July 24, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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July 21, 2007

Student teaches biofuel professionals

It must be wonderful to be a teacher - because you learn so much from your students.

Science teacher Dana Franklin professed as much as she introduced her 7th grade student, biofuels prodigy Erin McCaskey, at last week's Farm to Fuel Summit in St. Petersburg hosted by the Florida Department of Agriculture. Dana teaches at Merritt Island's Thomas Jefferson Middle School (on the "Space Coast" of Florida):

I am very proud to be a teacher and I love my job very much. I have to say, I have 100% job satisfaction... At the beginning of last school year I made the suggestion of alternative fuels as a science fair topic for my research students. Erin McCaskey, a seventh grader at the time, decided to take on the challenge of exploring biodiesel and ethanol. And I had no idea how much I was about to learn from the experience.

"Which alternative fuel produces the most energy?" was her science fair question. After extensive research, advice from local experts, support from the community, hours in the lab, moldification of the first batch, problems with titration and dissolving containers, Erin made five types of biodiesel and obtained B20 and E85. To complete her project she determined the energy content of each using a calorimeter.

Erin was awarded for her accomplishments by placing first at the state science fair and four other competitions. She was also recognized by NASA, the Society of Women Engineers, the Navy, and the Florida Engineering Foundation.

My accomplishments were sharing the knowledge I gained with my students and co-workers and for citing the importance of alternate fuels to our country and guiding Erin that she made a difference in our state and country's future fuels.

Here are some words from 12-year-old Erin herself, demonstrating her professional attitude and demeanor:
I learned so much during the time that I have decided to move my project forward. I still need advice, guidance, resources, and access to equipment to be able to complete my project. I attended this conference to learn about industry developments but also to meet experts in the field. Thank you for taking the time to listen to me about a subject you already know so much about.

Gilbert Bowen of Bowen Family Farms was so moved by the story that his daughter announced that they would award Erin a four year scholarship to any college of her choice when she is ready to matriculate. Erin blushed with excitement while both her mother and her teacher got teary eyed. It was an outstanding and well-deserved gesture by a family that has always been a supporter of alternative fuels and believes it is the future for Florida.

As Tom Doerr, Undersecretary of Rural Development of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, summed up the connection between students, education, and the impact of renewable energy on rural America at the conclusion of his lunchtime speech:
We are witnessing the most significant wealth creation opportunities for rural America in my time and, I would submit, even my father's time.

Bottomline it is nothing more complex than this. It's all about your kids. What we really want as parents and grandparents is - once our kids get educated, once they have had the chance to travel the world, once they have had the chance to do whatever they want to do - IF they decide they want to return to rural America, they must have access to a high quality job to raise their families in the kind of environment and values that they want. You, as parents and grandparents, can watch those kids grow up.

If you persist and your leaders persist in what you are doing, we have the opportunity to bring those kids back to rural America.

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July 16, 2007

Food cost studies compare impact of corn vs. energy price increases

There sure is alot of hang-wringing about biofuels these days. The lastest issue involves concern that the demand for corn will cause food prices to increase - disproportionately affecting the nation's poor and, by extension, the underdeveloped countries in the world.

Good news - the price of corn has dropped! According to recent data, corn prices haven't been this low since the end of 2006 (see chart below courtesy of a recent article at GoG2G Blog).

It is always dangerous to extrapolate trends based on short duration spikes or valleys - particularly in something as variable as corn futures.

But that isn't even what is so interesting about the public outcry. What seems to have gone unnoticed in the press is that the price of gasoline going up has also had an impact on food prices. Compared to the relatively isolated corn price impacts, the energy price increases have a pandemic effect that impacts all food prices for two reasons - most crops are cultivated with petroleum-based fertilizers and all food is transported multiple times between the source and consumer.

BioPact has unearthed two studies that detail findings that support this argument:

John M. Urbanchuk, The Relative Impact of Corn and Energy Prices in the Grocery Aisle [*.pdf], June 14, 2007

The Renewable Fuels Association: Energy Prices, Not Corn, Chief Reason for Rising Food Prices, Study Finds - June 14, 2007.

In short, concern about the plight of underdeveloped nations and the world's poor is a reason to support fuel diversification and decentralization efforts, not hamstring them.

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July 8, 2007

Southern utilities lobby against federal RPS legislation

Major Southeastern utilities including the Tennessee Valley Authority, Southern Company, and Duke Energy are lobbying hard against Energy Bill provisions that would establish a federal Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). The RPS would mandate that the all U.S. utilities replace 15% of their fossil fuel power generation with renewable alternatives by the year 2020. The utilities are crying foul insisting that their region does not have the same wind and solar power potential of other states and that it is unfair to their consumers to levy extra surcharges for their inability to meet the new standard.

Of course, there are ample woody biomass resources available for conversion to renewable energy (biofuels and electricity) but these assets are, according to the utilities' position, not projected to supply enough electricity to meet RPS goals. In California, its RPS creates high demand resulting in strong investment incentives to develop new renewable generation capacity.

As reported by Carl Levesque of the American Wind Energy Association,in his article featured on Renewable Energy Access titled Slimmed-Down U.S. Energy Bills Raise Major Questions:

High expectations and disappointments have characterized early action on energy legislation. Last month, the U.S. Senate produced an energy bill that includes no tax title -- and, therefore, no production tax credit extension -- and that has no renewable portfolio standard (RPS). In fact, Senate advocates of renewable energy found themselves in a procedural morass that did not even allow for a vote on the RPS issue.

Joe Romm, author of a new book on global water and politics titled Hell and High Water and Climate Progress blogger for the Center for American Progress Action Fund placed the blame on Southern utilities:
In brief, last week the Senate tried to require power companies to generate 15% of their electricity from renewable energy by 2020. That modest renewable portfolio standard (RPS) was killed by the combined efforts of utilities like the Tennessee Valley Authority, Southern Company, and Duke Energy.

Romm cited an article written by Daniel Cusick for Greenwire...

Who Killed the Senate RPS?

Southern utilities played key roles in the effort to undermine plans in the Senate last week to require power companies to generate at least 15 percent of their electricity from renewable energy.

The fingerprints of the Tennessee Valley Authority and those of the Tennessee Valley Power Providers Association, whose members distribute TVA power to nearly 9 million customers in the South, were all over the successful effort to keep the so-called renewable portfolio standard (RPS) out of the sweeping Senate energy bill.

So too were those of other major Southeastern utilities, including Southern Co. here and Duke Energy Corp. of Charlotte, N.C., both of whom pressed the message to lawmakers that a nationwide renewables mandate would undermine the South’s stable electricity market by forcing utilities to draw more power from wind, biomass, geothermal and other forms of energy.

Their message became a mantra for mostly Republican senators from the South. “Forcing Tennesseans to either build 40-story wind turbines on our pristine mountaintops or to pay billions in penalty taxes to the federal government amounts to a judge giving a defendant the choice to be hanged or shot,” warned Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.).

Tennessee’s junior senator, Republican Bob Corker, labeled the RPS proposal as a “transfer of wealth” from the Southeast to other regions of the country where wind and solar power are more viable.

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions (R), in a June 14 floor speech, said it would not be feasible for utilities in the South to generate enough power from solar, wind or other renewable power sources to meet the RPS goal. He made his case using data provided by TVA, its power distributors in north Alabama, and the state’s other dominant utility, Southern Co.

“In my home state of Alabama, solar is not effective in our area,” Sessions said. Wind power, too, is a non-starter, he said, because the state lacks sufficient wind to drive large turbines.

“I just don’t like to see us require wind turbines where it is not going to work, or solar panels where it won’t work,” Sessions said.

‘Didn’t seem fair for us’
Proponents of the RPS proposal say the region’s lawmakers missed a prime opportunity to expand the South’s renewable energy base, which they say has far more potential than the utilities and their allies suggest.

“We think that’s very unfortunate,” said Stephen Smith of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), a Knoxville-based advocacy group. “And we are going to let the customers in TVA’s service area know that their energy providers were actively working against clean energy.”

The issue is not dead on Capitol Hill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said last week he hopes to revive the proposal, and there could be an effort to add an RPS when the House assembles its energy bill next month.

Spokesmen for TVA in Knoxville insist the government-owned utility took no official position on the renewables measure. But its influence was clear in bleak economic projections it offered to lawmakers opposed to the measure. The authority said a 15 percent RPS would have cost the utility an additional $410 million per year by 2020, and most of that tab would have been passed on to consumers.

TVA spokesman Gil Francis said lawmakers requested the information as they sought to take positions on the renewables measure. “We did not take a formal position,” Francis said, “and we did not send a letter.”

Rather, the heavy lobbying came from the 158 distributors of TVA power who buy wholesale electricity from the utility and resell it under retail sale agreements with municipalities and cooperatives.

Jack Simmons, president and CEO of the Tennessee Valley Public Power Association, which represents TVA’s retail distributors, said his organization believes the RPS plan sponsored by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) would impose an untenable mandate upon TVA retailers, forcing them to spend tens of millions of dollars to buy wind and solar power from outside sources.

Specifically, Simmons said, six of the valley’s largest power providers — in areas such as Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville and Chattanooga — have to buy additional renewable power from outside the region at a cost of 2 cents per kilowatt-hour to meet the standard. He and other critics of the proposal likened the mandate to an energy tax on the region’s homeowners and businesses, and a transfer of wealth from the South to other regions.

“Right off the bat, it didn’t seem fair for us to have to pay a 2-cent-per-kilowatt-hour tax when we didn’t have any control over whether we made green power or not,” Simmons said in a telephone interview last week.

Simmons insisted his group is not opposed to greater development of renewable energy resources in the Tennessee Valley. “We were opposing the way the legislation was crafted since it would tax our members without any relief,” he said.

In North and South Carolina, where Duke Energy provides electricity to much of the upstate region, and in portions of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Florida where Southern Co. predominates, the message was much the same.

“A one-size-fits-all approach does not work for us,” said Duke spokesman Tom Williams.

Southern Co. officials said the measure would have driven up annual costs by as much as $745 million by 2020, and much of that increase would have been borne by its 4.32 million customers in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi.

“We believe it would be very difficult to comply with a 15 percent RPS from resources here in the Southeast,” said Leonard Haynes, Southern’s executive vice president for supply technologies, renewables and demand side planning.

Call for research
But critics of the utilities’ position, like Smith of SACE, argue the challenges are not insurmountable. Moreover, they say that large power providers in the region will not make a sustained push on expanding renewables unless they are forced by a government mandate.

“The biggest casualty of this debate was the potential for renewables development in the Southeast, and the failure of our utilities to embrace that potential and instead to argue for the status quo,” Smith said.

Smith added that his group and others will work hard to restore a renewables provision through the House, hoping it will be brought back up during the final bill’s conference negotiations.

But George Sterzinger, executive director of the Washington, D.C.,-based Renewable Energy Policy Project, conceded that RPS foes who argued that the South would struggle to meet an RPS mandate have a point. “Using the current set of technologies,” he said, “that’s probably true.”

But, Sterzinger added, even if wind and solar power are not viable in the Southeast, the region has high potential to develop renewable energy resources from biomass such as forest products and switchgrass, a high-yield crop that grows well in the Southern climate.

Southern Co., for example, is already co-firing switchgrass as part of its voluntary “green power” purchase program in Alabama. But the program has failed to draw significant customer interest, in part because of the technological limitations of co-firing with switchgrass, but also because the utility has failed to aggressively market the program (Greenwire, Nov. 2, 2006).

And Southern subsidiary Georgia Power Co. included a biomass provision in its latest filings for additional power supply before the state public service commission.

Sterzinger said utilities wanting to get serious about biomass energy need to invest more heavily in research geared toward burning woody debris and grasses more efficiently, including processes that would gasify biomass materials.

Haynes, the Southern Co. executive, said such R&D efforts are part of the company’s longer-range priorities at its Power Systems Development Facility in Wilsonville, Ala. “Down the road, we think we may have an opportunity to either gasify biomass or introduce biomass along with coal in the gasification process,” he said.

According to Williams, wind power development in western North Carolina is a nonstarter because of restrictions on ridgeline development throughout the Appalachian mountains, which are important to the state’s tourism economy.

“We have potentially very good biomass potential in the Carolinas, but we don’t have the wind potential some others have,” he said.

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Senator decries inertia on controlling wildfires

U.S. Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is beginning to voice frustration with the inability of his colleagues to see the connection between underfunded forest management, forest fires, and climate change. It is an issue that is all too real in his state of New Mexico, but has much broader implications to the rest of North America as wildfire carbon emissions, bug infestations, and wildlife extinction become a spiraling problems both contributing to and suffering from global warming. As Domenici testified...

When the Hayman Fire burned in Colorado in 2002, NASA scientists estimated that the fire was emitting more carbon dioxide in one day than all the vehicles in the United States emitted in a week.

The implication is clear. Funding improved forest management and certification programs will reduce greenhouse gases at a level comparable to other renewable energy production programs.

Two benefits of congressional legislation that would support strong woody biomass biorefinery development could be better private-industry funded forest management programs and cleaner wood waste bioenergy processes.

Here is a press release from the Committee's website on June 26th...

Domenici: Forest Fires Are a Climate Change Issue, Too
Senator Expresses Frustration With Lack of Progress In Controlling Wildfires

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Pete Domenici, ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, today expressed frustration with the lack of progress made to control wildfires in America’s forests.

Domenici, a long-time advocate of forest thinning and an active approach to forest management, spoke today at an Energy Committee hearing to discuss fire preparedness. The Senator expressed frustration with the lack of progress being made to address wildfires, especially in light of the renewed focus on carbon emissions among lawmakers.
“I am growing tired of sitting here year after year after year and asking the same questions. I believe we are now throwing good money after bad on an unworkable model without addressing the underlying fundamental question: what is this Congress going to do to find a way to allow our agencies to change the fuels on-the-ground dynamic to avoid intense catastrophic fires?,” Domenici said.

“Wildfires are a climate change issue, too. When the Hayman Fire burned in Colorado in 2002, NASA scientists estimated that the fire was emitting more carbon dioxide in one day than all the vehicles in the United States emitted in a week. I would hope this committee would be as concerned about this source of carbon dioxide as it is with carbon from coal fired utilities or vehicles,” he continued.

“Federal researchers are now suggesting that it could be as long as 600 years before the area burning in the Hayman Fire fully recovers. If we can avoid these fires, or reduce their intensity, it is something this Congress should and must address,” Domenici said.

Domenici’s comments come after a fire season in which over 9 million acres were burned, and over $2 billion was spent fighting fires. Among the most notable was the Derby Fire, which consumed over 207,000 acres in Montana, and produced smoke columns estimated to be 60,000 feet tall—far taller than power plant emissions.

Defoliated forests are often susceptible to insect damage. The community of Cloudcroft, New Mexico, currently has 15,000-20,000 acres of defoliated forest that is being damaged by insects. This damage could lead to a catastrophic fire.

The Senator noted that recent clear cutting experiments netted positive results, clearing dangerous and dying brush while producing more water and vigorous young forests that are able to fight off insects.
“Like many others, I am worried about the Forest Service becoming an agency with no funds to manage anything other than fires. I believe that an ounce of prevention would be worth more than a pound of cure when it comes to our forests. We must take action to reduce the likelihood of intensity of fires rather than standing by as they destroy our forests, our soils, our water quality, our fish and wildlife populations, and our air quality while pumping millions of tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere year after year,” Domenici said.

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July 2, 2007

Range Fuels will break ground this summer

Being "firstest with the mostest" is extremely important when it comes to brand identification and capital marketability of any emerging technology. The significance of being awarded a construction permit out front of the other five D.O.E. grant cellulosic ethanol developers is a milestone that demonstrates corporate determination, operational integrity, local support, and negotiating skills. It will be interesting to see how soon the other developers begin breaking ground.

The thermochemical route to biomass conversion does appear to be more flexible in its acceptance of variable and blended feedstock. Using heat instead of enzymes to break molecular bonds not only saves the price of enzymes but dramatically reduces the need for water - not an insignificant issue, particularly in the face of mounting concern about global warming's impact on water resources.

Emissions control technologies have advanced greatly in the past two decades, particularly when attached to closed cycle pyrolytic or gasification systems. Their fundamental purpose is to use the bulk of the emissions (syngas) as a raw material for conversion to biofuels and green chemicals.

Below is the complete press release from Range Fuels today:

Range Fuels awarded permit to construct the nation’s first commercial cellulosic ethanol plant
Independence Day marks the start of our country’s independence from fossil fuels

Palo Alto, CA. and Broomfield, CO – July 2, 2007 –Range Fuels announced today that the company was awarded a construction permit from the state of Georgia to build the first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in the United States. Ground breaking will take place this summer in Treutlen County, Georgia for a 100-million-gallon-per-year cellulosic ethanol plant that will use wood waste from Georgia’s forests as its feedstock. Phase 1 of the plant is scheduled to complete construction in 2008 with a production capacity of 20 million gallons a year.

“We are thrilled to receive this permit and anticipate the construction of many plants throughout Georgia and the Southeast using wood waste to make ethanol,” said Mitch Mandich, CEO of Range Fuels. “With Independence Day on July 4, we are excited to begin the march toward independence from our country’s reliance on fossil fuel.”

“Cellulosic ethanol offers tremendous promise for not only the development of an alternative energy source, but also rural economic development for our state,” said Sonny Perdue, Governor of Georgia. “We look forward to the construction of this plant and are hopeful this is the first of many more to come.”

"The Department is pleased that the country is one step closer to making the widespread use of cellulosic ethanol a reality," U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman said. "This furthers the President's goal of deploying clean, renewable energy into the marketplace, and we are eager for the results of Range Fuels’ work, and the work of the other biorefinery grant recipients, to help increase energy security and enhance economic growth."

Range Fuels is at the forefront of new proprietary technology for producing cellulosic ethanol. While most domestic ethanol production requires corn as a feedstock, Range Fuels' proprietary process does not. The country’s ability to make corn ethanol is limited by the agricultural land available to grow it. The latest estimates predict that corn ethanol can only produce up to 15 billion gallons per year. On the other hand, the U.S. Department of Energy, in their joint report with the USDA, has identified over one billion tons of biomass annually that could be converted to biofuels, like ethanol. Range Fuels’ technology can transform all of this biomass, including wood chips, agricultural wastes, grasses, and cornstalks as well as hog manure, municipal garbage, sawdust and paper pulp into ethanol. The company has already successfully tested close to 30 types of biomass for producing ethanol.

The company’s technology completely eliminates enzymes which have been an expensive component of cellulosic ethanol production. Range Fuels’ thermo-chemical conversion process, the K2 system, uses a two step process to convert the biomass to synthesis gas, and then converts the gas to ethanol. In addition to the ability to process a broad range of potential biomass feedstock, the K2 system benefits from a modular design. Depending upon the quantity and availability of feedstock, the K2 system can scale from entry level systems to large configurations. This range of system size allows placement of the K2 near the biomass source reducing transportation costs, and will allow the most appropriate size system to be deployed.

The company selected Georgia for its first plant based upon the abundance of forest refuse and the renewable and sustainable forest industry. The state has demonstrated great stewardship of its forest lands and environmental sensitivity. The forests of Georgia can support up to 2 billion gallons a year of cellulosic ethanol production.

Range Fuels, with Governor Perdue, announced plans to build the plant on February 7 of this year. The company was subsequently selected to negotiate for up to $76M in a grant from the Department of Energy on February 28. These negotiations are still underway.

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