SunBelt Biofuels is Now Repreve

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

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

East Coast States Form Offshore Wind Consortium

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

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

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

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

USDA Nears Finish of Biomass Crop Assistance Rules

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

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

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

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

Plant to Produce Synthetic Oil from Biomass

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

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

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

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

ZeaChem Breaks Ground on Biorefinery

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

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

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

Biotechnology to Expand Use of Biomass In China

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

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

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

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

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

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

Navy Flies Truly Green Hornet on Biofuel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

USDA Biomass Crop Assistance Program Successful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warthog to be First Jet to Test Biomass Jet Fuel

It’s officially called the A-10 Thunderbolt II, but to the men and women who wear the blue of the U.S. Air Force, it is affectionately called the Warthog … and it’s real beauty will come in its upcoming test of biomass-based jet fuel.

Air Force News Service says a test pilot will attempt to fly an A-10 on a blend of biomass-derived and conventional JP-8 jet fuel, the first flight of an aircraft powered solely on a biomass-derived jet fuel blend:

The biomass-derived fuel used for this event is referred to as hydrotreated renewable jet, or HRJ, and is part of a class of fuels derived from either plant oil or animal fat feedstocks. The feedstock source of the biomass powering the A-10 demonstration is camelina oil, a flowering plant in the same family as mustard, cabbage and broccoli, but not used as a food-source.

Biomass-derived fuels offer the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While additional testing will be conducted to explore the full extent of their benefits, test data show that particulate emissions are reduced during combustion of biomass-derived fuels.

This event marks the next phase in the Air Force’s alternative aviation fuel program and represents a milestone in worldwide development of alternative aviation fuels, paving the way for future Air Force HRJ certification flight tests of the F-15 Eagle, F-22 Raptor and C-17 Globemaster III to begin this summer.

This flight is part of the Air Force’s goal to get half of its domestic aviation fuel from an alternative fuel blend by 2016.

Newest Cash Crop – Clean Energy

Farmers and small business have found a crop to make them more money – clean energy. This according to a recent report from the Environmental Lay & Policy Center (ELPC) which just released “Farm Energy Success Stories” that demonstrate how a farm or small rural business adopted clean energy technologies and cut energy costs. Examples cited in the report include a Montana brewery that runs on solar power and an Illinois dairy that generates electricity from manure. Much of the monies that made these projects possible came from the Farm Bill’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).

“With the help of farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses, America can make great strides toward solving its energy problems.” said Andy Olsen, Policy Advocate for ELPC. “REAP is creating economic development, energy independence and a cleaner environment one farm at a time.”

Since 2003, REAP has funded over 3,000 clean energy projects, in 50 states that cover the clean energy spectrum – wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and energy efficiency. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which oversees the program receives applications for more than three times the amount of funds available, and in February, President Obama raised the funding levels to the highest amount ever to $109 million.

ELPC has been a public supporter of the program since its inception and notes that the program,”leverages billions in private investment, reduces pollution, builds interest and awareness about the benefits of clean energy.” Many legislators support the program as well and Represenative Colin Peterson (D-MN) commented, “This is the kind of common sense program that will help transform rural America into an energy resource for the entire nation.”

You can download Farm Energy Success Stories here.

Wisconsin Researchers Unlock Biomass Sugars for Fuel

A team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have figured out how to get the the sugar molecules trapped inside inedible plant biomass, a key step in the creation of cellulosic biofuels.

This press release from the school says the process, featured in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, converts up to three-quarters of the sugars locked up in raw corn stover into simple, fermentable sugars … an attractive alternative to the enzyme-based approaches currently favored by biofuels researchers:

“Our chemical process is extremely efficient,” says Ron Raines, a UW-Madison professor of biochemistry and chemistry. “It also has marked advantages over the existing processes-both chemical or enzymatic-for producing sugars from biomass.”

Working under a strong federal mandate, scientists across the nation are developing next-generation biofuels from inedible plant materials such as corn stover, switchgrass and wood chips. Unlike most ethanol on the market today, these so-called cellulosic biofuels would not be derived from food sources, potentially reducing the stress on food systems. But the complex structure of plant material keeps cellulose’s energy-rich sugars locked up in tangled webs, making the process of converting it to fuel difficult. In recent years, scientists have been trying to find and engineer enzymes that can break down the sugars more efficiently, potentially opening the door to the commercial production of fuel from cellulose.

Raines’ chemical approach, which he developed with graduate student Joe Binder, a doctoral candidate in the chemistry department, on the other hand, relies on a mixture of an ionic liquid and dilute acid-both of which can slip past lignin-to dissolve the long chains of sugars in biomass and break them up into individual molecules of glucose and xylose.

The article goes on to say that the researchers were able to get about the same amount of sugar out of the biomass as the more-expensive enzymes usually used. This could significantly cut the cost of cellulosic ethanol, helping move that industry forward.

USDA Offers Biomass and Bioenergy Funding

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that Fiscal Year 2009 funding is once again available again for three USDA Farm Bill programs to promote increased production of biomass and bioenergy.

Applications for the Biorefinery Assistance Program, which uses loan guarantees to develop, construct, and retrofit commercial-scale biorefineries, must be received by June 1, 2010. Applications are also being accepted for remaining FY 2009 funding under the Repowering Assistance Program, which provides for payments to biorefineries in existence when the Farm Bill was passed to replace the use of fossil fuels in their operations with renewable energy from biomass. Biorefineries interested in obtaining funding must apply by June 15, 2010.

Tom VilsackFinally, those biomass producers eligible under the Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels may also apply to receive payment from remaining FY 2009 funds. Applications must be received by May 30, 2010. Under this program, payments are made to eligible producers in rural areas to support and ensure an expanding production of advanced biofuels. Payments are based on the amount of biofuels a recipient produces from renewable biomass, other than corn kernel starch. Eligible examples include biofuels derived from cellulose, crop residue, animal, food and yard waste material, biogas (landfill and sewage waste treatment gas), vegetable oil and animal fat.

At the recent Commodity Classic, Secretary Vilsack noted that the administration is focused on expanding the biofuels industry. “We’re going to make sure that it is a national industry, not just focused in one particular area, one particular region, or one particular feed stock. There are enormous opportunities here in all parts of the country. Enormous opportunities for farmers and ranchers, enormous opportunities for rural America. And, there needs to be a concerted effort in growing and expanding this industry,” Vilsack told the crowd of more than 4,000 meeting in Anaheim, Calif. “That’s part of the strategy of USDA. So, we’re putting resources behind this, and we’re using our rural development resources to help build these refineries. We’re using our energy title of the farm bill to promote payments to farmers for feed stocks, to help build refineries, to retrofit existing refineries, to put people to work in rural communities.”

Listen to or download Vilsack’s speech from Commodity Classic here:

Wisconsin Team Turns Biomass into Jet Fuel

A group of engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has been able to turn biomass into the chemical equivalent of jet fuel, and they’ve been able to do it using a process that actually takes advantage of biomass sugars’ bad habit of degrading.

This press release from the school says a simple process developed by James Dumesic, Steenbock Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at UW-Madison, postdoctoral researchers Jesse Bond and David Martin Alonso, and graduate students Dong Wang and Ryan West preserves about 95 percent of the energy from the original biomass, requires little hydrogen input, and captures carbon dioxide under high pressure for future use:

Much of the Dumesic group’s previous research of using cellulosic biomass for biofuels has focused on processes that convert abundant plant-based sugars into transportation fuels. However, in previously studied conversion methods, sugar molecules frequently degrade to form levulinic acid and formic acid — two products the previous methods couldn’t readily transform into high-energy liquid fuels.

The team’s new method exploits sugar’s tendency to degrade. “Instead of trying to fight the degradation, we started with levulinic acid and formic acid and tried to see what we could do using that as a platform,” says Dumesic.

In the presence of metal catalysts, the two acids react to form gamma-valerolactone, or GVL, which now is manufactured in small quantities as an herbal food and perfume additive. Using laboratory-scale equipment and stable, inexpensive catalysts, Dumesic’s group converts aqueous solutions of GVL into jet fuel. “It really is very simple,” says Bond, of the two-step catalytic process. “We can pull off these two catalytic stages, as well as the requisite separation steps, in series, with basic equipment. With very minimal processing, we can produce a pure stream of jet-fuel-range alkenes and a fairly pure stream of carbon dioxide.”

The researchers say the fuel produced is high-energy density, making it better suited for the aviation industry than more conventional ethanol. Now, the team is working on making the process cost-effective.

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.