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.

Bioprocess Pilot Facility in Germany Attracts Attention

Bioprocess Pilot FacilityThe Bioprocess Pilot Facility B.V. (BPF), a scale-up plant located on the Biotech Campus Delft, is attracting the right kind of attention. The “first green Minister-President” Mr. Kretschmann, the Minister-President of Baden-Württemberg, one of the federal states of Germany, visited BPF’s facility to learn about their technology and contribution to the country’s bio-based economy. After his visit, Mr Kretschmann said that it is good that companies and knowledge institutions have the possibility to carry out scale-up research in a facility that is unique in its experience with this type of research.

The BPF performs scale-up research into the pre-treatment of biomass feedstock, fermentation, and purification. The facility’s objective is to show how to industrially make high-quality products like plastics from biomass. BPF says its scale-up research is an essential step towards the application of laboratory findings on an industrial scale.

Launched as an independent company mid-2012, the BPF will begin expanding its plant in May 2013. The extension will house additional equipment, mostly for the pre-treatment of biomass. During construction the fermentation and up-scaling facilities will operate as usual. The BPF is available to work with companies, universities and institutes that wish to explore the scaling-up of bio-processes. The BPF also offers its facilities to companies and knowledge institutes in Germany and other countries.

Turning Cow Manure Into Brown Gold

In the heart of Wisconsin, a project is underway to produce energy from a resource that is in little danger of running low: cow manure, or “brown gold.” Thanks to a $7 million grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI), the University of Wisconsin-Madison and several state companies have formed a consortium to pilot the conversion of dairy farm manure into useful product streams—a project that is expected to have significant environmental and economic benefits.

cute cowThe Accelerated Renewable Energy (ARE) project is already in progress at the 5,000-cow Maple Leaf Dairy in Manitowoc County, where animal waste is separated into different streams, or fractions, of processed manure. After small plant fibers in the manure are separated out and anaerobically digested to create biogas, liquids from the digestion process are used to fertilize crops, while leftover solids can be converted into useful chemicals and bio-plastics. Larger plant fibers, on the other hand, make great animal bedding and mulch, as well as a starting material for ethanol fermentation.

WBI director and Biological Systems Engineering (BSE) faculty member Troy Runge, who is a co-investigator of the project, is interested in supporting a renewable energy economy through the development of value-added products from biomass. Runge’s lab is analyzing the ARE project’s separation techniques to improve their efficiency and economic performance.

“We are performing many of the same separations that occur on the farm, but in the controlled environment of the lab to both measure and optimize the system,” says Runge. Continue reading

Solar Takes Lead in Renewable Energy Growth

According to the latest issue of the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) “Electric Power Monthly,” renewable energy sources (biomass, geothermal, solar, wind) increased by 12.8 percent last year compared to 2011 and provided 5.4 percent of net U.S. electrical generation. Solar increased by 138.9 percent while wind grew 16.6 pecent, geothermal by 9.6 percent, and biomass (i.e., wood, wood-derived fuels, and other biomass) by 1.6 percent. Since 2007, non-hydro renewables have more than doubled their contribution to the nation’s electrical supply.

geothermal-energy-1At the same time (2012 compared to 2011), total net U.S. electrical generation dropped by 1.1 percent with petroleum coke & liquids down by 24.1 percent, coal by 12.5 percent, and nuclear by 2.6 percent. Less than a decade ago, coal provided more than half the nation’s electricity, fell to 37.4 percent while nuclear fell below 19 percent. Conventional hydropower also declined by 13.4 percent due to last year’s drought and lower water flows, but natural gas expanded by 21.4 percent to provide 30.3 percent of net electrical generation.

Conventional hydropower and non-hydro renewable sources combined accounted for 12.22 percent of net U.S. electrical generation. However, as EIA has noted in the past, these figures do not comprehensively reflect distributed, non-grid connected generation and thereby understate the full contribution of renewables to the nation’s electrical supply.

EIA’s report also reveals the top renewable-electricity generating states for 2012: top five wind states: Texas, Iowa, California, Oklahoma, and Illinois;  top five biomass states: California, Florida, Maine, Georgia, and Alabama; top five geothermal States: California, Nevada, Utah, Hawaii and Idaho; and top five solar states: California, Arizona, Nevada, New Jersey, and New Mexico.

“Technical advances, falling costs, and the desire to address climate change have combined to rapidly expand the contribution of renewable energy to the nation’s electrical generation,” said Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “With the right policy incentives, one can foresee these cleaner energy sources providing the bulk of the nation’s electrical needs within a generation.”

Coalition Urges New Farm Bill for Energy

The Agriculture Energy Coalition (AgEC) today urged Congress to begin work on a new five-year Farm Bill with strong mandatory funding for energy programs.

The coalition notes that programs included in the farm bill Energy Title including the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), Biorefinery Assistance Program (BAP) and Biobased Markets Program (Biopreferred) have helped create jobs and economic growth in rural America, develop new agricultural markets, and improve farmers’ and ranchers’ energy self-sufficiency.

“Farm energy programs have paid a tremendous return for rural Americans, in terms of new jobs, investments in new energy efficiency and bioenergy technology, and new biobased products,” said Lloyd Ritter, Agriculture Energy Coalition co-director. “Economic growth and job opportunities in rural America are at risk without a renewal of funding for these effective programs.”

The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 extended the 2008 Farm Bill without funding for energy title programs. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) re-introduced the five-year farm bill passed by the Senate last year, calling it a “revolutionary piece of legislation.” The House failed to pass a farm bill last year.

U.S. Advanced Energy to Grow 19% Year-Over-Year

aeereportcoverA new report shows that advanced energy became a $1.1 trillion market globally in 2011, outpacing even pharmaceutical manufacturing worldwide, and the U.S. sector is expected to have grown by 19 percent last year, with American revenues rising to $157 billion. The report from Advanced Energy Economy highlights how in 2011 alone, this advanced energy sector, including hydropower, solar, wind, geothermal, waste and biomass, generated more than $20 billion in federal, state and local taxes:

“Advanced energy is what happens when energy meets 21st Century technologies,” said Graham Richard, CEO of Advanced Energy Economy, a national business organization. “This report defines precisely, for the first time, the size, breadth, and scope of the advanced energy industry. With a $1 trillion global market and a U.S. industry that is already bigger by revenue than trucking, advanced energy is a significant contributor to the economy today and has greater potential for tomorrow.”

AEE defines advanced energy as the best available commercial technologies for meeting energy needs today and tomorrow. With global energy consumption projected to rise nearly 40 percent by 2030, future prosperity depends on meeting this growing demand with energy that is secure, clean and affordable.

Officials compare the potential of the advanced energy sector to transform society and the economy to how the Internet has created so many new opportunities. AEE admits that its estimates might be a bit conservative, understating the size and extent of advanced energy economic activity in the U.S. and around the world.

Renewable Energy Installed Capacity Grows by Leaps and Bounds

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Energy Projects has released its latest “Energy Infrastructure Update,” and finds that renewable energy sources including biomass, geothermal, solar, water, and wind, accounted by 49.10 percent of all new domestic electrical generating capacity installed during 2012. The total was 12,956 MW and more than a quarter of that new capacity, or 3,276 MW, came online during December 2012 alone.

geothermal-energyWind power led the way in 2012 with 164 new “units” totaling 10,689 MW installed. Solar power followed with 240 units totaling 1,476 MW installed. Biomass added 100 new units totaling 543 MW while geothermal steam and water each had 13 new units with installed capacities of 149 MW and 99 MW respectively. By comparison, during 2012, new natural gas generation in service totaled 8,746 MW (33.15%) followed by coal (4,510 MW -17.09%), nuclear (125 MW – 0.47%), and oil (49 MW – 0.19%).

New capacity from renewable energy sources in 2012 increased by 51.16 percent compared to 2011 when those sources added 8,571 MW. In 2011, renewables accounted for 39.33 percent of all new in-service generation capacity. Renewable sources now account for 15.40 percent of total installed U.S. operating generating capacity: water – 8.47 percent, wind – 4.97 percent, biomass – 1.30 percent, solar – 0.34 percent, and geothermal – 0.32 percent. This is more than nuclear (9.24%) and oil (3.57%) combined.

“If there were still any lingering doubts about the ability of renewable energy technologies to come on-line quickly and in amounts sufficient to displace fossil fuels and nuclear power, the 2012 numbers have put those doubts to rest,” said Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “Not only has renewable energy become a major player in the U.S. electrical generation market, but it has also emerged in 2012 as THE reigning champion.”

New Markets Tax Credits Spur Investment

There is a little secret in the renewable energy sector that many don’t know about – New Markets Tax Credits. These tax credits provide incentives for private investors to help fund projects that create jobs and diversify economics, and were extended for another year as part of the American Tax Relief Act.

CEI logoCongress first established the program in 2000 to stimulate investment and economic growth in low-income and under-served rural and urban communities that are often overlooked by conventional capital markets. Investors receive a seven-year, 39-percent federal tax credit as incentive to finance loans and investments in businesses and economic development projects in distressed communities. They are not restricted to energy projects.

According to CEO Charles Spies, CEI Capital Management is a national leader in awarding New Markets Tax Credits, having invested nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars in the last nine years. CEI Capital Management has its own triple bottom line investment criteria, where projects must benefit the local community, demonstrate economic gain and have a positive impact on the environment.

Last year, CEI Capital Management allocated $20.7 million in new markets tax credits to the $275 million Burgess BioPower Plant in rural Berlin, New Hampshire. Built on the site of a defunct paper mill, the plant will produce 75 megawatts of power from 759 thousand tons of sustainably grown wood annually. The project currently employs about 300 construction jobs and is on track to sustain 40 jobs in management and plant operations plus hundreds more in the woods associated with harvesting and transporting biomass. Continue reading

USDA Invests in Bioenergy Research Projects

vilsack-renmatixAgriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited a state-of-the-art bioindustrial facility in Pennsylvania on Friday, where he announced $25 million to fund research and development of next-generation renewable energy and high-value biobased products from a variety of biomass sources.

“USDA’s continuing investments in research and development are proving a critical piece of President Obama’s strategy to spur innovation of clean bioenergy right here at home and reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” said Vilsack. “The advances made through this research will help to boost local economies throughout rural America, creating and sustaining good-paying jobs, while moving our nation toward a clean energy economy.”

Vilsack made the announcement while visiting Pennsylvania-based Renmatix, a leading manufacturer of cellulosic sugars for biobased chemical and fuel markets, for the commissioning of the company’s BioFlex Conversion Unit, a multiple-feedstock processing facility at the company’s King of Prussia headquarters.

The four projects approved for investment are:

Kansas State University – $5,078,932 The goal of this project is to make the oilseed crop camelina a cost-effective biofuel and bioproduct feedstock.

Ohio State University – $6,510,183 This project will result in an anaerobic digestion system for the production of liquid transportation fuels and electricity from animal manure, agricultural residues, woody biomass and energy crops.

Ceramatec, Inc., Salt Lake City, Utah – $6,599,304 This project will convert lignocellulosic biomass to infrastructure-compatible renewable diesel, biolubricants, animal feed and biopower. New hybrids of energy sorghum will be developed, and other biomass resources include switchgrass and forestry residues.

USDA-Agricultural Research Service, Eastern Regional Research Center, Wyndmoor, PA – $6,865,942 ARS scientists will develop an on-the-farm distributed technology for converting forest residues, horse manure, switchgrass and other perennial grasses into biofuels and high-value specialty chemicals.

New Plant-Based Cellulase Enzyme

Iowa Corn Field in Aug Photo Joanna SchroederInfinite Enzymes has launched IE-CBHI, a single activity, plant-based cellulase enzyme. The enzyme is available for research and development projects through Sigma-Aldrich Corporation.

The global industrial enzymes market is projected to reach 3.74 billion by 2015, not including many emerging applications in advanced biofuels and biobased products. Enzymes are a critical role in converting cellulose and hemicellulose in biomass to sugars, which becomes the foundation to produce biofuels, biochemicals or biomaterials.

According to Infinite Enzymes, their technology produces enzymes in a lower value part of the corn kernel thereby creating a new sustainable market for corn processing by-products.  The company says their technology lowers the cost of sugar production needed for developing low-cost biobased plastics and advanced biofuels.

Recently, Infinite Enzymes received a $450,000 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to advance its enzyme development technology.

What Do People Think About Biofuels?

What do people in the Southeast think about biofuels? Do they support biofuel ventures? Who will grow the biomass? Will those in established industries fight against it? These are just a few of the questions researchers from the University of Georgia and the U.S. Forest Service are asking as part of studies in locations throughout the Southeast suited for biomass development.

The researchers will use a mix of ethnographic methods to help understand public opinion about bioenergy and also to provide policymakers and business owners with the information they need to make sustainable energy production viable throughout communities.

Corn Stover: Biomass Photo Joanna Schroeder“We’re planning to work on the ground throughout the Southeast,” said Sarah Hitchner, a co-investigator and post-doctoral research associate at UGA’s Center for Integrative Conservation Research. “A lot of people talk about biofuels as being an obvious win-win, but it’s more complicated than that.”

Supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which funds research projects on sustainable bioenergy through its Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, the research team will begin in Soperton, Georgia-formerly home to Range Fuels and now the Freedom Pines Biorefinery owned by LanzaTech-and then moving on to other areas in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida and North Carolina. While visiting local communities, the researchers will participate in the daily activities of community members and conduct in-depth interviews with a variety of stakeholders, such as landowners, industry representatives, potential employees and county commissioners.

“A big part of this kind of research is to listen to as many perspectives as possible,” said Peter Brosius, professor of anthropology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, director of the Center for Integrative Conservation Research and co-investigator in the study. “From there you begin to see patterns emerge.” Continue reading

Uruguay Expands Wind Power

With the support from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Uruguay is planning to expand its wind power generation through the construction of two wind farms: Libertador and Palmatir. Loans totaling $107.7 million will help the country diversify its energy mix and reduce its dependence on hydroelectric generation, which during dry seasons, increases the country’s dependence on energy produced from fossil fuels.

“These projects will be the first two wind farms to be financed by the IDB that are developed within the program launched by UTE, the state-owned electricity company, to promote private sector participation in the renewable energy sector,’’ said Jean-Marc Aboussouan, Chief of the Infrastructure Division at the Structured and Corporate Finance Department, the IDB unit responsible for large-scale private sector project financing.

Aboussouan continued, “The long-term financing provided by the IDB will allow Uruguay to take advantage of the global advances in the wind energy sector as well as improvements in technology and cost reductions that have made wind power a competitive energy source.”

WPE, a fully-owned subsidiary of Brazilian-based IMPSA, will develop the El Libertador wind farm that will feature 44 Vensys IMPSA wind turbines and be located in the department of Lavalleja. The project will receive a $66 million IDB loan. Abengoa S.A. will develop the Palmatir wind farm that will be located in the department of Tacuarembó. This wind farm will feature 25 Gamesa wind turbines and receive a $41.7 million IBD loan.

When the two wind farms are completed, they will have the capacity to produce 115 MW of electricity.  Today, Uruguay has 2.578 MW of power generation capacity, of which approximately 60 percent provides from hydropower plants, 33 percent from fossil fuels and the remaining from biomass and wind energy.

Anellotech to Boost Plastic Production from Biomass

Renewable fuels and green petrochemical maker Anellotech Inc. has inked a deal with the University of Massachusetts-Amherst that will triple the amount of plastics feedstock made from biomass. The agreement adds a new technology capability to Anellotech’s process that triples the amount of p-xylene used to make plastic bottles, clothing, carpeting, automotive and other products usually made from nonrenewable petroleum but now could be produced from non-food biomass.

Anellotech’s core technology, catalytic fast pyrolysis (CFP), was invented in Professor George W. Huber’s laboratory at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Anellotech is developing the process to produce benzene, toluene, xylenes and olefins from non-food biomass. The additional breakthrough technology was first reported in an article published in the prestigious journal Angewandte Chemie in October 2012, where Professor Huber, Professor Fan and collaborators describe how to modify the catalyst used in this process to triple the yield of p-xylene within the benzene, toluene and xylenes product stream. The new invention allows the more economical production of renewable p-xylene from non-food biomass, thus enabling the production of lower-cost renewable PET. This research was funded by the Department of Energy Energy Frontiers Research Centers as part of the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation which is led by the University of Delaware. Anellotech is currently working on scaling up the new CFP technology and bringing it to the market place.

“There is increasing demand for p-xylene, particularly for making consumer products” said David Sudolsky, President and Chief Executive Officer of Anellotech Inc. “This new technology we will be developing under license from the University of Massachusetts will enable beverage manufacturers to obtain 100% renewable PET bottles made from green ethylene glycol (already on the market by others) together with Anellotech’s green p-xylene.”

The process could replace some of the petroleum now used to make 54 million tons of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) globally.