May 31, 2007

May 2007 Digest

Tying Energy Efficiency to Renewable Energy

Lost in the rush to develop alternative energy technologies is the obvious value of making energy usage more efficient. As Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute would say, "a watt saved is a watt earned." This can be applied to biofuel usage as well. It is far cheaper to save energy than it is to produce more of it, particularly when existing technologies are so wasteful.

In marked contrast to the oil crisis of the 70's when cars lined up on even or odd license number days to tank up on gasoline and speed limits were held to 55 MPH to conserve energy, there has been little preaching by this administration - or the states for that matter - to slow down and use less. Memorial Day weekend driving plans were little impacted by recent gas price spikes. Auto shows still promote performance over gas use efficiency.

It is highly unlikely that the laudable goals of the 25x'25 Initiative for reducing fossil fuel dependence will be reached if we persist in inefficient usage of our energy resources or, in fact, grow our demand beyond current expectations. Similarly, while developing renewable energy (RE) technologies, energy efficiency (EE) needs to be built into the systems.

In a joint report presented by the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) and the American Council for an Energy-Efficency Economy (ACEEE) case studies are showcased that demonstrate the synergies available when RE and EE are developed together. For installations that have such long lifespans and high capital costs, it is important to address efficiency challenges during early planning.

Here are links to stories that were posted in the BioEnergy BlogRing during May, 2007:

BIOstock Blog--------------
Clean Wood replaces Coal Power Plant in N.H.
U.S. paper & pulp industry assesses its bioenergy future

BIOconversion Blog--------------
Molecular visualization of the bioconversion process
U.S. State Dept. to host 2008 Int'l Renewable Energy Conference
IPCC 4th Assessment: Steps to mitigate climate change
U.S. D.O.E./E.I.A. International Energy Outlook 2007

BIOoutput Blog--------------
Tying Energy Efficiency to Renewable Energy
California's electricity - Phasing out coal
Amory Lovins - RMI and the Hypercar

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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May 14, 2007

U.S. paper & pulp industry assesses its bioenergy future

TAPPI, the leading association of the paper and pulp industry in America, held a special International Conference on Renewable Energy - 2007 on May 10-11, 2007 in Atlanta, Georgia. Led by conference chair, Jim Frederick of Georgia Tech's Institute of Paper Science and Technology, the association organized a sterling line-up of technologists and decision-makers who will be the key stakeholders in bioenergy implementations at paper & pulp mills throughout North America during the next two decades.

This is an important topic for America because, unknown to most Americans, the forestry products industries have been the foremost producers of renewable energy - some 44% of the total - beating hydroelectric, ethanol, wind, and solar. As the the most experienced producers of bioenergy in the country, they have the most to win from a successful implentation of cellulosic ethanol conversion technology. However, it is difficult for management to ignore the inherent risks.

To set the tone for the conference, the keynote was presented by two principals involved in the recently announced alliance between oil and paper industry giants - Richard Zalesky of Chevron, VP of Biofuels and Hydrogen Business, and Denny Hunter, Weyerhaeuser VP of Technology.

Zalesky acknowledged his company's perspective that energy demand is growing so fast it is necessary to develop alternative, renewable biofuels processed from a variety different feedstocks. One point he made was that the expense to deploy one exploratory well used to find a deep water deposit of oil would pay for the deployment of several biorefineries. He also said that, under current economic conditions, it is government regulations that drive the development of renewable energy technologies - particularly Executive Orders like California's Low Carbon Fuels Standard.

Forest Biomass Availability and Logistics
A major contributor of information to the Billion-Ton Report, Dr. Bryce Stokes of the USDA Forest Service substantiated the finding that the land resources of the U.S. are capable of producing a sustainable supply of biomass to displace 30% or more of the nation's present petroleum consumption. One quarter of the amount could come from woody biomass resources. He admitted that the forestry projections are "very conservative, only based on forest wastes and fairly low estimations of utilization. They did not include forest crops - the agricultural analysis did include woody perennial crops."

What is the potential for tree farming in the U.S. to help supply fast growing, perennial woody biomass for biorefineries? Nathan Ramsey of ArboGen and Brian Stanton of Greenwood Resources made separate presentations about genomics and hybrid poplar feedstocks (an approach in practice in Europe). ArboGen is developing trees with improved quality and productivity characteristics that include faster growth rates, freezing tolerance, and modifications to wood composition. Stanton talked about the advantages and benefits of hybrid poplar plantations and the methodologies his company is working on for improving production economics.

Citing the Southeastern region as the nation’s woodpile, Jim Gan of Texas A&M spoke glowingly about it woody bioenergy potential. He concluded that policy decisions should be based on consideration of the entire value chain - including environmental and socioeconomic co-benefits. Tom Belin from Potlatch gave a peek at his company’s "100 Mile Biomass Study", which is examining the economics of a proposed pilot gasification/catalysis biorefinery as compared to a commercial higher volume biorefinery utilizing a 100-mi. radius of woody biomass grown in southern Arkansas.

Overview of Liquid Biofuel Technologies
Eric Larson of the Princeton Environmental Insitute teamed up with Michael Pacheco, current Director of the NREL National Bioenergy Center (but soon to be Chief Technology Officer for Archer Daniel Midland at the end of May) to provide an overview of a “continuum of options” for the production of cellulosic ethanol – using both biochemical and thermochemical processes. Their analyses led to a projection of how biorefining might be technologically integrated in the modern pulp mill facility.

Larson contributed the following observation based on a comparison of effective fuel yields - "A biorefinery integrated with a pulp mill effectively requires much less biomass per unit of liquid fuel produced vs. 'stand-alone' biofuel production. The reason is that black liquor (and some biomass) are charged against services provided to the mill (chemical recovery, process steam and power) - not against liquid fuel."

His concluding comments focused on how the P&P industry could get started: 1) energy-industries and the government to help manage the risk and bring in energy-industry competencies, 2) woody biomass gasification for IGCC-electricity and/or liquid fuels would be the most plausible first step, and 3) black liquid gasification (Weyerhaeuser New Bern model) would be another early technology to pursue.

Peter Axegård of STFI-Packforsk, the
leading R&D center in Scandinavia for forest products, described many ongoing European wood-based biorefinery research projects. Progress of many pilot programs are in the demonstration stage with some co-located with existing paper mills. In Europe there is no question that the forest-based sector plays a key role in a sustainable society.

Technology Sessions
Three technology sessions followed the introduction by Pacheco, Axegård, and Larson. The first one focused on the conversion of sugars to transportation fuels using biochemical technologies. The speakers included Art Ragauskas of Georgia Tech, Andrew Richard from Mascoma, and Michael Rushton of Lignol.

Session 2 took an indepth look at progress being made pursuing a thermochemical route. Fast pyrolysis, pyrolysis, and low and high temperature gasification were compared for their features and benefits using a variety of feedstock for the production of a variety of bioproducts. Jim Patel of Carbona focused his talk on biomass gasification technologies under development, including Bubbling Fluidized Bed (BFB) and Circulating Fluidized Bed (CFB) applications. His company is developing expertise on feeding biomass into the gasifier as well a filtering for cleanup of solids.

Session 3 introduced information on current thermochemical project development. Thomas Meth is Executive VP of Sales & Marketing of Intrinergy, a company that builds, owns, and operates gasification equipment for industrial users. The company is commissioning its first woody biomass cold-gas facility in Ohio and building several more in Alabama.

Biomass Gas & Electric's Rick Jensen spoke about a 28MW gasification power project his company is developing for Georgia Power Company. It is located near a C&D landfill which provides primary fuel supplies. It also will utilize forest wood waste and road & land cleaning debris.

Where are we now?
Ben Thorp of the Biorefinery Deployment Collaborative gave a comprehensive overview of the many commerical biomass gasifiers in North America, a brief summary of the current pulp and paper biorefinery activities, and a side-by-side comparison of the six U.S. D.O.E. "Section 932" grant winners. He then made a persuasive appeal to the paper and pulp industry to begin now to capitalize biorefinery opportunites because they "may be the only way to avoid massive shutdown and loss of pulp and paper facilities in North America."

Making the Biorefinery a Reality
According to Richard Phillips of North Carolina State University there are five targets that must be met to achieve ethanol profitability:
1) The Ethanol Price> $2.50 per gallon,
2) The Capital Cost < $3 per Annual Gallon,
3) Wood Cost <$60 per bone dry ton (BDT),
4) Enzyme Cost <$.15 per gallon, and
5) ethanol yield> 75 gallons per BDT wood.

He echoed the conclusion of the Agenda 2020 Forest Products Industry Roadmap, "repurposing an existing kraft pulp mill as an initial approach has a greater chance of success (than a Greenfield plant)."

In short, the two day conference was well-conceived and well-executed. It is certainly time for the paper and pulp industry to take stock of its options and adjust to meet the demands of the future. The global leadership that it has lost in the production of pulp and paper could be recouped if it acts now to secure its position as a leader in bioenergy production. The key advantage it has is the current infrastructure and natural resources that already exist. Couple that with prudent investment in emerging technologies and government regulatory and incentive reform, and there is no reason why the roadmap laid out in the Agenda 2020 plan couldn't be a rebirth for American self-reliance as well.

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May 5, 2007

Clean Wood replaces Coal Power Plant in N.H.

When it comes to producing electricity, it isn't necessary to convert the feedstock to ethanol or syngas or even invest in gasification or pyrolysis burners. Advanced wood boilers meet the EPA standards and provide a clean renewable alternative to dirty, carbon-positive coal boilers of the past.

Here is the press release from Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH). It is New Hampshire's largest electric utility, generating and distributing clean electricity for more than 490,000 homes and businesses in an environmentally friendly manner. Each year, PSNH supports dozens of forest protection, energy conservation, and environmental organizations through both financial contributions and employee volunteerism.

There is a YouTube video of this project available online.

Officials Celebrate Northern Wood Power

One of the nation’s newest and largest renewable energy projects was officially recognized today as environmental, political and utility leaders celebrated the completion of Public Service of New Hampshire’s (PSNH) Northern Wood Power Project. The $75 million project includes a new 50 megawatt wood-burning boiler which replaced a coal-burning boiler of identical size.
The new PSNH boiler, capable of producing power for about 50-thousand typical homes, is expected to consume more than 450-thousand tons of clean wood chips annually, significantly reduce emissions at the Seacoast power plant, and contribute about $20 million a year to the regional economy.

“In completing this project, PSNH has demonstrated its ability to build and operate the state’s largest and cleanest biomass power plant,” said Chuck Shivery, president and chief executive officer of Northeast Utilities, PSNH’s parent corporation. “It achieved this accomplishment on time, under budget, and in a way that has kept electric rates low and stable for its customers.”

Northern Wood Power began official operations last December and has, since that time, received clean wood chips from licensed loggers and certified suppliers in New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts.

“A little over three years ago, Northern Wood Power was just an idea, a vision for the future that PSNH brought to state legislators with the promise of lower emissions, a stronger forestry industry, and low electric rates for New Hampshire homes and businesses,” said Gary Long, PSNH president and chief operating officer. “We’ve demonstrated that PSNH can be part of the solution in helping New Hampshire become the ‘greenest’ power-producing state in the nation while maintaining a significant price advantage for our 490,000 customers.”

Environmental Benefits
Northern Wood Power is reportedly the largest coal-to-wood repowering conversion in the nation. It is also one of the lowest-emitting power plants in New England today, not only meeting but exceeding all US Environmental Protection Agency emissions standards for new power plants. The plant achieves these results through a state-of-the-art, fluidized-bed boiler combustion system, an advanced combustion technology which burns fuel more completely and substantially limits the production of nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and Mercury (Hg) emissions. Northern Wood Power is also considered ‘carbon neutral,’ meaning that no additional net carbon (CO2) is released into the atmosphere by the burning of wood.

Economic Benefits
There are a number of substantial economic benefits associated with PSNH’s new wood-fired power plant. The plant produces power for PSNH customers at a lower cost when compared to the price of energy offered through the regional marketplace. Northern Wood Power also produces ‘Renewable Energy Certificates,’ which PSNH sells in a regional market to suppliers and utilities without sufficient renewable resources of their own. The proceeds of the sale of RECs is used to offset the project’s capital costs and keep PSNH customer rates low.

Further, the company’s switch to wood has eliminated the need to burn more than 130,000 tons of coal annually. The money paid for fuel now remains in New England, contributing an estimated $20 million annually to the area economy.

More Wood to Come?
PSNH’s Gary Long and NU’s Chuck Shivery both spoke of the need in New England for additional sources of new renewable energy and expressed their desire to invest in more regulated generation to help meet that need. Current state law prohibits PSNH and other regulated electric utilities from acquiring or building any new renewable sources of generation, but legislators are considering modifying the law to allow such a proposal to be made.

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