Biofuels and Conservation Achievable with Biomass

Getting energy from the land and practicing good conservation are not mutually exclusive. A federal ag deartment researcher says we can have both through using biomass.

USDA researcher Doug Karlen, who works at the Agricultural Research Service’s National Soil Tilth Lab in Ames, Iowa, told attendees of the recent USDA Outlook Forum that conservation and energy from biomass can be compatible if three things are considered.

“If we utilize multiple feedstock options, multiple conversion platforms and recognize that’s there’s no single solution.”

Karlen also told the group that you have to consider how land conditions vary. In addition, biomass cannot always be seen as just a waste waiting to be made useful. He points out that the trade-off for using biomass from fields for bioenergy is that there is no residue left over to renew the soil with nutrients, as well as losing the habitat for wildlife those crop leftovers provided. Karlen says that’s why it is so important to have a diversity of biomass products within a certain area.

World’s First Hybrid Biomass-Solar Refinery Announced

A Colorado company has come up with a way to harness to power of the sun to unlock the energy in biomass.

This post from the CalFinder blog says Sundrop Fuels has developed the world’s first hybrid solar-biomass refinery that uses concentrated solar power (CSP) to heat plant scraps and wood chips to create biofuel:

The use of solar power to reduce consumption of biomass at the refinery should considerably improve their product’s energy balance, i.e. energy put into production versus energy pulled out. Sundrop’s SurroundSun reactor technology is similar to relatively new Power Tower tech now used to create solar thermal electricity. In fact, Sundrop has licensed CSP technology from well-known start-up eSolar to make their prototype biorefinery a reality.

Instead of using mirrors to reflect sunlight and to heat water or molten salts in a central tower, Sundrop Fuels’ design will use that solar energy to heat biomass to very high temperatures. The solar heat “blasts organic materials with super high temperatures…tearing apart the materials at the molecular level…which creates a synthetic gas that can be formed into gasoline or diesel,” said Sundrop CEO Wayne Simmons.

Sundrop officials admit they will have to burn some biomass to hit the temps needed, but the process will get about 30 percent of the heat needed from the sun.

The company is hoping to find some investors for a demonstration project and another $100-150 million to build an 8-million-gallon-a-year plant.

E. coli to Help Brew Biodiesel

A group of federal researchers has figured out how to better extract biodiesel from biomass using a microbe that most of us try to avoid in our food.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) has announced that researchers have engineered a strain of E. coli bacteria that can extract an advanced biodiesel directly from biomass:

“The fact that our microbes can produce a diesel fuel directly from biomass with no additional chemical modifications is exciting and important,” says Jay Keasling, the Chief Executive Officer for JBEI, and a leading scientific authority on synthetic biology. “Given that the costs of recovering biodiesel are nowhere near the costs required to distill ethanol, we believe our results can significantly contribute to the ultimate goal of producing scalable and cost effective advanced biofuels and renewable chemicals.”

E. coli is a well-studied microorganism whose natural ability to synthesize fatty acids and exceptional amenability to genetic manipulation make it an ideal target for biofuels research. The combination of E. coli with new biochemical reactions realized through synthetic biology, enabled Keasling, [Eric Steen, a member of the team from JBEI’s Fuels Synthesis Division] and their colleagues to produce structurally tailored fatty esters (biodiesel), alcohols and waxes directly from simple sugars.

“Biosynthesis of microbial fatty acids produces fatty acids bound to a carrier protein, the accumulation of which inhibits the making of additional fatty acids,” Steen says. “Normally E. coli doesn’t waste energy making excess fat, but by cleaving fatty acids from their carrier proteins, we’re able to unlock the natural regulation and make an abundance of fatty acids that can be converted into a number of valuable products. Further, we engineered our E. coli to no longer eat fatty acids or use them for energy.”

The researchers point out that using E. coli to convert biomass into biodiesel will eliminate a food source from the fuel chain.

“Green Coal” to Debut at UK Biomass Conference

EBWUKAn energy source made from biomass that’s touted as “magic coal from the steam cooker” will make its debut at the Energy from Biomass and Waste conference January 26-27, 2010 at the Royal Horticultural Halls & Conference Centre in London, England.

This press release says “Green Coal,” invented the German company the G+R Technology Group, will be produced at the first industrial production plant for biocoal:

GRTechIt took nature millions of years – by means of simple chemical processings mankind is in the meantime capable to solve the issue within just a few hours: biowastes, crop residues and organic wastes result in highly efficient combustibles, at the same time offering a profitable benefit to the environment. Compared to brown or black coal, the “Green Coal” Gco(c) is completely CO2-neutral and will contribute to a considerable reduction of CO2 emissions.

Fossile energy sources such as gas, oil and coal are finite, expensive, make us dependent and strongly impact the environment. Renewable energies therefore presently face a boom, also in the UK. The green active coal might be a genuine alternative to solar cells, wind turbines and others. The Green Coal Gco(c) production process was for the first time described in 1913 by the German chemist and Nobel laureate Friedrich Berguis. Recently it was rediscovered by the Max-Planck-Institute and is currently considered as alternative hope for the future when it comes to climate. The production process – the so-called Hydrothermal Carbonisation (HTC) in technical terms – is simple in principle and reminds you of cooking: all kinds of organic biomass are put into a kind of steam cooker, water is added as kind of converter and finally the mixture is heated. After a couple of hours the Green Coal Gco(c) emerges.

G+R Tech also says the Green Coal method could be applied to all organic residues and biowastes, even animal wastes and sewage sludges.

If anyone has a chance to see this technology next week in England, let me know if this is what it seems to be on the surface.

Promoting Freedom at AG CONNECT Expo

Sunbelt BiofuelsIn the growing field of biomass conversion to fuel there’s a plant that Mississippi State University thinks will help farmers and all Americans. It’s Giant Miscanthus and you can follow it on Twitter @GiantMiscanthus. They’ve actually licensed the product which is Freedom Giant Miscanthus that’s being marketed by Sunbelt Biofuels LLC. On the show floor at AG CONNECT Expo last week to talk about it were John Holmes (l) and Sunbelt’s Chairman Phil Jennings (r).

Phil says they’re taking the product commercial for MSU. He says they’ve been in the turf grass business for years and this new product caught their attention. He says they’re off to a great start and expect to see a lot of acres signed up in the next couple years as the demand for cellulosic ethanol production increases. John says Freedom is a play on words to denote the ability to become independent of foreign produced oil. Phil says “We know of no other plant that is a perennial, that is renewable as fast as it is that can give us the masses of biomass that we’re looking for.” He says Freedom provides four times the yield per acre of switchgrass.

You can listen to my interview with Phil and John below:

AG CONNECT Expo Photo Album

Biomass to Provide Power for Algae Biodiesel Plant

EnergyQuestAn algae-biodiesel plant in Alabama will be powered by biomass.

This press release posted on
says Nevada-based Energy Quest, Inc. will build a turn key biomass (wood waste) to power/algae energy plant producing 26.8 megawatt (24 net) of power in Piedmont, Alabama:

The attached Algae biodiesel plant will produce a clean and efficient fuel that can be used in any device that utilizes diesel fuel.

The plant at full capacity will require 33.5 tons per hour of wood waste feedstock provided from the surrounding area. The plant will produce approximately 24 MW of electrical power at $0.06 per KW and 20 million gallon annually of bio-diesel at $2.00 per gallon. The plant will operate 24 hours a day and when completed provide 60 jobs. EQI would be an owner and operate this facility.

Energy Quest’s advanced modular gasification design will result in lower set up costs and increased efficiencies. The gasifiers will provide clean syngas fuel for the power generators. The Algae CO2 capture system will be provided by others and completely built in Piedmont.

The stack gases containing CO2 are captured and ducted to Algae growing pod clusters as feed for the growth of Oil (lipid) producing Algae. Algae grows in water. The lipid laden Algae is harvested from the pod growing clusters several times per day. The Algae is then dewatered to a sufficient level to feed into the lipid extraction process. Once the lipids have been extracted from the Algae it is fed into the lipid oil to diesel conversion process. Using this process will yield 200 litres of bio-diesel from every ton of CO2 produced from the biomass combustion process.

The project is estimated to cost nearly $81 million.

Could Salicornia Be a New Wonder Feedstock?

On the Eve of the World Future Energy Summit, which began today in Abu Dhabi, the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, Honeywell UOP, Boeing and Ethiad Airways announced a project that would study how to combine fish farms and biofuel crops to lower CO2, reduce ocean waste and produce renewable jet fuel. The star feedstock? Salicornia.

Photo Credit: South Dakota State University

Photo Credit: South Dakota State University

Salicornia, also known as glasswort, pickleweed and marsh samphire, is a salt tolerant plant that is high in oil and protein. It is native to North America, Europe, South Africa and South Asia. An edible plant, it is can potentially produce animal feed as well as biodiesel on coastal land where conventional crops are not suitable.

This is not the first project to study Salicornia as a way to reduce ocean pollution and create biofuels. Back in the late 90s early 2000s a group called the Seawater Foundation (now Global Seawater, Inc.)  did a pilot project in Eritrea and are currently doing a pilot project in Mexico.

According to Greentech Media, here is how it would work. Farmers would create ponds and streams for raising shrimp and/or tilapia interspersed with Salicornia and mangrove which would absorb the waste from the fish reducing the amount of pollution that would travel through the waterways. The fish would be harvested for food and the Salicornia would be harvested to make biofuels as well as fish food and the straw of the plant would be burned in a biomass reactor to produce electricity, explained Scott Kennedy, associate professor at the Masdar Institute working with MIT.

“It is a much more commercial ready process” than some forms of algae cultivation, Kennedy said.

The next step in the process will see if Salicornia can be grown in large quantities and if so, what the environmental effects will be on the surrounding ecosystems. Ultimately, the discovery of these answers will help determine the viability of the feedstock for biofuels production.

Southeast Poised to be Leader in Energy Crops

The Southeast is poised to be the leader in energy crop production according to University of Florida Associate Professor and energy crops expert Dr. John Erickson. He has been focusing on research of perennial grasses, mostly C4 grasses in his work with the Agronomy department. These can include sugarcane, energycane, elephant grasses, miscanthus, giant reed, switchgrass and sorghum.

sugarcaneIn terms of output, in the short-term, sugarcane and sweet sorghum look promising. Current studies put sweet sorghum on par with corn in higher latitudes where it is a little colder. In the longer-term, cellulosic feedstocks such as energycanes and elephant grasses are producing upward of 40 megagrams per hectare. These grasses are selected for their fiber content – they don’t have high juice or sucrose contents that sugarcanes do but the yield more biomass.

Perennial grasses offer several advantages, said Erickson, including not having to plant the crops every year so you don’t have renewable annual planting costs and they tend to be a little more efficient in water and nutrient use.

If a grower chooses to grow a perennial crop, that becomes the crop for that land area, explained Erickson. Therefore a grower JEricksonmust commit to a longer-term commitment when they grow perennial grasses. “Some of that will be dependent on how they incentivize, or even if, they incentivize carbon credits and whether or not agriculture has the potential to be involved in that. And so if that becomes a reality then perennial grasses will be viewed more favorably than something like sorghum. If they don’t, than sorghum may do just as well or better than some of these others because they can be worked into rotation with current existing crops.”

Erickson stressed that the results are still in their early stages and crops typically do better in the second year. It will be a year or so before the final results are published, but in general, he notes that perrienal grasses look like they have good potential as energy crops.

AG CONNECT Expo Photo Album

Listen to my in depth interview with John here.

Researchers Turning Sugar Beets into Biofuels

sugarbeet1Researchers believe they have found a way to turn sugar beets into a low-cost biofuel, thanks to the development of an enzyme that speeds up the process.

A press release from Atlantic Biomass, a Frederick, Maryland, biotech-biofuel company focused on developing cutting-edge systems to produce advanced biofuels from sustainable, non-food biomass, says work with Hood College has produced a thermostable enzyme that opens the way to a new pathway for low-cost biofuel production using sugar beet pulp as feedstock. The researchers have put their findings in the latest issue of the American Society of Microbiology’s journal Applied and Environment Microbiology:

Thermostability, or the ability to perform at high temperatures, is needed in biofuel and other industrial applications so enzymes can survive in the higher temperatures of commercial production systems and use the higher temperatures to speed up conversion reactions. The pectinmethylesterase (pme) enzyme developed by the Hood College/Atlantic Biomass team was fashioned to function in the sugar beet production environment of 650C (approximately 1500F) which is at the top end for this class of enzymes.

“This development alone is important for opening up the use of beet pulp and similar agricultural residues for biofuel production,” said Atlantic Biomass president and founder Bob Kozak. “More important, the development of this enzyme led us to an understanding of how enzymes break down plant cell walls and overcome biomass recalcitrance.” Using this research, Atlantic Biomass is currently patenting that process in addition to the pme enzyme. “Overcoming biomass recalcitrance is the Holy Grail of economical biofuel production,” Kozak pointed out. “I think we’re finally on the right path.”

Kozak hopes the Obama Administration will be able to see the value in research like this and fund more of it.

Speedling & Mendel to Commercialize Miscanthus

Speedling3Miscanthus appears to be the hot feedstock for December. Last week, Sunbelt Biofuels announced that it will be licensing Freedom Giant Miscanthus, and today, Speedling Incorporated and Mendel Biotechnology, Inc. announced an agreement to work together to research, develop and commercialize a “cost-effective propagation and production system for Mendel’s advanced Miscanthus product candidates.”

Neal Gutterson, Mendel’s president and CEO said, “Commercial-scale deployment of genetically diverse, high-yielding perennial grasses will be required for the country to meet its renewable energy and fuel targets in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner. Speedling has demonstrated best-in-class capabilities in vegetative plug production with superior customer service.”

Speedling will apply its proprietary propagation methods to optimize production that Mendel will use for testing in emerging Mendel-Logo-180pxbioenergy markets. The two companies also plan to deploy several biomass power projects in target locations that are well suited to grow Mendel Mischanthus products.

Greg Davis, CEO of Speedling noted, “We believe that the surest path to success in the rapidly emerging bioenergy industry is partnerships that match complimentary skills and expertise. Speedling’s proven productions capacities and Mendel’s biogenetic expertise certainly meet that criterion.”

PowerPellets Touted as “Coal from the Farm”

NextStepBiofuelsIt could become the next great fuel source from the agricultural community. A Nebraska-based biomass supplier and manufacturer has debuted a product it touts as “Coal from the Farm.”

Next Step Biofuels, Inc. has launched PowerPellets, a green fuel made from corn stover – all the leaves, cobs and stalks leftover after the corn is harvested – that burns like coal and will help with that state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard laws that require utilities to generate more of their power from renewable sources:

PowerPelletslogoNext Step COO Russ Zeeck explained that PowerPellets solve the logistical and operational problems that have thus far prevented wide-scale use of biomass to generate electricity. “Utilities have long been aware of the environmental benefits of burning biomass, but they’ve had a hard time adopting it,” said Zeeck.

“PowerPellets overcome the three major problems that utilities have had with biomass. First, unlike raw biomass, PowerPellets are easy and affordable to ship and store. Second, unlike other pelletized biomass, PowerPellets are hard and friable which means they pulverize and feed just like coal; PowerPellets can be folded into a coal-fired plant’s operations with little or no additional capital.
And, third, because Next Step makes PowerPellets from corn stover – America’s most abundant source of renewable biomass – there is a deep, reliable and price-stable supply.”

Next Step Biofuels says the PowerPellets were recently tested and found to do what was claimed of them during rigorous testing conducted at the Energy & Environmental Research Center at the University of North Dakota.

Next Step plans to negotiate with several utilities to supply PowerPellets starting next year.

DOE Announces Additonal $100M in ARPA-E Funding

New_DOE_Logo_DFU.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced today an additional $100 million round of funding opportunities for transformational energy research projects that will be made available through the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). This announcement was made along side Commerce Secretary Gary Locke in advance of the Copenhagen Climate Conference.

In a statement, Chu said, “I am pleased to announce ARPA-E’s second funding opportunity because it demonstrates our commitment to lead the next Industrial Revolution in clean energy technologies, creating thousands of new jobs while helping cut carbon pollution,” said Secretary Chu. “This solicitation focuses on three cutting-edge technology areas which could have a transformational impact.”

Unlike the last round which focused on supporting projects such as biofuels, carbon capture, renewable power vehicles and more, this round will focus on three key areas: new approaches for biofuels, carbon capture and batteries for electric vehicles.

In a new category coined electrofuels, “ARPA-E is seeking new ways to make liquid transportation fuels – without using petroleum or biomass – by using microorganisms to harness chemical or electrical energy to convert carbon dioxide into liquid fuels.” More specifically, they are looking at funding projects that will research, “organisms capable of extracting energy from hydrogen, from reduced earth-abundant metal ions, from robust, inexpensive, readily available organic redo active species, or directly from electric current.

It is theorized that such an approach could be 10 times more efficient than current photosynthetic-biomass approaches to liquid fuel production. Click here to learn more about submiting a proposal.

American Process Receives $17.9M for Cellulosic Plant

Ethanol_PlantAmerican Process, a company based in Atlanta, Georgia, has received a portion of the funds that were awarded by the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Biorefinery Assistance Program – $17.9 million to be exact. The funds will be used to develop a plant that will produce ethanol and potassium acetate, a deicer, from wood waste generated by a local hardboard company, Decorative Panels International.

According to an article in the Michigan Messenger, Governor Jennifer Granholm said in a statement, “This grant, in support of one of our Centers of Energy Excellence, will bring 160 jobs to the Alpena area and strengthen Michigan’s efforts to be a leader in the development of the next generation of advanced biofuels.”

Back in June, the state approved the site location as part of a tax-exempt Renewable Energy Renaissance Zone for 15 years beginning next January. In addition to the DOE funds, the project has had other investments including the receipt of $4 million from the Center of Energy Excellence.

Copenhagen VIPS travel in Limos Fueled by Straw

Tanking of the Volvo VIP Fleet with Biomass Made from Waste

Tanking of the Volvo VIP Fleet with Biomass Made from Waste

VIPS traveling around Copenhagen during the Climate Conference are not only traveling in style, their limos are fueled with biofuel produced from straw. According to Novozymes, the largest enzyme producer in the world, this is the first time ever a fleet of limos has been fueled with this type of biofuel.

The advanced fuel is made from waste biomass, namely straw, by Inbicon, at its new USD-60 million gallon demonstration plant in Denmark. The fuel boasts an 85 percent reduction in CO2, as compared to cars running on gasoline. The reduction of CO2 is a hot topic during the conference.

Another hot topic is developing more effective enzymes to convert starch to sugar during the biofuel production process. Novozymes developed the enzyme that is being used in Inbicon’s ethanol production process.

The fleet of Volvo limousines is sponsored by Partnership for Biofuel, which is a cooperation between Inbicon, Statoil, Danisco, and Novozymes, as well as Volvo.

SunBelt Biofuels to License Freedom Giant Miscanthus

There is another biofuel feedstock entering the mix next spring. SunBelt Biofuels LLC, based in Georgia, has announced that it will sell registered and certified rhizomes of its Freedom Giant Miscanthus to several hundred Southest U.S. licensed growers. This will mark an unusual relationship in that SunBelt has an exclusive licensing agreement with Mississippi State University.

FreedomMiscanthusAccording to a company news statement, the crop was selected after 12 years of research conducted by the university. This non genetically modified feedstock grows well in the Southeast, takes less land, costs less to grow and will provide solid revenue for growers. Studies have shown that the feedstock will produce over 3,000 gallons of ethanol per acre. On average, one acre of corn produces around 450 gallons of ethanol.

SunBelt Biofuels heralds the crops ability to stimulate rural economies citing that farms that grow Freedom Giant Miscanthus will see income rise more than $2 billion above crops that are currently grown. The company also touts the crops ability to gain energy independence for the state of Georgia.

According to SunBelt Biofuels’ CEO Phillip Jennings, Georgia needs to plant 2.4 million acres of Freedom Giant Miscanthus to become energy independent.  “In Georgia, we can take 10 percent of our commercial timber land or 24 percent of our crop land, and we would be where we need to be to sustain just this one state.”

Jennings continued, “With 10 million acres of Freedom Giant Miscanthus, Georgia would become the number 7 OPEC fuel producer in the world.”