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JUNE 2008




..................... 18 EVENT Biofuels in the Future The International Biomass ’08 Conference & Trade Show focused on environmental, political and technological issues involved in using biomass for energy and fuel. By Tom Bryan, Marc Hequet, Jessica Sobolik and Dave Nilles

26 TECHNOLOGY Solar-Powered Biomass Gasification Colorado researchers have discovered how to harness the sun’s power to convert biomass into syngas. By Jessica Ebert

32 INDUSTRY The Power of Association The work of the USA Biomass Power Producers Alliance may not be splashed all over the front page of every major newspaper in the country, but the organization is well-known on Capitol Hill. By Ron Kotrba

38 POLICY Pledging Allegiance to Renewable Energy The pledge process during the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference 2008 resulted in various countries vowing to promote and develop renewable energy. By Jerry W. Kram INDUSTRY | PAGE 38

44 JAPAN Blending Aesthetics and Energy In Japan, the blossoming of the cherries is a time of national delight. Now the cultural



treasure provides another gift: gasified fuel from its wood. By Eric Kroh

50 MEXICO Assessing the Impact of Mexico’s Biofuels Law 06 Editor’s Note Conference Solidifies Importance of Biomass By Rona Johnson

07 Advertiser Index

Mexico recently enacted its federal Law for the Promotion and Development of Biofuels, marking the nation’s push toward biofuels and biomass utilization. Will the law help Mexico match the momentum of its northern neighbors? By Raul Felix

08 CITIES Corner Moving Biomass into the Urban Marketplace By Art Wiselogel

09 Industry Events 11 Business Briefs 12 Industry News 55 In the Lab Seeking Cyanobacterial Cellulose By Jerry W. Kram

57 EERC Update The Breakdown on Anaerobic Digestion By Dan Stepan

Correction from our April 2008 issue: In the Feedstock feature on page 71, the introduction should say Florida’s citrus-processing industry produces up to 5 million tons of citrus waste annually, not five tons. 6|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 5

e d i to r ’s

NOTE Conference Solidifies Importance of Biomass


want to thank everyone who attended the International Biomass ’08 Conference & Trade Show that

was held in Minneapolis in April. It was great to visit with people in the industry and to witness firsthand the enthusiasm that we try to convey in Biomass Magazine. Although I couldn’t possibly make it to every session of the conference, the ones I attended covered everything from biomass processing to permitting and life cycle assessment to project finance. If you didn’t get a chance to attend the conference, check out the Event feature that starts on page 18. I think it’s clear to most Americans that we can no longer solely rely on petroleum and coal for our energy needs. I have to agree with Lee Lynd, cofounder and chief scientific officer of Mascoma Corp., and a speaker at the conference, who noted that it will take a host of solutions including the use of renewable fuels, increased vehicle fuel efficiency, increased crop and biomass production on underutilized land, increased crop and biomass yields, and advanced biomass processing methods to wean us from our dependence on fossil fuels. His comments about agriculture were thought-provoking, particularly when he said that we need to “re-imagine agriculture to accommodate large-scale energy production.” I think that’s already starting to happen to some extent as farmers look into the prospect of growing switchgrass and develop equipment to harvest corn, cobs and stover to make cellulosic ethanol. No doubt, the pressure on farmers to produce crops for food, feed, fuel and the export market has intensified. However, I’m confident, as I saw farmers out planting crops this spring, that with help from scientists, engineers and plant breeders, they are up to the task.

letter to the EDITOR This article ("What to Do with the Remnants of a Plastic Culture," April 2008) posed more questions than answers. That's OK because it is a tricky issue. I feel the chemists are going to be the ones to develop the solution. They were clever enough to develop plastic, and they will be clever enough to find [alternative uses]. However, the story concludes, “While U.S. consumers often bear the onus of recycling all the plastic we consume, where is industry’s accountability for selling it in the first place?” That seems to imply that companies shouldn't be allowed to sell the stuff. If so, no credit is given to the beneficial impact that plastic has on the environment. Compared with glass, the reduced use of fuel to transport all of those goods is tremendous (due to weight reduction). Both glass and aluminum require much more energy to produce (with resulting ecological damage). Certainly they are easier to recycle, but that is dependent on participation. Getting people here to take their “recyclables” to the center is like pulling teeth, and only some places have curbside pickup. The article didn’t mention any requirements that the U.S. EPA has in this regard. It didn’t say whether the plant monitors its own emissions. It is far from a complete discussion. Art Erickson

Rona Johnson Features Editor


advertiser INDEX 2008 Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo


Harris Group Inc.


Amandus Kahl USA Corp.


Laidig Systems Inc.


BBI International Community Initiative To Improve Energy Sustainability (CITIES)


Midwest Process Solutions


Barr-Rosin Inc.


New Horizon Corp.


Percival Scientific Inc.


BBI Project Development

3, 48 & 56

Biofuels Canada


Price BIOstock Services


Boc Edwards


Process Barron


Christianson & Associates PLLP


Rath, Young and Pignatelli PC


Energy & Environmental Research Center


Robert-James Sales Inc.


Roskamp Champion


Energy from Biomass and Waste Expo & Conference

23 & 37

Ethanol Producer Magazine


Rotochopper Inc.




The Teaford Co. Inc.










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CITIES corner

Moving Biomass into the Urban Marketplace


elcome to the CITIES Corner. The idea behind this column is to provide insightful commentary on technologies, issues and politics specific to biomass in the urban setting. If you believe as I do that we are on the precipice of a new energy era where renewable energy and biomass will play a pivotal role in our everyday lives these are exciting yet trying times. As with any change, there will be controversy around the integration of the new with the old; economic and environmental impacts; viability of technologies; and how the change will impact the average person on the street. In this age of 24-hour news channels with talking heads, the Internet, and YouTube, there will be plenty of spin from both proponents and opponents to provide fodder for commentary. Before going any further, I should introduce myself. I am the manager of BBI International's Community Initiative to Improve Energy Sustainability (CITIES). I wish that I could claim creative credit for the initiative's name, but that goes to Mike Bryan who is the chief executive officer of BBI International. I have been involved with biomass from my childhood when I use to watch "pulp wooders" harvest loblolly pine from my grandfather's farm in southern Mississippi. Since that time I have earned degrees in forestry and agriculture from Mississippi State, Oklahoma State, and Texas A&M. My work experience includes Westvaco Corp. (paper company), Texas A&M University, the University of Georgia, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and on a contract with the U.S. DOE's Golden, Colo., field office. As a scientist and manager, my pri-


mary focus was biomass handling, storage and transportation along with project development activities. Now I have the opportunity to take this experience and assist communities in their drive to become more sustainable. In this effort, I am supported by a competent and savvy staff of analysts, engineers and economists. In the little space I have left I would like to offer encouragement to those of you who have long toiled in the area of biomass. As the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions increases, demand for clean renewable energy is going to grow. This is already happening in states where global climate change is viewed as a major point of concern for the environment and their economic well being. In most regions of the country biomass will be a major component of these efforts. Now is the time to prove your technology and business concept to lenders and develop a compelling story for equity holders so that when the time is ripe you're ready to ride the renewable energy wave. Yes, change can happen and it usually happens quicker than expected and catches us by surprise. Those who have positioned themselves properly will reap most of the rewards when the opportunity for biomass heat, power, fuels and chemicals burst into the urban marketplace. Art Wiselogel is manager of BBI International’s Community Initiative to Improve Energy Sustainability. Reach him at or (303) 526-5655.

industryevents 24th Annual International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo BIO International Convention

June 16-19, 2008

June 17-20, 2008

Opryland Hotel & Convention Center Nashville, Tennessee This conference will follow the record-breaking 2007 event, in which more than 500 exhibitors were on display and more than 5,300 people attended. The agenda includes discussions on cellulosic ethanol technology and enzymes, cellulose biorefining, anaerobic digestion and gasification. The U.S. EPA will be announcing combined-heat-and-power awards, as well. (719) 539-0300

San Diego Convention Center San Diego, California This event covers many biotechnology topics, including biofuels and cleantech, which will be the focus of a pre-conference session held June 16. The session features two roundtables, titled “The New Biotech Revolution” and “The Convergence of Biotech and Cleantech.” Speakers at the session include Carlos Riva, chief executive officer of Verenium Corp., and Richard Hamilton, president and CEO of Ceres Inc. (202) 962-6655

Biofuels 2010:The Next Generation

Biomass ’08 Technical Workshop: Power, Fuels and Chemicals

June 23-24, 2008 Hilton Americas Houston, Texas This event will cover the latest innovations, developments and regulations within the biofuels industry. Topics include cellulosic ethanol; feedstocks such as Miscanthus; the commercialization of ethanol and biomass; and the integration of refining and biorefining. (416) 214-3400

July 15-16, 2008 Alerus Center Grand Forks, North Dakota This event, hosted by the Energy & Environmental Research Center, will discuss trends and opportunities in utilizing biomass, policies and incentives, cellulosic ethanol, biomass-based chemicals and other products, and biomass for heat and electricity, among many other topics. (701) 777-5246

Biofuels Financial Conference

2008 Farm to Fuel Summit

July 23-24, 2008

July 30-August 1, 2008

Hilton Minneapolis Airport-Mall of America Hotel Minneapolis, Minnesota This fourth annual event, hosted by Christianson & Associates PLLP, will address current financial issues evolving within the biofuels industry. Agenda topics include financial reporting, insurance, human resource issues, compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley Act Section 404, taxation updates, environmental issues, industry benchmarking and risk management. (320) 441-5526

Rosen Shingle Creek Orlando, Florida This event stemmed from the Farm to Fuel Initiative developed by Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson to promote the production and distribution of renewable energy from Florida-grown crops, agricultural wastes and other biomass. Topics of discussion include the farm bill, the Energy Independence & Security Act of 2007, the Florida energy bill, international affairs, biofuels infrastructure, and research, among many others. (850) 488-0646

Biomass World 2008

Energy from Biomass and Waste

September 23-24, 2008

October 14-16, 2008

Hilton Hotel Beijing, China This forum will focus on the conversion of biomass to power, gas and liquid fuels. Attendees will hear updates on such projects in China, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Thailand and the Philippines. Other topics include cellulosic ethanol, biogas, cofiring, gasification, combustion, enzymes and the economics of various biomass feedstocks. +65 63469115

David L. Lawrence Convention Center Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania More than 1,000 people are expected to attend this event, which will address sustainable waste management, the commercial viability of waste-to-energy and biomass-to-energy technologies, positive effects of energy from biomass and waste programs, domestic and international markets, business opportunities, and legal and financial issues. More than 100 exhibitors will showcase the latest in sustainable energy production and safe waste handling, as well. +49-2802-948484-0



BRIEFS Damman, Portz fill new positions at BBI BBI International Inc. announced that Angela Damman has filled the newly created position of vice president of international business development. Damman, who was previously the vice president of conference and events for BBI, will oversee global expansion for the company and develop new business for BBI's service Damman areas. BBI also hired Tim Portz to conduct business development for its Community Initiative to Improve Energy Sustainability (CITIES) program. He will pursue opportunities to sell CITIES consultation services to interested municipalities, concentrating his initial efforts in the upper-Midwestern states. BIO

Ze-gen appoints Fraser to new position Boston-based Ze-gen Inc., a privately held biotechnology firm, has appointed Scott Fraser as senior vice president of engineering. In this new position, he will manage Ze-gen’s gasification technology; direct the company’s five-ton-per-hour gasification demonstration facility in New Bedford, Mass.; investigate the economic Fraser applications of the company’s high-quality synthesis gas; and manage the engineering, procurement and construction contracts for Ze-gen's future commercial-scale plants. BIO

Partnership explores cellulosic biomass conversion A public-private technology alliance among ConocoPhillips, the U.S. DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Iowa State University aims to research the conversion of nonfood agricultural residues, grasses and fast-growing trees into fuel. The partners will examine various processes including gasification, pyrolysis and fermentation. Each entity will contribute its own time and resources, and produce an initial report on the most cost-effective biomass conversion technologies by January 2009. BIO

Green Energy Resources offers wood supply to U.S.companies Green Energy Resources, a Manhattan-based wood waste supplier, began offering supply contracts to U.S. companies in need of wood chips or pellets. The company uses software, called the Urban Tree Certification System, to locate specific tree species that may be required by its customers. Products are collected and delivered via an extensive supply network using truck, rail or barge, whichever is most cost-effective. Green Energy Resources Chief Executive Officer Joe Murray said increased wood waste demand in the Northeast and California has led to new market developments across the United States. BIO

GPRE receives grant Green Plains Renewable Energy Inc. has received preliminary approval from the Iowa Power Fund for a $2.3 million grant that will fund the research and development of algae as a biofuels feedstock. The grant will allow corn-based ethanol producer GPRE and GreenFuel Technologies Corp. to conduct a 195-day test to determine the viability of algae production using carbon dioxide produced at GPRE’s plant in Shenandoah, Iowa. If the test is successful, the project could be expanded commercially. BIO

Essent Trading to buy green electricity from Electrawinds This spring, Essent Trading, a Geneva, Switzerland-based energy trading company, entered into a 15-year contract to purchase all the electricity that will be produced at a biosteam plant currently under construction in Belgium. The plant, being built by Belgium-based Electrawinds NV, is expected to be operational in the summer of 2009. It will burn up to 180,000 tons of solid biomass waste and produce 133,920 megawatts of electricity annually. Essent Trading serves 2.7 million customers across the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. BIO




This spring, a round of USDA grants totaling $4.1 million was awarded to 17 small businesses and community groups that are developing innovative uses for woody biomass from national forests. The grants will help create markets for small-diameter woody material, and damaged and low-valued trees removed to reduce the risk of fire hazard, insect infestation and disease. "The renewable use of shrubs and underbrush removes unhealthy overgrowth in our national forests, and creates local opportunities for new products and energy sources," said Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer when he announced the grant awards. A past grant winner in Montana, for example, demonstrated the feasibility of adapting a roll on/off container system used by waste management firms to efficiently concentrate forest slash. One of this year’s grantees, the Coquille Tribe of Oregon in North Bend, Ore., will be purchasing equip-


Woody biomass grants aim to expand use of forest waste

Left to right: Before and after images show the clearing of tree stands to reduce fire hazards.

ment to utilize the same system to collect and transport forest slash, rather than piling and burning it. The tribe supplies woody biomass to several projects. In Portland, Ore., Bear Mountain Forest Products was given a grant to collaborate with others in using a briquetting machine for densifying wood residue. According to Susan LeVan-Green, program manager of

the Forestry Technology Marketing Unit at the Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wis., the high needle content in some material makes it unsuitable for pelletizing processes aimed at the residential market because high needle content increases the ash above acceptable levels. Bear Mountain’s work is demonstrating the effectiveness of using lower-grade, high-needle-content material in making larger compressed briquettes, which can be used in industrial boilers, creating a new market for the wood waste. This is the fourth year of the USDA’s woody biomass program, which has granted a total of $19.1 million to 81 projects to help businesses, tribes and organizations upgrade equipment, and install systems to make better use of woody underbrush and forest slash. “We’ve had some very good success with the program,” LeVan-Green said. -Susanne Retka Schill

Advanced biofuel projects receive DOE funding In April, the U.S. DOE Biomass Program announced the selection of three small-scale cellulosic ethanol projects in Maine, Tennessee and Kentucky to receive $86 million in a second round of funding from the department's Biomass Program. Mascoma Corp., RSE Pulp and Chemical LLC, and Ecofin LLC are leading the projects, which are expected to be operational within four years. Each one will produce liquid transportation fuels such as cellulosic ethanol, as well as biobased chemicals and biobased products used in industrial applications. Mascoma, based in Boston, received up to $26 million for a 5 MMgy switchgrassbased ethanol plant to be built in Monroe County, Tenn. RSE Pulp and Chemical, a subsidiary of Red Shield Environmental LLC, received up to $30 million for a woodbased ethanol facility at an existing pulp mill in Old Town, Maine. Nicholasville, Ky.-based Ecofin, a subsidiary of Alltech Inc., received up to $30 million for a 1 MMgy demonstration-scale plant to validate the commercial 12 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 6|2008

viability of a novel, solid-state enzyme process that can convert a wide range of lignocellulosic feedstocks to ethanol and other biobased products. Earlier this year, the DOE selected four projects in the first round of the Biomass Program’s funding in St. Joseph, Mo.; Commerce City, Colo.; Boardman, Ore.; and Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. With the first and second round combined, the seven selected smallscale biorefinery projects will receive up to $200 million in DOE funding and, when combined with the industry cost-share, will total more than $634 million invested over the next four years. More DOE funding for advanced biofuel projects is available. Applications were due May 29 for a funding opportunity for up to $7 million in federal monies over the 2008 and 2009 fiscal years for advanced research and development in converting nonfood-based biomass into advanced biofuels. The DOE expected to select five to seven projects that

would improve the conversion of biomass to biofuels through pyrolysis, which uses heat to break down the lignin, cellulose and hemicellulose of biomass feedstocks. The DOE Golden Field Office is making approximately $4 million available to higher-education institutions for applied research in the conversion of biomass to advanced fuels. The applications, due June 2, should reflect innovative and unique approaches to addressing the needs of the biochemical and thermochemical processing of biomass as implemented in integrated biorefinery operations. This could involve—but isn’t limited to—unique interfaces between pretreatment processing and advanced biofuel production, consolidated bioprocessing options, or unique and innovative combinations of chemical and biological processing. The DOE expects to fund between three and 12 institutions. -Anduin Kirkbride McElroy


NEWS Verenium Corp., a Massachusetts-based biofuels and enzyme developer, has announced key milestones at its demonstration-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in Jennings, La. The start-up phase has begun on individual systems at the $60 million, 1.4 MMgy facility, and at press time a grand opening event was slated to be held at the end of May. “We feel that 2008 is going to be a transformational year for Verenium as we continue to make significant progress at our facilities in Jennings,” said Kelly Lindenboom, vice president of corporate communications for Verenium. “Our facility is the first of its kind in the United States, and we expect the learning that comes out of that plant will give us the guidance we need to move forward on our first commercial-scale facility by the end of next year. It will be an important landmark not only for Verenium, but for the cellulosic ethanol industry.” Following completion of the start-up


Verenium to complete cellulosic ethanol plant

Verenium’s demonstration-scale cellulosic ethanol facility in Jennings, La., has begun the start-up process.

phase, Verenium will move into the “commissioning and optimization phase” to validate the implementation of its technology, and to process ethanol at scale. That phase is expected to continue through the end of 2008.

Upon successful completion of those steps, Verenium expects to begin construction of its first commercial-scale facility. “The next several months will be critical in terms of scaling our process and technology, and garnering the insights needed to begin construction on our first commercial facility, which will truly be a landmark for the emerging next-generation biofuels industry,” said Carlos Riva, president and chief executive officer of Verenium. Verenium was formed in 2007 through a merger between Celunol Corp. and Diversa Corp. The enzyme technology that Diversa brought to Verenium allowed the combined company to manufacture enzymes on-site. According to Lindenboom, “having all that in-house has certainly been a competitive advantage.” -Kris Bevill

In April, Chippewa Valley Ethanol Co. LLLP, a corn-based ethanol producer in Benson, Minn., started up its biomass gasifier, which will burn wood residues to generate power that replaces natural gas. The gasifier was built by Ames, Iowabased Frontline BioEnergy LLC. The combustible gas produced in the gasifier will be used for steam generation at the ethanol plant, according to Norman Reese, general manager of Frontline BioEnergy. “Frontline and CVEC have worked together from the start to develop feedstock handling, install the gasifier and integrate the producer gas burner to reach this milestone,” he said. Approximately 90 percent of the plant’s natural gas usage will be displaced by burning approximately 280 tons of wood waste per day. In the near future, CVEC and


CVEC fires up gasifier, considers corn cobs

Construction of the biomass gasifier at CVEC began in June 2007 and finished in April.

Frontline plan to use corn cobs as an additional biomass feedstock in the gasifier, Reese said. “Long-term plans include

increasing the percentage of cobs in the fuel mix, and possibly using stover, prairie grasses, and/or other ag residues,” he said. This fall, CVEC will publicly demonstrate the harvesting of 3,500 tons of cobs on at least 5,000 acres. “We will be feeding ground cobs into the gasifier after the harvest in the fall,” Reese said. CVEC General Manager Bill Lee said CVEC chose to focus on corn cobs rather than corn stover for several reasons, one being that cobs produce approximately one-third less ash than stover when burned. Cobs can also be harvested more efficiently, transported more cheaply and stored more easily than corn stover. They are the least-useful part of the corn plant that replenishes the soil after harvest. -Timothy Charles Holmseth



NEWS Aquaflow Bionomic harvests first wild algae Among the green hills and sandy beaches cradled in the southern seas, a potential biofuels breakthrough is coming close to fruition. In New Zealand, Aquaflow Bionomic Corp. Ltd. announced that commercial-scale wild algae harvesting is taking place at oxidation ponds in Marlborough, at the northern end of the nation’s South Island. The ponds cover 100 acres and produce several tons of algae daily. According to founding director Barrie Leay, an on-site biorefinery will convert the algae into what the company calls “biocrude,” but he declined to describe the company’s conversion technology, citing patent concerns. Aquaflow has investigated other possible harvest areas, including 1,000-acre oxidation ponds in the United States. “We believe this is an important step not just for our company, but for everybody,” Leay said. “The processes we have worked through are evolu-

In addition to algae production, the company has also researched feedlots, foodprocessing plants and dairy farms as other possible sources of organic material for feedstocks.. Aquaflow is also developing jet fuel derived from algae. Leay said the potential is “very significant,” and his company is conducting serious investigative work. Boeing Co. has been involved with Aquaflow to develop the product. Aquaflow is looking to expand its reach. It has partnered with Singapore-based Pure Power Asia to license and develop its technology in south Asia. Pure Power took a 19.9 percent share in Aquaflow in 2007. “[Pure Power] will be developing a significant part of the Asian market, probably in 2009,” Leay said.

tionary—not revolutionary—to get to this scale over the past two-and-a-half years. It’s been a slow, gentle accumulation of knowledge to get us to this point.” Leay said the company’s business model is to create a network of small biorefineries based around existing water treatment lagoons. He compared this with the existing biodiesel and ethanol industries, where feedstocks are shipped to a central facility. “The model we developed is quite different than anybody else’s,” he said. “We will not be looking at concentrating production in large oil refineries. We shall be using a distributed model in which we do the conversion of algae to oil on the site where the algae is housed. The closest analogy is that we are reversing the pattern of the old IBM mainframes (one central location), and going to laptop and Blackberry models (which go where users need them).”

-Jerry W. Kram

Canadian Green Fuels aims to be nation's largest biofuel producer


public] formally welcomed us to their homes and to their community.” McLean is 25 miles east of Regina. The greenfield plant, which is expected to produce 200 MMly (52 MMgy), will be powered by the energy it creates, which includes biodiesel, bio-oil and biofuel additives. The facility will crush 1,200 metric tons of various oilseeds daily, including canola, flax, sunflowers and soybeans.. “Once we hit the ground, our model expects that we could begin building profitability within 90 days of starting the equipment,” Metz said. “A plant this size would probably A retail tank sits outside of Canadian Green Fuels' need in excess of 460,000 metric tons a year of existing facility in Regina, Saskatchewan. oilseeds, and what makes us unique is our capability to crush any oil-yielding seed, not meeting revealed a positive public sentiment, just canola.” said CGF Chief Development Officer Troy Metz. “We were very surprised at the outpour-Timothy Charles Holmseth ing of support, and very humbled when [the PHOTO: CANADIAN GREEN FUELS INC.

Canadian Green Fuels Inc. is investing approximately $50 million in the construction of the nation's largest and the world's ninthlargest biofuel plant to be located in Regina, Saskatchewan. The plans underway involve upgrading an existing plant in Regina, as well as building a new plant. “We expect these plants to have the capacity to produce 240 million liters (63 MMgy) of biofuels a year and be considered 'green' plants, as all aspects of the plant and waste products are used to create revenue,” said Mike Shenher, chief executive officer of CGF. The revenue from both plants could total approximately $300 million per year, he said. A general information session held in McLean, Saskatchewan, on April 21 drew residents from McLean and the surrounding area to discuss opportunities and concerns that could stem from such a development. The


NEWS Renegy biomass plant begins operation

North Carolina 'hogs' electric spotlight A Methane Capture Pilot Program, which stemmed from the Swine Farm Environmental Performance Standards Act passed by the North Carolina Senate in July 2007, will begin providing swinepowered electricity to state residents by 2010. So far, approximately 200 swine producers have expressed interest in the methane program, and 50 finalists will be selected this summer. “We had a swine integrator come in and say it was going to enroll all its farms,” said Vernon Cox, chief of the Technical Services Section of the North Carolina Division of Soil and Water Conservation, which will administer the registry for the state Department of Environmental and Natural Resources in partnership with the North Carolina Utilities Commission. “Currently, the utilities commission is in the process of establishing an appropriate rate to allow these producers to recover their costs for installing the systems,” Cox said. Rates will be capped at 18 cents per kilowatthour, according to the legislation. The chosen finalists will sell to utility companies the electricity produced from methane generated in their waste systems in full or partial lagoon covers. The methane will be converted to electricity through biogas generators. Each selected farm must enter into a seven-year contract because state officials anticipate lower costs in each year of the program. Initial profits will be minimal, but they are expected to rise annually as hog producers become more efficient at producing the biogas. Although the number of North Carolina hog farms has decreased over the years due to state moratoriums slowing growth, the state is second in the nation—behind Iowa—in hog production. In past years, North Carolina hog waste was allowed to be stored in lagoons and then sprayed onto crops as a fertilizer, giving hog farmers an added revenue stream. When environmental advocates lobbied for stricter controls over this process, hog associations looked to environmentally palatable uses for the lagoons and suggested the methane proposal to the legislature in 2006. -Sarah Smith

-Susanne Retka Schill


Swine manure can be a source of electricity in North Carolina.

Renegy Holdings Inc. achieved a milestone in late April by bringing its first commercial-scale biomass power plant in Snowflake, Ariz., onto the electrical grid. The Tempe, Ariz.-based company expects to complete performance tests on the 24-megawatt facility and gradually ramp up power output to full load by mid-year. The plant is using a refurbished Babcock & Wilcox Co. boiler converted to an open-bottom bubbling fluidized-bed combustor, which will create steam for electrical generation. The system was designed to use wet, recycled newsprint fibers from an adjacent newsprint mill as a feedstock, explained Megan Meloni, director of investor relations for Renegy. The newsprint mill, owned and operated by Catalyst Paper Corp., will provide approximately 25 percent of the feedstock for the project. The other 75 percent will be wood waste. “We have a number of contracts with the U.S. Forest Service to clear out fire salvage,” Meloni said. Snowflake is near the area where in 2002 the largest forest fire in the history of the Southwest burned more than 475,000 acres. In addition to the Snowflake plant, Renegy has acquired an idle 13megawatt biomass plant in Susanville, Calif., that has the potential to be restarted by the end of 2008. The company also recently signed letters of intent to acquire two additional biomass facilities: an operating 20megawatt facility in Loyalton, Calif., and an idle 18-megawatt facility in Ione, Calif. Renegy's other business activities include an established fuel aggregation and wood products division, which collects and transports wood waste to its power plants, and sells logs, lumber, shaved wood products and other high-value wood byproducts to cover the cost of fuel for its primary business operations. Renegy Holdings was formed in October 2007 though a merger between Catalytica Energy Systems Inc. and the renewable energy divisions of NZ Legacy LLC. For more information about Renegy, visit

Renegy is gathering wood waste from surrounding forests, which will provide 75 percent of the feedstocks for its new 24-megawatt biomass power plant in Snowflake, Ariz. 6|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 15


NEWS Florida Syngas converts glycerin Synthesis gas, a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide produced by the thermal decomposition of organic matter, can be used for many applications if it can be produced economically. John Sessa, president and chief executive officer of Florida Syngas LLC, thinks he has such a system that uses the ubiquitous and low-cost byproduct of biodiesel production: glycerin. Most pyrolysis processes use a tremendous amount of heat in the absence of oxygen to decompose organic matter into its basic components, Sessa said. Florida Syngas uses a much different process that uses carefully calibrated amounts of oxygen to partially oxidize glycerin into syngas. The key to this new method is converting the reactants into high-temperature electric plasma and reforming them with a proprietary high-temperature catalyst. “Through the proper mix of air, glycerin and electricity, we create an electric arc plasma,” Sessa said. “The materi-

generate electricity, burned for industrial heat al itself is part of the energetic plasma.” Sessa pointed out that this process is or sent through a Fischer-Tropsch process to create synfuels. also different from using plasma Florida Syngas has an order torches to pyrolize biomass into for 10 one-megawatt generators syngas. He said the process is 90 from Advent Power Systems Inc. percent efficient in extracting based on Florida Syngas’ systems. energy from the glycerin. The company is looking for oth“Because of our methodology, we ers to test the beta version of its don’t need a whole lot of electricsystem. Sessa said development ity,” he said. “We will be feeding Sessa of a commercial-scale system is back about 10 percent of the energy we create to the reaction chamber to underway. “We are not to the point where we keep our process running.” The process have a ‘push the red button and it starts’ sysrequires crude glycerin to be partially refined tem,” he said. “We are probably a year away because sodium and other salts will degrade from a field-ready product. We are probably nine months away from a beta unit. We have the unit’s catalyst. The combination of glycerin and oxy- several folks ready to be the beta site.” The gen releases heat that is used to support the system will be initially marketed to biodiesel continuing reaction. In larger units, excess companies as a method for reducing their heat can be extracted for combined-heat- plants’ energy costs. and-power production. The syngas can be sent to a standard gas turbine or fuel cells to -Jerry W. Kram

Midwestern governors aim to reduce GHG Twelve governors and the premier of Manitoba have entered into several regional strategies to achieve energy security while reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The projects stem from the Midwestern Regional Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord, which was implemented in November 2007 to aggressively reduce GHG emissions by 60 percent to 80 percent in the long term, and create a regional cap-and-trade scheme to meet the targets. The accord is expected to be fully implemented by 2010. Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Kansas and Manitoba signed the accord as full participants. Indiana, Ohio and South Dakota adopted portions of the accord and were given “observer status” to participate in the formation of a cap-and-


trade system. North Dakota, which has significant coal industries, didn’t sign the accord. Instead, it joined the previously mentioned states and Nebraska in establishing the Energy Security and Climate Stewardship Platform to advance energy-efficiency goals that will include renewable fuels. Missouri later adopted portions of the platform agreement, which was formulated to guide the future development of the Midwest’s energy economy since the region is heavily dependent on coal and agriculture. The platform agreement lists goals and time lines for energy-efficiency improvements, low-carbon transportation fuel availability, renewable electricity production, biobased products, and carbon capture and storage.

Several other agreements include the Carbon Management Infrastructure Partnership, the Midwestern Biobased Product Procurement System, a coordinated regional effort to develop biofuels and a working group to pursue a collaborative, multi-jurisdictional transmission initiative. The Midwestern accord is a companion effort to three other regional initiatives to reduce greenhouse gases. In 2003, California, Oregon and Washington created the West Coast Global Warming Initiative; in 2006, Arizona and New Mexico formed the Southwest Climate Change Initiative; and in 2007, Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington formed the Western Regional Climate Action Initiative. -Sarah Smith


NEWS Two companies to convert Indiana MSW to ethanol At press time, the Lake County Solid Waste Management District board was expected to approve contracts at the end of May for two separate companies to make ethanol from the Indiana county’s municipal solid waste (MSW). The combined capacity of the two proposed plants is 170 MMgy. According to district Executive Director Jeff Langbehn, the board issued a request for proposals for MSW disposal last year. It received two proposals for waste-to-ethanol projects and one for landfilling. In March, the district voted to develop contracts with all three companies. The board voted Genahol Powers 1 LLC as the primary vendor for converting waste into ethanol, while Indiana Ethanol Power LLC will be the secondary vendor. Allied Waste Industries Inc. will be contracted to landfill the waste that can’t be converted into ethanol. Lake County said it has plenty of MSW to

Bogner, vice president of marketing for Genahol. He said capital costs will range from $250 million to $410 million, depending on the size of the facility. Indiana Ethanol Powers plans to utilize a patented type of weak-acid hydrolysis invented by collaborator GeneSyst International Inc. The process uses gravity-pressure vessels to turn waste products into simple sugars. The proposed 20 MMgy plant would process 1,500 tons of trash per day, according to the company. Construction is expected to cost $100 million. Because contracts weren’t finalized by press time, neither company had selected a site within the county. They expect to begin permitting after contracts are finalized, with construction starting by the end of this year.

supply two ethanol facilities. It’s home to Gary, a Chicago suburb, and 16 other municipalities. In addition, two adjacent counties and the city of Chicago have expressed interest in sending their MSW to the facilities. “Since [the proposals have been submitted], there has been so much interest,” Langbehn said. Genahol Powers 1 expects to start processing 4,000 tons of waste per day and ramp up to 10,000 tons per day, which would produce 150 MMgy of ethanol. The company would use a patented process that has 40,000 hours of proven production on a pilot scale, according to Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Earl Powers. After recyclables and the non-recoverable waste are removed, the remaining 80 percent to 85 percent will be fed into a series of gasifiers to make synthesis gas. “We have a proprietary method of taking that syngas, cleaning it and making ethanol through the use of a chemical catalyst,” said Don

-Anduin Kirkbride McElroy

CleanTech Biofuels Inc. and its Denverbased engineering firm Merrick & Co. have begun developing a demonstration-scale facility that converts municipal solid waste (MSW) into ethanol at Hazen Research Inc.’s eightacre research facility in Golden, Colo. According to CleanTech Biofuels Chief Executive Officer Ed Hennessey, the initial phase of the project involves testing the viability of the company’s biomass conversion technology, referred to as HFTA, in combination with its pressurized-steam classification technology that converts MSW to fuel-grade ethanol. To accomplish this, the St. Louis-based company purchased a reactor system from the Forest Products Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley in late January. At UC Berkeley, Hennessey said the reactor system successfully demonstrated the effectiveness of the HFTA cellulose conversion technology using wood waste feedstocks. The technology was then reassembled at Hazen’s research site,


CleanTech Biofuels, Merrick team in MSW-to-ethanol project

The cellulose-conversion reactor that CleanTech purchased from the University of California, Berkeley will be used to optimize the company's HFTA cellulose-conversion technology.

where CleanTech Biofuels is currently utilizing the reactor system in the project’s first phase to optimize reaction conditions on what the company calls “process engineered fuel,” or cellulosic biomass from MSW. The company plans to incorporate other cellulosic feed-

stocks—corn stover, wood waste and switchgrass—into the process, but MSW will be the primary feedstock. “The purpose of the pilot project is to demonstrate the viability of the technologies, to get the operating data and to be able to forecast capital costs for a larger commercial plant once we’ve demonstrated it on a smaller scale,” Hennessey said. Once initial tests are successful, CleanTech will utilize Hazen’s research and development expertise in the energy field, and Merrick & Co.’s engineering services, to build a demonstration facility at Hazen’s research site. Hazen will maintain all permits, licenses and other approvals necessary to complete the project. “We hope to be under construction on the demonstration plant around August,” Hennessey said. Once operational, the facility is projected to produce approximately 36,000 gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year from four tons of MSW per day, Hennessey said. -Bryan Sims 6|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 17




Biofuels in the Future Using the world’s best farmland to grow biomass for fuel can lead to indirect land-use changes that accelerate global warming and increase competition for food worldwide—but that’s only part of the story, said three experts at the International Biomass ’08 Conference & Trade Show held in April in Minneapolis. By Tom Bryan






n the opening day of the International Biomass ’08 Conference & Trade Show, University of Minnesota ecologist David Tilman joined Dartmouth College biologist Lee Lynd and Natural Resources Defense Council policy analyst Nathanael Greene in a panel discussion that hinged on new lifecycle analyses integrating biofuels’ allegedly detrimental impact on land conversion and its associated ills. The contending needs for energy, food, sustainability and carbon reduction is an intensifying worldwide dilemma. The world’s population is growing and arable land is not, Tilman said. “Our population is at 6.3 billion people and heading toward 9 to 9.5 billion people,” he said. “We’re on a steep population growth curve. People around the world are consuming more of everything— not just food—and in the next 50 years the population will grow by another 3 billion more people.” Rising incomes in developing parts of

the world are allowing millions of people to transition from subsistence diets consisting of mainly grains to those including beef. This dietary shift is accelerating the demand for grain around the world at a rate that is “much greater than the world’s farms can produce,” and that is contributing to higher grain, land and food prices. Similar forces are driving energy prices higher. “Global energy consumption has doubled in the past 50 years, paralleling demand for food,” Tilman said, explaining that it will double again in the next 40 years. As this global competition for land materializes, there is a growing belief that producing fuel from traditional food crops is leading to corn, soybean oil and wheat being priced at the “energy equivalent” of $100-per-barrel oil. “There’s a fear that the food and energy sectors are becoming less independent and more joined,” the ecologist said. In spite of these new pressures, Tilman said there is still enormous potential for next-generation biofuels if they can attain irrefutable low-carbon status. In addition to sharply cutting the fossil energy used to make biofuels—a would-be boon to biomass power—future producers must look to waste, agricultural residues and perennial energy crops grown on marginal, degraded or abandoned land to achieve conclusive low-carbon status, he said. Tilman’s critics say those constrictions greatly diminish the role of biofuels in an increasingly carbon constrained world. In fact, Tilman admits that only 15 percent of the world’s current petroleum use could be offset by biofuels made from the environmentally friendly feedstocks he endorses.

Tilman continued on page 22



Overcoming Challenges to Reach Potential The potential for biomass is nearly limitless. However, experts at the International Biomass ’08 Conference & Trade Show said there are plenty of challenges that need to be overcome before its use becomes more significant. More than 800 people attended the first annual event, which aimed to facilitate the advancement of near-term and commercial-scale manufacturing of biomass-based products. Norway-based Borregaard provided a commercialscale example of the unique opportunities for biomass usage for power, fuels and chemicals. The company touts itself as having the world’s most advanced biorefinery, which produces ingredients, fine chemicals and energy from wood—primarily spruce. Its approach is similar to the process of converting crude oil into a wide variety of products. However, instead of petroleum, Borregaard uses renewable wood as a feedstock. The company has more than 60 years of experience in the feasibilities and challenges of handling and processing biomass, according to Gisle Johansen Lohre, Borregaard’s vice president of business development. Lohre said many biomass project ideas look good on paper, but they “won’t work in the real world” due to a poor energy balance and the lack of saleable products. He said companies should focus on producing a variety of marketable products in order to thrive. Lohre said his company converts 1,000 kilograms of wood to 79 kilograms of biofuel, 400 kilograms of cellulose, 400 kilograms of lignin, three kilograms of vanillin, 50 kilograms of ethanol and 50 kilograms of carbon dioxide. Borregaard converts more than 90 percent of incoming

biomass into marketable products, Lohre said, adding that ethanol created only 10 percent of the value in his company’s process. John Hemmings, process director of studies and technology for Canadian-based SNC Lavalin, shared with conference attendees a three-stage path for biomass plants. He said current coal-fired facilities emit up to 450 pounds of carbon dioxide per barrel of coal-to-liquid production. A cofired coal and biomass plant would be carbon neutral, especially if biomass is gathered from within a 75-mile radius. The District Energy St. Paul Inc. project, which conference attendees had the opportunity to tour, collects wood-based biomass within a 75-mile radius to create heat and power for downtown St. Paul. For more information on the project, visit Hemmings said it takes $3 per million British thermal units to move biomass 100 miles. However, carbon taxes would help partially offset logistical challenges. The third-stage plant would cofire coal and biomass and feature an algae-based biodiesel facility, Hemmings said. The algae would utilize the plant’s concentrated carbon dioxide stream. While many companies tout their algae-to-biodiesel technology, he said a commercial-scale process is at least eight to 10 years away from hitting the market. For more information on the conference, visit www —Dave Nilles



Utility Providers Need Biomass to Meet Renewable Energy Standards Utilities can’t meet state-by-state renewable energy standards with wind alone—biomass can help. That was the message Xcel Energy Inc.’s Betsy Engelking, manager for resource planning and bidding, told participants at the International Biomass ’08 Conference & Trade Show. Wind gets all the attention when states set renewable energy standards because it’s well represented by lobbyists, Engelking told participants. Not so for biomass. “Nobody stands for biomass,” Engelking said. “The wind lobby was there in full force, but where were the biomass people?” Yet, Engelking said, biomass will be in demand as states set standards to meet the federal renewable energy standards. Minnesota has set a mandate requiring 25 percent of its electricity come from renewable energy by 2025. As a result, Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy, which is Minnesota’s largest utility, must generate 30 percent of its power using renewables by 2020. No state has adopted a biomass standard, Engelking said, and definitions vary from state to state. Some states don’t allow certain kinds of biomass, such as Montana which requires “nontoxic” biomass. Wind generators go where the wind blows—not necessarily where people need electricity—and such generation

is constrained by transmission-line capacity, Engelking said. Biomass plants, on the other hand, can go where demand is greatest. Biomass faces challenges, however. Wind may be cheaper but biomass projects, especially with cogeneration, are economically viable. “I think that biomass has to show it’s actually a higher-value resource and therefore it’s reasonable to pay a little more,” Engelking said. Another drawback to using biomass is that the facilities need fuel from within a 50-mile radius or less to minimize transportation costs, Engelking said. Feedstock availability may limit the size of plants; and smaller plants may not bring the same economies of scale that larger plants experience. Engelking added, developers, meanwhile, are relatively inexperienced and have limited access to financing— and they may face growing public opposition. Even so, biomass works. Xcel Energy now buys electricity from three biomass plants: a 50-megawatt facility in St. Paul, Minn.; 35 megawatts from Laurentian Energy, located in northeastern Minnesota’s Iron Range; and 25 megawatts from the Fibrominn plant at Benson, Minn., that burns turkey litter, the first such plant in the United States. —Marc Hequet

The continued investigation and development of biomass-based fuels, coupled with the limitless potential of new agriculture, hold great potential for dramatic land-use reductions while increasing the amount of land used for food, feed and fuel globally. continued from page 20


Tilman is best known in the biofuels industry for his groundbreaking work with mixed prairie grasses for ethanol production. The Cedar Creek Biodiversity Experiment in Minnesota showed that the best yields of biomass energy Lynd per acre came from planting a combination of six perennial grass species together on unproductive land. Biofuels made from such high-diversity prairie grasses are carbon negative, in theory yielding 140 percent less greenhouse gases than gasoline, he said. In the near future, Tilman said, it’s likely that the high price of food and food crops will make it increasingly less likely that

farmers will dedicate grain to biofuels. “Economics and ethics will likely mean that our best land will go to food production with ag residue and dedicated energy crops like mixed prairie grasses grown on degraded land going to biofuels,” he said.

The Emergence of ‘New Agriculture’ Lynd, a leading biomass expert and co-founder of Mascoma Corp., asserted that land conversion theory is new, fragmented and still not wholly accepted by the scientific community. He said it’s decidedly premature to conclude that biofuels have no potential because of their superficially inherent connection to land-use change. “The space has been so incompletely explored,” he said, adding that the hope of “new agriculture” will provide previously unforeseen pathways around the land conversion dilemma. continued on page 24



Ethanol Plants Explore Water Recycling Options Since ethanol plants typically take in approximately 3 gallons of water to produce 1 gallon of ethanol, water usage is an issue. Two unnamed plants in particular are exploring separate water recycling programs, which were presented at the International Biomass ‘08 Conference & Trade Show. Marcus Allhands, vice president of Orival Inc., detailed an ethanol case study that his company conducted with a 110 MMgy ethanol plant in Iowa that reuses effluent from a wastewater treatment plant six miles away. The facility, which uses approximately 330 MMgy of process water, installed a pipeline connecting the two businesses. After exploring different options, plant management decided to install three auto screen filters supplied by Orival. The filters screen solid particles from the effluent as it comes into the plant. Each screen monitors the change in water pressure as solid particles are collected, and when the water pressure reaches a certain level, the filter automatically rinses the screen for 10 seconds using 14 gallons of water per unit. This is done without taking the plant offline for maintenance. Initially, when the filters were installed and the water was turned on, the filters became clogged, Allhands said.

Later, construction debris in the pipeline was found to be the culprit. The pipes were flushed, and no problems occurred after that. The units have been in continuous operation for more than a year. Chad Grismer, an engineer with Westwood Professional Services Inc., presented a different waterrecycling option that a Minnesota ethanol plant was considering before the industry’s economics took a downturn. “That project is now in a holding pattern,” Grismer said. This option allows a plant to reuse discharge water as nonprocess water, reducing groundwater consumption and recharging groundwater supplies. This can be achieved through an evapotranspiration channel that would wind back and forth outside the ethanol plant, passing through an area of planted trees before the water enters a nearby pond. The trees would take in the water, including the dissolved particles within the water, and transpire it into the atmosphere, along with evaporation. The trees could double as a biomass resource. The plant could then take the water from the pond and re-insert it into the plant. —Jessica Sobolik

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event continued from page 22

New uses and new combinations for existing crops, as well as new crops and new crop systems will lead to exponential gains in productivity and biomass yields, Lynd said. “This new agriculture has only scant investigation worldwide.” Looking at the broad issue of land use and resource consumption, Lynd said the world will not be able to produce its way out of the dilemma it now faces. He said it will require systemic redesign and radical changes in the way we use and produce energy. Ultimately, Lynd said, the continued investigation and development of biomass-based fuels, coupled with the limitless potential of new agriculture, hold great potential for dramatic land-use reductions while increasing the amount of land used for food, feed and fuel

globally. “Even the most challenging cellulosic ethanol land conversion scenarios can achieve large carbon reductions given the motivation to achieve [that] outcome.” Lynd said theories put forth by scientists such as Princeton’s Tim Searchinger do not embody the multiple systemic changes that are characteristic of sustainable transition paths. Translation: They lack hope and underestimate human ingenuity. Advances in agriculture and biofuels production technology won’t be enough, however. Lynd said a host of factors must coalesce to bring about the changes that are now widely accepted as necessary. Vehicle efficiency (fuel economy), for example, will have to improve by a multiple of 2.5, as will biomass crop yields. Someday, he said, it might be possible to meet all of the world’s food and mobility needs using 10 percent less land than we use today.

Greene said the biofuels industry should not casually dismiss land-use-change and food-versus-fuel theories, as Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, did last week calling the recent criticism of ethanol by foreign officials “a big joke,” according to The New York Times. Rather, he said, it’s vital to acknowledge the role biofuels play—negligible or not—in land-use-related issues. There are, however, many other factors at play, Greene said. “If you step back a little bit, it’s easier to see the complexity of this issue,” he said, explaining that the world’s growing population, rising incomes, changing diets, and increased energy demand, as well as a PHOTO




Volume Requirements Versus Performance


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growing demand for biofuels from food crops, are putting increased pressure on land and food prices. “All of these things are attributed to increased grain prices,” he said. “Increased grain prices are leading to higher prices for land. As grain goes up, so does land. We’ve already seen land prices go up e Green substantially in the United States and that’s going to trickle throughout the rest of the world. It also puts more pressure on farmers to increase yield, and there are a variety of ways they can do that but driving the land harder is going to be among them. Higher land prices and higher pressure for increased yields are going to lead, in an unconstrained world, to increased clearing of land, more fertilizer and more tillage.” Building on the assertions made by Tilman and Lynd, Greene said the key to making biofuels work is exploring paths to increase both food and biomass production while steering clear of land conversion drivers. “We can get more food and more biomass off of our land, fighting global hunger and global warming at the same time,” he asserted. Farmers need an incentive to change, however, and the fastest, most effective way to provide that incentive is through public policy, Green said. “We need to avoid extremes, embrace

change and pay for performance, he said. “We need to put dollars on the table for the things we want as a society.” Referring to the corn ethanol industry’s vital function as a bridge to next-generation biofuels, Greene said, “We can’t expect an industry to accept change that victimizes or cannibalizes its current existence.” On the other hand, it’s time to start making performancebased policy choices that favor low-carbon biofuels. “Feedstocks that use very little land or are outside of land-use competition should not be penalized,” he said. “Feedstocks that are grown on flat, black, prime arable land—those that cause the most landuse competition—should have the highest penalty.” Greene said the new 36-billion-gallon renewable fuels standard moves the United States in the right direction with its landuse safeguards, aggressive production targets and bold greenhouse gas emissions reduction floors. However, the NRDC would eventually prefer to see a more fundamental low-carbon fuel standard with performance-based incentives that go beyond carbon to water and land-use-change sustainability checks. “We need to move away from these simple, blunt volume requirements that just pay for more and more production, and start paying for performance,” he said. “We should also move away from technology picking. Let’s let the market and the innovation of industry and farmers figure out, through [low-carbon policy drivers], what we as a society need.” BIO Tom Bryan is editorial director of Biomass Magazine. Reach him at or (701) 738-4962.


The National Renewable Energy Laboratory's solar furnace uses a series of off-axis mirrors to concentrate the sun up to 21,000 times for applications such as decontaminating soil and bonding metal to ceramics. PHOTO: WARREN GRETZ



A collaboration of Colorado-based researchers is taking the next step toward the synthesis of carbon-negative biofuels. By Jessica Ebert


ne of the drawbacks of biomass gasification systems is that the energy to power these reactors is typically drawn from coal-fired power plants. To produce a truly carbon-neutral, or even better, a carbon-negative fuel, the electricity to turn waste biomass feedstocks into a syngas, which can be further processed into fuels, must come from a renewable energy source. To that end, a team of scientists including engineers and horticulturists from the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado State University in Fort Collins and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., have embarked on a project to develop rapid solar-thermal reactor systems for the conversion of biomass to syngas. The project

is being funded by a three-year, $1 million USDA and U.S. DOE grant, which was announced in early March as part of an $18.4 million package to fund 21 biomass research and development demonstration projects. The collaboration is led by Alan Weimer, a professor at CU-Boulder and executive director of the Colorado Center for Biorefining and Biofuels who worked for Dow Chemical Co. for more than 16 years before pursuing a career in academia. At Dow, Weimer worked in the area of ultra high-temperature processing for the synthesis of fine materials like tungsten carbide, which is used in the manufacture of mining instruments and other high-tech tools. The materials were generated by flowing chemical precursors through a graphite reactor tube that is heated indirectly by electricity. 6|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 27

When he joined the university’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, his first project was an extension of his earlier research, but rather than using electricity from the grid, his work involved using concentrated sunlight for chemical processing. “The process looks a lot like the technology developed at Dow except instead of heating with electricity, we use sunlight,” Weimer explains. “We can achieve the same temperatures without generating any greenhouse gases.” During these early studies, Weimer and colleagues established a relationship with the engineers at NREL who had designed what’s called a high-flux solar furnace in the late 1980s. The furnace facility sits on top of a high, barren mesa and consists of two main components: a flat mirror called a heliostat that tracks the sun as it moves across the sky and a primary concentrator, which consists of a series of 25 curved, hexagonal-shaped mirrors. The large, 32-square meter (38-square yard) heliostat reflects sunlight onto the primary concentrator, which focuses the sun to a single point. “It’s basically similar to using a magnifying glass to concentrate sunlight to a point, although we use mirrors instead of lenses,” explains Carl Bingham, staff engineer at NREL. This concentrated sunlight, which has been reduced to a beam measuring 10 centimeters (4 inches) in diameter, is reflected a second time at a target area inside the test building where researchers run their experiments. “The original intent was to see what we could do with highly concentrated solar radiation,” Bingham says. By tightening the focus of the sunlight or increasing its concentration, temperatures pushing greater than 2,000 degrees Celsius (3,632 degrees Fahrenheit) can be reached. “The idea is that heating things with concentrated sunlight gets things very hot, very quickly,” he says. In addition to scorching temperatures, the furnace allows for the selective heating of the sample surfaces.




NREL’s solar furnace primary concentrator reflects the tracking heliostat.

technology Bingham, who has worked on the solar furnace nearly since its inception, explains that the early experimentation involved materials synthesis including the application of films onto various substrates, the formation of silicon crystals, the development of new methods for bonding metal onto ceramics and the manufacture of fullerenes, which are carbon structures used in semiconductors, superconductors, high-performance metals and medical technologies.

Eventually, the NREL engineers started collaborating with the researchers from Boulder. “We developed an alliance with CU and started doing work in the hydrogen program, which is still going on today,” Bingham says. This research involved splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, which requires very high temperatures and special materials. “It’s a difficult and challenging problem,” Weimer says. A challenge his team continues to tackle. However, it also led one of Weimer’s graduate students to suggest an alternative research path. “He came in one day and said ‘with all this interest in biomass, I bet biomass is a piece of cake compared with splitting water,’” Weimer recalls. He proceeded to collect some Kentucky bluegrass from outside the laboratory, grind it up and process it. “What we discovered was that at temperatures of about 1,200 degrees C (2,192 degrees F) the short, rapid pyrolysis or gasification in the presence of steam of the biomass, produced syngas with usage in excess of 90 percent of the biomass,” he says. This is significant, Weimer explains, because conventional gasification processes require a partial oxidation of the feedstock, which leads to yield loss. In addition, the very rapid heating for a very short time prevented the formation of tars. This eliminates the need for cleaning the syngas before it’s reformulated to fuel,


A New Research Path

This is one of the electrically-heated transport tube reaction systems that is used in Weimer’s lab at CU-Boulder to mimic the rapid biomass gasification that occurs when the solar furnace at NREL is used.




First-year Ph.D. students Victoria Aston (New Mexico Institute of Technology), left, and Bryan Woodruff (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) take reactor data for rapid sorghum conversion to syngas.

which is a pricey capital cost for a biomass plant, Weimer says. At CU-Boulder, Weimer’s students and staff work with two electrically-heated transport tube reactors. As biomass flows through the tube, either by itself or with some inert gas or steam, the feedstock is heated to high temperatures for only a few seconds. The kinetics of this reaction are closely monitored for various feedstocks and used to develop mathematical models that predict how the solar reactors at NREL should behave. These models are then used to design the reactors that will be used for on-sun demonstrations. This includes a secondary concentrator, which is a cone-shaped device that essentially wraps the sunlight around the reaction tube. The biomass is gasified as the tube absorbs the heat. “Our students build these reactors here in the shop in our department. They mount them on skids. They put the skids in the back of a pickup truck and drive up to NREL where they locate the reactors in the corner of the test building,” Weimer explains. “With the biomass we’re really in the sweet spot,” Weimer explains. “The materials issues associated with the water splitting go away.” But there are other challenges. The biggest of these is


finding biomass feedstocks independent of the food chain. “At the conditions that we operate, however, we can handle huge variability in feedstocks,” he says. Weimer’s team has gasified grasses, sorghum and even lignin. “Our feedstock could be lignin, sawdust, forestry waste, spent grains from a brewery, switchgrass, corn stover, sorghum,” he says. “It could also be municipal solid waste or paper. It could even be glycerin.” The team is also planning to develop algae for gasification. “We see algae as an ideal feedstock,” Weimer says. But rather than extracting oil from the microbes for the production of biodiesel, the algae themselves will serve as a biomass feedstock for the production of syngas. In addition to algae processing, researchers at CSU led by Yaling Qian are working to understand how switchgrass can be grown on marginal lands using brown water. “You could consider our process as a renewable, thermochemical sledgehammer,” Weimer says. Another challenge is interfacing the on-sun gasification with the reforming of the syngas. This represents the other half of Weimer’s research: the work to develop catalytic processes to do the seamless downstream reforming of the syngas to biofuel.



This is the product recovery filtration and gas scrubbing system used in the biomass gasification process developed in Weimer’s lab at CU-Boulder.

These are the obstacles that Weimer aims to iron out in the next three years. However, “we don’t envision any showstoppers for the conversion of biomass,” he says. For one thing, the process is a small version of the system he worked on at Dow to synthesize materials. This process is now commercial and used in large scale to make advanced materials. “So we feel very comfortable that this design can be scaled up,” he says. Weimer has also looked into the economics of building solar-powered biomass gasification and conversion plants and it looks encouraging, he says. For this current USDA/DOE funded project, Weimer and colleagues have teamed with several companies including Xcel Energy, Arizona Public Service, Abengoa Bioenergy and Copernican Energy Inc. Weimer expects interest in this type of research to continue to grow. “There’s been a lot of funding-research emphasis on using concentrated sunlight to make electricity,” Weimer says. “There’s also been a lot of interest in biomass gasification. We operate at the interface of those technologies. Although there’s typically not a lot of money at that interface, it has been recognized that when you operate at the interface, there’s a huge opportunity for innovation.” BIO Jessica Ebert is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. Reach her at or (701) 738-4962.

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Association Influential forces work quietly behind the scenes on Capitol Hill in favor of biomass power producers. These forces—organized people with an important message—are not often sensationalized in the newspapers, but their work is important and lawmakers know who they are. By Ron Kotrba






o most people the value of a penny is rather inconsequential. To biomass power producers though, the difference between a penny and 2 cents can make or break projects and hogtie the whole industry. Small biomass power plants from California to Maine have been denied equal access to the full renewable energy production tax credit (PTC) in section 45 of the Internal Revenue Service tax code for which their counterparts in the wind and geothermal industries have been eligible for years. The full credit is 2 cents per kilowatt hour—plants burning forest and agricultural residues for electrical generation for sale back to the grid receive only 1 cent per kilowatt hour. This disparity is one of the most debated issues in the broader renewable energy complex and is a major point of contention among those in the biomass industry itself. “Closed-loop” biomass power plants have been eligible for the full credit for 15 years but the allowance of “open-loop” generators to receive any credit at all was an afterthought. Consequently, they drew the short ways-and-means stick. A closed-loop biomass power plant is one in which the feedstock is grown


Disparity in Section 45 Eligibility for a 50 MW Biomass Power Plant

Over the course of a year, a hypothetical 50 MW closed-loop biomass power plant is eligible for $4.4 million more in IRS section 45 production tax credits—at the 2-cent-per-kW/hr rate—than the same sized open-loop biomass power plant, which is only eligible for 1 cent per kW/hr. SOURCE: USA BPPA

specifically for the purpose of power generation. These are eligible for the full PTC as stated in section 45 of the IRS tax code. Jerry Whitfield of Biomass Investment Group told the U.S. House

Committee on Ways and Means recently that no closed-loop section 45 biomass electricity PTC has ever been claimed since its inception in the Energy Policy Act of 1992. Robert Cleaves, chairman



‘Through our lobbyists in [Washington] D.C. we advocate our position on Capitol Hill. Our ability to be successful there is directly tied to our ability to have success in getting a broad membership in different geographical regions of the country.’

Construction of the Snowflake White Mountain Power Biomass facility, owned by Renegy Holdings Inc., near Snowflake, Ariz. Renegy is a member of USABPPA.

of the USA Biomass Power Producers Alliance, suggests why. “A number of us think that the reason why there has not been a closed-loop system built—not withstanding 15 years of tax credits for it—is because the economics have been challenging and the development horizon is long,” Cleaves tells Biomass Magazine. “And there doesn’t seem to be

an obvious business model out there that would accommodate a closed-loop system.” Unlike closed-loop systems, an open-loop biomass power facility burns waste wood or other lignocellulosic residues to generate electrical power. Because the nature of the open-loop’s feedstock and the lower or even negative

cost of the hand-me-down fuel, these power companies may only cash in on half the value of the full PTC allotted to wind and geothermal power generation, and the nonexistent closed-loop biomass facilities. The 41 members of USABPPA represent 70 percent of all the standalone biomass power generated in the United States, accounting for 1,100 megawatts of electricity—all from openloop biomass power generation. “We are the only national trade association in biomass to energy doing what we do,” says Bill Carlson who recently retired as USABPPA chairman after nearly a decade of service—the position Cleaves filled. “We are different than ACORE (American Council on Renewable Energy) in that the way we are funded and organized, we have the


industry ‘We’re very active at the national level—we work behind the scenes and people don’t read about us in the newspaper. But the people in Congress know who we are.’

ability to advocate legislatively— ACORE cannot. Through our lobbyists in [Washington] D.C., we advocate our position on Capitol Hill. Our ability to be successful there is directly tied to our ability to have success in getting a broad membership in different geographical regions of the country.” Without a voice in Washington biomass power producers may never receive section 45 tax parity, nor gain an extension to the “in-service” date—which is critical to growing biomass power generation.

Extension is Job One All the advocating in the world for tax parity between open- and closedloop biomass power projects means nothing if the in-service date is not extended. In his statement, Whitfield told Congress that these one-year extensions do little to instill confidence in investors to fund the move from design to construction—especially for the elusive closed-loop system which hitherto has been a specter in the biomass power industry. Rather than a short extension, Whitfield suggested a five-year prolongation. Lengthening the in-service date of the PTC despite the disparity is on the forefront of the USABPPA agenda— and signs of success are beginning to show. At press time, biomass power projects currently under construction must be operating by the end of 2008 in order to be eligible for the credit. If projects meet this deadline they are eligible for the PTC for 10 years from the in-service date. Sandy Feldman, section 45 attorney with K&L Gates, explains that the dura-


California Feedstock Cost Increase

According to USABPPA leadership the competition for wood waste in California over the last five years, in part due to power plant retrofitting in preparation to meet the Golden State’s upcoming RPS, has caused woodwaste feedstock costs to jump from an average of $22 per bone dry ton to $40 per BDT. SOURCE: USA BPPA

tion of the PTC for plants in existence earlier depends on when they came on line. Those in service before Oct. 22, 2004, may receive the PTC until Dec. 31, 2009. Projects beginning operation between October 2004 and August 2005 may receive the credit for up to five years of the in-service date. Renewable energy power plants coming on line between August 2005 and Dec. 31, 2008—as the law stands now—are eligible for the PTC for up to 10 years from the in-service date. But thanks in part to the USABPPA lobbyists, pending legislation may indeed extend this date, but not for five years. On April 3, Sen. Maria Cantwell, DWash., introduced S.2821, which proposes to extend the PTC in-service date one year, pushing the deadline back to Dec. 31, 2009. According to the office of Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., who sits on the Senate Committee on Finance and is a proponent of the PTC in-service date extension, S.2821 passed 88-8 in the Senate as an amendment to the housing

bill. As is the case with all legislation— stay tuned. In the meantime, USABPPA lobbyists will be quietly working away on Capitol Hill to do what’s right for its members. “Our sole reason for being is to create a setting where both existing and new biomass power plants can be successful,” Carlson says. “We’re very active at the national level—we work Carlson behind the scenes and people don’t read about us in the newspaper. But the people in Congress know who we are.”

The Case for Tax Parity While USABPPA’s immediate advocacy efforts are focused on extending the in-service date, the issue of tax parity is still paramount—and for good reason. “If we can claim the full tax credit, openloop biomass power projects have a pret-

industry ty solid set of economics in many locations,” Carlson says. “That’s the model that works—taking people’s waste materials and making electricity out of it.” Here’s the problem with open-loop systems only being eligible for 1-cent per kilowatt hour: Competition from a growing number of state renewable portfolio standards (RPS) and pending advanced biofuels project developments are driving the cost of lignocellulosic feedstocks up—and driving down the economic viability of biomass power. This already happened in the state of California where the USABPPA has its roots. “In California they have an RPS coming due in 2010,” Carlson says. “The utilities there are scrambling all over themselves to find additional sources for renewable energy and biomass is in there. They’re picking up lucrative contracts and restarting old plants and, basically, getting into competition with the plants already there for a limited amount

of fuel. That could easily happen—the fuel suppliers make all the money out of the supply contract rather than the guy running the power plant.” According to USABPPA, the retrofitting of old plants in California to generate power from biomass has helped boost feedstock costs per bone dry ton from $22 to $40 in the past five years. “And the revenue stream has not gone up at that same rate,” Cleaves tells Biomass Magazine. “A lot of them were under fixed contracts with the utilities while the new interests have more lucrative contracts—so it’s kind of messed things up there from a profit perspective.” Without PTC tax parity projects will not have the financial wherewithal to compete, and may be run out of business. Maine is suffering from a problem similar to that which is ailing California’s biomass power industry. Cleaves, who is from Maine, says old power plants are being retrofitted to compete for the

nearby Massachusetts RPS market. “That’s very lucrative so they end up starting all these old plants, converting fuel from coal to wood and falling all over each other,” he Cleaves says. Moreover, cellulosic ethanol and some alternative diesel fuels will be competing for the same feedstocks. “With some of the incentives coming down from Congress, they will really skew the economics in favor of cellulosic ethanol and away from biomass power,” Carlson says. That’s just one more reason why biomass power producers need a voice on the Hill. BIO Ron Kotrba is a Biomass Magazine senior writer. Reach him at or (701) 738-4962.

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Pledging Allegiance to Renewable Energy Representatives from around the world came to Washington, D.C., to pledge their support for promoting and developing renewable energy sources. As part of the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference 2008, attendees committed their nations, organizations and businesses to make significant gains in supporting renewable energy. Many of these pledges are aimed at growing the role of biomass in the world’s energy supply. By Jerry W. Kram






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he need for energy knows no boundaries, no class and no race. Whether it is cooking fire in a developing country or a 1,000-horsepower diesel engine powering a modern factory, the need for energy is a basic human necessity. With a burgeoning population now topping 6 billion, traditional finite energy sources are stretched to the limit. The impact of those sources on the environment are becoming increasingly evident, and the global need to promote and develop renewable energy sources has never been greater. To fill the basic needs of the developing world and satisfy the engines of the economy in the developed world, a universal commitment is needed to create and sustain energy sources that are renewable and environmentally friendly. Many countries, agencies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and businesses are willing to make that kind of a commitment, says Reno Harnish, a principal deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. State Department. Harnish was part of multi-agency team that organized the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference (WIREC) 2008 in March. WIREC is the third in a series of international conferences, the first were held in Bonn, Germany, in 2004 and Beijing in 2005. “The genesis of these conferences came from the renewable energy community, particularly the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE),” Harnish says. “They believed the international community should come together regularly to encourage the adoption of renewable energy.” ACORE raised the idea of bringing the conference to the United States, Harnish says, and found a number of leaders receptive to the idea. Developing renewable energy resources turned out to be part of many of the policies being pursued by the government. “It fit in well with our climate change policy,” Harnish says. “It fit in well with our energy security policy. That was the genesis of the idea, to


advance our goals on climate change, energy security, and sustainable development by promoting the rapid adoption of renewables.” Five or six agencies came together to plan the conference, Harnish adds. Much of the world was represented at the conference as 113 ministerial level representatives and more than 3,000 other attendees shared their successes, challenges, policies and opportunities for promoting and developing renewable fuels. There were three focal points of discussion during the conference—research and development, market adoption, and finance and rural development, Harnish says. “We felt that an important outcome of WIREC was that it brought together the highest levels of government with the highest levels of business and the NGO community to discuss barriers and suggest solutions for getting over those barriers to renewables adoption,” Harnish says. “But we said there has to be something else: practical, tangible commitments.” President George W. Bush addressed the conference and reiterated that renewable energy was not only a key part of preserving the environment but also a matter of economic and national security for the countries involved in the conference. “My job, as the president of the country, is to put pro-growth policies in place,” Bush said. “But we're dependent upon oil, and so as our economy grows, it's going to create more demand for oil—same with China, same with India, same with other growing countries. … The dependency upon oil also puts us at the mercy of terrorists. If there's tight supply and demand, all it requires is one terrorist disruption of oil and that price goes even higher. It's in our interests to end our dependency on oil because it—that dependency—presents a challenge to our national security.”

Worldwide Effort One of the goals of the conference was to continue to build the political momentum and institutional support for renewable fuels around the world. One of


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President Bush addressed the WIREC 2008 Conference in Washington, D.C. The president expressed strong support for renewable energy sources.

the tools to commit governments, organizations and businesses to make significant changes was the pledge process. Nearly 150 pledges to increase the use of renewable fuels were made during and after the conference. “We regard the pledges as the heart of the matter,” Harnish says. “It’s turned out to be a grand success.” The pledges cover the gamut of renewable resources, from wind and hydropower to biomass and conservation. The commitments made also run the gamut. Businesses and communities pledged to displace their current energy needs with renewables. International finance groups pledged to boost their funding for renewable development projects. Government agencies committed research and development funding to create new renewable resources. Governments vowed to change the laws in their countries to give renewable energy industries a firm and consistent framework for development. The U.S. government alone made 31 pledges, Harnish says. “You see in the pledges that the United States has in its climate policy that one size does not fit all,” he says. “National circumstances differ around the

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2008 WIREC Biomass Pledges Nearly 150 pledges were made at WIREC 2008 by national governments, government agencies, nongovernmental organizations and private businesses to promote and develop renewable energy. The following are a few of the biomass-related pledges: Cameroon Progressively reduce or eliminate reliance on traditional biomass increasing the use of cleaner and affordable fuels such as methane from wastes, liquefied petroleum gas, electricity (produced from renewables such as solar, small hydropower, etc), and increase energy efficiency in lighting, cooking, transport and industrial applications. Ireland The establishment of a grant fund of €58 million (U.S. $90 million) to provide individual grants for new installation of nine renewable technology categories in homes in the biomass, solar and geothermal areas with a goal of at least 20,000 new installations over a three-year period. Poland Create a national program for agricultural biogas plants able to use biomass and other agricultural residues for energy purposes in an optimal and effective manner. The program assumes that by 2020 each municipality in Poland will have at least one agricultural biogas plant. Paraguay In 2005, Paraguay’s National Congress approved legislation to promote and provide incentives for the production and use of biofuels in the country. The country pledged to improve this legislation by including more incentives, especially fiscal incentives. The improvements will include more funds for research and development of new raw materials for bioethanol and biodiesel. Paraguay’s goal is to increase the use of biofuels from the current 5 percent to 50 percent by 2013 and increase the export of biofuels from the current level of zero to an expected $500 million a year.

globe. Feedstocks differ and the level of technology differs. So as we go to tackling the greenhouse gas problem we are very cognizant that the U.S. will propose a plan that involves different mixtures of energy than say, Chile.” Part of the follow-up to the WIREC conference will include monitoring to see how well participants are doing to fulfill their commitments. The U.S. DOE is doing an analysis of the commitments to calculate its impact on world energy consumption. “They


Kenya Working with farmers and other partners in the public and private sector, Kenya will promote the development of sorghum farming for grain, syrup and bagasse production. The grain will be used in food production and as a primary input into industrial production of alcohol. The syrup will be used in the industrial production of biscuits and other food products. The bagasse will be used for making animal feeds and as boiler fuel for steam and electricity production. The project is expected to result in the production of an additional 20,000 metric tons of sorghum for food. Sorghum cane syrup to be used in alcohol production, and sorghum bagasse to be used in production of heat (and electricity) should displace some 2 million liters (528,000 gallons) of oil within the first three years. The Netherlands The SNV Netherland Development Organization is providing development services to implement national programs on domestic biogas in Asia and Africa. The program has worked well in Nepal and Vietnam, and initial results in Cambodia, Bangladesh, Laos and Rwanda are also encouraging. Up to 2012, programs in other potential development countries will be started as well. From 2008 to 2012, about 250,000 biogas plants will be additionally installed by eligible households in the national programs supported by SNV, directly serving about 1.5 million people. Haiti The U.S. Trade and Development Agency intends to provide $292,010 in funding to the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture for the first phase of a feasibility study for a large-scale jatropha cultivation and biodiesel production project using jatropha oil as feedstock. The project is expected to improve energy security in Haiti, create significant employment opportunities, stimulate domestic economic activity, and contribute to the environmental restoration of deforested watersheds.

will calculate how many gigawatts over time the pledges will create as well as the greenhouse gases avoided,” Harnish says. “So we will be able to say in a very practical way what was the impact of the rapid adoption of renewables.” Many of the pledges will have a significant impact on the adoption of biomass as an alternative energy source. “There was a strong focus throughout the conference on biomass,” Harnish says. “The [U.S.] Department of Agriculture was a partner in creating this con-

policy ference and the rural development theme by its very nature demands a certain focus on biomass.” Many of the significant biomass initiatives came from U.S. government agencies. The U.S. DOE reiterated its goal to reduce the production cost of cellulosic ethanol to 82 cents a gallon by 2012 and reduce feedstock logistics costs (harvesting, storage, preprocessing and transportation) to 35 cents a gallon. The agency’s goal is to make the fuel cost competitive at a modeled cost of $1.33 a gallon in 2007 dollars. The USDA committed millions of dollars to develop biomass supplies in the United States. It will be making grants to encourage the use of woody biomass and to establish and manage cultivated energy crops. It will continue to manage a program that gives priority to biomass-based products in government procurement programs. U.S. agencies involved in foreign development highlighted a variety of initiatives as well, from working with the government of Haiti to plant jatropha for biodiesel production and watershed protection, to providing financing and insurance for exports of renewable energy technology. “Looking at all that, I would say that biomass will play a very strong and substantial role for the outlook of renewables in the future,” Harnish says.

Many other countries also made biomass related pledges. Some, like Germany and Lithuania vowed to increase the use and practicality of biomass energy in their own countries. The Netherlands committed to sharing its biomass technology with developing countries in order to raise the incomes and standards of living in those countries. Paraguay committed to reforming its laws to change sections that are seen as impediments to a strong and sustainable biomass industry. “These countries are interested in the use of biomass, but with their technologies, feedstocks and other things, they are all looking at different solutions,” Harnish says. “One solution was looking at thorn bushes to generate electricity. So you have some very exciting and cutting-edge technologies here.” The participants agreed that another conference to monitor the progress of the current pledges and push the development

of renewable energy to an even higher level would be an excellent idea. India will host the next International Renewable Energy Conference, scheduled for 2010. “India is an important player in renewable fuels and climate change questions,” Harnish says. “We are working with our international partners to see that work is done and in 2010 to continue the momentum for the adoption of renewables.” Details of the pledges are available on the Internet at /wirec.asp. The Web site is maintained by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st century. The site also has information about the preceding International Renewable Energy Conferences. BIO Jerry W. Kram is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. Reach him at or (701) 738-4962.

Different Countries, Different Solutions The commitment from the United States comes from the very top, Harnish says, citing Bush’s comments at the conference. That leadership will continue to accelerate the progress seen in the implementation of renewable energy projects in the past decade. “The president asked a couple of times for the group to look at where we are today as compared with 10 years ago,” Harnish says. “He said we can’t even imagine where renewables are going to be 10 years hence. So he has a very visionary, strong and emphatic feeling about renewables. I think that is going to motivate our policy in the coming years.”






ENERGY Japan’s gorgeous cultural emblem has taken on a new level of meaning. It will help the resource-poor island nation generate more of its own energy. By Eric Kroh




very year in Japan, the blossoming of the sakura, or flowering cherry tree, is an occasion for rejoicing. The reveling begins in late March, when the sakura trees in the southern island of Kyushu put forth their buds. The celebration then spreads north with the flowering of the trees until the last cherry trees bloom on the island of Hokkaido in May. The flowering period for sakura trees is brief. Mere days after opening, the flowers fall to the ground, carpeting the earth with delicate pink petals. Yet the short-lived display is so spectacular that, upon sight of the first buds, the Japanese have been known to drop everything and head to the best viewing locations to eat, drink and play music. Moreover, wood from the cherry, a national symbol, is used for woodblock prints and magnificent furniture. This year, the sakura trees bear an additional gift for the Japanese—that of renewable electricity and heat. As the cherries blossomed in March, Japan’s largest woodgas-to-energy power plant began operations in the Yamagata prefecture, about 250 miles north of Tokyo. Located in the city of Murayama, the plant runs exclusively on gasified wood chips and tree trimmings culled from nearby forests that include tens of thousands of cherry trees. The plant was installed by Yokohama-based JFE Environmental Solutions Corp., a subsidiary of the steel and engineering conglomerate JFE Group. Operating the plant is electricity company Yamagata Green Inc. of Murayama, itself a subsidiary of Japan Biomass Development Co. Ltd., a Tokyobased renewable-energy development firm.

Small but Sophisticated


Wood biomass can help Japan realize its goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions in compliance with the Kyoto protocol. Under that 160-nation agreement reached in 1997, Japan has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 6 percent

The Muramaya plant and its staff are small.


below 1990 levels by 2012. Japan has also promised to reduce its emissions of carbon dioxide to 1.056 billion tons by 2010, according to Japan’s Agency for Natural Resources and Energy in the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. “This plant becomes a very important initiative in the Japanese renewable energy sector to help increase the biomass share out of the total energy in Japan and to meet the targets in the Kyoto Protocol,” says Yamagata Green Power President Makoto Suzuki. The facility, he adds, can eliminate 9,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. The power plant’s heart is two Jenbacher gas engines from GE Energy’s Jenbacher business in Jenbach, Austria. (GE Energy is a unit of General Electric Co. of Fairfield, Conn., in the United States.) Most Jenbacher engines run on natural gas. The ones installed in the Murayama plant, however, are designed to run specifically on gasified biomass and produce a combined output of up to three megawatts of electricity. That makes the Murayama plant small. Wood-burning power plants typically produce more than 10 times as much power. Nevertheless, the Murayama plant is the most sophisticated of its kind in Japan and the only plant operating on a scale that is economically viable, says Michael Zainer, distributor and agent manager at Jenbacher. The rest of the 10 or so plants operating in Japan are test plants on the order of 50 to 300 kilowatts of output—a fraction of the size of the Murayama facility. Moreover, some of these smaller plants were shut down because the gasification technology didn’t work—mostly because the biogas could not be adequately cleaned. The fact that the Murayama plant is operational demonstrates that the technology is maturing, Zainer says. The principal benefit of the gasification process is that it is more efficient than other ways of producing electricity from biomass material, says Martin Schneider, a spokesperson at Jenbacher. In the gasification process, the wood is heated to more than 1,200 degrees. Fahrenheit in a low-oxygen environment. At that temperature, the wood releases a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen gases, which in turn is cooled and cleaned of tar and particulates using a gas-scrubbing method and a wet electrostatic precipitator. The gas can then be burned like natural gas to spin a turbine in the engine that generates the power. A plant the size of the Murayama facility can provide sufficient heat to meet the annual demands of 1,200 households, although the Murayama plant will not be used for heating. The gasification process converts 28 percent of the available energy in the wood to electricity, according to Schneider—a significant improvement over power generation from directly burning wood, which converts only about 18 percent to 22 percent.

japan “The standard technology today is burning the wood in a boiler and producing some steam� to generate electricity, Schneider says. “But with the gasification and using the gas in a gas engine, you can increase electric yield by 50 percent.�

Cost and Cleanup Even so, the process is costly. Schneider estimates the typical investment for a biomass power plant to be between $7,500 and $8,500 per kilowatt, or about $25 million for the Murayama plant. Consequently, government incentives and significant demand for heat need to be in place for wood gasification to be a viable source of energy, Schneider says. The process holds the greatest promise in central Europe and Canada, where winters are particularly cold and plenty of wood is available. Jenbacher already has 10 biogas engines in operation in Europe, and says another 10 will be commissioned this year. Murayama’s facility resembles a decade-old plant in Denmark. Both use updraft gasifiers developed by Danish biomass energy company Babcock & Wilcox Vølund A/S, which licensed the technology to JFE Environmental Solutions. Another obstacle to commercial viability for wood-biomass gasification is the expense of gas cleanup, says Jacques BeaudryLosique, manager of the biomass program at the U.S. DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy division.

The Man Who Gave the Cherries Japanese cherry trees line the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. Each spring, in parallel to the celebrations in Japan, hordes of tourists descend upon the area around the Jefferson Memorial to see the trees in bloom. They date to 1912, when Yukio Ozaki, the mayor of Tokyo, presented 2,000 trees to the United States as a gift from the people of his city. The trees replaced others sent two years earlier that turned out to be diseased. U.S. officials burned them to prevent spread of the infestation—and American diplomats worried about the reaction. Ozaki, however, a consummate politician, responded graciously with the repeat gift. It was a fitting gesture for a key figure in Japanese politics known for his magnanimity. Ozaki was a founder of Japan’s Progressive Party, which held that power in Japan should not rest solely in the hands of the emperor. Serving in Japan’s parliament for more than a half-century starting in 1890, Ozaki repeatedly tried to turn his country from the militarism that led to its defeat in World War II. Ozaki served the national government during tempestuous times in various posts including education minister and justice minister, winning the Order of the Rising Sun, one of Japan’s highest honors. Nonetheless, his progressive ideas rankled nationalists. He was imprisoned during both world wars and survived more than one assassination attempt, including an arson attack on his home. The greathearted statesman actually praised one would-be killer’s patriotism. The benefactor of the cherries died in 1954 at age 95, his nation by then a democracy—and his cherry trees in Washington a lasting legacy.


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Beaudry-Losique estimates that one-third of the capital cost associated with biomass gasification plants is cleaning particles and tar from the gasified biomass material. “Once you clean up gas so operating costs are reasonable, it will be a competitive technology,” he says. He estimates that biomass gasification technology will eventually reach a point at which power plants can achieve an output of 25 to 50 megawatts, compared with the two to three megawatts typical now. The scale of biomass-gasification plants will be limited more by the availability of local feedstock than by the technology itself, he says. In Japan, wood is an attractive source for biomass energy because of the abundance of supply, says Kazuyiki Takada, who works on the promotion and demonstration of biomass technology at New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization. NEDO was established by the Japanese government to develop alternatives to energy from oil. “Woody biomass resources are very important because they represent one of the biggest potential utilizable biomass resources in Japan,” Takada says. Nevertheless, collection and transportation is a challenge, says Takada. Forestry work has little appeal to the Japanese, who seek better jobs in Japan’s usually vigorous economy. Too few workers are available to gather waste wood from forests and get it where it needs to go. “There is currently a lack of an estab-




Wood and other biomass could displace 1 percent of Japan’s total energy supply.

lished, comprehensive system to connect upstream biomass energy-conversion technology for collection and transport to downstream technology to utilize the converted energy,” Takada says.

japan That supply chain requires work on a regional level, connecting local production with local consumption and involving municipal governments and local citizens, Takada says. To that end, NEDO promotes demonstrations of biomass energy to educate people about the technology.

60 Tons Per Day The Murayama plant is an example of how regional cooperation on biomass energy could work. The forests of Yamagata supply the Murayama power plant with nearly 60 tons of wood chips daily to fuel the gas engines. Because the forests are near by, wood transportation costs are minimal. The arrangement is also beneficial for forest keepers, who would otherwise have to pay to have the wood trimmings trucked out. Electricity from the Murayama plant supports plant operations. The rest is sold to industrial customers. For now, however, wood-biomass energy is expensive. While the Murayama plant is fully operational, it was built with help from government subsidies. The Japanese government, via the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, covers one-third of the initial costs for biomass power generation facilities, not including construction costs. Takada hopes the growth of regional biomass systems, as well as the development of highperformance forestry machinery, will decrease initial costs for biomass energy producers and bring more plants on line.

Meanwhile, though, woody biomass plants aren’t economically viable without government incentives, but the Japanese government seems willing to support a network of plants in the range of three to five megawatts, Zainer says. Under Japan’s current goals, ANRE predicts that biomass used for electricity and thermal energy will displace the equivalent of 1.7 billion gallons of oil per year, or about 1 percent of Japan’s total energy supply. Historically, Japan has been dependent on oil for much of its energy needs. About half of the oil and coal used in Japan is converted into electricity. While the lignin content of wood makes it difficult to convert into biofuels, which would directly replace oil in the energy supply, the production of electricity from wood via gasification could replace a significant amount the oil and coal that is converted into electricity. The pleasures of the blossoming of Japanese cherry trees are fleeting—but biomass from the legendary sakura could contribute to development of a domestic energy supply that would provide the country with long-term benefits. BIO Eric Kroh is a Chicago-based journalist who writes and creates multimedia content about biofuels and the environment.



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MEXICO n the past five years, developers, researchers, small production facilities and financiers of projects in the biofuel industry argued in different forums that it was important for the Mexican government to enact a biofuels law to provide the certainty needed for the development of the biofuels market. It now appears that the old saying “be careful what you wish for, you may just get it” is completely applicable for this legislative development. The Law for the Promotion and Development of Biofuels, which was published Feb. 1, 2008, in the Federal Official Gazette, became effective Feb. 6, 2008. Several surprises were offered for those same advocates of regulations and instruments. The biofuels law clearly states in its title that its main objectives are the promotion and development of biofuels in Mexico. However, it does not create a direct incentive for those that desire to participate in this nascent industry. Most of the content of the biofuels law is aimed at describing the prerogatives of different ministries within the federal administration to regulate the development of the biofuel industry in Mexico. For example, the biofuels law mandates the formation of an InterMinisterial Commission for the Development of Biofuels with the participation of the following ministries: Energy (SENER), Environment & Natural Resources (SEMARNAT), Agriculture, Cattle, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food Supply (SAGARPA), Economy (SECON) and Tax Collection and Administration (SHCP). Another of its main objectives is to promote and regulate the development of the agricultural sector in Mexico. This law is aimed to fully expand on constitutional articles 25 and 27 section XX that discuss the state planning tool of the federal executive to orient the economic development and the development of the rural sector in Mexico. It’s also aimed at developing the national policies for the promotion, mar-



keting and use of renewable energy. In the past, one of the main discussions among potential developers of biofuel projects in Mexico was the potential interference by the state-owned oil and gas monopoly PEMEX in the development of this market. This was the consequence of the market not being regulated and being open to anyone that would risk participating in it. There was a lingering risk of the potential legal recharacterization of biofuels as part of the traditional fuel market dominated by PEMEX. The most positive aspect of this biofuels law is the fact that it generates an independent legal definition for biofuels and a separate legal framework for their regulation that is not to be limited by traditional fossil fuels laws being applied. Biofuels are described as the “fuels obtained from biomass derived from organic material in the following activities: agriculture, cattle activities, forestry activities, aquaculture, algaeculture, fisheries products, households, commercial, industrial, from microorganism, enzymes, and derivatives of the foregoing that are produced by technological sustainable processes that comply with

the specifications and quality norms issued by the competent authorities.” Further, this law defines biogas as the “gas produced by the biological conversion of biomass as a consequence of the decomposition process.” The regulation of this sector would in the medium to long-term allow energy companies, producers and individuals to participate in the development of a new regulatory framework for a new alternative energy market. It would be possible to develop several projects for mass production, distribution and marketing of biofuels in Mexico after obtaining the applicable permits. SENER will be responsible for overseeing the development of this market and it will effectively regulate those companies and individuals that may produce, store, provide transportations services, transport by pipelines and market biofuels in Mexico. SENER has been empowered with the exclusive authority to dictate the criteria for the acquisition of biofuels to PEMEX, its subsidiaries, the Federal Electric Commission and Light & Power Company. Further, it will be responsible for designing the introductory program


Assessing the Impact of Mexico’s Biofuels Law By Raul Felix


MEXICO for biofuels in Mexico that will allow the use of ethanol mixed with gasoline and direct distribution of biodiesel to the general public. Companies that produce a biofuel that may substitute a traditional fuel may be authorized to produce, store or market it in Mexico, and as long as they secure all the applicable permits, they may freely enter and compete in this market. SEMARNAT was expressly entrusted with overseeing the environmental impact of those facilities devoted to the production, storage, transportation, distribution and marketing of biofuels. This effectively expands the catalog of federally-regulated activities contained in article 28 of the General Law of Environmental Equilibrium and Protection. It will also regulate all activities involving biofuels that may generate air emissions, wastewater or waste. The biofuels law expressly prohibits changing the zoning from forestry to agricultural for the production of crops devoted to this industry. Therefore the production of crops for the biofuel industry will be limited to those areas where the prior authorized use was agricultural, limiting the expansion of potential biofuel production areas. The incentives and programs to be developed by federal, state or municipal authorities under this law will be aimed at 1) the development of the infrastructure required for the production of crops, 2) local farmers and crop producers, 3) individuals and companies that contribute to the development and modernization of the infrastructure required for biofuel production, and 4) researchers and developers of technology for biofuel production. The biofuels law makes reference to other programs that are already being developed for the promotion of the agricultural sector, and it establishes the parameters and general guidelines to be followed by the ministries that form part of the Inter-Ministerial Commission for the Development of the Biofuels market, in coordination with federal, state 52 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 6|2008

and local governments, to generate new incentives and benefits for project developers. It appears that Congress did not evaluate the potential impact of the biofuels law on projects that are currently being implemented in Mexico that generate, store or use biogas such as landfill projects, manure treatment systems and management of organic wastes (as provided in article 3 and 24 of the biofuels law). This is especially relevant because biogas is considered to be part of the broader definition of biofuels as provided by the biofuels law. As a result, once SENER publishes its guidelines and criteria for such permits, new biogas projects should secure said permits. Consequently, the requirement to secure a permit from SENER for the production or storage of biofuels may have a negative impact on biogas projects with registrations pending under the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism. This is especially relevant for the current administration because more than 80 percent of the Clean Development Mechanism projects that have received a letter of approval by the Mexican Inter-Ministerial Climate Change Commission are for capturing, storing or using biogas. As of Jan. 23, 2008, the Mexican Designated National Authority issued 154 of its 184 letters of approval to projects that would sequester or reduce methane/biogas to the atmosphere. As part of the validation process, the Designated Operational Entities that are charged with verifying the Clean Development Mechanism registration and emissions reductions of qualifying projects may potentially require evidence that the project developer has secured the applicable permits from SENER. Fortunately, all five ministries that participate in the newly formed InterMinisterial Commission for the Development of Biofuels are also part of the Inter-Ministerial Climate Change Commission and SENER play an active

role on both commissions. SHCP is an invited member of the Climate Change Inter-Ministerial Commission. SENER, if it so chooses, has the authority to exclude these projects of the permitting process by expressly exempting them from the licensing requirements in the regulations related to the licensing process (as provided in section IV of article 12 of the biofuels law). The biofuel law provides for the following sanctions: 1) fines that range from 1,000 to 100,000 days of minimum wage (approximately $5,000 to $500,000), 2) cancellation of the permits, 3) temporary or definitive, partial or total shutdown of the facilities. Although Mexico has yet to participate in large-scale biofuels projects, there is a tradition in several areas of the country and specific industries for the direct use of biomass and biogas. With the enactment of the biofuels law a first step has been taken to assure predictability of the legal framework for this market. However, there will be a transitional period during which each authority will set up its specialized teams and will work together on the commission and to develop the regulations, guidelines and Official Mexican Standards for the operation of this market. This adjustment period may be confusing for both the facilities that are already using biomass and biogas and for investors planning to start-up new projects. Each authority will have to face an adjustment or trial-anderror period until they effectively set up the regulations, directives, requirements and standards for biofuel projects. The previous could bring instability to decision makers—instability that could cause certain investments to flee to other countries. The objectives of this law are laudable. However, it falls short of delivering immediate incentives to promote the development of these alternative fuels in Mexico. Energy companies that have already developed the know-how and technology abroad or in Mexico for biofuel pro-

MEXICO duction and commercialization could clearly expand their horizons and consider Mexico as a viable market for mass commercialization, distribution or production of biofuels. Further, Mexico will grant companies privileged access to the North American, European, Japanese and Latin American markets. Prior to a regulation of biofuels in Mexico, the greatest fear among players in this sector was the potential re-interpretation of the existing norms for fossil fuels to expand their scope to incorporate biofuels. This was particularly important, because prior to the enactment of the biofuels law, PEMEX, as the preponderant player in the national energy market, could easily hinder the marketing of biofuels substitutes to its traditional fuel portfolio. Under this independent legal structure, other energy companies and start-ups could directly participate in the development of the biofuel market as long as their product proves to be competitive compared with the current fossil fuels offered in Mexico. Mexico has a wide array of topographic and climatic conditions that range from tropical forests in the southern part of the country, vast coastal areas, a mild climate in the central part of the country, and mountainous areas and arid regions that will allow the adaptation of several varieties of crops that have been used in other latitudes for successful biofuel projects. In addition, Mexico has already issued a law that will regulate the use of genetically modified organisms (the Biosafety Law for

Genetically Modified Organism) that may potentially open the door for the use of specific types of energy crops under controlled conditions. Mexico’s current administration has established as part of its National Strategy on Climate Change the need to diversify its fuel alternatives and to introduce the use of biofuels. It has also evidenced that, due to the fact that biofuels do not have a constitutional limitation for the participation of private investment, it wishes to open this sector to both national and foreign investment. The biofuels law, notwithstanding its shortcomings, provides a foundation for the development of a viable alternative energy market in Mexico. Unlike the traditional fossil fuel sector that depends on the state-owned companies in Mexico, the biofuels law is setting the basis for the establishment of a differentiated legal framework for biofuel projects, which may open the door to the creation of new incentives that shall generate the direct participation of private developers, with the federal government serving as a regulator and promoter for the development of this market. BIO Raul Felix is the coordinator of the Climate Change & Renewable Energy Practice in Mexico for Baker & McKenzie. Reach him at or +52 (656) 629 1300.


LAB Seeking Cyanobacterial Cellulose


ozens of companies and research labs are racing to produce biofuels from algae. Most are focused on extracting oil from green algae for biodiesel, but two University of Texas researchers are taking a different track. They have fused new genes into cyanobacteria species to make them prodigious producers of cellulose and sugars, an attractive prospect for the ethanol industry. Cyanobacteria are photosynthetic bacteria often referred to as blue-green algae. They grow even more rapidly than green algae, doubling in just four hours compared with 24 hours. Some of these organisms produce cellulose, but R. Malcolm Brown and David Nobles Jr. took a species that doesn't normally produce cellulose and added genes from an Acetobacter species that allowed them to synthesize cellulose. “We have been studying cellulose biosynthesis for 40 years, and the idea was to get the cellulose biosynthesis into the cyanobacteria that normally do not make cellulose,” Brown says. The researchers also created modified organism strains that secrete sucrose and other simple sugars. When they analyzed the results, Brown and Nobles found that the cellulose produced by the cyanobacteria was easier to convert into biofuels than the cellulose produced in plants. The organisms produce a gel-type of cellulose instead of the crystalline type found in the cell walls of plants. “There are a lot of other things in trees, such as lignins and hemicelluloses that need to be removed,” Brown says. "The more crystalline they are, the harder they are to break down. So when we found our cellulose had zero crystallinity and very low molecular weight, that made it easier to break down.” The cyanobacteria can grow in either fresh or briny water, Nobles says. They only require a few micronutrients and fixed nitrogen to thrive. Unlike green algae, the cyanobacteria produced the desired products with little environmental manipulation. “We have to tweak a few things, but nothing that inhibits their growth and nothing costly,” Nobles says. In the lab, the cultures were able to produce large amounts of cellulose from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but it may be possible to increase their productivity by enriching them with additional carbon dioxide, he added.

Nobles says another advantage of using the cyanobacteria is that they secrete the cellulose and sugar into their surroundings where it can be harvested without sacrificing any of the organisms. Green algae has to be collected and their cells broken open to get at the oil inside. “You don’t have to harvest the cells, and you don’t have to put any energy into the extraction,” Brown says. “You eliminate the two most costly steps in the production.” The next step for the researchers is to scale up their work in the lab to a larger facility. “We are working right now to get this out of the laboratory and into a demonstration-scale facility,” Brown says. “No one is going to invest a huge amount in this, and the federal government isn’t going to be that interested until they know it really can work at a demonstration level.” There are many options, but the researchers say they may consider using photobioreactors to forestall objections to growing a genetically modified organism in open ponds. “It is likely that we will also require a closed system because we will be growing an organism that is secreting sugars,” Nobles says. “That would create problems in an open pond.” BIO —Jerry W. Kram

Brown, left, and Nobles pose with one of the cyanobacterial strains that produces cellulose and glucose. PHOTO: RICHARD SANTOS, THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN




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The Breakdown on Anaerobic Digestion


naerobic digestion is an old technology that has recently generated renewed interest because of increasing energy costs and efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Historical records indicate that biogas derived from anaerobic digestion was used to heat bath water in Assyria during the 10th century B.C. More recently, anaerobic digestion has been used for more than 100 years for the treatment of municipal wastewater treatment sludge and industrial wastes and wastewaters. It is also the process that converts municipal landfill solid waste to biogas. The Energy and Environmental Research Center has conducted numerous projects utilizing anaerobic treatment, ranging from anaerobic digestion of waste potatoes and animal manure, enhancing the digestion of municipal wastewater sludge, to anaerobic treatment of gasification condensates and agricultural processing wastewaters. The key point to understand is that anaerobic processes are carried out by living organisms in the absence of molecular oxygen. Anaerobic digestion to produce a methane-rich biogas involves a symbiotic relationship between two different types of bacteria. Acid-forming bacteria convert complex organic matter (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) into low molecular weight compounds including acetic acid, hydrogen and carbon dioxide. Methane-producing bacteria then convert acetic acid, hydrogen and carbon dioxide into methane. A careful balance must be maintained between the acid-forming and methane-producing bacteria to ensure stable biogas production. This requires careful control of temStepan perature, pH and substrate (digester feed material) loading rate. Because acid formers have a much higher specific growth rate and are more tolerant of changes in temperature, pH and loading rates, their intermediate products (organic acids) can rapidly accumulate, resulting in inhibition of the slower-growing methane-producing bacteria, which ultimately results in process upset and loss of methane production. A properly maintained anaerobic digester, however, is capable of producing a methane-rich biogas that can be burned to produce heat, used in a boiler to produce steam, used in an internal combustion engine or turbine to produce electricity, or cleaned up and sold to a gas pipeline company. A key niche for anaerobic digestion is the conversion of organic waste materials to biogas. Waste materials often have high water content that reduces their potential for combustion processes because the energy required to dry the materials exceeds the value of the energy recoverable through combustion. Anaerobic digestion reduces both the volume and mass of the waste materials and typically produces a product that is readily dewatered. The character of the waste material (chemical and physical properties) must be considered when the suitability of anaerobic digestion is evaluated. Substrate composition is a key factor in determining the methane yield and methane production rates from the digestion of biomass. In an upcoming issue, we’ll discuss a new EERC project, funded through the third funding cycle of the Xcel Energy Renewable Development Fund, which will test and demonstrate a novel biotechnology at a dairy in Minnesota. The technology is aimed at enhancing anaerobic digestion of dairy manure to generate a biogas having increased methane content and significantly reduced hydrogen sulfide to produce heat, steam or power. BIO

Dan Stepan is a senior research manager at the EERC in Grand Forks, N.D. He can be reached at or (701) 777-5247.


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Biomass Magazine - June 2008