Oklahoma to Grow Switchgrass for Ethanol

The state of Oklahoma is getting into the switchgrass business for cellulosic ethanol production.

SwitchgrassThe Oklahoma Bioenergy Center has secured land for more than 1,000 acres – the “world’s largest stand of switchgrass” – of production-scale demonstration fields. Planting will take place within the next 45 days.

The land is located near Guymon in the state’s panhandle. This switchgrass field will be the first of its size anywhere in the world focused on biomass production. Additional acreage of sorghum and switchgrass will be planted near Chickasha and Maysville in central Oklahoma.

AbengoaA cellulosic biorefinery currently being constructed by Abengoa Bioenergy in Hugoton, Kan., will be less than 35 miles from Guymon, and the switchgrass fields in the panhandle will provide material to this biorefinery. The Abengoa Bioenergy facility is expected to be operational in 2010.

“The value of the Oklahoma Bioenergy Center to the cellulosic ethanol industry cannot be overstated,” said Gerson Santos-Leon, executive vice president, Abengoa Bioenergy New Technologies. “The early and aggressive establishment of 1,000 acres of switchgrass will provide researchers, scientists, agricultural producers and industry — not only in Oklahoma but across the nation — with important information that will help establish the emerging cellulosic ethanol industry.”

CleanTech Researches Waste to Ethanol

ctb1.jpgCellulosic ethanol is gaining ground… and CleanTech Biofuels is the next in line to research how to turn waste into fuel.

CleanTech Biofuels is pleased to announce that it has engaged Hazen Research, Inc to construct and operate the pre-commercial stages of our Municipal Solid Waste to Ethanol project at Hazen’s eight acre research facility in Golden, Colorado.

hazen2.gifIn late January of this year, CleanTech Biofuels purchased a reactor system from the Forest Products lab at the University of California at Berkeley and reassembled it at Hazen. This reactor system has successfully demonstrated the effectiveness of our HFTA cellulose conversion technology on wood waste feedstocks at Berkeley. Currently we are utilizing this reactor system at Hazen in the first phase of our project to optimize reaction conditions for our Process Engineered Fuel derived for municipal solid waste as well as other cellulosic feedstocks including corn stover, wood waste, and switch grass.

Hazen Research has an experienced and competent staff supported by the laboratory and pilot plant facilities necessary to apply the most appropriate technology to evaluate any industrial, commercial, and environmental issues we may encounter as our project moves from development to commercialization. They maintain all permits, governmental (Federal, State and Local) permits, licenses, and other approvals necessary to complete this project.

Alltech Plans “Greenest Generation” Biofuels

The latest company to get into the cellulosic biofuels race is Alltech of Lexington, Kentucky. The company was awarded a grant last week by the US Department of Energy to begin work on a $70 million plant in Springfield, Ky.

Dr. Mark LyonsThe head of that project is Dr. Mark Lyons, son of Alltech president Dr. Pearse Lyons. This young man has inherited the business and scientific intelligence of his father and already has experience that will help him make this plant a reality in short order, having been in charge of international projects for the company, including the largest yeast plant in the world located in Brazil.

Mark Lyons says the $30 million DOE grant will make the project much easier to accomplish. “This gives us the possibility to think much bigger than we would have been forced to,” he said in an interview. “And that means that the time frame to get where we want to will be that much shorter.”

The facility Alltech is planning will be a commercial cellulosic ethanol plant. “I think the fact that Alltech is positioned so strongly in the animal feed and the animal health business and that we have this background and knowledge of the ethanol business, we’re really in a unique position,” said Lyons. “We have a very definite plan, we’re very confident, and essentially this is an idea that we actually had 30 years ago.”

This week Alltech has been hosting an international symposium, appropriately titled for an Earth Day theme “The Greenest Generation,” which has focused on a variety of issues important to agriculture, the environment and the world. Some 1700 participants from all over the world have been attending.

“We have to take this challenge,” Lyons said with regard to the theme. “We want more energy globally, more food, and we have to do that with less impact on the environment.”

You can listen to an interview with Mark Lyons from the Alltech Symposium here:

Ethanol for Earth Day

If every car in America would use a ten percent blend of ethanol for one week, the amount of greenhouse gases produced in the U.S. would be reduced by nearly 1.3 billion pounds.

That is according to calculations done by life sciences researcher Nathan Danielson, president of BioCognito.

BioCognito“What we did was take some fairly complex modeling that was done by Argonne National Laboratory and distill it down to where it would mean something to the average consumer,” said Danielson. “We considered if you took E-10, E-85 and cellulosic ethanol and put it in a typical gas tank, what would the impact on the environment be.”

Assuming a car with a 20 gallon gasoline tank, Danielson found that filling up with E10 can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 9.5 pounds per tank.

“Ethanol is just a very good fuel for reducing overall carbon foot print,” Danielson said. “The story gets better if we go to E85. If we get to E85, all the sudden you are sitting at about 90 pounds of carbon dioxide that you’ve removed from the atmosphere by using ethanol instead of gasoline.” Everyone filling their tanks with E85, he says, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 12.4 billion pounds in one week.

Better still, Danielson says that the same situation using ethanol derived from cellulose could reduce greenhouse gases by 282 pounds per car per week, or 38.5 billion pounds a week if used by every car on the road. He thinks that cellulosic ethanol will be “ready for prime time” within the next 5-7 years.

Joanna Schroeder with the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council says most average consumers can make a difference today by filling up with either E10, which can be used in virtually every gasoline powered car engine in America, or E85 in one of the 6.5 million flex-fuel vehicles on the road today, according to

“The great thing about using ethanol is you don’t have to wait to make an environmental impact,” Schroeder said. “Every single time you fill your tank with an ethanol-enriched fuel, you’re reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

The State of Cellulosic Ethanol

Cellulosic ethanol is no longer a pipe dream. It’s real and it is being produced today.

That was the message Tom Slunecka, Vice President of Business Development for KL Process Design Group of South Dakota, gave at the 2008 Agri-Marketing Conference in Kansas City last week. Slunecka provided a detailed overview of the state of cellulosic ethanol to agri-marketers during a conference breakout session that included just what cellulosic is and what the future holds.

Tom Slunecka at NAMA 08KL Process Design Group was the first company to get a small-scale cellulosic ethanol plant on-line using waste-wood material to produce about 1.5 million gallons of ethanol a year. The company is currently providing teams in the American LeMans Series with an 85 percent cellulosic ethanol racing fuel.

“Currently there are three different teams, four different cars running,” said Slunecka. “We have two Corvettes, we have a prototype car and we have an Aston Martin, all running on E85R cellulosic race fuel.”

Slunecka explained that there are several different processes that can be used to convert biomass into biofuels. “Our process is a heat and mechanical pre-treatment process. There is a biochemical process, there is a syngas process, and then there are combinations of all the above,” he said. “There is no silver bullet. We’re gonna need them all to produce the amount of fuel that is needed.”

And that would be the amount of cellulosic ethanol required under the energy bill passed by Congress last year. “The Renewable Fuels Standard does require that we have over 21 billion gallons of renewable fuels created from biomass over the next ten years,” said Slunecka, a goal he says is a high hurdle, but does provide incentive for investors to put money into the development of these fuels.

Slunecka also talked about the potential for the type of small-scale plant his company has designed to be created by adding a wood processing component on to the front end of a traditional corn ethanol plant, or adding a traditional corn ethanol-type component on to the back end of an existing wood processing plant.

In addition, Slunecka says one of the unique factors in KL’s process design is that it creates two different by-products that have very high value. “One is a very high protein syrup that can be used as a feed supplement or can be burned in biomass burners,” he said. “The other is a product called lignin, which is leftover from plants after the sugar has been removed.” Lignin has a variety of uses, from burning for energy to a basis for paints and cosmetics.

Listen to an interview with Tom Slunecka here:

Kentucky Ethanol Plant Grant

The Bluegrass State will soon be using switchgrass to produce ethanol at a new cellulosic facility to be built by Alltech of Lexington.

Governor Steve BeshearKentucky Governor Steve Beshear visited the headquarters of Alltech this weekend for the ribbon cutting of the company’s new Nutrigenomics Center. Alltech is an international company involved in a variety of enterprises from animal nutrition and biotechnology to horse racing and malt whiskey. The governor says everyone is very excited about Alltech’s new venture into biofuels.

“We put together an incentive package at the state level of about $8 million to assist the company in doing that and now with this up to $30 million that the federal government has stepped up and provided, it’s going to be a great thing for the Commonwealth,” Beshear said in an interview with Domestic Fuel. “We want to be a leader in the development of alternative fuels and the cellulosic approach is where we are heading long term on that. I think it’s going to be a win-win for everybody.”

Alltech Pearse LyonsAlltech president Dr. Pearse Lyons says he was humbled to receive one of the three new DOE grants announced last week and he is confident about the project, which will cost an estimated $70 million. “In 15-18 months, we will be using what we call solid state fermentation to go forward cracking cellulose to ethanol,” said Lyons. “And we will use 30 percent corn stover or switchgrass.”

Lyons says the plant will be built by a new Alltech subsidiary called Ecofin, under the management of his son, Dr. Mark Lyons.

Listen to an interview with Governor Beshear here:

Listen to Dr. Lyons’ comments about the project here:

DOE Awards New Biorefinery Grants

The U.S. Department of Energy awarded grants for three small-scale biorefinery projects this week in Maine, Tennessee and Kentucky.

In announcing the grants, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said, “These projects will help pioneer the next generation of non-food based biofuels that will power our cars and trucks and help meet President Bush’s goal to stop greenhouse gas emissions growth by 2025.”

AlltechAmong the projects is a grant of up to $30 million to help pay for a $70 million cellulosic ethanol plant to be built in Springfield, Kentucky.

The plant will be built by Ecofin LLC, a subsidiary of Alltech, an international company headquartered in Lexington that is primarily focused on animal nutrition. The plant will utilize cellulose, such as switch grass, corn cobs and corn stover, at raw material levels of up to 30 percent to be converted to ethanol and other value-added products. The facility will also have the capability to produce algae for biodiesel production.

Dr. Pearse Lyons, president and founder of Alltech, said in a statement, “With commodity prices reaching an all time high and with ethanol production forecast to account for 30 percent of the U.S. corn harvest by 2010 we must focus our attention on a sustainable path to alternative energies.”

MascomaMascoma Corporation of Massachusetts received a grant of up to $26 million for a proposed plant to be located in Monroe County, Tennessee. The facility is scheduled to come online in 2009 and will utilize Tennessee grown switchgrass as a primary feedstock.

The third funded project is up to $30 million for RSE Pulp & Chemical of Old Town, Maine to produce cellulosic ethanol from wood.

Ethanol Racing History

St. Petersburg, Florida was the site of the greenest racing event in history April 5-6 when ethanol was featured in both the IndyCar Series Honda Grand Prix and the American Le Mans Series Acura Sports Car Challenge.

e-podcastThe edition of “Fill up, Feel Good” features comments from Doug Robinson of the International Motor Sports Association; GM Racing program manager Doug Fehan; Corvette Racing team driver Johnny O’Connell; and Team Ethanol Indy Car Ryan Hunter-Reay.

The Ethanol Promotion and Information Council (EPIC) has been the leader in bringing “green” fuels to motorsports and the organization was instrumental in the IndyCar Series switch to 100 percent ethanol last year and the Corvette Racing Team usage of cellulosic E85 racing fuel this year.

The podcast is available to download by subscription (see our sidebar link) or you can listen to it by clicking here (5:00 MP3 File):

The Fill Up, Feel Good theme music is “Tribute to Joe Satriani” by Alan Renkl, thanks to the Podsafe Music Network.

“Fill up, Feel Good” is sponsored by the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council.

Company Offers Wood for Cellulosic Ethanol

Green Energy ResourcesA New York-based lumber company is offering supply contracts to any American company anywhere in the United States requiring woodchips for cellulosic ethanol production.

Green Energy Resources says it is “ready to meet the demand and supply of the US Government-mandated 15 billion gallons of wood cellulostic ethanol authorized under the US Energy Bill passed in 2007.”

The company uses a software-based national inventory system that “can deliver cost effectively from anywhere in the United States and can work with producers on carbon credits and other trading mechanisms to utilize maximum profitability,” according to a press release.

Green Energy Resources says they obtain woodchips from urban/suburban wood waste streams, including landfills, tree services, excavators, storm damage and tree farms.

Cellulosic Arkansas

Arkansas is hoping to become a leader in cellulosic ethanol production.

University ArkansasAccording to a story in the Advance Monticellonian, Congressman Mike Ross (D-AR) recently assembled a panel of biofuels experts at the University of Arkansas at Monticello to discuss how Southeast Arkansas can play a part in it in the future of cellulosic ethanol.

Ross said, and Southeast Arkansas is “wellpoised to become a national leader” in the field of cellulosic ethanol.

Toward that end, Ross said, he has introduced the American Made Energy Act of 2008. The bill, which has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Readiness, “promotes the development of homegrown biofuels like cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel and renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power through expanding research and development, extending tax credits, and providing grants and loan guarantees to produce these new technologies on a large scale,” Ross said. The legislation, he noted, would invest $3.8 billion in alternative and renewable energy, an amount which he said that the U.S. would spend in only ten days fighting the Iraq war.

How to Get to $1 a Gallon Ethanol

The CEO of Coskata claims they will be able to make ethanol for $1 a gallon or less in the near future.

The Green Tech Blog reports on a meeting with Coskata’s William Roe where he explained how this will happen.

CoskataRoe explains that Coskata combines both biological and thermochemical processing and can use a wide variety of feedstocks, from wood chips, weeds and non-food crops like miscanthus, to even human waste and carbon-heavy garbage like tires.

Coskata, which has received an investment from General Motors, also makes fuel from the lignin in biomass. Some companies making ethanol from strictly biological processes can’t use lignin to make fuel.

“You can imagine biorefineries in every single state. This is an enormously efficient process,” Roe said. “We don’t need ‘eurekas’ anymore. We think it comes down to execution.”

In basic terms, Coskata’s process converts all the different feedstocks into synthetic gases, then feeds it to microbes that convert it to liquid fuels.

Coskata plans to make a formal announcement later this month about its 40,000 gallons a year demonstration facility which is already under construction at an undisclosed location.

Duel Fuel Strategy for Gulf

GulfGulf Ethanol Corporation is pursuing a dual biofuel development strategy focused on processing feedstocks for ethanol in the U.S. and manufacturing biodiesel in Central America.

Company officials say they will mainly focus on using its technology to develop non-food feedstocks for ethanol manufacturers in the United States. In Central America, Gulf will utilize feedstocks, such as palm oil, for the production of biodiesel.

“Alternative energy is developing with a strong regional focus,” noted JT Cloud, Gulf’s President. “In Europe it is solar and biodiesel, in Brazil it is ethanol, in the U.S. it has been wind and ethanol. We are tailoring our technology to fit the feedstocks of the regions where we expect to develop operations.”

Demo Cellulosic Plant Enters Start-up Phase

Verenium Corporation has announced that its demonstration-scale cellulosic ethanol facility in Jennings, Louisiana has entered the “startup” phase.

Verenium PlantAccording to officials, the site has been electronically energized and the turnover of individual systems to start-up and operating teams has begun so that the functional capabilities of each system can be tested. In total, more than forty separate systems will be evaluated over approximately the next three months.

Verenium CEO Carlos Riva said in a statement, “The next several months will be critical in terms of scaling our process and technology and garnering the insights needed to begin construction on our first commercial facility — which will truly be a landmark for the emerging next-generation biofuels industry.”

Cellulosic Ethanol Fueled Vette Makes History

Corvette Racing made motorsports history Saturday, scoring the first victory on 85 percent cellulosic ethanol racing fuel (E85R) in American Le Mans Series competition.

Corvette in St. PeteDrivers Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta won their second consecutive class victory on the waterfront street circuit in St. Petersburg, Florida.

“This was our first race running cellulosic E85 ethanol, and we had great performance and great fuel efficiency,” Gavin said. “We could have done the entire race on one pit stop. There were question marks about that from some people, but it’s been proven it’s a great fuel to run and it’s doing a bit for the green issue.”

The reigning champions won the GT1 division in the Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg with a 4.754-second margin of victory in their No. 4 Compuware Corvette C6.R over Johnny O’Connell and Jan Magnussen in the No. 3 Compuware Corvette C6.R.

“I think we demonstrated not only to our fellow competitors but also to the world of racing that E85R is a viable and powerful fuel,” said Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan. “We’re very pleased with how it turned out.”

Photo Credit: Dan Boyd, American Le Mans Series

Green Racing Showcases Ethanol

St. Petersburg, Florida will be the site of the greenest racing event in history this weekend when both the IndyCar Series and the American Le Mans Series will compete on the streets in the Honda Grand Prix and Acura Sports Car Challenge. This is the second year that the IndyCar Series is racing on 100 percent ethanol and the first year the American Le Mans Series is offering cellulosic E85 racing ethanol to its teams.

Doug Robinson, executive director of the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), which is the sanctioning body of the American Le Mans Series, says allowing the use of 85 percent cellulosic ethanol in that racing venue is part of their “green racing” platform that helps test alternative fuels and create public awareness.

“In rolling out that green racing strategy, the first step was to look at the renewable fuels and the greenhouse gas emissions,” Robinson said.

As a result, Robinson says, they set into motion a plan to develop a high performance, high octane, gasoline-based racing fuel as a baseline and allow alternative fuels into the series.

“Our base fuel has ten percent ethanol, much like many of the pumps that you buy fuel for your road car,” he said. “Then this year we started with an E85 fuel and we aligned ourselves with the first company to be producing second generation, cellulosic ethanol made from wood waste from the Black Hills forest.”

Ethanol Semi in St PeteThat company is KL Process Design Group of South Dakota, which has been contracted by the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council, the leader in bringing “green” fuels to motorsports, to provide cellulosic E85 racing fuel (E85R) for Corvette Racing.

The Team Ethanol transporter carrying the #17 Team Ethanol Indy Car arrived at St. Pete earlier this week, fresh off a 7th place finish in last week’s season opener under the lights in Homestead.

Team Ethanol driver Ryan Hunter-Reay is a big believer in ethanol and using it in racing to prove performance and environmental benefits. “Racing is the forefront of what goes on in the automotive market,” Hunter-Reay said. “So, it fits for racing to be going in this direction.”

This weekend’s American Le Mans Series and IndyCar Series races highlighting ethanol will be broadcast globally. ABC will televise the one-hour, 55-minute Acura Sports Car Challenge starting at 1:30 p.m. ET on April 5. The IndyCar Series Honda Grand Prix at 2:30 pm ET on April 6 will be broadcast on ESPN.

(Photo credit Steve Snoddy, Indy Racing League)