USDA Gives Biomass Energy Development $8.7 Mil Boost

usda-logoUp to $8.7 million in federal funding is being made available for next-generation bioenergy development in biomass. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is funding the bioenergy research and education efforts and will be publishing the final rule for a program that provides incentives for farmers and forest landowners interested in growing and harvesting biomass for renewable energy.

“USDA’s support for innovative bioenergy research and education supports rural economic development, reduces carbon pollution and helps decrease our dependence on foreign energy,” said [Agriculture Secretary Tom] Vilsack. “These investments will keep America moving toward a clean energy economy and offer new jobs and opportunities in rural communities.”

USDA will publish the final rule on the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) in tomorrow’s Federal Register. BCAP provides up to $25 million each year in financial assistance to owners and operators of agricultural and non-industrial private forest land who wish to establish, produce, and deliver biomass feedstocks to a qualifying energy facility. The rule includes modifications to cost sharing, eligible types of biomass and other definitions. Stakeholders are encouraged to visit www.regulations.gov to review program details and provide comments during a 60-day public comment period. Comments are due by April 28, 2015. The full program will resume in 90 days on May 28, 2015. Additional information on application dates will be announced this spring. For more information on the program, visit the web at www.fsa.usda.gov/bcap.

USDA is also looking for applications for research and education grants through the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI), a joint program through NIFA and the U.S. Energy Department (DOE) to develop economically and environmentally sustainable sources of renewable biomass, increase the availability of renewable fuels and biobased products to help replace the need for gasoline and diesel in vehicles, and diversify our energy portfolio.

Procter & Gamble to Build 50 MW Biomass Plant

P&GProcter & Gamble (P&G) has announced a deal with retail power supplier Constellation to build a 50-megawatt biomass plant that will help run one of P&G’s largest U.S. facilities, as well as provide electricity for the local utility. This company news release says the facility will be built near P&G’s Albany, Georgia paper manufacturing facility and help the company come closer to its 2020 goal of obtaining 30 percent of its total energy from renewable sources.

For more than 30 years, the Albany facility has successfully used a smaller onsite biomass boiler to convert wood scraps into renewable steam, providing about 30 percent of the total energy. The new facility will replace P&G’s aging boiler with a highly efficient combined heat and power biomass unit. Incoming biomass will provide 100 percent of the steam, and up to 60-70 percent of the total energy used to manufacture Bounty paper towels and Charmin toilet tissue.

“At P&G, we are committed to improving the environmental sustainability of our products across all aspects of their life cycle – from manufacturing, packaging, delivery and consumer use,” said Martin Riant, P&G Executive Sponsor of Sustainability and Group President, Global Baby and Feminine & Family Care. “As this project enables us to operate one of our largest global plants with a renewable energy source, it will reduce the environmental footprint of two leading brands, Bounty and Charmin. We see this as a win for our business, consumers, partners and the environment.”

Construction is already underway at the site and is expected to begin commercial operation in June 2017.

Biomass Could Make Western US Carbon Neutral

berkleybiomasscarbon1A new study says that using biomass to make electricity could make the Western United States carbon-neutral. This article from the University of California-Berkley says researchers there have shown that if biomass electricity production is combined with carbon capture and sequestration, power generators could actually store more carbon than they emit.

By capturing carbon from burning biomass – termed bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration (BECCS) – power generators could become carbon-negative even while retaining gas- or coal-burning plants with carbon capture technology. The carbon reduction might even offset the emissions from fossil fuel used in transportation, said study leader Daniel Sanchez, a graduate student in UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group.

“There are a lot of commercial uncertainties about carbon capture and sequestration technologies,” Sanchez admitted. “Nevertheless, we’re taking this technology and showing that in the Western United States 35 years from now, BECCS doesn’t merely let you reduce emissions by 80 percent – the current 2050 goal in California – but gets the power system to negative carbon emissions: you store more carbon than you create.”

BECCS may be one of the few cost-effective carbon-negative opportunities available to mitigate the worst effects of anthropogenic climate change, said energy expert Daniel Kammen, who directed the research. This strategy will be particularly important should climate change be worse than anticipated, or emissions reductions in other portions of the economy prove particularly difficult to achieve.

“Biomass, if managed sustainably can provide the ‘sink’ for carbon that, if utilized in concert with low-carbon generation technologies, can enable us to reduce carbon in the atmosphere,” said Kammen, a Professor of Energy in UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group and director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) in which the work was conducted.

The findings are published in the online journal Nature Climate Change.

Alt Electricity Surpasses Natural Gas

According to the latest “Energy Infrastructure Update” report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) Office of Energy Projects, new renewable energy sources generated more capacity than natural gas in 2014. Sources including biomass, geothermal, hydroelectric, solar and wind provided 49.81 percent (7,663 MW) of new electrical generation brought into service. Natural gas accounted for 48.65 percent (7,485 MW). By comparison, in 2013, natural gas accounted for 46.44% (7,378 MW) of new electrical generating capacity while renewables accounted for 43.03% (6,837 MW).

Biomass Photo Joanna SchroederNew wind energy facilities accounted for 26.52 percent of added capacity (4,080 MW) in 2014 while solar power provided 20.40 percent (3,139 MW). Other renewables – biomass (254 MW), hydropower (158 MW) and geothermal (32 MW) – accounted for an additional 2.89 percent.

For the year, just a single coal facility (106 MW) came online; nuclear power expanded by a mere 71MW due to a plant upgrade; and only 15 small “units” of oil, totaling 47 MW, were added.

Renewable energy sources now account for 16.63 percent of total installed operating generating capacity in the U.S.:

  • water – 8.42%
  • wind – 5.54%
  • biomass – 1.38%
  • solar – 0.96%
  • geothermal steam – 0.33%

Renewable energy capacity is now greater than that of nuclear (9.14%) and oil (3.94%) combined.

“Can there any longer be doubt about the emerging trends in new U.S. electrical capacity?” noted Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “Coal, oil, and nuclear have become historical relics and it is now a race between renewable sources and natural gas with renewables taking the lead.”

Green Seal Energy Cert Created

The Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA) along with the Trade Chamber (CCEE) have created the Seal Green Energy certificate that confirms that company’s are using at least 20 percent of electricity produced from renewable sources.

Green Seal Energy certification works with the Bioelectricity Certification Program that will allow the exchange of information between UNICA and CEEE is confirmation that the electricity produced from a sugarcane production facility is generated from sugarcane biomass. The certification will also show that a company meets the criteria set out in the Sugar and Alcohol Industry Paulista Environmental Protocol, signed by the government of St. Paul and the sugarcane industry in 2007.

Sugarcane Plant in Brazil Photo Joanna SchroederThe President of the Board of Directors of CCEE, Luiz Eduardo Barata Ferreira, said of the new program, “The verification by the CCEE, that the criteria for plants and consumers will allow the Seal Green Energy become a differential that will add value for both the generator and buyer of energy produced from biomass of cane sugar.”

In 2014, 20.815 million gigawatts/hour (GWh) of electricity from biomass was produced, 20 percent higher than achieved in 2013. This amount would be able to supply 11 million households. UNICA also cites that if there was no electricity derived from sugarcane biomass, CO2 levels would be 24 percent higher.

Elizabeth Farina, president of UNICA added, “With the full energy use of sugarcane biomass, the technical potential of this source could reach 20,000 MW by 2023, which corresponds to the energy produced by two plants Itaipu. And certainly, this certification program will help to take advantage of increasing their potential.”

UMass Researchers Identify Genes to Improve Biofuels

Plant geneticists including Sam Hazen at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Siobhan Brady at the University of California, Davis, now have a handle on the gene regulatory networks that control cell wall thickening by the synthesis of the three polymers, cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. This breakthrough could have a positive impact on developing more efficient production technologies to convert cellulose to biofuels and biochemicals.

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 9.09.15 AMThe 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.

According to the researchers, 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 a recent issue of Nature.

The researchers write in the paper 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.”

Specifically, using a systems approach to identify protein-DNA interactions, they screened more than 460 transcription factors expressed in root xylem to explore their ability to bind the promoters of about 50 genes known to be involved in processes that produce cell-wall components. Hazen says, “This revealed a highly interconnected network of more than 240 genes and more than 600 protein-DNA interactions that we had not known about before.”

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.

MPM Technologies Signs Waste to Energy Deal

MPM Technologies, a subsidiary Carbon Cycle Power (CCP) has signed a lease agreement with an affiliate of Spokane Valley manufacturer Wheeler Industries, Inc., to house the demonstration unit of CCP’s waste-to-value solution. The patent-pending photon-induced, electric-arc gasification technology can procCarbon Cycle Power gasification technologyess biomass or municipal solid waste to produce heat and power.

“After reviewing several viable options, the one that made the most fiscal sense was to manufacture and demonstrate in the same location,” said Brian Burrow, interim CFO for CCI/MPM. “We’re literally building the unit on one side of the street and deploying the demo on the other side of the street. It really is an ideal scenario.”

Carbon Cycle Investments acquired a controlling interest in MPM following a stock purchase agreement in April 2013. The company already has an agreement with Wheeler Industries as the manufacturer of the reaction chamber of its gasification technology. Manufacturing will begin immediately.

Christmas Trees to Power More than Spirit of Holidays

recologyNow that Christmas is done, it’s that time of year to think about what to do with that natural tree that brightened your holiday (although in our house, we like to keep it up as close to the Epiphany as possible). Once you’ve decided that your tree needs to vacate your living room, it can still live on in the form of biomass for renewable energy. This piece from the Mission Local website says that in San Francisco, those green tannenbaums can now be green power.

At the biomass plant, the Christmas trees rise like phoenixes — or at least steam does, when their chips burn inside boilers. The steam-powered turbines generate electricity that is sold to PG&E. Then “it powers your laptop computer,” said Recology spokesperson Robert Reed.

Overall, San Francisco’s Christmas tree chips produce about 20 megawatts of power, or enough energy to serve 20,000 houses for a month, according to Chris Trott at the Tracy Biomass Plant. The plant has paid Recology for the chips for the past two Christmases, but only enough to cover the cost of transporting them to Tracy.

The rest of the year, Tracy Biomass uses peach pits, walnut shells and tree trimmings to power the plant.

Officials add that turning the trees into biomass fuel also reduces Christmas tree-related fires, as well as keeping the material out of landfills.

DF Cast: Bundling Biomass for a Cellulosic Future

As cellulosic ethanol plants are opening up across the country, those facilities need a way to get the feedstocks, while farmers need a way to get that biomass to those new refineries. That’s where Pacific Ag comes in.

In this edition of the Domestic Fuel Cast, we talk to CEO Bill Levy and Steve Van Mouwerik, Vice President of Operations for Pacific Ag, as they talk about how their custom field residue business, which started in 1999 for baling crop residues for animal feeding operations, is a good fit for the emerging cellulosic industry, as Pacific Ag is demonstrating at Abengoa’s cellulosic ethanol biorefinery in Kansas that went online this past October and is expected to produce 25 million gallons of advanced ethanol per year.

Hear more about it here: Domestic Fuel Cast - Bundling Biomass for a Cellulosic Future