Renewable Energy Grants Available in Colorado

The Colorado Department of Agriculture is now offering several Advancing Colorado’s Renewable Energy (ACRE) grants. Eligible projects include agricultural related renewable energy systems, feasibility studies and research projects. The ACRE program is a set of grants that provide funds to conduct feasibility studies, install renewable energy systems or do research into renewable energy projects.

microhydroGrant applications submitted must be for projects that will be completed withing two years of grant award. Examples of past projects that have been supported by the ACRE grant program include wind turbines, solar panels, micro-hydro systems, biomass systems, and biodiesel plants. Funds will be distributed in three categories.

1) Feasibility Studies –  must study the feasibility of an agricultural energy-related project. Feasibility studies may address the market for the product, engineering requirements, economic viability, environmental concerns, legal requirements, management, and other necessary study components. A maximum allocation for each study is $25,000.

2) Project Participation — for projects will completed feasibility studies, awards will be granted to assist with the project.. A maximum allocation of $100,000 has been established per project.

3) Research — applications for research of agricultural energy-related topics will be considered in an effort to bring new information to the marketplace. Research should be tied to a particular issue or problem in Colorado. A maximum allocation of $50,000 per project has been set.

Grant applications are being accepted through October 30th. Contact ROI for more information at 517-812-3285.

Biomass Feedstocks Research

USDA’s Agricultural Research Service is studying the use of plant residues for biofuels.

biofuel cropsAt the University of Minnesota-Morris Biomass Gasification Facility, for example, gasification researcher Jim Barbour and ARS soil scientist Jane Johnson (pictured) are evaluating potential biomass feedstocks, including pressed corn stover.

The Agricultural Research Service has scientists in 18 states involved in the Renewable Energy Assessment Project (REAP) which is trying to determine the balance between how much crop residue can be used to produce ethanol and other biofuels and how much should be left on the ground to protect soil from erosion, maintain soil organisms, and store carbon in the soil.

Because corn is currently the most widely used biofuel crop, the REAP team is especially interested in determining where, when, and how much corn stover can be harvested without harming soil productivity. The work involves not only looking at how much plant residue is needed to maintain soil carbon than to control soil erosion, but also using perennial groundcover roots and shoots as alternative sources of organic material to offset the carbon lost when stover is removed.

Read more about the project here.

Purdue Study Proves Biodiesel Burns Well in Furnaces

Yesterday, I told you how oilheat industry officials have set out a plan to make more use of biodiesel blended to burn in home furnaces. For those who might be worried about the performance of the green fuel in your home heater, a new study indicates it will do just fine.

This story from Purdue University
says researchers have been testing degummed soybean oil and No. 2 fuel oil as an alternative to heating fuel:

ileleji-soybeanKlein Ileleji, an assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering, tested blends of 20 percent, 50 percent and 100 percent degummed soybean oil – an unrefined and cheaper product to produce than soy methyl esters, commonly known as biodiesel – and found that the 20 percent blend didn’t degrade a home furnace’s parts or heat output. The only issue found with the 20 percent blend was a slight early degradation of the furnace’s seals and gaskets, which manufacturers could fix by switching to a higher quality product. Ileleji’s findings were reported in the recent early online version of the journal Fuel.

“You are going to reduce the sulfur emissions with degummed soybean oil. The things you should be worried about with a biofuel, such as the pour point temperature and heating ability, were not affected,” Ileleji said. “You want to keep the properties of your No. 2 fuel oil, and at 20 percent degummed soybean oil, you would minimally affect those properties.”

Ileleji found that a 20 percent blend worked well in furnaces without any modification to the heater’s design.

The Indiana Soybean Alliance and the Indiana United Soybean Board funded the research.

Studying Sorghum for Ethanol in Maryland

Researchers at Salisbury University in Maryland are studying the potential for growing sweet sorghum for cellulosic ethanol in the state.

salisbury sorghumSince May, eight sweet sorghum varieties have been growing on a Wicomico County farm for evaluation as potential stock for ethanol production on the Delmarva peninsula. Dr. Samuel Geleta of Salisbury Univerisity’s Biological Sciences Department says about half of the varieties have already been harvested, with the rest to be finished by mid-October. Some of the plants grew to a height of 12 feet. He said sweet sorghum is attractive because it is drought resistant, fast-growing and has low nutrient and fertilization requirements. “Sweet sorghum can be grown on marginal land with less fertilizer and water as compared to corn,” Geleta said. “Since sweet sorghum juice contains simple sugar, producing ethanol from it simply requires extracting the juice and fermenting.”

Recently, Dr. Geleta (pictured on the right) showed his work to some of Maryland’s state legislators – (LtoR) Addie Eckardt, Jim Mathias and Rudy Cane. The study is being funded by the Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board and spearheaded by the Delmarva Sweet Sorghum for Ethanol Group.

Pioneer Explores Alfalfa’s Role in Cellulosic Ethanol

alfalfaThe lowly alfalfa crop could play a role in the future of cellulosic ethanol.

Alfalfa is the nation’s most popular legume and actually our third most valuable crop, but it is often taken for granted and somewhat under valued. However, the many benefits of the crop could make it a potential frontrunner in the cellulosic ethanol race, especially if new varieties can be developed with reduced lignin content, which is the focus of a Pioneer Hi-Bred biotech research project.

pioneer David MillerPioneer Director of Alfalfa Research Dave Miller says they believe cellulosic ethanol will need multiple feedstocks and alfalfa is a good fit for a number of reasons. “It’s great for crop rotation, its environmental benefits in terms of lack of soil erosion because it’s deep rooted and a perennial are well known, and it fixes nitrogen.”

In addition, Miller says preliminary work shows alfalfa is competitive with other feedstocks for its ability to convert to cellulosic ethanol and that a corn/alfalfa rotation creates a very favorable carbon footprint for ethanol production.

Producing varieties with less lignin would be helpful in making alfalfa even more competitive as a cellulosic ethanol feedstock. In addition, the reduced lignin alfalfa also has benefits with its more traditional use as livestock feed. “When animals are fed lower lignin forage, they perform better,” said Miller. “Both systems are digestions, one is an enzyme-acid digestion to go into a fermentation vat, the other is a digestion to make milk or meat.”

Listen to or download an interview with Dave Miller here:

Studying New Feedstocks for Biofuels

The “World’s Largest Urban Farm and Research Test Facility” is studying a wide variety of new feedstocks that hold promise for future sources of both ethanol and biodiesel.

bioworksAgricenter International recently offered a closer look at the new crops being grown there by the Memphis Bioworks Foundation AgBioworks program and BioDimensions, Inc. Among the crops that were planted this season were sweet sorghum (pictured), switchgrass, castor, pearl millet and sunflowers.

“Our intent with hosting this new crops field day was to educate people on the opportunities for these crops in the region by inviting a range of speakers to talk about crops from the field to the factory and also showcase these crops in the field, “ says Hillary Spain, AgBioworks 25Farmer Network Coordinator.

Spain says about 50 farmers and other interested individuals from throughout the region attended the field day on August 15 to learn about each crop, ask questions and see the crop under actual growing conditions in the field.

Ethanol Co-Product Could Make Fertilizer

The leftovers from an ethanol co-product could be used as a fertilizer, according to research being done at South Dakota State University.

When the ethanol by-product known as dried distillers grains with solubles (DDGS) is heated at high temperatures under limited oxygen to make synthesis gas, or syngas, the remains are a fine, dust-like ash. SDSU Soil Testing Laboratory manager Ron Gelderman set out to learn whether that residue could be applied to fields as a soil nutrient, since the ash likely would be discarded in a landfill otherwise.

An SDSU greenhouse study found that dried distillers grain ash resulted in about the same increase in corn growth as fertilizer phosphorus. Use of dried distillers grain ash as a source of potassium in that study was inconclusive, since the selected soil supplied adequate plant potassium.

However, a separate field study at SDSU showed that DDGS ash was just as effective as fertilizer phosphorus and potassium in providing both nutrients for corn production, Gelderman said.

“After ashing or burning, the inorganic minerals are generally left in the ash and usually are plant-available. But we have to test that to be sure. We found that it worked quite well,” Gelderman said.

However, Gelderman says the problem is that the material is too fine to be used as a fertilizer spreader-type application, which means that further processing of the material — for example, into pellets, or as a liquid slurry, or mixed with manure or lime — might be necessary to get it back onto the land.

Green Fuels from Grass and Leaves

ArgonneA newly proposed collaboration between the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory and the City of Naperville, Illinois would convert “landscape waste”—essentially, grass and leaf trimmings—into one of several different environmentally friendly fuels, including ethanol, bioelectricity and hydrogen.

This new partnership, known as the “Green Fuels Depot,” provides “a golden opportunity for Argonne to be associated with one of our neighboring communities in promoting new technologies that we have pioneered here at the laboratory,” said Glenn Keller, manager of vehicle systems in Argonne’s Center for Transportation Research.

The depot will use a gasifier from Packer Engineering to convert grass, leaves, branches and other biomass into syngas, a gas mixture that contains carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The syngas can then be used to create cellulosic ethanol, bio-electricity or hydrogen. Although the proposal calls for trying all three fuel types, Keller said it would be more practical to concentrate on producing just one fuel when the depot is built.

Because Naperville’s official vehicle fleet currently includes flex-fuel vehicles that run on both gasoline and ethanol, any cellulosic ethanol produced by the depot could be quickly put to use. Although the pilot project will use only 3 percent of the annual landscape waste collected by the city, if all 48,000 cubic yards of Naperville’s landscape waste were used in a full-scale Green Fuels Depot, it would be enough to fuel all 300 vehicles in the city fleet.

Indirect Land Use Science Lacking & World Knows it

cornfieldsYet another study has found that Searchinger et al.’s paper on Indirect Land Use was not based on ‘sound science’. According to researchers Professor John Matthews and Dr. Hao Tan, from Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, the Searchinger paper is more ideology than science and is seeking to put biofuels in the worst possible light. In addition, they say, alternative approaches are more likely to be fruitful in genuinely evaluating effects of biofuels grown around the world. This from the new report, “Biofuels and indirect land use change effects: the debate continues”.

Their efforts revealed that the framework used started with assumptions as to the diversion of grain to ethanol production in the U.S. but then extrapolated these parts of the world, such as sugarcane growing in Brazil, which are actually much more bio-efficient. Professors Mathews and Tan’s analysis concluded that Searchinger et al. failed sound scientific standards on many fronts and that government agencies relying on Searchinger et al. findings for evaluating biofuels would be better served by utilizing other controls.

“Indirect land use change effects are too diffuse and subject to too many arbitrary assumptions to be useful for rule-making,” stated Professor Mathews. “The use of direct and controllable measures such as building statements of origin or biofuels into the contracts that regulate the sale of such commodities would secure better results.”

According to Matthews and Tan, there are six ways Searchinger et al. fell short:

  1. 1.    Direct plantings of biofuels crops around the world are ignored, and instead a spike in U.S. corn-based ethanol is considered a trigger.
    2.    The U.S. spike is met exclusively by growing corn, but other ways of meeting the U.S. spike, all involving fewer GHG emissions, are ignored.
    3.    The U.S. spike met entirely within the U.S. – without regard to trade (such as half of the spike being met by Brazilian sugarcane and imported into the U.S.).
    4.    The Searchinger et al. calculations of carbon release are based on trends recorded in the 1990s but are projected forward up to 2016.
    5.    Improvements in biomass yields around the world are not considered.
    6.    The U.S. spike leads to indirect effects around the world without regard to regulatory limits (even in the U.S.).

“If you wished to put U.S. ethanol production in the worst possible light, assuming the worst possible set of production conditions guaranteed to give the worst possible set of indirect land use effects, then the assumptions would not be far from those actually presented in the Searchinger et al. paper,” commented Dr. Hao Tan. “Frankly, better science upon which to base rule-making is available today.”

If you’d like to participate in the debate, then consider attending the Land Use Conference in St. Louis hosted by NCGA (Aug. 25-26). They will be discussing current models, limitations and develop recommendations for future science and policy.

Cars Using Cellulosic E85 Have Lowest CO2 Emissions

WorldAutoSteel has released a 2nd iteration of the automotive materials parametric Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) model, which allows for broader evaluations of automotive materials, powertrains, fuels, and vehicle total energy consumed. The study showed that celluosic E85 is the best fuel to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as compared to all other alternatives, including hybrid technology and fuel cells. This phase 2 LCA model is a successor to the Phase 1 model and was released under the expertise of Dr. Roland Geyer of the University of California’s Bren School for Environmental Science.

“This report reinforces the promise of ethanol as the cleanest, greenest fuel for our cars even when compared to hybrid and fuel cell technology,” said Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy.” Today’s ethanol plants are 60 percent better than gasoline and cellulosic ethanol can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by even more – as much as 86 percent. Unfortunately, an arbitrary government cap on the amount of ethanol that can be blended with gasoline is stifling the development and commercialization of second-generation biofuels and needs to be increased. Further, we need automakers to manufacture more flex-fuel vehicles so they can utilize higher blends of ethanol. These common sense solutions can speed up the introduction of cellulosic ethanol to the marketplace, making America’s homegrown fuel even cleaner and greener, while creating green collar jobs and reducing our dependence on foreign oil.”

fig5_webThe Phase 2 model incorporated several new features including adding magnesium and several composites to the materials that may now be evaluated for their emissions from manufacturing through use and end-of-life; advanced powertrains including diesel and fuel cells; the ability to evaluate the impact of biofuels and other ag sources for the production of these fuels; and the capability to produce an analysis of total energy consumed over a car’s life cycle to compliment the total greenhouse gas emission analysis.

You can download the model here.

Wisconsin School to Hold Biofuels Symposium

BEIS2009The University of Wisconsin-Superior will play host to the upcoming Bio-Fuels and Energy Independence Symposium, bringing together researchers from laboratories, universities and businesses around the Midwest to talk about the latest work in biofuels technology.

This story from KBJR-TV in Duluth, Minnesota says the symposium runs from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 3, at UW-Superior’s Rothwell Student Center:

The symposium is organized by American Science and Technology, based in Chicago.

Scientists from AST and UW-Superior are working collaboratively on federally funded research to develop cold-tolerant bio-fuels using plants from northern Wisconsin and northern Minnesota.

Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton will deliver the symposium’s keynote address.

The symposium will be held in the Rothwell Student Center Ballroom and rooms 217 and 218.

The event is free and open to the public.

Go to the meeting’s Web site, www.amsnt.com/BEIS.htm, for more information.

New North Commissions Study on Cellulosic Ethanol

NewNorthFor more than a year, officials at the New North, Inc., a regional collaboration effort focused on promoting regional cooperation and economic development in an 18-county region in Northeast Wisconsin have explored the economic development opportunities surrounding cellulosic ethanol production in Northeast Wisconsin. Earlier this week New North announced the results of phase one of what will be a multifaceted project aimed at attracting large-scale cellulosic ethanol production to the region.

Phase one of the study, which is available for download provides detailed analysis of the current availability of forest products in the region. Phase two, with an expected release later this fall, will address behavioral aspects such as production levels and harvest techniques, as well as existing contracts and pricing strategies.

“As Wisconsin moves forward with large scale commercialization and production of cellulosic ethanol, we’re going to be prepared to attract development by promoting our resources and highlighting Northeast Wisconsin’s assets,” said Jerry Murphy, Executive Director of the New North, Inc. “This study will show investors that the New North has the available feedstocks and the skilled workforce necessary for cellulosic ethanol production, and hopefully whets the appetite of companies looking for a site to make an investment.”

Biofuel System Follows the Crop

A Maryland-based biotech/biofuel company is working on the development of a portable biofuel production system called “Follow the Crop.”

kozakAtlantic Biomass Conversions president Bob Kozak recently explained the concept to Congressman Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD 6th) at his Go Green Energy Expo in Frederick, Maryland. According to Kozak, instead of bringing biomass to biorefineries, the bioconversion technology will go to the crops.

Following the model of combines that follow the harvest season, “Follow-the-Crop” modules will be deployed nationwide as energy grasses and crops are harvested.

These modules will convert biomass into high density biofuel intermediates, such as highly concentrated sugars, using the Atlanitc Biomass fast, low-cost enzyme system.

By creating a viable market for environmentally suitable “energy” grasses and agricultural residues grown in stands as small as 10 acres, the deployment of this system would improve the income of small and medium growers. This positive impact would greatly help rural economies throughout the country.

Read more about it here on the Atlantic Biomass Conversions website.

Gator Tree Could Be Key to Cellulosic Ethanol

A spiky tree with a reptilian bark may be able to take a bite out of the cost to produce cellulosic ethanol.

gator treeThe tree is often called a sweetgum, but it also goes by the name “alligator tree” because it does look like one. So, it’s appropriate that researchers with the University of Florida – home of the Gators – have found that bacteria growing in its wood may improve the process of making cellulosic ethanol.

As the team from UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences reported in the July issue of the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, a strain of the wood-decaying Paenibacillus sp. bacteria named JDR-2 has a knack for breaking down and digesting one of these components, hemicelluloses.

That knack could help modify preprocessing steps for cost-effective production of ethanol.

“The acids, the heating — all of these steps you have to take beforehand are expensive, require a lot of work and, let’s face it, no one wants to work with sulfuric acid on that scale if you don’t have to,” said James Preston, the team leader and a professor in UF’s microbiology and cell science department.

“By engineering the bacteria already being used to produce ethanol to also process hemicelluloses the way this Paenibacillus does, you should be able to significantly simplify the process.”

Preston came across the bacteria a few years ago, as he was using decaying sweetgum trees to grow shiitake mushrooms on his tree farm in Micanopy, Fla. After studying the unusually uniform composition of the decaying wood, he and his colleagues went on to study the genetics of one of the bacteria digesting that wood.

The team has now mapped JDR-2’s genome, and Preston expects that, within the year, they will transfer genes behind JDR-2’s abilities to bacteria used to produce ethanol. This would be followed by the design of processes for the cost-effective production of ethanol from wood, agricultural residues and other potential energy crops.

AURI Releases Aitkin County Biomass Assessment

grassBBI International recently completed a county-wide biomass assessment and economic feasibility sponsored by The Agricultural Utilization Research Institute. The report is now available on the AURI website.

The report, authored by BBI in the fall of 2008 through spring of 2009, intended to define the amount of economically available biomass available in the county as well as explore the financial viability of several different conversion technologies.

Aitkin County is a unique geographical location in Minnesota. The 1,995-square- mile county is a transition zone that forms the northern border of the corn/soybean/wheat region of the state and the southern border of the heavily forested northern region of the state. The area is predominantly deciduous forests, wetlands and grasslands.

Ross Wagner, Aitkin County economic development & forest industry coordinator said, “We felt we had an economically viable biomass resource, but it was all based on anecdotal evidence. Until we could quantify what we actually had, any discussions of a project would be just talk.”

The report will now be used by the Aitkin County Economic Development agency as they work to leverage the abundant biomass supply in their county for economic growth and jobs.