Partnership for Cellulosic Technology

ConocoISUThe U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has entered into partnership with ConocoPhillips and Iowa State University to identify promising cellulosic biomass conversion technologies for the future. The collaboration will bring three independently established programs together to help identify the most efficient and cost-effective methods for making liquid transportation fuels from plants.

NREL“Research cooperation among government, industry and academia is needed to efficiently address the many questions about how to find the best ways to convert biomass to liquid transportation fuels,” said Tom Foust, technology manager for NREL’s National Bioenergy Center.

Each party is providing its own time and resources and the collaboration is expected to produce an initial report by January 2009.

Cellulosic Firm Surpasses $100 Million in Funding

Range FuelsRange Fuels has announced that it has received private financing totaling over $100 million to complete the construction of the first phase of its commercial cellulosic ethanol plant located near the town of Soperton, Georgia. The first phase of construction for the Soperton Plant is targeted to produce approximately 20 million gallons of ethanol and mixed alcohols per year and is scheduled for completion in 2009.

Range Fuels uses a thermo-chemical process compared to most competing cellulosic processes which use biochemical technology.

The company will use woody biomass in the form of sustainably harvested forest trees and waste materials from Georgia forests.

Corvette Ready to Run on Cellulosic E85

CorvetteThe Corvette Racing team will make its debut race on cellulosic E85 in the upcoming American LeMans Series Acura Sports Car Challenge in St. Petersburg, Florida April 4-5. GM Racing program manager Doug Fehan says they are very excited about it.

“GM is the leader in the production of flex fuel vehicles, we produce over 2.5 million and we are the largest producer in the world,” Fehan said during a teleconference on Wednesday. “Corvette has always tried to position itself as a leader in GM and within the racing community and this was a chance for Corvette again to demonstrate that leadership.”

Fehan says they had some challenges perfecting the fuel cell for using E85 in the race car, which kept them from using the fuel in the ALMS Twelve Hours of Sebring but they have resolved that issue. Comparing E85 to gasoline, Fehan says there is a difference in fuel mileage “but from a power and performance standpoint, it’s virtually the same.”

Johnny O'ConnellThe Corvette Racing C6.R driven by Johnny O’Connell, Jan Magnussen and Ron Fellows captured ninth overall and first in the 12 hours of Sebring in Florida, the season opener for the American Le Mans Series.

O’Connell agrees that performance with the cellulosic E85 is identical. “There has been absolutely no loss in performance at all (running the E85 in the Corvette) it’s as amazing as it’s always been,” he says. Because of the lower fuel mileage he says they do have to carry a little more fuel which makes the car a little heavier at the start, but “we’ll make that up on the other side” when the car is lighter.

O’Connell is especially pleased with the environmental benefits of running E85. “We all want to be as green as we possibly can and recognize that we do need to change things to keep racing in our culture as we go forward,” said O’Connell.

Corvette Racing has a technical partnership with the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council to spotlight E85 in the ALMS, and the cellulosic E85 for the race is being provided by KL Process Design Group of South Dakota. Two other teams – the Intersport Racing Lola and the Drayson-Barwell Racing Aston Martin – are also running on E85 in the ALMS series.

Listen to part of the press conference here:

Orion Ethanol Diversifies

Orion Ethanol of Kansas has acquired a corn fructose wet milling facility located in Texas from Dimmitt Ethanol.

Orion EthanolOrion plans to convert the facility into a fully integrated renewable fuels campus in three phases over 3 years. The first phase will convert the corn fructose wet milling facility into a 60 million gallon per year ethanol plant and 10 million gallon per year edible oil extraction facility. Phases two and three will consist of adding a 10 million gallon per year cellulose-to-ethanol process, a 12 million gallon per year biodiesel plant, a 25,000 ton per year yeast plant, and a 60-75 Megawatt wind and biomethane based electrical generation facility. The asset purchase brings with it approximately 1,200 surrounding acres and a wind lease agreement.

Orion chairman of the board Patrick Barker says, “Dimmitt Ethanol’s wet milling facility is the ideal platform upon which we plan to develop an integrated renewable fuels campus that will include production of cellulosic ethanol, biodiesel, biomethane, and wind power. This project will help to horizontally diversify Orion across the energy spectrum, building upon Orion Ethanol’s past success acquiring and developing our 55 million gallon per year dry-mill ethanol plant in Pratt, Kansas.”

Georgia Innovations Focus on Bioenergy

Georgia’s Agriculture Innovation Center (AgIC) recently received nearly $200,000 for matching research grants to help support six agricultural-based businesses. Five of those six are focused on bioenergy.

GeorgiaBill Boone, director of the AgIC, says the focus on bioenergy is not surprising. “Georgia is among the leaders in the bioenergy revolution. In order to stay in the forefront, we must continue to expand our bioenergy research, especially in the areas of alternative feedstocks.”

Companies receiving the grants include Alterra Bioenergy, a biodiesel manufacturer headquartered in Macon which is researching the dry land weed, camelina as an alternative biodiesel feedstock.
Also researching an alternative biofuel feedstock is AgStrong, a small, family-owned agricultural engineering firm in Watkinsville.

US Ethanol, a company that currently uses the waste sugars from recycled cola products to commercially produce ethanol in its Cordele plant, wants to expand its feedstocks by using waste sugars from Florida and Louisiana sugar plants.

Fram Renewable Fuels, headquartered in Savannah, is studying the use of wood pellets to heat poultry houses.

Finally, Synergy Parametrics, an Athens-based engineering firm, will use the grant to identify a more efficient fermentation process for cellulosic ethanol while simultaneously reducing the amount of acetic acid from the process.

Listen to an interview with Bill Boone by Randall Weiseman of Southeast AgNet:

Florida Plant Seeks Zoning Change

A Florida sugar company is seeking a zoning change in Palm Beach county to allow it to produce cellulosic ethanol.

Florida CrystalsAccording to an article in the Palm Beach Post, Florida Crystals Corp needs a zoning change that would allow cellulosic-ethanol plants – factories that produce ethanol from plant waste rather than corn – to be built in areas already zoned for industry.

“There’s an ethanol train coming,” said Gaston Cantens, vice president of sugar producer Florida Crystals Corp.

“Without language in the county’s zoning code that allows ethanol to be an end product, we are not even in the game,” Cantens said Tuesday during a meeting with the Palm Beach Post editorial board.

A demonstration cellulosic-ethanol plant is slated to be built by the University of Florida at Florida Crystals’ Okeelanta mill and refinery south of South Bay. That doesn’t require a zoning change, Cantens said. The plant, which is expected to produce 1 million to 2 million gallons a year, is being funded by a $20 million state grant awarded to the University of Florida this past June.

Cellulosic Venture Capitol

Range FuelsRange Fuels has been held up as the poster child for commercializing cellulosic ethanol and the company has now raised $100 million to build a 100-million-gallon-a-year plant in Georgia. Range Fuels has also received a US Department of Energy grant and other venture funding in an effort to get the plant up and producing at least 20 million gallons of ethanol from wood this year.

NYT Business
also reports that another cellulosic company, Mascoma, raised $50 million in a third round of venture funding.

The latest funding for Range Fuels means that at least three start-ups focused on cellulosic ethanol have now amassed financing greater than $100 million.

Global Marketing of Cellulosic Technology

South Dakota-based KL Process Design Group has signed an agreement with O2 Diesel Europe to market their cellulosic process globally.

KL Process DesignAccording to the companies, the agreement secures O2Diesel’s rights to expand KL’s cellulosic to ethanol fuel production technology in Europe, India, Russia and other rapidly developing global markets.

KL announced the start up of the first commercial small scale wood waste ethanol plant in August 2007. The plant, located in Wyoming, was engineered and constructed by KL Process Design Group, which also operates it and recently began supplying cellulosic ethanol for the E85 used by some cars in the American LeMans Series.

O2 DieselAccording to Alan Rae, CEO of O2Diesel Corporation, “We believe KL has developed a commercially ready and environmentally friendly process and has a business model that can be easily replicated, which will provide the opportunity for rapid, wide-scale distribution of affordable fuel grade ethanol on a carbon positive basis. Additionally, the KL process provides the potential for multiple natural waste feedstocks, which supports global efforts to move renewable fuel production away from traditional agricultural feedstocks. Access to competitively priced ethanol from second generation production will further enhance the environmental benefits of O2Diesel as we expand our European and other markets.”

Ethanol Pump Promo for Sebring

The Ethanol Promotion and Information Council helped the American LeMans Series kick off the 56th running of the Mobile 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring this weekend with a pump promotion offering E10 for $2.56. A total of 2566 gallons of the fuel were sold at the local Gate Petroleum station in Sebring, Florida.

EPIC Sebring Pump PromoSeveral race car drivers were on hand to pump gas and sign autographs including Joel Feinberg and Chris Hall both of Primetime Race Group racing the GT2 Team Dodge Viper Competition Coupe.

The American Le Mans Series has chosen E10 as an “official ethanol-enriched fuel” of the series, the first time a street legal renewable fuel has been used in any endurance format. Also approved by the series is cellulosic E85, which will run in some of the cars this season.

Meanwhile, Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles Bronson this week announced new fuel quality standards for gasoline blended with ethanol.

These changes specifically target selected fuel quality standards for gasoline blended with 10 percent or less ethanol. This will allow even more stations in Florida to sell ethanol-blended fuel.

“Sugar Eater” Holds Biofuel Promise

Two University of Maryland scientists believe a strain of bacteria that decomposes everything from algae to newspapers to crab shells could help produce cheaper fuel. Found on marsh grass in the Chesapeake Bay, this organism could soon be used to generate ethanol from cellulosic sources such as waste paper, brewing byproducts, leftover agriculture products, including straw, corncobs and husks, and energy crops such as switchgrass..

ZymetisA process using the bacteria, developed by University of Maryland professors Steve Hutcheson and Ron Weiner, is the foundation of their incubator company Zymetis. When fully operational, the Zymetis process could potentially lead to the production of 75 billion gallons a year of carbon-neutral ethanol.

The bacterium is called Saccarophagus degradans, which translates as “sugar eater,” because it has the largest known concentration of enzymes that eat carbohydrates.

USDA Energy Grant Announcements

WIREC 08At last week’s Washington International Renewable Energy Conference (WIREC) 2008, Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer announced that USDA will accept almost $221 million in loan and grant applications within USDA’s Renewable Energy Systems and Energy Efficiency Improvements Program.

“As demand for energy rises, these renewable energy loans and grants help farms and rural small businesses increase their investment in renewable energy initiatives,” said Schafer.

WIREC 08Eligible applicants may seek loan guarantees to cover up to 50 percent of a project’s cost up $10 million and grants are available for up to 25 percent of a project’s cost, not to exceed $250,000 for energy efficiency improvements and $500,000 for renewable energy systems. USDA Rural Development has invested $674 million in more than 1,763 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects since 2001 including ethanol, biodiesel, wind, solar, geothermal, methane gas recovery systems and biomass.

Schafer also announced the award of $4 million to help 17 small businesses and community groups find more innovative uses of woody biomass from national forests in new products and renewable energy. The grants will help create markets for small-diameter woody material, damaged and other low-valued trees removed to reduce the risk of fire hazard, insect infestation or disease.

25 x ’25 Energy Summit This Week

25x'25Coming up this week in Omaha is the National 25x’25 Renewable Energy Summit.

The conference will feature leading renewable energy experts from across the nation. More than two dozen pre-eminent authorities on biofuels, biomass, wind, solar and other land-based renewable energy sources will address the summit.

Presenters will include Dr. Steven Chu, Nobel laureate and director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Dr. Lowell Catlett, a Regents Professor at New Mexico State University and renowned futurist; Charles Zimmerman, Wal-Mart Vice President; Doug Berven, Director of Corporate Affairs for POET; Susan Sloan, communications specialist with the American Wind Energy Association; Melinda Kimble, Senior Vice President, United Nations Foundation; Former Rep. Charlie Stenholm, 26-year veteran of the House of Representatives; Jay Wolf, past president of Nebraska Cattlemen and a current member of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association board, and Terry Francl, senior economist with the American Farm Bureau Federation.

The conference will be held March 11-13.

WIREC 2008 Wraps Up

WIRECThe Washington International Energy Conference wrapped up Thursday after three days of discussions, presentations and networking between more than 7,000 representatives from over 100 countries.

The United States pledged to continue its leadership in renewable energy through efforts coordinated by multiple agencies. For example, USDA will work on the development and cultivation of switchgrass for the production of cellulosic ethanol, and drive up markets and demand for woody biomass and biobased products.

“Renewable energy presents a promising opportunity for the farm economy,” said Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer. “Coupled with a strong commitment from USDA, our goal sets renewable fuels on the pathway as a regular and reliable source in the energy mix,” Schafer said.

Ministers and representatives from other countries also shared their pledges with the conference, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Cape Verde, Denmark, Germany, Jordan, New Zealand, and Norway.

Bush Urges US to “Get Off Oil”

As crude oil jumped to new record highs on the New York mercantile exchange due to falling oil inventories, trading over $104 a barrel, President Bush renewed his support for ethanol as a means toward energy independence.

Speaking at the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference 2008 (WIREC) Wednesday, Bush said, “America has got to change its habits. We’ve got to get off oil.”

WIREC BushTo do that, he mentioned just about every alternative, domestic energy source possible – from ethanol and biodiesel to wind and solar, hydrogen and nuclear. He discussed the need for vehicles that run on alternative fuels, including plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and he visited with manufacturers of those types of vehicles at the WIREC trade show.

He also stressed the administration’s commitment to research and development of cellulosic ethanol.

“I look forward to the day when Texas ranchers can grow switchgrass on their country, and then have that switchgrass be converted to fuel,” he said. “I look forward to the day when people in the parts of our country that have got a lot of forests are able to convert wood chips into fuel. And those days are coming.”

The president called biodiesel “the most promising” of the renewable fuels. “Biodiesel refineries can produce fuel from soybeans, and vegetable oils, and recycled cooking grease, from waste materials,” Bush noted. “All you out there with waste, you may be in business before you know it as this new technology kicks in. Most Americans — or, more Americans are beginning to realize the benefits of biodiesel every year.”

Read the president’s entire address to WIREC here.

Deere Provides Look at Ethanol in 2015

John Deere SessionOne of the most well attended learning sessions at the 2008 Commodity Classic in Nashville was “Starch and Cellulose as Ethanol Feedstocks” sponsored by John Deere.

Deere’s principal scientist for renewable energy John Hickman told the crowd that by the year 2015, most ethanol will still come from starch – or corn – but the growth to cellulosic ethanol will include some intermediary steps.

John HickmanAccording to their calculations, Hickman says the United States could produce a 15.6 billion bushel corn crop seven years from now. “If we grow as much corn as we did in 2007 and the yield increases go from where they have in the last ten years, that would be possible in 2015,” he said. “That could then produce 19 billion gallons of ethanol and still provide exports and other uses for corn.”

Down the road, as cellulosic technology improves, Hickman says growers may have to make different planting decisions. “They have a period of time yet. The first cellulosic plants will be rolling on board in 2010, 2011. We’re going to learn a lot from those first plants. That will give growers much better signals than they have today.”

Veteran farm broadcaster Stewart Doan of Little Rock, Arkansas interviewed Hickman after his presentation. Listen to that interview here: