Looking At The Switchgrass Alternative

Jim LarsonThe second session here at the Transition To A Bio Economy conference was on risk and uncertainty.

Jim Larson, University of Tennessee, talked about farmers risk in growing switchgrass as a biomass feedstock for fuel production. He says that this is a commodity that will come into play looking forward. His research shows that it’s risky for farmers because it’s difficult to establish and takes several years to get to full yield. He thinks that farmers will need incentives from biomass processors to get started.

Harvesting this crop is also risky since you have to deal with large amounts of material that’s subject to weather and storage concerns. Some ways to help with risk would be contracting and price guarantees.

You can listen to my interview with Jim here:

You can also download the interview using this link (mp3).

I’m also uploading pictures to a photo album which you can feel free to use if you’d like: Transition To A Bio Economy Photo Album

Having a Positive Impact on Rural Communities

John MiranowskiOne of our speakers here at the Transition To A Bio Economy conference brought the discussion down to the farm level. John Miranowski, Iowa State University, spoke about the impact of biofuels on the rural economy and the farm structure.

He says that their numbers indicate that increasing biofuels production will have a positive impact on rural communities and farm structure up to a point but that it could have some negative impacts. One thing is certain, he sees an uncertain future for biofuels.

However, even with the uncertainty, he thinks the industry will make a go of it because of an increased demand for fuel. As far as where we’re going, he sees a bigger role for corn and corn stover fuels given the RFS and that this is one area where we have an ability to increase productivity while decreasing environmental impact concerns.

You can listen to my interview with John here:

You can also download the interview using this link (mp3).

I’m also uploading pictures to a photo album which you can feel free to use if you’d like: Transition To A Bio Economy Photo Album

Need To Increase Agricultural Productivity

David ZilbermanLike the first speaker on our program today here at the Transition To A Bio Economy conference, our second speaker, David Zilberman, University of California, Berkeley, says we need to increase agricultural productivity.

His talk was on the distributional effects of biofeuls and he had two conclusions. The first one is that biofuels make some people better off and some people worse off. Drivers are better off since they’re getting their fuel for about 15 cents less than if it didn’t have biofuels in it but consumers of food are worse off since the price of food is higher. He says that’s worse in developing countries where they’re seeing food prices 20 to 40 percent higher. This situation he says is causing political instability which will become an obstacle to the development of biofuels.

His second conclusion is that we have to increase productivity. He says that if we don’t we’re in real trouble. In order to increase agricultural productivity he says we must use biotechnology in all crops.

You can listen to my interview with David here:

You can also download the interview using this link (mp3).

I’m also uploading pictures to a photo album which you can feel free to use if you’d like: Transition To A Bio Economy Photo Album

Ethanol and Corn Price Link Not Long Term

Michael WetzsteinThe first speaker here at the Transition To A Bio Economy conference is Michael Wetzstein, University of Georgia. His talk deals with two issues. One is on price volatility and the other is on food and fuel.

Michael says that gas price volatility can be avoided with fuel diversification by blending renewable fuels with fossil fuels. That’s what his research shows. He also suggests that we could relax gas taxes and reduce the tariff on the importation of Brazilian ethanol.

Another part of his research is on food and fuel and to answer the question of “Is there a direct link between the volatility of ethanol production and the volatility of corn prices. His research has found that there is a link but not a persistent or long lasting one. In fact, in the long run he says there is no direct link.

The bottom line he says is to produce more food.

You can listen to my interview with Michael here:

You can also download the interview using this link (mp3).

I’m also uploading pictures to a photo album which you can feel free to use if you’d like: Transition To A Bio Economy Photo Album

Making a Transition To a Bio Economy

Steve HalbrookThe Farm Foundation conference, “Transition To A Bio Economy, Risk, Infrastructure and Industry Evolution” is underway here in Berkeley, CA. Getting us started was Farm Foundation Vice President, Steve Halbrook.

This conference, which is focusing on biofuels, is part of a series, of which this is part 3.

The Transition to a Bioeconomy series is designed to assess the impacts of the evolving bioeconomy on agriculture, the food system, and rural regions. The third conference in the series, to be Oct. 15-16 in St. Louis, will address environmental and economic development impacts. The first conference in the series examined the integration of agricultural and energy systems. The last conference in the series, slated for early 2009, will focus on the implications of a global bioeconomy.

Transition To A Bio Economy Photo Album

Former EPIC President Gives Fond Farewell

Just two years in and the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council has created a brand identity that’s sweeping across borders… both domestic and international. Tom Branhan, Glacial Lakes Energy, was the main man behind the “e,” serving as Board President for two years. Now, Tom has stepped down from his leading role, saying he’s confident about where the organization is coming from… and where it will be going.

“I am so proud of EPIC and what it’s become in a short two years. It’s nationally recognized now. The “e” is gaining acceptance all over the United States and all over the world.”

Chuck spoke with Tom at EPIC’s first ever annual meeting. You can listen to Chuck’s interview here:

First E85 Station in Massachusetts to Hold Grand Opening

Burke OilE85 will sell for 85 cents per gallon for 85 minutes celebrating the opening of the first publicly accessed E85 fueling location in the state of Massachusetts. Dennis K. Burke, Inc. plans to hold a grand opening celebration on Thursday, June 26 at their new biofuels center at 410 Beacham St. in Chelsea.

“We’re very excited about the grand opening on Thursday. We are currently competively pricing the product at $2.85 per gallon,” said Dennis K. Burke, Inc.’s Chairman of the Board, Ed Burke. “Thanks to Irving Oil, Chelsea Fire, State Fire Marshal and Gov. Patrick’s administration, E85 is now available in Massachusetts.”

Thursday’s ribbon cutting will begin at 10:30 a.m. and will be hosted by Ed Burke and the company President, Ted Burke. Chelsea City Manager Jay Ash will emcee the event. Several state and local officials, as well as “green” industry friends are expected to attend. The E85 promotion, sponsored by General Motors, will begin following the ribbon cutting.

Burke is one of New England’s largest suppliers of diesel fuel, gasoline and motor oil products. The family-owned business has over 45 years of reliable service. They will also offer biodiesel at the Chelsea fueling facility, the first in the state.

Biodiesel Boat Approaches Last Port Before Record

The Earthrace, the 100 percent biodiesel-powered boat trying to set a record for circumnavigation of the globe, is approaching its last port before its final run back to Spain… and a world record.

This update from the earthrace.net web site says Earthrace will dock at Port Suez, Egypt, after getting special permission to go through the Suez Canal, and fuel up for the final run to Sagunto, Spain… where this amazing trip started back on April 27th:

Update from Egypt, 19.29 GMT. Due to essential maintenance work following a challenging trip through monsoon weather, Earthrace was not able to start the journey through the Suez Canal until this afternoon. The crew is very grateful to Admiral Fadel, Chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, for granting special dispensation to the boat to travel through the Canal. As vessels are unable to travel along the canal at night, the boat is now docked half way to Port Said, in Ismailia from where she will set off again at first light tomorrow. Thanks also to Felix Maritime Agents for all their help in making arrangements for a great transit.

On arrival in Port Said, the boat will stop to offload the ground crew and other additional passengers and continue on towards Spain…and the world record!

The Earthrace is in pretty good shape to break the record… about 2,500 miles ahead of the record set for circumnavigation back in 1998.

Biodiesel Could Be Future for Railroads

Trains are being touted right now for their efficient use of fuel. And riding the rails could become even greener, if some testing of biodiesel in locomotives proves positive.

A small train company in the Pacific Northwest is using biodiesel on some of its routes. This story from the Seattle Times says the Eastern Washington Gateway Railroad has fueled up its first train with biodiesel… and best of all… it even comes from a local company:

The train will stop at the Columbia Bioenergy plant here every week or so for another dose of the fuel made from canola oil, restaurant grease, soy and other crops. They hope to have a good idea of how it’s working by the busy harvest time.

“It’ll continue for the summer here, and we’ll evaluate it in three months or so,” said John Howell, president of EWGR, a company employed by the state to run the 109-mile rail line between Cheney and Coulee City.

The project is one of the first biodiesel tests on locomotives in the Northwest. So far, few trains use biodiesel, though there have been experiments in some passenger-train systems in Europe and U.S. shortline railroads similar to this one — in proximity to the crops needed and a production facility.

The demonstration project arose partly from proximity — the rail line runs past Columbia Bioenergy’s plant in Creston, and the company is a customer of the railroad. John Graff, a company founder, said his plant uses regional crops to produce the fuel, so the locomotive project creates a “full loop” between the railroad and its customers.

“We’re putting fuel back into someone who is bringing us our raw feedstock and shipping our biodiesel,” he said. “I think that’s kind of a unique thing.”

Columbia Bioenergy was Washington state’s first certified biodiesel refinery starting back in 2005.

10th E85 Station in Tucson Opens With Promotion

The tenth E85 fueling station in Tucson, Arizona will offer E85 for $1.85 per gallon on Wednesday, June 25 in celebration of their grand opening. The Quik Mart at 1026 E. Irvington Road, at the intersection with Houghton Road in Tucson, will offer the alternative fuel at the discounted rate from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m.

“Bringing a clean fuel alternative like E85 to the Tucson consumer, being a good community partner and being a part of building a better tomorrow was important to Quik Mart,” said Troy Little, owner of the Quik Mart. “It just made sense.”

Quik Mart will also offer a jumbo hot dog, small bag of chips and 32-ounce soft drink for just $1.85.

“Opening Tucson’s 10th E85 site tells me that E85 is not only selling well for the other nine sites, but it also has found a permanent home in Tucson,” said Colleen Crowninshield, manager of the Tucson Clean Cities program at Pima Association of Governments. “With gas prices pushing $4 a gallon and the
need to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil more apparent than ever, we’re proud to be a part of fueling Tucson for $1.85 with clean alternatives to petroleum, such as E85. We’d like to thank Quik Mart and all of our other stations for bringing these fuels to the Tucson region.”

The E85 fuel promotion is sponsored by the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council.

Biodiesel Could Bail Out Hummers

General Motors’ Hummer has caught a lot of heat with gas prices climbing above $4 and $5 a gallon. Those high prices could be the death sentence for gas-guzzling, all-terrain vehicles, as GM looks to save its business by finding products that will sell. But their could be a glimmer of hope on the horizon for the go-anywhere… but drink-everything-in-the-tank… vehicle: biodiesel.

This story in the Boston Herald says the folks at GM need to figure out how to get good gas mileage while maintaining the Hummer’s legendary off-road performance:

For that reason, you’re not likely to see a gasoline-electric hybrid Hummer – too much weight and complexity for the backcountry – but the brand will offer biodiesel-powered versions of all its vehicles by 2010. Biodiesel isn’t made from oil and improves fuel economy 30% or so versus gasoline-powered versions of the same vehicle.

While the product planners look for platforms and technologies that could fit Hummer, strategists within GM ponder the idea of redefining the brand, perhaps as a line of environmentally friendly SUVs.

“It’s never going to be a green brand, but you can wash it in green,” said Joe Phillippi, principal of AutoTrends Consulting, Short Hills, N.J.

“In the end, I think they’ll develop the” smaller “H4 and improve the fuel economy of the H3 and H2.”

Leaner and greener, while keeping the meaner… isn’t that what keeps any business in business these days?

Money Changing Hands at NexGen Biofuels

Well, money oversight at least. NexGen Biofuels has announced plans to replace its current CFO with a more local representative.

NexGen Biofuels Ltd. has announced that Eran Rotem, its Chief Financial Officer, who currently lives in Israel, will be leaving NexGen, effective June 2008. The Company has initiated search for a suitable candidate in the United States to fill this position.

Ram Ajjarapu commented: “We appreciate the contributions that Eran has made to NexGen in the transition from Healthcare Technologies Ltd. His leadership and professionalism have been recognized by everyone throughout the organization. We sincerely wish him every success in the future.”

Click here for more information on NexGen Biofuels.

Iowa Corn Growers Optimistic

Iowa Corn GrowersAt the Iowa Speedway yesterday, the Iowa Corn Growers Association held an outdoor press conference. They used it to help educate media about corn usage by placing banners on the side of a grain trailer showing the relative percentages of corn used for different purposes like livestock feed and ethanol.

I did a short interview with Gary Edwards, ICGA board member. Ken Root, WHO, also participated. Gary farms in Animosa, IA which is in one of the most flood impacted areas of the state. He says that although corn growth is behind schedule and there is a lot of land impacted, he expects that the state will still have a good crop. He wants people to keep in mind that last year they had a record corn crop and this year still has the potential to be one of the biggest. He says the water levels have gone down significantly already and he expects that a lot of those fields will dry out and be re-planted. He has no doubt that they’ll be able to provide all the corn needed for both food and fuel again this year.

You can listen to my interview with Gary here:

Iowa Corn Indy 250 Photo Album

The Evolution of Ethanol

“The industry is at a point where the next evolution is here. You know it’s at the next phase.” Toni Nuernberg, the new Executive Director of the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council says the ethanol industry is facing significant changes and challenges. That’s why, she says, both EPIC members and non-members attended the organization’s first annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska earlier this month. Toni says leaders in the ethanol industry are facing challenges and conflicts never before seen in the industry. At the same time, she says the industry is poised to make an unprecedented impact on fueling the nation.

About 100 industry leaders attended the meeting. Chuck was also there covering the event. You can listen to Chuck’s one-on-one interview Toni here:

Improving Ethanol Plant Efficiency

Improving the efficiency of ethanol plants is critical for a number of reasons, but especially in light of high corn prices that are cutting into margins for producers.

FEW 08 PoetPOET has been working on improving the efficiency of their plants for years now according to President and CEO Jeff Broin (pictured here on the left with Nathan Schock, director of public relations for POET).

“We’ve been developing technology for many years that lower water usage, lower energy usage, increase through-put,” Broin said at the 2008 Fuel Ethanol Workshop. “As we’ve developed these technologies they’ve allowed us to be a little more efficient than the average guy. As with any industry, the low-cost producer is going to survive long term.”

POET’s plant in Ashton, Iowa received an Energy Star Combined Heat & Power Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at the FEW this year. “The Ashton plant actually takes the steam not just to power the plant but then uses that same steam to run the turbine,” said Broin. “So that co-generation is a double use of that same steam which is highly efficient.”

POET currently has 23 plants in operation producing about 1.3 billion gallons of ethanol and they have three more plants under construction in Ohio and Indiana.

Listen to an interview with Jeff Broin from the 2008 FEW here:

2008 Fuel Ethanol Workshop Photo Album