Obama’s Message: Hope, News Jobs & Clean Energy

PicImg_President_Obama_addresses_d7d1The nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the country that leads the global clean economy and America must be that nation,” said President Obama tonight during his first State of the Union address. “I will not accept second place.”

There were several major focuses of his speech including the support of small businesses, building a stronger financial institution and the creation of new jobs, especially in the clean tech sector. “We need to put more Americans to work building clean energy systems,” said Obama. He also wants to give incentives to consumers who add energy efficiency technologies to their homes, the purchase of these will help to support clean energy industry, he explained.

Obama continued that the House has already passed a bill that will do some of these things, and expressed hope that the Senate would as well. “I want a jobs bill on my desk without delay.”

In anticipation for Obama’s support of clean tech jobs, Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) President, Bob Dinneen sent out a statement saying, “America’s ethanol producers stand with the President, ready to provide good paying jobs and economic opportunity in a cleaner and more sustainable manner. “In just the past 10 years, ethanol production has helped create hundreds of thousands of new jobs for engineers, construction workers, chemists, accountants, maintenance supervisors, and countless others. With new technologies on the precipice of commercialization, this industry is once again poised to bring unparalleled economic opportunity to small, rural communities all across the nation.”

Obama continued, “No area is more ripe for investments than energy…but to create more of these clean energy jobs, we meed more production, more efficiencies and more incentives. He then laid of some of the elements that are needed to create the clean energy industry including continued investments in advanced biofuels. Finally he said, “And yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy profitable energy.” Continue reading

Obama Talks Clean Energy But Little About Renewables

ObamafirstunionIf renewable energy advocates had hoped for a big mention during Pres. Barack Obama’s first State of the Union address, they probably are walking away from tonight’s speech feeling a bit left out.

While the president did make quick mentions of solar, biofuels and clean energy, Obama did not unveil any grand plan to use renewable energy to help move the nation forward. The Washington Times reports that, unlike his predecessor, Pres. George W. Bush, who in 2006 talked about the need to stop the nation’s “addiction” to foreign oil and to embrace ethanol and other renewable fuel sources, Obama seemed to leave most talk about renewable energy, especially biodiesel and ethanol, by the wayside. And while it might seem trivial, a mention in the State of the Union can make a big difference:

“It can have a very significant impact,” said Bob Dinneen, chief executive officer of the Renewable Fuels Association.

“It really teed up a discussion about energy policy and led to the passage of the energy bill in 2007 that resulted in the renewable-fuel standard in this country,” Mr. Dinneen said. “So it was an important catalyst.”

But of course, one speech is not the end-all and be-all for any program, and we’ll really need to see how Obama does make clean energy a priority … and the role renewables will play.

Culver Makes Case for Biodiesel Incentive in DC

ChetCulverThe governor of a state that has a big stake in the biodiesel biz traveled to Washington, DC to make the case for renewal of the federal $1-a-gallon biodiesel tax incentive.

Iowa Governor Chet Culver testified before a Senate Subcommittee just how important the incentive is to the Iowa biofuels industry, an $8 billion operation supporting about 80,000 jobs:

“This is an exciting time for our country and we have to keep those industries alive that have had a positive environmental and economic influence on our country,” Governor Culver said, who is Chair of the Governors‚ Biofuels Coalition.

IowaBiodiesellogowebThe Iowa Biodiesel Board commended Governor Culver on the testimony. “Governor Culver clearly recognizes the important role biodiesel plays, both nationally and at home in Iowa,” said Randy Olson, Executive Director of IBB. “We applaud his leadership and hope for that same level of support in Iowa for state biodiesel legislation.”

At the same time, the IBB also made the case to state lawmakers back in Des Moines to support the proposed Iowa Biodiesel Fuel Quality Standard measure, which would require petroleum companies to blend 5 percent biodiesel (B5) into the state’s diesel fuel. That is expected to create demand for 45 million gallons of Iowa-made biodiesel annually.

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.