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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