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February 2015

Dedicated to Change University of Iowa’s CoďŹ ring Plans Create Market Opportunities For Local Energy Crop Growers Page 10


Codigesting Energy Perennials Page 24


OEMs Discuss Energy Crop R&D Efforts

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Hazlehurst, Georgia, USA

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04 EDITOR’S NOTE Taking Root


By Tim Portz

09 COLUMN Biomass, Oil and Gas


By Bob Cleaves

10 FEATURE Pioneering Perennials in Iowa Soil


As the University of Iowa looks to cofire dedicated energy crops at its on-campus power station, farmer recruitment and education efforts ramp up. By Katie Fletcher

PELLETS 16 NEWS 17 COLUMN Handwriting on the Wall By Bill Bell

18 CONTRIBUTION Invasive Plants as Pellet Feedstock


A research project in Michigan explores the practicality of densifying invasive species as a means of funding their removal. By Gregory Zimmerman

THERMAL 20 NEWS 21 COLUMN Legal Issues for Biomass Thermal Offtake Contracts By Todd Taylor



23 COLUMN Data and Tools to Better Evaluate Biogas Potential By Amanda Bilek

24 DEPARTMENT Grass to Gas As deployment of anaerobic digesters accelerates, researchers explore ways dedicated energy crops can maximize biogas production. By Katie Fletcher

ADVANCED BIOFUELS & CHEMICALS 28 NEWS 29 COLUMN Low Oil Price Won’t Put the Brakes on Biomass Future By Matt Carr


The CHP plant at the University of Iowa has been cofiring oat hulls since 2003, and energy crops may soon be added to the mix.

30 FEATURE Dangerously Smart Farm Boys Implement OEMs discuss how they are working to ensure that when demand for dedicated energy crops reaches growers, they stand ready with the necessary equipment. By Tim Portz




Taking Root


There are 328,672 acres of farmland in Johnson County, Iowa, and just 28 of those acres are now being actively managed for energy crop production. Compared to the 136,000 acres planted to corn, these 28 acres hardly seem worth a mention. Still, Katie Fletcher’s page-10 feature, “Pioneering Perennials in Iowa Soil,” clearly establishes TIM PORTZ VICE PRESIDENT OF CONTENT that two of the state’s public universities are & EXECUTIVE EDITOR working diligently to determine a pathway to these crop’s economic viability. In a county with historical corn yields around 170 bushels per acre, it is fair to wonder why any farmer would deviate from a traditional corn/soybean rotation. Fletcher talked to Steve Schomberg, the first grower successfully recruited by the University of Iowa to grow miscanthus as the university looks to cofire intentionally grown biomass in its campus power station. “I’m always looking to diversify our portfolio of crops,” he said. “I think it has a great future, and as a landowner and farmer you don’t want to put all of your eggs in one basket.” While introducing miscanthus to his operation has diversified Schomberg’s farm, the end markets available for the biomass tonnage he will harvest from the stand are anything but diversified. For now, the university is the only likely buyer, and because of this must lease Schomberg’s acres and hire him to plant and care for the crop as it gets established. For dedicated energy crops to really gain momentum, more uses for the resultant biomass must continue to be identified and perfected. Reassuringly, research continues in nearly every sector of the biomass industry to make use of the yield advantages offered by dedicated energy crops. Fletcher’s page-24, “Grass to Gas,” article outlines the University of Guelph’s work on codigesting energy crops with manure in anaerobic digesters, and a page-18 contribution from Lake Superior State University’s Greg Zimmerman outlines the research being done on the notion of pelletizing reed canary grass. In Zimmerman’s case, reed canary grass is decidedly an unintentionally grown crop, and converting it into a source of thermal energy may serve as a means of funding its control. Finally, as I discovered writing my page-30 feature, “Dangerously Smart Farm Boys,” implement and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) aren’t waiting for markets to develop. Quite simply, they can’t. Instead, both OEMs I interviewed reported robust and active R&D efforts in energy crop cultivation and harvest equipment so that when dozens of acres become tens of thousands, they’ll be ready.

NEWS EDITOR Erin Voegele STAFF WRITER Katie Fletcher COPY EDITOR Jan Tellmann

ART ART DIRECTOR Jaci Satterlund GRAPHIC DESIGNER Elizabeth Burslie


EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBERS Chris Sharron, Western Oregon Wood Products Amanda Bilek, Great Plains Institute Stacy Cook, Koda Energy Ben Anderson, University of Iowa Justin Price, Evergreen Engineering Adam Sherman, Biomass Energy Resource Center

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Valmet adds executive Bertel Karlstedt has been appointed president of the pulp and energy business line at Valmet Corp. He most recently served as president and CEO of NordKarlstedt kalk Corp. and previously held positions at Valmet and Metso. The AVA Group adds industry expert The AVA Group, a Switzerlandbased biotechnology company that offers solutions for the sustainable use of sewage and other biomass, has welcomed Krawielitzki Stefan Krawielitzki to its team as an organic chemistry expert. Krawielitzki led Synthon for four years and previously served as head of research and development and deputy head of analytics at the EhrenstorferSchäfers’ laboratory. He also recently served as manager of business development at Aurigon Life Science GmbH, where he was responsible for advising clients in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries. Gainesville Renewable Energy Center achieves FSC certification The Gainesville Renewable Energy Center, a 102.5-MW power facility located in Gainesville, Florida, has received certification from the Forest Stewardship Council, affirming that GREC’s purchase procedures for its waste wood fuels conform to the FSC chain of custody standard. The certification assessment was conducted by SCS Global Services. Brookfield Renewable to acquire bioenergy capacity in Brazil Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners LP has announced an agreement to acquire a 488-MW multi-technology renewable portfolio in Brazil from Energisa S.A. that 6 BIOMASS MAGAZINE | FEBRUARY 2015

includes 175 MW of biomass capacity. The acquisition will be funded through available capital from Brookfield Renewable and its institutional partners. The transaction is subject to regulatory approvals and other customary closing conditions and is expected to close in the first quarter of this year.

Siemens awarded reaccreditation from IACET The International Association for Continuing Education and Training has awarded reaccreditation status to Siemens. IACET authorized providers are the only organizations approved to offer IACET continuing education units. The accreditation period extends for five years, and includes all programs offered or created during that time. Amyris appoints chief financial officer Amyris Inc. has appointed Raffi Asadorian as the company’s chief financial officer. Prior to joining Amyris, Asadorian served as chief financial officer at Unilabs, a private equity-owned medical diagnostics company based in Switzerland. He previously held a senior executive finance role at Barr Pharmaceuticals and was a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers in its transactions services group. Paulo Diniz, who previously served as interim chief financial officer of Amyris, will transition to a new role as chairman of Amyris Brasil. Diniz

Rentech names new leadership Rentech Inc. has announced that D. Hunt Ramsbottom has resigned as CEO and president of Rentech and CEO of the general partner of Rentech Nitrogen Partners LP to pursue other opportunities. Ramsbottom has also resigned as a member of the board of directors for both companies. Keith Forman, a member of Rentech Nitrogen’s board

since October 2011, has been appointed as CEO and president of Rentech and CEO of the general partner of Rentech Nitrogen. He has also joined the board of Rentech. Forman has a background in master limited partnerships. He previously served as chief financial officer of Crestwood Midstream Partners LP. He also served as senior vice president for El Paso Corp., and chief financial officer of GulfTerra Energy Partners LP. Forman currently serves on the board of Capital Product Partners LP. Enel adds biomass capacity to existing geothermal plant Enel Green Power has started construction at the Cornia 2 geothermal power plant in Castelnuovo Val di Cecina, Italy. The facility will use biomass to heat geothermal steam in order to increase the energy efficiency and electricity output of the geothermal cycle. The existing geothermal plant will be supplemented by a small plant powered with locally sourced virgin forest biomass. According to the company, 5 MW of capacity from biomass will be added to a geothermal plant that currently has an installed capacity of 13 MW. The geothermal plant’s annual power output will be boosted by approximately 37 GWh. ASU professor recognized Several of Arizona State University’s faculty members were recently appointed university professors, including Roy Curtiss, a professor in the School of Life Curtiss Sciences and the director of the Centers for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology and Microbial Genetic Engineering in the Biodesign Institute. His research uses microbial genetic manipulation to address problems of global concern. Some of his recent research emphasizes the design and construction of cyanobacterial strains to maximize production of biofuels and biofuel precursors.


Drax appoints executive Drax Group plc has announced the appointment of Philip Cox as a nonexecutive director and chairman designate, effective Jan. 1. He will succeed Charles Berry as chairman following his previously announced retirement, scheduled for April. Cox previously served as CEO of International Power, where he led the growth and development of a substantial global power generation business. Fecon launches new website Fecon Inc. has launched a new website. New Features include a customizable bull hog rotor module that allows the user to build and display three different rotor options and nine different tooling options, then choose the combination that fits their application best. The new “compare” section shows specifications of the different tracked carriers and attachment products, side by side, helping the user find the exact model they are looking for. In addition, product lines have been broken down into more user friendly categories to help the customer quickly find the product information they need. Alaska CHP project to feature cofiring capability The University of Alaska-Fairbanks has selected Stanley Consultants to design a new combined heat and power (CHP) plant. The facility will use two circulating fluidized-bed boilers to provide up to 280,000 pounds per hour of steam to heat both the Fairbanks campus and produce up to 22 MW of electric power using a steam turbine. It will be located adjacent to the existing coal-fired Ben Atkinson Heat and Power Plant and work in conjunction with it. The facility will be fueled by coal and have the ability to utilize up to 15 percent biomass. The efficient new boilers will result in a marked decrease in regulated emissions including a significant drop in particulates. Cardia Bioplastics announces new patents Cardia Bioplastics Ltd. has secured patent protection for its Cardia Compostable, Biohybrid and PPC-starch resin and finished products from Japan, Australia, New Zealand and China patent and trademark offices.

Seven new patents were granted during 2014 for Cardia’s bioplastics resin formulations and production processes. These new patents expand Cardia Bioplastics growing intellectual property portfolio of 11 patent families, with 19 patents so far granted in U.S., Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and South Africa. The patents protect the composition formulation and manufacturing process invented by Cardia’s research and development team. Viridis subsidiary renews agreement with Ekman Viridis Energy Inc. has announced its subsidiary, Scotia Atlantic Biomass Co., has renewed its distribution agreement with Ekman & Co AB. for an additional three-year period. Ekman has served as Scotia Atlantic’s worldwide agent, to arrange short-term and multiyear offtake agreements for its industrial wood pellet production, with European power generators that cofire with wood pellets or have fully converted to biomass. The renewal agreement provides for volume discounts on commissions and fees and expanded volumes in Nova Scotia.

Global Bioenergies produces biochemicals via fermentation Global Bioenergies has announced it succeeded in producing biosourced propylene by direct fermentation. According to the company, it created a proprietary prototype strain able to convert glucose into propylene at laboratory scale. The company also recently announced it succeeded in producing biosourced butadiene via direct fermentation. Schutte-Buffalo Hammermill under new ownership Martin Berardi has acquired SchutteBuffalo Hammermill. Berardi, the incoming CEO, is a recent retiree from Moog Inc., where he served in a variety of roles over 34 years. Ownership of the company has transferred from Thomas Warne and James Guarino, who purchased the company in 2004 following a merger with Buffalo Hammermill Corp.

Ceres adds board member Ceres Inc. has announced that Aflalo Guimaraes joined its board of directors. He succeeds Raymond Debbane, who retired from the board. Aflalo Guimaraes is a managing director of The Invus Group LLC, an affiliate of Artal Luxembourg S.A. Prior to joining Invus in 1998, he was a manager at Marakon Associates. He also previously worked in the U.S. Federal Reserve.

GTI joins ABO The Algae Biomass Organization has announced the Gas Technology Institute has joined the organization as a new corporate member. Based in Des Plaines, Illinois, GTI is a leading research, development and training organization that has been addressing the nation’s energy and environmental challenges by developing technology-based solutions for consumers, industry, and government for more than 70 years. The company has a long record of supporting the development and deployment of biomass conversion technologies for biofuels and other applications. NuState announces carbon credit capture application NuState Energy Holdings Inc. has developed a carbon credit capture application to enhance its portfolio of the Global Asset Tracking solution GPSTrax. This new product will validate, compile, certify and present for trade the carbon credits available from the clean energy projects the company has identified. These include projects in biomass, hydropower, solar and wind all across the globe. SHARE YOUR INDUSTRY NEWS: To be included in the Business Briefs, send information (including photos and logos, if available) to Business Briefs, Biomass Magazine, 308 Second Ave. N., Suite 304, Grand Forks, ND 58203. You may also email information to Please include your name and telephone number in all correspondence.



Biomass power statistics from 2012 Economic Census SOURCE: U.S. CENSUS BUREAU

$77,551 $567,000 PAYROLL / EMPLOYEE

105 15.7






$935 M $8.9 M $128 M $3 REVENUE





$2.99 M



Census Bureau releases biomass power data

Low Power Consumption Highest Energy Density Proven Reliability Low Maintenance

Lowest cost

firelogs and pucks


The U.S. Census Bureau recently released new economic census statistics on renewable energy, reporting that revenues for electric power generation industries that use renewable energy resources increased 49 percent in recent years, from $6.6 billion in 2007 to $9.8 billion in 2012. Biomass is one of four newly delineated industries addressed by the Census Bureau in 2012. The 2007 Economic Census included wind, geothermal, biomass, and solar electric power under the broad “other electric power generation” indus-

try, under NAICS code 221119. By the 2012 Economic Census, those industries had been broken out separately, with the “other electric power generation” industry limited to only tidal electric power generation and other electric power generation facilities not elsewhere classified. Under the new categorization system, biomass is now listed under NAICS code 221117. The Census Bureau reports biomass power generation achieved $934.6 million in revenues according to the 2012 Economic Census.

USDA publishes final REAP rule In late December, the USDA published a final rule for the Rural Energy for America Program. The program, which was established by the 2008 Farm Bill and reauthorized by the 2014 Farm Bill, provides financial assistance to agricultural producers and rural small businesses to purchase, install and construct renewable energy systems. The program also supports energy efficiency improvements and energy audits. The final rule modifies REAP based on comments received on the interim rule, which was published in April 2011,

and the proposed rule, published two years later in April 2013. Within the rule, the USDA’s Rural Businesses Cooperative Service estimates 1,393 total REAP awards will be made during a typical fiscal year, with more than a third of those awards supporting renewable energy systems (RES). Most of the RES awards are expected to be associated with solar, followed by wind and biomass projects. Bioenergy and anaerobic digestion projects are among those eligible for the program.


Biomass, Oil and Gas BY BOB CLEAVES

Is Washington capable of change? Historically (and understandably), the oil and gas lobby has been, well, all about oil and gas. However, there are some signs that this could be changing in favor of an “all of the above” policy that recognizes the role that renewable energy sources play. The signs of change were on full display last week at American Petroleum Institute’s State of American Energy summit. At a well-attended lunch, the oil-and-gas association launched its annual report on the role of oil and gas in American energy. Only this time, the report devoted about 40 percent of its 50 pages (according to the news outlet Associations Now) to analysis of renewable energy sources and their future in American energy policy. At the invitation of API, Biomass Power Association contributed its own chapter to the report, along with other renewable energy trade associations. “Rather than focus solely on the oil and natural gas industry, API this year is pleased to partner with organizations representing various energy sectors to highlight the contributions of each toward America’s current and future economic well-being, and collectively stress the importance of adopting a lasting ‘all of the above’ energy strategy,” API’s President and CEO, Jack Gerard, wrote in the introduction to the State of American Energy 2015 report. This was an interesting development for the biomass sector. Not only is it significant that biomass is recognized as one of the foremost, essential energy sources in a report like API’s—a nod that may not have occurred as recently as a couple of years ago. But the report also shows that we stack up well when compared to other energy sources, both renewable and fossil.

Interestingly, rather than simply competing with traditional energy sources, biomass can also benefit, particularly when the result is more affordable transportation fuels. Probably more than any other renewable form of energy, biomass benefits favorably from lower priced transportation fuels. The reason is that, unlike other renewables, biomass generators pay for fuel, and a significant component of that expense is transporting the fuel from forests and farms to an energy facility. In fact, recent studies have shown that for every $1.00 a gallon increase in diesel, the average cost of wood increases $4.20 a ton. By bringing cheaper natural gas into the market, the shale gas revolution introduced the prospect of converting diesel to compressed natural gas (CNG)—an attractive idea given that CNG, on a gasoline gallon equivalent, is $1.61. But to everyone’s surprise, advances in natural gas exploration not only yield domestic, affordable natural gas, but significantly cheaper petroleum, at least for now. The dramatic drop in diesel has had an immediate and positive effect on the economics of biomass fuel deliveries. As an industry, we can’t claim to be an entirely domestic, homegrown energy source if our fuel suppliers are forced to rely on foreign oil producers. Thankfully, diesel and natural gas used for transporting our fuels are now as homegrown as the electricity we produce. The success of the domestic oil and gas industry becomes our success. And that’s a good thing. Author: Bob Cleaves President and CEO, Biomass Power Association



PIONEERING PERENNIALS IN IOWA SOIL The University of Iowa is searching for the right biomass feedstock to cofire with coal at its power plant, and miscanthus is one option a few early adopters are testing. BY KATIE FLETCHER


rops take time to establish. Not only do proper planting and harvesting practices need instituting, but an end market must exist. Southeast-Asia originated Miscanthus × giganteus serves as one among a variety of energy crops studied in Iowa. Over the past few years, two miscanthus test plots have been planted in Iowa; 12 acres in the spring of 2013 in Muscatine County, and another 16 acres near Iowa City the following spring. Now with planting protocol explored at both sites, the initial harvest of the 2013 test plot is just around the corner. The harvested miscanthus will be one of several options cofired with coal in two solid-fuel boilers at the university, in an effort to reach its 40 percent renewable energy commitment by 2020. The university has provided the end market for the first two growers to participate in its biomass fuel project. Although preliminary efforts have revealed substantial data on miscanthus, more research and test runs must be done before outreach to a few early adopters turns into a mass-marketing effort.


Early Adopters Growing miscanthus is not a pioneering operation everywhere. Europe has been planting the crop since the 1980s, primarily for combustion in power plants. In the continental U.S. South, farmers grow the perennial for a poultry-bedding end market. A few other states have grown miscanthus, but, overall, miscanthus is in its early stages in the U.S., and only a few early adopters have begun looking into incorporating it, and other perennials and grasslands, into farming operations. “I’m always looking to diversify our portfolio of crops,” says Steve Schomberg, the first grower participating in the biomass fuel project in 2013. “I think it has a great future, as a landowner and farmer you don’t want to put all of your eggs in one basket.” This is perhaps why over coffee with a friend Schomberg’s ears perked up when he heard about UI’s project. Another Iowa grower followed in 2014. “The concept of growing fuel is pretty interesting,” says Dan Black, owner of the 2014 pilot plot. These two growers knocked on the university’s door, and are now helping spread

the word to others interested in leasing sections of land for the project’s purpose. “We want to have 2,500 acres in production to support our 2020 goal,” says Ferman Milster, principal engineer of renewables at UI. “We’re going to be ramping up 200 acres this coming year, and then much more than that in the years to come.” As a predominantly liberal arts and sci-


ences school, UI turned to the agricultural expertise of Iowa State University for support. This is when Emily Heaton, assistant professor and extension biomass specialist at ISU, got involved. “It’s a fantastic partnership,” Heaton says. “Their university is taking the risk on transitioning their power plant, and Iowa State is taking the risk on understanding the agronomic implications

of the crops they choose, trying to do all the testing for them at a research scale to understand what they should start implementing.” Both universities work together with outreach and extension to Iowa growers. “We’ve been working since 2012 to answer questions they (UI) have, and the questions of their farmers, as well as getting the word

ESTABLISHING ENERGY CROPS: Miscanthus × giganteus for the University of Iowa’s biomass project was planted with rhizomes last year using Repreve Renewables ACCU Yield System. This process results in high up-front establishment costs, but comparatively reduced costs over the lifetime of the stand. PHOTO: UNIVERSITY OF IOWA



GENERATING INTEREST: Public field days have been held on Dan Black’s farm. Repreve Renewables and the University of Iowa hosted a planting day event, and Iowa Learning Farmers hosted a field day after the miscanthus was planted. Heaton shares her knowledge with attendees at a September event. PHOTO: JERI NEAL, LEOPOLD CENTER FOR SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE

GENUINE INTEREST: As an employee at MidWestOne Bank in Iowa City, Dan Black no longer farms full-time, but his interest was piqued to plant after attending Iowa State Extension meetings on miscanthus. Now he invites coworkers, growers and others to attend field days at his test plot. PHOTO: JERI NEAL, LEOPOLD CENTER FOR SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE

out to farmers and getting more of the crop adopted in the Iowa City area,” Heaton says. Growers and the universities are optimistic they will easily obtain more land for miscanthus. “There has been quite a bit of interest bottom line; everybody is very curious,” Black says. “I’ve had quite a bit of interest—just roadside interest—the local guys talking to me about it,” Schomberg says.

Lessons Learned

PIONEER PLANTER: Steve Schomberg’s plot was planted in the spring of 2013, and this picture features fall 2014 miscanthus growth. The plot will be harvested in late winter or early spring this year. PHOTO: JIM JACOBUS


All involved with the project work closely with one another through each step, but UI is bearing a majority of the risk. UI leases the land from both Schomberg and Black, and then turns around and hires them to manage the plot while it pays for the planting cost, field preparation, time and labor. “There is not a lot of risk for me on my side of this deal because they’ve taken on so much of the risk, and so much of the responsibility of getting the crop in,” Black says. UI issued a request for proposals for the planting both years. In 2013, New Energy Farms was chosen, and in 2014 Repreve Renewables was selected. Miscanthus does not produce a harvestable yield during the first year of growth. Usually the first harvest occurs in late winter or early spring after the second growing season. Schomberg’s

test plot was planted during adverse circumstances, but is scheduled to be harvested during that time frame based on snow cover and climate. “It was really a combination of the late planting, which stressed the rhizomes, and then the drought, which stressed them, and then the extremely long winter we had, which provided further stress,” Milster says. “Out of the planted acres, three acres did survive and look very good.” Heaton expects the acreage to yield 8 to 10 tons per acre on average once the miscanthus is fully matured, which takes about three years. Heaton compares miscanthus to children; they are expensive to have, and the first few years of upbringing are critical. “We generally talk about miscanthus as being a very low-input crop, and that’s true especially when you look at it over a 20- to 30- year lifespan of the crop, but you don’t want to mess around in those first few years,” Heaton says. “It’s an expensive crop to plant, just like kids are expensive to have, so we do recommend diligent management in the first two years. Like children, if you do a poor job in its juvenile phase, it will never recover.” Although miscanthus can flourish on marginal land, the soil needs proper preparation. Both primary and secondary tillage is needed to loosen the dirt enough to dig


Your global equipment supplier for the biomass industry END MARKET: The University of Iowa’s main power plant currently cofires oat hulls with coal in two boilers generating 170,000 pounds an hour at 750 degrees Fahrenheit, 500-pound force per square inch gauge. Miscanthus and other ready-to-burn biomass are being explored as cofiring options. PHOTO: UNIVERSITY OF IOWA

trenches for the rhizomes. “One of the secrets to a successful establishment, to effective planting, is field prep,” Milster says. “In both cases, we really had to put extra effort in to prepare the soil.” Rhizome planting is based on potato planting. Black says the planter used by Repreve, in essence, has the bones of a potato planter, but is highly modified to plant the rhizomes.

When Miscanthus Makes Sense Miscanthus must be carefully planted, but after it is established little upkeep is required. Heaton and others at ISU are working with farmers to understand when utilizing the benefits of miscanthus, prairie and other grasslands could make sense to a grower, not only environmentally, but also economically. “Our vision at Iowa State and the University of Iowa is to have a suite of perennials integrated into the crop landscape,” Heaton says. “The reason I would include miscanthus in a diversified crop portfolio in the Midwest is really pretty straightforward: its yield.” Heaton and others at ISU are trying to identify at a subfield scale where a grower should integrate perennials, like miscanthus, to improve profitability of corn in Iowa. “I would like to see 15 percent of land in Iowa fields transitioned to perennials, and I’d like

to see those perennials be a diverse portfolio,” Heaton says. “It wouldn’t take much miscanthus to make a meaningful difference to our energy needs in the state.” Heaton says landscape management is analogous to healthcare, in a sense. Imagine if you could identify all the smokers in a population. Heaton asks, “Would you want to insure them at the same rate, with the same premiums that you are insuring a healthier portion of the population?” Heaton, as many others posed that question, says probably not. “What we’re considering here is that we finally have data that allows us to ask the same question for parts of land,” Heaton says. “We don’t want to invest the same resources, either insurance resources from a taxpayer or actual farm input from a farmer, on areas of land that are not going to respond, not going to be profitable, not going to produce grain, etc.” Miscanthus × giganteus, the sterile type of miscanthus UI and ISU are using, is an attractive option for a few reasons. It is unable to produce seed, so this helps to avoid unintended movement of the crop from planted areas. Further, the perennial can help manage poorly drained fields and underperforming areas. Miscanthus also helps mitigate soil and other nutrients from water. “Planting dedicated energy crops is the

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PERENNIAL POWER: Emily Heaton, Iowa State University biomass extension specialist, says miscanthus is the highest yielding perennial crop option per unit input in the upper Midwest. Sugar cane rises to the top of high-yielding crops, although since it doesn’t grow in the Midwest, its relative miscanthus can be planted for its high yields.

COFIRING: Miscanthus is being tested in a densified pellet form for cofiring with coal in the University of Iowa’s boilers. In a miscanthus pellet trial burn, overall, it demonstrated higher heat input potential by densifying grasses. PHOTO: UNIVERSITY OF IOWA


single, most-effective measure you can take to help with nutrient runoff,” Milster says. This is why researchers believe miscanthus makes sense in poorly drained soils, and might be a good option to plant in lower corn suitability rating (CSR) ground where a grower would typically lose money planting other commodities. Schomberg says medium-fertility soils around 40 to 70 CSR is the range being considered for miscanthus. Black and Schomberg believe growers interested in implementing miscanthus need to both understand and think about what the right conditions are for planting miscanthus. These test plots and subsequent research are helping reach that understanding.

Establishing End Market “Anyone with the long-term investment in their land knows, they need to take care of certain portions of it differently than other portions, it is a no-brainer for them,” Heaton says. “The challenge has always been the economics, and that challenge still exists.” One problem is the lack of a crop insurance program for miscanthus. “Banks don’t understand miscanthus, so getting a loan for those early years is difficult,” Heaton says. As an extension biomass specialist, Heaton believes in the future her work could in14 BIOMASS MAGAZINE | FEBRUARY 2015

clude helping banks understand the return schedule for perennial crops. Right now the federal government’s Biomass Crop Assistance Program recognizes these crops take time to mature, but not everyone can get BCAP subsidies, according to Heaton. Programs like BCAP can help with developing markets. Milster believes miscanthus can be competitive on $5 a bushel corn, especially on marginal land, for UI’s end market. UI’s main power plant currently cofires oat hulls with coal in two boilers. The oat hulls come from a partnership with Quaker Oats in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Other ready-to-burn biomass streams under consideration, along with miscanthus, are expired corn seeds, poplar wood chips, switchgrass and reed canary grass. The university calculated prices for these options at the power plant. The prices are calculated to give an energy cost of $5 MMBtu, which is comparable to current coal costs. Miscanthus grass calculations showed that at 10 percent moisture content, it would have a heat value of 7,200 Btu per pound, yielding $72 per ton at $5 MMBtu and 113,000 tons equal to the 2020 goal. UI brings the market, removing the market risk. Other markets also exist or are emerging such as poultry bedding and feedstock for cellulosic ethanol production. “I

think the markets will come, and hopefully we can get out there and establish a protocol for growing it, and best management practices for growing it that will be replicated as the market expands,” Milster says. Since the university’s miscanthus market is in its early beginnings, “we want to work very closely with a small number of farmers to make sure every story is a success story,” Heaton says. Schomberg and Black hope that in the near future with results from their test plots they can help establish where the opportunities lie in diversifying predominantly corn and soybean Iowa cropland. “Miscanthus, any new crop like this, will take a while to establish,” Schomberg says. “There will be early adopters, like we are, and then we’ll get experience, become more efficient, become more cost-efficient. We will learn from mistakes we make so we can help people that follow in our footsteps into a better job.” Author: Katie Fletcher Staff Writer, Biomass Magazine 701-738-4920




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PelletNews Canadian pellet statistics 2010

2011 2012



Production (million tons)






Imports (million tons)






Exports (million tons)






Consumption (million tons)











Number of plants Nameplate capacity (million tons) Capacity use (percent)












Canadian pellet capacity holds steady The USDA Foreign Agricultural Service’s Global Agricultural Information Network has published an annual report on the Canadian biofuels industry that highlights the current state of the Canadian wood pellet industry. The report indicates Canada had 41 pellet plants in operation last year, with a combined nameplate capacity of 3.175 million metric tons. That capacity is unchanged from 2013. Capacity use, however, was expected to increase from

56.7 percent in 2013 to 68.7 percent last year. Canadian pellet producers exported an estimated 2 million metric tons of pellets in 2014, up from 1.64 million tons in 2013. The GAIN report indicates the province of British Columbia currently accounts for approximately 65 percent of Canadian production capacity, with Alberta, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia accounting for the remaining 35 percent of capacity.

Portucel plans South Carolina pellet plant Portugal-based Portucel S.A. has announced plans to build a 460,000-ton-per-year pellet plant in Greenwood County, South Carolina. Construction on the $110 million project is expected to begin in early 2015, with operations commencing in the third quarter of 2016. According to the South Carolina Department of Commerce, the Coordinating Council for Economic Development has approved a $150,000 grant to assist with the costs of road, site and infrastructure improvements, as well as job development credits related to the project. The facility will be located in the Emerald Road Industrial Corridor. Information released by Portucel indicates a 10-year fixed price supply contract is currently in place for approximately 70 percent of the proposed facility’s output.

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Handwriting on the Wall BY BILL BELL

“I see the handwriting on the wall” (The Staples Singers, 1978.) Incumbency proved popular among Maine voters in November. Our plain-spoken governor was returned to office with significantly more votes than when first elected four years ago. At the same time, southern Maine’s member of Congress, a stalwart member of the Progressive Caucus, easily withstood the tide that swept a Republican into the previously Democrat-held open Congressional seat in northern Maine. Gov. Paul LePage’s re-election campaign had placed considerable emphasis on reducing our state’s high energy costs, which he cites as a major barrier to bringing manufacturing jobs to our rural state. Our growing pellet industry will continue to count on the Governor’s support for biomass heat produced from Maine’s forests. The most resounding, and most expected, election victory was achieved by U.S. Senator Susan Collins, who received almost 70 percent of the vote in our decidedly “purple” state. With endorsements ranging from the trade unions at Bath Iron Works shipyard to that of fellow Sen. Angus King, who caucuses with the Democrats, Collins carried virtually every one of Maine’s nearly 500 municipalities. First elected to the Senate in 1996, Collins has never missed a recorded roll call vote and is respected as a workhorse. This work has always included attentiveness to Maine’s important forest products industry. A strong supporter of the Clean Air Act authored by Maine’s Sen. Ed Muskie four decades ago, and one of the few members of her party endorsed by the League of Conservation Voters this past year, Collins has also at times intervened with EPA to seek revision of proposed air quality rules. One such instance has involved EPA’s rules for industrial boilers like those employed in Maine’s paper industry. Another has been her letter, co-authored with King last March, expressing concern about EPA’s proposed Source Performance standards for wood and pellet stoves. Note that all Jotul wood stoves sold in North America are now manufactured in Gorham, Maine. Most important to our pellet boiler industry has been Collins’ successful dialogue with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to have wood pellet boilers classified as “an acceptable primary heating source for the purpose of federal housing ad-

ministration (FHA) financing.” This nationally important change in FHA rules was accomplished when Collins was the ranking minority member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee overseeing HUD expenditures. She will now chair the Subcommittee. Other support provided by Collins, whose family has for many decades managed a lumber business in northern Maine, has included her early co-sponsorship of King's BTU Act. The measure, if enacted, will make homeowner expenditures for biomass heating eligible for the same federal tax credits as solar and other renewable energy systems. Our industry’s Biomass Thermal Energy Council in Washington will be working to have this legislation reintroduced early in this session of Congress. Addressing a gathering of heating industry members in Strong, Maine, home of Geneva Woods Fuels’ pellet manufacturing facility, Collins called upon the attendees to “unleash the power of the pellet”. Our Maine industry now looks forward to the increased “Power of Collins.” Meanwhile, back at the Maine legislature, conventional wisdom is that the Republican takeover of the Maine senate will benefit the business community, including our sector. It’s never that simple, of course. The current director of the governor’s energy office, whose advocacy on behalf of reducing Mainers’ heating costs has advanced our industry, is rumored to be in line for appointment to our Public Utilities Commission, where bright minds have been known to disappear in regulatory detail. A legislative proposal to streamline requirements for installation of pellet heating systems could get bogged down with objections from fuel oil licensees. More telling is a recent announcement by Tim Heutz, vice president of our Maine Pellet Fuels Association. Heutz, manager of the well-established Heutz Oil Co. in Lewiston, Maine, and also of Heutz Pellet Systems, tells us that Heutz Oil is being sold. He’s now “all in”, in his words, with pellet heating. Handwriting on the wall, indeed. Author: Bill Bell Executive Director, Maine Pellet Fuels Association




PELLETIZING A PROBLEM: Gregory Zimmerman (far right), Professor of Biology at Lake Superior State University feeds a small pellet press as students look on. PHOTO: LAKE SUPERIOR STATE UNIVERSITY

Invasive Plants as Pellet Feedstock


or the past several years, my students and I have been experimenting with making fuel pellets from invasive species. The projects have been funded by Michigan’s Biomass Energy Office, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and most recently the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. We have also collaborated with Michigan State University and Bay Mills Community College. Most recently we have been working with Loyola University Chicago, DePaul University and the University of Michigan. Loyola is the lead on the cur-

Harvesting cattails and other wetland plants may control their presence in the landscape and serve as a biomass source too.

rent project. While performing our research, we have learned that invasive species present unique opportunities and challenges as a feedstock for fuel pellets.

Feasibility Our first study was to examine the Btu yield of unmanaged reed canary grass and whether it would be energy efficient to harvest and process it into pellets, and burn it in a multiuse stove. The math worked out. A 3-acre patch of reed canary grass could pro-

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ CONTRIBUTION: 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).


vide in pellets the Btu equivalent of 800 gallons of propane with 32 times more energy return than the energy required to harvest and pelletize it. Most rural properties in our area have some stands of reed canary grass. We then purchased a hammer mill, a small pellet press and a multifuel pellet stove to put the idea into practice. Like many others, we were able to make reed canary grass pellets and we found that they burned well in the multifuel stove. Our trials then extended to invasive phragmites. Because of its high proportion of stem, it ground up


nicely and pelletized quite well. In contrast, the high proportion of leaf material in the reed canary grass results in very fine material that interferes with mixing in the pelletizing process. Phragmites is not as common in our immediate vicinity as reed canary grass but is, unfortunately, quite common in other areas of this region. Our most recent work involves harvesting and pelletizing invasive cattail (Typha x glauca), which is also quite common. Compared to purpose-grown biomass, the primary objective of using invasive species is reducing the vigor of the plants. In the case of cattails, another objective is removing phosphorous from the wetland. For reducing vigor of the plant, a harvest just before flowering, when storage carbohydrates are at their lowest level in the year, would be ideal. For removal of nutrients, harvest prior to the time in which the plants translocate nutrients to the crowns in preparation of shoot dieback would be best. In contrast, for sustainable harvesting, just after shoot dieback is best. Late fall harvesting also provides dried material, which can be ground with no further need for drying and the energy and effort it requires. It is important to remember that the goal of biomass from invasive species isn’t necessarily to be most efficient. The biomass is a side-benefit of the biomass removal. If some economic value could accrue from the biomass, that could help fund the removal of the invasives.

Harvesting In addition to timing of the harvest, the actual harvest procedure for invasive species represents some challenges compared to purpose-grown biomass. In our work in the former hayfield, we simply used a tractormounted, sickle-bar mower. In our phragmites sites, we used hand harvesting since the sites were small. We tied the phragmites in bundles with twine, then cut the base with a battery-operated hedge trimmer (more or less a hand-held, sickle-bar mower). The bundles were then convenient to carry to a trailer. Our current project involves biomass removal from wetlands. Thus, one additional step was securing a permit from the Michi-

We have an opportunity to improve the economics of control efforts and to provide a more carbon neutral fuel source or other valuable products, if we use some slightly different than we would with purpose-grown biomass. gan Department of Environmental Quality. The joint permit was quite straightforward and not at all a barrier, partly because we had data from a previous study by Loyola University that removal of invasive species can help restore biodiversity to wetlands. One of the potential issues with the permit was that we had to show that we would not disturb the wetland soil. We were to harvest large acreages, thus we needed to use mechanical harvesting. Our project will be using a tracked vehicle for the harvest operation and we will carefully maneuver on the site, so we anticipate no undue impact on the wetland soils. Site access is also an issue. Native wetlands often do not have easy road access like a farm field would. In our case, the wetlands are near enough to roads, and the topography will allow our tracked vehicle to access the sites, but not all sites with invasive species do. We will be harvesting the cattails in midseason, while they are green. The water content of the cattails will add challenges in terms of weight of the material and, perhaps, the need to dry them out to an optimal moisture level for pelletizing.

Pelletizing We have had good results in pelletizing both reed canary grass and phragmites. We have only done one run of cattails and were able to make good pellets with green material (no water added) and without binder. But we have not fired these pellets to check for their burn characteristics. We have been working on scaling up the pellet production process from demo-scale (several pounds) to production level (several tons). We are still developing the processes for material handling, grinding and pelletizing, and trying to establish a consistent mix-

ture of ground grass, water and binder. Ambient temperature and humidity all seem to add variation to the production process and thus to the quality and economic value of the finished product. Our brief experience with cattails reveals some additional challenges, one of which is that the cattail fibers can clog the screen of the grinder. We know that water content and soil picked up in the harvest process will be issues. I’m sure we will find other difficulties as we go along.

Use of Pellets Other uses beyond pellet stove fuel may bring economic benefits to invasive removal projects. Pellets from purpose, grown grasses may be marketable as feed, animal bedding or even compost. Pellets from invasives might not be marketable as feed, but bedding and compost could be alternative markets. Our work so far confirms that invasive plant removal can have an added benefit of pellet production. Our current project is to restore biodiversity of the wetlands with a side benefit of economic value from the biomass. We want to be clear that we are not suggesting that reed canary grass, the invasive genotype of phragmites, or the invasive cattails should be planted for biomass production. The currently available stands of these plants provide a ready supply that we hope will decrease over the coming years with successful control efforts. In the meantime, we have an opportunity to improve the economics of control efforts and to provide a more carbon neutral fuel source or other valuable products, if we use some slightly different than we would with purpose-grown biomass. Author: Gregory Zimmerman Professor of Biology, Lake Superior State University 906-635-2470


ThermalNews Hurst equipment powers New Hampshire district heating project

Pennsylvania schools win biomass boiler system grant

A Hurst biomass boiler district heating system with a backpressure steam turbine/generator is powering a district heating project in Sullivan County, New Hampshire. The project serves the county’s 166-bed nursing home and 168-bed prison complex as well as two smaller onsite buildings in Unity, New Hampshire. AN ECONOMICAL SOLUTION: The Hurst boiler district The biomass comheating system has already saved Sullivan County bined-heat-and-power approximately $100,000. district energy system is almost entirely fueled by locally sourced, renewable wood chips, which are provided by Cousineau Forest Products. Producing inexpensive heat and electricity for the 215,000-plus square feet of conditioned space, the system has replaced 95 percent of fuel oil purchases and 10 percent electric purchases in the nursing home. Sullivan County officials project that the annual fuel savings will pay for the construction bond within 15 years.

The West Branch Area School District in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, was recently awarded a $500,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority to support the installation of a $2.17 million biomass boiler system that will be fueled by wood chips. Although specific technology and suppliers have not been selected yet for the project, preliminary steps have been taken. “We have a handful of clean, screened, green woodchip suppliers and boiler manufacturers that we have contacted,” said Jason McMillen, business manager at West Branch Area School District. “The selection of these vendors will be completed through a bid process and consultation with McClure Co.” Once operational, McMillen estimated the boiler will be capable of satisfying 75 percent of the school’s heating needs. The McClure Co. is a mechanical contracting, engineering and service organization and will serve as the school’s energy services company. The company will oversee the installation of the boiler, as well as the new building construction that will house the boiler.

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Legal Issues for Biomass Thermal Offtake Contracts BY TODD TAYLOR

Biomass thermal projects are becoming increasingly popular and it is important to make sure that they are done correctly. Project financiers, be they equity partners or bankers, will require carefully thought-out contracts that will enable the project to get paid and address potential problems. One of the most important components of the contract is the offtake agreement. They establish how much the project will get paid, what factors could impact those payments and more. Most offtake agreements are long-term contracts, often matching the length of any debt term, in order to ensure that there will be revenue available to pay the debt service and usually include renewals. They are binding upon signing, but often include early termination provisions to allow either party to get out of the deal, such as allowing the seller (project owner) to terminate if they cannot arrange financing for the project. Along those same lines, the agreements usually include conditions precedent, or events that have to take place before either party is obligated to perform. Common conditions include final granting of permits, feedstock agreements, and financing for the seller and any regulatory approvals for the buyer. Milestones are an important part of any project development and are often part of an offtake agreement, mostly because the buyer may be relying on the project to come online at a certain time in order to meet their own requirements. Often, there are penalties for missing milestones, though a seller should negotiate that penalties be waived if the project comes online by the commercial operation date. The commercial operation date (COD) is the date when the plant is capable of delivering the thermal energy to the buyer. The COD is a critical piece of the agreement and the seller will face significant penalties if the project is not operational by the COD. Determining the right criteria for the COD is important to all parties to the project. Before the plant is in commercial operation, issues of the delivery of the thermal energy, such as when and where does the ownership of the thermal energy transfer from the seller to the buyer must be answered. Much of that depends on how the thermal energy is delivered to the buyer, such as colocation, district energy or steam pipelines, but sellers will generally want the transfer, and thus the sale, to occur once the thermal energy leaves its plant.

Pricing is one of the most important aspects of a thermal energy project and pricing will generally be based on equivalent thermal energy costs, plus any premium for “green� thermal energy. Pricing is either fixed, with escalators, or based on market indexes. It is critical for the seller to have a complete understanding of their costs before agreeing to final pricing. Financing parties will be sure to run the numbers. It may help to think of it as a financial mass balance. Curtailment is one of the issues the financiers dislike, but is usually a part of an offtake. Curtailment means that in certain circumstances the buyer has the right to refuse delivery of the thermal energy. In these cases, sellers want the buyer to continue to pay the regular price and count the curtailed thermal energy towards their requirement. Buyers understandably want to minimize paying for thermal energy they are not using and the parties usually reach a compromise, which could include capping the payments, having the energy count towards the requirement or other options. Tax credits and renewable energy credits, where and when available, can be significant factors in the viability of a thermal energy project. Determining who gets the credits and how they can impact the bottom line pricing for the thermal energy is critical. Performance guarantees are usually required by the buyer and normally amount to the seller guaranteeing that it will deliver a certain minimum amount of thermal energy to a buyer each year. Unexcused failures to deliver result in significant penalties or even rights to terminate. Sellers need to be sure that their construction and technology partners are able to build the plant to meet these guarantees. Financing partners will closely scrutinize performance guarantees and may require independent financial support such as credit enhancements in the form of standby letters of credit. Connected to performance guarantees, the parties will try to limit their liability to damages from a breach while at the same time maximizing the liability of the other party. Thermal energy offtake agreements are complex legal documents that also need to be drafted in the context of the entire project. Take care, plan early and consult experienced advisors before getting started. Author: Todd Taylor Clean Technology & Sustainability Chair, Fredrikson & Byron, P.A.




BiogasNews Potential biogas-based fuel production in California (million gasoline gallon equivalents) SOURCE: BIOENERGY ASSOCIATION OF CALIFORNIA



Agricultural residue

170 Manure


Total fuel potential





Forestry and forest products residue


Fats, oils, greases


Waste water treatment gas

457 Landfill gas


MSW (67% of food, leaves, grass fraction)


MSW (67% of lignocellulosic fraction)

California association calls for RGS The Bioenergy Association of California recently published a report detailing why the state needs a renewable gas standard (RGS), stressing that the biogas sector needs an effective regulatory framework and greater long-term certainty to reach the level of market penetration that will drive down costs and enable biogas to compete with the historically low cost of natural gas. “We need something that is longer-term and is more comprehensive, so that the industry itself doesn’t go through these boom and bust cycles, because it’s not that large an industry, it needs long-term certainty to really grow at the pace and reach the levels that it should,” said Julia Levin, executive director of BAC. According to Levin, California could produce 10 percent of its total gas consumption, amounting to 284 billion cubic feet of renewable gas per year just from organic waste converted to biogas. This has the potential to generate nearly 7,000 MW of power or 2.5 billion gallons of transportation fuels.

Republic Services opens Indiana landfill gas-to-energy project TO



Republic Services Inc. recently announced the startup of a new landfill gas-to-energy project in Indiana. The 6 MW project at County Line Landfill features four engines operating at one energy generation facility. According to Republic Services, the project is capable of generating enough energy to power more than 3,200 homes. Republic Services partnered with Aria Energy on the design, development and management of the facility. The two companies have now partnered on four projects with a combined capacity of nearly 40 MW, and are working two additional projects, which are expected to feature an additional 15 MW of capacity. With the County Line Landfill project now complete, Republic Services has implemented 73 landfill gas-to-energy projects in the U.S. Combined, those projects provide enough electricity to heat or power approximately 400,000 households.


Data and Tools to Better Evaluate Biogas Potential BY AMANDA BILEK

Biogas projects come in all shapes and sizes and are implemented across a variety of industrial, municipal and agricultural applications. For a biogas project, there is no “one size fits all”. The variety of biogas feedstock sources and end-use applications sets it apart from other biomass project configurations. However, the variations among operational and potential biogas projects make it difficult to adequately access the resource potential for this underutilized renewable energy resource. Individual states are taking the lead to better evaluate and assess potential biogas projects. In the past year, the state of Iowa has worked to assess their biogas resource. I recently participated in a webinar where the Iowa Biogas Assessment Model was profiled. The model is an online, GIS, interactive map where a user can click on different layers of data to study the biogas resource or conduct an initial screen of where a potential project could be sited based on feedstock and infrastructure availability within a certain geography. IBAM was developed by EcoEngineers under contract with the Iowa Economic Development Authority. The tool is available at www.ecoengineers. us/ibam. The IBAM tool provides a wide variety of biogasbased feedstock data. Users can assess the feedstock availability of animal manure, crop residue and potential substrates or identify colocation opportunities with existing biodiesel, ethanol, food and paper manufacturers. In addition to the feedstock data, there is also energy infrastructure data on the locations of natural gas pipelines, electric and gas service territories, and existing power plant locations. Users can also identify the locations of operational biogas projects at agricultural, landfill or wastewater treatment facilities. A complementary tool to the GIS map is a preliminary economic assessment spreadsheet. The downloadable spreadsheet provides users the availability to

modify inputs and assumptions to conduct a preliminary economic evaluation for a potential biogas project. Both the IBAM map and spreadsheet will require more robust analysis and engineering designs for any project moving forward, but these publically available tools can help users from the private and government sectors to conduct an initial project screen or quantify the potential for biogas projects in Iowa. The Iowa tools build on work previously done by the state of Wisconsin to develop a user-friendly biogas resource map and economic analysis for potential biogas projects. Having these tools available provides critical information to biogas proponents and project developers to assess resource potential, describe the location and nature of potential projects, and identify specific locations for future projects. In addition to Wisconsin, there are examples from other states and U.S. regions that have developed similar tools and economic assessments. To further enable increased development of biogas projects, it is essential that we continue to use data and visual tools to better evaluate the biogas resource. These tools can provide critical information in the early formation of a potential project. They also help biogas proponents to categorize the resource potential in the context of other renewable energy options or waste management decisions. The diversity of biogas project configurations and feedstock sources is a real asset because every city, town, or rural area has some sort of potential for a biogas project, but without tools and data like those developed by Iowa, Wisconsin or other states, it would be more difficult to move projects from potential to operational. Author: Amanda Bilek Government Affairs Manager, Great Plains Institute 612-278-7118




CODIGESTION POTENTIAL: The University of Guelph Ridgetown campus in Ontario has a 250-kW digester housed at the CARES, or Center for Agricultural Renewable Energy and Sustainability, research facility. The manure currently fed to the digester will eventually be mixed with various energy crops to test biogas at a farm-scale. PHOTO: KIM VANOVERLOOP

Grass to Gas A Grassland and perennial biomass streams are being tapped for conversion as supplemental feedstock in anaerobic digesters. BY KATIE FLETCHER


naerobic digesters (AD) are usually fed manure or food waste, yet other options are being tested and used in the biogas industry. On the expanding menu of feedstock possibilities are crops grown specifically for the purpose. Research conducted in Ontario, Canada, at the University of Guelph Ridgetown Campus explores the possibility of growing perennial energy crops and native grasslands for biogas production. Energy crops are being considered in the biogas market for their environmental benefits,

high-yielding rates and reliability. The U of G-Ridgetown teamed up with New Energy Farms and Seacliff Energy for a project exploring energy crop potential in biogas production. Right now, the focus is on the methane yield at lab level, but the hope is to eventually test perennial feedstock crops in a 250kW digester located at a campus research facility. “The main takeaway of the things we’ve tested so far is that some of them provide really high yields in the field, but they don’t convert very easily to biogas,” says


STARTING SMALL: Brandon Gilroyed, assistant professor at the University of Guelph-Ridgetown, says all perennial crop work so far at the university, has been done using a lab-scale digester. PHOTO: KURTIS BAUTE

Brandon Gilroyed, assistant professor School of Environmental Sciences at the U of G-Ridgetown. “We need to, for our future research, place more emphasis on pretreatment and things like that to unlock more of that energy.” Paul Carver, CEO of New Energy Farms, says, “We identified a need for perennial biogas crops for a number of reasons.” NEF is involved in providing suitable cultivars of different energy crops, established through its CEEDS system and production testing.

The Crop, Expansion, Encapsulation and Delivery System, creates a proxy for seed in vegetative crops, such as miscanthus, napier grass and arundo donax. The system was developed to make planting energy grasses and other vegetative crops as simple as conventional arable crops. “In areas where biogas projects have expanded rapidly, such as Germany, there is now saturation of annual biogas crops on arable land,” Carver says. Germany has been using predominantly corn silage,

among other streams, for biogas production. The plants that NEF is exploring are suitable for nonfood-quality land, which subsequently allows new plantings to occur without affecting food production. Another contributing factor to energy crop implementation is that biogas byproduct disposal requires a land base. “Sites with perennial crops on them for 10 years or more create a good logistical system for this recirculation of nutrients,” Carver says. The last factor resides in the fact that new biogas proj-

ects need secure sources of feedstocks. A proportion of perennial grasses can provide feedstock for 10 years, according to Carver. Crops like these usually take time to establish, however. “I think there will be some ways of dual cropping, or things like that, to help with those initial establishment years, but that is an issue for sure with the whole concept,” Gilroyed says. Presently, most in the space see energy crops’ role in the production of biogas as supplemental; a side choice to



ONE POSSIBILITY: Arundo donax is one energy crop New Energy Farms is providing suitable cultivars for with its CEEDS artificial seed system. NEF is testing this crop and others for biogas potential with 20 acres of trials dedicated to the work in Canada and a series of trials with a European developer of biogas projects. PHOTO: NEW ENERGY FARMS

the main dish on the menu. NEF believes the menu should have a variety of sides suitable for biogas and different growing conditions. “These would be crops like napier grass, arundo donax and miscanthus, which support production from Canada down to Florida,” Carver says. “We have also found that some of the energy crops have a much wider harvest window, and so improving the logistics of the feedstock supply. With this range of crops it would be possible to get yearround supply.” A sustainable feedstock supply is crucial for biogas producers. “A big part of the impetus for us looking into it is the biogas market right now; it’s really hard to find high-quality feedstocks,” Gilroyed says. “There is so much competition, and if we want to see this sort of model work at the farm-scale, so smaller digesters, I 26 BIOMASS MAGAZINE | FEBRUARY 2015

think that they’re going to have to have some options where they are able to independently create at least a portion of the diet they feed, because the volatility is too much to handle.” Perennial energy crops and grasses have the added opportunity to generate cellulosic renewable information numbers (RINs). The U.S. EPA announced in July a final rule for the renewable fuel standard (RFS) program that expanded pathways for biogas-based fuel to help boost cellulosic and advanced fuel numbers. Allowing biogas transportation fuel pathways to generate RFS cellulosic credits brings opportunity for further biogas project development. NEF’s collaboration with the U of G-Ridgetown and Seacliff is not upgrading the biogas to transportation fuel, but NEF recognizes the opportunity it presents. “We see a

very strong growth potential for this area as biogas can be used for heat, electricity and road fuels,” Carver says. “We feel there is a substantial commercial opportunity to apply the high-yield perennial grasses to this market.” One project under development in Missouri will create biogas-based fuel. Roeslein Alternative Energy LLC is developing and constructing the project in collaboration with Murphy-Brown of Missouri LLC, the livestock production subsidiary of Smithfield Foods Inc. The goal of the $80 million project is to produce 50 million diesel gallon equivalents by the end of the decade using biogas derived from hog manure, energy crops and cover crops harvested between growing seasons. “This project can be a model to show how both economic and environmental benefits can be gained by us-


INNOVATIVE APPROACH: Roeslein Alternative Energy’s biogas project will involve a total of 88 covered hog lagoons, such as this one being installed at Murphy Brown’s South Meadows Farm in Missouri. Barn scraper technology will deliver raw nutrients of livestock manure to the covered lagoons. PHOTO: SHELDON RIPSON, ROESLEIN ALTERNATIVE ENERGY

ing manure in a different way," says Rudi Roeslein, president of RAE and CEO of Roeslein & Associates. The project will not only clean and compress biogas for transportation fuel, but will help with efforts to replant and restore native grassland and prairie on marginal land. Roeslein Northern Missouri Real Estate has been restoring land with grassy prairies on it’s 1,600-acre farm located within the project area. Already 400 acres of prairie has been planted that could be used for testing the potential feedstock. The massive project is being implemented in phases. The installation of high-density polyethylene covers on an initial 19 lagoons at MBM’s Valley View and South Meadows farms in Northern Missouri is complete. The biogas that rises to the top of the lagoons will be

collected for further conditioning, while the leftover indigestible solid residue can be used as a natural fertilizer, and water can be safely used for irrigation. "There is value in the gas we capture as alternative vehicle fuel,” Roeslein says. “There is even more value to the environment from reduced greenhouse gas emissions, eliminating rainfall effects on treatment systems and odor reduction." Next on the project timeline is installing biogas cleaning and conditioning equipment to produce renewable natural gas (RNG), and establishing a network of distribution centers to provide the RNG to vehicle fleets. The project has the potential to create several hundred million cubic feet of RNG annually for regional distribution. RNG production is slated to begin this year. The third phase includes a demonstration of using aboveground AD

systems to process a combination of manure and perennial feedstocks. Now that biogas-based transportation fuel projects can sell either advanced biofuel or cellulosic compliance credits, an increase in project development in the U.S. biogas industry may become apparent. Grassland and perennial crop establishment has a developing market opportunity with biogas, and potential to become an appealing, high-yielding and reliable side choice for producers. Author: Katie Fletcher Staff Writer, Biomass Magazine 701-738-4920


AdvancedBiofuelNews We Make

Q3 clean energy and clean transportation jobs SOURCE: ENVIRONMENTAL ENTREPRENEURS


Renewable Energy



“Verdanté delivers every time... even when we have the most obscure need.”

Number of Jobs




Number of Job Announcements

849 45 Jobs


4,602 598 Jobs


9,892 2,049 Jobs




















E2 Q3 report shows strong growth for biofuel jobs

R&D Support Procurement IT Services Export Assistance Commercial Appraisals Pile Management

Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) recently released its third-quarter clean energy jobs report, reporting that 18,035 clean energy and clean transportation jobs were announced in 23 states during the quarter. This includes 849 jobs in the advanced biofuel sector, which is the second-highest quarterly performance for the sector since E2 began tracking jobs in 2011. According to E2, the top nine states for clean energy job announcements during the quarter were Nevada, New York, California,

Colorado, North Carolina, Michigan, Connecticut, Louisiana and Texas. Illinois and Maryland tied for 10th. The single largest biofuel announcement came from Fulcrum Sierra Biofuels, which is building a 10 MMgy biorefinery in McCarran, Nevada. The project is expected to create 450 construction jobs and 50 fulltime jobs by next year. Development of the plant is supported by U.S. Department of Defense grants intended to scale-up production of alternative sources of jet fuel.

Iogen starts up cellulosic biorefinery in Brazil

We make biomass reliable. 828 394-1246 28 BIOMASS MAGAZINE | FEBRUARY 2015

Ottawa-based Iogen Corp. announced its first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant is producing ethanol in Brazil. The first 200,000 liters (53,000 gallons) has been distributed by Brazilian ethanol producer Raízen to its network of gas stations, said Ziyad Rahme, senior vice president and general manager of Iogen Energy. According to Rahme, commissioning began in October, with the startup and shakedown phase scheduled to last through the end of December. The facility was scheduled to shut down temporarily

once the sugarcane harvest season came to a close, and restart operations in the second quarter. “We will ramp up to full production at that time,” Rahme continued. The company expects to be able to reach full nameplate capacity shortly after. Iogen announced the groundbreaking in late November 2013, for the $100 million, 40 MMly cellulosic ethanol plant colocated with Raízen’s 80 MMly Costa Pinto sugarcane ethanol plant in Piracicaba, São Paulo, Brazil. Raízen handled the engineering and procurement functions for the project.


Low Oil Price Won't Put Brakes on Biomass Future BY MATT CARR

The recent fall in oil prices has everybody talking about the prospects for advanced biofuels. Will commercialization be delayed? Will research and development continue? Can the industry survive $60 per barrel crude? In the not too distant past, a precipitous drop in fossil fuels and energy prices could stall or even kill off years of progress in alternative energy R&D. Just ask someone familiar with the wind and solar industries in the '70s and '80s, or even the early algal fuels research programs in the late '80s and early '90s. There's good reason to believe that the paths forward for biomass and biofuels will be different this time around. I doubt very much that technology advances will halt. The commercialization strategies of today’s advanced biofuel ventures—particularly those that are developing new biomass feedstocks—are substantially different from earlier waves of alternative energy technologies. Perhaps most significantly, many are no longer solely dependent on revenue from fuels or energy sales to be sustainable as a business. Instead, they are looking to attack multiple markets. Some examples include biomass-derived plastics, fertilizers, feeds, nutritional supplements, water treatment services, pharmaceuticals, specialty chemicals and more, in addition to fuels or fuel feedstocks that can replace petroleum or palm oil feedstocks. This flexibility justifies the technical and infrastructure investments needed today to see companies through initial commercialization over the next two to three years. In the algae biomass industry, Cellana is one of the companies that have led the multi-market approach to commercialization. The company's multiproduct business model is based on two fractionations of harvested algae biomass to produce three product streams: algal crude oil, Omega-3 nutritional oils and protein-rich algae meal for aquaculture or livestock feeds. All three fractions are used to provide economic sustainability to complement the inherent environmental sustainability of the highest-yielding “crop” on earth—algae. Initially, Cellana expects revenues from fuel and feed to be a small percentage of overall product revenue, which will be driven by the high-value Omega-3s and, to a lesser extent, the feed product stream, both of which can be produced today with good financial margins at relatively small commercial scales. Profitable initial commercialization will introduce a phase of improved yields, technology advances and greater economies of scale. In turn, lower unit-production costs will enable more sales into higher volume feed markets. As prices for animal feed rise with expected global demand, and production costs decline, the company can add capacity to address solely

the feed and fuel markets—a final phase of commercialization that does not rely on revenues from higher-value product streams like Omega-3s. In the algae space, advanced biofuel pioneer Sapphire Energy is also diversifying its product portfolio, and Algenol Biofuels has added an algae crude stream to its advanced ethanol platform. Other algae companies are following a similar strategy, and even the U.S. Department of Energy has recognized the advantages. The DOE's Bioenergy Technologies Office funding opportunity, titled Targeted Algal Biofuels and Products, announced by David Danielson, DOE assistant secretary, at the 2014 Algae Biomass Summit, specifically incents the development of coproducts, crop protection and carbon utilization technologies with algae. The end goal is not to create a new source of fishmeal or animal feeds, however. Rather, it is to enhance the state of the art and ultimately drive down the cost of algal fuels by enabling companies to produce multiple revenue streams from the same biomass feedstocks. Much like corn, soybeans and other traditional biomass crops, which serve multiple end markets, the advantages of algae's market flexibility will drive advances even during today's crude oil glut. Companies that are currently focused on a single product also stand to benefit from feedstock flexibility. A company that can successfully scale algal oil production will have technical knowledge (and likely a whole lot of biomass) that will be valuable in other applications, making for a possible wave of strategic partnerships as more algae-derived products hit the market. In either case, the effect will be a commercialization pathway that marches through a number of markets with economics driven by many more factors than the price of oil alone. The path is simple: Advance the technology and infrastructure through to initial commercialization, find revenues in new and bigger markets, repeat. Low oil prices might alter the pace or the direction of this cycle but they will not derail progress. In fact, a growing economy, booming populations the world over, and more pressing security challenges mean governments and investors that keep the pace of R&D up will be rewarded in the near term by high revenues from feed, food and nutritional products, and will be doubly rewarded over the longer term when fossil energy again becomes expensive—which it most certainly will. Author: Matt Carr Executive Director, Algae Biomass Organization 877-531-5512




Smart Farm Boys Long before farmers are ready to buy the implements required to grow and harvest energy crops, leading OEMs leverage robust research and development organizations to get them engineered. BY TIM PORTZ


or energy crops, or even crop residues harvested for energy production, to ever establish themselves as widely grown agricultural commodities the equipment necessary for their cultivation and harvest must be available at a cost that works economically for farmers. Fortunately for farmers and the prospective buyers of miscanthus, arundo donax, energy sorghums, fast growing willows and other energy crops currently under development this reality is a guiding principle for the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) who have served them for over a century.

AGCO Maynard Herron is one of AGCO’s 17,000 global employees and, as manager of product proving in the company’s Hesston, Kansas, location, well-versed in the iterative nature of AGCO’s product development approach. “I grew up as a farmer. I was always interested in the mechanical side of farming,” Herron says. “I have a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and I got a master’s degree in agricultural engineering, which tied it all together well for me. I’m very interested in what people are doing to make a living with equipment on their farm.” Herron and his team spend their time developing solutions for markets not yet fully commercialized, markets that the company expects may generate real demand perhaps five to eight years down the road including energy crops. “I don’t claim that we have a group of people who can look into the future and know where our products need to be at a certain 30 BIOMASS MAGAZINE | FEBRUARY 2015

point in time,” Herron says. “But we have an innovative group of people who we’ve given a little bit of freedom.” With well-developed market share in both the grain and hay segments, AGCO is actively working to adapt and modify existing products to capture future orders from farmers looking to bale corn stover or energy perennials with hay-like characteristics. With an eye on developing a prototype that can be engineered to what Herron calls a “manufacturable state,” Herron’s team is using existing AGCO modules as a starting point. “I would say 80 percent or more of the functional modules of the machine already exist,” Herron says. “It’s not unusual for us to take a machine and add two or three functional modules to it that are from another machine just to get started.” Once a prototype is fabricated, Herron and his team observe and modify based on what they see. Herron notes that while AGCO’s tradition of engineers working the field with wrenches and hammers has changed, the practice was certainly used as AGCO eyed the coming biomass-to-energy market. “An army mechanic I had the opportunity to work with used to say, ‘We’ll weld it on here and if we don’t like it we’ll cut it off and weld it on somewhere else,'" Herron remembers. He credits this mentor with changing his idea about the iterative work his team does every day. “He taught me to not see things as failures. Instead, he saw each idea that didn’t work as an elimination of one of the total range of possible solutions,” Herron says. “And that was success.” Also fundamental to Herron and his team’s approach is to continue pushing toward an answer to the root question of “why?” He


TRY, TRY AGAIN: During a demonstration harvest of miscanthus in Illinois, AGCO engineers put this Razor Bar harvesting head through its paces. This model included the “biomass option,” which is the auger above the head. At the time this photograph was taken, the prototype was still well within its preproduction test phase. PHOTO: AGCO


¦ADVANCED BIOFUELS AND CHEMICALS cites his early experiences working on corn stover baler concepts for the DuPont cellulosic ethanol facility in Nevada, Iowa. “When we started the program, the whole industry wanted to see higher-density bales,” says Herron. At the heart of the matter was that with lowerdensity bales, trucks were making trips from field to plant well below their carrying capacity, introducing inefficiencies that had to be eliminated. “We improved the density of the bales to the point of coming out of the field with large square bales that would fill a legal-size truck to the legal highway load limit in most cases.” Once a particular design problem is overcome, another usually follows. Once Herron and his team solved the bale-density problem for the DuPont project, they moved on to throughput and bale size. “They never even stopped to take a breath,” he remembers. This exhaustive and iterative process is beginning to bear fruit as nearly 40 AGCO balers were brought online to bale corn stover in the Nevada area this fall.

New Holland Another instantly recognizable ag-machinery brand actively developing equipment solutions for the prospective energy crop market is New Holland Agriculture, part of the multinational ag and construction equipment giant CNH Industrial. The organization’s R&D efforts are housed in the company’s New Holland, Pennsylvania, location led in part by John Posselius, innovation and technology manager. Posselius and his team are responsible for developing the next generation of both New Holland’s agricultural and construction equipment offerings. Like AGCO, New Holland works to keep Posselius and his team focused on markets they feel may come to fruition on a four- to eight-year horizon. “The advanced technology group has some leeway, but there’s a good bit of involvement from senior management,” Posselius says. “Everything we work on gets approved by senior management. We’ve got what I call dangerously smart farm boys. Lots of our guys and gals have PhDs” Posselius credits his team’s understanding of agricultural and agricultural technology for the trust that company management has in their efforts, even if the immediate need isn’t readily apparent. To keep their pipeline of development work full, the company leverages its global presence to keep in tune with emergent trends in agriculture, whether they are bubble up in Europe, Asia or South America. Another constituency that New Holland maintains close relationships with are the agronomy departments at universities around the world. They stay up to speed with the research trends they see and let those trends inform where they spend time and resources. “In 2004 or so, we caught wind of some of the work that Dr. Tim Volk of the State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry, was doing with willows,” Posselius says. “It intrigued us.” Posselius and his team learned that early efforts to harvest willow were utilizing existing sugar cane and forage harvesters. With both of those products already in their portfolio, willow seemed to provide a new market opportunity that fit nicely into what the company was already doing. “After getting in touch with Tim, we started bootlegging some things and tried several approaches with engineering equipment that 32 BIOMASS MAGAZINE | FEBRUARY 2015

ADVANCED BIOFUELS AND CHEMICALS¦ tively bale corn stover with low ash content is a completely different endeavor than engineering it so that it can be manufactured and deliver a profit not only to the company, but ultimately to the farmer that buys it. Posselius and his team ultimately release their concepts to a product design group responsible for getting that product built and released to the waiting farm community. Is it difficult for Posselius to let go of a project he’s worked so hard on, sometimes for years? “It takes a particular type of person to do the upfront work,” says Posselius. “For some engineers, it would drive them nuts to not take a project all the way to the finish line of having a saleable product. Some people like to prove concepts, some like to build product.” Fortunately for Posselius, he’s the former.

FIELD ADJUSTMENTS: A team of CNH Industrial Engineers make adjustments on a prototype in upstate New York while working with the State University of New York. PHOTO: JOHN POSSELIUS, CNH INDUSTRIAL

we already had on the fast growing willow,” Posselius says. “We had a pretty fair level of success. The initial efforts were successful enough to win an approval from management to expend more time and energy on developing solutions for a crop not yet widely grown. Still, when considering willow’s potential and the existing platform New Holland already had in sugarcane and forage harvesters together, the opportunity proved too good to pass up. “When we can take advantage of a current product with no or minimal modification that opens up a new market for us, that’s a positive situation,” Posselius says. This same logic applies to the New Holland’s continued interest in perennial energy grasses like miscanthus. The company sees its existing hay and forage platform as a common sense departure point from which to compete in this category should it become commercially viable for farmers to grow those crops. In addition to the overcoming the technical burden of harvesting willow, or miscanthus, or corn stover, Posselius and his team must also consider the economics during the design phase. Speaking specifically about their work developing a coppice header capable of effectively harvesting willow, Posselius says, “We need to develop a header that comes in at a price point that we can afford to build, that our customers can buy and can produce chips at a price an end user can pay.”

Ready For Production

have to let go of their projects, either because a decision has been made to cease research efforts or a prototype is ready to move into full-scale production. Designing a machine that can effec-

Author: Tim Portz Executive Editor, Biomass Magazine 701-738-4969


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Both Herron and Posselius eventually FEBRUARY 2015 | BIOMASS MAGAZINE 33

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