Plant Shut Off Could Be Key to Cellulosic Ethanol

Keeping on a mechanism in plants that naturally shuts down cellulose production could play a key role in enhancing biomass production for plant-based biofuels.

Purdue cellulose researchPurdue University researcher Nicholas Carpita says they have discovered that small-interfering RNAs (siRNAs) play a normal role in plant development by shutting off genes involved in primary cell wall growth in order to begin development of thicker, secondary cell walls.

“If we can learn to interfere with the down-regulation of cellulose synthesis, then plants may be able to produce more cellulose, which is key to biofuels production,” Carpita said.

A Purdue team made the discovery in barley after introducing a virus as a way to “silence” specific genes and study their functions. The researchers noticed that the virus had more effect then anticipated.

Carpita said this let researchers see that the siRNAs – among other things – regulate and shut down primary cell wall development to begin secondary wall growth. “These secondary stages result in characteristics such as tough rinds of corn stalks, vascular elements to conduct water and fibers for strength,” he said.

The researchers said that delaying or preventing the shutdown of both primary and secondary cellulose production might enhance total plant biomass.

Carpita’s research team reported its findings in the December 15 early online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Ethanol Industry Provides Green Jobs Input

At the request of the Obama administration transition team, the Renewable Fuels Association last week submitted discussion ideas for an economic stimulus package partially designed to create green jobs and spur the green economy.

RFAAccording to a statement from RFA, “Some have misconstrued this communication as a request for federal assistance or a bailout. To the contrary, the RFA recognizes that by stimulating increased production, innovation, and investment in new technologies and cellulosic feedstocks, a revitalized renewable fuels industry can help bail out the flagging US economy and lessen America’s dependence on foreign oil.”

RFA says the ethanol industry has helped support the creation of more than 238,000 “green” jobs last year alone as well as helping to revive struggling rural economies.

Organization representatives say they will continue to have discussions with the Obama team on how ethanol fits into a green stimulus package. “America’s ethanol producers share the vision of President-elect Obama of a domestic industry that is innovating to include ethanol production from a wide array of materials including switchgrass, wood chips, and municipal solid waste. That vision can only become a reality if today’s ethanol technologies and producers are successful.”

Hydrogen Could Be Built for Warehouses

Hydrogen-powered cars might be having a little trouble taking off in the U.S., but the clean power source might be built for the one area that might have heavier traffic this time of year than the highways: warehouses.

This story from SeekingAlpha.com says hydrogen fuel cell maker Plug Power has sold 220 fuel cells to Franklin Park, Ill.-based Central Grocers, Inc. which will be using them in their forklifts at a new distribution center in Joliet, Ill:

Using fuel cells powered by hydrogen delivered from an Air Products (APD) fueling system will save Central Grocers the cost of batteries and the system to recharge them, Plug Power said in a news release.

Using fuel cells also cuts down refueling time to about two minutes once or twice a day, versus batteries that need four to six recharges a day and can take hours to complete, Air Products said.

Fuel cell companies like Hydrogenics Corp. and Oorja Protonics are also targeting the forklift market. Fremont, Calif.-based Oorja’s fuel cells for forklifts have a twist – they use methanol, rather than pure hydrogen, as a fuel, a choice that the company says eases the cost and complications of refueling.

The article goes on to point out that warehouses are a natural for hydrogen power, as they can keep their fueling and charging stations nearby. Plus, they burn incredibly clean with water as the only “exhaust.”

Green Jobs Fuel US Employment Future

Nothing like high fuels prices this past summer to really jumpstart the domestic job market in the U.S… at least in the alternative energy sector.

This article from the Examiner.com offers a pretty interesting look at how biofuels, wind and solar are growing jobs in this country that seem to be safe from being outsourced somewhere overseas:

Maritza Schäfer is the Communications Director for the green jobs advocacy organization Green for All (www.greenforall.org) and points out that the excitement of a new green economy is that the majority of green jobs are local jobs.

“Much of the work we have to do to green our economy involves transforming the places that we live and work and the way we get around,” Schäfer says. “These jobs are difficult or impossible to offshore. For instance, you can’t pick up a house, send it to China to have solar panels installed, and have it shipped back. In addition, one of the major sources of manufacturing jobs — a sector that has been extensively off-shored — are components parts for wind towers and turbines. Because of their size and related high transportation costs, they are most cost-effectively produced as near as possible to wind-farm sites. Cities and communities should begin thinking now about ways their green strategies can also create local jobs.”

“Solar is the main industry that will propel green jobs in America, and wind is probably second,” [President of Borrego Solar Systems Mike Hall] says. “Solar traditionally provides more jobs per watt of energy than any other form of energy currently available. The industry requires a greater number of staff in all areas, from general construction and installation, to advertising to business development and more. Because the industry is growing at a tremendous rate, the demand for labor across all professions is increasing exponentially.”

The article is a pretty good read for anyone who might be looking for a job… or could be looking for a career change. Check it out!

Montana Biodiesel to Fuel Japanese Airliner

Last week, I told you about how Continental Airlines will be the first commercial airliner to use algae-biodiesel to fuel a flight shortly after the New Year.

Now, according to this story from the CBS television affiliates in Montana, a Japanese airline will test one of their commercial jets with biodiesel made from camelina in Montana:

Scott Johnson, manager of Sustainable Oils of Bozeman, says Japan Airlines will stage a one-hour flight using a jet fuel made from his company’s camelina on January 30, in Tokyo.

Camelina companies have so far struggled to reach their ambitions of converting millions of acres of the region’s farmland to the crop. Competition with high wheat prices has made it hard to attract farmers.

Sustainable Oils is a collaboration partnership between Targeted Growth of Seattle and Green Earth Fuels of Houston.

Obama’s Ag and Interior Choices are Pro-Ethanol

Tom VilsackAccording to media reports, President-elect Obama will announce former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack as his choice for secretary of agriculture at a press conference scheduled for Wednesday. Obama also plans to announce his nomination of Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar as interior secretary at the same news conference.

Vilsack served two terms as governor of Iowa from from 1998 until 2006 and was a short-lived opponent of Obama’s in the presidential race. As governor, Vilsack was a strong supporter of ethanol and other biofuels as a way to help rural economies. The last Secretary of Agriculture from Iowa was Henry Wallace who served under Franklin D. Roosevelt from 1933 to 1941. Wallace was a plant geneticist who founded what is now Pioneer Hi-Bred.

Ken SalazarAs interior secretary, Salazar will head a department that oversees oil and gas drilling on public lands and manages the nation’s parks and wildlife refuges and will play a key role setting the new administration’s environmental, energy and land-use policies.

Salazar has also has been a strong supporter of biofuels, this year co-sponsoring the Open Fuel Standard Act, legislation would require that half of all new automobiles starting in 2012 be flex-fuel vehicles warranted to operate on gasoline, ethanol, and methanol, or be warranted to operate on biodiesel. Colorado Governor Bill Ritter will have to appoint a replacement to complete Salazar’s term in the Senate through 2010. Among the contenders is Salazar’s brother, John, who serves in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Arkansas Looks to be Windmill Builder

Its mountains and trees might keep Arkansas from being a major wind generator, such as some of the Plains States to the west are doing. But the governor hints his state could become a major builder of the wind generation components.

This article in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette says Gov. Mike Beebe alluded to a a fourth windmill manufacturing operation in the state… but gave no specifics:

The governor made the reference to more than 300 people attending an announcement that Arkansas has become the second state to partner with the Clinton Climate Initiative. Pennsylvania was the first…

Although Arkansas doesn’t have as much wind as Plains states do, “it can provide all the jobs and produce all the materials necessary for those other states, and we’ll sell it to them,” Beebe said.

There is sufficient wind power in a 100-mile-wide swath from Texas to North Dakota “to electrify America,” said Clinton, quoting an Energy Department study.

In the past year and a half, four wind-power-related businesses – three manufacturers and a supplier – have announced operations in Arkansas, representing about $270 million in investments and 2,600 jobs.

LM Glasfiber of Denmark is making windmill blades in its factory at the Port of Little Rock. Glasfiber eventually will hire more than 1,000 people and invest about $150 million.

In October, Nordex USA Inc. said it would invest $100 million on a wind-turbine plant that should open late next year in Jonesboro and hire about 700 people.

Also in October, Polymarin Composites, a Dutch windmillblade manufacturer, said it and one of its suppliers, Wind Water Technology, plan to spend $16 million to renovate and set up shop in an empty distribution center in south Little Rock, creating about 830 jobs over the next four years.

Beebe says it’s a national security issue, as it would help make the country less dependent on foreign energy.

Auto Show Highlights Alt Fuel Vehicles

Gas prices might be down… for now… but people are still thinking economy and green fuels when looking for a new vehicle.

This article in the Boston Globe took a look around the recent New England International Auto Show, where the author found lots of options for those looking to run on something other than non-renewable petroleum:

Honda

The 2009 Civic hybrid is Honda’s green car for the masses, with an estimated mileage of 40 mpg city and 45 highway. The four-door base model costs about $24,000. Honda will also be selling a hybrid Insight, a 5-passenger hatchback, in April. Both are “parallel” hybrids, meaning they have a primary gas engine that receives electric boosts to hike acceleration and performance.

Your other option, at $25,000, is Honda’s clean-burning Civic GX, a compressed natural gas vehicle that gets about 250 miles per tank at a cost of about $2.50 a gallon…

Hummer

How serious is the auto industry about using alternative fuels? Even Hummer – yes, Hummer – has a green model for 2009, the Hummer H2, which is a “flexible fuel” vehicle. Flex-fuel vehicles run on either gasoline or a mixture called E85, short for Ethanol 85, a mix of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.

Toyota

The current hybrid leader has the Prius, (about $23,000) as well as hybrid Camry sedans (about $26,000) and hybrid Highlander SUVs (about $48,000)…
Toyota is also offering its first flex-fuel vehicles, a full-size 2009 Tundra pickup and a 2009 Sequoia SUV, primarily in states in the Midwest. The company is also testing a hybrid electric-compressed natural gas (CNG) Camry, a solar-assisted hybrid, and hydrogen fuel-cell hybrid, with no release dates as of yet.

Mini

The company that makes the cute Mini Cooper has only gasoline cars for 2009, but it’s testing 500 pure electric cars in California, New York, and New Jersey, show reps said.

Obama Picks Please Biodiesel Board

President-elect Barack Obama continues to fill his incoming administration with picks that seem to please the biodiesel world.

The National Biodiesel Board has sent out congratulations to Dr. Steven Chu, who has been tapped to serve as the U.S. Secretary of Energy; Carol Browner, who was named to the new position of White House Coordinator of Energy and Climate Policy(commonly called the Energy Czar); Lisa Jackson, who will head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); and Nancy Sutley to serve the President-elect as the lead White House Council on Environmental Quality:

Joe Jobe, the CEO of the National Biodiesel Board said, “The National Biodiesel Board congratulates Dr. Chu on this prestigious appointment. We are pleased that President-elect Obama, as a consistent supporter of biodiesel, has chosen such a competent, qualified individual to serve in this important capacity. We look forward to working with Secretary-designate Chu to constructively address the nation’s energy needs and optimize biodiesel’s potential as a way to reduce our reliance on foreign oil by utilizing environmentally friendly, domestically produced fuel…”

“I would like to congratulate Carol Browner on her selection by the President-elect. She has a long and distinguished resume in the field of energy and environmental policy, and her experience and commitment will help us effectively address the energy and climate challenges we face as a nation…”

“I have no doubt that that Lisa Jackson will provide skilled, capable leadership at the EPA,” stated [Jobe]. “Our industry is proud of the fact that we displace petroleum with a clean-burning, environmentally-friendly fuel, and I look forward to working with Administrator-designate Jackson to achieve our shared goals of protecting the environment and promoting clean, renewable fuels as an alternative to fossil fuels…”

“While Congress and the President-Elect Obama’s administration works to develop a comprehensive energy policy, I, look forward to working with Nancy Sutley to promote the environmental benefits of biodiesel, a clean burning fuel that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and has the highest energy balance of any domestically produced renewable fuel,”

I’m sure we’ll be seeing and hearing more from this group in the future. Congrats to all!

Comments Sought on Ethanol Specific Corn

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is seeking comments on a petition to deregulate corn that has been genetically engineered to produce a microbial enzyme that facilitates ethanol production.

SyngentaUSDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has regulated the corn, developed by Syngenta, since 2002.

If approved, the petition would allow the corn, which goes by the name Event 3272, to be freely grown and sold in the United States. According to APHIS, “If granted non-regulated status, Event 3272 corn could be the only GE variety available (specifically) for ethanol production.”

The petition has been submitted in accordance with APHIS regulations concerning the introduction of certain genetically engineered organisms and products. In accordance with those regulations, they are soliciting comments on whether this genetically engineered corn is likely to pose a plant pest risk. USDA is also making available for public comment an environmental assessment for the proposed determination of nonregulated status.

Comments need to be submitted by January 20, 2009. More information can be found here on the Federal Regulations website.

Sweet New Crop for Ethanol

A Seattle-based biotechnology company is working on developing a crop that is somewhat of a cross between corn and sugar cane.

Targeted GrowthAccording to a story in the Kansas City Star, Targeted Growth has been testing “sugarcorn” in test plots in Illinois and Indiana.

Sugarcorn is a takeoff on a type of maize grown in the tropics, which grows traditional ears of corn.

Researchers found that when the tropical corn has a longer growing day, such as those in the Midwest, it delays its flowering and sends more energy into making sugar in the stalk instead of producing starch in the corn.

Targeted Growth is hoping to make sugarcorn commercially available in two years.

Alt Energy Bills Await MI Gov’s Signature

Bills addressing biodiesel and biomass are on Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s desk, waiting for her signature to help make the state a national leader in alternative fuel production.

This story from The Bay City (MI) Times has details about some of the bills:

• Dedicating five new Alternative Energy Renaissance Zones for facilities that use cellulosic materials for fuel production, bringing the total number to 15;

• Requiring the Michigan Department of Agriculture to develop standards for a 20 percent biodiesel blend;

• Expanding the role of the Renewable Fuels Commission;

• Creating a property, sales and use tax exemption for machinery used to harvest biomass.

Not only will the bills help alternative fuels in Michigan, they will help create thousands of jobs in a state that right now is on some shaky employment ground.

NH Getting Biodiesel Refinery with Another on the Way

New Hampshire is getting a couple of biodiesel refineries… one in Nashua and one in Keene… that will make the green fuel from used grease.

This story from WCAX-TV says Batchelder Biodiesel Refineries in Nahua is hosting a grand opening of its first refinery on Wednesday, while Keene’s refinery will open its refinery early next year:

The facility will convert yellow and brown waste grease into biofuel, a process that eliminates the “food vs. fuel” controversy…

Keene State College and the city of Keene are collaborating with the company to create one, too. The refinery would convert waste grease from across New England into more than 250,000 gallons of biodiesel per year.

Biodiesel, Ethanol Part of Alberta RFS

Some of our friends north of the border seem to be taking a cue from us, as Alberta has enacted a renewable fuel standard of 5% ethanol and 2% biodiesel by 2010 as part of Premier Ed Stelmach’s Provincial Energy Strategy:

This new standard of five-per-cent ethanol in gasoline and two-per-cent renewable content in diesel by 2010 will help Alberta meet its climate change targets by reducing CO2 emissions by about one million tonnes annually, and will support Alberta’s renewable fuels sector and the technology development of next generation biofuels.

Implementation of the Provincial Energy Strategy will include ongoing reassessment of objectives and strategies. The Government will report annually to Albertans on progress implementing the strategy.

The move has gained the praise of the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association:

“Today, Alberta is building on its energy leadership by encouraging the use of cleaner renewable fuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel,” said Gordon Quaiattini, President of the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association. “The Alberta Renewable Fuel Standard announced today will help reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions, grow rural economies, and give consumers new choices at the pump.”

Renewable Fuel Standards are now in place at the federal level in Canada, as well as in Ontario, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. The United States has a renewable goal of 36 billion gallons by 2022 – 21 billion to come from advanced renewable fuels. This goal, as well as new incentives to encourage their development, is strongly supported by President-elect Obama.

“Alberta, with its agricultural and energy infrastructure and expertise, is uniquely positioned to build a vibrant homegrown ethanol and biodiesel industry,” added Quaiattini. “This is the start of a new renewable energy era in Alberta.”

E85 Promotions in MN

Shakopee Dakota Convenience Stores will be hosting E85 promotions at two of their facilities on Friday, December 19. These stations will sell the alternative fuel $0.60 off per gallon.

The first E85 promotion on December 19 will be from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. at Shakopee Dakota Convenience Store #1 at 15035 Mystic Lake Dr NW in Prior Lake, Minnesota. The second will be from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m. at Shakopee Dakota Convenience Store #2 at 14160 Wilds Path NW in Prior Lake, Minnesota. With each E85 fill-up customers will receive a free “silver carwash”.

Event Supporters for the events include: Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, Scott County Corn Growers, Minnesota Corn Growers Association, General Motors Corp., National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition, US Dept of Energy Clean Cities, American Lung Assoc. of MN & The MN Clean Air Choice Team.

Currently, there are more 356 E85 fueling locations throughout the state of Minnesota; more than any other state.