November 30, 2007

Bioenergy's "Top Five" List.

From a speech delivered at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington DC on November 28, 2007.

Besides writing blogs, I am a Communications Director* of the Biomass Coordinating Council (BCC) of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE). ACORE is a Washington-based advocacy association that promotes all renewable energy forms. The BCC, led by the intrepid Bill Holmberg, focuses attention on bioenergy technology, as well as environmental and economic sustainability issues.

America is still the “Can do” leader of the world. It is heartening to travel to recent national and international conferences, expos, and workshops to sense the excitement and see the vision that researchers, government agencies, technologists, and investors are proposing as we face the daunting challenges of the new millennium.

It is time to assess bioenergy’s attributes to see how they fit into the renewable energy paradigm shift sweeping the nation.

We need to help American business, community, educational, state, and federal leaders to understand the opportunities these attributes represent. Doing so will not only raise awareness of bioenergy, but also help persuade policy makers to ACT NOW to support our critically important research, development, and deployment with new policies, loan guarantees, and incentives.

The five key messages are:
1. Bioenergy can convert solar energy into liquid fuel.
2. Bioenergy can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
3. Bioenergy can remediate ecological disasters.
4. Bioenergy can revive depressed economies.
5. Bioenergy can expand energy freedom of choice.

Each message above is linked to article that briefly outlines how bioenergy is able to accomplish these socially beneficial actions. They are at the heart of what motivates leaders from all walks of life to get involved in the most significant paradigm shift of our time.

*In the interest of full disclosure, I am also a Marketing Consultant for Price BIOstock Services - the logistics support company responsible for procuring, delivering, and preparing woody biomass to paper and pulp mills and biorefineries – like Range Fuels’ landmark cellulosic ethanol biorefinery in Georgia.

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#1 Bioenergy Can... Convert Solar Energy into Liquid Fuel

Bioenergy is the ONLY renewable technology that can convert solar energy into LIQUID fuel.

If we expect to substitute renewable energy for fossil fuel energy, we are going to have to tackle the challenge of liquid fuels - how do we replace our dependence on oil, diesel, and gasoline with functionally equivalent biofuels? So much of the positive press about renewables focuses on the urban non-liquid technologies - wind and solar - while negative press focuses on rural liquid technology concerns - the ethanol food vs. fuel dilemma, farm subsidies, water consumption, the net energy balance debate, etc.

My suspicion is that the press is catering to an urban readership that is disconnected from the opportunities, concerns, and sensibilities of rural America. Wind and solar are seen as pristine "clean" and "technological" whereas crops and forests are seen as dirty, wasteful, corporate, manipulative, etc. Anyone coming from a rural orientation could say that wind and solar are "unnatural", inefficient, ugly, irrelevant, and not deployable.

The fact is that we need ALL renewable energy technologies because each region has its own climate, resources, liabilities, and energy opportunities. The waste and subsidies of all of them will reduce as they develop and net energy balance will certainly improve (as they have in Brazil). Renewable energy lobbies on Farm and Energy legislation are necessary to move timetables forward against the obstruction coming from fossil energy lobbies.

Before the invention of solar cells, nature developed its own way of capturing solar energy. Photovoltaic solar arrays are good at converting light to electricity but are incapable of storing the electricity. Here are listed some of their other drawbacks:
• Solar cells are expensive to produce & install.
• Their manufacture requires fossil energy and exotic materials.
• Their production is centralized and requires long distance distribution.
• Arrays conduct and radiate the heat they absorb.
• They do not function efficiently on overcast days or at night.
• They are only efficient in certain climates and regions of the world.

Utilizing photosynthesis, leaves are nature’s own “solar cells.” Plants are nature’s “solar arrays” with big advantages over photovoltaic arrays.

• They store solar energy (as sugars).
• They are self-replicating - requiring no fossil fuels in their manufacture.
• They create shade and absorb heat.
• They function 24 hours a day either respiring oxygen or transpiring water.
• They sequester half their weight in carbon from the carbon dioxide they absorb from the atmosphere.
• They create animal and insect habitats and protect streams.
• They enhance landscapes.
• Their roots prevent erosion.
• They are adaptable to various climates and terrains.

In short, bioenergy using photosynthesis offers a much more natural and flexible solution to energy capture than solar energy using photovoltaics.

We now have four ways to convert this stored energy into biofuels.

Besides transesterification to produce biodiesel and sugar fermentation to produce ethanol, we are now deploying two new commercial-scale platforms for creating biofuels from the solar energy stored in biomass.

Cellulosic biomass (plants, wood, and their wastes) can be separated into its component sugars and lignin using enzymatic or acid hydrolysis biochemistry. The sugars can be fermented into ethanol and the lignin combusted to generate heat, steam, and electricity.

A more robust decomposition of feedstock can be achieved through thermochemical means – pyrolysis and gasification. The range and kind of feedstock is vast. Besides biomass it can include municipal solid waste, sludge, tires, petcoke, autofluff and blends of various feedstock. Industrial BioOils are already being produced from woody biomass through pyrolysis. Distilled alcohols like ethanol and methanol can be produced through fermentation or catalysis of the synthesis gas resulting from gasification. These are clean, low-emission technologies.

If we want to replace fossil fuels, no renewable industry other than bioenergy produces liquid fuels.

This article is the first in a series of five about the unique capabilities of bioenergy.

On November 28th I made a presentation at the Capitol Hill Club to the Biomass Coordinating Council (BCC) of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) titled "BioEnergy Can Do." My aim was to list what I considered to be the top five unique capabilities of bioenergy that should drive legislative action on Capitol Hill. The five capabilities are:
1. Bioenergy can convert solar energy into liquid fuel.
2. Bioenergy can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
3. Bioenergy can remediate ecological disasters.
4. Bioenergy can revive depressed economies.
5. Bioenergy can expand energy freedom of choice.


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#2 Bioenergy Can... Reduce Greenhouse Gases

What are the capabilities of bioenergy technologies that make them unique as a means of reducing greenhouse gases?

Bioenergy comes from the processing of biomass. Biomass "refers to living and recently dead biological material that can be used as fuel or for industrial production. Most commonly, biomass refers to plant matter grown for use as biofuel, but it also includes plant or animal matter used for production of fibres, chemicals or heat." (Wikipedia)

The carbon cycle is the sustained transfer of carbon between the atmosphere, geosphere, and hydrosphere and then back again. The current concern about fossil fuels is that they are corrupting the carbon cycle by adding below ground carbon to the above ground cycle. NASA estimates the worldwide amount of fossil fuel carbon added to the atmosphere each year to be a colossal 5.5 billion metric tons (see red graphic above). These are the dread greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. This addition of subterranean carbon to the atmosphere is termed "carbon positive."

It is possible to use fossil fuels in the production of electricity, capture most of the carbon dioxide from the process, and inject it back into the ground. This is called carbon geo-sequestration and it is used primarily to increase oil production by using gas pressure to force deposits of oil to the surface. However, most carbon dioxide from fossil resources - car emissions for example - can't be captured and returned underground (see orange graphic representation above).

One characteristic of renewable energy is that they are, by definition, "carbon neutral" (see gray graphic) - neither adding nor reducing the amount of above carbon used in the carbon cycle. Most forms of renewable energy - solar, wind, hydroelectric, tidal, and geothermal - don't involve the use or conversion of carbon at all.

In contrast to other renewable energy processes, bioenergy involves the conversion and combustion of the carbon content of biomass. Through photosynthesis carbon dioxide is pulled out of the air and stored as sugars (see green cycle above). As long as the carbon stays in the plant or in plant products, the biomass is essentially a carbon sink, temporarily removing the carbon out of the carbon cycle. Through roots, which are not harvested, a good portion of each plant's carbon capture is left in the ground.

If the carbon emissions from combustion are captured and injected into oil fields, then this would be "carbon negative." Unlike fossil fuel emissions, any emissions from biofuel is "carbon neutral" because the carbon was derived from carbon already converted into sugars and cellulose in the biomass. The net effect of bioenergy is at worst carbon neutral but, through best practices of the forest products industry, often carbon negative.

One other option for subterranean sequestration is being researched by agronomists. There is an ancient practice of using the char from burned biomass as a fertilizer or soil amendment for growing crops. This is variously termed terra preta, biochar, or agrichar.

A recent article in the Biopact Blog discusses the four generations of biofuels. It describes recent research into ways to maximize the "carbon negative" impact of bioenergy:

In fourth generation production systems, biomass crops are seen as efficient 'carbon capturing' machines that take CO2 out of the atmosphere and lock it up in their branches, trunks and leaves. The carbon-rich biomass is then converted into fuel and gases by means of second generation techniques. Crucially, before, during or after the bioconversion process, the carbon dioxide is captured by utilizing so-called pre-combustion, oxyfuel or post-combustion processes. The greenhouse gas is then geosequestered - stored in depleted oil and gas fields, in unmineable coal seams or in saline aquifers, where it stays locked up for hundreds, possibly thousands of years.

According to scientists who looked at this concept of 'bio-energy with carbon storage' (BECS) within the context of a strategy to counter 'abrupt climate change', these systems, if applied on a global scale, can take us back to pre-industrial levels of atmospheric CO2. The concept would be more efficient than techniques that are limited to scrubbing CO2 out of the atmosphere without tackling the source of the problem: the combustion of fossil fuels. BECS intervenes at the source and replaces fossil fuels with renewable biomass; the systems scrub CO2 out of the atmosphere while delivering clean energy. As such, they are seen as one of the only low-risk geo-engineering methods that could help us tackle climate change without powering down our societies.

In summary, Bioenergy is the only renewable energy technology that can reduce greenhouse gases.

This article is the second in a series of five about the unique capabilities of bioenergy.

On November 28th I made a presentation at the Capitol Hill Club to the Biomass Coordinating Council (BCC) of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) titled "BioEnergy Can Do." My aim was to list what I considered to be the top five unique capabilities of bioenergy that should drive legislative action on Capitol Hill. The five capabilities are:
1. Bioenergy can convert solar energy into liquid fuel.
2. Bioenergy can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
3. Bioenergy can remediate ecological disasters.
4. Bioenergy can revive depressed economies.
5. Bioenergy can expand energy freedom of choice.


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#3 Bioenergy Can... Remediate Ecological Disasters

There are biomass waste streams throughout the world that could provide the feedstock for future biomass conversion to biofuels. These waste streams are creating some of the most acute environmental problems afflicting society -
Excess biomass in forests – forest density that is 4 to 10 times historic norms – creates conditions that exacerbate droughts leading to forest fires and bug infestations
Excess biomass in urban areas - municipal solid wastes – is getting out of control necessitating bigger landfills that are further away from our urban centers. This excess waste contributes to land, water, and air pollution
• Rural agricultural residues and damaged crops could have a higher value as soil amendments and biomass feedstock.

Add to this list the steadily growing millions of tons of disaster debris from floods, hurricanes, wildfires, etc. that require cleanup. This has become the focus of a federal interdepartmental initiative called the Woody Biomass Utilization Group coordinated by the Departments of Energy, Agriculture and Interior.

To restore forests to a healthy condition, the Forest Foundation recommends a three step, economically sustainable solution that involves private industry who would restore and maintain forest stewardship as part of their operating overhead.
1. First they would be contracted to harvest and sell decaying biomass to pay for forest management
2. Then reforest to a historic model specific to the forest, and
3. They could then mechanically thin vulnerable forests of woody biomass to prevent pronounced exposure to new fires and infestations.

The Forest Service would provide regulatory oversight of the program.

We need to be better stewards of our natural resources. Biomass conversion from waste to energy is a win win that can help to fund proper stewardship. It is clear that government funding without private enterprise will never be sufficient for the task.

This article is the third in a series of five about the unique capabilities of bioenergy.

On November 28th I made a presentation at the Capitol Hill Club to the Biomass Coordinating Council (BCC) of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) titled "BioEnergy Can Do." My aim was to list what I considered to be the top five unique capabilities of bioenergy that should drive legislative action on Capitol Hill. The five capabilities are:
1. Bioenergy can convert solar energy into liquid fuel.
2. Bioenergy can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
3. Bioenergy can remediate ecological disasters.
4. Bioenergy can revive depressed economies.
5. Bioenergy can expand energy freedom of choice.


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#4 Bioenergy Can... Revive Depressed Economies

Bioenergy can revive depressed economies - local, national, and worldwide.

Depressed economies need private investment in healthy industries to build lasting employment.

Fossil energy - with all its societal costs and impact on the environment - is no longer viewed as "cheap." It is seen as an addiction - a wedge that is coming between our communities and their environment. In contrast, a burgeoning bioenergy industry is a way to revive communities by providing businesses that cannot be outsourced while creating purposeful work that brings people together with their natural resources.

Here is a regional snapshot of the renewable energy patchwork that is currently developing thoroughout the continental U.S. The revitalization of the Corn Belt illustrates what could happen in other regions if we choose to expand our bioenergy infrastructure - for example, cellulose-based renewable energy from forests and hybrid crops in the Southeast and marginal lands of the country…

We could develop hundreds of biorefineries, produce billions of gallon of liquid fuel, generate thousands of megawatts of electricity, save billions of dollars in imports, create tens of thousands of jobs, and raise land values enough to revitalize communities.

These are developments that are based on the economy of local supply and logistical support - generally we think in terms of a 75 mile biomass supply radius for each plant. Instead of the existing overly centralized energy paradigm, we would be developing regionally based energy solutions which greatly enhances security.

The forest products industry is already the biggest provider of renewable energy in the country - bigger than hydroelectric - supplying roughly 44% of current bioenergy. This change was initiated during the last major oil crisis in the 70’s but the boilers are not as efficient and clean as they could be. After thirty years they are due for replacement. The capital outlays for upgrading these facilities may mean the closure and outsourcing of much of our forest products industry to other countries.

A year and a half ago the American Forest and Paper Association published a study as part of its forward thinking 2020 Agenda Initiative. It was titled the Forest Products Industry Technology Roadmap. It outlines what alternative technologies are available and develops a scenario for how its members could insert new biochemical and thermochemical conversion technologies into their existing infrastructure to generate new and cleaner profit streams.

The TAPPI conference in Atlanta last May focused industry attention on these new ways to convert wood to biofuels and high value bioproducts like bioplastics and furfural, while cogenerating electricity and centralized heat to power their operations and local communities.

The challenge of reviving dying industries and communities is a major reason that people with tremendous financial resources (like venture capitalists Vinod Khosla, Bill Gates, and others leaders from previous paradigm shifts) are motivated to accept the risks of bioenergy investments. Part of the challenge is making sure that consistent governmental policies will make these investments economically sustainable over the long haul.

This article is the fourth in a series of five about the unique capabilities of bioenergy.

On November 28th I made a presentation at the Capitol Hill Club to the Biomass Coordinating Council (BCC) of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) titled "BioEnergy Can Do." My aim was to list what I considered to be the top five unique capabilities of bioenergy that should drive legislative action on Capitol Hill. The five capabilities are:
1. Bioenergy can convert solar energy into liquid fuel.
2. Bioenergy can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
3. Bioenergy can remediate ecological disasters.
4. Bioenergy can revive depressed economies.
5. Bioenergy can expand energy freedom of choice.


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#5 Bioenergy Can... Expand Energy Freedom of Choice

Bioenergy provides the only renewable LIQUID fuels we will see at the pump in our lifetimes.

The United States is a nation that not only preaches self-reliance, but also freedom of choice. We vote at the election booth every couple of years and we promote the global spread of this “self-evident” right.

But we also vote with our wallets every day of the week. People who are apathetic and confused at the ballot box are, in contrast, vested and discriminating decision-makers when it comes to pocketbook issues. They may buy fuel based on fluctuations in the short-term price, but they also make long-term decisions - like where to live and what kind of car to buy - based on expected future prices of energy.

It is important that service stations carry a variety of fuels that give us alternatives to petroleum or other fossil fuels. The freedom to choose alternatives is fundamental to the economic flexibility and sustainability of our energy paradigm. Brazil chose to develop alternatives and now they are energy self-sufficient - in fact they currently export both oil and ethanol. Other countries should be able to also.

Without choices we are locked into a status quo that will wreak havoc on future generations throughout the world. Imagine the impact when China, India, and other developing countries start to clamber for their fair share of oil. Again, bioenergy is the only renewable source of liquid energy. It needs to be developed now so that each region of the world can have more choices about how they can become more energy secure and self-sufficient.

Since it will take roughly 15 years to cycle out current car technology, we need a transition that will assure service station operators a growing demand for alternative fuels. Once step that the Brazilian government took was to mandate that all new cars sold after a certain date were flex fuel compatible. We need to develop policies that mandate flex-fuel and new plug-in e-flex auto technology which will insure more choices in the future.

This article is the fifth in a series of five about the unique capabilities of bioenergy.

On November 28th I made a presentation at the Capitol Hill Club to the Biomass Coordinating Council (BCC) of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) titled "BioEnergy Can Do." My aim was to list what I considered to be the top five unique capabilities of bioenergy that should drive legislative action on Capitol Hill. The five capabilities are:
1. Bioenergy can convert solar energy into liquid fuel.
2. Bioenergy can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
3. Bioenergy can remediate ecological disasters.
4. Bioenergy can revive depressed economies.
5. Bioenergy can expand energy freedom of choice.


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November 7, 2007

Range Fuels cellulosic ethanol plant groundbreaking

On November 6th, 2007 a who's who of federal and state public servants, alternative energy business representatives, and technologists from all of the country came to the tiny rural town of Soperton, Georgia to participate in the groundbreaking of the country's first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol facility. It was a milestone for the facility owner, Range Fuels, Inc., and it promises to be the first of many such milestones for the ethanol industry, thermochemical biofuel production, forest-based rural communities, and the U.S. Departments of Energy and Agriculture.

Besides the organizers, the roster of speakers included local elected politicians, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, and Secretary of Energy Sam Bodman - whose agency is providing $76 million in funding grants for the installation as part of the 932 Grant program announced last February. Tom Doerr, the Undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture also attended.

Hosting the groundbreaking was the President of Range Fuels, Mitch Mandich (pictured at right with Vinod Khosla), who assured the audience of his company's commitment to sustaining Soperton's forest assets and ecology.

"The environmental sensitivity of renewable resources are key to our country. So for every tree removed here in Georgia, two trees are planted. When you put millions of dollars in the ground in a plant, it's important that it have the feedstock to support it and we have it here. That plant will have a minimal impact on land. We have 281 acres here of which we will probably be using less than 15. The rest of the acreage will be open space and wildlife habitat. Behind me we have already built an environmental trail and an ecology trail through the wetlands so when we have visitors to the plant we will also have a nature tour for them."

He cited and thanked numerous business partners in the audience who have helped with the siting, environmental compliance, logistics, and construction of the final plant. These include CH2M Hill and Price BIOstock Services.

Mandich introduced the principal investor of the company - venture capitalist Vinod Khosla.
"For a few years now I have said that we need to declare a war on oil. Corn ethanol started that war and without corn ethanol we wouldn't be making the investments that make cellulosic ethanol possible. As the war has escalated in my view, we need better weapons. Cellulosic ethanol is the weapon we need to scale this wall and finally replace oil. Every assumption about oil and petro-based fuel is based on the fact that we have cost-effective alternatives to oil. Within a few years ethanol from this plant, unsubsidized, will be cheaper than oil even after it drops to half its current price. Renewable fuels will be cheaper than their fossil alternatives and we will create competition for oil and will balance the monopoly of oil.

Construction will start immediately with approximately 200 workers involved over the next 4 to 5 months.

Here is the entirety of the Range Fuels press release about this event:

Range Fuels Breaks Ground on the Nation’s First Commercial Cellulosic Ethanol Plant
U.S. Secretary of Energy and Georgia Governor Attend Groundbreaking Celebration

Broomfield, CO and Soperton, GA – November 6, 2007 – Range Fuels, Inc. announced today that it is breaking ground on the nation’s first commercial cellulosic ethanol plant located in Treutlen County, Georgia, near the town of Soperton. Range Fuels, one of six companies selected by the Department of Energy (DOE) for financial support in building a commercial cellulosic ethanol plant, will be the first to break ground.

The groundbreaking event is being hosted on the future site of Range Fuels’ Soperton Plant. The event will feature federal, state, city and county officials, including the U.S. Secretary of Energy, Samuel W. Bodman, and the Governor of Georgia, Sonny Perdue.

Range Fuels’ Soperton Plant will use wood and wood waste from Georgia’s pine forests and mills as its feedstock and will have the capacity to produce over one hundred million gallons of ethanol per year. Construction of the first 20 million-gallon-per-year phase is expected to be completed in 2008.

As part of its $76 million Technology Investment Agreement with the DOE, Range Fuels will receive $50 million based upon the project construction schedule for the first 20-million-gallon-per-year phase of its Soperton Plant. The remainder of the grant, $26 million, will be provided for construction of the next phase of the project.

Range Fuels selected Georgia for its first plant based upon the state’s robust wood products industry supported by Georgia’s vast sustainable and renewable forest lands. The state’s environmental sensitivity and responsible stewardship of its forest lands have created resources that allow Georgia to support up to two billion gallons per year of cellulosic ethanol production through the application of Range Fuels’ technology.
"Range Fuel's production of cellulosic ethanol from wood materials will make Georgia a national leader in innovative alternative energy production," said Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue. "This project, and others like it, will boost economic development in rural Georgia and reduce our state's dependence on foreign oil."

“The state of Georgia has provided us with an excellent opportunity to locate our first plant using its abundant, renewable forest resources as feedstock. Our technology transforms the wood and wood waste from Georgia’s millions of acres of woodlands into ethanol, a key source of transportation fuel,” said Mitch Mandich, CEO of Range Fuels. “Range Fuels’ focus on green, renewable energy will ultimately reduce greenhouse gases, promote energy independence, and create new jobs.”

Range Fuels’ approach is aimed at helping our planet restore its environmental balance. Range Fuels’ technology is self-sustaining and uses the same feedstock to make ethanol as it does to operate its plant, minimizing its reliance on fossil fuels and the consequent production of greenhouse gases. Through Range Fuels’ innovative process for producing cellulosic ethanol, the Soperton Plant will use a quarter of the average water required by corn-based ethanol plants.

In addition, the Soperton Plant has been permitted as a minor source of emissions. Its proximity to both wood supplies and ethanol markets will minimize energy expended in supplying the facility with feedstock and providing ethanol to consumer markets, further demonstrating the low-impact, environmentally-friendly nature of Range Fuels’ technology.

Range Fuels has won the support of many industry and environmental groups including the Renewable Fuels Association, the American Coalition for Ethanol, the Clean Fuels Development Coalition and General Motors.
“Range Fuels’ groundbreaking on its first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant presents an extraordinary opportunity to move the country into the next generation of biofuels that will help improve the environment and secure America’s energy independence,” said Brian Jennings, Executive Vice President for the American Coalition for Ethanol. “Now, more than ever, it is critical for us to pursue clean-burning, homegrown, and cost-effective alternatives to foreign oil. Range Fuels is among the leaders in the biofuels industry and is poised to help us achieve these goals. I congratulate Range Fuels on this important day.”

“This groundbreaking clearly demonstrates that the next generation of biofuels are possible and reinforces that achieving the President’s goal of displacing 20 percent of the nation’s gasoline consumption with alternative fuels by 2017 can become a reality,” said Bob Dineen, President and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association. “Progress like this will additionally help the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing ethanol production from processes that utilize sustainable supplies of biomass, like residue from timber harvesting and agricultural wastes.”

“On behalf of all the members of the Clean Fuels Development Coalition (CFDC), we congratulate Range Fuels as they take this significant step forward in the development of cellulosic ethanol,” said Doug Durante, Executive Director of the CFDC. “This project will demonstrate that commercial production of cellulosic ethanol made from biomass or plant matter can be a reality. This facility will be one of many helping the country reduce greenhouse gas emissions and move toward energy independence.”

"Range Fuel's investment in this ethanol production facility is an important step toward the next generation of renewable fuels. Cellulosic ethanol has enormous potential for displacing gasoline and reducing emissions," said Beth Lowery, General Motors Vice President of Environment, Energy, and Safety Policy.

About Range Fuels, Inc.
Range Fuels, Inc., is focused on green energy and the production of cellulosic ethanol. The company does not use food products like corn, but rather uses waste materials and other non food sources and turns them into valuable products. The company's innovative technology uses wood chips, municipal waste, paper pulp, olive pits, and more, and converts those materials to ethanol. The company's system, named K2, uses a two step thermo-chemical conversion process. The first step converts the biomass to synthesis gas and the second step converts the gas to ethanol. The company's business model is to design, build, own and operate its plants. The company is privately held and funded by Khosla Ventures, LLC, arguably the top venture firm in the U.S. focusing on alternative, green energy systems. The leadership team melds experience from Silicon Valley's fast-paced, high-tech world, and the technologically intense coal, coal gasification, and gas-to-liquids industries. Range Fuels' vision is to introduce the world to a fuel that's renewable, sustainable, and eco-friendly in its production.

See also the Cleantech Interview with Mitch Mandich, CEO of Range Fuels, Inc.

NPR radio report on cellulosic ethanol and the Georgia groundbreaking.

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September 29, 2007

Woody Biomass: Feedstock for BioEnergy

This article contains the text and some images from the second half of a speech I presented at the Energy from Biomass and Waste conference in Pittsburgh, PA on September 27. It follows from the first half of the presentation titled Woody Biomass: Fuel for Wildfires which shows recent increased wildfire activity and the consequent greenhouse gas emissions from public forests. It suggests that private industry has a strong role to play to help deploy the necessary woody biomass harvesting processes and infrastructure of biomass conversion facilities to make proper forest management economically sustainable.

Woody Biomass: Feedstock for BioEnergy

I believe that the conversion of biomass to energy represents not only a sustainable, clean alternative to fossil fuel energy but that implementing these emerging technologies can help us solve environmental and ecological challenges of the new millennium.

How can we capture forest fuels to lessen the threat of megafires while simultaneously generating clean, renewable bioenergy?

U.S. Patchwork of Renewable Energy
Right now we are seeing a surge in the development of many decentralized renewable energy installations (click map to enlarge). Wind energy on the coast and wind corridors of the interior, solar energy in the Sun Belt, corn ethanol in the Corn Belt.

But what about the unfilled regions on our patchwork of regional renewable energy projects? What technologies will fit there?

The revitalization of the Corn Belt is illustrative of what could happen in the forest regions of the country-
hundreds of biorefineries, billions of gallon of liquid fuel, stronger feedstock prices, revitalized communities, tens of thousands of jobs, rising land equity and stronger communities.

Photovoltaic vs. Photosynthesis arrays
I come from Studio City, California which is also the home to the environmentalist Ed Begley, Jr. I have had lunch with Ed and seen him give several presentations. At one he stunned his audience. He said “It may surprise many of you to hear that I am a BIG supporter of nuclear energy…" “ long as it is kept 93 million miles away from Earth.”

Sure enough, Ed has some solar arrays on the roof of his home which convert sunlight into electricity. Here is a picture of him cleaning the arrays because otherwise their efficiency drops dramatically.

I am all for solar cell research to help lower their manufacturing expense and raise their energy conversion efficiency. Solar arrays are good at converting light to electricity but not good at storing the electricity. Here are listed some of their other drawbacks:
• Cells are not renewable
• Expensive to manufacture & install
• Dormant at night
• Cannot store electricity
• Limited climate and regional applicability

I submit that leaves are natures also “solar cells” using sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water to create stored energy in the form of sugar. Trees are “solar arrays” that have many advantages over photo voltaic arrays. They reproduce. They work in many more climatic regions of the world, produce and recycle their own solar collectors (leaves), store their energy in the form of sugars, clean the air of greenhouse gases, transpire water at night, and sequester half their dry weight in combustible carbon.

In so many ways, trees are the perfect solution to global warming and the effort to produce renewable energy.

Woody biomass availability
Let me be clear, when we talk about collecting woody biomass we aren’t talking about logging trees.

The USDA identified woody biomass as small diameter trees and underbrush, the residues of the logging and forest products industries, and urban wood waste. In their Billion Ton Report they estimated that there was over 367 million tons of woody biomass produced each year in the U.S. Here, as abroad, it is the number one renewable energy technology for creating steam, heat, and electricity. And it is growing.

With woody biomass being produced at so many locations throughout the country it is easy to see that their conversion to electricity and biofuels could fill significant patches on our national renewable energy “quilt.”

In fact, for generations, the forest products industry has utilized burning woody biomass to generate steam, heat, and electricity. The biggest drawback with combustion is the emissions it generates - but modern systems include scrubbers for removing toxins and particulate matter. New wood burning systems are being installed to replace coal burning facilities.

As concerns about global warming grows, many companies are looking at gasification systems for more efficient heat recovery and cleaner emissions control. The whole point of gasification systems is to capture emissions so they can be converted into synthesis gas - a clean burning, renewable alternative to natural gas (which is a fossil fuel).

If we add to forest biomass the potential biomass tonnage from growing hybrid poplar and other energy crop trees we could easily see in excess of half a billion tons of woody biomass available for bioenergy conversion each year. Efforts are underway to create new fast growing hybrid trees specifically designed to maximize carbon sequestration, bolster pest, drought, and fire resistance - and streamline processing efficiency.

There is plenty of marginal land throughout the U.S. where hybrid crops could be grown - supplying new energy crop options where other alternatives are not workable. Such “plantations” would help fix the land against erosion, improve water and air quality, and provide enhanced carbon sequestration capacity.

Furthermore, the sugar storage capacity of woody biomass and hybrid trees is a potent source of feedstock for conversion to biofuels. But how do we do that?

Woody biomass conversion technologies
Let’s compare the three generations of conversion technologies for creating biofuels from biomass.

Generation 1 - Sugar Fermentation In sugar fermentation the corn, sugar, or starch is warmed in water with yeast and fermented into an alcohol that is then distilled into pure ethanol. It is a batch process moving from vat to vat that takes approximately 2 days to complete. The primary residues of the process are converted into livestock feed called distiller dried grains (or DDG).

There are concerns about this method of creating ethanol:
1. The feedstock cannot be blended with any other feedstock.
2. The feedstock could be used as food .
3. The amount of energy contained in the ethanol is only slightly more than the energy expended producing it (a factor of 1.3).
4. It is a water-intensive process when you consider the cultivation of the feedstock and the inputs during fermentation.

But, the yield is high and it is a mature technology with over 100 commercial-scale biorefineries in operation and dozens more coming online each year.

Other conversion processes involve converting cellulosic feedstock (like woody biomass) into biofuels. The way that wood stores energy is by photosynthesizing sugars stored in two forms - hemicellulose and cellulose - with a combustible called lignin supplying the fibrous support of the tree.

Generation 2 - Biochemical Cellulosic Conversion The second generation of biomass conversion technologies involves breaking down wood’s molecular bonds using biochemical agents.

The difference between this process and sugar fermentation is the simple addition of the two-day breakdown step (represented in the blue zone). Here enzymes and acids separate the sugars from the lignin - the sugars are fermented and distilled into ethanol while the lignin is combusted to generate steam to heat fermentation. Principal research is focused on developing more efficient enzymes that can be produced at low cost.

Here is how Generation 2 compares with Generation 1.
1. The feedstock can include woody biomass, industrial and urban waste wood.
2. It takes longer but because the sources of cellulose do not require much cultivation and are usually already exist as residues of other processes, so the energy return is roughly five times that of sugar fermentation.
3. It uses more water during the multi-vat process - but there isn’t much water use during forest growth.
4. A major expense is the price of producing the enzymes which include high research overhead and royalties. That price will come down.

There are pilot plants in operation at private and educational research facilities around the world.

Generation 3 - Thermochemical Cellulosic Conversion The 3rd generation technologies use thermochemical processes - primarily gasification or pyrolysis - to break down the biomass into a synthesis gas, or syngas (composed mostly of carbon monoxide and hydrogen), which is converted into ethanol.

Again, a gasifier heats up the feedstock, which can be a blend, with high heat (2,500°F) to create the syngas. Instead of the syngas being sold as a product of gasification, it is exposed to a catalyst or fermented using bacteria that convert it into ethanol and and water.

Range Fuels uses a catalyst to enact the conversion. BRI uses a patented microorganism to ferment the syngas to ethanol.

1. Unlike Generation #1 and #2, the feedstock for generation 3 can be blended with all sorts of alternative raw materials - tires, autofluff, pet coke, municipal solid wastes, etc. - which makes feedstock procurement much more sustainable over the long haul.
2. The specific blend affects the yield with higher energy-content feedstock producing higher yields.
3. It is continuous requiring mere minutes for processing rather than days for generations #1 and #2.
4. It uses very little water - in fact it captures extra water as a product of fermentation.

The Agenda 2020 Technology Alliance of the American Forest and Paper Association recently published the” Forest Products Industry Technology Roadmap.” It illustrates where two conversion steps - one using biochemical and the other thermochemical processes - could be inserted into a standard pulp mill workflow to create new profit streams.

It also forecasts the return the plant management could expect for a typical tons per day volume. This could revitalize the paper and pulp industry. The real key to economic feasibility the commitment of the marketplace to renewable fuels.

In summary …
1. We can limit wildfires by thinning forests
2. Woody biomass stores abundant energy
3. We can use woody biomass to create heat, produce steam, and generate electricity
4. Emerging technologies will produce ethanol from woody biomass
5. Successful deployment of new wood-based technologies can revive stagnant industries
6. New industries can strengthen new communities

Here’s a final thought:

In 1803, Thomas Jefferson signed the Louisiana Purchase - effectively doubling the land area of the United States. He predicted it would take 1,000 years to settle the new territory. We laugh at his miscalculation - after all, it seems that we have settled his land and started to retreat from it - preferring urban life over rural.

But he might have been right. Maybe we are about to engage in renewed settlement of the nation’s rich rural midsection. We have 800 years to go and renewable energy made from woody biomass can play a big role in supplying renewable energy for that future while providing us with the means to manage our environmental sustainability.

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August 31, 2007

August 2007 Digest

Wildfires should top list of greenhouse gas catastrophes

If we truly care about greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions we need to evaluate, plan, and implement solutions to the growth of record-breaking wildfires over the past decade - particularly in New Mexico, Georgia, Florida, Colorado, and California.

According to U.S. Senator Pete Domenici during Congressional testimony NASA reported that the 2002 Hayman fire in Colorado emitted more GHG in one day than all the vehicles in the United States emitted in a week.

The Forest Foundation claims that the fire in South Lake Tahoe burned 3,000 acres causing 190,000 tons of GHG to be released in the air. Combined with the emissions from decaying trees in the burn zone, unless they are harvested immediately the total emissions will reach four times that amount - roughly the equivalent of driving 143,000 cars for an entire year.

The Zaca fire in Santa Barbara has charred an area 100 times larger than the fire in South Lake Tahoe and is still burning after two months. With the above figures, it is easy to see that wildfires are the trump card of GHG - one bad mega fire can wipe out several years' progress of reduced emissions.

Many experts believe that well-intentioned efforts to protect the nesting grounds of endangered species are based on myths about wildfires. This has lead to obstructive litigation and counterproductive state and local policies that result in devastating destruction of whole forests teeming with wildlife. The wildlife that survives become refugees in adjacent ecosystems.

The problem is strongest on state and federal lands where decades of fire suppression and forest preservation has resulted in tree density 4-10 times historic norms. This has created unprecedented conditions for mega fires and bug infestations.

We need to create a massive scale emergency response relationship between public land management and private industry to implement an ecologically and economically sustainable forest restoration solution to this mounting catastrophe.

Below are links to stories that made August 2007 memorable...

BIOstock Blog--------------
· An educational "Hidden Treasure" on forest stewardship
· Restoration Forestry and 5 Myths about Wildfires
· California's Zaca Fire and Global Warming
· California wildlife threatened by mega fires

BIOconversion Blog--------------
· Why "Rolling Stone" gathers no moss
· Motivating U.S. energy growth with "carrots" and "sticks"
· LS9 - Using synthetic biology to produce renewable petroleum
· A four-star idea for rating biofuels
· L.A. Times editorial against ethanol

BIOoutput Blog--------------
· High Performance E85 with Jay Leno
· "Energy Victory" - Book of the Sentry

BIOwaste Blog--------------
· Creating products from the residuals of bioconversion

Each month we provide a similar breakdown of 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.

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August 23, 2007

L.A. Times editorial against ethanol

Following the lead of the Rolling Stone diatribe against ethanol (see my response to The Ethanol Scam), the Los Angeles Times decided to devote their full August 20th editorial to an attack titled Drunk on ethanol. Such slanted media lobbying to the general public seems misplaced to me when it concerns such a multi-faceted issue as energy subsidies.

Unfortunately, I have used up my quota of letters to their editor (I wrote a published letter about illegal immigration two months ago) and I couldn't figure out how to comment online at the Times. But Treehugger helped me out by lauding the Times piece. Below is the comment I wrote in response to Bait and Switchgrass, a "bird dog" referral submitted by Lloyd Alter on the Science & Technology section of the Treehugger site.

Having attended about a dozen technological conferences this year where research labs, experts, policy makers, and developers have been sincerely exploring ALL the ethanol issues I have to say that I find the public spinning of these issues in major media a bit disconcerting.

At least the Times didn't call it an "Ethanol Scam" as Rolling Stone did. The writers apparently have no idea how global the effort to find several viable biofuel alternatives to gasoline really is.

Everyone has a right to their opinion. But to hinge one's arguments on a few studies that are singularly slanted at best (Pimental's, for instance, and Jacobson's) shows that these publications' agenda come first, science second. The bias creating public press is the last place these issues should be lobbied. Would it, for instance, surprise anyone to learn that oil companies might be pushing these arguments forward? Not that they have a vested interest or anything.

The fact is $16 billion is being spent on U.S. oil subsidies with nothing to show for it but strategic resource wars, cultural genocide, lopsided trade deficits, and ceilingless prices. Should we be shocked that knowledgeable people would like to see domestic investment to advance sciences that will make all countries self-reliant, reduce international cultural friction, and provide the best insurance against price gouging - consumer choice at the pump?

A robust, decentralized renewable energy paradigm including many kinds of biofuels for a range of applications would not only benefit and quite literally save developing countries without oil resources but would also give us a self-funding way to solve a broad range of nagging environmental issues - global warming, forest mega-fires, wildlife diversity, forest stewardship, landfills, toxic waste disposal, etc.

The broader the range of biomass feedstock that can be converted - the great majority that are non-food - the more waste problems that can be mitigated.

One place Treehugger can start is the investigation of ways to manage stewardship of our forests to reduce the amount of fire-producing undergrowth and tree density that is creating massive beetle infestations and mega-fires 10 times greater than any we have ever experienced before. There is a plume 180 miles long stretching from Ojai to Yosemite that started July 4th and is not yet contained. How much global warming is that? That certainly accounts for much of Gore's hockey stick. And we are worried about ethanol being worse that gasoline in vehicles that haven't even been designed to run efficiently on it?

Energy production of ethanol and electricity from woody biomass "tinder" can fund the vital stewardship programs of public lands we need to expand.

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August 19, 2007

A four-star idea for rating biofuels

Any greenhouse gas cap and trade system for ethanol and other biofuels will be dependent upon an accurate assessment of its carbon footprint - not only the amount of carbon emitted to the atmosphere during usage but also the the carbon lifecycle of the fuel's production.

If coal is the fuel, the carbon emitted is not already part of the above ground carbon cycle and is therefore carbon positive. Plus it takes energy to mine, process, and deliver coal. At the other end of the spectrum, if hybrid poplars are the feedstock, not only are the emissions carbon neutral but the growing trees are effectively sequestering carbon dioxide (with a highly valued carbon negative impact). There are benefits to crops that do not need to be tilled, are perennial, or do not require fertilizers. There are benefits to conversion processes that do not require the use of fossil fuels or electricity.

Various groups are engaged in the task of coming up with a "green biofuels" rating system that incorporates the "global warming intensity" (GWI) of the fuel, a rating for the kind of feedstock being converted, and the use of fossil fuels in the conversion or refinery process. An excellent article written by Susanne Retka Schill for Ethanol Producer magazine reports on some of the more promising efforts to come up with a system sophisticated and reliable enough to provide industry benchmarks for setting caps and for trading credits. Concurrently, it must be simple enough for commercial and residental consumers to make informed buying decisions. The more comprehensive and comprehensible the system, the better the incentives will be to motivate change to renewable fuels.

Here is a small taste of what is contained in the published article...

Developing a Biofuels Rating System

Producing four-star biofuels may give producers a leg up when the United States develops a carbon cap-and-trade system. Methods to quantify greenhouse gas emissions and rate biofuels are being proposed and tested in an attempt to incorporate the multiple facets of cropping systems, conversion processes and industry and consumer needs.
By Susanne Retka Schill

The chart shows how a Green Biofuels Index might work for different cropping scenarios and biofuels technologies. GWI is global warming intensity. The formula shown in the middle column generates the number value. One star is awarded for each 40 value units.

All biofuels are not created equal. Renewable fuels have different carbon footprints, depending on the feedstock that's used to produce it, how that feedstock was grown, how far it was transported and how it was converted to ethanol. Before ethanol producers can join cap-and-trade programs or sell offset credits on the Chicago Climate Exchange, the hurdle to quantify and express greenhouse gas performance must be cleared. Although there are several systems and models being developed, EPM talked to researchers involved in two projects that are tackling the challenge from different angles. One is focused on a biofuels rating system, the other models a life cycle assessment of biofuels to provide a glimpse of what the future may hold for biofuels marketing.

In the end, the winners in the greenhouse gas reduction comparisons aren't surprising, but the numerical values are interesting. Switchgrass and hybrid poplar energy crops transformed into biofuels provide the most greenhouse gas reductions when compared with gasoline and diesel, at about a 115 percent reduction, in the long term when soil carbon levels are at equilibrium and no longer sequestering additional amounts. Reed canary grass reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 85 percent. The different rotations and tillage systems for corn and soybean rotations reduced greenhouse gas emissions around 40 percent. These numbers compare with current analyses of the corn-to-ethanol production process showing a 20 percent greenhouse gas reduction, Adler says.

The greatest impact on reducing the amount of greenhouse gases associated with energy use by switching to biofuels came from eliminating the life cycle greenhouse gases from fossil fuel use, followed by the storage of carbon in the soil from perennial crops. People most often think of carbon when considering greenhouse gases, but agricultural systems release methane from the soil, which is 23 times more active than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, and nitrous oxide, which is 300 times more powerful, Parton explains. Plus, the carbon sequestration effect of no-till or perennial crops has a relatively short-term positive effect on greenhouse gas emissions. "It's a positive for 20 years, then you reach a new equilibrium," Parton says.

Susanne Retka Schill is an Ethanol Producer Magazine staff writer. Reach her at or (701) 746-8385.

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August 6, 2007

LS9 - Using synthetic biology to produce renewable petroleum

Most of the technologies explored on this blog involve the production of cellulosic ethanol using biochemical or thermochemical processes. But ethanol has its detractors, and the processes that produce cellulosic ethanol can involve the use of water and the expense of energy to produce heat. What emerging technology and renewable fuels might succeed cellulosic ethanol? Biotechnologists on both coasts think they have the answer - Renewable Petroleum™ produced using synthetic biology. Let the company's website and an article from Technology Review tell the story...

LS9, Inc., the Renewable Petroleum Company™, is a privately-held biotechnology company pursuing industrial applications of synthetic biology to produce proprietary biofuels. LS9's products, currently under development, are designed to closely resemble petroleum derived fuels, but be renewable, clean, domestically produced, and cost competitive. In addition to biofuels, LS9 will also develop industrial biochemicals for specialty applications.

From Technology Review
Hydrocarbon fuels are better suited than ethanol to existing delivery infrastructure and engines, and their manufacture would require less energy. To make biological production of hydrocarbons a reality, the company is bringing together leaders in synthetic biology and industrial biotechnology.

Synthetic biology is the state of the art of bioenegineering, and refers to the design, construction, and improvement of biological machines at the molecular genetic level.

Using synthetic biology, LS9 has reached into nature and accessed the required biological tools, engineered them to function under industrial conditions, and is optimizing their performance to meet our economic objectives.

It has genetically engineered various bacteria, including E. coli, to custom-produce hydrocarbon chains.

Beyond custom-developing hydrocarbons, LS9 foresees licensing its technology. In particular, the company might someday forge agreements with ethanol producers, whose manufacturing plants could be put to more profitable and efficient use making hydrocarbon fuels.

LS9 is counting on the fact that ethanol is not really the best biofuel. Ethanol can't be delivered through existing pipelines. It also contains 30 percent less energy than gasoline, and it must be mixed with gasoline before being burned in conventional engines. LS9's fuels would have none of these disadvantages. What's more, LS9's fuels might be produced more efficiently than ethanol. For example, at the end of ethanol fermentation, the mixture has to be distilled to separate ethanol from water. LS9's products would just float to the top of a fermentation tank to be skimmed off.

LS9 now needs to prove that its technology is economical and can produce fuels on a large scale, says Jim McMillan, principal biochemical engineer in the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's Bioenergy Center, based in Golden, CO. "I don't doubt that [making hydrocarbon fuel from microbes] can be done; the question is how quickly and at what cost," he says. LS9 says it hopes to bring its hydrocarbon biofuels to market in four or five years.

Next year LS9 will build a pilot plant in California to test and perfect the process, and the company hopes to be selling improved biodiesel and providing synthetic biocrudes to refineries for further processing within three to five years.

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August 5, 2007

Motivating U.S. energy growth with "carrots" and "sticks"

Before breaking for summer the U.S. 110th Congress made strides on defining energy policies through passage of the 2007 Farm Bill (July 27th) and Energy Bills (August 4th). Analysis of these measures shows how the House seeks to achieve its goals by luring development with the "carrots" of incentives while threatening corporations with the "sticks" of taxes and regulatory standards.

In comparison to deliberations on the 2005 Energy Policy Act (EPACT) - passed prior to Bush's alarm-sounding "addicted to oil" State of the Union message and the oil price hikes of 2006 - both sides of the aisle seem to be tripping over themselves to prove to their constituencies that they "get" voter concern about the impact of U.S. oil dependency on the war in Iraq, the steep increases in the price of gasoline, carbon emissions from fossil fuels, and the overall need for more self-reliance for both electric and fuel energy production.

As a result, the Farm Bill and Energy Bill includes provisions that strongly support renewable energy development in general and biofuels development in particular.

So what are in these bills? While various news outlets carry detailed comparisons of the House and Senate versions of each, suffice it to say that the main issues break down between those usually held by pro-business Republicans vs. pro-environmentalist Democrats.

"Carrots" are incentives that enable private enterprise to reduce the risk of investment in new research, development, & deployment (RD&D). Reliance is placed on American business acumen, the power of profit-motive, and the social benefit of good jobs to spur innovation and positive action. They tend to favor a cap and trade system used in Europe to reward progress implementing carbon emission reduction and energy efficient technologies.

The carrots the House Energy Bill contains -
• New tax credits for consumers to buy plug-in electric hybrids and fuel-cell vehicles as well as low-interest loans and grants for consumers to buy energy efficient appliances and install solar panels and geothermal pumps at their homes.
• Incentives to build biomass factories and for research into cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel.
• Bonds to be used by cities and counties for energy conservation.
• Tax credits for installing E-85 pumps.
• Tax breaks, subsidies for research into better batteries for plug-in hybrid cars and up to $4,000 tax credit for purchasing such cars.
• Funds for an assessment of areas for underground carbon dioxide storage and calls for developing large-scale storage demonstration projects.

The 2007 Farm Bill (H.R. 2419) includes some other carrots -
• Funding to invest in rural communities nationwide, including economic development programs and access to broadband telecommunication services.
• New investments in popular conservation programs, including the Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, Environmental Quality Incentive Program, Farm and Ranchland Protection Program
• New investments in renewable energy research, development and production in rural America. Rebalancing loan rates and target prices among commodities, achieving greater regional equity.
• Additional funding aimed at protecting and sustaining our nation’s forest resources.

How would these carrots be paid for, besides growth in tax revenues from development of new industries? The House voted to repeal $16 billion in tax breaks given to the oil and gas industry, shifting the money into programs to boost biofuels, renewable energy and efficiency programs.

"Sticks" are regulations and punitive taxes that would increase government oversight of the process of energy technology deployment. Sticks would retard those technological development that could possibly threaten the environment, institute mandates on renewable energy purchases, set high standards on vehicle mileage and emissions reduction, and tax companies that fail to implement emissions improvements.

Some sticks create business opportunities. State Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) are an example. These mechanisms require utilities to purchase a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable sources. This tends to create market opportunities that encourage investment in chiefly solar and wind energy systems. California and Florida utilities are embracing these standards, in part because of other carrots and sticks. The Global Warming Act and similar California legislation that puts a cap on the use of coal to produce electricity threaten utility access to these mainstay sources of generation. However, the renewable energy sources can result in electricity that is more costly and more seasonal than current modes of generation, consequently they result in higher costs which are usually passed on to the consumer.

Another factor involved with RPS is that access to these wind and solar energy are regional. For this reason, Southern utilities are bristling at the attempt of Congress to pass a national RPS . They don't have much access to wind and solar energy. Biomass energy could rectify the imbalance because the Southeast is the wood basket of America and wood waste is actually a good source of bioenergy, but biofuel conversion technologies have yet to be employed commercial-scale and are at an early adopter stage of marketing.

The sticks the House Energy Bill contains include:
• Requirements that electric utilities produce 15 percent of electricity from renewable energy sources.
• New efficiency standards for appliances, lighting and building

The Farm Bill also contains -
• Strengthening payment limits for farm subsidies to ensure that people making more than $1 million a year (adjusted gross income) can’t collect conservation and farm program payments.
• Provisions that close loopholes that allow people to avoid payment limits by receiving subsidies through multiple business units.

One stick sought by the Democrats that didn't get passed was a big increase in federal fuel economy standards for all cars and trucks. The auto companies, like GM, have argued that this would cripple their industries because the American public still demands gas guzzling SUVs and pick-up trucks, the most profitable vehicles they make. Nevertheless, Speaker Pelosi is expected to push to include a Senate provision to raise fuel economy to 35 miles per gallon for cars and trucks by 2020 during deliberations.

What do the experts think about these Bills?
Bob Dinneen, President of the Renewable Fuels Association said this about the Energy Bill - “This bill could be to next generation cellulosic ethanol production what the 2005 energy bill was to grain-based ethanol. To achieve the ambitious goals the American people are calling for, it will require the production of ethanol from all available feedstocks, including corn, corn stover, switchgrass, wood chips and other cellulosic materials. This bill strikes the right chord by requiring that 21 billion of the 36 billion gallon requirement be met by cellulosic ethanol production."

Marchant Wentworth, a legislative representative for the Union of Concerned Scientists says "The Energy Bill saves consumers money, creates jobs and makes a down payment on reducing the threat of global warming."

Even though it satisfies the interests of most farmers, the Farm Bill looks like it might face a Bush veto. In one section Democrats added another "stick". They said they were closing a loophole and cracking down on foreign tax-dodgers, while Republicans called it a massive tax hike that would affect manufacturers that provide millions of jobs in their districts.

"This is an unprecedented move to use a farm bill as a vehicle to increase taxes," said Rep. Adam Putnam of Florida, the No. 3 Republican. "We could have put the House imprint on the farm bill, and now it is veto bait, and that is a tragedy."

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said Democrats had narrowed support for farm programs by including the tax measure in the bill. "If there was ever a time when our farm programs needed friends, it is now," he said.

Both bills will now go to the Senate to be merged with their versions.

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