Florida Feedstocks for Florida Biofuels Workshop

The Florida Biofuels Association, together with several other organizations and state universities, are holding a meeting this month focused on growing energy feedstocks in the Sunshine State.

“Feedstocks for Florida Biofuels – A Florida Biofuels Association Town Hall Meeting” is scheduled for Friday September 17 at Florida Farm Bureau headquarters in Gainesville. The event will include an open forum to hear from Florida farmers regarding concerns and questions pertaining to energy crops, the ABCs of profitable feedstock farming, and incentives available for the feedstock farmers. Speakers include representatives from the Florida and U.S. Departments of Agriculture and the University of Florida.

The potential for energy crops in the state was one of the topics at the recent Florida Farm to Fuel Summit. One of the presenters was Bill Vasden Jr., Chairman of the Florida Feedstock Growers Association. Vasden was interviewed by Gary Cooper with Southeast Agnet at the summit about the production and distribution of renewable energy from Florida-grown crops. “We’ve been growing feedstock crops like camelina and kenaf here in Florida for four years,” he says. As a cattle and citrus farmer, he started growing energy crops to help cut his on-farm diesel costs. “Later it became apparent that a lot of these crops can be grown here in Florida, with additional revenue streams.” They now have 2500 acres in kenaf, which is a spring biomass crop, then in the fall they rotate into camelina, which is an oilseed crop. “Camelina grown in Florida produces the highest yields in the country and can be grown in fall and winter and is very drought tolerant and cold tolerant,” said Vasden. As a bonus, it is also approved for as a by-product for animal feed.

Vasden says the market demand for these energy crops exceeds demand, so it has been very profitable for his operation. “We look to 2500 acres, without any government subsidy, to gross $2.8 million when farmed with two crops of camelina and one crop of kenaf, and those are pretty impressive figures,” he explained.

Here is a link to Vasden’s powerpoint presentation at Florida Farm to Fuel.

The Relationship Between Biomass Harvesting and Soil

As the cellulosic industry gets closer to bringing cellulosic ethanol to market, there have been some concerns regarding how biomass harvesting will affect soil health and yields. These very issues were discussed by Dr. Stuart Birrell a professor at Iowa State University, whom with his team, have been studying soil sustainability as it relates to biomass harvesting.

His latest research has been in partnership with POET’s Biomass division, who is now in the midst of the largest biomass harvesting of light corn stover and corn cobs in the world. Birrell notes that to determine how much biomass a farmer can remove from his field without having adverse effects, it is important to the farmer to understand the health of his soil.

Birrell said during Project Liberty’s BIomass Harvest Kickoff, that there is a lot of variability in fields. In some fields, a farmer won’t be able to remove much, if any biomass whereas in other fields, he may remove more. On average, POET is asking for 1 ton from each field, which averages out to around 20-25 percent of the total biomass. However this could change in the future as bushels per acre increases. In fact, seed companies are predicting that within the next 15 years, corn harvests will double and this feat will be achieved without putting any additional land into production.

Birrell also noted that biomass harvesting may encourage some farmers to move to no-till techniques, which help reduce the amount of carbon released from the soil.

So ultimately, how will a farmer know how much biomass he can remove from his field? With some new technology that Birrell’s team is working on – variable rate removal machines. As a farmer is harvesting his biomass, the machine will automatically adjust how much biomass is removed based on certain soil health characteristics. This will ensure that soil health is not jeopardize by removing too much biomass.

Largest Global Cellulosic Biomass Harvest Underway

The largest global cellulosic biomass harvest in history is underway and already the world is watching. Last week, Project Liberty kicked off their one-year biomass harvest pilot program as an effort to ensure all the correct logistics are in place in time for Project Liberty to go online in early 2012.

During the event, I caught up with Scott Weishaar, who runs POET’s biomass division. He and his team have been working for years on commercializing cellulsoic ethanol using light corn stover and corn cobs and this pilot program represents that last major hurdle for success.

As part of this program, POET Biomass will have a biomass storage building completed in time for harvest that will house up to 23,000 tons of biomass bales at any given time.

Along with progress comes concerns and Weishaar is very cognizant that people have concerns over what impact the removal of biomass will be on the soil. “We know there are concerns. So we want to make sure we understand all the aspects that are associated with that – soil erosion, nutrients, compaction, and storage characteristics,” said Weishaar.

All of these elements are being studied in conjunction with several partners including Idaho National Laboratory, Iowa State University and USDA’s Biomass Program and the goal is to have all major questions answered prior to the cellulosic ethanol plant going online.

“We are working around the logistics surrounding the collection, storage, and handling of the biomass so we’re ready to supply the feedstock in 2012,” said Weishaar.

As the world watches, there are still many who doubt commercial cellulosic ethanol will ever succeed. To that, Weishaar says the “proof is in the pudding” and they are ready to meet the country’s challenges of producing 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022 and reducing its dependence on foreign oil.”

Listen to the interview with Scott Weishaar here: Scott Weishaar Talks Biomass

Range Fuels Makes Cellulosic Methanol

Colorado-based Range Fuels reports the successful production of cellulosic methanol using non-food biomass at a Georgia biofuels plant in the first phase of an operation to ultimately produce next generation ethanol.

Range FuelsAccording to a Range Fuels’ press release, this first phase uses heat, pressure, and steam to convert woody biomass and grasses into a synthesis gas composed of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. The syngas is then passed over a proprietary catalyst to produce mixed alcohols that are separated and processed to yield a variety of low-carbon biofuels.

“We are ecstatic to be producing cellulosic methanol from our Soperton Plant, and are on track to begin production of cellulosic ethanol in the third quarter of this year,” said David Aldous, Range Fuels’ President and CEO. The cellulosic methanol produced from Phase 1 will be used to produce biodiesel for transportation fuel markets. It may also be used in heating applications, as a fuel additive in gasoline-powered motor vehicles, or to power fuel cells.

Range Fuels plans to expand the capacity of the plant to 60 million gallons of cellulosic biofuels annually with construction to begin next summer. The Soperton, Georgia plant is permitted to produce 100 million gallons of ethanol and methanol each year.

POET to Begin Biomass Harvesting in Texas

This week, POET will begin biomass harvest research in corn fields near Navasota, Texas. This is part of an ongoing effort to learn more about the most efficient ways to harvest and store biomass for cellulosic ethanol production.

Project LIBERTY, the country’s soon-to-be largest corn cob and corn stover cellulosic-to-ethanol plant, located in Emmetsburg, Iowa, is also engaged in biomass harvesting tests with the Idaho National Laboratory. It is anticipated that the plant will become operational in early 2012.

This summer marks the third year that POET will conduct biomass harvesting field tests in the state. The region is ideal for the research because harvests occur earlier here than in the Midwest. Researchers will monitor the biomass going through the combine during grain harvest and compare it to what is later baled for use in ethanol production. In addition, researchers will analyze composition and moisture of the bales, integral components to the success of biomass storage.

“We’ve learned a lot about harvesting biomass over the last few years in Texas, South Dakota and Iowa,” POET Biomass Director Mike Roth said. “We will continue to add to our knowledge of the issue and share that information with farmers as they begin the commercial harvest for Project LIBERTY.”

Oodles and Oodles of Biomass, Oh My!

There are several barriers to the success of converting biomass to biofuels including harvesting, transportation and storage. But of these three challenges, one of utmost importance is not only how to store the biomass but how long can it be stored without compromising the feedstock?

The most advanced commercial scale corn stover to ethanol project in the U.S. is Project Liberty, a biomass project funding by POET. Ultimately, the plant will produce 25 million gallons per year of cellulosic ethanol, but how much biomass will that take? According to POET, the plant will need 770 dry tons of biomass (corn cobs, some leaves and husks) for each day of operation. Yet how do you store that much material?

This is the very question that the Project Liberty team is working on with researchers at Idaho National Laboratory (INL). They are studying factors at POET plants in Hurley, SD and Emmestburg, IA, like the heat and moisture content of the biomass bale to determine how different types of piles and configurations will affect the quality of the bale. The answer to this question will aid farmers in storing the biomass in their fields until it is needed at the plant.

INL currently has 800 different bale configurations under study and they are attempting to discover the best balance of heat and moisture in the biomass bale. Kevin Kenney, and INL researcher, notes that they are looking at two areas in their research. First, the risk of biomass storage to farmers. Second, how the biomass degrades over time. After this year’s study is complete, the research team will discard the least effective methods and move forward with refining those configurations that hold the most promise.

You can lean more about the project in this video featuring INL researcher, Kevin Kenney.

The Economics of Ethanol from Corn Cobs

Producing a significant amount of ethanol strictly from corn cobs is possible but would require a specific set of circumstances to be economically feasible, according to a new report from Purdue University researchers.

corn cobsIn the report “The Economics of Harvesting Corn Cobs for Energy,” Matthew Erickson and Wallace Tyner found that factors such as corn yield, farm size, harvesting equipment rental costs and increases in harvest times greatly affected the price per ton, but that government incentives for a possible cob-based advanced biofuel would offset collection costs enough to make it an attractive fuel source. In assessing the economics of cob harvesting the researchers focused on three main factors – the decrease in harvest work rate cob harvesting necessitates, the expense of cob wagon rental and the percentages of cob in residue.

The overall conclusion they made is that corn cobs are more expensive to harvest for energy than originally thought, “maybe too expensive to be used for energy production unless the public is willing to further support development.”

Corn growers say it might be worth the price for the nation that wants to continue lessening its dependence on fossil fuels. “As we explore innovative ways to use corn, our most abundant feedstock, to produce renewable energy, we have to remain flexible and dedicated,” said National Corn Growers Association Ethanol Committee Chair Jon Holzfaster. “Currently, our society places an extremely high priority on developing alternative fuel sources. New cob-based biofuel continues our tradition of working towards the goals of the RFS2, keeping our resources at home and developing new jobs in the U.S.”

Read the entire report here.

Renewable Energy Progress

Earlier this month, the 25x’25 Alliance released a progress report on where the nation is in terms of the goal of meeting 25 percent of our energy needs with renewable resources by 2025, and they held a press conference with representatives of all the major renewable energy sectors to talk about the report and what still needs to be done.

25x'25In this edition of the Domestic Fuel Cast, we will hear from each of those representatives – Tom Buis with ethanol group Growth Energy; Bob Cleaves of the Biomass Power Association; Brad Collins with the American Solar Energy Society; Karl Gawell from the Geothermal Energy Association; and Rob Gramlich with the American Wind Energy Association – as well as 25x’25 steering committee co-chairman Reid Smith.

Listen to the Domestic Fuel Cast here. Domestic Fuel Cast

You can also subscribe to the DomesticFuel Cast here.

Peanut Growers Hear About Ethanol and Biomass

Southern peanut producers meeting in Panama City Beach last week heard about ethanol and producing energy on a local level.

Growth Energy representative Dennis Weise talked to the farmers about how they can advocate for domestically produced energy by getting involved.

“We have to get outside of the corn belt now, so it’s important that we talk to folks from the southeast United States, the southwest and everywhere else,” said Weise. He talked about the advertising and promotion efforts Growth Energy has undertaken and he encouraged the farmers to join Growth Force. “We need advocates for our industry,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s their industry as well.”

Listen to or download an interview with Weise at the Southern Peanut Growers Conference here: Dennis Wiese Interview

Taking renewable energy to a more local level was Steve Flick of Show Me Energy Cooperative in western Missouri, which is a non-profit, producer owned cooperative founded to support the development of renewable biomass energy sources.

Flick says they have shown that farmers can produce renewable energy on a local level and peanut farmers in the southeast can do the same thing. “They do have marginal land in Georgia and Alabama, not interfering with their peanut production, they can actually utilize that marginal land to create energy like we’re doing at Show Me,” he said. “I told them ‘You are in control of your own destiny’ so if you feel like energy is important to you, you can develop a group of farmers and learn how to operate and build a plant like we did.” The plant produces pellets from biomass that the co-op members use to heat their homes and poultry barns in the winter.

Flick also says that Show Me will have a big announcement coming in September about building a combined heat and power plant on their site in west central Missouri. “Now we’ve become a game-changer by creating our own electrical load for our own power supply right there in our own backyard,” he added.

Listen to or download an interview with Flick here: Steve Flick Interview

ISU Testing Biomass/Coal Blend to Reduce Emissions

In a recent article published in Inside Iowa State (ISU), researchers are looking into the replacement of some coal with wood pellets. The biomass is being studied as an additive to coal, to reduce it’s carbon footprint. Beginning on July 15, 2010, two coal-fired boilers located on the ISU campus, began to burn wood pellets as part of a series of tests that utilities staff are conducting over several weeks. The tests will help officials assess the feasibility of replacing some coal with biomass, which is considered a cleaner fuel source, according to Jeff Witt, assistant director of utilities.

“We’re doing this to see what other alternative energy sources are feasible,” he said. “We’ll be assessing both the environmental and economic impacts of using these sources.”

The first test will involve a mix of 10 percent wood pellets with 90 percent coal. In a recent test the mix was 5 percent wood pellets to 95 percent coal. The researchers have approval from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to test up to a 20 percent wood pellet blend. The study is estimated to take three months with air emissions one of the major components of the project.

The wood being used in the tests is from Colorado pine trees that have been decimated by pine beetles. For more than a decade, pine beetles have been attacking the trees and currently in Colorado and Wyoming, more than 3 million acres of trees have been lost.

One of the drawbacks of using wood pellets is the expense – nearly double the cost of coal – according to Witt. He notes, however, that like other technologies, long-term contracts and the maturity of a technology will lower the costs.

Energy Crop Production Looks Good in Tennessee

The University of Tennessee Biofuels Initiative (UTBI) is closely watching how more than 1,000 acres of newly planted varieties of switchgrass will compare to current varieties. This project is part of a U.S. DOE project that was developed to study improved efficiencies in bioenergy production from biomass. The scale of the acreage will allow for assessment of the environmental and economic sustainability of the different varieties. Farmers and researchers should gain useful information on seed stock performance including disease and drought resistance, tolerance to humidity, and other agronomic variables.

The project team is headed by UT researchers Dr. Sam Jackson and Dr. Nicole Labbe who are also working with Ceres and Dupont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol (DDCE). Farmers from nine east Tennessee counties, along with members of the research team, have planted more than 1,000 acres of switchgrass varieties that have been developed by Ceres. The results will be compared with 1,000 acres of a more traditional variety of switchgrass known as “Alamo”.  These acres have been established on private farms as part of the UTBI farmer incentive program that now totals nearly 6,000 acres.

Once the switchgrass is harvested, it will be turned into cellulosic ethanol at Genera Energy/DDCE’s demonstration-scale biorefinery located in Vonore, Tenn. Genera Energy is hosting a groundbreaking of the facility located in the Tennessee’s Biomass Innovation Park on July 29, 2010.
Continue reading

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.”