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Fresh-Squeezed Ethanol Feedstock Research Aims to Commercialize Orange-Waste-to-Fuel Conversion Process

Merchandise ethanol, biodiesel, petroleum products

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It’s about time we introduce ourselves.

We’re ConAgra Trade Group and we bring nearly 100 years of experience to the converging agricultural and energy sectors. Our areas of expertise include procurement, marketing, logistics and risk management. When it comes to inputs and outputs, our clients call us invaluable. You will, too. • 402-595-5678 Eric Watts, Director of Business Development ©ConAgra Foods, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

©2008 BRUKS Group

DO YOU NEED TO AUTOMATE YOUR FUEL HANDLING SYSTEM? Call the Materials Handling Experts. For over 30 years, BRUKS Rockwood has been designing and supplying bulk materials handling systems throughout the world. Whether your application includes fossil fuels, bio-fuels or a combination, BRUKS Rockwood’s engineering expertise and broad product range are unequalled. This experience combined with the most innovative equipment in the world ensures we can deliver the most cost-effective fuel handling system to meet your specific needs. And no other company can help you reduce operating costs and improve overall efficiency like BRUKS Rockwood. Call us today at 770-849-0100 ext.109 or visit to learn more about automating your fuel handling system. • TRUCK RECEIVING STATIONS • CONVEYING SYSTEMS • SHIP LOADERS • STACKER/RECLAIMERS • COMPLETE BIO-FUEL HANDLING SYSTEMS See us at BIOMASS Booth #319

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..................... 22 DENSIFICATION The Beauty of Biomass Briquettes Two companies have developed efficient processes to produce high-energy, clean-burning briquettes from biomass in response to their customers’ needs. By Jessica Ebert

30 FUEL Seeing the Forest for the Trees After witnessing the popularity of wood pellets in Europe, a northeast Minnesota logger is offering that option to U.S. consumers seeking relief from high-priced heating oil. By Timothy Charles Holmseth

36 TRANSPORTATION Managing Woody Biomass Price Biostock Services relies on 40 years of experience in the timber industry and its specialized equipment to procure, harvest, deliver and preprocess woody biomass for refiners. By Jerry W. Kram

44 INNOVATION Northwestern Ingenuity Takes Shape A Washington company is fulfilling its mission to expand and find new markets for its woodmunching machine and patented WoodStraw erosion-control material. By Bryan Sims INDUSTRY | PAGE 50

50 INDUSTRY Organizing Biomass Farmers Project coordinators are learning that biomass collection systems may vary depending on



the landscape, available transportation and the farmer-suppliers. By Susanne Retka Schill

56 POLICY National Forest Biomass Off-Limits for RFS 06 Editor’s Note Is It Time for a New Home Heating Fuel?

Lawmakers are attempting to change the renewable fuels standard in the Energy Independence & Security Act of 2007 to include the use of slash piles and other waste material from national forests to make cellulosic ethanol.

07 Advertiser Index

By Hope Deutscher

09 Industry Events

64 PROFILE Construction Waste to Biomass to Energy and Back Again

12 Business Briefs

Jim Taylor wants to be known as the wizard of waste and put his biomass gasification technology to good use.

14 Industry News 87 In the Lab Grow It on Glycerin By Jerry W. Kram

By Sarah Smith

70 FEEDSTOCK Fresh-Squeezed Ethanol Feedstock A Florida research chemist is working on a way to efficiently and commercially convert citrus peels to ethanol. The millions of tons of citrus waste produced in the state could be turned

89 EERC Update Refueling Today’s Military: Reducing the Dependence on Oil, Part Two By Ted Aulich

into 30 MMgy to 50 MMgy of ethanol. By Kris Bevill

76 RECYCLE What to do With the Remnants of a Plastic Culture Several barriers to recycling plastic exist, and oftentimes perfectly recycleable material is dumped in the landfill. Biomass Magazine investigates these obstacles to recycling and looks at the issues surrounding the burning of plastic for power. By Ron Kotrba

Correction from our January 2008 issue: In the Industry News story on page 18, titled “SRI Consulting explores chemicals derived from biomass,” it incorrectly stated that natural products obtained from plant material have long been used to process difficult-tosynthesize products, such as lignin. The natural products obtained from plant material have instead been used as a source of difficult-to-synthesize products, such as lignin.

82 RESEARCH Developing Yeast Strains for Biomass-to-Ethanol Production USDA scientists continue to examine the types of biomass—and the conversion pathways— that will make cellulosic ethanol production a success. By Ronald Hector, Stephen Hughes and Xin Liang-Li 4|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 5

e d i to r ’s


Is It Time for a New Home Heating Fuel?


iving on North Dakota’s wind-swept prairie and listening to my husband complain about the cost of propane to heat our home, I was especially interested in reading this month’s Biomass Magazine features, “The Beauty of Biomass Briquettes” and “Seeing the Forest for the Trees,” on pages 22 and 31, respectively. This winter was particularly expensive as we had several weeks in a row of subzero temperatures. Although the cost of propane hasn’t gone up as far nor as fast as heating oil, the cost is up substantially compared with the previous year. That being said, is it enough for consumers to consider switching to alternatives, such as wood pellets or biomass briquettes? I believe it's not so much that people don't want to switch to something cheaper. It's the cost of switching that keeps people hooked on high-priced fuel. A year ago, my husband decided to switch from fuel oil to propane. That required a new furnace and a propane tank. It was an expensive process that might have paid for itself relatively quickly had propane prices not risen so much. It’s also a matter of convenience. I have to agree with Gerald Brown, marketing director for Valley Forest Products LLC, in "Seeing the Forest for the Trees" when he said that Americans just don't want to deal with bags of wood pellets. That's not something that the company, which is just getting into the business of marketing its product as a heating fuel option, is taking lightly. Brown describes systems in Europe where a truck blows the pellets into a holding room or tank that's built into the house. That sounds like a more viable solution to me, and I would think that would make the choice of switching to wood pellets more palatable. Plus, if wood pellets continue to be half the price of other heating fuels, and produce just as much or more energy, that will probably get more people's attention. If gas prices rise to nearly $4 a gallon, as some have predicted, companies such as the ones featured in this month's magazine may have more work on their hands than they can handle. I know if I were the one writing out the check to the propane company every month, I would be looking at alternatives, rather than just complaining about it to my significant other.

Rona Johnson Features Editor


advertiser INDEX 2008 Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo


Energy & Environmental Research Center


Advanced Trailer Industries


Ethanol Producer Magazine

Amandus Kahl USA Corporation


Bandit Industries Inc.


Factory Sales and Engineering Inc.


Barr-Rosin Inc.



63 & 69 Biofuels Australasia

Percival Scientific Inc.


58 & 60

Peterson Corp.


40 & 86

Price BIOstock Services


Rath, Young and Pignatelli PC



R.C. Costello & Associates Inc.


Frontline BioEnergy LLC


Robert-James Sales Inc.



Inland Power Group Inc.


Rockwood Materials Handling, Inc.


International Biomass ’08 Conference & Trade Show


Ronning Engineering


29 & 48

International Fiber Corp.


Rotochopper Inc.


CBI Continental Biomass Industries, Inc.


Keith Manufacturing Co.


Supreme International Limited


Christianson & Associates PLLP


Laidig Systems Inc.


Taylor Biomass Energy LLC


Competitive Energy Insight Inc.


Life Science Association of Manitoba


The Teaford Co. Inc.


Marcus Construction Company





Midwest Process Solutions


U.S. Energy Services


Distillers Grains Quarterly


Morbark Inc.


Vecoplan LLC

Duratech Industries International Inc.


National Renewable Energy Laboratory


Wanzek Construction Inc.


EBW Expo & Conference


New Horizon Corp.


West Salem Machinery


Eclipse Inc.



Woods End Laboratories Inc.


BBI Project Development

Biofuels Canada

ConAgra Trade Group Inc.


Detroit Stoker Co.












Subscriptions Subscriptions to Biomass Magazine are free of charge with the exception of a shipping and handling fee of $49.99 for any country other than the United States, Canada and Mexico. Subscription forms are available online (, by mail or by fax. If you have questions, please contact Jessica Beaudry at (701) 7468385 or

Back Issues & Reprints Select back issues are available for $3.95 each, plus shipping. To place an order, contact Subscriptions at (701) 746-8385 or Article reprints are also available for a fee. For more information, contact Christie Anderson at (701) 746-8385 or

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Letters to the Editor We welcome letters to the editor. Send to Biomass Magazine Letters to the Editor, 308 2nd Ave. N., Suite 304, Grand Forks, ND 58203 or email to Please include your name, address and phone number. Letters may be edited for clarity and/or space.

Cert no. SCS-COC-00648


The future of fuel Transforming corn and other grains into biofuels is a major industry today. But what about tomorrow? The future of biofuels will also rely on the next generation of raw materials – biomass. At Novozymes we’re taking a fresh look at all types of biomass, and © Novozymes A /S · Customer Communications · No. 2007-35469-02

considering how we can turn it into something useful. And you know what? Corn cobs and wheat straw are just the beginning. Who knows what other types of waste we can transform into fuel? Novozymes is the world leader in bioinnovation. Together with customers across a broad array of industries we create tomorrow’s industrial biosolutions, improving our customers’ business and the use of our planet’s resources. Read more at

Novozymes North America, Inc. 77 Perry Chapel Church Road · Franklinton, NC 27525 Tel. +1 919-494-3000 · Fax +1 919-494-3485 ·

industryevents Waste-to-Fuels Conference & Trade Show

International Biomass Conference & Trade Show

April 6-8, 2008

April 15-17, 2008

Wyndham Orlando Resort Orlando, Florida The Florida Biofuels Association will host this inaugural event to highlight the economic and environmental benefits of converting waste materials to alternative fuels such as biodiesel and ethanol, along with other energy recovery methods. Topics include municipal solid waste, biomass, waste oils and greases, landfill gases, and ag waste. (800) 441-7949

Minneapolis Convention Center Minneapolis, Minnesota This inaugural event, which stemmed from the Energy & Environmental Research Center’s biomass conference last year in Grand Forks, N.D., aims to facilitate the advancement of near-term and commercial-scale manufacturing of biomass-based power, fuels and chemicals. Topics include biopower, bioproducts, biochemicals, biofuels, intermediate products and coproducts, which will be presented through general sessions, technical workshops and an industry trade show. (719) 539-0300

New World Biomass Conference

World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology & Bioprocessing

April 22-24, 2008 Albuquerque Convention Center Albuquerque, New Mexico This conference will explore new opportunities in the biomass industry and the reinvention of existing technologies. The agenda includes a pre-conference workshop, which will address the national energy plan, the national fire plan and the healthy forests initiative through woody biomass utilization; a general session, which includes Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez; manufacturer sessions; and track classes, which will be announced as the event approaches.

30th Symposium on Biotechnology for Fuels and Chemicals

May 4-7, 2008 Astor Crowne Plaza Hotel New Orleans, Louisiana Hosted by Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, this event will feature discussions on the latest research breakthroughs and results in biotechnology for fuels and chemicals. Twelve dual technical sessions will accommodate 80 presentations, and there will also be a plenary session and two poster sessions. Plus, an evening session will highlight international bioenergy centers. (703) 691-3357, ext. 26

April 27-30, 2008 Hilton Chicago Chicago, Illinois This event’s program tracks will focus on biofuels and bioenergy, including cellulosic ethanol; feedstocks, including forestry residues and energy crops; and chemicals and biomaterials. The agenda includes plenary sessions, breakout session, exhibits and a poster reception, among many other events. Breakout sessions topics include biofuels and bioenergy, renewable feedstocks, and renewable chemicals and biomaterials. (202) 312-9274

Renewable Energy Finance & Investment Summit

May 19-21, 2008 Firesky Resort & Spa Scottsdale, Arizona This third-annual event, themed “Exploring Key Deals & Developments in the Renewable Fuel & Renewable Power Markets,” will discuss state-of-the-art finance structures, deal mechanics, tax incentives, investment trends, more efficient technologies, regulatory changes and creative financing solutions. Three tracks address renewable power, biofuels, and carbon and greenhouse gas emissions. A separate workshop will detail renewable energy project finance fundamentals. (704) 889-1287

24th Annual International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo Energy From Biomass and Waste

June 16-19, 2008

October 14-16, 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 preliminary agenda includes general sessions, concurrent technical workshops and various networking opportunities. More information will be available as this event approaches. (719) 539-0300

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


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BRIEFS Alternative Energy Technology Center acquires Meridian Biorefining

ZeaChem, GreenWood announce feedstock agreement

The Alternative Energy Technology Center Inc. has acquired Meridian Biorefining Inc. and its vertically integrated biorefining system that uses nonfood, cellulosic feedstocks to produce ethanol, gasoline and biocrude, which can be further processed to produce a wide range of biofuels, chemicals and other compounds. According to AETC Chief Executive Officer Brown Marks, the company expects to complete its commercial-scale research facility by the end of March and begin producing biofuels by July. “Meridian’s technology will make the processing of cellulose into fuels far more cost-effective than any current technical models in development,” Marks said. BIO

Portland, Ore.-based GreenWood Resources Inc. signed a feedstock agreement to supply poplars from its intensively managed tree farm to cellulosic ethanol developer ZeaChem Inc., based in Menlo Park, Calif., for a planned 1.5 MMgy production plant near Boardman, Ore. The two companies also agreed to explore expanding their collaboration to include an expansion of the plant’s capacity, as well as the development of other facilities integrated with short-rotation poplar tree farms. BIO

Corle plays for new ‘team’ Tom Corle has founded G-team, a marketing and communications company serving the biofuels industry. He plans to use his talents in marketing and communications, combined with his knowledge of the biofuels industry and world markets, “to make a difference to the planet,” he said. Launching his new group of biofuels consultants gives Corle him a chance to work with clients “who want a faster track in turning biofuels green into gold,” he said. Corle was formerly director of communications and marketing for Delta-T Corp. He can be reached at (717) 626-0557. For more information, visit BIO

Georgia Power signs with Greenway Renewable Power Georgia Power recently signed a 15-year deal with Greenway Renewable Power LLC for electricity generated at a biomass-fueled facility to be located near Franklin, Ga. The Greenway facility will process timber harvesting residuals, noncommercial tree species, tree thinnings, lumber scraps and wood waste reclaimed from landfills. Under the contract, Georgia Power will purchase 100 percent of the plant’s 50megawatt capacity, which is enough to power 12,500 homes. The plant is expected to be operational in 2010. BIO

Alliant Energy issues RFI for biomass sources

IET consolidates headquarters

Alliant Energy’s Wisconsin Power & Light Co. is issuing a request for information to determine interest and the economic capabilities of providing biomass for an expansion project at its Nelson Dewey Generating Station in Cassville, Wis. Wisconsin Power & Light intends to add a 300-megawatt electrical-generating unit, which will burn coal and biomass such as waste wood, corn stover and switchgrass. Interested agricultural, forestry or other businesses should submit responses online by April 18. Register at /openregistration. BIO

Since securing a $50 million recycling contract with Dow Corning Corp. in October, Integrated Environmental Technologies LLC in Richland, Wash., continues to see changes. “I just consolidated my management team to one location,” said IET President and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Surma. The management team will now be headquartered in Bend, Ore. Surma said the company is optimistic about the future of methanol and biodiesel. Despite occasional slumps in the market, it “looks like [biodiesel is] here to stay,” he said. BIO



BRIEFS Dynamotive proposes bio-oil facilities DOE announces biomass investments In late February, the U.S. DOE announced plans to invest up to $33.8 million in four projects developing improved enzyme systems that will convert cellulosic material into sugars suitable for biofuels production. Funding will be dispersed through 2011 and, combined with industry cost share, could result in more than $70 million in project investments. The companies selected for funding are DSM Innovation Center Inc. in Parsippany, N.J.; Genencor, a division of Danisco USA Inc., in Palo Alto, Calif.; Novozymes Inc. in Davis, Calif.; and Verenium Corp. in San Diego. BIO

Dynamotive Energy Systems Corp., which has two operating bio-oil production facilities in Ontario, may locate similar fast-pyrolysis facilities in Willow Springs, Mo., and North Webster Parish, La. Its subsidiary Dynamotive USA Inc. wouldn’t release project timelines but estimated that the proposed plants would process 220 tons of wood waste per day into 225,000 barrels of bio-oil and 14,000 tons of carbon char per year. BioOil and BioOil Plus are the company’s trademarked replacements for No. 2 heating oil. BIO

Two energy companies to cogasify using biomass St. Louis-based Peabody Energy announced in late January its intent to become a minority investor in GreatPoint Energy Inc. The two companies are commercializing a proprietary gasification process using biomass. A Peabody spokesman said the two companies will look at a variety of feedstock options, including poplars, switchgrass, corn stover, bagasse and municipal solid waste. They are experimenting with how much biomass will make the perfect mix with coal or petroleum coke, and the percent eventually used will be a projectspecific determination, Peabody said. BIO



NEWS The carbon footprint that is left by printing BBI International Inc.’s publications has been neutralized. Joe Bryan, vice president of media, said the company has implemented an environmentally friendly carbonneutral printing process. BBI addressed the carbon-neutral issue in 2007 and was surprised at the difference some basic changes can make, Bryan said. The company prints its magazines and directories at R.R. Donnelly. Just a change in the type of paper had positive results. “The carbon output in the production of the paper that BBI was originally using per issue (one individual magazine) was 49,102 pounds of carbon dioxide,” said Timothy Portz of R.R. Donnelly. “The carbon output for the new paper is 32,155 pounds. The savings is 16,947 pounds, the equivalent of taking two cars off the road for a year.” BBI, which publishes six trade magazines (three monthly, two bimonthly and one quarterly), in addition to two annual directories and two biannual wall maps, implemented its carbon-neutral plan for the printing of the 2007 directories. Bryan said when Portz


BBI International becomes carbon-neutral

R.R. Donnelly account representatives Timothy Portz, left, and Seth Porter run press checks before printing Biomass Magazine.

explained the effects of the change in paper after the first printing run, he was stunned. “It was unbelievable,” Bryan said. ”For that one publication, it was enough to power four houses for a year, just by changing the weight of our paper.” BBI clearly views paper as an operational necessity, Bryan explained. The printing run of the directories was the springboard that started a complete printing overhaul. “Tim explained to us that if we invested ‘x’ amount of dollars, we would be one of the very first publications in

the country to be completely carbon-neutral,” Bryan said. “We knew right away we had to do it.” Portz said the collaborative effort between R.R. Donnelly and BBI is the real deal, and not just what he called “greenwashing,” which refers to companies trying to hang a green marketing message on something that’s not truly worthy. “We spent a lot of time getting an accurate assessment of [BBI’s] carbon footprint as it stood before we took over,” he explained. “We drew a baseline and then developed real strategies to drive out real carbon. It wasn’t just, ‘OK, here is the carbon footprint. Let’s buy offsets. See you later.’ We came up with a manufacturing strategy that reduced [BBI’s] total cost [and] reduced the environmental footprint. We cut the carbon footprint nearly in half.” Bryan said BBI is pleased with the results of carbon-neutral printing, and the company will continue to implement viable and environmentally friendly projects whenever possible. -Timothy Charles Holmseth

NASA-funded study to explore biomass impacts on weather Changes in cropping patterns and the introduction of more perennial biomass crops such as switchgrass may have an impact on the weather and climate predictions. Scientists at South Dakota State University's Geographic Information Science Center of Excellence have received a $738,000 grant from NASA for a three-year study to focus on land use in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, western Minnesota and northern Iowa. SDSU’s GIS center will be working with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Earth Resources Observation Systems Data Center, and the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. The project will generate scenarios of possible landscape changes, and the impact


on weather and climate, explained Geoffrey Henebry, an SDSU professor and senior scientist at the GIS center. “The change in cropping patterns will be driven by the location of ethanol plants,” he said, with each ethanol plant drawing feedstock from a given area. As cellulosic ethanol technology develops, there’s potential for corn-based ethanol plants to retrofit to cellulosic processes, resulting in a feedstock change from corn to switchgrass. The change in crops will have consequences in the amount of energy and water that is released into the atmosphere, primarily because perennial crops green earlier and remain greener later in the fall. The project will project how that may affect precipitation patterns and the potential for

severe weather. The research will also study the impact of landscape changes that occur in patches throughout a region, rather than the entire landscape being converted to switchgrass as some studies have hypothesized, Henebry said. The researchers will also project the impact of potential fire scenarios. “There is a potential for fire that hasn’t been there since the European settlement,” Henebry said. Switchgrass research indicates a sustainable harvest will occur in the fall after the first hard freeze. Plus, there is an emphasis on high yields. “It will be dry and extremely flammable,” he said. -Susanne Retka Schill



Left to right: Matt DeKam, Vance Morey and Doug Tiffany conducted research at the University of Minnesota to determine the profitability of corn-based ethanol plants producing electricity from biomass.

Biomass-to-electricity study may benefit corn-based ethanol plants A study recently conducted by three researchers at the University of Minnesota concluded that by using biomass for fuel, corn-based ethanol plants can effectively reduce carbon footprints, improve net energy balances and become more profitable at the same time. University research fellow Doug Tiffany, graduate student Matt DeKam, and Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering professor Vance Morey hosted several workshops to discuss the study results. Tiffany will also highlight the study at the International Biomass Conference & Trade Show in Minneapolis on April 15-17. The study found that for an investment of approximately $57 million, a 50 MMgy corn-based ethanol plant could use biomass to produce enough heat and power to operate the plant and sell energy back to the power grid. Tiffany said utility companies would more than likely be supportive of plants that make such an investment. According to the study, a 50 MMgy plant could produce seven megawatts to sell back to the power grid. “This could be very substantial and maybe also become very attractive to those power utilities that face requirements in the future,” Tiffany said. The study also found that a 50 MMgy plant using biomass as an energy source would spend $15 million per year on local energy feedstocks versus $17 million per year on natural gas. Mark Schmidt, vice president of AgStar Financial Services, attended a workshop in Mankato, Minn., and presented the lender viewpoints on the study. He told Biomass Magazine that lenders are willing to finance projects suggested in the university study. “It’s a case-by-case process,” he said. “Plants have different theories on how they want to embrace biomass for their particular plant according to what they believe will be the most successful and economical thing for them to do.” While Schmidt said lenders find comfort in the study because it confirms previous theories, financing is difficult right now, and new plants might not have success in financing such a project. “If an ethanol plant costs $2 per gallon to build it from scratch and these energy features are costing another 30 to 40 cents per gallon, they’re not raising the bar for initial financing because they don’t have a track record,” he said. “It takes a while for any marketplace to absorb new things, and it’s the same thing here.”

NEWS Study: Biomass pellets effectively reduce carbon dioxide In response to rising concerns about the security of energy supplies for present and future generations of Canadians, nonprofit BioCap Canada conducted a study to determine the best biofuel options for Ontario. The report, titled “Analyzing Ontario Biofuel Options” and published by Resource Efficient Agricultural Production-Canada, showed that biomass pellets are the most cost-effective way for government incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Ontario. “This study demonstrates how an incentive program for the large-scale production and use of solid biofuels for commercial and industrial Samson applications could be an effective and sustainable way to grow our economy,” said David Layzell, president and chief executive officer of BioCap. “The use of biomass pellets would not only create new market opportunities for the forest and agricultural industries, it would reduce dependence on coal, as well as the greenhouse gas emissions associated with coal use.” Roger Samson, lead author of the report and executive director of REAP-Canada, said the report was consistent with other research and was significant because it was the first Canadian study to look at carbon dioxide mitigation costs. “That was the unique part,” he said. “No one had really put a price on [carbon dioxide] by government incentives.” The study concluded that if government subsidies were applied to large-scale solid biofuels, those fuels would surpass wind power—currently No. 1 in Canada—as most effective at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. If a subsidy of $4 per gigajoule was implemented for biomass pellets, carbon dioxide emission offsets would be created at less than $50 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions abated when displacing coal. Current ethanol programs cost eight times the amount of carbon dioxide emissions avoided per ton than potential solid biofuel subsidies. Current biodiesel incentives cost twice as much as biomass incentives. Samson said policy, not technology, is why governments are unwilling to subsidize solid biofuels. There are 442 pellet plants in Europe, and solid biomass production is recognized as a leading technology, which according to Samson and Layzell is due to the European government’s willingness to provide incentives and enforce carbon dioxide taxes. He hopes North American politicians will embrace this new study, and begin to pass carbon dioxide taxes and greenhouse gas mitigation incentives. -Kris Bevill

-Kris Bevill 4|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 15


NEWS The gap between corn-based ethanol and cellulosic ethanol became smaller when KL Process Design Group, a Rapid City, S.D.based ethanol plant designer and marketing firm, brought the nation’s first demonstrationscale cellulosic ethanol facility on line in Upton, Wyo., in January. The 1.5 MMgy facility, called Western Biomass Energy LLC and located one mile south of Upton, began production Jan. 5, according to Tom Slunecka, KL Process Design vice president of business development. The plant is a culmination of development efforts between KL Process Design, the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, the Wyoming Business Council and the Wyoming Department of Forestry. It has the ability to operate intermittently, so while a feedstock is in the production cycle, the company can concurrently test different feedstocks in its research laboratory. “Because it’s a small plant, we can afford to bring the plant on and off-line, and do various test runs of other feedstocks while in production,” Slunecka said. “If [the feedstocks] prove out efficient in the lab, then we would be able to run that particular feedstock at full scale


KL Process Design starts cellulosic ethanol production

Western Biomass Energy LLC began ethanol production from wood waste at the beginning of the year.

in the plant itself.” The plant is using ponderosa pine gathered from the Black Hills National Forest by forest thinnings operator Backer Timber Products. KL Process Design intends to test other feedstocks such as hard woods, construction waste, corn stover and switchgrass after the first year of operation, Slunecka said. “Though we’ve tested other cellulose-based materials in the lab from switchgrass to cardboard, the plant itself is focused on ponderosa pine,” he said. “There’s plenty of private ground thinnings to operate this small plant

without ever entering into the national forest.” According to Slunecka, KL Process Design utilizes specially designed enzymes supplied by Novozymes to efficiently pretreat the various biomass feedstocks to be used. “It’s important that KL doesn’t use acids in its pretreatment process, not only from the environmental standpoint for the permitting of a plant such as this, but it also adds a great deal of value in the coproducts, making them organic in nature,” he said. KL Process Design’s fuel was officially introduced to the commercial market when it supplied the American Le Mans Series with E85 for its season-opener in Sebring, Fla., on March 15. “It’s probably the most robust testing platform you can possibly find,” Slunecka said. “The American Le Mans Series cars are basically production-level cars that have been modified for the track, so it’s long been the desire for the ethanol industry to work with the auto industry to create engines that optimize the use of ethanol.”

-Bryan Sims

ICM undertakes cellulosic ethanol ventures ICM Inc. has been busy pursuing cellulosic ethanol ventures this year. Not only has it formed an alliance to design and build Coskata Inc.’s first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant, but it has also signed several contracts to advance a separate cellulosic ethanol facility in St. Joseph, Mo. “One of ICM’s strengths is our ability to bring processes and engineering design to the marketplace, commercializing these types of technologies,” said Greg Krissek, ICM’s director of governmental affairs. “You’re seeing us working on a number of types of projects because no one conversion process has clearly won the day, and I suspect that there are going to be multiple ones to accomplish the [renewable fuels standard] goal.” The Coskata plant, which has yet to select a site, will produce between 50 MMgy and 100 16 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 4|2008

MMgy using Coskata’s biological fermentation technology, which can convert most organic matter into fuel at a low cost. LifeLine Foods LLC, which came on line in St. Joseph in September, is a unique facility that separates corn starches for use in the food and fuel industries. It also burns corn fiber to partially power the plant. ICM helped to build the facility, and now the two companies are planning to build a pilotscale cellulosic ethanol plant, and research and development lab. ICM has contracted with Edenspace Systems Corp. to evaluate numerous feedstocks in the biomass-to-ethanol research effort in St. Joseph, which includes corn fiber, switchgrass, corn stover and sorghum. Energy crop company Ceres Inc. will supply the seeds of these crops to local farmers, who will grow the crops and harvest the biomass. “It’s almost

a foregone conclusion that we’re going to have multiple types of feedstocks,” Krissek said. “That’s why we’re not necessarily focused on one or the other.” ICM wants to experiment with a variety of technologies to invent the most commercially viable technology, Krissek said, noting that there may not just be one best method. Regional variability and availability of certain energy crops will also figure into the equation, he said. Nearly 21 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol will be developed in the coming years due to the renewable fuels standard in the Energy Independence & Security Act of 2007, Krissek said. The U.S. DOE has set a goal to get costs “around $1.07 a gallon,” he added. “That’s a huge opportunity to figure out how to do that.” -Sarah Smith


NEWS BlueFire Ethanol completes vendor testing BlueFire Ethanol Inc., a California-based cellulosic ethanol company, recently completed vendor testing of three key systems as part of the final engineering for the company’s fullscale waste-to-ethanol production process. At press time, the company planned to break ground on a 3.1 MMgy ethanol plant in Lancaster, Calif., in midMarch and a 17 MMgy ethanol facility in Corona, Calif., by the end of the year. “We’re ready to go,” said Arnold Klann, chief executive officer and president of BlueFire. “We ran these tests strictly to help the equipment suppliers finalize their designs on the equipment for the right sizing.” The equipment is designed to process a variety of biomass feedstocks ranging from wood chips to municipal solid waste. The testing was carried out at the headquarters of B&P

mately break the cellulose free from its lignin cage. From the decrystalyzer, the slurry goes into a hydrolyzer. Water is added at this stage to change the concentration of the sulfuric acid, and allow for the complete separation of the cellulose sugars and lignin. From there, the viscous solution is pumped into a filter press, and the sugary liquids are squeezed from the solids, which form a lignin cake. The resulting sugar/acid/water solution then goes into a chromatographic system for the separation of the sugars from the acid, which is then recycled. This step in the process is currently being tested at a separate vendor facility. Based on information from a biorefinery in Izumi, Japan, which also uses an acid-hydrolysis process, the results of BlueFire Ethanol's vendor tests show improved yields and better performance, Klann said. “The next step is to break ground and start building,” he added.

Process Equipment in Saginaw, Mich., the vendor for the decrystalyzer that BlueFire will use in its process. In addition to the decrystalyzer, BlueFire tested hydrolyzer and filter press equipment from separate vendors. “Every company that manufactures equipment has different performance characterizations,” Klann explained. “We set up a testing protocol at B&P and ran the feedstock that we will be utilizing at the Lancaster facility through their equipment using our process conditions.” The three pieces of technology represent three early steps in the waste-to-biofuel process. The decrystalyzer is the first piece of equipment that the cellulose feedstock comes into contact with. It’s a kind of mixer that covers the feedstock with sulfuric acid. This initiates the early chemical reactions that will ulti-

-Jessica Ebert

Biomass resources in a given area can be ascertained via satellite, thanks to technology developed by Itasca, Ill.-based Lanworth Inc. The information technology company specializes in the application of aerial and satellite remote sensing for natural resources management, as well as geographic information system (GIS) analysis, digitization and software development. Its technology is individualized for the agriculture, real estate, electricity and gas, transportation, government, and academia sectors, and the data can be updated daily. The company was founded in 2000 under the name Forest One Inc. Fittingly, it focused on timber supply studies, GIS-based land management systems, due diligence on land acquisitions, and higher- and better-use analyses. It recently expanded its forestry focus to include woody biomass resources. Previously, companies in the forest products industry had used the technology to estimate pulp and timber volumes. “Now, we added


Lanworth uses satellite tools to estimate biomass supplies

Lanworth Inc. produced this satellite-imagery-based estimation of fiber volume in Texas. It has mapped the entire United States in a similar format.

another module that will help clients figure how much woody biomass can be extracted beyond sawmill and pulp extractions,” said Shailu Verma, vice president of Lanworth. “It has been a natural extension for us to deploy

our tools to organizations pursuing wood-pellet plants, biomass boilers, cellulosic ethanol or other woody biomass-based facilities.” Using data of global forest covers that date back to the 1970s, Lanworth tracks forest cover growth and can estimate the trajectory of growth of any forest in the world, according to Verma. “Then we build proprietary models that can tell us how much woody biomass is available,” he said. The models use soil, elevation, slope, wetlands and other data layers to estimate extraction costs, as well as the total delivered cost of fiber to a processing site. The models also show the environmental impacts of additional biomass harvesting. “I believe we can help make these significant investment decisions, which not only have an important impact on the economics of fiber supply in a region, but also help manage the region’s environmental balance,” Verma said. -Anduin Kirkbride McElroy 4|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 17


NEWS Harvesting forests has become the latest gold rush in the race to convert biomass into energy. The Vermont-based Biomass Energy Resource Center has developed a tool for assessing the state’s available low-grade wood for biomass harvesting. It can also be adapted to any location in the United States to assess annual forest sustainability. The tool, which uses data from the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Inventory and Analysis Unit, looks at regional wood supply. It calculates the portion of the total forested land area that is available for harvesting lowgrade wood and examines the resource on a sustained-yield basis, considering the standing inventory, species mix of trees and net annual growth rate. “We want to make sure we’re not overharvesting for biomass fuels, and we don’t want to encourage projects that won’t have a supply of biomass,” said BERC spokeswoman Cindy Wyckoff. The BERC


Vermont organization develops tool to assess biomass supply

Wood gathered from Vermont forests can be used to produce biomass-based fuels.

found that land ownership impacts biomass availability, so it factors that, as well. Program Manager Adam Sherman said the tool has “big picture” policy implications for state and federal agencies. The data gives a conservative estimate to assure the availability of biomass for various projects. “Not only do we calculate how much surplus low-grade

wood is out there, but we explore the potential of moving wood to the market as a commodity fuel,” he said. “This calculation allows policymakers to ask how far the available wood will go. Then they can ask what sort of diversified biomass energy portfolio should utilize this material [efficiently].” The BERC hopes to help other states assess their resources for forest biomass harvest using this tool. Once a net annual growth rate of new wood in the forest is established, a spatial look will tell planners where the greatest concentration of wood is, enabling them to develop a biomass energy industry and marketplace. “So you don’t end up trucking wood across the state, burning a lot of fossil fuels in the process,” Sherman said. For additional information, visit -Sarah Smith

Environmental Power Corp., based in Terrytown, N.Y., announced that its Huckabay Ridge facility in Stephenville, Texas, reached full capacity production levels of pipeline-quality biogas in late January. The facility is expected to produce approximately 635,000 million British thermal units of biogas per year from manure and other agricultural waste. Environmental Power's wholly owned subsidiary Microgy Inc. has the exclusive American license for the technology provided by Danish Biogas Technology AS. “This project is the largest of its kind in North America,” said Mark Hall, senior vice president of external affairs. “We’re located in a compost yard in Stephenville because Erath County is the largest milk-producing county in Texas. We take manure from about 10,000 cows, borrow it for about 20 days and return the solids to the compost yard. The liquids are used for fertilizer.” 18 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 4|2008


Environmental Power ramps up

In January, the Huckabay Ridge facility in Stephenville, Texas, reached full production capacity at 635,000 MMBtu of biogas per year.

The biogas, which is refined to have the same characteristics as natural gas, is currently being sold to the Lower Colorado River Authority, a utility in Texas. In October, Environmental Power will sell the biogas to Pacific Gas & Electric Co. in California as part of a 10-year contract for 8,000 MMBtu per day.

To fulfill this contract, Environmental Power is following an aggressive development plan. “We expect to have seven to 10 facilities under construction in 2008,” Hall said. These facilities under development have an anticipated annual production of 4.9 million MMBtu. The first facility broke ground in December. The biogas plant will be located at the JBS Swift & Co. beef processing facility in Grand Island, Neb., and is expected to generate 235,000 MMBtu per year. Other projects are to be sited in California, Texas, Colorado and Idaho. Environmental Power refined its technology at three much smaller facilities in Wisconsin, which started production in 2005. Each site processes manure from approximately 1,000 dairy cows, and the biogas is used on-site in generators owned by a rural electric cooperative. -Anduin Kirkbride McElroy



Biomass definition may be broadened Bills to expand the renewable biomass definition in Section 201 of the Energy Independence & Security Act of 2007 have been introduced in the U.S. House and Senate by respective members of the South Dakota congressional delegation. U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., introduced Senate Bill 2558 on Jan. 25, which would revert the definition of “renewable biomass” to a broader definition that received widespread support when the Senate version of the energy bill was passed last year. The final law changed the definition of renewable fuel feedstocks to limit the crops and crop residues to those grown on land cleared or cultivated prior to the EISA that is either actively managed or fallow, and non-forested. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., introduced the Renewable Biofuels Facilitation Herseth Sandlin Act in the House on Feb. 7 to amend the EISA to promote the use of energy from waste products gathered on federal land. Her bill was cosponsored by a geographically diverse and bipartisan group. The Renewable Biofuels Facilitation Act would change the definition to clarify that federally sourced biomass is eligible for consideration under the renewable fuels standard (RFS) and is identical to the language Thune included in the Senate’s current version of the farm bill. Additionally, the bill would allow RFS credit for broad categories of biomass from nonfederal and tribal lands, including agricultural commodities, plants and trees, algae, crop residue, waste material (including wood waste and wood residues), animal waste and byproducts (including fats, oils, greases and manure), construction waste, and food and yard waste. In testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Executive Director of the Environmental and Energy Study Institute Carol Werner said the exclusion of any thinning or residues from federal forestland eliminates an opportunity to support hazardous fuels reduction, and reduces the number and amount of cellulosic feedstocks for renewable fuels production. “This could shatter the hopes of many communities in rural areas that wish to rid themselves of such excess materials and at the same time create job opportunities,” Werner told the committee. Public and private forests cover approximately onethird of the nation’s land area, and much of that acreage is in need of thinning through a variety of sustainable forestry management practices, the EESI director explained. At the same hearing, U.S. DOE Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Andy Karsner also recommended that the definition of woody biomass in the EISA be modified to parallel the definition contained in the farm bill proposal. -Susanne Retka Schill

NDSU begins BioEPIC journey From seed to harvest to factory to final product, all phases of the biomass industry are fair game for study at the Bio Energy and Product Innovation Center, part of North Dakota State University in Fargo, N.D. BioEPIC offers a focus on research, education and technology for the biomass industry, said center Codirector Ken Hellevang, a professor in NDSU’s Agriculture and Biosystems Engineering Department. The program is looking at more than just biofuels. One set of projects is looking at composites of biomass-based resins and fibers, which can replace fiberglass and plastics in a multitude of applications. One project is focusing on making tiny cellulose fibers called “nanowhiskers” from wheat straw. Preliminary work indicates that manufacturing nanowhiskers could add as much as $770,000 to the bottom line of a cellulosic ethanol plant using wheat straw as a feedstock. More than 60 faculty and staff from 15 departments and research extension centers are involved in BioEPIC, and the program is continuing to grow. NDSU is seeking candidates for a tenured faculty position in its Agriculture and Biosystems Engineering department, as well a research scientist in the same department. The research will involve evaluating biomass species for quality and quantity under different environmental and agronomic conditions to determine appropriate bioenergy crops for biofuel production, and to develop ways for farmers to add bioenergy crops to their operations. Hellevang said the center embodies the interdisciplinary approach to biomass at NDSU. “We really come at biomass from what we call a systems approach,” he said. “We are looking at everything from soil health to the production of various biomass products. We’ve got people involved in the harvesting and handling of biomass, and the processing of the final products.” One focus of the center will be the development of biomassrelated industries in North Dakota by helping rural communities address the complicated issues surrounding this new potential industry. “We are pushing economic development to help our rural communities survive,” Hellevang said. “There are local issues concerning education for these new jobs. There are issues of creating highways that can handle moving the products in and out. There are many different interactions that will have to take place to make this industry a success.” Hellevang said the goal of the center is to create linkages among all the different strands of biomass research that is ongoing at NDSU, and provide a connection to government and industry. More information about the center and its activities is available at /ndsu/bioopportunities.

-Jerry W. Kram 4|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 19

The Science of Dehydration 45 years ago Ronning

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began our business around one important notion: to build a team of engineers and scientists r #VJMEJOHUIF1SFNJVN%%(44PMVUJPO – While we look to the future of biomass and cellulosic energy production, we are with a passion for delivering committed to provide the ethanol industry of today with the premium solution for DDGS production – a solution that delivers the world’s best ingredient the high-protein, good tasting light-gold feed that is so valuable in your markets. preparation and production systems. Five decades later, we’re r %FMJWFSJOH&OFSHZBOE$PTU4BWJOH5FDIOPMPHJFT– We know that the future success of biofuels hinges on our ability to still pursuing that goal along deliver manufacturing systems with lower energy, water, and emissions needs. That’s why Ronning is focused on building the Waste Heat Evaporation solution of the future – one that can cut dehydration costs in your existing facility while integrating with a commitment to meet with a wide range of process technologies. For customers thinking of biomass-fired energy systems, Ronning has the field the unique challenges involved installations to prove that we know how to deliver cost savings without sacrificing quality, reliability, or safety. in converting diverse biomass r 4FSWJOHPVS$VTUPNFST – In the end, it all comes down to an attitude of service to our customers. Our goal is to lead your feedstocks into energy.

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Uxtâàç Biomass Briquettes Whether it’s going mobile with technology for producing biomass briquettes or aligning with a major mining operation eager to reduce its coal use, two U.S. companies describe their efforts to grow their biomass briquetting businesses. By Jessica Ebert





early two years ago, Brad Cole was put to task. As the owner of Cole’s Outdoor Wood Stoves, he was approached by potential customers wanting to know how they could fuel a furnace if they weren’t able to go out and chop wood. Not knowing the answer, Cole started researching alternatives. “We were unable to find anything here in the U.S.,” he explains. “The only thing we could find was in Europe where they had been doing this process of densifying wood material into a solid biomass fuel for more than 40 years.” After a pilgrimage over the “pond” and several visits to various companies involved in manufacturing densification equipment, Cole, who now serves as sales manager for Iowabased Renew Energy Systems, and fellow company founders, Chief Executive Officer Steve Smith and Dan Freeman, a millwright and professional welder, purchased equipment from C.F. Nielsen, a Danish manufacturer of briquetting presses. “They have been in the business the longest and were able to produce the equipment that we needed,” Cole says. Renew Energy Systems is now the U.S. distributor of C.F. Nielsen’s technology for the agricultural and waste management areas. In addition, the company has partnered with Kansas-based Alternative

This C.F. Nielsen briquette press is in Renew Energy Systems’ Osage, Iowa, facility.

Energy Systems, which distributes biomass boilers. “We’ve aligned our forces now,” Cole says. We produce a solid biomass fuel while AES distributes the biomass gasifier.” In addition to distributing briquettes,

Renew Energy Systems also produces and markets the fuel. The company leases building space in an industrial warehouse in Osage, Iowa, where it recently began mass producing briquettes from wood wastes

Got wood? • Legal work on more than 100 energy projects in over 20 states, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Mexico, Peru and United Kingdom • Assisting developers, owners, operators, investors and lenders • Projects include wood-burning, landfill gas and other power/fuel projects that use biomass or waste materials • We know biomass Contact Attorney Charles G. Willing, Jr. National Impact. Uniquely New Hampshire. Rath, Young and Pignatelli, P.C. Concord (603) 226-2600 24 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 4|2008



A close-up of Renew Energy Systems’ woody biomass fuel pucks

such as ground pallets, construction material and cabinetry waste—material that would otherwise be landfilled. The first step in the production process is grinding the feedstock to a diameter that the briquetter

accepts, Smith says. The ground waste is transferred to a large hopper on top of the briquetter where it enters the machine. “The briquetter is essentially a piston engine,” Smith says. “It has ports where

augers bring the matter in front of a large hammer that’s on a crankshaft. The crankshaft turns and hammers the material through a conical-shaped die.” The die is heated to about 225 degrees Fahrenheit and the material is pressed through it at about 3,000 pounds per square inch of pressure. It forms into something akin to a long, relatively thick spaghetti noodle. “When the briquette comes out it is a continuously long, three-inch-wide piece of biomass,” Smith explains. At the end of the line, the log is broken into 9- to 12-inch long chunks of renewable fuel. The chunks are bagged and distributed for use in private wood burners and fireplaces, or broken into hockey-puck-sized pieces that can be fed into boilers and used for industrial cogeneration. Testing that Renew Energy Systems has conducted in collaboration with Twin Ports Testing Inc., a Superior, Wis., testing services company, show the company’s briquettes produce on average 7,400 British thermal units per pound. The energy content is typical of wood pellets. However, Cole and colleagues are quick to point out that the initial capital requirement and costs for operating the briquetter are much cheaper than those for a pelletizing process. In addition, briquette presses can process a wide range of feedstocks and depending on the blend that is put in the hopper, a pound


densification of biomass briquettes can release up to 10,000 Btus of energy, Cole says. “That’s a tremendous fuel output.” The company’s technology is currently being trialed at universities in Wisconsin and Iowa and several large power generators in the Midwest are interested in cofiring the briquettes with coal, Cole says. In addition, Renew Energy Systems is working with C.F. Nielsen, to develop a portable briquetting system. The company will soon receive its first unit, which will initially be used to process wood waste on-site on private land in north-central Minnesota. “The portability of this equipment is a huge factor,” Smith says. It transcends the economic challenges of transporting feedstocks to a processing site. “We can go after piles of biomass that have been sitting around for years,” he says. It may also provide a solution for managing diseased and quarantined wood like the stands that have been infested and killed by the emerald ash borer or the west pine beetle. This wood can’t be transported for fear of further contamination but, “there’s a lot of interest in converting diseased and quarantined feedstock into a viable fuel,” Smith says. “This is part of the reason why we’re looking to put this in a 20-foot container and be mobile. We can take the machine to the matter.” This is one approach to successfully mass produce and commercialize biomass


briquettes. The business model of Renewafuel LLC, another up-and-coming company specializing in the densification of waste biomass, involves teaming with a company that wants to start meeting its significant energy needs with renewable fuels. Jim Mennell, an environmental lawyer, and founder and managing partner of the Environmental Law Group Ltd. in Minneapolis, is president of Renewafuel and founded the company in 2005. In his practice, he represents a number of large institutions in the Midwest. “There was really a strong interest and a need for some type of alternative to natural gas and coal as a way to power institutions and industrial operations and also to satisfy their sustainability objectives,” he says. However, “there was always a number of impediments to that taking place.” These challenges ranged from finding consistent and effective alternatives to difficulties in getting permits to use biomass. In an attempt to overcome some of Mennell these obstacles, Mennell teamed with one of his clients, Leon Endres, founder and owner of Endres Processing LLC, a producer of high-quality livestock feed. Endres had

experience in aggregating waste food products from restaurants and food manufacturers and processing that material into animal feed. “I looked at the way he was collecting materials from all over, mixing them and running them through a series of processes to result in a really consistent, high-spec feed that he could sell to most of the major poultry houses as a feed ingredient,” Mennell explains. “I saw that as the recipe for what we could do on the biofuel side.” Renewafuel was ultimately backed by four leverage capital firms including JMH Capital of Boston, to undertake a threeyear research and development effort, which included processing different feedstocks, identifying their fuel characteristics and monitoring how the briquettes burn in different systems such as direct-fired units, fluidized beds and pulverized coal applications. Renewafuel leverages Endres Processing’s aggregation network of 75 trucks that collect waste feedstocks from 18 states. The material, including corn stalks, switchgrass, grains, soybean and oat hulls, wood and wood byproducts, is transported to the company’s production-scale research and development facility in Battle Creek, Mich., where Renewafuel has tested different biomass blends and collected emissions data. The company has developed a series of proprietary feedstock blends that result



Renewafuel collects waste feedstock from several states and densifies it into briquettes like these at its Battle Creek, Mich., facility.

in briquettes that can be used in the solid fuel systems typical of industrial or institutional settings with little or no modification. The cubes generate about 8,000 Btus per pound, which is comparable to the energy released from coal mined from the Western United States. The difference is that Renewafuel’s solid fuel releases 90 percent less sulfur dioxide, 35 percent less particu-

late matter and 30 percent less acid gases than coal, as demonstrated in tests at the University of Iowa’s power plant. In addition, the briquettes can be customized to the specific requirements of the user. As the company started moving toward commercializing its product, it began marketing to Cleveland Cliffs Inc., an Ohio-based international mining and pro-

cessing company. In a strategic investment, Cleveland Cliffs recently acquired a 70 percent controlling interest in Renewafuel. “They became interested in the fuel and wanted to secure it in part as a way to hedge against pending carbon legislation,” Mennell explains. “As a large energy user they wanted to ensure that they had a sufficient supply of our fuel products.” In addition to supplying biomass briquettes to Cleveland Cliffs, Renewafuel will be a stand-alone business unit that will market and sell the fuel to other users. To meet the demand for its product, Renewafuel is currently planning to build production facilities near large energy consumers. The first two of these facilities are planned for the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and in eastern Minnesota. Both plants are expected to be on line by the end of the year. “We’re hiring additional people and looking to site develop and to grow quickly,” Mennell says. “We’re adding value to local farms and local businesses. We’re creating jobs. We’re making a renewable fuel that could potentially reduce energy costs and significantly reduce environmental impacts. It’s pretty exciting.” BIO Jessica Ebert is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. Reach her at or (701) 738-4962.

Explore the Opportunities, Experience the Technology


15-17 April 2008

Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

The objective of the

International Biomass ‘08 Conference & Trade Show is to act as a catalyst for the sustainable advancement of biomass utilization on a global scale.

The program will focus on technological advancements, commercial scale manufacturing, and near term research and development.

Technical sessions will include:

. . . . . .

Biopower Gasification Feedstock Processing Pretreatment for Cellulosic Ethanol Policy and Project Implementation Biopower: CHP Technologies International Perspectives on Biomass Utilization

. . . . .

Permitting and Lifecycle Assessment Alternative Bio-syngas Production Water Issues for Biomass Utilization Feedstock Alternatives Alternative Biofuels: Biobutanol, Green Diesel, and Jet Fuel

. . . . . .

Feedstock Supply Commercial Applications Anaerobic Digestion Project Finance Bioproducts Biorefining

The full program agenda is posted on the website.

REGISTER TODAY! Presented by

In partnership with


green event Conferences & Events

. 719-539-0300 .




Joann (Tink) Birchem is a Minnesota logger and wood pellet manufacturer whose goal is to see wood-pellet furnaces used as the primary source of heat for Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. With the rising price of fuel she believes it’s a matter of economics that will soon be unavoidable. By Timothy Charles Holmseth








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alternative has not had much of a behavior-changing impact on consumers, a fact that doesn’t surprise Birchem. “I think it’s just a matter of educating the public,” she says. “A lot of people don’t know about wood pellets.” Americans don’t seem to be aware of the green-friendly fuel’s success in Europe. The informational disconnect in the United States between the general public, and the option of wood pellets as a source of heat didn’t always exist. “[Wood pellets] were actually invented in the late 1970s in the United States,” says Christian Rakos, chief executive officer of proPellets Austria. “[Pellets] led a very quiet life in small niches for two decades before a furious market development started in Europe.” The growing use of pellets as a heating source in Europe demonstrates an awakening in this country that can’t be ignored, Rakos says. “Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Germany and Italy have been growing on the average of 30 percent to 50 percent per year during the past decade,” he says. Gerald Brown, marketing director of




oann “Tink” Birchem says she “can see the forest for the trees.” In time, everyone else will see it too, she says. Birchem and her husband Jerry, own Valley Forest Wood Products LLC in Marcell, Minn., and Birchem Logging Inc. in Mt. Iron, Minn. Somewhere in northeast Minnesota, where thousands of trees dot the landscape, Tink Birchem saw the forest that she believes holds the future of heating. That future is in the form of a small wood pellet that burns hot and clean inside special furnaces. Eventually, everyone is going to need them and the reason can be explained in one word—cost, Birchem says. As people struggle with rising energy costs, they will take notice of the relief wood-pellet furnaces offer the pocketbook. There is a noticeable difference between the price of wood pellets versus fuel oil, and there’s no getting around the outcome. “Wood pellets cost half of what fuel oil is right now,” Birchem says. Despite the large price gap, the heating

Call us at 515-292-1200 32 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 4|2008

Valley Forest Wood Products in Marcell is pictured here from the south.

fuel Valley Forest Wood Products, says the success of pellets is a proven fact overseas. “If you look on an [industry] map in Europe, you’ll see in 2005 there were 242 pellet plants listed,” he says. “That was back in 2005, there’s more than that now. When you look on a map for 2005 in the U.S. you will see 60.” Although the Europeans are ahead of the United States in terms of pellet use, it didn’t come on the scene there until recently. “Generally speaking, not even one bag of wood pellets was sold in England 30 months ago,” he says. “Last year there was a million tons sold in all of the U.K.” The big difference is in the behavior of the Europeans, Brown says. “It’s the difference in lifestyles.” Europeans have always viewed the biomass resources that lie in their own backyards much differently than Americans. “Biomass has been around a long time in Europe, in the consciousness of the country, and the people who live there,” he says. Brown credits Birchem for introducing the wood-pellet heating industry to

northwest Minnesota. “Tink Birchem was the first one to catch on in our area that biofuels are a big-ticket item because of what she was hearing about in Europe,” he says. Europe is a real-time demonstration of the promise wood pellets hold, and the country has proven that it can very quickly become vibrant when economic conditions are optimal, Birchem says. “My husband and I have been to Finland and Sweden five different times,” she says, explaining the methodical economic utilization of lumber and forest products there. “They really work the tree. They utilize every part. The tops and limbs they use for biomass.” Even a cursory look at the numbers as one scans Europe to assess industry growth is an eyebrow raiser, Rakos says. “Ireland is an example of how fast a market can be established by financial incentives,” he says. Pellet-heating in Ireland was virtually nonexistent until March 2006, when a program called the Greener Home Scheme was available. Within a year, 4,000 applications were

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Pictured are the finished product out-loading tanks at Valley Forest Wood Products. The facility is capable of generating 50,000 tons of wood pellets per year.

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fuel ‘There are furnaces coming on line now where a truck would just come in and fill up your furnace with pellets, and with another hose would suck out the ash. That’s what they are doing in Europe.’


received and, according to Sustainable Fuels Ireland, 1,900 pellet boilers, 240 central heating stoves and 330 stoves were installed between April 2006 and August 2007. During her global travels, Birchem says she was able to fully process and appreciate how and why wood-pellet furnaces and heating in other countries have been so successful. She described one town she visited where a biomass plant was used to generate steam heat and hot

water to supply city buildings, including a hospital. “They call their forests “green gold,” she says. Birchem’s observations of common-sense solutions and prudent use of the obvious and available, lend themselves to the vision she has for Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. “It’s the least expensive thing the Europeans have to make heat and electricity,” she says. “Sweden and Denmark are leading the world in biomass electricity generation.” A speed bump to progress in the wood pellets industry in the United States is subtle, but significant. The idea of handling a bag of pellets can be seen as an unattractive and inconvenient prospect to some Americans, Brown says. It has become a commonly accepted state-of-affairs that Americans simply don’t want to deal with a bag of pellets. Brown says the notion that using wood pellets would be an inconvenient task in someone’s day is misguided; explaining how the process of heating this way in Europe is far past the logcabin mentality some may still possess. “Europe is already 10 years ahead of us on wood pellets,” he says, explaining how the process has been modernized there. “They’re ahead of us to the point of delivery by trucks that blow the pellets into holding rooms and tanks built in houses, with augers that automatically feed a furnace, the same as fuel oil and propane.” He says. “A person fills up once a year, turns on the thermostat and never touches anything again—it’s all automated.” Birchem has incorporated automation technology into her optimistic plans. “There are furnaces coming on line now where a truck would just come in and fill up your furnace with pellets, and with another hose would suck out the ash,” she says. “That’s what they are doing in Europe.” Production and consumption at Valley Forest Wood Products for the time being is running quite smoothly.

fuel “Wood pellets being produced right now are going to schools,” Birchem says. She says the success of Minnesota schools utilizing wood pellets serves as a virtual mirror, albeit on a smaller scale, of the success that is been experienced in Europe. Brown says he talked with the person who handles the heating at the school in Goodridge, Minn., and learned the school’s money was going up in smoke. “All fuels are calculated to compare the cost per million Btu (British thermal unit),” Brown explains. “The school was paying $28.17 per million Btus,” he says. “Pellets would cost $10.81 per million Btus, delivered. That’s almost a 65 percent savings to use pellets.” The pellets are also more environmentally friendly than fuel oil, Brown says. “They are 92 percent cleaner in particulates than cord wood,” he says. “That’s documented, both by a Swedish study and a New Zealand study.” Birchem’s desire to offer an economical heating alternative to the region is an ongoing process. The company is constantly testing and improving its product. Although she admits she’s often frustrated with some of the industry standards surrounding labeling and quality issues, stronger oversight is something she pushes. “We test our pellets to make sure that we’re getting a premium pellet,” she says. “A lot of manufacturers say they have premium pellets and they don’t, and there are no regulations to monitor this.” There is a significant difference between premium and standard pellets, much of it relates to ash production. A furnace that isn’t made to handle a high percentage of ash can get clogged, Brown says. “If [a company is producing] a standard pellet, they should say it’s a standard pellet, and people should have to pay less for that,” Birchem says. Birchem believes that Europe is proof that pellets are the heating fuel of the future. Although Europe is fertile ground for sales and Valley Forest Wood Products has business relationships firmly established in Italy, Birchem doesn’t

expect to export any product, yet. “If I make more pellets than what I can sell here in the states, I can ship them to Europe and they will sell them there,” she says. However, she would prefer that the forest resource be kept “here at home.” Birchem says the industry she works in is fascinating and exciting, but it can be tiring at times. “I’m heading to Atlanta today and then it’s on to [Washington] D.C.,” she says. As it is with pioneers, it appears the enigmatic part of a person that is inclined to look back before going

any further into the great unknown, doesn’t exist in Birchem. Soft spoken, friendly, intelligent, matter-of-fact and worldly, the girl, dubbed “Tinkerbell” by her father, has a picture in her head of the wood-pelleting industry, and it most certainly isn’t make-believe. BIO Timothy Charles Holmseth is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. Reach him at tholmseth or (701) 738-4962.



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Woody Biomass The renewable fuels standard will require the production of more than 15 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol in the coming years requiring millions of tons of biomass. Moving that biomass from the fields and forests will be a logistical challenge. Some companies are gearing up to meet that challenge. By Jerry W. Kram


ometimes advocates of cellulosic technologies can become over enthused with their vision of a burgeoning industry. In their fervor they underestimate the complexity of even the most basic processes that will be required to build the industry. That includes the collecting, transporting and storing of feedstocks. Producing billions of gallons of ethanol will require millions of tons of cellulosic feedstocks. Moving that feedstock efficiently, safely and with as little impact on infrastructure and the environment as possible will be a major challenge in the years ahead.

While the grain industry has developed a network over a couple of hundred years enabling it to deliver corn from Dubuque, Iowa, all the way to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, biomass-based industries such as pulp and paper producers have been sited as close as possible to the biomass source. The economics of hauling bulky biomass such as wood precludes long-distance transport of feedstocks, says Dick Carmical, president of Price Biostock Services, a subsidiary of The Price Companies Inc., which has been part of the timber industry for more than 40 years. Price Biostock was formed to offer a broad range of management and opera-


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Cellulosic ethanol plants will have to be located close to feedstock supplies. An extra 50 miles can add more than $6 a ton to feedstock costs.






tions technology services to companies involved in the rapid growth of biofuels refineries in North America and abroad. “We are the wood guys,” Carmical says. “If a company wants someone to take care of all areas of procurement, delivery and preprocessing, and putting the woody biomass on a conveyer belt going into their converter, we can provide everything from that point back.” One of the issues facing the industry is that moving biomass more than 50 miles to a processing facility could take a major bite out of profits. “In today’s market, it takes something like 12½ cents per ton mile to move stuff around or maybe more,” Carmical says. “If you move the procurement circle out to 100 miles, adding 50 miles of freight costs, you’ve just added $6-plus on a green weight basis to the cost of your biofuel. Figuring a 1 million ton per year facility, that’s at least $6 million added to your raw material costs.” Increasing the distance also makes supplying a biomass plant less attractive to the timber producer. “The producer is just like you or me,” Carmical says. “He needs so much money everyday just to pay his bills. If you have him at a distance where

he can make three or four loads a day, he has one set of economics. If you stretch him out to 100 miles, then he may only sell two loads a day. You as the consumer are going to have to pay the costs so he can make his living on two loads a day instead of three or four.” This makes the siting process for prospective biomass plants crucial. Other concerns that need to be considered in the site selection process include infrastructure, the type and quantities of biomass that are available on a sustainable basis, and who will be supplying the biomass. Carmical says the latter is one of the most important but underappreciated facets of the biomass industry. “Are we going to have to bring in a work force to do this?” he asked. “Or will we be able to use existing suppliers and are they amenable to the idea of expanding?” A lot of the potential woody biomass in the United States is located in remote regions of the country. In areas such as the Southeast, property rights have been divided and subdivided so that within a certain procurement circle, a biomass company may be faced with making leasing agreements with hundreds of



Wood harvesting equipment is highly specialized. Carmical believes the first generation of biomass plants will be fed by suppliers using conventional equipment, but machinery designed specifically for the needs of cellulosic ethanol producers will become available as the industry becomes established.

landowners or biomass producers. “It’s not like you are going out and buying clay or iron ore,” Carmical says. “There is a personal investment in that land by the landowner whose dad or granddad cleared it. As you go out to harvest that stuff, you have all these personalities involved.” That is one reason many companies contract with biomass suppliers like Price Biostock rather than develop their own biomass delivery system. “You can get involved in brouhahas between the landowner and the harvesters,” Carmical says. “That’s where we really earn our keep. We need to keep people happy so we can come back and harvest next time, but we also need to get the product delivered on a timely basis.”

Heavy Industry Harvesting and transporting woody biomass is an industrial process in itself. Price Biostock specializes in reducing round wood logs into high-quality woodchips that can be easily transported by truck or rail to processing plants. This involves huge equipment that can move 50-foot logs around like matchsticks. Obviously, this equipment requires a

tremendous investment and highly skilled operators. It isn’t an investment a biofuels producer should take lightly. Carmical says he expects the first generation of cellulosic biofuels plants will get their biomass from existing suppliers using existing equipment. As the industry develops, manufacturers will start to develop equipment especially to harvest biomass for biofuels. “They will wait until they see if biofuels is an ongoing industry or just a little hiccup,” Carmical says. When working with a new processor, Price Biostock will determine if there are existing suppliers that can furnish the needed biomass. “That’s our preference,” he says. “We will even give them longterm contracts to help them feel comfortable expanding. We know that if we just demand they gear up in equipment and manpower, we will just be driving the price up.” The company also analyzes alternative sources of biomass in the area. “We go after the low-hanging fruit, the cheapest Btu (British thermal unit) across the scale,” he added. Wood waste from existing processors and construction debris are some examples of alternatives. 4|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 39

transportation The availability of alternatives depends on the type of process being used to produce biofuels. Thermochemical processes such as gasification have more latitude in feedstocks than processes based on enzymatic hydrolysis.

Moving On A supply chain is only as good as the roads and rails it moves on. Carmical says it is important to bring local officials on board early in the planning process to address any upgrades needed to keep the trucks moving safely and efficiently. If needed improvements are not in place before the trucks begin to roll, it may be harder to get them done down the road. “Normally, most of the biomass is in rural areas,” he says. “Most rural areas are struggling so they will be very happy to see you, so those issues can usually be dealt with up front. But they do need to know it up front.” With dozens of deliveries being made daily, liability is a huge concern when moving woody biomass. Carmical says any business needs to make safety a top priority regarding both personnel and equipment. “We’ve been in business long enough to know that if we aren’t safety conscious, we won’t be in business long,” he says. “We have to be safe both for the public and our own people. That’s just a fundamental part of our business.” Price Biostock drivers attend mandatory safety meetings and receive safety bonuses. “They hear about safety until they are tired of it,” he adds. “It always surprised me as a young manager that you had to work to keep a man safe. They don’t recognize there are things


they have to do for their own good.” All Price Biostock trucks also carry a toll-free number so drivers can report any unsafe activity. “I’m proud to say we get about as many people calling to compliment us on how our drivers work, as complain.” Wood burns and it contains energy that can be converted into biofuels or electricity, which makes it valuable. It also makes it a potential hazard when thousands of tons of woody biomass are gathered in one area. There are solid fire codes already in place that will make biomass processing facilities as safe as possible, as long as those codes are followed, Carmical says. Some of the steps include keeping only enough biomass on-site as is necessary for current production, implementing and following safety plans, and cooperating with safety regulators when they do inspections. “We call those the checker guys who make sure we are applying proper procedure to everything we do,” he adds.

Supply and Demand Because of the complexity of handling and transporting biomass, Carmical thinks a good percentage of cellulosic ethanol companies will eventually opt to contract with a company such as Price Biostock to develop their supply systems rather than create a supply chain from scratch. “I think there will be some that do both,” he says. “There is some misinformation out there that makes people think biomass is like a chemical or something that will show up on order. Biomass is unique with the headaches due to weather and seasonality. Just like the pulp and paper industry



There is some seasonal variation in timber harvesting. Cellulosic ethanol producers using woody biomass will need to plan for extra storage in the spring when soils are too wet for harvesting.

found out when it moved to the U.S. South, sometimes it is best served by someone who specializes in that field.” Biomass startups often neglect the fine details of procurement until they get close to breaking ground. Even then, at times it’s not the processor but the investors in the project that want assurances that there will be a smoothly operating supply line for the plant. “The investors aren’t satisfied with the answer, ‘We’ll

take care of it.’ That’s when companies like ours will get the call,” Carmical says. One example of something a new entrant into biomass processing might not be aware of is the seasonality of wood harvesting. Carmical says that in the Southern forests, there are periods during the spring when timber harvesting ceases. This is done to preserve the forest soil from being torn up by heavy equipment when the ground is saturated. “The forest industry has adopted what are called best management practices,” he says. “We voluntarily don’t harvest during wet periods so we don’t rut up the woods and track mud on the public roads. You have to take that into account and maybe store more inventory on-site. Companies need to be prepared to have a lot of flexibility.” Carmical sees a parallel between the petroleum industry and the future of the biomass industry. “When you look at oil and gas, nobody talks about refineries and pipelines. The discussion and buzz is always on the exploration, the development of the raw material. I think exactly the same thing is going to happen with biofuels. After we start getting the issues of technology addressed, the race will be for the biomass to make the product.” BIO Jerry W. Kram is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. Reach him at or (701) 738-4962.


Dave Lanning, Jim Dooley and Mike Perry, left to right, stand next to the “muncher,” a machine that makes Forest Concepts LLC’s patented WoodStraw erosion control material.



Northwestern Ingenuity Takes

SHAPE Backed by a solid vision and a wealth of ingenuity and experience in the wood products industry, Forest Concepts LLC is poised to revolutionize the way wood products are manufactured and distributed within the wood-based biomass industry. By Bryan Sims

young, innovative company in the Evergreen State has become a valuable player in the biomass industry using a machine it calls the “muncher” to produce its patented WoodStraw. Forest Concepts LLC, a small research forest products company with headquarters in Auburn, Wash., develops, manufactures and markets wood products for environmental restoration, watershed protection, habitat enhancement and sustainable landscapes. Formed in 1998 by forest and natural resource industry professionals, the company’s mission is to use technology to increase the value of nonvalued wood-based materials. The muncher is a compact sawmill that can rapidly shred industrial waste material—off-spec veneer strips called “fishtails” because of their unique shape—from plywood mills and turn it into a product called WoodStraw. Dave Lanning, a mechanical engineer, led the design and development of the machine. The company’s first production-scale model was developed in 2005 and it built three production-scale models in 2006. “[The muncher] is like a heavy-duty paper shredder of sorts,” says Lanning, a 2003 graduate of the University of Washington where he developed the first benchmark prototype as an undergraduate, before eventually being hired by Forest Concepts. “We basically used concepts that have been around since the 1800s with a little bit of finesse and massaged it to make it work with our material. We ended up with a real efficient system.”





Dooley Selected ASABE President-Elect, Forest Concepts Receives Award Jim Dooley, chief technology officer and cofounder of Forest Concepts LLC, has been chosen as president-elect of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers for 2008-2009. Dooley, who will serve as president beginning this year, previously served as president of the Institute of Biological Engineering. “Through leadership in ASABE society, it has allowed me to go to forums with people who are trying to figure out how to apply engineering to meet the national goals of reducing our dependence on foreign oil,” Dooley says. “The office of president-elect, shortly president and then consequentially the year as former president provides me lots of communications opportunities both to influence the direction of the profession but, more importantly, to be in meetings with really bright people who can influence what we do and how we do it.” Dooley, who holds agricultural engineering degrees from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo and the University of California, Davis, has held a number of engineering, technical management and business development positions with major corporations, including Weyerhaeuser and Amfac Inc. Dooley has been awarded five U.S. patents. He has published more than 60 conference papers, journal manuscripts and book chapters. Commercial products resulting from his development programs have won recognition from ASABE, the International Erosion Control Association, the U.S. Forest Service and the Renewing the Countryside Foundation. Additionally, Forest Concepts’ patented WoodStraw technology has been selected as the Rain Bird Engineering Concept of the Year by ASABE. One of ASABE’s major awards, it will be given at their 2008 International Meeting, to be held June 29-July 2 in Providence, R.I. The company will also present a related technical paper at the meeting.


Jim Dooley, chief technology officer and cofounder of Forest Concepts, views the machine as a result of what can be achieved when science and disciplined engineering come together. “The concept is really 120 years old,” says Dooley, who spent 18 years at Weyerhaeuser, one of the world’s largest pulp and paper companies.

How the Muncher Works The muncher produces 1 to 2 wet tons of WoodStraw per hour (roughly 1 dry ton per hour in the biofuels arena), and expends one-third the amount of energy of conventional manufacturing processes. The company uses a pragmatic approach to energy efficiency in its research platforms, Dooley says. “When we formed Forest Concepts, we chose to form under a different paradigm,” he says. “That paradigm was that energy was precious and that producing waste is to be avoided.” Forest Concepts employees manually unload the veneer from pallets and then slide the wood-based material onto the munchers’s tabletop where it’s transformed into WoodStraw, a wood-strand erosion control material the company developed in 2002 in response to the increasing number of wildfires, manmade and other natural disasters in the United States. Invented by Dooley, WoodStraw was supported in part by a USDA Small Business Innovation Research grant in addition to collaborative research and feasibility studies by the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station in Moscow, Idaho, Washington State University, the USDA Agricultural Research Service and the Washington Technology Center in Seattle. In addition to energy efficiency, mitigating dust was another priority that was considered when the muncher was being invented, Dooley says. Out of 100 tons of WoodStraw produced, about 10 pounds of dust is emitted. With minimal dust

innovation emissions, Forest Concepts isn’t required to file for an air permit because it doesn’t produce enough dust to measure at its small industrial complex. The company also painstakingly studied the biology of the material itself before developing the muncher and WoodStraw technologies, which is a reflection of its research and development roots. “We’ve spent a lot of time

figuring out the first principles of how the material behaves in the physical properties and the anatomical structure of the materials before we decide how we make big pieces become small pieces,” Dooley says. According to Dooley, the development of WoodStraw prompted the creation of the muncher, which is a rather unorthodox business strategy in today’s climate, but effective nonetheless. “That’s backwards to what a lot of people do today,” he says. “Most people that make erosion control material start with the process or waste products and then they try to make their adjustments. Fortunately, the muncher technology not only makes [WoodStraw] very well but we believe that it applies to other stuff pretty well too.”


Attracting Attention

Employees of Forest Concepts hand-feed wood veneer into the muncher for conversion into WoodStraw.

With a positive track record backed by its WoodStraw erosion control technology and the muncher, Forest Concepts is rapidly increasing its market presence and is garnering attention from a variety of markets. Some of the most notable accomplishments involving WoodStraw include its application in fire rehabilitation projects such as after the California wildfires last year. Another was a reclamation project in Utah’s Crandel Canyon Mine where it was used to stabilize holes in the ground after six miners were trapped. WoodStraw is currently approved by the Washington Department of Transportation and the Oregon Department of Transportation, and accepted by the Washington Department of Ecology as erosion control mulch. Public agencies, nonprofit environmental groups, hunting and fishing organizations, contractors and private landowners are the primary WoodStraw customers. In its first two years of commercial production, Forest Concepts delivered more than 2,700 tons to


innovation the USDA’s Forest Service. In 2007, the company produced approximately 87 truckloads from its Auburn facility for erosion control projects in the western United States. “When they need something that works in a really sensitive area, they call us,” says Forest Concepts Chief Executive Officer Mike Perry. WoodStraw is unique because it handles like hay and can be baled in common sizes for easy transport. It can be applied by hand, blower or helicopter, which is referred to as “helimulch.” According to Perry, the USDA Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management represent about 85 percent of Forest Concepts’ business. One of the most prevailing advantages of using WoodStraw is that it prevents weed growth and promotes revegetation, Perry says. “It just costs an enormous amount of money to get rid of [weeds] and most of the time [customers] can’t get rid of them,” he says. “Because we manufacture it from wood, there’s definitely no weeds or seeds involved. It gives [customers] a lot of comfort in knowing it’s not going to introduce invasive weeds.” Forest Concepts’ proprietary muncher technology is also gaining ground, developing distribution partnerships and licensees for its proprietary wood-munching process. Demand for the machine could be even greater as cellulosic ethanol plants start to look for efficient feedstock procurement methods. Additionally, Forest Concepts is keeping its options open and would be willing to sell its entire WoodStraw brand to a third party who could take it national or international. “For the


underlying [wood-munching] technology, we’re continuing to develop the patent process that enables us to invest intellectual property protection on it,” Dooley says. “If there were a biofuels plant today that wanted to install this technology we would work with them to adapt it to their specific needs under a license. If there were an equipment manufacturer that wanted to compete based on our technology, it would be available.”

Improving Logistics In an industry where wood collection, removal and recycling is a necessity, finding the most cost-effective and efficient means of handling and transporting wood can be a challenge. However, Forest Concepts has discovered a practical method that could relieve short-term impediments. As part of the USDA Small Business Innovation Research contract initiated in 2005, Forest Concepts has developed a biomass baling system that can be installed at the end of its wood-munching process. After two years of characterizing the woody biomass resources in three western states, the company determined that the project reduces the cost of transportation and distribution. Forest Concepts began design work on the baler last year and has since completed the second phase of the project. At press time, the baler was 90 percent complete. Once it’s finished it will undergo rigorous field trials. “It’s not just a normal baler that you would see in an industrial plant or you pull behind a tractor,” Lanning says. “It’s actually a pretty smart

innovation machine that uses a third of the energy that you would normally use for [producing bales of] this size. A lot of engineering went into making this highly efficient and effective baler.” Baling and collecting wood-based materials isn’t new for Forest Concepts. The company has been baling WoodStraw since 2002. The company intends to introduce its proprietary baling technology to the biofuels sector where it could easily be used to bale cellulosic feedstocks such as corn stover, switchgrass, woody biomass and other cellulosic material. While it was conducting problem analysis on the baler, Forest Concepts discovered that tree service companies and landscapers use chippers because the chipped material is easier to haul than loose brush, and to avoid costly tipping fees, Dooley says. Forest Concepts’ baling technology would not only enhance biomass handling activities but also improve transportation methods at a reasonable cost. “What you want to do is expand on existing capabilities and so what we’re doing is leveraging the existing systems for recycling,” Dooley says. “We can add value to them either by consulting, partnering or forming joint ventures on the logistics side.” The muncher is also being repurposed to convert urban woodwaste into bundles that can be more efficiently transported than wood chips. “For us, as we go forward, we think there are lots of ways for integrating urban woody materials as feedstocks into the traditional wood products industry, and as feedstocks for the solid/liquid biofuels markets,” Dooley says. “We

probably won’t operate collection centers because there are people who already do that for other materials. But, we will continue to develop the logistics and the management systems for that because we understand both the source and the market.” Although the widespread consensus in the industry is that cellulosic biomass cannot be cost effectively shipped more than 50 miles, Forest Concepts’ baling and transportation project is designed to endure a 150- to 300-mile-transport radius. To make sure it was feasible, Forest Concepts conducted 350-mile test shipments from Seattle to Medford, Ore., last summer with positive results. As for drying the woody biomass, Forest Concepts has recognized the need for creating cost-effective drying methods. However, the company doesn’t anticipate it will tackle that issue in the immediate future. “Today, huge amounts of energy go into drying the wood material,” Dooley says. “There are definitely big opportunities in drying for us or somebody else. We just haven’t gotten to it yet.” BIO Bryan Sims is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. Reach him at bsims or (701) 746-4962.

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Organizing Biomass Farmers Biomass projects don’t typically follow a cookiecutter approach. The lay of the land, the existing farm structure and transportation system make each one unique. By Susanne Retka Schill


iomass is local. That may be an obvious statement, but when it comes to designing biomass supply systems for the future, all of the implications of that statement will be front and center. Biomass Magazine highlights three projects that are organizing farmers and learning about the challenges that lie ahead. The newest project is in the midst of western Minnesota’s corn and soybean country where the land is mostly flat and 90 percent is planted to row crops. The University of Minnesota-Morris is building a biomass gasification plant to help heat its campus and to provide a platform for biomass research. In east Tennessee, the farms are small, nestled in the rolling hills and among the multiple tributaries of the Tennessee River in the valley between the Smokey Mountains and the Cumberland Plateau. Cow/calf operations and dairies still dot the wooded landscape and the most common crops are soybeans and wheat. The University of Tennessee is partnering with Mascoma Corp. in the Tennessee Biofuels Project to develop a demonstration research facility using switchgrass, and eventually wood, to produce cellulosic ethanol. Not all of Iowa is flat with miles of corn and soybean fields lining straight roads. Southeastern Iowa has less productive land with rolling hills that are prone to soil loss when planted to row crops. With more than a decade of switchgrass research led by the Chariton Valley Resource and Conservation District, its project is in a holding pattern and some of the acres planted to 4|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 51


Superheated Steam Dryer It’s easy being green

switchgrass for the research phase are being converted back into row crops to take Introducing a new advantage of record corn and soybean Biomass drying markets. The regional power utility, Alliant technology that’s Energy Corp., is ready to cofire 5 percent as environmentally conscious as you are. switchgrass with coal at its 726 megawatt Ottumwa (Iowa) Generating Station. The Superheated Steam However, the utility wants to buy a readyDryer incorporates a unique technology to-fire switchgrass powder. That puts the that uses super heated ball back into the court of nonprofit Prairie steam as a medium Lands Bio-products Inc., which was organto dry a wide range ized during the research phase, to develop a of products in a closedbusiness contracting growers to transport loop system. This dryer can handle moist and process switchgrass. Prairie Lands material — from wood Biomass LLC is a skeleton business awaitchips to paper pulp. ing the completion of the feasibility study The environmental and business plan needed to raise the capibenefits are impressive: tal to launch on a commercial scale. no particulate emissions are released into the Although the locale shapes the design atmosphere and energy of each biomass procurement system, recovery is between these common themes emerge when talk80 and 90 percent. ing to project organizers: Moreover, a steam atmosphere eliminates It is critical to engage farmers early the risk of fires or in discussions with the end users so each explosions, as no oxygen party understands the issues faced by the is present. other. In essence, they hold each other High energy Operating costs of hostage: the farmer will have one market, recovery the Superheated Steam through and the biomass user will be dependent on Dryer are a fraction of a optimal heat standard dryer in terms a limited number of farmers within an ecoexchange of energy consumption. nomical trucking distance of the facility. Depending upon prodCommoditization isn’t likely to hapuct and particle size, the Safe for the pen with biomass. Due to the sheer bulk normal residence time environment of the product in the involved, farmers aren’t likely to be able to system is between 5 and Controls sidestep the local market and load their bio60 seconds — a rapid product mass on barges headed for export in the and efficient process. moisture way corn and soybeans are handled. Thus, Its small footprint, and quality public forums for price discovery that exist design flexibility and ease of operation make for commodities like corn, soybeans and oil Ideal for bark, it a good choice for any are not likely to emerge for biomass. wood chips, size of business. sawdust, Quality discounts or premiums will An investment in our cellulose likely be site specific. Tolerances for high drying technology has derivatives moisture, weathering, mold and contaminumerous advantages and paper for the Biomass industry. nants such as dirt may vary greatly dependpulp ing on the technology used to convert the biomass into energy. For example, the tolerance for dirt in some cellulosic processes Barr-Rosin may be as low as 0.025 percent and high moisture switchgrass can increase grinding In North America costs by nearly one-third. 92 Prevost, Boisbriand, Quebec, Canada J7G 2S2 Tel: (450) 437-5252 Fax: (450) 437-6740 Biomass prices will vary greatly 255 38th Avenue, Suite G St. Charles, Illinois 60174, USA Tel: (630) 659-3980 Fax: (630) 584-4406


from region to region because a major component of the pricing structure will be the price needed to make the dedicated biomass crop competitive with alternative land uses in that specific region. Harvesting and transportation costs will vary depending on the existing infrastructure when the biomass crop system begins to develop—whether farmers have baling equipment or other harvesting systems that can be adapted. Each region will differ in the number of trucks and kinds of trailers available to haul the biomass, not to mention road limits which vary not only by state, but by individual highways. Conservation concerns will have a major impact, and are likely to be different depending on the specific ecosystem involved. The points where dedicated biomass crops and crop residue harvests interface with federal farm and conservation programs will require close attention.

Minnesota: Biomass for Heat One of Joel Tallaksen’s objectives as the biomass project coordinator for the University of Minnesota-Morris is to develop a tool box for others contemplating a biomass project. UMM began construction last summer on an $8.9 million biomass gasification plant to heat nearly 1 million square feet of campus buildings. Future plans include adding absorption coolers to provide summer air conditioning and a steam turbine to generate electricity. The primary feedstock will be corn stover, although research projects are planned to investigate other feedstocks. Studies will also focus on ash properties, the impact of residue removal on soils and more. Heating the university campus is expected to take 8,000 to 10,000 tons of biomass per year, Tallaksen says, of which two-thirds have already been contracted for the first year. Initial meetings were held last summer to contract a limited amount of biomass to be baled last fall for the gasifier’s startup runs after construction is completed this summer. The university developed a request for proposals and asked farmers to

industry bid the cost per ton they would need to deliver baled biomass throughout the year to the university. “I told them we don’t want to make bad neighbors, and to let us know what they felt they needed,” he says. The average bid for corn stover was $74 per ton delivered. The university also received lower cost bids for wood chips, which they included in the feedstock mix to bring the overall average cost for biomass to $54 per ton. In order to collect and evaluate biomass from as many suppliers as possible, the maximum tonnage accepted from any one producer was 400 tons. “One well-organized supplier could potentially supply UMM’s entire need,” Tallaksen says. “But to maintain the community nature of the project it was important to have multiple biomass producers involved.” Exploring different biomass handling systems, developing quality standards and testing protocols are all part of the research design as the project advances.

Tennessee: Biomass for Ethanol


The University of Tennessee is another university deeply involved in developing a biomass system. After several years of

work on switchgrass production practices, this year the Tennessee Biofuels Project began gearing up to enroll 8,000 acres to fuel a 5 MMgy cellulosic ethanol plant being built in cooperation with Mascoma Corp. Tennessee granted $40.7 million for building the demonstration-scale plant, which will include ongoing research capabilities. The state also provided $8.5 million for farmer incentives to plant switchgrass. Based on the economic analysis done in earlier research, UT established a price of $450 per acre which amortizes the switchgrass establishment costs over the three years of the contract, says Burt English, UT professor of agricultural economics. After a round of meetings planned by his colleague, Clark Garland, UT senior agricultural economist, the researchers chose 16 farmers from the nearly 40 who expressed interest in signing contracts. Most of the 725 acres signed up for the first year are coming from cropland, he adds, although a few are currently in pasture or hay. The land will be used this fall for trials designed to establish switchgrass in existing grassland. The second round of contracts will be solicited this summer for 2,000 more acres,

The University of Minnesota-Morris expects to burn 8,000 to 10,000 tons of biomass to heat the campus each year. The gasification plant will be completed this summer.


industry which will allow more hayland and grassland to be enrolled since the contracts will be awarded in time for fall field preparation. By the third year, the goal is to reach the full 8,000 acres of switchgrass. “The reason we aren’t planting 8,000 acres the first year is because there is a lack of seed,” English adds. He says the contracts are rather complex, and include a fuel-charge index which will adjust the contract price up or down depending on the price of tractor fuel in October of each year. The first switchgrass harvest this fall is expected to yield 2 dry tons per acre, which is about one-third of its full potential of 7 dry tons per acre. Harvesting and storage methods are being studied this winter, comparing square and round bales that are both tarped and left uncovered, as well as being set on the ground, on gravel and on pallets. Another system being investigated is the encasement of bales in plastic tubes that can hold up to 30 bales and protect them from weathering, English says. Next year, researchers want to experiment with the cotton module harvest system, which transformed the cotton harvest in the 1970s. Special wagons are used to transfer cotton from the picker working its way through the field to a module builder parked on the field’s edge. The load of cotton is dumped over the top of the module builder which has a hydraulic tamper traveling along the top edge to compress the fluffy cotton bolls into a solid bale that measures about 8-feet-wide, 8-feet-tall and 30-feetlong. When it’s full, the back door of the module builder is opened, the side walls lift up on wheels, and a tractor pulls the machine away

from the bale. The bale is left sitting on the ground and is covered with a tarp if it’s going to be left in the field for any length of time. When the gin needs more supplies, a module truck backs up to the huge bale. The truck bed tilts to slide under the leading edge of the cotton bale and the live bottom on the truck bed helps to draw the bale onto the truck as it backs up. Loading the approximately 30,000-pound-bale of cotton takes just a few minutes and the truck can travel at highway speeds to the cotton gin. Such a system, if it can be modified to successfully compact switchgrass, promises to greatly reduce the handling costs associated with square or round bales. English sees a number of issues that have yet to be worked out—how large a contingency supply will be needed above a oneyear supply for the biorefinery, whether to store on farm or in a centralized location, and if bales are stored in a central location who takes ownership of the biomass. He believes because of the size of the farms and the availability of equipment in this area of Tennessee, farmers will be harvesting and stacking their own switchgrass bales, although they may not be loading the trucks.

Iowa: Biomass for Cofiring The Iowa switchgrass project is further along than most with more than a decade of research. “There’s a big difference between feasibility studies and commercialization, and there’s a difference between taking a crop residue and developing a dedicated energy

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The University of Tennessee is testing methods to determine how the baling system and storage affects quality.

crop,” says Bill Beldon, who organized a group of farmers in the early stages of the Iowa project and is now the consulting manager for Prairie Lands, the nonprofit farm group that is organizing a switchgrass procurement and processing system to supply Alliant Energy’s Ottumwa generating station. A core group of 30, out of an original group of 40 farmers, are still involved in the project, which is looking to raise about $150,000 to pay for a final feasibility study and business plan for the biomass harvest system. The

group estimates it will cost $7 million to $8 million to launch the project—an exact amount will be determined in the business plan. To support the research phase, the farmer cooperators seeded 5,000 to 6,000 acres to switchgrass, although only about 3,200 acres were harvested in any one year because the grass was planted on marginal land with environmental and wildlife sensitivity. To go commercial, Prairie Lands estimates it will have to expand that acreage 10-fold or more to supply the 200,000 tons of switchgrass that Alliant will require each year. They’ve lost ground, however, as some of the switchgrass was broken up to seed row crops. Other land has changed hands since the program began, and the new owners are not involved. On the positive side, the Natural Resource Conservation Service is enrolling biomass acres in the Environmental Quality Improvement Program, signing up 2,000 acres last year, Belden reports. The program involves a cost-share for establishment and allows harvesting for biomass. Belden says that the deeper he digs into commercializing a large-scale project, the more questions he has about the details. “There’s value just in getting those questions down on paper,” he says. BIO Susanne Retka Schill is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. Reach her at or (701) 738-4962.


National Forest Biomass

off-limits for RFS In national forests from Arizona to Montana, thousands of slash piles left by the timber industry could be used to produce cellulosic ethanol. Before that can happen, the language in the Energy Bill must be changed. By Hope Deutscher




rom renewable energy companies to private organizations, many entities see the potential for energy derived from biomass sitting in piles in the United States’ 155 national forests. The Energy Independence & Security Act of 2007, which was signed into law in December, includes a historic 36 billion gallon renewable fuels standard (RFS), a portion of which will be made from biomass. A last-minute change in the legislation’s definition of renewable biomass, however, prevents almost all federal land biomass—such as trees, wood, brush, thinnings, chips and slash—from counting toward the

mandate if it is used to manufacture biofuels. “At times we get calls for prospective biomass consumers and cellulosic ethanol investors who want to know how much wood the Black Hills can provide,” says Blaine Cook, a forest silviculturist with the Black Hills National Forest, who is also the biomass coordinator for the forest. Currently there are 3,126 slash piles in the Black Hills National Forest from saw timber harvest and thinning, which Cook says is equivalent to 239,000 green tons. And there are slash piles totaling more than a million tons (air dry) that are 1 to 4 years of age in the forest.


U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., notes that biomass was eligible to be counted toward the 2005 RFS, but when the 2007 energy package was crafted behind closed doors, it changed the way that waste material from national forests could be used. “America’s national forests provide one of our greatest renewable resources,” Thune says. “To exclude slash piles and other wastes from within our national forests to be counted towards the renewable fuels standard simply makes no sense. It is unfortunate that the harmful definition of renewable biomass was inserted by the House Democratic leadership at the last minute, and it is critical that Congress fix this definition before the new RFS rules take effect on Jan. 1, 2009.” The U.S. Forest Service, timber and alternative energy groups have met with South Dakota’s congressional delegation to discuss the exclusion of this biomass from the federal Energy Bill. Thune and U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, DS.D., have since introduced separate bills to change the definition of renewable bio-



Slash piles, consisting of tree tops and limbs left by the logging and timber industry, lie in a clearing of the forest.

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policy ‘We’re thinning and logging in areas of high risk from insects and fire so the bugs can’t get established and fires can burn at low intensity.’

mass, as it was written in earlier versions of the Energy Bill. The legislation also promotes the development and use of cellulosic ethanol derived from woody biomass on federal lands. The Black Hills National Forest, a dense ponderosa pine forest covers an area 125 miles long and 65 miles wide in western South Dakota and northeastern Wyoming. “This provision not only discourages the use of such biomass, but in doing so could result in a

decrease in responsible forest management by denying land managers an important outlet for the excessive biomass loads that often accumulate on public lands,” Herseth Sandlin says. “Amending the definition of renewable biomass in the Energy Bill will greatly improve our ability to manufacture renewable energy from our forestlands, both public and private, all over the country. This would bring tremendous benefits, not only to our environment, to forest health, and to our national security, but it will also provide an economically viable outlet for forest byproducts that could revitalize the local economies of hundreds of small forest communities across the country, including those in the Black Hills.” Herseth Sandlin’s bill significantly broadens the definition of cellulosic ethanol within the RFS to include more biomass gathered from federal land and would allow RFS credit for broad categories of biomass from nonfederal and tribal lands including agricultural commodities, plants and trees, algae, crop

residue, waste material (including wood waste and wood residues), animal waste and byproducts (including fats, oils, greases and manure), construction waste, and food and yard waste. The Renewable Biofuels Facilitation Act was cosponsored by a geographically diverse and bipartisan group, including representatives Greg Walden, R-Ore., Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., Bart Stupak, D-Mich., Mike Ross, D-Ark., Chip Pickering, R-Miss., Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., Jo Bonner, R-Ala., and John Peterson, R-Pa. Under the proposed legislation, biomass projects conducted on federal lands would still have to comply with federal and state law, as well as applicable land management plans. On Feb. 7, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the RFS. The National Forest System and Forest Service, an agency of the USDA, manages 155 national forests and 222 research and experimental forests, as well as 20 national grasslands and other special areas, covering more than 192 million

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policy ‘What I foresee for management strategies and logging systems is that there will be slash piles for a long time into the future that will be available for some sort of utilization.’

acres of public land. The national forests, which were first called forest reserves, began with the Forest Reserve Act of 1891. The act allowed presidents to establish forest reserves from timber-covered public domain land. Throughout the years, leaders and visionaries have worked with scientific and conservation organizations, as well as forest professionals to retain millions of acres of federally designated forest land for future generations. Black Hills National Forest officials say their goal is to have a healthy forest

that is green, diverse and productive, and provides homes for wildlife and fish. The forest is actively thinned to fend off mountain pine beetles and reduce the risk of crown fires. As well, the logging and timber industry helps the forest service thin the forest. “We’re thinning and logging in areas of high risk from insects and fire so the bugs can’t get established and fires can burn at low intensity,” says Dave Thom, Black Hills national resources staff officer. Trees that are thinned and logged, and treated with prescribed burns don’t have to compete with so many other trees for water and nutrients. They grow faster, are healthier and result in stronger more resilient forests, Thom says.

Energy Source KL Process Design Group, a biofuels design-build company based in Rapid City, S.D., recently started a cellulosic ethanol facility in Upton, Wyo. The company is utilizing wood chips from private landowners in the Black Hills. “The Black Hills National Forest has several pockets within it of private landowners so we will be utilizing those particular pockets of wooded area for now. And, of course, our hope is that on the backend the Energy Bill will be changed and open that up.” A juvenile corrections facility south of Custer, S.D., which just put in a biomass furnace, and a Rapid City cabinet maker are also using wood waste from the forest. All three sources just want a couple trucks a week, Cook says. “The remaining piles out there reach a point of starting to decay and once the wood fiber starts to go, after about a year and a half, they are burned.” Tom Martin, media relations manager for KL Process, says the company is working with the state’s congressional leaders to change federal policy. “We’re trying to work hard with our congressional leaders in South Dakota to perhaps get some concessions on that or even turn it around,” Martin says. “We don’t think from a useable standpoint that it makes a lot of sense, it kind of takes the teeth out 60 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 4|2008

policy of the cellulosic part of the Energy Bill, and so we’re working hard to try and get that turned around a bit.” At public meetings, KL Process President Dave Litzen has said the biomass in the Black Hills National Forest slash piles could produce 30 million gallons of ethanol. It’s difficult to find anyone who is opposed to using federal forest biomass for energy. Representatives from the South Dakota Chapter of the Sierra Club have said that the national Sierra Club and the local chapter don’t oppose using wood waste from the national forests for energy. However, they don’t want the Black Hills National Forest to be used a as a fuel farm; any biomass gathered for alternative fuel should be done within the existing forest management plan. Headquartered in Rapid City, the Black Hills Forest Resource Association is a nonprofit membership-supported organization devoted to improving forest management, decision-making and policies on the Black Hills National Forest. BHFRA members support protecting the Black Hills’ forest environment while maintaining its relationship with dependent communities and economies. BHFRA Director Tom Troxel says the association supports HersethSandlin’s bill. “When the loggers are logging, they bring the trees into the landing where the tops and limbs are cut off,” he says. “And so we have these great big piles at every landing. For the most part they are just burned and there’s nobody that wants them left in the woods. The wildlife biologists don’t want those piles left at the landings. If those [slash piles] were all left in the woods, it would be a fire hazard and really, anything that we can do now that would encourage any sort of utilization of that is common sense. If we can utilize it rather than burn it, then I think it benefits all around.” As more companies around the country research the use of wood waste as an economical alternative fuel source, Troxel says he would like to see federal policy support for that. “I’d like to see

federal energy policy such that it would encourage use of these piles,” he says. “It’s an economic benefit and it fits into the whole energy independence a lot of folks are thinking about for the United States. If there’s a way that we can produce this energy here at home with our own resources, that’s a plus.” Troxel says for the foreseeable future there is energy potential from the biomass supply in the Black Hills National Forest. “I think there’s going to be an ongoing and continuous need for forest manage-

ment in the Black Hills,” he says. ”What I foresee for management strategies and logging systems is that there will be slash piles for a long time into the future that will be available for some sort of utilization.” BIO Hope Deutscher is the Biomass Magazine online editor. Reach her at hdeutscher or (701) 373-0636.



An aerial view of Taylor Recycling Facility LLC in Montgomery, N.Y. PHOTO: TAYLOR BIOMASS ENERGY LLC



Construction Waste to Biomass to Energy &

Back Again

Jim Taylor is living his version of an old saw: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. New York-based Taylor Biomass Energy LLC recycles construction and demolition debris, waste wood and municipal garbage to feed a revolutionary biomass gasification system. His system uses hot circulating sand to heat the feedstock and convert it into a synthesized fuel gas, which powers a high-efficiency turbine or generator. By Sarah Smith




im Taylor’s rubble-to-riches foray into the biomass gasification industry was a natural outgrowth of his other business ventures. In his formative years he was a mogul of mulch, a guru of garbage, composting and lobbying for refuse reform and changes in human behavior that contributed to overflowing landfills. He targeted the governments that allowed it. “Stop wasting our waste!” is one of his favorite catch phrases. His tree trimming business evolved into an operation that cleared land of trees, stumps and debris. By 1987, his flagship company, Taylor Recycling Facility LLC, began perfecting a process to sort mixed waste streams and recycle the debris. Taylor Recycling, located in Montgomery, N.Y., recognized a market for scrap metal, cardboard, mulch and landfill cover. In late 1989, his business hit a snag when New York passed legislation making tree residue a regulated waste. “We were told, ‘You gotta take it to an approved place,’” he recalls. There wasn’t one, and it turned out to be Taylor’s eureka moment. A gasification idea was born. But he got sidetracked along the way. When the twin towers collapsed on that fateful day in September 2001, Taylor used his company’s expertise to implement two custom forensic systems that filtered a halfmillion tons of rubble. Taylor Recycling’s processes enabled the FBI and New York Police Department investigators to sift through ashes and waste materials to recover potential evidence and human remains. It Taylor took nine months. Now the Big Easy is calling. The bayou has been burdened by more than 20 million tons of construction debris from the devestation caused by Hurricane Katrina. Taylor has his sights


Taylor’s Technology Process ABCs Jim Taylor doesn’t believe waste should be categorized by where it originated, such as municipal, commercial, household, hazardous, etc. “It’s organic, inorganic or hazardous,” he says. “Otherwise you get into a constant regulatory battle.” The owner of Taylor Biomass Energy LLC admits this philosophy will cause educational hurdles with the regulatory arena and consumers. To help people understand his business Taylor has devised his ABCs of process technology. A is all about the sorting, separating and recycling at the waste handling facility. B is the gasification process. In the case of his fast pyrolysis gasification system, B is for blender. C is the power island, the power generation, the power interconnect area. D is the finance world. “Not only does the industry side have to learn about the finance side of the arena, worse yet, the finance arena has to learn about this brand new industry sector called the biomass renewable energy technology world,” Taylor says. “It’s exciting to move and transform the world forward and yet very difficult.”

profile ‘I’m in the waste business and I’m solving waste problems, and it starts out with reducing, reusing, recycling, sorting, separating, cleaning and preparing it.’

company. Abengoa Bioenergy Corp. was selected by the U.S. DOE in the 2007 round of grant awards to build a celluslosic ethanol plant in Kansas. The grant application submittal included using a Taylor gasifier to produce steam energy for the project. Meanwhile, Taylor occupies himself with his waste-to-biomass technology that is awaiting a patent. It resembles a blender. But, because Taylor thinks big, this model would be a bartender’s high-torque special. Taylor’s gasification technology SOURCE: TAYLOR BIOMASS ENERGY LLC

set on New Orleans and its mountains of garbage. Area scrap wood and other materials traditionally found in the mixed construction and demolition stream are ideal for his process. This will be a time-consuming process and Taylor admits to being frustrated at the pace of the clean-up and Louisiana regulatory hurdles. He’s actually eyeing nearly two dozen sites in and around New Orleans, but is keeping busy at other projects in the meantime. One of those endeavors is a waste project in Uganda, currently in the due diligence stage. Another is a partnership with Abengoa Bioenergy, the St. Louis affiliate of a Spain-based

One Gigantic Cocktail: Hold the Tequila Taylor’s proprietary system is called fast pyrolysis biomass gasification. It uses two vertical tubes nearly 70 feet tall. Each hollow tube is 4-feet in diameter. Sand is heated to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit in one tube, and is then jettisoned into the second tube along with a smaller quantity of chopped biomass. The mixture is blended like a mega cocktail so that the whirling sand granules convert the engulfed biomass into methane, hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Some residual fly ash and char remain. The gas is then siphoned off and cleaned. The fly ash has construction applications as a stabilizer in concrete and asphalt. The char and sand are fed back into the first tube, where the char is burned off to heat the sand and the process starts all


profile over again. Emissions are minimized by the removal of recyclables, household hazardous waste, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics and treated wood during front-end separation. But emissions are also eliminated because wood and other biomass fuels have no sulfur, and Taylor is emphatic that his process doesn’t involve combustion. He says construction and demolition feedstock has inherently high reactive qualities, so don’t ever ask him to “burn” your cocktail. Taylor’s gasification system also results in the destruction of hydrocarbon tars, which he views as an essential element in gas cleanup. Taylor Biomass employs a proprietary method of converting the tars into additional synthesis gas. The composition of the synthesis gas is altered to significantly increase its hydrogen-to-carbon-monoxide ratio. The process hasn’t been flawless. The company is working to perfect the separation process crucial to the initial phase of the operation. In September 2007, fireworks didn’t get culled out of the waste stream and exploded in the grinder. Pyrotechnic debris injured two of his employees and caused significant damage to the equipment. His road to solid waste success has had other bumps along the way. In late 2007, Taylor and his companies emerged successfully from a brutal lawsuit filed by a competitor claiming they had stolen trade secrets when Taylor hired away the rival’s chief engineer. A U.S. District Court in Georgia dismissed the claim. Taylor isn’t breaking out the waste cocktail blender yet, however, as an appeal is expected. The lawsuit would have essentially forced Taylor and his waste empire out of business, so he waits while the appeals process slowly churns. He’s good at the waiting game. He’s currently dealing with a half-dozen local, state and federal regulatory agencies awaiting approval to get his behemoth blender shaking. He tentatively plans on the first commercial gasification in late 2009. In the end, Taylor simply wants to be known as the wizard of waste. He envisions a world where refuse-fired generators will power the globe. “I tell everyone I’m not in the energy world,” he says. “I’m in the waste business and I’m solving waste problems, and it starts out with reducing, reusing, recycling, sorting, separating, cleaning and preparing it.” Taylor sees biomass gasification as the culmination of his dreams. “We’re not out to solve the energy problem even though we’re going to contribute to doing that. I say we continue to waste our waste.” BIO Sarah Smith is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. Reach her at or (701) 663-5002.




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Ethanol Feedstock Seventy-five percent of U.S. oranges are grown in Florida. The Sunshine State’s citrus processing industry produces nearly all of the orange juice consumed in the country, resulting in up to five tons of citrus waste each year. Options for turning that waste into something useful are limited, so the possibility of using citrus waste as a feedstock for ethanol plants is being closely monitored. By Kris Bevill


mericans love oranges. According to the USDA, the fruit consistently ranks third among the nation’s favorite fresh fruits and it’s the No. 1 fruit juice. Americans consume two-and-a-half-times more orange juice than apple juice, making juice production a huge industry for Florida citrus processors. But before you drink that next glass of OJ, consider that half of the orange used to make that juice becomes waste material. In fact, the Florida citrus industry produces 3.5 million to 5 million tons of citrus waste every year. Which begs the question: What possibilities are being explored to turn that waste into something useful, and who’s brave enough to try? Bill Widmer, a research chemist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s Citrus and Subtropical Products Laboratory in Winter Haven, Fla., has been working on the conversion of citrus peels to ethanol the past four years. His work is a continuation of research first con-

ducted in the 1990s by Karel Grohmann, who developed the conversion process. At the time of Grohmann’s research, gas prices were relatively low and enzyme costs were high. When Widmer took on the project four years ago, gas prices were substantially higher and enzyme costs had come down enough to make it possible to further explore citrus-peel-to-ethanol technology. Widmer set out to modify the process into something would be economically feasible and that could be a continuous process for commercialization purposes.

Technology His research was a success. Four years ago it took $12 to $15 worth of enzymes to produce 1 gallon of ethanol. Widmer was able to lower the enzyme cost to approximately 80 cents per gallon and create a pretreatment process capable of running on a continuous basis. The process consists of using the raw waste citrus peels and treating them to remove the peel oil present in the waste stream before liquefying the peels to begin the conversion to ethanol.


feedstock ‘We’ve got a little niche feedstock and we’ve got to play to the strengths of that feedstock.’


The peel oil removed in the pretreatment process is called d-limonene and is considered to be a valuable byproduct of citrus peel conversion. Widmer has developed a way to remove the oil and recover it for use in solvents and as a fragrance in cleaning products. “D-limonene has a value of 50 cents to $1 per pound,” Widmer says. “If we were to convert citrus peel to ethanol and only get ethanol it wouldn’t be feasible, but for every gallon of ethanol we produce, we also get one pound of d-limonene.” Widmer says it costs approximately $2 to produce one gallon of ethanol and producers can expect to receive $1.50 to $2 per gallon of ethanol sold. Add to that approximately 75 cents per pound of d-limonene recovered, and the additional revenue of pelletized animal feed that can be produced from leftover waste and the citrus peel conversion process is a money maker.

The Players Widmer says there are three patents pending concerning his research. The USDA and Southeast Biofuels LLC have rights to all three patents. Southeast Biofuels will be able to negotiate with the USDA for exclusive rights to the technology. The company, a subsidiary of Xethanol Corp., received a $500,000 grant through Florida’s Farm to Fuel initiative in January and plans to construct a $6 million pilot plant in Auburndale, Fla. The plant will be colocated on property owned by Cutrale Citrus Juices USA Inc. After initial testing,


Citrus waste at a Florida processing facility is moved by conveyor to a peel bin for further processing.



Orange waste being processed into ethanol at the USDA/ARS citrus lab’s 100 gallon pilot system in Winter Haven, Fla.

Xethanol plans to expand the plant to produce up to 8 MMgy of ethanol from about 800,000 tons of citrus waste annually supplied by Cutrale. Jay Levenstein, Florida’s deputy commissioner of agriculture and consumer services, says his department supports the continued development of citrus waste to ethanol. “The quicker we have a local ethanol supply, the better,” he says. According to Levenstein, the ethanol market in Florida is growing. The department will continue to support citruswaste-to-ethanol projects through grant programs such as the Farm to Fuel initiative. He says the department would ultimate-

ly like to see citrus growers benefit economically from these projects via cooperative agreements with processors, somewhat like the ethanol co-ops in parts of the Midwest. In order for citrus-peel-to-ethanol facilities to be successful, it is vital for those plants to be collocated with citrus processors. Because the waste product is 80 percent water, the product needs to be converted within 10 hours of its production, Widmer says. “Even though the d-limonene is a stabilizer, it is localized so there are parts [of the waste] that will ferment and rot in a very short time,” he says. David Stewart, president of Citrus Energy LLC in Boca Raton, Fla., also believes that colocating is the key to a successful ethanol plant. “We’ve got a little niche feedstock and we’ve got to play to the strengths of that feedstock,” he says. “We basically just get the material delivered to us via conveyor and we’ve got a continuous supply of feedstock for seven or eight months of the year. By colocating, having a continuous supply and by piggybacking on top of the citrus processors permits, the project becomes a lot more economically attractive.” Stewart formed his technology company two years ago to focus on converting citrus waste to ethanol and received a $250,000 grant from the Farm to Fuel program for that purpose last year. Citrus Energy and FPL Energy LLC have teamed up to start a commercial-scale citrus-peel-to-ethanol plant. FPL is the nation’s leader in wind energy and operates the two largest solar fields in the world. The company is branching out into citrus-peel-to-ethanol production as part of its strategy to become a clean energy company, according to project manager Cindy Tindell. Tindell says that although the FPL-Citrus Energy project has a long way to go, their planned 4 MMgy plant could be



Florida Oranges by the Numbers

If all the citrus waste in Florida were to be used in ethanol facilities, the state could produce 30 MMgy to 50 MMgy.

Oranges grown in Florida: 75 percent

Orange juice produced for U.S. consumption: 90 percent

Amount of citrus waste produced annually in Florida: 3.5-5 tons

Amount of waste required for each gallon of ethanol: 150-180 pounds

Potential amount of ethanol production: 50 MMgy


operational in two years. Cost of feedstock, capital and technical factors are all need to be considered in developing this project. “The technology is there at a price,” Tindell says. The proposed FPL/Citrus Energy plant will cost $35 million to $45 million to build, which when broken down will cost producers $10 for each gallon of ethanol made. Stewart says they are negotiating with citrus processors and, as soon as a lease is signed, construction on a plant can begin. The technology is ready to be used, Stewart says. “We’re using enzymatic hydrolysis,” he says. “There are various technologies out there on biomass conversion to ethanol, from gasification to acid hydrolysis or some combination thereof. Ours is relatively straightforward, but actually building a commercial plant is a challenge. It’s the same challenge that people using wood waste are facing. There are a lot of pilot plants and small-scale facilities but actually building a commercial facility is yet to be done.” Southern Gardens Citrus is the third-largest grower of oranges in Florida and produces 120 million gallons of not-from-concentrate orange juice each year. President Rick Kress is cautiously optimistic about converting citrus waste into ethanol. “Technologywise, it’s doable,” he says. “Commercially it’s yet to be determined. It’s very expensive. Questions are still to be answered, but we always have to look at the opportunity. We have to take the steps to utilize every ounce of whatever we purchase.”

feedstock Southern Gardens Citrus will process 850,000 tons of oranges this year, half of which will become waste material.

Current Waste Uses From the citrus processor’s viewpoint, it may be less profitable to process waste into ethanol today than it would have been a year ago. It is illegal for processors to dump citrus waste into landfills, so they must dry the waste product and turn it into pelletized animal feed. Feed prices have increased dramatically over the past year, which means that what was once a break-even citrus waste solution at best for processors has become slightly more lucrative. According to Widmer, the price of pellets has fluctuated from $40 to $80 per ton and cost producers $50 to $90 per ton to produce for almost two decades. However, at one time last summer pellet prices hit $180 a ton. Widmer says the stability of pellet prices is unsure. In the meantime, fuel costs are certain to increase which should keep ethanol an attractive option for producers. Kress says that while processors have benefited from the rise in feed prices, their production costs have gone up cutting into profits. “Making animal feed is very expensive because it takes a lot of energy to dry the feed material to a suitable moisture level,” he says.

Future Possibilities While ethanol may prove to be cost effective, Kress says he is still concerned about how to deal with the waste after ethanol production. Fifty pounds of waste material used to produce ethanol will leave behind 45 pounds of waste. It may be possible to turn that remainder into animal feed, but the nutritional value of the product is debatable because carbohydrates are lost in the ethanol production process. Southern Gardens and Citrus Energy are currently conducting nutritional analysis of the waste. Stewart says it is a mistake to think that there is no food

value in the byproduct. “If you look at corn to ethanol, a very significant part of the revenue is distillers grains and we are the same,” he says. “We would have something called distillers peels that is very palatable to cows and has a significant feed value.” According to Widmer, “The (citrus) industry has a lot of interest in valueadded coproducts from citrus processing waste because they feel they’re not making much on cattle feed. With fruit and juice price fluctuations the juice industry is up and down and many producers have found it hard to make a profit some years,” he says. If all the citrus waste in Florida were to be used in ethanol facilities, the state could produce 30 MMgy to 50 MMgy. That amount would satisfy local demand and would keep more money in the local economy. However, Widmer will be exploring even more

potential uses for waste in the next few years. While much progress has been made, there is still more research to be done. He hopes that by 2014 there will be multiple uses for citrus waste. His group is researching citrus waste as a cement additive, paper product additive and material for removing heavy metals from waste water. He says that because citrus waste has good ion exchange capacity and water holding capacity, these uses are real possibilities. “We will not have a commercial product ready in 2009,” he says. “We hope that in the next five years we’ll have some of these materials ready and hopefully people will be interested in them. It’s all a matter of industry interest.” BIO Kris Bevill is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. Reach her at or (701) 373-0636.


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What to do With the Remnants of a

Plastic Culture Plastics permeate every facet of modern industrial life, so what can be done with that material after it has served its useful purpose? Alternative energy sources are increasing in popularity but one such potential alternative—plastic—is contentious. By Ron Kotrba

Nuggets of fuel made at Penn State University from waste plastic, trademarked Plastofuel, are a controversial way to reuse nonrecyclable plastics. PHOTO: PENN STATE UNIVERSITY



mericans purchase tons of plastics daily in the form of bottled water, soda, laundry detergent and a hundred-million other consumer goods and industrial equipment. It’s on houses generously sided with vinyl, plumbing and electrical conduits are almost all molded from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and auto parts once largely forged of iron and chromed steel are all now made from plastics. Oddly enough, the purchase of many of the plastic goods is transacted on plastic credit cards. It’s as clear as Plexiglas—Americans rely on plastic. The invention of these useful polymers derived largely from crude oil has been of great use to society but, at the same time, concerns over environmental damages exacted by the proliferation of industrial plastics’ production and disposal are not without their merits. Plastics such as PVC have a high chlorine content that, when burned, produce dangerous dioxins. The U.S. EPA states, “Dioxins and ‘dioxin like’ compounds are a group of 30 highly toxic chlorinated organic chemicals. They are produced naturally in small quantities but are primarily the result of human activity. They can be produced through industrial


processes such as chlorinated chemical manufacturing and metal smelting. Currently, however, the largest quantified source of dioxin emissions is the uncontrolled burning of household trash (backyard burning). Studies have shown that only small amounts of chlorinated materials in waste are required to support dioxin formation when burning waste.” Penn State University researcher James Garthe says, “We are our own worst enemy.” For the past 15 years, Garthe’s professional emphasis at PSU has been on solid waste management and recycling, mostly in the agricultural sector. The term “plasticulture” refers to the use of plastics in agriculture. “It started after World War II, when plastics were coming into mainstream life,” he says. “Someone in their wisdom said this stuff (plastic mulch film) is good for holding back water or retaining water if it’s laid on the ground and crops are grown on it—there’s no water evaporation and it’s good for weed suppression. So after World War II, it saved the farmers, growers and greenhouse operators all sorts of money in their operations.”

Barriers to Recycling Plastics A resin identification code, one



Garthe says on a pound-for-pound basis plastics contain more energy than gasoline.

through six, is given to all plastics. Varieties that can be recycled must be mixed only with like material. “So many different resin types cannot—will not— mix,” Garthe says. “That’s a problem because you can have a nursery pot made from No. 2 (high-density polyethylene) right next to a No. 5, and they

recycle chunks of clay, soil and more. “Sometimes when you pull it up what you have is 100 percent dirt,” Garthe says. The material is only one-thousandth of an inch thick. Cleaning the material to make it suitable for recycling is cost prohibitive. “It’s easier and

cheaper to go with virgin plastic, and that makes the petroleum and natural gas companies happy because we’re buying new product.” Then there is inadequate infrastructure for collection of plastics in many places. Given all of these obstacles to


look the same but they are different resins. That causes confusion and the recyclers are saying, ‘Hey, I’m not going to turn over every container to look at the number on the bottom.’ And then the other problem is you’ve got similar items coming in from Asia or elsewhere, and they may not have the chasing arrows on it, so you just don’t know.” Not only must like resins be recycled together, but the dye used to color the plastic throws another variable into the mix. Everything goes into black, but if white plastic is desired then black plastics cannot be mixed in—even if they are the right resin number. “So there needs to be a separation system not only for resin type but for color,” Garthe tells Biomass Magazine. “People say, ‘I’m holding a penny’s worth of plastic and now they’re telling me I have to color sort as well?’ It gets complicated.” Another barrier to recycling is that the plastic must be clean. “The word ‘extrusion’ is a very critical word to the plastic guys,” Garthe says, adding that one spec of dirt can plug injectors used in injection molding. Dirt is a huge problem in recycling materials used in plasticulture. When mulch film has served its useful purpose, it is laden with

Garthe is a PSU researcher and inventor of Plastofuel.



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recycling plastics, people simply throw perfectly recyclable material away where it occupies valuable landfill space and may release toxins once it begins to break down long after disposal. While no one seems to know precisely how much plastic is produced and consumed every year, some experts suggest that, whatever that number is, only a small fraction of it is actually recycled. For plasticulture material, Garthe says only about 1 percent of mulch, greenhouse and forage film, nursery pots, trays, flats, etc., are actually recycled. At PSU, Garthe has been working to develop positive, creative uses for the abundance of waste plastics produced by our convenience-oriented society. “I kept hearing from folks that we’ve got all this plastic out there and that it saves money, but what do we do after it’s completed its useful purpose?” Garthe says. “In 1994, I came up with the Plastofuel concept.” Simply put, his concept was to push waste plastics through a heated die, melting the outer layer and producing plastic nuggets for

cofiring. Garthe says on a pound-forpound basis plastics contain more energy than gasoline. In times past, this waste agricultural plastic was burned openly in the field producing huge plumes of billowing black smoke. “That’s why I got involved,” he says. “I kept hearing how it’s a problem for us to manage, especially if it’s thrown in a pile or down a sinkhole, and later on down the pike it’s affecting someone’s well water supply.” Although he admits he’s not an emissions expert, Garthe distinguishes between the toxicity of burning plastic in a burning barrel versus high-temperature and oxygen-enriched combustion at a power plant, reaching 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. “The higher the temperature of combustion, the less the products of incomplete combustion,” he says. The opposite is also true: The lower the temperature, the higher the products of incomplete combustion. While Garthe doesn’t have all of the answers with respect to the dangers of heavy metals and dioxins from com-

recycle busting plastic, he says, “I’d be less concerned about [industrial incineration of plastic] because of the watchful eyes of the regulators out there looking after public health. Much more concerning is Joe Schmo who’s out there burning this stuff in a burning barrel.”

Burning Plastic for Energy Madison Gas & Electric owns a 200 megawatt power plant in downtown Madison, Wis., called the Blount generating facility. The plant has been burning what the utility dubs poly-derived fuel (PDF) for more than 10 years. It describes PDF as a mix of “shredded preconsumer waste [that] cannot otherwise be recycled.” Blount was one of the first electric generating stations in the country to burn “alternate fuels such as wastepaper and plastic … [and] in 1997, MGE added 7,200 square feet of storage for paper and PDF to increase use of the fuel,” MGE states. The utility says it has undergone all of the approval processes necessary to burn PDF, but Jim Powell, a board member with the Madison Environmental Justice Organization—whose mission it is to protect minorities and the poor from inordinate exposure to environmental hazards of industrial modern life—says when the utility was first going through the permit process for these alternative fuel sources, the potential for dioxin emissions was discussed only briefly. “The regulators requested MGE to come back with more information about dioxin emissions,” Powell says. Somehow the request was lost in red tape and no further investigation was requested. Now, 11 percent of the Blount generating facility’s power comes from PDF—the remainder is coal, according to Powell. “There is a whole slew of chemicals to be concerned about—the biggest is dioxin, which is a byproduct from burning chlorine-based plastics,” he tells Biomass Magazine. Powell says some of the material comes

from a nearby Oscar Meyer plant and other industrial facilities, and is virtually free. It also has a high energy content. After weighing a variety of environmental impacts like global warming, acidification, eutrophication, human toxicity and ecological toxicity, Jeffrey Morris, an economist and author of “Comparative LCAs (life cycle assessments) for Curbside Recycling Versus Either Landfilling or Incineration with Energy Recovery,” concludes that the recycling of plastic bottles—one of many types of plastics but a prolific example nonetheless—from household and municipal solid waste streams “consumes less energy and imposes lower environmental burdens than disposal … via landfilling or incineration,” even after accounting for energy production from incineration. “I must stress that John Q. Public has to change his attitude about solid waste

management,” Garthe says. “We can no longer say, ‘Out of sight, out of mind, and I’m going to take this bag of junk and set it out on the curb and say I don’t have to deal with it anymore.’ He is going to have to have some accountability for that because it’s a resource. It has a raw material value and should not be hauled off to the landfill to deal with for the next 10,000 years.” 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? BIO Ron Kotrba is a Biomass Magazine senior writer. Reach him at or (701) 738-4962.



Developing Yeast Strains for Biomass-to-Ethanol Production By Ronald Hector, Stephen Hughes and Xin Liang-Li


lthough grain supplies will likely meet the immediate short-term needs for ethanol production, expansion beyond this to meet more ambitious targets will require alternative feedstocks. Lignocellulosic biomass from agricultural residues, municipal paper waste, dedicated energy crops and multiple other sources is projected to be a major renewable feedstock for sustainable production of biofuels. The conversion of lignocellulose to ethanol involves a series of enzymatic steps for hydrolysis or saccharification of the constituent polysaccharides, and subsequent fermentation of the released hexose and pentose sugars. Additionally, a pretreatment step is required to disrupt the tightly packed cellulose structure and allow access to the enzymes. Many popular pretreatment conditions are not mild, and the yeast and enzymes must survive the chemicals used in the process. According to Joseph Rich, leader of the USDA Bioproducts and Biocatalysis Research Unit in Peoria, Ill., “Industry is awaiting the microorganism that can produce high levels of ethanol in large-scale

Enzyme production

Separate hydrolysis and fermentation

Simultaneous saccharification and fermentation



Cellulose and hemicellulose hydrolysis Hexose and pentose fermentation A variety of processes show potential for cellulose conversion into ethanol. SOURCE: USDA AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH SERVICE

fermentation containing the hydrolysate consisting of both pentose and hexose sugars released by mechanical, enzymatic and chemical treatment of lignocellulosic feedstocks.�

Streamlining the Process Many of the enzymes proposed for use in separate hydrolysis and fermentation processes are inhibited by their products, necessitating the addition of large quantities of enzyme to reach significant mono-

The claims and statements made in this article belong exclusively to the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Biomass Magazine or its advertisers. All questions pertaining to this article should be directed to the author(s).


Consolidated bioprocessing

saccharide concentrations prior to fermentation. Anticipated costs of enzymes and pretreatment make the process of converting biomass to ethanol more expensive than the presently used and well-established starch-based processes. These costs are partially offset by the use of less expensive and abundant sources of lignocellulose from trees, shrubs, switchgrass or agricultural crop residues. Further economic advantages might be attained through more streamlined processes such as simultaneous

saccharification and fermentation and consolidated bioprocessing. The simultaneous saccharification and fermentation process combines polysaccharide hydrolysis and fermentation in one step, but still relies on the addition of exogenously produced enzymes. The simultaneous saccharification and fermentation that occurs in this type of process is an attractive method for keeping monomeric sugars at low enough concentrations to avoid enzyme inhibition, thus reducing costs by decreasing the amount of enzyme needed for the process. The consolidated bioprocessing process takes streamlining a step further and combines the production of enzymes with the same organism used to ferment the released sugars to ethanol, all occurring in a single reactor. “To achieve the DOE 30x’30 plan goal of 60 billion gallons of biofuels, [or] 30 percent of the motor gasoline supply by 2030, will certainly require advancements such as the one-step bioprocessing with Saccharomyces cerevisiae,” according to Seth Snyder at Argonne National Laboratory. Lee Lynd of Dartmouth College and Willem van Zyl of the University of Stellenbosch have succeeded in expressing cellulases in S. cerevisiae. As a promising first step toward a consolidated bioprocessing process, the recombinant yeast strain they generated was able to produce some ethanol from cellulose without added enzymes.

Pentose Fermentation Organisms that can ferment pentose sugars like xylose and arabinose, in addition to glucose, are essential for an economical process. Hemicellulose, which accounts for approximately 25 percent to 40 percent of lignocellulose, is mainly composed of xylose. While S. cerevisiae is good at converting glucose to ethanol, it does not have the metabolic capacity to utilize xylose. Many years of research have been



Bales of corn stover, such as these collected from an experiment near York, Neb., could be used to create ethanol.

applied to engineer a yeast strain that can metabolize xylose as well as the hexose sugars found in biomass. Much of this research has recently focused on enhancing the fermentation performance of S. cerevisiae strains expressing heterologous enzymes from bacterial or fungal xylose utilization pathways. Research labs around the world have been trying to solve the problem of poor xylose utilization. Identifying the limiting metabolic steps that block efficient conversion of xylose to ethanol in these strains has been one of the goals for Thomas Jeffries at the USDA Forest Service’s Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wis. Various xylose fermenting yeast strains have been produced and some have found industrial application for processes using lignocellulosic feedstocks. Jack Pronk and his group at Delft University of Technology recently achieved rapid anaero-

bic fermentation of xylose and arabinose by engineered S. cerevisiae strains that express heterologous, pentose-isomerase based pathways. “Now that the hurdle of efficient pentose fermentation by yeast is being overcome, functional expression of hydrolyzing enzymes in the yeast is an important next challenge for yeast metabolic engineering,” Pronk says. Xylose fermenting yeast strains that express the fungal xylose pathway genes have also been improved upon and are being used in industrial processes, such as the yeast strain from Purdue University’s Nancy Ho and strains being developed at Lund University by Bärbel Hahn-Hägerdal. Yeast strains developed at the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research have been engineered for enhanced pentose utilization by adding metabolic correction genes in addition to the genes required for growth on xylose. These genes were



Lignocellulose model showing lignin, cellulose and hemicellulose SOURCE: USDA AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH SERVICE

Enzyme Requirements for Lignocellulosic Feedstocks A depiction of xylose metabolic pathways SOURCE: USDA AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH SERVICE

obtained from collaborations with Josh LaBaer, director of the Harvard Institute of Proteomics. To further improve these ethanologenic yeast strains for industrial use, scientists at NCAUR are also engineering yeast to express proteins that increase uptake of pentose sugars.

Although S. cerevisiae is a proven industrial ethanol producer in traditional starchbased processes, it will be no easy task to provide this microorganism with the ability to convert lignocellulosic biomass to ethanol. The carbohydrate components of lignocellulose (cellulose and hemicellulose) are tightly bound to lignin, making the sugars largely inaccessible to enzymes. “Before enzymatic hydrolysis, pretreatment with acid or alkali is generally needed to fully

maximize the release of sugars from any lignocellulosic biomass,” says Badal Saha at the NCAUR Fermentation Biotechnology Research Unit. For consolidated bioprocessing, S. cerevisiae must not only ferment both hexoses and pentoses under industrial conditions with high ethanol yield and productivity, it must also express and produce enzymes at sufficient levels to maintain hydrolysis and fermentation of biomass to ethanol. Enzymatic conversion of cellulose to sugars that yeasts can ferment requires the concerted action of three types of cellulase. Due to the heterogeneity and complexity of hemicellulose, its conversion requires an even larger list of enzymes. For robust and complete conversion of polysaccharides locked in biomass, the ultimate ethanologens will need to produce at least a dozen enzymes of different catalytic activities.

Developing New Biocatalysts Producing a yeast strain with optimized sets of cellulases and hemicellulases requires screening thousands of combinations of these biomass-degrading enzymes for enzyme activity. Automation is essential in carrying out these operations. A team of scientists at the NCAUR laboratory has been successful in designing a robotic plat-

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Left to right: NCAUR scientists Cotta, Hector, Hughes, Liang-Li and Rich

form and creating the automated molecular biology routines necessary to screen for the most effective set of enzymes. The genes for these enzymes may exist in organisms contained in the ARS culture collection and from organisms isolated from environments such as cattle rumen, hot springs, termite guts and ocean thermal vents. Sookie Bang at the Center for

Bioprocessing Research and Development located at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology is isolating extremeophiles from the National Science Foundation-sponsored Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory as a source of novel enzymes that have been selected for more than 125 years at temperatures in excess of 140 degrees Fahrenheit

in the harsh deep-mine conditions. These enzymes hold great promise for use in producing lignocellulose-degrading yeast strains. Assuming appropriate enzymes are identified, a critical question remains. Is S. cerevisiae capable of simultaneously expressing the genes for all the different enzymes necessary to hydrolyze cellulose and hemicellulose as well as ferment pentose sugars? Indications are increasing that ethanol production by an ethanologen that has the ability to efficiently hydrolyze pretreated biomass and metabolize the resulting sugars is feasible. However, says Michael Cotta, leader of the Fermentation Biotechnology Research Unit at NCAUR, “Considerable research and development are still needed to develop the optimum enzymes, organisms and processes that will be able to generate a sustainable biomass to ethanol process.” BIO Ronald Hector, Stephen Hughes and Xin Liang-Li are research molecular biologists with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service. Reach Hector at Ronald.hector or (309) 681-6098. Reach Hughes at or (309) 681-6176. Reach Liang-Li at or (309) 681-6327.



LAB Grow It on Glycerin



hat are biodiesel producers to do with all that glycerin? That’s been the question ever since the biodiesel industry ramped up production and saturated the market with the three-carbon polyol byproduct. Glycerin has a multitude of uses in the food, pharmaceutical and chemical industries, among others. However, with the growth of the biodiesel industry, there is more glycerin than the current market can easily absorb. This presents an opportunity to create new processes that use glycerin to produce more valuable chemicals, says Katherine Taconi, assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering at The University of Alabama in Huntsville. “This is a huge issue, not just for biodiesel but for biorefining in general,” she says. “If we want biorefining to replace traditional refining to any significant extent, you can’t just make ethanol and biodiesel. Only about 60 percent of a barrel of crude goes to making fuel. The rest goes to making all sorts of other stuff.” Taconi, whose work is funded by the USDA, is investigating strains of bacteria that can ferment glycerin into other chemicals, a process she calls “bioconversion.” Her current project is attempting to make butanol from glycerin. Her lab is using both pure and mixed culture methods to transform the glycerin into butanol and a variety of byproducts. “Organisms never produce just one product, unfortunately,” she says. “They produce several, but if you are lucky, it’s not more than three or four.” Taconi says from an engineering perspective, glycerin is a threecarbon compound, and carbon should never be wasted. It can be converted to other chemicals through a catalytic process, but as a biologist, she first looked to fermentation. “There aren’t a lot of organisms you can use to ferment glycerol into value-added chemicals,” she says. “Almost all organisms can ferment glycerol as an intermediate compound, but they use it for growth.” Research led Taconi to investigate a handful of anaerobic organisms that could ferment glycerin into other chemicals. These include the genuses Clostridium, Klebsiella and Enterobacter. One species of glycerin-fermenting bacteria—Clostridium pasteurianum—just happened to be good at producing butanol, 1,3 propanediol and ethanol. “This strain of Clostridium is not very well-studied,” Taconi says. “People have generally looked at sugar as the main feedstock. The species I am looking at can use glycerol.” Taconi’s current work involves screening mixed cultures of “wild-

Taconi holds a culture flask of anaerobic bacteria. She is researching organisms that will ferment glycerin into other valuable chemicals.

type” anaerobic organisms for the production of useful chemicals and optimizing the environmental conditions of pure cultures to maximize butanol production. “These are very fundamental studies, just looking at what parameters affect product distribution and substrate utilization,” she says. “The biggest is pH. [Other anaerobic fermentations] are highly pH-dependent, but nobody has really investigated C. pasteurianum enough to know if that pathway is pH-dependent or not.” She is also investigating whether trace metals can influence butanol production. Nothing in scientific literature indicates whether this organism could produce butanol from crude glycerin, which would contain water, methanol and salts from the neutralized caustic catalyst, and this is one of the things Taconi wants to learn. Other future research topics she is interested in include elucidating the enzymatic pathway that C. pasteurianum uses to convert glycerin to butanol. “For better or worse, the pathway that the industry is taking is metabolic engineering, but you won’t get there until you understand what enzymes are in the pathway and what enzymes are active in the pathway,” she says. BIO —Jerry W. Kram


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Refueling Today’s Military: Reducing the Dependence on Oil, Part Two


ast month’s column discussed replacing petroleum-based military fuels with nonpetroleum alternatives. Options included coal and gas-to-liquid technologies. At least one U.S. Department of Defense entity, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is pursuing another angle—renewable JP-8 from biomass in the form of 1) triacylglyceride, the primary component of vegetable oils, animal fats and algae oils or 2) lignocellulose, the primary component of wood, grass and other nonfood fibrous materials. Because triacylglyceride chemistry is reasonably similar to petroleum chemistry, processing triacylglycerides to JP-8 can utilize, with some tailoring, many of the same technologies developed for refining petroleum. Because lignocellulose chemistry is significantly different from petroleum chemistry, converting lignocellulose to JP-8 will likely require significant technology development rather than simple tailoring of existing refinery processes. Unlike traditional biodiesel processing in which the oxygen content of triacylglyceride feedstock is carried through production and incorporated into the finished methyl or ethyl ester fuel, triacylglyceride conversion to JP-8 requires oxygen removal to yield a hydrocarbon-only fuel with the same mass-based energy content of petroleum JP-8. While the major technical challenges of producing JP-8 from triacylglyceride have been Aulich overcome, a major question remains: where can we get enough triacylglyceride to replace 5 billion gallons of oil? If you are aware of the food-versus-fuel debate, you know it is a debate that fuel advocates probably cannot win. To address these concerns, DARPA recently initiated a program to develop new triacylglyceride sources, an important one of which is algae. Key advantages of algae versus traditional crop oil triacylglyceride sources are 1) algae are theoretically capable of producing up to 1,000 times more triacylglyceride per acre than the highest-yielding crop sources, 2) algae do not require premium agricultural land for cultivation, 3) many triacylglyceride-producing algae do not require freshwater but thrive on salty, briny water, much of which is located under deserts, and 4) most people do not eat algae. A future algae-to-fuel industry could work like the following. First, algae cultivation centers could be set up in sunny deserts with access to large underground briny water supplies. Coal-fired power plants would be equipped to capture carbon dioxide, and a carbon dioxide pipeline network would be built. Then, carbon dioxide could be captured at power plants and piped to algae cultivation centers, where algae could be grown with the combination of carbon dioxide, briny water and sunlight. The algae could then be harvested, converted to jet (and diesel) fuel and piped into the fuel market. Of the biomass-to-fuel concepts currently being developed, few, if any, appear to offer greater potential for more petroleum replacement than an algae pathway. Strong leadership and high oil prices will help make that happen. BIO

Ted Aulich is a senior research manager at the EERC in Grand Forks, N.D. He can be reached at or (701) 777-2982.



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Biomass Magazine - April 2008  

April 2008 Biomass Magazine

Biomass Magazine - April 2008  

April 2008 Biomass Magazine