U.S. Renewable Energy Industry Ready to Step Up

A new goal was announced during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing this week to double renewable energy in the 21 member economies by 2030. The renewable energy industry collectively came out and said they are ready to do their part. This new goal was a follow-up to last year’s commitment to encourage technology transfer and efforts to lower costs and attract private investment to the renewable energy industry.

“We appreciate the leadership that President Obama and the rest of these world leaders are showing on the critical task of rapidly scaling up low-carbon energy sources,” said Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association. “Here in America, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind Vision for the growth of our industry, we can quadruple wind power by 2030 and save consumers money doing it, if policymakers keep supporting state renewable standards and federal tax incentives to attract the necessary private investment.”

Linda Church Ciocci, executive director, National Hydropower Association said on behalf of the hydro electric industry, “Hydropower is poised for growth and ready to meet America’s renewable energy goals. From powering the 97 percent of the nation’s dams that remain unpowered to upgrading our existing facilities, opportunities exist to double hydropower’s contribution to the electricity grid, while strengthening our economy and providing more Americans access to clean, low-cost electricity.”

“GEA applauds the APEC goal of doubling renewable power,” added Karl Gawell, executive director, Geothermal Energy Association. “New geothermal power development underway in the U.S. and nearly all of the APEC countries will provide more than electricity, building thousands of megawatts of new geothermal power will spur economic growth, create new jobs and ensure environmental health for future generations.”

The highlight of the summit was a surprise negotiated emissions deal between the U.S. and China to curb climate change. The deal includes new targets for the U.S. and China to stop emission growth by 2030 and to create momentum around climate talks leading into the global climate conference taking place in Paris in 2015. Continue reading

Arkansas Biomass Industry Expecting Big Growth

arkansasflagA building desire for woody biomass and a glut of forest materials has Arkansas set to be a major player in that sector of renewable energy, not just in the Midwest, but around the world. This article from the City Wire, which serves Northwest Arkansas, says the state’s biomass industry got some help this summer by some timely multi-million dollar investments in commercial biomass and by Europe’s desire to use the green fuel.

On July 30, Zilkha Biomass Energy announced plans to build a proprietary black wood pellet manufacturing plant in Monticello that company officials said could be easily integrated into the energy grid as a clean energy alternative to coal-powered electricity.

“Power companies across the globe are looking for renewable energy alternatives and biomass wood pellets stand as one of the most practical and cost-effective solutions,” said Jack Holmes, CEO of Zilkha Biomass Energy. “This plant in Monticello will be one of Zilkha’s largest and will help us capture more of the growing biomass energy market.”

Grant Tennille, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, is one of the state’s biggest cheerleaders for the biomass industry.

Now, Tennille said, Arkansas is poised to become a big player in the biomass sector as the wood pellet market takes off in Europe.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, wood pellet exports from the U.S. nearly doubled last year, from 1.6 million short tons (approximately 22 trillion Btu) in 2012 to 3.2 million short tons in 2013. More than 98% of these exports were delivered to Europe, and 99% originated from ports in the southeastern and lower Mid-Atlantic regions of the country.

Given the fact that the European Commission wants to reduce EU greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels, increase the renewable portion of EU energy consumption by 20 percent, and improve EU energy efficiency by 20 percent, and the large amount of woody biomass Arkansas offers to help meet those goals – an estimated 19.8 billion kilowatts (kwh) of electricity that could be generated using renewable biomass from the state – it’s no wonder the biomass future looks so bright in Arkansas.

Algae Biomass Organization Gets New Leaders

ABONew leadership is coming aboard the Algae Biomass Organization (ABO). The trade association for the algae industry announced that Tim Burns, Co-founder and Board Member of BioProcess Algae LLC, has been appointed Chair and Martin Sabarsky, CEO of Cellana, Inc. has been appointed Vice Chair of the organization’s Board of Directors for the 2014-2016 term.

Burns and Sabarsky will be leading ABO’s board, which guides the organization in its mission to educate the general public, policymakers, and industry about the benefits and potential of algae to provide sustainable solutions for commodity chemicals, fuels, food, and feed applications, as well as for high-value applications such as, nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics, among other applications. In addition, ABO’s board works closely with its executive director to advocate for policies that can accelerate the development of key market segments and commercial-scale algae production facilities for the full range of products that can be made from algae.

ABO’s board is comprised of representatives from multiple sectors of an industry that is experiencing more investment and seeing new commercial facilities opening or being planned around the world. Board members come from industry sectors that include academia, professional services, algae biomass producers, technology suppliers, project developers, and end-users.

“Tim and Martin are highly regarded algae industry leaders, and I’m looking forward to collaborating with them as we move the industry forward,” said Matt Carr, Executive Director of the Algae Biomass Organization. “Their expertise in CO2 utilization and the entire range of algae-derived products will be invaluable to ABO’s efforts to improve policy, markets, and investment opportunities for all our members.”

ABO also thanked outgoing Board Chair Margaret McCormick for her contributions made to ABO and the algae industry at large. She’ll maintain a position on the board.

NC State Breaks Down Cell Walls

According to Quanzi Li, the greatest barrier to producing biofuels is from stubborn plant cell walls that resist being broken down into biofuel ingredients. Li is the lead author of a paper published in Plant Biotechnology Journal about North Carolina (NC) State’s Forest Biotechnology Group biofuel research progress. Cell walls contain desirable cellulose and hemicellulose, which is “covered up” with lignin, the substance that contributes to the strength of wood but gets in the way of biofuel production.

In the case of wood, the lignin must be removed and then the resulting cellulose is converted to ethanol. Production begins with an expensive pretreatment, followed by enzyme use to release the sugars that can be fermented to produce ethanol. Li and her team are focusing on simplifying the process in various ways.

NC State lignin researchNC State’s team has created genetically modified trees with reduced lignin content. “Normally when you reduce lignin, plant growth is negatively affected, which also reduces biomass production,” explained Li. “However, we now know that we can produce transgenic plants with strong cell walls and normal development but much less lignin.”

Fast-growing trees with high energy content could grow on marginal land without disrupting crop production. NC State has worked extensively with black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa). Forest Biotechnology Group researchers in the College of Natural Resources have developed engineering models that predict how 21 pathway enzymes affect lignin content and composition, providing the equivalent of GPS directions to guide future research.

This comprehensive approach, which involves genes, proteins, plant chemical compounds and mathematical models, fits into a systems biology perspective that’s the key to future breakthroughs, Li said. She added, “Progress has been made in many areas, but we still lack a complete understanding of how the cell wall is formed. We have to have a better idea of the factors that control its formation to produce better biomass for biofuels.”

ONR Expands Green Reach in Asia-Pacific

The Office of Naval Research (ONR) is expanding its work in Asia-Pacific’s renewable energy sector. The announcement was made during National Energy Action Month where the Navy is promoting energy efficiency and conservation by participating in and hosting events around the world. The announcement comes after ONR’s work with the Chiang Mai World Green City that was established two years ago at Chiang Mai Rajabhat University with support from ONR. It uses solar cells, batteries for energy storage and a direct-current (DC) microgrid to power more than 20 buildings over 200 acres, including residences, offices, businesses and a vegetable farm.

Navy National Energy Month poster“Each new partnership we establish moves the United States and our allies closer to energy independence,” said Dr. Richard Carlin, head of ONR’s Sea Warfare and Weapons Department. “This system is unique in that it uses direct current to power an entire community. While this concept is perfect for isolated and remote communities, it also could be used in the future on naval installations and even ships at sea to bring power to our Sailors and Marines wherever they are.”

Scientists in Thailand plan to establish another smart grid-powered village at the University of Phayao and introduce sustainable technologies to military barracks and other communities throughout the country.

ONR now has turned its attention to Vietnam, where there is an abundance of solar, biomass, wind, geothermal, hydro and other rich renewable energy sources. The U.S.-Vietnam collaboration also will take advantage of investments made in Hawaii, where ONR is sponsoring a study of electrical grids for three naval bases. As part of that initiative, the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) and the Applied Research Laboratory at the University of Hawaii are working with the Naval Facilities Engineering Command to develop an action plan for the Navy’s energy needs in Hawaii.

“We are expanding our research collaboration to Vietnam to build off the success in Thailand and to support the United States in our pivot to the Asia-Pacific region,” said Dr. Cung Vu, ONR Global associate director for power and energy. “Vietnam’s remote rural, mountainous and island areas will benefit from ONR’s microgrid research, and the Navy will be able to increase its understanding of energy-efficient technologies through another key partnership.”

Renewables Continue to Gain Ground

Renewables continue to gain ground according to the latest “Energy Infrastructure Update” report renewable energy sources including biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar and wind, account for more than 40.61 percent of all new U.S. electrical generating capacity installed during the first nine months of 2014. Only natural gas provided more new generating capacity. The report was published by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Energy Projects (FERC).

Wind EnergyNew capacity in 2014 from the combination of renewable energy sources is nearly 35 times that of coal, oil and nuclear combined (3,598 MW vs. 104 MW). When looking at just September, renewable energy sources accounted for 2/3 of the 603 MW of new generating capacity put in service (367 MW of wind/60.8% plus 41 MW of solar/6.8%).

Of the 8,860 MW of new generating capacity from all sources installed since January 1, 2014, 187 “units” of solar accounted for 1,671 MW (18.86%), followed by 28 units of wind 1,614 MW (18.22%), 7 units of hydropower 141 MW (1.59%), 38 units of biomass 140 MW (1.58%), and 5 units of geothermal 32 MW (0.36%). The balance came from 41 units of natural gas 5,153 MW (58.16%), 1 unit of nuclear 71 MW (0.80%), 11 units of oil 33 MW (0.37%), and 6 units of “other” 7 MW (0.08%). There has been no new coal capacity added thus far in 2014.

Comparing the first nine months of 2014 to the same period in 2013, new generating capacity from renewable energy sources grew by 11.8 percent (3,598 MW vs. 3,218 MW). Renewable energy sources now account for 16.35 percent of total installed operating generating capacity in the U.S. – up from 15.68 percent a year earlier: water – 8.45 percent, wind – 5.35 percent, biomass – 1.38 percent, solar – 0.84 percent, and geothermal steam – 0.33 percent. Renewable energy capacity is now greater than that of nuclear (9.23%) and oil (3.97%) combined.

“The steady and rapid growth of renewable energy is unlikely to abate as prices continue to drop and the technologies continue to improve,” commented Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “The era of coal, oil, and nuclear is drawing to a close; the age of renewable energy is now upon us.”

Ansell Installs Biomass Boiler to Reduce Energy Costs

The Ansell factory complex in Biyagama, Sri Lanka has installed its second biomass boiler as part of company initiatives to be greener. The new boiler has a capacity of 12.5MW and will be the largest hot water boiler in Sri Lanka. Ansell Lanka already has a 10.5MW boiler installed at its premises, which reduced CO2 emissions by 11,000 MT per annum. From 2004 to 2012, CO2 emissions have been reduced by 36 percent across all of Ansell’s manufacturing facilities, with the global CO2 emission rate from 2013 to 2014 alone reduced by 6 percent. The company anticipates the reduction of a further 14,000 MT of CO2 emissions annually as furnace oil consumption will now be reduced to the bare minimum.

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 10.26.12 AM“This project represents another step forward in Ansell’s business strategy to conducting business ethically, transparently, and in ways that produce social, environmental, and economic benefits for communities around the world,” said Steve Genzer, senior vice president of global operations at Ansell. “We would like to thank the government of Sri Lanka for its continued support, and the more than 4,000 Ansell employees who are the driving force of implementing these green programs.”

The announcement is part of the company’s Green Productivity program, focused on energy management, and implemented within manufacturing operations across Ansell. Energy management at Ansell focuses on achieving the most efficient and effective use of energy and simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Programs that have been implemented include the installation of equipment to recover energy from flue gas emitted from boiler chimneys as an energy source to heat water, the installation of energy efficient equipment to provide chilled water for manufacturing site cooling systems and the conversion of fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

“While the forward progress made in the last 10 years has been incredible, this is only the tip of the iceberg in how Ansell will be doing business differently in the years to come,” added Genzer. “Ansell is committed to a number of sustainable and practical initiatives that are designed to make a positive and lasting contribution to the markets it serves and the community in general.”

Bioenergy Day Recognizes Importance of Biomass

bioenergydayYesterday was the Second Annual National Bioenergy Day, and more than 40 facilities and organizations throughout the U.S. and Canada opened their doors to show folks the benefits of using woody biomass for heating and electrical power production.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has continued to support bioenergy’s role in protecting the health of forests on federal lands, saying, “Renewable wood energy is part of the Obama Administration’s ‘all of the above’ energy strategy. The Forest Service works with its partners to support the development of wood energy projects that promote sound forest management, expand regional economies and create new rural jobs.”

“The continuation of National Bioenergy Day into a second year is truly exciting. We are grateful to our sponsors, particularly the U.S. Forest Service, for their dedication to raising awareness about the role of bioenergy in communities across the nation,” said Bob Cleaves, President and CEO of Biomass Power Association. “Today, all across the country, people are learning about bioenergy and how it helps local economies and forests.”

Some of the National Bioenergy Day sponsors include Biomass Power Association, U.S. Forest Service, Plum Creek, Pellet Fuels Institute, U.S. Industrial Pellet Association, and the Biomass Thermal Energy Council. You can learn more at www.bioenergyday.com.

Cooper Looks to Get Tires & Biofuels from Biomass

cooper-tires1A tire maker is looking to get tires and biofuels to keep those wheels rolling from the biomass of a plant. This news release from Cooper Tire says the company completed tire builds using rubber derived from guayule plants and new guayule related materials and also hopes to get biofuels from those plant materials.

This development was reported by Cooper to its consortium partners—PanAridus, Arizona State University, Cornell University, and the Agricultural Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA-ARS)—as the group met recently in Maricopa, Arizona for its third annual meeting and progress report on their $6.9 million Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI) grant, “Securing the Future of Natural Rubber—An American Tire and Bioenergy Platform from Guayule.” The consortium received the BRDI grant in 2012 from the USDA and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to conduct research aimed at developing enhanced manufacturing processes for the production of solid rubber from the guayule plant as a biomaterial for tire applications, as well as evaluating the plant’s residual biomass for fuel applications. The consortium aims to harness biopolymers extracted from guayule as a replacement for synthetic rubbers and Hevea natural rubber used in the production of tires. It is also focused on genomic and agronomic development of guayule and the sustainability impact these biomaterial and bioenergy industries have on the American Southwest, where guayule is grown.

So far, the testing shows the tires are at least equal to tires made of components derived from the more traditional Hevea rubber plant.

Pacific Ag Bales Bundles of Energy

Bill Levy Pacific AgLast week Abengoa’s cellulosic ethanol biorefinery went online and is expected to produce 25 million gallons of advanced ethanol per year as well as 21 MW of bioenergy. But how exactly does the corn and wheat residue get from the fields to the biorefinery in a economical and efficient way? Enter Pacific Ag.

The company was founded by Bill Levy in 1998 and began by baling residue for growers and using the biomass for animal feed both in the U.S. and internationally. It was a natural progression for Pacific Ag to get involved in cellulosic production in the U.S. and to become a major supplier to the industry.

I asked Levy to talk about their residue removal model. He noted that since their inception, they have always focused on having a balanced residue program for growers and they are finding value for those products for them. So taking their successful model from the Northwest and applying it to the Midwest was a good fit. “The fundamentals of having residue removed on a timely basis and in a sustainable way is really the same,” explained Levy. Today they are in California, North Carolina, Iowa, Kansas and he says they have innovated to become “energy balers” because of the new bioenergy market for residue.

There has been talk about the best biomass model for the biofuels industry. I posed this question to Levy and he explained how they have refined their model to be financial feasible. “We have tried to make it easy for growers to be part of the program by taking care of the harvest, we own the machinery, we schedule the harvest or the removal of the residue, or energy crop with the grower and then we provide them with an income stream for that product,” Levy answerPacific Ag Hugoton Kansas teamed. “It’s very important that we have the size that allows us to invest in that equipment and a lot of times it doesn’t make sense financially for a grower to to invest in that harvest equipment just to harvest the residue.” Pacific Ag is the largest purchaser and owner of baling equipment in the world.

“So what growers enjoy is being able to sit back and enjoy a residue removal program and the income from that but not have to put a lot of effort into it,” added Levy.

Pacific Ag is looking for growers of rice, wheat, corn and other biomass crops who are interested in working with them. As cellulosic ethanol plants including Abengoa continue to ramp up to nameplate capacity, more biomass will be needed and Pacific Ag is ready to be the advanced biofuels partner to help make the cellulosic industry and the growers who plant the bioenergy crops, successful.

Learn more about Pacific Ag and how to become involved in the biomass energy revolution by listening to my interview with Bill Levy: Interview with Bill Levy, Pacific Ag

Abengoa Cellulosic Ethanol Plant Grand Opening photo album.