February 28, 2007

February 2007 Digest

The IPCC finally released their long-awaited summary of findings on global warming. Al Gore's movie won the Oscar for Best Documentary. Does that mean that people are finally convinced of the truth about global warming? Does it matter?

There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about the state of the atmosphere without having to declare one way or the other on the issue of global warming. Living in Los Angeles, raising a daughter with lifelong battles with allergies, bronchial congestion, and asthmatic inhalers, I am more concerned with particulate matter and reactive organic gases than I am about gradual global temperature increases due to greenhouse gas. No one has to convince me that we need to act now to clean up the air we breathe.

As ACORE attests, a welcome consequence of a switch to renewable fuels is that we will move closer to a carbon-neutral balance for our atmosphere. If we can simultaneously reduce our mountains of decaying trash and fire-prone wood waste to produce biofuels through bioconversion, so much the better for our environment.

BIOstock Blog--------------
SunOpta goes global with steam explosion biomass pre-treatment
Wood beats corn stover in U.S. cellulosic ethanol race
"Green Tags" reward Renewable Energy development
Trees-for-Fuel Biomass Plants Mitigate Fires

BIOconversion Blog--------------
BP invests in UC Berkeley/UIUC Biosciences Institute
Banking big on Renewable Energy
Corn Sugar Fermentation - Educational Videos
Wood beats corn stover in U.S. cellulosic ethanol race
Online game is a Climate Challenge
U.S. DOE backs funding of six cellulosic ethanol biorefinery projects

BIOoutput Blog--------------
The IPCC Report solution? Renewable Energy.
Green Options is the place to be
California's Transportation Action Plan targets 2020
INDY 500: Drivers, start your ethanol-fueled engine
Clean and Efficient Biogas Fuel Cells

BIOwaste Blog--------------
PyroGenesis' BIOwaste Conversion Systems
Small Town with a BIG green vision
Green Options for Recycled Paper

Each month we provide a similar breakdown of 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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February 22, 2007

Trees-for-Fuel Biomass Plants Mitigate Fires

Of the three major renewable energy processes under scrutiny today - wind, solar, and biomass - only biomass conversion offers the benefit of increasing control over an existing source of greenhouse gases. By reducing forest fires, wood industries can mitigate hundreds of combined tons/day of not only CO, NOx and SOx emissions but also the toxic reactive organic gases and particulate matter. Of course, the impact of saving wildlife and their habitats is beyond valuation.

The U.S. Congress is recognizing this benefit in concert with the need to provide incentives for the forestry industry to help add to our carbon-neutral energy production. For this reason, they reauthorized a federal energy production tax credit to aid in plant capitalization.

A recent article in the Washington Post reports on the decision by one company, (Rough & Ready Lumber Co. of O'Brien, Oregon) to construct a $5 million plant to burn logging debris while co-producing electricity for its regional power grid. Here is part of the Associated Press article...

Fire Danger Fuels Trees-For-Fuel Plans
By JEFF BARNARD, the Associated Presss

The idea of burning wood waste _ known as hog fuel _ to produce energy at wood products and pulp mills is an old one that was going nowhere as long as fossil fuels were cheap, and logging was cut back to protect fish and wildlife habitat.

But leaders in the timber industry realize that energy production can help finance widespread thinning of national forests to combat wildfires and insect infestations. And the concept has a newer, catchier name _ biomass energy _ that helps align it with the wider movement linking economic and environmental concerns, including reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

Since Congress reauthorized a federal energy production tax credit for biomass, solar and wind power last month, at least two other sawmills in Oregon are going forward with biomass projects.

Another is slated for Arizona in conjunction with a long-term U.S. Forest Service thinning project there triggered by the massive 2002 Rodeo-Chedeski fire. More are foreseen in California, which has a long history of generating electricity from forest thinnings.

Steve Mueller, president of DG Energy LLC of San Diego, which is building a new plant in Lakeview, said there are three keys. A generating plant needs to be close to the fuel _ trucking little trees much more than 35 miles is too expensive. It must be close to a major electrical transmission line. And it needs to be close to a mill to buy the excess steam.

Plants burning forest thinnings and waste from lumber and pulp mills generate about 2,500 megawatts nationally _ far behind wind power in production, popularity and government support _ said Bill Carlson, chairman of USA Biomass Power Producers Alliance.

Burning mill waste and logging debris, which formerly had gone to waste, can reduce the cost of thinning the millions of acres of national forest at high risk of catastrophic wildfire.

"We are giving the forester, the manager of the land, another economic tool to work with, whether it is to thin the forest, remove disease, or just for general economic activity," said Allyn Ford, president of Roseburg Forest Products, which already has a biomass generator at its mill complex in Dillard, Ore.

"When you compare the value of the electricity to the value of restoring the health of the forest, I would say restoring the health of the forest is at least as valuable as the energy that is produced," Carlson said.

A report for the Western Governors Association estimates biomass in the West has a potential to produce more than 10,000 megawatts _ about 1 percent of the nation's production by 2015. About half would come from forest thinning. The rest from urban waste and agriculture.

For now, the grants and tax credits make construction of a biomass plant too good to pass up, making it possible to pay back the estimated $5 million investment in four years instead of 10, said Phillippi of Rough & Ready Lumber.

"These plants were always unaffordable because of our size," said Phillippi. But with the grants and tax credits, "It looked pretty good. We went ahead and did it. We're glad we did."

The second half of the article is available here.

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February 12, 2007

"Green Tags" reward Renewable Energy development

Now you can add green tags to the asset side of your renewable electricity business plan spreadsheet.

For many renewable energy developers, "green tags" will provide a necessary financial assurance that may mean the difference between proposal acceptance or rejection by investors. Under the green tag scenario, renewable electricity generated from a biomass waste-to-energy facility, wind farm, geothermal, hydroelectric plant, or solar array will earn valuable Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) that can be sold in the open market as an additional source of income. It also provides state legislatures that don't already sponsor a green tag program a way of supporting the financing and deployment of these facilities.

For electricity producers, green tags are a counterpart to carbon credits - which is a program that allow countries that have accrued credits for sequestering carbon to sell their credits on the open market to countries that produce too much carbon under the Kyoto Treaty. Many major electric utilities have begun buying the electricity from renewable producers to reduce their deficit in credits or to otherwise comply with their state's environmental and energy programs.

According to Wikipedia:

Green tags, also known as Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) or Tradable Renewable Certificates (TRCs), are a market mechanism that represent the environmental benefits associated with generating electricity from renewable energy sources. Rather than functioning as a tax on pollution-causing electricity generators, as traditional carbon emissions trading programs do, green tags function as a non-governmental subsidy on pollution-free electricity generators.

In states which have a green tag program, a green energy provider (such as a wind farm) is credited with one green tag for every 1000kWh of electricity it produces. A certifying agency gives each green tag a unique identification number to make sure it doesn't get double-counted. The green energy is then fed into the electrical grid (by mandate), and the accompanying green tag can then be sold on the open market.

How do you participate in a green tag program? The American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) has collaborated with the ABA and the Environmental Markets Association (EMA) to develop a flexible, technology neutral certificate that will be easy to implement throughout every U.S. jurisdiction. Here is part of their latest press release:

ACORE Announces Publication of New Master Renewable Energy Certificate Purchase and Sale Agreement

Washington, D.C. - The American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE), the Renewable Energy Resources Committee and Special Committee on Energy and Environmental Finance of the American Bar Association Section of Environment, Energy and Resources, and the Environmental Markets Association (EMA) announced the release of the long-anticipated standard form contract for national trading of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) also known as "green tags". The Renewable Energy Certificate Purchase and Sale Agreement is now available for online viewing.

Individuals and companies can use renewable resources to improve the environment by minimizing their own "carbon footprint." Even if people are far from the renewable resource, through this agreement, they can acquire the renewable attributes of such energy no matter where they are located in the national energy grid without incurring transmission costs.

Michael Eckhart, President of ACORE, stated, "This is an important step in creating a national system for REC trading, which will be essential to monetizing the environmental benefits of renewable energy and building those values into the long-term financing of the projects."

Active RECs markets maximize cost-effective resource allocation and allow states to implement aggressive renewable portfolio standard targets while minimizing increases in costs for electricity to consumers and businesses.

"This contract is intended as infrastructure, or a paved road, to help buyers and sellers transact, foster market mechanisms to promote renewable resource development and, perhaps most importantly, stave off potential balkanization of U.S. RECs markets. The contract is technology neutral, usable in both the voluntary and compliance markets, and legally robust regardless of American jurisdiction. This is release 1.0, and we look forward to monitoring legal and market developments to keep the contract current," said Jeremy Weinstein, Co-Chair of the working group.

The Renewable Energy Certificate Purchase and Sale Agreement can be viewed on ACORE's website.

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February 8, 2007

Wood beats corn stover in U.S. cellulosic ethanol race

We knew it was coming. Vinod Khosla has finally made a bold move to back up industry-wide speculation that cellulosic ethanol would soon emerge as the next phase in ethanol production. The surprise is that wood would be the feedstock of choice given the vast headstart of corn-based biorefineries in the country and the obvious synergy of basing corn stover conversion technologies near sugar fermentation plants.

However, the high energy potential of wood cellulose, the ready availability of cheap waste, and the search for a renaissance of forestry-based industries makes the announcement a welcome one to the "nation's woodpile" in the southeastern states.

Here is an abridged version of the press release issued by Range Fuels, Inc. (formerly Kergy, Inc.)...

Khosla's Range Fuels to build woody cellulosic ethanol plant in Georgia

Range Fuels, Inc., a cellulosic ethanol company, today announced it will build its first ethanol plant in Treutlen County, Georgia. Founded by Menlo Park, California-based Khosla Ventures, Range Fuels estimates that this plant – combined with others to follow – will have the capacity to produce over 1 billion gallons of ethanol per year. The first plant will create over 70 new jobs for the area.

Wood waste from the state’s millions of acres of indigenous Georgia Pine will be the main source of biomass for the ethanol production.

While most domestic ethanol production requires corn as a feedstock, Range Fuels' proprietary process does not. It also completely eliminates the use of enzymes, which have been an expensive component of traditional cellulosic ethanol production. Its innovative and proprietary technology transforms otherwise useless products such as wood chips, agricultural wastes, grasses, and cornstalks as well as hog manure, municipal garbage, sawdust and paper pulp into ethanol through a thermo-chemical conversion process. The company's system, K2, uses a two step process to convert biomass to a synthetic gas and from there, convert the gas to ethanol.

“The state of Georgia has provided us with an excellent opportunity to use its abundant renewable natural resources to help solve fuel issues for the country,” said Mitch Mandich, Range Fuels CEO. “Thanks to Georgia’s environmentally sensitive stewardship of its forests for the past 50 years, Range Fuels can take what is traditionally considered a waste product, and turn it into a source of transportation fuel.”

“The production of cellulosic ethanol represents not only a step toward true energy diversity for the country, but a very cost-effective alternative to fossil fuels. It is advanced weaponry in the war on oil,” said Vinod Khosla, managing partner of Khosla Ventures, who recently told a Reuters Global Biofuels Summit that he could see cellulosic fuel prices sinking to $1 per gallon within 10 years.

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February 1, 2007

SunOpta goes global with steam explosion biomass pre-treatment

Abengoa's Spanish facility for converting cereal straw to ethanol.

SunOpta Inc. is leading the development and commercial deployment of cellulosic feedstock pre-treatment for the production of ethanol. Their steam explosion technology will help developers preprocess cellulosic biomass feedstock of various kinds to produce ethanol.

The globally diverse projects involve diverse feedstock - woodchips (in Japan and Canada), corn stover (in China), sugar cane bagasse (in Louisiana, U.S.A.), and wheat straw (in Spain).

SunOpta’s Staketech Division is a world leader in the preparation, pretreatment, steam explosion and extraction of value added compounds from plant biomass material. In steam explosion, biomass fiber are exposed to a high pressure steam (typically 200-450 psig) for 1 to 10 minutes. The resulting product is then explosively discharged to an atmospheric pressure.

Batch steam explosion processing is almost 75-years-old. Batch processing, however, had some limitations, and was difficult to optimize. One of SunOpta’s breakthroughs was the development of a continuous steam explosion process that supports a higher processing temperature and reduces the residence time. The process greatly reduces and in many cases eliminates the chemicals associated with current industrial practice, according to the company. - Green Car Congress

They have also announced a deal with China Resources Alcohol Corporation to help them produce cellulosic ethanol in large quantites from corn stover:

Sunopta Updates Current Cellulosic Ethanol Projects

China Resources Alcohol Corporation (CRAC)

CRAC has announced their intention to construct sufficient cellulosic ethanol facilities to generate 330 million gallons of ethanol by 2012. SunOpta provided its patented systems and technology to CRAC in September 2006 and the plant began production of ethanol from local corn stover in October 2006. This facility is reported to be the first cellulosic ethanol production facility operational in the People's Republic of China. The SunOpta system is currently operating on a continuous basis and steps are currently being taken to scale the SunOpta process up to full commercial levels for use in future plants in China.

China has committed $5 billion to cellulosic ethanol production and recently announced that they would allow no further increase in ethanol production from starch (corn), due to the needs for starch as food. China's announcement illustrates the "Food vs. Fuel" issue, which continues to be a key driver for cellulosic ethanol worldwide, together with concerns regarding the impact of the world's "addiction to oil" on the environment and energy security.

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