Camelina Serves Biodiesel and Bees

Camelina is pulling double duty as a biodiesel source and a cover crop. And this article from the U.S. Department of Agriculture says it is also keeping bees well fed.

usda-ars-camelina[S]cientists with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have found that its flowering period can provide honey bees and other insects with a critical, early-spring source of nectar and pollen that’s usually unavailable then. This is especially true in Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota, where about one-third of the nation’s managed bee colonies are kept from May through October.

The researchers observed that fields of winter camelina and winter canola (another alternate oilseed crop) produced about 100 pounds per acre of nectar sugar over the course of a two- to three-week flowering season. That quantity, produced in such a short time, is enough to support the annual energy requirements of a typical bee hive, which is 100-200 pounds of sugar per year, according to Frank Forcella, an agronomist with ARS’ Soil Management Research Unit in Morris, Minnesota. He participated on a team of ARS and university scientists which evaluated the attractiveness of camelina, canola and a third oilseed crop—pennycress—during two years of outdoor field trials.

Highlights of the team’s findings—reported in the June 2015 issue of Industrial Crops and Products—are: Continue reading

USDA Announces Biofuels Infrastructure Funds

vilsack-protecAgriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was at a Citgo station in Kissimmee, Florida today to announce a USDA partnership to increase fueling pumps for biofuels in 21 states through the Biofuel Infrastructure Partnership (BIP).

The investment will nearly double the number of fueling pumps nationwide that supply renewable fuels to American motorists. “The Biofuel Infrastructure Partnership is one more example of how federal funds can be leveraged by state and private partners to deliver better and farther reaching outcomes for taxpayers,” said Vilsack.

The 21 states participating in the BIP include Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. The final awards being announced today are estimated to expand infrastructure by nearly 5,000 pumps at over 1,400 fueling stations.

Vilsack was joined by representatives from Growth Energy and Florida-based Protec Fuel to make the announcement. “We’re very excited about this USDA program because we’re going to be opening up sites in other parts of Florida, as well as across the country,” said Protec Fuel VP of Operations and Business Development Steve Walk. “What this program is going to help us do is help speed up the growth” of stations offering higher ethanol blends.

Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis congratulated Protec Fuel and thanked Secretary Vilsack for his support of renewable fuels. “The Biofuel Infrastructure Partnership is helping us to further leverage industry funds to gain measurable market access in a far timelier manner than we could accomplish otherwise,” said Buis.”

Listen to remarks from Walk, Buis and Vilsack here: Secretary Vilsack announces biofuels infrastructure funding

Vilsack remarks to the media: Secretary Vilsack comments on Biofuel Infrastructure Partnership

USDA-Protec Fuel Biofuel Pump Funding Announcement photos

Maine Biomass Plant Gets $500K USDA Grant

woodpelletsA Maine-based power plant is getting $556,520 in U.S. Department of Agriculture grants. This article from BDN Maine says Athens Energy is getting the money to build a new biomass-fueled power generator that runs on wood waste from logging and timberland thinning operations.

The USDA said the proposed Athens biomass plant would produce enough electricity to power about 5,409 homes. It would use $56,520 of the award to use waste heat from the biomass generator to dry wood chips at an adjacent pellet plant, owned by a sister company.

The agency also gave $500,000 to a subsidiary of the company Village Green Ventures, VGBLADS LLC, to build an anaerobic digester that can produce enough electricity to power 727 homes.

USDA also awarded grants to a dozen other rural Maine businesses, mostly to install roof-mounted or sun-tracking pole-mounted solar panels.

USDA Announces Funding for Biofuel Infrastructure

USDA logoAgriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that 21 states will receive grants through the Biofuel Infrastructure Partnership (BIP) to help provide access to more renewable fuels for America’s drivers.

“The Biofuel Infrastructure Partnership is one approach USDA is using to aggressively pursue investments in American-grown renewable energy to create new markets for U.S. farmers and ranchers, help Americans save money on their energy bills, support America’s clean energy economy, cut carbon pollution and reduce dependence on foreign oil and costly fossil fuels,” said Vilsack.

USDA estimates that the BIP grants will support nearly 5,000 pumps at over 1,400 fueling stations across the country. “Our investment will nearly double the number of pumping systems available across the U.S.,” Vilsack said. According to the list of estimated numbers of pumps that could be installed per state, Florida and Texas will be the biggest beneficiaries with 892 in Florida and 763 in Texas. Minnesota at 620 and Illinois at 428 are the largest recipients in the Midwest.

Secretary Vilsack also challenged conclusions in the American Petroleum Institute report out yesterday that he called “preposterous.”

Listen to Vilsack’s announcement here: USDA Secretary Vilsack biofuels investment

Q and A with reporters: Vilsack answers BIP questions

USDA Report Shows Importance of Int’l Biofuel Trade

USDA logoA new government report says that while the U.S. is a major exporter of biofuels, it still imports biofuels in order to meet government mandates. The study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service says some other countries are major exporters and domestic users, thanks to laws there that allow greater blending amounts.

The ethanol blend wall in the United States, and an increase in demand for biofuels from other countries, helped the United States emerge as a net exporter of ethanol for the first time in 2010, with net exports positive each year since. Indeed, the United States has become the world’s largest exporter of ethanol. U.S. ethanol production and exports both remained strong in the face of falling gasoline prices in 2014 due to interactions of supply- and demand-side factors; production capacity beyond domestic policy requirements and strong export markets helped make high exports possible. In addition, U.S. imports of ethanol in 2014 fell to their lowest amounts in years.

Along with market forces, policies can affect future U.S. biofuel trade. If the blending rate in Brazil continues to increase (as it has recently), less Brazilian ethanol will be available to compete with the United States on the global market. At the same time, Brazil could continue to import U.S. ethanol to help meet its mandate. In addition, U.S. biofuel policies could affect the future of U.S. biofuel trade. For example, reducing the amount of ethanol that can be derived from corn in the U.S. renewal fuel mandate could potentially lead to reduction in U.S. ethanol production infrastructure in the long run, which could limit the availability of ethanol for exports.

The study also indicates some grave implications for the U.S.’ biofuel producers if the federal government continues to ignore the requirements under the law that created the Renewable Fuel Standard.

If the scheduled future increases in the U.S. mandate for advanced biofuel are not met by increased domestic production of advanced biofuels (and are not waived), the increase in the mandate amounts will need to be met with imports, such as sugarcane-based ethanol from Brazil.

USDA Offers Incentives for Biomass for Energy

usda-logoEnrollment is underway for farmers and forest landowners to get financial assistance for growing new sources of biomass for energy or biobased products. This U.S.Department of Agriculture (USDA) news release says the money comes from the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP).

Biomass energy facilities or groups of producers may submit proposals for new BCAP project areas. Proposals will be accepted on through Nov. 6, 2015. USDA will also allocate $7.7 million towards four existing BCAP project areas in New York, North Carolina, Ohio/Pennsylvania and Kansas/Oklahoma, targeting the establishment of an additional 10,500 acres of shrub willow, giant miscanthus, and switchgrass for energy. Project area sponsors include Chemtex International, Aloterra Energy LLC, Abengoa Biomass LLC and ReEnergy Holdings LLC. Farmers and forest landowners may enroll for biomass establishment and maintenance payments for these four sites through Sept. 25, 2015.

In June, USDA began accepting applications from foresters and farmers seeking financial assistance for removing biomass residues from fields or national forests for delivery to energy generation facilities; the deadline for those applications is Sept. 4, 2015. The retrieval payments are provided at a cost-share match of $1 for $1 up to $20 per dry ton with eligible crops including corn residue, diseased or insect infested wood materials, or orchard waste. The energy facility must first be approved by USDA to accept the biomass crop, and deliveries to the facilities can continue until Dec. 11, 2015.

So far, BCAP has provided incentives for producers across more than 48,000 acres in 71 counties and 11 different project areas.

USDA Predicts Big Corn and Soybean Crops

USDAUSDA is forecasting the third largest corn crop on record and the second largest soybean crop in a new planted acreage update released today.

U.S. growers are forecast to produce 13.7 billion bushels of corn this year, according to the report from USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). That is actually a four percent decrease from last year’s production, but if realized will be the third largest production on record. The numbers are up 156 million from the July projection, with the season’s first survey-based corn yield forecast at 168.8 bushels per acre, 2.0 bushels higher than last month’s projection.

Overall, the report says that growers nationwide planted 88.9 million acres to corn, unchanged from the June estimate. As of August 2, 70 percent of U.S. corn was reported to be in good or excellent condition, three percentage points below the same time last year.

U.S. soybean growers are now forecast produce the second largest crop on record although one percent less than last year. NASS forecasts U.S. soybean production of 3.92 billion bushels with a yield of 46.9 bushels per acre, which would also be the second largest on record, down 0.9 bushels per acre from the record set in 2014. Growers are expected to set new record-highs in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Virginia.

The new World Agricultural Supply Demand Estimate also released today increased usage of corn for ethanol from 5.225 million bushels to 5.250 million and lowered the average corn price estimate for the year five cents to $3.35-3.95 per bushel. “With the lower prices, domestic demand should kick up,” said analyst Jack Scoville of the PRICE Futures Group during the Minneapolis Grain Exchange call on the report. “Which will make ethanol that much more attractive in the corn … definitely should help biofuels consumption.”

MGEX Crop Call with Jack Scoville

USDA Builds Rural Energy with Loans & Grants

usda-logoThe U.S. Department of Agriculture is helping build renewable energy in rural areas. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $63 million in loans and grants for 264 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects nationwide that USDA is supporting through its Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).

“This funding will have far-reaching economic and environmental impacts nationwide, particularly in rural communities,” Vilsack said. “Investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects supports home-grown energy sources, creates jobs, reduces greenhouse gas pollution and helps usher in a more secure energy future for the nation.”

These REAP projects are expected to generate and/or save 207.8 million kilowatt hours (KWh) of energy – enough to power more than 13,600 homes for a year.

The next application deadline for REAP grants is November 2, 2015.

Despite Fewer Acres, Plenty of Corn for Ethanol

NCGA-Logo-3The number of acres corn planted is down this year. But the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) says there’s plenty of the crop for ethanol and all the other uses from the grain. Citing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Acreage report, NCGA says total corn planting in the United States totals 88.9 million acres, the lowest planted acreage since 2010 but the sixth-largest U.S. corn acreage planted since 1944.

“Corn farmers produced an abundance in 2014 that resulted in a large carry over into this year,” National Corn Growers Association President Chip Bowling said. “While planted acreage has decreased as farmers in many parts of the country face unrelentingly wet conditions, U.S. farmers have steadily increased our ability to grow more corn on every acre. Americans can rest assured that we will be able to meet all needs, be they for food, fuel or fiber, for years to come.”

USDA projects 13.5 billion acres of corn to be harvested this fall.

Better Switchgrass Makes for Better Biofuel

switchgrassWhile switchgrass is seen as a good candidate for biofuels, the challenge has been producing it in the quantities of biomass yield to make it worth the effort. But this story from the American Society of Agronomy says researchers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture are looking at ways to make the plant more biofuel friendly.

[Michael Casler, a research geneticist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service,] and others are trying to [make a better switchgrass for biofuels] by using alternative breeding methods. Zulfi Jahufer is a senior research scientist in genetics and plant breeding at the AgResearch Grasslands Research Centre in Palmerston North in New Zealand, and was a co-researcher with Casler.

But achieving their goals isn’t easy. The ideal switchgrass wouldn’t possess one trait, but many. It would have a high amount of biomass per acre and be able to produce a lot of ethanol. It would also have low levels of lignin, a material found inside plants that prevents maximum ethanol production…

When the ideal plant would contain more than one important trait, it’s inefficient to select for them one at a time. To combat this issue, and breed switchgrass that has the optimal combination of these traits, the researchers tried evaluating plants using the Smith-Hazel Selection Index.

This index allowed the researchers to estimate and combine information on multiple traits. It also looked at the economic value of each trait, which further maximizes the rating.

The researchers say the next step needed to meet their goals is to use the protocols in an actual breeding program. They will begin to employ the best selection indices over the next few generations to obtain a more ideal switchgrass.

This research was recently published in the journal Crop Science.