Biofuels Update

February 23, 2009 10:03 AM

E85 Sales Shoot Upward in Iowa

As gas prices climbed last year, the cheaper and cleaner E85 blend seemed an especially attractive alternative to Iowa motorists. So much so that sales of E85 by the state's retailers in the first six months of 2008 surpassed sales for the entire pre-ceding year, according to the Iowa Department of Revenue.

Total sales of E85 in Iowa for 2007 were 3.4 million gallons, while sales for the first two quarters of 2008 had already passed the 3.5-million-gallon mark. The rate of sales is increasing as well: Second quarter 2008's 2.2 mil-lion gallons were nearly double the first quarter's 1.3 million gallons. (As gas prices lowered, E85 sales slowed somewhat in the fourth quarter.)

Iowa added 20 E85 retail outlets in 2008 for a total of 98. With a combined annual capacity from its 34 ethanol refineries of 2.7 billion gallons, Iowa is the nation's leader in renewable fuels production.

Indiana Adds a Facility

Cardinal Ethanol LLC Indiana's 12th ethanol facility, began production in November. The plant's 100 million gallons per year will boost the state's total production to 1.1 billion gallons. Located near Union City, the plant will use 36 mil-lion bushels of corn per year and have 48 full-time employees. It will also produce 340,000 tons of dried distillers' grains with solubles for livestock and poultry producers.



 From Pennycress to Biodiesel

Innovation Fuels Inc. of Albany, N.Y., is planting pennycress at sites across New York with the intention of producing biodiesel. The program is the first U.S. effort to produce alternative energy with pennycress.

"We are very excited about the possibilities of producing and providing a low-cost alternative energy source to the residents of New York state and beyond for home heating, electricity and transportation," says Joe Dickson, the company's senior vice president of business development.

The pilot program uses Thlaspi arvense, or field pennycress, which is 36% to 40% oil by weight. The company estimates that it will produce 100 gal. per acre per planting and, by rotating the pennycress with another crop, there can be two plantings per year.

Innovation Fuels manufactures, markets and distributes biodiesel and has customers around the world. The company recently acquired Milwaukee-based North American Biodiesel and plans to reach a combined production capacity of more than 5 million barrels by 2010.

A Pump First for New Jersey

Maplewood, N.J., has been ranked among the country's most desirable places to live and is the birthplace of the wooden golf tee and Ultimate Frisbee. Now the town has one more thing to boast about: the state's first retail biodiesel pump.

Several fleets in the state, including vehicles operated by the New Jersey Department of Transportation, have been using biodiesel blends for years. But this is the first time that biodiesel will be directly sold to New Jersey consumers, explains Joe Jobe of the National Biodiesel Board.

The pump, at 12 Burnett Ave., is operated by Woolley Fuel Company, a family-owned business in Maplewood since 1924, and the biodiesel is supplied by Sprague Energy Corporation, based in New Hampshire. The pump sells B5, a 5% blend of biodiesel, and the companies plan to increase the blend to B20.

Corncob Fuel: Pilot Plant Begins

Following a successful startup in the fourth quarter of 2008, Poet Research Center in Scotland, S.D., is now producing cellulosic ethanol on a pilot scale, completing a crucial step toward the development of commercially viable cellulosic ethanol.

The Scotland plant is producing ethanol at a rate of 20,000 gal. per year using corncobs as feedstock. The $8 million endeavor is a precursor to the $200 million Project Liberty, a commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant that is scheduled to begin production in 2011.

Poet is pursuing an integrated starch- and cellulose-to-ethanol bio-refinery model to add cellulosic production capacity to 26 plants that currently produce 1.5 billion gallons of ethanol from corn per year. The company also plans to license this technology to other ethanol plants.

A top goal for the pilot plant is to lower the cost of producing cellulosic ethanol. "Today we are a dollar a gallon higher than grain-based ethanol," says Poet CEO Jeff Broin. "That may sound like a lot, but a year and a half ago it was several dollars higher. By the time Project Liberty comes online, it is our intention to be 50¢ a gallon above grain-based ethanol." Within five to seven years, Poet expects to be competitive with grain-based ethanol.

Poet's process provides the environmental benefits of cellulosic ethanol—an 87% greenhouse gas reduction compared with gasoline, according to Argonne National Laboratory—without having significant harmful impact on the environment.

Wind Sweeping Down the Plains

A state known for windmills is moving toward modern wind power. Oklahoma plans to tap its potential for wind energy to supply 9% of the nation's electricity.

The state currently has more than 700 megawatts of installed wind power capacity, an increase of 45% since 2005. An additional 142 megawatts are under construction, and current planning is projected to produce nearly 2,300 megawatts from wind by 2025. Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry signed legislation last year giving utilities the ability to recover wind energy investments.

Although the price of wind power has dropped 90% in the past 20 years to an average 2.5¢ to 3.5¢ per kilowatt hour, including a production tax credit, building infrastructure to get wind electricity to homes remains difficult.

The Southwest Power Pool, a regional transmission organization overseeing power distribution for eight states including Oklahoma, is considering building additional transmission lines to link wind power supplies in Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas and New Mexico. Called Plan X because of the configuration of the proposed lines, the project could cost $420 million.

Ethanol's Carbon Footprint Study

The ethanol industry has defended its carbon footprint for more than a year, without much research to back it up. Now, an American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) study shows it's virtually impossible to accurately ascribe greenhouse gas impacts to biofuels as a result of land use changes.

"This analysis indicates that when it comes to indirect land use change, the policy may be getting ahead of the science," says Brian Jennings, executive vice president of ACE. The study was conducted by Global Insight and commissioned by ACE. Findings include:

  • Changes in land use have always occurred and are not new, nor are biofuels the primary driver.
  • With technology progressing in corn yields and ethanol efficiencies, the carbon footprint is only set to improve in the next 10 years.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency is currently comparing the life cycle analysis (used to determine potential carbon footprint) of biofuels to that of petroleum in 2005; this is not a fair comparison since the carbon footprint of oil is degrading significantly post-2005 as new oil sources, like tar sands, are tapped.

The report, "Life Cycle Analysis of Greenhouse Gas Emissions Associated with Starch-Based Ethanol," is at


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