Ford E85 Escape Hybrids

The first E85 Escape Hybrids are hitting the streets this week, as Ford Motor Company delivered three of 20 new vehicles Wednesday to the Department of Energy, the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), and the Governors’ Ethanol Coalition.

RFA HybridRFA president Bob Dinneen was all smiles as he climbed into the driver’s seat of the new vehicle which combines hybrid and flex-fuel vehicle (FFV) technology.

“The combination of hybrid and flex-fuel technology in one vehicle enables increased energy independence and reduced carbon emissions like no automobile before,” said Dinneen. “Ford has introduced a vehicle that runs primarily on ethanol created by our nation’s farmers, and then, with its hybrid power train, travels further on every gallon of that renewable fuel. This is an important achievement in the drive towards sustainable, secure energy.”

The experimental Escape features an electric motor that powers the vehicle at low speeds and a gasoline internal combustion capable of running on fuel blends up to 85 percent ethanol kicks in a higher speeds, according to Sue Cischke, Ford’s senior vice president, Sustainability, Environmental and Safety Engineering.

“Although we currently do not have plans to produce the Escape Hybrid E85, the research from this technology could lead to breakthroughs in even more advanced technologies,” said Cischke.

Bond HybridU.S. Senators Kit Bond (R-MO), Carl Levin (D-MI) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) joined Ford for a press conference on Capitol Hill to announce the new hybrid and talk about alternative fuels.

“Every gallon of biofuels grown in the Midwest means a gallon of oil we do not need to import from the dangerous Middle East,” said Bond. “We can and should do more to reduce pollution from vehicles. Ford today is showing its leadership in clean and efficient vehicles with a first-ever hybrid SUV that will also run on biofuels.”

(Read more on the Ford E85 Escape Hybrids from Ford, RFA and Senator Bond’s office. Thanks to Matt Hartwig of RFA for the photos.)

Udall Bus Running on Biodiesel

Udall Bus
A B20 blend of biodiesel will be what fuels the Morris K. Udall Foundation’s bus tour this year. The tour that highlights public service, environmental, and Native American issues launched today in Washington, D.C.

Rahall-ScarlettAccording to this National Biodiesel Board news release, members of Congress and federal government agency leaders kicked off the coast-to-coast Udall Legacy Bus Tour near the U.S. Capitol in the first motor coach approved by the University of Vermont’s “Green Coach Certification” program:

NBB logo“We are pleased to see that the Udall Foundation and the federal agencies and equipment manufacturers who are sponsoring the tour recognize biodiesel’s valuable contribution to the environment,” said NBB Chief Executive Officer Joe Jobe. “It is only fitting that the bus tour will feature many National Parks since the Park Service’s fleets were among the first in the nation to use biodiesel. Today, hundreds of fleets, including government, commercial and school buses, use biodiesel to benefit America’s environment, energy security and economy.”

The bus tour winds through the country from now until the beginning of August. Along the way, the biodiesel-powered tour bus will carry 13 Udall scholars from the East Coast to the West, winding more than 8,600 miles, passing through 26 cities, six national parks, and six Native American communities.

You can check it out on the web at www.udall.gov.

Biodiesel, Solar for the Big Apple

Being green isn’t just for areas surrounded by green farm fields. The grey, concrete jungle of New York City will start using solar power and biodiesel to heat city buildings.

Michael BloombergAn AP story posted on MSN’s money web site says the announcement comes as part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s environmental plans. He wants the city to reduce the city’s carbon emissions by 30% in the next 23 years. Part of the plan includes replacing city taxis with hybrids and charging a surcharge for anyone who drives into the most congested areas of Manhattan.

The most recent part of the plan includes using biodiesel for heating city buildings by next summer and the solicitation of bids to put solar panels on city-owned buildings.

After tackling city buildings, councilmen are looking at making a biodiesel mandate for private home heating oil starting in 2009.

Energy, Ag Departments Announce $18 mill in Biofuels Grants

Eighteen million dollars in government grants are up for grabs as the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Energy announce solicitations for biomass research and development.

This press release from USDA’s web site says the money will go to researching and developing biomass-based products, biofuels, bioenergy and related processes:

Samuel Bodman“Making these funds available represents this Administration’s ongoing commitment to promoting clean energy technologies to help diversify our nation’s energy mix in an environmentally sensitive way,” Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said. “I am hopeful that these projects will play a critical role in furthering our knowledge of how we can cost effectively produce more homegrown, bio-based products to help reduce our reliance on imported sources of energy.”

Sec. Mike Johanns“These grants are one of many steps we are taking to meet the President’s goals of reducing petroleum dependency,” Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said from South Dakota, where he was addressing the Western Governor’s Association. “They will fund essential research that not only will lead to the creation of new, sustainable energy sources, but also will create new uses and markets for agricultural products.”

The grants will go to four main areas: the development of technologies to convert cellulosic biomass into intermediaries for biobased fuels getting 45% of the money; product diversification receiving 30% percent) feedstock production, 20%; and analysis for strategic guidance getting 5%.

Each award won’t exceed $1 million. State and federal research agencies, national laboratories, private-sector groups and nonprofit organizations are eligible to submit their grant applications by July 11, 2007.

GAO Says Energy Department Lacks Biofuels Plan

GAO logoCongress’ financial watchdog, the Government Accountability Office, says the U.S. Department of Energy lacks a plan for how to match up increased biofuels production with infrastructure and vehicles to use the green fuels.

Department of EnergyThis highlight report on the GAO web site says that America’s reliance on oil poses significant economic and environmental risks. But ethanol and biodiesel could replace oil for transportation fuels. However, the government doesn’t seem to be ready for the challenge:

DOE has not yet developed a comprehensive approach to coordinate its strategy for expanding biofuels production with the development of biofuel infrastructure and production of vehicles. Such an approach could assist in determining which blend of ethanol—E10, E85, or something in between— would most effectively and efficiently increase the use of the fuel and what infrastructure development or vehicle production is needed to support that blend level. In addition, DOE has not evaluated the performance of biofuel-related tax credits, the largest of which cost the Treasury $2.7billion in 2006. As a result, it is not known if these expenditures produced the desired outcomes or if similar benefits might have been achieved at a lower cost.

The report recommends that the Secretary of Energy collaborate with public and private sector stakeholders to develop a plan that coordinates expected biofuel production with gthe infrastructure to get it into the tanks of the vehicles that will need to be built, and coordinate with the Treasury Department to make sure biofuel tax credits and grants are doing what they afre supposed to do.

Portland Mandates Biodiesel

Portland sealStarting next month, all diesel sold in Portland, Oregon will have to have at least a five percent biodiesel content.

And according to this story on eTrucker.com, the City Council has made the standard even higher for city vehicles:

City-owned diesel vehicles must use fuel with a biodiesel content of more than 20 percent.

The rule also mandates that all gasoline sold in the city must contain at least 10 percent ethanol. City gasoline-powered vehicles that can operate on 85 percent ethanol will be required to do so.

The council argued that the mandate will help Oregon farmers and reduce the city’s annual petroleum fuel consumption while not hurting vehicle owners, as vehicles can run on biofuels without modification.

$8 Million in Energy Grants

DOEUSDAThe U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Energy have jointly selected 11 biobased fuels research projects to receive $8.3 million in funding grants.

According to a USDA release, the projects will include “looking into new ways to develop cordgrass, rice and switchgrass in renewable energy sources.”

Grant recipients include:
* University of Minnesota, $715,000
* South Dakota State University, $420,000
* Mississippi State University, $1,300,000
* University of Georgia, $400,000
* Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, $1,200,000
* University of Florida, $750,000
* University of Delaware, $600,000
* USDA-ARS Western Regional Research Center (Albany, CA), $600,000
* USDA-ARS Western Regional Research Center (Albany, CA), $600,000
* USDA-ARS (Cornell University), $700,000
* Oak Ridge National Laboratory, $1,040,000

Details on the bioenergy projects can be found here.

McCain’s Changing Views on Ethanol

Sen. John McCain in IowaRepublican presidential contender Sen. John McCain of Arizona seems to be changing his views on ethanol. This United Press International story explains the switch seems to come down to two words: Iowa caucus.

During the 2000 presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., skipped the Iowa caucuses, perhaps sensing that, among other things, his opposition to ethanol subsidies would not go over well in a corn-growing state like Iowa.

Seven years later, he is crisscrossing the country again to win support for his bid to become the Republican presidential nominee, and this time his route includes stops in Iowa.

McCain’s rhetoric about ethanol has changed, which might assuage some Iowans, but he says his opposition to subsidies for ethanol and other agricultural products remains the same.

“We need to increase our use of ethanol and all kinds of alternative fuels,” McCain said at a speech in May.

But McCain stops short of endorsing subsidies… sort of:

Jerry Taylor, an analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington, says McCain’s newfound interest in ethanol is catering to a special-interest group — Iowa farmers — who might help him win that state’s pivotal caucus.

“The old John McCain opposed ethanol subsidies. The new John McCain will apparently embrace any idea to win the White House,” Taylor wrote on Cato’s weblog.

The article points out that in a speech in Virginia in April McCain said that while he would encourage the growth of ethanol infrastructure, he still won’t sign off on government subsidies.

Plant Materials Key to Bioenergy

NRCSUSDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is on the forefront of developing plants that could be used as future energy sources through the NRCS Plant Materials Program. National Program leader for Plant Materials Bob Escheman says that is part of their mission to solve resource concerns.

Bob Escheman“The Plant Material program began back in the middle ‘30s when the Soil Conservation Service was established,” Escheman said. “We are now getting into bioenergy where we are working with universities and other producers.”

One of the plants they are working on developing for energy is switchgrass, which became famous when President Bush mentioned it last year in his State of the Union address.

“We’ve been growing switchgrass since the 1950s and we are trying to find where we can best grow the plant for bioenergy uses,” said Escheman.

One of the main problems of using switchgrass as a biofuel has been the amount of ash which is created after burning it. To solve this problem, the Plant Materials Centers (PMC) at Knox City, Texas and Elsberry, Missouri, along with the USDA Agricultural Research Service and Mississippi State University are cooperating on a study to investigate how the timing of harvesting affects biomass yield and the biofuel-quality of switchgrass.

Niles GlasgowThere are 27 regional NRCS Plant Materials centers nationwide, including one in Brooksville, Florida. State Conservationist Niles Glasgow, who is also chairman of the National Plant Materials Advisory Committee, says bioenergy research is an exciting area for the program.

“One of the big things we have to start looking at is what kind of plants are going to produce the most amount of mass that can be turned into fuel,” said Glasgow.

He notes that Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson is very interested in making the Sunshine State a major player in alternative fuels. “And we know that will not be from growing corn, it will be from growing grass” or different types of sugarcane.

Both Escheman and Glasgow believe that the role of the Plant Materials Program in developing sources for alternative fuels is just beginning.

Tyson Defends Using Biodiesel Credit

TysonTyson is defending the use of a biodiesel tax credit by the meat-producing giant and oil giant ConocoPhillips.

A recent IRS ruling that the two companies could take advantage of a $1-a-gallon tax credit brought criticism from the National Biodiesel Board (see my post on April 18th) and the threat of legislative action by a Congressman from Texas (see my May 24th post). Now, in an article on Cattle Network.com, Tyson says they, along with ConocoPhillips, should get to use the credit because it will help spur growth of alternative fuels, such as biodiesel:

“Our initiative is about increasing the supply of renewable fuels and contributing to U.S. energy security efforts,” Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson told Meatingplace.com. “We believe our alliance qualifies for a federal production tax credit, which will be based on the number of gallons produced. It is not a jobs credit or an investment tax credit.

“It’s true the renewable diesel made from animal fat will be produced and distributed with existing refineries and fuel distribution systems,” Mickelson added. “However, ConocoPhillips has publicly stated it will spend $100 million in capital expenditures to enable it to produce the fuel. Tyson will also make capital improvements in order to begin pre-processing animal fat from some of its North American rendering facilities.”

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) has introduced a bill to repeal the IRS ruling and narrow the tax break’s scope to what Congress had originally intended.

Ethanol Expansion and Education

Amy KOne former and two current Democratic presidential candidates are sponsors or co-sponsors of a bill introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) intended to expand consumer access to 85 percent ethanol fuel, or E-85. Primary sponsors of the bill with Klobuchar include Barack Obama, (D-IL), Kit Bond (R-MO), George Voinovich (R-OH), and Dick Durbin (D-IL). Senators Ben Nelson (D-NE), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Hilary Clinton (D-NY), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and John Kerry (D-MA) are also co-sponsors of the legislation.

According to a release from Klobuchar’s office, the Ethanol Education and Expansion Act of 2007 would work to reduce prices at the pump for consumers by providing grants through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to farmer-owned ethanol producers to install additional E-85 pumps at rural gas stations as well as the equipment needed to sell E-85 directly to gas stations.

Sen. Klobuchar will work to include the legislation in the 2007 Farm Bill, which the Senate is expected to take up in the coming months.

Nebraska Gets Biodiesel Tax Credit

With the stroke of a pen, Nebraska biodiesel producers gain a credit for production of the green fuel. Governor Dave Heineman signed the legislation, originally sponsored by State Senator Chris Langemeier of Schuyler, designed to encourage greater investment in biodiesel production. According to this release on the Governor’s web site, a tax credit of up to 30% would be given to those who invest in locally-owned facilities producing B100 biodiesel:

Governor Dave Heineman“There is tremendous potential for Nebraska to expand our presence in the renewable fuels sector by becoming a leading producer of biodiesel,” Gov. Heineman said. “This bill will encourage greater diversity in renewable fuels by providing opportunities for Nebraskans to invest in the development of a biodiesel facility.”

Senator Chris LangemeierSen. Langemeier said, “With the signing of LB 343, coupled with the vast resources available in Nebraska, we will be positioned to become the nation’s leader for biodiesel production.”

Nebraska has only one biodiesel plant… interesting since it is the fifth largest producer of soybeans. But two more facilities are in the works, and if the credit does its job, more will be on the way.

Energy Crop Incentive Bill

John ThuneSen. John Thune (R-SD) has introduced legislation aimed at helping farmers near biorefineries begin growing dedicated energy crops.

According to Thune, the Biofuels Innovation Program Act would offer farmers incentives to grow crops, such as switchgrass and fast-growing trees, for use as cellulosic ethanol feedstocks.

“Cellulosic ethanol, produced from homegrown sources like corn stover, wheat straw, switchgrass and wood chips, has incredible potential to supplement corn-based ethanol. But if cellulosic ethanol is to achieve its potential, it is critical that Congress help this industry overcome initial market barriers” said Thune. “My legislation would spur the construction of biorefineries across the country and provide incentives to farmers in surrounding areas to grow energy dedicated crops that can eventually supply these biorefineries in a cost-effective, environment-friendly way.”

Thune hopes the legislation, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), will be included in the 2007 Farm Bill energy title. Similar legislation has also been introduced in the House.

The bill would fund several USDA feasibility studies to determine the level of interest and likelihood of success for biorefinery constructions. The bill would authorize a cost share and per-acre rental payment for farmers during a contract’s first five years, in order to help the biorefinery get established and build a market. In addition, farmers selling byproducts and residues, such as wheat straw and corn stover, to ethanol plants would be eligible for matching payments of up to $45 per ton.

Indy 500 Reaffirms Ethanol As Trusted Fuel Source

VeraSun CEO gets up to speed on ethanol at Indy 500Amidst the hustle and bustle of race weekend events, I caught up with EPIC board member Don Endres of VeraSun Energy, a producer of fuel grade ethanol. Don said the Indy Racing League’s switch to 100 percent ethanol fuel is history in the making. He said the IRL’s investment in the fuel not only demonstrates to the world that ethanol is a trusted renewable fuel source that promotes a cleaner environment, but that it’s also a high-performance fuel with benefits surpassing those of gasoline.

Don broke down industry projections for the growth of ethanol. He said the fuel currently accounts for just 4 to 5 percent of the fuel stream today. America uses about 142 billions of gasoline annually and that figure is growing by about a percent and a half a year. The Energy Information Administration estimates that by 2050 the demand for gas will reach upwards of 163 billion gallons a year at a 10 percent ethanol blend. That means an annual demand of at least 16.3 billion gallons of ethanol by 2050.

Don said today, the ethanol industry is producing just 6 billion gallons annually and there is another 6 billion gallons of production under construction. He added that car makers are putting a significant number of flex-fuel vehicles into the consumer market, which can burn a higher grade ethanol blend, E85. With an estimated 2 million FFVs added to the market each year on top of the current 6 million already available, Don said the market for ethanol is set to expand well-beyond where it’s at today.

For Don, it’s still rather early in the game. He added that the concentrated push for domestically-produced fuel from America’s politicians not only reaffirm his projections for a vastly growing demand for ethanol, but help drive it.

Assist. Secretary of Renewable Fuels Suits Up

U.S. Assistant Secretary of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Andy KarsnerThe agenda for the Ethanol Summit changed at the last minute and just 24 hours before the event, the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Andy Karsner, announced he would attend. Andy said ethanol is a key part of the solution to combating global warming. He said ethanol isn’t the silver bullet, but rather part of the silver buck shot. For Andy, it’ll take a number of committed strategies to establish a more green America. It wasn’t all business for the Assistant Secretary though. Andy strapped on an official Ethanol flame-repellent suit and hopped into the hot seat of a replica Ethanol car.

2007 Indy 500 Photo Album