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May 30, 2011

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February 3, 2010

Administration Announces New Program to Promote Biofuels and Renewable Energy (RFS2; Carbon Sequestration; Biomass Crop Assistance Program)

President Obama today announced a series of steps as part of a comprehensive strategy to enhance American energy independence and build a foundation for a new clean energy economy. The administration believes that the strategy will create new industries and millions of jobs. (Reuters;  Reaction from Renewable Fuels Association).  At a meeting with a bipartisan group of governors,  the President set forth three efforts that he believes will work in concert to boost biofuels production and America’s dependence on foreign oil:

• The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finalized a rule to implement the long-term renewable fuels standard of 36 billion gallons by 2022 established by Congress.

• The U.S. Department of Agriculture has proposed a rule on the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) that would provide financing to increase the conversion of biomass to bioenergy. 

• The President’s Biofuels Interagency Working Group released its first report – Growing America’s Fuel. The report, authored by group co-chairs, Secretaries Vilsack and Chu, and Administrator Jackson, lays out a strategy to advance the development and commercialization of a sustainable biofuels industry to meet or exceed the nation’s biofuels targets. 

In addition, President Obama announced a Presidential Memorandum creating an Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage to develop a comprehensive and coordinated federal strategy to speed the development and deployment of clean coal technologies. The U.S. will continue to rely on the availability and affordability of domestic coal for decades to meet its energy needs, and these advances are necessary to reduce pollution in the meantime.

The Presidential Memorandum calls for five to ten commercial demonstration projects to be up and running by 2016.

President Obama said, “Now, I happen to believe that we should pass a comprehensive energy and climate bill. It will make clean energy the profitable kind of energy, and the decision by other nations to do this is already giving their businesses a leg up on developing clean energy jobs and technologies. But even if you disagree on the threat posed by climate change, investing in clean energy jobs and businesses is still the right thing to do for our economy. Reducing our dependence on foreign oil is still the right thing to do for our security. We can’t afford to spin our wheels while the rest of the world speeds ahead.” 

“Advancing biomass and biofuel production holds the potential to create green jobs, which is one of the many ways the Obama Administration is working to rebuild and revitalize rural America,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Facilities that produce renewable fuel from biomass have to be designed, built and operated. Additionally, BCAP will stimulate biomass production and that will benefit producers and provide the materials necessary to generate clean energy and reduce carbon pollution.”

“President Obama and this Administration are strongly committed to the development of carbon capture and storage technology as a key part of the clean energy economy. We can and should lead the world in this technology and the jobs it can create,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “The actions President Obama has taken today will create jobs, slash greenhouse gas emissions and increase our energy security while helping to put America at the leading edge of the new energy economy,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “The renewable fuel standards will help bring new economic opportunity to millions of Americans, particularly in rural America. EPA is proud to be a part of the President’s effort to combat climate change and put Americans back to work – both through the new renewable fuel standards and through our co-chairmanship with the Department of Energy of the Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage.”

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.

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 2, 2009

Gevo Offers Biobutanol Retrofits for Ethanol Producers

Biofuels Digest reports that Gevo has launched a 1 MGY biobutanol plant in St. Joseph, Missouri.

Butanol is formed through fermentation, like ethanol, but has a higher energy value and a lower vaporization profile.  This makes butanol an ideal drop-in fuel for existing gasoline vehicles or as a supplement to biodiesel.

Gevo has also announced the formation of Gevo Development to develop a fleet of biorefineries based on converting existing ethanol plants to Gevo’s proprietary technology for biobutanol.  The new company will be managed by Mike Slaney and David Black, who co-founded and raised over $430 million to capitalize ASABiofuels. In August, 2007, VeraSun Energy Corporation acquired ASAB, its three ethanol production facilities (totaling 300 million gallons per year of ethanol capacity) and three development sites for $725 million.

Gevo CEO Pat Gruber said that the “Gevo Development’s business model is open — it will include acquisitions, joint ventures and tolling arrangements providing flexibility to existing owners and lenders.”

September 30, 2009

Senate Climate Bill

Filed under: Emissions Cap and Trade — Tags: , — Jonathan B. Wilson @ 3:36 pm

Senators John Kerry and Barbara Boxer today filed an emissions cap-and-trade bill to serve as the Senate’s version of Waxman Markey.  The advance copy available here has not yet been assigned a bill number and is not yet available through Thomas. 

The bill is more flexible on cap-and-trade than Waxman Markey and is thought to signal the administration’s willingness to deal of key terms in order to get some kind of emissions control bill passed.

September 25, 2009

JP Morgan Leaps into Carbon Trading

Filed under: Emissions Cap and Trade — Tags: , — Jonathan B. Wilson @ 8:21 am

In a development little-noticed in the U.S. media, JP Morgan Chase has placed a bet in the coming carbon trading market by making an offer for European carbon-trading firm EcoSecurities Group plc.  The management of EcoSecurities Group yesterday announced that it was backing JP Morgan’s bid to be acquired. 

EcoSecurities provides a range of consulting services, including emissions abatement and project management in the field of carbon offsets.  JPMC’s bid of 129 million pounds (roughly $200 million U.S.) represents a 17% premium over the price offered by a competing bidder.  Shares in EcoSecurities have risen roughly 35% since July. 

Carbon trading in the U.S. currently exists only on a voluntary basis and carbon offset projects in the U.S. are not eligible for offset trading in the European offset market.  JPMC’s investment represents, to at least some degree, a bet by that firm that carbon trading in some form will one day reach the U.S.

September 14, 2009

Renewable Energy Around the Web: September 14, 2009

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

Biomass in North Carolina

North Carolina is exploring the potential of biomass energy through the recently created Biofuels Center of North Carolina.  The Center  is investigating the potential for in-state biofuels production from energy crops and forest biomass within the state. Industry leaders, elected officials and others toured the center’s four-acre plot of more than a dozen energy crops and fast-growth trees during the North Carolina Grows Biofuels event at the end of August.

The North Carolina General Assembly established the nonprofit center in 2007 to address strategies outlined in the North Carolina Strategic Plan for Biofuels Leadership, created by policymakers to develop a homegrown industry. The state allocated $5 million to the center to fund research and development in agriculture economics, conversion technologies and workforce development.  Norman Smit, director of communications and education for the center, noted that several companies have received grants.  He said, “The biofuel center’s goal is to replace 10 percent of all fuel used in the state with homegrown and produced biofuels by 2017.  He noted that North Carolina buys 5.6 billion gallons of liquid fuels each year.  

Energy crops have been planted at 20 sites around the state in partnership with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and North Carolina State University. They include miscanthus, switchgrass, sweet sorghum, grain sorghum, tropical sugar beets and many others, along with fast-growth trees like sweetgum and cottonwood, Smit said. The center will use the data collected to determine which crops grow best in certain types of soil around the state, he said. The center will also determine the markets for the crops, ensuring they are economically sensible for farmers. “We want to be able to talk to farmers and say, ‘This is what you need to look out for,” Smit said. “We want to look for crops that will provide farmers with income.” While the Midwest can sustain one crop per season, North Carolina can support two, he added.

48C Application Deadline

Preliminary applications for Section 48C qualified advanced energy projects are due on September 16, 2009, just two days hence. 

Show Me the Money

Anna  Austin and Lisa Gibson chronicle the challenges of renewable energy promoters in finding cash funding for their projects in the latest issue of Biomass Magazine

They write that, “although a lack of liquidity in the equity and debt markets is currently keeping a lid on project development activity, there are some encouraging signs on the horizon for biomass projects, according to Rob Kurtz, BBI International Engineering and Consulting Group project manager. “Positive signs include the recent USDA issuance of feasibility study grant guidelines for both combined heat and power at biofuels plants and anaerobic digestion systems, and a slight thawing in venture capital/risk investment as evidenced by the Tendril and Gevo investments recently announced, and several other announcements by companies developing combined-heat-and-power systems,” Kurtz says. The Tendril Networks and Gevo investments totaling $70 million were among the top five reported venture-capital deals nationwide for clean energy and environmental technology companies in the second quarter, according to Ernst & Young LLP. Gevo, an Englewood, Colo.-based alternative fuels producer received $40 million and Tendril, a Boulder, Colo.-based smart grid software company received $30 million.

“Biomass project developers need to think big when they are putting together their financial package, says Timothy Baye, bioeconomy and bioenergy business development specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Extension. “Think return on capital, working capital needs, for this type of commodity-related business, you’ll need equal to or up to three times the amount of the capital budget, because you’ve got to secure a feedstock—and that takes money.””

Up in the Air, Junior Birdmen!

Biofuels Digest is reporting that Sustainable Oils been awarded a contract by the Defense Energy Support Center for 40,000 gallons of camelina-based jet fuel.

The fuel will be delivered to the Naval Air Systems Command fuels team in 2009 and will support the Navy’s certification testing program of alternative fuels. The contract includes an option to supply up to an additional 150,000 gallons of camelina-based jet fuel.

Camelina was selected by the DESC because it does not compete with food crops, has been proven to reduce carbon emissions by more than 80 percent, and has already been successfully tested in a commercial airline test flight. In addition, camelina has naturally high oil content, is drought tolerant and requires less fertilizer and herbicides.

It is an excellent rotation crop with wheat, and it can also grow on marginal land. Camelina has also been proven to significantly reduce carbon emissions in aviation fuel. A life cycle analysis (LCA) of jet fuel created from camelina conducted at Michigan Tech University in conjunction with UOP LLC, a Honeywell Company, and Sustainable Oils found that the renewable fuel reduces carbon emissions by 80 percent compared to petroleum jet fuel.

Camelina is the most readily available renewable fuel feedstock that meets the Navy’s criteria, with the ability to scale up acreage to meet demand.  The camelina for the contract was primarily grown in 2009 and harvested recently by farmers in Montana. The company also has several field trials in Washington state.

More Green Jobs

A new study is reporting that shifting to renewable energy will create more jobs than continued dependence on fossil fuels. 

The study, by environmental group Greenpeace and the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC), urged governments to agree a strong new United Nations pact to combat climate change in December in Copenhagen, partly to safeguard employment.

“A switch from coal to renewable electricity generation will not just avoid 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions, but will create 2.7 million more jobs by 2030 than if we continue business as usual,” the report said.

Governments were often wrong to fear that a shift to green energy was a threat to jobs, said Sven Teske, lead author of the report at Greenpeace. He said that the wind turbine industry was already the second largest steel consumer in Germany after cars.

“Renewable power industries can create a lot of jobs,” he told Reuters of the outlook for solar, wind, tidal, biomass — such as wood and crop waste — and other renewable energies in power generation. “This research proves that renewable energy is key to tackling both the climate and economic crises,” said Christine Lins, Secretary General of EREC, which represents clean energy industries.

Assuming strong policies to shift to renewables, the study projected that the number of jobs in power generation would rise by more than 2 million to 11.3 million in 2030, helped by a surge in renewables jobs to 6.9 million from 1.9 million.

While the prospect of more jobs in renewable energy is heartening, the study seems to drive home what would be an obvious (and not terribly meaningful) point.  Shifting energy production from one technoloyg to ANY OTHER TECHNOLOGY would necessarily create more jobs.  The effort and stress of making any kind of change in production would necessarily “create jobs” as facilities were designed, funded, built and staffed.  We won’t criticize green jobs on these pages, but this kind of study runs the risk of prompting a backlash as it touts an economic necessity (that a shift from one technology to another technology creates new employment potential) as if it were a merit of renewble energy per se.  That kind of reasoning will not help the renewable energy industry in the long run.

100 Servants

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, in an interview with National Public Radio, called for greater conservation and more sensitive in using energy in America.  Today, he said,  “every person in the United States uses energy as if they had 100 personal servants at their beck and call,” cleaning their carpets, or traveling to the supermarket.  While he won’t ask everyone to “cut” the number of their “servants” in half or by some other fraction, he believes American need to be more aware of how they use energy and to conserve more.

Your Name Here

Does your company have a story of interest to the renewable energy committee?  Drop us a line at “editor” at “renewableenergy” dot com and tell us what’s going on with your company or firm.  We would love to hear from you.

August 18, 2009

An Exclusive Interview with Eric Taub

In the first interview of the series, we interview Eric Taub, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Verus Carbon Neutral, the only aggregator of carbon credits in Atlanta, Georgia.

Before Eric founded Verus Carbon Neutral, he was a partner and portfolio manager at Juno Management of Atlanta. His career has taken him to London, New York, Mexico City and Chicago. Eric’s experience includes several years as Senior Vice President in portfolio management at Wachovia, Managing Director at SunTrust, Director of Emerging Markets at Bank of Montreal, and certification as a Chartered Financial Analyst.

You can find the complete interview here.

August 17, 2009

A Trillion Dollars for Renewable Energy

Filed under: CleanTech investing,Emissions Cap and Trade — Tags: , — Jonathan B. Wilson @ 3:12 pm

Congressman Ed Markey, co-sponsor of the epinomous cap and trade bill, said that passage of the Waxman-Markey bill would bring “a trillion dollars” in private investment into renewable energy.   Congressman Markey was touring the Alameda, California labs of Aurora Energy at the time.

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