DOE Announces $36M in Advanced Biofuels & Chemicals Funding

U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced today $36 million in federal grants to fund six small-scale projects in five states designed to produce drop-in advanced biofuels and other bio-based chemicals. Each project’s goal is to improve the economics and efficiency of converting non-food biomass feedstocks into biofuels, bioproducts and biochemicals.

“Projects such as these are helping us to diversify our energy portfolio and decrease our dependence on foreign oil,” said Secretary Chu. “Together with our partners, the Department is working hard to expand the clean energy economy, creating jobs in America and providing sustainable replacements for the fuels and products now provided primarily by petroleum.”

According to Chu, the new round of funding will help diversify DOE’s Biomass Program portfolio to include a breadth of fuels and chemicals beyond cellulosic ethanol. The secondary goal is to ensure that the Department’s research and development on biofuels remains integrated and strategic.

The following projects were selected:

− General Atomics: San Diego, California who was awarded up to $2 million
− Genomatica, Inc., San Diego, California, who was awarded up to $5 million
− Michigan Biotechnology Institute, Lansing, Michigan, who was awarded up to $4.3 million
− HCL CleanTech, Inc., Oxford, North Carolina, who was awarded up to $9 million
− Texas Engineering Experiment Station, College Station, Texas, who was awarded up to $2.3 million
− Virent, Madison, Wisconsin, who was awarded up to $13.4 million

New Propane Station Opens in New York

Geneva, New York is the home of the newest propane autogas fueling station. The station is owned by Phelps Sungas and the conversion took place with the help of Alliance AutoGas. To mark the event, a ceremony was held and on hand were New York State Senator Michael F. Nozzolio, Finger Lakes Regional Director for New York Empire State Development, Bob McNary along with President of Phelps Sungas, Roland Penta who is also the Chairman of the National Propane Gas Association.

“Propane autogas is a clean, cost-effective and domestically produced vehicle fuel that is rapidly growing in popularity with fleets across the country,” said Penta. “Our new fueling station in Geneva is a crucial step toward making American-made autogas more widely available to the public. Not only do vehicles running on autogas experience lower fuel costs, the up-front expense of implementing autogas fueling infrastructure is significantly lower than that of other alternative fuels—making it a much more viable choice for going green while saving some green.”

In other Alliance AutoGas news, the City of West Point, Mississippi plans to convert eight 2009 Ford Crown Victoria police cruisers to propane autogas. To help with the conversions, Alliance AutoGas offers not only vehicle conversions but also on-site fueling and ongoing safety training and technical support.

According to Police Chief Bobby Lane, whose team will be utilizing the converted vehicles, the propane-powered engines are expected to last two-three times longer with projected savings for the city of $26,000 annually.

“The city of West Point is ultimately supporting American energy security by running their police fleet vehicles on autogas,” added Alliance AutoGas representative Mark Denton. “The U.S. autogas supply is more than 90 percent made-in-America, so these officers can feel good knowing they’re helping reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil.”

Affordable Housing Community Dedicates Solar System

Community HousingWorks (CHW) and HelioPower hosted a celebration today for the completion of the first multifamily affordable Solar Housing MASH) project to be completed at Las Serenas, an affordable housing community located in San Diego. The 108-unit neighborhood will receive free solar energy from the solar power system and it is estimated that the energy will offset nearly 20 percent of the residents’ annual electricity bills. Additional improvements will also take place to lower utility bills and create a more sustainable community through a $475,000 federal grant from NeighborWorks America.

MASH Track 2 funds supported the installation of a 67.5 kilowatt (kW) DC solar photovoltaic facility with 100% of its production going to tenants using Virtual Net Metering. The solar facility will offset approximately 1,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) per unit annually, and are estimated to save each tenant over $100 in their yearly electricity expenses. In addition, with the installation of a performance monitoring system for each inverter, CHW and HelioPower modified the system to offer free wireless internet access to all residents.

Congressman Bob Filner (D-Calif.) was the keynote speaker during the event. “I’m excited to celebrate the completion of the solar power system at Las Serenas! With the combined resources of federal funding to NeighborWorks America and California Solar funding, we are investing in the community and promoting the development of renewable energy sources in our own backyards.”

In addition to the free solar energy, the program also provided residents with job training and educational support on all aspects of sustainable living. Other “green” apartment improvements included the installation of low-e, dual paned windows, water-saving tub and kitchen fixtures, and related kitchen and bath repairs.

Community HousingWorks President and CEO Sue Reynolds concluded, “As a leader in sustainable development, CHW knows the value of creating a safe and affordable place for families to live and thrive while at the same time building exceptional and eco-conscious apartments. Today, Las Serenas has accomplished both of these goals!”

Ethanol Industry Criticizes Coburn

The ethanol industry is criticizing Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-OK) amendment to eliminate the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC) immediately. During the past few months, the ethanol industry has acknowledged that the time is near for the tax credit to be phased out and has offered bipartisan plans to phase out VEETC over the next five years. Growth Energy has called his action a “job killing amendment” that would “permit hostile countries to exert influence over our economy by blocking American motorists from choosing the only viable alternative to foreign oil: domestic ethanol.”

“Sen. Coburn filed his legislation within 24 hours of OPEC’s decision to let Americans suffer through high gas prices this summer,” added Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis. “Sen. Coburn clearly doesn’t see the danger of letting Iran, Venezuela and Libya control our economy, but there are other senators who do. Domestic ethanol is the only viable alternative we have to foreign oil. Ironically, Sen. Coburn proposes his legislation to repeal ethanol tax policy just weeks after he helped defeat an effort to cut tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer giveaways to global oil companies who recently received all time record profits at the expense of American motorists.”

This amendment puts Big Oil politics ahead of the best interests of the country, believes Brian Jennings, executive director of the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE). According to opensecrets.org, Coburn received $250,000 in campaign contributions from oil and gas companies since 2005. Jennings says that as a result, Coburn is doing the bidding of Big Oil, which is to effectively raise fuel prices on consumers, put American ethanol jobs in jeopardy and keep America dependent on foreign oil.

Jennings added, “ACE members encourage Senators to vote against the Coburn amendment and support our effort to reform VEETC, promote next-generation biofuels and provide consumers with fuel choice. We also urge Congress to recognize that budget cuts shouldn’t disproportionately discriminate against American ethanol while leaving taxpayers on the hook for hundreds of billions of dollars of subsidies for oil companies.”

The Renewable Fuels Association and Growth Energy are also asking consumers to contact their Senators and ask them to Vote NO on this amendment.

Ford to Triple EV Production by 2013

Ford Motor Company has announced that it will triple its production of electric vehicles (EVs) by 2013. The company plans to invest more in its C-MAX Hybrid and C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid vehicles. In addition, Ford already has on the market the Transit Connect Electric and the Focus Electric will debut later this year. Production of these vehicles is scheduled to begin at the company’s Michigan Assembly Plant in 2012 and will locally source battery packs and electric drive transaxles built by Michigan workers.

“Customers have come to expect fuel efficiency with every new vehicle Ford delivers today, and now we are further differentiating our electrified vehicle lineup with something else people truly value – choice,” said Jim Farley, Ford’s group vice president of Marketing, Sales and Service. “Whether people want a hybrid, a plug-in hybrid or full battery electric vehicle, we have a family of vehicles for them to consider, providing a range of options to best meet their needs and support their driving habits and lifestyles.”

Today, Ford sells approximately 35,000 electrified vehicles a year, led by the Fusion Hybrid and Escape Hybrid. In par with is commitment to EVs, Ford plans to produce more than 100,000 each year by 2013. The new Ford C-MAX five-passenger vehicle, which is the base for the C-MAX Hybrid and C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid, is already a hot seller in Europe. To date, more than 100,000 C-MAX models have been sold in the country since their launch in late 2010. As part of this initiative, Ford will also increase production of these models for the European market.

“European customers are snapping up our C-MAX five-passenger models, telling us they love the vehicle’s sporty appearance, driving quality, interior comfort and clever use of space,” said Farley. “We plan to be aggressive in delivering products like this that people really want and make smart decisions supporting our One Ford plan.”

The C-MAX model launch in North America will signal the first time Ford customers have the choice of a dedicated body style for a range of Ford EVs.

SEPA Releases Utility Solar Rankings Report

The Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) released its 2010 SEPA Utility Solar Rankings report today that details the top utility companies to add solar energy to their portfolios in 2010. More specifically, the report identifies the Top 10 U.S. utilities that added the most new solar power to their systems last year and the Top 10 utilities that added the most solar on a watts-per-customer-served basis. Combined, the Top 10 utilities reported that they added 561 megawatts of new solar capacity, an increase of 100 percent over 2009.

“More and more utilities are integrating solar power into their energy portfolios, including many in states like New Jersey, Idaho and North Carolina,” said Julia Hamm, president and CEO of SEPA. “Solar power has largely been associated only with California and the Southwest, but that’s no longer the case.” In SEPA’s 2008 Rankings report, 75 percent of the new solar capacity was located in California. By contrast, in the 2010 survey, 63 percent of new capacity came from other states. “Utilities nationwide are finding new ways to take advantage of the benefits of solar power for themselves and their customers,” said Ms. Hamm.

The leading utility to add solar energy was Northern California based Pacific Gas and Electric Company with 157 megawatts total. The next two in line were Juno Beach, Florida based Florida Power & Light Company and Public Service Electric Gas Company, based in Newark, New Jersey. Two other trends were identified in the report: a growing number of solar projects are centralized, and more utilities are choosing to own their own solar capacity, rather than rely largely on purchasing solar from independent power producers.

Of the 561 megawatts of solar added last year, 140 megawatts are actually owned by the utilities. “The ownership trend is a truly significant finding,” said Hamm. “It represents a 300 percent increase over the numbers reported in 2009. We expect the growth in utility solar power to continue. Our findings show that utilities are continuing to find new, viable business models for bringing the benefits of solar power to their customers.”

SEPA will host a FREE one-hour webinar to discuss the report on Thursday, June 23, at 2 p.m. Eastern, 11 a.m. Pacific. Click here for more information about the webinar. Registration opens on June 17, 2011.

Ethanol Safety Seminar Coming to Portland

The latest Ethanol Safety Seminar is coming to Portland and will be held on June 15, 2011 at the Portland Community College, Science and Technology Building. The seminar is hosted by the Renewable Fuels Association and the Columbia-Willamette Clean Cities Coalition. There will be two FREE sessions – the first will be from 9:00 am – 2:00 pm and the second will be from 5:30 pm – 10:00 pm. The seminar is targeted to first responders, hazmat teams, safety managers and local emergency planning committees but is also open to the general public. Click here to register.  Attendees will learn about proper training techniques to deploy in case of en ethanol-related emergency.

“Ethanol in our region is now as common as gasoline as it is blended with almost all the gasoline sold. It brings with it many benefits from decreased contaminates, greenhouse gas emissions and health concerns when compared to petroleum,” said Rick Wallace, Coordinator of the Columbia-Willamette Clean Cities Coalition. “Ethanol also has unique properties that first responders need to be aware of so they are well prepared for ethanol related emergencies. This is the perfect chance to get up to speed and it’s the right price, Free!”

Those attending the seminar will gain full ethanol emergency response training that they can immediately use in the field as well as share with other first response teams. A majority of this training is based on the Complete Training Guide to Ethanol Emergency Response, a training package created by the Ethanol Emergency Response Coalition (EERC). Certificates of participation will be distributed to those who complete the full course. Firefighters will be able use the training class towards their annual maintenance requirements, and Portland Community College will be offering CEUs. The seminar will also qualify for one hour for continuing education credits under Miscellaneous EMS Educational Topics.

“With ethanol safety still fresh in the minds of many in Portland, this seminar will provide first responders, hazmat teams and emergency personnel with the critical information they need to quickly and effectively respond to potential incidents involving ethanol,” concluded Robert White, RFA Director of Market Development. “Safety is everyone’s top priority.”

Ethanol Faces Double Attack in Senate

The ethanol industry is facing a double pronged attack in the U.S. Senate.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) went to the floor last night with an amendment to eliminate the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC) immediately, while at the same time Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is proposing to eliminate funding of ethanol infrastructure.

“It is a two-pronged attack, it is designed to stop the growth and evolution of the ethanol industry, it is decidedly anti-farmer, anti-consumer and really leads us down the path toward continued reliance on imported energy and higher prices at the pump,” said Renewable Fuels Association president and CEO Bob Dinneen.

The Coburn amendment is being added to an economic development bill and Dinneen says it has nothing to do with reducing the federal deficit. “This isn’t about fiscal responsibility or his amendment would have included the tens of billions of dollars that taxpayers continue to contribute to oil companies,” said Dinneen.

Dinneen urges ethanol producers, corn growers and anyone who buys gas to call their senators and encourage them to oppose the amendments. “It’s an attack on the nation’s rural economy, it’s an attack on our energy security and it’s an attack on consumers across this country,” he said.

The VEETC is scheduled to expire at the end of this year and the ethanol industry is already working with Congress to develop a phase-out plan that would allow the continued growth and development of the renewable fuel.

Listen to or download Dinneen’s comments here: RFA CEO Bob Dinneen

Corn Acreage Lowered But Record Crop Still Expected

Farmland flooding is taking its toll on the outlook for corn acreage, but record production is still anticipated.

USDAThe latest World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates from USDA out today lowered corn planted area for 2011/12 by 1.5 million acres from March intentions to 90.7 million acres.

“Planting delays through early June in the eastern Corn Belt and northern Plains are expected to reduce planted area, more than offsetting likely gains in the western Corn Belt and central Plains where planting was ahead of normal by mid-May. Harvested area is lowered 1.9 million acres, to 83.2 million with the additional 400,000-acre reduction reflecting early information about May flooding in the lower Ohio and Mississippi River valleys and June flooding along the Missouri River valley.”

The decrease in acreage revised the expected production down 305 million bushels to 13.2 billion, but that would still be 753 million more than last year and a new record, based on a yield of 158.7 bu/acre.

Renewable Fuels Association Vice President of Research and Analysis Geoff Cooper notes that it is still too early to tell for sure how many acres may have been lost to flooding or abandoned due to prevented planting. “The June 30 Acreage Report will provide a much better picture of actual corn acreage,” Cooper said, also pointing out that the projected yield is likely to change as well. “It is extremely early in the season and much will change between now and harvest. Historical data has shown that the weather in July and August is a much more important factor in determining final yields than the planting date.”

Ethanol demand was unchanged in the report at 5.05 billion bushels. Ending stocks for the 2011 crop were reduced from 900 million to 695 million bushels, leading to a 50-cent increase in the projected average farm price for corn.

Human Waste for Biofuels?

Can fecal sludge be used for biofuels? Maybe believes Kartik Chandran an associated professor of Earth and Environmental Engineering at Columbia Engineering. He has recently been awarded a $1.5 million grant from the Gates Foundation to continue his research into a new model for water, sanitation and energy. And this is where fecal sludge, aka poop comes in.

This is not the first time poop has been studied to make fuel. Companies have tried to use the waste from large scale cattle farms and from zoo animals. But this project is a bit different. Chandran is working with Ashley Murray, founder and director of Waste Enterprisers, and Moses Mensah, a Chemical Engineering professor at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, to develop an innovative technology to transform fecal sludge into biodiesel and create the “Next-Generation Urban Sanitation Facility” in Accra, Ghana.

“We are delighted to be awarded this project,” Chandran says. “And we are especially pleased that the Gates Foundation has recognized the critical importance of sustainable sanitation by investing in our pioneering project. Thus far, sanitation approaches have been extremely resource- and energy-intensive and therefore out of reach for some of the world’s poorest but also most at-need populations. This project will allow us to move forward and develop practical technologies that will be of great value around the world.”

Chandran has been working in Ghana for two years as the faculty advisor for the Columbia University Engineers without Borders Ghana team. He and his team have a goal of developing a bioprocess technology to convert the organic compounds present in fecal sludge to biodiesel and methane. In essence, this would convert the waste-processing facility into a state-of-the art biorefinery.

Not only would this biorefinery produce economical fuel but would also minimize the discharge of fecal sludge into the water system contributing to better human health and sanitation. Chandran hopes that once the project is proven successful, it could be integrated into a social enterprise business model that would improve economics and health in areas around the world.

Chandran concluded, “This project also affords a new path in engineering education, both in the United States and Ghana. By training tomorrow’s engineers in sustainable approaches to ‘resource and energy recovery’ rather than ‘wastewater treatment,’ a sea-change can be achieved in the way we perceive of and manage human waste. In fact, the term ‘wastewater’ is already archaic. Wastewater is, after all, just water with a different chemical and biological composition.”