Gator Tree Could Be Key to Cellulosic Ethanol

A spiky tree with a reptilian bark may be able to take a bite out of the cost to produce cellulosic ethanol.

gator treeThe tree is often called a sweetgum, but it also goes by the name “alligator tree” because it does look like one. So, it’s appropriate that researchers with the University of Florida – home of the Gators – have found that bacteria growing in its wood may improve the process of making cellulosic ethanol.

As the team from UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences reported in the July issue of the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, a strain of the wood-decaying Paenibacillus sp. bacteria named JDR-2 has a knack for breaking down and digesting one of these components, hemicelluloses.

That knack could help modify preprocessing steps for cost-effective production of ethanol.

“The acids, the heating — all of these steps you have to take beforehand are expensive, require a lot of work and, let’s face it, no one wants to work with sulfuric acid on that scale if you don’t have to,” said James Preston, the team leader and a professor in UF’s microbiology and cell science department.

“By engineering the bacteria already being used to produce ethanol to also process hemicelluloses the way this Paenibacillus does, you should be able to significantly simplify the process.”

Preston came across the bacteria a few years ago, as he was using decaying sweetgum trees to grow shiitake mushrooms on his tree farm in Micanopy, Fla. After studying the unusually uniform composition of the decaying wood, he and his colleagues went on to study the genetics of one of the bacteria digesting that wood.

The team has now mapped JDR-2’s genome, and Preston expects that, within the year, they will transfer genes behind JDR-2’s abilities to bacteria used to produce ethanol. This would be followed by the design of processes for the cost-effective production of ethanol from wood, agricultural residues and other potential energy crops.

Illinois Congresswoman Halvorson Supports E15

halvorson3Illinois Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson yesterday voiced her support of increasing the blend of ethanol in gasoline to 15 percent. The Congresswoman, along with many other supporters, spoke at a news conference at the Illinois Corn Growers Association home office.

In March, national trade group Growth Energy submitted a Green Jobs Waiver asking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to allow gasoline blended with as much as 15 percent ethanol. A rule that dates back to the 1970s arbitrarily caps at 10 percent the amount of ethanol that can be blended with gasoline. The report titled “Economic Impacts of Increasing the Ethanol Blend Limit on Top Ethanol Producing States” was released Thursday by Growth Energy. Congresswoman Halvorson announced findings of the report, “I’m proud to say that by extending the ethanol blend in our gasoline mixture to E15, Illinois has the capacity to gain over 4,000 full-time jobs and have $833 million injected into Illinois’ economy. Blending higher percentages of ethanol into our gas is a step we can take right now to create American jobs, local jobs, increase our energy independence, improve our environment, and help many of our local farmers.”

Gene Griffith, secretary of the Illinois Renewable Fuels Association, added, “A significant portion of the Illinois economy is based on renewable fuels, many of which are small ethanol-producing plants. By increasing the cap on ethanol blends from 10 percent to 15 percent, the EPA would enable the renewable fuels industry to grow, which would result in more Illinois jobs, a more stable economy, cleaner emissions and greater energy independence. With high unemployment in Illinois, there couldn’t be a better time to implement this new plan.”

July 20 marked the end of the EPA’s 90-day public comment period on the waiver application. The EPA has until December of this year to decide if it will allow up to a 15 percent ethanol blend in the American fuel supply.

Ethanol Industry Concerns About EPA Peer Review

The Environmental Protection Agency’s peer review of the renewable fuel standards lifecycle analysis released today is being characterized by corn and ethanol industry groups as biased, bizarre and puzzling.

EPAThe Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) says the EPA “stacked the deck against biofuels in its process to “peer review” the agency’s indirect land use change analysis (ILUC) conducted for the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS2) proposed rule” by including as reviewers “several noted anti-ethanol and anti-agriculture activists, including environmental lawyer Timothy Searchinger.”

“EPA has asked the foxes to guard the hen house on this issue,” said RFA President Bob Dinneen. “By adding lawyers and advocates to a scientific review panel, EPA bureaucrats have made a mockery of the Administration’s commitment to sound science.”

Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, responded to the release of the study today by calling on Congress to repeal the ILUC provision in the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act.

“We need to stop this nonsense. This is the most bizarre concept I have ever seen. EPA’s peer review proves that too much uncertainty about the economic modeling, data and science exists to allow this to ever become regulation. Even the peer review committee could not agree,” Buis said.

National Corn Growers Association president Bob Dickey says they are disappointed in the lack of objectivity in the review.

“We are dismayed by EPA’s complete disregard for an approach that is fair and balanced. We are also puzzled as to why the United States Department of Agriculture, which has extensive knowledge related to this issue, was in no way included in the peer review process,” Dickey said. “We call upon the EPA to modify its approach to reflect the commitment of President Obama to adhere to policies based on sound science and a transparent process.”

According to EPA, the peer reviewers “are recognized as leading experts in their respective fields, which include: lifecycle assessment, economic modeling, remote sensing imagery, biofuel technologies, soil science, agricultural economics, and climate science.” EPA will consider the peer review results along with public comments received, and implement the reviewer’s technical recommendations to the greatest extent possible.

Phibro’s Process Optimization Seminar Successful

With today’s economic climate, everything an ethanol plant can do to increase efficiencies helps the bottom line. As a plant changes constantly due to inputs and environmental shifts, its important for employees to understand how process aids  including Enzymes, Yeast, Antimicrobials, and Water Treatment function alone and in conjunction with other inputs. Another area of focus was to learn about situations that can occur before, during and after fermentation.

100_0002To help the ethanol industry, Phibro Ethanol Performance Group along with Fremont Industries, Fermentis, and Novozymes held a hands on seminar in Minneapolis on July 29-30. Participation was limited to ensure the ability for one-on-one instruction and the seminar was sold out with 78 participants. The particpants are giving the seminar rave reviews.

Sponsor and participate Steve Rust, the director of marketing for Fremont Industries said of the seminar, “The first Process Optimization Seminar was very successful. The four companies that sponsored the event provided knowledge that was relevant and useful. The goal of providing training for plant personnel to more effectively do their jobs was met. Fremont Industries is committed to providing support for the ethanol industry.”

Phibro is planning on having another seminar before the year is out. Tom Slunecka, VP of Marketing for Phibro Ethanol Performance Group noted, “The agenda was packed with education and everyone learnd a lot. Participants have told us numerous times that the seminar was a tremendous value. We look forward to announcing the next meeting soon.”

California Biodiesel & Ethanol Co. Patents Algae Dredger

CircleBioA maker of parts for biodiesel and ethanol operations says it has been awarded a “Notice of Allowance” by the United States Patent and Trademark Office for a device that is supposed to make it easier to harvest algae to make biofuels.

This press release from San Marcos, California-based Circle Biodiesel & Ethanol Corporation says the company received the notice for its Suction Dredge System and Method:

The most important step in making biofuels from algae a successful business is the recovery of the algae from its environment. Until now nobody had a safe, environmentally-friendly and economical way of recovering the algae. Circle Biodiesel & Ethanol Corporation has solved the issue of feedstock recovery by developing a dredge system that can recover algae in massive volumes in a continuous fashion without the need for human swimmers to handle or clear the dredge. The patented dredge head has an automatic obstacle-clearing feature. When an obstacle blocks the intake, it is automatically and immediately cleared by the dredge head itself, and then immediately the dredge head goes back to dredging again. That means there is no need to shut down and clear the dredge head. The process is nonstop.

“We have solved the issue of feedstock recovery by developing a dredge system that can recover the algae in massive volumes. The cost savings are from the lower labor headcount and continuous dredging of higher volumes of algae than were previously possible before our invention. The increased safety for operating personnel who can now stay completely onboard is also a consideration,” said [CEO Peter] Schuh.

The company also has a separate utility patent application for its method of removing algae oil from the green microbe.

DOE to Offer $5.5 Million for Ethanol Infrastructure

eere_headThe U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced the availability of up to $5.5 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to increase the use of higher ethanol blends (up to E85). Two areas of interest are targeted: “Refueling Infrastructure for Higher Ethanol Blends” and “Outreach for Higher Ethanol Blends”.

DOE will offer up to $3.5 million to 15 to 30 cost-shared projects that will expand the infrastructure of fueling locations up to 85 percent ethanol. This may include modifications, upgrades, or expansions of existing fuel pumps and other infrastructure at retail stations or the installation of new equipment to accommodate the higher ethanol blends.

DOE will also select up to five national campaign projects and fund up to $2 million in an effort to raise public awareness of the benefits, safety, and use requirements of higher ethanol blends up to E85. This effort will help promote the use of renewable fuels to decrease dependence on petroleum.

Applications for this funding is due by September 30, 2009. For more information, click here and enter Reference Number DE-FOA-0000125.

Promoting Ethanol at Sturgis

RFA at SturgisBike riders at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally are seriously appreciating their ethanol koozies. Here’s market development staff members from the Renewable Fuels Association posing by one of their banners at the Buffalo Chip Campground. Throughout the event they’ll be handing out all kinds of materials to participants. Sounds like rough work but that’s what’s needed to get the ethanol message out directly to the people who will use it.

Robert White, pictured on the left, is uploading photos from the event. Check out his online photo album to see more.

Company Intros Portable Ethanol, Biodiesel Analyzer

With more and more blends of biodiesel and ethanol available out there, especially with government tax incentives and regulations based on the percentage of the biofuel, it’s more important than ever for producers and users to know what they are putting in their tanks. Enter the InfraCal Blend Analyzer.

This post on
says the analyzers from Connecticut-based Wilks Enterprises are rugged, compact, portable and easy to use by non-technical personnel, while providing readouts of the percentages of biodiesel and ethanol in the blends just about anywhere in less than a minute:

The InfraCal Blend Analyzers are fixed-filter infrared analyzers that, unlike FTIR spectrometers, have no moving parts and an insignificant optical air path making them portable, rugged and suitable for use in a field environment. Weighing less than 5 lbs., they can be operated from a battery pack or a cigarette lighter adapter cable and include an RS 232 interface for data transmission to a PC. For analysis, the fuel sample is placed directly on the exposed ATR sample window, a “run” button is selected and the result is display in 15 seconds. After analysis; the fuel is easily cleaned off with a wipe. Biodiesel has a characteristic infrared absorption band at 5.7 microns (1754 cm-1) and ethanol at 9.6 microns (1045 cm-1).

The analyzers are good up to B100 or 98 percent ethanol.

Green Plains Restarts Ethanol Plant

green_plains_renewable_energyGreen Plains Renewable Energy, Inc. has restarted their Central City, NE ethanol plant which was recently acquired by VeraSun.

“The Central City plant is on-line and operational after we made some necessary repairs and capital improvements to the plant,” said Todd Becker, Green Plains’ President and Chief Executive Officer. The Central City plant has been idle since November 2008.

The Central City site, along with another in Ord, were purchased from a lending group led by AgStar Financial Services for about $123.5 million. Green Plains took ownership of the plants during the VeraSun bankruptcy.

Based in Omaha, NE, Green Plains owns four ethanol plants in Iowa, Indiana, and Tennessee. It sells its own ethanol and markets ethanol for other producers. The company, founded in 2004, also owns grain storage facilities.

Ford Adds 4 New FFVs in 2010

ford_logoFord Motor Company will offer four new flexible fuel vehicles (FFVS) to their line-up in 2010 totaling eleven models.

Following will be the 2010 models offered through Ford Motor Company with E85 compatible engines.

3.0L Ford Fusion
3.0L Mercury Milan
3.0L Ford Escape
3.0L Mercury Mariner
4.6L Ford Crown Victoria
5.4L Ford Expedition
5.4L Ford F-150
4.6L and 5.4L Ford E-Series Van/Wagon/Cutaway
4.6L Mercury Grand Marquis
4.6L Lincoln Town Car
5.4L Lincoln Navigator

Ford Motor Company began producing FFVs in 1995 with the Ford Taurus. They have made a commitment to allow half their vehicle line as E85 compatible by the year 2012.