Biodico Awarded Net Zero Farm CEC Grant

Biodico has received a $1.2 million grant from the California Energy Commission (CEC) to help fund its Zero Net Energy Farms project, which would enable farms to generate all electrical and heating power needs from on-site renewable resources. The monies were awarded under CEC’s Electric Program Investment Charge Challenge, a program designed to help develop advanced energy communities. Biodico is matching CEC funds and its Net Energy Farms project will be undertaken at Red Rock Ranch in Five Points, California and will be designed to combine solar cogeneration, wind turbines, anaerobic digestion and gasification.

1199bb48ee9b5be6644cbaf6b474ce71_CEC-grant2-863-430-c“The Zero Net Energy Farms project leverages Biodico’s proprietary technology to create an energy-efficient farm by utilizing economically viable solutions,” said Biodico President and Founder Russ Teall. “Our goal is to establish a template for ranches, farms and other agricultural interests throughout California’s Central Valley and beyond. This project comes at a particularly important time as California’s agricultural community searches for more efficient ways to produce, process and store more than 400 food, fiber, flora and fuel crops, not to mention convert biomass into electricity, as biomass power plants continue to close.”

Teall continued, “Equally important is the water-energy nexus—the production of on-site renewable energy reduces the consumption of water used to produce grid-based utility energy. As California agriculture continues to suffer the impact of water constraints, this has become extremely important.”

“There is a great need today for establishing a rational business case for tomorrow’s energy efficient farm,” added JJ Rothgery, chairman of the board at Biodico. “A Zero Net Energy Farm will help diversify power production and reduce the reliance on fossil fuels and water to generate electricity. The incorporation of these technologies will also enhance local economic development by providing jobs and an increased tax base.”

Movie Review – Thirsty Land Debuts at #Water4Food

As a hush came over the theater last night and the lights went down for the opening scene of the documentary Thirsty Land, the sound of rain pounding on the roof served as background noise. A bit ironic. Especially in light of meeting a community in California that has run out of water.

DSC_0077Thirsty Land, directed and produced by Conrad Weaver, focuses on the multi-year drought facing California, Washington and other southwestern states. The documentary debuted as part of the Water for Food Global Conference taking place April 24-26 in Lincoln Nebraska at the Nebraska Innovation Campus.

Maybe the biggest impact the drought has had is not to consumers, but to hundreds of farmers in California who were given no water allocation for the 2015 growing season. This has led to hundreds of thousands of acres of fallow agricultural land, much of which used to produce much of America’s produce, fruits and nuts. Yes, consumers, no water = no food. No water = no life. For anyone.

Why must I make this obvious statement? Because as water shortages become more common, there has been a call for agriculture to reduce its use of water. Approximately 70 percent of all water used globally is for agriculture. Farmers are feeling the pressure of lack of water while trying to grow safe, healthy food and more of it. A resonating message in the film from the farmers is “Stop vilifying us. Stop vilifying agriculture. We need to work together to solve water problems, not play the blame game”.

A truer statement was not uttered. Farmers intrinsically understand the value of water and have been some of the first in the country to begin integrating water sustainability and conservation programs. Thirsty Land follows the journey of growers who share their stories of how water shortages have affected operations from dairy farmers to fruit producers to sheep producers. The film follows the farmers as they try to find solutions to get through the drier years; yet still produce enough food to keep the farm in operation all while putting conversation programs in place for future drier years.

DSC_0085There are some very touching stories in the film – especially around the town in California with no water while the documentary was being filmed. Weaver said they did get access to water again earlier this year but it’s still spoty, at best. The cinematography is stunning in places and there is even a horrific beauty in the shots of deep cracked earth and the dying environment.

While the documentary is about the unbreakable connection of water and food, it is really a film not for the agriculture industry, says Weaver, but for consumers. Weaver stresses there is a need for consumers to better understand the dynamics of water and food and thus, become more supportive of water programs that put agriculture first.

Thirsty Land will be playing in cities across the country and on college campuses this fall. Please go see this film when it comes to your community or campus. If it is not scheduled, then consider hosting a screening. And consider donating funds to get this film in front of as many consumers across the country as possible.

To learn more about the film, the experiences of the filmmaker and why he feels Thirsty Land is so important, listen to my interview with Conrad Weaver here: Conrad Weaver, Thirsty Land Producer & Director

Pacific Ethanol Improves Production Efficiency

Pacific Ethanol logoPacific Ethanol is reporting they have signed a technology license and purchase agreement with Whitefox Technologies. According to the agreement, Pacific Ethanol will be adopting Whitefox’s clean fuel membrane system that will separate water from ethanol during the plant’s distillation process. The ethanol plant expects commercial operations using the new technology in the third quarter of 2016.

Neil Koehler, Pacific Ethanol’s president and CEO noted, “We are pleased to be a first mover with an innovative technology that integrates well into our existing system. Whitefox’s technology is designed to increase operating efficiencies, lower production costs, and reduce the carbon intensity of ethanol produced at our Madera facility.”

whitefox_logoLast May the two companies announced the delivery of a stand-alone, container-based membrane system to the ethanol plant located in Madera, California. Since delivery, Pacific has been testing the technology. The results found the clean fuel membrane reduced the consumption of water and energy, reduced emissions during the production of ethanol all while increasing ethanol output.

“After an extensive trial period, our Whitefox ICE Solution was shown to remove bottlenecks and improve ethanol production efficiency at the Pacific Ethanol Madera plant,” said Whitefox’s CEO Gillian Harrison. “We are pleased Pacific Ethanol chose our membrane technology to provide them with a key competitive advantage in the industry and we look forward to an ongoing collaborative relationship.”

POM Wonderful Extends Partnership w/Greenbelt

POM Wonderful, the largest grower and producer of fresh pomegranates and pomegranate juice in the U.S., has extended its feedstock testing contract with Greenbelt Resources Corporation. Earlier this year, Greenbelt announced its confidential testing program, and the company has now released the news that POM Wonderful was one of its first clients.

© Olhaafanasieva | Dreamstime.com - Ripe Pomegranates On A Rustic Table

© Olhaafanasieva | Dreamstime.com – Ripe Pomegranates On A Rustic Table

Using Greenbelt’s technology, the initial tests have successfully demonstrated the viability of two feedstocks to be converted into fuel, filtered water, and other valuable co-products, according to Greenbelt CEO Darren Eng.  Pomegranate husk waste from POM Wonderful juicing operations is one of these viable feedstocks.

“Based on preliminary testing results, our calculations predict a likely ten-fold to possibly more than twenty-fold increase in per-ton-value of POM’s pomegranate husks through the integration of a Greenbelt system,” said Floyd Butterfield, CTO of Greenbelt Resources. “Our Solution has the potential benefit of being both sustainable and revenue generating.”

POM Wonderful recently commenced the next level of Greenbelt Resources feedstock testing service: Commercial-Scale Feedstock Testing (CSFT). CSFT entails running several truckload-sized batches to test multiple variables and their myriad impacts on process efficiency. The purpose of CSFT, says Butterfield, is to obtain data necessary for designing a specific system for a specific scenario in a specific location. The goal is to generate data from which an efficient system can be designed and its cost estimated.

Eng added, “POM Wonderful is a world class operation and a market leader with an ideal waste stream for use as a feedstock. Their commitment to the testing process and basing decisions on sound science, allows us to explore system tweaks designed to maximize value.”

Michigan State IDs Water Usage by Biomass Crops

Researchers at Michigan State University have identified the amount of water used by some key biomass crops. This article from the school says the study, titled, “Comparative water use by maize, perennial crops, restored prairie and poplar trees in the U.S. Midwest,” recently published by Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC), lead authored by Michigan State University professor Steve Hamilton, provides a new perspective on how planting different biomass crop species might impact terrestrial water balances.
WaterUseGraph
There were six biofuel species in this study including corn, switchgrass, miscanthus, a five species grass mix, an 18 species restored prairie mix and hybrid poplar. Four years of data are reported, which include a drought year (2012) and three years of near normal rainfall.

The climate and soils of rain-fed systems in the upper Midwest may limit crop productivity based on water availability. Two key questions were answered with this study:

How much water does each crop use?
Which crops are most efficient in converting water to biomass?

Water use

Average [evapotranspiration] (ET) over the four-year period showed the perennial cropping systems were not much different from the annual crop of corn. Mean growing-season ET increased in the following order: miscanthus < poplar < corn < prairie < switchgrass < native grass (Table 1), although the range of values was only about 4.5 inches. Notice that miscanthus and poplar trees had the lowest ET during the drought year of 2012. Previously, it was expected that perennial crops would require significantly more water, which could have deleterious effects at the watershed scale. This data disputes that theory and shows that planting perennial crops in the landscape with our climate and soils would not have significant adverse impacts.

Biofuel Perennial Crops Could Use Less Water

A new research report from the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) finds that perennial crops grown on marginal land for biofuel use could use comparable water to that of corn. The report looked at how these crops could affect the balance of water between rainfall inputs, evaporation losses, and movement of soil water to the groundwater. The report cites that in humid climates such as the U.S. Midwest, evaporation returns more than half of the annual precipitation to the atmosphere, with the remainder available to recharge groundwater and maintain stream flow and lake levels.

The study, led by GLBRC scientist and Michigan State University professor of ecosystem ecology Stephen Hamilton, is a multi-year effort to compare the water use of conventional corn crops to the perennial cropping systems of switchgrass, miscanthus, native grasses, restored prairies, and hybrid poplar trees, feedstocks currently under review for use as biofuel crops.

Michigan State University; (R) Stephen Hamilton, professor of ecosystem ecology at Michigan State University and GLBRC researcher. Photo by John W. Poole, NPR.

Michigan State University; (R) Stephen Hamilton, professor of ecosystem ecology at Michigan State University and GLBRC researcher. Photo by John W. Poole, NPR.

“When we established the different cropping systems in 2008,” said Hamilton, “we installed soil-water sensors at various depths through the root zone. We’ve been continuously monitoring the soil water content ever since.”

To measure the rate of evapotranspiration occurring within each cropping system, soil-water sensors are used. Evapotranspiration refers to the sum total of water lost while the plant is growing, either from evaporation through the plant stem itself (a process called “transpiration”), or from water evaporated off of the plant’s leaves or the ground. By measuring the amount of precipitation that has fallen against actual soil water content, Hamilton said it’s possible to quantify the water lost to evapotranspiration while each crop is growing.

In a finding that contrasts sharply with earlier modeling studies that found particularly high perennial water use in areas with high water tables, the report finds that the perennial system’s evapotranspiration did not differ greatly from corn. Hamilton’s study, however, took place in Michigan’s temperate humid climate and on the kind of well-drained soil characteristic of marginal farming land.

Hamilton and his team also measured the water use efficiency (WUE) of each crop, calculating which plants grew the most biomass with the least amount of evapotranspiration. Miscanthus had the highest WUE, then corn, followed by poplar, native grasses, and prairie.

Wave Energy Prize Entrants Move Forward

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) wave energy competition is moving toward the next phase with 92 teams. The Wave Energy Prize is a design-build-test competition encouraging the development of better innovations for wave energy conversion (WEC) devices that will double energy capture. When this is achieved, costs will be reduced making wave energy more competitive with established energy technologies.

The 91 American teams and one team from Denmark official will now begin working to double the energy captured from ocean waves and win a prize purse totaling more than $2 million.

“We’re extremely pleased with both the quantity of teams and the diversity of participants reflecting broad expertise from so many established companies in the ocean energy space, universities, anWave Energy Prize logod newcomers to the industry,” said Julie Zona, Wave Energy Prize administrator. “The composition of the participating teams truly demonstrates one of the benefits of a prize challenge, which is to encourage the inclusion of new perspectives. We’re very hopeful that the diverse backgrounds of these teams will help lead to the Prize’s goal of achieving game-changing performance enhancements to wave energy technologies.”

Team names and background information on the official registered teams can be found on the Wave Energy Prize website.

Kyocera Dedicates Floating Mega Solar Plants

1.7MW floating solar power plant at Nishihira Pond 1Kyocera Corporation and Century Tokyo Leasing Corporation’s joint venture Kyocera TCL Solar has completed construction of two floating mega-solar power plants at Nishihira Pond and Higashihira Pond in Kato City, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan. The plants will generate an estimated 3,300 megawatt hours (MWh) per year.

The solar modules are 255-watt Kyocera modules with 11,256 used in total for the project that began in September 2014 and was officially completed in March 2015. The electricity generated will be sold to the local utility, The Kansai Electric Power Company through Japan’s feed-in tariff system.

1.7MW floating solar power plant at Nishihira Pond 2According to Kyocera TCL Solar, there are several benefits of the floating mega solar power plants:

  1. Floating solar power generating systems typically generate more electricity than ground-mount and rooftop systems due to the cooling effect of the water.
  2. They reduce reservoir water evaporation and algae growth by shading the water.
  3. Floating platforms are 100% recyclable, utilizing high-density polyethylene, which can withstand ultraviolet rays and resists corrosion.
  4. The floating platforms are designed and engineered to withstand extreme physical stress, including typhoon conditions.

CH2M Hill Involved In Seawater Bioenergy Facility

A pilot-scale bioenergy facility that will use seawater irrigated desert land to produce both bioenergy and food in the water is under development in Masdar City. The Integrated Seawater Energy and Agriculture System (ISEAS) involves a complete seawater agricultural system that will serve as a research and development facility for Masdar Institute (MI) of Science and Technology and the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium (SBRC). The project is expected to be operational in late summer.

Dr. Alejandro Ríos, Director, Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium, noted, “This project has potential for groundbreaking innovation, particularly considering the unique conditions in Abu Dhabi’s environment. CH2M HILL has assembled a world-class team of engineers to tackle this very interesting challenge, and we at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology are confident that the engineering expertise that has gone into the design of the pilot facility will enable such innovation.”

Growing_sustainable_sbrc_enCH2M HILL was commissioned last year to provide technical support and to design a sophisticated pilot-scale facility of the ISEAS on designated land in Masdar City. CH2M HILL said they worked closely during the design phase with MI and SBRC to refine the technical aspects of the new facility, with the intention of an innovative sustainable system that will serve as a research and development facility for MI and SBRC.

A significant aspect of the new pilot-scale facility is the use of seawater to produce water stock to grow seafood, mainly fish and shrimp, (aquaculture) for human consumption and Salicornia plants for fuel and byproduct production. The plants thrive in arid, desert conditions and do not require fresh water or arable land to grow. The effluent is diverted into cultivated mangroves that are used for water treatment and biomass production, removing nutrients and providing valuable carbon storage.

“CH2M HILL is proud of our involvement with this notable pilot research project and of our successful partnership with MI and the SBRC. The project team has not only created an innovative biofuel project to address challenges of energy and water security, but is also playing an essential role in supporting the advancement of sustainable biofuel research in the UAE,” said Neil Reynolds, CH2M HILL’s regional managing irector for Middle East, North Africa and India (MENAI).

Pioneering Solar-Powered H2O Desalination Plant

misc logosAbengoa has been selected by Advanced Water Technology (AWT) to jointly develop a large-scale desalination plant powered by solar energy. The plant will be located in Saudi Arabia and the according to AWT, when complete will the first and largest of its kind in the world. It will produce 60,000 m3 of water each day to supply Al Khafji City in North Eastern Saudi Arabia, ensuring a constant water supply throughout the year.

According to Abengoa, the photovoltaic plant will be capable of supplying the power required by the desalination process, significantly reducing the operational costs. It will also have a system to optimize power consumption and a pre-treatment phase to reduce the high level of salinity and the oils and fats that are present in the region’s seawater.

The Al Khafji desalination plant will ensure the stable supply of drinking water, contributing to the country’s socio-economic development. As in other cities in Saudi Arabia, water is a scarce resource. Abengoa and AWT will supply the local population with water needs in a sustainable and reliable way.