Harnessing the Wind Without a Breeze

One of the knocks against wind energy is that you don’t have power if you don’t have wind. Well, an energy company in the Upper Midwest might have the solution.

This story from the Minneapolis (MN) Star-Tribune says Xcel Energy Inc. has teamed up with the state of Minnesota and a Virginia-based technology firm to test the first battery in the country capable of storing wind energy:

The breakthrough technology, which is the size of two semitrailer trucks stacked atop each other, was built in Japan and shipped to Luverne, Minn., where it will store electricity generated by the nearby Minwind Energy wind turbines. S&C Electric Co. expects the equipment will be completely installed by April.

The battery consists of a score of 50-kilowatt modules. When it is fully charged, the massive sodium-sulfur battery — which weighs about 80 tons — can store 7.2 megawatt-hours of electricity. That’s enough to power 500 homes for about seven hours. It will cost more than $5.4 million to buy and install the battery and analyze its performance.

The technology could help allay critics of wind energy, who lament that no electricity is produced when there’s no wind. If successful, the battery will store wind energy and release its power onto the electrical grid when the air is still.

“Energy storage is key to expanding the use of renewable energy,” Xcel Chairman and CEO Dick Kelly said. “This technology has the potential to reduce the impact caused by the variability and limited predictability of wind-energy generation.”

Xcel, has invested $3.6 million in the project and hopes that the battery will become key to its wind energy operations.

Colorado Firm Building Algae-Biodiesel Plant

A Fort Collins, Colorado biofuel company will build an algae-biodiesel plant on an Indian reservation in southern Colorado.

Solix Biofuels has announced it has raised $10.5 million in funding with another $5 million commitment from investors to build the facility on 10 acres on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation. This story on Colorado.com has details:

The plant will be jointly developed by Solix and Southern Ute Alternative Energy LLC.

“We’re able to use the resources available, lots of sun, lots of land that has no other real use because it’s desert and the available saline water and the CO2 from the industrial plant,” said Bryan Willson, co-founder and chief technology officer for Solix.

A large research and development effort will remain in Fort Collins.

The Durango facility will be a significant advancement for Solix, according to the company, providing the capabilities to produce thousands of gallons of algae-based biofuel at a rate per acre higher than current projects.

Currently, algae grown in Solix photo-bioreactors create five times the amount of fuel per acre of land per year than agriculture-based fuel such as corn-based ethanol and soy- or canola-based biodiesel, according to the company.

Company officials say the facility won’t be on a largescale right away but is hoped to set the stage for a much bigger operation in the future.

Big Sky Professor Discovers Biodiesel-Producing Fungus

A trip to a Patagonian forest (that’s in South America) has produced the latest development in the biodiesel game.

Dr. Gary Strobel from Montana State University has found the endophytic fungus, Gliocladium roseum — a hydrocarbon-producing fungus he found growing in a tree in Patagonia — has been shown to produce many of the same hydrocarbons found in diesel. This story from Biodiesel Magazine says Strobel calls his discovery myco-diesel:

Strobel, a professor in the plant sciences and plant pathology department at Montana State University, explained that many organisms produce the shortest chain hydrocarbon, methane, and a number of organisms make longer-chain hydrocarbons that become increasing wax-like as the carbon chains get longer. However, in an extensive search of the literature, no other organism has been identified that produces as many short-chain hydrocarbons as Gliocladium roseum.

“How long it will take to make it practical to use is anybody’s guess,” Strobel said. “My son is doing the genetic profile and genetic sequencing. Perhaps these genes could be moved into other organisms like yeast or E coli that grow faster.” His son, Scott Strobel, is chair of Yale University’s Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry.

Strobel has published a paper on the subject due out in the November issue of Microbiology. He’s headed next to the rain forests of Borneo and then to Patagonia again to find more specimens to test.

You can read more about Strobel and his work on his Montana State web site: plantsciences.montana.edu/facultyorstaff/faculty/strobel/.

MO Agribusiness Summit Focuses on Biofuels

The 2008 Missouri Agribusiness Summit was held today in Columbia, MO and featured a wide array of speakers presenting on biofuels.

Leading off the event was a welcome by Troy Norton of Williams-Keepers. Presentations on cellulosic ethanol, the Farm Bill, Federal and State legislation, and ethanol and biodiesel markets followed.

“There are several challenges that we have to overcome after this election,” stated Missouri Rep. Brian Munzlinger, Chairman of the Special Committee on Agribusiness. “There is uncertainty in agriculture at this time with the new Governor, DNR and the Department of Agriculture.”

Jenna Higgins Rose from the National Biodiesel Board said, “The National Biodiesel Board’s Future Vision is to increase the demand for commercially produced biodiesel within the United States through education, communication, and quality assurance programs.” She added that the goal of NBB is to have 1.85 billion gallons of B100 sales, mostly as blends by 2015.

Sponsoring the summit were: Bryan Cave, LLP; MO Agricultural and Small Business Development Authority; MO Corn Growers Assn.; MO Soybean Assn.; and Williams-Keepers, LLC.

Report Indicates Little Land Use Impact for Ethanol Production

RFAThe amount of agricultural land required to produce 15 billion gallons of grain ethanol in the United States by 2015, as required by the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), is likely to be less than 1 percent of total world cropland, according to a new report released today by the Renewable Fuels Association.

According to the report, “Understanding Land Use Change and U.S. Ethanol Expansion,” gains in agricultural productivity, coupled with the contribution of feed produced as an ethanol co-product, are expected to significantly mitigate the need for conversion of non-agricultural lands to support expanded U.S. biofuels production.

Moreover, there is no empirical evidence demonstrating land conversion abroad is a result of U.S. biofuels production. “Unfortunately, the current state of land use change science is far from conclusive and no consensus exists on how best to analyze the potential indirect land use impacts of expanding biofuels production,” continued the report.

The report analyzes historical cropland and crop utilization trends, explores the complex and multifaceted nature of land use changes, and discusses the uncertainty of current land use change modeling approaches.

Consumers Support Ethanol

Biofuels top the list as the most acceptable avenue to long term energy security in the nation, according to a national consumer survey commissioned by the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council (EPIC).

EPIC Fueling LogoEPIC Executive Director Toni Nuernberg said they interviewed over 1,000 consumers nationwide for the survey. “About 73 percent of them responded that they want to see domestically produced biofuels such as ethanol to replace oil,” she said.

In addition, 62 percent of the consumers surveyed cited conservation as a solution to long-term energy independence, 58 percent favored increased domestic drilling, 55 percent support mandated manufacturing of environmentally friendly vehicles and 24 percent cited drilling in environmentally friendly areas as an option.

EPIC’s national poll also reveals consumer support for biofuels such as ethanol keeps growing. Nearly 62 percent of respondents have a favorable view of ethanol. And Nuernberg says consumers are very interested in flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs) that can run on either pure gasoline or any blend of gas and up to 85 percent ethanol.

“What was somewhat surprising to us is that they also expressed some interest in purchasing a hybrid flex-fuel vehicle,” said Nuernberg. “Over 64 percent of respondents said they would consider purchasing such a vehicle and it was even a higher acceptance than FFV without the hybrid feature.” Nuernberg says the main reason cited for the purchase of a hybrid FFV was the environmental benefits of ethanol.

View survey results here.

Cal Company Produces Sugarcane Biodiesel

A California biotechnology company has opened a biodiesel plant that makes the green fuel from sugarcane.

This story from Cleantech.com says Emeryville, Calif.-based Amyris Biotechnologies opened the first of its two pilot plants in its home state with plans to open four commercial-sized plants in Brazil in the next couple of years:

The 2.4 million gallon-capacity pilot plant in Emeryville is only expected to produce enough fuel for testing, experimenting and securing certification from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and fleet operators. Melo said he expects EPA certification within 30 days.

A second, larger pilot plant is scheduled to open in the spring in Campinas, Brazil. Melo didn’t want to share specifics of the pilot facilities but said each cost less than $10 million and is smaller than 10,000 square feet.

Unlike traditional biodiesel from lipids and fatty acids, Amyris uses synthetic biology to reprogram microbes, or “bugs,” to function as living factories for the environmentally-friendly production of high-value chemicals.

Company officials say the fuel they produce closely resembles conventional gas, diesel and jet fuel.

‘No Thanks’ to $1 Million Biodiesel Grant

It’s not very often that you hear about a biodiesel firm turning down $1 million in the form of a government grant, but a green fuel maker in Pennsylvania seems to have some practical reasons for saying “thanks, but no thanks” to the money.

This story from the Binghamton (NY) Press & Sun-Bulletin says Alternative Fuels Inc. turned down the $1 million Pennsylvania grant to start an algae biodiesel fuel plant but will still produce biodiesel in the state:

Late last month, [Richard Smith, the business’s principal] told the DEP he would not be using the grant and to make it available to someone else, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Charles Young said. The DEP asked for the request in writing and has not heard back from Smith.

Smith did not receive any money from the grant because he had not begun producing biodiesel at the required level, Young said. The company was expected to produce more than 25,000 gallons of algae-based fuel a day.

Smith had problems producing algae-based fuel and instead began using waste oil, generating enough biodiesel to receive a relatively small $480 grant from Pennsylvania, Young said.

Under a program initiated last summer, Smith also is eligible to receive 75 cents a gallon from Pennsylvania, or up to $1.9 million a year, if he produces at least 25,000 gallons of biodiesel a month, Young said.

The article goes on to say that Alternative Fuels does plan to take advantage of that conventional biodiesel credit.

Pipeline to Move Ethanol Across Florida

The new Central Florida Pipeline will soon get its first customer as Houston-based Kinder Morgan Energy Partners starts shipping ethanol through the 106-mile pipe from the Port of Tampa to its terminal near Orlando ­International Airport.

This story in the Orlando Business Journal says this will take 40 fuel trucks a day off the road:

Although the pipeline was already in place, reaching the point where Kinder Morgan was able to begin shipping ethanol was no easy undertaking.

The company spent $30 million on improvements to its facilities in Tampa and Orlando, such as storage tanks, truck racks and rail off-load facilities. Now, the Tampa terminal can store up to 240,000 barrels of ethanol; the Orlando terminal, 45,000 barrels.

The company spent another $10 million on improvements to the existing pipeline itself to ensure it could be used for ethanol, which is much more corrosive than gasoline.

Kinder Morgan’s Tampa terminal receives ethanol transported by rail, barges and other vessels, said spokeswoman Emily Mir Thompson.

The move is seen as setting a precedent for pipeline ethanol distribution.

South Dakota’s Blender Pump Program

Debuting in early May of this year, the South Dakota ethanol blender pump program has grown to 34 stations across the state. According to the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council (EPIC), 45 stations have filed applications to receive grants to install these blender pumps which give flexible fuel vehicle owners the choice of filling up with E20, E30, E40 or E85.

“Higher blends of ethanol are the ultimate goal. South Dakota consumers can now reap the benefits of higher blends by being able to access blender pumps across the state,” said Reid Jensen, president of the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council. “South Dakota was first to raise the bar and offer the next generation of fuel to consumers. This is only the starting point. Flex-fuel drivers are discovering that mid-level blends are a better option for them, offering better fuel efficiency, lower emissions and lessening our dependence on foreign oil.”

A state-wide consumer radio and print campaign began on November 5, 2008 to educate consumers about mid-level blends, blender pumps and blender pumps locations.

The NEVC Congratulates President Elect Obama

The National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition is pleased to add our congratulations to President Elect Obama on his victory in the 2008 Presidential election. As a non-partisan organization, we do not and did not support any political candidate from President down to the local County Commissioners. We are however, unapologetic advocates of the use of ethanol and other forms of renewable transportation fuels and look forward to working with President Elect Obama and his administration in advancing the use of renewable fuels.

After his inauguration on January 20, 2009, President Elect Obama will immediately be facing a myriad of critical issues. The recent “credit crunch”; 186,000 U.S. military service men and women engaged in two wars; the continued threat of international terrorism; and loss of jobs in the U.S. are but a few of the central concerns he will be dealing with……..and while the price of gasoline at our nation’s pumps is now some 50% less than the cost in July of this year, we are certain that the goal of domestic energy independence will remain in the top tier of his priorities.

President Elect Obama has been a strong supporter of the use of E85 as a form of renewable fuels. I first met then Senator Obama at the Grand Opening of a new E85 fueling facility in Springfield, Illinois, in June of 2004. At that time it was clear he possessed a tremendous knowledge of agriculture and renewable fuels and how renewable fuels could advance agricultural profitability and U.S. energy security. NEVC staff and contractors worked closely with Senator Obama and his staff to secure the federal income tax credit available to offset some of the costs of new fueling facilities. We have worked together to address matters relating to incentives that are provided to automakers to offset some of the costs of producing FFVs, and other matters of similar importance.

During the campaign, President Elect Obama frequently reiterated his support for biofuels, the massive production of flexible fuel vehicles, and the establishment of the infrastructure necessary to fuel new and existing FFVs.

On behalf of the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition, we look forward to working with the president elect and his team to continue to advance the use of renewable fuels, break the nation’s addiction to oil, and promote rural economic development.

RFA Welcomes New Ethanol Group

The nation’s oldest ethanol advocacy organization is welcoming the formation of Growth Energy, a new group announced Tuesday in Washington DC.

RFAIn a statement, the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) said it “welcomes Growth Energy’s support in tackling challenges and seizing upon the opportunities before America’s ethanol producers. On behalf of ethanol producers across America and in conjunction with our international colleagues, the RFA remains committed to expanding ethanol markets and reducing our dependence on foreign oil, dispelling misinformation about ethanol production and use, addressing climate change, and assuring the full potential of American farmers and ethanol producers is realized and put to work. We welcome another voice in Growth Energy in support of America’s farmers and ethanol producers.”

RFA has served as the voice of the ethanol industry since 1981, providing advocacy, authoritative analysis, and important industry data to its members, Congress, federal and state government agencies, strategic partners, the media and other opinion-leader audiences.

Growth Energy was formed by a group of ethanol companies – including POET, ICM, Western Plains Energy, Amaizing Energy, Hawkeye Renewables, Green Plains Renewable Energy – “committed to the promise of agriculture and growing America’s economy through cleaner, greener energy.”

New Ethanol Organization Announced

POET and other leading ethanol producers from around the country announced the launch of a new organization, Growth Energy, at a press conference at the National Press Club today.

Growth Energy“The organization will be dedicated to promoting clean, green ethanol as America’s best renewable fuel that is high-tech and homegrown, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the nation’s dependence on foreign oil,” said POET CEO Jeff Broin.

Answering questions about why yet another organization for ethanol was needed, “We believe the more associations, the better,” Broin said. He denied that there is any dissatisfaction with the way current organizations, such as the Renewable Fuels Association, have been working to promote biofuels.

The organization has already launched a new advertising campaign and released a policy paper aimed at dispelling the myth perpetuated by the food industry that ethanol is responsible for increased food prices. “When oil and commodity prices rose in early 2008, Big Food reflected their higher prices almost immediately,” said Dave Vander Griend, CEO of ICM. “Today corn prices have dropped by more than half, oil prices have tumbled to less than 65 dollar a barrel, yet food prices continue to go up and so do the mega profits of the major food companies.” Vander Griend says the data in the policy paper released by Growth Energy proves that “food prices and ethanol production are not strongly linked.”

The main companies behind the formation of the new organization are POET, ICM and Fagen – the three largest ethanol plant build/designers. These three companies organized the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council (EPIC) in 2005 and indications are that EPIC may now become part of the newly formed Growth Energy.

Listen to press conference here:

Vestas Fueling NW Wind Enegy Development

A major maker of wind turbines has announced a major order for a wind farm in the Pacific Northwest.

Vestas-American Wind Technology, the Portland, Oregon subsidiary of the Danish wind turbine giant Vestas A/S, has announced in this press release that it has received an order for 22 units of the V80-2.0 MW wind turbine for Puget Sound Energy’s Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility in Ellensburg, Kittitas County in the state of Washington:

The Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility is owned by Puget Sound Energy, Washington state’s largest energy utility and a Northwest leader in renewable energy. Wild Horse entered commercial operation in December 2006 with 127 Vestas turbines and a capacity of 229 MW, with the additional turbines now ordered as part of a planned expansion to the wind energy facility. As such, the 22 units of the V80-2.0 MW wind turbine will add an additional 44 MW to the existing 229 MW installed at Wild Horse.

“It is a great pleasure for Vestas to once again partner with Puget Sound Energy and further develop our long-standing working relationship. The V80-2.0 MW turbine has an outstanding track record with thousands of machines in operation across the world. The 22 turbines to be installed at the Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility will further demonstrate the reliable track record this turbine holds,” says Jens Søby, President of Vestas Americas A/S. “At the same time, we are delighted to be part of the efforts to further increase the use of wind power in the Pacific Northwest, generating clean energy, local jobs and economic activity.”

In addition to supplying turbines to Wild Horse, Vestas is also the turbine supplier for Puget Sound Energy’s Hopkins Ridge Wind Facility located in Dayton, Columbia County, Washington. Hopkins Ridge entered service in November 2006 with 83 turbines, expanding to 87 turbines this year.

The 22 turbines are set to be completed in the second half of next year.

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) says the U.S. is on track to generate a record amount of wind power this year.

First Transcontinental Biodiesel Flight

Florida-based Green Flight International and Pennsylvania’s Lake Erie Biofuels have teamed up to complete the first non-stop, transcontinental flight in a jet powered predominantly by biodiesel.

This press release from Green Flight says the flight took off from Reno, Nevada and landed in Leesburg, Florida, flying for more than 11 hours:

“This transcontinental flight was distinctive in that 1,776 miles of the 2,486 total miles flown were powered on 100% biofuel,” said [Green Flight International President and CEO Douglas] Rodante. Only 710 miles of the flight were powered by a mixture of 50% biofuel and 50% standard jet fuel. The 50/50 fuel mix was used to compare performance data and demonstrate the capability of blending biofuel with existing jet fuel supplies.

“These flights prove that we have the capability of supplementing our energy requirements with safe, environmentally-friendly alternatives to petroleum,” said Rodante. “And the biofuel is produced in the U.S., which essentially negates our dependency on foreign fuel supplies.”

The Federal Aviation Administration has expressed an interest in using the Orlando-based Green Flight’s biofuel test program as a template to assess future generations of aviation fuels. “There is absolutely no room for error in a single engine jet aircraft operating on 100% biofuel,” said Chief Pilot [Carol] Sugars. “The extended cross-country experimental flight operated to stringent specifications required by the FAA in order to ensure public safety.”

Green Flight officials promise another record-breaking flight in the future… maybe around the world next time.