The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has released a new report, “Why Biobased?” outlining current literature that explores opportunities in the emerging biobased economy. The report is a precursor for a more comprehensive economic study planned for release by the USDA BioPreferred program and will focus on the economic impacts of the biobased products industry.
“This new report presents the opportunities U.S. agriculture and forests have in the emerging bioeconomy,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The recent inclusion of mature market products into the BioPreferred program strengthens our commitment to the U.S. biobased economy and brings together two of the most important economic engines for rural America: agriculture and manufacturing.”
The new report explores how government policies and industry business-to-business sustainability programs are driving the biobased economy. The report also demonstrates that the biobased economy is, in fact, growing and it offers great potential for increased job creation in numerous sectors across the U.S. For instance, one report cited concludes that biobased chemicals are expected to constitute over 10 percent of the chemical market by 2015. Another report in the study concludes that there is a potential to produce two-thirds of the total volume of chemicals from biobased materials, representing over 50,000 products, a $1 trillion annual global market.
On the heels of this completed study, the USDA BioPreferred program has awarded a contract for a more in-depth economic study of biobased products and economic impacts, including research on job creation and economic value. It will be the first federally sponsored economic report of its kind targeting the biobased products industry in the U.S. Congress mandated the upcoming study in the 2014 Farm Bill.
The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) has estimated that U.S.-based jobs for the renewable chemicals sector will rise from approximately 40,000 jobs in 2011, which represents 3-4 percent of all chemical sales, to over 237,000 jobs by 2025. This employment level would represent approximately 20 percent of total chemical sales.
Continental Energy Corporation, an emerging international energy investment company, announced that its Tanzanian affiliate, Ruaha River Power Company Ltd. has begun construction of the Phase-I development of its Malolo Mini-Grid. They have also begun signing up first subscribers from a waiting list of 400 customers. The Mini-Grids are being installed in an area surrounding the village of Malolo and three nearby villages, all located in the Kilosa District, Morogoro Region, Tanzania.
The Malolo Mini-Grid is the first of four separate, isolated rural “Mini-Grids” to be built, owned, and operated by the Ruaha Power, from which it intends to generate, distribute, and sell electrical power directly to consumers at pre-payment meters. When complete, the four Malolo Mini-Grids will have a combined generation capacity of 300kW and each Mini-Grid shall directly deliver 75kW of power to a combined total of approximately 2,500 identified residential, commercial, and light industrial customers.
Phase-I of the Malolo Mini-Grid development is expected to begin delivering power by the end of the first quarter of 2015. It involves the installation and commissioning of the first embedded generators, a 25kW hybrid biomass gasifier and a 25kW diesel generation plant, together with more than four kilometers of low voltage distribution network.
The distribution network will be constructed to standards sufficient for connection to the national grid at such time as it may be extended into the Malolo Mini-Grid area. A 21,500 square-foot site near the village of Malolo has been acquired for the first generator house and power line easements have been arranged. Civil works and the construction of the first powerhouse and office has begun and are expected to be complete by year end.
A Phase-II development is planned to add solar PV capacity to complete a hybrid biomass-solar PV-diesel powered Mini-Grid. Ruaha Power plans to duplicate the Phase-I and Phase-II development at each of the other three villages, one after the other, upon completion of Phase-II of the first network.
Alphabet Energy has introduced what they are calling the world’s most powerful thermoelectric generator that captures exhaust heat and converts it into electricity, called the E1. The generator attaches to an exhaust stack and uses Alphabet’s patented thermoelectric materials to convert waste heat into electricity. Thermoelectrics use a temperature differential to generate electricity in the solid state. According to Alphabet Energy, the E1 generates up to 25 kWe per 1,000 kWe engine, saving 52,500 liters of diesel fuel per year, per engine. This product introduction is the first for the company, which was founded in 2009 at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
“Today we’re making history and marking a milestone in industrial energy efficiency with the introduction of the E1,” said Alphabet Energy CEO and Founder Matthew L. Scullin. “People have been trying to make an industrial-scale thermoelectric generator for a long time. Customers want waste-heat recovery solutions that are simple pieces of industrial equipment rather than complex power plants.”
“With the E1, waste heat is now valuable,” Scullin added. “Saving fuel has the potential to be one of the biggest levers a company has in reducing operating expenses. That potential is finally realized with the E1, the world’s first waste-heat recovery product that meets the mining’s and oil & gas industry’s criteria for simple, strong, and reliable solutions.”
While NASA has used thermoelectrics since the 1950s, high materials costs made them prohibitive for wider use. However, Alphabet’s proprietary advancements in silicon and tetrahedrite have enabled the company to create the first highly efficient thermoelectric materials that use abundant resources. Thermoelectrics are unique because they are solid-state; which means the E1 operates with technology that has no moving parts, no working fluids and requires minimal maintenance.
Compared to other waste heat recovery systems, the Alphabet Energy said its E1 requires only minor up front engineering scope and no operation by the customer. This makes it ideally suited for remote and industrial applications where ongoing system support capacity is limited. The E1 requires no engine modifications and is installed with a simple process that involves only exhaust coupling and electrical hookup.
Mechanics in Kansas had the opportunity to learn about NASCAR first hand when they attended the Hollywood Casino 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Race on Sunday, October 5, 2014 at the Kansas Speedway hosted by the Kansas Corn Commission. The Commission has been a part of the American Ethanol partnership with Growth Energy, National Corn Growers Association and several state corn associations since 2011.
“All NASCAR race vehicles have raced on E15, 15 percent ethanol fuel since the 2011–that’s over 6 million miles of racing on E15,” said Kansas Corn Commission CEO Greg Krissek. “This race was a great opportunity to help mechanics see firsthand how high performance ethanol works in NASCAR race vehicles.”
Austin Dillon, who drove the #3 American Ethanol car spoke to the group and answered questions before the race. Dillon is the American Ethanol spokesman. He drives for the Richard Childress Racing team and is one of the top rookie drivers in the Sprint Series. The Kansas mechanics spoke with Dillon and were treated to a tour of the garage and pit areas and walked through the RCR team’s American Ethanol hauler before going to their seats for the race. The RCR team drivers, Dillon, Ryan Newman and Paul Menard all had top ten finishes Sunday. Newman had a sixth place finish and Menard was ninth.
“It was a good day for everyone on the No. 3 team,” Dillon said. “I’m happy that we could get a top-10 finish for American Ethanol, Dow, Cheerios, Bass Pro Shops, and everyone associated with Richard Childress Racing. We’re working hard and learning a lot. It was a good day and I’m excited for Charlotte Motor Speedway next week and finishing the rest of the season out strong.”
The American Ethanol group brought about 400 fans to the race on Sunday. The fans included farmers, ethanol producers and industry partners.
“Austin and Richard Childress are both fantastic spokesmen for American Ethanol and are true believers in the high performance qualities of ethanol blended fuel. They were excited to have the mechanics come through their garage Sunday,” added Krissek. “The mechanics in our group asked very good questions about the fuel and the NASCAR engines. They learned that ethanol blends work just fine in NASCAR race cars as well as the cars and trucks they work on every day.”
The Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RV0), Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research has developed a method that can help companies and government authorities create biobased chains, from source materials to end products. The method was developed out of a need for companies to develop successful production chains for the production of biofuels or biomaterials from biomass-based resources.
According to senior scientist Wolter Elbersen at the institute for Food & Biobased Research, the method is mainly intended for businesses and investors looking to establish a biobased production chain locally, or for export to the Netherlands or other EU countries. “They often have trouble evaluating whether developing a biobased production or export chain is feasible or how it can be done commercially,” said Elbersen. “This method provides an insight into which factors are at play.”
The method is a step-by-step plan for the development of a biobased export chain. It includes a classification of the various types of biomass.
Scientist Jan van Dam at Food & Biobased Research explained that an analysis was made of which crops and products are most suitable, and how market demands are expected to develop. “We then described how businesses or investors can use a SWOT analysis to evaluate whether a local crop is a good starting point for the development of a biobased trade chain. This includes factors such as the availability of the crop and the infrastructure, security of supplies, costs and the degree to which the source material can be produced in a sustainable way.”
The method also offers a list of criteria for determining the most suitable location for converting the source material into tradable products. It deals with questions such as which country has the best infrastructure and the most educated employees? Which location offers the lowest operational costs and the best logistics? And where do the co-products or by-products have the most value? This involves issues such as heat for heating networks, CO2 for CO2 fertilisation or lignin for new chemical products.
Last week Biofuels Digest Editor Jim Lane posed the question: Is there really enough affordable feedstock for the second generation ethanol wave? According to Robert Kozak of Atlantic Biomass Conversions an co-founder of Advanced Biofuels USA, “Yes, if we realistically address the financial realities of feedstock producers and feedstock buyers.” He reviewed the current weaknesses in current biomass development philosophy for feed, fuel, chemicals and biobased products and penned his findings in a white paper.
Kozak looked at a several possible biomass feedstocks including switchgrass, miscanthus and other grasses to dandelion roots and carrot and sugar beet residues. He concludes that the combination of saturated markets and increasing production costs may soon cause corn growers to either start returning land to the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and other programs (and increasing U.S. taxpayer costs) or to find other crops. In response, he advocates taking a closer look at what we have learned about biomass conversion technologies over the past 10 years along with farm policy.
In the paper he writes, “So, with approximately 20-25 percent of current US corn production being used for fuel ethanol, the questions for growers become: Could portions of this land be used for lower nutrient input biomass crops that would produce comparable income from ethanol or other biofuels and biomaterials? Could corn land not within current shipping distance of existing ethanol refineries also be used for biofuel/biomaterial crops? … I think the right answers to these questions could not only retain current grower incomes but more importantly, could be an opportunity to build the foundation of a true Advanced Biofuel and Biomaterial System.”
Kozak proposes root crops as a viable solution to these challenges. He bases his arguments on cell wall structure, lack of pesky lignin, and potential for over-wintering in situ to address storage logistics, etc. He acknowledges that these are very preliminary thoughts on a complex issue which deserves greater scrutiny. He also suggests convening an action-oriented conference or a series of workshops where experts involved in all aspects of the subject can gather for intense discussions.
There is a new documentary coming to a theater near you: PUMP. The film tells the story of America’s addiction to oil. Stories told range from Standard Oil’s illegal tactics to the dominance of oil companies. The goal of the film is to explain why and how consumers can end Big Oil’s monopoly and “win choice at the pump”.
According to the movie’s website, gasoline is our only option of transportation fuel today. With global demand rising and the continued dependence on gas our wallets are thinning. In addition, air pollution is getting worse and Americans are fighting wars in oil-rich countries.
PUMP shows consumers how making a variety of replacement fuels widely available will reduce fuel prices across the board. Diversifying the market with replacement fuels that are cheaper, cleaner and American made will also create jobs, strengthening the economy at home and promoting stability abroad.
The movie features experts including John Hofmeister, former President of Shell Oil Co.; Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, Inc.; Peter Goldmark, former president of the Rockefeller Foundation; our colleague Jim Lane and other noteworthy figures.
To see where the movie is headed and to buy tickets, visit the PUMP website.