Biodiesel, Renewable Diesel Imports Hit Record

The U.S. is importing more biodiesel and renewable diesel than ever before. This report from the Energy Information Agency (EIA) says in 2013, the U.S. imported 525 million gallons of the green fuels, compared to just 61 million gallons in 2012.
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The strongest driver of the resurgence in U.S. biomass-based diesel demand was the increasing Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) target. Both biodiesel and renewable diesel qualify for the biomass-based diesel and advanced biofuel targets, as well as the overall RFS target. The total RFS target increased from 15.20 billion gallons in 2012 to 16.55 billion gallons in 2013. The biomass-based diesel and advanced biofuels targets increased from 1.00 billion gallons to 1.28 billion gallons, and from 2.00 billion gallons to 2.75 billion gallons, respectively. Biomass-based diesel fuels have higher energy content compared with ethanol, and thus generate more Renewable Identification Number (RIN) credits per gallon of fuel produced. In addition, renewable diesel meets the same American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards as petroleum diesel, and is thus not subject to the blending limits imposed on biodiesel.

The report says that domestic production could only partially offset increased U.S. biodiesel consumption. In addition, during the last four months of 2013, Argentine biodiesel was locked out of Europe in that continuing trade dispute, making the South Americans’ fuel available for U.S. consumption.

Ag Subcommittee Hears Pros and Cons of RFS

glauber1The food versus fuel debate arose once again in front of Congress. At last week’s U.S. House Ag Subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C., opponents and proponents of the Renewable Fuels Standard presented their arguments on the RFS and its impact on the livestock industry.

One of the biggest opponents of the RFS is the poultry industry. Their members argued that ethanol has forced up feed prices that keeps them from expanding operations and fulfilling consumers’ needs to have a cheaper alternative to beef and pork, calling the RFS “broken beyond repair.” But the chief economist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Dr. Joseph Glauber, said while ethanol initially did have an impact much bigger factors forced up the price of feed.

“Certainly, the ramp up [in ethanol production] we saw from 2005 to 2010 had a big impact on corn prices, but we also saw a big increase in energy prices, so it’s not the only thing going on,” he told the committee.

In fact, during that same ramp-up period, petroleum prices shot up to record levels, and RFS proponent, Roger Johnson, President of the National Farmers Union, said the agriculture industry should be united for renewable fuels.

“The World Bank found that crude oil is the number one determinant of global food prices. We should reduce our dependance on oil consumption in order to be more food secure, and biofuel production is an excellent way to do that,” adding that pitting the biofuels industry against the livestock growers is counter-productive.

The bottom line, according to Glauber, is that biofuels are important, and they’re here to stay.

“Corn-based ethanol is a vibrant industry and is competitively priced against gasoline, and producers will continue to produce ethanol from corn as long as profit margins are there. And profit margins have been there.”

2012 Ag Census Includes Renewable Energy

2012-censusThe 2012 Census of Agriculture shows a doubling of on-farm renewable energy production since 2007.

According to the census data released by USDA today, there were 57,299 farms that produced on-farm renewable energy in 2012, more than double the 23,451 in 2007. By far the biggest was solar panels, used on over 36,000 farms. Geoexchange systems and wind turbines each were used on more than 9,000 farms.

For renewable fuels, biodiesel was produced on 4,099 farms and ethanol on 2,397. Small hydro systems were used on about 1300 farms and methane digesters on 537.

The census reveals there are now 3.28 million farmers operating 2.1 million farms on 914.5 million acres of farmland across the United States. Those numbers are all lower than 2007 when the census reported 3.18 million farmers, 2.2 million farms and 922 million acres. The top 5 states for agricultural sales were California ($42.6 billion); Iowa ($30.8 billion); Texas ($25.4 billion); Nebraska ($23.1 billion); and Minnesota ($21.3 billion). Corn and soybean acres topped 50 percent of all harvested acres for the first time.

Census data is available from USDA online and a recording of the webcast release of the census data is here: USDA Releases 2012 Census Data

EPA and USDA Dispute Corn Stover Study

Two federal agencies joined the biofuels industry last week in seriously questioning the results of a University of Nebraska study that claims negative greenhouse gas emissions impacts in using corn stover for ethanol production.

corn_stover03 Photo: USDOE-NRELA statement by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman Liz Purchia about the report noted problems with “hypothetical assumption that 100 percent of corn stover in a field is harvested” which she calls “an extremely unlikely scenario that is inconsistent with recommended agricultural practices. As such, it does not provide useful information relevant to the lifecycle GHG emissions from corn stover ethanol. EPA’s lifecycle analysis assumes up to 50 percent corn stover harvest. EPA selected this assumption based on data in the literature and in consultation with agronomy experts at USDA to reflect current agricultural practices.”

During a forum on climate change right after the study hit the headlines last week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also pointed out that it is based on a false premise. “The study started with an assumption about the way corn stover would be removed from the land. The problem with the assumption is no farmer in the country would actually take that much crop residue,” Vilsack said. “It’s not what’s happening on the ground. If you make the wrong assumption, you’re going to come up with the wrong conclusions.”

Work done by Dr. Douglas Karlen with the USDA Agricultural Research Service was cited several times in the UNL study. In response to questions from POET-DSM, which is using corn stover as feedstock at a plant in Iowa, Karlen said the study “makes unrealistic assumptions and uses citations out of context to reinforce the authors’ viewpoint.”

According to Dr. Karlen, the research fails to differentiate between responsible biomass removal and “excessive” biomass removal, projecting a removal rate of approximately 75% across the entire Corn Belt.

“Harvesting 75% of all corn stover produced in the 10 Corn Belt states is unrealistic, far greater than any projections made by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in their projections for developing a sustainable bioenergy industry, and would certainly result in the depletion of soil organic matter.”

Iowa Moves Forward Biodiesel, Ethanol Incentives

While the fate of some national biofuels incentives remain up in the air, Iowa takes the bull by the horns and passes its own incentives for biodiesel and ethanol. The State House has followed the State Senate’s lead and passed SF2344, a measure that provides a incentive to producers $.02 per gallon refundable credit on the first 25 million gallons of biodiesel produced in any single plant and enhances the state’s E15 retailer tax credit to help alleviate extra costs to Iowa retailers who want to offer E15 as a registered fuel during the summer driving season. The bill also updates the Iowa Code to define biobutanol as a legal renewable fuel option for Iowans

The Iowa Biodiesel Board welcomed the news:

IowaBiodieselBoardLogo“Today our legislators have demonstrated foresight in supporting one of the most powerful economic drivers Iowa has – biofuels,” said Grant Kimberley, executive director of the Iowa Biodiesel Board. “Not only does this biodiesel policy benefit Iowa’s economy and a rural renaissance, it also props up our nation’s energy security and environment by encouraging domestic fuel production.”

The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) also welcomed the vote that sends the measure to Governor Terry Branstad for his signature:

IowaRFAlogo“The entire Iowa Legislature should be commended for its commitment to ensuring that Iowa not only continues to lead the way in biofuels production, but also in renewable fuels policy,” stated IRFA Policy Director Grant Menke. “S.F. 2344 will help preserve Iowa biodiesel jobs while also expanding Iowa motorists’ access to cleaner-burning, more locally-produced E15, and I applaud Iowa’s elected leaders for standing united with Iowa’s renewable fuels community.”

Branstad is expected to sign the bill.

Forest Service Seeks Wood Energy Applications

forestserviceIn honor of Earth Day today, the U.S. Forest Service is seeking proposals that expand wood energy use and support responsible forest management. This news release says the service is also offering a Wood Energy Financial App to help business leaders see a positive bottom line for these efforts.

“USDA through the Forest Service is supporting development of wood energy projects that promote sound forest management, expand regional economies, and create new jobs,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “These efforts, part of the Obama Administration’s ‘all of the above’ energy strategy, create opportunities for wood energy products to enter the marketplace.”

“Building stronger markets for innovative wood products supports sustainable forestry, reduces wildfire risk, and creates energy savings for rural America,” said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.

Under the Forest Service’s Wood-to-Energy Grant program, about $2.8 million will be made available to help successful applicants complete the engineering design work needed to apply for public or private loans for construction and long-term financing of wood energy facilities. Another $1.7 million from the Statewide Wood Energy Team cooperative agreement program will help public-private teams make advancements in wood energy.

The Wood Energy Financial App that allows users to do a simple and quick analysis to see if wood energy is a viable alternative for their community or small business. You can dowmload the app here.

Biodiesel/Hybrid Car Achieves 100 MPG Equivalency

ecoeaglesFlorida students have put together a biodiesel and battery powered hybrid that gets the equivalent of a gas-powered car getting 100 miles to the gallon. This story from NPR station WFSU says the Embry-Riddle University students designed the car as part of the EcoCAR 2 challenge, a program sponsored by GM and the U.S. Department of Energy that has university teams compete to build a car that is both eco-friendly and commercially viable.

The goal is to re-engineer a 2013 Chevy Malibu to use less fuel and cut emissions without sacrificing performance. The Embry-Riddle team call themselves the ‘EcoEagles’. Their spokesman, Calvin Baker, says their vehicle solves the problem with batteries and bio-diesel.

“We have a series plug-in hybrid electric vehicle architecture,” Baker says. “It’s PHEV which means that we have an electric motor in the car, and then also a diesel engine.”

Baker says the batteries alone give their car a 35-45 mile range – plenty for the comings and goings of the average commuter.

“The diesel engine turns on when that range is depleted,” Baker says. “With a full five-gallon tank of biodiesel, and full battery charge the car has a 241 mile range.”

The EcoEagles are showing off the car around Florida, and in June, they’ll compete against other schools around the country in Michigan at the General Motors proving grounds.

Analysis: Surviving Without Biodiesel Tax Credit

regdarlingWhile the expiration of the federal $1-per-gallon biodiesel tax credit (BTC) has been pretty tough on the industry this year, some biodiesel makers could survive without it. This analysis from The Motley Fool, a website that looks at investments, points to how biodiesel giant Renewable Energy Group and renderer and renewable diesel maker Darling International have business models that seem to make it possible, although not easy, to be successful without the credit that expired at the 2013.

REG, for example, anticipated the expiration and took that into account when doing their earnings forecast for the first quarter of 2014. And even while biodiesel production was even lower than the company anticipated, due to an abnormally cold winter that caused natural gas prices to spike, while feedstock costs rose and biodiesel prices fell, REG seems to be weathering the storm.

The silver lining is that Renewable Energy Group was able to produce positive adjusted EBITDA despite a barrage of unfavorable conditions. That can be chalked up to the company’s commitment to operational efficiency derived from willingness to invest in a national logistics network and the best process technology. And, of course, management’s focus on the long term.

Darling International is not focused solely on producing renewable fuels, but has taken advantage of its leading rendering business (animal fats and used cooking greases, or the inputs for diesel) to create the Diamond Green Diesel joint venture. Renewable diesel is a hydrocarbon, has a different molecular structure than biodiesel, and can capture higher RIN values as a next-generation fuel. Despite the advantages, it is still blended into the existing petroleum-based fuel supply, and therefore benefits from the BTC. Luckily, Darling International’s diverse business structure has insulated it from the expiration of the credit. In fact, the company has benefited from the increase in feedstocks since the end of last year.

The article goes on to say that while the return of the tax credit would be good news for REG and Darling, and of course, other biodiesel makers, at least these two companies show you could survive without the credit. In addition, the authors say this short-term uncertainty for biodiesel might present a great buying and investing opportunity if you’re looking at the long term.

Natural Gas, Solar Account for Lion’s Share of Adds

eiaAlternative energy sources made for a good showing of new power-generating capacity added last year. This report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows more than half of the utility-scale power generating capacity added last year came from natural gas-fueled plants, with solar accounting for another 22 percent – a significant increase from just 6 percent in 2012. Wind also accounted for another 8 percent of capacity added.
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Natural gas capacity additions were … 6,861 MW … added in 2013, compared to 9,210 MW in 2012. The capacity additions came nearly equally from combustion turbine peaker plants, which generally run only during the highest peak-demand hours of the year, and combined-cycle plants, which provide intermediate and baseload power.

Nearly 60% of the natural gas capacity added in 2013 was located in California. The state is facing resource adequacy concerns as well as the need for more flexible generation resources to help complement more variable-output renewable resources, particularly solar, being added to the system.

Solar photovoltaic (PV) added 2,193 MW of capacity in 2013, continuing the trend of the past few years of strong growth, helped in part by falling technology costs as well as aggressive state renewable portfolio standards (RPS) and continued federal investment tax credits. Nearly 75% of the capacity added was located in California, followed by roughly 10% in Arizona.

While wind’s numbers in 2013 were only one-tenth of what it did in 2012, (1,032 MW in 2013 compared to 12,885 MW in 2012), EIA attributed this to producers rushing to take advantage of the federal production tax credit at the end of 2012.

RFA: CARB’s ILUC Analysis Out of Date, Out of Step

rfa-logo-09A biofuels advocate is taking exception with one state’s evaluation of indirect land use change associated with the green fuels. The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) says the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) draft indirect land use change (ILUC) analysis is not in step with current ILUC science.

Geoff Cooper, RFA’s senior vice president, notes in his submission that RFA is greatly concerned by many aspects of the draft.

Cooper writes, “….several of the assumptions and methodological approaches chosen for CARB’s draft analysis run counter to the recommendations of the Expert Work Group (EWG). In particular, the values selected by CARB for key GTAP elasticities are in conflict with values recommended by EWG and well-known agricultural economists. More generally, CARB’s draft analysis lacks sufficient justification for certain judgment calls made by staff with regard to important model parameters.

“… the results of CARB’s draft analysis are in conflict with the results of recent independent ILUC studies. As described in a recent letter to CARB Chair Mary Nichols from 14 scientists and researchers (including CARB-appointed Expert Work Group members), the corn ethanol ILUC results from CARB’s draft analysis are significantly higher than estimates from recent peer-reviewed scientific analyses…. We believe CARB should explain and justify the divergence of its draft results with estimates from other recent studies.”

RFA addresses key modeling parameters in CARB’s analysis, such as crop yield elasticities and emissions factors, which RFA believes are not in line with what current ILUC science says. In addition, the group says CARB needs to correct in its draft price yield elasticity, what RFA considers to be the single more important factor in the analysis. You can read RFA’s full comment letter here.

Minnesota Biodiesel Mandate: I’m Not Dead Yet!

mdalogo1Minnesota’s biodiesel mandate, looking like it could take a hit, has risen up like a Monty Python character and shouted back, “I’m NOT dead yet!” Recently, we told you how the mandate was facing an uncertain future, as the date to finally move to B10, a 10 percent blend of the green fuel, is coming this year. But that put it dangerously close to another milestone of moving to B20 next year. But this article from Biodiesel Magazine says a compromise piece of legislation looks like it could preserve the mandate… just at a slower pace.

State Representative Clark Johnson is an ardent supporter of the biodiesel industry. Last month he introduced a bill for the agriculture department and the biodiesel industry seeking to modify future requirements regarding exceptions, what months higher blends should be required, and the date on which the state will jump from B10 to B20. His bill, House File 3203, missed a deadline to move forward, but Charlie Poster, assistant commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, says the agency has made concessions to opponents of the increased biodiesel mandate by incorporating HF 3203’s language into an agency “unsession” bill (SF 2618) that is moving forward.

“The bill that’s signed into law probably won’t be HF 3203, but it will be that language,” Poster tells Biodiesel Magazine. “There was a movement by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association (MADA),” Poster says. “They had some concerns about biodiesel, and they wanted to see the biodiesel mandate gutted—and I don’t think that’s too strong of a word. They were proposing some language that, in all but name, would remove our biodiesel standard. And the Department of Agriculture’s position is that biodiesel has worked really well in our state. It’s lowered the price of diesel fuel. It’s added to farmers’ incomes. It’s doing exactly what we want it to do. It’s been a great success.”

The article goes on to say that in order to appease opponents of biodiesel, the agency made four concessions: 1. Move the B20 date to 2018; 2. Shorten by one month the “summer” months part of the mandate, making it April-September; 3. Make permanent some exceptions for nuclear power plants, railroads, mining, logging and the Coast Guard; and 4. Extend the biodiesel blending waiver for No. 1 fuel to May 1, 2020.

NASCAR Leader Testifies for Biofuels

The Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing this week on advanced biofuels. Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow of Michigan says advanced biofuels are here now, and they are an important part of the energy title in the recently passed farm bill.

“The Energy Title funds critical programs that helps our farmers produce energy from non-food sources and helps companies get low-interest loans for those facilities, and of course, all that creates jobs,” Stabenow said, adding that to continue to grow the industry, there needs to be policies that support it. She said passing the Farm Bill was a strong first step toward to that goal. “Now we need to provide certainty through a strong Renewable Fuels Standard and tax credits to support long-term investments in our energy future.” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Senate Agriculture Committee

childress-testOne of the witnesses at the hearing was NASCAR team owner Richard Childress who talked about the many benefits of corn-based biofuels, such as the higher fuel performance he has seen in more than five million miles of racing since the E15 ethanol blend was introduced in the 2011 racing season.

“When they decided to go with an ethanol-blend of fuel, in 2010, NASCAR started looking at what was the correct blend to use. After many tests, they came up with E15,” Childress said, pointing out that his own racing team tested up to E30 blends, which he believes would be even better. “Nothing but positive results came out of our tests. Engines ran cooler, ethanol makes more octane so it makes more horsepower, less carbon buildup, better emissions, and our parts when we tore the engines down looked much better.” NASCAR team owner Richard Childress at biofuels hearing

EPA Chief Discusses RFS With Ag Journalists

epa-mccarthyEnvironmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy spoke to the North American Agricultural Journalists meeting in Washington DC on Monday and expressed confidence that the final rule for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) will be different than the proposed rule that reduces volume requirements for biofuels in 2014.

According to Agri-Pulse McCarthy said EPA is in the process of reviewing more than 200,000 comments on the RFS proposal and plans to issue a final rule in late spring or early summer.

She stressed that EPA has to make sure the final rule is implementable. “And that means taking into realities of the fuel market. One of those realities is the fuel blend wall.”

Agri-Pulse reports that McCarthy expects the final rule will “almost certainly” be different than the one that was proposed. “Gasoline demand had an impact in the proposal and it will also be reflected in the final rule,” she said.

She also said that EPA expects legal challenges to any RFS standards. “We need to be able to justify it in court,” McCarthy said. With current the current infrastructure, the industry this year would not be able to “get anywhere near” the levels required in the original RFS. “But we think that the industry is stepping up to that challenge,” she said. “We’re going to try to work toward these goals the best we can, but we need to be realistic.”

Read the entire article from Agri-Pulse here.

Minnesota Biodiesel Mandate Faces Uncertain Future

mnstatelegis1A delay in Minnesota’s biodiesel mandate could have a ripple effect for more targets in the law’s future. This article in the Mankato Free Press says nearly three years ago, state regulators delayed implementing a B10 mandate scheduled for 2012. Now that officials in Minnesota believe they’re ready for the higher blend, it’s running dangerously close to another target, B20, scheduled for 2015.

That deadline would be extended by three years, to 2018, under a bill from North Mankato Rep. Clark Johnson.

The basic problem with the 2015 deadline is similar to the reasons for the earlier delays: The state just isn’t ready, he said.

The state’s soybean farmers association, Mankato-based Minnesota Soybean, supports the bill, said Mike Youngerberg, its senior director of field services. Another version of the bill, opposed by the association, would have delayed the 10 percent transition and eliminate the 20 percent move entirely. But it failed to pass a Senate committee last month.

Johnson’s bill, too, has an uncertain future — it didn’t pass through its House committees before a March 21 deadline — but he believes it can still pass this year.

Johnson’s bill would also change the summer mandate months from April – October to September. Another provision would allow companies that build generators to test them without biodiesel.

Extenders Package Picks up Wind

After quite a bit of back and forth, the Senate Finance Committee finally included wind energy in the renewable energy Production Tax Credit (PTC) and Investment Tax Credit (ITC) tax extenders package out of committee this week.

AWEA1“We’re grateful to all the supporters of renewable energy on the Senate Finance Committee,” said Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association. “This provides a critical signal for our industry, which has created up to 85,000 jobs and has a bright future ahead, as we grow from 4 percent of the U.S. power grid to an expected 20 percent and beyond, so long as we have a predictable business climate.”

The PTC and the alternate Investment Tax Credit were added overnight to a modified “Chairman’s mark,” after an earlier draft released Monday left them and several other provisions for further negotiation.

They prevailed on a critical 18-6 vote during the committee markup late Thursday morning, on a motion by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) to strip them out. Five Republicans joined the committee’s Democrats in voting down that amendment: Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), John Thune (R-SD), Rob Portman (R-OH), Mike Crapo (R-ID), and John Cornyn (R-TX).