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Proving Out Plasma Gasification The High Cost of Transporting and Disposing of Municipal Solid Waste Makes This Technology a Viable Option



Call for Abstracts Now Open! Submission Deadline: January 9, 2009

June 15 – 18, 2009 Denver Convention Center D e n v e r , C o l o r a d o, USA

For more information or to submit an abstract visit: 4 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 11|2008





FEATURES ..................... 22 CHEMICALS Acid Trip Michigan State University and the National Corn Growers Association developed a process to produce ethyl lactate that can be retrofitted into a dry-grind ethanol plant and is a way for biorefineries to diversify their product streams. By Ron Kotrba

28 PLASTICS Switchgrass: A Bioplastic Factory Volatile oil prices and a growing market for plastics have spurred research into biomass-based alternatives. Some companies are even engineering bioenergy crops to serve as factories for bioplastics. By Jessica Ebert

34 FEEDSTOCK Plastics From the Prairie North Dakota State University researchers discovered how to make reinforced composite plastics from crops produced in the United States. By Jerry W. Kram

40 TECHNOLOGY Proving Out Plasma Gasification


DEPARTMENTS ..................... 07 Advertiser Index 08 Editor’s Note

This technology has reached a point where it may be cheaper delivering municipal solid waste to a plasma plant for energy production than taking it to a landfill. By Bryan Sims

46 DENSIFICATION Betting on BioBricks Tom Engel traveled all over Europe to find the perfect product that would help home and business owners lower their heating costs. He found the RUF briquetter, and was so impressed with it that he now sells the machines along with his patented BioBricks. By Suzanne H. Schmidt

Politics and Biomass By Rona Johnson

09 Letter to the Editor 10 CITIES Corner New Coal By Art Wiselogel

11 Legal Perspectives The Basics of a Power Purchase Agreement By Daniel A. Yarano

13 Industry Events 14 Business Briefs 16 Industry News 53 EERC Update Renewable Hydrogen: Another Option for Future Generations By Chris Zygarlicke


advertiser INDEX


2009 Fuel Ethanol Workshop




2009 International Biomass Conference



BBI International Community Initiative To Improve Energy Sustainability (CITIES)




BBI Project Development





STAFF WRITERS Jerry W. Kram Susanne Retka Schill Kris Bevill Erin Voegele Anna Austin Ryan C. Christiansen


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NOTE Politics and Biomass


hen you read this column, I pray the election will be over, the nation’s financial footing is restored, and voters will realize that we need a new breed of lawmakers in Washington, D.C., who are more concerned about the well-being of this country and less about reelection. After watching the events that unfolded in September and October—banks and insurance companies folding, and the stock market taking a dive—I don’t have much faith that anyone running our country today is intelligent enough to deal with the financial turmoil. I have even less faith in their ability to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, and fossil fuels in general. They claim they are in touch with Americans and understand the pain we are feeling as gas and food prices rise, home values fall, and retirement plans fall by the wayside. OK, we get it. At the same time, the stock market needs a shot in the arm. Instead, presidential candidates and lawmakers wring their hands in despair and throw good money after bad. Confidence is key, and in the case of energy independence, I believe our leaders need to take a look at the giant steps that are already being taken to wean us off fossil fuels. I don’t think they realize just how much gasoline has been displaced by ethanol, and could be further displaced as production increases and cellulosic feedstocks are utilized. Furthermore, I don’t think they have a clue what biomass is or how it’s being used to make many products that were once made with petroleum. It might be a good idea for them to take a look at this month’s magazine, which is focused on biobased chemicals, fiber and products. I’m sure we could have produced a magazine the size of a catalog if we had included every biobased product on the market today, not to mention all the research and development efforts that are taking place in the United States. That being said, I think we would have gotten much more bang for our $700 billion if it had been spent on biomass-based fuels, power and chemicals.

Rona Johnson Features Editor


letter to the



lthough the September 2008 Biomass Magazine feature titled “Dealing With Disaster Debris” primarily focused on the recovery of biomass materials, a comprehensive and triple-bottom-line payback approach to after-the-disaster cleanup operations should aggressively focus on generating all the revenue, jobs and environmental benefits possible. The best use and best value of all the recoverable timber needs to be seriously considered and addressed. With millions of acres and billions of dollars worth of recoverable victimized timber dead and dying across this country, it’s time to embrace the dynamic opportunity at hand to create a 21st century economic development and sustainability management approach for our forest resources. With encouragement and support from the U.S. Forest Service, I have spent the past couple of years developing a cutting-edge After the Disaster Wood Recovery and ValueAdding System that is designed to work directly at cleanup operations alongside portable chippers and grinders to efficiently capitalize on higher-value timber. Due to my experience in developing effective wood recovery and value-adding technologies, solutions and products manufactured from recovered wood (, the Forest Service came to me to design a system that salvages ash trees victimized by the emerald ash borer. The infestation only slightly penetrated the wood under the bark, but the entire tree was being disposed of at great cost and with no recovery value. This technology development project evolved into targeting all recoverable timber victimized by fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, pest infestations, floods and other natural disasters. The primary objective has been to provide the means to effectively transition higher-value wood fiber into the raw material supply chain for the wood products manufacturing industry in an efficient, cost-effective and environmentally responsible manner. However, to date and after extensive outreach to many potential direct and indirect industry stakeholders, we haven’t been able to secure the partnering and resources necessary to get this system prototyped and demonstrated. The ongoing resistance is based significantly on the following traditional mindsets: There is no demand for such as system; these types of recovery operations are too difficult and costly;

if this recovery concept was viable, it would have already been invented; the only market for recovered timber is local to the cleanup operation; there is no demand for the wood generated from recovered logs, and so on. Unfortunately, at a time when innovation is the key to survival in the global marketplace, these shortsighted views are still inherent in the forest products industry, which is a strong indication of why it’s in the condition it is today. The technology we have waiting in the wings for facilitating more comprehensive after-the-disaster wood recovery opportunities is a very compact, self-contained, single-operator processing system that can generate tens of thousands of board feet per shift of high-value product in a very economic, efficient and environmentally responsible manner. This portable, rapid deployment system fits on a conventional trailer that can be set up and operated at urban and rural cleanup work sites. This technology provides a high-quality and valuable product that justifies transporting it to primary, secondary and specialty wood product facilities at significant distances from the recovery operation. It generates 100 percent utilization from the resource in the form of high-yield cants and biomass chips. It can work alongside grinders and chippers to provide for a more comprehensive recovery and value-adding opportunity for project operators. With this system added to cleanup programs, all of the technologies necessary to create a total solution approach for managing timber resources victimized by natural disasters would be in place. I believe that once efficient, profitable, environmentally responsible and comprehensive after-the-disaster recovery programs are performing well, the green marketplace and wood products manufacturing sector will naturally encourage the development of more wood recovery and value-adding initiatives, including the more comprehensive recovery of preand post-consumer wood resources. Considering the fact that wood is the almost environmentally friendly building and manufacturing material available, and that almost every product manufactured from virgin wood can also be made from recovered wood, this vision for improving the management, economic opportunities and environmental benefits from underutilized and waste-stream wood resources is viable. Thom L. Labrie President Auburn Enterprises LLC


CITIES corner New Coal


id you know that coal is actually 300 million-year-old partially decomposed plants? Way back then when plants died and fell into bogs and swamps, fungus and bacteria consumed much of the plant for dinner leaving a nondigestible material called lignin, which holds plant cells together. The tiny bacterial and fungal bodies and lignin created an acidic soup that was eventually compressed under its own weight. After several millennia the compressed lignin became coal. Because of its abundance and high-energy value coal powered the industrial revolution and early mass transportation. Today, coal provides the base-load power for most U.S. utilities. The problem with coal is that the bacteria and fungus that created it 300 million years ago used sulfur, nitrogen and metals, most notably mercury, to build enzymes to break down the plants into usable molecules such as sugar. So, when coal is burned it produces pollutants that need to be scrubbed from the air emissions. One molecule that isn’t scrubbed from coal plants is carbon dioxide. As the world concentrates on reducing carbon dioxide pollution, interest in biomass, which can be considered the new coal, has peaked. Since the carbon dioxide in biomass comes from the current atmosphere it is not considered “pollution” like the carbon dioxide from coal that has been sequestered in the earth for millions of years. To reduce their carbon footprints, utilities and entrepreneurs are investigating opportunities to convert small coal power plants to use biomass. Once converted, the majority of these facilities will produce 20 to 50 megawatts of electricity, which is


small in comparison with typical coal power plants. Energy density is one reason biomass power plants are smaller than coal power plants. Coal on a unit-weight basis contains three times the energy of green wood and more than twice that of dry herbaceous materials. This makes it more economical to transport coal a long distance when compared with wood and other biomass. So, on one level water content and bulk density can be considered a problem for biomass. But is it really an issue? While power plants often use coal mined half a country away, a biomass power plant would use locally produced fuel making it a local economic generator. Coal was once the cheapest energy source around and still is inexpensive compared with other fossil fuels. But the price of coal has risen rapidly, similar to petroleum, because of global demand and the cost of transportation. The increase in the price of coal makes locally produced biomass competitive at smaller, less efficient plants. Furthermore, as the U.S. government gets more serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, possibly with the next administration, moving existing coal assets to biomass would be a way to reduce a greenhouse gas footprint, earn renewable energy credits and be a champion of local economic development. That is definitely a win, win, win alternative to coal. Art Wiselogel is manager of BBI International’s Community Initiative to Improve Energy Sustainability. Reach him at awiselogel@bbiinternational .com or (303) 526-5655.



The Basics of a Power Purchase Agreement By Daniel A. Yarano

power purchase agreement (PPA) is a long-term agreement between the owner of a biomass-fueled electric generating facility and the wholesale energy purchaser. A PPA allows the facility owner to secure a revenue stream from the project, which is necessary to finance the project. Typically, PPAs address issues such as the length of the agreement, the commissioning process, the purchase and sale of energy and renewable energy attributes, price, curtailment, milestones and defaults, credit and insurance. The term of a PPA may be for five or more years. A PPA is usually legally binding once it has been executed by the seller and the purchaser, but may be subject to early termination rights. Early termination rights may allow one or both parties to terminate the PPA early if certain events occur, including the seller’s failure to obtain financing. Price terms vary, reflecting the cost of the project financing, quality and cost of the biomass resource, prevailing market prices and many other issues. Market prices for biomass energy have increased over the past few years, reflecting the increase in input, equipment and labor costs. Price terms are very important to project development, as the PPA allows investors to estimate the total revenue available over the life of the project. In addition, the price may include all of the project’s renewable energy credits, including carbon credits.



Most PPAs recognize that there will be times when either the purchaser, transmission owner or transmission authority may curtail the facility’s production of energy because of constraints on the transmission system, emergency or other reasons. The parties must decide who will bear the financial risk for losses that arise when the purchaser, transmission owner or transmission authority exercises its curtailment right. Often the purchaser will pay the seller for the energy that the project would have produced as a result of a purchaser’s ordered curtailment. PPAs often provide development milestones to commercial operation. Construction or development milestones track the project’s development progress and provide the buyer with liquidated damages in the event the seller fails to construct the project within the agreed upon milestone dates. Development milestones may include acquisition of all permits, execution of a construction contract, commencement of construction, and ultimately, commercial operation. Sellers and purchasers face risks associated with the credit of the other party. Many purchasers require sellers to provide some form of credit enhancement to cover expected damages to the purchaser if the project

does not meet construction milestones or is not commercially operational by the agreed upon date. This credit enhancement may take several forms, including guaranties by credit worthy affiliates, cash collateral or escrow accounts, irrevocable standby letters of credit, or performance bonds. The PPA will usually require that the seller maintain, at the seller’s expense, specific insurance policies and name the purchaser as an additional insured. Negotiating and securing an acceptable PPA is an essential step in developing a biomass-fueled electric generating facility and should not be entered into without the advice of experienced legal counsel. PPAs include many critical terms and conditions beyond just the price for energy generated by the project. PPA terms and conditions warrant careful analysis and consideration, and parties nearing negotiations on a PPA should confer with counsel to ensure that the PPA meets the needs of the specific project. BIO Daniel A. Yarano is chair of Fredrikson & Byron PA ’s Energy Practice. Reach him at or (612) 492-7149.


industry events World Ethanol 2008

Oklahoma Biofuels Conference

November 3-6, 2008

November 12-13, 2008

Le Méridien Montparnasse Hotel Paris, France This 11th annual event, hosted by F.O. Licht, will offer in-depth ethanol market analysis. The conference will open with an ethanol production workshop that will detail biogas and its significance for ethanol production, and an ethanol risk management seminar that will address how to manage price and margin risk for renewable fuels in a volatile and expanding market. +44 (0) 20 7017 7499

Skirvin Hilton Hotel Conference Center Oklahoma City, Oklahoma This third annual event will take an in-depth look at the latest regulatory, agricultural and technical developments impacting the biofuels industry in Oklahoma. The agenda will address the Oklahoma Bioenergy Center’s research fields, legislative developments, feedstock options such as switchgrass and wheat straw, biorefinery construction, biomass-to-fuel conversion technologies, water issues, carbon control policies and sustainability issues. (800) 203-5494

E3 2008

Biogas 101 for Electricity and Heat

November 18, 2008

December 8-9, 2008

Saint Paul RiverCentre St. Paul, Minnesota This event will focus on the intersection between innovative technologies, visionary policies, environmental benefits and emerging market opportunities as they relate to developments in the renewable energy sector. Breakout session topics will include catalysis, the thermochemical and biological conversion of biomass to fuels and products; bioproducts from biorefineries; and Minnesota’s renewable portfolio standards, among other topics relevant to all renewable energy. (612) 624-6566

The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes Orlando, Florida This course will provide in-depth technical and practical information for the capture and conversion of biogas into usable energy. It will examine successful landfill-gas-to-electricity projects, anaerobic digestion systems and wastewater plant projects. Attendees will also be able to tour the Orange County Solid Waste Facility. (303) 770-8800

Waste to Energy: International Exhibition & Conference for Energy from Waste and Biomass

Renewable Energy Technology Conference & Exhibition

December 10-11, 2008 Bremen Exhibition & Conference Centre Bremen, Germany This fourth annual event will discuss waste as a resource for the production of biogas, biofuels and more. Agenda topics will include material flow management, separation and sorting, residues, shredding and grinding, power and biogas plants, and landfill gas. +49-421-3505-347

February 25-27, 2009 Las Vegas Convention Center Las Vegas, Nevada This event will include a business conference, a trade show and several side events, addressing the status and outlook of renewable energy. Biomass and biofuels breakout sessions will detail sustainability, feedstocks, financing, ethanol production technology, biobased products, biopower and biorefineries, among other topics. (805) 290-1338

International Biomass Conference & Trade Show

International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo

April 28-30, 2009

June 15-18, 2009

Oregon Convention Center Portland, Oregon This event, sponsored by BBI International Inc., will address the latest technologies and business considerations for bioenergy projects. Breakout session topics will include cellulosic ethanol, biopower, ag and wood waste, next-generation biofuels, anaerobic digestion and biogas, biobased chemicals and coproducts, biomass gasification, water issues, project finance, and permitting. Attendees will also be able to tour the Columbia Wastewater Treatment Plant, the Cornelius Summit Foods ethanol plant and the Beaverton Material Recovery Facility. (719) 539-0300

Denver Convention Center Denver, Colorado This will mark the 25th anniversary of the world’s largest ethanol conference, which was recently recognized by Trade Show Week magazine as one of the fastest-growing events in the United States for the second consecutive year. Abstract presentations will be accepted until Jan. 9. The event will address conventional ethanol, next-generation ethanol and biomass. More details will be available as the event approaches. (719) 539-0300



BRIEFS Range Fuels, Ceres collaborate on biomass research

U.K. firm releases Cleantech 100 list

California-based plant genomics firm Ceres Inc. and Colorado-based Range Fuels Inc. have announced a formal collaboration to research and commercialize dedicated energy crops for cellulosic ethanol production. The two companies initially began working together this spring by establishing five-acre test plots of switchgrass and sorghum near Range Fuels’ commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol facility currently under construction in Soperton, Ga. Field data collected at the site will help to determine biomass yields and the economics of farming such crops. BIO

A list of the 100 hottest European cleantech companies has been compiled and published by The Library House, an England-based information-gathering firm. Several combinedheat-and-power (CHP) companies made the list, including Stirling Denmark, which produces wood-chip-fired CHP engines, and U.K.-based Inetec, which boasts an “abrasive drying” method to convert industrial food waste into usable biomass. The list was created to bring attention to privately owned companies that show great potential for growth and positive environmental impacts. BIO

Gates invests in algae Cascade Investment LLC, an investment holding company owned by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, has put money into San Diego-based “renewable petrochemical” products company Sapphire Energy. On Sept. 17, Sapphire announced the completion of its second round of funding, which resulted in the acquisition of more than $100 million. The money will help to commercialize its algae oil production technology. The company recently established a test and research site in New Mexico, and aims to reach commercial-scale production within three to five years. BIO

New entity to produce renewable electricity California-based BioCentric Energy and AutoMax Group Holdings announced their intent to merge Sept. 2. Once the merger is complete, the company’s name will change to BioCentric Energy Holdings. Through its subsidiary BioCentric Energy Microwave LLC, the new company will develop a project that uses a microwave solution to produce electricity and oil for biodiesel production from municipal solid waste and the Chinese tallow tree. The facility will be located near Houston, and is expected to begin production by July. BIO

Covanta purchases biomass-to-energy plants Covanta Holding Corp. has agreed to purchase two biomass-to-energy facilities in West Enfield and Jonesboro, Maine, from co-owners Ridgewood Maine LLC and Indeck Energy Services Inc. The nearly identical facilities will add 49 annual megawatts to Fairfield, N.J.-based Covanta’s renewable energy portfolio, which currently includes six biomass facilities and 38 energy-from-waste facilities in North America, Europe and Asia. The deal is expected to close by the end of the year, pending regulatory and shareholder approval. BIO


BioGold teams with ICM BioGold Fuels Corp. has entered into a long-term development agreement with Colwich, Kan.-based ICM Inc., which will engineer, design and build waste-to-energy plants. ICM will be BioGold’s exclusive engineering firm and general contractor for all its future facilities, starting with its previously announced municipal-waste-to-energy facility in Harvey County, Kan. BioGold expect to finalize the plant design and begin construction by April. BIO


BRIEFS Iowa firm acquires U.K. equipment maker Waterloo, Iowa-based CPM Roskamp Champion has acquired Greenbank Technology Ltd. in Blackburn, England. CPM has several business units making particle size reduction and pelleting equipment for feed mills, oilseed crushers, ethanol and biomass plants, and other industries. Greenbank makes high-value thermal processing equipment such as dryers, ovens, washers, and air-pollution-control and heat-recovery systems. The acquisition expands CPM’s business into metal decoration, and pulp and paper. BIO

UOP, Ensyn form biomass-to-oil company Illinois-based Honeywell subsidiary UOP LLC and Ensyn Corp. announced a joint venture Sept. 10 that will focus on the conversion of biomass into power. The agreement, to be finalized by the end of the year, licenses the use of Ensyn’s trademarked Rapid Thermal Processing technology, which converts biomass materials such as forest and agricultural wastes into biooil that can be used in power and home heating applications. UOP will contribute its expertise in the design and engineering of large-scale plants that use this technology. BIO

Ze-gen earns accolades Software aids biomass businesses MHG Systems Ltd. in Mikkeli, Finland, has released a new enterprise resource planning software solution to help biomass energy companies manage their businesses. Bioenergy ERP provides tools for biomass inventory management, task scheduling, transportation, invoicing and ash recycling. The system can be accessed from the field using a standard Web browser on laptop computers or Java-supported smartphones. Available in seven different languages, Bioenergy ERP is available globally but is mainly being used by European companies. BIO

For the second consecutive year, Ze-gen Inc. was listed on the GoingGreen Top 100 list by media company AlwaysOn, which hosted the annual GoingGreen venture capitalist gathering in Sausalito, Calif., in mid-September. Ze-gen was named the No. 1 company in the Resource Recovery and Waste Management category, as well. The company operates a gasification facility in New Bedford, Mass., which demonstrates its gasification technology by producing low-emission synthesis gas and electricity from construction and demolition waste. BIO

Virent receives funding for biogasoline plant

ADM, Monsanto to research corn stover

Virent Energy Systems Inc. in Madison, Wis., has been awarded a $500,000 grant and a $500,000 loan from the Wisconsin Energy Independence Fund to help design, build and operate a pilot-scale plant that will produce up to 10,000 gallons of biogasoline from biomass annually. The company also released a white paper disclosing technical details about its patented and trademarked BioForming technology that converts plant sugars into hydrocarbon molecules, which can be converted into various fuels and chemicals. For more information, visit BIO

Focusing on the identification of environmentally and economically sustainable methods of harvesting, storing and transporting corn stover, Illinois-based Archer Daniels Midland Co. and Missouri-based Monsanto Co., along with Illinoisbased Deere & Co., are collaborating to explore technologies and processes that may turn crop residues into feed and bioenergy products. Stover can make up half of a corn crop’s yield, and can be used as animal feed, biomass for steam generation or electricity, or as a cellulosic ethanol feedstock. The USDA has forecasted a 2008 corn harvest of 12.3 billion bushels, potentially generating 290 million tons of corn stover. BIO 11|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 15


NEWS Green Energy Resources, a waste wood supplier with its eyes on natural disaster recovery as an additional product source, is finding that acquiring the waste is no easy task. In fact, company President Joe Murray has been trying for several years, with little success, to get his hands on waste wood created by natural disasters. Most recently, his efforts focused on what was left after Hurricane Ike pummeled the Texas/Louisiana Gulf Coast in mid-September. At press time in early October, Green Energy had yet to receive any waste wood from those recovery efforts, but Murray remained confident that affected communities would begin working with him to make use of their waste. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency is in charge of cleanup and recovery efforts following the presidentially declared natural disaster. In June 2007, the agency’s


No easy task: Renewable recovery after disasters

The Gulf Bank debris collection site in Houston averages 450 trucks per day. To date, this site has amassed an estimated 800,000 cubic yards of debris from Hurricane Ike.

public assistance division implemented a pilot program aimed at reducing the costs for

public assistance and providing more flexibility to applicants. One of the program’s aspects allows applicants (counties, cities, etc.) to retain money made from the sale of their debris, therefore encouraging recycling. According to Murray, few contractors or county officials are aware of the pilot program and thus aren’t utilizing it. Each state handles its disasters a bit differently, but Deana Platt, spokeswoman for the FEMA pilot program, said each FEMA aid applicant must participate in a kickoff meeting with a FEMA representative. “At that time, they are given information about the pilot program,” she said. As for companies such as Green Energy that are working to obtain waste wood, she said, “They need to contact local communities.” The pilot program ends Dec. 31. At press time, Platt was doubtful the program would be extended. -Kris Bevill

CHP projects develop worldwide NPower Cogen, an energy company that serves the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland, was recently awarded $16 million as part of a Regional Selective Assistance grant from the Scottish government to build a 45-megawatt-per-year combined-heat-andpower (CHP) plant that will provide steam and electricity to a papermaker in Scotland. The plant, expected to be complete before 2011, will produce power using a variety of woody biomass. Manitoba Hydro recently announced incentives for the installation and use of biomass CHP systems, as part of the Canadian company’s Power Smart Program. The program provides loans and incentives for residential, commercial and industrial customers to maximize energy efficiency, and reduce energy costs and overall emissions. Wärtsilä Power, a Finnish company with a track record in supplying biofueled CHP plants, recently installed the world’s first CHP plant that runs on jatropha-based 16 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 11|2008

biodiesel in Marksplas, Belgium. It said its CHP systems can improve plant efficiency more than 90 percent. According to the U.S. EPA, one of the most important considerations for a successful biomass CHP project is the proximity to the fuel source. Benefits of installing the systems include lower operation and energy costs, reduced emissions, reduced grid congestion, and increased reliability and power quality. Biofueled CHP systems represent a permissible renewable energy resource, and in some U.S. states, renewable energy credits can be generated from the use of biomass to power a CHP system. Such biofuel projects often qualify for additional state incentives that traditional CHP systems are ineligible to receive. The U.K.-based Heating and Ventilating Contractors’ Association has published two new manuals, one of which details the installation of CHP systems while the other details the installation of biofuel-based heat-

ing. Both are now for sale on the company’s Web site. The 31-page CHP manual provides an overview of different applications such as micro-CHP for the domestic sector, benefits, limitations, requirements and some outline design information for each application. The biofuel heating guide includes different application types and fuels, with a large focus on wood, including pellets, briquettes, chips and logs. “The low carbon rating of biomass is very attractive for meeting emission targets, but its suitability has to be carefully evaluated,” said Graham Manly, technical committee chairman of the HVCA. “Whilst using biomass as a fuel has had limited application in the U.K. in the past, its development has continued in Europe, where there is less dependency on a gas infrastructure.” -Anna Austin


NEWS Wood pellet supply, demand on the rise These days, the markets for fuel pellets are very vigorous, said John Crouch, director of public affairs for the Fuel Pellet Institute. Homeowners and businesses alike are seeking lower-cost options to fuel oil and natural gas for residential heating and industrial fuel. “The institutional portion of the market (e.g., colleges and businesses) is growing very quickly, almost in real time,” Crouch said. “Any number I could give you today might be out of date tomorrow.” The residential market is also booming. This growth is reflected in the intense demand for wood pellet stoves, which Crouch said retailers witnessed in April. “Consumers realized early on that this could be another expensive year to heat their homes,” he said. “Home heating stoves had an exceptional May and June, and started moving into backorder status. If you walked into your local hearth store [today], it would be happy to set you up with a residential pel-

wood waste from sawmills, paper mills and furniture manufacturers to form wood pellets for both residential and industrial applications. The rapid growth in the U.S. pellet market has spawned marketing solutions that bring buyers and sellers together. PelletSales. com LLC, a national distributor of biomass specializing in wood pellets, has developed proprietary software that gauges biomass demand and locates supply throughout the United States. It can then coordinate the transportation of biomass in order to meet demand. The company currently focuses on serving residential consumers, but it’s also working to move into the bulk market, where it will be able to provide pellets to consumers along with systems designed to move the pellets from storage into the appliances.

let stove, but it wouldn’t schedule delivery because the stove wouldn’t arrive until next April or maybe May.” Even with the rapid growth of the domestic market, most North American wood pellets are exported to Europe. “The bulk export market was set up for long-term contracts to Western Europe,” Crouch said. “That is where countries have moved more aggressively to low-carbon fuel incentives.” The bulk delivery of pellets to U.S. customers is an emerging market. Most recently, for example, a pellet-fired heating facility was installed in graduate student housing at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. On the production side, Indeck Energy Services Inc. and Midwest Forest Products Co. recently broke ground on Indeck Ladysmith LLC, a 90,000-ton-per-year wood pellet plant in Ladysmith, Wis. The facility, which is scheduled to be operational in July, will take

-Jerry W. Kram

Dutch utility company Delta NV began operating its biomass power plant fueled by poultry litter in Moerdijk, Netherlands, on Sept. 3. The 36.5-megawatt-per-year facility is the first commercial-scale power plant in Europe to utilize poultry litter on a large scale. The facility is expected to convert 440,000 metric tons (490,000 tons) of poultry litter into more than 207 million kilowatthours of electricity each year, absorbing approximately one-third of Netherlands’ excess manure stocks. According to Peter Couwenberg, Delta’s press officer, the facility will produce enough electricity to power approximately 90,000 homes annually. Duurzame Energieproductie Pluimveehouderij, a cooperative association of 629 poultry farmers, will supply litter to the facility. Approximately 70 percent of the litter is expected to be sourced from the southern part of the Netherlands. Couwenberg said the country’s poultry industry produces ap-


Poultry litter fuels new Dutch power plant

Delta’s power plant fueled by poultry litter in Moerdijk, Netherlands, began operation Sept. 3.

proximately 1.2 million metric tons (1.3 million tons) of poultry litter annually. Before the power plant was built, 800,000 metric tons (882,000 tons) of the product had to be exported each year for processing, an expensive process.

DEP will deliver poultry litter to the power plant, where it will be incinerated to produce steam, which will power a turbine, creating electricity. Gases released by the incineration process will be purified before they are released into the atmosphere. Ash material rich in phosphorus and potassium is created as a byproduct of the production process, and sold for use as fertilizer. Construction of the power plant began in August 2006. The facility cost €150 million ($207 million) to construct and employs a staff of 25. Delta owns 50 percent of the facility. The remaining ownership is divided among DEP, Austrian Energy and Environment AG, and ZLTO, an organization representing the interests of 190,000 farmers and horticulturists in the Netherlands provinces of North Brabant, Zeeland and Gelderland.

-Erin Voegele



NEWS Romanian power plant to utilize MSW


Nevada-based Energy Quest Inc. an- is able to recognize and separate recyclable nounced in early September that it had en- materials. CoFAMM guarantees that its tered into a purchase agreement with Italian technology can isolate between 70 percent and 80 percent of the rerecycling machine manucyclable material contained facturer CoFAMM SRL for within MSW, including the construction and instalorganic materials, paper, lation of a 500-ton-percardboard, plastics, alumiday municipal-solid-waste num and iron. Plastic ma(MSW) gasification plant terials can also be sorted by in Romania. Energy Quest type and color. will provide the proprietary CoFAMM’s waste technologies, equipment COFAMM’s waste sorters isolate and project management for recyclable materials from municipal sorters can be configured in several ways, depending the 20-megawatt-per-year solid waste. on the type of materials facility, while CoFAMM will provide a solution to isolate recyclable ma- they must sort, the cost of labor and other terials from the MSW and provide refuse- parameters specific to each project. The process generally begins with a bag opener. derived fuel to the facility. According to Marco Bucciarello, Co- The MSW is then moved through a series FAMM’s general manager and chief execu- of stages featuring equipment that utilizes tive officer, his company’s sorting solution conveyors, separators, screens, currents

and other technologies to isolate recyclable materials from the waste. Once recyclable materials are isolated from the MSW, the remaining combustible materials will be used to power the facility and produce electricity. The power generation portion of the facility will consist of four modular gasification units that each generate six megawatts of electricity per year. According to Wilf Ouellette, Energy Quest’s president and chief executive officer, construction of the facility is scheduled to begin in early 2009 and expected to last approximately 12 months. The recycling portion of the project should be operational six to eight months after construction begins, which will allow the facility to begin stockpiling refuse-derived fuel and selling the recyclable material. -Erin Voegele

Plethora of wood-to-energy projects underway The appeal of wood-to-energy power has snagged the attention of a multitude of power companies that are seeking an environmentally friendly and economically sound way to power new and existing plants. Georgia seems to be a frontrunner in adopting this technology in the United States. In late August, Atlanta-based Georgia Power requested approval from the Georgia Public Service Commission to convert its 155-megawatt-per-year coal-fired unit at its Mitchell Generating Plant near Albany, Ga., to wood power. The feedstock will be obtained from suppliers operating within an approximately 100-mile radius of the plant. The facility, which will power 60,000 homes, expects to complete this conversion in 2012. In September, Tucker, Ga.-based Oglethorpe Power Corp., the largest power supply cooperative in the United States, announced a massive woody biomass power plant project in the state, which will supply 18 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 11|2008

nearly half of Georgia’s population with electricity. Plans include the construction of two 100-megawatt-per-year, carbon-neutral facilities—possibly a third in the future— that will run on a woody biomass mixture composed of chipped pulpwood, manufacturing residue such as sawmill waste, and harvest residue leftover from forest clearing. Each of the new facilities is expected to create 40 permanent jobs, and possibly hundreds more, within Georgia’s forestry industry. In June, Georgia passed a bill that would give business owners and residential consumers an income tax credit if certain clean energy property criteria were met. The bill, which includes biomass equipment to convert wood residuals into electricity through gasification and pyrolysis, went into effect July 1. In other U.S. locations, GreenHunter Renewable Power LLC, a Texas-based subsidiary of GreenHunter Energy Inc., an-

nounced in September its acquisition of a 14-megawatt-per-year biomass power plant in Telogia, Fla., which will take in wood waste acquired from a variety of local sources. The company said it recently negotiated with a third party to provide up to 40 percent of its feedstock. GreenHunter plans to have the plant operational by the first quarter of 2009. In late September, the Austin, Texas, city council approved a renewable power purchase agreement between Austin Energy and Nacogdoches Power LLC. As a result, Austin Energy will purchase of all of the electricity produced at Nacogdoches Power’s proposed 100-megawatt-per-year power generation facility in Nacogdoches County, Texas. The plant will generate electricity using waste wood from logging and mill activities, and urban wood from clearing, tree trimming and wood pallets. -Anna Austin


NEWS Waste Management Inc., the largest developer of landfill-gas-to-energy projects, announced plans in early October to partner with private and municipal landfill owners to further expand its efforts. WM opened a landfill-gas-to-energy facility Sept. 18 at the Denver Arapahoe Disposal Site near Denver, where WM manages the landfill operations. The project is expected to generate 3.2 megawatts of electricity annually. Another WM landfill-gas-toenergy project recently broke ground at the municipal-owned Madison County landfill near Syracuse, N.Y. This facility will generate 1.4 megawatts per year. “We operate a number of landfills for municipalities,” said Wes Muir, WM director of corporate communications. “We realized we could expand our expertise and take it on the road.” WM is the only solid waste management company that has a dedicated renewable energy group, he noted. “We can design, build, operate and even market the


WM further develops landfill-gas-to-energy projects

Local officials and Waste Management personnel celebrate the groundbreaking for the Madison County, N.Y., landfill-gas-to-energy project in mid-September.

energy for landfill projects,” he added. The new initiative will position WM’s renewable energy group to provide full-service support to municipal and private landfill operators that lack the resources to develop landfill-gasto-energy projects.

WM, an operator of landfills across North America, set a goal last year to develop up to 60 new landfill gas projects at its landfills by 2012. More than a dozen of those projects have been completed or launched across North America, and the company said it now has renewable energy projects at 112 of its landfills. When the goal of 160 to 170 landfills producing renewable energy is met, the company projects it will be generating more than 700 megawatts of energy annually. The company is also developing projects to utilize gas from landfills that have insufficient gas flow to generate electricity, Muir said. The company is developing a landfillgas-to-liquid-natural-gas project at the WM Altamont Landfill in Livermore, Calif. Another project to produce synthetic diesel fuel from landfill gas is in the pilot phase. -Susanne Retka Schill

A consortium of companies led by Swedish automaker Volvo initiated a project to demonstrate the feasibility of producing dimethyl ether (DME) from black liquor, a byproduct of pulp and paper production. The €28 million ($38.7 million) BioDME project is being funded by consortium members, plus an €8 million ($11 million) contribution from the European Union Seven Framework Program and additional support from the Swedish Energy Agency. Members of the consortium include Chemrec, a producer of gasification systems for the pulp and paper industry; Preem AB, the largest oil company in Sweden; Delphi Diesel Systems, a provider of diesel fuel injection systems; Haldor Topsøe, a supplier of catalyst technology; Total, an international energy company; and the Energy Technology Center, a renewable fuels research and development organization in Piteå, Sweden. DME is used as a propellant in aero-


European consortium pursues black liquor gasification

Volvo is providing 14 trucks to demonstrate the practicality of using dimethyl ether as a biofuel made from black liquor from pulp and paper mills.

sols, and can be used as a fuel or an additive for diesel fuel. Black liquor is the fraction of wood pulp remaining after the cellulose fractions have been removed, and is largely composed of lignin. The four-year BioDME project will test the feasibility of produc-

ing DME from black liquor and using it as a diesel fuel additive. Chemrec and Haldor Topsøe will produce the DME in a specially built plant. Total will focus on the development of the fuel technology. The ETC has operated a black liquor gasification system built by Chemrec in Piteå since 2005 and will monitor the performance of the pilot plant during the project. Volvo will provide 14 specially converted trucks using Delphi’s fuel injectors to test the use of DME as a fuel. The fuel will be delivered to service stations built by Preem in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Piteå. “Already one year ago, Volvo presented seven trucks that could all be operated carbon-dioxide-neutral,” said Volvo Group Chief Executive Officer Leif Johansson. “The BioDME project is an example of what the next step could look like and illustrates the possibilities of producing renewable fuel on a major scale.” -Jerry W. Kram



NEWS Agricultural equipment manufacturers will continue testing corn-cob-harvesting equipment this fall in an effort to perfect the machines in advance of a projected increase in demand for corn cobs. Poet LLC in Sioux Falls, S.D., is scheduled to continue testing and demonstrating corn-cob-harvesting equipment in November. Last year, the company teamed up with equipment manufacturers to harvest cobs from 4,000 acres of farmland in South Dakota. Poet plans to use cobs to produce cellulosic ethanol at the company’s planned $200 million biorefinery in Emmetsburg, Iowa, which is slated for completion in 2011. Poet is working with multiple companies to develop cob-harvesting technologies, including Vermeer Corp., Kinze Manufacturing Inc., SmithCo Manufacturing Inc., Demco, Agco Corp., Claas of America Inc., Deere & Co., and CNH America LLC, according to Doug Berven, director of corporate affairs at Poet. Chippewa Valley Ethanol Co. LLLP


Manufacturers perfect corn cob harvesters

The green John Deere 9860 STS Combine has been modified to harvest corn grain and cobs in one pass, while the red Case 8010 hauls a Cob Caddy during the Poet Cob Harvest Media Day on the family farm of Darrin Ihnen near Hurley, S.D., in 2007.

scheduled corn-cob-harvesting demonstrations in October across 5,000 acres in Minnesota, the company said. It’s working with the University of Minnesota West Central Research and Outreach Center in Morris, Minn., under a $250,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Commerce, the

Agricultural Utilization Research Institute, and the Minnesota Corn Research and Promotion Council to educate farmers about cob harvesting, and to evaluate techniques. The university’s WCROC plans to create a cob-collection video and a “how-to” guide for farmers. Both CVEC and the University of Minnesota, Morris recently commissioned cob-fed biomass gasification systems. Pella, Iowa-based Vermeer was one of the manufacturers that participated in both demonstrations with its prototype CX770 Cob Harvester, a wagon-style cob collector that trails behind the combine to collect grain and cobs in one pass, according to Jay Van Roekel, segment manager for Vermeer. Van Roekel said he expects demand for cob harvesters to pick up within the next 15 months. “If it was ready today, I think we could sell it today,” he said. -Ryan C. Christiansen

Genencor, a Division of Danisco A/S in Rochester, N.Y., recently announced its involvement in multiple biomass-related projects. In September, Genencor agreed to work with Finland-based Fortum Corp. to build an 18-megawatt-per-year, woodchipfired power plant in Hanko, Finland. The thermal power plant will provide industrial steam for Genencor’s enzyme manufacturing plant located there and municipal district heating for the Hanko community, according to Genencor’s Hanko Plant Manager Antti Kosola. Currently, the Hanko plant receives its industrial steam from a power plant running on heavy fuel oil. The new plant will result in a 90 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions to meet the plant’s steam requirement, Kosola said. According to Fortum, the plant will be commissioned by the end of 2009. Meanwhile, Genencor and Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. have announced a 20 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 11|2008


Genencor explores biomass projects

Genencor’s enzyme manufacturing plant in Hanko, Finland, plans to build an 18-megawatt-per-year, woodchip-fired power plant to provide industrial steam for Genencor and municipal district heating for the Hanko community.

partnership to develop a process that convertsbiomass into trademarked BioIsoprene, a potential ingredient in synthetic rubber used for tires and other products. The new product is expected to serve as

an alternative to petroleum-based isoprene. The natural source of isoprene is the tree species Hevea brasiliensis, also known as the rubber tree. Demand for natural rubber is expected to exceed supply by 2010, according to Tom Knutzen, chief executive officer for Danisco. Prior to the official announcement Sept. 16, the companies had been working together for approximately one year to determine whether to move forward, according to Jennifer Hutchins, a spokeswoman for Genencor. The company will invest $50 million over the next three years to develop and scale up the technology, but Genencor expects the process to be technically ready by 2010. The first large-scale manufacturing plant is expected to be commissioned by 2012, and the first commercial sales of the product are expected in 2013.

-Ryan C. Christiansen


NEWS Several members of the renewable fuels industry recently made announcements promoting their latest accomplishments in renewable jet fuel production. Researchers at the University of North Dakota’s Energy & Environmental Research Center have produced samples of a 100 percent renewable jet fuel that meets the stringent requirements for the U.S. military’s JP-8 jet fuel. JP-8 is similar to Jet A, which is used in commercial aviation equipment. “If you can make JP-8, you can make Jet A,” said Tom Erickson, associate director for research at the EERC. Erickson wasn’t able to list the specific feedstocks used in the EERC’s process, but he said the center is capable of utilizing any oil crop. The EERC fuel doesn’t need to be blended with petroleum-based fuel for use. “The major breakthrough is that we’re using 100 percent renewable feedstock,” he empha-


Renewable jet fuel ready for takeoff

Ben Oster, research engineer at the University of North Dakota’s Energy & Environmental Research Center, holds a sample of the center’s recently produced renewable jet fuel.

sized, mentioning that research is also being conducted on algal-oil-to-fuel projects. It took the EERC six months to a year to produce test samples. Funding was sup-

plied by a $4.7 million contract from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Larger samples will be used by the Department of Defense for engine testing later this year. Meanwhile, the EERC is working with Great Plains-The Camelina Co. to explore the use of camelina as a feedstock for its process. Algae is a already popular feedstock for jet fuel among other companies. Californiabased Solazyme Inc. recently announced it had produced algal-based aviation fuel that passed all specifications for aviation turbine fuel at the Southwest Research Institute, a fuel analysis lab in San Antonio. New Zealand-based Aquaflow Bionomic Corp. said it has produced algae-derived “green crude” samples from algae that can be separated into various types of fuel, including aviation fuel. -Kris Bevill

A major hurdle in the commercialization of high-yielding, sterile biomass crops is being addressed in a joint venture announced this fall. Georgia-based Biomass Gas & Electric LLC recently licensed the rights to a micropropagation technology developed by University of South Carolina researchers Laszlo Marton and Mihaly Czako that facilitates the mass planting of sterileseed plants. The researchers worked with the heavy biomass-producing Arundo donax (giant reed) to develop the patented process. The process will also work with Miscanthus giganteus and more than 50 species of perennial grasses. Although arundo and miscanthus can yield between 20 and 30 tons per acre, the major limitation in the widespread adoption of the two biomass crops has been the labor-intensive hand propagation and transplanting required for the sterile grasses. BG&E has created a joint venture with


Commercial micropropagation creates sterile biomass crops

This lab vessel contains more than 20,000 arundo propagules produced in a new micropropagation technique that will allow the mass production of sterile biomass crops.

Hungary-based Pro System Group to adapt the germplasm and micropropagation technology with Pro System Group’s Fit-BioReaktor technology. The new micropropagation process involves a germplasm treatment and the growing of thousands of plantlets in vitro that are then matured in Pro System Group’s bioreactors for mass row planting.

“This technology allows BG&E and [Pro System Group] to plant and grow energy crops in a matter of months,” explained company spokesman Keith McDermott. “Previously, this task would have taken years, and was both financially and technologically unfeasible.” He pointed out that the European market needs tens of millions of tons of biomass per year to satisfy its demand. In Germany alone, there were 160 biomass power plants operating in 2006 that used mostly woody biomass at an estimated rate of 7 million to 8 million tons per year, according to BG&E. German homeowners have approximately 70,000 wood-fired boilers using approximately 1 million tons of wood per year. In the United States, BG&E is developing three biomass renewable energy projects in Florida and one in Georgia. -Susanne Retka Schill


page tag chemicals

Acid Trip Biorefineries built on the biochemical conversion platform can take advantage of their fermentative capacity to produce various organic acids, which can then be reacted with ethanol to make a number of different higher-valued ester compounds. By Ron Kotrba

22 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 11|2008 11|2008

chemicals page tag


he very thing that hinders successful production of green chemicals from biomass is that which has for years slowed commercial biochemical processing of biomass to ethanol. Some call it biology’s intelligent defense mechanism against microbial infiltrators and decomposers. “It is nature’s structural material, and it’s put together very securely,” says Dennis Miller, a professor of chemical engineering at Michigan State University. Deconstructing plant material, separating the lignin from cellulose and hemicellulose in order to utilize five- and six-carbon sugars, is much trickier than other forms of biomass utilization, like chipping wood and combusting it in a solid-fuel boiler. Dartmouth College professor Lee Lynd says the “recalcitrance of cellulosic biomass” is the biggest obstacle to cost-effective biorefining. “If this is solved, conversion of sugars to ethanol and recovery of ethanol is well established,” he says. “For organic acids, there are more challenges including fermentation titer and product recovery.”

Some experts consider the class of compounds known as organic acids to be one of the most promising groups of products to arise from the fermentation of biomass. A National Renewable Energy Laboratory study conducted a few years ago identified eight of the top 12 value-added chemicals from sugars as being carboxylic acids. Acetic acid is an example of a carboxylic acid. When alcohol is reacted with an acid an ester is made. One common ester in today’s renewable fuels world is biodiesel—methanol reacted with fatty acids to make methyl esters. Corn dry-grind ethanol producers are all too familiar with lactic and acetic acid bacteria, which stealthily infiltrate the ethanol production process and ferment sugars into acids instead of alcohol, robbing saccharomyces cerevisiae of vital nutrients and minerals, therefore reducing yield and grinding production to a halt until the contamination is under control. In a corn ethanol plant, only a couple of huge fermentors are used at giant refineries, but a lignocellulosic biochemical refinery would likely


chemicals have many more fermentors, according to a subcontractors report conducted for NREL by Lynd et al, titled “Strategic Biorefinery Analysis: Analysis of Biorefineries.” It reads, “The number of fermentors in even a moderately sized biorefinery is so large— greater than 25 for many designs—that the cost of fermentation capacity does not depend on whether this capacity is devoted to one product or to several products.” Given this, a biorefinery could easily dedicate a fermentor to biochemical production of lactic, acetic or succinic acid, which can be sold on the open market as such, or reacted with a slip stream of the biorefinery’s primary product, ethanol, to make a variety of useful esters.

Ethyl Lactate Via Reactive Distillation For companies developing ethanologens to ferment both five- and six-carbon sugars, what must be dealt with is the natural tendency for these beasts to want to produce acids. A company called TMO Renewables Ltd. developed an organism with an appetite for five- and six-carbon sugars, and “turned off ” the genes in the organism that produce lactic and acetic acids. “As you look at some of the organisms out there, some of the common products you can get that nature has already designed


are fermentations to acids,” says MSU professor of chemical engineering and thermodynamics, Carl Lira. “Instead of trying to get the organism to make another product, let it make the organic acid it wants to make and then we can figure out how to convert that into other intermediates.” And that is exactly what Lira, Miller and other MSU professors, along with Richard Glass, vice president of research and development with the National Corn Growers Association, have done. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could take a product that’s currently produced by the petrochemicals industry and find a competitive peer for it—one that’s renewable, competitive and green,” Glass says. “That was our mission. We got the model system out there because ethyl lactate is commercially produced today from petrochemicals, and we know exactly what it costs because the model exists.” The MSU-NCGA project began downstream of fermentation and involved reacting separate streams of lactic acid and ethanol. Ultimately the researchers intended to license the retrofitting of existing dry-grind corn ethanol plants to diversify their narrow line of products, but it is also entirely applicable to the lignocellulosic biorefinery concept. “Our process is independent of feedstock,” Miller says. “It doesn’t matter if we use glucose from corn

grain to make the lactic acid or if we use sugars from corn stover or woody biomass. The sugar stream used to make ethanol is the same sugar stream we’d use to make lactic acids.” Ethyl lactate is an ester compound derived from reacting ethanol with lactic acid. According to Lira, ethyl lactate is not widely used today because of its high cost, but has applications in the electronics industry for micro-circuit fabrication, mainly because it’s a clean solvent. Lira says during the time he and his colleagues were working on this project, the results of which were published in 2007, the cost of producing ethyl lactate was between $1.30 and $1.60 a pound. MSU and NCGA researchers were able to cut that cost by half using a process called reactive distillation. “Reactive distillation has been around for a long time—it’s not new,” Glass tells Biomass Magazine. “But what is new is our application. Generally the problems with reactions is that to separate them you have to distill them, and when you distill them you have boiling points that are very close together, very hard to separate. But reactive distillation allows us to produce compounds called hemiacetals, which are stable in the system and have boiling points completely different than what they might be for the original chemical.” Thus, once distillation is



A bench-scale reactive distillation column is used by researchers at Michigan State University in partnership with National Corn Growers Association, to make ethyl lactate from a side stream of ethanol and lactic acid.

complete the hemiacetal can be broken and the pure compound recovered with a high percent of purity. Glass calls the chemistry involved in reactive distillation “elegant” because it is unusually effective and simple. Miller says from equipment and energy standpoints, re-

active distillation is an efficient way to carry out a number of chemical reactions. “If you look at conventional processing, the reaction goes part way then stops, part way and stops, and the idea with reactive distillation is you keep pushing the reaction all the way until it’s complete,” Miller says.

At least two feeds are used in the reactive distillation column, with the least volatile reactant, the acid, entering the top and the more volatile ethanol entering the bottom. The goal is to provide a reactive zone where the ester and byproduct water move in opposite directions in the column. This process requires two columns because in solution lactic acid forms oligomers, and the researchers note that accurate modeling of oligomer behavior and mixture phase equilibria are integral aspects of this particular project’s design. NCGA currently seeks companies that might be interested in buying a license for this ethyl lactate production process, which can be retrofitted into a drygrind ethanol plant.

Markets and Product Diversity “If all you produce from a biorefinery is ethanol, that is fine for a nascent industry but, in essence, all you have is a one-trick pony,” Glass says. “My dream is the integrated biorefinery where the only limits are your imagination and ability to make the system.” Lira says ethanol refineries are one-dimensional. “In a biorefinery you really want that diversity,” he says. “But now much of the effort is to make a single organism—to make a single product—because that simplifies separation downstream, and if you can make only ethanol then you can con-


chemicals A Classic Example: Methyl Acetate Versus Ethyl Lactate

This diagram compares the major differences of process flow and design used in petrochemical manufacturing of ethyl lactate, left, versus the much simpler reactive distillation process, right. SOURCE: MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY

vert the design into a turnkey system.” The word “turnkey” hasn’t been associated with the biomass ethanol refineries as it has in the starch-based ethanol industry. Glass says from a 25 MMgy ethanol plant, an ethanol side stream of 1 MMgy diverted to make chemicals like ethyl lactate could bring in the same amount of revenue as the remaining 24 MMgy of ethanol sold as fuel. One might wonder why not divert more ethanol and produce even more value-added chemicals instead of producing the lower-valued ethanol. The problem with this is that the markets are fragile and what some might consider small increases in production could drive prices way down. Ethyl lactate use in the United States, for instance, is between 10 million and 20 million pounds a year, and sells for about $1.50 a pound according to MSU. “Keep in mind there are some big players out there and if you come in and try to take their market away from them, what are they going to try to do?” Glass poses. “They’re not going to be happy.” Natureworks LLC operates the world’s largest polylactic acid plant in Blair, Neb., which produces 300 million pounds per year. According to a report titled, “Succinic Acid Production and Market in China,” China produces about a quarter to a third of the world’s succinic acid. The report says major production methods 26 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 11|2008

in play in today’s China are electrochemical reduction and hydrogenation. Globally most succinic acid is produced via fermentation, “which can significantly reduce the manufacturing cost,” the report states. Lira says much of the acetic acid produced today is made from methanol feedstock—methane to methanol to acetic acid. “Acetic acid can be made by fermentation too, but I’m not sure how cost competitive it is with the petroleum process,” Lira says. “We’re working now on succinic acids but I can’t share details on that yet because work is ongoing.” The work entails esterifying succinic acid with ethanol to make diethyl succinate. Given that many of these acids are produced through methods other than fermentation, this will provide a great opportunity for biorefineries built on the biochemical platform to diversify their product streams. But developing new markets for organic acids and ester compounds would be a critical component of this approach. “The big lesson we’re learning is defining the markets,” Lira says. “That is going to be the big challenge—breaking into the markets, finding companies to be the first one to take advantage of these opportunities.” BIO Ron Kotrba is a Biomass Magazine senior writer. Reach him at or (701) 738-4942.



A Bioplastic Factory


plastics In the past, cheap oil spurred the development of petroleum-based consumer products such as plastics. Today high oil prices are driving research and development away from fossil fuel-based processes to those using renewable feedstocks. The markets for these new bioproducts are growing and companies such as Massachusetts-based Metabolix Inc. are cashing in by engineering bioenergy crops that also serve as factories for bioplastics. By Jessica Ebert





espite nationwide efforts that show recycling rates for paper, metals and glass in the double digits (50 percent, 36 percent and 22 percent respectively), less than 7 percent of all waste plastic gets recycled. More than 350 billion pounds of plastic is produced accounting for nearly 10 percent of total U.S. oil consumption. According to the U.S. EPA, the amount of plastic reaching landfills across the country has jumped from less than 1 percent in 1960 to nearly 12 percent in 2006; and the demand for plastics is only expected to increase. Since conventional plastics originate from fossil-fuel-based feedstocks, they’re built to last, clogging landfills and persisting in other environments such as rivers and oceans. With volatile oil prices, alternatives to petroleum-based plastics are becoming a real option—again. For hundreds of years, humans have depended on natural, biological sources for the production of everyday materials ranging from fibers, dyes and waxes to coatings, lubricants and detergents. Plants and animals continue to serve as sources for the large-scale production of numerous products including wood, cork, paper, leather, cotton, hemp, wool and silk. A naturally produced, biodegradable form of plastic was first characterized in the mid-1920s by French researchers. The molecule is called polyhydroxybutyrate, more commonly referred to as PHB. It is produced by many different types of bacteria. As they grow on carbon food sources such as cornstarch or cane sugar, the bacteria store PHB as an energy reserve much like the fat that is stored in human cells. One such soil bacterium is called Ralstonia eutropha. The chemical reactions that lead to the production of PHB in R. eutropha are well understood, and scientists have figured out how to tweak growth conditions in such a way that encourages yields of PHB to reach 80 percent of the dry cell weight of the microbe.

This microscope picture shows the plastic that accumulates in the leaves of switchgrass, which have been modified to express bacterial genes responsible for the production of PHB.

Got wood? • Legal work on more than 100 energy projects in over 20 states, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Mexico, Peru and United Kingdom • Assisting developers, owners, operators, investors and lenders • Projects include wood-burning, landfill gas and other power/fuel projects that use biomass or waste materials • We know biomass Contact Curt Whittaker Chuck Willing National Impact. Uniquely New Hampshire. Rath, Young and Pignatelli, P.C. Concord (603) 226-2600 30 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 11|2008



Switchgrass is a potential feedstock for the production of cellulosic ethanol. New developments by Metabolix will likely increase the attractiveness of this feedstock by adding a potential revenue stream to the process. Now the plant can potentially be used to make ethanol as well as biodegradable plastics.

PHB belongs to a family of polyesters called polyhydroxyalkanoates or PHAs. In general, these molecules can be produced with properties resembling their nonrenewable plastic counterparts, specifically polypropylene, which is the type of plastic used to make syrup bottles, yogurt tubs and diapers (the resin code of polypropylene, which is found on the bottom of plastic containers, is number 5). The one striking difference between PHAs and petroleum-based plastics is that PHAs are biodegradable. When these plastics are disposed of in environments populated by organisms such as bacteria, fungi and algae, PHAs are broken down to their essence—carbon dioxide and water—and recycled by the natural metabolic processes of these microbes. The first U.S.-based company to evaluate whether PHAs (in particular PHB) could be produced from microbes on a commercial scale was W.R. Grace. The company was issued several patents for its efforts in the late 1950s and early 1960s but interest died and wasn’t renewed for more than a decade. At that time—in the mid-1970s—the UK-based company Imperial Chemical Industries, which is now part of AkzoNobel, a leading global supplier of specialty chemicals, began a research and development program for PHB production through microbial fermentation. In the late 1980s, the company began commercializing a family of PHB polymers under the trade name Biopol. Although the production of Biopol was not cost-competitive with plastics derived from petroleum products, the bioplastic was used in shampoo bottles and consumers who wanted all-natural, high-end products accepted the price. In 1990, the agriculture and pharmaceutical business of ICI was spun off as Zeneca Ltd., and in 1996, Monsanto Co. acquired the Biopol business from Zeneca. In an attempt to produce PHAs cost-competitively with conventional plastics, Monsanto aimed to use plants rather than microbes as the factories for biodegradable plastics production. This new direction for research and develop-




Metabolix recently announced the results of greenhouse trials of switchgrass plants that the company modified to produce a plastic polyester called PHB.

ment was partly inspired by the work of scientists from Michigan State University led by Chris Somerville. In 1992, Somerville’s team reported in the journal Science that PHB could be produced in the leaves of a plant called Arabidopsis thaliana. To accomplish this, the researchers modified two genes from the bacterium R. eutropha and engineered the plant to express these genes and produce PHB. The plant was able to grow and develop normally and accumulate PHB to as much as 14 percent of the plant’s dry weight. This form of PHB, however, was brittle and not useful for most applications but the research provided a proof of concept that other scientists have since expanded upon. Some of these “other scientists” including researchers at Monsanto in the late 1990s devised a pathway for producing Biopol in several different plants including Arabidopsis and rapeseed. In 2001, Metabolix Inc. purchased Monsanto’s Biopol assets. The company had already developed a range of PHA products from microbial fermentation processes and was interested in producing them directly in plant crops. These efforts were recognized in 2005 when the company was awarded a U.S. EPA Small Business Award through the agency’s Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards Pro32 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 11|2008

gram, which provides a competitive incentive for the creation of environmentally friendly chemicals and processes. The company then teamed with Archer Daniels Midland Co. in April 2007 to commercialize Mirel bioplastic through a joint venture called Telles, which is the name for the Roman goddess of the Earth. The plastics can be used in a variety of applications including compostable bags, business equipment, packaging, consumer products such as cosmetics and gift cards, and in agriculture horticulture, marine and water applications. The first commercialscale plant for the annual production of 110 million pounds of Mirel plastics is now being built adjacent to ADM’s wet corn mill in Clinton, Iowa. In addition, the company recently announced the results of greenhouse trials of switchgrass plants engineered to produce significant amounts of PHA bioplastics in leaf tissues. “Metabolix has been developing technology to produce PHA polymer in switchgrass for over seven years,” says Oliver Peoples, the company’s chief scientific officer. Switchgrass is an attractive feedstock option for the production of cellulosic ethanol because it is a tall-growing, nonfood crop, and the prospect of additional revenue from biodegradable plastics should make it even more appealing. “A key corporate goal has been to develop value-added industrial crops such as oilseeds, sugarcane and switchgrass,” explains Richard Eno, president and chief executive officer of the company. “This proof of concept in switchgrass is an important milestone as we develop commercialization strategies for our plant science activities.” A detailed description of the research is forthcoming in Plant Biotechnology Journal. There are hurdles to overcome, however, including: how to harvest the plastic from the plant; the cost of recovering plastic from plant leaves; and how to best dispose of these plastics in composting or other bioconversion facilities. But the incentive for breaking down these barriers is sweetened by the market outlook for bioplastics; worldwide consumption of biodegradable polymers increased from 31 million pounds in 1996 to an estimated 150 million pounds in 2001, and since 2004, the consumption of bioplastics has increased three- to four-fold. In Europe alone, the potential for bioplastics is estimated to be at least 2 million tons per year and global production capacity is expected to exceed 750,000 tons each year by 2010. The numbers suggest that the future is bright for bioplastic suppliers such as Metabolix in the United States, Biomer in Germany and Natureplast in France. Likewise, biomass-to-ethanol producers may find something to cheer about in Metabolix’s research, which opens the possibility for another revenue stream from cellulosic ethanol production. “This result validates the prospect for economic production of PHA polymer in switchgrass, and demonstrates for the first time an important tool for enhancing switchgrass for value-added performance as a bioenergy crop,” Peoples says. BIO Jessica Ebert is a freelance writer for Biomass Magazine. Reach her at


The cover for the hydrogen tank on this experimental tractor was made of plastic reinforced with flax fiber. The tractor will be deployed for field trials in the spring of 2009 and the biocomposite cover will be monitored for performance and environmental stability over the coming years. PHOTO: NORTH DAKOTA STATE UNIVERSITY



Plastics From the Prairie Whether red, green or blue, tractors are as indispensable to a farmer as seed or land. Someday, parts of those tractors may be made from last year’s harvest as researchers from North Dakota State University seek ways to make reinforced composite plastics from the oils, proteins and fibers grown in American fields. By Jerry W. Kram



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t isn’t much, just a cover for an external fuel tank mounted on an experimental tractor on the campus of North Dakota State University in Fargo. But if NDSU research bears fruit, it could represent a renewable alternative to petroleum-based plastics that comes from the farms and fields of the Midwest. The cover is made from an epoxy resin that uses 30 percent vegetable oil to partially replace the petroleum-based ingredients. Flax fiber has been added to the plastic to give it more strength and stiffness. The combination is called a reinforced composite, and it could be used in a number of applications including parts for automobiles and agricultural equipment such as tractors, says Dennis Wiesenborn, one of a multidisciplinary team of researchers at NDSU’s Bio Energy and Products Innovation Center, or BioEPIC. “When you talk about composites, fibers are used to provide structural strength but you need some kind of binder or matrix to hold them,� Wiesenborn says. “There are a number of possibilities, including using a polymer-type material. The polymer we used was a chemically modified vegetable oil.� Wiesenborn’s lab has developed a method for converting unsaturated fats into epoxy compounds. Epoxies are highly reactive compounds characterized by a ring made of two carbon atoms and an oxygen atom. The chemical bonds in this three-member ring are highly strained, which makes it easy for them to react with other compounds to form polymers. Composite materials made with epoxy resins are versatile and are used as adhesives and as structural resins in applications ranging from electronics to automotive to industrial uses. Fibers, typically fiberglass, are added to epoxy resins to give them strength and stiffness. Currently, Wiesenborn is working with a blend of 30 percent epoxidized vegetable oil and a petroleum-based epoxy that is mixed with fiberglass and a chemical catalyst called a hardener. To convert the oil into an epoxy, Wiesenborn reacts vegetable oil with hydrogen peroxide and acetic acid in

the presence of a catalyst. The double bond in unsaturated fatty acids is converted to an epoxide group. “The epoxy groups then become the active group in cross-linking the fatty acids into the hardened polymeric material,� he says. Saturated fats, such as those found in animal fat or palm oil, are essentially inert in this process. Wiesenborn found that canola oil, being a highly unsaturated fat, was extremely well-suited for producing epoxys. “It’s high in monounsaturated fatty acids and quite low in saturated fatty acids,� he says. Wiesenborn’s work is still in the early stages. The batches of resin he is creating measure only about 100 grams. His next challenge is to scale up the process to make kilogram-sized batches. He is also looking for ways to lower the cost of the process such as recycling the catalyst. “We would like to show that we can make some finished types of products—paneling for agricultural equipment, for example—simply to raise awareness that these kinds of things are possible,� he says.

Protein Power Another bioplastic project is also taking shape at NDSU. Rather than converting oil into epoxy, Scott Pryor, an assistant professor in agricultural and biosystems engineering at NDSU, is using the canola meal left over after oil extraction and converting that into a biodegradable bioplastic. “It’s been done quite a bit with soy proteins,� Pryor says. “We have been using soy for many decades to make adhesives, polymers and composites. We’re interested in seeing how proteins from Pryor other sources might function in these applications. Hopefully, different proteins might lend themselves to improved properties for certain applications.� He became interested in using canola meal because canola oil is used as a feed-


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These plastic parts are made of a polymer derived from canola seed protein and were shaped through injection molding, a common plastics manufacturing process.

stock for biodiesel production in North Dakota. He was approached by a biodiesel producer about other value-added opportunities for canola meal, which is currently sold as animal feed. A surprising number of polymers can be made out of proteins. Pryor listed panels for automobiles or farm equipment as just one example of a potential product. A mixture of different proteins, called an isolate, can be extracted from oilseed meal. Pryor started by taking canola meal isolate and separating it into its component proteins and examining their properties. One property that is important is water absorbtion. “One problem with proteinbased polymers is that they can absorb too much water,” he says. “We see that if we can extract the portions of the protein that have higher water solubility, we can decrease the solubility of the final mix of proteins.” Proteins can also be modified with heat, enzymes or chemicals to modify their properties. Pryor’s work is also in its beginning stages so he isn’t sure for which applications canola-based bioplastics will be best suited. “We didn’t go into this research with

a specific application in mind,” he says. “We saw that there was a hole in the research in that we didn’t know what functionality these canola proteins would give for industrial products. We want to explore the possibilities of canola proteins.” Pryor will be looking at using the proteins to make composites, but will be keeping an eye open for other applications such as adhesives. Pryor’s current work will be taking the proteins the lab has extracted from canola meal and working to convert it into plastic. He would like to find a way to relate the properties of the protein isolates to the finished biobased composite. “We do want to do a little work on forming the composites,” he says. “You find a lot of information in the literature about the functional properties of the proteins and a lot on forming them into composites. But there hasn’t really been a clear link between the two. We don’t have a good understanding of how the properties of the proteins translate after all the processing.” Other work will include optimizing the processes for extracting the proteins from the canola meal and how the extraction process can affect the finished product.

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North Dakota State University researchers have extracted the protein fraction of canola seed and further separated components that have potential for use to create polymers that can be used for plastics and adhesives.



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Fibers are key to making commercially viable composites from biomass material. “If you take epoxidized canola oil and blend it with petroleum-based epoxy, you can get it to harden into a good hard plastic,” Wiesenborn says. “But when you subject it to mechanical tests, you find it doesn’t have a lot of inherent strength.” The typical material for a composite is fiberglass, although carbon fibers are becoming more common. However, Chad Ulven, an assistant professor in NDSU’s Department of Engineering and Applied Mechanics, thinks fibers from agricultural products can do just as well, if not better, for some applications. He is looking at products varying from long fibers from crops like flax to short corn fibers extracted from distillers dried grains (DDG). Long fibers include not only flax but crops such as jute, hemp and kenaf. Ulven is concentrating on flax because it is a major crop in North Dakota and the fibers are unUlven derutilized. “So what happens is the farmers have to burn it or try to plow it down,” he says. “Those who bale it might send it off for specialty papers, but that is a very low-value use. What I am trying to do is create a much higher value use.” Small-scale experiments in Ulven’s lab show flax fiber can compete with the properties of fiberglass in applications such as boat hulls and shrouds on tractors. “We were able to prove that on a weight basis, our composites were just as strong and just as stiff as fiberglass,” he says. Composites made with biofibers also exhibit less shrinkage and warping after injection molding, he adds. Ulven says he started looking at short fiber reinforced composites to take advantage of another waste stream from local industry, DDG from ethanol plants. He was able to fractionate the fibers from DDG and chemically modify the fibers so they adhere



This machine is used at NDSU to test various polymer formulations for their practical applications in the plastics industry. The university is working on ways to make canola oil and protein into commercially valuable polymers that could someday be reinforced with fibers from agricultural waste such as flax straw or even distillers dried grains.

to commercial thermoplastics such as polyethylene. “We’ve been incorporating these waste fibers and have seen improvements in both stiffness and strength,” he says. The composites are similar in concept to wood-fiber-filled plastics used for patio decking. But Ulven says those composites sacrifice strength but gain stiffness. Due to the chemical treatment, the DDG fiber composites improve stiffness while maintaining the polymer’s strength. “That’s what’s more attractive about using this material instead of wood filler in plastics,” he explains. Another attractive aspect of using ag waste as a filler for composites is its low price, Ulven says. Virgin polypropylene can cost $2 a pound. He believes his modified DDG fiber can sell for 60 to 70 cents a pound while paying ethanol producers a premium for their distillers grains. “I’ve talked to plastics compounders to see if they would be interested in a product at that price that would increase the strength and stiffness of their products and they said ‘absolutely,’” he says. “So there is a 50- to 60-cent-per-pound

incentive for someone to take the research we are doing here in the lab, scale it up and create a higher value use.” Ulven hasn’t done the economic analysis with flax straw yet, but believes flax fiber could eventually have a 30 percent or more price advantage over fiberglass. The big challenge for biofiber composites is putting out a consistent product year after year. “How do you maintain consistency in a natural product?” Ulven asks. “Is the fiber I get from this growing season going to be just as strong and stiff as the next growing season? Those are the issues.” Ulven is working with the Composites Innovation Center in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and the USDA Cotton Quality Research Center in North Carolina to develop a grading system for flax fibers so producers and buyers can bargain with confidence in the product. Eventually, the work at the different parts of NDSU could combine to form the “ultimate biocomposite plastic.” “That was our initial vision, Dennis, Scott and I, that each of us would grow an area of re-

search that we could combine down the road,” Ulven says. “The idea would be that the matrices or plastics that are derived from renewable resources would eventually be combined with the natural fibers so you have a composite that is getting close to 100 percent renewable resources.” Weisenborn thinks biocomposites could be a higher value application for canola oil than biodiesel production. The cost of feedstock is the largest cost in biodiesel production, and canola oil is typically higher priced than other vegetable oils. “One of our reasons for pursuing composites is the cost of the finished product will be higher than the feedstock costs,” he says. “The cost of the finished plastics compared with the cost of vegetable oil is much more value added.”

Working Together BioEPIC is a multidisciplinary center and includes members from all over the campus. For example, Pryor and Wiesenborn are members of the Agribusiness and Biosystems Management Department while Ulven is part of the Mechanical Engineering Department. The NDSU Oilseed Development Center, headed by Bill Wilson of the Agribusiness and Applied Economics Department, is also an important part of the center’s work on biocomposites. Because of that multidisciplinary approach, the team was able to include economists to look at how the researchers’ products could compete in the marketplace. “Ultimately the economics question is going to be key for these composites to become commercially feasible,” Wiesenborn says. “We are at the point now where we can make samples of this epoxidized canola oil and do the quality characterization of the samples. We can produce hardened resin and even composite samples. We have all of this work going on, but at some point we will have to have an accurate idea what the cost of all of this will be.” BIO Jerry W. Kram is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. Reach him at jkram@bbiinternational .com or (701) 738-4920.



Molten slag falls to a collection point during commercial operation of a plasma gasification process at the 165-tonper-day plant in Utashinai City, Japan, using plasma torch technology supplied by Westinghouse Plasma Corp., a subsidiary of Alter NRG. PHOTO: COSKATA INC.


technology page tag

Proving Out

Plasma Gasification Researchers believe that the economics are right for using plasma gasification technology to convert municipal solid waste into energy. It’s just a matter of getting that first commercial plant built in the United States for it to catch on. By Bryan Sims


technology lthough recycling and collection strategies have been optimized over time, the rapid accumulation of municipal solid waste (MSW) is stressing landfills and prompting many county and city governments to find new ways to cost-effectively dispose of MSW and offset volatile energy costs. One technology that has garnered attention as a solution to this problem is plasma arc gasification technology. Plasmas—also known as the fourth state of matter—are gases that have been heated to the point of ionization and passed between two electrodes that create an electrical arc. This arc breaks waste down primarily into elemental gas and solid waste (or slag) in a device called a plasma converter. Charged particles such as electrons conduct electricity and generate heat equivalent to the surface temperature of the sun. The heat rips apart compounds and converts inorganic solids (vitrified ash) into glass-like substances that can be marketed to the construction industry as aggregate for use in blocks, brick, gravel and paper. Meanwhile, the process transforms organic materials into syngas that can be converted into electricity and liquid fuels. The entire conversion process occurs in containment so no emissions are released. “[Plasma gasification] is finally becoming very cost effective,” says Lou Circeo, director of plasma gasification research at Georgia Tech Research Institute. Circeo has been involved with plasma gasification technology for more than 30 years and is considered an expert in the field. He says that one of the key advantages of plasma gasification is the flexibility of feedstock types it can convert. “As a matter of fact,



In 2006, Kawasaki moved and installed InEnTec’s proprietary G100 PEM unit in Harima, Japan, for a demonstration of asbestos destruction. Successful tests were completed in June 2006.

it’s almost like the ‘perfect storm’ right now,” he says. “We’ve finally reached a point where it’s actually going to be cheaper to take garbage to a plasma plant and make energy than it is to take the garbage and just dump it into a landfill.” Commercial plasma gasification facilities haven’t gained much traction in the United States yet, but they are catching on in other countries. Japan has three plants in operation: a 166 ton-per-day pilot plant in Yoshi, co-developed by Hitachi Metals Ltd. and Westinghouse Plasma Corp., which was certified after a demonstration period from

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technology 1999-’00; a 165-ton-per-day plant in Utashinai City, completed in 2002; and a 28 ton-per-day plant commissioned by the twin cities of Mihama and Mikata in 2002. PlascoEnergy Group currently employs a plasmaarc waste demonstration plant in Ottawa, Canada, at the Trail Road Landfill while Advanced Plasma Power has built a Gasplasma modular test facility in Faringdon, Oxfordshire, England. The question is, with plasma gasification being touted as holding inherent advantages over conventional incineration, landfill and/ or burying methods and is being employed internationally, why isn’t there one single commercial-scale plasma gasification facility operating in the United States? “The main reason is because with any new technology you generally cannot get it financed,” says Jeff Surma, president and chief executive officer of InEnTec Chemical LLC, adding that it typically costs about $1 million to $300 million to implement. Formed by scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Battelle and GenSurma eral Electric, the Bend, Ore.-based company developed a proprietary Plasma Enhanced Melter gasification system that’s used in small-scale operations in Hawaii, Japan and Malaysia for disposing of hazardous waste. Domestically, the company is deploying its PEM technology on a commercial scale in Reno, Nev. The project, named Sierra BioFuels, will be owned by Fulcram BioEnergy Inc., which is also providing design, finance and

construction services. InEnTec’s newly-created subsidiary, InEnTec Energy Solutions LLC, will have a minority stake in the project. When it begins operating in early 2010, the Sierra BioFuels plant is expected to produce approximately 10.5 MMgy of ethanol and process about 90,000 tons of MSW per year. In addition to the Reno project, InEnTec says it has contracts with Dow Corning Corp. and Veolia Environmental Services to build the nation’s first plasma-based gasification process to recycle hazardous waste using the company’s PEM technology at Dow Corning’s plant in Midland, Mich. The PEM facility will be operated by Veolia. “The only way to build these plants is to go get pure equity and that’s a little different than debt,” Surma says. “You give away a lot when you raise equity. It’s a balance of trying to raise enough equity to build those first ones—two or three plants will then allow you to get more traditional project financing.” Developers see feasibility studies as a springboard to prove the technology and get more facilities built in the United States.

Focusing on Feasibility No doubt developers will be keeping their eyes on International Falls, Minn. An extensive feasibility study was launched in late June for a proposed biomass waste-to-energy plasma gasification project in the small town in Koochiching County. Westinghouse Plasma is heading the preliminary design work for the gasification reactor and design of the torch. Minneapolis-based plasma gasification consulting and development company Coronol LLC is serving as the lead developer and project manager. The feasibility study is being independently reviewed

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by Seattle-based advisory firm R.W. Beck. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is overseeing the study, which was funded by the state of Minnesota. “We don’t represent our technology as a ‘silver bullet’,” says Mark Montemurro, president and chief executive officer of Calgary, Canada-based Alter NRG, which is the parent company of Westinghouse Plasma. Westinghouse Plasma is considered to be the premier supplier of plasma gasification technology in the world. The company is also supplying plasma gasification equipment for Coskata’s cellulosic ethanol production plant in Madison, Penn. Alter NRG will use an array of biomass feedstocks to create a syngas to which Coskata will run through its technology process, which converts the syngas into ethanol. Montemurro says that construction is underway and Alter NRG expects the facility to be operational by early next year. “We think it has to be developed in conjunction with other recycling programs as well as potentially other technologies that are more financially suitable for dealing with certain types of biomass,” Montemurro says. So what factors led to Koochiching County’s decision to implement plasma gasification technology? “The simple answer is timing, public acceptance, technology and economics,” says Paul Nevanen, director of the Koochiching County Economic Development Authority in International Falls, noting that the final stages of the study should be


concluded later this year. “This solution made a lot of sense to us. It’s attractive because you’re getting rid of the emissions, producing energy and you’re not putting anything in the ground.” Once the feasibility study is complete and if the county decides to proceed, the demonstration project would process more than 100 tons of MSW per day using all of Koochiching County’s waste, along with similar waste materials gathered from neighboring counties. According to John Howard, chief technical officer for Coronal, successful commercialization of plasma gasification technology in the United States depends on how well the due diligence is carried out before a project comes to fruition. “Conducting due diligence as prudently as possible is critical for developing these projects,” he says. “We try to take this approach for every one of our projects. We have to prove that this solution works and that, for the most part, is what the International Falls project is about.” As with any new technology, navigating through complicated permitting hurdles is a part of the process when developing a new project of this nature. Other factors, such as assessing the type of MSW produced in a specific location, are equally important, according to Surma. “One of the things we’ve chosen to do is to keep our technology at a scale that meets the needs of local communities,” he says. “The nice thing about keeping it on a smaller scale, say 250 to 500 tons per day, is that you’re dealing with just locally generated material. What has historically been the real issue in getting any of these large waste processing facilities permitted wherever you choose to build it, is that you’re bringing in waste from 20 miles away to fill up that plant and the host community doesn’t particularly like having everyone else’s waste dumped on them.” In addition to InEnTec, there are two other projects being developed in the United States. The first plasma-based waste disposal system in the country is scheduled to be operational in St. Lucie County, Fla. Developed by Geoplasma Inc., the plant is expected tovaporize 200 to 400 tons of waste per day and is scheduled to come on line in 2009. The city of Tallahassee, Fla., has signed the largest plasma arc waste-to-energy contract to date with Jacksonville, Fla.-based Green Power Systems LLC to process 1,000 tons of MSW per day using plasma torches designed by Westinghouse Plasma. The Harris Group Inc. is serving as the architect and engineer for the project. According to Richard Basford, vice president of project development for GPS, completion of the project is scheduled for October 2010. GPS will also deliver 35 net megawatts of electricity to the city of Tallahassee’s electricity provider as part of a 30-year power purchase agreement. “We’re very positive about the plasma process,” Basford says. “I think as soon as several of these get on line and operating, and people gain some confidence, you’ll see them widespread. However, somebody has to be the first so that others can use that as a blueprint for success going forward.” BIO Bryan Sims is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. Reach him at bsims or (701) 738-4950.


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BIOBRICKS Tom Engel traveled halfway across the world in search of a way to make clean, dependable, renewable energy and brought back BioBricks. With these compact, environmentally friendly, biomass-based briquettes he aims to ease the pain that people experience when paying their heating bills. By Suzanne H. Schmidt


densification any people feel a familiar financial pinch in the winter when the temperature drops and heating fuel prices rise. In 2005, Tom Engel began to look for a more cost-effective method to heat homes and businesses. His search ended when he found the RUF (pronounced roof) briquetting machine. “I traveled all over Europe to see what they were doing in biomass,” says Engel, owner of BioPellet Heating Systems LLC in East Hampton, Conn. Before settling on the RUF briquetter, he looked at different kinds of extrusion and mechanical systems. The mechanical presses create a dense brick-like product made of many layers. Those layers don’t maintain a uniform shape as they tend to accordion during burning. He also wasn’t impressed with extrusion presses, which screw material into a compact shape resembling a sausage. These machines are subject to high operational and energy costs. In the end, he chose the RUF briquetter, a hydraulic machine that uses 150 tons of force to make consistently sized briquettes. The RUF briquetter makes a complete rectangular


briquette with each stroke of the machine. The result is a homogenous identical briquette each time. This sort of briquette lends itself to automated packaging and the shape is perfect for wood stoves.

BioBrick Basics The RUF briquetter makes Engel’s patented BioBricks from straw, wood, grass and other waste products. “It is so easy because it’s a hydraulic machine,” Engel says. “It uses 150 tons of force on the material.” The machine also does much of its work without supervision. Engel says he loads the briquetter with sawdust in the evening, it runs all night unattended and in the morning the bricks are ready to be packaged. Engel sells the BioBricks to businesses and homeowners, who are looking for cheaper, cleaner heat sources. He also sells the RUF briquette systems. Selling the briquetter machine involves helping potential customers look for practical and cost-effective feedstocks. “Really, you can take most organic material and make a briquette,” Engel says. “For instance, I have a company in Kansas that is putting




The RUF briquetter takes in sawdust and produces compressed burnable bricks.

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together a business plan to use switchgrass. I also have a company with a wood supply that just wants a briquetter to sell briquettes to the people in the community around them.” Engel is also working with a company in the sugarcane industry that wants to make briquettes out of the bagasse. The company plans to offset energy costs by using the bagasse briquettes to power the boiler in their factory. One of the selling points that Engel stresses is the burnability of the bricks, which is determined by several factors. “The key is to get the moisture content below 8 percent [in the sawdust] for industrial briquettes, and for home heating you want the moisture in the briquettes below 10 percent,” Engel says. Although he often uses the term sawdust when he refers to the material that is used to make the bricks, this material can be as fine as dust or even courser. Many manufacturing companies produce RUF briquettes using the waste that they generate. Thus they are able to reuse and recycle that waste into a profit center. Because the RUF briquetter can use so many different types of organic material, Engel is able to market it anywhere in the country. He sold one RUF machine to Sawmill Bill Lumber Co., a flooring and paneling mill in Interlochen, Mich. The owner, Bill Reitz, bought the briquetter to reduce wood waste. “Basically the sawdust comes off our plant and right into the RUF unit,” Reitz says. Sawmill Bill produces approximately three to five tons of briquettes daily from the waste. “We’ve been operating for about 1½ years and I’ve had very few problems with the machine,” Reitz says. “It makes a consistent product.”

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800.695.2743 | 48 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 11|2008

The RUF briquetter doesn’t have to use finely ground particles. Large wood chips can easily be compressed by the machine.




The RUF briquetter can run overnight without supervision once it’s loaded with feedstock. BioBricks will burn consistently in a wood stove for 12 hours.

Better For the Wallet and the Planet RUF briquettes are designed to improve the efficiency of a wood stove. “It changes the way a wood stove burns,” Engel says. The briquettes make wood stoves more efficient because they burn longer, cleaner and more completely. The bricks stack close together, the moisture content is low and the material is dense so it burns consistently. “I regularly get a 12-hour burn with my wood stove at home,” Engel says. “I load it up in the morning, start the fire, close the door and go to work. When I come home no one has touched the fire and I push the coals back, load it up again and let it burn for another 12 hours. I can do that for two weeks without emptying the ash.” When most material is burned, ash and other waste products are left behind. Engel says that certain feedstocks such as straw can leave more waste because of their mineral content. The BioBricks, however, can provide an efficient burn despite the feedstock that’s used to make them. “That’s the beauty of it,” he says. “You can turn a variety of material into a uniform RUF briquette with a certain density and moisture content. You can turn a variety of materials into one kind of fuel. Because of that a lot more of it burns inside the combustion chamber and the only thing left is the ash,” Engel says.



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This diagram shows the efficiency of the BioBricks and its superior burnability in comparison with cord wood. SOURCE: BIOPELLET HEATING SYSTEMS

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The BioBricks are also cheaper when compared with the cost of fuel oil. The BioBricks cost roughly $17 dollars per million British thermal units (Btus), compared with fuel oil, which costs nearly $33 dollars per million Btus. Btus are also a concern for the U.S. EPA. Engel says the RUF Briquettes produce 7,800 Btus per pound and produce less than half the particulate emissions of cord wood. And, emissions from the briquettes are carbon neutral. “It doesn’t add new carbon into the atmosphere and it doesn’t take any away,” Engel says. Compared with burning wood, it takes fewer BioBricks to get the same amount of heat. One pound of RUF briquettes is the same as 1.7 pounds of cord wood when comparing how much heat you get, Engel says. “Cord wood is in big pieces, little pieces, wet pieces and dry pieces, and frankly, not all of it burns at the same temperature nor releases the same amount of heat,” he says. “Instead of heat going into the house, it’s going out the chimney as smoke or is left in the firebox as unburned carbon.” Whereas with the briquettes much more of the organic material is burned up and the heat produced stays in the house.

Because the biomass briquette market was fairly new to the United States when Engel first started his business, he had to be creative to make customers aware of the benefits. He started the marketing process by importing 20 tons of briquettes from Poland and giving those briquettes away to area businesses. Engel also has a demonstration site where he can prove the benefits of recycling waste products. “I usually make a sale every time because I show that it can work,” he says. “I get calls from across North America every day about starting RUF briquetting plants—I’ve sold 32 machines in the past few years,” he says. Although the bricks are compact and small, they can take a big chunk out of monthly heating bills and reduce carbon emissions. Recycling waste wood and other feedstocks also helps the nation become less dependent on foreign oil. “I see nothing but growth ahead of us,” Engel says. “Right now, there are roughly 300,000 tons anually of RUF briquettes being produced in Europe and I see it taking a similar path here.” BIO Suzanne H. Schmidt is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. Reach her at sschmidt or (701) 738-4972.




Renewable Hydrogen: Another Option for Future Generations


n a previous series of Energy & Environmental Research Center columns, we provided an update on various generational categories of biomass-derived transportation fuels. We discussed first-generation biofuels such as corn-based ethanol, second-generation biofuels including cellulosic biofuels such as ethanol and green diesel, and third-generation biofuels such as drop-in-compatible jet fuel from nonfood feedstocks. Biomass-derived hydrogen is a third- or even fourth-generation biofuel, requiring a major change in automobile technology and fuel infrastructure. Two recent events, Advancing the Hydrogen Economy Action Summit II (sponsored by U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan) at the EERC in Grand Forks, N.D., and the National Hydrogen Association Renewable Hydrogen Forum in Golden, Colo., revealed that biomass-derived hydrogen certainly has a future in automobile transportation. Key federal policymakers and leaders of several automakers made it clear that hydrogen is no longer just a pipe dream never to awaken and enter into real-world transportation sectors. Hydrogen vehicles are ready for deployment from a number of automakers and should be considered one of the answers to achieving energy security in the United States. Four General Motors fuel cell vehicles were featured as part of the recent Hydrogen Economy Action Summit. Attendees got behind the wheel of the Chevrolet Equinox fuel cell electric vehicles for an out-of-this-world test drive. The zero-gas, zero-emission vehicle achieves 0 to 60 miles per hour in 12 seconds and can reach a top speed of approximately 100 miles per hour— hardly a golf cart performance.

It may seem ridiculous to be excited about the 200 fuel cell vehicles in existence that cost several hundred thousand dollars each, but only three years ago the entire United States had fewer than 20 such vehicles. Major advancements have been made in improving fuel cell vehicle performance, but work remains to be done on hydrogen production and distribution. In September, the EERC dedicated a new $3.5 million facility for its National Center for Hydrogen Technology, Zygarlicke which was created in 2004 in recognition of more than 50 years of hydrogen research involving fossil and renewable energy. The EERC’s NCHT program is dedicated to making technological advances toward achieving the hydrogen economy. NCHT’s current and pending research totals more than $60 million for hydrogen-related research, development, demonstration and commercialization activities, with more than 70 private sector partners nationwide. Research projects include hydrogen production from biomass. In the next issue, we will tackle the challenge of providing biomass-based hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles. BIO Chris J. Zygarlicke, is a deputy associate director for research at the EERC and is vice chairman of the National Hydrogen Association Renewable Hydrogen Working Group. Reach him at czygarlicke@undeerc .org or (701) 777-5123.




Construction Why hire a project coordinator when you can hire a team of experts to develop your ethanol or biodiesel project? Let BBI guide you down the project development path: Feasibility study

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Views from the Auto Industry, Government and Academia... Feedstock Infrastructure: Another Gathering Storm... Thinking Outside the Lunch Box: Perennial Bioenergy Feedstocks that will be Viable on Land Unsuited to Food Crops... Biofuels and Bioenergy: Can They Change Energy Access in the Developing World? These are just some of the topics to be covered at Keystone Symposia’s first-ever conference on:

Speakers Frances H. Arnold, California Institute of Technology Steven Chu, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Jason Clay, World Wildlife Fund Bruce E. Dale, Michigan State University James A. Dumesic, University of Wisconsin-Madison Richard B. Flavell, Ceres, Inc. Jose Goldemberg, University of São Paulo Mark Huntley, University of Hawaii at Manoa Lonnie O. Ingram, University of Florida Coleman Jones, General Motors Steven Koonin, BP Jay D. Keasling, UC Berkeley Melinda L. Kimble, United Nations Foundation Stephen P. Long, University of Illinois Lee Rybeck Lynd, Dartmouth College John Manners, CSIRO Plant Industry John Pierce, DuPont Applied Sciences – Technology Scott Power, Genencor International Inc. Thomas Richard, Pennsylvania State University Chris R. Somerville, Energy Biosciences Institute

Submit an Abstract Additional short talks will be selected based on abstract submission. Early Abstract Deadline: Dec. 3, 2008 Scholarship Deadline: Dec. 3, 2008 Late Abstract Deadline: Jan. 7, 2009 Early Registration Deadline: Feb. 4, 2009

The Future of Biofuels April 4-8, 2009 Snowbird, Utah A meeting bringing the best minds to bear on the key questions and offering an unparalleled opportunity to interact with the key scientists in this field.

Plenary Sessions: • The Biofuels Value Chain – Needs vs. Wants • Next-Generation Advanced Biofuels • Biofuel Feedstock Choices and Modifications • Enablement of Cellulosic Fuels • Novel Fermentation-Based Strategies • Visions for the Future of Biofuels Workshops: • Current Technological Trends • Regional Challenges for Biofuels Keynote Address, Saturday, April 4, 2009 on “NGO Perspective on Biofuels” with: • Melinda L. Kimble, United Nations Foundation • Jason Clay, World Wildlife Fund Organizers: William D. Provine, DuPont Company; Doug Cameron, Piper Jaffray & Co; Chris R. Somerville, Energy Biosciences Institute; Jay D. Keasling, UC Berkeley

To register and for more information, please visit or call 1-800-253-0685 or 1-970-262-1230. Founded in 1972 as UCLA Symposia, Keystone Symposia is a Colorado, USA-based non-profit that organizes more than 50 open, international conferences per year on the latest advances around key topics in the biological sciences. Conferences are planned through a rigorous peer review process and feature a mix of plenary sessions, workshops, poster sessions and afternoon free time to maximize the chance for stimulating learning, debate and interaction, as well as the generation of new ideas to catalyze scientific advances.

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Biomass Magazine - November 2008  
Biomass Magazine - November 2008  

November 2008 Biomass Magazine