Biomass Magazine - July 2007

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Powering Up

With Poultry Litter Minnesota Power Plant Will Generate 55 Megawatts of Electricity Annually

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JULY 2007




..................... 16 POWER Generating Poultry Power A west central Minnesota community is home to the world’s largest, and the United States’ first poultry-litter-fired power plant. The plant benefits local turkey growers and the environment. By Ron Kotrba

22 INNOVATION All Natural Mobility Auto makers continue to provide more biobased options in response to consumer demand and to be more environmentally friendly. Plastics made from corn and sugar cane, renewable soy foam seats, and dashboards made from flax and cellulose are a few of the components the industry is offering or developing. By Lindsey Irwin

28 FUEL Wood Residue-to-Fuel Tolko Industries Ltd. saves millions in natural gas costs annually by using the wood waste produced in its plywood facility to make fuel. The Nexterra Energy Corp.designed wood gasification unit produces enough fuel to replace 40 percent of the INNOVATION | PAGE 22



facility’s natural gas consumption. By Michael Shirek

36 EVENT Biomass: Opportunities Abound The Biomass ’07: Power, Fuels and Chemicals Workshop demonstrated that the biomass industry has plenty of room to grow. Conference presenters detailed successful ventures and future challenges. By Jerry W. Kram and Bryan Sims

05 Advertiser Index 07 Industry Events 09 Business Briefs 10 Industry News 15 EERC Update Biomass ‘07: Power, Fuels and Chemicals Workshop Surpasses All Expectations By Chris J. Zygarlicke

49 In the Lab A Cell in the Machine: Computerized Cultures Accelerate Product Development By Jerry W. Kram


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Jaci Satterlund ART DIRECTOR








Michael Shirek ONLINE EDITOR


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Nicholas Zeman STAFF WRITER


Anduin Kirkbride McElroy STAFF WRITER

Jennifer Robinson ACCOUNT MANAGER

Lindsey Irwin STAFF WRITER




Susanne Retka Schill STAFF WRITER




Jessica Ebert STAFF WRITER Elizabeth Slavens GRAPHIC DESIGNER

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industryevents 2007 Farm to Fuel Summit

Green Building Finance & Investment Summit

July 18-20, 2007

September 24-25, 2007

Marriot Renaissance Vinoy Resort St. Petersburg, Florida This unique conference provides industry leaders with an excellent opportunity to learn, network and strategize with peers in order to meet Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Charles Bronson’s goal to promote the production and distribution of renewable energy from Florida-grown crops, agricultural wastes and other biomass sources. The 2006 event drew nearly 400 participants. (850) 922-5432

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

Energy from Biomass and Waste Expo 2007

Next Generation Biofuel Markets

September 25-27, 2007

October 4-5, 2007

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

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. A number of speaker, sponsorship and exhibition opportunities are available. +44 20 7801 6333

Biofuels Workshop & Trade Show-Western Region

Biofuels Workshop & Trade Show-Eastern Region

October 9-12, 2007

November 27-30, 2007

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

Sheraton Philadelphia City Center Hotel Philadelphia, Pennsylvania This year’s event, themed “Building a Biofuels Industry,” will address the current status and the 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

Canadian Renewable Fuels Summit

World Biofuels Markets Congress

December 2-4, 2007

March 12-13, 2008

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

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.



BRIEFS PepsiCo purchases RECs GreenShift Corp. announced that its Sterling Planet Inc. portfolio company entered into an agreement with PepsiCo to purchase renewable energy certificates (RECs) to offset 100 percent of the purchased electricity used by all U.S. PepsiCo facilities. As the largest corporate REC purchase to date, PepsiCo’s three-year agreement equals more than 1 billion kilowatt-hours annually, and it matches the purchased electricity used by all U.S.-based PepsiCo manufacturing facilities, headquarters, distribution centers and regional offices. “It’s a broad spectrum looking at sustainability from various operations,” said PepsiCo spokeswoman Aurora Gonzalez. “This is something [for PepsiCo] to build and develop in the renewable energy market.” BIO Price Companies is offering its woody biomass to cellulosic ethanol plants as an available feedstock.

Companies sign waste-to-oil pact World Waste Technologies and Ensyn Corp. have agreed to work together to develop technology for converting cellulose from post-recycling municipal solid waste into a liquid biofuel. Ensyn’s rapid thermal processing technology converts biomass feedstocks into a liquid biofuel that can also be used as a source of valuable chemicals. World Waste Technologies was organized to develop systems for increasing the amount of municipal solid waste to be recycled into beneficial products. Development work on the new technology will take place at Ensyn’s technology center near Ottawa, Ontario. BIO

Price Companies markets new division of biomass services Price Companies Inc. is looking for the day when biorefineries will be commonplace. To that end, the company plans to leverage its expertise in the mechanics of growing, harvesting, transporting and processing woody biomass to meet the needs of future biorefineries with the formation of the Price Biostock Services division. “We recognize that [biofuels are] what the country needs,” said Scott Miller, marketing consultant for the company. “This is a natural evolution of what our company already does.” Price Companies plans to serve biorefineries as a specialist in the procurement and preparation of biomass, as well as a consultant for systems and engineering design and facilities management. BIO

U.S. DOE names two deputy assistant secretaries The U.S. DOE recently appointed two new deputy assistant secretaries. David E. Rodgers joins the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy as the firstever deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency, and Steven G. Chalk was named deputy assistant secretary for renewable energy. Rodgers has experience working on the Secretary’s Energy Transformation Chalk Initiative, including the Advanced Energy Initiative. In the future, he will be working on such programs as Energy Smart Schools and Hospitals, and the Industrial Rodgers Technology Program. Chalk recently managed the president’s Hydrogen Fuel Initiative and the Solar American Initiative, the latter of which is part of the Solar Technology Program and the Building Technologies Program. BIO

Range Fuels hires VeraSun’s Biehle Colorado-based Range Fuels Inc. has named Kevin Biehle to the position of vice president of production. Biehle moved from a similar position at VeraSun Energy Corp., where he was responsible for plant operations for two 100 MMgy ethanol plants. Prior to that, he spent 20 years at BASF Corp. Range Fuels received a $76 million grant from the U.S. DOE and recently filed permit applications for its first cellulosic ethanol plant in Treutlen County, Ga., that will use wood residues and waste as a feedstock. CEO Mitch Mandich said Biehle’s expertise in plant operations and production will help the company to achieve its goal of being the first to reach commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol production. BIO



NEWS SUNY study shows benefits of cellulose in plastic

PHOTO: Wendy P. Osborne, SUNY-ESF

Adding tiny pieces of cellulose to plastic can make the material up to 3,000 times stronger, and also lighter and biodegradable, according to a team of researchers at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNYESF). Although the idea of reinforcing plastics with cellulose is not new—in 1995, a French chemist first demonstrated that cellulose particles can indeed make plastic stronger—more companies, including Weyerhaeuser, GeorgiaPacific and Eastman Chemical Company, are showing interest in the SUNY-ESF team’s work. To obtain the nano-sized cellulose partiGraduate students Jacob Goodrich, background, and Yae Takahashi work with a cles, cells of virtually any kind of plant sourcereactor used to extract cellulose from natfrom apple pomace to wheat straw - are torn ural materials. apart to release tiny microfibrils, explained William T. Winter, a chemist and director of crystalline portions. The noncrystalline parts the Cellulose Research Institute at SUNY-ESF. are destroyed with acids or enzymes, leaving a These particles consist of crystalline and non- milky mixture of cellulose nanocrystals that

can be mixed with molten plastic to form a unique material that could potentially be used to make latex plastic products and bone cements, among other things. “Any plastic fabrication technology could be adapted to this,” Winter said. However, one of the main limitations of the material is that nanocrystals themselves break down at temperatures over 300 degrees Celsius (572 degrees Fahrenheit), which would eliminate the usefulness of cellulose nanocrystals for the production of certain plastics reinforced with Kevlar. Winter sees the technique working handin-hand with cellulosic ethanol production. Waste biomass from the process could be used in the synthesis of cellulose nanocrystals. “These nanocrystals could be thought of as a coproduct of bioethanol,” he said. -Jessica Ebert

DOE seeks demo plant proposals, sets loan guarantee rules The development of new technologies for cellulosic ethanol plants will receive a boost from the U.S. DOE’s recently announced grant program that will provide up to $200 million in funding over five years. The DOE anticipates selecting five to 10 recipients. Applications for the small-scale cellulosic biorefinery grants are due Aug. 14. The grants will support demonstration projects at 10 percent of commercial scale that will produce liquid transportation fuels, as well as biobased chemicals and bioproducts. The DOE seeks projects that can rapidly move to commercial scale and are supported by a sound business strategy. Projects will test key refining processes and provide operational data. The DOE encourages applications that demonstrate breakthrough technologies and collaboration among industry, universities and the DOE’s national laboratories. A minimum of 50 percent of the project cost must come from applicants. Up to $15 million is expected to be available in fiscal year 2007 with the remaining $185 million expected to be available in fiscal year 2008 to 2011, subject to appropriation from Congress. The small-scale grants complement an announcement earlier this year for up to $385 million handed out over four years for the development of six full-scale cellulosic ethanol plants.


The DOE also announced its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for a loan guarantee program. At press time, the proposed rules were published in the Federal Register and open for public comment for 45 days. The loan guarantee program was authorized in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and funded for up to $4 billion in loans for fiscal year 2007. The DOE requested $9 billion in loan guarantee authority in the 2008 budget. The DOE seeks a broad portfolio of large and small projects from a wide variety of technologies. Within the 2008 budget request, the DOE proposed to guarantee $4 billion in loans for projects promoting biofuels and clean transportation fuels, $4 billion in loans for central power generation facilities like nuclear facilities or carbon-sequestration-optimized coal power plants, and $1 billion in loans for projects using new technologies for electric transmission facilities or renewable power generation systems. The DOE received 143 pre-applications requesting more than $27 billion in loan guarantees. Biomass technologies represented half of the technologies in the pre-applications. -Susanne Retka Schill


NEWS Ceres, Rohm & Haas announce research collaboration to study plant-based bioproducts

ADM, Metabolix form Telles Cambridge, Mass.-based Metabolix Inc., a leader of innovative bioscience methods to provide sustainable solutions for plastics, fuels and chemicals, has partnered with agri-giant Archer Daniels Midland Co. (ADM) to produce Mirel natural plastics. Mirel is a family of biobased natural plastics that will be produced from renewable resources, such as corn sugar, to serve as an alternative to traditional oil-based plastics. Conceptualized in July 2006, the two companies will commercialize Mirel through a newly created company called Telles, named after the Roman goddess of the Earth. According to Metabolix Chief Brand Officer Brian Igoe, Telles is constructing its first commercial-scale plant in Clinton, Iowa. The facility is expected to start up in 2008, producing Mirel plastics at a rate of 110 million pounds per year. “Our vision as a company was to combine bio-

science and nature to bring clean solutions to the world of plastics, fuels and chemicals,” Igoe said. “Our hope is that there will be many brands and many retailers using [Mirel] for a variety of applications.” Of the 350 billion pounds of plastic produced annually in the United States, nearly 10 percent of U.S. oil consumption is used to make plastic each year. -Bryan Sims

Spartans tailor corn for cellulosic ethanol Michigan State University (MSU) researchers have created new varieties of corn specially suited for the production of cellulosic ethanol. Spartan corn, named after the MSU mascot, has been genetically engineered to express cellulase and hemicellulase in the plant’s leaves and stover, said Miriam Sticklen, professor of crop and soil sciences. The first-generation variety contains E-1 endoglucanase, which can break down cellulose into simpler sugars for fermentation. Spartan 2, which could be released as early as 2009, will also include beta-glucosidase, hemicellulase and ligninase. It will also include modifications that will increase the amount of biomass that each plant produces. “Basically, it is the same gene used to make recombinant enzymes,” Sticklen said. “Our enzymes are as efficient as enzymes produced in microbes. The difference is that when you produce it in plants, you use the energy of the sun. When you produce it in microbes, you have to add sugars, nutrients and energy for that.”

In practice, the Spartan corn stover would be pulped, and a liquid containing the enzymes would be extracted, Sticklen said. The stover would then go through a pretreatment to free the cellulose and hemicellulose from the lignin, and then be reunited with the enzyme-bearing fluid for fermentation. “In our second generation, we hope there will be no need for pretreatment because we are modifying the lignin structure or there will be a minimal need for pretreatment,” she said. MSU is in talks with a number of seed companies to propagate and market Spartan corn. The first generation of Spartan corn has been patented, and patents have been filed for the second generation. The university will most likely license the varieties on a nonexclusive basis. “How far we are from commercialization is in the hands of whatever companies take the material,” Sticklen said.

Energy crop specialist Ceres Inc. and Rohm & Haas Co., a leading manufacturer of specialty materials, announced in April a research collaboration that will focus on producing plant-based alternatives to a petroleum-derived material used in industrial products. Funded by a $1.5 million research grant from the USDA, the three-year project will determine if energy crops such as switchgrass, an integral component for cellulosic ethanol production, can cogenerate into methacrylate monomers, a key raw material used in the manufacturing of acrylic sheet and resins. Funding for this project was provided by the USDA and U.S. DOE’s 2006 Biomass Research & Development Initiative grant program, which has targeted $17.5 million for 17 biomass projects. “There are a lot of things that need to go into making this successful, and it’s a pretty unique combination of these two companies that actually bridge their unique set of capabilities,” said Anna Rath, director of business development for Ceres. Though in its nascent research and development stages, Rath said Ceres had conducted preliminary feasibility studies before the joint study to determine if the project was viable enough for both parties to proceed. Molecular biologists and biochemistry experts at Ceres say some plants naturally produce compounds similar to methacrylate monomers, but don’t necessarily accumulate them in extractable forms or quantities. They believe it may be feasible to alter the way that plants produce these compounds so the compounds can be extracted from the dried stalks, stems and leaves before the plants are fed into production facilities that produce ethanol from cellulose. Once successful, the innovation could displace as much as 280 million gallons of oil annually. “Some high-value coproducts can be made out of the same sugar stream that you make fuels because you can find the microbes to break down the coproduct [at the same location as a biorefinery],” Rath said.

-Jerry W. Kram -Bryan Sims 7|2007 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 11


NEWS Canada biofuels grant program gets underway Future Canadian biofuels producers are already taking advantage of the Canadian government’s new four-year, $200 million biofuels capital grant program, dubbed the ecoAgriculture Biofuels Capital Initiative (ecoABC). Since the program officially launched April 23, approximately 16 letters of interest have been submitted to the program, said ecoABC Manager Suzanne Keating. “We’ve certainly had a lot of calls, and everyone seems to be very enthusiastic,” Keating said. The ecoABC program offers funding to cellulosic ethanol projects; however, they are restricted to agriculture-based feedstocks, Keating said. In other words, while corn stover would be an acceptable feedstock, wood-based biomass and municipal solid waste wouldn’t qualify under the program’s guidelines. Keating said this is because the ecoABC Initiative is aimed at bringing Canadian farmers into the biofuels industry through more than just a feedstock supply role. First announced in December 2006, the ecoABC Initiative was created to provide an

opportunity for agricultural producers to diversify their economic base and participate in the biofuels industry through equity investment or ownership in biofuel production facilities, according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC). The program provides repayable contributions of up to $25 million per project for the construction or expansion of transportation biofuel production facilities. Corporations (including cooperatives), individuals and partnerships are eligible to apply for funding, according to AAFC. The projects must have

new agricultural producer equity investments equal to 5 percent of the total eligible project costs. EcoABC is just one of four prongs in the Canadian federal government’s approach to renewable fuels, Keating said. The government has also regulated the ethanol content in gasoline (5 percent by 2010), enacted operator/producer incentives that replace an excise tax (beginning April 2008), and furthered research and development for next-generation technologies. EcoABC, which will expire March 31, 2011, will help the nation to reach the government’s 5 percent biofuels target by 2010. In March, Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced that C$2 billion would be set aside for biofuel incentives for the next seven years. For more information about the ecoABC Initiative, visit or call (866) 367-8506. -Lindsey Irwin

Kentucky biomass initiative receives funds An applied research and demonstration project involving biomass and hay production recently received $650,000 in funding for a fouryear project. The Kentucky Forage and Grassland Council, along with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, will evaluate the potential for biomass resources to be grown in northeastern Kentucky, according to Dr. Ray Smith, forage extension specialist at the university. In order to develop farm production expertise in the region, as well as to establish a regional supply, eight farms are each expected to plant five acres of switchgrass by mid-June. Next year, Smith plans to add 12 more farms, for a total 100 acres of switchgrass. A portion of the grant money will be used to pay the farmers a lostopportunity cost, as the commercial value of switchgrass in the region hasn’t been determined yet. Separately, a range of biomass crops will be grown on two research plots and will be evaluated for production potential, livestock feed value, fuel value for burning, or cellulosic ethanol pro-


duction. “We don’t know that switchgrass is the best, but we feel like it’s the best to get started with,” Smith said. “Our goal in the next two years is to plant four farms with alternative crops on a scale-up basis.” Market development is the other focus of the project. East Kentucky Power has expressed interest in using biomass in its cofiring facilities for electrical generation but it is waiting for a guaranteed supply. Converting biomass into pellets, which could then be used for electrical generation or residential heat production, may be another market. The cellulosic ethanol market has also been identified. “If we can get a critical mass with producers who have knowledge to produce it and a supply, then a company like Iogen Corp. may be interested in coming here,” Smith said. Iogen currently runs a pilot-scale cellulose-to-ethanol plant in Ottawa. It has plans to build commercial-scale facilities in the future. -Anduin Kirkbride McElroy


NEWS U.S. states form NCBEC

Twelve upper-Midwestern the Ohio Agriculture and Research states chose Earth Day, April 22, to Development Center at Ohio State announce the formation of the University. “The consortium is a North Central Bio-Economy means for leveraging infrastructure Consortium (NCBEC). The new on a regional basis.” coalition - which includes Illinois, Slack recently provided testimoIndiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, ny on behalf of the NCBEC at a U.S. Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Senate Committee on Agriculture North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota hearing regarding the USDA Farm Slack and Wisconsin - brings together the Bill energy programs. In his statecommissioners, directors and secretaries of ment, he described three “crucial priorities” each state’s Department of Agriculture, for the growth of biofuels in the north-central Cooperative Extension Services and region, as well as the nation. These included University Agricultural Experiment Stations. the creation of a regional biobased product The NCBEC aims to facilitate the growth procurement system, the establishment of of the biofuels industry in the north-central regional feedstock demonstration projects and states by serving as a clearinghouse of infor- the importance of local economic developmation on research projects in the region, and ment. “[The NCBEC is] uniquely situated to actively participating in the development of offer information and guidance about the state and federal policies that impact the indus- developing bioeconomy in the region where it try. “It’s clear that energy independence is a is developing the fastest,” Slack said. real key for the future of this country, and the -Jessica Ebert north-central states will play a key role in that total process,” said Steven Slack, director of

Boeing,Virgin Atlantic partner to test biopowered plane In April, Virgin Atlantic placed an order for 15 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircrafts worth an estimated $2.8 billion and created a new environmental partnership between the two companies. As part of the new alliance, Boeing and Virgin Atlantic—along with Virgin Fuels and GE Aviation—will be using a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747-400 to demonstrate the suitability of biofuels for aircraft engines, according to Bill Glover, managing director of environmental strategy for Boeing’s commercial airplanes. Boeing will handle the initial screening and evaluation of fuel samples that may come from a number of different sources, such as soybeans, rapeseed, algae and palm oil, and also regional solutions like the oil from the babasu tree in Brazil, Glover said. If the fuels samples meet Boeing’s performance criteria, then they will be sent to NASA for additional testing, he added.

Virgin Atlantic and Boeing seek to demonstrate the suitability of biofuels for aircraft engines.

Glover estimates that the wide use of biofuels in aircraft fuel is probably five to seven years away. “Any potential alternative fuels must meet the performance, technical and safety requirements that are unique to aviation, regardless of the source,” Glover said. “The production must also take into consideration the big picture aspects encompassing the complete product lifecycle and all relevant environmental aspects, including being economically viable to produce.”

Ashland, Cargill team up on biobased chemical project Kentucky-based Ashland Inc. is teaming up with Cargill Inc. to create a joint venture for the development of chemicals from renewable resources. The project’s first venture will be the construction of a plant to convert glycerin from biodiesel production into propylene glycol. The facility will be located at an undetermined site in Europe and will produce 65,000 metric tons of the chemicals per year that can be used in antifreeze, resins, lubricants, cosmetics, detergents and other products. The global production of propylene glycol is more than 1.4 million tons per year, and demand is growing between 3 percent and 7 percent each year. “We believe the chemical market has reached a tipping point where biobased and petroleum-based options are both desired by the market and practical to produce,” said Walter Solomon, vice president and chief growth officer of Ashland. “To be in a position where Ashland can offer biobased specialty chemicals in the future, we need to foster the creation of biobased basic chemicals now.” Ashland is a diversified global chemical company providing products in more than 100 countries. Cargill is an international supplier of food, agricultural, and risk management products and services. -Jerry W. Kram

Left to right: Jim Millis of Cargill; David Jones of Ashland; Scott Portnoy of Cargill; and Solomon.

-Lindsey Irwin 7|2007 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 13


NEWS Khosla Ventures Invests $15 million in Minnesota chemical company Segetis Inc., a green chemistry start-up company, has secured $15 million from Khosla Ventures, the ubiquitous venture capital firm funding renewable projects across the country. Segetis was founded by Sergey Selifonov and Olga Selifonova, a Russian couple now living in the Minneapolis area. “There’s economic opportunity in green chemistry,” Selifonov told Biomass Magazine. However, their passion for green chemistry— utilizing biomass to produce chemical compounds for plastics, for instance, which are otherwise refined from petroleum and other fossil fuels—isn’t purely economic. “It’s an issue of sustainability, and a way to meet energy and material needs,” he siad. “ It’s also about being responsible.” The $15 million “Series A” funding from Khosla Ventures, a third of which has already been distributed, will provide Segetis with enough working capital to last between three

and four years, Selifonov said. “We have known of Vinod Khosla for a long time,” said Selifonova of the billionaire who founded Khosla Ventures. However, the funding didn’t come easily. “It’s a very complicated process to secure venture capital,” she said. “Serious due diligence was done, but in the end, we are happy our technology was recognized.” According to Selifonov, who was unable to comment on the precise technologies used by Segetis or how many patents the company holds, Segetis has already made good progress even without office or lab space to call its own. It has been leasing laboratory space from the University of Minnesota’s University Enterprise Laboratories Inc. (UMUEL), where work thus far has entailed monomer synthesis to develop a “good set of building blocks” and more flexibility in designs that could ultimately lead to the commercialization of polymers created from renewable resources.

“With any start-up like this, there are hurdles, two of which are the high setup costs and the time factor,” Selifonov said. “We are now in the position to handle the cost, but there’s still the time factor. For us, the arrangement with [UMUEL] has allowed us to start faster and further apply our intellectual properties.” Selifonova commended Dean Elve of the university, who championed the incubator facility at UMUEL. “It’s a beautiful facility,” she said. “The labs there have been ready since day one. What he did for [Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn., metro area] is important, and every city in America should have something like it. It accommodates a number of start-up companies like ours.” -Ron Kotrba

North Dakota wants DEA to leave industrial hemp alone North Dakota is seeking the reintroduction of industrial hemp Missouri indicated that industrial hemp can be grown in most climates farming in the United States and ended its legislative session in April by and on marginal soils. It requires little or no herbicide and no pesticide, and uses less water than cotton. Considering these informing the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) traits, industrial hemp is an attractive plant for biofuthat a state law would allow industrial hemp farmers to els production because its cellulosic material can be operate outside the bounds of DEA regulations and used to make ethanol, and the oil derived from crushlicensing requirements. However, it would not protect ing its seeds could serve as a low-input feedstock for those farmers from DEA penalties. biodiesel. A subsequent lawsuit brought by North DakotaJohnson granted state hemp licenses to David licensed hemp farmers against the DEA is ongoing. Monson of Osnabrock, N.D., and Wayne Hauge of “It’s one thing for a state to legalize industrial hemp,” Ray, N.D., but they couldn’t obtain licenses from the said North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger DEA, even after paying a registration fee of approxiJohnson. “It’s another thing to get the U.S. DEA to go mately $3,000 in early February. The North Dakota along with it.” farmers wanted the DEA to approve the application Adam Eidinger of Vote Hemp Inc., a before planting season, but that didn’t happen. Joseph Washington, D.C., nonprofit group assisting North Industrial hemp could be a source Dakota in its efforts, told Biomass Magazine he expect- of biomass if the U.S. Drug Rannazzisi, DEA deputy assistant administrator, told ed the lawsuit to be filed in the first week of June. “We Enforcement Agency would issue North Dakota in a March 27 letter that there wasn’t enough time to complete the permitting process. are actually hoping we get the support of North licenses to farmers. Dakota State University as a co-plaintiff,” Eidinger said. “They have “DEA’s latest response is a de facto denial of permission,” Johnson been directed to collect hemp seed for a seed bank by the state depart- responded. “If the applicants cannot have a decision in time to plant ment of agriculture but have not done so for fear of their researchers the crop, then the applications are meaningless.” being federally prosecuted for possession of marijuana.” Ten other U.S. states have introduced industrial hemp legislation in -Nicholas Zeman 2007, according to vote hemp. Research performed at the University of 14 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 7|2007



Biomass ’07: Power, Fuels and Chemicals Workshop Surpasses All Expectations


nterest, especially in the Plains states, is at an all-time high in utilizing biomass as a feedstock to supplant a portion of current U.S. energy needs. Farmlands throughout the Dakotas can grow soybeans, canola, switchgrass or varieties of prairie grasses. Large biodiesel and ethanol plants are being erected, rural economies are close to booming in some areas, and communities are eager to learn how to better utilize these renewable domestic biomass feedstocks. These topics and many more were discussed during the Biomass ’07: Power, Fuels and Chemicals Workshop, held in Grand Forks, N.D, May 15 and 16. The Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) first hosted the workshop in 2002, with 80 participants and a focus on deriving heat and electricity from biomass. This year’s event surpassed all expectations by attracting more than 400 registrants and 30 exhibitors. Attendees represented more than 230 organizations, three foreign countries and 28 states. It was a wonderful team effort with sponsorships from the North Dakota Department of Commerce’s Division of Community Services, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and signature sponsor BBI International. As one of the conference attendees said, “The Biomass ’07 Workshop is a great compilation of the current status and future challenges of the renewable fuel and biomass utilization industry. It is a great assembly of information helping our industry stay focused on the tasks at hand to meet the world’s expectations on an accelerated timetable.” U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who addressed the crowd by video from Washington, D.C., emphasized the essential importance of utilizing biomass in the U.S. energy portfolio, including the transportation and electricity sectors. In 1999, Dorgan was instrumental in helping to establish initial seed funding that was leveraged through joint ventures with industry within what are now the Centers for Renewable Energy and Biomass Utilization at the EERC. Following Dorgan, EERC Director Gerald Groenewold focused on the future of biofuels, specifically integrating them into the existing energy mix. The Biomass ’07 technical session featured outstanding presenters from around the nation. Many are covered extensively in this issue of Biomass Magazine, but I want to highZygarlicke light a few of the presentations for your interest. Betsy Engelking, manager of resource planning at Xcel Energy, provided an excellent industry perspective on the electricity side of biomass utilization. Xcel Energy has a goal of 25 percent renewable energy generation within 20 years. The company has 25 megawatts of wood residue biomass heat and power at the District Energy St. Paul plant in St. Paul, Minn., plus another 55 megawatts of poultry litter-derived biomass electricity from the Fibrominn LLC plant near Benson, Minn. From the agricultural perspective, Kevin Kephart, vice president for research and dean of the graduate school at South Dakota State University, focused on energy crops such as switchgrass. Kephart provided a thorough explanation of how native prairie grasses, such as big blue stem, are actually hardier in a broader array of climatic conditions and are less prone to disease than monocultures such as switchgrass. Finally, Gerson Santos-Leon, director of research and development at Abengoa Bioenergy in Chesterfield, Mo., described Abengoa’s $80 million award from the DOE, which was matched with about $200 million in private investment, to build and demonstrate a small commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in Kansas. The workshop provided an excellent opportunity for networking and an even greater vision of biomass technologies that are no longer a dream, but a reality. Thank you again to all of the Biomass ’07 presenters, exhibitors and attendees who share this goal of biomass utilization. We excitedly look forward to the Biomass ’08 Technical Workshop to be held in July 2008 in Grand Forks, and we are truly excited to work with BBI in the premiere of our International Biomass Conference and Trade Show to be held in Minneapolis in April 2008. The future of biomass is now. I hope to see you there. -BIO Chris J. Zygarlicke is deputy associate director for research at the EERC in Grand Forks, N.D. He can be reached at or (701) 777-5123. 7|2007 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 15





here’s a small community of 3,400 people on the edge of the northern plains whose residents have grown accustomed to outsiders and the press. Some people come to Benson, Minn., to see the Chippewa Valley Ethanol Co. plant on the outskirts of town, where routine production sometimes stops so the facility can distill top-shelf spirits like Shaker’s vodka. That same refinery also attracts those who want to learn more about its pilot gasifier, where corn stover, straw and soybean stubble can all be used to replace natural gas. But there’s more to Benson’s renewable reach than the ethanol plant. Farms across the Land of 10,000 Lakes raise more than 45 million turkeys a year. Jennie-O Turkey Store Inc. has more than 100 farms in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and six turkey-processing plants in Minnesota. According to the Minnesota Turkey Growers

Association, 75 to 80 pounds of feed is needed to produce one 30-pound turkey. “That feed not remaining in the turkey flesh has got to go somewhere, now doesn’t it?” says Rupert Fraser, CEO of Homeland Renewable Energy LLC, a New Hampshire-based holding company with roots in the United Kingdom. For every pound of turkey meat, there’s roughly one-and-a-half pounds of manure produced. In Minnesota, those 45 million turkeys dish out a million tons of litter a year. Poultry litter consists of excrement from the birds, plus wayward feed, feathers and wood particles from bedding. Fibrominn LLC, a Benson-based power plant, recently started using this plentiful waste as its fuel. At 55megawatts (MWs), it’s the largest poultry-litter-fired power plant in the world, and the first of its kind in the United States. The technologies being implemented at Fibrominn to effectively combust alkaline-rich poultry wastes, properly handle and condition the material, and contain the powerful odor, were not developed on the fly. It was the cul-


power stakes in other large U.S. poultry regions are flocking to this northern town in the heart of turkey country to get a closer look at the facility.

From Union Jack to Stars and Stripes

SOURCE: Fibrowatt LLC

mination of 15 years of work originating in the U.K., where people from Benson traveled to understand more completely how this type of a plant affects the surrounding community. Now that Fibrominn is operational, people with

Herbaceous biomasses have fueled boilers for a long time. Animal wastes like poultry litter have a different makeup, however, that cause fouling and slagging during the combustion process. “Animal biomass is more alkaline,” Fraser says. “Alkalines behave differently under high temperatures—they get sticky and foul up

with ash…many who have tried to combust, gasify or heat-treat animal manures have found significant challenges.” In 1989, Rupert Fraser and his father, Simon, set out to overcome these challenges. In doing so, they changed the way people think of power and stinky poultry litter. The elder Fraser’s experience in forest residue combustion in Scotland, and family ties with a United Kingdom turkey farmer, were the basis of the proprietary technologies used in Benson. “We didn’t design the fuel to fit the plants, we designed the plants to fit the fuel,” says Rupert Fraser, referring to the three power plants he and his father engineered

Fibrominn’s 55 megawatt power plant, fueled by poultry litter, recently began producing electricity in Benson, Minn.



in the United Kingdom during the ‘90s. The United Kingdom plants, which collectively produce 64.7 MWs of power, are all still running but no longer owned by the father and son team. The dissolution took place in 2002. Rupert Fraser relocated across the pond, where he started Homeland Renewable Energy, a holding company for Fibrowatt LLC—the project development arm using advancements in those same technologies Fraser brought with him from the United Kingdom.

Building in Benson It was only natural for Fibrowatt to build its first U.S. plant in Minnesota, even

Left to right, Fraser started Homeland Renewable Energy, a holding company for Fibrowatt, and Strickler is vice president and COO of Fibrowatt.

though there are several other large poultry production regions in the United States. According to Carl Strickler, Fibrowatt’s vice president and COO, the company has projects under development in Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina. But in the end it was Minnesota that had all the right attractions. “It’s a turkey-dominated region,” says Fraser, speaking of Minnesota and specifically of Benson. “It’s also sufficiently forward thinking, and there’s strong enthusiasm and desire there to see alternatives put to good use.” The state has a biomass mandate that was pushed through the 1994 legislature, which made Benson an attractive site indeed. Approximately half of the state’s electricity is provided by Xcel Energy, which is required to acquire 110 MWs of biomass-derived power. The Fibrominn developers inked a long-term energy supply agreement through a subsidiary of Xcel, Northern States Power Co., contingent upon its startup. The security of the power purchase agreement facilitated the fundraising efforts to begin building in Benson. Fraser says the company arranged $202 million in a 20-year debt-arrangement, taken on by a consortium of insurance companies: John Hancock, Prudential and Metropolitan Life. Before the plant could be built, city officials needed to make sure that it would be a good neighbor. “The city has been working with the company for eight years,” says Benson City Manager Rob Wolfington. Early on, a small team of city officials went to tour the three United Kingdom plants. One of the main concerns the Benson community initially had was that of the smell; poultry litter is stinky stuff. “There were no odor issues associated with those plants,” he says. “Some in the surrounding communities weren’t even aware there was a power plant using poultry litter as fuel.” Even so, the company was sensitive to Benson’s concerns. “We keep a close relationship with the community,” says Terry Walmsley, Fibrowatt’s vice president of environmental and public affairs. “We set up a citizen’s advisory panel where these

types of things are discussed.” Conventional or otherwise, a power plant must be positioned near adequate infrastructure. “It has to be near transmission lines and a substation,” Wolfington says. “Benson and its electrical infrastructure met the technical standards needed.” A 12.2 MW city power plant already in Benson helped seal the deal for Fibrominn, which chose a site adjacent to the ethanol plant. It took two years of permitting in “the land of 10,000 permits,” Wolfington quips, in addition to public hearings. Subsequently, the citizen’s panel unanimously approved locating the plant in Benson. “We spoke Fibrowatt’s language,” he says.

Litter Procurement, Odor and Process Turkey farmers, who also produce corn, soybeans and other crops, use the turkey litter as fertilizer because of its nutritive value. However, many turkey farmers produce more litter than they can use, which can cause environmental problems if too much is spread on the fields. “Poultry litter is good to spread, but you can’t have too much of a good thing— otherwise, it’s not good,” Fraser says. Walmsley says Fibrominn pays about $2 a ton for the turkey litter depending on its moisture content and ash characteristics. On average, poultry litter contains about 4,000 British thermal units per pound. The 55 MW Fibrominn plant, once running at full capacity, is expected to consume 2,000 to 2,500 tons of poultry litter a day. “We recognize some farmers will still want the litter for a soil amendment, that’s why we are only going after the excess litter,” Walmsley says. A majority of the feedstock required is under long-term contract with groups of poultry farmers. Approximately 50 percent of Fibrominn’s feedstock will come from the area surrounding the plant. The rest will be trucked in from about a 100mile radius of the facility, which will be dictated by the availability of the fluctuating supply, Walmsley says. Project developers believe that in purchasing the excess litter, they are providing a valuable service 7|2007 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 19

to the poultry industry and the environment. It reduces the regulatory burden on the poultry farmers; lessens the risk of contaminating water supplies from too much phosphorous and nitrogen; improves biosecurity; reduces cleanout costs, and adds a couple of dollars per ton to the farmer’s bottom line. Since poultry waste originates in grains, its carbon impact in the atmosphere is low, especially when it’s compared with a coalfired power plant. Although odor is hard to regulate in a permit, Fibrominn operates smartly to keep the stench at bay. “The best way to avoid odor is to contain it,” Walmsley tells Biomass Magazine. Beginning when the turkey litter is picked up, the trucks are covered with tight-fitting tarps and the loads are hauled on the right routes reducing odor release significantly. Once on-site, the litter is treated for three to five days to optimize the burn. From the fuel storage hall the litter is fed into the Foster-Wheeler-designed boiler by mechanical distribution. “Poultry litter is very difficult to move and manage because of the characteristics, if you will,” Strickler says. Fifteen years of experience has taught Fibrowatt irreplaceable proprietary secrets in handling and combusting poultry litter. In moving the litter from


SOURCE: Fibrowatt LLC


A 55 megawatt power plant, litter-fueled or not, requires adequate transmission capacity and infrastructure to properly distribute the electricity generated.

the fuel hall to the boiler, negative pressure draws air inward to the facility: Inside air pressure is lower than it is outside, so air rushes into the plant and, therefore, doesn’t allow the odor to escape the vicinity. The incoming draft air helps the litter

burn in the grate-fired boiler—a singledrum steam generator type. The highpressure boiler steam then goes into a direct-drive steam turbine/generator combo. Urea injections treat nitrogen oxide emissions, and the flue gas under-

SOURCE: Fibrowatt LLC


Poultry litter, bird manure, bedding, remnant feed and feathers is sticky, stinky and hard to handle, but Fibrowatt has 15 years of experience with this fuel, which has led to proprietary handling techniques.

American Fertilizer LLC, which is adjacent to Fibrominn. “A conveyer belt takes the ash to a 60,000 or 70,000 square-foot building, where it’s stored, conditioned and made into fertilizers,” Fraser tells Biomass Magazine. “This helps restore an environmental balance—not wasting, but recycling. The ash is a great fertilizer. All farmers are chemists today. They know what the land needs. There will be no shortage of customers for the ash.” Onlookers may see this business model and assume that Fibrominn’s customer base is the poultry industry. True enough, but the utility companies seeking to purchase renewable energy, voluntarily or under mandate, are also valuable customers. “Some say, ‘This is a turkey-litter plant,’” Wolfington says. “We say, ‘No, it’s a power plant using turkey litter as fuel.’” BIO

Ron Kotrba is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. Reach him at or (701) 746-8385.

goes additional treatment before leaving the boiler. Additional management occurs as the gases enter the scrubber and baghouse. The resulting ash—80,000 to 100,000 tons from firing approximately 700,000 tons of biomass a year—is sold to North

Biomass Combustion Specialists ♦Boilers Atlanta, GA, U.S.A. Phone: 770-475-5250 ♦Gasifiers Email: Website: ♦Furnaces ♦Co-Generation Vancouver, B.C. Canada Phone: 604-530-5566 ♦Thermal Oil Heaters Email: Website: ♦Low Emissions ♦Turn-key Installations Portland, OR, U.S.A. Phone: 503-554-9824 ♦PLC/HMI Controls Email: Website: ♦Mechanical Repairs CALL TOLL FREE 1-877-864-6380 7|2007 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 21







magine a vehicle one-third the weight of today’s typical car made almost entirely out of vegetables and natural sources that can travel 70 to 80 miles on one gallon of fuel. Harry Featherstone has dreamt of such a vehicle and is currently working with a number of organizations to make it a reality. Featherstone, a former director at Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp. and Daimler-Chrysler Corp. has worked in practically every department—control, production and head of engineering, to name a few. His interest in automobiles dates back to when he and his friends used to tinker with an old Ford Model T. “We must have torn it down and put it back together 20 times,” Featherstone says. After a long and successful career in a number of auto-related ventures, Featherstone is

now devoted to an organization he began two years ago called Seeds of Opportunity (SO). Composed of a number of Wooster, Ohio, businesses, SO actively seeks the realization of the AgriCar, a biomass-based vehicle that could change the face of transportation in a number of ways, Featherstone explains. With his expertise in the automotive world, he knew what was needed to produce the ultimate Agri-Car, but whether his wishes were feasible was another story. During the past year, he has chatted with some of the greatest minds in the academic field challenging them to build his Agri-Car. “I made phone calls to the University of California—San Diego’s marine division—Tsinghau University in Beijing, China, and then I went to the Goodyear Polymer Center at the University of Akron and the Center for

Automotive Research at Ohio State University,” Featherstone says. “I went to all of them and all of them said, ‘Harry, I think we can do this.’” Five major elements are required to create Featherstone’s biobased vehicle: New nonsteel framework material: A material that is 10 times lighter and 10 times more elastic so it can be formed and malleable yet is tough. This would lead to the exclusion of the inner body of the car, creating more room for protection, as well as reducing overall vehicle weight and cost thus increasing fuel efficiency and safety. Carbon dioxide conversion system: A retrofit device system that converts carbon dioxide to neutral in today’s internal combustion engine exhaust. New engine system: By looking to some of nature’s innovations like the electricity in an electric eel, the sensory

Academic entities are also finding auto applications for research projects, such as the natural rubber made from dandelions that is being developed at Ohio State University’s OARDC, which could help replace petroleum used in manufacturing tires. 24 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 7|2007

innovation abilities of creatures that live in the ocean depths and the inner eye system of the Bengal tiger, Featherstone designed an engine system containing light/solar cells that fuel a battery. Nonpetroleum lubricants: According to Featherstone’s calculations there is a potential to eliminate 50 million barrels of oil annually by using alternative sources for lubricants, such as emulsified lard. Featherstone received a patent for this technology in the 1950s, but at that time was not able to remove the odor. Today this is possible, he says. Natural rubber tires: At Ohio State University’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) researchers are developing a species of dandelion from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to use as an American-grown source of natural rubber. Additionally, Japan-based Yokohama Tires has developed a technology that blends citrus oil with natural rubber to make tires, elimi-

nating 80 percent of the petroleum. Developers of the Agri-Car project are in the process of assembling a formal entity that will pursue the concept and put everything under one umbrella. At the moment it is “a dispersed set of resources and activities that all contribute,” says Jim Currie, codirector of an Ohio State University program designed to connect research and researchers with public and private applications in the marketplace. Currie and Featherstone continue to work closely on the Agri-Car project. Currie says that there are many research projects going on at universities today that may not be directed specifically at automobiles, but could have applications. For example, the OARDC is currently working with an outside entity to further develop biobased fibers that can replace glass fibers in fiberglass and polymers. These fibers, found in automobile dashboards and most molded and extreated plastics,

give the products strength and prevent them from weakening and falling apart, Currie says. Conversely, biobased products that are being developed for the automobile industry may be used in other products. “You can develop an Agri-Car simply for the sake of the car, but at the same time you can use that to drive the research in planning ahead for much broader applications than just a car,” Currie says. “If it’s useful in developing this type of fiber in automotive parts, then it certainly is useful for say children’s highchairs.”

Hitting the Road Several automobile manufacturers are already offering components derived from renewable sources. Volvo Car Corp. currently uses renewable sources in nearly 100 biobased components, mostly sound absorption blocks or mats made of cotton fibers. In addition, the compa-

Lignol Energy – Sustainable Cellulosic Ethanol

Using cellulosic feedstocks to produce fuel-grade ethanol and biochemicals Lignol Energy Corporation (LEC: TSX.V) is commercializing its unique process technology to develop state-of-the-art biorefineries for the production of fuel-grade ethanol and biochemicals from cellulosic feedstocks. The company’s unique solvent based pre-treatment technology facilitates the rapid, high-yield and cost-effective conversion of cellulose to ethanol and the production of value-added biochemicals.

Lignol is currently in the process of integrating its core technologies on a commercial scale with several major industrial partners. For more information about Lignol Energy Corporation, please go to

Cellulosic Ethanol



ny has plans for producing hard components such as dashboards and ceilings using flax and cellulose, as well as seats using natural fibers such as hemp, sisal, jute and soy foam fillings, according to the company’s Web site. Mercedes-Benz has developed a concept car called the RECY that is 100 percent recyclable, created from sustainable sources and powered by biodiesel. Honda has created a plant-based biofabric for its FC concept vehicle’s interior upholstery. The Ecology Center, a toxic chemicals watchdog that is focused on the automobile industry, recently released its 2006 Automotive Plastics Report that grades the country’s eight leading auto manufacturers on their plastics policies and practices. The report found that Toyota Motor Corp. continued to lead the biobased materials movement by pioneering the development of a cornor sugarcane-based Eco Plastic and building a pilot plant to produce it. Daimler-Chrysler wasn’t far behind having increased its use of biobased materials an incredible 98 percent over previous models by incorporating the use of natural fibers made from flax and abaca. Ford was also given a high ranking within this category. Perhaps one of the industry’s leaders in greener vehicles and the first American company to put a hybrid on the road, Ford is offering sustainable


innovation interior materials and has plans to increase those offerings in the near future. According to Carol Kordich, Ford’s North American strategic design director for interior fabrics, Ford believes that it’s important—especially for the hybrid models—to incorporate as many materials that are recycled or sustainable as possible. In January, Ford unveiled its premium four-door coupe the Lincoln MKR Concept vehicle at the North American Auto Show in Detroit. In addition to being E85 compatible, the MKR incorporates Ford’s new line of guilt-free luxury interior features, including a reengineered oak instrument panel. The panel has been recycled and reassembled grain by grain, stained black to give it a rich appearance all without using any additional trees. Also included are renewable soy foam seats and mohair carpet. The leather utilized in the MKR seat covers is chrome-free, meaning that no toxins are used during the tanning process.

used. Kordich’s nearly 20 years in the architectural design industry provided her experience with the green trend as a lot of the same changes occurred that field before she joined the automobile industry in 2000. “I expect the same thing to happen in the auto industry,” she says. “There is another trend there as well—consumers will pay more to match the dollars with their values.” Drivers will also see some of Ford’s new biomass-based features in the 2008

Ford Escape Hybrid. Kordich says the new Escape features the application of seating surfaces made from 100 percent post-industrial materials supplied by Interface Fabric Inc., an international producer of biodegradable panel fabrics and textile products for commercial interiors. By utilizing post-industrial yarn fibers rather than virgin fibers, Interface Fabrics estimates it could conserve 600,000 gallons of water, 1.8 million pounds of carbon dioxide equivalents

Kordich says initially there may be a cost increase associated with some of the green interior features, but as the new products grow in volume and acceptance, the cost is expected to come down to the equivalent of materials previously



Ford has increased its offerings of biobased interiors to consumers in models like the 2008 Escape hybrid, and has plans to expand into other vehicles.

and more than 7 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually. Like Ford’s relationship with Interface Fabrics, there are a number of suppliers now offering a range of renewable products to auto manufacturers. Companies like Lear Corp. and Johnson

Controls Inc. are producing soy foam compositions that are being used in vehicle interiors by the major automotive manufacturers, while groups like Lansing, Mich.-based KTM Industries Inc. are supplying packing foam made from starches used by auto companies to

ship parts. Tim Colonnese, president and CEO of KTM Industries, says that his company’s customers, including Volvo, Toyota and BMW, utilize KTM’s foam for sending everything from electronics to glass. Clients love the fact that the product is both sustainable and cost-

Ford’s new line of “guilt-free luxury” interiors include reengineered oak instrument panels, soy foam seats, mohair carpet and zero-toxin tanned leather. 28 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 7|2007


Soybean-derived foam compositions, like the product shown here from Johnson Controls Inc., are increasingly being used as an alternative to polyurethane in automobile seat cushions

effective, he says. The Woodbridge Group, a global retailer of polyurethane foams for the auto industry, adopted the use of biobased polyols, which Cargill Inc. produces from natural oils such as linseed, rapeseed, soybeans and sunflowers, and uses them in the company’s flexible foam products since.

Due to the increased interest in this area, the 2007 Ward’s Auto Interior Show, which was scheduled for June 6-7, included for the first time a panel that specifically addressed how automakers are making strides in their efforts to use environmentally-friendly materials that are biobased and renewable titled “Environmentally Friendly Interior Materials: Changing the Way We Build.” Conference Manager Cristina Cotto says the conference and expo is in its 14th year of bringing suppliers and buyers together. Environmental issues are a hot topic, she says. “Last year there were a few attendees who marked down on their surveys that they would like to hear more about environmentally-friendly materials being used by auto makers, and it was also a topic for our awards [that are given out during the show,” Cotto says. “So we thought it would be a good topic to cover.”

As research into more sustainable vehicles continues on different fronts, Featherstone is glad to see that some groups are joining forces, as with the different universities coming together to pursue the Agri-Car project in Ohio. “Everything is possible,” he says quoting Albert Einstein. Despite all his acquired patents, ample experience and business success, this venture is unlike any other. “It’s the most exciting thing I have ever done,” Featherstone says. “There are various things throughout the world that I have made and I have made millions of dollars, but this is so exciting because it has so much potential.” BIO Lindsey Irwin is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. Reach her at or (701) 746-8385.






t wasn’t long ago that the owners of the plywood mill in Heffley Creek, British Columbia, were feeling the pinch of rising energy prices. Using natural gas to heat water for log conditioning and dryveneer processes was becoming more costly each year as the price of the fuel climbed. As it turned out, the solution to the mounting energy bills came from with-


fuel in the mill itself. Tolko Industries Ltd. makes structural-grade plywood at its mill in British Columbia. In the process of making three-eighths inch and 1 inch plywood, the mill produces tons of green bark wood residues. Instead of piling that unused biomass onto a compost heap, Tolko enlisted the help of Nexterra Energy Corp. to turn the residue into the energy needed to power portions of the mill. Nexterra’s inside-the-fence wood gasification process began operating in May 2006, and has helped Tolko counter rising energy costs and to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that is released from the plant. “This project represents a strategic investment in a new technology that will help us become more competitive and energy efficient,” Jim Baskerville, Tolko’s regional manager of veneer and plywood, said at the outset of the project. Two years later, that strategic investment continues to pay dividends. Instead of paying steep natural gas bills, Tolko is replacing 235,000 gigajoules (65.3 million kilowatt-hours) of energy per year with heat provided by 25,000 metric tons (27,600 tons) of wood residue. The wood gasification project has replaced 40

Left to right, Baskerville and Rhone were instrumental in bringing their company’s joint venture together in Heffley Creek, British Columbia. Nexterra’s wood gasification unit saves Tolko millions of dollars a year in energy costs

percent of the mill’s natural gas consumption, an amount equivalent to the volume of natural gas used to heat approximately 1,900 homes in Canada’s western-most province. By using synthetic natural gas (commonly referred to as syngas) produced in-house, the mill saves an estimated CAN$1.5 million in

Nexterra Energy designed the wood gasification unit currently operating at the Heffley Creek plywood mill near Kamloops, British Columbia. The gasification process allows Tolko to turn wood residue into synthetic natural gas. 32 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 7|2007

annual energy costs. Nexterra’s wood gasification unit converts wood residue into syngas via a starved air process where only 20 percent to 30 percent of the oxygen required to fully combust the fuel is allowed into the process. Only a small portion of the wood fuel is fully combusted while the


The wood gasification unit that Nexterra designed for Tolko's plywood mill uses a starved air process where only 20 percent to 30 percent of the oxygen required to fully combust the fuel is allowed into the process.

fuel rest is converted to synthetic natural gas. The lone byproduct of the process is a granular ash that Nexterra says contains virtually no unburned carbon. Nexterra President and CEO Jonathan Rhone says the project is working so well that his company and Tolko are teaming up on a similar project at another of Tolko’s mills. With the continued high price of natural gas, Tolko isn’t the only company interested in the gasification process. Rhone says his company continues to draw interest in the industry. “When we first established Nexterra in 2003, many of the companies we approached were skeptical that higher natural gas prices were here to stay and climate change was really on the edge of the radar screen,” he says. “Many believed that price increases and related volatility were the result of normal temporary commodity fluctuations. Today, virtually all companies we deal with in the forest products and other energy-


intensive industries are making energy a strategic priority and the leaders are investing in becoming energy efficient. Inside-the-fence [fuel] generation is increasingly viewed as essential to reduce and control energy costs.”

Ancillary Benefits While the improved bottom line for Tolko has been a positive result of the wood gasification project, the environmental impact is drawing attention outside of the accounting department. By replacing natural gas with an inside-thefence fuel produced from biomass, Tolko and Nexterra say that the Heffley Creek mill cuts greenhouse gas emissions by 12,000 metric tons (13,200 tons) a year. The companies say this is equivalent to taking nearly 3,000 cars off the road. Tolko estimates that over the expected life of the energy system, the company will have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 300,000 metric tons (330,000 tons).

fuel Although it’s possible to simply burn the wood residue to produce heat for the mill’s operations, wood gasification has its advantages. Converting solid waste into gas allows the energy to be used as a replacement for, or a supplement to, current natural gas-powered operations. The emissions from combusted syngas are also less environmentally invasive than those from combusted wood. Nexterra’s gasification unit is designed to create syngas from a variety of wood fuels, including material with as much as 60 percent moisture content.

Other Applications Rhone says the benefits of insidethe-fence energy generation aren’t limited to the forest products industry. The industry continues to find innovative ways to use previously discarded biomass to generate energy and displace fossil fuel consumption. “The interest we are seeing is not just in the forest industry,”

Rhone says. “We are also seeing tremendous interest in our gasification technology in other sectors. For example, institutions such as universities, government facilities, military complexes and hospitals all consume large volumes of natural gas and fuel oil for heating and hot water. We are active in that market.” Interest in Nexterra’s biomass gasification process also isn’t limited to Canada. The company is currently involved in a project with Johnson Controls Inc. to provide energy services in the United States. The pair’s first joint project is a biomass gasification system at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. The project will use wood residue from area sawmills to produce heat, hot water and electricity for the campus. Nexterra also sees a future market for biomass energy that’s generated outside-the-fence. “Another sector we’re starting to work with is the power gener-

ation industry where utilities across North America are buying green power from biomass and other forms of renewable energy,” he says. “We are in the process of completing a strategic alliance with a major independent power producer with the objective of implementing more than 100 megawatts of small-scale biomass gasification power plants over the next several years. This is just the beginning. We see tremendous growth potential in the power generation sector for our products and technologies.” With no shortage of biomass and no relief in sight from elevated energy costs, Nexterra is now banking on a market that extends beyond the fence. BIO Michael Shirek is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. Reach him at mshirek or (701) 746-8385.



iomass is good business and it’s here to stay. That was the one message that permeated the Biomass ’07: Power, Fuels and Chemicals Workshop held in May in Grand Forks, N.D. The conference was organized by the Energy and Environmental Research Center (EERC), a nonprofit organization associated with the University of North Dakota. The fourth annual conference was attended by more than 400 people from 28 states and three foreign countries. The EERC began as a federal coal research laboratory but has been an independent energy research facility for more than 30 years.


Photos by Paul Gronhovd, EERC


According to Director Gerald Groenewold, the facility has more than 400 active contracts for research, development, demonstration and commercialization projects worldwide. The center is involved with projects ranging from clean coal technology and carbon sequestration to wind power and biofuels development. The EERC started a center for biomass and renewable energy 17 years ago, Groenewold said. The EERC has 40 corporate partners working on biomass projects. He sees the center’s role in the industry as identifying and removing technical barriers that limit the industry’s growth. “Heaven knows there are technical barriers,” he said. “We do not advocate for any technology, but we provide credible, technical answers to




With just a 3 percent share of the U.S. energy market, biomass has plenty of room to grow. ‘We have a long way to go to make an impact on the consumption of fossil fuels

critical questions.” The current state of the biomass industry has two faces, according to Groenewold. There are some top-notch ideas that deserve investment and development. There is also a lot of money being invested in questionable ideas by well-meaning people. “We’re here, in part at least, to help people figure out where to put their money,” he explained.

The center is working with its business partners and other funding sources to commercialize projects involving lignocellulosic ethanol, higher alcohols through the Fischer-Tropsch process, advanced tactical biofuels for the military, distributed electrical generation through biomass microgasification facilities, improving biodiesel’s cold-weather performance, integrated urea production at ethanol plants and aviation-grade ethanol.

Growth Potential Several factors are driving the current interest in biomass, according to Chris Zygarlicke, deputy director for research at the EERC. They include economics, the desire for energy security, global warming concerns, rural economic development, technical needs (such as the need for ethanol as an octane booster in

Groenewold, director of EERC, told conference attendees that there were a lot of excellent opportunities in the biomass industry, but that a lot of money is being invested in questionable schemes. One of his goals is to help people tell the difference. 38 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 7|2007

event gasoline) and public opinion. These combined make biomass utilization a dynamic industry with a bright future, especially in the Northern Plains region of the United States. With just a 3 percent share of the U.S. energy market, biomass has plenty of room to grow. “We have a long way to go to make an impact on the consumption of fossil fuels,” Zygarlicke said. In the case of ethanol, current technologies based on fermenting corn can take the industry to about 15 billion gallons by 2015, to expand beyond that figure will require the development of cellulosic ethanol technology, he said. Key challenges for cellulosic ethanol production are similar to those facing much of the biomass industry, Zygarlicke said. The first challenge is growing large quantities of biomass and economically transporting it to a central processing location. “A typical plant making 30 [million] to 50 million gallons of ethanol a year from cellulose is going to need 2,000 tons of feedstock a day,” Zygarlicke said. “A commercial plant will operate from 250 to 300 days a year. This translates into a lot of corn or a lot of cellulose and a lot of land by the time we get to 2030, and expect to be consuming 60 billion gallons of ethanol.” According to several studies, the Northern Plains has some of the best potential for developing a biomass industry, Zygarlicke said. “We have economical feedstocks,” he continued. “We have some of the best land for developing switchgrass according the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. We have innovative farmers and other people. There’s a lot of technology here, not just at the EERC but at the universities in Minnesota and South Dakota. There’s also experience with renewables. Finally, I think we have to have federal advocates who will promote the policies needed to drive renewable energy and fuels in this region.” The second challenge is to develop robust organisms that can ferment all the available C5 and C6 sugars in the biomass. Related to that is the need to fur-

ther reduce the cost of the technologies needed to exploit biomass—such as enzymes. The cost of these enzymes has dropped significantly from $5 a gallon to 25 cents a gallon of cellulosic ethanol, but it needs to become cheaper yet. Finally, thermochemical methods of converting cellulose into useful products and power need to be further researched and developed. Although there are ways to turn biomass into ethanol, the technology needs to be proven in an economically feasible,

‘Our goal is to displace natural gas inputs into our plant. There are two objectives, one is to put the technology in place and make it work and then the other piece is to work with outside stakeholders to make sure we have reliable, economic, sustainable feedstocks available.’

commercial-scale facility. That’s where ethanol producers like Abengoa Bioenergy and ICM Inc. enter the picture. Abengoa Bioenergy is driven to apply innovative biorefinery concepts for augmenting the growth of cellulosic ethanol, said Gerson Santos-Leon, research and development director for Abengoa Bioenergy, which is headquartered in St. Louis, Mo. The U.S. DOE awarded the company $76 million to build a hybrid facility that would utilize the synergies between the enzymatic and thermochemical pathways to make energy, power, fuel and feed products. Abengoa plans to produce 15 MMgy of ethanol from lignocellulosic biomass and 85 MMgy from starch. “This is going to be a very significant investment and a

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The Northern Great Plains has some of the best potential for developing a significant biomass industry because of low-cost feedstocks and home-grown technical expertise, said Zygarlicke, deputy director for research at the EERC.

very significant milestone for Abengoa,” Santos-Leon said. “Our objective is really to have good technology, to license the technology and to be able to use multiple crops to make biofuels. I think this is really our vision for the future.”

Abengoa’s research into new enzyme fermentation methods to break down lignin—a substance within the cell walls of plant-derived biomass that’s difficult to ferment—into a productive source of energy is enhanced by working with com-

panies like Dyadic International, Novozymes Inc., NatureWorks LLC and Syngenta to further research lignocellulosic ethanol. Greg Loest, director of technology integration for ICM Inc. in Colwich, Kan.,

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event addressed two main platforms that are gaining attention in furthering the commercialization of lignocellulosic ethanol technology: thermal and hybrid platforms. Although both are capital intensive, the thermal platform—cogeneration of heat and electricity from biomass—has a long history in the petroleum industry. The hybrid process is an emerging platform using various research methods that are currently under development. The hybrid platform has the potential to combine positive attributes from sugar and thermal platforms similar to Abengoa’s future plans. “It’s more nascent at this particular point in time, but it’s a stepping stone of what we are able to achieve in the future,” Loest said. “It will be interesting to see where these platforms go in the future.”

Making it Work A big part of developing a vigorous biomass industry is figuring out what works right now. Chippewa Valley Ethanol Co. (CVEC), a farmer-owned cooperative in Benson, Minn., thinks it has found a way to beat volatile energy prices by using biomass. CVEC is expanding its ethanol production capacity from 45 million to 85 million gallons a year. Part of that transformation is the installation of biomass-

Director of Technology Integration for ICM, Inc. Loest discussed the thermal and hybrid platforms that are being considered as methods to commercialize production of lignocellulosic ethanol.



Traits such as drought and salt tolerance can expand the range of habitats where a biomass crop can be grown, while genes that control photosynthesis and reproduction can increase the number of tons of biomass that can be grown on an acre of land. fired boilers to provide heat for distillation and drying at the company’s facility. “Our goal is to displace natural gas inputs into our plant,” said CVEC General Manager Bill Lee. “There are two objectives, one is to put the technology in place and make it work and then the other piece is to work with outside stakeholders to

make sure we have reliable, economic, sustainable feedstocks available.” CVEC is building a biomass gasification system to fire its boilers. The project has three phases. The gasifier will be capable of burning 55 to 70 tons of biomass a day in a flexible-fuel, fluidized-bed design. The syngas will be cofired with natural gas in a multi-fuel burn. The design decouples the rest of the plant from the gasifier. “We think that is pretty important for what is basically a research and development project,” Lee said. The second phase of the project will involve adding additional gas cleaning capacity to the gasifier. The initial gasifier will displace about 25 percent of the company’s natural gas consumption. The third stage will be the construction of a second, larger gasifier that will displace the rest of the plant’s natural gas needs. “After we have some experience operating the gasifier we will build the second one,” he said. Lee expects natural gas prices to

become more volatile in the near future. That, combined with a general upward trend in gas prices, makes developing a long-term supply of renewable fuels more attractive in the long run. “Natural gas prices are not the only reason we’re doing this,” Lee said. “There are some other things in play that may add additional value to our company.” For example, in the future there may be markets for ethanol with a lower carbon footprint, he said. Moving away from natural gas could boost the energy balance for ethanol from about 1.67 to more than 3. The reduction of net carbon emissions over gasoline would increase from 20 percent to 50 percent. “We see California’s low-carbon fuel standard as an initial foray into this area. We also noticed (Sen.) Barack Obama (DIll.) has included such a proposition in his presidential campaign rhetoric. Where this goes we don’t know but it seems reasonable that this country will start to address the climate change and carbon issues, and


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event reducing your carbon footprint will have some reward,” he concluded.

Around Town Farmers aren’t the only ones who stand to benefit from biomass energy. The city of St. Paul, Minn., established district heating in the 1980s, said Kenneth Smith, vice president of District Energy of St. Paul. Today, more than 80 percent of the downtown area—31 million square feet— is heated from a single central plant. This eliminated 150 smokestacks in the community and reduced air pollution by 60 percent. In 2007, District Energy decided to diversify its energy supply by adding biomass to its former mix of 80 percent coal and 20 percent natural gas. Currently, 75 percent of the district’s fuel is biomassbased. District Energy is using a wood-fired combined heat and power (CHP) system. CHP is an efficient system that uses 75

Engelking, resource planning and bidding manager for Xcel Energy, talked about how the power company is looking to utilize biomass energy.

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Conference Greening Like most conferences, Biomass ’07 had a nice spread of food so attendees could keep up their strength. But there were a few differences as well, not the least of which were some volunteers telling people how to throw away their cups, plastic silverware and empty soda bottles. BBI International has entered into an agreement with the Mill Valley, Calif.-based Spitfire Agency to make sure its conferences have the lowest possible impact on the environment. Spitfire got its start in the music business working with environmentally conscious groups such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers. BBI and a few other organizations have started to draw on the agency’s experience to make their events environmentally friendly. “I got started doing concerts completely green,” said Sarah Haynes, CEO of Spitfire. “Concerts are really wasteful. When you leave an event, the whole thing is just filled with trash. So I started doing zero-waste concerts.” Haynes said there are about 20 different steps she takes to make an event greener such as making sure recyclable and compostable material are separated by the conference attendees (hence the volunteers at the trash cans), taking steps to help lower the facility’s electricity consumption and having as much of the paper used at such events to be 100 percent post-consumer recycled product. She even makes sure there is organic, environmentally friendly soap available in the washrooms. But her efforts are not limited to just the facility hosting the event. “We even try to make sure that if one of the exhibitors hands you a key chain, it’s not wrapped in plastic because that’s just more trash and there’s no point to that,” Haynes said. Haynes said the attendees at Biomass ’07 appreciated the efforts. “People were really excited,” she said. “I think they are impressed that BBI is such a leader. No other conference producer in the industry is doing anything like this. Some people will have recycling and call it green. BBI is great because they are taking it really seriously.There are many shades of green and BBI is taking it all the way, which is beautiful.” BBI CEO Mike Bryan said the company’s conferences had gotten large enough that hotels and conference centers were willing to work with the company to make its conferences greener. He sees this initiative as being central to the company’s mission. “It’s something we feel very strongly about,” he said. “It’s difficult to invite people to talk about green energy and renewable energy at a conference that’s not walking the walk. So it’s our goal as a company not only to talk the talk but walk the walk.” 44 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 7|2007

percent of the energy in biomass to produce electricity and heat for residences, industries and businesses. The 300,000 tons per year biomass plant was completed in 2007. The CHP system generates 25 megawatts of electricity that is sold to the grid. The waste heat is directed into the heating system. “There are a whole bunch of benefits,” Smith said. “For our customers, we have been able to keep our rates competitive by using biomass. The cost of heat in St. Paul is very low compared to other cities around the nation. It’s also a marketing opportunity because a lot of our customers can advertise that they use renewable energy,” he said.

‘We can’t rely totally on the industry and we can’t rely totally on the federal government to [expand the industry’s growth]. It’s got to be a combined effort. Research is our business and we see that as a driving force to chain the technology that will work.’

Utility providers, such as Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy Inc., have also begun to utilize biomass to produce electricity. However, with customers that span the Midwest, utilities still see a number of challenges related to largescale development of biomass power, notably the availability and stability of the fuel supply, said Betsy Engelking, Xcel’s manager of resource planning and bidding. Xcel has invested more than $20 million into research and demonstration by way of the Renewable Development Fund (RDF) to help alleviate the barriers and push biomass into the mainstream of the utility resource portfolio. The advantage of the RDF is that it enables the company to implement research into var-

event ious fuels and conversion technologies, including biomass and solar projects. “One of the biggest barriers to using biomass in the electric power sector has been cost,” Engelking said. Minnesota recently adopted a statewide Renewable Power Standard requiring that 25 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewable power sources by 2025. Under the new standard, Xcel Energy is expected to meet a 30 percent renewable electricity standard by 2020—25 percent of which must come from wind power. The remaining 5 percent is where biomass will play a major role in the future of energy source distribution, Engelking said. In an effort to encourage localized innovation, Minnesota’s CommunityBased Energy Project initiative will provide incentives to local developers looking to establish biomass-related projects within the state. “The whole idea behind it has been to encourage our local citizens to get involved in the development,” Engelking said. “We found that communities are much more accepting of these energy projects when they share some of the financial benefits.”

Tools Several presenters talked about the tools currently or soon to be available for the biomass industry. One of those presenters was Spencer Swayze, manager of business development for Ceres Inc., who talked about how his firm’s expertise in biotechnology was transforming the potential of biomass feedstocks. Ceres has identified traits that could be moved to crops such as switchgrass, miscanthus, energy cane and poplar trees to increase the productivity of those crops and their potential as biomass feedstocks. Ceres has identified 75,000 genes and 10,000 gene promoters in many different plant species. The company has developed a high-throughput method of moving these traits into a model plant,

On the Exhibit Hall Floor The Biomass ’07 conference continues to grow since its inception in 2002. This year’s event attracted 385 attendees representing 232 organizations, and 29 exhibitors. Although 29 may not seem like a huge number, it is when compared with last year’s 10 exhibitors. “Because of the intensity of this topic and what’s happening in this industry people want to get involved, and that’s great,” said Derek Walters, communications manager for the Grand Forks, N.D.-based Energy and Environmental Research Center, which organized and sponsored the event. Walters, who has been with the center since the inaugural workshop, said the exhibitor hall was sold out three weeks to a month before the event. “We have very good people working for us and because of the culture of the EERC, our focus on private industry and our focus on entrepreneurial market-driven type technologies, this was perfect for us. There are so many innovative things we can do with this and it’s just fantastic.” Although it isn’t considered a national conference, Biomass ’07 brought in people from 28 states. “This is a regional workshop, but it has drawn attention from all over the nation,” Walters said. “We have exhibitors from not only the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and around [North Dakota], but we also have exhibitors from the East Coast and West Coast, as well. It just goes to show the range of interest this industry is having on the country as a whole.”


Biomass togo...


Kephart, vice president for research and dean of the graduate school at South Dakota State University, said growth in the biomass industry will require support from the private and public sector.

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Arabidopsis, for evaluation. The successful combinations are transferred to commercial crops to evaluate how the crops react in the field. Finally, the traits can be

Research efforts from land grant universities such as SDSU can play a vital role in contributing to the growth of the industry. ‘[Biomass] needs to grow in a concerted effort between private industry and the public sector in arenas such as research universities.’

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moved to energy crops. “Our goal is to increase yield density, and to increase the number of acres where we can achieve that density,” Swayze said. Traits such as drought and salt tolerance can expand the range of habitats where a biomass crop can be grown, while genes that control photosynthesis and reproduction can increase the number of tons of biomass that can be grown on an acre of land.

Commercial Biomass Trading The use of biomass for power and heat generation isn’t new, however, with the possible exception of wood and wood-derived products, the worldwide commercial trading of biomass is just emerging. Most attractive biomass sources are not easily accessible to users

event worldwide and because of its low-energy density long-range transportation is not economical. Luca Zullo, Cargill Inc.’s technical director for emissions reduction services in Wayzata, Minn., introduced the notion of using torrefaction to improve the transportation properties of woody biomass by way of gasification or combustion. Torrefaction (or mild pyrolysis) consists of a slow heating of biomass in an inert atmosphere to a maximum temperature of 300 degrees Celsius (572 degrees Fahrenheit). The treatment yields a solid, uniform product with lower moisture content and higher energy content compared with the initial biomass. The torrefaction process enables the material to remain dry and repel water while retaining approximately 70 percent of the initial weight and 90 percent of the original energy content, thereby rendering it as a viable option to use in commercial trading, Zullo said. However, the torrefaction process has drawbacks as it’s expensive to perform and there are limited technologies available. The United States must play a key role in the establishment of energy densification if it is to contribute biomass as a commodity that can be traded around the world, Zullo added.

role in contributing to the growth of the industry. “[Biomass] needs to grow in a concerted effort between private industry and the public sector in arenas such as research universities,” he said. SDSU is a land grant university that also serves as an agricultural experiment station—one that is unique in that its academics conduct research on various forms of energy crops, such as switchgrass for biomass utilization.

In 2008, a national biomass conference, cosponsored by the EERC and BBI International, is scheduled for April 15-17 in Minneapolis. The Biomass ’08: Power, Fuels and Chemicals Workshop will be held July 15-16, 2008 in Grand Forks. Jerry W. Kram and Bryan Sims are Biomass Magazine staff writers. Reach them at, or (701) 746-8385.

Financing the Growth Although poised for growth, the biomass industry will require help along the way in the form of time, talent and financing. “We can’t rely totally on the industry and we can’t rely totally on the federal government to [expand the industry],” Zygarlicke said. “It’s got to be a combined effort. Research is our business and we see that as a driving force to chain the technology that will work.” Kevin Kephart, vice president for research and dean of the graduate school at South Dakota State University (SDSU) in Brookings, echoed Zygarlicke’s sentiments. Research efforts from land grant universities such as SDSU can play a vital











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LAB A Cell in the Machine: Computerized Cultures Accelerate Product Development


omputer modeling rules the world. It helps engineers to create everything from the large, complicated frameworks that support 100-story skyscrapers to small, equally complicated electronic gadgets. Therefore, it was inevitable that Genomatica Inc. in San Diego, Calif., would use the power of the computer to peer into the smallest unit of life itself—the cell. The cells of bacteria and fungi can make just about any chemical on Earth—directly or indirectly—under the right conditions. However, these organisms don’t simply produce these chemicals for humanity’s benefit. Therefore, the chemical pathways that lead to the production of ethanol, biobutanol, succinic acid and others are often too inefficient to do the job on an industrial scale. Genomatica is seeking to move a step beyond the tools that nature has given us by implementing a platform to rapidly develop and implement biofactories. “We are building an integrated metabolic engineering platform to address challenges in the industrial chemical industry,” says Mark Burk, senior vice president of research and commercial development for Genomatica. “The essence of the platform and where the innovation comes from is the metabolic modeling and simulation technologies. This provides us the ability to not only understand the metabolic network and the complexity of that network, but it also provides a means for interpreting data as we implement designs and strategies.” Genomatica’s approach is to engineer its target organisms inside a computer, or “in-silico.” Burk says the company starts by identifying the genes and metabolic processes inside organisms that are related to the production of the desired chemical product. These are fed into the company’s trademarked computer modeling software SimPheny. The company has a library of complete genomes for at least 25 economically important organisms that forms the basis of its operations. “All of our models are built on [genome] sequence data, and if you go back even five years ago, the number of organisms available by sequence and the speed with which you can get genomic sequences really opens up the door for contributions from this kind of modeling,” he says. SimPheny identifies genes for proteins that metabolize or otherwise interfere with the production of the desired product. Genomatica’s technicians can analyze the likely consequences of blocking the expression of one or many of those genes. Some genetic changes will increase the desired chemical production, while others may cripple or kill the organism. The model allows Genomatica to concentrate on the former and avoid the latter. “What we are in the process of doing is building out our experimental capabilities that allow us to implement those designs and develop organisms for specific product opportunities,” Burk says. By modeling the modified organisms first, Genomatica can produce 50 or so highly promising strains for evaluation rather Genomatica uses computer modeling, which it calls “in-silico” culture, to than taking a brute force shotgun approach. Information generat- quickly develop new strains of microorganisms to produce valuable proded from the analysis of the strains is fed back into SimPheny to ucts for the chemical and biofuels industry. continue to refine its algorithms. The microbiological and physiological components of Genomatica’s integrated platform take organisms identified by the model and modified by the genetic engineers, and evaluate them for their use as industrial fermenters. Using a process called “adaptive evolution,” strains are pushed through the application of selective pressure for high growth rates and production in a continuous fermentation environment. Burk says Genomatica is a leader in developing the modeling of metabolic processes. The company has worked the past seven years to make its platform a practical tool for industry. From the identification of a potential product to handing cultures over to a customer for implementation, Genomatica’s integrated platform can shave valuable months off the development process, Burk says. “I believe overall we will be able to cut the development time to commercialization in half through the use of computational techniques,” he says. “I believe this is a very robust platform, and it is demonstrating and validating itself with our customers right now.” BIO —Jerry W. Kram 7|2007 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 49



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