Biofuels Part of Policy Summit

The Food and Agriculture Policy Summit, co-hosted by Farm Foundation and Farm Journal Media this week is focusing on the wide range of domestic and global issues facing the food system and agriculture today, including biofuels.

Farm Foundation SummitThe summit kicks off today with the Farm Journal Forum on “What Will Change Bring? Impacts of a New Congress and Administration in the New Era of Agriculture” which continues through Wednesday. The keynote speaker for that event will be POET CEO Jeff Broin who will discuss the potential for ethanol production amid changes in Congress and the new administration of President-elect Barack Obama.

Wednesday afternoon will be a joint event between both Farm Journal and Farm Foundation – “A Conversation with the Secretaries. “We’ve invited all nine of the living past Secretaries of Agriculture to participate in a conversation to talk about what advice they might give a new secretary of agriculture and just what their perspectives are on the challenges we face today,” said Farm Foundation president Conklin. Almost all have agreed to either appear in person or provide a statement by video. They include Clifford Hardin (Nixon), Bob Bergland (Carter), John Block (Reagen), Clayton Yuetter (Bush 1), Mike Espy and Dan Glickman (Clinton) and Ann Veneman and Mike Johanns (Bush 2).

On Thursday, Farm Foundation will examine Agriculture’s Strategic Role in Feeding and Fueling a Growing World. “We will be releasing a report that looks at the challenge of the next 30 years with growing population and rising incomes around the world and the increasing demands being put on agriculture,” said Conklin.

Listen to my interview with Neil about the event here:

Indy Ethanol Fallout

Several different groups are pressuring the Indy Racing League to rethink its decision to partner with Brazil for ethanol to fuel the Indy Car Series.

Among them is a conservative, free market group called American Future Fund (AFF) which launched a radio ad which urging Hoosiers and others to call the IRL and tell them to continue using American ethanol in its race cars.

“It’s amazing that amid all the progress we have made toward energy independence, the IRL decides to set us back,” said AFF Communications Director Tim Albrecht. “It’s mind-boggling as to why the league would take this action in an economic downturn. This is a slap in the face to American farmers and workers.”

“Our hope is that local citizens will stick up for what’s right, and demand the IRL rescind its deal with Brazil,” continued Albrecht. “This is a matter of energy independence and keeping our jobs here at home. The IRL may turn its back on the people of Indiana and the Midwest, but AFF will steadfastly stand with America’s energy producers.”

Indiana corn growers are also calling on the IRL to continue using domestically-produced ethanol. “We encourage the citizens of Indiana to make your opinion known to the IRL if you feel this decision was a mistake and not in the best interest of our country, Indiana farmers, and the local economies that benefit from the growing ethanol industry in our state,” said Mike Shuter, president of the Indiana Corn Marketing Council.

The actual contract has apparently yet to be signed, but IRL officials have said the Brazilian deal calls for them to use a US ethanol supplier for the first year of the multi-year agreement. The Ethanol Promotion and Information Council, through its producer members, has been the fuel sponsor of the Indy Car Series for the past three years but decided not to renew the contract for the coming season.

Lower Oil Prices Make Biodiesel Producers Struggle

Rising oil prices were a boon to biodiesel producers this summer, as near-$150/barrel prices for crude oil made it more and more profitable to produce biodiesel from a variety of feedstocks. However, with that same barrel of oil now costing less than $50, margins have tightened up for makers of the green fuel.

This story in the Tampa (FL) Tribune highlights how biodiesel producers have had to get more innovative to keep bottom lines in the black:

[Last summer], producers said they were limited only by how much $3-a-gallon chicken fat they could truck into the plant.

[Pensacola-based] Agri-Source’s investment [to turn chicken fat into biodiesel] earned it an Industry of the Year award from the Pasco Economic Development Council. Two months later, though, Agri-Source has slashed its production by half as plummeting oil prices and its fixed cost for raw materials have turned the company’s bottom line from black to red.

“The profitability has really weakened,” said Agri-Source president Rick Higdon. “We have the ability to ride it out, but it’s no fun.”…

The key to the industry’s future will be developing new sources of raw materials, said Robert McCormick, principle engineer in the fuel performance group at the National Renewable Fuels Laboratory in Colorado.

“If you could sell B20 for a nickel or 3 cents less than petroleum diesel, you could probably sell all you could make,” McCormick said. “They haven’t been able to do that.”

Industry leaders say the $1-a-gallon federal credit they’re getting is helping for now, and the 500 million gallon mandate for biodiesel that kicks in next year will give the market a floor. But they also realize they need to make a profit to stay viable.

I’m sure some of you are reading this and saying, “See, it’s not working!” But keep in mind, it’s those 500 million gallons of petroleum diesel that biodiesel will replace next year… and more in subsequent years… that will help keep the price of petroleum down. As biodiesel refining technologies… helped by those subsidies and mandates… are made more efficient, it will cost less and less to produce biodiesel, making it less reliant on any tax dollars for support. Less expensive, more sustainable feedstocks will replace the more expensive, less sustainable ones. Survey after survey show Americans want to support domestically-produced alternative energies. Right now, the industry just needs a little leg up. Isn’t it better to help out these guys making the green fuel, than to subsidize million-dollar retreats for bankers who can’t balance their balance sheets or give money to carmakers who make cars people don’t want to buy? And if we save the planet in the process, all the better.

Iowa Opens 100th Retail E85 Station

The Kum & Go #62 at 6130 NW 86th Street in Johnston, IA is the state’s 100th E85 facility to open to the public. On November 24, the station, which installed two dedicated E85 fuel dispensers, celebrated the occasion with a grand opening event hosted by the Clean Air Choice Team.

E85 sold for $1.00 per gallon during the four hour celebration. Consumers also had the chance to win several prizes including ethanol fuel gift cards. A ribbon cutting ceremony kicked off the event. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey was in attendance.

[The event] had a good deal of interest,” said Lucy Norton, Iowa Renewable Fuels Association’s managing director. “Many attended the formal program and ribbon cutting ceremony.” According to Norton, grand opening events – such as this one – are part of an ongoing program sponsored through a partnership of the Clean Air Choice Team, which includes the IRFA, the American Lung Association, Iowa Corn Growers, General Motors Corp. and Kum & Go.

Cellulosic Ethanol Company Changes Name

There is something new under the sun.

Massachusettes-based SunEthanol has changed its name to Qteros, after its Q microbe technology, which may be a key to commercializing cellulosic ethanol.

The company has raised $25 million from a diverse group of investors in a Series B round of financing. Among the investors are British Petroleum (BP) and a management group led by billionaire George Soros.

Indy Defends Ethanol Choice

The Brazilian ethanol industry will remain the fuel sponsor of the Indy Racing League in 2009, but the ethanol will come from the United States – at least for the first year.

That is a compromise of sorts announced by IRL after meeting with corn ethanol industry representatives.

The multi-year partnership between the IndyCar Series and APEX-Brasil — a trade promotion agency that will be the official ethanol supplier to the series beginning in 2009 – includes cooperation from UNICA (the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association) to identify those interested in supplying ethanol.

Initially, UNICA will look to partner with a U.S. company to supply the IndyCar Series with American-produced corn-based ethanol.

Corn growers are other domestic ethanol interests are unhappy with the Brazilian deal, but ultimately it came down to a decision by the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council (EPIC) to not sponsor the racing series for the next season. EPIC is “ceasing operation,” as the IRL statement notes, in that it will no longer exist as EPIC but as part of the newly formed Growth Energy group. However, the decision to stop sponsorship was made independently of that new direction – not just because it was expensive, but also because it had essentially served it’s purpose in proving ethanol as a performance fuel.

Terry Angstadt, president of the commercial division of the Indy Racing League, said they made the deal with Brazil because “No one from any other part of the American-based ethanol community stepped forward with a substantial proposal” although several other producers reportedly offered their services as suppliers last week.

Angstadt says opportunities still exist for American ethanol companies and organizations to continue involvement in the IndyCar Series. “We look forward to working with American producers and Brazilian producers of ethanol to promote ethanol as a renewable energy source and part of the solution to lessen the United States’ reliance on Middle Eastern oil,” he said.

LA Looks to Become Solar City

Los Angeles wants to become a hub of the solar energy industry.

This article from the LA Times says Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has unveiled a long-range to have solar power meet one-tenth of the city’s energy needs by 2020, an initiative that is expected to help the city’s Department of Water and Power kick the fossil fuel habit:

The plan calls for enough solar panels to produce 1,280 megawatts of power, a goal that would be reached through a combination of private and public generating facilities and the installation of solar panels on homes.

“Nobody’s contemplated that many megawatts for one city,” said Rhonda Mills, Southern California director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies and a solar power advocate.

The announcement Monday is the latest in a series of renewable energy initiatives touted by the mayor in recent weeks, including using redevelopment funds to lure “clean” technology companies and investing city pension dollars in environmentally friendly companies.

Shifting Los Angeles to cleaner fuels could buttress both Villaraigosa’s run for reelection and any future run for governor. If he runs in 2010, Villaraigosa would likely face state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, an avid environmentalist.

“L.A. has everything it takes to make this [solar plan] work,” said Villaraigosa, standing alongside environmentalists, union leaders and City Council members. “We have the sun in abundancy. We have the space. We have the largest municipal utility in the country.”

Most of the solar power would come from private companies operating in the Mojave Desert with the balance coming from rooftop panels at businesses and private residences.

You can read the complete plan for yourself by clicking here.

The “Manhattan Project” of Off-shore Wind Farms Proposed for Maine

A massive, 5GW wind farm could be built off the coast of Maine and be fully operational in 10 years if a think tank of energy advisors get their way.

This post from earth2tech.com says the Ocean Energy Institute’s proposal to build five 9.2-square-mile offshore wind farms in the Gulf of Maine could be a boon for the local construction industry and the national energy picture:

Dubbing the plan a “Manhattan Project for Maine,” the Ocean Energy Institute says it could create some 20,000-30,000 jobs. The group on its web site also lays out a larger plan to get the U.S. off of fossil fuels, which the group calls the “Pickens Plan Plus” or the “Simmons Plan’ — use wind farms to power the grid, but add in the large amounts of offshore wind around the U.S.

The Ocean Energy Institute is run by energy investment banker and energy adviser to President George W. Bush, Matthew Simmons, and physicist George Hart. They believe off-shore wind farms offer a greater potential in wind energy that so onshore projects, and the Gulf of Maine is supposed to be one of the windiest areas in the world.

The biggest issues these days seem to be how to finance a project this big and the NIMBY – “Not In My Back Yard” – attitude too many communities currently have.

Solar, Biodiesel RV a Teaching Tool

You might remember my story from October 8th, 2007 about Ty Adams and his biodiesel-powered RV, the bioTrekker, Adams is a man who likes to travel the country, preaching the gospel of alternative fuels. Now, he’s rolling on the roads in the SolTrekker, which also runs on biodiesel but, in addition, is outfitted with solar panels and made even more self-sustaining.

This story in The Oregonian says the Portland man is using his green RV as a teaching tool to all who will listen:

His unlikely pulpit is the 27-foot-long “SolTrekker,” a paragon of sustainability in an eye-catching custom paint job of orange, brown and white, with yellow sun rays reaching from the wheel hubs.

It’s the blood and guts of the motor home that so audaciously flip the RV stereotype.

The SolTrekker runs on biodiesel. Solar panels heat its water and power its electricity. Special gutters channel rain through filters and into holding barrels to use for cooking and cleaning.

The composting toilet doesn’t need to be pumped out.

Bamboo siding replaced the vinyl interior walls and eliminated out-gassing. Dense, soft insulation made from shredded denim jeans seals out extreme temperatures.

“I really like this idea of taking this symbol of consumerism and excess,” said Adams, a freelance writer and editor who counts among his sponsors Monaco Coach of Coburg, his former employer. “I like to take it and make it sustainable. If the RV industry can go this route, any industry can go this route.”

The article goes on to say that Adams has even bigger plans for the RV… possibly even some wind power one day.

You can read more about the SolTrekker by clicking here.

USDA Researching Pennycress’ Biodiesel Potential

Many people know pennycress as nothing more than a weed, but some folks with the U.S. Department of Agriculture are looking at its potential to become a biodiesel feedstock.

This article from the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service says scientists at the ARS’ Peoria, Illinois office are trying to make the farmers’ pest into their cash crop:

There, a team of ARS scientists led by Terry Isbell has been researching the annual winter weed’s potential to yield a bumper crop of oil-rich seed for use in making biodiesel and other products, including an organic fertilizer and natural fumigant. Historically, pennycress has been a bane to farmers. But now, with America’s quest for “homegrown” alternatives to petroleum, the plant is getting a second look.

In July, Peoria-based Biofuels Manufacturers of Illinois, LLC (BMI) entered into a two-year cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) with ARS to conduct laboratory and field trials aimed at teasing out pennycress’s production characteristics as both a cultivated crop and biodiesel feedstock.

Isbell and his colleagues in the ARS New Crops and Processing Technology Research Unit at Peoria have found that a single acre of field pennycress can potentially produce 75 to 100 gallons of biodiesel.

Farm Foundation to Release Report on Feeding and Fueling the World

Our friends at Farm Foundation are set to release a report next week on the challenges agriculture and the food system face in providing food, fiber and energy to a growing world over the next 30 years.

The report will come out next Thursday, Dec. 4th as part of Farm Foundation’s Food and Agriculture Policy Summit, Dec. 2-4th at the Westin Washington D.C. City Center, in the nation’s capital.

Developed with input from a diverse set of agriculture and agribusiness leaders, government agency representatives and academics, the new Farm Foundation report identifies six major challenges that may impact agriculture’s ability to provide feed, fiber and fuel to a growing world. Conference speakers will address issues within each of the six challenges.

Those conference speakers will include: former Texas Congressman Charles Stenholm; Jonathan Bryant of BASF North America; Bob Wagner of American Farmland Trust; Wallace Tyner of Purdue University; James McDonald of Bread for the World; and William Hallman, Rutgers University Food Policy Institute; Gene Griffin, Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute; and Paul Ellinger of the University of Illinois.

The summit will also feature “A Conversation with the Secretaries” on Dec. 3, when seven former U.S. Secretaries of Agriculture will spend 90 minutes discussing the challenges and opportunities facing agriculture today. Participating will be John Block, Mike Espy, Clayton Yeutter, Dan Glickman, Ann Veneman and Mike Johannes. Robert Bergland will participate through a video.

I plan to be there as well, and I’ll be blogging from the event. See you then!

E85 Available in Fulton, NY

Fastrac Market on Route 481 in Fulton, NY now has E85. This is Oswego County’s first E85 fueling pump. The fuel is manufactured by Northeast Biofuels in the Town of Volney.

“Over the summer, Fastrac Markets was proud to purchase the first ethanol produced at Northeast Biofuels to blend as E10 for sale at our stations throughout upstate,” said Fastrac President Thomas Waddle. “And now, we are just as proud to sell Northeast Biofuels ethanol as part of an E85 blend at our newly expanded service station in Fulton.”

According to the Valley News, Northeast Biofuels General Manager Brian Roach said the E85 pump is another step in the continuation of the state’s biofuels industry. He also emphasized the importance of marketing ethanol through local retailers.

“Northeast Biofuels had made a commitment to do business with local supplies, and having a forward-looking retailer like Fastrac as a customer and partner will help us to do just that,” said Roach. “For Northeast Biofuels to be a success, we need to be able to market our ethanol as close to home as possible.”

There are now 32 E85 locations in the state of New York.

Thailand Introduces First E85 Vehicle

Although the fuel has been available at a couple locations already, Thailand has had no vehicles that could use E85. Now, however, Volvo Thailand has launched the first flexible fuel vehicle.

According to the Nation, the S80 2.5 FT is the first car available in Thailand, made locally, can use any fuel ranging from 91- and 95-octane fuel to E10, E20 and E85. The vehicle is expected to attract those who would like to not only ‘go-green’ but also lower their fuel costs. The C30 1.8 from Volvo is also E85 compatible but is fully imported. The C30 will be a cheaper option for those willing to go green.

It is anticipated that about 15 E85 stations will be open in Bangchak by next year. “Although having more E85 pumps will allow the user to take full advantage of the vehicle, it is important to remember that a flex-fuel vehicle can run on any blend of petrol and ethanol or even pure petrol, which makes it very versatile. The Volvo S80 2.5 FT is an option for companies that want to acknowledge their environmental responsibility, as E85 produces 60 to 70 per cent less greenhouse gas than petrol,” said Paul Stokes, president of Volvo Cars Thailand.

On Turkey Day, Biodiesel Board Gives Food (vs. Fuel) for Thought

On the day that you sit down and have probably the biggest meal of the year, some of you might be thinking about how much higher your grocery bill is this year. While you really need to focus on the family and friends around you and how thankful you are for the blessings you enjoy, the National Biodiesel Board is making the point about how biodiesel and ethanol are not responsible for the hit to your pocketbook on Thanksgiving Day.

This op-ed piece from NBB CEO Joe Jobe says while some have blamed the rising cost of groceries on rising commodity prices (which they erroneously have blamed on biofuel production), that argument just doesn’t add up anymore:

The prices of corn, wheat and soybeans have dropped dramatically – about fifty percent from their prices this spring. However, Americans have continued to see their food prices rise, which contradicts the excuse. In fact, when adjusted for inflation, the price of soybeans – the oil portion of which is used to produce biodiesel – is at its lowest level since the Great Depression.

So did the price of the grain commodities fall because of decreased biofuels production? No. Biodiesel production has increased by more than 100 million gallons compared to last year. And Congress, in recent months, has taken extraordinary steps to encourage higher production of homegrown biofuels, recognizing their value to energy security as well as their proven environmental benefits. With agriculture commodities halved and American families hurting more financially than they have in decades, the prices of our groceries have not budged. Not five, not ten and certainly not fifty percent.

As an example, the piece goes on to point out that bread prices have actually increased over the past year, despite the fact that wheat prices have been cut to less than half of what they were last February. And farmers see only twelve cents of a typical $2.99 loaf of bread.

Jobe says the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) has spent millions to promote the smokescreen of the empty “food vs. fuel” debate for its own greedy ends and concludes the op-ed saying, “The excuses just do not give us much to chew on.”

Well said. You can read the entire piece by clicking here.

Hemp Could Be Next Biofuel Feedstock

Farmers in the U.S could be growing hemp as a biomass crop, if a federal court rules in favor of two farmers trying to get a ban on the marijuana-related plant lifted.

This story from Biomass Magazine says the new president could also have a hand in lifting that ban:

The U.S. Appeals Court in St. Paul, Minn., heard arguments Nov. 12 by two North Dakota farmers trying to get a lower court’s dismissal of their suit against a federal agency overturned. David Monson, Osnabrock, N.D., and Wayne Hauge, Ray, N.D., have state approval to grow industrial hemp in North Dakota, but are suing the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to get a federal permit to grow industrial hemp. Hemp is related to the illegal drug marijuana and under federal law some of the industrial hemp plant is considered a controlled substance. The three-judge appeals panel will issue a written decision, but that isn’t expected to be available for several months…

[Jim Pillsbury of Framingham, Mass., who is developing hemp for heating pellets and had a Canadian prototype biomass research facility] predicts President-elect’s Barack Obama’s administration will lift the ban on growing hemp in the United States, and pointed out that it’s being grown in many other countries. “The new administration has a solid commitment to bring new and old ideas to the table for renewable energy,” he said. Industrial hemp is an ideal bioenergy, Pillsbury said, citing figures from Canada that show straw yields of 6 tons per hectare (2.47 acres) and 1.5 tons of fiber, in addition to 200 liters (50 gallons) of oil pressed from the seed.