Abengoa Secures Biomass for Cellulosic Plant

Build the plant and the biomass will come. Abengoa has announced that they have signed contracts with several biomass producers farming in and around Hugoton, Kansas, to provide 315,000 tons of cellulosic biomass by the end of 2011. Construction of the biorefinery is scheduled for this summer and expected to be fully operational sometime in 2013. Once in production, the plant will utilize 315,000 tons of biomass each year to produce 25 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol. The plant will also produce 25 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the ethanol conversion process. Once complete, the biorefinery will be Abengoa’s first second-generation facility and seventh bioethanol facility in the U.S., bringing the company’s total U.S. biofuel production to more than 400 million gallons.

Abengoa recognized early in the process that the company would need to ensure a steady stream of biomass in order for the plant to produce the maximum amount of biofuels each year. Therefore, they ensured the necessary amount of feedstocks would be available taking several issues into account.

First, they needed to determine that adequate amounts of biomass were available within an economical transportation distance of the projected facility site. In addition, they needed to make sure that the biomass supply would be available during normal fluctuations of weather and different growing conditions. Second, they needed to ensure that the biomass could be harvested in a sustainable manner over the projected lifetime of the project. Third, they needed to work with the local producers to ensure that the biomass harvest would meet expectations in terms of quantity, quality and cost.

Abengoa will accept the bounty of the first biomass harvest this fall and will continue to accept biomass through the summer and fall of 2012. During the past three years, the company conducted various tests to determine best practices for harvesting the biomass in a sustainable manner that meets or exceeds Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) minimum standards. These are aimed at preventing soil erosion and protecting soil health. Also during the testing phase, the company evaluated the best methods for storage, transportation and harvesting of the biomass.

Zotos Honored For Renewable Energy Use

More and more companies are moving to powering their manufacturing facilities and company headquarters with renewable energy. This week the EPA announced its Top 20 On-Site Generation List. This is a list of the organizations that are using the most on-site green power to energize their operations. The list is part of the Green Power Partnership. The winner was Kimberly Clark Organization who generates 7 percent of its electricity from biomass. Several cities in California made the top 20 including San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose. Also on the list: Wal-Mart and the U.S. Air Force.

Also on the list at number 18 was Zotos, a hair care brand. According to the EPA’s site, nearly 60 percent of the company’s electricity is generated from on-site wind energy. The reason Zotos stands out is while most companies purchase renewable power from electricity companies, they actually generated their power from wind turbines located right on their campus. According to the American Wind Energy Association, the Zotos Wind Project is considered one of the top on-site wind projects currently being undertaken by a manufacturing company in the United States.

“It was a  sizable investment to purchase the wind turbines, but it was a small price to pay when compared to the major benefits it creates for the community of Geneva, NY, and our environment,” says Anthony Perdigao, Zotos Chief Sustainability Officer.

With approximately 6.5 million kWh of electricity produced annually, the Zotos wind turbines will provide more than 50 percent of organization’s energy requirements and are expected to reduce overall CO2 emissions by 50 percent in 2011. Zotos’ energy goal is to utilize 100 percent renewable energy by 2012.

Agrivida Announces Biomass Breakthrough

During the American Chemical Society meeting in Anaheim, California, Agrivida announced that they have developed a technology that provides the biomass with the ability to convert its starch to sugar more effectively without using a traditional enzyme to aid the process. The company uses a proprietary feedstock, low temperature and low cost processing platform to convert nearly 80 percent of the glucose from cellulosic biomass while using a less harsh pretreatment method. This process creates hydrolysate, a mixture of amino acids, which can be fermented by yeast resulting in a higher level of glucose. This leads to increased biofuels production.

The company has created a proprietary intein, or segment of protein, that contains modified enzyme-based traits. These inteins accelerate cell wall degradation following harvest. (In order to break down the lignin found in biomass and convert it to glucose you must break down the cell wall. This has been one of the major challenges in cellulosic ethanol production.) Agrivida’s engineered feedstocks include corn cobs and stover, sugarcane bagasse, sorghum, and swithgrass.

“These achievements represent major milestones for Agrivida’s technology development, and for the overall industry,” said Michael Raab, Ph.D. and president of Agrivida. “Based on this data, we are plotting a course whereby cellulosic biofuels and chemicals can economically compete with those produced by starch or sucrose. This is a significant step towards providing the lowest-cost cellulosic sugars, one that will also afford commercial scale processing of cellulosic feedstocks.”

Prior to this announcement, the company demonstrated that its engineered feedstocks could provide higher hydrolysis rates and yields compared to non-engineered biomass crops. Although the rates found in their experiments provided cost reductions compared to conventional biomass, they discovered that the glucose yield was still relatively low when compared to using a conventional dilute acid. This announcement signals the breakthrough with regards to glucose yield.

The abstract describing the Agrivida data, “Engineering Crop Processing Traits for the Production of Cellulosic Biofuels and Chemicals,” can be viewed here.

Alt Energy Groups Ask Congress to Support DOE Programs

A multitude of leading energy trade associations today wrote to Congressional leaders with a request for Congress to maintain support and funding for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) including the Loan Guarantee Program. The program, in part, is used to help bring emerging alternative energy technologies to market. Groups that signed the letter include the Advanced Ethanol Council (AEC), the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), the Biomass Power Association, the Clean Economy Network (CEN), the Geothermal Energy Association, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), and the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA). A hearing on federal loan guarantee programs is scheduled for Thursday, March 31, in the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water.

The organizations wrote in their letter, “[W]e write today in support of Federal programs implemented to foster the development and expanded use of domestically-produced clean and renewable energy in the United States. Together, our industries account for over half a million jobs in the United States and counting. Existing federal programs continue to foster growth and allow U.S. businesses to lead a worldwide effort to deploy power plants, manufacturing facilities and fuel production facilities across the country.”

The groups stressed how economically unsustainable America’s dependence on imported energy, especially oil, has become. With oil prices hovering around the $100 per barrel mark, the country sends hundreds of billions of dollars to OPEC members. The groups stressed that support and investment in renewable energy technologies can lessen this dependence while creating jobs. While the organizations recognize budget issues are of utmost concern in Congressional leaders, they still urged members of Congress to take a holistic look at the benefits of America’s renewable energy industry.

“As Congress moves forward with efforts to cut federal spending, it is important to recognize and retain programs that create American jobs, leverage private sector investment and increase tax revenue,” the letter continued. “The DOE Loan Guarantee Program is one of these programs. Eliminating funding for this program will disrupt and delay dozens of projects that are seeking a DOE loan guarantee, and will have very real impacts on job creation and energy security efforts currently underway. We strongly support efforts to prevent funding cuts and preserve the DOE Loan Guarantee Program in its current state.”

The full letter can be read here.

Fed Incentives Could Help Biomass Suppliers, Customers

While the idea of providing biomass to biorefineries and power plants seems like an idea that has some profit potential, some suppliers, and more accurately, potential suppliers, might find the prospect a bit daunting.

Biomass Power and Thermal Magazine
says folks who want to become involved in the biomass supply chain can get some help on how to use federal incentives to maximize their profit potentials during a seminar at the upcoming 2011 International Biomass Conference & Expo, May 2-5 in St. Louis, Mo. Timothy Baye, a business development professor at the University of Wisconsin-Extension, will be speaking on the subject:

“It’s all about risk,” Baye said “It’s all going to be about managing the perceived risk, especially in response to the due diligence requirements of commercial debt. Commercial debt is still going to drive the process.”

“Recognize that you may have drunk the Kool-Aid,” Baye said, “but the equity and debt markets haven’t necessarily come from the same punch bowl.”

With commercial debt, in addition to equity potentially coming back as a hedge to help finance biomass projects, prospective developers will likely lean on federally driven incentives, such as the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, which encourages greater volumes of biomass to enter the supply chain and increases the various types that can contribute to downstream products. Created in the 2008 Farm Bill and swiftly implemented as a pilot program, BCAP was designed to stimulate new crops for renewable energy feedstocks. The biomass industry has since seen several revisions and amendments specifically as it relates to guidance on what types of biomass qualify under the program, how suppliers and biomass conversion facilities (BCFs) are paid and other measures such as appropriate land stewardship practices for aggregating various types of feedstock.

Daniel Simon, partner with Washington, D.C.-based law firm Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll LLP, will explain where BCAP stands in terms of how biomass suppliers and their customers can capitalize on the prescribed benefits.

For more information and registration, just go to the conference’s website, www.biomassconference.com.

CHOREN Makes Progess on Biofuel Plant

Rainer Bomba, Undersecretary of State in the Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development, visited CHOREN’s Beta plant at Freiberg in the German state of Saxony. His purpose of the visit was to discuss the progress of CHOREN on producing sustainable advanced biofuels and their role in achieving climate protection targets.

“Last year, the Beta plant completed several campaigns of synthesis gas trial production, successfully producing from wood a synthesis gas that is free of tar and aromatics on an industrial scale,” said CHOREN’s CEO Marcell Ulrichs.

Bomba said of his visit, “Industrial-scale BTL production may turn into a milestone in the future use of bioenergy. Therefore I very much hope that the development work of recent years will be rewarded and that the plant will run smoothly. We are planning to make greater use of renewable energies in the transportation sector, too. That includes biofuels – and BTL has particularly high potential in this respect, because far more biological material can be used than is currently the case.”

CHOREN said that there are several benefits of their biosynthetic fuel including significant CO2 reduction, no competition with food production and excellent compatibility with existing drive systems. The Beta plant in Freiberg has an annual capacity of 18 million litres of BTL (biomass to liquid) fuel. CHOREN said they are very active in various projects around the world to construct more BTL plants due to the need for sustainable biofuels.

Professor Dr. Jürgen Leohold, Head of Group Research at Volkswagen AG and a member of the CHOREN supervisory board, added, “BTL is a key technology in reducing greenhouse gas emissions sustainably in the transportation sector.”

EPA Names DC Leading Green Power City

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has named Washington D.C. as the leading EPA Green Power Community. Combined, government, businesses, institutions, and residents in the nation’s capital are collectively purchasing nearly 756 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of green power each year. This is enough to meet 8 percent of the city’s total electricity use. All voluntary, this feat catapulted the city into the number one spot in the country on EPA’s rankings.

District leaders kicked off a District Green Power Challenge today during the District’s EPA Green Power Recognition Ceremony that was held at Phelps Career High School in northeast DC to encourage more residents and businesses to switch to green power. The first goal of the challenge is to increase citywide green power purchases by 33 percent by August 31 of this year in hopes of keeping their #1 ranking. This increase would also mean that the city’s electricity users are purchasing 10 percent from green power or 1 Billion kWh each year.

“This is a huge honor for Washington, D.C. and we are proud to be recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” said Mayor Vincent Gray. “The purchase of green power by our citizens and businesses is cleaning our air and supporting growth of the clean energy economy. When we clean the air, we improve the health of our residents, and particularly our children. We are sending a message to other communities across the country that supporting clean power is a sound business decision and the right thing to do. I’m proud that the District of Columbia government is leading the way, purchasing 50 percent of our electricity through the Washington Gas Energy Services, Inc. wind power program.”

There are currently 36 Green Power Communities across the country. To be given the designation, a city, town or village must have government, business and residents that commit to purchasing green power in amounts that meet or exceed EPA’s Green Power Community purchase requirements. Qualifying energy sources include wind, solar, geothermal, biogas, biomass, and low-impact hydro-electric power.

“The District of Columbia is setting an excellent example for the nation by harnessing clean energy,” said Elizabeth Craig, Acting Director of EPA’s Office of Atmospheric Programs. “We hope the city will continue to increase its use of green power and that other communities will follow suit.”

KiOR to Sell Biomass Product to Oil Company

Maker of biomass-based renewable gasoline and diesel products KiOR will sell its biocrude to oil company Hunt Refining Co.

This article from Reuters says the Hunt Texas oil empire will buy an unspecified amount of the product from Khosla’s first plant, still to be built in Columbus, Mississippi:

KiOR says its “Biomass Catalytic Cracking Process,” aided by a catalyst developed from a precursor company called BIOeCON, can aid the process of pyrolysis: super-heating organic matter in the absence of oxygen to break it down into a substitute for crude oil. The company was created in 2007 as a joint venture with Khosla Ventures, which provided the company’s $1.4 million Series A round.

KiOR has since raised $40 million as part of a planned $95 million Series B round of funding, and is seeking $75 million in Mississippi state grants for its Columbus plant. The Mississippi cash was dependent on KiOR landing a contract with a refinery; KiOR’s process doesn’t yield a final fuel product like ethanol or biodiesel, but rather a “biocrude” very similar to crude oil, which then can be refined into various products like gasoline, diesel and fuel oil. The deal with Hunt Refining would appear to help move KiOR’s negotiations for the Mississippi grant package closer to fruition, though the company didn’t mention that in its Wednesday press release.

As you might remember from Joanna’s post last month, KiOR is seeking $1 billion in federal Department of Energy loan guarantees and hopes to use the money to build four plants able to crank out 250 million gallons a year.

Maverick Biofuels Wins NSF Award

Maverick Biofuels has announced that it has been awarded a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a reactor system for converting syngas into high-value products. The company is commercializing a technology to convert biomass to a mixed-alcohol biofuel that can be readily blended with gasoline as a drop-in fuel. The process utilizes biomass gasification to produce synthesis gas followed by two catalytic reactions, which produces high yields of gasoline-compatible alcohols.

The SBIR Program ensures that the nation’s small, high-tech, innovative businesses are a significant part of the federal government’s research and development efforts.

“Given the level of competition and depth of peer review, this is a significant award for Maverick Biofuels,” said Jeffrey Harrison, chief engineering officer for Maverick.

The company is pursuing a hybrid business model that consists of licensing the technology along with building and operating production facilities with various partners.

USDA Considering Biofuel Crop Insurance Program

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that the USDA will soon be accepting proposals to study the feasibility of providing crop insurance to producers of biofuel feedstocks ranging from corn stover to straw to woody biomass. The feasibility studies will be funded by the Risk Management Agency (RMA) and will be combined with current studies underway for energy cane, switchgrass and camelina.

“Providing additional risk management tools for American farmers to produce advanced biofuels crops is an important step toward developing a thriving biofuels industry and reducing our dependence on foreign oil,” said Vilsack. “Renewable energy development contributes to the Obama Administration’s effort to ‘win the future’ by supporting America’s farmers as they grow and harvest materials that can be converted into renewable energy. This effort creates new jobs and opportunities for those who live in rural America.”

These studies will help determine ways to mitigate risks to growers who grow biomass crops for biorefineries and research facilities, companies and public-private partnerships who are in the process of developing technologies to commercialize advanced biofuels. Two contracts will be funded by USDA. Those interested in applying should refer to the solicitations which will be available on FedBizOpps or on RMA’s website.

Pellet Maker Gets New Deep Water Port

An American maker of wood pellets has acquired a deep water port, and that should help the company receive, store and load more than 3 million tons of woody biomass for export each year.

Biomass Magazine reports that Enviva LP will expand its shipping capacity with the deep water port terminal in Chesapeake, Virginia:

The location is one of a few on the Eastern Seaboard suitable for the export of wood pellets and will serve as the shipment point for pellets manufactured at Enviva’s recently announced plant in nearby Ahoskie, N.C. The new plant will produce 330,000 tons of wood pellets annually from more than 600,000 tons of raw supplies, according to Enviva.

The Chesapeake port is Enviva’s second and the company will continue to ship pellets made at its Gulf region plants from its Mobile, Ala., port. The Virginia terminal was formerly owned by Giant Cement Co., which will continue to use a portion of it for cement sales. Expansion of the terminal will require 40 to 60 skilled workers and contractors during the initial phase of construction, and its permanent staff of 12 is expected to double by the third year of operation. Upgrades are expected to be complete in November, coinciding with pellet production at the new Ahoskie facility, according to Enviva.

“The Chesapeake region has for a long time been a key nexus of international trade in the United States,” said Enviva CEO John Keppler. “We are particularly excited to be one of the first green economy manufacturers to rebalance the flow of trade in favor of exports from this port in Virginia.” The company said the terminal purchase is a reflection of its commitment to ensuring the safety, reliability, sustainability and quality of its product. It also allows the company to better satisfy growing overseas demand for wood pellets.

The port will be able to handle ships with more than 44,000 tons of Enviva pellets on board. Most of Enviva’s customers are in Europe, but company has been expanding its U.S. base.

Farm-based Missouri Oil Company to Grow Biomass

Missouri-based MFA Oil Company, a farmer-owned cooperative, has partnered with Aloterra Energy to form a biomass venture.

This MFA press release says the new company, MFA Oil Biomass LLC, will pay about 1,700 family farmers to grow miscanthus for use as a biomass fuel and possibly ethanol in the future:

[T]he 2008 Federal Farm Bill created the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), a federally‐funded initiative that encourages the development of renewable energy sources. MFA Oil Biomass will synergistically combine the benefits of growing miscanthus as a renewable energy source with the BCAP incentives that encourage farmers to grow a biomass crop.

“After researching several biomass crops, including switch grass and giant reed, we decided Miscanthus giganteus provided the best opportunity for creating a viable energy source,” explains MFA Oil Co. President Jerry Taylor. “As good fortune would have it, Aloterra had done its own research and had come to the same conclusion.”

“Initially, we plan to pelletize the miscanthus output for power generation,” says Scott Coye‐Huhn, director of business development for Aloterra Energy. “However, the possibility of using it to produce ethanol in the future is vast, since it is projected to produce three times more gallons of ethanol per
acre than corn.”

The first priority for MFA Oil Biomass is to secure BCAP funding. Under current guidelines, BCAP will reimburse farmers up to 75 percent of planting costs and pay an annual rent payment while farmers wait for their crops to mature. Once the crops mature, farmers will be eligible to receive two years of matching payments for their tonnage, up to $45 per ton beyond the selling price. Land that is currently in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is excluded from the program.

So far, MFA has signed up about 250 farmers to grow more than 12,000 acres of miscanthus and hopes to eventually have that number up to 150,000 acres.

KiOR Lands DOE Loan Guarantee Promise

KiOR, Inc. has a $1 billion biofuels project in the works that will convert wood biomass into drop-in biofuels such as gasoline and diesel fuel. Today the company announced that it has received a term sheet for a DOE loan guarantee to help financially support the project. KiOR’s project under the DOE loan guarantee program will consist of four biorefineries that when complete, will contribute approximately 250 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2), which allows up to 16 billion gallons of the total 36 billion to be cellulosic biofuels by 2022. The first two plants are expected to be in Mississippi, with additional sites planned in Georgia and Texas.

“We are pleased to work with the DOE on reaching this milestone and are excited about the scale and impact of the project,” said Fred Cannon, President and CEO of KiOR, based in Pasadena, Texas. “The project’s first facility, planned in Newton, Mississippi, is expected to be the largest cellulosic biofuels facility in the United States. Additionally, the project will have a significant impact on rural communities through the creation of direct, indirect and induced jobs, with over 14,000 jobs created during construction and over 4,000 jobs created during operations.”

Cannon continued, “The project also expects to reduce greenhouse gas lifecycle emissions by over 70% as compared to fossil-derived gasoline and diesel fuels. While the term sheet is an important step in the process, we recognize that more work lies ahead to finalize the loan guarantee and there is no assurance it will be issued until the loan is closed.”

Khosla Ventures is a current investor in the project and in a recent article noted that “paper mill compatible woodchips” per ton prices will decline quickly in the U.S. as the “ecosystem and cultivation of alternative ‘fuels grade biomass’ (which does not need to meet paper mill feedstock quality metrics) develops within five years.”

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is excited to have KiOR in the state for many reasons, one being that the paper mill industry has seen a significant decline in jobs over the past few years and the biofuels plants will bring jobs back to the region.

“Last year Mississippi realized the tremendous potential of the KiOR technology and made a decision to bring it to our state,” said Gov. Barbour. “We’re excited the U.S. Department of Energy has come to the same conclusion to support this one-billion-plus dollar project to speed up the construction of two additional KiOR facilities here.”

Genetic Mutation Creates Drought Tolerance in Plants

Researchers at Purdue University have discovered a genetic mutation that allows a plant to better endure drought conditions without losing biomass. This discovery could prove significant because it could lead to plants that need less water to survive and thrive despite adverse climatic conditions.

Mike Mickelbart, an assistant professor of horticulture; Mike Hasegawa, a professor of horticulture; and Chal Yul Yoo, a horticulture graduate student, found that a genetic mutation in the research plant Arabidopsis thaliana reduces the number of stomata. Stomata are important because they are pores that take in carbon dioxide and release water. During drought conditions, a plant might close its stomata to conserve water. However, by doing this, the plant also reduces the amount of CO2 it can take in which limits photosynthesis and growth. But in the stomata of the mutated plants, instead of limiting CO2 intake, the gene creates a beneficial equilibrium.

“The plant can only fix so much carbon dioxide. The fewer stomata still allow for the same amount of carbon dioxide intake as a wild type while conserving water,” said Mickelbart, whose results were published in the early online version of the journal The Plant Cell. “This shows there is potential to reduce transpiration without a yield penalty.”

According to a news release, Mickelbart and Yoo used an infrared gas analyzer to determine the amount of CO2 taken in and water lost in the Arabidopsis mutant. CO2 is pumped into a chamber with the plant and the analyzer measures the amount left after a plant has started to take up the gas. A similar process measures water lost through transpiration, in which water is released from a plant’s leaves.

Analysis showed that the plant, which has a mutant form of the gene GTL1, did not reduce CO2 intake but did have a 20 percent reduction in transpiration. The plant had the same biomass as a wild type of Arabidopsis when its shoot dry weight was measured.

“The decrease in transpiration leads to increased drought tolerance in the mutant plants,” Yoo said. “They will hold more water in their leaves during drought stress.”

Of the 20 genes known to control stomata, SDD1, which is a gene responsible for regulating the number of stomata on leaves, was highly expressed in the mutant. Whereas in the mutant, with GTL1 not functioning, SDD1 is highly expressed, which results in the development of fewer stomata.

Mickelbart said the finding is important because it opens the possibility that there is a natural way to improve crop drought tolerance without decreasing biomass or yield. The next step in the research is to determine the role of GTL1 in a crop plant such as corn.

“For the Good of the Land” Co. Gets Biofuels Contract

A company whose name means “for the good of the land” has landed a contract from Hawaiian Electric Company to provide sustainable biofuels for the utility.

This press release says ‘Āina Koa Pono will partner with HEC to help the state reach its clean energy goal of meeting 70 percent of its electricity and ground transportation needs from clean, renewable energy sources by 2030 by building a 13,000 acre energy farm able to produce biofuels in the next two years:

“The time has come to take a bold step toward establishing a self-sustaining energy future for our state and we are excited and honored to be selected by Hawaiian Electric Company to produce biofuels for Hawai‘i,” said Dr. Melvin H. Chiogioji [co-founder of Āina Koa Pono]. “This partnership is critical in helping Hawai‘i reduce its reliance on imported fossil fuels and expand our state’s green energy initiative.”

“We are very pleased to award this first contract as a result of our request for proposals for locally grown and processed biofuels to be used in our power plants on Hawaii Island, Oahu and in Maui County,” said Hawaiian Electric Executive Vice President Robbie Alm. “We look forward to a long and productive partnership.”

‘Āina Koa Pono will invest approximately $320 million in the Ka‘ū Energy Farm, to cover the costs of building a cutting-edge processing facility as well as planting and harvesting biofeedstocks including sweet sorghum and eucalyptus. The Ka‘ū Energy Farm will be located on private land under long-term lease agreements with the Olson Trust and the Mallick family.

When completed, the energy farm will produce 16 million gallons of biofuels a year.