USDA, Navy to Work on Advanced Biofuels

VilsackNavyThe USDA and the Department of the Navy (DoN) have agreed to work together to develop advanced biofuels and other renewable energy systems.

This USDA press release says the agreement is part of the government’s plan to build a clean energy economy, create new jobs and reduce American dependence on foreign oil, while building a strike force that will run on green power in the near future:

Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus emphasized how partnering with USDA supports his vision for energy reform. Mabus’ overarching goal is to increase warfighting capability. “In order to secure the strategic energy future of the United States, create a more nimble and effective fighting force, and protect our planet from destabilizing climate changes, I have committed the Navy and Marine Corps to meet aggressive energy targets that go far beyond previous measures.”

From a strategic perspective the objective is to reduce reliance on fossil fuels from volatile areas of the world. Tactically, on the battlefield, the costs of transporting fuel is exponentially increased; in extreme cases a gallon of gasoline could cost up to $400. Mabus continued “Even more serious and sobering, we are putting our Sailors and Marines in harms way as fuel convoys often meet a lethal enemy.”

In two years, the Navy wants to have a Green Strike Group composed of nuclear vessels and ships powered by biofuel and a Great Green Fleet that has nuclear ships, surface combatants equipped with hybrid electric alternative power systems running on biofuel, and aircraft running on biofuel by 2016.

Ethanol Group Schedules Biofuels Beltway March

ACEThe American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) has scheduled the organization’s second annual DC fly-in. The “Biofuels Beltway March” will take place March 22-23 on Capitol Hill.

“There has never been a more urgent time to bring grassroots voices to Capitol Hill in support of ethanol,” said Brian Jennings, Executive Vice President of ACE. “We want our ACE members to speak directly to these key decision-makers and show the grassroots strength of the ethanol industry.”

Last March, thirty ACE members traveled to Washington, DC and met with more than 70 Members of Congress and the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to personally deliver messages of support for ethanol and answer questions about the real-world impacts of ethanol and ethanol policies.

This year, ethanol supporters will discuss several important issues with members of Congress, including: the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC, the ethanol tax credit) which expires in 2010 and needs to be extended, EPA’s decision on whether to approve E15 for all vehicles, the “Choice Act” which will provide more Flexible Fuel Vehicles and blender pumps, and the continued misinformation campaigns by ethanol’s opponents.

Find out more about the event here on the ACE website.

Stimulus Bucks to Fund Algae Biofuels Research

PNNL1Money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act … aka the Stimulus Bill … will go to fund research on algae-based biofuels.

This press release from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
says the lab will get about $14.2 million for its role in two biofuels research consortia:

[Energy Secretary Steven] Chu funded the consortia with nearly $80 million of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds with the goal of bringing new biofuels to the market and developing a cleaner and more sustainable transportation sector, as well as reducing dependence on foreign oil sources …

PNNL will co-lead one consortium with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and then play a large role in a second consortium led by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

For more than 10 years, PNNL has advanced the science and technology for converting biomass into liquid transportation fuels, bioproducts and bioenergy. Its key focuses have been catalysis, environmental biotechnology and analysis. Biomass is biological material that comes from plants, wood, waste and other materials and can be converted into fuels and other products.

“We’ll be calling upon our entire suite of disciplines and capabilities in our support to these consortia,” said John Holladay, PNNL biomass manager. “We are positioned to address the entire spectrum of scientific challenges associated with developing a sustainable biofuels transportation sector – from fundamental research to applied processes.”

The press release goes on to say that the lab has several capabilities … proteomics, gasification and catalysis research… critical to biomass fuel conversion.

Growth Energy Lays Out Agenda

Growth EnergyDomestic, renewable ethanol can be a major contributor to job creation as well as cutting greenhouse gas emissions and reducing dependence on foreign oil, Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis told a summit of agricultural legislative leaders meeting in Orlando this week.

“We are poised to create as many as 136,000 jobs in the United States with one regulatory move – EPA agreeing to raise the blend wall to 15 percent, as we’ve petitioned them to do. We could create many more with the construction of ethanol pipelines and blender pumps, to distribute this renewable, low-carbon fuel to the consumer,” Buis told the 2010 Legislative Agricultural Chairs Conference.

“When Congress passed the 2007 Energy and Independence Security Act, it decided that this nation must begin to take it domestic, renewable energy sources seriously. So Congress expanded the Renewable Fuel Standard, which mandates new levels of green, domestic fuels. But if states begin to erect regulatory obstacles that block the intent of Congress, such as the flawed Low Carbon Fuel Standard adopted by the California Air Resources Board, we will not be able to meet this objective,” Buis said.

“Growth Energy supports a national low-carbon fuel standard – if it is done right. Last year Growth Energy rolled out a proposal for a national low carbon fuel standard based on accepted science – not controversial theory – because ethanol is ultimately the only widely-available low-carbon fuel alternative to gasoline refined from foreign oil,” Buis said.

Earlier this month, Growth Energy and the Renewable Fuels Association jointly filed a legal challenge in U.S. District Court to California’s flawed Low Carbon Fuel Standard. The federal litigation charges that the California Air Resources Board ignores the intent of Congress by barring domestic ethanol from the California fuel market.

Iowa State Gets $8 Mil for Advanced Biofuels Research

ISUresearcher1Iowa State University will get $8 million of a $78 million U.S. Department of Energy grant to research and develop advanced biofuels.

This press release from the school says two teams will share the funds:

Victor Lin – professor of chemistry, director of the Institute for Physical Research and Technology’s Center for Catalysis at Iowa State and chief technologist and founder of Catilin Inc. – will lead a team embarking on a $5.3 million study of biodiesel production from algae.

And Robert C. Brown – an Anson Marston Distinguished Professor in Engineering, the Gary and Donna Hoover Chair in Mechanical Engineering and the Iowa Farm Bureau director of the Bioeconomy Institute – will lead a $2.7 million study of the thermochemical and catalytic conversion of biomass to fuels.

“These grants to Iowa State University researchers demonstrate the breadth and strength of our programs in advanced biofuels,” said Sharron Quisenberry, Iowa State’s vice president for research and economic development. “We have researchers who can help this national effort to develop clean, sustainable and cost-effective sources of energy. These grants are two more examples of how Iowa State translates discoveries into viable technologies and products that strengthen the economies of Iowa and the world.”

These Iowa State research projects are paid for by stimulus bucks … the same money that is funding the $44 million to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Mo. I told you about last week and the $34 million (plus $8.4 million in non-federal, cost-share funding) that is going to the National Advanced Biofuels Consortium led by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash.

Loss of Biodiesel Incentive Costs Farmers, Consumers

USCapitolBiodiesel producers aren’t the only ones who are being hit by the loss of the federal $1-a-gallon tax incentive.

This story from Agriculture Online says farmers and consumers are also being hurt:

Ohio Soybean Association president Jeff Wuebker estimates that failure to renew the tax credit, which expired at the end of 2009, will cost him about $12.50 an acre on his soybean crop. That’s the number he comes up with when he multiplies a 50-bushel yield by the 25-cents-a-bushel estimated increase in soybean value from its use as a feedstock for biodiesel fuel.

“If we don’t have something to use this additional oil we have, it could get worse than 25 cents,” said Wuebker, who farms 1,300 crops acres and farrows 1,800 sows with his brother, Alan. Their diversified western Ohio farm also sells wheat, alfalfa hay, straw and feeds about 60 dairy steers.

The loss of the tax credit could also lead to higher fuel costs for all of us, another 25¢ to 35¢ a gallon, according to one Department of Energy estimate, [another Ohio farmer, Rob Joslin, who recently became president of the American Soybean Association] said.

As Joslin puts it, with the Senate not renewing the credit late last year, “we’ve disrupted the supply chain. We’ve set a whole series of dominoes in place that are detrimental to our industry and our country.”

We’ll keep an eye on what the Senate does when it comes back in session. Lot of people hanging in the balance. Let’s hope someone gets the message.

New Enzyme Could Help Cellulosic Ethanol Production

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory have created a new enzyme that has the potential to create plants that are easier to convert into cellulosic ethanol.

“Increasing the ‘digestibility’ of plant matter is one main approach to making plants a viable alternative energy source,” said Brookhaven biochemist Chang-Jun Liu. Plants with less lignin in their cell walls are easier to break down and convert to fuel products.

The next step will be to see if it works in plants. The scientists will engineer plants with the gene for the new enzyme to see if it reduces the amount of lignin in the plant cell walls.

“Since we know less lignin makes cell walls easier to digest, this may be an effective biochemical approach to engineering plants for more efficient biofuel production,” Liu said.

Read more here.

Biodiesel Part of 11 States’ Low Carbon Fuel Standard

Northeast Region MapEleven states in the New England and the Mid-Atlantic region have inked a deal to develop a comprehensive, regional low carbon fuel standard to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation fuels, including biodiesel.

This press release from the Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection says that state’s governor, Ed Rendell, sees alternative energy as a locally produced, clean source of fuel that creates jobs and lessens dependence of foreign oil:

Transportation fuels contribute about 30 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Based on letters of intent signed a year ago, Pennsylvania and the other states have already begun preliminary work toward designing a low carbon fuel standard. The Memorandum of Understanding is the next step, establishing a process to develop a regional framework by 2011 and examine the economic impacts of a standard program.

Pennsylvania already is making strides in the production of lower-carbon fuels, the Governor said. Starting in January, all diesel fuel sold in the state must contain at least 2 percent biodiesel, since in-state production capacity hit 40 million gallons a year at the end of 2008. Under a state law Governor Rendell signed in July 2008, as Pennsylvania capacity to produce biodiesel grows, the required percentage of biodiesel grows – reducing greenhouse gas emissions and creating jobs in the biofuels industry. Over the next decade, Pennsylvania will replace 900 million gallons of transportation fuel with locally produced alternative resources such as ethanol and biodiesel, or with fuels derived from coal liquefaction.

In addition to Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont are part of the pact.

Iowa Biodiesel Plant Gets $3.9 Mil State Grant

REGlogo2An Iowa biodiesel plant that picked up a $2.5 million federal grant earlier this month (see my post from Dec. 7) has picked up another $3.9 million from the state.

Wallaces Farmer reports
that Elevance Renewable Sciences of Bollingbrook, Illinois and the Renewable Energy Group biodiesel plant in Newton received the Iowa Power Fund money to develop a Nobel Prize-winning technology that will expand biodiesel products to include jet fuel and specialty chemicals, such as cosmetics:

Elevance says the technology could be used at other biodiesel plants. Biodiesel manufacturers have struggled for profitability as they are contending against uncertain demand for biodiesel fuel used by the trucking industry.

The new technology will be added to the Central Iowa Renewable Energy biodiesel plant at Newton, which is managed by Renewable Energy Group, headquartered at Ames. The plant employs 28 workers. Elevance and REG say an additional 40 to 50 worker positions would be created in 2010 by adding Elevance’s olefin metathesis technology.

Cargill is one of the investors in this new technology

Elevance is backed by Cargill and the Texas Pacific investment group of Ft. Worth, Texas. “We look forward to completing the contracts, beginning construction of the plant at Newton, and bringing these products to market as quickly as possible,” says K’Lynne Johnson, CEO of Elevance. A company called Materia Inc. of Pasadena, Calif., owns the patents to the olafin metathesis process that won the 2005 Nobel Prize.

Experts say the new technology can be used in other biodiesel plants.

Baucus, Grassley Vow to Extend Biodiesel Tax Incentive

Baucus2Biodiesel producers have seen the last chance at renewing the federal biodiesel tax incentives before they expire at the end of the year slip away. But two key lawmakers have vowed the $1-a-gallon tax credit will be renewed, retroactively.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), Ranking Member of the same committee, say they intend to get the biodiesel tax incentives renewed early next year. The Des Moines (IA) Register has details:

grassley4“These provisions are important to our economy — not only because they help create jobs, but also because they are used to address pressing national concerns,” the senators wrote.

Grassley said taxpayers “need notice that these tax provisions” will be extended next year.

The House recently approved legislation extending the biodiesel subsidy and other expiring tax credits but the Senate took no action on the measures. Republicans objected to including the extensions in a defense bill because it also would have included an estate tax measure to which GOP senators objected, said Grassley.

Some biodiesel producers have said the lapse of the credit could force them to shut down, or at least, make them reduce production.