Big Oil / Big Auto E15 Study ‘Biased’ & ‘Inconclusive’

The ethanol industry is responding today to a recent study designed to test vehicle compatibility with E15 and higher blends of ethanol. The study, “Mid-Level Ethanol Blends Catalyst Durability Study Screening,” was conducted by the Coordinating Research Council (CRC), a non-profit organization funded by the auto and oil industry. According to Growth Energy, the research is “inconclusive” because it failed to complete sufficient vehicle testing and it ignored a ‘pile of data’ from academic, government and third-party research that has shown that E15 does not harm engine and emission systems or affect durability or drivability.

As disclosed in the CRC report, the organization’s aim was to show higher temperatures in certain vehicles using various blends of ethanol. They did in fact accomplish this goal but the average temperature change in the 4 cylinder vehicles was only a 2.0- 2.7 degree increase from E10 to E15 but there was a degree variance of 200 degrees among some of the vehicles. The reason for this could be that some of the vehicles were not designed to run on ethanol blends so the computer systems were not programmed to adjust to the alternative fuels. This said, these computer systems could be re-programmed to run on mid-level ethanol blends with no negative effects.

In addition, CRC did not disclose that of the 25 makes and models chosen for testing, several of them are more prone to catalysis failure than others regardless of the intermediate blend in the tank – meaning that particular car’s design is a bad design and will fail even if using straight gasoline.  Continue reading

Congratulations! It’s a Biodiesel!

The same technology that lets expectant moms and dads know whether it’s a boy or girl in the womb could help biodiesel makers deliver their product quicker.

Discovery News reports that researchers at the University of Missouri’s Agricultural Engineering department are using ultrasounds to speed up the production process from several hours to just a few minutes:

[Assistant Professor Bulent] Koc, an agricultural and biological engineer, had used ultrasound technology as part of his research in the past to look at different properties of food. For example, he figured out concentrations of alcohol in wine by measuring the velocity of the sound waves within the wine and how long they took to bounce back. When he came to the University of Missouri, the agricultural engineering department required him to focus on energy rather than food, so he applied it to biofuel production.

The ultrasonic wave process works like this: a desktop computer-sized device, known as an ultrasound generator, drives an ultrasound transducer, the machine that makes ultrasonic waves pass through a mixture of methanol and vegetable oil. These waves heat the mixture of oil and alcohol, creating bubbles that eventually burst. The bursts release high pressure and temperature, which break the molecular bonds in the fluids, allowing the two liquids to mix at a much faster pace. After the molecular bonds break, the fatty acids release, producing the by-product glycerin, and the remaining molecules recombine into a biodiesel.

“We wanted to see the effects of ultrasonic energy on glycerin separation time, that means reducing the production time of biodiesel.

Unlike the conventional process that takes an hour to produce a few milliliters, this process takes just five minutes to make about the same amount.

And since time is money, the less time biodiesel makers spend brewing the green fuel, the more money they’ll be able to make.

Biofuels Benchmarking Annual Report Released

Today, Christianson & Associates, PLLP (C&A) has released a new in-depth report that looks into ethanol plant efficiency and financial viability. The Biofuels Benchmarking Annual Report is in its 7th year and analyzed the operational and financial performance of more than 50 ethanol plants along five major “bench” areas: overall ethanol industry analysis, regional ethanol plant analysis, production capacity analysis, plant production efficiency analysis and balance sheet analysis.

Brian Jennings, the Executive Vice President for the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) notes that this report is yet more proof that ethanol is a sustainable way for our country to produce fuel.

“This report proves that ethanol producers are getting more efficient every day, indicating that ethanol facilities producing WDGS use only about 19,000 BTU’s of energy to make just one gallon of ethanol. As we continue to point out that ethanol is getting more efficient as oil is getting less sustainable, this is the sort of data that helps reinforce and prove our point,” said Jennings.

C&A has the most robust benchmarking programs available for the ethanol industry. The program enables participants to measure themselves in over 90 financial and operational factors on a quarterly basis and compare their results to others in the industry. Ultimately the program helps plants identify their strengths and weaknesses as a tool to improve their financial outlook.

“Not only is this annual report a valuable tool for ethanol producers, it is also a helpful resource for public and private researchers and analysts who are looking for unbiased, independent data and information to assist them in their own analytical efforts,” said Geoff Cooper, Vice President Research for the Renewable Fuels Association.

The Biofuels Benchmarking Report is available for free to all current Christianson & Associates Biofuels Benchmarking participants. In addition, members of the media, academia and current legislative and executive branch members may also receive a free copy. Current RFA and ACE members will receive the report for a discounted amount of $250.00; all others can purchase the report for $500.00. Click here to order your copy. Continue reading

Loss of Ethanol Incentives Could Cost Jobs in Half the Nation

New research indicates that allowing the ethanol tax incentives to expire at the end of this year would mean job losses in 25 states, not just the Midwest.

urbanchuk renewable fuels associationAccording to additional research conducted by economist John Urbanchuk, non-traditional ethanol producing states like California, Texas, Georgia, Colorado, and Tennessee would be hit by job losses due to the expiration of the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC). Urbanchuk’s research finds that while Midwestern states would be hit the hardest, thousands of jobs would be at stake in the West, the South, the Great Plains and the Northeast. The number of jobs lost ranges from as few as 16 in Louisiana, to nearly 30,000 in Illinois.

The state by state breakdown of potential job loss resulting from a failure to extend the VEETC and the offsetting secondary tariff on imported ethanol adds a new layer of analysis to a report Urbanchuk completed in March. In that study, he calculated a loss of 112,000 jobs nationwide and a 38% reduction in U.S ethanol production capacity if these tax incentives were allowed to expire. The report was prepared by Urbanchuk for the Renewable Fuels Association.

Read the report and state breakdown of potential job losses here.

Rep. Giffords Releases Solar Energy Report

Today, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz) along with Environment Arizona, have released a solar energy report, “Building a Solar Future: Repowering America’s Homes, Businesses and Industry with Solar Energy,” detailing how solar energy can be used to power our homes, businesses, farms, and neighborhoods as well as how solar can play a role in energy security and pollution reduction.

“This report shows the possibilities of solar energy and how solar is an achievable path to our energy security,” said Giffords, who is a member of the House and Science Technology Committee. “We still have work to do before solar energy can make up a large percentage of America’s energy needs, but we are moving in the right direction.”

The report also also identifies obstacles to wider use of solar in the United States and discusses a combination of policies that could allow solar to meet 10 percent of America’s energy needs.

Less than a week ago, Gifford announced the Solar Schools Act, a piece of legislation that would make it more affordable for schools to install solar panels and reduce electricity costs.

You can read the full report by clicking here.

BIO to Congress: Fund $25M for Cellulosic Production

Today, the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) released a letter to House and Senate appropriators asking them to fund the Section 942 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 labeled as Production Incentives for Cellulosic Biofuels to the tune of $25 million for 2011. Known as a reverse auction program, BIO is encouraging this action as a way to assist pioneer cellulosic biofuels producers in the U.S. in an affordable manner.

“The reverse auction program rewards pioneering cellulosic biofuel producers who can provide the most cost effective product,” explained Brent Erickson, executive vice president for BIO’s Industrial and Environmental Section. “This program, if closely coordinated with other federal programs, can stimulate the private investment needed to build large-scale biorefineries to meet the energy production and greenhouse gas reduction goals of the United States.”

BIO cites several Congressmen and Senators who have supported this request, in particular Representative Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) and Senators Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Richard Lugar (R-Ind), Evan Bayh (D-Ind) and Edward Kaufman (D-Del.).

The official bio report, “U.S. Economic Impact of Advanced Biofuels Production,” yielded several key findings:

  • • Direct job creation from advanced biofuels production could reach 29,000 by 2012, rising to 94,000 by 2016 and 190,000 by 2022.
    • Investments in advanced biofuels processing plants alone would reach $3.2 billion in 2012, rising to $8.5 billion in 2016, and $12.2 billion by 2022.
    • Direct economic output from the advanced biofuels industry, including capital investment, research and development, technology royalties, processing operations, feedstock production and biofuels distribution, is estimated to rise to $5.5 billion in 2012, reaching $17.4 billion in 2016, and $37 billion by 2022.

“Advanced biofuels are a key to creating new jobs and revitalizing the U.S. economy. Development of the advanced biofuels industry could produce hundreds of thousands of new green jobs and contributing more than $140 billion in economic growth by 2030. Rapidly increasing U.S. production of advanced biofuels is also a sound way to significantly reduce U.S. reliance on imported petroleum and carbon emissions associated with climate change,” concluded Erickson.

You can download the full report here.

Study Finds Benefits of 20 Percent Ethanol Blends

A new study from the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) finds benefits to the gasoline blended with 20 percent ethanol (E20).

The study by RIT’s Center for Integrated Manufacturing Studies indicates that E20 reduces emissions of hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide compared with traditional gasoline or E10 blends. In addition, the research team found no measurable impact to vehicle drivability or maintenance in conventional internal combustion engines.

Using a 10-vehicle fleet owned and operated by Monroe County, N.Y., researchers fueled the vehicles – all with older gasoline engines not specifically designed to burn ethanol blends – over the accumulation of at least 100,000 miles per vehicle. Researchers found that the fleet showed an average reduction of 23 percent for carbon monoxide and a 13 percent reduction for hydrocarbon emissions, with no measurable stress on vehicle operation or mechanics.

“There have been concerns raised that any increase in blend would negatively impact standard internal combustion engines, however our data shows that vehicle performance remained constant, while carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon emissions were decreased even over E10 blends,” said Brian Hilton, senior staff engineer at the center and member of the research team.

Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis says the study provides good data to support their “Green Jobs Waiver,” which seeks an increase in the allowable blend of ethanol with gasoline from 10 percent to 15 percent, by showing that higher blends are fine for older model vehicles.

“This new study confirms what we’ve been saying all along. Increasing the use of ethanol in our fuel can help clean our environment, strengthen our national security and create jobs, all without any impact on the drivability of our cars,” Buis said.

Researchers Check “Green-ness” of Algae-Biofuel

The assumption is that algae-based biofuels are better for the environment. But, as they say, the proof is in the pudding. And researchers are all about proving things.

This article from the Fort Collins (CO) Coloradoan says a pair of mechanical engineering professors from Colorado State are testing to see what gases come from burning algae oil:

“What are the consequences if we were to suddenly go from zero to 20 billion gallons of algae-based biofuel per year over the next 20 years?” [Anthony] Marchese said. “Are there going to be any consequences that we may not have thought about? Recent history is littered with examples of where we’ve moved too quickly with the technology without understanding the risks.”

Marchese and [Azer] Yalin have received a $325,000 National Science Foundation grant to conduct a study of emissions from algae-based biofuels, during which they’ll look at how pollutants are formed when the fuel burns.

The article goes on to say that locally-based Solix Biofuels, which produces biofuel from algae, is anxiously awaiting the results of the testing.

University of Florida Ethanol Plant Breaks Ground

florida ethanolRepresentatives from the University of Florida, Buckeye Technologies Inc. and the Florida Legislature broke ground for a new pilot plant to produce ethanol from cellulosic biomass.

Funded by a $20 million appropriation from the Florida Legislature, the plant will be built at the Perry, Fla. facility of Buckeye Technologies Inc., a manufacturer and worldwide distributor of cellulose-based specialty products made from wood and cotton. It is scheduled to be operational by spring 2011.

Much of the plant’s research will be based on the work of Lonnie Ingram, UF distinguished professor of microbiology and cell science and director of the Florida Center for Renewable Chemicals and Fuels. Ingram engineered an E. coli bacterium that breaks down inedible plant material into sugars that can be processed into fuel-grade cellulosic ethanol. Variations of the technology are already at work in fuel plants in Louisiana and Japan.

Click on photo, courtesy of IFAS news, for a larger view. Pictured left to right: Lonnie Ingram, UF distinguished professor of microbiology and cell science; Leonard Bembry, Florida House of Representatives District 10; Ralph Poppell, Florida House of Representatives District 29; Debbie Mayfield, Florida House of Representatives District 80; John Crowe, Buckeye Technologies, Inc. chief executive officer; Bernie Machen, University of Florida president; Cynthia O’Connell, University of Florida Board of Trustees; Larry Arrington, University of Florida interim senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources.

Squeezing More Oil from Crops for Biodiesel

The name of the game in the biodiesel biz is getting the most out of your feedstocks. Some researchers at the University of California-Davis have found a way to squeeze another 24 percent out of oilseeds such as safflower.

This press release from the school says the new process converts both plant oils and carbohydrates into biodiesel in a single process, improving the performance of the biodiesel, especially in cold weather:

Conventional biodiesel production extracts plant oils and then converts them into fatty acid esters that can be used to power engines, said Mark Mascal, professor of chemistry at UC Davis and co-author of the paper with postdoctoral researcher Edward Nikitin. That leaves behind the carbohydrate portion of the plant — the sugars, starches, and cellulose that make up stems, leaves, seed husks and other structures.

The new process converts those carbohydrates into chemicals called levulinic acid esters — at the same time and in the same vessel that the oils are converted to fatty acid esters — resulting in a fuel cocktail that performs better at low temperatures than conventional biodiesel.

The article goes on to say the process might cost a bit more, but improved fuel yields and performance would make up the difference.

UNL Begins Expansion for Algae Research

UNL scientists will begin growing algae in bags like these later this year as part of their research into algal biofuels. George Oyler / courtesy photo.

Algae research continues to get a lot of focus. University of Nebraska-Lincoln has announced that it will expand its algae research center this year, dedicating more space in the Beadle Center greenhouse for the work. As reported by Biomass Magazine, the university received $1.9 million in federal funding for it current research in alternative energy and is anticipating additional funds.

Scientists, using natural algae strains, will begin by growing algae in bags. From there, they will move to oblong ponds. Along the way, they hope to achieve three goals as identified by Paul Black, a lipid biochemist at UNL who will be participating in the study: identify the best strains for maximum oil production; identify optimal growing conditions; and modify the algae for maximum cell density.

Currently, the research team is working with a photo bioreactor that is designed to increase cell density per unit volume from about two grams per liter to eight to 10 grams per liter, by exploring maximum light and carbon dioxide conditions, Black said. Cell density is important because their is a possibility of making it simpler to harvest the algae. “You’re in essence, fooling them,” said Black.

Another area of concentration is optimizing oil extraction. According to Black, the team has used organic solvents and is also looking at using carbon dioxide and high pressure.

Although there is no immediate timeframe for the establishment of tangible results, Black anticipates some compelling data to be forthcoming within a year.

Tobacco Tapped for Biodiesel

TJUResearchers at a school in Philadelphia have figured out how to get more oil from a decidedly non-food source: tobacco leaves.

Professors from the Biotechnology Foundation Laboratories at Thomas Jefferson University have found out how to increase the oil in tobacco plant leaves, and according to this school press release, that might just be the next step in using the plants for biofuel:

According to Vyacheslav Andrianov, Ph.D., assistant professor of Cancer Biology at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University, tobacco can generate biofuel more efficiently than other agricultural crops. However, most of the oil is typically found in the seeds – tobacco seeds are composed of about 40 percent oil per dry weight.

Although the seed oil has been tested for use as fuel for diesel engines, tobacco plants yield a modest amount of seeds, at only about 600 kg of seeds per acre. Dr. Andrianov and his colleagues sought to find ways to engineer tobacco plants, so that their leaves expressed the oil.

“Tobacco is very attractive as a biofuel because the idea is to use plants that aren’t used in food production,” Dr. Andrianov said. “We have found ways to genetically engineer the plants so that their leaves express more oil. In some instances, the modified plants produced 20-fold more oil in the leaves.”

The researchers work appeared online in Plant Biotechnology Journal.

Iowa State Gets $8 Mil for Advanced Biofuels Research

ISUresearcher1Iowa State University will get $8 million of a $78 million U.S. Department of Energy grant to research and develop advanced biofuels.

This press release from the school says two teams will share the funds:

Victor Lin – professor of chemistry, director of the Institute for Physical Research and Technology’s Center for Catalysis at Iowa State and chief technologist and founder of Catilin Inc. – will lead a team embarking on a $5.3 million study of biodiesel production from algae.

And Robert C. Brown – an Anson Marston Distinguished Professor in Engineering, the Gary and Donna Hoover Chair in Mechanical Engineering and the Iowa Farm Bureau director of the Bioeconomy Institute – will lead a $2.7 million study of the thermochemical and catalytic conversion of biomass to fuels.

“These grants to Iowa State University researchers demonstrate the breadth and strength of our programs in advanced biofuels,” said Sharron Quisenberry, Iowa State’s vice president for research and economic development. “We have researchers who can help this national effort to develop clean, sustainable and cost-effective sources of energy. These grants are two more examples of how Iowa State translates discoveries into viable technologies and products that strengthen the economies of Iowa and the world.”

These Iowa State research projects are paid for by stimulus bucks … the same money that is funding the $44 million to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Mo. I told you about last week and the $34 million (plus $8.4 million in non-federal, cost-share funding) that is going to the National Advanced Biofuels Consortium led by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash.

Danforth Center Receives $44 Mil for Biofuels Research

Danforth Center jpegThe St. Louis-area Donald Danforth Plant Science Center will receive $44 million in stimulus bucks to conduct advanced biofuels research.

This press release from the center says the money from the U.S. Department of Energy will go to helping the center to serve as the lead organization in a consortium:

The National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts (NAABB) led by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is one of two cross-functional groups that will seek to breakdown critical barriers to the commercialization of algae-based and other advanced biofuels such as green aviation fuels, diesel, and gasoline that can be transported and sold using today’s existing fueling infrastructure. Ten to 15 jobs in St. Louis will be immediately created as a result of the project. Biofuels generate more jobs than any other sector of sustainable energy. As the industry grows, there is potential for hundreds of thousands of new jobs nationally.

The NAABB will develop a systems approach for sustainable commercialization of algal biofuel (such as renewable gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel) and bioproducts. NAABB will integrate resources from companies, universities, and national laboratories to overcome the critical barriers of cost, resource use and efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions, and commercial viability. The consortium will develop and demonstrate the science and technology necessary to significantly increase production of algal biomass and lipids, efficiently harvest and extract algae and algal products, and establish valuable certified co-products that scale with renewable fuel production. Co-products include animal feed, industrial feedstocks, and additional energy generation. Multiple test sites will cover diverse environmental regions to facilitate broad deployment.

The release goes on to say that the award will help cements St. Louis as a center for the development of renewable energy from algae.

New Enzyme Could Help Cellulosic Ethanol Production

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory have created a new enzyme that has the potential to create plants that are easier to convert into cellulosic ethanol.

“Increasing the ‘digestibility’ of plant matter is one main approach to making plants a viable alternative energy source,” said Brookhaven biochemist Chang-Jun Liu. Plants with less lignin in their cell walls are easier to break down and convert to fuel products.

The next step will be to see if it works in plants. The scientists will engineer plants with the gene for the new enzyme to see if it reduces the amount of lignin in the plant cell walls.

“Since we know less lignin makes cell walls easier to digest, this may be an effective biochemical approach to engineering plants for more efficient biofuel production,” Liu said.

Read more here.