Senate Bill Looks to Clear, Simplify Rules on Biomass

collins1A bill that has the backing of Democrats, Republicans and Independents in the U.S. Senate would clarify and simplify federal rules on biomass. This news release from Maine Sen. Susan Collins says an amendment sponsored by Collins and Sen. Angus King from Maine, and cosponsored by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Al Franken (D-MN), Steve Daines (R-MT), Mike Crapo (R-ID), and James Risch (R-ID) has been adopted unanimously as part of the Energy Policy Modernization Act, which is currently under consideration in the Senate..

This amendment echoes the principles outlined in a June 2015 bipartisan letter Senator Collins sent to the Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Agriculture, which was signed by 46 Senators, including Senator King. The amendment is supported by the National Alliance of Forest Owners, the American Forest and Paper Association, and the American Wood Council.

In November 2014, one hundred nationally recognized forest scientists, representing 80 universities, wrote to the EPA stating the long-term carbon benefits of forest bioenergy. This group weighed a comprehensive synthesis of the best peer-reviewed science and affirmed the carbon benefits of biomass.

“Biomass energy is sustainable, responsible, renewable, and economically significant as an energy source, and many states, including Maine, are already relying on biomass to meet their renewable energy goals,” said Senator Susan Collins. “While the carbon neutrality of biomass harvested from sustainably managed forests has been recognized repeatedly by numerous studies, agencies, institutions, and rules around the world, current policy uncertainty could end up jeopardizing rather than encouraging investments in working forests, harvesting operations, bioenergy, wood products, and paper manufacturing. Our tripartisan amendment would help ensure that federal policies for the use of renewable biomass are clear, simple, and reflect the importance of biomass for our energy future.”

“Not only is forest biomass a home-grown and environmentally-responsible source of energy, but it can also be a significant boon to rural economies in Maine and across the country,” Senator King said. “That’s why it’s time that the federal government recognizes the environmental and economic benefits of this renewable resource. By requiring every federal department to be on the same page when it comes to biomass policy, our amendment will ensure that biomass will play an important role in shaping a clean and affordable energy future for America.”

The amendment requires the Secretary of Energy, the Secretary of Agriculture, and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure federal policies regarding biomass are consistent across all departments and agencies and these federal agencies establish clear and simple policies for the use of biomass as an energy solution.

Enviva Building NC Biomass Wood Pellet Plant

envivaAlternative energy maker Enviva will begin construction on a biomass wood pellet plant in North Carolina this year with a projected opening in 2017. This article from the Richmond County (NC) Journal says a company representative made the announcement at a Richmond County Board of Commissioners meeting.

Glen Gray, project sponsor for the proposed sites in Richmond and Sampson counties, said the company just recently passed a major hurdle and is moving forward.

Gray added that the N.C. Division of Environment and Natural Resources reported there was “overwhelming support” for Enviva’s project in Richmond County.

He said the company needs to be making product by the fourth quarter of next year, so construction at the site outside Hamlet should begin in the fourth quarter of this year.

Enviva has already spent more than $3 million on the project, has cleared the property and has been working with CSX and the N.C. Department of Transportation, he added.

“We’re like a duck in a pond,” Gray said. “Don’t look like we’re doing much, but if you look under the water, there’s a lot going on.”

State and local officials announced in September of 2014 that the wood pellet manufacturer will bring 80 jobs and a $107 million investment to Richmond County.

This will be the company’s fifth plant in the past five years.

‘Glitch’ Gives Mass. Biomass Debate Another Shot

massflagA technical glitch at a recent public hearing on a proposed Massachusetts biomass plant will give proponents and opponents to speak their minds on the project. This article from masslive.com says the Public Health Council expanded its period for public comment on the proposed East Springfield biomass plant that developer Palmer Renewable Energy wants to build.

City Health Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris wrote in an email that the glitch was due to the size of the auditorium, and the commission now needs more time as it seeks transcripts from a stenographer hired by the developer to record the meeting.

The comment period has been extended to Feb. 3. It was originally supposed to close this week, with the board taking up the biomass discussion again at its February meeting…

The hearing featured detailed presentations from both developer Palmer Renewable Energy and opponents of the project. Critics highlighted alleged pollution and health risks while the company’s attorney told the council that efforts to block the project are unlawful — and could trigger a $200 million lawsuit against the city.

Palmer Renewable Energy’s engineering and health consultants delivered testimony defending the project, telling the council it was safe and efforts to block it unlawful.

Biomass Innovator to be Recognized by Elite Group

brucedale1An innovator in turning biomass into food and fuel will be recognized by an elite group. This news release from Michigan State University says Bruce Dale, a professor of chemical engineering and materials science at the school will be inducted into the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering’s College of Fellows.

Dale was nominated, reviewed and elected by peers and members of the College of Fellows for outstanding contributions in the biological engineering of transforming plant biomass to food and fuel to achieve a sustainable bioeconomy.

The College of Fellows is composed of the top 2 percent of medical and biological engineers in the country. AIMBE’s mission is to recognize excellence in, and advocate for, the fields of medical and biological engineering in order to advance society.

A formal induction ceremony will be held during AIMBE’s 25th annual meeting at the National Academy of Sciences Great Hall in Washington, D.C., on April 4. Dale will be inducted along with 160 colleagues who make up the AIMBE College of Fellows Class of 2016.

Researchers Release Hydrogen from Tough Biomass

dengResearchers from Georgia Tech have figured out how to release hydrogen from even the toughest sources of biomass. This article from Chemistry World says Yulin Deng and his team at the university developed a low-temperature electrolytic technology that can crack even molecules like lignin and cellulose, eliminating the need to use fossil fuels to release clean-burning hydrogen.

The process takes place in an electrolysis cell containing a membrane that protons can pass through, sandwiched between an anode and a cathode. Water containing both powdered biomass and polyoxometalate (POM), a metal oxide catalyst, is added to the anode side of the cell. By heating the solution or exposing it to sunlight, POM molecules can grab hydrogen atoms from the biomass, becoming H-POM. Applying a voltage across the electrodes causes the H-POM molecules to dump an electron onto the positively charged anode, and a proton into the electrolyte solution. The electrons flow around a circuit to the cathode side of the cell, while the free floating protons diffuse though the membrane and combine with these electrons at the cathode, forming hydrogen atoms. The atoms then react to form stable hydrogen gas, which can be collected.

Experts in deriving hydrogen from biomass have praised the new approach. ‘This process provides an open door to using smaller quantities of biomass and different biomass varieties for renewable hydrogen production,’ comments Chris Zygarlicke, at the University of North Dakota, US. And David King from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, US, says, ‘this is really interesting work … the claimed Faradaic efficiency for the process is extremely high.’

Deng and his team are currently working to make the method even more efficient. ‘Our goal is to collect 100% of the hydrogen atoms from biomass. We’re also looking for an industrial collaborator to scale up the technique.’

Penn State to Turn ‘Scrub’ Trees into Biomass Fuel

PennStateextResearchers at Penn State University are looking at turning a tree seen as not much more than a weed into biomass. This article from the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pennsylvania, the school’s hometown, says researchers are working on a $10 million, 5-year project, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to grow shrub willow as the next great biofuel feedstock.

On the the edge of a cornfield just off Interstate 99 between State College and Bellefonte, researchers planted 34 acres of shrub willow in 2012 and sat back to wait. After one early harvest, Armen Kemanian, assistant professor of production systems and modeling, said he and his team waited three years for the plants to grow enough to mow them down.

That time came this month as equipment was brought in from New York, giant harvesters that drove over the 20-foot-tall crop, not only chopping them down but grinding them into chips. Each pass of harvester turned a long row of the skinny trees into a truckload of mulchy mass.

Three years of growth are expected to produce about 800 tons, but that’s one of the things Kemanian says they are measuring. There are other places that grow shrub willow for its biomass potential, like in New York and Canada. The Penn State study is exploring how the native Eurasian crop fares a little more to the south.

“We are working out some of the kinks,” said Michael Jacobson, professor of forest resources and Penn State and Kemanian’s NewBio co-chairman. “The point is, it’s very important to understand the economics. You can’t look at just one harvest and decide if it breaks even or not. There are 15 to 20 years of multiple cycles.”

The researchers say the willows planted in 2012 are expected to regenerate about seven times, leading to decades of harvesting. And it can be grown on land that wouldn’t normally support other crops.

Construction Well Underway at UK Biomass Plant

glennmont gb1They broke ground last month, and now construction is well underway at a new biomass plant in the UK. This news release from Glennmont Partners says its Port Clarence Renewable Energy Plant is a $227 million power station expected to enter commercial operation in 2018.

The 40MW plant is being built on land which has lain empty for many years and which is situated on the north bank of the River Tees, close to the Transporter Bridge. Fuelled by waste wood, the power station will generate electricity for the equivalent of 75,000 homes across the Tees Valley and elsewhere in the North East.

The construction of the plant is being carried out by Babcock Wilcox Lagan in partnership with Eco2, the company that originated and secured planning for the Port Clarence Energy plant in 2014. There are currently 40 people employed on the site and this is expected to rise to 300 people at the peak of the construction period. Once operational in 2018, the scheme will directly employ 30 people.

Leader of Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council, Councillor Bob Cook, said:

“Glennmont’s investment in our Borough is certainly welcomed as through the introduction of technologies such as biomass they can help grow our economy and create jobs for local people.

“I am delighted to see the Port Clarence Energy project begin to come to fruition and I’m looking forward to residents and businesses benefiting from the energy it will produce.”

“The Council is committed to working with the private sector to help them explore opportunities to develop renewable energy products like this which will help to reduce carbon emissions.”

Murray Paterson, UK Biomass Manager at Glennmont Partners said:

“The existing road and electrical infrastructure makes the Port Clarence area an ideal location for our renewable energy facility. We greatly appreciate the support that Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council has given to the project so far and we will work closely with the Council through the project’s construction and eventual operation. The Port Clarence Energy scheme will mean new jobs being created but equally important, it will be generating renewable energy from waste wood that would otherwise have gone to landfill. Port Clarence Energy is good for the local economy and the local environment.”

Tesoro to Produce Biocrude from Biomass

tesoroPetroleum refiner Tesoro Corporation plans to develop biocrude made from renewable biomass. This news release from the Texas-based company says the biocrude can be co-processed in its existing refineries, along with traditional crude oil.

Converting renewable biomass into biocrude is expected to enable existing refining assets to produce less carbon-intensive fuels at a significantly lower capital and operating cost than competing technologies. This approach could lower Tesoro’s compliance costs with the federal renewable fuel standard and California’s low carbon fuel standard by generating credits, while producing less carbon-intensive fuels which are fully compatible with the nation’s existing fuel infrastructure as well as current vehicle fleet warranties.

In order to support the development of biocrude, Tesoro is working collaboratively with several renewable energy companies to advance biomass-to-fuels technology, including:

– Fulcrum BioEnergy, Inc.: Fulcrum plans to supply biocrude produced from municipal solid waste to Tesoro Refining & Marketing Company LLC (“TRMC”) to process as a feedstock at its Martinez, California Refinery. An estimated 800 barrels of biocrude per day will be produced at Fulcrum’s Sierra BioFuels Plant in Reno, Nevada, which is expected to be operational in early 2018.

– Virent, Inc.: Tesoro and Virent are working to establish a strategic relationship to support scale-up and commercialization of Virent’s BioForming technology which produces low-carbon, biofuel and chemicals.

– Ensyn Corporation: Ensyn has applied for a pathway with the California Air Resources Board to co-process its biocrude, produced from tree residue – called Renewable Fuel Oil(TM) – in TRMC’s California refineries.

“We’ve established relationships such as those with Fulcrum, Virent, and Ensyn, to progress technologies which would enable our existing fuel manufacturing infrastructure to help meet the demand for low-carbon, advanced biofuels. Working with these companies, Tesoro seeks to create shared value that will benefit our communities, consumers and the environment, while allowing us to supply biofuels at a competitive price,” says CJ Warner, Executive Vice President of Strategy and Business Development at Tesoro.

USDA Scientists Develop Bio-Oil

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been working on creating better crude liquid from renewable resources to replace fossil-based fuel. Coined “bio-oil,” the renewable fuel is derived from agricultural waste such as non-food-grade plant matter procured from agricultural or household waste residue such as wood, switchgrass, and animal manures. The advanced biofuel is now a few steps closer to being able to be distilled at existing petroleum refineries.

TGRP mobile Unit

ARS scientists are testing this mobile pyrolysis system for on-farm production of bio-oil from agricultural waste.

The research team, headed by Agricultural Research Services (ARS) chemical engineer Akwasi Boateng with the Sustainable Biofuels and Coproducts Unit at the Eastern Regional Research Center in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania, is working on a modified pyrolysis technique called “tail-gas reactive pyrolysis” (TGRP). Traditionally, pyrolysis is process that chemically decomposes plant and other organic matter using very high heat. This process is not compatible with current distillation equipment at petroleum biofineries due to its highly acidic and high oxygen content, and requires the addition of an expensive catalyst.

Now, however, using waste materials, bio-oils are being produced at an accelerated rate using a new high-output mobile processing unit funded by a Biomass Research and Development Initiative Grant from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.  Instead of shipping large amounts of agricultural waste to a refinery plant at high cost, the mobile reactor allows conversion of the biomass into energy-dense bio-oil right on the farm. In addition, this bio-oil is a higher quality bio-oil that is more marketable to biofuel producers than bio-oil made from traditional pyrolysis methods.

“Ideally, the biofuels added to gasoline would be identical to fuels produced at petroleum refineries,” Eklasabi told AgResearch Magazine. “The quality of TGRP deoxygenated liquids is equal to or better than the bio-oil produced by catalyst pyrolysis.” And, added Eklasabi, bringing the bio-oil one step closer to being able to be distilled at existing petroleum refineries.

Canadian Biomass Gets Government Boost

canada flagA dozen biomass projects in Manitoba, Canada, are getting a boost from the provincial and federal governments. This article from Canadian Manufacturing says the $500,000 in assistance is designed to help end coal use in the province.

“There are renewable energy resources readily available for use as biomass energy sources,” Manitoba’s Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Ron Kostyshyn, said. “By increasing our capacity to make and use green energy we are reducing carbon emissions in Manitoba while promoting the growth of new industry.”

Among the proposals selected to receive funding two projects to convert a coal-fired heating systems to a biomass and funding for new equipment for Southeast Pallet and Wood Products in Blumenort, Man., which will allow the company to double its annual biomass processing capacity.

The program is funded partly through Manitoba’s Coal Tax, and like other bio-fuel programs across the country aims to promote the growing industry as well as reduce emissions.