Illinois Biodiesel Plant Hits Million Gallon Mark

A biodiesel plant in Seneca, Illinois has hit the one-million-gallon mark in just the first 25 days of operation.

novalogo.jpgIn a press release, Nova Biosource Fuels says this is just the start of the projected 60 million gallons annual production from the refinery of animal fats and vegetable oils into the green fuel:

“We are pleased with the progress at the Seneca, Illinois refinery,” said Kenneth T. Hern, Chairman and CEO of Nova. “Plant commissioning is proceeding as planned. Train One has operated at nameplate capacity and has exceeded all our performance objectives for yield, throughput and quality. The refinery has successfully demonstrated conversion of feedstocks with free fatty acid levels above 6%. To date, we’ve produced more than 1.25 million gallons, and we expect to begin working on Train Two by the end of the month and Train Three will follow shortly thereafter.”

The Seneca refinery layout incorporates three process trains, each rated at 20 million gallons per year. “Our startup and commissioning plan has been developed using our experience gained during the startup of the two similar 20 million gallons per year refineries we built for third parties in Wisconsin and Mississippi,” said Mr. Hern. “Our plan is to commission the Seneca refinery one train at a time, spaced at 45 to 60 day intervals to smoothly integrate equipment shakedown, staff training, logistical support, markets and overall refinery operations to ramp up production at a methodical and structured pace. We could not be more pleased with the progress on the first train and are looking forward with great anticipation to the startup of the remaining trains.”

Nova has plans to open a total of seven biodiesel plants in the next three years with expected capacity of nearly 200 million gallons of biodiesel a year.

Cellulosic Ethanol Focus at Hearing

A South Dakota lawmaker is urging Congress to allow cellulosic ethanol derived from woody biomass on federal lands to count towards the Renewable Fuels Standard. Current law prevents biofuels made from biomass that originates on public lands or any biomass from private land that is not ‘planted’ and ‘actively managed’ from being counted toward the RFS.

Herseth SandlinDuring a hearing this week on the RFS, Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD) talked about the issue and how it is impacting KL Process Design Group of Rapid City, which is using waste wood product from the Black Hills forest to produce cellulosic ethanol.

“They would like to participate in the renewable energy movement the energy bill fosters and they have no interest in turning the Black Hills into a so-called ‘fuel farm’,” Herseth Sandlin told the committee.

She noted that KL’s plant in Upton, Wyoming uses Ponderosa pine waste from the forest floor which is part of forest management thinning to prevent forest fires. “Leaving slash piles to rot or burning them leads to negative environmental effects that far outweigh any benefit gained when waste returns to soil,” she said.

KL Process DesignRandy Kramer, president and co-founder of KL Process Design, also testified before the committee.

“With a Black Hills National Forest supervisor, our research is dedicated to forest stewardship that includes finding better uses for gathered forest and mill waste that otherwise provides added fuel for forest fires,” said Kramer. “Existing timber harvest and thinning programs already allow for the removal of material from national forests.”

He spoke strongly in support of corn ethanol as the only large volume biofuels bridge to the 2022 cellulose ethanol goal. “We must protect this bridge as a strategic component to allow companies like ours to improve cellulose technology,” Kramer said.

Renewable Fuels Association president Bob Dinneen echoed that sentiment under questioning by committee members. “If you are going to have a second generation ethanol industry, you have to make sure that you have not eviscerated the first generation ethanol industry that is providing the foundation from which those new technologies will be able to flourish.”

DuPont Powers Solar Plant in Hong Kong

dupontpng.pngHong Kong and Shenzhen will be homes to two new DuPont research centers. DuPont will use the new facilities for continued development of photovoltaic (PV) solar energy.

DuPont expects growth in the photovoltaic market to exceed 30 percent in each of the next several years. The company has made significant investments in product development and capacity expansions to help keep pace with the demand.

Accelerating its capability to meet emerging materials requirements is critical for DuPont, which has long been a leading supplier of materials primarily serving the crystalline silicon (c-Si) cell and module markets. The expansions in Hong Kong and Shenzhen will provide new offerings to serve the amorphous silicon (a-Si) thin film market.

Thin film technology is well-suited for large-scale utility applications such as “solar farms” and industrial installations. The growth rate for thin film is projected to be approximately twice as high as demand for c-Si, and DuPont expects this increase to drive specifications for both new and existing products that serve the thin film industry. These include DuPont(TM) Butacite(R) PV sheet based on polyvinyl butyral (PVB), DuPont(TM) SentryGlas(R) PV sheet based on ionomer and DuPont(TM) Elvax(R) ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) that are offered as encapsulation materials for thin film modules.

Report on Role of Ethanol in Food Prices

RFA PodcastThe Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) held a press conference last week at the National Press Club in Washington DC to counter claims that ethanol production is causing higher food prices.

RFA’s “Ethanol Report” podcast features comments from the four agriculture and ethanol industry leaders who participated in the press conference. Featured are former Agriculture Secretary John Block, National Corn Growers Association CEO Rick Tolman, National Farmers Union president Tom Buis and RFA president Bob Dinneen.

You can subscribe to the twice-monthly “The Ethanol Report” by following this link.

Or you can listen to it on-line here:

Ohio Invests One Million in Wind Power

third.jpgWind power is a worthy investment for Ohio. The state is expanding its wind industry through continued investment in its Ohio Third Frontier Program. The Third Frontier Program is a $1.6 billion initiative awards grants to companies that develop innovative technology that drives the acceleration of the state’s emerging energy industry. The latest company to win, Parker Hannifin, will further Ohio’s wind development.

Cleveland, Ohio-based Parker Hannifin was awarded $1 million for the commercialization of a hydraulic system developed by Parker for use in wind turbines. Parker’s hydraulic wind turbine effort will improve overall wind-to-electricity energy generating efficiency while also reducing maintenance expenses.

Ohio’s emerging wind energy boom is also fueled by the state’s long history as a manufacturing powerhouse. Ohio is No. 2 in the United States in potential for manufacturing wind turbines and components. Currently home to more than 60 companies in the wind turbine supply chain; Ohio has already become a leading supplier for the U.S. wind industry. Hundreds of large-scale industrial manufacturing operations stand poised to participate in Ohio’s wind industry growth.

Quebec Boosts Wind Power

boralex.pngTwo companies have been awarded the development of wind power projects about 60 km north-east of Quebec City. Boralex Inc. and Gaz Metro Limited Partnership will take on Hydro-Quebec‘s two wind power projects totaling 272 megawatts of energy.

These two wind farms, located on the private property of Seminaire de Quebec, will be operational by the end of 2013 at the latest. The Seigneurie de Beaupre, host of the Consortium projects, gives them distinctive advantages. In fact, it offers exceptional wind fields due to the quality of the wind itself.

gaz.pngThe Consortium has teamed up with Enercon, a world-renowned leading manufacturer in the wind power sector. Enercon plans on opening a factory of high quality wind power components in Quebec. Boralex already benefits from Enercon’s expertise. More than half of Boralex’s wind power installations operate with Enercon’s technology.

Boralex is a major private electricity producer that operates power stations run on renewable energy. Gaz Metro is operates in New England through Vermont Gas Systems, the sole natural gas distributor in Vermont, and Green Mountain Power Corporation, the second largest electricity distributor in that State.

A Little Green to Change Rush’s Mind

Now don’t get me wrong. I like Rush Limbaugh. I really do. He’s given a voice to the conservative cause for many years… even when things looked pretty bleak for his side. And he does GOOD radio. He knows how to communicate to his audience, and my hat is off to him for his radio skills.

Gold EIB MicrophoneBut when it comes to his position on biofuels, he’s just plain wrong. Not every day, but many days I catch his short commentary on the local radio station on my way to work, and I’ll catch him if I’m out running errands during my lunch hour. And, increasingly, he’s been taking potshots at ethanol and biodiesel. He says it’s bad for your engines… it’s costing you extra at the gas pumps and grocery store… there’s food riots because of the green fuels… and billions of those poor souls in the Developing World will starve to death because of biofuels. I’m amazed that the same scientists who have been bashing his friends in the oil industry, which Limbaugh has dismissed as “junk science,” are now being quoted by Rush as if they brought word from Moses himself! Give me a break!

So what can we do? Well, I think the first thing is to keep putting out factual information about the benefits of ethanol and biodiesel. Tell people how the green fuels are saving the world millions of gallons of non-renewable petroleum. Point out that the biggest cost inputs for the price of food come in the fuel used to plant, harvest, and deliver that food to your store. Keep researching to find more feedstocks to eliminate the food vs. fuel debate. In other words, keep doing what this web site and many others continue to do every day.

But what about the Maha-Rush-ee? This harmless, lovable, little fuzz ball has a huge audience. And he’s got a forum (which he has every right to have) for his Big-Oil fueled rants against biofuels. What else can we do? I say: just pay him!

Look, it might not be very palatable, but I really think that Limbaugh’s viewpoints are for sale. Just look at the example of his most recent sponsor, Chevrolet. For years, Rush has railed against the little four-cylinder cars that get great gas mileage as pretty much worthless death traps for those unfortunate enough to get behind the wheel. But wait, now he’s touting the benefits of a four-cylinder Chevy Malibu. Hmmm… new sponsor, new attitude. I think it could work for the ethanol and biodiesel industries.

Just think, grease (with bio-based oil) his palms a little, and soon enough, he’s singing the benefits of our beloved green fuels: “Folks, this stuff is great… and I should know… I am the smartest man to whom you’ve ever listened.” Then we hear him take a big swig of ethanol, smack his lips, and claim that it’s the tastiest thing he’s had since the pain pills he sent his housekeeper to get. Well, OK, maybe that’s using a bit of dramatic license. But it’s just crazy enough to work. We’ve got to do something. This guy’s just too full of hot air to let it go to waste.

I’m just saying…

Energy Company’s Trucks Running on Biodiesel

dteenergy.gifDetroit, Michigan-based DTE Energy has announced that it is converting its fleet of 800 service trucks and vehicles to biodiesel.

A company press release says the energy company that serves 3.5 million customers will be able to serve them just a little bit greener:

“Converting to biodiesel is a win-win for DTE Energy and the environment,” said Bill Pettit, director of fleet administration and operation for the company. “Biodiesel is simple to use, biodegradable and nontoxic. By using this recycled fuel, we’ll be able to reduce emissions and help move DTE Energy toward a ‘greener’ motor vehicle fleet.”

DTE Energy began using biodiesel in its vehicles earlier this year, blending five percent of the renewable fuel with 95 percent conventional diesel. The company is gradually increasing the blend to 20 percent biodiesel — the industry standard — and expects to complete that conversion by mid- year.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a 20 percent blend of biodiesel fuel reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 15 percent compared to petroleum diesel fuel. Biodiesel also reduces particulate matter — an emission linked to asthma and other diseases — and carbon monoxide, when compared to conventional diesel fuel.

“DTE Energy has 800 diesel-fueled vehicles ranging from construction equipment and bucket trucks to light duty vehicles,” Pettit said. “Converting our fleet to biodiesel is the environmental equivalent of taking about 120 of those vehicles off the road and out of service,” Pettit said.

DTE Energy expects to save $600,000 a year using biodiesel.

Biodiesel Circumnavigation Attempt Ahead of Schedule

earthrace.JPGThe biodiesel-powered speed boat, the Earthrace, was two days ahead of schedule to set a record for circumnavigating the globe as it has just finished its leg across the Atlantic Ocean… docking in San Juan, Puerto Rico after traveling 3,300 nautical miles from Sagunto, Spain.

This story from says the first part of the journey was pretty exciting:

earthraceroute.jpgThis journey was not without its moments. 24 hours short of the Azores, Earthrace lost her autopilot hydraulic pump and the crew had to hand steer, then her starboard fuel lift pump starved her of fuel and she slowed for the last hours of the leg.

After a fast two hour pit stop Earthrace set out on the long, 2315 nautical mile leg across the Atlantic.

Earthrace skipper Pete Bethune said the big seas had made the Atlantic trip rougher than he had hoped.

‘Big waves come racing in and crash-tackle us,’ he said. ‘Earthrace shudders and rocks as the … cabin goes dark as we submarine through each wave, then lights up as we emerge out the other side.’

It was an eventful crossing. Six metre waves pounded the boat for a tough eight hours before the trade winds kicked in giving the spaceship on the water a fast run into the Caribbean.

But it was not all sweetness…the boat’s head had blocked and the crew’s sleeping quarters have been flooded with 50 litres of bio diesel, which leaked from an inspection hatch on the main fuel tank.

The carbon fibre hatch lid was temporarily repaired with a hydraulic jack braced against a bunk to hold it closed.

Now that it has stopped in Puerto Rico, the troubles aren’t necessarily over for the Earthrace. It’s Spanish biodiesel was not dockside as expected and delayed for 24 hours the next leg by 24 hours. The good news is: it’s given the crew some time to make some much-needed repairs.

You can follow the Earthrace’s progress at

Biodiesel: Fueling the Developing World

Opponents of biofuels like to bang the drum of doom and gloom saying how green products, such as biodiesel, are causing world food shortages… especially in developing countries.

But this article from Medill Reports – Chicago says that one man is helping poorer countries, such as Haiti, develop alternative energy solutions without tapping into those nations’ precious food supplies:

haiti.jpgNow, many around the world are blaming biofuels, including biodiesel, for increasing international food prices and leading to starvation in developing nations just like Haiti.

“This is so ironic. For me, it’s like karma or something,” [Mark Rice, CEO of Biofuels Technology LLC, in Northbrook, Illinois] says with a note of disbelief and an idea for using Haiti’s jatropha tree as a solution to the problem.

Haitians currently use the plant for fencing because it is thorny and inedible, so goats stay away from it. But Rice and others see a possible cash crop in jatropha for biodiesel that could bring investment and jobs to a nation that greatly needs both.

The article goes on to say that Rice’s family has been producing biodiesel for three generations, so he knows plenty about the business. He also realizes that the price of the main feedstock, soybean oil, has tripled in the last three years. That’s why he sees additional feedstocks, such as jatropha, as important… especially for the Developing World.

Oil Company Invests in Cellulosic Ethanol

MarathonMarathon Oil has made a $10 million equity investment in the research and development of cellulosic ethanol at Mascoma Corporation

The investment is part of $61 million raised in Mascoma’s third round of funding. As part of the investment, Marathon Senior Vice President Cliff Cook has joined the Mascoma Board of Directors.

“This investment in Mascoma’s leading-edge technology reflects our commitment to address increasing energy demand by bringing to market environmentally friendly, renewable fuel derived from non-food domestic biomass,” said Clarence P. Cazalot, Jr., Marathon President and CEO.

MascomaIn addition to Marathon, General Motors Corporation and several other investors participated in the third round of financing. During a press conference last week announcing General Motors’ investment, Mascoma Chairman and CEO Bruce Jamerson deferred questions about the company’s financing. “We are not talking today about financing, this is GM’s day,” said Jamerson. “But we will soon.”

With the completion of this round of financing, Mascoma has raised approximately $100 million in equity investment. Mascoma has also received commitments for over $100 million in state and federal grants, including a $26 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Ethanol Standard Debated as Oil Prices Rise

House EnergyAs the House Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality heard testimony regarding the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) on Tuesday, oil hit yet another record high of $122 a barrel.

Renewable Fuels Association
president Bob Dinneen reminded the committee of that several times during the hearing, having to correct his own pre-prepared remarks. “Mr. Chairman, the RFS made sense when you passed it in December and prices were $90 a barrel,” Dinneen said. “It makes more sense today with crude oil prices at $120 a barrel. I’m sorry, just while this hearing has been going on, the market has increased and we’re now looking at $122 a barrel oil.”

“Ethanol is the only tool we have today that can address the nation’s most serious economic issue – our dependence on imported oil and the rising price of gasoline and crude oil,” he said.

EPAEnvironmental Protection Agency Deputy Assistant Administrator Robert Meyers told the hearing that the request by Texas for a waiver of the RFS will go through the administrative process required by law.

“It’s our intent to shortly issue a federal register notice on this matter and establish a docket to receive public comments,” Meyers said. “EPA is required under the Clean Air Act to approve or disapprove a state petition within 90 days of receiving it.”

Besides Dinneen and Meyers, other witnesses on the issue included Nathaneal Greene with the Natural Resources Defense Council, Charles Drevna with the National Petrochemical and Refiners, Randy Kremer of cellulosic ethanol producer KL Process Design Group, Scott Faber with the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Rick Tolman with the National Corn Growers Association, Dr. Mark Stowers with POET, and Gawain Kripke of the food aid group Oxfam America.

Fungus Could Aid Ethanol Production

A fungus capable of breaking down cotton and other fibers could hold the key to improvements in the production of biofuels.

Biofuel FungusResearchers led by Los Alamos National Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute announced this week that the genetic sequence of the fungus Trichoderma reesei has uncovered important clues about how the organism breaks down plant fibers into simple sugars.

The fungus is best known for eating through uniforms and canvas tents during World War II but that appetite could mean a more efficiently and cost effective way to convert corn, switchgrass and even cellulose-based municipal waste into ethanol.

“The sequencing of the Trichoderma reesei genome is a major step towards using renewable feedstocks for the production of fuels and chemicals,” said Joel Cherry, director of research activities in second-generation biofuels for Novozymes, a collaborating institution in the study. “The information contained in its genome will allow us to better understand how this organism degrades cellulose so efficiently and to understand how it produces the required enzymes so prodigiously. Using this information, it may be possible to improve both of these properties, decreasing the cost of converting cellulosic biomass to fuels and chemicals.”

The research paper was published in the journal Nature Biotechnology on Monday.

Algae-based Biodiesel Makers Getting Closer to Marketable

For a while, we’ve been telling you about one of the hottest trends in the biodiesel business: turning algae into biodiesel.

petgreensola.gifThis entry from C|’s Green Tech Blog says that at least three companies are close to making the green pond scum into green fuel with even more close on their heels. Florida-based PetroAlgae wants to test a commercial algae-biodiesel system next year, while GreenFuel Technologies and Solazyme (both previously featured on this blog… GreenFuel on October 3, 2007 and Solazyme as recently as last April 17th) say they’re close to commercial applications as well. In addition California-based LiveFuels has a target of 100 million gallons of biodiesel from algae in the next two years. All of this is very good news for the very green fuel source:

These companies are pursuing algae because its potential as a fuel is so promising: it’s a non-food crop, removes large amounts of carbon dioxide from the air, and grows fast.

Algae has a relatively high energy density compared to soybeans, which means more soy on more land needs to be planted for the same amount of fuel yield.

“What’s happening is there has been more focus recently on the food-versus-fuel debate, more focus on the price of feedstock, and more understanding that using an agricultural-based crop as a fuel is not sustainable,” said Michael Weaver, the CEO and co-founder of Seattle-area algae start-up Bionavitas. “We’re seeing that reflected in the marketplace.”

Experts admit that algae is not a panacea for all the issues facing biodiesel. It’s still an experimental process, and just like any new venture, the article points out there have been some growing pains. But many agree that it will be just a matter of time before the non-food algae becomes a major player in the biodiesel market.

Biodiesel Helping Food and Feed Prices

So often lately, we’ve heard from biofuels naysayers who make all kinds of outrageous charges about how biodiesel and ethanol are pushing prices for human and livestock food through the roof. Too many times those complaints are coming from folks in the agriculture community, especially cattle and hog producers. But some are starting to recognize that biodiesel could actually help the price of livestock feed.

Recently at a hearing before the Missouri House’s Transportation Committee on a pending 5 percent biodiesel mandate in the Show-Me State, members of the Missouri Dairy Association spoke up about the benefits of the green fuel:

“The Missouri Dairy Association supports biodiesel and this bill,” said [executive director Dave] Drennan. “As more soybeans are crushed to meet the demands of biodiesel producers, more soybean meal is made available to livestock producers in greater quantities. Affordable feed is important to maintaining any dairy operation. By increasing the supply of soybean meal, biodiesel helps dairy producers keep costs down.”

High fuel prices have also impacted dairy prices. According to the Missouri Department of Transportation, 85 percent of all products that are produced and purchased in the state are shipped by diesel-powered trucks. Despite local dairy production, Missouri is a milk-deficit state and imports 1.7 billion pounds of milk from other states each year.

“If you put that much milk in tanker trucks end-to-end, the line would stretch westward from downtown St. Louis past Salina, Kansas,” said Drennan. “We are talking millions of dollars in transportation costs alone. We could put that money to work in Missouri if we could grow our dairy industry and use more biodiesel.”

Research from the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri says that while soybean oil prices have been strengthened by biodiesel production, the process has meant more soybean meal, and thus, lower prices for the livestock feed.

So the next time someone tries to blame biodiesel for the high cost of feed, you’ll have one more fact… and another group of livestock producers… to prove them wrong.