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DOE awards $6.5 million in ARPA-E funding to bioenergy projects

Biofuels Digest - Thu, 11/22/2018 - 5:33pm

In Washington, the U.S. Department of Energy announced $98 million in funding for 40 new projects as part of OPEN 2018, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy’s (ARPA‑E) latest open funding opportunity. These funds will support some of America’s top energy innovators’ R&D projects as they seek to develop technologies to transform the nation’s energy system.

OPEN solicitations are an open call to scientists and engineers for transformational technologies across the entire scope of ARPA-E’s energy mission. The selected OPEN 2018 projects are in 21 states and fall into 9 technical categories, including transportation, electricity generation and delivery and energy efficiency. Of those selected, approximately 43% of OPEN 2018 projects will be led by universities, 35% by small businesses, and the remainder by large businesses, non-profit organizations or federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs).

Included in the winners were the following bioeconomy projects:

Kampachi Farms, LLC –Kona, HI

KRUMBS–Kyphosid Ruminant Microbial Bioconversion of Seaweeds


Kampachi Farms will develop a new, highly efficient process for the conversion of marine macroalgae seaweeds into a variety of bioproducts, including biofuels. The team will work with its partners to isolate, optimize and deploy microbial consortia and individual microorganisms capable of rapidly digesting macroalgal biomass in a highly scalable way. The technology is intended to leverage domestic marine biomass resources to reduce the need for imported energy and significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions relative to traditional petroleum derived fuels and products.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory –Berkeley, CA

Metal-Supported SOFCS for Ethanol-Fueled Vehicles


Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is developing a metal-supported solid oxide fuel cell (MS-SOFC) stack that produces electricity from an ethanol-water blend at high efficiency to enable light-duty hybrid passenger vehicles. Current LBNL MS-SOFCs can heat up from room temperature to their ~700°C operating temperature in seconds without thermal expansion cracking and tolerate rapid temperature changes during operation,and are mechanically rugged. However, they currently operate using ethanol fuel, converted into hydrogen and carbon monoxide prior to entering the fuel cell in a process called reforming. The team will adapt these MS-SOFCs to handle liquid ethanol-water fuel directly, while maintaining their high performance and durability, and will tackle challenges around assembly of cells into stacks to increase power output.

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Congressmen propose bill that would drop RFS and focus on octane instead

Biofuels Digest - Thu, 11/22/2018 - 5:32pm

In Washington, Congressman John Shimkus (Illinois-15) and Congressman Bill Flores (Texas-17) released a discussion draft of the 21st Century Transportation Fuels Act.

 “I’ve been engaged in the biofuel debate my entire career in Congress,” said Shimkus, whose district includes significant corn and soybean producers as well as major ethanol and oil refiners. “In this Congress – through three stakeholder roundtables, five subcommittee hearings, and countless other meetings and conversations – my goal was to look beyond just the Renewable Fuel Standard to comprehensively reshape federal transportation fuel policies in a way that could provide more value to consumers and more certainty to industry stakeholders.”

“Much has changed in the markets for vehicles and fuels since the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) was established in 2005, and subsequently expanded in 2007. We have learned from robust stakeholder input through hearings, roundtables and meetings, that higher octane fuels can bring increased fuel economy and performance for next generation engines. Since ethanol is one of the lowest-cost sources of octane in many areas of the country, a transition from the RFS beginning in 2023 to a national octane specification creates new market opportunities for biofuel producers and gives certainty to refining stakeholders. Most importantly, the draft legislation preserves consumer choice and optimum fuel and vehicle costs for more efficient transportation for future decades,” Flores commented.

“The draft legislation we are sharing today enables a transition to 21st century vehicle drivetrains by bringing together both new ideas and technologies as well as long-sought reforms to existing policies,” the congressmen added. “This sets the stage to modernize federal polices and deliver a new generation of more efficient and cost-effective vehicles and engines and fuels for American consumers. We appreciate the stakeholders who have engaged in this effort and look forward to continuing to improve upon the policies and legislative language we’ve put forward for consideration and discussion.”

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Financing a Biomass Project When Commercializing New Technology

Biofuels Digest - Thu, 11/22/2018 - 5:06pm

By Glenn Farris, Member of Lee Enterprises Consulting, Inc.
Special to The Digest

If you are planning to develop, or are already developing, a biomass to energy project involving the commercialization of new technology, you have a tough job in front of you. Financing a biomass-to-energy project is never easy, especially when commercialization of new technology is involved. Unless your company has a large and healthy balance sheet or enough cash to self-finance the project, in which case a lot of this article will not apply, you will be looking for financing. This can take many forms and may involve a search for both equity and debt. Depending on the project’s Technology Readiness Level, see CJ Evan’s series of articles on government funding.

This article explores through the eyes of your potential lenders or investors what they will be looking for in the due diligence process. If you are properly prepared, and understand your tasks, it can at least be made a little easier. We are making one obvious assumption: that the projections of profitability in your proforma are solid and fact-based, i.e., there is enough engineering for a qualified EPC contractor to estimate a price for construction. You also will have solid contracts and facts behind the estimated feedstock pricing and there are contracts for the offtake of whatever product you are producing. See Lawrence Bauer’s article in this series on technical due diligence for related guidelines and also Jess Hewitt’s article on off-take agreements.

Both equity investors and lenders will want to see the same thing; therefore, we will use the term investor for both. Additionally, investors seek a return commensurate with the risk they perceive. If you can prepare for and mitigate the risks of the project in the development stages, you will move much more quickly through the process towards a financial close.

The financing for which you are aiming can take many forms. You might be looking for a US Department of Energy or Department of Agriculture loan guarantee. I have seen biomass energy projects be a part of a municipal bond financing or a corporate bond offering. You might sell limited partnerships. This is all incidental because the underwriting processes, no matter what the financial avenue, will be pretty much identical. It is always about verifiable documentation for every part and phase of the project.

There are essentially four key components of a biomass project; the feedstock supply chain, the new technology you are commercializing, balance of plant and the off-take plans. The investor will have no problems with balance of plant. The balance of plant is well understood and involves off-the-shelf equipment. It could be power generating equipment like steam or gas turbines, bag houses for particulate matter control or fermenting columns. This equipment will have a low threshold of technical understanding and the off-take structure is straightforward. However, it is not so with the biomass supply chain and the new technology.

For each component of the project, you must be able to address the following:

  • Define the risks in each part of the project and make sure your team has the expertise to define not only what could happen but the likelihood that it will happen;
  • Specifically identify how you plan to mitigate the risks;
  • Identify the consequences associated with the risk;
  • Identify any monetary damage that could be associated with the risk.

You should be specific with your risk mitigation plans.

It is always advisable to get out front when addressing these risks because it shows you are on top of the project and understand what is at stake. If you have not addressed the risk associated with each part of your project, the investor will read this as real weakness with your development team. Figure 1 is a rendering of a project planned in Florida and Table 1 is the risk matrix for just the environmental permits necessary for this development.

Almost all major projects using biomass in an energy conversion scenario will require one or more federal permits. This will trigger a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) study. The most significant risk associated with a NEPA is if a FONSI (finding of no significant impact) is not issued and a full EIS (environmental impact statement) is required, there will be a significant negative effect on the timeline and budget.

Additionally, for this type of project, an investor will expect to see a similar table for the PPA (purchase power agreement), LGIA (large generator interconnection agreement), feedstock supply agreements, the site itself and other site agreements (easements and right-of-ways), other contracts (partnership agreements, fuel supply agreements, tax agreements, etc.), O&M and Commissioning, engineering and EPC, insurance, and financing. On the positive side, this evaluation can be performed while the project is being developed and can be a very positive experience. It will show that you are firmly in control of the project and truly appreciate what an investor needs to know. This effort will help develop stronger team members, especially those that are newer to project development and financing.

Two project areas require further discussion; feedstock supply and technology commercialization risk. This is where most projects using biomass and new technology get sidetracked, bogged down, and cause them to never get funded or built.

New technology risk can be the easier to successfully underwrite, depending on several factors. Several issues must be addressed. The most significant concerns the novelty of the technology – the more “black box”, the more carefully the technology must be explained: is it based upon similar methods used with other products? For example, when the concept of cellulosic ethanol first appeared, fermenting to produce alcohol was well understood and therefore represented low technical risk. The part that was new involved the new enzymes and microbes that had to be developed to release the sugars from these novel materials for fermenting. However, verifiable and repeatable data can be studied, and the case made for the successful use of these materials to produce ethanol. This technical underwriting was not easy but easier than other technology scale-up such as gasification.

Early in its life, gasification of biomass required multiple engineering studies. It had to be shown to operate for significant hours at demonstration scale. If you were trying to scale up greater than few times to one this was also seen as an exorbitant risk. From time to time, insurance companies were willing to underwrite a technology performance guarantee for this type of technology. However, this is not always a dependable avenue for risk mitigation.

The last major part of the puzzle is your feedstock and the supporting supply chain. For the most part there is no existing commodities market or logistics system that supports the biomass to energy sector.

The exception to this is the corn grain market, which was able to provide for the very rapid growth in the starch or grain ethanol business. When this business grew from 1 billion gallons in 2001 to just over 10 billion in 2010 there was a complete support system for the raw material, corn. We knew how to grow it, store it, dry it and if you needed to buy a million bushels there was a market where you could go to buy it. You could argue that there is a better general understanding for projects that use woody biomass due to the long history of the forest products industry and this is true. Unfortunately, this is not the case with ag residues and purpose-grown crops like miscanthus or switchgrass. Yet this is many times the largest expense and risk to the project; the feedstock cost may be a greater proforma cost line item than debt service or labor.

Historically, the supply chain and handling system for feedstock is where biomass projects fail. The lack of a large-scale logistics system for the supply chain has been a drag on the growth of this industry.

Most of these materials are in the hands of individual farm or timber owners. There are very few bankers or financing underwriters with experience or expertise to underwrite this risk. The plan for this part of the project must be air tight.

You very possibly will have hundreds of individual contracts to manage; there must be a collection system with a packaging plan in place with dozens of seasonal employees; potentially dozens of storage sites; a trucking operation that will involve thousands of trips; and very few companies or individuals with any experience to call upon for help that have actually successfully performed or managed such a logistics system at commercial scale.

Your plan must address oversupply as well as undersupply. On a positive note, there is work being done and information available about current best practices to let you know how to achieve a high quality and sustainable feedstock supply for your project. The consultants at Lee Enterprises Consulting can provide that expertise.

The problems associated with the handling of the feedstock materials once they get inside the project fence are also not yet well understood. The good news is that there are many R&D projects by USDOE, USDA and private industry groups that are making strides in identifying and closing these gaps.

Finally, you need a contingency plan to address the unforeseen circumstances that happen in every project that aren’t in the plan. Financing a biomass to energy project is difficult but doable for those of you that pay attention to the details, think like an investor and are creative, innovative problem solvers.

About the author

Glenn Farris, Principal of Farris Advisory Services, is a member of Lee Enterprises Consulting, the world’s premier bioeconomy consulting group, with more than 100 consultants and experts worldwide who collaborate on interdisciplinary projects, including the types discussed in this article. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and do not necessarily express the views of Lee Enterprises Consulting.

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Ethanol production falls 25,000 b/d as peripheral production begins to shut down

Biofuels Digest - Wed, 11/21/2018 - 5:39pm

In Washington, Platts reports that ethanol production fell by 25,000 b/d last week to 1.042 million b/d, down around 3% on the year, according to data from the Energy Information Administration. Thin and even negative margins are the likely driver for cutting production with plants outside the Corn Belt already beginning to shut down. The market is waiting for plants within the key production area to shut down as well, which would then demonstrate the start to a shift in the direction of the market.

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Invest Nebraska invests in White Dog Labs whose technology can be co-located with ethanol plants

Biofuels Digest - Wed, 11/21/2018 - 5:37pm

In Nebraska, Invest Nebraska added to its growing portfolio of high-growth companies with an investment in White Dog Labs, a business focused on producing feed for the aquaculture industry. WDL has developed and scaled up ProTyton, a Single Cell Protein ingredient that exhibits upwards of 85wt% crude protein and over 40wt% essential amino acids. ProTyton fermentation, similar to that of ethanol, is a simple anaerobic process, thus allowing co-location with ethanol plants. First ProTyton production plant is to be co-located with Midwest Renewable Energy ethanol plant in Sutherland, NE.

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Poll says Europeans against palm oil but don’t know it’s in their tanks

Biofuels Digest - Wed, 11/21/2018 - 5:36pm

In Belgium, Transport & Environment says the vast majority of Europeans don’t know they’re putting palm oil in their tanks when filling up with diesel and are opposed to it. In a poll of 4,500 Europeans conducted in nine countries by Ipsos, 82% of citizens surveyed were not aware of the fact that diesel fuel has palm oil added to it. When asked whether they would support measures to end policy support and subsidies for palm oil in biodiesel in Europe, 69% of respondents said they would welcome the change, with only 14% against it and 16% with no opinion on the matter.

Italians and Hungarians express the strongest opposition to burning palm oil in cars and trucks (75%), followed by the French (71%), the British (69%) and the Poles (69%). The survey shows there is strong public support across Europe for the European Parliament and Member States decision to phase out the use of palm oil in diesel fuel. The EU Commission has until 1 February 2019 to publish a delegated act establishing the science-based criteria to execute the progressive elimination of palm oil in diesel.

Palm oil expansion to feed cars in Europe drives deforestation and peatland drainage in Southeast Asia. Biodiesel made from palm oil is three times worse for the climate than fossil diesel. Last year, 51% of the palm oil used in Europe ended up in the tanks of cars and trucks. This makes drivers the top (albeit unaware) consumers of palm oil in Europe.

An international coalition of environmental NGOs in Belgium (Fédération Inter-Environnement Wallonie), Brussels (Transport & Environment), France (Amis de la Terre and Canopeé), Germany (Deutsche Umwelthilfe and Nabu), Italy (Legambiente), Portugal (Zero), Spain (Ecologistas en Acción), Sweden (the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation) and the Netherlands (Milieudefensie/Friends of the Earth Netherlands) – and more are expected to join – today launched a campaign to urge the Commission to execute the phase-out of palm oil in diesel in a delegated act by February 1, 2019.

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Biodiesel-powered race boat takes third place in trans-Atlantic challenge

Biofuels Digest - Wed, 11/21/2018 - 5:35pm

In the UK, the Imerys Energy Challenge, centered on clean innovation and energy efficiency, is a self-sufficient, CO2-free energy production and storage system tested aboard the Class40 (12.19 meters long) race yacht in some of the world’s toughest offshore events. This week the vessel came in third place at the Route du Rhum transatlantic race from France to Guadalupe.

Improved renewable energy pack aboard Imerys Clean Energy showcase accessible clean-technologies using Imerys solutions:

– a new biodiesel using CynerSorb®, a product innovation created by Imerys that optimizes the biodiesel filtration cycle. Produced by Renewable Energy Group (REG), the largest US supplier of high-performance biofuels and an Imerys customer, this biodiesel replaces diesel fuel produced from fossil fuels,
– abrasives on the solar panels installed on the deck offer anti-slip properties and increase the durability of the panels, Imerys Clean Energy’s main source of renewable energy.

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Bonsucro’s first smallholder certification sells sugar to Corbion for PLA

Biofuels Digest - Wed, 11/21/2018 - 5:34pm

In Thailand, Saraburi Sugar Company has become the first mill to achieve certification against the Bonsucro Production Standard for Smallholder Farmers, following an audit by Cert-ID. The mill, which is found in Thailand’s Central Region, is part of Thai Roong Ruang Sugar Group (TRR Group). TRR Group is one of Thailand’s longest established sugar milling companies and remains a leading sugar manufacturer and exporter in Thailand. The group owns nine sugarcane mills and produces various sugars, molasses, ethanol and bio-electricity, as well as several confectionary products.

Corbion, another Bonsucro member, is one of the first businesses to snap up Bonsucro certified sugar from Saraburi mill via its joint venture with Total – ‘Total Corbion PLA’. The certified sugar set to be used to produce bio-based and biodegradable plastics through a lactic acid polymerisation process. The first delivery of sugar to Corbion was celebrated with teams from the mill, Corbion and Total Corbion PLA in October at the plant in Rayong, eastern Thailand.

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Cibus launches IPO to further develop its non-GM gene editing technology

Biofuels Digest - Wed, 11/21/2018 - 5:32pm

In California, Cibus Ltd announced it has publicly filed a registration statement on Form S-1 with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission relating to a proposed initial public offering of shares of Cibus common stock. The number of shares to be offered and the price range for the offering have not yet been determined. Cibus intends to list its common stock on the Nasdaq Global Market under the trading symbol “CBUS.”

Cibus is a biotechnology company using advanced technologies to develop desirable plant traits for the global seed industry by precisely editing a plant’s genes without the integration of foreign genetic material. This technique accelerates natural breeding that has been a staple of farming for thousands of years and has been classified in certain key agricultural markets as not subject to GMO regulation. Cibus has launched its first commercial canola product, Falco, and is developing a pipeline of beneficial traits in other crops that it plans to license, including healthier oil quality, disease resistance, and herbicide tolerance. Cibus has established crop platforms in canola, rice, flax, potato, and is now developing platforms in wheat, corn, soybean and peanut.

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Iranian researcher successfully develops biodiesel from chicken fat

Biofuels Digest - Wed, 11/21/2018 - 5:31pm

In Iran, a researcher from the Islamic Azad University of Bushehr Bushehr has determined that chicken fat is an appropriate feedstock for biodiesel production when it is going to be blended at high ratios of 75% or above or used as B100. The results of various production tests looked at varying levels of catalysts and methanol before ending up with the best performing mixture. The researcher warned the fuel was not apt for cold weather, however, due to pour point being larger than zero.

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Biodiesel tax extenders may not make in lame duck session but likely in 2019

Biofuels Digest - Wed, 11/21/2018 - 5:30pm

In Washington, Politico reports that there is a strong likelihood biodiesel tax credits could be made retroactive for 2018 and apply to 2019 with the new Congress when Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley takes over as the chair of the Senate finance committee. He is pushing for it as part of a tax extenders package during the lame duck session before Christmas, along with other tax breaks for renewables, but said he felt low gasoline prices and natural gas make tax breaks for renewable energy including biodiesel a tough sell.

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Tuna without the fish, Toyota’ ethanol hybrid, biodegradable microbeads, sky-cleaning walls, biobased FDCA, food waste bioplastics: The Digest’s Top 10 Innovations for the week of November 22nd

Biofuels Digest - Wed, 11/21/2018 - 11:55am

The pace of bioeconomy invention and change continues at a frenetic pace. Here are the top innovations for the week of November 22nd..

#1 Microbe-filled fibers lead to new biodegradable fabric

In New York, PrimaLoft, Inc. expanded its suite of biodegradable technologies with the introduction of PrimaLoft Bio Performance Fabric, the first 100% recycled, biodegradable synthetic fabric. The fabric joins the recently launched PrimaLoft Bio Insulation, also the first technology of its kind. PrimaLoft is targeting fall 2020 for consumer availability of both iterations of its biodegradable products.
Made from 100% post-consumer recycled material, PrimaLoft® Bio fibers break down when exposed to specific environments – such as a landfill or the ocean. PrimaLoft has enhanced the fibers to be more attractive to the naturally-occurring microbes found in these environments. The microbes eat away at the fibers at a faster rate, returning the fabric or insulation to natural elements.
Mike Joyce, president and CEO of PrimaLoft said, “We have not only been able to break the biodegradability code but, we’re really setting sustainability forward. It’s going to be very challenging to police the world but, what we can do is effect the properties of the fiber, so that it does no harm.”
More on the story, here.

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Virtual NGO making waves with online petition against palm oil in Europe

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 11/20/2018 - 5:24pm

In the UK, virtual NGO SumOfUs has gathered nearly 75,000 signatures on a digital petition demanding the European Commission to ban palm oil as part of the regulatory process that will see it publish a report on “high ILUC risk” feedstocks by February 1, 2019. Calling out deforestation of rainforests, killing orangutans and their habitat and pointing to lobbyists including those from Malaysia and Indonesia who are trying to keep trade of palm oil for biofuels open through 2030, the petition is part of the #notinmytank campaign.

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EPA approved a hardship waiver for Chevron’s oil Utah refinery earlier this year

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 11/20/2018 - 5:23pm

In Washington, Reuters reports that the Environmental Protection Agency approved a hardship waiver for Chevron’s oil refinery in Utah earlier this year, despite the fact that the company had a net income of $9.7 billion in 2017. The company applied for the waiver in 2017 as well. Chevron is the largest company to have so far been awarded a hardship waiver to avoid complying with RIN obligations under the Renewable Fuel Standard but other oil majors such as Marathon have also been awarded waivers.

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UK Committee on Climate Change publishes reports on land use and biomass

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 11/20/2018 - 5:22pm

In the UK, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) publishes two linked reports:

‘Land use: Reducing emissions and preparing for climate change’ finds that fundamental reform is required to ensure land becomes a more effective carbon store. The critical services we receive from the land; clean water, healthy soils, wildlife, timber and food, are threatened by a warming climate. Government can address these concerns, while ensuring sufficient food production for an increasing population and space for new homes.

‘Biomass in a low-carbon economy’ considers the role of biomass – wood, plants and organic waste – in the global strategy to tackle climate change. Biomass can play an important role in meeting the UK’s long-term (2050) emissions targets, and moving towards net-zero emissions, but only with stricter governance to ensure sustainable supplies. Current UK energy uses will need to change.

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Report shows relationship between pro-innovation policy frameworks and biotechnology

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 11/20/2018 - 5:21pm

In Washington, the fifth edition of the Building the Bioeconomy report shows the correlation between economies with pro-innovation policy frameworks and those achieving strong biotechnology outputs. By examining 28 different indicators, the report provides a full and detailed analysis of the biotechnology environment for 33 countries from all major regions of the world.

This data-driven report developed by Pugatch Consilium compares economies on over 20 policy inputs and biotech outputs showing how regulations effect success or failure in driving industry growth. Economies that have stronger environments with all enabling policy factors in place yield higher biotechnology outputs. Adopting a strong policy framework is key to reaping the economic and social benefit of this important industry.

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Indian mills sidelined in supplying ethanol because of new license requirements

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 11/20/2018 - 5:20pm

In India, the Economic Times reports that sugar mills in Maharashtra say it will take at least one year to be able to comply with PESO (petroleum and explosives safety organization) regulations in order to secure a license to produce ethanol because of required investments such as storage tanks. Without the license, mills won’t be able to supply the tender currently held by oil marketing companies seeking 3.13 billion liters of ethanol and as such sidelining them from an opportunity to bring themselves out of financial straits brought upon them by high government-mandated sugarcane prices.

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Fiberight now expects Maine plant to be ready in March, or May

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 11/20/2018 - 5:13pm

In Maine, already more than a year behind schedule and set to open in December, Fiberight now says it will complete its waste processing facility in March and could begin receiving waste from 100 communities around the state by April. If things go wrong and some equipment needs to be changed, the company’s CEO says the opening could be stretched until May but could already begin receiving some waste streams before then. A number of reasons from weather to legal challenges to changing markets were given for the continued delays.

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Israeli researchers create hydrochar from human waste

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 11/20/2018 - 5:12pm

In Israel, researchers at the Ben-Gurion University Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research have published a study in the Journal of Cleaner Production showing the use of hydrothermal carbonization to transform human waste into hydrochar for use as biofuel. A byproduct of the process is a liquid fertilizer for crops. The process sterilizes the waste, leaving it safe to handle. The researchers see the fuel as apt for household cooking and heating, used like standard coal.

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EPA looking to slash biofuel blending for 2022

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 11/20/2018 - 5:11pm

In Washington, Reuters reports that in the run up to negotiations for the next Renewable Fuel Standard following the current one that expires in 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency plans to publish in January proposed blending mandates for through 2022. Though sources said the agency had yet to settle on a number for 2022, it plans to announce volumes much lower than anticipated by legislation to reflect the current market. A “reset proposal” is expected to be finalized by the EPA by the end of November.

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