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Research Centers will Focus on Fundamentals Needed to Overcome Biomass-to-Biofuels Barriers

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Biofuels Canada is the first and only trade publication dedicated to covering the rapidly growing biofuels industries of Canada. The magazine is primarily focused on conventional ethanol and biodiesel production and use, as well as cutting-edge production technologies such as cellulosic ethanol. The full-color bi-monthly magazine is written for a broad range of industry professionals including plant personnel, researchers, project developers, lenders, farmers, policy makers, academics and others. Look to Biofuels Canada for the latest industry news, as well as insightful features and commentary, that will give you a competitive advantage in the dynamic international biofuels business.

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..................... 18 INNOVATION Nebraska Corncob Harvesters Twin brothers in Nebraska invented a biomass collection system that harvests the corn and cobs in a single pass. Ty and Jay Stukenholtz are building a business around their invention—promoting the machinery and harvesting services and marketing the harvested biomass. By Ron Kotrba

24 PROFILE Hammermill Master Designing a process for receiving, conveying, screening, grinding, removing metal from and storing biomass is a big job, one that Plymouth, Minn.-based Robert White Industries Inc. has been tackling for nearly two decades. By Nicholas Zeman

30 FEEDSTOCK Switchgrass Pioneers Following a lengthy study, a group of Iowa farmers is gearing up to produce switchgrass for commercial use. The farmers have identified several potential markets for the warm-season prairie grass. By Susanne Retka Schill


36 CELLULOSE Research Revolution Research into cost-effective methods of producing ethanol from biomass got a big



shot in the arm from the U.S DOE. The federal agency is funding a multidisciplinary research consortium to ramp up the process. By Jessica Ebert

42 POWER If You Build It … 05 Advertiser Index 07 Industry Events

Economic developers in Indiana’s Clinton County plan to lure more food processing companies to its industrial park by offering savings on natural gas and wastewater treatment. By Anduin Kirkbride McElroy

11 Business Briefs 12 Industry News 51 In the Lab Guided by the Light: Microscopic Analysis Sees Cells’ Biomass Potential By Jerry W. Kram

48 RESEARCH Extreme Makeover—Nature Edition Sandia researchers are looking to biology in earth's extreme environments to help solve the cellulosic ethanol puzzle. Their enzyme studies may provide the key needed to spark an industry. By Mike Janes

53 EERC Update A Road Map for Biofuels Research—Part II By Joshua R. Strege

Correction from our August 2007 issue: The caption under the graphic on page 43 should have read: Hydoxyproprionic Acid (HPA) is a chemical feedstock identified as having potential to be produced from biomass. This star diagram shows the potentially valuable chemical derivatives that can be made from HPA.


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Why hire a project coordinator when you can hire a team of experts to develop your ethanol or biodiesel project? Let BBI guide you down the project development path: Feasibility study Organize your business Develop the business plan Select the right design/builder for your project Select the best site Negotiate utility and product offtake agreements Develop feedstock and risk management plans Develop a project financing strategy Develop prospectus and offering documents Conduct an equity drive Securing project debt financing Financial close and begin construction!

BBI International 300 Union Blvd, Suite 325 Lakewood, CO 80228, (303) 526-5655 BBI Biofuels Canada 81 Bruce Street, Unit C, Kitchener, Ontario N2B 1Y7, (519) 576-4500

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industryevents Green Building Finance & Investment Summit

Energy from Biomass and Waste Expo 2007

September 24-25, 2007

September 25-27, 2007

New York Helmsley Hotel New York City, New York Green or sustainable building is among the fastest-growing practices in new construction development. Sponsored by Financial Research Associates LLC, this event focuses on two tracks: business and technology. Attendees will learn about available, sustainable building materials and energy efficient technologies, as well as how to economically implement them. (800) 280-8440

David L. Lawrence Convention Center Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania This event aims to educate attendees about the benefits of conversion technologies. It will give them hands-on information for their daily business. Companies representing the municipal solid waste, farm waste, landfill gas, wood waste, energy crop, waste coal and additional biomass industries are encouraged to attend the expo, an educational forum and networking events. (207) 236-6196

Next Generation Biofuel Markets

Biofuels Workshop & Trade Show-Western Region

October 4-5, 2007

October 9-12, 2007

Hotel Okura Amsterdam, The Netherlands After 260 biofuels executives attended Europe’s first-ever Next Generation Biofuel Markets seminar in March, held in conjunction with the World Biofuels Markets Congress, the program is back for a second installment in Amsterdam. This event will cover topics such as regulation and policy drivers, finance and investment, and the countdown to cellulose. +44 20 7801 6333

Marriott Portland Downtown Waterfront Portland, Oregon This year’s event, themed “Building a Biofuels Industry,” will address the current status and the future challenges of the biofuels industry in the western United States. Two technical breakout workshops will address ethanol and biodiesel. There will also be technology roundtables and a discussion on sustainability. (719) 539-0300

Investors’Summit on Climate Change Investment Opportunities

Making Wood Work: Local Energy Solutions

October 16-17, 2007

October 16-18, 2007

New York Helmsley Hotel Manhattan, New York This event is designed to help investors explore new opportunities and risk strategies related to climate-related business trends, and identify and evaluate the impact of climate risk on their portfolios. Topics include renewable energy credits and second-generation biofuels, among many others. (800) 280-8440

Holiday Inn Parkside Missoula, Montana At this workshop for implementing biomass boilers, the Fuels for Schools and Beyond initiative and its diverse partners will share their knowledge and experience gained from implementing projects nationwide. Workshop sessions will guide participants through the ins and outs of system implementation at every stage of the process. Speaker panels will cover various topics, and the agenda includes field tours of operating biomass boilers. (406) 363-1444, ext. 5 /biomass_boiler_workshop.html

Biofuels Workshop & Trade Show-Eastern Region

Canadian Renewable Fuels Summit

November 27-30, 2007

December 2-4, 2007

Sheraton Philadelphia City Center Hotel Philadelphia, Pennsylvania This year’s event, themed “Building a Biofuels Industry,” will address the current status and future challenges of the biofuels industry in the eastern United States. The agenda includes two technical breakout workshops that address ethanol and biodiesel, along with additional tracks for biomass utilization and cellulose to ethanol. There will also be a discussion on sustainability. (719) 539-0300

Quebec City Convention Center Quebec City, Quebec The Canadian Renewable Fuels Association’s fourth annual event will continue to discuss the progress, challenges and opportunities facing the Canadian renewable fuels industry. More details will be available as the event approaches. Canada: (519) 576-4500 U.S.: (719) 539-0300



BBI International has completed over 200 feasibility studies and business plans in the last five years and has over 80 years of combined experience in the fuel ethanol industry. Drawing upon our experience we have recently updated our multi client study, which analyzes the fuel ethanol industry and it's potential growth. This study provides industry newcomers with a comprehensive look at today’s fuel ethanol markets, as well as a detailed understanding of key challenges and opportunities facing the industry now and in the future. Some topics include:

 History of Fuel Ethanol Use in the U.S. Current/Under Construction/Planned Ethanol Plants  Ethanol Production and Use by State  Production Technologies  Ethanol Production Economics  Government Regulations  Market Growth and Trends  Policy and Market Drivers  Domestic Ethanol Markets  International Markets  Fuel Ethanol Price Risk  Ethanol Futures Contracts

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BRIEFS Diversa,Celunol merge to create Verenium Diversa Corp., a leader in the development of specialty enzymes, and Celunol Corp., a leading developer of cellulosic ethanol process technologies and projects, recently merged to form Verenium Corp. “Verenium is now positioned to be a vertically integrated leader in the rapidly evolving worldwide biofuels industry through the unique combination of assets, technologies and personnel resulting from this merger,” said Carlos Riva, president and CEO of Verenium. The new company will be based in Cambridge, Mass., with research and operations facilities in San Diego; Jennings, La.; and Gainesville, Fla. In addition to offering end-to-end capabilities in the biomassto-biofuels process chain, Verenium expects to finish construction of its 1.4 MMgy demonstration-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in Jennings by late 2007. Verenium will also partner with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and several other entities to establish the U.S. DOE Bioenergy Science Center, a research facility adjacent to ORNL devoted to accelerating the development of technologies for the efficient and economical production of biofuels from cellulose. BIO

New York expands renewable energy effort New York’s Renewable Energy Task Force met for the first time in late June under the leadership of Lt. Gov. David A. Paterson with the goal of identifying and recommending ways of expanding the state’s use of renewable energy and alternative fuels. The 16-member task force named in late Juneincludes: • Kelly Bennett of Sterling Planet Inc., a seller of energy efficiency credits to households and businesses • Ashok Gupta of the Natural Resources Defense Council • Carol Murphy of the Alliance for Clean Energy New York, a nonprofit alliance of industry and advocacy groups promoting clean and renewable energy • John Saintcros of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which administers New York’s renewable portfolio standards, along with providing information and grant funding for renewable energy efforts • Jeffrey Williams of the New York Farm Bureau, where he works on environmental and renewable energy issues, and acts as a liaison between the agricultural industry and the renewable energy sector BIO

Tennessee Biofuels Initiative hires two researchers The Tennessee Biofuels Initiative, a research and business model presented by the University of Tennessee (UT) and funded by the state, has appointed two UT researchers to direct a $48.9 million endeavor that aims to develop a biomass-to-ethanol production facility. Dr. Kelly Tiller, an agricultural economist who coTiller authored the initiative’s business model, will serve as director of external operations. Her duties will include general oversight of the Tennessee Biofuels Initiative. She will also manage the development of the pilot biorefinery and manage relationships with external partners Rials interested in collaborative projects associated with the initiative. Dr. Tim Rials, a polymer chemist who directs the Tennessee Forest Products Center, will serve as director of research for bioenergy initiatives. Rials will oversee activities associated with refining the biomass conversion process and the development of coproducts. Both Tiller and Rials will retain their faculty appointments through the UT Agricultural Experiment Station. BIO

Biomass group hires new director The Biomass Energy Resource Center (BERC) in Montpelier, Vt., has hired Christopher Recchia as its executive director. Recchia was most recently director of the Ozone Transport Commission, where he coordinated pollution reduction programs in 12 states and the District of Columbia. Prior to that, he was commissioner of the Vermont Department of Environment Conservation. The BERC has played a role in developing biomass projects in Vermont and around the country, including biomass heating systems in schools, methane digesters on farms and industrial applications. It has also worked to commercialize biomass technologies. BIO



NEWS Two companies pursue commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol projects The race is on to build the first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in the United States. Broomfield, Colo.-based Range Fuels announced July 2 that the company had been awarded a construction permit from the state of Georgia to build a 100 MMgy commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant. Seventeen days later, Cambridge, Mass.-based Mascoma Corp. announced its intentions of building a similar project in Michigan. Range Fuels, funded by Khosla Ventures LLC, will break ground this summer on the first phase of its facility—20 MMgy of capacity—in Soperton, Ga. It will predominantly use Georgia pine as its feedstock. According to CEO Mitch Mandich, the first phase is scheduled to be complete in 2008. A timeline hasn’t been announced for when the facility would reach 100 MMgy of capacity. “It’s very exciting because I think it will stimulate a lot of additional investment in green energy and help our country in a number of different ways,” Mandich said of the project. The facility will have a mod-

ular architecture, which makes adding capacity easier. Once operational, Range Fuels intends to market the ethanol through Savannahand Macon-based blenders and ship the product via rail and truck, according to Mandich. The project is underway thanks to a $76 million federally funded grant by the U.S. DOE. The company is also looking at six possible sites for additional cellulosic ethanol plants, Mandich said. Mascoma also plans to use wood waste as its main feedstock. Although the state has been chosen, a specific site is still pending. Michigan State University and Michigan Technological University will partner with Mascoma to develop and hone scientific processes for the project.

Michigan State will provide expertise in pretreatment technology and assistance with energy crops. Michigan Tech will provide expertise through its “Wood to Wheels” initiative, in which it offers optimization of forestry materials for energy use and knowledge of sustainable forestry management practices. It will also provide access to its automotive engineering laboratories for analysis of the biofuels produced at the site. “Michigan is an excellent state for one of the country’s first cellulosic ethanol plants, given its many tons of biomass available for conversion into low-carbon, domestically produced fuel,” Mascoma CEO Bruce Jamerson said. -Bryan Sims

Morgan Stanley finances biomass power project According to San Diego, Calif.-based Bull Moose Energy LLC, Morgan Stanley, a leading global financial services firm, has agreed to invest up to $60 million in the development of biomass power production plants that would generate power from renewable energy sources near urban centers. According to Bull Moose Energy CEO Amanda Martinez, the first of five projects to be financed under the Morgan Stanley investment will be sited on 20 acres within an enterprise zone in San Diego. Each day, the power plant will use clean biomass technology to convert several hundred tons of tree trimmings and other wood-based bio12 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 9|2007

mass sources, which would otherwise go to county landfills, into energy. The recycled waste will be converted to electricity for over 20,000 homes. The site will include energy production facilities, fuel preparation and feed components, and receiving and distribution facilities. “With the recent improvements in technology, biomass has become one of the cleanest, most low-impact ways to generate electricity,” Martinez said. “I see biomass as a very good sustainable source of ‘baseload’ power, and I think that’s important for the economy and for economic stability.” San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), a subsidiary of Sempra Energy, has already

contracted with Bull Moose Energy to purchase 20 megawatts of biomass-based electricity annually, which will help to meet SDG&E's goal of supplying 20 percent of its customers’ energy needs with renewable resources by 2010. Currently in the design phase, Bull Moose Energy anticipates breaking ground on its new power plant in the fall and delivering power in 2008. “We are looking forward to using the best and latest technology to create even greater efficiencies and benefits for the San Diego community and beyond,” Martinez said. -Bryan Sims


NEWS BP invests in Mendel research program Mendel Biotechnology Inc. and Mendel is developing new British Petroleum (BP) are collaboperennial crops for the lignocellurating to develop feedstocks for cellosic biofuels industry through conlulosic biofuels. In addition to fundventional breeding methods and ing a five-year research program, BP through the use of advanced techwill become a shareholder of nologies that overcome many of the Mendel. problems associated with breeding Earlier this year, Mendel undomesticated perennial plants acquired the entire Miscanthus such as switchgrass and Miscanthus. breeding program from German Its goal is to increase the yield of plant science company Tinplant biomass crops without increasing Biotechnik und input costs. Additionally, Mendel is Pflanzenvermehrung GmbH. “The developing varieties that are better funding from BP will enable us to suited to process fermentable sugfully develop that resource,” Mendel ars, and ones that have enhanced President and CEO Neal Gutterson Miscanthus is the focus of much of the Mendel research biotic and abiotic stress tolerance. getting a boost from BP. said. Monsanto Corp. is also working Prior to the acquisition, with Mendel Biotechnology. In the Tinplant Biotechnik spent 15 years develop- to take off, and he predicted Mendel would summer of 2006, Mendel extended its teching Miscanthus transplants for the local and be ready. “We will have material that can be nology collaboration with Monsanto for an European markets. Now, Gutterson said propagated for transplants in the short additional five-year period through the end Mendel will be using its material to develop run,” he added. of 2011, regarding certain large-acreage Mendel is also collaborating with crops and vegetables. Mendel also has a Miscanthus for the United States market, moving away from vegetative propagation researchers in China to gather Miscanthus number of partnerships with leading comwith transplants. “In the long term, we think germplasm from native growing areas in panies in crops such as ornamentals, turf the economics will push it toward the seed east Asia. “We will also be working on and forestry. business,” he explained. Gutterson said it switchgrass, and in the long term I think -Susanne Retka Schill will be the middle of the next decade before there will be a place for annual crops, so we the market for cellulosic feedstocks is ready will be looking at sorghum,” Gutterson said.

ArborGen, others work to sequence Eucalyptus genome The scientific effort to sequence the Eucalyptus genome is bringing together over 20 different institutions from around the world. The project will be led by the U.S. DOE’s Joint Genome Institute and the Summerville, S.C., research firm ArborGen LLC. Along with its New Zealand-based shareholder Rubicon Ltd., ArborGen is providing access to a private library of nearly 240,000 Eucalyptus sequences for this effort. This fast-growing, high-yield hardwood is cultivated commercially in many parts of the world to produce pulp and paper. ArborGen said Eucalyptus is also considered to be an ideal cellulosic ethanol feedstock. A native of Australia, the Eucalyptus genus includes 700 species and some of the fastest-growing woody plants in the world. -Nicholas Zeman

A native of Australia, the Eucalyptus family includes over 700 species and some of the fastest-growing varieties in the world. 9|2007 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 13


NEWS Biomass generation facility opens in Thailand A cogeneration steam boiler in Thailand that will burn biomass, coal and biogas began operation in July after about one year of construction. Phase one of the Sahasin Cogen Limited project provides steam, heat and electricity to Sahasinwattana Starch & Sweetener Company. Electricity will also be sold to the grid when the sweetener company isn’t operating. The boiler, which produces 25 tons of steam per hour, burns a mixture of 30 percent coal and 70 percent biomass and biogas, according to George Sorenson., chairman of FE Clean Energy Group Inc., a private equity firm that led the financial, developmental and technical aspects of the project. The boiler burns a variety of biomass, including rice husks, cashew nut husks, wood and local waste biomass, Sorenson explained. The boiler won’t use waste from cassava or tapioca, which are processed at the adjacent sweetener facility. Biogas production is phase two of the project, and construction is expected to begin in the fall. Waste pulp from the tapioca squeezing and cassava crushing processes will be fermented to generate the biogas. In a classic methane capture, the waste product naturally breaks down, and as methane is released, it is captured in a polyethylene tent, Sorenson said. There’s a large potential to earn tradable carbon credits through the Kyoto Protocol for the biogas project, Sorenson added. The biomass

The Sahasin Cogen Limited biomass steam boiler is shown under construction in February at its site in Thailand.

boiler project, on the other hand, doesn’t require carbon credits in order to achieve a positive rate of return because of the revenue earned from the sale of electricity and steam. -Anduin Kirkbride McElroy

REEEP funds energy projects in China, India The Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) recently announced the disbursement of 3.2 million euros to 35 new projects designed to remove market barriers of clean energy and energy efficiency across the developing world. The funds were provided by the governments of the United Kingdom, Norway, Ireland, New Zealand and Italy. “[The] REEEP feels that these projects are important as they are focused on the implementation of policies and business models that can be replicated across the developing world and economies in transition,” said Peter Richards, communications director for the REEEP, a public-private partnership of more than 200 national governments, businesses, development banks and nongovernmental organizations. “In many cases, governments produce targets for renewable energy and energy efficiency, but determining ways to achieve those targets can be difficult.” One project that may pave the way involves identifying the technological, political 14 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 9|2007

barriers to enable the country to meet its national biomass development target. A second project will develop a business model for energy service companies wanting to design, finance, construct and operate largescale biogas power generation facilities at livestock farms in China. A third project intends to remove the financial and institutional barriers to the mainstream use of biomass thermal gasifiers for small enterprises and institutions in India. The project will raise awareness among users, banks, manufacturers and local service providers of available technology, and create financing schemes for all three groups via a revolving fund with the aim of financing 30 biomass gasifier systems of various capacities, Richards said. “Our work in bioenergy will This gasifier in India converts help China and India to create market mechaag-based briquettes into energy. nisms that will accelerate biomass and biogas and financial barriers to the development and power production.” use of biomass for energy in rural China, which will culminate in the development of a -Jessica Ebert national action plan aimed at removing those


NEWS EU funds BioSynergy project A €13 million (US $18 million) collaborative effort in the European Union (EU), called BioSynergy, is pulling together 17 partners, including industry, academic and government research laboratories, to accelerate technologies for the cost-effective use of biomass in the production of transportation fuels, power and value-added byproducts. The European Commission, through its sixth Framework Program, contributed €7 million (US$9.6 million) to this effort. “The project came about from certain ideas about how the biorefinery can contribute to the further development of biomass— especially lignocellulose and residues—as feedstocks to make biomass-derived products more cheaply,” said Hans Reith, project coordinator and member of the biomass research group at the Energy Research Center in the Netherlands. The ultimate goal of the project is to develop a European perspective of biorefinery processes that can be implemented across the continent. The basic scheme for the project

falls into several integrated work packages that will be carried out by the project partners over the next four years. The overall aims of these packages include: • developing innovative fractionation technologies for the physical and/or chemical separation of some of Europe’s major biomass feedstocks (barley straw, wheat straw, distillers dried grains with solubles, and wood chips) • developing thermochemical and biochemical conversion pathways that could potentially be combined to process feedstocks into transportation fuels and intermediate products such as butanol, phenolic oils and furfural—intermediates that will serve as platform chemicals for the synthesis of a host of value-added chemicals • designing downstream tactics for synthesizing value-added chemicals and fuels from intermediates • identifying the most promisingbiorefinery chains for the EU as a whole—as well as for specific market sectors based on energy

efficiency, environmental performance and cost—and to quantify the environmental effects of these overall chains • implementing and demonstrating the technologies that stem from the project on a pilot scale in close collaboration with the lignocellulose-to-ethanol pilot plant at Greencell, an Abengoa Bioenergy project currently under construction near Salamanca, Spain “I think what is rather unique in this proposal is that there is a strong integration of both biochemical and thermochemical conversion technologies,” said Ed de Jong, head of the fiber and paper technology group at Agrotechnology and Food Innovations in the Netherlands. “We look at fermentation, but we also look at pyrolysis and gasification. It is the combinations that are unique.” Specific details and results of the planned research will be made available at www -Jessica Ebert

Construction began this summer on an $8.9 million biomass gasification heat plant on the campus of the University of Minnesota-Morris (UMM) in Morris, Minn. The gasifier will replace about $500,000 of natural gas purchased annually to heat campus buildings. Construction is expected to be complete by the spring of 2008. According to Lowell Rasmussen, a UMM associate vice chancellor, the project is unique because of its fuel source— corn stover—and its size. “We wanted to demonstrate a gasifier that could be used by small, rural business and industries,” he said. With a small-business user in mind, he said the university chose one of the more simplified gasifier designs—with atmospheric pressure, inclined grate and fixed bed—built by KMW Systems Inc. in

London, Ontario. UMM, along with the West Central Research and Outreach Center in Morris, received a $1.89 million, three-year grant from the USDA and U.S. DOE to conduct research on feedstocks and ash properties on campus. “We’re pretty sure we can keep the minerals (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) in the ash,” Rasmussen said. The two entities hope to find the optimal balance between burning carbon and returning an adequate amount to the soil. They will also study problems associated with corn stover’s high silica content and evaluate switchgrass, straw, soybean residue and poplar. Future plans include adding a 400-kilowatt generator and cooling capacity.

PHOTO: Hammel, Green and Abrahamson Inc.

UMM builds gasifier for heat, research

Groundbreaking ceremonies were held in late July for the University of Minnesota-Morris biomass gasifier heating plant, pictured in this schematic.

- Susanne Retka Schill 9|2007 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 15


NEWS Waste Management commits to landfill gas expansion Waste Management Inc. is embarking on a major project to recover methane gas produced by landfills for energy production. The Houston-based company has launched an initiative to build 60 landfillgas-to-energy (LFGTE) facilities over the next five years. The company currently produces 225 megawatts of electricity from landfill gas at 95 facilities. The new project will increase the cumulative capacity to 700 megawatts, enough to power 700,000 homes or replace 8 million barrels of oil. The company plans to complete 10 LFGTE facilities this year and begin development of another 10. In 2007, Waste Management will commission LFGTE facilities at landfills in Texas, Virginia, New York, Colorado, Massachusetts, Illinois and Wisconsin. "This initiative is a major step in Waste Management's ongoing efforts to implement sustainable business practices across the company," said Paul Pabor, the company’s vice president of renewable energy. "Landfill-gas-to-energy projects provide an important contribution to the country's renewable energy portfolio. We're setting an ambitious goal to greatly expand our current

roster of these plants, which will help us responsibly allocate the company's resources while providing renewable power to the businesses, communities and regions in which we operate.” Landfill gas is a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide created when microorganisms break down organic matter in the landfill. At most landfills, this gas is burned off, or “flared.” Instead, Waste Management collects

the gas from a network of wells across the landfill. The wells are connected to a compression facility, where the gas is compressed, dried, filtered and sent as fuel to on-site turbines or engines to generate electricity. The gas can also be delivered to industrial customers as an alternative fuel source. Waste Management provides refuse collection and recycling services to 21 million customers in the United States. It also operates 281 active landfills and 17 solid-waste-to-energy plants. The company built its first LFGTE facility more than 20 years ago. LFGTE gives the landfills a new revenue stream while offsetting the use of fossil fuels at utility power plants. It also prevents the emission of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. Over the years, Waste Management has reduced methane emission from its landfills by 50 percent. As a result, it has become one of the largest holders of greenhouse gas emission credits in the United States. -Jerry W. Kram

Washington to provide loans for bioenergy financing

Public and private sectors in Washington will now be working to realize four specific bioenergy projects in the state. In July, Gov. Chris Gregoire signed agreements to provide $6.4 million in low-interest loans meant to encourage conservation and business development. The South Yakima Conservation District, which was awarded $2 million, is working with George DeRuyter and Sons Dairy to operate an anaerobic digester that will turn dairy waste 16 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 9|2007

into methane fuel for electrical generation. Kyle Juergens, project manager for Andgar Corp., the Ferndale, Wash., firm that supervised construction of the digester, said the DeRuyter farm was approved for the loan in 2006, and operation began in November of that year. The digester is selling electricity to Pacific Corp., a 1.6 million-customer utility company with headquarters in Salt Lake City and Portland, Ore., Juergens said. Andgar also built Washington’s only other anaerobic

digester at the Vander Haak Dairy in Lynden, Wash., as part of a design/build team with GHD Inc. in Chilton, Wis., which provided the processing equipment for both locations. For information on the other three projects that received funding, see an extended version of this story at www.biomassmagazine .com. -Nicholas Zeman

EERC Centers for Renewable Energy and Biomass Utilization

C e n t e r s f o r

Renewable E



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Backed by more than 60 years of experience in gasification technologies and more than a decade in biomass energy, the Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) is leading North Dakota and the nation in renewable energy technologies.

With more than 300 employees, the EERC is a worldwide leader in developing cleaner, more efficient energy technologies as well as environmental technologies to protect and clean our air, water, and soil. At the EERC, sound science evolves into true innovation. Find out more about how the EERC can innovate for you. EERC Technology … Putting Research into Practice

University of North Dakota Grand Forks


7|2007 18 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 9|2007


Thirty-four-year-old twins from Nebraska invented the Residue Recovery System, a custom-made biomass collection system for combines that harvests and stores whole corncobs separately from the grain in a single pass through the field. By Ron Kotrba


y and Jay Stukenholtz are inventors. They’re also identical-twin brothers. The differences in appearance between the two may be hard to see, but once they speak it’s easier to distinguish one from the other. Ty is soft-spoken and responds quickly while Jay speaks in a deeper tone, his responses taking a little longer as if he’s battling the profundity of his own thoughts. Raised on their family’s 350-acre farm outside of Nebraska City, Neb.—land they still work today—the 34-year-olds each hold an agricultural engineering degree from the University of Nebraska. Ty and Jay graduated in 1997. With their educational training and farming experience, the Stukenholtz brothers know all

about harvesting corn. Now they know even more about corncob harvesting. Soon after graduating from the university, Ty’s and Jay’s inventiveness materialized. Their ingenuity eventually turned into a rather lucrative custom-harvest business, raking in corn and whole corncobs in the same time it would take others to harvest just the grain. Their invention is a custom-built add-on that can be used with virtually any combine on the market. Its purpose is to effectively separate the corncobs from the stalks and leaves during the harvest, keeping the cobs separate in the combine’s onboard storage. It’s called the Residue Recovery System, a patented and trademarked ensemble of equipment they originally built to collect and sell corncobs to a furfural

Jay, left, and Ty Stukenholtz (in photo to the left) invented the Residue Recovery system to harvest corn and corncobs. 9|2007 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 19


Poet Using Corncobs In June, Poet LLC announced its successful test processing corncobs into ethanol. Poet intends to use both corncobs and corn fiber as feedstock for the U.S.-DOEfunded Emmetsburg, Iowa, plant projectwhere cellulosic technologies converting corn fiber and cobs will be integrated into the company’s existing 50-MMgy dry mill, ultimately producing 125 MMgy from corn, corn fiber and corncobs. “The fiber that comes from our fractionation process will provide 40 percent of our cellulosic feedstock from the corn kernels that we are already processing in our facility,” Poet CEO Jeff Broin said in a press release. “That means that nearly half of our cellulose feedstock comes with no additional planting, harvest, storage or transportation needs. … The rest of the cellulosic feedstock will come from corncobs, which will expand the amount of ethanol that can come from a corn crop with minimal additional effort and little to no environmental impact. There is no major market for cobs, so we will be producing cellulosic ethanol from an agricultural residue and because the cob is only 18 percent of the above ground stover, it will not adversely impact soil quality.” In that same release, Mark Stowers, Poet’s vice president of research and development, detailed the advantages of the cob as a feedstock for processing into ethanol. The cob has more carbohydrate content than the rest of the corn plant, giving us the ability to create more ethanol from the cob,” he said. “In addition, the cob has higher bulk density than the other parts of the corn stalk, so it is easier to transport from the field to the facility.” Beth Pihlblad, business partner of Ty and Jay Stukenholtz, tells Biomass Magazine that even though she and her twin business-partner inventors have talked with Poet about the Residue Recovery System to collect cobs, Poet is not officially working with them. “We’ve talked with Poet, but they’ve got their own ideas on this,” Pihlblad says. “They’ve talked about maybe working in parallel with us. However, they are not working with us. It would be beneficial for Poet to do so, and we’d appreciate it, but their project development is in too early a stage to make these types of commitments.” 20 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 9|2007

plant outside of Omaha, Neb. Furfural is a liquid aldehyde made from corncobs and similar agriculture residues, and is used as an industrial solvent. Ty relates the progression of events that took place after he and his brother graduated from college. “The first two years we were back from college our dad harvested on the family farm,” he says. “Then it got rented out, so we didn’t have anyplace to harvest.” It wasn’t going to be easy for them to refine their design with no land to work. That prompted the two to search for custom-harvest acres so they could keep their project going. Finding that special farmer willing to allow experimental equipment runs on their land was challenging. “We were fortunate enough to find one with a couple of thousand acres of corn that we could run over,” Ty says. “It helped get the bugs out of our design.” The Stukenholtz brothers harvested corn within two miles of the cob processing plant in Omaha using their cob collection system. “We ended up getting between $40 and $50 an acre just for the cobs, so compare that to a $20 or $25-anacre custom rate and it’s pretty lucrative,” he says. With the family farmland rented to another farmer, the brothers custom-harvested from 1999 to 2004. Using their single-pass harvesting invention, the Stukenholtz brothers were able to undercut other custom harvest bids by amassing the dense cobs and selling them to markets such as the furfural plant or ruminant feed markets. The farmers weren’t going to miss the cobs; they just wanted the grain. According to the Stukenholtz brothers, cobs are the least valuable component in the corn-crop residue. The farmers that they are working with plant corn-on-corn, meaning crops are not rotated seasonally. Cob piles at the edge of the fields aren’t always completely cleaned up by harvest’s end, and when the next year’s corn crop starts coming in, farmers have difficulties in areas where cobs were left over winter. “It ties up the nitrogen,”

innovation The Residue Recovery System consists of what’s trademarked the CleanBoot and the TopTank. “The CleanBoot typically contains a sieve and two blowers,” Ty tells Biomass Magazine. One fan is used for cleaning the lighter, fluffier leaves and stalks from the denser cobs; the other blower is used to transport material to the TopTank. “The blower fan is downstream from a Venturi,” he says. A Venturi effect, named for Italian physicist Giovanni Battista Venturi, is created when airflow passes through a constricted area and pressure on the inlet side is increased while pressure on the downwind side of the Venturi decreases, creating a vacuumlike environment. “It’s unlike anything else I’ve ever seen,” Ty continues. “It can Years of corn-on-corn farming have shown the Stukenholtzes that removing the corncobs from take a tremendous amount of material the stover doesn’t adversely affect soil nutrition. Also, breaking down the cobs into usable soil and blow it into the tank, and it doesn’t nutrients ties up more nitrogen, so removing the lignin-rich cobs may save on fertilizer costs. take a lot of power. It’s taken quite a few Jay says. “As much as the cost of the ferBecause rotary combines make up a years to get it ironed out to where we are tilizer is, especially if it keeps going up, vast majority of combines marketed in now.” Just as their voices are unique, so are and if it takes extra fertilizer to break the United States today, most of the the roles each twin plays in the ongoing down the lignin in the corncob to make it Stukenholtz’s biomass collection systems development of the Residue Recovery into a usable nutrient, that offsets the have been tailored for rotary combines. value in a corn-on-corn rotation,” he says. “The cobs are out there every year—it might be beneficial to remove them.”

The Invention Another farmer, who was working with the Omaha furfural plant, designed a wagon to be pulled behind a combine that cleaned the corncobs out of the stover. “They had a hard time making it work,” Ty says. “Eventually they got some of the bugs out, but from our experience, pulling a wagon in our part of the country—anywhere really—there just had to be a better way.” There was one year when all the brothers did was separate cobs via pull-behind wagons, but that didn’t match the efficiency of typical corn-harvesting combines. “That’s when we undertook our project,” Ty says. “The intent was to build a machine that could run in the hills of southeast Nebraska.”

Cobco Manufacturing’s Residue Recovery System consists of the TopTank above the operator cab and the CleanBoot on the rear of the combine.


innovation System. For example, Jay handles the blowers and CleanBoot on the backend of the combine, while Ty focuses on the TopTank and grain extension on top of the harvester. The TopTank holds 3,000 pounds of cobs, so it’s sized at about 80 percent of a combine’s onboard grain storage tank. Thus, harvesters with a 300-bushel grain tank would be outfitted with a 300-cubic-feet cob tank, which only takes about half-a-minute to unload once it’s full. Patent-pending Autofold technology also allows the operator to collapse the storage bin from inside the cab. With all of the work the Stukenholtz brothers have done with corncob harvesting, Ty still admits, “Cobs are not an exact science.”

Planning Ahead After 10 years of refining and The Stukenholtz brothers’ patent-pending tweaking their invention and supplying Autofold technology allows operators to dump the a dozen or more custom-engineered 300-cubic-feet cob tank in about 30 seconds collection systems to a smattering of without leaving their seats.


farmers and agribusinesses in the Midwest, the Stukenholtz brothers and their new business partner Beth Pihlblad prepare to take this implement to the next level. Pihlblad was introduced to the Stukenholtz’s through a cousin who had been working with them early in the development of their invention. Pihlblad herself was immersed in renewables, working with a recycling company that was using woody biomass to cofire with coal. “I became more curious about their invention, so I contacted them last fall and that’s when they told me their story,” she says. “I was introducing them to the larger potential of what they created.” Pihlblad says the Stukenholtzes knew of the emerging biomass utilization industries such as biomass-to-power, cellulosic ethanol and the “green” chemistry movement, but didn’t realize how big an effort was being amassed in that direction.

innovation Shortly after Jan. 1, Ty, Jay and Pihlblad formed a company, Ceres Agriculture Consultants, to promote their machinery and harvesting services, and to build relationships in the industry. The brothers started another company in 2001, Cobco Manufacturing Inc., which they formed to help market prototypes of their equipment, harvested cobs and other forms of biomass to end users. “We’ve supplied two coal plants with cobs—one was at the University of Missouri at Columbia—and we’ve worked with a public utility company supplying them with cobs,” Ty says. Now, Ceres Agriculture Consultants will take a lead role in promoting renewable energy projects development for its business partners. Cobco will likely be transformed into what Pihlblad calls a “fuel processing and trucking/distribution company.” Ty explains the rationale behind this move. “A lot of the markets we have for cobs, which have sustained our project, are 250 miles away,” he says. “We’ve already got the trucks we need to get started … We would have to expand a lot, but we’ve got a start anyway.” Amidst all of these activities— developing renewable energy projects, agricultural consulting, custom-harvesting, and fuel processing and distribution—one wonders what will become of the Stukenholtz’s cob collection system? “We still need to refine the engineering and partner with a manufacturer,” Pihlblad tells Biomass Magazine. An aftermarket equipment maker will likely be the first partner in the manufacturing of this machinery, Jay says. “Once it appears the market is big enough, the OEMs will be more likely to pick it up.” Ty says deciding exactly how large the market is for their invention remains a challenge. “We’re having a hard time trying to figure it out,” he says. “We are going to need somewhere between a couple of these and 500. That’s the biggest challenge here—moving from the prototype stage with custom-built

machines for specific applications to a product that has manufacturability.” Until a manufacturing agreement is set, the brothers will continue to test and refine their creation for different applications. This fall they will harvest 60 acres of soybeans and test their invention collecting the soybean pods. The residue sizes make the biggest difference when configuring each custom-built apparatus. “Change the air, change the sieve size, and if you have to, change the whole sieve,” Jay says. “That’s what we have to do for different residues.” The twins are especially interested in trying their device on wheat straw, Ty says. “There’s a large push—especially in the cellulosic ethanol industry—to use wheat straw, largely because wheat is grown in drier climates,” he says. “But with wheat straw there are density issues that will require a larger TopTank on the combine.”

Pihlblad says she will concentrate on building momentum in the emerging biomass industries for the cob collection system they’ve developed. “We’ll be focusing on education within the industry,” she says. “Farmers are going to have to see the value—the intrinsic value imbedded, and how much money they can make on this. Our focus until next spring will be education and awareness, and generating momentum—we need momentum. We need farmers to be asking, ‘Where can I use this? Where can I buy it? What are its applications?’” Moreover, Pihlblad says what’s really needed are outlets for all of the available biomass materials. BIO Ron Kotrba is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. Reach him at rkotrba@bbibiofuels .com or (701) 746-8385.



Robert White Industries Inc. in Plymouth, Minn., has been designing biomass handling systems for nearly 20 years. Demand for these services is expected to increase as more companies look to biomass sources for their fuel needs. By Nicholas Zeman





The only good news associated with the emerald ash borers U.S. arrival is that the resulting diseased and dying wood can be used in biomass-to-power applications.


obert White is well-aware of the damage caused by the emerald ash borer as the insects progress across the Midwest. Because he’s in the biomass handling business he also knows that a large source of wood will be available in the near future as a result of these insects. “You only have to follow a very simple train of thought,” says White, founder of a Plymouth, Minn., company that provides veteran expertise in the development of renewable energy systems. “It’s not a matter of if, but when [the emerald ash borer gets to Minnesota]. When those trees die, they’re going to have to be cleared.” Biomass handlers and processors have the task of dealing with the destruction left by non-native insects and invasive species that can enter the United States as a result of global trade. It’s thought that the emerald ash borer arrived in the United States as a stowaway on ships loaded with imports from the Orient, and was first discovered near Detroit in the summer of 2002. While the adults nibble on foliage and cause little damage, the larvae of the insect feed

on the inner bark of ash trees, disrupting the trees’ ability to transport water and nutrients. Michigan has already lost 20 million ash trees to the borer, which was also discovered in Ohio, Illinois and Indiana. Minnesotans are being warned not to transport or buy firewood from outside of the state to keep the borers at bay. Minnesota has 15 million acres of timberland, covering 29 percent of the state. The forestry industry contributes $7.7 billion a year to the state economy, from the more than 600 mills that process forest material in various ways, according to the USDA’s Forest Service. Aspen is the most abundant variety, but there are also millions of ash trees, which could be potential borer victims. The only good news associated with the emerald ash borers U.S. arrival, is that the resulting diseased and dying wood can be used in biomass-to-power applications, White says.

Experienced Handler, Growing Market White gained decades of experience handling, storing and condensing biomass when he worked the hammermill

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By displacing 80 percent of the coal and oil burned a year, District Energy will reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by roughly 600 tons per year and carbon dioxide fumes by an estimated 28,000 tons per year.

for the Jacobson company, which is now part of Carter Day International Inc., in Minneapolis, “I was working for Jacobson grinding up wood scrap and just decided to start my own company in 1989,” White says. A hammermill uses rotating hammers and stationary anvils to smash,

crush and tear large biomass pieces into smaller fragments. Hammermills are also used in other industrial applications like crushing automobiles for scrap metal recycling purposes. Jacobson designed and manufactured a complete line of different sized hammermills and reduction systems, so White was able to learn enough about reducing and handling biomass to strike out and start his own company—Robert White Industries Inc. (RWI). One of the most important lessons he learned was to focus on site specificity. There cannot be a general approach to collecting and crushing biomass. “From an equipment standpoint, you can’t use a broad brush,” White says. “You have to make sure the correct and appropriate system is designed to solve multiple problems.” For instance, it just doesn’t pay to ship corn stover more than 80 miles. “So you’re looking at one source [of raw biomass], maybe two—certainly not a multitude of sources for processing.” Because biomass handling requires, screening, reducing, storing and transportation finesse it’s a difficult sector to work in, White says. Therefore, RWI offers solutions to manage all of the following components:

Size reduction: grinders, shredders, hogs, chippers and hammermills • Material handling: belt, chain and screw conveyors, screeners and bagging equipment • Material storage: silos, bins and bunkers and unloading equipment • Combustion systems: wood and biomass fuel heating and boiler systems from 50 to 1,200 horsepower; hot air, water or high-pressure steam systems; chillers for dehumidfication and air-cooling • Fire prevention: high-speed infrared spark detection and extinguishment fire prevention for dust collectors; highspeed abort gates Historically, biomass utilization was limited to the wood industry, which has burned residues from different manufacturing processes, White says. Recently there has been an expansion as more businesses are searching for ways to utilize biomass and cut back on greenhouse gas emissions. “District Energy St. Paul is now burning wood instead of coal,” White says, adding that urban wood waste •

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profile is an ongoing problem there. A combined-heat-and-power (CHP) plant in St. Paul now uses approximately half of the 600,000 metric tons of wood waste generated in the Twin Cities area. In addition to getting rid of excess biomass and providing stable energy rates for its customers, District Energy St. Paul is realizing the environmental benefits of using biomass. By displacing 80 percent of the coal and oil burned a year, District Energy will reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by roughly 600 tons per year and carbon dioxide fumes by an estimated 28,000 tons per year. White uses this example to illustrate that his services are going to be in greater demand as more and more companies look to biomass sources for their fuel needs. So far, using biomass to displace fossil fuel as a source of power generation has been limited. However, looking ahead there are opportunities especially in the ethanol industry. White expects that companies like his will contribute in a big way to the overall design model that will lead to the industrialization of cellulosic

ethanol. When asked how long it will be before Minnesota has its first cellulosic ethanol plant, “That’s over my head,” White replies. “Using biomass as a fuel source and using it as a cellulosic ethanol feedstock are two totally different things. I still think it’s two or three years away, and whether it’s corn stover or wood chips, or forest thinning, I just don't know.” In the meantime, he’s been involved in some innovative ethanol projects already. RWI designed the biomass handling systems at both Chippewa Valley Ethanol Co. LLC (CVEC), in Benson, Minn., and Central Minnesota Ethanol Co-op. (CMEC), in Little Falls, Minn. Because there were several other companies involved with the development of these two biomass-to-power projects— Primenergy LLC, Sebesta Blomberg and Associates Inc., and Frontline BioEnergy Inc., for example—a considerable amount of cooperation was required to get these projects off of the ground. “The challenge was to be clear on responsibilities,” White says of collabora-

RWI is a distributor of biomass handling equipment made by the German company, Vecoplan Inc., which has a diverse portfolio of products for processing plastic waste, reclamation and recycling and wood processing scrap, etc.

tive projects. “Each company is a specialist at what they do, and provided the very best equipment.”

Equipment Distribution, Fire Safety

A hammermill uses rotating hammers and stationary anvils to smash, crush and tear large biomass pieces into smaller fragments.


Because White Industries doesn’t manufacture the equipment used in its biomass handling system designs, White has developed a network of trusted suppliers. In the handling and transportation world it’s Vecoplan LLC that makes the best equipment to shred and pack biomass, White says. Vecoplan, headquartered in Bad Marienberg, Germany, wasfounded in 1969 as a manufacturer of high-quality wood chippers. The company now has a diverse portfolio of products for processing plastic waste, reclamation and recycling, large extruder purgings and wood processing scrap, etc. “Their equipment can handle and process just about any material,” White says. “Vecoplan’s diversity of products can fit the best equipment to a specific project, which is important because every cus-

profile tomer has different and unique requirements.” In the early 1980s, Vecoplan turned its focus to recycling and in 1982-‘83 Wolfgang Lipowski, now Vecoplan’s technical director, invented the single-shaft rotary grinder. “A couple of my friends actually introduced Vecoplan to the United States around the time I was starting my own company,” White says, adding that their products are of excellent quality. “I thought it was the best equipment for the job and I am still using it in my designs.” Another major aspect of biomass handling is fire safety, and RWI offers the best in spark-detection equipment. When dealing with tons of dried wood pellets, dust and other flammable materials, a blaze could become deadly in no time. An effective spark-detection system must monitor every potential path for a spark or ember to ignite through all branches of ducts, along conveyor belts and even on trucks. Once a spark or ember is detected, a curtain of water is applied to extinguish any possibility of ignition. For

these important safety purposes, RWI distributes equipment made by Hansentek, a division of Neola Corp., in Mississauga, Ontario. To design efficient systems for biomass handling and distribute top-of-theline equipment, White provides what he calls “one-source responsibility” for receiving, conveying, screening, grinding, metal removal and storage of biomass. “RWI can draw on a variety of manufacturers to tailor a processing system to meet each customer’s specific needs,”

White says. “When all of these components are handled by one source, it ensures that everything will match correctly, and operate smoothly.” BIO Nicholas Zeman is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. Reach him at nzeman or (701) 746-8385.

‘RWI can draw on a variety of manufacturers to tailor a processing system to meet each customer’s specific needs. When all of these components are handled by one source, it ensures that everything will match correctly, and operate smoothly.’





Long before President George W. Bush mentioned switchgrass in his State of the Union address, a group of Iowa farmers searching for economic opportunities and solutions for water quality and erosion problems turned to the native prairie grass. Today, with 10 years of research under their belts, the farmers are gearing up to produce switchgrass for commercial use. By Susanne Retka Schill


owa’s switchgrass visionaries are a patient lot. Fifteen years ago, the Chariton Valley Resource Conservation and Development Inc. (RCD) board, made up of area farmers, began looking to grass to solve local water quality problems. In 1996, they landed one of five U.S. DOE biomass energy grants. Out of those five projects, it’s the only one still alive and nearing commercialization, says Bill Belden, the consulting manager for Prairie Lands BioProducts Inc., a nonprofit formed as part of the project that is also developing Prairie Lands Biomass LLC as its business entity. A decade of research has been completed and the final reports were submitted in September. Yet, Belden expects it will be another two to three years before Alliant Energy Corp. will be using switchgrass to cofire its boilers around the clock at the Ottumwa (Iowa) Generating Station.

The four counties in south central Iowa—Lucas, Wayne, Appanoose and Monroe—comprising the Chariton Valley RCD contain highly erodible soils on rolling terrain. The immediate problem in the early 1990s centered on Lake Rathbun, a man-made lake which had experienced several fish kills and was targeted by the U.S. EPA because it had high levels of Atrazine, a pesticide commonly used in corn production. The Chariton Valley group considered using grass to mitigate the environmental issues and while investigating which grass to pursue, they learned that the U.S. DOE had already identified switchgrass as a promising energy crop. In 1996, Chariton Valley RCD landed a DOE grant to launch a comprehensive study on switchgrass. Switchgrass, a native, warm-season prairie grass, which can grow to 5 feet, is widely used on Conservation Reserve 9|2007 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 31


Belden helped organize the grower group in the early stages of the Chariton Valley Biomass Project and is now developing the business model for a switchgrass procurement and processing company.

The test burn at 2.5 percent switchgrass cofired with coal showed carbon dioxide emissions would be reduced by 250,000 tons per year.


Program (CRP) acres along with other species of prairie grass. It has potential as an energy crop because it produces about 70 percent of the energy that an equal weight of western coal would produce. Yet, there’s a huge difference between using light seeding rates of switchgrass as part of the grass mix planted on CRP acres and maximizing its production as a biomass crop. For the RCD board there also was the challenge to create new economic development opportunities. The Chariton Valley Biomass Project dove into the details, recruiting researchers from Iowa State University and the University of Iowa to conduct numerous studies that are now available on a Web site, Among the topics covered are: • How to improve a thin stand of switchgrass on CRP acres • How different varieties of switchgrass perform on different soils and terrains • The impact of grass production and harvesting practices on wildlife, soil and water quality • The soil carbon sequestration potential for switchgrass • Preliminary variety comparisons and production costs While the project covered a lot of ground, much of the field work was cut out of the budget when the funding began to dwindle, says Dora Guffey, coordinator of the Chariton Valley RCD. They still needed to work on varieties, and to find out whether a switchgrass monoculture could have disease and pest problems. “We have much to learn yet,” she says. Also, educational materials and crop budgets aren’t in place to help farmers evaluate the crop. “You have to realize that it’s not like corn,” Belden says. “There have been no economic drivers to create the infrastructure for farmers. The biomass industry [today] is probably where the seed corn industry was in the 1930s. The production systems date back to the era when we broke the prairie and just started using fertilizer. You can’t han-

dle square bales with an 8-inch [grain] auger. There’s no elevator in place and no Chicago Board of Trade to put a value on it. An infrastructure has to be built.” Although the fieldwork was curtailed, the group was able to identify potential markets in the early years of the project. The farmers approached their power provider Alliant Energy Corp. to ask if the company would consider using switchgrass to cofire the 726 megawatt Ottumwa Generating Station. Alliant understood the importance of reducing its emissions and helping their farmer customers solve environmental problems and meet economic development goals, says Bill Morton, a project engineer with Alliant. “It’s been an interesting multifaceted story.”

Test Burns Generate Data Alliant provided oversight for the project when the test burn phase started in 2000. Those burns provided crucial information to the power provider. Morton says they relied on a Danish engineering firm with several years experience cofiring wheat straw in Europe. As it turned out, introducing switchgrass was not a big investment or challenge, he says. The test burn phase took many years to complete because of the time needed to accumulate enough switchgrass to conduct adequate tests, Belden says. For the first phase in 2000-’01, they needed 1,300 tons of grass, or 2,600 bales, to make sure the existing processing equipment could deliver the needed volume of ground switchgrass. “It couldn’t,” Belden says flatly. “It couldn’t deliver the capacity needed to fuel the boilers, and there was too much dust in the building with the equipment designed by the engineers.” That led the group of farmers to redesign the processing system in the middle of the burn. In 2003-’04, they burned 800 tons of grass, intensively monitored emissions and collected numerous fly ash samples. Fly ash from the Ottumwa Generating Station is used to make concrete. “The


Alliant Energy’s Ottumwa (Iowa) Generating Station is ready to begin cofiring coal with 5 percent switchgrass to produce its 726 megawatts of electricity.

Powder [River] Basin coal used in Iowa is free enough of other chemicals that it can be mixed with concrete,” Belden explains. “It has significant value. We had to prove that adding switchgrass fly ash to the mix wouldn’t alter the properties.” Rather than change its ASTM standards for fly ash, the Iowa Department of Transportation, the major customer for the fly ash produced at the Ottumwa Generating Station, agreed to approve the product if it was proven not to alter the concrete properties. That approval came in June 2005. The farmers then had to prepare for one last large test burn. “We had to accumulate a projected 25,000 tons for a longterm burn of 90 days or about 2,000 hours,” Belden says. They didn’t meet that goal, but the Danish boiler scientists involved in the project were certain a 1,600 hour burn would provide all the necessary information. A total of 31,000 bales of switchgrass at about 1,000

pounds each were burned for nearly three months. Once the burn tests were completed the group had to find out how the switchgrass would be fed into the Ottumwa Generating Station process. The 726megawatt Ottumwa Generating Station uses pulverized coal in a tangential boiler. The powdered coal is blown from eight corners of the boiler into seven rows of burners in each corner, firing to the middle and creating two fireballs. Adding switchgrass to the system was done by installing two inserts to blow ground switchgrass into the burner. The Danish engineers helped to determine the optimum particle size and the best place to introduce the material for the most complete burn. “We had to go into the wind box of the boiler and hook up the switchgrass tubes so they pitch and yaw with the burners and follow the fireball,” Morton explains. “The only time the [coal and the switchgrass] mingle is at the fireball.” In

‘To go commercial, we’re two to three years out yet. We have to build a significant supply to crank up a processing system. When we start we have to be large enough so we can feed the boilers 24/7 all year around.’



Table 1 shows the changes in emissions resulting from substituting 100,000 tons of switchgrass for a British thermal unit-equivalent amount of coal, which would be a 2.5 percent cofiring ratio at the Ottumwa Generating Station. Emissions data for nitrous oxide (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SOx) and particulate matter (PM10) were gathered from the second test burn. Emission impacts for volatile organic compounds (VOC), hydrogen chloride (HCl) and carbon dioxide (CO2) are generated from standard EPA emission factors. Negative values show a beneficial decrease in emissions.

2000, when the inserts were installed they cost about $30,000 each, plus installation costs. Once the equipment was installed, it had to be determined whether the switchgrass would corrode metal boiler parts.


“It’s very expensive to clean a boiler or replace tubes,” Morton explains. “From our studies with the three test burns and the data gleaned by the Danish, we know we can burn up to 10 percent by volume and not experience any real problems.”

Emissions were equally important. “We had to know exactly what those emissions are, and that had to be approved by the governing body—in our case the Iowa DNR (Department of Natural Resources)—so our permits weren’t impacted,” Morton says. That required multiple tests on stack emissions, particulate testing, gas testing, etc., providing the data that resulted in the U.S. EPA and Iowa DNR approving switchgrass for cofiring at the Alliant plant. The test burn at 2.5 percent switchgrass cofired with coal showed carbon dioxide emissions would be reduced by 250,000 tons per year. “Any reduction in emissions is significant,” Morton says. “It’s significant when it’s as measurable as it was with a relatively small percentage of [switchgrass] going through.” The changes for other emission components are shown in Table 1.

Pinning Down Costs With the emissions data gathered, the fly ash coproduct questions answered and metallurgical impact known, Alliant is ready to start cofiring. “To go commercial, we’re two to three years out yet,” Belden says. “We have to build a significant supply to crank up a processing sys-

feedstock tem. When we start we have to be large enough so we can feed the boilers 24/7 all year around.” To support the research phase, farmer cooperators had seeded between 5,000 to 6,000 acres to switchgrass, although only about 3,200 acres were harvested in any one year. The grass was planted on marginal land with environmental and wildlife sensitivity so not all of the acres were harvested each year. To go commercial, Prairie Lands will have to expand the acreage 10-fold or more to supply the 200,000 tons of switchgrass that Alliant would need. Belden is waiting for the final project reports due in September to complete the processing group’s feasibility study and business plan. “We’d love to pay the producers $55 to $65 a ton at our doorstep,” he says. That payment to the farmer, plus the estimated cost of $20 per ton to process it puts switchgrass at a price disadvantage for Alliant when compared with western coal, which costs less than $20 per ton delivered. To help close the gap between the two, Belden says Alliant has agreed in the preliminary supply agreement to pass along part of the environmental benefits from switchgrass to Prairie Lands. “If we reduce nitrous

oxide, we get paid for it, if we reduce sulfur, we get paid for that, and if they start taxing mercury emissions we get paid for that.” Similarly, Prairie Lands will get credit for any biomass power they sell to consumers wanting to support the project; and if new tax credits become available that Alliant can use, a portion will be passed along to Prairie Lands. “Whether this will fly or not will be based on the government incentives in place the first 10 years,” Belden says, which he points out is no different than the oil industry, which was heavily subsidized in the early years. “The revenue stream will come 80 [percent] to 85 percent from tax credits and incentives,” he says. That may include tax credits to Alliant or to producers, payments for CRP or a cost-sharing program for grass seed. Because they are in Iowa, the promoters of switchgrass for power can’t escape the impact of corn-based ethanol. Belden says their project will have to compete with $4 corn, providing competitive returns to farmers so they aren’t tempted to plant their CRP acres to row crops. In the future, ethanol could become the primary market for switchgrass. “We’re going to figure out how to


make ethanol out of grass,” he says. “We have to gear up the agricultural side to be able to deliver.” In the meantime, the Chariton Valley Biomass Project continues to develop switchgrass markets. Guffey says some members of their group are looking at machinery to pelletize switchgrass to fuel stoves. Once that project is in production they believe they can use the same machinery to pulverize switchgrass so it can be combined with plastic resin. However, more research is needed on the qualities of switchgrass in plastic. Another project, which is close to commercialization, is compressing switchgrass fibers to make construction boards. Yet another group is proposing an ethanol plant using switchgrass for power and heat, Belden says. Now that they’ve completed the research and development stage, the folks in Iowa have only just begun the quest to commercialize switchgrass. BIO Susanne Retka Schill is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. Reach her at or (701) 746-8385.

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Three new U.S. DOE-funded research centers will house multidisciplinary teams of scientists from across the country with the aim of coordinating the basic research needed to accelerate the promise of cellulosic ethanol as a renewable, sustainable, secure and cost-competitive biofuel. By Jessica Ebert

Michael Casler, a plant geneticist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, is working to improve the economics of biofuel production by developing switchgrass varieties with higher yield and energy content. 36 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 9|2007

PHOTO: B. Wolfgang Hoffmann





s he stood before a banner that read, “Energy Research to Fuel ‘There is a sense of energy behind us. Most of us see America,” at the this as something that can really shape the world to be National Press Club in Washington D.C., a more sustainable place.’ Raymond Orbach, undersecretary for science at the U.S. DOE spoke of notable moments in the nation’s history when disparate groups joined forces to overcome your energy secretary,” Bodman said. provide an initial $25 million for start-up scientific odds—challenges with environ- “Corn ethanol has its virtues but it also of each center followed by up to $25 milmental, economic and political implica- has its limits. For biofuels to put a real lion for operations of the centers in each tions. “One of America’s great strengths dent in our energy consumption without of four subsequent years. “In the first five years we’re going to as a nation has been our ability at critical affecting the food supply and without adding to net carbon dioxide emissions, be doing the fundamental basic science to moments in time to mobilize the scientific talents of our people to meet great we need to learn to make biofuels cost- learn more about how we could alter the properties of plants to make them better challenges,” he said. “We did so during effectively from cellulose.” The origins of this new initiative bioenergy sources, how we can alter the World War II with the Manhattan Project. We did so again in the late 1950s in what stem in part from a joint workshop con- processing of that plant material and how we call the Sputnik generation and we are vened by the DOE’s Office of Biological we can alter microbial and chemical sysand Environmental Research in the tems to generate ethanol more efficiently here to do it again.” On this day, June 26, DOE Energy Office of Science (SC) and the Office of or to generate other types of fuel from the Biomass Program in plant biomass,” explains Timothy Secretary Samuel the Office of Energy Donohue, principal investigator for what Bodman announced that Efficiency and will be the DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy the agency would award Renewable Energy. The Research Center (GLBRC) based in up to $375 million for the purpose of the Madison, Wis. “It will only be after this establishment of three December 2005 workfive-year period—when we have that funbioenergy research censhop was to identify the damental information—that we will realters. The centers would be bottlenecks in the wide- ly begin to look at how these plants devoted to the fundamenscale production of behave in an agricultural environment tal research needed to energy-efficient, cost- and how these new technologies will develop the breakthrough competitive cellulosic function in a refinery to generate fuel.” technologies for harnessethanol and to map ways ing the solar energy to overcome these barri- The Centers trapped in biomass and ers. The workshop cultransforming it efficiently The DOE BioEnergy Science Center minated in the publica- (BESC) will be located in Oak Ridge, and economically for the tion of a 15-year strate- Tenn., and joins research groups from the production of biofuels. gy for developing a Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), The three centers, which viable biomass-to-biofu- the Georgia Institute of Technology, the will be based in els industry. This road National Renewable Energy Laboratory, California, Tennessee and map was divided into the University of Georgia, the University Wisconsin, will receive up three phases: research, of Tennessee, Dartmouth College, to $125 million over the technology deployment ArborGen LLC, Verenium Corp., next five years and serve Donohue and systems integration. Mascoma Corp., Nobel Foundation, as home base for a conOn the heels of this Brookhaven National Laboratory, sortium of academic, industrial and government research report the DOE announced that funding Cornell University, North Carolina State would be available to establish two new University, the University of California, groups scattered across the country. “I think that they [the bioenergy bioenergy research centers. This was later Riverside, the University of Minnesota, research centers] may be the most impor- upped to three when the SC budget for Virginia Tech University and Washington tant thing that we do during my time as fiscal year 2008 was released. The awards State University. ORNL will lead the 38 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 9|2007

cellulose research undertaken at the BESC, which will focus on overcoming the central barrier to the conversion of biomass to biofuels—the challenge of releasing the sugars that are ultimately fed into the fermentation process but are locked in the intricate and complex cage of lignin and cellulose that forms the plant cell wall. “Our center is focusing on one big biological problem, which is the fact that it is hard to break apart lignocellulose or biomass into its components in a way that you can then convert them and use them for energy,” explains Brian Davison who will lead the characterization and modeling focus area of BESC. “We call this the recalcitrance of biomass,” he says. The state of Tennessee is currently building a new facility on the ORNL campus, which will be used partly for BESC research. Davison expects that the first monies from the DOE will roll in soon and that once funds are contracted out to all participating partners, the research should be moving forward by fall. “There

The DOE Bioenergy Science Center will be located on the Oak Ridge National Laboratory campus in Tennessee and will be housed in this facility, the Joint Institute for Biological Sciences (JIBS). The JIBS, which is currently under construction, was funded by the state and is owned by the University of Tennessee.

(continued on page 41)



Cracking the Connections

SOURCE: Genome Management Information System, ORNL

Cellulose, one of nature’s most exquisitely designed fibers, with layers upon layers of complex sugar molecules surrounded by a glue-like substance called lignin, is also one of nature’s most challenging structures to crack. It’s an ideal molecule for storing carbon, providing structural support to plants and resisting degradation. However, the sugars that form the backbone of the molecule also serve as a feedstock for the fermentative processes that produce biofuels. Researchers partnering in the U.S. DOE BioEnergy Science Centers (BESC) have made it their sole goal to overcome the recalcitrance of biomass. One way to do this is by isolating highly active enzymes able to unlock the sugar units that make up this formidably armored compound. For example, scientists at Verenium Corp., the newly merged company of Diversa Corp. and Celunol Corp. and a BESC partner, are digging in natural environments for enzymes up to the task.

“Nature directs the whole flux and flow of carbon and nitrogen—the basic geochemical cycles—and microbes that are parts of those cycles work in consortia to break down biomass materials and recycle them into new forms of carbon,” explains Dan Robertson, vice president of biofuels research and development for Verenium. Verenium scientists scour environments where these kinds of conversions are likely to occur such as saw dust piles, silos, hayfields, corn fields, forest floors, the cow rumen and the termite gut. “We find a consortia of microbes, isolate DNA from those organisms, clone the genes and screen them for activities of interest,” explains Kevin Gray, director of biofuels at Verenium. The challenge lies in finding the mixture of enzymes that work optimally for specific feedstocks and certain pretreatments.“We are currently testing our cocktails of enzymes on a variety of feedstocks and a variety of pretreatments to determine how well they perform.”


cellulose (continued from page 39)

‘The investment we are making in these bioenergy centers is high risk but we expect that they will show us the way to overcome the barriers that are keeping us from developing wide-scale, cost-effective biofuels from cellulose.’

is a sense of energy behind us,” Davison says. “Most of us see this as something that can really shape the world to be a more sustainable place.” Likewise, the GLBRC expects to ramp up activities once new hires are in place, equipment is installed and renovations are complete. Donohue expects the center will be fully operational in earlyto mid-’08. Partners in the GLBRC include, the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Michigan State University, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Lucigen Corp., the University of Florida, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Illinois State University and Iowa State University. This center will be led by and housed at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The research will attempt to remove bottlenecks at various points in the conversion of biomass-to-biofuels by engineering plants to produce more easily degradable cell walls, and developing new physical and chemical treatments for the conversion of biomass into sugars and sugars into fuel, hydrogen, electricity or other biobased chemical feedstocks. “We view this as a pipeline with plant material going in and fuels coming out,” Donohue says. “What I think is going to happen in this center and with the other centers is that groups of people will be brought together to work on these problems in a coordinated way because there will be guaranteed funding that will allow us to take more risks to develop innovative approaches that might not have been possible before.”

Finally, the DOE Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), a collaboration including Sandia National Laboratories, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the University of California, Berkeley, the University of California, Davis and Stanford University will be organized like a biotech start-up company with the aim of rapidly transferring research results to private industry for commercial development. This center will be located in the San Francisco Bay area and will be headquartered in a leased building in the East Bay. In the shortterm, research undertaken by JBEI scientists will focus on improving enzymes for the degradation of plant cell walls, improving the tolerance of microbes to the stringent conditions of industrial processing and gaining a greater understanding of how lignocellulose is made. Long-term, JBEI research will involve the engineering of plants for energy production and of microbes capable of degrading plant matter and producing fuel in a single bioreactor. “The investment we are making in these bioenergy centers is high risk but we expect that they will show us the way to overcome the barriers that are keeping us from developing wide-scale, costeffective biofuels from cellulose,” Bodman says. BIO

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Jessica Ebert is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. She can be reached at jebert or (701) 746-8385.

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The Clinton County Chamber of Commerce in Frankfort, Ind., has spent four years developing a plan and determining sites for two major waste-to-energy projects. The primary project will be the first commercial, multiple-input anaerobic digester in the United States. By Anduin Kirkbride McElroy

ou see things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?’” This famous phrase, which was first uttered by a character created by Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, was also used by American politician Bobby Kennedy to inspire a nation. It speaks of creativity, foresight and initiative, and may well be the philosophy of the Clinton County Chamber of Commerce, based in Frankfort, Ind. As CEO of the Chamber and eco-



nomic development director, it is Gina Sheets’ job to be creative and take the initiative to help businesses grow and prosper in the county located an hour north of Indianapolis. The general objective of economic development is recruitment and retention of businesses. Usually, communities find that the benefit of jobs and circulating dollars in the community is worth subsidizing businesses in some way. Economic development tools can range from financial incentives to marketing to job training. Sometimes, communities will build a “spec building,” a business-

ready site to attract new businesses. Clinton County has developed an initiative, which Sheets likens to a spec building. The Quadra Initiative is a four-part approach to industrial symbiosis that encompasses economic development, energy independence, environmental sustainability and education. The group has spent four years and invested $100,000 in city, county and federal funds to create waste-toenergy business opportunities. “We have a business site, participants and research, so come in and do it,” Sheets says of the reverse attraction process.




‘We began a one-year intense study, where we looked at every industry in our industrial park and community to understand what type of waste streams they were actually discharging and what type of heat and power system they had. Thus, we began focusing very specifically on the food industry.’

Four years ago, Sheets started to envision what would become of the industrial park on the west edge of Frankfort. The industrial park is currently home to several large food processors, including an Archer Daniels Midland Co. (ADM) soy processing plant and a Frito-Lay Inc. facility, which is the world’s largest salty snack food operation. According to Sheets, the conversation began when Frito-Lay was investigating what it would take to install an anaerobic digester on-site to replace its wastewater treatment facility. Frito-Lay decided that the return on the investment was too long for the company to pursue it.


But Sheets took a second look. “While it wouldn’t work for one entity, we believed it was worth studying to see—if we brought in several entities and made it a new waste-to-energy company—if that would work,” Sheets says. “We began a one-year intense study, where we looked at every industry in our industrial park and community to understand what type of waste streams they were actually discharging and what type of heat and power system they had. Thus, we began focusing very specifically on the food industry.” Sheets worked with researchers from Purdue University and engineering firm Strand Associates Inc. The Purdue

researchers verified the waste streams—the inputs and outputs and the calculation of methane. Strand completed the feasibility study for the design of the digester as far as size and capacity. As the planners and researchers continued a dialogue with Frito-Lay and other potential partners, a model of industrial symbiosis within a closedloop system began to form. Frito-Lay would pipe its wastewater, currently at 1.25 million gallons per day, across the street to a privately owned anaerobic digester, also known as the industrial biorefinery, which would be located in a corn field. ADM would pipe hot soy oil across the street so the digester could be powered by the excess heat. Soon, a biodiesel plant entered the picture. Indiana Clean Energy (ICE), which expects to break ground this summer, would produce 80 MMgy of biodiesel with the cooled ADM soy oil. A portion of the biodiesel plant’s waste output in the form of glycerin would also be fed to the anaerobic digester. The methane produced from the digester would be burned in a biogas boiler to provide process steam for Frito-Lay, ADM or another company in the park,

power while the biosolids would be sold as organic fertilizer. Frito-Lay, ADM and ICE have confirmed their intentions to participate with the biorefinery. Other food processors in the industrial park may want to contribute in the future, depending on economics and contribution of valuable wastewater. The wastewater is more valuable in an anaerobic digester if it has high biological oxygen demand (BOD) content, which is a measure of the polluting strength of a material. “The higher the BOD, the more successful the methane coming out of the digester is,” Sheets says. Wastewater from Frito-Lay, for example, is full of starch from potatoes and is expected to contribute 26,000 pounds of BOD content per day. In comparison, Sheets notes that some of the other food processors might not have enough wastewater or a high enough BOD content to impact the digester. “That doesn’t mean as we develop a biorefinery that it doesn’t make sense to capture everybody who can contribute—even on a small scale of BOD content,” she says. Such a system would assist existing industries by reducing heating costs. The businesses currently rely on liquefied natural gas. It would also save the industries in wastewater treatment costs. “Most of the industries now don’t send their waste to our municipal facility,” Sheets says. They have on-site wastewater treatment facilities, so we see the opportunity for them to save in waste stream disposal costs. The anaerobic digester must be designed to process at least 1.7 million gallons of wastewater per day. The plan is to design it with 30 percent excess capacity. “We always want to encourage the industries we have to expand, and then we look to attract new industry,” Sheets says. “We are looking at a biorefinery that will be built to serve anticipated needs in the future. Our community has several food processors now, and we believe that that is a piece of

This diagram demonstrates the multiple sources of inputs and outputs within the closed-loop system of the proposed anaerobic digestion facility.

economic development—using the biorefinery to attract additional food processors. By being community friendly, the owner and operator of this biorefinery will help us entertain those new prospects and new development.” A year after the study, Sheets discovered that 30 percent excess capacity may not be enough. “Frito-Lay is doing a $50 million expansion to add a new line [of snack foods],” she says. “That’s already increasing the amount of waste that could be brought into the biorefinery.”

Swine Waste As Clinton County evaluated its existing waste streams, it found a signif-

icant supply of swine manure. Thus, the second project within Quadra includes three anaerobic digesters for swine waste. “We have established three potential sites in our county called agrozones,” Sheets says. “Originally, the first look we had on the swine side was to build a centralized digester for the entire county, and the waste could be piped and trucked in.” However, the costs associated with transporting wet waste that far amounted to an unfeasible $42 million. Each agrozone already has the minimal amount of livestock on the ground to meet Quadra’s criteria, which is 40,000 head. Most of these sites would be centralized among several opera-

If converted to electricity, waste from 40,000 head of hogs generally produces 3.1 million kilowatts per year, which could power the farms, the digester and 220,000 homes.



Frankfort’s Frito-Lay facility, seen across the road from the industrial biorefinery site, is the world’s largest salty snack food operation. It will supply wastewater to the biorefinery and will likely purchase the biogas.

tions within a two- to five-mile radius. “By using a 2.5-mile design, the digester would be connected to each individual farm via pipeline,” Sheets says. “That waste would be collected from each farm immediately into a piping system and would come into the digester. Right now, when you visit a lot of operations, that waste is lagooned. It goes through a slatted floor and then the waste goes into an open-air lagoon system. We want to limit the [manure’s] access to air as much as possible.” If converted to electricity, waste from 40,000 head of hogs generally produces 3.1 million kilowatts per year, which could power the farms, the digester and 220,000 homes, Sheets says.

Request for Proposals With the research in hand and the economic and environmental benefits in mind, in February the county issued a request for proposals from companies willing to finance, design, build, own and operate the $12.5 million industrial biorefinery and the $5.5 million swine waste digesters. Sheets says 46 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 9|2007

the county will contribute infrastructure dollars for roads and the pipelines to deliver waste streams from the companies to the biorefinery. The county is also willing to provide tax abatements for the biorefinery facility (but not for the land value), she says. At press time, the county had received proposals from several companies and was on the verge of selecting a company for the projects. One company that submitted a proposal is Waste Energy Solutions, which is the only U.S. supplier of Niras, a Danishdesigned anaerobic digester. “We’re new in the United States,” says Midwest Regional Director Steve Dominick. “In Denmark, our licensor is the largest biogas designer for thermophilic, community-sized digesters.” His company’s proposal differed from the original Quadra design in that all waste, including swine waste, would be combined at one digester facility. “[Clinton County] said there was difficulty with combined digestion, but with our technology, we won’t have that problem,” Dominick notes. He says the project has the right kinds of wastes to produce a good quantity of


Directing the way to... 35 MMGY x 2017! The Indiana Clean Energy biodiesel facility will sit on 53 acres adjacent to the anaerobic digestion facility and across the road from ADM’s soy processing facility (tanks shown).

gas per ton, which will make the process economical. Another proposal came from New Mexico-based STC Engineering, which is already operating anaerobic digestion facilities for Frito-Lay at two Texas locations. The Frankfort project is different from the Texas projects because of the multiple inputs from multiple customers, says President Daniel Sandoval. This proposal is different from the Quadra design because it doesn’t include glycerin from the biodiesel plant as an acceptable waste stream. Additionally, Sandoval says the rate of return on the swine digester doesn’t meet his company’s criteria. “We think all components are there to make it a good project,” Sandoval says. The components are available land, good waste streams, a heat source (ADM) and a customer to burn the biogas. “If you don’t have consumers to consume the gas, that doubles the cost,” Sandoval says. Once a company is selected, Sheets expects the project to move quickly. “Depending on the weather in Indiana, once we do our due diligence and we have good partnerships formed

and it makes sense for the community and for all entities involved, we could break ground yet this fall and be in operation hopefully a year from now,” she says. The swine project is unlikely to break ground this year. “We’ve been approached with a couple different technologies that we didn’t expect,” Sheets says of the submitted proposals. “We are working with those companies to make sure that that technology actually will fit this model and that the swine operations are willing to participate.” She also expects that permitting will be more difficult, both because of the existing standards regarding farm waste and because of the size of the project. “This [commercial-sized digester] is a new concept to Indiana, and we will have to take our time when we go through the permitting process.” BIO

Anduin Kirkbride McElroy is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. Reach her at or (701) 7468385.

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research Extreme Makeover—Nature Edition Sandia researchers are looking to biology in earth’s extreme environments to help solve the cellulosic ethanol puzzle. Their enzyme studies may provide the key needed to spark an industry. By Mike Janes


PHOTO: Randy Wong


uried beneath a sulfurous cauldron in European seas lies a class of microorganisms known as “extremophiles,” so named because of the extreme environmental conditions in which they live and thrive. Perhaps almost as radical is the idea that these organisms and their associated enzymes could somehow unlock the key to a new transportation economy based on a renewable biofuel—cellulosic ethanol. That’s the concept behind an internally funded research program, now in its second year, at Sandia National Laboratories. Sandia is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corp., a Lockheed Martin company, for the U.S. DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration. Sandia has major research and development responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness. As researchers search for ways to cheaply and efficiently process cellulosic biomass for the production of cellulosic ethanol, the Sandia project aims to successfully demonstrate various computational tools and enzyme engineering methods that will make extreme enzymes relevant to the technical debate. Blake Simmons, a chemical engineer and project lead at Sandia’s Livermore, Calif., site, says the primary hurdle preventing cellulosic ethanol from becoming a viable transportation fuel is not the availability of cellulosic biomass, but rather its efficient and cost-effective processing. “Production is not a concern,” Simmons says. “More than a billion tons of biomass is estimated to be created each year in the timber and agricultural industries, as well as a variety of grasses and potential energy crops. Unfortunately, you can’t just take a tree trunk, stick it into an enzymatic reactor, and ferment the sugar produced into ethanol with any kind of efficiency. The process of turning certain lignocellulosic materials into ethanol is very difficult and costly.” That process typically involves several pretreatment steps that break up cellulosic material into easily converted polymers, according to Simmons. Continuing with the tree trunk analogy, Simmons says the laborious process typically begins by chopping the biomass to reduce its size and then delivering it into a dilute acid pretreatment reactor. The reactor would then break down the biomass into cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. The hemicellulose and cellulose

Biochemist Joanne Volponi prepares samples of cellulase enzymes for activity assaying in a high-throughput, fluid-handling robotic system.

polymers released from the biomass must go through additional processing and acid neutralization before the final product is recovered and placed back into an enzymatic reactor to deconstruct the polymers into fermentable sugars. Not exactly swift and efficient, Simmons says. It’s also very costly.

Using Nature’s Own Extreme Enzymes Enter enzymes isolated from extremophiles, which may solve this vexing processing riddle. Simmons says Sandia’s current biological object of interest is Sulfolobus solfataricus, an organism whose extreme enzymes were isolated and discovered years ago by the German researcher Georg Lipps. Sulfolobus expresses cellulase enzymes that are known to exist in organisms that prosper in sulfuric acid environments and, through an inexplicable quirk of nature, efficiently break down cellulose into sugars. “Biology generally likes sugar since it offers an easy energy intermediate that can be converted into some usable output,” Simmons says. The Sandia team members are apparently among a handful of researchers looking at enzymes expressed by Sulfolobus and manipulating them in the laboratory with the objective of processing biomass into cellulosic ethanol, he adds.

Extreme enzymes can be found in a variety of locations, including hot springs, gold mines and even within the rust found under a leaking hot water heater, Simmons says. While other researchers are examining common biomass sources and attempting to express their enzymes at higher temperatures and lower pH, Sandia has, in effect, taken the opposite approach. “Instead of trying to create an extremozyme from sources that live in rather benign environmental conditions, why not just manipulate a real one isolated from its natural state?” Simmons says. Sandia has brought the DNA that produces these extreme enzymes into the lab, where researchers employ a technique called “sitedirected mutagenesis” to manipulate and optimize the enzymes’ genetic sequence in hopes of improving performance, he says. These mutations are identified using computational modeling techniques that compare the structure and sequence of the extremozymes with their more benign counterparts to identify key genetic sequences of interest. “The ultimate dream—and it’s only a dream right now—would be to take a poplar tree, put it into a tank, let it sit for three days, then come back and watch as the ethanol comes pouring out of the spigot,” Simmons says. “Though we’re probably decades away from that, this project aims to consolidate the pretreatment steps and get us one step closer to realizing that vision.”

PHOTO: Randy Wong


Sandia’s Rajat Sapra examines assays for the screening of engineered enzymes, originally from the organism Sulfolobus solfataricus, which show increased activity and stability at acidic conditions and high temperatures.

strates how to use them—can be a very powerful resource for the research and industrial community to draw upon,” he says.

Research Aimed at Commercial Partnerships Ethanol Products the Same, Starting Material Vastly Different The benefits of developing biomass-to-ethanol technology are well-known, says Grant Heffelfinger, senior manager for molecular and computational biosciences at Sandia’s Albuquerque, N.M., site and the lab’s lead on biofuels programs. He points to increased national energy security, reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, use of renewable resources and other oft-cited advantages. “But corn ethanol must compete with food markets, leaving lignocellulosic ethanol as the fuel most likely to make the most meaningful shortterm impact in reducing gasoline’s stranglehold on the transportation sector,” Heffelfinger says. Although the end product with cellulosic ethanol and corn ethanol is the same, Simmons points out the difference is in the complexity of the starting material. While corn is a simple, starchbased material that is easily processed into fermentable sugars, cellulosic biomass consists of a cellulose polymer wrapped within a complex vascular structure of lignin, hemicellulose and other components. “Because lignocellulosic biomass is such a multifaceted material, we need to have a fundamental understanding of how it works,” Simmons says. While various industry researchers are investigating new technologies and facilities that will allow for the processing of cellulosic biomass into ethanol, Simmons says he and his Sandia colleagues are hopeful that their method can be efficiently and cheaply integrated with current and future pretreatment steps. “We believe extremophile enzymes—and the technology that demon-

Simmons recently presented his team’s preliminary findings from the extremophile project at the 4th World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology & Bioprocessing. The team hopes to publish more advanced findings soon and is finalizing several proposals that could lead to further funding. Simmons says the lab would be open to conducting collaborative research and development with other commercial partners or research entities, or to licensing its research capabilities. This and other efforts at Sandia National Laboratories are expected to be a vital component of the Joint Bio-Energy Institute, a multilab/university effort to bring a U.S. DOE-funded bioresearch facility to the San Francisco Bay area. Sandia is planning a key role in that facility, which will focus on cost-effective, biologically based renewable energy sources to reduce U.S. dependence on fossil fuels. “We believe the use of enzyme engineering to enable the next generation of ethanol biorefineries, with a focus on extremophile enzymes, is a realistic and achievable goal,” Simmons says. “But we need others to believe, too.” Universities, industry or other institutions interested in partnering with Sandia on biofuels studies or other areas of research can contact Carrie Burchard, Sandia business development, at or (925) 294-1213. BIO Mike Janes is a media relations officer at Sandia National Laboratories' Livermore, Calif., site. Reach him at mejanes@ or (925) 294-2447.



LAB Guided by the Light: Microscopic Analysis Sees Cells’ Biomass Potential


PHOTO: U.S. DOE Ames Laboratory

mily Smith compares Raman imaging to a vintner measuring the sugar content of his or her grapes to find the perfect moment when they will make the finest wine. The spectrographic technique allows Smith to peer inside the cells of biomass and measure the type and amount of various chemical constituents. Smith is a research associate at the U.S. DOE’s Ames (Iowa) Laboratory. Her work with Raman imaging is part of a team effort to develop biomass feedstocks optimized to produce cellulosic ethanol and other products. She also works in the chemistry department at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. The Raman effect was discovered in the Using a microscope, laser, fiber optics and a spectrometer, Smith can directly measure the 1920s when Indian scientist Chandrasekhara chemical makeup at any location on the sample being viewed on the microscope and Venkata Raman found that a tiny portion of light determine its value as a feedstock for ethanol or other biomass-based chemical production. scattered off a surface had a slightly different wavelength than the original light source. In fact, Smith is working with Iowa State University agronomy profesit was altered by the chemical composition of the sample being sor Ken Moore, who will be providing her with plant material samilluminated. A spectroscope allows researchers to measure the ples. She plans to screen several biofuel plant stocks for cellulosic difference in wavelength precisely, giving them a picture of the ethanol production, such as switchgrass, Miscanthus (a subtropichemical makeup of the sample. “We send high-powered light cal perennial grass that can grow 13 feet high), corn, and poplar from a laser source onto our sample and that light interacts with and willow trees. Smith says her goal is to analyze plant compothat sample, and there are subtle changes in the property of light sition under different environmental conditions. “I’ve done some after it interacts with the sample,” Smith explains. “Those subtle reading, and it seems like the amount of water the plant material changes are what we use to measure the composition of our gets can affect lignin levels particularly,” she says. “So in one seamaterial.” son where it might be drier, you might want to harvest your matePlant tissue is complicated. While it contains the feedstocks rial at different times for optimal composition so you get the highfor energy and chemical production, it also contains material that est ethanol yield.” isn’t as valuable. “We are interested in the cellulose, hemicelluRight now, Raman imaging is primarily a research tool. lose and lignin, and we can look for the changes in the light that However, Smith believes that as the biomass industry grows, it we get when those materials are present,” Smith says. could be adapted to measure plant growth in the field, allowing One advantage of Smith’s technique is that it requires little growers to know the best time to harvest their biomass for the material for testing. “There are other techniques that can do our most efficient production. “While it is not at that stage yet, it is analysis,” Smith says. “We can take a sample from a plant that is something we hope for in the future,” Smith says. “It is feasible growing in the field, and because it is such a small sample, we are that we could develop an instrument that we could give to somenot going to destroy the plant. In addition, our analysis is fairly one in the field who is not necessarily trained in spectroscopy or quick. Some of the other technologies require extraction steps as a chemist and do this analysis.” BIO and some processing steps. Our technique allows us to just take —Jerry W. Kram that plant sample, put it in our instrument and look at it.” 9|2007 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 51



A Road Map for Biofuels Research—Part II


o modify a 1980’s Oldsmobile slogan, “This is not your father’s ethanol process!” Although consumers may see little difference, numerous processes are emerging into the commercial marketplace that are significantly different than traditional ethanol processes. As stated in last month’s column, we feel that there are at least six broad categories of rapidly emerging advanced methods available to produce biomass-based transportation fuels. The first three involve the production of alcohols for use as gasoline additives. The others involve production of synthetic diesel from biomass. As part of our continuing series “Road Map for Biofuels Research,” we’d like to further explore the advantages and disadvantages of each of the three alcohol pathways. The first is enzyme hydrolysis, which involves the conversion of cellulose in biomass to sugars, followed by fermentation of the sugars to ethanol. This process is currently being used in plants being developed by Iogen Corp., Abengoa Bioenergy, BlueFire Ethanol Inc. and Poet LLC (formerly Broin Companies) under a recent multimillion-dollar U.S. DOE program for cellulosic ethanol plants. Each plant will produce about 20 MMgy of ethanol. The primary advantage of this pathway is that the fermentation step is similar to conventional ethanol production, which allows enzyme hydrolysis plants to be collocated with existing ethanol production facilities. However, the connection to conventional ethanol production also presents some disadvantages. In conventional fermenStrege tation, approximately one-third of the carbon available in the sugar is lost as carbon dioxide, and the water demand for hydrolysis and fermentation is high. A second option is thermal gasification of biomass to produce syngas (consisting primarily of carbon monoxide, hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane) followed by fermentation of the syngas to ethanol. To date, this process has only been tested in the laboratory, but it could prove to be a low-cost option in the future. This option could be problematic because the bacteria currently used for fermentation could occasionally produce products other than ethanol, leading to inconsistent product quality and yield. The bacteria may also require long gas residence times to achieve good conversion of syngas to ethanol at acceptable yields. Lastly, thermal gasification of biomass followed by alcohol synthesis over a catalyst is a process being pursued by Range Fuels Inc. under the DOE award program. This process has an advantage over the first two pathways in that there is no biological component, allowing for higher temperatures and lower water demand. Similarly, the catalyst cannot mutate or alter its biology, so the alcohol product is of consistent quality over the catalyst lifetime. The main disadvantage of this process is that the product is not pure ethanol. It’s a blend of alcohols containing a significant fraction of methanol, which could negatively impact vapor pressure. There are, of course, hybrid variations to these three methods, such as novel pretreatment technologies, variations in enzymatic hydrolysis, combinations of biochemical and thermochemical processing steps, and other unique approaches such as converting cellulose to acetate esters, followed by further reaction with hydrogen to ethanol. Whatever the method for producing alcohols, 100 percent replacement of gasoline is not a near goal; rather, all of these processes involve the production of alcohols for blending with gasoline. When mixed with gasoline, the alcohol becomes an octane booster, limiting the amount of petroleum fuel that can be replaced by biofuel. Stay tuned for next month’s column, which will further explore the pathways to produce synthetic or “green” diesel from biomass. BIO Joshua R. Strege is a research engineer at the EERC in Grand Forks, N.D. He can be reached at or (701) 777-3252.


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Biomass Magazine - September 2007