INSIDE: NREL REVIVES ITS ALGAE RESEARCH PROGRAM September 2010
Conference & Expo Review
Carbon Neutrality, Sustainability of Woody Biomass Hot Topics at Regional Event Industry Tours Highlight Inner Workings of Wood Pellet, District Energy Plants
FEATURES ..................... 28 EVENT Cheers to Biomass in Boston Northeast Biomass Conference & Expo brought both sides of the controversial debate surrounding the carbon neutrality and sustainability of woody biomass to Boston. By Anna Austin and Lisa Gibson
36 ALGAE An Algal Dream Team The U.K.'s Carbon Trust has formed a "dream team" with the goal of commercializing algae production by 2020. By Lisa Gibson
42 RESEARCH A New Start High oil prices, interest in greenhouse gas mitigation and aggressive energy security goals spur an updated revival of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s algae research. By Lisa Gibson
48 BIOCHAR Beyond the Hype BIOCHAR | PAGE 48
New research strives to move biochar from miraculous claims into the realm of reality. By Anna Austin
DEPARTMENTS ..................... 04 Editor’s Note Event Tackles Controversial Topics By Rona Johnson
05 Advertiser Index 06 Industry Events
CONTRIBUTIONS ..................... 54 PATENTS Patenting Carbon Credit Trading: Dodging Certainty The future of carbon credit trading, and thus the future of patenting carbon credit trading, is uncertain. A U.S. Supreme Court case, Bilski v. Kappos, may be helpful for those looking to patent carbon credit trading methods. By Paul Craane
07 BPA Update Biomass Power: A Power to be Defended By Bob Cleaves
08 EERC Update EERC’s Biomass ’10 Workshop Discusses Breakthrough Technologies By Chris Zygarlicke
09 BTEC Update Playtime is Over: Why September Means Biomass Advocacy or the Consequences of Inaction By Joseph Seymour
12 Business Briefs 14 Biobytes 16 Industry News 56 Marketplace
9 |2010 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 3
NOTE Event Tackles Controversial Topics
he Northeast Biomass Conference & Expo held Aug. 4-6 in Boston was everything we had hoped it would be. What we didn’t expect was the diversity of the attendees. According to Jim Sampson, BBI International’s registration manager, eight different countries and 38 states plus the District of Columbia were represented―not bad for a regional event. I suspect that it was the subject matter and the first plenary session regarding the carbon neutrality and sustainability of woody biomass that drove attendance. The session was well-attended but unfortunately we weren’t able to open it up to comments from the audience as I had earlier thought we would. I thought the dialogue amongst the participants—Moderator Dwayne Breger, director of renewable and alternative energy development for the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources; Dave Tenny, president and CEO of the National Alliance of Forest Owners; Tom Walker, consultant/ team lead for the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences; Bob Perschel, northeast region director of the Forest Guild; and Michael Goergen, executive vice president and CEO of the Society of American Foresters—however, made up for the lack of audience participation. It was obvious the presenters had differing views on the use of woody biomass, but instead of arguing they were respectful of one another and at the same time made their views known. What I found most interesting was the discussion about forest landowners and the fact that they are able to do a better job of perpetuating forest lands when they have more options and markets. This goes against the claims that the use of woody biomass for renewable energy will lead to clear-cutting of forests. Why would forest landowners destroy all of their income in one fell swoop? That‘s akin to the idea that farmers aren’t concerned about soil erosion and quality. If they don’t take care of their land, then their land won’t be as productive and they won’t get the yields they need to profit. I also attended all of the panel sessions in the biomass project development and finance track, most of which basically concluded that projects without abundant, affordable biomass supplies probably will have a tough time getting financing. I was told that protestors had applied to local law enforcement to hold a demonstration and also that some people were handing out fliers, but I personally never saw or heard any of it. I would have been surprised if there had been a huge demonstration, however, as apparently the people against the use of woody biomass for renewable energy production have already gotten what they wanted in the form of the Manomet Center study, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs' request for swift policy changes to the state’s renewable portfolio standard in light of the study's findings, and the public meetings held regarding the study. I just hope the policymakers in Massachusetts don’t forget about the forest landowners, loggers and biomass project developers, and the potential for economic development the industry could bring to the state when they are making their decisions.
Rona Johnson Editor email@example.com
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EDITORIAL EDITOR Rona Johnson firstname.lastname@example.org ASSOCIATE EDITORS Anna Austin email@example.com Lisa Gibson firstname.lastname@example.org COPY EDITOR Jan Tellmann email@example.com 2010 International Biorefining Conference & Trade Show
2010 Southeast BIOMASS Conference & Trade Show
ART DIRECTOR Jaci Satterlund firstname.lastname@example.org
2011 Biomass Industry Directory
2011 International BIOMASS Conference & Expo
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2011 Pacific West BIOMASS Conference & Trade Show
Advanced Trailer Industries
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BIBB Engineers Architects & Constructors
Burns & McDonnell
Christianson & Associates, PLLP
Church & Dwight Co., Inc.
Detroit Stoker Company
Energy & Environmental Research Center
Indeck Power Equipment Co.
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The Teaford Co. Inc.
Verdant Environmental Services
West Salem Machinery
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9 |2010 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 5
industry events 3rd International Biochar Conference
Biomass Boiler Workshop
September 12-15, 2010
September 16-17, 2010
Rio Othon Palace Rio de Janeiro, Brazil The IBI 2010 conference will feature internationally renowned speakers, covering all aspects of biochar including production and utilization systems, field trials, commercial and user experience, policy, education, new research, Terra Preta, and future trends. Conference delegates will include the leading visionaries in the biochar world, policy makers, producers, farmers and gardeners, academics, investors, development agents and many others. (914) 693-0496 www.ibi2010.org
Holiday Inn & Suites International Airport-Mall of America Minneapolis, Minnesota This workshop consists of presentations about new technological developments and results to improve the operating performance, waste fuel burning capacity, efficiency and fuel economy of biomass-fired boilers (mostly stoker-fired). In addition, the program will include discussions on troubleshooting and problem solving challenges that attendees bring to the workshop. Participants will benefit by learning about the current retrofit technology for biomass boilers, seeing how other mill operations solve their biomass boiler area problems and receiving information and solutions to their mill-specific problems. (425) 952-2843 www.jansenboiler.com
Algal Biomass Summit
Southeast BIOMASS Conference & Trade Show
September 28-30, 2010
November 2-4, 2010
JW Marriott Phoenix, Arizona More than 800 leaders in the algal industry will attend this event including researchers, academia, algae producers and algae end-users. The conference will feature three tracks: science and technology, commercialization and policy, and government and finance. The fourth annual Algae Biomass Summit will cover all topics of interest to the algal community. (507) 272-3172 www.algalbiomass.org
Hyatt Regency Atlanta Atlanta, Georgia With an exclusive focus on biomass utilization in the Southeast—from the Virginias to the Gulf Coast—the Southeast BIOMASS Conference & Trade Show is one of three distinct regional offshoots of Biomass Magazine’s International BIOMASS Conference & Expo. The program will include more than 60 speakers within four tracks: electricity generation; industrial heat and power; biorefining; and biomass project development and finance. (701) 746-8385 www.biomassconference.com/southeast
International Biorefining Conference & Trade Show
Pacific West BIOMASS Conference & Trade Show
November 16-18, 2010
January 10-12, 2011
David L. Lawrence Convention Center Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania With a focus on strategies to accelerate the growth of the global biorefining industry, this forum will allow technology developers to connect with investors and strategic partners, putting them on a path toward deployment. Organized by BBI International and produced by Biorefining Magazine, this event will include panels on project finance, market development, technology scale-up and more, all focused on the advanced biofuels and biobased chemicals space. Speaker abstracts are now being accepted online. (701) 746-8385 www.biorefiningconference.com
Sheraton Seattle Hotel Seattle, Washington With an exclusive focus on biomass utilization in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Nevada, the Pacific West BIOMASS Conference & Trade Show is one of three distinct regional offshoots of Biomass Magazine’s International BIOMASS Conference & Expo. The program will focus on the vast potential for biomass utilization in the Pacific West, featuring more than 60 speakers within four tracks: electricity generation; industrial heat and power; biorefining; and biomass project development and finance. Speaker abstracts are now being accepted online. (701) 746-8385 www.biomassconference.com/pacificwest
International BIOMASS Conference & Expo
International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo
May 2-5, 2011
June 27-30, 2011
America’s Center St. Louis. Missouri The International BIOMASS Conference & Expo is the biomass industry’s largest, fastest-growing event. In 2010, BIOMASS was attended by 1,700 industry professionals from 49 states and 25 nations representing nearly every geographical region and sector of the world’s interconnected biomass utilization industries—power, thermal energy, fuels and chemicals. With six tracks, 38 panels, 120 speakers, 400 exhibitors and an anticipated 2,500 attendees in 2011, BIOMASS will continue to be the industry’s leading educational, networking and business development forum. Speaker abstracts are now being accepted online. (701) 746-8385 www.biomassconference.com
Indiana Convention Center Indianapolis, Indiana Entering its 27th year, the FEW is the largest, longest-running ethanol conference in the world. The FEW is renowned for its superb programming which remains focused on commercial-scale ethanol production—both grain and cellulosic—operational efficiencies, plant management, energy use, and near-term research and development. With five tracks, 32 panels, 100 speakers, 400 exhibitors and an anticipated 2,500 attendees in 2011, the FEW remains the ethanol industry’s leading production-oriented educational, networking and business development forum. Speaker abstracts are now being accepted online. (701) 746-8385 www.fuelethanolworkshop.com
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UPDATE Biomass Power: A Power to be Defended Things are looking up for the biomass industry. After a couple months of challenging assumptions made in mischaracterized studies, we scored a huge victory in July as 114 influential environment and energy scientists from prestigious universities and environmental centers rallied around biomass. They urged key members of Congress to view biofuels as the valuable renewable energy source that they are. And they implored the U.S. EPA to reconsider its Tailoring Rules that equate biomass energy with that of fossil fuels. Most important, the scientists explained—in scientific detail that was still easy for laymen to understand—how they account for biomass' “carbon neutral” status and its lack of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. They even went so far as to say that biomass energy is good for the environment: “Forests are our nation’s primary source of renewable materials and second-largest source of renewable energy after hydropower,” they wrote. “Sustainable development of new and traditional uses of our forests helps reduce GHG emissions and has the important benefit of providing economic incentives for keeping lands forested and reducing the motivation for land conversion. “When wood removals are used to produce both renewable materials as well as bio-energy,” the scientists continued, “the carbon stored in forest products continues to grow year after year, more than off-setting any processing emissions while at the same time permanently substituting for fossil fuel intensive materials displacing their emissions.” This letter could not have been timed better; in Massachusetts, misperceptions continue to spread. Ian Bowles, Massachusetts secretary for energy and environmental affairs, recently wrote a letter instructing the state’s Department of Energy Resources to draft new regulations that would impose stricter standards for biomass projects seeking to qualify for Massachusetts incentives. The proposal by Secretary Bowles, among other things, would require that biomass power projects provide significant near-term greenhouse gas dividends and includes a proposal
that the state develop new carbon accounting rules for biomass power. Bowles’ letter also calls for a clear definition of residues and waste woods and proposes that the greatest support be thrown behind plants that produce both heat and power. Unfortunately, the secretary's letter does little to stop the misinfor- Bob Cleaves mation spreading about biomass; in- president and stead, it continues to spread danger- CEO, BPA ous myths about our industry. These mischaracterizations must stop if we are to not only reach our energy potential, but to stay alive in the renewable energy game. It seems that while we know that biomass power is an energy source that derives from waste debris, such as branches and waste residue from timber harvests, and that biomass power is a renewable source that is carbon neutral, we need to continue to project the truths about biomass to fix the inaccurate view some have of our industry. This letter from top scientists across the country was an encouraging sign for the biomass industry and the 14,000 men and women in this country who are employed by our industry. These scientists’ ability to articulate why biomass is beneficial to the environment will work to quell the misinformation circulating about the industry and increase knowledge about what we do and, most importantly, why biomass power is an important energy source. We must continue the fight. Biomass power associations and facility leaders must stress to media contacts and elected officials the many positive facts about biomass power to solidify our role in renewable energy. I, for one, fully believe we are capable of righting the myths and showing America that biomass power is both renewable and necessary in our country’s energy conversations. BIO Bob Cleaves is president and CEO of the Biomass Power Association. To learn more about biomass power, please visit www.USABiomass.org.
9 |2010 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 7
UPDATE EERC’s Biomass ’10 Workshop Discusses Breakthrough Technologies Biomass ’10: Renewable Power, Fuels, and Chemicals Workshop was held in Grand Forks, N.D., on July 20 and 21. This was the eighth such event hosted by the Energy & Environmental Research Center with sponsorship support from the EERC Centers for Renewable Energy and Biomass Utilization, the North Dakota Department of Commerce Division of Community Services and the U.S. DOE. The goal of the workshop has always been to provide a forum to discuss breakthrough technologies regarding the conversion of biomass to liquid fuels, energy, and chemicals. More than 300 registrants, including 40 speakers, from 26 states, seven countries and more than 160 organizations, engaged in lively discussions throughout the technical sessions and networking venues. Gerald Groenewold, EERC director, kicked off the event and spoke of the transition between fossil energy and renewable energy and how it needs to be done right for sustainable energy security, economic growth and greenhouse gas emission control. With a strong Canadian delegation in the audience, Groenewold noted that the U.S. can never be truly energy independent because it must retain the long-standing trade relationship with Canada and other allied nations. Keynote speaker, N.D. Gov. John Hoeven, repeated the theme of transition and highlighted North Dakota’s unique blend of expanding oil, gas and coal in the west and expanding bioenergy development in the east. U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who made comments via video, spoke of legislation and seed funding intended to promote technologies that curb global climate change and improve energy security, while maintaining prudent fossil energy growth. Biomass energy could experience significant growth of 5 to 10 percent of electricity and 10 to 20 percent of transportation fuels in the next 30 years. Several speakers, such as Bill Berguson from the University of MinnesotaDuluth, showed data on the cost-effective supply of biomass feedstocks, both residues and energy crops, which lends support to the case for growth in bioenergy. Several discussions centered on the future of ethanol as well. Brian Jennings from the American Coalition of Ethanol and Chris Marshall from Argonne National Laboratory sparred over water consumption, field-to-wheels energy issues, and pipeline and blending infrastructures for ethanol versus hydrocarbon biofuels such as green gasoline components. Corn ethanol has, in a sense, blazed a trail for these upcoming biofuels by establishing public
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interest, financing scenarios, transportation infrastructure and plant construction. Several presenters, such as Jennings, Randall Goodfellow from Ensyn Technologies Inc., Adam Wirt from Poet LLC, and Robert Wooley from Abengoa Bioenergy New Technologies, made the Chris Zygarlicke case that demonstration projects are redeputy associate vealing the economics for converting celdirector, EERC lulosic biomass into liquid biofuels. Ted Aulich, senior research manager at the EERC, spoke of the reality of 50 cents to $1 a gallon green diesel from nonfood crop oil, and Tom Allnutt of Phycal LLC described a 40-acre algae plant being built now in Hawaii to produce more than 100,000 gallons per year of renewable jet fuel. In the next few years, Poet’s 25 MMgy ethanol plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa; the EERC-Tesoro 1 to 3 MMgy renewable jet fuel system in North Dakota, and others will prove the economic competitiveness of biomass-derived liquid fuels. Projects are definitely not stuck in the boardroom. For biopower production, several speakers emphasized the need for brokers and proven methods for supply of densified biomass to power plants. Several vendors and researchers at the workshop displayed new approaches to chop, shred, grind, bale, pulverize, pelletize, torrefy or pyrolize herbaceous and woody biomass into denser fuels conducive to introduction into an energy system. In stark contrast to processing typical terrestrially grown biomass, a panel discussion was devoted to algae as a feedstock for bioenergy. Dave Haberman from IF LLC argued that native algae species exist for bioenergy purposes and genetically modified algae is not worth the risk. Allnutt countered that genetically modified strains can be controlled given the proper safeguards. In summary, Biomass '10 was a success, and the status of new technologies and commercial business was updated thoroughly. Consistently higher fossil fuel prices are making biomass a competitive resource on an energycontent basis in some cases. Large amounts of funding from both federal and private sectors have resulted in the construction of several demonstration plants. BIO Chris Zygarlicke is a deputy associate director at the EERC. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (701) 777-5123.
UPDATE The recent introduction of the bipartisan Thermal Renewable Energy and Efficiency Act (H.R. 5805) offers an alternative incentive trifecta for large biomass thermal systems. Capitalizing on the success of district heating in St. Paul, the bill’s advocates have proposed increased grant funding for district energy systems, expanded tax-exempt Joseph Seymour bonding, and a thermal energy production research fellow, tax credit on a Btu-to-kilowatt basis simiBTEC lar to renewable electricity generation. The bill, nicknamed TREEA, has a diverse supporting coalition, including the BTEC, Sierra Club, International District Energy Association, and U.S. Clean Heat and Power Association. Initial enthusiasm is strong, but with Congress' session closing quickly, TREEA must find a place in a larger energy bill or face being reintroduced in the 112th Congress. BTEC has led in tracking and analyzing these biomass priorities, matched by education and outreach to impacted businesses, consumers and everyday citizens. We have produced fact sheets, action alerts and policy newsletters that translate complex bills into communicable ideas. Yet for all the collective and credible messaging, strong biomass advocates such as the BTEC and other biomass trade associations are only as effective as their individual members. Biomass advocacy and legislative participation may seem foreign, wasteful and cynical for an industry that has grown without the historical aid of government incentives. However, if our industry wants to help the nation realize job growth, reduced oil dependence and lower energy costs, we must actively support legislation such as the bills mentioned above. Share your business passion and expertise with a mission-driven trade association or nonprofit. Discuss biomass with your legislator’s energy staff member. Respond intelligently to proposed regulations and industry reports. And, above all, recognize that if we fail to act, all the work that brought biomass issues to the national forefront will fade. Biomass regrows naturally, but biomass thermal legislation needs sustained, vocal support. BIO Joseph Seymour is a research fellow at the Biomass Thermal Energy Council. Reach him at joseph.seymour@ biomassthermal.org.
For biomass stakeholders, Labor Day means two things: the beginning of the heating season and the end of the U.S. Congress' August recess. Congress' return to Washington signals the final opportunity to pass much-needed biomass thermal incentives and programs. These bills could dramatically grow the market for biomass fuels and appliances. Despite broad energy legislation dominating headlines, an array of targeted biomass thermal initiatives is just below the surface, awaiting the right political support and timing. One such key bill is the Home Star Energy Retrofit Act (H.R. 5019), a two-tiered point-of-sale rebate program for home efficiency improvements that includes biomass heating systems. Among its provisions, Home Star would provide $1,000 toward the purchase and installation of qualifying biomass heating appliances, and a lesser amount for a wood stove swap out. The bill passed the House in May, and it is undergoing budget scoring in the Senate; deficit concerns have sent its supporters in search of budget offsets ($6 billion worth). Home Star will likely find its home in a larger “green jobs” package later in the fall before mid-term congressional elections. Meanwhile, a more focused package of biomass thermal investment tax credits is still looking for its home in Congress. A companion set of legislation in the House (H.R. 5918) and Senate (S. 3188) would create a 30 percent tax credit for commercial and industrial biomass thermal systems. The other pair, H.R. 2080 and S. 1643, would provide up to a $6,000 tax credit for qualifying residential biomass thermal systems. Together, these bills would boost investment in clean burning, efficient biomass thermal systems for all sectors. Large-scale biomass thermal systems, such as district heating and combined heat and power (CHP), stand to gain from passage of the American Clean Energy Leadership Act (S. 1462). Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., working with the Biomass Thermal Energy Council, attached an amendment to section 610 of the bill that would establish tradeable thermal Renewable Energy Credits tied to increasing efficiency rates. Biomass thermal producers would receive 1 credit for operating at less than 50 percent efficiency, 1.25 credits for 70 to 90 percent efficiency, and 1.5 credits for over 90 percent efficiency. Until late July, this bill looked like the vehicle to move major energy reform, but Senate leadership has changed course and is pursuing a scaled-down approach.
Biomass Thermal Energy Council
Playtime is Over: Why September Means Biomass Advocacy or the Consequences of Inaction
9 |2010 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 9
September 13-15, 2011 Hilton Americas - Houston Houston, Texas
For more information: 701-746-8385 email@example.com
BRIEFS Leslie Equipment joins Bandit sales force To assist with the recent influx of chipper sales and wood waste recycling business in the logging sector, Bandit Industries has signed on a new dealer, Leslie Equipment Co., in the Southern U.S. With 10 locations throughout West Virginia, southern Ohio, and eastern Kentucky, Leslie features large rental fleets and vast inventories for immediate purchase. Its complete lines of John Deere construction and forestry equipment will complement Bandit’s line of whole tree chippers and Beast recyclers and provide opportunities for expansion into new markets. BIO
Iogen Energy appoints former Shell executive as COO Iogen Energy, a joint venture between Iogen Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell, has appointed Duncan Macleod as chief operating officer. He will replace founding president and current CEO Brian Foody, who will assume the role of chairman of Iogen Energy and continue in his role as president and CEO Macleod of Iogen Corp. Macleod will have operational responsibility for Iogen Energy, and oversee the technology development program to advance commercialization of Iogen Energy’s cellulosic ethanol. He joins Iogen Energy from Shell, where he was vice president with responsibility for Shell Hydrogen. BIO
Vermeer adds Woodford as new dealer Morbark introduces compact stand-alone flail Morbark Inc. has introduced the Morbark 5500 StandAlone Flail. The portable debarker/delimber removes the bark and foliage from trees when harvesting wood fiber for high-quality chips for use in the pulp and paper market. The new flail can be used alone or in tandem with a Morbark Whole Tree Chipper. Those currently supplying the fuel market with chips from a Morbark Whole Tree Chipper can now combine that unit with the 5500 Stand-Alone Flail to branch out into the clean chip market. These units work together as one in-woods system to provide the same end-product as a larger combination flail machine. A grinder can also be positioned under the discharge conveyor to produce biomass fuel simultaneously. BIO
Vermeer Corp., a manufacturer of agricultural, biomass harvesting and construction equipment has approved Woodford Equipment as a new dealer in Emmetsburg, Iowa. The new Vermeer dealership will provide equipment services including parts, service and sales support for Vermeer biomass harvesting equipment. Poet LLC is currently conducting Project Liberty nearby and Vermeer staff have been assisting area farmers as they work to provide biomass harvesting solutions. Woodford Equipment will offer sales, parts and service in the Emmetsburg area to effectively support two key products that will help area farmers to achieve Poet’s Project Liberty goal to collect corncobs and bale second pass cob bales. BIO
EPRI board elects Howard president, CEO U.S Commerce Secretary recognizes Capstone Turbine U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke recently led a signing ceremony in Beijing featuring officials from Capstone Turbine Corp., a clean-technology manufacturer of microturbine energy systems, and its new distributor, Sino Clean Energy Group. The ceremony was part of the first U.S. international trade mission to China under the Obama administration. The event recognized the distribution agreement between Capstone and Sino Clean Energy and acknowledged the companies' efforts to broaden China's use of clean-and-green microturbine technology developed in the U.S. The goal of the mission to China and Indonesia is to promote exports of technologies related to clean energy; energy efficiency; and electric energy storage, transmission and distribution. BIO 12 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 9|2010
The Electric Power Research Institute board has elected EPRI Senior Vice President Michael Howard as its next president and CEO, effective in September at the retirement of current President and CEO Steve Specker. Howard has more than 30 years of leadership experience in organizations ranging from entrepreneurial start-ups to large public companies and has developed a track record for locating, hiring and mentoring top-tier scientific and technical talent. In his current position, Howard oversees annual research spending in excess of $350 million and is responsible for overseeing EPRI’s entire research portfolio including renewable, fossil and nuclear generation; transmission and distribution; energy efficiency; electric transportation; and the environment. BIO
BRIEFS Witherspoon named to Edenspace board Edenspace Systems Corp. announced the election of W. David Witherspoon Jr. to the company’s board of directors. He is the head of the North American renewable fuels business for Syngenta Seeds and is a member of Syngenta's Corn and Soybean Leadership Team for the U.S. Witherspoon joined Syngenta in 2004 through the acquisition of Garst Witherspoon Seed Co. where he served as president. He received a bachelor’s degree in biology from the Citadel, a master’s degree in agronomy from Clemson University and a doctorate in crop science, breeding and genetics from North Carolina State University. Kansas-based Edenspace develops improved crops for production of biofuels and bioproducts from nonfood agricultural residues and dedicated energy crops. BIO
GE launches 2-stage turbocharged gas engine Responding to global demand for high-efficiency power generation, GE has developed a two-stage turbocharged gas engine and is applying its technology to its Jenbacher J624 gas engine. The new engine provides significant output and efficiency increases compared with the single turbocharged version and is well-suited for operation in hot environments and combinedheat-and-power applications. With the new system, which GE developed with specialists from ABB Turbo Systems Ltd., the J624 achieves approximately 10 percent higher output, increasing from 4 to 4.4 megawatts and offers an electrical efficiency of 46.5 percent, an increase of about 1 percentage point. BIO
John Deere bulks up D-Series Knuckleboom Loaders John Deere Construction & Forestry’s new Knuckleboom Loaders are bulked up for improved durability and performance. Features include the fuelefficient John Deere 6068 Tier 2 PowerTech engine with a highpressure common rail electronic fuel injection system for improved cycle times and new Pressure Compensated Load Sensing hydraulic pumps with a dedicated swing pump to deliver hydraulic power to all functions. Other updates to the D-Series 335D and 437D Knuckleboom Loaders include: heavy-duty swing bearing and pinion with taller gear teeth to reduce the torque load on each tooth; new improved hydraulic manifold; new standard display monitor with the addition of engine diagnostic information; auto idle; and all John Deere cylinders. BIO
Baker-Rullman unveils mobile drying unit Watertown, Wis.-based Baker-Rullman Mfg. Inc., a manufacturer of corrugated steel storage bins, hoppers, steel structure and triple-pass rotary drum dryers has completed construction and testing of a mobile drying unit. The Model SD45-12 employs Baker-Rullman’s triple pass technology and will be available for lease to customers interested in drying materials to analyze drying capabilities, equipment suitability and emissions data. The system is designed to accept propane, natural gas and solid fuel with complete control systems for all options. The plug-and-play system is designed to accommodate almost any application including sawdust, paper or municipal sludge, wood chips, egg shells, alfalfa, distillers grains, bakery waste, livestock renderings and citrus or vegetable byproducts. BIO
Martin Engineering acquires Cougar Industries Martin Engineering, a supplier of industrial vibrators, has acquired Peru, Ill.-based Cougar Industries, a manufacturer of U.S.-made industrial vibrators. Martin Engineering CEO Scott Hutter said that plans are to retain the Cougar name and continue operations in Peru as a division of Martin Engineering. The company designs and manufactures a line of electric single- and three-phase vibrators in a wide range of force outputs. The firm also manufactures piston, ball, ring and turbine pneumatic vibrators and a complete line of hydraulic powered units. BIO
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9 |2010 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 13
BIObytes Biomass News Briefs
Ontario funds biomass research efforts The Ontario Trillium Foundation has awarded a $565,000 grant to the Biomass Network Group at Nipissing Universityâ€™s Biomass Innovation Centre to help establish biomass as one of the new clean technologies in the province, and to support economic growth of northern Ontario through curriculum
development and training in a range of related jobs and professions. The Biomass Innovation Centre was formed in the spring of 2009, and focuses on realizing the positive environmental and financial impacts of using the provinceâ€™s existing wood supply for renewable heat and energy.
PSU, AdvanceBio partner for biomass research
OriginOil reports first payment Algae biofuel technology company OriginOil Inc. reported it had received payment from its first customer, Australiabased MBD Energy Ltd., for a Quantum Fracturing System, the first unit in a multiphase commercialization program. The system breaks down nutrients such as CO2 into microparticles that stay suspended in water longer, allowing algae to feed more efficiently, according to OriginOil.
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In May, the companies agreed on a multiphase commercialization program under which OriginOil will supply MBD Energy with its algaeto-oil technology platform in progressively larger installations. Pending success of the initial test phase, MBD will purchase larger systems to serve its power station projects in Australia, beginning with a pilot plant at Tarong Power Station in southeastern Queensland.
Pennsylvania State University has awarded a contract to Cincinnati-based AdvanceBio Systems LLC to supply a benchscale hydrolyzer system for its shared fermentation facility at University Park, Pa. The equipment will be used for research, development and demonstration of technology related to the production of biomass-based
fuels and chemicals from lignocelluosic feedstocks. AdvanceBio is associated with AdvanceBio LLC, a firm that provides consulting services and technology to companies that are developing new projects in the biofuels industry and biochemical sector. The company will now collaborate with PSU for related research efforts.
Liberty Green Renewables plans rejected in Indiana A $100 million Liberty Green Renewables LLC woody biomass power plant has suffered a serious setback, as the local planning commission rejected its development plans in the middle of July. The 32-megawatt plant was to be sited near Scottsburg, Ind., and burn logging and milling residues. The re-
sulting energy was going to be sold to local utilities, but the Scott County Area Plan Commission voted it down by a 4-2 vote. The company is based in Georgetown, Ind., and also has a Missouri-based joint venture, LG Biomass Missouri LLC, with global company Macquarie Cook Power Inc.
BlueFire in phase II of DOE loan guarantee California-based BlueFire Ethanol Fuels Inc., which recently announced a name change to BlueFire Renewables Inc., has advanced to phase II of the U.S. DOE’s loan guarantee program with its application for a Fulton, Miss., cellulosic ethanol plant. BlueFire has requested $250 million, which would be combined with a previouslyawarded $88 million grant
and other resources for the facility’s construction and launch, according to BlueFire. The company said it is actively recruiting specialists to close the transaction. The facility will produce 19 MMgy of cellulosic ethanol from woody biomass, mill residue and other cellulosic waste. The company's name was changed to more clearly illustrate its various renewable energy capabilities.
EcoPower Generation awards plant construction contract Texas-based EcoPower Generation LLC announced it has awarded a construction contract to AE&E Group GmbH for a 58-megawatt biomass power plant to be located in the Coal Fields Regional Industrial Park near Hazard, Ky., at the site of a reclaimed coal mine. Feedstock for the plant will come from nearby industrial facilities and forest prod-
uct operations and will include low-quality wood materials such as sawdust, bark, wood chips and sawmill waste. The company plans to construct a 1.5-mile-long transmission line to connect the power plant to an American Electric Power substation in order to deliver power to the grid. Initial construction of the plant is planned for the end of the year.
Qteros to open new R&D facility Massachusetts-based cellulosic ethanol company Qteros Inc. plans to have a research and development facility in Chicopee, Mass., operational by the end of the year. The existing 15,000-squarefoot facility, which the company has already leased, will allow for larger-scale fermentation
than currently available at the company’s Marlborough location. Qteros uses its patented, naturally occurring Q Microbe in the fermentation of wheat straw, sugarcane, switchgrass and other biomass feedstocks. The company plans to license its technology to cellulosic ethanol producers.
Michigan paper mill to upgrade biomass project Quinnesec, Mich.,-based Verso Paper Corp. expects to meet more than 95 percent of its energy needs with biomass feedstock, after a $43 million project that includes upgrades to the mill’s existing woody biomass boiler and the addition of a new biomass handling system.
A turbine generator will also be installed as part of the project, which is in alignment with Verso’s three-pronged energy strategy to reduce overall energy consumption; generate more green energy from renewable biomass; and reduce its carbon footprint, all while reducing costs, according to the
9 |2010 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 15
NEWS Massachusetts farmers, foresters urge caution in drafting RPS One of the biggest challenges facing landowners is how to incentivize hired loggers to cut and utilize low-grade wood to ensure forest health and forest growth, according to Sarah la Cour, director of conservation and planning for W.D. Cowls Inc. Land Co. and member of the Massachusetts Forest Owners Association. La Cour was one of six speakers representing foresters, farmers and labor unions at a media briefing in Holyoke, Mass., July 27, concerned that the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) rulemaking process will be driven more by election-year politics than sound, peer-reviewed science. The briefing came in response to public meetings held in the area by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources regarding the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences biomass study results and potential policy changes in light of its findings. The DOER will use the study results to determine whether biomass power will qualify for the state’s RPS, but some in the biomass and forestry industries are concerned the process is being rushed without proper evaluation. Without RPS qualification, plants lose a key portion of revenue, making biomass power uneconomic. The study findings, however, have been misrepresented in mainstream media to imply that biomass energy is dirtier than coal. Those incorrect reports prompted clarification letters from Manomet and plenty of noise in the biomass industry. The “Biomass Sustainability and Carbon Policy Study,” actually found a complex debt-then-dividend carbon accounting model for biomass, saying burning biomass releases more carbon initially per unit of energy, but that carbon debt is paid off as the forest re-grows and depending on a variety of factors. The study can be seen in its entirety at www.manomet.org. Following the June 10 release of the findings, a public comment period through July 9 was opened. Two days before that comment period was up, however, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs sent a letter to the DOER, requesting swift policy change in light of the findings, which unfortunately studied only forest biomass, not wood waste and other feedstocks the plants will actually use. Biomass Power Association President Bob Cleaves says that when that wood is taken into account, biomass power is undoubtedly carbon neutral. The study itself even acknowledges that waste wood is favorable to fossil fuels in all technologies and warrants further analysis.
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'Enacting scientifically unjustified and reactionary restrictions on the sale of and markets for low-grade wood on private forested land, will make private forests unaffordable and more importantly, ecologically unhealthy.' ―Sara la Cour, director of conservation and planning, W.D. Cowls Inc. Land Co.
The letter proposed several changes including the definition of biomass and the enactment of efficiency standards, which Cleaves said has not been done to date in the United States. EEA Secretary Ian Bowles requested final standards be drafted by Oct. 31 and final regulations be put in place by Dec. 31. “Enacting scientifically unjustified and reactionary restrictions on the sale of and markets for low-grade wood on private forested land, will make private forests unaffordable and more importantly, ecologically unhealthy,” la Cour said. “We know biomass energy markets can help our forests’ health and improve our rural economies, while producing low-carbon renewable energy.” At the press conference, la Cour and others addressed job creation, ecosystem benefits for low-grade waste wood and other issues related to biomass energy from wood. “Our concern is additional restrictions on how we regulate our forests,” la Cour said. “The biggest issue is keeping ourselves viable.” She added that while the byproduct from forests currently has no market, it would keep more loggers in business. “We believe that biomass will help, not harm Massachusetts private forest resources,” la Cour said. She went on to say that the idea that landowners will suddenly clear-cut or in any way over-cut their forests to produce biomass fuel “defies logic and basic economics.” A June 18 press release from the Forest Landowners Association reads, “The Forest Landowners Association questioned the DOER’s conclusions and cautioned against public policy decisions being made on the basis of agency’s narrow interpretations of the Manomet study.” The briefing was an opportunity to ask the DOER and Commonwealth to take a step back and allow more time to draft such important regulations. “Regulations are a big deal,” la Cour emphasized. “People are going to disagree on this, but let’s take a little time.”
NEWS WSU to lead Pacific Northwest aviation biofuel project A regional renewable jet fuel collaboration has been formed to assess four Pacific Northwest states—Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana—to determine biomass feedstock growth, harvest, refining and transport options in relation to sustainable aviation fuel production. Washington State University will lead the Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest project. Other partners include Alaska Airlines, Boeing, Port of Seattle, Port of Portland and Spokane International Airport. Research will include an analysis of biofuel feedstocks native to the Pacific Northwest, including algae, oilseeds such as camelina and woody biomass. The project will identify potential pathways and actions to make aviation biofuel commercially available to airlines servicing the Pacific Northwest. WSU, under the leadership of Vice President John Gardner, has been working with Boeing, the U.S. Air Force, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Targeted Growth, Weyerhauser, Tesoro and others on an aviation biofuels effort for a couple of years, according to WSU Agricultural Research Center Director Ralph Cavalieri. “The first part of the project was to engage in the discussions among the partners so that a demand for the biofuel would be created,” he said. Scientists at the college have been working on biomass-toaviation fuel projects for some time, according to Cavalieri. “Of course, the major research effort we are undertaking is the development of the cropping system to produce the oilseed crops that will go to the crusher and ultimately be processed into standard jet fuel,” he explained. “The constraint that the aviation industry and the Air Force placed on the project is to produce the oil from nonfood crops.” Oilseeds that are candidates for the project are camelina and rapeseed. “We have had a major effort underway for a number of years, funded by (the state of) Washington, to examine biomass crops for biofuels,” Cavalieri said. “The overarching biomass for biofuels project is led by professor Bill Pan, and it involves switchgrass and other fast-growing perennial grasses, various oilseeds, etc.” A portion of that project, led by Cook Endowed Chair in Cropping Systems and Professor Scott Hulbert, involves camelina. Hulbert is the principal investigator for WSU’s application for funds to USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative in an upcoming round of grant competition for creation of a regional biomass for biofuels research center. “In that proposal, we are partnering with Oregon State University, Montana State Univer-
sity, the University of Idaho, the University of Washington, the USDA-Agricultural Research Service and others,” Cavalieri said. “The goal is to advance the knowledge of how to produce oilseed crops in an economically and environmentally sustainable way in the Pacific Northwest with the goal of providing the necessary nonfood vegetable oil to meet the aviation industry’s needs in the region.” Another WSU project is led by Regents Professor Norman Lewis, who has expertise in the basic plant science of woody plants, particularly poplar trees. “His research adjusts the biochemistry of the trees to make them more suitable for use in making bioproducts,” Cavalieri said. “Dr. Lewis is leading an effort to secure USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture funds for a multi-institutional group to advance the production of aviation fuel from lignocellulosic biomass.” Under the general topic of plant improvement, WSU has several faculty members who are modifying plants to alter the chemical makeup of the oils they express, to examine the genetics of plants for production of biomass and improve their ability to be produced with minimal or no additional inputs. Assistant Professor Manuel Garcia Perez is leading a project involving the thermochemical conversion of lignocellulosic biomass through pyrolysis to bio-oil. “This, too, can be used to make aviation fuels after appropriate processing,” Cavalieri said. “His efforts are in conjunction with the Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering and with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.” Professor Shulin Chen, is leading another relevant project, optimizing algae production in northern states. “Dr. Chen is running a very large research program dealing with many other aspects of biofuel and bioproducts development,” Cavalieri said In cooperation with PNNL, Professor Birgitte Ahring leads WSU’s Bioproducts, Sciences, and Engineering Laboratory. “Her primary effort is in the production of ethanol through microbiological processes with subsequent conversion to other biofuels and bioproducts,” Cavalieri explained. “Finally, we have economists who are examining the economics of agricultural production of biomass and of transportation issues associated with this developing industry.” The project is being funded by participating parties, and is expected to be completed in six months. —Anna Austin
9 |2010 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 17
NEWS Scientists evaluate switchgrass yields across US A team of scientists have released what they believe is the largest database available comparing energy crop yields in relation to variables such as site location, plot size, stand age, harvest frequency, fertilizer application, climate and land quality. Oakridge National Laboratory and Dartmouth College researchers compiled 1,190 biomass yield observations for both lowland and upland types of switchgrass grown on 39 sites across the U.S. These observations were extracted from 18 publications that reported results from field trials in 17 states, from Texas to North Dakota to Pennsylvania. Among the factors examined, researchers found that much of the differences in switchgrass yields could be accounted for by variation in growing season, precipitation, annual temperature, nitrogen fertilization and the type of switchgrass grown in a specific region. For example, lowland switchgrass outperformed upland varieties at most locations, except at northern latitudes. Annual yields averaged 12.9 metric tons (14.2 tons) per hectare (2.47 acres) for lowland and 8.7 metric tons for upland ecotypes. Some field
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sites in Alabama, Texas and Oklahoma reported biomass yields greater than 28 metric tons per hectare using the lowland cultivars Kanlow and Alamo. Overall, researchers also found that yields were relatively consistent with the natural geographic range of switchgrass, although significant yields were predicted along the Pacific Coast states. Yields were
shown to be limited by precipitation west of the Great Plains and, to a lesser extent, by low mean annual temperature. Maximum switchgrass biomass yields were projected westward from the mid-Atlantic Coast region to Kansas and Oklahoma. Stan Wullschleger, crop physiologist who led the study, noted that field trials are often planted to provide local estimates of crop production. “However, viewed in a broader context, results from individual field trials can contribute to a larger perspective and provide regional- to nationalscale estimates of yield and the variables that determine that yield,” he said. The researchers concluded that future studies should extend the geographic distribution of field trials and thus improve understanding of biomass production as a function of soil, climate and crop management for promising biofuel feedstocks. The paper was published by the American Society of Agronomy in the July-August 2010 Agronomy Journal. It can be accessed at http://agron.scijournals.org/cgi/content/ abstract/102/4/1158. —Anna Austin
NEWS UK’s DECC to grandfather dedicated biomass The first-ever Energy Statement of the U.K.’s Department of Energy and Climate Change includes grandfathering biomass under its Renewables Obligation, which governs what technologies receive renewable obligation certificates (ROCs). The lack of dedicated biomass grandfathering has been a point of contention for some biomass developers in the U.K., who say acquiring funding for projects is difficult when no set level of income exists to assure investors. The statement, which can be found on the DECC website, was released in June and presents an overview of the DECC’s energy policy, laying out plans for future actions. “We are taking immediate action to exploit the potential of bio-electricity and energy from waste, by grandfathering support under the Renewables Obligation for electricity from dedicated biomass, energy from waste, anaerobic digestion and advanced conversion technologies, such as pyrolysis and gasification,” the document reads. “We will publish in the autumn a joint industry/Government action plan to deliver a huge increase in energy from waste through anaerobic digestion.” The measure provides the certainty investors want, according to a statement by DECC Secretary Chris Huhne. Support will be fixed
for 20 years, subject to the end date of the RO. In the same document, the DECC proposes a jump from the current target of 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 to 30 percent by 2020. U.K. electricity-generation giant Drax Power Ltd. plans to build three 290-megawatt (MW) dedicated biomass power plants in the U.K. that will run on a mix of forest and agricultural residues and energy crops. Drax has been known in recent months for making the loudest and most noise about the policies. The company hopes to begin construction in early 2011 on one of its three dedicated biomass plants. Sites include: the Port of Immingham; North Yorkshire, England, on the site of the company’s existing coal-fired, 4,000 MW Drax Power Station; and another location not yet disclosed, according to Melanie Wedgbury, head of external affairs for Drax. "We welcome the recognition, by the government, of the importance of biomass to meeting the U.K.'s renewable energy target,” a spokeswoman for the company said. “Drax has long believed that biomass could and should make a significant contribution to both reducing carbon emissions and increasing electricity generation from renewables. Specifically, we welcome recognition of the
need to grandfather dedicated biomass to encourage investment, which rightly reflects the long-term nature of this capital investment. Further, we accept that the industry is best placed to hedge against the fuel risk and believe that this is preferable to hedging against regulatory risk.” The spokeswoman goes on to say, however, that the company is concerned there will still be a period of uncertainty for dedicated biomass plants, which would not be accredited or ready to begin generating until after April 2013, when current RO regulations expire and new ones are implemented. The DECC reviews the RO banding, categorized by technology, every four years. The next review begins in October with changes to be implemented in April 2013. “We trust that the DECC will take the opportunity to address this issue early in the review,” the Drax spokeswoman said. RO banding allows for 20-year grandfathering of all other technologies. Grandfathering for biomass support was not incorporated when the RO was banded in 2008 because, unlike other renewable technologies, a large portion of the generators’ costs are ongoing fuel costs, according to the DECC. —Lisa Gibson
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NEWS Renewable groups: RES proposal not aggressive enough The American Clean Energy Leadership Act, the Senate counterpart to the WaxmanMarkey climate bill, includes a federal renewable electricity standard (RES), but renewable energy groups, while grateful for an RES at all, say it’s not aggressive enough. The bill, authored by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., calls for 15 percent renewable electricity by 2021 including up to 4 percent from improved efficiency. While no renewable energy supporter would say it’s a bad idea, most would argue we can do better. “The most important thing is to pass an RES,” said Don Furman, head of external affairs for wind energy company Iberdrola Renewables, in a conference call July 22 to discuss the push and Bingaman’s efforts. “But we need to strengthen it.” An alliance of renewable energy organizations including the Biomass Power Association is pushing for a standard that requires 12 percent by 2014, 20 percent by 2020 and 25 percent by 2025,
Furman said. “We have been working on a renewable energy standard in this country for a decade,” he said. “We are very excited about an RES for two reasons,” said Bob Cleaves, president of the BPA. “It not only furthers the expansion of renewable energy in the United States, but it also is a significant job creator at a time when this country is sorely in need of economic growth.” Cleaves added that he is grateful for Bingaman’s bill and hopes it can be strengthened. A federal RES would breathe life into biomass projects stalled or slowed down in the Southeast, according to Paul Gilman, chief sustainability officer for waste-to-energy company Covanta Energy. “We as an industry are on the edge of competitiveness in the Southeast,” he said during the conference. An aggressive RES would give the hydropower industry a giant boost, too, according to
Andrew Munro, president of the National Hydropower Association. Only one-third of the 80,000 dams in the country currently employ hydro power facilities, he cited. According to a Navigant Consulting Inc., study released in February, an RES of 25 percent by 2025 would create 60,000 jobs in the biomass industry alone and about 274,000 across all renewable energy sectors. “A national RES does a tremendous material job of reducing carbon,” Furman said. “It is a carbon bill as well and is something that has a much better chance of passing at this time than some of the other provisions like cap and trade.” It has real legs, he said of the Bingaman bill, and a real chance at passing. “Time is short and we only have a few weeks to get this done. But we believe it’s possible.” —Lisa Gibson
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NEWS Letters support carbon neutrality of biomass, national RES
In a letter to U.S. House and Senate leaders, 114 of the nation’s leading environmental scientists express concern over the proposed U.S. EPA’s Tailoring Rule equating biogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions with fossil fuel emissions. It’s “incorrect and will impede the development of renewable biomass energy sources,” according to the letter. The CO2 released from the combustion or decay of woody biomass is part of the global cycle of biogenic carbon and does not increase the carbon in circulation, the scientists wrote. Equating biogenic carbon emissions with that of fossil fuels is not consistent with good science and could stop the development of new emission-reducing biomass energy facilities, they added. “It could also encourage existing biomass energy facilities to convert to fossil fuel or cease producing renewable energy. This is counter to our country’s renewable energy and climate mitigation goals.” The EPA’s final Tailoring Rule defines which stationary sources will be subject to
GHG emission controls and regulations during a phase-in process beginning Jan. 2. Since the draft was released, the biomass industry has argued its emissions should not be included in permitting requirements. “The CO2 released from burning biomass was absorbed as part of the ‘biogenic’ carbon cycle where plants absorb CO2 as they grow (through photosynthesis), and release carbon dioxide as they decay or are burned,” the letter states. “This cycle releases no new carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which is why it is termed ‘carbon neutral.’” Biogenic GHG emissions will occur through tree mortality and decay regardless if the biomass is used as an energy source. In addition, the scientists argued that biomass power facilities generally contribute to a reduction of GHGs beyond just displacement of fossil fuels, as the use of forest fuels in modern boilers eliminates methane emissions from incomplete oxidation following open burning, landfilling or decomposing, which
occurs in the absence of a higher and better use for the material. “This letter from top scientists across the country is a great victory for the biomass industry and the 14,000 men and women in this country who are employed by the industry,” said Bob Cleaves, president and CEO of the Biomass Power Association. “It vindicates our position that biomass is an essential renewable energy source for the nation.” About 30 Senate Democrats also signed a letter addressed to Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., calling for a renewable electricity standard in his energy bill, asking for a strong standard, not weakened by inclusion of nonrenewable energy sources. “We urge you to ensure that we give our country the opportunity to win the clean energy race by including a renewable electricity standard in energy legislation that is considered this summer,” the letter reads. Reid did not include an RES in his bill. —Lisa Gibson
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PHOTO: PAUL GRONHOVD, PHOTOGRAPHER, EERC
Presenters at the EERC's Biomass '10: Renewable Power, Fuels, and Chemicals Workshop provided attendees with information about biomass feedstocks and the importance of having market prices for those feedstocks.
Biomass ’10: Workshop covers wood pellet alternatives, markets
While wood pellets have gotten a lot of attention in the biomass industry, especially in Europe, other densified feedstocks exist and can be tailored specifically for a certain boiler or customer, according to Robert White, president of Robert White Industries Inc. in Plymouth, Minn. White discussed other feedstock options his company can provide at the Energy & Environmental Research Center’s Biomass ’10: Renewable Power, Fuels, and Chemicals Workshop held July 20 and 21 in Grand Forks, N.D. Engineered biomass fuels (EBF) can be made from wood residues, rice hulls, straw, corncobs and corn stover, switchgrass, paper and cardboard, other waste materials and energy crops, White told workshop attendees. They have potential for use in large commercial facilities, large industrial facilities and utility companies. EBF fuels use locally available nonmar-
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ketable biomass and are exposed to less price volatility than traditional pellets. "It's a designer fuel," he said. A feedstock pricing mechanism is crucial to the future development of the biomass market, according to speaker Stephen Dinehart, principal of Heartland Business Consultants in Middleton, Wis. No biomass market prices currently exist for financial projection and that deters long-term supply contract development, Dinehart said. He defined a market price as the information implicit in individual transaction prices for a commodity including liquidity needs and production requirements; general economic conditions; commodity supply and demand; time value; transaction costs; search costs; and counterparty risk. Energy crops have no market price and little production, he explained. Agricultural residual sees significant produc-
tion, but has minimal market prices and forest biomass and wood residues have simple market prices and significant production. The woody biomass market is single-buyer dominated and is influenced by plant size and supply needs, along with transportation surface, he said. An exchange can facilitate the rapid evolution of a pricing mechanism benefiting both industry and natural resource stewardship, he emphasized. The Biomass Commodity Exchange (BCEX) has been designed to provide that mechanism. “The biomass commodity exchange really grew out of requests from industries,” Dinehart said, adding that most concerns dealt with cellulosic biomass. The BCEX will launch in 2011; its homepage is at www.theBCEX.com. —Lisa Gibson
The province of Manitoba has significant biomass resources and capabilities, and power utility Manitoba Hydro is working to capture all possible opportunities. The fourth-largest utility in Canada, Manitoba Hydro is also the largest exporter of electricity to the U.S., according to Senior Biosystems Engineer Dennis St. George, who was a presenter at the Energy & Environmental Research Center’s Biomass ’10: Renewable Power, Fuels, and Chemicals Workshop held July 20 and 21 in Grand Forks, N.D. Currently, about 74 percent of the energy consumed in Manitoba is imported and nonrenewable, 45 percent of which is used for heating purposes, St. George said. He said the utility has been involved in many past and recent initiatives to advance the use of biomass as a fuel within the province, including organizing and leading a trade mission to Sweden and Denmark, both of which have fairly advanced biomass energy industries, for evaluation purposes. “Afterward, we organized a session and talked about what we saw and learned, and that helped us decide where we wanted to focus our efforts,” St. George said. There is lots of interest in biomass as a fuel, and it’s growing continually, St. George continued, in large part because of its reliability. “There are many attributes that make an energy source functional and one of them is capacity, or the ability to deliver energy when you need to,” he said. “With our hydro system, if we need to generate more power, it’s nearly an instantaneous process. The problem with wind and solar is that when you get energy is really governed by when they are available. Biomass is much more like hydro—it has a firm capacity— and as a utility, that is what we like.”
Manitoba Hydro currently runs the Power Smart Bioenergy Optimization Program, which provides financial incentives to customers who are interested in converting their raw forms of biomass—typically biomass already available at the site—to produce energy, displacing some or all of the energy purchased from Manitoba Hydro. “The business case for us behind this is that with our capacity links to the U.S., we can then put this energy into the U.S. market where it offers better value,” St. George said. On the other end, the customer avoids the cost of purchasing fuels while addressing what was formerly a waste management issue. He admitted the program has seen a few barriers, however. Initial capital costs for projects are significant and it’s often difficult to obtain funding. Another barrier is that the technologies are not common. To address that issue, Manitoba Hydro has five demonstration projects underway with customers, to showcase new biomass technologies to others who are interested in doing similar things. They include replacing heavy fuel oil with pyrolysis oil at a pulp and paper mill to fuel a boiler and steam turbine combined-heat-and-power (CHP) system; installing a microgasifier at a tree nursery to gasify wood waste into heat and power for the facilities; converting wood waste to heat recovered by an Organic Rankine Cycle CHP system; conversion of wood and crop wastes into biochar for communityscale heat and power; and the conversion of livestock manure to fuel using anaerobic digestion. St. George said that while the biogas demonstration project will be the smallest in terms of power produced, there is currently a moratorium on hog barn expan-
PHOTO: PAUL GRONHOVD, PHOTOGRAPHER, EERC
Biomass ’10: Manitoba Hydro seizes biomass opportunities
St. George told attendees of Biomass '10: Renewable Power, Fuels, and Chemicals about Manitoba Hydro's biomass projects.
sions in Manitoba, which was primarily driven by waste issues. “So one of the opportunities the industry has is to put in this kind of technology so they can expand,” he said. Next year, Manitoba will implement a CO2 emissions tax, which St. George described as the most prohibitive in North America. “When it hits next year, what we want to do is help customers avoid converting from coal over to electricity for heating requirements. Instead, we want to see if we can insert a new fuel source—biomass—as a substitute for coal.” There is great potential to use biomass as part of the energy supply in Manitoba, St. George concluded. “It’s available here, grown locally, and it would help keep dollars at home. Success really depends a lot on what happens with policy and in the commodity markets.”
9 |2010 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 23
NEWS WM expands Michigan landfill gas project Expansions scheduled for Waste Management’s landfill-gas-to-energy project near Richmond, Mich., will make it one of the top energy-producing landfill gas facilities in North America. The Pine Tree Acres landfill gas project currently produces 5 megawatts (MW) of power and has been operated by Landfill Energy Solutions for more than 10 years, according to Wes Muir, WM spokesman. WM will now design, build and operate a $15 million facility that will add nearly 13 MW of energy, which will be sold to Consumers Energy Co. “Concurrent to our expansion LES is also expanding its facility to produce another 3 MW of energy,” Muir said. When completed, the facilities will produce more than 21 MW. WM has 273 landfills, 119 of which host landfill gas-to-energy facilities. Together they provide the equivalent of more than 470 MW of energy, enough to power approximately 400,000 homes and replace nearly 2 million tons of coal per year. In 2007, the company announced its plans to expand its energy-from-landfill-gas operations by more than 60 facilities by 2013, Muir said. “For those landfills that produce enough gas to host such a facility, we are developing other
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technologies to utilize this gas,” he said. The technology used at the new Pine Tree facility will be the same the company has used for the past 20 years, but with modifications including reciprocating engines similar to the ones in a car, Muir said. The gas is created naturally through the decomposition of waste in landfills and is a readily available renewable energy source. It can be collected and used directly as medium Btu gas for industrial use or sold to gas-toenergy plants to fuel engine- or turbinedriven generators of electricity, according to WM. For the company, landfill gas has lived
up to its promise of being a reliable and economical form of energy. “Landfill gas to energy is important for WM because we want to take advantage of the landfill gas we produce at our landfills and ensure that we utilize this gas to the greatest extent possible,” Muir said. The company says its landfill gas-toenergy program is a vital part of North America's drive to develop alternative energy sources and promote environmental sustainability. —Lisa Gibson
NEWS EPA, USDA invest in energy from farm biogas Through an extension of the U.S. EPA’s AgSTAR program, the EPA and USDA will provide up to $3.9 million over the next five years to help farmers capture methane emissions from their livestock operations and use them to produce energy. The collaboration will expand technical assistance efforts, improve technical standards and guidance for the construction and evaluation of biogas recovery systems, and expand outreach to livestock producers, assisting them with pre-feasibility studies. Many livestock feeding operations generate a continuous supply of biogas that can be recovered and used for multiple purposes. AgSTAR estimates that more than 8,000 dairy and hog farms in the U.S. are good candidates for feasible projects, yet there are only about 150 anaerobic digestion systems currently operating, according to the EPA. That’s less than 2 percent of total potential. If all 8,000 farms implemented biogas
systems, methane emissions would be reduced by more than 34 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year, according to the USDA. Those projects could also generate more than 1,500 megawatts of renewable energy. “The capture and use of biogas allows us to protect and conserve natural resources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and produce renewable energy and green products,” according to an EPA spokesperson. “It expands opportunities for rural economic development and allows livestock producers to diversify their revenue sources. Finally, it builds interest and farm-based opportunities for the next generation of farmers.” In the initial phase of the AgSTAR project in the 1990s, the EPA contributed minimal direct funding to anaerobic digester projects to demonstrate farmbased digester technologies, according
to the EPA. Under the current agreement, however, the agency is not planning to directly allocate money to biogas projects. Instead, funding will be used to expand the technical assistance, outreach and education efforts of the AgSTAR program. After the five-year agreement is up, the EPA and USDA will reevaluate the state of the market, as well as trends, to determine how the program can continue to have the most impact in encouraging biogas recovery systems at animal feeding operations. —Lisa Gibson
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NEWS Fortistar developing 18 new landfill GTE projects New York-based Fortistar LLC will add 18 new landfill-gas-to-energy projects to its portfolio, bringing the total to about 60 plants in operation all over the country. The company secured $105 million in financing for the projects, which represent a 20 percent boost to its methane power plant arsenal. All the landfill gas plants built, owned and operated by Fortistar produce electricity, which is sold to utilities or municipalities, according to Fortistar managing director Jon Maurer. The company does not own any of the landfills where the plants are installed. Most of the projects use reciprocating engines, burning the methane that emits naturally from the landfills. The process is green because meth-
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ane produces 21 times the amount of greenhouse gases as a similar amount of carbon dioxide, according to the company, and the process is renewable because it is the product of the decomposition of garbage in landfills. The U.S. EPA requires the methane to be collected, so projects are built adjacent to the landfills. “We then use that gas as fuel,” Maurer said. The 18 new projects will add another 60 megawatts (MW) to Fortistar’s existing capacity of more than 230 MW, according to Maurer. The Fortistar Methane Group owns about 12 percent of the developed landfill gas-to-energy projects in the U.S., according to the company. The group’s capabilities include: landfill and digester gas collection systems; electri-
cal generation systems; rapid project development; environmental compliance; renewable energy credits; construction management; and project finance, according to Fortistar. Besides the Methane Group, Fortistar has a Biomass Group that specializes in wood waste biomass; and the Cogeneration Group, which maximizes output per unit of fuel used, according to the company. “I think in this day and age, renewable energy has an attraction in this country and around the world,” Maurer said. —Lisa Gibson
NEWS Gestamp, Clean Power team up in the Northeast New Hampshire-based Clean Power Development LLC is teaming up with Gestamp Biomass, a division of Spain-based Gestamp Renewables, to develop a number of woody biomass combined-heat-and-power (CHP) projects in the Northeast U.S. The first project will be a 29-megawatt (MW) plant in Berlin, N.H., that is expected to be operational in late 2012. The plant will cost an estimated $100 million and is a project Clean Power has been working on since 2008. The plant was originally going to generate 45 MW of power, but was downsized after an independent study found there is not enough woody biomass that falls within the company’s parameters to support that output in a 30-mile radius of the site. Feedstock will be logging residue and low-grade wood, according to Bill Gabler, Clean Power project man-
ager. “We will be working with a major New Hampshire-based procurement company that may well establish contracts, but will also be able to procure on the market,” he said. The goal of the partnership is to develop 180 MW in the Northeast, which could result in six to eight plants. “With over 80 percent of the region’s thermal energy coming from oil and a majority of its electric production coming from natural gas, the Northeast region provides a significant and growing market for thermal and electric renewables,” Gabler said. The output of the plants will depend on the available resources around their locations and the next one is slated for Winchester, N.H., he added. Permitting on that facility should begin this fall. All facilities will be CHP plants with a goal of minimum efficiency of 60 percent.
No power purchase agreements are in place yet and the destination for the power will be determined on a case-by-case basis, depending on the market dynamics at the time the power is marketed, Gabler said. The agreement covers joint activities in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania. Under the agreement, Clean Power will identify and provide due diligence related to existing operational biomass facilities for possible acquisition by Gestamp and will manage a portfolio of selected new biomass energy projects throughout the region, according to Clean Power. Gestamp Biomass will support development, provide project equity and arrange the balance of plant financing for the projects. —Lisa Gibson
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CHEERS TO BIOMASS IN BOSTON
Woody biomass has been a controversial topic in the Northeast U.S., but speakers and attendees at the Northeast Biomass Conference & Expo demonstrated unwavering confidence in the future success of the industry. By Anna Austin and Lisa Gibson
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thriving and vibrant city, Boston proved to be an appropriate venue for a conference about an industry possessing those very qualities. Drawing a crowd of about 300, the region-specific event allowed intimate discussions of current and future utilization of the Northeast’s biomass resources, as well as a significant array of associated political, technological and economical concepts. Cellulosic ethanol developer Mascoma Corp.’s Justin van Rooyen kicked off the conference with a compelling keynote address centered on the modeling and viability of cellulosic biorefineries in the U.S., along with the advantages of multiple, highly flexible product lines. “We [U.S.] know we’re ahead in the biorefining world, but what are the pieces that we need?” van Rooyen said. “We’re very fortunate to have tremendous academic institutions, and the U.S. DOE has done a phenomenal job funding the technologies coming out of these institutions, so we really do have the pieces in hand to do this.” Van Rooyen said he believes the cellulosic ethanol industry is at least five to 10 years away from full commercialization. “The U.S. has proven time and time again its ability to move fast,” he said. “We just have to have the willpower.” Biorefining models don’t just make sense in the U.S., he added, but also in developing countries worldwide, on local and broader scales. “Imagine communities self-supported by these biorefineries—feeding themselves, clothing themselves, fueling themselves. I strongly believe this is the way the [cellulosic] industry will be going in the future.” Following van Rooyen’s address, the initial plenary session panel centered on the highly publicized and controversial Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences’ “Massachusetts Biomass Sustainability and Carbon Policy Study.” Since its release in June, woody biomass has been under fire. Tom Walker, consultant for Manomet, was on hand to discuss the study.
Contemplating Carbon Walker was one of five speakers on the panel that explored the study’s methodology, findings and potential implica30 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 9|2010
tions. Massachusetts’ renewable portfolio standard (RPS), one of the leading in the nation, at 15 percent by 2020, has been a great success, Walker said. He emphasized more than once that the study’s results are not translational to other states, and all regions looking into biomass utilization for bioenergy should conduct their own studies. Through a competitive solicitation, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources chose Manomet to conduct the study, determining forest biomass’s impacts on greenhouse gases, forest and forest ecologies and sustainability. The study found a debt-then-dividend model where forest biomass releases more carbon dioxide than fossil fuels do initially, but that debt is paid off as the forests re-grow, with growth rates depending on a number of other factors such as forest management. The feedstock taken into account in the study was strictly forest-derived, including logging residues, but not mill residues, tree and landscaping clearing, construction debris or other wastes. That has been one of a few points of contention in the biomass industry, as most plants would use such wastes. “I will say that the DOER and Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs were very pleased with the sound technology, but we recognize its limits,” said panel moderator Dwayne Breger, director of renewable and alternative energy development for DOER, citing the feedstock concerns and reiterating that the study findings are specific to Massachusetts. “I think there’s been a lot of controversy in the press as far as how far-reaching our results are,” Walker said. During the six-month study, the researchers, which included representatives from other agencies such as the Pinchot Institute and the Forest Guild, developed an integrated energy system forestry model with a baseline scenario of forest operations in Massachusetts similar to that in the recent past. “A key element that we’ve done is to explicitly take this business-as-usual scenario,” he said. Forest biomass will be carbon neural
if the forests grow back and people don’t question that, Walker said. The question is when and what factors could affect it. “As you can see, carbon neutrality is not instantaneous,” Walker said. Dividends with replacement of coal-fired electric capacity begin at about 20 years, the study found. When biomass is replacing natural gas capacity, the carbon debt is still not paid off after 90 years. When using logging residues only, however, the debt is paid off much sooner. “For waste material, carbon recovery can be relatively rapid regardless of harvest or technology assumptions,” he said, adding that when live trees are harvested, carbon recovery profiles are longer.
Broad Policy Implications The DOER will use the study to refine its RPS regulations, and biomass energy has been suspended from inclusion, pending the results of the study. The EEA has requested new final rules be put in place by the end of this year. Broader policy implications of the study include the fact that the baselines will be different in different regions; different sources of biomass have different greenhouse gas profiles; biomass technology choices matter toward recovery times; and forest management can either accelerate or decelerate carbon recovery. But current emissions targets are more short-term focused and don’t account for biogenic sources with payback periods, according to panelist Bob Perschel, northeast regional director of the Forest Guild and study contributor. “This is going to be a huge problem with the public,” he said. Opposition has cropped up all around the country and some groups have taken the Manomet study results as confirmation of their viewpoints. Forest depletion is one of their concerns, but panelist Michael Goergen, executive vice president and CEO of the Society of American Foresters, said that the country has about the same amount of forests today that it did 100 years ago. “We’ve maintained the same amount of forest despite an increase in population from 87 million to more than
EVENT 300 million,” he said, attributing that fact to certification, best management practices and other forestry maintenance factors. The U.S. currently has about 755 million acres of forestland. Positive attributes of biomass include improving utilization and thus profitability and management options. “Robust markets are a very, very important part of maintaining those forests,” Goergen said. The use of small-diameter material could replace some diminishing markets, maintaining healthy forests for longer rotations, he added. On the downside, though, high utilization of forest biomass could limit variability of habitats, although Goergen said he doesn’t know if that would happen for sure. Sustainability of forest biomass utilization depends on a number of factors including best management practices, habitat, site preparation and markets. “Markets keep forests forested,” he said. “Biomass has the potential to keep these lands the way we want them.” Fellow panelist Dave Tenny, president and CEO of the National Alliance of Forest Owners, agreed. Tenny shared a 2007 quote from the U.S. EPA that says carbon dioxide from biomass will not increase carbon dioxide in the air if it’s done sustainably. Now, though, the EPA is leaning toward regulating biomass emissions similar to those of fossil fuels in its proposed Tailoring Rule. The result of that regulation would be uncertainty in the marketplace, he said. “You end up with regulation of the value chain in a way that it’s never been regulated.” In addition and also in disagreement with the 2007 EPA statement, the federal renewable fuels standard restricts the utilization of 90 percent of U.S. forests. “We are at a precipice in our country,” Tenny said. “We’re trying to decide as a country whether we’re serious about renewable energy.” In order for that portfolio to include biomass energy, the industry needs clear signals for investments to flow. “Right now, those signals are pretty muddy,” he said.
Reviewing Renewable Road Maps The pellet and wood chip industries have been hit hard by the economic downturn, according to Charlie Niebling, a second plenary session panelist. “As has anyone making heat out of wood, we've seen a decline over the years, and that’s mainly a response to what’s happened nationally and globally," he said. In order to get the industry moving again, the Biomass Thermal Energy Coun-
cil, of which Niebling is chairman, along with several other organizations such as the Alliance for Green Heat and the Pellet Fuels Institute, have developed a road map for their particular sector, making relevant the issues, needs, concerns and opportunities for renewable biomass as a thermal energy source in the Northeast. Titled, “Heating the Northeast with Renewable Biomass: A Bold Vision for 2025,” the plan outlines feedstock resources that are available or that could be reasonably drawn upon in the future as a resource to make continued on page 34
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Tour features district energy, wood pellets The New England Wood Pellet plant in Jaffrey, N.H., is ringed by trees and its lot is piled high with bags of wood pellets, ready for sale to the company’s residential customer base. The site was one of two tour locations during Biomass Magazine’s Northeast Biomass Conference & Expo held Aug. 4-6 in Boston. Nearly 40 tour participants observed facility operations and were shown how pellets are manufactured. The company has been making pellets for 19 years, according to Steve Walker, president and CEO, and designs and manufacturers much of its own equipment. Participants saw trucks dump the raw wood onto massive piles of sawdust, wood chips, and hunks of other wood. The supply, 20 percent soft wood and the rest hard wood, comes from forestry, sawmills, chipping contractors and secondary manufacturers that make products such as furniture. Some of the raw wood has to be dried, so before being pelletized, it is fed into a screener that takes out the big chunks, as well as the fine ones because they can blow up and cause fires, Walker said. Then, the wood pieces are pulverized to the size of a toothpick and dumped into a silo before being fed into the large, cylindrical, rotating dryer, which is powered by woody biomass. “This is exactly the same as a clothes dryer—a little bigger,” Walker joked. The residence time for the wood in the dryer is 1.5 to 2 minutes, he added.
Wachusett Community College has saved $300,000 in annual fuel costs since installing a biomass-fired district heating system in 2002. Walker, left, and Charlie Niebling, general manager of New England Wood Pellet, talk to tour participants about the wood pellet industry and the challenges they face.
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A truck dumps a load of wood chips at the New England Wood Pellet plant in Jaffrey, N.H.
The dried wood, along with the wood that was dry enough to skip the drying process, is loaded into silos where it waits to be pelletized at temperatures up to 256 degrees Fahrenheit, Walker explained, picking up cooled pellets and passing them around. “They’re pretty uncomfortable right when they first come out,” he said. The pellets are poured into bags on a conveyor belt, piled on pallets, wrapped in plastic and stored at the facility. The residential customer base is large, Walker said, but does fluctuate depending on oil prices. ”The market here in the northeast has grown, but not nearly as fast as Europe,” he said. There’s an enormous overcapacity in the Northeast, he said and the market is much smaller than popularly perceived. Tour guests were also granted access to the company’s research and development facility, which it uses to design its own equipment, and research new designs. Mount Wachusett Community College in northern Massachusetts was the other tour destination, a previously all-electric heated facility that now houses a state-of-the-art hydronic biomass-fired district heating system. Powered by a Messersmith wood chip combustion boiler, the biomass system heats the college’s entire campus, some 500,000 square feet of classrooms, libraries and laboratories, and has saved MWCC $300,000 in annual fuel costs since its installation in 2002. MWCC Director of Maintenance and Mechanical Systems Bill Swift said three to five truckloads of hardwood chips are hauled to the plant per week to fuel the system. Though mill wood chips—which Swift described as unusable slabs of wood cut from the sides of debarked logs—are a more desirable fuel due to their consistency, the plant currently uses mostly chips derived from wood destined to be utilized as firewood, he said. “Since many sawmills have been closed in the state as a result of the lagging economy, mill chips aren’t available to us.” Last year, the school paid about $54 per ton for mill chips and $58 per ton for the firewood chips, requiring about 1,400 tons of wood chips annually. Swift said he expected to pay the same next year, though he admitted concerns of eventual supply issues if multiple proposed projects in the state proceed, and if the economy does not improve. —Anna Austin and Lisa Gibson
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EVENT continued from page 31
heat in the Northeast, taking into account all existing demands for wood and agricultural resources in the region for energy or other purposes. “After going through that, we cut our estimates in half to introduce a considerable amount of conservatism, and our results were that we can sustain production over time through 2025 with around 19 million green tons of woody and agricultural biomass per year throughout the Northeast and New York.” Out of that number, about 7.5 million green tons of biomass is from forest resources and 12.5 from agricultural resources mostly drawn from New York. “The state breakdown, interestingly, very closely mirrors results from the Manomet study,” Niebling said. “Based on that supply, we asked ourselves what is conceivable in terms of using biomass for thermal energy here in the Northeast. If we’re going to have a revolution in renewable energy as it relates to heat or thermal output, it should start here. All the right signals are in place to make it happen and we believe the Northeast is the part of the country, if not the part of the world, that stands the greatest potential for a truly transformative change in how we make thermal energy.” Niebling pointed out that little biomass, if any, is currently being collected from agricultural resources on a commercial scale in the Northeast. “Much of what we identified as potential sustainable feedstock supplies are largely theoretical at this point, but with the right signals in the market they could come on line within the next 25 years,” he said. The main emphasis of the vision is that 25 percent of all thermal energy used in the Northeast can economically and sustainably come from renewable resources by 2020, with three-quarters of that derived from biomass; the balance from solar thermal and geothermal. “It’s a very ambitious goal but it’s achievable, and it can be done within the available or reasonably available feedstocks we have in this region,” Niebling said. Now, participants involved in the development of the vision have a goal of pushing for local, state and federal policies 34 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 9|2010
based on the suggested parameters, and are starting a Northeast thermal working group. “If our policy is based on outcomes and not technology biases, making heat and combined heat and power from biomass rises very quickly to the top of the list by virtually any measure including efficiency, affordability, sustainability, impact on our dependence on foreign oil—especially in this region—emissions, and clearly GHG emissions,” Niebling said. “If those are the measures upon which we based our policy, it will drive biomass to the most efficient uses.” Biomass Power Association President Bob Cleaves took the stage following Niebling to discuss the BPA’s agenda, goals and policy priorities. He began by referencing the Manomet study, and the possibility of a permanent ban on new woody biomass-fired power plants as qualifiers under Massachusetts’ RPS. “Does anyone in this room actually even entertain the notion that any RPS in Massachusetts or across the country can be met without biomass?” he asked attendees. “The answer is not a chance.”
Legislative Goals One objective of the BPA is to obtain a production tax credit for open-loop biomass plants, which Cleaves described as the “eclectic stepchild of renewables” when it comes to tax policy. “When Congress passed the natural gas act in 1992, they included a tax credit for closed-loop biomass, but by definition that is when feedstocks are grown specifically for the purpose of energy production,” Cleaves said. “Since 1992, essentially there has been no commercial-scale or large-scale closed-loop facilities built, yet there were a lot of open loops built in the 1980s and '90s, which now get a tax credit.” When contemplating biomass tax policy one should think of two asset classes, Cleaves said. “The first is all the facilities currently running. Those facilities operate under a production tax credit that expired at the end of 2009, which we are seeking an extension of and may get for another year or two," he said. "The second class is
new facilities; they get $10 per megawatt (MW) hour for a 10-year term. Wind and others get twice that and it’s been a source of frustration for us.” A 30 percent investment tax credit (1603 program) is set to expire Dec. 31 and a number of efforts are underway to extend it, according to Cleaves. “The good thing is we have a lot of allies across the renewable energy sector that are fighting for 1603 with us,” he said. “We think biomass is fundamentally different than other kinds of renewable energy, and from a tax standpoint, that’s particularly true. If you produce cellulosic ethanol, there is no 'placed into service' date and you get a per-gallon tax credit. We think we should get a per MMBtu energy tax credit. There is a very unlevel playing field across all renewables.” While the Manomet study prompted assumptions that there are great schisms between the environmental community and the biomass community, Cleaves suggested that the idea is a complete disconnect from the truth. “For months we’ve been working with many of them on passing a federal renewable energy standard, and what’s happening in Massachusetts right now and other states is critically important," he said. "State mandates right now are valuable, vulnerable, uncertain and intensely political.” Last, Cleaves encouraged industry members to provide comments on the Boiler MACT [Maximum Achievable Control Technology] ruling, as the public comment period is approaching. “This could really— in a not-so-subtle way—stop the biomass industry in its tracks,” he said, adding that he is, however, confident in a favorable outcome of the Greenhouse Gas Tailoring Rule.
A Northeast Low-Carbon Fuel Standard Director of the Northeast Regional New Fuels Alliance Andrew Schuyler, who followed Cleaves, explained some policies the organization has been working on, primarily the development of a Low Carbon Fuel Standard similar to California’s. He explained that the LCFS which originated three years ago and aims to reduce the carbon footprint
EVENT of transportation fuels in California by at least 10 percent by 2020. Now, 11 Northeastern states have committed to a similar policy. â€œOur concern is that leaders of this movement have unequivocally stated they support the California policy, and thatâ€™s a problem,â€? Schuyler said. â€œIt comes down to resource utilization. Energy doesnâ€™t come to us for freeâ€”it takes energy to make energyâ€”and there may be indirect effects associated with that. The indirect effect that has been largely debated is whether something else, somewhere else, might be affected by producing and using resources to make a fuel. Weâ€™re all aware of the indirect land-use controversy brewing in California, and the models used are highly subjective.â€? Schuyler and his organization are working to evaluate Californiaâ€™s LCFS and actions the Northeast can take to avoid current conflicts. â€œCalifornia policy says that only biofuels have unintended effects or market-mediated effects, and the Air Resources Board has stated on the record that they donâ€™t believe petroleum has indirect effects,â€? he said. â€œWe know it does, on any commodity, if the price goes up. Almost everything in our lives is somehow linked to oil, and for them to say that it doesnâ€™t have indirect effects is, frankly, uniformed and irresponsible and weâ€™re trying to get that problem addressed. Itâ€™s been a source of great confusion and frustration for the advanced biofuels industry, so weâ€™re trying to move forward and make this a more productive conversation than in California.â€? Schuyler also touched on what he described as asymmetrical carbon accounting in Californiaâ€™s LCFSâ€”particularly, the grandfathering in of new oil from eight countries/ regions that might exceed 2006 baseline carbon allowances. â€œARB has said for example, crude out of Angola in 2014 that is significantly higher than the 2006 baseline will still qualify as that. To us, that doesnâ€™t seem to be a serious way to address carbon in a performance-based standard, or to create markets for renewable energy technologies.â€? Northeast states such as New York and Maine that have agricultural industries have a lot to lose if inaccurate carbon accounting methods are used, Schuyler added. â€œIf weâ€™re going to expand and change the game and
move the system boundary to include indirect land use thatâ€™s fine, letâ€™s have that conversation, but only when itâ€™s scientifically defensible,â€? Schuyler said. The plenary sessions wrapped up with the U.S. DOE Northeast Clean Energy Application Center Deputy Director Thomas Bourgeois, who discussed basic combinedheat-and-power systems, the benefits a welldesigned, high-efficiency system can deliver, as well as what the center offers and how it works with developers to promote common interests.
The Northeast Biomass Conference & Expo continued with concurrent breakout panels under four region-specific tracks including electricity generation, industrial heat and power, biorefining and biomass power project development and finance. BIO Anna Austin and Lisa Gibson are Biomass Magazine associate editors. Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org or (701) 7384968 and email@example.com or (701) 738-4952.
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An Algal Dream Team The U.K.â€™s Carbon Trust has assembled a 'dream team' to collaborate on algae research and knock down the barriers blocking a commercial algal biofuel industry. By Lisa Gibson
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team of researchers at the University of Southampton in England is looking for the most cost-effective, lowenergy methods for carbon enrichment in algae cultivation. The two most probable sources are pure carbon dioxide from industrial processes such as fermentation, and flue gas from emitters such as power stations, according to Charles Banks, professor of environmental biotechnology at the university. “Next to light, carbon is probably the most limiting factor in restricted algae productivity,” he says. “Our part is really to say, ‘well, we accept that light is limiting, let’s make sure no other factors are limiting within this system.' And carbon is the first on the list.”
'Ultimately what we’re looking at is getting an 80 percent carbon reduction. In the duration of the project, we’re looking to get a productivity of about 20,000 liters of oil per hectare per year.' ―David Penfold, technology commercialization manager, Carbon Trust
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The university’s project is part of the Carbon Trust’s Algae Biofuels Challenge, a two-phase initiative with the first phase, fundamental research and development, focusing on five key areas: isolating strains; maximizing solar conversion efficiency; achieving high oil yield and high productivity; sustaining cultivation in open ponds; and optimizing engineering strategies. These areas were identified as the largest barriers to algal biofuels production by a team of algae experts with decades of research under their belts. Twelve separate project teams are each assigned to one of the five areas, collaborating toward a main goal. Phase one will be followed by phase two, a scale-up of the breakthroughs established in the first phase.
“The project’s overall aim is commercialization by 2020,” says David Penfold, technology commercialization manager for the Carbon Trust. “These 12 projects actually build up to that aim so it’s basically looking at the different attributes needed to get to that end point.”
The Team The Carbon Trust has dubbed its 12 teams from 11 U.K. institutions the “dream team.” Unveiled in 2008 and granted £8 million ($12.6 million) for the three years dedicated to phase one, the dream team includes more than 70 algae scientists who together will find a winning formula for the production of 70 billion liters (18.5 billion gallons) of algae biofuel by 2030. “Ultimately what we’re looking at is getting an 80 percent carbon reduction,” Penfold says. “In the duration of the project, we’re looking to get a productivity of about 20,000 liters of oil per hectare (2.47 acres) per year.” More than 80 applications were reviewed before the 12 projects were chosen for participation in the Algae Biofuels Challenge and on average each team was awarded about £500,000 for their phase one research. “Our focus on phase one has been to develop technologies to reduce the cost of production,” explains Ben Graziano, a project leader with Carbon Trust. Graziano emphasizes the collaboration aspect of the challenge and the fact that, while different teams may be assigned to the same key focus area, they’ll have different strategies for going about their research. “Although we have these distinct projects, in fact what we’ve created is a program where the sum is greater than each of the individual parts.” Through the contracts of the program, the Carbon Trust has licenses to the individual intellectual properties of the teams’ projects, allowing their research to be passed among the teams, each one building from the work of the one before. “This is quite a novel technique and what continued on page 40
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CARBON TRUST DREAM TEAM Plymouth Marine Laboratory—Isolation and development of novel marine microalgal strains for biofuel production: Identify and isolate novel lipid-accumulating algae for the production of biodiesel. University of Southampton—Improvement of solar conversion efficiency in marine microalgae: Apply novel technologies in the selection and manipulation of algae that will maximize photosynthetic efficiency. Queen Mary, University of London—Screening and random mutagenesis to isolate improved algal strains for lipid production in mass culture: Use "forced evolution" to adapt marine algae for intensive cultivation, improve their production of biofuel precursors, and identify strains with photosynthetic properties likely to lead to improved growth and biofuel production under the conditions required. The University of Manchester—Nutrient optimization for high lipid yield and productivity: Optimize culture conditions for high-oil productivity and quantify cellular changes in the algae to understand the mechanisms of oil production and to generate biomarkers for algae screening. University of Sheffield—Characterization of lipidoverproducing algae isolated using environmental stress and development of high-throughput screening methods: After initial screening, use mass spectrometry to detect lipids with greater precision. The aim is to develop a set of experimental techniques that will allow the identification of suitable algal strains. University of Southampton—System requirements for low-cost energy-efficient algal biomass cultivation for biofuel production: Develop cost-effective innovative low-energy methods for carbon enrichment. The efficiency of these will be matched to the demand for carbon in open channels at different flow depths and velocities. Carbon demand and conversion efficiency will be assessed in laboratory-scale rigs and pilotscale raceways simulating different surface areas and retention times.
Newcastle University—Application of chemical communication principles to sustained mass algal culture: Develop a chemical toolbox to manipulate and regulate open pond cultures and develop a gentle influence on the growth and community patterns with open ponds by harnessing the alga’s own communication systems. Scottish Association of Marine Sciences—Control of grazers: Develop robust methodologies for the early detection of protozoan “infection” of algal masscultures. Management strategies will be developed to prevent and reduce damage caused by protozoan grazing. Led by University of Manchester—Ultrasonic extraction of biofuel precursors from single cell algae: Develop methods to replace standard separation techniques, such as continuous centrifugation. Use of multiple ponds and filtration steps will be applied to increase yields. Coventry University—Research and development into cost-effective techniques for the extraction of oils/valuable coproducts from algae using ultrasound and ionic liquids: Find the correct combination of ultrasonic conditions and solvents in order to obtain the oil from the algae. Led by Newcastle University—Water-tolerant extraction of algal biofuels: Evaluate the water tolerance of three different conversion technologies to achieve significantly more cost-effective algal biofuel production. This is done by removing process steps, and by reducing the energy requirements. Led by Swansea University—Algal biomass production and processing: Modelling, optimization and economic and life-cycle analyses: Define the operational envelope for the economic production of biofuels from microalgae. A combination of physical, biological and economic modelling will enable a costbenefit analysis taking into account reactor specification and location, algal ecophysiology, engineering costs of harvesting, dewatering and cell cracking, and nutrient recycling.
SOURCE: CARBON TRUST
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ALGAE continued from page 38
Power stations could be required to capture their carbon dioxide emissions in the near future, likely mandating concentration of the CO2 in flue gas and resulting in a pure carbon source, which would be ideal for algae cultivation.
it allowed us to do in effect was bring on board a large number of universities,” Graziano says. Currently, the most expertise in algal biofuel technologies is at universities, as development is in such early stages, he adds. After the three-year fundamental research and development phase is over, the Carbon Trust plans to build a large pilot facility to demonstrate the findings of the
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dream team, further refining techniques found optimal by the researchers. “With this particular technology area, it’s vitally important that you not only do the research in a lab, but that you demonstrate that you can translate the technologies you’ve developed to outdoors and demonstrate them on a very, very large scale,” Graziano says. No site has been determined for the pilot facility, but one thing is certain: the U.K. is not ideal for such a project, as open ponds for cultivating algae would need temperatures of at least 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit). "We're looking at growing them in sea water, so it’d be close to coastal regions and where that sort of water would be available," Penfold says. The Carbon Trust has access to facilities for algae cultivation in southern Spain, Graziano says, and is working with partners there to build ponds to test the strains the dream team finds. “We believe what we need is some relatively small ponds in a near-optimal location,” he says. In those ponds, the researchers will use CO2 from canisters, but building a pond next to an industrial emitter is ideal, he adds. “As we scale up in phase two and we look to build a pilot-scale facility of up to 10 hectares (24 acres) in scale, we will be looking to site the facility next to a source of carbon dioxide,” Graziano explains. The Carbon Trust has experimented with both concentrated sources of carbon and flue gas, and while Graziano says the yield is better with a concentrated source, there are high costs associated with fractioning off the carbon in flue gas. “So that has to be weighed against all the other factors to determine the most economically viable route,” he says.
More Information? Please call 770-849-0100 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org 40 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 9|2010
In general, flue gas is the best carbon source, according to Banks because it couples algae cultivation with carbon capture, although the source will depend on the amount of carbon dioxide in the gas stream. Power stations could be required to capture their carbon dioxide emissions
ALGAE in the near future, likely mandating concentration of the CO2 in flue gas and resulting in a pure carbon source, which would be ideal for algae cultivation. â€œWeâ€™ve got to watch what happens in terms of the legislative drivers,â€? Banks says. â€œI think power companies will be a source of CO2.â€? Banks and fellow University of Southampton researchers saw a correlation between the Algae Biofuels Challenge and their own extensive work with algae in wastewater treatment plants. â€œIt was quite an attractive project for us to become involved in, particularly the opportunity to work with the other groups on this exciting science,â€? he says. A team at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory is working on key area No. 3, collecting natural algae samples from a diverse array of marine zones and using technology platforms developed at the lab to isolate high-oil strains. â€œIn terms of cell isolation, weâ€™ve got colleagues who have been working on this for about 20 years,â€? says Daniel White, PML marine natural products chemist and project manager. Whiteâ€™s team is experimenting with static cultures and using gas exchange to provide a carbon dioxide source for the small amount of algae it is growing for its work. The team submitted an application to be a part of the dream team because PML already had extensive experience in algae research. â€œAs an organization, weâ€™re interested in marine sources of renewable energy,â€? White says. â€œWeâ€™ve also got a policy to take an interest or develop marine-based low-carbon technologies so the program that Carbon Trust presented basically fulfilled some of those criteria for us and we thought we had the inherent expertise and skills to add to that.â€? The Carbon Trust does not anticipate using genetically modified algae strains in the Algae Biofuels Challenge, Graziano says, as natural strains are more than capable of getting the job done. â€œWhat we should be doing is looking to nature and isolating strains from nature that have been evolving for millions of years and understanding those strains and trying to
improve those strains using classical breeding techniques.â€? He adds that he thinks itâ€™s important to bring a â€œreality checkâ€? to current algae research, as algal biofuel technology is so new and at least 10 years away from commercialization. â€œItâ€™s a very important technology area,â€? Graziano emphasizes. â€œIt will be vital to the future low-carbon economy that weâ€™re trying to create. We do have to start now and
we believe that the best way to conduct this research is through a highly structured and well-coordinated program of research and development, which is hopefully, through the Algae Biofuels Challenge, what weâ€™ve been able to create.â€? BIO Lisa Gibson is a Biomass Magazine associate editor. Reach her at lgibson@ bbiinternational.com or (701) 738-4952.
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9 |2010 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 41
A New Start Ten years after NRELâ€™s Aquatic Species Program was shut down, a similar initiative began and now is thriving in its algae research, which includes the evaluation of CO2 recycling. By Lisa Gibson
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set an upper limit on terrestrial biomass,” Pienkos says. “What we didn’t anticipate four years ago was the fact that there would be competing uses for that biomass.” Especially with the desire to mitigate carbon emissions and an increased portfolio of biofuels, 1 billion tons of terrestrial biomass won’t get us far. “No matter how you slice it, if 1 billion tons of biomass per year is all we can produce, we cannot achieve energy security or complete energy independence based on terrestrial biomass,” he says. “So it was that recognition in 2005 that led to the conclusion that everything’s changed since the close of the ASP.” In addition, NREL realized that there had been changes in basic biotechnology tools in the previous 10 years, in engineering practices and national drivers other than simply economics, he says. “All those things crystallized and led to the conclusion that NREL had to get back into the algae game.” A Redesign Pienkos and his colleagues spent 2006 trying to understand what The new program is not the Aquatic Species Program, but an unnamed extension of the program formerly known as the ASP. It the landscape in the algae world looked like and began to reach out still focuses on algal biofuel, but takes a biological approach, accord- to the appropriate partners and funding agencies. “The high-quality feedstocks for biodiesel are less and less available and so there was a ing to Philip Pienkos, principal research supervisor for NREL. Following the 2005 release of the Oak Ridge National Labora- ready market for algal lipids as feedstock for biofuels,” Pienkos extory’s “Biomass as Feedstock for a Bioenergy and Bioproducts In- plains. “There was also a need to evaluate the whole carbon dioxide dustry: The Technical Feasibility of a Billion-Ton Annual Supply,” mitigation issue, which is more complex for algae than it is for biocommonly called the Billion-Ton Study, NREL reevaluated the po- fuels with terrestrial crops.” From that research, NREL formed the tential and uses of terrestrial biomass. The Billion-Ton Study found Biofuels Strategic Initiative in 2006, aimed at defining the potential that an estimated 1.3 billion tons of biomass feedstock could be of algae for biofuels production and positioning NREL in algae-deavailable countrywide including agricultural residues, forest resourc- rived biofuel research. The initiative also strove to develop partneres, herbaceous energy crops and woody energy crops. “That really ships with academia, national labs and the biomass industry, which it succeeded in doing as evidenced by the new algae research collaboration. The first project, a partnership with Chevron to identify and develop algae strains for economic biofuel production started in 2007. “That was really our first focus with the strategic initiative, to reach out to the oil industry because we felt the promise of algal biofuels would be more interesting to them than ethanol,” Pienkos says. The main difference between the new program and the ASP is the funding mechanism, as ASP was funded by the DOE. The research is now being funded by a collaboration of partners and agencies including Chevron, the DOE, the U.S. EPA, the Colorado Center for Biorefining and Biofuels, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the International Energy Agency and NREL. NREL has established a program similar to its Aquatic Species Program that specializes in algae research. PHOTO: NREL
etween 1978 and 1996, the Aquatic Species Program at the U.S. DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado expanded the biofuel portfolio beyond ethanol through its research on freshwater plants, wetland emergents and, of course, algae. That work eventually focused on biodiesel from microalgae, but the entire program was terminated due to low petroleum prices and the projected high costs of algal biofuel production. But with increases in oil prices, piqued interest in greenhouse gas mitigation and aggressive energy security goals have come a renewed interest in algal biofuel research, and thus the restart of the program, or something similar to it.
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NREL researchers have begun bioprospecting, searching for optimal algae strains.
Bioprospecting As part of the new collaboration, NREL researchers have begun work in bioprospecting, isolating novel strains best suited for biofuel production. “We feel that the overall strain starting point hasn’t been necessarily explored to the extent that it needs to,” Pienkos says. “As we learn more about what we expect a production strain to do, that makes us smarter and smarter in our strategies to isolate new strains from environmental samples.” The focus hovers around biology for a number of reasons, including the fact that most of the researchers in the collaboration are biologists, basic biology is a crucial element in evaluating the production of algal strains, and it provides the program with the most bang for its buck, Pienkos emphasizes. In addition, the program has tried to leverage only fairly small funding opportunities as the infrastructure for an algal biofuel industry is nonexistent. “We’re hampered in moving too far beyond basic biology by our lack of large-scale cultivation abilities and so doing relevant cultivation work; doing ex-
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RESEARCH traction, harvesting and conversion to fuel is greatly diminished by the lack of infrastructure here,” he laments. If funding opportunities or a partner for infrastructure expansion were to present itself, Pienkos and the collaboration would consider working on the construction of that infrastructure, but the program has not had success in finding the necessary money thus far. “But we’re pretty ambitious,” he says. “If the opportunity arises, we’ll jump on it.” Ultimately, though, the researchers see a need to prioritize. “We are aware of the fact that you can’t do everything and it’s better to specialize, especially in an area of limited support.” So for now, the team is focusing on research of the laboratory algal strain Chlorella vulgaris. Pienkos says the strain has better production potential than the commonly usedchlamydomonasreinhardtii.Italsogrows well, produces significant fatty acids, and
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has a large-scale cultivation history for use in dietary supplements. “We feel this is an excellent strain to work with and so we’ve put together a number of small projects funded by a number of different agencies, including internal funding from NREL, to try to build a comprehensive program with Chlorella,” Pienkos says. Chlorella vulgaris is a freshwater strain, however, which is fine when conducting research in Colorado, but working with saltwater strains is preferable when considering large-scale deployment. “So Chlorella won’t necessarily fit the bill for that,” Pienkos explains. Chlorella presents other challenges, too, including small cells with tough cell walls, making it difficult to harvest, break and extract. “That’s a disadvantage certainly for making progress, but it’s an advantage assuming that we’re successful in some of our efforts because if we can do it with Chlorella, we can probably do it with other
strains as well,” Pienkos explains, adding that the new algae program’s charter is to accelerate commercialization through translational research. Eventually, the program will facilitate development of a national algae test bed Pienkos describes as a reasonably scaled production facility with all of the necessary unit operations. With DOE support, NREL has established such pilot test centers for terrestrial biomass in the past and has extensive experience in both thermochemical and biochemical conversion of lignocellulosic material. “We have a dream of building something like that for algae,” Pienkos says.
Capitalizing on Carbon In the meantime, NREL’s new algae research collaboration is focusing on a plethora of projects, some using industrial flue gas as a carbon source for algae cultivation. “We have a number of things in our pipeline that involve that,” Pienkos says. “It removes some of the uncertainty that you might have if you can use real flue gas or CO2 from other emitters rather than bottled CO2.” A partnership project with the National Research Council Canada’s Institute for Marine Biosciences in Halifax, Nova Scotia, is another one of those flue gas projects. The NRC team is working now on the first phase of the research, collecting water samples from areas in Nova Scotia, Alberta, southern Ontario and the Northern U.S. and hoping to come up with algae isolates that can tolerate all the pollutants in the flue gas, while producing large amounts of lipids. Without that tolerance, flue gas will need to be fractioned and cleaned, an expensive process, in order to separate the carbon dioxide from the mix of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitric oxide and other pollutants that can impede algae growth. “Many of the strains that produce copious amounts of lipids are not very robust and wouldn’t tolerate gassing with an industrial flue gas,” says Stephen O’Leary, leading research officer with the NRC’s algae biofuels program. “So we have to do
RESEARCH some amount of searching to find a strain that has those favorable lipid-producing capabilities and yet maintains a robustness such that we can grow it under cultivation conditions where weâ€™re introducing an unpurified flue gas.â€? The team hopes to begin construction on a demonstration facility in about 18 months and Oâ€™Leary does not expect the strain search to push back that timeline. A number of baseline strains have already been found that would tolerate the gas while producing oil and biomass. â€œWhat weâ€™re looking for with our environmental screening program are better strains, sort of your champion strains,â€? he says. Not only do those champion strains need to be flue gas tolerant with high oil production, but also native to the demonstration site, which has not yet been determined. â€œThe reason weâ€™re collecting in specific areas is that our goal is to have a portfolio of algae species native to areas where you would consider deploying these technologies, such as industrial areas like southern Ontario and the Alberta oil sands,â€? Oâ€™Leary says. The demonstration could be set up at power stations, cement factories, or even breweries. â€œOur target site is with a coal-fired power generating station,â€? he adds. â€œThatâ€™s our major focus.â€? The team is in negotiations with several possible industrial partners, but Oâ€™Leary says itâ€™s hard to find one willing to make major in-kind or financial contributions to support and maintain operations, even though most candidates show interest in such a system. â€œThere is a disconnect between interest and implementation,â€? he says, adding that it would require a pile of internal approvals on the plantâ€™s part. â€œWeâ€™re finding that that can be a long and involved process.â€? He does expect, though, that financial incentives for carbon mitigation soon will push that barrier out of the way. â€œI donâ€™t think that will be an insurmountable hurdle and itâ€™s not likely to push back our 18-month timeline,â€? Oâ€™Leary says. Once the demonstration is set up, ideally it will operate for two or three years, but definitely more than one, allowing enough time for research. â€œWe need time to make a scientific evaluation of how well things are
working,â€? Oâ€™Leary explains. â€œBecause there are not many people working on cultivation on that scale at this time, there are going to be a lot of technical challenges that need to be worked out. Itâ€™s very unlikely that everything would operate just as weâ€™d hoped it would.â€? After the demo comes phase three, but Oâ€™Leary doesnâ€™t yet know what that will bring. â€œWe fully anticipate that we will go beyond the demonstration phase, but until we get that going and have an idea of what the results look like and what the interest is for uptake by industry at that time, we canâ€™t make concrete plans beyond that yet, other than the aim of going from demonstration technologies to something that will be taken up commercially and deployed at an industrial level,â€? he says. â€œOur interest is two-fold: Itâ€™s in remediating CO2, or recycling carbon dioxide from industrial emitters, and then converting that
carbon dioxide into biomass for sustainable fuel production,â€? Oâ€™Leary says. â€œIt really is a project where we want to turn industrial CO2 into a commercially valuable commodity, in this case energy products.â€? One of the legacies of the ASP is the algae strain isolation work it did and the library of species with high-lipid production it established, Oâ€™Leary says. Organizations researching biofuel production still refer to that library as a starting point. â€œIn a way, what weâ€™re doing now sort of harkens back to the original Aquatic Species Program,â€? Oâ€™Leary says. â€˜Weâ€™re going back out into the environment and to new locations to identify another envelope full of new algae isolates that show the same sort of potential that NREL was looking for in the ASP.â€? BIO Lisa Gibson is a Biomass Magazine associate editor. Reach her at lgibson@ bbiinternational.com or (701) 738-4952.
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9 |2010 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 47
Beyond the Hype New research may have a significant impact on the development of a biochar market. By Anna Austin
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A research team at SUNY Cobleskill has a giant undertaking ahead of it, demonstrating and developing applications for an innovative gasification technology prototype that holds promise for alternative and purposeful waste disposal. By Lisa Gibson
9|2010 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 49
he hype surrounding biochar as a climate change mitigation tool, soil amendment or power source is mesmerizing with promises of miraculous results. Too much talk and not much action, however, has raised doubts about its potential. Market development has been inching along for years, but with no price on carbon there are no incentives for regions with decent-quality soil to use biochar as a soil amendment or for carbon sequestration. In addition, the capital costs of building production facilities are high and often unattainable. However, new research is confirming biochar's climate mitigation potential and discovering additional applications. A recently published research paper authored by some of the world’s leading soil scientists shows that biochar has the potential to mitigate up to one-tenth of current greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The study takes into account the utilization of biomass resources untapped today and does not propose converting any additional acreage into cropland. Study co-author James Amonette says he hopes the paper, "Sustainable Biochar to Mitigate Global Climate Change," will influence members of the scientific community and policy makers to accept biochar as a valid climate change mitigation technique. He doesn’t view biochar is the final or only
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solution, but believes it is one of several key players.
Building a Solid Case Amonette, a soil scientist at the U.S. DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, says for the past several years he has wanted to produce a solid biochar study and finally got started in 2009 after discussions with study coauthor Dominic Woolf of Swansea University in Wales. “We are extremely concerned about climate change and ways to mitigate it, and independently arrived at the conclusion that nobody has done a real thorough study on biochar,” he says. Amonette and fellow researchers calculated that when taking into consideration all biomass resources presently available, biochar has the potential to sequester 1 to 2 gigatons of carbon per year. “We really need about 15 gigatons per year carbon equivalent, so it’s not the panacea,” he says. “At the same time, it’s a significant player, and the goal of this paper is to make a solid case for biochar that the scientific community can understand and accept because a lot of people are really turned off by the hype.” The most difficult component of the study, according to Amonette, was determining the availability of a sustainable supply of biomass. “We relied heavily on some work done earlier,” he says. “Basically, we had to sort out how much biomass is already being used for
various purposes, how much is being left and how much we can take off the soil/land without causing soil erosion.” In rice paddies, Amonette says, it was relatively simple to determine soil impacts because the land is flat so there’s no concern about erosion. “You can pretty much take all the residue from a rice paddy and convert it to biochar at some point,” he says. “You may want to use the rice straw for animal bedding, but rice husks could be used at any time because there is no good use for them.” Wheat and corn are grown on land that slopes, and removing too much residue can cause major soil erosion problems. “You have to leave a certain amount on the surface or you’ll be exacerbating that part of the problem,” Amonette points out. “So we had to, depending on the crop, look at soil fertility classifications around the world—there are seven different classes of soil that we used—and a major component of that is how steep are the slopes and how rocky is the soil. We looked at those things to determine how much residue could be taken off.” Following their sustainable biomass assessment, the researchers compared the tradeoffs of using the available material as a soil additive such as biochar as opposed to using it to generate bioenergy. Initially, they found that, on average, biochar is 20 percent more effective than bioenergy at mitigating climate change, Amonette says. “We then did a second analysis
BIOCHAR Biomass Production Process
CO2 removed by photosynthesis
Bio-oil Syngas Process heat
Rice Other Cereals Sugarcane Manures
Avoided Avoided biomass decay soil emissions
Biomass crops, agroforestry
Avoided fossil CO2 Avoided CH4/N2O
Biomass crops Pyrolysis
Biofuel CO2 emissions
Oxidation, soil C, tillage, transport Net
that proved, depending on the fertility of the soil to which the biochar was applied and on the power source or type of fossil energy being offset, in some instances, bioenergy was a better climate mitigation option.” What is the better use for the biomass varies greatly from one scenario to the next. “Instead of competing though, they can work together,” Amonette says. “Bioenergy is still a very good way to go, but it’s not going to solve the problem by itself. It has the same limitations that biochar does.”
Carbon Prices and Soil From Amonette’s perspective, the bioenergy route will continue to be chosen over climate mitigation because there is still no value for carbon. “Looking at the Midwest, it has fertile soils but uses a lot of coal, so that would be where you want to produce bioenergy,” he says. “Biochar doesn’t make sense there, because if you add it to the soil you won’t get a response. In the Southeast or the tropics where you’ve got these poor soils, it’s a whole different matter and biochar makes a lot of sense.” Biochar probably won’t be used for cli-
mate mitigation until it becomes economical to do so, Amonette says. “That’s when carbon storage becomes valuable,” he adds. Johannes Lehmann, associate professor of soil fertility management and soil biogeochemistry at Cornell University, echoes Amonette’s views on carbon pricing prompting the use of biochar to combat climate change. “We don’t really know what the value of biochar is right now,” he says. “We’re just beginning to be able to put together accurate data on that—carbon prices that would make this economically feasible.” Lehmann, who contributed to Amonette’s research paper, says that production efforts are currently focused on producing bioenergy from pyrolysis where biochar is simply a byproduct, but most have not yet been successful. This situation is common in bioenergy production, he says. “For example, methane generation is fairly successful in Europe, especially in Germany, where you have guaranteed feed-in rates. In the U.S. it’s not very successful. Situations like that may change as energy prices change, and maybe there will be a carbon price at some point and then everything will change. At the
Enhanced primary productivity
A research project conducted by the USDAAgricultural Research Service in Prosser, Wash., aims to enhance the value of biochar by sequestering nutrients from diary manure lagoons.
9 |2010 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 51
BIOCHAR moment, however, it seems in many countries, including the U.S., making ends meet by just producing bioenergy is difficult.” As far as using biochar as a soil improver, Lehmann says that depends on the location and the crop being produced, which is no different than when considering the use of nitrogen fertilizer. “You put different amounts of it on different crops, in different soils and at different times of the year,” he says. “You really can’t say what the value of nitrogen is across the world, and you can’t say what the value of biochar is across the world. Biochar has shown
tremendous yield increases in some situations with some crops and soils, but for others the soils are good enough and the biochar doesn’t improve it.” At the moment, the perception is that biochar can miraculously enhance soil quality and magically improve crop growth, but that is not always the case, Lehmann says. “It is more effective than compost,” he says. “It has a greater surface area, has a greater ability to hold onto nutrients to make them available to the plants, and it is also one to two magnitudes more stable than compost.”
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The solution behind the solution.
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Those characteristics alone make it more attractive than compost, he adds, if the objective is to improve the soil and enhance its nutrient holding capacity. “You need to know what you’re managing your soils for.” That is the purpose of a research project conducted by the USDA-Agricultural Research Service in Prosser, Wash.,—to further enhance the value of biochar by sequestering nutrients from dairy manure lagoons. Hal Collins, soil scientist/microbiologist and project leader, says the concept was successfully proved, but the one hurdle he has encountered is finding someone to provide a system to produce mass amounts of biochar.
Adding More Value Using waste material from a nearby dairy with an anaerobic digester, Collins and his team were originally taking the liquid waste material from lagoons and applying it to soils as a nutrient source, as well as applying the fiber material as compost. The problem with using the liquid dairy manure is mainly the cost of transporting it to the field. “It’s such a huge cost to move liquid from one location to the other, so if you can concentrate nutrients much like the fertilizer industry does, you’re moving much less bulk,” Collins says. In the past, Collins has worked on applying biochar to soils, and discovered its cost to be high as well. “Entrepreneurs want about $200 per ton of biochar, and our studies don’t show much of an improvement in soil until about 10 tons of biochar is applied on an acre, so that’s about $2,000 an acre,” Collins says. “Our thought was we have this source of material, and also a problem with the high amount of nutrients in a small location like a dairy. We could take this material, pelletize it, pyrolyze it and obtain energy from that, and then put the biochar back into the lagoon with a filtering system in order to sequester the nutrients.” About 40 grams of biochar per liter of effluent was added to the 378-liter test lagoon and was then left for 15 days. Test results demonstrated the removal of 68 percent of the phosphorous and 14 percent of the nitrogen from the effluent. Mineralization experiments showed that 85 pounds of phosphorous per acre would be available to crops after the addition of 5 tons of enriched biochar per acre. According to Collins, dairies in Washing-
BIOCHAR ton could produce 230,000 tons of nutrientenriched biochar a year from manure, reducing leaching and runoff. He envisions the entire process occurring at a dairy or hog farm, where they would also be able to generate their own power via the pyrolysis process. So what’s next? Collins is still trying to find a pyrolysis unit that is able to make enough material to allow widespread field application. “We have had no luck,” he says. “There are a lot of promises to build these units, but I haven’t seen any. I don’t fault them for not getting up and running, though, as it is all about money and the investors just aren’t there.” Collins says he built his own pyrolysis unit to make biochar, but what he really wants to do test is the quality of the biochar that the future industry will produce, rather than biochar produced under highly controlled conditions. “I understand there should be some companies in Oregon bringing units on line fairly soon, some of whom I’ve been speaking with,” he says. One of those belongs to Halfway, Ore.based Biochar Products Inc., which is working with Advanced Biorefinery Inc. in Canada to bring a mobile, 1-ton per day fast pyrolysis unit on line. Owner Eric Twombly says the machine has already been demonstrated in the forest, and after fixing a few engineering problems, a multi-stop demo trip in California is planned for next spring. Twombly says a lot of people have claimed that they are able to build a biochar plant, but few have—partially because of a lack of capital, but also because many systems just aren’t viable. “As much noise as there is about it, the problem is that it isn’t as simple as it seems,” he says. “It’s easy to take a couple barrels with wood in it and make biochar out of it. Almost all slow pyrolysis systems require a batch process. When that batch process gets bigger, it needs a longer residence time. Once you scale it up, you can’t produce very much, and that’s the real limit.” Although researchers are currently willing to pay $1,000 to $2,000 per ton for biochar, in the long term it will probably be worth about $100 per ton, Twombly says. “If you’re making 2 or 3 tons a day, that doesn’t pay the bills, especially for biochar-only machines that don’t belong to a farmer or those that aren’t integrated with some other project where there’s a need to get rid of waste.”
Looking Ahead While the price of carbon, the absolute impact of using biochar as a climate mitigation tool, and the production, transportation and storage economics of biochar remain uncertain, Lehmann says there will be tradeoffs that will even out. “When applying it to soil, even if only 1 teragram (1 million metric tons) or 50 teragrams of carbon is offset globally with biochar, we will have improved soil quality and happy farmers,” he says. “It still withdraws some carbon from the atmosphere, and that is a good way to go because it is a no lose.”
Twenty-five years from now, the idea of what is sustainable may change, Amonette adds. “The global crisis may have deepened, and we could be looking at total disaster verses a small disaster, in which case there may have to be some tradeoffs that people make.” BIO Anna Austin is a Biomass Magazine associate editor. Reach her aaustin@ bbiinternational.com or (701) 738-4968.
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9 |2010 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 53
PATENTS By Paul Craane
Patenting Carbon Credit Trading: Dodging Certainty 2010 has been a year of uncertainty for the future of carbon credit trading. Optimism that the administration would push for an energy bill with a comprehensive national market-based compliance program has faded, while the sale of the first voluntary trading program in the U.S. for all six greenhouse gases, suggests a sagging commitment to a voluntary carbon trading market.
010 also has been a year of uncertainty for the future of patenting carbon credit trading. The U.S. Supreme Courtâ€™s docket included a case that placed the patenting of business methods, such as methods for providing financial services, squarely in the cross hairs. It was expected that the decision in Bilski v. Kappos (or Bilski, for
short) would likely effect carbon credit trading patents and patent applications as well, although no one knew exactly how the Supreme Court would react. Strong arguments were made on both sides of the issue, but the justicesâ€™ comments during oral argument suggested an intense skepticism of the patent eligibility of business methods.
The claims and statements made in this article belong exclusively to the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Biomass Magazine or its advertisers. All questions pertaining to this article should be directed to the author(s).
54 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 9|2010
Regardless of what the Supreme Court did, someone was going to be disappointed. Bilski bore the immediate brunt of the decision, as the Supreme Court unanimously rejected Bilskiâ€™s method for hedging risk in commodity trading. Beyond this, and in particular on the issue of the patenting of business methods, the Supreme Court found itself split. While business method patent holders were thankful that the Supreme Court did
not opt for the certainty of holding all business methods patent-ineligible, no consensus has formed as to where the new lines might be drawn. Still, some helpful guidance may be gleaned from Bilski for parties looking to patent carbon credit trading methods.
The Gathering Storm Patent eligibility was the issue in Bilski. If a claimed invention is patent-eligible, the applicant must still show that
PATENTS By Paul Craane
the invention is patentable (useful, novel, nonobvious, and fully and particularly described). Patent eligibility is thus a gate through which the applicant must pass, not the finish line. Historically, patent eligibility has been defined by what is excluded from eligibility, rather than by what is included. Patents may extend to “anything under the sun that is made by man.” Still, patent eligibility is not without its limits. In particular, there are three major exceptions to patent eligibility: laws of nature, physical phenomenon and abstract ideas. For a long time, the courts acted as if there was a fourth exception: methods of doing business. Then in the late 1990s, the courts did an apparent about-face, and a surge in business method patents followed. These patents might be for a method of insuring or hedging risk, or trading securities or commodities, or even for a method of trading pollution credits under a cap-andtrade type scheme. This surge continued until 2008, when a series of court decisions signaled a retreat from the previous open attitude towards the patent-eligibility of business method patents. The decisions attempted to provide certainty as to patent eligibility in a technologyneutral fashion. In particular, it was held that a method is not patent-eligible where it is not tied to a particular machine or apparatus, or does not transform a particular article into a different state or thing. Moreover, it was established that the “machine or transformation” test would henceforth be the one and only test for determining patent eligibility.
While no one expected the Supreme Court to deliver a quick response to the machine or transformation test when Bilski was argued in November 2009, it would not be until the last day of the Court’s term in late June that Bilski would again be in the news.
The Storm Breaks On a certain level, the Supreme Court’s reaction in Bilski is a study in consensus and certainty. All of the justices thought Bilski’s claims were not patent-eligible. None of the justices thought that the machine or transformation test should be the “one and only” test. Beyond this, the nine justices appeared bitterly divided into two camps. In the end, four justices were able to convince one of the remaining justices to join just enough of their decision to claim to represent the majority of the Court. This turned out to be a good thing for business method patentees. If the group headed by retiring Justice John Paul Stevens had prevailed instead, the Court would not only have rejected Bilski’s patent, but also pronounced all business method patents patent-ineligible. Thus, much of the story of Bilski is the majority opinion that might have been, rather than the majority opinion that was. In the end, the majority signaled that the analysis of patent eligibility would remain technology-neutral and focused on the three exceptions. Moreover, while disagreeing with the lower court that the machine or transformation test was the one and only test, the majority did agree that it was a good test and an important
clue. Furthermore, in striking down Bilski’s claims, the majority warned that if a process or method claim attempted to preempt all uses of a method, then it would be patent ineligible, as would a claim that merely attempted to limit such a method claim to a particular field of use. Under these conditions, business method patents lived to fight another day.
A Bright, New Day? So, where does Bilski leave the patenting of carbon credit trading? Less certain than if Justice Stevens had prevailed, such that carbon credit trading methods would have been ineligible for patenting. Bilski does not suggest a move to the unrestricted patenting of business method patents, however. The machine or transformation test still may be used to weed out patent-eligible methods from patent-ineligible methods. Consequently, a failure to tie in a machine to a method of trading carbon credits will likely end in a court or the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office determining that the claims are patent-ineligible. In fact, the Patent Office has already issued guidance to its examiners to continue to use the machine or transformation test as part of a “totality of the circumstances” approach, and evidenced skepticism that a method which fails the machine or transformation test could ever be patent-eligible. Bilski may best be viewed as a field with two fuzzy boundaries and an open area in between. On the one hand, if the applicant can express his or her invention in connection with a particularized machine, such as
a computer, there is probably a good likelihood of success in obtaining a patent and/or withstanding a challenge to the patent. On the other hand, expressing the invention in a way that would preempt all uses of a method, or all uses within a particular field of endeavor, probably will result in no patent being granted or a successful challenge. However, the area inbetween presents a range of opportunities for applicants who have applications on file, or who have not yet filed. Such applicants may opt for a strategy that combines claims drafted to meet the machine or transformation test with others that test the boundaries of what the Patent Office will consider to be preempting all uses or uses within a defined field. Such a strategy will likely need to consider how the machine is tied to the remainder of the method, however, for in suggesting that certain steps of the method must be performed on a single computer, for example, the patentee may unnecessarily limit the invention in this day and age of distributed computing and cloud networks. At the end of the day, Bilski may not have provided the certainty some wanted the Supreme Court to bring to the issue of patent eligibility. Considering the alternative, however, a little uncertainty might just be a good thing for those patenting carbon credit trading methods. BIO Paul Craane is a partner at Marshall, Gerstein & Borun LLP. Reach him at pcraane@ marshallip.com or (312) 4746623.
9 |2010 BIOMASS MAGAZINE 55
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