Ethanol Safety Seminar Aug. 3 in Indiana

The next Ethanol Safety Seminar will be held on August 3rd, in Indianapolis, Indiana. The event is sponsored by the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) and the Greater Indiana Clean Cities. This free seminar will be offered during two sessions: 9:00 am – 2:00 pm and 5:30 pm – 10:00 pm, at the Indiana Soybean Alliance/Indiana Corn Marketing Council. Attendees will learn about proper training techniques that first responders and hazmat personnel need to understand to properly respond to any ethanol-related emergency. Although the seminar is targeted to first responders, hazmat teams, safety managers, and local emergency planning committees, the general public is also welcome. Indiana is one of the top five ethanol producing states.

“The Greater Indiana Clean Cities has worked with fleets, both public and private, for more than ten years to implement alternative fuels and advanced transportation technologies,” said Kellie Walsh, executive director of the Greater Indiana Clean Cities. “As the use of these fuels and technologies expand across Indiana, ensuring our first responders are adequately prepared to respond to incidents involving these fuels is critical. We are pleased to partner with the Renewable Fuels Association to host this training session, focusing on ethanol safety, the third such event our Coalition has hosted in the past five years.”

The training is based on materials created by the Ethanol Emergency Response Coalition (EERC) and certificates of participation will be given to those who complete the course. Areas of training include firefighting foam principles and ethanol, ethanol blended fuel emergencies and response tactics for tank farm and bulk storage emergencies.

Robert White, director of market development for RFA added, “This fuel [ethanol] is transported via rail and truck to numerous fueling and storage locations throughout the state and country. It is important first responders and plant safety personnel are prepared in case of an ethanol related emergency. We are happy to provide the information they need to respond efficiently and effectively to an incident.”

Click here to register.

Book Review – The Vertical Farm

I switched gears this week and spent some time learning about ways the world can feed a burgeoning population. One emerging idea is through a “vertical farm,” an idea that has been promoted by Dr. Dickson Despommier, a former professor of microbiology and public health in environmental sciences at Columbia. He recently authored, “The Vertical Farm Feeding the World in the 21st Century,” which lays out the idea of growing our food vertically in greenhouse skyscrapers, rather than spread out over hundreds of millions of acres of farmland.

This idea has really captured my fancy and got my head spinning around all the ways it could be carried out. But let me take a step back. Today, our food travels on average 1,500 miles from field to table. Crazy. Much of our produce and fruits come from places like Mexico and South America. Wouldn’t it be cool if they could come from your own city?

That is exactly what Despommier is promoting. In the middle of an urban area could be a “vertical farm” that grows produce, fruits and grains and houses things such as fish farms. These future farms would grow our food year round while the excess waste, or biomass could be used to produce bioelectricity and biofuels. In fact, Despommier says that in some cases, a vertical farm could have up to five harvests per year.

He writes that ideally, they would be cheap to build, modular, durable, easily maintained, and safe to operate. A vertical farm would mitigate external influences on crops such as too much rain or drought and disease along with the need for fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. Vertical farms would provide well-paying jobs and improve economics. He also believes they should be independent of economic subsidies and outside support once they are up and running and they should be profitable. Continue reading

Solar Project in Greece Features Yingli PV Panels

I ran into Yingli Green Energy during the InterSolar North America conference a few weeks back in San Francisco. Today Yingli Solar, the brand that the company markets its photovoltaic (PV) products under, announced that its PV modules were installed in the largest solar plant in Greece. Yes, it would be odd if a solar plant did not create its energy from solar but strangely enough this happens. The 10 megawatt (MW) utility-scale solar project is located in Larisa and is estimated to produce enough solar power to energize nearly 3,700 homes.

The project was developed by Selected Textiles S.A., a Greece-based textiles group, through its wholly owned subsidiary, Selected Energy S.A., which specializes in the development and operation of renewable energy sources projects including solar and biomass energy. The construction company was Biosar Energy S.A., also a Greece-based solar system specialist that in addition offers maintenance and management services. The project was financed on a long term, non-recourse basis from the Project Finance team of Piraeus Bank. Piraeus Bank Group is the leading bank in Greece in green business financings.

“We are pleased to cooperate with STIAFILCO and Biosar to complete the largest solar plant in Greece,” said Mr. Liansheng Miao, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Yingli Green Energy. “Because of the country’s favorable natural solar irradiance and the Greek government’s strong commitment to renewable energy, Greece is considered an important market for PV. We continue to see increasing demand for our premium-quality solar products, which further confirms our leadership position in this market.”

Synterra Energy Takes Commericalization Step Forward

Synterra Energy has taken a step forward in bringing advanced biofuels to commercial scale with the merger of Pacific Renewable Fuels and Chemicals and Red Lion Bio-Energy. Synterra will now own key intellectual property and assets designed for waste biomass conversion. This announcement signals the company’s move to commercial scale production of renewable fuels, chemicals and power from waste biomass from in integrated biorefinery.

“The Red Lion thermochemical conversion system and the Pacific Renewable Fuels and Chemicals catalytic synthesis process are industry leading technologies in their own right,” said Robert Schuetzle, CEO of Synterra Energy, Inc. “The integration of our two technologies creates a seamless proprietary biomass conversion system under a single commercial provider. The resultant innovative process integration is a design that provides process efficiencies, lowers unit capital cost, reduces the risk of securing adequate feedstock supplies, and mitigates technology risk of mixing and matching multiple platforms from separate process vendors.”

Synterra was awarded a $25 million DOE grant back in 2009 to demonstrate the commercial readiness of its integrated biorefinery technologies (IBR). Shortly thereafter, the 30-barrel per day demonstration project was initiated as the third scale up of its technologies. The company says it is able to produce biofuels, bioenergy and biochemicals with less impact on the environment and higher energy efficiencies as compared to other technologies. For example, the company says its synthetic diesel is a high-quality, zero-sulfur drop-in renewable fuel that has 89 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions than petroleum derived diesel fuel.

“Synterra Energy and its legacy organizations, Pacific Renewable Fuels and Chemicals and Red Lion Bio-Energy, have recruited top technical and business veterans from the alternative energy, petrochemical, multi modal transportation and logistics, catalyst, and environmental industries with extensive experience in research, development, demonstration and commercialization of new technologies,” added Alex Johnson, the company’s Chairman. “With this talented team of professionals, Synterra’s integrated approach to process design and experience in modularization of distributed plants, we have a compelling formula for further commercial success.”

Solar Project Completed in Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park’s new 700 kW solar system is now in operation. The project was completed by Suntrek Industries and incorporates over 2,800 solar panels that are estimated to produce 800,000 kilowatt hours of energy per year. The company collaborated on the project with the National Park Service, Taylor Teter and PIA and today all were on hand to celebrate the “flip of the switch” to solar power.

Suntrek project manager Alex Smith said, “Yosemite is the jewel of our National Park system and Suntrek Industries, Inc. could not be prouder of the fact that efforts of the NPS and the solar energy teams to design and build this project went without a hitch. We designed the systems so that we could produce clean solar energy from roof tops, car ports, construction yard walls, and the façade of the building itself. This was an architecturally diverse project for everyone to admire and all the components are made in the USA.”

The majority of the solar energy produced will be used to power the maintenance facility. The building walls faced South and are also at an angle making them ideal for solar panels. However, with limited space available the solar power team needed to be creative when designing the system.

Yosemite National Park Superintendent Don Neubacher added, “This energy-saving photovoltaic project reflects Yosemite National Park’s commitment to sustainable and renewable energy sources.”

Regulatory Hurdles Hurting Success of Advanced Biofuels

Biobutanol may be the fuel to help achieve the mandates set out in the Renewable Fuel Standard. This according to new research from the University of Illinois. The report, “Making Regulatory Innovation Keep Pace with Technological Innovation,” says that regulatory hurdles “abound” for the successful commercialization of advanced biofuels and argues regulatory innovations are needed to keep pace with technological innovation. The research was conducted through the BP-funded Energy Biosciences Institute and will be published in the upcoming issue of Wisconsin Law Review.

The research was conducted by University of Illinois law professor Jay P. Kesan along with regulatory associate Timothy A. Slating with the University of Illinois Energy Biosciences Institute. Kesan said, “Getting regulatory approval for new biofuels is currently a time-consuming and costly process. By removing some of the uncertainty and some of the expense without compromising on the regulatory concerns, you are also removing some of the disincentives to entering the biofuel market, where we need more competition.”

The paper promotes biobutanol as a good driver for advanced biofuels. The reasons are threefold: it is compatible with existing vehicles engines, it is compatible with existing fuel distribution infrastructure and has a higher energy content than ethanol. A car fueled with biobutanol could drive roughly 30 percent farther than if fueled with the same amount of ethanol.

“Biobutanol is a really promising biofuel, and has the potential to further the policy decisions that have already been made by Congress,” Kesan continued. This is not a hypothetical situation. We have companies currently building the capacity to produce biobutanol.” The three leading companies in this area are Butamax, Cobalt and Gevo, who are all in some phase of moving from demonstration phases to commercialization.

The research reviewed two major policies: the Renewable Fuel Standard and the Clean Air Act. The Clean Air Act is actually the regulatory framework for moving new fuels and fuel additives to approval. Continue reading

SDSU Studies Production of Biochar, Bio-Oil from Biomass

South Dakota State University (SDSU) is researching the future, one is which rural landscapes would no longer be dotted with grain elevators but rather with pyrolysis plants that would convert energy crops to fuel or “bio-oil”. This bio-oil would be passed along to other refiniries to produce products such as drop-in fuels or biochemicals while the plants would recycle the syngas produced during the process into an emerging product – biochar. Biochar can be integrated into the soil to help rebuild soil nutrition and sequester carbon.

The USDA has given SDSU a $1 million grant, $200,000 for the next five years, to help scientists design a feedstock production system for optimum energy production of bio-oil while also exploring the possible benefits of biochar.

“We’re looking at this from a whole system approach, and we’re looking at various components in this whole system,” said SDSU professor Tom Schumacher, the project director “Historically, the distributive nature of crop production gave rise to a network of grain elevators to separate and coordinate the flow of grain to the processing industry. A network of rail lines added new infrastructure to improve efficiency. For lignocellulosic feedstocks, a corollary to the grain elevator would be a collection point that would be within 10 to 30 miles of production fields.”

The purpose of the collection points is to receive, sort, pre-process or process feedstocks using pyrolysis. Pyrolysis uses high temperatures in the absence of oxygen to break down organic materials. This technology produces both a bio-oil as well as syngas that can be used to fuel the plant, and biochar. The biochar would be tested in fields around the plant to see how it performs in repairing soil health and as a carbon capture technology.

More specifically, the SDSU study will use a technique called microwave pyrolysis that heats the feedstock by exciting the individual molecules, making it very accurate and easy to control. They will then study how the biochar performs when varying the pyrolysis processing parameters. The feedstocks that will be tested include corn stover, switchgrass and wood biomass.

“There’s a lot that’s unknown about specific types of biochar,” said Schumacher. “There is no single characteristic that can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of biochars. Biochar’s pH and other characteristics can vary widely depending on what feedstock and process was used to produce it. That could make biochar beneficial to the environment, neutral, or possibly even harmful, depending on its characteristics.”

Arabian American Development Inks Deal with Gevo

Gevo has inked a deal with Arabian American Development Co. to build a hydrocarbon processing demonstration plant at its South Hampton Resources, Inc. subsidiary located in Silsbee, Texas. Arabian will also provide toll-processing services that will result in the processing of up to 10,000 gallons of isobutanol per month into a variety of renewable hydrocarbon biomaterials including jet fuel, isooctane for gasoline, isooctene and paraxylene for polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Toll processing, or toll manufacturing is when a company (Arabian) with specialized equipment manufacturers a product on behalf of another company (Gevo).

According to Gevo, this strategy will allow them to supply early adopters with product in order for them to test the materials, make sample products and begin sales. The contract is for two years and the demonstration plant should be complete by the end of this year.

“This contract is the successful culmination of one of several toll-processing opportunities on which we have been working. Gevo is developing exciting new technology and we’re pleased to be part of this value chain,” said Nick Carter, President and CEO of South Hampton Resources. “We believe this is a sustainable partnership as Gevo expects to demonstrate the viability of renewable hydrocarbons in a variety of market applications. That would pave the way for a larger market development plant, which, in turn, expands opportunities and should drive additional demand for our toll-processing services.”

Carter added, “In addition, the new processing facility will continue to expand our capabilities into the renewable energy market. Our largest contributor to date in this field is our C5 product that is being utilized as the working fluid in closed loop geothermal generators with a top US geothermal company.”

How About Them Government Regulations

Not surprisingly you’re worried about government regulations. We asked the question, “Are you worried about how government regulations will hurt your business?” 76% say yes and 24% no. This is a big part of the rhetoric in Washington, DC right now, along with the debt ceiling and budget. All I can say is, “Get off my back Mr. Government Man!”

Our new ZimmPoll is now live. We’re asking the question, “Do you own an iPad or other type of tablet?” Apps continue to be created to perform helpful agricultural functions. So let us know if you’ve made the investment. Thanks.

ZimmPoll is sponsored by Rhea+Kaiser, a full-service advertising/public relations agency.

Just How Big is a Wind Turbine?

I’ve been traveling around the country quite a bit this summer and I can’t get over the growth of the wind industry. On a few occasions I’ve watched components of wind turbines pass me by and I’ve always wanted to get up close just to see how big these blades and the base really are. Well now I know. I pulled over at a rest stop in Davenport, Iowa on Monday and there were four trucks carrying wind turbine blades parked in the lot and boy were they creating interest.

So just how big are these blades? I walked from tip to tip and it took me 39 seconds walking at a normal pace. Here is a video of my journey. BTW – the song is called “Wind Energy Song” and was written by Monty Harper. Here are some of the lyrics:

This is the sun shining down on Earth.

This is the warmth of the
sun shining down on Earth.

This is the air rising up through the
warmth of the
sun shining down on Earth.

This is the wind blowing in beneath the
air rising up through the
warmth of the
sun shining down on Earth.

This is the rotor spinning in the
wind blowing in beneath the
air rising up through the
warmth of the
sun shining down on Earth.

I also took photos as I was driving (don’t try this in the car!) and I have pictures of a wind farm off of 1-80 Iowa. Did you know that Iowa is the second leading state for wind power generation behind Texas? The state is also the leader in renewable energy – 20 percent of Iowa’s power comes from renewable resources. Take that California! I also took pictures of a wind farm in off of 1-74 in Illinois. Click here to see my Summer 2011 photo album.