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Today's News

Stanford scientists use copper catalysts to make ethanol from CO2 and water

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 8:15pm

In California, a recent discovery by Stanford University scientists could lead to a new, more sustainable way to make ethanol without corn or other crops. This promising technology has three basic components: water, carbon dioxide and electricity delivered through a copper catalyst. The results are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Scientists would like to design copper catalysts that selectively convert carbon dioxide into higher-value chemicals and fuels, like ethanol and propanol, with few or no byproducts. But first they need a clear understanding of how these catalysts actually work. That’s where the recent findings come in.

Categories: Today's News

Mexico moves forward with E10 policy outside urban centers

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 8:14pm

In Mexico, Energy Regulatory Commission (CRE) announced recently a change that will increase the maximum amount of ethanol that can be blended in Mexican gas supplies from 5.8 percent to 10 percent, except in the cities of Monterrey, Guadalajara and Mexico City.

The announcement modifies the Mexican Official Standard NOM 016-CRE-2016 regarding the quality specifications for fuels by increasing the maximum volume content of anhydrous ethanol as an oxygenate in regular and premium gasolines in Mexico.

This change comes as part of ongoing energy reforms in Mexico and follows input from stakeholders in the government, private sector, research scientists and social interest groups.

Mexico’s regulators moved in August 2016 to allow ethanol in local fuel supplies, except in its three largest metropolitan areas. In its decision, the CRE recognized the benefits of E10, which will help demonstrate that a 10 percent ethanol blend can positively contribute to air quality improvement and reduced cancer risk throughout the country. The Mexican Institute of Petroleum is also studying the merits of E10 blends.

The decision moves Mexico toward global standards in the use of renewable and sustainable energy resources like ethanol that offer environmental, economic, social and public health advantages over other additives and oxygenates for gasoline.

Categories: Today's News

From sun to pump: The Digest’s 2017 Multi-Slide Guide to Direct Photosynthetic Production of Biodiesel

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 3:05pm

Arizona State’s Wim Vermaas gave this illuminating overview of Direct Photosynthetic Production of Biodiesel by Decoupled Cyanobacteria  oat the 2017 DOE Project Peer Review sessions.

Categories: Today's News

Algae’s PACE: The Digest’s 2017 Multi-Slide Guide to algae for co-products and energy

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 2:59pm

Los Alamos National Lab’s Dick Sayre gave this illuminating overview of the PACE project for Producing Algae for Co-Products and Energy at the 2017 DOE Project Peer Review sessions.

Categories: Today's News

Algaemagic: The Digest’s 2017 Multi-Slide Guide to the MAGIC Marine Algae consortium project

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 2:51pm

Mark Huntley and Zackary Johnson gave this illuminating overview of the MAGIC Marine Algae consortium project at the 2017 DOE Project Peer Review sessions.

Categories: Today's News

Algae from thin air: The Digest’s 2017 Multi-Slide Guide to algae biofuels using atmospheric CO2

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 2:46pm

Michael Huessmann and John Benemann gave this illuminating overview of Microalgae Biofuels Production on CO2 from Air at the 2017 DOE Project Peer Review sessions.

Categories: Today's News

Making Algae Obese: Synthetic Genomics, ExxonMobil breakthrough brings algae fuels clearer, closer

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 11:34am

In California at the annual BIO convention, ExxonMobil and Synthetic Genomics announced a breakthrough in joint research into advanced biofuels involving the improvement of the Nannochloropsis gaditana algae strain.

Currently at proof of concept scale, at the productivity rates seen under lab conditions, the strain could produce up to 1600 gallons per acre per year of lipids suitable for low-carbon fuels. The breakthrough was reported in the current issue of Nature Biotechnology by lead authors Imad Ajjawi and Eric Moellering of Synthetic Genomics. This is ten times greater than the oil-production rates of any known terrestrial plant that has seen widespread adoption, and double the productivity of the N. gaditana wild-type strain.

The reaction around the world has been a resounding Wow, Cool Tech. This article from Wired provides a smartly-written example of the type.

Here’s the rock-star of biofuels feedstocks, algae, and it’s getting fatter, and when movie stars become obese that’s tabloid fodder. So, understood — it’s cool science with the weird green slime factor rolled in.

But let’s move beyond the cool and towards the fuel. Do we have a path to algae biofuels here — or do we have another technology that’s going to get diverted eventually, via investor exhaustion, to something lovely but much higher up the price curve, such as nutraceuticals?

The algae problem

For decades, researchers have known that the best way to get algae to produce more lipids is to starve them of nitrogen. Goes the theory, proteins contain nitrogen and lipids do not — so when you limit the available nitrogen, algae make more fats, thereby storing up carbon energy “for another day”, So far, so good.

But here’s the problem. Algae use nitrogen to make enzymes, and they use proteins and enzymes to make fats, and they use nitrogen to make the chlorophyll that allows them to capture the sun’s energy in the first place.

So, nitrogen starvation results in more lipids but less algae growth — in research we’ve see the gain in lipid share but a loss of productivity. Improvements have been modest in overall oil yield.

But what if…?

Tunable algae? In this diagram, we see the difference between wild type algae and SGI’s new and improved strain with doubled oil content.

So, enter ExxonMobil and Synthetic Genomics. The two high-visibility organizations partnered in 2009 for algae R&D — amidst a tremendous series of algae-oriented television ads that seemed to dominate golf broadcasts for some time.  A key objective of the collaboration has been to increase the lipid content of algae while decreasing the starch and protein components — without inhibiting the algae’s growth.

The algal lipid trigger

In certain circles, the controlling hypothesis is that there may be an algal lipid trigger out there — so goes the theory, just at that point of nitrogen-starvation where lipid productivity takes off, you study the algae to see what they are up to, find the processes that up-regulate lipid production, and then enhance those. When the algae start the lipid dance, make them dance like crazy.

The interesting result

But, what if the mechanism that shunts carbon either to protein or lipid production turns out to be genetically subtle and tunable? What if we could find a way to divert the carbon down the lipid-producing pathway, without impacting the delivery of nitrogen for those other critical growth-supporting activities? Steering carbon rather than starving nitrogen?

Turns out, that’s a big part of the SGI / Exxon story.

The technique the researchers used was RNA interference, or RNAi.

In biologyese: In this technique, we target what are known as mRNA molecules, using RBA molecules, and we inhibit gene expression or translation.

In English: If you’ve ever been at a dance with a very good-looking prospective partner and suddenly found yourself completely lost for words — that’s not the same biological process but it’s the same result, the algae lose the ability to do something they really want to do.

What’s great about RNAi is that it works a little bit more like a tunable dial than the knock-in/knock-out techniques used in most applications of CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing.

What do you get?

In the results reported in Nature Biotechnology — you get double the lipid production without a loss of overall productivity, compared to the wild type. It’s not quite the level of lipid production that we’ve seen with Nanno under extreme nitrogen-starvation conditions (55% lipid content has been reported), but the key here is preserving the overall algae growth rate.

Wild type algae on the left, starved of nitrogen on the right, and SGI’s breakthrough in the center; the grey blob marked LD represents the lipids. Image: SGI

So, the researchers are reporting 5 grams of lipids per square meter per day, and that’s double the wild type, and now translate that into some street value.

The value target

In a techno-economic analysis you can read in glorious detail here, an NREL team found that an algae farm would need to support a minimum selling price of $491 per dry ton of biomass to provide a 10 percent ROI, based on algae productivity of 37 tons per acre. Putting that together, that’s an income goal of $18.167 per acre.

The addressable value

Can we get to algae biofuels, or even close? Right now, algae as a cellulosic fuels commands a values of up to $4.43 per gallon* in the California market, and keep in mind that carbohydrates and protein are also still produced by the organism and are available at harvest.

(*The value is $1.41 for a gallon of any diesel fuel, $2.51 for the cellulosic waiver credit and $0.51 for the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard based on a $52/ton carbon price and a CI index of 29).

At 5 grams per day of lipids (worth $1227 per ton, if you do the cellulosic fuel math), if you could keep the strain producing at this level (which in the field it usually does not) throughout the year (which you won’t be able to), the potential value creation of the improved strain could be as high as $13,323 per acre for the lipid fraction.

So, let’s think more in terms of real-world operation. If we assume that a system could get to 85 percent of this theoretical production rate, and stay open for 80 percent of the year, the value would be on the order of $9060 per acre, for the lipid fraction. (And yes, there’s further bioconversion to turn an algae lipid into a fuel — it’s not entirely “all about the feedstock”.)

And, the venture will need to generate $9,107 per acre off the carbohydrate and protein fractions. We have 7.5 grams per day of those, or 11 tons per acre per year. So, we’d need to see $818 per ton for that biomass.  It’s not out of this world to see these kind of numbers — fish meal sells above this price, and fish eat algae.

The Bottom Line

So, let’s be cautiously optimistic. R&D will continue, algae farm CAPEX prices will come down with innovation, yields may well improve from the levels we see here with SGI and Exxon’s work.

Bottom line, we don’t have a production organism here but we are beginning to see the kind of productivities with a defensible strain that support price-competitive algae biofuels at scale, even with the crushingly low oil prices we’re seeing. Rock your world tomorrow? No. In the ballpark of technology that is deployable? Sure.

 

Reaction from the stakeholders

“This key milestone in our advanced biofuels program confirms our belief that algae can be incredibly productive as a renewable energy source with a corresponding positive contribution to our environment,” said Vijay Swarup, vice president for research and development at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company. “Our work with Synthetic Genomics continues to be an important part of our broader research into lower-emission technologies to reduce the risk of climate change.”

“Advancements as potentially important as this require significant time and effort, as is the case with any research and development project,” Swarup said. “Each phase of our algae research, or any other similar project in the area of advanced biofuels, requires testing and analysis to confirm that we’re proceeding down a path toward scale and commercial viability.”

“The major inputs for phototropic algae production are sunlight and carbon dioxide, two resources that are abundant, sustainable and free,” said Oliver Fetzer, Ph.D., chief executive officer at Synthetic Genomics. “Discoveries made through our partnership with ExxonMobil demonstrate how advanced cell engineering capabilities at Synthetic Genomics can unlock biology to optimize how we use these resources and create solutions for many of today’s sustainability challenges – from renewable energy to nutrition and human health.”

“The SGI-ExxonMobil science teams have made significant advances over the last several years in efforts to optimize lipid production in algae. This important publication today is evidence of this work, and we remain convinced that synthetic biology holds crucial answers to unlocking the potential of algae as a renewable energy source,” said J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., SGI co-founder and chairman. “We look forward to continued work with ExxonMobil so that eventually we will indeed have a viable alternative energy source.”

More on the story.

Categories: Today's News

Algae Obesity! Synthetic Genomics, ExxonMobil breakthrough doubles lipid content; algae biofuels come clearer, closer

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 11:04am

In California at the annual BIO convention, ExxonMobil and Synthetic Genomics announced a breakthrough in joint research into advanced biofuels involving the improvement of the Nannochloropsis gaditana algae strain.

Currently at proof of concept scale, at the productivity rates seen under lab conditions, the strain could produce up to 1600 gallons per acre per year of lipids suitable for low-carbon fuels. The breakthrough was reported in the current issue of Nature Biotechnology by lead authors Imad Ajjawi and Eric Moellering of Synthetic Genomics. This is ten times greater than the oil-production rates of any known terrestrial plant that has seen widespread adoption, and double the productivity of the N. gaditana wild-type strain.

The reaction around the world has been a resounding Wow, Cool Tech. This article from Wired provides a smartly-written example of the type.

Here’s the rock-star of biofuels feedstocks, algae, and it’s getting fatter, and when movie stars become obese that’s tabloid fodder. So, understood — it’s cool science with the weird green slime factor rolled in.

But let’s move beyond the cool and towards the fuel. Do we have a path to algae biofuels here — or do we have another technology that’s going to get diverted eventually, via investor exhaustion, to something lovely but much higher up the price curve, such as nutraceuticals?

The algae problem

For decades, researchers have known that the best way to get algae to produce more lipids is to starve them of nitrogen. Goes the theory, proteins contain nitrogen and lipids do not — so when you limit the available nitrogen, algae make more fats, thereby storing up carbon energy “for another day”, So far, so good.

But here’s the problem. Algae use nitrogen to make enzymes, and they use proteins and enzymes to make fats, and they use nitrogen to make the chlorophyll that allows them to capture the sun’s energy in the first place.

So, nitrogen starvation results in more lipids but less algae growth — in research we’ve see the gain in lipid share but a loss of productivity. Improvements have been modest in overall oil yield.

But what if…?

Tunable algae? In this diagram, we see the difference between wild type algae and SGI’s new and improved strain with doubled oil content.

So, enter ExxonMobil and Synthetic Genomics. The two high-visibility organizations partnered in 2009 for algae R&D — amidst a tremendous series of algae-oriented television ads that seemed to dominate golf broadcasts for some time.  A key objective of the collaboration has been to increase the lipid content of algae while decreasing the starch and protein components — without inhibiting the algae’s growth.

The algal lipid trigger

In certain circles, the controlling hypothesis is that there may be an algal lipid trigger out there — so goes the theory, just at that point of nitrogen-starvation where lipid productivity takes off, you study the algae to see what they are up to, find the processes that up-regulate lipid production, and then enhance those. When the algae start the lipid dance, make them dance like crazy.

The interesting result

But, what if the mechanism that shunts carbon either to protein or lipid production turns out to be genetically subtle and tunable? What if we could find a way to divert the carbon down the lipid-producing pathway, without impacting the delivery of nitrogen for those other critical growth-supporting activities? Steering carbon rather than starving nitrogen?

Turns out, that’s a big part of the SGI / Exxon story.

The technique the researchers used was RNA interference, or RNAi.

In biologyese: In this technique, we target what are known as mRNA molecules, using RBA molecules, and we inhibit gene expression or translation.

In English: If you’ve ever been at a dance with a very good-looking prospective partner and suddenly found yourself completely lost for words — that’s not the same biological process but it’s the same result, the algae lose the ability to do something they really want to do.

What’s great about RNAi is that it works a little bit more like a tunable dial than the knock-in/knock-out techniques used in most applications of CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing.

What do you get?

In the results reported in Nature Biotechnology — you get double the lipid production without a loss of overall productivity, compared to the wild type. It’s not quite the level of lipid production that we’ve seen with Nanno under extreme nitrogen-starvation conditions (55% lipid content has been reported), but the key here is preserving the overall algae growth rate.

Wild type algae on the left, starved of nitrogen on the right, and SGI’s breakthrough in the center; the grey blob marked LD represents the lipids. Image: SGI

So, the researchers are reporting 5 grams of lipids per square meter per day, and that’s double the wild type, and now translate that into some street value.

The value target

In a techno-economic analysis you can read in glorious detail here, an NREL team found that an algae farm would need to support a minimum selling price of $491 per dry ton of biomass to provide a 10 percent ROI, based on algae productivity of 37 tons per acre. Putting that together, that’s an income goal of $18.167 per acre.

The addressable value

Can we get to algae biofuels, or even close? Right now, algae as a cellulosic fuels commands a values of up to $4.43 per gallon* in the California market, and keep in mind that carbohydrates and protein are also still produced by the organism and are available at harvest.

(*The value is $1.41 for a gallon of any diesel fuel, $2.51 for the cellulosic waiver credit and $0.51 for the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard based on a $52/ton carbon price and a CI index of 29).

At 5 grams per day of lipids (worth $1227 per ton, if you do the cellulosic fuel math), if you could keep the strain producing at this level (which in the field it usually does not) throughout the year (which you won’t be able to), the potential value creation of the improved strain could be as high as $13,323 per acre for the lipid fraction.

So, let’s think more in terms of real-world operation. If we assume that a system could get to 85 percent of this theoretical production rate, and stay open for 80 percent of the year, the value would be on the order of $9060 per acre, for the lipid fraction. (And yes, there’s further bioconversion to turn an algae lipid into a fuel — it’s not entirely “all about the feedstock”.)

And, the venture will need to generate $9,107 per acre off the carbohydrate and protein fractions. We have 7.5 grams per day of those, or 11 tons per acre per year. So, we’d need to see $818 per ton for that biomass.  It’s not out of this world to see these kind of numbers — fish meal sells above this price, and fish eat algae.

The Bottom Line

So, let’s be cautiously optimistic. R&D will continue, algae farm CAPEX prices will come down with innovation, yields may well improve from the levels we see here with SGI and Exxon’s work.

Bottom line, we don’t have a production organism here but we are beginning to see the kind of productivities with a defensible strain that support price-competitive algae biofuels at scale, even with the crushingly low oil prices we’re seeing. Rock your world tomorrow? No. In the ballpark of technology that is deployable? Sure.

 

Reaction from the stakeholders

“This key milestone in our advanced biofuels program confirms our belief that algae can be incredibly productive as a renewable energy source with a corresponding positive contribution to our environment,” said Vijay Swarup, vice president for research and development at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company. “Our work with Synthetic Genomics continues to be an important part of our broader research into lower-emission technologies to reduce the risk of climate change.”

“Advancements as potentially important as this require significant time and effort, as is the case with any research and development project,” Swarup said. “Each phase of our algae research, or any other similar project in the area of advanced biofuels, requires testing and analysis to confirm that we’re proceeding down a path toward scale and commercial viability.”

“The major inputs for phototropic algae production are sunlight and carbon dioxide, two resources that are abundant, sustainable and free,” said Oliver Fetzer, Ph.D., chief executive officer at Synthetic Genomics. “Discoveries made through our partnership with ExxonMobil demonstrate how advanced cell engineering capabilities at Synthetic Genomics can unlock biology to optimize how we use these resources and create solutions for many of today’s sustainability challenges – from renewable energy to nutrition and human health.”

“The SGI-ExxonMobil science teams have made significant advances over the last several years in efforts to optimize lipid production in algae. This important publication today is evidence of this work, and we remain convinced that synthetic biology holds crucial answers to unlocking the potential of algae as a renewable energy source,” said J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., SGI co-founder and chairman. “We look forward to continued work with ExxonMobil so that eventually we will indeed have a viable alternative energy source.”

More on the story.

Categories: Today's News

CropEnergies cashes in on ethanol margins thanks to Ensus

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 6:44pm

In Germany, shares of CropEnergies soared back towards record highs in response to news the Ensus ethanol plant is back online and during a period of higher-than-expected ethanol prices in Europe. As a result, its March-May results were higher and it reviewed higher its expectations for its full year revenue towards EUR1 billion. Traders estimate the Ensus plan was pulling in gross margins of GBP10,000 per day or perhaps even more thanks to lower wheat prices and higher ethanol prices.

Categories: Today's News

Petrobras lowers gas prices for second time in a month

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 6:43pm

In Brazil, for the second time in less than a month, Petrobras as lowered the gasoline price that is turn further pressures ethanol demand and pushes the ethanol parity level with sugar well below 13 cents. Despite hydrous ethanol prices being 68% of gasoline prices during the week ending June 10, the lowest since September last year, falling gas prices see drivers still choosing fossil fuels over ethanol. Hydrous prices have fallen 6% since the sugarcane crush started in April and by 3% during the past month.

Categories: Today's News

Austrian biodiesel producers increased production 15% in 2014 to 269,000 tons

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 6:42pm

In Austria, the biodiesel association ARGE says that the country’s biodiesel production grew 15% in 2014 from the year prior to 269,000 metric tons with 73% of the feedstock coming from virgin vegetable oils, almost none of which was palm oil. Of the remainder, 17% was from UCO while 9% were from animal fats. A total of 172,000 tons was consumed domestically while the rest was exported. All of the biodiesel produced is certified by a sustainability scheme approved by the European Commission.

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Norwegian airport operator under fire from Greenpeace for importing biojet from California

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 6:41pm

In Norway, the country’s airport operator Avinor is taking flack from Greenpeace for importing UCO-based aviation biofuel from AltAir in California. The NGO says locally-produced biofuels need to be used in Norway, not imported 10,000 miles, while Avinor argues that the carbon footprint associated with importing the fuel is a fraction of burning fossil-based jet fuel but are twice the price. The Norwegian parliament will soon debate a 1% blending mandate for aviation jetfuel from 2019.

Categories: Today's News

Nissan’s ethanol-powered solid oxide fuel cell vehicle trials going well

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 6:40pm

In Brazil, Nissan’s trials of its ethanol-powered solid oxide fuel cell vehicle showed promising results in its day-to-day testing undertaken during the past few months using hydrous ethanol in 6.6 gallon engines. The engine in the two vans used during the testing can also run on 50% water and is categorized as carbon neutral well-to-wheel. Using, ethanol and batteries, the vehicle has a 375-mile range. The e-NV200 electric vans used in the trial are made in Spain and then fitted especially with the electric engines.

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Cellulosic Sugar Producers Cooperative recruiting farmer members to supply Comet

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 6:39pm

In Canada, the Cellulosic Sugar Producers Cooperative (CSPC) has so far recruited 20% of its 55,000-acre goal to secure the crop residue required for Comet Biorefining’s facility that should be online next year. The Coop has begun a campaign to recruit more members in Lambton County, Huron County, and Chatham-Kent, requiring a one-time investment of C$200 per acre and a C$500 membership fee. Members must join with a minimum of 100 acres of corn stover or wheat straw.

Categories: Today's News

ExxonMobil and Synthetic Genomics modify algae doubling oil production

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 6:38pm

In California, ExxonMobil and Synthetic Genomics Inc. announced a breakthrough in joint research into advanced biofuels involving the modification of an algae strain that more than doubled its oil content without significantly inhibiting the strain’s growth.

Using advanced cell engineering technologies at Synthetic Genomics, the ExxonMobil-Synthetic Genomics research team modified an algae strain to enhance the algae’s oil content from 20 percent to more than 40 percent. Results of the research were published Monday in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Biotechnology by lead authors Imad Ajjawi and Eric Moellering of Synthetic Genomics.

Researchers at Synthetic Genomics’ laboratory in La Jolla discovered a new process for increasing oil production by identifying a genetic switch that could be fine-tuned to regulate the conversion of carbon to oil in the algae species, Nannochloropsis gaditana. The team established a proof-of-concept approach that resulted in the algae doubling its lipid fraction of cellular carbon compared to the parent – while sustaining growth.

Categories: Today's News

Canada looking at potentially doubling biofuel mandates

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 6:36pm

In Canada, biofuel producers believe Environment and Climate Change Canada may look to double ethanol and blending diesel mandates following consultations with provinces and territories to tackle greenhouse gas emissions through a clean fuel standard. The standard would include buildings, homes and industry in addition to transportation in an effort to reduce GHG emissions 30 megatonnes annually by 2030. The current policy would achieve reductions of 4 megatonnes by that date but could be boosted through an E10 and B5 policy.

Categories: Today's News

Chickens, Get Ripped! ICM unveils high-end protein as 5th core product for ethanol biz

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 2:45pm

In Minnesota, ICM is rolling out a new product category for the US ethanol industry this week, a companion to ethanol, distillers grains, corn oil, and CO2. And, perhaps, a window into a future of a whole range of specialty products with higher pricing profiles.

It’s called UltraMax, which sounds like something you’d pick up at a GNC as a diet supplement, and in many ways that’s a good way to start thinking about it.

Or, think “Vegemite for Contented Chickens” Just as generations of Australians have been raised as Healthy Little Vegemites after consuming the high-yeast, high-protein product under that trade name — why not try the same approach in raising chickens?

The overall technology is known as TS4 – Thin Stillage Solids Separation Systems. The first installation of Phase One is going on now at “a major ethanol plant” with start-up expected in Q3. It’s all part of what we identified in yesterday’s Digest, a theme for the US ethanol industry at the annual Fuel Ethanol Workshops of “efficiency, efficiency, efficiency” — finding more value in the process streams.

20-40% more than DDGs

“It’s a peanut butter-like consistency,” ICM’s Steve Hartig told The Digest. But, there’s one thing about this product that’s not all that unusual, and that’s the payback period, which reportedly hits that 2-3 year payback period that ethanol producers prefer.  The costs are in “the few millions”, and think total project time of 6 months with only a few days required to tie-in the old ethanol plant systems to this new technology after construction and every day operations continue in parallel for the bulk of the project.

And, a 100Mgy ethanol plant could produce 15,000 tons of this material, sell it for 20-40% more than dried distillers grains, and without changing the price obtained for DDGs. The trials are on with chickens and the results look good.

But there’s more on offer than a new product category — as revolutionary as that it. There’s energy efficiency and de-bottlenecking. This technology could open up a route to higher production capacity.

“Every plant runs as hard as they can, dryers are expensive items,” noted Hartig. “It’s not unusual to see plants bottlenecked at the drying stage; If you need 10 percent more evaporation of dryer capacity, you can get there with this.”

What it does

The technology removes the suspended solids from the leftover liquid stream at the back end of a corn ethanol plant (after distillation to remove the ethanol), known as whole stillage.

The Stillage Back story

Whole stillage (typically) goes through a decanter-style centrifuge to separates out some solids (i.e., wet cake to be sold as wet distillers grains). The remaining liquid, known as centrate, and some is sent back to the front of the plant, and some (now known as thin stillage) is concentrated via evaporation to remove water, then corn oil is removed via a centrifuge, and the remainder is further dried to make a syrup which is added to distillers grains.

Which is an awful lot of energy-intensive work to produce a low-value additive for distiller’s grains. In the end, it’s really more of a waste product, processed to avoid a costly waste stream exiting the plant.

Phase One and Phase Two

Phase One of this process uses a combination of a preparation technology and a special centrifuge for efficient separation, called a Sedicanter.  Flottweg is the exclusive Sedicanter provider for ICM in biofuels.  This is used in combination with a new ICM process which allows the centrifuge to process at a much higher feed rate than previously possible with higher capture efficiencies, resulting in reduced capital costs.

Phase Two, which is in the final stages of development, adds further mechanical separation processes aimed at the liquid stream from Phase One.  This is in the final stages of development and ICM expects to have an initial installation later this year.

What You Get

This new process produces two streams:

1. A liquid stream containing about 95% of the water, which has a significant reduction in suspended solids level that goes to the evaporators.  This stream has a much lower viscosity than the normal stream.  As a result, this liquid stream improves evaporator operations and provides greater drying throughput.

2. A solids stream has the rest of the suspended solids in it.  This stream can be separately dried to create a high protein distillers yeast product.  This stream can also be sold as a wet feed product.  This stream can also be recombined with the distillers grains prior to drying and mixing, if the plant goal is only operational improvements.

The 5 problems with thin stillage today

Several issues currently arise from these streams:

1. Depending on the plant operation and capacity, a number of plants produce excess syrup, which cannot be recombined with the distillers grains due to mechanical or Feed Tag limitations.   This syrup must be sold as Condensed Distillers Solubles, typically at a very low price, which costs the plant value as compared to selling it at distillers grains price.

2. You can cake up the evaporator over time, bottom line. Both organic (i.e., fats, proteins, carbohydrates) and inorganic (i.e., salts) solids in the syrup build up on the evaporator surfaces causing fouling.  This causes issues in plant operation and can require a reduction in rate until the plant shuts down to clean the evaporators, which takes time, money and uses aggressive chemicals.

3. Either evaporator or dryer capacity can be a bottleneck in the plant, limiting flow rate increases.

4. Some plants have an imbalance in particle size distribution from the grinding process, resulting in excess fine particles in the slurry stream.  This can also limit evaporator operation (if not recovered by the decanter) as the particles increase viscosity in the syrup stream.

5. The lightest of suspended solids in the stillage are a yeast-rich high protein stream that can be an added value feed ingredient, but typically mixed with the distillers grains to capture that price level only.

The 4 Reasons the technology is Valuable

TS4 has four key performance characteristics to lift yield and reduce cost.

1. Reduces fouling of evaporators.

2. Removes more water through the evaporators and ability to dry to a greater level in the dryer versus using the steam or natural gas fired dryers.

3. This reduces dryer load to provide further capacity and/or reduced energy use.

4. This produces UltraMax which is ICM’s brand for the high-protein feed product.  Total volume in a 100 mln gpy plant would be about 15,000 tons and is expected to bring significant added value.  ICM has conducted feeding trials for chicken digestibility and other types of animal feeding trials are currently underway.  The data from the feed trials indicate that UltraMax brings significant value to a plant, compared to distillers grains.  The volume is relatively small, which does not impact the standard distillers grains versus specifications.

That’s phase one. The 3 goals from phase two are:

1. Further debottlenecking of evaporators and dryers along with potential energy reductions.

2. Increased corn oil recovery, thus improving plant profitability.

3. Potential fermentation improvements, if installed on the backset recycled water.

The Bottom Line – a change in thinking, not just thinning

If you look at DDGs, they can be regarded as an imperfect animal feed. There’s too much fiber for pigs and chickens, and too much protein for cows.

The answer lies in separation technology, marketing and product development. This pile to the chickens and pigs, this to the cattle. What we’re likely to see, before that, is a shift from thinking in terms only of big commodities — like ethanol volume or DDGs volume. Just as plants started off thinking in terms of big commodity inputs — any energy was good energy as long as its cheap energy. Feedstock was feedstock.

But now, plants have learned — through the Renewable Fuel Standard, ironically — that certain types of energy and feedstock combinations can qualify ethanol for advanced biofuels RINs. Some plants are discovering that producing cellulosic ethanol from corn fiber opens up a pathway to $4.33 fuels instead of $2.00 fuels.

So, it’s not just about another product category. It’s about an opportunity to add value to a plant by designing specialized products that are optimized for target customer sets. You might find one plant optimizing for protein, when near hog and chicken country. Another one less worried about fiber, when near cattle country. Another one maximizing every ounce of cellulosic ethanol and working hard to get the energy usage down when near California.

A network of optimized plants, tuned to the geographies they serve. So there you have it, UlrtaMax and its considerable implications.

Categories: Today's News

Wazzup with algae? The Digest’s 2017 Multi-Slide Guide to the DOE’s Algae systems program

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 2:17pm

What’s the Department of Energy working on with respect to algae? The Bioenergy Technologies Office’s Alison Goss-Eng answered the question in this update, given at DOE Project Peer Review 2017.

In this deck, she looks at milestones ahead, programs, goals and challenges.

Categories: Today's News

MYOB – the new ethanol mantra: modularity, yield, octane, bolt-ons

Biofuels Digest - Sun, 06/18/2017 - 3:06pm

In Minnesota, the US ethanol industry is descending upon Minneapolis this week for the annual Fuel Ethanol Workshops, and the theme is efficiency, efficiency, efficiency.  You can feel the “get back to business” vibe, a steel-eyed “if you want a friend for ethanol, you can count on, get a puppy” perspective.

The industry knows that growth must come from better economics that open entry to export markets, decrease reliance on the Renewable Fuel Standard to open and power market access, and allow for increased market share within what has become a large, 15 billion gallon, a $25+ billion economic sector for the US economy.

Accordingly, it’s the era of MYOB, Mind Your Own Business. But it’s really about:

M – Modular

Y – Yield

O – Octane

B – Bolt-on tech

The Modular, Yield, Octane, Bolt-on Backstory Modular.

What’s powerful in modular technology right now? Fox River Valley Ethanol LLC confirms that it is installing a Whitefox ICE modular bolt-on system at its plant in Oshkosh, WI.  This makes it the first Wisconsin-based ethanol plant to install a Whitefox ICE system to remove process bottlenecks and reduce its energy consumption. The objective is to free up capacity in the distillation-dehydration section to enable an increase in production of up to 15% and reduce steam consumption. This is third  Whitefox ICE installation in the US, following installations at Pacific Ethanol in California and Pine Lake Corn Processors in Iowa.

The Whitefox MBO simplifies the system implementation and installation while reducing delivery times. Whitefox CEO Gillian Harrison says: “We have listened to our customers and the challenges they face with day-to-day operations when installing new equipment. We therefore developed the MBO to reduce on site disruption, shorten the timeline for completion and ultimately reduce the costs to our customers of installing a Whitefox ICE solution”.

Fox River is also the first installation to be based on Whitefox’s modular bolt-on design (MBO) which is pre-fabricated and shipped to site.

Yield.

Why is yield critical now? For one.  $4.33 per gallon value for cellulosic fuels, here.  Speaking of cellulosic, what’s My Feedstock Worth?, here.

But it can be yield enhanced in the conventional ethanol business. Late  last month,  ICM Inc. and NUVU Fuels LLC announced the adoption of ICM’s patented Selective Milling Technology V2 (SMT V2) at both Carbon Green BioEnergy in Lake Odessa, Michigan and Iroquois BioEnergy in Rensselaer, Indiana. These two 55 MGPY production facilities are scheduled to be the first commercial scale adopters of ICM’s new advanced designed SMT V2.

SMT V2 allows plants to produce increases of up to 3 percent ethanol yield and up to 15 percent distiller’s oil recovery, and ultimately, increased revenues. Now with this technological advancement, ICM’s new design provides up to a 50 percent reduction in horsepower, while providing an opportunity to dramatically change the grind profile and to reduce suspended solids throughout the plant.

Octane.

We looked in Depth in Livin La Vida Octane, here. In that article we noted:

By creating a market for biofuels, the Renewable Fuel Standard and the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard are driving benefits to consumers no matter what fuel blend you’re running. As we noted above, ethanol-free fuels cost a lot more, and who knows what fuels would cost if there was not a market choice? But the special beneficiary of high-ethanol blends are higher-compression engines.

Happily, high-compression engines are better for the environment, because they promote fuel economy through higher work efficiency. And here’s a special benefit. High-compression engines have more torque, that’s one of the reasons we love them — the kick that makes you feel like you’re in a race vehicle.

So, you get torque for nothing.  So, when you’re enjoying that incredible extra acceleration and power – just remember that the muscle in your car is actually better for the environment, and provides domestic jobs. So, accelerate in peace.

Bolt-On.

Try this Thought Leadership column from Joel Stone and Daniel Lane for size, Opportunities to Transition Ethanol Facilities to Biochemical Refineries. The authors observed:

With bolt-on technologies, ethanol producers need to look at facility and energy infrastructure to see whether there is existing capacity to install these technologies. For example, even a small bolt-on fermentation process may require more cooling capacity than available, especially during summer months. Producers also need to consider what upstream modifications may be required to produce a clean feedstock for the bolt-on process. These upstream modifications to produce clean sugar streams for renewable chemical production are available today. Downstream separations and purification processes will likely be needed for the bolt-on, and there are numerous proven technologies available.

Opportunities to Transition Ethanol Facilities to Biochemical Refineries

The Fox River backstory

Fox River Valley Ethanol is a 60 million gallon per year Delta T facility located in Oshkosh Wisconsin. It’s the old Utica Energy Ethanol Plant The plant was mothballed back in 2012, acquired, re-started and is back on the move as Fox River Valley Ethanol. Building of the plant began in 2002 and it has expanded over time to meet demand.

The Whitefox backstory

Whitefox Technologies Limited specializes in technology development and process integration based on membranes. The company focuses on efficient, integrated production systems through providing process engineering know-how, as well as membrane module design.

Reaction from the stakeholders

Neal Kemmet, Fox River Valley President and General Manager, commented: “Reducing energy and water consumption at our plant is a priority for us. We followed the Whitefox installation at Pine Lake Corn Processors and it became clear to us that this solution would help us achieve our strategy to increase production, improve energy efficiency and profitability. We are excited about working with the team at Whitefox on a project that will make a real difference.”

Gillian Harrison, CEO of Whitefox says: “Neal Kemmet and his team at Fox River were quick to grasp the benefits of our Whitefox ICE solution and how it could help them to achieve their efficiency targets. We have been impressed by the level of understanding of the team and the drive to continuously improve their operations. This is an important project for Whitefox and we are very pleased that Fox River is the first plant in Wisconsin to take advantage of our membrane solution.”

More on the story.

 

Categories: Today's News

Next generation forest company: The Digest’s 2017 Multi-Slide Guide to Conifex

Biofuels Digest - Sun, 06/18/2017 - 2:38pm

Conifex’s business is the harvesting of timber and the manufacture and sale of lumber, primarily for North American and Asian markets. Its sawmills process high-quality SPF logs into higher-grade and commodity-grade lumber, wood chips that are sold externally and used for pulp production, and other residual products for sale to wood pellet manufacturers, finger joint lumber plants, biomass power plants.

Conifex SVP Sandy Ferguson gave this illuminating overview on the company’s progress and prospects at ABLC 2017.

Categories: Today's News

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