DF Cast: Cal. Grants for Ethanol, Biodiesel Infrastructure

It’s an issue we’ve talked about before … plenty of ethanol and biodiesel and vehicles that can burn the green fuels but not enough infrastructure to support those cars’ and trucks’ needs. But a little help from the government is changing that in one of the largest concentrations of privately-owned vehicles … and incidently, one of the largest concentrations of flex-fuel vehicles in the country … California.

Matt Horton is the CEO of Propel Fuels, a California-based company that provides E85 ethanol and biodiesel to existing stations. He says having the types of pumps that can handle those fuels is biggest problem.

“One of the key challenges in the alternative fuels and biofuels market in particular being the lack of infrastructure to provide everyday customers with access to the fuels.”

He says there are plenty of flex-fuel vehicles that can burn E85 ethanol and plenty of diesel vehicles able to use biodiesel. But the infrastructure to provide these biofuels and the public’s awareness that they can use ethanol in their flex-fuel vehicle are lacking. To fix that, Propel has received $11 million in state and federal grants to put in 75 E85 ethanol pumps in California. Anthony Eggert sits on the California Energy Commission (CEC). He says the state’s portion of the money … about four million dollars … comes from California’s Alternative and Renewable Fuels and Vehicle Technology program … also known as AB 118, named for the enabling legislation that created it. He justifies the tax money spent on this program as just a drop in the bucket compared to what consumers have to spend on non-renewable, petroleum-based fuels.

“It’s around $100 million per year for the CEC to invest in a portfolio of non-petroleum fuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, lower our petroleum dependency and improving our energy security. In California alone, we spend approximately $150 million per day on gasoline and diesel fuel.” He says the impact on the economy due to volatile fuel prices, as well as environmental issues and the vulnerability to foreign nations that might not always be the friendliest, makes the grant money well spent. Plus, it will pay dividends in the form of new jobs, less foreign oil and more money in consumers’ pockets.

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Republican Takeover Could Signal Change for Biofuels

If Republicans take control of Congress in the upcoming November election, we could see a shift back to making renewable energy a priority.

In this Biofuels Digest article, Brent Erickson, executive vice president for the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s (BIO) Industrial and Environmental Section, says he has been disappointed in President Obama’s and Democratic leadership in Congress’ lack of interest in helping support the green energy industry.

[Brent Erickson] We have had two years with Democrats in Congress and the White House, and they pretty much got their way. Obama took on health care and got it gone, and TARP and the stimulus and he’s shot his wad now.

[Biofuels Digest]: Overall marks for the Administration?

BE: I have been a little bit disappointed in the Obama administration. When he was in the Senate he as very pro-biofuels. He had to choose his priorities, and that is understood, but this administration hasn’t done as much as expected.

Erickson goes on to say that biofuels, ethanol and biodiesel, have enjoyed bipartisan support, mostly from the likes of farm state Congressional members such as Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). But he says it’s not a lock that Republican control will make a huge change:

BD: Looking ahead to divided government?

BE: You can look at biofuels as an agriculture policy issue – or as green tech. These runs in cycles. First there was a biofuels wave, now wind and solar folks have reached the ascendancy. Biofuels is a much more diverse field than wind and solar – over there it’s wind turbines and solar panels – that’s part of the problem. Then, the economy going in the tank, and the people who have money to invest got conservative.

But biofuels have enjoyed pretty good bipartisan support, although the oil companies will have more of a voice if the Republicans take over. Not all oil companies have the same position – some are outright anti-biofuels, some are more pro than others. But the ag lobby is pretty powerful.

Erickson goes on to say that pay-go rules in Congress and a preference for investment tax credits as over production tax credits could change the game as well.

Algae Assoc. Conference to Focus on Commercial Scale

The National Algae Association (NAA) will be holding its national conference next week, and the focus of the gathering will be on commercial scale production of the green microbes.

NAA officials say at the Sept. 23-24 conference at the Sheraton North Houston near George Bush Intercontinental Airport, they will be working on the premise that algae will be delivering on a large scale soon because the science problems have been solved … now, it’s an engineering problem:

The NAA Engineering Consortium has developed preliminary design specs for a 100-acre commercial scale algae production facility build-out, identifying and resolving many of the scale-up issues that will be encountered as we move the industry out of the lab and into commercialization. These plans, along with the CAPEX and OPEX financial models and detailed ‘algaenomics’ developed on behalf of NAA, will be reviewed and discussed in great detail at the next NAA conference, September 23-24, 2010, in Houston, Texas.

Also on hand to discuss new and innovative ways to help get algae out of the lab and into commercial-scale production will be Dr. Brian Hampson of CalPoly, Marco Brocken of Evodos, Joseph Holroyd of LakeMaster Corp, Victoria Kurtz of Fluid Imaging Technologies, Surijit Khanna of BARD Holding, OriginOil, Phykos, Dave Philbrook of Water Management Solutions, LLC, Dr. Matt Prufert of DRS Technologies, Mark Hanson of Stoel Rives, Serge Randhava of United Technologies, Inc., Bill Ramey of Novak Druce + Quigg, Sebastian Thomas of Parry Nutraceuticals, Bob Vitale of Waterwheel Factory, Bob Weber of Sunrise Ridge Algae, and Will Thurmond of Emerging Markets Online. Hank Gilbert will discuss his Fields to Pump Biofuels Initiative, a program that can be implemented throughout the country.

More information and registration are available here.

Solazyme Inks Deal to Provide Algal Biofuel to Navy

Our friends at Solazyme, Inc. have inked a new deal with the U.S. Navy to provide 150,000 gallons of advanced biofuels made from algae.

This post on BrighterEnergy.org
says the San Francisco supplier of the green fuel has already delivered more than 20,000 gallons of its biodiesel to the Navy from its 2009 contract:

The company hailed the achievement as the world’s largest delivery of non-alcohol advanced biofuel made completely by microbes.

Solazyme, which has been working with a refining partner, Honeywell-subsidiary UOP, said the new deal for 2010-2011 was 7.5 times larger than its previous order, and should bring it closer to commercial production for its process.

CEO Jonathan Wolfson said: “We are excited by the new DoD contract which calls for much larger volumes of Soladiesel®HRF-76 Renewable Naval Distillate fuel, and view its signing on the heels of our successful delivery as strong validation of Solazyme’s technology and of our prospects to provide meaningful quantities of low carbon fuels for our national defense.”

The buy is seen as just the beginning of the Navy’s effort to get half of its energy from renewable sources by the year 2020.

Biodiesel Incentive Shot Down Again; Dem Calls it “Stunt”

The federal $1-a-gallon biodiesel tax credit failed to move forward yet again today, as one of the top Democrats in the U.S. Senate dismissed the effort as a “stunt.”

The Senate defeated Sen. Charles Grassley’s (R-IA, pictured on right) attempt to retroactively revive the credit as part of a small business bill by a vote of 41-58… far short of the 67 votes needed. Meanhwhile, the Des Moines Register reports that Senate Finance Committee, Montana Democrat Max Baucus, called Grassley’s motion and another GOP proposal “as stunts meant to score political points.”

“These motions are the way that folks try to embarrass other people,” he said.

Grassley spokeswoman Beth Pellett Levine said he “has been stonewalled by the Democratic leadership for nearly a year now. There isn’t anybody who would blame him for doing everything possible to pass the noncontroversial biodiesel tax credit.”

The industry is now looking toward having the subsidy included in legislation that would extend a number of tax provisions.

Said Grassley, “I have confidence that eventually the biodiesel tax incentive will be passed, but I hope it’s not too late for the thousands of people across the country who are already out of work because of the lapse.”

The American Soybean Association was critical of the Senate’s action:

“ASA is severely disappointed in the failure of the Senate to extend the biodiesel tax credit,” Joslin said. “At a time when jobs and renewable energy production are cited as top priorities, it is unacceptable that Congress would fail to extend the biodiesel tax credit. The biodiesel tax credit has a direct impact on jobs and it is a homegrown renewable energy source – the first and only advanced biofuel commercially produced in the United States.”

Meanwhile, the National Biodiesel Board said the lack of certainty over whether the subsidy will return is killing the biodiesel industry.

Biodiesel Focus of Diesel Tech Forum Webinar

If you’re reading this before 10 am EST today, there’s still time to get in on the free Diesel Technology Forum that will feature plenty of talk about biodiesel:

Biodiesel usage has grown significantly in recent years and many states are considering legislation or programs to promote renewable fuels as a means of reducing U.S. dependence on fossil fuels. As the first state to implement a biodiesel mandate, Minnesota had its share of problems. Many of these have been overcome, yet additional challenges remain, as evidenced by Massachusetts’ recent decision to postpone its mandate in favor of a voluntary program.

Renewable fuels, including biodiesel, will play an important role in the pursuit of greener transportation solutions. Biodiesel usage can and will continue to grow, however efforts to promote its use can be complicated. Join us for 90 minutes to hear more about state efforts to encourage biodiesel use, the lessons they’ve learned and ideas for consideration from a European perspective.

Biodiesel Magazine
says there will be five speakers closely associated with the industry: Shelby Neal of the National Biodiesel Board who will present an overview of state biodiesel policies across the country and on the impact of the RFS2; Dwayne Breger, director of renewable energy for Massachusetts’s department of energy resources, talking about his state’s recent suspension of its biodiesel mandate; Ralph Groschen from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture addressing Minnesota’s biodiesel experience and the state’s recent move to a B5 mandate; Randy Jennings, from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, talking about programs to promote fuel quality and the importance of policy enforcement; and Dr. Juergen Fischer who will give an overview of the biodiesel quality management system in Germany and its relevance for the U.S.

More information and registration is available here.

Company Studies Grease-to-Biodiesel Feasibility

A Missouri company is looking into the feasibility of turning fat, oil and grease (FOG) in urban sewers into clean-burning biodiesel.

Biodiesel magazine reports that H2O’C Engineering’s study is funded by $50,000 from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources:

The study will focus collecting FOG from two Missouri metropolitan areas, Kansas City and St. Louis. “We are looking at what they call the ‘grease-shed,’” [Tom O’Connor, the owner of H2O’C Engineering] said. Similar to a watershed, a grease-shed is essentially the pattern of where FOG originates and how it flows into the sewer system. “We’ve also got a particular eye on waste water treatment facilities,” O’Connor said, which will include quantifying how much FOG is present in the wastewater systems and whether or not it is feasible to convert that material into biodiesel.

“[FOG] is problematic nasty stuff,” O’Connor said. “They have problems with it throughout the sewers, all of the collection pipes. It tends to clog up pipes and pump stations and that sort of thing. Optimally, it wouldn’t be there. It’s a complete nuisance, and we’re going to capitalize on the fact that it is there. When it gets to the water treatment plants, it’s generally skimmed off and landfilled. It’s pretty nasty stuff, but it does have energy content, and with enough cleanup, we think we can make it into on-spec biodiesel.”

However, O’Connor also noted that it’s important not to encourage people to think it is okay to put FOG down the drain. Ideally, the better option would be to capture that material before it ends up in the sewer. “We’re going to look at capturing it whenever and wherever we can,” O’Connor continued. “Optimally that would be more upstream than downstream.”

The study is looking at what restaurants and other FOG producers are doing with their grease, and where it is flowing. The study is to be completed by January 2011.

Researchers: Develop Biofuels and Advanced Engines

The next generation of biofuels must be developed in conjunction with advanced combustion engines, if there is to be long-term success of those biofuels. That word comes from researchers at the Sandia National Laboratories.

The recommendations were made following a Sandia-hosted workshop held in November, Next Generation Biofuels and Advanced Engines for Tomorrow’s Transportation Needs. Participants included researchers at the Department of Energy’s Combustion Research Facility (CRF) and Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), as well as representatives from oil companies, biofuel developers, engine manufacturers, suppliers and experts from the university, regulatory, finance and national laboratory communities.

The full report is now available online at http://www.sandia.gov/news/publications/white-papers/index.html.

The workshop, said Ron Stoltz, manager of Sandia’s Advanced Energy Initiatives, was designed to identify opportunities for co-development of biofuels and engines, an often-overlooked issue.

“The oil companies and the automobile and truck engine companies have engaged in a dialogue and collaboration on fuel and engine issues for almost 100 years,” Stoltz said. “But the same cannot be said for the majority of biofuel start-up companies, especially those that are thinking ‘beyond ethanol’. The report highlights how fragmented the biofuels industry is today and how, by putting serious thought behind some key issues like fuel chemistry linked to engine performance, great strides can be made.”

The workshop was designed to help get a dialog going between researchers and experts from industry, academia and government, with the goal to figure out how to accelerate the transition to biofuels. Those participating did agree that the next generation of biofuels needed to be clean (at or below EPA-designated pollutants criteria); sustainable (with a smaller carbon footprint than the petroleum-based fuels being displaced); and compatible with current and future engine designs, and with current and future distribution infrastructure.

The group also recommended modernizing the testing, specification, and certification of all fuels; plan and integrate the research and development of next-generation biofuels in conjunction with the development of advanced engines; develop specific guidelines, roadmaps, and objectives for co-development of next-generation biofuels and advanced engines; and convene an International Fuels and Engines Summit, sponsored by industry with government and university participation.

Missouri Biodiesel Plant Reopens Under New Name

There’s new life for a biodiesel plant in Southeast Missouri.

This article from Cape Girardeau’s Southeast Missourian
says the former Great River Soy Processing Plant in Lilbourn has been reborn as ME Bio Energy LLC after being idled for the last three years:

After producing the first batch, the plant shut down to send a sample to the Environmental Protection Agency for inspection before opening for full production.

Since reopening, about 14,000 gallons of fuel goes through the processing line daily, said Jerry McDowell, plant manager. Biodiesel is made through a chemical process called transesterification in which glycerin is separated from fat or vegetable oil. The process leaves behind two products — methyl esters, which is the chemical name for biodiesel, and glycerin, a byproduct usually sold for use in soaps and other products.

Production at ME Bio Energy went into full swing in early July, McDowell said.

“We’re just starting to pick up with our deliveries,” he said. “The plant is averaging two trucks a day delivering supplies, and two trucks a day picking up the product.”

The plant will refine a 50-50 mix of animal fat and soybean oil into biodiesel.

Canada Invests $81 Million in Biodiesel, Wind Ventures

The Canadian government is putting about $81 million in a couple of wind and biodiesel ventures.

This Reuters article says the money will be spent over the next decade in Quebec:

The government announced a C$65 million injection over 10 years in two wind farms in the Gaspe region in Eastern Quebec.

The two farms, Carleton and L’Anse-a-Valleau, are owned by Cartier Wind Energy Inc and are capable of producing enough electricity to power up to 60,000 homes.

The funds come from the government’s C$1.5 billion ecoENERGY for Renewable Power program.

Earlier on Tuesday, Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis also announced a C$18.79 million investment over seven years in biofuel producer Biocardel Quebec Inc.

Biocardel will make about 10 million gallons a year of biodiesel from converted vegetable or cooking oil or animal fat for sale in Canada and the U.S.