Gevo To Refine Biobutanol Plant

Joanna Schroeder

In May of 2012, Gevo, Inc. announced the start-up of its bio-isobutanol plant in Luverne, Minnesota. Since then, the company says it has both produced and shipped commercial quality product in railcars for customers. One thing the company has learned is what works well and what needs to be tweaked. So the company has switched the plant to ethanol production while it refines its bio-isobutanol technology.

“To date, we have proven we can produce bio-isobutanol, and do it on a commercial scale – years ahead of the competition,” said CEO Patrick Gruber, Ph.D. “This start-up is very typical of other start-ups we have done: you have to learn a lot in a very short period of time, both what works well and what needs to be adjusted. Early indications are that, while we are making significant progress towards economic production levels, we will not achieve our desired year-end run rate – instead we would expect to achieve that during 2013.”

“While we have made significant progress towards economic production levels, we have decided to optimize certain specific parts of our technology to further enhance bio-isobutanol production rates,” continued Gruber. He said that it does not make business sense to implement adjustments while having the plant in productions. So their strategy is to switch to ethanol production while the technology is refined.

Gevo has agreements in place with Sasol, Total, VP Racing Fuels, Mansfield Oil, and Land O’Lakes Purina. While the company is currently producing fuel for the transportation market, the company is also developing opportunities in the jet, marine and small engine markets as well as looking at the production of bio-isobutanol for biochemicals and biomaterials.

“In five short years, we have gone from start-up to commercial-scale production at the world’s first commercial bio-isobutanol production facility. Production start-ups are never easy, but we are years ahead of our competition and well on our way to realizing economic production levels during 2013,” Gruber concluded.

biobutanol, biochemicals, biofuels, biomaterials

Industries Account for 30% of Energy Use in US

Joanna Schroeder

According to the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Energy Manufacturing Consumption Survey, the industrial sector used more than 30% of the total energy consumed in the U.S. in 2011. Why should you care? Because this sector includes biorefineries, manufacturing facilities that produce parts for wind turbines and solar panels and segments of the agricultural sector as well.  It also includes much of what you see in a supermarket – from the food to the packaging to the shelving and cold cases to the raw materials mined and refined to produce and transport the products.

The survey, along with the most recent Annual Energy Outlook 2012 report, show that the recent economic recession strongly affected the industrial sector. It has definitely affected the entire alternative energy industry. A key initiative of biorefineries in particular has been improving energy efficiency while reducing energy consumption.

Energy, energy efficiency

Butamax Patent Portfolio Expands

Joanna Schroeder

Butamax Advanced Biofuels has been granted another patent 8,273,558 (‘558 patent). The company is focused on developing commercial technology for the production of biobutanol, with a focus on the fuel market. One aspect the company has been working on is capitalizing on sugar conversion via the enzymes paired with yeast.

Yeast only expresses certain enzymes in small compartments of a cell and thus limits the availability of these enzymes to convert sugar to biobutanol in high rates and significant quantity. The company developed modified genes that express key enzymes in the larger area of the cells, and this is the technology covered under 558 patent. The modified genes increase the volume and rate of isobutanol produced. The 558 patent also protects blending the isobutanol produced through the modified yeast cells with fossil fuels.

Butamax is working on refining its technology in several research facilities across the world including Hull, England. During the 2012 Olympics, the facility provided biobutanol to BP for its use in fueling portions of the Olympic fleet.

biobutanol, biofuels

States Battle Over ‘Food Before Fuel’

Joanna Schroeder

According to an analysis by the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), “food before fuel” is a fight between states. After reviewing eight waiver requests from governors submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a common argument was farmers in other states have to provide their states’ livestock industries corn. The waivers request a halt, or lowering, of the amount of ethanol that should be blended into fuel as mandated by the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The current drought that has impacted the majority of the U.S. is causing heated discussions about who should get the corn.

It wasn’t until recent years that farmers in the U.S. could grow corn at a profit. Instead, most had to rely on federal payments or subsidies. Interestingly, while corn farmers in the Midwest created a new and growing market with ethanol and its by-products, those in Southern states where the waivers were primarily filed, lagged behind the U.S. average in achieving profitability. The core reason: growers were focused on only one market, the livestock industry.

It should be stressed that the corn used for livestock feed and ethanol is NOT the corn used in your corn tortilla. That said, yes, humans are indirectly eating the corn when eating meat (unless the animal was grass fed). But what many don’t understand or choose not to acknowledge, is that one by-product of ethanol production is a high protein based distillers grain, or high-protein animal feed. So you are not losing the entirety of the corn bushel to produce ethanol – that same bushel is also producing feed. In otherwords, a bushel of corn produces food AND feed AND fiber.

The analysis points out, rightly so, that what the growers in the Southeastern states should be looking for ways to increase their profitability. “Additional markets for corn – such as conventional biofuel production – could add value to corn grown in Southern Seaboard states.”

The wonderful thing about market dynamics, and the way the RFS was written, is that they are working. The marketplace is sorting out the difference between supply and demand and to intervene would only create a more negative impact than the drought has already.

Click here to read BIO’s RFA Waiver Analysis.

Agribusiness, BIO, biofuels, corn, Ethanol, food and fuel, Opinion, RFS

Fuel Your Natural Gas Vehicle at Home

Joanna Schroeder

The Gas Technology Institute (GTI) is partnering with the Center for Electromechanics at the University of Texas at Austin (UT-CEM) to engineer ways to fuel natural gas vehicles at home. GTI has been focused on making natural gas vehicles more competitive in the marketplace, and last week I brought you the story about how their FuelMule fueled up natural gas buses during both the republican and democratic conventions.

There are two major barriers to widespread adoption of natural gas vehicles. One is infrastructure and two is cost. With a $4 million grant to develop a cost-effective compressor for at-home natural gas refueling systems, these two issues could become a part of the past. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), through its Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), is funding this cutting-edge project. It is part of DOE’s new program, titled Methane Opportunities for Vehicular Energy (MOVE).

The team will develop a compressor that will use fewer moving parts. The goal is to replace current technology, which comprises multiple pistons and cylinders, with a single cylinder and piston moving through a linear motor. This easier to use system will also be a safer fueling technology. Current technology costs around $4,000 but this new system would cost less than $2,000.

Researchers will also work with Argonne National Laboratory to identify and apply a cost-effective surface coating for the inside wall of the cylinder. “With their help, we look to identify a coating system that will extend the longevity of our one moving part—the component most susceptible to wear and maintenance,” said Tony Lindsay, GTI RD&D Director, who will oversee the project.

Natural Gas

Fuel Prices Are Impacting Farms and Businesses

Melissa Sandfort

Our latest ZimmPoll asked the question, “Have high fuel prices had an impact on your farm/business?”

Our poll results: Sixty-four percent said Yes, big impact on our budget; fourteen percent said Yes, minimal impact on our budget; twelve percent said No, not yet; and ten percent said No, don’t expect any.

Our new ZimmPoll is now live and asks the question, “What grade would you give the new student lunch program? Tell us why with a comment.” New government nutrition standards, which went into effect this year in a bid to combat childhood obesity, require schools to serve more variety and larger portions of fruits and vegetables. What do you think – are these new lunches a good thing or will students just toss more food in the trash can?

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

USDA, ZimmPoll

Free Biodiesel Producer Conference Call

Joanna Schroeder

Lee Enterprises Consulting is hosting a free conference call for those in the biodiesel industry on Tuesday, October 2, 2012 beginning at 2:00 pm CDT. There are several key topcis and speakers featured during the call.

1. “Recent OSHA Developments in Safety and Process Safety Management for Biodiesel Plants,” presented by Nathan Vander Griend with ERI Solutions. OSHA is currently conducting focused inspections under the chemical facility National Emphasis Program (NEP) to verify compliance with the PSM standard (29 CFR 1910.119) at covered facilities that include biodiesel and ethanol biorefineries. Inspections are underway and Vander Griend will counsel producers on PSM requirements and compliance.

2. “Selling Your Biodiesel with RINS: Promoting RIN Integrity,” presented by Susan Olson, Genscape’s RIN Integrity Network. With the volume of biomass-based diesel set at 1.28 billion gallons for 2013 under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), producers need to under what obligated parties need to know to ensure security when buying biodiesel and the associated RINs. Key measures to improve the integrity, transparency and liquidity of the biodiesel and RINs markets will be discussed along with a roadmap to RIN integrity and a pathway to a more efficient biodiesel market will be presented.

3. “The Effect of the New Health Care Legislation on Biodiesel Plants with Employees,” presented by Jim Schmidt, Eide Bailly, CPAs & Business Advisors. With the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in effect, individuals will be required to have health insurance as of January 1, 2014. The Act provides certain incentives and penalties to individuals and businesses related to obtaining or providing health insurance. This session will provide a high level overview of the Act, and how you can obtain information that will allow you to make decisions that are beneficial and cost effective for your business and your employees.

Click here to learn more about the conference call and to register. The event is free but space is limited.

advance biofuels, Biodiesel, Education

Texas A&M Showcases Vertical Axis Wind Turbines

Joanna Schroeder

Three 20-kilowatt vertical axis wind turbines are now generating energy for Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi. The turbine trio is the largest vertical axis wind turbine installation of its kind in the United States as well as the largest of their kind. The main campus also installed a 4-kilowatt wind turbine that can be horizontally lowered and opened for education and research.

When the entire wind energy network is complete, there will be 11 wind turbines with a combined capacity of 92 kilowatts. The 20-kilowatt wind turbines are 75 feet tall, while the 4-kilowatt turbines stand at 40 feet.

“The wind turbine project is an exciting opportunity to show how the University is emerging as a leader in renewable energy,” said President Flavius Killebrew. “This initiative will not only provide students and faculty with excellent learning and research opportunities, but will open doors for future generations who want to pursue this green technology.” The turbines have real-time data collection for faculty and students in engineering to analyze on a network.

The initiative was funded by a $955,000 Distributed Renewable Energy Technology Stimulus Grant from the State Energy Conservation Office and the U.S. Department of Energy. The University then matched $265,000 in funds, for a total of $1.2 million for the project.

The wind turbines were distributed by 3eWerks, manufactured by Urban Green Energy and installed by Nouveau Construction and Technology Services.

According to Dr. L.D. Chen, associate dean of Engineering and Computing Sciences and director of the School of Engineering and Computing Sciences added that with the increase in community wind power technology and projects, the small wind turbines are an excellent laboratory for faculty and students.

Education, Electricity, Energy, Wind

Porterville Unified School District Adds Solar

Joanna Schroeder

School systems continue to be high adopters of solar energy. This week Porterville United School District (PUSD), located in California, has begun generating electricity from its 3.7 megawatt solar system. Installed across six schools, the system in its entirety has the capacity to reduce the district’s electricity costs by nearly $44 million over the next 25 years.

“This project will allow Porterville Unified School District to significantly reduce our electricity costs at the schools receiving these systems and recover valuable funds needed for our academic programs,” said Superintendent Dr. John Snavely. “By partnering with SunPower, we are maximizing our savings as well as the District’s use of clean, renewable energy. It is the right thing to do for our students and our community.”

The solar system, featuring SunPower solar panels, has two major components: ground-mounted solar arrays and solar shade structures in school parking lots. The solar systems were financed through Qualified School Construction Bonds (QSCBs), allowing the district to own the systems and receive the full benefit of the energy cost savings and incentive payments.

“Porterville Unified School District can rely on its high efficiency SunPower solar systems to deliver guaranteed performance for the next 25 years or more,” said Howard Wenger, SunPower president, regions. “SunPower works with school districts across California to reduce operating costs and repurpose the savings to the classroom. It is extremely rewarding to deliver needed savings to our public schools with power from the sun.”

SunPower is also collaborating with PUSD’s Successful Pathways program. The goal of the program is to prepare students for technology based careers that includes studying various factors of solar energy such as engineering, mathematics and more.

Electricity, Energy, Solar

Utah State Dragster Runs on Cheese Waste Biofuel

Cindy Zimmerman

A team of engineering students from Utah State University has set a new land speed record using a car that burns a new form of sustainable biofuel made from a waste product of the cheese manufacturing process.

“How many people get to drive a car they helped build with fuel they created from a living microorganism?” asks USU undergrad biochemist Michael R. Morgan, who drove the dragster across Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats Speedway to its landmark finish earlier this month.

The Aggie A-Salt Streamliner, as it’s officially known, runs on yeast biodiesel derived from the industrial waste of cheese production. The sleek, Aggie-blue hot rod was among some 200 high-tech racers competing at the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association’s 2012 World of Speed event Sept. 8-11.

At its top speed, the Aggie vehicle clocked in at 65.344 miles per hour. At first glance, that speed may fail to impress NASCAR fans or even most interstate motorists. But make no mistake; it’s a head-turning achievement for a biofueled vehicle with a one-liter, two-cylinder engine. The USU team raced the dragster in separate runs, using petroleum diesel and the yeast biofuel, respectively. Powered with the latter, the speedster was able to match its previous petroleum-fueled run.

“Developing a biofuel on a large enough scale to run in the dragster was a tough undertaking,” says USU biochemist Alex McCurdy, a third-year doctoral student in Seefeldt’s lab, who is supported by a National Science Foundation research assistantship and is the recent recipient of a departmental environmental chemistry award. “It’s one thing to produce a small amount in the lab and discuss how it will work in theory. It’s another to actually put it in a dragster, while everyone watches it take off.”

Read more from USU.

advance biofuels, Biodiesel, feedstocks, Research