DFCast: The Biofuels Industry Gets Married

The biofuels industry got married when a first generation ethanol plant walked down the isle with a second generation algae plant in Shenandoah, Iowa. BioProcess Algae and Green Plains Renewable Energy (GPRE) tied the knot and celebrated their anniversary last month with the announcement that their first babies, a set of Grower Harvester bioreactors, went online. This marked the last phase into adulthood – the algae plant is months away from commercial scale production.

Tim Burns, CEO of BioProcess Algae said this project is about both co-location opportunities as well as adding value to carbon. The algae plant will utilize the waste streams of the ethanol plant including waste nutrients and waste water. In addition, the algae plant uses the carbon dioxide from the corn ethanol plant to grow and thrive. Suddenly a product produced from a first generation ethanol plant with what amounts to negative value now has a tremendous positive value to a second generation plant. When people figure out that carbon from things such as a first generation ethanol plant has value, others will be on board, said Burns.

Years ago, Todd Becker, CEO of Green Plains Renewable Energy, said his company began looking for emerging technologies that could add value to his plant. These included adding things such as inedible corn oil extraction technology, but also the partnership with a second generation biorefinery that could utilize their plant’s waste streams. His company recognized the incredible partnership before any others and this fall his company along with BioProcess Algae will be building their algae farm, the last phase before they begin to produce commercial scale algae biofuels.

In the future, Becker and Burns both believe that every first generation biofuel plant will marry a second generation technology and with these marriages, the biofuels industry will rise to the challenge of producing billions upon billions of gallons of domestic renewable energy for America.

Learn more about the first biofuel marriage here: Domestic Fuel Cast

You can also subscribe to the DomesticFuel Cast here.

BIOfuel From Algae Technologies Project Launched

A new international project is kicking off to produce biofuels from algae. The BIOfuel From Algae Technologies (BIOFAT) project is supported by nine partners based in seven countries and the goal is to show that ethanol, biodiesel and bioproducts call all be produced at large scale from algae. Algae supporters believe algal biofuels can be produced in an efficient, economic and environmentally sustainable way and the BIOFAT team intends to prove this with the algorefinery – a facility that can produce high-value co-products in addition to biofuels.

Abengoa Bioenergy’s subsidiary Abengoa Bioenergia Nuevas Tecnologias (ABNT) will be the coordinator for the project. According to BIOFAT, the project will be carried out by a transnational consortium drawn from the academic, industrial and public sectors that includes the University of Florence (IT), A4F-AlgaFuel (PT), Ben-Gurion University (IL), Fotosintetica & Microbiologica (IT), Evodos (NL), AlgoSource Technologies (FR), IN SRL (IT) and Hart Energy (BE). Consortium members were selected to provide research diversity and expertise to the project.

In addition to creating algal biofuels, the BIOFAT project will also demonstrate the integration of the entire value chain in the production of ethanol and biodiesel. The research process will begin with strain selection and proceed to biological optimization of the culture media, monitored algae cultivation, low energy harvesting, and finally technology integration. Training will take place on existing microalgae prototypes in Israel, Portugal and Italy, then scale up the process at a 10-hectare demonstration plant. The project is expected to last four years and produce about 900 tons of algae annually on the 10-hectare plant.

Book Review – Energy Myths & Realities

This week I decided to bone up on some energy 101 so I read “Energy Myths & Realities” by Vaclav Smil, an energy scientist. He discusses eight myths and attempts to set the record straight by disseminating the true facts around the issues. He believes several of the myths have been mired in the past while others are perpetuated by the media.

For example here is one myth that he demystifies: Electric cars will replace conventional cars in the near future. The reality according to Smil: Electric cars are expensive, their adoption rate will be slow, and internal combustion engines will dominate the market for decade to come. He also believes that EVs will not provide much, if any, energy savings.

So why does it matter if there is discourse among energy advocates? Because, says Smil, these incorrect facts and fallacies are hampering the development of effective new energy policies and wasting time and money that could be better used in pursuit of a constructive, scientific approach to the global energy challenge.

Here are some other myths that Smil addresses, all dished up as solutions, or part of a solution for our energy woes.

• The world will soon run out of oil.
• Carbon sequestration is the solution to global climate change.
• Ethanol will replace gasoline as a significant source of automobile fuel.
• Wind power will soon become the world’s leading source of electricity.

I’ll play my hand here and agree with Smil that carbon sequestration is not a solution. In fact, I believe it is a multi-billion dollar farce. Yet where I diverge with Smil is while he believes various forms of alternative energy should have no role, or will only play a small role, I think it’s shortsighted to ignore parts of the energy portfolio that are right in front of us. But I digress. Continue reading

Algae Waste Water, Ag Runoff Projects Underway in Europe

OriginOil, Inc. and its French partner Ennesys have confirmed they are working with various institutions to develop two separate large-scale algae projects. Global 500 Multinational Bouygues Construction has engaged Ennesys to study the integration of waste water algae production in two building projects in the Greater Paris region both at the scale of a million square feet (80,000 m2 and 150,000 m2). The algae produced will be converted to fuel, electricity and industrial chemicals. The project, in part, was spurred by France’s RT 2020 sustainable energy law that calls for all major buildings to have a positive energy balance by the year 2020.

“Europe and France have made unconditional sustainability commitments, and this is driving fast-moving commercial algae projects for us in France,” said Riggs Eckelberry, OriginOil CEO. “We are committed to supplying our technology, know how and integrated supplier network to help Ennesys get these projects up and running quickly.”

The second project will focus on marine fuel applications. ITSASOA is collaborating with Ennesys on a plan to absorb agricultural runoff using algae that will then converted to fuel for fishing vessels. ITSASOA is an advanced biofuels program financed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and the European Union.

“Algae in France has taken off with the new eco-building law that forces large developers to innovate without delay on their new projects,” added Pierre Tauzinat, Ennesys president. “Due to its many benefits, algae is more productive than solar panels, and will generate continuing jobs here in France. That’s a huge benefit over solar, which is often manufactured in other countries and generates few jobs once installed.”

Air Force Tests Independence Bio-Products’ Algae Jet Fuel

The Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright Patterson Air Force Base is testing jet fuel derived from algae produced by Dublin, Ohio based Independence Bio-Products (IBP). The algae was grown in open ponds in Ohio and harvested with the company’s patent pending harvest system. The tests are part of federally funded project to examine Algae to Fuel (ATF) processing technologies. According to IBP founder and President Ron Erd, the testing of the jet fuel sample has confirmed that the composition of the fuel is similar to fuels derived from other feedstocks including sobyeans, jatropha or camelina. This feedstocks are also being tested as jet fuel replacements.

Ohio is in the process of expanding the states “algaculture” industry. Three organizations are jointly working together on the project including the Ohio Aerospace Institute (OAI) of Brook Park, the Edison Materials Technology Center (EMTEC) of Dayton, and the Center for Innovative Food Technology (CIFT) of Toledo along with several other industry and university collaborators, including IBP. Three main areas are being researched:

1) selection of algae suitable for optimizing oil production based on climate factors
2) development of cultivation systems (growing locations, harvesting, dewatering, and separation techniques)
3) cultivation strategy (algae harvesting, processing into value-added products, etc.)

IBP has a proprietary technology where algae is cultivated in raceway ponds in Belmont County. Some of the ponds were heated using IBP’s patent pending system demonstrating operations throughout the winter. The algae was subsequently separated from water and dried followed by extraction and purification of the algae oil. The algae oil was upgraded to fuel by Applied Research Associates (ARA) of Panama City, FL using a catalytic hydrothermolysis (CH) process to convert the plant triglycerides to pure hydrocarbons very similar to their petroleum counterparts.

“The IBP development adds to the growing evidence that aviation fuel may be derived from domestically grown crops independent of foreign petroleum sources,” said Dr. Joseph Hager, Director Technology Transfer Programs. He continued by saying oil derived from Ohio-grown algae cultivated in open ponds demonstrates that this future fuel-producing crop may be sited in the harsher winter climates of the Midwest.

Sapphire & Linde Announce Algae CO2 Deal

Sapphire Energy and The Linde Group have announced a multi-year partnership to co-develop a low-cost system to deliver carbon dioxide (CO2) to commercial-scale, open-pond, algae-to-fuel cultivation systems.  Linde, who is a leading supplier of CO2 in the US, will work with Sapphire to reduce the costs incurred when delivering CO2 for commercial-scale open pond algae cultivation. In addition, Linde will supply the CO2 for Sapphire’s commercial demonstration biorefinery in Columbus, New Mexico.  A single commercial algae-fuel production facility is estimated to require around 10,000 metric tons of CO2 per day, which is comparable to approximately 30 percent of the current merchant market for CO2 in the U.S.

“Producing fuel by algae using CO2 from large emitters like power stations and chemical plants is a very promising way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Dr. Aldo Belloni, member of the Executive board of Linde AG. “We are delighted to be a key partner in Sapphire’s algae-to-biofuel activities. This is one of the many examples for innovative ‘clean energy’ projects that Linde is involved in.”

Sapphire has been developing propriety technology throughout the algae-to-energy value chain including biology, cultivation, harvest, extraction. Focused on green crude drop-in fuels such as jet, diesel and gasoline, Sapphire’s algal biofuels will be compatible with current infrastructure and engines. Algae is a good source of feedstock for biofuels and biochemicals in part because it grows in salty, non-potable water, uses lands not suitable for agriculture and requires only sunlight and CO2 to grow. Sapphire’s technology represents an approximate 70% reduction in lifecycle carbon emissions compared to petroleum-based equivalents.

“The need for new sources of fuel as dependency on oil becomes more and more problematic is clear. To produce algal oil, or ‘green crude’ at the scale to meet growing demand, we need great partners who can supply sufficient and low cost access to CO2,” added Cynthia (C.J.) Warner, president, Sapphire Energy. “Linde has unequaled knowledge in how to efficiently manage the distribution process. Through this collaboration, we are closer to delivering a domestically produced, cost efficient source of algae-based green crude.”

I had the opportunity to visit Sapphire Energy on my San Diego Algae Tour last fall. Click here to see photos.


St. Louis Science Center Seeking Backyard Biofuels

The next big thing in biofuels could be right in your own backyard.

stl science centerFor the second year, the Saint Louis Science Center is collaborating with the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in a research project that “has the potential to discover algae species located within the St. Louis metro area which may be used in cutting-edge biofuels research.”

According to the center’s Life Science Gallery Lead Beth Prakash, “Backyard Biofuels” is a citizen science project. “We are looking for a species of algae that has a naturally high oil content,” she says. “So the more oil an algae species contains, the more productive it will be at producing biofuels.”

Last year, 169 algae collecting kits were returned to the Life Science Lab and from the samples they were able to isolate and test 105 individual algae strains, the results of which are posted on the Backyard Biofuels website. People can participate by picking up an algae collecting kit from the Life Science Lab at the Science Center and returning it in person, or mailing it in using special guidelines. The mail-in option is new this year and will help collect samples from a wider geographic area since the center receives visitors from all over the country.

Learn more about the program from Beth in this interview: Beth Prakash Interview

Oil Prices Drop, Gas Prices Rise

It’s Friday and that means its time to fill the gas tank. Just in time for weekend fun, it always seems like gas prices go up. Here in California, prices are hovering near the $4.40 per gallon mark. But this week, oil prices dropped 15 percent from a two-year high of $114.83 on Monday and today prices closed at $97.18. Economists are predicting gas prices at the pump will fall and we’ll see a summer national average of $3.50, although last month the EIA predicted they would be closer to $3.79. But don’t hold your breath – prices won’t drop this weekend.

I’ve held this interview with Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis because I was waiting for prices to rise even higher (which they have). When we had this discussion, we were attending the event where BioProcess Algae commissioned its Grower Harvester bioreactors, the second phase in their commercialization strategy. The site is co-located with a first generation corn ethanol plant in Shenandoah, Iowa owned and operated by Green Plains Renewable Energy. This was the perfect backdrop to have the discussion about the role of biofuels in helping to lower prices at the pump.

Buis explained that for the past 40 years, our country has been addicted to foreign oil and the costs to our country have been astronomical. Every recession since World World II has been proceeded by high gas prices. As oil prices rise, it takes time for the increased price to be reflected at the pump. Yet we have a domestic solution available now – ethanol. “I don’t know how many times we have to have these wake-up calls, let’s move forward. We know we can do it. We’re sitting here at a plant today that’s living proof that we can create our own energy here in this country.”

Listen to my interview with Tom Buis here: Ethanol, Right Here, Right Now

Today, Buis said ethanol today is saving consumers at the low end 17 cents per gallon up to 50 cents per gallon on the high end. “If we shut off ethanol today, it would have a far greater impact than the turmoil in the Middle East or North Africa because we’re a bigger source,” said Buis. “Most people don’t understand that if the American ethanol industry were a country, we would be the second largest provider to the United States of transportation fuel. Second only to Canada. That would have a huge impact.”

One last fact. We spend $1 billion dollars a day to import foreign oil. This is more than $1,000 per year for every man, woman and child in this country. That means you.

Mull this over the next time you fill up.

BIO World Congress Preview

The World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing, hosted by BIO, is set to begin on Sunday, May 8, 2011 in Toronto. A record crowd is expected and the exhibitor hall is sold out. I’ll be on site to bring you breaking news and information about the latest biotechnology trends as they relate to biofuels and biochemicals. To get a preview of the conference, I spoke with Brent Erickson, executive vice president with BIO.

Erickson said that this conference is really dynamic on multiple levels. There are a series of plenary sessions as well as breakout sessions and workshops covering the gamut from advanced biofuels technology to algae and feedstock crops, as well as aviation fuels, renewable chemical platforms, and bi-based materials. Several events of special interest include the announcement of the George Washington Carver award and Greenfield Ethanol will be making an announcement about its cellulosic technology.

Listen to or download my interview with BIO’s Brent Erickson: BIO World Congress Preview

Two weeks ago, BIO released a white paper on policy and investments needed for the biotech industry. Erickson said these issues would be key during the World Congress. Government policy in the U.S. as well as Canada and globally will be entwined through many sessions. In addition, there will be a focus on the flow of venture capital and investment money into this space as Erickson said for many companies this is an important issue. He also said it is very heartening in this investment climate to see IPOs take place. The next IPO to take place is Solazyme.

I asked Erickson what companies or technologies he think will breakthrough over the next 6-18 months and he said what we’ll see are platforms breakthrough. He believes the biobutanol platform will take off as well as the succinic acid platform.

Be sure to follow conference conference right here beginning on Monday.

Biomass Industry Execs Discuss Future

biomass conferenceAll energy of the bio variety – biomass, biogas, biodiesel and biofuels – were represented at the 4th International Biomass Conference and Expo on Monday during a panel featuring executives of seven different industry organizations.

Moderator Tom Bryan, Vice President of BBI International, asked the panel was what the top priorities for their organizations are this year.

“Just getting parity for algae,” said Algal Biomass Organization Executive Director Mary Rosenthal. She says they are also working on educating lawmakers about algae and keeping the funding they currently have for development from departments of energy, agriculture and defense.

Charlie Niebling with the Biomass Thermal Energy Council said they would like to see thermal incorporated into a true federal Clean Energy Standard. “We still face real challenges in just making sure people understand the role that thermal plays in addressing energy challenges in our country,” he said.

Biomass Power Association CEO Robert Cleaves says they support the development of a federal Clean Energy Standard as well and they want to retain the USDA Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP). “BCAP for existing facilities may be the only game in town as a bridge to somewhere,” he said.

Inclusion and parity are also important for biogas, as well as working on a fundamental change in waste management. “Discontinuing policies that simply take all this organic matter, put it in a hole in the ground and create environmental issues. Instead we need to create policies to divert that to higher, better and multiple uses.” said Norma McDonald of the American Biogas Council.

For members of the Renewable Fuels Association, president Bob Dinneen says what is most important is education and certainty. “We’re looking at a situation where our tax incentive expires the end of this year,” Dinneen said. “What we’re trying to do is get to some reform of the existing incentive that reflects the fact that the industry has indeed grown, that will allow the industry to continue to grow and evolve, but do so in response to fiscal realities in Washington DC now.”

“The biodiesel industry is an example of what can happen when you have total policy failures in Washington DC,” said Joe Jobe with the National Biodiesel Board, referring to the non-renewal of the biodiesel tax for a year that caused many plants to shut down. Jobe says the industry is going strong again and plants are re-opening but they would like to see the tax credit extended again at the end of this year. “We just need a little more time to get a little more mature.”

Finally, Advanced Biofuels Association president Michael McAdams stressed the importance of keeping the Renewable Fuels Standard in place. “The RFS2 is the single most important public policy in the United States for first, second and third generations biofuels,” he said.

Listen the panel talk about priorities here: Biomass Conference Panel