Loss of DOE Loan Gurantee Program “Would Be A Tragedy”

There is a lot of action in the “Beltway” these days surrounding biofuels. One such conversation is around the fate of the Department of Energy (DOE) Loan Guarantee Program. A group of policy makers want to end the program, which right now is funded with Reinvestment and Recovery monies. However, energy companies, such as Pleasanton, California-based Fulcrum Bioenergy, would be dead in the water. CEO Jim Macias said if this program ends “it would be a tragedy.” Not only for his company, but for the entire alternative energy industry as a whole.

Fulcrum Bioenergy is in the process of building a waste-to-ethanol plant just outside of Reno, Nevada using ordinary household garbage and converting it to ethanol, electricity and biochemicals. The plant is fully permitted, engineered and equity financed and the company is in the final stages of documentation to close on a DOE Loan Guarantee that is the final piece for their financing. Once that piece is in place, Fulcrum will start construction and begin producing renewable ethanol at the end of 2012. It is important to note that Fulcrum has been working on the DOE loan for more than 2 years.

When the first plant in Reno is complete, it will produce 10 million gallons of ethanol per year and 16 megawatts of electricity. From there, Fulcrum plans to roll out 20 more sites, already selected, and Macias said the feedstock contracts are already in place. When these 20 sites are in production, they will produce 1 billion gallons of ethanol per year from garbage.

Yet if the DOE Loan Guarantee program gets axed not only would his project die, but any project that has been awarded DOE Loan Guarantees since 2009 would lose their funding.

“It’s very challenging for first-of-a-kind commercial plants to to get fully funded in normal economic times, and federal support for new technologies like this, loan guarantees play a very valuable role in closing the funding gap. We’ve raised all the equity capital to construct it including coverage for potential overruns, and the DOE loan guarantee provides a very important step to help these emerging technologies.”

Macias said its important for emerging technologies to receive government support during good economic times, but even more critical now due to the lack of capital fund and bank credit caused by the ongoing recession. He stressed that the loan guarantee program has played a critical role in helping these technologies that are ready for commercial demonstration to get there.

Macias concluded that if the DOE Loan Guarantee Program is rescinded, it would set back the industry. He also said it would be “devastating to breaking our [America’s] dependence on imported oil and reducing the price of oil.”

You can listen to my full interview with Fulcrum Bioenergy CEO, Jim Macias here: Jim Macias Discusses DOE Loan Guarantee Program

VG Energy Retains BioProcess Algae For Project

VG Energy, a subsidiary of Viral Genetics, has hired BioProcess Algae to verify the lab results for its biofuel process. VG Energy is preparing to take its process to commercial scale. On the pilot scale level, the company’s proprietary technology has produced algal-biofuels at prices they believe will be competitive with or better than current oil prices. However, before they make that claim at commercial scale production, VG Energy is looking for third-party scientific verification.

“VG Energy’s technology has shown great promise as a viable and cost-effective additive for alternative energy sources,” said Haig Keledjian, CEO of VG Energy and Viral Genetics. “We are thrilled to be working with BioProcess Algae to take the next steps and move from the laboratory to a viable production setting.”

VG Energy’s SVP Monica Ord facilitated the partnership that she said came together very quickly.

“I have Richard Branson and Mike Willis from Virgin Green to thank for the introduction to Green Plains Renewable Energy (GPRE) and BioProcess Algae,” said Ord. “We have repeated our proof of principle research studies multiple times, internally and through Texas A&M, which have clearly demonstrated the effectiveness of the compound on a small scale. Bioprocess Algae gives us the ability to move quickly into full autotrophic, mixotrophic and heterotrophic scale-up studies, and we are excited to begin.”

Dr. Karen Newell Rogers, lead researcher for VG Energy, discovered a process that increases lipid production in algae cells and considerably improves their rate of recyclability. More specifically, when Metabolic Disruption Technology (MDT) is applied to algae cells, the cells stored more lipids, or fat and production was increased by 300 percent or more. In addition, the process enables algae cells to release fats outside its cell walls making more of the algae recyclable.

The research was conducted with the help of Raleigh R. White, Jr. Endowed Professor of Surgical Research at Texas A&M Health Sciences Center and Scott and White Hospital in Temple, Texas. In a modeling study by biofuels expert John Sheehan, it was shown that several different production techniques are enhanced by VG Energy’s process, and the improvement shows potential for lower-cost algal fuels.

Solix Secures $16M in Financing, Changes Name

Solix Biofuels has announced that they have received more than $16 million from inside investors in the first part of its Series B round of financing. The monies will be used to drive the commercialization of the company’s algae growth system, the AGS, that utilizes Solix’s proprietary high-productivity photobioreactors. Investors include Bohemian Ventures, The Southern Ute Alternative Energy Fund and I2BF Global Ventures.

In tandem with the infusion of funds, Solix is changing its name to Solix BioSystems. The company says this name change better reflects its role as a leading provider of algae production systems.

“This new round of financing from current investors demonstrates their continued excitement and support for our progress,” said Joel Butler, Solix’s Chief Executive Officer. “Solix is poised to launch its first commercial AGS product into the market. With our focus on providing customers with algae production systems, Solix BioSystems better reflects the Company’s objectives.”

Suncor Expands Ethanol Capacity in Canada

Alberta-based Suncor Energy has completed expansion of its St. Clair ethanol facility in Ontario, doubling the plant’s production capacity from 200 to 400 million litres of ethanol per year and making it Canada’s largest biofuel production facility.

“The St. Clair Ethanol Plant is the platform for growth of Suncor’s biofuels portfolio, and our successful expansion of the plant’s capacity not only reinforces our commitment to increasing renewable energy options in Canada but builds on the strength of our relationship with the St. Clair Township and the Sarnia-Lambton Region,” said Jim Provias, vice-president, Renewable Energy.

Government representatives joined Suncor executives and local stakeholders at the event recognizing the completion of the $120-million expansion project. The expansion created approximately 250 construction jobs and the plant now supports 63 full time office and operating staff. The St. Clair base plant opened in June 2006.

The Canadian Renewable Fuels Association praised Suncor Energy’s newly expanded St. Clair ethanol plant as proof of the tangible benefits of developing home grown renewable fuels in Canada.

“Suncor’s early pioneering efforts in renewable fuels are now delivering real results,” said Mr. Gordon Quaiattini, President of the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association. “This state-of-the-art ethanol facility is creating new jobs, developing new rural opportunities and adding valuable new supplies of energy. It is also helping protect our planet for future generations.”

Suncor is one of the largest players in renewable energy in Canada. The expanded St. Clair Ethanol Plant, along with Suncor’s investment in four operating wind power projects across Canada, is expected to displace the equivalent of nearly one million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year – the equivalent of the annual tailpipe emissions of approximately 200,000 cars. Two additional Suncor wind power projects are currently under construction and scheduled for completion in 2011. Construction on the 88 megawatt (MW) Wintering Hills wind power project in Southern Alberta, which began in the second half of 2010, is expected to be completed by the end of 2011. At peak operation the project is expected to generate enough electricity to power approximately 35,000 Alberta homes and displace 200,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year. In addition, a 20 MW project is currently under construction west of Thamesville, Ontario and is expected to be completed by mid 2011.

Propel Fuels CEO Gets Biofuels Leadership Award

Propel Fuels CEO Matt Horton was recently honored with the Biofuels Leadership Award at the 3rd Annual Sustainable Biofuels Awards presented at the World Biofuels Markets Congress and Exhibition in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

The award honors an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the development of the biofuels industry and Horton was recognized for “providing thousands of drivers with convenient access to low-carbon, domestic fuels through Propel’s growing network of renewable fuel stations.”

The Sustainable Biofuels Awards coincide with the annual World Biofuels Markets conference, drawing the world’s leaders from across the biofuels industry including infrastructure, advanced fuel research, producers, and policy. Awards are voted on by an independent judging panel that considers the greenhouse gas savings, environmental impact and further benefits of the operations or technology of the nominees.

Friends of the Earth Biofools Day Nominees

Friends of the Earth (FOE) has announced this year’s nominees for the organization’s “Biofool of the Year” award. Among the nominees are the publishers of Domestic Fuel, myself and my husband/partner Chuck Zimmerman.

The award was established by FOE “to recognize leaders that promote dirty biofuels” – especially corn ethanol – and was won last year by then House Agriculture Committee chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN). The first year it was Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant. This year’s nominees also include Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), General Wesley Clark, and Secretary Tom Vilsack. It’s a great honor to be included in such company.

Here is what FOE has to say about us:

This dynamic duo are a pair of bloggers who lead the group ZimmComm New Media and provide a big platform for the ethanol industry’s talking points. Each day, on a series of blogs – hosted by the Zimmermans (DomesticFuel, AgWired ) or by the corn ethanol industry itself (CornCommentary) – Cindy and Chuck critique anyone who may disagree with the ethanol industry’s line while practically cutting and pasting press releases from industry lobby groups. The Zimmermans are unabashedly pro-industry, with clients such as Growth Energy, the Renewable Fuels Association, the National Biodiesel Board and Syngenta. What’s more, many of their employees are previous employees of the biofuels industry lobby groups like Growth Energy. Now — Friends of the Earth has nothing against a pro-industry website (in principle), but the problem with the Zimmermans is that on the surface they pretend to be “reporters,” when in fact they act as industry hacks.

Just a couple points of clarification. First, we have no employees. We have freelance writers who contribute to our websites and other freelancers who do other work for us. One of our freelancers did work for Growth Energy, she now works for Protec Fuel and while she continues to do work for us in other areas, she does very little posting at this time. Another freelancer, Joanna Schroeder, worked for EPIC when we got to know her, but she now has her own company and does work for a variety of clients, including us. You can find our more about us and our company on the About page.

We support and believe in the use of biofuels for our country, as well as other forms of alternative energy – and even utilizing more of our country’s own oil reserves. We are diametrically opposed to organizations and individuals who criticize and attack the people who produce this nation’s food, fiber, AND fuel. If that makes us biofools, then we are proud to be!

Demand for Biodiesel Heating Oil Expands NY Terminal

Maybe it was the tough winter, but New Yorkers are loving them some biodiesel mixed with heating oil, better known as Bioheat. And that has led to the expansion of a renewable fuel providers’ capacity at a nearby fuel terminal.

This article from Biodiesel Magazine
says this past winter’s record demand for Bioheat has prompted Ultra Green Energy Services Inc. to expand its operations at the New Hyde Park Fuel Terminal in New Hyde Park, N.Y., by increasing railcar storage capacity by 30 percent. Owned and operated by Hart Petroleum, it is the lone operating rail-to-rack terminal dedicated to biofuels on Long Island:

According to Michael Cooper, director of sales and trading for UGES, the impetus for the rail expansion came as a result from record demand for Bioheat from customers during the most recent winter months. As a result, Cooper said UGES worked with the New York and Atlantic Railway (NY&A) to add more track for the addition of seven railcars that will help meet the demand.

“A railcar comes in every seven minutes at 70 miles per hour there,” Cooper told Biodiesel Magazine. He said UGES plans on adding 10 more railcars to the New Hyde Park terminal.

The New Hyde Park terminal is capable of storing B100 in a separate 40,000-gallon tank equipped with computerized in-line blending systems that ensure concise biodiesel and/or Bioheat blend levels, from B2 to B99, based on customer needs, according to Danny Falcone, wholesale manager for UGES.

“The demand is coming now,” Falcone said. “We could always truck product directly to the terminal, but obviously rail is the most efficient way to do it because of the access to it. The idea is to keep growing and storing product for the demand to be met at a ratable price indexed to a heating oil market that’s done every day with the petroleum market.”

Most of the biodiesel passing through the terminal is made from yellow grease and used cooking oils.

Fed Incentives Could Help Biomass Suppliers, Customers

While the idea of providing biomass to biorefineries and power plants seems like an idea that has some profit potential, some suppliers, and more accurately, potential suppliers, might find the prospect a bit daunting.

Biomass Power and Thermal Magazine
says folks who want to become involved in the biomass supply chain can get some help on how to use federal incentives to maximize their profit potentials during a seminar at the upcoming 2011 International Biomass Conference & Expo, May 2-5 in St. Louis, Mo. Timothy Baye, a business development professor at the University of Wisconsin-Extension, will be speaking on the subject:

“It’s all about risk,” Baye said “It’s all going to be about managing the perceived risk, especially in response to the due diligence requirements of commercial debt. Commercial debt is still going to drive the process.”

“Recognize that you may have drunk the Kool-Aid,” Baye said, “but the equity and debt markets haven’t necessarily come from the same punch bowl.”

With commercial debt, in addition to equity potentially coming back as a hedge to help finance biomass projects, prospective developers will likely lean on federally driven incentives, such as the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, which encourages greater volumes of biomass to enter the supply chain and increases the various types that can contribute to downstream products. Created in the 2008 Farm Bill and swiftly implemented as a pilot program, BCAP was designed to stimulate new crops for renewable energy feedstocks. The biomass industry has since seen several revisions and amendments specifically as it relates to guidance on what types of biomass qualify under the program, how suppliers and biomass conversion facilities (BCFs) are paid and other measures such as appropriate land stewardship practices for aggregating various types of feedstock.

Daniel Simon, partner with Washington, D.C.-based law firm Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll LLP, will explain where BCAP stands in terms of how biomass suppliers and their customers can capitalize on the prescribed benefits.

For more information and registration, just go to the conference’s website, www.biomassconference.com.

Montana Biodiesel Research Facing Budget Cuts

State funding for a biodiesel research facility in Montana could be on the chopping block.

This story from TV station KXLH in Helena says the cut would hit the Montana State University-Northern lab in Havre:

Five years ago, MSU-Northern received $800,000 in grant funding for infrastructure and staffing for a new biofuel lab at the MSU-N Bio-Energy Center

Now the nationally-certified facility performs a variety of functions, from researching and developing bio-diesel fuel to testing fuel and emissions.

Jessica Windy Boy, director of the facility, explained, “Biofuels that can be used now, immediately, without any huge infrastructure changes to our vehicles or our airplanes or our fueling stations, is what is needed now and that is what our research focuses on.”

Practical applications of the center’s work can be seen around north-central Montana.

The center is working with seed producers to make oil for local restaurants that can be recycled for transit bus fuel, and BNSF Railway has also signed on to a one-year fleet test to use biodiesel fuel in its engines.

Greg Kegel, dean of the MSU-N technical sciences program, noted, “BNSF ran that switch engine through 40-degree below zero and never had a problem with it and the buses that are running around, they are very satisfied with the fuel.”

The article goes on to say that the lab actually makes money through fuel testing for private companies (and hopes to be self-sustaining one day) but needs the state funding to match some other grants. The center is in the middle of a $2.25 million Department of Energy-funded project to research and develop camelina-based jet fuel.

Google Offers EV Charging Stations Locations on Maps

Figuring out where you can charge up your electric vehicle might just be a little easier, thanks to the folks at Google.

According to this article from Environment News Service, the search engine giant has added charging station locations to the Google Maps platform:

In the United States, there are over 600 charging stations. To locate the ones near you or in a location you are heading for in your electric car, just search on Google Maps for “ev charging station” plus the appropriate area, for example, “ev charging station near Mountain View, CA.”

A list comes up in the viewing pane to the left of the map complete with the name of the charging station’s location, the address and phone number, and sometimes even the brand of charging station at that location.

“We’d like to continue adding more charging stations to Google Maps, so we’re excited that our friends over at the the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory are working to make more data available,” writes Cynthia Yeung of the Google Strategic Partner Development Team on the company’s Lat Long Blog.

The article goes on to point out that NREL has information on nearly 7,000 alternative fueling stations, including more than 600 locations for electric vehicles.