Biobased Products Made in Europe

Bridge 2020 logoThe European Commission is having a busy week with much of it focused on efforts to mitigate climate change. One such move is the proposal of a €3.8 billion Public Private Partnership (PPP) on Biobased Industries, an initiative that would accelerate the commercialization of biobased products in Europe. The European Commission will invest €1 billion and industry €2.8 billion, from 2014 to 2020, to boost market uptake of new biobased products that are “made in Europe”.

The goal of the partnership is to promote the use of various sources of sustainable biomass and waste to produce everyday products such as food, feed, chemicals and fuels. The use of local biomass and waste will generate growth and jobs in rural areas across European regions, while reducing the European Union’s (EU) reliance on fossil fuels, thereby offering sustainable alternatives to oil-based products and enhancing energy and food security.

Novozymes is part of this initiative alongside 47 leading European companies in the novozymesbiotech, chemical, energy, agro-food and pulp and paper sectors.

“The Biobased Industries PPP is essential for Europe to remain competitive in the global race for the development of a biobased economy,” said Novozymes CEO Peder Holk Nielsen. “It is an opportunity for reindustrialization and for reversing the investment trend currently going to other regions of the world because of more attractive policy frameworks.”

The PPP will capitalize on Europe’s innovation and technological leadership to bring biobased solutions from research labs to the market. Various sectors will be brought together to optimize and create new value chains, such as connecting farmers and foresters directly to consumers.

Fuel Evolution Since 1776

Tomorrow is Independence Day, or Fourth of July, for the United States and this week the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s “Today in Energy” brief took a look at how U.S. energy consumption by fuel source has changed since 1776.

EIA History of EnergyThe brief notes that the country started off with renewable energy playing a dominant role in the U.S. energy picture as wood was the primary energy source during America’s first 100 years.

“A typical American family from the time our country was founded used wood (a renewable energy source) as its primary energy source until the mid- to late-1800s. Early industrial growth was powered by water mills. Coal became dominant in the late 19th century before being overtaken by petroleum products in the middle of the last century, a time when natural gas usage also rose quickly.”

The brief notes that while the overall energy history of the United States is one of significant change as new forms of energy were developed, the three major fossil fuels—petroleum, natural gas, and coal, which together provided 87 percent of total U.S. primary energy over the past decade—have dominated the U.S. fuel mix for well over 100 years. However, recent increases in the domestic production of petroleum liquids and natural gas have prompted shifts between the uses of fossil fuels (largely from coal-fired to natural gas-fired power generation), but the predominance of these three energy sources is likely to continue into the future.

DOE Announces Biofuels Funding

The U.S. Department of Energy has announced funding for four research and development projects to bring next generation biofuels on line faster and drive down the cost of producing gasoline, diesel and jet fuels from biomass. The announcement comes less than a week after President Obama’s commitment to the climate and efforts to cut carbon pollution. In total, the projects in Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin will receive $13 million in funding.

US DOE logo“By partnering with private industry, universities and our national labs, we can increase America’s energy security, bolster rural economic development and cut harmful carbon pollution from our cars, trucks and planes,” said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. “As the President made clear in his plan to cut carbon pollution, partnerships like these will help move our economy towards cleaner, more efficient forms of energy that lower our reliance on foreign oil.”

In the United States, the transportation sector accounts for two-thirds of total U.S. oil consumption and one-third of our nation’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Hydrocarbon-based biofuels made from non-food feedstocks, waste materials and algae can directly replace gasoline and other fuels in our gas tanks and refineries. The Energy Department continues to take steps to speed the development of clean, renewable biofuels, with the goal of producing cost-competitive drop-in biofuels at $3 per gallon by 2017.

The research projects announced today build on the Obama Administration’s broader efforts to accelerate the next generation of biofuels by bringing down costs, improving performance and identifying effective, non-food feedstocks and conversion technologies. These projects will help maximize the amount of renewable carbon and hydrogen that can be converted to fuels from biomass and improve the separation processes in bio-oil production to remove non-fuel components – further lowering production costs.

The projects selected for negotiation include:

  • Ceramatec – up to $3.3 million, based in Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Oak Ridge National Laboratory – up to $2.1 million, based in Oak Ridge, Tennessee
  • University of Oklahoma, up to $4 million, based in Norman, Oklahoma
  • Virent, Inc. – up to $4 million, based in Madison, Wisconsin

EnVirAnized Biofuel – Burns Like Coal, But It’s Not

EnviraCarbon, Inc. has announced the commercialization of a patented and proprietary technology which molecularly alters renewable biomass feedstock into EnvirAnized Biofuel™ (EBF). According to the company, EBF is a product that looks, transports, stores, EnviraCarbon Hybrid Treespulverizes and burns like coal. The only thing it doesn’t do that coal does, they say, is pollute. The super fast process changes woody biomass into clean carbonized EBF in a matter of minutes.

The company say the Enviranization process forces biomass to take on the physical characteristics of coal and as a result can be directly used by coal-burning or biomass fired power plants and industrial facilities without any modification or retrofitting to their existing boiler systems. According to EnviraCarbon since EBF can be used interchangeably with coal or biomass, it eliminates the need for coal burning facilities to spend the billions of dollars in capital expenditures necessary for compliance.

According to information from the company, the EBF product has the same heat value as bituminous coal from the eastern U.S. (12,000+ BTUs), it exhibits a much greater heat value than wood pellets and unlike wood pellets, it is hydrophobic. The EBF product contains negligible amounts of sulfur and non-detectable levels of mercury, arsenic and lead which are toxic elements in coal. EBF is also, by most standards, at or near carbon neutral.

ECI facilities use only certified sustainable biomass and/or waste wood as feedstock and EnviraCarbon has its first EBF commercial facility presently under construction, with export expected to begin in the first quarter 2014.

Genera: Feedstocks, Start Early & Think Big

FEW13-genera-randleWhen it comes to biomass feedstocks for biofuels, you need to think ahead.

“Start early and think big,” was the advice Bob Randle, VP Sales and Marketing for Genera Energy gave attendees of the recent Fuel Ethanol Workshop (FEW) in St. Louis, Mo. “Because there’s a lot of moving parts in providing 250,000 to 700,000 tons of material annually, on a 24-7 basis, particularly if you’re dealing with a perennial crop since it takes two to three years to establish.”

Bob says Genera, a relatively new company out of Tennessee, focuses its efforts on the front end of the biofuels chain, developing and delivering energy crop and biomass feedstock solutions, starting with switchgrass and now branching into other stocks as well. They work with farmers to develop long-term supply contracts, to grow, harvest, store and finally deliver the crops to the plants that convert it into biofuels.

“We’re the middleman on the feedstock supply side,” Bob said, adding they partner with the seed companies specializing in energy crops. He also said they try to look to the long term.

“That’s been one of the big revelations in the industry in the last year or so, is that as these technologies developed, the companies didn’t think about where massive quantities of feedstock would come from.” His company finds the solutions that bridge that gap between what was a concept for a biofuel to what is needed to produce it at commercial scale. Plus, Bob said they are focused on U.S. operations.

Listen to more of Joanna’s interview with Bob here: Bob Randle, VP Sales and Marketing for Genera Energy

Visit the 2013 FEW Photo Album.

Turning Plant Matter into Fuel

Charles Wyman, a University of California Riverside professor in the Chemical and Environmental Engineering Department, recently edited a book, “Aqueous Pretreatment of Aqueous Biomass BookPlant Biomass for Biological and Chemical Conversion to Fuels,” that provides in-depth information on aqueous processing of cellulosic biomass into fuel.

The just-published book focuses on aqueous pretreatment of cellulosic biomass to promote sugar release for biological, catalytic, or thermochemical conversion into fuels and chemicals. Introductory chapters provide the rationale for converting biomass to fuels; its importance to national security, balance of trade, and the environment; and insights into biological and catalytic processing to fuels. Also included are in-depth information on the chemistry and biology of cellulosic biomass, leading pretreatments to facilitate its biological and chemical conversion to sugars, and methods important to assess the effectiveness of biomass conversion technologies.

In recent decades, interest in converting cellulosic biomass to fuels has closely tracked the price of petroleum: support jumps when petroleum prices are high and wanes when prices drop.

“That creates a big challenge,” Wyman said. “The volatility of oil prices and associated enthusiasm for alternatives results in a very unstable environment in which to build a business.”

Yet, cellulosic biomass conversion has unique and powerful benefits. It has the potential to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions and imported petroleum dependence and is widely available and inexpensive. For example, cellulosic biomass costing $60 per dry ton has about the same cost per energy content as petroleum at about $20 per barrel. Continue reading

PacificAg Created Through Merger

PACAG-001 Final Logo CMYKSister companies Pacific Ag Solutions and Pacific PowerStock have merged to become PacificAg. According to the company, the merger creates the largest agricultural residue and hay harvesting business in the U.S. with operations in seven states and the largest fleet of biomass harvesting equipment in the country.

“We have always served two important markets: demand for forage crops for livestock to feed a growing global middle class and dynamic growth in the uses and demand for agricultural biomass to replace petroleum and other fossil sources in the creation of bioenergy, cellulosic biofuels, bio-based chemicals and other bio-based products. Originally we felt two sister companies were necessary to meet the demands of these distinct marketplaces,” said Bill Levy, founder and CEO of PacificAg.

“Years of experience developing and operating feedstock supply chains for both domestic and export forage and for bioenergy markets have demonstrated that in practice, serving these distinct customer groups involves leveraging the same equipment fleets, complementary operational and logistics skills and processes,” Levy continued. “The synergies now apparent far outweigh any benefits of operating the former companies separately. Operating as one company will enable us to be more responsive and more competitive to meet the growing demand for agricultural biomass at commercial scale.”

According to Levy, PacificAg is now the largest player in supply chain logistics. The company’s dedicated supply chain model, which depends on multi-year supply agreements and close, formalized cooperation from one end of the chain to the other, provides the most effective way to reduce the risks posed by cost, quality and supply volatility. Levy added that its proprietary PowerStock Pro supply chain management system provides a turnkey tool for managing every aspect of the complex feedstock supply chain from grower contracts to GIS enabled field mapping to equipment deployment, harvest results and inventory management.

No Mandatory Energy Funding in House Farm Bill

house-agThe House Agriculture Committee passed the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (FARRM) of 2013 by a vote of 36 to 10 late Wednesday night. While the bill does contain an energy title, an amendment to make funding of energy programs mandatory was defeated.

“We thank the entire committee for reauthorizing the programs, but mandatory funding is vital to their continued success. We look forward to working with all Congressmembers and Senators to ensure that a Farm Bill gets enacted this year that includes mandatory funding for these important programs,” said Brent Erickson, executive vice president of BIO’s Industrial & Environmental Section.

The Senate version does contain mandatory funding for renewable energy and energy efficiency programs. “We thank the members of the Senate Agriculture Committee, especially Senator Amy Klobuchar for increasing the funding for the Renewable Energy for America Program, and Senators Joe Donnelly and Pat Roberts for a bipartisan proposal to improve risk management options for biomass crops,” said Lloyd Ritter, co-director of the Agriculture Energy Coalition. “We look forward to working with them to ensure the continued success of Farm Bill energy programs.”

“Funded farm and energy policy is better: it puts those benefits into action. On that score, we’re concerned the House bill missed the mark,” Adam Monroe, Americas Regional President of Novozymes, said of the committee bills. “While we appreciate the House Agriculture Committee reauthorizing the biomass programs, we urge them to follow the Senate committee’s lead and support a strong, fully-funded energy title.”

The Senate bill is expected to go to the floor next week while the House bill is slated for next month.

U of Wyoming Inks Deal to Get Into Algae Biz

plantomics1The University of Wyoming has signed a deal that gets it into the algal biomass industry. The school agreed to give PlanktOMICS Algae Bioservices, run by a pair of university researchers, space and support to research how to develop patent-pending processes in exchange for a cut of the profits down the road:

PlanktOMICS principal partners Stephen Herbert, a UW professor of plant sciences, and Levi Lowder, a UW doctoral candidate in molecular and cellular life sciences, will focus on serving small companies that need to solve problems relative to their algae needs.

PlanktOMICS provides advanced phenotype analysis (testing biological traits) and screening services, custom algal vector design and construction, algal transformation and gene-expression analysis, according to its website.

“We’re here to solve problems for other companies that want to produce algae at large scales,” says Herbert, who serves as the company’s CEO. “We see our role as building up research capacity of these small companies that don’t have enough capacity for research.”

“Our services are tailored to companies that want to outsource their biological studies or biological research,” adds Lowder, who is PlanktOMICS’ chief technology officer. “We don’t really produce the end products. We do the biology. You have to know how to grow algae. That’s where we come in, to figure out how to farm algae on a large scale (for other companies).”

PlanktOMICS is working on technologies to control unwanted algae and other microbes in algae ponds, just like corn and soybean farmers control weeds, as well as technology to lower the cost of harvesting of algal biomass, among others. Last year, Lowder’s team won the university’s John P. Ellbogen $30K Entrepreneurship Competition, getting $12,500 and one year of free rent to further develop the company at the Wyoming Technology Business Center (WTBC), a business incubator at the school. Herbert and Lowder say they already have two clients lined up, one in the algal nutritional supplement business for more than 30 years. The developments could ultimately lead to algae-biodiesel projects.

Idled Louisiana Renewable Diesel Plant Could Be Re-Opened

DynamicFuels3The Dynamic Fuels renewable diesel plant in Geismar, La., idled late last year, soon could be reopened. Biomass Magazine reports that Syntroleum, which has the animal fat and yellow grease renewable diesel plant as a joint venture with Tyson Foods, expects to start up operations once again this summer:

During the call, Gary Roth, president and CEO of Syntroleum, said the company ordered a new catalyst for the plant in February. It is scheduled to for delivery in late June. According to Roth, the new catalyst is expected to increase yields from an average of 80 percent to an average of 88 percent. As a result of the new catalyst, Roth said revenues per gallon would be expected increase from $4.09 to $4.55 per gallon, which would result in a $13 million revenue increase.

Rather than interrupting the feedstock chain of the plant while it is operating, Roth said the company believes it will be better to defer operations until the new catalyst is installed.

Syntroleum officials say the expected stability in D4 biomass-based diesel Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) through this year and 2014 should help the company’s bottom line. The retroactive reinstatement of the biodiesel tax credit also helped profit margins to make the plant viable once again.

DOE Announces $18M to Advance Drop-In Biofuels

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced $18 million in investments for four pilot-scale biorefineries that will test renewable biofuels that will meet military specifications for jet fuel, shipboard diesel, cars and trucks. These projects build on the Obama Administration’s broader efforts to advance biofuels technologies to continue to bring down costs, improve performance and identify effective, non-food feedstocks and processing techniques.

Logos for DOE StoryThe projects selected for negotiation are: Frontline Bioenergy LLC (up to $4.2 million based in Ames, Iowa); Cobalt Technologies (up to $2.5 million based in Mountain View, California); Mercurius Biorefining, Inc. (up to $4.6 million based in Ferndale, Washington) and BioProcess Algae (up to $6.4 million based in Shenandoah, Iowa).

“Advanced biofuels are an important part of President Obama’s all-of-the-above strategy to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil, improve our energy security and protect our air and water,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “The innovative biorefinery projects announced today mark an important step toward producing fuels for our American military and the civil aviation industry from renewable resources found right here in the United States.”

Chu says domestic oil and gas production has increased each year the President has been in office. Simultaneously the administration is taking additional steps to reduce America’s reliance on foreign oil. As part of this effort, the Department is helping to speed the development of hydrocarbon-based biofuels that are more compatible with today’s infrastructure and engines, including heavy vehicles and other applications. According to the Energy Department’s Billion Ton Study, advanced biofuels have the potential to displace approximately one-third of the nation’s current transportation petroleum use.

The pilot-scale biorefinery projects selected today will use a variety of non-food biomass feedstocks, waste-based materials, and algae in innovative conversion processes to produce biofuels that meet military specifications for jet fuel and diesel. The projects will demonstrate technologies to cost-effectively convert biomass into advanced drop-in biofuels and assist these organizations to scale up the processes to commercial levels. Recipients are required to contribute a minimum of 50 percent matching funds for these projects.

Biofuels Conference Told to be Biomass Agnostic

ghisoli1If you’ve never been to Italy, you might be inclined to believe the whole country is very much the same. But you’d be wrong. From the simmering sea shores of the southern coasts to the towering Alpine peaks of the north, where people are more likely to speak German than Italian, the whole country is a rich tapestry of diverse people, customs and foods. In that tradition, Guido Ghisolfi of the Italian company Beta Renewables told attendees of the Advanced Biofuels Leadership Conference (ABLC) that they, too, needed to be diverse in their thinking of biomass for biofuels.

“It’s quite important that the [refineries] be biomass agnostic – they can take several different types of biomass without changing the hardware,” he says, adding that no matter where you are in the world, biomass is seasonal by definition, and those who want to convert the various types into fuels need to be able to change to stay in business year-round. But he admits that currently there is not one system that converts the divergent forms of biomass, whether it’s corn stover or wheat straw or even what’s left over when you press olives, into biofuels. And the technical solution might be simpler than people think.

“So far, people have not focused on the advantage of having a multi-feedstock plant. I’m pretty sure the new technologies coming up in the next few years will be able to handle many more types of biomass,” especially when the costs drive that need.

Guido says you want to bring technology to the territory so you can use all the various biomass feedstocks that an area might have. He adds that biofuels producers need to be flexible as well … and spend less time complaining.

“Instead of complaining and wailing about the RFS, we have to deliver competitive fuel that people will but because it is cheaper and not because it is green.”

You can hear my conversation with Guido here: Guido Ghisolfi, CEO, Beta Renewables

INL Energy Systems Laboratory Dedicated

The Energy Systems Laboratory (ESL) on the Idaho Falls Research and Education Campus has been official dedicated by the Idaho National Laboratory (INL). John Grossenbacher, Battelle Energy Alliance president and INL laboratory director, hosted special guests including elected officials and U.S. Department of Energy 8596211992_a1835eb9b3representatives, U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho and Jeff Sayer, chairman of Idaho’s Leadership in Nuclear Energy (LINE) Commission and Director of Idaho’s Department of Commerce.

The new facility has 54,000 square feet of reconfigurable laboratory research space, plus a large laboratory for biomass characterization and is LEED Gold certified.

“Our new Energy Systems Laboratory adds significant research capabilities that will contribute to the timely, material and efficient transformation of America’s energy systems and infrastructure,” said Steve Aumeier, Energy and Environment associate laboratory director, who is responsible for research in the new ESL. “The impact of research at ESL is to enhance the nation’s global competitiveness by advancing energy security through integration of clean energy systems, advancement of energy storage technologies, and biomass design and analysis,” he added.

ESL contributes significantly to efforts to integrate low-carbon energy onto America’s electrical grid, reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign-sourced fossil fuels by researching bioenergy and electrical vehicle performances, and increasing energy efficiency in manufacturing, critical materials supplies and used nuclear fuel systems engineering.

Primus Green Supporting Gas-to-Liquid Research

Primus Green Energy is providing financial support to engineers at Princeton University to support research on synthetic fuels including assessments of various gas-to-liquids (GTL) technologies for sustainability and economic viability. Primus’ STG+ technology converts syngas derived from natural gas and/or biomass into drop-in Primus Green Pilot Plant Constructionhigh-octane gasoline and jet fuel with industry-leading process efficiencies. According to the company, the fuels produced from the Primus STG+ technology are very low in sulfur and benzene compared to fuels produced from petroleum, and they can be used directly in vehicle engines as a component of standard fuel formulas and transported via the existing fuel delivery infrastructure.

Primus is always looking for opportunities to support academic research on issues that impact our business and our commercialization efforts,” said George Boyajian, vice president of business development at Primus Green Energy. “Chris Floudas is one of the premier experts in the field of gas-to-liquids technologies, and we believe that his research will play a key role in identifying important developments and financial differentiators among GTL technologies, especially as they relate to our STG+ technology.”

The work at Princeton University will be conducted in the laboratories of Professor Christodoulos Floudas, Ph.D. Floudas is an expert in chemical process systems engineering, with a specific emphasis on process synthesis and design, interaction of process design and control and process operations.

“Primus’ STG+ platform is a next-generation gas-to-liquids technology that has the potential to have a significant impact on process efficiency standards and economic viability in the alternative fuels industry,” said Floudas, Princeton’s Stephen C. Macaleer ’63 Professor in Engineering and Applied Science. “As part of my research, I will be comparing STG+ to other leading GTL platforms against a variety of metrics, including financial, technical and sustainability.”

Primus Green Energy estimates that the cost of production for its fuels will be competitive with petroleum-based fuels when crude oil is trading at $65 per barrel (oil is currently trading at approximately $95 per barrel). The company is nearing completion of its demonstration plant, which is expected to reach mechanical completion in Q2 2013, and expects to break ground on its first commercial plant in the first half of 2014.

Portable Biomass Plant Gaining International Interest

A new portable biomass power plant is gaining international interest. Recently, 30 visitors from as far away as Guatemala visited the Thomas M. Brooks Forest Products L_032813-cnre-biomassplantdemoCenter to see a demonstration of the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials‘ technology. About the size of a Mini Cooper turned upright, the biomass power system generates electricity by burning wood chips, corncobs, manure, and other agricultural wastes. In demonstrations, Henry Quesada-Pineda, assistant professor of sustainable biomaterials in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, powered shop tools with the unit.

“There is increasing interest in the community and around the world, especially in off-grid situations, to learn more about how biomass energy production can be integrated into small-scale systems,” said Quesada-Pineda, a Virginia Cooperative Extension specialist who is also assistant director of Virginia Tech’s Center for Forest Products Business, as he fielded questions from international development consultants and forest-products industry managers during the demonstration.

The unit’s generator is powered by a three-cylinder combustion engine using syngas — a combination of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen produced by biomass reacting with steam at temperatures over 750 C. Virginia Tech’s unit, which produces 1 kilowatt hour for every 1.2 kilograms of biomass, is capable of generating 10 kilowatts, enough to power 100 100-watt light bulbs.

This gasification process itself has been in use for years, Quesada-Pineda says. It was used in the mid-1800s to produce gas for streetlights and cooking, before being replaced by natural gas. Wood gasifiers powered thousands of European motor vehicles during World War II fuel shortages. Today, biomass power plants represent the nation’s second largest source of renewable energy in terms of capacity, after hydroelectric.

The unit costs around $18,000, and so is not a cost-effective investment for most U.S. companies with access to electricity, Quesada-Pineda says, but his department’s research will seek to determine the optimal use for this renewable energy source. In addition to research, the biomass power unit will be used to support teaching efforts, giving students the opportunity to familiarize themselves with this emerging technology, and to power entrepreneurial projects of the department’s student-run Wood Enterprise Institute.