Center for Advanced BioEnergy Research, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Graduate students and Native American tribes will tap forests, farms for biofuels

Most of Washington state’s biofuels come from plants grown elsewhere. But a newly launched $3 million program will team doctoral students, UW faculty and local Native American tribes to transform local forestry and agricultural waste into plant-based fuels.

"We want to create a new generation of PhD graduates in sustainable energy, and develop local sources of renewable fuels" said Dan Schwartz, professor of chemical engineering and leader of an interdisciplinary group that has received the multimillion-dollar award for graduate education from the National Science Foundation. "These students will learn to consider not only economic benefit, but the environmental and social implications of their designs"

The IGERT award, for Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training, funds six interdisciplinary doctoral students each year for five years. Program partners include the UW College of Engineering, the College of Forest Resources and the American Indian Studies Program.

Read the full story

State mill lands $30 million grant for biofuel production

Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. - The NewPage Corp. paper mill in Wisconsin Rapids has received a four-year, $30 million federal grant to produce diesel fuel from wood waste, but another Wisconsin mill lost out in the most recent granting round, according to a report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

NewPage Corp's Wisconsin Rapids mill is one of four projects to receive a total of $114 million in U.S. Department of Energy grants designed to promote alternative energy production.

Read the full story

Monday, January 28, 2008

Jam-packed year of Bioenergy Industry Growth

BioCycle January 2008, Vol. 49, No. 1, p. 44


Mark Jenner

THIS LAST YEAR was a mighty big year of economic growth in generating energy from biomass. First-generation commercial-scale projects began generating bio-BTUs like: E3 Biofuels' ethanol/feedlot, Fibrominn's 55 MW manure-fueled power plant and Microgy's manure to natural gas facility. Then, in December, E3 Biofuels filed for bankruptcy.
Last year began with seemingly every Midwest rural community announcing a corn-based ethanol plant. By fall, the bottom fell out of the ethanol and biodiesel expansion. It went from one extreme to the other.
Communities both loved and feared these projects, creating tax incentives, filing lawsuits against projects, or both. Public opposition transitioned from thermodynamic inefficiency to insufficient water supplies and then settled on the food vs. fuel debate. Grain farmers cheered the $4/bushel price of corn. The livestock industry became antibiofuels.
The year ended with apprehension about the future of biofuels, but this is not the end of the story. Economic growth is measured in decades - not in weeks or months. We are just getting started.

Read the full story

PG&E seeks biomethane production partners

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. is looking for partners to work on the production of biomethane -- pipeline-quality, renewable natural gas.

The utility has issued a request for information to identify partners and will hold a networking forum March 5 at its San Francisco headquarters to answer questions about the RFI and provide potential partners an opportunity to meet.

The RFI follows PG&E's recent gas purchase agreements with Microgy Inc. and BioEnergy Solutions that will allow the utility to use biomethane captured from cow manure.

Biomethane is pipeline-quality gas derived from biomass, which is any organic material not derived from fossil fuels.

Read the full story.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Driving Around Sundance With Biodiesel Made From Algae

January 23, 2008
By Chuck Squatriglia

A California biotech firm is betting algae is a fuel of the future, and to prove the stuff works, it's driving around the Sundance Film Festival in car powered by algae-derived biofuel it calls Soladiesel.

Solazyme says tooling around Park City, Utah in a Mercedes Benz C320 diesel will be the first real-world road test of biodiesel made from algae. The car is straight off the showroom floor (Solazyme says Mercedes is not involved in the company or the test in any way), and the company says Soladiesel will work in any diesel engine, in almost any climate.

"In demonstrating this new fuel alternative, we're responding to the need for a near-term solution that will also be cost effective and sustainable," Harrison Dillon, the company's president, said in a statement. "Our technology combines all the key components: low carbon footprint, environmental sustainability, certified compatability with existing vehicles and infrastructure and energy security for our country."

Read the full story

AU, power company turn waste into energy

Auburn University and a power company are turning wood chips into electricity.

Community Power Corp. and the Auburn University Center for Bioenergy and Bioproducts demonstrated the BioMax25 on Tuesday in front of the State House. The machine turned wood chips into electricity, enough to power several heat lamps that reduced the chill.

Robb R. Walt, president of Community Power, said the device never will compete with commercial power on electricity costs alone, but he said it offers other benefits that make it more cost-effective for some customers.

"Businesses pay to get rid of waste," he said. "It is tipping fees and stuff like that."

The wood chips used for the BioMax25 demonstration had to be a certain size for the machine to work. If they were too big, the machine could not process them. If the wood was too small, like sawdust, the machine would clog.

It used about 50 pounds of wood chips each hour, said Steven Taylor, director of the Center for Bioenergy and Bioproducts.

He said the right mixture produced energy in barely half an hour.

"We are completely standalone," he said, pointing to the 25-kilowatt machine.

The unit, which cost about $150,000, could power four or five average homes, he said.

Read the full story

Ethanol interest buys Tilton land

By Tracy Moss
Thursday, January 24, 2008 7:21 AM CDT

TILTON – A South Dakota-based energy corporation that produces ethanol has purchased land south of Tilton, according to public documents.

In December, VeraSun Tilton LLC purchased multiple parcels of farmland, totaling at least 200 acres, southwest of Tilton and directly south of Ross Lane, according to documents filed at the Vermilion County Recorder's office in Danville.

Read the full story

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Environmental Power Announces Achievement of Full Capacity & Commercial Operation at Huckabay Ridge Facility

PORTSMOUTH, N.H., Jan. 22 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Environmental Power Corporation , a leader in the renewable bioenergy industry, today announced that its Huckabay Ridge facility in Stephenville, Texas, has achieved full-capacity production levels of pipeline-quality renewable natural gas (RNG(R)) and has now moved into full-scale commercial operation. The facility generates methane-rich biogas from manure and other agricultural waste, conditions the biogas to natural gas standards and distributes RNG(R) via a commercial pipeline. Huckabay Ridge is expected to produce approximately 635,000 MMBtus of RNG(R) per year -- the equivalent of over 4.6 million gallons of heating oil.

"Reaching targeted output-levels and commercial operation is an important milestone for the project and the Company," said Rich Kessel, President and Chief Executive Officer of Environmental Power. "Not only have we validated our technology, we have developed many innovative best practices and have gained valuable operating experience. We are applying this enhanced operating knowledge to the other large-scale biogas and RNG(R) projects we have under development. We are highly confident that this knowledge and experience will dramatically reduce the lead-time between completion of construction and reaching commercial-operation levels on future projects."

Read the full story

E. Coli: the source of the 'next biofuel'

Jan 2008

Scientists have genetically engineered E. coli that is highly efficient in producing butanol, a promising new type of biofuel.

This new technology could speed up the development of butanol biofuels into a cost-effective alternative to ethanol.

"It [butanol] has many attractive properties," says Jim McMillan, manager of biorefining process R&D at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's National Bioenergy Center, in Golden, CO. Because butanol packs more energy per gallon than ethanol does, cars running on butanol get better mileage. And, unlike ethanol, it doesn't mix with water, so it can be shipped in existing petroleum pipelines without causing problems.

Read full story

Ceres Bioenergy Scholarships Established at Texas A&M

COLLEGE STATION – Ceres Inc., a plant biotechnology company, has established two new scholarships in the soil and crop sciences department at Texas A&M University in College Station.

The new scholarships are for junior and senior students who have a minimum overall 2.8 grade point average. Students in plant breeding, agronomy, plant physiology, or molecular biology with strong interests in crop production relating to biofuels will be given preference.

Ceres is developing crops needed by farmers and bio-refineries for a new generation of biofuels, said company officials. Using advanced plant breeding and biotechnology, they are creating dedicated energy crops as raw materials for biofuels made from plant stems, stalks and leaves.

“We are excited about establishing a long-term scholarship relationship with Ceres to expose our students to opportunities in bioenergy,” said Dr. David Baltensperger, department head.

Read full story

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Virgin Atlantic to test biofuels on an upcoming flight

A flight's high carbon output has long been an issue for environmentally conscious travelers. But if entrepreneur Richard Branson succeeds with his latest endeavor, flying may be getting greener. The New York Times reports that Virgin Atlantic will test biofuels on a flight from London to Amsterdam in February.

The initiative is a combined effort between Boeing, GE Aviation, and Virgin. The test plane will be a 747-400, and the flight will span an hour and twenty minutes. The plan is for the plane to run off a combo of 20 percent biofuels and 80 percent standard jet fuel. There will be no passengers on the test flight.

Read the full story

Farmers plant the biggest obstacle in biofuels production

The toughest challenge to overcome before switchgrass and other biomass crops can provide cheap, renewable fuel is convincing farmers to grow the crops in the first place.Recent evidence shows that producing ethanol from switchgrass yields five times more energy than producing it from corn, though commercial production plants still need to be developed. But all these considerations are moot if farmers don’t want to plant the crop.

“It’s gotta be competitive with corn or soybean production, just like any crop” said John Hawkins, a spokesman for the Illinois Farm Bureau.

This would be difficult in the highly productive soils of Northern and Central Illinois, where crop yields are greater, Hawkins said, but he saw potential for switchgrass and other biomass crops in the more marginal farmland in Southern Illinois.

Read the full story

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

New energy act to fuel flow of 'biogasoline'

[From CNET]Posted by Martin LaMonica
The recently passed energy act is a boon for ethanol. But other biofuels, including plant-derived fossil fuel look-alikes, are also poised to get a boost.

A handful of companies are using different approaches to designing synthetic versions of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. They include including LS9, Amyris Biotechnologies, Codexis, and J. Craig Venter-founded Synthetic Genomics.

These biofuels, which some refer to as "renewable petroleum," will be designed with the same properties of hydrocarbons that now fuel our vehicles, but be made from biomass, rather than petroleum.

Custom-designed synthetic fuels are very appealing to established fossil fuel providers because, unlike ethanol, they should not require significant changes to the existing fuel infrastructure, said Nathanael Greene, a biofuels policy analyst at the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC).

"I think (fuel providers) are going to dramatically step up efforts to find different molecules because...the stuff they have to do at their own facilities (to handle ethanol) is really a nontrivial cost," Greene said. "I think they are eager to find a more fungible fuel within their system."

Read the full story

The 'energy-independent' president minus the details

Rising oil prices meet silence on the campaign trail
By Stephanie I. Cohen

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- Everyone is talking about the rising price of oil -- everyone it seems except the people running for president.
Oil and energy policy might seem like a natural topic for debate among those seeking the highest office in the land considering oil topped the $100 threshold earlier this month (Before settling back down around $93) and gasoline prices rose 10 cents a gallon to a national average of $3.07 this week. But oil and energy policies have generated little substantive discussion on the election trail.
There is no shortage of rhetoric about making America energy independent, and the occasional effort to feel the pain of homeowners and commuters feeling the sting of prices at the pump. But the campaign talk is largely decoupled from policy ideas capable of delivering on the rhetoric.
Michigan -- the home of the struggling American automobile industry that spearheaded the craze for the gas-guzzling SUV -- might have been a good place to jumpstart a discussion on oil since vehicles will likely be at the center of any proposal to lower oil consumption and curtail emissions. But Michigan voters are going to the polls on Tuesday knowing little about how the candidates will actually reverse the rising trend in fuel prices and growing reliance on Middle East supplies.
When pushed during debates, Republican and Democratic candidates have delivered broad populist energy themes with references to energy independence, alternative resources, and efficiency. There is a nearly unanimous vision among the candidates -- energy independence.
But beyond energy plans on candidates' websites with 40-year targets for fuel efficiency and emissions cuts, voters are left guessing how anyone will actually get the job done as demand for oil continues to increase.
New Hampshire voters concerned about energy policy and the lack of information on candidates' positions launched the web site Carbon Co2alition to track the positions and promises the candidates have made. The site rates candidates based on seven benchmarks issues including economy-wide emissions reductions, support for energy technology, budget priorities, support for renewable energy, efficiency and conservation.

Read the full story

Primafuel wins the WEF Technology Pioneer Award

World Economic Forum: Bioenergy tops agenda Biofuel companies debut among Tech Pioneers

Davos, Switzerland, January 15, 2008 - Biofuel companies are among the winners at this year’s World Economic Forum (WEF). Biofuel specialist Primafuel will be awarded the coveted WEF Technology Pioneer Award, which in previous year was given mostly to Internet companies. The WEF expects the bioenergy subject to to be leading the agenda this year.

"In the energy/environment field, we have received many more applications than last year. What's interesting to see is that in the past, the great majority of these companies were working on batteries, solar solutions or wind energy, not biofuels. This year, biofuels are getting more interest from investors and entrepreneurs,'

says Rodolfo H. Lara, Head of Technology Pioneers and Knowledge Integration Center for Global Growth Companies Global Leadership Fellow.

Professor Christoph Frei, Senior Director, Energy Industries & Strategy at the World Economic Forum, adds:

'Biofuels have become the subject of a highly controversial discussion during which the potential positive contribution has recently been understated. It is important to understand that there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ biofuels and hence there is a need for splitting the wheat from the chaff and for making biofuels traceable through the supply chain. At the World Economic Forum and also in the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels, these issues find enormous interest and at the forthcoming Annual Meeting we have a number of large companies and Tech Pioneers in the Bioenergy field who want to work towards a bright bioenergy future."

Read the full story

Monday, January 14, 2008

Concept of BioEnergy World Europe 2008 Event is Feb. 7-10

The Concept of Bioenergy World Europe 2008 is to provide to all those looking to develop their current bioenergy activity or to enter the sector for the first time, the possibility to organise a focused and structured visit to the event to provide the optimum in terms of :
  1. business meetings with professionals and experts via a large exhibition and structured network meetings using Chance2Meet
  2. seeing in operation the sector via thematic study tours in the area around Verona
  3. current debate via the international Forum presentation

For more information

Next-generation biofuels edge to center

By Timothy Gardner

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The quest by executives and venture capitalists to build a next-generation biofuels industry has made strides this year as oil reached $100 a barrel and the world's largest energy consumer laid down ambitious new mandates for alternative fuels.

Prices for the agricultural commodities that traditional biofuels are made from have soared to historic levels in recent months on global demand for both fuels and food, driving up all grain prices and hurting customers ranging from Mexican peasants to U.S. beer makers.

The price of corn, the traditional U.S. feedstock for ethanol, has hit an 11-year high, while soy, the country's main ingredient in biodiesel, set a record this week, adding further incentives to kick-start non-food sources for alternative fuels.

Cellulosic ethanol, a fuel that can be made from grasses and wood pulp, holds promise, but the first trickle of that fuel into the ocean of global motor fuel is not expected for at least four years.

"I think cellulosic ethanol will come. The question is how high will the price of food crops have to go before it becomes profitable to use new materials to make new fuels," said Lester Brown, the president of the Earth Policy Institute, who had predicted last year that corn prices would spike.

Read the full story

G.M. Buys Stake in Ethanol Made From Waste

Published: January 14, 2008

General Motors, eager to ensure a supply of fuel for the big fleet of flex-fuel ethanol-capable vehicles it is building, has joined the rush into alternative energy and invested in a company that intends to produce ethanol from crop wastes, wood chips, scrap plastic, rubber and even municipal garbage.

Rick Wagoner, G.M.’s chairman and chief executive, announced the investment on Sunday in a speech at the opening of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The company purchased an equity stake in Coskata, a start-up company in Warrenville, Ill., that plans to make ethanol without using corn. G.M. would not say how much it paid or how big a stake it took in the company.

Coskata plans to build a pilot-scale plant this year in Warrenville, William Roe, the president and chief executive of Coskata, said in a briefing with reporters last week. It has demonstrated all the phases of its technology but has not linked them together in an operating plant, he acknowledged.

Read the full story

Friday, January 11, 2008

Better bugs for brewing butanol

US researchers have developed a new way of hijacking microbe metabolism to produce long-chain alcohol fuels which are better petrol substitutes than ethanol.

Jim Liao and colleagues from the University of California, Los Angeles, re-engineered the Escherichia coli bacterium to force it to produce isobutanol and a variety of other promising long-chain alcohol fuels.

Butanol and branched-chain related alcohols with four or five carbon atoms are far superior to ethanol as petrol substitutes. They store more energy per litre (though still not as much as petrol); they suck up less water from the atmosphere, so are less prone to contamination; and they are less corrosive to pipelines than ethanol.

Since 1916, it's been known that microbes such as Clostridium acetobutylicum can ferment sugar to produce butanol and ethanol, but the process can't compete with cheaper techniques based on petroleum distillation. Now, as the price of oil increases, bugs are back in favour, yet butanol fermentation is still not economically viable.

Read the full story

Combined VeraSun, U.S. BioEnergy facilities

By Bryan Sims --The November merger agreement announced between Brookings, S.D.-based VeraSun Energy Corp. and St. Paul, Minn.-based U.S. BioEnergy Corp. was a clear indication that the industry is gaining more velocity toward consolidation.

According to industry analysts, the move came at the right time in light of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 that was signed by President George W. Bush in December. “I really don’t think this came as a surprise to the industry,” said Rick Kment, ethanol analyst for Data Transmission Network. “I think this goes back to the focus of current companies in the ethanol industry looking at the market maturing, going through the general market changes and [moving] from an early-entrance type of market to more of a maturing industry.”

Read the full story

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Gene researcher is trying to create a new life form

By Bob Drummond BLOOMBERG NEWS -- High on a wall facing celebrity gene researcher Craig Venter’s desk, there’s a poster-size photo of unique colonies of bacteria that look like two luminescent sky-blue blobs. Venter’s researchers made the microbes in his lab northwest of Washington by transplanting the entire genetic code of one species of bacteria into the cellular body of another type. Like horror-movie zombies, the intruder genes switched on and took control of their hosts.

Groundbreaking in its own right, the genome transplant was a practice run for Venter’s more audacious project: creating a new life form — in this case, a species of built-to-order bacteria — using only man-made DNA.

Designer organisms, and the potential to profit from them, are sparking excitement — and debate — among scientists and venture capital investors. Researchers in an emerging field called synthetic biology envision microbes customized with artificial genes to enable them to turn sunlight into fuel, clean up industrial waste or monitor patients for the first signs of disease.

Already, scientists are producing strings of man-made DNA, short for deoxyribonucleic acid, which directs the functions of all living cells. Then they splice the manufactured DNA into the genes of existing organisms, reprogramming bacteria to act like microscopic factories churning out biofuels.

Read the full story

Seed waste stirs hull of an idea

Missouri co-op supplies biomass for fuel pellets

By T.J. GREANEY of the (Columbia, MO) Tribune’s staff -- Four years ago, seed company owner Steve Flick of Kingsville noticed he was spending a lot of time and money burning, burying or dumping the empty hulls left over from his grass seed. He said it was a costly mess, and it gave him an idea.

"I think maybe I fell down the steps and got hit on the head," Flick said.

The idea was to use the excess material for energy. Flick decided to follow a method that is well-known in many European countries but at the time was nearly unheard of in the United States: turning prairie grass into fuel.

"I thought, we can do this here and do this better than anyplace in the world," he said.

Flick petitioned area farmers to form a co-op that could produce bails of "cellulosic" material such as switch grass, cornstalks or out-of-condition hay. The bails could then be ground up and formed into inch-long pellets.

These pellets can be burned alongside coal to produce a cleaner, renewable form of energy. The grass material typically has high BTU’s - a measure of energy released when matter is burned - but no nutritional value for livestock.

Read the full story

Biofuel: Major Net Energy Gain From Switchgrass-based Ethanol

ScienceDaily (Jan. 9, 2008) — Switchgrass grown for biofuel production produced 540 percent more energy than needed to grow, harvest and process it into cellulosic ethanol, according to estimates from a large on-farm study by researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Results from the five-year study involving fields on farms in three states highlight the prairie grass' potential as a biomass fuel source that yields significantly more energy than is consumed in production and conversion into cellulosic ethanol, said Ken Vogel, a U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service geneticist in UNL's agronomy and horticulture department.

The study involved switchgrass fields on farms in Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. It is the largest study to date examining the net energy output, greenhouse gas emissions, biomass yields, agricultural inputs and estimated cellulosic ethanol production from switchgrass grown and managed for biomass fuel.

Read the full story

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Agriculture conference to focus on energy

Renewable energy will be a major focus of the AgOutlook 2008 conference Feb. 25-27 in Monroe.

The conference will focus on opportunities a variety of renewable energy sources such as ethanol, biodiesel and other products can provide to increase agriculture's contribution to the Louisiana economy.

Sponsored by the LSU AgCenter, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA Rural Development, the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, the conference theme is "Connecting Agriculture and Renewable Energy Opportunities."

"The purpose of the 2008 AgOutlook Conference is to provide current information on large-scale and small-scale technologies for producing fuel products from a wide array of agricultural products, identifying bioenergy opportunities that are ripe for development, providing economic information on various alternative energy enterprises, highlighting several alternative energy success stories, and providing information on grant opportunities and other support for new bioenergy businesses," said LSU AgCenter regional director Dr. Bob Hutchinson, who is one of the conference organizers.

"This will also be a great opportunity for attendees to network and exchange ideas on alternative energy opportunities that may result in new and exciting collaborative ventures," he said.

Read the full story

Bioenergy, conservation and wildlife protection can boost each other

(Biopact) - Discussions about biofuels and bioenergy often focus on their potential impacts on biodiversity and on risks like deforestation. However, these legitimate concerns should not veil the fact that energy crops can just as well contribute to strengthening ecosystem services, to conservation, to the fight against desertification and erosion, and to the restoration of wildlife habitats.

Biopact has referred to numerous examples of this kind: the creation of the Green Wall of the Sahara, the greening of toxic brownfields by energy crops to allow wildlife to reemerge, the revitalisation of depleted soils via carbon negative bioenergy (terra preta), or the restoration of prairies and biodiversity with high-yielding polycultures of native grasses in the U.S. More: the creation of bioenergy plantations to stop desertification in Inner Mongolia, the prevention of forest fires by utilizing undergrowth as biofuel feedstock, replanting lost genetic resources (e.g. switchgrass varieties) to restore original biodiversity, switching to modern biofuels as a way to prevent deforestation, or stripping biomass for energy to revitalise ecosystems destroyed by nitrogen pollution.

Read the full story

President signs renewable energy bill

A new renewable energy bill, the Energy Independence and Security Act, was signed into law before Christmas by President Bush, Most think the bill will give agriculture an even more expanded role as we turn to more renewable energy.

The bill increases the Renewable Fuels Standards (RFS), which is an annual mandate for the amount of renewable fuels produced and used in motor vehicles. In 2008 the bill requires 9 billion gallons of renewable fuels and progressively increases the amount to 36 billion gallons by 2022.

The largest component of the renewable fuels at this time is ethanol, which for all practical purposes is made entirely from corn at this time.

Some say the renewable fuels goal of 36 billion gallons is too ambitious, but Bob Dinneen, president of Renewable Fuels Association, said those similar concerns were voiced two years ago when critics questioned how the country would produce the previously mandated 7.5 billion gallons by 2012. Dinneen pointed out the country will be producing that much by next month.

“It's not a technological issue,” he said. “It's really a question of the marketplace and the economicsŠand the bill is clearly empowering the marketplace to resolve those issues.”

The new energy law will ensure that biodiesel and cellulosic sources for ethanol, such as switchgrass, are a key part of the RFS increase, according to U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.). A news release from his office notes that beginning in 2016, an increasing portion of renewable fuels must be advanced biofuels, starting at 3 billion gallons in 2016 and increasing to 21 billion gallons in 2022.

In addition, the bill includes a minimum renewable requirement for biodiesel within the diesel pool from 500 million gallons in 2009 to 1 billion gallons in 2012 which, in Pomeroy's words, will create a stable, viable domestic market for biodiesel.

Read the full story