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January 4, 2010

Renewable Energy Around the Web: January 4, 2010

Filed under: Around the Web,Biofuels,CleanTech investing — Tags: , , , — Jonathan B. Wilson @ 8:10 am

Welcome to our first “around the web” summary for the new year.  Renewable Energy Around the Web is a weekly compilation of renewable energy news and information.  Please write to us with idea or suggestions for topics at “editor at renewableenergymemo.com”. 

Top Ten Biofuels Predictions for 2010

Our friends at BiofuelsDigest have posted their predictions for the coming year:

#10 – Low Carbon Fuel Standards – Following California’s lead, BFD predicts that other states will also adopt low carbon fuel standards that will spur investment into renewable fuels.

#9 – Cellulosic Ethanol “Happens”- BFD predicts 102 million gallons of advanced biofuels capacity by the end of 2010 with 25 Mgy of it cellulosic ethanol at 17 facilities.

#8 – Aviation Biofuels Surge- 2009 say several successful tests of aviation biofuels.  Look for an increase in interest and investment in 2010.

#7 – Oil Companies Acquire Ethanol Capacity- BFD predicts that a major oil company will acquire 200-800 Mgy in ethanol capacity, at a discounted rate of $0.70 per gallon of capacity.

#6 – Green Chemicals and Plastics Boom – Look for big investments by ‘old’ economy chemical companies into biochemical and related lines of business.

#5 – Jatropha Revival – BFD predicts major investments in this once-maligned plant for use as a feedstock.

#4 – U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard – Congress will take up the renewable fuel banner and will extend targets into the future. 

#3 – Micrcrops / Algae- BFD predicts that Lemna, cyanobacteria and heterotrophic algae gain traction as microcrops begin transition from R&D to commercialization.

#2 – Green Ports / Marine Biofuels- Look for major deals involving marine biofuels.

#1 – Alternative Finance / REITS Move In – BFD predicts the formation of at least one $1B+ investment fund that will finance renewable energy on a build-leaseback basis.  BFD cites its earlier poston the need for project securitization to make project finance money available for biofules projects. 

Our take?  BFD’s ten predictions are an ambitious (and probably somewhat hopeful) look at the year ahead.  Some, like the commercialization of cellulosic ethanol and an interest in green chemical platforms by traditional chemical companies, seem to be the product of trends that were put into place over the past few years.  Others, like a revival of interest in Jatropha, are hard to visualize as we’re sitting here today. 

Still others, like a prediction that Congress will pace a renewable fuel standard, depend on political forces that are notoriously difficult to predict. 

If even half of these predictions come to pass, however, 2010 will bring a great deal of interest and focus to the renewable fuels sector.

And In Other News

Alternative Fuel Mixture Credit Expires.     Congress failed to act, allowing the alternative fuel mixture credit to expire on December 31st.  My tax lawyer buddies tell me that an extender bill is likely in the coming month that will be retroactive, but with this Congress there can be no guarantees.

Environmentalists vs. The EnvironmentAnother report of a large solar park planned in the Mojave Desert falling prey to environmental challenges that the site will endanger the desert tortoise.  Environmental challenges continue to make it difficult for large solar projects in the desert southwest to get permitted and get funded.

European Supergrid – Energy planners in Europe, meanwhile, are pondering the merits of a ‘supergrid’ that would interconnect the electrical grids of participating states in Europe.  Carrying a price tag of nearly $30B Euros, the supergrid would link “turbines off the wind-lashed north coast of Scotland with Germany’s vast arrays of solar panels, and join the power of waves crashing on to the Belgian and Danish coasts with the hydro-electric dams nestled in Norway’s fjords.” 

(Passing interest – If you follow the link to the supergrid story, check out the picture of the solar park in Schleswig-Holstein Germay.  The park is so far north that the solar panels are point almost perpendicular to the ground in order to see the sun. )

December 21, 2009

Renewable Energy Around the Web: December 21, 2009

Our weekly compilation of renewable energy news and information from around the Web. 

Renewable Energy in Scotland

A report from the Scottish National Heritage organization claims that Scotland is on target to exceeds its renewable energy goals and could achieve 300% of its goals by 2020 if pending programs are approved.  The report claims that 2,834 MW of renewable power is operational and another 3,739 MW of power has been approved with another 19,500 MW in the planning stages.  The combined output is more than three times the 8 GW need to meet Scotland’s 2020 target of 50% of electricity from renewables. 

Utilities Building Long Distance Transmission Lines

The California PUC gave its final approval for Southern California Edison to construct the last 173 miles of its 250-mile Tehachapi transmission project in Kern County.  The line is expected to transmit as much as 4,500 megawatts of electricity produced from wind, enough power for nearly 3 million homes.

The capital cost of high-capacity long distance transmission is often seen as a barrier to the development of renewable energy production because the cost can be so high and the time to delivery can take years.

In a related development, LS Power announced that it would build the LaSalle Transmission Project (“LaSalle”), a new 345 kilovolt (kV) transmission project connecting Illinois and Indiana. The project is intended to facilitate renewable energy development within the region.

LaSalle is expected to be an approximately 160-mile transmission line to connect three existing 345-kV substations operated by the PJM Regional Transmission Operator. These three substations are the Pontiac-Midpoint substation near Pontiac, Illinois; the Reynolds substation near Reynolds, Indiana; and the Dumont substation near North Liberty, Indiana. New substations may also be constructed along the transmission line to serve as points where additional wind could interconnect to the transmission system.

“LaSalle will be routed through some of the most promising areas in Illinois and Indiana for wind development – areas that currently have limited access to the high-voltage transmission system,” stated Sharon K. Segner, Director – Project Development with LS Power. “LaSalle will provide both a means for wind generation to connect to the transmission system and an outlet for the wind generation to be delivered to load.”

The project is being developed by Central Transmission, LLC, a new transmission company and member of the LS Power Group. The LS Power Group has active transmission development across the country representing over 1,000 miles of transmission planned to help deliver renewable resources to load. This includes Great Basin Transmission, a new transmission company in Idaho and Nevada developing a “shovel ready” 500+ mile 500-kV transmission line; and Cross Texas Transmission, a new transmission company in Texas developing over 200 miles of double circuit 345 kV as part of the Competitive Renewable Energy Zone Transmission Plan.

Renewable Energy Committee Studies State Incentives

The Renewable Energy Committee of the American Bar Association’s Public Utility Section is conducting a study of state-level incentives for renewable energy.  The Committee’s Fall 2009 Report outlined the key federal incentives and for its Spring 2010 Report the Committee will dig deeper into the incentives available at the state level.  Created by the Public Utility Section in 2009, the Renewable Energy Committee has nearly 100 members and brings together legal practicioners to study developments in the sector.

New Landfill Methane Plant in North Carolina

Methane Power announced the opening of a new landfill gas-to-energy plant in Durham, NC, the state’s fourth largest city.  Electricity generated by the Durham landfill energy plant is being sold to Duke Energy Carolinas under a power purchase agreement.

Methane Power Inc., the project developer, said the energy plant is powered by three of GE’s containerized JGC 320 Jenbacher landfill gas engines. GE’s Jenbacher landfill gas engines are generating 3.17 megawatts of renewable electricity for the regional grid by using the landfill’s methane gas, which is created by the decomposition of municipal solid waste. The facility is generating enough energy to support about 1,800 North Carolina homes.

North Carolina is one of 27 states with a renewable portfolio standard (RPS), which requires utilities to produce a certain percentage of electricity from renewable sources, including biogas. North Carolina’s RPS requires that by 2021, utilities must meet 12.5 percent of customers’ energy needs through energy efficiency savings or renewable energy production.

Copenhagen’s Effect on Renewable Energy

Will the recently-announced climate change deal at Copenhagen have an effect on the market for renewable power?  The popular investing blog, SeekingAlpha, things so.  SeekingAlpha writes:

“The result from Copenhagen boosted the renewable energy outlook; India’s Suzlon sees wind turbines shortfall in 2010 and in the coming years. The $53B wind turbine market means the current global capacity cannot meet the demand.”

“The wind energy market is heating up in China as well. Ealier this year General Electric set a joint venture with A-Power Energy Generation with an annual 2GW capacity in 2010. According to the CEO, GE sees China as leading the green energy trend already, and this will continue if the U.S. does not come up with a green energy policy. A-Power Energy Generation announced Wednesday that the company has signed a definitive agreement with US-REG and Cielo wind for a Texas 600MW wind farm project. ”

“Before this announcement, some investors were still skeptical. What makes this project golden is that A-Power has agreed to deliver wind turbines beginning in March 2010. In other words, revenue on wind turbines will starts to flow in Q1 of 2010. Of course, the company has already realized revenue from Chinese wind farms in Q4 2009, however this marks the first revenue in-flow from a Mega wind farm project that A-Power has signed. The company has many huge alternative energy projects from various countries and is ramping up its turbine projects quickly through a Joint venture with General Electric.”

On the other hand, most environmental activists have viewed Copenhagen as a bust, so any boost for renewables is likely less than would have been the result if world leaders had adopted a wider-reaching or more robust agreement. 

In that same vein, on the first tradng day after the Copenhagen announcement, the price of carbon trading permits in Europe fell, reflecting the decreased likelihood of restrictions on carbon emissions.  Bloomberg reported that the “nations attending the two-week Copenhagen summit that ended at the weekend agreed to voluntary, rather than binding, targets to reduce emissions. The accord isn’t enough to boost demand for permits, said Trevor Sikorski, an emissions analyst at Barclays Capital in London.”

December 14, 2009

Renewable Energy Around the Web: December 14, 2009

Our weekly compilation of renewable energy news and information from around the web.

$600 Million for Biofuels

U.S. DOE Secretary Steven Chu and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last week announced the selection of 19 biorefinery projects to receive up to $564 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to accelerate the construction and operation of pilot, demonstration, and commercial scale facilities. The projects – in 15 states - should validate refining technologies and help lay the foundation for full commercial-scale development of a biomass industry in the United States. The projects should produce advanced biofuels, biopower, and bioproducts using biomass feedstocks at the pilot, demonstration, and full commercial scale.

Our friends at Biofuels Digest published a lengthy analysis of the awards and the process followed by the DOE.  It makes for interesting reading.  According to the analysis, the DOE published a Funding Opportunity Announcement in May of 2009.  After submitting lengthy written applications, there was a first cut and those who survived were invited to participate in a “GoToMeeting.com” online chat and presentation session.  DOE participants were never identified in the process, and never spoke directly on the conference call, but submitted questions online as they were identified as “Review #1″ and so on. 

As one successful recipient CEO was quoted to say, “what you win is the right to negotiate.”  Winning companies will now be able to negotiate the terms of their grants for a period of several months with the hopes of actually receiving cash in mid-2010.  While the ARRA intended for funds to get put to use in 2009, in this instance it wil have taken more like 1.5 years for the cash to actually be put to use.

EPA Issues GHG Endangerment Finding

Coming on the heels of the ClimateGate scandal, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson last week finalized the EPA’s GHG endangerment finding, ruling that greenhouse gas emissions are an air pollutant under the Clean Air Act and are a threat to public health.   The endangerment finding is an outgrowth of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in EPA v. Massachusetts in which the Supreme Court held that the EPA’s authority to regulate air pollutants under the Clean Air Act extended to greenhouse gas emissions.

Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe suggested that the EPA would use the endangerment finding as a means of accomplishing through administrative ruling what it could not accomplish through legislation.  He reasoned that climate change legislation (whether in the form of the Waxman Markey bill or some other form) was unlikely to pass Congress during 2009 and that the Obama administration needed the legal support provided by the endangerment finding in order to make commitments at the Copenhagen talks on climate change.

EPA Delays Decision on E15 Waiver

On Dec. 1 the U.S. EPA announced that it will not make a final determination of the E15 fuel waiver until mid-2010. In March 2009, Growth Energy submitted a waiver to allow for the use of up to 15 percent ethanol in gasoline. Under the Clean Air Act, EPA was required to respond to the waiver request by Dec. 1, 2009.

The EPA has been working to evaluate the waiver request and has received a broad range of public comments as part of the administrative rulemaking process. In a letter sent to Growth Energy on Dec. 1, the agency said that to-date testing has indicated that the engines of newer cars will likely be able to handle ethanol blends higher than the current 10 percent limit. However, the agency will delay making a final decision on the fuel waiver until more testing data is available. On a positive note, the EPA also announced that it has begun the process to craft the labeling requirements that will be necessary if the blending limit is raised.

“As we are evaluating [the] E15 fuel waiver petition, we want to make sure we have all necessary science to make the right decision,” said the EPA in a letter addressed to Growth Energy Co-Chairmen Gen. Wesley Clark and Jeff Broin. “Although all the studies have not been completed, our engineering assessment to date indicates that the robust fuel, engine and emissions control systems on newer vehicles (likely 2001 and newer model years) will likely be able to accommodate higher ethanol blends, such as E15. However, we continue to evaluate the question of component durability when E15 is used over many thousands of miles and there is ongoing study being conducted by [the U.S. DOE] that will provide critical data on this issue.”

New DOE Loan Guarantee Rules

The DOE published its new rules for loan guarantee applications.  The new rules incorporate comments from industry participants and are intended to accelerate the loan guarantee process.   The new rules were effective December 4, 2009. 

American Bar Association Renewable Energy Committee

Our Renewable Energy Committee of the ABA’s Public Utility Section is meeting for the first time today on a conference call.  We’ll be charting a course for the coming year and planning some webinars and other projects.  Membership on the Committee is free to members of both the ABA and the Public Utility Section.  Check with the ABA website for more details.

December 7, 2009

Renewable Energy Around the Web: December 7, 2009

Filed under: Around the Web,Biofuels,CleanTech investing — Tags: , , , — Jonathan B. Wilson @ 7:56 am

Our weekly compilation of renewable energy news and information from around the web.

Synth Pop?

Our friends are BiofuelsDigest wonder if synthetic fuels will overtake biofuels in the future?  Several of the 50 Hottest Companies in Bioenergy this year are involved in generating fuels from synthetic means (or synethetic organisms) as an alternative to liquid fuels derived from organic matter (like ethanol).

ClimateGate or the CRUtape Letters?

Allegations of falsified science and bias have hounded climate researches over the past week as a hacked trove of emails from the University of East Anglia have demonstrated how some climate scienties falsified (or at least embellished) their findings on climate data in order to make global warming from anthropogenic carbon dioxide appear more sinister.  After a week even the New York Times managed to cover the story, but one casualty of the brouhaha may be the biofuels industry.

For some time, biofuels advocates have emphasized the positive impact of biofuels on GHG emissions.  If the crisis of confidence in global climate change sparked by the East Anglia emails has blowback, some of it could hit the biofuels industry.

This would be a pity, as biofuels have so many justifications (sustainability, energy independence, and pure efficiency) that the potential link to climate chantge and GHGs just isn’t necessary to make out a case in favor of biofuels.

MSW to Ethanol Plant Planned

Ethanol Producer magazine is reporting that the former Xethanol LLC ethanol production facility in Blairstown, Iowa, has been purchased by Fiberight LLC and will soon be producing cellulosic ethanol at a demonstration scale. The company recently acquired the shuttered plant for a mere $1.65 million and plans to convert it to handle municipal solid waste (MSW), marking another milestone in U.S. cellulosic ethanol achievements.

Fiberight has been operating a pilot-scale cellulosic facility in Virginia for the past three years and has developed a proprietary conversion process to produce cellulosic ethanol and biochemicals from MSW. “We’ve been operating in stealth mode because we don’t want to make claims until we can prove them,” CEO Craig Stuart-Paul said. He told EPM that the technology is now at the point where it can be scaled up to a commercial scale and Fiberight plans to prove that in Blairstown.

There are a few steps in Fiberight’s process that make it unique compared to other MSW-to-ethanol production methods, according to Stuart-Paul. The first is its ability to fractionate the waste stream into its many forms and then create a homogenous feedstock, which he said has been the biggest hold-up thus far in any biochemical project from waste. Secondly, the company created a proprietary process that allows the recycling and re-use of enzymes, thus lowering enzyme costs to a commercially viable level. Fiberight’s process does not involve acid hydrolysis or gasification of any kind, which reduces capital and operating costs and increases the plant’s environmental friendliness. “Even in a reduced oxygen burn environment there are so many potential volatiles in the waste stream…we’re doing everything we can to avoid any kind of heat input to create volatile gases,” he said. “Our goal is to have the least amount of air and water emissions of any of the waste-to-biofuel options. We view the challenges in the future to getting more plants built will be permitting as much as anything else, so we’re trying to keep that in mind moving forward.”

Fiberight says that it plans to spend $30 million on the conversion of the mill. 

DuPont Predicts $1 Billion in Renewable Revenues in 2012

Speaking to a Hong Kong newspaper about an Asian biotechnology deal, representatives from DuPont predicted that their company will generate more than $1 billion from renewable energy in 2012. 

Biodiesel Demand to Double in Five Years

A representative of Hart Energy Consulting predicted that the global demand for biodiesel would double in the next five years.  Speaking at the Canadian Biofuels Summit in Vancouver, B.C., Tammy Klein said that  thirty countries are implementing biofuels targets in 2010 alone, with many of these countries in the developing world encouraging biofuels as a means of building energy security and improving their rural economies.

Not everything is bright in the industry, she said, however.  “Currently there is massive overcapacity on a global basis in the biodiesel industry and utilization rates are generally below 50 percent,” she added. Current global biodiesel capacity is already large enough to supply the demand projected for 2015 of 10 billion gallons per year.

Currently, 30 countries worldwide are blending biodiesel, with the typical B5 beginning to inch upward. Several countries in Europe are moving towards B7, with Brazil moving towards higher blends and Indonesia considering B10. In 2009, developing countries represented 17 percent of biodiesel demand and almost 50 percent of global supply. That is expected to grow to 42.6 percent of biodiesel demand and 59.2 percent of global supply by 2015. Much of that demand among developing countries will be for domestic use, she added. African nations are looking towards biofuels for job creation, economic development and domestic energy supply and are not likely to become international players. In the Asia-Pacific region, the big four—Indonesia, Malaysia, China and the Philippines—represent 74 percent of biodiesel demand in the region. Brazil is likely to produce biodiesel to satisfy its internal markets and continue to raise blending limits to absorb capacity.

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November 23, 2009

Renewable Energy Around the Web: November 23, 2009

Our weekly compendium of renewable energy news and information from around the Web.

Trony Solar IPO

Chinese PV manufacturer Trony Solar is looking to raise $241 million in its planned initial public offering.  J.P. Morgan and Credit Suisse are said to be the lead underwriters in the offering. 

Atlanta Foodservice Runs on Biodiesel

The Atlanta division of U.S. Foodservice is now running on biodiesel.   The Atlanta division’s 185 tractors began using biodiesel fuel early in November following the first 7,500-gallon delivery of B5. In addition to using biodiesel blends in the tractors, the fuel will power the four-cylinder, Thermo King Engines in its 210 refrigerated trailers.

Atlanta joins the U.S. Foodservice division in Plymouth, Minn., which uses B5, and the Streator, Ill., division which uses B11 in all but the winter months. The Minnesota facility has used biodiesel blends for years, the company stated, starting with B3 and switching to the state-mandated B5. “The division has had no performance or engine longevity issues,” a company spokesman said. U.S. Foodservice Minnesota is exploring a switch to B10 ahead of a state-mandate increase that takes effect in 2012.

U.S. Foodservice-Atlanta is active with and has a leadership role in several local, regional and state efforts to promote and protect the environment including the Georgia DNR Project, Partnership for a Sustainable Georgia and the Atlanta Zero Waste Zone.

Danish Ethanol

Inbicon unveiled a 1.4 MGY cellulosic ethanol demonstration plant in Denmark, using wheatstraw as its initial feedstock.  Inbicon has been working in partnership with Danish governmental energy authorities and the unveiling was timed to coincide with the climate change conference in Copenhagen

Portable Solar

The BBC ran a lengthy article on applications for portable solar power.  Portable solar can be an efficient solution for devices that would ordinarily run on batteries or that would require new powers lines to connect to the grid, including street lights and signs. 

Push for Extension of Biofuel Tax Credit

The National Biodiesel Board voiced its support for two bills pending in Congress that would extend the biofuel tax credit program that expires at the end of 2009.  (H.R. 4070 and S.B. 1589).  During visits with lawmakers, biodiesel industry leaders expressed strong support for S. 1589, the Biodiesel Tax Incentive Reform and Extension of Act, introduced by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Charles Grassley (R-IA), and H.R. 4070, companion legislation introduced yesterday by Representatives Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) and John Shimkus (R-IL). This legislation would reform the biodiesel tax incentive by changing the current blenders excise tax credit to a production excise tax credit. This will improve administration of the incentive, eliminate potential abuses and improve tax compliance. The proposals would also extend the biodiesel tax incentive for five years, providing the certainty entrepreneurs need to create jobs and expand the use of biodiesel.

Comings Events in Renewable Energy

The Renewable Fuels Association is hosting its 15th Annual  Ethanol Conference in Orland, Fla. on  February 15-17, 2010.  Panels will cover the indirect land use charges debate and the path forward for commercialization of biofuels.  Registration before January 22 will get members a discounted entrace for $550 ($750 for non-members).

Registration is still open for the Canadian Biofuels Summit to be held in Vancouver, BC November 30 to December 2, 2009.

50 Hottest Companies in Bioenergy

Ballots are due today for the Biofuels Digest “50 Hottest Companies” competition. 

Write to Us!

We’d love to hear from if you have an idea for a story or would simply like your renewable energy company covered.  Write to us at “editor at renewableenergymemo dot com”.

November 16, 2009

Renewable Energy Around the Web: November 16, 2009

Filed under: Around the Web — Tags: , , , — Jonathan B. Wilson @ 7:25 am

Our weekly compendium of renewable energy news and information from around the Web.

Out of Thin Air?

Joule Biotechnologies claims to be able to convert CO2 and sunlight directly into hydrocarbons with its custom engineered microbes, according to reports.   According to the company’s press release:

“Joule is advancing a new, photosynthesis-driven approach to producing renewable fuels, avoiding the economic and environmental burden of multi-step, cellulosic or algal biomass-derived methods. The company employs a novel SolarConverter™ system, together with proprietary, product-specific organisms and state-of-the-art process design, to harness the power of sunlight while consuming waste CO2. Its pioneering technology platform has already been proven out with the conversion of CO2 into ethanol at high productivities, a process that enters pilot development in early 2010. With this latest feat of genome engineering, Joule is now capable of directly producing hydrocarbons – setting the stage for delivery of infrastructure-compatible diesel fuel without the need for raw material feedstocks or complex refining.

The breakthrough was made possible by the discovery of unique genes coding for enzymatic mechanisms that enable the direct synthesis of both alkane and olefin molecules – the chemical composition of diesel. Production was achieved at lab scale, with pilot development slated for early 2011.”

It’s an intriguing idea.  Hydrocarbons are formed naturally through a combination of photosynthesis, decomposition, time and pressure.  Chemically, it ought to be possible for a microbe to produce hydrocarbon molecules directly.

The company’s announcement says that they have demonstrated the process in a lab and plan to have a demonstration project in 2011.  What remains to be seen is whether the fast-forwarding of nature’s processes that Joule’s method enables can be done on a profitable basis at scale.  If it can, hold onto your horses.

Leaving on a Jet Plane?

Recent statements from representatives of the U.S. Air Force and the Department of Energy suggest that government leaders are focusing on the role of biofuels for aviation.  The Air Force has announced a $2.5 million biofuel research facility at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.  Biofuels Digest lists the players involved in developing biofuels for aviation applications.

Glut of Solar Panels Ending?

A research group that forecast a glut of solar panels through 2010 now believes that a surge in demand from German has taken up the slack and that demand is now catching up with supply.  Prices for solar panels had dropped through much of 2009 as supplies exceeded sales but German and European purchases have picked up in late 2009 and prices seem to be stabilizing, according to reports.

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Know of a story that we should cover?  Write to us at “editor at renewableenergymemo.com”.

November 9, 2009

Renewable Energy Around the Web: November 9, 2009

Our weekly compilation of renewable energy news and information from around the Web.

Xcel Biomass Project Moves Forward

An Excel Energy biomass project in Wisconsin has been given a greenlight by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission.  After three years of project planning and evaluation, Xcel Energy will be permitted to convert a former coal-fired power plant into the largest 100 percent woody biomass-fired power plant in the Midwest.

The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin granted project approval beginning in November, roughly eight months after Xcel submitted its application. The power utility will now convert the last of the three boilers at its Bay Front Power Plant in Ashton, Wis., to utilize a biomass gasification technology. The remaining two boilers have combusted woody biomass for the past 30 years.

In its entirety, Xcel Energy expects the project to cost $58.1 million, which includes additional biomass receiving and handling facilities at Bay Front, an external gasifier, modifications to the boiler and an enhanced air quality control system.  The primary fuel source at the 60-megawatt (MW) plant will be forest waste from surrounding areas. Once fully operational, the entire plant will require 400,000 to 450,000 tons of woody biomass per year.

Conference Recommends Coal Retrofits

Speakers at the Great Plains Institute recommended converting coal-fired plants more than 25 years old to synfuel / biomass co-firing as the best method to reduce GHG from this aging plants. 

Robert Williams, senior research scientist at the Princeton Environmental Institute argued that the best way to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from coal-fired power plants in the U.S. is to replace plants that are more than 25 years old with facilities that coproduce electricity and synthetic fuels from coal and biomass while employing carbon capture and storage systems.

Williams made these statements at the GPI conference in Faro, N.D. before a crowd of about 115 people.  The conference, titled “The Future of Coal and Biomass in a Carbon-Constrained World: Technology and Policy Opportunities for the Midwest,” featured several topics and speakers from as far away as China. Tackling both coal power and transportation emissions simultaneously is the best option for meeting that 80 percent goal, Williams said. “That’s a very daunting task,” he said. “We need to make radical change and we need to get underway soon.”

Retrofitting existing coal power plants with carbon capture and storage systems is one option, but Williams said it’s extremely expensive and energy- and water-intensive. Completely replacing the systems not only leads to decarbonized energy, he said, but also enables coal to play a major role in the realization of zero GHG emissions in the production of synthetic transportation fuels. The replacement would mean a switch from combustion to gasification, which allows a relatively simple carbon dioxide removal, Williams said.  A coproduction system with carbon capture and storage producing two-thirds synthetic fuels and one-third electricity, fired by 11 percent biomass, reduces system-wide GHG emissions by 50 percent, whereas a system with 38 percent biomass reduces emissions by 90 percent, he cited.

In Other News . . .

Jim Lane, the editor of Biofuels Digest, has an e-book out called Citizen Cane: Essays for New Days in Bioenergy.  The work explores current topics in biofuels and bioenergy.

KLM Airlines is going to begin running test flights, with passengers, on its jets flying on biofuels.  Flights will begin on November 23. 

A Swiss investment firm has bought the 5 Mgy biodiesel plant of Tri-City Energy in Keokuk, Iowa.  The plant had been slated for auction in December.

TAC Energy has bought Fuel Managers, Inc., in a deal that combines two large fuel distributors.  The combined entity will have more than 2 billion gallons of capacity with sales in all 50 states.

Second generation ethanol producers are asking for improved federal subsidies and supports.  In testimony before Congress in late October the CEOs of several ethanol producers said that current loan guaranty and tax credit programs are proving to be insufficient to generate the capital needed to break ground on new projects. 

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We want to hear from you!  If you have an idea for a story or would like to get your company mentioned please write to us at “editor at renewableenergymemo dot com”.

October 26, 2009

Renewable Energy Around the Web: October 26, 2009

Filed under: Around the Web,Biofuels,CleanTech investing,Emissions Cap and Trade — Tags: , , — Jonathan B. Wilson @ 7:01 am

Our weekly compilation of renewable energy news and information from around the Web.

50 Hottest in Bioenergy

Our friends at Biofuels Digest have closed the nominations on their 50 hottest companies in bioenergy contest.  A select panel of judges will now rank the nominees.  Results are expected near the end of the year.

Biodiesel Turns the Corner

A hypothetical biodiesel plant generating biodiesel from soybean oil would have been profitable in Septmeber (after six months of losses) according to Biodiesel Magazine.

More Controversy Over Indirect Land Use Charges

A new paper in the journal Science, critizes the Kyoto Treaty and other international agreements for the way they calculate carbon emissions.  According to the paper, authored by a group of recognized renewable energy scientists, a better method of accounting would look at the degree to which one method of fuel generation results in few net tons of CO2 than an alternative method. 

Timothy D. Searchinger, the paper’s lead author and a researcher at Princeton, argued that the generation of power from biomass is treated as an entirely non-anthropogenic source of CO2 and that this practice under-estimates the generation of emissions from biomass and bioenergy.  He said, “It literally means you can chip up the world’s forests and burn them” for fuel without accounting for any effect on greenhouse gases. 

An article in the Wall Street Journal traced the accounting practice back to the implementation of the Kyoto protocol, which developed a system for measuring the production of greenhouse gases.  For a number of reasons, the Kyoto protocol imposed no limits on land-use emissions in developing countries.   “So if a forest is cleared in Indonesia and ends up as a biofuel in Europe, Asia does not count the land-use emissions and Europe does not report the tailpipe emissions.”

Proponents of biofuels have reacted negatively to the article, as well as to early controversy over accounting for GHG emissions attributable to land-use in developing countries, by arguing that biofuels, overall, producer fewer GHGs than do fossil fuels.

The Renewable Fuels Association, a trade association for the ethanol industry, argued that “the release of CO2 from recently living organisms has no overall effect on atmospheric CO2 levels and is therefore carbon neutral because atmospheric CO2 decreases when a plant photosynthesizes, then increases back to its initial level when that carbon (in the form of a biofuel) is burned and returned to the atmosphere. In this way, biofuels “recycle” organic carbon.”

Isn’t this all a question of timing though?  It’s true, as the RFA argues that biofuels “recycle” organic carbon because plans absorb CO2 from the atmosphere in the process of photosynthesis and then emit the same amount of carbon when they are combusted.  Fossil fuels, however, do the same thing though over a much longer period of time.

Presumably RFA’s point is that fossil fuels that have fixed carbon in a geological resource.  Once fixed, the carbon will not become a part of atmospheric CO2 unless burned.  Plant life, however, are always in the midst of either fixing or releasing CO2, as CO2 would be released when dead plants are combusted or when they rot on the forest floor. 

Canadian Biogas Producer Inks Feedstock Supply Deal

Ontario, Canada-based StormFisher Biogas has sealed a deal with grocery retailer Loblaw Companies Ltd. for the annual supply of 15,000 metric tons (16,500 tons) of organic waste to fuel its $15 million biogas plant in London, Ontario.

The agreement with Loblaw, a subsidiary of Canadian food distributor giant George Weston Ltd., is StormFisher’s biggest deal since last year’s announcement of plans to construct up to 30 anaerobic digestion plants across North America over the next five years. The plants will be funded by $350 million from private equity company Denham Capital Management, and range from 2.8 to 5 megawatts

The London facility is the company’s flagship project, slated to commence operations in late 2010. The 210,000 MMbtu/2.8 megawatt plant will require approximately 140,000 metric tons (154,300 tons) of organic waste per year and be capable of powering about 2,800 homes; the amount of organic waste Loblaw will supply should be enough to power 225 homes.

The Ontario Power Authority will purchase the electricity from StormFisher through its Standard Offer Program, a feed-in tariff that was put in place in Ontario at the beginning of 2007. According to the program criteria, biogas projects under 10 megawatts are paid 11 cents per kilowatt hour.

October 19, 2009

Renewable Energy Around the Web: October 19, 2009

Filed under: Around the Web,Biofuels — Tags: , , , , — Jonathan B. Wilson @ 6:52 am

Our weekly compilation of renewable energy news and information from around the Web.

American Bar Association Renewable Energy Committee

The Public Utility Section of the American Bar Association announced the formation of a new renewable energy committee that will pull together lawyers to study the renewable energy industry.  The ABA’s Public Utility Section is one of the oldest in the ABA and includes among its members the in-house attorneys and outside counsel for many of the country’s major electric utilities.

Coskata Opens for Business

Coskata unveiled its new nearly-commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in Madison, Pa. this past week.  According to the company:

We are proud that we have successfully scaled our technology to this significant level,” said Bill Roe, president and CEO of Coskata. “This facility is demonstrating that our efficient, affordable and flexible conversion technology is ready for commercialization. The next step is to build full-scale facilities and begin licensing our technology to project developers, project financiers and strategic partners.”

Unlike other technologies and facilities that may rely on one primary source of feedstock, Coskata’s flex ethanol facility will be producing ethanol from numerous feedstocks, including wood biomass, agricultural waste, sustainable energy crops, and construction waste. This flexible approach at the Madison facility is enabled by Westinghouse Plasma Corporation (WPC), a wholly owned subsidiary of Alter NRG, and their plasma gasification technology. The feedstock flexible nature of the Coskata approach also allows for true geographic flexibility, meaning facilities can be built anywhere a feedstock can be sourced or delivered. 

Coskata’s technology, as demonstrated through Project Lighthouse, will be able to reduce greenhouse gasses by as much as 96% over conventional gasoline, while using less than half the water that it takes to get a gallon of gasoline. In addition, the company’s ability to produce non grain-based ethanol that is as much as 7 times as energy positive as the fossil fuel used in the process, addresses many concerns related to traditional processes, including energy efficiency and the use of grain. 

“The integrated biorefinery – utilizing Westinghouse Plasma Gasification on the front end and Coskata’s syngas-to-biofuels conversion process on the back end – serves as an excellent example of two leading companies working together to deliver a viable process to the biofuel market,” said Mark Montemurro, President and CEO of Alter NRG. “We’re excited to be delivering the feedstock flexibility to Coskata’s efficient and affordable process.” 

The facility is a demonstration of “minimum scale engineering”, an industry standard term which means it is the smallest size that will still allow the company to scale directly to 50 million and 100 million gallon Coskata facilities. Some of the ethanol that is being produced at the facility has been delivered to the General Motors Milford Proving Grounds for early testing, as well as to another major strategic partner.

“We invested in Coskata so that we could enable the rapid deployment of commercially viable and environmentally sustainable ethanol globally,” said Bob Babik, GM Vehicle Emissions Director. “We’re proud to say that we have already accepted some of Coskata’s ethanol at our Milford facility.”  

Globally, General Motors has produced more than 5 million flex-fuel vehicles to date. In the U.S. alone, there are more than 3.5 million GM flex-fuel cars and trucks on the road. For the 2010 model year, 17 E85-capable flex-fuel vehicles from the Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC brands.

GM claims to be on track to make more than half of its vehicle production flex-fuel capable by 2012.

New Biomass Facility in South Georgia

 Wiregrass Power announced that it would break ground in 2010 on a $100 million biomass facility in Valdosta in southern Georgia.  The plant will process wood waste and wastewater sludge that is currently being deposited in a landfill. 

 Momentum for Biofuels

 We covered the increasing number of biofuels projects in the works, wondering aloud whether biofuels were gaining momentum.

 Environmental Issues Slow Big Solar Projects

 The LA Times covered the problem of delays at large solar projects in California due to environmental permitting delays. 

 The development of solar-power facilities in the desert has been a top priority of the Obama administration as it seeks to ease the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels and curb global warming. In addition, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has urged that the state meet one-third of its electricity needs from renewable sources by 2020.

Companies are racing to finalize their permits and break ground by the end of next year, which would qualify them to obtain some of the $15 billion in federal stimulus funds designated for renewable energy projects. At stake is the creation of 48,000 jobs and more than 5,300 megawatts of new energy, enough to power almost 1.8 million homes, according to federal land managers.

But the presence of sensitive habitat, rare plants and imperiled creatures such as desert tortoises, bighorn sheep and flat-tailed horned lizards threatens to stall or derail some of the projects closest to securing permits.

 The article describes the utter chaos that ensues when multiple state and federal agencies are empowered to review and approve (or not) plans to locate energy facilities.  While the Obama administration has clearly made the installation of additional solar capacity a priority, other state and federal agencies will deny permission over any perceived environmental risk.  The end result is to increase the cost of initiating new facilities, to decrease the number of new facilities and ultimately to drive up the cost of power itself.

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