U. of Washington Moving Up to B20 and Beyond

washington.GIFThe University of Washington, already running its diesel vehicles on 5 percent biodiesel, is moving its mix up to a 20 percent blend… with plans to use an even higher percentage in the future.

This story in the university’s newspaper, The Daily, is wrapping up a trial period started in 2006 with just the 5 percent blend:

“The UW Motor Pool is going to start using B20 in the next few weeks, and there are plans for B90 in the future,” said Ari Kasapyan, marketing and communications manager at the UW Motor Pool.

The move to B20 in the coming weeks places the UW Motor Pool ahead of schedule on the biodiesel front. The spring 2006 UW Motor Pool newsletter, the first to outline plans for the implementation of biodiesel, pegged the starting date of the B20 biodiesel blends in 2009.

All of these changes are coming along as part of the Green Fleet Initiative for the University, originally authored by David Carr, the manager of Motor Pool Operations. The initiative covers a vast range of recycling, sustainability and other “green” policies meant to reduce the environmental impact of the University’s day-to-day operations.

“Each of us must be the change agent that moves the sustainability effort forward,” Carr said upon the creation of the Green Fleet Initiative.

The Green Fleet Initiative also includes a car-sharing program by the motor pool, along with replacing outgoing vehicles with hybrid and high-mileage ones.

Ethanol Education Pack and Contests

EPIC kids stuffThe science of ethanol can now be taught in the classroom in an informative and entertaining way with the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council’s (EPIC) new educational fun pack and student contests.

The pack includes six different units for teachers – English, geography, science, math, vocabulary, and social studies. It also includes lots of fun stuff like the “How Ethanol is Made” video, several in-class activities including a crossword puzzle, word find and quiz, wristbands, environmental clings, children’s books, t-shirts and five Team Ethanol IndyCar® Series die-cast cars.

In addition, EPIC is sponsoring ethanol essay, podcast and coloring contests for students. Teachers who teach 4th through 6th grade can go online to www.drivingethanol.org/classroom to order their free educational materials and find out about the contests.

US BioEnergy and VeraSun Pick Sioux Falls

VeraSunVeraSun Energy and US BioEnergy will be moving in together later this year to start life as a merged company in Sioux Falls, SD.

US BioenergyThe two companies announced plans to get hitched back in late November and the marriage is expected to be finalized by the end of the first quarter of 2008, with the completion of the transition to the new headquarters targeted for the end of the summer. VeraSun is currently located in Brookings, SD while US BioEnergy is headquartered in St. Paul, MN.

Don Endres, VeraSun Chairman and CEO said “The primary objectives in determining a final location included the ability to retain and recruit an expanded workforce, the overall cost of doing business, proximity to our growing fleet of ethanol production facilities, access to travel and quality of life for our employees. When we evaluated all of the criteria, Sioux Falls emerged as the best location to meet our business objectives.”

Gordon Ommen, US BioEnergy President and CEO and future VeraSun Chairman said “Our biorefineries in Minnesota and South Dakota will employ hundreds of people and contribute significantly to agricultural markets and local and regional businesses and industries.”

Coskata Teams With ICM for First Plant

Next generation ethanol company Coskata on Wednesday announced an agreement with ICM Inc. to design and construct a commercial ethanol plant using Coskata’s biological fermentation technology.

CoskataLast month, the young company made a splash at the North American international Auto Show in Detroit where a strategic partnership with General Motors was announced.

Bill Roe, president and CEO of Coskata said, “Coskata and ICM will speed the commercialization of a process that will convert biomass into advanced biofuels from a number of renewable materials, at a production cost of less than $1 a gallon.”

ICMAccording to Dave Vander Griend, president and CEO of ICM Coskata’s thermal biomass conversion process offers promising technology.

“It has always been ICM’s mission to help sustain agriculture through innovation,” Vander Griend said. “Coskata’s production process makes them a valuable ally as we continue to pursue advancements in renewable technology towards the creation of advanced and cellulosic biofuels as directed by the recent Energy Bill.”

The location of the first Coskata plant will be announced at a later date, but officials say they expect the facility to open in 2010.

Biodiesel Energy Balance Improves

A new analysis was unveiled today at the National Biodiesel Conference in Orlando that shows the energy balance of biodiesel is a positive ratio of 3.5-to-1, up from the 3.2 to 1 ratio determined by the Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) and USDA in 1998.

According to a release from the National Biodiesel Board,
the new research conducted at the University of Idaho in cooperation with USDA.

NBB conference 08“The bottom line is that the energy balance of biodiesel has definitely improved in the last decade,” says University of Idaho Department Head of Biological and Agricultural Engineering Jon Van Gerpen, who credits Assistant Professor Dev Shrestha and graduate student Anup Pradhan for their work on the study. “The increase in soybean yields and a decrease in herbicide use greatly contributed to the increased energy balance. Meanwhile, energy used for crushing soybeans is significantly lower than what was reported in the NREL study.”

You can listen to an interview with Van Gerpen here:

Food Versus Fuel Session at Biodiesel Conference

NBB conference 08One of the most popular sessions at this week’s National Biodiesel Conference in Orlando was “What’s the Rule on Food Vs. Fuel?” which featured a panel of experts including Chris Schroeder with Centrec Consulting, Jim Duffield with USDA and John Urbanchuk of LECG, LLC.

All speakers made the point that biofuels may be getting the blame for higher prices, but energy costs in general are a much bigger factor. Urbanchuk says raw commodity prices play a very small role in food prices. “In fact, the work that we’ve done indicates that energy prices have roughly twice the impact that any individual commodity such as corn and soybeans do in determining retail food prices.”

NBB conference 08He says that food items where corn and soybeans play a major role only account about 25 percent of the food basket.

The panel also drove home the point that additional feedstocks will help alleviate the food versus fuel debate and that it is important for the industry to educate the media and consumers about the real reasons behind higher food prices.

You can listen to an interview with Urbanchuk here:

You can also get complete coverage of the National Biodiesel Conference on the conference blog.

See 2008 National Biodiesel Conference photos on theFlicker Photo Album from the 2008 National Biodiesel Conference by clicking here.

RFA to Testify on Energy Act

RFAThe president of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) will present testimony Thursday to the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee at a hearing on the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

Dinneen’s intends to tell the committee that the American ethanol industry stands ready to do its part to make the law successful.

Putting the importance of developing a renewable fuels industry in the context of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Dinneen will note, “An analysis conducted for the RFA using the U.S. Department of Energy’s existing GREET model shows that increasing the use of ethanol and other renewable fuels to 36 billion gallons annually by 2022 could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by some 176 million metric tons, equal to removing the annual emissions of more than 27 million cars from the road.”

Moreover, given the downturn America’s economy is experiencing, Dinneen will underscore the important economic engine renewable fuel production can be for the nation. Economic analysis of the impact of increased domestic biofuel production and use as a result of the EISA anticipate the creation of more than 1 million new jobs, the addition of $1.7 trillion to the gross domestic product, and an increase in household incomes of more than $400 million.

NASA-Funded Research to Study Biofuels Crops Impact

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is funding a $738,000 three-year study by South Dakota State University looking at possible environmental changes that could accompany a shift toward new biofuel crops such as perennial grasses.

SDSU studyThe three-year study will focus on land use in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, western Minnesota and northern Iowa. “If you look at one of the maps by the Renewable Fuels Association, the hotspot of the activity is in this area,” said professor Geoff Henebry, a senior scientist in the Geographic Information Science Center of Excellence (GIScCE) at SDSU.

DSU research scientist Michael Wimberly said, “It’s a very complex system. We do not anticipate having widespread changes throughout the region. Because biofuels feedstocks are bulky, you want to minimize transportation costs. So it makes the most sense to be growing crops around ethanol plants. There are certainly lots of ethanol plants built, under construction, and planned. So you can imagine ‘patchy’ kinds of changes.”

Preliminary results should be available in 12 to 24 months.

In the SDSU photo – scientists Henebry (left) and Wimberly are examining possible environmental changes that could accompany shifts in land used for biofuels crops.

Iowans Choose Ethanol

Iowa RFAAccording to the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA), Iowans chose E10 nearly 74 percent of the time in 2007. This is up from 69 percent in 2006 and just below the all-time record of 75 percent set in 2005.

“Iowa’s ethanol sales were strong in 2007 as E10 was often 10 to 13 cents per gallon cheaper than gasoline without ethanol,” said Monte Shaw, IRFA Executive Director. “Our neighbors to the north and south (Minnesota and Missouri) use ethanol in every gallon of gasoline, so we’ve still got work to do. But strong growth in E85 sales and implementation of the 25-percent Iowa renewable fuels standard should move us in the right direction.”

Iowa is the leader in renewable fuels production with 28 ethanol refineries and the capacity to produce nearly 2.1 billion gallons annually. There are 16 ethanol refineries under construction or expansion that will add over 1.5 billion gallons of annual capacity. In addition, Iowa has 14 biodiesel refineries with a combined annual capacity of over 315 million gallons in operation and two more under construction that will add another 35 million gallons of capacity.

Biodiesel Conference Trade Show

A record number of exhibitors are showing their wares to attendees at the 2008 National Biodiesel Conference and Expo.

EcoJetKeep in mind this is only the fifth annual conference for this industry and about 4,000 people are at the event with almost 400 exhibitors. Many of the booths are showcasing new technology for the industry – while others, like New Holland, are focusing on the fun stuff.

The EcoJet is a creation of Jay Leno and General Motors. This bad boy sports a jet engine and runs on 100 percent biodiesel and it could even go head to head with an Indy car since they say it could top 220 miles per hour.

See more coverage of the conference on the official Biodiesel Conference Blog. Your friendly and hard-working conference bloggers – John Davis and myself – will be hard at it again today with coverage to include the Eye on Biodiesel awards and a look at how some big Florida companies are using biodiesel.

BioExtend Celebrates First Anniversary

Eastman Dr. ClineEastman Chemical Company showcased new test data of Eastman BioExtend 30 at the 2008 National Biodiesel Conference & Expo in Orlando on Monday.

Eastman is also be celebrating the one year anniversary of the BioExtend launch, which debuted at 2007’s National Biodiesel Conference.

BioExtend, a high-performance antioxidant for biodiesel fuels, increases shelf life and enhances product protection. The oxidative stability of biodiesel can be improved by the use of antioxidants like BioExtend.

The new test data was presented by Dr. Sharon Cline, Eastman’s BioExtend technology leader. Listen to an interview with Dr. Cline here.

Beetle-Killed Trees Could Make Ethanol

Bark BeetleBark beetles are busy little buggers in the Rocky Mountain region these days, killing off swaths of trees thanks to a couple of warmer winters that have kept them more active than normal.

Officials are looking at ways to utilize the dead timber to avoid fueling forest fires in the region and one idea is to use it to make ethanol, according to a story from Wyoming on SanDiego.com.

“We’ve had at least five different energy companies looking at different forms of energy conversion,” said Larry Hicks, natural resource coordinator for the Little Snake River Conservation District.

Hicks said the technology to make ethanol from wood chips is rapidly advancing.

Carbon County Commissioner Jerry Paxton said making ethanol from wood chips would be better than using corn because corn has other uses – namely, to eat. He said he hopes that Carbon County can land a pilot project to make ethanol from beetle-killed trees.

“We’re just putting out feelers to anybody who may be interested,” he said.

World’s First Oil Producers At It Again

solazyme.jpgOne of the companies at the 2008 National Biodiesel Conference and Expo is Solazyme, a company that is making biodiesel out of algae. In fact, the folks from Solazyme brought a sweet ride to the conference… a Mercedes Benz C320 that runs on the green fuel made from the green algae.

I caught up with Jonathon Wolfson from Solazyme and asked him some questions about how his company was able to produce the fuel from what some people might see as an unlikely source.

He pointed out that algae are the original oil producers on the planet. “Frankly, the last time you filled up your car with any petroleum fuel, chances are the oil that fuel was made from came from algae, maybe a hundred million years ago. The strategy has been to take the original oil producers, which, by the way, are the most efficient oil producers and collapse that 100-million-year process into a few days,” Wolfson says.

Wolfson his algal-biodiesel is meeting tough American standards for diesel and the even more stringent Euopean standards. For the consumer, he says they’ll find the fuel performs superbly, sometimes even better than conventional petroleum diesel.

Right now, his company is producing the algal-biodiesel in small quantities, but he hopes that within the next couple of years, they’ll be on a commercially-viable scale of production.

Listen to my entire interview with Wolfson by clicking here:

Check out the conference blog to see more stories and pictures and see more pictures.

Riding on Biodiesel with Michael Peterson

biodieselconference3.gifCountry music star Michael Peterson was one of the featured speakers at this morning’s “Ride-and-drive” event at the 2008 National Biodiesel Conference and Expo in Orlando, Florida.

michael.jpgCindy grabbed Michael for a quick interview right after he returned from a test drive of a 2008 Dodge Ram 3500 diesel pick up truck running on B20. As he stepped out of the vehicle, he joked how he was just sure the organizers meant for him to take the truck home (sorry, Michael!). But, seriously, he really loved the way the vehicle drove and its acceleration.

During his interview, Michael said he’s been traveling the country, spreading the good news of biodiesel: what it means for our economy, ecology, and the education of our youth. “There are so many possibilities inherent in this product and the development of it,” Michael told Cindy.

He says the whole nature of the biodiesel business is one of innovation because the people involved are not afraid to look at things in a new way. “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

Listen to Cindy’s interview with Michael here:

Also, you can see more news, pictures, and hear more audio from the 2008 National Biodiesel Conference and Expo by clicking on the conference blog.

No Budget Change in Ethanol Tariff

Bush BudgetReports of the demise of the ethanol tariff in the new White House budget were apparently greatly exaggerated.

Despite hints from Energy Secretary Sam Bodman last week that changes might be made to the expiring U.S. ethanol import tariff in its new 2009 government budget that was sent to Congress on Monday, no such changes were included.

Reuters reports that an energy department spokesperson said while the 54-cent-a-gallon tariff is set to expire at the end of December during the 2009 budget year, which begins this October 1, the administration will have discussions with lawmakers later this year on what should be done with the tariff.

The tariff is designed to protect the U.S. ethanol industry from other countries taking advantage of the 51 cent per gallon blenders’ tax credit.