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.
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.
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