POET-DSM Commends Partners in Cellulosic Ethanol Venture

POET DSM logoPOET-DSM is commending its partners in a cellulosic ethanol venture. This company news release says POET is praising Suomen Bioetanoli Oy and the government of Finland after the Finnish government announced a 30 million euros grant to Suomen Bioetanoli Oy to build a plant that will convert wheat straw into about 24 million gallons of ethanol annually.

“Suomen Bioetanoli Oy is taking a bold step forward in growing Europe’s bioeconomy and expanding our sources for transportation fuel,” said Rob van Leen, Chairman of the POET-DSM Board. “Additionally, the grant award shows Finland’s firm commitment to growing sustainable energy production. Our joint venture partners look forward to working with Suomen Bioetanoli Oy to make commercial cellulosic bioethanol a reality in Finland.”

POET and DSM are in discussions with Suomen Bioetanoli Oy on how to utilize process, yeast and enzyme technology from the respective companies for the conversion of cellulose to ethanol.

Deck Stacked Against Ag and Biofuels in Report

bpcThe Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) appears to be a bit partisan in a new report released this week on “Options for Reforming the Renewable Fuel Standard.”

The report was produced after several meetings during the year with an advisory group that consisted of 23 members, seven of which were oil companies representatives. Only five members of the group represented agriculture or advanced biofuels and biodiesel producers. The rest were a mix of academia (2), big business (4) with two of those representing Toyota, environmental groups (2), and policy organizations (3).

Both of the agriculture representatives were from the National Farmers Union (NFU), president Roger Johnson and vice president of programs Chandler Goule. “It was very important that agriculture that supports the renewable fuels industry be present at the table,” said Goule, who said the meetings were held in a very professional manner. “The problem with the meetings is that they were heavily skewed toward big oil.”

NFUlogoThe report concluded that improvements to the RFS are needed, but did not recommend actual repeal of the law. Goule says NFU has major objections to two of the policy recommendations made in the report. “The flattening of the total renewable fuel mandate at its current level going forward, but continuing to increase the three advanced categories, we have significant concerns about what that would to do ethanol and biodiesel,” he said. “Even more concerning was removing the total renewable fuel mandate and only mandating the three advanced categories. Basically what they are doing is giving in to Big Oil’s conclusion that a blend wall exists, which it does not.”

Chandler talks more about the BPC report in this interview: Interview with Chandler Goule, NFU

Seeds of Cellulosic Ethanol

asta-css-14-dupontLike all good things, cellulosic ethanol starts with the seed.

During a presentation at the American Seed Trade Association CSS 2014 and Seed Expo last week in Chicago, John Pieper with Dupont Industrial Biosciences talked about the importance of seed to the cellulosic ethanol industry. “It has everything to do with seed because it has to do with farming,” he said. “It has to do with making our lands and soils more productive as well as being able to realize the full potential of seed and other crop inputs that we have today that are hindered because of tillage and crop rotation practices.”

Using non-food agricultural products to make ethanol also provides economic benefits for farmers on several levels. “By taking stover and converting it from an agricultural landfill, waste product, into a recycled or used by-product, we get more money back to the farm operation to invest in tools and production practices – and we get a better seed bed for their next crop to be prolific and highly productive,” said Pieper.

Pieper talked about what Dupont is doing in the cellulosic ethanol field. “We’ve been operating a demonstration facility in Vonore, Tennessee for the last four years and for over two years we’ve taken corn stover from central Iowa down to the plant and made transportation fuel-grade ethanol from it,” he said. Now they are preparing to open a commercial facility in Nevada, Iowa next year and Pieper says they were pleased to see Abengoa and POET open their first plants this year. “It’s a very exciting time,” he said, but he does note that stable government policy – including the Renewable Fuel Standard – is key to moving forward in the future.

Listen to my interview with Pieper here: Interview with John Pieper, Dupont Industrial Biosciences

2014 ASTA CSS & Seed Expo photo album

Senate Passes Tax Extenders

senateFollowing the recent action by the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate on Tuesday evening passed the package of tax incentives for 2014 that will expire once again in just two weeks.

For the renewable energy industry, the legislation includes the second-generation biofuel production tax credit and the accelerated depreciation allowance for cellulosic biomass properties, as well as tax credits for alternative fuel vehicle refueling infrastructure, alternative fuel mixtures, and wind energy and the dollar-per-gallon Biodiesel Tax Incentive.

Renewable Fuels Association
(RFA) president Bob Dinneen says the temporary extensions are a step in the right direction, but called on Congress to provide more certainty in the future. “These incentives can help to level the playing field in a tax code that is overwhelmingly tilted toward incumbent fuels and established oil extraction technologies,” said Dinneen. “Congress should be commended for helping businesses and consumers alike. But next year is a whole new ball game and in order to balance the scales and make future tax incentives truly helpful, Congress must take a good hard look at overarching tax reform legislation.”

Noting the short term nature of the legislation, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden said, “With this tax bill, the Congress is turning in its tax homework 11 months late…The legislation accomplishes nothing for 2015.”

The bill now goes to the president who is expected to sign it.

Quad County’s Delayne Johnson Featured on Car Clinic

Bobby Likis Car ClinicThe first cellulosic ethanol plant to go online in the U.S., Quad County Corn Processors, is being featured in an upcoming “Bobby Likis Car Clinic” program. Quad County CEO Delayne Johnson will be live on air this Saturday, December 6, 2014 at 11:25 am Eastern at WatchBobbyLive.com.

During the interview, Johnson will shine light on many renewable fuels related topics including a deeper look into the differences between cellulosic vs. conventional ethanol, the many benefits ethanol offers and what is in store for the future of cellulosic ethanol.

tN_112580_delayneJohnson expands on the benefits of cellulosic ethanol, “Quad County Corn Processors is proud to be one of the first companies out of the gate to produce cellulosic ethanol. The ethanol produced at our facility is reducing greenhouse gas emissions and helping lower America’s dependence on foreign oil. I am excited to join Bobby Likis to explain to listeners how cellulosic ethanol is made and the benefits of next-generation biofuels.”

Likis adds, “On Car Clinic globalcasts, I’m committed to expand listeners’ and viewers’ knowledge base beyond ‘the rumor mill’ so often associated with renewable fuels. Delayne will clear the air about how, specifically, cellulosic ethanol production is accelerating solutions on many levels.”

Italy Binds Biofuel Targets

Italy has passed a law that will set the way for national binding targets. The news comes on the heels of talks by the European Union (EU) on what, if any, binding renewable energy targets should be in place. The official degree as published in the “Gazzetta Ufficiale” states that fuel suppliers will be obligated to blend fuel:

  • at least 0.6% advanced biofuels in petrol and diesel beginning January 1, 2018;
  • 0.8% beginning January 1, 2020; and
  • 1% beginning January 1, 2022.

The passage of Italy’s law comes at the same time the European Council released its 2030 Energy and Climate Package where the transportation sector has seen the most positive changes when compared to the first proposal. The law now puts Italy as the lead in Europe on mandating advanced biofuels from waste and residues.

The Italian decree comes six months after the Italian Ministry of Economic Development announced in May the intention to fund the construction of three advanced biofuels EU 2030 Climate Targetsfacilities in Southern Italy and is part of the country’s initiatives to boost competitiveness.

In the fall of 2013, Novozymes, together with Italian company Biochemtex opened the world’s first commercial-scale advanced biofuels refinery in Italy – using agricultural waste as input. When asked by DomesticFuel what message Italy’s mandate sends to other countries, Novozymes’ Vice President for Biomass Conversion, Sebastian Søderberg answered, “In general, it will send a very positive signal to the other European countries and outside Europe. Italy and a number of other member states have been pushing for a mandate for advanced biofuels at EU level for more than 2 years and Italy’s move will support this process.” Continue reading

DuPont to Sit on RFA Board

RFANewlogoDuPont will now be sitting on the governing board of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA). The company has been an associate RFA member for more than 10 years and has now upgraded its membership as its first cellulosic ethanol plant is in its final stages of construction. The biorefinery will be co-located next to Lincolnway Energy in Nevada, Iowa and when complete will produce 30 million gallons per year of ethanol using corn ag waste.

“Next generation cellulosic ethanol is emerging on the market and DuPont is at the forefront of innovation. Their knowledge and expertise in all aspects of the biofuels industry make them a valuable addition to the Renewable Fuels Association,” said Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the RFA. “I am eager to work together to advance the renewable fuels industry, which is already directly and indirectly employing nearly 400,000 people, reducing GHG emissions, and lowering America’s foreign oil dependence.”

William Feehery, president of DuPont Industrial Biosciences said of their renewed commitment to the ethanol association, “RFA is a leading voice in Washington on issues related to our industry and we look forward to working even more closely together as we reach full cellulosiDuPont Logoc production in the coming year. We acknowledge the hard work RFA has done to promote and defend the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) both as an individual organization and as our partner in the Fuels America Coalition. A stable RFS is vitally important to support growth for the existing corn ethanol industry while garnering the investment needed to expand and grow cellulosic ethanol in the United States. We must keep the technology, research, and development here in the United States so consumers can continue to have choices at the pump and America can reduce its reliance on foreign oil.”

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.”

Patriot Renewable Fuels Signs Cellulosic Deal

Patriot Renewable Fuels has signed a Professional Services Agreement to install ICM’s Fiber Seperation Technology (FST) as well as their Generation 1.5 Grain Fiber to Cellulosic Ethanol Technology (Gen 1.5) for its biorefinery. According to Gene Griffith, Patriot’s CEO says they are considering beginning construction in February 2015 upon board approval.

According to ICM, FST is a value-added technology that increases ethanol yield and throughput as well as increased oil recovery. Patriot is currently adding a biodiesel plant ICM tank at Patriot Renewable Fuels Biorefinerythat will convert the ethanol’s corn oil to biodiesel. Production is anticipated to begin in early 2015. The FST process separates the fiber from the kernel before the traditional fermentation process.

Once the separation occurs, the Gen 1.5 process then ferments the fiber to produce cellulosic ethanol. With the combined technologies, ethanol production is estimated to increase by six to 10 percent. By removing the fiber prior to the standard fermentation process, FST allows the plant to produce each gallon more efficiently and creates the option of diversified co-products such as high protein feeds.

“With this step, Patriot will be better positioned to help lead the corn-based ethanol industry into increased production of cellulosic ethanol,” said Griffith “With board approval for these projects, Patriot could be the first ethanol plant to produce two Advanced Biofuels [corn-based biodiesel, and cellulosic ethanol]. We believe these processes will not only diversify our plant, but they will also improve ethanol yield of traditional corn based ethanol to over 3.08 gallons per bushel.”

Patriot VP/GM, Rick Vondra added, “We are excited that Patriot’s board approved this next step toward cellulosic ethanol by agreeing to complete the engineering and design for these processes. We appreciate the research and development that ICM has done to develop these new processes along with ICM’s Selective Milling Technology that we installed in 2013. Our team is positioned to continue working with ICM to grow our business. ICM’s ethanol technology is a logical platform on which to build our business as a biorefinery. There are many new products and growth possibilities using corn as our feedstock, and we have identified these as two high potential processes that we can adopt now.”

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.