Penn State to Turn ‘Scrub’ Trees into Biomass Fuel

PennStateextResearchers at Penn State University are looking at turning a tree seen as not much more than a weed into biomass. This article from the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pennsylvania, the school’s hometown, says researchers are working on a $10 million, 5-year project, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to grow shrub willow as the next great biofuel feedstock.

On the the edge of a cornfield just off Interstate 99 between State College and Bellefonte, researchers planted 34 acres of shrub willow in 2012 and sat back to wait. After one early harvest, Armen Kemanian, assistant professor of production systems and modeling, said he and his team waited three years for the plants to grow enough to mow them down.

That time came this month as equipment was brought in from New York, giant harvesters that drove over the 20-foot-tall crop, not only chopping them down but grinding them into chips. Each pass of harvester turned a long row of the skinny trees into a truckload of mulchy mass.

Three years of growth are expected to produce about 800 tons, but that’s one of the things Kemanian says they are measuring. There are other places that grow shrub willow for its biomass potential, like in New York and Canada. The Penn State study is exploring how the native Eurasian crop fares a little more to the south.

“We are working out some of the kinks,” said Michael Jacobson, professor of forest resources and Penn State and Kemanian’s NewBio co-chairman. “The point is, it’s very important to understand the economics. You can’t look at just one harvest and decide if it breaks even or not. There are 15 to 20 years of multiple cycles.”

The researchers say the willows planted in 2012 are expected to regenerate about seven times, leading to decades of harvesting. And it can be grown on land that wouldn’t normally support other crops.

Great Green Fleet Deployed

vilsack-navy-fleetSecretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack kicked off the Great Green Fleet with the deployment of the USS John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group (JCS CSG) during a ceremony Wednesday in California. At the end of the ceremony, the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Stockdale left the pier to begin its deployment, becoming the first U.S. Navy ship running on an alternative fuel blend as part of its regular operations.

The Great Green Fleet is a Department of the Navy initiative using energy efficiency and alternative fuels to increase combat capability and operational flexibility. “The Great Green Fleet shows how we are transforming our energy use to make us better warfighters, to go farther, stay longer, and deliver more firepower,” said Mabus. “Diversifying our energy sources arms us with operational flexibility and strengthens our ability to provide presence, turning the tables on those who would use energy as a weapon against us.”

The blend fueling the Navy ships contains alternative fuel made from waste beef fat provided by farmers in the Midwest purchased through a partnership between the Navy and USDA. “The Navy’s use of renewable energy in the Great Green Fleet represents its ability to diversify its energy sources, and also our nation’s ability to take what would be a waste product and create homegrown, clean, advanced biofuels to support a variety of transportation needs,” said Secretary Vilsack. “Today’s deployment proves that America is on its way to a secure, clean energy future, where both defense and commercial transportation can be fueled by our own hardworking farmers and ranchers, reduce landfill waste, and bring manufacturing jobs back to rural America.”

The advanced fuel blend was produced by California-based AltAir Fuels from a feedstock of beef tallow – waste beef fat – provided by Midwest farmers and ranchers, and traditional petroleum provided by Tesoro. Pursuant to Navy requirements, the alternative fuel is drop-in, meaning it requires no changes to ship engines, transport or delivery equipment, or operational procedures.

Vilsack Featured Speaker at Nat’l Ethanol Conference

vilsackrfaU.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has been named to the lineup for this year’s National Ethanol Conference. The gathering, going on Feb. 15-17 in New Orleans, is the most widely attended executive level conference for the ethanol industry. Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa, was praised by the Renewable Fuels Association as being a long-time ally of ethanol.

Vilsack is a strong proponent of ethanol, renewable fuels and American agriculture. As leader of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Vilsack is working hard to strengthen the American agricultural economy, build vibrant rural communities and create new markets for the tremendous innovation of rural America.

Other topics at the conference include, global marketing and logistics trends, ethanol’s benefits as a high octane fuel source, and much more!

More information and registration are available here.

Secy Vilsack: Continue to Tout Biofuel Benefits

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack, spent the morning back in his home state of Iowa (Vilsack is a former Iowa Governor) to kick off the 10th Annual Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit. He began his remarks by saying its great to be back in Iowa and great to be back in front of folks who understand the importance of the renewable fuels industry. He also mentioned he is proud of the work the USDA has done to help expand the industry.

The key focus on his speech was the amount of people, both consumers and legislators, who don’t see the benefits of this industry the way we see them, who are attacking the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) in the courts, and attacking the Renewable Fuel Standard in the halls of Congress. “But we continue to point out to those who oppose this industry, the benefits of the country.”USDA Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack during 10th Annual Iowa Summit

For example, the ethanol industry has helped reduce the price of gas at the pump, even as gas prices go down, and given consumers choice at the pump. He also noted biofuels benefit the farm and rural communities, and help to reduce the trade deficit.

Vilsack discussed several of the programs the USDA has implemented to help grow and improve the industry including the Biomass Assistance Program, Biomass Research Centers and Loan Guarantees. But he said he was most excited of the new markets that are being developed. He also highlighted the Farms to Fly program that is looking at producing renewable biofuels for the aviation and shipping industry as well as biofuels for our military.

We need consumers to understand that every time they go to the pump, they are helping the industry. He also stressed the importance of the blender pump program and continuing to bring more mid-level blends to consumers.

In closing, Vilsack said expanding the renewable fuels industry is more than just the benefits (choice at pump, environment, national security, etc.). “It’s really about preserving the value system of rural America. This is an industry that allows us the process of diversifying the opportunities in rural America, to support production agriculture, to expand the biobased economy…so that we have more stable farm income and we give people opportunities to live, work and raise their families in rural areas. That is important to me.”

Listen to USDA Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack’s full remarks: Vilsack Remarks During IRFA Summit

10th Annual Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit Photo Album

China Imports Record Amount of US Ethanol

usda-logoU.S. ethanol exports to China hit record numbers this year. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is crediting the rise to its trade mission last year that helped push overall agricultural imports to China to three times what they were just a decade ago.

“Our objective for every trade mission is to create new markets for farm products made in rural America,” said USDA Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Michael Scuse, who led the mission. “U.S. ethanol exports to China have jumped from $8 million to more than $86 million since our May 2014 visit. In October, we exported more ethanol to China than in the previous 10 years combined.”

Scuse led the delegation to promote U.S. agriculture, and explore the role that renewable fuels might play in China’s long-term clean energy strategy. The delegation met with gasoline companies, fuel blenders, oil companies, commodity traders, and government officials to promote the benefits of using higher ethanol blends. During October, the U.S. exported 32.5 million gallons of ethanol to China, valued at $57 million, or 46 percent of total U.S. ethanol exports for the month. Previous U.S. exports of ethanol to China averaged less than $3 million annually from 2005 to 2014.

Earlier this year, USDA partnered with 21 states through the Biofuel Infrastructure Partnership (BIP) to nearly double the number of fueling pumps nationwide, expanding the ethanol refueling infrastructure by nearly 5,000 pumps, a $210 million investment that will give consumers access to clean, American-made biofuels, and provide more choices at the pump.

“These are the kind of initiatives that strengthen our rural communities, and open new doors and help our farmers and ranchers capitalize on the tremendous export potential for American agricultural products,” said Scuse.

USDA Highlights 2015 Energy Achievements

USDAAgriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has released a list of USDA’s top achievements in 2015 in the areas of trade, food security, conservation, energy, research, rural development, and more.

“Even with challenges in 2015, including an unprecedented animal disease outbreak and lower commodity prices, America’s rural communities have proven once again that we are a nation of makers, creators and innovators, and our economy and security are stronger because of it,” said Vilsack. “As we look to 2016, USDA will continue to seek out new and innovative ways to expand opportunity for America’s farming families and rural communities.”

Among USDA’s 2015 highlights in the area of energy:

Made available $100 million in grant funds, with matching funds from state and private partners, which will provide $210 million to nearly double the number of fueling pumps nationwide that supply American-made renewable fuels, such as E15 and E85.

Through the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, USDA provided assistance to 890 growers on 49,000 acres for costs associated with harvesting and transporting agriculture or forest residues to facilities that convert biomass crops into energy.

Announced 10 Building Blocks for Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry, which, by 2025, will reduce net emissions and enhance carbon sequestration by the equivalent of taking 25 million cars off the road.

Read more here.

USDA Gives $70 Mil Loan Guarantee for Biofuel Plant

usda-logoA cellulosic biofuel plant in Georgia will get built, thanks in part to a $70 million U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) loan guarantee. This news release from USDA says the money is being made available through the agency’s Biorefinery Assistance Program.

“There is a clear consumer demand for clean, American-made, renewable fuels, which our rural communities stand ready to meet,” said [Ag Secretary Tom] Vilsack. “USDA is proud to support environmentally and technologically sound projects like this one, which will increase biofuel availability nationwide and create jobs in rural Georgia. This loan commitment is the most recent example of our support for President Obama’s ‘all-of-the-above’ energy strategy, which includes alternative and renewable fuel sources.”

Ensyn Georgia Biorefinery I, LLC (Ensyn) will construct and operate a cellulosic biofuel refinery in Dooly County, Georgia. The company will produce 20 million gallons of renewable fuel per year employing its Rapid Thermal Processing (RTP) technology. RTP uses a fast thermal process to convert non-food-based feedstocks into biobased fuels.

Ensyn will convert 440 dry tons of woody biomass into a renewable fuel oil (RFO) product. There is an abundant supply of woody biomass near the plant due to excess forest materials in the region. However, Ensyn can use a variety of other non-food cellulosic feedstocks as well.

The renewable fuel oil will be used as a heating oil replacement and as a renewable feedstock for diesel and gasoline production at refineries.

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.