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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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November 14, 2006

The Social Costs of the Status Quo

Joel Makower, an excellent green business writer and lecturer, recently wrote an article titled A Stern Warning on Climate (and a Word about Wedges). Here are some expanded comments that I have made to his article...

When it comes to building new energy infrastructure there are costs and then there are social costs. For instance, TXU plans to build 11 coal-fired plants for Texas because they cost less than cleaner coal gasification plants. However, the social costs of coal combustion, even today's advanced technology versions, are incalculable if they increase ghg emissions, dependence on fossil fuels, and centralization of energy production.

What's interesting about the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change is that it focuses attention on social consequences that will arise if we ignore social costs. California, with its groundbreaking Global Warming Solutions Act, is starting to place caps and monetary value on carbon emissions through a carbon credit system. That will generate investment capital for new, more expensive but more socially responsible technologies to be deployed that may very well save us from some of the consequences of global warming.

Improving infrastructure stimulates the economy rather than depresses it - the inverse is also true. California voters just passed a staggering array of infrastructure bond measures because they understand the social costs of decaying infrastructure.

Clean conversion technologies are emerging that can reduce waste while producing biofuels and generating green electricity without further fouling the air, water, or land. Putting the brakes on emerging technology deployments by using environmental fear-mongering to suppress necessary regulatory reform could mire us in the status quo when we can least afford it.

Militant idealists of the environmental movement are going to have to suspend their cynicism about technology for us to achieve the goals listed in the Science Magazine article Stabilization Wedges: Solving the Climate Problem for the Next 50 Years with Current Technologies:
• Double the fuel economy of 2 billion cars worldwide from 30 mpg to 60 mpg
• Cut electricity use in all homes, offices, and stores by 25 percent
• Replace 1,400 large coal-fired power plants with gas-fired plants
• Increase solar power 700-fold to displace coal
• Increase wind power 80-fold to produce hydrogen for cars
• Add 100 times the current production of ethanol

The status quo dependence on raw combustion and centralized production is the enemy - not the emerging technologies, municipalities, utilities, or venture capitalists who take the investment risk to reduce the social costs of old technologies and outdated regulations.

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November 13, 2006

Cellulosic Ethanol RD&D - Mascoma Corp. Raises $30 Million

Cellulosic ethanol investment is upon us.

While gasoline and ethanol prices have substantially retreated from this summer's highs, it is clear to investors that the longterm future of cellulosic ethanol is secure. There is still a war going on, great insecurity over supplies of oil, and mounting demand for new technologies that will stem the growth of greenhouse gases.

Following the spiking inflow of money for corn sugar fermentation facilities that has dominated ethanol investment so far, this second phase will center on cellulosic feedstock conversion and could be quite substantial. Since the feedstock (agricultural and forestry waste) is cheaper than corn and can be procured from a broader geographic range of sources, research-oriented companies are competing to establish an unshakeable grasp on licenses, feedstock contracts, buyer commitment, and sources of investment.

One of the emerging biofuel technologies is "enzymatic hydrolysis" which exploits the use of enzymes to break down cellulosic feedstock into a glutinous syrup that can be fermented into ethanol. A pioneer institution of this process is Dartmouth College whose Thayer School of Engineering has been working on breakthrough enzymes and bioprocess technologies for decades. Through an exclusive license with Dartmouth, a company based in Cambridge, Mass called Mascoma Corp. has access to the research results.

I recently talked to Colin South, President of Mascoma, which has just announced their success at raising $30 Million to continue R&D and build new demonstration facilities as they develop plans for commercial deployment.

“We are entering a new and exciting phase,” said Mascoma President and Director Dr. Colin South. “With this second round of funding completed, we are focused on further developing our production technologies and processes to make fuel ethanol from cellulose a practical and sustainable reality for consumers.”

According to their website Mascoma is working on:
• Bioengineering of the ethanol-producing microbes to reduce the number of steps in the conversion process
• Developing and deploying cellulosic ethanol conversion systems tuned for appropriate processes for different feedstocks
• Partnerships on enzyme and pretreatment technologies
• Partnerships to develop and operate ethanol plants across various sites and feedstocks
• Continually improving ethanol production processes and rapidly scaling-up unique technologies, process improvements, and cost reductions

The financing was led by General Catalyst Partners, with additional participation from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Vantage Point Venture Partners, Atlas Venture, and Pinnacle Ventures, as well as existing investors Khosla Ventures and Flagship Ventures.

You can read the full text of their press release by visiting:Mascoma Corporation Raises $30 Million in Series B Funding Led By General Catalyst Partners

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November 11, 2006

Expanded Recycling - a Key to Cutting Fossil Fuels and Global Warming

What is "expanded recycling?"

To governmental agencies and utilities "expanded recycling" means changing regulations so we can move more trash from the black bin into the blue bin... or making more pre-sorted pickups available from multi-family dwellings (apartment buildings and condos). Some (Californian's Against Wastes and other environmental groups) see it as reducing the source of waste - reducing packaging while manufacturing products out of more biodegradable and recyclable materials. To them it also means holding manufacturers accountable for recovering their spent products and reusing their components. Certainly "expanded recycling" is all of these.

But to a growing legion of waste management professionals expanded recycling can also be achieved through biomass conversion technologies (CTs). According to their preferred waste management hierarchy, after the source of waste has been reduced and reused, and as much of the trash has been recycled and composted as possible, the bulk of the residual should be recycled molecularly using clean conversion technologies.

How big is this mountain of residuals? In spite of our best efforts at recycling, it is as big as it was when recycling started back decades ago - roughly 40 million tons per year in California. Why?... because of population growth and expanded consumption of packaged goods. Since most of these goods are imports, reducing or redesigning the source of waste is an unreal expectation without draconian change in consumer behavior and trade regulations.

Isn't halting growth good enough? No - because the only "ultimate" solution now is landfills and they are filling up fast. Los Angeles Co. Department of Sanitations' gargantuan landfill in Puente Hills (13,200 tons per day or approximately 65% of their responsibility) will run out of room within seven years. Their backup site is 200 miles away. That means using a new expensive "waste-by-rail" train system to ship the residuals to the desert. That will require the equivalent of a 3-mile long train each day!

So time is running out. Currently under evaluation for deployment of a new CT facility by the Los Angeles Department of Public Works are a number of suppliers - one supplier using anaerobic digestion, two using waste-to-fuel technology, and six using thermal technology. Using various clean biological and thermal processes they seek to recycle as much as 85% of the residual waste volume by converting it into its molecular components and reforming them into synthesis gas, sugars and oils, low sulfer diesel, and "green" chemicals.

The synthesis gas (primarily CO and H2) could be combusted - but a cleaner more cost-effective alternative would be to ferment it into ethanol or reap the hydrogen - the cleaner air renewable fuel alternatives for ending gasoline dependence. The thermal technologies would also provide a clean alternative source of steam for co-generating electricity.

What relevance is "expanded recycling" to global warming and California's AB32? Landfills reek methane (21 times more toxic than C02 as a greenhouse gas) and although modern landfills capture much of this gas, they have been identified as one of the principal targets of the carbon cap legislation. Other major targets are electrical power plants, oil refineries, and utilities. By using conversion technologies, positive emissions impacts can be made on all of these - fewer fossil fuel burning power plants; less dependence on high-polluting oil and oil refining process; more reliance on cleaner fuel vehicles and hybrids; fewer landfills and cleaner wastewater and solid waste disposal. A side benefit - the use of noisy, polluting trucks and trains to haul trash from sorting centers to landfills will be cut by an estimated 60%.

The utilities - mostly LA/Department of Public Works and LA/Department of Sanitation - need public understanding and support for their efforts to permit and deploy conversion technologies. These people are heroes in my book because in an age of increasing media exploited cynicism they are in the background valiantly solving problems. Warrantless legal battles with local communities and idealists puts a counter-productive strain on problem-solving. These problems are real and their social costs are mounting.

The status quo is the real enemy. We, the public and its media, need to support "our soldiers" on the front line - the utilities.

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November 8, 2006

Investor's Roundup of Leading Cellulosic Ethanol Companies

Here's a website I have just found that joins Konrad Imielinski's GoG2G: Converting Green to Green blog for those interested in investing in Cellulosic Ethanol start-ups.

A company called "Vandershield Research" has titled their website Cellulose Ethanol Headquarters. Its mission: "To promote the environment and investor wealth by promoting cellulosic ethanol."

Making money and saving the environment are not mutually exclusive. The knowledgeable investor can become rich and feel good about it by investing in cellulosic ethanol. The more you know about cellulosic ethanol, the more money you'll make and the better you'll feel about the environment. This site is designed to give investors information to help make wise choices.
-Victor Vandershield

They have saved me the trouble of producing a list of many of the leading cellulosic ethanol companies, along with their stock symbol links for easy investment research:

Abengoa ABGOF Constructing the world's first commercial scale cellulosic ethanol biorefinery in Babilafuente (Salamanca), Spain. Commissioning is expected to start by the end of 2006. In 2006 Q4, a partnership was announced with Dyadic.
Archer Daniels Midland ADM is agressively studying how to produce cellulosic ethanol out of parts of the corn kernal that are traditionally not used for ethanol.
Bioengineering Resources Inc. (BRI) Developed a process that uses gasification, fermentation and distillation to produce ethanol and electricity from a wide array of carbon-based wastes.
BlueFire BFRE Plans to use the Arkenol Technology Process (which has been used in Izumi, Japan since 2002) for creating cellulosic ethanol.
Broin The largest dry mill ethanol producers in the US, The Broin Companies are collaborating with Novozymes in the research and development of cellulosic ethanol technology.
Celunol Purchased a biomass-to-ethanol system from SunOpta which is scheduled to be in production in Jennings, LA by the spring of 2007.
Ceres Privately-held plant biotech company utilizing genomics technologies to develop energy crops, such as switchgrass, for cellulosic ethanol.
Diversa DVS Partnering with Dupont and researching multiple enzyme "cocktails" to break down cellulosic biomass. Also looking for enzymes in the guts of termites in an attempt to capitalize on the insect's ability to convert wood to energy.
DuPont Developing cellulose ethanol technology and planning a demonstration plant.
Dyadic DIL Spent over a decade of R&D in the design and development of enzymes for the increasingly efficient extraction of sugars from biomass. In 2006 Q4, a partnership was announced with Abengoa.
Genahol Has plans to open cellulose ethanol plants in Long Beach, CA, Chandler, AZ, Columbus, OH, and Orville, OH.
Globex GLXI Developing supercritical fluid (SCF) which will be used along with enzymatic hydrolysis for the production of cellulosic ethanol.
Green Star Products Inc. GSPI Developed a waterless continuous flow process reactor system which will be used in upcoming cellulose ethanol plants planned for North Carolina and the Northwest.
Iogen Corp. Operates a demonstration scale facility to convert biomass to cellulose ethanol using enzymatic hydrolysis technology. Full scale commercial facilities are being planned. It is very likely they will annouce plans for an Idaho plant that will make ethanol from wheat straw.
Kergy The Colorado based company, funded by Khosla Ventures, claims it can produce more cellulosic ethanol for a given amount of energy expended than is possible with any other competing process. Just as noteworthy: The design allows them to "bring systems to sources where biomass is most plentiful, instead of having to transport biomass to a central processing site."
Nova Fuels (maker of Novahol) Develops biomass-to-fuel conversion facilities (that use gasification technology) with joint venture partners.
Novozymes NVZMF Developing enzymes that can convert cellulose into simple sugars, for fermentation into fuel ethanol. Has had collaboration/partnerships with Abengoa and Broin.
PureEnergy Developed a two-stage dilute acid hydrolysis technology process which will be used in the forthcoming Green Star Products, Inc projects.
SunOpta STKL Built the first cellulosic ethanol plant 20 years ago, in France. In June 2006, SunOpta said it would build the first cellulosic ethanol plant in China. Recently sold a biomass-to-ethanol system to Celunol in what will likely be the first commercial cellulosic ethanol plant in the United States.
Virgin Fuels In September 2006, Sir Richard Branson pledged an estimated $3 billion to fight global warming. A large chunk of that is expected to be invested in cellulosic ethanol research and production.
Xethanol XNL Recently announced aggressive plans for its new BlueRidgeXethanol company to begin producing cellulose ethanol in Spring Hope, NC by Feb. 2007 using acid hydrolysis. Plans to construct a 50 million gallon per year cellulosic ethanol plant in Augusta, GA which would begin producing ethanol by mid-2007.

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November 6, 2006

Forests: Carbon S(t)inks?

Biopact reports that research on the carbon sequestering capacity of forests is challenging long cherished beliefs that they are 'carbon sinks" that suck more carbon-dioxide out of the atmosphere than they emit. The idea that planting or retaining more trees will automatically compensate for greenhouse gases released elsewhere is apparently a myth.

Still, the net CO2 contribution of forests is far lower than that of simply burning fossil fuels, so planting new energy trees (either as part of a re- or afforestation effort) to use them as bioenergy feedstocks to be used instead of coal, gas or oil, remains a good strategy to tackle climate change.

This means that the real impact of forests on global warming is the risk they pose when consumed in fires - during which they expell huge amounts of carbon, particulate matter, NOx, and SOx into the atmosphere.

For the full story, click the title link below to the Biopact site. Excerpts of their article are below:

Idea that forests are 'carbon sinks" no longer holds

New research now shows that instead of carbon sinks, some forests emit more carbon than they store. Forests can do little to improve the future climate or to lower the atmosphere's carbon levels. What they can do is make global warming worse.

This is the conclusion of a Canadian and American team of forest scientists that went into the woods in northern Manitoba to measure the carbon cycle of a forest ecosystem. They wanted to measure carbon going into and out of a living forest, to learn how effectively the forest was sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and storing it.

The results of this scientific work are congruent with research done in other forest types, most notably in tropical forests where the same observation was found: forests contribute more CO2 to the atmosphere than they store.

The consequences of these scientific results are manifold: forest nations will not be able to enjoy the benefits brought by the United Nations Framework on Convention on Climate Change because forests can no longer be filed as 'carbon sinks'. Re- and afforestation efforts are no longer a certain quick fix to climate change (they do have many other benefits, though), and large fossil fuel burning utilities who now often contribute financially to such efforts to appease their conscience, must rethink their strategies.

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November 5, 2006

California Energy Commission PIER Grants for Biofuels RD&D

This just in from the California Integrated Waste Management Board - pre-proposal workshop November 15, 2006 - proposals due January 4, 2007:

Biofuels Grant Solicitation Release

Local governments may know of individuals, businesses, utilities or research institutions that would be interested in applying for a biofuels renewable energy grant administered by the California Energy Commission. Please forward this information on to any interested parties.

The California Energy Commission's Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) Program supports energy research, development and demonstration (RD&D) projects that will help improve the quality of life in California by bringing environmentally safe, affordable and reliable energy services and products to the marketplace.

The PIER Program annually awards up to $62 million to conduct the most promising public interest energy research by partnering with RD&D organizations including individuals, businesses, utilities, and public or private research institutions. PIER brings new energy services and products to the marketplace and creates state-wide environmental and economic benefits.

The PIER Renewables Program has released a grant solicitation for Biofuels Research Development & Demonstration.

This is a competitive grant solicitation with the intent of accelerating research, development and demonstration of biofuel energy conversion technologies and refineries using lignocellulosic biomass (such as agricultural and forest residues, and urban waste), food waste, beverages, waste grease, purpose-grown or energy crops.

The Program Opportunity Notice, and application documents are posted on the California Energy Commission's website.

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Harvesting Green Power

The November 13th issue of Business Week features a Special Report on the agricultural development of ethanol. It also has an annotated slide show called Farming for Fuels, From Grease to Grass.

The focus of this article is the conversion of agricultural feedstock into biofuels and how it is transforming American agriculture. Renewable "Green Power" is rejuvenating the profits of farming and helping to stem the exodus of many who would otherwise leave for the city. As stated below, emerging greenhouse gas legislation like California's AB 32, provides farmers with a new income opportunity from selling carbon credits as they plant and grow crops and trees that store carbon as they grow.

But this is only part of the impact that "green power" will play in the decades ahead. We will also see the conversion of unrecycled wastes into biofuels, green electricity, and ethanol. Our forests, brownfields, and wildfire tender boxes will need reassessment as both potential sources of greenhouse gases and as carbon "sinks" - safe renewable havens for storing carbon that would otherwise contribute to global warming. We need to spur research and development in our technical institutions for energy, automotive, and architectural retooling. What we learn now will help to provide new answers to energy, global warming, and waste management problems in years to come.

Here are some excerpts from the Business Week article. I recommend reading it in its entirety:

Harvesting Green Power
Business Week, Special Report (November 13, 2006)

Alternative energy, once a cause célèbre for bands of tree huggers, has emerged as a pillar of the nation's strategy for energy independence, economic security, and the battle against global warming. For all the talk of green rooftops on Chicago's skyscrapers and wind farms off the coast of Nantucket, there will be no national transition to "green power" without a widespread conversion of our rural farm economy, with its unparalleled abundance of wind, sunlight, and energy-rich crops.

But this transformation of the farm belt raises a host of concerns. To make even a small dent in imports of oil from the Middle East, an increasing portion of food crops will have to be converted to fuel. That could push up the cost of food on the dinner table. And global warming? Critics of America's budding ethanol economy say that if you factor in all the natural resources needed to cultivate corn and transform it into ethanol, the environmental gains are less than meet the eye.

Pioneers in agricultural biotech say they will soon be able to address some of these worries with better biofuels. But such breakthroughs require heavy investment in research. And given the wild fluctuations in oil prices, which have fallen by more than 20% in the past several months, research funding may not continue at today's heady pace.

If Americans start to buy more energy from the Midwest rather than the Middle East, green energy boosters say it will eventually help stabilize energy prices and shrink oil imports. Over the long term, wind power could grow from less than 1% of the U.S. power supply today to 20%. Ethanol and biodiesel, now around 4% of transportation fuels, could go to 20% or more.

Admittedly these are optimistic projections. Still, in Washington, lawmakers trumpet them as they tout the merits of energy independence. But to farmers, long at the mercy of fickle commodity prices and woefully dependent on government handouts, green mainly means money. Suppose the U.S. were to reduce imports of oil and oil byproducts by 20% and replace that with homegrown biofuels: In the course of one year--assuming prices average about $50 per barrel--farm communities and other biofuel players would reap some $50 billion that, in the past, would have flowed to foreign oil producers.

Still, there are harsh reminders that the fortunes of alternative energy remain tethered to oil prices. At $70 for a barrel of oil, it costs $2.60 to make a gallon of gasoline, vs. around $1.25 for ethanol, estimates Paul Ho, a director at Credit Suisse First Boston's (CSB ) energy group. But the gap shrinks as oil prices fall. Most experts figure that oil would have to duck below $30 for months at a stretch before the economics of ethanol stop making sense. Yet even with oil trading at just $60 and ethanol giant Archer Daniels Midland reporting bumper profits, Wall Street is getting skittish. Ethanol stocks like Aventine Renewable Energy Holdings (AVR ) and VeraSun Energy (VSE ) are 42% and 20% off their initial public offering prices, respectively, while producer Hawkeye Energy has delayed its IPO. "People are forgetting the high energy prices in the summer. It's crazy," says Jacob Golbitz, research director for consulting firm HighQuest Partners.

It helps that alternative-energy markets are propped up by state and federal mandates to push more ethanol into fuel tanks and more green power onto the grid. The new nationwide renewable fuel standard, for example, calls for 7.5 billion gallons of ethanol production by 2012. Most experts think demand will far outpace those government-set levels, driven in part by state requirements for biofuels and the growing consumer preference for cleaner gas.

Farmers have other ways to play in emerging green markets. One is trapping carbon emissions by planting long-lived trees that lock up carbon dioxide as they grow. Many companies believe that, in the near future, the U.S. government will soon start to impose caps on greenhouse gases, following the lead of governments in Europe and Asia. If that happens, a market will emerge enabling companies to buy and sell credits--essentially rights to emit.

While farmers wait for the cellulosic revolution, they're enjoying the spike in commodity prices caused by demand for biofuels. Corn has sold for an average of $2 to $2.50 a bushel since the 1970s. But agrarian economists predict corn prices will hit a new long-term level north of $3. Across a typical year's crop, that's an extra $9billion going to farmers.

That means that Uncle Sam won't have to kick in as much money to support them, since some of the current corn subsidies are based on the price of commodities. "It depends on how high prices go, but subsidies could be cut by $5 billion to $10 billion a year," says professor Christopher Hurt of Purdue University. Still, he admits, some of those savings will be offset by the increasing amount of money the government is spending on biofuel. Today, fuel blenders receive a 51 cents-per-gallon tax credit for ethanol.

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November 4, 2006

Forest Industry: Bio-Solutions to Climate Change

Is there an environmentally safe role for wood industry byproducts and waste to play in providing sustainable bio-solutions to climate change? Can we really live on less paper, pulp, and lumber? Are substitutes likely to be better environmentally - with equal or less impact on carbon sequestration? What is the responsible thing to do with tree trimmings, black liquor, and bark beetle-infested trees?

Does "saving forests" include thinning them to prevent forest fires - a horrific source of toxic carbon emissions and particulate matter (see below)?

These are some of the questions that are being asked at Forestry Industry meetings like the International Seminar on Energy and Forest Products Industry (30-31 October) held in Rome.

The forest products industry is a major consumer of energy, using 6 percent of total industrial energy use in 2003. But the industry also produces energy, as well as other by-products that can be used for energy generation. It is the only sector that already generates approximately 50 percent of its own energy needs, the majority from renewable carbon-neutral biomass. Energy costs, energy supply and climate change are amongst the core issues impacting on the future of the forest products industry.

Wulf Killmann, Director of Forest Products and Economics at Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said that the potential of the forestry industry to help solve energy and climate change needs to be tapped. "Governments have a key role to play in encouraging industries to use cleaner and more efficient energy technologies and in promoting bio-energy."

Here are excerpts from a recent article published by Forest Newswatch:

Can the forest products industry be part of a bio-solution to climate change?
Forest Newswatch (subscription)
Friday, 03 November 2006

The global forest products industry can play a significant role in combating climate change by optimizing the use of raw material, increasing efficiency, producing bio-energy and expanding into bio-refinery products while developing the competitiveness of the sector.

This was the conclusion of the International Seminar on Energy and Forest Products Industry (30-31 October), in which intergovernmental and private sector organisations of the global forest product industry joined forces. Participants stressed that well integrated and carefully balanced energy and forest policies around the globe set the stage for these developments. Governments, industry, institutions and society at large each have a role to play and should work together.

"The forest products industry can be part of the solution for climate change if committed to technological changes and energy efficiency," said Neil Hirst, Director of Energy Technology of the International Energy Agency (IEA). "It has the exceptional ability to become a net supplier of a range of energy products and it could, in combination with carbon capture and storage, become an important actor in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere."

"Wood and paper products are uniquely renewable and recyclable products that help reducing greenhouse gas emissions by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere," said Teresa Presas, Chair of the International Council of Forest and Paper Associations (ICFPA). The industry is committed to innovative energy solutions that meet the challenge of climate change, increase efficiency, reduce reliance on fossil fuel and expand the use of renewable energy sources. The industry believes that fibre from sustainable managed forests makes a positive contribution to the world's future energy supply.

"To achieve this", Presas said, "the industry needs enabling policies that support research and innovation, promote demonstration projects and improve the investment climate, specifically in this sector. Moreover there needs to be a level playing field between energy and non-energy uses of wood, considering that all this has to take place within the boundaries of sustainable forest management."

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) would be glad to see the global forest product industry taking a stronger role in the energy and climate change mitigation field, but also sets some requirements.

"WWF considers that sustainable bioenergy has to be part of the global strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, among other measures aiming to reduce the ecological footprint. Credible certification of bioenergy feedstocks with a focus on social and environmental issues - including greenhouse gas calculations - and land use planning are part of the solution to ensure the sustainability of development", said Duncan Pollard, Director of the WWF Forests for Life Programme.

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