Invasive Species Could Become Biofuel

arsgrouseUSDA researchers are looking at being able to turn some invasive trees into biofuel. This story from the Agricultural Research Service says they are looking at harvesting native juniper and pinyon trees that have extended out of their natural ranges for biomass. The plan not only produces renewable energy, but it also restores rangeland for livestock and protects critical sagebrush habitat for the western sage grouse and other animals.

In Burns, Ore., research leader Tony Svejcar and others will inventory trees available for harvest and biofuel production. This information can also be used to determine optimal locations for restoring wildlife habitat and locations where harvests could adversely impact existing wildlife. Svejcar works at the ARS Range and Meadow Forage Management Research Unit in Burns.

The scientists will also focus on devising plans for harvesting the trees in a sustainable manner. ARS research leader Fred Pierson plans to conduct experimental juniper harvests on a variety of sites in Idaho to observe how the removal affects erosion, and will use the information to model the environmental impacts of large-scale tree harvests. Pierson, who works at the ARS Northwest Watershed Research Center in Boise, Idaho, will also be monitoring how juniper removal affects large-scale water cycles.

The article also credits David Goodrich, a hydraulic engineer at the ARS Southwest Watershed Research Center in Tucson, Ariz., for his estimates of watershed-level rainfall runoff and erosion to help guide tree harvesting decisions.

More is available in the July 2013 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

From Toilet to Tank

The All-gas project, funded by the European Union, has achieved a milestone: successful crop of algae biomass at its site in Chiclana in Southern Spain. The goal of the project is to develop low-cost biofuel from algae grown in wastewater. The All-gas project proposes using this wastewater, as well as CO2, generated in biomass boilers from residuals such as garden waste or olive pits to feed the algae, which in turn are converted into biogas. A part of the biogas is CO2, which gets separated from the biomethane and recycled.

According to a news release, the algae crop has produced outstanding results – the biomass obtained shows a particularly high energy potential relative to its digestibility level, with a methane production capacity of around 200-300 litres of gas per kilogram of biomass processed by anaerobic digestion. The microalgae also successfully purified wastewater.

Launched in May 2011, the five-year project has already completed its pilot phase (the first two years) in a 200 square meter facility. The plans for the construction of the biomass plant are on schedule, and a one-hectare prototype is under construction. The project’s final phase will span 10 hectares – the equivalent of ten football fields – believed to be the largest in the world.

All-gas ProjectIt is expected that by 2016, the biofuel produced by the All-gas project will be enough to power 200 vehicles. When the project reaches its demonstration phase, the biogas produced will be used to power public buses and garbage trucks in the region of Cadiz.

According to Frank Rogalla, Project Coordinator and FCC Aqualia’s Director of Innovation and Technology, “This original new approach to bioenergy means that Spain’s 40 million population could power 200,000 vehicles every year with a single toilet flush. The All-gas project is going to change the face of wastewater treatment by generating a valuable energy resource from what was previously considered undesirable waste.”

As Nicolas Aragon, Chiclana’s environmental councilor, adds, “This is not only an R&D project, but also a way of reducing costs and investing in the protection of our natural environment. Chiclana is a worldwide tourist destination and from now on, we will show that along with attracting visitors with our sunshine and beaches, we can also grow sustainable biofuel with our natural resources.”

The All-Gas consortium is led by FCC Aqualia, and comprises five other organisations, from Germany (Fraunhofer – Gesellschaft), Austria (BDI), the Netherlands (Feyecon y Hygear) and the UK (University of Southampton).

New Biofuels Projects Announced by DOE

During remarks at the Energy Department’s (DOE) Biomass 2013 annual conference, Secretary Ernest Moniz highlighted the important role biofuels play in the Administration’s Climate Action Plan to increase our energy security and reduce greenhouse gas emissions algae photobioreactorsfrom the transportation sector. During the event, Secretary Moniz announced over $22 million in new investments to help develop cost-competitive algae fuels and streamline the biomass feedstock supply chain for advanced biofuels.

“By partnering with industry and universities, we can help make clean, renewable biofuels cost-competitive with gasoline, give drivers more options at the pump and cut harmful carbon pollution,” said Moniz.

The research projects announced build on the DOE’s broader efforts to bring next generation biofuels online, with the goal of producing cost-competitive drop-in biofuels by 2017 and algae biofuels by 2022.

Nearly $16.5 million was given to four projects located in California, Hawaii and New Mexico aimed at breaking down technical barriers and accelerating the development of sustainable, affordable algae biofuels. The projects will help boost the productivity of sustainable algae, while cutting capital and operating costs of commercial-scale production. The projects include:

  • Hawaii Bioenergy ($5 million DOE investment): Based in Lihue, Kauai, Hawaii Bioenergy will develop a cost-effective photosynthetic open pond system to produce algal oil. The project will also demonstrate preprocessing technologies that reduce energy use and the overall cost of extracting lipids and producing fuel intermediates.
  • Sapphire Energy ($5 million DOE investment): Headquartered in San Diego, California, Sapphire Energy will develop a new process to produce algae-based fuel that is compatible with existing refineries. The project will also work on improving algae strains and increasing yield through cultivation improvements.
  • New Mexico State University ($5 million DOE investment): For its project, New Mexico State University will increase the yield of a microalgae, while developing harvesting and cultivation processes that lower costs and support year-round production.
  • California Polytechnic State University ($1.5 million DOE investment): California Polytechnic State University will conduct research and development work to increase the productivity of algae strains and compare two separate processing technologies. The project will be based at a municipal wastewater treatment plant in Delhi, California that has six acres of algae ponds.  Continue reading

Appalachian State University Receives Biomass Grant

Appalachian State University Department of Technology and Environmental Design professors David Domermuth and Ok-Youn Yu have received a $45,000 grant from the N.C. Agricultural Foundation for a project to economically convert biomass to biofuel and useful biobiomasschar. The grant, along with a current grant from the EPA, is being used to complete the university’s bioshelter/greenhouse at the Watauga County Landfill where the biomass conversion will occur. When testing is complete, the project will move to the Energy Xchange in Spruce Pine and be used for public outreach and education.

For the past four years, researchers at Appalachian have worked to develop the most economical method for converting agricultural and forest biomass to useable products and energy and subsequently provide a source of revenue.

“To test our system we are using wood chips, which are a plentiful resource in the mountains,” said graduate assistant Miranda Harper who is assisting with the project. “Wood waste from wood processing also can be recycled into useful products. Any kind of biomass can be used in the system including agricultural waste, yard brush and even animal waste.”

A process called bio volatilization (BV) converts biomass into biochar, pyrolosis oil, fuel gas and heat. The biochar created from the BV process can be used as a soil additive to increase soil fertility and protect against soil-borne diseases. Biochar also improves water quality and reduces agricultural productivity and reduces nutrient leaching and soil acidity.

The waste energy created from the BV process will be used to heat the university’s bioshelter/greenhouse at the Watauga County Landfill. The fuel created will be used to run a generator to produce electricity for day lighting in the winter at the bioshelter/greenhouse.

Biomass-to-Liquids Plant Chooses Technology

A Biomass-to-Liquids (BTL) plant owned by Red Rock Biofuels has selected its reactor Velocys logotechnology. The plant, which is under construction, will use FT microchannel reactor technology developed by the Oxford Catalysts Group and marketed under the name Velocys. The BTL facility will be located in Oregon and will be designed to convert around 170,000 tons per year of forestry derived biomass into approximately 1,100 barrels per day (bpd) of liquid transportation fuels.

“The choice of Velocys FT was easy. No other FT technology offered the combination of high performance and efficiency at a scale appropriate for a BTL facility. We’re pleased to be working with the Group on this pioneering project,” said Terry Kulesa, CEO of IR1 Group, the parent company of Red Rock Biofuels.

Oxford Catalysts LogoThe Red Rock Biofuels BTL project was recently awarded a $4.1 million grant from the US Department of Defense (under the Defense Production Act Title III Advanced Drop-in Biofuel Production Project) to help to fund a detailed engineering and design study for the facility that is complete. With the aid of this grant, Red Rock Biofuels is expected to progress through detailed engineering and design over the course of nine months.

Following successful completion of the detailed design phase, IR1 Group will have an opportunity to apply for a further grant of up to $70 million to support construction of the proposed plant, and expects to do so.

Roy Lipski, CEO of Oxford Catalysts Group, added, “We are pleased to have our technology selected once again, this time for a promising opportunity in the growing area of Biomass-to-Liquids. We’re also excited by the potential for this project to access $70 million of government funding to support early adoption of a synthetic fuels plant.”

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.