How to Decrease Algae Culture “Crashes”

Arizona State University through a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is studying the factors involved in algal crop failure known as culture “crashes.” Grazing zooplankton are considered predators to algae and can cause loss of productivity. According to scientist Qiang Hu and his research team, except for a few algal strains that can tolerate extreme growing environments, the hazard of predator contamination is so great that sustainable cultivation of many algal crops, in particular, oil-producing algal strains on a large-scale, has not been possible.

Hu is the co-director of the Arizona Center for Algal Technology and Innovation (AzCATI) / Laboratory for Algae Research and Biotechnology (LARB). He says that the cost of crop failures could be in the multi-million dollar range if zooplankton have their way. Zooplankton are microscopic animals that are often identified as amoebas, protozoans, ciliates and rotifers. All are predators on microscopic algae, which represent the base of the aquatic food chain.

“Without a detailed understanding of the factors influencing the occurrence, population dynamics, impact and control of zooplankton, it could potentially prevent algae from being a practical source of oil crops for production of bioenergy and bioproducts,” says Hu.

The team is just getting started in its study and they plan to survey zooplankton contamination in commercial algal production systems, as well as in their own algae testbed facilities located at ASU Polytechnic campus. Simultaneously, the team will determine living and non-living influencers on zooplankton, with the goal of developing an empirical model for assessment and prediction of potential impact of zooplankton contamination on overall algal culture stability and biomass production potential.

The team will use state-of-the-art bio-imaging and DNA fingerprinting techniques to help them develop a rapid, sensitive monitoring and an early warning system. At the same time, they will evaluate several innovative control measures, and ultimately develop a Best Management Practices Plan (BMPP) for prevention and treatment.

“The comprehensive BMPP will be the key to achieve sustainable production of algal feedstock, and thus enable successful commercialization of algae-based biofuels and bioproducts,” explains Hu.

“Results from the research plan to be shared widely with the biotechnology community and the algal biofuels industry, through publications and conference presentations, as well as workshops and training courses provided by LARB and AzCATI.

REG Says 2011 RVOs Can Be Met

This year is poised to be a great year for the biodiesel industry. The EPA upheld the Renewable Volume Obligation (RVO) for this year and along with the return of the tax credit, the industry is busy getting back online and producing quality fuel.

However, despite the RVO, there are still some challenges that need to be addressed to ensure success and during USDA Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s visit to REG’s biodiesel facility in Newton, Iowa, these challenges were discussed along with solutions.

I sat down with REG President and COO, Daniel Oh, to learn more about what it will take from the biodiesel industry, the obligated parties and agencies such as EPA to ensure the country’s goals are met.

Listen to my full interview with Daniel Oh: REG's Daniel Oh Talks RVOs

“Well its early days in the year. As we look at national biodiesel data we don’t yet see the volume being purchased that if you extrapolate that, would cause the obligation that the obligated parties have to buy biodiesel to be fully completed by the end of the year,” said Oh. “Now this doesn’t concern us in that we see volumes increasing every month. However, the obligated parties have different positions and in good faith I think they’re all trying to comply but some of them have the distribution base to buy biodiesel others don’t. Some are figuring out how to sell. Some are even trying to figure out how to even purchase and handle biodiesel.”

Oh continued, “So what we really need moving ahead is to get to a point over the next two-to-three years where we have a new market equilibrium. Where those plants that deserve to be around and our highly competitive, produce great fuel, are running at high utilization and the obligated parties are being served in low cost efficient way. In this year, what we really need to see is greater buying sooner so that the right plants can get up and running and provide the RINS (Renewable Identification Numbers) that are necessary for the full year obligation.”

Oh noted that the obligated parties are their customers and they are delighted to serve them. He said that what REG is doing all day is providing them with not only a compliance opportunity but also the opportunity for energy security, cleaner air and lower carbon emissions. Continue reading

DF Cast: Researchers, Advocates Clash on Algae Biodiesel Feasibility

Some researchers say that, at current production levels, algae biodiesel is not a commercially viable product. But some algae advocates believe researchers might have some ulterior motives for coming to that conclusion.

One of the study’s authors, Dr. Peter Pfromm, a professor in Kansas State University’s department of chemical engineering, says that while they found that it’s possible to produce enough biodiesel to make it a net energy gain over the amount of energy that goes into the green fuel’s production, it won’t make money. In fact, he says the algae would have to produce perhaps three times the amount of oil it currently does in order for algae-for-biodiesel production to be economically feasible, and it would take a pond 11 square kilometers big just to grow enough algae for the green fuel to replace just .1 percent of this nation’s diesel use. Pfromm says the real work needs to go into boosting the level of oil output from the algae.

But But Barry Cohen, the executive director of the advocacy group, the National Algae Association, says Pfromm is not looking at real-world conditions, and Cohen says Pfromm’s assumption that the algae would be grown in open ponds is an old, out-dated technology, and most algae growers are using vertical photo bioreactors and fermenters. He also contends that algae researchers have a financial reason for not seeing algae commercialized as the U.S. Department of Energy is only funding research, not production, done on algae-biodiesel. He says that if researchers ever found a way to make algae-biodiesel commercially viable, that federal money for the research would dry up.

Pfromm says they received no outside money, especially no DOE money, for this project.

Hear more of what both men had to say here: Domestic Fuel Cast

You can also subscribe to the DomesticFuel Cast here.:

Protec Fuel Opens Two E85 Stations in Florida

Protec Fuel is celebrating the opening of two new E85 stations in South Florida this week, one in Delray Beach and one in Cooper City.

“We are very pleased that our Gold Coast region will now have an additional two service stations featuring E85 alternative fuel. Reliance on domestic fuel rather than foreign fuel is one of our primary objectives,” said Christine Heshmati, Coordinator of the Florida Gold Coast Clean Cities Coalition.

The Sunoco station in Delray Beach will hold a ribbon cutting and press event beginning at 10:30 am with representatives from the Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce, local government, Protec Fuel, the Renewable Fuels Association and the Gold Coast Clean Cities Coalition. Following that, the station will feature a promotion offering E85 for Flexible Fuel Vehicles (FFVs) for 85 cents less than regular unleaded from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. The Shell facility in Cooper City will have a press event at 3:30 pm with local dignitaries and company representatives and offer discount fuel for FFVs from 4 p.m. until 6 p.m.

“The owners of both stations are true entrepreneurs in their field, being the first to supply E85 to the public in both cities,” said Protec Fuel’s Managing Member, Todd Garner. “Florida has hundreds of thousands of flex-fuel drivers looking for choices with near record gas prices, and now thanks to Jesse Sims and Matthew Bernstein, they will have more,” added Robert White, Director of Market Development for the Renewable Fuels Association.

The blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline can be used in over 9 million flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs) across the U.S.

International Energy Agency Supports Biofuels Roadmap

Biofuels can provide up to 27% of world transportation fuel by 2050, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

ieaThe report says that “the widespread deployment of biofuels can play an important role in reducing CO2 emissions in the transport sector and enhancing energy security, when produced sustainably.”

With the transportation sector growing considerably, and demand for transport fuels rising globally, the IEA assesses biofuels – liquid and gaseous fuels derived from biomass (organic material derived from plants and animals) – as one of the key technologies to reduce CO2 emissions and reduce dependency on liquid transport fuels. The report shows how global biofuel consumption can increase in a sustainable way – one in which production of biofuels brings significant life cycle environmental benefits and does not compromise food security – from 55 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe) today to 750 Mtoe in 2050; this would mean that the global share of biofuel in total transport fuel would grow from 2% today to 27% in 2050.

According to Bo Diczfalusy, the IEA’s Director of Sustainable Energy Policy, this means that biofuels “will eventually provide one fifth of emission reductions in the transport sector.”

Bliss Baker with the Global Renewable Fuels Alliance (GRFA) says the report’s findings confirm that biofuels can reduce GHG emissions and improve energy security without jeopardizing food security, “(The) report reaffirmed the GRFA’s long standing principle that through the development of new technology and refined industry practices, biofuels can help secure the world’s energy future,” said Baker. “The GRFA also endorses another key IEA action to guarantee funding and support so that advanced biofuel technologies can reach commercial production in the next 10 years and demonstrate their ability to achieve cost and sustainability targets.”

Read the full report here.

ACE Teams with Fuel Ethanol Workshop

The American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) has teamed up with BBI International to better serve the ethanol industry as part of the International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo (FEW).

fuel ethanol workshopIn recent years, ACE paired its annual conference with a trade show. This year, to better serve ACE members, ACE will partner with BBI as a Supporting Organization for the FEW, allowing ethanol industry suppliers and plant operators to concentrate on one trade show, and giving ACE the opportunity to focus its efforts on continuing to provide a valuable conference event. ACE will continue to hold its annual conference separate from FEW.

american coalition ethanol“ACE is proud to partner with BBI and pleased to support one industry exposition at the FEW,” said Brian Jennings, Executive Vice President of ACE. “Both organizations have a longstanding history of offering first-class events to the ethanol industry, and we believe this partnership will continue to strengthen the industry as a whole.”

The International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo will take place June 27-30, 2011 in Indianapolis, IN and the ACE Conference will be held August 22-24, 2011 in Des Moines, IA.

Rural America Will Provide Energy Solutions

There are advanced biofuels on the horizon and one such fuel will be algae fuels produced from the waste streams of a first generation corn-ethanol plant. In the future, many believe that more co-located biofuel refineries are on the way and the model will be the Green Plains Renewable Energy (GPRE) / BioProcess Algae plants. BioProcess Algae is in the final stages to commercialization and last week dedicated its Grower Harvester bioreactors and announced plans for its algae farm. On hand for the event was USDA Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, who gave the keynote speech during the event.

Vilsack stressed several key issues and one was the need to revitalize rural America and create innovative and creative jobs to bring our bright, young people back home. Today, 16 percent of our country’s population comes from rural areas like Shenandoah, Iowa, the home of the biofuels project, and 44 percent of our military comes from these areas.

“I am a great believer in American ingenuity,” began Vilsack. “I’m a great believer in the capacity of the American farmer and rancher to literally meet any challenge.”

Vilsack believes that projects such as BioProcess Algae will spread across the country and rural communities. “There’s phenomenal innovation and phenomenal growth opportunities to be able to do something for your country that needs to be done and that’s to wean ourselves off of our dependence on foreign oil,” continued Vilsack. “It’s an opportunity for us to create jobs in small towns. It’s an opportunity for American agriculture to continue to respond to the challenges it has met time after time in the country.”

Vilsack highlighted that rural America is the source for our food, most of our water and an ever increasing amount of our fuel. The algae component of the biofuels project uses carbon dioxide, waste heat and waste water from the corn ethanol plant, recycling nutrients and resources in a more efficient way. Both the corn ethanol process and soon the algae fuel process will provide food, feed and fiber.

There are four components that Vilsack believes are the secret for success in revitalizing the rural economy: significant investment dollars, innovation, networking, and a sense of place. Vilsack said these are the reasons why the USDA was supporting this project.

He concluded, “I want to congratulate the folks at BioProcess Algae and I want to congratulate the ethanol industry and the advanced biofuels industry for coming together in this operation because it’s a model for the rest of the country and it sends a strong unmistakable message the ethanol industry and the biofuels industry is here to stay and is going to play an important role in shaping not just opportunity for America but very specifically a wonderful opportunity, an unlimited opportunity for the bright young people who want to live, and work and raise their family in the greatest part of America.”

Click here to view the Flickr photo album from the BioProcess Algae/GPRE Grower Harvester event.

Military Will Buy Biofuels But Won’t Drive Market

The U.S. military plans to up its share of biofuels, including biodiesel and ethanol, by nearly a billion gallons over the next few years.

But this article from Biofuels Digest says officials warn that won’t be enough to be the sole driver in the market:

Mark Iden of the Defense Logistics Agency confirmed that the US government proposed to purchase several hundred million gallons of drop-in advanced biofuels by 2016, citing an expected demand of 336 million gallons from the Navy and 587 million gallons from the Air Force.

But Iden, likened the government, although a large customer, to a large commercial airline in terms of purchasing power, and cautioned biofuels producers that the Department of Defense would be a large buyer but not in enough quantity to “singlehandedly drive a market.”

Meanwhile, Navy officials say they will be undertaking a “biorefinery development analysis” to gauge the Navy’s participation in green fuels development.

NBB: For Earth Day, Biodiesel Friendly Destinations

As we sit on the eve of Earth Day (Friday, April 22, 2011), our friends at the National Biodiesel Board have pointed out several tourist destinations that are friendly to the environment by using the green fuel biodiesel:

“Green tourism is more popular than ever, and biodiesel’s ease-of-use and greenhouse gas reductions have made it a big part of that movement,” said Joe Jobe, National Biodiesel Board CEO.

Here are a few of the tourist destinations where you can find biodiesel running behind the scenes:

* Orlando, Fla.: This family vacation hotspot has many choices for biodiesel-supported tourism, from the Jaws Ride at Universal Studios to the LYNX city transit system, which uses 20 percent biodiesel (B20) in all of its diesel buses. The Orlando area is also home to the next National Biodiesel Conference & Expo, Feb. 5 – 8!

* Central Park: The New York City Parks & Recreation Department is leading a green revolution in the Big Apple. The agency maintains more than 29,000 acres in New York City, including such well-known venues as Central Park, Battery Park, Flushing Meadows, Coney Island and more. Since 2006, the Parks Department’s diesel fleet has run on B20. The Parks Department also uses B20 for 95 percent of heating oil sites.

Continue reading

CARD Revisits History of Ethanol and Corn Prices

A new report from the Iowa State University Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) revisits history to look at the impact of ethanol and ethanol subsidies on corn prices.

cardThe analysis by Bruce Babcock and Jacinto Fabiosa uses a computer model to “rewrite history” by re-creating what actually happened in agricultural markets then removing government incentives to produce and consume corn ethanol. To further isolate the effects of ethanol on commodity prices, they also ran a scenario where ethanol production was frozen at 2004 levels.

In summary, this is what they discovered:

First, the general pattern of corn prices that we saw in the historical period—increasing prices in in 2006 and 2007, a price spike in 2008, followed by a sharp price decline in 2009—would have occurred without ethanol subsidies or even if corn ethanol production had not expanded. Second, investor fervor for corn ethanol in 2005, 2006, and 2007 would have occurred even without subsidies because a combination of cheap corn, a phase-out of MTBE, and higher crude oil prices made ethanol profitable. Thus, ethanol production would have expanded quite rapidly even without subsidies.

Using the 2004 corn price of $2.06 per bushel as a reference, actual corn prices increased by an average of $1.65 per bushel from 2006 to 2009. Only 14 cents (8%) of this increase was due to ethanol subsidies. Another 45 cents of the increase was due to market-based expansion of the corn ethanol industry. Together, expansion of corn ethanol from subsidies and market forces accounted for 32% of the average increase that we saw in corn prices from 2006 to 2009. All other market factors accounted for 68% of the corn price increase.

Renewable Fuels Association
Vice President of Research and Analysis Geoff Cooper provides some thoughts on the CARD analysis in a new E-xchange blog post.