April 30, 2007

April 2007 Digest

Woody Biomass - Energizing a new generation

America is witnessing the balkanization of its renewable energy portfolio. The sun belt is home to solar energy. The corn belt is home to ethanol. Landfill bioenergy is focused in urban areas. The nation's woodpiles are in the Pacific Northwest and the Southeast. Each region will have to come to grips with the economic, technical, environmental, and cultural changes that will be necessary build, market, and sustain development in their communities. NIMBY-ism will be a constant, frustrating impediment to many grand schemes.

We have seen the impact that ethanol has played in the cornbelt. Its communities have embraced the technologies - not without some consternation from its livestock industry. Individual farmers have banded together to form cooperatives to build ethanol plants. Agricultural giants like ADM and Cargill are re-evaluating how they can realign their business units to capitalize on their waste and biomass assets. Politicians are displaying uncharacteristic bipartisanship on ag/energy issues.

Following this model, we are now witnessing an emerging focus in the southeastern U.S. - home to communities that are committed now and in future generations to forestry and wood-related companies. 44% of the existing renewable energy generated in the U.S. comes from and is used by this industry - mostly generated from woody waste accumulating at paper and pulp mills. Landowners are eying biorefinery plans for the region to see if it makes sense to form cooperatives. Moribund mills and chemical factories that have lost business to foreign competition are now viewed as possible sites for new bioenergy ventures since they already have supply and distribution infrastructure in place.

The best resource of the region is the character of the indigenous citizens. Unfailingly patriotic but often regarded as the underappreciated step-children of America, many communities of the Southeast are eager to finally have an opportunity to contribute their regional ingenuity, brawn, and industrial capacity to the national effort to end American addiction to foreign oil. It is, after all, the young, proud southern recruit that continues to carry the bulk of the national security burden caused by this addiction.

As a political footnote, presidential aspirants interested in a Southern strategy should remember that in 2000 Gore lost ALL the states in the region - including his home state of Tennessee which would have put him in the White House. A commitment to woody bioenergy development of the region would be well received. It is not clear that the same can be said of the Pacific Northwest.

Here are links to stories that were posted in the BioEnergy BlogRing during April, 2007:

BIOstock Blog--------------
E3 Biofuels and Closed Loop Ethanol Plants
The need for Public Outreach: a case study in China
BIOstock 101: The BioTown Sourcebook
Woody Biomass Utilization and the USDA Forest Service
Development alliance builds between forest and energy giants
Hybrid poplars reduce carbon emissions best
Thinning trees to save ecology
In-Woods Expo 2007 Harvests Energy

BIOconversion Blog--------------
Industrial Symbiosis: Creating eco-industrial parks
Latin America's Blueprint for Green Energy
BIOconversion 101: The BioTown Sourcebook
EPA releases comprehensive Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program
Converting Biomass to Hydrogen
D.O.E. to fund ADM/Purdue cellulosic ethanol project
Friedman Multi-media on "The Power of Green"
Biomass Gasification at the "Chin-dia" price

BIOoutput Blog--------------
Good News from the DOE about Carbon Sequestration
BIOoutput 101: The BioTown Sourcebook

BIOwaste Blog--------------
BIOwaste 101: The BioTown Sourcebook
Hurdles to Waste Conversion Technologies
Smokestack emissions as feedstock for ethanol

Each month we provide a similar breakdown of article titles from our favorite "companion" site - Biopact Blog. This list is kept current and is accessible in the right hand column of each of the three blogs.

Please forward a link to this digest to anyone you know who would be interested in keeping track of change that will affect us all. They can add their name to the mailing list on the BioConversion Blog.

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April 29, 2007

Smokestack emissions as feedstock for ethanol

Khosla Ventures is turning its eye onto new businesses that are developing bioconversion processes for turning smokestack emissions into marketable biofuels - mainly ethanol. Such technologies offer the prospect of retrofitting carbon spewing combustion furnaces and boilers with energy saving bioreactors that, with the right combination of nutrients and organisms, can feed on the toxic gases and convert it into ethanol.

Here is the bulk of their recent press release..

LanzaTech NZ Ltd Secures Series A Funding From Khosla Ventures for Ethanol Production From Carbon Monoxide in Waste Gases

LanzaTech, the leader in technology using bacterial fermentation to convert carbon monoxide into ethanol, today officially announced it has secured US$3.5M in Series A funding, led by Khosla Ventures and supported by two existing New Zealand based investors. This funding will support further technology development, establishing a pilot plant, engineering work to prepare for commercial-scale ethanol production and positions the company to raise significant capital in the near future.

This technology could produce 50 billion gallons of ethanol from the world's steel mills alone, turning the liability of carbon emissions into valuable fuels worth over $50 billion per year at very low costs and adding substantial value to the steel industry. The technology will also be a key contributor to the cellulosic biofuels business as it can convert syngas produced through gasification into ethanol.
"We have proven in our laboratories that the carbon monoxide in industrial waste gases such as those generated during steel manufacture can be processed by bacterial fermentation to produce ethanol. Garnering the financial and strategic support of Khosla Ventures is a significant validation of our approach, and we welcome Khosla Ventures Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. Doug Cameron, to our Board of Directors," said Dr. Sean Simpson, Chief Scientist and Founder of LanzaTech.

Vinod Khosla commented, "technology to produce fuel ethanol from waste material, such as the carbon monoxide produced in steel manufacture and other industries, makes use of a low cost and plentiful point source carbon feedstock. The opportunity is a large one as carbon monoxide is a significant by-product of steel manufacture. LanzaTech has developed technology and a process to cost-effectively convert carbon monoxide into ethanol -- this ground breaking technology provides the tools to address the challenge of reducing emissions and turns waste into a valuable product, while developing new businesses based on innovative science."

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April 22, 2007

Hurdles to Waste Conversion Technologies

At the 23rd Annual BioCycle West Coast Conference in San Diego April 16th, 2007, Coby Skye of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works (LA/DPW) gave a presentation about the hurdles waste conversion technologies (CTs) face in Southern California.

Coby leads a group within the Solid Waste Management Committee/Integrated Waste Management Task Force (SWMC) that has been given the responsibility of recommending a CT for construction of a demonstration facility in Los Angeles that would be co-located with a materials recovery facility (MRF). The objective is to provide a first step toward significant diversion of otherwise un-recyclable waste from landfill to conversion into biofuels, green electricity, and bioproducts. Among the five technologies under review are Arrow Ecology (anaerobic digestion), Interstate Waste Technologies (pyrolysis/gasification), Changing World Technologies (thermal depolymerization), International Environmental Solutions (pyrolysis), and Ntech Environmental (gasification).

During his presentation, Coby cited many of the hurdles that the LA/DPW expects to face aside from the substantial technological ones.
The three main that we have been facing, especially in California, are Cost, Regulatory Hurdles, and Misconceptions.

Cost is an issue because landfill disposal in California is relatively cheap. We still have landfills within Los Angeles County that charge $25 or so per ton. It is very difficult for a new technology that doesn’t have the infrastructure to compete. That’s definitely going to change as we move forward. We are disposing in farther locations. There’s going to be more regulations on landfills due to AB32 (California’s Global Warming Solutions legislation) and other laws relating to environmental controls to limit greenhouse gas emissions. So we are going to see costs, probably within a decade, going toward the $75-$100/ton range. The technologies we are looking at would fall between the $50-$75 per ton range. You can see how the changes in the economy and the markets will come very quickly.

The Regulatory Hurdles [suffer] from not having any kind of framework. We are looking at our demonstration project as we are moving forward and we are not sure which permits will be required or how they will be processed. There is no “check box” for us [indicating allowable technologies] when we are trying to permit these. As a government agency we want to make sure that we go through every requirement and meet or exceed every environmental regulation so it is especially a challenge for us when we have regulations that don’t exist for the facility that we want to develop or that are unrealistic - for example, the zero air emissions requirement that is currently a statute.

The third challenge is Misconceptions. There are environmental groups that perceive all of these technologies or some of them as the same as incineration. We want to make sure that the public that is going to be most impacted by these facilities understand what they really are and [we want to know] what their concerns might be so we can address these concerns as early on in the process as possible. That is why Los Angeles County has a public outreach component specifically for relating with the public and for accurately getting the word out about conversion technologies.

Tens of millions of dollars are being invested in an effort to face the future squarely now, to begin a process to mitigate the challenges posed by growing trash demands, shrinking landfills, greenhouse gas emissions, and the need for renewable energy alternatives to fossil fuels. The efforts of the LA/DPW to surmount these hurdles are commendable.

However, it is imperative that the public outreach program succeed in painting an accurate assessment of the looming dangers of the status quo and the necessity of allowing the utilities to deploy new clean technologies in their neighborhoods. It is imperative that the CA state legislature enact regulatory reform that will enable practical, expensive developments such as this LA/DPW demonstration project to proceed.

So far these efforts have been derailed by the political power of well-meaning but mis-directed "environmental" groups who are stubbornly misinformed about the difference between incineration and gasification. The costs of delay and of doing nothing far outweigh the perceived dangers of deployment, especially given the strict oversight of the Air Quality Management District (AQMD) and the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB).

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April 7, 2007

BIOwaste 101: The BioTown Sourcebook

For anyone who desires a simple introduction to the subject of Biomass Waste I suggest a careful reading of a brief technical overview document called The BioTown, USA Sourcebook of Biomass Energy (released in April, 2006). It was written for the Indiana State Department of Agriculture by scientist and fellow blogger, Mark Jenner, PhD. who has his own website called Biomass Rules. Mark is particularly well schooled on the subject of biosolids, manure, and sludge conversion.

Below you can see an overview graphic that charts where biomass feedstocks (highlighted in blue) fall in proper context for addressing BIOconversion, BIOoutput, and BIOstock issues. For this reason, I offer a similar 101 abstract treatment in each of my BlogRing blogs.

This BioTown sourcebook is the official inventory on local energy use, available biomass fuels and emerging technologies for Reynolds, Indiana. As such, it can serve as an inventory template for any similarly focused study of a medium-sized rural community. It greater importance is its microcosmic view of rural communities as decentralized, sustainable entities that possess more than enough biomass to service their own energy needs.

Within the third section of the report a generous amount of detail if given to a subject that generally escapes most discussions about biofuels and bioenergy - its energy content and how it can be converted to useful form. He addresses Manure, Municipal Sewage/Biosolids, and Municipal Solid Wastes. He emphasizes the high variability of manure:

The point is that manure has a high degree of variability. In this case, it is easy to this variability using hog manure nutrients and technology as an example. Starting with the same basic fresh manure, different treatment technologies achieved different results. Successful conversion technologies must be designed and managed to remove the variability by segregating non-similar flows or combining them consistently into an aggregate flow. Biomass feedstock variability is a challenge, but it can be managed by system design.

The subjects of biodiesel converted from used vegetable oil and number 2 yellow grease are also addressed.

In this particular community, landfill gas is used to drive methane electric generators - which is far preferable to having it vented or flared. However, he admits:

Some biomass energy advocates argue that landfill gas is not the best use of biomass energy resources. This argument is based on the sheer volume of underutilized biomass going into a landfill. Using the EPA breakdown of organic, biomass materials going into a landfill (65 percent), 355,678 tons of the 547,197 tons of MSW entering the Liberty Landfill are biomass feedstocks. Using the value of 4,830 BTU/lb, 356,000 tons of landfilled-biomass materials contain 3.4 million MMBTUs. That is a lot of underutilized fuel. This new separation and energy production process would not be as simple as it sounds and would require significant changes in the current collection system.

This report is not a utopian call to return to rural, communal living. It is, instead, an affirmation that there are many biomass resources available and technologies in development to provide environmentally clean bioenergy alternatives to the existing fossil fuel energy paradigm. Rural communities can develop expertise and marketable output best suited to their own resources and industries. Urban communities can develop some technologies that are relevant to the diversion of trash from landfills.

The BioTown, USA Sourcebook of Biomass Energy

BioTown, USA is Indiana Governor, Mitch Daniel’s, bold approach to develop local renewable energy production, create a cleaner environment, find new solutions to municipal/animal waste issues, and develop new markets for Indiana products – all at the same time. BioTown, USA is quite simply the conversion of Reynolds, Indiana from a reliance on fossil fuels to biomass-based fuels. With the implementation of BioTown, USA, a template will be set that simultaneously promotes Indiana energy security, rural development, profitable agriculture and a green, thriving natural resource environment.

The only conclusion that can be made is that BioTown, USA is profoundly thermodynamically and technologically viable. Reynolds, Indiana used 227,710 million BTUs (MMBTU) in 2005. White County annually produces over 16,881,613 MMBTU in undeveloped biomass energy resources. That is 74 times more energy than Reynolds consumed in 2005.

BioTown, USA is a concept whose time has come. This Sourcebook and subsequent BioTown reports will serve as vital stepping stones to the implementation of BioTown, USA and subsequent bioeconomic rural development opportunities across Indiana and the nation.

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