The Chairman of this year’s Cellulosic Ethanol Summit is the “Reverend of Renewable Fuels” and RFA’s own Bob Dinneen. Bob got us started and has been sort of emceeing the activities here.
I sat down with him for a chat to get his perspective on cellulosic production and energy legislation. Bob says that RFA is sponsoring this event because the companies he represents are involved and that they’re looking at new developments like cellulose. He says RFA will represent ethanol and that the organization is feedstock neutral. He wants to remind people that “ethanol is ethanol is ethanol.” That there’s no good or bad ethanol.
Bob says that cellulosic is part of the present and the future of the ethanol industry. He wants people to take away from the conference that cellulosic ethanol is much closer to commercial reality than conventional wisdom would suggest. He also wants people to realize how much the oil industry is working against the development of ethanol regardless of what feedstock it’s made from. He’s also pretty confident we’ll have an energy bill by the end of the year.
You can listen to my interview with Bob here: cellulosic-summit-07-dinneen.mp3
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There will soon be a number of ethanol plants in operation in Ohio. To help them and the biodiesel industry as well, a new group has been formed called Buckeye Renewable Fuels Association. BRFA is headed up by long time corn grower leader Mike Wagner. In fact, he says the Ohio Corn Growers are playing a key role in the development of this organization.
Mike is here at the Cellulosic Ethanol Summit and I spoke to him about BRFA. He says they’re just getting started and that there was a real need for an organization like this. BRFA will work on regulatory, legislative, promotional and educational issues of behalf of the industry. He says they’ve got 5 ethanol plants coming on line in the next 90 days with 2 or 3 more soon after that. Right now he encourages anyone wanting more information to contact the Ohio Corn Growers office. The new organization will hold it’s first board meeting later this year.
You can listen to my interview with Mike here: cellulosic-summit-07-wagner.mp3
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One of the people I met with here at the Cellulosic Ethanol Summit is Tim Lust, CEO of the National Sorghum Producers. Tim provided me with a historical perspective on how sorghum has been involved in ethanol production. For example, he says that the first ethanol plant to use sorghum in the production of ethanol was in New Mexico 20 years ago.
Tim says that about 60 percent of the crop grown next year will be within about 50 miles of an ethanol plant and they’re very excited about the future of ethanol production for the industry. He says they expect that 25 to 30 percent of next year’s crop will be used for ethanol production.
I asked him about the legislative work they’re doing here in DC and where things stand with an energy bill. He says that we’ve got a very non-traditional situation in terms of creating legislation but that’s it’s not necessarily a bad thing and that he’s optimistic there will be an energy bill. He also hopes that people attending the conference here will be excited about the opportunities being presented by cellulosic ethanol production but that they don’t forget who brought them to the dance. That would be grains.
You can listen to my interview with Tim here: cellulosic-summit-07-lust.mp3
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The Cellulosic Ethanol Summit is wrapping up this morning in Washington, DC. I haven’t been able to post much from it due to a complete lack of internet access in the venue (Almas Temple Club). So I’m playing a little catch up.
The program has been pretty much back to back panels and speakers on a variety of topics related to the organizing company’s mission, “The Summit provides an important opportunity to initiate profound conversations between the various communities in the value chain and it provides a powerful venue where these communities can fully understand how to build links within the value chain that are necessary to make the cellulosic ethanol industry a reality.”
Additionally, various sponsors set up displays with information and had people on hand to talk about what they bring to the table when it comes to building a cellulosic ethanol industry.
A National Research Council report released today examines policy options and identifies opportunities for new agricultural techniques and technologies to help minimize effects of biofuel production on water resources.
While many media reports have focused on the potential effects increased corn ethanol production could have on water supplies and quality, the report was focused on identified options for addressing those concerns.
National Wildlife Federation Senior Program Manager for Agriculture and Wetland Policy Julie Sibbing says the report highlights the need for a new Biofuels Innovation Program in the next Farm Bill.
“The report notes that cellulosic biofuels, produced from native plants like switchgrass, should have less impact on water quality per unit of energy gained,” Sibbing said in a statement. “It suggests the adoption of public policies that encourage production of energy from cellulosic alternatives. America’s water resources will be under even greater pressure in a warming climate. Moving to non-irrigated, native crops to produce ethanol will go a long way towards helping to safeguard our water resources.”
Renewable Fuels Association president Bob Dinneen noted that the ethanol industry is already moving in many of the directions the study suggests.
“As this study accurately points out, U.S. ethanol producers are rapidly developing and implementing technologies that are improving the already green footprint of the industry,” Dinneen said. “Better efficiencies at today’s ethanol biorefineries are reducing water use, improving water recycling methods and utilizing wastewater supplies to further lessen the impact, if any, a biorefinery may have on local water supplies.”
Dinneen adds that the ethanol industry is evolving so rapidly it will be unrecognizable from its present form five years from now. “Technological evolutions will provide for more efficient use of natural resources like water, further reduce already low emissions from biorefineries, and allow us to produce ethanol from less resource-intensive sources in addition to grains.”
The United States will host the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference March 4-6, 2008.
The conference, which has been held previously in Bonn and Beijing, is an opportunity for government, private sector, and non-governmental leaders to jointly address the goal of advancing renewable energy.
Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky hosted stakeholders in the renewable energy industry last week to announce the conference and discuss their goals.
“This conference will play a key role in addressing energy security and climate change,” she said. “WIREC will also provide a platform to promote strategies for the development and rapid adoption of renewable energy systems worldwide,” Dobriansky says.
USDA Undersecretary for Rural Development Tom Dorr also attended the WIREC kickoff to talk about USDA’s involvement in the conference. “It is important in this discussion to remember that renewable energy is in large part rural energy—ethanol, cellulosic ethanol, biodiesel and biomass technology all rely primarily on farm and forest resources, and wind because of its siting requirements is also largely a rural resource,” said Dorr.
Here is a riddle for you – “How is a cow like an ethanol production plant?”
That question was posed at a booth manned by Nick Baker of the U. S. Dairy Forage Research Center at last week’s World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin. Baker explained to expo visitors that basically the cow’s rumen uses microbes to break down forage and feed into the energy it needs much like an ethanol plant which then converts the sugars produced into alcohol.
Baker says he is working on a project to utilize switchgrass in the production of ethanol and says the technology is already available to make that happen.
Chuck Zimmerman interviewed Baker for World Dairy Diary’s “Milking Parlor” podcast, which you can listen to here: Interview with Nick Baker (MP3)
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POET and the U.S. Department of Energy have signed a cooperative agreement for a commercial cellulosic ethanol project in Emmetsburg, Iowa.
According to a company release, the agreement finalizes the first phase of a DOE award that was announced in February and will govern all aspects of the project leading up to construction. With the agreement in place, POET will move forward on project preliminary design and engineering, environmental engineering, biomass collection and other activities.
According to the cooperative agreement, phase one of the project will last approximately 20 months. A subsequent phase two agreement will then be negotiated to cover construction which is expected to take two years. Following construction, facility operation is expected to begin in 2011.
Project Liberty, POET’s cellulosic project, will convert an existing 50 million gallon per year (mgpy) dry-mill ethanol plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa into an integrated corn-to-ethanol and cellulose-to-ethanol biorefinery. Once complete, the facility will produce 125 mgpy, 25 percent of which will be from corn fiber and corn cobs. By adding cellulosic production to an existing grain ethanol plant, POET will be able to produce 11 percent more ethanol from a bushel of corn, 27 percent more from an acre of corn, while almost completely eliminating fossil fuel consumption and decreasing water usage by 24 percent.
Mascoma Corporation of Massachusettes has announced plans to establish the country’s first operating facility producing cellulosic ethanol utilizing switchgrass as feedstock. According to a company release, the project represents one of the largest commitments of capital yet made in support of the cellulosic biofuels industry.
Mascoma and The University of Tennessee plan to jointly build and operate the five million gallon per year cellulosic biorefinery. Construction is expected to begin by the end of 2007 and the facility will be operational in 2009. The business partnership and plans for the facility are a result of Tennessee Governor Bredesen’s Biofuels Initiative, a research and business model designed to reduce dependence on foreign oil and provide significant economic and environmental benefits for Tennessee’s farmers and communities. It includes a $40 million investment in facility construction and $27 million for research and development activities, including incentives for farmers to grow switchgrass funded by the State and The University of Tennessee. The large-scale demonstration facility will be located in Monroe County, Tennessee.
The Tennessee project is Mascoma’s third cellulosic biorefinery. Mascoma has begun construction on its first facility announced in 2006, a multi-feedstock demonstration-scale biorefinery located in Rome, New York. In July 2007, the company announced plans to build one of the nation’s first commercial scale biorefineries using wood as a feedstock in Michigan.
CNN.com has an interactive special report called “Fueling America” that features information on a variety of alternative fuel and energy source with a relatively objective viewpoint – simply putting it out there and pointing out some pros and cons.
There is also a good article on CNN about the lack of ethanol production outside of the Midwest.
Outside the country’s corn-producing leaders, efforts to produce biofuels vary widely. In the Northeast, Pennsylvania has moved forward with several measures outlined in Gov. Ed Rendell’s Penn Security Fuels Initiative. Conversely, New York and New Jersey produce no ethanol, though two plants are expected to come on line in New York in the next few years.
There is a focus in the article on Florida’s efforts to move into biofuels production, quoting Dana Weber, executive director of the Florida Biofuels Association.
Take Florida. While it does produce corn, it is without an existing ethanol plant and has none under construction.
The state government, though, has begun an aggressive funding program aimed at developing alternative energy sources, including the types of biofuels that will be needed to reach Gov. Charlie Crist’s goals that the state’s energy sources be 20 percent renewable by 2020.
“One of the challenges we have is this is all very new territory. There’s a lot of technologies out there,” Weber said. “Everybody’s trying to figure out what is going to be the best thing not only for their state but also globally.”
And it also talks about state efforts to develop cellulosic ethanol.
Several states are moving aggressively in developing cellulosic ethanol, which uses various materials from the biomass including switchgrass, corn stalks, wood chips, municipal waste and other substances. Among the cellulosic leaders have been Tennesee and Georgia, where dot.com billionaire Vinod Khosla has financed the construction of a plant that will use the state’s abundant long-leaf pines to create ethanol.
Worth checking out.
With the resignation of US Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns last week, the Cellulosic Ethanol Summit next month has made an agenda change.
Johanns was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the event but now Acting Secretary Chuck Conner will be the keynoter.
The Summit will be in Washington, D.C., Oct. 15-17. The annual three-day event has established itself as the major place where all communities in the cellulosic ethanol value chain come together to discuss how to build a national cellulosic ethanol industry. Again this year, leaders from the agricultural, industrial biotech, biorefinery developer and financial communities will gather to their communities’ perspectives on what is needed to form an efficient effective value chain to commercialize cellulosic ethanol production.
Among the sponsors for the event are the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council (EPIC), the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), and the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA).
Back in 2003, the European Union instituted some major reforms in its agricultural sector, which are now known as the “Fischler Reforms” after the Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries at the time, Franz Fischler.
Among the policies instituted at the time was a very small incentive for farmers to produce crops on set aside land that could be used to make fuel. During an interview with Domestic Fuel at the 51st International Federation of Agricultural Journalists Congress in Japan last week, Dr. Fischler discussed that initiative and what he sees as the future for biofuels in the European Union.
“In my view, in Europe, food production will remain the main purpose of agricultural activities and fuel production will play a minor role, but an increasing role,” Fischler said. “We decided to be very ambitious about what we want to achieve, that is 10 percent of consumption by 2020. But we are also aware of the fact that this is only achievable if we are able to come forward with the second generation biofuels because if we are to do it on the basis of bio-ethanol and bio-diesel we would need almost half of the arable land in the European Union, and this is not going to happen.”
However, the EU is already expecting to import some of their biofuel needs from other countries in an effort to meet their intended goal.
Listen to Fischler’s comments on biofuels here:
Thanks to Pioneer for sponsoring our trip to Japan
The National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance recently conducted its first Renewable Fuels Summit, “Bioenergy Systems: Alfalfa the Sleeping Giant,” in Washington D.C.
The August 8 event, which had more than 80 registered attendees, included presentations on cellulosic ethanol, alfalfa as a green biomass alternative, the role of corn-alfalfa rotation in bioenergy systems, and more. Speakers also focused on United States Department of Agriculture research and development, as well as legislative updates.
NK Seeds, a business unit of Syngenta Seeds, Inc., was one of the event’s sponsors. Joe Waldo, NK alfalfa product manager with Syngenta Seeds said, “While many do not think of alfalfa as a potential source of fuel, the summit explored the role alfalfa can play in the biofuels industry, which is why we were proud to be an event sponsor.”
Summit proceedings can be ordered from the NAFA website. There is also a good article on the topic in this month’s Ethanol Producer Magazine.
Abengoa Bioenergy was given a key to the city of Hugoton, Kansas last week after formally announcing plans to build a 300-million dollar cellulose ethanol plant near there.
The plant is expected to be the first commercial cellulosic ethanol facility and will eventually produce 30 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol and 85 million gallons of traditional corn-based ethanol per year.
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius was among the dignitaries at the event on Thursday. She told representatives from the local community that they should be proud of this “cutting-edge project” that will be home “for our new fuel supply” that the rest of the nation and world will be watching.
Abengoa‘s Kansas plant was one of six projects selected nationwide by the Department of Energy to create and develop the cellulosic ethanol industry.
Read more from the Garden City Telegram.
The University of Florida has selected Florida Crystals Corp. as the site to build a cellulosic ethanol plant that will produce 1 million to 2 million gallons of ethanol a year, university officials said.
According to a South Florida Business Journal article, the plant is financed by a $20 million state grant and will operate as a research and development lab as well as a commercial facility. It is the first of its kind in Florida. Attendees at the Monday meeting where the decision was announced said Florida Crystals was selected over the second front-runner, Memphis, Tenn.-based Buckeye Technologies, because it has a large supply of bagasse biomass and it is already in the sugar business.