Report: Renewable Energy Gains Market Share

Renewable energy sources, particularly solar, wind, and biofuels, continue to make gains when it comes to the share of energy produced and used in this country. According to SUN DAY Campaign, a non-profit research and educational organization, the latest numbers from U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows through the first half of this year, renewable energy made up 10 percent of U.S. energy consumption, 12 percent of domestic production and 14 percent of net electrical generation.

eiaCompared to the same time frame in 2012, overall renewable energy production, including conventional hydropower, was 2.00% higher while production from non-hydro renewables grew by 4.13%. Specifically, solar grew by 32.46% in 2013, wind by 20.14%, geothermal by 0.89%, and biomass by 0.42%. Hydropower slipped by 2.59% and biofuels by 5.92%.

Among the renewable energy sources, hydropower’s share during the first half of 2013 was 30.18%, biomass 25.26%, biofuels 20.18%, wind 18.80%, solar 3.19%, and geothermal 2.39%.

Production from all renewable energy sources, including conventional hydropower, is about 60% higher in 2013 than it was in 2003 while production from non-hydro renewable energy sources has more than doubled.

Over the past decade, domestic energy production from wind has increased by a factor of nearly 16 while output from both biofuels and solar is now about five times higher than in 2003. Geothermal has also grown – by about 30% – while biomass and hydropower have remained largely unchanged.

Domestic renewable energy production is outpacing both fossil fuels (11 percent) and nuclear (about 1 percent). Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign, says renewables are the real growth industries in the energy market over the past decade.

“If recent trends continue, they will eventually eclipse both fossil fuels and nuclear power.”

Report: Lack of Biofuels Puts Economy at Risk

daleIf the U.S. doesn’t make sufficient investments in biofuels, it could put the Nation’s economy at risk of a slowdown and could make the country face energy shortages. That’s the conclusions of a report from a professor of chemical engineering and a biofuel specialist at Michigan State University. In remarks to the Platts Biofuels and Chemicals conference in Chicago and posted on, Bruce Dale cautioned against putting too many eggs in the fossil fuels basket, as well as possibly turning areas that are booming on petroleum now could become “ghost towns” once those supplies dry up.

“That’s where we’re heading” unless we take steps to ensure that biofuels become ever more sustainable and realistic, Dale, who is working on ways of turning grass into ethanol, said.

Successful economies require substantial power, Dale said, adding that fossil fuels significant challenges in terms of expense and likely future questions over supply.

For emerging economies, the cost of fossil fuels remained too expensive, while for established economies, there continue to be questions over the sustainability of supply.

Because of this, Dale said biofuels will have to play a substantial part in future energy supply. And to ensure that happens, further investment is needed.

Dale went on to say that current capacity and technology does not exist that would allow biomass to reach 50 percent greenhouse gas reduction goals by 2050. He says biomass needs to gain economies of scale soon, “or we’re going to be cooked.”

KiOR Looks to Double Capacity at Cellulosic Facility

kior_logo_CMYKCommercial scale cellulosic gasoline and diesel producer KiOR has announced plans to double the capacity of its Columbus, Mississippi facility. Officials expect the project, dubbed Columbus II, will cost approximately $225 million, will break ground within 90 days of raising the money needed and be finished building 18 months later.

Once completed with its latest technology improvements, KiOR expects that the Columbus II project will allow each Columbus facility to achieve greater yields, production capacity and feedstock flexibility than the original design basis for the existing Columbus facility, enabling KiOR to more quickly make progress towards its long-term goal of 92 gallons per bone dry ton of biomass.

Fred Cannon, KiOR’s President and CEO, says this project is an important step in the company’s long-term business plan, as it will make them profitable with lower capital costs and will take advantage of “operational and technological synergies between the two Columbus facilities.” He says it will also help accelerate plans for next year’s groundbreaking of another standard scale commercial production facility in Natchez, Mississippi.

Natural Power Expands Operations

Natural Power The Green HouseRt Hon Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy & Climate Change, recently opened Natural Power’s newly expanded ControlCentre at their global headquarters, The Green House, located in the foothills of Rhinns of Kells in rural Dumfries and Galloway.

The company’s NP/ControlCentre (previously known as WindCentre) is a 24/7/365 operational control room, providing site management services round the clock for a range of renewable sectors including onshore and offshore wind, biomass and solar PV projects. Manned by experienced engineers, the 24 hour control room service is facilitated by a software solution for health & safety management, work order recording and access control – all in line with industry best practice, such as the RenewableUK Wind Turbine Safety Rules.

Energy Secretary Ed Davey said during the event, “It’s great to see first-hand the work carried out at Natural Power’s ControlCentre. This shows the vital role renewables play in our energy mix and their contribution to our energy security. The Centre has already helped over 100 clients improve the efficiency of their wind turbines, increasing the amount of renewable electricity provided to the grid.

20130905-NaturalPower-5928The company’s Asset Management team currently manages 139 wind farms globally, including 14 sites in Ireland, representing 1,360 turbines. The company is also breaking into the U.S. market and is already providing services to a number of operational wind farms. This represents operational management of 37 percent and 20 percent of the UK’s and Irish installed onshore capacity respectively.

Commenting on the company’s acheivements, Natural Power’s Director of Asset Management, Andy Howie, said: “It is a great achievement to be in a position to double the size of NP /ControlCentre, and to know it has become the heart of one third of all operational sites in the UK.  As the sector continues to grow our focus remains on achieving the highest safety standards on site for all. We are extremely proud, at Natural Power, to be chosen as the No. 1 provider of Asset Management services in the UK.”

Davey also noted that is he “delighted” that Natural Power has chosen to expand the Centre’s services to solar and bioenergy sectors in the UK. “The UK has some of the best renewables in Europe,” said Davey, “and if we are to meet our carbon reduction and renewable targets, it is vital that we make the most of this potential.”

“I wish Natural Power every success with their endeavours,” added Davey.

Argonne Take Cues From Nature

Scientists working at the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF) are looking to nature’s catalysts, enzymes, for inspiration in their quest to find a more effective means of converting biomass into renewable fuel. The research is focused on inedible plant materials that contain cellulose (such as wood chips and switchgrass), which can be broken down into sugars and then converted into biofuels.

According to the researchers, it is a challenging process to commercialize because plant cell walls are tough and recalcitrant, meaning they naturally resist being broken down into sugars. Therefore this obstacle has made it difficult to produce biofuels at a cost and pace that can compete with petroleum-based transportation fuels.

ALCF researchTo address this issue, the research team from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Colorado is using Mira, the ALCF’s 10-petaflops supercomputer, to conduct large-scale simulations of the physical behavior of cellulase enzymes. Naturally produced by some fungi and bacteria, these particular enzymes are being modeled because they effectively trigger the chemical changes necessary to degrade hardy plant materials into life-sustaining sugars.

“Through our studies at the ALCF, we hope to uncover how these enzymes can be manipulated to develop superior biological catalysts for improved biofuel production,” said Michael Crowley, NREL senior scientist and project principal investigator.

Crowley and his colleagues are carrying out the simulations to gain a fundamental understanding of the complex cellulose-to-sugar conversion process, known as enzymatic hydrolysis. With this information, researchers will be able to identify potential enzyme modifications and then feed their discoveries into experiments aimed at developing and validating improved catalysts. Continue reading

Cool Planet Chooses Louisiana for Biofuel Project

Cool Planet Energy Systems, a developer of small scale biorefineries which convert non-food biomass into gasoline, jet fuel, and soil biochar, has announced the selection of Alexandria, Louisiana as the location for their first commercial biorefinery. The facility will be located on the Port of Alexandria in Rapides Parish and will serve as a showcase facility. The goal of Cool Planet is to build hundreds of additional small scale biorefineries across the U.S. Construction is expected to be complete by the end of 2014.

The site was chosen due to tremendous support from the city of Alexandria, and the economic development team from the state of Louisiana. The location provides access to an abundance of renewable biomass feedstock, the ability to load fuel onto barges, rail lines and trucks, and local talent to operate the facility.

“Louisiana is known for its substantial oil interests, but now will also have the distinction of being home to the first, of what is planned to become many, production facilities for Cool Cool PlanetPlanet’s renewable, high-performance gasoline and soil enhancing biochar,” said CEO Howard Janzen. “Our goal for the Alexandria facility is to be economically competitive with conventional fuels made from non-renewable crude oil.”

The company believes it will have one of the lowest capital costs per plant in the refining industry, with project economics that work at facilities 100 times smaller than conventional refineries, while being able to use a wide variety of renewable biomass materials as inputs. construction is expected to be complete before the end of 2014.

In other news, Cool Planet has completed a joint vehicle road test with Ventura County, California. Officials ran a 5 percent blend of the company’s renewable, low-carbon gasoline for six weeks during their normal operations. The demonstration received special approval from the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

External testing of the fuel was conducted at various points during the fleet demonstration. Carbon-14 dating proved that Cool Planet was successfully turning renewable plant material into drop-in fuel.

Dakota Bioprocessing Consortium Established

Four universities in North Dakota and South Dakota have been awarded a $6 million grant to establish the Dakota Bioprocessing Consortium (DakotaBioCon) to conduct collaborative research. The award is funded by the National Science Foundation Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. The consortium includes North Dakota State University, the University of North Dakota, South Dakota State University and the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.

South Dakota LogosThe primary goal of DakotaBioCon is to establish a multi-state, multi-institution, multi-disciplinary research collaboration that will produce economically viable renewable replacements for existing petrochemicals. The research collaborators will use lignin as a starting raw material. Lignin binds cellulose fibers in wood and plants and will be converted into renewable chemical and polymeric alternatives to petrochemicals.

“The combined research talent at the four institutions in two states provides an opportunity to join forces to develop DakotaBioCon, maximizing research in the field of renewable replacements to existing petrochemicals,” said Philip Boudjouk, co-chair of North Dakota EPSCoR.

DakotaBioCon will leverage its relationships with existing programs and centers such as UND/NDSU’s Sustainable Energy Research Initiative and Supporting Education (SUNRISE) program, the SDSU-based SunGrant Initiative, and the SDSMT/SDSU-based Center for Bioprocessing Research and Development to achieve its objectives.

Phyllis E. Johnson, co-chair of North Dakota EPSCoR said of the project, “This project provides an important opportunity to use our research talents to create new, high-value products from agricultural waste products, thus strengthening further the largest sector of our state economy.” Continue reading

NextFuels Producing Biofuels from Palm Residue

NextFuels has unveiled its strategy for economically producing transportation and industrial fuels from wet, unprocessed agricultural waste. The underlying technology, which was developed by Shell Oil over several years, will allow NextFuels and its partners to produce bio-based petroleum at commercial scale for $75 to $85 a barrel out of wet biomass that has not been mechanically or thermally dried. The company will also provide palm plantation owners and others a way to transform the tons of residual plant matter generated by agricultural operations into a new, profitable second crop.

Screen Shot 2013-08-21 at 12.17.54 PMThe company is collaborating on its commercial strategy with Enagra on the development of its technology.

“Dr. Frans Goudriaan and Dr. Jaap Naber have been working on this technology for almost 30 years. With Dr. Ralph Overend’s extensive background in the biomass and biofuels space, we are extremely excited to be moving this unique technology forward,” said Michael Petras, CEO of NextFuels. “While we have a lot of work ahead of us, we look forward to helping solve the biomass issue in Malaysia.”

According to NextFuels, edible palm oil has surpassed soybean to become the largest source of cooking oil in the world, accounting for over 50 million tons of oil annually. While plantation owners have managed to increase the productivity of their land by 15 times since the late 80s, the growth of the industry has created a corresponding residue problem. Approximately 4.4 to 6 metric tons of agricultural waste is generated for each metric ton of oil. There are over 1,000 crude palm oil (CPO) mills in Southeast Asia and a single (60 tons per hour) mill can generate 135,000 tons of agricultural residue a year.

NextFuels use a system called bio-liquefaction that efficiently transforms agricultural biomass to green energy. Biomass is placed into the plant mixed with water. The mixture is then heated to 330◦ Celsius while pressure is increased to 220 bar. Increasing the pressure keeps the water from coming to a boil, which conserves energy.

When cooled, the hydrocarbons form a putty-like substance called GreenCrude. Roughly 25% of the GreenCrude can be burned as a solid fuel in industrial boilers. The remaining 75% can be converted into a liquid-fuel equivalent to petroleum that is compatible with existing pipelines and vehicles. The equipment required to convert GreenCrude into liquid fuels, in a process called hydrodeoxygenation, is already installed at most refineries and can accept GreenCrude with minor refinements. Continue reading

DOE Looks to Better Catalysts for Biomass to Biofuel

argonne1New and better catalysts could be the key to unlocking the potential biofuel locked up in biomass. This article from the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory says scientists at the lab’s Institute for Atom-Efficient Chemical Transformations (IACT) for the past four years have been looking at how to improve the efficiency and selectivity of catalysts:

IACT was originally founded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in 2009 as a special Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC), in which scientists from both academic institutions and government labs were asked to team up to discover better ways of converting biomass – plant sugars from corn or sugarcane – into combustible diesel fuel, jet fuel or gasoline.

“While catalysts are used in a countless number of manufacturing and industrial processes, we wanted to focus on biofuels because they provide a challenging platform on which to work,” [Argonne chemist Chris] Marshall said. “The point of the EFRCs is to focus on some of the most important scientific problems we face today.”

In order to successfully convert biomass into fuel, Marshall and his colleagues have developed a roadmap of chemical reactions. Each of these reactions requires either a different catalytic material or a different set of reaction conditions to work effectively.

“The problem with biomass is that it’s loaded with oxygen, while the fuels we’re trying to create are much more oxygen-poor and hydrogen-rich,” Marshall said. “Hydrogen is an expensive commodity; if we’re going to use it, we need to use it judiciously.”

The most daunting task for the scientists is to improve the catalysts’ selectivity, while increasing the lifespan of these workhorses of biomass conversion. One discovery that is helping is a technique called “overcoating,” in which a dome-like sheath of protective material is added on top of the metal catalyst. Using a method known as atomic layer deposition (ALD), researchers are able to deposit extremely thin and uniform sheets of material on different surfaces, just a few atoms thick. They hope eventually to expand the process into biological molecules.

Edeniq & Pacific Ag to Colloborate

Edeniq and Pacific Ag, have announced today a five-year exclusive collaboration agreement to assist existing corn-based ethanol production facilities to add cellulosic ethanol production. The technology will help corn-based ethanol plants diversify their feedstock sources and enhance long-term production margins. In addition, the cellulosic ethanol produced will qualify for as “cellulosic” fuels under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

edeniq“This collaboration holds the potential to enhance the commercial viability of cellulosic ethanol production in the US,” said Brian Thome, the President and CEO of Edeniq. “By combining Edeniq’s bolt-on production technologies for corn ethanol plants with Pacific Ag’s agricultural biomass supply capabilities, we will provide the best turnkey solution for today’s producers to economically integrate cellulosic production into their existing facilities.”

Today there are about 200 operating ethanol plants in the U.S. in 28 states. They produce nearly 14 billion gallons annually representing approximately 10 percent of all gasoline sold. The majority of these plants use corn as their primary feedstock, a commodity grain that has been subject to wide fluctuations in price and supply over the past decade, driven by competing end uses, market speculation and weather.

In an effort to diversify the feedstock pool, the Department of Energy issued its “billion ton” study in 2005. That study determined that U.S. agriculture and forest resources have the capability to produce at least one billion dry tons of biomass annually in a sustainable manner, enough to produce biofuels to meet more than one-third of the current demand for transportation fuels. Yet today, only a small amount of biofuels are produced using biomass and much more is needed.

PACAG-001 Final Logo CMYK “This collaboration agreement brings together two companies at the forefront of solving a big risk factor to commercial production of cellulosic ethanol: getting biomass from the field to the plant with maximum reliability and efficiency and successfully converting that biomass at a low per gallon capital investment for existing production facilities,” added Bill Levy, founder and CEO of Pacific Ag. “For Pacific Ag, this potential market represents a key additional sector in our strategy to maximize the role of ag biomass in the nation’s energy supply.”