Ethics Group Sues EPA for RFS Documents

crewCitizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) today sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to provide documents regarding oil industry efforts to influence the 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

Last May, following a Reuters article describing how the Carlyle Group and Delta Airlines had lobbied members of Congress and the administration to reduce the amount of renewable fuel required to be blended into transportation fuel, CREW asked for an investigation by the EPA’s Office of Inspector General and filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records. It took months for the EPA to release even the documents the agency already had provided to Reuters, and it has yet to hand over all relevant documents.

Based on a follow-up Reuters article, CREW also has concerns that oil companies leveraged high-level political connections to convince the White House and the EPA to insert special waivers into the RFS that could potentially allow oil companies to refuse to sell biofuels.

“It certainly seems as if the administration has backtracked on its commitment to renewable fuels. The question is why. Was there a back room deal orchestrated by big oil and high ranking officials in the Obama administration?” asked CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan. “Even though it is nearly 2015, the renewable fuel standards for 2014 still haven’t been released. Is this to avoid potential political fallout in the mid-terms for siding with the oil industry over the biofuel industry?”

CREW also notes that Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) sent a letter earlier this month to the White House expressing their concerns about EPA potentially inserting a waiver into the RFS, which would allow oil companies to refuse to distribute renewable fuel. Carlyle and Delta lobbied heavily for both of these modifications to the program and would benefit financially from the change.

Pacific Ag Bales Bundles of Energy

Bill Levy Pacific AgLast week Abengoa’s cellulosic ethanol biorefinery went online and is expected to produce 25 million gallons of advanced ethanol per year as well as 21 MW of bioenergy. But how exactly does the corn and wheat residue get from the fields to the biorefinery in a economical and efficient way? Enter Pacific Ag.

The company was founded by Bill Levy in 1998 and began by baling residue for growers and using the biomass for animal feed both in the U.S. and internationally. It was a natural progression for Pacific Ag to get involved in cellulosic production in the U.S. and to become a major supplier to the industry.

I asked Levy to talk about their residue removal model. He noted that since their inception, they have always focused on having a balanced residue program for growers and they are finding value for those products for them. So taking their successful model from the Northwest and applying it to the Midwest was a good fit. “The fundamentals of having residue removed on a timely basis and in a sustainable way is really the same,” explained Levy. Today they are in California, North Carolina, Iowa, Kansas and he says they have innovated to become “energy balers” because of the new bioenergy market for residue.

There has been talk about the best biomass model for the biofuels industry. I posed this question to Levy and he explained how they have refined their model to be financial feasible. “We have tried to make it easy for growers to be part of the program by taking care of the harvest, we own the machinery, we schedule the harvest or the removal of the residue, or energy crop with the grower and then we provide them with an income stream for that product,” Levy answerPacific Ag Hugoton Kansas teamed. “It’s very important that we have the size that allows us to invest in that equipment and a lot of times it doesn’t make sense financially for a grower to to invest in that harvest equipment just to harvest the residue.” Pacific Ag is the largest purchaser and owner of baling equipment in the world.

“So what growers enjoy is being able to sit back and enjoy a residue removal program and the income from that but not have to put a lot of effort into it,” added Levy.

Pacific Ag is looking for growers of rice, wheat, corn and other biomass crops who are interested in working with them. As cellulosic ethanol plants including Abengoa continue to ramp up to nameplate capacity, more biomass will be needed and Pacific Ag is ready to be the advanced biofuels partner to help make the cellulosic industry and the growers who plant the bioenergy crops, successful.

Learn more about Pacific Ag and how to become involved in the biomass energy revolution by listening to my interview with Bill Levy: Interview with Bill Levy, Pacific Ag

Abengoa Cellulosic Ethanol Plant Grand Opening photo album.

Allison Details Abengoa’s Cellulosic Plant

Danny Allison Abengoa Plant ManagerWho better to learn about how Abengoa’s cellulosic ethanol plant works then from Plant Manager Danny Allison. He explained to the standing room only crowd during Abengoa’s grand opening celebration, how the state-of-the-art biorefinery will produce cellulosic ethanol, bioenergy and other byproducts including ash that farmers can use as organic fertilizer on their fields.

Here is how the plant works:

Biomass: biomass harvested from local growers corn and wheat fields by Pacific Ag is delivered to the Abengoa plant to begin the ethanol production process. Each bale is quality tested for moisture, dust and other contaminants that could hinder the conversion process.

Biomass In-take Lines: six-packs of residue travel down conveyor belts to be separated into single bales by a singulator. Each bale goes through a chopper, cutting the biomass Biomass in-take lines at Hugoton Kansas Abengoa biorefineryinto easy-to-handle materials and then fed into a grinder.

Pre-Treatment: The pre-treatment process is where the starch is converted to sugars using Abengoa’s proprietary enzymes. From there fermentation occurs suing industrial yeast to convert the sugar to alcohol. At the end of fermentation, the liquid, now 5 percent alcohol, goes into a 1.3 million gallon tank, or beer well.

Distillation System and Ethanol Holding Tanks: All solids, water vapor and alcohol are removed. The now 95 percent pure ethanol moves to a column while the remaining 5 percent goes to the bottom for reprocessing and reclamation. After all impurities and water are removed, the finished ethanol is pumped to half-million storage tanks and ready for shipment by rail or truck.

Electrical Power Station: The Abengoa bioenergy plant will also produce up to 21MW of renewable electricity used to power the plant. Excess electricity will be fed to the grid for city use.

Learn more about the process by listening to Danny Allison’s remarks: Danny Allison Remarks

Abengoa Cellulosic Ethanol Plant Grand Opening photo album.

Big Oil Denied Again

Big Oil has been denied again. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has found that the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the Engine Products E15 Bargain!Group (EPG) did not have standing against keeping E15 out of the marketplace. In the rule the judge wrote, “they cannot show that their members have suffered or are threatened with suffering a relevant injury.”

The court held to their previous ruling in GMA v. EPA and likewise denied standing to those who challenged the E15 waiver decision. Growth Energy successfully sought a waiver from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2009 to allow retailers and consumers to choose E15 – a blend of up to 15 percent ethanol. EPA granted the waiver in 2011 for all 2001 and newer motor vehicles.

“Today is another victory for ethanol and the American motorist,” said Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy. “To continue to achieve the success of the Renewable Fuel Standard, [RFS] Growth Energy led the fight for E15 which is now being sold by over 90 retailers in 14 states. This decision is important because it continues to uphold the choice and savings for the American motorist with E15.”

RFA Promoting Distillers Feed at Export Exchange

rfa-exex-2014The 2014 Export Exchange is continuing today in Seattle, Washington with representatives from more than 50 different countries in attendance to learn more about DDGS, the distillers feed product produced by U.S. ethanol plants.

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) is co-sponsor of the event with the U.S. Grains Council and RFA president and CEO Bob Dinneen says it’s because we produce a lot of distillers feed. “Our plants, if they were a single country, would be the fourth largest producer of corn equivalent feed, behind only the U.S., China and Brazil,” said Dinneen, who spoke at the event yesterday on agricultural policies and politics. Interview with RFA CEO Bob Dinneen at 2014 Export Exchange

rfa-cooper-exexRFA Senior Vice President Geoff Cooper spoke at the event on the supply and demand outlook for DDGS.

“We have ample supplies of distillers grains coming from the U.S. ethanol industry but the demand picture is somewhat murky,” said Cooper. “That murkiness has to do with trade barriers and interruptions in the global trade of distillers grains that we’re seeing.”

Cooper says the U.S. is expected to produce 36-37 million metric tons of DDGS in the current marketing year, but one of the biggest trade disruptions in the market is being created by China’s demand that shipments of distillers grains must be certified to be free of the MIR162 biotech corn trait. “That kind of certification is not possible,” said Cooper. “So, we expect exports to China to be significantly curtailed or even halted until this situation is resolved.”

Last year, half of the U.S. distillers grains exports went to China, but Cooper says there are other countries increasing imports. “We are seeing continued growth of distillers grains exports to other parts of Asia outside of China,” he said, adding that Mexico is increasing imports and countries such as Egypt and Turkey are also growing markets. Interview with RFA Senior VP Geoff Cooper at 2014 Export Exchange

Ethanol Report on E85 Study and Contest

ethanol-report-adThe Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) is looking for visual evidence of prices for 85% ethanol (E85) around the country.

“We’re doing an E85 “Post your Price” contest,” says RFA Vice President, Industry Relations, Robert White. “That came about from a study we just concluded in St. Louis this summer.”

That study showed evidence of price gouging for E85, with retail prices were around $1 per gallon higher than was justified by wholesale prices for the locally available ethanol blendstock.

In this edition of the Ethanol Report, White talks about the study and the new contest.

Ethanol Report on E85 study and contest

Fuels America Launches Pro Biofuels Campaign

Fuels America has launched a new TV and radio campaign thanking American renewable fuels supporters Minnesota Senator Al Franken, Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, Nebraska Rep. Lee Terry and Michigan Rep. Gary Peters for fighting for local jobs and working to end America’s reliance on foreign oil.

The ads, on the radio in Minnesota and in Michigan and on television in Nebraska, thank the elected officials for supporting the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), the policy that allows domestic renewable fuels to compete in the motor fuel market.

Ads include:

  • Michigan Statewide: Radio ad titled “Our Pockets” about Gary Peters’ support of the RFS and fight to break America’s addiction to foreign oil, and how the Koch Brothers and Big Oil have spent millions against Peters.
  • Minnesota Statewide: Radio ad titled “Next Caller” highlighting Senator Franken’s support of the RFS and his work pushing the Obama Administration to increase production of renewable fuels.
  • Minnesota’s 7th District: Radio ad titled “Change Course” highlighting Collin Peterson’s support for a strong RFS, reduced reliance on foreign oil, and a stronger rural economy.
  • Nebraska’s 2nd District: TV ad titled “Solution” highlighting Lee Terry’s support of the RFS.

Cellerate Receives D3 RIN Certification

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has given D3 Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) certification to Quad County Corn Processors (QCCP) for its cellulosic ethanol produced with Cellerate Cellerate Processprocess technology. The technology is a collaboration between Syngenta and Cellulosic Ethanol Technologies, a subsidiary of QCCP. The biorefinery earned D3 pathway approval from the EPA on Oct. 7, 2014 and Quality Assurance Program (QAP) certification on Oct. 10, 2014. Clearing these hurdles led to production of QCCP’s first QAP D3 RINs on Oct. 16, 2014.

To qualify as cellulosic biofuel, a renewable fuel must meet a 60 percent threshold (aka reduction) for lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions. RINs are used for compliance with the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program and may be “banked,” traded or sold for use by parties (fuel producers and importers) who must comply with the RFS.

According to QCCP Chief Executive Officer Delayne Johnson, as cellulosic D3 RINs become available on the commercial market, biofuels opponents will no longer be able say there are no D3 RINs as a strategy to weaken the RFS. “The biofuels industry now has the technology available to create two billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol – with no more corn,” said Johnson. “QCCP is proud to be one of the first companies to issue D3 RINs. We look forward to higher D3 RIN requirements in 2015 as new production comes on.”

QCCP expects to produce one million gallons of cellulosic ethanol in 2014 and two million gallons in 2015. Earlier this year.

“Cellerate is designed to increase an ethanol plant’s production by allowing the corn kernel fiber to be converted into cellulosic ethanol,” added Jack Bernens, head of marketing and stakeholder relations for Enogen corn enzyme technology. “Ethanol plants can easily integrate Cellerate process technology into their existing production process. Cellerate, in conjunction with Enogen corn, will deliver notable benefits to ethanol plants beyond what can be achieved through either technology alone.”

Ethanol Industry Applauds Abengoa

abengoaMembers of the ethanol industry joined with government leaders in applauding Abengoa at the opening of its $500 million cellulosic ethanol plant in Hugoton, Kansas last week.

Among those on hand for the celebration was Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) Vice President of Industry Relations Robert White who says Americans should be proud of the new plant “because this phantom fuel, as the naysayers like to call it, is here and it’s here to stay.”

However, White says they are concerned that this third cellulosic plant opening this year could be the last if EPA fails to continue implementing the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) as Congress intended. “There may never be another celebration like this and it’s sad but true,” he said. “This promise was made years ago and (the administration) needs to stick to it.”

Interview with RFA's Robert White at Abengoa Opening

Abengoa Cellulosic Ethanol Plant Grand Opening photo album.

DOE’s Moniz Congrats Abengoa on Cellulosic Plant

US Energy Secretary Ernst MonizDepartment of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz was on hand to help Abengoa Bioenergy celebrate the grand opening of its cellulosic ethanol plant in Hugoton, Kansas. With a beautiful day and a full house, excitement was high as Moniz took the stage to congratulate Abengoa’s achievement.

The $500 million biorefinery was supported, in part, by a DOE loan guarantee. Moniz began his remarks by putting the bioenergy plant in perspective of the larger picture and that is as part of President Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy.

Moniz said the cellulosic ethanol plant serves three major objectives:

  1. Growing the economy – creating jobs.
  2. Advancing our energy security interests. No only for the United States alone, but also for our allies and friends.
  3. Moving towards the low carbon economy- addressing climate change.

Moniz also noted the importance of the innovation chain, “…and what we’re seeing to today is part of that…But if we’re going to kick start this, we have to work with the private sector with state and local governments with our research institutions and laboratories to get these technologies deployed and drive those costs down to be competitive continued Moniz. So this plant shows all of these features.”

He said that while there will be a few rough spots along the road, what the country is seeing today is the beginning of a new industry.

Listen to Energy Secretary Moniz’s complete comments here:

Listen to Energy Secretary Moniz’s remarks: Energy Secretary Moniz Remarks

Check out the Abengoa Cellulosic Ethanol Plant Grand Opening photo album.

EPA Fools Ethanol Advocates – Merle Anderson

The following is a guest editorial by American Coalition for Ethanol founder Merle Anderson.

merle-headI just want to remind EPA and Big Oil that I am still around. Since organizing the American Coalition for Ethanol nearly 30 years ago I have just celebrated my 93rd birthday.

I am damn mad because I think we’ve let EPA fool us into letting the fraudulent 10 percent ethanol blend wall stand. It has collapsed grain markets by dishonestly ending ethanol’s growing demand for corn and they call that free enterprise. I call it stealing many, many billions of dollars from agricultural economies.

That blend wall exists because EPA fooled people into thinking it is legitimate because fueling standard cars with E30 illegally increases gasoline’s hazardous emissions. Ever try drinking gasoline? My friend Orrie Swayze’s research agrees that E30 reduces gasoline’s hazardous emissions by 30% because, unlike gasoline, ethanol does not produce known human carcinogenic tailpipe emissions.

I also find it laughable that EPA claims E30 can harm standard auto engines. Show me a legitimate warranty denial. I have never owned a flexible fuel vehicle and fueled my last 7 vehicles with half E85 or used E30 through blender pumps to travel over 600,000 miles. When I traded in the vehicles, the engines were still in top condition.

When blender pumps were installed for the first time, I started hearing many positive remarks about ethanol’s engine performance. EPA tries to deny that standard auto owners have successfully driven millions of miles annually on popular, high octane E30 since blender pumps were installed five years ago. Our typical report still is “more power and can’t tell any difference in mileage compared to E10.”

I challenge agricultural and ethanol leaders to dare and expose EPA’s lies that built the blend wall. I also urge that you use E30 in standard vehicles and openly endorse premium E30 as the legal, safest, best, lowest cost fuel choice on the market today for standard vehicle owners.

Merle Anderson
Climax, MN

USDA Researchers Advance Advanced Ethanol

usda-logoResearchers for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are making advancements on an advanced biofuel, cellulosic ethanol. This article from the USDA says the scientists at the Bioenergy Research Unit in Peoria, Illinois, have recently completed studies on multiple approaches that could help streamline cellulosic ethanol production.

In one study, a team led by ARS chemical engineer Bruce Dien looked at using switchgrass, a perennial grass native to the prairie, for ethanol production. The team concluded that biomass producers could optimize cellulosic ethanol production by planting Kanlow variety—a lowland ecotype—and harvesting at either mid-season or post frost. Results from this study were published in Environmental Technology in 2013.

ARS chemist Michael Bowman led another study of switchgrass xylans, which is challenging to convert to sugars with enzymes because of its complex chemical structure. Bowman determined that structural features of xylan remained the same as the plant matures, even though the amount of xylan changed with maturity. This is good news for biorefiners, because it suggests that they can use the same biomass hydrolyzing enzymes to break down xylans in all switchgrass biomass, no matter when the crop is harvested. Results from this study were published in Metabolites in 2012.

The article also gives progress reports on work with microorganisms needed to ferment xylose—molecules that make up xylans—into ethanol and promising field trials with a yeast strain that grew almost four times faster than other strains that contained XI enzymes and one that could produce ethanol at significantly greater yields than other yeasts engineered to ferment xylose to ethanol.

Abengoa Celebrates Cellulosic Ethanol Achievement

Abengoa Cellulosic Ethanol Goes Into ProductionSpanish-based Abengoa celebrated its cellulosic ethanol achievement today with a celebration of the plant’s grand opening. Thousands of people attended the event with dozens of high profile guests on hand ranging from former and current Senators to governors to the town mayor, to Interior Secretary and Energy Secretary Ernst Moniz who gave the keynote speech.

The bioenergy plant is based in Hugoton, Kansas and when at full scale will produce 25 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol from biomass per year as well as 21 MW of electricity. The plant will use no power from the grid, in fact, it will sell its excess power – a model common in Europe and Brazil.

Javier Garoz Neira Abengoa BioenergyAbengoa announced the plant would be located in Hugoton in 2007 and a lot of has happened since then as Javier Garoz Neira, CEO of Abengoa Bioenergy, said in his remarks. That same year they produced cellulosic ethanol from wheat straw in their pilot facility located in York, Nebraska. In 2009 they built a larger cellulosic demonstration plant in central Spain. In 2011, working with the Department of Energy (DOE) Abengoa was able to secure a loan guarantee to build the plant in Hugoton, Kansas and today the plant is gearing up to produce cellulosic ethanol from corn and what residues at commercial scale.

“It is without a question a major achievement. And we believe it will revolutionize the biofuels industry and our future,” said Neira.

Listen to Javier Garoz Neira’s remarks: Abengoa Bioenergy CEO Javier Garoz Neira

Manuel Sanchez Ortega AgengoaManuel Sanchez Ortega, chief executive officer of Abengoa SA, began his remarks by noting how important today is for everyone in the room. He also addressed the role of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) in providing a platform for the development of second generation biofuels. “Without the RFS, there was no way we would have decided to invest more than $500 million dollars in a project full of risks from both technology and financial without the existence of a solid framework of the RFS.”

Ortega stressed that the role that advanced biofuels will play around the world is not illusive. “The promise of a sustainable and domestic energy is not illusive or imaginary, not anymore. It is right here in front of us. Progress has always come from innovation. And we at Abengoa believe that only through innovation we make make Earth a better place to live.”

Listen to Manuel Sanchez Ortega’s remarks: Abengoa CEO Manuel Sanchez Ortega

Check out the Abengoa Cellulosic Ethanol Plant Grand Opening photo album.

EIA: Farms Big Energy Users and Producers

Farmers are using… but also making… a lot of energy. A new report from the U.S Energy Information Administration shows that American agriculture used nearly 800 trillion British thermal units (Btu) of energy in 2012, or about as much primary energy as the entire state of Utah. While growing and harvesting the crops and the energy needed to raise livestock are significant expenditures (with crop operations consume much more energy than livestock operations), those same farms are also big contributors to our nation’s fuel supply.

Energy makes up a significant part of operating expenditures for most crops, especially when considering indirect energy expenditures on fertilizer, because the production of fertilizer is extremely energy-intensive, requiring large amounts of natural gas. For some crops like oats, corn, wheat, and barley, energy and fertilizer expenditures combined make up more than half of total operating expenses. The proportion of direct to indirect energy use varies by crop. For example, corn, which is also used as an energy input for ethanol production, has relatively low direct fuel expenditures but has the highest percentage of fertilizer expenditures.
EIAcropenergy
The energy consumed in livestock operations is almost solely direct energy consumption and is relatively low compared with crop operations, both as a percentage of total operating expenditures and on a total energy basis…

In addition to being major energy consumers, some farms are using renewable resources to produce energy. Wind turbines, methane digesters, and photovoltaics are the most common on-farm renewables. Renewable energy can help to offset the need for purchased energy. In some cases, the renewable energy produced on farms is sold to electric power suppliers, providing additional income for farmers.

The report also says that water and chemicals used in agriculture can be big users of energy resources.

RFA Hammers CARB on ILUC Analysis

Renewable Fuels Association’s (RFA) President and CEO Bob Dinneen has submitted a letter to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) where he expresses concern over their analysis of indirect land use (ILUC). He writes, “serious concerns about the openness, transparency, and scientific integrity of staff’s new indirect land use change (ILUC) analysis for the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS).”

On September 29, 2014 CARB hosted a workshop where they disclosed they were planning to disregard the latest published research on ILUC. They have committed to using the current ILUC modeling despite the voluminous amount of stakeholder comments received.

RFANewlogoRFA, along with near 40 other stakeholders, submitted detailed technical comments in April 2014 aimed at improving CARB’s analysis, but “it was abundantly clear that the information submitted by stakeholders in the spring had been wholly disregarded” by the time CARB held its September public workshop. CARB staff gave no reason as to why it ignored the comments “even when stakeholders explicitly asked for staff’s rationale for ignoring new information.” CARB staff also remained vague about future plans to examine the new information. Because CARB staff failed to explain why it disregarded the technical comments submitted by RFA in April, the extensive comments were re-submitted.

Moreover, Dinneen’s letter highlighted CARB staff’s misguided belief that it is “not productive” to examine real-world data concerning agricultural land use. Dinneen remarked that, “Any objective scientist would find it prudent to examine the real-world data to determine whether predictive model results agreed with actual observed outcomes… Certainly, it is difficult to disentangle the real-world impact of biofuels expansion from the effects of other factors on actual global land use—but that does not mean CARB staff shouldn’t at least attempt to ground-truth its predictive results against real-world data.”

As an example of the disconnect between CARB’s ILUC modeling results and the real world, Dinneen noted that CARB’s model predicted that roughly 100,000 hectares of forest would be converted to cropland for biofuels production between 2001 and 2015. But real-world data show no U.S. forest loss has occurred; instead, U.S. forestland has grown 7 million hectares since 2001.

Dinneen concluded by calling on CARB to ensure its staff is transparent in its decision making and responsive to legitimate stakeholder concerns, stating, “We urge you to ensure that the CARB staff responsible for the ILUC analysis are held accountable for their decisions and abide by the agency’s long-standing norms for science-based rulemaking.”

The full letter can be found here.