Reinstate the Biodiesel Tax Incentive

Joanna Schroeder

The lame duck session is in full swing but no movement has yet been made on the tax extenders package that includes incentives for wind energy, advanced biofuels, including biodiesel, and cellulosic ethanol. Today, the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) sent letters to all the members of the Iowa Congressional delegation urging them to level the energy playing field and reinstate the biodiesel tax incentive. Iowa leads the county in biodiesel production.

The letters stated: “The biodiesel industry’s recent progress is to be applauded, particularly in such a weak economy, but it should not cloud the fact that biodiesel remains a young and vulnerable industry. As the petroleum industry fights to preserve the tax advantages it has enjoyed continuously for the past century, the biodiesel industry has seen its growth stall since the tax incentive expired on Dec. 31, 2011. As a result, U.S. biodiesel production will likely be down from last year and the growth in Iowa biodiesel production will likely be less than expected.

The projected decrease in U.S. biodiesel production in 2012 demonstrates that if the petroleum industry maintains its century-old tax advantages and the biodiesel tax incentive is not reinstated, then the RFS volumes will most likely be the ceiling for U.S. biodiesel production and use, not the floor. Now, as much as ever, the biodiesel industry needs stability and a level energy playing field to continue growing.”

The letters were send to Senators Tom Harkin and Charles Grassley, and Representatives Dave Loebsack, Leonard Boswell, Steve King and Tom Latham.

advance biofuels, Alternative energy, Biodiesel, Iowa RFA, Renewable Energy

US-Based GCEH Receives RSB Certification

Joanna Schroeder

In an earlier post today, I mentioned four major global biofuel sustainability initiatives mentioned in the DoShort, “Sustainable Transport Fuels Business Brief.” One such initiative is the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB) who just announced that the first U.S.-based biofuels company, Global Clean Energy Holdings (GCEH), has been awarded the RSB certification.

“We’re happy to welcome GCEH under the RSB umbrella,” said Dr. Michael Keyes, Senior Agriculture and Natural Resources Specialist for SCS Global Services, the company that oversees the program, “GCEH is a model for how biofuels can be produced sustainably and contribute to reducing the carbon intensity of our fuels, while providing concrete contributions to communities and the environment.”

According to SCS, the RSB certification is the most stringent of all consensus standards for sustainable biofuel production. To achieve the designation, a biofuel producer must a high level of compliance with environmental and social criteria that includes, but is not limited to, agricultural sustainability.

GCEH grows jatropha in the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula on marginal land with no irrigation. In order to protect local plant species and wildlife, the company sets aside over 10 percent of its land to create conservation areas and buffer zones. I find this interesting because many in the environmental community believe jatropha is more harmful as a biofuel feedstock than helpful.

“The certification process included a very comprehensive review of all our operations,” added Noah Verleun, Sustainability and Regulatory Affairs Manager at GCEH, “We’re proud to report that we only had to institute minor operational adjustments to our already strong internal processes to qualify for the comprehensive RSB sustainability certification.”

advance biofuels, Alternative energy, Environment, Renewable Energy

Message at Doha Climate Talks: CO2 Rising

Joanna Schroeder

There is a message that United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is delivering during the Doha Climate Change Conference taking place through December 7, 2012 in Qatar – despite efforts, carbon emissions are up 20 percent and greenhouse emission targets will not be met. The organization says if the world does not scale up and accelerate action on climate change immediately, emissions could rise to 58 gigatonnes (Gt) by 2020. This is far above the level some climate researchers say is safe to keep the global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius this century.

UNEP has released its third Emissions Gap Report 2012 to coincide with the Climate Conference. The report concludes that if the world stays on a business-as-usual trajectory, more drastic and expensive cuts will be needed after 2020.  Climate scientists have set a 2 degree target – meaning that if global temperature rising higher than 2 degrees, Earth as we know it will considerably change. Previous assessment report have underlined scenarios that provide options with costs as low as possible but early action was needed in these situations.

Emissions of warming gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) are actually increasing, according to the report. Total greenhouse gas emissions have risen from around 40 Gt in 2000 to an estimated 50.1 Gt in 2010. The report states that even if the most ambitious level of pledges and commitments were implemented by all countries, and under the strictest set of rules, there would be a gap of 8 Gt of CO2 equivalent by 2020, 2 Gt higher than last year’s assessment.

With continued delayed action, the economic costs will skyrocket and the options narrow and become more severe. The report states that in this scenario, a heavier long-term dependence on mitigation technologies such as bioenergy and carbon capture and storage would occur.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: “There are two realities encapsulated in this report-that bridging the gap remains do-able with existing technologies and policies; that there are many inspiring actions taking place at the national level on energy efficiency in buildings, investing in forests to avoid emissions linked with deforestation and new vehicle emissions standards alongside a remarkable growth in investment in new renewable energies worldwide, which in 2011 totaled close to US$260 billion.”

“Yet the sobering fact remains that a transition to a low carbon, inclusive Green Economy is happening far too slowly and the opportunity for meeting the 44 Gt target is narrowing annually,” he added.
Climate Change, Electricity, Energy, global warming

Restaurant Owners Join Fight Against RFS

Cindy Zimmerman

The National Council of Chain Restaurants today joined the fight against the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) with the release of a new report on its impact on the chain restaurant industry, commodity prices and the food supply chain.

The study, which was conducted by PwC, “concluded that the RFS mandate could cost chain restaurants up to $3.2 billion annually, with quick-service restaurants witnessing cost increases upward of $2.5 billion, and full-service restaurants seeing increases upward of $691 million.”

Ethanol industry representatives called the study “flawed” and “misleading” and said it failed to take many factors into account. “The true culprit behind rising food prices is the cost of energy, and in particular oil,” said Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis. “Only 14 percent of the price of food is attributable to the cost of the commodity, while the rest can be attributed to energy costs and marketing. The processing, packaging, wrapping, storage, refrigeration and transportation costs are the true drivers in price increases.”

American Coalition for Ethanol
Executive Vice President Brian Jennings says the council of chain restaurants is ‘out to lunch’ on the RFS. “Contrary to their claims, a recent fact-based analysis by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and EPA showed that the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) has virtually no impact on food prices, so we encourage the media to take this fast-food study with as much salt as you’d find in one of their meals,” said Jennings.

“They lost in their bid for a waiver of the RFS, so now they are resorting to super-sized myths about the impact of the RFS on food prices. Every reasonable analysis of the factors influencing food prices has concluded that the cost of diesel fuel, gasoline, and other energy inputs is the major driver. This study conveniently avoids that issue,” said Bob Dinneen, President of the Renewable Fuels Association.

Listen to Dinneen’s comments here: RFA president Bob Dinneen

Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) announced at the NCCR press conference this morning says the report supports his legislation “The Renewable Fuels Elimination Act” HR3098. “This is a bipartisan effort,” Goodlatte said, noting that a letter to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson encouraging a waiver of the RFS was signed by 156 members of the House. “That group provides a basis for moving forward with legislation that would do what unfortunately she chose not to do.”

Goodlatte says he is hopeful that the RFS will either be reformed or eliminated in the next Congress.

Listen to Goodlatte’s comments here: Congressman Bob Goodlatte

ACE, Audio, Ethanol, Ethanol News, Government, Growth Energy, RFA, RFS

DoShort Review – Sustainable Transport Fuels

Joanna Schroeder

What do you do when you’ve got a frustrating case of insomnia? You read books about energy. Okay, maybe not something you would do but it always keeps me good and entertained. Last night I read the DoShort, “Sustainable Transport Fuels Business Brief,” by David Thorpe in less than two hours. That is part of the sell – learn about a topic in 90 minutes or less. This is a brillant concept lads.

So what did I learn? I got a briefing on research, development and deployment of sustainable fuels around the world. The DoShort kicked off with a brief overview of the history of transportation fuels, relevant legislation, and the role of emissions reduction in determining the sustainable viability of a future fuel.

Next were a series of briefs on various types of fuels beginning with biofuels. The discussion included current technologies and technologies to watch, feedstocks, infrastructure, partnerships, pros and cons and opportunities and challenges. This same type of format was used in the brief sections about electric vehicles, hydrogen vehicles, fuel cells, and a fuel I’d never heard of called hydrazine hydrate. There is even a concept car developed by Daihatsu. Who knew?

Much of the brief was focused on biofuels, since today they are the primary source of alternative fuels for the transportation sector (when specifically discussing fleets, the leading fuel is propane autogas). Here was an interesting tidbit I picked up: according to the IEA Bioenergy Implementing Agreement there are at least 67 local, regional or global initiatives to develop sustainability criteria and standards for biofuels.  (And if you’ve been reading this blog for the past six years you notice that biofuels, and currently the Renewable Fuels Standard, are constantly under attack). The most significant initiatives are: The Global Bioenergy Partnership, The Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels, International Organization for Standardization, and the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification System.

While I have encyclopedic volumes of energy info stuck in my head, I got most of it reading many good, but dense books that took hours. What I’ve also known is that most people don’t have the time, nor interest, in reading all of these books. That’s why I do it for you and why I now consider these DoShorts such a winner – the reader of “Sustainable Transport Fuels Business Brief ” can sit down at a meeting and can impress the boss with a working knowledge of transportation fuels, in 90 minutes or less.

algae, Alternative energy, Biodiesel, biofuels, book reviews, Cellulosic, Electric Vehicles, Ethanol, Hydrogen

Algae Can Draw Energy from Other Plants

Joanna Schroeder

Bielfeld University Professor Dr. Olaf Kruse has a class he won’t forget. His biological research team has made what they consider to be a groundbreaking discovery – the green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii not only engages in photosynthesis, but is also able to draw energy from other plants. The team believes this could have a major impact on the future of bioenergy.  Findings were released in the online journal, Nature Communications.

According to Kruse, it was believed that only worms, bacteria and fungi could digest vegetable cellulose and use it as a source of carbon for their growth and survival. In contrast, plants engage in photosynthesis of carbon dioxide, water and light. Yet through a series of experiments, Professor Dr. Olaf Kruse and his team cultivated the microscopically small green alga species in a low carbon dioxide environment and observed that when faced with such a shortage, these single-cell plants drew energy from neighboring vegetable cellulose instead.

So how does this work? Kruse explains that the alga secretes enzymes (so-called cellulose enzymes) that ‘digest’ the cellulose, breaking it down into smaller sugar components. These are then transported into the cells and transformed into a source of energy and abracadabra – the alga can continue to grow.

“This is the first time that such a behaviour has been confirmed in a vegetable organism,” noted Professor Kruse. ‘That algae can digest cellulose contradicts every previous textbook. To a certain extent, what we are seeing is plants eating plants.”

So does this trick happen with also forms of alga? Kruse says preliminary findings indicate this is in fact the case. And based on this hypothesis, this unique property of algae, the presence of celulose enzymes could be of interest for bioenergy production. There would no longer be a need for organic materials to feed the fungi that are currently used to extract the enzymes needed to break down the cellulose.

advance biofuels, algae, bioenergy, Renewable Energy, Research

Book Review – Winning the Energy Wars

Joanna Schroeder

This week I read “Winning the Energy Wars,” by R. Paul Williamson. I often find myself surprised that after reading and reviewing more than 100 energy and environmental books, that I would find one with a new and unique angle. But I did. The premise is one you often find in an energy book – the United States energy “strategy” is not working. The twist comes into play when Williamson gives us an educational lesson about the different types of energy – he used a favorite business tactic of mine – the SWAT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats).

Strengths – When providing additional information Williamson uses a “product code”. Use your phone to click on the code to get and additional information not contained in the book. After giving a brief history of U.S. energy policy, he lays out a Sustainable Energy Plan (USA-SEP) and outlines and goes into depth about the “six major benefits of for an energy-wise US to adopt and implement the USA-SEP.” I also found that his website supporting the ideas in the book has some good follow-up resources.

Weaknesses – To prove a point about the extravagant and monumental use of energy around the globe, Williamson wrote out all energy equivalents. For example, 98,000,000,000,000 Btu or 28,720,978,623 MWh. This is a bit hard to quantify when your eyes are glazing over the digits because you can’t truly comprehend the number.  The book had some factual errors and a lot of grammatical errors. For me, this diminishes the credibility of the author.

Opportunities – Williamson proposes a new way to evaluate possible energy sources, aka solutions: EF=R/D (energy future equals resources divided by demand). This is a good way to think through some of the “unintended” consequences or benefits of possible energy actions.

Threats – What will happen if the U.S. does not have the fortitude to tackle the problem and the courage to stick with the solution? As Williamson rightly points out, it takes each of us and together, we can make change.

Win a copy of this book. Send me an email with the subject line “Winning the Energy Wars” and include your contact information in the body of the email.

Alternative energy, book reviews, Electricity, Energy, Renewable Energy

Ethanol Groups Not Surprised by Attack on RFS

Cindy Zimmerman

The ethanol industry is categorizing the latest attack on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) by the American Petroleum Institute (API) as more of the same.

In response to API’s call this morning to eliminate the RFS “because it is not working well and because it will force higher concentrations of ethanol in gasoline that could harm vehicles,” Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis said, “This is a classic example of the fox guarding the chicken coop. Really? Special interests will stop at nothing to discredit the success of renewable fuels created right here at home to ensure their lock on the fuels market goes unchecked.”

Bob Dinneen, President and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, referred to the API position as the classic “dog bites man” journalism example. “API wants to repeal a highly successful program that has reduced gasoline imports and stimulated investment in renewable energy resources. API doesn’t like the RFS because it has taken ten percent of their barrel and reduced consumer costs. Americans like and support the RFS for exactly those reasons.”

Iowa Renewable Fuels Association Executive Director Monte Shaw was equally blunt. “The reason API is so concerned now is that E15 is poised to become widely available. Without the RFS, Big Oil can continue to hide behind its Century of Subsidies and the federal petroleum mandate to ignore lower cost ethanol blends like E15.”

Brent Erickson, executive vice president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s Industrial & Environmental Section, says the oil industry continues its efforts to undermine the success of the RFS. “Since the inception of the RFS, API has used every regulatory and legal ploy available to delay and block implementation of the law. Since these efforts appear to have failed, they are now mounting a public relations effort to convince lawmakers to repeal the RFS. Congress should see right through this effort.”

Ethanol, Ethanol News, Growth Energy, Iowa RFA, Oil, RFA

Solar Training Features PV Inverter Tech

Joanna Schroeder

ImagineSolar is featuring inverter technology for photovoltaic systems developed by Ideal Power Converters (IPC), in their next solar training workshop in Austin, Texas on December 15 and 16, 2012. According to ImagineSolar, IPC’s patented power converter technology improves both energy and cost efficiencies for solar inverters, grid storage, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

IPC’s initial product, a 94lb 30kW 480VAC PV inverter, is one of the most efficient PV inverters with 96.5 percent CEC-weighted efficiency according to the company. It can lower inverter shipping and installation costs by 90 percent compared to conventional transformer based inverters.

“We are excited to work with the outstanding team at ImagineSolar,” said Paul Bundschuh, CEO for IPC. “ImagineSolar will conduct a lab using our inverter technology and will provide insight into the advantages of bi-polar system design.”

ImagineSolar is a company that specializes in training people about solar energy. As part of this initiative, the company establishes training partnerships with leading manufacturers, distributors, installation companies, training and accreditation organizations who are developing the latest, advanced, technologies for the solar and smart grid industries.

Michael Kuhn, ImagineSolar founder and CEO, added, “IPC is transforming the PV, grid-storage, and electric vehicle fast charging markets with their game-changing Universal Power Converter Platform(TM). This is a great match with our focus on system solutions for the solar and smart grid industries.”

Alternative energy, Education, Electricity, Energy, Smart Grid, Solar

Southeast Propane Fleets Save $1.62 Per Gallon

Joanna Schroeder

According to Virginia Clean Cities, vehicle fleets across 12 U.S. states participating in the Southeast Propane Autogas Development Program saved an average of $1.62 per gallon last quarter fueling with propane autogas versus gasoline. Total cost savings for the quarter neared $100,000 while to date, the propane fleets have offset more than 1 million gallons of gasoline.

“We’re nearing the end of the third year of the Southeast Propane Autogas Development Program, and we’ve seen tremendous results in terms of reducing harmful pollutants and emissions, as well as helping regional fleets lower their fuel costs by running on propane autogas,” said Alleyn Harned, executive director of Virginia Clean Cities, which administers the Program.” Autogas is a domestically produced, cleaner-burning fuel that’s very cost effective for fleets, so it has a significant role to play in diversifying our nation’s transportation fuel.”

According to a news statement about the propane autogas program, propane is a viable alternative fuel for fleets for several reasons: costs less per gallon than gasoline; affordable to convert vehicle to propane autogas technology; affordable to install fueling stations (Alliance Autogas is providing fuel supply, infrastructure and conversions); propane emits less tailpipe emissions than gas; and propane vehicles require less maintenance.

For example with 24 autogas fleet vehicles, Spotsylvania County in Virginia will save approximately $70,000 in fuel costs each year. Community Counseling Services in Mississippi converted 29 fleet vehicles to autogas and will save an estimated $60,000 in fuel costs annually.

Alternative energy, Propane