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Biorefinery Concept Evolves Why Shuttered Pulp and Paper Mills Make Perfect Sites for Biorefineries

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FEATURES ..................... 24 SUPPLY U.S. Biomass Potential From Forests to the Plains Several states and regions are conducting studies to determine their biomass availability and the economic benefits the industry can provide. The information could be critical when vying for bioenergy projects. By Lisa Gibson

30 FINANCE Securing Strategic Investors Financing is key for biofuels developers facing the prospect of going commercial. Biomass Magazine takes a closer look at one company that has successfully partnered with industries that can provide downstream and upstream support. By Lisa Gibson

36 USE Clean Sweep A product called Nature’s Broom could give clay a run for its money when it comes to cleaning up oil, paint and other types of spills. This environmentally friendly product is made from agricultural and forest materials. By Anna Austin


Shuttered pulp and paper mills could be considered ready-made biorefineries that could produce ethanol, green diesel or other biofuels and use woody biomass as well as other feedstocks. By Anna Austin

DEPARTMENTS ..................... 06 Editor’s Note Biomass Pellets on the Brain By Rona Johnson

CONTRIBUTIONS .....................

07 Advertiser Index

48 ENVIRONMENT Removing Crop Residues Without Hurting Soil

09 Legal Perspectives

Agricultural tools already being used by farmers can help determine, based on soil type, weather conditions and other variables, how much residue can be removed from the ground before the soil is negatively impacted. By Peter J. Schubert

11 Industry Events 12 Business Briefs 14 Industry News 55 BPA Update The Promise of BCAP By Bob Cleaves

50 INNOVATION Biomass: New Feedstock for the Plastic Industry Producing green propylene is becoming more economically attractive and will be even more so in the future, however, careful analysis of markets, geographic conditions and technologies is crucial to avoid economic losses. By Felipe Tavares and Aldemir Marreiros

57 EERC Update Torrefaction: Improving the Properties of Biomass Feedstocks By Bruce Folkedahl

58 Marketplace



NOTE Biomass Pellets on the Brain


don’t normally have to dig out my long underwear until late November or early December, but the boiler in our office building stubbornly refused to fire up, so here it was the first of October and I was dressed like it was the dead of winter. That doesn’t mean winter is here to stay; we could still have some nice days even into November. This is the time of year when you just need to watch the weather so you can dress appropriately. Fortunately, temperatures were mild in the mid- to low-40s; not so cold that we could see our breath, but cold enough to comfortably wear winter coats indoors. As I sat in a meeting, hunkered down in my sweater and blowing on my hands to keep warm, I couldn’t help thinking how much it was like sitting on a hillside in the crisp fall weather waiting for an unsuspecting deer to come by (sorry for the hunting metaphor but that’s the only time I actually sit outside when it’s cold). The cold weather also had me thinking about biomass pellets and how nice it would be to have a little pellet stove in my office, instead of an electric space heater. If we had pellet stoves in our offices, we wouldn’t have mini power-outages like we do when the boiler is on the fritz and too many space heaters are running to stave off the cold. I don’t know if we could replace our space heaters with more energy-saving devices but I wouldn’t want to be the one paying our electric bill from the first week in October. According to the Pellet Fuels Institute, there are more than 80 pellet mills in North America that produce about 1.1 million tons of fuel per year. I expect this number will increase as pellet and pellet stove manufacturers improve their products so they are more user friendly, especially for those of us who don’t want to go back to the days when wood was the only source of heat. Chopping down trees and hauling wood is not for everyone. Several pellet manufacturers have developed systems where they can deliver pellets to residences and businesses. There are also several improvements being made to pellet stoves that would allow them to not only provide heat but also hot water and electricity, according to an article I read on The article said this technology is about two years from being a reality. I know many people here in North Dakota who would jump at the chance to generate their own heat and power. Heating homes here for six to eight months a year where temperatures can dip to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit results in some mighty high heating bills. Though we are a hardy lot, opening up January’s heat bill can bring tears to the eyes of even the strongest among us. Let’s hope those two years go by quickly.

Rona Johnson Editor


advertiser INDEX

2010 International BIOMASS Conference & Expo


2010 International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo



Agra Industries


BBI Engineering & Consulting





Christianson & Associates PLLP



Continental Biomass Industries, Inc. Detroit Stoker Company




Ethanol Producer Magazine




EDITOR Rona Johnson


ASSOCIATE EDITORS Anna Austin Lisa Gibson COPY EDITOR Jan Tellmann

ART ART DIRECTOR Jaci Satterlund GRAPHIC DESIGNERS Elizabeth Slavens Sam Melquist


Energy & Environmental Research Center ETA Florence Renewable Energies

ACCOUNT MANAGERS Chip Shereck Marty Steen Bob Brown

8 10

GEA Barr-Rosin Inc.


Indeck Power Equipment Co.


Laidig Systems Inc.



Larox Corp.


Mid-South Engineering Company





R.C. Costello & Associates Inc.


Roskamp Champion


Stoel Rives LLP


The Teaford Co. Inc.


West Salem Machinery


Yellow Springs Instruments

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Beware of Jeopardizing Patent Rights at Conferences/Tradeshows Todd Taylor

shareholder, Fredrikson & Byron

By Todd Taylor and Kara Fairbairn


ave you ever presented your ideas at a conference or tradeshow? Conferences can bring great exposure to your company and its ideas, helping you get leads and sales. But, if not done carefully, it could also cause some serious unintended consequences.

Jeopardizing Patent Rights At conferences and tradeshows, people commonly present their ideas in a variety of ways—perhaps by describing them in brochures, displaying them on poster boards, or informally chatting with another person. These activities can sometimes amount to a disclosure that jeopardizes your rights to profit from those ideas. Being able to file and obtain a patent on those ideas is what gives you that right and the right to keep others from using your idea for their own benefit. Under U.S. patent law, once you make certain types of disclosures, you have one year from the date of disclosure to file a patent application on that idea. If you fail to do so, you will forever lose your patent rights to that idea. Also, while the U.S. provides this one-year grace period to file an application, most foreign countries do not. In those countries, if you make certain disclosures any time and in any location before filing a patent application, you will lose your patent rights.

Protecting Patent Rights The most prudent way to protect your patent rights in all countries is to file a patent application on your idea before attending a conference and making any type of disclosure. This will preserve your global patent rights and you can then freely present or market those ideas in any desired fashion. If you are unable to file an application before attending a conference, you may be able to create a poster presentation, product brochure or the like that alludes generally to the inventive subject matter without disclosing what the invention is. A good idea is to have your presentation materials reviewed by your patent counsel prior to presenting them to make sure that no inventions are disclosed. Does this seem like overkill to you? Well, think again. If you protect your idea, you get the following advantages, just to name a few: You can exclude your competitors from practicing your invention. If a competitor practices your invention without your permission, you can sue that competitor for patent infringement and collect significant damage awards and/or receive an injunction stopping the competitor. Your patent can prevent or deter your competitors from entering a market, enabling you to obtain a legal monopoly of that market.

Kara Fairbairn shareholder,

Fredrikson & Byron

You can use your patent as a business tool to attract investors and potential customers to your company. Investors often question whether a company’s technology is patented and potential customers often find patented products or services more attractive. You can use your patent as a revenue generator. If a competitor, business partner, or any third party wishes to practice your invention, you can require them to obtain a license to your patent rights in order to do so. A license enables you to collect royalties on the third party’s practice of your invention. If you don’t protect it, guess what? You get none of these rights and a competitor can use your idea for their own business and there would be nothing you can do to stop them. You will need to figure out a good balance between talking about your idea to get people interested in buying from you and not revealing so much that they have no need to buy from you. Todd Taylor is a shareholder in Fredrikson & Byron’s corporate, renewable energy, securities and emerging business groups. Reach him at or (612) 492-7355. Kara Fairbairn is a shareholder and patent attorney at Fredrikson & Byron. Reach her at or (612) 492-7144.



industry events Next Generation Biofuels Feedstocks USA

November 16-17, 2009

Biofuels Environmental and Economic Sustainability Summit

Le Meridien Hotel San Francisco Despite advancements in feedstock discovery and bioengineering conversion technology, feedstock development remains a key challenge. This conference will bring together regulatory officials, project developers, leading research and development experts, and investors to address the key issues in developing next-generation biofuels as well as compare existing and next-generation feedstock development. php?sEventCode=BN0911US +44 (0)207 099 0600

November 16-18, 2009

Canadian Renewable Fuels Summit

International Algae Congress

November 30-December 2, 2009

December 1-2, 2009

Westin Bayshore Hotel Vancouver, British Columbia This year’s summit will focus on how to grow beyond oil in a way that offers sustainable economic, environmental and social growth for Canada. Discussions will include the new Canada-U.S. clean energy dialogue, moving toward second-generation biofuels, low-carbon fuel standards, and prospects to strengthen the bioenergy economic outlook. (613) 594-5528

Hotel Hafen Hamburg, Germany This event will highlight and focus on biomass and biofuel microcrops production and productivity; processing and down streaming (separation, drying, extraction, high value and byproducts); material balances; integrated systems; and the future potential of phototrophic aquaculture. +31 (0)30 6981801

Pacific West Biomass Conference & Expo

Energy From Biomass and Waste

January 11-13, 2010

January 26-27, 2010

Hyatt Regency Sacramento, California With an exclusive focus on biomass utilization in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Nevada, this conference will connect current and future producers of biomass-derived electricity; industrial heat and power; and advanced biofuels, with waste generators, aggregators, growers, municipal leaders, utilities, technology providers, equipment manufacturers, investors and policymakers. (701) 746-8385

Royal Horticultural Halls & Conference Centre London Investment in bioenergy is set to rise in the U.K. and this conference and exhibition will provide a meeting place for vendors, buyers, investors, municipal representatives, legislators and scientists from around the world. +49-2802-9484840

Developing and Commercialising Next Generation Biofuels

World Biofuels Markets

February 9-11, 2010

The RAI Exhibition and Congress Centre Amsterdam, The Netherlands This event will provide leaders of the biofuel field an opportunity to meet new customers, suppliers and partners, and help drive innovation and business. More than 4,500 executives from 78 countries have attended this conference to date. +44 20 7099 0600

London This conference will provide the latest information on technological developments and examine the prospects for bringing next-generation biofuels to market. The event will cover ground-breaking developments in cellulosic ethanol, synthetic biology, biomass to liquids, renewable diesel, algal biofuels, waste to ethanol, biomass management and advanced biofuels, including biobutanol and biogasoline. +44 (0)207 017 7499


Washington, D.C. This event was created for industry leaders and government officials to discuss the major economic and legislative restraints and future strategies affecting the biofuels industry. Attendees will learn how to increase the financial sustainability of their companies through debt restructuring, refinancing and access to U.S. DOE and USDA loan guarantee programs; manage risk associated with high commodity and low oil prices through decreasing operational costs and deploying cost-effective technologies; decrease carbon emissions by managing production and transportation processes; and evaluate the commercial viability of cellulosic ethanol with in-depth analysis of the supply chain and new start-up project costs. (800) 882-8684

March 15-17, 2010


BRIEFS Nexterra, Andritz to offer renewable energy solutions for wastewater treatment plants Nexterra Systems Corp. and Andritz have formed a strategic alliance to market drying solutions that are fueled by renewable biomass energy. Andritz Separation, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Andritz Group, is a global supplier of biosolids dryers and separation equipment utilized extensively in the wastewater treatment market. Andritz also has an extensive product scope in gasification technologies for biomass, but for large-scale energy and syngas production. Under the terms of the strategic alliance, Nexterra and Andritz will jointly market a suite of biosolids drying solutions that combine certain Nexterra gasification technologies with Andritz biosolids dryers. These solutions will enable municipal wastewater treatment facilities to reduce fuel costs, eliminate dependence on fossil fuels and lower greenhouse gas emissions. BIO

Mascoma expands leadership team Mascoma Corp. announced several management reconfigurations, as the company moves into its commercial development phase. CEO Bruce A. Jamerson will transition to the position of chairman of Mascoma and of Frontier Renewable Resources Jamerson LLC, Mascoma’s Michigan-based operating subsidiary. Frontier is majority-owned by Mascoma and is developing and financing a commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol production facility in Kinross, Mich. The company engaged Russell Reynolds Associates as it begins the process of recruiting a new CEO with experience in the biotechnology, fuels or Flatt chemicals processing industries, and scale-up of new processes. In the interim, the board has appointed Jim Flatt, executive vice president of research and development and operations, to serve as acting president. BIO

Morbark territory expands to Southern New England Nortrax Northeast LLC, Morbark’s forestry and recycling dealer for the past two years, recently expanded its territory to include Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut (with the exception of Fairfield County). The expansion added three states to an established territory that includes Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire. Nortrax Northeast has been a steadfast Morbark dealer for 20 years. “We are pleased with the expansion of Nortrax Northeast and believe this will further enhance the level of service, support and availability of Morbark equipment in the northeastern United States,” said Michael Stanton, northeast regional assistant sales manager. BIO

Marsulex names Hull senior VP development, sales and marketing Marsulex Inc. appointed Randy Hull as senior vice president, development, sales and marketing. Hull has extensive experience in the petroleum, energy and chemical industries, which are key targets for future growth of Marsulex’s industrial services. He worked for 16 years with BOC/Linde Gases, an international industrial gases company, in a variety of increasingly senior positions focused on business development, sales and marketing as well as the development and commercialization of new process technologies in the petroleum refining industry. Most recently, Hull was director, global refining/energy services business development at Praxair Inc. BIO


OPW appoints Whitaker managing director-Latin America Fernando Whitaker has been appointed to the newly created position of managing director-Latin America for OPW, a Dover Co. Fernando joined OPW in October 2006 as managing director, OPW Brazil. Earlier this year he assumed management responsibilities for the joint operation of two Dover companies, OPW Fueling Components and OPW Fluid Transfer Group in Brazil. His responsibilities have been expanded to include all Latin America markets. Luis Barriga, OPW’s regional sales director for Latin America, will be responsible for sales of all OPW products made in the U.S. as well as those made in Brazil. His territory will include all Latin America markets with the exception of sales within Brazil. BIO

BinMaster names Cape Instruments as distributor BinMaster Level Controls of Lincoln, Neb., has appointed Cape Instrument Services CC of Cape Town, South Africa, as distributor for the company’s SmartBob continuous level management system and point level controls throughout the country of South Africa. Cape Instruments will sell, install and service the BinMaster SmartBob cable-based inventory management system plus its rotary level indicators, capacitance probes, vibrating rods, diaphragm switches, and flow and dust detection products. BIO


BRIEFS Ely Energy names new CEO Joe Ragosta has been named CEO of Tulsa-Okla.-based Ely Energy. He assumes overall management, strategic and operational responsibility for Ely Energy. Most recently, Ragosta was president of Oseco, a Halma Co., U.K., a manufacturer of products for the pressure relief markets. Prior Ragosta to Oseco, Ragosta was general manager and senior vice president of Graver Technologies, Glasgow, Del., a manufacturer of water, chemical, pharmaceutical and food product purification equipment. BIO

CleanTech Biofuels announces new board members CleanTech Biofuels Inc. announced that its stockholders have elected David Bransby and Jackson Nickerson to its board of directors. Bransby is a professor of energy crops and bioenergy in the department of agronomy and soils at Auburn University, where he has taught and conducted research since 1987. He has more than 30 years of experience in agronomic research, and has spent 22 years specializing in energy crop production and processing, a subject in which he is considered a preeminent international expert. Nickerson’s award-winning research spans a variety of topics in organization and strategy. He is internationally recognized as an expert on innovation and the effect of organizational structure on business performance, including the performance implications of outsourcing, centralization versus decentralization and the use of teams. Currently, Nickerson is Frahm Family Professor of Organization and Strategy at Washington University’s Olin Business School in St. Louis. BIO

Thomasson joins CHS team CHS Renewable Fuels Marketing has hired Maxwell Thomasson as marketing manager. Thomasson will focus on connecting ethanol producers and blenders for the renewable fuels marketing division of CHS Inc, a leading energy, grains and foods company. His career has included 15 years Thomasson with BP as a trader in gasoline and derivatives working in London, Chicago and Cleveland, and four years as a senior energy trader for Cargill Inc., where he directed proprietary trading of ethanol, gasoline and naphtha. BIO

Consense launches into the biomass sector Consense has entered the biomass renewable energy sector, announcing Energy Power Resources Ltd. as its first client. U.K.-based Consense, a division of marketing agency 2Cs, specializes in community engagement and online consultation. Its expansion will help businesses developing biomass plants to involve more of the community in their proposals, with the team at Consense supporting them throughout the planning process, managing community, political and media relations. The team will use their in-depth knowledge of renewable energy communications to support biomass plant developers by running inclusive and auditable stakeholder and public consultation campaigns. BIO

Cusick joins Dickstein Shapiro law firm Dickstein Shapiro welcomed Michael Cusick as a partner in the firm’s energy practice. Cusick’s extensive transactional experience includes advising issuers and underwriters on public and private U.S. and international offerings of securities, particularly in the public utility industry; counseling on restructuring and acquisition-related matters for regulated and competitive companies; and complex purchase and sale transactions with regard to energy infrastructure facilities. His background will complement the firm’s energy practice and its team of 30-plus transactional attorneys who counsel on matters including the acquisition, sale, financing, and structuring of energy companies and energy assets, among others. BIO

Nexterra appoints Wilkinson to management team Jonathan Wilkinson has joined Nexterra’s management team as senior vice president, business development. Wilkinson will be responsible for developing new markets and commercializing new applications of Nexterra’s technologies. He joins Nexterra from Wilkinson Vancouver-based QuestAir Technologies, where he was president and CEO. During his tenure, the company grew revenues almost 100-fold, established strategic relationships with Exxon Mobil Corp. and Shell Hydrogen and successfully executed an initial public offering. He previously held roles at QuestAir as chief operating officer and as vice president business development. Prior to joining QuestAir, Wilkinson was a manager at Bain and Co., and has experience in the public sector as a constitutional negotiator, a federal-provincial relations specialist, and a special advisor to the Premier of Saskatchewan. BIO 11|2009 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 13


NEWS Renewable energy company Viaspace Inc. has signed a memorandum of understanding with Beijing, China-based biomass power provider DP Cleantech Co. Ltd., to supply Giant King Grass for testing at a Cleantech power plant. Viaspace acquired a worldwide license to grow and cultivate the fast-growing perennial plant in the fall of 2008. Originally developed as feed for livestock, the grass can grow nearly 4 meters (13 feet) in 60 days and can be harvested four times a year, producing yields of up to 156 metric tons (172 tons) per acre. Giant King Grass has a life span of approximately seven years, and grows best in tropical and subtropical climates, or where temperatures are consistently above 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit), according to Viaspace CEO Carl Kukkonen. In October 2008, Viaspace planted more than 1 million Giant King Grass seedlings on 112 acres in the Guangdong Province in southern China, an area the size of California, according to Kukkonen. Cleantech subsidiary National Bio-Energy owns and operates 19 dedicated biomass-fired power plants throughout China. In May, the company conducted an independent test using Giant King Grass to determine whether the energy crop could be used as a feedstock in its plant boilers. The upcoming trial will further examine the grass’ efficiency for use at one of the company’s existing power plants. “We’re working to schedule the test firing, but there’s nothing confirmed yet,” Kukkonen said. He added that he recently visited one of National Bio-Energy’s biomass power plants in northern China, which runs on agricultural waste. “Giant King Grass has properties very similar to the corn straw that they are using currently,” he told Biomass Magazine. Viaspace will deliver at least 300 tons of biomass per day to supplement the upcoming trial. About 600 tons of Giant King Grass would be required daily, or 219,000 tons per year, to power a 30-megawatt plant, according to Viaspace.


Viaspace to supply Giant King Grass for China power plant trial

Giant King Grass was planted here in China’s Guangdong Province in September.

Kukkonen said Viaspace is working on transporting the feedstock for test firing. Viaspace announced in early October its plans to produce pellets from Giant King Grass as an alternative to coal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants in the U.S. and Europe. —Anna Austin

Wales aluminum company proposes woody biomass power plant Anglesey Aluminum Metals Ltd., Holyhead, Wales, has submitted an application for approval of a 299-megawatt biomass power plant to be located near, and possibly power, the company’s aluminum smelter, according to Stephen Cox, biomass engineer with the company. If approved, the plant would consume about 2.4 million tons of woody biomass, such as wood chips, pellets or agricultural residues, per year, Cox said. He declined to release a cost estimate for the project, but said Anglesey Aluminum hopes to commence basic construction in early 2011 with a three-year construction period. Currently, the company is going through the appropriate planning applications and engineering feasibilities. How the energy will be used is undetermined, Cox said, but it 14 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 11|2009

could be used to power the company’s smelter or be sold to the grid. Anglesey currently relies on power from the Wylfa nuclear power plant, which is scheduled to close in 2010. Along with the application under Section 36 of the Electricity Act, the company submitted an Environmental Statement to the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Consultations with national and local organizations were held in June, and another public exhibition to present the findings of the Environmental Impact Assessment was scheduled for October, according to the company. Angelsey is jointly owned by Rio Tinto Aluminum Ltd., Brisbane, Australia, and Kaiser Aluminum, Foothill Ranch, Calif. —Lisa Gibson


NEWS With funding from the U.S. EPA’s Blue Skyways Collaborative, the U.S. DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., has developed a Web-based, interactive geospatial application that allows users to view biomass resources, infrastructure and other relevant information, as well as query specific data and conduct initial screening analyses. Users can select a location on the map, quantify the biomass resources available within a user-defined radius, and then estimate the total thermal energy or power that could be generated by recovering a specific portion of that biomass. While the tool is useful in refining the prospecting process of site identification, it should not replace the need for an on-site biomass evaluation, according to Anelia Milbrandt, NREL senior energy resources analyst. The tool took about a year to develop, and was made available in August. Biomass resource data are based on an assessment performed by NREL in 2005, which was updated prior to the release of the application. Infrastructure and other pertinent data were provided by the EPA, USDA and other agencies. The impetus behind creating the biopower tool was the EPA’s desire to combine past biomass resource assessments and data into a userfriendly, interactive, and Web-accessible format rather than just in written reports or static maps, according to Mildbrandt. “There are maps of resources in the U.S. by county, or tables of data by county, but no way for people to get at the data behind the pictures,” she said. Scott Haase, NREL project leader, described the tool as an interactive spatial application based on the Google Earth platform, but relevant to the biopower industry and many others. “One can place a point anywhere on the map, select a radius of their choice, calculate the biomass resources in that radius, and it analyzes how much power you might be able to produce based on the availability of those resources and the efficiency of your conversion technology,” he said. Feedstock data on the application include crop residue, forest residue, primary and secondary mill residue, urban wood waste, methane emissions from landfills, wastewater treatment and animal manure. Each layer is represented by a different color—for example, yellow to brown is crop residue, and different feedstocks or layers can be turned off or on for simultaneous viewing in an overlying format. It also possesses other layers such as power plants, alternative fueling stations, biodigesters and brownfield sites. “We have a lot of ideas for future work, and have received some additional funds from the DOE to extend the tool to provide some additional functionality and new data sets,” Milbrandt said. “We’re heavily relying on feedback from users.” NREL anticipates utilities, policymakers, the general public, and those working on financing and project development will use the tool


EPA, NREL develop Web-based biopower mapping tool

The yellow to brown layers represent crop residue available for power applications in the U.S.

as an initial screen to determine where there are large quantities of a certain type of feedstock, and to find out the potential amount of electricity or thermal energy that could be produced from that feedstock. “It doesn’t necessarily mean you can go to that area and secure all of that feedstock, because we don’t know what the current market situation is in that particular location,” Haase pointed out. The tool would, however, allow a project developer to narrow down many possible sites to a few based on the criteria entered into the application. The developer can then conduct detailed resource and market assessments in the most promising locations. Depending on funding, NREL will continue to improve the tool. “Ideally, we’d like to add more layers, such as pellet mills, and we don’t have all the biomass power plants (only members of the Biomass Power Association),” Haase said. “Also, we don’t have all of the saw mills or pulp and paper mills with cogeneration plants; we don’t have a lot of smaller, stand-alone plants, or any of the thermal-only energy projects. For instance, NREL has a wood-fired boiler that provides heat for our campus, and there are number of these systems around the country, but a single database for these projects does not exist. We’d like to put that layer in there for people that are looking at commercial-scale wood heating projects in their region.” Milbrandt said NREL also would like to compile generalized summaries for policymakers so they know the overall biopower potential of their states or legislative districts. “Hopefully, with additional funding, we could have that available next year,” she said. To access the tool, go to biopower/launch. —Anna Austin



NEWS DOE explains NEPA intent, applicability to Loan Guarantee Program

The U.S. DOE hosted the second Webinar in a series being held with the intent to provide guidance for completing applications for the DOE Loan Guarantee Program, as amended by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The first Webinar, held Sept. 8, emphasized key attributes that may positively influence a project’s financial and technical evaluations during the Loan Guarantee Program application review process (See “DOE provides loan guarantee application tips” at www. id=3038&q=DOE provides). The second Webinar was held Sept. 23 and explained the intent of the National Environmental Policy Act, its applicability to the Loan Guarantee Program, its most significant concerns, and the type of data needed to support the NEPA section of applications. NEPA compliance division director Matthew McMillan said NEPA, which was signed into law Jan. 1, 1970, is viewed as the cornerstone of the environmental statute in the U.S., principally because it preceded most of them, including the U.S. EPA. “It requires that federal agencies consider the environmental consequences of their actions when they are in the decision-making process,” he said. “It’s important to remember that NEPA is a procedural statute, so we have to be very cognizant of following the procedural provisions of NEPA. Loan guarantees are considered major federal actions, thus they require NEPA review.” The NEPA review considers environmental effects from projects associated with applications received for loan guarantees. “What we do is integrate the NEPA process with the loan guarantee process, so we have 16 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 11|2009

environmental information as required in the part II application environmental report.” There are various levels of NEPA review that a project could require, depending on a variety of factors, according to McMillan. The most rigorous level is an environmental impact statement (EIS), he said, which is for projects presumed to have significant environmental effects. “In NEPA context, it is defined in the environmental quality regulations in terms of the context and intensity of the effects, and the regulations provide a variety of factors to look at when trying to assess that intensity,” McMillan said. There are 10 factors including impact to resource areas such as wetlands, threats to endangered species and cultural resources. Environmental controversy also needs to be considered when deciding whether an EIS is required. “Not just the ‘not in my backyard’ kind of controversy, but more along the lines of where there is disagreement on the potential for and severity of effects,” McMillan said. The next level of NEPA review is an environmental assessment (EA), which can be done at any time for any reason for agency planning purposes, but in this case is done to determine whether the potential impacts to biological, physical resources and sociocultural resources require an EIS. “If it is determined that the environmental effects are not significant, that process ends with the finding of no significant impact,” McMillan said. The last level of NEPA review is a categorical exclusion, which excludes the need to prepare either an EA or EIS, according to McMillan. “It’s for categories of actions that the agency has determined has no significant effect either individually or cumulatively. In

terms of applicability to the Loan Guarantee Program, it applies to things such as re-equipping or retooling existing facilities, or energy efficiency upgrades,” he said. “One thing that’s important to remember: the real beauty of the NEPA process, from the standpoint of the Loan Guarantee Program, is the influence it can have on the applicant’s decision-making process. Normally we consider the influence that NEPA has on the federal decision-making process, but in our experience we’ve seen it has more applicability to the applicants and how they design their projects, and that is where we really benefit from the NEPA process.” McMillan also discussed meetings that might be required for a project during the NEPA process, which may include consultations with American Indian and Alaskan Native Tribes, State Historic Preservation officers, or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Part I applications should include a detailed description of the proposed action, site information, and enough details to clarify/assess the scope and nature of the project, and whether it needs an EA or EIS, McMillan said. Part II applications determine the level of NEPA review required, but also contains enough information to prepare the NEPA document associated with the level required. “This should include detailed information on potential environmental impacts—the facility’s location, description and any status relative to legislation or permitting that would have a bearing on the project itself,” McMillan said. “In general, an applicant, in preparation for the environmental report that goes into the application, may or may not need the assistance of an environmental consulting firm, but certainly would if they were to prepare an EA and most definitely an EIS. The DOE begins the formal NEPA process when the applicant submits a part II application. “This is when technical and financial eligibility have been determined, and they have received a letter from the department indicating they’re invited to negotiate the terms and


NEWS conditions of a loan agreement,” McMillan said. “At that point, we begin the formal NEPA review process, and we will notify the state that we are entering into that process, and what level of NEPA review is going to be required,” McMillan said. A key consideration when preparing an application and designing a project should be environmental impact and related requirements. “One of the real values of the NEPA

process is in assisting the applicant’s decisionmaking process and informing them of the pitfalls of some project decisions. For example, where to site a facility,” McMillan said. “The use of an existing facility is highly encouraged, as is the use of a brownfield site. Greenfield sites tend to require a lot more environmental review than other sites. We’d like to see very well thought out proposals, such that mitigation isn’t required to address environmental

effects after the proposal has been submitted. We’d like to see all mitigation integrated into the proposed action so that it comes as part of the proposal, as opposed to being mitigation.” To learn more about the U.S. DOE Loan Guarantee Program, visit www.lgprogram. —Anna Austin

Ontario launches Biomass Innovation Centre Nipissing University’s Biomass Innovation Centre on its North Bay, Ontario, Canada, campus will provide resources and education about biomass heating and energy to building professionals, engineers and researchers to help develop an infrastructure for the industry. The organization focuses on biomass for space heating, particularly wood pellets, according to Bob Carpenter, director of the school of business and economics, which developed the center. The campus is in a heavily forested region, making woody biomass its most logical resource, Carpenter said. “There’s a lot of wood that is harvested that is waste,” he said. “It’s estimated that 100 million metric tons (110 million tons) of wood is available in

forests now. It’s good for forests to have some of that slash removed.” Not only does extraction of biomass improve forest health, he said, but it would allow the replacement of imported oil with locally produced products. In addition, wood pellet production could create at least 600 jobs in the region under the right circumstances, according to the university. The Biomass Innovation Centre is the title of the organization, Carpenter said, not a building. It’s currently composed of three people and has three goals: convert five buildings—municipalities, schools, universities or hospitals—to biomass heating from natural gas or petroleum; displace 500,000 liters (132,000 gallons) of fossil fuel wherever possible; and

increase awareness of biomass heating and energy systems by 25 percent. The organization was funded initially by Ontario’s Community Go Green Fund, but is looking into other funding options to allow for the inclusion of labs and other amenities, according to Carpenter. The organization will host a conference, Harnessing Biomass: From the Forest to the Market, on Oct. 22 and 23 to address extraction of woody biomass for pellet production and partnership formation within the industry, among other topics. The organization expected to launch its Web site,, in late October. —Lisa Gibson

Laidlaw, Homeland form Homeland Laidlaw Energy Laidlaw Biopower LLC, an affiliate of Laidlaw Energy Group Inc., and Homeland Renewable Energy LLC have teamed up to form Homeland Laidlaw Energy LLC. The new company already has four biomass energy plants in development in Northeastern U.S. The first project could be a 65-megawatt plant in Berlin, N.H., at the former Burgess Pulp Mill. Fully converted, the plant will run on 700,000 tons of wood chips per year, according to Laidlaw. The locations and details, including timelines, of the other three plants HLE will develop have not been released. Homeland has agreed to make an equity investment in the joint venture to provide capital for development as well as proceeds to

Laidlaw for the contribution of several of the company’s development projects to the HLE portfolio. Rupert Fraser, president and CEO of Homeland Renewable Energy, declined to disclose the amount of the investment. Both companies will inject projects into HLE, but will continue operations separately, as well. “We are very pleased to be working with the Laidlaw people,” Fraser said. Laidlaw brings a pipeline for projects to the joint venture, while Homeland brings a management team, he said. Homeland’s projects are in the southeast, dealing mainly with poultry litter, Fraser said. The joint venture expands the market opportunities and locations available to the company.

Homeland Chairman Jack Clarke will serve as chairman of the board for HLE, while Fraser and Homeland Chief Operating Officer Carl Strickler will serve on the board as corporate officers, according to the companies. Laidlaw President and CEO Michael Bartoszek will serve as president and CEO of HLE, while Laidlaw vice presidents Louis Bravakis and Raymond Kusche will serve on the board. HLE headquarters will be in New York City, with offices in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine and London. —Lisa Gibson



NEWS Swedish biofuel company Chemrec AB has been awarded $70 million from the Swedish Energy Board for the construction of a commercial-scale renewable fuel biorefinery at Örnsködsvik, Sweden. The grant, which will be the largest government grant ever made in Europe for a next-generation biofuel plant, must now be approved by the EU directorate general for completion, according to the state aid rules. The proposed 40 MMgy plant will be integrated into Domsjö Fabriker’s pulp mill, and utilize a black liquor (byproduct of pulp production) gasification process to produce what Chemrec calls BioDME (dimethyl ether) and BioMethanol. Chemrec employs an entrained-flow, high-temperature technology that achieves full char conversion in one step, producing a synthesis gas that can be converted into second-generation renewable motor fuel. Extensive front-end engineering and design work will now be done to provide a solid foundation for a final decision on project procurement, which is currently scheduled for fall 2010. A project prefeasibility study has already been conducted, during which black liquor from Domsjö Fabriker was gasified at Smurfit Kappa’s pulp mill in Piteå, Sweden. Results from the testing were positive, according to Chemrec. The company is active beyond the Örnsködsvik project, having recently broke ground at the Piteå site to construct another demonstration plant, which the company expects to be operational in mid-2010. Additionally, company subsidiary Chemrec USA is currently pursuing similar opportunities with pulp mills in the U.S.


Chemrec granted $70 million to build biorefinery at Swedish pulp mill

A rendering of Domsjö Fabriker’s pulp mill shows what the integrated biorefinery will look like when it’s completed.

In the July 2009 issue of Biomass Magazine, Chemrec CEO Richard LeBlanc authored an article detailing the benefits of black liquor gasification. The article can be seen at article.jsp?article_id=2818. —Anna Austin

Researchers evaluate Maryland’s sweet sorghum-to-ethanol potential A study to determine whether sweet sorghum is a viable crop on the Delmarva Peninsula in Maryland is in its first year, and might lead to the construction of an ethanol plant on the peninsula. Researchers from Salisbury University’s Richard A. Henson School of Science and Technology collaborated with researchers from the University of Delaware, the University of Maryland at College Park, local farmers and the Lower Eastern Shore Research & Education Center for the three-year study. They established a one-acre plot of eight different types of sorghum on the Wicomico County farm, according to Christopher Briand, associate professor of biological sciences at Salisbury University. Jeff Brenner of Solar Fruits Biofuels LLC initiated the study to determine if an ethanol plant on the peninsula could be sustainable, Briand said. The Maryland Grain Producers Association provided the funding for the first year and collaborators are looking for funding sources to continue in the second and third years, he said. Meanwhile, the researchers are harvesting the crop, planted in May. “When we harvest each variety, we’re harvesting approximately threemeter lengths,” Briand said. One trial is irrigated and the other is not, he added. During harvesting, the stalks are counted and the biomass is weighed; the heads are removed; the seeds are collected and weighed; 18 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 11|2009

the juice is extracted and measured by volume and weight; and the sugar content is evaluated, Briand said. “What we’re really looking for are varieties that grow well in the local conditions and produce lots of juice, i.e. have high sugar content,” Briand said. “We also look at the field,” said Samuel Geleta, also an associate professor of biological sciences at SU. How the crops behave in the field is important in evaluating their potential, he said, such as whether they stand erect allowing for easy harvesting by machinery. Sweet sorghum was chosen because alternative crops for ethanol production aren’t as favorable for the region. Sugarcane doesn’t grow well so far north, Geleta said, and corn competes with food crops and poultry feed. “Sweet sorghum is generally not used for that and we can grow it with less water and on marginal land so it will not compete with corn production,” he said. In addition, corn-to-ethanol conversion is a lengthy process. Sweet sorghum juice, once extracted, can be fermented directly into ethanol, he said. “It kind of simplifies the process.” Other states have experimented with sweet sorghum, along with India and China, but it is not commonly grown in the Delmarva Peninsula region, Geleta added. —Lisa Gibson


NEWS Partnership means patented technology can produce food, fuel The partnership between Colorado-based PureVision Technology Inc. a renewable technology developer, and Australian microbiology company Microbiogen means PureVision’s fractionation technology can produce biofuel and protein products simultaneously in biorefineries, according to the company. PureVision’s patented fractionation process separates cellulosic biomass into three streams inside one pressurized reaction chamber, according to the company. The extraction technique removes and recovers the hemicellulose and lignin in two liquid fractions, leaving a solid fraction containing relatively pure cellulose or fiber. The process can be done in a single step, or several, depending on the desired product. “Once you have your three streams broken down, you take the sugars and ferment them into alcohols and biofuels,” said Ed Lehrburger, founder and president of PureVision. The fractionation process can produce Microbiogen’s nongenetically modified yeast organism, which will be utilized in the fermentation process, and also has the ability to clean the waste stream generated by it. Once fermentation is complete, the organism can

be sold as a high-protein byproduct. “You can use yeast as a supplement to animal feed, fish food or human food,” Lehrburger said. The fractionation process is not commercialized yet, but operating on a one-half-ton-per-day pilot scale, according to Lehrburger. The company is working on a 20-ton-per-day facility, as well, and hopes to have its first commercial biorefinery in 2012. “We don’t know if this will expedite the process, but it will roll out a commercialization strategy,” he said of the partnership. Biomass feedstocks used in the process include corn stalks, corncobs, wheat straw, bagasse, soft woods and triticale straw. The use of the yeast organism increases the efficiency of the process by using what has been regarded as waste biomass, along with the food part of the crop, for the production of both fuel and protein, according to PureVision. It also addresses concerns about the use of food crops for biofuels production, and offers a packaged solution to biorefinery developers, Lehrburger said. —Lisa Gibson

Foundation promotes UW-Madison clean technology inventions The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center have teamed up to promote the renewable energy technologies invented at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The effort includes the new cleantech technology section on the WARF Web site: It features summaries of 46 technologies developed by the university, some in collaboration with the GLBRC, including technologies for biofuels production, low energy processes, natural resource conservation, remediation, solar technologies and waste and pollution reduction. “By making these technologies more visible, we will be better able to support the efforts of the GLBRC and UW-Madison to develop innovative and sustainable sources of energy,” Michael Falk, WARF’s general counsel, said in a statement. One of the university’s inventions spun off into a start-up company, Virent Energy Systems Inc. The company has attracted investors such as Honda and Cargill Inc., and has a strategic investment partnership with Royal Dutch Shell plc, according to the university. The technology is an aqueous phase reforming (APR) process that generates hydrogen from sugar. Virent has enhanced the process since it started in 2002 to create a process called BioForming, which combines APR with other catalytic technologies, such as catalytic

hydrotreating or condensation, to produce renewable liquid fuels, fuel gases and other chemicals, according to the company. The process uses feedstocks such as glucose and sucrose, glycerol, starches, polymers of glucose contained in cellulose, and C5 and C6 sugars, according to the company. Feedstock options include traditional food crops and nonfood sources. “We’re working with Royal Dutch Shell to commercialize production of biogasoline,” said Mary Blanchard, director of marketing for Virent. The company plans to build a 1 MMgy to 2 MMgy commercial demonstration plant, followed by a 100 MMgy commercial plant, expected to be operational in 2015, according to Blanchard. UW-Madison leads the GLBRC in close partnership with Michigan State University with a goal to remove the technological bottlenecks that prevent efficient conversion of plant biomass to biofuel, according to UW-Madison. The GLBRC is one of three research centers set up by the U.S. DOE to develop a new generation of biofuels. The other members of the GLBRC are Iowa State University, Illinois State University and the University of Toledo, along with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Lucigen Corp., according to UW-Madison. —Lisa Gibson



NEWS The Algaeus, a vehicle that runs on algae-based fuel, recently finished a cross-country trip to promote the film “FUEL,” and now will be featured on a national college educational tour. The car, based on a 2008 Toyota Prius with an added battery pack, a plug and an advanced energy management system, finished its 10-day tour from San Francisco to New York City on Sept. 18. The unmodified engine got an average 147 miles per gallon (mpg) city in plug-in electric hybrid mode (PHEV) and 52 mpg highway in hybrid mode, according to Sapphire Energy, the company that made the fuel blend. The fuel is a blend of 5 percent algae and 95 percent fossil fuel, according to Tim Zenk, vice president of corporate affairs for Sapphire, and is a drop-in replacement for existing transportation fuels, from refining, to distribution and the pump. The company grows its algae in pond systems with sunlight, carbon dioxide, nutrients and nonpotable or saltwater in the desert. Sapphire uses its proprietary process to harvest the algae and extract the green crude from the biomass. The crude is then refined into gas, diesel and jet fuel, Zenk said. The tour was sponsored by the Veggie Van Organization and included a press conference on Capitol Hill. The college tour will also include the Veggie Van Organization, an interactive classroom retrofit “Green Energy Bus” and the “FUEL” team. “FUEL” was intended to inspire green energy solutions and was directed by Josh Tickell, founder and co-director of the Veggie Van Organization. Sapphire Energy is in the research and development phase, but plans to have a demonstration plant built within three years and be commercially operational by 2018, according to Zenk. The company’s goal is to produce 1 billion gallons per year by 2025, he added. “The Algaeus is a fantastic test platform that demonstrates not


Algae-fueled car completes cross-country tour, gears up for another

The Algaeus finished a cross-country trip on algae-blended fuel.

only Sapphire Energy’s abilities to take algae and produce hydrocarbon replacements, but also plug-in hybrid technology,” Zenk said. “If we are going to get our economy, our environment and our planet on the road to sustainability, we need to explore and employ all green energy technologies.” Through the success of the Algaeus, Sapphire Energy hopes to further educate people about clean solutions like algae-based green crude and address the energy security and climate crisis, according to Zenk. “The Algaeus tour gets us one step closer to moving from ponds to the pump with a renewable fuel that doesn’t require changes to our vehicles, refineries or distribution systems,” he said. —Lisa Gibson

Wiki identifies issues in establishing algae-to-biofuel businesses The Law of Algae wiki, launched at the end of August, serves as a guide to establishing an algae-to-biofuel project, highlighting legal and business issues a developer would face. Wikis are Web sites that allow for easy creation and editing from site users. Stoel Rives LLP published the work, fully available on the wiki, and has done several other “Law of ” books, such as “The Law of Wind” and “The Law of Building Green.” This is, however, the first time the law firm has published a book via a wiki. The format allows for continuous updates and changes. “So the document is always fresh,” said Mark Hanson, partner at the firm. “Algae in particular seem to be susceptible to a lot of change.” The firm will launch wikis for some of its past books, he added, and will stick with this format for future works. Different considerations come along with different projects from the development perspective, so the books pinpoint specific issues that are common and apply to specific types of projects, Hanson said. “The ‘Law of ’ books are intended to highlight various resources and issues as they move forward in their projects,” he said. Algae are the most recent focus area because of the increasingly 20 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 11|2009

high interest in its biofuel production capabilities. “There are lots of new investments and tremendous efforts in the commercialization of algae to biofuel,” Hanson said. Unlike other commodities, such as corn, it does not compete with food production and is not subject to fluctuating prices. It also is an easily controlled feedstock, as it only requires sunlight, water, a harvesting strategy and a process for oil extraction, he added. The wiki outlines elements of projects such as financing, intellectual property issues, technology issues and contracts, among others. It has attracted quite a bit of interest in its first month, Hanson said, as site visitors are appreciative of the new wiki format and the wide array of topics it addresses. The firms’ attorneys compile the “Law of ” works, Hanson said, drawing from their experience and expertise, which put them in a good position to identify issues developers will need to be aware of. Check out the Law of Algae at —Lisa Gibson


NEWS ISO looks for help to develop international solid biofuels standards As interest in alternative fuel sources grows, international standards for solid biofuels, including wood pellets, forest and agricultural waste, are crucial in moving ahead. The International Organization for Standardization, created in Sweden, is hoping to publish a set of standards developed by its 27 member countries in 2011. The American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers held a Webinar Sept. 11 to discuss the importance of standards and how to get involved in the development process. Each country participating in ISO gets one vote and has its own technical committee with designated working groups. Consensus is reached at the national level. Standards are needed to create a level playing field for solid biofuels, according to Lars Sjoberg, international secretariat for ISO Technical Group 238 in Sweden. He compared it to a soccer game between two different countries. “Without international standards, it’s hard for the referee to make his calls,” he said. “It’s very important to have common rules and methods.” Standards are needed to ensure ongoing customer satisfaction, according to the Biomass Thermal Energy Council. “We need consumers to trust the fuels and that’s why we feel standards are important,” said Jon Strimling, BTEC CEO. Chris Wiberg, chief operating officer of Wisconsin-based Twin Ports Testing and member of Pellet Fuels Institute, agreed and discussed the standards PFI has approved. The first round of standards was developed in 1995, but issues such as a lack of clearly defined testing and measurement methods warranted a new set. PFI developed those new standards between July 2005 and July 2008. They can be viewed at Wiberg said PFI’s standards can be incorporated into currently proposed ISO standards, or included as a separate work item. Standards are necessary for the University of Wisconsin to convert its power plant to biomass, slated to occur by 2013, according

to Richard Straub, chairperson of UW’s biological systems engineering department. The university will need standards that define value and properties of feedstock, he said, along with handling and logistics standards. The ASTM International Committee on E48 Biotechnology has developed 36 international standards, according to ASTM E84 manager Brynn Murphy. Of 110 total members, 25 are international, she said, and unlike ISO, each member gets a vote, not each country. The Biomass Conversion subcommittee has developed 14 standards and has one working item, she added. ISO’s 27 members include countries in North and South America, Europe and Asia, Sjoberg said. “Unfortunately, there are some more countries we’d like to participate,” he said. “Hopefully in the near future, we can have them in the committee.” ISO has already developed standards pertaining to terminology, sampling, ash content, determination of particle size distribution and of minor and major elements, among others. The organization has plenty of research participants, but is looking for more from the industry, Sjoberg said. “It’s very important to have broad participation.” The American National Standards Institute is the ISO member for the U.S. Its Web site,, includes information on ISO. The ISO held its first meeting in 2008; another plenary will be held in Bellevue, Wash., Oct. 16, with working group meetings Oct. 14 and 15. ASABE administers U.S. positions for ISO/TC 238 and nine other ISO technical committees. The committee is open to new participants and is looking for widespread representation from the industry. To get involved with the U.S. committee or to attend the October meetings, contact Scott Cedarquist, ASABE director of standards, at (269) 932-7031. —Lisa Gibson

Scotland’s Tullis Russell to use biomass for heat, power The signing of a multimillion pound deal brings a paper mill in Scotland closer to using biomass for heat and power. A contract established between Tullis Russell Papermakers Ltd. and RWE NPower means a 50-megawatt biomass power plant will supply energy for Tullis Russell’s mill in Markinch, Fife, Scotland. The plant will replace an existing coal-fired power plant, owned by RWE NPower Renewables, whose parent company, RWE Innogy, will provide 200 million pounds ($31.7 million) for the project. That supplements the 8.1 million pounds ($12.8 million) in support from the Scottish government, according to RWE NPower. NPower Cogen, whose parent company is RWE NPower, will build and operate the facility.

Construction on the plant will begin immediately, according to the company, and it will be operational in 2012. The plant will reduce Tullis Russell’s carbon footprint by more than 70 percent, using 400,000 metric tons (441,000 tons) of virgin and used wood from local and national companies, according to CEO Chris Parr. The project also will provide 400 jobs during construction, 50 permanent jobs in operation and more than 500 jobs at Tullis Russell, according to RWE. The plant will reduce carbon emissions by 250,000 metric tons and generate 6 percent of Scotland’s renewable energy target. Seventeen megawatts of power will be supplied directly to the paper mill and the remaining will be sold to the grid. —Lisa Gibson



NEWS Biochar technology bill introduced in Senate Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., is co-sponsoring a bill with Sens. John Tester, D-Mont., Max Baucus, D-Mont., Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Tom Udall, D-N.M., that would promote the implementation of biochar production technologies using excess plant biomass on public land. Titled the Water Efficiency via Carbon Harvest and Restoration Act of 2009, (WECHAR), the bill would establish U.S. Department of Interior and USDA loan guarantee programs to develop biochar demonstration projects, including mobile and fixed biochar production units. The purposes of the act are listed as restoring the natural hydrology of Western landscapes by removing water-intensive plant species, reducing dangerous forest and rangeland fuel loads, developing technologies to convert undesirable invasive plant species to useful materials and to develop markets for those materials, and to provide technologies to land managers to continue those processes into the future. The bill states that the pine bark beetle has killed thousands of acres of standing forests in the Western U.S., thus creating a hazardous buildup of dead tree biomass that is a serious fire threat, and that numerous expert reports have brought attention to the negative impacts

caused by invasive weed species, including the consumption of water in areas with diminishing supplies. Upon passage, the bill would call for the director of the U.S. Geological Survey to conduct resource assessments to collect and synthesize interagency and state data to quantify the amount of invasive plant species and excess biomass in the form of dangerous fuel loads on public land that can be used for feedstock; the estimated carbon content in that feedstock; the estimated potential biochar and bioenergy which could be generated from that feedstock; and the potential water savings resulting from removal of invasive plant species and excess biomass on public lands, by watershed. The secretary would then provide loan guarantees to an applicant, if the biochar production units produced by the applicant will be dedicated primarily to contract restoration work with the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service or U.S. Forest Service, utilizing the specified biomass feedstocks. To view a copy of the bill, go to bills/history/111_SN_1713.html. —Anna Austin

Senators reveal Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., have unveiled the first draft of legislation that requires emissions be reduced to 97 percent of 2005 levels by 2012, 80 percent by 2020, and 17 percent by 2050, through implementation of a Pollution Reduction and Investment system. In the House, the bill was titled the American Clean Energy and Security Act, and is now the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act. The PRI system detailed in the act is based on the bipartisan plan that reduced acid rain in the 1990s, and would establish a market-based system to meet the reduction targets. The system would apply only to the largest polluters in the country—initially, around 7,500 facilities, which account for nearly three-quarters of U.S. carbon pollution, or facilities emitting more than 25,000 tons of carbon pollution annually. According to the draft, more than 98 percent of American businesses (office buildings, apartments, homes, shopping malls) and all farmers would not be covered by the PRI system. Instead of using a “command and control” model in which the government instructs companies where and how to reduce pollution, major polluters will be required to turn in one carbon credit, which the draft describes as “a voucher for the right to pollute one ton of carbon.” The vouchers can be bought or sold to provide flexibility in how 22 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 11|2009

pollution is reduced. Therefore, those that cannot quickly or affordably reduce emissions can buy vouchers. Companies who are able may sell their vouchers to those that need them. The PRI system would also limit the total number of vouchers available in a given year, lowering the number each year. Other provisions of the bill include but are not limited to: A new federal program that encourages investment in lowcarbon power generation Grants to cities and states that embrace clean energy, and substantial investments to reward cities and states for investing in renewable energy, energy efficient retrofits and building upgrades Significant new investments in cutting-edge research and development funding for renewable energy resources Support for energy intensive, trade-exposed industries such as chemicals to ensure U.S. manufacturing remains competitive in the new energy economy. Rebates for low and moderate income consumers on energy bills to help offset any increased costs To access the bill in full, go to cleanenergyjobsandamericanpower/pdf/bill.pdf. —Anna Austin


U.S. BIOMASS POTENTIAL FROM FORESTS TO THE PLAINS Studies to evaluate the potential of biomass are being conducted in several states as people begin to realize its economic benefits. One study takes a unique approach by going straight to businesses, organizations and farmers to create a supply chain and industry infrastructure before engaging state government. By Lisa Gibson






everal studies and research projects are ongoing in individual states across the country, evaluating not only the availability of biomass, but also the biomass-based products that best suit each state’s economy. The market for biomass products is growing but getting into those markets will take careful planning and evaluation to determine which types of biomass are viable to grow, harvest and extract in specific locations, followed by which products can be manufactured from that biomass and how. “We’ve got some good macrowork across the U.S.,” says Peter Nelson, director of Business Development for Memphis Bioworks Foundation’s BioDimensions and director of AgBioworks. He cites “Biomass as a Feedstock for a Bioenergy and Bioproducts Industry: The Technical Feasibility of a Billion-Ton Annual Supply,” a study that quantifies the bioenergy potential of the entire nation, and a similar project ongoing in the southeast. The Billion Ton study, which was conducted by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the U.S. DOE and USDA, found that there is more than 1.3 billion dry tons per year of biomass potential in the U.S. “What that didn’t do was look at all the nuances, dif-


ferences and competitive advantages within specific small regions that currently do business together,” Nelson says. In August, Memphis Bioworks, in collaboration with Batelle Technology Partnership Practice, released findings from a study that collaborators believe took a revolutionary approach. Instead of relying on politicians and state government officials, the study involved businesses, organizations and universities in a fivestate, 98-county region. “Regional Strategy for Biobased Products in the Mississippi Delta” includes participation from Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee; a total of 56,000 square miles. “The difficulty cannot be overstated,” Nelson says of building the collaboration. “It is almost impossible to get multiple states working together without starting with state governors.” A business-based approach sets up a framework for the region’s “bio-economy,” says Loretta Daniel, director of the Regional Biomass Innovation Center at Murray State University in Murray, Ky., and a member of the study’s 23-person steering team. “The businesses, entrepreneurs and farmers on the ground are the ones who are going to make this happen,” she says. Lawmakers are integral, as well, she adds,

because they will help develop policies for implementation. “You can have all that in place, but if you don’t have those people on the ground, it’s not going to happen,” she says. A major purpose of the research is to build a regional network to work together on federal funding requests, support viable regional projects, invest public and private funds wisely, and strengthen competencies, Nelson says. “Half the exercise was getting the right players together and building long-term relationships, and half of it was the actual study that gives us at least some short-term ideas on what to do,” he says. Nelson says location-specific studies are important for four reasons: to build regional strengths and understand weaknesses; to align public and private resources; incentivize local supply chains to drive the industry; and understand that biomass is a flexible resource and will be used differently in different regions. Incentivizing local supply chains before investing in technologies is vital, he says, although it might go against the recommendations of most economists. The Delta region’s approach is almost the opposite of the U.S. DOE’s method, which is to invest large amounts of money in the commercialization of technologies, he


Missouri 11 counties

Kentucky 8 counties

Tennessee 21 counties

Arkansas 30 counties

Mississippi 28 counties

The colored area shows the region that was evaluated in the “Regional Strategy for Biobased Products in the Mississippi Delta” study. SOURCE: MEMPHIS BIOWORKS FOUNDATION

says. “We said ‘We’re not going to develop technology,’” Nelson explains. “What we can do is grow crops; interface with local industrial infrastructures.” Once those supply chains and farmer networks are developed, it will be easier to deal with big technology providers when the time comes, he adds. This unique strategy is designed to answer possible questions, such as how to engage with farmers and what to grow, from businesses looking into bioprocessing.

Findings and Funding The study determined that the fivestate region can adequately supply an $8 billion biofuels and biobased products industry without affecting the food and feed supply chain. The transformation to that bio-economy will create more than 25,000 jobs in the next 10 years and more than 50,000 in the next 20 years. It will also open up markets that will increase biodiversity in the region, leading to reduced use of synthetic fertilizers, agricultural chemicals and water, while increasing options for local farmers, the study concludes. Researchers separated potential biomass sources into four categories: oilseeds, such as soybeans, canola, sunflowers and algae; starches and sugars, such


SUPPLY as barley, grain sorghum, sweet sorghum and sugar beets; lignocellulosics, such as wood, switchgrass and cotton; and niche crops, such as agricultural fibers and smaller acreage crops. The region already produces lignocellulosic, sugar, starch and oilseed feedstocks in substantial quantities, according to the report. Its common topography, variety of productive soil types, high levels of surface and groundwater availability, favorable climate and comparatively long growing season make the region agriculturally diverse and productive, it adds. Potential products from those four feedstock categories include chemical intermediates and specialties, specialty oil products, ethanol and next-generation fuels, and biofibers and other biobased materials, according to the study. Sweet sorghum is the preferred nearterm sugar crop for the region and growers on average can produce more than 10 dry tons of biomass per acre, according to the study. The estimated sustainable usable quantity of lignocellulosic biomass is 59 million tons per year, with the potential to produce 4.7 billion gallons of ethanol annually. Because it’s so abundant, lignocellulosic biomass processing is the key technology and industry for the region’s biobased economy, researchers concluded. Now completed and released, the study has been a few years in the making. Interviews with stakeholders began in 2006, followed by the formation of the steering committee in 2007, Nelson says. A statement of work was drafted and initial funding was acquired from MemphisED and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture in 2007. Batelle and other consultants were hired, followed by the fieldwork and compilation of results, he says. The project cost about $750,000, provided by 10 major funders across the five states, 20 corporate sponsors and 29 nonprofits or education institutions, Nelson says. “Most people don’t like to fund studies unless the group has a proven track


record to turn the study into results,” he says, adding that Memphis Bioworks has turned studies into economic opportunities in the past. “This made it easier to raise money for a study because we had already been successful,” he explains. Some researchers have been able to attain funding for biomass studies through state and private sources, but the DOE has programs that can provide financial assistance, too. Every state receives annual State Energy Planning funding, according to DOE Biomass Program manager Valri Lightner. State energy offices develop and implement policy through program measures, and nearly every state energy office has a mandate from its legislature to include renewable energy in the state plan, she adds. With the Mississippi Delta study now completed, it’s up to the individual states to launch initiatives appropriate for their regions aimed at enhancing existing opportunities and expanding their roles in the regional bio-economy. The executive summary and full report are available at, along with updates on the progress of the individual states’ plans.

Washington’s Woody Biomass Wherewithal Washington State ranks at the top of the nation in forest woody biomass availability, with a potential 11.26 million dry tons per year, according to “Wood to Energy in Washington: Imperatives, Opportunities, and Obstacles to Progress,” released in June of 2009. The study, conducted by the University of Washington’s School of Forest Resources, concluded that biomass would be better used to manufacture transportation fuel than to generate electricity. The state currently imports 100 percent of its transportation fuels from other states or other countries, according to Larry Mason, co-author of the study and project coordinator of Forest Resources’ Rural Technology Initiative. “Whereas Washington is 100 percent selfsufficient relative to electricity,” he says.

According to the report, woody biomass has three key advantages that should be considered in policymaking: sustainability, energy independence and climate change mitigation. It also found that conversion from woody biomass to liquid fuels will require large biorefinery capacity designed to utilize dispersed biomass resources for maximized energy outputs, and that co-location with pulp and paper mills represents the greatest opportunity for success. The $200,000 report was commissioned and funded by the Washington State Legislature. A barrier to implementation of the recommendations is that the state has no department of energy, Mason says. “So there is not really an effective lead agency to move quickly,” he adds. Forming a lead state agency is one of the recommendations the five researchers make in their report, along with prioritizing objectives and the development of large-scale biofuels projects as opposed to small-scale projects, which the study deems inefficient. The entire report is available at

Biomass from Grass in North Dakota Situated squarely in the Great Plains, western and central North Dakota isn’t covered in dense forests, so it is turning to what it does possess: grass. An ongoing study being conducted by the North Dakota State University Central Grasslands Resource and Extension Center will determine the potential for biomass from grass over the next eight years. With two years of data already collected, the researchers will continue evaluating production, carbon sequestration, economics and longevity of perennial forages for the manufacturing of biofuels and some small-scale electricity generation. For study purposes, several 15-by30-foot plots were seeded with the same 10 treatments at five locations: Hettinger, Minot, Williston, Streeter and Carrington. All plots are dryland, except for one irri-

SUPPLY gated plot near Williston. The project will determine the biomass yield and select chemical composition of perennial herbaceous crops; determine the optimum harvest dates for maximum biomass yield and maintenance of the stands; compare annual and biennial harvest for total biomass yield and maintenance of the stands; evaluate carbon sequestration and storage of the crops; and evaluate their economic feasibility with competing crops in the surrounding area, according to the research center. Grasses used in the study include switchgrass, wheat grass, wild rye, blue stem and combinations of grasses. Funding is funneled through the Natural Resources Trust from state and federal agencies, according to Paul Nyren, center director. The total cost of the project, including lab work and analysis, is about $1 million, he adds. So far, the best yields have been harvested from sunburst switchgrass in the irrigated plot—5.75 tons per acre in 2007 and 7.28 in 2008. But the conclusions are difficult to describe at this point, according to Nyren. “The question is: What is this worth as a biofuels crop?” he asks. Studies show that to be economically feasible, biomass needs to be worth $75 per ton. “We have to ask: What are companies going to be willing to pay?” Harvest totals and other study details are available at streeter/.

develop new processes and bioproducts; and if cellulose nanofibers can be used to improve coatings and plastics, according to the university. “The idea is to make multiple products so you have a portfolio that addresses different markets,” says Hemant Pendse, professor and chair of the university’s chemical and biological engineering department. The research is funded through federal grants and the Maine Economic Improvement Fund, Pendse says, adding that the costs of the different projects vary widely. One project that converts a pulp mill to a biofuel and chemical facility could cost more than $60 million, he cites. The study results will help small businesses, forest landowners and the forest products industry identify opportunities to enter the biofuels and biochemicals markets, Pendse says.

Coordination and Collaboration Most states have conducted biomass resource assessments of some kind, Lightner says, which the DOE promotes. The agency also encourages states to coordinate with each other on biomass development to benefit from scaling opportunities and comparative advantages. Nelson agrees and says getting the business community engaged is the best advice he can give to agencies looking into conducting similar studies. “This industry is very much in its infancy,” he says, adding that it will take a decade or two to replace a massive amount of petroleum. To take off, it needs collaboration, an understanding of farmers and farm production, existing assets and a methodic strategy, he says. BIO

Lisa Gibson is a Biomass Magazine associate editor. Reach her at lgibson@ or (701) 738-4952.

Woody Biomass in Maine Research conducted by the University of Maine seeks to determine the best products to manufacture using the state’s abundant woody biomass supply. Researchers have worked on several studies since 2006 and have four more years of funding to determine how to simultaneously make bioproducts and building and paper products; how different portions of trees will affect the amount, quality and cost of bioproduct production; if advanced scientific tools exploring the molecular structure of woody materials can



SECURING STRATEGIC INVESTORS Research and development companies in the biofuels industry are striving to acquire capital and interest from experienced industry giants to put their technologies on the fast track to commercialization. Terrabon was able to attract strategic investors—Waste Management and Valero—and is ready to start scaling up its waste to biofuel technology. By Lisa Gibson






n today’s renewable energy markets, ideas abound but implementation doesn’t come easily without money, and scaling up is expensive and timeconsuming. Investors and partners can make the transition simpler for research and development companies, especially if those partners bring years of experience, good reputations and industry expertise. Texas-based Terrabon LLC seems to have found the right partners to help commercialize its waste-to-biofuel technology: Waste Management Inc. and Valero Energy Corp. Both are prominent in their industries. Valero is North America’s largest petroleum refiner and marketer, with 16 refineries and seven ethanol plants. Waste Management is a leader in providing environmentally friendly waste disposal systems, including 367 collection operations, 16 wasteto-energy plants and 111 landfill gas projects, among others. “The biggest impact is that we are now the first fully integrated biofuels company with upstream and downstream partners that have a North American footprint,” says Terrabon CEO Gary Luce. “This technology allows those two industries to link up and better use their sustainable model of converting organic waste to produce biofuels.” Waste Management acts as the upstream partner, securing waste feedstock for the system while


Valero serves as the downstream partner, helping to distribute and sell the biofuel.

The Process Terrabon licensed its MixAlco technology from Texas A&M in 1995. “We’ve added a whole bunch of [intellectual property] to the original license over that time,” Luce says. “It wasn’t all ready to go then. They were just beginning to research.” The process converts waste material such as municipal solid waste (MSW), sewage sludge, forest product residues and energy crops into chemicals and secondary alcohols. Those elements can be further refined to renewable gasoline through the traditional petrochemical refining process. Terrabon is also working on commercializing its other two processes: Advanced Vapor-Compression Evaporation (AdVE), which desalinates brackish and salt water to create potable water; and SoluPro, which converts protein-bearing waste material into animal feed or commercial adhesives. “These other two technologies actually birthed out of the biofuels process,” Luce says. Waste Management and Valero have invested in the entire company, meaning their dollars will go toward commercialization of those technologies, too. “MixAlco is their primary interest, but they have access to all the technologies,” Luce says.

The MixAlco process consists of a lime pretreatment followed by fermentation by microorganisms, producing a mixture of carboxylic acids, such as acetic, propionic or butyric acids. Calcium carbonate is added to neutralize the acids and form their corresponding carboxylate salts, such as calcium acetate, propionate and butyrate, according to Terrabon. The next step can produce either ketones or carboxylic acids. The salts can be dewatered, concentrated, dried and thermally converted to ketones such as acetone, which can be hydrogenated to produce secondary alcohols such as isopropanol, propanol and butanol; or the carboxylic acids can be recovered from the fermentation solution by reacting with tertiary amines to form tertiary amine carboxylates and calcium carbonate that are then cracked to regenerate the tertiary amine and produce the carboxylic acids. The tertiary amine and calcium carbonate are recycled within the process, so no chemicals are consumed, according to Terrabon. The resulting carboxylic acids such as the ketones, can be hydrogenated to form primary alcohols such as ethanol. Those primary or secondary alcohols can then be oligomerized to produce gasoline, diesel or jet fuel, according to the company. The product is a drop-in fuel, similar to others on the market and ready to be blended for use, Luce says. “You can blend it and stick it in a pipeline and move it on down the ex-



Terrabon’s Advanced Biofuels Research facility in Bryan, Texas, uses sorghum as the primary feedstock for producing organic salts and ketones. The ketones will be converted into gasoline at the company’s pilot plant in College Station, Texas.

isting infrastructure,” he says. “It doesn’t have issues that other oxygenated fuels like ethanol have where you have to splash blend it right before you go to the retail station because of water and corrosion issues.”

The Partnership Strategic partnerships similar to this one provide a winning scenario for all involved, according to John Eustermann, a partner

with law firm Stoel Rives LLP. “It’s a brilliant approach,” he says. An upstream/downstream model is a goal for most companies. “You want to bring in a strategic investor,” he says. “Not just an investor. Not only are they bringing their checkbook, but they’re bringing other intellectual capital to the table that will assist Terrabon in ramping up its model. That’s what you want to look for when you’re a young company.”

Investors need to bring something above and beyond the dollar sign to maximize the benefit to companies in which they invest, Eustermann adds. “You don’t want to be an investment vehicle where the third party is simply looking for a return,” he says. “They’ve got to bring a little something extra to the table.” Rick Kment, biofuels industry analyst for DTN, agrees and thinks strategic investing trends will grow in the coming months. “You need to focus on companies that share the same core competency or are in the same industry,” he says, adding that both Waste Management and Valero have significant ties to Terrabon’s core focus areas. “I think we will see a significant move in the industry to magnify and utilize the strengths of each company.” In the past few years, companies have focused more on sustainability and trying to survive in difficult financial times, Kment says. “This is probably the first wave of investments from industries moving out of the scaling-back mode.” Investment expectations also have changed during financial setbacks, he adds. “The overall devaluation of a lot of these companies has brought asking prices for investments lower than they were two years ago,” he says. “When you look at the overall percentage of investment that these large companies



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FINANCE ‘The beauty of the partnership is we bring waste on an efficient basis to the venture, Valero brings the ability to market the product and Terrabon brings the technology to convert the waste to the product. It’s a pretty nice opportunity.’ Tim Cesarek, managing director of organic growth, Waste Management

are putting into small companies, I think it’s a small scope compared to their overall size,” Kment adds. “But at the same time, it really is a shot in the arm for some of these development companies that are able to access and gain the partnership.” Waste Management and Valero benefit from the partnership in that they are positioning themselves to have access to the product and be part of the industry without having to start from scratch building an idea, Kment adds. Smaller companies penetrate the market and large companies can save time and money by investing in those already-developed technologies, Eustermann adds. “It’s a portal of entry into that space that they may otherwise not have been attracted to,” he says. It’s not uncommon for large companies to invest in smaller ones, he adds, but the upstream/downstream model is not easily achieved. Valero has made two investments in the company, the first in April, but has not disclosed the amounts, according to Bill Day,

executive director of media relations for Valero. “We’ve done some investments in cellulosic ethanol; we’ve done some investments with biodiesel,” he says. “This one is more of a synthetic gasoline so it gives us some diversity.” Valero has invested in Qteros, a company that uses a microbe to produce cellulosic ethanol; Solix, which produces biodiesel from algae; and Zeachem, another cellulosic ethanol developer, Day says. Terrabon’s Texas location was also a contributing factor in Valero’s decision to invest, Day says, as Valero also calls the state home. “We’re very interested in what the next generation of fuels will be in this country,” he says. “We realize that renewable fuels are going to have a place in that so our investment in companies like Terrabon moves it forward.” Waste Management announced in August that it would invest in Terrabon, also, which brings benefits to the other partners. “Anything that helps Terrabon advance its technology and produce the fuels is going to help our investment payoff,” Day says. “We’re

This schematic illustrates the MixAlco process, followed by conventional petrochemical technology. SOURCE: TERRABON


glad Waste Management has become part of the team, as well.” In fact, the announcement that Valero would invest in Terrabon helped attract attention from Waste Management and eventually spurred an investment and partnership, according to Tim Cesarek, managing director of organic growth for Waste Management. The company would not disclose the amount it invested but the transaction fits well into the company’s goal to double its renewable energy portfolio, he said. “We believe we have a core capability in and around the logistics of collection, hauling and recycling of waste materials,” Cesarek says in explaining what the company brings to the partnership. The industry giant has also recently invested in S4 Energy Solutions and its plasma gasification technology that converts MSW into synthetic gas. “Frankly, we see S4 as being complementary to Terrabon,” Cesarek says. Terrabon represents the company’s first investment in a direct conversion from organics to gasoline, he says. Waste Management is also working on a conversion of landfill gas to fuels and chemicals. “The beauty of the partnership is we bring waste on an efficient basis to the venture, Valero brings the ability to market the product and Terrabon brings the technology to convert the waste to the product,” he says. “It’s a pretty nice opportunity.”

FINANCE The Right Fit With so many research and development companies on the cusp of commercialization, it seems a daunting task just to get noticed. “I think part of it was we were at a lot of technical conferences that they also attended and I think we just found the fit,” Luce says. “We finally built a management team around us.” Eustermann says some companies attract attention through public relations campaigns, whereas others just have a solid technology that gains attention on its own. Those proven technologies start to appear more in the mainstream media, where they can acquire third-party investors to help advance them, he adds. “There’s a lot of capital out there being deployed in the waste-to-energy space,” he says. “If your idea is good enough, money will find you.” “A lot of it has to do with networking,” Kment adds. “A lot of it has to do with compatible technologies.”

and then show how it can be successful and then other people can come in behind us,” Luce says. The same revenue models will be used for AdVE and SoluPro, but commercialization will be slower. An AdVE demonstration plant is being constructed in Laredo, Texas, and expected to be operational in the first quarter of 2010, Luce says. SoluPro doesn’t have a large market and time milestones developed by Texas A&M are several years out. “So it’s not at the top of our list right now,” Luce says.

The alignment of the three companies to commercialize Terrabon’s technologies is a natural convergence, Eustermann says, and not at all a surprise. “No one is ever going to say we have too much energy and I think everyone agrees that we have too much waste,” he says. “You can see in this instance, it’s really a nice deal for all of them.” BIO Lisa Gibson is a Biomass Magazine associate editor. Reach her at lgibson@ or (701) 738-4952.

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The Next Step Construction on a MixAlco demonstration plant will begin in 2010 on Valero’s property in Port Arthur, Texas. It will consume 55 dry tons of waste per day and will be built next to Valero’s existing petroleum refinery. In addition, the three partners are working to pinpoint other locations that would provide wins for all of them, according to Luce. Terrabon has two revenue models. One is build-to-operate and the other is to license to developers who pass the review process so they can build and operate their own systems, according to Luce. Terrabon’s target customers are refiners and chemical producers. “One of the reasons we’re building and operating on the MixAlco is that right now we’re the natural owners because we’ve been with the technology for so long,” he says. “Once the technology gets out into the market and people understand it, we’ll probably step back and do our primary focus, which is to license the technology.” Terrabon is in a position to best demonstrate the technology, he adds, while maintaining quality control and credibility. “That’s one of the reasons we’ve partnered with Waste Management and Valero: to go out and deploy this technology together

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Clean Sweep Biomass-based absorbent is tough on oil and paint spills but easy on the environment. Nature’s Broom sweeping compound is made with recycled agricultural and forest materials and it’s a USDA BioPreferred product. By Anna Austin





lthough biomass is typically associated with power, fuel and chemical applications, it also has a natural ability to sop up oil spills on highways, antifreeze on driveways and spilled paint. Nature’s Broom, a company based in Hollandale, Miss., uses waste agricultural and forestry materials to produce a 97 percent biobased liquid spill absorbent that meets the USDA’s BioPreferred program product qualifications. The company markets the product as an economical and environmental alternative to clay, which is commonly used to clean up liquid spills. One of its most attractive characteristics is that after it’s used it can be swept up and easily disposed of, used as fuel source or left to bioremediate.

Nature Takes its Course Nature’s Broom, a granular substance with a consistency similar to a fine mulch or sawdust, contains a high level of bacteria generating enzymes that break down petroleum hydrocarbons. The bacteria use the starches stored in the wood fibers as a starter food source, and begin multiplying when moisture content and temperature allow. Enzymes produced by the bacteria break down the petroleum hydrocarbons into nontoxic compounds. Mississippi State University performed a nine-week study to test Nature’s Broom’s ability to stimulate the degradation of petroleum products in used motor oil. According to MSU, the total


Waste agricultural and forestry materials are used as a base to make Nature’s Broom.

petroleum hydrocarbon analysis showed that there was a 76 percent degradation of the motor oil, and bacteria counts showed an exponential increase in degradation in all samples throughout the test period. The bioremediation process, which looks as if the spill has basically disintegrated when completed, typically takes about 12 weeks, depending on moisture content and temperature. Nature’s

USE Nature’s Broom has been tested by USDA using the ASTM method D 6686, which determined the product has 97 percent biobased content. Broom doesn’t need time to absorb because, upon contact, it encapsulates liquids such as motor oil into tiny balls that can be easily swept away—not just the top layer of the spill as with many absorbent products on the market. Traditional means of cleaning up motor oil spills in a machine shop involve the use of clay-based material such as cat litter, which needs time to fully absorb the liquid. Through a review of analytical data, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality has determined that Nature’s Broom is suitable for disposal in landfills, even when mixed with liquid materials such as motor oil. Because considerably less of the material is needed to clean up spills as compared with clay, Nature’s Broom Executive Vice President Boyd Eifling says even though it costs more than clay, it is still a more cost-effective option for cleaning up spills.

Running the Numbers As with many products, the cheapest option is often the most appealing to the consumer. However, if much more of the prod-

uct is needed to achieve the desired result, cheaper isn’t always better. Consumers don’t always take the time to do the math involved in determining which option is giving them the best value, so Eifling does it for them. “If you’re looking at a two-gallon spill, it takes approximately 33 pounds of clay to [clean that up],” Eifling says. “It takes about 6.8 pounds of our product. [Another way to put] it is that a 20-pound bag of Nature’s Broom will do what a 100-pound bag of clay will do. So if a 40-pound bag of clay costs $6 and a 20-pound bag of Nature’s Broom is about $10, that’s a $1.50 savings per spill.” Disposal costs are also cheaper than for clay, according to Eifling. “Some customers have to pay special waste disposal fees for used motor oil that can be as high as 17 to 20 cents per pound,” he says. “That factored in, there’s about a 60 percent savings—it adds up considerably, depending on disposal costs. Using clay, you’re looking at throwing away an additional 80 pounds of product. Clay costs less because you get more per bag, but performance-wise, you have to use a lot more.” In some states, used oil absorbents are considered hazardous waste—and because it takes 26 more pounds of clay to absorb two gallons of oil than Nature’s Broom, 4.85 times more hazardous material drums are required, according to the company, so a government or business would pay an additional $770.00 to $1,325.00 in disposal costs when it uses clay as an absorbent.


USE ‘A lot of people have looked at many alternatives to clean up chemical spills for a lower cost solution that is more efficient and environmentally responsible. The biomass industry offers these qualities, and readily, in a lot of products. Building awareness of this and the capabilities that nature has is important.

Boyd Eifling, executive vice president, Nature’s Broom

Current customers of Nature’s Broom, which was recently featured on talk show host Jay Leno’s television show, include automotive repair shops, homeowners, environmental contractors who are called in to respond to spills, the Transportation Security Administration and other government organizations.


BioPreferred Product Designation

Nature’s Broom contains a high level of bacteria generating enzymes that break down petroleum hydrocarbons.


The environment-friendly qualities of Nature’s Broom also give it an advantage over clay when it comes to government purchases. On Jan. 24, 2007, President George W. Bush signed Executive Order 13423 requiring federal agencies acquiring goods and services to use “sustainable environmental practices, including acquisition of biobased, environmentally preferable, energy-efficient, water-efficient, and recycled-content products …” Nature’s Broom qualifies for the government’s BioPreferred program, which was designed to boost the use of renewable, environmentally safe biobased products, generate green jobs and open up new markets for farmers, manufacturers and vendors. Any executive agency or any independent establishment in the legislative or judicial branch of government is required to participate in the Biopreferred program, which was first introduced in the 2002 Farm Bill and expanded in the 2008 Farm Bill to increase the purchase and use of biobased products. As defined by the Farm Bill, biobased products are those determined by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to be commercial or industrial goods, other than food or feed, composed in whole or in significant part of biological products, forestry materials, or renewable domestic agricultural materials, including plant, animal or marine materials. Nature’s Broom has been tested by USDA using the ASTM method D 6686, which determined the product has 97 percent biobased content. ASTM method D 6686 is similar to radiocarbon dating, and compares how much of a decaying carbon isotope remains in a sample with how much would be in the same sample if it were made entirely of recently grown ma-

USE terials. That percentage is recognized as the product’s biobased content. A qualifying biobased product, such as Nature’s Broom, must also undergo a Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability evaluation, where manufacturers are asked to fill out a confidential questionnaire concerning how their products are manufactured. The questionnaire asks for details such as how much energy is used and what kinds of wastes are generated during production. Once the questionnaire is completed, BEES then calculates the effect the products have on human health and on the environment. The BEES evaluation also includes a life-cycle cost-analysis of products so that manufacturers have an idea of their product’s likely long-term economic performance. Products that qualify currently may not use a BioPreferred or USDA logo on any product or informational sheet, but the USDA announced it is working on a labeling program that will provide a mechanism for companies to use a BioPreferred label.

Earth-Friendly Energy Option Beyond the BioPreferred program, Nature’s Broom has even more environmentally sound characteristics. For example, retrieval of the material doesn’t require earth-destructive processes such as those involved in manufacturing clay, where heavy equipment is used to strip off the top layer of earth to get to the thin seam of clay and kilns use high amounts of fossil fuel to dry it. Eifling says the waste agricultural and forestry materials used as the raw material base to make the absorbent usually arrive in a shredded state, ready for use and don’t require much additional preparation. “Usually, we just blend the product with the binding agents (typically soybean oil) and then package it,” he says. After use, Nature’s Broom can be used as a biofuel in wasteto-energy applications, in some instances. A chemical analysis performed by MSU concluded that one pound of the product can generate more than 8,600 Btus. Eifling said it can be effectively used in solid waste boilers, which some customers are doing. “As long as it’s a hydrocarbon source, it’s very efficient,” he says. “We like cradle-to-cradle approaches to problems,” Eifling says. “A lot of people have looked at many alternatives to clean up chemical spills for a lower cost solution that is more efficient and environmentally responsible, the biomass industry offers these qualities, and readily, in a lot of products. Building awareness of this and the capabilities that nature has is important.” BIO

Anna Austin is a Biomass Magazine associate editor. Reach her at or (701) 738-4968.



A New Page The idea of transforming distressed pulp and paper mills into integrated biorefineries has evolved. Closed mills are now viewed as ready-made sites for biorefineries utilizing alternative feedstocks and producing fuels beyond ethanol. By Anna Austin






or the past two years, Biomass Magazine has produced annual features exploring the concept of converting pulp and paper mills into biorefineries as one way to ease the industry’s financial turmoil. While they continue to make paper as a primary product, the concept of mills utilizing their waste streams to produce other value-added chemicals and fuels, particularly ethanol, once seemed quite promising. Initial momentum for the idea has faded, however, since the economic downturn, and even though some projects are receiving U.S. DOE funding, little progress has been made, and some of those projects have been modified or have even ceased to exist. An explosion of projects to develop stand-alone biomass power plant proposals across the U.S. has some pulp and paper mills and industry/environmental groups speculating that competition for materials will become stiff, prices will rise and resource sustainability may be a problem. Instead of focusing on co-locating biorefineries at paper mills for added value, many who are still pursuing the concept are emphasizing the benefits of the preexisting infrastructure, convenient location and trained employees of recently decommissioned mills—which may or may not continue to make paper, but either way serve as a perfect location for fuel, power and chemical production.

A Mill’s Real Value “The biorefinery co-located at a paper mill concept assumes there are waste materials from the paper process that are currently unused and suitable for conversion to fuel, chemicals, steam or electric power,” says Kris Plamann, business development manager for Kaukauna, Wis.-based Baisch Engineering, which serves the pulp and paper, biofuels and biomass industries. “Unfortunately, the modern paper mill is quite adept at recycling and waste utilization. Bark and waste wood are burned in the bark boiler to make steam and electricity. Waste paper (referred to by the industry as broke) is reused to make new paper; lignin


and part of the hemicellulose is dissolved and burned in the recovery boiler, again making steam and electricity and recovering valuable chemicals to recycle in the Kris Plamann business pulping process.” The capital ex- development manager, penditure for a co- Baisch Engineering located biorefinery is sometimes dependent on the sale of steam to the biorefinery, Plamann says. If the paper mill shuts down, a significant part of the justification for the biorefinery is no longer viable and the project fails. That doesn’t mean that the concept of locating a biorefinery at the site of a paper mills is a flawed concept, however. “A paper mill site might be just about perfect as the right location for a biorefinery—after the mill has shut down,” Plamann points out. “Don’t think co-located biorefinery; think readymade biorefinery site.” Plamann says the real value of the mill isn’t combining the biorefinery with the paper mill, or even producing fuel such as ethanol. “The value is in having power, rail, highways, wastewaster treatment, steam, compressed air, space in the wood yard, trained employees, and everything else already there,” she says. “It may well be that the most valuable site is one where the mill has just recently shut down.” Gary Bosar, Baisch project manager, agrees. “Frankly, this [concept] hasn’t been pushed hard enough,” he says. “The biggest advantage that mills have is the infrastructure that already exists.” At the same time, the idea of producing fuel for added value shouldn’t be discounted, and some projects have shifted toward fuels other than ethanol, such as green diesel. “Specialty mills often face the problem of reusing colored broke, especially deep colors,” Plamann says. “Broke is 80 percent pure cellulosic material, and when used as an alternate fuel feedstock, it would probably result in nearly 100 percent yields.”


Biorefinery Requirements: Space for storage of feedstock Buildings to house biofuel process Large tanks A number of small- to medium-sized tank, pumps and agitators High-voltage electric power to site Fresh water Boilers for significant steam generation Self-generated electric power Wastewater treatment Air and water permits Trained workforce Capable management Outside service producers SOURCE: BAISCH ENGINEERING

Everyone is concentrating on wood as the feedstock, because that’s what a mill uses, Plamann says. “However, if we think in terms of cheaper alternatives such as waste paper, paper mill sludge, corn stover, switchgrass and tree trimmings, and use the existing mill facilities to handle them, we could eliminate lots of costs and make them competitive.” Exploring alternative feedstocks will be essential for some projects to get a green light, especially the ones located in areas where other projects require woody biomass. In some states such as Wisconsin—which is the No.1 papermaking state in the U.S.—competition for woody biomass may be heating up.

Competitor or Companion? While residents in communities where a large chunk of the population work at failing mills might view biorefineries as an economic savior, when built separately, some paper industry groups view them as a nuisance. Recently, North American papermaker Domtar Corp. announced it may host We Energies’ $250 million cogenera-

tion biomass power plant at its paper mill in Rothschild, Wis. We Energies estimates the biomass power plant would require approximately 500,000 tons of material per year, consisting of recycled mill waste (bark and sludge residues) from the papermaking process, and waste wood from area forest operations and saw mills. At the same time, Xcel Energy subsidiary Northern States Power Co. has proposed to fully convert its Bay Front Power Plant in Ashland, Wis., (see “A Colossal Conversion” in the August issue) from coal to 100 percent biomass. Once the conversion is done, the entire plant—including the existing boilers—would require about 450,000 tons of biomass per year. Because the two towns are less than 150 miles apart, the close proximity of the projects has prompted concerns. The Wisconsin Paper Council is urging the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin to disallow the conversion of the Ashland plant because they believe it might negatively impact wood supply, costs, and have resulting impacts on the current and future forest products in the region. The council is also afraid Northern States




The gasifier at Flambeau River Biofuels’ pilot plant in Durham, N.C.

Power will decide to purchase pulpwood for incineration. In its original application the utility said it would not burn pulpwood, but later revealed it would, if necessary. If the PSCW does approve the proposal, the paper council is recommending the power plant only be allowed to utilize certain types of wood specified in the original proposal, join a third-party forest certification program to ensure compliance, and be subject to a rate ceiling on electricity produced from biomass. Wisconsin legislation currently requires that 10 percent of the state’s electricity be generated from renewable sources by 2015, or enough to supply the needs of 850,000 homes per year.

Biorefinery Project Update Yet another project in northern Wisconsin, which is nearly completed, is Flambeau River Papers LLC at Park Falls. The Flambeau River paper mill operated for more than 110 years. In 2006, the owner filed for bankruptcy leaving 300 people unemployed in a community of fewer than 3,000. Since then, the new owner William Johnson has reopened the mill with the aid of several state and federal grants and loans, including $30 million from the U.S. DOE


for the construction of a renewable diesel biorefinery. Flambeau River Biofuels was originally proposed as a cellulosic ethanol facility colocated with the paper mill, but the project became uneconomical because of rising steel prices, and the properties of the dissolved pulp that the company planned to use as feedstock were not equal to comparable softwood craft pulp. The facility is now gearing up to turn biomass resources such as forest residuals and agricultural wastes into synthesis gas, and utilize the Fischer-Tropsch process to generate about 6 MMgy of transportation fuel. The company currently has a pilot plant in Durham, N.C. “The technology belongs to our technology supplier TRI (ThermoChem Recovery International Inc.) and is located at the SRI (Southern Research Institute) north of Durham, N.C.,” says Bill Byrne, president of Flambeau River Biofuels. “SRI is operating the pilot plant on our behalf.” Until recently, Flambeau expected an April groundbreaking. “With some recent pilot plant delays, we now anticipate an August 2010 ground breaking,” Byrne tells Biomass Magazine.



The idea of converting pulp and paper mills into biorefineries is evolving as the real value of these facilities is being evaluated.

Although the Flambeau River project seems to be heading toward success, some mills have been unable to contend with rising energy and fuel costs. Red Shield and RSE Pulp & Chemical LLC was also granted $30 million from the DOE to reopen its pulp and paper mill in Old Town, Maine, and construct a 2.2 MMgy cellulosic ethanol facility at the site. Cash ran out too early—the grant funds could not yet be used—and RSE was forced to file for bankruptcy. Luckily, the mill gained yet another chance when it was bought by Patriarch Partners LLC, which reopened and renamed it Old Town Fuel and Fibers. Instead of making ethanol, the plan now is to produce 1.5 MMgy of biobutanol, but production is still a few years away. Outside of the U.S., Chemrec Inc., a biomass-to-energy company based in Sweden, is evaluating possible sites in Georgia to develop black liquor gasification biorefineries at pulp and paper mills. The company says its BioDME process completely alters the pulp mill competitive position by adding 30 percent to 50 percent to revenue, and is feasible for implementation at mills producing as little as 500 tons of black liquor solids per day. At capacity, an ideal Chem-

rec biorefinery would generate 8 MMgy of green fuel. The technology has been in development for several years, and the company operates a pilot plant in Pitea, Sweden. Whether a biorefinery is located on the site of a former mill, co-located to help with rising fuel and electric costs, or located miles away and considered a competitor, one thing is certain—there is a limited supply of feedstock. Some ventures will need to look at alternatives to woody biomass, and regulators must keep a watchful eye on the concentration of projects within a given area. With the renewable fuels standard and state renewable electricity mandates, these types of projects will be essential in meeting future renewable energy goals. Until then, the developing biomass industry and the evolving pulp and paper industry will learn from trial and error, and continue to mold the pieces of the puzzle together to one day create an efficient work of art. BIO Anna Austin is a Biomass Magazine associate editor. Reach her at aaustin@ or (701) 738-4968.


ENVIRONMENT By Peter J. Schubert


Removing Crop Residues Without Hurting Soil Most experts agree 30 percent of agricultural residues can be removed without harming the soil. However, the removal of biomass such as corn stover or wheat straw from farm fields should be based on soil type, slope and prevailing weather conditions. Farmers can assess this using software tools that factor in these variables, and provide recommendations.


ith today’s technology, at least 30 percent of agricultural residues can be removed for power, fuels and chemicals to displace fossil fuels, without hurting soil. Above ground, nongrain plant matter can be converted to energy, fuels and fertilizer. Presently, nearly all U.S. consumption of these commodities is derived from fossil fuels, predominantly from foreign sources. Several

important benefits are realized when biomass (specifically lignocellulosic, or nonfood, organic material) is used instead of fossil fuels as a feedstock for the manufacture of these highvolume products: First, emissions of greenhouse gases and other environmental pollution (e.g., heavy metals, sulfur, etc.) can be greatly reduced. Second, a greater domestic proportion of energy

The claims and statements made in this article belong exclusively to the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Biomass Magazine or its advertisers. All questions pertaining to this article should be directed to the author(s).


sources provide enhanced energy security for our country. Third, a smaller fraction of our national wealth is sent to foreign regimes, many of which are hostile to U.S. interests. Fourth, with emerging technologies for alternative methods to produce energy, fuels and chemicals, the economics of farm operations becomes both less expensive and less volatile, thereby reducing price pressures on food.

Agricultural residue, the organic matter left over after grain harvesting, has the potential to replace a large fraction of our petroleum and coal use, making this a significant national benefit. However, agricultural residues also serve a useful function in farm soils, so it is important to understand the impact of removing some of these residues. This monograph provides a brief introduction to this impact.

ENVIRONMENT By Peter J. Schubert

Considering above-ground material, the highest removal rate recommended is 70 percent. Many sources cite 50 percent, but nearly all agree that 30 percent of agricultural residues can be removed without harm to soil quality. For more information, a list of references is included.

Soil: Benefits of Organic Matter Soil (also called earth) is a porous aggregate of minerals and organic matter, including solids, liquids and gases. On farmland, agricultural residues contribute to a soil’s productivity—the ability to grow food. Ag residues, such as corn stover (the stalks, husks, cobs and leaves) or wheat straw, contribute to healthy soil in several ways: residue on top of the soil reduces erosion from raindrop impact and wind shear, affects radiation balance (sunlight in, infrared emissions out) and affects moisture evaporation rate; the physical presence within the bulk of the soil affects water infiltration and retention, aeration, penetration resistance (to roots and to worms) and tilth (how easily a plow cuts through); and chemicals from the breakdown of organic matter affects acid/base balance (pH level), nutrient availability and cycling, ion exchange capacity, and micronutrients such as phosphorus and potassium. Agriculture residue is not entirely benign. Too much residue is a detriment to notill farming in several ways: it is harder to plant through; it insulates the ground, and can delay planting; and the thicker

mat tends to inhibit early plant growth, possibly reducing yields. In conventional farming, when residue is tilled under in the fall, agricultural residue can decompose to form methane, a greenhouse gas 22 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Ag residue has other uses, such as animal bedding or feed extender, so there is farm equipment dedicated to collecting, baling and transporting bales of corn stover and wheat straw.

Agricultural Residues Removal Complete removal of agricultural residues is harmful to soils. No removal also has deleterious effects. Somewhere there is a happy medium between the national imperatives to displace fossil fuels and the farmer’s need to maintain healthy, productive soil. Fortunately, this issue has been studied in depth for at least 30 years. A summary of the findings of the nine references at the bottom of this monograph is presented below. Considering above-ground material, the highest removal rate recommended is 70 percent. Many sources cite 50 percent, but nearly all agree that 30 percent of agricultural residues can be removed without harm to soil quality. These are general guidelines, but a more accurate and specific removal

rate depends on soil type (clay, sand, silt), slope and prevailing weather conditions. An individual farmer can make a scientific assessment of a suitable removal rate (determined by settings on harvesting equipment) using software tools such as Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation, Version 2, which factor in all these variables, and provide a recommendation.

Summary Agricultural residues can be partially removed without hurting soil. Software tools already being used by farmers allow them to make accurate decisions based on their farm soil. This happy circumstance allows the U.S. to meet its national imperatives while increasing revenues for the farmer, without harm to the food supply. BIO Peter J. Schubert, Ph.D., P.E. is the senior director for space, energy and education research at Packer Engineering Inc., Naperville, Ill. Reach him at peinfo@packereng. com or (800) 323-0114.

References 1. Graham, R.L., et. al., “Current and potential U.S. corn stover supplies,” Agron. J., 2007, No. 99:1-11 2. Larsen, et. al., “Effects of tillage and crop residue removal on erosion, runoff, and plant nutrients,” J. Soil and Water Conservation, Special Publication No. 25, Soil Conservation Society of America, Anakeny, Iowa, 1979. 3. McAloon, A., et. al., “Determining the cost of pro-

ducing ethanol from cornstarch and lignocellulosic feedstocks,” Tech Rep. NREL/TP-58028893, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Golden, Colo., 2000. 4. Nelson, R.G., “Resource assessment and removal analysis for corn stover and wheat straw in the Eastern and Midwestern United States— rainfall and wind-induced soil erosion metholodogy,” Biomass & Energy, 22 (2002) 349-363. 5. Perlack, R.D., et. al., “Biomass as feedstock for a bioenergy and bioproducts industry: the technical feasibility of a billion-ton annual supply,” USDA and DOE, DOE/GO102995-2135, April 2005. 6. Shinners, K.J., et. al., “Harvest and storage of wet and dry corn stover as a biomass feedstock,” American Society of Agricultural Engineers Paper no. 03-6088, Am Soc. Ag. Engrs., St. Joseph, Mich., 2003. 7. Soil Quality Institute, “Interpreting the soil conditioning index: a tool for measuring soil organic matter trends,” Technical note no. 16, April 2003. 8. Sokhansanj, S., et. al., “Development of the Integrated Biomass Supply Analysis and Logistics Model (IBSAL),” Oak Ridge National Laboratory, March 2008, ORNL/TM2006/57. 9. Wilhelm, W.W., et. al., “Crop and soil productivity response to corn residue removal: a literature review,” Agron. J., Jan.-Feb. 2004, No. 1. 1-17.


INNOVATION By Felipe Tavares and Aldemir Marreiros



Biomass: New Feedstock for the Plastic Industry Improvements in the technology and economics of green propylene manufacturing have attracted the attention of chemical companies.


everal technology routes are currently available to commercially manufacture “green propylene.” In fact, we’re talking about a puzzle of independent technology parts, where proven and emerging technologies are adapted to be part of a larger chemical process chain. Figure 1 (page 51) illustrates some of the routes to “green propylene,” which can be divided into two groups: the biochemical platform and the thermochemical platform. The biochemical platform-

based technologies use biomassbased sugars to ferment into ethanol (and alternatively to butanol), a variety of materials can be used for fermentation, such as corn starch, sugarcane, sugar beet, etc. Selection of the most appropriate raw material often depends on the availability for large-scale production. Corn is the most common raw material in the U.S., however, sugarcane can be more cost-effective than corn in tropical countries such as Brazil, India, China, Thailand and Pakistan. The use of en-

The claims and statements made in this article belong exclusively to the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Biomass Magazine or its advertisers. All questions pertaining to this article should be directed to the author(s).


zymes to convert biomass into ethanol is a mature and proven technology. Nonetheless, there is still potential in the use of enzyme technology to further optimize and improve the production of ethanol. On the other hand, fermentation to butanol needs some further development to get to a mature level. Once alcohols are obtained—ethanol and butanol— they must be processed to olefins—ethylene and butene respectively—then combined in the metathesis step, where ethylene and butene’s bonds are broken and rearranged into propylene. The metathesis reaction can be represented by:

Ethylene + Butene → 2 Propylene (C2H4)


2 x (C3H6)

Ethanol dehydration, butanol dehydration, ethylene dimerization and metathesis are all commercially available technologies, but are mostly used for applications other than manufacturing green propylene. Thermochemical technologies can use heterogeneous material as feedstock, using heat to convert these carbon-rich materials into gas (called syngas) in the gasification step, which is a crucial component of a thermochemical technology platform. Several companies market different biomass gasification technologies.

INNOVATION By Felipe Tavares and Aldemir Marreiros

Figure 1: Technology Routes to Green Propylene Production

The syngas obtained is then purified so it can be transformed into products such as methanol and ethanol, which, in turn, will be further processed to propylene. The most common technology used to accomplish that last step is the methanol-to-propylene (MTP) technology, which is, along with the syngas-to-alcohol technology, commercially available. Some companies license the entire thermochemical chain in individual technology parts.

Process Economics The study focused on technology units combined to produce 440 million pounds a year (200,000 metric tons or 220,000 tons), which is a medium-tosmall size propylene facility in the conventional petrochemical industry. The economics shown in

Table 1 are for two different technology combinations. The study assigned a pre-crisis propylene price of 68 cents per pound ($1,500 per metric ton), with no premium price, biomass delivered at $80 per dry metric ton, and ethanol at $525 per metric ton. Although a 200,000 metric-ton-per-year plant might be economically attractive, a crucial issue here is biomass availability near the plant. For smaller plants, profitability will depend on tax incentives or customers that are willing to pay a premium price for the green product. Finding this premium

price market can be the most important decision parameter when considering entering this market.

Sensitivity Studies Figure 2 ( page 52) illustrates the effect of important factors on the calculated return on investment for both technology combinations. Operating costs: As can be seen in Figure 2, the impacts of higher operating costs can be devastating to process profitability. This is especially true for biochemical routes with no agricultural integration (one that buys ethanol from the market, for ex-

ample) in locations where ethanol can cost more than $525 per metric ton (which is already a lowcost ethanol, typical in Brazil). Thermochemical routes are less affected than biochemical with regard to the raw material costs, once biomass has a lower share in the thermochemical process operating cost, but it also deserves careful attention. Conversely, lower operating costs can boost profitability and give a competitive edge to a very attractive level, as also shown in Figure 2. Capital costs: Capital costs also have an important effect on process profitability. There

Table 1: Biochemical Versus Thermochemical Economics

Technology Route

Operating Cost

Capital investment

Return on Investment1


59 cents/pound

$300 Millions

9% a year


37 cents/pound

$900 Millions

14% a year


Discounted cash flow rate of return 11|2009 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 51

INNOVATION By Felipe Tavares and Aldemir Marreiros

are putting research and development efforts on enzymes that will be able to convert sugars into propanol directly, in a relatively simple technology that would make the manufacture of green propylene as easy as green ethylene. Once confirmed and marketed, such a process would bring the green propylene manufacturing to a new technology level. Figure 3 shows such development routes schematically.

Figure 2: Biochemical versus Thermochemical Financial Impacts

Final Remarks


Discounted cash flow rate of return

is usually a technology trade-off between capital and operating costs. However, building facilities in countries where construction costs are lower can save a considerable amount of money with no loss of operating performance. Premium price market: This is another factor that should not be neglected; the extra price that some customers would pay for a green product. In Europe and Japan, this is already happening with some car manufacturers and cosmetic companies looking to introduce green propylene into their final products, and they can pay up to 30 percent more for that. Figure 2 shows that a 15 percent increase in the propylene price would make the green propylene business a good one when compared to other industrial businesses.

mented to ethanol and the cellulosic part (sugarcane bagasse or corn straw and leafs, for example) would be gasified to syngas. Both ethanol and syngas would then be reacted together to produce propanol which, in turn, would be dehydrated to propylene. Such a technology combination is still under development, but it is promising, since less biomass would be required to

Figure: 3 Development Routes

Technology Developments Combined thermochemical and biochemical: The focus of such technology development is the more complete use of the biomass to produce propylene: the sugar or starch would be fer52 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 11|2009

produce the same amount of the green plastic and that means less land, and lower capital and operating costs. Enzymatic development: Enzymatic methods require the application of sophisticated biotechnology for their development, but once developed they are relatively easy to produce and use with minimal energy and capital inputs. Some companies

Producing green propylene can be economically attractive today and will certainly be in the near future. It is necessary, however, for someone entering this market to make a careful analysis of its boundary conditions, especially for target market, geographic conditions, and technology choices in order to avoid economic losses. BIO Felipe Tavares is president and CEO of Intratec Solutions LLC, Houston, Texas. Reach him at or (713) 821-1745. Aldemir Marreiros is a technical manager at Intratec




The Promise of BCAP The biomass industry is buzzing about BCAP—short for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program—a USDA program established as a result of the 2008 Farm Bill. BCAP has the potential to provide significant and timely support for the biomass power industry, but without clear definitions and responsible oversight, the benefits of the program could fall victim to its own popularity. In a nutshell, BCAP provides a matching payment from the USDA of up to $45 per dry ton of “eligible material” to the producer that delivers that material to a biomass power plant. To implement the program, USDA’s Farm Service Agency has issued a series of notices outlining the mechanics of the program, and maintains a helpful Web site, which can be found at The fear among many BPA members is that the USDA may be caught off guard in the midst of a “cash grab” by “producers of eligible material” deemed worthy of assistance. While the USDA’s continued support of clean, renewable biomass power is commendable, there are important questions that the USDA must address before moving ahead. BCAP has the potential of drawing participants from a wide variety of industries that extend far beyond biomass power. Other industries will likely be chomping at the bit to qualify as a producer of “eligible material” under BCAP. As it stands, the criteria for allocating BCAP funding among the states, the amount of fuel BCAP is expected to cover, and the number of biomass power-generating facilities that are eligible are still unknown. For example, right now the impact of the pulp and paper industry claiming matching funds for generation of its own power used only in-house could dilute the funding available by a factor of five to 10 and virtually eliminate significant benefits to the biomass

power industry. Pellet producers and others climbing on would only make it worse. Without clear guidelines as to what constitutes a “producer” that qualifies for the program, the USDA may be setting itself up for an influx of applications. While generally, such enthusiasm would Bob Cleaves indicate success, the USDA should president and CEO, Biomass remain mindful that the unintend- Power Association ed consequences of spreading the wealth too thin could undermine the program’s initial goal of spurring investment in biomass power. It remains to be seen whether the USDA has the financial, and political, commitment to fund at the level envisioned by Congress. If demand for the matching payments greatly outweighs the supply of funds available and the true biomass producers are left out to dry, BCAP’s benefit to the biomass power industry would be negligible. Instead of a targeted stimulus for biomass power, the USDA would be forced to follow through on payouts to a smattering of industries in related areas—resulting in little, if any, “biomass crop assistance.” The USDA has issued a proposed rule, and BPA has intervened in that rulemaking. BPA is actively seeking clarification on how biomass plants can benefit financially from the program, the level of funding available, and the mechanics around payment and documentation. BPA will be following these developments closely, and continue to advocate for a program that brings tangible value to our members. Stay tuned. BIO Bob Cleaves is president and CEO of the Biomass Power Association. To learn more about biomass power, please visit



UPDATE Torrefaction: Improving the Properties of Biomass Feedstocks Interest in using biomass for power and fuels production has grown even during this economic downturn because of its CO2 neutrality. For electricity production, biomass can be combusted or cocombusted with coal directly in a boiler or it can first be upgraded via gasification into a gaseous fuel and then be used to produce heat and power. However, the different biomass fuels available are plagued by a large diversity in quality and quantity. One of the challenges for utilizing biomass for heat and power is its handling properties and feeding the fuel into a conversion process, whether it is combustion or gasification. Today there is a pressing need for better biomassprocessing methods. Raw biomass has a relatively lowenergy density, contains too much moisture, is too hygroscopic, can rot during storage, and is difficult to grind into small particles.1 As a result, these main properties need to be improved so that the biomass fuels can become marketable and competitive. To improve these properties, numerous pretreatments have been suggested by researchers in previous years, one of which is torrefaction. Torrefaction includes the thermal treatment of raw biomass materials in the temperature range of 200 to 300 degrees Celsius (392 to 572 degrees Fahrenheit) under an inert atmosphere with the aim of partial decomposition. A charcoal-like fuel is the result. This alters the chemical and physical structure of the biomass to make it easier to handle with existing fuel-handling equipment. Torrefaction decreases the volume of biomass, increases its energy density, reduces the amount of volatiles, and increases fixed carbon as well as ash content. As a result, the grindability of the biomass improves significantly, as does the energy value. In the 1980s, Pechiney, a French aluminum company, used torrefied wood as a replacement for charcoal to produce metals from metal oxides. Work on related processes not directed to fuel and chemical products continues, especially in the Netherlands, France and Finland. Torrefaction achieves an equilibrium moisture content of 3 percent, reduction of mass by 20 percent to 30 percent (primarily by release of water, car-

bon oxides and volatiles) while retaining 80 percent to 90 percent of the biomass’s original energy content.1 Torrefaction of biomass provides renewable fuels that are rich in energy, low in moisture content, resistant to moisture and amenable to direct cofiring with Bruce Folkedahl coal at conventional pulverized senior research manager, EERC fuel-fired power plants. Of course, there are always challenges, one is the availability of commercial equipment that will reduce the processing time, energy inputs and production costs for producing bulk torrefied biomass to acceptable levels. Through the EERC’s Centers for Renewable Energy and Biomass Utilization, the torrefaction pretreatment process for biomass is under development to improve its overall technical and economical viability. Lab-scale proof using a variety of ag residues, such as wheat straw, switchgrass, olive residue, and distiller’s grains from corn ethanol processing, and North Dakota lignite has already been performed using a lab-scale fixed-bed reactor. The EERC is working to demonstrate this technology in a larger pilot-scale facility using a proprietary fluidized-bed torrefaction reactor technology developed in-house. One goal of the project will be to significantly increase the percentage of biomass energy above 30 percent in cocombustion applications in conventional pulverized coal-fired boilers. In the U.S., the viability of converting low-grade, low-density biomass begins with having a suitable feedstock. Torrefaction may be one answer to ensuring such a feedstock. BIO Bruce Folkedahl is a senior research manager at the EERC. Reach him at or (701) 777-5243. Reference: 1 Lipinski, E.S.; Acate, J.R.; Reed, T.B. Enhanced Wood Fuels Via Torrefaction. Prepr. Pap.—Am.Chem.Soc., Div. Fuel Chem. 2002, 47 (1), 408–410.




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Biomass Magazine - November 2009