NY Gov Andrew Cuomo Bans Fracking

There is big news coming out of New York today with the announcement that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has banned hydraulic fracking in the state. The news came on the heels of a study that was released concluding that fracking could pose, “significant public health risks.”

The Sierra Club applauds Governor Cuomo for recognizing what the science has made consistently clear: fracking is a hazard to human health that endangers communities wherever it is allowed,” said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. By banning fracking, Frack off GasholesGovernor Cuomo has set himself apart as a national political leader who stands up for people, and not for the interests of the dirty fuel lobby. Today’s decision will shake the foundations of our nation’s flawed energy policy, and we can only expect that it will give strength to activists nationwide who are fighting fracking in dozens of states and hundreds of cities and counties.

Yet while Governor Cuomo banned fracking, the state didn’t steam ahead with previous commitments to renewable energy. The Long Island Power Authority Board of Trustees voted to approve only a fraction of the renewable energy projects promised by the governor, bringing just 122 megawatts of new solar projects online and falling short of the 280 megawatts of renewable energy the governor committed to this year.

Brune added, “The Sierra Club also extends heartfelt congratulations to all of the passionate anti-fracking activists in New York who were relentless in telling the truth about the dangers of fracking, persevered years of opposition from the oil and gas lobby, and ultimately prevailed. All we need now is for New York to bring wind, solar, and energy efficiency to full potential so we can leave dirty fuels in the ground and move quickly to clean energy prosperity.”

Deck Stacked Against Ag and Biofuels in Report

bpcThe Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) appears to be a bit partisan in a new report released this week on “Options for Reforming the Renewable Fuel Standard.”

The report was produced after several meetings during the year with an advisory group that consisted of 23 members, seven of which were oil companies representatives. Only five members of the group represented agriculture or advanced biofuels and biodiesel producers. The rest were a mix of academia (2), big business (4) with two of those representing Toyota, environmental groups (2), and policy organizations (3).

Both of the agriculture representatives were from the National Farmers Union (NFU), president Roger Johnson and vice president of programs Chandler Goule. “It was very important that agriculture that supports the renewable fuels industry be present at the table,” said Goule, who said the meetings were held in a very professional manner. “The problem with the meetings is that they were heavily skewed toward big oil.”

NFUlogoThe report concluded that improvements to the RFS are needed, but did not recommend actual repeal of the law. Goule says NFU has major objections to two of the policy recommendations made in the report. “The flattening of the total renewable fuel mandate at its current level going forward, but continuing to increase the three advanced categories, we have significant concerns about what that would to do ethanol and biodiesel,” he said. “Even more concerning was removing the total renewable fuel mandate and only mandating the three advanced categories. Basically what they are doing is giving in to Big Oil’s conclusion that a blend wall exists, which it does not.”

Chandler talks more about the BPC report in this interview: Interview with Chandler Goule, NFU

Seeds of Cellulosic Ethanol

asta-css-14-dupontLike all good things, cellulosic ethanol starts with the seed.

During a presentation at the American Seed Trade Association CSS 2014 and Seed Expo last week in Chicago, John Pieper with Dupont Industrial Biosciences talked about the importance of seed to the cellulosic ethanol industry. “It has everything to do with seed because it has to do with farming,” he said. “It has to do with making our lands and soils more productive as well as being able to realize the full potential of seed and other crop inputs that we have today that are hindered because of tillage and crop rotation practices.”

Using non-food agricultural products to make ethanol also provides economic benefits for farmers on several levels. “By taking stover and converting it from an agricultural landfill, waste product, into a recycled or used by-product, we get more money back to the farm operation to invest in tools and production practices – and we get a better seed bed for their next crop to be prolific and highly productive,” said Pieper.

Pieper talked about what Dupont is doing in the cellulosic ethanol field. “We’ve been operating a demonstration facility in Vonore, Tennessee for the last four years and for over two years we’ve taken corn stover from central Iowa down to the plant and made transportation fuel-grade ethanol from it,” he said. Now they are preparing to open a commercial facility in Nevada, Iowa next year and Pieper says they were pleased to see Abengoa and POET open their first plants this year. “It’s a very exciting time,” he said, but he does note that stable government policy – including the Renewable Fuel Standard – is key to moving forward in the future.

Listen to my interview with Pieper here: Interview with John Pieper, Dupont Industrial Biosciences


2014 ASTA CSS & Seed Expo photo album

USDA Looks to the Forests for Renewable Energy

usda-logoHarvesting biomass from forests is not only helping those forests’ health, it’s helping the country achieve energy independence. This news release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture says the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) has removed 200,000 tons of biomass that could have been a fire risk and was turned into biofuels.

“This initiative helps to retrieve forest residues that are a fire risk, but otherwise are costly to remove,” said [Agriculture Secretary Tom] Vilsack. “In just three months, working with private partners across the country, the program helped to reduced fire, disease and insect threats while providing more biomass feedstock for advanced energy facilities.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm Service Agency administered the program earlier this year. Eligible farmers, ranchers or foresters participating in BCAP received a payment to partially offset the cost of harvesting and delivering forest or agricultural residues to a qualified energy facility. Up to $12.5 million is available each year for biomass removal.

This past summer, 19 energy facilities in 10 states participated in the program.

Amyris Renewable Jet Fuel Gets Approval in Brazil

Amyris-logo (1)Airline regulators in Brazil have approved the use of Amyris’ renewable jet fuel. The company says the sugarcane-derived fuel helps cut greenhouse gases and can now be used in up to 10 percent blends.

“Building on the revised ASTM International standard for aviation turbine fuel approved in June, Brazil’s ANP last week removed the last regulatory hurdle for the use of our renewable jet fuel in Brazil. We meet the most rigorous performance requirements in the aviation industry and are now commercializing our product in Brazil as well as around the world,” said John Melo, President & Chief Executive Officer of Amyris.

“The airline industry continues to experience strong growth and, while current low oil prices may provide a short-lived respite, the impact of carbon pollution is undeniable. Amyris and its partners are contributing to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions with our renewable fuel. We are pleased that leading airlines, such as Air France, Lufthansa and KLM are, or will soon be, flying with a blend of our renewable jet fuel,” added Melo.

A study shows that Amyris’s farnesane can cut greenhouse gases by 90 percent compared to fossil fuels.

Senate Passes Tax Extenders

senateFollowing the recent action by the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate on Tuesday evening passed the package of tax incentives for 2014 that will expire once again in just two weeks.

For the renewable energy industry, the legislation includes the second-generation biofuel production tax credit and the accelerated depreciation allowance for cellulosic biomass properties, as well as tax credits for alternative fuel vehicle refueling infrastructure, alternative fuel mixtures, and wind energy and the dollar-per-gallon Biodiesel Tax Incentive.

Renewable Fuels Association
(RFA) president Bob Dinneen says the temporary extensions are a step in the right direction, but called on Congress to provide more certainty in the future. “These incentives can help to level the playing field in a tax code that is overwhelmingly tilted toward incumbent fuels and established oil extraction technologies,” said Dinneen. “Congress should be commended for helping businesses and consumers alike. But next year is a whole new ball game and in order to balance the scales and make future tax incentives truly helpful, Congress must take a good hard look at overarching tax reform legislation.”

Noting the short term nature of the legislation, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden said, “With this tax bill, the Congress is turning in its tax homework 11 months late…The legislation accomplishes nothing for 2015.”

The bill now goes to the president who is expected to sign it.

South Carolina Adds Solar Net Metering

As 2014 comes to a close, South Carolina became the 44th state to institute net metering. The news comes on the heels of the announcement that New York has set a significant net metering cap expansion. The New York Public Service Commission agreed to double the allowable rooftop solar capacity for solar net metering. The solar market has already created 5,000 jobs in New York.

Net metering allows solar customers to get credit on their utility bills at the retail rate for any excess power their rooftop solar installations send back to the grid. Utilities sell this clean energy to neighboring customers for the full retail value. In South Carolina, Duke and SCE&G agreed to full retail rate net metering and to not seek any solar-specific charges until 2021.

Alliance for solar choice logoIn a recent South Carolina poll, 73 percent of respondents across political party lines said they want to see more solar growth, and a strong majority of South Carolinians (more than 75%) agreed that rooftop solar is an important part of providing choice and competition in electricity.

“Repeated expansions and the addition of a 44th net metering state demonstrate the strength and fairness of solar net metering,” said Bryan Miller, co-chairman of the Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) and VP of Public Policy for Sunrun. “The public wants more rooftop solar, and they support net metering as the policy that drives solar growth.”

The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) says they were instrumental in the wins and this year have delivered seven net metering expansions including cap increases in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Vermont. The utilities have failed to achieve any net metering retractions.

RFA Submits Comments on Animal Feed Rule

RFANewlogoThe Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) submitted comments to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) yesterday on the supplemental rulemaking proposal outlining best practices for the regulation of animal food under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The act outlines regulations for animal feed, which includes the ethanol co-product dried distillers grain.

RFA submitted comments earlier this year following the initial proposed rule noting that animal feed would be unnecessarily regulated in a similar fashion to human food. RFA praised the FDA for addressing this concern in its updated version, noting that the “revised CGMPs (current good manufacturing processes) in the supplemental proposed rule appear more applicable to the animal feed industry and appear to provide more flexibility for the wide variety of the animal feed facility processes covered.”

However, RFA raised concerns with additions to the rule that would implement “…product and environmental testing programs, supplier approval programs, and verification programs that were not in the initial proposed rule language.” The comments stress that an individual plant “…should be provided the flexibility to determine its own needs and compliance strategy.” RFA also noted that “If applied in a prescriptive and indiscriminate way, these programs can add unnecessary cost burdens and divert resources away from the effective practices that ethanol producers currently use to assure safe, high quality co-products.”

Read RFA comments here.

MagneGas Deploys Hog Manure to Hydrogen System

MagneGas Corporation has completed construction of its Venturi sterilization system at a major hog farm in technology. The company has developed a patented technology that converts liquid waste into hydrogen-based fuel. Venturi will process hog manure into a low-oder fertilizer that can be safely used on crops. In addition, MagneGas fuel will be produced as a byproduct that can be co-fired with propane or natural gas to reduce other fuel needs.

MagneGas Venturi technologyFollowing a successful demonstration, the Indiana farm owner has indicated that he plans to purchase the system to use for his manure sterilization needs and partner with MagneGas to launch the market for the use of MagneGas systems in the agricultural industry worldwide.

“I am excited that MagneGas has achieved this significant milestone. Having the ability to test our new high flow Venturi system in a real world environment with such a highly respected stakeholder in the agricultural industry speaks volumes as to how far we have come as a company,” said Ermanno Santilli, CEO of MagneGas. “We are looking forward to working with such a cutting edge farm on a system that we believe will change the way the world looks at liquid wastes.”

MagneGas and its partners have demonstrated that a wide variety of liquids wastes can be sterilized such as blood, sewage, manures, leachates and a variety of sludges. As recently as July 2014, MagneGas corp confirmed that it meets EPA 503.32 by sterilizing hog manures taking coliform bacteria counts to “Undetectable Levels”. The company believes meeting this rule transforms this Class B Manure into Class A suitable for land application and in some cases fertilization.

BioEnergy Bytes

  • BioEnergyBytesDFAPR Energy plc has signed a two-year extension for its 25MW contract in the U.S. Virgin Islands, to run through late Q4 of 2016. The extension adds to APR Energy’s record number of renewals for the year, driving a success rate of over 90%.  The Group provides a turnkey bridging power solution to the U.S. Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA), supporting the utility’s strategic system improvements as it converts to liquefied propane gas (LPG), a lower cost fuel alternative.
  • Renmatix, the architect of affordable cellulosic sugars for the global renewable chemicals markets, has announced it has acquired the intellectual property rights and know-how of REAC Fuel. Based in Sweden, REAC has developed intellectual property that complements Renmatix’s significant expertise and existing portfolio of supercritical technology patents and applications. The acquisition expands Renmatix’s value proposition for licensing their Plantrose™ Process to produce cost-competitive cellulosic sugars. The Plantrose Process utilizes supercritical water to convert biomass into cost-advantaged cellulosic sugars using primarily water, with no significant consumables.
  • SunEdison, Inc. has announced that the National Energy Commission in Chile has awarded SunEdison a contract to supply 570 gigawatt hours of clean energy a year. To meet the demand, SunEdison will be investing more than $700 million USD to develop 350 megawatts of utility scale solar photovoltaic power plants throughout the country. SunEdison intends to add the plants to the call right list of TerraForm Power, a global owner and operator of renewable energy power plants.
  • The 2015 Climate Performance Index named Morocco “one of the global forerunners in renewable energy policy making,” ranking the country among the top 10 making the most progress in addressing climate change and number one among developing countries. In conjunction with the European Climate Action Network, German Watch—an independent development and environmental organization dedicated to sustainable global development—annually evaluates and compares the climate-protection performance of the 58 countries that are responsible for more than 90 percent of global CO2 emissions. Morocco’s ranking of 9th overall in this latest report represents a 6 point improvement over last year. The index was released to coincide with the opening of the Lima Climate Change Conference, which ended last week.

ET Solar Collaborates on Israel Project

ET Solutions AG (subsidiary of ET Solar) has been selected to provide services for a 40 MWp PV power plant in Israel. The solar project is located in Kibbutz Ketura, approximately 45 km north of Eilat, and will be built in a desert land of 600,000 square meters. This new solar power facility is expected to generate over 70,000 megawatt hours of renewable energy per year.

ET Solar logoOther project partners include G-Systems and Elmor. Arava Power and EDF Energies Nouvelles Israel jointly own the solar farm.

ET Solar is providing project management, electrical design and plant layout, purchasing, quality control, construction supervision and commissioning services. In addition, the company will also serve as the maintenance service provider, and Arava Power will offer the operation services.

“This project is our largest solar power plant in the Middle East up to now, it is also an important demonstration of our comprehensive solar energy solutions to effectively deliver clean, affordable and reliable solar energy in local market,” said Dennis She, president and CEO of ET Solar. “We are delighted to extend and deepen our collaboration with EDF-EN and Arava Power, to make this utility-scale project a reality after completing a 7.8 MWp solar power plant in Israel early this year.”

Wyoming Biodiesel, CNG, Electric Drivers Could Face Tax

Wyoming logoPossibly trying to prove that no good deed goes unpunished, drivers of biodiesel-, compressed natural gas-, and electric-powered vehicles in Wyoming could face a new road tax. This article from the Jackson Hole News & Guide says a tax on alternative fuels is pending in the state’s legislature.

Most Wyoming drivers pay 24 cents tax at the pump for gasoline; the alternative fuels tax would tax fuels other than gasoline the same 24 cents on an amount equivalent to a gallon of gasoline.

Taxes on gas — and those that would be collected on other energy — are earmarked to pay the cost of the state’s roads.

“There needs to be some kind of equitable way for them to contribute to the upkeep of roads and signage,” said Rep. Michael K. Madden, chairman of the Joint Revenue Interim Committee that will sponsor the bill.

The bill’s sponsor says the new tax would make things more fair.

Ironically, the Wyoming legislature is usually pretty averse to road taxes. But when you consider the amount of fossil fuels produced by the state, it’s no wonder in this case lawmakers are looking at a measure that would give Big Oil another leg up.

Performance Standards for Biodiesel Heating Oil Set

BioHeatNew performance standards are set for biodiesel heating oil, better known as Bioheat. This news release from the National Biodiesel Board says ASTM International, an organization which sets industry consensus standards for fuels and lubricants, has voted to approve performance specifications for blends of 6 to 20 percent biodiesel with traditional heating oil.

The updated ASTM D396 Standard Specification for Fuel Oils, containing the new grade for blends of 6 to 20 percent biodiesel, will be finalized and published by ASTM for public use after the usual ASTM review and editing process. It is expected by February 2015.

“The fuel oil industry is reinventing itself as a 21st century fuel by moving to higher blends of low carbon biodiesel and near-zero sulfur levels across the board,” said John Huber, president of the National Oilheat Research Alliance.

The Bioheat renaissance gives oilheat dealers, mostly small, family-owned businesses, the ability to provide their customers with a desirable new product, according to Huber.

“Bioheat gives consumers the choice to use a clean, domestically produced fuel without having to invest in an expensive natural gas system,” said Paul Nazzaro, who leads the National Biodiesel Board’s Bioheat outreach program. “Setting these performance specs for increased biodiesel levels is hugely significant, because it opens the door for innovation in the heating oil industry and will allow more consumers to enjoy the full benefits of this fuel in their homes and businesses.”

Officials went on to point out that a 20 percent blend of biodiesel puts Bioheat on par with natural gas, the biggest competitor to oilheat. Even higher blends, up to the full 100 percent level, could reduce the carbon footprint of Bioheat up to 80 percent compared to traditional fuel oil.

REG Finishes Upgrades to Iowa Biodiesel Plant

reg-logoRenewable Energy Group has finished upgrades to its Newton, Iowa biorefinery. This company news release says the 30-million gallon nameplate plant in Newton, Iowa, will produce an even higher purity biomass-based diesel from a wider variety of raw materials.

“Enhancing REG Newton’s distillation and processing capabilities strengthens our lower-cost, multi-feedstock biomass-based diesel business and provides customers with more fuel options both in the Midwest and nationwide,” said Daniel J. Oh, REG President and CEO. “This plant was already a high performing facility that deserved additional investment and I am confident the return on investment will be rapid.”

The project provides Newton with production capabilities similar to those at the REG Albert Lea biorefinery. The upgraded process, including distillation, removes impurities and leaves behind a very pure form of biomass-based diesel. The final product far exceeds industry quality standards, while meeting REG’s more rigorous REG-9000™ specifications. The fuel also performs better in colder temperatures.

“These improvements allow REG Newton to provide customers with the highest quality end product at a full 30 million gallons a year utilization rate for a wide array of raw materials, including inedible corn oil,” said Brad Albin, REG Vice President, Manufacturing. “This increased feedstock flexibility drives demand for local feedstock suppliers, enabling them to keep their products in the region.”

REG broke ground on the $13.2 million project last February and completed it just last month, four months ahead of schedule and on budget.

REG now has 10 operational biorefineries in six states, making the company the North American leader in advanced biofuel production.

Evolution of Minnesota Biofuels Industry – Part 2

The Minnesota biofuels industry has been evolving since its inception, which was discussed in Part 1 of this feature article. In this part, we look at how the industry is taking shape in Minnesota and what some of the most promising new technologies are on the horizon.

An interesting element of the biofuel industry is that while it is evolving on a national level, it has also evolved locally. Tim Rudnicki, executive director of the Minnesota Bio-Fuels Association, explains that states and regions have differing available resources as well as differing types and tons of biomass available.

Al-Corn Clean Fuel ethanol plant“Biofuel producers in any particular region adapt to the availability of various resources including, for example, access to energy, water, transportation infrastructure and so on,” says Rudnicki. “The availability of these important resources helped to accelerate the evolution of the biofuel industry in Minnesota and is what has made, and will continue to make, Minnesota one of the leading states when it comes to the production of biofuels.”

It’s interesting to review what could be deemed the top improvements that the ethanol industry has adopted over the past few years. Randall Doyal, CEO of Al-Corn Clean Fuel, says that since the plant went online they have adapted their process and technology to reduce down time, increase throughput and increase yield.

Al-Corn was designed as a 10 million gallon per year plant, and today they are operating at 50 million gallons per year. “We have increased our fuel ethanol yield from two and a half gallons per bushel to over two point nine gallons per bushel,” says Doyal. “We have added CO2 recovery, distillers corn oil recovery, and focused on our distillers grains quality to add value to our ethanol production.”

So, what are the new best technologies coming down the pipeline? Rudnicki says the future is very exciting because it will involve many facets including the interface between biological processes and technology. He believes some of the processes to watch include technologies that will enable corn oil to be more efficiency extracted as well as the use of existing biomass.

From an ethanol plant perspective the next three to five years could bring big changes. Continue reading