December 31, 2006

December 2006 Digest

December 2006 saw major developments in the commitment of whole industries to a new paradigm shift to renewable energy.

On the heels of last month's release of the forest products industry report called the Forest Products Industry Technology Roadmap several wood chip refinery press releases and wood industry reference sites became articles in the blogosphere. There were also two auto shows in Los Angeles that touted a new commitment to renewable energy propulsion systems including hybrids, electric cars, solar-powered, fuel cells, PHEVs, and flex-fuel vehicles.

The big news here is that the BIOstock Blog has a sponsor - Price BIOstock Services of Monticello, Arkansas. Originators of the BIOstock Services concept, The Price Companies has joined other industry leaders in recognizing the value of informing the general public of breaking information concerning emerging technology trends.

Here are their most significant developments of December 2006, organized by Blog...

BIOstock Blog--------------
New Hampshire Renewable Power Plant Burns Wood Chips
U.S. D.O.E. Information on "BIOstock" & Legislation
HAWAII: Powering Paradise with biofuels
Global BIOstock/BIOfuels Database
Bioenergy Gateway: Energy from Wood
Woody Biomass-to-Ethanol Demonstration Plant Contracted
FLORIDA: Citrus Peels as BIOstock
CANADA: Wood chips biorefinery venture announced
Price BIOstock Services is a BIOstock Blog sponsor

BIOconversion Blog--------------
Sugar Fermentation's Achilles Heel - Water
James Woolsey on Biomass Conversion and PHEVs
Decentralizing the BioFuels Industry
NEW YORK: Cellulosic Ethanol Plant Demo Facility Contracted
Xethanol's Cellulosic Ethanol Business Approach
Bacteria - "Miniature Chemical Factories" Convert Waste to Ethanol
Future Production of Liquid Biofuels
Top Stories of 2006

BIOoutput Blog-----------------
Carbon credits traded online
"Mermaids' Tears" - Unrecycled plastic chokes the seas
Alt Car Expo: A Day at the Beach
A Tale of Two Auto Shows

New Feature
Each month we will provide a similar breakdown of December article titles from our favorite "companion" site - Biopact Blog. This list is kept current and is accessible in the right hand column of each of the three blogs.

Please forward a link to this digest to anyone you know who would be interested in keeping track of change that will affect us all. They can add their name to the mailing list on the BioConversion Blog.

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December 30, 2006

Price BIOstock Services is a BIOstock Blog sponsor

We are pleased to announce, and recognize the responsibility to disclose, that the BIOstock Blog has a sponsor - Price BIOstock Services (PBS). PBS is the subject of an article BIOconversion Blog ran in October entitled Inventing the BIOstock Services Concept.

I have posted an announcement of the sponsorship relationship on each page of this blog which simply states: "Sponsored in part by Price BIOstock Services."


The relationship between bloggers and their sponsors are becoming an area of some fascination. Recently, fellow blogger Jeff McIntire-Strasburg of Sustainablog, who also writes for Treehugger, attended the L.A. Auto Show. His trip was financed by Shell Oil and its online press relations company, Edelman.

Shell's requirement for sponsorship involved Jeff's posting the following legal disclosure on his blog:

Shell has underwritten Jeff McIntire-Strasburg's travel expenses to attend the LA Auto Show. Jeff McIntire-Strasburg is not required to blog about Shell products or initiatives. The only Shell requirement as a condition of underwriting these expenses was to include this disclosure of this relationship on sustainablog.

After returning from his trip, Jeff subsequently took great pains to answer potential critics by writing a post on his blog titled Shell, Public Relations, and the LA Auto Show. In it he makes an astute observation:
I do believe that the Green Blogosphere and the green movement in general simply have to engage and build relationships with these companies. We're certainly not alone here -- NRDC and the Rocky Mountain Institute have worked with Wal-Mart, a representative of the Union of Concerned Scientists was a part of the Schwarzenegger press conference at the Auto Show (and was complimentary of the efforts by the governor and the auto companies represented at the press conference). None of this, including my trip, should be seen as an endorsement of everything these companies and politicians do -- I think we've all been openly critical when the situation called for it; we've also praised developments that we believe are largely positive. I plan to keep that stance -- you'll, of course, be the ultimate judges of whether I'm successful.

In short, there needs to be engagement between companies and the public - and that is a service of blogs. Blogs are educational vehicles. Those who write blogs are the first students. It is our privilege to be tasked with the responsibility to read what is going on in our chosen focus area and to write about it. Bloggers do need to be discerning about what they report for fear of misleading the public. Failure to do so reduces credibility and the integrity of the blog.

Supporting blogs aids the sponsor in several ways. Obviously, it provides them with heightened visibility, but it also provides them with vital news about the rapid changes in their industry, areas for growth, and insight into the demands of the marketplace. This is an important service for them to provide to their clients as well.

I have been given no guidelines by PBS on what I can or cannot write about. Using Sustainablog's legal disclosure as a template, I wish to aver:
The Price Companies, Inc./BIOstock Services division is underwriting a portion of the expense of research and editing of the BIOstock Blog. C. Scott Miller is not required to blog about Price BIOstock Services. The only requirement as a condition of underwriting these expenses was to include this disclosure of this relationship on the BIOstock Blog.

December 22, 2006

CANADA: Wood chips biorefinery venture announced

SunOpta is one of the most demonstrably successful biomass conversion companies. It has conducted significant enzymatic hydrolysis R&D and deployed groundbreaking facilities on both sides of the Atlantic that convert a variety of different biostock into cellulosic ethanol, cellulosic butanol, xylitol and dietary fiber for human consumption. Raw materials include wheat straw, corn stover, grasses, oat hulls and wood chips.

Their mission is to leverage their biomass conversion expertise with proprietary technologies to participate in the construction, ownership and operation of cellulosic ethanol facilities across North America, Europe and Asia.

Just days after the New York cellulosic demonstration plant announcement by Mascoma and Genencor we learn of an agreement between SunOpta Biomass Process Group and GreenField Ethanol Inc.. This is touted to be "the first commercial scale cellulosic ethanol plant built and operational in the world using wood chips." The plan is to site the facility in Quebec or Ontario.

Below is the press release...
SunOpta and GreenField Ethanol Create Cellulosic Ethanol Joint Venture

TORONTO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Dec. 21, 2006--SunOpta Inc. (SunOpta or the Company) (NASDAQ:STKL)(TSX:SOY) today announced that it has signed a joint venture agreement with GreenField Ethanol Inc. ("GreenField"), formerly known as Commercial Alcohols Inc., Canada's leading producer of fuel ethanol, to develop and implement commercial scale processes for the production of cellulosic ethanol from wood chips, including the planned establishment of one or more commercial scale plants employing the new process.

The first plant is planned to produce 40 million liters (approximately 10 million gallons) of cellulosic ethanol per year, which would be the first commercial scale cellulosic ethanol plant built and operational in the world using wood chips. Greenfield Ethanol and SunOpta are actively involved in selecting a site for the first plant in Ontario or Quebec. Subsequent plants will be in the range of 200 to 400 million liters (approximately 50 to 100 million gallons) per year capacity.

The venture will be owned 50% by GreenField and 50% by SunOpta's BioProcess Group and will utilize the SunOpta BioProcess Group's patented and proprietary process solutions for the production of cellulosic ethanol.

Steve Bromley, President and COO of SunOpta commented, "As previously announced, the SunOpta BioProcess Group is raising $30 million to fund exciting growth projects utilizing the Group's proprietary technology in the production of cellulosic ethanol. This joint venture is an exciting first step in the use of these funds and we are most pleased to partner with GreenField, combining their world class expertise developing ethanol plants with our world class expertise in biomass pretreatment and cellulosic ethanol technologies."

Bob Gallant, President and CEO of GreenField commented, "This partnership combines decades of GreenField's experience in developing world-class ethanol plants and SunOpta's experience in developing cellulose pre-treatment technologies. This new joint venture creates unparalleled experience in developing cellulose technology."

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December 21, 2006

FLORIDA: Citrus Peels as BIOstock

Xethanol Corporation is an aggressive marketer of cellulosic ethanol technology. They have had their share of controversy which is addressed on their website and which resulted last month in a major change in top management.

Xethanol has one of the most comprehensive cellulosic ethanol business approaches around. They aim to:
1 - identify appropriate bioconversion technologies for a wide range of biostocks,
2 - utilize waste forestry and urban biomass in addition to waste agricultural biomass
3 - locate their manufacturing facilities near the sources of the feedstock,
4 - size the facilities to the close proximity of the biostock rather than truck it great distances
5 - build some facilities near urban sources of municipal solid waste

Here are excerpts from their press release announcing their current plans to implement their business approach for the bioconversion of citrus waste into ethanol and other bioproducts:

Xethanol Corp. Joins Renewable Spirits to Produce Ethanol From Citrus Peels
Plans Pilot Production Facility in Bartow, FL

Xethanol Corporation (AMEX: XNL), a renewable energy company focused on converting biomass to biofuel, Dec. 13 announced the Company has formed a venture with Renewable Spirits, LLC for the purpose of building a biomass-based pilot production facility, utilizing waste citrus peels as raw material for making ethanol.

The venture is located in Bartow, FL the heart of the state's citrus industry. The venture is expected to establish a pilot plant to produce up to 50,000 gallons of ethanol this harvesting season.

The pilot plant, which will increase to over 500,000 gallons per year (GPY), is co-located at a facility owned and operated by Peace River Citrus Products, Inc., a leading producer of orange and grapefruit juice and other citrus products.

Slated to begin production by the second quarter of 2007, the program plans to utilize a production technology process, developed through a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the USDA that will convert waste citrus biomass into ethanol, as well as other marketable co-products, such as limonene and citrus oil, to improve the economics of fuel production.

"Here's what's exciting: The next time you drink grapefruit juice, remember we will be making ethanol from what's left of the fruit. We are extremely excited to advance the efforts to convert biomass to ethanol with the use of citrus peels, a very promising feedstock" said David Ames, president and CEO of Xethanol. "We are also extremely proud to be partnering with leading scientists from the USDA to extend their breakthrough work into the pilot production phase." Ames said, "This project is a perfect example of how Xethanol is executing on its unique strategy of partnering with best-in-class research institutions and developing regional footprint facilities whereby ethanol production is located adjacent to the biomass feedstock."

"We are extremely confident in Mr. Ames' vision, leadership, and strategy of focusing on biomass based ethanol production in the southeast," said Chandler Hadlock, President and CEO of Coastal Energy Development, Inc., who will be overseeing the construction and management of the plant. "We look forward to working with Peace River Citrus Products and the USDA to further this technology and exponentially increase the citrus-to-ethanol production in Florida over the coming months."

In juice processing, one half of a citrus fruit is waste. Converting this alternative biomass feedstock into ethanol creates a tremendous economic opportunity for America's citrus growers.

Co-locating the processing facility adjacent to the biomass source also helps to reduce the transportation and shipping costs associated with production.

There are more than 35 major citrus producers located in Florida that collectively produce waste that could be converted to more than 80MM GPY of ethanol.

Renewable Spirits, an investor group, has spent the last two years working with the USDA to develop the technology used in the pilot plant, and has been successful in removing limonene from the peel, allowing for the fermentation of the sugars in the peel and batch distillation of ethanol at the USDA laboratory in Winter Haven, FL.

USDA scientists say this is the first facility of its kind.

Doug Westfall, President of Renewable Spirits, said "Xethanol's acquisition of this technology allows for a much quicker path to commercial applications. We believe that there is tremendous potential for citrus to ethanol production in central Florida, and that this is a winning proposition for both the citrus and ethanol industries."

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December 20, 2006

Woody Biomass-to-Ethanol Demonstration Plant Contracted

New York is starting to put some teeth into its plans to position the state as a leader in cellulosic ethanol development. It has agreed to help finance the establishment of a biomass-to-ethanol demonstration facility in Rochester, New York with the collaborative support of Mascoma Corporation and Genencor, a leading industrial biotechnology company that develops innovative enzymes.

Most interesting to me is the range of feedstock that will be demonstrated - "The facility is expected to operate using a number of New York State agricultural and/or forest products as biomass, including paper sludge, wood chips, switch grass and corn stover." Demonstrating proficiency and high yield from any of these feedstocks would enhance further investment and development for not only these collaborators but also other developers in allied technologies.

This announcement is significant for a number of other reasons - the bioconversion process to be demonstrated (enzymatic hydrolysis); the location (near chilly, urban Rochester, New York); the investment structure ($14.8 million state support, $5.2 million from the developer); the industry/education involvement of International Paper/Cornell University/Clarkson U.; and the endorsement by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) - which in my state of California has been equivocal in its support of similar waste-to-energy initiatives.

To learn more and read the press release click HERE.

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December 16, 2006

Bioenergy Gateway: Energy from Wood

The forest industry self-examination and renaissance is worldwide. Just as the new renewable fuels fever has captured the imagination of rural communities, the potential for woody biostock is just as great - if not greater. After all, the wood and forestry industries have been leaders in using their waste for energy; unlike corn or sugar, wood does not have any food uses to compete with; and the industrial biostock infrastructure is already in place. What is needed are new biorefinery developers, entrepreneurs, and educators who can help the industry through its transition.

New Zealand seems poised to provide an example of how one country plans to collaborate to further this ambition.

The New Zealand Forest Industry Development Agenda (FIDA) is an agreement between Government and the forest industry to address the information and technology barriers that were seen to discourage investment in bioenergy. The FIDA Bioenergy Programme aims to increase the use of renewable energy and, as a consequence, forest owners’ income, through utilizing wood waste left in the forest after tree harvesting, and waste produced from wood processing sites.

The FIDA Bioenergy Programme has three key elements:
1. Research into engineering solutions for forest waste harvesting.
2. Funding for feasibility studies into use of woody biomass as a fuel.
3. To provide information through a web-based knowledge centre.

Below is the introduction to the web-based knowledge center:

Bioenergy Gateway: Energy from Wood

This website provides tools and information for utilising wood waste as a renewable energy source.

The forest industry frequently burns wood waste to produce energy for processing. As the market grows for bioenergy production, there are opportunities to expand the use of this renewable resource.

This website can help forest growers and wood processors or bioenergy investors to assess the potential value of wood waste and harvesting residues.

Bioenergy offers value to different people in different ways:
Dairy or other food processing
Home heating
Heating for schools or commercial buildings

Case Studies
The website provides a series of case studies that demonstrate how different wood processing companies in New Zealand are developing bioenergy solutions, such as:

• Cogeneration Facility
• Landfill Electricity Generation
• Fuel Feed Systems
• Forest Residues as Fuel
• Energy Savings Through Energy Management
• Energy Use in the NZ Wood Processing Industry
• Energy Audits

Tools & Calculators
They also feature a page filled with biostock conversion calculators:
Wood waste valuation tool
On-site biomass assessment tool
Biomass boiler investment tool
Biomas cogeneration plant investment tool
Biomass Calorific value calculator
Wet/Dry Basis Converter
Energy Unit Converter

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December 15, 2006

Global BIOstock/BIOfuels Database

It is always gratifying to suddenly find a resource online that you considered so necessary that you had considered creating it yourself. Thanks to Friends of the Earth and the financial support of the Wallace Global Fund, this one happens to be free. Here is the website's introduction to this useful resource:

The Global Biofuels Database

In response to mounting global concerns about the costs and impacts of fossil fuel consumption, the development of biofuels is growing rapidly around the world. Despite the recent biofuels boom, however, many of the environmental and social impacts of a biofueled world have not been fully examined or addressed.

To address the need for greater understanding of biofuels impacts, Friends of the Earth has developed the Global Biofuels Database, an online database that enables users to compare the environmental and social impacts of a wide range of transport biofuels.

Although a great deal of information is presented here, the Global Biofuels Database is still being expanded and improved. We are eager to receive your feedback, comments and input for an updated version of the database.

To use the Global Biofuels Database, please... START HERE

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December 12, 2006

HAWAII: Powering Paradise with biofuels

Hawaii is rich in many things except the fuels that power industry, agriculture, transportation, and urban lifestyles, It imports almost all of the fuels it uses. The search for alternative energy sources has been an ongoing challenge for decades. Its quest is a microcosm of America's quest for a new way to address the need for clean renewable energy. What does it take to power "paradise"?

Hawaii's Public Utilities Commission has determined that it is time to find out. Here is a report from the Honolulu's Star Bulletin newspaper about the commitment the top utility in Oahu has made - with the firm resolve of the state government - to fuel its new power plant with ethanol and biodiesel. Rather than wait until commercial-scale technology has been proven elsewhere, in Hawaii the vision and commitment is coming first.

Here is a portion of the report ...

Biofuel to power HECO plant
A pact with the state has the firm using renewable fuels like biodiesel and ethanol
By B.J. Reyes, Star Bulletin

HAWAIIAN Electric Co.'s proposed 110 megawatt power plant at Campbell Industrial Park would be run entirely on renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel under an agreement with the state's consumer advocate.

The commitment to power the plant completely on biofuels was finalized last week and submitted in writing to the Public Utilities Commission yesterday, at the opening of a weeklong series of public hearings about HECO's application to build the $137 million plant.

A commitment to alternative fuels -- those made mostly from agricultural products such as corn, soybeans, sugar and their byproducts -- would reduce the amount of fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, that account for an estimated 90 percent of the state's energy needs.

HECO originally had said it would initially use low-sulfur diesel and other more traditional fuels while pursuing a switch to alternatives and renewables as those fuels became more commercially available.

Robbie Alm, HECO's senior vice president for public affairs, said the state's promotion of alternative energy played a role in the company agreeing to the 100 percent commitment.

"After looking over what we believe is the reality of biofuels -- ethanol and biodiesel markets -- we felt we could make that commitment," Alm said.

As of April, 80 percent of all gasoline sold in Hawaii is required to be blended with 10 percent ethanol. Additionally, lawmakers this year passed a bipartisan package of bills aimed at lessening the state's dependence on imported fossil fuels through conservation and development of alternative fuels.

The first ethanol processing plants in Hawaii are expected to come online by 2007, while three of the state's largest landowners -- Maui Land & Pineapple Co., Grove Farm Co. and Kamehameha Schools -- in July announced the formation of a partnership to study the viability of a large-scale biofuels industry in the islands.

For more of this article, click HERE

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December 7, 2006

U.S. D.O.E. Information on "BIOstock" & Legislation

The U.S. Department of Energy Energy Information Administration (EIA) has a wealth of online biomass and energy data that shows the immensity of the biomass potential in the United States. It also catalogs the breadth of federal and state-by-state legislative efforts to address the alternative fuels challenge.

Want to start a national renewable energy enterprise? Then you might want to take a closer look at the Biomass Resources on Federal Lands map. It shows (in pink) where biomass resource potential outside Federal lands is and where (in green) 469 existing electric generating plants exist that utilize biomass energy. They estimate that, currently, only about 1.4% of U.S. electric energy is generated using biomass fuels.

That will change. The resource documents data up to 2004 but will be updated again this month.

The EIA site also contains a tutorial section aimed at students who are interested in learning energy basics. One entry of the Energy Kid's Page focuses on Biomass-Renewable Energy from Plants and Animals.

On the subject of Biomass...

"Biomass energy is derived from three distinct energy sources: wood, waste, and alcohol fuels. Wood energy is derived both from direct use of harvested wood as a fuel and from wood waste streams. The largest source of energy from wood is pulping liquor or “black liquor,” a waste product from processes of the pulp, paper and paperboard industry. Waste energy is the second-largest source of biomass energy. The main contributors of waste energy are municipal solid waste (MSW), manufacturing waste, and landfill gas. Biomass alcohol fuel, or ethanol, is derived almost exclusively from corn. Its principal use is as an oxygenate in gasoline."

Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency - DSIRE is a comprehensive source of information on state, local, utility, and federal incentives that promote renewable energy and energy efficiency. The source can be researched for Renewable Energy and/or Energy Efficiency data.

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December 5, 2006

New Hampshire Renewable Power Plant Burns Wood Chips

New technology boilers will contribute to the production of energy while greatly reducing greenhouse gas emissions symptomatic of the older boilers they replace. They will be financed in part by earning renewable energy certificates that can be traded.

Central to the concept of certificates is the idea that the 'environmental attributes' of renewable energy can be 'unbundled' from the energy itself, and traded independently: the attributes = certificates. By allowing the ‘green’ attributes of renewable energy to be treated separately, certificates allow electricity suppliers to purchase just the attributes of electricity generated elsewhere. If the state permits it, the supplier might be able to fulfill part or all of its portfolio requirements by purchasing certificates. In this way, certificates increase the efficiency and liquidity of the market. – Evolution Markets, Inc.

Evidence of this new trend comes from Public Service of New Hampshire, the state's largest electricity utility. Below is their recent press release.

PSNH Renewable Power Plant Burns Wood Chips

One of the nation’s largest new renewable energy projects is now in service in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, producing power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses in the state through the burning of wood chips. The $75 million “Northern Wood Power Project,” located at Public Service of New Hampshire’s Schiller Station, has permanently replaced a 50 megawatt coal boiler with a state-of-the-art wood-burning boiler of the same size. As a result, air emissions at the power plant are expected to be reduced by more than 380,000 tons annually through the burning of clean wood chips.

“The dramatic emission reductions from this facility will help us satisfy the strict requirements of the New Hampshire Clean Power Act,” noted Gary Long, PSNH president and chief operating officer. “Furthermore, we are able to make this improvement while still maintaining some of the lowest energy rates in the region.”

Because it is a new renewable energy project, the PSNH facility will produce more than 300,000 “renewable energy certificates” annually. Revenue from the sale of the certificates to regional energy suppliers seeking to satisfy renewable energy requirements will be used to offset the project’s capital costs.

The new boiler is expected to annually consume more than 400,000 tons of wood, most of which will come from suppliers in the Granite State. The use of local wood supply was a key goal of PSNH and the New Hampshire Timberland Owner’s Association, an early supporter of the project, and will help bolster the state’s economy and advance good forestry practices.

“Our thanks go out to the Timberland Owner’s Association, as well as the City of Portsmouth and the Town of Newington,” said Long. “We could not have succeeded without the support they provided, as well as the support of many others, including the Audubon Society of New Hampshire and the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.”

Construction of the Northern Wood Power Project began in October 2004, following a rigorous review by state regulators and by planning boards in Portsmouth and Newington. The project’s primary components include a 110-foot high boiler, equivalent to a nine-story building, a wood-fuel delivery system, and a large wood storage facility, capable of holding about 10,000 tons of wood chips. Additional information on the project is available at

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November 30, 2006

November 2006 Digest

Broadening the Scope - Focusing on Potential

The BIOconversion Blog - while keeping an eye on biofuel and biomass conversion technologies, facility deployments, and international issues - welcomes two new siblings! The BIOstock Blog covers biomass feedstock questions - what feedstocks are being used, how they are being transported, and what pre-processing technologies are being developed. The BIOoutput Blog focuses on the output of biomass conversion technologies - emissions, biofuels, electricity, green chemicals - and new uses for them.

The Digest will list the titles from all of them so don't worry about receiving 3 digests per month (whew!). However, those who use newsfeed software should link to all three because, in general, the articles will not be duplicated between sites. Here are this month's articles:

General Topics--------------
Forest Industry: Bio-Solutions to Climate Change
Harvesting Green Power
Forests: Carbon S(t)inks?
Investor's Roundup of Leading Cellulosic Ethanol Companies
Expanded Recycling - a Key to Cutting Fossil Fuels and Global Warming
Cellulosic Ethanol RD&D - Mascoma Corp. Raises $30 Million
The Social Costs of the Status Quo
U.S. D.O.E.: 5-year Plan for Biomass Conversion
Renaissance of the Forest Products Industry
Cellulosic Ethanol – Snake Oil for the new millennium?
Upgrading Existing Plants for Biomass Conversion
BIOplastics: BIOdegradable by-products of BIOconversion
Colusa Completes Successful Rice Straw Harvest
Cellulosic Ethanol from Woody Biomass
Green Chemistry from Sugar Cane

Around the Nation--------------
California Energy Commission PIER Grants for Biofuels RD&D
CALIFORNIA: Cities favoring Gasification over Combustion
CALIFORNIA: Enforcing Greenhouse Gas Emissions Limits

Around the World-----------------
BIOstock of the Southern Hemisphere
Impact of Global Growth on Carbon Emissions

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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November 29, 2006

Cellulosic Ethanol from Woody Biomass

Three weeks ago Mascoma Corporation announced the successful raising of $30 Million to be applied to RD&D for cellulosic ethanol technology. Today they announced a commitment to collaborate with Tamarack Energy, Inc. of Essex, CT on the development of cellulosic ethanol facilities using Mascoma enzymatic hydrolysis technology. They will start with a demonstration facility based on wood biomass feedstock. New York is targeted as the first state to see commercial-scale facilities deployment.

I talked with Tamarack President Derek Amidon about the announcement and his company's plans for the future. The upbeat president said his company is a subsidiary of Haley & Aldrich, a 50+ year old environmental, engineering and management consulting services firm with an international clientele.

Tamarack Energy, Inc. conforms to the parent company's vision of creating opportunities with clients to help meet local and global energy demands. The range of renewable energy they service includes wind, solar, biomass conversion, and the production of biofuels. Their team touts extensive experience in the development, permitting, engineering, construction and operation of a broad range of energy projects.

Below are excerpts from their joint press release:

Mascoma and Tamarack Energy partner to accelerate the Commercialization of Cellulosic Ethanol
Plans Underway to Open Facilities with Initial Focus on the State of New York

ESSEX, CT and CAMBRIDGE, MA, November 29, 2006 -- Tamarack Energy, Inc., of Essex, Connecticut and Mascoma Corporation, the leader in cellulosic biomass-to-ethanol development and production, announced today an agreement to collaborate on the joint development of cellulosic ethanol facilities in New York, as well as follow-on opportunities in Pennsylvania and New England states, leveraging wood mills and other production facilities. Cellulosic ethanol is an emerging renewable alternative to fossil fuels, which reduces U.S. reliance on foreign oil and creates jobs for rural America.

This partnership enables Mascoma to apply its licensed and internally-developed cellulosic conversion technologies, processes, engineering and design expertise, to Tamarack Energy’s alternative energy development, permitting, operational, and financing abilities.

“Mascoma has assembled a formidable powerhouse of technical talent that, when integrated with the Tamarack Energy team’s biomass project development, wood procurement, engineering, construction and facility operations experience, strategically positions us to lead the commercialization of ethanol production from cellulosic biomass,” said Tamarack Energy President Derek Amidon. “Given the number of sites across the northeast with access to cellulosic feedstocks, including scrap wood, paper sludge, and other forestry and agricultural biomass, the region is ideal for the renewable energy economic development projects and integrated plants which Tamarack Energy and Mascoma can develop.”

Mascoma President Colin South added, “Mascoma is leading the development of cellulosic ethanol technology for an economically competitive fuel alternative. By working with Tamarack Energy to integrate our cellulosic ethanol plants into their bio-energy parks under development, we can reduce the cost and time required to bring cellulosic ethanol production to deployment and commercialization. This will enable Mascoma to provide a source for environmentally superior fuels, as well as create an economic development opportunity for rural America.”

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November 25, 2006

FAQ: BIOstock Blog

1. What is "BIOstock"?

Biomass feedstocks (BIOstocks) are living or recently living biological material which can be used as fuel or raw material for industrial production. Most commonly, biomass refers to plant matter grown for use as biofuel, but also includes plant or animal matter used for production of fibers, chemicals, or heat. It is usually measured by dry weight.

2. What is the focus of the BIOstock Blog?

The first of four biomass conversion blogs, this one covers biomass feedstock issues - which are being used, how they are being transported, and what pre-processing technologies are being developed. The other three related blogs are the BIOconversion Blog, BIOoutput Blog, and the BIOwaste Blog.

As biomass conversion technologies develop, demand for procurement services, delivery systems, feedstock pre-processing installations, and management will become prevalent.

3. Who provides these services?

In addition to editing the BIOstock Blog, I consult and represent Price BIOstock Services of Monticello, Arkansas. This company already operates nineteen significant wood processing facilities in the United States that they designed and installed. Having begun development of a facility in Australia, they are now expanding the scope of their business to include other forms of biomass and other regions of the world.

I have been given no guidelines by PBS on what I can or cannot write about. As a legal disclosure I aver:

The Price Companies, Inc./BIOstock Services division is underwriting a portion of the expense of research and editing of the BIOstock Blog. C. Scott Miller is not required to blog about Price BIOstock Services. The only requirement as a condition of underwriting these expenses was to include this disclosure of this relationship on the BIOstock Blog.

4. What is the significance of the Rubik's cube imagery on the Blogs?

The Rubik's cube is emblematic of the multi-faceted energy puzzle that confronts civilization. This four blog series is my attempt to create some semblance of order out of the chaos of global interlinking challenges - geopolitics, employment, pollution, energy, waste, carbon emissions, etc. Each Blog is an attempt to work on a side of the puzzle - BIOstock, BIOconversion, BIOoutput, and BIOwaste. Solve these and I believe many international problems will be substantially mitigated.

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Colusa Completes Successful Rice Straw Harvest

Agricultural waste is plentiful in many parts of the U.S. that do not produce corn. Each kind of waste is a potential source of biomass for conversion. Some companies are developing vertical specializations focused on a certain biostock to harvest, deliver, and biorefine into biofuels and other marketable products.

One such company is Colusa Biomass Energy Corporation (CBEC) named after a rice-producing county north of Sacramento, California. In a recent press release, Colusa announced that they have achieved better than expected yields from their harvesting of rice straw - the waste leftover from rice cultivation. They will break ground in 2007 on a biorefinery to process the rice straw into ethanol and other by-products.

There is a strong need in this state to convert rice straw because farmers are precluded by law from burning it in the fields, which was the customary practice. California produces about 18% of the rice grown in the United States; about 550,000 acres annually. Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana and Missouri also produce large quantities of rice. By focusing on this one feedstock, Colusa is developing an expertise that is marketable in many regions of the world - significantly in Asia.

Here is the content of their press release...

Colusa Biomass Energy Completes an Industry First - Waste Rice Straw Harvest Preparing for Ethanol

Colusa Biomass Energy Corporation (CLME.PK) today announced the successful completion of its first-ever rice straw harvesting operation in Colusa County, California. Field Operations Manager Rick Nannen said, "Yields of rice straw were very significantly higher than expected, showing that our specialized equipment and field practices result in highly efficient collection of biomass."

CBEC announced that it had collected 6,800 tons of rice straw in a truncated harvest period of 5 weeks, with an average yield per acre harvested of over 4 tons/acre, compared to previous assumptions of 2.5 tons/acre. These higher yields significantly reduced the amount of acres necessary to be harvested in order to reach CBEC's target volume of rice straw.

CEO Tom Bowers said, "Our average cash cost for collection of rice straw in this harvest was $9.44 per ton. In the full scale harvest we will undertake in 2007 we are confident that total cost (including capital cost) will not exceed $24.00 per ton. This places us very significantly below the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's benchmark for biomass gathering costs of $30.00 per ton." Rick Nannen added, "Our process gathers rice straw without baling it. Avoiding the baling step significantly reduces the cost of gathering biomass."

In the 2007 harvest CBEC intends to undertake a full-scale rice-straw harvest operation using 5 forage harvester units, over the full 10 weeks of the harvest. This full scale operation will produce over 70,000 tons of rice straw, which will be processed into ethanol in CBEC's biorefinery, on which it is expected to begin construction in 2007.

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November 23, 2006

High Yielding BIOstock of the Southern Hemisphere

Biopact is a developing consortium based in Brussels that is focused on the development of biorefineries in "the Southern Hemisphere" (mainly Africa). Their thesis is that environmental conditions exist in southern continents that are ideal for the cultivation of energy-rich feedstock for biorefineries. By harnessing this geographical advantage, developing nations there can build export industries while supplying local biofuel alternatives to increasingly expensive fossil fuels.

Two recent articles posted at Biopact's blog present their "Biofuels Manifesto" and provide a stinging comparison of Northern vs. Southern hemisphere biomass feedstock by an American professor familiar with policymaking in Washington, D.C. Here are some excerpts from each...

A Biofuels Manifesto - why green fuels should be priority number one for developing countries

At this crucial time in history, developing nations can leapfrog away from the petroleum paradigm and the relations of inequality and dependence it creates, and into a sustainable, secure, autonomous and independent future. With a green development strategy they can reduce their economic, cultural and political dependence on the West.

Conventional wisdom has it that the developing countries will have to replicate the energy steps of the developed world... But what the conventional wisdom failed to foresee was that perhaps India and China would find an alternative pathway – one not based on fossil fuels and extreme dependence on oil imports, but on a different trajectory, namely one of energy independence and in particular independence from fossil fuels. Unlike Russia, which is playing strategic games with its vast oil and gas reserves, Brazil, India and China (the countries we can christen the ‘BICs’) are strategizing around how they can build energy independence through a variety of renewable fuels and energy sources – starting with liquid biofuels, since this is where their vulnerability to balance of payments disasters caused by rising oil import bills would be most pronounced.

John Mathews is professor of Strategic Management at the Graduate School of Management (Macquarie University). We present Mathews' 10 core arguments below. They can be seen as reference points in the great debate that is currently raging around bioenergy and biofuels. The arguments in favor of developing countries moving vigorously towards promotion of biofuels industries center around the following issues:
1. Energy security and the peaking of oil supplies globally;
2. Biofuels as tested substitutes for fossil fuels;
3. Abundance of land for producing energy crops in tropical countries;
4. Biofuels’ potential to reduce fuel import bills and fossil fuel dependence;
5. Biofuels production is a rural industry and can promote social inclusion;
6. Countries with even low levels of science and technology can get a start in biofuels, and they can create thereby a ‘development bloc’ that can drive industrial development;
7. Biofuels are greenhouse gas neutral and can earn countries carbon credits;
8. Developing countries can develop their own distinctive latecomer institutional innovations to capture benefits
9. Biofuels promote South-South cooperation; and
10. Biofuels represent simply the first step on a clean technology development trajectory

From oil addicts to alcohol addicts: U.S. distorts the global biofuels market

In its report entitled, Should the Clean Air Act Be Used to Turn Petroleum Addicts Into Alcoholics? [*.pdf], lead author Professor Arnold W. Reitze makes an important contribution to the hotly contested debate over the disadvantages of biofuels produced in the Northern hemisphere.

It says that subsidies under the US Clean Air Act have made ethanol production immensely profitable in the US even though it is more costly and performs worse than gasoline. Moreover, it says subsidisation in the US has "distorted the market for renewable fuels".

Biofuels produced in the US (so-called "lobby fuels") are based on feedstocks such as corn (for ethanol) or soya (for biodiesel). The resulting fuels have a very weak energy balance (some have found them to have a negative balance, which means you put more energy into making the fuel, than you get out of it). They are also very expensive to produce and do not contribute in any significant way to the reduction of greenhouse gases.

In contrast, biofuels produced in the global South, based on high yielding feedstocks such as sugarcane, cassava or sorghum, have a very positive energy balance. They can be produced at a cost competitive with petroleum fuels and their use contributes significantly to the reduction in greenhouse gases. Biofuels made in the US must be heavily subsidized in order to survive. Tax payers in the US literally pay billions for uncompetitive fuels, while farmers in the South are kept outside of the market and in poverty because of US subsidies.


I posted my own comments to the second article at Biopact. After reading the full article, I would be interested in any other responses.

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November 22, 2006

Upgrading Existing Plants for Biomass Conversion

We are beginning to see the "low hanging fruit" being plucked as aggressive ethanol development companies are buying installations and upgrading them into cellulosic ethanol plants. Just this last week two companies have made purchases in two different biostock arenas - agricultural corn waste and forestry wood chips. The companies have bought the plants for their existing procurement infrastructure, permitting, manpower, and proximity to their research facilities.

In the first case, Broin Companies of Sioux Falls, South Dakota has bought a corn dry mill in northwest Iowa to reconfigure it into a commercial-scale facility capable of converting corn fiber and stover into ethanol. They will be using Broin's patented fractionalization process to break down the fibers and then ferment the resulting starch into ethanol using their own hydrolysis process.

In the second case, controversial Xethanol Corp. has purchased a fiberboard factory that is close to their R&D facility at Virginia Tech to deploy a biorefinery that can convert wood chips into ethanol. This is exactly the kind of plant makeover anticipated by the Forest Products Industry Technology Roadmap study. Expect to see more.

View the entire BIOconversion Blog story HERE.

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Inventing the BIOstock Services Concept

"Boom" periods provide investors with high potential return - at high risk. To reduce these risks, early business collaborations are often formed with seasoned providers of products and services that can reliably meet project requirements and deadlines. These relationships represent a real value to new enterprises by providing sure-footed execution of critical parts of the operation based on experienced management and knowledge of existing resources.

Other outsourced products and services that will contribute to the success of new biofuel facility investments include: marketing, publicity, training, lobbying, consulting, real estate, insurance, financing, manpower, shipping, procurement, engineering, design, construction, sales, etc., etc.

A good example of a company that is taking its core business and repositioning itself to service the booming biofuels industry is the Price Companies, Inc. of Monticello, Ark. They recognize that, to be successful, new biorefineries will require a steady, year-round flow of biomass feedstock ("biostock") which needs to be contracted, shipped, stored, pre-processed, and conveyed into the facilities. With very little variation, these are the same services that Price currently provide at 19 wood processing installations throughout the southeastern U.S.

Price recently hung a new shingle establishing a division called Price BIOstock Services under the control of experienced General Manager Dick Carmical. Below is a press release that provides a glimpse of their business vision.

The Price Companies, Inc. introduces new Price BIOstock Services division
Experienced wood processing facilities operator markets management services for handling other biomass feedstock

Monticello, ARK (October 12, 2006): The Price Companies, Inc. has announced the launch of a new division called “Price BIOstock Services.” As a wood processing services company for over forty years, the new division will focus on offering a broad range of management and operations technology services to companies involved in the rapid growth of biofuel refineries in North America and abroad.

The future of biofuels production will involve using cellulosic biomass (like wood chips, rice straw, corn stover, and even urban waste) as feedstock for the refinery/conversion process. Capitalizing on the parent company’s existing resources and experience from operating state-of-the-art facilities at nineteen sites in the United States, the new division offers an expanded set of services for managing other biomass feedstock materials. These services include consulting, procurement, systems design/engineering, and facilities management.

“From industry changes we are monitoring through our association memberships, we anticipate a surge in demand for the products and services that The Price Companies have been providing, with minor modification, for over forty years,” says Price BIOstock Services General Manager Dick Carmical. “The need for specialized equipment and personnel will be huge worldwide. Price can provide people and facilities to procure, grow, harvest, and process the fiber necessary for biofuels. We are eager to work with enterprises in search of an experienced, professional team that can source, build, and manage biostock.”

In a related development, The Price Companies, Inc. has announced the signing of a contract with fine paper manufacturer PaperlinX Limited of Australia. Under the terms of the contract, Price will build, own, and manage a state-of-the-art facility that will enhance the quality and consistency of pulp to be produced for PaperlinX’s Maryvale Mill pulp capacity and bleach plant in Victoria, Australia.

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Renaissance of the Forest Products Industry

Often maligned as a exploiter of America's forests, the Forest Products Industry (FPI) may be "behind the times" in some contexts, but it has great potential for leading the paradigm shift to renewable energy (both electricity and biofuels), reducing greenhouse gases, upgrading the nation's workforce, reducing dependence on fossil fuels, and suppressing the spread of tree diseases and forest fires due in part to global warming.

Recently released is the Forest Products Industry Technology Roadmap which provides a framework for reinventing and reinvigorating the industry through technological innovations in processes, materials, and markets. The 2006 update of the publication captures the Agenda 2020 Technology Alliance* vision and translates it into a set of focus areas and R&D priorities for each Agenda 2020 technology platform. The Roadmap provides a summary of priority technical challenges and research needs of the U.S. forest products industry, and highlights opportunities for partnerships with researchers and funding organizations.

Seven Technology Platforms Provide Focus for RD&D
1. Advancing the Forest “Bio-Refinery”
2. Sustainable Forest Productivity
3. Breakthrough Manufacturing Technologies
4. Advancing the Wood Products Revolution
5. Next Generation Fiber Recovery and Utilization
6. Positively Impacting the Environment
7. Technologically Advanced Workforce

As the publication states, the inescapable truth is that "America is the world’s largest producer and consumer of forest products. The industry is a vital contributor to the domestic economy, particularly in rural areas where many pulp and paper mills are located. In 2004, U.S. paper and wood products companies posted annual sales of close to $260 billion and employed almost one million Americans. Despite decades as a global leader, the industry is increasingly challenged by international competitors, who in some cases enjoy economic advantages in wood, labor, and environmental costs. Other competitive pressures include the growing use of electronic communication and advertising, product substitution, an aging process infrastructure, few technology breakthroughs, and scarcity of capital for new investments."

The time for a technological renaissance is now. Not only is demand for change the greatest that it has ever been, but also the "aging process infrastructure" of the industry is reaching the end of its lifecycle. Due to be replaced are Tomlinson boilers and other biomass- or fossil fuel-based boilers that are used for energy production and chemical recovery.

The FPI is calling for new investment in what it calls "Forest Biorefineries." Utilizing emerging technologies, these "optimized forest biorefineries would produce new streams of biomass-derived, high-value chemicals, fuels, and electric power while continuing to meet the growing demand for traditional wood, pulp, and paper products. This evolution could more than double economic returns on the industry’s manufacturing assets, create a significant U.S. manufacturing base for renewable transportation fuels, and help meet the nation’s need for clean, diverse, domestic energy supplies."

In addition to fulfilling functions such as providing combined process heat and power and/or recovering the pulping chemicals for re-use, the gasifiers would produce syngas, consisting largely of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Depending on the economics of the situation, the syngas could then be burned in gas turbines to produce steam and power, used as a replacement for fossil fuels (such as natural gas in a lime kiln or fuel oil in a power boiler), or converted into transportation fuels, including Fischer-Tropsch liquid fuels or pure hydrogen.

*The Agenda 2020 Technology Alliance is an industry-led partnership with government and academia that holds the promise of reinventing the forest products industry through innovation in processes, materials and markets. Initiated in 1994 in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to improve energy efficiency in the industry's manufacturing processes, Agenda 2020 is now organized as a membership alliance to accelerate research, demonstration and deployment of breakthrough technologies.

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Forests: Carbon S(t)inks?

Biopact reports that research on the carbon sequestering capacity of forests is challenging long cherished beliefs that they are 'carbon sinks" that suck more carbon-dioxide out of the atmosphere than they emit. The idea that planting or retaining more trees will automatically compensate for greenhouse gases released elsewhere is apparently a myth.

Still, the net CO2 contribution of forests is far lower than that of simply burning fossil fuels, so planting new energy trees (either as part of a re- or afforestation effort) to use them as bioenergy feedstocks to be used instead of coal, gas or oil, remains a good strategy to tackle climate change.

This means that the real impact of forests on global warming is the risk they pose when consumed in fires - during which they expell huge amounts of carbon, particulate matter, NOx, and SOx into the atmosphere.

For the full story, click the title link below to the Biopact site. Excerpts of their article are below:

Idea that forests are 'carbon sinks" no longer holds

New research now shows that instead of carbon sinks, some forests emit more carbon than they store. Forests can do little to improve the future climate or to lower the atmosphere's carbon levels. What they can do is make global warming worse.

This is the conclusion of a Canadian and American team of forest scientists that went into the woods in northern Manitoba to measure the carbon cycle of a forest ecosystem. They wanted to measure carbon going into and out of a living forest, to learn how effectively the forest was sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and storing it.

The results of this scientific work are congruent with research done in other forest types, most notably in tropical forests where the same observation was found: forests contribute more CO2 to the atmosphere than they store.

The consequences of these scientific results are manifold: forest nations will not be able to enjoy the benefits brought by the United Nations Framework on Convention on Climate Change because forests can no longer be filed as 'carbon sinks'. Re- and afforestation efforts are no longer a certain quick fix to climate change (they do have many other benefits, though), and large fossil fuel burning utilities who now often contribute financially to such efforts to appease their conscience, must rethink their strategies.

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Forest Industry: Bio-Solutions to Climate Change

Is there an environmentally safe role for wood industry byproducts and waste to play in providing sustainable bio-solutions to climate change? Can we really live on less paper, pulp, and lumber? Are substitutes likely to be better environmentally - with equal or less impact on carbon sequestration? What is the responsible thing to do with tree trimmings, black liquor, and bark beetle-infested trees?

Does "saving forests" include thinning them to prevent forest fires - a horrific source of toxic carbon emissions and particulate matter (see below)?

These are some of the questions that are being asked at Forestry Industry meetings like the International Seminar on Energy and Forest Products Industry (30-31 October) held in Rome.

The forest products industry is a major consumer of energy, using 6 percent of total industrial energy use in 2003. But the industry also produces energy, as well as other by-products that can be used for energy generation. It is the only sector that already generates approximately 50 percent of its own energy needs, the majority from renewable carbon-neutral biomass. Energy costs, energy supply and climate change are amongst the core issues impacting on the future of the forest products industry.

Wulf Killmann, Director of Forest Products and Economics at Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said that the potential of the forestry industry to help solve energy and climate change needs to be tapped. "Governments have a key role to play in encouraging industries to use cleaner and more efficient energy technologies and in promoting bio-energy."

Here are excerpts from a recent article published by Forest Newswatch:

Can the forest products industry be part of a bio-solution to climate change?
Forest Newswatch (subscription)
Friday, 03 November 2006

The global forest products industry can play a significant role in combating climate change by optimizing the use of raw material, increasing efficiency, producing bio-energy and expanding into bio-refinery products while developing the competitiveness of the sector.

This was the conclusion of the International Seminar on Energy and Forest Products Industry (30-31 October), in which intergovernmental and private sector organisations of the global forest product industry joined forces. Participants stressed that well integrated and carefully balanced energy and forest policies around the globe set the stage for these developments. Governments, industry, institutions and society at large each have a role to play and should work together.

"The forest products industry can be part of the solution for climate change if committed to technological changes and energy efficiency," said Neil Hirst, Director of Energy Technology of the International Energy Agency (IEA). "It has the exceptional ability to become a net supplier of a range of energy products and it could, in combination with carbon capture and storage, become an important actor in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere."

"Wood and paper products are uniquely renewable and recyclable products that help reducing greenhouse gas emissions by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere," said Teresa Presas, Chair of the International Council of Forest and Paper Associations (ICFPA). The industry is committed to innovative energy solutions that meet the challenge of climate change, increase efficiency, reduce reliance on fossil fuel and expand the use of renewable energy sources. The industry believes that fibre from sustainable managed forests makes a positive contribution to the world's future energy supply.

"To achieve this", Presas said, "the industry needs enabling policies that support research and innovation, promote demonstration projects and improve the investment climate, specifically in this sector. Moreover there needs to be a level playing field between energy and non-energy uses of wood, considering that all this has to take place within the boundaries of sustainable forest management."

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) would be glad to see the global forest product industry taking a stronger role in the energy and climate change mitigation field, but also sets some requirements.

"WWF considers that sustainable bioenergy has to be part of the global strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, among other measures aiming to reduce the ecological footprint. Credible certification of bioenergy feedstocks with a focus on social and environmental issues - including greenhouse gas calculations - and land use planning are part of the solution to ensure the sustainability of development", said Duncan Pollard, Director of the WWF Forests for Life Programme.

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Greenhouse Gases as Feedstock?

Will bacteria play THE major role in the production of biofuels and sequestering of carbon dioxide? Patents already exist for strains of bacteria that can convert syngas into ethanol.

New research being funded by the U.S. Department of Energy to study new roles for bacteria. The challenge is to sequence the DNA of certain cyanobacteria that can extract greenhouse gases from the air and, using sunlight, convert them into "thick mats of green biomass, from which liquid ethanol can be extracted." Sounds similar to the idea of using algae as a "breath mint" for smokestacks - but much more refined.

Here are excerpts form an article that appeared in "Washington University in St. Louis News & Information":

Sequencing The DNA Of Six Photosynthetic Bacteria To Make Biofuel To Warm Homes And Run Cars
by Tony Fitzpatrick

The United States Department of Energy (DOE) has devoted $1.6 million to sequencing the DNA of six photosynthetic bacteria that Washington University in St. Louis biologists will examine for their potential as one of the next great sources of biofuel that can run our cars and warm our houses.

That's a lot of power potential from microscopic cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) that capture sunlight and then do a variety of biochemical processes. One potential process, the clean production of ethanol, is a high priority for DOE.

A natural at fermentation

"The Department of Energy is very interested in the production of ethanol or hydrogen and other kinds of chemicals through biological processes," said Pakrasi, who also is director of the University's Bioenergy Initiative. "Cyanobacteria have a distinct advantage over biomass, such as corn or other grasses, in producing ethanol, because they use carbon dioxide as their primary cellular carbon source and emit no carbons and they naturally do fermentation. In biomass, yeast needs to be added for fermentation, which leads to the production of ethanol. Cyanobacteria can offer a simpler, cleaner approach to ethanol production." Pakrasi heads a group of nearly two dozen researchers who will do a lengthy, painstaking manual annotation of the gene sets of each organism to figure out what each gene of each strain does.

"The diversity in those sequences will give us the breadth of what these organisms do, and then we can pick and choose and make a designer microbe that will do what we want it to do," Pakrasi said. "We want to tap into the life history of these organisms to find the golden nuggets."

One possible way to produce ethanol using Cyanothece strains is a hybrid combination of the microbe and plant matter where the cyanobacteria coexist with plants and enable fermentation. The model exists in nature where cyanobacteria form associations with plants and convert nitrogen into a useful form so that plants can use the nitrogen product.

Extracting ethanol

At Washington University, Pakrasi and his collaborators have designed a photobioreactor to watch Cyanothece convert available sunlight into thick mats of green biomass, from which liquid ethanol can be extracted.

Pakrasi led the sequencing of Cyanothece 54112 as the focus of a Department of Energy "grand challenge project" that resulted in the sequencing and annotation of a cyanobacterium gene that could yield clues to how environmental conditions influence key carbon fixation processes at the gene-mRNA-protein levels in an organism.

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Reducing Biofuel Risk through Feedstock Diversification

Following a theme of this blog, as long as ethanol production is constrained to a single feedstock source - corn or sugarcane - the longterm risks and volatility of feedstock prices will become untenable. Either competitive demand for feedstock will raise prices too high or agricultural soil sustainability will be compromised. And, clearly, there isn't enough corn available to satisfy a significant percentage of gasoline consumption. If we are lucky, we will replace the growth in demand for fuel, leaving existing consumption untouched.

However, by converting a wide array of feedstock into ethanol and other biofuels, we not only embrace a greater volume of biomass, but also reduce the risk of unbalanced supply. This will lead to global decentralization of production - important to defusing friction from competitive demand.

GS AgriFuels has the right bioconversion idea. By using gasifiers to process cellulosic feedstock into syngas, they will be able to creatively address local supply procurement and delivery issues. As their website explains...

We use a proprietary new biomass gasifier that is designed to standardize variable biomass feeds and optimize high yields of high-quality syngas in real-time with greatly increased capital and operating cost efficiencies at smaller scales as compared to traditional gasification technologies.

The syngas output of our gasifier can either be used to generate heat and power with standard generation equipment or catalyzed into liquid fuels such as ethanol, methanol and synthetic diesel with the Fischer-Tropsch process.

Looks like they have the front end down. However their reliance on F-T process makes it appear that they may need to look for a more efficient process for converting the syngas into biofuels. Here is their press release as published on Business Wire...

GS AgriFuels to Build Integrated Multi-Feedstock, Multi-Fuels Production Facility in Memphis, Tennessee

NEW YORK--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Sept. 6, 2006--GS AgriFuels Corporation (OTC Bulletin Board: GSGF) today announced its plans to build an integrated multi-feedstock, multi-fuels production facility in Memphis, Tennessee.

GS AgriFuels has executed several of the agreements necessary to develop its Memphis site and expects to commence construction of the Memphis facility later this year.

"We strongly believe in the potential of renewable fuels, but our view is that the domestic clean fuels industry faces significant challenges over the coming years," said Kevin Kreisler, GS AgriFuels' chairman and chief executive officer. "Among other challenges, the biodiesel sector faces high concentrations of risk in the soy markets and the corn-derived ethanol sector is facing both increasing corn prices and decreasing distillers dried grains prices. Our belief is that these risks can be mitigated with feedstock diversification and with the use of proprietary new technologies and production improvements. Our business model incorporates elements of each."

GS AgriFuels intends to use standard fuel production technologies and a number of proprietary technologies, including innovative pre-treatment, process intensification, gasification, catalytic, and carbon capture technologies, synergistically at small-scales to enable the refining of many forms of biomass into clean fuels, including biodiesel and ethanol.

"Our development plans are based on the premise that feedstock diversification and integrated multi-fuel production capability at relatively small-scales will allow us to hedge risk and proactively manage fluctuating market conditions in opportunistic ways," added Kreisler. "We are designing our facilities around this philosophy."

GS AgriFuels is currently developing several sites for the construction of its planned integrated multi-fuel production facilities. GS AgriFuels' planned Memphis facility will have an initial nameplate capacity of 10 million gallons of biodiesel and 5 million gallons of ethanol, methanol and/or biomass-derived synthetic diesel and will commence production in 2007.

GS AgriFuels' expects to scale its Memphis, Tennessee facility to in excess of 45 million gallons of annual fuel production given that facility's location in a major distribution hub. Additional information on GS AgriFuels' development plans is available online at

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