INSIDE: UNLOCKING THE OCEANâ€™S BIOMASS POTENTIAL September 2008
Dealing With Disaster Debris What Can be Done to Prepare for the Aftermath of a Disaster?
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9|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 3
WE KNOW CELLULOSE TO ETHANOL
With over 40 years of combined “hands-on” experience in conversion of lignocellulosic biomass to ethanol at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, BBI is your best resource for cellulosic project evaluation and development. Our experts understand the critical technical and economic issues related to feedstock collection and storage, biological and thermochemical conversion technologies and downstream processing. Our direct experience includes the design and engineering of concentrated acid hydrolysis, dilute acid pretreatment, enzymatic hydrolysis, and fermentation processes for converting a broad range of feedstocks to ethanol. Whether it’s a feasibility study, feedstock assessment, due diligence, process design or complete project development, BBI is the definitive source of answers for your cellulose-toethanol questions.
BBI International Project Development Adding Value to the Biofuels Industry 4 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 300 Union Blvd., Suite 325 9|2008 Lakewood, CO 80228 Phone: 303-526-5655 www.bbiinternational.com
FEATURES ..................... 24 INDUSTRY Dealing With Disaster Debris What happens to all the debris that’s generated in the aftermath of a disaster? To the dismay of some people in the biomass industry, most of it is incinerated or left to rot in landfills. By Ron Kotrba
30 TECHNOLOGY Furfural: Future Feedstock for Fuels and Chemicals High oil prices have prompted some U.S. biomass processors to take a second look at producing furfural as another revenue source. By Jessica Ebert
36 PRODUCTION Is Biomass Harvesting Sustainable? A group of researchers from Minnesota and Wisconsin studied a biomass harvesting operation in Minnesota’s Superior National Forest to gauge its economic and environmental costs. By Jerry W. Kram
42 FEEDSTOCK Oceans of Biomass INDUSTRY | PAGE 24
DEPARTMENTS ..................... 06 Editor’s Note Disaster Aftermath Preparedness By Rona Johnson
A Costa Rican researcher believes the ocean is a viable and vastly underutilized source of energy and feedstocks for biofuels production. By Anna Austin
48 EVENT Biomass, Wind, Coal, Hydro, Petroleum … The Energy & Environmental Research Center director’s message to attendees of the Biomass ’08 Technical Workshop was that America’s energy security depends on many resources, and the development of partnerships among the private sector, academia, government agencies and others. By Ron Kotrba, Jerry W. Kram, Bryan Sims, Anna Austin and Ryan C. Christiansen
07 Advertiser Index 08 CITIES Corner Building Sustainable Communities By Art Wiselogel
11 Industry Events 12 Business Briefs 14 Industry News 59 In the Lab Watching Grass Grow By Jerry W. Kram
61 EERC Update Sustainability of Biofuels: Technology Pathways By Chad Wocken
Correction from our August 2008 issue: On page 53 of the Profile feature titled “Breaking Through to the Other Side of Biofuels,” it incorrectly states that Sustainable Power Corp. founder and Chairman John Rivera graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
9|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 5
NOTE Disaster Aftermath Preparedness
he month’s issue of Biomass Magazine features an interesting look at what happens to the debris left behind after a disaster. Although most communities, counties and states have disaster preparedness programs, one wonders if there is a need to also prepare for the aftermath. After witnessing the flood of 1997 in Grand Forks, N.D., and East Grand Forks, Minn., when the Red River overflowed its banks and forced 90 percent of Grand Forks’ 40,000 residents to abandon their homes and businesses, I can understand the need for a plan to deal with disaster debris. I believe the communities were prepared for flooding—at least for the predicted 49-foot crest—as there were dikes built to protect the city. It was the 54-foot crest that caught everyone off guard. The fact that there were no casualties is a testament to everyone involved in the flood-fighting efforts and their disaster preparedness training. When the water receded and people were allowed to go back to their waterlogged homes, I remember driving down streets lined with people’s flood-damaged belongings. I’m not sure what happened to that stuff, but I’m pretty sure that the bulk of it wasn’t recycled. The flood caused an estimated $2 billion in damage to the two communities, and more than 60,000 tons of debris were removed. After reading Ron Kotrba’s feature titled “Dealing with Disaster Debris” on page 24, it’s clear there are some sticky issues involved in the cleanup process. First and foremost, that debris belongs to someone, whether it’s homeowners, businesses or communities. So, who should collect any money made from it? How much can a company afford to pay for the debris and still come out ahead after spending the time and money to remove and transport it? Also, any time you have government agencies involved, it’s bound to get complicated. I was shocked to learn that most disaster debris is burned or ends up rotting in landfills. It seems like such a shame when there are so many resourceful people finding ways to recycle that waste. For more information about these people and their ideas for managing disaster debris, check out Kotrba’s feature.
Rona Johnson Features Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
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PUBLISHING & SALES
Advanced Biofuels Workshop & Tradeshow
MANAGING EDITOR Jessica Sobolik email@example.com
PUBLISHER & CEO Mike Bryan firstname.lastname@example.org
BBI International Community Initiative To Improve Energy Sustainability (CITIES)
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STAFF WRITER Jerry W. Kram email@example.com Susanne Retka Schill firstname.lastname@example.org Bryan Sims email@example.com Kris Bevill firstname.lastname@example.org Timothy Charles Holmseth email@example.com Erin Voegele firstname.lastname@example.org Anna Austin email@example.com Ryan C. Christiansen firstname.lastname@example.org Suzanne H. Schmidt email@example.com
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Biofuels Australasia Magazine
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Continental Biomass Industries
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Energy from Biomass and Waste Exposition & Conference
ONLINE EDITOR Hope Deutscher firstname.lastname@example.org
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RECEPTIONIST Nicole Zambo email@example.com
www.ethanol-jobs.com 62 Ethanol Producer Magazine
Harris Group Inc.
Laidig Systems Inc.
Midwest Process Solutions
Percival Scientific Inc.
Price BIOstock Services
Rath, Young and Pignatelli PC
Robert-James Sales Inc.
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9|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 7
CITIES corner Building Sustainable Communities
id you know that there are approximately 1,261 cities in the United States with populations of more than 25,000? That’s a lot, but not as many as I thought. Did you know that there are 1,081 “Cool Cities” and over 370 members of the International Council on Local Environmental Issues? Both of these nonprofit organizations are leaders in developing green community initiatives. These numbers seem to indicate that we live in an environmentally concerned and active country, however, many of these cities, communities and county governments have not really been able to change their energy profile or carbon footprint very much, if at all. Whether it is due to lack of commitment, lack of financial or work force resources, or constituents concerned about change or expenditures of tax dollars, little has really been done. At the same time, some “well-heeled” communities that are environmentally conscious have made big strides. In Colorado, where I live, the cities of Aspen and Boulder are leaders in reducing their carbon footprint. And, a large city such as Denver has the resources and motivation (Democratic Convention) to make great strides in “greening.” But, most cities, for one reason or another, are struggling to make the change. Oftentimes it takes a catastrophic event for change to occur. The aptly named city of Greensburg, Kan., was leveled by a tornado in
8 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 9|2008
May 2007 and is now making a concerted effort to rebuild itself in a sustainable manner with buildings designed using the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System and incorporating renewable energy. The city of Greensburg and state and federal agencies that supplied financial and technical resources should be applauded for taking this tragedy and working to provide a bright and green future for the town. Another recent tragedy, the flooding in Iowa, presents a similar opportunity that I hope the resilient people of that great state will embrace. Several communities have the opportunity to “reinvent” themselves. State leaders and organizations have the chance to help those communities go beyond just planning to prevent the next flood, they can also plan for a fossil energy constrained world. I sincerely hope the state supports those cities that want to rebuild as energy sustainable communities. Art Wiselogel is manager of BBI International’s Community Initiative to Improve Energy Sustainability. Reach him at awiselogel@bbiinternational .com or (303) 526-5655.
Applying Patents in the Developing Biomass Industry By Todd Taylor and Adonis Neblett
iomass technological development is rapidly advancing. Researchers and entrepreneurs are exploring new methods to convert biomass into energy, fuel or chemicals. Whether you are looking for funding and strategic partners that can help move the technology to market or are on the verge of bringing a revolutionary facility on line, give serious thought to the benefits of seeking patent protection for your ideas as well as to whether patents held by potential competitors might cause problems. Funding sources look to invest in companies that possess unique and protectable intellectual property because protected intellectual property creates a barrier to entry by competitors and helps protect and expand the value of the investor’s original investment. Therefore, entrepreneurs should consider the following regarding intellectual property protection. First, patents generally cover processes, machines and compositions of matter. A patent could be pursued for a unique combination of process steps or an improvement to an existing process. Patents could be applied to a new way to utilize a new enzyme for converting cellulosic biomass into a biofuel, a new system engineered to convert biomass into electricity with high efficiencies and low cost, or even a biobased compound that is stronger than steel.
Patents should be applied for once an invention is created and ideally before it is disclosed to others. Because the rights to obtain a patent can be lost if it is disclosed to others before the patent application is filed, keeping the idea confidential and out of the public eye is important. Another significant timing consideration includes applying before seeking funding, as potential investors will want to see an intellectual property protection strategy in place and steps taken to secure rights. Patents should be filed for in order to strategically protect intellectual property, adding value to an enterprise. Patent protection prevents competitors from using an idea, method, device or process without approval and gives the inventor rights against anyone who infringes on the patent. The investment in seeking patent protection is an indicator to potential investors of commitment to and the value of the technology. Investors want to know who owns the technology because patents allow holders to preclude others from using the patented technology, giving the patent holder a competitive edge and therefore, the investor a chance to make more money. Ownership is best established in a written agreement. Agreements with employees, researchers, consultants or contractors should require them to assign patent and technology rights to the patent holder or the holder’s company. Without a written agreement, the owner may not own the rights, and this could cause significant problems in the future when trying to prove ownership to an investor. If one does not have exclusive ownership, why would an investor want a partnership?
Even though a patent or an application may be pending, be aware of patents held by others. Just as the patent allows one to preclude others from using the technology, patents held by others can block one from using their own technology. It’s unwise to invest in significant and costly research and development or build a pilot facility only to learn that the facility or part of the process is infringing on another patent. Just as important, knowing what other patents exist may provide a roadmap for finding a better way. This creates the ability to identify weaknesses and opportunities that other patents have missed and could be exploited. Once a patent is secured, think about how to make it work for you. Licensing can generate revenue by allowing others to use the patent for their own business. A technology license may also be needed to strengthen the process, avoid infringement concerns or to reduce research and development costs. BIO
Todd Taylor is an officer in Fredrikson & Byron’s corporate, renewable energy, securities and emerging business groups. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (612) 492-7355. Adonis Neblett is a patent attorney and advisor in the intellectual property department of Fredrikson & Byron. Reach him at aneblett@ fredlaw.com or (612) 492-7049.
9|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 9
I N T E R N A T I O N A L
DISTILLERS GR AINS CONFERENCE & TRADE SHOW
a BBI International event October 19 â€“ 21, 2008 Indianapolis Marriott Downtown Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
industry events Biobased Industry Outlook Conference
Biofuels Markets Americas
September 8-9, 2008
September 9-10, 2008
Iowa State University Ames, Iowa This event will focus on strategies for meeting the new federal cellulosic biofuels mandate, and advancing the Midwestern Governors Association energy and climate change platform. It will feature cutting-edge research on cellulosic feedstock production and processing technologies; biomass harvest, storage and transportation systems; biofuels and climate change; human, social, economic and policy dimensions of the bioeconomy; and biofuels. There will also be a tour of Iowa State University’s New Century Farm. (712) 769-2600 www.bioeconomyconference.org
Hotel Emperador Buenos Aires, Argentina Officially supported by the Argentine Biofuels and Hydrogen Association, last year’s inaugural event focused on the biodiesel market. Due to popular request, this year’s event has been expanded to include BioPower Americas, a concurrent event. The joint general session will include discussion of the “bio revolution,” the global industry, climate change, energy supply and demand, finance and investment, sustainability, and feedstocks. The second day of the event will break the agenda into two groups: biofuels and biopower. +44 207 801 6333 www.greenpowerconferences.com
Biofuels Markets East Africa
Texas Biofuels Conference & Expo
September 16-18, 2008
September 17-18, 2008
Kilimanjaro Hotel Kempinski Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania This inaugural event will particularly focus on Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya. The case-study-led agenda will include presentations and panels that review the current status of the biofuels market in this region, and address the expanding opportunities for the production of feedstocks and biofuels for use in Africa and for export. There will also be a preconference seminar on jatropha. +44 207 801 6333 www.greenpowerconferences.com
Hilton Austin Airport Austin, Texas This third annual event will take an in-depth look at the latest regulatory, agricultural and technical developments impacting the renewable fuels industry in Texas. Special attention will be given to the Energy Independence & Security Act of 2007 and the impact it will have on the future of renewable fuels in Texas. (512) 358-1000 www.biofuelevents.com
Biomass World 2008
International Bioenergy Days
September 23-24, 2008
September 28-October 3, 2008
Hilton Hotel Beijing, China This forum will focus on the conversion of biomass to power, gas and liquid fuels. Attendees will hear updates on such projects in China, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Thailand and the Philippines. Other topics will include cellulosic ethanol, biogas, cofiring, gasification, combustion, enzymes and the economics of various biomass feedstocks. +65 63469115 www.cmtevents.com
Minnesota State University, Mankato Mankato, Minnesota U.S. Ambassador to Sweden Michael Wood has made expanding cooperation between the United States and Sweden in the area of alternative energy the focus of his tenure. This event began in Sweden as a way to bring people together to learn from success stories and the latest developments in the field, and Minnesota has been chosen as the site for the first U.S.-based event. Biomass, such as wood, switchgrass, hemp, ag waste and manure, will be part of the discussion. (612) 708-0361 www.bioenergydays.com
Bioenergy: From Words to Actions
Energy from Biomass and Waste
October 6-8, 2008
October 14-16, 2008
The Westin Ottawa Ottawa, Ontario The aim of this annual conference, hosted by the Canadian Bioenergy Association, is to identify package solutions for communities exploiting biomass for energy and to examine policies needed to make this happen. It will feature sessions on developing biomass supply chains, and solid fuel development and utilization. It will include tours of the world’s longest-operating fast-pyrolysis bio-oil plant; a biomass cogeneration unit at a pulp mill; and an ag waste operation. (647) 239-5899 www.canbio.ca/events.html
David L. Lawrence Convention Center Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania More than 1,000 people are expected to attend this event, which will address sustainable waste management, the commercial viability of wasteto-energy and biomass-to-energy technologies, positive effects of energy from biomass and waste programs, domestic and international markets, business opportunities, and legal and financial issues. More than 100 exhibitors will showcase the latest in sustainable energy production and safe waste handling, as well. +49-2802-948484-0 www.ebw-expo.com
9|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 11
BRIEFS BBI fills two new positions Mark Yancey has been named chief executive officer of BBI BioVentures LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of BBI International Inc., which will develop and operate multiple cellulosic ethanol plants in the United States. Yancey has been employed with BBI International for more than seven years, formerly serving as the Nieves company’s vice president of project development. In addition, BBI International has named Rafael Nieves to the newly created position of director of international business development. Nieves previously served as the company’s manager of international business development and has been with BBI International for three years. BIO
Nexterra Energy receives award Vancouver, British Columbia-based Nexterra Energy Corp. was awarded the 2008 Gowlings Clean Tech Award at the 23rd annual Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance Innovation and Leadership Awards Gala held in Ottawa on June 10. The award was offered for the first time this year and is intended to recognize outstanding technology engineering developments that result in a cleantech product designed to have a minimal environmental impact. Nexterra Energy was recognized for its biomass gasification technology that converts wood residue into renewable synthesis gas. BIO
Biomass Gas & Electric partners with University of South Carolina Biomass Gas & Electric LLC announced July 8 the formation of a Biomass Fuels Division to commercialize a “micropropagation” technology developed by scientists at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, S.C. Program research at USC is being conducted by Professor Laszlo Marton and Mihaly Czako. According to BG&E, the goal of the project is to further the selection and breeding of perennial grasses for biomass feedstocks to achieve greater yields and improve various other traits for efficient bioenergy use. BIO
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Iogen, Shell expand partnership Ottawa-based Iogen Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell PLC have extended their partnership to accelerate the development and production of cellulosic ethanol. The companies first partnered in 2002 when Shell purchased an equity stake in Iogen. As part of the extension, Shell will increase its shareholding percentage in Iogen’s subsidiary technology development firm from 26.3 percent to 50 percent. The oil giant will also contribute to full-scale cellulosic ethanol production feasibility and design assessment work being conducted by Iogen. BIO
Virtual Media Holdings acquires biomass company In June, Abbotsford, British Columbia-based Virtual Media Holdings Inc. acquired Biomass Waste Management Inc. with intentions of building biomass-to-power generation facilities across North America. The new company, now called Biomass Secure Power Inc., plans to develop biomass-to-power plants that are able to produce 10 megawatts of steam and electricity using wood destroyed by pine beetles as a feedstock. The company would then sell the electricity to BC Hydro, British Columbia’s utility provider, through a 20-year power purchase agreement, according to VMH Chief Executive Officer Jim Carroll. BIO
Biomass plant to help power California coastline Blue Lake Power LLC, which operates a wood-to-energy production plant in Humboldt County, Calif., will be supplying power for San Diego Gas & Electric when it comes on line in April. Under a 10-year power purchase agreement, Blue Lake Power will supply 11 megawatts of energy annually, enough to power 7,000 households each year. The agreement will help SDG&E to produce nearly 16 percent of its energy portfolio from clean power sources by 2010. BIO
BRIEFS CH2M Hill increases staff by three
Dynamic Fuels to start construction Tyson Foods Inc. and Syntroleum Inc. gave the final goahead for the proposed 75 MMgy renewable diesel plant to be built by their joint venture Dynamic Fuels LLC in Geismar, La. Funding for the $138 million project includes $100 million in Gulf Opportunity Zone Bonds approved in June by the Louisiana State Bond Commission, along with equal equity contributions from each of the partners. Brownfield construction is expected to begin in October with production scheduled to being in 2010. BIO
Denver-based CH2M Hill, a global full-service engineering, procurement, construction and operations firm, has made three additions to its office in Austin, Texas: John Hoffner, Jaya Jackson and Kurt Lyell. Hoffner will serve as renewable energy project manager and senior client services manager. Jackson will manage designs for large photovoltaic systems and other renewable energy projects. Lyell will manage solar and bioenergy projects. CH2M Hill provides a wide variety of renewable energy services. BIO
Seed industry veteran joins Ceres Biomass Commodity Exchange under development Heartland Business Consultants Inc. will aid in research, design and a business plan to develop the Biomass Commodity Exchange, according to Stephen Dinehart, project director for the Biomass Commodity Exchange and principle at Heartland Business Consultants. Clean Tech Inc. is coordinating the financing of the study. Some of the goals of the Biomass Commodity Exchange are to improve the selling and buying of biomass, introduce price indicators to the markets and standardize terminology in the biomass industry. For more information, visit www.biomasscommodityexchange.com. BIO
Shonsey joins HR BioPetroleum HR BioPetroleum Inc., a renewable bioenergy company based in Hawaii, has named Ed Shonsey as chief executive officer and a member of its board of directors. Shonsey was most recently CEO of Diversa Corp., a producer of specialty enzymes and bioenergy solutions. In December 2007, HR BioPetroleum and Shell International Renewables BV formed a joint venture called Cellana to build a demonstration facility using HR BioPetroleum’s technology to grow marine algae and produce oil for conversion into biofuel. BIO
Ceres Inc., an energy crop company in Thousand Oaks, Calif., has appointed Michael Stephenson, former general manager for AgReliant Genetics LLC, as vice president of operations. The long-time seed industry veteran will oversee the company’s agronomy teams, which are developing new energy crops for cellulosic biofuels and biopower production. Stephenson has chaired the American Seed Trade Association’s corn and sorghum division, and has served as president of the Soybean Research Foundation. BIO
Albemarle Corp. to supply catalysts for renewable diesel production Albemarle Corp. is scheduled to supply catalysts exclusively to Neste Oil OYJ in 2008, 2009 and 2010 for the production of renewable diesel in Porvoo, Finland. Neste is operating one facility there, and a second is under construction. Both will use the company’s NExBTL technology. Neste and Albemarle have worked together for several years to develop the catalysts. According to Albemarle, Neste’s renewable diesel produces 40 percent to 60 percent fewer greenhouse gases over the fuel’s life cycle when compared with fossil fuels. BIO 9|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 13
NEWS EPA denies RFS waiver request U.S. EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson announced Aug. 7 the denial of the renewable fuels standard (RFS) waiver request submitted by Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Therefore, the required total volume of renewables to be blended into the nation’s fuel supply will remain 9 billion gallons for 2008 and 11.1 billion gallons in 2009. “The renewables standard is not causing severe economic harm,” Johnson said. The agency determined there is “no compelling evidence” that the RFS has been a factor in the impact that high commodity prices have had on the economy. In fact, he said the RFS will remain an important tool in America’s effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lessen dependence on foreign oil. The EPA has published a detailed rationale that will serve as the framework for future waiver considerations. The EPA’s de-
cision can be viewed at www.epa.gov/otaq/ renewablefuels. Brent Erickson, executive vice president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s Industrial & Environmental Section, said the EPA’s decision allows the companies that have been racing to complete advanced biofuels technology to continue. “There are currently more than 30 facilities across the United States planned, under construction or beginning operation to pioneer production of advanced biofuels made from renewable resources such as corn stalks, grasses, wood chips and even trash,” he said. BIO President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Greenwood added, “Moving backward to a time where supplies of corn outpaced demand is not a possibility.”
Rob Skjonsberg, vice president of government affairs at Poet LLC, also applauded the decision, saying the ruling gives Poet confidence to continue developing commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol facilities. “With stability in the marketplace, our industry can do even more to improve the environment and lessen our country’s dependence on foreign oil,” he said. Perry submitted his request to the EPA in late April, asking for a 50 percent reduction in the 2008 renewable fuel requirement that calls for 9 billion gallons of consumption nationwide. Perry requested that the number be reduced to 4.5 billion gallons. - Kris Bevill
EPA delays RFS2 ruling In early July, the U.S. EPA announced at a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing that it would be delaying its proposal for implementing the second stage of the renewable fuels standard (RFS2). Robert Meyers, principal deputy assistant administrator in the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, told attending senators that because the RFS2 includes new elements that add complexity to the program, the EPA won’t be able to issue a proposal before it becomes effective Jan. 1, 2009, as required. Instead, the proposal has been delayed until mid-2009. Established with the signing of the Energy Independence & Security Act of 2007, RFS2 created five specific changes that must be implemented by the EPA, including: A volume mandate increase to 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel by 2022. For 2009, the mandate is 11.1 billion gallons, of which 1 billion gallons must be advanced biofuels. The inclusion of non-road gasoline and diesel fuel volume. The establishment of three new renewable fuels categories: advanced biofuels, 14 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 9|2008
biomass-based diesel and cellulosic biofuels. Life cycle greenhouse gas performance threshold standards applied to each renewable fuel category. The change in definition of renewable fuel feedstocks, limiting crops and crop residues used to produce renewable fuel to those from lands not cleared or cultivated prior to the enactment of the Energy Independence & Security Act, actively managed, or fallow and non-forested. Arnie Klann, chief executive officer and chairman of California-based BlueFire Ethanol Inc., said he doesn’t know of any company that will be producing cellulosic ethanol until mid-2009, so the EPA’s delay is “probably ‘no harm, no foul.’” However, he said the potential problem resulting from a delay could be a lack of financial support for advanced biofuel projects. “How does the financial community perceive the risk of financing more ethanol plants if the mandate really isn’t there?” he asked. He didn’t think a delay will affect his company because BlueFire has already raised a substantial amount
of funding for its first project. However, prolonged delays on the EPA’s part could affect BlueFire’s future projects. Clayton McMartin, president of Clean Fuels Clearinghouse, a renewable identification number (RIN) registry, said a delay by the EPA will cause uncertainty throughout the entire renewable fuel chain, specifically in the area of RIN trading. “Without a specific standard for the advanced biofuels, refiners are not going to seek out RINs produced by those types of facilities,” he said. “Even if they wanted to, they couldn’t since the RIN is not specifically identified as being one produced from that type of facility.” EPA spokeswoman Cathy Milbourn said it’s not unusual for the EPA to postpone a proposal, “especially one of this magnitude.” Until the EPA announces its decision, the agency assumes the biofuels industry will continue to comply with the law as stated. -Kris Bevill
NEWS HECO pushes biomass power Hawaiian Electric Co. is moving ahead with its proposal to supply renewable energy to Oahu’s power grid. The company issued a request for proposals (RFP) in June for bidders to submit plans for large projects or projects with incremental increases in additional capacity. The RFP is the first time the utility has used a bidding process, said Peter Rosegg, HECO’s director of communications. “We’re trying to be as transparent and open as we can be in the process,” he added. As part of the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission rules, HECO held a technical conference to discuss the draft RFP, while an independent observer monitored and guided the process. After input from the independent observer and interested parties, the utilities commission approved HECO’s release of the RFP. Responses to the RFP are due Sept. 25. More information is available at www.generationbidding.heco.com. One of Oahu’s challenges in delivering renewable power will be designing systems to account for the nature of intermittent resources. Hawaii faces a unique set of challenges, HECO said in the RFP. “These include having no interconnections to other grids for support, little geographic diversity and a unique mix of generation resources,” it stated. Technologies that are eligible to meet HECO’s
renewable power standard include biofuels, biomass and biogas (landfill and sewage-based digester gas), as well as wind and solar power, hydropower, geothermal power, and hydrogen from renewables. “We are open to as many different applications of technologies as possible,” Rosegg said. The additional renewable energy will complement existing renewable energy projects, including a waste-to-energy plant owned by H-Power that produces 46 megawatts of power. H-Power is building a 110-megawatt, simple-cycle peaking unit consisting of one combustion turbine generator and auxiliary systems at HECO’s Barbers Point Tank Farm in the Campbell Industrial Park. Groundbreaking for the unit is expected in 2008 with operations starting by mid-2009. After testing and certification, the unit will be fueled 100 percent by biodiesel provided by Imperium Services LLC, a subsidiary of Imperium Renewables Inc. Aquatech International Corp. will provide water treatment for the power plant. Aquatech provides equipment for water and wastewater treatment, desalination, water reuse, and zero-liquid discharge systems. The power plant will use three different feed waters, namely saline groundwater, tertiarytreated gray water and potable city water with high silica. -Jerry W. Kram
Syntec offers technology license Vancouver, British Columbia-based Syntec Biofuel Inc. has made its thermochemical conversion technology available at no initial cost to interested parties in the ethanol industry. Company President and Chairman Michael Jackson said the license is valued at $200,000. The decision to give it away was made when ethanol producers in the Midwest began struggling with high corn prices as a result of an unusually wet spring. “My thinking was, if we could help them in some way—a license is a small part—or if it could give them the idea to put up a thermochemical facility in conjunction with corn ethanol, it would increase their revenue and decrease the cost,” he said. At press time, Jackson said Syntec would offer the free license until the price of corn drops below $6 per bushel. The license being offered is for use at a 12 MMgy facility. He estimated the cost of such a facility would be approximately $50 million and said the producer could generate $28 million annually. “Our business model is based on building smaller plants on the premise that there are many small saw mills, sugar and corn ethanol plants, [and municipal solid waste] stations that would have approximately 300 tons per day of waste material that we could gasify,” he said, adding that at that size, the return on investment is “very compelling.” Although a free license could aid a corn-based ethanol producer looking to transition into cellulose, Jackson admitted the offer isn’t
completely selfless. It serves as advertising for the company and entices companies to install Syntec’s technology, after which they would be obliged to pay royalty fees. A royalty license of 7.5 cents per gallon means Syntec would earn $900,000 from a 12 MMgy facility operating at full capacity. According to Jackson, Syntec currently has nondisclosure agreements with “three major chemical companies in Japan, a large government petroleum company in China, two companies in Hawaii, one company in Brazil, and approximately eight large and small companies in the United States.” Syntec has been working since 2001 to develop advanced catalysts that can be used in a thermochemical gasification process to produce ethanol from a variety of biomass feedstocks, including corn stover. “There are only two companies in North America that are at the level we are, and that is (Colorado- based) Range Fuels and us,” Jackson said, adding that he believes Syntec is the first company to begin licensing. The company is also working toward construction of a 10 MMgy biomass-based methanol facility in Oregon, which he expects to be operational in 2010. The plant will eventually convert feedstocks such as wood and municipal solid waste to cellulosic ethanol once development of the catalysts is complete. -Kris Bevill
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NEWS ConocoPhillips signs algae research agreement ConocoPhillips announced July 1 that the company had signed a $5 million, multiyear research agreement with the Colorado Center for Biorefining and Biofuels (C2B2), a Colorado Renewable Energy Collaboratory research center. C2B2 is a joint venture of the University of Colorado at Boulder, Colorado State University, the Colorado School of Mines and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The research is scheduled to run two to three years, and will build on a variety of active research projects being conducted by Colorado scientists and students to find new ways of converting biomass into low-carbon transportation fuels. The first part of
into fuels. The focus of this research is to find ways of making the process sustainable while reducing carbon dioxide emissions and using a cost-effective feedstock. ConocoPhillips currently uses its conversion technology to make renewable diesel commercially from soybean oil and animal tallow. David Hiller, executive director of the Colorado Renewable Energy Collaboratory, said his organization is excited that ConocoPhillips has entered into this sponsored research agreement. “We are looking forward to expanding the scope and duration of this research with ConocoPhillips,” he said.
the project will center on creating renewable fuel from algae. According to Lou Burke, ConocoPhillips’ manager of biofuels, the research will focus on making triglycerides from algae, which can then be used to make renewable diesel, renewable jet fuel, biodiesel and renewable gasoline. “Most of this work is going to be on strain selection, cultivation and extraction technologies,” Burke said. He explained that ConocoPhillips currently has technologies that convert the triglycerides
Traditionally, managing the coproducts from the spirits manufacturing industry has been energy-intensive and costly, often creating a bottleneck in the production process. Ecovation Inc., a division of St. Paul, Minn.based Ecolab Inc., has designed and built a proprietary whole stillage treatment solution at the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto, Ky. as a means of addressing this issue. Maker’s Mark will utilize Ecovation’s novel anaerobic digestion technology, called mobilized film technology, to effectively recycle its waste streams, and generate biogas for renewable energy and steam for its boilers. The new technology was commissioned in April, and Maker’s Mark Distillery hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony July 1 to celebrate the official operation of the technology. According to Mark Motylewski, vice president of global accounts for Ecovation, the company’s proprietary mobilized film technology will anaerobically treat the liquid portion of the whole stillage and process waters produced during the production of bourbon. The process will generate up to 165 million British thermal units of 16 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 9|2008
PHOTO: PATTI LONGMIRE
Ecovation installs stillage treatment solution for Maker’s Mark
Ecovaton’s mobilized film technology is installed at the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto, Ky.
methane-rich biogas that will offset between 20 percent and 25 percent of the facility’s natural gas consumption. “It’s a fixed-film, pulsed fluidized bed anaerobic digestion technology,” said Motylewski, who sold the project to Maker’s Mark. He also oversaw the client relationships during the project’s four years of development. “We’re separating the grains out much like the distilleries do with a centrifuge, but we use a screw-
press instead,” he said. “The technology also has an aerobic polishing treatment process to take out nitrogen compounds in the effluent that gets discharged.” Motylewski said the system is much more energy-efficient and cost-effective than traditional centrifuges and evaporators that are used to dewater and dry wet cake after the distillation process. He said Maker’s Mark will sell some wet cake as an animal feed “at a healthy profit and produced at a lower cost.” The Ecovation technology is the first to treat thin stillage in the bourbon industry, according to the company. Ecovation, which was acquired by Ecolab in February, is currently looking to develop similar anaerobic digestion systems for scotch distilleries in the United Kingdom and a rum distillery in the Caribbean, Motylewski said. “Once we complete the due diligence and prove out the technology, we’ll hopefully convince other spirit distilleries of the benefits of this process and move forward with their projects, as well,” he said. -Bryan Sims
NEWS Georgia, Louisiana adopt renewable energy income tax credits Two states adopted different uses of income tax credits through legislation enacted this summer that aims to encourage renewable energy projects. In Georgia, the state now offers an income tax credit to offset the costs of installing biomass power and other renewable technologies. The credit, which covers up to 35 percent of the cost of the project, is available to individuals and businesses installing renewable energy projects including solar, wind, geothermal and biomass power. There is a ceiling of $500,000 for businesses, and the credit won’t exceed the tax liability owed to the state. The legislation lists biomass equipment converting wood waste into electricity through gasification and pyrolysis as qualifying “clean energy property.” There is a ceiling of $2.5 million per year on the total tax credits that will be issued on a first come, first served basis during the legislation’s five-year life. The legislation also calls for biomass applications that use wood from land clearing, urban waste and pellets, and excludes wood from national forests. Taxpayers are eligible for credits resulting from the transporting or diverting of wood waste to biomass facilities on a perton basis with the value to be determined by the Georgia Forestry Commission. Louisiana’s income tax credit targets advanced biofuels. The state’s initiative calls for a comprehensive “field-to-pump” strategy to develop an advanced biofuels industry. The initiative is targeted toward feedstocks other than corn that:
Are derived solely from Louisiana harvested crops Are capable of an annual yield of at least 600 gallons of ethanol per acre Require no more than one-half of the water required to grow corn Are tolerant of high temperatures and waterlogging Are resistant to drought and saline-alkaline soils Are capable of being grown in marginal soils, ranging from heavy clay to light sand Require no more than one-third of the nitrogen required to grow corn Require no more than one-half of the energy necessary to convert corn into ethanol The strategy also calls for a decentralized network of small advanced biofuel manufacturing facilities to reduce feedstock supply risk, avoid burdening local water supplies and provide a broader base for economic development. The act defines a “small advanced biofuel manufacturing facility” as producing between 5 MMgy and 15 MMgy from feedstocks other than corn. An income tax credit of 10 cents per gallon applies to the first 10 million gallons of advanced biofuels produced in a tax year, expiring Dec. 31, 2012. The legislation also establishes pilot programs for hydrous ethanol and variable blending pumps. -Susanne Retka Schill
Mascoma on the move with partnerships Boston-based cellulosic technology company Mascoma Corp. entered into key strategic relationships in July to advance its efforts in building a commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in Michigan. In early July, Mascoma announced a strategic collaboration with Associate British Foods PLC. The two companies will develop advanced conversion methods to produce cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass, hardwood and sugarcane bagasse. Mascoma will focus on engineering, fermentation and process development, while ABF’s Finlandbased affiliate Roal Oy will center on enzyme development. According to Mascoma spokeswoman Angela Bonarrigo, the company is eyeing Chippewa County, Michigan, as a possible site for a 40 MMgy cellulosic ethanol facility, which is expected to be operational by 2012. Feasibility studies are being conducted for
one particular site, and if deemed usable, it will be acquired through a land swap under negotiations with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “It is exciting that the birthplace of the American automobile industry is becoming a leader in next-generation biofuels,” said Mascoma Chief Executive Officer Bruce Jamerson. Legislation recently passed in Michigan will offer special incentives to Mascoma to pursue the endeavor. The Centers of Energy Excellence program needs only to be signed into law by the governor before Mascoma will become eligible for a $15 million grant. Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm expressed support of developing a facility with Mascoma in June. “Mascoma’s next-
generation biomass-to-ethanol technologies are integral to wide-scale ethanol production, and this plant will put Michigan on the leading edge of technology that will create well-paying jobs for Michigan citizens,” she said. In late July, Mascoma announced it would no longer be pursuing a joint venture with the University of Tennessee Biofuels Initiative to build a pilot-scale cellulosic ethanol facility in Vonore, Tenn. “After years of discussions, we could not reach agreement on the details of the business arrangements, and we realized our business interests are no longer aligned,” said Kelly Tiller, director of external relations for the biofuels initiative. The initiative subsequently partnered with DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol LLC to continue plans for the Vonore plant. -Timothy Charles Holmseth
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NEWS With the goal of securing a sustainable supply of feedstocks for the production of biofuels and bioproducts, Pure Power’s technology center in New Zealand rolled out its commercial offering of salix (willow) cuttings for foresters and farmers, along with a manual titled “Energy Farming with Willow,” in early July. The manual covers a range of topics from breeding and propagation to establishment, management, harvesting and pest control. Singapore-based Pure Power gained its lignocellulosic supply through the acquisition of New Zealand company BioJoule in December 2007. The company has 37 hectares (91 acres) of willow at various stages of development in nursery plantations, said Pure Power Chairman and Chief Executive David Milroy. Enough cuttings will be available to plant 500 hectares (1,200 acres) in 2009 and 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) in 2010, doubling each year thereafter. “This represents a significant step toward yielding a reliable and secure supply of woody biomass for use as a lignocellulosic feedstock from which we can produce a portfolio of biofuels and a range of bioproducts,” Milroy said. Pure Power will process the woody biomass to produce ethanol for fuel, xylitol for food sweetening and lignin for the production of biopolymers. Pure Power has evaluated different hybrids, selecting seedlings for vigor and fast-growth characteristics that would double plant growth rates and biomass yields. “The best verified production is 10 tons of dry matter per hectare (four tons per acre),” said Allan
PHOTO: PURE POWER
Pure Power offers willow cuttings, crop management manual
Pure Power’s office in New Zealand is supplying cuttings of salix trees developed for the production of biofuels and bioproducts. This is a nursery by Lake Taupo in New Zealand.
Botica, Pure Power communications advisor. “This occurred during the drought last year.” The company predicts that well-managed plantations could yield between eight and 12 dry tons per hectare (three to five tons per acre) per year. Targeted at environmentally sensitive areas, a willow planting can be harvested four years after planting. The trees are coppiced (cut to ground level) and regrow sufficiently for harvest every third year. A planting is expected to yield six or seven harvests before replacement is necessary. -Susanne Retka Schill
Biométhodes, a French industrial biotechnology company located near Paris, has entered into a worldwide option-to-license agreement with Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties Inc. for several technologies that convert biomass into hydrogen and ethanol. Percival Zhang, assistant professor of biological systems engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech, invented the processes. The hydrogen process will be further developed and validated in France through a fuel cell prototype and small-scale model car. “It is still in the research stage, but it will be the ultimate solution to low-cost hydrogen production from renewable sugars,” Zhang said. His ethanol process releases sugars from nonfood materials for ethanol conversion, using enzymes and mild recyclable physiochemical conditions without high pressure or high temperatures. 18 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 9|2008
PHOTO: VIRGINIA TECH
Biométhodes, Virginia Tech sign agreement
At Virginia Tech, Percival Zhang invented processes that convert biomass into hydrogen and ethanol.
Zhang said if adequate funding can be obtained, a pilot plant may be built in Virginia and potentially scaled to a full-sized facility. “Otherwise, Biométhodes will take a lead and build the pilot plant in Europe,” he said. Gilles Amsallem, chief executive officer of Biométhodes, said the pilot plant will
integrate Virginia Tech’s pretreatment process, which breaks down the biomass, and Biométhodes’ hydrolysis enzyme optimization technology to improve the cellulose degradation into fermentable sugars. He said that although conditions for the success of the hydrogen project exist in Europe— and Biométhodes technologies are the most appropriate to develop the process—a U.S.based plant is also important because “in the United States, the time to market is shorter for ethanol.” He added that if the plant is located in Virginia, it will enhance collaboration with Zhang, who said he will be able to provide flexible technical solutions to address possible barriers during the scale-up. Goals of the pilot project will be to increase hydrolysis efficiency, optimize enzyme production and test the processes on an industrial scale. -Anna Austin
NEWS The Olympic Delivery Authority announced in July that Elyo Industrial Ltd., a subsidiary of Paris-based Suez Energy Services, has been awarded a $178 million contract to build, finance and operate the 2012 Olympic Park for the 2012 Olympics, which will be held in Stratford, England. The company will build two energy centers that will generate hot water, heating, electricity and cooling. They will each include a combined-heat-and-power plant for the heating, cooling and electricity. They will also be equipped with biomass boilers using sustainable biomass fuels and natural gas to generate heat. The technologies used will help the ODA reach its target of a 20 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions through the use of renewable energy. One center will be located in the western part of Olympic Park and the other within Stratford’s city limits. Both will be connected to nine miles of community energy networks. “The energy center will be at the heart of the new utilities networks in the Olympic Park, providing heating and cooling for the games and local communities in legacy,” said ODA Chief Executive David Higgins. The biomass source will mainly be wood chips originating from sustainable sources. “Sustainability runs right through this project, and our energy center plans will ensure the Games deliver the lasting
PHOTO: LONDON 2012
Biomass to power 2012 Olympics
A graphic artist’s rendition of Olympic Park in 2012
legacy of a sustainable energy supply for this part of East London,” Higgins said. -Timothy Charles Holmseth
NPower Cogen to build CHP plant in Scotland U.K.-based NPower Cogen has been awarded €8.1 million (US$16 million) as part of a Regional Selective Assistance grant from the Scottish government to build a 45-megawatt combined-heat-and-power (CHP) plant that would provide steam and electricity for Tullis Russell Papermakers Ltd., a paper mill in Markinch, Scotland. The CHP plant, which is owned by NPower Cogen’s parent company RWE NPower, would replace Tullis Russell Papermakers’ coal-fired power station. Working with RWE NPower, the new facility would enable the paper mill to dramatically reduce its annual carbon emissions by 70 percent, and it would produce 6 percent of Scotland’s renewable generation targets, according to RWE NPower spokeswoman Jennifer Crawford. “The reason this is such a big
deal is that if we didn’t replace the existing coal-fired power station at the [paper mill], it would have to close because, under European legislation, aging coal-fired power stations have to have the right cleanup equipment,” she said. “It wasn’t economical to fit just cleanup equipment to the [paper mill]. So, to replace it, we worked with Tullis Russell to find the most viable, energy-efficient option for them, and this was the best fit.” Crawford said NPower Cogen has all the appropriate planning commissions in place and that both parties hope to secure all necessary approvals by the end of 2008. To produce power, the plant will take in a variety of woody biomass that would otherwise be placed in landfills. The project’s contractor has yet to be named, but RWE NPower was taking bids at press time, Crawford said. The
plant is slated to be operational by 2011. Crawford said 17 megawatts of power generated by the CHP plant will be directly supplied to Tullis Russell Papermakers. The excess power will be sold to the U.K.’s national grid. “This (project) has been very well-received by Scotland and the Scottish government,” she said, noting that Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister, was on hand when RWE NPower announced plans for the CHP plant in early July. RWE NPower currently operates 11 CHP plants that supply a total of 2,000 megawatts of energy to the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland. The facilities supply power and heat to industrial customers in the oil, paper and chemical sectors. -Bryan Sims
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NEWS Switchgrass, hybrid poplar and willow Ag waste
Forbes names top five biomass-producing states Forbes magazine has named North Dakota, Iowa, Mississippi, Georgia and North Carolina as the top five U.S. states for producing biomass feedstocks. According to the Forbes article, biomass feedstocks include agricultural and forest residues, including yard and wood waste. These feedstocks can be converted into liquid fuels or combusted to produce energy. Iowa was noted for its proximity to the Corn Belt and therefore its large production of agricultural waste. North Dakota made the list based on its potential for growing unconventional feedstocks, such as switchgrass, hybrid poplar and willow. Georgia and Mississippi both have potential in forestry waste. North Carolina was added to the Forbes list because of its expansive swine population. Swine manure is methane-rich and thus has potential for energy production. When asked about the Forbes article, John Ferrell, manager of the biomass feedstock platform at the U.S. DOE, said there are many ways to determine feedstock potential, which he has been doing for the DOE. He said ag and forestry waste are the two main feedstocks produced by many U.S. states, so it’s difficult to say certain states produce more biomass than others, especially when there is such a variety of feedstocks. Not only is the DOE looking at what kinds of biomass each state has, but also where supply can be expanded. “It’s a dynamic thing,” he said. “You’re looking at the present, and you’re looking at the future.” In fact, Ferrell said that more than five states show biomass potential. Biomass can come in many different forms, including municipal solid waste. Because of the variety of biomass feedstocks “from one kind of resource to another, really all states have some levels of biomass,” he said. -Suzanne H. Schmidt
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Researchers explore ground cover substitute If researchers can find a species of grass that will live harmoniously with corn, that grass might provide the “living mulch” they are looking for to help make corn stover a viable option for cellulosic ethanol production. This spring, Iowa State University researchers began studying whether certain types of ground cover might be planted alongside corn so that the stalks, leaves, husks and cobs of the corn plant can be safely removed from cornfields after harvest for use as a cellulosic ethanol feedstock. Traditionally, corn stover remains in the field after harvest to arrest wind and water erosion. Before spring planting, the crop residue is cultivated back into the soil to resupply nutrients. So far, the most promising solution appears to be planting a ground cover of grasses between corn rows. The grasses would remain in the cornfield year-round and help to keep weeds down, which means that less herbicide might be needed. Also, if the grasses can be combined with certain types of fungi, less insecticide might be needed. The challenge is to find a way to grow grass and corn together without affecting corn yields because corn “doesn’t like to be growing with anything else in the field,” according to Kendall Lamkey, agronomy professor and chairman of the Department of Agronomy at the university. Corn is most vulnerable early in the growing season, he added. However, symbiotic relationships in the field are nothing new. “You see prairies that have these complementary mixtures of multiple species that grow and share space,” said Ken Moore, ISU agronomy professor and lead researcher for the project. “In a way, we are sort of simulating the grassland systems that were originally here, but in a very simple way.” The research project is being funded by the Sun Grant Initiative, which receives its funding through the U.S. Department of Transportation, the U.S. DOE and the USDA. The study is scheduled to last three years. -Ryan C. Christiansen
PHOTO: IOWA STATE UNIVERSITY
Forbes’ Top Five Biomass-Producing States
Iowa State University researchers are studying whether certain types of grasses might be planted alongside corn so that corn stover can be safely removed from the field after harvest to be used as a feedstock for cellulosic ethanol.
NEWS Construction of a new anaerobic digester in Snohomish County, Wash., is expected to be completed in October, and in January, adjacent generators are slated to begin producing electricity from captured methane gas. The facility is being built by Qualco Energy Corp. and will operate under the same name. Three dairy farmers collecting manure from approximately 1,600 cows will be supplying feedstock for the digester. The generators will produce 450 kilowatts of power, enough to power approximately 300 homes. Qualco Energy is negotiating a powerpurchase agreement with the Snohomish County Public Utility District. According to Neil Neroutsos, a spokesman for the public utility district, the digester will help the utility meet a portion of its renewable portfolio standards requirements. The digester will have the capacity to
PHOTO: QUALCO ENERGY CORP.
Anaerobic digester nears completion in Washington
The Monroe Honor Farm, a defunct prison facility in Snohomish County, Wash., will be the site of Qualco Energy Corp.’s new anaerobic digester.
digest feedstock from 2,200 cows, said Dale Reiner, a Qualco Energy representative. The digester is being built on the Monroe Honor Farm, a defunct 280-acre prison facility that at one time provided on-the-job training opportunities for prison inmates, and dairy products for prison facilities and nonprofit
agencies. The farm closed in 2002 after 60 years of operation. The digester is being built after several years of negotiations between multiple organizations, Reiner said. Qualco Energy is a nonprofit group that includes representatives from the Sno/Sky Agricultural Alliance, a farmers’ cooperative; Quil Ceda Power, a subsidiary of the Tulalip Tribes; and Northwest Chinook Recovery, a nonprofit organization founded in 1997 to preserve, restore and enhance salmon habitat in the Puget Sound region. The digester was first proposed to help consume waste from local dairy operations and to prevent runoff into local salmon streams. The digester will be located in the Tualco Valley in the Skykomish River and Snoqualmie River floodplains south of Monroe, Wash. -Ryan C. Christiansen
ITC releases biotechnology report The U.S. International Trade Commission, an independent, nonpartisan, fact-finding federal agency, released a report July 15 that analyzes the effects of innovation and research when it comes to the development and future productivity of U.S. biotechnology. Much of the data for the study was gathered via questionnaire from the liquid fuel and chemical industries. The 182-page report, titled “Industrial Biotechnology: Development and Adoption by the U.S. Chemical and Biofuel Industries,” was compiled in response to a November 2006 request from the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance. The committee sought to compare government policies in the United States and key competitor countries throughout the world on the development of biotechnology and biobased products. The request required the ITC to analyze business activity in the biofuels industry, examine factors affecting the development of biobased products, and determine how the adoption of industrial biotechnology processing and products impacts the productivity and competitiveness of firms in these industries. “[Industrial biotechnology] has the potential to lower production costs, create sustainable production processes, and reduce the environmental impact of producing and using fuels and chemicals,” the report stated. It also found that the development of industrial biotechnology may result in the creation of innovative products or processes, such as biodegradable plastics, that can compete with conventional products. It may also provide a range of environmen-
tal benefits including sustainable production, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and less waste. The ITC attributed the growth of biotechnology to industries that are increasing use of enzymes, microorganisms and renewable resources in the production of fuels and chemicals. In 2007, the commission found that the liquid biofuel industry (ethanol and biodiesel) grew at a faster rate in shipments, but the biobased chemical industry (pharmaceuticals and other chemicals) was larger. “All measures of innovation increased between 2004 and 2007, including research and development expenditures, patent and trademark activity, strategic alliances, and government grants,” the ITC said. In reference to government mandates regarding biofuels, such as the renewable fuels standard, the commission found them essential in furthering the development of the industrial biotechnology industry. “Government incentives and mandates are significant, and have been vital to the growth and development of many of the companies that rely on [industrial biotechnology], particularly for the liquid biofuels industry,” the ITC said. The ITC concluded that industrial biotechnology may potentially benefit the U.S. economy “by allowing for the substitution of liquid biofuels for conventional liquid fuels, potentially reducing crude petroleum imports and stimulating the development of rural economies as a result of increased agricultural feedstock consumption.” -Anna Austin
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NEWS Dow Chemical Co. and the U.S. DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory announced an agreement July 16 to jointly develop and evaluate a process to convert biomass into ethanol and other chemical building blocks. The project, which will be conducted at NREL’s Thermochemical Users Facility in Golden, Colo., will likely begin this fall. The project will use Dow Chemical’s mixed alcohol catalyst to produce cellulosic biofuels. Biomass materials, such as corn stover and wood waste, will be converted into synthesis gas through a gasification process. Dow Chemical’s technology converts the syngas into a mixture of alcohols, including ethanol, which can be used as transportation fuel or chemical building blocks. The program will focus on improving the mixed alcohol catalyst, demonstrating pilot-scale performance and showing the commercial relevance of an integrated facility.
PHOTO: DOW CHEMICAL CO.
Dow, NREL to produce chemical building blocks
Juan Luciano, left, Dow’s business president of hydrocarbons and energy, shakes hands with Dan Arvizu, NREL’s director, at a signing ceremony July 17.
According to Dow Chemical Scientist Mark Jones, the research of his company’s mixed alcohol catalyst has been ongoing for more than 20 years. However, the process, which was first developed to produce liquid fuels from coal, is now being tested using biomass-derived syngas. “The recent uptick in interest in the conversion of biomass to
syngas to chemicals is what caused us to forge an alliance with NREL,” Jones said. In addition to ethanol, Dow’s mixed alcohol catalyst produces propanol, butanol and pentanol from syngas. Ethanol and propanol can then be converted to ethylene and propylene, which are the building blocks of the modern chemical industry. Ethylene is used to build polyethylene, the largest of the commodity plastics. NREL spokesman George Douglas said the Dow Chemical/NREL partnership is an example of how others in the United States can reduce their dependence on petroleum, not just as a fuel, but as a chemical feedstock. “The NREL goals and Department of Energy goals are to reduce our dependence on petroleum, and this is another path toward doing that, and a promising one,” he said. -Erin Voegele
Honeywell grades impact of renewables A plethora of options is available to industries and organizations looking to reduce their environmental footprints. Now Honeywell Building Solutions, a division of Honeywell International Inc., has developed what it calls a first-of-its-kind selection tool that quickly provides customers with the data to make an informed buying decision when it comes to power supply. The company’s trademarked Renewable Energy Scorecard analyzes the variables for any given location to pinpoint the technology with the most significant environmental and economic drivers. The scorecard looks at the availability and cost of biomass, and other renewable technologies including solar, wind and geothermal power. It compares a facility’s current cost of heat and electricity against the cost of renewable options, and provides an accurate financial forecast derived from calculating tax implications, rebates, subsi-
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dies and other incentives. “The Renewable Energy Scorecard is a data-driven solution to a complex issue,” said Kent Anson, vice president of global energy for Honeywell Building Solutions. “It’s important that environmental stewardship makes good business sense, too. The scorecard takes the guesswork out of the equation.” The scorecard uses a sophisticated energy profiling model built on a database that contains extensive information on each of the various technologies. This database provides Honeywell and its customers with an accurate vision and analysis of renewable energy at any location in North America. Every location and facility is unique, so wind energy could be the best option for a Midwest ethanol plant, while biomass could be the answer for a company making widgets on the East Coast, where forestry waste is readily available. Honeywell is offering the scorecard as
part of its ongoing effort to help its customers maximize the use of renewable technologies and cut energy costs. The company said its program of providing alternative sources and cutting demand through more efficient technology saves its customers between 15 percent and 25 percent on their energy bills. The savings are guaranteed by Honeywell, so the work doesn’t impact operating budgets. The company also assists companies in creating agreements with utilities to purchase excess power and identify other innovative ways of surmounting the financial barriers for implementing green power options. “From project development to financing, we can help customers every step of the way, making the process as quick and easy as possible,” Anson said. For more information about Honeywell Building Solutions, visit www.honeywell .com/buildingsolutions. -Jerry W. Kram
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The eye of Hurricane Katrina passed directly over Buras, La., in October 2005. The water tower rests on top of a house in the ruins of Plaquemine Parish. PHOTO: ROBERT KAUFMANN, FEMA
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From hurricane winds and flooding, to radicals piloting passenger jets into skyscrapers, disasters are a tragic part of life. After people are safely removed from harmâ€™s way, proper planning and technology could be used to revolutionize debris management. By Ron Kotrba
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opposite. “In ’85 after Hurricane Gloria hit, what did they do with all that material?” asks Joe Murray, chief executive officer of Green Energy Resources. Hurricane Gloria lost strength before it hit land on the Outer Banks in North Carolina, but the storm rode coastal waters north and gained tremendous power, finally making its second landfall on Long Island, N.Y. It turned into one of the most powerful hurricanes to hit New England in years, causing $900 million in property damage and generating millions of tons of debris. “They took it all and dumped it in landfills,” Murray says. “Then they’d fill them up. It’s a crazy waste of time and taxpayer money.” Twenty years later when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged the Gulf Coast, debris management was much the same and as inefficient as ever. Mountains of woody debris were piled up and then trucked to a landfill, torched, or just left to rot. “There are properties from Katrina and Rita where piles are still sitting,” Murray says. His company, Green Energy Resources, offered to purchase 2 million tons of wood waste that the hurricanes left behind at $10 a ton but found no takers. “The federal contractors—they could care less,” he says. “They wanted to do business the traditional way. They have an arrangement and I don’t completely understand it. If they need to take it and dump it in a landfill, then the landfill capitalizes and makes money and the cleanup guys make money. It sounds a little cozy to me. And what’s worse is you’re offering to pay for a product that
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PHOTO: LARRY LERNER, FEMA
eing prepared for the worst is a good philosophy all around. But planning and training for disaster relief take real discipline—and money. People’s safety is first and foremost but once the residents are securely out of harm’s way, what is the best way for the authorities to deal with the aftermath? To answer this question just look at current practices—and do the
An aerial view of ground zero in March 2002 shows the enormous progress made on clean-up of the site six months after the World Trade Center attack. To date, more than 1.4 million tons of debris have been removed from the area.
industry none of them even own, which should be recoverable by the local taxpayers because it’s their disaster. No one would even give it a second thought.”
Cleaning up Ground Zero The Federal Emergency Management Agency is still being criticized after its questionable managing of Katrina—and rightfully so. From delayed rescues of minorities and the poor, to setting people up in chemically contaminated trailers, to managing waste wood and debris, FEMA is not winning any popularity contests lately. Jim Taylor Jr., owner of Taylor Biomass Energy, puts FEMA’s “landfill or burn” practice in perspective. “You’ve got to remember that there’s no technology down there set up to handle that much material,” he says. A clear mission exists to get people safely out of their homes, open the streets and clean up the town—all as quickly as possible. “There’s not the latitude to do much more than that,” Taylor says. Taylor Biomass Energy specializes in sorting and separating technology, and was contracted by the FBI to clean up ground zero where the World Trade Center twin towers collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001. He was hired by the FBI because the enormous mountain of rubble was not just a disaster site but it was also a crime scene. “We were hired because of our technology,” Taylor says. “It put their workers in a safe environment, and was seven times more effective in getting out what they were looking for—the human recovery, looking for someone’s belt buckle, ring or watch to be able to relate to someone.” Countless personal affects were sorted out from the 550,000 tons of debris Taylor’s company processed, which were then put on display for familes to identify. Debris from ground zero was barged 15 miles to Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island, where Taylor set up portable separation outfits that ran 24/7 for nine months. “We put the material through
our station and separated fines of three-quarters of an inch and less, versus from three-quarters of an inch to six inches, then six inches to two feet, and then two feet and above,” Taylor tells Biomass Magazine. The history of Taylor’s sorting and separating technology began as “five men in a box,” he says. “We learned it the hard way but in the end we learned sorting and separating very well.” His company was one of the first construction and demolition (C&D) waste recyclers around, and today his family-owned technology finds useful purposes for stuff formerly thought to be unreusable. Waste wood is used for mulch; dirt collected from tree stumps is screened and sold as top soil; rock, asphalt, brick and concrete are crushed, aggregated and reused; old drywall is peeled and the paper is sold as animal bedding while the gypsum is crushed and sold back to a drywall plant. After he developed ways to recycle a good percentage of C&D waste, Taylor says he then delved into finding the next tool to do something with the rest of the materials. “The recycled product we’d next manufacture is green energy,” he says. Taylor spent a couple of years negotiating with Battelle labs in Atlanta to develop gasification technology but no agreements were made. Then he set out with a former employee of Battelle to develop the gasification and gas cleanup technologies he implements today. It’s still patent-pending but Taylor says he expects his patents in six months. “Coming on line with these biomass gasification plants is really the solution for natural disasters and storms,” he says.
The Transportation Problem One problem with collecting disaster debris is that there’s no way to direct future disasters to strike in vicinities of large biomass plants, where the materials can be put to use; and without strategic post-disaster debris staging and transportation planning, there
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PHOTO: JOHN FLECK, FEMA
In a photo taken in September 2005, earthmoving equipment operates at a burning pit near Biloxi, Miss., used specifically for vegetative debris left by Hurricane Katrina. It has been estimated that Hurricane Katrina created 50 million cubic yards of debris in Mississippi.
is little hope those biomass piles will ever reach a righteous destination. “Because it’s a low- or no-value commodity, you can’t even take some of this stuff from one side of Florida to the other because there’s no money involved,” Murray says. “Oil, gas, coal—those can all be transported. It seems crazy to me that coal is $150 a ton and we can transport wood at a fraction of that price, say a third, and people still don’t want to use it.” He says the 50 million tons of debris generated in 2005 could have supplied every U.S. coal-burning power plant with enough wood to cofire them all with a 10 percent mix for an entire year. Instead, precious landfill space was wasted and perfectly good fuel was openly incinerated. Part of good planning involves mapping out the potential storage areas for debris in any given county, town or city, along with understanding the risks of storage like odor, rodents and fire. An ideal storage location would have rail access but even then there are no guarantees. In October 2006, on a Friday the 13th, Buffalo, N.Y., was hit with a surprise snowfall. “A million tons of wood came down,” 28 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 9|2008
Murray says. “The staging area was at Bethlehem Steel. Guess what? They have railcars there. It’s a great place to send this stuff all over the country. But the federal contractors and subcontractors came in with their tub-grinders and turned everything into a big pile that wasn’t worth anything—even to power plants.”
Looking Ahead A professor of eco-management at the University of Washington is working on a way to overcome all the issues involved in transporting disaster debris. Rather than bringing the biomass to a centralized plant hundreds or thousands of miles away, KrisVogt tiina Vogt supports the concept of mobile disaster units to convert woody debris to fuel—methanol specifically—on-site. She has been working to promote this idea in Indonesia and a few Latin American countries. “When Katrina hit, I got a lot of phone calls from people interested in get-
ting a mobile system out there because a lot of the wood was down, but nobody could access it,” Vogt says. No demonstration model of this mobile disaster unit has been built yet, but Vogt says it’s not because the technology isn’t there. A lack of funding is holding this solution back, she says. “We’ve been offered money, but the people who want to pay to build it totally want to control it,” she says. The idea is to have a system to preprocess the debris and convert it into methanol through gasification and reforming and mount it on the back of a flatbed trailer. The system and the truck itself would be run on methanol-powered fuel cells—entirely self-sustaining. Then, rather than hauling tons of debris from the disaster site, staged fuel trucks could haul the much denser methanol away. The methanol could also be used on-site as fuel to power additional fuel cells for emergency use of computers, cell phones and more. “At a disaster site, the ability to maintain some infrastructure and communication with this technology increases pretty dramatically,” Vogt says. “And in emergencies you’d have the ability to provide lots of distributed power,” all run on locally generated debris. “We are going to have disasters. We need a process on the ground instead of just giving people trailers which they then find out are loaded with formaldehydes.” Frustrated from his experiences from Katrina and Rita three years ago, Murray says he has a better plan in place now. “Once product from a storm goes into the landfill, we can recover and transport it and work with the end-user to generate additional carbon credits, which will increase the value of the debris,” he says. The feds, their contractors and the landfills can all continue doing “business as usual,” Murray says, while the generation of carbon credits put companies like his in a better position to recover all that landfilled debris after disaster, and transport it longer distances more economically. BIO Ron Kotrba is a Biomass Magazine senior writer. Reach him at rkotrba @bbiinternational.com or (701) 738-4942.
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Furfural: Future Feedstock for Fuels and Chemicals Furfural, a sister chemical to the increasingly popular hydroxymethylfurfural or HMF molecule, is regaining attention as a biobased alternative for the production of everything from antacids and fertilizers to plastics and paints. By Jessica Ebert
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ver the past couple of years, several research groups have described approaches to converting six-carbon sugars such as glucose and fructose into a chemical called hydroxymethylfurfural or HMF. This molecule represents a renewable building block for the synthesis of plastics and industrial and household chemicals. In addition, last October, Avantium, an Amsterdam, the Netherlands-based technology company announced the results of engine tests of its novel furan-based biofuel derived from HMF. The company dubbed its fuel, Furanics, and reported that various blends of Furanics with regular diesel yielded positive results including smooth engine performance for several hours and significant reductions in soot emissions from vehicle exhaust. Now, a sister chemical to HMF, furfural, is beginning to gain the attention of cellulosic ethanol producers and academic researchers. Furfural is an almondscented, oily, colorless liquid that turns yellow to dark brown when exposed to air. It is used as a solvent for refining lubricating oils, as a fungicide and weed killer and in the production of tetrahydrofuran, an important industrial solvent. In addition, furfural along with its sister molecule HMF, can
serve as a building block for other potential transportation fuels including dimethylfuran and ethyl levulinate. Furfural is produced by removing water from or dehydrating five-carbon sugars such as xylose and arabinose. These pentose sugars are commonly obtained from the hemicellulose fraction of biomass wastes like cornstalks, corncobs and the husks of peanuts and oats. In fact, in the 1920s several tons of furfural was produced each month from the cereal waste stockpiles at the Quaker Oats Co. in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. But cheap oil prices in the latter part of the 20th century brought domestic production of furfural to a veritable halt. Today, about 90 percent of furfural production capacity is installed in three countries, China, which houses the most at about 74 percent, South Africa and the Dominican Republic, according to SRI Consulting, an international business research service for the chemical industry. However, in this climate of unprecedented high oil prices, interest in producing furfural in the United States is growing. “One of the largest applications of furfural was to convert it into tetrahydrofuran,” explains Kendall Pye, chief scientific officer at Lignol Innovations Ltd., a Canadian developer of biorefining technologies and a subsidiary of Lignol Energy Corp. But the oil industry found a way to
make furans from petroleum-based maleic anhydride. “Now that oil prices have gone sky high, there’s a strong interest in producing furfural again because it really looks like it could be cheaper,” Pye says.
A Biorefinery Revenue Stream In the cellulosic ethanol production technology employed by Lignol, furfural represents a “happy coincidence,” a potentially lucrative consequence of the process. “We don’t deliberately make furfural,” Pye explains. “The whole objective of our biorefinery is to cook up wood under pressure and relatively high temperatures to remove lignin.” The process produces a highly pure lignin that can exceed the value of the ethanol that is subsequently produced from glucose obtained from the cellulose. In addition, it turns out that as the hemicellulose fraction of the wood continues to cook, the polymer degrades into the xylose sugars, which under those same process conditions, turns into furfural. “We get furfural as a consequence of the conditions that we use in our process,” Pye says. This up-front, delignification process was first developed by the University of Pennsylvania and General Electric in the early 1970s. Later dubbed the Alcell pulping process, it was commercialized and applied to the pulp and paper industry in the ’90s. Lignol acquired the technology in 2001 and
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technology Lignol Innovations Process Diagram
SOURCE: KENDALL PYE
modified it by recently developing processes for saccharification and fermentation. Earlier this summer, the company announced that it has begun building a 100,000-liter (26,000 gallon) ethanol pilot plant on the campus of the British Columbia Institute of Technology in Burnaby, British Columbia. The company also has plans to build a commercial-scale demonstration plant that will be based in Colorado, which will be
partially funded by a $30 million U.S. DOE grant. “We regard this technology as being the closest thing to a high-quality biorefinery,” Pye says. “We take wood and split it up into its various fractions and get the highest value we can for each of those fractions.” Although ethanol and lignin will be the primary products of the process, furfural will provide a third source of reve-
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nue. The significance of that money stream, however, will depend on the source of the feedstock. Softwoods like lodgepole pine harbor less xylose than hardwoods or annual crops such as straw and corn stover. But in a demonstration-size plant that processes hundreds of tons of biomass per day, the proportion of furfural that can be extracted from a softwood feedstock would still be significant, Pye says. For Raven Biofuels International, a New Jersey-based biofuels company, the origin of the feedstock is not a big factor because the company’s technology is tunable to the concentration of sugar in the feedstock. Raven Biofuels uses commercially available technology that’s used in the pulping industry to produce ethanol and furfural from a wide variety of cellulosic feedstocks, including construction waste and wood chips, explains John Sams, chief operating officer of Raven Biofuels. The two-stage process has been tested extensively at the U.S. federal laboratory, Tennessee Valley Authority pilot facility at Muscle Shoals, Ala. Over the past eight years, 32 different feedstocks have been tested and engineering and scale-up data has been generated. In the first step, the biomass feedstock is treated with steam and weak sulfuric acid in an anaerobic digestor to break down the wood to the point where various sugar
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streams can be removed. Under these same conditions of heat and acid, the pentose sugars are dehydrated and subsequently converted into furfural, which is further refined through a distillation process. Meanwhile, the hexose sugars are fermented in a second step to ethanol. “The reason our system is more forgiving is that we can adjust the concentration of the acid, the flow of the acid or the steam to get more of the sugar out if there’s a lower sugar content in the feedstock,” Sams says.
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In addition, the process allows for the extraction of any remaining fibers that can be sold or put in a boiler to provide process heat for the plant. “In our case we’re removing C-5 sugars in the first stage of the process to make furfural and in the second stage, the C-6 sugars are made into ethanol through a normal fermentation process,” he explains. “The Raven patented technology is centered around the production of furfural in combination with ethanol and for the production of high-level derivative chemicals from furfural.” The first project that Raven Biofuels is developing will be located in Washington state. The plant will produce 7 MMgy of cellulosic ethanol and 4 MMgy of furfural from 500 tons of construction waste per day collected by a company based in the state. Sams says the plant is expected to be in operation by the spring of 2010. “We believe we’re going to the have the first real commercial plant operating in the United States and certainly the first one in the West,” he says. In addition, the company is planning to build a similar plant in British Columbia, which will use wood from pine beetle-infested forestlands. Along with ethanol, the company can sell the raw furfural or install additional equipment to convert that furfural into derivative chemicals. “The primary thrust of the process is to produce ethanol but furfural is a key part of that because what makes our plant very profitable is that the furfural sells for $4.50 to $5 per gallon,” Sams explains. Although it may be too early to make sweeping predictions about the future of furfural in a biobased economy, it’s clear that producers are diversifying and that the production of specialty chemicals and the expansion of those industries will piggyback the growth in cellulosic ethanol production. BIO Jessica Ebert is a freelance writer for Biomass Magazine. Reach her at email@example.com.
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Is Biomass Harvesting
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production Sustainability is a buzzword in the biomass industry. But sustainable can mean many things. You can do your best by Mother Earth, but if you don’t make money, your operation isn’t sustainable. You can have the ability to make money hand-over-fist, but if you can’t get the biomass to your plant, that’s not sustainable either. A collaboration of researchers studied a biomass operation in the Superior National Forest in Minnesota to look at all the different components of a sustainable biomass harvesting operation. By Jerry W. Kram
iomass can save the world or so we are told. The twin specters of looming energy shortages emptying our wallets and global warming melting glaciers make finding a solution for our petroleum addiction urgent from both a financial and environmental perspective. However, there is a cost to producing and converting biomass into fuels and electricity. Removing too much biomass can deplete nutrients from the soil and possibly increase erosion. Landowners, farmers, loggers and other people involved in the production and harvest of biomass need to be compensated and the price of biomass needs to cover those costs. Researchers from Minnesota and Wisconsin zeroed in on one particular system—small trees and undergrowth in the Superior National Forest—to gauge the environmental and economic costs of removing biomass from the forest. The study was conducted by Don Arnosti of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Dalia Abbas and Dean Current
of the University of Minnesota and Michael Demchik of the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. “Is biomass harvesting sustainable?” Arnosti says. “That’s a very simple question about a very complex situation. I don’t think it has a simple answer. I guess the simplest answer I could give is that under the right conditions and with the right vision and moderation, the answer is yes. Would I validate people who would say it might be unsustainable in certain circumstances? That answer is also yes.” The IATP studies policies on food, trade and sustainability. In 2005, it received a grant to look at the barriers for sustainably harvesting biomass. The organization started looking at biomass resources because it noticed that the region’s pulp and paper industry had started to use more “dirty chips” for fuel. Dirty chips are the result of grinding or chipping whole trees, forest or green waste. They represent a readily available source of supply. However, the chips are of random shapes and sizes which could lead to feeding problems if using automated systems. This will also
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PHOTO: DALIA ABBAS
affect combustion. The contaminants (bark, foliage, dirt and others) will lead to higher ash content. Dirty chips are commonly referred to as “hog fuel” by forest contractors and forest industry personnel. Some boiler systems (particularly at the larger scale) are designed to burn this type of chip. When using dirty chips it is important to match the boiler system with the supply. “Back in 2005 biomass was not a hot topic, it became so with higher energy prices,” Arnosti says. “We really got involved in this study because we wanted answers. We wanted to understand the economic barriers that were controlling the industry and the ecological boundaries of sustainability.”
Fire Prevention and Biomass Collection The study looked at nine areas being cleared for fuel reduction to prevent forest fires. The material being removed was a mix of balsam fir that had been killed by spruce budworms and aspen in areas where understory balsam firs created ladder fuels that cause devastating crown fires in areas of taller 60- to 80-year-old red and white pines. The treatments varied by site but generally called for the removal of trees and brush smaller than a diameter of 5 or 6 inches at a point 4 feet above the ground. “We partnered with the [U.S.] Forest Service because they were already making fuel management a high priority, especially near urban areas,” Arnosti says. “It turns out that the Superior National Forest has a lot of development like that embedded in the forest. They were developing plans to reduce fuels and were eager to understand how biomass markets and harvest could factor into what, up until then, had been a cut, pile and burn fuel reduction.” Arnosti says the researchers started out looking for the answer to two questions and quickly found they needed a third answered. They wanted to find out what equipment and techniques a logger would need to efficiently harvest biomass in the forest. The second question was what the ecological impacts of the harvest were. “The third piece that we kind of stumbled into was the administrative complexity—the land management mindset,” he says. “All of the procedures were set up
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Collecting small trees and brush is done in the Superior National Forest to reduce the danger of forest fires. Usually this material is burned, but it could be used to fuel a biomass plant if it can be collected sustainably and economically.
with high-value timber in mind while biomass is a low-value product that probably will have to be harvested below cost. You can’t have loggers bidding to get [the Forest Service] the highest return on the contract when you are doing biomass and really subsidizing the removal.” The main conclusion of the study was that there are many ways to interrupt a smooth supply of biomass to a market. “I’m not going to say there is only one way to get it right, but there are probably 14 different ways you can screw it up,” Arnosti says. The potential problems fall into the three broad categories captured by the researcher’s questions. “One, the administrators need to have procedures and practices in place that facilitate biomass harvesting,” he says. “Two, the contractors or loggers need to have training or experience in utilizing their equipment to harvest high-volume, low-value material. Finally, biomass markets have been developed with the assumption that the biomass
PHOTO: DALIA ABBAS
Harvesting and collecting biomass turned out to be very different than harvesting timber, researchers found. However, as loggers gained more experience the process became much more efficient.
material is going to be free or at a very low cost. That may be true if you are just picking up tops and branches at a timber harvest site, but if you want to get beyond the boom and bust volumes that come with the timber market, you need to recognize that pricing has to be greater than zero.”
Loggers Adapt Another aspect of the study was trying to capture the logger’s voice, as the study titled one of its chapters. There is a large body of academic literature on removing biomass for energy or forest management, but very little of it comes from the perspective of the operators who actually do the work of cutting the trees and moving them out of the forest. “We found that in many instances existing equipment could be adapted to biomass harvesting,” Arnosti says. “But operating train-
ing and experience greatly increased productivity. For example, a particular logger that worked on a number of our tests figured out on his own how to carry two or three times as much biomass in a forwarder as he did at the beginning of the project. He figured it out and it was very different than the techniques he used to forward round wood.” A forwarder is a piece of equipment used to move wood from the cutting area to the collection area. Abbas did most of the formal interviews with the loggers. She says one of the most profound differences for the loggers is that they had to walk every area before they would bid on clearing and collecting the biomass. Usually experienced loggers, who have worked a particular region, are familiar enough with the costs and paybacks of gathering round wood that they can calculate the expected costs and paybacks just from looking at a map of a timber offering. Gathering biomass was so different for them that they needed to walk the land to understand the pitfalls they would be facing. “It was normal for them to go into an area and extract a larger tree from the site,” she says. “But this was the first time they would enter a site solely to remove the smaller material.” Arnosti described logging work as something so familiar to the workers they could do it on “semi-autopilot” which allowed them to become very skilled at what they did. Abbas found that one of the skills that made loggers so efficient was that they knew how to fell trees and position them so that the workers moving the trees out of the woods could do so with the least amount of wasted time and effort. For biomass harvesting, the loggers had to relearn these skills. “It was important that operators communicated with each other on the site,” Abbas says. “For example, they learned which machine would follow the next. So the operator would cut the material to be forwarded in a way, even though it would have taken him longer, that made the entire operation more efficient. But if you get a divided operation, where someone is responsible for cutting the material without thinking of the best way to lay it out, then you get a lot of hours of harvesting and that isn’t a very practical option for the loggers.”
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PHOTO: DALIA ABBAS
While standard logging equipment can be used to collect forest biomass, specialized equipment could make the process much more efficient. The study found that loggers had valuable input on how such equipment might be designed and used.
At current prices, Arnosti says biomass cannot pay its way out of the woods. Biomass is likely to remain an adjunct to fuel reduction, habitat management or disease control operations and timber harvests. “What I have concluded is that biomass, at least woody biomass will likely forever be a coproduct,” he says. “It cannot be seen as the single reason you are doing land management. In the case of timber, the value of the wood will cover the cost of harvesting it, moving it and delivering it to a market at a profit. Even with today’s high energy prices, and based on our analysis, even if energy prices doubled again, we would find the costs of cutting, processing, transporting and delivering biomass would exceed the market value of that biomass.” If the Forest Service wants to make biomass harvesting an integral part of its forest management practices, it will have to be more flexible in its regulations. As Arnosti points out, these regulations were
developed for high-value round wood timber operations. There were times during the study when operations had to be shut down because the wrong species or wrong size tree was felled. “You can’t just follow the existing guidelines and assume it is going to include biomass harvesting,” Abbas says. “They need to be more practical and open with the loggers.” Along with the ecological and logistical concerns about the harvesting system, economic questions also had to be answered. If biomass harvesting doesn’t pay for any of the players in the economic chain, then the entire system breaks down. “If you are talking about sustainability, then economics is one of the pieces you have to look at,” Current says. “Right now, with the payments from the Forest Service you can do this economically—in other cases, maybe not.” Because the material that was collected for the study was usually just burned or bulldozed, there wasn’t much good economic data on what it costs to collect and deliver it to processors. “I think we are still learning how we can make these systems work,” Current says. “One thing we took out of this is that there are many studies that estimate the amount of biomass we can take out of state, private and federal sources, but there is still the question of the economic availability of that amount of biomass. That’s a question we need to look at more closely.” While some biomass energy business plans assume that there are plentiful supplies of free or low-cost biomass, the owners of that biomass will expect to be paid for it. In some cases, biomass will be cheap because the alternative is paying the high cost to dispose of it in landfills or incinerators. However, that scenario will not be universal. “There are some loggers who are doing this collection now, but there is going to be a price threshold for that,” Current says. The study can be downloaded at www.iatp.org/iatp/publications. cfm?accountID=25&refID=103077. BIO Jerry W. Kram is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (701) 738-4920.
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feedstock page tag
From animal manure to crop residue, all options are being explored to reduce global dependency on fossil fuels. In response to this quest, one Costa Rican scientist poses a novel question: What about the ocean? Seaweed is primarily grown in the Eastern Hemisphere to produce fertilizer and food, but what potential do these plants and our oceans hold for biomass applications? By Anna Austin 9|2008 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 43
ment marketplace program. Those funds and a 50 percent icardo Radulovich has an eye for agriculture. match from the University of Costa Rica allowed the projA professor and director of the Sea Gardens ect to take off. â€œItâ€™s still not a lot of money,â€? Radulovich Project at the University of Costa Rica, Radusays. â€œBut itâ€™s enough so that we can develop and implelovich is dedicated to environmental biophysment sea gardens with poor coastal inhabitants.â€? ics and crop ecology. He earned a bachelorâ€™s Radulovich compares sea gardens with home gardegree in agriculture-plant science from Calidens. â€œSimply put, sea gardens are small-scale sea cultifornia State University, and a Ph.D. in soilvation systems,â€? he says. â€œThey include mariculture and plant-water relations from the University of California. Radulovich other production activities at sea including floating hortiRadulovich taught agricultural courses at six universities, proposed and consulted a number of research projects, and pub- culture and fresh-water production through distillation and rainwater lished more than 40 journal articles and booksâ€”one of which was harvesting.â€? Radulovich believes these gardens have the potential to selected by the Costa Rican Ministry of Agriculture to be required be expanded. â€œOn the issue of seaweed culture for bioenergy, where reading at every extension agency in the countryâ€”and thatâ€™s just the large areas of seaweed farming are needed to produce large quantities of energy, small sea gardens may not be the right optionâ€” tip of the iceberg. In regard to the current biofuel battle, particularly over the use medium- to large-scale operations may be far more efficient, though of cropland to produce fuel rather than food, Radulovich believes this remains to be tested.â€? Studies on cultivating micro-algae at sea are being conducted in he has come up with a solution. â€œI went to the sea over 10 years ago looking for irrigation water and found a wonder that humanity has Costa Rica through extensive farming in nutrient-rich gulf waters, barely begun to unfold,â€? he says. â€œThe main potential player in this Radulovich says. â€œThese resemble true [land-based] plants in many bioenergy raceâ€”biomass production at seaâ€”is ignored. The oceans ways, including in appearance and size, while they do not require soil are the largest active carbon sink on the planet, and cover more than or cultivation, and are already provided with all the water they need, 70 percent of its surface area. In other words, the oceans are vast and which is a major advantage to using the ocean as water is the most grossly underutilized fields that are well provided with insulation and limiting factor for the expansion and survival of agriculture.â€? Seaweeds are classified into three groupsâ€”brown, red and water.â€? After working for years with limited funding, the Sea Gardens greenâ€”and consist of thousands of different species, although few Project received a $198,000 grant from the World Bankâ€™s develop- are currently cultivated or harvested. â€œRed and brown seaweeds are
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feedstock conventional breeding techniques. For example, increasing oil content for biodiesel is one of the expected results.” Although there is the potential to harvest large amounts of the plant, Radulovich says precautions must be taken. “Harvesting massive amounts of naturally occurring seaweed populations may be equivalent to large-scale deforestation in terms of atmospheric CO2 (carbon dioxide) addition, habitat loss and fragmentation,” he says.
PHOTO: RICARDO RADULOVICH
A Salty Solution
Seawater distillation tents, a project of Radulovich’s and the Sea Gardens.
the most commonly used because of their fast growth rates and their composition, which provides for a host of chemical products. We are just beginning to characterize and use them,” Radulovich says. “Imagine the tremendous potential that will unfold when genetic manipulation techniques are applied to seaweeds, even if only for
Energy applications from seaweed biomass are similar to those from land vegetation, according to Radulovich. “The simplest option is direct burning for electrical and heat generation, such as is currently done with bagasse from sugarcane. Next is the production of biofuels such as ethanol, biodiesel and methane. Current biofuel production technologies may suffice in some cases, while next-generation technologies will come to improve seaweed biofuel yields.” As with nearly every agricultural production system, seaweed farming would require adequate nutrients and fertilizers. “Common fertilization, besides being costly and energy consuming, would add large amounts of nutrients to the oceans with unknown results,” Radulovich says. “There is, nonetheless, a great and grossly misused nutritional resource: domestic wastewater.” He says that millions of tons of wastewater are dumped into the sea daily, and applying it to large seaweed fields—an option already explored by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution—could be an economically sound use.
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PHOTO: RICARDO RADULOVICH
Seaweed may be grown by using ropes for attachment, allowing floatation and drifting.
If the seaweed concept were further explored, where are the best areas to grow seaweed? “There are many places already identified where seaweeds can be properly farmed such as on the Pacific Coasts of North and South America, and in the Caribbean where there are currently several seaweed farms,” Radulovich says. In those places, the seaweed is grown primarily for food and fertilizers. “Actually, any place where seaweeds grow naturally may be good for farming. In fact, since farming implies using ropes and other means for seaweed attachment, many seas where seaweeds don’t grow naturally could also be good places for farming.” Radulovich emphasizes that if the seaweed can be tied for floatation or drifting, farming could be an option. “I think even the Sargasso Sea, with its extensive calm waters, could be used for this,” he says. In the future, he would like to explore the Sargasso Sea further, as it may provide a low-cost basis for large-scale seaweed cultivation.
An Ocean of Possibilities Although Radulovich and other Costa Rican researchers have yet to produce their own micro-algae at sea, they have explored several possibilities. “Among these, we are learning to harvest using large cloths, and are preparing some low-cost floating enclosures where we will produce controlled eutrophication,” he says. Eutrophication is a process where water bodies receive excess nutrients that stimulate plant growth. “One of the ideas behind this is to be able to harvest large amounts of micro-algae during naturally occurring algal blooms, which are oftentimes composed of toxic micro-algae,” Radulovich says. So what can be done with this biomass? “The least good use will be to burn it for carbon-neutral electricity generation after extracting compounds with high market value—a process that should include cold pressing the liquids out, and perhaps drying.” Radulovich describes cold pressing as squeezing the juice out of the seaweeds by passing them through presses, leaving behind its intercellular con-
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tents and a much drier biomass. “The liquid could be further subjected to extraction and separation procedures while the biomass, which now weighs much less—though still has a substantial amount of water in it—can be more easily transported and subjected to digestion for alcohol or other biofuels, or even burned for electrical power generation.” As part of his research, Radulovich calculated the expected energy yield from a seaweed farm. He believes his projections can be improved, however. “I am using 45 [metric tons] (49 tons) of dry biomass produced per hectare (2.5 acres) per year. This is a number for good husbandry with current state-of-the-art technology,” Radulovich says. “I am also focusing on Sargassum, a brown seaweed with several positive characteristics—yet other species can behave in a similar manner.” Radulovich says his experiments involve obtaining 2 percent recoverable oil content on a dry-weight basis. “This produced about 1,000 liters (264 gallons) of oil per hectare per year,” he says. The oil yield can be increased by selecting or developing seaweed strains that produce more oil. After the oil is extracted, the seaweed biomass may be used for alcohol production. “Ethanol yield is expected at about 40 percent of the biomass yield on a dry weight basis,” Radulovich says. “Thus more than 20,000 liters (52,843 gallons) of ethanol per hectare per year can be obtained.” After ethanol production, a considerable amount of residue is left, which can be burned to generate electricity. Although current methods of seaweed harvesting are timeconsuming and require a considerable investment, Radulovich insists his calculations indicate these costs could be lower than the cost of growing crops on land. “Harvesting is normally done by hand,” he says. “However, there are mechanical harvesters for aquatic plants that have been used successfully on seaweeds.” Another concern besides the over-harvesting of naturally occurring seaweeds is making sure the farms are not in the path of hurricanes and other bad weather. “After that, temperature is a consideration,” he says. “Seaweeds grow well in low temperatures.” Large-scale seaweed cultivation has potential, Radulovich says. “The key point, of course, is to develop large-scale seaweed cultivation techniques,” he says. He says if proper yields were met, the area needed to replace the world’s fossil fuel use would require less than 3 percent of the world’s oceans—approximately 20 percent of the land currently being farmed. “The surge of interest in biomass and biofuels has placed agriculture and photosynthesis back onto the main stage,” he says. “If we want to get amounts of energy similar to fossil fuel consumption, we have plenty of room in the world’s oceans.” BIO Anna Austin is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. Reach her at aaustin @bbiinternational.com or (701) 738-4968.
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page tag event
Biomass, Wind, Coal, Hydro, Petroleum ... The Energy & Environmental Research Center in Grand Forks, N.D., hosted the Biomass â€™08 Technical Workshop in July. Hundreds gathered from the United States and six countries to learn about the latest developments in the production of fuels, power and chemicals from biomass. The main message that came out of the conference was the need for strong partnerships and many different fuels. By Ron Kotrba, Jerry W. Kram, Bryan Sims, Anna Austin and Ryan C. Christiansen 48 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 9|2008
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PHOTO: SAM MELQUIST, BBI INTERNATIONAL
he director of the Energy & Environmental Research Center, Gerald Greonewold, is known for his straightforwardness. In midJuly the EERC hosted the Biomass ’08 Technical Workshop in Grand Forks, N.D. In his welcoming address to attendees, Groenewold reminded everyone that there are several ways for the United States to achieve energy security. “With respect to biomass, a word of caution,” he said. “I think a lot of people think we’re just going to move into biomass and a few other things like wind and hydro technology— we support all of that. But anyone who thinks fossil energy is just going to go away is deadly mistaken. Fossil energy is a key part of the research portfolio here at EERC, and it’s going to be around for the foreseeable future.” That portfolio consists of 433 active contracts worth $224 million with entities from all 50 states and 50 countries. The country needs energy security but to speak of energy “independence” is an insult to our friends to the The Biomass ’08 Technical Workshop was held July 15-16 at the Alerus Center in Grand north and south where we import oil from, Groenewold Forks, N.D. said. “I’m not going to say we’re going to find energy inGroenewold took the opportunity to dispel two “urban myths,” dependence in this country, but I do think we can find energy security by working with partners—strategic partners around as he called them. “Urban myth No. 1—the world is running out of the world,” said Groenewold, who is an advocate of partnerships as petroleum,” he said. “This is absolutely a myth. It’s silly. As a geoloa means to success. “Oil at $140 a barrel certainly provides incentives gist I can tell you, we’re not running out of petroleum.” There is, to look at alternative fuels, but it also gives a lot of incentive to go however, a reduction in the rate at which it can be pumped out of the ground. after hard-to-find oil.”
Nonfood Feedstock Options for Biofuels Since corn and soybean prices remain high, agricultural researchers and industry movers and shakers are urging ethanol and biodiesel producers to think about alternative feedstocks, especially nonfood crops and food crop residues. The feasibility of these options was a central topic of discussion at the Biomass ’08 Technical Workshop. Great Plains Oil & Exploration in Bigfork, Mont., is seeking grower partners to produce Camelina sativa or “false flax”, an oilseed plant and member of the mustard family that is well-suited for growth in arid regions in the northern Great Plains and thrives on relatively little water, fertilizer and pesticides. Company Vice President Duane Johnson told workshop attendees that to move quickly toward using nonfood feedstocks, producers and growers must use the agricultural infrastructure that is already in place. Johnson said a lot of the infrastructure has been built around soybeans, canola, mustard and sunflower production and that it can immediately be leveraged to produce camelina as a feedstock for biodiesel. While algae is currently the most talked about potential feedstock option in the biodiesel industry, “the issue there is that you have a massive infrastructure that has to be built,” he said. He noted that algae production is likely most suitable for tropical desert areas and quipped that “somewhere out there, there is an endangered lizard that is probably going to make that project a little tentative.” “There are a lot of things about algae that are going to take a long time,” Johnson said, projecting that it won’t be a viable feedstock option for at least five to 10 years. “We need a model system that allows us to make the immediate shift from food crops to nonfood crops,” he said.
Food Crop Residues
Instead of totally shifting from food to nonfood crops for ethanol production, producers should consider using food crop residues as feedstocks, researchers said.
Ethanol might be produced from corn stover—the leaves, stalk, husks, and cobs of the corn plant—and a University of Minnesota study determined the most economical locations for those plants in Minnesota. Brian Walseth, a research associate with the U of M’s Industrial Ecology Laboratory, said researchers examined the logistics and costs related to corn stover transportation in Minnesota. The study also compared the feasibility of pelletizing corn stover versus baling. The report concluded that the optimal corn stover logistics option is to build seven or eight ethanol plants utilizing 215 pelletizing storage locations predominantly along the Minnesota River Valley in southwestern Minnesota. The total capacity for the plants would be 600 MMgy. Using crop residues could require a significant investment in infrastructure, but the payoff in economic impact would be considerable, said Nancy Hodur, a research scientist at North Dakota State University in Fargo. She said wheat straw is another crop residue to be considered for ethanol production. While construction costs for a wheat straw cellulosic ethanol plant would be twice as much when compared with a corn ethanol plant—and annual expenditures would be more than three times as much—the direct and secondary economic impacts of producing ethanol from wheat straw instead of corn would be four times as great. Hodur said the higher economic impact is mainly due to the business that would be generated for purchasing, baling and hauling the wheat straw. There is enough biomass—mainly crop residues—in the Midwest and Northern Great Plains (North Central Region) to produce 9.6 billion gallons of ethanol per year, Hodur said. That would require 192 plants producing 50 MMgy and would generate 15,000 jobs, she said. The harvesting and transportation of the feedstock would add even more jobs. One 50 MMgy ethanol plant would require 900,000 tons (1.5 million large bales) of wheat straw per year. Considering current commodity prices, crop residues are an attractive choice for producing ethanol, Hodur said. That’s because it would be difficult to get farmers to switch from growing a high-value crop such as wheat to growing switchgrass.
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Renewable Fuels R&D On the second day of the Biomass ’08 Technical Workshop one session was dedicated to biofuels and the technologies used to produce them. Ted Aulich, senior research manager for the EERC, shared his knowledge of distillate fuels—diesel, fuel oil, jet fuel and kerosene—and the work EERC is conducting to create biomassbased versions of those fuels. He outlined the differences between distillate fuels and gasoline and how those differences made those fuels suitable for compressionignition vehicles and jet turbines while gasoline must be used in spark-ignition vehicles. These Aulich properties give diesel fuel a higher energy density than gasoline and allow diesel engines to operate more efficiently than gasoline engines. Much of the research aimed at producing renewable distillate fuels at the EERC is being driven by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is the research and development organization for the U.S. Department of Defense. The military is looking for a domestic source for what it calls JP-8, the designation for a fuel that can run almost everything on a battlefield from generators to trucks to tanks to bombers. The goal was to make the replacement fuel “drop in compatible” with JP-8, Aulich said. That is, the fuel should be indistinguishable from JP-8 in terms of storage, transport and use. The key standards to accomplish this are freeze point, flash point, energy content, density and stability. EERC’s process subjects triglycerides from animal and vegetable sources to hydrogenation and aromatization to make alkanes and aromatic compounds that can be distilled and combined into jet fuel. Coproducts of the process can be used for diesel fuel and gasoline additives. Samples of the EERC fuel have been tested and found to meet the essential requirements for JP-8. The EERC is evaluating options to develop a 1 MMgy renewable oil factory. For the project to be successful it will need to be near a multiyear supply of low-cost feedstocks and have a committed market outlet for diesel fuel, jet fuel and gasoline blend stock. EERC is evaluating algae as potential feedstock for its JP-8 production system. Aulich said if progress is made in reducing the production cost of algae oil, it could be a significant feedstock source in the future. Two speakers focused their presentations on the potential of using pyrolysis to produce renewable fuels. Peter Fransham, president of Advanced BioRefinery Inc. in Ottawa, Ontario, gave a tutorial on the basics of pyrolysis. The process was once known as destructive distillation and was similar to gasification in that it broke down biomass using heat and pressure in the absence of oxygen, Fransham said. “But gasification is like going after the biomass with Fransham a chain saw,” he said. “It breaks
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everything up into the smallest pieces possible. Pyrolysis is more like using a scissors where you can cut the biomass into pieces that are the exact size you want.” To produce different products, different levels of heat are used to break down the biomass. Slow pyrolysis uses lower temperatures over a longer time to maximize the production of a high-carbon solid char, while high temperatures produce mostly volatile gases. In between, the process can be fine-tuned to maximize the production of a liquid Fransham called bio-oil. Bio-oil is mix of about 300 compounds that contains about 30 percent oxygen. It must be further treated and refined to make transportation fuels because it is too corrosive to be used in many applications. The key to maximizing bio-oil production is heat transfer, Fransham said. Slow pyrolysis transfers heat to biomass at a rate of 1,000 degrees Celsius (1,832 degrees Fahrenheit) per minute. Fast pyrolysis systems increase that rate to 1,000 degrees C per second. To maintain such high rates of heat transfer, most pyrolysis systems use sand in a fluidized bed reactor. Fransham proposed that using steel shot as a heat transfer medium could be more efficient. Steel absorbs and radiates heat more quickly than sand and its higher density means the system has a smaller volume to move around. Steel also allows the same amount of bio-oil to be produced at a lower temperature. A 50 ton per day pyrolysis system using steel shot costs about $2.2 million, including equipment to pulverize and dry the biomass. Operating costs amount to about $2 per million British thermal unit (MMBtu). Feedstock costs add $1 per MMBtu for every $10 per ton of biomass, so a typical price of $50 per ton of biomass means a feedstock cost of $5 per MMBtu. Fransham said biooil needs to sell for about $8.50 per MMBtu to have a 15 percent return on investment. Currently, bunker oil used for industrial heating purposes is selling for $15 per MMBtu. He concluded that bio-oil has been an economical substitute for bunker oil since crude oil topped $50 per barrel in 2005. Since 1989, Ensyn Corp. has built and operates seven pyrolysis plants, said company Senior Vice President Stefan Müller. Some of the company’s trademarked Rapid Jennings Thermal Process plants have been operating 24/7 for more than a decade with only routine maintenance, he said. The key to the system is that it pyrolyzes the feedstock in less than two seconds before the bio-oil and char are removed. The RTP plants produce a liquid fuel and syngas that can be used in boiler and electrical generation applications. It also produces carbon char which has high heat content as a solid fuel and can be made into activated carbon for filtration and decolorization applications. Pyrolysis char is also being investigated as an amendment to increase soil fertility. Potentially valuable chemicals can also be derived from the bio-oil including phenolic compounds used in plywood binders and adhesives and food ingredients such as smoke flavoring. “Food products have been our bread and butter,” Müller said. Brian Jennings, executive vice president of the American Coalition for Ethanol, reviewed the findings of an investigation ACE sponsored into the affect of midrange ethanol blends on gasoline mileage. One of the criticisms of ethanol blends is that ethanol’s lower energy content costs drivers mileage. Jennings said the study showed that while mileage did suffer with higher ethanol content fuels, three of the four vehicles studied actually had identical or higher mileage with 20 percent or 30 percent ethanol blends. Three of the four vehicles studied were not flexible-fuel vehicles.
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The benefit of using biomass for heat and electricity waste-to-energy facilities and large industrial applications. production was a hot topic at the Biomass ’08 Technical BPE has more than 40 years of experience in planning, Workshop. designing, fabricating, constructing and commissioning Chippewa Valley Ethanol Co. LLLP, which owns environmental control systems. and operates a 47 MMgy ethanol facility in Benson, Minn., With so much activity in the combined-heat-andpartnered with Ames, Iowa-based biomass gasification power (CHP) market today, biomass utilization efforts technology supplier Frontline BioEnergy LLC to displace must meet emissions requirements that are being ag90 percent of its natural gas usage. Currently, CVEC is gressively adopted at the state, county and community burning about 860 tons of wood waste per day. Construc- levels. tion on the gasifier began in June 2007 and the company “It seems to be the concern for most people when produced its first batch of producer gas on April 9. faced with developing a new biomass project,” Abrams “We wanted to get into something that was not said. “In today’s biomass market, producers must be only environmentally positive and something that was mindful of the emissions requirements imposed by each economically beneficial from a biomass implementation state or county.” standpoint, but also something that was near-term, practiAbram discussed the benefits of BPE’s patented cal and real,” said Andy Zurn, plant engineer for CVEC. regnerative selective catalytic reduction (RSCR) system, In addition to wood, the gasifier can burn corn cobs, which enables biomass project developers to achieve corn stover, grass, liquid injection oil, fiber and bran from high nitrogen oxide reduction performance and precious fractionation processes, and distillers dried grains with metal oxidation catalysts for carbon monoxide removal solubles. In June, the Minnesota Corn Research & Pro- from biomass-fueled boilers for a relatively low cost. motion Council and the Agricultural Utilization Research According to Abrams, a conventional selective Institute donated $50,000 to fund CVEC’s efforts to burn catalytic reduction (SCR) catalyst cannot be used in a corn cobs and corn stover this year. traditional high-dust environment downstream of the “If we collect all those cobs that we get our kernel economizer because constituents in the biomass ash corn from to make our ethanol, that will provide 75 per- could poison the catalyst quickly, rendering it useless. cent of our energy needs on the heat side,” he said. “The Therefore, the RSCR is designed to operate at the end other 25 percent we can make up with wood or sunflower of the plant before the flue gas is discharged to the stack. hulls.” In addition, high potassium and/or sodium concentrations Zurn explained that the benefit of integrating bio- in wood ash would preclude the use of conventional SCR mass gasification technology in any existing ethanol plant systems. is that thermal energy and producer gas can be fed into Abrams said that the RSCR unit is located after the multiple burners from one gasifier where it can be piped particulate removal device, where the gas temperatures throughout the plant for use as steam and/or electricity are approximately 300 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, which using existing boilers, dryers and thermal oxidizers. is below the operating temperature for conventional SCR “You can also go in and retrofit your burners and catalysts. Because the temperature is significantly below install multifuel burners that can run on natural gas or that required for nitrogen oxide, SCR, or carbon monoxide combustible gas coming off the gasifier,” Zurn said. catalysts to operate, a key consideration of the system is He added that CVEC’s current utilization of bio- to elevate the flue gas temperature to approximately 600 mass to displace natural gas usage degrees F, while significantly miniserves as a “bridge” toward its efmizing auxiliary energy input comforts to produce cellulosic ethanol. pared with other tail-end units. The “This is a great near-term bridge process utilizes a reactant (usually to get to that longer-term goal of aqueous ammonia) to be added using the thermochemical route to to the flue gas stream upstream cellulosic ethanol and other liquid where nitrogen and water are emitbiofuels,” Zurn said. ted from the stack. Richard Abrams, vice presiTwo of BPE’s RSCR sysdent of business development for tems have been in operation at a Worcester, Mass.-based Babcock 15-megawatt plant in New HampPower Environmental Inc. spoke shire and a 50-megawatt plant in on the challenges and benefits of Maine, for about three years. nitrogen oxide and carbon monKevin Grotheim, business oxide mitigation strategies when development manager and prinemploying biomass gasification cipal investigator for Minneapolistechnologies. based Bepex International LLC, BPE and its affiliate Riley discussed torrefaction and densiPower Inc., provide environmental fication of biomass for generating Abrams solutions for utility power plants, electricity. Bepex is a leader in
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solids processing technology, including thermal processing, agglomeration, compaction, granulation, liquid/solid separation and size reduction. Torrefaction is an energy densification process that uses mild pyrolysis. The advantages of torrefaction include: removing water uptake properties, eliminating biomass rot, reducing energy requirements and creating a more uniform fuel for gasification or cofiring for electricity, steam or other commodity fuels while representing a carbon-neutral solid-fuel source. Currently, a research team consisting of Bepex, District Energy of St. Paul, Minn., the University of Minnesota-Morris, gasification plant, Hammel, Green and Abrahamson Inc., the University of Minnesota Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering and Iowa State University’s Agricultural & Biosystems Engineering are conducting research into the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of Grotheim torrefaction and densification of biomass for generating electricity. “Torrefied biomass has the same energy density as coal; between nine and 10,000 Btus per pound,” Grotheim said. “It also has low moisture content between 5 percent and 6 percent and it absorbs moisture on a ready basis, which means it has a shorter storage life.” In December, Bepex received funding from Xcel Energy’s Renewable Development Fund to examine, evaluate and reduce the capital and operating costs associated with utilizing torrefaction methods. Bepex will employ its torrefaction process at its Minneapolis-based pilot scale facility using corn stover. Initially, Bepex will conduct tests gasifying 25 tons of biomass per day with a burn test of 125 tons, which will then be used to collect stack emissions profiles and conversion efficiency values. Bepex and its research team will also conduct a complete life-cycle analysis (LSA) assessment of its pilotscale research, Grotheim said. In the LSA Bepex will be assessing logistical issues, capital and operating costs for various commercial-scale torrefaction and densification process plants; emissions and energy production efficiency determinations for commercial applications; and comparing costs for electricity production from torrefied biomass in an industrial setting. Bepex’s findings are expected to be released later this year, Grotheim said.
the world will be fought To emphasize his over water—with guns.” point about the oil situOn top of this, he added ation, Groenewold refwe are moving toward erenced the Bakken Fora severe drought, so jumation in western North dicious use of water is Dakota and eastern Monparamount. tana. “The average well Fossil energy is an there right now costs $6.5 important part of the million,” he said. “That’s EERC’s portfolio, but a lot of money and you so is biomass. “As far as wouldn’t do that if oil was new research goes, one only $40 a barrel.” The of the areas we’re very Bakken Formation is “an excited about is algae,” enormous resource about Groenewold said. “I was the size of Saudi Arabia,” Groenewold fortunate enough to be he told the audience. Urban myth No. 2 is that there is a part of a group of eight people invited in global water crisis. “It’s worse than that,” he May to be the first delegation to go to Israel said. “There is a global water catastrophe. representing various enterprises.” He said top We are out of water or we’ve polluted it. A algae experts say it’s not the conversion of hundred of the largest cities in China are sit- algae to biofuels that is difficult. “The real ting on groundwater that’s at least 80 percent challenge is producing adequate feedstock, unusable. I predict today that the next war in so we’re working on some very sophisticated continued on page 57
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The development of camelina and other oilseeds that thrive in areas where the growing seasons are short and dry was one of the topics of the feedstock session at the Biomass ’08 Technical Workshop. Alice Pilgeram, the Biobased Institute co-director and plant pathologist at Bozeman’s Montana State University’s College of Agriculture, talked about camelina and how it contains valuable oil that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. The oil and meal byproduct can be used for protein enrichment in foods, feeds and cosmetics, as a fuel additive, a barrier to prevent weed emergence, and for the biofuel and byproduct industries. As an experiment, Pilgeram and a group of researchers at Montana’s Agriculture Center selected eight locations in the state to grow a variety of oilseed crops. Camelina showed promising results. “We planted in February or March and were able to go back and harvest at the end of July,” Pilgeram said. “We had yields that were all over the board—from 500 pounds per acre all the way up to 2,500 pounds per acre,” she said. “For camelina we’re not using any fertilizer, pesticides or herbicides,” she said. “We thought we would be able to use the same herbicides that are used on canola, but found that wasn’t true.” During experiments with the herbicides, the plants appeared to be thriving, but at harvest time the seeds were absent. “We’re hoping sometime in the next two years we will be able to find some type North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven told attendees at the Biomass ’08 Technical Workshop what his state was of chemical that will work,” she said. Camelina is a good option for doing to develop its energy sources. producers because it’s such a low-input crop, and is less expensive There is continued pressure to reduce CO2. Looking at biomass closely, it’s easy to to grow than soybeans or canola. Pilgeram said the next task is to make camelina biodiesel affordable. The see that it is very beneficial in that purpose.” Bull stressed that algae has a faster price of camelina biodiesel is currently about $6 per gallon, but by taking advantage growth rate than other oilseed crops, it can be processed into biofuels, it’s 100 of the market for poultry feed, the price could fall below $2.50 per gallon. “[The oil] percent renewable, and absorbs nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater while contains nearly 40 percent omega-3 fatty acids and high amounts of tocopherol,” mitigating CO2 emissions. Despite its many benefits, there are significant barriers to the large-scale proshe said. “We can take the camelina meal, feed it to poultry, and as those chickens eat that meal the omega-3 accumulates in the eggs—they are packed full of protein. duction of algae, according to Van Ert. Maintaining mass culture stability, developFrom the farmer’s standpoint, instead of getting $1 for a dozen eggs, he can get ing low-cost algae harvesting methods and optimizing strains for energy yields are $1.50.” Pilgeram added that farmers could also increase the value of the meal by among them. “The biotech and biomass industries have come a long way,” Bull said. “There feeding it to cattle, and it could be used to enrich bread. “It could be a wonderful way are a lot of challenges that we face—there’s still a lot that we don’t understand.” to keep money in a local economy,” she said. Although the research is ongoing, Pilgeram is confident about camolina’s potential as a biodiesel feedstock because it’s being produced in several states. Comparing Perennial Grasses “Three years ago, I would have told you that this was a Montana crop, but there’s Paul Nyren, range scientist and director of North Dakota State University’s actually production in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Colorado, Wyo- Central Grasslands Research Extension Center, evaluated selected perennial ming, Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota, North Dakota and Maine,” she said. “It’s grasses for biofuels production in central and western North Dakota. He and a rapidly emerging, but it’s very difficult to compete with $10 wheat.” group of researchers conducted an experiment to determine biomass yields and the chemical composition of perennial herbaceous crops. They also determined the optimum harvest dates for maximum biomass yields; compared yields on annual Amazing Algae Stanley Bull, vice president of the Midwest Research Institute and director and biennial harvesting of biomass crops; evaluated carbon sequestration and storof strategic partnerships at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, age of various perennial crops; and compared the economic feasibility of biomass Colo., presented research conducted by Matthew Van Ert on the use of algae as a crops with competing crops in the surrounding area. The $1 million project was funded by several North Dakota organizations. feedstock for energy and fuel. According to Van Ert, the benefits of algae over other oilseed crops are that it Five locations were selected in the state to grow plots with 10 different varieties of produces a great deal of oil, needs less arable land and fresh water, and it doesn’t perennial grasses to evaluate the production, carbon sequestration, economics and longevity of the grasses. The plots were planted in 2006 and harvested for the first interfere with food production thus avoiding the food-versus-fuel issue. The U.S. DOE granted $25 million to fund an Aquatic Species Program that time in September 2007. The project concluded that warm-season grasses such as switchgrass operated from 1978 to 1996. The money was used to evaluate the production of biodiesel from algae grown in open ponds utilizing waste carbon dioxide (CO2) from and big bluestem require more precipitation to achieve adequate yields. On drier coal-fired power plants. It was determined that algae could potentially yield 30 times sites, tall and intermediate wheatgrass had higher yields than switchgrass and big more oil per unit area than traditional oilseed crops. However, the economics of bluestem. On wetter sites and under irrigation, switchgrass out-yielded the wheatalgae production hindered the development of the technology, until now. “Why are grass species. Nyren said perennial grass research will continue. we looking at algae again?” Bull said. “The landscapes have changed dramatically.
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PHOTO: SAM MELQUIST, BBI INTERNATIONAL
Researching New Feedstocks
event continued from page 55
programs on algae.” One of the EERC’s algae research projects involves finding a replacement for JP-8 military-grade jet fuel. The EERC received one of three awards in the nation from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to do this research and has completed its first charge to demonstrate ability. “We’re now moving toward a second program there,” he said. Also, within the next year, Hoeven North Dakota will become home to a pilot plant using petrochemical technology to make urea fertilizer from biomass. Following his opening remarks, Groenewold introduced North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven. In 2001, Hoeven spearheaded the development of a comprehensive energy plan to develop all of the state’s energy sources such as coal, natural gas, oil, agriculture-based fuels, wind and biomass. “We’re now building on that and have put together a commission to [look at] how we can improve,” he said. “It’s about creating partnerships and synergies for new technologies to produce more energy, and to do it in environmentally friendly ways.” In the last legislative session, lawmakers created a biomass incentive and research fund, and a renewable energy fund. The program includes financial assistance for engineering and design of cellulosic ethanol and related biomass projects. It also provides incentives to the agricultural community to demonstrate the production, harvest, storage and delivery of biomass feedstocks on a commercial scale, and to support biomass projects during the first few critical years. “We need to empower North Dakota to continue developing partners, and that’s where you all come in,” Hoeven said. “You have the expertise, you have the experience, and you have the knowledge to develop the technology we need to make it happen.”
Gasification Tutorial The pre-workshop session was devoted to gasification. The tutorial was kicked off with a presentation by Nikhil Patel, an EERC research scientist, who began by lighting a match. The flame signified combustion and, after he blew it out, Patel pointed to the rising smoke and told the audience he had just made a gasifier. Gasification is substoichiometric combustion of fuel, which means the air accelerates combustion and is restricted to form gas—the same thing that happens when the flame of a match is blown out. Learning from history, Patel said the first gasifiers in the Bronze and Iron Ages were actually used to make charcoal, which acted as a reducing agent for high-temperature metal-making as far back as 3,000 B.C. With the charcoal as the primary product the gas was mostly vented off. Much later, in 1681, John Clayton ignited the
“Spirit of the Coal,” or synthesis gas, to produce lamplight. However, the importance of a self-sustained carbonization process using controlled air combustion, or what Patel says was an important first step in developing modern gasification processes, wasn’t discovered until later. Throughout the 1800s gas lighting was popular but by 1910, electricity came into a light of its own. In 1920, Franz Fischer and Hans Tropsch invented a process to catalytically reform synthesis gas into liquid fuels. Twenty-four years later, during the height of World War II, the Germans used the F-T process to produce 124,000 barrels of fuel a day from more than 25 plants in order to sustain adequate fuels production to run its equipment. The theory of gasification was the topic of a presentation by Paul Pansegrau, an EERC research scientist. Coal varies in quality, and in many ways can approximate biomass. Experience in coal can only lend itself to more effective utilization of biomass. Pansegrau spoke of the four major steps to gasification: drying, devolatilization, carbonization and gasification/combustion. He said biomass volatiles are much higher than coal, but in turn is inherently low in sulfur and nitrogen content. After carbonization, char is produced, there’s good char and bad. Good char is porous, has the right mineral content, possesses good reactivity and is high in carbon monoxide and hydrogen. Bad char is nonporous, has bad reactivity and only makes carbon monoxide. There are ways to work around bad char, which are likely more art than science, Pansegrau said. Carbon monoxide and hydrogen are the desired main components of synthesis gas. High-temperature gasification produces more carbon monoxide and hydrogen, and less carbon dioxide. During the audience question and answer period one person asked if a gasifier that can use coal and biomass exists. Pansegrau said it is best to use a gasification system designed for biomass. There are 142 commercial gasification plants in the world employing more than 420 gasifiers, the thermal generating capacity of which is 56,000 megawatts, said EERC Senior Research Manager Mike Swanson. The feedstock breakdown for these plants is 55 percent coal and 32 percent petroleum residue; the remaining 13 percent is a mix of feedstocks, including a small amount of biomass. Fortyfour percent of the end products are chemicals, 30 percent F-T fuel, and 18 percent power. Asia has 32 percent of the world’s syngas productive capacity, while Africa and the Middle East make 28 percent, Europe is a close third at 25 percent, and the Americas north, central and south come in last at 15 percent. BIO Ron Kotrba is a Biomass Magazine senior writer. Reach him at email@example.com or (701) 738-4942. Jerry W. Kram, Bryan Sims, Anna Austin and Ryan C. Christiansen are Biomass Magazine staff writers. Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org or (701) 738-4920, email@example.com or (701) 3738042, firstname.lastname@example.org or (701) 738-4968 and bsims @bbiinternational.com or (701) 738-4950.
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Construction Why hire a project coordinator when you can hire a team of experts to develop your ethanol or biodiesel project? Let BBI guide you down the project development path: Feasibility study
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BBI International Project Development Adding Value to the Biofuels Industry 58 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 8|2008 300 Union Blvd, Suite 325 Lakewood, CO 80228, (303) 526-5655
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LAB Watching Grass Grow
ot all lab work involves test tubes, microscopes and high-tech equipment. Julie Jastrow’s job is to watch grass grow. What she discovers could determine if energy production from biomass is sustainable over a long period of time. Jastrow, a researcher with Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, is trying to figure out how to grow the greatest amount of biomass with the fewest inputs such as cultivation and fertilizers. Her current study is focused on switchgrass, which is a favored candidate as the energy crop of the future. Jastrow says switchgrass is one of the few native grasses that respond to fertilizers by increasing the amount of biomass it produces. Other grasses don’t grow as much after being fertilized. The problem with switchgrass is that although it’s a perennial, after a number of years the productivity of switchgrass stands plateaus and then declines. Jastrow says this may be because plant parasites and diseases build up in the soil over time. She believes this is a common problem in any monoculture cropping situation. “If there is only one species there, there is a good chance you are going to attract pathogens,” she says. Her current experiment is based on the idea that a mix of plants may resist diseases better than a stand of a single cultivar. This spring, the lab planted seven test plots to see if that idea stands up to rigorous scrutiny. Three control plots were seeded with varieties of switchgrass developed or discovered in different parts of the United States. One test plot was seeded with all three varieties to see if the genetic diversity among them is enough to keep pathogens at bay. “The question is, if species diversity is a problem, will switchgrass with some genetic diversity improve overall yields over time?” Jastrow explains.
The study will also determine if mixes of the plants respond better to varying climatic conditions. Other test plots were seeded with big bluestem, Canadian wild rye or a mix of native plants, along with the mixed switchgrass cultivars. The Canadian wild rye is a cool-season grass that does most of its growing before the warm-season grasses such as switchgrass. It could also act as a nurse crop for the switchgrass, keeping weeds at bay until the switchgrass becomes established. “If you have species in your mix and one doesn’t do so well when it is really hot and dry but another one does, that one will pick up the slack,” Jastrow says. “The downside of diversity is that if you are converting it to ethanol via fermentation, those systems may not do as well with a diverse feedstock.” Unlike some biomass trials, Argonne’s
plots are large enough to be planted with a tractor and seed drill. “The plots we have made are 18 by 20 meters,” Jastrow says. “That makes them large enough to stand up to some long-term sampling, particularly destructive tests such as soil cores. They’re not huge, but they are also big enough to go in and get a decent estimate of what the production levels are.” The primary concern of Jastrow’s is whether these energy crops can work over a long period of time. “We want to look into whether there is a more sustainable way of producing biomass,” she says. “Can we use natural nitrogen fixation? We know these plots can accumulate nitrogen faster than can be explained by atmospheric deposition. Where does that nitrogen come from? Can you use grasses that may not produce as much biomass but still create a net gain in the end by requiring less energy?” BIO —Jerry W. Kram
Julie Jastrow, ecologist for Argonne National Laboratory, examines stems of Indian grass and big bluestem. PHOTO: ARGONNE NATIONAL LABORATORY
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UPDATE Sustainability of Biofuels: Technology Pathways
urning biomass into liquid fuel is not a novel concept. In fact, today’s traditional biofuels (ethanol and biodiesel) were invented in the 1800s. Technology pathways for producing biofuels have advanced significantly in recent years to allow feedstock flexibility and improved energy efficiencies, adaptability, economics and performance. Although corn is the feedstock of more than 90 percent of the biofuels produced in the United States, biofuels can be produced from a variety of biomass feedstocks. Two of the most promising include lignocellulosic biomass (forest/agriculture residues and energy crops) or triacylglycerides (oils extracted from algae or oilseeds and fats). A variety of technologies exist at various stages of development to transform these feedstocks into biofuels. Converting lignocellulosic biomass into biofuel can be accomplished using one of three primary routes: gasification, pyrolysis and hydrolysis. Gasification breaks down the feedstock into basic hydrocarbon building blocks (hydrogen, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and water), typically at high temperatures with limited amounts of oxygen. The resulting gas (syngas) is a fuel itself but can also be converted into liquid biofuel via a Fischer–Tropsch process whereby chemical compounds present in the syngas are reacted with a catalyst to form longer hydrocarbon chains identical to those found in petroleum-derived fuels. Pyrolysis is different from gasification in that it relies upon rapid heating in the absence of oxygen to chemically decompose the feedstock. The product of a pyrolysis unit is a condensed hydrocarbon liquid or bio-oil. This bio-oil is typically not suitable as a fuel itself and requires additional refining similar to petroleum crude oil. Hydrolysis uses water to break down cellulosic feedstock into simpler sugar molecules. Today’s conventional ethanol plants ferment sugars in corn and sugarcane to produce ethanol. Through hydrolysis, grasses and crop residue can be broken down to simple sugars and fermented to produce cellulosic ethanol (also called second-generWocken ation ethanol). Today, oils and fats are transformed into biodiesel, which is a common term referring to fatty acid methyl esters. Producing biodiesel is a relatively simple and inexpensive chemical process where feedstock price makes up 80 percent to 90 percent of the final product cost. Biodiesel contains oxygen which causes performance inhibitors such as elevated freeze point and stability problems if stored for long periods of time. To eliminate these characteristics and produce a bio-derived diesel fuel with drop-in compatibility with petroleum-derived fuels, research is under way at the Energy & Environmental Research Center and other entities to process oils and fats differently. By processing the feedstock thermocatalytically, oxygen is eliminated and a suite of renewable fuels (jet fuel, diesel, gasoline and propane) are produced that are indistinguishable from petroleum-derived fuel. Biofuel sustainability will only be possible through diversity. A variety of feedstocks and technologies exist that can contribute a portion of the fuel supply. No single feedstock or technology will be sufficient to satisfy the enormous demand for liquid fuels. This article is the first in a series dedicated to helping readers develop informed opinions about biofuels. In the next issue of Biomass Magazine, the Sustainability of Biofuels series will examine feedstock options and the extent to which different feedstock can contribute to satisfying liquid fuel demand. BIO
Chad Wocken is a research manager at the EERC in Grand Forks, N.D. Reach him at email@example.com or (701) 777-5273.
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Published on Sep 1, 2008