December 16, 2008

Galvanizing Congress to move renewable energy forward

On December 5th, the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) hosted its annual Phase II meeting in Washington D.C. in the U.S. House of Representatives Cannon Caucus Room. Its theme this year was "The Next Presidency and Congress." Distinguished speakers addressed the state of renewable energy policy today, presented a range of policy options, and made recommendations for the new administration’s policy framework.

There was a deep sense of purpose and commitment in the room as luminary after luminary spoke of the challenges and opportunities before us. There was also a palpable sense of urgency due to the country's economic crises - as auto industry bailout talks were taking place in another room of the building.

Archived videos of the six hours of speeches are available online. Michael Eckhart (ACORE President) marked the growth in significance of this 7th annual convening of an ACORE Phase II meeting - which formed in 2001 one week before 9/11. John Geesman (former California Energy Commissioner) introduced Dan Reicher who is the Director or Climate Change and Environmental Initiatives for Their venture makes investments and advocates policy in the areas of climate change and energy, global development, and global health. General Wesley Clark made an impromptu appearance and speech on national security and ACORE's role in effecting positive change in America's energy independence.

The keynote address was delivered by Iowa Governor Chet Culver who avered that thirty years ago Iowa was ranked 49th in energy production by state. Since that time Iowa has become a net exporter of energy thanks to the diligence and innovation of Iowa state government, academia, and farmers to build a renewable fuels industry. "If you can't get pumped about this opportunity, then you are not 'pumpable,'" he said. He gave way to Jeff Broin, President of Poet Industries - now the nation's largest ethanol producer, who talked about the technology innovations taking place at their corn plants to reduce their carbon footprint, higher per acre crop yields as a panacea for global economic malaise, and Poet's construction of the Liberty, Iowa Plant that will create cellulosic ethanol using corn cobs as feedstock.

Senator Tom Daschle gave a detailed analysis of biomass conversion technologies - the allied food, fiber, fertilizer, and fuel impacts and the nine policies that should be pursued by Capitol Hill and the administration to advance them. He was followed by former Director of the CIA Jim Woolsey who talked about coupling biofuels production with the development of flex-fuel, plug-in hybrids like the experimental car he drives. In tandem, these two technology sectors can deflate the strategic value of oil - which is effecting the largest transfer of wealth in human history while making the U.S. and freedom-loving people more and more vulnerable.

N.Y. Times columnist Thomas Friedman then made a memorable address that was a walkthrough of his book "Hot, Flat, and Crowded" urging Congress to help launch and enable a Energy Technology revolution. His conclusion was that it wasn't the government's job to bailout a sick and ailing economy. It was their job to set the price points - whether through carbon taxes or cap and trade or other mechanisms - that make clean, renewable technologies economically viable.

The afternoon sessions focused on policies that were needed to help private industry finance Electric Power and the scale-up of renewable energy and summations by ACORE leaders advising the "Next President and Congress."

Below is an announcement from ACORE about the immediate impact of the meeting on negotiations concerning the economic stimulus bill.

Impact of Speeches at ACORE’s Phase II National Policy Conference
December 5, 2008

Congressional sentiment about how to deal with renewable energy tax incentives as part of a national economic stimulus bill may have changed in the past 48 hours as a result of speeches that were given by financial leaders at a renewable energy policy conference on Capitol Hill on Thursday and by the continuing effort of other renewable energy leaders.

The American Council On Renewable Energy held its 7th annual national policy conference, entitled “Phase II of Renewable Energy in America: The Next Presidency and Congress” yesterday in the Cannon Caucus Room in Washington, DC. The event held a packed room of 350 policy experts and was webcast to over 4,200 others around the world.

Keynote speeches by Iowa Governor Chet Culver, former Senator and Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Retired General Wesley Clark, former Director of Intelligence Jim Woolsey, and award-winning journalist Tom Friedman ignited the conference with a sense of determination to push the policy agenda forward on renewable energy in the new Congress and Administration.

However, the highest-impact speeches seemed to come from four top-tier financiers who came to Washington to speak about the urgent and near-crisis need to amend and refine the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind power and other renewable energy generators, and for the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for solar power.

Prior to the conference, the word from Congressional staff was that there will be no tax provisions in the upcoming economic stimulus bill, to avoid slowdowns in tax committees. This would put the renewable electricity markets in a decline just as the nation is looking for economic growth and jobs.

But, after hearing the finance speeches, Congress may have turned around on the question, as there is reportedly talk now of getting the refinements into the stimulus package.

“It is absolutely urgent that this be done,” said John Cavalier, Managing Partner of Hudson Clean Energy Capital. He outlined a set of refinements including making the tax credits refundable, able to be carried back ten years, allowed in lease finance structures, and applicable to manufacturing equipment to support new factories for wind turbine components and solar cells.

These changes are necessitated by the financial crisis which has reduced the availability of credit, caused the number of tax equity investors to be reduced, and increased the cost of capital across the board, according to Tracy Wolstencroft, Managing Director at Goldman Sachs.

“We are not asking for any new money,” said Kevin Walsh, Managing Director at GE Energy Financial Services. ”We are asking for technical refinements of tax credit rules that will allow funds to flow that Congress has already approved. This will open up the availability of equity capital for renewable energy projects, back to what was contemplated with the tax credits were passed originally. It is vitally important that this get done immediately to protect jobs in 2009.”

The fourth finance speaker at the conference was Michael Ware, Managing Director of Good Energies, and one of the few in finance today who served in the original Federal Energy Office in the 1970s.
“Our nation needs to back up its commitment to clean energy by extending the incentives for a longer time, and by continuing to refine the incentive rules to match market conditions. Congress could not have foreseen the extent of the credit crisis when they passed the PTC and ITC in September. No one is to blame. We are using our collective expertise to suggest how the Congress can relatively easily amend the rules to keep capital flowing into the U.S. market, keep our companies producing, and keep Americans employed. And again, this requires no additional money, just refinements to how the tax credits can be used – credits that Congress has already passed.”

Reports are coming in to ACORE from the Hill this morning that, as a result of the presentations at the Phase II conference and the work of other renewable energy leaders, there is a new good-faith intention to get the renewable energy provisions into the stimulus package to protect jobs in the sector. One lobbyist reported to ACORE that: ‘The message was heard by the staff, many of whom were in the conference or watching on the webcast.”
“We are very pleased by the quality of the Phase II conference, the motivation that came form the keynote speakers, and the immediate impact that our financial speakers seem to have had on public policy thinking in Washington. ACORE’s role is educating public officials about the issues, and it seems to have been accomplished in this case," said ACORE President, Michael Eckhart.

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October 26, 2008

Canada's biofuels promise

An article giving an overview of Canada's bioenergy potential has been published on the Renewable Energy website.

The author, Douglas Bradley, is president of the Canadian Bioenergy Association (CANBIO) a national, industry-driven, non-profit organization supporting promotion and use of bioenergy.

If possessing sustainable quantities of biomass alone is the measure of bioenergy potential of a country then Canada should be a world leader in bioenergy. Not only are its forests and thick farming belts teeming with biomass, its vast size and small population means that there is more than enough to satisfy the national hunger for bioenergy with plenty of sustainable supplies to export.

It has implications for global warming as well.

We need to see this as a great opportunity to reduce emissions by turning the massive amounts of forest residue, much of which is sitting at roadsides, into bioenergy. Using this fibre for energy enables us to use less fossil fuel, resulting in an immediate net reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. This forest fibre doesn’t compete with food production, making it an attractive and sustainable renewable resource. Some innovative companies and municipalities have already integrated bioenergy into their processes, either as an energy resource, or as bioenergy producers – and they are thriving.

In his article, Putting Canada on Track
The keys to a bioenergy-rich future Bradley depicts the major drivers that make development desirable, the status of some biomass feedstocks and their locations, and then he spotlights the major players that are leading development. Included are Iogen,, Lignol Energy Corp, Dynamotive Energy, Woodland Biofuels, and Advanced Biorefinery with a brief description of how they fit in the fabric of Canadian bioenergy technologies.

He concludes by suggesting how Canada can "catapult bioenergy development...
This year has been the most exciting yet in terms of bioenergy development in Canada. But for Canadian bioenergy to catch up with its EU counterparts, a number of key barriers need to be addressed. One of the most visible problems facing small and medium-scale biomass heat and power projects is the requirement that any steam installation have a steam engineer on-site 24-hours per day. The high staffing cost simply destroys the economics of most projects under 17 MW in Canada. In Europe, different guidelines exist for smaller power plants and this has helped small and medium-scale biomass heating to thrive. Other barriers that exist for small and medium-scale projects are high capital equipment costs, where a government subsidy of around 25% is sorely needed to make a strong business case for potential investors. And such an incentive would certainly help the government achieve GHG emission targets. CANBIO is creating an alternative proposal to the 24-hour a day requirement, and is working with government to propose better solutions. The Ontario and Quebec government’s announcement of an emission cap-and-trade system is a step in the right direction, but only a strong, nationwide carbon-trading system can have a real impact on bioenergy development. Nonetheless, while there is much work to be done to develop favourable market conditions in Canada, bioenergy can provide one of the sustainable solutions to combat climate change and there are plenty of opportunities for international investors, technologies and buyers.

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September 23, 2008

Comments on Friedman's "Hot, Flat, and Crowded"

Thomas Friedman has a terrific platform from which to interview energy experts globally, write opinion pieces that are distributed through the New York Times, and participate in the production of cable television documentaries. Occasionally he pumps out a book that coalesces all of his research and synthesizes his prescriptions for solving the energy, environment, and global warming challenges that face us.

His The World is Flat book documented the changes in demographics and economic parity that will define the global rise of the middle class. Wonderful on the face of it, the consequences of this metamorphosis could challenge America's position and security as the leading consumer nation in the world - leading to competition for resources with developed and currently under-developed countries worldwide.

Since the release of that book (in 2005) the stakes have risen with an acceleration of demand for fossil energy, heightened concern about the global warming impacts of human behavior, and the sharp spike in gas prices - not to mention the crisis on Wall Street.

This book Hot, Flat, and Crowded takes on a broader perspective and a sharper call to action. The broader perspective intends to address the dual-headed energy and environment challenge with the clean tech alternatives he particularly espouses - solar, wind, and energy efficiency. His call to action compares the energy lethargy of the fractious U.S. policymaking machine with the frantic and command structured action of the Peoples Republic of China.

My primary reservation about the book is that it has a typically urban perspective on the problems without giving rural world economies (particularly in developed countries) their due. Friedman believes that ethanol subsidies are bad policy - in spite of the fact that the ethanol producers of America reflect the most immediate example of entrepreneurism contributing and innovating new solutions. He also doesn't distinguish between corn ethanol and cellulosic regarding the value of subsidies.

And then he decries policymakers for not committing to long-term guarantees like the production tax credit for solar and wind. What's bad for the goose is bad for the gander. Pulling the ethanol subsidies out from under any kind of ethanol developments would set a bad precedent impacting investor confidence.

Chapter 18

That being said, Friedman's website allows readers to contribute to the next edition of the book! A project he calls "Chapter 18" seeks reader input:

Hot, Flat, and Crowded has seventeen chapters. What's Chapter 18? Chapter 18 will be a completely new chapter that I’ll add to the next edition of the book: Version 2.0. In it I hope to include the best ideas and proposals sent in from readers: ideas about clean energy, energy efficiency, and conservation; about petropolitics and nation-building in America; about how we can help take the lead in the renewal of our country and the Earth alike by going Code Green. I am eager for your suggestions — please post them here.

So I sent in my two cents worth and I suggest you do the same. Here's what I wrote:

Loved your new book - I recommend that all of my colleagues read it.

My only disappointment is that you almost completely left out discussion of biomass conversion technologies (CTs) - the single biggest source of renewable power in the U.S. today (more than hydroelectric, solar, wind, and geothermal combined).

Wind and solar are carbon neutral. Plants are carbon negative and their biomass can be converted to directly replace fossil liquids for fuels and fossil solids for baseload power.

Wind and solar will not revive the decentralized rural economies of the world the way that bioenergy will (reference 25x'25 and ACORE's Biomass Coordinating Council).

I have come to the opinion that the key to sustainably sourcing biomass for CTs is finding waste streams and disaster debris that has a social cost attached to it (and very often a tipping fee or government incentive to remove it). This biowaste needs to be cleaned up before it decays into methane, CO2, and other GHGs. I include in these waste streams (1) wildfire salvage wood in CA, (2) hurricane debris and forest knockdown in the Gulf states, (3) mountain pine beetle infested wood in British Columbia and Colorado, and (4) unrecycled MSW at all the major cities. These problem accumulations of biomass are massive and will get much worse with "global weirding."

California's AB32 - the Global Warming Solutions Act - has entrusted its Air Resources Board to devise and execute solutions to reduce GHG emissions in California. CARB has fashioned a Scoping Plan and sought comments from Californians at large. I have written an article with links to the three comments I made based on my research and travels and invite you to check them out.

One comment advocates reducing significant amounts of GHG by thinning forests to preempt unprecedented "megafires", salvage carbon laden tree remains for conversion, and replant forests to sequester CO2 anew. You should interview Sen. Feinstein about the pitifully low amount of forest management work that has been accomplished since the passage of her Healthy Forest Initiative Act of 2003. Only 77,000 acres have been treated out of 20 million acres funded. This institutional lethargy is largely because there is no forest products industry left in those forests to buy the wood which would fund the programs. (BIOstock Blog)

Another comment focuses on diverting unrecyclable wastes (40 million tons/year in CA alone) from landfills by instead using CTs to produce biopower and biofuels at the Municipal Sorting Facilities (as L.A. is planning to do with its RENEW L.A. plan). (BIOwaste Blog)

My third comment is titled Challenge the Status Quo which aligns with your BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere, Not Anytime) lament. Too much current policymaking and regulations handicap initiative for action. For instance, thermochemical CTs are hogtied with the same EIA and LCA impediments as landfills (which means that it takes 5 to 10 years to permit them). As a consequence, the status quo wins.

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August 12, 2008

Pulp & Paper Industry: The "bird's nest" of bioenergy?

One prominent feature of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) is its renewable fuel standard that sets the trajectory for satisfying America's newfound thirst for alternative fuels. 36 billion gallons per year production by the year 2022. Considering that the U.S.' current annual production of biofuels is about 8 billion gallons that is a considerable amount of growth being virtually mandated by the U.S. Congress under the watchful eye of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Where is this fuel likely to come from? Can we "piggyback" any comparable industry and its existing infrastructure to help ease the transition between fossil fuels and biofuels?

The paper and pulp industry is starting to see a way to recover from its decades long fighting retreat. They are the biorefineries of the present. Their byproducts (paper and pulp) are more plentiful and valuable than the biopower and biofuels than they produce. But even so, the current combined output of heat, steam, and electricity made from combusting woody biomass and "black liquor" process residues make these mills the number one source of renewable energy in the country - more than all other alternative energy sources combined (including hydroelectric).

According to many within TAPPI (the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry) the time is ripe for retooling the more than 200 chemical paper mills operated within the country.

TAPPI held its annual 2007 TAPPI Conference in Atlanta last May. This year's event is August 27-29 in Portland. It will be interesting to see how the organizers address the latest attempts to engage the industry in what may be a renaissance of its mission and accomplishments.

Below is an excellent story by the Senior Editor of TAPPI's monthly magazine. He highlights some of the key features of this established industry that may very well piggyback the future of bioenergy.

Pulp and Paper Industry Poised to Take Center Stage in Global Bioenergy Arena
International bioenergy conference explores new and emerging pathways, technologies, financial, legal, and operation issues.

by Ken Patrick

The pulp and paper industry is uniquely positioned to immediately produce significant amounts of biofuels, bioenergy and bioproducts. With a mature, operating infrastructure capable of delivering double-digit billions of gallons of biofuels annually, generally without adding any new fiber processing capacity, many pulp and paper mills around the world are only a one-step investment away from becoming major renewable energy producers. Especially important, paper industry capacity that can be re-aligned and re-purposed toward bioenergy co-production would be 100% cellulosic feedstock based, with no agricultural attachments at all.

Considering that there are 200 or more similar chemical pulp mills in the U.S., and at least an additional 100 in Canada, basic arithmetic shows this barrelage capacity for Fischer-Tropsch synthetic crude oil could total somewhere upwards of 420 million barrels per year, or between 15 and 20 billion gallons per year for the entire North American pulp and paper industry.

Pulp Mills as Biorefineries

Pulp mills are ideal sites for integrated biorefinery operations for four basic reasons. First, they are already set up to receive and process massive amounts of delivered roundwood and woods chips, served in this capacity by rail, truck and some also by barge operations. In the U.S. alone, pulp mills use more than 120 million dry tons of wood per year, and they have access to at least an equal amount of forest residuals and even a greater amount of agricultural wastes and energy crops if needed.

Second, these mills have basically the same existing infrastructures for warehousing and shipping out finished products around the country. Third, they have a well-established in-place administrative infrastructure and related human resources that can be extended to serve a biorefinery business without incurring significant new costs. Fourth, pulp mills have operating utility support systems for process water, electricity, steam and waste/environmental treatment that can easily be umbrella'd to support biorefinery operations without major new investments.

And possibly as a strong fifth reason, chemical pulp mills already operate as biorefineries of sorts, producing fiber used to make paper and paperboard as well as some specialized dissolving pulps used to make viscose types of "bio-plastics" and rayon materials. Bio-byproducts made from sulfate (or kraft) spent cooking liquors (black liquor) include ingredients used in making coatings, adhesives, detergents, paint, varnish, ink, lubricants, waxes, polishes, gasoline additives, agricultural products, etc. Turpentine is obtained by condensing exhaust vapors during the pulping of softwoods with the kraft process. There also is a spectrum of lignin-based byproducts produced from refinement of black liquors.

This same black liquor that, in fact, after it is thickened through evaporation and the byproduct streams removed, is currently used as a "fuel" to fire what are known as chemical recovery boilers, so named because their initial, primary purpose was to burn the hemicellulose/wood sugar content of the thickened, spent cooking liquor, resulting in a char bed deposit that can be regenerated backing into fresh cooking liquor chemicals. Heat from the combustion process is used to co-generate steam used in the process and electricity via turbo-generators. Today's mills produce on the average 60% of their power from wood residuals and spent pulping liquors.

Cellulosic Pathways to Bioenergy

Rather than burning these high volumes of spent cooking liquors directly in recovery boilers, integrated biorefineries can process them into an array of value-added cellulosic biofuels, including ethanol, various synthetic gases (syngas), synthetic crude oil and biodiesel. These fuels could be used to offset petroleum-based fuels being burned in the mill and/or to sell as transportation/motor fuels.

There are as many as 12 clearly defined pathways into integrated biofuel/bioproduct production at pulp and paper mills. These include the thermochemical approaches that generally involve gasification of either biomass and/or spent cooking liquor streams alone or in combination with advanced gas-to-liquid technologies such as Fischer-Tropsch-based systems, and various pyrolysis techniques involving fluidized bed boilers.

Other pathways involve established sugar platforms and value-prior-to-pulping (VPP) approaches, where hemicellulose content is extracted before cooking of wood chips in digesters in various ways, such as cooking in pure water to produce a "prehydrolyzate" that can be fermented to mixed alcohols or gasified to produce a syngas.

The American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA) recently conducted a detailed study of the most feasible routes to integrated biofuel production at pulp and paper mills, versus stand-alone cellulosic biorefineries, as part of its Agenda 2020 program. This study is detailed in a two-part series of reports just completed in the July issue of Paper360° magazine, the official publication of TAPPI (the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry) and PIMA (the Paper Industry Management Association).

A committee of Agenda 2020 CTO's, representing 90%-plus percent of chemical pulp producers in the U.S., evaluated four general pathways that appear to be most likely for chemical pulp and paper mills based on existing infrastructures and operations. This study focuses basically on thermochemical approaches as being the most feasible, and looks generally at four related pathways.

The business case discussed in the AF&PA report is based on a post-2010 gasification biorefinery operation at a kraft pulp and paper mill as described in a recent report by Princeton University. The reference mill is in the Southeastern U.S. and produces 1,580 dry tpd of kraft pulp using a 65/35 mix of hardwood and softwood.

Compelling Payoff Potential

The main economic benefits of biorefining in the cases outlined by AF&PA for this reference mill include additional revenues from sale of synthetic fuels (511 tpd of dimethyl ether to be used as an LPG (propane) blend stock, or 2,362 barrels per day of petroleum equivalent or 4,757 barrels per day petroleum equivalent of Fischer-Tropsch synthetic crude oil for refining to diesel and gasoline blendstocks at petroleum refineries), as well as a savings of 226 tons per day of pulpwood due to increased pulp yield, and slightly overall lower steam use.

Considering that there are 200 or more similar chemical pulp mills in the U.S., and at least an additional 100 in Canada, basic arithmetic shows this barrelage capacity for Fischer-Tropsch synthetic crude oil could total somewhere upwards of 420 million barrels per year, or between 15 and 20 billion gallons per year for the entire North American pulp and paper industry, based on existing infrastructure and operations only, without adding any new capacity.

This is a very significant potential considering that the President's 2007 renewable fuel standard (RFS) is 36 billion gal/yr by 2022, and that at least 21 billion gallons of this are to be obtained from cellulosic ethanol and other advanced biofuels. This clearly indicates that the forest products industry, and pulp and paper mills in particular, are in a very unique position to help meet this critical national challenge.

TAPPI Bioenergy Conference

These issues, and specifically the AF&PA position paper study, will be explored in considerable detail at the TAPPI International Bioenergy and Bioproducts Conference (IBBC) to be held in late August in Portland, Oregon.

The 2008 Technical Conference Program features 14 sessions that will take attendees through an in-depth analysis of where the industry currently is on the biorefinery front to where it will be in the next five years and beyond. A key issue underlying all sessions is the immediate need to attract investment community involvement on an on-going basis. The intensive program explores not only the latest biorefinery technologies, but also developing markets and the legal-legislative-investment sides of the bioenergy/bioproducts equation

The IBBC program includes several sessions that examine biorefinery approaches already in commercial operation, with from-the-field updates by those "already doing it." Systems technologies being reported in these sessions cover pyrolysis, gasification/gas-to-liquid, acid hydrolysis, enzymatic, and other fermentation-based approaches.

Ken Patrick is Senior Editor for TAPPI and PIMA's Paper360° magazine.

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July 30, 2008

The Case for Bioenergy

I am frequently asked why we should pursue the production of biofuels and biopower when we could substitute other seemingly simpler and "cleaner" alternatives - like wind and solar - that don't require such complicated biomass logistics. A recent article I found on the European-based Biopact Blog supplies a partial answer.

Americans should heed the experience of the Europeans because they have been coping with expensive petrochemicals for decades, have fewer natural resources, have a more sophisticated infrastructure for producing and distributing energy, have higher demand for heat in the winter, and, sad to say, have been more open than Americans to alternatives - including nuclear power. NIMBYism is not an option. Many of the continental energy solutions involve centralized heat and power (CHP) whereby the heat of energy production is converted into steam and distributed to the local community.

European microcosms are like labs for alternatives - France for nuclear power, the Netherlands for wind, Germany for solar, and Scandanavia for biopower. On the biofuels side, they produce and use biodiesel to supplement the dominant fuel of the continent.While there are no precedents for many of the technologies being deployed here, I have been impressed by the practice of utilities and policymakers to fly overseas to see firsthand how new technologies are being fostered by policymaking and how they perform once deployed.

Below is the introduction to the article...

RAB: biomass now the key renewable energy source, as backlash against wind and solar grows

Biomass energy is increasingly touted as the key renewable in the push to green Europe's electricity supplies, says David Williams, chairman of the UK government's Renewables Advisory Board's (RAB) biomass sub-group. This is so because biomass shows the best economic and CO2-abatement performance of all the renewables, because it can be transported and traded globally, and because it is far more reliable than intermittent sources.

In recent months, the UK has changed its position on renewables, says Williams, with a backlash against many more established alternative energy sources like wind and solar power and liquid biofuels. In the transport sector, first-generation biofuels have been attacked for their potential effect on food prices and actual carbon reductions. Wind and solar are being heavily criticised for their inability to produce a consistent stream of electricity and for their cost. Wind power can be two to three times more expensive than biomass; solar PV up to twenty times, and solar CSP up to five times. There are no efficient energy storage options for these renewables, making them incapable of providing baseloads.

That is why many industry experts are now suggesting that biomass has to play the primary role in helping the EU to meet its challenging target of generating 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, says the RAB's biomass chairman.
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July 24, 2008

BlueFire Ethanol to build in California

BlueFire Ethanol Fuels Inc. received a conditional use permit from the County of Los Angeles, Department of Regional Planning, for the operation of a new biorefinery it will build on a 10 acre lot near a Lancaster, CA landfill. For anyone aware of the slow rate of permitting new facilities for waste conversion in the region, that is a major achievement.

This is NOT the commercial-scale project for which BlueFire received a U.S. Department of Energy EPAct 932 matching grant of $40 million. That plant is being for deployment in Mecca, CA and will require roughly 900 tons per day of biomass when fully operational. The DOE considers 700 tpd to be the benchmark for a commercial scale biorefinery.

For Arnold Klann, President of BlueFire, it was a long time coming but worth the wait. With key drivers being the need for alternative fuels, oil prices, landfill diversion, and global climate change things have been happening fast the last few years for this publicly traded company.

On hand to support the action were Coby Skye of the Los Angeles Department of Public Works and Mike Mohajer, a leader of Solid Waste management in Los Angeles for decades. Necy Sumait, Senior Vice President, and William Davis, VP of Project Management, who made the final presentation to the Commission were there as well.

The county Department of Public Works has launched a pilot project to build other trash-conversion facilities near other landfills in the region.

"Instead of shipping the trash long distances for disposal, we want to develop these new conversion technologies and manage the trash right there on site," said Coby J. Skye, associate civil engineer in the Environmental Programs Division for public works. "What that does is it eliminates truck trips, converts otherwise useless material into usable products and energy and offsets fossil-fuel emissions."

In the past month, two of Los Angeles County’s largest cities have passed resolutions endorsing the County’s conversion technology program. The city councils of Long Beach and Lancaster, which together account for nearly 650,000 residents, each asked the County to keep their city in mind for future conversion technology projects. These join existing resolutions adopted by the cities of Glendale and Calabasas.


BlueFire Ethanol Awarded Final Permits to Construct the Nation's First Commercial Cellulosic Ethanol Production Plant

BlueFire Ethanol Fuels, Inc. (OTC: BFRE.OB), a leader in cellulosic ethanol production technology, was granted a conditional-use permit ("CUP") from the County of Los Angeles, Department of Regional Planning, to permit the construction of the nation's first commercial facility to convert biowaste into ethanol.

The Los Angeles County Planning Commission approved the use permit for operation of the plant on 10 undeveloped acres near Lancaster, California, in the Antelope Valley. BlueFire plans to initiate commercial operation of the plant in late 2009.
"We are thrilled to receive this permit," said Arnold Klann, president and CEO of BlueFire Ethanol, "and we see this construction of our first cellulosic ethanol the United States plant as a catalyst for the advancement of cellulosic fuel production throughout our nation."

The new facility will use BlueFire's commercially-ready, patented and proven Concentrated Acid Hydrolysis Technology Process. This will allow the profitable conversion of cellulosic waste ("Green Waste") into as much as 3.2 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year. Derived from non-foodstock urban, forestry and agricultural residues, this form of ethanol is a completely renewable and highly-economical alternative to gasoline and other types of ethanol.

BlueFire Ethanol selected the Lancaster location because an estimated 170 tons of biowaste material, including woodchips, grass cuttings and other organic waste, already passes by the property every day. The plant is also designed to use reclaimed water and lignin, a byproduct of the production process, in order to produce its own electricity and steam.
"By locating biorefineries directly in the markets with the highest demand for ethanol, our technology can also help surrounding cities manage landfill waste, solving two problems for the price of one," added Klann.

As part of a strategy to control costs and accelerate production at the Lancaster facility, BlueFire Ethanol has already implemented production of pre-assembled modules which will comprise the Lancaster biorefinery.
"Prefabrication and modular construction has proven itself to be the best method for maintaining quality, controlling costs and creating the fastest to-market time for the deployment of complex facilities," said Klann. "Plus, the size of our Lancaster facility is consistent with the feedstock-gathering capabilities in developing countries where aggregation of large quantities of useable feedstock is not as practical. As such, this approach also allows us to set a standard with a manufactured product and export our facilities as a turn-key product around the world."

BlueFire Ethanol is also one of six ethanol companies awarded $40 million funding from the U.S. Department of Energy for its construction a larger ethanol production facility using cellulosic wastes diverted from landfills in Southern California. The facility will produce approximately 17 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year from green waste, wood waste and other cellulosic urban wastes.

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July 22, 2008

INEOS Bio to license syngas fermentation technology

INEOS Group Holdings PLC, one of the three largest chemical conglomerates in the world, has announced the July 1, 2008 formation of a new company, INEOS Bio, whose initial focus will be the commercialization of what they call "the World’s leading second generation bioethanol technology process" to serve the global renewable transport fuels market.

The technology has been in development by Bioengineering Resources Inc. of Fayetteville, Arkansas for over two decades. While the process can certainly use cellulosic material as feedstocks (switchgrass, corn stover, wood wastes, rice straw, etc.) it does not produce "cellulosic ethanol" in the purest sense of the term. Through gasification, it reduces all components of the feedstock, not just the cellulose, into a syngas that is then fermented into ethanol with the water filtered out. Pound for pound, the process is anticipated to produce the highest amount of ethanol (roughly 105 gallons / ton of feedstock - depending on the carbon content and btu energy of the feedstock blend) of any thermochemical biorefinery process. As a result, Municipal Solid Wastes (MSW) can be used as a feedstock and tires and fossil residues (like petcoke) can be blended in to increase the volume yield.

As illustrated in their website animation, the heat generated by gasification will be captured for co-generation of electricity - a byproduct that will help reduce the energy cost of the system and provide an important second profit stream.

The company plans on licensing new commercial-scale facilities that will be producing millions of gallons of ethanol by 2011.

Below is the press release as published on the new INEOS Bio website.

Cars to run on fuel from household waste within two years
July 19th 2008, Fayetteville, AR
(Click here for video announcement)

INEOS now has technology to produce commercial quantities of bio ethanol fuel from landfill waste. Second generation bio ethanol reduces greenhouse gases from car use by 90% and doesn’t use food crops in the production process.

Cars to run on fuel from household waste within two years

“This is a breakthrough technology” says INEOS Bio CEO.

INEOS, one of the world’s top three chemical companies, announced today that it is aiming to produce commercial quantities of bioethanol fuel from biodegradable municipal waste within two years.

INEOS new technology will produce bioethanol in huge quantities from municipal solid waste, green waste, animal waste and agricultural residues amongst other things.
According to Peter Williams, INEOS Bio CEO, “Consistent with changing policy, in regions such as North America and Europe we see around 10% of the gasoline or petrol being replaced with second generation bioethanol. We believe our technology will make a major contribution to reducing greenhouse gases and the world’s need for fossil fuels."

INEOS Bio Ethanol releases up to 90% less net greenhouse gases than petrol. One tonne of dry waste can be converted into about 400 litres of ethanol, which can be blended with or replace traditional fuels to substantially reduce vehicle emissions.

The technology – already proven at pilot plant scale – uses a simple three-stage process. The waste is first superheated to produce gases. Then, through a patented process, the gases are fed to naturally occurring bacteria, which efficiently produce ethanol. Finally, the ethanol is purified to make the fuel ready to be blended for use in cars.

Car companies have already developed engines that can run efficiently on both bioethanol and conventional fuels. Up to now, the challenge has been that bioethanol has been manufactured primarily from food crops and this has raised concerns on price and availability.
Peter Williams says, “The fact that we have been able to decouple second generation biofuel from food is a major breakthrough, and we expect our technology to provide a low-cost route to renewable fuels”.

Dr Geriant Evans is the Technology Transfer Manager for the UK’s National Non Food Crops Centre. He says: “This technology really ticks all the boxes. It turns waste into biofuel; it reduces greenhouse gases and doesn’t rely on food crops. We need this produced on a global scale as soon as possible. It’s a revolutionary technology”.

Governments, NGO’s and Municipal Authorities are already welcoming second generation Bio Fuels such as INEOS Bio Ethanol, which will contribute to both reducing greenhouse gases and the ever-growing waste disposal problem.

The process was developed in Fayetteville, Arkansas where Dan Coody is Mayor. He recognises the enormous potential.
“We’re proud that this technology has been developed here and it is definitely a technology that we’d like to employ in the City of Fayetteville. It will help us reduce our landfill, reduce our CO2 emissions and our reliance on foreign fuels all at the same time”

With the technology proven at pilot scale, the next challenge is to bring second-generation bioethanol into commercial production. INEOS aims to do this within two years.
Peter Williams, INEOS Bio CEO says: “We expect to announce the location of the first commercial pilot plant fairly shortly and we will quickly roll out this technology around the world. We aim to be producing commercial amounts of bioethanol fuel, for cars, from waste within about two years. "

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July 17, 2008

The "Bridge Builder" of biomass conversion

Last night it was my privilege to attend a tribute to a decorated Marine who is an officer, a gentleman, and a war hero. He is also a towering luminary of the Biomass Conversion industry - who just happens to have reached the tender age of eighty.

Bill Holmberg is the Chairman of the Biomass Coordinating Council (BCC) of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE). ACORE, co-host with the U.S. State Department for last March’s Washington International Renewable Energy Conference (WIREC), is the foremost American association promoting all forms of renewable energy. Their success is in large part because of Bill’s inspired leadership of the BCC.

I call Bill the “Bridge Builder” of biomass conversion because that is his principal contribution to a movement that has such large chasms to cross and requires the coordinated efforts of so many specialists. The key drivers for renewable energy touch defense, energy, economic, environmental, educational, and manpower issues that will occupy Washington policymakers for decades to come.

The threat of inertia within the industry is real because of the many narrow interests involved. But true leader that Bill has been all his life, he retains a sense of perspective, purpose, drive, and appreciation of the good intent of all the stakeholders that are committed to the paradigm shift. The nation’s capital, which excels at developing coalition builders, has none better than Bill Holmberg.

In attendance at his "Toast and Roast" were many groundbreakers who represent specific components of the movement. They, too, exemplify the kind of dedication and leadership necessary to gradually move the global village away from fossil fuels toward bio-based power, fuels, and products.

On hand were Jim Woolsey (former Director of the CIA), Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson, Mike Eckhart (President of ACORE), Bob Dinneen (President of the Renewable Fuels Association), Brent Erickson of BIO’s Industrial Biotechnology division, Kevin Kephart (professor and a regional director for the Sun Grant Initiative), Carol Werner (Executive Director of the Energy and Environment Study Institute), Doug Durante (Executive Director of the Clean Fuels Development Coalition), Phil Madson (President of Katzen Inc.), Barbara Bramble of the National Wildlife Federation and Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels, Max Shauck (Director and Professor of the Baylor Institute for Air Science), Mike Bowman of 25x’25, and environmental activist Suzanne Hunt.

Many, I am sure, first came into contact with Bill Holmberg in the same “burning bush” way that I did. I was driving to an appointment when I got a cellphone call from a perfect stranger. It was Bill and he had an invitation and a request. He wanted me to attend a one day meeting of his BCC in Las Vegas. My role was to represent “blogging” because he felt his group needed an expert that could contribute a communications perspective to leverage new media to the cause of moving bioenergy forward.

I am more than grateful that I went. There were fifty experts in the room who were focused on soil, forestry, farming, aviation, the paper industry, social justice, biomass logistics, military technology, Indian affairs, academia, genetics, the penal system, tree farming, environmental sustainability, biofuels, and bioproduct development. I was a kid in a candy store.

Everyone was involved in the conversation and, while none would go away feeling that their own perspective had been fully explored, all would come to realize the awesome scope of the enterprise, the role they had to play in it, and the genuine humanity of its aims - and of BCC's leader. That is Bill’s gift. There were many relationships that spawned that day, bridging some of the technological, communication, and interdisciplinary gaps of the attendees.

Anyone in a position to play a serious role in the coming bioenergy paradigm shift should seek out ACORE and its BCC chairman, Bill Holmberg. ACORE is hosting the RETECH 2009 show in Las Vegas February 25-27. Do yourself a favor - join ACORE's BCC and reserve a room in Vegas now.

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July 6, 2008

Roadmap for bioenergy & biobased products in the U.S.

At last year's Pacific Rim Summit on Industrial Biotechnology & Bioenergy I met Dr. Larry Walker for the first time. I had heard of him because one of his responsibilities is managing the prestigious Sun Grant Initiative budget for the Northeast Region at Cornell University.

It wasn't until I had seen him at a couple of other events that I realized that he was also Co-editor in chief of the quarterly Industrial Biotechnology Journal of the biobased industries. Published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. the Journal is a terrific source of peer reviewed information about this emerging industry. It also provides a segmented recap of new stories from the preceding quarter and a lengthy calendar of upcoming events.

In the latest issue is a special Industry Report that documents research strategies that will help achieve the goals established by the Biomass Research and Development Technical Advisory Committee's Vision for Bioenergy and Biobased Products in the United States. As stated in the Roadmap's executive summary:

The updated Roadmap for bioenergy & biobased products in the U.S. will continue to be used as a reference document for industry, academia, and policy makers to implement the steps necessary to achieving the Vision goals. The Roadmap identifies a concrete strategy of research and policy measures for decision makers. It identifies measures needed to advance biomass technologies and enable an economically viable, sustainable and economically desirable biobased industry.

Biomass conversion technologies have the potential not only to decentralize energy security while revitalizing local economies, to mitigate climate impacts of fossil carbon accumulation in the atmosphere, to shift from fossil-based products to biobased ones, but also to reduce waste and pollution accumulations throughout the world. This roadmap should be required reading for federal, state, and local policymakers who hope to help their constituencies move to a cleaner, more environmentally sustainable future in an economically sustainable way.

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July 5, 2008

Comments on the California Climate Change Draft Scoping Plan

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has just released its Climate Change Draft Scoping Plan in accord with its responsibilities for implementing AB32 - the Global Warming Solutions Act. Its objective is to lay the foundation for an enforceable approach to reduce California's anticipated greenhouse gas emissions for the year 2020 by 30% (estimated to be equivalent to California's GHG levels of 1990). Like AB32, the scope of the plan is broad with anticipated environmental and economic impacts that are breathtaking. Sustainability is the key.

In my opinion this draft of the scoping plan leaves out some significant sources of GHG for which there are promising mitigation technologies available. These involve low-value biomass (like fuelwood thinnings and municipal solid wastes) that can be used as feedstocks for conversion to bioenergy.

I have written three blog articles to address my main concerns and ideas regarding:
1- Challenging the Status Quo in the Scoping Plan
2- The Sustainable Forests emissions reduction measures outlined in the plan.
3- The Recycling and Waste Management section of the plan.

CARB is now soliciting draft comments from all stakeholders over the next 45 days. I encourage all Californians to submit your comments concerning this important Scoping Plan. The electronic form is accessed from the CARB website.

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July 4, 2008

CA Draft Scoping Plan comment:
Challenge the Status Quo

This is one of a series of comments submitted to the California Air Resources Board for their draft version of the California Climate Change Draft Scoping Plan. Other BIOenergy BlogRing comments are linked here:
Challenge the Status Quo
Recycling and Waste
Sustainable Forests


Achieving the goals of this Climate Change Scoping Plan (an ambitious 30% reduction of greenhouse gases projected for 2020) will require major changes in the status quo fossil fuel paradigm - not only how electricity and biofuels are produced, but also the manufacture of a generation of new bioproducts based on biobased chemicals to replace fossil-based ones.

We live in the most dynamic state in the U.S. with research, manufacturing, investment capital, manpower, infrastructure, and natural resources that are the envy of the world. This combination has led to the achievement of many paradigm shifts in the past - aerospace, atomic energy, computers, software, telecommunications, biotechnology, and the internet. We are poised to develop the next paradigm in energy coupled with environmental sustainability.

However, to achieve our goals will require flexibility in our permitting standards. Currently, the choke point on energy and environmental technological deployments are held by state agencies - particularly CARB - housed in Sacramento. Our standards have become so idealistically high - i.e., Zero waste, Zero emissions - that promising technologies cannot be permitted for deployment within California. Specific examples include conversion technologies using thermochemical means that can convert municipal and environmental waste into carbon-neutral fuels and power.

The thresholds for permitting must enable promising innovations to be deployed. Without deployment most technologies will never be refined at commercial scale to approach delivering the highest standards expected by the idealists.

I recommend a graduated permitting scheme be developed by CARB for technologies of promise. Instead of comparing performance to an idealistically high standard, let's first compare it to the status quo. If, after deployment, the technologies cannot meet the graduated standards specified, the businesses can lose their permit to operate. But let's encourage deployment of first generation technologies in California.

Without deployment of promising technologies, the aims of this Scoping Plan will fail and the status quo will remain.

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June 30, 2008

Converting Smoke into Energy using Algae

Solena Group - an innovative international company whose mission is "committed to combating climate change by promoting renewable bio-energy to replace fossil fuel" - has projects deployed or under development for using plasma arc technology to cleanly gasify feedstock into syngas. Teamed with Rentech Technologies, they can convert the syngas into bio jet fuel. Otherwise they can use the syngas to produce clean, green electricity.

But what about emissions? Turns out they have an answer for that as well citing their development of air filtering technology at their Alicante, Spain research facility that take manufacturing fumes and, using algae to absorb the greenhouse gases, create new biomass that can be converted into bioenergy.

Here are some excerpts from a NY Times article that cited the company's carbon sequestering technology...

March 26, 2008
For Carbon Emissions, a Goal of Less Than Zero

Algae, which have a high energy value per pound and consume carbon dioxide, are being cultivated at a biofuel demonstration facility run by the Solena Group in Alicante, Spain.

IF the world is going to sharply reduce the amount of carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere by midcentury, then many businesses will have to go carbon neutral, bringing their net emissions of the greenhouse gas to zero.

But some could go even further by removing more CO2 than they produce. Instead of carbon neutral, how about carbon negative?

In academic and industrial labs worldwide, researchers are working on technologies to reach that goal. Success could create the ultimate green business — for example, one that produces fuel whose emissions are more than offset by carbon dioxide stored during production. The businesses would be successful if, as anticipated, Congress puts a tax on emissions or starts a trading plan that makes carbon credits valuable.

For some experts, it’s not a question of whether businesses will go carbon negative but when.

Carbon-negative technologies of some sort will be essential, said Daniel M. Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. The world is facing the certainty of massive emissions for decades to come from plants already running, he said, adding that atmospheric concentrations must be stabilized. “We’ve got such a carbon overshoot looming in the future that this is going to have to happen,” he said.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that an 80 percent cut in carbon dioxide emissions was necessary to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. But capturing the gas from coal plant smokestacks or switching to fuels that produce less of it when burned goes only so far.

“The great problem is actually removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere,” said Geir Vollsaeter, an environment expert and former general manager of carbon dioxide at Shell International, a subsidiary of the oil giant.

While much engineering work would have to be done to make a business carbon negative, the outlines are clear.

Take the concept of building a coal plant that captures and stores carbon dioxide. Such a plant could have zero emissions, because the coal would be turned into gas and processed to produce hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The hydrogen, a pollution-free fuel, would be burned, and the CO2 pumped underground for permanent storage.

But Robert Williams, a research scientist at Princeton University, said that not only coal could be gasified; you could also make the same fuel by starting with plant matter or other biomass.

And then, he said, “if you put any CO2 underground that is derived from biomass, that’s negative CO2 emissions.” That is because plants or trees — the raw material for the fuel —pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow, and the gasification and storage takes that carbon out of circulation.

Mr. Williams said the more likely route would be to gasify a mixture of coal and biomass to keep the process carbon neutral. But the balance depends on the cost of separation and storage versus what kind of tax or other fee Congress might put on emissions.

A Washington company, the Solena Group, also has a carbon-negative plan, which emerged from the decision by regulators in Kansas last year to turn down a permit for two new coal-burning power plants because of the millions of tons of carbon dioxide they would produce. The regulators insisted that the builder of the plants, an electric co-op called Sunflower, had to permanently remove the carbon from circulation. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and the Kansas State Legislature are still arguing over whether the plants should be built.

Solena says it can use the carbon. The company employs a high-temperature process to break up anything organic into a flammable gas. The organic material could be algae, which have an extremely high energy value per pound. And algae eat carbon dioxide.

Solena is in discussion with Sunflower to build a 40-megawatt power plant that would run on gasified algae; the algae would be grown in thousands of clear plastic cylinders, 3 feet wide by 10 feet tall, sitting in the Kansas sun and fertilized with sodium bicarbonate, made with carbon captured from Sunflower’s coal plant. For each 1.8 tons of carbon dioxide, the columns would yield a ton of algae.

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June 2, 2008

New Planet Energy to assume Florida Ethanol Project

A number of announcements have been made in the within the last month involving two of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) EPAct 932 grant winners.

First, on May 8th, Iogen announced that it was not going to build its first commercial scale cellulosic ethanol plant in Idaho after all - foregoing the US$80 million grant offered by the U.S. Department of Energy. Their press release is titled Canadian company nixes Idaho for ethanol plant, picks Saskatchewan. The Canadian government is putting a package together of $500 million to help fund next-generation biofuels plants and the American D.O.E. was unwilling to raise its grant amount.

Regardless of where the first plant is located, proving the commercial-scale base technology will provide comparative evidence of value and yield for future developments.

That means that there are now officially five EPAct 932 grant projects under development.

On June 2, 2008, Alico announced that it was backing out of its grant-winning cellulosic ethanol project. Its situation is different than the other developers because it is a land management company that was reliant on Bioengineering Resources, Inc. (BRI) for its syngas fermentation conversion technology. The license for the BRI technology for this project is now being handled by New Planet Energy, LLC which plans to take over development of the southern Florida plant at a location separate from Alico property.

New Planet Energy management includes many of the executives involved previously in marketing BRI technology. Gary Smith, NPE's Chief Executive Officer, served as CEO of High Plains Corporation from 1998-2001. He was Chairman of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) from 2001-2002. The company is also retaining the consulting services of Craig Evans who managed governmental compliance for the EPAct grant for Alico.

Below are two press releases - first by Alico and secondly by New Planet Energy.

Alico to Discontinue Ethanol Efforts

LABELLE, Fla., June 2, 2008 (PRIME NEWSWIRE) -- Alico, Inc. (Nasdaq:ALCO), a land management company, announced today that it will no longer explore the development of an ethanol facility. As previously announced, the Company had been selected by the United States Department of Energy (DOE) and by the State of Florida to potentially receive grants and loan assistance to partially offset the costs of such a project. However, Alico will no longer pursue these grants.

During the past year, Alico has been working with New Planet Energy LLC on this project and NPE is continuing its pursuit of cellulosic ethanol. As a result of Alico's decision, Alico will have no further financial commitment or liability to New Planet Energy, the DOE or the State of Florida for this project. In reaching its decision to discontinue the ethanol project, Alico's management and Board of Directors determined that the risks associated therewith outweighed any reasonably anticipated benefits for Alico.

Alico Chairman and CEO John R. Alexander stated, "In reaching this decision, Alico will continue to focus on our core operations of real estate management, including agriculture and development opportunities, to provide returns for our shareholders."

About Alico, Inc.
Alico, Inc., a land management company operating in Central and Southwest Florida, owns approximately 135,500 acres of land located in Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee and Polk counties. Alico is involved in various agricultural operations and real estate activities. Alico's mission is to grow its asset values through its agricultural and real estate activities to produce superior long-term returns for its shareholders.

CONTACT: Alico, Inc.
John R. Alexander
(863) 675-2966
La Belle, Florida

New Planet Energy to Assume Florida Ethanol Project

Alico, Inc., today announced that it was withdrawing from its role in developing an advanced biofuels plant using the gasification/fermentation technology of Bioengineering Resources, Inc. (“BRI”) in the State of Florida. Alico has been working with New Planet Energy, LLC (“NPE”) on this project for the past year.
“Despite Alico's decision not to go forward, New Planet Energy has assumed this project, has selected and is in the process of acquiring a site for the project in the State of Florida, and intends to pursue the venture to its successful conclusion,” it was confirmed by Gary R. Smith, Chief Executive Officer of New Planet Energy, LLC.

Craig Evans, who has served as an independent consultant to Alico, Inc. since the inception of its relationship with BRI, and who has been handling day-to-day operations for the project and for all grant and loan guarantee issues on behalf of Alico, has been hired by NPE Florida to assure that there will be complete continuity as part of the phased transition, Smith noted.

The New Planet Energy plant in Florida will produce ethanol from cellulosic feedstocks, initially from yard, wood and vegetative wastes, taking ethanol production beyond reliance on food resources in the production of biofuels.


Jim Stewart
Vice President, Marketing & Public Affairs, New Planet Energy, LLC

Craig Evans
Project Consultant to NPE Florida, LLC


Finally, a news story in the online Palm Beach Post reveals more information about New Planet Energy's plans in Florida from an interview with Project Consultant Craig Evans. Some excerpts from the story...

Start-up takes over abandoned ethanol project

Evans said New Planet Energy, also known as NPE Florida, has been working on the project with Alico for the past year. NPE will use the same technology that Alico was planning to use, a gasification/fermentation technology developed by Fayetteville, Ark.-based Bioengineering Resources Inc.

The goal is to produce 7 million gallons of ethanol a year in the first phase, then ramp up to 21 million gallons by late 2010 or early 2011.

By 2012 or 2015, plans call for the plant to produce 105 million gallons of ethanol a year, Evans said.
"That will be the first of 20 plants planned in Florida in the next five to seven years by this company," he said.

Jim Stewart, marketing and public affairs vice president for Los Angeles-based NPE, said the privately held company was formed in 2007 to assist in the commercialization of Bioengineering Resources' technology.

Alico's recent write-down and the tight credit markets made its board averse to risk, and recent news about ethanol's role in the energy crisis played a decisive factor, Evans said.
"The negative publicity about ethanol had a huge impact. That was the death knell," Evans said. "The whole food-to-fuel debate has been exaggerated."

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May 31, 2008

May 2008 Digest

Sustainability: The New Frontier of Renewable Energy

To shift the energy paradigm from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy will require changes that will impact every tier of society and every acre of the environment. It is clear that skeptics from a broad array of stakeholders will earnestly try to evaluate each new development for its environmental sustainability with Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) and Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs).

Concurrently, venture capitalists and Wall Street investors will be assessing their economic sustainability and risk factors. As Barbara Bramble of the National Wildlife Federation and the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels concedes "We recognize that we can't achieve environmental sustainability without economic sustainability." It is simply not realistic to expect governments to fund the changes. To be truly economically sustainable, private enterprise will have to be incentivized to do the heavy lifting.

Some of these assessments will result in time consuming and expensive court challenges leading to decision making inertia. In the meantime, urgent problems like forest health and its impact on climate change will spiral out of control while court challenges will negatively impact stakeholder confidence in these projects.

For example, looking at the past 50 years of wildfire acreage in the U.S. shows the growing cost of forest management inertia and delay aggravated, to a great degree, by incessant environmental lawsuits.

According to the Society of American Foresters there were 729 cases brought against the Forest Service during the thirteen years between 1989 and 2002! Out of 20 million acres identified and funded for thinning (through the bipartisan 2003 Healthy Forests Restoration Act) only 77,000 acres have been treated. One could say that the will of the people is being subverted systematically.

The real challenge is not technological - it is building communication links that will enable solutions to be developed, funded, and deployed. Without open dialog the status quo will persist because litigation will create delays and increase the economic cost of implementation.

During the early stages of change the threshold standards for determining sustainability need to be the most flexible. We can't really arrive at ideal solutions without deployments of promising technologies to measure, evaluate, and modify. As each threshold is met, it can be succeeded by more challenging ones.

We need to foster an awareness by all sectors that a balance between environmental and economic sustainability will be required for each phase of implementation.

The following stories highlight the risks of the status quo, demonstrate the need for communications bridge-building, and document examples of stakeholder engagement.

BIOstock Blog--------------
· Woody Biomass: Fuel for Wildfires
· Senators: "Wildfires are a climate change issue, too."
· Ending Obstructive Environmental Lawsuits
· Hurricane Katrina's greenhouse gas legacy
· Forest Service and Sierra Club mark trees together
· Logging trees to save forests from development
· No incentives for national forest waste-to-biofuels
· Senator Wyden: Thinning Forests to Save Them
· Woodchip prices now and in the future
· Links between California Wildfires and GHG emissions
· Up in Smoke: Reforesting California after wildfires
· Engaging Forest Stakeholders through Stewardship Contracting
· Sustainable Forestry for Bioenergy and Bio-based Products

BIOconversion Blog--------------
· Woody Biomass: Feedstock for BioEnergy
· Bioenergy's "Top Five" List
· Coskata and GM partner on syngas to ethanol technology
· WIREC Side Events: Communicating the Truth about BioEnergy
· Responses to Time's unbalanced biofuels bashing
· Coskata to build demonstration plant near Pittsburgh

BIOoutput Blog--------------
· Surprising MPG results for low blends of ethanol

BIOwaste Blog--------------
· Capturing energy from unrecycleable waste

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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April 25, 2008

Coskata to build demonstration plant near Pittsburgh

Coskata announced today that they are building a demonstration-sized (40,000 gallon per year) cellulosic ethanol plant. This is significant because it could represent the first scale-up of a syngas-fermentation (SF) pilot technology in the world.

The other possible scale-up of this advanced technology is the BRI process that is a party to the ALICO project - a DOE EPAact grant winner of last year. That project is still awaiting licensing resolution among the parties that submitted the original proposal.

Ethanol is almost always seen as a process involving the fermentation of sugars into alcohol. Most of the debates about ethanol has to do with what feedstocks are going to be used and what process to break down the feedstock structure to isolate the sugars. The yield comes only from the sugar in the feedstock. Food vs. fuel, Energy Return on Investment (EROI), water usage, biofuel yield - these are all very real issues that will impact what, where, and how facilities will be located and financed.

Syngas-fermentation offers an alternative. Instead of biologically breaking down the feedstock using enzymes, the feedstock is gasified into component molecules of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. These become the building blocks for reformulation as higher alcohols. Some technologies, like Range Fuels', use inorganic catalysts to effect the reformulation. SF, on the other hand, relies on microorganisms in controlled bioreactors to eat up the syngas and produce ethanol and water.

It is a very attractive alternative because it is omnivorous (any blended biomass will do including unrecyclable urban waste and fossil derivatives like tires, auto fluff, petcoke, and plastics). The yield is high because the non-sugar content of the feedstock can be utilized for its molecules. The higher the content of carbon in the feedstock, the higher the yield of ethanol gallons per ton. It requires very little water (roughly 1 gallon per gallon of biofuel) and most of the energy for gasification comes from the feedstock itself.

Below is the complete press release that was posted today.

Coskata Inc. Chooses Madison, Pa. for Commercial Demonstration Facility to Produce Next-Generation Ethanol
Alter Nrg, Westinghouse Plasma to support 40,000 gallon cellulosic ethanol plant

Madison, Pa. – April 25, 2008 – Coskata Inc., a leading developer of next-generation biofuels, said today it will produce 40,000 gallons of cellulosic ethanol a year at a commercial demonstration plant near Pittsburgh.

The $25 million project will be located at the Westinghouse Plasma Center, the current site of a pilot-plant gasifier owned and operated by Westinghouse Plasma Corporation (WPC), a wholly owned subsidiary of Alter Nrg Corp.

“Coskata has been eager to reach this milestone, because it will be a significant demonstration before building our first commercial plant that we can produce ethanol from non-food based sources for less than $1 a gallon,” said Bill Roe, president and CEO of Coskata. “This facility is being built with some of the leading gasification technology, supplied by Alter NRG, and in one of the most progressive states for next generation ethanol."

The plant, located about 30 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, is expected to begin delivering ethanol in early 2009 utilizing a variety of input materials, including woody biomass as well as agricultural and industrial wastes. General Motors, a strategic partner and investor in Coskata, will use the next generation ethanol for testing in flex-fuel vehicles at its Milford, Mich., Proving Grounds.

“We are delighted Coskata has chosen the State of Pennsylvania as the first location for production of their next generation ethanol,” said Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. “Coskata’s cutting edge facility will strengthen Pennsylvania’s already first class reputation as a leader in producing and delivering alternative fuels and will bring us one step closer to further reducing our dependence on foreign oil.”

Coskata announced in February that it will commission a full-scale, 50 million – 100 million gallon-per-year commercial plant by the year 2011. This facility is being planned in parallel with the construction of the Madison demonstration facility and is expected to break ground this year.

“The Coskata syngas to ethanol plant, using Westinghouse Plasma Corporation’s gasifier will make for a world-class demonstration,” said Mark Montemurro, President and Chief Executive Officer of Alter Nrg. “We view Coskata’s highly efficient process as a perfect complement to our environmentally responsible gasification technology.”

Coskata leverages proprietary microorganisms and efficient bioreactor designs in a unique three-step conversion process that can turn virtually any carbon-based feedstock into ethanol, from anywhere in the world.

Coskata’s process for next-generation ethanol is environmentally superior, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 84% compared to conventional gasoline; and has the ability to generate up to 7.7 times as much energy as is required to produce the ethanol, as verified by Argonne National Labs in a well-to-wheel analysis. Additionally, Coskata’s process uses less than a gallon of process water to make a gallon of ethanol, compared with three gallons or more required by other processes.

About Coskata
Coskata is a biology-based renewable energy company that is commercializing technology to produce biofuels from a wide variety of feedstocks. Using proprietary microorganisms and transformative bioreactor designs, the company will produce ethanol for under $1 per gallon almost anywhere in the world, from a wide variety of feedstocks. Coskata has compiled a strong IP portfolio of patents, trade secrets and know-how and assembled a first-class team for the development and commercialization of its compelling syngas-to-ethanol process technology. For more information, please visit

About Alter Nrg
Alter Nrg is pursuing alternative energy solutions to meet the growing demand for environmentally responsible energy in world markets. The company’s vision is to become a North American leader in the development of innovative gasification projects for the commercial production of energy. The Company’s objective for the next decade is to utilize our commercially proven plasma gasification technology to become a senior energy producer of hydrogen, syngas, and transportation fuels (diesel, naphtha, ethanol, etc.), steam and electricity, all of which are fundamental products for the world’s growing energy needs. For more information, visit

About Westinghouse Plasma Corporation, a division of Alter Nrg
Relying on more than 30 years of experience in the application of plasma technology, Westinghouse Plasma Corporation (WPC) is focused on applying innovative applications using plasma for environmentally responsible energy production, waste processing and metallurgical and chemical processing solutions. Our experience, including over 24 patents relating to the plasma torch, plasma torch systems and process design, allows us to meet the needs of both research and development for industrial applications in various markets. Westinghouse Plasma Corporation is a wholly owned subsidiary of Alter Nrg, a publicly traded company on the TSX Venture Exchange. For more information, please visit

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