Electric Cars More Impactful Than RES

Which is better for our country in terms of oil dependence? Enacting a Renewable Energy Standard (RES) or moving forward with developing and deploying electric vehicles and electric vehicle infrastructure? According to a new report released by Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, electric cars hold greater promise for reducing emissions and lowering U.S. oil imports than a national RES.

This is just one conclusion of several made in the new study, “Energy Market Consequences of an Emerging U.S. Carbon Management Policy,” that will be released during the Baker Institute Energy Forum taking place today and tomorrow. The study folds together several academic working papers on a variety of topics, such as carbon pricing, the wind industry, global U.S. carbon and energy strategies, and renewable energy R&D.

“As the country moves forward to deliberate on energy and climate policy,” the executive summary states, “consideration must be given to what policies would best accomplish the stated goals for U.S. policy — a reduction in the need for imported oil and in greenhouse gas emissions.” The papers released at the conference seek to “clarify and debunk common myths that currently plague the U.S. energy- and climate-policy debate.”

For example, the study discovered that “the single most effective way to reduce U.S. oil demand and foreign imports would be an aggressive campaign to launch electric vehicles into the automotive fleet.” It goes on to outline that if policy were enacted that would mandate 30 percent of all vehicles must be electric by 2050, it would reduce U.S. oil use by 2.5 million barrels a day beyond the 3 million barrels-per-day savings already anticipated from the stricter fuel efficiency standards. In addition, emissions would be cut by 7 percent, 3 percent more than would would be eliminated under an RES.

In addition to the conclusions surrounding electric vehicles, the study also forecasts that natural gas will play an important role in the  future of the country’s energy mix.

Clean Energy Policy Under Fire by Big Oil & Friends

The Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAPAF) has released a new analysis that concludes that Big Oil and other special interests have spent millions of dollars in lobbying and campaign contributions to defeat clean energy legislation. The study, “Dirty Money” found that the top 35 spending companies and trade associations, including oil, mining and electric utility,  invested more than $500 million in lobbying and campaign contributions from January 2009-June 2010 to crush clean energy and clean tech legislation. Besides the federal level, one of the states Big Oil has been most active in is California. When analyzed the groups spent $1,800 in lobby expenditures a day for every senator and representative during the time of the study.

According to CAPAF this high dollar spending and political pressure has convinced enough legislators to oppose clean energy measures that would have created jobs, reduced oil use and cut pollution caused by global warming. To date, no comprehensive environmental policy has been passed, the renewable electricity industry is struggling for a federal renewable energy mandate, the biodiesel industry has lost its tax credits, and rumors coming out of DC this week are that the ethanol tax credit will not be extended either.

“This year had many extreme weather disasters and fossil fuel catastrophes. Yet too many senators ignored these events and instead heeded the extreme views of big oil, dirty coal, and their allies rather than those of the American people,” said Daniel J. Weiss, Senior Fellow and Director of Climate Strategy for the Center for American Progress Action Fund. “America suffered from its hottest temperatures and worst offshore oil blowout, yet enough senators opposed clean energy reforms that made change impossible so far.”

Six of the seven companies with the largest lobbying expenditures are Big Oil companies*ExxonMobil (1), ConocoPhillips (2), Chevron (3), BP (5), Koch Industries (6), and Shell (7). According to “Dirty Money,” their 18-month lobbying expenditures total $143 million. In addition, the study reports that the American Petroleum Institute, a Big Oil front group, spent $11 million to lobby Congress to defeat pollution reductions and maintain their tax loopholes, along with another $126 million on television ads just this year alone.

“While big oil, dirty coal, and other special interests profit from inaction, everyday Americans will pay the price of doing nothing. Clean energy investments and pollution reductions would create jobs, protect public health, and reduce our oil dependence,” noted Weiss. But because enough senators caved to special interests, China will get our clean energy jobs while we are stuck with the dirty energy pollution.”

Ironically, this past July, China became the world’s largest user of energy, surpassing America and according to analysts polled by Bloomberg, China will become the largest importer of oil within the next 1o years.

Hart Releases Global Biofuels Outlook Report

Despite the growing number of people who are calling for a global halt or scale back of biofuels development, global biofuel demand is still expected to grow. Biofuel use is projected to grow by 133 percent by 2020, primarily driven by government policies and renewable fuel mandates. However, despite the growing demand, the market is expected to be short by more than 8 billion gallons during this same time frame. This according to the newly released Hart report Global Biofuels Outlook, 2010-2020: Projecting Market Demand by Country, Region and Globally. The report looks at biofuel supply and demand in four key global regions and 35 countries.

“Many countries are projected to find themselves with a supply deficit for ethanol and biodiesel by 2020,” said Tammy Klein, Assistant Vice President, Hart Energy Consulting, and global study leader. “This deficit is worse for ethanol than for biodiesel,” she said.

Hart projects that the global supply may be short 5 billion gallons for ethanol, and 3.4 billion gallons for biodiesel by 2020. Meantime, demand for biofuels is expected to grow through 2020 driven by public policies requiring biofuels blending. “We actually see the biofuels supply deficit begin to appear around the 2015 time frame,” said Klein.

It should come as no surprise that Brazil is leading the way for biofuel expansion and development followed by the U.S. Next in line is China, Japan, the UK, and Germany.

Frederick L. Potter, Executive Vice President, Hart Energy Publishing notes why Brazil has the lead. “With its favorable GHG profile, these countries will primarily look to Brazilian advanced sugarcane bio-ethanol for supply, especially given the global context of tightening GHG limits — and limited commercial volumes of cellulosic ethanol. Obligated parties in the U.S. will find themselves competing for these volumes as never before. We expect this to lead to continued price appreciation for sugarcane ethanol over the 2011- 2020 period.”

Klein noted that not only will Brazil retain its position as the world’s top exporter of ethanol through 2020 (Brazil is estimating that its ethanol production will double in the next 10 years) Continue reading

Researchers: Develop Biofuels and Advanced Engines

The next generation of biofuels must be developed in conjunction with advanced combustion engines, if there is to be long-term success of those biofuels. That word comes from researchers at the Sandia National Laboratories.

The recommendations were made following a Sandia-hosted workshop held in November, Next Generation Biofuels and Advanced Engines for Tomorrow’s Transportation Needs. Participants included researchers at the Department of Energy’s Combustion Research Facility (CRF) and Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), as well as representatives from oil companies, biofuel developers, engine manufacturers, suppliers and experts from the university, regulatory, finance and national laboratory communities.

The full report is now available online at http://www.sandia.gov/news/publications/white-papers/index.html.

The workshop, said Ron Stoltz, manager of Sandia’s Advanced Energy Initiatives, was designed to identify opportunities for co-development of biofuels and engines, an often-overlooked issue.

“The oil companies and the automobile and truck engine companies have engaged in a dialogue and collaboration on fuel and engine issues for almost 100 years,” Stoltz said. “But the same cannot be said for the majority of biofuel start-up companies, especially those that are thinking ‘beyond ethanol’. The report highlights how fragmented the biofuels industry is today and how, by putting serious thought behind some key issues like fuel chemistry linked to engine performance, great strides can be made.”

The workshop was designed to help get a dialog going between researchers and experts from industry, academia and government, with the goal to figure out how to accelerate the transition to biofuels. Those participating did agree that the next generation of biofuels needed to be clean (at or below EPA-designated pollutants criteria); sustainable (with a smaller carbon footprint than the petroleum-based fuels being displaced); and compatible with current and future engine designs, and with current and future distribution infrastructure.

The group also recommended modernizing the testing, specification, and certification of all fuels; plan and integrate the research and development of next-generation biofuels in conjunction with the development of advanced engines; develop specific guidelines, roadmaps, and objectives for co-development of next-generation biofuels and advanced engines; and convene an International Fuels and Engines Summit, sponsored by industry with government and university participation.

Chemists’ Podcast Features Biodiesel from Sewage

A U. S. Environmental Protection Agency researcher says that biodiesel can be made from municipal sewage sludge that would cost about the same as diesel made from non-renewable petroleum.

In the latest episode of the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) podcast series, “Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions,”
the EPA’s David M. Kargbo says sewage treatment plants could use microorganisms that produce higher amounts of oil … up to 10 billion gallons of biodiesel, more than three times the nation’s current biodiesel production capacity:

Kargbo points out in the podcast that demand for biodiesel has led to the search for cost-effective biodiesel feedstocks, or raw materials. Soybeans, sunflower seeds and other food crops have been used as raw materials but are expensive. Sewage sludge is an attractive alternative feedstock — the United States alone produces about seven million tons of it each year. Sludge is a good source of raw materials for biodiesel.

Kargbo’s results appear in ACS’ Energy & Fuels, a bi-monthly journal: “Biodiesel Production from Municipal Sewage Sludges.”

The free podcast is available at iTunes and from ACS at www.acs.org/globalchallenges.

The Pros & Cons of Miscanthus

Miscanthus has been much talked about in the past year as a strong contender as a feedstock for advanced ethanol. Yet scientists from the University of Illinois are cautioning that not enough is known about the feesdstock’s pros and cons to call it a viable option for ethanol.

The potential of miscanthus and switchgrass has been studied extensively by researchers Greg McIsaac, Mark B. David and Corey A. Mitchell and their latest findings will be published in the upcoming paper, “Miscanthus and Switchgrass Production in Central Illinois: Impacts on Hydrology and Inorganic Nitrogen,” that will appear in the September-October edition of the Journal of Environmental Quality.

The study focused on two important environmental concerns surrounding biomass: water quantity and nitrogen “leeching”. When compared to corn, soybeans and switchgrass, researchers found that miscanthus used substantially more water but leeched less nitrogen.

“We found that Miscanthus tends to dry out the soil much more than corn, soybeans, or switchgrass later in the growing season,” said Greg McIsaac, environmental scientist in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. “This would likely reduce runoff, stream flow and surface water supplies later in the summer and in early fall, when streams are typically at their lowest. It could reduce the amount of water available to those who are downstream in late summer and early fall.”

The study also looked at nitrogen loss, or how it “leaches” into the ground water and travels. Opponents to corn ethanol have been very vocal claiming that the nitrogen from agricultural production is a major contributing factor to the “Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico as well as in other areas of the ocean. (Other research has shown this is not the case.) Continue reading

Clemson Mobile Facility Spreads Word of Biodiesel

Researchers at Clemson University have a new mobile biofuels processing plant that will help do new research on new biomass feedstocks, like algae and fungio, while spreading the word of what biodiesel can do.

This press release from the school
says its $125,000 piece of equipment from Piedmont Biofuels in North Carolina will provide the research platform and take the demonstration to the public:

“We had our initial successful run last week using waste algal and sunflower oils from Martek Biosciences in Kingstree and then used the biofuel to cycle back to a generator to achieve net-zero production,” [biosystems engineer Terry Walker said].

The plant is being developed to convert waste oils to high-grade biodiesel that can be used in many vehicles. The biodiesel is expected to cost less than regular diesel fuel, has a lower “carbon footprint” or environmental impact and can form the basis for a new industry in the state.

Walker said support for the purchase came from many sources, including Clemson Public Service Activities; the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences and others at Clemson; Piedmont Biofuels in Pittsboro, N.C.; and SunStor Inc. in Greer.

The school will be showing off the new mobile facility at the annual biomass meeting this fall at the Pee Dee Research and Education Center on October 7th.

Gators Study Termites for Cellulosic Ethanol

The University of Florida is continuing its research into the use of termite enzymes to help make cellulosic ethanol commercially viable.

As we reported last year, researchers at UF have been working on genetic sequencing to harness the insects’ ability to churn wood into fuel. Now they report that they have isolated two enzymes that termites use to break up lignin, which is the tough nut to crack when it comes to producing ethanol from cellulosic material such as woody biomass. The material is normally exposed to heat and steam or caustic acids and bases to break down the lignin barrier around the sugar molecules, which adds to the cost of the process. However, the enzymes found in termite salivary tissues may be able to accomplish the same task, and at room temperature.

“Once we figure out the best way to integrate this sort of enzyme into the process, it could drop the cost of producing cellulosic ethanol significantly,” said UF entomologist Mike Scharf, who led the research.

The research was a collaboration between UF/IFAS and the biotechnology company Chesapeake-PERL Inc. of Savage, Maryland. The work was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research Inc.

Seaweed Could be Another Ethanol Feedstock

The pursuit of new feedstocks for next generation ethanol has gone underwater.

Seaweed has been getting quite a bit of attention for its potential in ethanol production, especially in Asia. Most recently, scientists from Tohoku University and Tohoku Electric Power announced they have developed a technology to efficiently generate ethanol from seaweed such as sea tangle and sea grape, according to reports from Japan over the weekend. The technology reportedly uses a natural yeast and a new fermentation process that mixes finely cut seaweed with enzymes and blends it into a pulp. The scientists say they succeeded in producing 200 milliliters of ethanol from 1 kg of seaweed.

The idea of using seaweed for ethanol is also being researched in Korea and the Philippines, as well as in Chile. One of the benefits to using seaweed as an ethanol feedstock are that it grows quickly and allows for as much as six harvests per year. Also, since seaweeds do not have lignin, pretreatment is not necessary before converting them to fuels, making it potentially less expensive than other cellulosic sources.

FAO: Japtropha Promising Rural Crop for Biodiesel

The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has recently released a new report that champions jatropha as a promising biodiesel crop especially for global rural farmers. The report, “Jatropha: A Smallholder Bioenergy Crop, the Potential for Pro-Poor Development,” set out to examine the potential for jatropha as a sustainable biodiesel crop and has been in development since 2008.

The authors write, “As developing countries face increasing local demand for energy in rural areas, they also must deal with both economic and environmental pressure on agricultural lands in general. The possibility of growing energy crops such as Jatropha curcas L. has the potential to enable some smallholder farmers, producers and processors to cope with these pressures.”

The report says jatropha is a promising crop in part because it can grow on marginal lands, in drought conditions and animals do not graze on the crop. It also holds the promise of high oil output. The report also notes some of the feedstock’s drawbacks which include the fact that no consistently high yielding varieties have been developed and because the plant is toxic to both humans and animals, it can not be used for livestock feed, a major added value to most biofuel feedstock production.

Jatropha  originated in Central America and is making headway in Africa and parts of Asia for biodiesel development. Experts predict that by 2015, Indonesia will be the largest jatropha producer in Asia, Ghana & Madagascar in Africa and Brazil in Latin America.

While the report ultimately favors the crop, it does caution that depending on how programs are developed, there could be significant environmental damage that would outweigh the positive environmental attributes of biodiesel.

The report does not study the possible future of jatropha in the U.S., although at this time there are a few studies underway. In addition, it is not recognized as a biodiesel feedstock under current Renewable Fuels Legislation (RFS2).

ISU Testing Biomass/Coal Blend to Reduce Emissions

In a recent article published in Inside Iowa State (ISU), researchers are looking into the replacement of some coal with wood pellets. The biomass is being studied as an additive to coal, to reduce it’s carbon footprint. Beginning on July 15, 2010, two coal-fired boilers located on the ISU campus, began to burn wood pellets as part of a series of tests that utilities staff are conducting over several weeks. The tests will help officials assess the feasibility of replacing some coal with biomass, which is considered a cleaner fuel source, according to Jeff Witt, assistant director of utilities.

“We’re doing this to see what other alternative energy sources are feasible,” he said. “We’ll be assessing both the environmental and economic impacts of using these sources.”

The first test will involve a mix of 10 percent wood pellets with 90 percent coal. In a recent test the mix was 5 percent wood pellets to 95 percent coal. The researchers have approval from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to test up to a 20 percent wood pellet blend. The study is estimated to take three months with air emissions one of the major components of the project.

The wood being used in the tests is from Colorado pine trees that have been decimated by pine beetles. For more than a decade, pine beetles have been attacking the trees and currently in Colorado and Wyoming, more than 3 million acres of trees have been lost.

One of the drawbacks of using wood pellets is the expense – nearly double the cost of coal – according to Witt. He notes, however, that like other technologies, long-term contracts and the maturity of a technology will lower the costs.

Green Scissors 2010 Calls for Cut in Wasteful Spending

At the helm of Friends of the Earth, a new report was released today highlighting government programs and subsidies that are wasteful to taxpayers, harmful to the environment and bad for consumers. The Green Scissors 2010 report targeted four major areas for budget cuts including energy, agriculture and biofuels, infrastructure, and public lands.

Many of the recommendations of this report come as no surprise to the agricultural and biofuels industry, as over the past two weeks, members of Friends of the Earth surreptitiously called agricultural organizations across the country, questioning them about their methods of production.

According to an industry insider whose company received multiple calls from various people in the employ of Friends of the Earth, the organization was asking questions about ground water quality (ag production, mainly corn and soybeans have been linked to the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone) and hypoxia; two issues that have made national headlines in recent weeks. It is also no secret that Friends of the Earth has engaged in an active anti-agribusiness and biofuels campaign over the past few years, and the environmental organization has been tied to Big Oil through contribution monies.

It should be known that, Friends of the Earth, along with the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the Clean Air Task Force are currently engaged in a campaign to end the ethanol tax credit (VEETC) as well as the ethanol tariff. They have specifically attacked Growth Energy’s corn-ethanol advertising campaign in the Beltway.

They write on their website, “Tens of billions of dollars of taxpayer money has already been wasted under the credit [VEETC]. And these funds do little more than to further line the coffers of the oil industry. This coalition is working to prevent an additional 30 billion plus dollars from being lavished on the industry to fulfill a legally mandated requirement to blend an environmentally harmful fuel into another environmentally harmful one.” Continue reading

Energy Crop Production Looks Good in Tennessee

The University of Tennessee Biofuels Initiative (UTBI) is closely watching how more than 1,000 acres of newly planted varieties of switchgrass will compare to current varieties. This project is part of a U.S. DOE project that was developed to study improved efficiencies in bioenergy production from biomass. The scale of the acreage will allow for assessment of the environmental and economic sustainability of the different varieties. Farmers and researchers should gain useful information on seed stock performance including disease and drought resistance, tolerance to humidity, and other agronomic variables.

The project team is headed by UT researchers Dr. Sam Jackson and Dr. Nicole Labbe who are also working with Ceres and Dupont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol (DDCE). Farmers from nine east Tennessee counties, along with members of the research team, have planted more than 1,000 acres of switchgrass varieties that have been developed by Ceres. The results will be compared with 1,000 acres of a more traditional variety of switchgrass known as “Alamo”.  These acres have been established on private farms as part of the UTBI farmer incentive program that now totals nearly 6,000 acres.

Once the switchgrass is harvested, it will be turned into cellulosic ethanol at Genera Energy/DDCE’s demonstration-scale biorefinery located in Vonore, Tenn. Genera Energy is hosting a groundbreaking of the facility located in the Tennessee’s Biomass Innovation Park on July 29, 2010.
Continue reading

Indirect GHGs of Petroleum Worse Than Thought

Environment Magazine has published new research today that finds that the greenhouse gas emissions derived from military use of oil is worse than previously thought. University of Nebraska professors, Adam Liska and Richard Perrin write in the article, Securing Foreign Oil: A Case for Including Military Operations in the Climate Change Impact of Fuels, “we assert that military activity to protect international oil trade is a direct production component for importing foreign oil—as necessary for imports as are pipelines and supertankers—and therefore the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from that military activity are relevant to U.S. fuel policies related to climate change.”

Other areas that may be considered tied to military production of GHG emissions are the global protection of oil reserves and Middle Eastern wars.

The authors note that as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, specific GHG emission reductions must be met by biofuels including direct life cycle emissions as well as indirect emissions; however, in current legislation, only the direct GHG emissions are accounted for when calculating life cycle emissions of gasoline production. Therefore, the authors wanted to understand how military emissions affect the total amount of GHG emissions of gasoline. What they discovered is that direct spending on military activity and military acquisition of oil results in the release of nearly 289,000 tons of carbon dioxide per billion dollars spent.

To get a handle on the billions of dollars spent just on the Iraq War, the U.S. Congressional Research Service report estimated that the average annual cost of the Iraq War has been $93.5 billion.

Ultimately, the authors conclude, “In order to have a balanced assessment of the climate change impacts of substituting biofuels for gasoline, a comparison of all direct and indirect emissions from both types of fuel is required.”

Several ethanol organizations came out in support of the report today including Growth Energy who reiterated the environmental costs associated with our dependence on foreign oil and the Renewable Fuels Association who heralded the study as “groundbreaking”.

Purdue Develops Mobile Biofuels Processing Method

Mobile processing plants might hold the key to harvesting agricultural waste on the farm for biofuels production.

purdueChemical engineers at Purdue University have come up with the concept and developed a new method to process agricultural waste and other biomass into biofuels. The method would utilize various types of biomass, including wood chips, switch grass, corn stover, rice husks, and wheat straw.

The approach would solve one of the major problems in using agricultural waste for biofuels – transporting the biomass to a plant for processing. “It makes more sense to process biomass into liquid fuel with a mobile platform and then take this fuel to a central refinery for further processing before using it in internal combustion engines,” says chemical engineer Rakesh Agrawal.

The new method, called fast-hydropyrolysis-hydrodeoxygenation, works by adding hydrogen into the biomass-processing reactor. The hydrogen for the mobile plants would be derived from natural gas or the biomass itself. However, Agrawal envisions the future use of solar power to produce the hydrogen by splitting water, making the new technology entirely renewable.

The method, which has the shortened moniker of H2Bioil — pronounced H Two Bio Oil — has been studied extensively through modeling, and experiments are under way at Purdue to validate the concept.

Read more here.