December 31, 2006

December 2006 Digest

December 2006 saw major developments in the commitment of whole industries to a new paradigm shift to renewable energy.

On the heels of last month's release of the forest products industry report called the Forest Products Industry Technology Roadmap several wood chip refinery press releases and wood industry reference sites became articles in the blogosphere. There were also two auto shows in Los Angeles that touted a new commitment to renewable energy propulsion systems including hybrids, electric cars, solar-powered, fuel cells, PHEVs, and flex-fuel vehicles.

The big news here is that the BIOstock Blog has a sponsor - Price BIOstock Services of Monticello, Arkansas. Originators of the BIOstock Services concept, The Price Companies has joined other industry leaders in recognizing the value of informing the general public of breaking information concerning emerging technology trends.

Here are their most significant developments of December 2006, organized by Blog...

BIOstock Blog--------------
New Hampshire Renewable Power Plant Burns Wood Chips
U.S. D.O.E. Information on "BIOstock" & Legislation
HAWAII: Powering Paradise with biofuels
Global BIOstock/BIOfuels Database
Bioenergy Gateway: Energy from Wood
Woody Biomass-to-Ethanol Demonstration Plant Contracted
FLORIDA: Citrus Peels as BIOstock
CANADA: Wood chips biorefinery venture announced
Price BIOstock Services is a BIOstock Blog sponsor

BIOconversion Blog--------------
Sugar Fermentation's Achilles Heel - Water
James Woolsey on Biomass Conversion and PHEVs
Decentralizing the BioFuels Industry
NEW YORK: Cellulosic Ethanol Plant Demo Facility Contracted
Xethanol's Cellulosic Ethanol Business Approach
Bacteria - "Miniature Chemical Factories" Convert Waste to Ethanol
Future Production of Liquid Biofuels
Top Stories of 2006

BIOoutput Blog-----------------
Carbon credits traded online
"Mermaids' Tears" - Unrecycled plastic chokes the seas
Alt Car Expo: A Day at the Beach
A Tale of Two Auto Shows

New Feature
Each month we will provide a similar breakdown of December article titles from our favorite "companion" site - Biopact Blog. This list is kept current and is accessible in the right hand column of each of the three blogs.

Please forward a link to this digest to anyone you know who would be interested in keeping track of change that will affect us all. They can add their name to the mailing list on the BioConversion Blog.

technorati , , , , , ,

December 29, 2006

BIO Blogs' Top Stories of 2006

2006 - A Watershed Year for BIOfuels

This was a watershed year for the biofuels industry. Fears about war, global warming, and pocketbook issues will affect public opinion, action, and purchases for decades to come. Starting with the President's "addiction to oil" admission in his State of the Union address and the rising carnage in the Middle East, followed by the spring/summer oil price spike and "The Inconvenient Truth" of global warming, the gordian knot of interrelated problems seems insurmountable.

And yet, as former CIA Director James Woolsey contends, national security can be greatly enhanced in the short term by building a cellulosic ethanol industry based on biomass conversion to ethanol. This would simultaneously reduce our addiction to fossil fuels using cheap feedstock and reduce runaway greenhouse gas emissions, while increasing our national self-reliance on clean renewable energy. The only question is a matter of will - do we have the commitment and persistence to fight for a future virtually free of dependence on foreign oil? The consequences of sticking with the status quo are too onerous to contemplate.

Worldwide technological developments, governmental mandates, and capital investments have been startlingly brisk this year. And yet, we are only at the "bleeding edge" of market development. 2007 promises to see the early commercial-scale deployments of many emerging technologies.

Here are their most significant developments of 2006, organized by Blog...

BIOstock Blog
Scientists set sights on biomass to reduce fossil fuel dependence
Tires-to-Ethanol Facility Planned for New Jersey
Using Algae to Recycle Flue Gas into Biofuels
Reducing Biofuel Risk through Feedstock Diversification
FLORIDA: County to Vaporize Trash
Expanded Recycling - a Key to Cutting Fossil Fuels and Global Warming
Forests: Carbon S(t)inks?
Renaissance of the Forest Products Industry
Cellulosic Ethanol from Woody Biomass
FLORIDA: Citrus Peels as BIOstock

BIOconversion Blog
DIGEST - California AB 1090 Issues and Support
The Military Surcharge for Oil
White House: The Advanced Energy Initiative
RFA: Ethanol Industry Outlook 2006
Ethanol Industry Braces for Growing Pains
CALIFORNIA: Los Angeles Waste-to-Energy Plan Passed Unanimously
Green Jobs for America: Two Reports
Visionary Investors Cast Their Eye on Ethanol
CALIFORNIA: Bioenergy Action Plan - Final Released
CBS 60 Minutes: The Ethanol Solution
CHINA: The Food vs. Energy Feedstock Conundrum
Syngas Fermentation - The Next Generation of Ethanol
U.S. D.O.E.: Roadmap for Developing Cleaner Fuels
CALIFORNIA: Governor Announces BioEnergy Action Plan
CALIFORNIA: Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006
U.S. D.O.E.: 5-year Plan for Biomass Conversion
Upgrading Existing Plants for Biomass Conversion
Global BIOstock/BIOfuels Database
Bioenergy Gateway: Energy from Wood
Woody Biomass-to-Ethanol Demonstration Plant Contracted

BIOoutput Blog
General Motors - Live Green/Go Yellow Campaign
Plug-in Partners National PHEV Initiative
MOVIE: Who Killed the Electric Car?
Recycling’s “China Syndrome”
Terra Preta: Black is the New Green
Developing Ethanol's Side-stream Chemicals
Impact of Global Growth on Carbon Emissions
U.S. D.O.E.: Strategies for Reducing Greenhouse Gases
BIOplastics: BIOdegradable by-products of BIOconversion
"Mermaids' Tears" - Unrecycled plastic chokes the seas
A Tale of Two Auto Shows

The final week of the year, BIOpact has written a Looking back on 2006 series of articles summarizing worldwide factors affecting development in the biomass conversion industry. It would be hard to find a more comprehensive view, broken down by geographic zone, summarizing the implications of global developments:
Looking back on 2006
The year in review: Asia
The year in review: Africa
The year in review: Latin America

Grist, the clever and controversial environmental news and commentary website, has put together a special series of stories on biofuels called Fill 'er Up. While I tend to be much more upbeat than the Grist writers, the stories are as thought-provoking - whereas the Gristmill Blog is as wild and wooly as the Grist readership.

The Renewable Energy Access has their own two yearend summaries. Renewable Energy Roadmap: Rural America Can Prosper addresses the impact reaching the 25x25 goal would have on farm income and jobs. They also offer an opinion of the Top Stories of 2006. However, most of these concern developments in solar energy.

technorati , , , , , ,

Future Production of Liquid Biofuels

Below is a chart that caught my eye. It was reproduced by Green Car Congress from a report issued by Nexant - an energy analysis and consulting firm headquartered in San Francisco with offices strategically placed throughout the world.

Current and Emerging Liquid Biofuels Technologies

An interpretation of this chart
Biomass is seen as a high volume feedstock that is low in costs. The conversion of biomass to fuels through gasification is "more challenging" than the known commercially implemented technology of whole grain sugar fermentation, but only slightly more challenging than enzyme hydrolysis (which is getting significantly more attention in North America). Syngas fermentation to directly produce ethanol is seen as a viable, developing technology.

As the study recommends, gasification conversion of biomass should be co-developed with other emerging technologies. Not only could it be useful for thermal conversion of other process wastes and residues, but, through syngas fermentation, it could be used to directly produce ethanol.

Below are excerpts from the Nexant press release about their recently published study. A link to the study prospectus is provided.

Nexant Forecasts Evolving Diversity in Biofuel Feedstocks and Technologies
New Multifaceted Technoeconomic Study Sees Strong Global Production Growth

A newly published study by Nexant, Inc.--Liquid Biofuels: Substituting for Petroleum--looks at current, emerging, and potential future technologies to produce biogasoline and biodiesel, considering all key elements of the value chain, including agricultural, logistical, and processing. Emphasizing technoeconomic modeling, it details development trends around the world and analyzes key policy drivers, including rural development, energy independence, and reduced carbon footprint, and considers a full range of technical, feedstock, and alternative biofuel product options.

Bioethanol from grains and sugar, though an excellent high-octane gasoline blendstock, has many practical problems and is also likely to be transitional over the long term, according to the study.

Nexant projects that the next phase of development is likely to be ethanol made by fermentation of sugars obtained through biomass hydrolysis. Nexant also concludes that, perhaps sooner than some may believe, integrated thermochemical platforms will take the lead in producing both gasoline and diesel range biofuels (biomass-to-liquids [BTL], similar to coal-to-liquids and gas-to-liquids), most likely in conjunction with electric power and chemicals. This alternative should be—and probably will be—pursued contemporaneously with developing biomass-based ethanol, according to Nexant.

While crop biotechnology may provide a more productive, varied, and stable feedstock platform for a biofuels industry, the potential for early conflict with food is probably underestimated, according to Nexant.

The study outlines a number of attractive “paths of least resistance” for developing the global biofuels industry based on leveraging current or co-developing technologies, such as coal gasification and gas-to-liquids catalysis. For the interim strategy of fermenting sugars from biomass, a number of preparation options are available, and thermal utilization of fermentation process residues needs to be carefully considered.

For the thermochemical platform of the future, more work must be done to develop in-field pyrolysis of biomass to help overcome logistics challenges, as well as biomass gasification and system optimization.

The study profiles a broad range of agricultural and biotechnology platforms and issues, and its geographic coverage includes the countries playing significant roles in biofuel feeds, production, and/or technology development over the next decade.

technorati , , , , , ,

December 24, 2006

Bacteria - "Miniature Chemical Factories" Convert Waste to Ethanol

Michael Kanellos, a staff writer for CNET News has written an addendum to the Mascoma press release on New York's agreement to help fund a cellulosic ethanol plant near Rochester.

Missing in the article is the cost of R&D, producing, and handling the enzymes.

I suggest that Bioengineering Resources Inc.(BRI) should be added to the list of companies pioneering the use of microbes and bacteria to perform feedstock-to-ethanol conversion. Instead of isolating microbes for individual feedstock, BRI uses microbes to digest gasified feedstock (syngas) to produce ethanol and water. The benefit: the syngas can be more universally produced from blended feedstock. Plus the process is much faster (minutes vs. days) and can be run continuously rather than in batch mode.

Certain excerpts from Michael's article bear repeating...

New York: Will pay for bacteria
Mascoma has landed a $14.8 million grant from the state of New York to build a plant near Rochester that will turn paper sludge, wood chips and other agricultural waste into ethanol.

The 15,000-square-foot facility should be open toward the end of 2007 or early 2008. When it's fully operational, it will churn out about 500,000 gallons of biomass ethanol a year, said Mascoma President Colin South.Churning ethanol out of waste products significantly lowers the cost of the raw material. South estimated that the biomass used in Mascoma's processes will cost 60 percent or less than the feedstocks for traditional ethanol.

Just as important, Mascoma and others believe that exploiting genetically enhanced microbes to convert corn into sugar, rather than relying on traditional industrial processes, will reduce production costs and factory energy consumption. Microbes, after all, can be viewed as miniature chemical factories. Other microbe companies include Ceres, LiveFuels, Dyadic International, Diversa, and Synthetic Genomics.

Mascoma's twist on the microbe manufacturing formula is that several of the steps required to turn biomass into ethanol can be combined, thereby further cutting costs. The company's primary organism is Thermoanaerobacterium saccharolyticum, which breaks down plant material in a warm environment.

technorati , , , , , ,

December 21, 2006

Xethanol's Cellulosic Ethanol Business Approach

Xethanol Corporation is a well-known - some would say "notorious" - and aggressive marketer of cellulosic ethanol technology. They have had their share of controversy which is addressed on their website and which resulted last month in a major change in top management.

Xethanol has one of the most comprehensive cellulosic ethanol business approaches around. They aim to:
1 - identify appropriate bioconversion technologies for a wide range of biostocks,
2 - utilize waste forestry and urban biomass in addition to waste agricultural biomass
3 - locate their manufacturing facilities near the sources of the feedstock,
4 - size the facilities to the close proximity of the biostock rather than truck it great distances
5 - build some facilities near urban sources of municipal solid waste

Here are excerpts from their press release announcing their current plans to implement their business approach for the bioconversion of citrus waste into ethanol and other bioproducts:

Xethanol Corp. Joins Renewable Spirits to Produce Ethanol From Citrus Peels
Plans Pilot Production Facility in Bartow, FL

Xethanol Corporation (AMEX: XNL), a renewable energy company focused on converting biomass to biofuel, Dec. 13 announced the Company has formed a venture with Renewable Spirits, LLC for the purpose of building a biomass-based pilot production facility, utilizing waste citrus peels as raw material for making ethanol.

The venture is located in Bartow, FL the heart of the state's citrus industry. The venture is expected to establish a pilot plant to produce up to 50,000 gallons of ethanol this harvesting season.

The pilot plant, which will increase to over 500,000 gallons per year (GPY), is co-located at a facility owned and operated by Peace River Citrus Products, Inc., a leading producer of orange and grapefruit juice and other citrus products.

Slated to begin production by the second quarter of 2007, the program plans to utilize a production technology process, developed through a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the USDA that will convert waste citrus biomass into ethanol, as well as other marketable co-products, such as limonene and citrus oil, to improve the economics of fuel production.

"Here's what's exciting: The next time you drink grapefruit juice, remember we will be making ethanol from what's left of the fruit. We are extremely excited to advance the efforts to convert biomass to ethanol with the use of citrus peels, a very promising feedstock" said David Ames, president and CEO of Xethanol. "We are also extremely proud to be partnering with leading scientists from the USDA to extend their breakthrough work into the pilot production phase." Ames said, "This project is a perfect example of how Xethanol is executing on its unique strategy of partnering with best-in-class research institutions and developing regional footprint facilities whereby ethanol production is located adjacent to the biomass feedstock."

"We are extremely confident in Mr. Ames' vision, leadership, and strategy of focusing on biomass based ethanol production in the southeast," said Chandler Hadlock, President and CEO of Coastal Energy Development, Inc., who will be overseeing the construction and management of the plant. "We look forward to working with Peace River Citrus Products and the USDA to further this technology and exponentially increase the citrus-to-ethanol production in Florida over the coming months."

In juice processing, one half of a citrus fruit is waste. Converting this alternative biomass feedstock into ethanol creates a tremendous economic opportunity for America's citrus growers.

Co-locating the processing facility adjacent to the biomass source also helps to reduce the transportation and shipping costs associated with production.

There are more than 35 major citrus producers located in Florida that collectively produce waste that could be converted to more than 80MM GPY of ethanol.

Renewable Spirits, an investor group, has spent the last two years working with the USDA to develop the technology used in the pilot plant, and has been successful in removing limonene from the peel, allowing for the fermentation of the sugars in the peel and batch distillation of ethanol at the USDA laboratory in Winter Haven, FL.

USDA scientists say this is the first facility of its kind.

Doug Westfall, President of Renewable Spirits, said "Xethanol's acquisition of this technology allows for a much quicker path to commercial applications. We believe that there is tremendous potential for citrus to ethanol production in central Florida, and that this is a winning proposition for both the citrus and ethanol industries."

technorati , , , ,

December 20, 2006

NEW YORK: Cellulosic Ethanol Plant Demo Facility Contracted

New York is starting to put some teeth into its plans to position the state as a leader in cellulosic ethanol development. It has agreed to help finance the establishment of a biomass-to-ethanol demonstration facility in Rochester, New York with the collaborative support of Mascoma Corporation and Genencor, a leading industrial biotechnology company that develops innovative enzymes.

Most interesting to me is the range of feedstock that will be demonstrated - "The facility is expected to operate using a number of New York State agricultural and/or forest products as biomass, including paper sludge, wood chips, switch grass and corn stover." Demonstrating proficiency and high yield from any of these feedstocks would enhance further investment and development for not only these collaborators but also other developers in allied technologies.

This announcement is significant for a number of other reasons - the bioconversion process to be demonstrated (enzymatic hydrolysis); the location (near chilly, urban Rochester, New York); the investment structure ($14.8 million state support, $5.2 million from the developer); the industry/education involvement of International Paper/Cornell University/Clarkson U.; and the endorsement by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) - which in my state of California has been equivocal in its support of similar waste-to-energy initiatives.

This deal predates the development agreement made between Mascoma and Tamarack Energy of Essex, CT who is not likely to be directly involved. However, according Tamarack Project Manager, Matt Wolfe, "this is right in line with our project development."

Mascoma Awarded New York State Contract to Build and Operate $20 Million Cellulosic Ethanol Demonstration Facility
Receives $14.8 million for project planned for Rochester, NY;
Planning to partner with Genencor to supply advanced enzyme systems

CAMBRIDGE, MA and ROCHESTER, NY, DECEMBER 20, 2006 – Mascoma Corporation, a leader in cellulosic biomass-to-ethanol development and production, announced today it has received a $14.8 million award from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to build and operate a biomass-to-ethanol demonstration plant in Rochester, New York, pending local permit approvals and definitive agreements among the relevant parties.

The project will focus on demonstrating “cellulose to ethanol” technology and industrial processes. International Paper Co., Cornell University, Clarkson University and the Natural Resources Defense Council join Mascoma and Genencor as part of a consortium supporting the project.

The facility is expected to operate using a number of New York State agricultural and/or forest products as biomass, including paper sludge, wood chips, switch grass and corn stover. Genencor also plans to add capacity at its existing manufacturing facility to supply enzymes to the demonstration facility. Following completion of design, engineering and site agreements and the required approval process, Mascoma estimates it will take 10-12 months to construct the pilot plant and begin operations.

Mascoma was founded in 2005 by biomass industry pioneers Drs. Lee R. Lynd and Charles Wyman of Dartmouth College. With financial backing of $39M from a syndicate of leading venture capital firms led by founding investor Khosla Ventures, Mascoma plans to build, operate and manage a 15,000 square foot facility in New York State to complete testing of multiple feedstocks and technologies for biomass ethanol.

“After decades of research and development around the world, cellulosic ethanol technology has reached a point where we are ready to demonstrate the commercial scale production of ethanol from biomass,” said Colin South, president, Mascoma. “We are very excited about the support from New York for our multi-feedstock approach, and we applaud New York and Governor Pataki’s leadership in developing the cellulosic ethanol market. This plant will demonstrate the technologies we expect to rapidly move into commercial application. The continued development of these technologies will require the formation of new partnerships between academics, companies and feedstock producers. To support the development of this facility Mascoma is developing and integrating leading technologies and recruiting experienced personnel in technical and operations areas. We look forward to working with our university and industrial partners on this exciting effort.”

As the enzyme partner for the project, Genencor expects to supply enzymes to the project as well as work with Mascoma to continue to improve its advanced enzyme products. Genencor intends to make further investments in its existing enzyme production facility in Rochester. Mascoma intends to locate the demonstration plant at or near Genencor’s manufacturing site in Rochester.

“Genencor has made substantial progress over the years on advanced enzymes for biomass conversion,” said Jack Huttner, vice president of biorefinery development at Genencor. “Partnering with Mascoma allows us to prove them in a commercial setting. This will bring cellulosic ethanol one significant step closer to reality. It is a great opportunity to help build a promising new sustainable industry, and Genencor thanks Governor Pataki and the State of New York for its support of this project.”

“We see the development and commercialization of cellulosic ethanol as a growth industry for the state of New York. This funding award to Mascoma and the company’s demonstration plant initiative with Genencor are important steps in establishing this industry here,” said New York State Agriculture Commissioner Patrick H. Brennan. “Producing cellulosic ethanol locally is an ideal approach to further capitalize on this state’s agricultural and forestry resources like paper sludge, wood chips, and emerging energy crops. Further, this energy production method can reduce our dependence on foreign sources, while benefiting the environment in a number of ways.”

“Cellulosic ethanol promises to contribute significantly to rural economic development and to a sustainable renewable energy future,” said Nathanael Greene, senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “It is important that this technology is proven in real world settings and in regions where neither corn nor sugar cane predominate the agricultural production system. Developing cellulosic ethanol for New York will have a measurable, positive impact on farmers’ income and greenhouse gas emissions in the state.”

technorati , , , , , ,

December 14, 2006

Decentralizing the BioFuels Industry

Grist, the clever and controversial environmental news and commentary website, has put together a special series of stories on biofuels called Fill 'er Up.

The series is broken down into three sets of about ten articles each under the general headings of: "Uh, bio-what? Explainers and resources", "Count me in: Profiles of proponents", and "Not so fast: Issues and implications".

One title that leapt out at me concerns the subject of decentralization of energy sources. It may be idealistic to think that energy generation will one day be in the hands of the consumers. More likely, regional self-reliance is possible with each culture and geopolitical entity on the planet capable of producing its own needs based on its own unique combination of resources and climate. To be sure, there will always be a need for grid management to help insure that supply and demand are balanced.

However, the benefits of decentralization are hard to deny. By regions becoming more energy self-reliant the production and consumption of energy will be more dispersed and less subject to geopolitical control and coercion. The supply will be greatly enlarged, over-consumption will be regionalized, accidents will have more localized effect, indigenous economies will be strengthened, and the commerce of fuels and carbon credits will be enhanced.

Below is an abridged version of the article. I recommend reading the entire article from the source and reading the descriptions of the articles located at Grist. There is also a lively blog area for reader commentary called Gristmill.

By the People, For the People
Toward a community-owned, decentralized biofuel future
By David Morris for Grist

Biofuels won't single-handedly solve the climate crisis, nor will they deliver energy independence. But a base of widely dispersed, farmer- and citizen-owned biofuel plants can displace significant amounts of fossil fuels -- while also building local economies.

What follows is a strategy for tweaking existing federal energy and farm policy to create such an energy landscape...

To date, public policy, at least at the federal level, has ignored the ownership structure of renewable-energy production facilities. That may be because until very recently America's biofuels industry was largely locally owned. In 2003, some 50 percent of all existing ethanol refineries and perhaps 80 percent of all proposed plants were majority-owned by farmers. But in the last two years, that ownership equation has been reversed. Today, 80 percent or more of new ethanol production is coming from absentee-owned plants.

Congress should give locally owned bio-refineries a boost. If the national biofuels mandate were increased, as many expect it will be, there would be less justification for financial incentives that simply encourage consumption. Congress could then turn its attention to fashioning incentives to encourage the most beneficial kind of production.

How might that occur?

One step is to transform the federal biofuels incentive from a pump credit -- that is, an incentive that goes to the blender of ethanol and gasoline -- to a direct payment to the ethanol producer, with higher rewards accruing to locally owned plants. Minnesota did something similar to this with its state ethanol incentive in the mid-1980s, to good effect.

With an energy policy in place to encourage local ownership of bio-refineries, Congress should make locally owned rural energy production an integral component of farm policy when the Farm Bill comes up for reauthorization in 2007.

When Congress reconvenes in January, it will have the opportunity to fashion a far-reaching Farm Bill that marries agricultural and energy goals, and aligns rural prosperity with energy security. But it will only take advantage of that historic opportunity if it accepts a basic proposition: ownership matters. The ownership structure of agriculture, not the demand for agricultural products, will decide the future of rural America, and perhaps the future of world agriculture. And bioenergy can be the lever that stabilizes our farms, even as it helps wean us from fossil fuels.

technorati , , , , , , ,

December 10, 2006

James Woolsey on Biomass Conversion and PHEVs

Santa Monica recently hosted the Alt Car Expo which could very well have been the world's largest alternative vehicle presentation that has ever been produced. The first day of the Alt Car Expo brought car enthusiasts, environmental activists, politicians, celebrities, and families out to see a vision of the future test-driven on the tarmac, displayed in a hanger, and forecast in the seminar room. Many of the hybrids featured plug-in technology and were rated at 100+ MPG. Several cars were all electric including one solar-powered Prius with solar cells embedded in its roof.

It was in the seminar room that speakers provided the pulse of the show - defining current environmental and business conditions, advocating a broad range of solutions, and making predictions for the future. The most stimulating presentation was given by former CIA Director James Woolsey who is a staunch advocate for advancing national security and public health by reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. I recorded his address and have paraphrased those portions dealing directly with the issues of this blog.

Outsiders control oil and oil reserves
"We have vulnerabilities in our electricity grid that we need to fix... fortunately the grid is in this country for us to fix." "Not so with oil. Because the infrastructure is outside of the United States, it is susceptible to forces we are unable to control." He said that if terrorists for whatever reason were successful at destroying the sulfur clearing towers in Saudi Arabia, it would interrupt production for years that would likely raise oil prices to around $200 per barrel. "That's devastating..." Centralization of oil reserves in the Middle East also enables them to drive down the cost of oil to bankrupt competition if they so please. It is not a free enterprise system - it is under OPEC control.

"What can we do? I think there are a number of alternatives. One that should not be on the front burner is hydrogen." The expense of infrastructure alone could approach $1 Trillion and there are other hurdles. A second set of options includes increased drilling, oil extraction, or coal to liquid conversion. But you would have to capture the carbon. This does not solve the problem of dependency on hydrocarbons.

"Two things I think are the most interesting and promising in the short term." First is biomass and/or waste conversion to ethanol or other biofuels. Diesel fuels can also be made from agricultural waste. These are essentially carbon-neutral. "You are not digging up the carbon from beneath the ground." You are recycling carbon that is already a part of the above ground carbon cycle. We are not talking about a single process. We are talking about moving away from hydrocarbon and moving to carbohydrates. This would help national security in several ways including helping the rural areas of the country.

In addition, if we use cheap feedstock like municipal solid wastes for these biorefineries, we make it extremely hard for OPEC to undercut our cost of manufacturing fuels - which enhances national security.

Plug-in hybrids
"The final technology I think is promising is plug-in hybrids (PHEVs)." The American public will be attracted to having the option of running their vehicles on electricity at 1-2¢ per mile vs. 10-20¢ per mile for gasoline. If you drive less than 20 miles per day, you may not need to use the gasoline/ethanol/biodiesel stored in your gas tank for long periods of time. "If you use ethanol (E85) in place of gasoline on a car that gets 100+miles per gallon, you are effectively getting roughly 500+MPG of gasoline."

"For those who say that don't get excited by any of this in the short term - they need to look at the possible mutually reinforcing effect of using renewable fuels and plug-in hybrids... If instead of spending $1 Trillion on hydrogen infrastructure we spend $50 per new car to make it flexible-fuel compatible with ethanol we have, I think, we have some exciting possibilities before us and not too far in the future."

technorati , , , , , , ,

December 5, 2006

Sugar Fermentation's Achilles Heel - Water

From the "Land of 10,000 Lakes" comes a cautionary report that points to an issue that will impact the explosive growth of ethanol production in the Midwest and other parts of the country. While most observers worry about soil depletion, the food vs. energy dilemma, and energy return on investment, relatively little concern has been given to the demand for water required by sugar fermentation and enzymatic hydrolysis processes in the production of ethanol. By comparison, thermal conversion processes consume very little water because they use heat to break down the molecular bonds of the feedstock.

For states like California, water could be a deal-breaker for many proposed sites unless they could mitigate their use of water.

The Institute for Minnesota-based Agriculture and Trade Policy issued a report this October that spotlights the national lack of consideration of water usage by regulatory agencies. Below are some excerpts:

Water Use by Ethanol Plants

There are no publicly available records on water use by ethanol plants for the U.S. In a review of ethanol states, only the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources apparently has records on water use by specific plants in reference to the amount of ethanol produced. Minnesota ethanol plants report a wide range of water use, with most plants in a range from 3.5 to 6.0 gallons of water consumed per gallon of ethanol produced. Average water use has declined from 5.8:1 in 1998 to 4.2:1 in 2005, indicating that the plants are achieving greater efficiency over time.

The state of Iowa prepared a water plan in 1996. The total water use for industrial purposes was estimated to be about 108 billion gallons per year (bgy), and the report projected water use by 2015 of 120 bgy. Currently Iowa has 2,094 million gallons per year of ethanol capacity (in operation and under construction). Using the multiplier of 4 gallons water/gallon of ethanol gives 8,376 million gallons per year, or about 7 percent of the projected water use. There is the likelihood of a doubling of Iowa’s ethanol capacity by 2012, thus the potential industrial use could be up to 14 percent of the projected use. This does not necessarily indicate that state-wide water available for ethanol is in short supply, but it does show that ethanol plants will add significantly to Iowa’s industrial water use.

Midwest agriculture is built on the region’s incredible soil and water resources. Economic development is only sustainable if it strengthens, rather than depletes, these resources. Options for reducing ethanol’s water consumption include the following:
• Maintain and strengthen regulatory oversight by state and local government on the siting of ethanol plants, with special emphasis on the water supply and availability.
• Where feasible, site plants adjacent to municipal wastewater facilities.
• Look for water recycling opportunities with livestock facilities.
• Place a greater economic value on water.
• Maintain publicly available records on ethanol’s water consumption.

technorati , , , , , , ,

December 3, 2006

BIOpact: December 2006 Digest

Biopact Blog writes many stories that are relevant to the study of BIOstock, BIOconversion, and BIOoutput.

The final week of the year, BIOpact has written a Looking back on 2006 series of articles summarizing worldwide factors affecting development in the biomass conversion industry by geographic zone:
Looking back on 2006
The year in review: Asia
The year in review: Africa
The year in review: Latin America

Rather than summarize and reprint excerpts from this excellent source of information, a breakdown of each month's most relevant titles is provided in one updated article...

Japanese company to produce ethanol from oil palm waste
Eight countries create sugarcane bioproducts
Blood protein used to split water into O2 and H2?
European forestry company (UPM) to become biofuels producer
Transgenic switchgrass to double biomass yield
Senegalese government to distribute 250 million jatropha plants
Plant a tree and save the planet? Let's think again.
We are all Sun worshippers
Soil nutrition affects carbon sequestration in forests
From black cloud to green gold: turning Egypt's rice residues into energy
China restricts expansion of grain based biofuels, switches to biomass and alternative crops
Investments in renewables top $100 billion in 2006

Europe and Brazil produce ethanol in Africa
Biofuels industry creates jobs
CHINA: Ethanol preferred over methanol
European regions commit to energy savings, renewables: energy action on the ground
FAO adapts World Agriculture report to reflect effects of emerging biofuels industry
A quick look at nanotechnology in agriculture, food and bioenergy
Solid biomass production for energy in EU increases markedly
Ethanol boosts farmland prices in the US

Sugar cane has "enormous potential for green chemistry"
INDONESIA: Electricity from pure plant oil
Problems with undersea CO2 sequestration?
Biofuels or Hydrogen - which fuels are more promising?
Plastics are "poisoning the world's seas"
The bioeconomy at work: flexible bioplastics
Why electric cars and plug-in hybrids mean a boost to bioenergy
The bioeconomy at work: bioplastic fuel lines to handle aggressive biodiesel
The bioeconomy at work: France's BioHub project
The bioeconomy at work: UK finances development of biodegradable plastics for car components

November 29, 2006

November 2006 Digest

Broadening the Scope - Focusing on Potential

The BIOconversion Blog - while keeping an eye on biofuel and biomass conversion technologies, facility deployments, and international issues - welcomes two new siblings! The BIOstock Blog covers biomass feedstock questions - what feedstocks are being used, how they are being transported, and what pre-processing technologies are being developed. The BIOoutput Blog focuses on the output of biomass conversion technologies - emissions, biofuels, electricity, green chemicals - and new uses for them.

The Digest will list the titles from all of them so don't worry about receiving 3 digests per month (whew!). However, those who use newsfeed software should link to all three because, in general, the articles will not be duplicated between sites. Here are this month's articles:

General Topics--------------
Forest Industry: Bio-Solutions to Climate Change
Harvesting Green Power
Forests: Carbon S(t)inks?
Investor's Roundup of Leading Cellulosic Ethanol Companies
Expanded Recycling - a Key to Cutting Fossil Fuels and Global Warming
Cellulosic Ethanol RD&D - Mascoma Corp. Raises $30 Million
The Social Costs of the Status Quo
U.S. D.O.E.: 5-year Plan for Biomass Conversion
Renaissance of the Forest Products Industry
Cellulosic Ethanol – Snake Oil for the new millennium?
Upgrading Existing Plants for Biomass Conversion
BIOplastics: BIOdegradable by-products of BIOconversion
Colusa Completes Successful Rice Straw Harvest
Cellulosic Ethanol from Woody Biomass
Green Chemistry from Sugar Cane

Around the Nation--------------
California Energy Commission PIER Grants for Biofuels RD&D
CALIFORNIA: Cities favoring Gasification over Combustion
CALIFORNIA: Enforcing Greenhouse Gas Emissions Limits

Around the World-----------------
BIOstock of the Southern Hemisphere
Impact of Global Growth on Carbon Emissions

Please forward a link to this digest to anyone you know who would be interested in keeping track of change that will affect us all. They can add their name to the mailing list on the BioConversion Blog.

technorati , , , , , ,

November 25, 2006

BIOplastics: BIOdegradable by-products of BIOconversion

Biomass conversion can be used to produce biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel, isolate hydrogen, generate electricity, and produce charcoal. But just as the growth of the oil industry led to the rapid development of the petroleum-based plastics industry, a huge industry in BIOplastics is expected to be developed from the by-products of biomass conversion. These products are especially attractive because of their ability to sequester carbon and biodegrade as soil nutrients.

Europe is leading in this field. With few landfills and high population density, the motivation to produce new products from biorefinery output is strong. At a recent European Bioplastics Conference in Brussels last week, Heinz Zourek, Director-General of DG Enterprise and Industry of the European Commission, emphasized the significance of bioplastics for sustainable development.

"Bioplastics contribute to climate protection, save fossil resources and create jobs in future-oriented sectors", stated Zourek. "We hope that bioplastics can increase their market share in Europe". Biobased and biodegradable plastics are among the most promising lead markets for innovations in Europe.

You can read more about the emerging field of bioplastics by reading my BIOoutput review of the Biopact story on the European Bioplastics Conference.

technorati , , , , , , , ,

November 23, 2006

BIOstock of the Southern Hemisphere

Biopact is a developing consortium based in Brussels that is focused on the cultivation of biomass feedstocks and development of biorefineries in the Southern Hemisphere (mainly Africa). Their thesis is that environmental conditions exist in southern continents that are ideal for the cultivation of energy-rich feedstock for biorefineries. By harnessing this geographical advantage, developing nations there can build export industries while supplying local biofuel alternatives to increasingly expensive fossil fuels.

Two recent articles posted at Biopact's blog present their "Biofuels Manifesto" and provide a stinging comparison of Northern vs. Southern hemisphere biomass feedstock by an American professor familiar with policymaking in Washington, D.C.

To read more about this subject , visit the extended version of this article at BIOstock Blog.

technorati , , , , , ,

November 22, 2006

Upgrading Existing Plants for Biomass Conversion

We are beginning to see the "low hanging fruit" being plucked as aggressive ethanol development companies are buying installations and upgrading them into cellulosic ethanol plants. Just this last week two companies have made purchases in two different biostock arenas - agricultural corn waste and forestry wood chips. The companies have bought the plants for their existing procurement infrastructure, permitting, manpower, and proximity to their research facilities.

In the first case, Broin Companies of Sioux Falls, South Dakota has bought a corn dry mill in northwest Iowa to reconfigure it into a commercial-scale facility capable of converting corn fiber and stover into ethanol. They will be using Broin's patented fractionalization process to break down the fibers and then ferment the resulting starch into ethanol using their own hydrolysis process.

In the second case, controversial Xethanol Corp. has purchased a fiberboard factory that is close to their R&D facility at Virginia Tech to deploy a biorefinery that can convert wood chips into ethanol. This is exactly the kind of plant makeover anticipated by the Forest Products Industry Technology Roadmap study. Expect to see more.

Here are excerpts form their respective press releases...

Broin Companies to Expand Voyager Ethanol in Emmetsburg, Iowa, to Include Cellulose to Ethanol Commercial Production

Broin Companies, the nation's largest dry mill ethanol producer, announced today its plans to build a cellulose to ethanol production facility in the state of Iowa with a completion date expected in 2009.

Voyager Ethanol, located in Emmetsburg, Iowa, will be converted from a 50 million gallon per year (MGPY) conventional corn dry mill facility into a 125 million gallon per year commercial scale bio-refinery designed to utilize advanced corn fractionation and lignocellulosic conversion technologies to produce ethanol from corn fiber and corn stover. Broin Companies has applied for matching grant funds through the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to assist with the project.

Known as Project LIBERTY, the expansion will utilize an existing infrastructure with projected costs for the project at just over $200 million dollars. Pilot research for this project has been conducted and the expansion is slated to begin in February with a commercial production timeline set approximately 30 months later. Project LIBERTY, which stands for Launch of an Integrated Bio-refinery with Eco-sustainable and Renewable Technologies in Y2009, will create commercialization results that include 11 percent more ethanol from a bushel of corn and 27 percent more ethanol from an acre of corn while using 83 percent less energy needed to operate a corn-to-ethanol plant.

Technology efforts for Project LIBERTY began several years ago and escalated when Broin and the DOE jointly funded a five-year research initiative to develop and improve dry mill fractionation with the assistance of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and South Dakota State University. The project provided for the commercialization of Broin's fractionation technology, or "BFrac(TM)", which together with Broin's raw starch hydrolysis process (BPX(TM)), creates the foundation for biorefining in the future. The results of BFrac(TM) include producing higher ethanol yields, but more importantly it creates additional value-added products and streams- including the intended use of fiber in the production of cellulose to ethanol.

Xethanol Completes Acquisition of North Carolina Plant

Xethanol Corporation (AMEX: XNL) , a biotechnology driven ethanol company, today announced that it has completed the acquisition of a former medium-density fiberboard factory located in Spring Hope, North Carolina from Carolina Fiberboard Corporation LLC.

"We are very excited by the closing of this transaction as it represents a further milestone in our planned expansion on the east coast," said David Ames, President and CEO of Xethanol. "This acquisition provides Xethanol the opportunity to save both time and money as we seek to achieve our ethanol production goals and also furthers our technology development. We plan to re-open the facility in 2007 as a pilot plant to demonstrate the technical feasibility and economic viability of using wood chips as a cellulosic feedstock. North Carolina has an excellent scientific community to work with, is close to our existing R&D facility at Virginia Tech and provides an abundant supply of hardwood feedstock with which to carry out development work in the cellulosic arena," Ames explained.

technorati , , , , , , ,

CALIFORNIA: Cities favoring Gasification over Combustion

Under pressure from key state politicians and environmental groups, the Southern California city of Burbank has abruptly postponed plans to renew a lucrative electricity contract with Utah-based Intermountain Power Agency (IPA). By doing so, Burbank has joined the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power in rejecting out of state power contracts with vendors who contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions.

Six of the SoCal's largest cities depend on Intermountain for half to two-thirds of their electricity. In spite of that, many if not all may follow L.A. and Burbank's example. It is obvious that Californian utilities and politicians are starting to factor in the political and social costs of coal-fired energy.

The move to extend the contracts was prompted by new state legislation (SB 1368) that would prohibit cities from entering long-term contracts with energy vendors within or outside the state that do not meet the California Energy Commission (CEC) greenhouse gas emissions standards. Extending the contracts now would grandfather their terms.

It should be noted that the cities have been paying billions in long-term costs for construction of the out-of-state coal plants operated by IPA. Unless they extend the contracts they would lose the right to much cheaper power after those costs were paid off in 2027 and their contracts expired.

Annual CO2 emissions at the IPA plants total more than 16 million tons, according to an analysis by the conservation group Environmental Defense. Should IPA effect changes to their coal-fire process to meet the CEC standards, the cities could renew the contracts. However, this is not likely to happen without substantial upgrading to the IPA facilities.

According to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times titled "More cities reject coal-fired power":

Intermountain's General Manager Reed Searle said the Utah agency worked for three years on the renewals and now was looking at ways to modernize its plants to bring them into compliance with California's greenhouse-gas legislation, including burning biomass — which includes fast-growing trees and plants as well as waste products — instead of coal, or possible burial of carbon dioxide. He warned that such measures "will be costly" to consumers. Biomass conversion would cost about $300 million, he said, and carbon capture and sequestration technologies would cost billions.

"We can't just blanket 100 miles of the desert with solar panels. And besides, solar doesn't work at night," said David Wright, general manager of Riverside Public Utilities. He and Burbank officials said they were most interested in integrated gasification combined cycle power, which creates cleaner gas and steam power from coal and could allow CO2 to be separated and buried.

technorati , , , , , , , ,

November 21, 2006

Cellulosic Ethanol – Snake Oil for the new millennium?

One of my favorite chemical engineers is Robert Rapier who writes the ever entertaining R-Squared Energy Blog.

He recently wrote an article entitled Cellulosic Ethanol Reality Check which is a critique on the hype surrounding "cellulosic ethanol" (CE). In the article he runs calculations on the volume of biomass necessary to support a CE plant and the farming acreage needed to supply that quantity. Although he is all for extending research for CE, he still feels it is being oversold by many investment-hungry entrepreneurs.

The bottom line is that it is going to take enormous swaths of land to supply these cellulosic ethanol plants, and it is questionable whether a farmed source of biomass can be counted on to run the facilities. Better to locate cellulosic ethanol facilities close to a massive source of waste biomass – say a very large municipal dump in which paper is sorted out, a paper mill, or some other consistent source of large volume biomass. If you then use the unconverted waste biomass for process heat, you could end up with a workable process.

I certainly don't advocate giving up on cellulosic ethanol, but we do need to approach this with a realistic and sober outlook. Men once desired to turn lead into gold. That was ultimately a futile quest (unless you want to try something like a nuclear reaction), but with cellulosic ethanol there is much more at stake. My impression is that many people in our government are basing energy policy decisions on the presumption that cellulosic ethanol is a done deal. My advice would be to have several backup plans.

Below is my extended response...

Cellulosic Ethanol – Snake Oil for the new millennium?

I am a big believer that RD&D in cellulosic ethanol will reap big rewards for society. But while enzymatic hydrolysis may help squeeze out some return from agricultural waste, I am not confident that it justifies the full frontal RD&D that the D.O.E. seems to be endorsing.

The best feedstock for cellulosic ethanol is waste, which can be converted into biofuels using gasification and syngas fermentation. We are not talking about growing anything here or using any extra acreage. We are talking about converting agricultural, industrial, forest, and urban blight into cleaner air, cleaner lands, and cleaner fuels. In short, we are talking about extending recycling on a mass scale.

In L.A. we (the utilities including the LA/Department of Public Works and the LA Co. Department of Sanitation) are working on diverting landfill garbage to biorefineries - not just because of the electricity and biofuels we can generate but because we have a "Peak Landfill" problem. It's a much cleaner solution than waste-to-rail - shipping unrecyclables on 3-mile long trains each day 200 miles to the desert.

I just wrote an article about the forestry products industry call for using similar biorefineries to convert paper and pulp mill waste into electricity and biofuels using gasification. No extra trees needed - just blight to reprocess and fire-prone, diseased trees to convert. And the industry recognizes that the time is ripe because all their combustion boilers are hitting the end of their lifecycles.

We need to have a new industrial revolution focused on replacing combustion with gasification so that we can control carbon emissions. Syngas fermentation will help sequester the carbon in biofuels, green chemicals, and other new products.

I believe that the solution to the biofuels issue, and renewable energy in general, is going to be very gradual and decentralized.

Ethanol will not solve every problem. But it is a near universal fuel extender for internal combustion engines - and gradual infrastructural change is what we need right now (unless we are prepared for nuclear reactors and all-electric cars).

Ag is great for producing energy feedstock but it requires alot of input energy in the form of fertilizer, harvesting, and transport. Ag, forestry, and urban waste "harvests" are much more predictable, much more decentralized, and requires no excess cultivation.

I wish people would look more closely at waste as a cheap feedstock (some even say it is negative cost feedstock). It is the existing residual to our very wasteful industrial and waste management infrastructures. Not even the D.O.E. looks at it seriously enough and it is a WIN-WIN-WIN solution resource. Even if the net energy was zero, at least we would mitigate the waste disposal problem.

Carting wood to centralized biorefineries is not the low hanging fruit of biomass conversion. Instead, pulp and paper mills will very probably replace their boilers with gasification units and process their existing pre- and post-processing waste on site. This will extend their existing practice of producing much of their own energy while providing them with additional income opportunity. See Renaissance of the Forest Products Industry.

Same with municipal solid waste (MSW). Biorefineries will process the waste at the sorting centers where, at least in the L.A. plan, there is plenty of extra facilities space. This will save 2/3 of the diesel used to send the residual to landfills - and save 3/4 of the need for the landfill. See Expanded Recycling.

Since gasification allows for blended feedstock, new decentralized biorefineries will have great flexibility to respond to resource changes. For instance, wood-based or bagasse-based biorefineries in the Southeast could, in my scenario, respond to Katrina-type catastrophes by processing the excess C&D waste of the destruction. This would save the region the multiple blights of the destruction while creating jobs, reducing disease, and resupplying some of the lost energy.

It may sound like "snake oil" - but it's the best liquid fuel alternative we've yet to fully explore.

technorati , , , , , , , ,

November 18, 2006

Renaissance of the Forest Products Industry

Often maligned as a exploiter of America's forests, the Forest Products Industry (FPI) may be "behind the times" in some contexts, but it has great potential for leading the paradigm shift to renewable energy (both electricity and biofuels), reducing greenhouse gases, upgrading the nation's workforce, reducing dependence on fossil fuels, and suppressing the spread of tree diseases and forest fires due in part to global warming.

Recently released is the Forest Products Industry Technology Roadmap which provides a framework for reinventing and reinvigorating the industry through technological innovations in processes, materials, and markets. The 2006 update of the publication captures the Agenda 2020 Technology Alliance* vision and translates it into a set of focus areas and R&D priorities for each Agenda 2020 technology platform. The Roadmap provides a summary of priority technical challenges and research needs of the U.S. forest products industry, and highlights opportunities for partnerships with researchers and funding organizations.

Seven Technology Platforms Provide Focus for RD&D
1. Advancing the Forest “Bio-Refinery”
2. Sustainable Forest Productivity
3. Breakthrough Manufacturing Technologies
4. Advancing the Wood Products Revolution
5. Next Generation Fiber Recovery and Utilization
6. Positively Impacting the Environment
7. Technologically Advanced Workforce

As the publication states, the inescapable truth is that "America is the world’s largest producer and consumer of forest products. The industry is a vital contributor to the domestic economy, particularly in rural areas where many pulp and paper mills are located. In 2004, U.S. paper and wood products companies posted annual sales of close to $260 billion and employed almost one million Americans. Despite decades as a global leader, the industry is increasingly challenged by international competitors, who in some cases enjoy economic advantages in wood, labor, and environmental costs. Other competitive pressures include the growing use of electronic communication and advertising, product substitution, an aging process infrastructure, few technology breakthroughs, and scarcity of capital for new investments."

The time for a technological renaissance is now. Not only is demand for change the greatest that it has ever been, but also the "aging process infrastructure" of the industry is reaching the end of its lifecycle. Due to be replaced are Tomlinson boilers and other biomass- or fossil fuel-based boilers that are used for energy production and chemical recovery.

The FPI is calling for new investment in what it calls "Forest Biorefineries." Utilizing emerging technologies, these "optimized forest biorefineries would produce new streams of biomass-derived, high-value chemicals, fuels, and electric power while continuing to meet the growing demand for traditional wood, pulp, and paper products. This evolution could more than double economic returns on the industry’s manufacturing assets, create a significant U.S. manufacturing base for renewable transportation fuels, and help meet the nation’s need for clean, diverse, domestic energy supplies."

In addition to fulfilling functions such as providing combined process heat and power and/or recovering the pulping chemicals for re-use, the gasifiers would produce syngas, consisting largely of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Depending on the economics of the situation, the syngas could then be burned in gas turbines to produce steam and power, used as a replacement for fossil fuels (such as natural gas in a lime kiln or fuel oil in a power boiler), or converted into transportation fuels, including Fischer-Tropsch liquid fuels or pure hydrogen.

*The Agenda 2020 Technology Alliance is an industry-led partnership with government and academia that holds the promise of reinventing the forest products industry through innovation in processes, materials and markets. Initiated in 1994 in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to improve energy efficiency in the industry's manufacturing processes, Agenda 2020 is now organized as a membership alliance to accelerate research, demonstration and deployment of breakthrough technologies.

technorati , , , , , , ,

November 15, 2006

U.S. D.O.E.: 5-year Plan for Biomass Conversion

The U.S. Department of Energy has embarked on a long-term, systematic program to convert biomass into fuels, chemicals, materials and power. Earlier this year the D.O.E. Biomass Program released their 2007-2012 plan for orchestrating the development of feedstock infrastructure, sugar research, thermochemical conversion, products development, and integrated biorefineries. The full document is a crystal ball of business opportunities for venture capitalists, utilities, municipalities, research institutions, and compatible businesses.

What's missing is any reference to "urban" waste (unrecyclable municipal solid waste) as feedstock which is estimated to be 40 million tons per year in California alone and which, unlike other feedstock, is a mounting social liability in urgent need of diversion.

U.S. Department of Energy: Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Biomass Program

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Biomass Program develops technology for conversion of biomass (plant-derived material) to valuable fuels, chemicals, materials and power, so as to reduce dependence on foreign oil and foster growth of biorefineries. Biomass is one of our most important energy resources. The largest U.S. renewable energy source every year since 2000, it also provides the only renewable alternative for liquid transportation fuel. Biomass use strengthens rural economies, decreases America's dependence on imported oil, avoids use of MTBE or other highly toxic fuel additives, reduces air and water pollution, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Today's biomass uses include ethanol, biodiesel, biomass power, and industrial process energy.

Tomorrow, biorefineries will use advanced technology such as hydrolysis of cellulosic biomass to sugars and lignin and thermochemical conversion of biomass to synthesis gas for fermentation and catalysis of these platform chemicals to produce slates of biopolymers and fuels. To expand the role of biomass in America's future, the DOE Office of the Biomass Program fosters biomass technologies with a balanced portfolio of research and development. While there are various other technologies for biomass conversion, the following graphic shows those that the Biomass Program is concentrating on, as outlined in its Multi-Year Program Plan.

Here are some excerpts from the plan:

U.S. D.O.E. Biomass Multi-Year Program Plan

2.1.1 Biomass Program Technology Elements
The Biomass Program is structured around five R&D technology elements. The first four elements focus on core research and development (R&D) that emphasizes enabling technology for biorefineries. The fifth element focuses on integrating these core technologies into specific commercial biorefinery scenarios, or pathways.
Feedstock Interface Core R&D. Focused on developing new sustainable agricultural and feedstock infrastructure technologies and methods that will be required to supply lignocellulosic feedstocks to future large-scale biorefineries.
Sugars Core R&D. Focused on fundamental and applied research and technology development for producing low-cost sugars from lignocellulosic biomass.
Thermochemical Conversion Core R&D. Focused on developing cost-effective, efficient thermochemical technologies for producing intermediate products (e.g., syngas, pyrolysis oil) from lignocellulosic biomass and biomass-derived biorefinery residues.
Products Core R&D. Focused on converting low-cost sugars and thermochemical platform intermediates into fuels, chemicals, and heat and power.
Integrated Biorefineries. Focused on demonstrating and validating the integration of the technologies and systems developed in the four Core R&D platforms in commercial-scale biorefineries.

Biomass Resource Potential

This full resource potential could be available by mid-21st century when commercial-scale biorefineries are likely to exist. This annual potential is based on a more than seven-fold increase in production from the amount of biomass currently consumed for bioenergy and bio-based products. The existing feedstock supply infrastructure—harvesting, collecting, storing, preprocessing, and transporting—will need to be expanded significantly (>3.5 times today’s corn industry) to accommodate this large increase in biomass production.

The Feedstock Platform and Feedstock–Sugars Interface
The Feedstock Platform and Feedstock–Sugars Interface R&D focus on developing the new technology and methods necessary to produce and supply over one billion tons of biomass feedstock per year in a sustainable manner at $35/dry ton or less. This will require working closely with USDA, growers, feedstock equipment manufacturers, and processors to bring about the necessary changes in the agricultural and forestry systems and to form the integrated partnerships needed to supply fully-operational biorefineries.

Thermochemical Conversion
Thermochemical conversion provides an effective approach for producing fuels and products from a wide variety of biomass feedstocks, because it can readily convert all components of whole biomass, including lignin (a residue of fermentation process) and spent pulping liquors, to intermediate building blocks. Conversion of the lignin (typically 20%-30% of the biomass) to products is essential to achieve high efficiencies and added value in the biorefinery. Unlike the sugar fermentation processes, thermal processes are "omnivorous" in this regard and can convert all biomass feedstocks or residues to gas or liquid intermediates. In addition, in cases where there is low water availability, high lignin content, degradation during harvest, or diffusely distributed resource, which is a significant fraction of the available biomass resource; thermochemical conversion can provide a means to access the entire energy content of the 1.3 billion ton/year biomass resource.

technorati , , , , , , ,