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Senator Grassley tweets Trump’s support for biofuels

Biofuels Digest - Wed, 08/30/2017 - 6:15pm

In Washington, policymaking via Twitter continues as Senator Chuck Grassley reported in a tweet that he’d had a phone call with President Trump who assured him that he is pro-ethanol and will live up to campaign promises made in Iowa. The Senator has been critical of the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed blending mandate for 2018 for not being supportive enough of advanced biofuels but is happy the proposal continues to support conventional biofuels. The comment period on the EPA proposal closes Thursday.

Categories: Today's News

The Expert Witness in Biofuels and Biochemicals Litigation

Biofuels Digest - Wed, 08/30/2017 - 2:08pm

By Wayne Lee, CEO Lee Enterprises Consulting

Special to The Digest

While oil prices remain relatively low, and the status of U.S. government incentives remains uncertain, the predictable downturn in biofuel and biochemical related industries brings with it increased participant discomfort. Those that have been in these “bioeconomy” industries for some time have seen their cyclical nature, but quite naturally when downturns occur, anxieties rise. When projects fail to meet expectations, the participant discontent inevitably leads to increased litigation. As with any specialized area, bioeconomy litigation requires the assistance of experienced experts to assist in determining what went wrong, what could have been done to prevent it, and the economic impact of these failures. This article provides an overview of the bioeconomy “expert witness”.

At the outset, we need to define the terms. “Bioeconomy” refers to the production of renewable biological resources, and the conversion of these resources and waste streams into value added products, such as food, feed, fuel, bio-based products and bioenergy.  For the purposes of this article, we will speak of the bioeconomy as including commercial or industrial products composed in whole, or in part, of biological products – including renewable agricultural and forestry materials. Example of these would be renewable chemicals, renewable energy, alternative energy, and sustainable energy. The industries covered are biodiesel, ethanol, biomass power, renewable chemicals, renewable jet fuels, pyrolysis, hydrolysis, gasification, waste-to-energy, anaerobic digestion, torrefaction, wastewater treatment, butanol, steam reformation, biochar, carbonization and biogas.

The first order of business

In lawsuits involving biofuels, biomass, biochemicals, and particularly emerging bioeconomy technologies, the first order of business is to obtain a good understanding as to how the system or process in question was supposed (designed) to work. While there are many professionals with chemical, engineering, biology, and finance backgrounds, there are proportionately few that deal in the bioeconomy to any meaningful degree. So, we must start with the fact that the pool of professionals available to serve as experts in these cases is limited. We must also realize that those that are in these industries likely know each other, and often have worked in some capacity for many of the companies involved. The result is that it may be somewhat difficult to find a seasoned expert willing to testify in a particular case. The question become, what to look for and where to find it.

The first questions that almost always arise in bioeconomy cases involve what went wrong, how it might have been prevented, and the economic impact of the failure. Thus, in bioeconomy cases, it is crucial to gain a good understanding of both the process involved and the technical jargon as early in the process as possible. Unfortunately, the representing attorney’s initial education often comes solely from the client, who might not be as knowledgeable as they believe, and who probably believes that their action or inaction was correct. The takeaway here is to identify and consult with the experts as early as possible.

The process begins

When an expert is initially retained, it will probably be to review material, perhaps make a site visit, and to give his or her thoughts as to what happened and why, to the party hiring. This informal opinion is often needed to decide what direction to take in the case, and since it is quite likely that professional will later become a disclosed “expert witness”, it is obviously important that counsel look toward that end in the initial engagement. The bioeconomy involves many different areas of expertise. An engineering question requires a very different skill set than a chemical question, both very different from economic or damages questions.   One of the initial challenges is to find the expert that fits the exact issue(s) at hand. Counsel must determine exactly what they need as early as possible, and thus, before hiring any expert, it is a good idea to visit with an experienced consultant to make these determinations[1].

As noted above, there is much less litigation in these bioeconomy areas than in more common areas like medical malpractice and personal injury. In the bioeconomy, there are very few, if any, experts who derive even a substantial part of their livelihood in legal proceedings, and most are not experienced in depositions or courtroom settings. Selecting the right expert in a particular case involves the attorney addressing several matters initially. The obvious first inquiry is whether the professional has the specialized education, experience and skills about the particular subject in question. Not everyone who is familiar with one facet of a process or industry is familiar with all facets. The second criteria will be to determine whether the expert has the ability to communicate well and articulate industry-specific knowledge. Those with knowledge that cannot communicate on a level the untrained can grasp are not helpful. The third inquiry would be to determine whether the potential expert has any actual or perceived conflicts. These industries have far fewer experts than most. It is not uncommon for the top experts to have a breadth of previous engagements with lots of companies. Last, but not least, I would suggest that the expert’s familiarity with the court system is also very important. This will vary greatly. Some attorneys want experts with a great deal of courtroom experience as they are familiar with the court process and etiquette, and are probably easier to qualify as an “expert”. However, they pose the potential to be viewed as “hired guns,” and quite often having a great deal of cross examination material. On the flip side, some attorneys prefer the professional who has seldom or never testified, knowing that his or her testimony may come across as more credible and less “bought”. However, inexperienced, untrained professionals can present their own problems. They are not be familiar with the courtroom and will likely be more inclined to be argumentative or combative.

From the Expert’s Perspective

From the expert’s perspective, several things should be explored before accepting an engagement. Initially, the expert will want a clearly defined scope of what is being sought to make certain they have the proper expertise needed. Next, they get a list of everyone involved and expeditiously conduct a “conflicts” check to make certain they are able to accept the engagement.  At this point, if the expert feels that they have the qualifications and are clear to proceed, they should go over their qualifications with the hiring attorney. It is imperative to be fully candid about everything. It is always best to deal with any potential difficulties before accepting the engagement. If everyone is satisfied that the expert will fit, and the engagement is probable, the expert should make certain that the attorney is willing to take the time to fully prepare with them. This means covering the applicable rules that apply, going over “attorney-client” privilege and “work product” so there is a clear understanding of what will be discoverable, and making certain the expert will be given the materials and time to be fully prepared for all depositions and trial testimony.

Over the years, I have seen many “experts” who appeared very frustrated with the process. Some felt they were not allowed to say everything they desired. Others were disturbed that they were not allowed to fully answer questions. Some even expressed dismay that they were not notified as to the outcome of the case, or whether their opinion was well received. Hearing these complaints leads me to believe that many potential experts have a grave misunderstanding about the process itself and their role in it. This leads me to the conclusion that the best experts in bioeconomy matters are working consultants who have some familiarity with the process.

We conduct a mandatory training for any of our experts who wish us to recommend them in litigation matters. In this training we give them a basic understanding of the process and their role in it, an overview of the Rules of Evidence[2] and Rules of Procedure[3] with respect to experts, and the Supreme Court’s criteria and qualifications as an “expert witness”.[4]   We ask that our experts carefully analyze everything before rendering any opinion, which most often means refraining from committing to an opinion based on a single phone call unless they are absolutely certain. We instruct them to keep good records, never to hesitate to ask if more information is needed, and to be meticulous in their reports. We tell them to carefully evaluate each matter and never feel pressured to come to a conclusion inconsistent with their findings. We instruct them always be honest and forthright, and never to compromise their integrity.   In our opinion, this is what makes a good “expert witness”.

About the author. Wayne Lee is an internationally recognized alternative fuels consultant with over thirty years’ experience. He is the CEO of Lee Enterprises Consulting, the world’s largest bioeconomy consulting group, with over 100 internationally recognized professionals. The company has nine divisions – biodiesel, ethanol, biomass power, biogas/AD, water treatment, renewable chemicals, emerging technologies, corporate finance, and litigation support. Lee also owns National Business Brokerage, Inc., a full service business brokerage firm specializing in evaluation, buying, and selling of alternative fuels plants.    

[1] As CEO, the author personally leads the Litigation Support section at Lee Enterprises Consulting, Inc. and conducts these initial interviews to determine the exact expertise needed and the best professional to render such advice.

[2] Federal Rules of Evidence and applicable state rules.

[3] Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and applicable state rules.

[4]  Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals509 U.S. 579 (1993)

Categories: Today's News

Hot Spots: The Top 10 Advanced Bioeconomy Places to Watch in California

Biofuels Digest - Wed, 08/30/2017 - 12:52pm

California is for many the “home of innovation” but almost everyone thinks of Silicon Valley in this respect, or perhaps the Bay Area as a whole. And there are innovative companies in huge numbers, for sure— but you’d be surprised how broad the innovation story is across the entire Golden State.

The sexy PR is almost always and rightly focused on San Francisco and its environs — but some of the largest industrialization efforts for advanced technology take place in the rural areas that provide the feedstock, infrastructure and an expansive place to do business. The advanced labs of the National Lab system, the universities, the rural sites for commercialization — these are all a unique part of California’s bursting, booming bioeconomy — and we highlight them today.

1. Emeryville/Berkeley

As we noted in our story The Bio Incredibles:

Yes, it’s the Bio-Incredibles, synth biologists with recombinant powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Bio-Incredibles: who can change the course of mighty genomes, bend DNA in their bare hands. Hidden in Emeryville, California, mild-mannered high-tech center for a great metropolis, they fight a never-ending battle for science, progress, and a Series A investment round.

Who’s there in Emeryville and its immediate neighbor, Berkeley? Organizations like Amyris, Total New Energies, iMicrobes, Mango Materials, Caribou Biosciences, Kiverdi, Lygos, Lawrence Berkeley’s Advanced Biofuels Process Development Unit, Slingshot Biosciences, The Joint BioEnergy Institute, Dagamite, 6SensorLabs and Radiant Genomics.

There’s Caribou Biosciences with its revolutionary CRISPR-Cas technology for gene editing, which most recently raised $44.6m. There’s Perfect Day, with milk crafted without the cow — more nutritious, safe, and sustainable than factory-farmed dairy. There’s Ripple Foods, which also makes a milk product from pea protein. There’s Spider Couture: The emergence of spider silk for applications from fashion to protection, and Bolt Threads raised $50 million in a Series C venture round not long ago, on top of the $40 million raised in the Series B, and Patagonia joined as a strategic partner to deploy the technology at some future date. More on all those here.

There’s Zymergen, which raised $130 million in an epic Series B funding: You pack up your production microbe — currently making enzymes, PlantBottle precursors, flavors, fragrances, advanced polymers, therapeutics and so on. You ship to Emeryville. California. Zymergen uses a fleet of computers and algorithms to come up with microbial modifications. Then, in come the robots to snip-snip and clip-clip the DNA to perfect performance at industrial scale.

Zymergen gets Lit: raises $130M in epic Series B

2. Silicon Valley: from Redwood City to San Jose via Palo Alto

Not far behind the Emeryville Express in terms of innovative power is the more traditional stomping grounds for venture capitalists, the towns of Silicon Valley, anchored from Pal Alto by Stanford University.

In June, we reported that Stanford University scientists reported on a promising technology to make renewable ethanol from water, carbon dioxide and electricity delivered through a copper catalyst. In another sign of advanced energy progress, we reported last November that an interdisciplinary team at Stanford has made significant strides toward solving the solar energy storage issue, demonstrating the most efficient means yet of storing electricity captured from sunlight in the form of chemical bonds.

But it’s not all advanced energy research — far from it. The Nutrition Revolution is happening down in the Valley, too. As we highlighted in Barbarians at the Plate: Can the new techs crash through in nutrition? (that’s here.)

Perhaps most intriguing is the case of Calysta, which produces its FeedKind protein via a continuous fermentation process of a natural microorganism, using the world’s only commercially-validated gas fermentation process. The Teesside plant has met its design parameters, including key commercial metrics such as yield and productivity. We reported in May that the facility has successfully maintained a continuous fermentation for eight weeks, and has produced over four metric tons of commercially representative FeedKind protein to date.

3. San Diego

Now, we move downstate towards the Mexican border, where San Diego has become the international home of advanced algae research and a lot more. Think Genomatica and Synthetic Genomics as a starting point for perennially disruptive companies with big projects and name-brand global partners.

The Crop revolution has a nexus in San Diego, too — among notables are the cluster of companies backed by Finistere Ventures such as ZeaKal — but also there’s long-time, now established leader Cibus (more here), which has developed plant and microbial platforms enabling it to become a world leader in advanced breeding technologies, generally, and advanced non-transgenic breeding, specifically.

The research hubs are US San Diego, the University of San Diego and also San Diego State. From the UCSD side we reported earlier this month that a team of engineers has developed stretchable fuel cells that generate 10 times more power per surface area than any existing wearable biofuel cells. The devices could be used to power a range of wearable devices. The biofuel cells are equipped with an enzyme that oxidizes the lactic acid present in human sweat to generate current. This turns the sweat into a source of power.

But we dangled the magic “algae” word, and let’s return to that. There’s a host of practitioners not only in San Diego and out west along the Imperial Valley and to the shores of the Salton Sea near Mecca. And South Torrey Pines Drive remains in many ways the Rodeo Drive of Algae.

Recently, we reported the DOE’s selection of three projects to reduce algae biofuels costs, and top of the list was Global Algae Innovations. In partnership with Sandia National Laboratories, University of California at San Diego – Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and the J. Craig Venter Institute, GAI will deliver a tool for low cost, rapid analysis of pond microbiota, gather data on the impacts of pond ecology, and develop new cultivation methods that utilize this information to achieve greater algal productivity.

But then there’s the Navy, too, always a major presence in this part of California. And when Secretary of the Nay Ray Mabus and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack came together to celebrate the deployment of commercial-scale, cost-competitive military-spec biofuels, they came down to San Diego to watch the biofuel-powered Carrier Strike Group head off. More on that here.

5. Sacramento/Davis

No survey of California Hot Spots would be complete without recognizing the strong catalytic role of Sacramento and especially the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard, administered by the California Air Resources Board, and the California Energy Commission.

This week, news arrived from Sacramento that the California Energy Commission is offering a $3 million grant funding opportunity entitled Renewable Intermediate Fuel Production for Jet Fuel in Heavy-Duty Transportation Sector. Complete details are here.

This solicitation seeks innovative processes for production of a bio-intermediate fuel, also known as bio-oil, derived from California based feedstocks such as urban woody biomass, agricultural, and forest residues. These intermediate fuels will be used for sustainable low-carbon fungible jet fuel production.

But there’s been quite a range of projects supported by CEC. Earlier this year, the Energy Commission awarded $5.7M to a group from Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC for Wood-to-Fuel for California’s Transportation Sector Using Autothermal Pyrolysis and $4.57M to Biogas Energy Inc. for Conversion of Wood Biomass to Bio- Oil in an Ablative Fast Pyrolysis Reactor.

And, it’s not just government in Sacramento. Propel Fuels is there, pushing forward on the delivery and adoption of renewable fuels at the pump via renewable diesel and E85 ethanol. Another primary reason: the huge presence of UC Davis as an agricultural research center. Among companies that have formed in the UC Davis ecosystem, Arcadia Biosciences (mMore here) develops and commercializes agricultural traits and products that bring value to growers, processors and consumers while benefitting the environment and enhancing human health.

Meanwhile, there’s Origin Materials, which began life as Micromidas, raised $50M this year, and was founded by two UC Davis grads, OM’s technology was described to us recently as “is an exciting new breakthrough development”. Origin looks for underutilized feedstocks like cardboard, wood waste and agricultural residues — and has “unlocked furan chemistry” to link these residues to a set of high-yield reactions, they report.

3. San Francisco and environs

Then, there’s the city of San Francisco itself — and especially a cluster of companies down near the airport in South San Francisco. For one, that’s where Intrexon is hunkered down developing isobutanol from methane, and developing new crop traits through developed and acquired technologies. Also, there’s Granular, a software and analytics platform that helps farmers manage and have visibility of data to operate more efficiently, and which not long ago raised $50M. Let’s not forget Twist Bioscience, which is raising gobs of money for its DNA synthesis platform; they are located along the piers of Mission Bay. And NexSteppe has been always at the top ebnd of the Hot 40 and Hot 50 rankings for its exotically interesting and high-value work in establishing sorghum

A couple of divisions are here as well of Corbion (the old Solazyme operation), and of REG Life Sciences (once LS9). And we covered the San Francisco scene in more detail in: How Big Data is Disrupting Agriculture from Biological Discovery to Farming Practices.

6. Keyes

Moving into the inland San Joaquin Valley, there’s the Keyes project that Aemetis runs — a 60 million gallons corn ethanol plant that lately has been home to a whole lot more. We reported earlier this month that Aemetis is now producing cellulosic ethanol from orchard waste, utilizing technologies from Aemetis, LanzaTech and InEnTec. The plant is a continuously operating demonstration facility located in Richland, Washington — but Aemetis is building a 10 million gallon per year cellulosic ethanol production facility in Keyes. (More on all that here).

7. Madera

More cellulosic ethanol? Head a little more south along Highway 99 until, between Merced and Fresno, you reach Madera. That’s where Pacific Ethanol and Edeniq have partnered to enable the production of cellulosic ethanol at Pacific Ethanol’s Madera plant using Edeniq’s Pathway and Cellunator Technologies. The Madera plant has a total annual production capacity of 40 million gallons, and is expected to produce up to one million gallons per year of cellulosic ethanol with Edeniq’s Pathway process. Installation is expected to be completed in the third quarter of 2017. We reported on that here.

We might add, Edeniq itself, which we highlighted in The Billion Dollar Baby, is just a few more miles south along Highway 99, between Fresno and Bakersfield, that’s Edeniq HQ in Visalia.

8. Ft. Hunter Liggett and China Lake

Now, specifically, Ft. Hunter Liggett and China Lake Naval Air Station have almost nothing to do with each other geographically, but they are both significant military installations, and there’s been quite a lot of activity on DoD sites — both in deployment and in highly advanced R&D.

In March we reported that Sierra Energy has teamed with the Army to trial its FastOx Gasifier technology that turns MSW into hydrogen for use in vehicles, carbon monoxide for electricity production and liquid metal as well as slag for reuse in other industries. The gasifer burns at 4,000 degrees F, hotter than the inside of a volcano, allowing it to process anything that is put in it.

We never try to miss an opportunity to shine a light on the R&d taking place in advanced fuels at China Lake, and here are three. Blue Skies: the high-value opportunities above us for advanced biofuels, and 9 advanced molecules that could revolutionize jet and missile fuel  and Can warplanes fly farther, carry more weapons, with advanced biofuels?

9. Los Angeles and the Inland Empire

The Southland is led by San Diego in most respects, but UC Riverside plays a role and let’s not forget an amazing project right in the heart of Los Angeles County as well.

We reported last week that Vertimass gained its intermediate technology validation with the US DOE’s Bioenergy Technology Office, which verified performance against negotiated milestones. BETO verification effectively opens the door for Vertimass to move to demonstration scale of its technology for converting ethanol into gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel blend stocks and the chemical building blocks benzene, toluene, and xylene.

But let’s shine a light also on AltAirFuels, which is producing jet fuel and diesel at commercial scale. In march 2012, we reported that United Airlines made history by becoming the first U.S. airline to begin use of commercial-scale volumes of sustainable aviation biofuel. United has agreed to purchase up to 15 million gallons of sustainable biofuel from AltAir Paramount over a three-year period.

Not far from the Inland Empire down Highway 78 is Carlsbad, and that’s home to Verdezyne. They’re working on their fist commercial right now, and as we reported in March 2016, the prospects are promising, as seen by Connell Brothers move in signing an exclusive to distribute 2 million pound per year sales with Verdezyne

And Temecula is a bubbling biotech hub of its own — home to a major Abbott Labs facility and Millipore, and not to mention more than 30 wineries in its role as anchor of Southern California’s wine country — and home to The Digest on the US west coast.

10. At Sea: The Catalina Channel

We couldn’t resist this off-shore option.

In May, we reported that the California Coastal Commission is set to vote on May 10 whether Marine Bioenergy’s ARPA-E funded open sea kelp farming project in conjunction with the University of Southern California’s Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies can go forward. The team seeks to trial commercial-scale kelp farming using the technique it has developed for biofuel feedstock in the Catalina Channel in Southern California.

Categories: Today's News

Gassy Gold: The Digest’s 2017 Multi-Slide Guide to a Biogas-to-Muconic Acid pathway

Biofuels Digest - Wed, 08/30/2017 - 12:07pm

The US Department of Energy is supporting a NREL-led project to establish a novel gas fermentation bioprocess for secretion of an array of fuel and chemical intermediates. The project also aims to develop a novel methanotrophic biocatalyst and fermentation configuration for the production of muconic acid from renewable biogas. The research team ultimately demonstrated an integrated, AD-biogas biological conversion process for the production of platform chemicals. The project has achieved industrially-relevant production (>0.5g/L/hr) of muconic acid from biogas.

The principal Investigator, NREL’s Mike Guarnieri, gave these illuminating slides at DOE’s Project Peer Review on the project’s promise and progress.

Categories: Today's News

Brazilian mills switch over to more ethanol production during H1 August

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 08/29/2017 - 8:04pm

In Brazil, mills have begun to switch over to ethanol production in light of falling sugar prices and the decision to impose a 20% tariff on imports above a 600 million liter per year quota. UNICA’s bimonthly report shows that just under 50% of cane was used for ethanol production during the first half of August, the most seen in the past two months. Sugar mills crushed 45.29 million metric tons of cane during the period, producing 3.16 million tons of sugar and 1.95 billion liters of ethanol, though the volume was lower than the 2.08 billion liters produced during the last half of July.

Categories: Today's News

German company to invest in US$51 million Ethiopian ethanol plant

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 08/29/2017 - 8:03pm

In Ethiopia, Germany’s Eugen Schmitt Company will invest US$51 million in a 60,000 liter per day ethanol plant to be co-located at the Wonjo Shoa sugar mill. The plant, whose groundbreaking is planned for the next few months, will become the third mill in the country producing ethanol from molasses. The German investor along with three other companies will own 83% of the facility while the government will own the remaining 17%. The Ethiopian Sugar Corporation owns the sugar mill.

Categories: Today's News

Philippines’ city to begin biodiesel fuel trial following production facility launch

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 08/29/2017 - 8:02pm

In the Philippines, following the launch of the used cooking oil biodiesel production facility in Davao City, the local authorities have a launched a three-month trial to test biodiesel impacts on 30 jeepneys. During the production trial held using the new equipment supplied by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, biodiesel was produced from 250,000 liters of collected UCO at half the price of fossil diesel. So far around 80 organizations are currently collecting UCO but there are thousands of them in the city would could participate if collection was ramped up.

Categories: Today's News

UK to offer matching funds for aviation biofuel projects

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 08/29/2017 - 8:02pm

In the UK, as part of plans to promote clean alternative fuels, the government is offering GBP22 million in funding for projects in the UK to develop low carbon waste-based fuels for planes and lorries, with matching funding from industry.

The government is already planning to revolutionize the motor industry with ultra-low emission electric cars, and now we are going further and investing in a new generation of fuels which will power our aircraft and lorries.

Trials of sustainable jet fuel, made from waste materials, have taken place in Europe and North America, and now the launch of a UK competition will see British experts conduct pioneering research in this sector. The department has already had interest from more than 70 groups in bidding for the funding.

The new fuels are chemically very similar to conventional fuels, so can be used in existing aircraft without the need for any engine modifications. The low carbon transport fuels made from waste materials could be worth GBP600 million a year to the British economy by 2030, and could also support up to 9,800 new jobs.

Categories: Today's News

EPA seen expanding fuel waivers for Texas and Louisiana while denying RFA request

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 08/29/2017 - 8:00pm

In Washington, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to issue waivers to more parts of Texas and Louisiana that would allow them to supply fuel that does not comply with the Renewable Fuel Standard or other environmental standards in light of Hurricane Harvey following the initial waiver granted to the Dallas area. In a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt Monday, the Renewable Fuels Association asked the agency to “take immediate action to expand the scope and geographic coverage” of the fuel waiver issued by the agency Aug. 26 in response to Hurricane Harvey. Specifically, RFA is asking EPA to use its authority to relax the RVP limits to 10 psi for all finished gasoline blended with ethanol in conventional and RFG areas nationwide, through Sept. 15 but the EPA is likely to deny the request.

Categories: Today's News

ePure says new European Commission report supports case for higher ethanol blends

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 08/29/2017 - 7:59pm

In Belgium, ePure says a new report published by the European Commission highlights several benefits of higher ethanol blends in petrol, including reducing emissions of dangerous pollutants and boosting car engine performance.

The study, conducted by ICF for the Commission’s Directorate-General for Climate, assessed the impact of higher levels of bio components in transport fuels. It found that increasing the amount of ethanol in petrol blends – for example from 5% to 10% or 20% – would have a positive effect on vehicle emissions and air quality and help reduce reliance on fossil petroleum products.

The Commission report found that increased ethanol blends in petrol would result in reduced emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), hydrocarbons (HC), carbon monoxide (CO) and particulate matter (PM). For example, ethanol blends reduce emissions of HC/CO/PM by 5 to 20% compared to petrol with no ethanol. The study also found that compared to current blending levels, the use of higher ethanol blends will not result in adverse evaporative emissions impacts in petrol.

These results confirm the need for a higher level of renewable ethanol in petrol – boosting performance and efficiency of engines while delivering significant emissions savings.

Categories: Today's News

University of Illinois researchers look at biofuel processing catalyst made from palladium metal and bacteria

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 08/29/2017 - 7:59pm

In Illinois, fuels that are produced from nonpetroleum-based biological sources may become greener and more affordable, thanks to research performed at the University of Illinois’ Prairie Research Institute that examines the use of a processing catalyst made from palladium metal and bacteria. Published in the journal Fuel, their findings point to a cheaper, more environmentally friendly and renewable catalyst for processing that uses common bacteria and the metal palladium, which can be recovered from waste sources such as discarded electronics, catalytic converters, street sweeper dust and processed sewage.

The bio-oil produced in the lab from algae contains impurities like nitrogen and oxygen, but treating it with palladium as a catalyst during processing helps remove those impurities to meet clean-air requirements, Sharma said.

For the palladium to do its job, the bio-oil needs to flow past it during processing. Previous studies have shown that allowing the oil flow through porous carbon particles infused with palladium is an effective method, but those carbon particles are not cheap

Categories: Today's News

Zimbabwe says it’s open to anyone interested in producing ethanol

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 08/29/2017 - 7:57pm

In Zimbabwe, the country’s Energy Regulatory Authority says it has an open door policy for any would-be ethanol producer to apply for a production license in order to supply the blending mandate, contrary to popular belief that the opportunity was restricted to just a few players. Greenfuel and Triangle are the only two producers currently allowed to produce ethanol, but others are welcome to as well, such as Hippo Valley who supplies molasses to Triangle but has the capacity to produce ethanol itself.

Categories: Today's News

Hot Spots: 10 Advanced Bioeconomy Places to Watch in Iowa

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 08/29/2017 - 1:50pm

Eddyville, Fort Dodge, Clinton, Newton, Cedar Rapids. Communities like these have been mainstays of the Iowa bioeconomy for years, even decades — home to corn and soy processing on the largest world scale, and much much more — integrated complexes of advanced refining where companies share infrastructure and often where the residues of the one process become feedstocks for another. They’ve been to farm products what fossil fuel hot spots like the Baytown, Texas mega-complex have meant to oil refining.

Now, they have company. A new generation of technologies are coming forward, and a new generation of technologists. Research centers have become the focal point for Iowa’s future, and a slew of new bioindustrial towns — some famed for many years for their role in the bioeconomy, some emerging out of relative obscurity. They’re clean, they’re green, they’re growing, they’re an engine for the economies around them — and unusually and deeply interconnected not only to their R&D roots but to the existing bioeconomy infrastructure. They are linking the city and countryside in an unforgettable manner.

Where’s the action? From projects to process for new fuels, chemicals, materials and wealth creation – here are 10 places where the advanced bioeconomy future is being unveiled.

And as we observed in 2015 in discussing how Communities of Progress are born:


Take Nevada, Iowa for an example. For years, its been most widely known as the nearby support town to the sprawling Iowa State University complex at Ames. But it has become a little titan, home to a first-generation ethanol plant (locally-owned by central Iowa citizens), the next-generation DuPont Cellulosic Ethanol plant (under construction), and Thesis Chemistry. Jill Euken, Deputy Director, at the ISU Bioeconomy Institute in Amex has become a big fan of the town as a success story in renewable fuels and economic revival.

“The community has built a reputation for its ability to provide infrastructure, investment and debt capital, linkages to State of Iowa services,” she noted for the Digest. For her, it has all the elements working together that make economic revival and growth possible: Leadership. Producer partners. Partnerships.”

1. Ames

Ames is becoming to Iowa what Stanford and Palo Alto has meant in the history of Silicon Valley. Not only a place of technology development, but of remarkable imagination.

The catalyst for this Iowa review in fact is this remarkable paper by Brent H. Shanks and Peter L. Keeling of the Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC), based at Iowa State University in Ames. Shanks and center leaders are proposing a new model for creating, applying and commercializing chemicals made from biomass. The model calls for identifying “bioprivileged molecules” that offer unique properties that could lead to new products.

They write:

The petrochemical industry is built on C2–C4 alkenes and aromatics as intermediate molecules, which are converted to a range of products. This industry is highly developed with little opportunity for new chemical products. In comparison biological-derived intermediates from biomass have the potential to introduce a new set of intermediate molecules, which can be converted to molecules that directly replace petrochemicals. Even more promising is the potential to convert biological-derived intermediates to novel chemical species that impart enhanced performance properties in their end use. Here the concept of bioprivileged molecules is introduced as a useful new paradigm for developing biobased chemicals. Included are muconic acid, 5-hydroxymethylfurfural and triacetic acid lactone as example bioprivileged molecules. Also, discussed is the research needed to move this concept forward.

The paper is a must-read for theoreticians and practitioners in the advanced bioeconomy and is here.

Beyond High Temples of Advanced Thinkology, Ames is forming an interesting bridge to the mid-21st Century in applying its expertise in biorenewable technologies and pilot plant operations to the country’s tenth Manufacturing USA Institute.

As we reported in December, the advanced manufacturing institute is dedicated to improving the productivity and efficiency of chemical manufacturing. Those improvements could include combining processes such as mixing, reacting and separating into single steps. The new institute will be known as RAPID, the Rapid Advancement in Process Intensification Deployment Institute. The American Institute of Chemical Engineers in New York City will lead the effort, which was developed in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Savannah River National Laboratory in South Carolina and the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. The U.S. Department of Energy announced it would support the institute with $70 million over five years, subject to federal appropriations. Another $70 million is expected from RAPID’s partners, including companies, universities, laboratories and other organizations.

But let’s also consider the commercial-scale as well.

Although operating throughout the state (at Ralston, Mason City and Newton), Renewable Energy Group is based in Ames and it’s very much a cornerstone of Ames’ anchor on the top spot in this Iowa review. We’d point not only to the company’s remarkable capacity expansion in US and international biodiesel (and Ralston is doubling capacity as we write, to 30 million gallons per year, in a $24 million expansion), but has made remarkable progress following acquisition of Dynamic fuels and now has that renewable hydrocarbon plant operating above its 73 million gallon nameplate capacity in Geismar, Louisiana. But our favorite is this — REGI is the stock in the 2010s IPO wave that has performed the best — perhaps proving, as the Iowa story itself does, that success comes from effectively marrying the development of the new to the heft of the old.

2. Des Moines

The catalyst for success in Iowa has been its remarkably bipartisan and forward-thinking economic development policies — and all that is hashed out in Des Moines.

In May we reported that then-Governor Terry Branstad (now US Ambassador to China) has signed the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund bill (HF 643), which provides $3 million to fund the Renewable Fuels Infrastructure Program. In 2016, Iowa’s biodiesel plants produced a record 305 million gallons of biodiesel, according to the National Biodiesel Board. A study by ABF Economics shows biodiesel activity generated about 3,800 full-time equivalent jobs and $300 million of household income in Iowa.

Despite the victory, the legislative session posed challenges for the biofuels industry, Kimberley said. The Iowa House introduced legislation to reduce all state tax credits, which included a reduction and cap on renewable fuel retailer credits. IBB led the charge against the cut by mobilizing a network of members and coalition partners to convey the importance of these tax credits, and reinforce with legislators how the credits benefit Iowa’s economy and environment.

We’ll also point to the remarkable DuPont Pioneer HQ in Johnson, which is essentially a suburb of Des Moines these days — and may well become in the Dow DuPont merger and re-split the global HQ of a stand-alone company that combines the agricultural assets of DuPont Pioneer and Dow AgroSciences.


3. Nevada

It’s Ne-VAY-da, rather than Ne-VAH-da, you won’t find Donny & Marie or Celene Dion in residence, but you will find here in Nevada the DuPont Cellulosic Ethanol plant here — the world’s largest of its type and representing in many ways to the advanced bioeconomy what The Mirage represented to Las Vegas — a real catalyst for future growth.

In November 2015, we reported that DuPont opened the 30 million gallon cellulosic ethanol plant as then Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, Iowa senior Senator Charles Grassley, then Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds (now Governor) , and Congressman Steve King were the headliners for the opening ceremonies.

The majority of the fuel produced at the Nevada, Iowa, facility will be bound for California, and the plant also will serve as a commercial-scale demonstration of the cellulosic technology. 500 local farmers will provide the annual 375,000 dry tons of stover needed to produce this cellulosic ethanol from within a 30-mile radius of the facility. In addition to providing a new revenue stream for these growers, the plant will create 85 full-time jobs at the plant and more than 150 seasonal local jobs in Iowa.

But let’s get beyond the Nevada facility and highlight one of the most interesting small research centers in the country. That’s the Iowa Energy Center’s Biomass Energy Conversion facility (BECON). The BECON utilizes several biomass conversion systems. The Center for Crops Utilization Research contains pilot scale processing, product development and testing equipment for food and non food items. Private laboratory space is available for companies working on projects in this center.

Put that together with a large commercial-scale conventional ethanol plant (Lincolnway Energy) and the world-wide training and information center for Case New Holland Global on the edge of town — and you have the case for Nevada as a highlight hot spot.

4. Emmetsburg

In the northwest corner of the state and not on the road to anywhere in particular except perhaps the 22nd century is the small town of Emmetsburg, which looms large in advanced bioeconomy circles because of the POET-DSM cellulosic ethanol commercial plant ramping up there. Somehow, not long ago, the King of the Netherlands found his way here to inspect the goings on — and the town barks louder than its population. It’s become a fascinating home to the latest in cellulosic biomass harvesting equipment sales, too.

In February we reported that POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels will build an on-site enzyme manufacturing facility in Emmetsburg, pending state and local approvals. Here’s what we’ve heard from POET-DSM. “The facility is producing at a rate of 70 gallons per bone-dry ton of biomass, near the target conversion rate, and is currently in a ramp-up phase.” And what that tells you is everything you need to know. If they could jam a half-ton bale a minute into that system, they’d be shipping massive quantities of high-value cellulosic fuels to California, minting money, and we’d be chatting about which POET facility gets the next cellulosic license. It’s the rate. It takes a certain amount of technical Whoopee to get a bale that sloppy, that ready for enzymes, and that ready for hydrolysis, in 60 seconds or less.

Meanwhile, there’s also the Green Biologics story here. Most recently, we reported last December that Green Biologics reports that it has commenced commercial shipments of bio-based n-butanol and acetone from its 21 million gallon manufacturing facility in Little Falls, Minnesota – by the end of 2016, just as they said they would.

The good news had an Iowa connection — the process was thoroughly demonstrated via a modification of Easy Energy Systems’s ethanol demonstration plant in Emmetsburg, IA, where the partners produced renewable n-butanol and acetone as far back as 2012 at a 40,000 liter fermentation scale. And, the company produced 50 tons of product out of China in a demonstration-and-marketing-push, which was sold and sampled.

Virtually all the 1-2 liter samples that need to get out to customers to test on the bench were shipping out at year end. For customers who need as much as 100 tons of product to trial run in their own processes, Green Biologics expected to complete those by now.

5. Boone

Just a few miles to the west of Ames is the smaller town of Boone, which is how to the remarkable BioCentury Research Farm. In September 2016, we reported that the latest pilot plant at Iowa State’s BCRF is a joint project with Chevron U.S.A. University engineers are using the pilot plant to develop and demonstrate an advanced biorenewables technology called solvent liquefaction. The technology converts biomass such as quarter-inch wood chips into a bio-oil that can be processed into fuels or chemicals and a biochar that can enrich soils. The project is supported by a four-year, $3.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Biomass Research and Development Initiative, obtained by Iowa State.

6. Galva

A strong advance just appeared on the radar this week, in Galva, home of Quad County Corn Processors. In April of 2017 Taurus Energy, Lallemand Biofuels & Distilled Spirits, Syngenta and initiated a trial of Taurus Energy’s xylose/C6 co-fermenting yeast XyloFerm in the Cellerate process to evaluate performance at large scale. The trial has concluded and results confirm that XyloFerm can successfully convert C5 and C6 sugars to ethanol in the full scale industrial process. We note that for the foreseeable future work will be performed at lab scale and/or pilot scale due to scheduling restrictions at Quad County Corn Processors.

Last August we reported that Quad County Corn Processors reported a 26 percent increase in ethanol production after a recently-completed trial. The trial consisted of a combination of Cellerate process technology and Enogen corn. Brotherson said this dramatic increase was achieved by realizing an additional 6 percent yield per bushel from converting kernel fiber into cellulosic ethanol, plus a 20 percent throughput increase by combining Cellerate with Enogen.

“These results, and our experience of the past two years, confirm the consistent performance benefits available through Cellerate enhanced by Enogen – and we believe the potential could be even greater,” Brotherson said. “Cellerate can help plants produce more ethanol from an existing asset base, increase total yield of distillers grains corn oil and improve the protein content of feed co-products.”

7. Afton

In March we reported that a demonstration by an Iowa farm cooperative aims to persuade more farmers in the state to use biodiesel. United Farmers Cooperative, based at Afton in southern Iowa, put two trucks head-to-head to compare how blends of 5% and 20% biodiesel (B5 and B20) performed. The B20 truck won.

The four-month trial in 2016 had identical company automatic 18-wheelers with Volvo engines fill up with biodiesel from United Farmers Cooperative blender pumps. Darin Schlapia, the co-op’s energy operations manager, kept records on differences in miles per gallon between the trucks. At the end of the trial, the B5 truck averaged 5.19 mpg. The B20 truck averaged 5.84 mpg.

8. Clinton

In June we reported that Phyco2 said that is shifting its focus to meet the growing market demand for algae production.

Six primary high-value markets with strong growth both in the United States and globally have been identified as bio-stimulants, bio-pesticides, animal feed, nutraceuticals, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals. The global market for algae is growing at an estimated Compound Annual Growth Rate of 7% a year, with a $1.1 billion in sales by 2022. The company is currently investing in production plants in Clinton, Iowa with an estimated initial production of 1000 metric tons of algae per year.
Phyco2 plans to begin building commercial scale production plants and start operations within the next two years.

The company backstory: Phyco2 has a high algae productivity rate due to its Algae Photobioreactor (APB) technologies that allow pure microalgae to grow indoors, 24 hours a day, at any time of the year, with minimal water consumption, and in any geographic location. Phyco2’s APB technologies grow algae without sunlight or risk of contamination, unlike open-pond systems.  Phyco2 will be utilizing their APB technologies to produce algae for these growing markets.

Phyco2 refocuses algae R&D on Agriculture, Nutrition

9. Atlantic

Last December we reported that construction is set to start early in the new year on a new $196 million corn-based ethanol plant in Cass County. With an eye on producing about 120 million gallons of fuel annually, Elite Octane are still finalizing an agreement with county officials over the exact details regarding tax rebates, infrastructure investment and other details but developers are confident a deal will be agreed soon so construction can begin. The plant should be commissioned in June 2018.

10. Shenandoah

We have reported over the years on progress with the BioProcess Algae project, co-located at the Green Plains Renewable Energy plant in Shenandoah, in the far southwest corner of the state. BPA, LLC designs, builds, and operates commercial scale Grower HarvesterTM bioreactors that enable efficient conversion of light and CO2 into high value microbial feedstock. It’s now at a 5-acre demonstration scale, expected to be the final step before active commercialization at Shenandoah and other sites.

The focus of that demonstration was to prove that it can successfully utilize excess CO2 and process heat from the Shenandoah ethanol plant to produce microalgae. Second, it has proven (at pilot scale) that its unique growth media can work – and this is an important breakthrough, because the company is growing microalgae out of solution, using a biofilm. Meanwhile, the product focus has shifted with the economic winds — it’s a five-sector set including Animal Feed protein, Nutraceuticals, Fish Feed, Chemicals (ingredients for plastics, resins and lubricants) and fuels.

Categories: Today's News

Hi-Temp Deconstruction: The Digest’s 2017 Multi-Slide Guide to Solvent Liquefaction, and biomass-to-hydrocarbon fuels

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 08/29/2017 - 12:49pm

The US Department of Energy is supporting a project to demonstrate solvent liquefaction as viable path to stable intermediates for subsequent upgrading to fuel blendstocks. This is based on a technology originally developed in large part via Catchlight Energy and we profiled its revival at Iowa State right here, in “Chevron’s forgotten biofuels wonder-tech gets a second life at Iowa State.”

The project aimed for pilot-scale testing for Chevron’s solvent liquefaction process with direct solvent/bio-oil recycle and to generate stable, deoxygenated bio-oil, while also exploring hydro-processing conditions for bio-oil upgrading to refinery-compatible biocrude and fuel blendstocks. With the overall project, a demonstration plant design package and TEA was in the mix.

As part of our coverage of the Hot Spots in Iowa industrial biotehcnology, we’re publishing this illuminating presentation made by Robert Brown of Iowa State (principal investigator in this project).

Categories: Today's News

Aemetis secures regulatory approval for enzymatic biodiesel production in India

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 08/28/2017 - 7:23pm

In California, Aemetis announced that its Universal Biofuels subsidiary in India has completed the construction of initial process equipment and has obtained regulatory approval for the production of enzymatic biodiesel at its biodiesel plant in Kakinada, India using a patent-pending process technology developed by Aemetis. These approvals allow the use of low cost waste oil feedstocks for the production of biodiesel using Aemetis enzymatic production processes to supply customers, primarily in the US and Europe, through a supply contract with a major oil company.

Aemetis’ India subsidiary is expected to provide biodiesel to the US market to replace a portion of the more than 400 million gallons per year of Argentina and Indonesian biodiesel imported into the US annually.

A patent was filed on this proprietary pretreatment process technology in April 2017, and enables the enzymatic processing of waste oil feedstock to biodiesel by solving the primary issue of enzymatic biodiesel production: the requirement that feedstock reach and maintain an optimal temperature that allows for maximum enzymatic activity.

The Aemetis biorefinery in Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh has a capacity of 50 million gallons per year of biodiesel, along with the ability to produce and supply refined glycerin to pharmaceutical and industrial customers. The Aemetis plant is the first and only India biofuels producer approved under the Low Carbon Fuel Standard for delivery of tallow and waste oil biodiesel into California.

Aemetis: The Digest’s 2015 5 Minute Guide

Categories: Today's News

Quad County CEO believes cellulosic ethanol targets could be hit without grinding more corn

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 08/28/2017 - 7:22pm

In Iowa, the CEO of Quad County Corn Processors says that if all of the ethanol plants in the US switched to Enogen corn and used Cellerate technology like the QCCP does, then the Renewable Fuel Standard’s cellulosic ethanol mandate could be reached without grinding any additional corn. Last year, cellulosic ethanol production only reached 176 million gallons compared to the 230 million gallons mandated by the RFS and the 238 million gallons set for 2018, lowered from the planned 311 million gallons.

Categories: Today's News

New Holland shows off its methane-powered concept tractor

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 08/28/2017 - 7:19pm

In Illinois, New Holland says this its methane-powered concept tractor could reduce fuel costs by 30% with the same power and torque as its diesel-fueled line. The tractor has 80% lower emissions and 10% lower CO2 emissions. The tractor runs on upgraded biogas, meaning that on-farm biogas would require additional refining in order to be used to power the equipment or purchased from another source. The company has also demonstrated biodiesel and hydrogen powered tractors in the past.

Categories: Today's News

Chinese open up again for Argentine soy oil just in the nick of time

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 08/28/2017 - 7:18pm

In Argentina, while the US biodiesel market closed, the Chinese soy oil market reopened following nearly a year when its doors too were closed. In 2015, Argentina exported $1.4 billion worth of soy oil to China. The reopening of the market is as a result of an agreement reached by the heads of state of both countries in May. China is looking to implement a biodiesel blending policy, which Malaysia and Indonesia are working together in hopes of jointly supplying the future market.

Categories: Today's News

Biofuel markets not likely impacted by Hurricane Harvey

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 08/28/2017 - 7:17pm

In Texas, despite the horrendous flooding seen across the state due to Hurricane Harvey, experts don’t expect the storm or its damage to impact biofuel prices for the Gulf Coast region. Refineries in the region closed down ahead of the storm, reducing demand for blending stock in the coming days. Exports have slowed in recent months so the storm wasn’t expected to have much impact on loading either. Rail markets could be impacted but expectations were for muted price changes.

Categories: Today's News

EU Commissions extends Red Tractor through November 5 until renewal is approved

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 08/28/2017 - 7:16pm

In the UK, the National Farmers Union has welcomed news that the EU Commission has written to all EU-approved biofuel assurance schemes to advise that the Red Tractor scheme should continue to be considered compliant with EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED) sustainability criteria until November 5, 2017, pending full five-year re-approval.   

This comes shortly after the NFU called on the Commission to urgently address concerns that Red Tractor-approved crops, and their products, would no longer be able to enter the European biofuels market after the scheme’s approval expired in early August.

Categories: Today's News


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