Renewable Energy Installed Capacity Grows by Leaps and Bounds

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Energy Projects has released its latest “Energy Infrastructure Update,” and finds that renewable energy sources including biomass, geothermal, solar, water, and wind, accounted by 49.10 percent of all new domestic electrical generating capacity installed during 2012. The total was 12,956 MW and more than a quarter of that new capacity, or 3,276 MW, came online during December 2012 alone.

geothermal-energyWind power led the way in 2012 with 164 new “units” totaling 10,689 MW installed. Solar power followed with 240 units totaling 1,476 MW installed. Biomass added 100 new units totaling 543 MW while geothermal steam and water each had 13 new units with installed capacities of 149 MW and 99 MW respectively. By comparison, during 2012, new natural gas generation in service totaled 8,746 MW (33.15%) followed by coal (4,510 MW -17.09%), nuclear (125 MW – 0.47%), and oil (49 MW – 0.19%).

New capacity from renewable energy sources in 2012 increased by 51.16 percent compared to 2011 when those sources added 8,571 MW. In 2011, renewables accounted for 39.33 percent of all new in-service generation capacity. Renewable sources now account for 15.40 percent of total installed U.S. operating generating capacity: water – 8.47 percent, wind – 4.97 percent, biomass – 1.30 percent, solar – 0.34 percent, and geothermal – 0.32 percent. This is more than nuclear (9.24%) and oil (3.57%) combined.

“If there were still any lingering doubts about the ability of renewable energy technologies to come on-line quickly and in amounts sufficient to displace fossil fuels and nuclear power, the 2012 numbers have put those doubts to rest,” said Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “Not only has renewable energy become a major player in the U.S. electrical generation market, but it has also emerged in 2012 as THE reigning champion.”

New Markets Tax Credits Spur Investment

There is a little secret in the renewable energy sector that many don’t know about – New Markets Tax Credits. These tax credits provide incentives for private investors to help fund projects that create jobs and diversify economics, and were extended for another year as part of the American Tax Relief Act.

CEI logoCongress first established the program in 2000 to stimulate investment and economic growth in low-income and under-served rural and urban communities that are often overlooked by conventional capital markets. Investors receive a seven-year, 39-percent federal tax credit as incentive to finance loans and investments in businesses and economic development projects in distressed communities. They are not restricted to energy projects.

According to CEO Charles Spies, CEI Capital Management is a national leader in awarding New Markets Tax Credits, having invested nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars in the last nine years. CEI Capital Management has its own triple bottom line investment criteria, where projects must benefit the local community, demonstrate economic gain and have a positive impact on the environment.

Last year, CEI Capital Management allocated $20.7 million in new markets tax credits to the $275 million Burgess BioPower Plant in rural Berlin, New Hampshire. Built on the site of a defunct paper mill, the plant will produce 75 megawatts of power from 759 thousand tons of sustainably grown wood annually. The project currently employs about 300 construction jobs and is on track to sustain 40 jobs in management and plant operations plus hundreds more in the woods associated with harvesting and transporting biomass. Continue reading

USDA Invests in Bioenergy Research Projects

vilsack-renmatixAgriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited a state-of-the-art bioindustrial facility in Pennsylvania on Friday, where he announced $25 million to fund research and development of next-generation renewable energy and high-value biobased products from a variety of biomass sources.

“USDA’s continuing investments in research and development are proving a critical piece of President Obama’s strategy to spur innovation of clean bioenergy right here at home and reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” said Vilsack. “The advances made through this research will help to boost local economies throughout rural America, creating and sustaining good-paying jobs, while moving our nation toward a clean energy economy.”

Vilsack made the announcement while visiting Pennsylvania-based Renmatix, a leading manufacturer of cellulosic sugars for biobased chemical and fuel markets, for the commissioning of the company’s BioFlex Conversion Unit, a multiple-feedstock processing facility at the company’s King of Prussia headquarters.

The four projects approved for investment are:

Kansas State University – $5,078,932 The goal of this project is to make the oilseed crop camelina a cost-effective biofuel and bioproduct feedstock.

Ohio State University – $6,510,183 This project will result in an anaerobic digestion system for the production of liquid transportation fuels and electricity from animal manure, agricultural residues, woody biomass and energy crops.

Ceramatec, Inc., Salt Lake City, Utah – $6,599,304 This project will convert lignocellulosic biomass to infrastructure-compatible renewable diesel, biolubricants, animal feed and biopower. New hybrids of energy sorghum will be developed, and other biomass resources include switchgrass and forestry residues.

USDA-Agricultural Research Service, Eastern Regional Research Center, Wyndmoor, PA – $6,865,942 ARS scientists will develop an on-the-farm distributed technology for converting forest residues, horse manure, switchgrass and other perennial grasses into biofuels and high-value specialty chemicals.

New Plant-Based Cellulase Enzyme

Iowa Corn Field in Aug Photo Joanna SchroederInfinite Enzymes has launched IE-CBHI, a single activity, plant-based cellulase enzyme. The enzyme is available for research and development projects through Sigma-Aldrich Corporation.

The global industrial enzymes market is projected to reach 3.74 billion by 2015, not including many emerging applications in advanced biofuels and biobased products. Enzymes are a critical role in converting cellulose and hemicellulose in biomass to sugars, which becomes the foundation to produce biofuels, biochemicals or biomaterials.

According to Infinite Enzymes, their technology produces enzymes in a lower value part of the corn kernel thereby creating a new sustainable market for corn processing by-products.  The company says their technology lowers the cost of sugar production needed for developing low-cost biobased plastics and advanced biofuels.

Recently, Infinite Enzymes received a $450,000 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to advance its enzyme development technology.

What Do People Think About Biofuels?

What do people in the Southeast think about biofuels? Do they support biofuel ventures? Who will grow the biomass? Will those in established industries fight against it? These are just a few of the questions researchers from the University of Georgia and the U.S. Forest Service are asking as part of studies in locations throughout the Southeast suited for biomass development.

The researchers will use a mix of ethnographic methods to help understand public opinion about bioenergy and also to provide policymakers and business owners with the information they need to make sustainable energy production viable throughout communities.

Corn Stover: Biomass Photo Joanna Schroeder“We’re planning to work on the ground throughout the Southeast,” said Sarah Hitchner, a co-investigator and post-doctoral research associate at UGA’s Center for Integrative Conservation Research. “A lot of people talk about biofuels as being an obvious win-win, but it’s more complicated than that.”

Supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which funds research projects on sustainable bioenergy through its Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, the research team will begin in Soperton, Georgia-formerly home to Range Fuels and now the Freedom Pines Biorefinery owned by LanzaTech-and then moving on to other areas in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida and North Carolina. While visiting local communities, the researchers will participate in the daily activities of community members and conduct in-depth interviews with a variety of stakeholders, such as landowners, industry representatives, potential employees and county commissioners.

“A big part of this kind of research is to listen to as many perspectives as possible,” said Peter Brosius, professor of anthropology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, director of the Center for Integrative Conservation Research and co-investigator in the study. “From there you begin to see patterns emerge.” Continue reading

Uruguay Expands Wind Power

With the support from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Uruguay is planning to expand its wind power generation through the construction of two wind farms: Libertador and Palmatir. Loans totaling $107.7 million will help the country diversify its energy mix and reduce its dependence on hydroelectric generation, which during dry seasons, increases the country’s dependence on energy produced from fossil fuels.

“These projects will be the first two wind farms to be financed by the IDB that are developed within the program launched by UTE, the state-owned electricity company, to promote private sector participation in the renewable energy sector,’’ said Jean-Marc Aboussouan, Chief of the Infrastructure Division at the Structured and Corporate Finance Department, the IDB unit responsible for large-scale private sector project financing.

Aboussouan continued, “The long-term financing provided by the IDB will allow Uruguay to take advantage of the global advances in the wind energy sector as well as improvements in technology and cost reductions that have made wind power a competitive energy source.”

WPE, a fully-owned subsidiary of Brazilian-based IMPSA, will develop the El Libertador wind farm that will feature 44 Vensys IMPSA wind turbines and be located in the department of Lavalleja. The project will receive a $66 million IDB loan. Abengoa S.A. will develop the Palmatir wind farm that will be located in the department of Tacuarembó. This wind farm will feature 25 Gamesa wind turbines and receive a $41.7 million IBD loan.

When the two wind farms are completed, they will have the capacity to produce 115 MW of electricity.  Today, Uruguay has 2.578 MW of power generation capacity, of which approximately 60 percent provides from hydropower plants, 33 percent from fossil fuels and the remaining from biomass and wind energy.

Anellotech to Boost Plastic Production from Biomass

Renewable fuels and green petrochemical maker Anellotech Inc. has inked a deal with the University of Massachusetts-Amherst that will triple the amount of plastics feedstock made from biomass. The agreement adds a new technology capability to Anellotech’s process that triples the amount of p-xylene used to make plastic bottles, clothing, carpeting, automotive and other products usually made from nonrenewable petroleum but now could be produced from non-food biomass.

Anellotech’s core technology, catalytic fast pyrolysis (CFP), was invented in Professor George W. Huber’s laboratory at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Anellotech is developing the process to produce benzene, toluene, xylenes and olefins from non-food biomass. The additional breakthrough technology was first reported in an article published in the prestigious journal Angewandte Chemie in October 2012, where Professor Huber, Professor Fan and collaborators describe how to modify the catalyst used in this process to triple the yield of p-xylene within the benzene, toluene and xylenes product stream. The new invention allows the more economical production of renewable p-xylene from non-food biomass, thus enabling the production of lower-cost renewable PET. This research was funded by the Department of Energy Energy Frontiers Research Centers as part of the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation which is led by the University of Delaware. Anellotech is currently working on scaling up the new CFP technology and bringing it to the market place.

“There is increasing demand for p-xylene, particularly for making consumer products” said David Sudolsky, President and Chief Executive Officer of Anellotech Inc. “This new technology we will be developing under license from the University of Massachusetts will enable beverage manufacturers to obtain 100% renewable PET bottles made from green ethylene glycol (already on the market by others) together with Anellotech’s green p-xylene.”

The process could replace some of the petroleum now used to make 54 million tons of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) globally.

Census of Ag to Ask About Renewable Energy, Biomass

The USDA’s 2012 Census of Agriculture forms soon will be going out to farmers and ranchers across the country, and this year, the survey will be asking asking about renewable energy and biomass.

“We’re asking for more details on whether farmers are using solar, wind… what type of energy, and some of the crops they’re growing to produce biomass,” says Renee Picanso, Director of the USDA’s Census and Survey Division, asking that those surveyed return their census by Feb. 4, 2013. During an interview at Trade Talk at the National Association of Farm Broadcasting convention, she added that also new this year will be the opportunity to fill out the survey over the internet, something they believe will help response rates. “I hope so, because it leads you through the questions, and if you go on the internet, it will skip through the questions [not relevant to your operation].”

Picanso stresses that it’s very important for producers to respond because the survey helps USDA determine policy, as well as how it helps rural communities and agribusinesses. Results should be released in February 2014.

Listen to Cindy’s interview with Renee here: Renee Picanso, USDA Census and Survey Division

Virgin Islands Go “Giant” with Biomass Energy Crop

Giant King(TM) Grass is now growing in the Virgin Islands and could help the U.S. territory meet its goal of 22 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. California-based Viaspace, Inc. sent the first shipment to St. Croix, and Tibbar Energy USVI LLC has planted it with hopes that it will become a key part of that company’s 6 MW biomass energy project on the 1,000-acre Giant King Grass plantation.

The Giant King Grass will be used as a feedstock for anaerobic digestion, generating biogas which will be used to produce electricity. No grass is burned in this process. Anaerobic digestion is a biological process.

The benefits of this project to the island are not only in the energy production. Additional benefits include:

— The branding of St. Croix as a renewable energy producer
— Helping to meet the Virgin Islands renewable energy goal of 22% by 2025
— Provides organic fertilizer for local farmers, agricultural scholarships and new agricultural activity
— Developing co-operative growing agreements with local famers
— Creates high quality permanent jobs.
— Converts 800 acres of underutilized land to agricultural use
— Invests millions of dollars into the island”

This is part of Tibbar’s 20-year project, expected to be fully online early in 2014.

Besides growing Giant King Grass, Viaspace is also growing its social media presence. You can also follow the company on its Facebook page,, and through Twitter @viaspace.

Cool Planet – 3 Years, 30 Biomass Plants

Cool Planet Energy Systems has announced a breakthrough in the commercialization and affordability of biofuels from biomass. Using a mechanical process and scaling approach, the company says it can produce high octane gasoline at the cost of $1.50 per gallon without the need for subsidies and also while removing carbon from the air during the course of production.

The company, backed by Google, BP, General Electric, NRG, and others, says it has already successfully tested the technology internally as well as at Google’s headquarters with its campus vehicle, GRide, that has driven 2,400 miles on the fuel. By running on a 5% Cool Planet carbon negative fuel blended with 95% regular gasoline, the test car blend met California’s 2020 Low Carbon Fuel Standard – eight years ahead of schedule according to a Cool Planet statement.

The statement also said the control car used 100 percent regular gasoline, and successfully passed five smog checks with no significant difference between cars. The total mileage of the test car was virtually the same as the control car, driving a total of 2,490 stop and go miles in the test car compared with 2,514 miles in the control car. Additionally, both the test car and the control car were virtually identical in emissions testing. Other field tests are planned.

“Innovations in alternative fuels will be key in addressing growing climate change concerns,” said Brendon Harrington, Transportation Operations Manager at Google, Inc. “We are thrilled to be a part of Cool Planet’s field testing and believe that this product has the potential to make a significant impact on our future energy needs.”

A byproduct of producing the biofuel from biomass is the activated carbon, or biochar that can be used as a soil enhancer increasing land fertility while isolating the carbon captured from the atmosphere. Continue reading