Updated Biomass Energy Website

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy recently updated the website for its Biomass Program and is seeking feedback from those interested in biofuels.

DOE Biofuels graphicThe Biomass Program works with industry, academia and national laboratory partners on a portfolio of research in biomass feedstocks and conversion technologies. Through research, development, and demonstration efforts geared at the development of integrated biorefineries, the Biomass Program helps transform the nation’s renewable and abundant biomass resources into cost competitive, high performance biofuels, bioproducts, and biopower. Among its goals is focusing research and development efforts to ensure that cellulosic ethanol is cost competitive by 2012.

Corn Growers Promote Mid-Level Ethanol Blends

Corn growers are supporting the promotion of mid-level ethanol blends to provide consumers who drive flex-fuel vehicles with more options.

“True fuel flexibility means that drivers should have more of a say,” said Steve Ruh, chairman of the National Corn Growers Association’s ethanol committee. “Mid-level blends allow consumers to customize the fuel they use so they can save money, boost mileage and help reduce air pollution.”

EPIC Fueling LogoCorn grower associations in South Dakota and Kansas have joined with the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council (EPIC) in offering incentive programs to encourage gas stations to install blender pumps and the response is reported to be overwhelming in both states. Blender pumps adjust the mixture of fuel at the gas pump, drawing ethanol (either 100 percent denatured or E85) and unleaded gasoline from separate underground tanks and mixing them according to the driver’s selection at the pump.

EPIC is hosting an online webinar for anyone interested in learning more about the Kansas Blender Pump Program on October 1 from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. central time. The webinar is free and open to the public and features information on availability of financial assistance, promotion and marketing efforts, equipment requirements and how to increase sales. For more information or to register, go to www.DrivingEthanol.org.

State Provides Boost for Cellulosic Ethanol Project

POETA $14.7 million grant from the state of Iowa was welcome news last week to the company working on a commercial cellulosic ethanol project in the state.

The grant was approved last week by the Iowa Power Fund Board for POET’s Project Liberty in Emmetsburg. The funding will help with research, development and demonstration costs for the integrated biorefinery. POET is expanding an existing ethanol production facility to include the production of cellulosic ethanol from corn cobs.

Iowa EnergyIn addition to the $14.7 million that was approved Wednesday, the State of Iowa has awarded another $5.2 million in Economic Development funds. The total amount of funds from the State of Iowa is $20 million. Iowa Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge said the funding insures that Iowa will continue to be a leader in renewable fuels innovation. “The new POET facility in Emmetsburg will be one of the first in the nation to produce cellulosic ethanol.” Judge said. “This represents the next generation in biofuels, and another step towards energy independence.”

POET CEO Jeff Broin said they were “humbled and honored to have the state of Iowa invest alongside us in the development of cellulosic ethanol production.”

Project LIBERTY is jointly funded by POET and the United States Department of Energy.

Iowa Blender Pumps More than 1,335 Gallons for Promotion

Approximately 200 people attended a grand opening event to dedicate Iowa’s first blender pump in Galva on September 17, 2008. In addition to receiving lunch, co‐sponsored by Galva Holstein Ag and Ida County Farm Bureau, drivers who fueled up with ethanol blends saved $.30 per gallon from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Over 1,335 gallons of ethanol was sold during the promotion.

Special guests at the celebration included Karey Claghorn (Iowa Deputy Secretary of Agriculture), Maureen Wilson (Senator Harkin), Monte Shaw (Iowa Renewable Fuels Association), Dave Ehlers and Wayne Brinks (Congressman Steve King), Jessica Zopf (American Lung Association), Kristin Nowak (Clean Air Choice Team), Westmor Industries, CENEX, representatives from Ida County and Buena Vista County Farm Bureau, organizations and business partners, as well as many other distinguished guests.

“We are delighted to be the first company in Iowa to offer E30 and E85 to FFV drivers”, said Gary Brosamle, energy department manager at Galva Holstein Ag. “Galva Holstein Ag is an avid supporter of renewable fuels, and we encourage all Iowan’s to use ethanol-blended fuels, which are made right here in our backyards.”.

The state-of-the-art blender pump is located south of Galva at 1583 Market Avenue, near the Highway 20 interchange. Galva Holstein Ag is proud to offer E85, E30, E10 and unleaded gasoline to motorists 24 hours a day at this cardtrol facility.

Growing His Own Fuel

Mark ThomasThis week I’ve had the opportunity to visit the Ohio State University’s annual Farm Science Review show. It’s all about midwest farming and that includes corn.

While I was visiting the Ohio Corn Growers exhibit I found 5 time IHRA Funny Car Champion Mark Thomas. Here he is explaining his car, which runs on ethanol, to an FFA student.

Mark is not only a professional drag racer but a farmer himself. He has 500 Holstein cows and farms 2,200 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat, and alfalfa. You’d think that would be enough to keep him busy!

One of his passions is ethanol. He basically grows his own fuel and has had a mission to help educate the public about this renewable energy source. So that’s part of his message here at the show. He says the question he gets asked most often standing by his funny car is, “How much horse power?” It’s got 3,000 HP and goes from zero to 250 mph in 5.7 seconds! Of course he runs on ethanol and he says the car uses just over a gallon of ethanol per second.

You can listen to my interview with Mark here:

Oilseed Production to Hit Record

While American farmers might have a smaller soybean crop this year, that feedstock and other oilseeds for biodiesel production is expected to be at record levels on the global market.

The latest USDA World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report says the U.S. soybean crop will be down to 2.93 billion bushels… 39 million bushels lower than previous estimates. But this story from Biodiesel Magazine says the rest of the world is taking up the slack:

The lowered prospects for U.S. production is due primarily to lower yield projections in the eastern Corn Belt. The soybean crush was reduced 30 million bushels due to sharply lower projected domestic soybean meal use and meal exports…

Soybean oil stocks for 2007-’08 are reduced, reflecting lower production…

Global soybean production is projected at a record 238 million tons, up 9 percent from 2007-‘08. Argentina soybean production was raised to a record 50.5 million tons based on higher expected area. China soybean production was raised 500,000 tons to 16.5 million based on increased yields. Global rapeseed production was raised 1.2 million tons to 53.4 million, an 11 percent increase over 2007-‘08. Rapeseed crops are projected higher for Canada, EU-27, and Belarus. Other changes include increased global oilseed stocks, which were raised 3 million tons to 60.4 million for 2008-’09 – primarily due to increased rapeseed stocks in Canada and increased soybean stocks in South America and China.

Biodiesel, Ethanol & Wind Facing Uphill Battle on the Hill

The latest version of the energy bill, which includes an extension of the $1-a-gallon biodiesel tax credit and federal incentives for wind and solar energy (which were all set to expire at the end of this year), has passed the U.S. House, but its future is most assuredly less assured as it moves on to the U.S. Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is holding votes on four separate energy bills, possibly starting as early as tomorrow (Thursday, Sept. 18th), as lawmakers hit the final week before they go on their fall recess starting Sept. 26. This story from the Washington, D.C.-based newspaper The Hill says it might be too much with too little room and time for compromise to get a bill that will pass:

Few senators expressed optimism that the two parties could resolve deep disagreements in such a compressed, politically charged atmosphere, especially with 60-vote thresholds likely necessary. Reid himself suggested a lame-duck session after the Nov. 4 elections might be necessary if the issue cannot be resolved.

“It would definitely be the triumph of hope over experience,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the GOP’s chief deputy whip. “The Democrats will run their bill, the Republicans will run our bill, none of them will reach 60, and my guess is that’s where everything stops.”

Still, there is some reason for hope. Both Democrats and Republicans say the energy debate will be simplified by passing alternative energy tax incentives in a separate tax package, leaving only the sticky problem of expanding offshore oil drilling.

So it looks like the incentives for renewable energy could get extended even if the energy bill as a whole is doomed. As I said yesterday, stay tuned… this story is far from over.

CFDC to Hold Ethanol Webinar

In response to recent media reports which have blamed the ethanol industry for the rising price of corn, animal feed, and food, the Clean Fuels Development Coalition (CFDC) will hold a webinar on Wednesday, September 24 at noon central time.

BioFuels Journal will host a webinar sponsored by CFDC and the Ethanol Across America Education Campaign, titled “The Impact of Ethanol Production on Food, Feed and Fuel.” Presenters will include: Terry Klopfenstein, animal sciences professor at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln; Dr. Harry Baumes, associate director, office of chief economist, office of energy policy and new uses, USDA; and Todd Sneller, administrator of the Nebraska Ethanol Board.

Highlights of the webinar will include:
How ethanol is actually saving money for consumers (lowering retail gas prices).
How by-products of ethanol production replace protein and energy feeds (increased use of distillers dried grains with solubles).
Who the real culprit is in the rising price of food and feed (rising energy costs).
Who the real culprit is in the rising cost of corn (high oil prices).
What would happen if biofuels mandates were removed (rising foreign oil imports and fuel costs).

For more information, or to register, click here.

House Passes Energy Bill with Renewable Fuels Provisions

The U.S. House has approved a measure that will renew some tax credits for wind and solar power that were set to expire at the end of this year, as well as allowing more drilling for offshore oil.

This story from the San Francisco Chronicle says passage came after some contentious debate on the issue:

[House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi hailed the 236-189 vote as a victory because the bill also included Democratic priorities such as stripping oil companies of $18 billion in tax breaks, renewing expiring tax credits for wind and solar, and requiring electric utilities to get 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020.

The measure “will put us on the path toward energy independence” and make “Big Oil pay for its fair share of our transition to a clean, renewable energy future,” Pelosi said.

The measure is far from a done deal as it still needs to make it through the U.S. Senate where there are three other energy bills that are very different than the House bill. Plus, the White House has threatened to veto the measure.

I’m sure there’ll be more to talk about on this in the next few days and weeks… stay tuned.

Montana Company Offers On-site Seed Crushing, Biodiesel Brewing

A new company out of Billings, Montana is offering to come to farms, crush the oilseeds farmers grow and even turn it into biodiesel to be burned right there on the farm.

This story from the Billings Business News says Paul Miller owns Big Sky Biofuels, which offers on-farm crushing and biodiesel conversion for farmers who have raised oil-seed crops:

“The idea is to encourage sustainable production and to have the farmer grow oilseed crops capable of fueling their operations,” Miller said.

Miller’s portable seed crusher and a generator that powers it fit on a flatbed trailer and can be hauled directly to a farm, where it can be used to extract oil from crops like canola, camelina, safflower and sunflower.

The crusher can process up to 5 tons of seed per day. Aside from yielding vegetable oil, the seed hulls can be used to make a protein-rich livestock feed, which can replace corn and other feed.

The farmers then have the option of either turning the oil into biodiesel for use on their own farms, or, if it is more profitable, they can sell the oil for someone else to use for either fuel or food (depending on the type of oil crushed).

Ike Idles US’s Biggest Biodiesel Refinery

The nation’s largest biodiesel refinery, the GreenHunter Energy Renewable Fuels Campus in Houston that is capable of cranking out 105 million gallons of biodiesel a year, will be shut down for the next six to eight weeks because of the damage caused by Hurricane Ike.

This information from the company’s web site has details:

Structural losses at the facility include damages to offices, piping between some reagent tanks, some small and intermediate tank foundations, two bulk storage tanks – one vegetable oil feedstock tank and one methanol tank. The vegetable oil tank contained edible canola oil and the facility released some canola oil off-site due to high water. The release of canola oil to the environment was estimated at less than 50 barrels. In response to the release of the vegetable oils into the environment, the Company promptly notified all appropriate local, state, and federal agencies, as well as the Company’s third-party oil spill response organization.

GreenHunter Energy’s Renewable Fuels Campus is currently without power or utility service, and will likely be out of operations for six to eight weeks. This estimate includes the expected timeframe in which the Company’s local utility in Houston, Center Point Energy, is able to restore electricity and natural gas service to the location. In the short term, temporary interruptible power will be provided by diesel and gasoline-powered generators with 600 kW and 5 kW capacities, respectively. Over the weekend, the Company was able to procure from the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, these generators which previously had been shipped there as backup power supply in the wake of Hurricane Gustav.

The good news: company officials say the damage to major process equipment is minimal. Something else to keep in mind is that since there are biodiesel refineries all over the country… and more opening every day… it’s not like the petroleum industry that has most of its eggs in one, hurricane-prone, no-new-refinery-in-more-than-35-years basket.

GM Officially Unveils Electric Car

While pictures of it might have leaked out last week (and whether that was an accident or not was the subject of my Sept. 9, 2008 post), officials at General Motors officially unveiled their new Chevrolet Volt… touted in this press release as “a vehicle that delivers up to 40 miles of gasoline- and emissions-free electric driving, with the extended-range capability of hundreds of additional miles.”:

“Revealing the production version of the Chevy Volt is a great way to open our second century,” said Rick Wagoner, GM Chairman and CEO. “The Volt is symbolic of GM’s strong commitment to the future … just the kind of technology innovation that our industry needs to respond to today’s and tomorrow’s energy and environmental challenges.”

The Chevrolet Volt is leading a new era of electrification of the automobile by creating a new class of vehicle known as the Extended-Range Electric Vehicle, or E-REV.

The Volt uses electricity to move the wheels at all times and speeds. For trips up to 40 miles, the Volt is powered only by electricity stored in its 16-kWh, lithium-ion battery. When the battery’s energy is depleted, a gasoline/E85-powered engine generator seamlessly provides electricity to power the Volt’s electric drive unit while simultaneously sustaining the charge of the battery. This mode of operation extends the range of the Volt for several hundred additional miles, until the vehicle’s battery can be charged. Unlike a conventional battery-electric vehicle, the Volt eliminates “range anxiety,” giving the confidence and peace of mind that the driver will not be stranded by a depleted battery.

GM officials say the Volt will cost about 2 cents per mile to run.

Wisconsin Celebrates E85 in Beaver Dam

The United Cooperative Cenex Convenience Store at N7160 Raceway Road in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, is giving away free gift cards this Saturday with qualified purchases of E85 fuel. This is part of a statewide celebration recognizing ethanol’s contribution to the state’s economy and improved air quality.

During the Beaver Dam event, the first 85 Flex Fuel Vehicle owners who purchase 8.5 gallons or more of E85 between 10 a.m. and noon at the Cenex Store on September 20 will receive a $20 Cenex gift card. The card is courtesy of the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association. This is the latest in a series of events celebrating E85 and marking the 100th anniversary of the American Lung Association of the upper Midwest.

“E85 fuel is recognized as a Clean Air Choice by the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest, so it is very appropriate that we celebrate our organization’s anniversary – and 100 years of better breathing – at the same time the state is marking its 100th E85 fueling station,” says Dona Wininsky, Director of Public Policy and Communications, for the Lung Association. “Using E85 can reduce ozone-forming pollutants by 20 percent and evaporative emissions by 25 percent or more. A typical flex-fuel driver can prevent as much as four tons of lifecycle CO2 and other pollutants from entering our air every year simply by fueling with E85 instead of gasoline. That helps make the air cleaner and better for everyone to breathe, which is the heart of our mission.”

Currently, there are 116 E85 fueling outlets in the state of Wisconsin.

Alt-fueled Cars Get Sales Tax Break in Washington

New car buyers in the state of Washington are going to get a break on their sales taxes when they buy some vehicles that run on alternative fuels.

This story from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says it’s expected to save them $18.6 million over the next couple of years and is designed to get people to trade in their old gas guzzlers (although, high gas prices ought to be enough incentive, right?):

The tax break, which takes effect Jan. 1, applies only to new vehicles. It also only covers cars and trucks getting at least 40 highway mpg, which includes the Prius and hybrid Honda Civic, but not the Toyota Camry or hybrid SUVs.

“What this law does is it helps people save some money to get them to choose a car that’s more fuel efficient — and that’s a good thing,” said Don Fahnestock, an owner of The Green Car Co., a Bellevue business that sells extra fuel-efficient vehicles.

The tax break (9.3 percent in the Seattle area) covers vehicles that run on natural gas, propane and hydrogen, as well as “neighborhood electric vehicles” or “medium speed vehicles” (street legal, but can’t go faster than 35 mph).

The incentive is for all vehicles purchased in and out of state between Jan. 1, 2009 and Dec. 31, 2010. Washington residents can take still buy a car before the end of this year to get the sales tax exemption. They just have to wait to register and title their vehicles until after the first of the year.

Biodiesel Bus Coming to ISU

Last week, I told you how a group of students at Washington State University had formed a biodiesel club to make their own green fuel to run a bus around campus. Well, it must either be the high cost of tuition or the realization that regular gas is just too much of a drain on the wallet (most likely, both), sprinkled in with some environmental consciousness, because there’s another school looking at a similar program.

This story in the Des Moines (IA) Register says students at Iowa State University in Ames have formed the ISU BioBus organization to turn reclaimed vegetable oil into biodiesel to fuel a bus on campus:

ISU Biobus President David Correll, a graduate student in economics, said the idea came late last spring.

About 15 students in the group brainstormed converting waste oil into biodiesel themselves using a simple chemical process.

Member Joe Fuller, a graduate student in mechanical engineering, said the students are still deciding on whether to produce the biodiesel themselves or outsource the process…

The students estimate the bus runs on approximately 25 gallons of fuel per day. Because they don’t plan on replacing all the fuel, they estimate they would make about 55 gallons of biodiesel every week.

The students had wanted to use waste cooking grease from the campus dining facility, but Dining Services has other plans for that waste (hmmm… wanna bet someone else is buying that to make biodiesel?). So, the students will probably have to look to the many fast-food places typical of the college town… not a problem in my opinion.