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

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.

Genera Gets Financial Boost for Biomass Operations

genera1Biomass supply company Genera Energy is getting some financial help to expand its biomass operations. This company news release says WindSail Capital Group is investing in the company, giving Genera the resources to scale up its energy crop production and supply chain operations, further expand the portfolio of biomass feedstocks and geographies it covers, and expand the working capital of the company as a whole.

“We look forward to working with the WindSail Capital team, and we appreciate their recognition of the complexity and value of the upstream supply of biomass for a variety of fast growing bio-based markets,” said Kelly Tiller, Ph.D., CEO and president of Genera Energy Inc.

“We see Genera Energy as building the key supply chain infrastructure to help accelerate the bioenergy industry,” said Michael Rand, co-founder of WindSail Capital Group. “As a services business with a market leading position and strong growth prospects, Genera is a terrific fit for our type of capital.”

Genera officials say the investment is not just a significant achievement for Genera, but an important milestone for the bio-based economy as a whole.

CT Biomass Pellet Maker Looks for Expansion Space

frogcityfuelA Connecticut-based biomass pellet maker is looking for room to grow. Engineered Carbon Solutions (ECS), the maker of Frog City Fuel, says it is still gaining commitments towards a mid-size manufacturing facility located in the southeast part of the state.

[T]hree entities have stepped forward and offered in excess of $1M in property, grant / loans and property tax abatement. We are in discussions with a confidential private company regarding a well-maintained facility in SE CT. This building facility would make an ideal location for our proposed manufacturing facility and if completed, would cement their position as an equity partner. The host town has, in turn, offered a tax abatement program which further reduces projected operating costs. Lastly, CT state officials have begun a process of committing as much as $400 thousand in grant / loans and are very excited about the prospect of a new manufacturing startup in state.

Frog City Fuel is made from local, waste stream post-consumer materials.

Pacific Ag CEO to Speak at BIO Pacific Rim Summit

pacific-agThe CEO and founder of the nation’s largest agricultural residue and forage harvesting business will be discussing biofuel feedstocks on a panel at the BIO Pacific Rim Summit in San Diego this week.

Bill Levy of Oregon-based Pacific Ag will take part in the panel which will explore the realities faced by feedstock producers in today’s marketplace. Panelists will delve into issues in production and logistics, feedstock availability, ability to scale, competing applications for feedstock use, and new markets.

“There are many concerns surrounding the economic feasibility of harvesting biomass for food and fuel. The biggest hurdle of biomass conversion is price and volume predictability,” said Levy of his panel remarks. “What Pacific Ag offers is a sustainable supply at a consistent price necessary for industrial uses of biomass.”

Pacific Ag is leading the biomass harvesting revolution and has been expertly handling biomass logistics for more than 16 years – longer than any other U.S. company. Today, Pacific Ag is the exclusive biomass harvesting and logistics company for Abengoa’s cellulosic ethanol plant located in Hugoton, Kansas and is also working with DuPont’s cellulosic ethanol facility expected to go online in early 2015.

The “Feedstocks: A Global Comparison” panel is taking place Tuesday, December 9, at 8:00 am PT during the BIO Pacific Rim Summit.

Georgia Biomass Plant to be Built

albanyboilerThe approval of a nearly quarter billion dollar biomass energy is closer to fruition. This article from the Albany (GA) Herald says the Albany-Dougherty Payroll Development Authority approved a $250 million bond issuance for the project to be built next to the local Procter & Gamble campus.

“It does appear (P&G, in conjunction with Albany Green Energy, which will manage the plant) is going through with this project,” PDA attorney Jay Reynolds said. “They’ve asked that we approve this bond resolution so that the tax abatements you previously approved will be in place by the first of the year.

“This is the culmination of something this board has been working on for a long time.”

The biomass plant will create steam energy that will be used to power P&G-Albany facilities, allowing the world’s largest home products manufacturer to realize global green initiatives it has established for its plants. Another vital cog in the construction and management of the plant is a plan that will allow Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany to utilize the plant for energy as well.

Not only will the plant provide power for the P&G facilities, it will allow the U.S. Marine Corps base at Albany to be the first Department of Defense installation in the country to realize net-zero energy consumption.

Oregon Aims to Cut Biomass Tax Incentives

OregonFlagBiomass producers in Oregon could lose out on some production tax credits, if the state gets its way. This story from Oregon Public Broadcasting says the state’s Department of Energy proposed a change that reduces tax incentives for biomass facilities.

Matt Krumenauer, a senior policy analyst with the agency, said the tax program was intended to offset the costs of producing, collecting and transporting biomass.

“We’ve analyzed the program and found that those costs for animal manure are much less than similar production or collection costs for other types of biomass,” he said.

Krumenauer said the tax credit provides incentives that are sometimes 10-times higher for animal manure than for other types of biomass, such as wood.

The losses could total up to nearly $5 million a year, based on current credits being handed out. The change would have to be made by the state legislature and signed off by the governor.