Beetle-Infested Trees to be Turned into Biofuel

usda-logoTrees lost to beetle infestations might not be a total loss; they could be turned into biofuels. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded nearly $10 million in grants to a consortium of academic, industry and government organizations led by Colorado State University (CSU) to see if insect-killed trees in the Rocky Mountains could be a sustainable feedstock for bioenergy.

“Infestations of pine and spruce bark beetles have impacted over 42 million acres of U.S. forests since 1996, and a changing climate threatens to expand the threat from bark beetle on our forest lands,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “As we take steps to fight the bark beetle, this innovative research will help take the biomass that results from bark beetle infestation and create clean, renewable energy that holds potential for job creation and promises a cleaner future for America.”

There are many benefits to using beetle-killed wood for renewable fuel production. It requires no cultivation, circumvents food-versus-fuel concerns and likely has a highly favorable carbon balance. However, there are some challenges that have been a barrier to its widespread use. The wood is typically located far from urban industrial centers, often in relatively inaccessible areas with challenging topography, which increases harvest and transportation costs. In addition to technical barriers, environmental impacts, social issues and local policy constraints to using beetle-killed wood and other forest residues remain largely unexplored.

CSU researchers, together with other scientists from universities, government and private industry in the region, created the Bioenergy Alliance Network of the Rockies (BANR) to address these challenges. The project will undertake comprehensive economic, environmental and social/policy assessment, and integrate research results into a web-based, user-friendly decision support system. CSU will collaborate with partners across four states to complete the project. Partners include: University of Idaho, University of Montana, Montana State University and the University of Wyoming, U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, National Renewable Energy Lab and Cool Planet Energy Systems.

The release goes on to say that they are exploring recent advances in scalable thermochemical conversion technologies to produce advanced liquid biofuel and co-products on-site.

Vilsack also points out that this type of program highlights why a new farm bill is needed.

Farmers Harvesting Biomass for Project LIBERTY

Farmers are now harvesting and delivering cob bales for the 2014 opening of Project LIBERTY in Emmetsburg, Iowa. Project LIBERTY is POET-DSM’s 20 million-gallon-per-year biorefinery currently under construction. When the facility begins production, it will use Screen Shot 2013-10-25 at 3.23.47 PMcorn crop residue – cobs, leaves, husk and some stalk – as the primary feedstock to produce cellulosic ethanol.

With the 2013 harvest season already underway, growers have started delivering bales to the plant’s 22-acre stackyard. Although POET-DSM has organized four previous commercial-scale harvests in the past that have brought in nearly 200,00 tons of feedstock, this year’s bales will for the first time be used to produce cellulosic ethanol at the plant’s startup.

“Half of our biomass stackyard is filling up with cob bales for ethanol production,” Project LIBERTY General Manager Daron Wilson said. “Things are going smoothly. Our advance work over the last few years on feedstock logistics is paying off.”

Crop residue represents a new market for farmers that provides additional revenue with minimal input costs. It does not require any additional planting, and crop residue can be harvested with a standard baler. Nutrient replacement at POET-DSM’s suggested rate of removal – approximately 1 ton per acre or 25 percent of the above-ground biomass – is minimal.

“It’s been an easy way to diversify my farm operation and incorporate some much-needed crop residue management into the harvest,” said local farmer Charlie Kollasch. “This has been an important business opportunity for our area.”

POET-DSM intends to purchase approximately 100,000 tons from this year’s harvest to handle start-up and continuing operations through the 2014 harvest.

KiOR Receives $100M in Equity Financing

KiOR, has announced the execution of $100 million in committed equity related financing in two separate private placement transactions to support the Company’s recently announced expansion of production capacity in Columbus, Mississippi, called the Columbus II Project. Once completed with the planned technology enhancements for both Columbus facilities, the Columbus II Project is expected to achieve overall positive cash flow from operations for KiOR.

KiOR Columbus I projectIn the first private placement, KiOR has received $85 million of committed equity related financing from Khosla Ventures III, and various other Khosla entities. This financing consists of the immediate issuance of $42.5 million of Senior Secured Mandatorily Convertible Notes (“Notes”) plus the conversion of $53,197,308 of the Company’s existing senior debt held by the Khosla entities. The Notes will convert into Class A Common Stock at a price of $2.897 per share.

Also as part of this transaction, the Company has received commitments to purchase up to an additional $42.5 million of Class A Common Stock, either through the direct issuance of such equity or conversion of Notes. The conversion of the Notes and the future equity related commitments are contingent upon, among other things, the Company fully funding the Columbus II Project, which it expects to complete through a debt offering, and certain timing restrictions.

“Khosla Ventures and I have reviewed independent reports on the assessment of the technology and conducted our own significant due diligence as part of this commitment. We are pleased to invest in KiOR with Gates Ventures in this equity financing for the Columbus II Project,” said Vinod Khosla.

“I believe that KiOR’s technology for production of cellulosic biofuels can not only serve as the foundation for a successful and sustainably profitable long-term business but can also scale because of the hundreds of saw, pulp and paper mills that have been shut down and have local feedstock available, providing a much more stable and less price volatile feedstock than oil, while fueling the world’s transportation requirements with significantly less geopolitical risk and greenhouse gas emissions on a life cycle basis,” Khosla added. “I expect, as the technology matures over the construction and operation of multiple facilities, it will achieve cost parity with many traditional oil sources such as new deep offshore projects and oil sands, without subsidies.”

In the second private placement, KiOR has received $15 million of committed equity financing from new investor Gates Ventures, LLC, an affiliate of Bill Gates. Continue reading

Global Farmers Learn Value of Ethanol

corn-couserEach year during World Food Prize week, the Truth About Trade and Technology Global Farmer Roundtable brings farmers from all over the world to visit Couser Cattle Company in Nevada, Iowa.

Owner Bill Couser not only produces cattle, he also grows plenty of corn on his operation and is a big proponent of ethanol as a means of getting the most out of every kernel. “It’s no different than a barrel of crude. We don’t just get gasoline from a barrel of crude. We take it apart and get many different things,” he said. “When we look at corn, we can feed it, we can take it to ethanol plants, we can sell it domestically, we can sell it abroad.”

As a founder of Lincolnway Ethanol plant, Couser is really excited about the cellulosic project with DuPont using corn residue. “We’ve got the residue there and if we manage it correctly, we have a new cash crop,” he said. Interview with Bill Couser

Couser, who is also a former president of Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, showed a powerpoint presentation adding up the multiplier effect of a single acre of corn going to an ethanol plant. When he figured that final amount corn was $7 a bushel and it added up to over $12,000 per acre. But even at $3, it’s still nearly $8,000. Watch the video to see how he determines that.

2013 TATT Global Farmer Roundtable photos

Cellulosic Byproduct Increases Ethanol Yield

jin_yongsu1-bScientists from the University of Illinois have reported that they have engineered yeast to consume acetic acid, a previously unwanted byproduct of the process of converting plant leaves, stems and other tissues into biofuels. This innovation increases ethanol yield from lignocellulosic sources (aka second generation feedstocks) by nearly 10 percent. According to researchers, the new advance will streamline the fermentation process and will simplify plant breeding and pretreatment of the cellulose. The results were published in Nature Communications.

Lignocellulose is the fibrous material that makes up the structural tissues of plants. It is one of the most abundant raw materials on the planet and, because it is rich in carbon it is an attractive source of renewable biomass for biofuels production.

The researchers explain that the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae is good at fermenting simple sugars (such as those found in corn kernels and sugarcane) to produce ethanol. But coaxing the yeast to feast on plant stems and leaves is not so easy. Doing it on an industrial scale requires a number of costly steps, one of which involves breaking down hemicellulose, a key component of lignocellulose.

“If we decompose hemicellulose, we obtain xylose and acetic acid,” said University of Illinois food science and human nutrition professor Yong-Su Jin, who led the research with principal investigator Jamie Cate, of the University of California at Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Jin and Cate are affiliates of the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), which funded the research. Jin is an affiliate of the Institute for Genomic Biology at the U of I.

“Xylose is a sugar; we can engineer yeast to ferment xylose,” Jin said. “However, acetic acid is a toxic compound that kills yeast. That is one of the biggest problems in cellulosic ethanol production.” Continue reading

World’s Largest Advanced Biofuels Plant Opens

Today marked the official opening of what is believed to be the world’s largest operational, commercial scale advanced biofuels facility. Situated in the fields outside the city of Crescentino, Italy, Beta Renewables, part of the Mossi Ghisolfi Group, along with Novozymes celebrated the first plant to be designed and built to produce bioethanol from agricultural residues and energy crops as commercial scale using enzymatic conversion. The advanced biofuels plant features Beta Renewables’ PROESA™ engineering and production technology alongside Novozymes’ Cellic® enzymes.

“The advanced biofuels market presents transformational economic, environmental and social opportunities, and with the opening, we pave the way for a green revolution in the chemical sector,” said Beta Renewables’ Chairman and CEO, Guido Ghisolfi. “We will continue to commercially expand Beta Renewables’ core technology throughout the world, and we are very confident at this stage given the demand we see around the globe.”

“The opening today presents a leap forward and is truly the beginning of a new era for advanced biofuels,” says Peder Holk Nielsen, CEO of Novozymes. “Here, at this plant, enabled by Novozymes’ enzymatic technology, we will turn agricultural waste into millions of liters of low-emission green fuel, proving that cellulosic ethanol is no longer a distant dream. It is here, it is happening, and it is ready for large-scale commercialization.”

The plant uses wheat straw, rice straw and arundo donax, a high-yielding energy crop grown on marginal land. Lignin, a polymer extracted from biomass during the ethanol production process, is used at an attached power plant, which generates enough power to meet the facility’s energy needs, with any excess green electricity sold to the local grid.

At the inauguration, Guido Ghisolfi and Peder Holk Nielsen were joined on the ground for the celebrations by Italy’s Minister for Economic Development, Flavio Zanonato, and representatives from the European Commission, as well as more than 500 global stakeholders.

During the event, both companies stressed that with the technology ready at commercial scale, it will be vital to create stable and conducive policy conditions worldwide, to harvest better the vast opportunities in cellulosic ethanol and advanced biofuels. Continue reading

Cellulosic’s First Community Advisory Panel to Meet

The Nation’s first Community Advisory Panel (CAP) on cellulosic biofuels will meet early next week in Iowa. Officials from DuPont’s cellulosic ethanol facility in Nevada, Iowa will talk with more than 30 Central Iowa residents including business leaders, farmers, conservationists and educators Tuesday, Oct. 8, at Nevada’s SCORE Pavilion from 6:30-8:30 pm.

dupontcornstoverDesigned to provide an ongoing dialogue between DuPont and the surrounding community, the CAP will meet up to four times each year Dr. Mark Edelman, CAP Facilitator, has more than 32 years of experience as a professor of economics and extension specialist in agricultural policy analysis, community entrepreneurship, and economic development. Edelman also teaches an economic development course and serves as Community Vitality Center Director at Iowa State University. During this inaugural meeting, CAP members will discuss the panel’s goals and objectives, and a process for ongoing engagement with the new facility’s management team.

DuPont’s commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol facility is expected to produce 30 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year after it comes online in the second half of 2014. The $200 million facility will be among the first and largest commercial-scale cellulosic biorefineries in the world. Corn stover is expected to be the main feedstock.

KiOR Looks to Double Capacity at Cellulosic Facility

kior_logo_CMYKCommercial scale cellulosic gasoline and diesel producer KiOR has announced plans to double the capacity of its Columbus, Mississippi facility. Officials expect the project, dubbed Columbus II, will cost approximately $225 million, will break ground within 90 days of raising the money needed and be finished building 18 months later.

Once completed with its latest technology improvements, KiOR expects that the Columbus II project will allow each Columbus facility to achieve greater yields, production capacity and feedstock flexibility than the original design basis for the existing Columbus facility, enabling KiOR to more quickly make progress towards its long-term goal of 92 gallons per bone dry ton of biomass.

Fred Cannon, KiOR’s President and CEO, says this project is an important step in the company’s long-term business plan, as it will make them profitable with lower capital costs and will take advantage of “operational and technological synergies between the two Columbus facilities.” He says it will also help accelerate plans for next year’s groundbreaking of another standard scale commercial production facility in Natchez, Mississippi.

Project LIBERTY Cellulosic Ethanol Plant Update

POETplant1A 25 million-gallon-per-year cellulosic ethanol plant is on track to start cranking out the advanced biofuel early next year. Officials with POET-DSM Advanced Biofuel’s Project LIBERTY updated progress on the refinery in Northwest Iowa during the Platts Biofuels and Chemicals conference.

“We had a great summer for construction and have been able to stay on track to start producing cellulosic bio-ethanol early next year,” [Steve Hartig, General Manager – Licensing for POET-DSM] said. “It’s impressive to see this technology coming to life in Emmetsburg.”

[The plant] will be one of the first plants of its kind in the nation. It will use cob bales – made up of corn cobs, leaves, husks and some stalk – to produce 20 million gallons of cellulosic bio-ethanol annually, later ramping up to 25 million gallons.

Hartig said the progress to date includes:

Biomass receiving and grinding building is complete and biomass processing equipment is nearly installed.
Saccharification, fermentation tanks are complete.
Equipment installation and pipe work is ongoing.
Cooling tower construction is underway.
Underground utilities are nearing completion.

About 300 workers are on the site daily, making preparations for the early 2014 start.

The most recent construction photos are available on POET-DSM’s Flickr site.

Novozymes & Raízen Partner on Cellulosic Ethanol

Novozymes and Raízen Energia S/A, Brazil’s largest sugarcane crusher, have announced plans to collaborate on the first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in Brazil. Novozymes will be supplying enzyme technology for the plant, expected to begin production by the end of 2014.

Sugarcane in BrazilThe plant will be a bolt-on facility to Raízen’s Costa Pinto sugarcane mill in the state of São Paulo and will have the capacity to produce 40 million liters of cellulosic ethanol a year from sugarcane bagasse and straw. The agreement also provides for Novozymes to supply enzyme technology to Raízen’s second cellulosic ethanol plant, should such a plant be constructed.

To support Raízen in its efforts to advance cellulosic ethanol, Novozymes will develop enzyme technology optimized for Raízen’s process. In addition, Novozymes intends to establish new enzyme-manufacturing capacity in Brazil. The exact size, location and investment budget for this enzyme-manufacturing facility are not yet determined and will depend on the level of estimated demand for enzyme technology in Brazil.

“This first plant developed by one of the world’s largest sugarcane ethanol producers marks an important step in the commercialization of cellulosic ethanol in Brazil,” said Thomas Videbæk, Novozymes’ Executive Vice President of Business Development. “We look forward to sharing the journey with Raízen and enabling this exciting development for Brazil through the delivery of world-leading enzyme technology.”

USDA Announces Support for Advanced Biofuel Producers

usda-logoUSDA announced Thursday that the agency is making nearly $15.5 million in payments to support the production of advanced biofuel.

At the National Advanced Biofuels Conference in Omaha, USDA Rural Development Acting Under Secretary Doug O’Brien said 188 producers will received payments through the Advanced Biofuel Payment Program.

“Producing advanced biofuels is a major component of the drive to take control of America’s energy future by developing domestic, renewable energy sources,” O’Brien said. “These payments represent the Obama Administration’s commitment to support an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy strategy.”

The funding is being provided through USDA’s Advanced Biofuel Payment Program, which was established in the 2008 Farm Bill. Under this program, payments are made to eligible producers based on the amount of advanced biofuels produced from renewable biomass, other than corn kernel starch. Examples of eligible feedstocks include but are not limited to: crop residue; animal, food and yard waste; vegetable oil; and animal fat.

Read more from USDA.

Agronomic Data Shows Viability of Biomass Harvesting

The Advanced Biofuels Conference & Expo is in full swing in Omaha, Nebraska with several hundred industry members on hand for the event. Today POET-DSM, an event sponsor, has announced that according to the latest data from researchers with Iowa State University and the United States Department of Agriculture (UDSA) harvesting crop residue for cellulosic ethanol production is consistent with good farm management.

Biomass Harvest for Project LIBERTY

The work was commissioned by POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels to ensure the sustainability of the joint venture’s plans to build cellulosic ethanol plants and license technology to producers in the U.S. and abroad. The research, led by Dr. Doug Karlen with USDA and Dr. Stuart Birrell with ISU, was conducted in fields near Emmetsburg, Iowa, the site of Project LIBERTY, POET-DSM’s 20 million-gallon-per-year cellulosic ethanol plant currently under construction. The facility will use corn-crop residue – cobs, leaves, husk and some stalk – to produce renewable fuel. It is expected to come online in early 2014.

Now in its fifth year, the research evaluated the possible effects of biomass removal on soil nutrient levels and grain yields over various rates of removal. POET-DSM’s proposed rate of removal is approximately 1 ton per acre, which is 20-25 percent of the above-ground biomass.

“In summary, both grain yields and soil nutrient levels were not significantly affected by stover harvest treatments,” Birrell said in a research summary.

Fields with yields above 175 bushels per acre could remove up to 2 tons of biomass per acre, according to Birrell and Karlen. Based on the data, POET-DSM recommends no changes in nitrogen or phosphorous applications, due to residue removal. Some biomass providers could benefit from adding a small amount of potassium. Continue reading

Neil Young Rocks for Ethanol

Rocker Neil Young showed he has a “heart of gold” for ethanol during a press event in Washington D.C. Monday with the National Farmers Union.

nfu-neil-young“I love ethanol. I love how it smells, I love the way it makes my car go, everything about it is great, it’s clean,” said Young. “It’s a beautiful fuel.”

But, Young told an audience of 300 farmers and numerous media outlets, America does not have freedom of choice when it comes to its fuel. “There’s a monopoly in existence,” he said. “Every time you get off the road, you enter a monopoly zone – it’s called Big Oil. There’s no reason why every fuel stop that has more than four fuel pumps cannot have an E85 pump…it gives Americans the freedom to choose the fuel they use.”

Young, who recently traveled cross country in a vehicle powered by cellulosic ethanol and electricity, says he is not being paid to support biofuels. “We have a very big problem, CO2 is going to be a huge issue in the next couple of years,” he said. “Ethanol and other biofuels, cellulosic ethanol, biodiesel, are the answer to this problem.”

The Grammy-winning recording artist believes the misinformation campaign against ethanol is fueled by the oil industry. “And the only thing that’s green about their product is the money that goes into campaigns,” he said to strong applause from the crowd.

Young also encouraged those who support alternative fuels to contact their lawmakers and urge them to maintain the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

Listen to some of Young’s comments here and watch the cell phone video sent by NFU staffer Melisa Augusto below: Neil Young for Ethanol

Argonne Take Cues From Nature

Scientists working at the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF) are looking to nature’s catalysts, enzymes, for inspiration in their quest to find a more effective means of converting biomass into renewable fuel. The research is focused on inedible plant materials that contain cellulose (such as wood chips and switchgrass), which can be broken down into sugars and then converted into biofuels.

According to the researchers, it is a challenging process to commercialize because plant cell walls are tough and recalcitrant, meaning they naturally resist being broken down into sugars. Therefore this obstacle has made it difficult to produce biofuels at a cost and pace that can compete with petroleum-based transportation fuels.

ALCF researchTo address this issue, the research team from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Colorado is using Mira, the ALCF’s 10-petaflops supercomputer, to conduct large-scale simulations of the physical behavior of cellulase enzymes. Naturally produced by some fungi and bacteria, these particular enzymes are being modeled because they effectively trigger the chemical changes necessary to degrade hardy plant materials into life-sustaining sugars.

“Through our studies at the ALCF, we hope to uncover how these enzymes can be manipulated to develop superior biological catalysts for improved biofuel production,” said Michael Crowley, NREL senior scientist and project principal investigator.

Crowley and his colleagues are carrying out the simulations to gain a fundamental understanding of the complex cellulose-to-sugar conversion process, known as enzymatic hydrolysis. With this information, researchers will be able to identify potential enzyme modifications and then feed their discoveries into experiments aimed at developing and validating improved catalysts. Continue reading

ACE Tries to Outgun the Big Bucks of Big Oil

Steve Petersen3Members of the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) have been in Des Moines, Iowa this week to “Unite and Ignite” for their 26th annual conference. But even before they got together, they knew their message of the good ethanol does for the entire country was coming up against some pretty deep pockets of their opponents.

“We don’t have the resources that some of our opponents have in terms of dollars, in terms of personnel, to get our message to the people who make the decisions and make the policy,” Steve Petersen, a small livestock producer from Chelsea, Iowa and an advocate for ethanol, told Joanna during last March’s Biofuels Beltway event when about 70 ethanol backers gathered in Washington, D.C. to tell ethanol’s story to lawmakers. But he’s not deterred, because many congressional staffers told him they wanted to hear from people actively involved in agriculture. “We did a lot of education.”

Steve admitted that it can be a bit disconcerting that so many of those who vote on the policies that affect ethanol don’t understand the process. But he said ethanol advocates just need to work a bit harder to get that message out, and he believes if they can show these lawmakers the impacts on rural areas, they’ll win them over.

“We had a great pictorial this time of walking through the process of ethanol. I’d like to have some actual pictures from Iowa, from Wisconsin, from all of the plants around it, and all of the impact it has on jobs and the tangible benefits it has brought to our communities in the Midwest: the additional tax base, the additional jobs that a lot of these communities haven’t seen for 25 years. Ethanol and biofuels have been a tremendous boon to the Midwest … and all of our country,” he said.

Listen to Joanna’s interview with Steve here: Steve Petersen

Visit the ACE 26th Annual Ethanol Conference photo album.