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Grass: It’s Not Just for Grazing Scientists in Wales are Researching Ways for Motorists to Fuel Up With ‘Grassohol’

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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 © Novozymes A /S · Customer Communications · No. 2007-35469-02

considering how we can turn it into something 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 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

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JULY 2008




..................... 22 FUEL Breakthroughs in Green Gasoline Interest in biomass-derived fuels has increased as green gasoline has the same energy content as the fuels consumers are using today and can be used in existing infrastructures such as engines and pipelines. By Jessica Ebert

30 RESEARCH Grass: It’s Not Just for Grazing Scientists in Wales are zeroing in on processes to make ethanol from the country’s plentiful grasslands. By Susan Aldridge

38 PROFILE Sizing Up Anaerobic Digestion Volatile natural gas prices and energy providers’ need to satisfy state renewable portfolio standards have opened up new markets for Environmental Power Corp.’s Renewable Natural Gas. By Bryan Sims

46 QUALITY Pellet Properties Twin Ports Testing and the Pellet Fuels Institute are revamping pellet standards and developing testing methods to protect pellet makers, consumers and stove manufacturers. By Jerry W. Kram

54 POWER Feeding it Back QUALITY | PAGE 46


In the U.K., combined-heat-and-power systems are gaining in popularity as food processors seek to save on energy and waste disposal costs, and shrink their carbon footprint. By Diane Greer


62 TECHNOLOGY Anaerobic Organisms Key to Coskata’s Rapid Rise

08 Editor’s Note

70 PROCESS From the Lab to Production: Direct Steam Injection Heating of Fibrous Slurries

Gas Pains By Rona Johnson

09 Advertiser Index 10 CITIES Corner It’s a Gas By Art Wiselogel

Coskata Inc.’s claim that it can produce ethanol for less than $1 per gallon won it a partnership with General Motors Corp., causing others to wonder just how this is possible. By Jessica Sobolik

Pretreating and pumping cellulosic materials is a challenging hurdle en route to commercial ethanol production. Direct steam injection may provide a pathway allowing the process to move off the research table and into a full-scale plant. By Bruce Cincotta

74 EQUIPMENT Under Pressure Underground: Gravity Pressure Vessels Convert Waste into Biofuels

12 Business Briefs

Many companies are studying a variety of processes to commercialize the conversion of cellulose to ethanol. Gravity pressure vessel technology provides another option for converting municipal solid waste to fuel. By Peter Hurrell and Zbigniew “Zig” Resiak

14 Industry News

78 EVENT Eyes on the North: Canada Ramps Up Bioenergy Activity

11 Industry Events

83 In the Lab Delivering a Sweet-Fueled Vehicle By Jerry W. Kram

A sizable contingent of Canadian biomass industry stakeholders recently went to Sweden to learn more about that nation’s industry. Now they’re applying those lessons and spreading their education at home. By Crystal Luxmore

85 EERC Update More Methane, Less Acid Gas By Dan Stepan

Correction from our June 2008 issue: In the Industry News story titled “CleanTech Biofuels, Merrick team in MSW-to-ethanol project” on page 17, HFTA was incorrectly explained as CleanTech Biofuels’ biomass conversion technology. HFTA is a company in Livermore, Calif., that developed the conversion technology.

Clarification from our June 2008 issue: The Industry News story titled “Two companies to convert Indiana MSW to ethanol” on page 17, stated that in March, the Lake County Solid Waste Management District board voted to develop contracts with three companies: Genahol Powers 1 LLC, Indiana Ethanol Power LLC and Allied Waste Industries Inc. The board’s voting was preliminary and was to be followed by a final vote in June. 7|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 7

e d i to r ’s

NOTE Gas Pains


his month’s Biomass Magazine focuses on future fuels. With gas prices at $3.89 a gallon as I write this column in the first week of June,

I’m thinking there’s no future for me and regular unleaded gasoline if the cost continues to climb. It’s gotten to the point where I salivate when I see one of those Geo Metro cars. I downright drool when I pass a scooter on the road. Although my Toyota Tacoma isn’t bad when it comes to mileage, it could be better. Then I have to remember, if it weren’t for those high gas prices, there would be no incentive to find an alternative to gasoline. It’s just too bad we didn’t finish that job in the United States when we first felt the impact of high gasoline prices. After reading freelance writer Jessica Ebert’s feature “Breakthroughs in Green Gasoline Production,” I’m convinced that we need to have, as Don Stevens of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory put it, “multiple approaches and multiple fuels, and part of those have to be infrastructure-compatible because if we try to do it all with ethanol, we have to have a huge infrastructure investment.” I think what’s he’s saying is that there’s some amount of comfort in not putting all of our eggs in one basket. Although I believe the ethanol industry has done its part to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, they could use some help. Until those breakthroughs become a reality, I—and possibly many of you—am seriously considering trading in my vehicle for a Geo Metro. I’m also being careful to stay off the interstate. The speed limit in North Dakota is 75 miles per hour on the interstate, and somewhat similar to Sammy Hagar’s song, “I Can’t Drive 55,” I can’t drive 75. So I’m just better off driving on highways where the speed limit is lower. I am also hopeful that recent news articles about crude oil prices possibly going down are true. That will surely ease my gas pains.

Rona Johnson Features Editor


advertiser INDEX ADI Systems Inc.


KEITH Manufacturing Company

BBI International Community Initiative To Improve Energy Sustainability (CITIES)


Laidig Systems Inc.


Marcus Construction Company

13 40

BBI Project Development

36, 44 & 66



Midwest Process Solutions

Biofuels Australasia


Morbark Inc.


New Horizon Corp.


Biofuels Canada

52 & 64

Christianson & Associates PLLP


Continental Biomass Industries Inc.




Percival Scientific Inc.


Davenport Dryer LLC


Price BIOstock Services


Detroit Stoker Company


Process Barron




R.C. Costello & Associates Inc.


Eclipse Inc.


Rath, Young and Pignatelli PC


EcoProducts Expo


Robert-James Sales Inc.


Energy & Environmental Research Center


Rockwood Materials Handling Inc.


Ronning Engineering


54 & 77

Roskamp Champion


Ethanol Producer Magazine


ETS Laboratories


Rotochopper Inc.

Factory Sales and Engineering Inc.


SD&G Community Futures Development Corporation



Soel Rives LLP


Forest Products Society


Supreme International Limited


Geomembrane Technologies Inc.


The Teaford Co. Inc.


Harris Group Inc.




HRS Process Technology Inc.


Vecoplan LLC

Hurst Boiler & Welding Co. Inc.


West Salem Machinery Co.

International Distillers Grains Conference & Trade Show


3 33

29 & 61









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Cert no. SCS-COC-00648


CITIES corner

It’s a Gas


s a child spending time in the rural south, I was familiar with swamp gas. At night, an unusual glowing light in the distance was often dismissed as swamp gas, which was the favorite explanation of the U.S. Air Force when reports of a UFO sighting filled the local newspapers. According to scientists at the time a combination of methane and phosphine, both gases created by the anaerobic bacterial decomposition of organic material, can self-ignite and produce a flame with an eerie green glow. While this fact may be true in the laboratory, I am unaware of any natural occurrence of spontaneous combustion of swamp gas. So, if those glowing lights in the distance weren't caused by burning swamp gas were they UFO's? The major energy component in swamp gas is methane. Methane is also found in landfill gas and biogas produced by many municipal water treatment plants through the anaerobic digestion of sewage. The natural gas we use in our homes and to produce electricity is primarily methane. More often then not, landfill and biogas is "flared off" and a potential energy source goes undeveloped and unused. Landfill gas and biogas can be combusted directly to produce heat and process steam or it can be upgraded by removing the carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide and water to produce a high-energy pipelinequality gas. This high-quality gas can also be compressed (compressed natural gas) for use as a transportation fuel. Landfill and water treatment biogas are low-hanging fruit to power renewable energy projects and are preferred projects in countries where mandatory carbon reductions enhance their value.


While the United States is still a voluntary carbon market, all the current major party presidential candidates recognize that greenhouse gas emissions are an environmental concern. That said, the relatively near future will reveal the opportunity for communities to capitalize on their methane generating facilities. An example of landfill gas use is the city of Greensboro, NC. Their landfill gas is collected and transported by pipeline to a textile plant where it is burned in boilers to generate process steam that powers machinery. Even though the landfill gas is sold at a discount to natural gas it generates around $30,000 annually for the city. Don't be surprised to find major utilities sniffing around the landfills and sewage treatment facilities of major municipalities in their service area. It is my understanding that Duke Energy is involved in the Greensboro example above, and I am aware of several other major utilities that either are invested in similar projects or are interested in developing landfill gas and biogas projects. These community sources of renewable energy are ripe for development. Those in charge of landfills and water treatment plants should find out exactly what they're sitting on so when the time comes to negotiate over their methane resource they'll come out smelling like roses. Art Wiselogel is manager of BBI International’s Community Initiative to Improve Energy Sustainability. Reach him at or (303) 526-5655.

industryevents Biomass ’08 Technical Workshop: Power, Fuels and Chemicals

July 15-16, 2008 Alerus Center Grand Forks, North Dakota This event, hosted by the Energy & Environmental Research Center, will discuss trends and opportunities in utilizing biomass, biomass feedstocks, policies and incentives, cellulosic ethanol, financing, biorefineries for chemicals and other products, and biomass for heat and electricity, among many other topics. (701) 777-5246

Texas Biofuels Conference & Expo

September 17-18, 2008 Hilton Austin Airport Austin, Texas This third annual event will take an in-depth look at the latest regulatory, agricultural and technical developments impacting the renewable fuels industry in Texas. Special attention will be given to the Energy Independence & Security Act of 2007 and the impact it will have on the future of renewable fuels in Texas. (512) 358-1000

Biofuels Financial Conference

Biomass World 2008

July 23-24, 2008

September 23-24, 2008

Hilton Minneapolis Airport-Mall of America Hotel Minneapolis, Minnesota This fourth annual event, hosted by Christianson & Associates PLLP, will address current financial issues evolving within the biofuels industry. Agenda topics will include financial reporting, insurance, human resource issues, compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley Act Section 404, taxation updates, environmental issues, industry benchmarking and risk management. (320) 441-5526

Hilton Hotel Beijing, China This forum will focus on the conversion of biomass to power, gas and liquid fuels. Attendees will hear updates on such projects in China, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Thailand and the Philippines. Other topics will include cellulosic ethanol, biogas, cofiring, gasification, combustion, enzymes and the economics of various biomass feedstocks. +65 63469115

Farm to Fuel Summit

Bioenergy: From Words to Actions

July 30-August 1, 2008

October 6-8, 2008

Rosen Shingle Creek Orlando, Florida This event stems from the Farm to Fuel Initiative developed by Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson to promote the production and distribution of renewable energy from Florida-grown crops, agricultural wastes and other biomass. Topics of discussion will include the Farm, Nutrition and Bioenergy Act of 2007; the Energy Independence & Security Act of 2007; and the Florida energy bill, among many others. (850) 488-0646

Ottawa, Canada The aim of this conference is to identify package solutions for communities exploiting biomass for energy and to examine policies needed to make it happen. It will feature sessions on developing biomass supply chains, and solid fuel development and utilization. It will include tours of the world’s longest-operating, fast-pyrolysis bio-oil plant; a biomass cogeneration unit at a pulp mill; and a harvest waste operation. (647) 239-5899

Biobased Industry Outlook Conference

Energy from Biomass and Waste

September 8-9, 2008

October 14-16, 2008

Iowa State University Ames, Iowa This event will focus on strategies aimed at meeting the new federal cellulosic biofuels mandate, and advancing the Midwestern Governors Association energy and climate change platform. It will feature cutting-edge research on cellulosic feedstock production and processing technologies; biomass harvest, storage and transportation systems; biofuels and climate change; human, social, economic and policy dimensions of the bioeconomy; and biofuels. There will also be a tour of Iowa State University’s New Century Farm. (712) 769-2600

David L. Lawrence Convention Center Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania More than 1,000 people are expected to attend this event, which will address sustainable waste management, the commercial viability of waste-to-energy and biomass-to-energy technologies, positive effects of energy from biomass and waste programs, domestic and international markets, business opportunities, and legal and financial issues. More than 100 exhibitors will showcase the latest in sustainable energy production and safe waste handling, as well. +49-2802-948484-0



BRIEFS Butalco secures funding Virent named to Red Herring North America 100 Virent Energy Systems Inc. was one of only six cleantech/energy companies chosen to receive the Red Herring North America 100 award for 2008. Winners were chosen by the editors of Red Herring on the basis of technology innovation, quality of management, breadth of partners and customers, and depth of financial backing. The Madison, Wis.-based company specializes in producing fuel from biomass-derived feedstocks by using its own patented aqueous-phase reforming process, called Bioforming. The company is in the second year of a five-year collaborative effort with Shell to produce biogasoline from plant sugars using that process. BIO

AltraBiofuels creates cellulosic ethanol company California-based ethanol producer AltraBiofuels Inc. has created a research and development venture called Edeniq, which will focus on cellulosic technology development and licensing. Larry Gross, former chief executive officer of AltraBiofuels, will lead the new company. Kenneth DeCubellis, AltraBiofuels’ vice president of business development and commercial operations, will take over as CEO of the parent company. AltraBiofuels operates two 100 MMgy corn-based ethanol plants in Ohio and Indiana. BIO

Praj begins commercialization phase of cellulosic ethanol process Praj Industries Ltd. has begun the commercialization of its cellulosic ethanol process, according to Chairman Pramod Chaudhari, who announced the milestone at the dedication of the company’s new integrated biotech research and development center in Pune, India. Covering five acres, the center is located near the company’s headquarters. It includes 12 laboratories, seven clean-room facilities, a biodiesel pilot plant and a cellulose-to-ethanol plant. Praj’s cellulosic ethanol process involves a novel pretreatment followed by fermentation with a specific microorganism. BIO 12 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 7|2008

In April, Butalco GmbH, a privately funded Swiss company, secured its first round of external funding from German-based Volkswind GmbH, which will strengthen the company’s research centered on the development of genetically modified yeast used to manufacture lignocellulosic ethanol and butanol. This technology will allow producers to manufacture biofuels using traditionally unsuitable plant waste material that won’t compete with food production. Butalco has filed patent applications and aims to license the technology to biofuel producers. BIO

Branded: Ceres to market biomass crops under Blade label Energy crop company Ceres Inc. will market agricultural seeds and traits in the United States under the trade name Blade Energy Crops. The first products under the Blade name, available for the spring 2009 planting season, will include switchgrass cultivars for biofuels and high-biomass types of sorghum. The firm will maintain the Ceres name as its corporate identity, and in its collaborations with biorefineries and biofuel technology providers. BIO

Renegy announces first-quarter earnings Tempe, Ariz.-based Renegy Holdings Inc. posted total revenues of $347,000 for its first quarter of 2008, compared with total revenues of $496,000 during the same quarter last year. The costs of its fuel aggregation and wood products operations increased $639,000 in the past year. That was “primarily due to increases in the cost of shavings materials sold, impairment charges related to sawmill equipment and the level of expenses capitalized in inventory, partially offset by decreases in wood chips purchased, outsourced labor and fuel,” the company said. BIO

American Electric release first-quarter sales results American Electric Technologies Inc., a supplier of customdesigned power distribution and control solutions, announced $17 million in net sales for the first quarter of 2008. This was a $4.7 million increase, compared with the $12.3 million reported during the first quarter of 2007. The increase included $1.9 million in sales from the American Access Technologies division acquired in May 2007. Net income for the first quarter of 2008 was $200,000. BIO



Jeffrey Specialty Equipment Corp. and Rader Cos. have combined their domestic sales offices in Woodruff, S.C.

Jeffrey, Rader merge sales offices Jeffrey Specialty Equipment Corp. has combined its domestic sales offices with Rader Cos. in Woodruff, S.C., following Jeffrey’s merger of Rader last fall. Both companies serve similar markets, and are now positioned to better serve the U.S. wood and biomass industries. Rader makes pneumatic conveying systems, screening equipment and engineered storage, as well as reclaim systems and truck dumpers for processing bark and wood chips. Jeffrey manufactures rechippers, wood hogs, crushers and feeders at the Woodruff facility. BIO

Ze-gen appoints CFO/COO,board members Ze-gen Inc., a waste gasification technology company, has named George McMillan as its chief operating officer and chief financial officer. McMillan joined Ze-gen as a director in November 2004. The company has also appointed William McDonough and Susan Tierney to serve on its new Market Advisory Board, and Jeff Tester and Mert Flemings to serve on its Scientific Advisory Board, which oversees the technical development of Ze-gen’s advanced gasification technology. BIO


NEWS U.S company to help construct Middle Eastern carbon-neutral city Atlanta-based EnerTech Environmental Inc. signed an expression of interest in midMay to build a SlurryCarb demonstration facility in Masdar City, which will be part of Abu Dhabi in United Arab Emirates. Masdar City will rely entirely on solar energy and other renewable energy sources, while aiming for a zero-carbon, zero-waste and car-free environmental footprint. EnerTech will build and operate the demonstration facility that will utilize the company’s patented SlurryCarb process, according to EnerTech spokesman Brian Dooley. It will be the first step toward the installation of a permanent facility. The SlurryCarb technology will enable the company to convert biosolids—or sewage sludge—into a renewable fuel called “E-fuel,” which is comparable to corn-based ethanol, Dooley said. The

biosolids will come from the permanent buildings erected during Masdar City’s first phase of construction and also from the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, where thousands of construction workers will be staying during the project, which is expected to last from 2008 to 2016. Initiated in 2006, the project is estimated to cost $22 billion. The first phase is scheduled for completion and occupation by next year. The project will be a collaborative effort also involving the Masdar CleanTech Fund, a $250 million global investment initiative focused on building renewable energy projects worldwide. “Investing in EnerTech is a key

part of the overall Masdar ambition,” said Alex O’Cinneide, partner of the Masdar Clean Tech Fund. “Its innovative technology is the kind of smart, clean technology that has the potential to alter the way developers consider future projects.” Currently, EnerTech has a SlurryCarb facility under construction in Rialto, Calif. Upon completion in early 2009, the facility will convert approximately 883 wet tons of biosolids per day from five municipalities in the Los Angeles area into 167 dry tons of Efuel per day, which will be used by a local cement kiln as an alternative to coal, Dooley said. The project will be supervised by the company’s new president and chief executive officer John Prunkl. -Bryan Sims

In January, the cellulosic ethanol industry was surprised to learn that the world’s largest automaker General Motors Corp. had invested in Coskata Inc. and planned to test the company’s cellulosic ethanol on GM vehicles by early 2009. GM followed that announcement with a similar investment in Mascoma Corp. in early May. The move quickly became one in a series of important investments and announcements for the blooming industry. GM’s undisclosed monetary investment will help Mascoma develop cellulosic ethanol using its patented single-step consolidated bioprocessing method. Following GM’s investment, Mascoma also received a $10 million boost from one of the largest U.S. oil refiners, Marathon Oil Co. The investment will provide funding toward Mascoma’s research and development, and cover construction expenses for its operating facilities. Mascoma spokeswoman Kate Casolaro said the company is currently building a demonstration facility in Rome, N.Y., where it plans to begin producing cellulosic ethanol by the end of the year. 14 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 7|2008


Cellulosic ethanol collaborations abound

GM President Fritz Henderson, left, and Mascoma CEO Bruce Jamerson announced the companies’ partnership to develop cellulosic ethanol at a press conference in Washington, D.C., on May 1.

Meanwhile, Coskata announced in late April that it had selected a location for its 40,000-gallon-per-year commercial demonstration plant near Pittsburgh. The modular plant is currently being built by Zeton Inc. in Burlington, Ontario, but will be installed in Madison, Pa., approximately 30 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. Two major European companies, SüdChemie AG and Linde Group, have teamed to develop and market plans for the production of second-generation bio-

fuels. The partnership, which the companies said is the first of its kind in the continent, will involve using a biotechnological process to produce cellulosic ethanol from plant matter, such as wheat straw, corn stover, grasses and wood. Süd-Chemie will contribute its knowledge in the biocatalysis and bioprocess engineering sectors, while Linde’s subsidiary Linde-KCA-Dresden will provide the engineering expertise. The partnership is currently constructing its first pilot plant in Munich, Germany. As for feedstocks, Monsanto Co., an industry leader in testing, breeding and developing crops for cellulosic biofuels production, has partnered with Mendel Biotechnology to advance the company’s bioenergy seeds and feedstocks business. While the two companies have worked together since 1997, this latest agreement allows Monsanto to apply its knowledge of crop testing, breeding and seed production to perennial grass seed varieties being developed by Mendel. -Kris Bevill


NEWS Honeywell partners in biobased jet fuels project Honeywell Aerospace and Des Plaines, Ill.-based UOP LLC, a Honeywell International company, are partnering with Airbus SAS, JetBlue Airways and International Aero Engines to study the use of sustainable biofuels in commercial aircrafts. Renewable energy technology that would convert feedstocks to commercial aviation fuels will be developed and tested. The project will specifically focus on second-generation feedstocks such as algae, which don’t compete with food or water resources. The exact timeline for this project is still in development, said Susan Gross, communications manager for UOP. “Airbus has stated that it hopes to be testing fuel on aircraft within 24 months and have the fuel approved for use on commercial aircraft within three years,” she said. Each of the partners play a specific role in studying and understanding the use of renewable fuels on commercial airlines based on their talents and expertise, Gross said.

Airbus will test the fuel on all airframe components. UOP will develop the processes to convert the biological feedstocks to fuel, and Honeywell Aerospace will assess the performance of the fuel as it relates to the aircraft auxiliary power unit. International Aero Engines will review and approve the characteristics of the alternative fuel for use in a commercial engine application, and assess the performance and emission characteristics of the engines as they use this alternative fuel. JetBlue Airways will take all in-service operational aspects into consideration and will participate in much of the ground- and flighttesting of the fuel once all preliminary tests have been conducted with satisfactory results. “Biofuels hold tremendous potential to meet growing fuel demand while reducing life cycle greenhouse gas emissions,” said Jennifer Holmgren, director of the renewable energy

and chemicals business for UOP. “This partnership brings together a range of aviation and process technology expertise to study and verify the best path toward the sustainable use of biofuels in aviation.” Honeywell Aerospace, which provides expertise in engine technology for commercial aircraft, has been setting the standards in low emissions and fuel efficiency, including a wide range of auxiliary power units for Airbus aircraft. “Honeywell is working alongside key customers to find innovative solutions to meet passenger and operator demands for higher standards in reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Greg Albert, Honeywell Aerospace vice president for Airbus programs. “We believe this joint effort, along with Honeywell’s advanced technology solutions in air traffic management, have the potential to significantly decrease pollutants.” -Hope Deutscher

Is biomass key to China’s energy path? China has the largest population and one of the fastest-growing economies on Earth, yet the country’s growth has put a huge strain on world energy supplies and China’s environment. These challenges and possibilities that China faces as it plots its energy future were outlined in an article recently published in the journal Ambio: A Journal of the Human Environment. High energy consumption and poor energy efficiency exacerbate China’s pollution problem, according to the paper. In 2003, two-thirds of Chinese cities didn’t meet air quality standards. China has the highest sulfur dioxide emissions in the world and ranks second in carbon dioxide emissions. Chinese industry lags behind the rest of the world in energy efficiency. Eight energy-intensive industries representing nearly three-fourths of China’s industrial energy consumption use 47 percent more energy per unit of production than the

same industries in developed nations. Through the use of biomass as an energy source, China could reduce air pollution and improve energy efficiency, according to the paper’s authors Hai Ren, Zhi’an Li, Qinfeng Guo and Quan Wang. Biomass energy has only 10 percent of the polluting emissions of coal and could reduce pollution by 40 percent to 60 percent. The paper said the energy transformation efficiency— the effectiveness through which one type of energy is transformed into another—could be improved by 35 percent to 40 percent if advanced biomass combustion techniques were used. Although China is home to more than 1 billion people, it’s still a country rich in biomass resources. A survey cited in the Ambio paper estimates that China’s biomass resources could provide three times as much energy as the country currently consumes. Many of China’s native species pro-

duce seeds rich in vegetable oils, some with oil contents above 60 percent. China is party to treaties and has passed laws that could encourage the adoption of biomass energy in the coming years. The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 2005 and will require China to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the future. The Chinese Renewable Energy Law was ratified by the National People’s Congress in 2007. The law encourages the use of renewable energy resources. Biomass energy is considered a critical alternative in China’s energy consumption and new rural construction campaign that began in 2007. The paper, which wasn’t peerreviewed, can be found at www Ambio is published by the Royal Swedish Academy of Science. -Jerry W. Kram 7|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 15


NEWS North Dakota funds biomass projects Three biomass-related projects in North Dakota received a total of $980,000 from the North Dakota Industrial Commission in April. The money originated from the Renewable Energy Grant program, which was created by the 2007 state legislature to promote the growth of the state’s renewable energy industries through research, development, marketing and education. “We have seen real progress in our efforts to grow the renewable energy industry in North Dakota, but there’s more work to be done,” said North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven, chairman of the industrial commission, when the Renewable Energy Grant program was announced last fall. The North Dakota State University Agriculture Experiment Station, which

researchers will look at the potential interest from farmers in growing perennial energy crops. ComPAKco LLC was awarded $72,275 to develop the ComPAKer, a densification technology for biomass. The company’s twoyear, $145,000 project aims to use less power than existing biomass compacters. Two more rounds of funding, provided by two state funds totaling $6 million, will be conducted. Interested applicants can find more information on the North Dakota Industrial Commission’s Renewable Energy Council Web site at /renew-infopage.htm.

received more than $800,000 from the program, aims to establish a biomaterials industry in North Dakota with the help of professor Larry Leistritz. The funding will complete an engineering and design study for a $1.7 million pilot-scale facility that will demonstrate the potential for commercial technology to produce fuels from biomass feedstocks. A $534,000 joint project by Great River Energy, Great Plains Institute, North Dakota Natural Resources Trust, North Dakota Farmers Union and the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives received $109,000 to support a detailed technical evaluation of cofiring up to 10 percent biomass at Spiritwood Station, part of the Spiritwood Industrial Park east of Jamestown, N.D. As part of the evaluation,

-Hope Deutscher

Farmers can produce both food and fuel for the world, according speakers at the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing held in Chicago in late April. The overall message from the meeting was that biotechnology is the key to meeting the world’s rising demand for food and alternative fuels by boosting agricultural production, producing biofuels from energy crops and increasing the efficiency of biofuel production. Jeff Broin, cofounder and chief executive officer of Poet LLC, said biofuels provide incentives to increase agricultural production around the world. “Farmers, in addition to harvesting a crop for food and fuel, can harvest biomass,” he said. “We see advancements that are significantly increasing productivity and yields. Farmland around the world that has sat unproductive for decades—and I’m not talking about rainforests—can now be used for food and fuel.”



‘Sustainability’the watchword at BIO event

Farmers can produce both food and fuel, said Jeff Broin at the World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing in Chicago in late April.

Also at the conference, John Heissenbuttel of Heissenbuttel Natural Resource Consulting announced the launching of a new industry initiative to ensure that advanced biofuels are produced in a sustainable manner. The goal of the Council for Sustainable Biomass Production is to establish

voluntary industry standards that will ensure the growth and harvest of cellulosic biomass “in a sustainable manner, balancing economic, environmental and social imperatives.” BIO presented the inaugural George Washington Carver Award to Patrick Gruber for his work in creating and commercializing a new plastic made from renewable resources. As vice president and chief technology officer of Cargill Dow LLC and NatureWorks LLC from 1997 to 2005, Gruber spearheaded the introduction of NatureWorks PLA plastic and Ingeo fibers. He is currently CEO of Gevo Inc., a company creating renewable, cost-effective alternatives to fossil fuels and chemicals. A George Washington Carver scholarship will be given in Gruber’s name to Iowa State University. The award is sponsored by Biowa and the Iowa Biotechnology Association. -Jerry W. Kram



NEWS Two paper mills advance cogeneration projects

By June 1, grass seeders were expected to have planted more than 1,100 acres of switchgrass in Oklahoma, 1,000 of it in a single track near Guyman in the central panhandle region. “We’re pretty excited,” said Adam Calaway, director of public relations at Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation Inc., which will manage the demonstration. “It’s the largest planting of switchgrass anyplace in the world. In several years, it will be one of many, but in the meantime, it will provide us with a lot of good, valuable information.” The production-scale demonstration fields of switchgrass were instigated by the Oklahoma Bioenergy Center, an initiative aimed at launching a statewide biofuels industry with the help of the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University and the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, a nonprofit plant science research institute with extensive experience in forage improvement. Approximately half of the acreage will be irrigated, allowing comparisons of four switchgrass varieties grown in irrigated and dry-land conditions. Steve Rhines, foundation vice president and general counsel, said expected yields for mature switchgrass stands in that region are three to four tons per acre under dry-land conditions and an estimated five to six tons per acre under irrigation. “Because there’s been so little switchgrass grown for production, we don’t know the full yield potential,” he admitted. The experience with irrigation will be valuable, he added, as declining water tables and increasing energy costs make irrigated corn less desirable. “We think as time goes on, switchgrass could make a nice crop to fill the void,” he said. “We think it will take two-thirds of the water, but that’s a research project, too.” The Guymon site is being leased from Hitch Enterprises Inc., a family-owned cattle, pork and agricultural operation. The switchgrass fields are located less than 35 miles from Hugoton, Kan., where Abengoa Bioenergy New Technologies is constructing a 13 MMgy cellulosic ethanol plant. California-based Ceres Inc. will be providing seed and agronomic direction, and Idaho National Laboratory will develop the harvest and processing system in coordination with Abengoa Bioenergy.

In an effort to achieve carbon neutrality, two of the nation’s premier forest products and paper manufacturing companies are developing biomass cogeneration strategies. Hamilton, Ohio-based Smart Papers, one of the oldest continuously operating paper mills in North America, which makes premium coated and uncoated printing papers for businesses and consumers, has begun construction of a $30 million high-efficiency cogeneration facility adjacent to its Hamilton operation. The 40megawatt facility will use biomass such as wood waste and shortfiber cellulosic residuals to generate electricity and steam. The project will consist of four turbines, two condensers, a cooling tower and auxiliary equipment. Honeywell International supplied Smart Papers’ cogeneration system and is supervising the construction of the facility. According to Smart Papers Chairman Tim Needham, construction began in late April and is expected to be complete by the spring of 2009. He said 40 percent of the project will be bought and sold on the open market as monetized carbon credits. “It makes a good business proposition,” he said. “Carbon-neutral paper is really the future of the industry, and for us to be able to sell credits on them is also a double-positive.” Meanwhile, Simpson Tacoma Kraft Co. LLC, one of Washington’s oldest forest products companies, intends to bring on line a 55-megawatt, $100 million biomass cogeneration facility. It will use wood residuals and black liquor from its pulping process to produce internal electricity and steam to power its pulp and paper mill operations in Tacoma, Wash. The project, slated to begin commercial operation by August 2009, would be the largest cogeneration project built in the United States in the past decade, according to the USA Biomass Producers Alliance. Simpson Tacoma Kraft plans to sell the power output to Iberdrola Renewables (formerly PPM Energy), a leading wind energy, power and gas provider headquartered in Portland, Ore. Tacoma Power, the region’s leading electric utility, will provide transmission service to Iberdrola Renewables for the renewable power purchased from Simpson Tacoma Kraft. According to Simpson spokesman Dave McEntee, the company will upgrade its existing boilers to higher pressures to accommodate a steam turbine that will be added to the process. “Much of the biomass—the wood residuals—for this project come from our sawmill operation,” McEntee said. “So, it’s integrated with our business, where we make the fuel that makes the steam that makes the power.”

-Susanne Retka Schill

-Bryan Sims

More than 1,000 acres of switchgrass were planted in the Oklahoma panhandle this spring.

Oklahoma seeds 1,000 acres of switchgrass



NEWS Renewable diesel projects to use cellulosic feedstocks Recent renewable diesel collaborations have provided interesting insights into the future possibilities of cellulosic feedstocks. Several companies are working on using everything from sugarcane to municipal solid waste to produce diesel fuels and are having promising results in the early stages of development. California-based technology company Amyris Biotechnologies has joined forces with Crystalsev, one of Brazil’s largest ethanol distribution and marketing companies, to form Amyris-Crystalsev Pesquisa e Desenvolvimento do Biocombustiveeis Ltd. The new company plans to produce renewable diesel from sugarcane on a commercial scale by 2010. At press time, a research and development facility was scheduled to open in Campinas, Brazil, in June. A pilot plant is scheduled to open in the same location in 2009. Amyris, the majority stakeholder in the new venture, will provide the technology to create hydrocarbons through sugar fermentation. Amyris Chief Executive Officer John

Melo said the collaboration represents a “historic first for the global transportation fuels industry.” He added that with the feedstock provided by Crystalsev and Santelisa Vale, one of the largest sugar and ethanol producers in Brazil, Amyris can take its technology out of the lab and rapidly scale production to begin meeting the world’s fuel needs. Two other California-based companies, BioGold Fuels Corp. and Energy Dynamics Corp. International, have entered into a strategic licensing agreement to produce renewable diesel from municipal solid waste and other waste streams. BioGold will provide the front-end technology to sterilize, sort and size the feedstocks. Energy Dynamics will be responsible for the gasification technology to produce a diesel blendstock, among other products. BioGold intends to utilize Energy Dynamics’ technology to build and operate a biorefinery in

Kansas, according to BioGold CEO Steve Raccosin. No other details had been released to BioGold’s stockholders at press time, so the company couldn’t comment further as to the progress of the partnership, according to its Chief Financial Officer Chris Barsness. BioGold uses an “organic gas emissions reduction” processing system to convert many types of waste into renewable fuels. The company’s goal is to eliminate the need for landfills while providing a source of fuel and electricity. Energy Dynamics aims to collaborate with companies such as BioGold in order to use its gasification technology to convert municipal solid waste and other types of biomass feedstocks into usable fuels. The company plans to make its waste-to-energy technologies available to companies worldwide. -Kris Bevill

Biopesticides alliance to develop standards Driven by the biopesticide industry’s growth and the decrease in the use of traditional pesticides, the Biopesticide Industry Alliance has begun the process of setting industry standards. “We have relationships with the U.S. EPA, Canada’s Health Ministry and several state agencies,” said Bill Stoneman, executive director of the BPIA. “They regularly participate in our meetings and hear our side of the regulatory story. Our meetings have offered a place for the exchange of ideas and networking.” The BPIA has identified efficiency, education and regulations as its three core initiatives as it assess short- and mid-term goals. “Part of our focus will be on extension educators, extension specialists and crop pest advisors to overcome any barriers to adop18 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 7|2008

tion,” Stoneman said. “We also have a place in organic agriculture and food production.” Part of the outreach will be to groups involved in the growth and consumer promotion of organic crop production, he added. The organization is looking strongly at establishing a certification program that would be administered by a third party, which would certify the effectiveness of EPA-registered biopesticides. The educational dynamic would be geared toward growers, consultants, researchers, distributors and consumers about the benefits of biopesticides. The regulatory dynamic would include participation with the EPA in the Pesticide Registration Implementation Renewal Act Working Group, Stoneman said. The recruitment of new companies is important, Stoneman said. “Biopesticide

companies—many of them small—all face the same kinds of challenges,” he said. “The more companies that participate and collaborate to achieve these common goals, the greater the BPIA’s impact and the greater our chance for success.” According to the EPA, biopesticides are certain types of pesticides derived from such natural materials as animals, plants, bacteria and certain minerals. For example, canola oil and baking soda have pesticidal applications and are considered biopesticides. Stoneman said the organization is growing. The next BPIA board of directors meeting is scheduled for October. -Timothy Charles Holmseth


NEWS Ohio passes renewable electricity bill On May 1, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland signed into law renewable energy legislation that will apply strong usage and efficiency standards by 2009. The advanced energy portfolio in Senate Bill 221 will require by 2025 that 25 percent of electricity sold by Ohio’s electric distribution utilities or electric service companies be from alternative energy sources, said Anne Goodge of the Ohio Biomass Energy Program. “Half of the renewable energy sources facilities’ must be located in Ohio with [the] remainder deliverable,” she said. In addition to biomass, other sources of renewable energy under this new legislation include solar power, clean coal, nuclear power, fuel cells, cogeneration and solid waste. The staff of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio is currently drafting rules for the alternative energy resource

requirements, which will be published and Chamber of Commerce one year ago. At that followed by public comment, Goodge time, the focus was on transparency and explained. There will be annual benchmarks accountability, equal footing for customers with the utilities, energy efficienthrough 2025 to assure complicy, a strong advanced energy ance, she said. “Utilities are subportfolio, modernization of the ject to penalties for noncomplielectrical infrastructure, a need ance,” she added. A utility may for greenhouse gas emissions, purchase renewable energy credits and balance between the protecto meet the standard, if necessary. tion of regulations and the The legislation states that to opportunities of competitive further advance the modernizamarkets. tion of alternative energy infraStrickland “The commission is working structure, market access for costeffective supply will be created, demand-side on the draft rules for public comment [to be management will be implemented, time-dif- finalized] as soon as possible,” Goodge said. ferentiated pricing will be prepared and “I would estimate that it will be several months at least before they are issued.” advanced metering will be employed. Before signing the legislation, Strickland said the new law and standards reflect a com-Timothy Charles Holmseth mitment he made publicly to the Toledo

PNNL,WSU partner in new biomass research lab Internationally recognized microbiologist Birgitte Ahring will be taking the helm of Washington’s new Bioproducts, Sciences and Engineering Laboratory in August. The $24.8 million center on the campus of Washington State University in Richland, Wash., was dedicated in May. The 57,000square-foot laboratory is a partnership between WSU and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and will include 10 jointly appointed scientists to work on the advancement of biomass research. Ahring, previously a professor at the Technical University of Denmark, is the founder and chief executive officer of BioGasol, an engineering and technology company spun off from the Danish university in 2006. BioGasol is building a demonstration plant on an island off the coast of Sweden, using its proprietary equipment, patented processes and a unique thermophilic bacterium to convert biomass into ethanol. It will also provide the technology for Pacific Ethanol Inc.’s cellulosic ethanol

plant to be built adjacent to its corn-based ship role in the areas of sustainability and ethanol plant in Boardman, Ore. Pacific clean energy,” said WSU President Elson Ethanol received a $24.3 million grant earlier Floyd. this year from the U.S. DOE to At the BSEL’s grand opening advance this project. ceremonies, Andy Karsner, assisResearchers at the BSEL will tant secretary for energy efficienwork on biochemical and thermocy and renewable energy at the chemical conversions of cellulosic DOE, reminded attendees of the biomass to ethanol. The thermoimportance of cellulosic ethanol chemical studies will include work to the United States. “Cellulosic on hydro-treated pyrolysis oil that ethanol is a critical component of Ahring can be further refined in existing [President George W. Bush’s] petroleum refineries to create direct diesel comprehensive strategy to diversify our and gasoline replacements. The BSEL fea- nation’s energy sources in a sustainable mantures a facility that will enable researchers to ner, enhance energy security and address the test new concepts close to industrial scale, serious challenge of global climate change,” increasing commercialization potential. The he said. “BSEL’s work to develop and deploy collaboration at the BSEL will combine clean and affordable renewable fuels will WSU’s expertise in agricultural research with prove pivotal as the Bush Administration Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s works aggressively to mitigate climate change proficiency in conversion technologies. “The and meet the rapidly growing demand for new Bioproducts, Sciences and Engineering energy.” Laboratory is a cornerstone of the efforts by -Susanne Retka Schill our university and our state to take a leader7|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 19

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Breakthroughs in


reen asoline Production

Biomass-derived fuels are garnering a lot of attention because they are chemically similar to petroleum-based fuels and can be used in existing engines and moved through the pipeline system. By Jessica Ebert





n late June of last year, 70 representatives from 24 U.S. universities, several of the country’s national laboratories, the oil and chemical industries, venture capital, agriculture, and engine and small businesses met in Washington D.C., at a workshop entitled, “Breaking the Chemical and Engineering Barriers to Lignocellulosic Biofuels.” The purpose of the two-day event, which was organized by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. DOE, was to discuss the basic science, chemistry and engineering underlying the conversion of lignocellulosic biomass into green fuels, including gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. Although significant investments have been made in technologies for the production of ethanol from corn, biodiesel from soybean oil or canola oil, and more recently for the conversion of nonfood biomass feedstocks into ethanol and biodiesel, to date, the technologies for producing hydrocarbon fuels such as gasoline, diesel and jet fuel from biomass seem to have been overlooked. This will likely change, however, with recent reports of advancements in green gasoline production from a research group at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. In addition, scientists and engineers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington State, in collaboration with researchers at UOP LLC, a developer and licenser of process technologies and catalysts and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, are preparing to scale-up their approach to the production of green gasoline in the next year or two. “I think in the broadest sense, the significance of green gasoline is that it provides an alternative to ethanol,” explains Brent Shanks, a chemical engineer at Iowa State University who develops catalysts for the conversion of biomass to chemicals and fuels. “That’s significant partially because, looking forward to biofuels, the key question is what is the right biofuel? Ethanol


and biodiesel have been initially selected because the technology is known. As we go forward talking about second-generation biofuels, it’s a broader picture we need to consider,” he says. “It is important as a country to have a portfolio of approaches for second-generation biofuels.” The Washington workshop culminated in a recently released document, which was edited by George Huber, a chemical engineer at the University of Massachusetts, Huber of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The document Amherst, is holding a vial of Bio Oil made by provides a road map high- Renewable Oil International that has a lighting the novel process manufacturing plant in Fitchburg, Mass. Huber is working on lowering the acidity and technologies being devel- raising the energy density of Bio Oil for ROI oped around the world for through a $100,000 DOE grant. biofuels production. It is this transformational science that the workshop attendees believe will provide the foundation for future biorefineries. In addition, the road map presents recommendations for research that will foster the development of a mature biofuels industry in the United States. The workshop and resulting road map focus on green hydrocarbon fuels because the workshop participants liken the growth of a biofuels industry as an accelerated version of the petroleum industry’s development, defined by intensive research and driven by innovations and tools avail-





Gary Neuenschwander, an engineer at PNNL, works on a bench-scale system for fast pyrolysis of biomass.

able today. This stems from the chemical similarities between fuels currently derived from petroleum and those hydrocarbon fuels derived from biomass. Since the fuels are essentially the same at the molecular level, green hydrocarbon fuels have the same energy content as the fuels consumers are using today. These renewable fuels can be used in existing infrastructures

such as engines and pipelines, and the production of green hydrocarbon fuels could also be integrated into existing petroleum refineries. It’s these characteristics that have piqued the interest of those in the oil industry. “All the big names are getting into this,” says Doug Elliott, a staff scientist at PNNL. “I think that’s a key change.” It’s the infrastructure compatibility of green gasoline that is the primary draw. “These people are interested in using the facilities that they have to handle this type of material because it looks more like what they’re used to working with,” Elliott explains. For example, ConocoPhillips announced in the spring of last year that it would establish an eight-year, $22.5 million research program at Iowa State University to advance technologies for the production of biofuels. At the center of this research is the development of a process called fast pyrolysis, In this process, solid biomass is injected into some kind of reactor, typically a fluidized bed. The feedstock is heated to temperatures ranging from 400 to 600 degrees Celsius (752 to 1,112 degrees Fahrenheit) for short periods of time, typically less than 2 seconds, followed by rapid cooling. The products of the reaction include gases, char and a liquid bio-oil. The latter consists of water, oxygen and thermally cracked pieces of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin from the original feedstock. Bio-oils are mixtures of more than 300 compounds that must be upgraded in a catalytic process to a liquid transportation fuel. This process of upgrading bio-oil to gasoline is not a new process. In fact, Don Stevens, a senior program manager at PNNL, has a jar of green gasoline in his office that was made in the mid-1980s that has yet to evaporate. “Some of the ideas like green gasoline have been around for awhile and progress was made years ago,” Stevens says. But cheap petroleum-based fossil fuels made the production of a biobased alternative cost prohibitive. “Fortunately, the capability underlying [green gasoline

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fuel tricks was not appropriate for bio-oil, however, so modifications were made to reaction conditions and different catalysts were used. “It’s complementary to the existing petroleum refining approach but it uses different catalysts and conditions,” Stevens explains.


production] is still around,” he says. “These days it’s much more interesting.” He explains that the early work into green gasoline production built off the advancements made in the catalytic refining of petroleum. The direct application of the petroleum industry’s

Huber stands in his lab at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst with two of his graduate students: Hakan Olkay, middle, and Tushar Vispute, far right.


fuel “In the past three to five years, the pyrolysis community has made a lot of progress in the functional upgrading of biocrude to fuel products,” Stevens says. “We could do it in the past but we’ve gotten a lot better at it.” This is not the only pathway to green gasoline. In a recent paper in the journal ChemSusChem, which features research at the interface of chemistry and sustainability with energy research, materials science, chemical engineering and biotechnology, Huber’s team of chemical engineers reported a breakthrough in the process. In the new work, the researchers show that pure sugar feedstocks can be converted into certain components of gasoline in a single step. By adding a zeolite catalyst, a solid catalyst, which consists of aluminum and silicon, to the pyrolysis process, cellulose can be directly converted to aromatics that make up a quarter of the chemical components found in gasoline. With further treatment, a liquid can be produced that is indistinguishable from gasoline. “This is a new concept to make sustainable biofuel—a new route,” Huber says. The process, however, features a catalyst common to petroleum refining. “We started working with these catalysts because they are already used in the petroleum refinery and they are very inexpensive,” he explains. “They work well for petroleum refining and work reasonably well for biomass feedstocks.” Now the team is designing catalysts specifically for biomass conversion. Although the team is currently producing green gasoline on a milligram scale, the research objective over the next few years is to scale up. “Our goal is to be able to have a process that can produce 50 gallons of aromatics from 1 metric ton of biomass,” Huber says. “We anticipate that this technology will have a significantly lower capital investment than cellulosic ethanol and syngas conversion technologies.”

Although it might be some time before Huber’s process is producing a significant amount of green gasoline, the approach PNNL, UOP and NREL have been working on is nearing that advancement. “We’re at the stage now where we’re [upgrading bio-oil] in several liter quantities,” Stevens explains. “It’s still at the bench top but we believe that in another year or two we’ll be at the position where if someone like the Department of Energy announced a demonstration-type solicitation, it would be time for us to do one of those.” Picking one approach to reign now is shortsighted, however. “We’re excited and enthusiastic about Dr. Huber’s approach,” Stevens says. “All of these approaches are important. If we’re going to get to our [mandated] 36 billion gallons of fuel by 2022, I think you have to consider multiple approaches, multiple fuels, and part of those have to be infrastructure compatible because if we try to do it all with ethanol we have to have a huge infrastructure investment.” What’s certain is that those invested in the domestic production of second-generation biofuels are ramping up their efforts. The road map edited by Huber sums up the current state of these efforts to produce fuels from nonfood biomass that are cost competitive with petroleum-based fuels: “At this stage, there are many more questions than answers but the tremendous potential for domestic production of essential fuels and products compels us to work diligently to develop the technologies necessary to realize this potential.” BIO Jessica Ebert is a Biomass Magazine freelance writer. Reach her at


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October 19 – 21, 2008 Indianapolis Marriott Downtown Indianapolis, Indiana, USA



It’s Not Just for Grazing We know cows like it—and by eating certain varieties, they give more milk. So do these grasses’ higher sugar content also mean greater ethanol output? By Susan Aldridge





rass is everywhere—on golf courses, football fields, parks, in your garden and, of course, wherever cows are content. Could we use it for


transport fuel? That idea is under consideration in several places around the world, including Wales—and in Wales, cows in fact may be a guide for researchers studying cellulosic ethanol. Steve Kelly, a molecular biologist at Swansea University in Wales, is one scientist working on a process that may eventually let motorists tank up on “grassohol” from the

very meadows past which they drive on their next holiday. Kelly’s is a two-step process, using high-sugar, low-lignin, highly digestible variants of ryegrass. These grasses were developed at the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research at Aberystwyth University in Wales through conventional crossbreeding techniques, particularly with the AberDart and AberMagic varieties (see sidebar on page 33). Researchers have deliberately avoided the laboratory techniques of genetic modification, which directly alter the genetic makeup of the plants, because it is controversial in Europe. Among the concerns is that genetically modified (GM) crops will spread into the natural ecosystem. Grass is wind-pollinated, and the scientists don’t want to risk gene transfer to non-GM plants.

Can Wales’ plentiful grasslands work as a feedstock for transport fuels?

Juiced The first step for Kelly and colleagues is processing the grass to extract a water-soluble “juice” that contains fructans (fructose oligomers and polymers). Kelly’s team has cloned genes for enzymes that can hydrolyze these fructans.



This isn’t just any Welsh landscape. This ryegrass includes a variant developed by cross-breeding without any genetic-modification technology, which is controversial in Europe.

They insert the fructans into the fermenting yeast to optimize the process. The second step is fermenting the relatively dry, stable lignocellulose fraction residue. This involves use of enzymes that can break down the plant cell walls. Iain Donnison, leader of the bioenergy and biorenewables program at the Aber Bio Centre at Aberystwyth University and one of Kelly’s main collaborators, says preliminary calculations suggest ryegrass could be as good as or better than wheat or sugar beets as a source of ethanol.

research ‘We believe ethanol from grass could be comparable in yield to wheat and beets, and the key advantage is that it could be low-input, as it is a perennial crop. If it is grown with clover, which fixes nitrogen, then not much fertilizer is needed.’

Grassy Landscapes Swansea’s Kelly is well-schooled. He studied molecular biology with Nobel Prize winner Sir Paul Nurse, who shared the 2001 prize for work on key regulators of the cell cycle. That positions Kelly to push forward a genomic approach in meeting the chal-

lenges of producing ethanol from biomass. Wales, on England’s west, is famous for its grassy landscapes. No surprise, it is trying to build its biofuels involvement in part on all that grass. The Welsh government is funding a planned Centre of Excellence in Biorefining at the universities of Aberystwyth, Bangor and Swansea, with additional funding from the European Union. In a region where mining once drove the economy but has since diminished in importance, the purpose of the centre is to provide research and guidance for businesses to create new employment and preserve existing jobs. Backers seek commercial partners as well. “This,” says Kelly hopefully, “is a good time to invest in this area of science.” He pushes ahead with his work on ryegrass to establish a better understanding of the grasses and the key microbes associated with processing them.

High-Sugar Grass Grains and sugarcane dominate ethanol production now because fermentation of starch is relatively easy. Producing ethanol from second-generation feedstocks means breaking down cellulose, which forms the cell walls of trees, grasses and other plants. Plants build cellulose from carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen during photosynthesis. Cellulosic fibers stiffen stems, roots and leaves—but its very toughness presents scientific and technical challenges in extracting ethanol. Grass breeds developed by Germinal Holdings Ltd. of Banbridge, Northern Ireland, have the attention of researchers in Wales. AberDart HSG Ryegrass is a diploid perennial high in sugar content. The Germinal Holdings Web site trumpets that “stock cannot get enough of it.” Greater utilization of the protein in the grass means greater production of milk and meat, Germinal Holdings says. Another variety, AberMagic HSG Ryegrass, is a new perennial with limited availability in 2008. Germinal Holdings calls AberMagic “the next generation” of high-sugar grasses bred by IGER for higher sugar levels. If it makes the cows happy—maybe it can fuel your car.




Willow is Another Way Grass is not the only source of ethanol under investigation in the U.K. Richard Murphy of Imperial College in London notes that willow has great genetic diversity, so there is plenty of varieties that can be explored. Moreover, it is well-adapted for growth in the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe, where it is a traditional species. “Willow is a permanent crop, so the stems growing above ground are harvested and will then regrow,” Murphy says. “It requires very little by way of fertilizer input. It is well-adapted for growth in wet soils too.” Nor does willow require the best arable land. Processing willow into ethanol, however, is not easy. In willow, the vast majority of the fermentable biomass occurs in the form of lignocellulose—of which about 50 percent is cellulose itself, and another 25 percent or so hemicelluloses and related compounds. “Getting sugar from starch is easy, but it requires a great deal of science, technology and engineering to break down the plant cell wall,” Murphy says. “All of this is potentially available for fermentation. But breaking it down is a big step—that is the challenge.” Lignocelluloses can be broken down with heat or chemicals but this approach, obviously, uses energy or environmentally unfriendly

substances such as acids. Using of a mixture of enzymes is a better approach but, as Murphy points out, it requires the relevant enzymes. Novel technologies include direct microbial action. Exploring willow varieties is also a key prospect. “There are some interesting opportunities here in willow to seek varieties which will release their sugars more easily than others,” Murphy says. Rothamsted Research of Harpenden, U.K., a leading organization in this research, has a collection of more than 1,000 willow genotypes, an ideal hunting ground for good ethanol sources. “The Rothamsted team has a good understanding of its genomics,” Murphy says. “This means that we are able to work to identify genetic markers for willows that may be superior producers of bioethanol. These could then be bred as a biofuel source.” The willow work is progressing well but is some way from commercialization. Murphy points to issues such as land access, technical processing and fuel pricing, as well as the basic science. “My personal view is that this is where we need to be headed with biofuels,” he adds. “We need to develop this as much as we can, for it will be a good, economic fuel.”

Ryegrass represents an important prospective source of biomass because it is present on two-thirds of agricultural land in the U.K. At the same time, EU efforts to reform agricultural subsidies encourage farmers to decrease the number of animals grazing on their land. “So, farmers are wondering what they can do with this excess of grass.” Donnison says.

Cows Like It Grass stands out from other prospective perennial feedstocks for its high soluble carbohydrate (sugar) content. Indeed, IGER has bred ryegrasses from varieties such as AberDart and AberMagic to select for this high-sugar content, originally because cattle grazing on high-sugar grasses gave a higher milk and meat yield. Now it appears that the same grasses can also provide a high potential ethanol yield. Donnison’s team is scaling up. “We believe ethanol from grass could be comparable in yield to wheat and beets,” Donnison says, “and the key advantage is that it could be low-input, as it is a perenni-




European farmers are wondering what to do with all that grass if livestock don’t graze it.

al crop. If it is grown with clover, which fixes nitrogen, then not much fertilizer is needed.” The work tracks research published earlier this year showing the economic feasibility of producing ethanol from switchgrass. Researchers at the USDA and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln carried out field trials on 10 plots of 15 acres to 20 acres each on marginal cropland on 10 farms in the U.S. Midwest. Measuring inputs, biomass yield, estimated ethanol output, greenhouse gas emissions and net energy, researchers found that switchgrass produced more than six times the renewable energy compared with nonrenewable energy consumed. Researchers also calculated that emissions of greenhouse gases from switchgrass ethanol would be 94 percent lower than regular gasoline.

are now working on a variety of techniques to improve hydrogen yield from grass stocks. Biogas can include both methane and hydrogen, depending on the nature of the fermentation process. It can be piped off,

compressed and used as a transportation fuel. Dinsdale’s figures suggest that, as a transport fuel, biogas can produce three times more mileage than either ethanol or biodiesel per unit of land. He and his colleagues are currently building two pilot plants to establish key engineering parameters and seeking funding to extend the work beyond 2009. Biogas is already used in Germany, Austria, Sweden and Italy—but not yet much in the U.K. or the United States. Dinsdale believes biogas ought to have a big future as a transportation fuel in the U.K. However, existing liquid-fuel infrastructure inhibits its development. In any case, researchers say that 30 acres can fuel a London bus for a year. If true, evidently the cows knew it first. BIO Susan Aldridge is a London-based freelance writer and editor specializing in biotechnology, medicine, health and chemistry.

Producing Hydrogen Meanwhile, back in the U.K., Richard Dinsdale of the University of Glamorgan in Pontypridd, Wales, has found another use for grass. Collaborating with IGER researchers, Dinsdale is working at producing hydrogen. Using anaerobic organisms—mainly Clostridium cultures—to produce hydrogen and methane, Dinsdale and colleagues




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SizingAnaerobic Digestion

Environmental Power Corp.’s Huckabay Ridge facility stands tall in Stephenville, Texas. 38 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 7|2008

profile Environmental Power Corp. aims to become a premier player in the biomass industry by developing large-scale anaerobic digestion systems. Biomass Magazine talks with company officials about their thriving business model and how it could become the standard for others who want to convert waste into energy. By Bryan Sims Photos By Jim Manganella




hen Richard Kessel became the chief executive officer for the Tarrytown, N.Y.based Environmental Power Corp. in July 2006, he was armed with more than 30 years experience in the energy field and the wherewithal to mold companies into formidable players in the renewable energy industry. EPC, and its single subsidiary Microgy Inc., is rapidly expanding its renewable energy portfolio by developing, owning and operating large-scale anaerobic digestion facilities that produce methanerich biogas from agricultural livestock and organic wastes. EPC’s ability to design anaerobic digestion systems and to provide ongoing operational maintenance on a large scale Kessel sets it apart from the small-scale, farmer-owned anaerobic digestion model, according to Kessel. “What really makes us unique is the size of our projects,” he says. “We’re really looking to sell— in the wholesale market—a natural gas product and that’s what really differentiates us.” Acquired by EPC in 2001, Microgy holds the exclusive North American license


for a proprietary Danish anaerobic digestion technology that has been proven to generate significantly more biogas than other digestion methods. Microgy designs thermophylic anaerobic digestion facilities that produce EPC’s trademarked Renewable Natural Gas or methane. Microgy’s commercial anaerobic digestion facilities produce biogas that can be used for a variety of applications such as being combusted in a generator to create power, used to offset fossil fuels, cleaned to natural gas standards for pipeline interconnection or sold as RNG. Volatile natural gas prices, the need to satisfy state renewable portfolio standards (RPS) to achieve carbon neutrality and EPC’s aggressive business strategy have helped the company achieve its renewable energy goals, according to Mark Hall, vice president of external affairs for EPC. “What we lacked was the expertise to package [anaerobic digesters], manage them properly and professionally, get the right kinds of agreements in place and the right kinds of maintenance activities initiated to really allow the industry to take off,” Hall says. “Of course you need a price structure that supports all of that, and the increase in natural gas prices is certainly an important step in that direction along with the demand for renewable energy resources that these projects can participate in.”

A Plan of Action Producing renewable energy isn’t uncharted territory for EPC. Since 1982, the company has led or participated in the development and/or ownership of a dozen clean energy Hall projects, including seven hydropower facilities, two municipal waste projects and three waste-coal-powered generating facilities. Currently, EPC owns and operates four commercial anaerobic digestion plants—three in Wisconsin and one in Texas. In addition to those facilities, EPC has 10 projects being developed across the United States, which will add 4.9 million British thermal units (MMBtus) per year of pipeline-quality biogas to the natural gas utility network. EPC’s flagship Huckabay Ridge project in Stephenville, Texas, was the impetus behind its becoming an exclusive RNG supplier in California. The facility came on line in January and generates 635,000 MMBtus of RNG (enough to produce 9 megawatts of electricity) per year using the manure produced by 10,000 dairy cows from local farms. The power produced by that facility is currently sold to the Lower Colorado River Authority. As of October, the gas will be


EPC’s Huckabay Ridge anaerobic digestion facility, commissioned in January, is the largest of its kind in North America, producing 635,000 MMBtus of Renewable Natural Gas per year using the manure from an adjacent 10,000 cow dairy farm on-site. EPC will start selling its trademarked RNG to Pacific Gas & Electric in October.

pipelined to Pacific Gas & Electric in California under a 10-year purchase agreement for up to 8,000 MMBtus of RNG per year. EPC is also fully permitted to develop two projects in California involving six dairies. EPC will integrate the raw biogas produced from the dairies and transport it to a central location where it will be conditioned (cleaned) and then injected into the pipeline. The motive for PG&E to acquire the fuel

from EPC reflects what utility providers in states like California are doing in order to fulfill RPS requirements, Hall says. Other utilities across the country have also expressed interest in acquiring EPC’s RNG output. “We’re obviously going to sell our gas into the highest value market,” Hall says. “We’re looking for places that have high gas prices and where we’re going to get a high value for the renewable attributes. They are

going to use this gas in their most efficient generating resources so that they can maximize the production of renewable energy credits to help satisfy their RPS obligations.” Meanwhile, EPC has secured off-take agreements with various food processing companies such as JBS Swift & Co. and Cargill Inc. to use their agricultural and food industry waste as substrates to codigest with cow manure. Employing off-take strategies continued on page 43




EPC’s Operating Facilities



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Five Star Location: Elk Mound, Wis. Capacity: 750 KW of electricity Feedstock: manure from 900 dairy cows Start up date: first quarter 2005 Utility customer: Dairyland Power Co-op

Norswiss Location: Stanfold, Wis. Capacity: 850 KW of electricity Feedstock: manure from 1,300 dairy cows Start up date: fourth quarter 2005 Utility customer: Dairyland Power Co-op

Wild Rose Location: Webster, Wis. Capacity: 750 KW of electricity Feedstock: manure from 900 dairy cows Start up date: second quarter 2005 Utility customer: Dairyland Power Co-op

Huckabay Ridge Location: Stephenville, Texas Capacity: 635,000 MMBtus of RNG per year Feedstock: manure from 10,000 dairy cows Start up date: January 2008 Utility customer(s): currently Lower Colorado River Authority; will be selling to California’s Pacific Gas & Electric in October as part of a 10year contract

Under Construction Grand Island Location: Grand Island, Neb.; located at JBS Swift beef processing facility Capacity: 235,000 MMBtus of RNG Feedstock: manure from 6,000 beef cattle per day and paunch waste Expected start up date: undeclared Utility customer: undeclared

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Mission Location: Texas Capacity: 635,000 MMBtus of RNG per year Status: debt financing obtained

Riverdale Cluster Location: California Capacity: 550,000 MMBtus of RNG per year Status: signed and in permitting process

Rio Leche Location: Texas Capacity: 635,000 MMBtus of RNG per year Status: debt financing obtained

Cargill 1 Location: Idaho Capacity: 550,000 MMBtus of RNG per year Status: option agreements executed

Cnossen Location: Texas Capacity: 635,000 MMBtus of RNG per year Status: debt financing obtained

Cargill 2 Location: Colorado Capacity: 365,000 MMBtus of RNG per year Status: option agreements executed

Hanford Cluster Location: California Capacity: 605,000 MMBtus of RNG per year Status: signed and in permitting process

Gallo-Columbard Location: California Capacity: 145,000 MMBtus of RNG per year Status: permitting process finalized

Bar 20 Location: California Capacity: 570,000 MMBtus of RNG per year Status: signed and in permitting process

profile continued from page 41

such as these makes EPC a value-added asset for other companies looking to cost-effectively dispose of their waste streams. Adding these waste streams to its process also benefits EPC. “Our model is to really maximize the production of biogas,” Hall says. “The way to do that is to codigest manure using various agricultural and food wastes from the food processing industry. By adding other sources of fats, proteins and carbohydrates as food for the bacteria that are in the process we get significantly more biogas production.”

also uses cross-collateralization and revenue pooling to create a diversified portfolio, which provides for attractive returns on payback periods and on capital. In the future, EPC will explore opportunities to expand its RNG into other markets such as electricity, biofuels or other forms of renewable power generation. For now, however, EPC will concentrate on providing pipeline-quality biogas, Hall says. “This management team has done an awful lot of electricity projects so there’s no fear there,” he says. “We have not taken a step

back in trying to participate directly in the transportation fuel sector either. But, if we’re cleaning [biogas] up to pipeline quality standards and somebody wanted to partner with us to provide a natural gas vehicle fueling type of facility, that’s easy for us to bolt that on with a partner.” BIO Bryan Sims is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. Reach him at or (701) 738-4962.

Strategy for Future Growth It goes without saying that to successfully scale-up projects, a company must have the physical and human capital necessary to support it. EPC is well-equipped to handle such a daunting task. As the scope of projects EPC has undertaken expands, its management and construction teams have had to adapt. Kessel credits much of the company’s success to his management team. “In any development cycle, when you have your ups and downs you need to address them, and we believe we have the people in place to accomplish our goals,” he says. “We’ve been out identifying construction partners that we’ll work with to not only provide the technological specifications, but we look for people who are going to manage that construction process so that we can build a lot of these projects in parallel,” Hall says. EPC, which is publicly traded on the American Stock Exchange (NASDAQ: EPG), has managed to employ some unique financing mechanisms to develop its projects such as tax-exempt bonds. Tax-exempt bonds are issued by a municipal, county or state government. The interest payments are not subject to federal income tax and sometimes state or local income tax. EPC typically kicks in about 20 percent of its own equity. “In many instances a developer has to convince a farm or industry to buy a digester and use their precious capital,” Kessel says. “We bring our own capital to bear, and let our project participants in and align the interests. Not only is the ability for us to develop these projects important, but our ability to still finance the projects is really critical to get to the scale we want to get to.” The company 7|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 43

EXPO expanding sustainable alternatives a BBI Internationl event September 28 – 30, 2008 Minneapolis Convention Center Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA


Pellet Properties Economists exhort consumers to gather as much information as possible before making a purchase. But for those buying fuel pellets for residential or industrial heat, basic information such as heat content, ash and chloride can be hard to obtain. The Pellet Fuels Institute is helping pellet manufacturers create testing programs to help consumers know what they are buying. By Jerry W. Kram

Fuel pellets can be made out of anything from hardwoods to wheat straw to municipal waste. But there was no consistent set of analysis methods to test the quality of fuel pellets until the Pellet Fuels Institute began to develop a set of standards three years ago. PHOTO: TWIN PORTS TESTING






aveat emptor. “Let the buyer beware.” That hoary cliché of economics says that the consumer must take responsibility for knowing what he or she is buying. But it also assumes that the seller will make enough information available for consumers so they can make an informed and responsible choice. But what happens if the seller doesn’t have the information the consumer needs? If that consumer has a choice between two products, one with a full analysis and one without, the seller who knows what’s in his or her product may have a significant advantage. That has been the situation in the fuel pellet industry, says Chris Wiberg, chief operating officer of Twin Ports Testing Inc. There has been a dearth of information generally comparing fuel pellets made from different feedstocks. Additionally, a significant number of pellet manufacturers have never had their products analyzed or have only had single samples of their products analyzed. Other energy sources such as coal, natural gas or fuel oil are standardized products that are consistent among many suppliers. With biomass fuel pellets, the properties of the fuel can vary not only with the type of feedstock but the time of year the feedstock was harvested.


ing and acceptable test methods. “It became kind of an optional sort of thing—if you want to use them go ahead,” Wiberg says. “The Pellet Fuels Institute put them out there as standards but there was no enforcement.” What happened is that some manufacturers wound up testing their products only once, and assumed their products would continue to match that initial analysis. “So you had people who tested their product one time and it looked like premium [grade] so they sold their pellets as premium from thereon out,” Wiberg says. After a discussion about standards at a Pellet Fuels Institute meeting, Wiberg was approached by a manufacturer who said he would have to start testing his product. “I asked if he had ever tested his product and he hadn’t,” he continues. “The strange thing about it was that he didn’t even know he had to. When he went out for his initial order of bags, the bag supplier printed a guaranteed analysis on the bag, even though there was never an analysis of the material. So it is definitely an industry where some people think a pellet is a pellet is a pellet.” Selling a product as premium grade without an analysis to back it up can open up manufacturers to liability problems. “It’s truth in advertising if nothing else,” Wiberg says.

Small Beginnings

A New Standard

The pellet fuel industry started in the early 1980s in response to the energy price shocks of the 1970s. The U.S. market has largely been limited to residential heating and fireplaces. The equipment for this market didn’t require strict quality specifications. The Pellet Fuels Institute, the trade association that represents pellet manufacturers, industry suppliers, appliance manufacturers and retailers, released a set of standards for the industry in 1995. “They were pretty loose,” Wiberg says. The standards created two classes of pellets—premium and standard. The standards specified ash content, fines and diameter, and had a recommendation for sodium content. The weak points of the standards were a lack of any sort of schedule of test-

Other problems with regulations led the Pellet Fuels Institute to look into revamping its pellet standards. Wiberg says a stove manufacturer was spending more than a quarter of a million dollars per year on repairs under warranty because the fuel used in those stoves was supposedly meeting quality specifications. “Somebody would say come out and repair my defective stove and when they got there they realized it was a fuel problem,” Wiberg says. “It said premium on the bag but it wasn’t.” In 2005, the institute invited Twin Ports Testing to give a presentation on testing methods. They presented a problem to Wiberg because the Pellet Fuels Institute standards didn’t require specific testing methods. “I could tell them how I tested



Pellet fuels had to be tested using methods designed for other fuels such as coal. With the publication of the new standards, pellet testing will become uniform between testing labs.

their materials, but not because that’s what I was told to do,” he adds. “Somebody would say ‘I need moisture number and ash and Btus. Here are my pellets.’ If I asked what method they needed to test to, they would have no clue.” While at the institute meeting, Wiberg was invited to sit in on a meeting of the group’s standards committee where he heard about the stove manufacturers problems. “I listened to that and I knew what the industry needed to hear,” he says. “They needed to understand quality control and quality assurance. I threw out my presentation and told the group they needed to understand quality from the laboratory’s point of view.” Wiberg uses the coal industry as an example of the kind of standards the pellet industry needs. “You can’t touch coal without using an ASTM procedure,” he says. “This industry didn’t have that.” He also stresses the need for proficiency testing and the need to use traceable standards. He adds that the pellet industry doesn’t need specifications as comprehensive as the coal industry, but it does require a true quality control program. After the 2005 meeting, the group’s standards committee created a road map to investigate and promulgate an effective quality control program. The program is

more than a set of standards and testing methods. “Standardizing test methods is great, but unless you’re going to have some level of enforcement that doesn’t mean much,” Wiberg says. “The standards also have to mean something. We had to go through every single parameter and ask why we should regulate that parameter.” One standard that got the boot was the sodium standard. Sodium is often used as a proxy for the amount of chloride in a solid fuel, Wiberg says. Too much chloride can cause metal in stoves to corrode. In some fuels this is close enough, but other fuels can have chloride salts of calcium and magnesium so the sodium level will badly underestimate the chloride level. “They thought it was easier to test for sodium than chloride,” Wiberg says. “But it’s not a very representative test.” There were other tests that were valuable to the pellet industry in Europe that weren’t being used in the United States. “One of those was the pellet durability index,” Wiberg says.

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It has taken nearly three years to design a comprehensive set of 29 standards and tests to determine the quality of fuel pellets.


fireplaces. The need for standards that reflected the different markets for pellet fuels became the premise for framing the new standards. “A stove is a lot more finicky,” Wiberg says. “It has to have [pellets of] a very consistent density and diameter. So we had to ask, ‘What should a good, high-quality, high-efficiency stove be burning?” After three years of work, the Pellet Fuels Institute is close to releasing its revised quality standards. The new standards will recognize four grades of pellets: super premium, premium, standard and utility. “Each grade has a specific battery of specifications, both physical and chemical,” Wiberg says. The other part of the specifications is the recognized testing methods for each of the quality parameters. “We did an extensive research project on what methods are out there and who is using what method,” Wiberg says. “It wasn’t just the European Union. Germany had its own standards as did Austria, Sweden and Britain. There are about a dozen countries that have something going on with pellets. Everybody is kind of doing their own thing.” ASTM International has no standard for fuel pellets, but the Pellet Fuels Institute specifications will follow the ASTM format. If the industry approves the rules, they will be presented to ASTM for consideration as a new standard. Most of the test methods used in the institute’s standards are based on recognized ASTM methods. A few of the methods did have to be modified to cope with the unique property of fuel pellets. Wiberg describes the bulk density test, which in the ASTM standard required a cubic-foot container of pellets to be dropped 6 inches three times. Because pellets are a loose product, dropping a container from 6 inches will cause a significant number of the pellets to fly up and out of the box. So a method using a quarter-cubic-foot box that was tapped from about an inch high was adapted. The group then had to determine how many taps were needed to get a similar result to the ASTM standard. “We probably ran 100 density tests to tell us we were going to tap it 25 times.



The Pellet Fuel Institute is considering a registration system so consumers can have confidence that the pellets they buy meet quality standards.

That seems like a simple thing to recommend, but it probably took us two days to figure out how many times you have to tap pellets.” The other phase of the process for the Pellet Fuels Institute is to provide the tools necessary for pellet manufacturers to start doing quality control in their own plants. “The mill operators are not chemists,” Wiberg says. “They don’t necessarily know where to buy this equipment and how to run the tests.” Twin Ports Testing went to its suppliers to create a suite of testing equipment that would measure the quality parameters of pellets in an industrial setting. “We needed to find things that nonchemistrytype people can use,” Wiberg says. “We also need something that will be representative of the test method used in a lab. It also can’t be an overnight deal, because an ongoing [quality assurance/quality control] process control program needs same day results.”

The final piece of the quality puzzle is enforcement. The best standards in the world aren’t going to do any good if the consumer isn’t confident the product meets those standards. So the Pellet Fuels Institute is planning to implement a registration system for manufacturers. Pellet makers would have to show that they have a quality control program and submit quality data quarterly. “The data will show that the company made the grade in the first place and the company continues to comply on an ongoing basis,” Wiberg says. “If everything works out right, the company can say its pellets are premium quality and can prove its pellets are premium. Then they get put into the registration system that will be a list of all the mills in the program.” The list of registered manufacturers would be made available to consumers. “Here is a provider with a good quality control program and here is one that isn’t,” Wiberg says. “Which are you going to buy from?” Stove manufacturers could also require consumers to buy pellets from registered manufacturers or void their warranties. The first version of the specifications was released in October. The board of the Pellet Fuels Institute made some changes and the standards committee proceeded to convert the standards into ASTM format. The standards then went through a legal review followed by more revisions in February. The current version of the specifications will again be reviewed by the institute’s board in late June. Once the board approves the revisions, the standards will go out for an industry vote, likely at the organizations annual meeting in July. “It looks like there is a chance the rules could be adopted as early as this summer,” Wiberg says. “Once that happens, then we can start implementing them.” BIO Jerry W. Kram is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. Reach him at or (701) 738-4962.



Simon Gibbons, operations director, at the site of the $41.4 million biomass project at Tate & Lyle’s east London sugar refinery. PHOTO: TATE & LYLE PLC



The U.K.’s food industry is discovering the economic benefits of using combined-heatand-power systems fueled by biomass or biogas. New technologies to convert wastes to renewable energy are gaining in popularity due to the high cost of energy and waste disposal, pressure to reduce carbon emissions and divert waste from landfills. By Diane Greer




t the Royal Brewery in Manchester, U.K., green beer is not just for St. Patrick’s Day. Soon all the beer produced by the plant will be “green,” thanks to a new energy efficient combined-heat-and-power system (CHP) fueled by wastes from the brewing process. When installation is completed in 2009, the CHP system will supply 60 percent of the plant’s steam and almost all its electricity. Carbon emissions from fossil fuels will be cut by 87 percent. The brewery, owned by Heineken after its acquisition of Scottish & Newcastle’s British business, is part of a growing number of European food and beverage companies discovering the power of waste. Rising energy and waste disposal costs combined with pressure to cut carbon emissions and divert wastes from landfills is spurring firms to implement new technologies converting wastes into renewable energy. But efforts are still in the early stages. The food industry is a major consumer of energy and contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. In the U.K., for example, the industry accounts for 14 percent of energy consumed by businesses and emits 7 million tons of carbon. The sector’s waste accounts for 10 percent of the U.K.’s industrial and commercial waste stream. While the industry is not among the most energy intensive, certain sectors are significant energy users with coincidental heat and power loads and large waste streams. For these users, CHP fueled by biomass or biogas, is emerging as a practical solution.

CHP, also known as cogeneration, provides a highly efficient means of generating thermal energy and electricity from a variety of fuel sources in a single process. “With CHP you can get 85 percent of useable energy out of the fuel,” says Tauno Kuitunen, Wärtsilä Biopower’s general manager for sales. Helsinki-based Wärtsilä is installing the biomass boiler at the Royal Brewery. Conventional generation or separate heat-and-power systems result in overall efficiency less than 50 percent. Breweries are good candidates for CHP. The process satisfies an important criterion for CHP, a significant demand for heat that is predictable and stable, Kuitunen explains. Steam is required during several steps in the brewing process, such as boiling the wort, fermentation and pasteurizing the final product, and for cleaning equipment. Electricity is used for refrigeration, compressed air generation and pumping. The Royal Brewery CHP plant will produce 7.4 megawatts (MW) of thermal power and 3.1 MW of electricity, fueled by a mixture of spent grain left over from the brewing process and clean wood waste. Wood is required due to insufficient quantities of spent grain. Before the spent grain is fed to the boiler, the moisture content is reduced from 80 percent to 60 percent, Kuitunen explains. “That is good enough for our combustion system.” The boiler, a Wärtsilä Biopower 5, contains a conical, rotating grate. Fuel is fed from underneath to the center of the grate. As the



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The boiler at the Royal Brewery employs a unique conical, rotating grate. Fuel is fed from underneath to the center of the grate.

grate rotates, the fuel migrates down the cone to the combustion zone on the outer rim. Because the fuel is fed from the middle, it is completely dried by the heat radiating from the lining of the boiler and flames in the chamber before it is combusted on the outer rim, Kuitunen explains. “The system is very flexible and able to accommodate moisture variations in the feedstock.� Food processing giant Tate & Lyle PLC is installing a biomassfired CHP system at its east London sugar refinery. Wheat husks, a

byproduct of flour production, will fuel a $41.4 million, 65-MW biomass boiler. Using biomass will slash energy consumption from fossil fuels by 70 percent, with a corresponding 70 percent reduction in carbon emissions. Steam produced by the boiler will generate electricity and satisfy the refinery’s process heat requirements. Excess power produced by the system will be sold to the National Grid. Once the boiler is at full capacity the carbon footprint for Tate & Lyle’s sugarcane, from field to factory gate, will drop from an already low 0.43 tons of carbon per ton of sugar to 0.32 tons, says Steven Hermiston, the company’s sales and marketing director.

Biogas-Powered CHP For food and beverage companies producing moist or liquid waste, anaerobic digestion (AD) offers a good solution for generating renewable fuel for CHP systems. AD employs microbes in an oxygen-free environment to break down organic waste into biogas. The biogas, composed of methane and carbon dioxide, feeds a reciprocating engine, microturbine or boiler to generate electricity and process heat. McCain Foods in Whittlesey, U.K., constructed an 828,000square-foot covered anaerobic lagoon to process wastewater from the U.K.’s largest french fry factory. Wastewater containing potato starch generated during processing is piped to the lagoon and produces more than 400-standard-cubic-feet per minute of biogas. The


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Anaerobic digesters at Agrana’s sugar refinery in Kaposvár, Hungary

firm may add other potato wastes, such as peels and nubbins, to increase biogas production. Initially, the biogas fueled a boiler to produce steam but an engineering study determined that more value could be derived from the biogas by producing electricity, explains Carmine Fontana, vice president of gas processing for Ontario, Canada-based Eco-Tec. The biogas now feeds a General Electric Jenbacher reciprocating engine that produces more than 1 MW of electricity, satisfying 10 percent of the plant’s electrical requirements. Heat generated by the engine warms the lagoon. Before biogas is fed to the engine, it must be purified to remove hydrogen sulfide. Within an engine, hydrogen sulfide and water vapor from the moist biogas react to form sulfuric acid, Fontana explains. The acid causes corrosion and other engine problems. Eco-Tec is installing a biogas purification system, which removes 99 percent of the contaminants by using a catalyst to chemically breakdown the hydrogen sulfide into sulfur, Fontana says. Austria-based Agrana, one of Central Europe’s leading sugar and starch producers, recently installed a $10.5 million AD system at its sugar refinery in Kaposvár, Hungary. The digester processes spent beet pulp and beet syrup to produce almost 3.9 million cubic feet of biogas a day. The biogas feeds the plant’s boiler to produce steam, which drives a turbine generating electricity and is used for process 58 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 7|2008

heat. The biogas replaces 60 percent of the plant’s energy requirements and cuts carbon emissions by 10,000 tons. In the past, the company sold spent beet pulp to nearby cattle farms. Over time the farms transitioned from raising cattle to growing cereal crops. Agrana was faced with the decision to install a drier so the pulp could be dried for shipment outside the area or a biogas plant, explains Johann Marihart, Agrana’s chief executive officer. At the same time natural gas prices in Hungary, among the highest in Europe, were rising and the Hungarian state was offering a tax credit for firms investing in renewable energy. “The decision was quite easy,” Marihart says. Agrana is optimizing the system to increase biogas production and replace 80 percent of its natural gas usage. Marihart is also considering installing systems at its potato starch factory in Hungary and sugar plant in the Czech Republic. “The more energy prices increase the more the energy content of the pulp product is interesting for use as an energy source and not as a feed source,” Marihart explains.

Third-Party Solutions Converting wastes into renewable energy is still in its early stages in the food and beverage industry. “The regulatory and economic drivers are fairly new or have just come together over the past few years, explains Ian Coate, director with Londonbased Insource Energy. “Many food and

power beverage companies need to move up the learning curve to understand the technologies, engineering and financing to set up waste-to-energy plants,” Coate says. “It is not part of their core business.” The U.K.-based Carbon Trust created Insource to spur development of the commercial waste-to-energy market. The firm provides on-site solutions to firms wishing to outsource their waste-to-energy processes. “Our view is that it’s sensible to outsource to an external partner the design, development, building, financing and operation of waste-to-energy systems,” Coate says. Initially, Insource is focusing on six sectors in the food and drink industry that are well-suited for waste-to-energy systems: distilling, brewing and soft drinks, red meat, dairy products, fruit and vegetables, frozen and chilled foods. “We are looking for high volumes of consistent types of wastes, which work best with the technologies available,” Coate says. The company is currently working with five major U.K. food and beverage companies. “In many cases, AD and CHP are the most appropriate technologies,” Coate says. However, the company can deploy a wide range of technologies since no single technology can treat all wastes. Some companies may be reluctant to colocate an AD plant with their food processing operation or may generate insufficient waste to run their own waste-to-energy plant. For these firms, the National Industrial Symbiosis Programme offers a different approach to divert wastes from landfills, and to promote waste-to-energy projects. “The amount of waste that is going to a landfill or is receiving a low added value is huge,” explains Peter Laybourn, NISP program director. “We bring companies together from different sectors to explore the possibility of mutual advantage.” NISP has developed a database identifying opportunities for firms to partner to solve waste problems. For each member the database contains the quantities and types of waste materials being sent to landfills and where the waste is produced.

Using the database, NISP can map the location of companies with organic wastes near existing AD plants. “Where we see a density of production, we also encourage new AD capacity to come into the market,” Laybourn adds. “What a program like this can do is aggregate feedstock across a region, filling in information gaps to make some of these projects viable.” Recently NISP started working with Severn Trent Water, the U.K.’s largest independent water company, to divert industrial food waste from landfills to STW’s AD plants across the U.K. “There is a big move in the U.K. for companies to build new AD plants to process food wastes,” says James Woodcock, NSIP practitioner. “Being familiar with STW and the water industry in general, I thought there are a lot of these plants in existence already treating sewage mixed with industrial waste.” STW utilizes AD to treat more than 700,000 gallons of wastewater and sewage a day. Biogas produced by the digesters fuels

CHP units generating 154,000 MW hours of electricity, representing 17 percent of STW’s electrical requirements. Thermal energy is used in the treatment process. Adding industrial organic wastes to STW’s AD systems will increase biogas production and renewable energy generation, improving the sustainability of the treatment process. Industrial food waste producers will benefit by cutting waste disposal costs by as much as two-thirds over landfill costs, Woodcock says. “This is not an environmental program,” Laybourn says. “It is a business opportunity program, but because we are dealing with resources such as waste, carbon and water, invariably if we solve the commercial problem we also help the environment.” BIO Diane Greer is a New York-based writer and researcher specializing in renewable energy, clean technologies and sustainable business.




October 19 – 21, 2008 Indianapolis Marriott Downtown Indianapolis, Indiana, USA


A sample of Coskata’s proprietary organisms PHOTO: COSKATA INC.



Anaerobic Organisms Key to Coskata’s Rapid Rise Not many people were familiar with Coskata Inc. when General Motors Corp. announced its partnership with the Chicagobased ethanol technology company in January. Since then, Coskata’s business has accelerated at a rapid pace, making thermochemical ethanol production from biomass a near-term reality. By Jessica Sobolik


fter General Motors Corp. announced a strategic partnership with Coskata Inc. at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January, a typical business day for Wes Bolsen, Coskata’s vice president of business development, changed instantly. A flood of questions and concerns ensued—many from the ethanol industry—because Coskata was relatively unknown at that time. Plus, the company says it can produce ethanol from ag and forestry waste, and municipal solid waste—even tires—for less than $1 per gallon, far cheaper than other technologies. “Some people get angry when we talk about the $1-per-

gallon production cost,” Bolsen says. “I don’t know why except that it’s such a provocative statement. Some of those people have been working so long in a different direction.” That “different direction” is an enzyme-based cellulosic ethanol conversion process, a direction Coskata didn’t follow. Instead, the company avoids the expensive pretreatment of cellulose, uses no enzymes on the front end and doesn’t deal with slurry, which varies depending on the quality of the feedstock. Despite some doubters, others are taking notice of Coskata’s technology. “We’ve had interest from the White House, various state governors and conference planners,” Bolsen says. Since the GM announcement, he was invited to speak at the National Ethanol Conference, the Washington

International Renewable Energy Conference, the World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing, and the International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo. In all of his speaking engagements, Bolsen finds himself answering this question a lot: How is this method of inexpensive ethanol production possible?

Origination The key to Coskata’s ethanol production process is anaerobic organisms that were found at the bottom of a lagoon on the campus of Oklahoma State University years ago. A man named Ralph Tanner not only discovered these “bugs,” but also found that when they eat carbon monoxide and hydrogen, they secrete ethanol.


technology Around the same time, Aaron Mandell of Cambridge, Mass.-based GreatPoint Energy was developing a process to turn coal into synthetic natural gas through gasification. In 2005, he read a paper published by Tanner that detailed his discovery and syngas-to-ethanol idea. Mandell called his friend and fellow entrepreneur Todd Kimmel of Advanced Technology Ventures in Silicon Valley, Calif., and Kimmel and Rathin Datta, founder of technology, manufacturing and marketing company Vertic Biosolvents, went to Oklahoma in early 2006 to see the organisms first-hand. They liked what they saw. Mandell secured rights to license the technology, and the group quickly reached out to Vinod Khosla of Khosla Ventures for some financial help. “In one meeting, [Khosla] decided this [technology] could have a major impact,” Bolsen says. “He looks for truly disruptive technologies. He saw Coskata’s feedstock flexibility and knew it could be a worldwide, transformative technology.” With financial backing, the technology was moved from Oklahoma to Argonne National Laboratory, just outside of Chicago,

where GreatPoint Energy incorporated Coskata in July 2006. Five staff members came on board, including Kimmel and Datta. Kimmel has since returned to Advanced Technology Ventures, and although Datta doesn’t work at Coskata full-time, he remains the company’s chief scientific officer. Bolsen joined Coskata in February 2007, along with former Dow Chemical Site Manager Richard Tobey. When the contract with Argonne National Laboratory expired, Bolsen says Coskata chose to remain in the Chicago area because the Midwest has amazing talent at research companies such as Abbott Labs, Eli Lilly & Co., Dow Chemical Co. and Nalco Co. An office was opened in Warrenville, Ill., a Chicago suburb, in May 2007. In October 2007, the company hired its Chief Executive Officer William Roe, formerly chief operating officer of Nalco. The company now has 40 people on staff, 30 of whom are microbiologists. “When you have a technology, you don’t let money stop you from getting the best people,” Bolsen says, adding the combined intellect at Coskata makes it a world-class research institute. “We

think this is the only high-throughput screening facility. We can look at 150,000 different organisms per year. Some of those are mutations of the original organism because you want to breed for higher-value traits, higher production, more tolerance for oxygen and chemicals, and robustness.” However, even without genetically modifying the organism found at the bottom of the Oklahoma lagoon, Bolsen says it has the capability to produce ethanol on a commercial scale.

The Process Behind its immaculate lobby, offices and conference rooms in Warrenville, a laboratory allows the company to test its technology on a pilot scale. Since the first quarter of 2008, the company has been growing organisms in various fermentors. It isn’t using biomass as a feedstock, but it’s running the equivalent of stranded natural gas, industrial waste gases and methane from landfills through a commercially available catalyst to produce synthesis gas. The syngas is then directed through membranes resembling hundreds of straws inside a four-foot plastic tube, called a bioreactor, a

Biofuels Canada is the first and only trade publication dedicated to covering the rapidly growing biofuels industries of Canada. The magazine is primarily focused on conventional ethanol and biodiesel production and use, as well as cutting-edge production technologies such as cellulosic ethanol. The full-color bi-monthly magazine is written for a broad range of industry professionals including plant personnel, researchers, project developers, lenders, farmers, policy makers, academics and others. Look to Biofuels Canada for the latest industry news, as well as insightful features and commentary, that will give you a competitive advantage in the dynamic international biofuels business. For subscription and advertising information, please visit: Subscriptions +1-519-342-7352 Advertising +1-519-342-7351 64 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 7|2008

technology piece of equipment that allows the company to avoid high stainless steel costs. The organisms are placed outside the membranes, but because they seek out the carbon monoxide and hydrogen in the syngas, they affix themselves to the outside of the membranes. They secrete ethanol, which is then rinsed out of the tube with water. A distillation process separates the ethanol from the water, which is recycled. This set-up allows for a continuous-flow process as opposed to a batch process. Bolsen wouldn’t reveal the specific capacity of each bioreactor, but he did say that on a 100 MMgy scale, a large number of membranes could produce thousands of gallons of ethanol per day. The company continues to tweak the organisms and the process in which the organisms come into contact with the syngas, all with the intent of increasing production and lowering costs. For example, Bolsen says the company has patented a process called vapor permeation, which would replace the distillation process. Distillation is necessary in the corn-based ethanol process because the ethanol has to be separated from the remain-

ing solids. However, in a gas-based ethanol/water mixture, there are no solids, making distillation unnecessary. With this technology, Roe points out that Coskata initially intended to build, own and operate its own ethanol production plants. However, a 100 MMgy commercial-scale plant would mean $3- to $4-per-gallon in capital costs. Roe says Coskata has now decided to license its technology to large companies “with large balance sheets” to increase its own cash flow before owning and operating plants. “So now we have to go out and get partners, such as large feedstock players who want to make ethanol but don’t have the technology,” Roe says.

Commercial Demonstration Coskata found a biomass feedstock partner for its commercial demonstration plant in Madison, Pa., which is approximately 30 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. On April 25 at the Pittsburgh Convention Center, Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell announced Coskata’s relationship with Westinghouse Plasma Corp., which owns and operates a pilot-scale plasma

gasifier. “Corn-based ethanol and biodiesel made from soybeans is a readily available, established technology that can bridge the transition from foreign oil to advanced fuels like cellulosic ethanol,” Rendell told a group of state legislators, government officials and company representatives, including Beth Lowery, vice president of energy and environment for GM. “By reducing our dependence on conventional fossil fuels in favor of more costeffective biofuels like Coskata’s product, we can help mitigate the effects of higher fuel prices on the food market, while strengthening our economy and our national security.” This commercial demonstration facility will produce approximately 40,000 gallons of ethanol per year. Construction of the modular design is already underway by Zeton Inc. in Burlington, Ontario. It will be installed in Madison in early 2009 with production slated to begin in March or April. Roe says the modular design makes it easy to decommission and relocate the facility in the future. Adjacent to Westinghouse, it will convert various biomass sources such as wood waste, ag waste (including sugarcane bagasse) and municipal solid

technology waste into syngas using Westinghouse’s gasifier. Roe says the wood chips will come from the Southeast, the bagasse will come from Louisiana or Brazil, corn stover will come from the Midwest, and switchgrass will be provided by leading energy crop companies such as Ceres Corp. The plasma gasifier, which was developed in collaboration with NASA in the 1960s to simulate a space shuttle re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere, generates temperatures equal to the surface of the sun (as high as 20,000 degrees Fahrenheit). It will heat the various biomass sources to 1,800 degrees F, creating syngas. The gas is cooled to approximately 100 degrees before it’s fed to the ethanol-producing organisms. Bolsen points out that Coskata technically isn’t producing “cellulosic ethanol,” a term that would suggest extracting cellulose from plant material instead of gasification. He says if you extract cellulose from plants, you still have a percentage of plant matter left over. With gasification, Coskata converts the entire plant into syngas. The process can also convert used tires, which don’t contain any cellulose.


The fuel produced at the Pennsylvania facility will be tested by GM in its flexible-fuel vehicles (FFVs) at its proving grounds in Milford, Mich. The auto manufacturer aims to ramp up the number of FFVs it produces in the coming years, but before it does, it wanted to solidify a fuel technology that would sustainably produce renewable fuels for years to come. This is how GM found Coskata.

GM Invests Roe credits Bolsen for getting GM’s attention. “In April 2007, Wes thought it would be a good idea to let major automakers know about [our technology],” Roe says. “Most said ‘no thanks.’” GM was an exception. Behind closed doors, the auto manufacturer was planning to increase its FFV offering to 50 percent of its fleet by 2012. However, it wanted to make sure ethanol would be readily and sustainably available for years to come. Recognizing corn-based ethanol might not be the fuel of the future, it compiled a list of 18 cellulosic ethanol companies to explore. When Bolsen called GM, Coskata wasn’t on the list.

GM conducted due diligence on those 18 companies for approximately eight months, and as if fate planned it, the auto manufacturer decided to invest an undisclosed amount in Coskata in late 2007. It was the first time GM had invested in a nonautomotive company in nearly 20 years. “Its process seemed to make sense to us,” says Mary Beth Stanek, GM’s director of environment, energy and safety policy. “We think all of those companies will have success, but we had to work with efficient processes that are affordable and ready to go.” In October 2007, Coskata wanted to publicly announce its technology, but GM had a better idea. Why not announce GM’s ownership stake in Coskata at the North American International Auto Show, an event attended by 700,000 people? Coskata agreed, and on Jan. 13, GM Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Rick Wagoner introduced the world to Coskata. “We came out of stealth mode with GM’s announcement,” Bolsen says, adding it was one of GM’s most media-covered announcements. Stanek agrees. “We did receive a very positive response from a compa-

technology ny-image standpoint,” she says. “It made sense to align with a leading-edge company that could bring about ethanol from waste. It is a good decision.” GM sold approximately 400,000 FFVs last year and aims to ramp up to 800,000 by 2010. By 2012, it will be producing approximately 1 million FFVs. In addition to manufacturing, GM works on policy-related issues on Capitol Hill and distribution concerns with gas retailers to ensure a fuel supply for its consumers. “GM has had good success with retailers across the country, such as Meijer and Kroger, to market E85,” Stanek says. “We’re looking to promote the fuel. When Coskata opens, we’ll make sure retailers will merchandise its fuel.” With that said, Stanek adds that GM isn’t in the fuel business. “We have to focus on our products, but there are things we’d like to enable, such as this technology,” she says. She points out that because Coskata is making ethanol so cheaply and is located closer to the end market, consumers will be getting quite a deal compared with gasoline. On May 1, GM announced a similar investment in Mascoma Corp., another company on its list of cellulosic ethanol technologies. “[Mascoma’s technology] is a different approach but with a lot of good science,” Roe says. “I think of GM’s [investments] as bookends. One is a fast strike (Coskata) and one is more long term (Mascoma).”

Clark at the Chicago Auto Show in February. Construction of the commercial-scale plant is slated to begin in 2009 and end in 2011. Financially, Coskata will be conducting its third round of equity funding, which Bolsen says will hopefully be the last before the company starts collecting revenue. “When you’re a small company, you’re a takeover target, but right now, we may plan a potential public offering,” he says. There are also plans to add more staff.. Earlier this year, Coskata added a chief financial officer, and it also plans to hire a vice president


Jessica Sobolik is Biomass Magazine managing editor. Reach her at jsobolik@bbibiofuels .com or (701) 373-0636.

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Future Plans With its first demonstration plant sited and a key partnership with GM solidified, Coskata aims to announce a full-scale commercial plant site, alongside a new partner, by the end of this year. Bolsen says the company’s next goal will be to enter the commercial-scale market through various partnerships, one of which is Colwich, Kan.-based ICM Inc., Bolsen’s former employer. “We’re ready to commercialize,” Bolsen says. “We want to open a 50 MMgy to 100 MMgy plant, which will take two years to build, and we’re working on the engineering right now.” To reach that end, he says ICM was an obvious choice. “I knew the quality of ICM and respected Dave Vander Griend, and it is the best [company] at commercializing,” he says. A strategic alliance was announced by GM Vice President Troy

of manufacturing to rapidly commercialize the company’s technology. With all the business being conducted in Coskata’s front offices, Bolsen reiterates that the company isn’t getting ahead of itself either. “We were put in the public light very quickly, but we’re still focused on research,” he says.

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The Science of Dehydration 45 years ago, Ronning

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began our business around one important notion: to build a team of engineers and scientists r #VJMEJOHUIF1SFNJVN%%(44PMVUJPO – While we look to the future of biomass and cellulosic energy production, we are with a passion for delivering committed to provide the ethanol industry of today with the premium solution for DDGS production – a solution that delivers the world’s best ingredient the high-protein, good tasting light-gold feed that is so valuable in your markets. preparation and production systems. Five decades later, we’re r %FMJWFSJOH&OFSHZBOE$PTU4BWJOH5FDIOPMPHJFT– We know that the future success of biofuels hinges on our ability to still pursuing that goal along deliver manufacturing systems with lower energy, water, and emissions needs. That’s why Ronning is focused on building the Waste Heat Evaporation solution of the future – one that can cut dehydration costs in your existing facility while integrating with a commitment to meet with a wide range of process technologies. For customers thinking of biomass-fired energy systems, Ronning has the field the unique challenges involved installations to prove that we know how to deliver cost savings without sacrificing quality, reliability, or safety. in converting diverse biomass r 4FSWJOHPVS$VTUPNFST – In the end, it all comes down to an attitude of service to our customers. Our goal is to lead your feedstocks into energy.

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From the Lab to Production: Direct Steam Injection Heating of Fibrous Slurries By Bruce Cincotta


he past five years have witnessed an explosion in the laboratory effort put into finding an economical way to develop pretreatment processes for biomass feedstocks in order to prepare them for conversion to sugar and ethanol. The next step requires taking that base of laboratory knowledge and converting it to on line processes. Because of the high temperatures and high desired-solids levels required for most pretreatment techniques, direct steam injection is the most practical approach to heating the slurry. The following introduces the challenges associated with scaling the lab pretreatment process to production levels, and some practical advantages of developing successful pilot strategies. All structural plant matter is a combination of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. Only the direct cellulose is readily convertible to fermentable products. Hemicellulose must be converted to a fermentable form of sugar, and the lignin is generally not convertible and must be removed. Cellulose is the part of the carbohydrate portion of plants such as grass, corn stover, straw and trees. Like conventional starch conversion to ethanol, hemicellulosic materials can be converted to sugars and fermented to create ethanol, biodiesel or other useful energy products.

The Process In all biomass processing cases, the main technological problem is to free the cellulose material in the plant to allow it to be converted without significantly reducing the yield of the existing cellulose material. This process is generally referred to as “pretreatment� of the biomass. In the pretreatment step, a slurry of feedstock is treated with heat, time and some type of chemical to convert the hemicellulose to a sugar. Pretreatment could also be used to change the nature of the hemicellulose in order to allow a secondary agent, such as an enzyme, to hydrolyze the cellulose. This step is conducted in either a batch or continuous process. In the batch process, high-solids (20 percent to 25 percent) slurry of feedstock, usually corn stover, is fed to a high temperature reactor and subjected to high temperature (more than 300 degrees Fahrenheit). A strong chemical such as sulfuric acid, caustic or a solvent may also be present in the reactor. At the conclusion of the pretreatment step an acid or enzyme is added to hydrolyze the cellulose and form sugars. These sugars are then further processed and fermented to create ethanol. The continuous process is another approach to pretreatment taking a pumpable slurry of feedstock and subjecting it to heat and time to soften the hemicellu-

losic structure. The softened slurry is then treated with acid or alkaline to break down the slurry to a form that can be hydrolyzed with an enzyme to form sugars. This process would be in-line as opposed to batch.

Transition from Lab to Production Most of the current biomass research work has focused on laboratory techniques to determine the effects of temperature and pH (among others) on the conversion rates. These lab settings resemble the chemistry labs one might have experienced in high school and college. Pretreatment laboratory work is almost exclusively batch-driven given the complexities involved in controlling low flow processes. As a result, there is a general lack of knowledge in the best approaches and potential problems with continuous heating of the biomass feedstock stream during pretreatment in a production process. Factors to consider when scaling up the lab process include:  Flow rates will increase and add complexity to fluid transfer  Residence times will change from a relatively fixed-hold vessel to a continuous flow  The flowability of the slurry is an important factor


process  Piping design and flow dynamics can add and/or change fluid velocities and impact the slurry flow.

Pilot Scale Considerations As with all new process development, technologies need to evolve from the lab stage to production-level processes. This is a significant leap as there is more focus on the chemistry than the mechanical process in most lab settings. The goal is to develop production-level processes that maintain the unique design technology and can be scaled to reach economically feasible production-level processes. For most transitions, a pilot plant stage allows companies to test out actual process components such as conveyors, heat transfer, mixers and pumps. Considerations for developing a pilot plant include:  Design to mimic full scale process layouts  Use equipment similar to full scale processes  Be careful on the compromises from full scale  Determine what you are trying to learn  Make sure production-level equipment exists similar to pilot scale. Unlike grain mash ethanol, there are


significant differences in the pretreatment of corn stover, switchgrass and wood fiber. Challenges associated with fiber slurry heating include:  Heat exchangers are generally not viable because of processing temps of 300 degrees Fahrenheit or greater  Mixing of steam and fiber is challenging  Consistencies greater than 14 percent create potential pumping issues  Fluid behaves as a pseudo-plastic fluid, limiting mixing in the pipe.

The Advantages of Direct Steam Injection Direct steam injection has a long track record in challenging slurry heating applications. Steam is readily available and can be inexpensive to produce. Scaling from small to large flows with steam is effective and reliable. Steam can also assist with producing sterile conditions. A number of methods of direct steam injection can be considered. Spargers, fixed eductors and Venturistyle direct steam injection units generally use a fixed nozzle to inject steam. Steam control is attempted via an externally modulated steam control valve. With an externally modulated steam injector, the steam pressure is adjusted to

control the flow rate of steam with a control valve. The use of external steam control devices to control the steam flow by modulating the steam pressure can lead to excessive steam hammer and vibration. Steam hammer and vibration often result from poor mixing and condensing of the steam. As temperature demand drops, steam pressure drops, lowering the steam velocity and potentially causing instability. Uncondensed steam bubbles will typically collapse when they come in contact with a cold pipe wall in the liquid piping. When these bubbles collapse, the slurry rushes in to fill the void and impacts the pipe wall. In some cases this will result in some pinging noise and, in severe cases, steam hammer and vibration. Reactor vessels for batch processing are capable of high solids percentage consistencies. They are flexible for hold time, temperature and pressure changes. Reactor heating can also be energy efficient with minimal water usage. Challenges with reactor heating include limitations associated with scaling up for production and their ability to be integrated with continuous production strategies. Reactor heating vessels also have high equipment costs associated with them. Inline direct steam injection is well

process suited for continuous fiber slurry heating processes. Inline direct steam injection heaters are capable of high temperature rise and can be arranged in a multi-stage layout to allow for precise temperature control and smooth operation. Inline direct steam injection heaters have a low pressure drop across the heater which minimizes energy demand on the slurry pumps and limits flow disruptions to the slurry.

Keys to Successful Direct Steam Injection One of the key factors to successful direct steam injection is maintaining high steam velocity for effective mixing and condensation of the steam into the fiber slurry. Internal modulation allows steam to be injected at sonic velocity to achieve choked flow. Choked flow is the phenomenon of accelerating a vapor to sonic velocity by creating a pressure differential through an engineered nozzle. By establishing choked flow, the steam mass flow can be metered to precisely control the heating of the slurry. This produces predictable results based on position of the stem plug. Through a variable-area steam diffuser, steam flow is metered at the point where steam and liquid first contact and mix. This method eliminates the

need for an external steam control valve or downstream mechanical mixing devices. Other features include:  High velocity steam is essential (1,000 feet per second is ideal)  Process and steam pressure differential are required  Steam jet characteristics are critical to disperse steam and avoid hot spots  Proper sizing is important  Mechanical mixers to blend steam are not practical Steam injection transfers a tremendous amount of energy and needs to be applied properly for successful results.

Process, Equipment Design Considerations When designing a pilot plant or scaling up for production-level processing, several factors should be considered when integrating direct steam injection for the pretreatment process. Avoid large, single point steam additions and ensure a means for even steam distribution. Design the pumping and piping process to promote steady and stable slurry flow. Be aware of the pH environment and the potential for corrosion. Abrasives can be present depending on the feedstock, and particulates can be present from the biomass collection process. Some considera-

tion needs to be given to proper screening and separation techniques. Preheating of water may be a practical way to reduce the steam and water demand. Developing a successful pretreatment strategy is obtainable and can be achieved by using available planning and utilization resources. The integration of heat into the pretreatment plant design can be done reliably and with predictable results. The processing of fibrous slurries has a long history in the pulp and paper industry with process fiber flow resources available through organizations such as the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry. Remember that a well thought out pilot plant plan is essential for identifying and resolving potential bottlenecks in the process. Once the production plant is operational, the pilot plant can continue to pay off by allowing for optimization of process design off line. BIO Bruce Cincotta is the chief technical officer and co-owner of ProSonix LLC. Reach him at or (800) 849-1130.

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Under Pressure Underground: Gravity Pressure Vessels Convert Waste into Biofuels By Peter Hurrell and Zbigniew “Zig” Resiak




he first attempt at commercializing a process for ethanol from cellulose occurred in Germany in 1898 and involved the use of dilute acid to hydrolyze the cellulose to glucose. A similar process is in use today. Cellullose molecules are polymer chains of different forms of cellulose bound together with lignin. The process works by de-polymerizing the lignocellulose, freeing the cellulose from the lignin, which is then hydrolyzed to the simpler sugars for fermentation to alcohol. The process uses acid as a catalyst. Dilute acid may be used under high heat and pressure, or concentrated acid can be used at lower temperatures and pressure. The mixture must be neutralized and cleaned, and yeast fermentation is used to produce alcohol. Many chemical processes work better using subcritical or superheated water under pressure. These conditions have been used in the chemical and food industry for more than 180 years. Examples include dilute-acid hydrolysis of cellulose and starch to saccharides, the extraction of instant coffee, extracting indigo dye from woad, and treating wastewater sludge through wet-air oxidation. In all of these applications, the process used has generally remained a batch procedure where the water is pumped into a pressure tank and a heat exchanger. After treatment the resulting liquid is returned through the heat exchanger, which pre-heats the inflow which moves through a pressure-regulating valve before being released to normal pressure. The process depends on energy- intensive mechanical and electrical pumps and pressure tanks. It has mostly been used for small-scale production since the mixing requirements and the need to add chemicals while maintaining temperature and pressure limits the potential for scale-up.

In 1967 James Titmas modified the process with the aim of making the best use of the pressure and heat from the subcritical water process. His goal was to convert biomass to useful materials using wet oxidation, pyrolysis and hydrolysis. To accomplish this, he placed the pressure vessel below ground in a borehole. Using gravity and heat from the process minimizes the amount of energy needed and creates continuous flow. Another advantage is that being underground creates an environment for efficient thermal insulation, a small plant footprint, and improved health and safety. To obtain the natural pressure needed to maintain the temperature in subcritical water, the reactor has to be placed no more than 7,200 feet underground. This is within the capabilities and expertise of the oil drilling industry. The accuracy and skill of drilling wells vertically, straight and lining them to preserve water aquifers is also well proven. The technique has been proven in use. The U.S. EPA and Bow Valley Energy used a 4,200-foot deep vertical-tube reactor based on a 1982 patent for the wet-air oxidation of sewage sludge with heat recovery at Longmont, Colo. After modification, parts of this plant were moved to Apeldoorn, Netherlands, where it was used to treat sewage sludge from 1992 to 2004. The plant out-performed its design expectations. In its later years the use of Taylor bubble and heat recovery was abandoned in favor of product recovery following the Titmas approach. The gravity pressure vessel provides a simple way of making the subcritical water process continuous. It uses the heat released from the controlled wet oxidation of process contaminants to drive the water flow, much in the same way as an autogenic thermal airlift pump. This greatly increases production capacity because the gravity pressure vessel works as a continuous, linear, plug flow reactor with high internal heat and pressure recovery and no moving parts. This makes the process easy to control and scale-up without the need


equipment for multiple arrays of pumps, pressure tanks or complex controls. The gravity pressure vessel is comprised of a long steel pipe, shaped like a test tube, of a fixed diameter between 12 and 24 inches. The annulus of an openended steel pipe creates updraft and is suspended within the test tube. This updraft protrudes above the test tube and descends to within a few feet of its concave bottom. Small bore steel pipes are suspended in the updraft to inject steam and chemicals, for temperature control, cathodic protection and cleaning. The diameter of the tube and updraft pipes is governed by hydraulics of the supercritical water and the need for a self-cleansing velocity as well as the small bore pipes. The entire gravity pressure vessel is freely suspended inside a steel-lined borehole, which is cemented into the ground. A pressure cap is placed over the space between the gravity pressure vessel and the borehole and a vacuum is applied to the void between the enclosed space to form a thermal barrier between it and the borehole. Through the top of the gravity pressure vessel the pipes connecting to the gravity pressure vessel includes a feed solution to the annulus formed between the updraft and the test tube. A pipe is used for discharging the treated solution from the updraft with the smaller pipes at the top. The process defines the depth of the gravity pressure vessel.

Wet-Air Oxidation of Sludge Wet-air oxidization of sludge should be carried out at a depth of 6,000 feet. Sludge at 3 percent to 6 percent dry solids passes down the outer annulus and oxygen is injected near the bottom. Oxidation is rapid, raising the temperature to 600 degrees Fahrenheit. The treated material rises through the updraft to the outlet for final treatment, degassing and heat capture. As it rises, it passes heat through the updraft to preheat the descending sludge prior to oxi76 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 7|2008

dation. The process achieves more than 95 percent destruction of biological/chemical oxygen demand and neutralizes all inorganic material. Since sludge can be processed as a liquid, it can be taken directly from sewage treatment works. There is no need for expensive drying as required for other processes such as incineration. The process is self-sufficient in energy and even generates a surplus, which can be converted into electricity.

Dilute-Acid Hydrolysis of Biomass Dilute-acid hydrolysis of cellulose to sugars requires a 1,600- to 2,000-foot deep gravity pressure vessel. The biomass mash containing 8 percent to 12 percent dry solids flows down the outer annulus and steam is injected at the bottom to initiate a temperature rise. Oxygen is added at the entry to the updraft to burn off dissolved lignin. Acid is then added. As the cellulose disassociates to saccharides (sugars), the temperature rises to 460 degrees Fahrenheit. An alkali is injected, immediately neutralizing the acid. Once autogenic thermal balance is established, the steam supply is cut. Heat from the rising saccharide solution passes through the updraft to pre-heat the cellulose mixture that is descending in the outer annulus. Using the gravity pressure vessel increases the efficiency of converting biomass to sugars by twoto three-fold, greatly enhancing the potential of producing ethanol for biofuels and other applications. Most ethanol today is made from crops rich in sugar and starch, raising concerns about elevated food prices and fuels inflation. Using a gravity pressure vessel in subcritical water to convert non-food biomass to ethanol is an important part of the solution. Ethanol can be made profitably from a wide range of biomass sources including non-food crops. Using municipal solid waste as a raw material has the added advantage of being a steady

source of biomass throughout the year, unaffected by seasons, climate, disease or international pricing cartels. The gravity pressure vessel process can assist the household waste industry because it changes a waste material that currently incurs a cost to treat to a raw material that can create an income from treatment. As biomass represents approximately 60 percent of municipal solid waste in the United States (66 percent in the European Union and 87 percent and more in Asia), it is profitable to convert to ethanol. Sewage sludge, which contains approximately 30 percent biomass, can also be treated and converted in the plant. Municipal solid waste-to-ethanol facilities work in three identifiable stages. The first is preparing the biomass by shredding, settlement in water to remove inert materials, maceration and thickening. The second is to treat the biomass with supercritical water, and passing it through a settlement tank and molecular sieves to clean it. In a third stage, the contained saccharides are converted to ethanol. The process plant and equipment used are standard to the wastewater industry and are enclosed and covered. There are no airborne emissions from the treatment of waste. Dioxins cannot be produced since the working temperature is low. Smells and particulates are avoided. Water from the process is recycled and any residual will be treated for discharge to inland waterways. The carbon dioxide produced can be used as the acid in the hydrolysis reaction with the rest available for sale or sequestration. Using municipal solid waste to make ethanol betters all existing and projected environmental targets for treatment. It eliminates landfilling and cuts out the greenhouse gases that would otherwise be emitted from landfill or from the treatment process. The process is entirely carbon negative and qualifies for carbon credits. Ethanol made from municipal solid waste offers major benefits toward biofuels substitution targets in any coun-

equipment try without affecting the food economy. A municipal solid waste-to-ethanol plant is affordable. Its capital cost can be significantly less than 40 percent of an equivalent incineration plant, and is simple and more economical to operate and maintain. The income from municipal solid waste tipping fees and/or the sale of ethanol can finance the design, construction, operation and maintenance of a plant within a few years without fees increasing above current landfill charges.

In Conclusion Superheated (subcritical) water is an environmentally benign solvent that has many applications. Until recently it has been used in a batch process, but the gravity pressure vessel makes it possible to turn this process into a continuous or linear process. Gravity pressure vessels also find their use in the wet-air oxidation of sewage sludge, which produces surplus energy, but the quantity of sludge that

can be treated in a standalone treatment facility is limited to the larger urban areas or regional centers. A particularly interesting application of the gravity pressure vessel is in the conversion of biomass to saccharides in order to make ethanol fuels, using diluteacid hydrolysis. This process can be economical using a wide range of biomass materials, including nonfood crops and waste such as municipal solid waste. While the yield of ethanol from some materials may be higher than municipal solid waste, this can be offset with a tipping fee. The process also promises an environmentally friendly solution for municipal waste and an alternative to landfill and incineration. GeneSyst International Inc., which has developed and patented a gravity pressure vessel reactor with the aim of transforming municipal solid waste to ethanol, calculates that a comparable municipal solid waste-to-ethanol plant can cost less than 40 percent than

an equivalent thermal destruction plant. The process is not dependent on food crops such as wheat and corn, but takes commercial advantage of industrial waste with a high cellulose content such as paper and wood, municipal solid waste (after separation of the recyclable materials), sewage sludge and other cellulose materials that would otherwise be disposed of. The ethanol produced is an effective use of bioenergy resources, in terms of both greenhouse-gas emissions and monetary value, which takes on the wider environmental impacts, and contributes to sustainable emission reductions needed to fulfill a low carbon economy. BIO Peter Hurrell is managing director of GeneSyst International Inc. U.K. and Ireland. Reach him at Zbigniew “Zig� Resiak is the program director for Indiana Ethanol Power. Reach him at or (317) 780-7249.

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Canadian delegates check out biomass briquettes at World Bioenergy 2008. Left to right: Dan Sigouin, Hearst Economic Development Corp. Jonathan Savoie, Groupe Savoie; Robin Trembley, Cardinal Saw; and Claude Brisson, Ecoflamme.


hen the 77-person Canadian delegation stepped off the plane in Sweden, they knew they were in bioenergy country. “The whole Arlanda airport is heated with biomass,” says Paul Smallman, a woodlot owner from Prince Edward Island. Like many Canadian delegates on the trade mission to World Bioenergy 2008, the largest biomass conference in the world, Smallwood went to Sweden with a mission: to learn from the best, network and turn the experience into a viable renewable energy business back home. “The wood and forestry sector is going broke by relying on conventional markets,” he says. “I want to set up a small pellet plant and use large wood-burning furnaces to make renewable heat and power and sell it to local people in [Prince Edward Island]. Scandinavians are leading the bioenergy industry, and I wanted to learn from the best.” 78 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 7|2008

The Canadian Bioenergy Association organized and led a 42member trade mission from six of the country’s 10 provinces. Another 35 independent Canadian delegates also attended the May event held in Jönköping, Sweden. Participants came from the across the bioenergy sector, including forest owners, biomass-rich communities, researchers and technology providers. Everyone was there for the same reason: to do business. “Our international colleagues knew we meant business when Canada brought the largest delegation to the World Bioenergy event,” says CANBIO President Doug Bradley. International partnerships offer some of the best opportunities for Canadian entrepreneurs and municipalities to develop bioenergy. Finnish, Swedish and Austrian technologies and consultancies have been building sustainable bioenergy chains for the past two decades, and Canada, with its vast supply of forest resources, is well positioned to take advantage. Like its Scandinavian counterparts, Canada can uti-


Eyes on the North: Canada Ramps Up Bioenergy Activity By Crystal Luxmore

lize forest residues without competing with the pulp and paper industry. Currently 16 million metric tons (17.6 million tons) of excess tree bark sit in “heritage piles” in Canada. Heritage piles include biomass from historical mill waste piles and contain enough energy to provide the needs of close to 1 million Canadians. Another 11 million metric tons (12 million tons) per year of harvest waste is burned or left to rot. The pine beetle infestation in British Columbia has killed 450 million cubic meters (590 million cubic yards) of pine—six years worth of harvest at pre-infestation levels. Forecasters say that by 2013 approximately 80 percent of the province’s mature pine could be affected. “We need to see this is a great opportunity to reduce emissions by turning the massive amounts of forest residue, much of which is sitting at roadside, into bioenergy,” Bradley says. World Bioenergy provided a lot of room to seed new business ventures. Alexandra Volkoff, the Canadian ambassador to Sweden,

kicked off a popular Canada-Sweden side event that showcased Canada as a place for bioenergy business and partnering. The conference’s site visits were one of its biggest draws. Roland Kilpatrick, industrial technology advisor for the northeastern Ontario-based National Research Council, went on a full or half-day study tour each day of the five-day event. He says the field tours were a highlight, allowing him to see state-of-the-art wood pellets and chippers powering everything from a small farm, to the town of Mullsjö, which has three pellet boilers providing three megawatts of power and heat to 8,000 people. “We went to a school heated by a pellet boiler that sat in the schoolyard,” Kilpatrick says. “It was so benign that you could see where the kids bounced their soccer balls on it.” He and other trade mission participants hope to bring some of the solutions they saw in Sweden back to Canada. Meeting prospective development partners from Canada, the United States and 7|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 79

European Union on the trip also helps. “Traveling with 60 other Canadians helped me to find new synergies and build relationships that could turn into significant bioenergy projects at home,” says Jamie Bakos, CEO of Titan Clean Energy Projects, a Saskatchewan-based biomass project developer. “I talked to a lot of potential customers from Canada who are interested in switching from traditional forestry to biomass for energy or renewable products,” says Luc Bernard of ALPA Equipment, a biomass machinery dealer in the Maritimes. Bakos says he sees teaming up with either Canadian or Scandinavian business partners as the only way to ensure bioenergy takes off. “We need to look at bioenergy as a worldwide industry,” he says. “We’re up against a long-entrenched fossil fuel industry and chemical giants, and if we think of ourselves as independent competitors, we’ll all lose. We need to think of the biomass industry as one big market and work together to make impacts.”

Doing Business Back Home Canadian biomass industry stakeholders are using their lessons learned in Sweden and applying them to business and events at home. CANBIO’s annual conference is organized around creating bioenergy busi-



World Bioenergy 2008's field trips allowed delegates to see biomass harvesting equipment in action. Here, Ponsse harvest waste equipment feeds a Bruks mobile chipper to turn harvest waste into biomass fuel.

ness opportunities. “Bioenergy: From Words to Action,” a two-day conference and oneday study tour, is taking place in Ottawa Oct. 6-8 and focuses on bringing together municipalities, entrepreneurs and corporations from around the world to develop new bioenergy projects. It’s the biggest bioenergy event in central Canada and one of its main aims is finding package solutions for communities to exploit biomass for energy and strengthen their economies. A tradeshow will showcase the latest technologies from Finland, Austria, Canada, Ireland and other biomass equipment and project developers. On the last day, a one-day field tour will visit the world’s longest-running fast pyrolyis

plant, (a 100 metric ton/110 ton-per day facility in Renfrew, Ontario), a biomass cogeneration plant at Abitibi-Bowater’s pulp mill in Gatineau and Les Broyeurs à Bois harvest waste operation. A look at recent biomass forestry projects in the Maritimes shows Canada’s bioenergy scene is growing rapidly at the smallscale level. That’s why CANBIO’s annual conference is designed to help communities exploit these opportunities. Like the rest of the heavily forested parts of the country, a lot of new small- to medium-scale projects are springing up in woody regions of Canada’s Maritime provinces. Forestry communities are strug-

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event gling in the face of a rising Canadian dollar and high energy prices, and stories of shutdowns are all too common. But some innovative companies and municipalities have integrated bioenergy into their processes, either as an energy resource or as bioenergy producers and they are profiting. Nova Scotia’s Minas Basin Pulp and Power announced a new cogeneration plant that will need 165,000 metric tons (182,000 tons) of green biomass per year. Enligna, the new owners of the Martara pellet plant, have announced a plan to expand production, requiring an extra 100,000 to 200,000 metric tons (110,000 tons to 220,000 tons) of biomass per year. The collapse of Nova Scotia’s lumber industry and resulting fall in sawmill residues has driven the New Page, Neenah and Abitibi-Bowater pulp mills to take up to 150,000 metric tons (165,000 tons) of round wood to make biomass fuel. In New Brunswick, Irving Paper is working to increase its consumption of biomass from harvesting debris across all its mills. All this action means the Maritimes are demanding new harvesting and production equipment. At least four industrial, horizontal grinders and chippers were purchased in the past 10 months and at least five more are expected in the next year. Pellet plants are becoming commonplace in the Maritimes. Nova Scotia has three with at least three more under development and two new from major forestry companies. New Brunswick has three operating pellet plants, three under construction and close to a dozen plants being proposed. Prince Edward Island is about to join the ranks. Plans are underway for its first pellet plant. Moving to the world stage, Canada will also have a louder voice thanks to its participation in the newly formed World Bioenergy Association (WBA), which was officially launched at World Bioenergy 2008. Bradley was appointed to the board for Canada. Chaired by Kent Nyström, vice president of the EU Biomass Association, members include Canada, the United States, Australia, Japan, India, Brazil, Sweden and other EU countries. The WBA was launched to be an organization for the bioenergy business on the global level. Having a global voice

is important, especially as biofuels are receiving increasing public scrutiny. The WBA believes increasing the use of bioenergy is necessary to offer an alternative to high fossil fuel prices and slow climate change. It will also promote trade with biofuels and biomass, standardization of fuels, technical development and research, and monitor bioenergy potentials worldwide. WBA also plans to help to develop certifications systems to ensure that biofuels are produced in an environmentally friendly way and under acceptable working conditions.

“Having just returned from World Bioenergy in Sweden, I’m more excited than ever before about the future of bioenergy in Canada,” Bradley says. Judging by the number of new projects and conferences springing up across the country, so is the rest of the industry. BIO Crystal Luxmore is public relations manager for Canadian Bioenergy Association. Reach her at or (647) 239-5899. For more information on CANBIO, visit



LAB Delivering a Sweet-Fueled Vehicle


iomass is an abundant resource. The challenge is converting it into a form of energy that is useful and convenient. You can’t fuel your car with sawdust or plug your computer into a field of switchgrass. However, if work being done by Y. Percival Zhang at Virginia Tech comes to fruition, something close to that level of instant conversion could be possible. Zhang and his research team have created a process that uses enzymes to digest starch or sugars in order to release hydrogen and carbon dioxide. Hydrogen has been made from biomass in the past, but only through pyrolysis or steam reforming using high temperature and pressure. Zhang’s process uses mostly off-theshelf enzymes to digest the biomass between room temperature and 180 degrees Fahrenheit. “We think our technology is the best because of the selectivity,” he says. “We only produce hydrogen and carbon dioxide, no other byproducts. The product quality is very pure.” The pathway Zhang designed isn’t found in nature. The enzymes in the system come from rabbits, spinach, yeast and bacteria. The key benefit of the system is that it’s favored by thermodynamics. In other words, it spontaneously proceeds from beginning to end with no additional input of chemical or heat energy. Combined with hydrogen’s natural advantages as a fuel, Zhang’s process can deliver much more energy per pound of biomass. “Hydrogen is much more efficient than ethanol,” he says. “If you use ethanol, it has to go into an internal combustion engine. That engine is very inefficient. If we can go to hydrogen, we can increase the engine efficiency greatly, maybe even two or three fold, or higher. That means the biomass can do more work.” While the cocktail of 13 enzymes and a phosphorus-containing cofactor sounds complex, Zhang says it’s much simpler than systems found in nature. Plus, the artificial pathway is more efficient than any found in nature. The enzymes and cofactor chemically combine water and glucose to create 12 hydrogen molecules for every sugar molecule. “In using biological systems to create hydrogen, the traditional belief was that you could only make four molecules of hydrogen from sugar,” he says. “This is the first time anyone has been able to make 12 molecules. We can extract all the energy from the sugar for the first time.” Zhang foresees a day in the future when hydrogen fuel cells will be connected to a sugar-fueled reaction chamber small enough

to fit into an ordinary car. Biomass has a higher energy density than hydrogen gas, making it cheaper to transport and store on-site. “Most people believe that storing hydrogen is the biggest challenge (for fuel cell technology), but our idea is to use sugar as a hydrogen carrier,” he says. “If you need hydrogen, you can convert sugar into hydrogen immediately.” Before that day arrives, there are 16 innovations that need to be developed, and Zhang’s team has conquered the first six. “Right now, our reaction rate is very bad,” Zhang says. “We haven’t done any optimization. We were just trying to do a proof of concept. Before this, no one believed you could make this much hydrogen from sugar.” He doesn’t see the remaining challenges as insurmountable, but it will take time before the sugar-powered car becomes a reality. The first demonstration-scale application is likely to be a stationary facility such as a hydrogen-fueling station. That would require improving the system’s reaction rate 100-fold, something Zhang thinks could be accomplished in as little as six years. However, he admits the ultimate application of running a car directly off of a tank of sugar will take longer. BIO —Jerry W. Kram

Zhang has developed a process he calls “in-vitro metabolism,” which can generate large quantities of hydrogen gas from biomass. If the process can be perfected, it may be possible to fuel vehicles with tanks of sugar. PHOTO: VIRGINIA TECH




More Methane, Less Acid Gas


n last month’s issue, we shared some thoughts about anaerobic digestion and introduced an Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) project, funded by Xcel Energy, which will test and demonstrate a novel technology to enhance anaerobic digestion of biomass to produce a biogas containing increased methane content and significantly reduced hydrogen sulfide. Hydrogen sulfide is a toxic gas produced by sulfate-reducing bacteria under anaerobic conditions. In anaerobic digestion processes, hydrogen sulfide can become problematic because it 1) contributes to foul odors, 2) contributes to sulfur dioxide emissions when combusted, 3) creates a corrosive environment when present with moisture, and 4) can poison, or reduce the effectiveness, of fuel cells. Current technologies to control hydrogen sulfide from anaerobic digestion processes rely on removing the hydrogen sulfide after it has formed, typically using expensive scrubbers. The EERC technology produces a biogas with significantly reduced hydrogen sulfide through the selective death of sulfate-reducing bacteria, the root cause of sulfide production. Since the sulfate-reducing bacteria also compete with methane-producing bacteria for available biomass carbon, reducing the sulfate-reducing bacteria population allows more carbon to be converted to methane. Biogas quality is also improved through a reduction in carbon dioxide production, another metabolic end product of sulfate-reducing bacteria. The overall Stepan effect of the EERC technology is a higher British thermal unit-containing biogas— one with more methane, and less carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide—from the same quantity of biomass. The EERC has filed a patent application on the process and has successfully demonstrated process capabilities in controlling hydrogen sulfide formation in agriculture processing wastewaters. The Xcel Energy project will demonstrate the EERC technology on dairy manure, an abundant biomass resource. The EERC has partnered with Haubenschild Farm Dairy Inc., a 1,000-acre, 1,000-cow dairy near Princeton, Minn. The farm has an operational anaerobic digester that processes 20,000 gallons of manure waste into nearly 23,000 cubic feet of biogas per day. The EERC will conduct bench-scale testing at its laboratories in Grand Forks, N.D., using dairy manure samples collected from the farm and pilot-scale testing on-site at the farm in Princeton. The pilot system will consist of a skid-mounted anaerobic digester to simulate operation of the full-scale digester at the farm. The project is scheduled to begin in July, and valuable information will be developed regarding engineering design and realistic cost estimates for enhancing traditional digestion processes to produce greater quantities of gas at a lower cost. BIO

Dan Stepan is a senior research manager at the EERC in Grand Forks, N.D. Reach him at or (701) 777-5247.


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Biomass Magazine - July 2008  

July 2008 Biomass Magazine

Biomass Magazine - July 2008  

July 2008 Biomass Magazine