Brazilian Ethanol Producers Praise EPA Delay

unica1International ethanol interests are weighing in on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision to delay finalizing 2014 volume standards under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) until next year. Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA) President Elizabeth Farina is glad to see the EPA step back from proposed advanced biofuel targets, a large portion of that fulfilled by sugarcane ethanol.

“In 2013, 15 percent of America’s advanced biofuels – 435 million gallons – came from Brazil, delivering at least a 50 percent reduction in emissions compared to gasoline. Slashing the 2014 renewable fuels standard target would have fundamentally threatened both America’s supply of low-carbon fuel and the Obama Administration’s emissions reduction goals.

The Brazilian sugarcane ethanol industry has collaboratively worked with the U.S. to lower emissions through the RFS for over seven years, and while we’re relieved this decision doesn’t roll back environmental gains made over that time, EPA has missed a golden opportunity to increase the volume of cleaner fuel flowing to American drivers.”

Farina went on to say she still encourages the EPA to publish the 2015 RFS targets as soon as possible so advanced biofuel producers have clarity on production targets before the season starts.

Iowa Ethanol, Biodiesel Makers Call for Tax Extenders

IowaRFAlogoEthanol and biodiesel producers in Iowa are joining in the growing chorus calling on Congress to extend some important tax credits. This news release from the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) says nine of the state’s advanced biofuel producers sent a letter to the entire Iowa Congressional Delegation encouraging the swift passage of a tax extenders package which includes provisions for biodiesel blending, cellulosic production, and accelerated depreciation, prior to final adjournment of the 113th Congress.

“Iowa’s entire congressional delegation has shown steadfast support for these important policies, and today we’re calling on them to take concrete steps to advance legislation extending these vital provisions that support energy security, American jobs, and a cleaner environment,” stated Western Iowa Energy Board Member Denny Mauser. “In the face of more than 100 years of preferential tax treatment for petroleum—a literal Century of Subsidies—these incentives keep advanced biofuel projects moving forward to the benefit of all Americans.”

The letter states, “It is absolutely critical to our industry that this Congress pass a tax extenders package, which includes provisions for biodiesel blending, cellulosic production and accelerated depreciation, prior to final adjournment.”

The letter goes on to point out the advantages the petroleum industry continues to enjoy in tax subsidies and says if Congress does nothing on the extenders package, the “U.S. will be left with a defacto petroleum mandate.”

Fly, Fight & Win Includes Electric, Biodiesel & Ethanol

U.S. Air Force tests first all-electric vehicle fleet in CaliforniaMy Air Force brethren are known for being able to fly, fight and win, and now, they’ll be doing it using electric vehicles, biodiesel and ethanol. This news release from the U.S Air Force says the Department of Defense’s first non-tactical vehicle fleet composed entirely of plug-in electric vehicles was unveiled at Los Angeles Air Force Base, California.

The rollout of the 42-vehicle fleet marks a milestone in the DOD’s demonstration of emerging technology and the vehicles will serve as a resource to the electrical grid when they’re not being driven.

“Everything we do to fly, fight and win requires energy, whether it’s aviation fuel for our aircraft or power to run the bases that support them,” said Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James. “This vehicle-to-grid pilot is a great example of how Airmen are driving the Air Force forward and finding new and innovative ways to make every dollar count.”

The PEV fleet includes both electric and hybrid vehicles ranging from sedans to trucks and a 12-passenger van. The vehicles have the capability to direct power both to and from the electrical grid when they’re not being driven, known as vehicle-to-grid technology. Unique charging stations have been installed on Los Angeles AFB to support the vehicles’ V2G capability…

In addition to the PEV fleet in L.A., the Air Force is also investigating the benefits of other alternative fuel vehicles. More than 9,000 ethanol flex fuel vehicles are in the service’s inventory worldwide, along with 50 biodiesel fuel stations on its installations.

The Air Force plans to expand this demonstration project to Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.

USDA Looks to Get Ethanol from Kudzu

kudzu1It might be the scourge of the south, but kudzu could become the next feedstock for biofuels.

“When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade,” says Lewis Ziska with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS). “One of the possible potential benefits of kudzu is the roots are high in starch, and it may be a potential biofuel.”

Ziska says the USDA is working with the University of Toronto and Auburn University to look at the potential of kudzu roots. Since the USDA certainly doesn’t want to promote the growing of the weed that has overrun so many places in the south, he believes harvesting kudzu from abandoned farmland and other areas where it’s growing unchecked and easily harvested could end up producing as much, or even more, ethanol from an acre of the weed they want to eliminate as would be produced from an acre of corn.

“What we think we could do is to take the existing kudzu and convert into a biofuel for a win-win,” Ziska says.

You can listen to Ziska’s remarks here: Lewis Ziska, USDA ARS

USDA Working on Producing Butanol as Biofuel

qureshiU.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) researchers are working turning barley straw and corn stover into biobutanol. This article from USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) says the agricultural by-products could be a cost-effective feedstock for the green fuel.

Gallon for gallon, butanol has 30 percent more energy than ethanol and only around 4 percent less energy than a gallon of petroleum-based gasoline. [ARS chemical engineer Nasib] Qureshi has confirmed that both barley straw and corn stover can be converted to butanol via separate hydrolysis, fermentation, and recovery (SHFR) or by simultaneous saccharification, fermentation, and recovery (SSFR). In SSFR, releasing the plant sugars, fermenting them to butanol, and recovering the butanol are combined into a single operation that is performed in a single reactor.

In a recent study, Qureshi’s team used a process called gas stripping to “harvest” butanol fermented during SSFR. They obtained a final butanol yield that was 182 percent of the yield obtained from a control study that used glucose.

Using the same protocols, the scientists were able to ferment over 99 percent of the sugars in pretreated corn stover. This resulted in butanol yields that were 212 percent greater than yields observed from the controls, and 117 percent greater than the butanol yields from the barley straw.

In the corn stover-to-butanol process, the researchers are using vacuum technology instead of gas stripping to simultaneously recover butanol during fermentation. This new process released more than 97 percent of the stover sugars, making them available for fermentation.

Branstad, Nixon to Head Bipartisan Gov’s Biofuels Group

Two Midwest governors might be from other sides of the political aisle, but they are on the same page when it comes to ethanol and biodiesel. Republican Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and Democrat Missouri Governor Jay Nixon will lead the Governors’ Biofuels Coalition beginning in January 2015 as chairman and vice chairman, respectively.

IA Gov Branstad at Hearing in the Heartland Jan 23 2013“I look forward to working with Governor Nixon to advance the bipartisan work of the Governors’ Biofuels Coalition, as the production and use of biofuels increases family incomes in rural America, diversifies our nation’s energy portfolio, and enables consumer choice at the fuel pump, ” Governor Branstad said.

JayNixon“Thanks to our corn and soybean farmers, Missouri has long played a leadership role in the development and production of biofuels,” Governor Nixon said. “Missouri was one of the founding members of the Governors’ Biofuels Coalition, and the Coalition has played a major role in our nation’s energy policies, including the drafting and passage of the renewable fuel standards. I’m honored to serve as the next vice chairman of this organization, and will continue working to strengthen the energy independence of Missouri and our country.”

Outgoing chairman Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat from Illinois, says everyone has a stake in the game, from farmers to energy consumers.

Biodiesel Ingredient Maker Gets State, Fed Incentives

ia-flag1An Iowa company that will make a key ingredient for biodiesel is getting some important loans, loan guarantees and tax incentives from the state and federal governments. This article from the Mason City (IA) Globe Gazette says New Heaven Chemical will get $128,000 in state loans and $402,000 in tax incentives, along with the chance for a U.S. Department of Agriculture $5 million loan guarantee, for the company’s plant at the Manly Terminal.

The Manly plant will produce sodium methylate, which is used to turn fat and oil into biodiesel.

Completion is expected by the end of the year. Startup is set for January.

New Heaven’s plant will bring money into the county, [Worth County Supervisor Ken] Abrams said.

“It’s gonna get jobs and people here,” he said.

County officials are expected to sign the contract later this week.

Growth Energy Comments on LCFS & Ethanol

growth-energy-logoA group representing ethanol producers in this country is giving the state of Washington a piece of its mind on the state’s draft report on the potential implementation of a Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). This news release from Growth Energy says the comments outline how implementation of a LCFS could potentially displace clean burning, domestically-produced renewable fuels without significant environmental benefit.

Upon submission of the comments, Chris Bliley, Director of Regulatory Affairs for Growth Energy, noted, “As Washington considers a potential low carbon fuel standard, we wanted to make them aware of our strong objection to the inclusion of controversial theories such as indirect land use change. Ethanol continues to significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions in our transportation fuel. Washington should carefully consider these issues before moving forward with a California-style LCFS regulation.”

The comments outlined that, “With the success of a national biofuels program in mind, Washington’s draft report raises a number of issues related to the potential adoption of a low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) in Washington. One of the most controversial features of a potential state-level LCFS regulation is the belief that by regulating the carbon intensity of alternative fuels somehow value is added separate and apart from other efforts to reduce transportation sector greenhouse gas emissions by causing changes in biofuel production methods… To date there has been no net reduction in GHG emissions nationwide; the only impact has been ‘fuel shuffling,’ a resulting phenomenon which itself is likely to increase GHG emissions by requiring the transport of ethanol and other fuels further distances than if states did not try to regulate the carbon intensity of the ethanol sold or used within their borders.”

You can read all of Growth Energy’s comments here.

Ag Groups Urge President to Reject Biofuels Cuts

mess-rfsThe National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) and several other agricultural sent a letter to President Obama this week asking him to intervene with the Environmental Protection Agency regarding its proposed cuts in the 2014 volume obligations for the Renewable Fuel Standard.

“The blending targets and the methodology in your administration’s proposed rule are already causing significant harm to the biofuel sector,” the letter states. “These impacts are reverberating throughout the U.S. agriculture economy, and we expect this trend to continue if the targets and the methodology in the rule are not corrected.”

The letter discusses how the ag sector has met its responsibility in growing sufficient feedstock for biofuels, but is also working with the ethanol industry on infrastructure and advanced fuels. The letter concludes: “The EPA’s proposed policy decision is driving one of our key economic engines – the biofuel sector -¬‐ overseas. We have invested in response to the signals in the RFS and are poised to deliver the very low carbon fuels you have sought for so long. Instead of reaping the economic benefits of this investment with a build-¬‐out of a domestic biofuel industry, the methodology proposed by EPA is offshoring the industry – and our market. This is a decision we cannot afford in America’s heartland.”

In addition to NCGA, organizations sending the letter included the Agricultural Retailers Association, American Farm Bureau Federation, Association of Equipment Manufacturers, National Association of Wheat Growers, the National Farmers Union and National Sorghum Producers.

Iowa RFA Pleased with Election Results

branstad-ernstThe Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) is pleased with the results of Tuesday’s election in the state and the strong support for renewable fuels among the winning candidates.

“It’s not surprising that ethanol and biodiesel enjoy broad, bipartisan support in Iowa,” stated IRFA PAC Treasurer Walt Wendland. “It’s also encouraging to see that renewable fuels will remain in good hands in Iowa. We look forward to working with all of the 2014 election winners for state and federal offices to continue to preserve and advance Iowa’s leadership in renewable fuels production, agriculture and environmental stewardship.”

In the races for federal office, Iowa elected Joni Ernst to the U.S. Senate, and David Young and Rod Blum to the U.S. House. Iowans also re-elected Governor Terry Branstad, and Reps. Steve King and Dave Loebsack. Each winning candidate reported strong support for renewable fuels and the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) in IRFA’s renewable fuels candidate survey.

Growth Energy Staffer on Advisory Committee

growth-energy-logoU.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker has appointed Jim Miller, Growth Energy’s Vice President and Chief Economist, to a position on the Department of Commerce’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Advisory Committee. The departmental committee was established to advise the Secretary on programs and policies to expand U.S. renewable energy and energy efficiency exports.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to help increase awareness of the importance of renewable fuels as well as expand markets across the globe to help export clean, sustainable energy that will help create jobs right here at home, while improving the environment around the globe and reducing the world’s dependence on fossil fuels,” said Miller.

Miller previously served as the Senior Policy Advisor on the Budget Committee under Senator Kent Conrad (D-N.D.). Prior to his service on Capitol Hill, Miller was appointed by President Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve as the Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agriculture Services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Also appointed to the committee was Kelly Davis of the Renewable Fuels Association.

Group Wants Same Exemptions for Biodiesel that Oil Gets

BRAGA group that advocates for organizations engaged in biobased chemistries wants the government to give biodiesel the same environmental reporting exemptions that petroleum enjoys. The Biobased and Renewable Products Advocacy Group (BRAG) petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asking that biodiesel fuel manufacturers be granted the same Chemical Data Reporting (CDR) exemptions that petroleum-based diesel manufacturers already receive.

Specifically, BRAG petitioned EPA to add “biodiesel” as a chemical category for partial exemption for the same reasons as those given for petroleum chemicals already included, which occurred via a rulemaking process based on proposals submitted by the American Petroleum Institute (API). BRAG contends that biodiesel products should be treated similarly to the petroleum products included in the (b)(1) List due to the conditions of manufacture and the properties and uses of the substances.

The second petition, “Petition for Partial Exemption of Biodiesel Products,” was submitted to the CDR Coordinator of EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP). In it, BRAG petitions to add “biodiesel” as a chemical category in the partially exempted chemical list at 40 C.F.R. Section 711.6(b)(2)(iv), referred to as the (b)(2) List. EPA has stated that CDR processing and use information for chemicals on the (b)(2) List is of “low current interest” and has established a petition process to enable stakeholders to add chemicals to the (b)(2) list.

BRAG believes biodiesel belongs on the (b)(1) List but because there is no formal petition process to amend the (b)(1) List, it decided to proceed with the “low current interest” petition process to amend the (b)(2) List as well.

BRAG officials say they just want to level the playing field for biodiesel and petroleum-derived diesel manufacturers, since biodiesel producers are required to spend significant amounts of time and money gathering and providing CDR information to EPA while petroleum-derived producers are not, for chemicals that are very similar, serve the same purpose, and are managed in equivalent ways.

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.

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.

Small Biodiesel Maker Closing Indicative of RFS Problem

yokayo1While the closing of one small biodiesel maker in California might not seem like big news, it’s certainly indicative of the problems facing the industry, big and small producers alike. This story from the Ukiah (CA) Daily Journal says that Yokayo Biofuels, which turned waste cooking oil into biodiesel, has closed.

[Kumar Plocher, Yokayo Biofuels’ CEO] says the biggest reason for their closure was due to a lack of government support both at the state and federal levels. He explains that the carbon credit programs, those where petroleum companies are required to buy a certain amount of renewable fuels, allowed his company to bank carbon credits, normally valued high based on demand. This year state and federal value levels were very low: the state’s due to tampering by global companies that flooded the market and at the federal’s due to the Obama administration and the EPA. “Every year the federal government is supposed to raise the requirement of renewable fuel that should be purchased. At the beginning of 2014, they did not do that; they kept it static. They waited until September to announce a tiny increase, and by that time the damage was done and carbon credits were worthless all year. Every mid-term election year, the dollar per gallon subsidy that goes to biofuels has been absent; they wait until after the election.”

Plocher’s complaint is a common one among advanced biofuel makers and their advocates this year. In fact, at the recent National Advanced Biofuels Conference & Expo, Michael McAdams, founder and president of the Advanced Biofuels Association, said the partnership between the federal government and industry has to have clarity and certainty, but that’s not been the case lately.

“What we haven’t had in the last two years is certainty for the people I represent in the advanced and cellulosic sector,” McAdams said.

Similarly, Bob Dinneen, CEO and president of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), pointed to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s estimates that corn prices will hit an eight-year low because of the government’s failure to follow through on the promises made in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

“Indeed, today’s USDA report should be the closing argument in the debate over the 2014 RFS final rule,” Dinneen continued. “When farmers made their planting decisions for the 2014 season, they anticipated that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the White House would continue to enforce the statutory RFS volumes. But in one fell swoop, the EPA’s proposed rule wiped away demand for 500 million bushels of corn and grain sorghum. Now, farmers are faced with corn prices below the cost of production and the risk of returning to an era of increased reliance on federal farm program payments.”

There is a little good news in all of this. Plocher was able to sell Yokayo Biofuels’ biodiesel assets to like-minded Simple Fuels.