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Island of Energy Independence Isle of Wight’s Waste-to-Energy Gasification System Brings the Island Closer to Being Fossil Fuel-Free

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FEATURES ..................... 24 GASIFICATION MSW Spells Self-Sufficiency for Isle of Wight Gasification technology developed by Energos Ltd. will be used to turn waste into energy on the Isle of Wight, and will contribute to the island’s goal to be carbon neutral by 2020. By Lisa Gibson

28 PROJECT Aquatic Biomass in the Gasification Equation Instead of using algae to produce biodiesel, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Genifuel Corp. have teamed up to develop a commercial-scale process to gasify algae, or aquatic biomass, into natural gas. By Anna Austin

32 INNOVATION Gasification Creates Clean Energy, Economic Opportunities The Energy & Environmental Research Center and Aboriginal Cogeneration Corp. are working together on a project to gasify railroad ties. The project is designed to create jobs and energy for aboriginal communities. By Lisa Gibson

36 POWER A Colossal Conversion INNOVATION | PAGE 32

Excel Energy is employing gasification technology to covert the last coal-fired boiler at its Bay Front Power Plant in Wisconsin to run on biomass, making it the largest biomass-fired power plant in the Midwest. By Anna Austin

DEPARTMENTS ..................... 06 Editor’s Note Bewildered by Biomass By Rona Johnson

CONTRIBUTIONS .....................

07 Advertiser Index

40 TECHNOLOGY Gasification Technologies: Making SecondGeneration Biofuels a Reality

08 CITIES Corner

Montreal-based Enerkem’s gasification technology can convert a wide range of carbon-rich residues into syngas, allowing it to adapt to changing feedstock prices and availability. By Marie-Helene Labrie

Reward Carbon Mitigation in Every Industry By Tim Portz

09 Legal Perspectives 12 Industry Events

44 WOODY BIOMASS Filling a Need: Forest Plantations for Bioenergy in the Southern US

14 Business Briefs

The planting of short-rotation tree plantations could be critical to supply the growing list of proposed bioenegy projects. By Ronalds Gonzalez, Dr. Jeff Wright and Dr. Daniel Saloni

16 Industry News 49 EERC Update Cellulosic Ethanol: What to Do with the Lignin By Bruce Folkedahl

50 Marketplace



NOTE Bewildered by Biomass


recently ventured away from my little biomass world to attend a class reunion in Edinburg, N.D. (No, I’m not going to tell you which reunion it was, or when I graduated from high school because it has no bearing whatsoever on this column.) I realize that not everyone is hip-deep in biomass, but I was surprised at some of the responses I received when I mentioned that I was the editor of Biomass Magazine. Most of the people I talked with didn’t know what biomass was, and many were quite amused that there was a whole magazine dedicated to biomass. Obviously, even if those people were hip-deep in biomass, they wouldn’t know it. A few people, however, did understand the importance of biomass and why I was so excited about the industry. I also brought along a stack of magazines just to prove that I wasn’t a raving lunatic. I don’t really expect everyone to know what biomass is and why it’s so relevant to the national security and environmental future of this country, but it would have been nice not to go through a half-hour explanation every time someone asked me what I do for a living. I guess we’ll just have to work harder at getting the word out. One of the things that people found difficult to grasp is the wide variety of technologies that exist to convert biomass into power, fuels and chemicals, including gasification. For example, in this month’s magazine we delve into gasifying railroad ties, aquatic biomass, woody biomass and municipal solid waste into fuel and power. Because there are so many gasification projects going on right now that we could have written about, we tried to get as diverse an array of those projects as we possibly could. I hope you’ll agree that we succeeded. Now I just need to send this issue to all my classmates. I would also suggest that you take a look at the contribution titled “Filling a Need: Forest Plantations for Bioenergy in the Southern US,” which starts on page 44. The article is written by researchers at North Carolina State University who don’t believe there will be enough logging residue to supply all the bioenergy plant projects that are being developed. They propose that we start planting short-rotation bioenergy plantations. I don’t know if our forests will be able to sustain all the plants that are being proposed, but I think it’s prudent to plan for that eventuality. I thought this article was timely because of the studies that came out recently concluding that Pacific Northwest forests can store huge amounts of carbon dioxide if they aren’t disturbed. I’m sure thinning will be a part of forest management as long as there are forest fires, but it’s another factor that foresters will have to contend with when they make their management decisions. As always, let me know if there are any topics that you want to see covered in the magazine.

Rona Johnson Editor


advertiser INDEX

2010 International BIOMASS Conference & Expo


2010 International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo




EDITOR Rona Johnson


ASSOCIATE EDITORS Anna Austin Lisa Gibson


4B Components Agra Industries



BBI International Engineering & Consulting


Central Boiler



Christianson & Associates PLLP



Detroit Stoker Company


Energy & Environmental Research Center




Continental Biomass Industries, Inc.

ART ART DIRECTOR Jaci Satterlund GRAPHIC DESIGNERS Elizabeth Slavens Sam Melquist Jack Sitter


SENIOR ACCOUNT MANAGER Jeremy Hanson ACCOUNT MANAGERS Clay Moore Chip Shereck Marty Steen Bob Brown

Ethanol Producer Magazine


Indeck Power Equipment Co.


Mid-South Engineering Company







The Teaford Co. Inc.


West Salem Machinery



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CITIES corner Reward Carbon Mitigation in Every Industry


irtually every media outlet has been reporting that nearly every U.S. industry stands to gain from the Waxman-Markey climate bill, which won passage in the House of Representatives by a small margin. Simultaneously, these same media outlets have also been reporting that nearly every industry will be crippled or destroyed by Waxman-Markey. For instance, according to some media accounts, industrial electrical generators will clearly benefit as they’ll be allowed to enjoy higher margins on regulated electric rates for the clean energy projects they take on. According to others, the cost of carbon will make pulverized coal facilities an albatross around the necks of the utilities who own those assets. Other media sources are quick to point to the allowances that may be issued to these coal burning entities to ensure a soft landing, as a way of suggesting that emitters of carbon dioxide will be allowed to take their medicine in small doses, over an extended period of time. What then is the fate of the American farmer? Most estimates suggest that between 10 percent and 13 percent of greenhouse gases come from agriculture and certainly agricultural producers will play a role in any greenhouse gas mitigation strategy. Will farmers be incented to engage in carbon reducing strategies, or will they be mandated? From my perspective, farmers are in a unique position relative to other industrial sectors because they grow crops that actually use and convert carbon dioxide. A failure to recognize this reality would draw any carbon mitigation strategy into question.


It would seem to be prudent to incentivize each and every sector of our economy, including American agriculture, to increase efficiency and drive carbon out of their production cycles. Farmers are familiar with, and in many instances are Tim Portz already practicing, no-till farm- business BBI ing, incorporating biomass- developer, International based nitrogen inputs, producing energy through anaerobic digestion of manure streams, using crop residues to make advanced biofuels and planting dedicated energy crops to reduce their carbon footprints. All of these have a positive carbon consequence that farmers should be allowed to convert into revenue streams. With the abundance of negative press surrounding large-scale production farming, it would be a tragedy if carbon mitigation became another opportunity taken from our farmers. Every industrial sector is going to have to take its dose of medicine. If carbon dioxide is, in fact, an externality we can no longer afford to ignore, then all facets of our economy need to change, farming included. It will be important that all involved see some opportunities amidst the challenges. Tim Portz is a business developer with BBI International’s Community Initiative to Improve Energy Sustainability. Reach him at tportz@ or (651) 398-9154.



Online Social Networks Great Tool, But Not to Raise Money By Todd Taylor


nline social networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter are great for meeting potential business partners, discussing your business and networking. The ability to reach a large number of people you would not otherwise know makes it tempting to use to raise money for your company. However, it is for exactly the same reason that most uses of online social network sites to raise money violate federal and state securities laws and create risks for your company and the person posting the message. I use LinkedIn and frequently come across messages from business developers seeking investors. Facebook, MySpace and Twitter are used the same way. If you are doing this, stop now. Every offer and sale of a security, including stock, LLC units, promissory notes, options and warrants must be registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission and sometimes state securities departments or be exempt from registration. Since registration, essentially an initial public offering (IPO), is expensive and time-consuming involving a review by the SEC, most start-up and developing companies avoid this process. Many companies are unaware these securities laws

Todd Taylor shareholder, Fredrikson & Byron

exist and go about trying to raise money any way they can. If you are not conducting an IPO, the offer and sale of the securities needs to be exempt from registration. The most commonly used exemption is the private placement exemption under federal and state law. Most commonly, the specific exemption is found in SEC Regulation D, Rule 506, which allows a company to offer and sell securities to private investors without SEC review. The trade-off is that companies conducting a private placement cannot engage in general solicitation to attract investors. If they do, the SEC or state securities authorities can force the company to return the money and even pay fines. General solicitation is not well-defined by the SEC, but generally means using communications methods that indiscriminately reach a broad audience. The SEC has analyzed whether a particular action is general solicitation based, in large part, on whether a significant relationship predated the offering and whether the solicitation intended a sale of securities. If there was no significant relationship prior to the offering, it is likely a general solicitation. A significant relationship means more than being linked

to someone on LinkedIn or a friend on Facebook. Analyzing whether a solicitation intended a sale of securities requires examining your intention for making the contact. Twittering or posting a discussion on LinkedIn talking about your new company while trying to raise money are obvious examples of intending a sale of securities and should be avoided. If you cannot ask for investors or post your private placement memorandum, what can you do? You can use online networking sites to establish significant relationships with people, and then talk to them about your offering. You can talk about your company and its goals, but you should not do this as a cover for luring people to your company and hitting them up to invest, a violation termed “conditioning the market.” Online networking sites can significantly increase your network and potential for success, but you need to be careful not to take actions that could hurt your company in the long run. Investors don’t like securities law violation investigations. Todd Taylor is a shareholder in Fredrikson & Byron’s corporate, renewable energy, securities and emerging business groups. Reach him at or (612) 492-7355.


Thank You!

Participants, Sponsors, and Exhibitors for Your Tremendous Support!








July 14–15, 2009, at the Alerus Center


Energy & Environmental Research Center ®

University of North Dakota


Grand Forks

Organized and Sponsored by the EERC


industry events International Conference on Woody Biomass Utilization

3rd Renewable Energy India 2009 Expo

August 4-5, 2009

Pragati Maidan New Delhi, India Cross-cutting renewable energy policy, regulatory framework, market adoption and finance relative to bioenergy, energy efficiency, cogeneration, and the geothermal, solar, hydro and wind energy sectors will be the focus of this event. The sessions will bring developers, end-users, academicians, entrepreneurs, and corporate and research professionals together to share and explore new horizons in research and development, and to discuss issues challenging the knowledge economy. +91 11 4279 5054

Mississippi State University Starkville, Mississippi The conference will provide information on the utilization of woody biomass, emerging technologies and processes that can boost the economy through the production of jobs and markets. Focus will be worldwide successes, challenges in local and world markets, and environmental benefits. Speakers, including researchers, material and equipment suppliers, manufacturers and end-users, will discuss state-of-the-art of woody biomass utilization. (608) 231-1361

August 10-12, 2009

Midwest Algae Commercialization Workshop

4th International Bioenergy 2009 Conference

August 18, 2009

August 31-September 4, 2009

Fredrikson & Byron P.A. Minneapolis Attendees will learn about commercial opportunities related to algae, and network with others in the industry. Producers, scientists, investors, potential customers and policymakers will be speaking at the event. Discussion topics will include the issues surrounding the commercial viability of algae production in the Midwest, current government and private initiatives, evolving technologies, processing concepts, life-cycle analysis, and venture and project finance trends. (612) 492-7856

Jyväskylä, Finland Factors affecting the future of bioenergy, biopower, biofuels in transport and biobased modern technologies will be the focus of Bioenergy 2009. Attendees will learn about the modern biomass-based power, heating and combined-heat-and-power plants and technologies from farm-scale up to the world’s largest construction projects. Presentations will include information on practical fuel procurement systems, energy technologies, logistics, know-how and experiences, international training possibilities, combustion and harvesting systems, and research and development results. +358 207 639 600

Nordic Wood Biorefinery Conference

Biopackaging from Feedstock to Waste Stream Conference

September 2-4, 2009 Finlandia Hall Helsinki, Finland Industry experts, specialists and leading researchers from multiple disciplines show how a wood biorefinery can shape the next generation of valueadded forest products. This year’s conference gives attendees a unique look at the rewards of a wood-based biorefinery from the forest to marketed products. Explore how biorefinery processes can transform biomaterials into high-value products that expand and transcend traditional forest products portfolios. +358 (0)20 7477 100” page.php?page_id=499

September 8-10, 2009

Algae Biofuel Summit 2009

Crude Oil to Biofuels-Trends Impacting Global Fuels

September 8-10, 2009

September 9-10, 2009

New Delhi, India Up-to-date information on next-generation feedstocks and technologies in the algae-based biofuel industries will be provided at this summit. Attendees will learn about recent research and development activities in the field of algae, such as mass production systems, photo bioreactor technologies and other important areas. The technical and financial topics of the summit will cover all aspects of algae use for biofuels. +91 11 65803335

Hotel Sofitel Rio de Janeiro This conference will showcase the energy bounty of Brazil and allow attendees to network with people in the industry. Session topics will include a global renewable and biodiesel policy market outlook, the future of biodiesel in Latin America, biofuels sustainability, fuels market outlook and new technology developments. (703) 891-4804


Copthorne Tara Hotel London This event will focus on waste management and address issues relating to landfill, end-users, legislation and European directives. Experts will discuss adopting waste strategies that satisfy all links in the supply chain and comply with established regulations. The event will cover the latest technology developments and uses of these materials as a sustainability tool in bioplastics, from the perspective of developers and trade organizations. 44 (0) 1372 802164

industry events Gasification Short Course

Biofuel Supply Chain Summit 2009

September 9-10, 2009

September 15-17, 2009

Energy & Environmental Research Center Grand Forks, North Dakota Six experienced instructors will provide technical insight on a broad range of gasification technologies and issues during this short course, which will cover the diverse nature of gasification processes, depending on the feedstocks, products produced and environmental goals. An overview of the gasification process and potential products, including electric power, hydrogen, liquid fuels, gaseous fuels, chemicals and other materials will also be covered. (701) 777-5246

International Convention Center Ghent, Belgium This summit will unite key players who will debate and address all major issues within the biofuels industry. Leading authorities from Europe and Brazil will showcase their experiences. Discussions will cover the latest EU policies, legislation and economic effects and discover the current developments and future initiatives for the transportation and logistics of biofuels. +44 (0)20 7753 4268

2009 International Conference on Thermochemical Biomass Conversion Science

Biomass Boiler Workshop

September 16-18, 2009

Holiday Inn Portland Airport Portland, Oregon New technological developments and results to improve the operating performance, waste fuel burning capacity, efficiency, and fuel economy of biomass-fired boilers will be the focus of this workshop. The program will include troubleshooting and problem-solving discussions of challenges that attendees bring to the workshop. Attendees will learn about the current retrofit technology for biomass boilers and associated equipment, see how other mill operations solve their biomass boiler area problems, and receive information and solutions to their mill-specific problems. (425) 952-2843

Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers Chicago Attendees will hear from the world’s leading researchers in gasification, pyrolysis, and pyrolysis oil upgrading. Conference activities include a site visit to Gas Technology Institute’s laboratories and facilities. Visitors will also tour GTI’s Henry R. Linden Flex-Fuel Test Facility, which evaluates innovative gasification processes and helps to commercialize advanced gasification and downstream end-use technologies. +1 847 768 0940

September 17-18, 2009

BTLtec: Biomass to Liquids

World Congress on Oils and Fats

September 24-25, 2009

September 27-30, 2009

Hotel Novapark Graz Graz, Austria The fourth annual BTLtec will feature a panel of experts to share the latest biomass-to-liquids technology developments, project updates, government policies and feedstock issues, and will explore the latest thermochemical pathways for converting waste streams to liquids. Attendees will be able to network with biofuel project operators and developers, biorefinery executives, gasification technology developers, biodiesel executives and feedstock developers from around the world. +65 63469145

Sydney Convention And Exhibition Centre Sydney, Australia This conference will feature themes related to health and nutrition; processing; lipid chemistry; olive oil; aquaculture; lipid bioscience and genomics; oleochemicals; antioxidants; biodiesel and lipids in animal science. The event will provide a forum for exploring new development and cutting edge research in oils and fats. Session topics will include global fats and oils outlook, biotechnology, and recent biodiesel developments, trends and conflicts. + 61 2 9518 7722

Algae Biomass Summit

Biomass & WtE: Waste to Energy

October 7-9, 2009

October 28-29, 2009

Marriott San Diego Hotel & Marina San Diego The third annual event is expected to draw 1,000 global leaders, scientists, innovators, and policymakers. Industry leaders and attendees will discuss issues of critical importance to the emerging algae industry, including the commercial viability of algae production, current government and private initiatives, evolving technologies, processing concepts, life-cycle analysis, and venture and project finance. (206) 625-0075

Sofitel Shanghai Jin Jiang Oriental Pudong Shanghai, China Attendees will be able to network with biomass, biodiesel, ethanol and cellulosic ethanol producers; local, municipal and provincial government representatives; enzyme and catalyst providers; and other industry experts. The conference will focus on emerging technologies, upcoming projects around the world, and feedstock issues. Program highlights will include power generation from agricultural biomass, energy recovery from municipal solid waste, and biotechnologies converting biomass to fuels and chemicals. +65 63469145



BRIEFS Interior Department invests in woody biomass projects The U.S. Department of Interior announced it will invest $15 million under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to fund 55 projects in 12 states that will reduce hazardous fuels on federal land to protect at-risk communities from wild land fires, support local economies and rehabilitate ecosystems damaged by wildfires. The final selection criteria ensured project planning and environmental compliance work was complete or substantially complete and that projects have the potential to provide additional economic benefits to support local or regional employment through post-treatment use of biomass in wood products or power generation. California received the most funding at $3.3 million, followed by Montana with $2 million and Arizona at $1.3 million. To view a complete listing of projects and awards by state, visit press/bureaus/office-of-wildland-fire/. BIO

PetroSun names new president PetroSun Inc. has hired James Robinson as its new president. Robinson comes to PetroSun from the Gideon Group, a management consulting firm that helps early-stage companies access capital and grow their businesses. “I am pleased to welcome Jim to the PetroSun team,” said Gordon LeBlanc Jr., PetroSun CEO. “He is uniquely qualified to help PetroSun at this critical point in our evolution as we seek to commercialize our algae-to-biofuel operations.” Since 1989, Robinson has worked with firms to help them access millions of dollars in startup/ expansion capital and develop their businesses. Robinson has a master’s degree in business administration from the Sloan School of Management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is an adjunct professor of finance and marketing at Argosy University, Phoenix. BIO

OPW names new CFO, consolidates assets OPW Fluid Transfer Group, A Dover Co. that provides solutions for the safe and efficient handling of hazardous liquids, has named Steven Van Pee, chief financial officer. To better utilize the synerVan Pee Zant gies that exist within its four business units and eight global operations, the OPW Fluid Transfer Group announced that it would consolidate those assets into two distinct business units: OPWFTG Global Transportation Reichert Taylor and OPWFTG Global Chemical & Industrial. The consolidation has led to several changes. Thomas Zant has been named vice president of OPWFTG’s global transportation business unit. Jeff Reichert has been apCook Carrino pointed vice president of the global chemical and industrial business unit. Dan Taylor has been named site manager for the global transportation business unit’s manufacturing operation in Kansas City, Mo. Kevin Cook, has been named director of the global rail business unit. Greg Carrino has been named director, Hill sales and marketing for the global chemical and industrial business unit. The OPWFTG global transportation business unit will consist of two marketfocused entities: global rail and global cargo tank/truck. To ensure the smooth transition to and operation of the global cargo tank/truck business unit, OPWFTG has appointed Simon Hill as director. BIO

Chemrec retains The Stella Group Ltd. Chemrec has entered into an agreement with The Stella Group and its founder and President Scott Sklar to support the company’s efforts to raise awareness of Chemrec’s integrated biorefineries at pulp and paper mills using its patented technology to convert a mill byproduct called black liquor into renewable biofuels, biomaterials or power. The company plans to design, build and operate integrated biorefineries across the U.S. To facilitate project financing, Chemrec working with The Stella Group intends to compete for federal, state and local government programs and incentives such as project grants and loan guarantees offered by the departments of energy and agriculture. BIO 14 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 8|2009

PetroAlgae hires international sales team PetroAlgae, an alternative energy company, announced the addition of nine senior international sales executives to license its breakthrough commercial micro-crop technology system that enables large-scale production of clean fuel and food to customers in North America, South America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. The nine executives bring a wealth of experience to PetroAlgae having worked for companies including BP, ConocoPhillips, Cargill, Trinity Industries, Merrill Lynch and Syngenta. PetroAlgae now has 115 employees and is continuing to build its team as it prepares for commercialization. BIO


OriginOil files patent for low-energy, high-efficiency algae production OriginOil Inc. announced the filing of its Patent Cooperation Treaty titled “Apparatus and methods for photosynthetic growth of microorganisms in a photobioreactor.” This filing consolidates previous OriginOil inventions and adds new developments since the original filings. The invention addresses challenging problems in the culturing of microalgae, including highenergy utilization, fouling of light emitting surfaces and diurnal growth cycles. The proposed system provides efficient light utilization with comparatively low energy costs by providing light at closely spaced intervals within a photobioreactor so that light is provided throughout the photobioreactor rather than just at the surface and at the interfaces between culture medium and photobioreactor wall. BIO

BRIEFS Gray joins Qteros as new CTO Massachusetts-based biofuel company Qteros, whose Q Microbe technology turns biomass into cellulosic ethanol, announced that Kevin Gray has joined the company as chief technology officer. Gray most recently served as senior director of biofuels research and development for biotech company Verenium Corp. He brings more than two decades of experience in managing and conducting high-level research at Diversa Corp., Energy BioSystems Corp. and Verenium. He earned his Ph.D. from Texas Tech University and served as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania and The Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Germany. BIO

Niznik joins Innovation Fuels Innovation Fuels, the New York-based renewable energy company that manufactures, markets and distributes secondgeneration biodiesel, hired Paul Niznik as vice president of strategic operations managing the New England market. Niznik’s primary responsibility will be spearheading the development of Innovation Fuels’ New Haven terminal, which was scheduled to open in June. The terminal features barge, truck, vessel and rail access to heated storage for 1.2 million gallons of biodiesel fuel. Niznik Niznik is a graduate of Yale University and brings with him years of business development experience in New England. He comes to Innovation after leading a biofuels research and consulting company and developing new biofuels for heating applications. BIO

Nexterra expands North American sales force Nexterra Energy Corp. added three new executives to its North American sales force, strengthening the company’s strategic focus on regional biomass energy opportunities. The new senior sales executives will be responsible for supporting the growing demand for Nexterra’s commercial proprietary gasification technology in key markets, within the institutional and industrial sectors. Joining Nexterra’s sales organization are Jim McNamara, senior sales executive for Northeastern U.S.; Jo-Ann Yantzis, senior sales executive for Eastern Canada and Great Lakes Region; and Jonathan Harris, senior sales executive for new business development. BIO

ABO announces new directors

PerkinElmer, LEAP Technologies enter resale arrangement PerkinElmer Inc. has entered into a resale arrangement with LEAP Technologies Inc. Under this arrangement, LEAP Technologies will be able to incorporate PerkinElmer’s proprietary ultrahigh performance liquid chromatography and high performance liquid chromatography technology into front-end automation systems for mass spectrometry within the U.S. and Canada. The combined offering is intended to enable LEAP’s biotechnology and pharmaceutical customers to derive additional insight into the data of their most demanding applications. Financial details of the arrangement were not disclosed. In addition, PerkinElmer will be able to provide advanced automation solutions from LEAP Technologies into markets beyond its traditional customer base, including environmental, food safety and forensics. BIO

The Algal Biomass Organization announced the appointment of four new board members, and the re-election of an existing board member. The board members will help the organization develop the industry as algal biomass is increasingly being considered as a vital resource for clean and renewable energy. Newly elected directors include Ira Levine, associate professor at the University of Southern Maine and vice president of Biological Services Inc.; Margaret McCormick, general manager, Bio-based Materials Program at Targeted Growth Inc.; John Pierce, member at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati and one of the leaders of its Renewable Energy and CleanTech Practice, as well as the catalyst for the formation of the ABO; and Elizabeth Willett, business development and commercial manager, Mars Symbioscience, a division of Mars Inc. Philip Pienkos, a founding ABO board member and supervisor of the applied biology group at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, was re-elected to a second term. BIO 8|2009 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 15



NEWS The devastation caused by pine beetles at Willow Creek in the sulphur Range District in Colorado visibly contrasts with the healthy foliage.

Pine beetle-infested wood beneficial to biomass industry The millions of acres of dead, downed and diseased timber infected by pine beetles in Colorado and the Western U.S. could be put to beneficial use by the biomass industry, and also help with forest fire mitigation and suppression, according to Mark Mathis, Pellet Fuels Institute Government Affairs and Commercial Fuel Committee member. In mid-June, Mathis, a number of congressmen from western states, representatives of the U.S. departments of agriculture and the interior, state and local officials, and business owners testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Water and Power and Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. All stressed how important it is for the biomass industry to gain access to the pine-beetle-damaged wood, and to help Congress formulate a strategic plan to manage the materials. Mathis is also president of Confluence Energy LLC, which is removing affected timber in Colorado and using it to produce wood pellets. The company operates a manufacturing facility in Kremmling, Colo., 70 miles northwest of Denver. “The utilization of this material from U.S. forests and parks will put value on the material, which is currently considered a substantial liability to U.S. taxpayers,” Mathis said. “Confluence Energy has viewed documents created by U.S. Forest Service suggesting that the cost to treat some of the existing area in USFS Region 2 would exceed $220 million over the next three years. Confluence Energy said that by lowering some of the existing hurdles in accessing the dead and dying trees, private industry can add value to the material and dramatically reduce the cost to taxpayers.” Mathis said the company estimated the possible savings at about $75 million over five years. 16 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 8|2009

A decision needs to be made quickly, however, as the dead and dying trees have a limited shelf life, Mathis said. “It is estimated that once the trees die and turn red they have eight to 15 years before they blow over,” he said. “When trees blow over, they rot dramatically faster and any value from the wood is removed. Every minute we talk and do not act, not only are we are losing value, but we are reducing the time private industry has to get a return on their money to justify investing in these types of projects.” Mathis presented a plan that would require $10 million in grant funding and an additional $20 million in USDA-backed loans. He suggested Confluence Energy build an 8 MMgy to 10 MMgy ethanol plant and said the company has a partnership with a large U.S. fossil fuel company that is interested in a joint venture. The plan also includes the construction of a 5-megawatt power generation system to satisfy the facility’s and Kremmling’s energy needs; the retrofit and remodel of the company’s existing facility to manufacture highvalue wood products; the renovation of an existing rail loading facility to transport finished products to market, and the expansion of Confluence Energy’s pellet facility to maximize potential output. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., in his testimony, said the amount of diseased trees in Colorado is more than 2 million acres and growing. “We have over 633 miles of electrical transmission lines just in Colorado that are in areas of dead or dying trees,” Salazar said. “We also have over 1,300 miles of electrical distribution lines at risk from falling trees or fire. A large fire could destroy many of these lines, causing power outages for months. While a wildfire is just a matter of when, falling trees are occurring now on trails, rancher’s fences, camp grounds and power lines.”

Seth Voyles, PFI manager of government affairs, said the main thing on the agenda was to evaluate strategies to address the pine beetle wood problem. “For us, the pellet industry is part of the solution,” he said. Aside from pellets, Voyles said there are many other possible uses for the wood. “When these trees die, they get a blue tinge to them, so there is blue furniture being made out of them as well,” he said. As for the cost of retrieving the wood, Voyles said that varies, depending on whether the damaged wood is on federal, state or private land. Jennifer Hedrick, manager of PFI, said one of the major hang-ups is the release of the land by the government and permission for access for people to retrieve the materials. “There are some barriers,” Voyles agreed. “Especially on federal lands out West, there’s always some bureaucratic red tape to go through. There’s sensitivity about going into these lands, and sometimes there are no roads to get to them; some roads have limited access and you can’t get logging trucks in there; sometimes you’ll have timber sales approved by the government and the purchaser and suddenly someone files a lawsuit against it and it stops. There’s a whole mess of things that could prevent going in and getting the stuff out—even though everyone’s pretty gung-ho about doing it.” Voyles said congress will likely utilize testimony from the hearing to determine what can be done on the federal side and in future legislation to help expedite the process. “There are certain things they don’t want to do though, such as short-shift any environmental protocol or standards out there,” he said. “They held this hearing to get the best possible strategies that they can to help make decisions, so hopefully something will be done sooner rather than later.” —Anna Austin



Bioreactor technology on Georgia poultry farms can turn waste into methane for electricity generation.

Aerobic bioreactor technology to power Georgia poultry farms A newly patented bioreactor technology developed by American Technologies Inc. Petroleum will be used on poultry farms in Georgia to decompose waste, with the resulting methane being used to produce electricity for use on the farms. ATI, which expanded from Vietnam to locations in Tennessee, Nevada and California, conducted trials at five locations—one in Bakersfield, Ga., and four in Vietnam— and discovered all five pilot plants were capable of generating clean energy and reducing greenhouse gases and leakage from landfills to nearly zero, the company said. The aerobic bioreactor technology uses less odorous components than anaerobic digestion and decreases sludge, according to Alicia McDonald, director of research for ATI’s Clean Energy Division. Microbes, such as bacteria, degrade the waste mass, which could include animal manure, agricultural and forestry waste, food waste, paper and other organic biodegradable products. The feedstock is broken down into a safe, easy-to-handle, odor-free and nutrientrich organic fertilizer, McDonald said. She added that promoting optimal conditions necessary for bacteria to thrive increases the extent of organic waste decomposition and increases conversion rates and the effectiveness of the process.

“We are working for commercialization,” she said. “We’re most excited about the opportunities in biomass on poultry farms.” The company is developing up to 30-year contracts with Vietnamese poultry farmers near Atlanta, Ga. The fertilizer byproduct will present a savings to the farmers as fertilizer costs rise. “Those farmers have all sorts of pains hitting their wallets,” she said. Besides being environmentally friendly and producing a less putrid fertilizer than the ones on the market, the bioreactor eliminates the problems of waste storage and groundwater contamination, and saves farmers money on removal and tipping fees. In ATI’s process, it’s imperative to control the addition and removal of moisture and air from and into the waste mass, collect and extract methane gas and pollutants, and monitor the internal temperature of the bioreactor, McDonald said. Monitoring of these variables should be done daily, weekly, monthly and annually. Waste temperatures are maintained by properly balancing air and liquid addition rates. The bioreactor can run on wood chips, manure and carcasses from the poultry farms. Running 5.5 10-week cycles per year, the bioreactor can decompose 504 tons of chicken manure, 1,500 tons of wood chips

and 54 tons of defeathered chicken carcasses per cycle, McDonald said. The manure can produce about 30,240 cubic meters of methane, which converts to about 317,000 kilowatt hours of energy, and the wood chips can produce about 15,120 cubic meters of methane, converted to about 159,000 kilowatt hours of energy, she said. The poultry farmers will use that energy for cooking and heating, along with powering their homes. “Our first and foremost goal is to make sure these farmers can sustain themselves,” McDonald said. Any extra energy may be sold to the grid and ATI already is in discussions with some utility companies to develop agreements. ATI has conducted other renewable energy projects in Vietnam, many in the solar energy sector. “We have years and loads of energy projects we’ve done with the Department of Energy in the U.S. and many major energy corporations all around the world,” McDonald said. “There’s lots of new stuff on the horizon for ATI.” The company would also like to experiment with municipal solid waste as a feedstock for its aerobic bioreactor, she said. The technology would not have to be retrofitted, but would be required to operate on a grander scale. —Lisa Gibson



NEWS North American potato product producer Cavendish Farms has completed construction of an anaerobic digestion facility to generate biogas from potato waste, a project the company believes is a first for the potato industry. Feedstock materials include potato plant residues, starch, spent frying oil and aerobic sludge from the existing wastewater treatment plant. The facility will handle production rates of 120,000 tons per year of feedstock, or an estimated average blended input of 360 tons per day. Cavendish Farms began developing the facility in 2006, after two years of project evaluation. The wastewater treatment plant has been operating for more than 10 years, and has used the anaerobic sludge resulting from the treatment process as a soil conditioner. Now, the company will use the generated biogas from the anaerobic digestion facility to power boilers in its two co-located processing plants. The leftover digestate material will serve as a fertilizer to be spread over fields in place of potato waste/sludge, reducing odors. Cavendish expects the new plant, in New Annan, Prince Edward Island, will provide numerous benefits and savings to the company, and will potentially reduce its carbon footprint by 30 percent to 35 percent. The company also estimated it will reduce current


Cavendish Farms completes potato waste-to-biogas plant

Cavandish Farms built an anaerobic digestion plant to turn its potato waste into biogas.

fossil fuel requirements by 10 million liters (2.6 million gallons) per year, significantly reduce the amount of fueling trucks required, and eliminate trucks required to remove potato waste from the plant—a decrease of 1,450 kilometers (900 miles) or 10 to 14 truckloads per day. —Anna Austin

California cement plant uses biomass with coal in kilns Mitsubishi Cement in Lucerne Valley, Calif., has acquired a Rawlings Manufacturing Wood Hog, enabling it to use both coal and biomass in its cement kilns. The wood waste recovery system will use construction waste, according to Judi Tyacke, Rawlings Manufacturing, as Mitsubishi’s location makes other feedstocks difficult to procure. “They’re in the middle of the desert,” she said. “There isn’t a lot of slash, so they’re using construction wood waste.” Rawlings has been making and selling the wood hog design for 30 years, according to Tyacke. It can reduce various types and sizes of wood waste to biomass fuel six inches or less in size, she said. Once the wood has been processed through the hog, the metal is removed by an overhead self-cleaning magnet and conveyed to a moving floor stoker storage system, according to Rawlings. To ensure optimal size, the wood is then processed over two vibrating finger screens and transferred to the kilns by a blower system. The wood will already be ground when it’s shipped to the com-


pany, Tyacke said. Mitsubishi is working toward a 50:50 coal to biomass ratio, according to Scott Smith, plant manager. The system has been operating at the plant for about a month, he said. Rawlings is developing a railroad tie separator to expand the types of biomass feedstocks that can be fed into the wood hog, Tyacke said. Ties would have to be ground before being put into the wood hog system. “We’re hoping we can do this at quite a few more cement plants,” Tyacke said. A study conducted by scientists in Spain showed using biomass in cement kilns decreased the carbon dioxide emissions by 144,000 tons between 2003 and 2006, according to a journal article written by the researchers. The study evaluated the effects of using sewage sludge to generate 20 percent of the thermal energy needed in the cement manufacturing process at a plant in Vallcarca. Smith said the system will reduce carbon dioxide emissions at the Mitsubishi plant, but didn’t have specific amounts to cite. —Lisa Gibson


NEWS San Jose advances waste-to-biogas facility plans The city of San Jose, Calif., recently announced it had authorized the city manager to negotiate and execute a memorandum of understanding to develop guidelines and potential lease terms for the development of an organic-waste-to-energy biogas facility. The facility, which would be built on 40 acres near the San Jose/ Santa Clara Water Pollution Control Plant, would process up to 150,000 tons of food and yard waste per year that would otherwise be sent to landfills. The facility will be constructed and operated by Zanker Road Biogas. Upon successful negotiations with the city, a lease will be issued to Zero Waste Energy Development Co. Inc., a partnership between GreenWaste Recovery and sister company Zanker Road Resource Management. GreenWaste owns and operates a material recovery facility that would provide feedstock to the new plant. ZRRM also owns and operates a material processing facility, a resource recovery facility and landfill, as well as the second-largest composting plant in California. Renewable power plant builder and operator Harvest Power Inc. will provide project development capabilities. A San Jose public relations representative said that although all of the existing anaerobic digestion processes in the U.S agricultural and wastewater industries process wet waste, the proposed project

would use dry fermentation technology because it can handle hardto-divert materials such as food waste, which can contain as much as 50 percent total solids; typical dairy and wastewater digestion feedstocks are wetter, ranging from 8 percent to 15 percent solids. BEKON Energy Technologies will supply the dry fermentation anaerobic digestion technology, which the company has previously installed in 12 facilities in Germany and Italy. According to GreenWaste President Richard Christina, the project will be developed in three phases, each designed to increase capacity by 50,000 tons per year. The biogas produced will generate electricity for use at the water pollution control plant, or be sold back into the regional electrical utility power grid. An estimated 50 to 60 jobs will be created when the biogas facility is fully operational; completion is anticipated in 2011. This project will bring San Jose closer to its goal of being 100 percent energy independent. In October 2007, the San Jose City Council adopted “Green Vision,” a 15-year clean technology plan which includes generating 100 percent of the city’s electrical needs from renewable sources and diverting 100 percent of its landfill wastes to clean energy conversion. To learn more, visit —Anna Austin

German city constructing underground biogas network The city of Lünen, Germany, will soon be home to an underground biogas network, which will generate heat and electricity for nearly one-third of the city’s 90,000 residents. Work on the project began this spring, according to Peter Kindt, chairman of local heat and power provider Alfagy Ltd. The total project will cost €15 million ($21 million), he said. The biogas will be distributed to the city through an underground biogas pipeline network. “Four digesters (located at local farms) will annually ferment up to 100,000 metric tons of energy crops such as corn, grass stalks and manure to supply a gas vat that will feed the biogas network. The network will be approximately 7 kilometers (5 miles) long,

he said. The gas network will power 12 Schmitt Enertec GmBh cogeneration units, which will feed the electricity into the grid and the heat into local district heating networks. Schmitt Enertec is a combined-heat-and-power system provider in Mendig, Germany. Frank Schmitt, managing director of Schmitt Enertec, said the project was a nice challenge for the company. “We believe this is a model for the future of local power generation,” he said. When operational, the plant will produce 6.9 megawatts, or enough power to supply 26,000 houses with electricity. The project is expected to begin production in December, according to Kindt. —Anna Austin



NEWS SG Biofuels, Agrasun advance in jatropha research Two U.S.-based companies have made advancements in their jatropha research. As one begins planting in Latin America, the other is working to develop strains that may be planted in colder temperatures in areas within the U.S. California-based SG Biofuels has identified several strains of cold-tolerant jatropha and has initiated a breeding program to develop them as an oil-producing crop in colder U.S. climates. The company has been working to develop several traits of the plant for the past three years, including increasing oil content, seed size and decreasing input requirements, among others. “Anything that will increase the quality of biomass,” said Kirk Haney, president and CEO. The firm has collected a range of jatropha curcas from various climates and geographies around the globe and has the largest and most diverse collection in its recently launched Genetic Resource Center, Haney said, adding that the center has garnered a lot of attention. The cold-tolerant strains were collected from various sites in Central America at elevations ranging from 1,600 meters (5,200 feet) to more than 1,800 meters (about 6,000 feet). The average daily low temperature there between December and February is around 45 degrees Fahrenheit and temperatures at night fall below freezing, according to SG Biofuels. Jatropha typically thrives in areas where the average minimum temperature is 60 degrees or more. “This is one trait we’ve identified that we feel has a commercial value,” Haney said. “This is something that could grow in the U.S. Really, what’s valuable is making


SG Biofuels and Agrasun both made recent advancements in their jatropha research, discovering beneficial strains of the plant and expanding growing operations.

sure that trait exists in the highest yielding cultivars.” The plant is native to Central America and can be grown on abandoned lands unsuitable for food crops. It’s limited, though, by its lack of tolerance for cold temperatures. Oil yields of 200 to 300 gallons per acre are possible with the proper site selection and agronomic practices. The plant also has very low input costs compared with other biofuel feedstocks, according to SG Biofuels. “I think throughout the year, we’ll continue to release information about commercially valuable traits that we’ve identified,” Haney said. “And I think we’ll continue to propel jatropha as one of the global market leaders for fuel production. It’s a great feedstock, but it’s also produced sustainably and profitably today.”

Agrasun, a new energy company based in Florida, announced recently it will plant jatropha in Colombia and Mexico. A pilot project of less than 100 hectares (247 acres) is ongoing in the Meta region of Colombia and will expand to Sinaloa in Mexico, according to Michael Fisher, vice president of business development. Over the next 18 months, the company will begin planting for harvest and Fisher says about 1,500 hectares (3,706 acres) of jatropha will be planted each year. The company is working with Live Systems Technology, an agriculture bioscience company in Colombia, to demonstrate the productivity of the concentrated growth of jatropha. Unique to the project is its social development component, selected from the Eighth Annual Social Venture Plan Competition at the University of Notre Dame’s Gigot Center. A team of current and former students developed the plan with concern for the “triple bottom line—people, planet and profits,” according to Agrasun. The team traveled to Colombia to meet with the company’s scientific partners, attend an international microfinance and peace-building conference and develop local contacts for collaboration. Jatropha crops in Colombia will create jobs and provide an alternative to narcotics and the illicit drug trade, said Tess Bone, a Notre Dame graduate who helped create the plan. “The social development role is the critical part,” Fisher said. —Lisa Gibson


NEWS Energy Secretary Steven Chu traveled to North Dakota July 1 to announce a local power plant has been selected to receive up to $100 million in stimulus package funding to incorporate advanced carbon capture and sequestration technologies. At the press event, which took place at Bismarck State College’s National Energy Center for Excellence, Chu used the opportunity to provide attendees with an update on climate change and the U.S. DOE’s programs that are designed to combat it. “We have an extraordinary energy challenge before us,” Chu said. “It affects many things.” He said he believes our nation’s economic prosperity is going to be intimately tied to the development of sustainable energy sources, and how efficiently we use the energy we produce. Chu explained to attendees that climate change is occurring much more rapidly than was previously estimated. He spoke of recent studies that project a continued highcarbon economy could result in warmer temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, and water supply stresses that would negatively impact major agricultural areas in our nation. “I am very hopeful as a scientist that we can in fact conquer this—it’s not too late,” he said. “But, we will need a new industrial revolution … so we can get our energy from carbon-free sources and use the energy we have more efficiently.” Chu said the U.S. must seize the opportunity to be the leader of this new industrial revolution. “We will live in a carbon-constrained world,” Chu said. “My hope is we will live in a carbon-constrained world a year or two from now.” He said that as a country we need to start basing our actions on what the


Chu announces carbon sequestration funding; stresses importance of energy crops, ag residue

Energy Secretary Chu stressed the importance of using renewable fuels to combat climate change. He said the DOE is currently focusing its research efforts on the use of grasses for biofuels production.

future is likely to hold in regard to oil prices and climate change, rather than basing our actions on where we stand now. In addition to working to make carbon sequestration technologies economical, Chu also described many other areas in which the DOE is working to combat climate change. These areas of research include wind power, modernizing the electric grid, energy efficient building practices and biomass. “The Department of Energy is working very hard to improve the ability to generate fuel to offset foreign oil imports using grasses,” Chu said. He spoke to attendees about DOE research that is currently focused on miscanthus, a grass energy crop that can be grown without fertilizer or irrigation. He said research has shown that miscanthus can yield 15 times more ethanol per acre than

corn. However, the production process is currently not cost effective. Chu said the DOE is working to bring down the cost of production, as well as research ways to convert crop residues and lumber mill residues into fuel. “A conservative estimate says we can replace half our gasoline with biofuels, of which half we can generate from agricultural wastes,” he said. Chu also spoke about the importance of creating energy innovation hubs where researchers work to quickly and effectively move new technologies to commercialization. One example of this Chu offered is the Joint BioEnergy Institute, which is a partnership among six entities led by Berkeley National Laboratory. “Within six months of the establishment of this laboratory, we were able to change yeast and bacteria genetically so that if you feed them simple sugars, they would produce gasoline-like and diesel-like fuel,” he said. “Now, we’re not there yet because we need to get the yield up much higher. So, for the next four or five years we hope to get the yield up.” By getting a small group of the best scientists together in one place, they are able to expedite the research process and produce effective results. He compared these energy hubs to entities such as Bell Laboratories and Los Alamos, where similar research models were successfully used in the past to produce truly transformational technologies. In order to prevent the drastic implications of climate change, he said, we need to decrease our carbon emissions by more than 80 percent by mid-century. “We don’t know how to do that in a cost effective way,” he said, which is why we need to concentrate on the development of transformational technologies. —Erin Voegele



NEWS NY biomass plant first to achieve FSC standards certification Curran Renewable Energy LLC in Massena, N.Y., is the first biomass mill in the nation to receive Forest Stewardship Council chain-of-custody certification from the Rainforest Alliance’s SmartWood program. Chain-of-custody certification guarantees that wood used in Curran Renewable Energy’s pellets comes from certified, responsibly managed forestlands and is tracked throughout the supply chain from the forest to the consumer. Consumers can look for the FSC label on wood products to know they are supporting forest management that protects biodiversity. “There should be value to all of us in responsibly managing forests,” said Dave Bubser, SmartWood U.S. regional manager. Curran Renewable Energy’s certified wood pellets are produced from FSC-certified forests in New York State. Seaway Timber Harvesting Inc., which shares a president and CEO with Curran Renewable Energy, harvests the wood used in the pellets, according to the Rainforest Alliance. Seaway has been in the forestry industry for 19 years. The certification won’t change how either business operates, but it recognizes good policies and practices already in place, according to Patrick Curran, president and CEO of both. “We’re going to pull more value out of the product and pass it along to the customer,” he said. Curran hopes other businesses will follow his lead and realize the importance of good forest management. “The foresters all want best forest management practices in place,” he said.

Northwest Forest Consultants assisted Curran Renewable Energy with its responsibilities in the lengthy certification process. FSC certification ensures that forestry operations meet a set of environmental, social and economic criteria covering compliance with laws and international treaties, land-use and indigenous peoples’ rights, community relations, biodiversity conservation and maintenance of high-conservation value forests, among other criteria. Curran Renewable Energy specifies that it will provide adequate training to staff in several different positions, initially and when needed thereafter, and will maintain records that demonstrate compliance. The company also addresses the different types of material inputs and supplier identification and ensures it will not use any wood species known to be on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species list, among numerous other specifications. Certification is a stakeholder-driven process, according to Bubser. “The FSC oversees and puts their stamp on it at the end of the day,” he said. Companies are asked to develop their own systems and programs and are evaluated, but they all must meet the comprehensive FSC standards, he added. SmartWood works with more than 1,000 companies for certification, but this is the first biomass plant in the nation to achieve it, Bubser said. “Having somebody take a leadership role in the biomass industry is noteworthy,” he said, adding that it should prompt others to do the same. —Lisa Gibson

London mayor unveils food waste-to-fuel program London Mayor Boris Johnson recently announced the launch of an initiative to convert the city’s food waste into renewable energy and to reduce landfill rates and emissions through the construction of anaerobic digestion and biodiesel production facilities. According to the mayor’s office, London generates 2.7 million tons of organic waste each year, or 13 percent of all waste produced. City landfills receive approximately 40 percent of organic waste produced. “The Food Waste to Fuel Alliance” will be aimed at uniting developers, food producers and energy companies to provide new infrastructure needed for the program’s goals, which includes the construction of five biofuel/anaerobic digestion plants in or near London by 2012.


According to the mayor’s office, several companies have already joined the alliance, which will consist of a steering group including representatives from the London Waste and Recycling Board, the London Development Agency, the Greater London Authority, Transport for London and London Food. London’s Waste and Recycling Board was established in September 2008, and has up to £84 million ($138 million) to spend over the next three years to reduce waste and boost recycling; £31 million ($51 million) is earmarked for renewable energy projects. To learn more, visit the Web site at —Anna Austin


NEWS Researchers discover new way to deoxygenize biomass University of California Berkeley and Berkeley Lab researchers have discovered a relatively inexpensive way to remove oxygen from biomass, which could pave the way for producing many of today’s petrochemical products from biomass. The one-step deoxygenation technique is based on an existing formic acid treatment. Formic acid, a chemical found in bee venom, converts glycerol (a byproduct of biodiesel production) into allyl alcohol, which is used as a starting material in the production of polymers, drugs, organic compounds, herbicides and other chemical products. Today, allyl alcohol is produced from the oxidation of petroleum. “Right now, about 5 percent of the world’s supply of petroleum is used to make feedstocks that are synthesized into commodity chemicals,” said Jonathan Ellman, UC Berkeley chemistry professor and a principal investigator in the research. “If these feedstocks can instead be made from biomass, they become renewable and their production will no longer be a detriment to the environment.” The process also can convert erythritol, obtained by the fermentation of glucose, to dihydrofuran, according to Ellman. The formic acid removes the oxygen from the glycerol, creating the alcohol. In its original conception, the reaction was low-yielding because of charring, an unselective combustion that leads to an intractable mixture under high heat. Ellman and his fellow princi-

pal investigator, Robert Bergman, who holds a joint appointment with Berkeley Lab’s Chemical Sciences Division and the UC Berkley chemistry department, used labeling experiments and a unique distillation system on the old process. They found that protecting the reaction from air provided a much improved process for the deoxygenation of glycerol. Treating the glycerol with formic acid while directing a stream of nitrogen through the reaction mixture completely eliminates charring, Bergman said. The nitrogen also facilitates distillation of the alcohol and the final product shows substantially improved yield—80 percent—and higher selectivity. Bergman and Ellman’s technique could be used to convert carbohydrates in biomass, along with other polyhydroxy compounds, into the chemical feedstocks that are now derived from petroleum, according to Berkeley. It also could prove useful in converting biomass into liquid transportation fuels. Scaling up the process to industrial levels, however, will be a challenge, the researchers say. “We continue to investigate the application of this deoxygenation method to other biomass derived materials,” Ellman said. “But it will not necessarily be applicable to all types of biomass material.” —Lisa Gibson

Florida potential location of two biomass power plants Florida may soon become home to two biomass power plants— Port St. Joe is the intended site for Biomass Gas & Electric LLC’s 45-megawatt biomass power plant that will run on woody biomass and energy crops; and ADAGE LLC has recently secured the rights to a 215-acre site in Hamilton County for the first in a series of 50-megawatt wood waste-fired power plants. The plant in Port St. Joe will be dubbed the Northwest Florida Renewable Energy Center and will use gasification technology. The site was chosen because of its welcoming business development spirit, geographic situation and proximity to the biomass necessary for plant operation, according to BG&E. The feedstock will come from a combination of local wood providers, farmers and BG&E crops, said Keith McDermott, BG&E media representative. The company hopes to have almost 50 percent of the feedstock under its control within 24 months of plant completion, he added. The plant will create almost 200 jobs in construction and 25 to 30 permanent positions, according to the company. BG&E plans to break ground in the first quarter of 2010 and

hopes to be operational 18 to 24 months later, according to McDermott. The plant will generate enough electricity to power 25,000 homes and the company has a purchase power agreement with Progress Energy of Florida to deliver the electricity to its customers. The proposed Hamilton County plant, about 80 miles west of Jacksonville, would create about 400 jobs during construction, along with 125 facility and fuel-related jobs during operation, according to the company. ADAGE, a joint venture owned by affiliates of AREVA SA and Duke Energy Co., is negotiating with JEA, an electric utility in the Jacksonville area, for the potential purchase of the power generated at the plant. The company is also in discussions with The Langdale Co. for its supply of waste wood. Before construction can begin, the company must obtain final permit approvals, enter into binding power purchase and fuel supply agreements, receive state and local incentives and consummate final financing arrangements, according to ADAGE. Upon completion, the plant would supply enough power for about 40,000 households. —Lisa Gibson



U.K. island uses gasification technology to turn municipal solid waste into power , bringing it closer to energy independence. By Lisa Gibson

MSW Spells

Self-Sufficiency for Isle of Wight


Advanced thermal conversion technology is used to turn waste into energy inside the gasifier at the Energos facility on the Isle of Wight. PHOTO: ENERGOS




sle of Wight, U.K., residents are no longer completely reliant on the mainland for their energy. The island is the first location in the country to obtain and operate a municipalsolid-waste-to-energy plant using advanced thermal conversion technology. In operation since February of this year, the gasification technology generates 2.3 megawatts of electricity, enough to power up to 3,000 homes on the island that is home to about 139,000 people. The plant is designed to run on 30,000 tons of fuel annually, produced from 60,000 to 70,000 tons of waste. The biomass plant, which utilizes some of the existing equipment from an old incinerator, runs alongside the Isle of Wight Council’s Resource and Recovery Facility in Newport,

where the waste is processed. “The Newport plant will allow the Isle of Wight to become even more self-sufficient in terms of waste,” says Steve Boswell, operational manager for the Isle of Wight Council’s Environment and Waste division. He adds that the plant has been well-received by residents and the council. The gasification technology was developed by Energos Ltd., a Norwegian company acquired by Ener-G in 2004. The company has six municipal-solid-waste-toenergy plants operating in Norway and Germany using the same technology, with a total of more than 300,000 operational hours.

The Gasification Process The Energos waste plant on the Isle of Wight is an ideal model




An Excellent Opportunity

The Isle of Wight municipal solid waste-to-energy plant incorporates new and existing equipment.

for small, community-based facilities. Drying and gasification of the waste is done in the primary chamber under sub-stoichiometric conditions. The resulting gas is transferred to a separate secondary chamber where high-temperature oxidation occurs. The process is monitored and controlled via a software system. “We don’t separate the syngas out,” says Tony Grimshaw, technical director of Energos. “We immediately combust it at 1,000 degrees [Celsius] (1,832 degrees Fahrenheit), which eliminates all the problems that traditional gasification actually has including tar deposition and fouling, and all those kinds of things. We just basically don’t allow the tar to condense out.” The advantage is that it’s a bankable solution and it’s reliable, Grimshaw says. The heat recovery steam generator is connected downstream of the oxidation unit and recovers energy from the flue gas, which is then converted to steam. The resulting energy is supplied directly into the national grid. Typical measurements of syngas concentrations between the gasification and oxidation stages show 7 percent hydrogen, 3 percent methane, 9 percent carbon monoxide and 14 percent carbon dioxide, Boswell says. 26 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 8|2009

The adjoining Resource Recovery Facility accepts all collected residual household waste from the island. Recyclables such as aluminum, steel and organic fines are extracted and the plastic, cardboard and paper are used to produce a low-densified floc fuel that is baled and transferred to the gasification plant. Previously, it was trucked to the mainland. The gasification process produces two types of ash: an inert bottom ash and fly ash. The bottom ash is sent to a landfill on the island and used as daily cover. The fly ash is transported off the island for treatment and disposal, according to Ener-G. The Energos research team also developed a new reactor for the Isle of Wight plant that increases combustion efficiency and improves dust removal, increasing availability and enabling fewer interruptions and downtime. The project is part of the U.K. government’s New Technologies Demonstrator Programme managed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), a government agency that promotes innovative ways to reduce the volume of waste sent to landfills. Defra is contributing £2.7 million (about $4.4 million), 35 percent of the cost of development and operation in the first year, which totals £8 million (about $13.1 million), according to Boswell.

The plant uses existing equipment from an incinerator that was closed down, which put the cost of the project development at about $6.6 million. The cost of building a new facility would have been $20 million to $25 million, Grimshaw says. “It was very much an opportunity to do it quickly and do it cheaply.” The project uses the existing steam boiler, steam turbine, flue gas cleaning equipment, chimney and water cooling process from the closed incinerator, he says. “All that equipment is being reused and we simply put on a new front end in terms of a gasifier and the oxidizer, put in a new control, added a new building, and a new fuel delivery system.” Many municipal solid waste plants in the past have failed because of poor design and technical base, according to Grimshaw. “The operation is easy to understand, so we’re not really taking any step-outs in terms of the technology base and the equipment type,” he says. The simple design was developed by Norwegian petrochemical engineers with Ph.D.’s, Grimshaw says, and the chemistry used in the process is controlled, making emissions low. “It’s not a complicated bit of equipment,” he says. “The waste industry is not necessarily particularly sophisticated. They’re more used to running trucks about and putting waste into holes in the ground. If you try to sell them a solution that is quite sophisticated, they won’t have the experience and staff to operate those kinds of facilities. So it seemed for us that it was a relatively simple piece of equipment with unsophisticated controls that would be easy for them to operate.”

Localized Solution “This project will deliver significant environmental benefits to Isle of Wight residents,” Boswell says. “It is also a localized solution because the energy will be used on the island, and there will be little wastage during the transmission phase.” It also supports the island’s goal to reduce the amount of biodegradable waste sent to the landfill. “The Isle of Wight has an objective to be an eco-island—to be carbon neutral—by

GASIFICATION 2020,” Grimshaw says. “What we’re doing will contribute to that strategy.” “This is an exciting project, which should enable the Isle of Wight Council, with the support of its partners, Island Waste Services and Waste Gas Technology, to remain one of the leading waste management authorities in the U.K.,” Boswell says. “The process will be monitored closely, which will be a factor in enabling the council to develop its long-term waste strategy.” The plant also provides nine jobs for islanders. Incineration is not a popular process in the U.K. because of the pollutants it emits, Grimshaw says. “When you negotiate with a community, it’s positive to be able to say the emissions are very low and, because we have six reference plants operating, we can demonstrate that it’s real,” he says. The communities on the island were consulted and engaged in the decision-making and welcomed the technology, Grimshaw says. “They are satisfied when they can see that a waste stream they were exporting off the island to dispose of is now generating power for up to 3,000 homes,” he says. “There’s a feel-good factor. On the Isle of Wight, there were no objections whatsoever, but this is better technology than the old plant. They could see it was a better solution than moving waste off the island on a ferry; driving it 100 miles and putting it in a cement kiln.”

Some communities are less receptive to building these types of facilities in their neighborhoods, but the facilities are justified because they use only the waste generated by the communities, Grimshaw says. Community-level systems can be more attractive and efficient because bigger facilities produce a large amount of heat and sometimes are unable to find consumers to purchase it, Grimshaw explains. The Isle of Wight system doesn’t sell heat, but most of the systems in Norway and Germany do. When developing new projects, Energos is selecting sites near large heat consumers to ensure there is a market, he says. Another problem with large facilities is the increase in truck movement, he adds. They require more fuel and therefore need more trucks to deliver it, to the dismay of neighbors. “If you have a small facility, you’re minimizing truck movement,” Grimshaw says. “You’re minimizing the amount of miles you have to drive with the waste onboard the truck.”

Driving Interest A visitor center also was established at the site to drive development of similar green projects and it has seen heavy traffic thus far, Grimshaw says. Energos’ technology and experience has also increased its popularity. “As a company, we have more opportunities than we can easily manage, so we’re trying to

be selective,” he says. “Gasification is attractive at the moment and we’re in a position where we have little competition.” Legislation in some countries also helps generate business. In Germany for example, laws limit the amount of biodegradable waste that can be landfilled. “The economics are very much in our favor,” he says. Energos is in discussions to build several more waste-to-energy plants, including some in the U.K. and one in Italy, and expects to have another up and running in Norway by the end of the year, according to Grimshaw. Expansion on the Isle of Wight might be more difficult, though, as there is not enough domestic waste to power the entire island. Energos’ contract with island waste management expires in 2015. At that time, the contract will be retendered to procure either an integrated contract or a series of smaller contracts. The arrangement could expand to include commercial waste, but that would only double the capacity of the plant, Grimshaw says. The new arrangements could mean new and bigger equipment, too. “It’s that contract that will trigger what we do,” he says. BIO Lisa Gibson is a Biomass Magazine associate editor. Reach her at lgibson@ or (701) 738-4952.





GASIFICATION Utilizing a technology developed at the U.S. DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Utahbased Genifuel Corp. is working to gasify aquatic biomass into natural gas for use in pipelines and power generation. By Anna Austin





n the world of biofuels, algae are typically associated with biodiesel production. While numerous companies are working to break barriers associated with commercial-scale algal biodiesel production, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Genifuel Corp. have embraced algae, or aquatic biomass, for a different purpose—natural gas production. The companies are working to perfect a catalytic gasification process, which PNNL recently granted Genifuel an exclusive license for, and to develop a technique to efficiently grow and harvest aquatic biomass for use as a feedstock. The companies think their process, which was originally developed as a technique to clean up industrial and food processing waste as an alternative to incineration, will be more efficient than other methods of gasifying biomass. Now, it’s just a matter of maintaining funding while finetuning and scaling up the system to prove it can be commercially viable.

A Different Application PNNL’s research began with a slightly different impetus than other algae projects—to develop an organic wastewater treatment/clean-up system, says Doug Elliot, the PNNL scientist who invented the gasification process. “When we started trying to do biomass gasification the intent was to look at the mechanisms and capture intermediates in the catalytic gasification,” he says. “We found that when we ran in this direction, rather than capturing water solutions for the organic intermediates, we actually did a pretty effective gasification.” The PNNL team then spent a number of years working on a wet biomass gasification system, but lost funding and continued to work on different organic wastewaters for the clean-up system. The important component of the system is that it’s a simple one-step catalytic process, but it’s also somewhat complex because it’s a high-pressure hot water system, according to Elliot. “We pump solutions of organics and waters, sugars or slurries— solid biomass ground into a fine particle size— into the catalyst bed,” he says. “Water comes out the other side, and the organic material is broken down through the catalyst into methane and carbon dioxide. In a short version, that’s about it—a hot slurry solution is pumped at high pressure through a catalyst bed, and out comes clean water and fuel gas.” Elliot points out that when using biomass, while there are clean organics in the water, there are also mineral components— in some cases sulfur in the biomass proteins—which can contaminate the catalyst. “An incorporation of preliminary steps for mineral matter removal and sulfur trapping are built into the system, as part of the heat-up process before the organic material and water go into the catalyst bed to be gasified,” he says.

The PNNL gasifier runs at relatively low temperatures—350 degrees Celsius (662 degrees Fahrenheit)—in a stainless steel reactor.

Scale-Ups, Yields and Challenges PNNL tested the system at several scales, ranging from a 30-milliliter reactor used for long-term testing and catalyst lifetime proofing, to a bench-scale unit with a 1-liter catalyst bed and to a mobile, 4.4-liter trailer-mounted unit which can be taken onsite for testing to process approximately a quarter-ton of slurry per day. These tests have indicated that the process is quicker and higher yielding than other biomass gasification methods, namely, anaerobic digestion. “What we’ve done is compare our conversion rates with anaerobic digestion to biological processing,” Elliot says. “Our system seems to run 300 to 400 times faster, but what you’re comparing is a small, high-pressure stainless steel reactor with a catalyst in it, to very large vats and tanks used in anaerobic digestion. The capital costs would be as much or more, but the footprint is much smaller.” Another superior characteristic of the system is that with the catalysts and conditions used, nearly all of the aquatic biomass material is broken down. “In the water coming out the tail end of our process—some of the recent runs we were doing with lignocellulosic ethanol residues—the chemical oxygen demand was at about 200 parts per million,” Elliot says. “We can get 99 percent conversions of the organic material to gases coming out the other side, as opposed to 60 percent to 70 percent for an anaerobic system.” The higher conversion rates can be attributed to the fact that the catalyst is not as selective as the biological systems, and can tear apart all types of organic functional groups. “It’s broadly applicable to chemical wastewater, as well as biomass, because we’ve shown that we can tear apart most chemical functional groups, certainly carbon, hydrogen and oxygen-containing materials,” Elliot says. “If there’s nitrogen in the structure, we’ve shown that it primarily comes out as ammonia in the water; sulfur we have to trap out so it doesn’t show up anywhere in the outlet streams.” As is the case with the development of any new technology, there are challenges. In this case, it’s a matter of money. “We’ve gotten to a point where we thought we were ready to advance, to make a connection in an area—for example biomass—and move into continuous processing, but the government money went away,” he says. The biggest issue is the uncertainty of the process and because it’s an entirely new way of doing things, Elliot says. “On the biomass end, we’ve developed these pretreatment steps and we think we have these in hand now, so we’re moving forward,” he says. “It’s just been a matter of finding the right partners in the algae area—and now Genifuel is going to do that.”



Catalytic gasification of aquatic biomass with recycling of CO2 (no greenhouse gas emmissions)

Evaluating Cost Determining the exact cost of a system isn’t easy, according to Elliot, because it depends on varying factors—the specific application, what kind of feedstock is used and what concentration, as well as the intended use of the gas. “In 2004, we did a study and found that if we were to receive the residues from the spent grain from ethanol, a zerocost feedstock, we would be able to produce a natural gas equivalency of about $5 per million Btu, and that was just barely interesting five or six years ago,” Elliot says. “Of course, it looks a lot better now. We’ve done another study recently, in applying it to the lignocellulosic ethanol residues, and in that case we’ve predicted that our capital costs would be about 17 percent less than the capital required for the various pressing, drying and combustion systems that are drawn on paper for the lignocellulosic ethanol plants.” Elliot says the PNNL team is hopeful that they will soon be able to show the technology to people in the marketplace. “Application to chemical waste streams will probably come sooner because that’s more of a question of disposal costs,” he says. “A


company we’re working with now incinerates the water because it’s too toxic for biological systems, yet only being about 10 percent organics in the water, you can probably guess it takes a lot of energy just to incinerate—to boil all the water—so our system is a better option for them. It’s just a matter of getting over the risk; being the first one to build the plant is a tricky thing.” On the feedstock side, Elliot says cost is again an issue, and that’s where Genifuel comes into play. For the past three years, the Utah-based company has been developing a low-cost system to grow and harvest aquatic biomass. “They’re developing the algae part and we’re doing the gasification—it’s definitely a good partnership,” Elliot says.

A Unique Approach Genifuel CEO Jim Oyler says the company may seem relatively young, having been formed in 2006, but it is actually one of the earliest companies to start using nonagricultural crops to produce ethanol and biodiesel. “We’re focusing on biofuels from nonagricultural products,” he says. Oyler says the feedstock Genifuel grows

can more accurately be described as aquatic biomass, rather than algae. “It seems like a real technical difference, but there are a variety of aquatic species that can supply the biomass,” he says. “For example, cyanobacteria, which are not actually algae but a bacterium, and there are other aquatic materials such as diatoms. We refer to it as aquatic biomass, though most call it algae.” Genifuel’s technology platform involves the outdoor growth of aquatic biomass, in what the company calls “Genifarms.” “These kind of aquatic species grow anywhere, in any climate,” he says. To achieve the best and cheapest growth, however, consideration of cost-related economics is critical when choosing where to grow aquatic biomass. “You’d actually like a warm, humid climate with relatively easy access to water supplies, and so it probably is not optimum to grow aquatic biomass in the Northern U.S. or Canada; it’s more optimum in the Southern U.S.,” he says. “We’re currently growing and harvesting [aquatic biomass] outdoors, on a relatively small scale, but we’re growing enough to make some substantial runs with the gasifiers that PNNL developed. We do that to gather additional data, and make design improvements to the gasifiers.” Genifuel tried using algae to make biodiesel but soon gave up. “It’s a very difficult process with a lot of problems—all of which can be solved, but all of which make it expensive,” Oyler says. The company concluded that algae-based biodiesel wasn’t going to be profitable because it’s difficult to harvest. “The biodiesel approach requires algae that can make oil, which can then be converted into diesel fuel,” Oyler says. “The species that make algae oil are very small cells. They are all unicellular, on the order of five microns, which is small and therefore hard to harvest. With our approach, we’re not trying to make oil or biodiesel. We’re gasifying the entire biomass to try to make natural gas.” By not worrying about extracting the oil, a huge restraint is removed, Oyler says. “That allows us to select bigger species that are easier to harvest, with very simple technology and machinery, or even by hand,” he says.

PROJECT Key Considerations When growing algae outdoors, the focus must be on high growth rates and low costs, Oyler says. “If you’re going to try to make fuel, you have to have low costs. One of the well-kept secrets of alternative energy in general—and it doesn’t matter if it’s wind, solar or biofuels—is that technologies are more expensive than in fossil energy, and usually by a factor of two times, or even five times,” he says. “The only way today to make any alternative energy viable is to have government involvement, either through subsidies or tax credits, or raising the price of other energy.” The cap-and-trade legislation being developed today has the effect of raising the cost of fossil energy, but alternative energy is more expensive than fossil energy and therefore emphasizes the importance of further reducing the cost of alternative energy, from Oyler’s perspective. Cost is critical if biofuels are going to make a significant contribution to the energy economy of the future. “Some people attempting to make biofuels from aquatic biomass or algae are using closed, indoor systems or artificial lights or photobioreactors,” Oyler says. “In our experience, that’s never going to work. It’s way too expensive.” He says the most cost efficient and simplest way is using open outdoor ponds or channels of water.

It’s also important to economically get as much oil from the algae as possible. Algal oil typically yields 20 percent to 30 percent oil. “Some people talk about yields twice that high, but it’s not economic,” Oyler says. “You usually get 20 or so percent, maybe 30 percent oil, where our system gets almost a 100 percent conversion. When we realized this route, we decided to look for a way to get higher yields from our aquatic biomass, and found this project that Elliot had developed. After we began working with them to test their gasification process with our aquatic biomass, we found that not only did it work, but it worked very well.”

Moving Ahead The next step for PNNL and Genifuel is to reach large-scale production, and Oyler says the companies are well along that path. “We’ve already scaled up several times with PNNL, and plan to continue that process until we reach commercially significant volumes,” he says. “One factor that has to play into our commercialization is the position and actions of the government in relation to biofuels and alternative energy. Those policies are fairly well-established for windmills, and there are subsidy programs and tax/production credits and financing alternatives for wind; there are emerging subsidies for solar, and the subsidies in place for corn ethanol

are well known. We need the same kind of established actions to be in place for aquatic biomass and gasification technologies.” Another way to look at it, according to Oyler, is that if fuel prices go back to what they were last summer, about $12 or $13 per thousand cubic feet of natural gas, the technology could be economic without government involvement. “Today, it’s $4 per thousand cubic feet,” he says. “That kind of swing is impossible for a new technology to deal with; you have to have some stability.” Besides high efficiencies, natural gas is the cleanest burning fuel other than hydrogen, which is difficult to deal with, Oyler adds. “Methane or natural gas is everywhere—and we can use existing infrastructure; all of the pipelines that exist today, we can directly feed it into them, so we don’t need new infrastructure or technology like you would with hydrogen. It’s a clean fuel and a clean feedstock that is used as a fundamental feedstock for literally thousands of other chemicals. It’s an exceptionally important type of biofuel.” BIO

Anna Austin is a Biomass Magazine associate editor. Reach her at aaustin@ or (701) 738-4968.




mpoverished Native American communities in Canada, and maybe the U.S., will reap the benefits of a new gasification technology developed specifically for creosote-treated railroad ties. The Grand Forks, N.D.-based Energy & Environmental Research Center’s technology was developed in partnership with Aboriginal Cogeneration Corp. to create jobs, clean energy and heat for aboriginal communities that have 85 percent to 90 percent unemployment rates. ACC, headquartered in Winnipeg, Manitoba, tasked the EERC with the project because of its close proximity and research experience. ACC was established about three years ago to help create jobs in Indian communities, mainly in northern Canada, through the railroad tie project. Some of those communities are inaccessible by land most of the year. Gasification of woody materials is not a new concept, but cleaning the creosote from the gas is a relatively new step in the process. TriSteel Manufacturing in Grand Forks is building two 1-megawatt units for ACC to operate in Kamloops, British Columbia, about three hours east of Vancouver. Those units should be up and running in August 2010, according to Kim Sigurdson, founder and part owner of ACC. ACC will expand the idea to other areas, focusing on Indian communities. The company has a 10-year contract with Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) for its supply of ties and is in discussions with several other railroad companies.

The ‘Cadillac’ of Gasifiers It will be about 10 months before the first gasifier is ready and shipped to Kamloops, Sigurdson says, but he is patient and grateful. “The EERC is finding out as they’re going along, like everything else in life, they’re finding new and better technologies to make this thing more efficient,” he says. “We bought a Cadillac and now they’re putting the extras in.” The technology is designed for chipped railroad ties, and EERC has been working on the variation of its gasification technology for about a year, according to Tom Erickson, associate director for research at EERC. Ties can be between 160 and 220 pounds each, depending on factors such as age and roughness. The chips are fed into the gasifier and the resulting gas, mostly hydrogen, is cleaned with scrubbers and put into the internal combustion engine, where the electricity is generated. EERC’s innovation is generating enough heat to break up the coal tar molecules—creosote—reducing the strain on the scrubbers. Creosote preserves the railroad ties, increasing longevity. But eventually they do wear out and need to be replaced. Burning that tar creates air pollution and burying it allows it to leach into the groundwater. “Our gasifier destroys as much of that as possible,” Erickson says. “We have a unique geometry allowing for an increase in the residence time and temperature.” The tar can gum up the combustion engine if it’s not removed properly. “One of the keys is being able to produce a gas that will meet the guaranteed warranty of the engine,” he says.


Gasification Creates Clean Energy, Economic Opportunities A gasification technology developed for railroad ties will provide a clean way to dispose of the creosotetreated materials, and create jobs and energy for aboriginal communities. By Lisa Gibson



INNOVATION EERC’s demonstration facility is a three-level system with grated floors. The loader extends from the third floor, where the chips are fed into the system by crane, down to the first floor. The wood chips are augured from the first level to the gasifier on the second level. The tall loader allows the system to run longer without the need for a refill of chips, Erickson says. Each commercial system might have differences in structure, he adds. EERC’s demonstration equipment does not capture heat, but the products sent to Canada will, Erickson says. “We’re working on just making sure the gasifier works correctly.” A 1-megawatt system will consume about 18 ties per hour, depending on weight, for a total of about 432 ties per day. The Kamloops location will receive a supply of between 250,000 and 500,000 ties per year from CP for the next 10 years. CP will deliver the ties to the Kamloops facilities and pay tippage to ACC. EERC does not have a chipper on-site, but the Kamloops location has a grinder designed to stop when it hits a steel spike or plate, which are commonly found in railroad ties. An airbag will inflate, the tie will drop out the bottom and the machine carries on, Sigurdson says, after the airbag deflates. The electricity produced in Kamloops will be sold to the local hydro company and used in the community, Sigurdson says, and the heat will be sold to the nearby Domtar pulp and paper mill for process heat. In addition, the potash can be sold as fertilizer.

Why Railroad Ties? Sigurdson and his friend Bill Montour, a tribal chief in Ontario, had worked with CP on a previous project involving harvesting of unused telephone poles with the help of local natives. The CP CEO at that time, Rob Ritchie, was impressed with their work and he enlisted their help again when he had another idea to pursue. He wanted to develop a green project involving railroad ties, which usually are either chipped and sold as hog fuel to large cement companies, small energy


companies and other organizations, or sent to landfills, Sigurdson says. CP disposes of about 1 million ties per year and railways all across Canada and the U.S. dispose of about 25 million per year. “Bill and I and my wife (JoJo, who is part owner of ACC), being aboriginal and native, wanted to help out the tribes,” Sigurdson says. EERC was the solution ACC sought. “Coming in with creosote ties was a bit of a challenge,” he says. “And EERC took that challenge.”

Surprise, It’s Clean Too The fact that the technology reduces the carbon footprint with fewer emissions than natural gas comes as a surprise to most people, Sigurdson says. “When you tell people that, they fall off their chairs,” he says. “The project is a win-win-win from CP’s perspective,” says Mike LoVecchio, senior manager of media relations at CP. “It reuses surplus materials no longer useful to the railroad. It is environmentally responsible. It creates new opportunities for our aboriginal neighbors.” The project doesn’t provide a cost savings to CP, according to LoVecchio, but the “triple win” is what attracted the company to it. “First and foremost, it’ll take a material considered waste and use it,” Erickson says. It will mean much more to the local aboriginal communities. “Our mission statement is to provide jobs for Native Canadians/Native Americans and that’s what we do,” Sigurdson says. “And it’s been a dream.” Each location will create 20 to 25 well-paying jobs for locals, he says. The Kamloops site already has about nine employees, mostly native. “You have to get heavy equipment operators to take the ties off railway cars and we have a number of other large pieces of equipment that have to be handled by people who are certified and trained to do this,” he says. “So we put them through the necessary safety courses and training courses. We have a couple of nonnative people who have expertise in areas we couldn’t find from native people.” More than 130 tribes in northern Canada depend on diesel for

INNOVATION power, but the logistics involved in getting that fuel to them are staggering. It’s delivered over frozen lakes and winter roads 60 days out of the year, or by air. No railroads exist up there, but EERC’s gasifier also can take forest woody biomass with little retrofitting. It can create heat and power for those remote communities, while bringing in an energy industry, Sigurdson says. “We’ve presented a business case to these natives that allows them to get away from the huge carbon footprint that they’re leaving with diesel and quit being reliant on these fossil fuels,” he says. “They’re going to do selective forestry, and create some jobs. One of the most fantastic things about this, other than having a small carbon footprint and creating jobs that are needed, is the fact that the [existing] diesel generator can be refitted to take our syngas.” Because of the transportation problems in northern Canadian and Alaskan Native communities, food prices are also through the roof, making it difficult for families to get the nutrients they need. They are sometimes forced to buy cheaper, less healthy alternatives to foods such as fresh produce, Sigurdson says. EERC’s gasification technology can help with that problem, too, he explains, by using forest woody biomass to produce heat for greenhouses. That not only would provide needed food, but also more jobs. “We’re moving forward with that,” he says. “We’re getting lots of interest from communities up north. We’re having such a great time with this. It started with railroad ties and is expanding.” Another advantage of EERC’s microgasification technology is that it’s somewhat mobile and can be set up close to the supply of railroad ties, Sigurdson says. “The biggest problem is the logistics of getting the ties to the location,” he says. “We can put [the microgasifiers] almost anywhere, but our first hope and wish is to do it where Native American communities are nearby.” EERC Director Gerald Groenewold stressed the importance of the Grand Forks regional economy benefiting from the project, as well. “We made a covenant with Gerald that we would get as many of these

built in Grand Forks as we can,” Sigurdson says, adding that Tri-Steel Manufacturing has built systems for EERC in the past so they already have an understanding of the technology.

In the Works Each facility will cost from $3 million to $5 million, Sigurdson says, depending on the size, location and what “bells and whistles” are necessary. Some locations will produce heat and electricity, whereas others might just produce one or the other, depending on the market. “In some precincts, more so in the U.S. than Canada, heat is king and that revenue stream will drive more money than the electricity part of it,” he says. “So we’re looking at different variations of the gasifier.” ACC is funded by Canadian agencies and the U.S. DOE. ACC has signed a letter of intent with Canada National Railway to supply ties for two more 1-megawatt facilities in Paris, Ontario. Details are yet to be worked out, but Canada National tentatively will deliver between 200,000 and 250,000 ties per year to the site, Sigurdson says. ACC also is in discussions with Union Pacific, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern Corp. railways. “We are engaged with every other Class 1 railway in the U.S. to provide them with the same green solution,” he says. ACC is also working with the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs and is in discussions with Alaskan tribes and tribes all across the northern part of the U.S. to provide more jobs and energy using the gasification technology, Sigurdson says. “The EERC is at the top of our list for finding native people a better way of living,” he says. “It’s changed our lives up here. If you would have told me a year ago we’d be doing this today, I would’ve laughed at you.” BIO Lisa Gibson is a Biomass Magazine associate editor. Reach her at or (701) 738-4952.



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A Colossal



Xcel Energy is converting the last coal-fired boiler at Bay Front Power Plant in Ashland, Wis., to run solely on biomass. Through the implementation of a gasification technology, it will become the largest biomass-fired power plant in the Midwest. By Anna Austin



nown as Lake Superior’s hometown, Ashland, Wis., is near the head of Chequamegon Bay. Although small—just less than 9,000 people—the town will soon become home to a significant renewable energy landmark. Two of the three boilers at Ashland’s Bay Front Power Plant have been combusting woody biomass since 1979. For the past several years, Xcel Energy has been investigating the logistics of transforming Bay Front’s third and final boiler to utilize a biomass gasification technology. The process involves conducting studies to determine project feasibility and the amount of sustainable woody biomass in the area, and gaining approval from groups such as Clean Wisconsin and Renew Wisconsin. Upon completion, the plant will become the largest 100 percent biomass-fired power plant in the Midwestern U.S. Before construction can begin, however, Xcel En-

ergy must gain project approval from the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin. Xcel Energy submitted an approval application to the PSCW in February 2009. The PSCW in turn announced a request for input from residents of Ashland and the surrounding communities. In order to elicit feedback, the PSCW mailed information about the project to libraries and local officials—city, village, township and country clerks as well as extension agents and foresters—in 17 northern Wisconsin counties in the upper third portion of the state. Approval of the project is expected but still pending. As they await finalization of the application process, Xcel Energy continues to put together the final pieces of the project puzzle.

Sustainability First In 2006, Xcel Energy funded a study with the Energy Center of Wisconsin to investigate the amount of biomass that could

be removed from Wisconsin’s forests to support energy projects and any associated environmental impacts. Study conclusions were favorable, according to Xcel Energy Regulatory Policy Manager David Donovan. It was determined that area forests within a 50-mile radius of the Bay Front Power Plant could support additional biomass removal without adverse impacts to the local ecosystem, and dedicated biomass energy plantations could ultimately provide a portion of the plant’s increased biomass needs. “Results that came back indicated there is more than 850,000 tons of biomass available on an annual basis—that’s if every acre that could be harvested was,” Donovan tells Biomass Magazine. “On an annual basis, once the conversion is done, the entire plant—including the existing boilers—would require anywhere from 400,000 to 450,000 tons per year, based on how we are able to manage the dispatch of the boilers.”



Woody Biomass Harvesting Guidelines These guidelines were designed to guide Wisconsin forest resource managers, loggers, equipment operators, contractors and landowners. General Guidelines Retain and limit disturbance to down coarse woody debris already present, except on skit trails and landings. Retain down fine woody debris on site following harvest. Do not remove the forest litter layer, stumps, and/or root systems. Site Specific Guidelines Protect and sustainably manage species of greatest conservation need and sensitive ecosystems. For complete salvage operations, following severe disturbance (e.g. crown fire or complete blowdown), implemented on areas greater than 10 acres under one ownership that include the harvest of fine woody materials, retain at least 5 percent of the area in unsalvaged patches at least 0.1 acres in size. Do not harvest fine woody material on shallow soils where bedrock is within 20 inches of the surface. Do not harvest fine woody material on dry nutrient-poor sandy soils. Do not harvest fine woody material on soils classified as dysic Histosols. These are wetland soils with at least 16 inches of organic material that are nutrient-poor with a low pH. These guidelines can be found in greater detail at http://council.wisconsinforestry. org/biomass/. SOURCE: WISCONSIN DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES

Though sustainability doesn’t seem to be an issue, Donovan says the question of feedstock accessibility remains. “We believe that if we provide a market, the loggers will go out and access that material,” he says. Xcel Energy won’t send its own crews out or process any materials; rather they will pay suppliers to do it for them. “The key point is that we’re not going to conduct any of 38 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 8|2009

the harvesting,” Donovan points out. “We will contract existing logging companies, or even new ones that might come into the market. If there is an expansion of the forest products industry, such as a new saw mill sited nearby, we’ll take their waste wood as well. We would take their bark and unusable materials.” Reiterating the company’s emphasis on sustainability, Donovan says it’s one of Xcel Energy’s key principles. “We don’t want anybody going out there to harvest and take every last twig off the site—we have to be concerned with the long-term characteristics of the site,” he says. “We supported the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in the development of biomass harvesting guidelines (see Woody Biomass Harvesting Guidelines sidebar), and we are encouraging our loggers to use those. Based on that, and what the Energy Center told us, we think there is more than an ample supply available for the facility.” Donovan says after the first study a follow-up study was done that evaluated forest service numbers from a haul area of approximately 100 miles. “Within that area, there was almost twice the available material,” he says.

Boilers and Biomass If Bay Front’s previously converted boilers directly combust woody biomass, why did Xcel Energy decide to install a gasifier in the third? Donovan explains that boilers one and two are spreader stoker boilers, which more easily burn biomass, and still allow for the combustion of natural gas and coal. “Direct firing is more flexible,” he says. “I can’t say the efficiency is that great, but it’s more flexible on the fuel side.” The third boiler is a cyclone boiler, which requires very specific fuel characteristic requirements, according to Donovan. “[The biomass] has to burn at a certain place in the boiler, otherwise the heat retention and heat exchanges are messed up,” he says. “We did an internal study a few years back which showed that the retention time is not long enough if the fuel in the cyclones is biomass. It burns in the back half of the boiler and it doesn’t allow us to capture the heat and energy in our exchange system.”



Biomass Gasification System

The gasification technology mimics natural gas combustion characteristics, he says. The project’s $58 million price tag covers the cost of the gasifier equipment and some minor changes to the boiler to maximize heat recovery, as well as new fuel handling equipment such as another hydraulic truck dumper and conveyer belts to move the fuel to its storage area. According to Donovan, the power plant will not see a decrease in power production post-conversion. “Currently, boilers one and two produce approximately 20 megawatts (MW) of electricity from 100 percent biomass,” he says. “Boiler number five, when burning 100 percent natural gas, it can produce about 32 MW; realistically about 28 MW on a consistent basis. With coal, we’re at 20 MW, and when we convert to biomass, we’ll replace that 20 MW.” Xcel Energy expects it will need an additional 40 trucks per day to deliver fuel to the plant, according to Donovan. “It really depends on how much material the trucks bring in, but we expect each to load 20 to 25 tons,” he says. Once delivered, the prepared biomass will be unloaded using Xcel Energy’s existing systems to put it into a storage pile or directly into a storage bin for combustion. “Once it comes through the gate, it’s very similar to how you’d handle coal or any other solid material,” Donovan points out.

Cost Factors Xcel Energy has projected biomass fuel costs to be cheaper than coal, if current prices can be maintained. “This plant is small, and it has specific fuel requirements,” Donovan says. “We should be competitive

with coal prices at that plant, and the analysis we’ve done so far is based on what it’s going to cost us to make the conversion and what kind of a rate impact that will have on our electric customers.” Despite the cost benefits, Donovan admits the fuel procurement process has been long and arduous. “We have no rail access, and even if we did it is such a small plant; we couldn’t get the economies of scale for fuel delivery with rail,” he adds. Biomass for the plant is trucked in from Duluth, Minn., Superior, Wis., or a freighter loads it to a storage dock, where Xcel Energy trucks it to the plant. “It’s a very laborintensive process,” Donovan says. Xcel Energy hopes to gain project approval from the PSCW in the fall, and has similar applications in Wisconsin and in North Dakota and Minnesota. “Because of the way our system operates, we share costs across a five-state jurisdiction,” he explains. “In Xcel’s northern territory, any investment made in Wisconsin is paid for by customers in North Dakota, South Dakota, Michigan and Minnesota, and vice versa. We share all costs, and dispatch all of our generation resources as a system.” Engineering, design and construction work is expected to begin in 2010, so the new Bay Front Power Plant could be operational in late 2012. By this time, the plant will be less than five years away from its 100th birthday, and will venture into a new century of life with a clean slate. BIO Anna Austin is a Biomass Magazine associate editor. Reach her at aaustin@ or (701) 738-4968.


TECHNOLOGY By Marie-Helene Labrie



Enerkem’s commercial demonstration plant in Westbury, Quebec, is considered to be the world’s first ethanol plant to use negative-cost and unconventional materials—treated wood from used electricity poles.

Gasification Technologies: Making Second-Generation Biofuels a Reality Enerkem’s gasification technology provides a solution for some of the challenges facing cellulosic ethanol producers, including high manufacturing cots and the volume of feedstock required.


he race is heating up among next-generation fuel producers. Once recognized as a viable feedstock, but now under pressure for its effect on agriculture prices, corn-based ethanol has paved the way to alternative fuels and is now considered a bridge to next-generation ethanol. As the biofuels battle moves away from pitting corn ethanol and advanced biofuels against

each other, the onus is on secondgeneration biofuels producers to prove their technology is efficient, sustainable and scalable. With government mandates for renewable fuels driving global growth in demand, the market for these fuels continues to grow in size. The renewable fuels standard (RFS), signed into law in December 2007 by former U.S. President George W. Bush, calls for at least 36 billion gallons of ethanol and other

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).


biofuels to be used nationwide by 2022, including a minimum of 9 billion gallons in 2008, and 20.5 billion gallons by 2015. While there are several operational first-generation biofuel plants that use food feedstocks such as corn and sugarcane, very few second-generation ethanol plants have arrived at the commercial scale. In their quest to develop commercially viable technology, next-generation fuel

producers have taken one of two approaches: an enzymatic platform for homogeneous biomass or a thermochemical platform for a variety of feedstock, including nonhomogeneous residues.

Marie-Helene Labrie vice president of government affairs and communications, Enerkem

Enzymatic Technologies The first technological approach targets forest biomass and agricultural residues. Enzymatic technologies seek to recover and ferment sugars that are found in lignocellulosic (tree and plant) materials. However, these technologies face several challenges that are addressed by thermochemical technology, which can use a more diverse range of feedstocks. The enzymatic approach works to recover sugars in lignocellulosic materials. The sugars are “imprisoned” in complex structures making it hard to break down since nature engineered them to last. In order to recover the sugars, engineered enzymes are used to break down the tree and plant material, after which it is possible to hydrolyze the cellulose into glucose, from which ethanol is easily made. Engineering of these new enzymes is, in many cases, still at the research and pilot stage. The challenge with this approach is that it only applies to homogenous materials (feedstock that is composed entirely of one type of trees, for instance). This is because the enzymes and the microorganisms that ferment sugars do not adapt to materials that may fluctuate in chemical composition.

Thermochemical Technologies The thermochemical technologies are able to use heterogeneous material as feedstock, using heat to convert these carbon-rich materials

into gas. This gas is then purified so it can be transformed into alcohols such as methanol and ethanol. It is also possible to produce other fuels, such as synthetic diesel, synthetic gasoline and dimethyl ether as well as green chemical products. Therefore, gasification is a crucial component of a thermochemical technology platform and one that is a key differentiator among secondgeneration ethanol producers. The Sierra Club in its January report called “Smart Choices for Biofuels” recognizes the advantage of thermochemical technologies: “These technologies can be used to convert almost any kind of biomass into fuel . . . giving them a potential advantage over biochemical technologies that rely on developing specific enzymes to break down specific plant matter.”

Gasification The gasification process converts carbon-rich residues into a synthetic gas. Enerkem, a waste-to-fuel and green chemical company based in Montreal, is one of few companies that has developed advanced gas purification technology. This allows Enerkem to use heterogeneous (mixed) raw materials that may contain impurities, such as endwastes that would otherwise be land-filled. Esteban Chornet, Enerkem’s co-founder and chief technology officer, is a world-leading scientist in the area of gasification and biomass conversion. He had feedstock dynamics in mind when he designed Enerkem’s technology platform.


TECHNOLOGY By Marie-Helene Labrie

Enerkem’s state-of-the-art technology platform is in operation at its pilot plant in Sherbrooke, Quebec.

Enerkem’s gasification technology is based on a bubbling fluidized bed reactor with a front-end feeding system that is capable of handling fluffy material with no need to pelletize it. A continuous feed of biomass is carried into a reactor where an inert heat carrier (i.e., sand) is “fluidized” in a zone known as “the bed” under relatively low temperatures of 700 to 750 degrees Celsius (1,292 to 1,382 degrees Fahrenheit) and moderate pressures of ~2 atm. Slurries or liquids can also be fed into the gasifier through appropriately designed injectors. The low severities at which the gasifier operates allows for the use of known, available and inexpensive construction materials and refractories. In this environment, biomass is converted to gas and small amounts of residual inert materials. This bed

is a significant departure from other gasification technologies that use plasma and extreme temperatures of 1,400 to 1,550 C (2,552 to 2,822 F) to break down biomass. Oxygen and steam are used as fluidizing gases and gasification agents. Gasification takes place throughout the bed. The injected oxygen and added steam prevent the residual inert materials from melting and maintain the injection nozzles at appropriate temperatures, so available steels can be used, thus avoiding exotic and expensive ceramics. The synthetic gas, or syngas, is drawn from the top of the gasifier. In its movement towards the top of the bed, the syngas disengages from the sand and undergoes extensive cracking and reforming in the freeboard stage—key chemi-


TECHNOLOGY By Marie-Helene Labrie

cal processes, which convert organic intermediates to simple molecules—having the desired molecular characteristics (hydrogen, carbon monoxide, methane and carbon dioxide—the main constitutive molecules in synthetic gas). The superior mixing, which occurs in the bubbling fluidized bed used by Enerkem, generates high rates of heat and mass transfer which subsequently yield stable temperatures, resulting in well-controlled reaction kinetics. In addition, the feed material does not need to be completely uniform, since heat and mass transfer rates will, de facto, achieve fuel uniformity within the bed itself. Thus, Enerkem’s reactor is capable of handling feedstock that is not uniform, is geometrically dissimilar and is heterogeneous. Enerkem’s reactor is also efficiently sized due to high throughput rates facilitated by the design—a feature that contributes to the commercial viability of the Enerkem platform.

“In order to be cost competitive, the alternative to gasoline will need to be feedstock flexible,” says Enerkem CEO Vincent Chornet. “We believe that’s one of the main advantages of our technology: we’re able to use a wide range of feedstocks, allowing us to adapt to changing feedstock conditions should input prices or feedstock availability change significantly.”

Feedstock Flexibility at Work Enerkem’s recently announced plants in Edmonton, Alberta, and Mississippi demonstrate the range of projects facilitated by the diverse feedstocks its technology uses. Because Enerkem’s technology platform is designed to use nonhomogeneous waste as feedstock, the company is able to use negative-cost feedstock such as municipal solid waste (MSW) and used electricity poles. Municipalities actually pay Enerkem a fee, sometimes called a

“tipping fee,” to remove their waste and free up scarce landfill space, relieving municipalities of some costs related to waste disposal. “Our plants in Edmonton and Mississippi represent innovative waste management solutions for local governments,” Chornet says. “Converting their waste into a new transportation fuel option allows Enerkem to contribute to a greener economy and a more sustainable future for these municipalities. We believe that fostering fuel independence by producing fuels locally is important in addressing today’s environmental and economic challenges in both large, urban centers and smaller, more rural communities.” In June 2008, Enerkem GreenField Alberta Biofuels signed a 25-year agreement with the city of Edmonton to build and operate a plant that will produce and sell next-generation biofuels, including methanol and cellulosic ethanol, from sorted MSW. This is the world’s first

TECHNOLOGY By Marie-Helene Labrie

agreement between a large urban center and a biofuel producer to turn municipal waste into ethanol. As part of the agreement, Edmonton will supply a minimum of 100,000 tons of sorted MSW per year. The sorted MSW to be used is the ultimate residue after recycling and composting. These residues would otherwise be landfilled. Enerkem GreenField Alberta Biofuels will be responsible for constructing, owning and operating the plant, which will be at the Edmonton Waste Management Centre in Edmonton. The plant will initially produce 10 MMgy of biofuels. In May 2009, Enerkem GreenField Alberta Biofuels completed the necessary environmental regulatory process and was awarded a permit to commence construction of the facility. In March 2009, Enerkem announced plans to build and operate a $250 million second-generation biofuels production facility in Pontotoc, Mississippi, its

first in the U.S. The facility will produce 20 MMgy of ethanol from 370,000 green tons of feedstock (200,000 tons of urban biomass and 170,000 tons of forest/agricultural biomass). Enerkem’s state-of-the-art technology platform is also currently in operation at its pilot plant in Sherbrooke, Quebec, and its first commercial plant in Westbury, Quebec. The company has tested more than 20 types of feedstock at its pilot plant, since 2003, and has produced syngas, methanol and ethanol. The Westbury plant is considered to be the world’s first ethanol plant to use negative-cost and unconventional materials—treated wood from used electricity poles. Enerkem’s approach provides a solution to some of the challenges that the production and commercialization of cellulosic ethanol has faced, including high manufacturing costs and the volume of feedstock required. And, with the ability to use MSW and other urban wastes as

feedstock, Enerkem finds itself at an advantage. This is a feedstock which will not be depleted any time soon. As revealed by the U.S. EPA in its RFS proposed rulemaking, cellulosic ethanol produced from urban waste will represent more than 2 billion gallons of the projected ethanol volumes in 2022. Chornet is confident that Enerkem won’t have any difficulties maintaining a constant supply of feedstock. “The waste streams we’re looking into, fortunately for us, have been up in the past 10 years. That’s a more subtle answer to the question: ‘Are you going to miss waste someday?’” BIO Marie-Helene Labrie is vice president of government affairs and communications for Enerkem. Reach her at mlabrie@

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WOODY BIOMASS By Ronalds Gonzalez, Dr. Jeff Wright and Dr. Daniel Saloni


Filling a Need: Forest Plantations for Bioenergy in the Southern US The growing number of renewable energy projects in the Southern U.S. utilizing woody biomass will require the development of short-rotation bioenergy plantations.


ardly a day passes in the Southern U.S. without an announcement of a new bioenergy facility or expansion of an existing one. This list of projects includes, but is not limited to, wood pellet, cellulosic ethanol, biodiesel, co-generation and biomass combustion. A number of these facilities are

running at capacity with plans to expand. Others are in the permitting or early construction phase with plans to go live in the coming years. The U.S. forest products industry is already the nation’s largest producer of renewable energy and the southern region is no exception. For many decades, the forest products industry has been utilizing,

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).


harvesting and manufacturing residues in boilers and kilns for on-site energy usage as well as selling excess energy into the grid. This trend is increasing in light of the recent and expected future volatility in other energy sources such as coal and natural gas. Against this backdrop are a number of published studies on logging residuals avail-

able for bioenergy. What is increasingly obvious is that the amount of truly available logging residues will be nowhere near enough to supply the current and announced bioenergy processors in the Southern U.S. This indicates that appropriate technology for shortrotation bioenergy plantations must be rapidly developed to fill this growing need.

WOODY BIOMASS By Ronalds Gonzalez, Dr. Jeff Wright and Dr. Daniel Saloni

Forest plantations have been sustainably grown in many parts of the world. While exact records do not exist, it is commonly understood that the Japanese have been planting forests since the 10th century. Forest yields continue to increase on these sustainably managed acres. In the Southern U.S., the history of forest products and forest plantations is long and successful. It is projected that more than one-half of the wood harvested for processing will be obtained from planted forests in this region. This could not have been possible without the utilization of outreach, education and research from land grant universities, the U.S. Forest Service, state forestry services, private and state forestry associations and the participation of literally millions of private landowners as well as large timber land companies. The typical forest plantation today in the Southern U.S. is planted to loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.) on average at 600 seedlings per acre, on a 25-year rotation with a thinning at the age of 15 years. The thinning typically removes trees for pulpwood while the final harvest is for saw timber and pulpwood. This management scheme has been derived to fill the wood needs of current processors in pulp and lumber.

In addition, plantation acres have been established for other conifer or hardwood species in the Southern U.S. This work is supported by highly trained forestry and logging professionals and land grant universities, amongst others, that yearly yield more than 100 masters and doctoral students.

Novel Idea, But Not New Bioenergy forest plantations have been practiced in the Southern U.S. since the oil embargoes in the 1970s. In countries such as Brazil and South Africa, eucalyptus plantations have been managed for bioenergy production for decades. What makes the current Southern U.S. situation novel is the short timetable given to develop existing genetic improvement programs and their required silvicultural systems for widespread early adaptation. A forest bioenergy plantation can take 18 months to eight years to reach financial maturity, and the sooner it is planted the sooner it will be ready for commercial harvest. The tried and tested forest plantation concept in the Southern U.S. produces conifer wood because it is the backbone of the forest products industry for both pulp and lumber. The bioenergy plantation, however, will be more complex and many questions need to be addressed. Does the bioenergy stream allow bark, branches, leaves and wood


Forest Plantation Concept—Tried and Tested

This 24-month-old stand of Eucalyptus sp. trees is being grown in Florida.

or is only wood preferred? Does the bioenergy stream need higher lignin content typical for certain species and tree ages? What will be the usage of the ash in cogeneration or single-source

biomass combustion? How will the development of enzymes change the tree species or rotation age? What are the logistics of harvesting and transporting feedstock cost effectively?



WOODY BIOMASS By Ronalds Gonzalez, Dr. Jeff Wright and Dr. Daniel Saloni

These six-year-old sweetgum trees are being grown in South Carolina.

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At this time, a number of landowners, research institutions and government entities are researching forest bioenergy plantation management schemes. Early phase testing is also underway on feedstock suitability for wood pellets, cellulosic ethanol and combustion. These research efforts are rapidly expanding due to both research funding and private company research interests. The forest bioenergy plantation will have more trees per acre, possibly 1,000 to 2,000, and shorter rotations. In fact, for hardwood species that resprout (coppice) after harvest, the rotation lengths can be 18 to 36 months. New harvesting systems are being developed for this smaller material and most of these have an on-site chipping or grinding capacity so that the delivered feedstock is ready to be processed directly into bioenergy. One type of forest plantation takes both traditional and bioenergy concepts to a nonconventional system. This utilizes one row of wide spacing high-value genetics for saw timber (lumber) while the adjoining row is tightly spaced for bioenergy. This system will work with loblolly pine with a bioenergy harvest at six to eight years and a saw timber final harvest at 18 to 22 years, allowing farmers and forest landowners to increase the possibility of positive cash flow in the first years, capturing new markets for bioenergy and retaining existing markets for saw timber. The authors believe that the

WOODY BIOMASS By Ronalds Gonzalez, Dr. Jeff Wright and Dr. Daniel Saloni

region’s seedling nursery capacity, genetic improvement programs and land management technologies (silviculture) are robust and more than adequate for developing highly productive forest bioenergy plantations. Two areas are in need of continued investment. First, those organizations involved in bioenergy processing need to share their findings on what is and will be the desired biomass processing characteristics, such as whether softwood or hardwood is preferred as well as the most suitable species for biofuels. Sharing this with the landowner is crucial to their forest management decisions. Second, additional effort is needed to conduct financial modeling of the various forest bioenergy plantation systems with regard to species, trees per acre, rotation lengths and harvesting systems. North Carolina State University in partnership with state and federal institutions, private companies and other universities is actively working to identify the most promising biomass and the most profitable pathways for biofuel production. The NCSU Wood and Paper Science Department is performing complete analysis of the supply chain with strong technical basis in process design while also accurately measuring the financial impact. From current research, the major features identified for ideal biomass for biofuel are: Maximum delivered cost of $62 per bone dry tone of biomass Carbohydrate content of 65 percent to 70 percent on dry mass basis (mostly true for chem-

ical pathways for biofuel production) A crop that may be harvested and supplied year-round (instead of three-to-five-month harvesting windows for switchgrass and sweet sorghum, requiring further logistics and storage) Fast-growing, short-rotation forest plantations can fulfill these requirements and be used for bioenergy including but not limited to electricity generation, wood pellets and biofuels.

Final Thoughts The increasing scale of forestry biomass for bioenergy will only be possible with developments in forest bioenergy plantations as there will be insufficient feedstock from logging residuals for all announced and planned

facilities. Existing technologies can be utilized to rapidly establish forest bioenergy plantations and research is underway to expand these possibilities. Bioenergy processors and forest plantation managers must continue to interact to ensure that woody feedstock demand does not exceed supply. BIO Ronalds Gonzalez is a PhD student at North Carolina State University in Raleigh working on cellulosic ethanol from various feedstocks, Dr. Jeff Wright is an adjunct professor at North Carolina State University and Dr. Daniel Saloni is an assistant professor at North Carolina State University working on supply chain and life-cycle analysis of woody biomass and biofuels. Reach them at, and danielsaloni@




Cellulosic Ethanol: What to Do with the Lignin Lignocellulosic ethanol production has been a goal of the U.S. DOE for some time, and yet it remains at least a few years off as a demonstrated viable technology. Lignocellulosic biomass can be converted to ethanol through either a biochemical or thermocatalytic process. The biochemical process utilizes several pretreatment and hydrolysis steps to rupture the lignin walls surrounding the cellulose and hemicellulose fibers. This makes these fibers available for fermentation to ethanol. This process always leaves about 15 percent to 30 percent of the input biomass mass as unconverted lignin, a complex polymer found in most plant material. Lignin poses either a potential disposal liability or a byproduct opportunity. The University of North Dakota Energy & Environmental Research Center sees the lignin as a byproduct opportunity and is pursuing thermocatalytic conversion of the lignin residue to synthetic fuels using gasification and catalysis. The EERC believes this is a great approach as opposed to some of the more popular alternatives to utilizing the lignin, such as simply burning it for energy. Gasifying the lignin and recombining the gas constituents into alcohol result in a higher overall conversion efficiency of lignocellulosic biomass to ethanol. One challenge to the lignin gasification approach is that biomass gasifiers are still in the developmental stage when it comes to producing a very clean synthetic gas from lignin. Coal gasification experience is helping to meet the challenge, since lignin should perform similar to a low-rank, lignite coal in a gasification environment. When analyzed for their components, lignin and lignite show a similar composition. To best convert this byproduct lignin to synthetic fuels and chemicals bench- and/or pilot-scale demon-

strations are needed to adequately assess the physical characteristics, feeding properties and gasification performance for specific lignin types in given gasification systems. Each ethanol process will produce a specific lignin material with its own unique characteristics. Selection of gasifier type should be co- Bruce Folkedahl ordinated with the type of gas-to- senior research manager, EERC liquids catalyst used and the lignin gasification characteristics. The proper choice of gasifier type is critical for efficient conversion of the lignin to synthetic gases (syngas) that can be recombined into ethanol. Gasifiers can be pressurized or remain at atmospheric pressure. The type of gasifier to employ requires an economic analysis of the trade-offs associated with each type of biorefinery plant. High-pressure gasification minimizes the need for expensive postgasification compression and is better overall for gas cleaning. Atmospheric gasifiers may require several staged compression steps to bring the syngas to the pressure needed for the gas-to-liquid plant. Syngas scrubbing and conditioning systems are also more complex at higher pressures. While lignin gasification to ethanol holds great promise, researchers still need to work with biorefineries to prove the technology. Several U.S. federally funded cellulosic ethanol projects are using biochemical processes, which might pave the way for further research and development of thermochemical approaches to utilizing the lignin byproduct. BIO Bruce Folkedahl is a senior research manager at the EERC. Reach him at or (701) 777-5243.




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