USDA Says Spring Canola is Good Biodiesel Crop

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAResearchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture believe spring canola could be a good crop for biodiesel for producers in the drier parts of the Great Plains. This news release from the Agricultural Research Service says ARS agronomist David Nielsen and others are finding ways to stretch scarce water supplies and increase crop returns in that part of the country.

Nielsen, who works at the ARS Central Great Plains Research Station in Akron, Colo., worked with colleagues to combine existing plant growth computer models and generate spring canola production simulations. Then they ran their results from the combined model with 16 years of regional weather data, four different soil water levels at planting time, and other site-specific information to generate spring canola yield estimates for nine locations in Nebraska, Colorado and Kansas.

Results from their crop simulations suggested the highest yields would be produced in the north-central area near Champion, Neb., and the lowest yields would be produced in the south-central area near Walsh, Colo. When 75 percent of the soil water was available for crop use at planting, the model indicated six of the sites had more than a 70 percent probability of producing a canola seed yield of at least 900 pounds per acre.

The researchers found they could net anywhere from $67 to $189 per acre in returns, depending on plant-available soil water levels. They’ve also developed a simple decision support tool for canola production and economic analysis that can be used by farmers for canola planning.

Report: U.S. Military to Rely on Electric Vehicles

According to a new report, “Alternative Drive Vehicles for Military Applications,” the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) is expected to increase its purchases of electric vehicles (EVs), hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) and plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) in the next few years. The move is part of the military’s efforts to operate vehicles that do not run on fossil fuels. According to a recent report from Navigant Research, the DOD will acquire more than 92,400 EVs for non-tactical purposes from 2013 to 2020.

AdvancedTransportationTechnologies_Icon“In remote theaters of operations, the cost of moving fuels to forward military locations can be a multiple of the cost of the fuel itself,” said Scott Shepard, research analyst with Navigant Research. “The military’s approach to reducing fossil fuel consumption from non-tactical operations includes acquiring increasing numbers of vehicles powered by ethanol blend and biodiesel blend fuels; but the majority of the investment will go toward HEVs and PEVs.”

The report highlights one particular area of focus for the military market, and that is the development of microgrids in tandem with vehicle-to-grid (V2G)-enabled PEVs. Microgrids can enable bases in both tactical and non-tactical operations to utilize energy generation sources more efficiently and to operate independently of conditions on the grid. V2G-enabled PEVs used solely in non-tactical applications provide an additional layer of energy support and storage that can assist islanding microgrids and balance distributed energy generation resources by providing power from the vehicles’ battery packs to buildings.

The report examines the market for alternative drive vehicles for both tactical and non-tactical military fleets. Market drivers and barriers are analyzed in detail, and key industry players are profiled. Market forecasts for vehicles and fuel consumption, along with fuel cost savings, extend through 2020.

Renewable Energy in Mining Industry to Reach $4B

EmergingRenewables_IconAccording to a new report, “Renewable Energy in the Mining Industry” the worldwide market for renewable energy systems in the mining industry will grow from $210.5 million in 2013 to $3.9 billion in 2022. Today, less than 0.1 percent of power consumed by the mining industry is generated from renewable energy; yet, mining operations consume enormous amounts of power- as much as 400 terawatt-hours of electricity per year.

“The mining industry has clearly reached a tipping point, with a growing consensus that renewable energy at mine sites, both grid-tied and off-grid, is doable and, in many cases, desirable,” said Kerry-Ann Adamson, research director with Navigant Research, who conducted the study. “This understanding now needs to be coupled with an understanding of how best to deploy these solutions. Renewable energy developers are realizing that mining companies need solutions, not just technology.”

Of the renewable energy technologies in which the mining industry is investing, wind power is the technology nearest to eliciting wide-scale adoption. A number of mines are already utilizing large-scale wind power, but these sites were chosen based on extreme needs and/or ideal wind characteristics. According to the report, over the next 2 to 3 years, mining companies will begin deploying wind power for broader use rather than considering it only on a case by case basis.

“Renewable Energy in the Mining Industry,” analyzes the global market for renewable energy in the mining industry and provides an analysis of developments in the sector from a quantitative and qualitative perspective. Global market forecasts of revenue and capacity, segmented by region, technology, and investment scenario (base and aggressive), extend through 2022. The report also examines market and technology issues related to the adoption of renewable energy in the mining industry and profiles key industry players.

Fossil Fuels Still Dominate Energy Consumption

According to new Vital Signs Online trend report released by Worldwatch Institute, coal, natural gas, and oil accounted for 87 percent of global primary energy consumption in 2012. This occurred as the growth of worldwide energy use continued to slow due to the economic downturn. The analysis shows the relative weight of these energy sources keeps shifting, although only slightly. Natural gas increased its share of energy consumption from 23.8 to 23.9 percent during 2012, coal rose from 29.7 to 29.9 percent, and oil fell from 33.4 to 33.1 percent. The International Energy Agency predicts that by 2017, coal will replace oil as the dominant primary energy source worldwide.

The report notes that the shale revolution in the U.S. is reshaping global oil and gas markets. The United States produced oil at record levels in 2012 and is expected to overtake Russia as the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas combined in 2013. Oil drilling in KansasConsequently, the United States is importing decreasing amounts of these two fossil fuels, while using rising levels of domestic natural gas for power generation. This has led to price discrepancies between the U.S. and European natural gas markets that in turn have prompted Europeans to increase their use of coal power. Coal consumption, however, was dominated by China, which in 2012 for the first time accounted for more than half of the world’s coal use.

Global natural gas production grew by 1.9 percent in 2012, dominated by the United States (with 20.4 percent of the total) and Russia (17.6 percent). Other countries accounted for less than 5 percent each of global output.

In 2012, coal remained the fastest-growing fossil fuel globally, although at 2.5 percent the increase in consumption was weak relative to the 4.4 percent average of the last decade. China increased its coal use by 6.1 percent, and India by a significant 9.9 percent in 2012. Coal use by members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) declined by 4.2 percent, as an 11.9 percent decline in U.S. consumption outweighed increases of 3.4 percent in the EU and 5.4 percent in Japan.

Oil remains the most widely consumed fuel worldwide, but at a growth rate of 0.9 percent it is being outpaced by gas and coal for the third consecutive year. The OECD’s share declined to 50.2 percent of global consumption-the smallest share on record and the sixth decrease in seven years. This reflects declines of 2.3 percent in U.S. consumption and 4.6 percent in EU consumption. By contrast, usage in China and Japan rose by 5.0 and 6.3 percent, respectively. Continue reading

More Oil from Plants Could Increase Biodiesel Output

oil-production1Government scientists have found the genes that increase the oil production in plant leaves, and that could increase the amount of biodiesel that can be squeezed out of plants. This news release from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory says finding a way to enhance that oil expression in those parts of the plant could have significant implications for biofuel production.

“If we can transfer this strategy to crop plants being used to generate renewable energy or to feed livestock, it would significantly increase their energy content and nutritional values,” said Brookhaven biochemist Changcheng Xu, who led the research. The experiments were carried out in large part by Xu’s group members Jilian Fan and Chengshi Yan.

Think about it in the familiar terms of calories: Oil is twice as energy-dense as carbohydrates, which make up the bulk of leaves, stems, and other vegetative plant matter. “If you want to cut calories from your diet, you cut fat and oils. Conversely, if you want to increase the caloric output of your biofuel or feed for livestock, you want more oil,” said Xu.

But plants don’t normally store much oil in their leaves and other vegetative tissues. In nature, oil storage is the job of seeds, where the energy-dense compounds provide nourishment for developing plant embryos. The idea behind Xu’s studies was to find a way to “reprogram” plants to store oil in their more abundant forms of biomass.

The biggest challenge for the researchers was finding the oil production genes in the vegetative part of the plant, where the oil isn’t normally stored. If this works out, scientists could find ways to transfer the technology to biomass-dedicated crops.

Ethanol Sweet Spots – Part II

Yesterday, DF featured an article on “Must Know Ethanol Trends” that came out of Christianson & Associate’s, PPL (C&A) Biofuels Benchmarking 2012-13 Annual Report. In addition to identifying important trends for the industry, the report also identified some “sweet spots” for the industry.

John-ChristiansonJohn Christianson, partner with C&A, said running a good business is the first thing and being as efficient as possible is important and having good sound prudent risk management is always going to be at the forefront of your business. But going forward, he said there are technology and market issues that will be a factor, or a sweet spot, for the ethanol industry.

“From a technology perspective, we’re seeing plants go further and digging further into the yield component,” said Christianson. “They are looking at difference technologies that will allow them to remove different components of the kernel of corn and allow them to create multiple products on the back-end. As we see this industry evolve, we’re going to see them evolve into a biorefinery industry.”

He cautioned that in order for a plant to make investments, you need a technology that is going to provide a return on investment. Last year was not the year for plants to make investments but Christianson said plants will need to make technology investments if they want to continue to be a long-term viable company.

Any ethanol plant interested in becoming a participant in C&A’s Benchmarking program, or interested in purchasing the The Biofuels Benchmarking 2012-13 Annual Report can contact the Benchmarking team.

Listen to John Christianson discuss ethanol sweet spots in detail here: Ethanol Sweet Spots

Must Know Ethanol Trends – Part I

The Biofuels Benchmarking 2012-13 Annual Report is out and in addition to identifying past, current and future biofuel trends, the report identifies some emerging trends for the ethanol industry. During an interview with John Christianson, partner with Christianson & Associates, PPLP (C&A), I asked him what trends they have been seeing and he noted five in particular of importance.

Biofuels Benchmarking Report coverChristianson noted that spinning corn oil off the back of the plant has had a big impact on the industry and to date, nearly 75 percent of all ethanol plants are using a corn oil extraction technology. He also noted that 2012 was a very difficult year for the ethanol industry, very tight margins, and with the high feedstock costs, it really squeezed margins for the year. He said that when looking at the Benchmarking report the industry was hovering over break-even and the laggards were losing money and the leader plants were making money.

“In the first two quarters of 2013 we’re seeing a really nice trend where we’re getting upward into the areas where we have some positive grind margins,” said Christianson. “This is due to ethanol net-back prices staying strong in 2013 first two quarters and our feedstock costs dropping off and having better margins.” He anticipates this will continue into 2014.

The last year also saw ethanol yields drop a bit due to the drought-ridden 2012 harvest; however, Christianson said based on forecasts for the 2013 harvest, yield should go back up once the ethanol plants start grinding 2013 harvest corn and the industry should go back on the trend of increasing yield each year.

Other trends include the sophistication of the ethanol industry on their grind margin management, improved risk management practices and improved environmental sustainability. “So enhanced risk management and enhanced production efficiencies going forward are going to allow plants to squeeze out as much profitability as possible,” said Christianson.

Listen to John Christianson discuss current ethanol trends in detail here: Must Know Ethanol Trends

European Researchers Look to Turn Algae to Biofuel

swanseaUniversity researchers in Europe are looking at ways to turn algae into biofuels, including biodiesel. This article from the BBC says Swansea University is teaming up with scientists in seven other European countries to find the best way of turning it into fuel.

“The big driver behind the research for algae is the consideration about what we’re doing to our environment,” [EnAlgae project coordinator Dr Shaun Richardson] said.

“It’s the need to reduce CO2 levels and to find a more sustainable way of producing fuel, energy and products.

“We are growing it, we harvest it, take the water out of it and then you can convert it into a range of energy sources or products.

“Algae, especially micro algae, is ideally suited to turning into an oil which can then be turned into either aviation fuel for aeroplanes or a bio-diesel to power our cars.”

Swansea University opened its laboratories at the Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Research (CSAR) to the public on Tuesday to see the latest work being carried out.

School officials point to a test flight four years ago of a plane flying on an algae-based biofuel.

Sugar-Based Catalyst Could Help Brew Biodiesel

wfuvatechOne of the knocks about trying to turn fatty wastes into biodiesel is the use of sulfuric acid to aid in the esterification process to remove the free fatty acids (FFAs) that appear in high quantities in low quality oils. But researchers at Wake Forest and Virginia Tech universities have found a sugar-based alternative to sulfuric acid to improve the esterification process.

It is inexpensive, environmentally friendly and easy to filter out from produced biodiesel. “Unlike liquid sulfuric acid which has to be neutralized over a long period of time, our catalyst is a solid and can be separated relatively easily,” says Brian Hanson, a chemist at Virginia Tech who worked on the project.

From a commercial standpoint, this new catalyst could reduce costs by as much as 15 percent for a small-scale biodiesel production facility, according to a feasibility study conducted by Wake Forest University Schools of Business. While more research needs to be done to test the viability of the catalyst on a larger scale outside of the lab, it could one day help to make sewer waste and used oil waste affordable sources of fuel.

“Where this will make a lot of commercial sense in the near term will be in the developing world or on an island,” says Dan Fogel, an executive professor of strategy at the Wake Forest Schools of Business. “In these kinds of places, energy costs can be as much as 50 cents a kilowatt hour. Here in Winston-Salem you pay around 11 or 12 cents per kilowatt hour.”

“Right now, you and I actually pay companies to come and dispose of sewer and used oil waste,” says Abdou Lachgar, a professor of chemistry at Wake Forest University and the project’s lead researcher. “What we want to do is to take the fat out of that waste and convert it to energy.”

The researchers believe that existing biodiesel plants can be retrofitted to use the new catalyst.

Cellulosic Byproduct Increases Ethanol Yield

jin_yongsu1-bScientists from the University of Illinois have reported that they have engineered yeast to consume acetic acid, a previously unwanted byproduct of the process of converting plant leaves, stems and other tissues into biofuels. This innovation increases ethanol yield from lignocellulosic sources (aka second generation feedstocks) by nearly 10 percent. According to researchers, the new advance will streamline the fermentation process and will simplify plant breeding and pretreatment of the cellulose. The results were published in Nature Communications.

Lignocellulose is the fibrous material that makes up the structural tissues of plants. It is one of the most abundant raw materials on the planet and, because it is rich in carbon it is an attractive source of renewable biomass for biofuels production.

The researchers explain that the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae is good at fermenting simple sugars (such as those found in corn kernels and sugarcane) to produce ethanol. But coaxing the yeast to feast on plant stems and leaves is not so easy. Doing it on an industrial scale requires a number of costly steps, one of which involves breaking down hemicellulose, a key component of lignocellulose.

“If we decompose hemicellulose, we obtain xylose and acetic acid,” said University of Illinois food science and human nutrition professor Yong-Su Jin, who led the research with principal investigator Jamie Cate, of the University of California at Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Jin and Cate are affiliates of the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), which funded the research. Jin is an affiliate of the Institute for Genomic Biology at the U of I.

“Xylose is a sugar; we can engineer yeast to ferment xylose,” Jin said. “However, acetic acid is a toxic compound that kills yeast. That is one of the biggest problems in cellulosic ethanol production.” Continue reading

NREL Calculates Emissions, Cost of Wind & Solar

According to new research from the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), found that carbon emissions induced by more frequent cycling are negligible (<0.2%) when compared with the carbon reductions achieved through wind and solar power generation. Cycling occurs when a utility, to accommodate higher amounts of wind and solar power on the electric grid, must ramp down and ramp up or stop and start conventional generators more frequently to provide reliable power.

In addition, the study found sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions reductions from wind and solar are 5 percent less than expected because of cycling of fossil-fueled generators. Emissions Emission Impacts of Cycling1of nitrogen oxides (NOX) are reduced 2 percent more than expected. The study also finds that high levels of wind and solar power would reduce fossil fuel costs by approximately $7 billion per year across the West, while incurring cycling costs of $35 million to $157 million per year. For the average fossil-fueled plant, this results in an increase in operations and maintenance costs of $0.47 to $1.28 per megawatt-hour (MWh) of generation.

“Grid operators have always cycled power plants to accommodate fluctuations in electricity demand as well as abrupt outages at conventional power plants, and grid operators use the same tool to accommodate high levels of wind and solar generation,” said Debra Lew, NREL project manager for the study. “Increased cycling to accommodate high levels of wind and solar generation increases operating costs by 2% to 5% for the average fossil-fueled plant. However, our simulations show that from a system perspective, avoided fuel costs are far greater than the increased cycling costs for fossil-fueled plants.”

Phase 2 of the Western Wind and Solar Integration Study (WWSIS-2) is a follow up to the WWSIS released in May 2010, which examined the viability, benefits, and challenges of integrating high concentrations of wind and solar power into the western electricity grid. WWSIS found it to be technically feasible if certain operational changes could be made, but the first study raised questions about the impact of cycling on wear-and-tear costs and emissions.

To calculate wear-and-tear costs and emissions impacts for the new study, NREL designed five hypothetical scenarios to examine generating up to 33 percent wind and solar energy on the U.S. portion of the Western Interconnection power system for the year 2020. This is equivalent to a quarter of the power in the Western Interconnection (including Canada and Mexico) coming from wind and solar energy on an annual basis. The study models cycling impacts representing a range of wind and solar concentrations between none and 33 percent, and is not an endorsement of any particular level.

The study assumes a future average natural gas price of $4.60/MMBtu, significant cooperation between balancing authorities, and optimal usage of transmission capacity (i.e., not reserving transmission for contractual obligations). Continue reading

U of Cincy Team Captures Grease for Biodiesel

cincy1A student team from the University of Cincinnati is being recognized for their idea to capture waste grease and turn it into biodiesel. The school’s Team Effuelent, led by students Ron Gillespie, Ethan Jacobs, and Qingshi Tu won the $40,000 prize in the Odebrecht Award for Sustainability Development Competition with their concept of “Using Trap Grease As the Raw Material for Biodiesel Feedstock Production.”

The team’s innovative Waste Grease Extraction process extracts substances such as fats, oils, and greases from the municipal wastewater stream and converts them into a low-cost biodiesel feedstock using processes compatible to the current biodiesel industry.

Not only does the WGE process generate a marketable product of value, it also results in lowered landfill costs for wastewater treatment plants and positively contributes to the environmental, economic, and energy sustainability of the United States.

Mingming Lu, associate professor in CEAS’ Department of Biomedical, Chemical, and Environmental Engineering, originally developed the novel process and serves as the team’s advisor. The students were awarded $20,000, Professor Lu receives $10,000, and another $10,000 goes to the University of Cincinnati.

Team Effuelent is now working on building a prototype system for the Waste Grease Extraction process.

Environmental Impacts of Biofuel Feedstocks Studied

corn_stover03 Photo: USDOE-NRELA two-year study has examined the environmental impacts of feedstocks used for biofuels. Minnesota Daily reports researchers from the University of Minnesota found that there are some fundamental differences between how the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture, look at biofuel production.

All three agencies differed in crop location, which Hill said is an important clarification for researchers, policymakers and biofuel investors. If the researchers had not figured out there was this difference, other scientists might only use one agency’s predictions and their conclusions would be misled.

“Our group is looking at the environmental impacts of biofuels,” [bioproducts and biosystems engineering assistant professor Jason] Hill said. “We need to understand the future of what that’s going to look at.”

“It helps us tease out the benefits and negatives,” BBE graduate student Brian Krohn said. “Some of those … lead to a U.S. landscape that’s better for the environment, and some of that leads to landscapes that have a very high negative impact.”

The biggest concern in the study is the use of corn stover for biofuels. While it is possible to take just enough of the material off the fields to get a good amount of feedstock and leave enough for soil health, the researchers did worry too much would be removed.

“If corn stover becomes a significant player in ethanol,” BBE PhD student Tom Nickerson said, “Minnesota will have a pretty big role in producing ethanol for America.”

Balance is the key, with the researchers concluding that no pathway is perfect.

Defunding Biodiesel, Ethanol Center Draws Rep’s Ire

SONY DSCThe North Carolina legislature’s lack of approving funds for a center that promotes the development of biodiesel and ethanol in the state draws the ire of one of its own members. In an opinion piece for the Herald Sun of Durham, N.C., State Representative G.K. Butterfield says the Biofuels Center of North Carolina in Oxford will soon close for good without the funding, and he says that is short-sighted for a job incubator that has created more than 21,000 clean energy jobs in the state.

[T]he misguided leadership in the General Assembly has voted against job creation by defunding the Biofuels Center in the state’s FY2014 budget… We simply cannot afford to reject job creation and the building of new industries in our state by standing idly by and allowing the General Assembly to shut the door on expanding employment opportunities and innovation…

With the help of the Biofuels Center, our state has become a leader in renewable fuel production. The Biofuels Center has invested $10.1 million in 71 projects throughout North Carolina dedicated to working with farmers to develop new biofuel crops and working with companies to build new manufacturing capacity to produce those fuels, especially in rural communities like many of those I represent in eastern North Carolina. Our state has five major biodiesel producers and leads the nation in biodiesel stations. When superstorm Sandy hit in 2012, Triangle Biofuels in Wilson provided significant amounts of biodiesel to the Northeast to respond to critical fuel shortages.

Butterfield points out that the Biofuels Center has been operating on a $4 million annual budget, less than two one hundredths of a percent of the entire state budget, while leveraging hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment and creating hundreds of jobs in new energy markets. He concludes that “North Carolinians deserve better.”

Analysis: Biodiesel Still Profitable Despite Price Drop

Biodiesel producers remain profitable despite a recent drop in prices for the green fuel. An analysis from Scott Irwin and Darrel Good with the University of Illinois shows that several factors, including an uncertain future of federal tax credits and a drop in soybean oil prices.

There are likely two explanations for the current spike [in profits]. First, diesel blenders once again are motivated to incentivize an increase in the production of biodiesel during 2013 to take advantage of the blenders tax credit that was reinstated for this year only. It is uncertain whether it will be extended for 2014. Second, the biodiesel mandate under the RFS was expanded by the EPA from 1 billion gallons in 2012 to 1.28 billion gallons in 2013 and there may be a need for additional production above the mandate in 2013 in order to meet parts of the advanced and renewable mandates.
fig3

Figure 3 … helps to explain why biodiesel production profits have only dropped slightly since mid-July in the face of falling biodiesel prices. The sharp drop in soybean oil prices has more than offset the decline in biodiesel prices, thus propping up margins.

The analysis goes on to say that the biodiesel market is playing a big role in Renewable Identification Number (RIN) prices, as blenders have bid up the price of biodiesel since the beginning of this year compared to soybean oil prices.