The sustainability of harvesting biomass for ethanol

poet biomass harvestingThe collection of corn cobs, leaves and husks from corn fields, for use in the production of cellulosic ethanol, is not harmful to soil quality or the environment.

That’s the conclusion of a study conducted by the USDA and Iowa State University. Researchers say that, when done properly, the harvesting of biomass and production of cellulosic ethanol will reduce greenhouse gas emissions without contributing to soil degradation.

Adam Wirt, director of biomass for POET, tells Brownfield the new study helps validate the sustainability of biomass harvesting.

AUDIO: Adam Wirt (4:20 MP3)

Link to POET news release

POET: Report validates ‘biomass harvesting’ sustainability

The collection of corn cobs, leaves and husks from corn fields, for use in the production of cellulosic ethanol, is not harmful to soil quality or the environment.

That’s the conclusion of a study conducted by the USDA and Iowa State University. Researchers say that, when done properly, the harvesting of biomass and production of cellulosic ethanol will reduce greenhouse gas emissions without contributing to soil degradation.

Adam Wirt, director of biomass for POET, says the new study helps validate the sustainability of biomass harvesting.

“Taking 20 to 25 percent of the residue and making sure we’re doing it on high productivity fields that have very minimal slopes, we’re not seeing negative impacts. We’re actually seeing the inverse,” Wirt says. “We’re seeing yield increases because of that and we’re able to start seeing some tillage reductions from our growers.

“So we’re able to actually start seeing farming practices change for the better because of this.”

POET-DSM is currently finishing construction on its 25 million gallon-per-year cellulosic ethanol plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa.

“We’ve started some unit operation and validation runs and hope to be up and fully operational here in the next few months,” says Wirt.

Two other commercial scale cellulosic ethanol plants are also in their final phases of construction. Abengoa plans to start up its plant near Hugoton, Kansas in early July. And officials with the DuPont cellulosic ethanol plant being built near Nevada, Iowa say they will begin operations by the end of the year.

AUDIO: Adam Wirt (4:20 MP3)

Link to POET news release

Farm Bill Rural Development policy

New policy and new dollars for USDA Rural Development programs are coming with the signing of the new Farm Bill earlier this month.

Doug O’Brien, USDA Deputy Undersecretary for Rural Development, says there will be 68-Million dollars for the next five years for the Value-Added Producer program that was at risk of being unfunded.  He tells Brownfield Ag News, “That is a very popular, very effective program in rural America.”

In addition, O’Brien says the Bio-Refinery guaranteed loan program is also fully funded in the Farm Bill, “Businesses who want to take biomass and turn it into fuel and now with new policy in the farm bill these businesses that also want to take biomass, things that are grown on farms in the United States and turn them into other types of products – plastic, resins, et cetera. There’s some significant dollars to support those guaranteed loans to build that business.”

O’Brien says the Farm Bill gives the agency the new ability to prioritize programs that are part of a regional development strategy and he says there are important new changes to the Broadband and Waste Water system programs.

Interview by Tom Steever of Doug O’Brien

Biomass-based diesel fuel joining forces

The National Biodiesel Board (NBB) will join forces and see a membership increase by inviting Renewable Diesel producers on board, says the organization’s CEO Joe Jobe. He says like biodiesel, renewable diesel falls in the category of Biomass-Based Diesel under the Advanced Biofuels portion of the RFS.

Jobe tells Brownfield Ag News, “It’s similar but it’s made with a different technology, a different process. But, it works and blends with diesel fuel in conventional diesel engines just like biodiesel does. We really kind of share the same space, the same markets, in the renewable fuels standard (RFS).”

And it’s the Renewable Fuels Standard that the group is working hard to maintain. Jobe says petroleum interests are trying to keep biomass out of the marketplace but the biomass diesel industry is trying to diversify the transportation fuel supply to look more like the power generation fuel supply.  Jobe says, “You’ve got coal and natural gas and nuclear and hydro and wind, solar, biomass, geo-thermal. All these are very diversified, all regionally abundant and all domestic.”

Jobe tells Brownfield the National Biodiesel Board just met in Washington and is working to show lawmakers how important biodiesel tax incentives and the RFS are, “The Renewable Fuels Standard is really working to draw renewable fuels into the marketplace.”

Jobe says this is a great time for biodiesel production – in 2012 they topped one-Billion gallons for a second year in a row and this year they’re on track for a 50-to-60-percent increase from last year.

AUDIO: National Biodiesel Board (9:00 mp3)

NBB – America’s Advanced Biofuel

Extending biofuels into the aviation sector

Extending biofuels into the aviation sector will be discussed on January 8 at the Indiana Biomass Energy Working Group meeting.

“Opportunities for biomass feedstocks are evolving for creating biofuels to be used in the aviation industry, and there has been quite a push for that research at Purdue,” said Chad Martin, Purdue Extension renewable energy specialist. “When most people think of biofuels they think of E85 and biodiesel, so we want to bring an awareness to Indiana about the possibilities with aviation.”

The Indiana Biomass Energy Working Group meeting will be held January 8, 2013 at the Beck Agricultural Center from 11:30 to 5 p.m.

The meeting will include presentations from both Purdue University biofuels and aviation experts.

Sunn Hemp shows potential as biomass crop

An annual cover crop in the southeast known as Sunn Hemp shows potential for becoming a biofuel feedstock. Studies by the USDA’s Agriculture Research Service says the tropical legume’s heat value exceeded that of switchgrass, bermudagrass, red canary grass and alfalfa. Studies took place in South Carolina comparing the energy content of Sunn Hemp with cowpea, another common summer cover crop in the southeast.

ARS researchers say Sunn Hemp could be a valuable, sustainable biofuel feedstock one day but more study is still needed.

USDA – ARS – Sunn Hemp

USDA pays 156 advanced biofuels projects

The USDA is paying nearly 45-Million dollars to 156 advanced biofuels producers through the Farm Bill’s Bioenergy Program. Payments are made to producers and business owners who make fuel out of renewable biomass materials other than corn kernel starch. Materials such as “cellulose; crop residue; animal, food and yard waste material; biogas (landfill and sewage waste treatment gas); vegetable oil, and animal fat.”

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says the funding helps increase production of renewable fuels and helps support the growing biofuels industry while generating “green jobs and economic growth.”

List of those receiving funding by state

BCAP deadline extended

Farm Service Agency (FSA) Administrator Bruce Nelson has announced that the deadline for producers to sign-up to participate in the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) has been extended to September 23.

“BCAP is an effort that will create jobs and stimulate rural economies across the nation, and we want to make certain we have reached as many farmers and ranchers as possible in those BCAP project areas that aren’t yet fully subscribed,” said Nelson.

The Ohio project area that includes Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake and Trumbull counties, plus 3 counties in Pennsylvania is accepting enrollment up to 5,344 acres of giant miscanthus.

Information is available at local FSA offices

Biomass research projects awarded

The USDA and Department of Energy are funding 10 new research projects into the genomics of biomass. In the Midwest, projects are being funding at the University of Illinois, University of Missouri and the Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis.

The genetic properties of Miscanthus as a bioenergy crop will be studied at the University of Illinois, Urbana/Champaign. Miscanthus is a promising cellulosic biofuel crop.

In addition, a five-thousand-dollar grant from British Petroleum to study the engineering properties of biomass has been awarded to five students at the Urbana-Champaign campus. The students are working on a virtual database to tell end users the properties of different energy crop types – from sorghum to Miscanthus, to switchgrass. Their various values for energy production will be part of the equation.

Professor Luis Rodriguez with U of I’s Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering is working closely with the students on the project. He says not much is known about harvesting, transporting or storing biomass and the students’ project will help determine how efficiently it can be processed.

The genomics of sweet sorghum stems will be studied at the University of Missouri while the lighting for a specific grass species will be studied at the Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis for targeted breeding or engineering for improved bioenergy grass crops.

Some of the other USDA/DOE –funded projects include the study of switchgrass at the University of Oklahoma, of energy-cane at the University of Florida and, sorghum research at Kansas State and the University of South Carolina.

U of I gets grant for biomass virtual database

A five-thousand-dollar grant from British Petroleum to study the engineering properties of biomass has been awarded to five students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The students are working on a virtual database to tell end users the properties of different energy crop types – from sorghum to Miscanthus, to switchgrass. Their various values for energy production will be part of the equation.

Professor Luis Rodriguez with U of I’s Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering is working closely with the students on the project. He says not much is known about harvesting, transporting or storing biomass and the students’ project will help determine how efficiently it can be processed.