Ag Day Celebrates Food, Fiber and Fuel Chain

National Agriculture DayToday is the first day of spring and the traditional celebration of National Agriculture Day.

This is the 35th anniversary of National Ag Day and this year, the Ag Council of America unveiled the new “Food/Fiber/Biofuel Chain” poster. The poster shows all of the industries involved in the production, processing, and distribution of feeding, clothing and fueling the American consumer. In total, 21 million people in the U.S. are now employed to support the 301 million consumers in the country.

It’s interesting to note that one farmer now supplies food for about 144 people in the United States and abroad compared with just 25.8 people in 1960. In addition, that farmer is now able to supply some of our fuel needs in the form of ethanol and biodiesel – while still feeding the world.

Advancements in crop technology, equipment technology and information management, coupled with the old-fashioned ingenuity of American farmers, have made this possible and will continue meet the challenge of working to feed, clothe and fuel a growing world population.

Cellulosic Venture Capitol

Range FuelsRange Fuels has been held up as the poster child for commercializing cellulosic ethanol and the company has now raised $100 million to build a 100-million-gallon-a-year plant in Georgia. Range Fuels has also received a US Department of Energy grant and other venture funding in an effort to get the plant up and producing at least 20 million gallons of ethanol from wood this year.

NYT Business
also reports that another cellulosic company, Mascoma, raised $50 million in a third round of venture funding.

The latest funding for Range Fuels means that at least three start-ups focused on cellulosic ethanol have now amassed financing greater than $100 million.

Marathon to Make 16 Midwest Terminals E10 Only

Several Midwest terminals for Marathon Oil will carry only E10 blended fuel starting May 1.

MarathonAccording to the company, Marathon Oil Corporation will switch to 100 percent ethanol-blended fuel at 16 Midwest terminals located in Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. Specific locations are Indianapolis (86th Street) and Muncie, Ind.; Louisville (Algonquin), Ky.; Detroit (Refinery Rack), Romulus, Niles (South), Bay City, Flint, Lansing and Jackson, Mich.; Brecksville, Lima, Oregon, Lebanon and Cincinnati, Ohio; and Milwaukee(Granville), Wis.

“Marathon is proud to announce that it will convert to 100 percent ethanol blended gasoline at these terminals,” said Mary Ellen Peters, Marathon’s senior vice president, Marketing. “Ethanol blended fuels help us meet the changing needs of our customers. It also supports our nation’s renewable fuels goals, which were recently increased by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 to nine billion gallons of renewable fuel in 2008 and 36.0 billion gallons by 2022.”

Ohio Company Gets Grant to Move Feedstocks

An Ohio biofuels maker will receive a $50,000 state grant to help it make biodiesel.

This story from the Springfield (OH) News-Sun says Liberty Fuels of Ohio, LLC is getting the money from the Ohio Rail Development Commission:

widener.jpgThe funding will help Liberty purchase equipment to improve its ability to move and/or load and unload train cars, according to the release. By utilizing existing railroad, Liberty will have a greater ability to use different feed stocks to produce biodiesel, the statement continued.

“By committing these funds to Liberty Fuels of Ohio, the Ohio Rail Development Commission has demonstrated that Ohio welcomes new business and technology into our economy,” said [state Rep. Chris Widener (R-Springfield)]

Safely Moving Ethanol

CSXSeveral ethanol producers are among the winners of the 14th annual CSXT Chemical Safety Excellence Award which reflects commitment to rail car maintenance and safety as well as continuous safe tank car loading.

To be eligible for the award, companies must ship 600 or more railcars per year on CSXT and have zero non-accidental releases during the year.

Among the ethanol industry winners for 2007: Ace Ethanol; Archer Daniels Midland Company; Glacial Lakes Energy; Global Ethanol; Granite Falls Energy; Lincolnway Energy LLC; Poet; US Bioenergy; and Verasun Energy Corporation.

Transitional Ethanol

On Saturday in Indiana, Presidential candidate Barack Obama echoed what a Nobel laureate in physics said Wednesday in Nebraska – corn-based ethanol is a transitional technology.

Obama IndianaDuring a campaign stop in corn country over the weekend, the Terre Haute News reports that Senator Obama was asked what he thought about corn-based ethanol.

Obama answered, “We spend a billion dollars a day sending money to foreign nations because of our addiction to foreign oil. Oil prices are at the highest level in history, and they’re not going down anytime soon.

“China and India need fuel for growth — there are a million Chinese who don’t have a car who want a car,” he said.

After saying that alternative fuels and energy sources will be the necessary next step for breaking America’s dependence on foreign oil, Obama said, “Corn-based ethanol is not optimal. I’ve been a big supporter of corn-based ethanol. I come from a corn state — Illinois — and it’s a good transitional technology, but the truth is, it is not as efficient as what the Brazilians are doing with sugar cane.”

Obama continued, saying that more money needs to be devoted to researching and developing additional forms of alternative energy.

ChuDr. Steven Chu, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, said much the same at the 25x’25 Renewable Energy Summit last week in Omaha, according to Truth About Trade & Technology.

“Corn is not the right crop for biofuels,” said Chu, who won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1997 and is co-chairman of a study on sustainable energy by an international scientific council.

Chu and his California team of researchers are trying to develop new fuels that will be dramatically more efficient to make than either corn-based ethanol or soybean-based biodiesel.

Currently, corn is the least costly feedstock for making ethanol. The ethanol demand has more than doubled corn prices in the last two years, raising concerns about its effects on food prices.

But within five to 10 years, Chu said, scientific discoveries and refining processes could improve enough to move grasses, woody substances and waste to the head of the line for making fuels. Some grasses could provide five times the amount of fuel from an acre as corn.

Unlike corn, many of the feedstocks can be grown on marginal land not normally used for food crops.

“We should look at corn as a transitional crop,” Chu said.

That’s what supporters of ethanol have been trying to tell the critics all along, that corn is a stepping stone to newer, more efficient biofuels. It’s nice to hear someone else say it.

Continental to Test Biofuel in Jets

continental.jpgContinental Airlines will run a test flight on biofuel sometime next year.

This story posted on says the experiment with Boeing will make Continental the first major U.S. carrier to attempt such a flight that hopes to find a sustainable fuel for the aviation industry:

Continental’s biofuel flight will use a Boeing Next-Generation 737 aircraft equipped with CFM International CFM56-7B engines. CFM is a joint enterprise of General Electric Company and Snecma. In the months leading up to the flight, Continental, Boeing and GE will work together and with an undisclosed fuel provider to identify sustainable fuel sources that don’t impact food crops, water resources or contribute to deforestation, and which can be produced in sufficient quantities to support a pre-flight test schedule that includes laboratory and ground-based jet engine performance testing to ensure compliance with stringent aviation fuel performance and safety requirements.

The article goes on to say that Continental has been working hard to reduce its environmental impact. The company has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption per mainline revenue passenger mile flown over the past decade.

Happy National Biodiesel Day!

diesel.jpgIn honor of Rudolph Diesel’s birthday on March 18, 1858, today is National Biodiesel Day! As you might know, the inventor of the diesel engine advocated for the use of vegetable oil (in particular peanut oil) to power his fuel-efficient invention. Today, biodiesel is the manifestation of Diesel’s vision, as it provides a clean source of renewable energy for the world.

The National Biodiesel Board posted this information about Diesel on its web site:

He attempted to find better ways to use steam as the working fluid in heat engines. His patents in 1892 and 1893 were not for the engine but for the cycle of an engine employing the compression-ignition technique. In this cycle there were four phases. He did not have one fully rolling until 1897. Diesel attacked the problem of the compression-ignition engine not as a new concept but as a refinement of the petrol engine inventd by Nikolaus Otto in 1876. He spent the rest of his life introducing his invention to the world. He had many problems with manufacturing, licensing and financial stability. On Sept. 29, 1913, Diesel vanished off the Harwich-Antwerp ferry crossing the channel to England and his body was never found. Since his death the diesel engine has been very helpful in manufacturing and transportation.

He originally designed the diesel engine to run on peanut oil. Only later did petroleum become the standard. In a 1912 speech, Diesel said “the use of vegetable oils for engine fuels may seem insignificant today, but such oils may become, in the course of time, as important as petroleum and the coal tar products of the present time.”

How prophetic.

NativeEnergy, VINCO Team Up for Wind Power

NativeEnergy, a company that sells carbon offsets and renewable energy credits (RECs), has teamed up with renewable energy project builder, VINCO Inc., to get into the wind power business.

This press release says the venture will focus on small-scale renewable energy projects, such as family wind farms:

“Farmers understand they need to invest something in order to harvest something,” says Jim Pederson, Business Development Manager of VINCO. “They need equipment to harvest a crop, and in this case — with climate change and the rising cost of electricity — the crop is the wind.”

Addressing the substantial up-front costs that often deter farmers and other project developers from investing in renewable energy is at the heart of the VINCO and NativeEnergy agreement. VINCO will identify and connect to NativeEnergy those farms that need additional up-front financing from the RECs sales in order to get their new wind turbines built. NativeEnergy will assess each project’s need for funds. If REC sales are needed, the company will then purchase the projects’ total expected lifetime RECs output, providing the necessary support, enabling farms to harness clean energy in a more self-sustaining, independent way.

“Adopting high standards of project-specific additionality, NativeEnergy enables its clients to help directly finance the construction of new wind projects that would not happen without additional revenues for their RECs,” says Tom Boucher, President and CEO of Native Energy.

In addition, the partnership will allow both companies to pursue common goals: to help others achieve energy independence and lower emissions to address climate change.

Global Marketing of Cellulosic Technology

South Dakota-based KL Process Design Group has signed an agreement with O2 Diesel Europe to market their cellulosic process globally.

KL Process DesignAccording to the companies, the agreement secures O2Diesel’s rights to expand KL’s cellulosic to ethanol fuel production technology in Europe, India, Russia and other rapidly developing global markets.

KL announced the start up of the first commercial small scale wood waste ethanol plant in August 2007. The plant, located in Wyoming, was engineered and constructed by KL Process Design Group, which also operates it and recently began supplying cellulosic ethanol for the E85 used by some cars in the American LeMans Series.

O2 DieselAccording to Alan Rae, CEO of O2Diesel Corporation, “We believe KL has developed a commercially ready and environmentally friendly process and has a business model that can be easily replicated, which will provide the opportunity for rapid, wide-scale distribution of affordable fuel grade ethanol on a carbon positive basis. Additionally, the KL process provides the potential for multiple natural waste feedstocks, which supports global efforts to move renewable fuel production away from traditional agricultural feedstocks. Access to competitively priced ethanol from second generation production will further enhance the environmental benefits of O2Diesel as we expand our European and other markets.”

Putting Water Use in Perspective

Among the emerging issues highlighted at last week’s Ethanol 2008: Emerging Issues Forum was water usage. Greg Krissek, Director of Government Affairs for ICM, put water use in context.

Greg Krissek“Basically, three to four gallons of water per gallon of ethanol is used in the ethanol plant,” Krissek says. “A little over one gallon actually touches the corn in what we call the contact process.” The rest is called non-contact, which is for processes such cooling of the equipment, that mostly evaporates. And he says plants are becoming even more efficient with some already falling under three gallons of water per gallon of ethanol.

Compared to gasoline, Krissek says the most conservative numbers for gasoline production range from 2-3 gallons of water to produce one gallon of gasoline, while some estimates are as high as 7-8 gallons.

Krissek also talked about the water usage for crop production, noting that only about 12-14 percent of corn acres are irrigated as a supplement to natural rainfall and as more drought tolerant varieties of corn are developed, less water will be needed for irrigation.

You can listen to Chuck’s interview with Greg here:

According to this link to EPA Water Trivia Facts, it takes 44 gallons of water to refine one gallon of crude oil (actually 1851 gallons to refine one barrel, which is 42 gallons).

Here are a few other bits of trivia regarding “how much water it takes to….”

Process a quarter pound of hamburger – one gallon
Brush your teeth – two gallons
Make one board foot of lumber – 5.4 gallons
Process one can of fruit or vegetables – 9.3 gallons
Make one gallon of paint – 13 gallons
Make one pound of wool or cotton – 101 gallons
Make one barrel of beer – 1500 gallons
Make four new tires – 2,072 gallons
Manufacture one new car, including tires – 39,090 gallons

Nebraska Starting Ethanol Producer Association

By the end of 2007, over three-quarters of the gasoline sold in Nebraska contained ethanol. There are currently 21 ethanol production plants in Nebraska, producing over 1.3 billion gallons of ethanol each year, and the state ranks second nationally in ethanol production.

Duane ChristensenNebraska’s first ethanol plant, now known as Chief Ethanol Fuels in Hastings, began production in January, 1985. At the Emerging Issues Forum for ethanol held last week in Omaha, Chief Ethanol general manager Duane Christensen talked about a new organization being formed in the state called the Nebraska Ethanol Producers Association.

“As we’ve gone through the years, the ethanol business was relatively slow in growth and 10-15 years ago you knew everybody in the business,” Christensen said. “The last few years has been a real explosion in production and we have a lot of diversity and the producers in the state decided we needed to have an organization.”

The association will complement the current Nebraska Ethanol Board, not replace it, and will focus primarily on legislative issues. “This is really an organization that is about the ethanol producers themselves,” Christensen says. The organization is so new they are still in the developmental phase, but hope to have more information for producers in the next few weeks.

You can listen to Chuck’s interview with Duane here:

Missouri-Kansas Becoming Green Rivals

moksflags.jpgWhen you live in this part of the country, you KNOW how big of rivals Kansas and Missouri are. This hatred goes all the way back to before the Civil War! I’ve even known people who would actually spit after they spoke the other state’s name. Officials at MU and KU have tried to tone down the rhetoric by calling it a border “showdown” instead of border “war” (which most diehard fans still call a war). Pretty fascinating for an Iowa boy who didn’t grow up with this rivalry that has moved to the football fields and basketball courts of the two states.

Now, it seems Missouri and Kansas have become rivals about how green they want to be. This story from the Kansas City (MO) Star says there is lots of legislation on both sides of the border, including more than 20 green bills before the Missouri legislature this session:

In Missouri, the bills showing movement this year rely on tax policy as a prod to change consumer habits and business operations.

The House last week gave first-round approval to a bill granting a $2,000 income tax deduction for the purchase of hybrid vehicles manufactured in the United States.

In the Senate, language recently added to a large agriculture bill also addresses alternative-fuel vehicles. The bill includes not only a tax deduction for hybrid purchases, but also incentives for consumers who purchase 85-percent ethanol gasoline and gas-station owners who install alternative fuel facilities.

Plus, a 5 percent biodiesel mandate is making its way through the halls of the Capitol in Jefferson City.

Kansas lawmakers have put forward several green bills, but all are overshadowed by the key issue of the year: a coal-burning power plant expansion in western Kansas.

Both the Senate and the House have passed legislation designed to clear the way for Sunflower Electric Power Corp. to build two new coal plants at its existing Holcomb, Kan., plant…

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has vowed to veto the bill, saying it doesn’t do enough to encourage renewable energy or protect the environment. Continue reading

Market Forces Force REG to Withdraw IPO

reglogo1.gifThe high price of soybean oil is making it awfully tough on some biodiesel makers. In an unfortunate sign of the times for the biodiesel industry, Iowa-based Renewable Energy Group has had to withdraw its attempt at an initial public offering (IPO).

CNNMoney reports that “unfavorable market conditions” has forced the company to reconsider what would have been a $150 million IPO:

The offering, filed in July 2007, listed Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) , Banc of America Securities and Thomas Weisel Partners as managers in the offering. The Ralston, Iowa-based alternative energy company had planned to use the proceeds from the offering to partially finance the construction of three new biodiesel production facilities, pay accrued dividends and general corporate purposes.

Connecticut Town Considers Biodiesel

greenwich.jpgThe town of Greenwich, Connecticut want to run about 150 of their 300 vehicles in the city’s fleet on biodiesel. Unsure how well that might actually work, officials decided to visit another New England town to see how their efforts had gone.

This story in the Greenwich (CT) Times has details:

[Elizabeth Linck, the town's fleet director] and town Purchasing Director Joan Sullivan went last week to Keene, N.H., where the city has been using biodiesel for the past six years, to research the possible changeover.

“We wanted to see it in action,” Linck said. “When you do a project like this, you talk to the people who are doing it successfully.”

From fire trucks to public works vehicles, anything that runs on diesel in Keene’s city fleet uses the same soy-based blend being looked at by Greenwich. About 78 of the city’s 150 vehicles use biodiesel, which requires no special equipment.

Steve Russell, Keene’s fleet director, said the city was looking to cut down exposure to “eye piercing” and “lung piercing” emissions for its residents and employees.

“When you pull that car into that garage, it takes a while for those diesel fumes to go away,” Russell said. “My mechanics have noticed a major difference in the shop. It takes away the nasties.”

Keene is using soy-based B20, and Greenwich officials are considering the same after testing a 5 percent blend at first. While Keene officials say the biodiesel costs them more, they were able to get a state grant to help defray those costs. No word whether Connecticut offers such an incentive.