Book Review – Clean Energy Nation

Joanna Schroeder

This week I read Clean Energy Nation by Congressman Jerry McNerny and Martin Cheek. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I found myself likening the book to the classic Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Subconsciously I think it was because one of the recurring themes in Brave New World, first published in 1932, is the Fordship’s desire, after Our Ford ‘s first T-Model,” for its citizens to “consume manufactured articles as well as transport.” Ironically, a portion of Huxley’s predictions came true – globally, people have been conditioned to consume both manufactured items and transportation. It is expected that by 2020 or so, there will be two billion cars on the road.

Clean Energy Nation is like most other energy books and begins with a history lesson about energy with special attention paid to the use and development of fossil fuels. In the words of the New World controller, “…you all remember, I suppose, that beautiful and inspired saying of Our Ford’s: History is bunk. History,” he repeated slowly, ‘is bunk’.” While history is not bunk, as a global population we seem to think that it is, and it bears saying that recurrent energy history lessons are much needed.

The next section of the book delves into America’s energy issues and covers all the usual suspects including national security, environment, economy, agriculture, public health, education, and good government. (Or in the case of the U.S., bad government. Since 1973, the U.S. Department of Energy has missed 34 deadlines to set mandatory energy standards.). Finally, the book gets into a discussion about America’s energy future.

The discussion about the “crossroads” of America was very motivational. Read More

Alternative energy, book reviews, Clean Energy, Opinion

BP Continues Biofuels Backout

Joanna Schroeder

BP is continuing its biofuels backout with the announcement that it is abandoning its $300 million cellulosic project in Highlands County, Florida. This is the second major announcement of the company moving away from the production of renewable energy. Last December, the company exited the solar business. According to an interview with Matt Hartwig in the Washington Post, the company will continue to focus its U.S. efforts on research and development and licensing its technology.

“Ethanol is not something a lot of people are interested in investing money in,” said Mark Schultz, an analyst at Northstar Commodity Investment Co. in Minneapolis, to the Post. “Corn-based ethanol hasn’t been profitable for about a year. BP is seeing that this isn’t the right street to go down anymore.”

Many advanced biofuels players responded to the news today including Brooke Coleman, the executive director of the Advanced Ethanol Council. “BP has been reallocating its resources when it comes to biofuels for some time. BPs’ decision today signals a move by that company away from that particular project. This happens all the time in the oil, gas, and biofuel industries. As BP pulls back in Florida, the first movers in the space continue to move forward with commercial projects in more than 20 U.S. states. We are expecting first commercial gallons of cellulosic ethanol to come online by the end of the year, which is a tremendous accomplishment in this economic climate.”

Many of the 20 companies mentioned by Coleman are members of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) Read More

advance biofuels, AEC, Alternative energy, BIO, Cellulosic, Ethanol, Renewable Energy

Investors Ask for Wind Tax Credit Extension

Joanna Schroeder

Dozens of investors totaling more than $800 billion in assets have called for an immediate extension of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for renewable energy, specifically wind power. In a letter delivered to Congressional leaders, investors noted that this critical tax credit creates broad economic benefits, both for wind power producers and their suppliers across the nation. Several of these investors met with Congressional staff to discuss their support for the credit.

The PTC provides a tax credit of 2.2 cents for each kilowatt-hour of renewable power generated. Designed to spur investment, the credit has helped the wind energy industry develop a large domestic network of supplies. According to the American Wind Energy Association, the PTC has spurred $20 billion in private investment and the creation of 75,000 jobs. Investors wrote to encourage. The PTC expires at the end of 2012.

“The Production Tax Credit is vital to fostering a vibrant renewable power sector, which will improve our economic competitiveness while also reducing our reliance on fossil fuels,” said Oregon State Treasurer Ted Wheeler, who oversees the management of $72.5 billion of state funds. “Renewable energy generation opportunities beckon from border-to-border in Oregon, and they promise to produce not only clean and sustainable power but also crucial employment and investments in key infrastructure.”

Oregon wind farms now generate enough energy to power 700,000 homes, and the state is the home to the North American headquarters of wind power companies Vestas and Iberdrola Renewables.Read More

Alternative energy, Electricity, Renewable Energy, Wind

Cool Planet – 3 Years, 30 Biomass Plants

Joanna Schroeder

Cool Planet Energy Systems has announced a breakthrough in the commercialization and affordability of biofuels from biomass. Using a mechanical process and scaling approach, the company says it can produce high octane gasoline at the cost of $1.50 per gallon without the need for subsidies and also while removing carbon from the air during the course of production.

The company, backed by Google, BP, General Electric, NRG, and others, says it has already successfully tested the technology internally as well as at Google’s headquarters with its campus vehicle, GRide, that has driven 2,400 miles on the fuel. By running on a 5% Cool Planet carbon negative fuel blended with 95% regular gasoline, the test car blend met California’s 2020 Low Carbon Fuel Standard – eight years ahead of schedule according to a Cool Planet statement.

The statement also said the control car used 100 percent regular gasoline, and successfully passed five smog checks with no significant difference between cars. The total mileage of the test car was virtually the same as the control car, driving a total of 2,490 stop and go miles in the test car compared with 2,514 miles in the control car. Additionally, both the test car and the control car were virtually identical in emissions testing. Other field tests are planned.

“Innovations in alternative fuels will be key in addressing growing climate change concerns,” said Brendon Harrington, Transportation Operations Manager at Google, Inc. “We are thrilled to be a part of Cool Planet’s field testing and believe that this product has the potential to make a significant impact on our future energy needs.”

A byproduct of producing the biofuel from biomass is the activated carbon, or biochar that can be used as a soil enhancer increasing land fertility while isolating the carbon captured from the atmosphere.Read More

advance biofuels, Alternative energy, biomass, Carbon Dioxide, Renewable Energy

Meet the Who’s Who at NBB Conference

Joanna Schroeder

There are more than 10 reasons to attend the National Biodiesel Board’s Conference: Momentum, and here is reason number 5: Meet People. This conference marks the 20th Anniversary of the event and is still the place to meet and greet the real players in the biodiesel industry.

The event is being held in Las Vegas (how apropos they would offer a “wheel of savings” for early bird registrants – enter WHEEL100 when you register to receive your discount) beginning February 4, 2013 and ends on February 7, 2013. This gives you plenty of time to work out your elevator, or in this case, 10 second casino pitch.

Momentum offers four tracks: technical, regulatory, marketing, and petroleum so no matter what, your interests will be covered and your question answers.  And if you play your cards right, you may also walk away with a set of great contacts to develop future partnerships.

In anticipation for the event, NBB CEO Joe Jobe filmed some brief remarks.

Now that you’re duly inspired, why don’t you register already?

advance biofuels, Biodiesel, National Biodiesel Conference

State Corn Groups Work For Consumer Choice

Joanna Schroeder

State corn associations across the country are working to bring more choice for consumers at the pump through the use of higher blends of ethanol, such as E15. Several programs are in place to help retailers install the infrastructure needed for consumers to take advantage of EPA’s decision to allow E15 to be used in vehicles 2001 and newer. In addition, the groups are working to install flex fuel pumps that dispense mid-level blends of ethanol such as E20 and E30 as well as E85, blends that can only be used in flex-fuel vehicles.

Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota all have efforts to increase the use of higher ethanol blends in their respective states by helping fund the installation of the necessary fuel pumps. From programs that completely support the installation of E85 pumps for retailers looking to convert multiple locations to programs that help cover the cost of signage highlighting ethanol options.

Today there are around 162,000 retail stations nationwide; yet, only 3,000 offer E85 and significantly less offer E15. But for most retailers who were early adopters of ethanol blends, they find a financial advantage to selling the higher ethanol blends in increased sales.

In addition to the various state programs, there are also two additional campaigns, the American Ethanol partnership with NASCAR® and the Blend Your Own program, to help increase infrastructure, awareness and adoption of higher ethanol blends. Retailers looking for more information on aid for the installation of infrastructure for higher blends of ethanol, visit the Blend Your Own Ethanol website.

Alternative energy, American Ethanol, blends, E15, E85, Ethanol, NCGA

Outlook for Global Grain & Renewable Energy

Jamie Johansen

To kick off the 2012 Export Exchange attendees heard from keynote speaker Carl Casale, President and CEO of CHS, Inc., on the outlook for global grains and renewable energy.

Casale started off stated that the outlook simply depends on lots of different things and we have to focus on what we do know. He left attendees with one question: Do we have a strategy to survive, or even thrive in a volatile world?

Listen to Carl’s entire presentation here: Carl Casale at Export Exchange

While interviewing him after his presentation, he discussed the long term goals for global grain production and what we should expect production wise in the next year.

“The first thing you need to do is just take a step back and look at what the global demand is going to be over the long term. We have talked about 9 billion people on the planet, that’s going to require a 50% increase in grain production. As importantly, the 9 billion people are going to eat meat so there is another 50% increase in grain production to be able to feed livestock around the world. I have not seen anything that says that that’s not probably where we are going to be in the long term.”

“If you look at the market signals, it’s telling farmers that we want more corn acres in the US coming off a bit of a short corp that we had this year. Farmers are very well capitalized. I don’t think that will be an issue interms of getting hte corn produced. I think probably the biggest physical challenge we are going to have right now is we typically apply a lot of fertilizer for corn in the fall. It was so dry this year we just didn’t have the opportunity to do it. So, that will put al lote more pressure on supply chains in the spring.”

Listen to my interview with Carl here: Carl Casale Interview

You can find photos from this years Export Exchange here: 2012 Export Exchange

Audio, conferences, corn, Export Exchange, Exports, Soybeans

Export Exchange: Bringing Buyers & Sellers Together

Jamie Johansen

The key purpose for the 2012 Export Exchange was for buyers and sellers to meet and establish important relationships. The event sponsored by the US Grain Council and Renewable Fuels Association focused on getting answers, making contacts and building business. During the conference I had the opportunity to talk with Tom Sleight, President & CEO of the US Grains Council, about what this event means for the DDGS and the worlds grain supply.

“What we’re telling customers around the world is how the US producers will be there for them. The US farmers will be there for them now and in the future. Yes, we have droughts, thats a problem we have, but for the future the US has always responded to production challenges with more acres, greater production. Our message to the international community is that the US farmer is there in the international market for keeps.”

“I think out biggest thing is being all around, having boots on the ground, representatives that are selling these grains, bringing the buyers in. That’s what we are doing today with over 200 buyers from around the world. Bringing them in, making contacts and making sales. It is a different kind of business and it takes being there and extending your influence and representing producers interest all around the world. That’s what US Grains Council is doing.”

Listen to my entire interview with Tom here: Tom Sleight at Export Exchange

The US Grains Council also announced the official approval of the Syngenta corn variety MIR 162 Agrisure Vipterra in the European Union. This opens the way for exports of US corn co-products, including DDGS and corn gluten free.

Cary Sifferath, USGC senior regional director based in Tunis, said “This approval is a great success as it opens the window of opportunity for U.S. products, including DDGS and CGF, to enter the EU market. This is especially attractive in big markets like Ireland, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands. Their ability to import these high-protein feed ingredients is critical at a time of crop shortage in Europe and high prices. Everyone is looking for alternatives,”

You can find photos from this years Export Exchange here: 2012 Export Exchange

Agribusiness, Audio, conferences, corn, Distillers Grains, Export Exchange, Exports, RFA, USGC

Citizen’s Guide to Energy

Joanna Schroeder

The presidential election is less than two weeks away and although the candidates have discussed energy, neither has debated over the right strategy for global climate change. Our legislators also typically fail to consider the consequences of actions they endorse. Therefore, according to Public Agenda, if the country hopes to move the needle on important issues, such as energy, voters need to understand what’s really at stake.

Issue one: according to research, nearly half of all Americans cannot identify a renewable energy source and almost 4 in 10 cannot name a fossil fuel. So for those ready to learn something new, or just want to rethink the issues surrounding energy policy, Public Agenda has released an interesting free guide, “A Citizens Solutions Guide Energy.”

I found the guide interesting. It establishes where the globe is at today and what global energy needs are predicted to be in the future. Then it discusses “things we do know”. This includes: the U.S. population is growing and the country’s energy consumption is growing as well; world energy demand is expected to increase by nearly 40 percent; most of our energy, 83 percent, comes from fossil fuels; and renewable energy has serious fiscal drawbacks – and we’re nowhere near ready to depend on it at a substantial level.

The guide provides energy tradeoffs, but I did note the only category with costs was renewables. Despite the fact that petroleum, natural gas, nuclear and coal have been around for decades, there is still a costs associated with them. Keep this in mind moving forward. The guide presents three possible approaches to consider and include arguments for and against each approach:

  • Approach 1: Move away from fossil fuels as quickly and as safely as we can. This will protect the environment and in the long run will give us cheaper and more reliable energy sources.
  • Approach 2: Make sure we have enough affordable energy now to support our economy and ensure our energy security.
  • Approach 3: Move toward a more energy efficient society.

While I agree with much of the information provided in the area, there are also areas I don’t agree with. But this is good because the guide achieved its goal – made me think more intelligently and in-depth about energy policy. Let’s hope I don’t forget what I’ve learn  before I hit the polls.

Alternative energy, energy efficiency, global warming, Opinion, Renewable Energy

NRC Releases Algae Sustainability Report

Joanna Schroeder

This week, the National Research Council (NRC) released a new report, “Sustainable Development of Algal Biofuels in the United States.” The report was a result of a request from the Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s (DOE-EERE) Biomass Program.

The purpose of this study was to identify and anticipate potential sustainability concerns associated with a selected number of pathways for large-scale deployment of algal biofuels; discuss potential strategies for mitigating those concerns; and suggest indicators and metrics that could be used and data to be collected for assessing sustainability across the biofuel supply chain to monitor progress as the industry develops. In addition, NRC was asked to identify indicators that are most critical to address or have the greatest potential for improvement through DOE intervention as well as to suggest preferred cost and benefit analyses that could best aid in the decision-making process.

Ultimately, the report found that scaling up the production of biofuels made from algae to meet at least 5 percent, or approximately 39 billion liters, of U.S. transportation fuel needs would place unsustainable demands on energy, water, and nutrients. However, these concerns are not a definitive barrier for future production, and innovations that require research and development could help realize algal biofuels’ full potential.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) today welcomed the report and noted that mitigation strategies are currently being developed to reduce energy, water and nutrients needed to convert algae to biofuels.

Brent Erickson, executive vice president of BIO’s Industrial & Environmental Section, said, “While the National Research Council catalogued and prioritized every potential environmental and resource challenge for the development of algae biofuels, their report correctly concludes that the industry has developed or is developing sustainable strategies to overcome these challenges. Biotechnology will continue to play a crucial role in the improvement of the productivity and economic viability of algae biofuels and other advanced biofuels that are cleaner, safer and healthier than petroleum-based fuels.”

Erickson added, “The potential benefits of developing algae biofuels – which include reducing reliance on foreign oil and contributing to a healthier economy by deploying U.S. technology – warrant continued research, development and commercial development of algae biofuels.”

advance biofuels, algae, Alternative energy, BIO, Renewable Energy, Research