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Biorefineries in Waiting Pulp and Paper Mills in a Unique Position to Diversify into Other Biomass-Based Products

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November 28-30, 2007 Sheraton Philadelphia City Center Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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October 2007




..................... 20 POWER Landfill Eliminators Plasma gasification techniques are being employed to convert municipal solid waste into energy. The process, which some believe could revolutionize waste management, yields syngas and a byproduct used in road construction. By Jessica Ebert

26 PROFILE Steam-Powered Window Plant Andersen Corp. uses the wood waste from its window and door manufacturing process to fire its $22 million steam generation plant. The plant is unique in that it also utilizes a warm water recovery system for heat. By Ron Kotrba

32 PROCESS Making the Most of Manure Anaerobic digestion is the perfect manure management system for dairy operators looking to reduce odors and greenhouse gas emissions, and generate electricity and fertilizer. Before installing such a system, however, farmers should determine whether it’s a good fit for their operations. POWER | PAGE 20



By Bryan Sims

38 FUEL Not so Run of the Mill Are pulp and paper mills positioned to transform into biorefineries? That would seem to be the case as many are taking a closer look at gasification, biomass boilers and renewable fuels production. By Anduin Kirkbride McElroy

06 Editor’s Note 07 Advertiser Index 09 Industry Events 13 Business Briefs

44 PYROLYSIS Agrichar Rejuvenates Tired Soils Researchers have discovered that ancient Amazonians were able to improve unproductive soil by incorporating charcoal. The discovery may lead to incredible new markets for companies working on the fast pyrolysis of biomass, which produces bio-oil and a pure carbon sometimes referred to as agrichar. By Jerry W. Kram

14 Industry News 55 In the Lab Is it Biomass? Radiocarbon Testing Can Tell the Real McCoy By Jerry W. Kram

50 RESEARCH Analyzing the Energy Values of Enhanced Biomass Crop residue is receiving heavy interest from ethanol producers as a feedstock, but it may also provide power. A researcher is attempting to create a renewable, localized power source from energy-enhanced biomass. By David L. Wertz

57 EERC Update A Road Map for Biofuels Research— Production of Green Diesel By Joshua R. Strege


editor’s NOTE Give retailers latitude to take us beyond the wall


ommercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plants will likely start production by 2010 at the same time the United States will be producing 15 billion to 17 billion gallons of grain-based ethanol per year—enough to quench the demand for E10 use coast to coast.

Syncing production capacity with E10 demand is practical, but it does little to lessen

Letter to the Editor

the United States’ reliance on foreign oil. Experts say two things will simultaneously occur

Senior Staff Writer Ron Kotrba’s

when the nation’s annual ethanol production capacity hits 15 billion to 17 billion gallons:

story in the July issue of Biomass

1) Corn prices will ascend to a level that makes any additional corn-based ethanol pro-

Magazine talked about technology that

duction economically unfeasible; and 2) Nearly every gallon of gasoline in the United

allows for the use of turkey litter [as a

States will contain 10 percent ethanol. That’s when America will hit the so-called “E10

power source], and provides a seem-

wall,” a point at which corn-based ethanol production and E10 markets peak concurrent-

ingly win-win situation for a disposal


issue that has become a major environOf course, cellulosic ethanol has the potential to take us far beyond that proverbial

wall. However, assuming that cellulosic ethanol will be produced commercially—and in

mental headache due to nitrogen loading and clean water issues. I have been involved in alternative

huge volumes—how, where and why will new markets for this added production capaci-

energy—particularly biodiesel—for the

ty arise? Proposed federal legislation would raise the national renewable fuels standard to 36

past four years, and the one thing I

billion gallons and include “advanced biofuels carve-outs” to guarantee early life for cellu-

have learned is that there are no silver

losic ethanol. Beyond that, consumer demand for price-competitive E85—or other high

bullets, just “least-worst” solutions. Just

blends such as E20 to E50—will drive the market. The widespread acceptance of

look at the sustainability issue sur-

“blender pumps” that allow drivers to make their own ethanol blend purchasing decisions

rounding the use of palm oil in biodiesel

could redefine the way Americans think about transportation fuels. At the same time, it’s

production. Perhaps you could do a little

possible that we’ll soon see the emergence of fuel-efficient flexible-fuel vehicles (FFVs) that aren’t just capable of running on ethanol blends, but are optimized for them.

research into the apparent air pollution

Finally, with the availability and widespread acceptance of higher ethanol blends

concerns associated with incinerating

(E20 to E85) being necessary for the long-term success of cellulosic ethanol, producers

poultry litter—in particular, emissions of

and retailers should be given increased latitude to price biofuels competitively without

arsenic, as well as the presence of

being hamstrung by “minimum markup” laws originally designed to prevent unscrupulous

heavy metals in the ash, which is turned

gasoline retailers from putting their competitors out of business with predatory pricing.


Wisconsin ethanol producer Utica Energy LLC and its associated retailer Renew E85

have been sued for selling E85 at unfairly low prices, which seems ludicrous at a time

l for a start. There are trade-offs, and it

when complaining about prices at the pump is practically a national pastime. I’m not say-

is important to understand what the full

ing E85 retailers should be totally sheltered from predatory pricing laws, but if this nation

range of issues is.





is serious about lessening its oil addiction and getting beyond that E10 wall, retailers of high ethanol blends should be granted some leeway with new market development.

Chad Freckmann Blue Ridge Clean Fuels

Tom Bryan Editorial Director


advertiser INDEX ABENCS


R.C. Costello & Assoc. Inc.


Agri-Energy Funding Solutions


Robert-James Sales, Inc.


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Green Power, Inc.


International Biomass ‘08 Conference & Trade Show International Distillers Grains Conference

8 56

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Price BIOstock Services






Jaci Satterlund ART DIRECTOR








Michael Shirek ONLINE EDITOR


Jan Tellmann COPY EDITOR




Nicholas Zeman STAFF WRITER


Anduin Kirkbride McElroy STAFF WRITER

Jennifer Robinson ACCOUNT MANAGER



Susanne Retka Schill STAFF WRITER




Jessica Ebert STAFF WRITER


Elizabeth Slavens GRAPHIC DESIGNER


Subscriptions Subscriptions to Biomass Magazine are available for just $24.95 per year within the United States, $39.95 for Canada and Mexico, and $49.95 for any country outside North America. Subscription forms are available online (, by mail or by fax. If you have questions, please contact Jessica Beaudry at (701) 7468385 or

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Explore the Opportunities, Experience the Technology!

April 15 – 17, 2008 Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

SAVE THE DATE Biomass is the largest and most promising sustainable and renewable resource with unlimited global applications.

The first International Biomass Conference & Trade Show aims to facilitate the advancement of near-term and commercial-scale manufacturing of biomass-based power, fuels, and chemicals. Plan to learn and share information on biorefining technologies for the production and advancement of biopower, bioproducts, biochemicals, biofuels, intermediate products, and coproducts –through general sessions, technical workshops, and an industry trade show.


. .. .. .

Basic R&D/Fundamental Process Development Biochemicals Biofuels Biopower Bioproducts Biorefining Concepts

.. .. .. .

Cellulosic Ethanol Commerical Applications Economics and Finance Feedstocks Fibers Pilot Demonstrations Project Feasibility

Sponsorship and Exhibitor opportunities now available.

Visit for more information.

In partnership with:

Event organizer: BBI INTERNATIONAL

green event

Conferences & Events . 719-539-0300 .

industryevents Next Generation Biofuel Markets

Biofuels Workshop & Trade Show-Western Region

October 4-5, 2007

October 9-12, 2007

Hotel Okura Amsterdam, The Netherlands After 260 biofuels executives attended Europe’s first-ever Next Generation Biofuel Markets seminar in March, held in conjunction with the World Biofuels Markets Congress, the program is back for a second installment in Amsterdam. This event will cover topics such as regulation and policy drivers, finance and investment, and the countdown to cellulose. +44 20 7801 6333

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. Two technical breakout workshops will address ethanol and biodiesel. There will also be technology roundtables and a discussion on sustainability. (719) 539-0300

Investors’Summit on Climate Change Investment Opportunities

Making Wood Work: Local Energy Solutions

October 16-17, 2007

October 16-18, 2007

New York Helmsley Hotel Manhattan, New York This event is designed to help investors explore new opportunities and risk strategies related to climate-related business trends, and identify and evaluate the impact of climate risk on their portfolios. Topics include renewable energy credits and second-generation biofuels, among many others. (800) 280-8440

Holiday Inn Parkside Missoula, Montana At this workshop for implementing biomass boilers, the Fuels for Schools and Beyond initiative and its diverse partners will share their knowledge and experience gained from implementing projects nationwide. Workshop sessions will guide participants through the ins and outs of system implementation at every stage of the process. Speaker panels will cover various topics, and the agenda includes field tours of operating biomass boilers. (406) 363-1444, ext. 5 /biomass_boiler_workshop.html

Next Generation Biofuels for a “Twenty in Ten”World

National Supply Summit

October 22-23, 2007

October 29-30, 2007

The Flatotel New York City, New York In order to meet President George W. Bush’s plan to reduce gasoline usage by 20 percent within 10 years, this conference will discuss the development, expansion and commercialization of the biofuels industry. The U.S. DOE’s cellulosic demonstration project and biomass conversion pilot project will be discussed, among other topics. (800) 280-8440

Ritz-Carlton Lake Las Vegas Las Vegas, Nevada Prices for gasoline, diesel, heating oil, jet fuel and biofuels are regularly buffeted by dramatic updrafts and downdrafts, thanks to the delicate balance in North American supply and demand. This summit analyzes whether these trends will continue, and addresses what needs to be done to contend with pricing and supply turbulence. Biobased jet fuel, renewable diesel and biobutanol will be discussed among other topics. (866) 620-5940

Biofuels Workshop & Trade Show-Eastern Region

Canadian Renewable Fuels Summit

November 27-30, 2007

December 2-4, 2007

Sheraton Philadelphia City Center Hotel Philadelphia, Pennsylvania This year’s event, themed “Building a Biofuels Industry,” will address the current status and future challenges of the biofuels industry in the eastern United States. The agenda includes two technical breakout workshops that address ethanol and biodiesel, along with additional tracks for biomass utilization and cellulose to ethanol. There will also be a discussion on sustainability. (719) 539-0300

Quebec City Convention Center Quebec City, Quebec Registration is open for the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association’s fourth annual event, themed “Building on the Promise.” Confirmed speakers include Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada; Phillip Schwab of Biotech Canada; Ray Foot of Canadian Pacific Railway; and Rick Tolman of the National Corn Growers Association, among many others. Canada: (519) 576-4500 U.S.: (719) 539-0300


The future of fuel Transforming corn and other grains into biofuels is a major industry today. But what about tomorrow? The future of biofuels will also rely on the next generation of raw materials – biomass. At Novozymes we’re taking a fresh look at all types of biomass, and considering how we can turn it into something © Novozymes A /S · Customer Communications · No. 2007-35469-01

useful. And you know what? Corn cobs and wheat straw are just the beginning. Who knows what other types of waste we can transform into fuel? Novozymes is the world leader in bioinnovation. Together Novozymes North America, Inc. 77 Perry Chapel Church Road Franklinton, NC 27525 Tel. +1 919-494-3000 Fax +1 919-494-3485

with customers across a broad array of industries we create tomorrow’s industrial biosolutions, improving our customers’ business and the use of our planet’s resources. Read more at


BRIEFS Verenium to expand test site NREL plans biomass lab expansion In the next two years, the U.S. DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) plans to expand two biomass energy facilities: the Alternative Fuels User Facility and the Thermal Test Facility. New buildings will be built at both facilities. John Ashworth, director of NREL’s National Bioenergy Center, said one reason for the expansion is that some of the current testing equipment is being used at full capacity. Also, NREL couldn’t replicate certain industrial processes at scale because of the high pressures, high temperatures and hazardous materials involved in those processes. BIO

In its second-quarter financial reports, Cambridge, Mass.-based Verenium Corp., formed by a merger between Diversa Corp. and Celunol Corp., announced an expansion of its demonstration-scale cellulosic ethanol plant and research facility in Jennings, La. Subsequently, the scheduled completion date has been pushed back until early next year. The site will be used to test various enzyme cocktails and processing technologies dedicated primarily to the conversion of sugarcane waste. The facility will also be used to train future commercial-scale plant operators. BIO

Abengoa changes site for cellulosic ethanol plant Multidisciplinary journal launched Bruce Dale, chemical engineering and materials science professor at Michigan State University, is the editor-in-chief of a new magazine launched in August. Biofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining is published by the Society of Chemical Industry and John Wiley and Sons Inc. Dale leads an editorial board of six internationally recognized scientists and 21 advisory editors. The journal seeks a balance of peer-reviewed critical reviews, commentary, patent intelligence and business news. The inaugural issue is available at BIO

FPL Energy finds partner for citrus-peel-to-ethanol plant FPL Energy, a leading renewable energy provider, recently signed a letter of intent with Citrus Energy LLC, a citrus-peel-toethanol technology developer, to build the first commercial-scale citrus-peel-toethanol plant in Florida. The new facility will be collocated FPL Energy and Citrus Energy will with a citrus processor and collocate a citrus-waste-to-ethanol will likely be in production in plant with a citrus processing facility early 2009, according to such as this one in Florida. David Stewart, president of Citrus Energy. In addition, the feedstock is available nearly eight months each year. “It’s a good business model,” Stewart said. BIO

In August, Abengoa Bioenergy dedicated a site in Hugoton, Kan., to the construction of a 13 MMgy cellulosic ethanol production facility and an 88 MMgy grain-based ethanol facility. Abengoa Executive Vice President Chris Standlee said potential feedstocks for both plants would include corn, wheat, sorghum and prairie grasses. The cellulosic ethanol plant was originally proposed in Colwich, Kan., where Abengoa currently produces 20 MMgy of ethanol from corn and milo. Standlee said community concern was the main reason to relocate the cellulosic ethanol plant. The company has received permits to build a second 88 MMgy grain-based ethanol facility in Colwich. BIO

Range Fuels adds three Broomfield, Colo.-based Range Fuels Inc., a proposed cellulosic ethanol producer, appointed Dan Hannon as CFO in August to lead the company’s finance, risk control and investor relations activities. In addition, David Tillman, a McKnight presidential chairman of ecology at the University of Minnesota, was appointed to the company’s scienHannon tific advisory board. He specializes in biodiversity and ecosystem management. Charles Adams has joined Range Fuels’ board of directors. He currently serves as managing director in the commodities division of Morgan Stanley. BIO 10|2007 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 13


NEWS Analysis of standing timber next on UT agenda Daniel de la Torre Ugarte, professor of agriculrenewable energy production,” Ugarte said. “The tural economics at the University of Tennessee (UT), study released last year really only considers waste said his department’s November 2006 study, titled material, not the harvesting of trees from plantations.” “25 Percent Renewable Energy for the United States According to Burton English, another professor by the Year 2025: Agricultural and Economic of agricultural economics at UT, the 25x’25 study was Impacts,” is currently being updated and should critiqued for its lack of information on land-use comfunction as a schedule more than a prediction. The petition between forestry and agriculture. “We only “25x’25” initiative, backed by several organizations studied residues, thinnings and fuel reductions, so we and individuals, detailed how to obtain 25 percent of are trying now to expand our evaluation of the the country’s energy from renewable resources like forestry sector,” English said. wind, solar power, and biofuels by the year 2025. Contrary to concerns about shifting land use English “We basically wanted to state what crop and from food production to energy crops, UT’s 25x’25 conversion yields will be necessary to produce this much energy study said producing 25 percent of the U.S. fuel supply from on this timeline,” Ugarte said. “It should be considered an agen- renewable sources won’t hinder the ability of the agricultural secda for agriculture and research—not as a forecast.” tor to produce necessary feedstuffs. “The ways in which we proNow Ugarte and others in the department of agricultural duce food from traditional crops may change, and there may be economics are evaluating the potential of harvesting standing some difficulties along the way,” English admitted, but shifting timber from plantations, which could contribute to and perhaps acres to energy crops shouldn’t hinder the ability of U.S. agriculincrease the percentage of renewable energy that the United ture to meet its nutritional needs, he added. States could produce within the next 15 to 20 years. “We’re look-Nicholas Zeman ing further into the incorporation of the forest sector in terms of

PureVision begins construction of cellulosic biomass pilot plant Colorado-based PureVision Technology Inc., which develops cellulosic biorefining technologies, has started construction of a cellulosic biomass pilot plant at its headquarters in Fort Lupton, Colo. The experimental biomass processing equipment is the next generation of the company’s fractionation technology, which can rapidly convert cellulosic biomass into biofuels, including ethanol, and other bioproducts such as glues, sealants and detergents. Since 2003, PureVision has been using a continuous, small-scale process development unit (PDU) with a throughput of 100 to 200 pounds per day of biomass. The PDU has been used to process different cellulosic feedstocks and to demonstrate the fractionation process. After perfecting the patented PureVision biomass conversion process, the company is now constructing a larger pilot plant


with a throughput of about three tons of biomass per day.. According to PureVision founder and CEO Ed Lehrburger, the company’s technology entails employing a countercurrent fractionation process where the solids are separated from the liquids. From there, the two materials are broken down further into three streams: zylose, lignin and cellulose compounds. The organic compounds

can be used to produce a specific bioproduct or fuel. PureVision uses a wide range of biomass feedstocks including corn stover, sugarcane bagasse, wheat straw and soft woods, according to Lehrburger. “[The technology] is just taking off,” he said. “We’ve perfected it on a small scale, and now we’re building a bigger pilot plant. We’re trying to raise money to get the whole pilot plant program going.” Lehrburger noted that it will likely take until the first half of 2008 to finish construction of the pilot plant. Data collected once the pilot plant is on line will provide design specifications to scale up the PureVision equipment to a 100-tonper-day demonstration-scale cellulose biorefinery, which is slated to break ground in 2009. -Bryan Sims


NEWS Syntroleum,Tyson partner to produce biofuels Syntroleum Corp. and Tyson Foods Inc. have jointly created Dynamic Fuels LLC to build multiple, stand-alone facilities that will produce what they call “ultra-clean, high-quality, next-generation renewable synthetic fuels,” or renewable diesel. Once the first Dynamic Fuels facility is operational, Syntroleum intends to further develop its trademarked, proprietary Biofining process by adding components from its Fischer-Tropsch technology to the front end of the plants to convert biomass into liquid fuels. The first facility using Syntroleum’s trademarked Biofining technology will produce about 75 MMgy of renewable diesel from low-grade animal fats, greases and vegetable oils supplied by Tyson. The $150 million project is targeted to be on line in

2010 somewhere in the south-central United States. Syntroleum CEO Jack Holmes described the Biofining synthetic fuel as superior to both petroleum-based fuels and biodiesel products. The new product will have a higher cetane content, lower cloud

points, lower freeze points, and very low sulfur and aromatics. The company has experience in developing Fischer-Tropsch synthetic fuels from coal and natural gas for jet fuels. Last year, it supplied 100,000 gallons of synthetic Fischer-Tropsch jet fuel to the U.S. Air Force for testing in a 50-50 blend with conventional jet fuel in B-52 bombers. This summer, Syntroleum contracted with the U.S. Department of Defense to supply 500 gallons of its synthetic jet fuel produced from fats for testing in military turbine applications. The company predicts its Biofining process will create renewable fuels comparable with its high-quality FischerTropsch fuels. -Susanne Retka Schill

Committee drafts woody biomass harvesting guidelines In 2005, the Minnesota legislature passed a mandate requiring the Minnesota Forest Resources Council (MFRC) and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to develop guidelines for the sustainable harvest of woody biomass from forests, brushlands and open lands. A “confluence of interest” in biomassto-energy production spurred the legislative order, along with increasing energy prices and state-supported incentives for renewable energy production. Also, an agreement was recently signed by the city of Hibbing, Minn.; the city of Virginia, Minn.; and Xcel Energy in which the two communities will supply Xcel Energy, a leading utility, with energy from woody biomass, explained Dave Zumeta, executive director of the MFRC. In response, the two state agencies appointed a 12-member technical committee comprised of soil scientists, wildlife biologists, forest managers, loggers and others to develop the guidelines based on existing timber harvest-

ing and forest guidelines, and a worldwide literature review compiled by researchers at the University of Minnesota. The new, voluntary guidelines were approved by the committee May 16, and final documents will be publicly available this month. Woody biomass provides a habitat for microbes, insects, birds and animals; filters water destined for wetlands and other bodies of water; and provides nutrients to the soil. The general aim of the committee was to provide guidelines for how much woody biomass can be removed from forests and other grasslands without negatively impacting wildlife and plant diversity, water quality, and soil productivity. Although the report presents numerous guidelines, the main recommendation on a given site is that one-third of the fine woody debris—the tops, limbs and woody biomass that measures less than six inches at the large end—be retained. This is the equivalent of leaving one out of every five average-sized trees in a particular area.

“I do see a lot of potential through biomass harvesting to improve forest management,” said Dean Current, program director for the University of Minnesota’s Center for Integrated Natural Resource and Agricultural Management. “We need the guidelines to make sure it’s done in an environmentally sustainable way.” The new guidelines have generated nationwide interest, Zumeta said. “This hasn’t been done before,” he told Biomass Magazine. He cautions that the guidelines are just a first step. “There are a lot of research questions that need to be addressed,” he said. Over the next few years, the implementation and effectiveness of the guidelines will be monitored so that revisions can make the guidelines more focused. “This is a first cut at it, and we’ll improve them down the line,” Zumeta said. - Jessica Ebert




Cargill opens polyol center

This drawing shows a proposed energy farm that Biomass Investment Group is currently developing.

Egrass power project under development Engineering is underway on a biomassto-power project in southern Florida, for which project owner Biomass Investment Group Inc. already has a 130-megawatt purchase agreement with Progress Energy. Based in Gulf Breeze, Fla., Biomass Investment Group plans to grow, harvest and pyrolyze Egrass—the company’s trademarked name for arundo donax, or giant reed, the woodwind “reed of choice,” according to Jim Wimberly, Biomass Investment Group’s vice president of agricultural operations. Arundo donax is extremely efficient at photosynthesis, Wimberly said, which allows the plant to grow one inch per day. Although woodwind reeds are made from this crop after it has grown to maturity, Biomass Investment Group’s plans are to harvest the crop prematurely using a chopper to eliminate variability of the nodes. The company will be growing Egrass on approximately 20,000 acres. Compared with yield numbers on switchgrass, which the U.S. DOE says can average eight tons per acre per year, Wimberly said Egrass can produce 30 tons per acre per year (two harvests per field per year) in southern Florida. Arundo donax seed isn't viable because it only propagates


vegetatively, which Wimberly said quells land management concerns over unwanted, wayward growth of the crop. Biomass Investment Group is currently performing front-end engineering on its Integrated Pyrolysis/Combined Cycle System for the conversion of Egrass to bio-oil. The pyrolysis oil will then be upgraded to combustion turbine fuel to generate electricity. “Fast pyrolysis is gaining attention, and we’re developing proprietary technologies to improve it,” Wimberly said, adding that a 4-to-1 net energy production is achieved in the company’s energy farm model. He said a project of this nature will avoid the emission of 30 million tons of carbon that a similarly sized, coalbased power plant would otherwise emit. This project isn’t carbon-neutral, but rather carbon negative, thanks to the immense root systems of the plants sequestering carbon from the air underground. Farming Egrass requires minimal inputs and no tilling. The front-end engineering is targeted for completion some time next year.

Cargill Inc. has opened a center to develop biobased chemical products. The BiOH Polyols Research and Development Center in Plymouth, Minn., will host researchers in a 19,000-square-foot facility that will include a pilot production area. At the center, the company will be researching the production and use of biobased urethane products that will be marketed under the BiOH trademark. The initial products will be flexible foams for the automobile, bedding and furniture markets. Polyols are a family of alcohols with multiple hydroxyl groups that includes glycols, glycerol and sugar-based alcohols. Cargill’s BiOH polyols are derived from vegetable oils such as soybean oil. Future applications of the technology may allow Cargill to offer replacements for other petroleum-based urethane products such as rigid foams and rubber-like compounds called elastomers. Ricardo De Genova, the technical manager for the BiOH brand, will manage the new lab. “You can do things with this chemistry that you can’t do with petroleum,” he said. “The potential is unlimited.” Cargill’s BiOH products have received widespread recognition, including the 2007 President’s Green Chemistry Challenge Award given by the U.S. EPA and the American Chemical Society. -Jerry W. Kram

-Ron Kotrba


NEWS Enzymes convert biomass starches for fuel cells Researchers at Virginia Tech, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the University of Georgia have proposed using polysaccharides from biomass to directly produce hydrogen in a low-temperature, low-atmospheric-pressure process. Using synthetic biology approaches, the process adds a combination of 13 enzymes never found together in nature to a mixture of starch and water. The enzymes use the energy in the starch to break up the water into carbon dioxide and hydrogen, said lead researcher Y.H. Percival Zhang, assistant professor of biological systems engineering at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. A membrane bleeds off the carbon dioxide, and the hydrogen is used by the fuel cell to create electricity. Water, a product of the fuel cell process, is recycled for the starch-water reactor. Laboratory tests confirm that it all takes place at a low temperature of about 86 degrees Fahrenheit and under low atmospheric pressure. The research was based on Zhang’s work with cellulosic ethanol

production, and ORNL and University of Georgia researchers’ work with enzymatic hydrogen production. According to Virginia Tech, the researchers were certain they could put the processes together. Zhang’s colleagues in the project include Barbara Evans and Jonathan Mielenz of ORNL, and Robert Hopkins and Michael Adams of the University of Georgia. The next step will be to increase reaction rates and reduce enzyme costs, Zhang said. He described the energy conversion efficiency from the sugar-to-hydrogen fuel cell system as extremely high—more than three times higher than a sugar-to-ethanol internal-combustion-engine system. “It means that if about 30 percent of transportation fuel can be replaced by ethanol from biomass as the DOE proposed, the same amount of biomass will be sufficient to provide 100 percent of vehicle transportation fuel through this technology,” Zhang said. - Susanne Retka Schill

Solid waste pellets to fuel biodiesel plant

Novozymes, Xergi to develop biogas microbes

An innovative plan will give an Iowa biodiesel plant a financial boost while helping the surrounding counties manage solid waste. Soy Energy LLC, a 30 MMgy biodiesel plant that recently started initial construction near Marcus, Iowa, will use processed engineered fuel (PEF) pellets to be manufactured by the Cherokee County Solid Waste Department to power its processes,, said Mark Buschkamp, executive director of Cherokee Area Economic Development Corp. The pellets will be less expensive than natural gas, a more traditional power source. The PEF pellet manufacturing plant will be built at a landfill that serves three counties using a system developed by Lundell Manufacturing in Cherokee, Iowa. Municipal waste trucked to the landfill will be processed to remove recyclable material, heavy plastics, metals and electronics. “What you have left is basically paper, contaminated cardboard and film plastics like Saran wrap and grocery sacks,” Buschkamp said. “That goes through a mill and comes out as an inchand-a-half-diameter pellet.” Buschkamp said one of the major benefits of the project is that it will greatly extend the life of the landfill. Currently, a landfill cell— one small, rotating area where all garbage is buried to control runoff and vermin issues—isfilled after three years. With the pellet plant, he said a cell will take 12 years to be filled. In addition, ash from the biodiesel plant boilers will be used as landfill cover. Buschkamp said the pellet plant is slated to come on line a month or two before the biodiesel plant is completed in the second quarter of 2008.

Danish biotechnology companies Novozymes and Xergi joined forces in mid-summer to develop new technologies and microbes capable of harnessing manure energy for the production of electricity, heat, fuel and fertilizer. Although specific details about the companies’ research and development plans weren’t available at press time, Thomas Schafer, senior director for new business development at Novozymes, said representatives of Novozymes and Xergi will meet soon to establish targets for what the two companies want to achieve and how the venture will move forward. “We have some ideas, Xergi has some ideas, and now we’re working to leverage those,” Schafer said. Objectives may include increasing the robustness of biogas plants by developing technologies and microbes that are insensitive to the incoming feedstock, or by improving the efficiency of the process and thereby the yield of energy. Since Novozymes boasts one of the most diverse collections of bacteria and fungi, the company will screen for microbes that can help to meet the set targets. Xergi excels in engineering and will be charged with designing new technologies. “We’ll fit our biological solutions into Xergi’s technology solutions,” Schafer explained.

-Jerry W. Kram

-Jessica Ebert 10|2007 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 17


NEWS SunEthanol secures VeraSun as investment partner When a company in the field of cellulosic ethanol research and development starts to secure investment partners like VeraSun Energy Corp., one of the nation’s leading ethanol producers, it’s going to draw a considerable amount of attention. “It’s been very busy around here,” said Jef Sharp, CEO of SunEthanol in Amherst, Mass. “VeraSun is an important player in the established ethanol industry, and they can be very helpful in the development of our technology.”

SunEthanol’s technology platform is based around the “Q Microbe,” a unique, naturally occurring bacterium discovered in the New England soil by University of Massachusetts microbiologist Susan Leschine. Because this bacterium can convert cellulose from a number of feedstocks,

it has a significant commercial feasibility, which VeraSun tells Biomass Magazine is the reason for its investment in SunEthanol. “Because this is a naturally occurring bacteria, we think we can convert cellulose in a simpler step, which takes some of the cost out of the process,” Sharp said. “That gives us an advantage over other technologies that may be more complex and gives us more flexibility in terms of feedstock.” -Nicholas Zeman

Alliant Energy awaits grant approval for Wisconsin biomass project Wisconsin Power and Light (WPL), an Alliant Energy subsidiary based in Madison, Wis., is waiting to see if the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Products Laboratory will award the Southwest Badger Resources Conservation and Development Council with a grant it recently applied for. If the council receives the $12,000 in funding, WPL will provide an additional $12,000 and help the council obtain biomass feedstocks for a proposed boiler at the Nelson Dewey Generating Station in Cassville, Wis., which will provide 300 megawatts of electricity to surrounding communities. The new boiler would be capable of burning at least 10 percent biomass by weight, along with fossil fuels. It would burn approxi-

mately 300 tons (15 to 20 truckloads) of biomass each day with the majority of it coming from within 30 to 50 miles of the plant. When the funds would be distributed was undisclosed at press time,, according to Alliant. “We are excited about the potential that biomass possesses as a major fuel source in Wisconsin,” said Bill Johnson, manager of biofuels development for Alliant Energy. “The work that the Southwest Badger [Resources Conservation and Development Council] has proposed comes at a critical time

as we work to help jump-start biofuels in the state.” Johnson, who joined Alliant in June, works with area farmers and foresters to show the benefits of becoming a biomass supplier, while providing the company with a predictable and plentiful supply of organic materials. Since 2000, Alliant Energy has been conducting test burns of switchgrass at its Chariton Valley Generating Station in Ottumwa, Iowa. More than 6,000 tons of switchgrass have been processed, generating enough energy to power 1,000 homes in various tests, the most recent of which concluded in May 2006. -Bryan Sims

Florida's only ethanol plant to reopen Anglo-American company Losonoco Inc., with offices in London and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., is bringing the Sunshine State’s lone ethanol plant centrally located in Bartow out of retirement by integrating firstand second-generation conversion technologies. The original 6.5 MMgy ethanol plant used beverage waste as a feedstock. Losonoco representative Alan Banks said the idle plant should be operational again by the summer of 2008. In order to accomplish this, however, a feedstock choice must be made soon; the company is looking at using either 18 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 10|2007

corn or milo. The plant is located next to a 135-megawatt power plant from which the recommissioned alcohol facility will receive waste heat for processing before returning the condensate back to the power plant for its own operations. In addition to the grain-based ethanol plant, Losonoco has proposed an adjacent 125-ton-per-day demonstration facility that would gasify carbon-based feedstocks into ethanol (60 percent), ammonia nitrate (20 percent) and steam to run the production process (20 percent). Banks said feedstocks with up to 55 percent moisture content can

be utilized. Other feedstocks for the first demo plant are likely to be corn stover, citrus residues, yard and forestry waste, switchgrass, and even the grain-based ethanol plant’s distillers wet grains. Losonoco intends to use the Skygas Gasification process, a plasma-based technology that Banks said requires no smokestack because the process doesn’t release emissions. Eventually the company plans to rachet up its biomass-to-ethanol production in Bartow to 25 MMgy, but no timelines have were set at press -Ron Kotrba

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Landfill E l i m i n at o r s The process is called plasma gasification and the technology for creating and harnessing plasma has been around for decades. However, plasma gasification technology is now being used for a new purpose—the conversion of municipal solid waste-to-energy. By Jessica Ebert





P ‘Plasma processing of MSW has unique treatment capabilities unequaled by existing technologies. Plasma gasification could revolutionize the whole field of waste management.’

lants that use extremely high temperatures to turn municipal solid waste (MSW) into electricity are springing from the soils of countries around the globe including Canada, Spain, the United States and Japan. Although the process technologies and temperature ranges employed at these facilities vary, the basic concept is the same: MSW goes in, electricity comes out. In addition, unlike incineration few, if any, emissions are produced and little, if any, of the remaining material needs to be landfilled. As farfetched as it may sound, the technology for producing plasmas dates back nearly a century. Plasmas are gases that have been heated to the point of ion-

ization—meaning they are composed of charged particles such as electrons that can conduct electricity and generate tremendous amounts of heat. Lightning is an example of naturally occurring plasma. Since the early 1900s, plasmas have been used to melt metals and to make acetylene fuel from natural gas. In the 1960s, NASA developed plasma technology to simulate the intense heat of reentry for testing the durability of certain pieces of shuttle equipment. The technology continues to be used in the metal and chemical industries and has now begun to filter into waste management. In the latter case, the scenario goes something like this: MSW is shredded into one- to two-inch waste strips, which are dumped into a steel cylinder. This

The plasma gasification plant in Ottawa sits on three acres across the road from the Trail Road Landfill. It processes about 85 tons of city municipal solid waste each day.


Biomass togo...

cupola is typically equipped with two torches near the bottom or top, which protrude like perches in a canary cage. These torches house electrodes, and when a continuous flow of electricity is applied, an arc forms between them. The air in the torch pushes this extremely hot artificial bolt of lightning into a furnace, where the MSW enters. The torrid temperatures generated by this process, which can be hotter than the surface of the sun, rip apart compounds and convert inorganic solids into a glassy obsidian-like rock that can be used in road construction. The process also transforms organic materiGlassy black rocks like this are a solid als into syngas that can be used to make byproduct of plasma gasification. electricity and liquid fuels. Since the entire process is closed to the atmosphere, no emissions are released during 85 tons of MSW per day over the next the conversion of MSW to syngas and two years. The company holds 19 slag. “Plasma processing of MSW has patents for its process technologies including one for the overall plasma gasification system, explains Rod Bryden, president and CEO of the company. Bryden, who owned Ottawa’s National Hockey League team from the Refining gases rather than time it was an expansion franchise until whole MSW requires less about two years ago, has been building heat from the torches, which businesses since 1974. “Plasma-based saves energy. technologies have been around for some time but I saw the opportunity to create a conversion business that would deliver environmental quality while creating net energy for sale,” he says. unique treatment capabilities unequaled Plasco broke ground for the new by existing technologies,” says Lou demonstration facility in September Circeo, director of plasma applications 2006. Construction was completed in research at Georgia Tech Research June and the plant, which covers three Institute. “Plasma gasification could acres of grassland across the road from revolutionize the whole field of waste the Trail Road Landfill southwest of management.” Ottawa, started in July. The plant began That’s certainly the hope of city receiving waste from city trucks in late planners, county commissioners and September. their comrades worldwide who feel the crunch of ever diminishing landfill space. The city of Ottawa for instance, Process Variation has partnered with Plasco Energy The Plasco plasma gasification Group Inc., a private high-technology process differs from the general scheme company based in Canada, to process previously described. Instead of direct-

SOURCE: Georgia Tech Research Institute


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Over the past several years, about 12 commercial plasma waste processing facilities have been operating in Europe and North America, and about 10 in Asia.

ly dumping the shredded MSW into a plasma torch chamber, Plasco’s process uses a separate gasification chamber to heat the strips of waste to about 700 degrees Celsius (1,292 degrees Fahrenheit). In this step, some components of the MSW such as water are converted into gas while everything else is transformed to ash. The gas rises to a vertical chamber that holds two plasma torches, which blast the gas into its basic elements. Some of these elements reform into syngas, a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. Before the syngas can be scrubbed of heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium and lead as well as other undesirable chemicals like chlorine and sulfur, the syngas is cooled. Some of the heat released during this cooling is shuttled back to the initial chamber. This is the only process that recycles heat to convert waste into syngas, Bryden explains. “We don’t use these plasma torches to generate gas,” Bryden explains. “We use these plasma torches to refine the gases that have already been released from the waste.” Refining gases rather than whole MSW requires less heat from the torches, which saves energy. “This is one of the reasons our system produces so much more power than it consumes.” The ash from that first gasification chamber is transferred to a separate plasma torch compartment where it is converted into syngas and a hard glass-like material that is broken into pieces and sold for use as a construction aggregate. All the syngas that’s produced is collected


and piped to a bank of generators that converts it into electricity. In the end, out of 100 tons of MSW that enters the system, 4 megawatts (MW) of electricity are sold to the grid and used to power about 3,600 homes, 1 MW of electricity is used to power the plant, 15 tons of slag aggregate is produced and sold, and 500 kilograms (kg) of sulfur is sold as fertilizer. In addition, 1 kg of ash—made up of heavy metals—is landfilled. “You could fit a day’s disposal requirement in the glove compartment of your car,” Bryden says. The plant in Ottawa will run for two years at which time the city will either dismantle the facility, continue to use it for MSW treatment or operate the plant as a development facility for the processing of other energetic materials that pose disposal challenges such as paper mill waste and the sludge from sewage treatment. In addition, Plasco has a memorandum of understanding with a waste management company in Spain to build a plant in Barcelona that will process 200 tons of MSW per day and two other contracts are in the works for plants in Canada. “We expect that by October we’ll be moving forward with commercial plants in a number of places,” Bryden says.

Growing in Popularity Over the past several years, about 12 commercial plasma waste processing facilities have been operating in Europe and North America, and about 10 in Asia. The waste processed at these facilities varies and ranges from MSW to medical waste, catalytic converters, asbestos and ammunition. The largest facility in the world to date is slated for start up in 2010. The plant will be built in St. Lucie County, a beach destination along Florida’s southcentral Atlantic coast. On April 10, Geoplasma LLC, an energy developer based in Atlanta, Ga., signed an agreement with the county. The company will finance, permit, construct, own and operate the $425 million MSW-to-energy

plant for 20 years. The new plant will be constructed in two stages. The first will likely start up in the winter of 2010 and will process at least 1,000 tons of MSW each day and produce enough electricity to power about 25,000 homes. Each gasifier unit will house up to six plasma torches and will process between 500 to 750 tons of waste. Within five years, Geoplasma intends to scale-up the plant by adding more gasifier reactors. At this time, the plant, which will stand on about eight acres, will process 3,000 tons of MSW per day, two-thirds of which will come from the existing landfill. “We’ll be able to consume the landfill within our 20year contract. This will be the first time that a landfill like this has been recovered to our knowledge,” explains Hilburn Hillestad, president of Geoplasma.

‘It’s the most sustainable alternative technology for disposing of MSW that we know of at a time when we critically need alternative energy supplies.’ The plasma torches and gasification reactors for the modules will be supplied by Westinghouse Plasma Corp., the technology developer Geoplasma has teamed with. Westinghouse has been in the plasma gasification business since the 1960s. The company’s technology is being used in two waste processing facilities in Japan and in a General Motors Corp. plant in Definance, Ohio, for scrap metal melting. The torches in the latter plant have been in use for 17 years and the electrodes have been in use for more than 500,000 hours. Westinghouse was recently acquired by Alter Nrg Corp. of Canada and Geoplasma will be the exclusive mar-


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keter for the Westinghouse technology in Canada and the United States, Hillestad explains. “The technology is proven and reliable,” says Shyam Dighe, president and chief technology officer for Westinghouse Plasma Corp. Although the technology has been around for a while, “now, several factors have come together to make plasma gasification like a perfect storm,” he adds. Hillestad agrees with Dighe and adds that “over the past few years we’ve seen a steep increase in energy prices in this country and worldwide. Before those energy prices spiked the natural

gas community generated a lot of power with natural gas and we couldn’t compete with that. Now, however, our syngas can compete with natural gas to generate electricity. It’s the most sustainable alternative technology for disposing of MSW that we know of at a time when we critically need alternative energy supplies.” BIO Jessica Ebert is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. She can be reached at or (701) 7468385.

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Window Plant Popular window maker Andersen Corp. is commissioning its new steam plant in Bayport, Minn., powered exclusively by the wood waste generated from the manufacturing of 6 million windows and doors a year. By Ron Kotrba






inor inefficiencies typically plague the com- measures the project has been a smashing success, which is phemissioning of untried or unique industrial nomenal considering the inflexible schedule project leaders designs, which is precisely why project man- faced. They were given less than two years to have this plant ager Larry Stevens remained on-site as the running full steam ahead by April 2007, when Andersen’s longprocess unfolded at Andersen Corp.’s new time steam supply would no longer be available. Amidst all of biomass-powered steam plant in Bayport, this, Stevens says he dealt with the stress just fine. “I went from Minn. Stevens works for Pioneer looking like I was 25 [years old] to Power Inc., general contractor on looking 45, but I dealt with it just this project that called for the fine,” he laughs. The pressure was design and construction of an enerintense as the window maker set out The design-build package consisted gy-efficient, clean, self-sufficient to determine the best solution to of a $22 million steam generation steam generation plant fueled by address a projected steam deficiency. facility to be entirely owned by waste streams from Andersen’s Identifying the Right Financial, window and door manufacturing Andersen featuring all new, state-ofprocess. Stevens says minor snags Environmental Solution the-art equipment accompanied by a are always expected when a new Luckily for Andersen, some unique and energy-saving addendum system goes live and the quest for employees were already investigatwithin the design. practical optimization begins. ing options for steam before the When EPM talked to Stevens in company’s steam supply contract mid-August he was coordinating was up—well before the news hit the warm-water discharge from turthat its current contract with NRG bines at a nearby power plant—part of an energy-savings fea- would not be up for renewal. Kirk Hogberg, manager of enerture considered to be the most distinct aspect of the new plant’s gy and environmental management for Andersen, says he and design. his team eventually learned NRG’s steam plant would no longer The window maker’s plant came on line this spring, produc- be running after April 2007 due to emissions reductions targeting all the steam needed to manufacture 6 million wooden doors ed at the Alan S. King power plant, on which NRG’s facility was and windows a year. “The Bayport plant is Andersen’s mother located. “One way for them to reduce their environmental ship,” says Dan Kinrichs, Andersen facilities engineer. impact was to stop making and selling steam,” Hogberg says. Andersen’s other plants across North America are mostly “The mood here when we found out was that it was a good assembly facilities that don’t require thing we started having discussions steam like the Bayport plant. Since when we did.” the 1980s, Andersen’s Bayport facilMany different proposals for ity purchased a portion of its steam steam replacement were considered, Because the wood from Andersen’s from a thermal facility owned by requiring an interdisciplinary waste stream is made into such a NRG Energy Inc., which was on approach. “The decision involved fine, clean flour that contains no paint the site of a neighboring power personnel from a wide range within or contaminants, the resulting ash plant. By 2005, 60 percent of our company,” Kinrichs says. Andersen’s steam was being piped “Some of the key criteria we looked content from burning it is extremely in from its neighbor, with the at ranged from return on investlow—two-tenths of one percent of remainder generated in-house by ment, environmental impact and what goes in comes out as ash. Andersen’s increasingly antiquated redundancy on the system. We wood-fed boiler system. Susan received seven or eight proposals, Roeder, Andersen’s manager of each with different options.” community relations and public Andersen finally selected a package affairs, says the business simply outgrew its capacity to generate and TKDA, a St. Paul-based engineering firm, was awarded the enough of its own steam, which led to an increasing depend- contract in July 2005 for an April 2007 completion date. “We ence on its supplier. approached them with an Andersen-owned concept—a unique Fueled by sawdust, shavings and wood fines (all byproducts project that met their steam needs and provided a good return of wood processing) from its own manufacturing process, on investment,” says Charles Lederer, TKDA project manager Andersen’s new facility is self-sufficient and modern. By all and senior engineering specialist. Pioneer Power was selected to



Community advisory boards helped shape the development of Andersen’s steam generation plant in Bayport, Minn., which won a 2007 Minnesota Environmental Initiative Award.

be general contractor. The design-build package consisted of a $22 million steam generation facility to be entirely owned by Andersen featuring all new, state-of-the-art equipment accompanied by a unique and energy-saving addendum within the design.

Inner Workings The heart of Andersen’s new facility is the wood fuel feeding it, and the burners and steam-generating boilers turning that wood into energy and steam. Different waste wood streams result in differently sized wood particles like shavings, chips or fines. Depending on the particle sizes within a particular waste stream, the material is either run through a hammermill or an initial grinder to pulverize the wood and make it into a more consistent size. All the woody material is turned into wood flour after it leaves the second grinder. It’s stored in what Kinrichs calls the north brown silo and ready for use. “The wood flour is pumped from the north brown silo to the day bin, which holds

a half a day’s worth of storage,” Kinrichs says. Two augers transport the wood flour from the day bin into the plant. The wood flour is blown from the augers into Cohen wood-scroll burners firing three boilers made by C-B Nebraska Boiler. Each boiler is capable of producing 40,000 pounds of steam an hour. Lederer says all the equipment from the wall of the plant—where the material is fed inside—to the burners was supplied by Cohen. “We wanted the burner operations and the fuel feed system to be matched up—it’s a keystone piece of the plant,” Lederer says. According to Stevens, the boilers and burners had to be matched up by August 2006. “That was a big task,” he says. An economizer is positioned after the boilers, which reduces the temperature of the flue gas. From there, an electrostatic precipitator (ESP) collects particulate matter from the waste gas stream. The ESP conveys an electrical charge to the particles and initiates their collection upon metal plates inside the precipitator, after which the collected particulate matter is dispensed into a hopper for removal. The use of an ESP rather


profile than a bag house offers advantages such as reduced energy con- tem.” While NRG’s thermal facility on-site of the local power sumption, improved performance and a longer life for the sys- plant couldn’t provide steam to Andersen anymore, the power tem. Because the burners and boilers had to be matched up so plant had been releasing warm water (up to 65 degrees quickly and the ESP system had a six-month lead time, Pioneer Fahrenheit) from its turbines into the river. Part of TKDA’s Power was forced to negotiate the purchase of the ESP before design proposal included the utilization of this warm water the final specs on the burner-boiler system were configured, from its neighbor to run through four large makeup air-handling Stevens says. After the exhaust gases pass through the ESP, a units each capable of ingesting 750 gallons of temperate water draft fan carries the gases up the per minute for a total of 3,000 galemissions stack where the continulons per minute. The warm water is ous emissions monitoring system used to temper the oftentimes subgrabs a final analysis of the gases zero air from Minnesota winters that Now that Andersen’s new plant is before they are released into the rushes into the negative air-pressure running, 98 percent of the wood atmosphere. Because the wood environment inside the plant. With a funneled through its Bayport plant is from Andersen’s waste stream is 600,000 cfm deficit inside the plant, either resident in the wooden door made into such a fine, clean flour the makeup air handling units utilizand window products it sells, or is that contains no paint or contamiing warm water discharged from the consumed to generate process steam power plant puts 400,000 cfm of nants, the resulting ash content for the manufacture of those very from burning it is extremely low— temperate air back into the plant, same products. two-tenths of one percent of what thereby reducing the amount of goes in comes out as ash. steam Andersen needs to generate. Andersen’s Bayport operation “The warm-water recovery system produces lots of fine particles eliminates the need for an additional derived from cutting wood or from the exhaust stream just boiler,” Roeder says. Approximately 360,000 million British detailed, all of which must eventually be exhausted from the thermal units (MMBtu) of energy are needed to produce all of plant. This necessitates a massive exodus of air jettisoned from the steam Andersen consumes in a year; the warm-water recovthe complex with every passing minute. “There’s a lot of vent- ery system recovers 50,000 MMBtu annually, which amounts to ing going on,” Stevens tells Biomass Magazine. “There’s an air one-seventh of the total energy needed to produce all of its deficit of about 600,000 cubic feet per minute (cfm).” Hogberg steam requirements. Now that Andersen’s new plant is running, elaborates, “With all of our different dust collecting and manu- 98 percent of the wood funneled through its Bayport plant is facturing operations in Bayport, there’s a lot of exhaust. In the either resident in the wooden door and window products it sells, winter there’s a big negative air pressure inside the facility, so or is consumed to generate process steam for the manufacture TKDA came up with the idea for a warm water recovery sys- of those very same products.



The labyrinth of pipes, burners, boilers and tubes inside Andersen’s steam plant was brought together by the project’s general contractor, Pioneer Power. Cohen wood-scroll burners are paired with Nebraska boilers, each producing 40,000 pounds of steam an hour fed by wood flour.

Identifying the final adjustments needed to effectively address those last remaining comissioning issues is ongoing as inefficiencies from suboptimal combustion in the burners are being investigated. Also, the unavoidably rushed purchase of the ESP before the specifications for the boilers and burners were fully configured has culminated in an inordinate loading of

particulates in the ESP. But these are all said to be part of the normal routine when dialing into the optimal performance of any new design. Ron Kotrba is a Biomass Magazine senior staff writer. Reach him at or (701) 746-8385.


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Making the Most of

M A N U R E Complaints from odor-offended neighbors and a desire to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have prompted some dairy farmers to integrate anaerobic digestion systems into their operations. Although it’s not for everyone, using manure to generate power and produce a nutrient-rich soil amendment is something that should seriously be considered. By Bryan Sims




ne of the biggest challenges dairy operators face is managing ruminant manure. Many farmers today are using biogas recovery systems, such as anaerobic digestion to increase profitability, better manage crops, generate on-site power and ultimately improve the environment. The environmental benefits provided by anaerobic digester systems exceed those of conventional liquid and slurry manure management systems that use storage tanks, ponds and lagoons. Dairy farmers and agricultural experts agree that the primary benefits of anaerobic digestion are odor control, improved soil nutrient management and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The process also allows for the capture of methane and carbon dioxide, commonly known as biogas, which can be sold as clean-burning electricity.

‘Manure does require a certain level of management and a digester is not going to replace poor management. If the management on the farm is good then the management with the digester will remain good.’

mal manure, is sealed in an airtight container called a digester. A biochemical process occurs where different species of bacteria digest biomass in an oxygen-free environment at temperatures similar to those in a cow’s stomach. The different types of bacteria produce biogas by working together to break down complex organic wastes. “Anaerobic digestion is more akin to a natural process,” says Larry Krom, project manager for Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy program. “We’re essentially working with nature and we’re providing an environment to enhance the process to produce more biogas for domestic energy use.” Focus on Energy is a statewide organization that helps residents and businesses install cost-effective, energy-efficient and renewable energy projects. The program also works with the U.S. DOE and other grant providers on the regulatory front to, for example, reduce barriers to anaerobic digestion by utilizing better buy-back rates, feasibility grants, business and marketing grants, implementation grants and equipment grants to jumpstart projects. Depending on the waste feedstock and the system design, biogas is typically 60 percent methane, and 40 percent carbon dioxide, water vapor and trace amounts of hydrogen sulfide. The biogas can be used in the form of electricity, steam or heat to reduce natural gas and/or coal consumption. The electricity can also be plugged into local utility grid.

Environmental Improvements Dennis Haubenschild, owner of a 1,000-head dairy farm in Princeton, Minn., installed an anaerobic digestion system in

It’s often the environmental benefits, rather than the digester’s electrical and thermal energy generation potential, that motivate most farmers to use digester technology. This is especially true in areas that enjoy low electric power costs. Although anaerobic digestion can help farmers manage manure it won’t fix poor management practices. “Manure Bilek does require a certain level of management and a digester is not going to replace poor management,” says Amanda Bilek, energy and program associate for The Minnesota Project. “If the management on the farm is good then the management with the digester will remain good.” The Minnesota Project is a nonprofit organization founded in 1979 by former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn. The project is focused on renewable energy, farm practices and policy, and the production and consumption of local and sustainable-produced foods. Anaerobic digestion occurs when the biomass, such as ani34 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 10|2007

Haubenschild’s 1,000-head dairy farm in Princeton, Minn., features a mesophilic digester that has effectively captured methane for energy use since 1998. It was the subject of a case study by The Minnesota Project, which measured the economic and environmental benefits of the system.


Pictured is an above-ground stainless steel tank, complete-mix mesophilic digester with a 230 kilowatt engine generator that produces approximately 1.7 million kilowatt hours per year of electricity using the manure from a 750 to 800 dairy cow herd. The digester is owned by Clear Horizons LLC and is in operation at the Crave Brothers Farm in Waterloo, Wis.

‘It’s the methane, which is 21 times more damaging to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, that we’re really trying to utilize in these systems.’

1998 and knows first-hand the benefits of a digester. “The environmental advantages of the digester are that every 100 cows produce approximately a barrel of oil equivalent of energy per day,” he says. “Agriculture should and could be supplying 50 percent of our domestic energy using the tools that are already available.” The Minnesota Project conducted a case study on Haubenschild’s dairy farm in 1998 to quantify the economic and environmental benefits of his anaerobic digester. The most noticeable improvements were the elimination of farm odors and the removal of harmful greenhouse gases, such as methane and carbon dioxide. “It’s the methane, which is 21 times more damaging to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, that we’re really trying to utilize in these systems,” Krom says. The captur-

ing of hazardous gases for use as domestic energy offsets the environmental impacts of fossil fuel generation, provides clean, renewable domestic power and enables a dairy farm to lower its carbon footprint. The carbon credits that are earned can be sold on the Chicago Climate Exchange, which is something Haubenschild has been doing for two years. “Any time you can lower your carbon footprint, you’re doing what you need to do,” he says. “My main goal is sustainability. The closer to zero [carbon emissions] the better, then I’ve achieved my goal.” Anaerobic digestion systems haven’t necessarily improved in efficiency or complexity. Today’s systems are merely variations of digesters developed years ago. However, there are different types of digester systems. The two types primarily being employed today are the thermophilic and mesophilic systems. A thermophylic system utilizes temperatures of about 130 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas a mesophilic system operates at about 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Before installing an anaerobic digester, the type of system, the specific needs of the operation and the geographic location must be considered, Krom says. “Theoretically you can produce more biogas with thermophilic systems,” he says. “However, the heat loss in the northern climate is going to be much greater, especially if an above-ground tank is used. That means you’re going to have to increase the amount of insulation and make sure that you have enough tank heating available.”



The anaerobic digester at Quantum Dairy in Weyauwega, Wis., is a below-ground concrete tank, modified plug-flow mesophilic digester with a 200 kilowatt engine generator that produces about 1.6 million kilowatt hours per year of electricity using the manure from a 1,200-head dairy cow herd.

Safeguarding Land and Animal Health Aside from the environmental benefits, anaerobic digestion systems also provide dairy farmers with a soil amendment and a product that can help them manage their cow herd health. Once the manure has been processed through the anaerobic digester and biogas is captured for power generation, the digestate can be separated from its solid (organic) and liquid forms. The liquid effluent can be used as a fertilizer. For long-


term storage, it can be pumped into a facility similar to a lagoon. The digester effluent is composed mainly of nitrogen, phosphorus and trace amounts of potassium—also called “macro nutrients.” Nitrogen is the chief ingredient that enhances crop growth. Although digester effluent is widely used among today’s dairy farmers, soil scientists warn that misapplication can severely damage the environment. “I think anaerobic digestion is great but it has some additional management concerns that

process you need to be aware of when you’re spreading these liquids,” says Eric Cooley, research coordinator and outreach specialist for Discovery Farms, a Wisconsin-based research organization that takes a real-world approach to finding economical solutions to overcome challenges and environmental regulations placed on farmers. It’s important to closely monitor the phosphorus content in the effluent because that’s the limiting agent, he says. The nutrient undergoes a slight conversion from its particulate

‘Anaerobic digestion is going to be great for some people and it can be terrible for others. It just depends how that system is managed and how that farm is run. There are a lot of different factors that go into whether it’s a good idea or not.’

state to its soluble or dissolved state, which is ortho phosphorus, he says. The phosphorus in the ortho or soluble form can cause problems, Cooley says. Phosphorus can run off into water and form algal blooms, which degrade water quality. Applying effluent during the winter is especially dangerous as nitrogen in its organic form is ammonia. Ammonia has positively charged ions that have a high affinity to water and can harm fish because of its high toxicity. Digester effluent can be spread safely on hay ground, however, because hay is an exceptional

crop for taking up nutrients like phosphorus, Cooley says. While the rate of application is crucial, timing is everything when applying manure or digester effluent. “There’s always the danger of misapplication whether farmers are applying raw manure or the effluent from an anaerobic digester,” Krom says. “In other words, you don’t want to apply materials on frozen fields. If you have a very mineralized form of the nutrient, you want to be able to match that with the uptake cycles of the plants to the best of your knowledge.” In addition to enhanced crop management practices, anaerobic digesters can eliminate the flow of lethal microorganisms such as E. coli, fecal streptococcus, Krohn’s disease and Johnes disease that if not managed properly can infect cattle. One way to manage diseases is to use the proper bedding materials. The cost of animal bedding material is considerable over a year’s time and is the second largest cash flow item for farmers, Krom says. On farms with anaerobic digestion systems, the digestate that’s separated from the solid content of the manure can be dried and be used for bedding. Despite its many benefits, most experts agree that the specific needs of the operation must drive the decision to invest in an anaerobic digestion system. “Anaerobic digestion is going to be great for some people and it can be terrible for others,” Cooley says. “It just depends how that system is managed and how that farm is run. There are a lot of different factors that go into whether it’s a good idea or not.” BIO Bryan Sims is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. Reach him at or (701) 746-8385.

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Not So

Ru n


he ft

MILL The forest products industry has years of experience in conversion technology, and cellulose and lignin separations. The industry is now looking to develop its pulp and paper mills into biorefineries with ethanol as a focus. By Anduin Kirkbride McElroy




‘A lot of pulp and paper mills right now are looking at ways to reduce energy costs because that’s such a huge part of their costs and competitiveness. Eventually, they’ll get into the actual production of ethanol.’ official publication of the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry and the Paper Industry Management Association. He explains that the industry sentiment is torn between a desire to diversify into a burgeoning market and reluctance because the costs are so high. There are also questions about policy and technology that tend to make diversification a big gamble, he says. Nevertheless, many mills are moving forward with biomass projects. For exam-

PHOTO: Glenn Ostle/Paper360

ulp and paper mills, could utilize technologies such as gasifimany of which were cation, biomass boilers, biodiesel and built in the 1800s, ethanol production. Such technologies haven’t changed much would reduce or eliminate fossil fuel conin their many decades sumption, provide value-added products of operation. Of and streamline pulp production. Course, product improvements and “I have always taken the approach of process efficiencies have been developed an integrated biorefinery,” says Arthur and implemented, but the basic infra- Ragauskas, a chemistry and biochemistry structure and purpose of the mills remain professor at the Institute of Paper the same. All this is about to change as Science and Technology at Georgia Tech. pulp and paper mills are positioned to Since 1989, Ragauskas has studied become the next biorefinerprocess efficiencies and ies. waste-stream utilization in A biorefinery is generalthe forest products industry. ly defined as a renewable He maintains that the future mirror of a petroleum refinof the industry is broader ery, where a variety of fuels, than paper. Mills will continchemicals and power are ue to make paper but proproduced from one source, ducers have begun to explore and the mix of these prodhow they can take the waste ucts can be adjusted based streams to make fuels or on market value. The forest chemicals, he says. Ragauskas products industry is now This is a hot topic in the evaluating its potential as biorefineries. pulp and paper industry, says Glenn As biorefineries, pulp and paper mills Ostle, editorial director of Paper360, the

In the future, paper may be one of many products produced at pulp and paper mills.


fuel ple, Evergreen Pulp Inc. in Eureka, Calif., has proposed a project to gasify wood waste and to use the resultant biogas to power the mill. Many companies already burn the spent pulping liquor (or black liquor) in conventional boilers, primarily to recover the pulping chemicals, but the process also generates enough power to make the process the largest contributor to U.S. biomass energy generation, according to the U.S. DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Now, Plamann some companies are looking toward gasification of the black liquor, which could substantially improve the efficiency of the process. “Biomass-to-gas is one of the interests we’ve seen come through our office quite a bit,” says Kris Plamann, business development manager of Baisch Engineering in Wisconsin. “It will bring down pulp and paper mills’ overall energy costs, so long-term it’s an overall energy saver. But everyone wants to be the second to do it. Now that some mills have been funded to be the first, everyone can follow and learn from their experience.” Plamann says biomass utilization for energy production will likely be the first phase in a mill’s transition into a biorefinery. In the past year, Baisch Engineering has seen a dramatic increase in mills inquiring about various biorefinery technologies, she says. “A lot of pulp and paper mills right now are looking at ways to reduce energy costs because that’s such a huge part of their costs and competitiveness,” Plamann says. “Eventually, they’ll get into the actual production of ethanol. Paper mills are looking at their potential to make cellulosic ethanol because they have so much biomass available.” For revenue generation,

ethanol is probably the most promising product that could come from pulp biorefineries. Pulp and paper mills that choose to start producing ethanol face aggressive competition. Western Biomass Energy in Upton, Wyo., is being developed by KL Process Design Group of Rapid City, S.D., as a stand-alone 1.5 MMgy ethanol demonstration plant that would produce ethanol from waste wood. It claims to be the first biomass ethanol plant that doesn’t use acids or that fully depends on specialized enzymes to release cellulosic sugars from lignin fibers. The plant started grinding wood in August. Meanwhile, Massachusetts-based Mascoma Corp. announced in July that it plans to build a wood-to-ethanol plant in Michigan, although no details have been announced regarding when construction or production would start. Range Fuels

‘A pulp mill has a lot of attractive features for making bioethanol. It has permits, transportation infrastructure, is located close to wood resources and agriculture resources, and it has a workforce that is used to working with wood. You have a lot of intrinsic advantages.’ Inc., which is owned by Khosla Ventures LLC, also announced its intent to start construction on a cellulosic ethanol plant this summer, although at press time ground had not been broken on the 100 MMgy facility. The company intends to convert wood waste from Georgia’s


forestry industry into ethanol. Despite the looming competition, mills as biorefineries have many advantages over stand-alone cellulosic ethanol plants. “The [stand-alone] cellulosic plants are being developed in places where the biomass is, but not necessarily near water and power,” Plamann says. “Paper mills are built along the waterways, so [ethanol production] is a natural fit for the pulp and paper industry.” Ragauskas agrees. “A pulp mill has a lot of attractive features for making bioethanol,” he says. “It has permits, transportation infrastructure, is located close to wood resources and agriculture resources, and it has a workforce that is used to working with wood. You have a lot of intrinsic advantages.” However, wood handling is just one part of the process, and pulp and paper mills will require partnerships with companies experienced in saccharification and fermentation, Ragauskas notes.

‘If you look at patterns within the United States, big changes in industry come from small companies that grow. New products, new chemicals and new materials—they will lead the revolution of some of these conversion technologies.’ Another attractive incentive to make ethanol at pulp mills is that it could actually enhance the efficiency of the plant. “Ethanol plants would be a good fit for Kraft mills that have an excess of biomass generated steam,” says Bob Benson director of research and development at GreenField Ethanol, who is referring to the Kraft process that is practiced at most pulp and paper mills today. “Removing hemicellulose from the wood chips prior 42 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 10|2007

to pulping reduces the mass of dissolved wood components that pass through the recovery furnace. The production capacity of some pulp mills is limited by the recovery furnace operating rate. These mills could generate the same amount of pulp and produce ethanol as a byproduct.” Benson points out that yet another advantage for pulp and paper mills over stand-alone cellulosic ethanol plants is that mills separate the wood parts. Thus that cost is already factored into the pulp and paper process. Through the hydrolysis of wood chips with water or other Flambeau River Papers LLC is planning to install a biomass boiler or gasifier. Flambeau River Biorefinery LLC, which would produce 20 MMgy of solvents (possibly Additionally, cellulosic ethanol, is being developed adjacent to the paper mill in Park Falls, Wis. ethanol) prior to pulping, Benson says about half of the hemicellulose, or about ed, as some are necessary to produce 10 percent of the wood dry matter, could quality pulp. Although the buzz in the industry be extracted. This extract could be further hydrolyzed to sugar and then fer- has gone so far as to predict that paper may even be a byproduct at mills in the mented to ethanol. Hemicellulose is a byproduct which future, it is more likely that paper will is largely being wasted at mills today. It is remain a primary product. Pulp still has a often burned in the boilers with the lignin higher selling price per pound than after the cellulose has been sorted out for ethanol, and the market demands that pulp production. To make better use of transportation fuel remain cheap. the hemicellulose it must be separated Therefore, as biorefinieries, mills must from the lignin. Ragauskas says pre- continue to maximize the returns on all extraction of hemicelluloses before pulp- of its products. Ethanol production at pulp and ing could make about 14 million tons available to the biofuels industry annually paper mills is not new. In the 1940s and while at the same time enhancing the pro- 1950s, there were about 40 mills that also duction of Kraft mill pulps, as described produced alcohol, according to Benson. above. He is careful to note, however, Before he moved to GreenField, he was that not all hemicelluloses can be extract- the vice president of research and devel-

PHOTO: Glenn Ostle/Paper360


fuel opment at Tembec Chemical Products Group and has been working to produce ethanol from hemicellulose and pentose the past 30 years. Today, the Tembec mill in Temiscaming, Quebec, is the only known pulp mill in North America that currently produces ethanol. The company ferments spent sulfite liquor (wood hydrolysates) with the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is also used in corn-toethanol fermentation. Tembec produces 15 million liters per year (4 MMgy) of alcohol, most of which goes to the food and beverage market. Tembec produces paper using the sulfite pulping process as opposed to the Kraft process. The technology of taking the liquor that comes out of sulfite pulping is very well known, Benson says. However, sulfite pulping is not commonly practiced today because it yields less cellulose pulp compared with the more common Kraft process. This is one reason why alcohol production at mills dropped off and it became necessary to develop alcohol production technologies that are compatible with the Kraft process. One such development is the American Value Added Pulping (AVAP) process, developed by Atlanta-based American Process Inc. The company has entered into an agreement with Flambeau River Biorefinery LLC, a 20 MMgy cellulosic ethanol biorefinery under development. The biorefinery will be collocated with Flambeau River Papers LLC, a paper mill based in Park Falls, Wis. AVAP is a patent pending, hydrolysis-based technology focused on converting hemicellulose to ethanol. The major pulping chemical is alcohol. Flambeau River Biorefinery President Ben Thorp says the process completely separates the cellulose and lignin from the liquor. “What’s left is a broth containing the pulping alcohol and the hemicellulose,” he says. “We heat it to the boiling point of the alcohol, evaporate and recover the alcohol, and reuse it in the pulping process.” This leaves the

hemicellulose ready for saccharification and fermentation. Thorp tells Biomass Magazine that funding is critical for the project to go forward. In August, Flambeau applied for money from the U.S. DOE’s third round of funding for cellulosic ethanol projects. Thorp expects to start construction upon acquisition of financing and permitting. Another venture, announced in late August, would produce a variety of biofuels from gasified black liquor. Swedishbased Chemrec AB and Ohio-based NewPage Corp. are exploring the production of renewable, biomass-based fuels at the NewPage paper mill in Escanaba, Mich. The plant would employ Chemrec’s black liquor gasification (BLG) technology, which converts waste from the paper pulping process into syngas that would then be processed into biofuels. The technology could enable the Escanaba mill to produce up to 13 million gallons of liquid biofuel per year. No timeline for the project was announced. These projects may be the front-runners in the effort to get pulp and paper mills to produce cellulosic ethanol. Announcements of pilot plants and mill trials continue to pop up, while the first phase of biorefinery development for mills—biomass power—is becoming more prolific. Within five to 10 years, Plamann predicts that many mills will be operating as biorefineries, and that the trend will spread across the United States and Canada in less than 15 years. Ragauskas says it’s time to involve more young and talented people in the industry. “We’re on the cusp of transition into the integrated biorefinery,” he says. “If you look at patterns within the United States, big changes in industry come from small companies that grow. New products, new chemicals and new materials— they will lead the revolution of some of these conversion technologies.” BIO Anduin Kirkbride McElroy is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. Reach her at amcelroy or (701) 746-8385.



Agrichar R e j u v e n at e s

TIRED SOILS In the Amazon, a mysterious, black soil was discovered that was much more productive than the surrounding red clay. Research has determined that these soils were created more than 1,000 years ago by the area natives. Now, as scientists try to recreate those soils, biomass producers could be the big beneficiaries. By Jerry W. Kram




pyrolysis uropean conquistadors were drawn to the Amazon rain forest by legends of El Dorado, a country where the cities were made of gold. El Dorado was a myth and in their greed for gold, the conquistadors missed a treasure that was right beneath their feet. It was black gold, and that doesn’t mean oil. “Terra preta” means black earth. It is prized in the Amazon because of its high level of fertility compared with the surrounding red clay soils. The tremendous precipitation in the region washes away any nutrients not taken up by plants, leaving an impoverished soil that is ill-suited for agriculture. In contrast,


‘As we started to look for ways to use biomass, we looked at gasification, fast pyrolysis and a variety of other techniques. Probably the best approach we found was to start with fast pyrolysis, because you get two products: bio-oil and biochar.’

the terra preta is highly productive year after year. How these soils kept producing good crops was a mystery until a few years ago. Researchers discovered the terra preta was largely man made. Over centuries, the ancient residents of the Amazon incorporated charcoal into the soil. Amazingly, radiocarbon dating showed that some of the terra preta sites were 1,500 to 2,000 years old. The same properties that enrich the earth could also someday protect the skies. Now that it is known that charcoal 46 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 10|2007

can remain in the soil for millennia, some scientists think this may be a possible carbon sink to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Dark Matter Char is the product of partially burned biomass. While charcoal has been produced for almost as long as man has controlled fire, the modern source of char is from a process called fast pyrolysis. In this process, biomass is heated to the point where volatile gases and liquids are driven off and condensed into a product call bio-oil. What remains is almost pure carbon, called char, agrichar or biochar with a varying ash content that depends on the type of biomass used. Interest in the char has grown as more companies explore processing technology and new uses for biomass. Heartland Bioenergy LLC is proposing to build a biorefinery in central Iowa. The company’s goal is to use corn stalks to produce transportation fuel. “We have been working on biomass issues for five or six years now,” says Lon Crosby, a researcher with Heartland Bioenergy. “If you are going to collect biomass to prove technology, you had better have a way to use the biomass.” Heartland looked at a number of technologies as a base for its proposed biorefinery. “As we started to look for ways to use biomass, we looked at gasification, fast pyrolysis and a variety of other techniques,” Crosby says. “Probably the best approach we found was to start with fast pyrolysis, because it yields two products: bio-oil and biochar.” Bio-oil is a relatively easy product to market as a bunker fuel, Crosby says. There is an existing demand for char, but finding new uses for it would make the whole process more economically viable. “Biochar is easy (to market) as long as you are interested in low-value applications,” he adds. “I happen to also farm, so looking at char’s agricultural applications was a natural choice.”

‘It turns out that the conditions under which the char is made under pyrolysis seem also to be the optimal conditions to making a good char for soil amendment purposes’

Heartland is testing char in a largescale project to see how it impacts corn production. Dynamotive Energy Systems Corp. has provided Heartland with 14 tons of biochar. While working with the USDA National Soil Tilth Laboratory, Iowa State University, the Iowa Soybean Association and Prairie Rivers of Iowa Resource Conservation and Development, Crosby created a large-scale test plot to measure the impact of adding char to the soil. The plot consists of three strips that are 30 feet wide and 800 feet long. One strip is untreated while the others were treated with 2.5 and 5 tons per acre of char. This experiment will overcome some of the deficiencies seen in smallscale agrichar experiments. Crosby says char experiments are greatly affected by edge effects between treated and untreated soils. This skews the results from test plots that are a few meters across. By using large plots, edge effects are reduced producing more reliable data.

A Hot Product Dynamotive has been producing bio-oil and char for several years in Canada, says Desmond Radlein, the company’s chief scientist. The company uses waste wood from the timber industry as a feedstock. Radlein views the biooil as the primary product and the char as a secondary product. “If you pyrolyze wood under fast pyrolysis conditions you might get 70 percent of a liquid as a

pyrolysis product with some gas and some char as a byproduct,” he says. “Fast pyrolysis is a fairly well established t e c h n o l o g y. Several people are practicing it Radlein and trying to commercialize it. The basic idea is to make a liquid fuel. It isn’t a high-grade fuel. You can’t burn it in your car but you can burn it in boilers and gas turbines.” Dynamotive began its work on fast pyrolysis at about the same time terra preta soils became a hot research topic. “It turns out that the conditions under which the char is made under pyrolysis seem also to be the optimal conditions to making a good char for soil amendment purposes,” Radlein says. “Char is a secondary product, but from that per-

spective, one is always looking to see what one can do with it.” There are several uses for pyrolysis char, Radlein says. It can be converted into activated carbon. Char can be compressed into charcoal briquettes or used to make gunpowder. “The activated carbon market is very big,” Radlein says. “It is used for water treatment among other things. But (agricultural uses) would be a potentially very big market.”

In the Black While the soils of the Amazon have received much of the attention, Crosby says char’s effect on soil is a worldwide phenomenon. “The terra preta soils have gotten all the recent publicity, but agronomists have known for decades that the most productive soils in Europe were char based,” Crosby says. “Up until the research on terra preta soils, no one believed the char was playing an active role in the ecosystem. Research on terra preta showed that char itself is having a

significant effect as a direct parameter, instead of just something that happened to be in the soil.” There are several theories as to why char increases soil productivity. One is that it creates a base for microorganisms that produce substances that hold soil particles and nutrients together. Another theory suggests that the char itself adsorbs nutrients and slowly releases it to plants over time. “We know a lot of reasons why things happen,” Crosby says. “I don’t think anyone understands how all those things interact to create the phenomena we see.” Studies in the laboratory also suggest bio-char can cut down on nonpoint water pollution by holding nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus in the soil, keeping it out of rivers and lakes. It still isn’t proven that this will work on a larger scale, Crosby says. “No one has done large-scale field studies to show that what happens in the laboratory happens in a production situation,” he says.



Terra Preta Around the Web Agrichar has become a hot topic among agricultural and biomass researchers. There are several resources available for people interested in the topic. Terra preta and agrichar are also the subjects of an international conference. The International Agrichar Initiative has posted several of the presentations from its 2007 conference in Australia on its Web site: Johannes Lehmann of Cornell University in New York is one of the leading researchers on terra preta and agrichar. He maintains a Web site with links to basic information, ongoing research at Cornell and elsewhere and references at: faculty/lehmann/biochar/Biochar_home.htm. Danny Day of Eprida, Inc. has been very active in promoting agrichar worldwide. Eprida’s Web site links to copies of his presentations to groups as diverse as the Lumber Manufacturers Association, the U.S. EPA and to the World Renewable Energy Conference at:

Another issue is that nobody makes equipment to handle char and efficiently incorporate it into the soil. “We are trying a bunch of different pieces of technology,” Crosby says. “We have not yet found the perfect one. The problem is char is very light with a very low bulk density and it’s very granular. That’s very different than your typical potassium or phosphorus fertilizer. Your controllers aren’t set up for it, your chain speeds aren’t set up for it, and your openings aren’t set up for it. You can’t apply it very far above the ground to control wind drift because it is so light and granular.” Heartland’s bio-char study will be a long-term effort. Crosby says char carries a load of plant nutrients, so the first year’s results will be a combination of fertilization as well as the char’s impact. It will take several seasons before he can be sure of the char’s effect on soil productivity. “We have just started a research project that’s going to go on for years,” Crosby says. “Char’s interaction with soil is complicated. In the first year there is a nutrient effect and a char effect and nobody knows how to separate those two factors. So we expect this study will go on for a long time.”

Air Effects

‘Since we are in the renewable energy business, producing a liquid fuel from biomass, then a product that can be used to enhance biomass productivity is obviously of interest.’


“That’s one of the reasons we initiated this large-scale field study.” One of the goals of the project is to learn how to work with bio-char as a soil amendment. Most farm chemicals are applied at a rate of a few pounds per acre. Even nitrogen fertilizer is usually applied at no more than a few hundred pounds per acre. In Crosby’s field test, the application rates are 25 to 50 times as great. “We can learn about how you incorporate bio-char into the soil profile and how it distributes,” he says. “You can’t just take the top 24 inches of soil and uniformly mix char into it like you see in the terra preta soils.”

Char can affect the sky as well as the earth, says Danny Day, president of Eprida Inc. “There has been a huge fear that we won’t be able to solve climate change,” he says. “We won’t be able to do this in time and it’s just hopeless. For the first time ever in history, we now have enough people where we can solve climate change. Climate change has come and gone and wiped out billions of lives of humans and animals a lot of times. But for the first time we have enough control so we can manage our climate.” Eprida is developing small-scale fast pyrolysis systems that it plans to market to individuals and small groups of farmers. Eprida’s process has an added twist

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in that it uses hydrogen and carbon dioxide generated by the pyrolysis process and nitrogen from the air to produce ammonium bicarbonate, which gets incorporated into the char increasing its fertilizer value. “We are selling machines right now,” Day says. “The capacity is one ton per hour for what we consider our standard unit. But every biomass stream is different. And every biomass stream produces a different kind of agrichar.” Day says the company is completing its development process and expects to start delivering its machines by the middle of 2008. Because conventional nitrogen fertilizers take huge amounts of energy to produce—mostly due to the use of natural gas—Day says that Eprida’s agrichar and bio-oil combine to make a carbon negative fuel production process. After the char is incorporated into the soil, it remains there for hundreds if not thousands of years. The carbon dioxide produced when the biooil is burned is incorporated into biomass, starting the process over again. The net result is less carbon dioxide in the air, slowing global warming. Radlein is intrigued by char’s potential for the industry’s future. “Since we are in the renewable energy business, producing a liquid fuel from biomass, then a product that can be used to enhance biomass productivity is obviously of interest,” he says. “If one were to envision an energy plantation scenario, where you are growing biomass specifically to convert to useful energy, then you could imagine the char being put back into the soil to enhance productivity. So it is a natural fit.” BIO

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Jerry W. Kram is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. He can be reached at or (701) 7468385.

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Analyzing the Energy Values of Enhanced Biomass By David L. Wertz The percentage of crop-based liquid fuels in America’s energy inventory is expected to increase rapidly in the next two decades, and agri-businesses are already gearing up to meet this challenge. The production of crop-based ethanol and biodiesel is being expanded on all horizons, but these processes are energyintensive. To make a significant impact in this country’s energy inventory, agri-fuel production requires a dependable and affordable supply of heat and electricity at, or near, each production site or refinery. Such capabilities don’t currently exist throughout the country. However, energy-enhanced biomass (EEB) can meet the practical needs required to support future biofuels industries. EEBs can be produced and used locally to generate heat, steam and electricity on a county-


by-county or farm-by-farm basis. EEB is produced principally from waste materials such as crop residues and scrap tires. Crop residues may be used “as is,” but the scrap tires must be chemically altered to remove unwanted sulfur and metals. Crop residues and scrap tires are readily available in many rural communities, so transportation costs involved in the preparation of EEBs can be minimized. Corn stover, distillers grains, sawdust and sunflower stalks are quite plentiful in this and many other countries. These lignocellulosic materials have similar heat values, ranging from 5,000 to 6,500 British thermal units (Btus) per pound depending on the moisture and mineral contents of each crop residue sample. A microprocessor-controlled

Parr Oxygen Bomb Calorimeter was used to measure the heat content of each sample. For comparison, the crop residues were dried at 107 degrees Celsius (225 degrees Fahrenheit) for 24 hours and then ground into a fine powder. The 30 percent increase in heat content of the dried powdered samples reflects the removal of moisture from the crop residue samples (Table 2). Because “as is” crop residues have very low energy densities, they have typically not been used for large-scale electrical power generation and/or industrial heat and steam generation. However, as already noted, localized collection of crop residues contains a large quantity of available energy, and this must not be discarded from our national energy inventory. To date, EEBs have been made from

research corn stover, distillers grains, sunflower stalks, pine sawdust and switchgrass to capture this energy in a more useful manner. These EEBs are solid fuels with satisfactory energy densities. Unlike other solid fuels, EEB, due to its low sulfur contents, produce minimal acid rain-producing gases when combusted. The nitrogen contents of the EEB components can be readily converted to a fertilizer on site. Compared to coal, EEBs also produce much less high-temperature ash. To date, no environmentally unacceptable materials have been found to exist in EEB ash. EEB overcomes the low energy-density limitation of crop residues-to-energy because the blends of chemically altered scrap tires and crop residue have heat values ranging from 10,000 to 11,500 Btus per pound. EEBs represent an array of solid fuels which may be produced as pellets or powder from a variety of crop residues by combining these residues with chemically altered tire particles. EEBs have been prepared using a wide variety of compositions with one or several crop residues. For the following data, the EEBs were produced by blending 50 percent dried crop residue with 50 percent chemically altered tire particles. At this ratio, EEBs have energy densities corresponding to approximately 11,000 Btus per pound, which is similar to bituminous coals and 40 percent to 50 percent higher than the crop residues from which they are prepared. However, combustion of such EEBs produces only 25 percent to 30 percent of the sulfur emissions of coal, and the EEBs can be pre-designed to produce even less sulfur oxide gases. Our results indicate that the dried, powdered crop residues have comparatively similar heat values (approximately

Sulfur content by feedstock

Nitrogen content by feedstock

Corn stover Corn stover, dried and powdered Chemically altered tire particles 50:50 blend of dried and powdered corn stover and chemically altered tire particles Illinois No. 6 bituminous coal 10|2007 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 51

research 8,000 Btus per pound). The heat value of the 50:50 EEB prepared from each crop residue falls in the 10,000 to 11,000 Btus per pound range, which is similar to the heat values of bituminous coals (Table 3). Our results also indicate that the sulfur component in these EEBs is much lower than in coal, while the nitrogen contents are similar. Thus, when combusted, EEBs produce less greenhouse gases than an energy equivalent of coal. With the following mathematical relationship, several important parameters for the EEBs may be predicted. The heat content of an EEB mixture may be estimated by: Heat EEB = {q × 8,000 Btus per pound + (100 – q) × 13,100 Btus per pound} Similar relations may be made for sulfur oxide abundance and nitrogen abundance in the EEBs: Percentage sulfur EEB = {[q × 0.1 percent] + [(100 - q) × 1.3 percent] /100, Percentage nitrogen EEB = {[q × 1.7 percent] + [(100 - q) × 2.7 percent] /100 Percentage ash EEB = {[q × 6.8 percentage] + [(100 - q) × 5.8 percent] /100. In these relationships, “q” is the mass percent of crop residue in the EEB mixture, so “100 – q” is the percentage of chemically altered tire particles in that

EEB. For the biomass samples, the measured sulfur, nitrogen and low temperature ash are 0.1 percent, 1.7 percent and 6.8 percent, respectively. Thus, the typical 50:50 EEB will have a heat content of 1,055 Btus per pound, and sulfur and nitrogen abundances of 0.7 percent and 2.2 percent, respectively. Combustion of the 50:50 EEB will produce 6.3 percent high-temperature ash. A consequence of these mathematical models is that an EEB may be predesigned to satisfy a specific heat content and/or sulfur emission requirement. Therefore, the EEB could be produced to

meet these standards. This research is a portion of the Mississippi Biomass Initiative and is sponsored by the Mississippi Technology Alliance. David L. Wertz is the chief technology officer for Wertz Oxidative Molecular Bombardment at Ambient Temperatures (WOMBAT) Technologies International Inc. He taught and conducted research for 40 years in the department of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Southern Mississippi, where he now serves as professor emeritus. Reach him at Technicians Jami Holloway and Laura Beth Moore were involved in this research.

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LAB Is it biomass? Radiocarbon testing can tell the real McCoy


he popularity of biomass is growing. It seems everyone wants clean, green fuel, power and products—and is willing to pay for them. Not only that, but there are significant government incentives available to biomass producers. However, when an industry starts to grow rapidly, some entities will be tempted to find “shortcuts.” It is possible to distinguish biomass-derived products from products made from petroleum or coal. This is because a tiny amount of carbon— the building block of life and organic chemistry—is radioactive. Cosmic rays continually bombard Earth, and when one hits a nitrogen atom in the atmosphere, it converts the nitrogen into carbon 14 (C 14). C 14 is radioactive with a half-life of about 5,000 years. That means it will be undetectable after about 50,000 years. Because carbon 14 is constantly being manufactured by cosmic rays, all living things will contain a certain percentage of it. Fossil fuels, which were formed millions of years ago, won’t contain C 14. Beta Analytic Inc. does thousands of radiocarbon analyses every Darden Hood, president of Beta Analytic, watches closely as a sample is year. Much of this work is for archeological researchers, but a growing purified for analysis of its carbon 14 content. part of the company’s business is the analysis of biomass-derived products, says company President Darden Hood. “The methodology for more expensive, it can analyze very small samples. radiocarbon analysis has been around for 50 years, so there are no surBy comparing the amount of C 14 in a sample with how much is prises in what we do,” he says. “It’s not like coming up with a new tech- known to be contained in living tissue, Beta Analytic can determine how nology.” much of a substance was derived from biomass and how much was Hood says Beta Analytic started biomass analysis after the USDA from petroleum. approached him with a dilemma in 2004: how to implement the Green power is another market where radiocarbon analysis may Biopreferred Program (, which gives bio- be a standard test in the future. Hood says it is possible to sample the mass-derived products a preference in government procurement. “If you emissions coming from a biomass-fueled boiler or generator in order to are a manufacturer of product that contains cornstarch, cellulose or determine what percentage of the fuel was renewable. This could be recycled carbon in any form, you qualify for preferred procurement from especially important for systems powered by municipal solid waste the federal government if you meet certain commitments,” Hood says. (MSW). Since MSW is a mixture of biomass and petroleum-derived “There were manufacturers making claims of renewable content in their plastics, the renewable content of the fuel stream can vary over time. By products, and there was no way to validate those claims by creating an analyzing the C 14 content of the emissions, regulators can determine enormous auditing program with people trying to trace the whole chain how much of the produced electricity would qualify as “green power.” of custody of all the different supplies, where they came from and how Hood says his company worked hard with ASTM International to much was used. It was insurmountable.” create renewable content standard ASTM D6866-05. “We were asked Radiometric testing was a solution. In this test, a sample is burned to join the committee to standardize the methods of radiocarbon dating in a vacuum system to form carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is to make it applicable to the regulatory environment,” he says. “The chemically reacted to produce either benzene or graphite. Benzene is method acts as a way to verify anywhere along the chain how much used for a radiometric test in which a scintillation counter measures the impact our renewable resource industry is having on our greenhouse amount of radioactivity in the sample. Graphite is used with an acceler- gas emissions as a nation. ” BIO ator mass spectrometer (AMS), which can count the atoms in a sample —Jerry W. Kram and measure the amount of C 14 directly. Hood says while the AMS is




A Road Map for Biofuels Research— Production of Green Diesel


o continue the theme from last month’s column, “This is not your father’s ethanol process,” we would like to shift gears a bit from producing ethanol and focus on the production of synthetic, or green, diesel, which is significantly different than traditional biodiesel production. Although biodiesel production significantly trails ethanol production, momentum is growing based on technology advances and economics which could result in green diesel production exceeding ethanol production in the not-too-distant future. It is apparent that the greatest impact biomass fuels may have on the transportation industry, on a fieldto-wheels basis (miles driven per acre harvested), is when the biomass is used to produce green diesel. In the past, the greatest disadvantage for diesel fuel has been the reluctance, for a variety of reasons, of the American consumer to purchase diesel vehicles. These concerns appear to be fading, with a resurgence in diesel vehicles in the United States. There are three primary methods, or pathways, of producing green diesel. The first is thermal gasification of biomass to syngas followed by Fischer-Tropsch conversion to green diesel. This pathway has the significant advantage of being a well-established process for natural gas feedstocks, used by Germany during World War II and then by Sasol Ltd. of South Africa, to produce a fuel that is almost completely compatible with petroleum-derived diesel. However, the product of Fischer-Tropsch synthesis contains no aromatics or cyclic compounds, which can negatively impact fuel density, resulting in an overall loss in engine performance. Second is thermal gasification followed by methanol synthesis over a catalyst bed, Strege followed by conversion of the methanol to dimethyl ether (DME). DME is used as an aerosol propellant and manufactured by several companies using nonrenewable methanol as a feedstock. Like diesel, DME can be used in compression ignition engines and presents a higher fuel economy than do sparkignition fuels. Unlike diesel, DME is molecularly homogeneous, which allows engines to be precisely tuned to optimize combustion. However, DME is also a gas at room temperature and pressure, requiring it to be compressed to a liquid for transportation. Lastly is pyrolysis followed by hydrogenation of the bio-oil product to green diesel. Pyrolysis is already practiced on the commercial scale for production of food additives. Bio-oil often contains aromatic and cyclic compounds, so hydrogenated bio-oil is likely to meet all of the existing specifications for diesel fuel without requiring any additives. The primary disadvantage to using hydrogenated bio-oil is the risk that the green diesel product may contain unacceptable amounts of aromatics or other unsaturated compounds. These compounds can lead to smog formation and limit the shelf life of the fuel. Such compounds could be eliminated by adding more hydrogen to the fuel during hydrogenation, which may negatively impact process cost and complexity. The six pathways from biomass to transportation fuel described in our last two columns are by no means the only advanced methods being considered today, but are the most likely to find success on the large scale. Some of the processes have already found commercial success in other markets (e.g, food additives) or in using raw materials other than biomass (e.g, natural gas instead of syngas). Other processes show promise because they represent simple, efficient or low-cost options. Whichever process or combination of processes ultimately finds the greatest success at producing transportation fuels, it is clear that the future of biofuels will have a larger and more varied market than the corn ethanol and biodiesel markets of today. BIO Joshua R. Strege is a research engineer at the EERC in Grand Forks, N.D. He can be reached at or (701) 777-3252.


Biofuels Canada is the first and only trade publication dedicated to covering the rapidly growing biofuels industries of Canada. The magazine is primarily focused on conventional ethanol and biodiesel production and use, as well as cutting-edge production technologies such as cellulosic ethanol. The full-color bi-monthly magazine is written for a broad range of industry professionals including plant personnel, researchers, project developers, lenders, farmers, policy makers, academics and others. Look to Biofuels Canada for the latest industry news, as well as insightful features and commentary, that will give you a competitive advantage in the dynamic international biofuels business.

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Biomass Magazine - October 2007  

October 2007 Biomass Magazine

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