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Data surprise: Biofuels still beating electrics on cost, emissions

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 10/02/2017 - 12:44pm

Electrics are improving on emissions and cost, but not enough to make driving an electric car the smart choice for consumers looking to save time and reduce environmental impacts. According to a new analysis, biofuels still reign. If you’re driving an electric car, you’re driving the grid, and the grid isn’t all that green, yet.

Why the Surprise?

How is this possible? Didn’t this landmark study by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that, over a 15-year vehicle lifetime, a battery electric vehicle would reduce emissions by half compared to conventional gasoline-based vehicles. However, there are two myths buried in the assumptions in the survey.

MYTH #1: The only alternative to a battery (or other) electric vehicle is an all-gasoline based vehicle. That’s a false choice.

MYTH #2: Owners keep their shiny new cars for 15 years. They don’t.

The first two myths lead to MYTH #3: Battery electric vehicles are a better deal on economics and the environment. But let’s look at the hard data.

REALITY #1: The entire US almost without exception runs on 10 percent ethanol blends, not straight gasoline. And drivers have options to run on 50 percent, 85 percent, even 100 percent biofuels.

REALITY #2. Car owners keep their new cars for 6.5 years. This becomes important, because by all accounts electric vehicles are more cost, energy and emissions intensive in manufacture. It is only in the out years that they catch up even with gasoline-powered vehicles on emissions. Now, someone is going to mention that the average car is 11 years old. But that takes us to a second owner, a second capital purchase to amortize. And besides, 11 isn’t 15, speaking of years.

Reality and Emissions

Here’s the UCS chart.

Here’s the UCS study restated, based on the 89,300 miles that an average driver would chalk up in a vehicle over 6.5 years (the data source for car ownership is here, and mileage is here).

BTW, we’ve not cooked the books to present the most favorable case. We could have selected cellulosic fuel technology that offers 60% or higher emissions savings — or looked at the much higher mileage (and lower emissions) associated with biodiesel. Some cellulosic technologies offer negative emissions — they sequester more than they emit.

Reality and Cost

Here’s the bottom line on cost, based on the most recent MSRPs for three comparable cars (the hybrid Prius, the size-comparable Chevy Cruze and the battery electric vehicle Nissan Leaf).

On price, the lowest-cost option is a Cruze running on E85 conventional ethanol — which also reduces emissions compared to a Prius running on E10 fuel. And, the lowest emissions come from running a Chevy Cruze on cellulosic E85 ethanol. (Note, we’ve drawn the latest MSRPs from the manufacturers and the latest September fuel price data from e85prices.com).

The Bottom Line

Electrics represent an important technological shift. But we have a long way to go. Modernizing the grid, improving its emissions, and integrating it better with the transport sector is a good idea — we’ve run a lot of commentary on that topic. Here’s a good example.

For now, reality is far short of myth.

People buy electric vehicles, they tell us, for three main reasons. To save on cost, to reduce environmental impacts, and to be able to drive in an HOV lane (that’s this California survey).

For sure, driving an electric in California it will get you into the HOV lane and save you time — but that’s a policy benefit, not a benefit from the technology. On real emissions and on hard cost, drive a biofuels-powered vehicle and you’ll do better at the pump and for the sky.

Categories: Today's News

Biological solvers: The Digest’s 2017 Multi-Slide Guide to Novozymes

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 10/02/2017 - 9:50am

Novozymes is a world leader in biological solutions. Together with customers, partners and the global community, the company supplies innovations to the world’s leading companies across 40 markets. Our solutions improve the sustainability performance of our customers and partners — best known for industrial enzymes, the company is highly active also in agriculture, biomass conversion, ethanol production and more.

This week (as of October 1, 2017), the company entered a quiet period lasting through October 24th — here, though, we have this illuminating look at Novozymes’ first half results as a measure of the company’s progress and promise.

Categories: Today's News

Financing Bioeconomy Ventures: 6 – Pilot Plant Site Assessment and Validation of Experimental Data

Biofuels Digest - Sun, 10/01/2017 - 7:00pm

By Lorenz Bauer and Charles Loos, Lee Enterprises Consulting
Special to The Digest

Investing in new bio-economy technologies involves the inherent perils associated with building new plants and introducing new products into existing markets. However, one avoidable peril is basing decisions on poorly planned research and development programs. An outside evaluation of the experimental plan and validation of the data by skilled reviewers with commercial experience can reduce risks and increase the likelihood of success. The review should include a visit to the developer’s pilot plant, observation of key data collection steps and a thorough examination of the documentation and calculation methods.

Fact checking has become a common term in today’s news. In our experience, we have seen occasional examples of outright fraud. In one case, a sample that was collected under observation during the morning was surreptitiously switched during lunch in order to hide a contamination problem. Much more common are well-intentioned misinterpretations when developers lack the expertise to critically analyze their own work. This is one reason that a substantial number of projects end in financial failure under a cloud of legal proceedings.

Investment decisions are often based on experimental data provided by developers without much of a track record. Developers have a vested interest in presenting the most optimistic picture based on laboratory and pilot plant data. Proponents of a technology may take shortcuts in experimental design and data interpretation to reach critical milestones and obtain further funding. They may not understand the limitations of the data they provide.

One issue that arises is how to address the failure to recover 100% of materials from an experiment. This raises the question of where’s the leak? It is a common mistake to normalize data to 100%. This is not a sound engineering practice.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

A technical review should start with an understanding of the development plan including the critical path and research and experimental approaches. There needs be a clear statement of the tasks required including enough detail to determine the timing and likelihood of success. The developers should address technical obstacles and risks with likely mitigation strategies. Required infrastructure and staffing should be evaluated including identifying suppliers, partners and customers.

It is always prudent to stage investments and to monitor progress throughout the course of a project. Intermediate milestones with well-defined criteria for success will allow go-no decision gates that can minimize losses in case of difficulties.

An independent estimate of the costs of developing a technology can greatly increase the chances of achieving a target before funding becomes a problem. Such a review will also insure that the funding provided is being spent wisely and not being shifted to outside projects and interests.

Safety and Operability

Developers must understand the hazards associated with their work. Process health, safety and environmental aspects are critical. Developers need to meet all the permitting and safety requirements for both their pilot plants and potential products. Risk mitigation mechanisms should include both engineering solutions and financial solutions such as liability and business insurance. Expensive test facilities can be shut down over issues with waste disposal or a lawsuit stemming from an accident.

Experimental facilities are at the heart of development programs. The developer often has proof of principle data. However, a commercial process needs to operate continuously and it is important to review pilot plant design in light of adaptability to commercial-scale operation. Operability limitations of the equipment may also limit the pace of development work: a piece of equipment is not very useful if only operational a few days a month. It is important to assess how many experiments can be conducted in a reasonable time frame.

Data Analysis

Determining the quality of test data requires appropriate analytical methods. Proper data analysis can often cost more than actual operation of the pilot plant. Sampling methods, frequency and quality are often key determinants of data quality. Also, the methods used for subsequent analysis must provide sufficient information to monitor the process. Outside laboratories are often needed for some analysis, particularly regarding product quality. They can also provide independent validation of internal methods. An experienced reviewer can determine if the approach used by the developer is likely to yield sufficient information to evaluate the process.

Calculation methods need to be reviewed in detail. Ideally the reviewer is given access to both the raw data and calculations in order to identify key assumptions and any gaps in the experimental data. The material balance of the experiments needs to confirm conservation of mass. Are all missing materials considered to be light gases? Is the data adjusted to show 100% recovery?

There is a tendency to report the best data without showing contradictory results from similar experiments. A result that cannot be repeated is not valid. We know instances where plants have been licensed based on preliminary data which later turned out to be incorrect. Needless to say, this caused significant financial losses and damage to the proponent’s credibility.

Test Facility Location & Construction

Construction of a lab and/or pilot facility is an expensive step for proponents of new technologies. Yet the success of research and development depends on the ability to conduct relevant experiments in a timely fashion. Many pilot plants have failed to ever produce useful data due to a poor choice of location. Proponents must determine what utilities are available, and if significant site preparation is required. Are there limits on the amount and types of materials that can be stored? For example, the cost of a truckload of gas is much lower than purchasing smaller tanks. Are there potential issues with waste disposal? Is the site accessible to key staff so they can be available when needed? Involving an experienced facilities developer can insure that the process goes smoothly and that delays are minimized.

Visit the Plant

Nothing cuts to the truth faster than a visit to the pilot plant or test facility. Paradoxically, you may not know what you are looking for until you see it. At the site the test apparatus becomes tangible, three-dimensional, and open to all the senses. The investigator’s intuition and previous experience fully activate, triggering anything from confidence to that nagging feeling that “something isn’t right here.”

Intuition aside, the wise investigator pursues the following three objectives on a site visit:

Verify Conservation of Mass and Energy: regardless of the complexity or proprietary nature of the production process, mass and energy must be conserved. At the site, every single input and output to the black box process is visible. This includes obscure vents, drains and chemical feed lines. Make enough notes and sketches for a complete mass-balance analysis later. Mass in must equal mass out!

Energy balances are a bit more difficult, but do what you can to collect temperatures, phase states and the quality of the materials going in to and out of the process.

Atoms are also conserved and though the detailed chemistry of the process may be unclear, red flags should fly if the process seemingly creates or destroys atoms. Gather data about the chemical composition of the materials going in and out of the process, including those obscure vents and drains.

After visiting one pilot plant we couldn’t reconcile the mass balance, and the apparent creation of hydrogen atoms in the process. Our pointed questions to the proponent finally revealed they were secretly adding water to the process, which radically downgraded our confidence in both the process and the proponent.

Determine Who Holds the Knowledge: who holds the key knowledge of how the process works? Is there a single guru who keeps the secrets close? Or is the knowledge widely distributed among the proponent’s team members? The site visit is a chance to interview the team and find out. Insist on interviewing technicians, operators and engineers, in addition to managers. Ask open-ended questions. We consider these interviews just as important as the physical inspection of equipment.

If only one person truly understands the process, consider what happens if that guru becomes disabled, leaves the company, or makes unreasonable demands going forward. This happened in one case where the software developer for a robotic system left leaving the owner with hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of useless equipment accumulating interest expense.

Check Craftsmanship and Housekeeping: is the test apparatus clean, well-built and neatly finished? Or is it a duct-taped and wobbly contraption reminiscent of a middle-school science fair project? Is wiring neatly routed, tie-wrapped and labeled, or is the wiring a spaghetti-bowl horror?

Are the tool cribs and parts rooms neat and organized? Are the fire extinguishers and first aid kits up to date? When was the last time the instruments were calibrated? Nobody expects white-glove perfection in a test facility, but craftsmanship, cleanliness and organization speak volumes about the professionalism of the proponent’s team.

Conclusion

Visiting the pilot plant and validating experimental data are critical parts of evaluating a potential investment. Many engineering companies assign this work to young engineers with limited commercial experience. It is better to involve people with years of actual research, development and commercial experience with both successful and unsuccessful projects. An experienced evaluator can save substantial amounts of money in the long run.

The next article in this series addresses front end engineering design and loading evaluation as part of engineering design assessment.

About the Authors

Lorenz Bauer, Ph.D., is a chemist with over 30 years of experience in catalysis, oil refining, chemical production and biomass conversion. He is an independent consultant affiliated with Lee Enterprises Consulting. An inventor of 25 patents and author of over 20 publications, he is Six-sigma black belt trained in project management and analytics. Larry’s projects have ranged from food additives, off gas treatment, upgrading unconventional feeds and waste recycling. Most recently he worked on fast pyrolysis of biomass and upgrading products to fuels and chemicals.

Charles Loos, P.E. is a member of the Lee Enterprises Consulting. He has 35 years of experience in the power industry with skills in engineering, operations management, startup, project development and environmental permitting. He was responsible for the EPC contracting process at power development companies. Whether a wood-fired project in timberland, or an industrial cogeneration plant, he excels at judging the suitability of a proposed plant site, with due consideration for technical, operational and environmental factors.

Categories: Today's News

Financing Bioeconomy Ventures: Part 5, Competitive Technology & Market Assessment: IP & Patent Analysis

Biofuels Digest - Sat, 09/30/2017 - 3:18pm

By Terry Mazanec, Bob Kodrzycki, and Lorenz Bauer, Lee Enterprises Consulting

Special to The Digest

(Note: This is Part 5 of an 11-part series. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here. Part 4 is here.)

What are: Ali vs Frazier, Red Sox vs Yankees, and Gevo vs Butamax?

If you said what are the greatest rivalries in boxing, baseball, and bio-butanol you would be right. While it’s risky to step into the ring or on the diamond unprepared, it can be calamitous in an Intellectual Property (IP) dispute. At one point upstart Gevo was spending “30 to 40 percent or more” of their $38 million in yearly cash flow on the legal battle. The 5-year, 10-lawsuit dispute has been estimated to have cost each party upwards of $30 million. That’s enough to KO most startups and bleed even heavyweights like BP-DuPont JV Butamax enough to throw in the towel on a new technology. Happily, this fight ended amicably with Gevo and Butamax hugging in the center of the ring with a cross-license agreement to their respective patents.

This story illustrates the enormous value of patents to a company, as well as the possible costs of court battles. In the “bio” sectors of our economy in particular – whether it be fuels and chemicals, manufacturing and sensors, or health and pharma – the value of intellectual property is increasing. Safeguarding the initial investment as well as controlling expenses for product and market development requires the security offered by intellectual property protection, especially patents. Evaluating the risks and rewards of IP is as important as evaluating a company’s balance sheet. The level of sophistication in biotechnology and bio-based products is such that proper evaluation of IP involves at least as much analysis as evaluating financials, and the participation of technical experts.

What IP Means to Investors

In evaluating an investment opportunity in the Bioeconomy sector, intellectual property is a critical factor to consider in addition to the quality of the management team, robustness of the technology, and the market opportunity.

Many, if not the majority, of early stage companies do not have active sales as they are still in the technology development stage. Thus, establishing an intellectual property foundation can be critical to protecting ownership of the technology in the future. Especially for start-ups, intellectual property can account for 80 to 90 percent of a company’s valuation.

The time to start thinking about a strong intellectual property portfolio is at the beginning of the business. Delaying development and implementation of an effective intellectual property policy until one approaches potential funding sources is often too late. Investors need to understand whether intellectual property protection is in place, or at least applied for, before making an investment.

Investors should ask themselves several critical questions about IP:

  1. Does the company have clear ownership or license to use the technology?
  2. Is the IP exclusive or shared with another party?
  3. Is the IP owned by or assigned to the company rather than a founder?
  4. How many years of protection remain?
  5. How strong is the IP portfolio within the competitive landscape?
  6. Is the IP currently generating income through licensing?
  7. Is there a process in place to evaluate new inventions and protect them?
  8. Is IP protection available in chosen markets?
Types of Intellectual Property

Intellectual property includes four basic types: patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets. With our focus on technology for the bio-economy, we need only consider patents and trade secrets in this discussion. Please note that this article is not meant to be an exhaustive treatise on the types of intellectual property or the process to be followed in obtaining IP.

Briefly, a patent is a grant of rights to the patent owner, allowing them to exclude others from making, selling, or using an invention for a set period of time. Three types of patents are granted: utility, for a novel and useful invention; design, for new and original ornamental designs of an article of manufacture; and plant, for a new variety of asexually produced plant. In the US, utility and plant patents are granted for 20 years from the filing date while a design patent lasts 14 years. Utility patents are the most common type for inventions in the bio-economy space, although genetic engineering is rapidly increasing the number of plant patents.

While utility patents require public disclosure of the invention, the protection granted, essentially a 20-year monopoly on the technology or process, can be very valuable in establishing a market for a product and subsequent improvements. Patents can also generate income directly through licensing and can be of great value in highly competitive fields at the exit of an investment.

A trade secret is any type of business information that is intentionally kept private, like the formula for Coca-Cola, a customer list, or information subject to a non-disclosure agreement. Trade secrets require no filing fees, can be implemented immediately, and can last in perpetuity, as long as the secret can be kept. Some industries routinely choose to use trade secrets rather than patents to protect information, especially if the life cycle of a product is short, like a computer algorithm, where the cost of patent protection may not be justified due to the quick product replacement cycle.

The decision to patent or maintain an invention as a trade secret, or to make the information public, depends on the competitive situation. The likelihood that competitors could independently make the same discovery within a meaningful time frame needs to be balanced with the potential value of the invention. Keeping information as a trade secret does not prevent a competitor from obtaining a patent on the same invention, as a patent is granted to the first to file, not first to invent.

Company Value is Closely Tied to its IP Portfolio

The protection of inventions, processes, and products is the lifeblood of companies in the innovation sector and bioeconomy companies are no exception. A robust IP portfolio can protect the valuable technology as well as the cost and effort expended in developing a market for the technology.

Beyond protecting technology, a strong IP portfolio is critical in enabling business growth by opening up potential partnerships and providing an advantageous position in contract and license negotiations. A strong patent portfolio may pay off in a company’s ability to recruit and retain highly skilled and motivated employees, as a strong IP position confirms that a company is healthy and well positioned competitively.

A strong IP portfolio builds on itself as not only does it grant a 20-year monopoly on a particular invention, it also limits the ability of competitors to produce closely related competing products without obtaining a license or spending considerable effort to develop independent products.

IP can also add to company value when a patented invention is not essential to the main business. These non-critical assets can be sold to generate cash or licensed to others to create a revenue stream.

Plan to Fail if You Fail to Plan

While the creation of potential IP happens with every new idea, the creation of actual IP, that is, a protected process or piece of information, does not happen without considerable effort. Obtaining patents can be a lengthy and expensive process. Thus, every company needs a process to evaluate each potential invention and decide whether to seek patent protection or to maintain as a trade secret.

The lack of an IP policy can lead to some very negative consequences when an exit event is sought. More than one company, when faced with a short-sighted IP plan and intimidated by the high cost of patenting, has failed to create new IP as inventions arose or to file for improvements upon existing IP. Not only does this reduce the overall value of the company going forward, if existing patents have short remaining lifetimes it can serve as a disincentive for potential investors or buyers.

An effective IP policy should be demanded by investors in order to capture all the value of the creative process and potential products that arise. The following components of such a plan should be in place:

  • Initial evaluation of the competitive patent landscape prior to starting projects that involve new technology. This analysis will help avoid the inconvenience of learning that a “new invention” is actually covered by a competitor’s existing patent. Before commercialization of the newly developed technology, a Freedom to Operate (FTO) analysis will be needed as well.
  • Continuing, active competitive intelligence (CI) program employing a thorough literature and patent search. Coupled with analytics, a robust CI program will provide key insights by identifying new developments of competitors in the same space as your potential investments. This can help to benchmark technology, identify potential infringements, and prevent duplication of effort.
  • An internal process to stimulate, identify, and evaluate new inventions. An IP development process will not only insure continued flow of potential IP but also encourage communication among employees, often leading to more valuable inventions and better business decisions.
What to do

Evaluating IP is best accomplished by professionals who have been following the development of the technology and closely related technologies. It requires knowledge of patents, academic publications, industrial developments, and grey literature (i.e. government reports and conference proceedings). Searches done by machine methods and reviewed by non-experts frequently miss key references or fail to make significant connections.

The resulting searches can be evaluated using modern analytics to prepare a map showing key areas of overlap and gaps which are opportunities for IP development. Some technology may be open art due to patent expiration or abandonment.   Thus, the search can serve as a critical strategic tool to advance a project.

Conclusions

IP evaluation and development are critical to be successful in the bioeconomy. Technical expertise and legal know-how are both required to properly compile and evaluate technical literature from an IP perspective. At Lee Enterprises we have a number of highly qualified experts with substantial IP experience across all key bio-economy sectors who are well positioned to perform IP reviews for due diligence evaluations as well as for ongoing investment purposes.

Don’t get KO’d in the first round by letting your IP defenses down, contact us at Lee Enterprises.

While the authors are experienced technology developers, they are not patent attorneys and this is not legal advice.

Next up, Financing Bioeconomy Ventures: 6 – Pilot Plant Site Assessment and Validation of Experimental Data.

About the Authors

Terry Mazanec, Ph.D., is the Executive Vice President of Emerging Technologies, Biomass Power, Biogas/AD, and Investor Services for Lee Enterprises Consulting. Dr. Mazanec has been involved in the renewable fuels and chemicals area for much of his 35 years in R&D. Terry worked 21 years at BP in alternate energy R&D, and then as Chief Scientist at Velocys for 9 years where he led the team developing microchannel processes for natural gas upgrading and chemicals production, including catalyst development, corrosion resistance, and metals coating. He has been an independent consultant for the past 5 years serving clients in the USA, Europe, and Asia. He has authored 20 refereed publications and has been granted more than 60 US patents as well as numerous international patents. He has experience in biomass upgrading, natural gas conversion, solid oxide fuel cells, algae production, chemicals process development, homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysis, FEMA/risk analysis, and intellectual property protection.

Bob Kodrzycki, Ph.D., a member of Lee Enterprises Consulting, has over 27 years of experience in industrial R&D and consulting with a focus on commercialization of biotechnology, including renewable energy project development (torrefaction, wood pellets, cellulosic diesel, biomass energy), metabolic engineering for bio-based products, and creating non-destructive testing methods.

Lorenz Bauer, Ph.D., is a chemist with over 30 years of experience in catalysis, oil refining, chemical production and biomass conversion. He is an independent consultant affiliated with Lee Enterprises Consulting. An inventor of 25 patents and author of over 20 publications, he is Six-sigma black belt trained in project management and analytics. Larry’s projects have ranged from food additives, off gas treatment, upgrading unconventional feeds and waste recycling.   Most recently he worked on fast pyrolysis of biomass and upgrading products to fuels and chemicals.

 

Categories: Today's News

The Protein Engineers: The Digest’s 2017 Multi-Slide Guide to Codexis

Biofuels Digest - Sat, 09/30/2017 - 3:10pm

Codexis is a leading protein engineering company that applies its technology to the development of biocatalysts for the commercial manufacture of pharmaceuticals and fine chemicals. Codexis’ proven technology enables implementation of biocatalytic solutions to meet customer needs for rapid, cost-effective and sustainable manufacturing.

This illuminating presentation looks at the company’s progress promise, and most recent milestones.

Categories: Today's News

Top 10 wood waste projects – Not letting waste go to waste

Biofuels Digest - Sat, 09/30/2017 - 2:29pm

Wood waste is all around and ever increasing. As much as it pains tree huggers, we chop down trees to use them for buildings, paper, and seemingly everything in between. While some scientists say we have to cut down some trees in order to save them, others say we cut down too much. Regardless of which side of the fence you are on, the chopping continues and there are literally tons of wood waste left behind that doesn’t get used up, but we can all agree we should do something with that waste. Today, we look at the top 10 projects from around the world that are taking the leftovers and turning them into something valuable.

West Virginia – Wood waste to diesel and biochar

In West Virginia, new company PPD of WV One got approval to build a $73 million synthetic fuel plant. The plant will convert solid waste materials, mostly forestry and wood industry waste, to diesel fuel and biochar that will be used for agriculture.

They expect to create 160 construction jobs with another 60 to 100 fulltime jobs once the plant begins operations, expected to be in the early 2018. PPD of WV One expects the plant to produce 7.2 million gallons of diesel and 7,200 tons of biochar each year, once operational. The company is now looking for another $80 million in revenue bonds to help finance the construction and equipping of the plant.

Russia – Wood waste to biofuels

As reported in the Digest in July, Russian scientists are looking at biofuels as another alternative energy source for Arctic regions, in addition to the existing wind power that takes advantage of the high wind speeds. The switch from oil and coal is already being made to biofuel from wood processing waste in some areas. There are already 10 biofuel producers and two new plants will be in operation by the end of 2017. They have 37 boiling stations already using biofuel, and another 18 will start using biofuel by the end of this year. Their hope is to decrease deliveries of coal from afar and instead use the locally available wood waste.

Illinois – Wood-based biorefineries

We reported in July that Synsel hopes to finalize financing in the next few months for two $300 million wood-based biorefineries in Ontonagon, Mich. and Lumberton, Miss. that are meant to produce synthetic gasoline, diesel and aviation. The Ontonagon project aims to repurpose the mothballed Smurfit-Stone Paper Mill that was closed in 2010 but the Lumberton site was not identified. The licensor of the technology that will be employed at the biorefineries was only identified as a major oil and gas company.

Maine –Wood-based biofuel technology

As reported in the Digest in May, Biofine is seeking investors to help it scale up the wood-based biofuel technology developed by the Forest Bioproducts Research Institute. The company invested $200,000 in an old small-scale biofuel plant that was converted to run on the technology and demonstrate its viability. It’s now ready to scale up at the Old Mill facility where it is being tested or at other mill sites across the state that have shut down in recent years due to a decline in the pulp and paper industry.

Washington, D.C. – Government help for biomass projects

While this isn’t a biomass project exactly, it’s worth being on our top 10 list because the U.S. Forest Service is working to expand renewable wood energy markets by providing technical assistance and grants to public and private sector partners through its Woody Biomass Utilization program. Their support is key to many of the biomass projects and developments out there. By supporting efforts to reuse the excess wood from forest thinnings, urban tree trimmings, and forest products manufacturing facilities as well as trees killed by fires, insects, disease, and hurricanes, the agency seeks to increase the amount of locally-produced energy while improving forest health and resilience. And for that, they are worthy of being on our top 10 list.

Minnesota – Fungi helps with wood biofuel production

In February, the Digest reported that a team of scientists found that fungi can help with biofuel production by breaking down the wood cellulose more efficiently. The scientists come from the University of Minnesota; the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory; the University of Wisconsin, Madison; Gyeongsangnam-do Agricultural Research and Extension Services, Republic of Korea; and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and found evidence that brown rot fungi separate the oxidants and enzymes in time rather than in space. The team discovered this two-step wood decomposition mechanism by designing a simple, yet elegant experiment: they grew brown rot fungi in one direction along thin wood specimens separating the stages of wood decay linearly across the substrate.

Canada/Australia – Joint venture for drop-in biofuels from wood residues and biomass

Licella from Australia and Canfor from Canada formed a joint venture, as reported in the Digest last year, for low-cost, drop-in biofuels from wood residues and biomass. The joint venture, called the “Licella Pulp Joint Venture” integrated Licella’s unique Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor upgrading platform into Canfor Pulp’s kraft and mechanical pulp mills to economically convert biomass, including wood residues from Canfor Pulp’s kraft pulping processes, into biocrude oil, to produce next generation biofuels and biochemicals. This additional residue stream refining would allow Canfor Pulp to further optimise their pulp production capacity.

Finland – Woody biomass for chemicals

This project makes our top 10 list because it is using woody biomass not for biofuels, but for chemicals which is pretty unique. As reported in the Digest last September, BIOFOREVER (BIO-based products from FORestry via Economically Viable European Routes), a consortium of 14 European companies, started a demonstration project for the conversion of woody biomass to value adding chemical building blocks. In December 2015 the consortium applied for European funding under the Horizon 2020 program and in April 2016 the proposal was positively evaluated by Bio Based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU). BIOFOREVER intends to demonstrate the feasibility of various new value chains from lignocellulosic feedstocks to chemical building blocks like butanol, ethanol, 2, 5 furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA) on an industrial scale.

Maine – Wood to jet fuel technology

Another Maine project made our list, and for good reason with its funding to advance wood to jet fuel technology. As reported in the Digest in September 2016, the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) is investing $3.3 million to advance wood to jet fuel technology at the Technology Research Center (TRC) of the Forest Bioproducts Research Institute at the University of Maine. The technology is based on FBRI’s patented thermal deoxygenation (TDO) process, which was shown to yield jet fuel test samples that have met key specification. In order to improve process economics, FBRI will investigate co-production of advanced materials, such as nanocelluose composites, as well as some high-value chemicals from woody biomass and liquid hydrocarbon fuels. This project will explore conversion of cellulose and lignin to liquid hydrocarbon fuels, and use of hemicellose extract and cellulose fiber slip streams for developing high-value co-products.

Ohio – From wood chips to wood waste fuel

Last but not least on our list is a good example of how we should always be open to change and that change can bring good things. As reported in the Digest in March 2017, the Youngstown Thermal steam plant that powers district heating for the community converted its wood chip-based facility over to burning wood waste-based liquid fuel from Ensyn. The company said using the new fuel is better for the environment than what it burned previously and is easier to use. It said it is the first company in the world to use Ensyn’s fuel as heating oil and is a demonstration for other district heating facilities around the country, even recently hosting engineers from Europe to see how the transition worked.

Categories: Today's News

Indonesian palm oil proponents meet in Germany to get Europe on board

Biofuels Digest - Sat, 09/30/2017 - 2:21pm

In Indonesia, delegates from Indonesian government and palm oil organizations pushed for more acceptance of palm oil from Switzerland and the EU in general at a recent event in Germany. Mahendra Siregar, Executive Director of the Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries, said in a written statement from the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia, “Indonesia controls about 55 percent of world palm production, and palm produces 4-10 times more oil per hectare compared to other vegetables oil commodities, such as rapeseed oil and sunflower oil which is a typical European commodity.”

However, many European countries attack palm oil for deforestation, human rights abuses and damage to ecosystems. Norway banned the use of palm oil for biofuel in June this year and Indonesian delegates expressed fear that Switzerland or other EU countries will follow. The forum in Germany was held to establish closer relationships between Indonesian palm oil business circles and Switzerland and other EU countries in hopes of increasing palm oil exports to Switzerland and the EU.

Categories: Today's News

Food versus fuel fight heats up in Canadian municipalities forums

Biofuels Digest - Sat, 09/30/2017 - 2:17pm

In Canada, the food versus fuel debate is getting heated up with Agriculture Minister Lana Popham hearing from local mayors and government officials who are concerned that land is being converted from feeding people to growing non-edible hemp and marijuana. While hemp and marijuana is increasingly being planted in Canada, it is not just for the recreational cannabis market, but for biofuels and industrial and textile fibers. One mayor is fighting to preserve the Delta’s farmland which includes 8,500 ha currently in cultivation but only has about 5% of all land in the province available for agriculture. With limited farming land available, the mayor is pushing to focus on growing vegetables and fruits and not on hemp for the new biofuels, fibers and recreational markets popping up in Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has declared that recreational marijuana will be legal by July 1, 2018.

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China says ethanol plan won’t rely on corn or ethanol imports

Biofuels Digest - Sat, 09/30/2017 - 2:15pm

In China, government officials told Xinhua Net that China’s plan to increase the use of bioethanol gasoline will not have a significant impact on the grain market, and it would be unrealistic for the country to import large amounts of corn for the industry development.

“The government plan to increase ethanol fuel production was for consuming corn stocks,” Han Jun, director of the central agricultural work leading team office, told Xinhua Net at a press conference.

Years of support for corn farmers has left China with a substantial stockpile. In 2016, China’s corn output stood at around 220 million tonnes, while stocks amounted to 230 million tons. According to government estimates, China’s stockpile will suffice to meet demand in the short term, Han said, achieving a supply-demand balance in the corn market in three to five years.

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EasyJet partners with Wright Electric for No Fuel Aircraft

Biofuels Digest - Sat, 09/30/2017 - 2:13pm

In the United Kingdom, EasyJet is partnering with U.S. company Wright Electric to operate all-electric planes for short haul flights. They outlined a strategy to progressively decarbonize and reduce noise from aviation operations, and shows a move away from biojet fuel for the airline’s short distance flights.

The new Airbus A320 neo aircraft will bring significant environmental and operational benefits – up to 15 percent saving in fuel burn and CO2 emissions, and a reduced noise footprint of 50 percent on take-off and landing providing a benefit to airport neighborhood communities.

EasyJet is also introducing new electric, towbarless aircraft tugs and it was announced that a partnership with Safran to trial e-taxi hydrogen fuel cell technology will be implemented in the coming months in what will be a revolutionary zero emissions taxiing system for its aircraft.

Wright Electric has set itself the challenge of building an all-electric commercial passenger jet capable of flying passengers across easyJet’s UK and European network within a decade.

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Ethanol hits lowest percentage output decline in 66 weeks and 14 week low

Biofuels Digest - Sat, 09/30/2017 - 2:11pm

In Washington, D.C., the Renewable Fuels Association reports that according to EIA data, ethanol production averaged 996,000 barrels per day (b/d)—or 41.83 million gallons daily. That is down 36,000 b/d (or -3.6%) from the week before–the largest percentage output decline in 66 weeks and a fourteen-week low. The four-week average for ethanol production decreased to 1.034 million b/d for an annualized rate of 15.85 billion gallons. Stocks of ethanol were 20.7 million barrels. That is a 1.9% decrease from last week and the lowest volume of reserves in 37 weeks. There were zero imports recorded for the second week in a row.

Average weekly gasoline demand increased 0.9% to 399.9 million gallons (9.522 million barrels) daily. This is equivalent to 146.0 billion gallons annualized. Refiner/blender input of ethanol increased 2.1% to 917,000 b/d, equivalent to 14.06 billion gallons annualized. Expressed as a percentage of daily gasoline demand, daily ethanol production decreased to 10.46%.

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Germany’s rapeseed imports rose in 2016/17

Biofuels Digest - Sat, 09/30/2017 - 2:09pm

In Germany, UFOP reports that according to Germany’s Federal Statistical Office, 2016/17 rapeseed imports increased to a record high of around 5.6 million tons. This translates to an around 1 per cent surge from the previous year to the highest quantity ever. The largest amount came from the EU-28, although its share dropped almost 10 per cent to 77 per cent from the year-earlier period.

France was the main supplier country, accounting for 1.5 million tons, which was, however, down around 17 per cent from 2015/16. Australia took second position. The top third-country supplier provided around 0.97 million tons of rapeseed to Germany. This was a record amount, Agrarmarkt Informations-Gesellschaft mbH reported, and an almost 52 per cent increase from the previous marketing year. The amount of third-country rapeseed arriving via the Netherlands also went up just under 7 per cent to 0.72 million tons. However, the biggest growth was recorded for imports from the Ukraine. The country saw a sextupling of rapeseed deliveries to Germany compared to the previous year, to 0.21 million tons. Taking eighth position, the country accounted for around 4 percent of Germany’s total rapeseed imports.

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EU and Mercosur countries resume trade talks including ethanol and sugar discussions

Biofuels Digest - Sat, 09/30/2017 - 2:08pm

In Brazil, Unica, Brazil’s cane industry group told Reuters that trade talks resuming between the EU and the Mercosur bloc of South American countries will likely include ethanol trade discussions. Unica said ethanol was excluded from the EU proposal last year and Brazil was surprised by the move because the biofuel had been part of a 2004 proposal allowing imports of about 1 million tons to the EU. Unica said that the new EU offer will include a 600,000 ton-quota for ethanol, of which 400,000 tons for industrial use. “We consider that not acceptable,” Eduardo Leão, Unica director, said in the statement, considering the volumes too low.

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Oregon fines entrepreneur for biodiesel investment scam

Biofuels Digest - Thu, 09/28/2017 - 5:59pm

In Oregon, the state’s Department of Consumer and Business Services has fined Robert D. “Bob” Doughty and his companies Inland Pacific Energy Center and Global Alternative Energies Centers  $35,000 for raising $250,000 from 12 investors for a biodiesel and ethanol project in Stanfield that turned out to be a scam. He has alleged having billions in investment already committed and having required permits to begin building the project but the department says neither is true.

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RIN prices slide to two-year lows on potential 15% biodiesel blending cut

Biofuels Digest - Thu, 09/28/2017 - 5:57pm

In Washington, RIN prices for advanced biofuels and biodiesel are sliding on the back of the Environmental Protection Agency’s public consultation regarding a potential 15% cut to biodiesel blending volumes for 2018 and 2019. Platts reported that prices had hit a two-year low. The EPA says that without Argentine biodiesel imports, biodiesel prices will be too high so the volumetric mandate needs to be reduced. Biodiesel producers are protesting the potential change strongly as would-be increased demand would disappear.

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Indian sugar mills could boost ethanol production if incentives were place

Biofuels Digest - Thu, 09/28/2017 - 5:56pm

In India, the sugar millers association says boosting ethanol production capacity will help the industry absorb the bumper sugarcane crop of 30 million metric tons expected during 2018/19, compared to 25 million tons seen for the upcoming 2017/18 season. Only 128 of 530 sugar mills in the country have ethanol production capacity installed with a total of 1.75 billion liters along with 33 standalone distilleries that produce nearly half a billion liters more, but mills will only look to install more capacity if the government’s policy is sufficiently attractive when it is finalized.

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EPA could potentially allow ethanol exports to generate RINs

Biofuels Digest - Thu, 09/28/2017 - 5:54pm

In Washington, Bloomberg reports that the Environmental Protection Agency is studying whether to allow ethanol exports to qualify for RIN generation, a move that would add another billion RINs to the market and weigh on their prices. Such a shift would make compliance with the Renewable Fuel Standard, easing the burden on refiners. Valero has been pushing for the move, arguing that RIN generation from exports would increase ethanol production. The additional RINs would decrease demand for higher blends such as E15 as well.

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Sen. Chuck Grassley slams potential 15% cut to biodiesel blending mandate

Biofuels Digest - Thu, 09/28/2017 - 5:54pm

In Washington, on Wednesday Sen. Chuck Grassley made the following comment on the EPA’s Notice of Data Availability (NODA) to provide public notice and an opportunity to comment on potential reductions in the 2018 biomass-based diesel, advanced biofuel, and total renewable fuel volumes, and/or the 2019 biomass-based diesel volume under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program.

“It’s outrageous that the EPA would change course and propose a reduction in renewable fuel volumes. This seems like a bait-and-switch from the EPA’s prior proposal and from assurances from the President himself and Cabinet secretaries in my office prior to confirmation for their strong support of renewable fuels.  Reducing volumes would undermine domestic renewable fuel production.  That’s contrary to the goal of America first, employing U.S. workers, and improving the U.S. economy.   It’s contrary to the goal of meeting the country’s fuel needs, which is critical to economic growth.  This all gives me a strong suspicion that Big Oil and refineries are prevailing, despite assurances to the contrary.  I plan to press the Administration to drop this terrible plan.”

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DC federal judge rules Urban Air Initiative should have access to more EPA documents

Biofuels Digest - Thu, 09/28/2017 - 5:53pm

In Washington, a judge ruled that the Urban Air Initiative should have access to more EPA documents discussing test fuels. The D.C Federal Judge made the ruling in regards to a Freedom of Information Request (FOIA) Urban Air filed for emails sent between EPA employees and oil company representatives about test fuels for the EPAct Vehicle Emissions Study.

The EPAct Study data is what EPA used to create the MOVES Model, an emissions model that shows ethanol raises toxic emissions. The data is inaccurate and for years Urban Air has been working to update the MOVES Model to give ethanol the credit it deserves for in fact lowering toxic emissions. If left as is, States needing to use the MOVES Model to meet emissions standards will not use ethanol.

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Cornell and Texas A&M researcher develop algal droplet bioreactors on a chip

Biofuels Digest - Thu, 09/28/2017 - 5:49pm

In New York state, researchers from Cornell University’s Boyce Thompson Institute and Texas A&M University report in Plant Direct exciting new technology that may revolutionize the search for the perfect algal strain: Algal droplet bioreactors on a chip.

A single algal cell is captured in a tiny droplet of water encapsulated by oil – imagine the tiny droplets that form when you mix vegetable oil with water – then millions of algal droplets squeeze onto a chip about the size of a quarter. Each droplet is a micro-bioreactor, a highly-controlled environment in which algal cells can grow and replicate for several days, forming a genetically homogenous colony that goes through its typical biological reactions, including the production of lipids.

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