EPA Seeks Comments on Sorghum-to-Biofuels GHGs

epa-150The federal government is seeking public comment on its preliminary analysis of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions due to the production of biomass sorghum feedstock to make biofuels. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) invited the comments after a recent study by the agency that showed biomass sorghum is suitable for the same conversion processes as approved cellulosic feedstocks such as switchgrass and corn stover and would qualify for cellulosic biofuel (D-code 3) renewable identification numbers (RINs) or cellulosic diesel (D-code 7) RINs.

This notice explains EPA’s analysis of the growth and transport components of the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from biomass sorghum, and describes how EPA may apply this analysis in the future to determine whether biofuels produced from such biomass sorghum meet the necessary GHG reductions required for qualification under the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) program. Based on this analysis, we anticipate that biofuels produced from biomass sorghum could qualify for cellulosic biofuel renewable identification numbers (RINs) if certain fuel production process technology conditions are met.

More information on the comment process and period is available here.

Genetics to Help in Biomass-to-Biofuel Conversion

Researchers might have found a more efficient way to turn biomass into biofuel using plant genetics. This article from Phys.org says plant geneticists Sam Hazen at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Siobhan Brady at the University of California, Davis, have sorted out the gene regulatory networks that would have the biggest impacts on the green fuel production.

The authors say that the most rigid of the polymers, lignin, represents “a major impediment” to extracting sugars from plant biomass that can be used to make biofuels. Their genetic advance is expected to “serve as a foundation for understanding the regulation of a complex, integral plant component” and as a map for how future researchers might manipulate the polymer-forming processes to improve the efficiency of biofuel production.

The three key components, found in plant tissues known as xylem, provide plants with mechanical strength and waterproof cells that transport water. Working in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, Hazen, Brady and colleagues explored how a large number of interconnected transcription factors regulate xylem and cell wall thickening. Results appeared in an early online edition Dec. 24 in Nature.

An invited commentary in the journal on the significance of this discovery points out that “understanding how the relative proportions of these biopolymers are controlled in plant tissue would open up opportunities to redesign plants for biofuel use.” Hazen, Brady and colleagues’ study identified hundreds of new regulators and offers “considerable insight,” the authors say, “into the developmental regulation of xylem cell differentiation.”

The authors of the study were able to find that most of the proteins including regulators of cell cycle and differentiation bind directly to cellulose genes and to other transcription regulators, giving plants a huge number of possible combinations for responding and adapting to environmental stressors.

Greenbelt Resources Recognized for Biofuels System

new_economy_awards_logoA company that turns locally available feedstocks into biofuels, as well as fertilizer, animal feed and filtered water, is being recognized for its green efforts. Greenbelt Resources picked up the “Best Biofuels and Biochemicals Solution” in The New Economy magazine’s annual 2014 Clean Tech Awards.

Greenbelt Resources’ small scale systems, can be more energy efficient than traditional large-scale plants due to its patent-pending energy saving membrane-based dehydration module. Where deployed, these systems reduce waste outflow, reduce transport of the F’s, minimize environmental impact, produce overall cost savings and foster local job retention.

“Our unique modular local-scale technology turns industry assumptions upside-down and proves the practicality of cost-effective local resource utilization,” says Floyd Butterfield, chief technology officer of Greenbelt Resources. “Recognition by The New Economy proves that global business leaders share our vision of a distributed energy source future.”

“We envision future off-grid installations to be capable of converting locally grown crops into fuel for both transportation and home appliances, fertilizer, animal feed, distilled water, heat, electricity, and connectivity,” emphasizes Darren Eng, CEO of Greenbelt Resources. “For example, a community in Africa could utilize the system to convert local feedstock into fuel for vehicles and heating stoves, distribute excess electricity to a local grid providing children light at night for their studies, and provide families with clean drinking water.”

The award will be presented at the London Stock Exchange in March of 2015.

POET-DSM Commends Partners in Cellulosic Ethanol Venture

POET DSM logoPOET-DSM is commending its partners in a cellulosic ethanol venture. This company news release says POET is praising Suomen Bioetanoli Oy and the government of Finland after the Finnish government announced a 30 million euros grant to Suomen Bioetanoli Oy to build a plant that will convert wheat straw into about 24 million gallons of ethanol annually.

“Suomen Bioetanoli Oy is taking a bold step forward in growing Europe’s bioeconomy and expanding our sources for transportation fuel,” said Rob van Leen, Chairman of the POET-DSM Board. “Additionally, the grant award shows Finland’s firm commitment to growing sustainable energy production. Our joint venture partners look forward to working with Suomen Bioetanoli Oy to make commercial cellulosic bioethanol a reality in Finland.”

POET and DSM are in discussions with Suomen Bioetanoli Oy on how to utilize process, yeast and enzyme technology from the respective companies for the conversion of cellulose to ethanol.

Iowa Lawmakers Honored for Support of Renewables

Three retiring state lawmakers in Iowa have been honored for “their unwavering support and leadership on renewable fuels.” The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) says the outgoing lawmakers were given the “Lifetime Champion of Renewable Fuels” award for their long, distinguished careers and steadfast support of renewable fuels.

IRFA President-elect Brian Cahill, former Sens. Nancy Boettger and Daryl Beall, and IRFA Executive Director Monte Shaw.

IRFA President-elect Brian Cahill, former Sens. Nancy Boettger and Daryl Beall, and IRFA Executive Director Monte Shaw.

“It’s bittersweet to see these distinguished individuals leave the state legislature after long, successful careers, and we wish them nothing but the best in the future,” stated IRFA Policy Director Grant Menke. “Their unwavering support and leadership on renewable fuels issues will be greatly missed, and we sincerely thank them for their enduring accomplishments.”

The Lifetime Champion of Renewable Fuels awards were given to:

State Senator Daryl Beall of Fort Dodge, Iowa. Sen. Beall was an enthusiastic supporter of renewable fuels who worked tirelessly to promote ethanol and biodiesel both inside and outside the state legislature.

State Senator Nancy Boettger of Harlan, Iowa. As a farmer, Sen. Boettger was a rock solid supporter of renewable fuels who was critical in winning support for Iowa’s renewable fuels policy, including tax credits for retailers offering higher ethanol and biodiesel blends and fuel dispensing equipment grants for renewable fuels upgrades.

State Senator Hubert Houser of Carson, Iowa. Sen. Houser was also instrumental in passing the framework of today’s renewable fuels policy in Iowa, and was active in the creation of Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy (SIRE), an ethanol production facility in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

With 43 ethanol refineries producing more than 3.8 billion gallons annually and 12 biodiesel facilities with the capacity to produce nearly 315 million gallons annually, Iowa is the nation’s renewable fuels leader.

Deck Stacked Against Ag and Biofuels in Report

bpcThe Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) appears to be a bit partisan in a new report released this week on “Options for Reforming the Renewable Fuel Standard.”

The report was produced after several meetings during the year with an advisory group that consisted of 23 members, seven of which were oil companies representatives. Only five members of the group represented agriculture or advanced biofuels and biodiesel producers. The rest were a mix of academia (2), big business (4) with two of those representing Toyota, environmental groups (2), and policy organizations (3).

Both of the agriculture representatives were from the National Farmers Union (NFU), president Roger Johnson and vice president of programs Chandler Goule. “It was very important that agriculture that supports the renewable fuels industry be present at the table,” said Goule, who said the meetings were held in a very professional manner. “The problem with the meetings is that they were heavily skewed toward big oil.”

NFUlogoThe report concluded that improvements to the RFS are needed, but did not recommend actual repeal of the law. Goule says NFU has major objections to two of the policy recommendations made in the report. “The flattening of the total renewable fuel mandate at its current level going forward, but continuing to increase the three advanced categories, we have significant concerns about what that would to do ethanol and biodiesel,” he said. “Even more concerning was removing the total renewable fuel mandate and only mandating the three advanced categories. Basically what they are doing is giving in to Big Oil’s conclusion that a blend wall exists, which it does not.”

Chandler talks more about the BPC report in this interview: Interview with Chandler Goule, NFU

USDA Looks to the Forests for Renewable Energy

usda-logoHarvesting biomass from forests is not only helping those forests’ health, it’s helping the country achieve energy independence. This news release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture says the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) has removed 200,000 tons of biomass that could have been a fire risk and was turned into biofuels.

“This initiative helps to retrieve forest residues that are a fire risk, but otherwise are costly to remove,” said [Agriculture Secretary Tom] Vilsack. “In just three months, working with private partners across the country, the program helped to reduced fire, disease and insect threats while providing more biomass feedstock for advanced energy facilities.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm Service Agency administered the program earlier this year. Eligible farmers, ranchers or foresters participating in BCAP received a payment to partially offset the cost of harvesting and delivering forest or agricultural residues to a qualified energy facility. Up to $12.5 million is available each year for biomass removal.

This past summer, 19 energy facilities in 10 states participated in the program.

Evolution of Minnesota Biofuels Industry – Part 2

The Minnesota biofuels industry has been evolving since its inception, which was discussed in Part 1 of this feature article. In this part, we look at how the industry is taking shape in Minnesota and what some of the most promising new technologies are on the horizon.

An interesting element of the biofuel industry is that while it is evolving on a national level, it has also evolved locally. Tim Rudnicki, executive director of the Minnesota Bio-Fuels Association, explains that states and regions have differing available resources as well as differing types and tons of biomass available.

Al-Corn Clean Fuel ethanol plant“Biofuel producers in any particular region adapt to the availability of various resources including, for example, access to energy, water, transportation infrastructure and so on,” says Rudnicki. “The availability of these important resources helped to accelerate the evolution of the biofuel industry in Minnesota and is what has made, and will continue to make, Minnesota one of the leading states when it comes to the production of biofuels.”

It’s interesting to review what could be deemed the top improvements that the ethanol industry has adopted over the past few years. Randall Doyal, CEO of Al-Corn Clean Fuel, says that since the plant went online they have adapted their process and technology to reduce down time, increase throughput and increase yield.

Al-Corn was designed as a 10 million gallon per year plant, and today they are operating at 50 million gallons per year. “We have increased our fuel ethanol yield from two and a half gallons per bushel to over two point nine gallons per bushel,” says Doyal. “We have added CO2 recovery, distillers corn oil recovery, and focused on our distillers grains quality to add value to our ethanol production.”

So, what are the new best technologies coming down the pipeline? Rudnicki says the future is very exciting because it will involve many facets including the interface between biological processes and technology. He believes some of the processes to watch include technologies that will enable corn oil to be more efficiency extracted as well as the use of existing biomass.

From an ethanol plant perspective the next three to five years could bring big changes. Continue reading

Biofuels Economic Outlook

asta-css-14-basseBack again by popular demand this year at the American Seed Trade Association CSS 2014 and Seed Expo was AgResource Company president Dan Basse giving his economic outlook for the year ahead.

Basse told attendees that the biofuels market is mature now, which means more stagnant demand for corn. “We have an EPA that can’t even make a decision on what the mandate should have been for 2014 and surely can’t make one for 2015,” he said. “We’ll still see corn demand for ethanol somewhere in the vicinity of five billion bushels, but there’s not that growth engine we’ve had in the last five years.”

Basse notes that this crop year is historic in that it’s the first time we’ve seen record world production for corn, wheat and soybeans. “So something agronomically is afoot here,” he said. “World producers are starting to pick up on some of the traits that American farmers are using – whether more seeds per acre, better seeds, better fertilizer…we’re not sure what it is but we’re impressed what the world is producing for grain.”

Lots more in this interview with Basse here. Interview with Dan Basse, Ag Resources

DOE Honors Alabama Clean Cities Leaders

Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition Executive Director Mark Bentley and President Phillip Wiedmeyer have been honored for their work in making Alabama cities cleaner places to live, work and play by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). National Clean Cities Co-Director Linda Bluestein recently inducted the pair into the Clean Cities Hall of Fame where representatives from nearly 100 Clean Cities coalitions from across the country gathered for the 2014 Clean Cities Coordinator Workshop.

In 2013 alone, the Alabama coalition saved more than 3 million gallons of petroleum and averted more than 12,000 tons of greenhouse gases through the deployment of alternative and renewable fuels, advanced vehicles, idle reduction and fuel economy improvements. The coalition has developed effective programs to support fuels such as ethanol, biodiesel, natural B-W Alabama Clean Fuelsgas, propane, electricity and hydrogen. These accomplishments contributed to Clean Cities’ major milestone in 2013 of reducing U.S. petroleum consumption by one billion gallons in a single year for the first time ever.

“For many years, Mark and Phillip have proved themselves to be true pioneers and have made a significant impact in the deployment of alternative fuels and advanced vehicles, both in their coalition area as well as nationally,” said Bluestein.

Bentley has been the executive director of the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition since 2006. Wiedmeyer has served as president for the coalition since 2002.

“It’s been our privilege over the years to promote the use of alternative fuels that are better for our environment, easier on our wallets, good for our local economy and a step toward energy independence for our country,” Bentley said. “We are delighted to be recognized for this important work.”