U of North Dakota Gets Biomass Research Funding

My Approved PortraitsFederal funding to the tune of $250,000 is headed to the University of North Dakota for research to study biomass as a biofuel and solar energy absorption by nanoparticles. North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp welcomed the research dollars.

“North Dakota has a rich heritage of conservation and we must continue to develop and use our natural resources responsibly,” said Heitkamp. “That also means continuing to invest in new technologies and supporting North Dakota’s renewable energy potential including wind, solar, and advanced biofuels, and these federal funds will help UND continue such critical research.”

The funding is made available through the National Science Foundation to work with their International Research Experience for Students for Technologies to Mitigate Global Climate Change.

Scottish Whisky Used to Power Homes

Scottish Whisky is being used to power homes. Well, not exactly the whisky, but the by-products, such as energy, as being used to power communities. The project, The Rothes CoRDe, part-owned by The Combination of Rothes Distillers, is leading the distilleries program.

“A number of whisky companies are part of an industry consortium looking at sustainable ways of processing by-products from our distilleries,” explained Iain Lochhead, Operations Director for John Dewar & Sons Ltd., part of the Bacardi group of companies.  “We believe we are doing our part in protecting the environment of Scotland. Since we use natural ingredients to make our whisky, we want to leave our surroundings in the same pristine condition as we find them.”

draff from whisky production

The plant utilises draff which is a by-product of whisky production. This comes from 17 different distilleries and is mixed 50/50 with wood chips.

The Speyside area of the Scottish Highlands is home to around 50 whisky distilleries. Rothes, in the heart of that region, is the site of a new, blended-biomass plant that generates heat and power for local communities. It works by burning draff (the spent grains used in the distilling process) with woodchips to create steam-generating electricity.

“We generate 8.3 megawatts of electricity every hour of every day. We use some onsite and export the rest – enough for 20,000 people in 8,000 homes,” said Frank Burns, Managing Director, Rothes CoRDe. “We are powering all of the local communities.”

Another innovation is converting pot ale – the residue from copper whisky stills – into organic feedstock that local farmers use for their animals. “By recovering by-products from our distilleries, we turn them into material of purpose and value,” Burns said. “Ultimately, everything we make, whether it’s animal feed – or even the ash from our boiler process – goes back to the land or to the farm.”

David Williamson of the Scotch Whisky Association, added, “In the end, we want to take this industry forward, to invest and grow, but also make sure we preserve the natural environment we rely on to support Scotch whisky for many years to come.”

Michigan State IDs Water Usage by Biomass Crops

Researchers at Michigan State University have identified the amount of water used by some key biomass crops. This article from the school says the study, titled, “Comparative water use by maize, perennial crops, restored prairie and poplar trees in the U.S. Midwest,” recently published by Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC), lead authored by Michigan State University professor Steve Hamilton, provides a new perspective on how planting different biomass crop species might impact terrestrial water balances.
There were six biofuel species in this study including corn, switchgrass, miscanthus, a five species grass mix, an 18 species restored prairie mix and hybrid poplar. Four years of data are reported, which include a drought year (2012) and three years of near normal rainfall.

The climate and soils of rain-fed systems in the upper Midwest may limit crop productivity based on water availability. Two key questions were answered with this study:

How much water does each crop use?
Which crops are most efficient in converting water to biomass?

Water use

Average [evapotranspiration] (ET) over the four-year period showed the perennial cropping systems were not much different from the annual crop of corn. Mean growing-season ET increased in the following order: miscanthus < poplar < corn < prairie < switchgrass < native grass (Table 1), although the range of values was only about 4.5 inches. Notice that miscanthus and poplar trees had the lowest ET during the drought year of 2012. Previously, it was expected that perennial crops would require significantly more water, which could have deleterious effects at the watershed scale. This data disputes that theory and shows that planting perennial crops in the landscape with our climate and soils would not have significant adverse impacts.

USDA Offers Incentives for Biomass for Energy

usda-logoEnrollment is underway for farmers and forest landowners to get financial assistance for growing new sources of biomass for energy or biobased products. This U.S.Department of Agriculture (USDA) news release says the money comes from the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP).

Biomass energy facilities or groups of producers may submit proposals for new BCAP project areas. Proposals will be accepted on www.grants.gov through Nov. 6, 2015. USDA will also allocate $7.7 million towards four existing BCAP project areas in New York, North Carolina, Ohio/Pennsylvania and Kansas/Oklahoma, targeting the establishment of an additional 10,500 acres of shrub willow, giant miscanthus, and switchgrass for energy. Project area sponsors include Chemtex International, Aloterra Energy LLC, Abengoa Biomass LLC and ReEnergy Holdings LLC. Farmers and forest landowners may enroll for biomass establishment and maintenance payments for these four sites through Sept. 25, 2015.

In June, USDA began accepting applications from foresters and farmers seeking financial assistance for removing biomass residues from fields or national forests for delivery to energy generation facilities; the deadline for those applications is Sept. 4, 2015. The retrieval payments are provided at a cost-share match of $1 for $1 up to $20 per dry ton with eligible crops including corn residue, diseased or insect infested wood materials, or orchard waste. The energy facility must first be approved by USDA to accept the biomass crop, and deliveries to the facilities can continue until Dec. 11, 2015.

So far, BCAP has provided incentives for producers across more than 48,000 acres in 71 counties and 11 different project areas.

Biomass to Grow in Biofuels & Other Sectors

taiyouresearchRight now, most producers of power from biomass are struggling to become cost competitive compared to non-renewable resources including coal and natural gas. But that could soon change. A new analysis by Taiyou Research says biomass energy production, as well as bioproduct production, will grow, thanks to benefits from national level programs, energy efficiency incentives, and financial incentives targeting the expansion of the renewables market that will create demand for additional biomass power capacity globally between 2013 and 2035.

The markets of biomass for energy are developing rapidly and becoming more international. A remarkable increase in the use of biomass for energy needs parallel and positive development in several areas and there will be plenty of challenges to overcome. Currently, only a limited number of modern bioenergy technologies are viable at market prices, which include Brazilian sugar-based ethanol and wood based heating in Northern Europe, and industrial applications such as cogeneration technology based on residues from production processes, including those in sugar factories and timber mills.

As biomass power projects are largely very capital-intensive, this remains a significant challenge for a number of utilities in entering countries with abundant feedstock availability. Going forward, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) program and availability of carbon credits for renewable energy projects will drive the growth of the biomass power market.

You can read the complete report here.

Need Biomass? There’s an App for That

Genera Energy has developed a biomass app to use as a crop planning and learning tool for biomass farmers and landowners. The Biomass app has multiple features including a biomass crop library complete with detailed information, photos and range maps for the most utilized biomass crops in the U.S., along with the ability to overlap crop ranges in a live, interactive map function.

Genera-Logo-150x75“We are very pleased with the Biomass app’s features,” said Sam Jackson, vice president of business development for Genera Energy, Inc. “The information that the app is built on is the result of years of research and development in the biofuels management industry.”

According to the company, another key function, is a multi-function biomass calculator that helps the user determine how much biomass they’ll need for their specific situation, including conversion technology, conversion rate, and location. The results can then be emailed to the user. People wishing to convert biomass to biofuels, biochemical, bioproducts, or biopower, the app will provide realistic projections and crop suggestions based on actual, in-the-field studies and crop outcomes.

Jackson added, “Probably the most important aspect in developing the app was working directly with biomass producers, project developers, and policy makers across the different aspects of the industry. This helped us to develop an app specifically targeted to what users actually needed and wanted.”

The free version of the app is available for both Apple- and Android-based devices. Visit the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store from your phone to download.

New Holland Partners with SUNY on Biomass Project

sunyNew Holland Agriculture is partnering with the State University of New York (SUNY) on a U.S. Department of Energy funded research project to develop ways to reduce the cost of delivering biomass for refinement.

New Holland Agriculture will provide SUNY with an FR9080 self-propelled forage harvester with 130FB coppice header for use in the project. The forage harvester and header are used to harvest willow and other short rotation woody crops for biomass applications. The equipment was presented last week at the SUNY ESF Research Station to Dr. Timothy Volk, Senior Research Associate with SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and his research team.

new-holland-forage“As a company committed to biomass and Clean Energy, New Holland is excited for the opportunity to continue our ten year relationship with Dr. Volk and the SUNY research team,” said Doug Otto, New Holland North America’s Forage Harvester Business Manager. “SUNY’s research played an integral role in our ability to develop the 130FB coppice header, so we are pleased that they will be able to use the header to further their biomass research efforts.”

The relationship between New Holland and SUNY dates back to 2004, when a team of company engineers and product development specialists, headed by John Posselius, Director of Innovations for CNH Industrial, set out to assist Dr. Volk with a research project to optimize the logistics of transporting biomass material. After unsuccessful attempts at modifying existing headers failed to improve logistic efficiencies, Posselius pushed his team to create an original design to efficiently and effectively chop woody biomass such as fast growing willows. Following the research and development phase, Posselius and his team passed the project to a design team headquartered in Belgium to finalize the design of the new header.

Learn more about the project from New Holland.

Mid-Year Renewable Energy Check-Up

Heading in to the second half of 2015, renewable energy accounted for nearly 70 percent of new electrical generation for the firs six months as reported by the latest “Energy Infrastructure Update” report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) Office of Energy Projects. The report finds wind accounts for more than half (50.64%) of the 1,969 MW of new installed capacity. Solar accounted for 549 MW, bimomass with 128 MW, geothermal with 45 MW and hydropower with 21 MW. The rest of the new capacity was added using natural gas (1,173 MW).

© Metalmaster | Dreamstime.com - Solar Panels Photo

© Metalmaster | Dreamstime.com – Solar Panels Photo

FERC reported no new capacity for the year-to-date from oil or nuclear power and just 3 MW from one unit of coal. Thus, as calculated by the SUN DAY Campaign, new capacity from renewable energy sources during the first half of 2015 is 904 times greater than that from coal and more than double that from natural gas. For June alone, wind (320 MW), biomass (95 MW), and solar (62 MW) provided 97 percent of new capacity with natural gas providing the balance (15 MW).

Renewable energy sources now account for 17.27 percent of total installed operating generating capacity in the U.S.: water – 8.61 percent, wind – 5.84 percent, biomass – 1.40 percent, solar – 1.08 percent, and geothermal steam – 0.34 percent (for comparison, renewables were 16.28 percent of capacity in June 2014 and 15.81% in June 2013).

Renewable electrical capacity is now greater than that of nuclear (9.20%) and oil (3.87%) combined. In fact, the installed capacity of wind power alone has now surpassed that of oil. On the other hand, sources the SUN DAY Campaign, generating capacity from coal has declined from 28.96 percent in mid-2013 to 26.83 percent today.

“With Congress now debating whether to extend the federal tax incentives for renewable energy sources, it is reasonable to ask whether the American public has gotten a good return on these investments to date,” noted Ken Bossong, executive eirector of the SUN DAY Campaign. “The latest FERC data confirms that the answer is a resounding ‘Yes!’.”

Biodiesel Industry Testimony on RFS

While ethanol got most of the attention at the recent EPA hearing on proposed volume obligations under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), biodiesel producers had their say as well.

At least two dozen biodiesel representatives from across the country testified at the hearing to thank EPA for increasing volumes in the latest proposal while at the same time calling for further growth in the final rule set to be released in November.

epa-hearing-jobe“The biodiesel industry can do much more to make the whole program stronger,” said National Biodiesel Board (NBB) CEO Joe Jobe in an interview at the hearing. “Biodiesel is the only domestic, fully commercialized, advanced biofuel and we’ve helped the advanced biofuel category meet its goals nearly every year of the program.”

Biodiesel falls under the Biomass-based Diesel category of the RFS, which is a subset of the overall Advanced Biofuels category. The EPA proposal would gradually raise biodiesel volumes by about 100 million gallons per year to a standard of 1.9 billion gallons in 2017. Because of biodiesel’s higher energy content, this would count as 2.95 billion ethanol equivalent gallons under the RFS. The overall Advanced Biofuel standard would rise to 3.4 billion ethanol equivalent gallons in 2016. NBB had requested more aggressive growth to a biodiesel standard of 2.7 billion gallons by 2017, along with additional growth in the overall Advanced Biofuel category.

Listen to Jobe explain more in this interview: Interview with Joe Jobe, NBB

EPA RFS Public Hearing photo album

Coverage of EPA RFS Hearing is sponsored by
Coverage of EPA RFS Hearing sponsored by RFA

Approps Bill Shortchanges Rural America

According to the Agriculture Energy Coalition (AgEC), the current version of the House Appropriations Committee’s Fiscal Year 2016 Agriculture Appropriations Bill would shortchange rural America. As it currently stands, the bill would reduce mandatory spending levels for Energy Title programs including the Renewable Energy for America Program (REAP), Biomass Crop Assistance Program and the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program. In light of this, AgEC has vowed to fight the changes in mandatory spending.

Lloyd Ritter, co-director of the AgEC, said, “The renewable energy and energy efficiency programs in the Farm Bill help rural America create new manufacturing opportunities and AgEC logostable, well-paying jobs. A new report to Congress, released just yesterday, demonstrates the broad economic impact of innovative biobased technology. The biobased products industry contributes $369 billion annually to the U.S. economy and employs more than four million Americans. The more than 40,000 biobased products already on the market displace about 300 million gallons of petroleum per year, which is equivalent to taking 200,000 cars off the road. Countless wind, solar, biomass and other projects are making a major impact as well.”

Ritter continued, “Nevertheless, the House Appropriations Committee is seeking to roll back the mandatory funding levels Congress agreed to last year when passing the bi-partisan Farm Bill. For Fiscal Year 2016, the House bill proposes cutting millions from the Section 9003 program, the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, and the Renewable Energy for America Program.”

“Such reductions in the mandatory funding levels that Congress previously set will undermine the ongoing effectiveness of these programs. The Agriculture Energy Coalition, comprising renewable energy, energy efficiency and agricultural groups, will continue to fight to ensure that these programs are implemented successfully,” concluded Ritter.