Advanced Biofuels Payments Go Out to Producers

USDA Rural Development LogoBiofuels producers in 38 states recently received payments from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Acting Under Secretary for Rural Development Doug O’Brien made the announcement, pointing out these payments of nearly $14 million to 162 producers are still going out, even with the current budget cuts:

“These payments represent the Obama administration’s commitment to support an ‘all of the above’ energy strategy,” O’Brien said. “Producing advanced biofuels is a major component of the drive to take control of America’s energy future by developing domestic, renewable energy sources.”

The funding is being provided through USDA’s Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels, which was established in the 2008 Farm Bill. Under this program, payments are made to eligible producers based on the amount of advanced biofuels produced from renewable biomass, other than corn kernel starch. Examples of eligible feedstocks include but are not limited to: crop residue; animal, food and yard waste material; vegetable oil; and animal fat. Biofuel can be from a variety of non-food sources, including waste products.

Biodiesel Magazine reports most of the current payments are to biodiesel producers.

In the five years the program has been in effect, the USDA says more than 280 producers in 45 states and territories have received $192.5 million, supporting the production of more than 3 billion gallons of advanced biofuels. A full list of payees is available here.

New Yeast Strain Could Cut Cellulosic Ethanol Costs

Liu1Researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture have developed a new strain of yeast that could cut the costs of cellulosic ethanol production. This Agricultural Research Service (ARS) news release says the work is being done at the agency’s National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Ill.

ARS molecular biologist Zonglin Lewis Liu and his colleagues determined that this yeast strain can break down and ferment the sugars in corn cobs left behind after the compound xylose—which is sometimes used for industrial activities—has been extracted. The new strain of yeast, Clavispora NRRL Y-50464 (Y-50464), can tolerate cob-derived compounds that interfere with yeast growth and fermentation rates.

It is able to grow rapidly at 98.6 °F, so it thrives at the higher temperatures needed to optimize simultaneous saccharification and fermentation (SSF) rates. SSF is a one-step process in cellulosic ethanol production that combines releasing and fermenting feedstock sugars…

The scientists added the enzymes cellulase and beta-glucosidase, which are often used to break down residues and extract sugars, and observed that Y-50464 reached its peak ethanol production rate of 25.7 grams per liter 5 days after the experiment began. But the yeast actually produced more ethanol, 26.6 grams per liter in 5 days, without the addition of beta-glucosidase.

Confirmation of beta-glucosidase in Y-50464 will eliminate the need to include the cost of that additional enzyme to the process.

USDA Renews Dairy Energy Pact

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack today renewed a historic agreement with U.S. dairy producers to accelerate the adoption of innovative waste-to-energy projects and energy efficiency improvements on U.S. dairy farms, both of which help producers diversify revenues and reduce utility expenses on their operations. The pact extends a Memorandum of Understanding signed in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2009.

usda-logoUSDA support for agricultural and waste-to-energy research has played a key role in the agreement’s success to date. Since signing the MOU, USDA has made nearly 180 awards that helped finance the development, construction, and biogas production of anaerobic digester systems with Rural Development programs, such as the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels, Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Program, Value Added Producer Grants, amongst others. These systems capture methane and produce renewable energy for on-farm use and sale onto the electric grid. Additionally, during this period, USDA awarded approximately 140 REAP loans and grants to help dairy farmers develop other types of renewable energy and energy efficiency systems at their operations.

Anaerobic digester technology is a proven method of capturing methane from waste products, such as manure, and converting into heat and electricity. The technology utilizes generators that are fueled by the captured methane. Dairy operations with anaerobic digesters routinely generate enough electricity to power hundreds of homes per year.

The Secretary was joined on a conference call to make the announcement by The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy CEO Tom Gallagher and Doug Young, a farmer from NY who has benefited from this MOU.

Listen to that call here: USDA/Dairy MOU press call

Vilsack, LaHood Extend Aviation Biofuels Commitment

vilsack-lahood3Two members of Pres. Obama’s cabinet today have signed their names to an agreement that will extend the administration’s commitment to the production of biofuels for use in airplanes. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood have extended by five years the “Farm to Fly” program, an initiative to partner the USDA and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to help develop a viable biofuel for the aviation industry.

During remarks at the ceremony at the Advanced Biofuels Leadership Conference (ABLC) near Washington, D.C., Vilsack said this is a real job producer, especially for rural parts of the country.

“By continuing to work together to produce American made ‘drop-in’ aviation fuels from renewable feedstocks, we will create jobs and economic opportunity in rural America, lessen America’s reliance on foreign oil and develop a thriving biofuels industry that will benefit commercial and military enterprises,” Vilsack said. “USDA is pleased to partner with the FAA in our quest to develop alternatives to fossil-based fuel, which is critical to reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment.”

LaHood pointed out that it’s been the hard work of people in attendance at the ABLC that made this agreement even a possibility.

“Through the use of sustainable alternative jet fuels, we are showing the world that we can come together to solve our greatest environmental challenges,” said LaHood.

vilsack-lahood4During a news conference after the signing, Vilsack said that while there are some that want to derail the renewable fuels industry through the destruction of programs such as the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), he remains one of biofuels’ biggest allies.

I asked Vilsack how they overcome objections from automakers who don’t approve of E15 for most cars on the road, and he bristled and remained steadfastly behind the studies that show it would work in model years 2001 and after.

“The testing would suggest that there would not be damage to the engines. And I think if consumers were given the option, consumers would choose [E15] because they want to be supportive of a domestic fuel industry.”

And while there might be some who dispute on how much renewable energy is saving consumers and creating jobs, Vilsack said there are some things that are crystal clear.

“I am positive consumers benefit from this. I am positive that hundreds of thousands of jobs are connected to this industry. And I am positive that it has stabilized farm income,” he said.

Listen to Vilsack and LaHood’s remarks here: Secs. Vilsack and LaHood at ABLC

USDA Increases Corn for Ethanol Use

usda-logoThe latest World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimate released this week increased 2012-13 year-ending corn stocks and corn use for ethanol.

Domestic corn use for 2012/13 is projected 100 million bushels lower as a 50-million-bushel increase in corn used to produce ethanol partly offsets the lower projection for feed and residual disappearance. Larger-than-expected March
1 corn supplies, lower corn prices, and favorable margins for producing and blending ethanol limit the expected year-to-year decline in ethanol production during the second half of the marketing year (March-August).

The report also projects higher world corn production, increasing 1.5 million tons for Brazil, 1.4 million tons for Europe with upward revisions to production in Spain, Hungary, and Poland and a bit more for Russia on the final government estimate.

Oversupply Could Provide US Sugar for Ethanol

Ethanol producers could get a sweet deal on sugar for ethanol if the administration approves the sale of up to 400,000 tons of surplus sugar under the 2008 Farm Bill Farm Bill Feedstock Flexibility Program.

naaj-vilsackThe program allows USDA to buy the surplus sugar and then sell it to ethanol producers at a loss in order to keep prices from going below mandated levels, but it has never been used. With large crops in the United States and Mexico causing sugar futures prices to fall below 21 cents a pound, USDA last week a proposal to the White House budget office to implement the program. “We’re doing it because it’s the law,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Monday during a meeting of agricultural journalists.

However, Vilsack said it is not yet decided how much, if any of it will be used. “We’ll make that decision following a review of all the circumstances,” he said. “This is an issue where we have a significant oversupply and we have some issues that need to be resolved fairly quickly.” Those issues include storage challenges and minimizing the cost to taxpayers.

Listen to Vilsack comments here: Secretary Vilsack on sugar-to-ethanol

Ethanol Blender Pumps Funds Now Available

Federal money to help offset the costs of putting in ethanol blender pumps is being made available. The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) announced the USDA is now accepting applications for federal Rural Energy For America Program (REAP) funds to help gasoline retailers install blender pumps, the third year that blender pumps have been authorized as part of the REAP program and part of the USDA’s plan to have 10,000 blender pumps installed over the next five years.

RFA-logo-13“This program provided funding for hundreds of blender pumps the past two years, providing many consumers with the choice and flexibility they deserve to pick the ethanol blends that work for them based on their vehicle, their beliefs, and their budget,” said RFA Director of Market Development Robert White.

ACElogo“We can continue to break the stranglehold oil has over our nation’s economy and energy future by giving consumers more options at the pump,” said ACE Senior Vice President Ron Lamberty. “The USDA’s announcement together with the efforts of the [Blend Your Own (BYO)] ethanol campaign will go a long way toward making that happen.”

The RFA and ACE are offering free grant writing services to those interested in applying. Applications for the grant program are due on April 30, 2013.

Partnership for Sustainable Cellulosic Feedstock Harvesting

USDA has announced a new collaboration with DuPont to promote sustainable harvesting of bio-based feedstocks for cellulosic ethanol.

DuPont_logoThe joint agreement between USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and DuPont aims to set voluntary standards for the sustainable harvesting of agricultural residues for renewable fuel, and supports rural job creation, additional income for farmers, bio-based energy development, and the safeguarding of natural resources and land productivity.

usda“USDA and DuPont share a common interest in the wise use and management of soil, water and energy resources,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Both organizations also share an interest in helping individual farmers adapt to new market opportunities in ways that are consistent with the wise use of these natural resources.”

“Working with farmers is critical to maximizing the land’s productivity and protecting natural resources,” said Jim C. Borel, executive vice president of DuPont. “With this new collaboration, we have a partner in the Natural Resources Conservation Service to ensure that the collection of corn stover for the production of cellulosic renewable fuel makes sense for an individual grower’s operation and the land they farm.”

Under the agreement, NRCS will provide conservation planning assistance for farmers who supply bio-based feedstocks to biorefineries as the industry begins to commercialize. Conservation plan, written for individual operations, will ensure sustainable harvest of corn crop residues while promoting natural resource conservation and land productivity. A conservation plan is a voluntary document, written in cooperation with farmers, which helps them protect natural resources while promoting a farm’s economic sustainability.

Farmers Expect to Plant Most Corn and Soybeans Ever

According to the USDA 2013 Prospective Plantings report, farmers intend to plant a little more corn and a little less soybeans this year, for a total of 174.4 million acres.

“This will be the highest total amount of acres for those two crops that we have on record,” said USDA chief economist Joe Glauber.

usda-logoCorn growers intend to plant 97.3 million acres of corn for all purposes in 2013, up slightly from last year and 6 percent higher than in 2011. If realized, this will represent the highest planted acreage in the United States since 1936 when an estimated 102 million acres were planted. “While farmers struggled with drought last year, they remain resilient and dedicated to producing an abundant corn crop in 2013,” National Corn Growers Association First Vice President Martin Barbre said. “This report shows that the innovative American farmer understands the increasing global demands of corn for food, feed, fuel and fiber and that they see the importance of meetings those needs.”

The majority of acres gained lie outside of the traditional Corn Belt, with only Minnesota, North Dakota and Ohio projecting increased acreage planted to corn within that area. Acres planted to corn outside of the Corn Belt made gains in Arkansas, Georgia, Texas and Mississippi. Final planting projections remained close to last year’s acreage as Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and South Dakota all project planting at least 100,000 fewer acres than in 2012, with Illinois projecting acres planted to corn will drop by 600,000 acres from 2012. The actual number of planted acres will be released in USDA’s June 28 report.

Soybean acres are estimated at 77.1 million acres, down slightly from last year but the fourth highest on record.

Corn Use for Ethanol Steady

Projected 2012/13 U.S. corn ending stocks were unchanged in the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimate report out Friday, lowering exports but increasing feed use and keeping corn use for ethanol the same.

usda-logoProjected corn use for ethanol this season remains unchanged at 4.5 billion bushels, which is down 10 percent from last year on lower gasoline use, according to USDA Deputy Chief Economist Rob Johansson. “Obviously we expect that will increase towards the end of this year when the new crop comes in,” said Johansson.

Corn exports were lowered 75 million bushels, imports were increased 25 million, and feed usage was increased by 100 million – due in part to “continued expansion in poultry production.” The projected season-average farm price for corn was lowered by 20 cents a bushel to $6.75-7.45.

Vilsack at Biodiesel Conference

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack went from the National Ethanol Conference to the National Biodiesel Conference today in Las Vegas.

Vilsack addressed a standing room only crowd during the final day of the 10th Annual National Biodiesel Conference & Expo in Las Vegas. Beginning his second term as part of the Obama Administration, prior to taking this position he was the Governor of Iowa. Vilsack has been a leader in the support of biofuels since taking office as Governor and has continued in his current role.

vilsack-nbbVilsack said that the biodiesel industry is helping the country become secure through its innovation and products and also helping to create a new biobased economy.

There is a huge fight against the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Vilsack noted that there are some who say it needs to be changed because it’s not reliable and not effective, when in fact it’s exactly the opposite. “This standard is working. It’s doing what’s its supposed to do. It’s helping to create an industry that supports jobs, improves incomes, reduces alliance on foreign oil, and gives consumers choice. It’s working,” said Vilsack.

He also noted that the reason why the biodiesel industry is being challenged is because they are winning. “Trust me,” he said. “If you were losing no one would be paying attention to you. But there is more work to do to meet these challenges.”

Vislack ended his remarks by giving the industry a couple of ideas. One of the most critical, he said, is that it is important to engage people at the state and local level to explain to them the benefits of this industry.

You have the capacity to reignite a new century of innovation and to help redefine and revitalize the American economy, said Vilsack. “And this is worth fighting for.”

Listen to Secretary Vilsack’s remarks at the biodiesel conference here: Industry Engagement Critical

2013 National Biodiesel Conference Photo Album

See more coverage on the Biodiesel Conference Blog

Taking Corn Cobs for Biofuels Won’t Hurt Soil Quality

corncobsConcerns over hurting the soil quality when harvesting some crop residues for cellulosic biofuels, instead of leaving the residues on the fields to help the soil quality, might be unfounded. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) research says that soil quality would not decline if post-harvest corn cobs were removed from the field.

“Crop residues have many useful functions when left in the field, [including] protecting against water and wind erosion [and] may contain essential nutrients for crop growth that can be recycled back into the soil,” among others says Agricultural Research Service (ARS) soil scientist Brian Wienhold, who conducted the study. But his work compared runoff rates and sediment loss from no-till corn fields where postharvest crop residues were either removed or retained and found no significant difference between fields’ sediment loss rates with and without the cobs. The cobs did slightly delay field runoff.

The study concluded that cobs could be removed from other residue and used for bioenergy feedstock without significantly interfering with the role of crop residues in protecting soils. But Wienhold cautions that you need to make sure you balance taking any residue off the fields with the potential benefits and losses it could cause.

Listen to Wienhold’s comments to USDA here: ARS soil scientist Brian Wienhold

USDA Undersecretary Optimistic About Biofuels

iarfa-13-dallasUSDA Undersecretary for Rural Development Dallas Tonsager is optimistic about the future of biofuels.

“When faced with an economic challenge, rural Americans came up with an economic solution and developed a biofuels industry,” Tonsager said in an interview after speaking to the Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit. “My belief is, as time goes along and we’re faced with challenging circumstances again, people will come up with solutions again.”

Tonsager sees success coming in the cellulosic biofuels world which should begin to demonstrate its economic viability as well. “We’ve got a lot of challenges in ethanol,” he said. “But the industry is stepping up and fighting and I think that is an extremely positive sign.”

Listen to an interview with Tonsanger here: USDA Undersecretary Dallas Tonsager


IRFA Renewable Fuels Summit Photo Album

Vilsack to Keynote Ethanol Conference Again

rfa-vilsackThe ethanol industry will help Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack kick off his second term in the Obama administration when he visits the 18th Annual National Ethanol Conference of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) next month in Las Vegas. Vilsack was also the keynote speaker at the 2012 ethanol conference.

“We congratulate Secretary Vilsack as he begins his second term. He is a well-spoken, highly credible voice for the Obama Administration and for American renewable fuels. As only a former Governor and current Secretary could do, he speaks eloquently about the importance of energy independence from foreign oil, investment in the next generation of biofuels, and the powerful role the ethanol industry plays in rural economic development. We are honored to host him at the National Ethanol Conference,” said Bob Dinneen, RFA President and CEO.

The National Ethanol Conference will be held February 5-7 in Las Vegas and a $100 discount on early registration is still available until January 19.

Vilsack Ties Farm Bill to Biofuels, Will Serve Again as Ag Secretary

Vilsack 2013 afbfSecretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack says the future success of biofuels in this country is also tied to successfully getting a new five-year farm bill passed. Speaking to delegates of the American Farm Bureau Federation at their annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn., Vilsack expressed his disappointment that a new farm bill was not passed … reserving some of his stronger language for maybe a smaller gathering. But he says the impacts of a new farm bill will be on more than just the mainstream renewable fuels, ethanol and biodiesel. It is for the overall bio-based economy.

“I’ve seen the ability to use corncobs and switch grass and algae and a wide variety of things that are grown and raised or could be produced in rural areas, converted into plastics, into chemicals, into fabrics, into fibers, into fuel, into energy. It is an unlimited future. But we require support and assistance and help and a commitment through a five-year bill,” Vilsack explained.

Vilsack reminded his audience who knows full well that rural America is providing the feed stock for most of the energy and most of the fuel that’s consumed and used across the country, while providing millions of jobs, many of those in the renewable energy sector. And he said that rural economy, booming with renewable energy, will attract young folks back to the heartland.

“If I were talking to a young person, I would say, you’re concerned about our overreliance on foreign oil, you can solve that problem in rural America.”

Growth_Energy_logo-1Vilsack also announced that he plans to serve another term as Secretary of Agriculture … a move applauded by Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy:

“Secretary Vilsack has been a tireless advocate for the renewable fuels industry, and I commend President Obama for his reappointment to the Department of Agriculture. I am confident that Secretary Vilsack will build upon his excellent service record supporting renewable fuels and economic growth across rural America. I know that during his tenure he will continue his strong advocacy for biofuels increased market access for higher ethanol blends such as E15.

You can listen to or download Sec. Vilsack’s speech here: Sec. Vilsack Speech

And his press conference after the closing session here: Sec. Vilsack Press Conference