Sales of 85 Percent Ethanol Up in Iowa

Iowa drivers are buying 85 percent ethanol for their flex fuel vehicles.

Iowa RFAAccording to the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA), E85 sales in Iowa increased by 27 percent during the first quarter of 2011 compared to the fourth quarter of 2010. The Iowa Department of Revenue reports that sales of E85 by Iowa retailers reached 2,645,038 gallons during the first three months of this year. Compared to the first quarter of 2010, E85 sales were up 64 percent in 2011.

“Consumers have increasingly sought out E85 as an affordable, homegrown alternative with gasoline prices approaching $4 per gallon,” stated IRFA Executive Director Monte Shaw. “It was especially exciting to see E85 sales increase robustly even as the Iowa E85 retailer tax credit was cut by half on the first of January.”

Since January 1, 2006, Iowa retailers have received a tax credit for each gallon of E85 sold. Under the 2006 law, the E85 tax credit was reduced from 20 cents per gallon to 10 cents per gallon on January 1, 2011. Iowa currently has 142 retail outlets offering E85 and is the leading state in renewable fuels production, with 41 ethanol refineries capable of producing nearly 3.7 billion gallons annually and 12 biodiesel facilities with the capacity to produce 315 million gallons annually.

Biodiesel Board Webinar on Food, Fuel and Land Use

Experts on a National Biodiesel Board webinar Tuesday explained how biofuels production can lead to more efficient and environmentally friendly energy future and help feed the world’s poor.

The on-line event drew more than 100 participants, including government regulators, military personnel, scientists and students. The event was promoted among college students as part of the Next Generation Scientists for Biodiesel effort.

Both Dr. Stephen Kaffka of the University of California/Davis Department of Plant Sciences and Keith Kline with the Center for Bioenergy Sustainability at Oak Ridge National Laboratory talked about how the world can and should produce both food and fuel.

“Biofuel feedstocks or residue use should be considered from a cropping system’s perspective and not just as separate enterprises,” said Kaffka. “It isn’t really a food versus fuel issue but rather a more efficient and environmentally sound cropping system versus those that are less so.”

Kaffka talked about how California has been discounted by the USDA in its Road Map for Biofuels estimate of biomass production per region, but he believes that crops like safflower, which is an oilseed that has a deep root system and can recover residual nitrogen at greater soil depths, could be grown very efficiently and productively in that state. “Some of the crops that might have roles for biodiesel feedstock can have significant agronomic and environmental benefits as well,” he said.

Kline believes that bioenergy done correctly on a global scale could do much to address food insecurity and poverty. “If we can alleviate poverty, we can probably alleviate a lot of food insecurity,” he said. “Some people in Africa have looked at this and concluded that bioenergy is not only compatible with food production but it could also greatly benefit agriculture in Africa.”

Kline says farmers he has talked to in developing countries want to feed their families and have something they can sell. “If they can grow something that’s good for food, and fuel, and fodder and feed, and anything else that you can imagine, it’s all the better,” he added.

You can listen to the whole webinar here.

Nissan Installs 30 Solar EV Chargers at TN Plant

International car manufacturer Nissan North America has begun the installation of 30 solar charging stations at its Smyrna Vehicle Assembly Plant in Franklin, Tennessee. This project is one of dozens that Nissan has invested in the state totaling more than $3.5 billion over 30 years. The solar chargers are designed to charge the Nissan LEAF, an all electric vehicle (EV) that debuted globally last December. Soon, the plant will begin building the LEAF as well as assembling that batteries that power the EV in an advanced, lithium-ion battery plant that is 75 percent complete. It is expected to be operation in the Fall of 2012.

“Tennessee is Nissan’s home in the Americas region,” said Carlos Tavares, chairman, Nissan Americas. “These solar-assisted charging stations demonstrate our dedication to a zero-emissions society, and our dedication to bringing innovation to our home in Tennessee. Nissan in the coming year will expand our manufacturing presence, enhance our philanthropic efforts and make new additions to our headquarters operations, all in Tennessee.”

Interestingly, the solar charging station employs the same lithium-ion battery that also powers the LEAF. This project not only allows Nissan to study the battery’s storage capacity, but also demonstrates a second-life opportunity for lithium-ion batteries beyond their use in automotive applications.

The U.S. Department of Energy is funding the stations through a matching grant. In addition, Nissan will share the usage and technical data from the solar chargers with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Tennessee Valley Authority for further study.

UPS Begins Using Biodiesel at U.S. Hub

UPS is now using biodiesel blends at its Louisville, Kentucky hub. The company recently installed a biodiesel fuel tank and fueling station at its Worldport facility. This will enable fuel operators to blend specific percentages of biodiesel starting from a B5 blend (5% biodiesel, 95% diesel) up to B20. Biodiesel blends of up to B20 can be used in any diesel engine without any modifications.

The 30,000 gallon biodiesel tank and station at Worldport fuels nearly 200 vehicles and diesel equipment, most of which help load packages on and off the planes. Worldport is the size of 80 football fields and each day loads 100 airplanes and processes 416,000 packages an hour.

“There is a finite amount of petroleum-based fuel available from our planet so it is important that UPS and other companies invest in ways to use alternative fuels and technologies, including biodiesel,” said Scott Wicker, UPS Chief Sustainability officer. “This project helps us reduce our dependence on fossil fuels with the added benefit that it will also reduce air pollution and carbon emissions.”

Joe Jobe, CEO of the National Biodiesel Board considers UPS’s switch to biodiesel “monumental”.

“For a giant like UPS to use biodiesel is not only an outstanding vote of confidence for biodiesel, but an example of how America’s first advanced biofuel will fuel the drive towards genuine corporate sustainability,” said Jobe.

Quantum Awarded $1.37M PHEV Grant

Quantum Fuel System Technologies Worldwide has been awarded a $1.37 million grant by the California Energy Commission (CEC) for launching a new generation of plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV) systems. The goal of the program is to develop technology that will accelerate the adoption of PHEVs by way of improved operational efficiencies and reduced cost. The monies will be used for product validation and to set up a pilot production line to accelerate launching of the new generation of hybrid electric products being developed at Quantum’s Advanced Technology Center located in Lake Forest, California.

“We thank CEC for their continued support of innovation in clean energy technologies that helps to increase America’s competitiveness and create jobs,” said Alan P. Niedzwiecki, the President and CEO of Quantum. “We are excited about the potential of our new generation products that have a chance to change the way we drive.”

Quantum has developed the Q-Drive™ PHEV system that powers the Fisker Karma, a high performance luxury sedan that was developed by Fisker Automotive. Fisker is a partnership between Quantum and Fisker Coachbuild.

In other news, Quantum recently launched a PHEV F150 truck that incorporates its Quantum PHEV drive called F-Drive. Although the company did not release this information about the F150, I have confirmed from a company representative that it is also a flex-fuel vehicle with the ability to use up to E85 (85% ethanol, 15% gas). To my knowledge, this would be the second PHEV – FFV available with the Chevy Volt being the first of its kind to market.

BIOfuel From Algae Technologies Project Launched

A new international project is kicking off to produce biofuels from algae. The BIOfuel From Algae Technologies (BIOFAT) project is supported by nine partners based in seven countries and the goal is to show that ethanol, biodiesel and bioproducts call all be produced at large scale from algae. Algae supporters believe algal biofuels can be produced in an efficient, economic and environmentally sustainable way and the BIOFAT team intends to prove this with the algorefinery – a facility that can produce high-value co-products in addition to biofuels.

Abengoa Bioenergy’s subsidiary Abengoa Bioenergia Nuevas Tecnologias (ABNT) will be the coordinator for the project. According to BIOFAT, the project will be carried out by a transnational consortium drawn from the academic, industrial and public sectors that includes the University of Florence (IT), A4F-AlgaFuel (PT), Ben-Gurion University (IL), Fotosintetica & Microbiologica (IT), Evodos (NL), AlgoSource Technologies (FR), IN SRL (IT) and Hart Energy (BE). Consortium members were selected to provide research diversity and expertise to the project.

In addition to creating algal biofuels, the BIOFAT project will also demonstrate the integration of the entire value chain in the production of ethanol and biodiesel. The research process will begin with strain selection and proceed to biological optimization of the culture media, monitored algae cultivation, low energy harvesting, and finally technology integration. Training will take place on existing microalgae prototypes in Israel, Portugal and Italy, then scale up the process at a 10-hectare demonstration plant. The project is expected to last four years and produce about 900 tons of algae annually on the 10-hectare plant.

Ag Secretary Promotes 85 Percent Ethanol

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was in Nashville, Tennessee Monday visiting Thorntons Convenience Store E-85 fueling station to highlight the importance of moving toward a clean energy economy and decreasing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.

“Flex-fuel pumps give Americans a choice to purchase domestically produced renewable transportation fuels,” Vilsack said. “The Obama Administration is working to transform the United States into a global clean energy leader because transportation fuels created from a wide variety of renewable energy sources will create a new generation of jobs here at home, reduce dependence on foreign oil and enhance our national security.”

In April, Secretary Vilsack announced a series of initiatives to help farmers and rural small businesses implement renewable energy systems and become more energy efficient. One of those initiatives allows USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) to now make funding available for flexible fuel pumps, sometimes referred to as “blender pumps.” This is expected to encourage fuel station owners to invest the capital necessary to give American motorists the option of selecting the blend of renewable fuel that meets their needs. The Obama administration has set a goal of installing 10,000 flexible fuel pumps nationwide within 5 years.

Read more from USDA.

Survey Says Consumers Consider Ethanol A Green Product

In a study released by Genencor during the BIO World Congress in Toronto, when U.S. consumers were asked to name a product they considered green, 39 percent of them named ethanol first and 31 percent of Canadian respondents also named ethanol as a green product. This is just one of results discovered in the Genencor Household Sustainability Index that researched the market potential for “green” household products with environmental benefits.

In addition, the study found that four in 10 American consumers and about a third of Canadian consumers have already heard the term “biobased” to describe various products including fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel, as well as cleaning and personal care products and clothing.

“I think very clearly that they know what a green product is, but haven’t yet made the link on how we’re going to make those products green and how important biobased products are going to be,” said Tjerk de Ruiter, CEO of Genencor.

“It was very interesting to see that ethanol was at the top of the list. Now of course we were very pleased with that because ethanol is such an important product and such an important marketplace for us,” said de Ruiter. “But it also shows that the consumer really starts to buy in to the concept of the importance of home produced fuels and really the contribution that ethanol is delivering to the economy.”

Listen to my interview with Tjerk de Ruiter here: Genencor Household Sustainability Index

I asked de Ruiter how biobased enzymes, such as their product, differed from what we’ve seen in the past. “When you work with a biobased organism, you can continuously improve. If we look at the enzyme systems we have today, they are a lot more efficient allowing you to extract a lot more alcohol, or ethanol, out of the product itself, and quite often at lower temperatures and in the process reducing energy use,” said de Ruiter.

Other products consumers found to be green were detergents, cosmetics and some clothing. The survey will be used to create a baseline to determine if “biobased” products become better understood, accepted and adopted by consumers. Click here to learn more.

Click here to see photos from the 2011 BIO World Congress.

Ethanol Industry Agrees With Pawlenty

Announcing his candidacy for the president in the heart of ethanol country, Republican Tim Pawlenty, former governor of Minnesota, made headlines Monday for his comments on phasing out ethanol subsidies, but the real story is that the industry agrees with him.

“The hard truth is there are no longer any sacred programs,” Pawlenty said. “The truth about federal energy subsidies — including federal subsidies for ethanol — is that they need to be phased out. We need to do it gradually. We need to do it fairly, but we need to do it.”

Pawlenty stressed his strong support for ethanol. “The industry has made large investments and it wouldn’t be fair to pull the rug out from under them immediately, but we must face the truth that if we want to invite more competition, more investment and more innovation in the industry, we need to get the government out,” he added.

Listen to Pawlenty’s comments regarding ethanol here: Candidate Pawlenty on Ethanol

In response, Iowa Renewable Fuels Association President Walt Wendland, CEO of two Iowa ethanol companies, said the ethanol industry is on board with the reform and phase down of the current ethanol incentive as part of the discussion on all energy programs as proposed by Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley. “Governor Pawlenty’s remarks today appear to be in line with Sen. Grassley’s approach for ethanol reform,” Wendland said, noting that the governor pointed out that energy incentive reforms must be across the board. “We agree that the massive amount of federally funded petroleum incentives must be a part of any reform discussion. Iowans look forward to Gov. Pawlenty further detailing his plans to ‘phase out’ petroleum subsidies, perhaps in a speech in Houston, Texas.”

American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) Executive Vice President Brian Jennings says Pawlenty’s stance on ethanol mirrors the thoughts of many ethanol supporters.

“The U.S. ethanol industry has been working proactively with the White House and both Senate and Congressional leaders on reforming the ethanol tax incentive by reducing its cost and emphasizing consumer fuel choice,” Jennings said. “We appreciate Governor Pawlenty’s position that there are no sacred programs and that all energy subsidies, particularly oil tax subsidies, need to be changed, because the U.S. can no longer afford them.”

Pawlenty is a Minnesota native who served two terms as that state’s governor. His official announcement kicked off a campaign this week that will include stops in Florida, New Hampshire, New York and Washington D.C..

Osage Bio Energy On the Sales Block

Osage Bio Energy has announced its board of directors will sell the company. Osage has also decided not to begin production at its Appomattox Bio Energy ethanol plant in Hopewell, Virginia that had originally been scheduled to be online in May of 2010. The company was to use barley as its primary feedstock. As a result of this action, the company will implement a reduction in force effective May 25, 2011. A core team of employees will continue to work at the plant to help facilitate the sale and maintain the condition of the assets for prospective buyers.

“Osage Bio Energy would like to recognize and acknowledge the efforts of the many employees, community leaders and supporters that came together to develop this project over the past few years,” said Heather Scott, company spokesperson. “Appomattox Bio Energy is a first of its kind facility in the United States and represents a unique opportunity for multi-feedstock ethanol production to its future owner.”

While not mentioned in the press release, the company had a major set-back when last September several explosions occurred at the plant forcing pre-production activities to come to a halt. Just in the past two weeks, the city of Hopewell began legal actions to recoup loss of tax revenue that was anticipated to be nearly $2.19 million. The city is looking at a nearly $600,000 budget shortfall from the anticipated tax revenues that would have kicked in once the plant went into production.

Osage Bio Energy, founded in 2007, said its Hopewell, Virginia plant is fully functional and production ready with the capacity to produce 65 million gallons of ethanol per year.