolved into an efficient mechanism to produce large amounts of energy from waste, O’Hurley said, adding that much higher fuel prices in the U.S. and a more technologically and government-friendly climate for clean technologies influenced the decision to introduce the “Advanced Thermal Conversion Technology” in this country.

Nevada-based Energy-Inc. has an exclusive license to distribute the ATCT system, which O’Hurley said involves two main platforms. “One, we take any waste that has a Btu value such as manure, municipal solid waste, agriculture waste, wood waste—anything not nuclear or metal—and produce electricity with near zero emissions through a pyrolytic gasification technology,” O’Hurley said. “We super heat the waste without the presence of oxygen to generate a synthesis gas; the gas turns a generator if necessary or can used as a replacement for natural gas. It’s an entirely closed system and produces steam, heat, hot water and residual biochar.”

The system is expected to process 12 tons of biomass a day and should be complete and operational within six months.