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.

Ethanol Plant Receives Grant to Use Biomass for Power

An ethanol plant in Iowa has received a nearly $2 million federal grant to use renewable biomass to replace the fossil fuels needed to run the biorefinery.

The USDA announced that the award comes from the Repowering Assistance Program, part of the 2008 Farm Bill:

Lincolnway Energy, LLC, based in Nevada, Iowa, has been selected to receive a $1.9 million payment award. The company produces 55 to 60 million gallons per year of fuel-grade ethanol. The USDA payment will reimburse the firm for costs to modify a boiler to burn wood and other biomass.

USDA’s Repowering Assistance Program was authorized under the 2008 Farm Bill and allows USDA to make payments to eligible biorefineries to encourage the use of renewable biomass as a replacement fuel source for fossil fuels used to provide process heat or power in the operation of these eligible biorefineries. Biorefineries that were in existence when the Bill was enacted, June 18, 2008, are eligible to apply.

More information is available through this USDA website.

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.