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Ethanol – the Good, the Bad, the Ugly, the Beautiful

The Good

By John Addison. The 9 billion gallons of ethanol that Americans used last year helped drive down oil prices. For those of us who fuel our vehicles with gasoline, as much as 10 percent of that gasoline is ethanol. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 requires that more biofuel be used every year until we reach 36 billion gallons by 2022.

Reduced oil prices are good. We can go from good to great, if we move past fuel from food and haste to fuels from wood and waste. Although the economics do not yet favor major production, pilot plants are taking wood and paper waste and converting it to fuel. Other cellulosic material is even more promising. Some grasses, energy crops, and hybrid poplar trees promise zero-emission fuel sources. These plants absorb CO2 and sequester it in the soil with their deep root systems. These plants often grow in marginal lands needing little irrigation and no fertilizers and pesticides, standing in sharp contrast to the industrial agriculture that produces much of our fuel.

Cellulosic biofuels are becoming economic reality. Norampac is the largest manufacturer of containerboard in Canada. Next generation ethanol producer TRI is not only producing fuel, its processes allow the plant to produce 20% more paper. Prior to installing the TRI spent-liquor gasification system the mill had no chemical and energy recovery process. With the TRI system, the plant is a zero effluent operation, and more profitable.

A Khosla Ventures portfolio company is Range Fuels which sees fuel potential from timber harvesting residues, corn stover (stalks that remain after the corn has been harvested), sawdust, paper pulp, hog manure, and municipal garbage that can be converted into cellulosic ethanol. In the labs, Range Fuels has successfully converted almost 30 types of biomass into ethanol. While competitors are focused on developing new enzymes to convert cellulose to sugar, Range Fuels’ technology eliminates enzymes which have been an expensive component of cellulosic ethanol production. Range Fuels’ thermo-chemical conversion process uses a two step process to convert the biomass to synthesis gas, and then converts the gas to ethanol.

Range Fuels in Georgia is building the first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in the United States. Phase 1 of the plant is scheduled to complete construction in 2010 with a production capacity of 20 million gallons a year. The plant will grow to be a 100-million-gallon-per-year cellulosic ethanol plant that will use wood waste from Georgia’s forests as its feedstock.

The Bad

Over one billion people are hungry or starving. Agricultural expert Lester Brown reports, “The grain required to fill an SUV’s 25-gallon tank with ethanol just once will feed one person for a whole year.”

Corn ethanol that is transported over 1,000 miles on a tanker truck, and then delivered as E85 into a flexfuel vehicle that fails to deliver 20 miles per gallon is bad. GM and Ford have pushed flexfuel vehicles that can run on gasoline or E85, which is a blend with as much as 85 percent ethanol. For the 2009 model year, the best rated car running on E85 in the United States was the Chevrolet HHR using a stick-shift, with a United States EPA gasoline mileage rating of 26 miles per gallon, and an E85 rating of only 19 miles per gallon.

In other words, if you passed on using E85 and drove a hybrid with good mileage, you would double miles per gallon and produce far less greenhouse gas emissions than any U.S. flexfuel offering. Top 10 Low Carbon Footprint Four-Door Sedans for 2009

The problem is not the idea of flexfuel. You can get a flexfuel vehicle with good mileage in Brazil. The problem is that GM and Ford used their flexfuel strategy as an eay way out, instead of making the tougher choices to truly embrace hybrids and real fuel efficiency. Flexfuel buying credits and ethanol subsidies have created incentives to buy cars that fail to cut emissions.

A new paper – Economic and Environmental Transportation Effects of Large-Scale Ethanol Production and Distribution in the United States – documents that the cost and emissions from transporting ethanol long-distance is much higher than previously thought. Ethanol is transported by tanker truck, not by pipeline, although Brazil will experiment with pipeline transportation.

The Ugly

It’s a tough time to make money with ethanol. Major players, like Verasun, are in bankruptcy. For the industry, stranded assets are being sold for pennies on the dollar. With thin margins, low oil prices, and high perceived risk, it is difficult to get a new plant financed.

Activists worry about oil refiners, such as Valero, offering to buy ethanol producers such as Verasun. But oil companies can bring needed financing, program management, and blending of next generation biofuels with existing petroleum refined gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.

Government mandates for more ethanol do not match today’s reality. Subsidies to industrial corn agriculture are not good uses of taxpayer money. Encouraging federal, state, and local governments with their 4 million vehicles to give priority to flexfuel vehicles with lousy mileage is government waste.

Not all government help is misplaced. Range Fuels large-scale cellulosic ethanol production was helped with an $80 million loan guarantee. The loan guarantee falls under the Section 9003 Biorefinery Assistance Program authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill, which provides loan guarantees for commercial-scale biorefineries and grants for demonstration-scale biorefineries that produce advanced biofuels or any fuel that is not corn- based.

The Beautiful

Beautiful is the transition to electric drive systems and the development of next generation biofuels. Last year, Americans in record numbers road electric light-rail in record numbers. In 2008, Americans drove 100 billion miles less than 2007. Americans also drove 40,000 electric vehicles.

Critics and special interests try to stop the shift to electric vehicles by wrongly stating that if there is coal power used, then there are no benefits. Mitsubishi estimates that its electric vehicle is 67 percent efficient, in contrast to a 15 percent efficient gasoline vehicle. Efficient electric drive systems lower lifecycle emissions. With the growth of wind, solar, geothermal, and other renewables, lifecycle emissions from electric transportation will continue to fall. For example, my main mode of transportation is electric buses and rail that use hydropower. My backup mode is a Toyota Prius that I share with my wife.

Long-term we will continue to see the growth of electric drive systems in hybrid cars, plug-in hybrids, battery electric, fuel cell vehicles, light-rail, and high-speed rail. Over decades, the use of internal combustion engines will decrease, but the transition will take decades, especially for long-haul trucks. During these decades we can benefit from next generation biofuels that will replace corn ethanol and biodiesel from food sources.

Shell has a five-year development agreement with Virent, which takes biomass and converts it to gasoline – biogasoline. Gasoline, after all, is a complex hydrocarbon molecule that can be made from feedstock other than petroleum. Unlike ethanol, biogasoline has the same energy content as gasoline. Unlike cellulosic ethanol alternatives, Virent produces water using a bioforming process, rather than consuming valuable water. Virent has multi-million dollar investments form from Cargill, Honda, and several venture capital firms. Biogasoline will be its major initial focus. Its technology can also be used to produce hydrogen, biodiesel, and bio jet fuel.

Sapphire is an exciting new biofuels company backed with over $100 million investment from firms such as ARCH Venture Partners, the Wellcome Trust, Cascade Investment, and Venrock. The biotech firm has already produced 91-octane gasoline that conforms to ASTM certification, made from a breakthrough process that produces crude oil directly from sunlight, CO2 and photosynthetic microorganisms, beginning with algae.

The process is not dependent on food crops or valuable farmland, and is highly water efficient. “It’s hard not to get excited about algae’s potential,” said Paul Dickerson, chief operating officer of the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy “Its basic requirements are few: CO2, sun, and water. Algae can flourish in non-arable land or in dirty water, and when it does flourish, its potential oil yield per acre is unmatched by any other terrestrial feedstock.”

Scale is a major challenge. Producing a few gallons per day in a lab is not the same as producing 100 million gallons per year at a lower cost than the petroleum alternative. Yet, some of our best minds are optimistic that it will happen in the next few years. We will see fuel from marginal lands, from crops and algae that sequester carbon emissions. The fuel will blend with existing gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel, and run in all engines, not just those with low mileage.

Some think that such a transition is as impossible as an interception with a 100 yard run for a touchdown in a Superbowl. It is exciting when the impossible happens.

John Addison is the author of the new book – Save Gas, Save the Planet – which is now available at Amazon. He publishes the Clean Fleet Report.

Hydrogen Goes Public in Southern California

By John Addison (6/26/08). On April 20, 2004, after 40 years of fighting it was all smiles between auto executives from Detroit and the regulators of California’s health and emissions. That day a new governor signed the historic California Hydrogen Highways Executive Order. California would be energy independent, instead of consuming more oil than all nations except the USA and China. You read that right. 38 million Californians uses more oil each year than all of Japan, all of Germany, and more than over one billion people in India.

Terry Tamminen, then Secretary California Environmental Protection Agency, now an energy and environmental consultant to governments and author of Lives per Gallon, walked to the podium and delivered a powerful address:

“More than six generations of Californians have relied upon petroleum to power everything from our industries to trips in the family car. But the basic motor vehicle has changed little in over a century, while air pollution sends one in seven children in this region to school every day carrying asthma inhalers. The health of our businesses is also threatened by rapidly rising fuel prices – – with no end in sight.

We cannot build a 21st Century economy on 19th century technology. Four decades ago, President Kennedy’s bold leadership sent Americans to the moon using hydrogen fuel and fuel cells. Today we can certainly harness that same technology to take us to work, to school, and on a family vacation.”

Terry Tamminen now drives a Honda FCX hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. The car is an electric vehicle that uses an electric motor, not an engine, and captures braking energy into advanced batteries. The car also has a fuel cell which takes hydrogen from the onboard storage tank and makes continuous electricity. From his home in Santa Monica, Terry can drive almost 200 miles then pull into a hydrogen station and refuel. Terry leases the car from Honda for $500 per month. The lease includes all maintenance and collision insurance. In the future, he may lease Honda’s latest fuel cell vehicle, the FCX Clarity for $600 per month, and get a range of almost 300 miles.

Unlike most places in the United States, Terry can find over ten hydrogen stations in the nearby Los Angeles area for a fill-up. Conveniently nearby is a new Shell gas station that also includes a hydrogen pump. The hydrogen is made from H2O at the station. Yes, water is split into hydrogen and oxygen. Customers like Terry can fuel their hydrogen vehicles in five minutes then drive off, an advantage over battery electric vehicles that are typically charged overnight.

With his zero-emission vehicle, Terry gets convenience while staying true to his environmental values.

This Thursday, June 26, Shell opened a new public hydrogen fueling station, conveniently located near two of the world’s busiest freeways – the 405 and the 10. The station looks like any other Shell Station.

You can also stop and fill-up with gasoline, buy snacks, use the restroom, even inflate your tires for better mileage. “California is leading the way with clean fuels,” said Graeme Sweeney, Executive Vice President for Shell Future Fuels and CO2 at the official opening of the station.

The electrolyzer will make enough hydrogen for about seven cars per day with 40kg of storage. Hydrogenics provided the integrated hydrogen fueling station, including electrolyzer, compressor, storage, and dispensing systems. In order to meet the demanding space requirements of the fueling station, Hydrogenics implemented a canopy system where all the components are mounted on the roof of the station canopy, minimizing the footprint of the hydrogen station.The electrolyzer is powered with Green Energy from the LA Department of Water and Power. By paying an extra 3 cents per kilowatt hour, Shell uses renewable energy generated by wind, solar, bioenergy, hydro and geothermal.

The station’s added capacity will be welcome by California’s fleet users of over 100 hydrogen vehicles who need refills on some of their trips. These fleet users include the nearby City of Los Angeles, City of Santa Monica, and UCLA. Most of California’s 24 hydrogen stations serve only their own fleets; some offer courtesy fills to other fleets. Shell competitor, BP, also offers a public hydrogen station at LA Airport, but this is not a full service station with gasoline filling.

The new Shell hydrogen station is also near the rich and famous who are starting to drive hydrogen vehicles. The station is easily accessed from Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Brentwood, and Santa Monica. Early customers of the new Honda FCX Clarity include actress Jamie Lee Curtis and filmmaker husband Christopher Guest, actress Laura Harris, and film producer Ron Yerxa.

Over the next three years, Honda will be leasing 200 FCX Clarity four-door sedans. In California, a three-year lease will run $600 a month, which includes maintenance and collision coverage. Although Shell will be selling hydrogen for about double the gasoline equivalent, the new Honda is speced at 68 miles per gallon equivalent (your mileage may vary), so drivers replacing gasoline vehicles that get less than 34 miles per gallon are likely to be money ahead in fuel costs.

The new FCX Clarity demonstrates the continuous improvement that Honda has made since its early fuel cell vehicles and electric vehicles with limited range: an advanced new four door, four-passenger sedan design, a greater than 30 percent increase in driving range to 280 miles, a 20+ percent increase in fuel economy, and a 40 percent smaller and 50 percent lighter new lithium-ion battery pack. Its fuel efficiency is three times that of a modern gasoline-powered automobile, such as the Accord.

American Honda has been recognized four consecutive times as America’s “greenest automaker” by the Union of Concerned Scientists, most recently in 2007, and has maintained the highest automobile fleet-average fuel efficiency (lowest fleet-average CO2 emissions) of any U.S. automaker over the past -years. In addition to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, Honda is expanding its offerings of hybrid vehicles. My mother, who has carefully watched every dollar since her childhood in the Great Depression, loves the fuel economy of her Honda Civic Hybrid. The company is rumored to be planning a new hybrid for next year, priced well under $20,000 to reach a broader market.

Although Honda can deliver 280 mile range with hydrogen at the lower pressure 5,000 psi (35 mPa) delivered at this new hydrogen station, and at most stations, most other auto makers need double the pressure of 10,000 psi (70 mPa) to get adequate range.

General Motors is putting 100 of its larger crossover SUV Hydrogen Equinox on the road with fleets and individuals. For example, in Burbank the Walt Disney Company is using ten of the GM Equinoxes in a 30 month trial. They fill at a private 10,000 psi (70 mPa) station in Burbank to achieve a 160 mile range. Anyone filling an Equinox at the new Shell station is likely to only get an 80 mile range at the lower pressure. Burbank and Irvine have the only 10,000 psi (70 mPa) stations in California. GM’s Project Driveway

GM is placing a bigger bet on its Chevy Volt, the sleek 4-door sedan plug-in hybrid targeted to start selling in 2010. The vehicle will travel 40 miles on an electric charge, then use a small gasoline engine to extend its range. GM will eventually offer a family of vehicles using the Volt’s E-Flex architecture. One E-Flex concept car that GM has demonstrated, uses a fuel cell not a gasoline engine to give extended range. Plug-in hydrogen vehicles may be in GM’s future.

Both Honda and GM will face competition from Daimler which has over 100 hydrogen vehicles in use by customers. 60 are Mercedes F-Cell passenger vehicles, 3 are Sprinter delivery vans used by UPS and others, and close to 40 buses that transport thousands globally on a daily basis.

By using green energy to power the electrolysis, Shell provides a zero emission source-to-wheels solution. This overcomes the problem at half of California’s hydrogen stations where hydrogen is remotely reformed from natural gas, then truck transported, providing modest lifecycle GHG benefits when compared with the most fuel efficient gasoline hybrids. Newer stations, however, use approaches that dramatically reduce emissions such as pipelining waste hydrogen, onsite reformation, and electrolysis using renewable energy.

Over the next twenty years, hydrogen will neither be the sole solution to energy security and global warming, nor will it fail. There will not be a Hydrogen Economy. Nor, as some critics claim will there never be hydrogen vehicles.

Most likely, hydrogen will follow the success of natural gas vehicles. There are about five million natural gas vehicles in operation globally. Over 90% of the natural gas used in the USA is from North America. Transportation use of natural gas has doubled in only five years. Natural gas vehicles are popular in fleets that carry lots of people: buses, shuttles, and taxis. Los Angeles Metro uses 2,400 natural gas buses to transport millions. Most of the City of Santa Monica’s 595 vehicles run on natural gas, be they buses, trash trucks, or heavy vehicles.

Natural gas is primarily hydrogen. The molecule is four hydrogen atoms and one carbon. Steam reformation makes hydrogen from CH4 and H2O. Hydrogen is used in fuel cell electric vehicles with far better fuel economy than the natural gas engine vehicles that they replace. For example, at Sunline Transit, their hydrogen fuel cell bus is achieving 2.5 times the fuel economy of a similar CNG bus on the same route. Specifically 7.37GGE to the CNG vehicle’s 2.95GGE. Sunline has a new fuel cell bus on order with even great expected gains. NREL Report

Some major auto makers and energy providers calculate that it will only take about 40 public hydrogen stations and reasonably priced vehicles to the hydrogen dilemma of which comes first, vehicles or stations. By targeted the area from Burbank to Irvine, in Southern California, both are happening.

Public education will also be critical for hydrogen to be embraced by the public. In addition to the new hydrogen pump at the Santa Monica Boulevard Station, Shell has converted an unused service bay into a visitor center to help educate drivers about the use of hydrogen and fuel cell vehicles.

From London to Los Angeles, from Shanghai to Santa Monica, cities are planning for a zero-emission future. To encourage the transition, cities like London have imposed pricey congestion fees, but exempted zero-emission vehicles such as battery-electric and hydrogen fuel cell. In response, auto makers have accelerated their electric vehicle development and providers like Shell are planning on hydrogen stations for these cities.

Southern California will have cleaner air and less gasoline usage for several reasons including: electric rail, more fuel efficient vehicles, plug-in hybrids and electric cars. In an upcoming article, I will also document the growing success of public transportation in Southern California. The advances being made by major providers such as Honda, GM, and Shell are part of the solution.

Copyright © 2008. John Addison. Portions of this article may be included in John Addison’s upcoming book. Permission to reproduce if this copyright notice is included.

HMC, GM, RDSA, DAI, BP

Biofuel Innovators with Alternatives to Oil

By John Addison (5/14/08). Oil soars to $125 per barrel and economies around the world sputter or fall into recession. Enough is enough. Many biofuels can be blended with gasoline and diesel refined from oil, then pumped into our existing vehicles. Even making our fuels with ten percent biofuel and ninety percent refined oil is enough to drop demand for oil and send the price south.

At the moment, this approach has major drawbacks. Food prices are soaring as more ethanol is made from corn, and biodiesel from soy and palm oil. Rain forests are being slashed and burned to increase production of soy and palm oil. Next generation biofuels, however, promise to minimize these downsides while ending our dependency on oil.

“Once viewed as an environmentally-friendly, silver bullet alternative to fossil fuels, biofuels have recently become “public enemy number one” in regard to rising food prices. But what role does the growing biofuels market really play in the current food crisis?” Asks James Greenwood, President and CEO, Biotechnology Industry Organization, who goes on to answer the question.

“There are a number of factors contributing to rising food costs. Poor harvests over the past year in Australia, Canada, South America and Eastern Europe. Protectionist tariff policies affecting the rice-producing nations of South Asia. A weak dollar is driving up the demand for U.S. exports of grains, a dynamic exacerbated by hedge fund and pension fund managers who are pouring unprecedented levels of investment in grain commodities. Growing incomes and meat-eating preferences of an emerging middle class in countries like India and China are increasing global demand for animal feed and the fuel required for production and transport. But the most significant factors driving up food prices are ever-rising energy and transportation costs.

“In coming years, biotechnology will allow us to create biofuels from non-food crops, crops that yield more per acre, require less fertilizer and are more tolerant of drought and other adverse conditions. These scientific breakthroughs will only enhance the world’s ability to feed and fuel itself in a responsible and sustainable way. As biofuels production transitions to these second and third generation biofuels, biotechnology will play an essential role in providing the world with cleaner fuel and more affordable food.”

The U.S. Agriculture Department projects that the combination of a shrinking corn crop and the swelling appetite for corn ethanol will keep the price of the nation’s largest crop in record territory into 2009. USDA economists expect U.S. farmers to produce 12.1 billion bushels of corn, down 7.3% from the record 13.1 billion bushels they harvested in 2007, as farmers grow more soy.

In the U.S., ethanol is currently in far greater demand than biodiesel. By law, 36 billion gallons of ethanol must be in use by 2020 in the USA. This ethanol will primarily be blended with gasoline. E10, a blend of ten percent ethanol and ninety percent petroleum refined gasoline will be common. By contrast, in the U.S. most diesel fuel is consumed by heavy vehicles with expensive engines that must run for years. Warranties can be voided and maintenance cost increase unless the diesel fuel meets exacting standards.

Biofuel innovators were discussed and presented at the Platts Advanced Biofuels Conference, which I attended. With improved biofuels we will achieve increased energy security while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This article examines short-term and longer-term biofuel solutions.

In the heart of Silicon Valley, Khosla Ventures is funding innovative solutions for clean transportation and other major global problems. Brilliant innovators such as Vinod Khosla and Samir Kaul are involved in a number of companies creating cleaner fuels with cellulosic ethanol, biomass gasification, and synthetic biology.
Platt conference keynote speaker Vinod Khosla predicts that within five years fuel from food will no longer be competitive with cellulosic ethanol. He also predicts, “In five years, oil will be uncompetitive with biofuel, even at $50 per barrel, though oil will take longer to decline in price.”

Khosla Ventures identifies several sources of cellulosic ethanol. “There are four principal sources of biomass and biofuels we consider (1) energy crops on agricultural land and timberlands using crop rotation schemes that improve traditional row crop agriculture AND recover previously degraded lands (2) winter cover crops grown on current annual crop lands using the land during the winter season (or summer, in the case of winter wheat) when it is generally dormant (while improving land ecology) (3) excess non-merchantable forest material that is currently unused (about 226 million tons according to the US Department of Energy), and (4) organic municipal waste, industrial waste and municipal sewage.” Khosla Papers and Presentations

Sugarcane is the currently the most efficient feedstock for larger scale ethanol production. While corn ethanol delivers little more energy output than the total energy necessary to grow, process, and transport it; sugarcane ethanol delivers eight times the energy output as lifecycle energy input. Also, sugarcane typically produces twice as much fuel per acre as corn.

Brazil produces almost as much sugarcane ethanol as the United States produces corn ethanol, but at a fraction of the energy cost. Sugarcane is also grown in the southern U.S., from Florida to Louisiana to California.

Brazil is free from needing foreign oil. Flex-fuel vehicles there get much better mileage than in the U.S. If you drive into any of Brazil’s 31,000 fueling stations looking for gasoline, you will find that the gasoline has a blend of at least 20% ethanol, as required by law. 29,000 of the fueling stations also offer 100% ethanol. Ethanol in the U.S. is normally delivered on trucks, increasing its cost and lifecycle emissions. Brazil’s largest sugar and ethanol group, Cosan SA announced the creation of a company to construct and operate an ethanol pipeline.

Most sugarcane is grown in the southern state of Sao Paulo. Economics do not favor its growth in rain forests, although those who favor blocking its import make that claim. It is cattle, soy, palm oil, logging, and climate change that most threaten the rain forests. Some environmentalists are concerned that a significant percentage of Brazil’s sugarcane is grown in the cerrado, which is one of the world’s most biodiverse areas. The cerrado is rich with birds, butterflies, and thousands of unique plant species. Others argue that without sugarcane ethanol, more oil will come from strip mining Canadian tar sands and from a new “gold rush” for oil in the melting artic.

“In addition, the residue of sugarcane ethanol, bagasse, can be used for further energy production. While this may likely be used for generating carbon-neutral electricity, it could also be used in cellulosic biofuel production, potentially generating an additional 400-700 gallons per acre.” (CA LCFS Technical Analysis p 87-88)

Sugarcane growers are planning the development of varieties that can produce a larger quantity of biomass per hectare per year. These varieties are being called “energy cane” and may produce 1,200 to 3,000 gallons of ethanol per acre, contrasting with 300 to potentially 500 gallons of ethanol from an acre of corn.
Although sugarcane ethanol is currently the low-cost winner, long-term economics are likely to favor cellulosic sources.

In his keynote speech, Vinod Khosla sited promising sources such as paper waste, wood waste, forest waste, miscanthus, sorghum, hybrid poplar trees, winter cover crops, and perennial crops have deep roots and sequester carbon. Cellulosic ethanol could potentially yield 2,500 gallons per acre.

Large-scale reliance on ethanol fuel will require new conversion technologies and new feedstock. Much attention has been focused on enzymes that convert plant cellulose into ethanol. Because cellulose derived ethanol is made from the non-food portions of plants, it greatly expands the potential fuel supply without cutting our precious food supplies.

Pilot plants are now convert wood waste into ethanol. Over the next few years, much larger plants are likely to come online and start becoming a meaningful part of the energy mix. In Japan, Osaka Project, Verenium utilizes demolition wood waste as a feedstock in producing up to 1.3 million liters of cellulosic ethanol annually. A second phase, planned for completion in 2008, will increase production to 4 million liters per year. Verenium Ethanol Projects

Norampac is the largest manufacturer of containerboard in Canada. Next generation ethanol producer TRI is not only producing fuel, its processes allow the plant to produce 20% more paper. Prior to installing the TRI spent-liquor gasification system the mill had no chemical and energy recovery process. With the TRI system, the plant is a zero effluent operation, and more profitable.

The spent-liquor gasifier is designed to processes 115 Metric tons per day of black liquor solids. The chemicals are recovered and sent to the mill for pulping; the energy is recovered as steam which offsets the production of steam using purchased natural gas. All thermal energy in the plant is now renewable.
Producing cellulosic ethanol over the next few years is unlikely to be cost competitive with oil refining, unless other benefits accrue such as Norampac’s improved plant efficiency, savings in energy, heat, steam, reduction of plant waste, and/or production of multiple products from the plant. In the longer term, 100 million gallon per year cellulosic plants may be profitable without byproduct benefits.

Another Khosla Ventures portfolio company is Range Fuels which sees fuel potential from timber harvesting residues, corn stover (stalks that remain after the corn has been harvested), sawdust, paper pulp, hog manure, and municipal garbage that can be converted into cellulosic ethanol. In the labs, Range Fuels has successfully converted almost 30 types of biomass into ethanol. While competitors are focused on developing new enzymes to convert cellulose to sugar, Range Fuels’ technology eliminates enzymes which have been an expensive component of cellulosic ethanol production. Range Fuels’ thermo-chemical conversion process uses a two step process to convert the biomass to synthesis gas, and then converts the gas to ethanol.

The U.S. Department of Energy is negotiating with Range Fuels research funding of up to $76 million.
Range Fuels was awarded a construction permit from the state of Georgia to build the first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in the United States. Ground breaking will take place this summer for a 100-million-gallon-per-year cellulosic ethanol plant that will use wood waste from Georgia’s forests as its feedstock. Phase 1 of the plant is scheduled to complete construction in 2009 with a production capacity of 20 million gallons a year.

Abengoa Bioenergy, also announced the finalization of a $38-million collaboration agreement signed with the DOE for the design and development of the Hugoton, Kansas cellulosic ethanol plant which will process over 11 million gallons of ethanol per year with renewable energy as a byproduct. The biomass plant will be situated next to a conventional grain-to-ethanol plant with combined capacity of 100 million gallons, using scale to make cellulosic ethanol more cost-competitive. Abengoa Bioenergy will invest more than $500 million in the next five years in their production of biomass into ethanol in the U.S., Brazil, and Europe.
Poet, the nation’s largest ethanol maker with 22 plants now turning out 1.2 billion gallons a year, plans to open a 25-million-gallon cellulosic facility in 2009 alongside its expanded grain ethanol plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa. Corn cobs from local fields will supply it. Ethanol 2.0

Ethanol is not the only bio-game in town. Many European cars and most U.S. heavy vehicles use diesel not gasoline. New generations of biodiesel, biobutanol, and synthetic fuels are being developed that could be blended with diesel or replace it. Some of these fuels could also be blended with gasoline and jet fuel. BP and DuPont have teamed to produce biobutanol which has a higher energy density than ethanol, can be delivered in existing pipelines, and can be blended with a wider range of fuels.

Amyris will use synthetic biology to develop microorganisms that produce biofuels. LS9 Inc. is in the early stage of using synthetic biology to engineer bacteria that can make hydrocarbons for gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.

Algae have the potential to be an efficient producer of oil for biodiesel with byproducts of including hydrogen and carbohydrates which could be converted into ethanol. Biodiesel from algae can be done today. The challenge is to make production large scale and cost effective. Ideal forms of algae need to be developed. Oil must be “brewed” with the right solution, light, mixing and stirring. Cost-effective photobioreactors must be developed.

“If we were to replace all of the diesel that we use in the United States” with an algae derivative, says Solix CEO Douglas Henston, “we could do it on an area of land that’s about one-half of 1 percent of the current farm land that we use now.”

Mike Janes, Sandia National Labs, is even more optimistic, “Recent studies using a species of algae show that only 0.3 percent of the land area of the U.S. could be utilized to produce enough biodiesel to replace all transportation fuel the country currently utilizes….In addition, barren desert land, which receives high solar radiation, could effectively grow the algae, and the algae could utilize farm waste….With an oil-per-acre production rate 250 times the amount of soybeans, algae offers the highest yield feedstock for biodiesel.”

At the Platts Advanced Biofuels Conference, most algae experts, from scientists to CEOs of algael fuel companies, see challenging years ahead before cost-effective commercial scale production of biofuel from algae will be possible. As one expert quipped, “The greatest progress to scale is being done by Photoshop.”
A number of companies are actively exploring the potential for fuel from algae. “Algae have great potential as a sustainable feedstock for production of diesel-type fuels with a very small CO2 footprint,” said Graeme Sweeney, Shell Executive Vice President Future Fuels and CO2. Shell is investing in using algae to produce fuel.

These innovators will only make a difference if they receive funding and distribution. Some of the energy giants are helping. Shell is recognized as the largest biofuel distributor among the “oil majors.” Shell has invested heavily in Choren biomass-to-liquids (BTL) in Europe. Shell has invested in Iogen, a maker of cellulosic ethanol catalysts and technology.

Biofuels have the potential to provide solutions for energy security and transportation with a much smaller carbon footprint. Other solutions include reduction in solo driving due to urban density and corporate programs, public transit, more fuel efficient vehicles, and the shift to electric vehicles that require no fossil fuel or biofuel. The new biofuels have the potential to encourage sustainable reforesting and soil enrichment. Biofuel 2.0 provides a path to fuel from wood and waste, not food and haste.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report. He owns a modest number of shares of Abengoa.