Largest Global Cellulosic Biomass Harvest Underway

The largest global cellulosic biomass harvest in history is underway and already the world is watching. Last week, Project Liberty kicked off their one-year biomass harvest pilot program as an effort to ensure all the correct logistics are in place in time for Project Liberty to go online in early 2012.

During the event, I caught up with Scott Weishaar, who runs POET’s biomass division. He and his team have been working for years on commercializing cellulsoic ethanol using light corn stover and corn cobs and this pilot program represents that last major hurdle for success.

As part of this program, POET Biomass will have a biomass storage building completed in time for harvest that will house up to 23,000 tons of biomass bales at any given time.

Along with progress comes concerns and Weishaar is very cognizant that people have concerns over what impact the removal of biomass will be on the soil. “We know there are concerns. So we want to make sure we understand all the aspects that are associated with that – soil erosion, nutrients, compaction, and storage characteristics,” said Weishaar.

All of these elements are being studied in conjunction with several partners including Idaho National Laboratory, Iowa State University and USDA’s Biomass Program and the goal is to have all major questions answered prior to the cellulosic ethanol plant going online.

“We are working around the logistics surrounding the collection, storage, and handling of the biomass so we’re ready to supply the feedstock in 2012,” said Weishaar.

As the world watches, there are still many who doubt commercial cellulosic ethanol will ever succeed. To that, Weishaar says the “proof is in the pudding” and they are ready to meet the country’s challenges of producing 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022 and reducing its dependence on foreign oil.”

Listen to the interview with Scott Weishaar here: Scott Weishaar Talks Biomass

Iowa Gov Chet Culver Celebrates 1st Biomass Harvest

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of dreams. And this has been a dream for many, many years,” began Iowa Governor Chet Culver during his presentation to kick off the largest global biomass harvesting pilot project in Emmetsburg, Iowa.

Project Liberty, the dream of Jeff Broin, CEO of POET and his company, is less than two years away from becoming the first commercial scale cellulosic ethanol plant using corn stover and corn cobs. This fall, nearly 85 local farmers will be harvesting and storing nearly 60,000 tons of biomass in an effort to refine the harvesting, storage and logistics for converting biomass into ethanol.

Culver noted that many people didn’t believe that this project could happen, but he has been a supporter since he took office in 2007. Now, he is proud to show the world that no where else is this type of project happening so quickly.

“I would like to thank farmers for embracing this opportunity for our country and embracing this opportunity for our state,” said Culver.

Broin added that to date, area farmers have already received $100,000 in incentive payments to establish the new harvest system on their farm. Part of the goal of this pilot project is to ensure that farmers who harvest biomass are able to do so at a profit as well as in a sustainable way. The optimal biomass harvest of any acre of land will vary between 0-25 percent depending on soil health.

I was on hand today along with several hundred local farmers and members of the community as POET unveiled the details of their biomass harvest program. Part of this program will be the completion of a new biomass storage facility in time for the harvest. The 22-acre site will have the capacity to house 23,000 tons of biomass bales at any given time.

Broin concluded, “As biomass harvesting for cellulosic ethanol grows, America’s reliance on foreign oil will wane and be replaced by a new reliance, this time on rural communities with our own borders. The American farmer will provide food, feed and fuel for the country at an unheard of rate.”

You can see pictures from the event today by clicking here.

Oodles and Oodles of Biomass, Oh My!

There are several barriers to the success of converting biomass to biofuels including harvesting, transportation and storage. But of these three challenges, one of utmost importance is not only how to store the biomass but how long can it be stored without compromising the feedstock?

The most advanced commercial scale corn stover to ethanol project in the U.S. is Project Liberty, a biomass project funding by POET. Ultimately, the plant will produce 25 million gallons per year of cellulosic ethanol, but how much biomass will that take? According to POET, the plant will need 770 dry tons of biomass (corn cobs, some leaves and husks) for each day of operation. Yet how do you store that much material?

This is the very question that the Project Liberty team is working on with researchers at Idaho National Laboratory (INL). They are studying factors at POET plants in Hurley, SD and Emmestburg, IA, like the heat and moisture content of the biomass bale to determine how different types of piles and configurations will affect the quality of the bale. The answer to this question will aid farmers in storing the biomass in their fields until it is needed at the plant.

INL currently has 800 different bale configurations under study and they are attempting to discover the best balance of heat and moisture in the biomass bale. Kevin Kenney, and INL researcher, notes that they are looking at two areas in their research. First, the risk of biomass storage to farmers. Second, how the biomass degrades over time. After this year’s study is complete, the research team will discard the least effective methods and move forward with refining those configurations that hold the most promise.

You can lean more about the project in this video featuring INL researcher, Kevin Kenney.

Ag Secretary Visits Ohio Ethanol Plant

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland toured the POET Biorefining plant in Marion, Ohio today and talked ethanol with industry stakeholders.

Vilsack and Strickland took part in a roundtable discussion with representatives from POET, the Ohio Corn Growers Association, Ohio Ethanol Producers Association and the Ohio Department of Agriculture as well as the federal Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service.

During the visit, Vilsack voiced support for increasing the ethanol blend level to 15 percent. “We are working at USDA to develop a roadmap for how to build that [ethanol] nationwide industry,” he said. “We understand it starts with allowing the capacity we have today to maximize its input. That means increasing the blend rate to 15 percent. I have been advocating for that, will continue to advocate for that, and I believe it will happen. Obviously I wish it had had happened now, but I believe it will happen sometime this fall.” Vilsack also stressed the need for increasing blender pumps and getting more flex fuel vehicles on the road.

Yesterday, Vilsack toured Quasar Energy Group in Wooster, Ohio to observe new technologies being utilized to generate larger supplies of biogas derived from cellulosic biomass. USDA, along with the State of Ohio, provided funding to support the development of the new facility.

The funding was used to install an anaerobic digester that processes 25,000 wet tons per year of organic biomass including food wastes from local food producers, crop residuals, grass and manure from livestock operations of the Ohio State University-Agricultural Technical Institute (ATI). Based on its electric generation capacity, this bio-digester can supply roughly one-third of the electricity needs of the Ohio Agricultural Research & Development Center (OARDC) campus.

DOE Finds Ethanol Pipeline Feasible

A pipeline for ethanol from the Midwest to the East Coast is a viable project, if certain conditions are met, according to a report by the Department of Energy (DOE).

In the report titled “Dedicated Ethanol Pipeline Feasibility Study,” which was required under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, DOE concludes that “in spite of the documented challenges and risks, a profitable, dedicated ethanol pipeline is feasible under certain scenarios. A pipeline would enhance the fuels delivery infrastructure, reduce congestion of rail, truck, and barge transportation, and would reduce greenhouse gas emissions when compared to current delivery methods. The faster product delivery cycles, more reliable delivery schedules, and increased safety will enhance the flexibility to accommodate any significant expansions in ethanol production and demand in the future.”

One of the challenges is that the pipeline, at a projected cost of $4.25 billion, would need to transport 4.1 billion gallons of ethanol each year over its 40-year lifespan to be economically feasible without “major financial incentives.” That volume exceeds projected demand in the target East Coast service area by 1.3 billion gallons.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Congressman Leonard Boswell (D-IA) suggest that the pipeline could be developed with federal support in the form of a loan guarantee. “By providing federal loan guarantees for biofuels’ pipelines, we can attract private investment in large infrastructure development projects, create good-paying jobs and further move our nation towards energy independence and security, and all with minimal taxpayer investment,” Harkin says. Boswell, who authored the Renewable Fuel Pipeline Act of 2010, says the pipeline would have significant benefits. “In addition to reducing greenhouse gases emitted during truck and rail transport of biofuels, it would also reduce the overall cost of these renewable fuels to consumers outside of the Midwest,” he said.

Ethanol producer POET and Magellan Midstream Partners, which have formed a partnership to look into building such an ethanol pipeline, were pleased with the government report. “While our project differs from the hypothetical project considered within DOE’s study, we believe the DOE’s conclusions are directionally correct: a large scale pipeline project is feasible under certain conditions and that a federal loan guarantee is necessary to move forward,” reads a joint press release from the companies. “In addition, the DOE confirms that transporting energy via pipelines has multiple benefits such as reducing congested highway and rail systems while reducing green house gas emissions when compared to other modes of transportation.”

The POET/Magellan project is based on a smaller capital cost of $3.55 billion and similar demand.

POET Aquires Indiana Ethanol Plant

POET announced today the purchase of a 90 million gallon-per-year ethanol plant located just outside Cloverdale, Ind. and previously operated by Altra Biofuels.

Making the announcement from the Renewable Energy Finance Forum in New York, POET CEO Jeff Broin said this will be POET’s fourth ethanol plant in Indiana and 27th facility nationwide, bringing the company’s annual ethanol production capacity to 1.7 billion gallons per year. “We have been looking at potential acquisitions for some time,” Broin said. “This plant, in this community, will be a perfect fit for what we do at POET.”

This is the first acquisition for the company since their original plant back in 1987, the rest were built by POET from the ground up. POET will install the company’s proprietary process technology and improve the original plant design. The approximately $30 million in upgrades include BPX, POET’s patent-pending fermentation process which uses enzymes instead of heat, reducing energy use by 10-15 percent. In addition, POET will install a water recovery system and new pollution control equipment. POET expects to reopen the plant in 8-9 months.

Listen to the press conference with Jeff Broin here: POET CEO Jeff Broin on Indiana Ethanol Plant Acquisition

Ethanol Awards and Scholarships Presented

FEW 2010Two current ethanol industry leaders and two potential leaders of the future received recognition at the 2010 Fuel Ethanol Workshop in St. Louis this week.

The High Octane Award for helping the ethanol industry mature and progress over the years was presented this year to Jeff Broin, CEO of Poet (pictured), while the research and technology Award of Excellence was given to Gunter Brodl, president of Vogelbusch USA. (The photo is courtesy of POET and you can see a video of Broin receiving his award on the POET blog, Rhapsody in Green.)

Two 2010 Kathy Bryan Memorial Scholarships were awarded this year to the children of ethanol plant employees, selected from more than 100 applicants representing 52 ethanol plants. The $2500 scholarships went to Mary Krull, the daughter of Peter Krull, a plant manager at Valero Renewables-Albert City, Iowa, and Nicholas Ballard, the son of Kim Ballard, a process operator at Big River Resources LLC, Galva, Ill.

POET Finds Cellulosic Ethanol Cuts Emissions by 111 Percent

A new independent lifecycle analysis released today by ethanol producer POET finds that cellulosic ethanol could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 111 percent over gasoline.

FEW 2010POET CEO Jeff Broin presented the results of the analysis at the 2010 Fuel Ethanol Workshop in St. Louis on Tuesday. The analysis specifically studied ethanol produced by Project LIBERTY, POET’s first planned commercial cellulosic ethanol plant, and shows that it actually has negative emissions by offsetting more greenhouse gas emissions than it produces.

“Not only is cellulosic ethanol a clean and safe alternative fuel, in cases such as Project LIBERTY, it can literally reverse some of the effects of our nation’s dependence on fossil energy such as oil,” POET CEO Jeff Broin said. “By expanding the number of sources for ethanol production, the entire nation can contribute to helping our nation’s economy, security and environment through alternative fuel production.”

The lifecycle analysis tracks the emissions of ethanol production from “field to tank.” It includes emissions from planting and harvest, feedstock transportation, conversion to ethanol, waste products, co-products and transportation of the ethanol. It also includes Environmental Protection Agency calculations for changes in land use and effects on agriculture inputs.

Read more about the announcement here.

Domestic Fuel reporter Joanna Schroeder interviewed Broin immediately after he made his announcement – listen to or download that interview below.

Fuel Ethanol Workshop photo album

Ethanol Testimony at Farm Bill Hearing

A House Agriculture Committee field hearing in South Dakota on the 2012 Farm Bill featured a lot of testimony about ethanol.

POET Scott WeishaarPOET Vice President for Commercial Development Scott Weishaar testified that the ethanol industry has become a legitimate threat to Big Oil and Washington deserves credit for envisioning that future when it created positive policies such as the Renewable Fuels Standard.

“With your help, we can continue this progress,” he said. “We have the natural resources, the ingenuity and the technology to reach our nation’s goal of 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel produced per year by the year 2022.”

He specifically asked the lawmakers to take four actions will help achieve that goal:

1. Increase the base blend allowed in today’s standard vehicles from 10 percent to 15 percent ethanol.
2. Mandate that all new vehicles purchased in the U.S. are flex fuel.
3. Provide incentives for installation of blender pumps, which can dispense a wide range of ethanol blends and allow greater choice for consumers.
4. Support cellulosic development through loan guarantees, a long-term extension of the cellulosic ethanol tax credit and incentives for farmers to offset risk in providing new biomass feedstock.

A panel of farmers at the hearing also stressed the need for actions to keep the ethanol industry growing in the United States. Gary Duffy, president of the South Dakota Corn Growers Association, said, “Along with renewing VTEEC, overcoming the blend wall is critically needed to create new markets and providing jobs across Rural America.” Growers Rod Gangwish of Shelton, Neb. and Steve Mast of S.D., also mentioned the need for continuing the tax incentives and increasing the blend rate.

Approximately 175 members of the agriculture community from South Dakota and surrounding states attended the hearing, which was hosted by Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. Opening statements from the hearing can be found on the House Agriculture Committee website.

Biofuels Digest Names Top Twitterati

Biofuels Digest has named the top 20 “biofuels observers who are shaping opinion via Twitter.”

Some of the top names in the industry are on this list that Biofuels Digest calls “the leading practitioners of the art – the Twitterati that are shaping the biofuels landscape with their bursts of 140-character or less messages – sometimes as many as 50 or more per day to hundreds , thousands, or tens of thousands of followers.”

Here’s the list:

1. Vinod Khosla – writing as vkhosla – 31454 followers – 65 tweets
2. Solazyme – writing as SOlazyme – 8968 followers – 785 tweets
3. Robert White (RFA) – writing as fuelinggood – 4490 followers – 5421 tweets
4. Green Portland Info – writing as Green Posting – 4170 followers – 972 tweets
5. Renewable Energy World – writing as REWorld – 3619 followers – 2355 tweets
6. Missy Ruff – writing as renewablefuel – 2,839 followers – 4,063 tweets
7. Chuck Zimerman & AgWired – writing as AgriBlogger – 2,135 followers – 6,847 tweets
8. Sean O’Hanlon (ABC executive director) writing as Sean_OHanlon – 1244 followers – 1761 tweets
9. Ashley Morrison – writing as EthanolFuel from Omaha, NE – 1,034 followers
10. RFA – 1,134 followers – 1709 tweets
11. AlgaeBiofuels – 863 followers – 16,374 tweets
12. Peter Went – writing as Energy_Risk – 719 followers – 11,855 tweets
13. Todd Neeley – writing as ethreporter – 688 followers 1129 tweets
14. Domestic Fuel – writing as DomesticFuel – 500 followers – 2078 tweets
15. Bob Dinneen (RFA) writing as ethanolbob – 421 followers -571 tweets
16. ACE – writing as blend_ethanol from Sioux Falls, SD 388 followers
17. Meghan Sapp – writing as SugarcaneBlog – 379 followers – 1150 tweets
18. POET Ethanol – Writing as ethanolbyPOET – 336 followers – 487 tweets
19. Matt Hartwig (RFA) – writing as matthartwig – 246 followers – 401 tweets
20. Todd Taylor – writing as cleamtechczar – 216 followers – 624 tweets