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Tobacco plant inspires researchers to develop biodegradable crop protection

Biofuels Digest - Sun, 06/10/2018 - 1:04pm

In Germany, Technical University of Munich researchers developed an alternative to traditional insecticides that endanger bees, other beneficial insects, waterways, and soil. The new biodegradable agent keeps pests at bay without poisoning them by using cembratrienol, which is found in tobacco plant leaves. The molecule helps the plant protect itself from pests and acts as a repellant.

Using synthetic biotechnology tools, Professor Brück’s team isolated the sections of the tobacco plant genome responsible for the formation of the CBTol molecules. They then built these into the genome of coli bacteria. Fed with wheat bran, a by-product from grain mills, the genetically modified bacteria now produce the desired active agent.

Initial investigations indicate that the CBTol spray is non-toxic to insects, yet still protects against aphids. Since it is biodegradable, it does not accumulate.

In addition, the bioactivity tests showed that cembratrienol has an antibacterial effect on gram-positive bacteria. It can thus be used as a disinfectant spray that acts specifically against pathogens such as Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA pathogen), Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumonia pathogen) or Listeria monocytogenes (listeriosis pathogen).

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Biofuels and biomass are big losers in Senate Ag Committee’s draft farm bill

Biofuels Digest - Sun, 06/10/2018 - 1:01pm

In Washington, D.C., the Senate Agriculture Committee released their draft farm bill on Friday afternoon, The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, which includes serious blows for biofuel and biomass funding, while offering positive changes and expansions for dairy producers, the Agriculture Risk Coverage program, Conservation Reserve Program and other programs. The Senate Agriculture Committee is scheduled to act on the bill on Wednesday.

According to AgWeek, “The draft closely tracks the 2014 farm bill and would create few new programs. Programs that were designed to promote energy efficiency and development of fuel and chemicals from biomass are left without mandatory funding for the most part, a major blow to industries that rely on the programs. The Rural Energy for America Program would be provided with $50 million a year, the same amount it was allocated in the 2014 farm bill. But funding for other programs, including biomass crop assistance and advanced biofuel support would be left up to congressional appropriators. The House bill would eliminate the farm bill energy title as well as the permanent funding baseline for REAP.”

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Strategic Intent: The Digest’s 2018 Multi-Slide Guide to BASF

Biofuels Digest - Sun, 06/10/2018 - 10:32am

What are the strategic plans, progress and future milestones of BASF, a major stakeholder in the Advanced Bioeconomy?

In this slide deck, BASF gets into technologies, results, horizons, timelines, direct investments, partnerships and alliances with companies both heralded and unknown.

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Brazilian sugar industry fears more fuel market manipulation on the horizon

Biofuels Digest - Thu, 06/07/2018 - 4:51pm

In Brazil, Platts and Valor Economico report that the sugarcane industry is worried further fuel market manipulation could be on the cards following the resignation of Petrobras’ CEO under pressure of the recent truckers strike that saw much of the country’s economy shut down, including sugar mills. There are concerns that further manipulation in both gasoline and diesel markets could force sugar mills to pull back from increasing ethanol production and return to a focus on sugar despite a global supply glut and the government’s push to use ethanol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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Nestlé Waters in Dubai trialing B20 in its delivery fleet

Biofuels Digest - Thu, 06/07/2018 - 4:50pm

In the UAE, Nestlé Waters has introduced B20 sourced from Neutral Fuels in 10 of its fleet vehicles in Dubai as part of a trial that began in May. The move is part of the company’s goals to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 10% by 2020 based on 2014 levels. Using biodiesel sourced from used cooking oil, the six month trial is expected cut CO2 emissions by 27 metric tons while a full fleet roll out could increase those reductions to 300 tons.

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Argentina raises ethanol and biodiesel prices in June

Biofuels Digest - Thu, 06/07/2018 - 4:49pm

In Argentina, Platts reports that the government raised biodiesel prices 7% to $781 per metric ton for June. Biodiesel production rose 10.5% on the year during the first quarter to 579,074 metric tons while consumption fell during the period by nearly 5% to 260,287 tons. Sugarcane-based ethanol prices were increased 1.5% to 72 cents per liter while corn-based ethanol rose 7.6% to just over 60 cents per liter. Total ethanol production fell more than 6% to 232,102 tons while consumption rose nearly 4% to 273,223.

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ADM sees China requiring 11.4 billion liters of ethanol imports from 2020

Biofuels Digest - Thu, 06/07/2018 - 4:48pm

In China, Archer Daniels Midland expects China will need to import 11.4 billion liters of ethanol annually from 2020 in order to meet its 10% ethanol-blending mandate because it can only double to its current production to around 7.6 billion liters. Demand for the mandate is estimated at 19 billion liters. The US is a likely origin for those imports as China seeks to reduce its US trade deficit. Canada also sees increased demand as an opportunity for its industry to export.

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Gulfsteam’s aviation biofuels ambitions frustrated by lack of supply

Biofuels Digest - Thu, 06/07/2018 - 4:47pm

In Georgia, Gulfstream says it flies from its home airport in Savannah on 30% aviation biofuels—about 500,000 hours so far and the first transatlantic flight with a business jet flying on 50% aviation biofuel—but that’s only possible because it buys the fuel from AltAir in California and has the fuel trucked over. The company would like to increase its use of biofuels but the lack of supply makes it a difficult goal to achieve.

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India unlikely to achieve ethanol blending mandate yet again

Biofuels Digest - Thu, 06/07/2018 - 4:46pm

In India, the country is likely to miss its ethanol-blending mandate yet again after boosting to a 10% blend when it wasn’t even able to achieve a 5% blend. With 3.16 billion liters of demand this season, mills have only offered about 1.7 billion liters of supply, and that’s despite record sugar production of more than 31 million metric tons this year. Export taxes for intra-state ethanol movement lobbed on shipments by Uttar Pradesh is seen as a key reason for failure to achieve the blend. The state is expected to produce nearly 3 billion liters more than its demand and could supply to others nearby but the tax makes prices unviable.

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NREL look at AcCel5A enzyme to produce cellulosic ethanol in a single step

Biofuels Digest - Thu, 06/07/2018 - 4:44pm

In Colorado, if there’s an easier, more efficient method, science will find a way. That’s certainly the case in producing cellulosic biofuels, which, at least for now, requires a two-step process to free the sugars trapped in plant matter and convert them into something else. Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory think that’s one-step too many.

NREL researchers are looking into other ways to overcome plant defenses, including using an enzyme called AcCel5A. This enzyme, which comes from the hot-spring bacterium Acidothermus cellulolyticus, weakens biomass by inserting a gene into the plant’s genome and then burrowing into its developing cell wall, creating nicks and voids that make biomass deconstruction easier. Scientists who have tried other enzymes found their experiments stunted the growth of plants, but AcCel5A helped NREL researchers avoid that problem while maintaining the amount of important sugars yielded by the plant.

The scientists have had particular success in using AcCel5A with Arabidopsis thaliana, a small flowering plant regarded as a weed because of how quickly it grows.

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President Trump under fire from refinery industry for backing farmers on RFS

Biofuels Digest - Thu, 06/07/2018 - 4:43pm

In Washington, President Trump is feeling pushback from the main union representing oil refinery workers after taking the side of farmers and rejecting the generation of RINs from ethanol exports earlier this week. The union says that the president is putting thousands of refinery jobs along the East Coast and Northeast at risk in what is becoming a darned if you, darned if you don’t scenario between two opposing constituencies. The oil industry has promised to keep pushing the RIN reform issue until it makes progress.

Categories: Today's News

Mired in Misère: Re-Launching Political Capital and Public Trust for Biofuels; Seven Strategies to Reinstate Our Industry’s Power in Washington, D.C. through Mainstreet, USA

Biofuels Digest - Thu, 06/07/2018 - 11:11am

By Jenna Bloxom, Colorado State University

Special to The Digest

In games of cards and war, the strategy of misère is brandished by players who, disadvantaged by unfavorable odds, seek victory by patiently dodging confrontation and encouraging opponents to risk defeat in their own bids for glory.  Such maneuvers of evasion, endurance, and passivity can be effective tactics for winning Hearts—except those which embody the powerful yet fickle affections of the public.

For the last decade, the biofuels industry has engaged in misère as our default approach to political capital, and by neglecting to proactively cultivate public trust and widespread support, we are stacking the deck against preserving our meaningful role in the future of U.S. clean energy.  Now is the critical juncture for a unified bioeconomy to re-assert biofuels as a political powerhouse and compelling policy agenda that defies partisan, geographical, and generational divisions.

Rather than simply wait with bated breath and tied hands for the White House to broker permanent “tweaks” to the implementation of the Renewable Fuel Standard, this industry must take the initiative to drastically alter the public’s understanding and attitudes about biofuels in order to regain the political capital necessary for competing in tomorrow’s energy race.  Our potential to innovate lasting, effective solutions to fossil fuel dependency hinges upon social sentiment and political influence as much as it does ingenuity.  Public opinion is the ultimate linchpin that differentiates viable industries, worthy of attention and investment from public and private sectors alike, from those “obsolete” technologies perceived to survive only because of special interest lobbying and pork barrel policies.  If we cannot foster explicit and lasting support from the U.S. populace regarding the real and substantial benefits of bio-based fuels, we will fail to sustain the political capital imperative for the fiscal incentives, advantageous policies, and talented researchers and entrepreneurs vital to advancing our industry.

Political Capital

Political capital is the functional manifestation of citizen support.  It is the capacity of interest groups and industries to transform an overarching public mandate into focused political agendas with the power to successfully influence policy and regulatory outcomes. Political capital arises when an energized base of constituents establishes an interdependent circuit of momentum in which they use their collective voices to provide an industry, NGO, or social cause with access to executive, legislative, and judicial decision-makers who, in turn, look to those citizens to guide their responses. The avenues to attain societal and governmental prominence are certainly multitudinous and often onerous, but whether through time-tested democratic means, ascending social campaigns, or swift reactions to current events, the potency of political capital is unrivaled. Its rarity and, thus, value can be attributed to the immense difficulty of securing the enduring trust of a motivated and coordinated swath of the public; in today’s chaotic socio-political atmosphere, such loyalty is at a premium as people are forced to remain skeptical of the barrage of conflicting “solutions” peddled by entities with a bone to pick or a dollar to make.

Successfully realizing this currency of influence is not uniform across sectors, time frames, or conditions, so the dynamic nature of political capital leads to its frequent—and erroneous—comparison to the concept of public image, hence, its recurring dismissal as a marketing issue that can be indefinitely postponed.  Public image, however, is based on generalized attitudes and “gut feelings” which endear or rebuff a product, industry, or social movement to an audience without requiring any depth of knowledge or meaningful devotion.

Not confined to mere first impressions and superficial facades, the vast power of political capital originates from the public’s unified trust in an organization or network’s ability to go beyond satisfying a functional need in society to instead pave the way towards a better future. Time and time again, history shows that industries or social causes which depict themselves as unique and integral forces in creating opportunities for tomorrow’s growth, well-being, and prosperity are the ones most capable of authoritatively influencing policy changes.

For established coalitions like Big Oil and Big Pharma, it is certainly not public reverence that ensures their legislative and market prestige, but rather, it is the perceived indispensability of their goods for long-term societal advancement that guarantees their political clout.  Industries and groups which challenge entrenched commodities and narratives must likewise inspire the allure of progress while simultaneously confirming their viability as a real competitor to that which is customary.  The biofuels industry has forgotten that we cannot exist, much less excel, in the political, economic, and social arenas without the nation’s certainty in the demonstrated superiority of our contributions to the economies and ecosystems of today as well as tomorrow.

Past Success, Present Warning Signs

Thankfully, not every supply chain must feature avant-garde billionaires blasting sport cars into space to insinuate a brighter future, but restoring faith in the virtues of biofuels in today’s political climate will be a distinctively uphill battle.  In the past, our industry effectively wielded immense political capital, overcoming extensive objections to pass both the Energy Security Act of 2005 as well as the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, yet the last decade has marked a prolonged lapse in persuasive societal engagement.  What changed?  Well, we have been underplaying the strengths of bio-based fuels to the public for various reasons: a deliberate prioritization of technological and engineering breakthroughs over political aspirations; an overconfidence in the permanency of growth opportunities inked in the RFS; a general malaise regarding legislative and bureaucratic ineptitude to promote stable, conducive market conditions; the expectation of our over-worked, under-funded interest groups and lobbyists to produce miracles; an incapacity to compete with the anti-biofuels crusade promulgated by the API and their allies; and a general lack of awareness of just how badly the public perceives biofuels.

Of course, it is pragmatic to relegate scarce resources of time, money, and manpower into those areas with the highest potential return on investment—and the political realm can rarely boast of efficiency—but our sin of omission with regards to public outreach now evokes an existential threat to our industry. Citizens, the very voters selecting our legislators as well as the consumers of our products, have been inundated with orchestrated attacks on biofuels for so many years that they are more aware of orangutan carnage on the other side of the world than cutting-edge bioeconomy discoveries occurring in their own state.  Biofuels have been painted as a scapegoat for global food price volatility by the World Bank, IMF, and FAO (despite utilizing less than 2 percent of the world’s arable land for biomass), a vampire of engine performance and infrastructure durability, and a boogeyman for the environment with respect to deforestation, land-use change, and hypoxia.

Scientists, academics, and activists with their own agendas jumped on the bandwagon of ghost stories disparaging biofuels, but even our supposed allies in the push for clean energy have abandoned us.  Perhaps there is no better illustration of our precarious lack of social appeal and political capital than the 2016 Dakota Access Pipeline protests. Standing Rock was, among many things, a prime and missed opportunity for the biofuels industry to send a charismatic voice to the media frontlines to remind an attentive nation that ethanol, alone, prevented more than half a billion barrels of crude oil from flowing through American pipelines, sustained 340,000 domestic jobs, and contributed over $40 billion to the GDP that year.

But rather than directing the dialogue to confirm the vital benefits of U.S. biofuels, we stood silently in the shadows while activist after activist answered the inevitable question, “how do we prevent more pipelines like this one?” with the same answer: “more wind and solar energy.”  It was a convenient, digestible sound-byte, however trite, and one that went unchallenged by those of us who knew better.  But while not everyone understands the divergent characteristics, uses, and conveyance methods of electricity versus petroleum, the myriad of interest groups at Standing Rock did grasp that biofuels are now so adversely controversial that it is more credible to offer vague platitudes to solving an overt problem than to acknowledge the world’s largest renewable fuel industry, one that has replaced oil with green alternatives for decades.

More worrisome than the loss of external recognition, though, is our industry’s curious aversion to advancing our own hard-won accomplishments.  It has been ten years since biofuels graced the cover of a mainstream magazine—and even then, the April 7th, 2008 edition of Time Magazine featured “The Clean Energy Myth”, arguing that corn ethanol was “driving up food prices and making global warming worse.” Eternal optimists would posit that there is no such thing as bad publicity; at least every person who passed a newsstand, airport kiosk, or bookstore display understood that biofuels, while contentious, were important enough to warrant the front page. Nevertheless, our industry’s disappearance from the headlines remains a mystery.  Have we neglected to make significant technical breakthroughs and scientific discoveries worthy of discussion?  Have we failed to propel valuable societal, environmental, and economic developments which improved millions of lives?  Do we represent what our detractors claim, nothing more than an ill-conceived government subsidy experiment that is riding out its luck? Absolutely not.

This industry’s R&D accomplishments and commercial products are a credit to the perseverance, brilliance, and passion of its people, and our victories have not only shaped the future of sustainable fuels and chemicals, but we have created new research and technological directions across diverse global market sectors. The networks comprising the bioeconomy are stronger, more interactive, and more collaborative than ever, but without a concerted effort to expose our achievements to the general public, we become complicit in our own unpopularity.  Goods works may speak for themselves, but an audience is required if one wants to be heard.  If we are not willing to herald the contributions of biofuels, we can hardly expect anyone else to believe in them.

Strategies for Change

Remaining mired in misère is not a pathway to improving our political authority, financial growth, or environmental legacy. The biofuels industry relies on a democratically-elected government and its consequential programs, so it is not far-fetched to say that we need to secure the support of the people it represents.  It is time to stop striving to solely maintain the status quo in D.C. with ambivalence punctuated by crisis management and, instead, enact a coordinated and cohesive plan to gain long-term leverage in the socio-political arena.  In short, this industry must re-capture the public’s conviction in our trail-blazing innovations by aggressively educating people with reliable, comprehensive facts as well as creating a dedicated outlet in which citizens can integrate and express their advocacy for biofuels though voting, dialogue, product consumption, and activism.  As a starting platform for bolstering our political capital and showcasing the potential of biofuels in the energy future of the U.S., there are seven harmonized strategies ranging from information dissemination to political engagement to coalition-building that will prove invaluable to our long-term policy influence.

I. Educate and Disseminate Information To New Audiences

Educating the public with respect to the traits and benefits of biofuels is a critical step in fighting against misinformation and promoting our industry as a real and ready solution to the country’s imminent energy challenges.  If the best defense is a good offense, we must make notable progress in drowning out fossil fuel propaganda by popularizing the truth about biofuels in ways that are equally accessible and thought-provoking.  Exposure is key.  Our diligent interest groups already amass a wealth of information enumerating the advantages of ethanol and biodiesel, but we need to bombard voters with this array of impressive statistics rather than expect them to prowl for minutia in their spare time.

Stretching far beyond industrial conferences and niche websites, the biofuels industry must spread information across various news and advertising outlets, academic and research forums, and social and cultural interest events (public platforms, community gatherings, state fairs outside of the corn belt, etc.) in order to re-emerge as a household institution—with an exotic reputation. As of 2018, millennials will surpass baby boomers as the largest generation of eligible voters, and these younger contemporaries glamorize state-of-the-art technology to resolve tomorrow’s unavoidable environmental, consumptive, and economic challenges.

As an industry, we need this demographic to envision bio-based fuels as the innovation of the future rather than a stopgap from the past.  We cannot earn their support for our pioneering developments in sustainable fuels and chemicals if we do not explicitly disseminate our achievements in the public eye and drastically alter their knowledge of our products.  A new educational campaign for biofuels must be pervasive and persuasive enough to grab headlines as well as substantive enough to deserve the public’s support.

II. Establish a Distinctive Identity and Purpose

To resurrect our political capital during this pivotal era of environmental decision-making, the biofuels industry must establish a definitive identity through which our contributions and commitment to America’s future are unmistakable.  We need to differentiate the purpose, advantages, and growth opportunities of biofuels from those of solar and wind energy to avoid becoming lost in the hazy renewable energy rhetoric.  Certainly, there were once notable benefits to being lumped into a sweeping category of “alternatives”, particularly when federal and local governments were eagerly handing out incentives to ambiguously “green” endeavors, but this one-dimensional and oversimplified classification has now made biofuels seem synonymous with everything from weatherization techniques to LEED certifications to smart grids.

For many citizens, biofuels represent another gimmick to justify policy interventions into conventional markets, and regardless of whether they accept or deny anthropogenic causes of climate change, it is crucial that our industry illustrate to these voters that biofuels have their own singular, distinctive role that cannot be replicated by wind farms, solar panels, or Energy Star appliances.  In conjunction with dispelling false accusations regarding biofuel use and production, our industry should also work to demarcate ethanol, biodiesel, and synthetic hydrocarbons as wholly unique in both form and function to maximize our publicity and impact in various fuel markets.  It is never easy (nor cheap) to amend the public’s mindset, but if the role of biofuels remains indistinguishable, it becomes expendable.

III. Rebuild Moderate Legislative Support

Congressional representatives have made extraordinary strides to protect biofuels in the face of suggested regulatory “calibrations” to the RFS, pending agricultural tariffs, and debated bioenergy funding, but for every Grassley and Klobuchar, there is also an equally passionate Cruz and Biggs.  Yet beyond the expected, healthy debate on how to best integrate renewables into the domestic transportation system, there is now a growing legislative tribalism associated with biofuel policies and programs that is alienating moderates from both sides of the aisle.  Outside of stalwart agricultural districts, biofuels are perceived as too environmentally controversial to be embraced by many progressive legislators and too indicative of the Big Government “swamp” to be endorsed by scores of conservatives.

This expanding deficit of middle-of-the-road support is deeply troubling as there is one inconvertible truth in representative democracies: moderate votes pass bills. A majority of votes, not bipartisan support, guarantees the power to actually enact laws and hold federal agencies accountable for faithfully executing them, so as the biofuel industry prepares for imminent policy battles now and certainly in 2022, we need to drastically expand our outreach and build political capital with moderate congressional representatives. The biofuel industry must tailor motivating messages to otherwise ambivalent lawmakers to demonstrate the definitive fiscal and environmental capabilities of ethanol, biodiesel, and green synthetic hydrocarbons.

We deeply appreciate pro-biofuel legislators and the indispensable role they play in advocating for bio-based energy at the federal level, but as an industry, we should also realize that we hold the power to re-build moderate support and change the dynamics in Washington so that, in the future, perhaps more than 24 of 435 representatives will join the House Biofuels Caucus and more than 13 of 100 Senators will be willing to pen their names on a letter demanding due justice for RVOs.

IV. Transform from a Proxy to Principal Interest

The relentless legislative guardianship of ethanol and biodiesel by representatives from certain agricultural regions is a testament to fortitude, but this decades-old rapport has also sparked a dangerous undercurrent of presumption infiltrating the biofuels industry’s approach to long-term advocacy on The Hill. Biofuel and agricultural policy goals have been synonymous for so many years that we have become over-confident in the permanency of this alliance to the point of dependency, so now is the time to recognize and react to the reality that biofuels are nothing more than a proxy interest for our most reliable proponents.  In truth, lawmakers from the Corn Belt defend the Renewable Fuel Standard program because it embodies a financial, regulatory, and bureaucratic structure which empowers agricultural and rural areas; however, if the RFS were to collapse or if its benefits for corn and soy were to become tethered to another policy arrangement, the demise of biofuels would be lamented as simply collateral damage.

Certainly, the market volatility from such a drastic uncoupling would result in serious consequences for all involved parties, but once the dust finally settled, Big Ag would assuredly inherit a new governmental support system to ensure the prominence of U.S. crops in global markets and companies like Monsanto and Cargill would again receive their subsidies, all without a drop of biofuels needed.  Our industry cannot survive today’s hostile political climate while remaining a means to an end for the agricultural sector.

To attract the interest of legislators from all fifty states, we must revamp the reputation of biofuels as a profitable, self-sufficient enterprise with significant applications to those main issues concerning all voters—energy security, military strength, ecological resilience, and domestic job growth.

V. Strengthen Alliances with Familiar Enemies

The excessive number of EPA “hardship” waivers awarded to refiners this year further drove a wedge between conventional and renewable fuel providers, but now more than ever, it is important to remember that we share a pivotal interest with the petroleum industry: biofuels. Oil organizations have waged siege on bioenergy for decades, spending hundreds of millions of dollars to deny climate change and discredit the benefits of alternatives, yet amidst the lobbying and the exploitation of regulatory loopholes and the irritatingly-friendly ties with administrators, corporations including Shell and BP are also proudly boasting of their advanced biofuels investments while ExxonMobil endlessly runs television ads promoting their algae research.

Make no mistake, this paradox is not some nefarious ploy of simple “greenwashing” by firms otherwise disliked by the general public; this is a sincere and effective tactic to generate political capital by convincing citizens that this industry is pro-actively working on their behalf to ensure abundant supplies of cleaner, cheaper energy that will provide this nation with unlimited growth, wealth, and stability.  The candor behind these claims is irrelevant (though, the intention is indisputably authentic given the potential profitability), but the political power secured by petroleum companies understood to be safeguarding the “American way of life” is immeasurable.

The biofuels industry has too long been paralyzed with uncertainty in how to respond to the contradictions behind those serene stock images of floating green orbs, but since Big Oil has already made us a pawn in their political aspirations, we should embrace our role and move forwards, never backwards, towards a more lucrative relationship than enmity. There are untold advantages possible from a diplomatic alliance with the petroleum industry—heightened awareness of biofuel achievements, enhanced R&D opportunities, increased legitimacy of advanced renewables integrating into existing infrastructure, elevated political sway with mitigated public attacks—and if we approach this opportunity for accord with strategic pragmatism, fossil fuel entities will either acknowledge the mutual gains of an entente or publicly reject our olive branch, thus undermining their main, massive campaign for winning public trust.

Of course, individual biofuel companies have struck partnerships with specific oil companies with mixed results, but to re-claim the political capital that is rightfully ours, the bio-based fuel industry as a whole must pursue a truce with the adversary who knows us best…or call them on their bluff while the world watches.

VI. Negotiate Long-term, Strategic Pathways and Goals

Political capital will be instrumental in overcoming the slings and arrows of an antagonistic executive branch, but to earn the trust of citizens and their chosen legislators, the biofuels industry must formulate and publicize a cohesive, definitive strategy delineating our long-term and inclusive goals.  Farm bill programs, tax credits, blending quotas, and year-round E15 are critical discussions with respect to the immediate welfare of our business, but even collectively, these factors can neither save this industry from societal condemnation nor provide it with the concrete objectives towards which to strive for permanent success.  As a united coalition, we need an overarching purpose and plan to guide our actions, now and far beyond 2022, and efforts to preserve the status quo or merely increase outputs only undermines the real strength and dynamism of this sector.  Simply put, ‘survival’ and ‘profitability’ are the preconditions for an industry, not actual strategies for growth and progress, so we cannot instill confidence in society with respect to our ability to shape the future if we have no tangible ambitions and benchmarks along the way.

Negotiating a truly encompassing agenda will prove challenging as there is a propensity to buttress the expectations and interests of corn ethanol at the expense of emerging, under-developed facets of bio-based fuel production, but since these promising and contemporary divisions within our ranks command the most attention and intrigue in the public eye, our long-term goals must equally represent both the first and the third generation of biofuels.

VII. Build Political Capital for Specialized Industrial Sectors

A coalition of visionaries, lobbyists, and interest groups from the corn and soy industries worked relentlessly for decades to establish a powerful presence in Washington, D.C. on behalf on biomass and biofuel producers across the country and, in effect, also paved the way for assorted feedstocks, products, and production methods to find success in the contemporary bioeconomy.  Today, leaders representing conventional biofuels continue to spearhead the vast majority of the public and regulatory affairs for our entire industry, but it is past time for emerging sectors to become political victors in their own right.  To inspire public support as well as fruitful policy provisions, these segments of the biofuels industry must stop riding the legislative coattails of corn ethanol and prove themselves as both independently viable and valuable to the energy future of this country.

Since political capital is more effectively wielded with a scalpel than a claymore, each specialized faction of bio-based fuels, from cellulosic ethanol to waste-derived SAF, requires meticulous messaging and a customized outreach strategy to successfully build real connections with citizens and lawmakers. Posh industrial meetings, symbolic memberships to sustainable roundtables, and inter-agency MOUs are small steps towards political engagement but ones that neither interact with the public at large nor build their confidence in our abilities to forever revolutionize renewables.  A focus on R&D and commercialization is always touted as the paramount concern of nascent biofuels divisions, but for groups claiming to embody vital, reliable contributions for the next surge of domestic energy supplies, it is no longer sufficient to simply hope that a sweeping biofuels reform will be advantageously inclusive. After all, a rising tide may lift all boats, but those which do not embark on their own journey will be anchored to the same spot when favorable conditions ebb once more.

Final Thoughts

Securing the public’s trust is a difficult and urgent goal for the biofuels industry, and while such an endeavor demands long-term investments, patience, and a combination of socially-minded strategies, we can no longer tiptoe around the bad reputation and suspicions that have been heaped upon us.  Naturally, these prescriptions for exerting change are much easier said than done—but they must be done, nonetheless, for our industry to possess self-sustaining power in markets and policies.  Political capital represents the first line of defense against misleading propaganda and the last hurdle to unlocking untold opportunities across the socio-economic, policy, and environmental spectra.  The task of engaging the public’s trust in our industry as a progressive pathway towards a new norm of green energy independence cannot be relegated to those overburdened yet indomitable biofuels interest groups already promoting us in the public sphere; true success in building political capital will require an industry-wide shift in priorities.  As a multifaceted yet united coalition of bio-based fuels, we can return to controlling our outreach and education platforms, demonstrating the superiority of our innovations, and garnering widespread support instead of perpetually dodging falsehoods and relying on help from a handful of elected legislators regularly branded by their own constituents as paid mercenaries for moneyed interests.  Over the last decade, the gambit of misère kept biofuels in the political game, but now that the stakes have been raised in Washington, we must accordingly shuffle the cards and start anew.

About the author:

Bloxom is a political scientist with fourteen years of combined professional and research experience specific to biofuel policies and technology, the politics of innovation, and natural resource management. With practical training in both the domestic and international arenas, Bloxom executed strategic public outreach in the private sector as well as for interest groups including ACORE in addition to a stint in academia teaching bioenergy policy graduate courses and publishing on renewables-based economic development in U.S. cities. As the first political scientist admitted to Colorado State University’s NSF-funded IGERT bioenergy program, Bloxom pursued an interdisciplinary Ph.D. by utilizing a scientific emphasis to study the viability of sustainable aviation fuel in conjunction with the intrinsic policy foundations of this emerging global production network.

Categories: Today's News

Solar fuels come nearer: Direct-from-air CO2 capture cost drops below $100/ton threshold

Biofuels Digest - Thu, 06/07/2018 - 10:50am

A technology for direct air capture of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, with a cost that “fully burdened with interest on capital, ranges from 94 to 232 $/t-CO2 depending on financial assumptions, energy prices, and the specific choice of inputs and outputs,” was the subject of a dense, highly detailed paper published today in a newish energy journal, Joule.

Direct Air Capture is no small thing. The problem with CO2 concentration is that it is too high to support a cool climate, but too low to be easily Hoovered from the sky. The concentration we are worried over is 400ppm, that’s 400 parts per million. That means you have to capture 2500 tons of air for every ton of carbon dioxide — and right there, that’s the reason we have left the job of capturing carbon to plants — not industrial plants, just the garden kind. Flowers work for low wages. 

As has been the case with many advanced biotechnologies, they work, but they cost more than gasoline, and the public doesn’t support higher costs for long, if ever.

It’s a controversy over cost that, in some respects, has been dogging DAC all along. As Carbon Engineering’s David Keith explained to the Digest:

“DAC was born in academic controversy. Early advocates suggested costs could be very low. In reaction to that over-optimism, Rob Socolow led the American Physical Society (APS) in a formal study of DAC that concluded costs were over 600 $/t-CO2 and essentially dismissed the idea. In the years since the APS report, there have been many DAC policy analyses and papers on the chemistry and physics of specific absorbers, but no substantive papers have provided a techno-economic analysis of a complete system.”

The detail is now out there for due diligence wolfpacks to chew on. Prior to this, no paper we’ve seen for direct air capture has had all its major components drawn from well-established commercial engineering heritage, or been described in sufficient detail to allow assessment by third parties.

So, from a cost and detail POV, we may find ourselves at a watershed moment that matters greatly to supporters of algae technology, solar fuels (made from CO2, sunlight and water), electrofuels (made from CO2, water and renewable electricity), or those in favor of scrubbing the atmosphere of enough of this pesky CO2 to reduce the impact of climate change.

Costs have been all over the map, but more and more serious players have emerged

Cost estimates based on simple scaling relationships yield results from 50 to 1,000 $/tCO2. Yet as Keith told The Digest, both “Carbon Engineering, which I founded in 2009, and Climeworks have both build ton-per-day pilot plants, both have grown to over 40 employees, and have attracted considerable press. And we also profiled work by Antecy, here, that focuses on a robust non-amine inorganic solid sorbent, which has several advantages in terms of higher stability, and no environmental risks such as from potentially toxic amine degradation and emissions.

But we’ve been in a certain amount of limbo on costs, and feasibility flowing from that, because of the lack of peer-reviewed data. Some time ago, the US Department of Energy stepped in with financial support, with a contract to perform a techno-economic assessment and publish it in a peer-reviewed journal.

So, why the big drop in cost from $550 per ton to $94?

As the authors explain:

The cost discrepancy is primarily driven by divergent design choices rather than by differences in methods for estimating performance and cost of a given design. Our own estimates of energy and capital cost for the APS design roughly match the APS values. The most important design choices involved the contactor including (1) use of vertically oriented counterflow packed towers, (2) use of Na+ rather than K+ as the cation which reduces mass transfer rates by about one-third, and (3) use of steel packings which have larger pressure drop per unit surface area than the packing we chose and which cost 1,700 $/m3, whereas the PVC tower packings we use cost less than 250 $/m3.

The technology background

As the paper’s authors explained, “Plausible DAC processes use solid sorbents or aqueous basic solutions as the capture media. Solid sorbents offer the possibility of low energy input, low operating costs, and applicability across a wide range of scales. The challenges of solid sorbent designs are first, the need to build a very large structure at low cost while allowing the entire structure to be periodically sealed from the ambient air during the regeneration step when temperature, pressure, or humidity must be cycled. And second, the inherently conflicting demands of high sorbent performance, low cost, and long economic life in impure ambient air.”

The big application: solar fuels

As Keith explained to The Digest, “beyond carbon removal, DAC can be used to make carbon-neutral hydrocarbon transportation fuels, a concept we call “air to fuels”. This is Carbon Engineering’s near-term business focus. We use DAC as a source of atmospheric CO2 to enable carbon-free renewable power to be converted into high energy-density fuels. Solar fuels, for example, may be produced at high-insolation low-cost locations from DAC-CO2 and electrolytic hydrogen using gas-to-liquids technology. This allows displacement of fossil fuels from difficult-to-electrify sectors such as aviation. When integrated into an air-to-fuels process the cost of DAC can be less than 100 $/t-CO2—a price point that enables commercial production of synthetic fuels in today’s low-carbon fuel markets. We have demonstrated the compete air-to-fuels process at our pilot plant.”

The whyfore of solar fuels vs electric cars

With every technological advance, we have to visit the Department of the Painful Tradeoffs and Uncertain Unwanted Consequences. After all, someone thought DDTs were a good idea, and chlorofluorocarbons were a solution to a refrigeration problem before they landed us in ozone hell.

On the negative side, the conversion efficiency — a lot of potential energy is lost or expended in the conversion to fuels.

But there are some avoided negatives, too. For example, the difficulties and costs of changing to mass-scale battery electrical vehicles, the infrastructure cost. Plus, batteries have inefficiency problems too. It has been claimed elsewhere — and Michael Tamor, a Henry Ford Technical Fellow at Ford, ruminated on this topic at a recent DOE Bioeconomy event in Washington — that at least double our current electrical power capacity will be required to be able to charge all battery electrical vehicles. Also the recycling of batteries and its LCA effects remains an issue.

In the end, here’s the great advantage, and it’s infrastructure. With batteries, you have to rebuild the fleet, rebuild the energy delivery system, and rebuild the grid. Fail in any of those and you’ve failed to change the carbon picture. Each of them is massive — together, it’s the biggest industrial transformation ever attempted.

With liquid fuels, you have just the one transition, and that’s the replacement of the energy supply, so long as drop-ins are used. And there’s gradualism — there’s a transition to better energy supply today — and possibly to fuel cells down the line where you get electric motor efficiencies added to the mix.

The CO2 capture backstory

As the paper’s authors explain, “The capture of CO2 from ambient air was commercialized in the 1950s as a pre-treatment for cryogenic air separation. In the 1960s, capture of CO2 from air was considered as a feedstock for production of hydrocarbon fuels using mobile nuclear power plants. In the 1990s, Klaus Lackner explored the large-scale capture of CO2 as a tool for managing climate risk, now commonly referred to as direct air capture (DAC).”

More recently, we profiled that Climeworks opened its first small commercial plant near Zurich, and will capture around 900 tons of CO2 per year. A great step but a tiny one — it would take 25 million of these to capture the world’s annual CO2 emissions, the inventors say.

And here, the Carbon Engineering team demonstrated “Air to Fuels” by directly synthesizing a mixture of gasoline and diesel using only CO2 captured from the air and hydrogen split from water with clean electricity.

The Bottom Line

It’s a watershed event to have a claim out there backed with 12,000 words of peer-reviewed detail. The Due Diligence wolves now have much to chew on, and we’ll be reporting on their response, as well as efforts by Carbon Engineering, Climeworks, Antecy and others to advance the science to commercially-viable costs.

Categories: Today's News

Higher yields, faster fermentation, reduced energy: The Digest’s 2018 Multi-Slide Guide to DuPont Industrial Biosciences’ XCELIS platform

Biofuels Digest - Thu, 06/07/2018 - 10:40am

Building off the recent launch of its fuel ethanol platform DuPont XCELIS, DuPont Industrial Biosciences unveiled the first three products from the innovation hub – designed to increase yields, speed fermentation and reduce energy and chemical consumption. These are:

DuPont SYNERXIA THRIVE GX, Next Generation in Yeast for the Fuel Alcohol Industry; DuPont DISTILLASE DXT, Advanced Glucoamylase Blend; and DuPont OPTIMASH AX, Xylanase for Enhanced Liquefaction.

What exactly are these innovations, and what do they accomplish? This slide deck offers an illuminating guide to the technology platform’s promise and progress.

Categories: Today's News

Community Fuels first to offer Californians NOx-neutral biodiesel

Biofuels Digest - Wed, 06/06/2018 - 7:03pm

In California, Community Fuels is the first biodiesel marketer within the state to offer NOx-neutral biodiesel using the new Best Corp. BC-EC1c additive. Under the California Alternative Diesel Fuel regulation, biodiesel use is subject to seasonal blend limits unless it meets certain requirements. ADF compliance is a critical consideration for anyone producing, importing or selling biodiesel blends within California.

“The various exemptions, seasonal blend limits and other options under the ADF regulation are complex and difficult for fleets and diesel retailers to manage,” said Lisa Mortenson, CEO of Community Fuels. “We knew that we needed a better solution. We sought a safe and cost-effective NOx additive that would be consistent with our high fuel quality objectives and could be applied to our entire biodiesel terminal operations. After evaluating many options, we selected Best Corp. because they were the best solution for our customers.”

Steven Sabillon, lab manager for Community Fuels, said, “We had the opportunity to test the additive in advance of the CARB approval to ensure that the additive would not have adverse effects on the biodiesel fuel quality. Based upon our testing results, we are confident that the Best additive will maintain, and possibly improve, the biodiesel fuel quality.”

Categories: Today's News

DuPont releases three new products from innovation hub to boost biorefinery efficiencies

Biofuels Digest - Wed, 06/06/2018 - 7:02pm

In Delaware, building off the recent launch of its fuel ethanol platform DuPont XCELIS, DuPont Industrial Biosciences unveiled the first three products from the innovation hub – designed to increase yields, speed fermentation and reduce energy and chemical consumption:

  • • DuPont SYNERXIA® THRIVE GX: Next Generation in Yeast for the Fuel Alcohol Industry
  • • DuPont DISTILLASE® DXT: Advanced Glucoamylase Blend
  • • DuPont OPTIMASH® AX: Xylanase for Enhanced Liquefaction

The new XCELIS platform also will feature an online partner community for the industry, GRAIN CHANGERS. This online community and innovative product offerings represent a new age for DuPont’s XCELIS biorefinery team. By improving performance, efficiency and fuel ethanol yields – and working hand-in-hand with customers – XCELIS helps ethanol producers reach their goals with new products, tools and technologies.

Categories: Today's News

Shell to help Philippine coconut farmers boost yields

Biofuels Digest - Wed, 06/06/2018 - 7:01pm

In the Philippines, the local Shell arm through its foundation will support 150 coconut farmers to boost yields, positively impacting local livelihoods while also increasing supplies of coconut-based biodiesel. Shell is the main buyer of raw materials for producing coconut biodiesel. It has determined that half of coconut farmers rely solely on coconut farming for revenue and most of those are operating below a minimum wage during harvest periods. Activities will include creation of a farmers cooperative as well as agricultural and handicrafts training.

Categories: Today's News

Six European countries ask ICAO to not back down from aviation emissions goals

Biofuels Digest - Wed, 06/06/2018 - 7:00pm

In Belgium, Reuters reports that France, Norway, Finland, Belgium, Austria and the Netherlands are concerned about potential weakening of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s 2016 agreement seeking to cap airline emissions at 2020 levels. Aviation biofuel has been seen as a key way of achieving those goals and a weakening of the mandate could also weaken drivers for investment in those fuels. The six countries wrote a letter to ICAO ahead of next week’s meeting that will look to reach a compromise among member states who are concerned the targets are unrealistic.

Categories: Today's News

Shree Renuka to invest in ethanol production from sugarcane juice

Biofuels Digest - Wed, 06/06/2018 - 6:58pm

In India, as the country’s largest supplier of ethanol to oil marketing companies, Shree Renuka Sugars plans to boost its ethanol production using cane juice now that the government has deregulated the sector and will allow production from feedstocks other than molasses. The move follows Wilmar’s recent move taking over management of the company. It is also banking on OMCs increasing the price paid for ethanol. The company crushes 8.4 million metric tons of sugarcane per year at its seven mills in India.

Categories: Today's News

Consumers ask Cyprus to not use irrigated feedstocks for biofuels

Biofuels Digest - Wed, 06/06/2018 - 6:58pm

In Cyprus, the national consumers association has written to the House Energy Committee asking that potatoes and other potential feedstocks requiring irrigation not be allowed for biofuel production due to water scarcity on the island. Instead, the association suggested feedstocks such as bushes and trees. They’re also calling on the committee to use science-based policymaking, suggesting that thus far biofuel policymaking hasn’t taken science into consideration. Only two small biodiesel plants currently operate in the country, producing a total of 6,000 metric tons per year.

Categories: Today's News


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