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Fired Up Waste-to-Energy Companies Thrive as the U.S. Again Embraces Renewable Energy Wheelabrator and Covanta Energy, Continue To Provide Reliable, Viable Power from MSW

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FEATURES ..................... 24 POWER Witnessing a Waste-to-Energy Revival Wheelabrator Technologies has experienced the ups and downs of the municipal solid waste-to-energy rollercoaster. Today, it is seeing renewed interest in the industry fueled by high energy prices, renewable power production incentives and the quest to find new sources. By Lisa Gibson

32 INDUSTRY Taking Out the Trash As the amount of waste Americans produce continues to grow, so does Covanta Energy’s business. The company currently converts 19 million tons of the nation’s waste into electricity through its waste-to-energy plants, which now number more than 40. By Anna Austin

38 INNOVATION From Scientific Breakthrough to Business Ramon Gonzalez discovered that under certain environmental conditions an industrial strain of E. coli can ferment glycerin anaerobically, making it a potentially valuable asset to the ethanol, biochemical and biodiesel industries. By Lisa Gibson

44 ENVIRONMENT A New Climate Change Mitigation Tool INDUSTRY | PAGE 32

DEPARTMENTS .....................

The International Biochar Initiative is trying to convince the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to accept biochar as an option for removing carbon from the atmosphere, which would create a market for the charcoal-like material that also enhances soil. By Anna Austin

06 Editor’s Note Winding Up With Waste to Energy By Rona Johnson

07 Advertiser Index 10 Industry Events 12 Business Briefs 14 Industry News 59 BPA Update Congress Must Support the Clean Energy Workforce By Bob Cleaves

61 EERC Update The Power of Algae By Chad Wocken

CONTRIBUTIONS ..................... 50 TECHNOLOGY Navigating the Intellectual Property Maze Patent protection isn’t the only option available to protect innovations involving equipment, processes or products. In some cases, trade secret protection may be the better choice. By Paul Craane

52 EQUIPMENT Geomembrane Cover Improves Biogas Collection, Heat Retention, Odor Control Casco Inc. decreased its energy consumption and reduced its operating costs at its corn products refinery by replacing the cover on its 4 milliongallon wastewater anaerobic digester with a new one designed and installed by Geomembrane Technologies Inc. By Jim McMahon

62 Marketplace



NOTE Winding Up With Waste to Energy


t seems like the summer went so fast, but in North Dakota it always does. The days are getting shorter—instead of seeing daylight until 11 p.m. it’s starting to get dark at 8:30 p.m. The finches I’ve been feeding all summer are also aware of the change of seasons and are eating me out of house and home. Every time I walk by the near-empty feeder I feel guilty because I’m out of food and reluctant to buy more because they are devouring it so quickly. Although summer may be winding down in the Midwest, at Biomass Magazine we are just winding up. This month’s theme, waste-to-energy, is a great energizer for us. I know I’ve said it before, but there is nothing better than turning garbage into something useful. Associate editors Anna Austin and Lisa Gibson wrote features on two of the largest waste-to-energy companies in the U.S., Wheelabrator Technologies and Covanta Energy. We chose them because they’ve been around since renewable energy first became a buzzword in the 1970s. We wanted to see where they are today, and hear their thoughts about the industry’s future. As you will learn in the “Witnessing a Wasteto-Energy Revival” feature on page 24, it’s been a rollercoaster existence for those who managed to survive, but things are looking up. I hope this latest resurgence, which was no doubt prompted by high energy prices and government incentives, lasts longer than the last one. Covanta Energy is gearing up for the future by recently acquiring six waste-to-energy plants from Veolia Environmental Services, increasing the number of plants it operates to 44. If you’re not into biomass power, check out “A New Climate Change Mitigation Tool” feature on page 44. This is about biochar and how the International Biochar Initiative is trying to get the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change to accept it as a climate change mitigation option. If that should happen, it would create a market for biochar as a soil enhancement and a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If biochar doesn’t thrill you, you may want to check out the feature called “From Scientific Breakthrough to Business” on page 38 about an E. coli strain that can ferment glycerin. This discovery could have positive implications for the ethanol, biodiesel and biochemicals industries. Lately, I’ve been receiving a lot of calls from people inquiring about engineering, construction and procurement firms. I have to assume this means that the biomass projects we’ve been reporting on the past several months are getting closer to starting construction. I have also seen scattered news stories online about construction costs going down, which would be excellent timing. Here’s hoping for a perfect storm: a plethora of biomass projects, affordable construction costs and continued government support. I would like to include high energy prices, but that just doesn’t seem right with winter right around the corner and me living in North Dakota.

Rona Johnson Editor


advertiser INDEX

2010 International BIOMASS Conference & Expo


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Action Unloaders


ADI Systems Inc.



Agra Industries


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BRUKS Rockwood



Christianson & Associates PLLP




EDITOR Rona Johnson


ASSOCIATE EDITORS Anna Austin Lisa Gibson COPY EDITOR Jan Tellmann

ART ART DIRECTOR Jaci Satterlund GRAPHIC DESIGNERS Elizabeth Slavens Sam Melquist

Continental Biomass Industries, Inc. SENIOR ACCOUNT MANAGER Jeremy Hanson ACCOUNT MANAGERS Chip Shereck Marty Steen Bob Brown


Detroit Stoker Company


Energy & Environmental Research Center Evergent Technologies

9 8

Hoffman, Inc.



Indeck Power Equipment Co.


Jeffery Rader Corporation



Koger Air


MAC Equipment


Maas Companies







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industry events Biogas

Pellets Industry Forum

October 1-2, 2009

October 6-7, 2009

Le Meridien Hotel San Francisco This sixth annual event will bring together leading market experts to debate strategies for growing the markets for biogas power, heat and transport in the U.S. With a focus on sharing best practice case studies of agriculture, waste, landfill, sewage and wastewater biogas, the event will provide an excellent platform for networking, knowledge transfer and new business development. (971) 238-0700 php?sEventCode=BS0910US

New Trade Fair Center Stuttgart, Germany International manufacturers, wholesalers, suppliers, planners, investors and public decision-makers will have an opportunity to exchange experiences at this event. The forum will address innovations and developments in international pellet marketing and sales concepts; international pellet fuel logistics; industrial research and development; natural resources availability; and quality management. +49 (0)7231 / 58 59 8-0

Biofuels Markets Mexico & Central America

Algae Biomass Summit

October 7, 2009

October 7-9, 2009

Sheraton Maria Isabel Hotels & Towers Mexico City, Mexico Mexico and countries across Central America have potential to grow their biofuels industries as governments recognize it as an opportunity to stimulate economic growth in rural areas. This conference will provide an opportunity to learn how, with the right legislative support, they can expand production and market share. +44 (0)207 099 0600 php?sEventCode=BF0907MX

Marriott San Diego Hotel & Marina San Diego The third annual event expects to draw 1,000 global leaders, scientists, innovators and policymakers. Industry leaders and attendees will discuss issues of critical importance to the emerging algae industry, including the commercial viability of algae production, current government and private initiatives, evolving technologies, processing concepts, life-cycle analysis, and venture and project finance. (206) 625-0075

Jatropha Markets Americas

European Bioenergy Expo & Conference

October 8-9, 2009

October 8-10, 2009

Sheraton Maria Isabel Hotels & Towers Mexico City, Mexico This event will provide valuable insight into the potential of jatropha as a commercially viable feedstock for biofuel production across Central and Latin America. Francisco Lopez Tostado, the Mexican Undersecretary for Agriculture will open the event, addressing the recent government-led incentives for jatropha cultivation and biofuels development in Mexico. The event will examine the market developments that led the presidents of Mexico and Colombia to develop a biodiesel pilot plant with jatropha as a feedstock. +44 (0)207 099 0600 php?sEventCode=BN0907MX

Stoneleigh Park Warwickshire, England The bioenergy market is one of the fastest growing and fastest moving in the world today. The conference is designed for those already involved in biofuel or bioenergy production or thinking about adopting bioenergy for an organization, to explore the latest methods, costs of production and performance. +02079253573

Bioenergy Engineering ’09

International Renewable Energy Conference

October 11-14, 2009

October 13-15, 2009

Hyatt Regency Bellevue, Washington This event is designed to provide professional education for all aspects of engineering in the biofuels and bioenergy systems from genetics through production, distribution and use. The agenda offers a forum for the exchange of ideas and knowledge. Conference topics include advances in bioenergy engineering research and technology development, engineering in biorefinery design, the future of biofuel production, and engineering a new bioenergy industry. (972) 355-5128

Rockview Hotel Abuja, Nigeria The theme of IREC 2009 is Renewable Energy Growth in Africa: Legislation and Policy Requirements. The conference also features several subthemes including legislation and policy, finance and investment, renewable energy for rural and urban development and stakeholders for renewable energy legislation. This event attracted hundreds of visitors in 2008 and more exhibitors and visitors are expected this year. +234-1-3451326


industry events 2009 TAPPI International Bioenergy & Bioproducts Conference

Renewable Energy From Organics Recycling

October 14-16, 2009

Ramada Mall of America Minneapolis This comprehensive conference is organized by the editors of BioCycle, the magazine for advancing composting, organics recycling and renewable energy. The event will bring together project managers, policymakers, investors, utilities, consultants, farmers and researchers. Agenda topics focus on latest developments in advanced systems, operations at innovative projects, economic and energy performance, and public policies that are helping to facilitate and fund development.

Memphis Cook Convention Center Memphis, Tennessee This event will be held in conjunction with the Engineering, Pulping and Environmental Conference. A bridge session ending the EPE conference and beginning the IBBC event will be held Oct. 14. The IBBC will primarily focus on issues involving biomass utilization in the forest products industry, with particular emphasis on technology and its successful application and implementation. (334) 271-3318

October 19-21, 2009

(610) 967-4135, ext. 21

Global Biogas Congress

Biomass & WtE: Waste to Energy

October 20-22, 2009

October 28-29, 2009

Crowne Plaza Europa Hotel Brussels, Belgium Biogas is one of the fastest growing sectors in renewable energy. Attendees of this third annual congress will gain a new insight into its role in EU energy and agricultural policy, assess the potential impact of a biowaste directive on the biogas industry, hear from major utilities, and analyze the regulatory and strategic challenges of integrating biomass into the grid. +44 (0) 20 7017 7499

Sofitel Shanghai Jin Jiang Oriental Pudong Shanghai Attendees will have the opportunity to network with biomass, biodiesel, ethanol and cellulosic ethanol producers; local, municipal and provincial government representatives; enzymes and catalyst providers; and other industry experts. The conference will focus on emerging technologies, upcoming projects around the world and feedstock issues. Program highlights will include power generation from agricultural biomass, energy recovery from municipal solid waste and biotechnologies converting biomass to fuels and chemicals. +65 63469145

Biomass Power Technical Seminar

Canadian Renewable Fuels Summit

October 28-30, 2009

November 30-December 2, 2009

Louisiana Tech University Ruston, Louisiana This conference is geared toward biomass developers, project managers, senior engineers, and executives from utilities, independent power producers, and cooperatives throughout the U.S. The key topics will include technical challenges with energy production from biomass through cofiring, conversion of existing fossil fuel facilities and greenfield sites. (318) 255-6825

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

Energy From Biomass and Waste

World Biofuels Markets

January 26-27, 2010

March 15-17, 2010

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 this rapidly growing market. Vendors, buyers, investors, municipal representatives, legislators and scientists from around the world will come together to talk about new projects and business. +49 2802 9484840

The RAI Exhibition and Congress Centre Amsterdam, The Netherlands This event will provide leaders of the biofuels industry 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



BRIEFS Vega chooses biomass expert as interim CEO Vega Promotional Systems Inc. has chosen biomass expert Michael Ray Knauff to become its interim CEO. Knauff will oversee the construction and implementation of Vega’s recently announced biomass plant in Georgia. He brings more than 30 years of experience in the negotiation, implementation and administration of all requirements for municipal and cooperative wholesale power contracts, industrial power supply contracts, and a broad range of interutility arrangements including interconnection agreements, service schedules, seasonal exchange arrangements, transmission service arrangements, and the development of the rates and charges associated with such arrangements. BIO

ABO names Rosenthal executive director The Algal Biomass Organization appointed Mary Rosenthal as the organization’s first executive director. Rosenthal’s main focus will be to help the ABO accelerate the development of the algal industry through increasing awareness of the benefits of algae among the commercial industry, the general public and policymakers. She has more than 20 years experience in marketing and communications—both with large multinational corporations and entrepreneurial public relations agencies. Most recently, she was the director of communications and public affairs for NatureWorks LLC, a multimillion dollar business unit and joint venture between Cargill Inc. and Teijin of Japan. BIO

Novozymes appoints Monroe president of NA region Forest2Market launches new Web site Forest2Market has launched its new Web site, The site offers a home for each of the company’s customer segments, enhanced information about Forest2Market products and services, and easier access to an enriched free content library. The redesign was partially driven by the expansion of Forest2Market’s customer base across geographies and industries. Also driving demand was the interest in wood bioenergy as concerns about climate change and energy security and independence emerged to the forefront of the national debate. BIO

Novozymes announced the appointment of Adam Monroe as the new president of its North American region. Monroe replaced Lars Hansen, who has returned to Denmark to head the company’s European region. Monroe began with Monroe Novozymes in 1991 in the process engineering group. He has since served as production manger for granulation, regional director of supply chain operations and director of supply chain operations, Americas. In April 2008, he was promoted with increased responsibilities for supply chain and capacity planning in the Americas and global planning for Novozymes. BIO

Sorghum professional joins Advanta US PerkinElmer awarded gas chromatography patent The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office has awarded PerkinElmer Inc. Patent No. 7,422,625 B2 covering an advanced method in gas chromatography (GC). The patent, titled “Methods and Systems for Characterizing a Sorbent Tube,” protects the company’s proprietary methods that help gas chromatographers increase the accuracy of their results when using automated thermal desorption (ATD) GC. PerkinElmer’s automatic verification method described in the patent is deployed in the company’s TurboMatrix Thermal Desorber product line of GC systems to help users avoid manual errors in ATD measurement, which can cause inconsistent results and compromise sample integrity. BIO


Advanta US has added sorghum seed professional Mike Northcutt to its North American sales and development team for wholesale accounts. Northcutt will apply a wealth of knowledge, experience and expertise to the company’s growing seed-marketer clientele. A graduate of West Texas A&M with a bachelor’s degree in agronomy, he grew up on a farm near Tulia, Texas, where he developed his affinity for sorghum. His career spans 38 years in the sorghum seed industry, working in sales and marketing, operations and management with several seed companies. BIO



BRIEFS The Vermeer corncob harvester is a self-contained unit that can be towed directly behind select combines to collect and unload cobs.

Vermeer unveils corncob harvester Vermeer Corp. is offering a limited number of CCX770 Cob Harvesters to North American farmers for the 2009 harvest. The cob harvester is designed to tow directly behind select corn harvesting combines to collect and unload cobs. It is a wagon-style system manufactured at Vermeer headquarters in Pella, Iowa. The Vermeer CCX770 is a self-contained unit. Farmers use a bolt-on hitch that is added to the combine to connect the CCX770. As a result, it makes switching from crop to crop easy and timely. Because the CCX770 has its own engine, it minimizes undue stress on qualified combines. BIO

MP2 Capital announces expansion MP2 Capital LLC announced that Mark Lerdal has joined the firm as CEO. Lerdal has more than 20 years experience in the renewable energy sector as a developer, investor, executive and attorney. Prior to joining the firm, Lerdal was a partner at KKR Financial LLC in San Francisco and Hong Kong. The firm also announced the appointment of Charlie Glavin as its new managing director. Glavin has been an active player in the investment and technology industries for more than 22 years as an investor, executive and award-winning equity research analyst. BIO

Johnson joins Innovation Fuels Karen Johnson has joined Innovation Fuels as vice president of business development. Her primary responsibility will be to develop and manage sales and marketing relationships with customers and other partners on the local, regional and national level for Innovation Fuels’ biodiesel products. Johnson will also execute the firm’s feedstock and off-take strategies as well as build alliances in the public sector. She comes from Dallas-based Crossmark where she managed distribution, marketing and sales for Dannon, Inc. in the New York/New Jersey metro area. BIO

BTEC achieves milestone The Biomass Thermal Energy Council, a nonprofit association dedicated to advancing the use of biomass for heat and other thermal energy applications, ended its founding member period recently with 57 members in 24 U.S. states and four countries. Formed in January 2009, members of BTEC are on the front line of the movement to grow the biomass thermal industry. BTEC founding members have played a key role in implementing legislative activities, education and outreach efforts, and BTEC’s developing research agenda. To learn more about BTEC, and for membership information, visit the Web site at BIO

Neal Isaacson joins Ze-gen as CFO Ze-gen Inc. welcomed Neal Isaacson as chief financial officer. Isaacson has more than 20 years of experience in strategic financial planning, global cash management, and debt and equity financings. His diverse background blends public company experience with the high-growth, fast-paced environment of earlystage venture-backed companies. Prior to joining Ze-gen, Neal was CFO of EnerNOC Inc. where he oversaw Series B and Series C venture financings, led multiple debt financings, completed several acquisitions, and helped position the company for its successful initial public offering in May 2007 and follow-on offering in November 2007. BIO

Range Fuels recognized for growth, innovation Range Fuels Inc. has been named to the 2009 AlwaysOn Global 250 list. The AlwaysOn Global 250 Award is given to private, emerging technology companies creating new business opportunities in high-growth markets. Range Fuels was selected by the AlwaysOn editorial team based on demonstration of growth, market opportunity, quality of innovation and customer traction. Winners were selected from among hundreds of other technology companies nominated by investors, bankers, journalists and industry insiders. BIO 10|2009 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 13


NEWS Biomass project development list grows in U.S., Canada Several new biomass power plants are in the works including two in the U.S. and one in Canada. The Canadian project will be developed on the Lower Nicola Indian Band Reservation in Merrit, British Columbia. The LNIB will own half of the project and Biomass Secure Power Inc. will own the other half. LNIB will provide the 25 acres on which the plant will be built and BSP will supply engineering expertise to design, build and operate the plant, along with a pellet mill that will be included in the same facility, according to BSP President and CEO Jim Carroll. He declined to release a cost estimate for the project. The 12-megawatt (MW) plant and pellet mill will process 300,000 cubic meters of pine beetle-infested trees from the area annually, Carroll said. Ten megawatts from the power plant will be sold to BC Hydro, and BSP also is looking into providing electricity to homes on the reservation, Carroll said. The plant also will provide heat to dry the wood that’s fed into the pellet mill. The wood pellets will be sold for a profit, although the target market is uncertain. “We haven’t gotten the whole market defined,” Carroll said. The company is in purchasing discussions with European organizations, but would also like to establish a local market. The LNIB has approved construction of the facility on its land, and BSP is in the process of securing required environmental permits. “But we’re well within what’s allowed, so that won’t be a problem,” Carroll said. He added that he expects the plant to be on line in December 2010. BSP also is working on developing power plants in Abbotsford, British Columbia, California and eastern Canada, he said. Adage LLC, a joint venture of Areva SA and Duke Energy, hopes to break ground on a 50-MW biomass power plant near Jasper, Fla., in early 2010, according to the company, which anticipates a 30-month construction period. The plant will run on 500,000 tons of wood waste

per year and is in negotiations with The Langdale Co. to secure a supply. Adage also is in discussions with JEA, a Jacksonville area utility, to secure purchase agreements for the energy. The plant will have the capacity to provide electricity for 40,000 homes. The facility will be built on a 215-acre site south of Jasper and will create 400 jobs during construction, along with 125 during operation, according to Adage. The cost of the project is estimated at more than $150 million, funded mostly by Adage, according to Jarret Adams, media coordinator for the company. Washington state will see a new biomass plant, too, as Northwest Renewable will begin construction next year on a $72.5 million power plant in Longview, according to the company. The 24-MW facility will run on 550 bone-dry tons of forest slash and other wood waste per day with the resulting energy sold to the grid. The plant will be built on a 32-acre site in an industrial park and will create 70 new jobs in the logging and processing industries. The company hopes the plant will be on line by 2011, the deadline to qualify for U.S. DOE tax incentives. Northwest Renewable, owned by U.S. Ethanol, had previously announced it would build a $100 million ethanol plant at the location, but market fluctuations resulted in a change of plans, according to Tawni Camarillo, communications representative for the company. The foodversus-fuel debate also influenced the hold on the project, she added. “We have not thrown out that project,” she said. “It’s just on a temporary hold.” Construction on the facility had begun when the company decided to put the project on hold. Northwest Renewable also announced plans earlier this year to build a cellulosic ethanol plant on the same Longview site. It will work well beside the biomass power plant, as the feedstocks will be the same, Camarillo said. —Lisa Gibson

Helius Energy, whiskey distillery form joint venture U.K. based Helius Energy plc formed a joint venture with the Combination of Rothes Distillers (CoRD) called Helius CoRDe that will utilize whiskey distillation byproducts to produce power, organic fertilizer and animal feed. The £50 million ($45 million) project in Morayshire, Scotland, will involve the construction of a patented GreenFields process plant and a 7.2 megawatt GreenSwitch combined-heat-and-power (CHP) plant. The technology implemented at the GreenFields plant will convert coproducts of distillery and food processing operations into biomass fuel, organic soil conditioner and animal feed. “In the case of this project,

the GreenFields unit will process the pot ale (a high-protein coproduct removed prior to final distillation of the spirit), and will be powered by electricity from the GreenSwitch CHP unit. The CHP plant will be fueled with a combination of processed distillery coproducts produced by the GreenFields plant and wood chips from sustainable sources, according to a Helius Energy spokesman. The plant will produce enough electricity to power 9,000 homes, for use on-site and/or transporting to the national grid. While the two technologies can be colocated, as in the Rothes project, they can also be implemented separately according

to site requirements,” the spokesman said. “The GreenFields unit can be configured in a number of ways and can also process water for cooling and cleaning purposes.” The exact proportion of each product will be determined when the unit is operational, he added. Helius Energy will own 51 percent of Helius CoRDe, and the Combination of Rothes Distillers will own the rest. Helius anticipates engineering procurement and construction contracts will be awarded shortly. Construction of the project is slated to begin in early 2010, and is expected to take about two years to complete. —Anna Austin



NEWS Study investigates potential for biomass from grass in ND A study in North Dakota aims to determine what types of grasses can sustain the state’s soil and climate conditions while yielding the most biomass. The North Dakota State University Central Grasslands Resource Extension Center in Streeter has teamed up with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, the North Dakota Commerce Department and the Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics, among others, to conduct the 10-year study. It will evaluate production, carbon sequestration, economics and longevity of perennial forages in western and central North Dakota. Several 15-by-30-foot plots at five locations were seeded with the same 10 treatments, according to Paul Nyren, center director. Dry plots were set up near Hettinger, Minot, Williston, Streeter and Carrington, and one irrigated plot near Williston. The harvesting began in 2007, but this is the first year researchers will begin harvesting one set of plots every other year. “The hypothesis is that you might be able to get an increase in yield and save enough money by harvesting every other year to make it economically feasible,” Nyren said. Federal funding for the project is funneled through the Natural Resources Trust. The agency focuses on maintaining cover on land,

another reason the researchers will begin harvesting only every other year on some of the plots, Nyren said. The project’s objectives are to determine the biomass yield and select chemical composition of perennial herbaceous crops at several locations; 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 various perennial crops; and evaluate the economic feasibility of the various perennial herbaceous energy crops with competing crops in the surrounding area, according to the research center’s Web site. Grasses used in the study include switchgrass, wheat grass, wild rye, blue stem and combinations of some grasses. The best yields of sunburst switchgrass came from the Williston irrigated plots, which yielded about 5.75 tons per acre in 2007 and 7.28 in 2008, but Nyren said the conclusions are difficult to describe. “The question is: what is that worth as a biofuel crop?” he asked. Studies show that to be economically feasible, biomass yields need to be worth about $75 per ton, he said. “We have to ask: what are companies going to be willing to pay?”

A study in North Dakota will determine the state’s biomass potential.

Harvest yields from 2007 and 2008, can be viewed at the center’s Web site at —Lisa Gibson

Pellet Fuels Institute seeks research partners The Pellet Fuels Institute is seeking partnerships with research institutions to assist in research aimed to facilitate the development of the North American pelletized fuel industry. PFI, a nonprofit association primarily made up of pellet fuel manufacturers, pellet burning appliance manufacturers, industry suppliers and retailers, developed an original set of pelletized fuel standards in the mid-1990s, but decided to rewrite the standards in 2005 because it lacked key components. The original standards test grades were too broad, test methods were not defined, there was no specified quality control or assurance practices, and there was no enforcement, according to the PFI. The new standards were approved by membership in July 2008, and implementation began in February 2009. They are composed

of two documents—PFI standard specifications for residential/commercial densified fuel, and PFI quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC) program for residential/commercial densified fuels. Both can be viewed at www. The standards document defines criteria for four grades of pelletized products and identifies standardized methodology for testing each parameter; the QA/QC program document produces an industrywide quality management system for demonstrating compliance with the standards. As the first year of implementation of the new standards passes, the PFI said it is likely some of the standards and the QA/QC program will need to be refined through research. Topics that require research efforts include

identifying agents that could corrode exposed pellet stove parts and exhaust ducting; developing a database of physical, chemical and mechanical properties of pellets that can be easily utilized; specifying inorganic constituents that could lead to ash fusibility; studying air emissions that arise from the burning of pellets made from various feedstocks and additives; and reviewing safety issues. As PFI is a nonprofit trade organization, it indicated that research funding will need to come from grants and/or institutions that already have funding and are looking for research project partners pertinent to the industries they support. For more information, visit www. —Anna Austin



NEWS HTI installs biomass-powered turbine at Michigan feed mill Heat Transfer International has nearly completed the installation of a biomass energy plant at a feed mill in Howard City, Mich., that will become the state’s first gasification plant and the world’s first hot air turbine powered by biomass, according to Pat Dickinson, HTI business developer. The plant will convert turkey litter at Sietsema Farm Feeds into a syngas that will be used to provide the heat and electricity needed to produce turkey feed. HTI is a designer and manufacturer of starved-air/low-temperature (SALT) biomass gasification systems, Dickinson said. “We have a technology that converts biomass, through a thermal process, into synthesis gas,” he said. “The syngas is sent to a chamber where it is combusted—much like natural gas or propane—and is then used to make heat, which can be converted into steam, power or hot water; any commodity that is desired.” Dickinson said the unique aspect of the soon-to-be commissioned system at Sietsema Farm is that the air turbine will produce power from poultry litter without the use of steam or an internal combustion engine. “We don’t have to worry about trying to clean the gas to run it through a reciprocating engine,” he said. “The heat we produce off the gasification process is sent through our patented high-temperature ceramic heat exchanger technology, which sends clean, hot air to the turbine. So many times people are looking for— especially for smaller power systems—a half megawatt or a megawatt of power. If they want to make power, they have to make highpressure steam and use a steam turbine. We don’t have to go through that process, or have a high-pressure boiler to make power.” The system at Sietsema Farm is capable of handling 35 tons, of turkey litter per day, although this type of system uses a fixedbed gasifier and can handle nearly any type of biomass, as long as size and moisture content are previously configured. “It isn’t limited to dry biomass,” Dickinson said. “The type of gasifier that we’re building right now can handle anywhere from zero to 50 percent moisture, so it has flexibility. We make three or four different styles of gasifiers so we can cater to the particular kind of biomass that will be used.” As for quantifying its biomass processing capabilities, HTI’s systems are modular designs, so the number isn’t definitive or restricted. “This particular system (Sietsema Farm) is handling 35 tons per day, and it’s a 23 million Btu per hour system. If you need 50 million Btus per hour or 70 tons per day, we’d build a larger system or two systems.”


The system installation at Sietsema Farm may be HTI’s debut, but Dickinson said the company’s technology is based on decades of experience. “We purchased the assets, patents and technology from our senior application engineer Robert Graham, who has been doing this for over 50 years—designing gasification systems—so he brings previous experience, knowledge and all of his work on previous jobs,” he said. Design work on the Sietsema Farm system began in the spring of 2008. Dickinson said winter weather delayed the schedule, but construction resumed at the beginning of April; installation began early June. Now more than 90 percent complete, the companies expect to officially open the facility at the end of October. When calculating the return on investment (ROI), Dickinson said it’s difficult and may vary considerably depending on the size of the plant, feedstock costs and other variables. “It’s hard to compute,” he said. “Typically, a small plant may have a longer ROI because there are more capital costs versus building a larger plant where you’re spreading the costs over a lot more power and a lot more steam. What’s your feedstock? Is it free or are you paying for it? Are you getting a tipping fee for it? Do you need power or steam? Are you going to sell your power as green power in certain states and get very high revenue for it and buy back your power at your lower retail rates? Are you going to apply for investment tax credits through the government? Are you going to use treasury grants to build the plant?” Dickinson pointed out that HTI’s systems are utility-grade power plants designed to last 25-plus years, and aren’t necessarily built for a quick ROI but for long-term money savings, or protection against fluctuating electricity and natural gas prices. “At Sietsema, [David Prouty] owns a turkey farm, he’s a pig producer, and he has a feed mill where he manufactures all of his own grain for his pig and turkey operations,” he said. “This energy center isn’t at the poultry facility but at the feed mill where he needs power and steam. He’s doing it for the long term, and will be able to control his own expenses at the feed mill without having to worry about the fluctuation and prices of electricity and natural gas.” —Anna Austin




This photo shows what MGT’s Port of Tyne biomass power facility will look like when it’s completed.

MGT Power to build second huge biomass power plant in UK Britain-based MGT Power Ltd. (www. announced Aug. 10 its plans to build another 295-megawatt biomass power plant in the U.K. It will be the company’s second plant and will tie with the first as the largest biomass power plant in the world. The new proposed plant, with capital costs of about $823 million, will be located at the Port of Tyne in North Tyneside, according to MGT. The Tyne Renewable Energy Plant (Tyne REP) will be built on industrial land on the north bank of the River Tyne and, like MGT’s other plant, will have the capacity to power up to 600,000 homes in Northeast England. Subject to planning, the company hopes to begin construction on the second plant in the first quarter of 2011, with a goal of commercial operation in 2014, according to MGT. Teesport, England, will be the home of the company’s first 295-megawatt plant, slated to go on line in late 2012, and recently

approved by the British government. It will also be located at a port for easy shipping access and is estimated to cost about $819 million, according to the company. Both plants will run on 2.65 million tons of wood chips annually. Biomass for both plants will be shipped from certified sustainable forestry operations developed by MGT and partners in North and South America and the Baltic Seas, and U.K. sources in the longer term, according to Chris Moore, director of MGT. The wood chips deliver a 95 percent reduction in greenhouse gases and each plant will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1.3 million tons annually, according to the company. The first stage of the Tyne REP planning process is detailed in a scoping document that outlines details of the project and has been circulated to several local and national organizations such as the North Tyneside Council, the Environment Agency and the Department of Energy & Climate

Change. The document addresses rationale for the project, the energy and planning policy framework and the technical studies and consultants MGT Power will undertake as part of the project’s Environmental Impact Assessment. The plant will provide hundreds of construction jobs, future permanent on-site jobs and 300 to 400 indirect jobs, according to the company. In addition, it represents an annual investment of $49 million in the local community, according to MGT. Both plants will help meet U.K.’s renewable energy target of 20 percent by 2020, each accounting for about 5.5 percent of the renewable target. Both will run 24 hours per day year round and each will produce the same amount of electricity in one year as a 1,000-megawatt wind farm, according to MGT. —Lisa Gibson



NEWS The U.S. Virgin Islands will soon become home to two waste-toenergy facilities that will collectively process 146,000 tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) per year for the production of fuel, steam and electricity. Virgin Islands Gov. John deJongh unveiled the project in August. He said the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA) signed two 20-year power purchase agreements (PPAs) and the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority signed two 20-year solid waste management services agreements with Alpine Energy Group LLC, an alternative energy facility constructor/operator based in Denver. WAPA selected Alpine over 14 other proposals that were submitted The PPAs between Alpine and the WAPA will now be forwarded to the Public Services Commission for review. The $440 million project will serve the three main islands—St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix—with a total population of more than 100,000 residents. The technology to be implemented at the facilities, provided by Tennessee-based WastAway Services LLC, breaks MSW down into a homogenous material and shreds it into a product called Fluff. The Fluff, which has the consistency of wood pulp, is further processed and sent through a separation procedure that removes any remaining ferrous and nonferrous metals, and can then be pelletized for conversion into steam and energy, synthetic fuels, or used as a growing medium. A typical WastAway system can transform 100 tons of garbage per


US Virgin Islands to develop 2 waste-to-energy plants

Virgin Islands Gov. deJongh, center, back row, presides over a contract signing ceremony in August with Alpine Energy.

day into fuel. The fuel produced at the two new facilities will be mixed with petroleum coke for power production. DeJongh, who has been in office since 2007, said it will be the first time in the history of the Virgin Islands that fossil fuels will not be used to generate electricity and provide potable water. It is hoped that the project will inspire other Caribbean nations facing similar landfill and solid waste challenges to consider alternative and renewable energy fuel sources, he said, to make energy more affordable for utility customers. —Anna Austin

Genome British Columbia funds pine beetle, poplar projects Genome British Columbia announced it will be the primary source of funding for two genomic research projects designed to increase the production of biofuels from biomass grown in British Columbia, particularly from lodgepole pines killed by the pine beetle infestation and the production of wild poplar trees that could potentially replace them. According to the Canadian Ministry of Forests and Range, as of 2008, the cumulative area of provincial forest affected to some degree by the pine beetle was about 14.5 million hectares (36 million acres). The research projects will focus on efficiently converting the dead timber to ethanol, and the optimization of breeding and selection of poplars. Jack Saddler, University of British Columbia dean of forestry, will lead the first project, which is titled “Optimizing Ethanol Fermentation of Mountain Pine Beetle Killed Lodgepole Pine.” Enzyme producer Novozymes and the Canadian Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council are co-funding the project. Saddler said trees are a huge store of chemical energy that can be converted into liquid biofuel, but ideal methods to economically produce sugars need to be identified. He is confident that the solution found for coniferous trees will be transferable to deciduous varieties as well. “The idea is that once the dead lodgepole pine starts to run 18 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 10|2009

out in about 20 years, we will have had enough time to replant with a fast-growing variety,” he added. The researchers believe poplar trees will make an adequate substitute. The second project, at a cost of $7.7 million, will build on previous Genome British Columbia research involving the sequencing of the poplar genome. “Optimized Populus Feedstocks and Novel Enzyme Systems for a British Columbia Bioenergy Sector” will be led by principal investigators Carl Douglas and Shawn Mansfield of UBC. The researchers will work to identify the genetic characteristics of certain wild poplars that allow their woods to be broken down more easily with a higher yield, for quicker and less expensive production of biofuels with less chemical processing. The U.S. DOE Bioenergy Sciences Center, USDA Forest Products Laboratory and Sweden-based Sveriges Lantbruksuniversitet Energypoplar are project co-funders. “We need to be thinking about feedstock supply 10 to 15 years from now, so that we will have poplars ready to be harvested, which will allow us to keep up with industry demand,” Mansfield said. For more information about the projects, visit —Anna Austin


NEWS BPA launches campaign to extend, increase biomass tax credit The Biomass Power Association is investing $250,000 in a campaign to extend and increase the 2004 Jobs Act tax credit for biomass power plants, which expires at the end of this year. The legislation was for four years, and biomass receives half the credits provided to other renewable energy technologies, according to Bob Cleaves, president and CEO of the BPA. The credits were given to biomass power plants that went into operation before the act was passed in 2004, and more than 100 operating plants in the country count on the contribution, Cleaves said. “We have tax credits expiring at the end of this year that, if left to expire and not renewed, will have catastrophic consequences on our industry,” he emphasized in a press conference call in August. About half of the renewable energy produced in the U.S. comes from biomass, he said. It’s more expensive than natural gas power, he added, so the tax incentives are a way to level the playing field. “In order to get that message out there, we’re launching this public campaign,” Cleaves said. The campaign will include educational briefings on Capitol Hill, facility tours, advertising on cable and the Internet, an overhaul of the BPA Web site and interviews with the media.

The tax credits expiring this year are unique among all renewable credits. For the past couple years, extensions have usually been for new companies and cover a full 10 years, while the Jobs Act credits cover plants that are five years and older. That and the fact that it offers less credits set it apart, according to Cleaves. Without the extension and increase, at least half of the 80 plants in the U.S. owned and operated by BPA’s 50 members will lose a significant amount of funding, he added. The biomass industry provides jobs and clean energy, making it economically and environmentally beneficial to the country, he said. “We think it’s a wise investment by the American taxpayer,” he said of the tax credits. The campaign also aims to educate the public about the importance and benefits of biomass. “Most people, if you ask them, ‘What is biomass?’ they wouldn’t have a clue and that has got to change,” Cleaves said. “This is all about jobs,” he said. “Particularly in 2009, what is relevant to the American people is, is this an investment in our economic future?” —Lisa Gibson

Scottish recycling project to include food waste In response to a report on the staggering amount of food waste in Scotland, Scottish Water Waste Services is expanding its garden waste collection and recycling project to include food waste from supermarkets, food manufacturers and households, the company announced in September. The study, conducted by Waste & Resources Action Programme Scotland, found that Scottish households throw away 1 billion pounds of food every year. SWWS’s Deerdykes Organics and Recycling Facility outside Cumbernauld began food collection trials in North Lanarkshire, Glasgow, Argyll and Bute and East Renfrewshire. The trash will be recycled and composted into pod, a peat-free soil improver, according to the company. The project has been successful thus far, according to SWWS. “We’ve had a fantastic start to these, and local residents have been incredibly supportive, showing a real ‘green’ streak,” said Donald MacBrayne, business development manager for SWWS. The company has collected garden waste from five councils (Glasgow, North Lanarkshire, Argyll and Bute, East Dunbarton-

shire and West Dunbartonshire) since its establishment in 2006, composting the waste to produce pod. More than 100,000 metric tons of grass cuttings, tree trimmings and shrub pruning has been transformed to 50,000 metric tons of pod, according to SWWS. In addition, an anaerobic digestion facility is under construction on the Deerdykes site that will produce about 8,000 megawatts of power each year—enough to power 2,000 homes—from about 30,000 metric tons of food waste, according to SWWS. The facility, estimated to cost about £7 million (about $11.6 million), is expected to be completed in the spring of 2010. The biogas produced at the facility will be used in a combinedheat-and-power engine to generate electricity. The electricity will initially be used at the Deerdykes facility, but it could potentially be used to heat and power the neighboring industrial estate, or be sold to the national grid, according to the company. A district heating plan to export heat directly to local homes and businesses is also being discussed. —Lisa Gibson



NEWS Study finds potential for Mississippi Delta to join global bioeconomy The U.S.’s Mississippi Delta Region can secure a leadership role in the $140 billion global bioeconomy by leveraging its agricultural and forestry assets and attracting technology partners from outside the region, according to “Regional Strategy for Biobased Products in the Mississippi Delta,” a Batelle Technology Partnership Practice study released Aug. 25. The study, initiated by Memphis Bioworks Foundation, covers 98 counties in five states—Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi and Tennessee—and includes participation from several companies and organizations in all five states. The total area of the study covers 36 million acres. Among other things, the study concluded that sustainably grown and harvested biomass in the region can supply an $8 billion biofuels and biobased products industry without affecting the food and feed supply. The study also found that the transformation would create more than 25,000 green and supporting jobs in the next 10 years, along with more than 50,000 in the next 20 years; it would open up markets for new crops that will increase biodiversity in the region, leading to reduced use of synthetic fertilizers, agricultural chemicals and water, while increasing options for local farmers; and would contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increase air quality, provide sustainable raw materials for local industries and

boost national security, according to Memphis Bioworks. The biomass addressed in the report includes all agricultural crops and trees in harvested, unprocessed form, alternative crops such as canola and perennial grass, and woody biomass. The types of biomass are separated into four groups: oilseeds, sugar and starches, lignocellulosics, and niche crops. A Mississippi Delta regional bioeconomy would provide farmers an opportunity to grow alternative crops and participate in value-added agriculture, according to Steven Bares, Memphis Bioworks executive director. It also would allow companies to benefit from a reliable source of renewable raw materials, attract regional investment, add value to underutilized biomass resources, and create opportunities to grow high-value biomass on marginal lands, among other advantages, according to the report. Each of the five states will launch individual initiatives appropriate for its region aimed at enhancing existing opportunities and expanding its role in the biobased products industry, according to Memphis Bioworks. The full report can be downloaded at www.agbioworks. org/regional.cfm. —Lisa Gibson

USDA’s list of BCAP qualifiers continues to grow U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced the USDA had made the first matching payment under the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, a 2008 Farm Bill program, which provides financial assistance to producers or entities that deliver eligible biomass material to designated biomass conversion facilities for use as heat, power, biobased products or biofuels. And that list is quickly growing. The first to make the list was Missouri-based Show Me Energy Co-op. The farmer-owned cooperative completed an agreement soon after the application acceptance deadline July 29, according to FSA Administrator Jonathan Coppess. The co-op has more than 500 biomass producers supplying materials such as switchgrass, straw, corn stover, sawdust, woodchips and other biomass materials to produce biomass pellets and possibly biofuels. Show Me Energy Co-op was joined by eight more biomass conversion facilities. According to Kent Politsch, chief spokesman for the Farm Service Agency, the list will continue to expand. Current qualifiers range from Wisconsin wood pellet producer Indeck Ladysmith LLC to the Sugar Cane Growers Co-op of Florida. Under the BCAP program, the USDA will provide financial assistance to biomass producers who sell their crops to qualified biomass conversion facilities for up to 75 percent of the cost of


establishing and planting eligible biomass crops within a BCAP project area. In addition, the USDA will provide annual payments to help compensate for lost opportunity costs until the crops are established, and will provide further financial assistance for the collection, harvest, storage and transportation of biomass crops by matching the amounts paid to producers by the biomass conversion facility, up to $45 per dry ton. Politsch told Biomass Magazine that the number of qualifiers should grow exponentially based on calls and other contacts. “I have been responding to about four calls per day, and they’re new clientel for this agency, including small tree farmers and landowners who rent land to lumber companies and are then required to clean their land before a new planting can take place; very different from the traditional grain and livestock producers we normally deal with,” he said. The swift action on BCAP stems from President Barack Obama’s directive issued in May to Vilsack to aggressively accelerate the investment in and production of biofuels. For more information about BCAP, visit http://www.fsa.usda. gov/FSA/. —Anna Austin


NEWS LiveFuels Inc., a developer of renewable algae-based biofuels, will begin pilot operations at its test facility in Brownsville, Texas, using its natural process to optimize algal productivity and increase rates of conversion of biomass to renewable oils. The process uses biological and environmental conditions instead of machinery. The company grows a mix of native algae species in 45 acres of open saltwater ponds, according to LiveFuels. To harvest the algae, the company uses “algae grazers” such as filter-feeding fish species and other aquatic herbivores. The fish, including those from the Tilapia or sardine families, collect and clean the algae through structures in their mouths, according to the company. They swallow it and the algae is digested and concentrated in the fish’s flesh. To extract the oil, the fish are cooked and pressure is applied, resulting in omega-3 fatty acids and other oils used as feedstocks for renewable fuels. The meat can be sold as animal feed or to the consumer market if it meets food-grade standards, and the bones can be used in agricultural fertilizers. The natural process eliminates the task of having to control algae species, oxygen concentration and other processes, according to Dave Jones, chief operating officer. In addition, it’s much easier to collect fish out of the ponds than the single-celled algae. LiveFuels is focused on letting nature do what it does best, according to Jones. The approach only facilitates a useful natural process. LiveFuels has filed for 10 patents in the U.S. for its process, ac-


Algae biofuels developer begins pilot operation

LiveFuels uses algae grazers to optimize algae-based biofuels production.

cording to the company. The results of the pilot project will be used to commercialize the process along the coast of Louisiana. The commercial facilities will be designed to harness flows of agricultural pollution from the Mississippi River that can be used as nutrients for generating algal blooms. By removing those nutrients, LiveFuels’ systems also mitigate the impacts of agricultural pollution in the open ocean. The company has other pilot facilities in the U.S., and has raised $10 million in private funding for its research. —Lisa Gibson

Nevada company prepares to commercialize algae bioreactor Nevada-based W2 Energy Inc. (, a green energy equipment developer, expected to have its patented algae bioreactor up and running in Guelph, Ontario, in mid-September, according to CEO Mike McLaren, after which the company will begin selling its bio-oil and searching for partners to help commercialize the bioreactor. “Our company strategy is joint venture instead of equipment sales,” McLaren said. The Sunfilter bioreactor will grow algae to produce bio-oil for biofuels and will be used to sequester carbon dioxide from the company’s waste-to-energy processes. It also can be sold separately to algae producers, biodiesel producers, labs, aquaculture companies, and coal and petroleum plants, according to W2. A purchase cost for the equipment, which took a couple years to develop, has not been established, McLaren said. Inside the bioreactor, low-power ultraviolet lights, in combination with gases, feed the algae so it grows and fills the tubes with blooms, according to W2’s Web site. When the blooms have reached an appropriate density, a set of magnetic rings inside the tubes scrapes the blooms clean and pushes the algae to the upper manifold, where compressed air pushes it out. The algae is then compressed, dried and then either gasified or fed into a biodiesel

reactor to produce biodiesel. W2 also has developed a multifuel reactor to produce ultra-low sulfur diesel, a blend of JP8 jet fuel or gasoline; a plasma-assisted gasifier; a SteamRay rotary system engine that converts energy from steam or fuel combustion into a rotary force; small energy generating systems; and the Non-Thermal Plasmatron. The plasmatron, designed to gasify hydrocarbons to produce syngas, also is being built in Guelph and should be operational in mid-September, McLaren said. W2 has licensed its technologies to Alpha Renewable Energy in India and is working with China and several corporations in the U.S., McLaren said. The company also developed a 4-ton municipal solid waste system that was not sold as planned because the buyer’s funds were not adequate, he added. Since W2 announced at the beginning of August that the bioreactor will reach commercial scale, many parties have expressed interest in purchasing it, according to McLaren. “It’s hard to keep up,” he said. —Lisa Gibson



NEWS Forth Energy plans 4 biomass power plants in Scotland U.K. power utility Scottish and Southern Energy plc and Edinburgh, Scotland, port operator Forth Ports have announced plans to construct four 100-megawatt biomass power plants at four separate locations in Scotland. In June 2008, SSE and Forth Ports formed Forth Energy, a joint venture to develop renewable energy projects around Forth Ports’ sites in Scotland and England. The proposed plants would produce heat and energy to be used at the port sites, as well as exported to the grid for commercial sale. Locations include Dundee, Leith, Rosyth and Grangemouth. Under the U.K.’s Renewables Obligation, dedicated regular biomass plants can earn 1.5 Renewables Obligation Certificates per megawatt hour (MWh) of output. The Renewables Obligation requires licensed electricity suppliers in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to source an increasing portion of electricity from renewable sources. The obligation levels for 2008-’09 are 9.1 percent of electricity supplied to customers in England, Wales and Scotland, and 3 percent of electricity supplied to customers in Northern Ireland.

An ROC is a green certificate issued to an accredited generator for eligible renewable electricity generated within the U.K. and supplied to customers within the U.K. by a licensed electricity supplier. Until March 2009, each ROC represented one MWh of electricity, but since April the value of the ROC has been dependent on the generation technology type. Dedicated regular biomass generation receives 1.5 ROCs per MWh. The feedstock at the proposed biomass power plants will be mainly softwood sourced from sustainably managed forests in the U.K. and overseas, according to Forth Energy. The amount of woody biomass needed to fuel the plants was not immediately available. The company plans to undertake consultations on the plant proposals and seek consent to construct them next year. SSE currently owns an 80 MW biomass power plant at Slough in Berkshire, England. —Anna Austin

Wisconsin paper mill may host biomass power plant North American papermaker Domtar Corp.’s paper mill in Rothschild, Mich., may be the future site of a $250 million We Energies cogeneration biomass power plant, the companies announced Sept. 1. The paper mill, built in 1909, has an annual paper production capacity of 147,000 tons and an annual pulp production capacity of 60,000 tons. The 50-megawatt biomass power plant would share the mill’s current location and use recycled mill waste (bark and sludge residues) from the papermaking process, and waste wood from area forest operations and saw mills. This would eliminate the use of fossil fuels at the paper mill, and generate enough electricity to power roughly 40,000 homes. Wisconsin legislation currently requires that by 2015, 10 percent of the state’s electricity be generated from renewable sources, or enough to supply the needs of 850,000 homes each year. Feedstock sustainability will not be an issue, as studies indicate that area forests within a 75-mile radius of the Domtar mill can support the proposed biomass power plant, according to We Energies. The company estimated the biomass power plant would require approximately 500,000 tons of material per year, or the equivalent of 70 to 90 truckloads per day. 22 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 10|2009

Once the feedstock is transported to the site, the fuel will be stored in the form of small chips, similar to fine mulch. When needed, it will be transferred to a standard, utility-style boiler and combusted to produce high-pressure steam, which is sent to a turbine generator to power the Domtar mill. The steam is then cooled in a condenser, and sent back to the boiler for reuse. An estimated 400 new jobs will be created throughout project construction, which will be funded by We Energies, and about 150 permanent jobs will be created to support facility operations. We Energies plans to file an application for a Certificate of Authority with the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin in early 2010, to request approval for the biomass plant. If approved, the company expects the plant to be operational in the first half of 2013. Another biomass power plant proposal in Wisconsin, Xcel Energy’s Ashland Bay Front Power Plant, is currently awaiting project approval from the PSCW. Once complete, it will become the largest 100 percent biomass-fired power plant in the U.S. For more information about Xcel Energy’s project, go to www. biomass. —Anna Austin



A Wheelabrator crane pit operator transfers trash from the pit to the boiler. PHOTO: WHEELABRATOR TECHNOLOGIES



In the 1970s, Wheelabrator Technologies helped to launch a prosperous municipal solid waste-to-energy industry in the U.S. The industry wasn’t immune to economic and societal hardships, however, and developers struggled to prosper; some didn’t survive. Today, the same factors that fueled the industry in its infancy are reenergizing it.

By Lisa Gibson





he U.S. municipal solid waste (MSW)-to-energy industry has had its ups and downs but is on the upswing once again. Government-issued tax incentives and the need for alternative energy sources make it an attractive endeavor and economic alternative to landfills in communities striving to be selfsufficient. The first waste-to-energy combustion facility in the U.S. went on line in New York in 1898, according to the Energy Information Administration, but it was not enough to initiate rapid growth. About 80 years later, in 1975, the first commercial-scale, utility-grade MSW-to-energy plant in the country went on line in Saugus, Mass., built by Wheelabrator Technologies Inc. That was the start of an industry here that had been successful in Europe for years. “The Saugus Marsh dump was nearing the end of its life,” says David Beavens, vice president of finance for Wheelabrator. “And there was a need for a new, viable solution for waste disposal.” The plant still operates today, processing 1,500 tons of MSW per day from 10 nearby communities, serving about 750,000 people and providing electricity for about 47,000 households through Saugus General Electric. After that plant went on line, more than 100 plants were built around the country as the industry ballooned beginning in 1978, ac-

A Wheelabrator employee looks through a boiler window.

cording to the EIA. “If you think about that timing, you had the first gasoline shortage; the first energy shortage,” Beavens recalls. “So there was a move to find alternative sources of energy. And that created interest in things like waste-to-energy.”

The Genesis of the Industry “A combination of forces converged in the late 1970s, early 1980s that really were the genesis for this industry at that time,” Beavens

says. Those forces were the search for waste disposal solutions, legislated tax incentives and the desire for alternative energy sources as energy prices rose. “Rising energy prices are very favorable for the waste-to-energy business,” he says. Dwindling solutions for waste disposal also proved favorable to the onset of the industry. “There was a local need to provide long-term, predictable waste disposal for constituents,” Beavens says. The country was



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POWER Boosted by these incentives, Wheelabrator led the way into an MSW-to-energy industry in the U.S., Beavens says. “We’re very proud of that,” he says. Previously, many communities ran trash incinerators that reduced the volume of trash by combustion before dumping it. But the incineration plants did not recover energy, used expensive fuel and offered little or no pollution control. Waste-to-energy provided a next-generation technology that recaptures energy, using trash as fuel, with no extra fossil fuels, Beavens says. Wheelabrator’s combustion systems are compliant with air regulatory requirements and extend landfill lives by reducing the volume of waste by 90 percent from incoming raw material to residual ash, Beavens says, and 70 percent to 75 percent by weight.

The Wheelabrator Westchester plant in Peekskill, N.Y., supplies electricity for about 55,000 homes.

A Roadblock

moving away from dumps, as tighter regulatory compliance led to the end of the town dump concept. Increases in tipping fees also led to the demise of many landfills, according to the EIA. During the energy shortage in the ’70s, Congress passed the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act, which stabilized prices for alternative sources of energy. The act, passed in 1978, made it mandatory for utilities to purchase electricity from qualifying facilities,

Unfortunately, the growth spurt didn’t last and the same factors that jump-started the industry reshaped to slow it down in the mid ’90s. “The industry hit a wall,” Beavens says. The investment in tax credits expired, the energy markets were deregulated and the development of large, environmentally sound Subtitle D landfills made that type of disposal more plentiful and less expensive. Many companies began to consolidate and those that had small plants sold their operations to larger companies. “Companies

defined as “cogeneration or small power production facilities that meet certain ownership, operating and efficiency criteria established by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission pursuant to (PURPA),” according to the EIA. It also mandated that the price paid to MSW facilities for electricity be equal to the utility’s avoided cost of energy and capacity. As a result, MSW qualifying facilities received a higher price for their power than they might have received otherwise.


POWER came and went,” Beavens says. “You saw a lot of consolidations and companies exiting the industry.” For the most part, plants already in operation continued, but some under new management. “There were a few plants here and there that closed, but not too much on the waste-to-energy side,” he says. Wheelabrator and Covanta Energy became the primary waste-to-energy providers in the country, he says. It was then that Wheelabrator was acquired by its parent company Waste Management Inc. For those companies that did manage to stay in business, new development and growth were stagnant. “So, you retrench,” Beavens says. Wheelabrator changed its focus from expansion to excelling and polishing its environmental practices, safety programs and operational efficiencies, he explains. “We improved our operations and technology such that today, we’re excellent in our operations.”


A Bevy of Plants Today, Wheelabrator operates 16 wasteto-energy plants in the U.S., along with five independent power plants with pollution controls and two ash landfills. Its waste-to-energy process uses combustion at temperatures of greater than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. “Basically, it’s a series of steps that every other step reciprocates,” says Peter Kendrigan, plant manager at the company’s Westchester County facility in Peekskill, N.Y. The 60-megawatt plant was built in 1984 and supplies electricity for about 55,000 homes from 2,250 tons of MSW per day in a county of 850,000 people, according to Kendrigan. It actually has enough capacity to supply 88,000 homes, according to the company’s Webs site. Its capacity makes it one of the largest Wheelabrator waste-to-energy plants. In Westchester, trucks deliver the waste to a receiving building, where most dump their loads into a pit, while some are randomly chosen for inspection. Those trucks dump

their waste on the floor, where it’s sorted to ensure it contains no unacceptable material. “It’s very rare that we find something unacceptable,” Kendrigan says. “With a plant of this age, most of the haulers have been here long enough that they’re familiar with the rules.” Two large overhead cranes take the trash from the pit and feed it into Wheelabrator’s water wall boiler. Inside the boiler, the trash sits on Von Roll Holding AG grates, heavy metal plates developed by Von Roll, a worldwide electrical machinery developer. The grates move back and forth, transporting the trash through four boiler zones. First, the trash is dried out by injecting air underneath it. Then, it’s combusted in zones two and three and in zone four, all that’s left are the noncombustibles. The energy generated in the process is sold to Consolidated Electric. Because of Westchester County’s aggressive recycling program, the waste that comes into the facility is ready to process and needs no pretreatment, Kendrigan says. “But once it’s in the process, we do add some things to make it cleaner and environmentally friendly,” he adds. A powder-activated carbon is added for mercury removal, lime slurry is sprayed into the system to remove sulfur dioxide and carbon, and urea cleans out nitrogen oxide. Hydrocarbons, organic compounds and dioxin are controlled by the high temperatures in the combustion furnaces, and sulfur dioxide and hydrochloric acid are neutralized and made harmless by flue-gas scrubbers, he adds. Trace metals and particulates are collected in fabric filters. “Nothing escapes a waste-to-energy plant unless it has been purified by heat or treatment,” Kendrigan says. “High burning temperatures and cleansing processes remove more than 95 percent of pollutants from refuse that enters the facilities.” “A significant thing about the facility is that the air in the receiving building is drawn in through large fans and we use that in combustion inside of our boilers,” Kendrigan says. It creates negative pressure inside the building so odors and dust accumulated during dumping don’t escape the building. Some of Wheelabrator’s plants produce and sell steam and electricity, and some just sell electricity, depending on the local needs

POWER and economics. “It’s not economical to sell steam in this community,” Kendrigan says. The plant sits in an industrial area in Peekskill, next to a fairly major highway. Piping to transport the heat would have to snake underneath the highway to get to the community, he explains. Residents of Peekskill are welcoming of the plant and Wheelabrator’s technology, Kendrigan says. “Westchester enjoys a very good relationship with the community,” he says. “The community itself has an extremely positive reaction to the facility.” It helps that it creates jobs for 66 locals. “All of the employees are very proud of Westchester and Wheelabrator,” he adds. “We’re proud of what we do.”

Unique Stories While most of Wheelabrator’s plants were built in response to waste disposal issues in the communities, each has a unique story of its own, Beavens says. His career with Wheelabrator started in 1988 at the Gloucester County plant in New Jersey. The local landfill in Gloucester County had historically been a dumping ground for the city of Philadelphia, he says. The large landfill, which he calls “a dump, in the true sense of the word,” sat in the middle of the county. It brought land values down and hindered economic development, so county officials decided as early as 1980 that they wanted to become self-sufficient. “They were going to neither import waste nor export waste,” he says. They kept the dump alive long enough for them to build their own solid waste infrastructure, which included Wheelabrator’s waste-to-energy plant. “So those came on line by the end of the 1980s, early 90s and they became self-sufficient,” he says. The Gloucester plant processes up to 575 tons of MSW per day from the county of 257,000 people. The 14-megawatt facility has the capacity to supply electricity for up to 15,000 homes.

plants. Also, landfills generally are located farther away from communities, requiring long hauls for trucks loaded with garbage to dump. “While the landfills are still plentiful, they tend not to be located close to population centers that generate the trash,” he says. As fuel prices rise, trucking becomes more expensive and those trucks emit pollutants into the air along their routes. Waste-to-energy facilities are sited within or close to population centers, reducing truck traffic and transportation costs, he says. “So if you think about today, while a little bit different, you’re seeing similar forces,” Beavens says. These forces are coming together once again, reviving the familiar attraction to the industry. Beavens says he’s seen the change evolving in just the past two years. Currently, about 87 waste-to-energy facilities operate in the U.S., managing 93,000 tons per day, or 13 percent, of the nation’s MSW and producing 2,700 megawatts of energy, according to Wheelabrator.

New interest in the industry, and in Wheelabrator’s process in particular, comes in monthly from cities all over the world, Beavens says. “Domestically, we see a lot of interest,” he says. “Internationally, we see a great deal of interest.” The company is pursuing several projects in the U.K. and recently entered into a joint venture with a company in China. The government there expects to build more than one waste-to-energy facility per month, Beavens says, adding that the country has a very aggressive growth plan. With so many new ventures on the horizon, Beavens sees promise in a comeback for the industry. “I think it’s in its early stages of growth and I expect it will continue,” he says. BIO

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

Getting Back on Track Today, Beavens sees factors emerging in the MSW-to-energy market similar to those that gave rise to it in the ’70s and ’80s: alternative energy is desirable, energy is expensive and tax incentives abound again to build new 10|2009 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 29

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Covanta Energy operates more than 40 wasteto-energy facilities across the globe. These plants collectively convert 19 million tons—or more than 5 percent—of the nation’s waste into renewable energy each year. By Anna Austin



he number of power companies striving to implement waste-to-energy initiatives is rapidly increasing. Whether it involves introducing a new technology or well-established power utilities converting fossil fuel operations to biomass power, securing a plentiful, steady and convenient feedstock supply is essential to making any energyfrom-waste venture economically viable—and it shouldn’t be too difficult for plants that use municipal solid waste (MSW) to achieve. Americans are producing more and more trash. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 1960, the average American threw away 2.7 pounds of trash per day. Today the average American throws away approximately 4.5 pounds per day, or more than 1,600 pounds per year. As the annual amount of MSW generated continues to increase, the ways and means of disposing of it must expand and evolve, and Covanta Energy Corp. is one power provider that has rapidly expanded along with the increase. The company serves the disposal needs of more than 12 million people in communities across the U.S., which, according to Paul Stauder, Covanta Energy senior vice president of domestic business management, equates to processing more than 5 percent of the MSW generated annually within the country.


INDUSTRY Hours before talking to Biomass Magazine, Stauder says the company closed on a deal resulting in its operations acquisition of six waste-to-energy plants previously owned by Veolia Environmental Services. Covanta Energy will likely acquire one more facility by the end of this year. At 44 facilities, the company now operates the majority of the waste-to-energy plants in the U.S., and has divisions in Europe and Asia.

Covanta Energy is active in projects beyond its recent acquisitions. In particular, the reconstruction of a brownfield site at Gold River, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. At the site of a former pulp and paper mill, which closed more than a decade ago, the company has the potential to provide considerable economic development opportunities in a community that currently has an unemployment rate of more than 50 percent.



Gold River Project

Covanta Energy’s waste-to-energy facility in Fort Meyers, Fla.

INDUSTRY Between site preparation and construction there should be plenty of work. “We’ll use some existing roads and possibly some foundation work, but the site was abandoned a long time ago and not in ready use,” Stauder says. “Essentially, we’ll go in there, take down buildings and structures that we don’t need, construct a new power plant that will process 500,000 to 750,000 tons of waste per year, and produce 90 megawatts of power to be sent to the BC Hydro grid.” A project economic impact analysis by Roslyn Kunin and Associates Inc., which was performed using the British Columbia provincial government input/output model, determined that economic activity in British Columbia would be boosted by $79 million during the three-year construction of the facility. Tax revenue would increase by $32 million, and more than 1,600 jobs would be generated during that period. Once in operation, it would add $32 million to the provincial economy, $1.5 mil-

lion to provincial tax revenue and create about 195 full-time jobs. Construction of the $500 million Gold River Region project, which has been received enthusiastically by the surrounding community, is anticipated to begin by the end of the year. “We’d like to get a shovel in the ground before then, but it’s very tough these days, no matter what you’re building, to get all your permits,” Stauder says. “When you’re building any kind of power plant it’s even that much more difficult. There are a lot of regulations, a lot of processes to run through to get all your approvals so you can start the process. Everything seems to take a little bit longer.”

Technology and Proximity Covanta has licensing rights to the German thermal waste treatment technology Martin GMBH, which is used in many plants around the world. The majority of Covanta’s facilities use the Martin system, according to Stauder.

The core component of the Martin system Covanta deploys is a reverse-acting combustion grate, which is comprised of several stair-like grate steps equipped with surface-ground grate bars. Every second step is moved up and down against the grate inclination, which constantly rakes and agitates the fuel bed and mixes the red hot mass with newly fed waste. As the waste burns, the fuel bed temperature reaches 1,000 degrees Celsius (1,800 degrees Fahrenheit) and higher, and it is combusted to inert mineral ash through the slow and uniform mixing and agitating motion of the fuel bed. Burned-out combustion residues are transferred by a slowly rotating roller at the grate discharge and into the Martin residue discharger where they are quenched. The thermal heat is converted into steam to turn a turbine and create power. Stauder says the majority of the facilities are located in close proximity to landfills and populated areas where electricity


is needed, and Covanta typically contracts waste management companies to truck the waste, with one exception—the company’s plant in Dickerson, Md. This facility processes an average of 1,500 tons per day of solid waste, generating up to 55 megawatts, enough to power 40,000 homes. At Dickerson, MSW is first delivered to the Shady Grove Transfer Station in Derwood, Md., compacted into intermodal steel waste containers, and gantry cranes are used to load it onto railcars. Each day CSX Corp. assembles a train that transports the MSW 22 miles to the facility in Dickerson. There the containers are off-loaded and trucked from the on-site rail yard to the facility’s enclosed refuse building. Rail is also used after the Martin process, when the remaining ash material (according to the U.S. EIA, a ton of garbage is reduced to approximately 300 to 600 pounds of ash) is loaded back into sealed containers and shipped to a landfill




A switchyard at one of Covanta Energy’s plants

INDUSTRY in Brunswick, Va., thereby not adding to the truck traffic on the rural roads leading to the facility. Although many of Covanta’s plants are located in the Northeast, where demands for power are high, others are scattered all over the country—from Detriot to Long Beach, Calif., to Minneapolis and even in Honolulu.

Reliability is the Ticket Collectively, Covanta Energy’s plants produce approximately 5 percent of the nonhydro renewable power in the U.S. The beauty of waste-to-power applications and what makes it superior to other renewable energy technologies is its reliability—waste is always being generated, Stauder says. “We always look at how we are able to provide renewable power that is very reliable—we will run at about 90 [percent] to 92 percent of availability, whereas if you evaluate a wind plant, that will run at about 25 [percent] to 30 per-

cent of the time, simply because the wind isn’t always blowing; it’s unreliable and you never know when it’s going to create power,” he says. Even the output from hydropower plants fluctuates with the seasons, depending on rain and water flows, Stauder says. “Being consistent and reliable, we’re beneficial to the electrical infrastructure in the country and the growing need for power. On top of that, people might say ‘well, you’re a power plant, so you can’t be good,’ but we look at our process compared to the alterative process for waste disposal. When you are landfilling, you’re taking a garbage truck of waste and putting it into the ground—it’s going to decompose and turn into methane, which is 20 to 25 times more potent a greenhouse gas (GHG) than any other out there.” He adds that while avoiding methane and GHG creation, Covanta Energy also doesn’t add to truck traffic and diesel emissions associated with transporting

truckloads of trash to landfills that are typically farther away from the communities they serve than renewable energy plants. “You need more trucks, more diesel, and on top of that you’re not going to produce as much power out of a ton of trash, as you will at one of our plants,” he says. “Out of 1 ton of trash, we’ll produce about 600 kilowatts, whereas a landfill gas plant—if the landfill has one—will only produce between 75 and 150 kilowatts per ton. So those are some huge benefits— when you consider all of those things, we’re actually a GHG reducer compared to the alternatives, and we pride ourselves on what we do—we provide a service that is exceptionally good for communities, the economy and the environment.” BIO Anna Austin is a Biomass Magazine associate editor. Reach her at aaustin@ or (701) 738-4968.



From ScientiďŹ c Breakthrough to Business When Ramon Gonzalez discovered the secret to coaxing industrial E. coli strains to anaerobically ferment glycerin, commonly found in ethanol and biodiesel plant waste streams, he suspected it would be significant to the biofuels, ethanol and biochemicals industries. GlycosBio, the company founded around that discovery, is now on the verge of commercializing its biochemical production capabilities. By Lisa Gibson








ears of study had convinced most researchers and scientists that the common lab microorganism E. coli could not ferment glycerin anaerobically to produce ethanol and biochemicals. So in 2004, when Ramon Gonzalez, then a professor at Iowa State University, discovered it was possible, he anticipated it would have a significant impact on the biofuels and biochemicals industries and co-founded a company, GlycosBio, in 2007 to capitalize on it. Glycerin is a waste product of biodiesel production and is found in ethanol thin stillage, along with waste from other industries. It was in abundant supply at the time of his discovery, as it is now. “It was obviously very important because of the belief that it was not possible,” says Gonzalez, now a William W. Akers assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Rice University in Houston. Another reason the discovery was significant is it came at a time when so many companies were looking for technologies that would enable them to make a profit from their glycerin. “You can’t always marry those two things: finding something that is really exciting scientifically speaking, and that same thing that is exciting has an immediate application,” he says, adding that, for those reasons, he sees it as the most significant discovery he’s made public in his career to date. It would have been very good anyway having just one of the two benefits, he adds. “It’s very appealing for me to think about.”

Research scientist Matthew Wong works with a trial reactor.

Gonzalez’s motivation came from the scientific challenge the project presented and his interest in finding a use for the abundance of glycerin, a problem he anticipated would become larger when more companies began making biodiesel. The bottom line is that production costs of biofuels and bio-

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INNOVATION chemicals depend heavily on feedstock costs and Gonzalez’s discovery enables cost-effective production through waste products. “Having a cheap, abundant feedstock is key in the production process,” he says.

Gonzalez’s environmental conditions, E. coli still will not produce 1,3 propanediol, he says, but it does produce something similar. “So it is not [1,3 propanediol] that actually enables glycerol fermentation,” Gonzalez confirms. “The reason why they didn’t see it was because they didn’t use the right conditions.”

It’s All About Environment Gonzalez says his technique comes down to the microbe’s environment, and compares it to human beings. “We behave in a given way based on what we have around us,” he explains. “If it is hot, we try to cool off. If it is cold, we try to put a few layers of clothes on. Organisms behave depending on their environment.” The proprietary environmental triggers Gonzalez discovered are valid for all E. coli strains he has tested, which are industrial and not strains linked to food poisoning. “The actual discovery is not really a specific strain,” he says. “It’s more the environment in which we put that strain to make it happy and able to ferment glycerol.” It was previously thought that E. coli would not ferment glycerin because of the actual conceptual model of glycerin fermentation. “Back then, when we started working on this, it was thought that in order for a microorganism to be able to ferment glycerol, it would need to be able to produce another product,” Gonzalez explains. “That product was 1,3 propanediol. E. coli does not have the ability to produce that 1,3 propanediol.” Because of that, most scientists thought E. coli could not ferment glycerin. Even under

Utilizing that Feedstock GlycosBio co-founders saw promise and potential in Gonzalez’s discovery and hope its expected impact can be realized through their company. “It was more a strong understanding of the genetics and the process conditions together that allowed [Gonzalez] to discover what other people had been unable to find,” said Paul Campbell, GlycosBio chief science officer. “If you provide oxygen, it will eat it very quickly and that’s not a problem, but that’s not interesting. Because if you have oxygen present, all you make is more biomass, more cells. You don’t make any interesting chemicals.” “That discovery was so unique that it actually had enough interest from the venture capital community to make an investment in that discovery to commercialize that microbe to leverage it into a strategy to make biofuels or biochemicals,” says Richard Cilento, GlycosBio chairman. “The uniqueness about the business is there hasn’t been a great deal of investment or research into existing low-value or unique

feedstock sources,” Cilento says, adding that low-value feedstocks are what drove interest and excitement from GlycosBio founders in helping Gonzalez commercialize his discovery. Most public domain work focuses on sugars, a single-feedstock strategy, which Cilento says is a mistake. Besides glycerin, GlycosBio’s microbes can ferment feedstocks such as gums, fatty acids, crude oil extracts from animals or plants, and the system is even compatible with algae. Most of those feedstocks are waste products from certain industries such as food rendering or oleochemicals production. Once operating at commercial scale, GlycosBio will license its microbe technologies to companies such as biochemicals and biofuels producers, which will produce the desired chemicals from their waste streams for a cost savings or even a possible profit. For instance, adding fermentation equipment and microbes to a biodiesel plant can create a biochemical worth 70 cents to $1.20 per pound from crude glycerin, which is valued at 6 cents per pound, Cilento says. All biodiesel and ethanol plants are target customers, along with chemical companies that have feedstocks available to them under their umbrellas. “GlycosBio focuses on the science and technology, and the [customer] will focus on production,” Cilento says. Biofuels companies most likely would sell the biochemicals they produce, while chemical companies would consume them, Cilento explains, as they are a 100 percent replacement for petrochemicals. The palm oil industry in Malaysia also has potential to benefit from the company’s technologies, Cilento says. “There’s a tremendous amount of free fatty acids that come out of the refining palm oil process,” he says. Malaysia also has a number of biodiesel manufacturers, opening the door for GlycosBio to ferment their glycerol waste streams, he adds. “So our market and our customer segment will definitely be more of an international flavor, and our



A medium-scale (250 liters or 66 gallons) GlycosBio reactor

strategy is to match where the available feedstock is that marries us to a region where they’d prefer to make green chemicals or biochemicals,” he says. GlycosBio started with native E. coli strains and, with Gon-

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INNOVATION zalez’s help, continues to improve the process to make more biochemicals. “Once you get the microorganism to eat glycerol, you need to tweak it,” Gonzalez says. In its native form, it will produce primarily ethanol, but with metabolic engineering, it can make butanediol, hydrogen, 1,2 propanediol, and organic acids such as succinic and lactic acids. “We keep engineering to produce other products, depending on the needs of the market,” Gonzalez says. “We keep adding to the product pipeline.” The company uses mostly E. coli, but also dabbles in other microbes, according to Campbell.

How it’s Done “A lot of our process is fairly flexible,” Campbell says. “In other words, we’ll reuse a lot of our equipment even if we change the chemical we are going to make.” The front end of the process is mostly the same no matter what end product the technology manufactures, according to Campbell. The difference comes in the back end when separating the chemical from the fermentation broth. “That equipment will be dependent on the chemical itself,” he says. For example, if the end product is ethanol, that last step will be distillation, whereas if the end product is an organic acid, that step most likely would be ion exchange. The glycerin requires little on-site pretreatment other than heating it up a bit to pasteurize it. The same minimal pretreatment is used for fatty acids or fatty acid-rich feedstock. After pretreatment, the glycerin is mixed with a salt solution and inoculated with the microbes. As they grow, the desired end product will be produced. Different microbes are used to produce different end products, Cilento says. “If there’s a different chemical, there’s a different microbe,” he says. “Even for one chemical, there are several microbes.” It takes about 24 to 72 hours for the microbes to ferment

the glycerin or other waste feedstock, Campbell says. After that, the fermentation “beer” is pumped into the recovery equipment. “At that point, the facility looks more similar to a traditional petrochemical plant because all you’re doing is recovering your molecule from a mix of other items,” he explains. Fermentation is the longest step in the process, Campbell says, and recovery takes just a few hours. “A lot of the equipment in our lab is homemade just because of our unique techniques,” Cilento says. “Our intent is to obviously make it compatible with existing fermentation equipment just because those are easier to scale at commercial levels.” He adds that GlycosBio eventually will design fermentors optimized for its specific approach. GlycosBio is funded through private investors now, but is open to federal or state funding opportunities. Cilento has looked into some of the new federal loan and grant programs, he says. “It’s something that makes sense, it’s just about time and energy and how likely it is to get,” he adds. “Right now, from a funding perspective, we’re not necessarily in need, but we can at least take a look at it.” The company has no active customers using the technology yet, but is in discussions with several companies interested in producing and using biochemicals. “We’re just excited to be at that phase from a development perspective,” Cilento says. “The benefit of our strategy is there are existing feedstocks available within industries that need help,” he emphasizes. “We come with a brand new idea and they don’t have to change anything. That’s a pretty easy story to tell.” BIO Lisa Gibson is a Biomass Magazine associate editor. Reach her at or (701) 738-4952.



A New Climate Change Mitigation Tool 44 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 10|2009


The buzz about biochar is getting louder. Many companies have recently unveiled biochar production systems, and advocates are campaigning to include the soil enhancer in global carbon emission reduction policies. By Anna Austin PHOTO: MANTRIA INDUSTRIES LLC




iochar, also called Agrichar or “terra preta” (meaning dark earth in Portuguese), is being lauded as the key to balancing carbon emissions and restoring soil fertility. The fine-grained, highly porous charcoal can be produced by heating biomass in an oxygen-starved environment. Many companies—some working quietly for years—have focused their efforts on developing and commercializing pyrolysis or gasification biochar production systems, and are now displaying them to the public. Whether they are at the commercialization stage or still a few years away, as in any industry, these companies can only go so far if the market for their product isn’t there. That’s where the umbrella of biochar lobbying groups, the International Biochar Initiative comes in. The group has been pushing for biochar’s acceptance into the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as a vital tool for climate change mitigation and adaptation technology, and is making headway. If achieved, the IBI is confident that most nations will consider biochar as a credible climate change mitigation option, which could help put a floor under the market. According to the IBI, biochar can improve the Earth’s soils, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and sequester atmospheric carbon in a stable soil carbon pool, and improve water quality by retaining agricultural chemicals. Meanwhile, the biochar buzz is getting louder among farmers, scientists and government officials, and those already in the business might find themselves way ahead of the pack if they are able to maintain their viability while the biochar market framework is being constructed.

What’s Cooking? There are two main ways to produce biochar—pyrolysis and gasification. Pyrolysis systems use kilns, retorts and other specialized equipment to contain the baking biomass while excluding oxygen. Gasification systems produce smaller 46 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 10|2009

quantities of biochar in a directly heated reaction vessel with introduced air. There are two types of pyrolysis systems—fast and slow. Fast pyrolysis produces more oils and liquids, such as bio-oil, while slow pyrolysis produces more synthesis gas and is used to make a solid fuel. Colorado-based Biochar Engineering Corp. recently unveiled a mobile pyrolysis biochar production unit at the 2009 International Biochar Conference in Boulder, Colo. The system didn’t come to fruition overnight, according to Doug Guyer, company spokesman, as it has been in development for the past four years. The 5-feet wide, 12-feet long, 7-feet tall system, dubbed the Biochar 1000 is capable of handling 1,000 pounds of input per hour, in this case wood chips, and achieves biochar yields of roughly 25 percent, according to Guyer. “Whether it’s a farm co-op sharing the unit, or the forest service, it’s mobile and can be brought to where slash piles are being handled and used to make biochar instead of burning the slash,” he says. “The biochar can then be incorporated right back into the forest soil or sold locally.” Guyer says the company sold the first two Biochar 1000s, which cost about $100,000 each, to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to research biochar’s benefits in mine reclamation, and to the North Carolina Farm Center for Innovation & Sustainability, which recently received a $1.2 million, three-year grant for biochar research, and will feature the system in a biochar demonstration center under their management. Mantria Industries LLC recently opened a biochar production facility in Sequatchie County, Tenn. The operation, which utilizes a flash carbonization technology, was developed at the University of Hawaii. A typical system consists of two 3.5-ton reactor units, which are pressurized and sealed once the feedstock is loaded into canisters and placed inside. Electric heaters are turned on to ignite the feedstock then turned off, and the



Biochar Engineering’s Biochar 1000 can process 1,000 pounds of wood chips per hour.

autoclave temperature is controlled by a dual-draft process. Under elevated pressure and heat—temperatures ranging from 400 to 800 degrees Celsius (750 to 1,470 degrees Fahrenheit)—the biomass carbonizes. During carbonization, gases from the process are pumped through catalysts, broken down into simpler compounds and sent through filters for scrubbing. When the 25-to-40-minute process is complete, the biochar is set in a cooling pool for 24 hours. Mantria CEO Troy Wragg said the company has also contracted 30,000 square feet at a distribution center in Atlanta, Ga. “We have an advanced bagging system in place so we can quickly get the product into the market,” he says. “Material handling is one of the biggest costs in any type of fertilizer or soil amendment market, so that’s one of the things we’ve stepped up on— providing the same type of standards the pot ash or fertilizer industry has, but creating the actual logistical distribution and shipping capabilities that other companies don’t have.” Wragg says the company already has contracts in place for its EternaGreen

biochar, and sees the industry gaining momentum. “I believe over the next two to five years, we’ll really start to see a boon for biochar, he says. “From 2011 on, we’re going to see biochar become one of the largest commodity products in the world, and I say that only because right now our current policies nationally and internationally are focused on energy playing a role to combat climate change when, in fact, agriculturally, we stand a chance to make a bigger impact.” That impact could be huge, from the perspective of the IBI, the mothership lobbying group for biochar, although there are still some challenges in using biochar.

Biochar and the U.N. James Amonette, IBI science advisory panelist and a scientist at the U.S. DOE Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, says during the past couple of years, the IBI’s main focus has been on the UNFCCC to be held in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December, to coordinate efforts to get biochar on the official list of mitigation strategies that can be employed to fight climate change. 10|2009 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 47



Mantria has an advanced biochar bagging system that allows them to quickly get the product to market.


The IBI is at the top of the biochar community, he says, and is aimed at influencing national and international policies. “National and regional organizations are also springing up under the IBI, but they’re all sort of connected,” he says. At PNNL, Amonette says his biochar research involves two aspects, the first being the characterization of biochar to understand its chemical and physical properties. “I’ve taken a number of samples from whoever will give them to me and run them through a series of tests to try to understand how wide the variability is among properties in different types of biochar,” he says. “One of the big issues we have, and this is something the IBI is working on as well, is classifying biochars, as some are good for some purposes, and some are not—it depends on the exact purpose. Biochar A is good for purpose A but not for purpose B, and you’ll need to know this to avoid mistakes.”

Some biochars may have a high pH, and if applied to a soil that is already high in pH, the plants will likely die. If applied to an acidic-poorer soil in the southeast part of the U.S., that biochar would be perfect as a liming agent, Amonette says. This also involves understanding how much biochar is stable for long periods of time and how much will be relatively available to microorganisms, he says. “This is a volatile matter/fixed carbon ratio question and this is important from a carbon sequestration perspective—how you value biochar for that purpose, and that is based on how much recalcitrant carbon you have in the char. We’re developing tests for that,” he says. Amonette and the IBI are also trying to analyze the impact of biochar as a global climate mitigation tool. “We’re working on a series of models where we are looking at the implementation of biochar on a large scale—how big should it be, at what level does it become sustainable or unsustainable, and what impact would it have in terms of mitigating climate change—we’re coming up with numbers, calculating how many gigatons of carbon per year the global adoption of biochar can upset,” he says. No matter how this research concludes, until there is a floor in the market for biochar provided by carbon credits or a carbon tax on other forms of energy, it will be difficult to make it economically, Amonette believes. “That’s the bottom line, and it prevents a lot of companies from moving forward,” he says. “The IBI is trying to get it established as a mitigation strategy at the global level, and then national levels will start to implement cap and trade so it can be bought and sold as a carbon mitigation option. Then I think you’ll start to see these new biochar developers become more profitable—it’s hard to justify making $800 per year on an acre of land as a farmer, and having somebody want to sell you biochar at $500 per ton, or even $50 per ton—when you could use 50 tons per acre. If you had carbon credits on that, it’d pay for itself.”


If the IBI is successful in Copenhagen, the group expects that in the next year or so nations will start to adapt to biochar use. Until society in general takes climate change seriously, however, there still isn’t going to be a demand for it, Amonette says. “If you look at the other options for sequestering carbon, like geological sequestration when CO2 (carbon dioxide) is injected under the ground, that’s extremely expensive—we’re talking $300 to $400 per ton of CO2. So in that regard, there’s a lot of room for this technology to fit in economically once society says we’re going to do something about it.” Amonette suspects it will take a number of years, perhaps even upwards of ten, before efforts to address climate change shift into high gear. “A lot can happen in the next few years, so I think it’s a matter of these companies getting established, keeping their heads down and trying to be flexible,” he says. “They will be in a very good position a few years out when a massive response to climate change kicks in. A lot of the small-scale biochar people I know do a fast pyrolysis system, where they have bio-oil which they can sell for the energy, but can switch over and make more biochar by going with slow pyrolysis, or just change their parameters a bit so when the price of biochar goes up they have that option as well. There is a market for bio-oil as a replacement for bunker oil and things like that as long as you can control the acidity.” Widespread acceptance of climate change will be key, according to Amonette. “In [the U.S.], 50 [percent] to 60 percent of people don’t believe in climate change, and that’s a huge barrier to overcome,” he says. “I think the only way it’ll be overcome is if a huge piece of Greenland slides off into the ocean and disrupts the Gulf Stream; something will have to get people’s attention and make them realize we’d better take action.” Amonette and the IBI believe that the next year will be critical in terms of establishing what biochar can do from a climate


Accepting and Addressing Climate Change

This diagram shows how pyrolysis can turn biomass into biochar and other products. The biochar is returned to the soil to increase its fertility.

change mitigation perspective, and if successful at Copenhagen, they believe it will really catch fire. “We could see some good carbon credits a few years down the road,” he says. “It’s moving extremely fast.” BIO

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




Navigating the Intellectual Property Maze Finding the shortest distance between product and protection may take forms other than patents, and may more closely align with a company’s goals and the realities of the marketplace.


n transforming biomass to power, biofuels or other chemicals, equipment is used to carry out a process to provide a product. Innovation as to the equipment, the process or the product may cause a company to seek patent protection. Depending on the nature of the product and the company’s business plan, patent protection may not be the only choice, or the best choice. In certain settings, a company may be able to choose the most advantageous form of protec-

tion, and trade secret protection may be the better choice when compared with seeking patent protection. However, in certain other settings, even though trade secret protection may be possible as to the equipment or the process, the decision to pursue patent protection on the product may determine if trade secret protection is really an option. To begin, patent rights may be used to secure new and non-obvious processes, machines, manufactures and com-

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).


of $10,000, and the positions of matter. In the first instance, time from the filing of the application to the federal governthe issuance of the ment (in the form patent can be on the of the U.S. Patent order of two to four and Trademark Office) must decide years. Additionally, as a quid pro quo for whether an innovapatent protection, tion is sufficiently Paul Craane partner, the patentee must novel and nonobvi- Marshall, Gerstein disclose to the public ous to merit protec- & Borun LLP tion. In the second his or her best mode instance, the federal of making and using courts will review the determi- the innovation. Patent rights nation of the Patent Office if are generally limited to 20 years the patent must be enforced to from the filing date of the apprevent infringement of those plication for protection on the rights. innovation. Once the 20-year The costs of obtaining a term has run, the innovation patent can easily run upwards will be available to the public.


In the alternative, innovations may be protected as trade secrets. Trade secret law may be used to protect formulae, patterns, compilations, programs, devices, methods, techniques or processes that are not generally known or reasonably ascertainable, and that are the subject of reasonable, ongoing measures to keep the information confidential. Trade secrets are not reviewed by the government until the holder has to enforce his or her rights in court. Trade secret protection can be far less expensive than patent protection, at least in terms of legal fees, as the daily maintenance of the protection involves the company, rather than its attorney. Unlike patent protection, trade secret protection requires that the company prevent disclosure of the innovation. As soon as the innovation is publicly disclosed, protection may be lost. Also unlike patent protection, trade secret protection does not have a definite expiration date, but may extend as long as secrecy is preserved, which may be well after the 20 years afforded under patent law. At some point, one must decide whether to disclose and seek patent protection or to limit disclosure and seek trade secret protection. Fortunately, the nature of the product and the company’s business plan may provide guidance as to whether patent or trade secret protection is a better choice. The decision matrix is illustrated below. Consider first the scenario

where it is not possible to determine from the product how the biomass has been converted into the product (i.e., the product is generic). For example, the company may be converting biomass into ethanol. Because the equipment or process is not derivable from the product, the company does not have to be concerned with a third party determining the details of the equipment or the process through reverse engineering of the product (i.e., working out the trade secret from the publicly available material). Consequently, trade secret protection is an option on the process or the equipment, although so too may be patent protection. One business plan would be for the company to sell the equipment to a large number of third parties, or to permit a large number of third parties to use the process for a fee (see cell A). Even if this activity is accompanied by suitable contracts or agreements to preserve the confidentiality of the information (the details of the equipment or the process), the large number of parties involved militates against reliance on trade secret protection. The probability of dissemination to the public is too high with a large number of parties involved. Under such a set of circumstances, patent protection may be a more secure option, and would free the company from having to pursue contractual limitations on each disclosure. A second business plan would call for the company to

Patent Versus Trade Secret Decision Matrix Widespread Use

Internal Use/Limited Use

Product Generic

Patent (A)

Trade Secret (B)

Product Unique

Patent (C)

Depends on Protection Sought for Product (D)

use the equipment or process internally and then sell the product, or to confine the permission to use the equipment or the process to a limited number of third parties (see cell B). In keeping with such a business plan, the control would appear far more certain. Consequently, while patent protection may be considered, trade secret protection may be a better option because the chances for loss of the trade secret are minimized. The advantages would be a longer period of protection, immediate availability of protection, and potentially reduced costs for obtaining the protection. There is the possibility of independent discovery, whereby the same innovation is arrived at by a third party without access to the trade secret, in which case trade secret protection may be lost. However, the more complex or unusual the equipment or process, the less likely this is to be a consideration. Even with a relatively simple improvement, where the product is generic and the access is limited (see cell B), trade secret protection for the equipment or process appears a strong alternative to patent protection. Consider now the scenario where the product also is new and potentially nonobvious, such as where the biofuel is chemically altered by the innovative process, and the alteration improves its stability or its combustibility. In such a setting, patent protection could be sought on the product. Where the business plan includes involving numerous third parties, the recommendation would be to seek patent protection on the equipment or process as well (see cell C), in keeping with the discussion above. But what if the business plan did

not initially include widespread sale of the equipment or licensing the use of the process (see cell D)? Could the product be patented while the equipment and process are kept as a trade secret? Even though secrecy as to the equipment or process may be achievable by limiting the number of parties having access to the equipment or process, to apply for patent protection on the product, it is necessary to disclose the best mode of making or using the product. Thus, it may be necessary to disclose the equipment or process in the application. Therefore, if patent protection is sought on the product, the company may have no choice but to seek patent protection on the equipment or process because it will be necessary to disclose the details of the equipment or process in seeking patent protection on the product. On the other hand, if the company foregoes patent protection on the product, the equipment and process may still be maintained as a trade secret (assuming that the equipment or process is not derivable from the product). In the end, sometimes foregoing patent protection is the right decision to make, because there are other forms of legal protection that may more closely align with a company’s goals and the realities of the marketplace. Considering the nature of the product and a company’s business plan, trade secret protection may be a better choice than patent protection in certain circumstances. BIO

Paul Craane is a partner at Marshall, Gerstein & Borun LLP. Reach him at pcraane@ or (312) 4746623.





Casco’s new GTI floating membrane cover

Geomembrane Cover Improves Biogas Collection, Heat Retention, Odor Control Canadian corn products refiner, Casco, recently upgraded its 4 million-gallon wastewater anaerobic digester to include a state-of-the-art floating and insulated geomembrane cover, designed and installed by Geomembrane Technologies, effectively streamlining biogas collection, improving odor control and optimizing bioreactor heat retention.


asco Inc. is all about processing corn products. As one of Canada’s biggest and oldest, manufacturers of corn-refined ingredients such as sweeteners, starches, oil and animal feed, its products are used in more than 60 industries from food and beverage to pharmaceuticals to paper manufacturing

and animal nutrition. Combined, its three manufacturing facilities in Ontario, process 4.5 million bushels of corn each month. One of its plants, in Cardinal, on the St. Lawrence River and 50 miles south of Ottawa, is among the most automated corn wet-milling facilities in the industry. Opened in 1858, and processing 70 million pounds

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).


of corn monthly, the facility manufactures high-fructose corn syrup, glucose, specialty starches and corn oil for Canadian and U.S. markets. Along with the Cardinal facility’s high-volume of corn processing production—it runs 24 hours, seven days a week—is the plant’s need to process a continuing effluent of organic waste. A total av-

erage volume of 792,000 gallons (106,000 cubic feet) of wastewater per day enters its treatment facility. Eighty percent of this effluent is first processed through its anaerobic digester.

Wastewater Generation from Corn Processing Casco’s bulk volume fermenter (BVF) was designed


‘The prior cover fluctuated up and down with the wastewater level inside the tank. The new-design GTI cover system is a trampoline type, it has no folds and the material is quite taut.’ Victor Cormier, engineer and Casco project manager, GTI

and built in 1988 by ADI Systems. It is limited to receiving 641,000 gallons (85,000 cubic feet) of wastewater per day, as specified by the Ministry of the Environment (MOE), the agency responsible for setting wastewater standards in Ontario. This effluent is generated from several areas of the plant through a wet milling process, where various components from the exterior and interior of the kernel are mechanically and chemically separated. Essentially, a softenedkernel mixture is ground in a mill to separate the starch and gluten from the hulls. The hulls are then used as animal feed. The protein, also called gluten meal or corn meal, is separated from the starch. There is little effluent from this stage because most of the water gets recirculated to minimize loss of the starch or gluten. The starch, now separated, is either refined into sugar, or turned into a food-grade or industrial-grade starch. A starch slurry is introduced into several process streams where various surfactants (surface active agents) produce chemical modifications to the physical properties of the granules to meet requirements for different grades of

starch. The processing of the starch accounts for 10 percent of the wastewater effluent going into the BVF. During the conversion process for changing the starch to sugar, ion exchange resins are employed requiring the use of hydrochloric acid and caustic for regeneration. The initial regeneration flow, along with any sugar that is rinsed out with the resins, goes out as wastewater to the BVF reactor. Subsequent rinses that have a chemical oxygen demand (COD) of less than 1,000 parts per million (ppm), are diverted to the plant’s aerobic basin of the waste treatment plant. The sugar refinery is the biggest supplier of wastewater to the system, accounting for 70 percent of the plant’s total effluent. Various other processes of the plant supply trace volumes of effluent to the BVF.

Cover Streamlines Biogas Collection Anaerobic digestion is a process where microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen, used widely to treat wastewater sludges and organic waste because it provides volume and mass reduction of the input material. At

Casco, raw solids are added directly to the BVF bioreactor, where they are digested, minimizing waste sludge handling. Comparatively long retention times (typically greater than seven days) and the large physical size of the bioreactor (in excess of 4 million gallons) with a high volume of biomass maintained in it, work together to provide the system with inherent stability against shock conditions, such as by organics and solids loading, and temperature and pH fluctuations. The biological breakdown of organic matter in the absence of oxygen gives off primarily methane, but also carbon dioxide and some traces of hydrogen sulfide, which altogether is labeled biogas. Although biogas-derived methane and carbon dioxide come from an organic source with a short carbon cycle, they do still contribute to increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. This is diminished, however, when biogas is combusted. This energy release allows biogas to be used as a fuel to run any type of heat engine, or to generate either mechanical or electrical power. In essence, anaerobic digestion is a renewable energy source which converts wastewater to a methane- and carbon dioxide-rich biogas suitable for energy production, replacing fossil fuels. The Casco Cardinal plant has used a geomembrane cover on its BVF bioreactor since it became operational in 1988. In October 2008, however, Casco upgraded to

an improved-design floating, insulated geomembrane cover with a streamlined capability to collect biogas. The cover captures and reclaims all of the biogas from the treatment process occurring inside the anaerobic tank. Without a cover, the biogas would be released to the atmosphere. Designed, built and installed by Geomembrane Technologies Inc., this new geomembrane cover is collecting an average of 236,000 cubic feet of biogas per day from the BVF bioreactor at a 65 percent methane concentration. “Over the past two years, Casco’s cover was getting to the point where it needed to be revamped or changed,” says Victor Cormier, engineer and Casco project manager for GTI. “As the previous cover aged over the 20 years that it had been in place, it began to have issues inhibiting biogas collection. Our latest floating geomembrane cover system is significantly different from the previous cover. The prior cover fluctuated up and down with the wastewater level inside the tank. The new-design GTI cover system is a trampoline type, it has no folds and the material is quite taut.” Casco’s new floating and insulated geomembrane cover is made up of a one-inch layer of polyethylene foam laminated to polyethylene sheeting on the bottom (wastewater facing) side. The top layer is a nonlaminated sheet of 40 mil specialty PVC (ethylene interpolymer alloy) that acts as a gas-tight barrier to keep




Casco’s 20-year-old cover prior to replacement

the biogas from passing through. It also incorporates a highly specialized weave design that provides maximum strength-to-weight ratios. Since this top sheet is exposed to the sun, it is also equipped with advanced ultraviolet inhibitors. The cover’s polyethylene sheeting and insulation is not meant to be gas-tight, it is specially perforated to allow the biogas to pass through and become trapped by the top layer. This design has exceptional seam strength, extreme puncture and tear resistance, low thermal expansion and contraction properties, a wide range of chemical resistance, high flexibility, and dimensional stability under high loads and temperature fluctuations, making it ideal for anaerobic bioreactor floating cover applications. The geomembrane cover lies on 54 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 10|2009

the surface of the bioreactor, which provides buoyancy for the cover system. It works under a vacuum, using a blower system which keeps the gases withdrawn and suctioned underneath the cover. The system incorporates a novel floating-beam design which not only assists in the initial deployment of the cover panels over large bioreactors (such as at Casco), but it also creates a tent-like effect giving extra migration paths for the biogas to follow. The beams themselves are hollow molded plastic, but they are also biogas-tight. Aluminum angles are bolted down to all panel sides of the cover to make a gastight seal, and a very strong connection so the panels maintain a constant vacuum. Not all cover designs work this efficiently, however. Polyethylene top sheets, for example, typically have a


Casco’s new GTI floating geomembrane cover is not only successfully retaining the digester’s biogas odors, and delivering a very efficient system for the collection and management of biogas, it is also providing a strong surface to safely support foot traffic.

poor coefficient of expansion and contraction. When it gets cold, the material contracts, and when it gets warm it expands. Over time, this growing and shrinking will contort the shape of the cover, creating a series of hills and valleys that will inhibit biogas migration and collection, not to mention creating ponds of rainwater. GTI’s cover system has overcome these deficiencies. Once the biogas is collected, several options are available to the plant including disposal of the gas in a flare, or use as a fuel to provide process heat or to generate electricity. Biogas must be clean to reach pipeline quality, and must be of the correct composition. Carbon dioxide, water, hydrogen sulfide and particulates must be removed before it can be used for heating or electrical generation. The Casco plant is currently flaring the gas, and is examining options for utilizing the biogas within the plant. A customized control system for the gas collection and management uses a programmable logic controller in communication with supervisory control and data acquisition control software with a personal computer operator interface. The software trends operational data, and Casco operators can remotely monitor and control the system.

Improving BVF Heat Retention The efficiency of the BVF bioreactor—its ability to maintain digestion of the continuously incoming influent and its commensurate production of

biogas—is critically dependent upon keeping the temperature of the BFV reactor at 25 to 32 degrees Celsius (77 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit). This is particularly important in cooler, northern climates, such as Casco’s location. Heat loss in large volumes of wastewater translates to energy loss, and this lost heat must then be compensated for by adding heat. Casco has supplemented its BVF reactor with heat generated from its refinery wastewater, which has been intentionally heated to maintain the bioreactor’s temperature. Its new GTI geomembrane cover design provides a heightened level of insulation material to better hold heat within the reactor, and its snug fit reduces heat loss to a greater extent than the previous cover. Additionally, elimination of water evaporation and increased prevention of sunlight penetration improve maintenance of appropriate water temperatures. Minimizing heat loss, as well as preventing potential ice build-up in the BVF, has decreased Casco’s energy consumption and reduced its operating costs.

Bulk Materials Handling Solutions From Reception to Delivery



Averting an Unplanned Biogas Release Casco moved ahead with the new geomembrane cover to control an unplanned biogas release and its attendant odor, which is generated mainly by hydrogen sulfide. Standards set by the Ontario MOE do not allow any methane to be released to the environment from Casco’s BVF wastewater treatment. From an operating perspective, the

StackerReclaimer ForAdditionalInformation PleaseContact: KaraHertzler 770Ͳ849Ͳ0100x100 10|2009 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 55


company needed to have certainty that the GTI cover on the BVF would meet these standards. Complicating the problem is that just 150 feet from the bioreactor is a residential neighborhood. If a less durable cover released a concentrated cloud of methane, that cloud could drift over to the neighborhood and present a serious safety hazard if inhaled, and even more serious if it were to ignite, however unlikely. “GTI had been doing regular in-


spections for us as part of their service on the original cover,” says Gerald Morand, process engineer and environmental coordinator for Casco. “Their technicians advised us that the cover had become quite thin in a number of areas, and that it was getting to an imminent point where it could fail. That is when we made the decision to replace it. In addition to the serious environmental and neighborhood safety implications, our

operators were now limited from walking out onto the cover to measure the sludge levels. We deemed that the condition of the cover made it unsafe to take these measurements.”

Challenging Cover Switch Aside from a very tight deadline required to replace the cover because of the possibility of an unplanned, and potentially dangerous biogas release—the GTI design, manufacturing and installation team was required to complete the project in less than three weeks—a critical factor was the need to execute the Casco cover switch while still operating the plant. This meant that the wastewater flow from manufacturing could not stop. The solution implemented was to divert some of the plant effluent away from the BVF bioreactor to the aerobic lagoon while the work was in progress. “We were concerned with the activity of the BVF unit while the cover was off,” Morand says. “Because the bioreactor runs anaerobically, when it is exposed to the air we expected it to have a decrease in activity, so we did not want to overload the system. If we could decrease the COD going to the BVF it would not put too much of a strain on the system while it was exposed to the atmosphere, yet still allow it to have some nutrients so that the biological activity would remain active. We cut the wastewater volume to the BVF by 55 percent, and we overloaded the aerobic lagoon intentionally during the project to reduce the biogases in the digester while we had the cover off.” Because the bioreactor is adjacent to the St. Lawrence River, only 25 feet of clearance was available on three sides of the system. The fourth side is bordered by the plant’s operating railroad line, again minimizing available space. This posed challenges with both removing the old cover and installing the new one. To remedy this, GTI manufactured and transported the 130-by-410-foot


new cover in four large sections, which were folded and rolled. The rolls were placed directly onto the BVF water, one at a time, opened and connected using the GTI floating-beam design. “The floating beams allowed us to connect the large cover panels together without having to weld them,” Cormier says. “We minimized the use of heat, because we did not want to ignite the biogas. The more we could do mechanically to fasten the large floating panels together without the use of electrical tools or heat, the safer the installation.” “GTI used a combination of a large crane, fork lifts and dump trucks to help maneuver the cover sections,” Cormier says. “While we were removing pieces of the old cover, we were simultaneously installing sections of the new cover to limit the reactor exposure to air and reduce the amount of odor coming off the wastewater. Usually, we remove the old cover, and install the new one by pulling one off while we are pulling on the other. In this case, because of the limited space, we had to design, build and install the new cover differently.” Casco’s new GTI floating geomembrane cover is not only successfully retaining the digester’s biogas odors, and delivering a very efficient system for the collection and management of biogas, it is also providing a strong surface to safely support foot traffic. “We are quite happy with GTI, and felt comfortable working with their team,” Morand says. “They had the most intimate knowledge of our system and situation. The entire project went smoothly.” “Companies are looking for both wastewater and freshwater cover systems that are environmentally proven, energy efficient and essentially maintenance free,” says Hollis Cole, president and CEO of GTI. “This requires extensive research and development into new techniques and products, and a commitment to quality and performance. Floating, insulated geomembrane covers rep-

resent the most advanced level of this technology, especially when applied to anaerobic wastewater systems.” Inevitably, manufacturers with anaerobic wastewater bioreactors will gravitate to more energy-efficient cover systems to maximize biogas collection and usage, streamline their operations and improve their bottom line. Those companies that do upgrade to the latest cover technology will find themselves in

a better competitive position, particularly as energy costs continue to escalate and become an increasingly critical factor in plant operations. BIO Jim McMahon of Zebra Communications writes about water and wastewater systems. Reach him at



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Congress Must Support the Clean Energy Workforce The main focus of the Biomass Power Association is securing the extension of essential tax credits that are set to expire at the end of this year. In 2004, Congress awarded five-year production tax credits to biomass facilities to spur investment and help ensure the continued viability of the biomass power industry. The purpose of these tax credits was to increase investment in renewable energy sources that improve the environment and benefit the economy. Those purposes remain critical today. Currently biomass power generates more than half of the total renewable energy produced in the U.S. Much of this production is the direct result of the 2004 tax credits, which are set to expire Dec. 31 of this year. The truth is that these existing production tax credits remain the lifeline of the biomass power industry and are vitally important to its survival. If Congress does not extend these crucial tax credits, more than half of the existing biomass power facilities could be forced to shut down, and thousands of jobs would be lost. Congress is determined to pass an Energy Bill that creates jobs and reduces America’s dependence on fossil fuels. Biomass power addresses both concerns by creating thousands of jobs and increasing production of clean, renewable electricity. But we can’t take our eye off the needs of existing facilities while looking to develop new opportunities for growth in our industry. Rural communities across the country rely on biomass power plants to boost their local economies. The impact of closing as many as half of today’s existing biomass facilities would be felt by the hard-working families in rural America who make their livelihood by producing clean energy. In these economic hard times, the last thing Congress should do is abandon the clean energy workforce of America’s heartland. In addition, many southeastern states lack sustainable sources of wind and solar power.

Electricity from biomass is the only way these states can achieve a meaningful mandate for renewable electricity. Failing to extend these tax credits would deal a devastating blow to the biomass power industry and mark a major setback in building a green energy economy. Recently, the BPA joined with Bob Cleaves the RES-Alliance for Jobs to sup- president and CEO, Biomass port an aggressive federal renew- Power Association able electricity mandate of 25 percent. Losing these tax credits would not only discourage future investment in biomass power, but it would also virtually eliminate any chance at meeting the goals of a new federal renewable electricity standard. What’s worse is that these tax credits were awarded to biomass power at half the rate of competing renewables like wind and geothermal—leaving biomass at a serious competitive disadvantage. Both wind and geothermal were granted 10-year terms for their production tax credit and at twice the rate of biomass. If Congress is serious about moving America’s economy towards clean, renewable energy, then policymakers need to stop picking winners and losers and give biomass power the same tax credits as other renewables. Both Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., and Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Fla., have sponsored amendments (S. 870 and H.R. 2528) designed to provide an additional five years of tax credits to these biomass power facilities. The BPA will continue to urge support for these tax credit extensions and to ensure that biomass power plays a major role in building tomorrow’s green energy economy. BIO Bob Cleaves is president and CEO of the Biomass Power Association. To learn more about biomass power, please visit



UPDATE The Power of Algae The world of biomass is bursting with hope for algae, however, we must avoid the course of irrational exuberance that plagued past technologies. Many look to algae as the renewable resource to win the battle over global warming, and provide the U.S. with energy security. In reality, algae hold great promise as a resource that, if developed correctly, could become a sustainable biomass source for energy and fuels. We are still years away from developing meaningful quantities, and prudence must govern the safe development of natural algae strains that will have no adverse impacts on ecosystems. No one can deny the potential of algae. Unlike traditional oilseed crops, which produce 10 to 100 gallons of oil per acre, algae are mega oil producers capable of producing 1,000 to 5,000 gallons of oil per acre. Oil collected from algae looks very similar, chemically, to crop oils and can be converted to renewable fuel using existing technology. Algae also do not compete with food sources, can grow in nonpotable and saline water on otherwise nonproductive land, treat polluted waters and recycle carbon dioxide (CO2). So if algae are so phenomenal, why aren’t we using them to produce biofuels on a large-scale today? Many challenges to large-scale algae-derived renewable fuel exist and span the entire process from algae strain selection, through harvesting, to fuel conversion. Although great strides have been made, algae production remains a challenge. Algae grow in shallow ponds or bioreactors where they use photosynthesis (sunlight, CO2 and other nutrients) to grow, reproduce and generate oil. Advancements are needed to optimize the supply of light, CO2, and nutrients to the algae. Because of algae’s small size, and tendency to plug/foul filters, harvesting it from water is challenging. Once harvested, the algae undergo energy-intensive drying and oil extraction processes. Research is ongoing to find ways to more efficiently collect oil and algae solids from their waterborne state.

Economics are also a major challenge facing algae’s future in the renewable fuels industry. Currently, the price of feedstock makes up the largest cost of production and can contribute 80 percent to 90 percent of the final fuel price. The hope is that algae will have the ability to produce oil Chad Wocken at a price competitive with petro- senior research manager, EERC leum oil at $1 to $2 per gallon. To achieve this, technology advancements need to be demonstrated, but additional characteristics of algae will also need to be fully utilized. Treating impaired water and capturing CO2 will improve the economic viability of algal-based systems. Additionally, the identification and extraction of other valuable products within algae, such as nutrients or pharmaceuticals, will aid in the economic viability of algae. Working to overcome these challenges and unleash the potential of algae, the Energy & Environmental Research Center continues to develop pathways to convert algae to renewable fuels. The EERC is currently teamed with Science Applications International Corp., and others to further demonstrate the EERC process to convert any oil, including algae oil, to “drop-in” compatible fuels. The EERC has maintained its focus on producing drop-in compatible renewable fuels, meaning that they are virtually indistinguishable from traditional petroleum-based fuels. The EERC and others are engaged in developing an economical process for the production and subsequent conversion of algal biomass to liquid fuels that are identical to gasoline, jet fuel and diesel. These algae-derived renewable fuels have the potential to rival petroleum fuels and truly be the new super fuel. BIO Chad Wocken is a senior research manager at the EERC. Reach him at or (701) 777-5273.




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Biomass Magazine - October 2009  

October 2009 Biomass Magazine

Biomass Magazine - October 2009  

October 2009 Biomass Magazine