March 31, 2007

March 2007 Digest

Bridging the Gap to Biofuels

When it comes to energy, we are all stakeholders – whether we are producers, refiners, developers, educators, policymakers, marketers, regulators, environmentalists, distributors, farmers, foresters, or simply commuters... we are all consumers with a vested interest in future development of renewable energy in concert with environmental sustainability.

Even though there is a growing global recognition that something must be done to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and mitigate carbon emissions, the potential for endless debate over the means to these ends is threatened by delays. We need to act now.

The success of any mission to achieve 25x’25 or Twenty in Ten is more dependent on our willingness to communicate and work together than it is on our technical achievements. Why? I am convinced it will take collaboration between all stakeholders to develop and deploy these emerging technologies.

Having attended three important conferences this month, perhaps the most important lesson I can share is one for “bridging the gap” that I learned at 25x’25. When negotiating all parties must take an attitude of “Yes, if...” rather than “No, because...”

For example, “Will you agree...?”:
• “Yes, if you will guarantee...
• “Yes, if you can convince...
• “Yes, if you can match...
• “Yes, if you will commit...

Without the proper spirit of collaboration no compact between stakeholders will be sustainable – even if the technology is.

BIOstock Blog--------------
Will dead trees revive forest industries?
Why ethanol from wood makes sense
The Canadian action plan against the Mountain Pine Beetle
25x'25 Summit pressures U.S. Congress to act
Environmentalists and industrialists meet at the BioEnergy Wiki

BIOconversion Blog--------------
Multi-prong approach enhances energy security
ACORE wins BIG in Vegas
So. California Air Quality (AQMD) looks at Cellulosic Ethanol
BIO World Congress is bio-energized by cellulosic ethanol

BIOoutput Blog--------------
Using fungi to produce ethanol & biodegradeable material

BIOwaste Blog--------------
Producing hydrogen from wastewater and MSW
Fortune looks at waste source reduction

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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March 26, 2007

BIO World Congress is bio-energized by cellulosic ethanol

The 4th Annual BIO World Congress on Biotechnology & Bioprocessing was held under ideal conditions in Orlando between March 22-24. In the past the focus has been on a wider range of industries including pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals, nanotechnology, and plastics. This year, cellulosic ethanol took center stage.

Many academics were on hand including post-grads from my old alma mater (Cornell) who were furiously typing up their notes of the many excellent presentations. For the first time I didn't take any notes - I took pictures (with a 7 megapixel Casio Xilim) which is an excellent way to capture the blurrying array of slides for later mental digestion. One thing I have learned about left-brained presenters - they tend to cram more information into their visuals than they address. At a parent orientation at MIT I saw students photographing chalkboards full of organic chemistry equations and I thought - boy that looks like the way to go!

Their were five tracks running simultaneously: Biofuels and bioenergy, Renewable feedstocks, Chemicals & biochemicals, Consumer manufacturing and bioprocessing, and Business development infrastructure and public policy. Probably 75% of the breakout sessions were focused on some aspect of biomass conversion of ag and forestry feedstock for the production of ethanol and bioproducts: CE in California, Woody crops for biorefineries, the use of genomics to improve biological conversion of biomass, the emerging defense department bioenergy market, reshaping the paper and pulp industry... on and on. I needed Hermione's time shifter - but the printed brochure of abstracts is a goldmine of summary information.

My chief objective is to meet the presenters and network. It was a field day for me. I spent most of my time with Richard Germain of Navigant Consulting and Jim Stewart of BRI (who used to work with Walt Disney and saw the first briefings that went into the conversion of Orlando into Walt Disney World!). Vinod Khosla gave the keynote and rousing lunch addresses from Jay Keasling (UC/Berkeley educator and 2006 Discover Magazine Scientist of the Year) and Alexander Karsner of the DOE/EERE stressed the national importance of the proceedings.

Aside from BRI there were several winners of the coveted DOE cellulosic ethanol grants giving presentations - Diversa and Celunol, Bluefire, Iogen, and Broin. I didn't see anyone from Abengoa or Rangefuels (but Doug Cameron of Khosla Ventures was in attendance).

The development of fast-growing ag and forest biomass was a hot topic of conversation including presentations by ArborGen 's Nathan Ramsey. From my vantage point as a marketing consultant for Price BIOstock Services in forestry biomass I found repeated references to the importance of forest stewardship and the critical role that the paper and pulp industries can play in achieving clean biomass to energy conversions. People are not aware that 44% of existing renewable electrical energy is being generated by the forestry industries.

The press was there and I was able to knosh with fellow blogger David Adams with whom I keep a running online relationship. He cornered Vinod Khosla for an excellent interview and introduced me to some journalists including Paul Elias of the Associated Press.

One panel relating to ongoing bioenergy education and communications was moderated by Terry Nipp of Sun Grant Association. Mark Downing of the Oakridge National Laboratory spoke of DOE plans to foster opportunities among emerging technologies in bioenergy. He provided insight to five years planning (2007-2012) by the Energy Efficiency an Renewable Energy division of the U.S. Department of Energy.

The Sun Grant Initiative is setting up regional feedstock partnerships to evaluate biomass production potential in each of the large scale biogeographical regions of the country.

One recipient of Sun Grant funding is a new educational resource called BioWeb that is an online resource for bioenergy and bioproducts. It will be premiere in beta form online on March 28th and releasing in full in mid-April. I videotaped Kelly Tiller, website editor, who described it as "an encyclopedia of everything biomass" that is approachable for every level of user. What makes it unique compared to the BIOenergy WIKI is that it is peer-reviewed with restricted contributions that are limited to biomass. Their creation of graphical interfaces could be very useful in simplifying understanding of the many technical complexities and relationships of this industry. They will also report on the emerging findings and products from the regional feedstock partnerships.

Other than Jim Stewart's BRI presentation on the final day I saw no mention of bioconversion of syngas through the use of catalysts or bioorganisms. Syngas fermentation would be almost a universal solution to feedstock conversion to ethanol and other chemicals - enabling us to convert blended ag, forestry, and urban waste in all its forms. Other companies are on the trail of this exciting technology but none of them appeared on the docket or in attendance.

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March 18, 2007

So. California Air Quality (AQMD) looks at Cellulosic Ethanol

The Southern California Air Quality Management District (SC/AQMD) is both a hero to local health agencies and the bane of existence to emerging technology developers.

Unquestionably, the improvement in Southern California air quality is one of the great national health success stories. Since 1990, per capita smog exposure has seen marked improvement in every county of the region and that is a mostly a result of AQMD "policing" of stringent controls and testing.

However, the San Gabriel Valley, Riverside, and San Bernardino are still seemingly intractable challenges. Until there are significant improvements in vehicular, refinery, electricity generation, and cement manufacturing emissions mitigation, the region's climatological conditions will still produce oppressive smog-filled conditions. And Los Angeles is still ranked as the smoggiest city in America.

It is, perhaps, for this reason that the AQMD sponsors periodic full day forums and roundtable discussions to discuss energy, fuels, and transportation issues that bear on air quality. Since June of 2006, the AQMD has hosted forums on Ethanol, Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles, Diesel Vehicles, Ozone, BioDiesel, and Container Movement Technology.

On February 15 AQMD held a web-cast forum on Cellulosic Ethanol that featured high caliber, national experts in the field. Each presented a 20-26 minute presentation in the morning and participated in a roundtable discussion in the afternoon.

Cellulosic Ethanol Technology Forum and Roundtable Discussion

Transportation sources in the (Southern California) South Coast Air Basin are substantial contributors of air pollution and toxic risk affecting the residents of the South Coast Air Basin, primarily because the fuel used in transportation sources is based on petroleum, such as gasoline and diesel. Such overwhelming dependency on a single fuel makes California and this Basin vulnerable to supply shortages and consequent severe price hikes, that in turn could seriously affect California’s ability to move goods and people.

Alternative fuels, such as ethanol, can reduce this dependency on petroleum and also enable this agency to meet its targeted air quality goals. Twenty percent of the ethanol currently produced in the country is consumed in California. However, production of this corn-based ethanol is ultimately limited by a number of factors. To be sustainable in the long-term and on a large scale, it is imperative that ethanol be produced from forest and agricultural residues such as corn stalks and rice stalks, and other plant materials including grasses and wood grown for this purpose.

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March 10, 2007

ACORE wins BIG in Vegas

What a difference a year makes! The American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) deserves strong praise for its 2006-2007 accomplishments as facilitators of America's emerging technologies development.

This year's Power-Gen Renewable Energy & Fuels conference in Las Vegas (March 5-8) was a "candy store" of information and networking opportunities for anyone interested in learning about emerging technologies in the renewable energy field. If this is an indication of ACORE's trajectory, anyone who reads this blog should make a point to attend next year - roughly the same time and city as this year. Not only was there greater exhibitor diversity and maturity but current events leading up to the conference imbued it with a heightened sense of importance and urgency.

Networking opportunities for the conference registrants abounded starting with tours to Hoover Dam and local desert solar arrays. Other receptions featured industry luminaries like former CIA Director James Woolsey.

I spent most of my time attending workshops and conference sessions dealing with biomass and conversion issues. Solar, wind, ocean wave, and geothermal technological development were also prominent on the agenda.

The Biomass Coordinating Council held its 2nd annual pre-conference meeting on Monday, March 5th. In comparison to last year (where attendees made brief introductions and discussed general topics in a round table configuration) this year its venerated and dynamic committee chairman, Bill Holmberg, organized a compelling string of ten joint presentations conducted by thirty of the participants. Topics included: Biomass in Developing Countries, Sustainability, Rural Development, Multifuel Engines and Biofuels, Soil Enrichment, Fast Growing Trees, Prison Industries, and Cellulosic Ethanol - the Future of BioFuels.

For my part, I co-presented - with Barbara Bramble of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and Doug Durante of the Clean Fuels Development Coalition (CFDC) - a discussion of how our Communications Working Group would foster networking, education, promotion, and feedback over the coming year.

Barbara focused on the NWF-supported BioEnergy WIKI that her organization inaugurated several months ago. It typifies the kind of innovation that will help move BCC collaborative tasks forward - online, user-written, informative, and topical. Be sure to visit it and bookmark it now. It will become the BCC/Communication Working Group's primary means of communication this year.

CFDC has been a major producer of focused publications that are used throughout Congress and industry to help foster understanding of clean fuels technologies, policy issues, and opportunities.

Navigant Consulting's extremely knowledgeable experts ran a pre-conference workshop that was worth the price of admission called "Uncovering the Full Renewable Energy Potential." Their work on the Bioenergy Action Plan for California was a key determinant leading to this year's passage of various progressive energy policies by its "action" Governor, Arnold Schwarzenneger, and the state legislature. At the conference they gave attendees their insight about: Technologies, Economics, and Markets; Biofuels Today and Tomorrow, and Renewable Energy Project Development. These experts (Richard Germain, Michele Rubino, Ryan Kotafsky, and Lisa Frantzis) are a must-see at the many events they attend around the country.

Navigant is conducting a comprehensive, multi-client study called "The (Re-) Emerging Bioenergy Economy" which will focus on the true potenital of bioenergy in the U.S. It is aimed, and priced, for strategic involvement and utilization by subscribing companies who will be introduced to the study, kept informed during development, and receive key findings in a presentation style report. Approximately eight weeks after the final meeting, NCI staff will offer one-and-one-half day follow-up meetings with a tailored presentation for each company. Subscription details are available by contacting Richard Germain.

Introduced by Jackie Jones of conference owner and producer PenWell Corporation at the keynote address, Michael Eckhart, President of ACORE, cited a Thomas Friedman quotation certain to be repeated often this year - "Green is the new Red, White, & Blue" - which identifies the patriotic fervor of the movement as well as its broad based support (among both "red" and "blue" states). He then introduced luminaries from each of the major renewable technologies represented at the conference - Alec Dreyer from Horizon Wind Energy LLC, Cameron "Mac" Moore from Germany-based Coenergy Group, Dr. Dan Arvizu from the National Renewable Energy Lab, and Dave Vander Griend from ICM, Inc. Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons also made an impassioned case for relocating businesses to Nevada - "No taxes!"

Ethanol naysayers take note - with the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) announcement of over $385 million in matching grants for 6 cellulosic ethanol plants around the country, there is little debate now about the net energy balance of ethanol. At one session on Advanced BioFuels Technologies, Michele Rubino of Navigant oversaw a panel that included two winners of the grants - Abengoa Bioenergy, and BlueFire Ethanol - and Seth Snyder of Argonne National Labs. Much of the presentation focused on a comparison of biochemical vs. thermochemical conversion processes and how they would be deployed in upcoming installations.

Jim Stewart of BRI, a third CE plant DOE grant recipient, made a presentation at the BCC workshop about BRI syngas fermentation technology - the advantages and benefits of its unique bioreactor process. He also drew attention to my BioEnergy BlogRing with a very generous testimonial. Thank you, Jim!

There was more interest expressed this year than last concerning the variety and quantity of biomass feedstock available for conversion. With the transitioning emphasis from corn to cellulosic ethanol feedstocks, there was a number of speakers who mentioned the untapped potential of woody biomass. It may be surprising to learn that the forestry and paper mill industries have been the largest producers of renewable energy in America - accounting for roughly 44% of the total. This production is generally unseen because the privat companies that produce it also use it - to avoid the expense and reliance on external, public sources of energy. The anticipated renaissance of the forestry industry will play a crucial role in our ability to meet renewable energy goals in the coming decades. It was heartening to see the wood industry sector receive some of the recognition it deserves.

One of the last presentations of the day was devoted to promotion of the 25x'25 Vision:
By 2025, America's farms, forests and ranches will provide 25 percent of the total energy consumed in the United States, while continuing to produce safe, abundant, and affordable food, feed and fiber.

National Co-chair Read Smith was joined by summit program committee member Richard Hahn to advance the goals of the organization as well as promote the upcoming 25x'25 Summit in Washington, D.C. March 20-21 at the Fairmont Hotel.

The agenda for the 25x'25 Summit is now posted on their website and it consists of a who's who of renewable energy, some who were not in attendance at the Power-Gen show including keynote speaker Vinod Khosla of Khosla Ventures, David Morse of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, various Senators and Congressmen, and Thomas Friedman of the N.Y. Times (invited).
PLEASE NOTE: I plan to be at both the 25x'25 Summit and the BIO World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing from March 22-24 in Orlando, Florida. Please notify me if you will be attending - I'd love to see you there.

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March 9, 2007

Multi-prong approach enhances energy security

A recently released report from the Southern States Energy Board gives a realistic scenario for increasing "American Energy Security" by eliminating the petroleum import gap. Using a multi-prong approach involving a broad range of technologies, they anticipate that this can be accomplished by 2031. This in spite of the fact that they project liquid fuel demand will increase during that time by 25%.

As can be seen in the accompanying pie chart, the bulk of the technologies are fossil-fuel related - coal-to-liquid conversion, oil shale, and enhanced oil recovery. Like it or not, coal, oil shale, and other domestic fossil fuel feedstocks do represent an alternative to imported oil and natural gas feedstocks. Energy made from these resources are not, however, carbon neutral and they will not simultaneously help to reduce carbon emissions.

Transportation efficiency means the reduction in demand for oil effected by a gradual changeover from pure gasoline to gasoline blends involving extenders like ethanol and the sale of flex-fuel, hybrid, and plug-in hybrids that use even less gasoline. Biomass includes fuels like ethanol and biodiesel that are made from sugar fermentation, hydrolysis, and gasification.

American Energy Security Report

A vast array of technologies exist that can produce liquid fuels from coal, oil shale, and biomass resources, that can facilitate enhanced oil recovery from U.S. reservoirs and save millions of barrels per day of liquid fuels in the transportation sector.

Liquid fuels are complex mixtures of hydrocarbons or oxygenated hydrocarbons in the form of ethers or alcohols. The transformation of biomass into these types of compounds involves breaking down the macropolymers of biomass into elemental molecules and then reconfiguring these molecules into the desired fuel compounds.

There are two fundamental approaches to this transformation: one is a bioconversion approach and the other uses thermochemical methods. Commercial ethanol and biodiesel liquid fuels production is well established in the U.S., and new pyrolysis and thermal depolymerization techniques are being developed to produce hydrocarbon fuels from cellulosic resources. Large polygeneration carbon-to-liquids plants can process a varied blend of coal, oil shale, and biomass feedstocks into oil. These combination plants first will gasify the carbon-bearing feedstocks and then combine the product gases into liquid fuels using well established Fisher-Tropsch technology.

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