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    Spanish engineering and energy company Abengoa says it had suspended bioethanol production at the biggest of its three Spanish plants because it was unprofitable. It cited high grain prices and uncertainty about the national market for ethanol. Earlier this year, the plant, located in Salamanca, ceased production for similar reasons. To Biopact this is yet another indication that biofuel production in the EU/US does not make sense and must be relocated to the Global South, where the biofuel can be produced competitively and sustainably, without relying on food crops. Reuters - September 24, 2007.

    The Midlands Consortium, comprised of the universities of Birmingham, Loughborough and Nottingham, is chosen to host Britain's new Energy Technologies Institute, a £1 billion national organisation which will aim to develop cleaner energies. University of Nottingham - September 21, 2007.

    The EGGER group, one of the leading European manufacturers of chipboard, MDF and OSB boards has begun work on installing a 50MW biomass boiler for its production site in Rion. The new furnace will recycle 60,000 tonnes of offcuts to be used in the new combined heat and power (CHP) station as an ecological fuel. The facility will reduce consumption of natural gas by 75%. IHB Network - September 21, 2007.

    Analysts fear that record oil prices will fuel general inflation in Kenya, particularly hitting the poorest hard. They call for the development of new policies and strategies to cope with sustained high oil prices. Such policies include alternative fuels like biofuels, conservation measures, and more investments in oil and gas exploration. The poor in Kenya are hit hardest by the sharp increase, because they spend most of their budget on fuel and transport. Furthermore, in oil intensive economies like Kenya, high oil prices push up prices for food and most other basic goods. All Africa - September 20, 2007.

    Finland's Metso Power has won an order to supply Kalmar Energi Värme AB with a biomass-fired power boiler for the company’s new combined heat and power plant in Kalmar on the east coast of Sweden. Start-up for the plant is scheduled for the end of 2009. The value of the order is approximately EUR 55 million. The power boiler (90 MWth) will utilize bubbling fluidized bed technology and will burn biomass replacing old district heating boilers and reducing the consumption of oil. The delivery will also include a flue gas condensing system to increase plant's district heat production. Metso Corporation - September 19, 2007.

    Jo-Carroll Energy announced today its plan to build an 80 megawatt, biomass-fueled, renewable energy center in Illinois. The US$ 140 million plant will be fueled by various types of renewable biomass, such as clean waste wood, corn stover and switchgrass. Jo-Carroll Energy - September 18, 2007.

    Beihai Gofar Marine Biological Industry Co Ltd, in China's southern region of Guangxi, plans to build a 100,000 tonne-per-year fuel ethanol plant using cassava as feedstock. The Shanghai-listed company plans to raise about 560 million yuan ($74.5 million) in a share placement to finance the project and boost its cash flow. Reuters - September 18, 2007.

    The oil-dependent island state of Fiji has requested US company Avalor Capital, LLC, to invest in biodiesel and ethanol. The Fiji government has urged the company to move its $250million 'Fiji Biofuels Project' forward at the earliest possible date. Fiji Live - September 18, 2007.

    The Bowen Group, one of Ireland's biggest construction groups has announced a strategic move into the biomass energy sector. It is planning a €25 million investment over the next five years to fund up to 100 projects that will create electricity from biomass. Its ambition is to install up to 135 megawatts of biomass-fuelled heat from local forestry sources, which is equal to 50 million litres or about €25m worth of imported oil. Irish Examiner - September 16, 2007.

    According to Dr Niphon Poapongsakorn, dean of Economics at Thammasat University in Thailand, cassava-based ethanol is competitive when oil is above $40 per barrel. Thailand is the world's largest producer and exporter of cassava for industrial use. Bangkok Post - September 14, 2007.

    German biogas and biodiesel developer BKN BioKraftstoff Nord AG has generated gross proceeds totaling €5.5 million as part of its capital increase from authorized capital. Ad Hoc News - September 13, 2007.

    NewGen Technologies, Inc. announced that it and Titan Global Holdings, Inc. completed a definitive Biofuels Supply Agreement which will become effective upon Titan’s acquisition of Appalachian Oil Company. Given APPCO’s current distribution of over 225 million gallons of fuel products per year, the initial expected ethanol supply to APPCO should exceed 1 million gallons a month. Charlotte dBusinessNews - September 13, 2007.

    Oil prices reach record highs as the U.S. Energy Information Agency releases a report that showed crude oil inventories fell by more than seven million barrels last week. The rise comes despite a decision by the international oil cartel, OPEC, to raise its output quota by 500,000 barrels. Reuters - September 12, 2007.

    OPEC decided today to increase the volume of crude supplied to the market by Member Countries (excluding Angola and Iraq) by 500,000 b/d, effective 1 November 2007. The decision comes after oil reached near record-highs and after Saudi Aramco announced that last year's crude oil production declined by 1.7 percent, while exports declined by 3.1 percent. OPEC - September 11, 2007.

    GreenField Ethanol and Monsanto Canada launch the 'Gro-ethanol' program which invites Ontario's farmers to grow corn seed containing Monsanto traits, specifically for the ethanol market. The corn hybrids eligible for the program include Monsanto traits that produce higher yielding corn for ethanol production. MarketWire - September 11, 2007.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

USDA report looks at ethanol logistics and transportation

The Agricultural Marketing Department (AMD) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a report which looks at the transportation requirements needed to sustain the rapidly growing corn-based ethanol sector. Trains, barges and trucks ship grains, ethanol and byproducts from the corn belt in the center of the country to America's coastal cities. In the future, dedicated pipelines may move the biofuel. In 'Expansion of U.S. Corn-based Ethanol from the Agricultural Transportation Perspective' [*.pdf] the question is raised which effects the growing production of ethanol will have on agricultural and ethanol transportation chains (see image for a schematic overview of the rail and truck ethanol distribution system).

For the first 6 months of 2007, U.S. ethanol production totaled nearly 3 billion gallons, 32 percent higher than the same period last year and ahead of USDA projections. As of August 29, there were 128 ethanol plants with annual production capacity totaling 6.78 billion gallons, and an additional 85 plants were under construction. U.S. ethanol production capacity is expanding rapidly and is currently expected to exceed 13 billion gallons per year by early 2009, if not sooner.

Ethanol demand has increased corn prices and led to expanded corn production, which is affecting grain transportation as corn use shifts from exports and feed use to ethanol production. Most ethanol is currently produced in the country's heartland, but 80 percent of the U.S. population (and therefore implied ethanol demand) lives along its coastlines (map, click to enlarge). Transportation factors to consider as ethanol production continues to expand therefor include:
  • The capacity of the transportation system to move ethanol, feedstock, and co-products produced from ethanol
  • The availability of corn close to ethanol plants (~ 50 miles)
  • The location of feedlots relative to ethanol producing areas
Ethanol production capacity expansion is occurring faster than originally anticipated. In May, USDA issued a report analyzing the effects of an expansion in biofuel demand on U.S. agriculture. The analysis focused on two ethanol expansion scenarios in relation to the baseline long-term projections issued in February 2007. Under Scenario 1, U.S. ethanol production increases to 15 billion gallons per year (bgy) by 2016. Under Scenario 2, U.S. ethanol production increases to 20 bgy by 2016.

AMS applied its modal share analysis to the three USDA scenarios: baseline (February 2007 long-term projections) and the two scenarios described above to evaluate the impact of ethanol production expansion on grain transportation. The 5-year 2000-2004 modal share rates were assumed to stay constant over the projected period:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Agricultural transportation and ethanol
Rapid expansion of the U.S. ethanol industry could have several implications for agricultural transportation, including increasing volumes of ethanol shipments and shifting grain and oilseed marketing patterns that could occur due to changes in production and use.

Transportation is typically the third highest expense to an ethanol producer—after feedstock and energy. Balancing transportation operating expenses with fixed infrastructure costs can be critical to sustained profitability for each ethanol plant.

Storage needs for ethanol are also related to transportation needs—truck and rail have a faster turnaround and barges can haul larger quantities. For example, trucks offer more flexibility and responsiveness to move the product as the market dictates, reducing storage needs at the ethanol plant. But, barge may offer cost savings due to volumes moved.

Other transportation requirements include inbound feedstock and outbound co-products. Corn is shipped to the plant as feedstock (mostly by truck) and distillers grains (dry distillers grains with solubles (DDGS) and wet distillers grains (WDGs)) are shipped by truck, rail, or barge.

For purposes of comparison, a large petroleum 2-barge unit tow hauls 2.52 million gallons (although ethanol is usually shipped in smaller, 630,000-gallon tanker barges), which is equivalent to about 80 railcars or 300 tanker trailers (table, click to enlarge).

In 2005, rail was the primary transportation mode for ethanol, shipping 60 percent of ethanol production—approximately 2.9 billion gallons of ethanol; followed by trucks—30 percent, and barges—10 percent (graph, click to enlarge).

Ethanol transactions currently involve two types of marketing arrangements: 1) direct sales to customers and 2) movements to a strategic location. Both types of arrangements require transportation. Movement of the product can be arranged by the customer, supplier, or a third party—known in the petroleum industry as the marketer.

As the number of companies producing ethanol increases, the share of ethanol marketed by third parties—marketers—is expected to rise as well. The marketers ensure supply interruptions are kept to a minimum and are able to move large volumes by gathering production from several smaller ethanol plants into unit trains (trains consisting of 85–100 cars that stay together from origin to destination). The role of the regional (shortline) railroads has increased for the shorter movements of ethanol to intermediate rail terminals. As ethanol volumes rise, the industry may start requiring quality control programs that ensure that shipments are not contaminated with other chemicals.

Ethanol producers are expected to continue to rely on qualified ethanol marketers to efficiently distribute their products. Some railroads have instituted a Certificate of Authenticity program that certifies ethanol quality shipments on their railroad.

Transportation sensitivity to demand and distribution changes
All three modes used to transport ethanol—rail, barge, and truck—are at or near capacity. Total rail freight is forecast to increase from 1,879 million tons in 2002 to 3,525 million tons by 2035, an increase of nearly 88 percent.6 Federal Highway Administration projects truck freight to almost double from 2002 to 2020, and driver shortages are projected to reach 219,000 by 2015.

In 2004, there were 1.3 million long-haul heavy-duty truck drivers. The lock and dam system on the inland waterways is aging. The lack of excess transportation capacity increases the sensitivity of transportation to sudden changes in transportation demand and distribution patterns. Changes in these patterns brought on by rapidly increasing ethanol production could impact rail network performance, highway congestion, and barge traffic. For example, the increased sensitivity of transportation modes became evident in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, when rail had insufficient capacity to transport displaced grain barge freight and trucks could not carry the grain economically for long distances.

To date, logistical concerns have not hampered ethanol production growth or the construction and expansion of new ethanol plants. However, issues that may arise as production grows include:
  • Uncertainty about the location of and demand from terminal markets which consolidate, transload, and distribute ethanol for blending. Change in State policies towards ethanol may decrease this uncertainty.
  • Shifts in transportation demand for corn, ethanol, DDGS, and WDGs among rail, truck, and barge, in the context of overall traffic and future ethanol production locations.
  • Concern about the adequacy of transportation infrastructure to efficiently ship ethanol and co-products.
  • Increased transportation demand for agricultural inputs, mainly additional fertilizer for increased corn acreage.
Expected long-term growth in overall freight volumes—U.S. Department of Transportation projects total inter-city freight by all modes to grow dramatically from 19.3 billion tons in 2002 to 37.2 billion tons in 2035.8

Ethanol production scenarios and transportation

The increased use of corn for ethanol has raised corn prices, and has resulted in increased corn production in the United States and changes in grain transportation as corn use shifts from exports and feed use to ethanol production. In August, USDA forecast corn production for the 2007/08 marketing year to reach about 13.05 billion bushels, up 2.5 billion bushels (24 percent) from last year.

Increased grain production typically causes transportation demand to increase. Rapid ethanol production expansion, however, may affect where corn is transported and by which transportation mode. For example:
  • Much of the increase in the corn crop will be trucked to ethanol facilities. Trucks currently dominate the local transportation of corn to ethanol plants. Should this trend continue, it may lead to a shift in modal share of grain transportation. However, as corn production is expected to continue to increase, demand for grain transportation for all modes may rise proportionately.
  • In August, USDA projected 2007/08 corn exports at 2.15 billion bushels (up 50 million bushels from last year). Projected corn exports, however, decline in 2008/09 and 2009/10 before increasing in subsequent years, which leads to variability in overall rail and barge transportation demand, assuming the historical 5-year average modal share stays the same.
  • Price competition in different locations (corn basis) may shift transportation patterns more frequently than in the past because corn used for fuel has created an additional demand for corn and corn origination patterns may change as ethanol production increases. However, if corn supplies are abundant, there may be less price competition and thus fewer shifts in transportation patterns.
Transportation shifts are expected to continue over the next several years, until commodity markets adjust to sustained ethanol production. Since most of the export grain is shipped by rail and barge, a reduction in grain exports may reduce grain movements by these modes.

Transportation requirements could increase as ethanol production reaches 15 billion gallons by 2016; demand for rail and barge services then may recede as export demand decreases under the 20 billion gallon scenario (graphs, click to enlarge). In the near-term, however, sharp increases in ethanol and DDGS movements are expected to offset any decreases in rail and barge grain transportation due to decreased exports and domestic use.

Trucking demand continues to grow for all three scenarios, increasing most dramatically as ethanol production grows from the baseline to the 15-billion gallon target.

Increased ethanol production could lead major corn-producing states to become corn deficit states, resulting in the need to source corn from other states and increasing transportation distances for sourced feedstock. Corn prices are expected to vary by location to ration the demand between domestic feedlots, ethanol plants, and exports. For example, as demand for corn at ethanol plants increases, corn prices may strengthen near the ethanol-producing areas relative to corn prices in export locations.

This impact is demonstrated by the corn basis, which is the difference between the local cash prices and the nearby Chicago Board of Trade futures contract. Transportation demand may be higher in the areas with stronger prices (stronger basis). Increases in transportation costs, however, may also weaken (decrease) the interior basis, which would cause farm prices to fall in those locations.

The domestic corn basis during the first half of 2007 has been strengthening relative to exports until recently. Corn futures prices have been decreasing from the high of over $4.00 in the spring to $3.20 by the end of July. However, the corn basis in Nebraska and at the Gulf ports have been strong, indicating relatively stronger demand in those locations for ethanol and export use.

Railroads shipped about 60 percent of ethanol produced in the United States in 2005, or 82,483 carloads and have kept up with the annual ethanol production growth of 26 percent in 2006. According to preliminary Freight Commodity Statistics, the Class I railroads’ origination of all alcohols grew by 28 percent.

The expected growth in rail movements of ethanol may pose some hurdles for shippers. Ethanol volumes moved by rail could jump from the projected 190,816 carloads in 2007 to over 408,000 in 2016 (table, click to enlarge). Class I railroads, however, assert that the additional volume due to ethanol is well below the 20.8 million carloads of cargo freight they originated in 2006.

The variability and uncertainty of rail grain transportation demand is a function of grain export projections. For example, in the 20-bgy scenario, projected grain exports decline and rail grain transportation demand would decrease. However, that decrease is more than offset by the increased demand for ethanol and DDGS rail transportation. The consequences of the increased ethanol and DDGS transportation under the 20-bgy scenario occurring during a relatively short period could include a strain on rail transportation and logistics infrastructure.

Thus, the interdependence of corn used for fuel vs. corn used for feed (domestic and exports) may translate into uncertainty for rail transportation.

Unit Train Economics

It is more efficient and cost effective for railroads to move unit trains. The primary reasons include a higher asset utilization rate and lower inventory carrying costs. The industry “rule of thumb” is that the ethanol railcar utilization rate for a unit train is 30 turns per year, compared to 12 turns per year for a single-car shipment. Inventory carrying costs (travel, dwell, and unloading times) for a single-car shipment of ethanol could be as much as four-times that of a unit train.

Unit train movements would increase the average number of loadings per year for each ethanol tank car, which could help alleviate potential tank car shortages.

Rail tariff rates for unit trains are typically lower than those for single-car and smaller shipments. For example, BNSF’s tariff rate is discounted $900 for a gathered unit train of ethanol vs. a single car shipment of ethanol from Southwest Iowa to the Los Angeles Basin, California.

Construction of unit train infrastructure at destination terminals—mostly owned by blenders, refiners, and third-party providers—may become a key to the efficiency of rail ethanol transportation. Factors that may be contributing to a slower rate of the infrastructure development include its capital-intensive nature as well as the sometimes-lengthy permitting process.

Similar economics are developing in the DDGS rail shipments. Unit trains of DDGS are currently discounted on BNSF by approximately $7.50 per ton relative to single car movements.11 Additional DDGS storage at origin and unit train unloading infrastructure at destination would encourage further unit train utilization of DDGS.

Infrastructure issues
Supply Chain Issues
Several supply chain issues could inhibit growth in the ethanol industry. The efficiency of the ethanol transportation system may begin to depend on the ability of the blending market to accommodate additional quantities of ethanol.

The supply and demand of ethanol may become temporarily out of balance because blenders require time and financial incentives to add blending capacity. These extra financial incentives, including cheaper ethanol, could be in addition to the current blender tax credit of $0.51 per gallon, which is in place through 2010. Blenders are watching Federal and State legislative processes carefully to assess the legislative risk to their capital investments. Grain markets may also be affected by ethanol supply chain issues. There is concern that grain storage shortages may occur as ethanol production capacity and corn crops continue to expand.

Rail Capacity
Rail capacity typically depends on several factors, including locomotive power and railcar availability and utilization, which are affected by train speeds, dwell time, loading and unloading times, and track capacity. In addition to an efficient logistics infrastructure, an adequate supply of railcars and other transportation equipment for ethanol and DDGS are needed to sustain growth in the ethanol industry.

Ethanol Rail Tank Cars
Ethanol is shipped in standard rail tank cars (approved for flammable liquids)—DOT 111A or AAR T108 rail cars. As of January 1, 2007, 41,000 rail tank cars capable of shipping ethanol were in use. Orders for new cars increased substantially in 2006 with a surge in ethanol plant construction and are expected to almost double this fleet in the next 2–2½ years. Rail tank cars are nearly all privately owned, either by leasing companies or shippers. Orders for new rail tank cars, 75 percent of which are estimated to be for ethanol use, started to increase in the 4th quarter 2005 and continued to increase through the 3rd quarter 2006 (Figure 9). Rail tank car manufacturers increased production lines, but the backlog grew from about 10,000 railcars in the 3rd quarter 2005 to a peak of 36,334 railcars in the 4th quarter 2006. By the end of 1st quarter 2007, the manufacturing backlog had decreased to 36,166 railcars.

Grain Rail Cars

Increased rail service demand is expected to affect railcar fleet composition and availability for moving corn, ethanol, and DDGS. Most grain is shipped in designated covered hopper railcars C113, C114, C213, or C313, which can also be used for other dry bulk commodities. Total covered hopper railcar fleet as of January 1, 2007, was 268,000 railcars—almost 2 percent higher than on January 1, 2005. However, the grain rail car fleet share is estimated to be approximately 160,800—60 percent of the total covered hopper fleet.

Distillers Dried Grains with Solubles (DDGS) Transportation Issues Ethanol plants that use corn as feedstock produce a co-product called distillers grains (DDGSdried distillers grains with solubles, WDG-wet distillers grains, and MDG-modified distillers grains). For every 56-pound bushel of corn, 17.5 pounds of DDGS and 2.76 gallons of ethanol are produced, on average. Dairy cattle operations and cattle feedlots are the primary domestic users of distilled grains as a protein supplement for the ruminant animals.

Research is ongoing for increasing the DDGS use by poultry and hog operations, which currently is limited due to nutritional challenges DDGS present to non-ruminant animals.

Production of DDGS is expected to grow proportionately with ethanol production increases. Currently, about 10 percent of DDGS are exported—1.25 million metric tons (mt) in 2006.

According to the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), the United States exported approximately 900,000 metric tons of DDGS during the first 6 months of 2007—60 percent higher than the same period last year. The trend of increased DDGS exports is expected to continue. Increased use of barges to ship DDGS to export locations is likely.

The original co-product of distilled grains from ethanol production is wet distillers grains (WDG). Shipping the WDG’s saves energy, but the product is perishable and needs to be trucked to a nearby feeding operation within a couple of days. Drying the product adds cost for the ethanol producer, but provides a more stable product for transport and storage. Railroads and barges ship DDGS long distances and trucks are used for shorter distances.

Demand for shipping DDGS to domestic and export markets has been increasing, thus expanding demand for super jumbo covered hoppers—railcars that are greater than 5,500 cubic feet (ft3) and have wide gates for easier flowability. During storage and transport, DDGS tends to cake and bridge between particles. Thus, flowability has become one of the major issues that needs to be addressed for effective sales, marketing, distribution, and utilization of distillers grains. Because these co-products do not always flow easily from railcars, workers sometimes hammer the car sides and hopper bottoms in order to induce flow. This can lead to severe damage to the rail cars themselves and can also pose worker safety issues.

According to the Rail Supply Institute, from first quarter 2005 through first quarter 2007, new deliveries of super jumbo railcars have totaled 11,307, with most of the growth occurring in 2006. DDGS are estimated to use about 70 percent of this fleet. DDGS railcars are nearly all privately owned.

Flowability issues associated with shipping DDGS, based on the feed industr experience of using regular grain covered hoppers, have created expectations of a shorter lifespan for railcars used to ship DDGS. DDGS are also shipped in containers for export. The same flowability issues have started to affect availability of containers. DDGS transportation may be affected if feedlot operations move closer to the ethanol producing areas—more distillers’ grains would be sold wet, requiring less rail and more truck transportation to feedlots and decreasing availability of DDGS for export.

Truck Service
Corn for ethanol is most frequently delivered to plants by trucks, typically from corn farms within a 50-mile radius. The truckload requirements just for corn to ethanol—if trucks are assumed to carry 98 percent of the corn delivered to ethanol plants—are expected to increase from 2.3 million in 2006 to 4.7 million truckload equivalents by 2016. The demand for corn trucking increases substantially—to 5.9 and 7.8 million truckloads under scenarios 1 and 2, respectively (table, click to enlarge).

Standard gasoline tanker trucks (DOT MC306 Bulk Fuel Haulers) are used to ship ethanol from ethanol plants to the blending terminals. These trucks move an estimated 30 percent of ethanol. The current fleet size of the independently operated tank trucks is approximately 10,000. Many petroleum companies own their tanker truck fleet and are not included in the total.

Constraints to truck service include the availability of truck drivers (especially with HAZMAT certification), equipment shortages, and the differences in ethanol routes from the well-established and predictable petroleum routes—in part due to the rapid growth of new ethanol plant construction. In addition, overall truck freight is forecast to almost double from 2002 to 2020, while driver shortages are projected to reach 219,000 by 2015. In 2004, there were 1.3 million long-haul heavy-duty truck drivers.

Tank Barge Service
Barges move an estimated 10 percent of ethanol. The main terminals served by barge include Chicago, IL, New Orleans, LA, Houston, TX, and Albany, NY. Ethanol is typically shipped in 10,000–15,000 barrel tank barges. The number of ethanol plants located near a river facility, however, is relatively small. As the industry grows, the share moved by barge may increase. According to Informa Economics, 2,808 tank barges were in operation in 2006, up from 2,782 in 2005, and 2,777 in 2004.

Construction of a 16.6-million-gallon ethanol terminal on the Mississippi River at Sauget, IL, is expected to be completed by June 2008. The Army Corps of Engineers has approved construction of a 5th ethanol storage tank at this location to hold an additional 480,000 gallons by the third quarter of 2008. The terminal will be capable of loading 1.26-million-gallon tank barges as well as 95-car unit trains and trucks.

Potential Pipeline Developments
Pipelines are considered to be the safest and most cost-efficient mode of transportation. The ethanol industry, however, is fairly dispersed and significant infrastructure investments would still be necessary to consolidate sufficient quantities that could then be moved through pipelines.

No ethanol is currently shipped by pipeline due to its corrosive nature and ability to attract water. The pipeline industry, however, led by the Association of Oil Pipe Lines (AOPL) and American Petroleum Institute (API), is moving forward with an accelerated research program to address integrity issues related to shipping ethanol/gasoline blends (earlier post).

The project, managed by the Pipeline Research Council International (PRCI), will focus on an accelerated research effort due to be concluded in 6-12 months. It plans to identify those blends that:
  • Can be moved in existing pipelines with little to no modification to the system.
  • Can be moved with appreciable modifications.
  • Cannot be moved in existing systems but could be moved in specially designed new transmission or short-haul distribution systems
If and when pipelines are able to ship ethanol blends, it could alleviate potential strain on the rail system. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) regulate the pipeline industry.

USDA AMD: USDA releases report on implications of ethanol production on agricultural transportation - September 21, 2007.

USDA ADM: Expansion of U.S. Ethanol from the Agricultural Transportation Perspective [*.pdf] - Transportation and Marketing Programs Transportation Services Branch
- September 2007

Biopact: U.S. House passes Energy Bill: boost to biofuels, CCS and renewables - August 06, 2007

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Schmack Biogas to build biogas plant coupled to ethanol facility, fed by residues

Germany's Schmack Biogas AG announces an interesting initiative: it will build a highly sophisticated biogas plant that will digest waste streams from a bioethanol production facility. In the coming weeks Schmack Biogas will start construction of the plant in Poland, which will be the country's largest biogas plant with a capacity of 2MW. The anaerobic digester will be built on behalf of Agrogaz, a Polish joint venture between Regensburg-based Aufwind Schmack GmbH Neue Energien and Polish energy provider Polenergia.

The Polish biogas plant will be engineered to tie in with an existing bioethanol plant which will supply residuals from bioethanol production as the main feedstock for the biogas production. In turn, the biogas plant will not only produce electricity but also feed its process heat back to the bioethanol plant. Dr. Karl Reinhard Kolmsee, Schmack Biogas AG's Managing Board member in charge of sales says this is a highly ecologically optimised cycle which makes excellent economic sense.

When ethanol is made from grains, its major byproduct is distillers’ dried grains (DDG, or in their original form, wet distillers grains: WDG) which has alternative, low value added uses as as animal feed (previous post) or as an organic fertilizer and herbicide (more here). Several researchers think DDG can be used for a range of more valuable products like biohydrogen or chemicals like polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) used for the production of biodegradable plastics (earlier post). Schmack Biogas sees WDG as an excellent feedstock for anaerobic digestion, provided production systems are highly integrated:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Dr. Kolmsee adds that the construction of this technologically sophisticated plant marks the company's entry into another European market, thereby demonstrating the future potential and long-term viability of biogas and highlighting the continued strong demand on the part of energy providers and investors.

Schmack Biogas AG is a leading German supplier of biogas plants. Established in 1995, the company provides its services through two divisions, namely Planning and Construction and Plant Management and Service, and is one of the few full-service providers in the industry. Apart from technical support, the company focuses on comprehensive microbiological service.

Through its newly established subsidiary, Schmack Energie Holding the company now also operates its own plants and markets the biogas produced as well as the electricity and heat generated - mainly together with joint venture partners. To date, Schmack Biogas has built 201 plants with a combined nominal output of approx. 58 MW.

According to a recently published Energy Barometer on Biogas, the renewable fuel has a large potential in Europe and is growing rapidly amid increasing concerns about oil and gas prices and climate change. In 2006, around 5.35 million tonnes of oil equivalent (mtoe) was produced in the EU, an increase of 13.6% compared to 2005. The production of electricity from biogas grew by 28.9% over the same period. Germany remains European leader and noted a 55.9% growth in 2006 in electricity generated from the renewable gas.

Analysts, amongst them a founder of Schmack, have found that over the long term (2020-2030) the European biogas sector can replace all imports of natural gas from Russia (earlier post).

Biogas has seen a growing interest in the EU because of the fuel's excellent greenhouse gas emissions and energy balance (earlier post and here).

When the green gas is purified and upgraded as biomethane to natural gas quality, it can be used in the form of fuels for vehicles running on natural gas (CNG) (earlier post) or injected into the natural gas distribution network, when this is so permitted by national legislation (more here). Both applications are being undertaken in several EU member states. Use of the green gas in fuel cells is a recent development (more here).

Image: EUCO Titan® 640, a Schmack Biogas plant. Credit: Schmack Biogas AG.

Biopact: Steps to biorefining: new products from biofuel leftovers - August 10, 2007

Biopact: Study: EU biogas production grew 13.6% in 2006, holds large potential - July 24, 2007

Biopact: Study: biogas can replace all EU imports of Russian gas by 2020 - February 10, 2007

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GreatPoint Energy closes $100 million capital raise for gasification and CCS technology

GreatPoint Energy, Inc., a developer of catalytic gasification technology to convert coal, petroleum coke and biomass into clean synthetic natural gas while enabling the capture and sequestration of CO2, today announced the financial closing of a $100 million strategic equity round. The round was co-led by Sustainable Development Investments (SDI), a unit of Citi Alternative Investments (a division of Citi) and The Dow Chemical Company, and included the AES Corporation, Suncor Energy, Inc. and several financial firms.

GreatPoint Energy will use the funds to construct and operate a large-scale demonstration facility and soon thereafter will build, own and operate commercial synthetic natural gas manufacturing plants.

The development is important because GreatPoint Energy's technologies can be applied to lignocellulosic biomass to yield carbon-negative energy and fuels (more here). Other renewables like wind or solar are carbon-neutral and prevent greenhouse gas emissions from entering into the atmosphere in the future. Carbon-negative bioenergy however takes emissions from the past out of the atmosphere.

Moreover, GreatPoint Energy is the first comany to follow the logic of decentralised fuel production, dependent on the location of geosequestration sites instead of being tied to power plants (short discussion here); Biopact will discuss the flexibility of this concept as it applies to decentralised bioenergy+CCS technologies, at the upcoming Sparks & Flames Gas Storage & Trading Summit (more here).
We believe that this investment round validates our proprietary gasification process as the most cost-effective means of transforming widely abundant and low cost resources into the cleanest commercial fuel, natural gas, and furthers our position as the most innovative energy technology company in the industry. With natural gas increasingly in short supply and long term gas prices continuing to rise, GreatPoint Energy is well-positioned to competitively produce this clean resource domestically, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution on a scale larger than any other commercial energy option. - Andrew Perlman, President and CEO of GreatPoint Energy
GreatPoint Energy’s catalytic gasification technology converts abundant, low cost carbon feedstocks, such as coal, petroleum coke, and biomass, into pipeline quality natural gas. GreatPoint Energy’s plants combine steam and carbon under pressure and in the presence of its catalysts to make pure methane, known generally as natural gas. Natural gas is the cleanest of all commercial fossil fuels, provides roughly 25 percent of all U.S. energy needs, and consists primarily of hydrogen. Over the past five years, the price of natural gas in America has risen significantly as domestic resources are depleted and the nation becomes increasingly dependent on foreign imports.

As part of its proprietary process, GreatPoint Energy removes and captures the mercury, sulfur, carbon dioxide and other pollutants from the feedstock, to produce a pure stream of methane. GreatPoint Energy’s synthetic natural gas, called 'Bluegas', is as clean as natural gas and can be used directly in place of natural gas for all applications, including power generation, residential and commercial heating, and production of chemicals.

The Bluegas production process (schematic, click to enlarge) consists of a first step in which coal or biomass and the catalyst are fed into the methanation reactor. Inside the reactor, pressurized steam is injected to 'fluidize' the mixture and ensure constant contact between the catalyst and the carbon particles. In this environment, the catalyst facilitates multiple chemical reactions between the carbon and the steam on the surface of the coal or biomass. These reactions generate a mixture of predominately methane and CO2. The process:
  • Produces methane in a single step and in a single reactor into a pipeline grade product without the need for external water gas shift reactors or for external methanation reactors; it produces CO2 as a valuable sequestration-ready byproduct
  • Significantly reduces operating temperature with lower cost reactor components, lower maintenance costs and higher reliability, and eliminates costly high temperature cooling
  • Utilizes steam methanation and thus eliminates costly air separation plant
  • 65% overall efficiency, because of a thermally neutral reaction process without the need for an integrated power plant
GreatPoint Energy plans to construct Bluegas facilities in locations where the carbon dioxide it captures can be locally sequestered, and then transport its Bluegas product by existing natural gas pipelines to natural gas markets across the country:
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GreatPoint Energy’s leading technology can help address climate change in an efficient and affordable way. We are pleased to have co-led this round with Dow and believe that this company represents a positive advance in the utilization of coal by creating a pure and sequestration-ready stream of CO2 for use in applications such as enhanced oil recovery. - R. Andrew de Pass, Head of Citi’s Sustainable Development Investments group
The strategic financing round includes a range of companies that GreatPoint Energy expects to work closely with during the scale-up, development, construction and operation of large scale natural gas manufacturing facilities. In addition to Dow, both the AES Corporation, one of the premier global power companies, and Suncor Energy Inc., a major North American energy producer and marketer and a world leader in synthetic fuel production from oil sands, participated in the round. Their representatives will each assume a position on GreatPoint Energy’s Board of Directors.

According to New Energy Finance, GreatPoint Energy’s capital raise represents the largest Series C financing to date, and one of the largest overall clean tech venture deals ever completed.

Dow is a diversified chemical company that harnesses the power of innovation, science and technology to constantly improve what is essential to human progress.

Sustainable Development Investments (SDI) is a private equity investment unit of Citi Alternative Investments (CAI) focused on renewable energy, alternative energy, clean technologies, water management, waste management, energy efficiency and environmental credits investments.

Biopact: Biopact to chair Sparks & Flames conference panel on carbon-negative biofuels - August 08, 2007

Biopact: Carbon-negative energy gets boost as UNFCCC includes CCS in CDM mechanism - September 19, 2007

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CIAT: cassava ethanol could benefit small farmers in South East Asia

When urbanites in Thailand hear about 'mansampalang', 'manioc' or 'tapioca' they usually think of poor Isaan farmers who are unable to grow anything better on their parched sandy soil. But Reinhardt Howeler, scientist at the Cassava Office for Asia of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), thinks those poor farmers may not be so poor in the future thanks to the 'Green Cassava Revolution' that is currently sweeping most Southeast Asian countries. With a combined effort from the science and policy community, cassava can bring a rural renaissance and benefit the poorest.

Howeler, working for the CIAT, a leading 'Green Revolution' institution supported by the CGIAR, says that in Thailand, cassava production expanded rapidly in the 1970s and 1980s in response to an ever-increasing demand for cassava pellets used as an energy source for animal feed in Western Europe. The country's cassava production area, initially located in southern Thailand, first moved to the eastern seaboard provinces of Chon Buri and Rayong during the late 1970s, and in the 1980s expanded greatly in the Northeast.

During the late 1980s, Thailand's cassava-production area covered 10 million rai (1.6 m ha/3.9m acres). Almost all of this was destined for the lucrative export market for cassava pellets in Europe. However, changes in the EU's agricultural policies in 1993 lowered the support price of their own grain crops, and made Thailand's cassava pellets no longer competitive as a cheap source of energy in animal-feed rations. Thus, the amount of cassava pellets Thailand exported to the EU began to drop precipitously year after year and is now less than 400,000 tonnes.

Foreseeing the problem of overproduction, the Thai government tried to decrease the cassava-growing area by encouraging farmers to plant other crops, however, none of these were as well adapted to the climatic conditions in the Northeast as cassava. As a result, farmers continued to grow cassava, albeit in a much reduced area of about 6.2 million rai (1m ha/2.4m acres). But while the area was reduced, cassava yields started to increase substantially from about 2.24 tonnes per rai (14t/ha, 5.6t/acre) in 1995 to 3.55 tonnes per rai (22t/ha, 9t/acre) in 2006/2007. The result was that total cassava production decreased only marginally from a peak of 24 million tonnes in 1989 to about 16 million tonnes in 1998/1999 and back up to 25 million tonnes in 2006/2007.

So, what does Thailand do with 25 million tonnes of cassava roots?

First, the Thai cassava industry quickly changed from making mainly cassava pellets for export to making more and more cassava starch for both the domestic and export markets. Currently the cassava starch and modified starch industry absorbs over 50 per cent of all cassava roots produced in the country, as compared to 36 per cent in 1991. Secondly, Chinese neighbours to the north have also built more and more starch factories, to the point that domestic production could not keep up with demand. Thus, in 2001, they started importing dry cassava chips from Thailand, first in very modest amounts, but increasing every year to four million tonnes in 2006.

Finally, in 2000, Thailand was one of the first countries in Asia to initiate a 'gasohol' or E10 programme, with the aim of replacing 10 per cent of normal gasoline with fuel-ethanol, which is a renewable energy source made from locally produced sugarcane (or molasses) or cassava. When the biofuel is made from cassava, it shows a strong energy balance (previous post):
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There are several advantages to the use of 'gasohol' over normal gasoline:
  1. It reduces the consumption of imported oil and thus saves foreign exchange and increases the country's energy security. (According to Dr Niphon Poapongsakorn, dean of Economics at Thammasat University in Thailand, cassava-based ethanol is competitive when oil is above $40 per barrel. See our 'Quicknotes' for September 14, 2007.)
  2. Ethanol is an octane booster that can replace the imported chemical additive MTBE.
  3. Ethanol combustion in cars pollutes the air less and produces less CO2 than normal gasoline, thus reducing global warming.
  4. Ethanol is made from renewable and locally produced crops, thus helping Thai farmers increase their sales and improve their income. The rapid increase in the demand for cassava roots has already resulted in the doubling of the price of fresh roots, dry chips and starch as compared to 2003.
  5. Increased incomes for the rural poor allow them to strengthen their food security, a problem mainly resulting from a lack of income, not from a lack of natural resources or physical food scarcity
Presently there is only one ethanol factory in the country using cassava as its raw material and producing about 80,000 litres per day. However, two additional factories are ready to start operation and another 12 factories should be completed by the end of 2008, producing a total of 3.4 million litres of ethanol per day. This will require an additional six million tonnes of fresh roots, on top of the 25 million tonnes currently being produced. Since the cassava growing area of about seven million rai cannot increase substantially due to competition from other crops, the increased supply can only be met through increases in yield, from the current 3.5 tonnes per rai to about 4.5 tonnes per rai in the next couple of years. How can this be achieved?

Thailand currently has the second highest cassava yield after India and nearly double the average yield in the world. The rapid increase in the country's cassava yield was achieved through the hard work and excellent collaboration among the Agriculture Department, the Agriculture Extension Department and Kasetsart University as well as with the private processing and trading sector and the Thai Tapioca Development Institute.

So what does the future hold for cassava in Asia? In many countries the increasing demand for cassava roots can only be satisfied through marked increases in yield.

This will require renewed efforts in breeding, agronomy, biotechnology and improvements in processing technologies, coupled with a dynamic and effective extension programme using a farmer participatory approach. Even though cassava is the third most important food crop in Southeast Asia after rice and maize, it has always been considered as an "orphan crop", with little funding allocated for research of the crop.

While there are thousands of researchers all over the world working on important crops like rice, maize, soybean, oil palm and rubber, there are only a few dozen researchers working on cassava. Unless this situation improves and the crop receives adequate funding and research attention, it will remain an "orphan crop", only grown by the poorest farmers and eaten by the poorest people, except that the increased demand for fuel-ethanol, if not met through rapid increases in production, will push up the price until the poor will no longer be able to afford it.

Reinhardt Howeler is a scientist from the Cassava Office for Asia of the International Center for Tropical (Agriculture), an international agricultural research centre that engages in cassava research and development, and supported by the CGIAR, a strategic alliance of members, partners and international agricultural centers that mobilizes science to benefit the poor. CGIAR is the science body that led the Green Revolution.

The Nation: Cassava and biofuel: the new magic - September 24, 2007.

Biopact: First comprehensive energy balance study reveals cassava is a highly efficient biofuel feedstock - April 18, 2007

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