Ag Secretary Highlights Biodiesel at Pearl Harbor

hawaiiWith the Pearl Harbor memorial as a backdrop and a Pacific Biodiesel hat on the podium, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Tuesday highlighted the use of biodiesel by the U.S. Navy.

Pearl Harbor naval base was the first Hawaii military marine fleet to use biodiesel, replacing the Department of Navy-operated tour boats that shuttled visitors to and from the USS Arizona Memorial with five new boats capable of running on 100% biodiesel.

hawaii“The military in the way they are approaching the future as it relates to energy is reminding us that this country has the capacity not just to think big but also to act big,” said Vilsack. “They understand and appreciate that energy security is important for the future of this country and are dedicated to making sure that the Navy provide a good example to the country on how to go about doing this.”

The secretary noted that the Pearl Harbor navel base is also “utilizing and will continue to expand E85 and B20 opportunities for their vehicle fleet” which consists of roughly 2000 vehicles, 75% of which are capable of using either E85 or B20.

Vilsack noted that much of the biodiesel used at Pearl Harbor purchased by the Navy is produced in Hawaii by Pacific Biodiesel, “which is the oldest biodiesel producer and refinery in the country, started in 1996.”

Listen to Secretary Vilsack’s comments about biofuels at Pearl Harbor: Tom Vilsack at Pearl Harbor memorial

Photos from Secretary’s visit to Pearl Harbor memorial to promote biofuels

USDA to Highlight Biodiesel at Pearl Harbor

hawaiiAgriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is in Hawaii this week to address the annual meeting of the American Farm Bureau Federation and highlight the Obama Administration’s commitment to renewable energy at the Pearl Harbor memorial center.

Vilsack will be at the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument’s Pearl Harbor Visitor Center on Tuesday to talk about how USDA is working with the U.S. Navy to promote the use of renewable fuels in its operations. In April 2009, the Pearl Harbor naval base was the first Hawaii military marine fleet to use biodiesel, replacing U.S. Navy-operated tour boats that shuttled visitors to and from the USS Arizona Memorial with five new boats capable of running on 100% biodiesel. Secretary Vilsack will highlight these efforts as well as other Administration efforts to advance renewable energy as part of the Navy fleet.

EPA Lowers Cellulosic Ethanol Target

Cellulosic ethanol continues to be out of reach for commercial use, according to the latest Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS2) requirements set by the Environmental Protection Agency for 2012.

“EPA has essentially reduced the mandate for cellulosic, recognizing the fact that there aren’t supplies out there to meet it,” said USDA chief economist Joe Glauber.

Back in 2007, Congress set a goal of 500 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol to be produced in 2012, but only a very small fraction of that is now expected to come to fruition with a target of just 8.65 million gallons. “The big question that’s been out there for years is ‘when will cellulosic ethanol become profitable?’ said Glauber. “I don’t think anyone sees that coming anytime soon, although a few of these plants are expected to come on line in the coming year, so we’ll see.”

In order to project cellulosic biofuel production for 2012, EPA tracked the progress of over 100 biofuel production facilities, the methodology of which is clearly outlined in the official 97-page final rule document. Companies that EPA determined were likely to produce significant quantities of cellulosic biofuel in 2012 include (with projected ethanol-equivalent gallons):

KiOR – a Mississippi-based renewable crude oil project (4.8 million)
INEOS Bio of Vero Beach – waste to biofuel (3 million)
Fiberight – a waste-to-biofuel project in Blairstown, IA (2 million)
American Process, KL Energy and ZeaChem for a total of less than a million gallons combined.

EPA noted the importance of setting a cellulosic standard that was realistic, yet still encouraged investment in the technology. “Thus while any standard we set for cellulosic biofuel standard for 2012 will have some uncertainty in terms of actual attainment, our intention is to balance such uncertainty with the objective of promoting growth in the industry.”

EPA has set the “advanced biofuels” target for 2012 at 2 billion gallons, much of that being comprised of imported sugarcane ethanol from Brazil.

Read EPA’s full explanation of the RFS2 requirements justification.

USDA Report Shows No Cropland Growth for Ethanol

The amount of land in the United States devoted to growing crops declined between 2002 and 2007, which indicates that increased ethanol production is not using up more land.

usdaAccording to the report, “Major Uses of Land in the United States 2007,” total cropland was down by 34 million acres in 2007 to its lowest level since 1945. Cropland accounted for 18 percent of the total land area in the country – the third largest land use behind forest (30%) and grassland (27%).

Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) president Bob Dinneen said the new report shows increased ethanol production has not resulted in expansion of total U.S. cropland or a decline in grassland and forest.

“Using real data from the real world, this report from USDA shows yet again that U.S. cropland is not expanding in response to increased ethanol demand,” said RFA President Bob Dinneen. “The report also shows that forest and grassland increased dramatically during a period when ethanol production more than tripled.”

The smallest total use of land in the U.S. is urban at 61 million or three percent. However, while urban land use accounts for the smallest percentage, the USDA report shows that it accounts for the biggest increase in land use, quadrupling between 1945 and 2007, increasing at about twice the rate of population growth over
this period. Urban land use increased almost 2 percent from 2002 to 2007.

“It is ironic that the land use debate has fixated on biofuels, when the actual culprit of land conversion has clearly been urban and suburban sprawl,” Dinneen said. “Subdivisions full of mini-mansions, big box stores, shopping malls, and parking lots are encroaching on productive farmland across the country.”

Read the USDA report here.

Ethanol and the Corn Supply-Demand Picture

According to USDA, global corn production for 2011/12 is projected at a new record high of 867.5 million tons, despite a smaller crop here in the U.S.

global cornThe latest World Agricultural Supply Demand report estimates the U.S. crop was down 3.5 million tons this year compared to last year, but foreign corn production is expected to be 43.4 million tons higher, with China alone up 7.3 million tons this month based on the recently released government estimates. USDA is now predicting the 2011/12 season-average farm price for corn will be about 30 cents lower than previous estimates at $5.90 to $6.90 per bushel.

On the demand side, corn for food, seed, and industrial use was lowered 5 million bushels and projected corn ending stocks were increased by 5 million bushels to 848 million. Corn for ethanol use remains unchanged at 5 billion bushels, which is slightly lower than last year, despite the fact that ethanol production this year is on pace to possibly be as much as a billion gallons more than 2010.

As we head into 2012, ethanol is like to be the wild card in the corn demand situation with the expiration of the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC) at the end of this year. “That could potentially change how much ethanol is blended into gasoline,” said USDA chief economist Joe Glauber. “There are mandates in terms of overall production that has to be blended into gasoline, the issue is how much gets produced above and beyond the mandates.” However, industry analysts expect ethanol prices are expected to drop 30-40 cents per gallon at the wholesale level after the blenders tax credit expires, which should serve as an incentive to blend as much if not more.

“Domestically, it will depend on the profitability of ethanol price versus gasoline and whether or not it pays to blend above the mandates,” said Glauber.

Largest Government Purchase of Biofuels Announced

The largest government purchase of biofuels for military application was announced today.

U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack jointly announced that the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) signed a contract to purchase 450,000 gallons of advanced drop-in biofuel.

The biofuel to be purchased is made from a blend of non-food waste (used cooking oil) from the Louisiana-based Dynamic Fuels, LLC, a joint-venture of Tyson Foods, Inc., and Syntroleum Corporation, and algae, produced by Solazyme. The fuel will be used in the U.S. Navy’s demonstration of a Green Strike Group in the summer of 2012 during the Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC), the world’s largest international maritime exercise.

“The Navy has always led the nation in transforming the way we use energy, not because it is popular, but because it makes us better war fighters,” stated Secretary Mabus. “This unprecedented fuel purchase demonstrates the Obama Administration’s commitment to seeking energy security and energy independence by diversifying our energy supply.”

“In March, the President challenged me, Secretary Mabus, and Secretary Steven Chu to work with the private sector to cultivate a competitively-priced—and domestically produced—drop-in biofuel industry that can power not just fighter jets, but also trucks and commercial airliners,” said Secretary Vilsack, “Today’s announcement continues our efforts to meet that challenge. This is not work we can afford to put off for another day.”

The biofuel will be mixed with aviation gas or marine diesel fuel for use in the Green Strike Group demonstration.

Read more from USDA and listen to press conference of the announcement.

USDA Announces Insurance Program for Biofuel Crop

USDAThe U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced a new pilot program of insurance for camelina beginning with the 2012 crop year.

According to a release from USDA, “Camelina is an oilseed crop with the potential to create new renewable energy markets in the United States, generate rural jobs here at home, and decrease America’s dependence on foreign oil. The new pilot program will be available in selected counties in Montana and North Dakota for the 2012 crop year, with a sales closing date of February 1, 2012.”

biofuelsCamelina, an oilseed, is a rotation crop for wheat that can be established on marginally productive land. It is an annual, short season plant. Biofuel from camelina is an ideal jet fuel substitute. USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists have long-term studies underway to examine ways to use camelina as a bioenergy crop for producing jet fuel for the military and the aviation industry. In addition, earlier this year USDA announced two Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) project areas devoted to developing camelina as biofuel in several states, including Montana. USDA is also part of several partnerships to develop oilseeds and native and perennial grasses as a biofuels.

Find out details of the program from USDA.

USDA Announces Biomass to Energy Project Funding

USDAUSDA has announced funding for a series of projects to convert biomass to energy through USDA’s Rural Energy for America program (REAP). The announcement this week concludes 2011 biomass project funding assistance for a total of 52 projects with just over $31 million in grant and loan note guarantees through program.

Among the companies receiving funding is NC-CHP Owner I, LLC of Asheville, N.C., which received a $5 million loan for the installation of a combined heat and power system in Montgomery County. The system will generate steam by using a boiler system powered by wood chips and will also generate 5.25 million kWh of electricity per year. Also in Montgomery County, applicant EWP, LLC will receive a $146,000 grant to install equipment at an existing hydroelectric plant so it can be reopened. The project has the potential to generate an estimated 2.8 million kWh per year.

Other projects to be funded include:

Alaska Alaskan Brewing – $448,366 grant for biofuel from waste grain
Iowa Iowa Firewood Products – $24,232 grant for firewood kiln
Mass. CommonWealth Resource – $49,875 grant for biofuel from waste
S.D. Legend Seeds – $17,035 grant for boiler installation
Tenn. Mountain Wood Products – $500,000 grant for Wood Pellet Processing
Utah Washakie Renewable Energy – $496,750 grant for biofuels pretreatment/ products plant

USDA Funds Algae Fuel Project in New Mexico

USDA has issued a loan guarantee that will allow a biofuels firm to construct a facility in New Mexico to produce “green crude” oil from algae which can be refined into transportation fuel.

The loan is going to Sapphire Energy, which intends to design, build and operate a $135 million integrated algal biorefinery (IABR) in Columbus, N.M., for the production of advanced biofuel that is a “drop-in” replacement for petroleum derived diesel and jet fuel. The IABR will be capable of producing 100 barrels of refined algal oil per day, equivalent to at least one million gallons per year. The oil will be shipped to the United States Gulf Coast to be refined by Sapphire’s refinery partner, Dynamic Fuels, located in Geismar, La.

The funding is provided through USDA’s Biorefinery Assistance Program. On December 3, 2009, USDA issued a conditional commitment for an 80 percent guarantee on a $54.5 million loan. The loan closing and issuance of the Loan Note Guarantee for this project took place on October 21, 2011.

Nebraska Ethanol Coalition to Promote FFV Awareness

A new grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be used to promote flex fuel vehicles, flex fuel pumps, and driver education in Nebraska, one of six states that will be working with the FlexFuel Vehicle Awareness Campaign.

NE EthanolThe Nebraska Ethanol Industry Coalition (NEIC) will be heading up the statewide project with partners including the Nebraska Ethanol Board, the Nebraska Corn Board, the Clean Fuels Foundation, ICM, Poet Ethanol Products, Monsanto, Green Plains Renewable Energy, and Phibro Ethanol Performance Group.

While the FFV Awareness Campaign is an ongoing national effort, this project will concentrate on six states: Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Georgia and Florida. Key elements of the project include working with state motor vehicle departments to inform drivers that they may already have a flex fuel vehicle and how FFV drivers can easily find fueling sites offering high-level ethanol blends. The campaign will also provide an opportunity to educate all drivers on ethanol with respect to performance, emissions, and advantages it provides over gasoline and imported oil.

Todd Sneller, Chairman of the Clean Fuels Development Coalition and Administrator of the Nebraska Ethanol Board, said the project reflects a unique “virtual pipeline” that targets production states like Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas and links them with key markets like Maryland, Georgia, and Florida. “Clearly we are near the saturation point in terms of ethanol blends in conventional vehicles,” said Sneller. “To maintain the renewable fuel standard and move to the next level we need to take advantage of the 9 million FFVs on the road today that can use high level ethanol blends, ranging up to E85. For that to happen drivers need to know their vehicles have this capability and where to find the fuel,” he said.