INSIDE: BIOMASS REPLACES FOSSIL FUEL FOR HEATING AND COOLING February 2008
Rice Straw to
Renewable Fuel Promising New Feedstock Enters Cellulosic Ethanol Race
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..................... 20 CELLULOSE All Roads Lead to Rome and Rice BBI International and Colusa Biomass Energy Corp. have partnered to commercialize a process that will turn rice straw and hulls into cellulosic ethanol. By Ron Kotrba
26 POWER Cool, Hot and Green For 25 years, District Energy St. Paul has used biomass power to heat and cool much of the heart of Minnesota’s capital city. By Susanne Retka Schill
32 ENVIRONMENT Lukewarm on Cofiring Some believe the environment would benefit more if biomass was used instead of coal, rather than cofired with coal, to produce power. By Anduin Kirkbride McElroy
38 FEEDSTOCK Agricultural Versus Industrial Waste for Energy ENVIRONMENT | PAGE 32
The principal drivers behind choosing what type of biomass to use to generate energy are the location of the plant and the conversion process. By Jessica Ebert
..................... 44 ENERGY Straw Tiger Chinese coal power plants could benefit environmentally and economically by
06 Editor’s Note For the Sake of Full Disclosure …
cofiring the nation’s vast supply of straw residues from agricultural production. By Marianne Osterkorn
07 Advertiser Index 09 Industry Events 12 Business Briefs 14 Industry News 55 In the Lab A Different Path to Biodiesel By Jerry W. Kram
57 EERC Update Designing for the Need: Effective Biomass Gasification By Darren Schmidt
2|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 5
e d i to r ’s
For the Sake of Full Disclosure …
NN wouldn’t report on a Time Warner business deal without telling its viewers that the media giant is its parent company. Fox News wouldn’t run a story on billionaire Rupert Murdoch without informing its audience that the cable news channel is owned by News Corp., the media empire that Murdoch runs. Ownership disclosures are business as usual in the media world. They allow journalists to report on news about their parent company, or businesses owned by their parent company, without violating ethical codes. BBI International, the company that owns Biomass Magazine, is certainly no News Corp.—not yet anyway—but it’s a fast-growing company with 120 employees and operations in three countries. BBI is uniquely integrated in the biofuels and biomass industries, operating in three key areas: media, events and project development, the last category being largely occupied with ethanol plant development. With BBI engaged in a variety of projects globally, it would be difficult, perhaps imprudent, for our media group to avoid publishing stories about the company’s project development activities. Indeed, this month’s page 20 cover story, “All Roads Lead to Rome and Rice,” by Senior Staff Writer Ron Kotrba does just that, queuing our readers in on a process design and engineering contract that BBI landed with California-based cellulosic ethanol developer Colusa Biomass Corp. California rice farmers produce nearly 20 percent of all the rice grown in the United States, and “they relish the thought of turning their troublesome crop waste into money,” Kotrba writes. That’s sounds like a pipedream to U.S. rice farmers, who currently pay to have rice straw removed from their fields. You see, no one wants the stuff too badly. Rice straw contains silica, which is as tough on bovine molars as it is on farm equipment. Leaving the straw on the ground isn’t as simple as it sounds, and torching it in the field is against the law in California. Years ago, the people at Colusa recognized the opportunity hidden in this challenge, envisioning a full-scale biorefinery that could produce ethanol and sodium silicate from rice residues. Ramping up its efforts in late 2007, Colusa signed on BBI. Now the team is evaluating sites in California and Arkansas, the latter of which would require the processing of rice hulls rather than rice straw. BBI will spend 2008 developing the process technology that will turn these ag residues into ethanol, which should yield the data required to take the system commercial in 2009. The end result will be a 12 MMgy, $50 million facility. There’s a bunch of difficult steps between here and there, of course, and time will tell how BBI will help Colusa to navigate around the technology gaps that currently exist. Figuring out a way to “double-pretreat” the feedstock before fermentation is the first challenge. If they can do that—liberating that hemicellulose—then the next step is to find a way to proficiently ferment five-carbon sugars. Once those milestones are met, the hard work begins: raising 100 percent equity to get the plant built. Watching it all develop should be fascinating. We’ll provide updates along the way, with proper disclosures included, of course.
Tom Bryan Editorial Director email@example.com
6 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 2|2008
advertiser INDEX 2008 Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo
Green Power Inc.
American Council on Renewable Energy
Hurst Boiler & Welding Co. Inc.
Agri-Energy Funding Solutions
International Biomass â€˜08 Conference & Trade Show
BBI Project Development
43 & 56
Keith Manufacturing Co.
Canadian Renewable Energy Workshop
Christianson & Associates PLLP
Percival Scientific Inc.
Competitive Energy Insight Inc.
Price BIOstock Services
ConAgra Trade Group Inc.
Rath, Young and Pignatelli P.C.
Continental Biomass Industries Inc.
R.C. Costello & Associates Inc.
Distillers Grains Quarterly
Robert-James Sales Inc.
Duratech Industries International Inc.
Energy & Environmental Research Center
SunOpta BioProcess Inc.
Ethanol Producer Magazine
The Teaford Co. Inc.
Yellow Springs Instruments
E D I TO R I A L Tom Bryan EDITORIAL DIRECTOR firstname.lastname@example.org Jessica Sobolik MANAGING EDITOR email@example.com Dave Nilles CONTRIBUTIONS EDITOR firstname.lastname@example.org Rona Johnson FEATURES EDITOR email@example.com Ron Kotrba SENIOR STAFF WRITER firstname.lastname@example.org Anduin Kirkbride McElroy STAFF WRITER email@example.com Jerry W. Kram STAFF WRITER firstname.lastname@example.org Susanne Retka Schill STAFF WRITER email@example.com Bryan Sims STAFF WRITER firstname.lastname@example.org Jessica Ebert STAFF WRITER email@example.com Sarah Smith STAFF WRITER firstname.lastname@example.org Jan Tellmann COPY EDITOR email@example.com Craig A. Johnson PLANT LIST & CONSTRUCTION EDITOR firstname.lastname@example.org Amber Armstrong ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT email@example.com
4 29 3 13
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2|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 7
industryevents Biomass Supply Chain & Logistics Update
Power-Gen: Renewable Energy & Fuels
February 18-19, 2008
February 19-21, 2008
Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center Nashville, Tennessee One of the biggest challenges for the biofuel industry is developing an efficient and effective supply chain. The agenda of this event presents feedstock supply chain concepts and designs, urban biofuels solutions, biofuels logistics, and biofuels pipeline research, among other topics. (866) 906-9898 www.biomassupdate.org
Rio Casino & Resort Las Vegas, Nevada This fifth-annual event aims to address the most important trends and issues impacting the renewable energy and fuels industry. A sample of biomass-related topics includes the business, technology and financing of waste-to-energy facilities; new biomass crops available for power, fuels and biobased products; and international biomass combustion case studies. A specific Biopower session will address biomass cofiring, fluidized bed boilers and much more. (888) 299-8016 www.power-gengreen.com
Agricultural Outlook Forum
13th Annual National Ethanol Conference
February 21-22, 2008
February 25-27, 2008
Crystal Gateway Marriott Hotel Arlington, Virginia This 84th annual event, themed “Energizing Rural America in the Global Marketplace,” will address several issues facing today’s agriculture sector. Besides general ag and foreign trade outlooks, the agenda is broken down into five concurrent session tracks. The Energy & Technology track will discuss biofuels (specifically ethanol) and biomass for energy. (877) 572-6043 www.usda.gov/oce/forum
JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes Orlando, Florida This Renewable Fuels Association event, themed “Changing the Climate,” will include RFA President Bob Dinneen’s annual State of the Industry Address, along with various panel discussions and concurrent breakout sessions. Breakout sessions topics include cellulosic ethanol feedstocks and technology. A panel discussion will also offer attendees an update on the status of commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol technology. (719) 539-0300 www.nationalethanolconference.com
World Biofuels Markets Congress
International Biomass Conference & Trade Show
March 12-14, 2008
April 15-17, 2008
Brussels Expo Brussels, Belgium The sessions at this event will focus on ethanol and biodiesel on a local and global scale. More detailed topics of discussion include biofuels feedstocks; heat, power and cogeneration; quality and distribution; and biorefineries, byproducts and bioproducts. Pre-congress conferences will address biofuels investment and finance, next-generation technology and science, certification and sustainability, policy and regulation, and bioplastics and biochemicals. +44 20 7801 6333 www.worldbiofuelsmarkets.com
Minneapolis Convention Center Minneapolis, Minnesota This inaugural event, which stemmed from the Energy & Environmental Research Center’s biomass conference last year in Grand Forks, N.D., aims to facilitate the advancement of near-term and commercial-scale manufacturing of biomass-based power, fuels and chemicals. Topics include biopower, bioproducts, biochemicals, biofuels, intermediate products and coproducts, which will be presented through general sessions, technical workshops and an industry trade show. (719) 539-0300 www.biomassconference.com
World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing
24th Annual International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo
April 27-30, 2008 Hilton Chicago Chicago, Illinois This event’s program tracks will focus on biofuels and bioenergy, including cellulosic ethanol; feedstocks, including forestry residues and energy crops; and chemicals and biomaterials. A call for papers, panels and posters closes Feb. 19. A more detailed agenda will be available as the event approaches. (202) 962-6630 www.bio.org/worldcongress2008
June 16-19, 2008 Opryland Hotel & Convention Center Nashville, Tennessee This conference will follow the record-breaking 2007 event, in which more than 500 exhibitors were on display and more than 5,300 people attended. The preliminary agenda includes general sessions, concurrent technical workshops and various networking opportunities. More information will be available as this event approaches. (719) 539-0300 www.fuelethanolworkshop.com
2|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 9
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 www.novozymes.com.
BRIEFS Lignol receives $6.8 million
Best-selling author and energy economist Peter Tertzakian has been appointed to the board of directors at Nexterra Energy Corp. He is managing director of ARC Financial Corp., an energy-centered investment company based in Calgary, Alberta. He oversees the publication of a weekly energy trends almanac. Nexterra develops, designs, supplies and installs advanced wood Tertzakian waste gasification systems. Based in Vancouver, British Columbia, it supplies clean, low-cost heat to the forest, institutional and power industries. For more information, visit www .nexterra.com. BIO
Lignol Innovations Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of Lignol Energy Corp., recently received $6.8 million in additional grants for its cellulosic ethanol development. Sustainable Development Technology Canada awarded Lignol up to $2.7 million on top of $1.7 million that it doled out earlier. Also, the Alberta government granted Lignol up to $4.1 million on top of $870,000 it previously announced in May. Lignol recently moved to Burnaby, British Columbia, where it is building a cellulosic ethanol pilot plant on the campus of the British Columbia Institute of Technology. BIO
PHOTO: BANDIT INDUSTRIES INC.
Nexterra Energy appoints Tertzakian to board
Stoel Rives appoints managing partner U.S. law firm Stoel Rives recently announced Robert Van Brocklin as the firm’s new managing partner. He will become chief executive officer and oversee the management of the firm’s 11 offices. Van Brocklin has been with the firm for more than 20 years. Before accepting his new position, he led the company’s Resources, Development and Environment practice group. BIO
Bandit Model 1680
Bandit offers three tools that produce wood chips
Dynamotive appoints Bouchard as COO Dynamotive Energy Systems, a leader in biomass-to-liquid fuel technology headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia, has appointed Thomas Bouchard as its chief operating officer. In this new role, Bouchard will help the company to ramp up global operations, and focus on key projects and critical business processes. Prior to Dynamotive, Bouchard Bouchard was vice president and general manager of the Americas for the consumer solutions group at MeadWestvaco. Prior to that, he was the chief executive officer at MetricVision Inc. BIO
12 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 2|2008
Bandit Industries Inc., a manufacturer and supplier of handfed brush and wood grinders in Remus, Mich., offers three models that can turn wood waste into easy-to-transport wood chips in minutes. Model 1680, nicknamed “Sharptooth,” is a compact grinder that rides on two 10,000-pound Torflex axles for easy transport. Model 3590 is a whole tree chipper that can handle logging slash, land clearing waste and brush up to 30 inches in diameter. Model 1090XP is a compact, drum-style chipper. At press time, Bandit planned to release limited editions of models 250XP and 1590XP in January as part of its yearlong 25th anniversary celebration. For more information, visit www.banditchippers.com. BIO
Gulf Ethanol acquires cellulosic technology Gulf Ethanol Corp. has acquired technology for converting nonfood feedstocks into powdered cellulose that can be used for ethanol production. The vortex implosion disintegrator technology was developed by Meridian Biorefining Corp. The process uses extreme compression and sudden polarity shifts to create an easily processed cellulose powder in five to 10 seconds. Tests on the material have shown significant processing advantages for ethanol production. Gulf and Meridian will work together on the engineering, design and implementation of the technology. BIO
Sugarcane is transported before it becomes bagasse. PHOTO: AFRICAN ENERGY POLICY RESEARCH NETWORK/FOUNDATION FOR WOODSTOVE DISSEMINATION
A sustainable energy initiative in Africa’s agricultural regions will enable the sugar industry to become more energy independent. The plan involves developing several biomass cogeneration plants as part of a six-year plan that will fuel sugar plantations. In all, 11 African countries will benefit from these projects, designed to reduce dependence on the nation’s expensive electrical resources, which are currently powered by foreign oil. In the sugar recovery process, the fibrous bagasse is burned to meet the heat and electricity requirements of the cane factories, which even return electricity to various power grids. The enterprise is financed by the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership and ProInvest. The REEEP is an international enabler of global markets for sustainable energy, focusing on developing countries and transitional economies. Its share of the funding for the rural electrification projects was provided by the government of Ireland, which targets subSaharan African countries to implement sustainable energy initiatives. Eamon Ramon, Irish minister for communications, energy and natural resources, said Ireland is committed to “the interlinking challenges of [social and economic] development and climate change.” He called those challenges “global justice issues.” ProInvest is a partnership between the European Union and African, Caribbean and Pacific Rim countries that promotes investment and technology in those regions. Both the REEEP and ProInvest work with governments, businesses, industries and financiers to promulgate a global market for renewable energies, energy-efficient technologies and energy legislation. Kenyan President H.E. Mwai Kibaki, who spearheaded the African initiative, noted the rising cost of oil and his nation’s substandard efforts in rural electrification as the main reasons for seeking outside assistance.
PHOTO: AFRICAN ENERGY POLICY RESEARCH NETWORK/FOUNDATION FOR WOODSTOVE DISSEMINATION
Irish help to finance African cogeneration project
-Sarah Smith This cogeneration plant produces energy from bagasse waste.
Largest U.K. biomass plant gains approval Port Talbot, a deep-water port on the south coast of Wales, become home to the largest biomass-fueled electrical plant in the United Kingdom. In November, the plant received regulatory approval to begin construction. The project will be run by London-based Prenergy Power Ltd. The 350-megawatt plant will produce enough electricity to power half the homes in Wales and deliver 70 percent of the renewable energy target for 2010 set by the Welsh Assembly Government.
Construction of the wood-chip-fueled plant will begin in early 2008 and is expected to be completed in 2010. The capital cost of the plant is estimated at £400 million ($793.2 million). It expects to hire 150 full-time employees. Port Talbot’s deepwater harbor will allow feedstocks to be brought in by ship, which the company said is the most benign and environmentally efficient form of bulk transport. Prenergy Director Matthew Carse said the fuel would come from independently certi-
fied, sustainable forestry projects, ensuring that the project will be carbon-neutral. A 101-megawatt combined-heat-andpower facility owned by Slough Heat and Power Ltd. in Slough, England, is currently the largest biomass-powered generator in the U.K. It was acquired by Scottish and Southern Energy PLC in January for £49.25 million ($97.7 million). SSE is the U.K.’s second-largest energy supplier. -Jerry W. Kram
14 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 2|2008
NEWS EU states ask for expanded biomass action plan Delegations from six member states of the European Union have jointly called for a new biomass action plan to supplement the one drawn up in 2005 to answer concerns being raised in the chemical, construction and packaging industries. In a Dec. 14 memorandum to the Council of the European Union, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Finland, France and Luxembourg said a new plan should “enable a coherent strategy to be drawn up at a European level to promote all uses of renewable resources produced by agriculture and forestry.” The 2005 strategic plan for biomass and a 2006 strategy for biofuels don’t mention industrial uses of biomass. Specific measures proposed in the
memorandum include eco-labeling, a change in state aid rules and tax breaks to encourage and reward the use of raw materials that have a positive link with climate policy, research, and incentives for biomass crops while balancing food needs and environmental sustainability. The six-state memorandum followed industry criticisms of the EU renewable energy plans. For example, the European Biomass Association and the Confederation of European Paper Industries issued a joint statement a few days before the six-state memorandum was released, recommending existing industries should be taken into account. “The increasing demand for solid biomass for energy purposes cannot be met only by European
forestry,” the joint statement said, while calling for new incentives for perennial energy crops. It also requested that the efficiency of biomass-based energy production become a priority, “knowing that sometimes the same biomass will be used for all sectors of heat, electricity and transportation biofuels.” A discussion of the European Union biomass policies, and links to governmental and organizational policy statements can be found at www.EurActiv.com.
-Susanne Retka Schill
DOE signs MOU with USDA and China, awards biofuels grants The U.S. DOE, the USDA and China’s National Development and Reform Commission recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that would strengthen and expand cooperation on biofuels production and use. More specifically, the MOU encourages cooperation in biomass and feedstock production and sustainability, conversion technology and engineering, biobased product development and utilization standards, and rural and agricultural development strategies. “This biofuels agreement with China builds on our work with Brazil, the International Biofuels Forum and the G8 Global Biofuels Energy Partnership to accelerate and intensify our global cooperation around the development and deployment of biofuels,” said Reuben Jeffrey, U.S. Department of State Undersecretary for Economic, Energy and Agricultural Affairs. This is the third MOU between the United States and China in recent months. The first aims to promote the large-scale use of electric, hybrid-electric, fuel cell and alternative fuel vehicle technologies. The second aims to significantly increase coop-
eration and energy efficiency in China’s industrial sector. “As the two largest energy consumers and automobile markets in the world, we are eager to strengthen cooperation with China to increase the use of renewable and alternative fuels to power our nation’s vehicles,” said Clay Sell, U.S. deputy secretary of energy and the U.S. representative at the MOU signing ceremony in Beijing. In other news, the DOE recently announced it will invest up to $7.7 million in multi-year funding in four biofuels projects that will demonstrate the thermochemical conversion of grasses, stover, nonedible portions of crops and other materials into biofuel. In one of the projects, Emery
Energy Co. in Salt Lake City has partnered with Ceramatec Inc. and the Western Research Institute to demonstrate a new approach to mitigating tars and oils in the production of synthesis gas from biomass. Another project involves a partnership between Iowa State University and ConocoPhillips Co., which will test an integrated biomass-to-liquids technology using switchgrass as a feedstock. Research Triangle Institute in North Carolina, along with North Carolina State University and the University of Utah, will produce syngas from woody biomass using a dual fluidizedbed reactor that allows for the continuous regeneration of a catalyst that can reform, crack and remove tar and other impurities. Lastly, Southern Research Institute in Alabama will collaborate with Pall Corp., ThermoChem Recovery International and Rentech to use a one-megawatt thermal gasifier and a unique cleanup technology to generate syngas.
2|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 15
NEWS Eco-flavored chips: Zero trans fat, zero carbon footprint Revolutionary companies think outside the box. Frito-Lay has begun to think outside the bag. Its desert-based chip factory in Casa Grande, Ariz., has embarked on an ambitious three-phase plan to ultimately operate solely on renewable energy and recycled water. Called the “net-zero initiative,” the plan will incorporate waste heat collection, methane digesters and parabolic solar concentrators in hopes of cutting the plant’s greenhouse gas emissions by up to 75 percent by 2010 and reducing its dependence on water, electricity and gas suppliers. The initial phase will conserve the massive quantities of water used to wash 500,000 pounds of potatoes daily. A filter system will strain and clean the wash water for reuse. Engineering feasibility studies have already begun on this phase, said corporate spokesperson Aurora Gonzalez.
Solar concentrators capturing the region’s intense solar power will heat the water in the second phase to power a steam generator. Then plans call for a biomass generator that would use landfill gas, methane, wood or residual debris to eventually power the boiler system. The Casa Grande initiatives cap two decades of Frito-Lay’s energy-efficient measures that strived for significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2010 at its 32 U.S. plants. Frito-Lay’s Energy Department pushed projects such as an air compressor management system for packaging lines; heat recovery projects that will recover heat from boilers, ovens and fryers; cogeneration; and the recycling of potato and corn solids to livestock and dairy farms. “We’re well-suited to do this kind of project, given the number of years we’ve been at this,” Gonzalez said. “That’s positioned us well to take what’s clearly a significant
next step.” Frito-Lay’s plant in Bakersfield, Calif., has been using cogeneration for 20 years, and its facility outside of Houston has been using landfill gas as a power source for several years, Gonzalez said. This was a logical next step. “Every facility has a sustainability resources conservation program,” she said. “Different geographies give us different options.” Frito-Lay’s parent company PepsiCo is no slouch in the environmental arena. In April 2007, Pepsi made a three-year commitment to purchase renewable energy certificates—1 billion kilowatt hours of electricity annually—to spur growth of the renewable fuels industry. Gonzalez said Frito-Lay’s environmental vision is supported and driven by its parent company’s philosophy.
ASABE to develop standard for biomass-derived solid fuel The American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers recently announced a project to standardize methods for determining the properties of plant-derived solid fuels used for direct combustion in stationary heat and power systems. The project was initiated by Klein Ileleji, a professor in the department of agricultural and biological engineering at Purdue University, and a member of ASABE. Ileleji will lead the development of the new standard, which will cover properties relevant to fuel classification, terminology, sampling and handling, and functional characteristics including energy content. It will also address the design and development of direct combustion systems, fuel and combustion systems performance, and practices for reporting fuel properties. Quality thresholds, emission limits and recommendations are excluded from this standard. The need for a standard comes from the 16 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 2|2008
rise in interest in using biofuels for transportation, as well as energy systems ranging from simple home-heating stoves and furnaces to medium and large industrial boilers for heat only or for combined heat and power. “The new standard is going to provide a technical resource about which fuel sources work the best for which systems,” explained Travis Tsunemori, an engineer with ASABE. “It’s going to help designers, facility/utility man-
agers and engineers make more informed decisions.” The standard is currently being drafted. Individuals, companies and trade groups interested in participating in the development process should contact ASABE Standards Director Scott Cedarquist at cedarq@asabe .com or (269) 439-0300. Once the standard has been drafted, it will go through a process of balloting, technical vetting and approval before being published. Tsunemori expects the entire process to take about a year. ASABE recently celebrated its 100th year as a nonprofit professional society for engineers. The organization is an accredited standards developer with more than 200 published standards for engineering in agricultural, food and biological systems. -Jessica Ebert
industry Switchgrass, mixed grass research projects advance Switchgrass and other mixed prairie grasses are being given a closer look in two northern plains projects that received additional support this winter. South Dakota State University’s work on switchgrass got a boost from a new agreement with California-based Ceres Inc. The cooperative, multi-year program will focus on developing higher-yielding switchgrass cultivars adapted to northern latitudes. SDSU plant breeder Arvid Boe will lead field and greenhouse research, which will involve crossbreeding and selections supported by Ceres technology that makes the selection process more efficient and predictable. University researchers will also study genetic diversity in the perennial grass species, among other objectives. Boe believes switchgrass can be competitive with conventional crops, especially on semiarid land in South Dakota and Nebraska. “Switchgrass is tolerant of a wide range of environmental conditions, and compared with many other perennial grasses and conventional crop plants, it produces relatively large amounts of biomass under both good and poor growing conditions,” he said. Separately, the Central Grassland Research and Extension Center in Streeter, N.D., received $40,000 in funding from the North Dakota Agricultural Products Utilization Commission for the center’s 10-year study on biomass grasses. The funding will expand the project from grass trials to economic analyses of what
a farmer would need to receive for a cellulosic crop to compete with other, more traditional crops. The project started with funding from the North Dakota Natural Resource Trust, according to Paul Nygren, director of the CGREC. “There’s a lot of concern about what happens to our perennial grasslands as the pressure comes from biofuels,” he explained. The first grasses for the 10-year study were seeded in the spring of 2006 at five locations in central and western North Dakota that would correspond with mixed-grass prairie and short-grass prairie regions. The plots include various pure stands and combinations of switchgrass, tall and intermediate wheatgrass, big bluestem, and wild rye. There are also two mixes used on Conservation Reserve Program acres, one with tall and intermediate wheatgrasses alone, and one with the two wheatgrasses, alfalfa and sweet clover. Nygren hopes to raise additional grant funds to pay for sample analysis in a cellulosic digester to complement the analyses to be done in the forage laboratory. Acknowledging that biomass yields in semiarid regions may be too low for large cellulosic ethanol plants, Nygren wants to study the feasibility of smaller-scale pyrolysis units. He’s working with a potential cooperator now to add a pyrolysis study that would test the potential yield from the various grass mixes.
-Susanne Retka Schill
Masada Resource Group donates biomass facilities, equipment to university Masada Resource Group LLC, a Birmingham, Ala.-based company that specializes in municipalsolid-waste-to-ethanol technology, has donated its biomass pilot plant facilities and equipment that the company recently purchased from the Tennessee Valley Authority, the nation’s largest public power company, to Auburn University in Alabama. In March 2007, Masada was chosen as the successful bidder to purchase the TVA’s biomass pilot plant facilities and equipment in Muscle Shoals, Ala. Masada submitted its bid to the TVA as the leader of a collaborative effort with Auburn University and PureVision Technology Inc. in Ft. Lupton, Colo. The TVA biomass facilities and equipment were used by Masada to conduct tests on the company’s proprietary municipal-solid-wasteto-ethanol conversion process, trademarked CES OxyNol, and key vendor equipment that the company is using in its Orange Recycling and Ethanol Production Facility to be built in Middletown, N.Y. The donation to Auburn University has enabled the school to serve as Masada’s exclusive research and development platform, where
it will concurrently utilize and refine PureVision’s unique fractionation process, according to Masada President and Chief Executive Officer Donald Watkins. “Right now, in working with Auburn, we’ve increased our yields from 55 gallons of ethanol per ton of garbage all the way up to about 85 gallons per ton of garbage,” Watkins said. “We think we can increase those yields even further, particularly if we find a way to use PureVision’s fractionation process as part of our overall process.” Having mastered the process of converting municipal solid waste into ethanol, Masada’s focus has shifted to explore other biomass feedstocks such as waste from the pulp and paper industries, working with the Alabama Center for Paper and Bioresource Engineering and Auburn's Department of Chemical Engineering, where it will continue to refine its patented CES OxyNol process for biobased jet fuel, Watkins said.
2|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 17
NEWS New York houses largest wood-pellet plant New England Wood Pellet LLC opened the largest wood pellet manufacturing plant in the United States in Schuyler, N.Y., in December. The $10 million plant will produce 100,000 tons of pellets per year, enough to heat 33,000 homes and businesses, according to Charlie Niebling, NEWP general manager. “It’s going well,” Niebling said of the plant’s first month of operation. “We had a few little technical glitches, which isn’t unusual for a facility of this size, but we got them all ironed out and are running on all cylinders.” The plant manufactures wood pellets out of wood waste that comes from 30 lumber mills in central New York. Niebling said the company worked on negotiating its supply agreements for 16 months, four months
bined heat and power (CHP), cogeneration, district heating, and power generation on a very large scale. We think it is only a matter of time before the economics of heating or CHP with fossil energy drives people to consider alternatives.” The Schuyler facility is NEWP’s second. The company operates a 75,000-ton-per-year wood pellet plant in Jaffrey, N.H., and a packaging plant in Palmer, Mass. The company also maintains a research and development facility in Jaffrey, where much of the equipment for the New York plant was designed. “Our intention is to get into the business of turnkey plant production,” Niebling said.
longer than it took to build the plant. NEWP has enough wood waste suppliers to operate at 80 percent of capacity. Once it reaches that threshold—probably sometime this fall— Niebling said the company will buy round wood and chip it, or contract to have it chipped. There is high demand for wood-pellet fuel in the Northeast, Niebling said. The company has agreements with 75 retailers in New York alone. “We definitely see pellet fuel taking off,” he said. “While the history of pellet heating in the United States has primarily been one of residential heating with pellet stoves, you need only look at Europe to see what the potential is. In Europe, pellets are being used for commercial and industrial heating, com-
-Jerry W. Kram
Abengoa Bioenergy Corp. has named Montgomery, N.Y.-based municipal-solidwaste (MSW) recovery and recycling firm Taylor Biomass Energy LLC as the provider of a biomass biogasification unit that will be used to power Abengoa’s future cellulosic ethanol facility in Hugoton, Kan. According to TBE President Jim Taylor, Taylor Engineering is listed on the now-public Abengoa contract submittal to the U.S. DOE, which it signed in December. Abengoa will start “to negotiate all the subcontractor contracts, which would include Taylor Biomass Energy” sometime in the coming months, he said. TBE will design and build the biogasification unit. Taylor said TBE’s novel proprietary biomass gasification unit is unique because it produces a gas that has a heating value of 450 British thermal units (Btu), approximately half that of natural gas, and it can go
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PHOTO: TAYLOR BIOMASS ENERGY LLC
Taylor Biomass Energy to install Abengoa’s biogasification unit
TBE’s proposed waste recycling, biogasification and power generation project in Montgomery, N.Y., will gasify 300 dry tons of MSW per year into syngas.
directly into a gas turbine as opposed to an air turbine. Thus, unlike the low-heatingvalue gas produced in air-blown gasifiers, it provides the ability to substitute natural gas, and it can be used as a fuel for combinedcycle power generation equipment or as a synthesis gas (syngas) for the production of chemicals, liquid biofuels and/or hydrogen. “The emissions from [the gasifier] are less than 100 tons per year of [nitrogen
oxides, sulfur oxides, volatile organic compounds] and other greenhouse gases (GHGs),” Taylor said, citing that the unit’s unique gas cleanup process is much more efficient than other conventional air gasifiers. “The hydrogen content of our gas went up to 45 percent from typical biogas at 25 percent, so it’s a real good constant fuel for power generation.” The Abengoa project will aid TBE’s waste recycling and power generation project in Montgomery, where it will utilize Abengoa’s catalytic conversion process to produce syngas for power generation. TBE intends to integrate its unique sorting, separating and recycling process of raw MSW with its biogasification technology, where it would produce 23 megawatts of electricity from 300 dry tons of MSW per year. The project is currently in the permitting and financing stages, and is expected to be operational in the fourth quarter of 2009, Taylor said. -Bryan Sims
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All Roads Lead to
Rome and Rice
Executives with Colusa Biomass Energy Corp., a company securing its niche in rice waste, were searching diligently for an engineering company to take their project to the next level: commercial production. No matter the paths they traversed, CBEC execs say all roads led to BBI International. By Ron Kotrba
2|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 21
scale biorefinery producing respect,” says CBEC President ethanol and sodium silicate from and Chief Executive Officer rice residues. It’s something Tom Bowers, referring to what CBEC execs have been working led to the two companies’ new toward for years. working relationship. “We’ve Disappointing pilot work been looking hard since last done with rice straw in the 1990s March for the right group to using the general patented take us to the next level domesprocess on which CBEC’s more tically and internationally, and I Yancey refined conversion design is guess it was one of those cases based, coupled with low oil prices and a where all roads lead to Rome—every discouraging economic environment, time we followed a solid lead on someslowed the company down but didn’t body who had talent or someone we stop it. Despite past obstacles, CBEC respected, well, they ended up being with gained a preliminary engineering thumbs- BBI most of the time.” Originally intendup from Harris Group last year and ing to focus its initial commercial plant in began the hunt for experts in cellulose to California where a rice-collection infrascale up their process in a full-size plant. structure exists, the company is now “It was a case of mutual interest and equally interested in an Arkansas site
PHOTO: COLUSA BIOMASS ENERGY CORP.
eedstock choices by companies establishing themselves in the race to commercialize ethanol from cellulose are largely determined by geographical availability. Corn stover, wheat straw, woody biomass, and dedicated energy crops are frequently discussed, but a company based in California’s Sacramento Valley, Colusa Biomass Energy Corp., doesn’t have to look far to discover its niche feedstock. “North of Sacramento it’s pretty much all rice fields,” says Mark Yancey, vice president of BBI International’s project development division. BBI, which publishes Biomass Magazine, recently agreed to provide process design and engineering services for CBEC’s project: Building a full-
Rice straw is high in silica and undesirable as forage for livestock.
22 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 2|2008
cellulose where rice hulls lie awaiting—pending a deal-closer. Straw, hulls or both projects concurrently, Yancey says BBI has a timeline in place to move either site forward by completing specified tasks in 2008.
Be Practical and Forward “We have all of 2008 to demonstrate the technology and generate the data we need to do the process design,” Yancey says. “Then we have all of 2009 to do detailed design work and build the plant.” The plan isn’t linear so several different tasks will be going on at once, but Yancey says BBI’s practical approach and project development experience will make this project go. “When we first talked, we sat down with them and said we still feel there are some technology gaps [for converting most biomass feedstocks to ethanol],” Yancey explains. “We told them our approach would circumvent those gaps and eliminate the missing technology.” The technology gaps Yancey refers to stem from CBEC’s desire to double-pretreat its feedstock before fermentation. The “pre-pretreatment” would liberate hemicellulose so its five-carbon sugars could carry on to fermentation. But, Yancey says, “pretreatment is still very expensive and an issue for any tech provider trying to use the fermentation route. Dilute acid requires expensive alloys or glass-lined or acid brick-lined equipment, and these primary pretreatments are generally done at a higher temperature, running up operational costs.” Furthermore, there are no commercially demonstrated organisms capable of proficiently fermenting fivecarbon sugars, so even if the uncertainty and expense of pretreatment were endured Yancey says exactly how those sugars would be fermented is still questionable. If it becomes feasible to isolate and ferment the five-carbon sugars from rice waste in the future, then a move in that direction could be made. Until then, BBI suggested moving forward with a base pretreatment that dissolves the silica.
A Series of Concurrent Events BBI’s forward approach hooked Bowers from the start. “What you get from BBI is a sense of well-roundedness, and that their feet are on the ground,” Bowers says. “After our first meeting with BBI, I told my guys as we walked onto the airplane, ‘This is it. As far as I’m concerned let’s not look anyplace else so let’s make the best deal we can with them.’” The responsibilities BBI will undertake first include conducting a detailed study to define acceptable ranges of the key process variables. At press time in late December, the study had already begun. The financials of the first plant will be driven by established targets for these key process variables. For instance, the initial study may not reveal that the C6 yield will be 85 percent and, from that, “X”
amount of ethanol will be refined. “What it will tell us is that we will need at least 70 percent, for example, and if we can’t reach that established target then we know we can’t do this,” Yancey says. Essentially, the purpose of BBI’s initial study is to determine what is needed to make the project competitive, and is expected to be complete by the end of February. By then, BBI plans to have already begun developing what Yancey calls a technology demonstration plan. “That’s where we’ll generate the data needed to design the plant,” he says. Bench- and pilot-scale work managed by BBI will continue throughout most of 2008. As data streams in, BBI will take the aggressive initiative to concurrently develop the “Schedule A” basic engineering package to transfer knowledge from
2|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 23
Colusa Extra To read more about Colusa Biomass Energy Corp.’s process and plans see “The Rumpelstiltskin of Rice Straw” in the August 2007 edition of Ethanol Producer Magazine, Biomass Magazine’s sister publication.
the pilot work to commercial process design. “By the end of the year we should be ready to negotiate an EPC contract for the design and construction of the plant,” Yancey says, cautioning he couldn’t reveal which contractors are already under consideration. The Coloradobased company estimates its new client will need a $2.5 million budget for the work described. Finally, BBI will do what Yancey’s division was named after: project development. “Just like we develop projects for dry-mill plants, we’ll do for Colusa,” Yancey says. “I doubt we’ll hold small meetings in communities asking people to invest”—how conventional equity drives go typically for private projects integrating proven designs—“but instead we’ll be looking for $5 million to $20 million investments. At this point, we recommend raising 100 percent equity to
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build this first plant, which would greatly simplify things and lower the cost.” BBI estimates the first 12.5 MMgy facility will cost approximately $50 million. BBI began designing its first cellulose ethanol plant in early 2007, and the Colusa project is its second major project in the growing field. “Cellulose process design will be a big part of BBI’s future,” Yancey says. CBEC is a publicly-traded company and its OTC stock symbol is CLME.PK.
Two States, One Mission California rice farmers produce nearly 20 percent of all the rice grown in the United States, and they relish the thought of turning their troublesome crop waste into money. They currently pay between $25 and $45 an acre to have the residues baled and removed from their fields, markets for which are not easy to find. Livestock producers don’t want it
because rice straw is high in silica, reaching 13 percent on a dry-matter basis. “Silica is one of nature’s great abrasives,” Bowers says. As forage, rice straw may cause excessive wear on bovine molars, but chances are the cows won’t eat it anyway because it isn’t palatable. Bowers says rice waste is even destructive to farm equipment, wearing out implements 40 percent faster than wheat. And simply leaving the straw on the ground for soil nutrition still requires chopping it up and re-flooding the fields with water. “All that costs money,” says Rick Nannen, CBEC vice president. Since state environmental regulations disallow producers from burning their rice residues openly in the field anymore, California rice farmers welcome new and cheaper ways to dispose of the straw. CBEC would require rice straw from 35,000 acres for the annual production of 12.5 million gallons of ethanol, and 33 million pounds of sodium silicate—a high-value specialty coproduct. While CBEC was initially focused on the California rice-straw “market,” they have since expanded their options for a first commercial project site. But true to form, all roads for this unique company lead to rice. “The other option is
PHOTO: COLUSA BIOMASS ENERGY CORP.
Using a modified forage harvester, right, CBEC successfully completed a large-scale rice straw harvest last fall. The harvester collects and chops the straw, then blows it into walking floor trailers that hold 9 to 14 tons.
Arkansas, where rice mills have a problem disposing of hulls. There is no ban against burning straw in Arkansas, so there is no real incentive to collect it and therefore the infrastructure is less developed there than in California. But Arkansas is home to several large rice mills where hulls accumulate rapidly, so collocating near a mill is a wise choice
and virtually eliminates the grueling task of honing an efficient method of aggregation, storage and delivery. According to Nannen, ongoing discussions with Riceland Foods and Producers Co-op for feedstock arrangements are encouraging. Riceland Foods gasifies a portion of its hulls for some of the energy required in milling operations, and has for many
years. “I don’t know how efficient that technology is anymore,” Nannen says. Bowers adds, “They use the hulls to generate the heat for their parboiling operations. That worked really well 15 to 18 years ago but not necessarily so well now because of the advances in combustion techniques with other materials that have come along, so it was a leading situation years ago but it’s not the same today— and there might be a better use for those hulls from an income point of view for the rice mills, and it could certainly be the basis for transportation fuels.” Rice hulls contain 20 percent silica whereas the straw contains 12 percent. “If the economics allow us on the front end, I could see us building both these plants with completion dates within six months of each other,” Bowers tells Biomass Magazine. Two states, two companies and one mission: Being the first project development team to build the first commercial ethanol and specialty-chemicals plant using difficult but globally abundant rice waste. BIO Ron Kotrba is a Biomass Magazine senior writer. Reach him at rkotrba@bbibiofuels .com or (701) 738-4962.
2|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 25
District Energyâ€™s combined-heat-and-power plant is in full view below the downtown St. Paul bluff when viewed from across the Mississippi River. PHOTO: DISTRICT ENERGY ST. PAUL
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District Energy St. Paul Inc. relies predominantly on biomass power to heat and cool the majority of downtown St. Paul, Minn. The goal is to replace all fossil fuels in the future. By Susanne Retka Schill 2|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 27
trucks can deliver 40 loads of wood chips per day to the CHP plant without even being noticed by the traffic on Kellogg Boulevard above. While district energy systems have been widely used in densely populated urban areas for more than a century, St. Paul’s system is unique as it’s the largest biomasspowered system in North America. In 1978, St. Paul was selected by the U.S. DOE and the Minnesota Energy Agency to be the subject of a study to determine the feasibility of a modern hot-water district-heating system in a major northern U.S. city. The favorable results from the study led to the building of a hot-water system that was completed in 1983. The system primarily used coal-fired traveling grate boilers to heat water, although fuel oil and natural gas could also be used. The system cost $45.8 million in 1982 dollars. It was completed one year ahead of schedule and was $1.3 million under budget. It replaced an old steam-heat system that was highly inefficient with more than 50 percent distribution
PHOTO: DISTRICT ENERGY ST. PAUL
asing off the freeway, the car slows to pick up Kellogg Boulevard as it curves on top of the bluff that anchors downtown St. Paul, Minn., to the Mississippi River below. Most drivers barely notice the stately brick building that houses District Energy St. Paul Inc. as they drive past the sports arena and science museum on the way to a downtown hotel or office building. The 1906 brick building served as a power plant for years, receiving coal from the rail lines below the bluff and delivering steam heat for the downtown district. Even though the modern-day District Energy facilities use every square inch of the old building and the lot’s available footprint, it still serves as an ideal location. The 14,000 truckloads of wood chips delivered each year to the biomassfired combined-heat-and-power (CHP) plant travel along Shepherd Road, which parallels the river and the railroads below the bluff. Comprising less than 1 percent of the traffic on the transportation corridor, the
District Energy St. Paul is housed in a 1906 power plant building that presents a stately presence on Kellogg Boulevard. The CHP plant, built on the riverbank below the bluff, is barely visible behind the brick building.
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losses, compared with the hot-water system which has distribution losses of only 5 percent. Both heating and cooling systems run year-round to supply hot water for heating, domestic hot water, industrial process heat and chilled water for air conditioning. Anders Rydaker, who served as a consultant in developing the original district heating project, returned to the city in 1993 from his native Sweden to become the president of the independent nonprofit organization. “When I got to St. Paul the second time, it was my vision to move to renewable energy,” he says. “It’s been my priority for a long time, way before it was the thing to talk about in the United States.” It took another 10 years before the CHP plant began turning clean urban wood waste into electrical energy delivered to the city’s power grid as well as heat for the hot-water heating system and evaporative coolers. Biomass now provides nearly 70 percent of the system’s energy demand, he says, approaching the goal of 75 percent. The boilers from the 1983 system are still used for peak-load conditions when the city experiences its famous winter cold snaps and temperatures drop as low as minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Rydaker says that a CHP system large enough to meet the remaining peak load would not be economical, although his next goal is to replace the remaining portion of fossil-fuel energy used. The 1983 system had been cofiring coal with wood chips in the 1990s, but the feedstock system was dismantled to make room for the biomass CHP plant. Studies begin this year to examine the best way to modify the 1983 boiler system. The primary challenge in meeting peak demand with biomass will be developing new feedstock sources.
Daunting Logistics As vice president of operations and engineering, it is Michael Burns’ job to manage the biomass acquisition program which at times scrambles to find enough clean wood. When the system started, the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area had a fragmented infrastructure of businesses
power handling tree waste. “We had to build the infrastructure to handle 250,000 tons per year,” he says. That meant adding chipping and screening equipment, and finding collection and processing points. Many of the original businesses still supply District Energy with already processed wood, which is run through screens to make sure the 4-inch maximum diameter required for the CHP plant’s vibrating grate boiler system isn’t exceeded. The main Rydaker wood collection site is located in an industrial area along the Mississippi River just a few miles downstream from downtown St. Paul. The biomass project took over management of a tree waste site developed by the city when Dutch elm disease devastated its urban forest. Developing the infrastructure has been only one part of the challenge, however. At times, there isn’t enough clean wood waste in the entire 13 county metropolitan area Burns to fuel the plant, Burns
says. That forces him to turn to the northern Minnesota forestry industry for supplies. “We try to avoid it whenever possible because of the transportation costs, and because they have higher harvesting costs,” he says. In order to fuel the remaining energy load, District Energy will begin testing various feedstocks such as corn stover and other agricultural wastes. Among the options to be studied will be pelletized biomass, which could be handled in the 1983 boiler system much like stoker coal. “Now that we have the CHP optimized and the market has developed, we are looking at the opportunities to incorporate biomass in those boilers without major modifications,” he explains. Rydaker adds that retrofitting costs will determine how quickly the conversion to 100 percent biomass will proceed.
Multiple Entities Several related businesses actually make up District Energy, which was called District Heating Development Co. when it was launched in 1983. When cooling capacity was added in 1993, District Cooling St. Paul Inc. was organized as a separate entity. Both are independent, nonprofit organizations with individual boards, although most board
members serve both organizations. The seven-member boards of directors include three elected by customers, three appointed by the city of St. Paul and one elected by the six. Ever-Green Energy LLC is a for-profit affiliate of District Energy which develops renewable energy projects for others. One biomass project being developed in St. Paul is evaluating whether a paper recycling plant could utilize agricultural waste biomass for its thermal process energy. Ever-Green owns and operates the CHP plant along with Duke Generating Services LLC, a subsidiary of Duke Energy Corp. Biomass procurement is handled by an affiliate of EverGreen called Environmental Wood Supply.
District Energy Benefits District energy systems like St. Paul’s are not uncommon. The International District Energy Association reports that in 2005 about 6 percent of commercial buildings in the United States were heated with district heating. District energy systems are typically located in the central business districts of larger cities, on university or college campuses, on hospital or research campuses, military bases and airports. The number of customer buildings served ranges from as few as three or four in the early stages of developing a new system to as many as
Biomass Combustion Specialists ♦Boilers Atlanta, GA, U.S.A. Phone: 770-475-5250 ♦Gasifiers Email: email@example.com Website: www.teafordco.com ♦Furnaces ♦Co-Generation Vancouver, B.C. Canada Phone: 604-530-5566 ♦Thermal Oil Heaters Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.teafordcanada.ca ♦Low Emissions ♦Turn-key Installations Portland, OR, U.S.A. Phone: 503-554-9824 ♦PLC/HMI Controls Email: email@example.com Website: www.teafordco.com ♦Mechanical Repairs CALL TOLL FREE 1-877-864-6380 2|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 29
PHOTO: DISTRICT ENERGY ST. PAUL
Looking down from Kellogg Boulevard as the trucks deliver wood chips to the CHP plant.
1,800 customer buildings as in the system served by Con Edison Steam Business Unit in Manhattan, N.Y., the largest district steam system in the world. IDEA lists several benefits found in district energy systems: The systems tap into economies of scale and the operational benefits of having a large, diverse portfolio of customers The systems can utilize industrial-
grade equipment not economically feasible for individual buildings The diversity of energy options and fuel flexibility creates a market advantage and establishes the district energy system as an asset for community energy planning The availability of district energy service reduces the capital cost of developing an office building by cutting the boiler and chiller plant capital cost from the project
District energy systems can utilize local fuel resources to keep energy dollars recirculating in the local economy, and as a renewable energy source may qualify for a production tax credit under a renewable energy portfolio standard District Energy St. Paul receives calls weekly from operators of some of the older steam heat systems in the country asking about retrofitting a hot water system as was done in St. Paul. “Hot water is not very common in the United States,” Rydaker says. “It’s so much better. With hot water you can recover waste heat in whatever form.” In buildings still using older steamheat systems, the retrofit to hot water can be quite costly. However, buildings constructed after 1975 that utilize hot water in heat exchanger systems have an easy conversion. Some building complexes have both, such as the Minnesota State Capitol on the north end of downtown St. Paul which tapped into District Energy when it was developed. A major benefit for district energy customers is the system’s reliability—after 25 years District Energy St. Paul reports 99.99 percent reliability for heat and District Cooling St. Paul reports 100 percent reliability. Stable energy costs for customers have been another benefit, although Rydaker says that in the 1990s when natural gas was at $2 per million British thermal units the District
Got wood? • Legal work on more than 100 energy projects in over 20 states, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Mexico, Peru and United Kingdom • Assisting developers, owners, operators, investors and lenders • Projects include wood-burning, landfill gas and other power/fuel projects that use biomass or waste materials • We know biomass Contact Attorney Charles G. Willing, Jr. firstname.lastname@example.org National Impact. Uniquely New Hampshire. Rath, Young and Pignatelli, P.C. www.rathlaw.com Concord (603) 226-2600 30 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 2|2008
power Energy rates were higher. Today that is reversed with District Energy rates below natural gas. Rising energy costs for fossil fuels have boosted the cost for wood chips however and after a decade of flat rates, District Energy’s customers now are seeing higher rates on their monthly bills. Regardless, customer acceptance of the system is high—St. Paul’s district heating system serves 85 percent of the downtown area’s square footage, while the district cooling system serves 65 percent. More than 180 buildings in the downtown district and 300 singlefamily homes in adjacent areas are served by District Energy. Offices and homes across the Mississippi River from the plant are also supplied via a pipeline encased in a bridge, which is another example of the problem solving and innovations that have made District Energy St. Paul an industry leader. SOURCE: DISTRICT ENERGY ST. PAUL
Susanne Retka Schill is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. Reach her at sretkaschill @bbibiofuels.com or (701) 738-4962.
The buildings in green are served by District Energy St. Paul.
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Cofiring biomass in coal-powered plants is a way to include renewable energy within the existing grid. Can renewable mandates regulations encourage utilities to utilize biomass, and is it a good idea? By Anduin Kirkbride McElroy
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In most of these states, renewable electricity can be sourced from a combination of solar, wind, hydropower and various forms of biomass. In many states, power companies are allowed to meet renewable standards by cofiring biomass with coal at existing power plants, but it is unclear how many are actually doing so. Cofiring doesn’t seem to be a technology that utilities are relying on to meet their RPS, says Carol Stemrich, assistant administrator in the gas and energy division of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission. “[Cofiring biomass is] just one in a mix of options that utilities have in order to
meet their RPS,” she says. “I think utilities have been concentrating on other technologies more recently and are looking hard at biomass as a stand-alone instead of cofiring.” Wisconsin has set an RPS of 10 percent by 2015, and like many other states, allows the renewable portion of the electricity to count toward the producer’s RPS. There are several facilities within the United States that are already cofiring, and some power companies are evaluating the logistics and economics, but it is by no means a widespread practice. As Biomass Magazine has reported, cofiring biomass at coal plants isn’t a simple
PHOTO: ALLIANT ENERGY
tatewide renewable portfolio standards (RPS), which require that a minimum percentage of electricity be renewable, have been effective in boosting renewable electricity production across the United States. According to the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy office of the U.S. DOE, there are currently 24 states plus the District of Columbia that have RPS policies in place, which account for more than half of the nation’s electricity sales. Four additional states have nonbinding goals for adoption of renewable energy instead of an RPS.
The existing 200 megawatt coal power plant in Cassville, Wis., owned by Alliant Energy, is shown with a simulation of a new 300 megawatt plant, left. The combined 500 megawatt plant will produce fewer emissions than the existing plant, thanks to advanced emissions system controls and biomass cofiring.
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environment ‘Our hope is that we will be building new biopower facilities rather than merely cofiring in coal plants. The thermochemical processes are so much better for the environment.’
should be tied to a net reduction in coal and should be linked to demand-side management, energy efficiency and conservation commitments. Additionally, renewable energy credits should only be permitted for cofiring at coal plants using the best available technology. Though Florida doesn’t have an RPS yet, Dickinson confirms that new energy projects in the state are being evaluated—and sometimes denied—because of their environmental impacts.
As it turns out, renewable mandates may mean less to utilities than carbon regulations. As carbon has become an increasing concern, coal plants across the country are feeling the squeeze. Within the past few months, some coal plants in development have been denied various permits, prompting them to abandon their plans. Despite increasing consumer demand for electricity, some project that concern over carbon will be so great that
endeavor; boilers must be tailored to handle the physical and chemical characteristics of the biomass fuel, which differ significantly from that of coal. Infrastructure costs and permitting procedures can mean millions of dollars and years of investment before a facility could begin cofiring. In theory, state and federal carbon regulations and renewable mandates may encourage coal plants to begin this process, but so far, it’s not clear if a statewide RPS is enough to generate new projects. North Carolina is one of the most recent states to adopt an RPS, requiring 12.5 percent by 2021. “The expectation is that we will create more demand for biomass materials like urban wood waste, forest thinnings and poultry litter,” says John Bonitz, who does farm outreach and policy advocacy for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “Our hope is that we will be building new biopower facilities rather than merely cofiring in coal plants. The thermochemical processes are so much better for the environment.” Concerns about the effects of burning coal have some environmental advocates suggesting that current policies, which allow cofired biomass to qualify as renewable energy, may be misguided. Cofiring is the least desirable option for earning renewable energy credits, says Josh Dickinson, executive director of the Florida Forest Management Trust. He says cofiring 2|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 35
environment ‘I hope people recognize that we are trying to do the right thing. This will allow us to transition to cleaner plants. A vote for “don’t do it” is a vote for the status quo, and that’s what we’re trying to get away from.’
new coal combustion projects will struggle for approval. David Harlos, principal scientist for Advantek Consulting Inc. in Florida, suggests that the additional costs of biomass cofiring will not help already beleaguered coal combustion projects. “Perhaps most important is the urgent need to not permit any new coal combustion without complete carbon dioxide sequestration,” he says. “New coal combustion either locks in the continued emission of fossil carbon dioxide for the life of the facility, or leads to a stranded asset if these new facilities are abandoned before their life cycle endpoints because of later carbon dioxide emissions restrictions. It is this threat,
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which we suspect has stalled new coal projects in Florida, but it seems unlikely that the addition of biomass cofiring can reverse the economic direction of this new equation. New coal boilers could not economically be fired with replacement biomass, and in most cases biomass cofiring adds capital and operating costs to already endangered projects.” Part of the struggle in permitting comes from convincing skeptics of the environmental friendliness of cofiring. It’s not a given that cofiring improves a coal plant’s environmental profile, and some critics say the practice is a form of greenwashing—especially if large utilities are allowed to claim it as renewable. Critics suggest that giving coal plants biomass credits subsidizes the plants, incentivizing them to stay open and remain dependent on coal. Other critics say that cofiring isn’t the best utilization of biomass. “The problem with cofiring biomass is that if you were burning biomass alone, you could theoretically use the residue or ash as a fertilizer because it has no toxic pollutants in it,” Dickinson says. “If you combine biomass with other fuels, such as [municipal solid waste] or coal, the whole residue becomes a pollutant.”
Cofire to Clean Coal One company intends to show that clean coal is possible through emissions control and cofiring biomass. Alliant Energy, a power company that serves Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin, has a total generation capacity of 5,894 megawatts. Coal makes up approximately half of that, while biobased sources (anaerobic digesters, biogas and switchgrass) produce just 37.45 megawatts. Alliant performed a 1,700 hour test burn of switchgrass in 2006 at its Ottumwa Generating Station in Marshalltown, Iowa, and generated 17 megawatts from the cofired biomass. The company is working to permit two cofired plants, according to Manager of Biofuels Development Bill Johnson. In Cassville, Wis., Alliant has proposed a 300 megawatt unit addition, where 10 percent of the fuel will be biomass. The other project is in Marshalltown, where Alliant hopes to build a 640 megawatt facility using 5 percent biomass. Both Iowa and Wisconsin have an RPS. Johnson tells Biomass Magazine that the state RPS regulations had an impact on the company’s business plans, but says “we’re ahead of the curve in gov-
environment ernment expectations.” Two drivers are carbon concerns and portfolio diversification. “In order to reduce our impact on the environment and provide a sustainable supply of electricity, we have to look at a wide array of renewables in our portfolio,” he says. “Adding to the fleet the capability to burn biofuels in baseload coal plants is an excellent addition and an excellent way to impact the environment. Currently, about 465 megawatts of our portfolio is renewables, and we see the potential to be much higher through the addition of wind and the use of biofuels in our coal plants.” Of course, meeting the energy demand of its customers was one of the greatest incentives for Alliant to develop these projects. “We need new baseload capacity in Wisconsin and Iowa,” Johnson says. Alliant sees 3 percent annual growth in energy demand, and Johnson that’s with aggressive conservation programs. “As much as you can deploy on renewables, there’s still a demand on the system,” he says. For
example, ethanol plants in production or under construction within Alliant’s service area demand 350 megawatts, which is more than the Cassville project will produce once upgraded. Finally, Johnson explains that the old plants needed to be replaced with new emissions technology. “The old plant will be upgraded with new combustion and emission system controls,” he says of the project in Cassville. “The old stack will no longer be used, and all emissions will be treated in the new plant and go out the [other] stack. The emission reductions we project from [this project] after we upgrade the old plant (200 megawatts), add an additional 300 megawatts, and burn biofuel at the 10 percent level in the new plant are a 55 percent reduction in nitrogen oxides, 90 percent reduction in sulfur dioxide and 25 percent reduction in mercury from current levels. Therefore, we will achieve these reductions when we are generating 500 megawatts compared with the existing plant at 200 megawatts.” These emissions reductions are why Johnson says the projects have had support from many environmental groups. “You’ll find most environmental groups we worked with recognize this is a good
direction to go and a good start,” he says. “We need to be able to provide technologies to replace older, inefficient and less clean technologies.” Alliant will spend 2008 in permitting hearings and providing testimony. If the company is successful, both plants will be built and ready to produce power in 2013. Johnson says the plants would start burning biomass within months of commissioning, with the goal of reaching the 5 percent and 10 percent levels, respectively, within the first year of operation. To get to that point, Alliant must convince commissions that this is indeed good economics and good for the environment. “I hope people recognize that we are trying to do the right thing,” he says. “This will allow us to transition to cleaner plants. A vote for ‘don’t do it’ is a vote for the status quo, and that’s what we’re trying to get away from.” BIO Anduin Kirkbride McElroy is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. Reach her at amcelroy @bbibiofuels.com or (701) 738-4962.
2|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 37
Feedstock availability, consistency and the hype surrounding alternative fuels are all challenges to the development of waste-to-energy projects. By Jessica Ebert
38 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 2|2008
2|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 39
dance then you might as well not embarrass yourself.” The cooperative, which is made up of more than 400 farmers, is just now stepping out on the renewable energy dance floor with a flexible business model betting it will garner admiration rather than embarrassment. Show Me Energy has its origins in west-central Missouri where a group of farmers and producers with a vision of using cellulose for energy production began meeting monthly until 2004 when they officially organized under the state’s New Generation Cooperative law. At that time, the group sanctioned a feasibility study,
which in turn determined that the model the group envisioned would be a good fit for producers in western Missouri and eastern Kansas. “Missouri was a prime state because we have all these dichotomies of scale,” says Flick, a seed-company owner and farmer who will be planting six acres of miscanthus this spring. “We have corn farmers in the north, grass-seed farmers in the south, wheat farmers in the west and soybean farmers in the central part of the state. It’s a really good fit.” At the center of the cooperative’s model is technology developed in-house that converts agricultural residues into bio-
PHOTO: CHUCK LIMACH, SHOW ME ENERGY COOPERATIVE
ny conversation about the challenges of converting waste into energy regardless of the source of the feedstock whether agricultural or industrial, and regardless of the end products—solid or liquid fuel or electricity—comes down to an issue of feedstock availability. “I don’t care what technology you have. If you don’t have the feedstocks you don’t have anything,” says Steve Flick, a Missouri farmer and chairman of the Show Me Energy Cooperative board of directors. “We say it’s like having the prettiest girl ask you to the dance. If you can’t
Show Me Energy Cooperative’s Centerview, Mo., plant
40 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 2|2008
feedstock mass fuel pellets. The farmers who invest in the cooperative sign a market agreement committing them to produce a certain amount of biomass each year. In addition, co-op members must adhere to high standards of environmental stewardship, Flick says. For corn stover, producers must leave about 30 percent of the residue on their fields. For native grasses, farmers must harvest in the late fall after a killing frost and leave rows around waterways and tributaries. “We are adamant about making this business model not only profitable but realistically environmentally friendly,” he says. The farmers that abide by these rules collect and store the residue on their farms in round bales, which are eventually trucked to the cooperative’s new pellet-production facility in Centerview, Mo. This is the main drawback to using agricultural residues as an energy feedstock: they are bulky and transporting them becomes economically disadvantageous after a certain distance. Show Me Energy pays each farmer a certain amount per ton for residue and also pays for the hauling costs within a 100-mile radius of the plant. Farmers outside this area aren’t discouraged from participating but they must pay the transportation fee for any additional distance (anything over 100 miles). The pellet-production facility will produce 100,000 tons of biomass pellets each year. This fuel source will be cofired at a local utility; five pounds of pellets will be cofired with every 100 pounds of coal burned. But that’s just phase one of the cooperative’s vision. In phase two, Show Me Energy has teamed with Clean Energy Technologies LLC, a Black and Veatch Corp. company, to build a biomass-to-liquid fuel facility next door to the Centerview plant. This second plant would demonstrate the gasification of biomass pellets for the production of liquid fuels such as ethanol, methanol, synthetic diesel, aviation or other fuels. The team is currently waiting to hear how they fared on a U.S. DOE grant application before moving forward with the project.
Flick hopes other producer groups will embrace the basic tenets of the co-op: sustainability, flexibility and availability. “We’ve always felt that our model is a very economically adaptable model because it’s the farmers who work really hard to make it work,” he says. “It’s better than the ‘contract-production’ model that some people have been deciding to do, where they go out and have a technology and contract the feedstock. We feed the cow [the cooperative] with homegrown energy produced on local farms.”
Feedstocks that Fit Another way to think about this is: use a feedstock that makes sense for your locale and process. For rural producers like those of Show Me Energy, that’s agricultural residues. For those in urban settings, a more fitting feedstock is industrial waste, which could take the form of plastic, rubber, process heat, municipal solid waste or food processing debris. These are the feedstocks targeted by Changing World Technologies Inc., a New-
2|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 41
Changing World Technologies’ TCP process SOURCE: CHANGING WORLD TECHNOLOGIES INC.
York based technology developer that aims to identify and commercialize energy-efficient and eco-friendly emerging technologies. The company’s thermal conversion process technology converts wastes ranging from mixed plastics to post-consumer tires,
42 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 2|2008
food processing waste and municipal solid waste, to solids, renewable diesel and specialty chemicals. In terms of agricultural residues, the company has done some work with manure and corn stover and a combination of those
types of wastes. The company hasn’t finished any kind of demonstration plant design for that material because it’s been focusing on food processing wastes. However, it has generated lots of good data and it will be something they will build on in
feedstock the future, says Brian Appel, chairman and chief executive officer of CWT. The key will be finding a “champion” to shepherd the projects forward. Appel points to the company’s success in processing food wastes to define what he means by a champion. “When we developed the food processing technology, ConAgra Foods was one of the larger food slaughter houses in the world and they aggressively were trying to find an alternative to feeding animals back to animals,” Appel explains. “ConAgra was the champion. Instead of taking this nasty material and turning it back into animal feed it was diverted away from the food chain so we would minimize any transmittable diseases like BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy). BSE is more commonly known as mad cow disease. When it comes to the agricultural side of things, those champions are a little harder to find, Appel says. “A lot of these are still individual family farmers and it’s much harder to get someone who wants to be the champion of just that area. It has to be
someone who understands the big picture in agriculture and has the resources to go from pilot-plant to a commercial-demonstration facility.” In terms of industrial waste, which Appel classifies as a subset of municipal solid waste, the biggest challenge is not so much finding a champion as finding consistent feedstocks. “With municipal solid waste you never know what you’re going to get,” he says. “It’s always changing as consumer and manufacturing habits change and as efforts to recycle intensify.” To circumvent this inconsistency, CWT is working with large industrial shredder companies, also referred to as metal recyclers, to design a demonstration plant for the conversion of shredder residue to fuel. “Shredder residue is a more consistent feedstock,” Appel explains. “If you take a refrigerator or a car and send it through a giant shredder, those companies collect the metal and the glass.” The stuff leftover—plastic and rubber from the tires or the hoses under the hood, or the vinyl seats and the
stuffing in the cushions—that’s the material that CWT is focusing on because it’s more identifiable, he says. In addition to identifying a consistent source of feedstock, another challenge to overcome is the hype, Appel says. “Alternative fuels have been hyped worldwide. One of the biggest challenges that we’ve had is coming behind other additives and other alternative fuels,” he says. Therefore, fixed-energy markets are the first target for CWT. “We’ve been a proponent of making fixed energy as the place to learn how to use these fuels because it’s a logical progression to then go into transportation.” BIO
Jessica Ebert is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (701) 738-4962.
2|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 43
44 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 2|2008
Straw Tiger Chinese farmers could earn more money by cutting their country’s coal consumption. Straw residues from agricultural production are becoming an appealing feedstock for cofiring in power plants. By Marianne Osterkorn
handong, a province of Eastern China, is richly endowed. Three new nuclear power plants are planned for the province, while China Light and Power, a major Hong Kong-based energy company, owns a wind farm and numerous coal-fired power stations in the area and is planning more. In 2004, 1,500 of the province’s farms
accounted for 25 percent of the entire nation’s exports of grain, fruit, vegetables and other agricultural produce grown over 4.9 million acres. Some of those farms could find themselves selling their waste product to power stations if the country’s first dedicated biomass plant starts operating soon, as hoped. Like most of the rest of the country, Shandong is a beehive that wants to buzz more.
The claims and statements made in this article belong exclusively to the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Biomass Magazine or its advertisers. All questions pertaining to this article should be directed to the author(s).
2|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 45
PHOTO: CENTER FOR RENEWABLE ENERGY DEVELOPMENT
China’s agricultural industry produces a massive amount of residue, which could be used to cofire power plants.
Examples of cofiring, which can be a cheaper solution than straight fossil fuels, exist in just a few provinces, and only in Shandong province has a cofired plant been supported financially by the provincial government.
Some government officials and environmentalists, alarmed by this rapid growth, are seeking to add another ingredient to this hyper-activity: straw. Straw is already used locally for paper making but it could instead be blown into the furnaces at coal-fired power stations, putting a brake on the nation’s fossil fuel use and creating added income for farmers. It is an idea that has already been tried and tested in Europe, the United States and other parts of the world, but which has yet to be pioneered in China. “Cofiring simply hasn’t
46 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 2|2008
really happened yet,” says Rachel Child, an executive at energy consultancy ESD, which is funded by the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership to determine a path for biomass cofiring to become a reality in China. Ironically, investment costs are lower than for many other alternatives. However, biomass cofiring has still been neglected. Dedicated biomass power has happened, and a number of these plants have sprouted across the country thanks to a preferential tariff for the power they produce. “There is an enormous amount of interest in biomass in China,” Child says. Examples of cofiring, which can be a cheaper solution than straight fossil fuels, exist in just a few provinces and only in Shandong province has a cofired plant been supported financially by the provincial government. This lack of interest is not due to a shortage of resources; straw is plentiful across the country. According to ESD’s study, carried out in conjunction with China’s Center for Renewable Energy Development, at least 77 million tons of
Biomass togo... PHOTO: CENTER FOR RENEWABLE ENERGY DEVELOPMENT
Shandong province produced more than 4.9 million acres of farmland in the past growing season, providing ample cofiring feedstocks.
Shandong 101 Like much of China, Shandong has a variety of geographic, economic and cultural variations throughout its approximately 61,000square mile region. Unlike much of interior China, it has the benefit of having its eastern edge touch the Pacific Ocean. Shandong is located in the lower reaches of the Yellow River on China’s east coast. The province’s most notable geographic feature is the Shandong Peninsula, which protrudes into the area separating the Bohai and Yellow Seas.The province’s inland areas are adjoined by the provinces of Hebei, Henan, Anhui and Jiangsu. The capital and most populous city is Jinan, which is located in the west-central region of the province. Shandong is the second most populous province in China, behind Henan. The population in 2004 was 91.8 million. Shandong ranks among the top of China’s agricultural provinces. It leads in cotton and wheat production. Other important crops include sorghum and maize. The province also has large mineral deposits including gold and diamonds. Areas of the province also feature extensive petroleum deposits, making it one of China’s most economically developed provinces. More information is available at www.shandong.gov.cn.
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energy China’s recently launched National Climate Change Program sets a target of supplying 10 percent of the country’s primary energy from renewable sources by 2010.
unused surplus straw is burned each year. In addition, large amounts currently used for fertilizer, making paper or other purposes are potentially available as feedstock for power stations.
Horizontal Integration Despite the potential feedstock source, in China the relationship between farmers and power station managers is polarized—perhaps even more extremely so than in other countries. They are not
accustomed to working together. As in other countries, it has been hard to make a new horizontal incision into the vertically integrated industrial infrastructure essential for a well-functioning biomass-to-energy industry. Power station managers operate large assets dependent on enormous bulks of coal (660 million tons) burned in 2004 supplied via a large, established network. In China, farming is a family business. In 2004, the nation produced almost as much in food crops as it burned coal—520 million tons—but most of its farms are smallholdings less than 1.2 acres in size and producing 4.4 tons of straw each. The total output of agricultural straw amounted to 750 million tons—the energy equivalent of 370 million tons of coal—and 414 million tons were available for use as energy. The number of farms dwarfs the number of coal-fired power stations, and there are just five major companies in the Chinese power sector compared to millions of farmers. Since logistical resources have been marshalled to meet the food production and export business, it follows that the same could be done for the energy business. “What it needs is a dedicated supply company handling this issue,” says Child, following ESD and CRED’s yearlong investigation. However, the supply issue is a delicate one. A poor harvest could mean a sudden fall in feedstock, and competition for straw from a new industry could raise prices.
Lower Capital Costs Not surprisingly, Shandong is the home to one of China’s first cofiring plants. It is an enterprising state and one of the country’s main producers of straw. Some aspects of adapting an existing power station to a cofiring facility are cost-effective when compared to costs of a dedicated biomass power plant. “Investment costs are pretty low for these plants,” Child says. “They
48 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 2|2008
energy need storage for the biomass, but the overall capital expenditure is much lower than building a new dedicated biomass plant of an equivalent capacity.” Smaller power stations of less than 50 megawatts capacity are easier to adapt because often they do not use pulverized fuel, and there is less of a feedstock infrastructure problem due to their size. As some of these are supposed to be closed soon by the government, ESD and CRED reckons cofiring could help extend their life, thus possibly ushering in a new cofiring or biomass culture. The future holds promise nevertheless, if only because of the breadth of the government’s vision. “China has set very ambitious targets, and there’s a growing recognition of renewable energy in the whole mix,” says CRED’s Hu Runqing. China’s recently launched National Climate Change Program sets a target of supplying 10 percent of the country’s primary energy from renewable sources by 2010. In setting this goal, the country plans to move faster than many developed economies. According to ESD and CRED, cofiring is suitable for 10 of its 30 provinces, including Shandong, because of the combination of good biomass availability and network of coal-fired power stations. As yet, cofiring plants do not enjoy the essential preferential feed-in tariff enjoyed by dedicated biomass plants, although there are plans to change this and make the preferential tariff available to cofiring plants too. A key issue is to develop a system that would monitor production and other activities in tandem with a new financial incentive. A further snag is that there are currently no cofiring projects registered by the Clean Development Mechanism Executive Board, whereas a number of projects for dedicated biomass power plants have been registered. Hence, coal-fired power stations are still unable
to claim funding through the carbon markets for any cofiring innovations at present. History has shown that when the Chinese turn their minds to something, they make enormous steps very fast and with clear plans. The odds against cofiring are stacked quite high at the moment, but a top-down decision could alter the situation very quickly. Perhaps it is only a matter of time before they acknowledge the wasted energy—and earnings opportunities—visible when
they pass farmers burning unwanted straw in the fields.BIO Dr. Marianne Osterkorn is the international director of the Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Partnership. Reach her at email@example.com or +431 26026 3425.
2|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 49
June 16 -19, 2008 Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center Nashville, Tennessee, USA
Explore the Opportunities, Experience the Technology
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International Biomass â€˜08 Conference & Trade Show is to act as a catalyst for the sustainable advancement of biomass utilization on a global scale.
The program will focus on technological advancements, commercial scale manufacturing, and near term research and development.
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Biopower Gasification Feedstock Processing Pretreatment for Cellulosic Ethanol Policy and Project Implementation Biopower: CHP Technologies International Perspectives on Biomass Utilization
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Permitting and Lifecycle Assessment Alternative Bio-syngas Production Water Issues for Biomass Utilization Feedstock Alternatives Alternative Biofuels: Biobutanol, Green Diesel, and Jet Fuel
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Feedstock Supply Commercial Applications Anaerobic Digestion Project Finance Bioproducts Biorefining
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LAB A Different Path to Biodiesel
PHOTO: UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS
n 2005, a graduate student of R.E. “Buddy” Babcock, professor of chemical engineering at the University of Arkansas, looked at the possibility of making biodiesel from low-cost, low-quality feedstocks. That research showed that high levels of free fatty acids (FFAs) were one of the primary components that made low-quality fats unsuitable for biodiesel production by the traditional transesterification reaction. Another grad student, Brent Schulte, picked up the research and found that Japanese researchers had discovered a different way of making biodiesel using supercritical methanol. Above a certain temperature and pressure, many substances pass what is called the critical point where they can exist either as a liquid or a gas. Above this point, they become supercritical fluids that have properties of both a gas and a liquid. In particular, a supercritical fluid can dissolve another substance like a liquid and penetrate a solid like a gas. “Basically the methanol molecules are just in better contact [with the fatty acids] because they are in a single phase,” Babcock explains. “It is a homogeneous—rather than a heterogeneous—reaction, so there is no need for a catalyst. If you go into a single phase, it is just easier for the reactants to convert into biodiesel.” Fats aren’t very soluble in methanol, which is one of the reasons that caustic catalysts like sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide are needed to speed up the transesterification reaction. One of the advantages of supercritical fluids is that carefully making small adjustments to the temperature and pressure conditions of the reactor has large effects on the properties of the supercritical fluid. Babcock and Schulte found that of the conditions they tested, a pressure of 1,650 pounds per square inch and a temperature of 325 degrees Celsius (617 degrees Fahrenheit) produced a reaction that transformed the fats into biodiesel quickly and completely. Another reason supercritical methanol may be a good choice for future biodiesel production is that it does a good job converting FFAs to biodiesel. In fact, Babcock says, the reaction works even better with FFAs than with triglycerides. “This method prefers the free fatty acids, so that’s not a problem,” he says. In one set of experiments, Schulte reacted tall oil fatty acids (TOFA) with supercritical methanol. Tall oil is a byproduct of the pulp and paper industry that can be distilled to make TOFA, a mixture of nearly pure FFAs. Compared with the low-quality chicken fat, which had an FFA level of up to 12 percent, the TOFA needed just half as much methanol by weight to achieve similar yields of biodiesel. The downside to using TOFA is that it isn’t much cheaper than soybean oil at this time. “Right
Tall oil fatty acid, a byproduct of the pulp industry, is a potential feedstock for biodiesel that can't be converted using traditional transesterification because of high levels of free fatty acids. However, work at the University of Arkansas could make this—and other low-value feedstocks such as brown grease—ideal biodiesel feedstocks.
now, a gallon of TOFA is about the same price as a gallon of diesel,” Babcock says. “However, it is price-competitive with some of the other feedstocks. If we get enough of these feedstocks, maybe it will give some relief to the price pressure on the industry.” Crude tall oil is cheaper. However, crude tall oil contains 30 percent to 45 percent resin acids, which don’t react with methanol in this method and can’t be made into acceptable biodiesel. However, Babcock says this method shows a lot of promise for economically converting many low-quality feedstocks, including brown and trap grease, into biodiesel. Another possible avenue for future research will be looking for ways to use crude tall oil for biodiesel production. BIO —Jerry W. Kram
2|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 55
Designing for the Need: Effective Biomass Gasification
s more and more industries, manufacturers and municipalities look for ways to utilize biomass residues for energy, the Energy & Environmental Research Center is developing distributed gasification technologies as a means for conversion of biomass to fuels, chemicals and electricity. Several small gasifier systems have been tested with good success on a variety of biomass feedstocks, including wood, grass seed residue, switchgrass and sewage materials. The concept involves first converting the biomass to a synthetic gas, which is cooled and then cleaned. The gas can then be fired in a generator to produce electric power or used as a feedstock gas for liquid fuels or chemicals. Most of the systems developed to date are distributed energy systems of 50 to 300 kilowatts of electricity in size. In many instances where an industry or municipality has ample biomass residue, the process residues produced can offset 100 percent of the power used in local industrial or manufacturing operations. The residues produced at the plant are typically disposed of at a cost. The technology provides a means to use the material and benefit from the renewable energy product. Such projects can be thought of as a way to provide a fuel other than natural gas to an engine generator. The gasifier is a means to produce a usable fuel from biomass. Advances Schmidt in gasification system design, operation and automation, although somewhat complex, have simplified things so that an operator primarily performs gas filter changes, ash collection and filling of a fuel bin. What is significant about the technology with regard to biomass energy is the synergistic fit with typical biomass resources. Biomass, in general, is widely available as a resource. The most economical quantities of the material are located at specific sites in relatively low volume. The challenge has been to provide a distributed energy technology that can produce electricity at near-grid electricity prices. The EERC is developing gasification technologies that package power economically in a distributed power production scenario, as opposed to a large centralized power station scenario. The EERC is working with commercial partners to provide not simply a hardware solution, but also a business solution. Because new products in the marketplace can face challenges, the business strategy of the EERC is to integrate for the customer the financial and operational benefits of small-scale biopower generation, which will allow development and confidence to sustain future business. The pathway forward provides a sustainable integration of new renewable energy to the marketplace. Additional projects are planned over the next year, and all projects will support segments of the EERCâ€™s biomass gasification technology platform, which has a goal of moving technologies forward to stand-alone commercial operations within three years. Gasification technologies will, we hope, bring the economics of small-scale power generation within reach of commercial businesses attempting to find more attractive options for managing process residues. BIO Darren Schmidt is a research manager at the EERC in Grand Forks, N.D. Reach him at email@example.com or (701) 777-5120.
2|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 57
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February 2008 Biomass Magazine