INSIDE: SUCCINIC ACIDâ€™S POTENTIAL AS A BIOBASED CHEMICAL FEEDSTOCK August 2007
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..................... 16 POWER One Man’s Trash Is Another’s Power Source More landfills are starting to realize the benefits of using waste to generate power. Whether collecting and combusting landfill gas or incinerating garbage, landfill managers are protecting the environment and creating new revenue sources. By Nicholas Zeman
22 CHEMICALS The Quest to Commercialize Biobased Succinic Acid Researchers are closing in on the means to commercially produce succinic acid. The four-carbon molecule is an attractive replacement for petroleum-derived maleic anhydride, which is used to make foods, pharmaceuticals, detergents, plastics and clothing fibers. By Jessica Ebert
28 PROCESS Harnessing the Power of Biomass While renewable energy hasn’t garnered as much attention as renewable fuels in the realm of reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, that hasn’t stopped the industry from evolving using the lessons learned from industry INDUSTRY | PAGE 40
pioneers. By Susanne Retka Schill
34 FUEL Fuels for Schools and Beyond A program designed to use biomass waste to reduce schools’ heating costs has expanded into more states and other institutions. One of the Fuels for Schools’ largest projects involves the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City, Nev.
04 Editor’s Note 05 Advertiser Index 07 Industry Events 09 Business Briefs 10 Industry News
By Anduin Kirkbride McElroy
40 INDUSTRY The Elusive Biorefinery Biorefineries have long been the ideal for researchers and investors seeking to produce biomass-derived chemical intermediates. The concept is similar to an oil refinery where crude oil goes in and several different products come out. Although a range of valuable chemicals that could form the base of a viable biorefinery have been identified, the development pace is slow. By Jerry W. Kram
47 In the Lab The Need for Speed: Rapid Biomass Analysis Makes Better Breeding Possible By Jerry W. Kram
49 EERC Update A Road Map for Biofuels Research By Chris J. Zygarlicke
8|2007 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 3
editor’s NOTE Cellulosic ethanol in,biomass power out of Senate energy bill
he U.S. Senate passed an energy bill June 21 that has positive implications for one form of biomass utilization and disappointing implications for another. On the bright side, the legislation would give ethanol production—specifically cellulosic ethanol produc-
tion—a big boost. It would raise the current renewable fuels standard (RFS) from 7.5 billion gallons of consumption by 2012 to 36 billion gallons by 2022. This new RFS would contain an advanced biofuels carve-out, mainly for cellulosics, taking effect in 2016 with 3 billion gallons and increasing by that amount each year to reach 21 billion gallons by 2022. The Senate energy bill would also boost auto fuel economy standards to 35 miles per gallon (fleet average) by 2020, a 40 percent increase over current requirements. If you look back at aggressive biofuels visions set by groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and others, improved fuel economy standards are as important to the future relevancy of biofuels as advancing cellulosic ethanol process technology. That is, for biofuels to be relevant in America’s energy future, cellulosic ethanol production must be rapidly commercialized and rise precipitously while overall fuel consumption simultaneously falls. The Senate should be applauded for passing legislation that pairs increased biofuels production with higher fuel economy standards. So often in the biofuels industry, we see investors practically salivating over skyrocketing fuel consumption projections. The logic is simple: Limited global oil supplies plus rising fuel consumption plus increasing reliance of foreign oil equals a better market for ethanol. The higher the demand is for fuel, the higher demand is for ethanol. I’ve always believed that way of thinking was flawed. We, as biofuels advocates, should never hope overall fuel consumption keeps rising to guarantee the future need for biomass-based transportation fuels. Rather, we should actively push for higher and higher fuel economy standards that ultimately make biofuels more relevant by giving them a larger share of a smaller market. The ethanol provisions in the Senate bill are terrific, but the legislation falls short in at least one key area. A provision that would have required electric utilities to produce at least 15 percent of their electricity from wind, biomass or other renewables was shut out. What happened? The electricity provision faced strong opposition from senators who worried that such a national mandate would raise electricity costs in some states—namely Southeastern states that don’t have adequate wind resources. During Senate debate on the issue, Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., circulated a study commissioned by the Edison Electric Institute, showing that 27 states would be unable to comply with the 15 percent renewables requirement. However, that report was apparently based principally on wind power and didn’t look adequately at the potential for biomass-based electricity generation in the Southeast. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said during the debate that states in the Southeast have huge resources of biomass. Despite claims by the opposition that the renewables requirements would cause electricity prices to soar, Bingaman produced a report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration that said otherwise. In fact, 23 states already require utilities to move toward meeting minimum renewable fuel use requirements, including nine states where standards are equal to or exceed the Senate proposal. It’s disappointing that the renewables requirement wasn’t part of the Senate bill. At press time, the House was continuing to work on its own version of the energy bill. It’s too early to tell, but perhaps biomass power will fare better in that version. Stay tuned.
Tom Bryan Editorial Director firstname.lastname@example.org
4 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 8|2007
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industryevents Green Building Finance & Investment Summit
Energy from Biomass and Waste Expo 2007
September 24-25, 2007
September 25-27, 2007
New York Helmsley Hotel New York City, New York Green or sustainable building is among the fastest-growing practices in new construction development. Sponsored by Financial Research Associates LLC, this event focuses on two tracks: business and technology. Attendees will learn about available, sustainable building materials and energy efficient technologies, as well as how to economically implement them. (800) 280-8440 www.frallc.com
David L. Lawrence Convention Center Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania This event aims to educate attendees about the benefits of conversion technologies. It will give them hands-on information for their daily business. Companies representing the municipal solid waste, farm waste, landfill gas, wood waste, energy crop, waste coal and additional biomass industries are encouraged to attend the expo, as well as an educational forum and networking opportunities. (207) 236-6196 www.ebw-expo.com
Next Generation Biofuel Markets
Biofuels Workshop & Trade Show-Western Region
October 4-5, 2007
October 9-12, 2007
Hotel Okura Amsterdam, The Netherlands After 260 biofuels executives attended Europe’s first-ever Next Generation Biofuel Markets seminar in March, held in conjunction with the World Biofuels Markets Congress, the program is back for a second installment in Amsterdam. This event will cover topics such as regulation and policy drivers, finance and investment, and the countdown to cellulose. +44 20 7801 6333 www.greenpowerconferences.com/biofuelsmarkets
Marriott Portland Downtown Waterfront Portland, Oregon This year’s event, themed “Building a Biofuels Industry,” will address the current status and the future challenges of the biofuels industry in the western United States. Last year’s event in San Diego featured a biomass session that examined the current research, use and development of biomass in the western states, and provided information and expertise that specifically targeted regional opportunities to further advance the biofuels industry. (719) 539-0300 www.biofuelsworkshop.com
Investors’Summit on Climate Change Investment Opportunities
Biofuels Workshop & Trade Show-Eastern Region
October 16-17, 2007
November 27-30, 2007
New York Helmsley Hotel Manhattan, New York This event is designed to help investors explore new opportunities and risk strategies related to climate-related business trends, and identify and evaluate the impact of climate risk on their portfolios. Topics include renewable energy credits and second-generation biofuels, among many others. (800) 280-8440 www.frallc.com
Sheraton Philadelphia City Center Hotel Philadelphia, Pennsylvania This year’s event, themed “Building a Biofuels Industry,” will address the current status and future challenges of the biofuels industry in the eastern United States. Last year’s event in Nashville covered biomass topics in depth, offering several breakout sessions on topics including uses (thermal, electric, power, biogas, etc.) and new biobased product developments. In addition, the event provided information and expertise that specifically targeted regional opportunities to further advance the biofuels industry. (719) 539-0300 www.biofuelsworkshop.com
Canadian Renewable Fuels Summit
World Biofuels Markets Congress
December 2-4, 2007
March 12-13, 2008
Quebec City Convention Center Quebec City, Quebec The Canadian Renewable Fuels Association’s fourth annual event will continue to discuss the progress, challenges and opportunities facing the Canadian renewable fuels industry. More details will be available as the event approaches. Canada: (519) 576-4500 U.S.: (719) 539-0300 www.canadianrenewablefuelssummit.com
Brussels Expo Brussels, Belgium This event will address several topics including global markets, finance and investment, growing feedstocks, biogas markets, next-generation biofuels, and regulation and policy. At least 160 board-level representatives and industry experts have been confirmed as speakers. More details will be available as the event approaches. www.worldbiofuelsmarkets.com
8|2007 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 7
Stoel Rives moves national energy practice into Midwest
Speedling introduces Miscanthus transplants
Stoel Rives LLP, a business law firm nationally recognized for its diversified renewable energy clientele, announced the hiring of 14 leading energy and agribusiness lawyers at its newly formed Minneapolis office. Ten of the new hires were former partners with Minneapolis-based general business firm Lindquist & Vennum PLLP, according to Mark Hanson, a senior partner at the new Stoel Rives office and formerly of Lindquist & Vennum. Stoel Rives’ location in the Midwest will bolster its energy practices nationally to include emerging biomass energy projects, Hanson said. Stoel Rives also operates offices in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah and California. For more information, visit www.stoel.com. BIO
Miscanthus x giganteus transplants are now commercially available from Speedling Inc. The perennial energy crop, popularly called elephant grass, typically yields 14 to 20 tons per acre. Miscanthus has been the energy crop of choice in Europe for 15 years and can be used for combustion, pelletizing or cellulosic ethanol. Speedling is a large transplant producer based in Sun City, Fla., with locations in Florida, Georgia, Texas and California. BIO
Mascoma adds to board,staff Fredrikson & Byron hire renewable energy attorney The Minneapolis office of law firm Fredrikson & Byron PA has hired Todd Taylor as an officer in its corporate, securities and renewable energy groups. He will focus on renewable fuels law, business law, private placements, ventures, and other forms of financing, mergers and acquisitions. His renewable fuels practice includes ethanol, biodiesel, biobutanol, biomass and gasification. Taylor has eight years experience representing the renewable energy industry. Previously, he practiced with Rider Bennett LLP in Minneapolis. BIO Taylor
Former Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., has joined the board of directors of cellulosic ethanol developer Mascoma Corp. Daschle, who served in office from 1994 to 2005, is a longtime ethanol advocate who sponsored various pieces of legislation to advance the ethanol industry. Mascoma has also appointed several new company executives. Ginja Collins was named senior vice president of finance. She previously held a similar position with VeraSun Energy Corp. Susan Nedell was named chief administrative officer and will oversee corporate operations, human resources, public relations, communication, information technology, and government and trade association relationships. James H. Flatt was named senior vice president of research and development. Flatt was previously senior vice president of research at Martek Biosciences Corp. BIO
Virent names chief intellectual properties counsel Xethanol hires three scientists In late May, Xethanol Corp. announced that three University of Georgia engineering professors had signed consulting contracts with the company. The research programs of all three scientists— Elliot Altman, director of the Center for Molecular Bioengineering; Thomas Adams, director of the outreach service of the faculty of engineering; and Mark Eiteman, professor of engineering—involve biomass fuel production. Although their roles as consultants were still being defined at press time, the researchers are expected to focus on determining the commercial viability of bakery-waste-toethanol technology. BIO
Virent Energy Systems Inc., which says it possesses superior technology for making cellulosic ethanol compared with high-temperature fermentation or thermochemical production methods, has named a chief intellectual properties counsel to procure and protect company patents. David Kettner, a Madison Wis., intellectual properties attorney, previously practiced with Quarles & Brady LLP. Virent has stated that its platform technology, the BioForming process, will change how biofuels and bioproducts are produced and distributed. BIO
8|2007 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 9
NEWS Arizona dairy pursues biorefinery project Plans are in the works to build a $250 million integrated dairy operation and biorefinery complex in Vicksburg, Ariz. XL Dairy Group Inc. will fractionate more than 560,000 tons of corn to make 54 MMgy of ethanol, 5 MMgy of biodiesel, 60,000 gallons of milk per day and high-protein feed through processes powered by cow manure. Project coordinator Michael McCloud said the first stage of development is to expand the core dairy operation from 2,500 to 7,500 cattle, a task This schematic shows where XL Dairy will expand operation to include a biorefinery. that could be completed by the end of this year. Through anaerobic digestion, cow manure will be a primary will commence. APS Energy Services has been energy feedstock to make biomethane for contracted to design and engineer the energy process heat and steam. Once all the cattle are center. During peak use, the entire complex on site, construction of the energy island— will consume eight megawatts of power, leavfollowed by the biofuels production plant— ing up to three megawatts for future addition-
al milk processing capacity or sale back to the grid. Ethanol and biodiesel production is expected to begin in the first quarter of 2009. Plans for algae propagation and processing systems to supplement corn as a feedstock for starch and oil is expected to double ethanol capacity and increase biodiesel production six-fold sometime in 2010, McCloud said. “The Achilles’ heel of algae is the ability to put together a propagation system on a large scale that makes sense economically,” said its current Dennis Corderman, CEO of XL Dairy Group. Patents have been filed for the company’s first proprietary propagation system, Corderman said, and it is preparing to test its system soon on a significant scale. -Ron Kotrba
Pellets become pathway for biomass company The increasing popularity of pellet-fed fireplaces and furnaces has created an opportunity for a Minnesota-based company. Sunrise Agra Fuels LLC markets fuel pellets made from crop residues, according to company President Bob Ryan. The company started with the intent to use local resources. “We started asking questions about whether there was an opportunity to use ag residue as a fuel source,” Ryan said. “We pelletize fuel in a conventional pellet die for two different uses. We have a residential grade for corn-type stoves, and we are also going to make a commercial grade in the new plant.” In its first year, the company sold about 600 tons of pellets, which were manufactured by contractors. Quality concerns interrupted the company’s supply during its first heating season, but Ryan said it showed there was an enthusiastic demand for the product. “There
10 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 8|2007
was an extraordinary market,” Ryan said. “I still get calls on a daily basis. We distributed our product no more than 150 miles from where it was manufactured, and we could have easily accomplished 10,000 tons of sales last year.” The company decided to build a plant in Bird Island, Minn., to avoid the quality problems with its suppliers. “We have been contracting with some feed mills in the area,” Ryan said. “We stopped production with them this last heating season because they couldn’t handle the quality we needed to have.” He added that the feed mills had problems using lowdensity biomass, which led to an inconsistent product. The plant will be operated as a separate entity from Sunrise Agra Fuels and will be a producer-owned cooperative called Prairie Agra Fuels. The plant received its permits from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
in mid-June. Construction is set to begin in the fourth quarter of 2007 and should be completed by the end of the year. The capacity of the plant will be 70,000 tons per year. It will use corn stover and soybean straw from a 30-mile radius as its primary feedstocks. The design/builder is Marcus Construction in Prinsberg, Minn. Another company is organizing in North Dakota to produce a similar product. NSB Valhalla in Minot, N.D., was awarded a $53,500 grant from the states Agricultural Product Utilization Commission to refine its technology for producing fuel pellets from agricultural waste for use in residential, commercial and agricultural applications. -Jerry W. Kram
NEWS Plasma gasification converts waste to energy in Minnesota
PHOTO: PyroGenesis © 2006
The Minnesota state institute in order to test the plaslegislature recently awarded ma gasification process. The $400,000 to Koochiching process has been successfully County in the north-central used to eliminate MSW in two part of the state to fund a facilities in Japan. Similarly, the feasibility study for a first phase of a facility in St. potential facility that would Lucie, Fla.—expected to come convert municipal solid on line in 2009—will process up waste (MSW) into energy. to 3,000 tons of waste per day. The plant, which Currently, the Koochiching would be located near County Board is drafting a International Falls, would request for proposal, which will use plasma torches to gasibe used to find an engineering fy MSW. These torches Plasma torches, which can generate temperatures hotter than the firm to conduct the feasibility house electrodes, and when surface of the sun, can also transform organic materials into syngas. study in Minnesota. Paul a continuous flow of elecNevanen, director of the tricity is applied, an arc Koochiching County Economic organic materials into syngas that can be forms between them. The air in the torch Development Authority, expects the study pushes this extremely hot artificial bolt of used to make electricity and liquid fuels. to be completed by November. “This is “Plasma gasification could revolution- pretty visionary for a small county like lightning into a furnace, where the MSW enters. The torrid temperatures generated ize the whole field of waste management,” ours,” he said. by this process, which can be hotter than said Lou Circeo, director of plasma research -Jessica Ebert the surface of the sun, rip apart compounds at Georgia Tech Research Institute. He is and convert inorganic solids into a glassy considered a pioneer in plasma gasification, obsidian-like rock that can be used in road and part of the Minnesota feasibility study construction. The process also transforms will involve sending waste samples to the
Chevron company to power wastewater sludge facility Chevron Energy Solutions, a subsidiary of Chevron USA Inc., has teamed with Danbury, Conn.-based FuelCell Energy Inc. to build a facility that will convert wastewater sludge and kitchen grease into renewable energy to power an adjacent wastewater treatment plant owned by the city of Rialto, Calif. The estimated $15.1 million project calls for FuelCell Energy to provide three 300-kilowatt fuel cell units for Chevron’s facility, which will generate electricity from methane without combustion and convert it into hydrogen. The hydrogen will then be cogenerated into electricity and steam to power and heat the aging wastewater treatment facility. According to Chevron Energy Solutions President Jim Davis, construction of the facility began May 8, and start-up operations are expected to begin sometime in early 2008. Davis said the facility will reduce landfill waste and decrease annual energy costs by $800,000, as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5.5 million tons per year. FuelCell Energy sold its fuel cell technology to the city of Rialto through Chevron Energy Solutions, which will main-
tain and operate the plant after it is complete. This is Chevron Energy Solutions’ second project of this nature, with the first completed in Millbre, Calif., last year. “This is basically one of those great examples of applying innovation to proven energy technologies in a unique way to benefit the community of Rialto,” Davis said. “By looking at wastewater treatment operations holistically, we’re helping Rialto and other cities transform an urban waste into an asset.” Once the project is complete, a fats, oils and greases (FOG) receiving station will provide an effective disposal alternative, reducing the amount of FOG sent to landfills. Meanwhile, the fuel cell plant and other energy-efficient improvements will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 11 million pounds of carbon dioxide annually, equivalent to removing 1,080 cars from the road each year. -Bryan Sims
8|2007 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 11
NEWS Flambeau River Biorefinery awaits financing into ethanol. The biorefinery will be collocated with the paper mill. Pilot trials have been done at forest service labs in Madison, Wis., Thorp said. The trials are to refine the process, develop alternative equipment, and make the process more efficient and economically attractive. “We need to refine the project more to get it funded, which we’re doing,” Thorp said. Flambeau River Papers is applying for U.S. DOE grant money, and Thorp said he expects a response late this year. The company is also investigating funding opportunities with major corporations. Construction is estimated to take 16 to 20 months, and will start once financing and permitting are complete. Permits will be expedited under Wisconsin’s “Green Tier” program. -Anduin Kirkbride McElroy
PHOTO: Glenn Ostle/Paper360 magazine
Flambeau River Papers LLC—a Park Falls, Wis.,paper mill—plans to replace 1 trillion British thermal units of natural gas and coal with biomass left over from logging operations. At press time, the company was evaluating quotes to determine if it would replace its fossil fuel boilers with a less expensive biomass boiler or a gasifier, which can also produce biofuels, explained Ben Thorp, president of Flambeau River Biorefinery LLC. He said the decision should be made within a couple of months and is dependent upon financing from banks, financial institutions and USDA loan guarantees. The company’s other biomass venture is also waiting on funding. Flambeau River Biorefinery is a 20 MMgy cellulosic ethanol biorefinery under development. It will utilize a patent-pending process technology called AVAP, which was developed by Atlanta-based American Process Inc. to convert the hemicellulose in spent pulping liquor (or black liquor)
Flambeau River Papers LLC plans to build Flambeau River Biorefinery LLC adjacent to its existing facility in Park Falls, Wis.
Virent, Shell partner to make hydrogen from glycerin according to plan, Shell anticipates In a five-year joint developthe use of this technology at one ment project, Virent Energy of its hydrogen fueling stations Systems Inc. and Shell Hydrogen within several years. “This collaboLLC are working toward commerration will speed the development cializing Virent’s BioForming techand deployment of our technolonology to produce hydrogen from gy not only in hydrogen fuel staseveral biomass-derived feedstocks tion applications but in the broad—including glycerin, a byproduct of er hydrogen industrial market, as biodiesel refining. well,” said Eric Apfelbach, Virent Because the vast majority of president and CEO. hydrogen is currently produced According to Shell, the world from coal and other fossil fuel market for distributed and centralsources, Duncan Macleod, vice ized hydrogen is estimated at president of Shell Hydrogen, said approximately 45 million tons per that one of the main challenges to year. Aside from its use as an ener“introducing the benefits of a hydrogen-based economy is reduc- More than 50 hydrogen fueling stations are now operating or gy carrier in transportation appliing the [carbon dioxide] emissions planned in 15 states and the District of Columbia, according to the cations, hydrogen is used to make National Hydrogen Association. ammonia fertilizer and to upgrade associated with hydrogen production.” Realizing this goal will involve utilizing glycerin and other sugar- lower quality fractions in the refining of gasoline and diesel fuels. Other manufacturing applications for hydrogen include glass, vitamins, perbased feedstocks to produce the high-energy gas. At Virent’s facilities in Madison, Wis., and Shell’s Westhollow sonal care products, lubricants, refined metals and processed foods. Technology Center in Houston, the two companies’ scientists will work together to research and experiment with biomass-derived hydrogen -Nicholas Zeman systems designed for fueling station applications. If development goes 12 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 8|2007
NEWS Two projects to reuse landfill gas expect to utilize all of the waste gas at In mid-June, Pittsburgh-based the landfill to produce about 40,000 Montauk Energy Capital Inc. opened a gallons of LNG each day. “Up and facility that will convert landfill gas down the West Coast, 1 million gal(LFG) into natural gas at a landfill in lons of potential fuel in the form of Colerain Township, Ohio. “This is the landfill gas is burned each day from world’s largest LFG-to-pipeline-qualilandfills alone,” said Dan Clarkson, ty-gas project,” said Dan Bonk, direcvice president of Prometheus. “We tor of business development for tap into that gas right before it goes to Montauk Energy. By the end of the the flare.” Through a series of steps, summer, the company will be separatmethane is separated from total LFG, ing, purifying and pumping about 6 and then purified and liquefied to million cubic feet of natural gas directform LNG. The initial sale of this ly into a Duke Energy pipeline each day. In less than two years, that number Landfill gas will be turned into liquid natural gas at Frank R. biofuel—one of the cleanest burning—will be used to supply all of the will increase to about 7.5 million cubic Bowerman Landfill in Irvine, Calif. LNG needs for the bus fleets of feet per day, enough natural gas to supOrange County, Calif., an area known for its poor air quality, Clarkson ply the annual needs of about 25,000 homes, Bonk said. In a separate venture, Montauk Energy partnered with Seattle- explained. based Prometheus Energy Co. to design, build and install a landfill gas -Jessica Ebert conversion facility at an Irvine, Calif., landfill. Currently, the facility produces 2,000 gallons of liquid natural gas (LNG) from LFG per day, but the companies are still in the commissioning phase and ultimately
Dynamotive starts production in Guelph Distributed power company Dynamotive Inc., based in Vancouver, British Columbia, announced its successful production of bio-oil from wood waste at its newly built plant in Guelph, Ontario, this spring. The company is currently working toward full commission of the facility. Dynamotive will be producing a grade of bio-oil, marketed as “BioOil Plus,” that is considered to be a more refined version of the company’s previous products and a competitive alternative to heating oil, fuel oil, natural gas and propane. Dynamotive CEO Andrew Kingston said that through the exploitation of raw materials like wood waste and agricultural residues, the renewable fuels industry can accelerate the adoption of cellulose-based fuels. -Nicholas Zeman
Dynamotive has started initial production of bio-oil at its new facility in Guelph, Ontario.
8|2007 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 13
NEWS Renewable portfolio standards spread This spring, Oregon and New Hampshire joined the list of states with renewable portfolio standards (RPS)— sometimes called renewable power or renewable electricity standards—bringing the total to 24 states, plus the District of Columbia. These standards require a certain percentage of a utility’s electrical generation to come from renewable sources by a given date. The list of participating states doesn’t include Illinois, which has voluntary goals. About half of the RPS programs require 15 percent renewable energy or less, and the other half requires higher standards. Half requires the standard be met by 2020 or sooner. Maine has the highest standard of 30 percent from renewable sources, which has already been met. Four states have an RPS requiring 25 percent renewable: Oregon, Minnesota and New Hampshire
require 25 percent by 2025, and New York requires 25 percent by 2013. For details on each state’s RPS, visit www.eere.energy .gov/states/maps/renewable_portfolio _states.cfm. Five states were considering RPS legislation at press time: Indiana, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina and Virginia. Iowa and Illinois may expand existing legislation.
A national standard is being discussed in the U.S. Congress. The Senate had passed an RPS in various energy bills in previous sessions, but it didn’t pass the House, and the provision wasn’t in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., has introduced a House bill in the current Congressional session that would require 20 percent renewable energy by 2020. In the Senate, competing measures have been introduced. Sen. Jeff Bingham, D-N.M., proposed a 15 percent RPS by 2020. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., proposed 20 percent renewable energy by 2020, calling it a clean portfolio standard that would include nuclear power and clean coal technologies. -Susanne Retka Schill
Earth Biofuels signs LOI with Revolution Biorefining Earth Biofuels Inc., a biodiesel distribution and production company with plans to break into the cellulosic ethanol arena, recently signed a letter of intent (LOI) with Revolution Biorefining LP to form a new company under the name Earth Revolution. The new entity’s intention is to commercialize Revolution Biorefining’s unique biomass processing technology that bypasses the traditional pretreatment of cellulose materials for downstream fermentation, according to Robert Bickel, founder of Revolution Biorefining and inventor of the 14 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 8|2007
patent-pending design. “It’s a semi-mechanical process that falls into the category of almost being an ambient, supercritical, dynamic environment,” Bickel said. Essentially the biomass is converted into a bioaerosol. “From there, you have the ability to do a lot of things from a catalytic standpoint,” he told Biomass Magazine. The material is reduced to nano- and micro-scale particles, which for instance could eliminate the need for designer enzymes in pretreatment. Conditions of the LOI with Revolution Biorefining include building a
small commercial unit to process 20 tons of virtually any biomass feedstock per day. Despite the fact that country music legend Willie Nelson has given up his seat on the Earth Biofuels board of directors, Bickel said Nelson is “still very much involved” with the company, which continues to distribute his BioWillie-branded biodiesel. Earth Biofuels CEO Tommy Johnson also recently left the company, Bickel said. -Ron Kotrba
A nationwide movement to capitalize on the energy producing power of garbage is driven by a strong market for renewable energy, a desire to clean up the environment and to generate a revenue stream. By Nicholas Zeman
16 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 8|2007
he second week of May in the city of Fargo, N.D., is called “cleanup” week, when residents are allowed to put nearly all unwanted items in front of their homes for municipal workers to collect. As one can imagine, this is a busy time for Fargo’s solid waste manager, Terry Ludlum, as trucks roll in and out all day dumping refuse at the city landfill northwest of town. Now all of that trash is being used to generate power for an industrial facility and electricity for area homes and businesses. The Division of Solid Wa s t e has
spent over $1 million for renewable energy projects at the landfill. It supplies a Cargill Inc. oilseed processing plant about three miles away with gas for its boiler and contributes power to the grid for the Cass County Electrical Cooperative with a newly installed Caterpillar generator. “Cargill had seen us flare the vapors and they were wondering if they might be able to utilize this stream in lieu of natural gas,” Ludlum says. “We began piping it over there in 2001, and they’ve been using it to fire their boilers ever since.” Northeast of Fargo and across the Red River in Fosston, Minn., Polk County Solid Waste Manager Bill Wilson has made his operation more efficient by adding new revenue streams that can be generated by burning refuse. In the mid-1990s, Wilson, who supervised construction of the facility, applied for a state grant to retrofit the trash burner to meet new guidelines that were implemented by the U.S. EPA. Wilson and company didn’t stop there. “Once we demonstrated [EPA] compliance, we went back to the state of Minnesota and asked if we could use [the leftover funds from the retrofit] for a turbine-generator proj-
ect.” After years of work and planning, the Polk County incinerator began running the generator in May, and will use the electricity produced to increase the facility’s level of self sufficiency. The environmental benefits of depleting the hazardous gases and vapors generated by landfills, like decreasing offensive smells that would otherwise leak into the atmosphere are obvious. However, purely from an economical standpoint, making the investment to collect the gas and combust it makes sense too. By burning methane, the landfill gas collection project in Fargo is accredited with the regional power pool and will produce almost 7.3 million kilowatthours (kwh) annually—that is electricity for sale. In Polk County, the incinerator provides steam energy for several customers in the Fosston industrial park, making the mechanism of the entire enterprise more efficient, Wilson says. “Since we started in 1988, we have acquired three customers that buy the steam we produce,” he says, adding that the situation makes the industrial park stronger and more sustainable. When you take all of the employees whose income is generated from this industrial park, those dollars are turned over three or four times in Fosston, which is great for a small town in northwest Minnesota, he says. It’s also a huge deal for a big city in North Dakota. “Economically, this is a new source of revenue for the city of Fargo,” says City Enterprise Director Bruce Grubbs. “This is a viable resource that has to be managed.” The cost
8|2007 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 17
of the electrical generator, as well as other equipment and maintenance, was over $1 million, but by selling the landfill gas and avoiding natural gas and electricity costs for its own facilities, the project will pay for itself in only 2½ years, he says. The generator will supply the electrical load for the entire landfill—baling facility, office/shop, scale house, leachate pumps and the landfill gas collection compressors. This project also qualified for the federal Clean Renewable Energy Bonds program. These
SOURCE: Nicholas Zeman
What’s happening in North Dakota and Minnesota are only two examples of a nationwide movement to capitalize on the energy producing power of garbage.
The Cargill oilseed processing facility in Fargo has been using landfill gas to fire its boilers for several years.
interest-free bonds were used to finance the purchase of the generator and expand the methane gas collection system. “This program allowed us to purchase the generator and other equipment for the landfill with
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loans we can pay back interest free,” Grubbs says. Minnkota Electric Cooperative and its subsidiary Cass County Power Cooperative were interested in purchasing power from the landfill to increase their green energy rates, Grubbs says. Electricity sales alone will generate $142,000 in revenue for the waste management division. In addition, exhaust and engine heat from the generator will be used to meet the energy needs of the campus transfer station where trash is baled prior to placement in the landfill. In addition, the Polk County incinerator provides renewable energy credits for Minnkota. “They are really committed to producing electricity from renewable resources whenever and wherever they can,” Wilson says.
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National Trend What’s happening in North Dakota and Minnesota are only two examples of a nationwide movement to capitalize on the energy producing power of garbage. The EPA’s Landfill Methane Outreach Program, which publishes a plethora of related information online, reports that there are approximately 425 landfill gas energy projects currently in operation, or under development, in the United States. This recycled energy is used in creative ways, from heating greenhouses, producing electricity and heat in cogeneration applications, firing
‘From an air quality perspective there are many public health and safety benefits demonstrated by these projects that are depleting the methane from a landfill.’
brick kilns, supplying a high-British thermal unit (Btu) pipeline quality gas, fueling garbage trucks, and providing fuel to chemical and automobile manufacturing plants. Projects range from small-scale, community-driven initiatives to multimillion dollar private investments. The range of endeavors between the public and private sectors are diverse and well-distributed, says Brian Guzzone of the EPA. “Aside from incentives provided in the 2005 Energy Policy Act, as well as other federal provisions and financing arrangements, it’s simply a strong market for renewable energy that is driving these endeavors,” he says. Currently, landfills are the largest source of U.S. anthropogenic, or human produced, methane emissions. Landfill methane is produced when organic materials are decomposed by bacteria under anaerobic conditions—in the absence of oxygen. Landfill gas, however, is far from pure. It is composed of methane and carbon dioxide in approximately equal concentrations, as well as smaller amounts of nonmethane volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide. “For every million tons of waste, there is the potential to generate about 800 kilowatts of electricity,” Guzzone says. “But there are a lot of factors that can influence these calculations.” The collection and combustion of landfill gas has become a common method of reducing emissions generated by municipal waste. At some landfills, gas is combusted by flaring, at others gas is combusted for energy and heat production, as is the situation in Fargo. From a federal perspective, methane emissions are regulated under the Clean Air Act as a result of the “New Source Performance Standard and
Emissions Guidelines” published by the EPA in March 1996. It is further observed that methane has a greenhouse gas potential of nearly 21 times that of carbon dioxide, and since the gas is combustible, leaks from landfills can cause spontaneous explosions to occur. Along with inundations of undesirable odors, landfills have been considered by city managers to be liabilities. “This whole project was born out of an effort to control odors,” Ludlum says.
Collecting and Combusting For these same reasons, regulating and monitoring landfill emissions has been a major focus area for the EPA. “From an air quality perspective there are many public health and safety benefits demonstrated by these projects that are depleting the methane from a landfill,” Guzzone says. “The dangers are significantly diminished.” Capture and use of landfill methane as fuel for electricity generation is done (continued on page 21)
8|2007 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 19
Modifying Generators to Burn Landfill Gas In his early years on the farm, Michael Devine remembers when ditches often served as personal landfills.Not only did they smell terrible, but they could also be dangerous. “These things could catch on fire and were extremely difficult to put out,” he says. Today, Devine designs engines capable of burning the gas generated by large municipal landfills for the electric power division of Caterpillar Inc., one of the world’s largest original equipment manufacturers. Because landfill gas contains contaminants—like traces of siloxanes from detergents, cosmetics and shampoos—that can create silicon dioxide deposits on spark plugs and damage reciprocating engines, Caterpillar designed extensive fuel filtration systems and shortened maintenance intervals and overhauls in an effort to minimize wear and tear. Landfill gas also contains carbon dioxide, a natural inert gas that doesn’t burn,but slows the flare speed of the engines.To balance the extinguishing affect of the gas, the engines needed more robust ignition systems. Although designers at Caterpillar have developed several other modifications in order for these generators to be able to burn landfill gas instead of traditional fuel sources like natural gas or liquid diesel, that doesn’t mean that landfill gas is a low-grade fuel. “I would take exception to
calling it a low-end gas because, in some cases, it is every bit as valuable as any other energy source,” Devine says. However, changing existing generator designs was indeed necessary to accommodate this particular fuel stream. Another reason for the design change is that sulfurs have an affinity for water, which is the most abundant byproduct of the 270 chemical transitions that occur during combustion,Devine says.Sulfuric acid can form and “really attack that metal,” he says. Therefore using stainless steel instead of aluminum components—like after-coolers—is a modification that was incorporated into the design of landfill gas burning generators as stainless steel has the ability to resist the corroding affects of sulfuric acid. Caterpillar is looking to capitalize on the growing distributed generation sector, which is an approach to power production where electrical generators are located near the end-use site,and a larger number of small engines are used across an area instead of relying on centralized production at a mega-sized power plant. “This is a worldwide issue, that certain areas are more or less sophisticated in handling,” Devine says.“So many places are looking for ways to recycle waste and produce energy from these sources and that is where our generators come in.”
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power has reached full capacity it will through the development of continue to produce gas for well fields and collection systhe next 30 years with an tems at the landfill. When and annual energy equivalent where electrical generation is ranging from 285 billion to impractical, flaring is pre500 billion Btu. “Everything ferred over direct venting to we can do to save, recycle and reduce emissions and fire produce energy is critical— hazards. we’re turning what was conDuring the extraction sidered a liability into an process, landfill gas is asset,” Grubbs says. As little removed through a system of as 20 years ago generating PVC piping attached to vertienergy from trash was the cal wells. “There is a suction stuff of fiction and movies— on the landfill that draws the mad scientists using coffee gas out and then feeds it into Garbage trucks rolled in and out of the Fargo landfill continuously grounds to fuel time the generators that produce during “cleanup week” this spring. machines, for instance. Now, electricity,” Guzzone says. however, recycling waste to tion in landfills because there are many variThe peak generation of methane generate power is becoming a staple practice occurs at the closure of the landfill, mean- ables that can alter production. “Every site to protect the environment and increase the ing when the site stops allowing municipal is unique because this is a very dynamic sys- economic efficiency of municipal waste waste to be dumped there. Other than that, tem,” Guzzone says, referring to organic operations. BIO however, Guzzone says there are no average material decomposing under the pressure of Nicholas Zeman is a Biomass Magazine staff figures or general statistics in regard to anaerobic digestion. In Fargo, Grubbs says once the landfill writer. Reach him at nzeman@bbibiofuels methane generation from anaerobic digesSOURCE: Nicholas Zeman
(continued from page 19)
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22 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 8|2007
High-priced petroleum brings the finite nature of this resource to a striking reality. Out of necessity comes research into alternative fuels and the myriad of materials made from petroleum. Since the mid-1990s, succinic acid has garnered interest as a petroleum alternative for the manufacture of everything from de-icers to pesticides. By Jessica Ebert
n 2004, the U.S. DOE released a report identifying 12 chemicals that could be produced from sugars, most through microbial fermentation. These building blocks were of interest because they could be converted into various high-value biobased chemicals and materials. At the top of the list was succinic acid, a four-carbon molecule with a chemical structure similar to maleic anhydride. Maleic anhydride is a petroleumderived substance that provides a chemical feedstock for food and pharmaceutical products, surfactants and detergents, plastics, clothing fibers, and biodegradable solvents. Because the two chemicals are so much alike and succinic acid is made by all living things through a natural fermentation of sugars, biomassderived succinic acid could serve as an attractive replacement for maleic anhydride and a platform chemical for the synthesis of a multitude of compounds. “That is the beauty of succinic acid,” explains Susanne Kleff, senior scientist for MBI International, formerly Michigan
Biotechnology Institute. “First you want that four-carbon platform,” she says. “Second, any chemical you can make that is part of the central metabolism of an organism always implies that you can make lots of it and that you can make it easily.” Although currently elusive, a competitively priced route for the “green” production of succinic acid could open a menagerie of new markets for the chemical. Much of the research into biobased succinic acid originated in government agencies, particularly the DOE, however, the attention of these institutions is now consumed with meeting fuel standards. “Some government agencies’ emphasis on biobased products has lessened because of more pressing energy and fuel mandates,” explains Gene Petersen, DOE project officer and chemist. “The question is will the private sector step up to the plate?” The answer is yes, say representatives from two companies who agreed to speak with Biomass Magazine about each company’s quest to make competitively priced, biobased succinic acid a reality.
8|2007 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 23
‘The extent of market penetration depends mainly on the price competitiveness of biobased succinic acid relative to the petrochemical alternatives.’
The Prize As quests go, this one may not be as dramatic as destroying a ring and ridding war-torn Middle-Earth of a supernatural evil as in the “Lord of the Rings” epic. However, the eventual reward reaped by the potential heroes—a market estimated at more than $1.3 billion per year—is not too shabby a prize for overcoming the challenges to commercialize the means to produce green succinic acid. Although currently available succinic acid, which is made from butane, a four-carbon petrochemical, serves a relatively small world market of about 15,000 metric tons per year, the potential market for a biobased form of the chemical could be well over 100 times that amount. “The extent of market penetration depends mainly on the price competitiveness of biobased succinic acid relative to the petrochemical alternatives,” Kleff says. “There is also more interest in producing polymers from monomers produced via a green route.” The bounty from this potential gold mine lies in the usefulness of succinic acid as a building block for a plethora of secondary chemicals. Kleff outlines three major potential markets for green succinic acid. The greatest of these is as a biobased replacement for maleic anhydride, which currently serves a global market of about 1.65 million tons per year. Second is the more than 1.6 million pounds per year global market for polymers currently derived from butane. The smallest market of about 100 million pounds per year is for pyrrolidinones, which are used to make green solvents and ecofriendly chemicals for water treatment. “There are all kinds of derivative markets where right now succinic acid is not used because it’s too expensive compared with petrochemicals,” explains Dilum Dunuwila, vice president of business development at Diversified Natural Products Inc. (DNP) an industrial biotechnology company. “As a business we have to get to the point where we are economically competitive with petrochemical pricing,” he says. “We are getting there.” The final prize and incentives for action are well defined but how will they be achieved? 24 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 8|2007
chemicals The Journey MBI, established in 1981 by the Michigan High Technology Task Force, has a history of developing biobased chemicals and agricultural feedstocks into chemicals derived from fermentation processes. In 1996, the company patented the unique bacterium it isolated for proDunuwila duction of succinic acid from sugars. MBI scientists—knowing that the rumen, one of the four compartments of the bovine stomach, was a warm, voluminous holding vat devoid of oxygen and brimming with microbes that digest and ferment an endless supply of wellmasticated feedstuffs—collected rumen samples and isolated a novel succinic acid producer. “The rumen is an environment where you would expect to find an organism that produces succinic acid,” Kleff explains. In addition to conditions prime for fermentation, “the environment is high in carbon dioxide, which we incorporate into our product,” she adds. “So, in contrast to almost everything else other than photosynthesis, we make a product in which we incorporate CO2 (carbon dioxide).” Because carbon dioxide is a byproduct of ethanol production, the synthesis of biobased succinic acid could be linked to ethanol plants. The biggest challenge thus far for the MBI team, other than working with a microbe that was unknown at the time, was determining how to recover succinic acid from the fermentation broth, Kleff explains. “In contrast to alcohols, which you can just distill away from your other components, you cannot do that with succinic acid,” she says. For the last 10 years, MBI researchers have characterized the bacterium, dubbed Actinobacillus succinogenes, identified the microbe’s optimal growth conditions and fermentation products, and optimized methods to improve the strain, minimized byproducts, maximized the yield and purity of succinic acid and recovered the molecule. “Our research has been focused on strain- and fermentation-process improvements, on recovery methods and on integrating the process package for robust and economical production,” Kleff says. At this point, MBI has scaled-up the bench-top fermentation process for the production of succinic acid to a 1,000-gallon fermentation process at its pilot plant in Lansing, Mich. “When you make it to that stage you’ve passed a lot of hurdles,” Kleff says. However, this is not the size that could supply the market with significant amounts of biobased succinic acid, she says. To that end, MBI has partnered with another company to commercialize the technology. No further details about this partnership were available at press time. A second company that is moving toward large-scale production of biomass-derived succinic acid is DNP, formerly Applied CarboChemicals. Through licenses, the company has
Succinic acid is a chemical building block that can be converted into a variety of high-value biobased chemicals or materials.
acquired the intellectual property to transform crop-based sugars into succinic acid, Dunuwila explains. Like MBI, DNP’s process for making succinic acid starts with a microbial fermentation. However, DNP uses a strain of Escherichia coli developed at the DOE in the mid-1990s as part of the agency’s Alternative
‘The demonstration plant wil give us an opportunity to provide samples for testing and establish business relationships to help us move forward toward building large-scale plants worldwide.’ Feedstocks Program. Under normal conditions, “E. coli ferments sugars to produce a mixture of acids,” Dunuwila explains. “However, DOE’s efforts led to a bug that is optimized to produce succinic acid and only a minimum amount of byproducts.” DNP has also developed methods for separating and purifying the succinic acid. Dunuwila explains that one of the biggest challenges his team has encountered in terms of separation is that compared with petrochemical feedstocks, which are concentrated, the fermentation output from biobased processes is very dilute. “Processing that dilute stream econom8|2007 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 25
Susanne Kleff of MBI International pipettes a mixture of DNA to an agarose gel used to separate genetic fragments.
ically to produce succinic acid can be a challenge because of the energy required to get rid of all that water,” Dunuwila says. Currently, DNP, along with its
26 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 8|2007
French partner Agro Industrie Recherches et Dèveloppements (ARD), has a research and pilot facility in Pomacle, France. Here, the company’s technologies are being optimized to make
them more economically viable by minimizing byproducts and waste, and maximizing output. By late-2008 to early2009, the two companies plan to bring a 5,000-metric-ton demonstration plant on
Adapting to Alternative Feedstocks Biobased succinic acid is predominantly derived from corn starch. Although first-generation processes are expected to use this as the primary feedstock, rising corn prices have motivated both MBI International and Diversified Natural Products Inc. to look at alternative, low-cost carbon feedstocks for biobased succinic acid production. Because the fermentative microbe MBI scientists isolated came from an environment rich in different sugars, using something other than glucose in the company’s fermentation scheme is not such a stretch. “If you think of the bovine rumen, it really takes in a lot of plant material so our microbe is adapted to deal with whatever comes its way in the form of cellulosic material,” Kleff explains. “It is feasible, even more so than with ethanol, to use other sugars or other materials to make succinic acid.” Likewise, the strain of E. coli used by DNP can ferment nonfeed sugars. “Our bug can utilize sugar mixtures that are derived from numerous cellulosic sources,” Dunuwila explains. “Our pilot facility and also the demonstration plant at some point will proceed with testing these alternative sugar sources because down the road it will be important for us to have the ability to adapt to available feedstocks.”
line. Although this capacity is no where near what the eventual market would be, “In part, our goal for the demo plant is to show that we can economically produce succinic acid,” Dunuwila says. In addition, “the demonstration plant will give us an opportunity to provide samples for testing and establish business relationships to help us move forward toward building large-scale plants worldwide,” he says. “There are several companies and institutions active in biobased succinic acid [research and development],” Dunuwila says. “But as far as we know, DNP along with ARD is the only group that has announced the construction of a production-scale plant. In terms of technology, I think we are the furthest along in the quest for commercializing succinic acid.” So there it stands. Our heroes may not be wielding swords, clubs, or bows and arrows but the pipettes and bacterial cultures they brandish seem to leave them well-quipped with the tools, knowledge and wherewithal needed to bring the journey to commercialize succinic acid to a promising end—or to another beginning perhaps? BIO Jessica Ebert is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (701) 746-8385.
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Biomass power producers aren’t pausing while current U.S. federal policies favor renewable fuels development in an effort to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. Renewable power will play a vital role in the world’s attempts to reduce greenhouse gases. Now that the first-generation technology has matured, work continues on developing new technologies based on lessons learned. By Susanne Retka Schill
28 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 8|2007
McNeil fuel the to g in it a lot are w 6.5 acre a in d e hips pil Wood c
n 2000, Richard Bain was working on a report that looked at existing plants to identify what is required to successfully produce biomass power. Fuel issues topped the list in the report, titled “Lessons Learned from Existing Biomass Power Plants.” The fuel issues included acquiring a low-cost fuel, while paying attention to where the biomass is piled and how it’s fed into the plant and planning for feedstock flexibility. The lessons are valid today, says Bain, who is with the National Bioenergy Center within the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Even though Bain’s work is now focused on
biofuels, managing the biorefinery analysis group at the NREL, he has kept an eye on the development of the biopower industry. Some of the lessons learned were from the McNeil Generating Station in Burlington, Vt., which has a quarter century of experience turning wood chips into power. It was one of the first and biggest public utility biomass generators when it started up in 1984. About 5 percent of its feedstock is waste wood— shipping pallets, yard waste and Christmas trees—supplied by local residents and businesses. Another 25 percent comes from area manufacturers—saw mills, furniture factories and a veneer
rlington on at Bu ti ta S g neratin
manufacturer. About 30 contractors supply the remaining 70 percent from forest residues—byproducts of the harvest for timber, pulp or firewood. The contractors use a mobile chipper on-site and truck the wood chips to McNeil’s railhead storage yard. Because the McNeil station is within the Burlington city limits and next to a residential district, the plant is required to receive 75 percent of its feedstock by rail, which adds 20 percent to the cost of wood, says John Irving, manager of the McNeil station. The McNeil plant is configured to burn wood chips, natural gas or fuel oil, and switches fuels based upon cost and availability. The plant’s wood cost was sta8|2007 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 29
process ble at $19 per ton until four years ago when the price increased to $29 per ton. However, Irving figures the McNeil stationâ€™s cost to produce electricity from wood is $50.45 for one megawatt hour (or 5 cents per kilowatt hour), which is still a bargain when compared Irving with other fuels. At current rates, the electrical cost would be $151 per megawatt hour from fuel oil and $98 from natural gas. McNeilâ€™s generating load is determined by the New England power pool on a daily basis. The pool directs it to generate specific levels of power at specific times of the day based on the needs of the entire power pool.
Cofiring and Pyrolysis As it relies on experience, the biomass power industry continues to develop new technologies focused on efficient fuel utilization. Now that the first generation of direct combustion technologies have matured, cofiring and pyrolysis are two of the technologies that are being studied further. Switchgrass gets a lot a press as the future feedstock for cellulosic ethanol, however, in Ottumwa, Iowa, Alliant Energy Corp. is ready to go commercial cofiring switchgrass with coal to generate electricity. The Iowa project illustrates many of the lessons highlighted in the 2000 report. Nearly 15 years ago, the Chariton Valley Resource Conservation and Development group began investigating switchgrass as a potential new crop for area farmers. Alliant Energy partnered with the U.S. DOE to study the potential for cofiring switchgrass in its 725 megawatt coal-fired Ottumwa Generating Station. A test in 2000, burned 1,300 tons of switchgrass to gath30 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 8|2007
process er preliminary results and establish the when it’s harvested in the fall because the next steps in evaluating the feedstock’s nutrients get stored in the roots, Bain potential. In December 2003, says. If producers try to get another test used 1,500 tons of two cuttings, it could create locally grown switchgrass, and problems in the power plant the final three-month continubecause summer switchgrass ous firing test completed in has higher potassium conMay 2006, burned 15,000 tons. tent. Based on the series of tests, With the testing comseveral issues had to be pleted and the plant modifiaddressed, says Bill Johnson, cations made, the Ottumwa manager of biomass markets plant is ready to supply 5 for Alliant. “Handling hay is percent of its energy needs different than handling coal,” with switchgrass. That will Johnson he says. “There are dust hazrequire as much as 200,000 ards, mechanical issues plus the combus- tons of grass annually from 50,000 acres tion characteristics.” They also had to test of land and involve as many as 500 farmthe suitability of the fly ash byproduct for ers. “Right now a local group is developuse in concrete to build roads. Those ing a business structure for aggregating standards are based on coal fly ash. switchgrass,” Johnson says. “We don’t
‘We see benefits for the community and environment in providing new markets for cover crops that can be grown on marginal lands and by providing new business opportunities for the people involved in the aggregation, transportation and processing of the biomass.’ “That’s a pretty important economic resource for us,” Johnson says. “What can’t be sold for use in a cement mix has to go to the landfill.” The standards now accept the mixed ash. Using agricultural biomass for power can present challenges, Bain admits. “In California, orchard prunings are an agricultural waste that presents no problems,” he says. However, high levels of potassium content in biomass can cause slagging problems. Slagging occurs when minerals change to liquids in a high-temperature boiler, which can foul heat transfer surfaces, reduce efficiency and even cause shutdowns. To prevent these problems from occurring, each potential feedstock has to be evaluated for performance. Even the timing of the biomass harvest has an effect. Switchgrass, for example, is better suited for cofiring
want to serve as the aggregator.” Building on what it has learned, Alliant is planning for additional generation capacity at two existing power plants near Cassville, Wis., and Marshalltown, Iowa, to burn 10 percent to 20 percent biomass. The company sees a benefit from reducing its carbon footprint, Johnson says. “We see benefits for the community and environment in providing new markets for cover crops that can be grown on marginal lands and by providing new business opportunities for the people involved in the aggregation, transportation and processing of the biomass,” he says. Johnson is evaluating potential feedstocks for the new projects to find out whether the feedstocks can be sustainable for the life of the power plant. “The boilers will have to be designed for the fuel
source that is most prevalent,” he explains. The benefits may be impressive. At Cassville, initial projections indicate that the combination of new control systems and the addition of biomass cofired with coal will reduce emissions as much as 70 percent, Johnson says. “That’s going from a 200 megawatt to a 500 megawatt plant.”
Gasification While cofiring biomass is being developed to “green” coal power, gasification technology is being researched to maximize the potential for utilizing a wider range of fuels with greater efficiency. Based on the chemistry of pyrolysis, gasifiers are used to heat biomass to high temperatures to create a biogas that can be directly used for cofiring. The challenge has been to devise systems to purify the gas for wider and more efficient applications. The McNeil Generating Station hosted a demonstration project funded by the DOE to add 12 megawatts of power from gasification to the 50 megawatts it generates from conventionally fired woody biomass. “It worked well in cofiring,” Irving says. The biogas was cofired with wood chips to create steam to power the turbines. The research project focused on improving the pyrolysis gas for use in a combined-cycle gas turbine. “That implies you can take the gasification process and clean it suitably to use [the biogas] in a gas turbine, and that’s the hard part. That’s what we were working on when the plug was pulled,” Irving says. When the DOE and other cooperators ended the project in 2001, McNeil mothballed the demonstration’s gasifier. Part of the reason it didn’t continue with the gasification project at Burlington is that there wasn’t a lot of agricultural residue to utilize as a feedstock in Vermont. To make matters worse, there is a negative public perception toward using municipal solid waste so that is ruled out as a potential feedstock, he adds. 8|2007 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 31
process Whether to choose cofiring, gasification or direct combustion becomes a site specific decision, Irving says. He visited a 200-megawatt coal-fired plant in Lahti, Finland, that added a 40-megawatt thermal fluidized bed gasifier, which allowed them to burn peat, wood, tires and trash. “They take low Btu (British thermal unit) gas from the gasifier and blow that into their coal-fired boiler and turn it into electricity that way,” he says. There are a half a dozen gasifiers in different configurations continuing the work of creating a better system, according to Glenn Farris, president and CEO of Biomass Gas and Electric LLC. “We believe it’s the future of the biomass business,” says Farris who worked on the pyrolysis project at McNeil. Atlanta, Ga.based Biomass Gas and Electric took the first concrete steps in developing two pyrolysis-based power plants when it signed power agreements for plants in Tallahassee, Farris
The latest annual statistics analyzed by the Energy Information Administration show renewable power other than hydro grew 5 percent in 2005, compared with the previous year. Fla., and Forsyth County, Ga. Using advanced pyrolysis systems with combined-cycle turbines can generate electricity with 40 percent efficiency, he says, compared with direct combustion of biomass that generates power with efficiencies in the mid-20 percent. Florida State University in Tallahassee is starting a sustainable energy program to integrate hydrogen gas and fuel cell technologies with gasification. “These configurations might take the efficiency up to the 60 percent range,” he says. Biomass Gas and Electric is developing projects choosing whichever gasification technology works best for the situation, Farris says. The company is planning its first commercial application based on advanced pyrolysis gasification and steam reformation, to supply the city of Tallahassee with 38 megawatts of electricity for its municipal power system and 60 decatherms of methanated bio-
mass process gas for its natural gas pipeline. In Forsyth County, Biomass Gas and Electric will use an updraft gasifier to deliver 28 megawatts to the grid in a power contract with Georgia Power Co. The plant will be located next to a construction and demolition landfill which will supply clean woody waste to the gasifier. Farris points out that Georgia has more commercially managed forests than any other state. Because of the loss of pulp and paper production overseas, he says, “we have a surplus of that type of woody material.”
Biomass Power Grows Nationwide, renewable electrical power from sources other than hydroelectric dams is slowly but steadily growing. The latest annual statistics analyzed by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) show renewable
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process total U.S. electrical power sector. Should public policy place a higher priority on reducing greenhouse gases, the displacement of coal with biomass will become a favored strategy. Coal power comprises 32 percent of the nation’s electrical generating capacity, and in 2006 coal generated half the nation’s electricity. The interest in renewable energy is growing on the state level, with nearly half the states adopting Renewable Portfolio Standards. The standards require public utilities to generate an increasing percentage of power from renewable energy. (See Industry News page 14.) Bain expects biopower to become a Pictured is an artist’s rendering of the biomass gasification plant that Biomass Gas and priority once again at the DOE where he is Electric is building as part of the company’s power production agreement with the city of now working on biofuels. “If the primary Tallahassee, Fla. objective is the reduction of foreign oil power other than hydro grew 5 percent in added into the mix, biomass takes on a imports, then transportation fuels are more 2005, compared with the previous year. much bigger role. The wood products important. If our primary object were the Biomass from all sources—wood, agri- industry uses wood residues to generate reduction of carbon for global warming, cultural residues, municipal solid waste— nearly half its total energy needs. Viewed then substituting biomass for coal in power contributed the biggest portion of non- from a different perspective, the EIA would be the best thing you could do,” hydroelectric renewables, and wind was reports that of all the sectors consuming Bain says. “I’ve been here long enough that growing the fastest with a 25 percent renewable energy, electric power con- I never throw my old files away. It’s going increase over the previous year. sumes as much as the transportation, to come back some day.” BIO Geothermal and solar were also added to industrial, commercial and residential Susanne Retka Schill is a Biomass the renewable power column along with sectors combined. wind, hydro and biomass. When industriAt 2.3 percent, nonhydroelectric Magazine staff writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (701) 746al combined heat and power generation is renewables are just a tiny portion of the 8385.
Fuels for Schools was started in Vermont as a statewide initiative to promote and encourage the use of renewable, local natural resources to provide reliable heat for schools. It has since grown into a multistate program, and has recently expanded its scope beyond schools. By Anduin Kirkbride McElroy
he Fuels for Schools program is a continued success story of local biomass utilization. The program started in Vermont in the 1980s, when most of the schools were heated using pricey electricity, according to Program Director Kamalesh Doshi at the Biomass Energy Resource Center (BERC). Substantial woody biomass waste was available from saw mills and other timber processing industries, and the connection was drawn to reduce the cost of heating schools. The first successful project was installed in 1986. Today almost 20 percent of Vermont public school students attend a school heated with wood. Thirty-two schools operate wood chip systems and more installations are being considered.
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In late 2001, Fuels for Schools was started in the Northern and Intermountain regions of the USDA’s Forest Service. The previous summer, fires ravaged much of the Bitterroot Valley of Montana and Idaho, says Dave Atkins, the Fuels for Schools program manager for the Forest Service’s Northern and Intermountain regions. Following the fires, Congress passed the National Fire Plan, which was aimed at reducing wood that could possibly fuel fires and fire suppression. It included funds to help with small-diameter wood utilization, which is not as valuable to the wood industry, is fuel for fire and costly to dispose of. A community group saw Vermont as an example, and applied for funds from the Forest Service for the first school demonstration project in Darby, Mont. From there, a regional
program was developed. There are now systems operating in Montana, Nevada, Idaho and North Dakota. Wyoming and Utah are working to identify their demonstration communities. Within these states, 16 projects have been installed or are in the design phase. Atkins says the localized systems fill an important niche. “The advantage is you’re closer to your source of material, so you keep transportation costs down,” he says. “If you are consuming heat and energy on site in your local area, you don’t need a lot of transmission lines for moving the energy product to the end user.” There are also challenges to localized systems, as discovered by Nick Salmon, who has served as senior project manager of several projects through
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the architectural and engineerdesigning systems for those types ing firm CTA Architects of facilities.” Engineers. “One of the chalIn Doshi’s experience in lenges of these projects is they Vermont, many of the vendors all have their unique challenges,” are comfortable working with he says. “As much as we’ve tried solid fuel, but not necessarily to standardize them, we always accustomed to working with encounter something different, wood. He says there are about 10 whether that’s bidding or inteactive boiler vendors, and two or gration of the boiler or working three that dominate the market Salmon with vendors.” with up to 70 percent of the marA recent challenge has been dealing ket share. “Others are new and trying to with fuel quality. “As the program has increase their market share,” he says. Most become more focused on diverting fuel of the vendors also manufacture boilers that would otherwise be burned in a slash for solid fuel, such as coal. pile and getting that material in a school Designing wood boilers for schools campus, we’re encountering more debris,” requires unique considerations compared Salmon says. “It takes more time to screen with other boiler systems. Salmon explains that debris out.” that most boilers are designed to meet Wood consistency is a new problem peak load, but that peak load happens very for boiler vendors. “I would say, in the big infrequently—less than 15 minutes every picture, the biggest challenge is that the five years. With conventional gas boilers, majority of vendors work directly for the this usually isn’t a problem, as they operate wood products industry,” Salmon says. efficiently at a small fraction of their capac“They’re designing for a mill or wood pro- ity. “Wood boilers function well at high fire, and less so at lower fire,” Salmon says. “In general, we design wood boilers for less than peak load, to work productively for much of the year.” Salmon says they are always learning something new, such as the importance of involving the state’s environmental permitting agency, even though most projects are so small they don’t require an air quality permit. “They do an analysis of future emissions and quantify whether the system will require a permit, and they also determine Kamalesh Doshi of the Biomass Energy Resource the optimal stack height,” he Center holds wood chips used in the biomass boiler at says. Spaulding High School in Barre, Vt. Both Salmon and cessing plant of some kind. So they have Atkins emphasized the savings—both certain ways used to solve a certain prob- time and money—in implementing a biolem and a certain way of handling it, mass system in new construction. “The because that’s their livelihood. The end cost of the system is a good one-third less users are typically not used to working with than a retrofit,” Atkins says. “There is no solid fuel and the vendors aren’t used to cost to integrate the plumbing and connec-
fuel tions, and it’s part of a bigger project, so the building permits and design fees are spread over a bigger project.” This savings was demonstrated this spring at a new high school in Kalispell, Mont.
Expanding to Other States The Fuels for Schools program may expand to other states. The Farm Bill, which is in Congress right now, includes a section on wood-to-energy within the forestry title. “If that legislation passes, that would likely be an opportunity for our effort to be expanded throughout the United States in a similar fashion to what we’ve done,” Atkins says. Although the BERC in Vermont is not funded through the Forest Service Fuels for Schools program, its expertise has proven useful to school districts in Maine, Massachusettes, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and South Dakota. As the program expands into less forested states, the motive in pursuing these biomass projects becomes less about managing excess biomass supply and more about utilizing renewable energy sources. Nevada, which has a renewable
energy portfolio, is such a state. Through the process of developing two projects, it has learned lessons in versatility. Ironically, one of the most recent Fuels for Schools projects, and also the largest, is not in a school. Nevada has few schools that are close to sufficient biomass resources and also have a large enough population to justify the capital costs, according to Jason Perock, state coordinator of the Nevada Fuels for Schools. Enter the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City, Nev., which was slated to complete the installation of a $6.4 million biomass system in June. The combined-heat-and-power system, producing one megawatt of electricity, will require 16,000 tons of wood per year. This is huge compared with the other Fuels for Schools project in Nevada, which only requires 150 tons of wood per year. The biomass boiler and a 200-kilowatt photovoltaic solar component will provide all of the electricity, heat and hot water for the 408,000 square-foot facility. The project took 1½ years to plan and about seven months to construct. The system is estimated to save the NNCC $1
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fuel million per year. “The payback will be very quick,” Perock says. The quick return is due in part to the continuous operations of the facility. “When producing electricity, you really need a 24-hour need for electricity if you’re going to produce it economically,” Perock says. “In prisons, they have a high energy demand.” The size also makes the project economical, but sourcing the biomass has not been an easy feat. Part of the 16,000 tons will come from standard forestry management scrap, but Perock says it has been difficult to get supply commitments. The biggest challenge in Nevada is that there is no timber industry infrastructure. “We’re still struggling with the economics of transportation,” he says. “We’re recreating our own biomass infrastructure when it comes to hauling, processing and storage. Part of my job is to look for contractors to do the fuels reduction work and the hauling. We’re basically starting from scratch in Nevada.” Perock notes that this program is actu-
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ally costing the Forest Service more money than traditional forest management. “Forestry agencies are driven by the number of acres treated, not by biomass removed,” he says. “In Nevada, we’re trying to make a market for wood waste. When the market goes up, it will be easier to justify going out and getting the wood from the forest.” Fuels for Schools requires that half of a project’s fuel supply comes from the forests. But Perock says he is not holding the correctional facility to those standards. “We have to get the supply wherever we can, because it all counts—whether you’re pulling it out of the woods where it’s going to be burned in piles or pulling it out of the landfills where it’s going to be buried,” he says. The plan is to buy wood from Carson City Renewable Energy, a wood processing facility that diverts and processes wood waste from the local landfill. For a future project, Perock is considering the urban forest of Las Vegas. The amount of wood waste from tree trimmings is estimated at 500,000 tons per year. Perock
says this is a more reliable source because it’s already being collected. Like it is in Nevada, the regional Fuels for Schools program will continue to expand beyond schools, where appropriate. In an analysis of all buildings with boiler systems in Montana and Michigan, CTA’s Salmon says that only about 10 percent are strong projects, meaning that the cost of converting to a wood heating system would generate a positive cash flow in the first year. “We’ve also determined that there are certain projects where energy conservation is more important than conversion to wood,” Salmon says. “There’s no point in burning wood to burn wood. If the existing system isn’t very efficient, then we’re burning wood inefficiently instead of natural gas. Energy conservation should be the first thing that everybody considers.” BIO Anduin Kirkbride McElroy is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. Reach her at amcelroy @bbibiofuels.com or (701) 746-8385.
Replacing fossil fuel-based products such as plastics and solvents with biomass-based equivalents has long been a goal of the biobased industry. The vision is a biorefinery—the equivalent of an oil refinery—producing many chemicals with hundreds of end uses. So, why aren’t such facilities being built? By Jerry W. Kram
40 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 8|2007
8|2007 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 41
n Daniel Wilson’s book, “Where’s my Jet Pack?,” he chronicles the wonders of the future foreseen by science fiction writers and futurists that never seemed to arrive, such as teleportation, robot maids and cheap, easy space travel. Sometimes the promise of biomass seems similar, an industry with so much promise but seemingly only achieving slow, steady incremental progress. The ultimate biomass facility would in many ways resemble an oil refinery. A largely homogenous product goes in one end and many different products come out of the other. Substitute biomass for petroleum, and you have a
biorefinery. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colo., and other research institutions have identified a range of interesting and potentially valuable chemicals that could form the product base of a viable biorefinery. The idea of a biorefinery has some influential supporters. Among them is Vinod Khosla, a venture capitalist and former head of the computer company Sun Microsystems. He believes that biomass-derived chemical intermediates could displace a major portion of petroleum used for plastics. As an example, he uses bottled water, which he describes as water wrapped in oil. “There is no reason that this product
The road to a biorefinery will likely be more evolutionary that revolutionary. After all, the first oil refineries didn’t start out to supply the chemical industry.
42 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 8|2007
should not be renewable and hopefully biodegradable,” he said. There are operating facilities that are being called biorefineries. Some notable examples are DuPont’s plant that produces 1,3 propanediol in Loudon, Tenn., and Archer Daniels Midland Co.’s polyhydroxybutyric acid (PHA) plant in Clinton, Iowa. But these plants are focused on single products, albeit products with a range of uses. However, these plants do show that the concept of producing intermediates for the chemical industry is a solid concept. They are also closer to the ideal of a diversified biorefinery than one might think. “Maybe we should call this [concept] the elusive next-generation biorefinery, because there are some very significant existing facilities,” says Jim McMillan, an acting research supervisor for NREL. “They just aren’t cellulosic [facilities] yet.”
Fueling a Revolution The idea that a biorefinery needs to start with a wide range of products is flawed, according to Preston Schutt. Schutt worked with the state of Wisconsin on its Biorefining
industry Development Initiative and his company, CleanTech Partners Inc., provides management services for the Biorefinery Deployment Collaborative (BDC). The road to a biorefinery will likely be more evolutionary than revolutionary, Schutt says. After all, the first oil refineries didn’t start out to supply the chemical industry. They started as fuel suppliers, first for oil lamps and then for transportation and heating. Even today, the vast majority of oil is used for fuels. So when the biorefinery becomes a reality, it will likely be a natural outgrowth from an established, profitable industry. “Is there a biorefinery operating in Wisconsin? That depends,” Schutt says. “I would argue an ethanol plant is an early stage biorefinery. They do sell multiple products— ethanol, distillers grains, carbon dioxide. Those types of plants haven’t gone so far [into biorefining]. Why, because ethanol is so valuable. Why would they be looking to sell other products when ethanol is so incredibly valuable? That will change in the future. Then I think we will see them saying, ‘I’m not making as much money as I used to in
Hydoxyproprionic Acid (HPA) is one chemical feedstock already being produced from biomass. This star diagram shows the potentially valuable chemical derivatives that can be made from HPA. The circled compounds are in commercial use today.
ethanol what else can I make?’” Schutt says. McMillan agrees that at the present time, economics favor the side of fuel production rather than chemicals. “The challenge in the scale disparity is huge between fuels and nonfuel products,”
he says. “If you go to nonfuel products, even if it is a large [market], it is an order of magnitude smaller and for a typical chemical it’s a couple of orders of magnitude smaller. So the flywheel is the fuel. But if they can get it to cash flow on that basis, then they will be in
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industry the position as they go forward to keep increasing their revenues by being able to diversify out into additional products.” The DuPont and ADM plants represent this first stage of the biorefinery development concept. The DuPont plant is collocated with an ethanol plant operated by Tate and Lyle PLC. ADM’s PHA facility is next to one of the company’s wet mills.
Breaking It Up A problem for biorefining, McMillan says, is that there is a critical difference “between a mixture of valuable chemicals and valuable mixture of chemicals. The latter is where you’re trying to end up. Biomass has everything in it. It is a mixture of valuable chemicals that isn’t very valuable when
shift production to its most profitable mix of products. “Another example is the sugar industry in Brazil,” McMillan says. “There you are taking a product—sugar—that can be made into ethanol. Then you ask which is more valuable, ethanol or sugar? You are taking the same starting material and asking, which way should I go, how do I break this down or fractionate to maximize my return and minimize my risk?” The pulp and paper industry is another player well-positioned for biorefining. It has a history of efficiently harvesting and transporting large quantities of biomass and separating it into its components. The BDC is a paid membership group of pulp and paper companies and their suppliers working to advance biorefining in the forestry industry in Wisconsin.
The biorefinery concept may be inevitable. Eventually, ethanol supply will begin to catch up with demand and, like the pulp and paper industry, the ethanol industry will start looking for ways to diversify its income stream.
they are all together like that.” Part of the challenge of biorefining is finding ways to economically capture the highvalue fractions of biomass. Biorefining advocates may be better off looking at different industries for inspiration. McMillan says one such model would be the corn wet milling industry. Starch is the product that pays the bills for these companies, but they also produce a host of other products including dextrose, high-fructose corn syrup, dextrans, corn oil, corn gluten and corn fiber. As market conditions change, the wet mill can
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“We are doing our investigation of the multiple pathways of transitioning paper mills into biorefineries,” Schutt says. “A paper mill is a little like a cow. You put the wood chips in a digester much like a cow’s stomach. Out of it comes cellulose that the paper companies want, but you can also pull out the hemicellulose.” Paper plants using the sulfite process for making pulp can also extract the hemicellulose, which can be broken down for ethanol and acetic acid production. However, there are only a few sulfite mills left because
industry they are more costly to operate than kraft mills, Schutt says. If biorefining becomes more profitable sulfite mills could make a come back. The lignin content of wood is another potential feedstock stream for pulp and paper producers. Currently, most pulp mills burn the lignin for process heat and steam. Some pulp mills are installing gasifiers to make syngas out of the lignin, Schutt says. At worst, these mills are guaranteeing themselves a reliable source of energy, but using a gasifier opens up other avenues for biorefining as well. “The technologies for scrubbing the syngas are becoming more practical,” Schutt says. “Suddenly, you can start looking at what else you can make out of the syngas. Well, we know once the syngas is scrubbed there are a number of things you can start working on.”
start looking for ways to diversify its income stream. Although that may be years down the road, he thinks forward looking companies are already thinking about that. “They’re asking, ‘What should I be doing five years from now when the price of ethanol is 70 percent of what it is today?’” Schutt says. “We’re trying to help them develop strategies and know what new technologies are out there. We want to introduce them to these new processes
and technologies so they are ready. These things take time.” BIO Jerry W. Kram is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. Reach him at jkram @bbibiofuels.com or (701) 746-8385.
Real Progress The U.S. DOE has refocused its attention on the production of biofuels, McMillan says. However, the USDA, along with the DOE, recently called for proposals for $18 million into biomass research. Thirty percent of that money will be targeted to product diversification. McMillan also believes the recent DOE grants totaling $385 million awarded to six companies for cellulosic ethanol pilot projects will be very important to the eventual development of biorefineries. Each company is using different technologies to make sugars or syngas from biomass, which will be the necessary first step in any biorefining process. “You will see in two to four years all of these plants starting up and testing the technology at that scale,” he says. Schutt thinks the biorefinery concept may be inevitable. Eventually, ethanol supply will begin to catch up with demand and, like the pulp and paper industry, the ethanol industry will
8|2007 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 45
LAB The Need for Speed: Rapid Biomass Analysis Makes Better Breeding Possible
hat’s in it?” That’s the question that analytical labs have had to answer for as long as they have existed. For biomass processors, it is a serious—even critical—question. Biomass can be tricky stuff. It is a mixture of cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin, protein, sugars and other components. A process that works well with corn stover as a feedstock might not work as well with switchgrass and might not work at all with softwoods such as pine. Therefore, biomass producers are interested in learning what is in their feedstocks. “If you are going to understand conversion process yields, you need to know what is going into the front end of the process,” says Bonnie Hames, senior chemistry manager for Ceres Inc. There are standardized methods for determining the composition and abundance of all the constituents of biomass. The problem is that the conventional wet chemistry methods for determining the composition of biomass are slow and expensive—between $1,000 and $3,000 a sample, she says. Ceres is a plant-breeding company specializing in the development of cellulosic feedstock crops. Developing new plant varieties is a volume business, requiring the screening of tens of thousands of individual plants for valuable traits. Even when genetic engineering techniques such as those developed by Ceres are used, the resulting plant progenies still have to be screened for their value to the customer. “If you’re trying to improve feedstock quality or assess the risk that you might encounter in your process, you really need to understand that variability,” Hames says. To get around the bottleneck, Hames adapted an off-the-shelf technology widely used in the food and feed industries, building on work she pioneered at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) has been around since the 1970s, but her innovation was to apply that technology to cellulosic biomass. “It’s really a highimpact, low-risk technology,” Hames says. “It’s taking something that has been demonstrated in many other industries and applying it to this new field.” Hames and the other researchers at Ceres found they could analyze samples in minutes instead of days for about $20 instead of thousands of dollars with close to the same precision and accuracy as the standard wet chemistry methods. Because it is a common analytical tool, there are a large number of vendors providing a wide range of NIRS systems. Some are optimized for use in the lab, while others have been miniaturized—some as small as a digital camera, powered by a handheld computer—for use in the field or the processing facility. The industry isn’t quite done with wet chemistry, however. NIRS works by comparing a spectrum of a sample to a spectrum calibrated to known samples. According to Hames, a good NIRS method needs at least 100 to 300 samples analyzed by standard wet chemistry methods. Ceres research associate Andy Goddard analyzes an NIRS This has to be done for each major category of biomass, such as switch- spectrum of switchgrass. NIRS allows for the rapid and grass, corn stover, bagasse or wood chips. “An uncalibrated NIRS instru- inexpensive determination of biomass components. ment is like a car without gasoline,” Hames says. “You need the ability to interpret the spectrum for the parameters you are interested in.” Having these tools in-house is a significant advantage for Ceres. By traditional methods, analyzing 500 samples with the company’s current staff would take one year and $1 million. Using NIRS to analyze 500 samples takes about three days and $10,000. “We can keep an eye on yield per acre and the quality of that product for individual processes as we develop our energy crops,” Hames says. NIRS is an important component of Ceres’ quest to develop energy crops tailored to the needs of biomass processors. “We are using this technology to assess what the natural variability would be in these plants,” Hames says. “We can try to figure out what changes are genetic versus environmental. We are looking at how feedstocks can change with storage. It allows us to evaluate crop yields not just in tons per acre but in actual gallons of [final] product per acre.” BIO
—Jerry W. Kram 8|2007 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 47
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A Road Map for Biofuels Research
s the dust settles following the 23rd Annual International Fuel Ethanol Workshop and Expo in St. Louis, new discussions have emerged concerning the future of ethanol and other biofuels. The key to many of these discussions is the debate about starch-based ethanol, lignocellulosic ethanol and biodiesel-based fuels. Opinions from politicians, scientists, investors and developers range broadly on the percentage of U.S. transportation fuel that can be replaced by biofuels. Currently, ethanol accounts for about 4 percent of the fuel used in the United States transportation sector. Most of that figure relates to corn- or starch-based ethanol. With over 200 ethanol plants slated to be operating in three years or so, ethanol will soon make up 8 percent or more of our gasoline consumption. However, the future beyond that is unclear. To achieve significant levels of total biofuel consumption, meaning ethanol and biodiesel production, more attention—a lot more attention—must be paid to biomass. The Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) sees a great need for investment in applied research and development to improve all aspects of field-to-wheels efficiency in biofuels. Replacing a significant portion of petroleum-derived transportation fuels with domestic renewable alternatives from biomass will require new, innovative pathways that 1) compete economically with petroleum and 2) maximize the fuel production capacity of U.S. agricultural lands, which means achieving a maximum “vehicle miles traveled” per acre. This involves a paradigm shift in thinking and conducting research on both the development of biofuels and how the fuels are consumed. In other words, we must tie together how we convert biomass—by fermentation or thermochemical means—with how we convert the prodZygarlicke ucts into propulsion—spark- and compression-ignition engines, turbines or fuel cells. Presently, it is the EERC’s belief that there are six primary options for the future of biomass- or lignocellulose-based biofuel production: 1. Enzyme hydrolysis of biomass followed by conventional fermentation of the sugars made available from the cellulose to ethanol 2. Thermal gasification of the biomass to convert it to mostly volatile carbon monoxide, hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane, followed by fermentation of this mixture to ethanol 3. Thermal gasification of the biomass followed by nonfermentive alcohol synthesis and mixed-alcohol production 4. Thermal gasification of the biomass followed by Fischer–Tropsch conversion to distillates or “green diesel” 5. Thermal gasification of the biomass followed by methanol synthesis, dehydration and catalytic conversion to dimethyl ether, a higher-reaction-temperature, higher-cetane compound that is an excellent diesel fuel substitute, and 6. Pyrolysis conversion of biomass to bio-oil followed by hydrogenation and conversion to distillates or “green diesel.” In next month’s column, we will expand on the advantages and disadvantages of these six pathways to conversion of biomass to transportation fuels. The United States is definitely at a crossroads for determining in which pathways to invest for new, cutting-edge technologies for converting biomass to fuels. It will be exciting to watch how technology breakthroughs, economics, politics and public support determine the course of these pathways. BIO Chris J. Zygarlicke is deputy associate director for research at the EERC in Grand Forks, N.D. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (701) 777-5123. 8|2007 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 49
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August 2007 Biomass Magazine