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:

Biomass Grants Announced at WIREC

WIREC SchaferThe federal government will invest a total of $18.4 million over three years for 21 new biomass research and development and demonstration projects.

Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer and Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman made that announcement today at the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference 2008 (WIREC).

“These grants help fund the innovative research needed to develop technologies and systems that lead to the production of bio-based products and biofuels,” Schafer said. “Funding new technologies will help make biofuels competitive with fossil fuels in the commercial market, putting America on the path of reducing its dependence on foreign oil.”

A full list of grant recipients can be found here.

Deere Running on Biofuels

John Deere SessionJohn Deere sponsored one of the most popular and well attended Learning Center sessions at the 2008 Commodity Classic in Nashville this week.

“Starch and Cellulose as Ethanol Feedstocks” discussed the importance of starch as today’s primary ethanol feedstock, harvesting challenges for increased corn yields as well as cellulose, and how to increase demand for biofuels.

Don Borgman, director of Agricultural Industry Relations led the discussion on issues for future production and distribution of ethanol, looking out to the year 2015. “Mostly what we are concerned about it keeping our eye on that demand ball,” said Borgman.

Don BorgmanHe says there are two critical issues – making sure we increase the number of E85 pumps nationwide and increasing the number of flex-fuel vehicles on the road. “If we get those two things done, we ought to be able to keep up fairly well with the supply,” he said.

Borgman says John Deere has an interest in helping the biofuels industry not just because of their customer base, but also from an energy security standpoint and an environmental standpoint. They are helping by promoting the use of biodiesel blends in their equipment and by looking towards the future for cellulosic ethanol and developing equipment to harvest the next generation of dedicated energy crops.

Listen to an interview with Borgman here:

Domestic Fuel coverage of the 2008 Commodity Classic
is sponsored by: John Deere

Chevron, Weyerhaeuser Team Up for Biofuels

chevronweyer.jpgOil giant Chevron and timber giant Weyerhaeuser are teaming up to make biofuels.

This story in the Seattle Times says the new company formed from the partnership, Catchlight Energy, will be looking to get the green fuel from cellulose and lignin:

Catchlight will initially have offices at Weyerhaeuser’s Federal Way headquarters and at Chevron’s San Ramon, Ca. homebase. Chevron executive Michael Burnside will be the new venture’s chief executive, and W. Densmore Hunter of Weyerhaeuser is chief technology officer.

Both firms will contribute technology and personnel. Catchlight may employ 30 to 40 people over time in its research and development effort, said Weyerhaeuser president Dan Fulton.

The venture will study “not only the technology, but also the commercial implications of creating a viable business there,” Fulton said.

The creation of Catchlight formalizes a partnership Chevron and Weyerhaeuser entered in April 2007. At the time, many energy and agricultural companies began seeking to leverage their expertise into the fast-growing biofuel business.

This is not the first time unlikely partners have teamed up to make biofuels. You might remember that “Big Oil” and “Big Chicken” (ConocoPhilips and Tyson, respectively) teamed up last year to turn chicken fat into biodiesel.

Industry Optimism

The chairman of the Renewable Fuels Association is excited about the developments in cellulose technology for the future of the ethanol industry.

Chris Standlee“And we fully believe that many of these technologies will in fact be proven to be economically viable on a commercial scale,” said Chris Standlee, who is executive vice president of Abengoa Bioenergy in St. Louis.

He says support from the US Department of Energy through research grants is definitely helping to speed the process along. “We are fortunate enough to be the recipient of a grant to prove our cellulose technology on a commercial scale in a facility that we are building in southwestern Kansas,” one of six grant-funded plant that are scheduled to be in operation by 2010.

Standlee says the recent article in Science challenges the ethanol industry to step up its efforts to make sure the public gets the whole truth about ethanol, not just part of the story. “Even the study itself acknowledges the greenhouse gas emissions benefits of the use of ethanol,” he says. It just makes assumptions about land use for biofuels production that “just simply are not true.”

As chairman of the RFA, Standlee is looking forward to the upcoming National Ethanol Conference in Orlando February 25-27, to celebrate success and look forward to the future. “We have record attendance this year as we’ve had virtually every year since the start of the conference,” he said. “We expect somewhere in the neighborhood of 2500 people to be attending the conference. It really is an exciting opportunity.”

More information about the National Ethanol Conference can be found on the RFA website.

Listen to RFA’s “The Ethanol Report” podcast with Chris here, or subscribe to it on “The Ethanol Report” blog.