Ethics Group Sues EPA for RFS Documents

crewCitizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) today sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to provide documents regarding oil industry efforts to influence the 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

Last May, following a Reuters article describing how the Carlyle Group and Delta Airlines had lobbied members of Congress and the administration to reduce the amount of renewable fuel required to be blended into transportation fuel, CREW asked for an investigation by the EPA’s Office of Inspector General and filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records. It took months for the EPA to release even the documents the agency already had provided to Reuters, and it has yet to hand over all relevant documents.

Based on a follow-up Reuters article, CREW also has concerns that oil companies leveraged high-level political connections to convince the White House and the EPA to insert special waivers into the RFS that could potentially allow oil companies to refuse to sell biofuels.

“It certainly seems as if the administration has backtracked on its commitment to renewable fuels. The question is why. Was there a back room deal orchestrated by big oil and high ranking officials in the Obama administration?” asked CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan. “Even though it is nearly 2015, the renewable fuel standards for 2014 still haven’t been released. Is this to avoid potential political fallout in the mid-terms for siding with the oil industry over the biofuel industry?”

CREW also notes that Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) sent a letter earlier this month to the White House expressing their concerns about EPA potentially inserting a waiver into the RFS, which would allow oil companies to refuse to distribute renewable fuel. Carlyle and Delta lobbied heavily for both of these modifications to the program and would benefit financially from the change.

Pacific Ag Bales Bundles of Energy

Bill Levy Pacific AgLast week Abengoa’s cellulosic ethanol biorefinery went online and is expected to produce 25 million gallons of advanced ethanol per year as well as 21 MW of bioenergy. But how exactly does the corn and wheat residue get from the fields to the biorefinery in a economical and efficient way? Enter Pacific Ag.

The company was founded by Bill Levy in 1998 and began by baling residue for growers and using the biomass for animal feed both in the U.S. and internationally. It was a natural progression for Pacific Ag to get involved in cellulosic production in the U.S. and to become a major supplier to the industry.

I asked Levy to talk about their residue removal model. He noted that since their inception, they have always focused on having a balanced residue program for growers and they are finding value for those products for them. So taking their successful model from the Northwest and applying it to the Midwest was a good fit. “The fundamentals of having residue removed on a timely basis and in a sustainable way is really the same,” explained Levy. Today they are in California, North Carolina, Iowa, Kansas and he says they have innovated to become “energy balers” because of the new bioenergy market for residue.

There has been talk about the best biomass model for the biofuels industry. I posed this question to Levy and he explained how they have refined their model to be financial feasible. “We have tried to make it easy for growers to be part of the program by taking care of the harvest, we own the machinery, we schedule the harvest or the removal of the residue, or energy crop with the grower and then we provide them with an income stream for that product,” Levy answerPacific Ag Hugoton Kansas teamed. “It’s very important that we have the size that allows us to invest in that equipment and a lot of times it doesn’t make sense financially for a grower to to invest in that harvest equipment just to harvest the residue.” Pacific Ag is the largest purchaser and owner of baling equipment in the world.

“So what growers enjoy is being able to sit back and enjoy a residue removal program and the income from that but not have to put a lot of effort into it,” added Levy.

Pacific Ag is looking for growers of rice, wheat, corn and other biomass crops who are interested in working with them. As cellulosic ethanol plants including Abengoa continue to ramp up to nameplate capacity, more biomass will be needed and Pacific Ag is ready to be the advanced biofuels partner to help make the cellulosic industry and the growers who plant the bioenergy crops, successful.

Learn more about Pacific Ag and how to become involved in the biomass energy revolution by listening to my interview with Bill Levy: Interview with Bill Levy, Pacific Ag

Abengoa Cellulosic Ethanol Plant Grand Opening photo album.

Allison Details Abengoa’s Cellulosic Plant

Danny Allison Abengoa Plant ManagerWho better to learn about how Abengoa’s cellulosic ethanol plant works then from Plant Manager Danny Allison. He explained to the standing room only crowd during Abengoa’s grand opening celebration, how the state-of-the-art biorefinery will produce cellulosic ethanol, bioenergy and other byproducts including ash that farmers can use as organic fertilizer on their fields.

Here is how the plant works:

Biomass: biomass harvested from local growers corn and wheat fields by Pacific Ag is delivered to the Abengoa plant to begin the ethanol production process. Each bale is quality tested for moisture, dust and other contaminants that could hinder the conversion process.

Biomass In-take Lines: six-packs of residue travel down conveyor belts to be separated into single bales by a singulator. Each bale goes through a chopper, cutting the biomass Biomass in-take lines at Hugoton Kansas Abengoa biorefineryinto easy-to-handle materials and then fed into a grinder.

Pre-Treatment: The pre-treatment process is where the starch is converted to sugars using Abengoa’s proprietary enzymes. From there fermentation occurs suing industrial yeast to convert the sugar to alcohol. At the end of fermentation, the liquid, now 5 percent alcohol, goes into a 1.3 million gallon tank, or beer well.

Distillation System and Ethanol Holding Tanks: All solids, water vapor and alcohol are removed. The now 95 percent pure ethanol moves to a column while the remaining 5 percent goes to the bottom for reprocessing and reclamation. After all impurities and water are removed, the finished ethanol is pumped to half-million storage tanks and ready for shipment by rail or truck.

Electrical Power Station: The Abengoa bioenergy plant will also produce up to 21MW of renewable electricity used to power the plant. Excess electricity will be fed to the grid for city use.

Learn more about the process by listening to Danny Allison’s remarks: Danny Allison Remarks

Abengoa Cellulosic Ethanol Plant Grand Opening photo album.

BioEnergy Bytes

  • BioEnergyBytesDFEcoEngineers, a company that provides compliance and market access solutions to the renewable energy industry, is the winner of the 2014 Best Kept Secret Award, which spotlights a Des Moines, Iowa business that is quietly building a reputation for excellence on a national or global scale, but often flies under the radar locally due to the nature of the industry or market it serves. The award is part of the 2014 Economic Impact and Celebrate Business Awards, sponsored by the Greater Des Moines Partnership and the Des Moines Business Record.
  • DEINOVE is now proceeding to test the technology with its DEINOL technology on industrial biomass in partnership with MBI who is in the process of scaling up a transformational biomass pretreatment technology, called AFEX. AFEX is designed to be a sustainable, economically viable source of pretreated biomass for food, feed, fuel, and other biorefinery applications. Preliminary DEINOVE lab results have demonstrated that Deinococcus assimilates over 95% of the sugars present in AFEX pretreated biomass and efficiently converts these sugars into ethanol, they represent an important step forward on the road to commercial production.
  • Ecoplexus, Inc. announced that it has closed financing and commenced construction on three solar photovoltaic projects (Langley PV1, Carter PV1, and Pecan PV1) totaling 21 megawatts (MW), representing approximately $40 million in project costs. The projects have signed long-term power purchase agreements contracts with Duke Energy Progress and are expected to achieve commercial operations in 2014.
  • Hannon Armstrong Sustainable Infrastructure Capital, Inc. has announced a $144 million investment in a portfolio of 10 operating wind projects owned by an affiliate of JP Morgan Chase. The transaction enables Hannon Armstrong to participate in the priority cash flows associated with these wind projects. Hannon Armstrong also raised $115 million of new fixed-rate non-recourse debt from Bank of America, N.A, using the investment as collateral.

Sierra Club Releases EV Finder Tool

Consumers interested in electric vehicles (EVs) now have a way to do their research. A new ‘pick-a-plug‘ web tool has been released by the Sierra Club. The app asks the user a few questions about driving habits and vehicle needs, and then generates a list of Pick a Plug In AppEVs that fit the bill. Sierra Club said there is no overall best EV – the best EV for any given driver depends on how many miles a day the person drives, whether the person takes frequent long trips, whether there is a place to plug in the car, and how much money the person is prepared to spend.

“There are a lot of compelling reasons why more than a quarter million Americans have already bought EVs since they first came on the mass market a few years ago,” said Gina Coplon-Newfield, director of the Sierra Club’s Future Fleet & Electric Vehicles Initiative. “They are cool high-tech wonders, there is little or no need to ever visit a gas station, they are much cheaper to fuel -the equivalent of about $1 a gallon, and they are much better for the environment -even when considering the emissions from the electricity to charge them up.”

Today there is a $2,500-7,500 federal tax credit that comes with the purchase of an EV, and many cities and states offer additional incentives, like a purchase/lease rebate, carpool lane access, and special utility rates for EV drivers. Linked to the new ‘pick-a-plug-in’ web tool is Sierra Club’s online EV Guide where all of this information is available by zip code, as well as a tool that calculates how much carbon emissions and fueling costs the EV will save compared to the average conventional car.

Currently, less than 1 percent of U.S. households have an EV, but according to a poll conducted last year by the Consumers Union and the Union of Concerned Scientists, nearly half of American households could purchase an EV for their next car based on driving needs and access to electrical outlets or EV charging stations.

ACORE Report: Monitize U.S. Energy Security

dodshieldThe American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) has released a new report, “Monetizing Energy Security,” that outlines liabilities fostered by the natural dependence of the Department of Defense (DOD) on energy resources. The paper proposes the DOD should consider the actual, total cost of energy it takes to achieve energy security and assign a dollar value.

“As the largest, most technologically advanced, and geographically dispersed military in the world, DOD has sought to develop a more comprehensive energy strategy to reduce liability on limited energy resources,” said Lesley Hunter, ACORE’s lead researcher and the paper’s editor. “We believe, and our research backs this up, that there’s significant room for improvement in cost-accounting of DOD’s present energy strategy, and that renewable energy and microgrid technologies can add real value in the push for energy security.”

This white paper demonstrates that renewable energy offers greater lifecycle value when compared to fossil or nuclear energy, and provides a more reliable and secure resource that ultimately lowers the actual levelized cost to DOD. acore.jpgFurthermore, the paper asserts that – with improved supply-chain accounting for costs of present installation energy and realignment of some federal processes – private, third-party capital investment in military renewable energy would exponentially grow.

President and CEO of ACORE, Michael Brower, noted the challenges associated with of shifting one of the world’s largest energy consumers to a modern, reliable and diverse system. “This essential matter is very complex and subject to the views of many stakeholders. ACORE is very optimistic that the paradigm is positively shifting as reflected by the joint services’ recent actions.”

The report concludes by noting that energy security and resilience on DOD installations, as well as the reduction of the growing level of costs and uncertainty energy security represents for DOD planners, is increasingly recognized as being essentially intertwined with DOD’s primary mission to protect and defend.

Big Oil Denied Again

Big Oil has been denied again. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has found that the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the Engine Products E15 Bargain!Group (EPG) did not have standing against keeping E15 out of the marketplace. In the rule the judge wrote, “they cannot show that their members have suffered or are threatened with suffering a relevant injury.”

The court held to their previous ruling in GMA v. EPA and likewise denied standing to those who challenged the E15 waiver decision. Growth Energy successfully sought a waiver from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2009 to allow retailers and consumers to choose E15 – a blend of up to 15 percent ethanol. EPA granted the waiver in 2011 for all 2001 and newer motor vehicles.

“Today is another victory for ethanol and the American motorist,” said Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy. “To continue to achieve the success of the Renewable Fuel Standard, [RFS] Growth Energy led the fight for E15 which is now being sold by over 90 retailers in 14 states. This decision is important because it continues to uphold the choice and savings for the American motorist with E15.”

Biodiesel By-Product Makes Viable Marine Fuel

A by-product of biodiesel refining could make for a viable alternative fuel for ships. This article from Seatrade Global says the Glycerine Fuel for Engines and Marine Sustainability (GLEAMS) project has concluded that glycerine is fine to use in marine vessels.

The group, comprising Lloyd’s Register EMEA, Marine South East, Aquafuel Research, Gardline Marine Sciences, and Redwing Environmental, proved that the fuel will be a viable option for ship engines. If adopted, the fuel, sometimes called glycerol, could offer a cheaper alternative to LNG and distillates, while also offering a higher efficiency than diesel, with no sulphur emissions, very low NOx emissions and virtually no particulates.

On top of this, retrofit is said to require nothing more than a modification to the engine’s external engine aspiration system; is water-soluble, with little to no damage caused to sea life in the event of a spill; and is “nearly impossible to ignite accidentally”.

A press statement by the group indicated “The GLEAMS project has been particularly successful in dispelling the widely held view that glycerine is unsuitable for use as a fuel due to its physical and chemical properties. The project very publicly demonstrated that glycerine could be used as a fuel in compression ignition engines by displaying the glycerine powered GLEAMS emissions test engine for three days at Seawork International 2014.”

GLEAMS project officials say there are several early adopters they hope to get on board with this technology, including some offshore vessels as well as research vessels.

German Firm to Optimize California Biodiesel Plant

BDIGerman firm BDI – BioEnergy International AG will optimize the operations at a California biodiesel plant. The company says it will retrofit the Crimson Renewable Energy LP refinery in Bakersfield, turning waste oil and grease into the green fuel.

BDI will supply engineering services and equipment for several important process phases in order to increase plant capacity to 75,000 tons a year and to modernise the existing biodiesel plant. This will also enable waste materials to be processed more efficiently and more sustainably into high quality, ultra-low carbon biodiesel transportation fuel.

The plant optimization project represents the next milestone in the 8-step BDI RetroFit programme “One Stop Shop” that BDI began work on in 2013 with Crimson to develop the necessary technical data and basic engineering for the RetroFit to improve Crimson’s biodiesel production operations.

BDI officials say this project strengthens the company’s presence in the American biodiesel market. Crimson Renewable Energy is the largest biodiesel producer in California and has been producing the fuel in Bakersfield since 2010.

RFA Promoting Distillers Feed at Export Exchange

rfa-exex-2014The 2014 Export Exchange is continuing today in Seattle, Washington with representatives from more than 50 different countries in attendance to learn more about DDGS, the distillers feed product produced by U.S. ethanol plants.

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) is co-sponsor of the event with the U.S. Grains Council and RFA president and CEO Bob Dinneen says it’s because we produce a lot of distillers feed. “Our plants, if they were a single country, would be the fourth largest producer of corn equivalent feed, behind only the U.S., China and Brazil,” said Dinneen, who spoke at the event yesterday on agricultural policies and politics. Interview with RFA CEO Bob Dinneen at 2014 Export Exchange

rfa-cooper-exexRFA Senior Vice President Geoff Cooper spoke at the event on the supply and demand outlook for DDGS.

“We have ample supplies of distillers grains coming from the U.S. ethanol industry but the demand picture is somewhat murky,” said Cooper. “That murkiness has to do with trade barriers and interruptions in the global trade of distillers grains that we’re seeing.”

Cooper says the U.S. is expected to produce 36-37 million metric tons of DDGS in the current marketing year, but one of the biggest trade disruptions in the market is being created by China’s demand that shipments of distillers grains must be certified to be free of the MIR162 biotech corn trait. “That kind of certification is not possible,” said Cooper. “So, we expect exports to China to be significantly curtailed or even halted until this situation is resolved.”

Last year, half of the U.S. distillers grains exports went to China, but Cooper says there are other countries increasing imports. “We are seeing continued growth of distillers grains exports to other parts of Asia outside of China,” he said, adding that Mexico is increasing imports and countries such as Egypt and Turkey are also growing markets. Interview with RFA Senior VP Geoff Cooper at 2014 Export Exchange

Ethanol Report on E85 Study and Contest

ethanol-report-adThe Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) is looking for visual evidence of prices for 85% ethanol (E85) around the country.

“We’re doing an E85 “Post your Price” contest,” says RFA Vice President, Industry Relations, Robert White. “That came about from a study we just concluded in St. Louis this summer.”

That study showed evidence of price gouging for E85, with retail prices were around $1 per gallon higher than was justified by wholesale prices for the locally available ethanol blendstock.

In this edition of the Ethanol Report, White talks about the study and the new contest.

Ethanol Report on E85 study and contest

Fuels America Launches Pro Biofuels Campaign

Fuels America has launched a new TV and radio campaign thanking American renewable fuels supporters Minnesota Senator Al Franken, Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, Nebraska Rep. Lee Terry and Michigan Rep. Gary Peters for fighting for local jobs and working to end America’s reliance on foreign oil.

The ads, on the radio in Minnesota and in Michigan and on television in Nebraska, thank the elected officials for supporting the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), the policy that allows domestic renewable fuels to compete in the motor fuel market.

Ads include:

  • Michigan Statewide: Radio ad titled “Our Pockets” about Gary Peters’ support of the RFS and fight to break America’s addiction to foreign oil, and how the Koch Brothers and Big Oil have spent millions against Peters.
  • Minnesota Statewide: Radio ad titled “Next Caller” highlighting Senator Franken’s support of the RFS and his work pushing the Obama Administration to increase production of renewable fuels.
  • Minnesota’s 7th District: Radio ad titled “Change Course” highlighting Collin Peterson’s support for a strong RFS, reduced reliance on foreign oil, and a stronger rural economy.
  • Nebraska’s 2nd District: TV ad titled “Solution” highlighting Lee Terry’s support of the RFS.

Analysis: EU Can Cut Natural Gas Imports By Half

Ecofys natural gas reportAccording to a new report, ramping up cost-effective investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency can help the European Union cut its dependency on natural gas by half. The analysis also found this measure could reduce carbon emissions by 49 percent or more, or drop emissions below the 1990 level by 2030, more than is currently proposed. The report was released just days before the European Council meets to set new climate change targets.

The study, “Increasing the EU’s Energy Independence: A No-Regrets Strategy for Energy Security and Climate Change,” was authored by international consultants Ecofys as part of the Open Climate Network (OCN). The report finds that natural gas consumption can be halved overall by implementing cost-effective measures that accelerate the use of renewable energy and efficiency improvements in industry, buildings and energy supply.

Relative to current projections, these measures can achieve:

    • 58% reduction in gas consumption from buildings (equal to 23% of all natural gas presently consumed by EU);
    • 20% reduction in gas consumption from industry (equal to 5% of all natural gas presently consumed by EU); and
    • 63% reduction in gas consumption from power generation (equal to 19% of all natural gas presently consumed by EU).

Replacing natural gas imports with clean alternatives will enhance Europe’s stability in energy supply, increasing resilience to possible interruption from unstable suppliers.

“Contrary to popular belief, Europe can be energy independent,” said Jennifer Morgan, Director of the Climate and Energy Program at World Resources Institute. “This analysis shows that the EU can cut natural gas imports in half without raising costs for consumers. This is a win-win approach for the EU, increasing its energy security and raising the bar for climate action.”

2015 Bi-fuel Chevy Impala Fueled by Trash

Man’s best friend is going to be getting less table scraps now that they can be used to fuel the new 2015 Bi-fuel Chevrolet Impala. The CNG vehicle can motor around town on food and beer waste. Cleveland-based quasar energy group uses organic waste to produce biogas that is converted into Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). The methane gas that is produced from biogas is processed, removing all carbon dioxide and impurities to make Renewable Natural Gas (RNG). When compressed, RNG is a direct replacement for CNG.

Quasar sources raw waste materials from a variety of industries. For instance, its Columbus, Ohio Renewable Energy Facility processes up to 25,000 wet tons of biosolids from the City of Columbus Department of Public Utilities for wastewater. Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians, contributes food waste for CNG-production after it’s been macerated in an industrial-sized InSinkErator Grind2Energy garbage disposal and Anheuser-Busch’s Columbus brewery provides an organic by-product to quasar for conversion to methane gas.

2015 Bi-fuel Chevy Impala“If you can buy renewable fuel at $1.95 per gallon while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, everybody wins,” said Mel Kurtz, president of quasar energy group. “quasar’s Columbus facility can produce 1.3 million gasoline gallon equivalents of CNG each year.”

The CNG tank mounted in the trunk has the equivalent capacity of 7.8 gallons of gasoline, which is expected to offer approximately 150 city miles of range on compressed natural gas based on GM testing. With gasoline and compressed natural gas combined, expected range is 500 city miles based on GM testing. EPA estimates are not yet available.

“To avoid feelings of range anxiety common in owners of CNG-only vehicles, we made the Impala bi-fuel, allowing our customers to drive on CNG when available and on gasoline when it’s not,” added Nichole Kraatz, Impala chief engineer.

Impala’s bi-fuel system seamlessly switches to gasoline power when the CNG tank is depleted. Drivers who wish to change fuels while driving can do so by simply pushing a button. A light on the instrument panel indicates when CNG is being used, and there is no interruption in the vehicle’s performance.

Cellerate Receives D3 RIN Certification

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has given D3 Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) certification to Quad County Corn Processors (QCCP) for its cellulosic ethanol produced with Cellerate Cellerate Processprocess technology. The technology is a collaboration between Syngenta and Cellulosic Ethanol Technologies, a subsidiary of QCCP. The biorefinery earned D3 pathway approval from the EPA on Oct. 7, 2014 and Quality Assurance Program (QAP) certification on Oct. 10, 2014. Clearing these hurdles led to production of QCCP’s first QAP D3 RINs on Oct. 16, 2014.

To qualify as cellulosic biofuel, a renewable fuel must meet a 60 percent threshold (aka reduction) for lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions. RINs are used for compliance with the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program and may be “banked,” traded or sold for use by parties (fuel producers and importers) who must comply with the RFS.

According to QCCP Chief Executive Officer Delayne Johnson, as cellulosic D3 RINs become available on the commercial market, biofuels opponents will no longer be able say there are no D3 RINs as a strategy to weaken the RFS. “The biofuels industry now has the technology available to create two billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol – with no more corn,” said Johnson. “QCCP is proud to be one of the first companies to issue D3 RINs. We look forward to higher D3 RIN requirements in 2015 as new production comes on.”

QCCP expects to produce one million gallons of cellulosic ethanol in 2014 and two million gallons in 2015. Earlier this year.

“Cellerate is designed to increase an ethanol plant’s production by allowing the corn kernel fiber to be converted into cellulosic ethanol,” added Jack Bernens, head of marketing and stakeholder relations for Enogen corn enzyme technology. “Ethanol plants can easily integrate Cellerate process technology into their existing production process. Cellerate, in conjunction with Enogen corn, will deliver notable benefits to ethanol plants beyond what can be achieved through either technology alone.”