July 24, 2007

Florida's Farm to Fuel Summit: A Californian's View

Florida Department of Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson hosted the 2nd Annual Florida Farm to Fuel Summit in St. Petersburg last week. A year in the making, it brought farmers, land owners, technologists, educators, and politicians together to talk about the status of biofuels developments taking root in the biggest biomass state in the U.S.

Looking over the roster of registrants, there were not too many Californians attending this sold out event despite its scope - exploring the many producers, programs, and technologies that are feeding the biofuels movement in Florida. That is a shame because there are many parallels between the two states - a fact highlighted two weeks ago when California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Florida Governor Charlie Crist jointly "raised the flag" for the fight against global warming at the Serve to Preserve Florida Summit on Global Climate Change.

During the global climate change event, Crist signed a series of executive orders that in large measure mimic orders signed by the California governor on the opposite coast. The orders include efforts to mitigate state government emission of greenhouse gas, to substitute clean technologies for the production of electricity, and to significantly reduce vehicle tailpipe emissions.

"We will follow the great governor of California's example," Crist said. "He has set the lead."

A synergy can be expected from this cross-country axis that will help to accelerate national state government expansion of renewable energy legislation. It is expected to have profound impact on the rate of advanced research, implementation, and infrastructure development not only on the coasts, but everywhere in between.

So what did attendees of the Farm to Fuel Summit see?

Florida's level of commitment
I have been tracking Farm-to-Fuel since I read about Commissioner Bronson's organization in April, 2006 - prior to the first Farm to Fuel Summit. He has been a staunch proponent of the 25x'25 Initiative. Therefore it was no surprise that 25x'25 co-chairman Read Smith was one of the featured speakers at the opening of the summit (shown below driving the EPIC Formula One simulator).

The keynote address was delivered by Florida Governor Charles Crist who reaffirmed his administration's commitment to the Farm to Fuel program. He announced that he will be leaving on a trade mission to Brazil in November to understand more about their transition to biofuels and to seek collateral development of biorefineies and infrastructure. He then announced that a subsidiary of the largest power utility in the state, Florida Power & Light Energy, will be co-developing a citrus-to-ethanol plant in Florida.

Florida's Chief Financial Officer, the engaging Alex Sink (with me in the photo at right), reaffirmed the state government's commitment to insure that economic development funds are available to foster biofuel development. She was genuinely impressed by the size of the turnout and she invited attendees to see how her group is participating in a Florida Climate Change series of workshops.

Agriculture is the state's second largest industry. She asserted that "Farmers are the best stewards of our land because if we aren't good at it, our very livelihoods are at risk." She predicted that when the history of Florida is finally written, the impact of renewable fuel conversion will be as big as the introduction of citrus crops was.

Renewable Fuels Status Reports
A panel of speakers including Matt Hartwig, Communications Director of the Renewable Fuels Association, talked about ethanol and biodiesel feedstock-to-fuel programs. Matt cited the primary drivers for biofuel growth according to his organizations research - the environmentally-friendly profile, the sustained high price of gas and oil prices, and the expanding market for biofuels, including an anticipated jump in California blending percentage from 5.67% to 10%. RFA is headquartered in Washington, D.C. and is actively lobbying Capital Hill for the Farm Bill and legislation favorable to farm to fuel development.

Robert White of the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council (EPIC) talked about the hurdles to implementation of infrastructure (especially E85 pumps) in Florida and around the nation. He announced a campaign designed by EPIC specifically for this state called the Florida Needs Ethanol Campaign. The purpose is to give consumers the opportunity to learn more about ethanol and to register their desire for ethanol pumps with the fuel stations in their neighborhood.

David Shiflett of World Energy, a leading international biodiesel supplier, talked about the biodiesel industry in Florida. He had an interesting graph on logistics that equated the number of movements necessary to ship 10 million gallons of biofuel. It would require 2400 truck shipments, 500 rail cars, 25 barges, or 1 pipeline. Anticipating the demand on existing infrastructure means planning for huge increases in the future.

He also talked about the variability of biodiesel fuel based on the feedstock used to produce it. A student in the audience, seventh grader, Erin McCaskey (see separate article Student teaches biofuel professionals), could concur with this statement having produced five varieties in her award-winning science project to determine the calorimetric energy content of each. It is anticipated that the lack of consistent oil composition and emission standards will be an impediment to the widespread acceptance of biodiesel in many states.

In addition to recognizing Erin McCaskey, a person Commissioner Bronson referred to as "the oldest youngster to come to this meeting", Katzen International Inc. founder Dr. Ray Katzen (92), was honored for working on cellulosic ethanol technology starting in 1955 (see an excellent article by Ron Kotrba from BBI (who was also attending the Summit) titled The Project of a Lifetime). Ray established his "Project 20" - a campaign to produce 20 billion gallons of ethanol per year by the year 2020 - in 1990.

A special preview was given to Fields of Fuel - a film by Josh Tickell, author of Biodiesel America.

Advancing the Science of Bioenergy
Dr. Lonnie Ingram from the University of Florida was on hand to make a presentation about his patented process for producing ethanol using enzymatic hydrolysis. He projected that Florida had enough biomass to satisfy a demand equivalent to the 8.6 billion gallons of gasoline consumed each year. His technology is the lynchpin to a plant being built in Jennings, LA that is being developed by Verenium Corp for the conversion of sugarcane bagasse to ethanol. His work was honored during lunch presentations and the University of Florida was presented with a royalty check by the corporation for wood construction waste conversion to ethanol at a plant in Osaka, Japan.

Dr. Ann Wilkie introduced the subject of waste-to-energy by talking about University of Florida research into anaerobic digestion for waste treatment. Her current program focuses on biogas generation from bioethanol and biodiesel by-products. Her notable quote "Fossil fuel is fossil thinking."

Dr. Adam Schubert of BP talked about his companies commitment to biofuel technology citing a half billion dollar investment in establishment of the Energy Biosciences Institute at UC/Berkeley. His company is also at work with Dupont on the production of biobutanol and other fuels capable of being blended at higher rates into gasoline without modifying vehicles.

Ryan Katofsky of Navigant Consulting Inc. (NCI) talked about thermochemical biorefinery processes used for breaking down the molecular bonds of feedstock into syngas (carbon monoxide and hydrogen molecules). As he put it "I am an engineer. We have a motto 'If it doesn't fit, hit it with a hammer. If it still doesn't fit, hit is with a bigger hammer." The syngas can be combusted or converted into biofuels. NCI worked with Princeton and Georgia Tech to craft a recently completed detailed evaluation of pulpmill biorefineries for TAPPI.

Business of Bioenergy
The subject of carbon credits was introduced by Todd Jones of AgCert, a company that produces and sells emission reduction offsets, primarily to the agricultural community. David Kolsrud of DAK Renewable Energy talked about building community based projects using the combined financial and biomass resources of numerous investors. Reggie Holt of Farm Credit of Central Florida got down to the brass tacks of financing biofuel plants and operations using a $100,000,000 Fuel Ethanol Facility as an example.

John Masiello leads a team for a Fortune 250 company called Progress Energy that is responsible for researching, developing and implementing the company's energy-efficiency and alternative-energy programs. He described the rapid growth in energy demand due to more electrified lifestyles and bigger homes. Here are a few of the projects he outlined that Progress Energy/Florida is involved in:
Energy efficiency programs are a key part of customer service operations of Progress Energy. They estimate that their programs have reduced demand by 1600MW. By 2014 they expect to grow the program to over 2500MW through conservation programs.

Progress Energy Florida is also purchasing from Ridge Generating Station near Auburndale, Florida. The 45MW plant is fueled by wood waste (66%), tires (30%) and landfill gas (4%).

One project is a contract that PE/F has with Biomass Investment Group on the utilization of E-Grass™ - a dedicated crop grown specifically for conversion into power. BIG's bio-based products are sold to power producers as an environmentally-friendly renewable fuel, and to the paper industry as a non-wood source of fiber. The finished plant will be capable of generating 130MW - roughly enough electricity to supply 83,000 homes while saving 20 million tons of carbon emissions.

Progress Energy/Florida has also announced a Request for Renewables program to attract developers interested in selling renewable energy to PE/F.

Biomass Resources/Feedstocks in Florida
It surprises many to learn that 10% of the biomass produced in the United States comes from Florida. Its soil, wet climate, sunshine, and strong farm and forestry industries makes it an ideal laboratory for biofuel industry development.

Two speakers gave presentations concerning the use of woody biomass for energy in Florida. Marian Marinescu of the University of Florida talked about the environmental, economic political, and social benefits of woody biomass utilization as a renewable feedstock for production of a range of biofuel output - focusing mainly on wood pellets, but also talking about syngas, charcoal, ethanol, methanol, bio-oils, and biodiesel. His points made a nice seque to Olaf Roed, President and CEO of Green Circle Bio Energy, Inc. whose company is building the "world's largest pellet plant in Jackson County, Florida" to begin production in December, 2007. He believes wood pellets could play a significant role in mitigating global warming. The pellets they produce will be used primarily by European power companies engaged in co-firing to reduce their use of coal.

James Wimberly of Biomass Investment Group Inc. (BIG) talked about his company's development and marketing of E-Grass™, the feedstock referred to earlier by John Masiello of Progress Energy. He said that E-grass can produce 30 tons of biomass/acre/year - compared with the oft-cited switchgrass which harvests about 8 tons. Their contract with PE/F is for 130MW of electricity using a fast pyrolysis process to produce a combustion turbine fuel that will power an Integrated Pyrolysis Combined Cycle (IPCC) electricity generation system.

The other two presenters of the panel talked about producing biodiesel from new feedstock resources. David Jarrett of Xenerga, Inc. talked about the potential of Jatropha. Fred Tennant of PetroAlgae gave a presentation about the worldwide demand for diesel (currently 200 billion gallons/year) and how his company planned to employ microalgae to "grow oil" using a water intensive process.

Renewable Energy Technology Grants Program
The final panel of the conference (excluding discussions by state and national Florida politicians and commissioners) focused on the status of the Florida Renewable Energy Technology Grants Program:
The Florida Legislature appropriated $15 million for the grant program, with at least $5 million to support bioenergy projects and $10 million for projects that generate or utilize other renewable energy resources, including hydrogen, biomass, solar energy, geothermal energy, wind energy, ocean energy, waste heat and hydroelectric power.

Dr. George Philippidis of Florida International University discussed a joint program undertaken by his Applied Research Center and Florida Crystals Corporation (FCC). Their work will focus on producing cellulosic ethanol from sugar cane bagasse.

Craig Evans, a consultant for ALICO Inc., reported on the status of his company's project for producing cellulosic ethanol from the waste generated from their diverse agricultural and mining operations. Kevin Bouffard of The Ledger wrote a May 2006 interview of Craig, former President of Stewardship America, about citrus waste and the potential of thermochemical conversion technology using the BRI process for converting blended biomass waste into ethanol and electricity. In a state with as many forms of biomass as Florida, the universal blending feedstock attributes of the technology seem very appropriate.

David Stewart of Citrus Energy LLC is developing a technology for converting citrus waste into ethanol. According to a joint announcement with FPL Energy this week:
The cellulosic ethanol plant will be owned and operated by FPL Energy and is expected to produce four million gallons of ethanol per year. It will be located on the grounds of a local Florida citrus processor (near Juno Beach, FL).

FPL Energy said that ethanol from citrus peel could result in a new Florida industry producing over 60 million gallons of fuel per year, which could replace about one percent of Florida's annual gasoline consumption

Alan Banks of Losonoco, Inc. talked about his company's plan to recommission an existing 1st generation corn ethanol production facility in Barstow Florida and co-locating a 2nd generation gasification plant that uses biomass from yard waste, citrus residues and sugar bagasse to produce a total of approximately 25m gallons of ethanol per year.

In short, there a tremendous amount of synergy possible between the technological and entrepreneurial resources of California and the farm and forestry feedstock industries in Florida. Farm to Fuels is a terrific effort by Commissioner Charles Bronson's office to communicate and organize the renewable fuels industry in Florida.

technorati , , ,


scott adam ALF said...

Wonderful, and insightful. Two thumbs up. Different States are handling the energy thing differently. The MI Ag Energy conference was focused on Value Added products, and Wind Energy was focused on heavily. Most MI bio-fuel stocks,"MI Soybeans" are consumed already, making plastics and feed stock. Some large organisations like ADM are already making theirr own energy from Biodiesel, and have applied for priority patent protection for bioproducts from the Bio-D processing."

Anonymous said...

Hey are you a professional journalist? This article is very well written, as compared to most other blogs i saw today….
anyhow thanks for the good read!