biofuel

SJV Clean Transportation Center: Oct./Nov. Newsletter


Welcome to the October/November 2016 San Joaquin Valley Clean Transportation Center Newsletter. With funding from the California Energy Commission, CALSTART opened the Center with the goal to accelerate the use of clean vehicles and fuels and help the region more quickly meet its air quality targets.
Nearly 150 Attend Inaugural SJV Clean Transportation Summit Oct. 19 in Clovis 

The inaugural San San Joaquin Valley Clean Transportation Summit was attended by close to 150 people. Conducted Oct. 19 at the Clovis Veterans Memorial District in Clovis, the Summit provided an opportunity to learn about the latest in advanced, clean transportation technology options right here in the Valley through an up close and personal experience. Attendees were able to interact with owners and operators of clean emission vehicles, meet with manufacturers and dealers, hear from state and local agencies, and learn about rebate and incentive programs.

In addition to speakers and breakout sessions on topics including electric vehicles and natural gas alternatives, the Summit featured vendor booths and numerous vehicles on display. The event opened with speeches from dignitaries and industry leaders, including California Assemblymember Dr. Joaquin Arambula, CALSTART President and CEO John Boesel (pictured above left) and George Minter, Regional Vice President of External Affairs and Environmental Strategy, Southern California Gas Co. Keynote speakers were Oliver L. Baines III, Fresno City Council; Sheraz Gill, Director of Strategies and Incentives, San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District; and John Kato (pictured above right), Deputy Director of Fuels and Transportation Division, California Energy Commission. The day ended with vehicle ride-and-drive demonstrations.

The Summit was organized by CALSTART in partnership with Fresno State’s Office of Community and Economic Development and various industry partners. View the Summit video to see highlights of the event.




Envision Solar's EV ARC, using solar panels to power Level 2 electric vehicle chargers from Telefonix, soon will appear at city halls throughout Fresno County, making it the first county in the nation to have EV charging in all of its incorporated cities.

Fresno County to be First in Nation to Get EV Charging in Rural Incorporated Cities

Selma residents in late November will see an EV ARC™ providing electric vehicle charging at city hall, followed by similar installations at Kingsburg, Fowler, Kerman, San Joaquin, Huron, Coalinga, Firebaugh, Mendota, Orange Cove, Reedley, Sanger and Parlier. When completed, Fresno County will be the first in the nation to have EV charging at all of its rural incorporated cities. Fresno and Clovis already have several Level 2 EV charging sites, as well as DC fast chargers (Level 3) at multiple locations.

Fresno County Rural Transit Agency (FCRTA) General Manager Moses Sites outlined the project for those attending the electric vehicle breakout session at the San Joaquin Valley Clean Transportation Summit Oct. 19. FCRTA is directing the project with assistance from CALSTART and funding from several sources, including the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District's Charge Up! program, which now offers funding for the EV ARC™.

Envision Solar has patented the EV ARC™ that couples solar power with on-board battery storage to provide EV charging day or night, even during power outages and emergencies. In addition to being transportable, the EV ARC™ does not require any permits, civil engineering or planning, foundations, trenching or electrical connections. The Fresno County sites all will be installed with two Level 2 PowerPost EVSE chargers from Telefonix. 



This Angus Transportation, Inc., truck features a Cummins Westport ISX12-G natural gas engine.  

Natural Gas Engines Provide Clean, Reliable Alternative for Trucking Fleets 

Near-Zero (NZ) emissions from new natural gas engines offer the heavy-duty market technology that is available today and deployable today, George Minter, Regional Vice President of External Affairs and Environmental Strategy for Southern California Gas Co., told those attending the San Joaquin Valley Clean Transportation Summit Oct. 19.

The Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP) offers point-of-sale incentives for clean trucks and buses in California. Administered by CALSTART, HVIP's low-NOx incentives (tracked separately than conventional HVIP funding) are designed to cover the full incremental cost over a standard natural gas engine and includes both repowers as well new vehicles. A total of 1.86 million in incentives currently is available exclusively for low-NOx engines/vehicles, with approximately another $21 million in voucher funding added in February 2017. Incentive amounts are determined by the increased incremental cost, with current caps at $15,000 and increasing to $25,000 in February to accommodate the eventual introduction of larger Near-Zero 12 liter engines.
 
Although more trucks and buses will be added in the future, current eligible engines/vehicles and incentive amounts include:
  • Repower any vehicle with Cummins ISL G Near-Zero 8.9 liter engine, $15,000 
  • New Autocar Xpeditor Refuse Truck with ISL G Near-Zero 8.9 liter engine, $8,500
  • New ElDorado National Transit Bus with ISL G Near-Zero 8.9 liter engine, $15,000
  • New Gillig Transit Bus with ISL G Near-Zero 8.9 liter engine, $10,000
For more information, go to the HVIP website or call 888-457-HVIP. 


Chevrolet Bolt Expected to Drive 2017 Sales as California Tops 250,000 EVs 

It isn't even at dealerships yet, but with the EPA estimating an electric range of 238 miles and a base sticker price of $37,495 before rebates and incentives, the Chevrolet Bolt already is getting a lot of attention. It has won the prestigious 2017 Motor Trend Car of the Year award and has been named the Green Car Reports Best Car to Buy 2017. If such accolades aren't enough for those with any remaining range anxiety, 238 miles is the approximate distance from Bakersfield to Stockton!

California leads the nation in EV sales and is anticipated to top 250,000 EVs sold by this month, according to a Nov. 14 news release by the California Plug-In Electric Vehicle Collaborative (PEVC). "The 2017 Chevy Bolt EV – the first EV capable of 238 miles of range and offered at an affordable price – will arrive in Chevy showrooms this year and provides an ideal option for even more buyers to purchase an electric vehicle,” Steve Majoros, Marketing Director, Chevrolet Cars and Crossovers, said in the PEVC news release.   

San Joaquin Valley residents who purchase or lease a new EV may qualify for up to $15,000 in rebates and incentives, depending on income and eligibility. In addition to a $7,500 federal tax credit, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District's Drive Clean rebate is $3,000 and the California Clean Vehicle Rebate Project (CVRP) provides an additional $2,500 for all-electric vehicles. While CVRP now has a cap for higher-income consumers, Californians with low and moderate incomes can get increased rebates. Consumers with household incomes less than or equal to 300 percent of the federal poverty level ($72,900 for a family of four for 2016) are eligible for an increased rebate amount of $2,000, bringing the total state rebate amount to $4,500. (Photo by Jennette Waymire)

Most significantly, the Chevy Bolt signals what is to come for EVs. Until now, only Tesla has offered EVs with a range of more than 200 miles – but at more than twice the cost of a Bolt. Tesla has taken nearly 400,000 reservations for its much-hyped Model 3, which its website says will have "215 miles of range per charge while starting at only $35,000 before incentives" and will go into production by mid-2017. The Leaf is the nation's top-selling EV, first introduced in 2010. Nissan has released few details about its 2018 model due out late next year, but it also is expected to compete with the Bolt both in range and price.

Although Valley dealers may receive some Bolts in December and January, they don't know how many they will get and expect them to sell quickly. Those interested in reserving a Bolt can do so by putting down a $500 refundable deposit. In the Fresno area, contact Melissa Dominguez at Hedrick's Chevrolet at 559-347-5436 or MDominguez@hedrickschevy.com. In the Modesto area, contact David Schene at American Chevrolet at 209-499-6380 or DSchene@americanchevrolet.com. In the Bakersfield area, contact Jennette Waymire at 3 Way Chevrolet at 661-444-1761 or jwaymire@3waychev.com. (Photo by Jennette Waymire)   



Biodico Westside Bringing Clean Biofuel and Green Jobs to the San Joaquin Valley

Biodico Westside is the world’s first fully sustainable liquid biofuel facility in the San Joaquin Valley. Located at Red Rock Ranch in Five Points, the world’s first "Zero Net Energy Farm," these facilities will serve as templates for California and the country as a whole, Biodico Founder and President Russ Teall, told a group attending Fresno State University's San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Cluster meeting Nov. 9 during a tour of the site and presentation.

In addition to processing recyclable feedstocks, including used cooking oil, vegetable oil and animal fats to name a few, the facility also utilizes anaerobic digestion, gasification and an advanced utility scale solar cogeneration system. Biodico Westside produces up to 20 million gallons of biodiesel per year, supplying renewable fuel to the ag industry's truck fleet, and also has created "green jobs" in a disadvantaged area with high unemployment and poor air quality.

The California Energy Commission (CEC) has awarded a $1.2 million grant for the project. In addition to the SJV Clean Energy Cluster, some of the other project collaborators include the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District and the U.S. Navy, which is the world's largest user of diesel fuel. Biodiesel can be used in diesel engines with little or no modification while providing significant emissions benefits.

To learn more, see the Zero Net Energy Farms presentation from the Nov. 9 meeting or view Biodico's video
Director's Message
By Joseph Oldham

Well, if you missed the CALSTART San Joaquin Valley Clean Transportation Summit on Oct. 19 at the Clovis Veterans Memorial Facility in Clovis, we have a video of the event in this edition of the newsletter to help you see and hear what you missed and, hopefully, encourage you to attend the next one. About 150 people attended the event and the responses from our post-Summit satisfaction survey indicated that most of the attendees plan to come back next time, so stay tuned.

For this edition of the San Joaquin Valley Clean Transportation Center Newsletter, I want to encourage you to pay close attention to two articles about new opportunities to have cleaner vehicles operating in the region. One is about the addition of significant funding to the HVIP program, which CALSTART administers for truck and bus engine conversions and new vehicle purchases using the new Cummins ISL-G Ultra Low NOx 9 liter engine. If you operate a vocational truck fleet or bus fleet and are planning to replace vehicles in 2017, you should seriously consider specifying the Cummins ISL-G Ultra Low NOx engine and taking advantage of the new HVIP incentives in addition to potential incentives from the San Joaquin Valley Air District Prop 1B program.

The second article is on the new Chevrolet Bolt, an all-electric SUV that will be coming to a Chevy dealer near you in 2017. This remarkable advance in all-electric drive vehicle capacity has an EPA-certified mileage of 238 miles on a single charge and seats five people. Priced in the mid-$30,000 range after the federal tax credit, the Bolt is a game changer for the San Joaquin Valley in terms of range and utility.  Imagine being able to drive round trip from Fresno to Bakersfield on a single charge using no gasoline! The Bolt has no oil to change, no smog checks, 0 to 60MPH in 6.5 seconds, and it is a small SUV with five-passenger seating capacity.

Finally, also note the work by Fresno County Rural Transit Agency (FCRTA) to deploy solar-powered electric vehicle charging stations in the thirteen (13) rural cities in Fresno County! The Envision Solar EV ARC stations are totally self-sufficient, requiring no electricity from the electric grid. Because they are solar powered, they will provide free electric vehicle charging for residents, as well as support deployment by FCRTA of advanced electric shuttle vans for their on-demand transit service in the communities.

As 2016 is ending, it has been a year that has seen very positive advancements of cleaner transportation technology in the San Joaquin Valley. The forecast for 2017 is for even greater strides! Best wishes for a safe and prosperous holiday season from the CALSTART San Joaquin Valley Clean Transportation Center!

“The CALSTART San Joaquin Valley Clean Transportation Center is a joint project between CALSTART and the California Energy Commission (CEC). It is funded through a grant from the CEC with the mission to assist residents and businesses in the San Joaquin Valley deploy cleaner transportation options to help improve air quality and promote economic prosperity. For more information about CALSTART, visit www.calstart.org
 

Quotes from the 2016 Summit

"We have the technology. It is doable through this partnership to have clean air in the Valley."
John Boesel
President and CEO, CALSTART

 
"Eighty percent of the emissions that contribute to smog come from the transportation sector."
George Minter
Southern California Gas Co.
 
"We can lead not just the state, but the world."
Dr. Joaquin Arambula
California State Assembly

 
"It is extremely important for us to incentivize these zero and near-zero technologies."
Oliver L. Baines III
Fresno City Council
 
"The San Joaquin Valley is at a critical juncture in meeting federal Clean Air Act mandates."
Sheraz Gill
San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District
 
"I would like to use the Valley as an example of sustainability."
John Kato
California Energy Commission
 
"Electric vehicles aren't just for the rich or those living in the Bay Area or Los Angeles."
Colette Kincaid
San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District
 

Looking for Grant Information?

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District offers a variety of grants and incentive programs for public agencies, residents, businesses and technology. Interested parties should apply early since incentives typically are available on a first-come, first-served basis. A complete list of current incentive programs is available on the Air District website.

The California Air Resources Board (ARB) administers grant programs funded through various sources, including the Cap-and-Trade program. A complete list of the various funding programs is available on the
ARB website.

The California Energy Commission (CEC) also administers grant programs for transportation technology. Go to the 
CEC website for information.

Various Federal agencies offer grants and incentives for transportation technology each year. All Federal agencies use the
Grants.gov website for submitting and receiving grant applications. 

 


Copyright © 2016 by CALSTART, All rights reserved.

Contact Us
Joseph Oldham, Director
San Joaquin Valley Clean Transportation Center
Address: 510 W. Kearney Blvd., Fresno, CA 93706
Phone: (559) 797-6034
Email: joldham@calstart.org
Website: www.sjvcleantransportation.org

Newsletter Editor: Brenda Turner, Project Clean Air
projectcleanairprograms@gmail.com

Expanding Community Fuels

Community Fuels is a Stockton-based biofuel producer committed to providing easy access to cleaner fuels and consequently expanding the clean energy industry to strengthen regional economies here in California.

As some of our readers may be aware, the SJVCEO is participating in the Workforce Investment Board Regional Industry Cluster of Opportunities (WIB RICO II) grant to support the Alternative and Renewable Fuel Vehicle (ARFV) Technology program.  The California Energy Commission (CEC), under this ARFV Technology Program, awarded Community Fuels a $4.9 million grant for expansion of their production facilities. Community Fuels will be expected to build commercial-scale facilities that “can sustainably produce at least 15 MMgy of low carbon transportation fuels” (according to this article in Biodiesel Magazine).

I was curious about the consumption of gasoline in both our wonderful state of California and the country as a whole and so I put my math skills to good use to figure out how much of an impact this one, small company in the Central Valley could make. Here’s what I found:

Photo Source: LA Times

California is responsible for consuming nearly 11% (14.5 billion gallons) of what the US consumes as a whole (about 133 billion gallons per year, as of 2012). This means that Californians use about 39.7 million gallons of gasoline each day.



So, what can we conclude?

Well, once Community Fuels expands, they will produce enough clean transportation fuels to replace at least 40% of what all Californians use in one day (or 0.1% of what Californians use in a year). Sure, that doesn’t really sound like a whole lot, ESPECIALLY when we compare it to the entire country’s gasoline consumption, but the more traction Community Fuels and the ARFV Technology Program receive, and the more California adapts to the influx of alternative vehicles (i.e. building more alternative fueling stations), Community Fuels and other similar production facilities will expand even further to replace many more gallons of gasoline.


Unfortunately, all of this will take lots of time, money and resources. But there’s good news, too: the SJVCEO and our partners on this WIB RICO grant are making moves to expedite the transition to a San Joaquin Valley with cleaner, more efficient transportation.

What is biomass electricity, and what waste to energy & biomass in California means for you and me.

What is biomass electricity? 
Biomass electricity is drawn from combusting or decomposing organic matter.

There are about 132 waste-to-energy plants in California, with a total capacity of almost 1,000 megawatts. These plants power our homes and businesses with electricity from waste matter that would have been released into the atmosphere, added fuel to forest fires, and burdened our landfills.


Why is biomass electricity important?
Using biomass to produce electricity reduces our reliance on fossil fuels, the nation's primary energy sources for electricity, and the largest contributors to air pollution and greenhouse gases. We will eventually run out of fossil fuels. Biomass electricity offers alternatives with many benefits:
  • Our supply of biomass is renewable, meaning it will not run out.
  • Electricity produced by biomass reduces the threat of global climate change.
  • Using biomass waste eliminates the need to place it in landfills.
  • Clearing biomass from wooded areas helps prevent forest fires.
  • Using by-product methane gases to produce electricity eliminates odor and reduces air pollution in surrounding areas.
Waste to Energy & Biomass in California...
Californians create nearly than 2,900 pounds of household garbage and industrial waste each and every second; a total of 85.2 million tons of waste in 2005 (according to the California Integrated Waste Management Board)! Of that, 43.2 million tons is recovered and recycled or used to make energy, but 42 million tons has to be disposed in landfills. Thanks to advances in technology, waste known as biomass, is put to valuable use producing electricity.

In 2007, 6,236 gigawatt hours of electricity in homes and businesses was produced from biomass: burning forestry, agricultural, and urban biomass; converting methane-rich landfill gas to energy (LFGTE); and processing wastewater and dairy biogas into useful energy. Biomass power plants produced 2.1 percent of the total electricity in California in 2007, or about one-fifth of all the renewable energy.

Bioenergy is renewable energy derived from biological sources, to be used for heat, electricity, or vehicle fuel. Biofuel derived from plant materials is among the most rapidly growing renewable energy technologies.


State Policy on Biomass and Biofuels
The Governor directed several state agencies - including the Energy Commission - to take major steps toward the widespread use of biomass to produce clean, renewable transportation fuels or electricity. This directive helped to reinvigorate the Bioenergy Interagency Working Group through the help of the California Biomass Collaborative.

The Bioenergy Interagency Working Group -- lead by Commissioner Jim Boyd of the California Energy Commission, and includes the Air Resources Board (ARB), California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA), California Public Utilities Commission, California Resources Agency, Department of Food and Agriculture, Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Department of General Services, Integrated Waste Management Board, and the State Water Resources Control Board -- made a recommendation to the Governor in March 2006 on biomass and biofuels.

That report, Recommendations for a Bioenergy Action Plan for California , can be downloaded from their website. (PDF file, 56 pages, 4.5 MB).

The Governor issued an Executive Order S-06-06 (PDF file), signed on April 25, 2006, dealing with biomass and biofuels. Two important points stated that:
  • By 2010, 20 percent of its biofuels need to be produced within California; increasing to 40 percent by 2020 and 75 percent by 2050.
  • By 2010, 20 percent of the renewable electricity should be generated from biomass resources within the state; maintaining this level through 2020.
The Governor then in July 2006, released California's Bioenergy Action Plan (PDf file, 11 pages, 2.1 MB). The plan's objectives included:
  • Establish California as a market leader in technology innovation, sustainable biomass development, and market development for bio-based products.
  • Coordinate research, development, demonstration, and commercialization efforts across federal and state agencies. ----Develop biomass roadmap.
  • Align existing regulatory requirements to encourage production and use of California's biomass resources.
  • Facilitate market entry for new applications of bioenergy including electricity, biogas, and biofuels.
  • Maximize the contributions of bioenergy toward achieving the state's petroleum reduction, climate change, renewable energy, and environmental goals.( http://www.energy.ca.gov/biomass/ )
Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/riducareflui/5142516275/

Biogas industry seeks to clear the regulatory air

Fresno, Calif. and the rest of the San Joaquin Valley share some of the worst air in the United States.

A bootstrap industry, still trying to gain a toehold in the state, can remove tons of those pollutants and produce renewable energy at the same time. The concept would appear to meet the goal of the state's Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which seeks to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

So what's the holdup?

Part economics, part regulatory. Five of the top people in the state's biogas industry met recently in Fresno with members of the California Public Utility Commission to explain the difficulties in getting bio-digesters up and running. The meetings were in Fresno City Hall. Each commissioner and his or her staff listened and gave feedback to various groups.

Making the case for biogas

The small but friendly renewables group spelled out all the potential a viable biogas industry could bring. But the group, who represented five companies, also explained the turmoil their operations face breaking into the market in a substantial way. And by and large, the commissioners, who met them one by one, appeared to see the merits of their cause.

The biogas representatives' plan is simple. The Valley is also home to 1,700 dairies, the most productive and largest milk production region in the country. These dairies also produce a huge amount of methane, mostly through cow poop.

Their companies, with the exception of one that uses agricultural waste, take what the cows discard and convert it to energy. However, to do this they need a little help. Because the industry is so new, development and operation costs somewhat exceed current return. The biodigestion process removes pollutants, which could improve the health of millions of people, but that benefit -- at this time -- isn't worth anything to banks. The fact that the industry could divert a huge amount of the state's greenhouse gas and create a renewable resource can't be monetized. And that means the projects don't look good to traditional financiers.

"We need a stable program to launch the industry," says Neil Black, president of California Bioenergy.

Industry could use a hand

There are a lot of details involved with getting a biodigester up and running. Suffice to say that most of them boil down to price per kilowatt hour. Utilities pay something like 8.9 cents, while the standard biodigester coupled to a energy-creating turbine needs something more, like 15 to 17 cents, at least at this early stage.

It's not uncommon for a developing energy source to get regulatory assistance. In the energy business, it's understood that every new resource needs some sort of subsidy to get started and eventually become profitable. Even oil.

Black says there only 11 biodigesters operating in California. He says about that many went out of business, unable to make the economics work.

"We're operating in five different states now, and all are easier than California," says Bob Joblin, who represents AgPower Group. He says he's had a project fully permitted for a year and a half, just waiting on assistance to unravel regulatory red tape.

Nettie Drake of Ag Power Development says she's working on her second digester, but it hasn't been easy. She says her business finds nothing but hurdles.

The cost of clean air

The difficult part is that of air quality. Because there is no viable methodology for trading carbon credits, where one company pays another to offset its pollution, there is no method for companies like Black's or Drake's or Joblin's to leverage those credits.

Congress has failed to pass cap-and-trade, meaning no sales of credits for biodigesters. However, California does show some promise -- but not until next year, when it's due to launch what Peter Weisberg of BioCycle.net says is "the nation’s most comprehensive cap-and-trade program."

Weisberg says digester and composting project developers interested in generating carbon credit revenue "must now turn their attention to the intricacies of the emerging California carbon market."

Timing is key. The group at the CPUC meetings in Fresno says the opportunity for getting their current projects established and successful is limited. Expired permits, missed financing or mounting debt could sour farmers on the concept.

And it's farmers who take the risk.

Renewable energy

These projects could make a big difference. Black says the potential in California for all digesters, including waste water and ag waste is 3 gigawatts of power.

That's a pretty big deal. For example the twin reactors at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant near San Luis Obispo produce about 2.2 gigawatts.

And it would remove greenhouse gases from the worst air in the nation. Fresno and other cities in the Valley are good at getting on lists no city wants any part of. For instance, Fresno has the distinction of having the nation's highest concentrated poverty and a number of Valley cities found their way onto the Top 10 residential foreclosure list over the past few years.

Bye bye brown haze?

The American Lung Association's 2012 State of the Air Report lists primarily Valley cities in its top 10 most polluted. One of the reasons for this airborne nastiness has to do with the region's geographic configuration (basin surrounded by two mountain ranges) its lack of wind and rain and the fact that everything from Los Angeles and the Bay Area migrates east and hangs out.

The biodigester industry is poised to do its part. And there's this: Biogas doesn't operate at the whim of mother nature like wind and solar. Hook it up to the grid and it could even out the highs and lows of other renewable power sources.

Making use of wasted space with solar and clean energy




Sometimes, what seems to be wasted space isn't.

Take road medians, rights-of-ways, military bases and airports for example. More studies are showing those regions, which are often off limits or seemingly unusable, could be sites for placing solar arrays, wind turbines or crops for biofuel.

This NPR story talks about the huge potential for solar arrays on the vast expanses of military bases. This suggests lining roadways with solar panels, and this USDA report, released in January, says locating alternative power at airports could be an ideal compromise to habitat and land conflicts that plague renewable energy projects.

From the report: "with careful planning, locating alternative energy projects at airports could help mitigate many of the challenges currently facing policy makers, developers, and conservationists. "

It makes sense. Wildlife isn't wanted at airports, and development of property in the flight path is discouraged. Officials at my hometown airport in Fresno, Calif., were way ahead of the game when they had solar panels installed in 2008.

The panels, placed on land near runways that was previous unusable, are shaving millions off the power bill. The USDA report showcases the Fresno installation and notes it supplies about 60% of the airport's power. Any surplus energy is resold.

Read more here. Meadows Field in Bakersfield and Denver International Airport also have solar arrays.

The USDA study says airports are "one of the few land holdings where reductions
in wildlife abundance and habitat quality are necessary and socially acceptable, and where regulations discourage traditional (crop) production." (Did you know economic losses from wildlife/aircraft collisions are estimated at $600 million annually in the United States?)

Authors of the USDA report, while citing the solar airport examples, note they are not aware of any biofuel production at airports. That could be because officials are afraid the crops would attract wildlife. However, several airports already lease land to farmers who grow such crops as corn. And opportunity exists, at least in terms of land size. The study found that only 10% of the 50 U.S. states had median farm sizes larger airport grasslands.

The authors also note that turf near runways sometimes attract geese and other birds. The report suggests that converting that land to switchgrass or other types of cellulosic feedstock could be an option. "Field research likely could identify productive biofuel crops that, from a wildlife perspective, are compatible with safe airport operations," the authors state, citing other studies.

For more, here is a CleanTechnica post that serves as a good overview.

We're starting to see much more in this area. Solar, for example, is showing up on farms, on roadway pilot projects, on parking garages, city wastewater treatment plants, and on county jails and state prisons. The military is going full speed ahead on renewables, while corporate America, professional sports (hello, baseball season) and others are moving ahead on sustainability programs.

Watch for solar and other types of renewable energy to show up in even more places. Wouldn't it be great if this nation took a space race approach, as my colleague put it so well in this blog, to clean energy and energy efficiency?

Fresno airport solar savings graphic provide by City of Fresno

Grant opportunity for biomass, biofuel research


The federal Departments of Agriculture and Energy, continuing research into biomass and biofuel, are funding projects that combine three program areas: (A) Feedstock development, (B)Biofuels and bio based products development, and (C) Biofuels and bio-based products development analysis.

The agencies are accepting grant applications through April 24 for projects that research or demonstrate the conversion of feedstock and cellulosic biomass into biofuel and bio-based products such as chemicals, animal feed and co-generation power.

Successful applications will consider cradle-to-grave impacts, including environmental, social and economic implications. Nonprofits, universities and businesses are invited to apply for the grants. More information can be found here.

Biodiesel industry keeps rolling

Rich Gillis is selling his biodiesel plant.

But Gillis, president and chief executive of Watsonville, Calif.-based Energy Alternative Solutions Inc., intends to stay in the business. Once the sale is complete, he plans to focus on development of marketable biofuel crops like camelina, which requires very little water and has been grown successfully in the San Joaquin Valley.

"Biodiesel is taking off," he says. And camelina, which is harvested for its seeds, has a bright part in that future, he adds.
The biodiesel business certainly isn't putting the petroleum companies out of business. In fact, the market remains relatively limited with most sales going to fleets or established customers. However, its niche is extensive with more than 600 fleets using biodiesel blends in their vehicles and the military testing it as a 50 percent additive to jet fuel.

Gillis says he sees the fuel as an intermediary that will serve to ease dependence on petroleum until a substitute can be found. And that may take awhile.

The EPA has forecast through its Renewable Fuel Standard program a target of about 1 billion gallons of biomass-produced biodiesel this year. In 2006, 250 million gallons were sold, with more than 900 million projected to sell in 2011.

The EPA says biodiesel can help reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and provide greenhouse gas emission reductions: "It reduces emissions of carbon monoxide, particulate matter and sulfates, as well as hydrocarbon and air toxics emissions."

Derek Mead of greentechmedia.com calls biodiesel the workhorse of the biofuel sector. He writes that the "market is projected to continue to increase production and is still a stable sector."

Gillis' plant, which sits near the central coast in Gonzales, Calif. just south of Salinas on Highway 101, recycled 150,000 pounds of waste vegetable oil into biodiesel each week and has been on line since 2007. Over its history, the plant has produced more than 1 million gallons.

Biodiesel can be produced from vegetable oils, animal fats and used restaurant grease.

Gillis says the plant was built by Pacific Biodiesel, headquartered on Maui, Hawaii. "They are one of the oldest producers of biodiesel fuel and production plant builders in the country," he says.

Gillis says he'd like to see the plant bought and relocated to the nearby San Joaquin Valley where it would be close potential fields. He says "parties interested in relocating the plant to the San Joaquin Valley will be given a credit with a cap for the cost of disassembly and transport of the plant."

Gillis says that although a $1 per gallon tax credit wasn't renewed by Congress, renewable fuel credits are available through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency "and remain an excellent source of support for producers of biodiesel. Cap and trade will also have a positive effect on the industry."

The tax incentive was enacted in 2004 as part of the American Jobs Creation Act and expired at the close of 2009.

The National Biodiesel Board says the industry generates substantial economic benefits. In 2008, the U.S. biodiesel industry supported 51,893 jobs, added $4.287 billion to the economy, and generated $866.2 million in tax revenue, it says.

Gillis says the elimination of the tax credit either eliminated or temporarily shuttered about half the jobs in biodiesel.

Gillis believes in biofuels and would like to see more jobs developed. He'd also like to find a buyer for his plant -- although he may have a line on it with a couple interested parties. He's got a list of the equipment for those who would like to know more. Price is negotiable, the list says.

The U.S. Military: The Big Green Machine Gets Even Greener






The military has a history of innovation that eventually goes mainstream. The most notable example, of course, is the Internet. Developed for the military, it revolutionized society. Department of Defense support also helped forge commercial development of global positioning systems and semiconductors.

Green energy and microgrids could be next on the list of advancements to expand beyond military bases and the battlefield. In a new report and a video, PEW Charitable Trusts says the emergence of clean energy and increasingly competitive alternative energy sources "presents DoD (Department of Defense) with opportunities for saving lives and money in the years ahead."

There are challenges, such as an austerity movement (although it could be argued that a strong clean-energy program actually saves money) and fallout from the Solyndra bankruptcy, which sidetracked an ambitious plan to attach solar to put solar panels on military housing. Whether the program survives remains to be seen.

Still, the military is moving ahead on other fronts. And it is not alone. Big Business, led by Walmart, Google and others, is pushing on. Walmart is particularly interesting; the world's largest retailer wouldn't be pursuing such an ambitious program if it wasn't profitable. If you want to know more about Walmart's efforts, read this new book.

In fact, there is so much going on that the phrase "industrial revolution" keeps coming up in regard to green energy. Economist Jeremy Rifkin is the latest, calling it "the third Industrial Revolution."

The military's efforts certainly are a catalyst. Using alternative fuel to power jets and other vehicles can sharply reduce dependence upon oil. The Department of Defense is the largest single consumer of energy in the United States, gobbling more than 375,000 barrels of oil per day in 2009 - more than all but 35 nations.

Liquid petroleum accounts for about 75 percent of the military's annual energy consumption, and more than $11 billion of its annual power bill. So, electric vehicles and biofuel such as algae and switchgrass can save millions of dollars. Did you know base leaders at Fort Bliss, Texas, drive tiny electric cars made of recycled plastic? Leave the Hummer home, baby!

Recently, a company of Marines operated their equipment solely on solar and battery power for 192 hours, saving eight gallons of fuel per day. And it is quieter, making it safer to operate on the battlefield.

From the report: "The Navy has also made progress on hybrid systems for ships. The USS Makin Island was commissioned in 2009 with a hybrid electric propulsion system that will save more than $250 million in fuel costs over the life of the ship. Looking forward, a hybrid electric drive system will be tested and installed as a proof of concept on the USS Truxtun. The Navy estimates successful testing will result in fuel savings of up to 8,500 barrels per year."

Just as alternative fuel enhances the security of energy supplies, self-contained microgrids and other smart-energy technology can protect the military's 500,000 buildings (totaling 2.2 billion square feet) at 500 major installations from commercial power outages.

Pew cites market analysts who project the military will account for almost 15 percent of the microgrid market in 2013, and that military implementation of microgrids will grow by 375 percent to $1.6 billion annually in 2020.

The Pew report is fascinating, and there is much more than recapped here. After reading it, I'm left with this thought: The influence of the military combined with growing interest in energy efficiency and sustainability by Big Business and others equals the start of a powerful movement that likely will pick up speed as awareness increases.

Photo of soldiers deploying a solar banket by Petty Officer 2nd Class Paul D. Williams, US Navy)

Biofuels score big, but can they cut oil imports?

Biofuels have stormed forward with a series of advances that could give the sometimes maligned alternative energy sector a major boost.

On the federal side, President Obama has allocated $510 million to produce the fuel for military jets and ships and commercial vehicles. And the Army has established the Energy Initiatives Office Task Force, which is charged with figuring out how to meet a 25 percent renewable energy goal by 2025.

A national security issue

Much of the task force's efforts could be directed to biofuels. Oil dependence has long been considered a national security issue. A 2006 report by the Council on Foreign Relations said the United States must manage the consequences of unavoidable dependence on foreign oil. “The longer the delay, the greater will be the subsequent trauma,” the report said.

This week, Obama emphasized the importance of biofuels to energy security, and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said, "America's long-term national security depends upon a commercially viable domestic biofuels market."

But it won't be easy. Obama's plan is to produce 36 billion gallons of biofuel by 2022, with 20 billion gallons coming from advanced biofuels, 15 billion gallons from corn ethanol and one billion gallons from biodiesel.

Biofuel targets by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for 2012 are about 9 percent greater than the previous year and show a modest but increasing role for non-corn biofuels. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 requires that a percentage of fuel sold in the country contain a minimum volume of renewable fuel.

What exactly is biofuel?

Biofuel is a pretty broad category that includes ethanol, biodiesel, cellulosic ethanol, gas-tank-ready isobutanol and, depending on how it's classified, algae fuel. But biofuel manufacture requires energy and, like petroleum products and coal, burning it creates greenhouse gases. Similar to natural gas, those emissions aren't as bad, but the distinction marks its green credentials with an asterisk.

Ethanol, which remains a widely used gasoline additive, may have lost some of the momentum it had five years ago, especially that derived from corn. However, research and development appear undeterred.

At the U.S. Department of Energy’s BioEnergy Science Center in Oak Ridge, Tenn., a team of researchers at believe they have "pinpointed the exact, single gene that controls ethanol production capacity in a microorganism." The discovery, officials say, could prove the missing link in developing biomass crops that produce higher concentrations of ethanol at lower costs.

“This discovery is an important step in developing biomass crops that could increase yield of ethanol, lower production costs and help reduce our reliance on imported oil,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu in a statement.

New biofuel discoveries

Further underlining my premise for acceleration in biofuel development  is yet another announcement from the DOE, this time about two promising biofuel production methods. Both are referred to as "drop-in" biofuels technologies because they can directly replace or be used in lieu of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel without alteration to engines.

The National Advanced Biofuels Consortium, which received $35 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to accelerate biofuel development, selected the "technology pathways" for extra attention.

The consortium plans to develop the technologies to a "pilot-ready" stage over the next two years. One of the two methods focuses on converting biomass into sugars that can be biologically and chemically converted into a renewable diesel and is dubbed FLS, for fermentation of lignocellulosic sugars. The second, catalysis of lignocellulosic sugars, or CLS, focuses on converting biomass into sugars that can be chemically and catalytically converted into gasoline and diesel fuel.

Speed is important, partners needed

"Biofuels are an important part of reducing America's dependence on foreign oil and creating jobs here at home," Obama said, adding that the job requires partnering with the private sector to speed development.

Officials said that to accelerate the production of bio-based jet and diesel fuel for military purposes, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Secretary of the Navy Mabus have developed a plan to jointly construct or retrofit several drop-in biofuel plants and refineries.

Oil remains the dominant player

The United States relies on imported oil for 49 percent of its fuel supply, but about half of that comes from the Western Hemisphere with Canada at the top with 25 percent, followed by Venezuela's 10 percent and Mexico's 9 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Some 12 percent of the nation's imports come from Saudi Arabia.

And while U.S. dependence on imported oil has declined since peaking in 2005, the cause can be traced to the recession, improvements in efficiency and various changes in consumer behavior, the EIA says. "At the same time, increased use of domestic biofuels (ethanol and biodiesel), and strong gains in domestic production of crude oil and natural gas plant liquids expanded domestic supplies and reduced the need for imports," officials say.

Undoubtedly that biofuel percentage will rise. The next decade will be the test.

At the Advanced Biofuels Markets exhibition and seminars Nov. 8 to Nov. 11, 2011 in San Francisco, the topic will be "How are we going to get from 6.6 million gallons in 2011 to 20 BILLION gallons in 2022?" It will be a good place to learn more than you wanted to know.

Photo: Courtesy greenenergyproject.tk

Putting A Bug In For Green Energy



As interest in biofuel heats up, so does research into various forms. Alternatives are being studied, including camelina,, which can be grown on marginal farmland, and algae, but there are other opportunities too.

In Michigan, researchers from Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center are studying whether genes from fungi that live near bark beetles can efficiently produce bio-ethanol from stalks, leaves, wood chips, sawdust and dead trees.

Allison Leahy has more in this fascinating report in CleanTechies and Earth & Industry.

The Michigan research is an example of the tremendous progress being made in alternative fuels and clean energy - a movement that some analysts have likened to America's industrial revolution.

Advancements are announced regularly. Just today, I read this: the use of molten salt to store solar power so it can be used when the sun is not shining. An MIT study also is under way.

Who knows where all this will lead. The recent federal debt agreement casts doubt on Washington D.C.'s ability to participate, but some states, such as California, are pushing ahead with green agendas.

Some heavy hitters in the corporate world are pursuing sustainability as core programs. UPS just announced that its alternative fuel fleet motored 200 million miles over the past decade. Walmart, General Electric, Google and others, have recognized that going green produces green for the bottom line.

Let's hope the message spreads.

Money for biofuel efforts headed to Valley





Camelina is emerging as a strong candidate for conversion to jet fuel, which, as this story in Western Farm Press notes, could be good news for owners of marginal land in the dry climate of the San Joaquin Valley.

Those efforts were bolstered in recent days when the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that 17 counties in California, including those in the San Joaquin Valley and nearby San Luis Obispo County, will be part of a broader effort to develop camelina (which also is good for cattle feed). Farmers will be reimbursed for much of the growing costs in a program that stems from the 2008 farm bill.

Here is more from a Turlock Journal story by Jonathan McCorkell, and from the official press release.

Why is this important? Well, thousands of acres of land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley are idle due to water and salt issues, and biofuels such as camelina (and algae, which is being studied at UC Merced. Learn more here) present potential alternative crops. Up to 25,000 acres in California can be used for camelina production under the just-announced federal program.

The Air Force has used camelina as a fuel, and the prospect of more jobs is vitally important to a region with high unemployment. Here is a quote by Congressman Jim Costa, D-Calif., as reported in the Capital Press, who says the Naval Air Station in Lemoore is a potential customer. "As we continue to face high unemployment in the (Central) Valley, any efforts at job creation like this project are good news."

Here is a link to the rest of the Capital Press story.

Camelina was gaining popularity in Montana, but is losing ground to other more-established grain crops, according to this story in the Billings Gazette. Maybe Montana's loss will be our gain.

The Next Industrial Revolution




  • The evolution of clean energy could, in the eyes of Ernst & Young, become a revolution.

    An industrial revolution.

    That's right. The global auditing and analysis firm says the emerging green energy movement could be as revolutionary as the era that produced the cotton gin and steam engine.

    "The cleantech-enabled transformation to a low-carbon, resource-efficient economy may be the next industrial revolution. As this transformation accelerates, global corporations are increasingly realizing that they must understand the impact of cleantech on their industries and develop strategic plans to adapt to this change," Ernst & Young says in this story on its Web site.

    Almost 90 percent of the companies that responded to its annual global survey of corporations with more than $1 billion revenue said cleantech is an "organization-wide or business-unit-level initiative."

    About a third of them said they plan to earmark at least 3 percent of their revenue over the next five years to clean technology, and 75% said their clean-energy spending will increase.

    More demand for energy, higher prices, security concerns and diminishing natural resources will be catalysts for the growing movement. In addition, Ernst & Young says, progress toward a low carbon energy-efficient economy presents an economic opportunity for investors and others.

    Ernst & Young cites these trends:

  • The price of solar and wind energy will fall as they grow in magnitude (Check out this blog from my colleague);

  • Going green is a strategic business decision;

  • More businesses are developing sustainability measures, and reporting them to stakeholders and customers.

    Of course, this won't happen overnight. The first industrial revolution spanned decades, and this one is stumbling along in its early stages. Ernst & Young says raising capital to fuel the transformation will be an issue, especially in these austere times.

    Interestingly, the Ernst & Young report was the second one this week to sound a similar theme. Pike Research cited a different revolution - the proliferation of the Internet - when it said the military's embrace of green energy could drive renewable energy into the mainstream of society. More on that here.

    None of this surprises us. We have witnessed over the past few years the bumpy beginnings of change. More homes, businesses, cities and farms are using the wind and sun to partially run their operations. Investment into potential biofuels is robust, and energy efficiency - the most cost-effective and fastest way to lower power bills and shrink a carbon footprint - is gaining a faithful following.

    Let the revolution begin.

    Image by jmmarshall.glogster.com

Looking Forward To A Green Future





Everyday, I find some reason to be hopeful about clean energy and energy conservation, despite fuddy-duddies in Washington who believe a cleaner planet and lower power bills are bad things.

Today's hopeful moment is brought to you by the trio of Cargill, Shell and Honda, three heavy hitters demonstrating that innovation is alive and kicking. Their combined research into the fuel-making possibilities of pine and corn waste is another example of Big Business taking the lead on green energy.

Recent announcements from Dow Chemical, AT&T , and General Motors are other reasons for optimism. Those businesses, and others, are discovering that green is good socially and economically.

GM is particularly impressive. It is recycling oil-soaked booms from the Gulf spill into air deflectors for its new electric Volt. Read more about that here.

Those announcements are coming at the same time that the San Joaquin Valley, here in California's resource-rich heartland, is on tap to become a leader in solar and other types of renewable energy.

Dozens of solar projects - big and small - are proposed for the region between Stockton and the Grapevine. In addition, research into possible forms of biofuel is under way in the west side of the Valley, according to this story by former Fresno Bee colleague Dennis Pollock.

Combine those efforts with cost savings achieved by energy-conservation measures, such as work we at the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization are doing with budget-slashed cities and counties to help them replace inefficient lighting, motors and other items, and green will be more than just a color.






Photo from search.independent.co.uk



Biofuel Research Taking Center Stage


I sit in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley, a bountiful region that has been referred to as the world's salad bowl - and for good reason.

Farmers here produce $20 billion worth of food and fiber annually that is shipped worldwide. Growers in Central California are efficient, productive, technologically advanced and raise a myriad of crops. Which leads me to wonder: could they become leaders in biofuel development too?

The United States and Brazil dominate biofuel production, led by ethanol. In 2009, the U.S. produced half of the world's supply of ethanol, most of it from corn, according to this report that UC Berkeley helped develop.

More production is likely as research into biofuel continues. Algae - pond scum and easily grown - shows promising potential. UC Merced, 60 miles from my desk in Fresno, is conducting cutting-edge research into algae, and a water-treatment company has inked a deal to distribute algae-extraction systems to its customers.

Algae research already is creating jobs, according to the study that UC Berkeley participated in. Solazyme, a biotech firm near San Francisco, has been hiring algae researchers at the rate of one per week. But other types of fuel are being tested as well. Among them are jatropha, switchgrass , sorghum (which is being tested in Hanford), canola and Miscanthus.

President Obama, trying to wean the nation off oil, is offering $30 million over the next three or four years for biofuel research, and the Berkeley study talks about growth in the industry.

"As start-ups mature and commercialize their technologies, the industry will bring on workers for a full range of production needs. That diverse workforce will range from farmers to....molecular engineers."

Farmers will be needed to grow the fuel sources, whatever they may be. The Southeast and Midwest are promising centers of biofuel, but some of the research is occurring in California, according to this report out of Parlier.

I wonder if the Valley's farmers - who are among the most entrepreneurial in the world - can perhaps help create a new cash crop.

Image by Solar1.org

Cool new fuel: Scientist leads innovation that could spur biofuel revolution

James Liao may be one of the most important people in the nation's energy sector.

And while his name may be unfamiliar to just about everybody not intimately involved with biofuel innovation, that could quickly change.

He leads a team that has developed a microbe capable of turning cellulosic material, or grassy and woody matter, into isobutanol, a fuel with huge potential. Just how huge, we'll likely find out in coming months. But suffice to say it's important, especially with gas prices pushing $4 per gallon.

This fuel is a far bigger deal than ethanol, which is made in this country from corn. Liao's team's feat is the first time isobutanol has been coaxed directly from cellulose.

"Unlike ethanol, isobutanol can be blended at any ratio with gasoline," Liao said in a statement from Oak Ridge National Laboratory. "Plus, it may be possible to use isobutanol directly in current engines without modification."

The last sentence is a big one. It certainly captured my attention.

Liao's statement implies that should this process reach commercialization at a cost consumers will accept, the United States has a shot at providing an alternative fuel at a reasonable price to compete with foreign oil. Don't expect panacea, or cure-all, but an alternative fuel that could substitute for refined petroleum would no doubt exert economic pressure on retail fuel prices.

The conflict in Libya between Gadhafi and separatist forces shut off the oil production spigot in that country and illustrates what eliminating a small percentage of the world's crude can mean to prices. At this writing, the price remained above $100 per barrel, according to oil-price.net, but showed a decline. And the one year forecast dropped by about $10.

Injecting an alternative source, cellulosic isobutanol for instance, likewise could push prices lower -- perhaps far lower.

But, as energy seer Paul Johnson just told me, it's hard to tell initially future junk bonds from the next Microsoft. And that may be the case here. But I hope not.

Paul is executive director of the nonprofit I work for, the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization and just returned to Seattle after attending REXPO, the recycling exposition in Stockton, Calif. put on by Frank Ferral with the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce.

Paul said clean energy opportunities abounded at the event and noted "very positive energies given the fact of the economic gloom and doom."

Liao wasn't at REXPO, but he is one of clean energy's bright spots. He serves as chancellor's professor and vice chair of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of California Los Angeles Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science.

The isobutanol work was conducted at the Department of Energy's BioEnergy Science Center, led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The team's findings were published online in Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu called the advance "yet another sign of the rapid progress we are making in developing the next generation of biofuels that can help reduce our oil dependence."

Chu said the technology promises the potential of a new industry that can convert wheat and rice straw, corn stover, lumber wastes and specialty plants into fuel.

DOE has given extra attention to the biomass sector of late, offering a series of webinars on the subject that even included algae, another of my cool fuel picks. The agency is coordinating peer review meetings of advancements on various processes that will continue through June 2011. DOE plans to use the information as it considers future funding decisions.

Expect Liao to continue making news in the cellulose sector. Last year, he was awarded the 2010 Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The award, according to a story for the UCLA Engineering Department by Wileen Wong Kromhout, promotes research on and development of less-hazardous alternative technologies that reduce or eliminate waste.

In the story, Liao sounds committed to providing an alternative to fossil fuels. "It is essential to develop a renewable source to replace petroleum as the major chemical and energy source," he says.

I know a bunch of guys on my street in Clovis, Calif. who would maybe turn their noses up at the concept of plant fuel. But if it enables them to keep their mondo lift Chevy trucks on the road, they'd be big supporters.

It's A Short Hop From Agriculture To Biofuel


The San Joaquin Valley is the leading agriculture region in California and among the top in the nation, producing $20 billion worth of farm products per year.

Most of the world's raisins come from the Valley. Processing tomatoes, almonds, table grapes and milk are among the leading commodities in Fresno County. Maybe someday a new "crop" will grow in California and the Valley: biofuel.

University of California scientists and others are conducting ongoing research into potential biofuel crops, according to this Western Farm Press article by Jeannette E. Warnert, who works in the university's farm research facility in Parlier - in the heart of the Valley's agriculture belt.

Sorghum, switchgrass, canola and the hearty jatropha plant are among the crops being tested. This story talks about the strong potential of jatropha on marginal farmland, thus preserving prime farmland. Resistant to drought and pests, it also has a robust yield.

And here is more on sorghum, plus two links to an ambitious collaborative research project in the San Joaquin Valley: here, and here. Finally, here is a link to fascinating work going on along the California coast.

When the biofuel research is added to increasing interest in solar energy, the San Joaquin Valley could be center stage in California's emerging green economy.

image from venturebeat.com

Biofuel & batteries bolster Golden State

Manufacturers of sorghum biofuel, electric trucks and lithium-ion battery packs are among eight to receive about $9.6 million in grants from California, reportedly producing a potential 2,500 jobs.

The money comes from the California Energy Commission's Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Transportation program and is reported to be beefed up with $11,969,855 in private funds.

Energy Commissioner Anthony Eggert said in statement the idea is to tap partnerships to rebuild California's manufacturing base. The projects, he said, "will improve California's economy and its environment by fostering green, clean advancements in transportation."

The projects include:

Great Valley Energy LLC gets about $2 million to test sweet sorghum as a biofuel crop. The salt-tolerant crop needs one-third less water than cotton or corn and can yield as much ethanol per bushel as corn. Match funding of about $2 million will help install a pilot sorghum separation and testing facility in Hanford. "If the testing is successful, the team will consider building smaller-scale ethanol plants distributed across the Valley to be close to the sorghum fields to lower transportation costs," officials said. Each of the commercial refineries could create an additional 20 jobs. By 2020, Great Valley Energy estimates it could have 15 small dispersed plants. Total annual production would be more than 47 million gallons.


TransPower, based in Escondido, Calif., gets $1 million to study the feasibility of manufacturing large electric-drive trucks in or near San Pedro by 2013. "By combining several processes and companies under one roof, the (facility) would combine the building of components like advanced converters or battery modules with their assembly into electric drive systems. These would then be installed on-site into mass-produced truck bodies made elsewhere," officials said. The private match is another million, with a goal of 2,500 trucks by 2020, creating 1,500 high-paying jobs.

San Francisco-based Mission Motor Co. gets $505,381 to help produce prototype electric vehicle components for commercial production of electric motorcycles, scooters, cars, buses and even outdoor power equipment. Match funding is $623,581. The money will help create an assembly facility in downtown San Francisco that should be capable of producing 30,000 battery packs and motor control systems each year by 2015 and creating as many as 100 jobs.

Alameda County-based Electric Leyden Energy Inc. gets $2.96 million to help it "create a production line capable assembling its lithium ion cells into 10 battery packs per month for its partner in the project, electric vehicle manufacturer Green Vehicles of Salinas," officials said. The two companies will match the funding. The project will create 11 jobs immediately, with another 500 anticipated.

The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System gets $500,000 to help speed refueling its growing fleet of compressed natural gas-powered buses with larger, higher capacity fueling compressors. The Federal Transit Administration will provide about $1.2 million.

The City of San Jose gets $1.9 million to build a new system that turns trash into natural gas for transportation fuel. Match is $4,214,624 to create a facility to produce methane at the San Jose/Santa Clara Water Pollution Control Plant. The fuel could save the city $450,000 a year by using natural gas in its vehicles. The project would create about 15 construction jobs and an undetermined number of workers needed to operate the plant.

East Bay Municipal Utility District gets $1 million to make an estimated 300,000 gallons of biodiesel each year at its wastewater treatment plant in Oakland. "The process will utilize waste fats, oils and grease, a feedstock that reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 88 percent compared to regular diesel," officials said. Match is $1,575,000.

Western States Oil Co. gets $69,233 to the to convert an 8,000-gallon retail gasoline tank into one that can dispense wholesale biodiesel. "Because the tank is immediately adjacent to the Kinder Morgan Pipeline Terminal in San Jose, delivery trucks leaving the terminal will be able to easily access the biofuel," officials said.

Photo: International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics Sorghum field.

Is filling up with algae fuel a decade away?

The prospect of tapping pond scum for fuel may not be so far off.

While significant hurdles remain -- algae-produced fats aren't as readily transformed into energy as, say, Texas tea -- many have joined the pursuit of commercialization and a recent study says plants could come on line in the next four to six years producing product competitive with conventional fuels.

Imagine driving down to the corner quick-rip grocer and filling it up with a little homegrown green.

A decade from now that might be possible.

Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research reports that by 2020, "production of biofuels derived from crude algae oil will reach 61 million gallons per year." Writers of the Pike Research report, industry analyst Mackinnon Lawrence and Pike President Clint Wheelock acknowledged the amount was "barely a drop in the bucket for biofuels" but said the potential production would represent a market value of $1.3 billion.

Cruise the online data provided by Oilgae, a biofuels support organization based in India, and you'll start believing the hype. The industry-supported research group reported that significant investments into the sector have come from Exxon Mobile, Shell, BP and even Bill Gates. Oilgae calls algae "the only biofuel that can completely replace fossil fuels."

The Associated Press reported this week that South San Francisco-based Solazyme recently sold the U.S. Navy 150,000 gallons of algae-produced fuel for testing in ships and jets and that the company received a $21.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to build a refinery in Riverside, Penn.

Algae definitely has its supporters. Rachel Ehrenberg of sciencenews.org reported earlier this year that microalgae "have become a fledgling favorite in the renewable energy sector."

In January, the U.S. Department of Energy announced $44 million in funding for the National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts. Led by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Mo., the organization will seek to develop a method for commercializing algae-derived biofuel and related products. The agency is hedging its bets in the biofuels realm, giving $33.8 million to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to investigate and develop processing options for other types of "advanced biofuels."

Lawrence and Wheelock of Pike Research say the ultimate threat comes from over-hype. The industry, they say, lacks large-scale projects to substantiate claims and needs significant investment to reach widespread
commercialization. "If early-mover companies and pilot projects run into serious setbacks, expect a retrenchment among private capital interests," the researchers say.

In the renewables pantheon, biofuels, mostly developed from corn in this country, often get the sideways glance. They require energy to produce, still must be burned and because of that create greenhouse gasses. On the plus side, they aren't foreign oil.

U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts a steady increase in domestic biofuels consumption, following current trends. The agency projects the strongest growth for renewable fuels used to generate electricity and those used in the transportation sector, citing programs like the federal renewable fuels standard. "Although fossil fuels continue to provide most of the energy consumed in the United States over the next 25 years ..., their share of overall energy use falls from 84 percent in 2008 to 78 percent in 2035," the agency said.

The Renewable Fuels Association in its 2010 outlook said that despite economic challenges, the U.S. ethanol industry has continued to expand. Production in 2009 reached an estimated 10.6 billion gallons, helping "support nearly 400,000 jobs in all sectors of the economy."

The association's outlook said "no fewer than 28 advanced biofuel companies are currently developing the much-needed technologies that will greatly expand ethanol production." Those facilities under development represent more than 170 million gallons of production and much more if they prove commercially successful, the report said.

The association said many employ cellulosic and advanced biofuel technologies and "hold the promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 100 percent compared to gasoline."

Ehrenberg of sciencenews.org highlighted the research of a team from University of Virginia in Charlottesville, which examined the energy costs and environmental impacts of producing algae for fuel. The team, she wrote, found that "algae farms must minimize use of fertilizer and freshwater to compete with other biofuel plants."

Ehrenberg said the team suggested a solution would be placing algae operations next to "wastewater treatment plants or facilities that emit carbon dioxide."

Makes sense. I recall the "septic system" at our first place in Fairbanks, Alaska in 1969 was a pit in a tree-studded section of tundra. Great place for growing single-celled pond scum back then.

Now? Who knows?

Biofuels get federal boost

The Obama Administration just lit a fire under the biofuels market with renewal of a program that provides financial assistance to those involved in the industry.

The Biomass Crop Assistance Program has been elevated from pilot status and will resume making payments to eligible producers, federal officials said today. Initially authorized in the 2008 Food Conservation and Energy Act, the program is "designed to ensure that a sufficiently large base of new, non-food, non-feed biomass crops is established in anticipation of future demand for renewable energy consumption."

"By producing more biofuels in America, we will create jobs, combat global warming, replace our dependence on foreign oil and build a stronger foundation for the 21st century economy," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack before the National Press Club today in Washington, D.C.

The National 25x25 Steering Committee, which seeks to get 25 percent of U.S. energy from renewable resources like wind, solar and biofuels by 2025, commended Visack's announcement, according to biofuelsjournal.com.

The effort is designed to promote production of fuel from renewable sources. Vilsack called domestic production of renewable energy, including biofuels, a national imperative. "The Obama Administration is aggressively supporting our nation's farmers, ranchers and producers of biofuels as they work to bring greater energy independence to America," Vilsack said.

The program seeks to assist farmers establish perennial biomass crops by offering to cover up to three quarters of production costs and provide payments for up to "five years for annual or non-woody perennial crops and up to 15 years for woody perennial crops."

In addition, the program also provides matching payments to transport materials sold to biomass conversion facilities. The facilities convert the materials into heat, power, biobased products or advanced biofuels.

Vilsack cited a study released this month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service that said biofuels would benefit the U.S. economy if biofuel production technology continues to advance and petroleum prices continue to rise as projected.

"By substituting domestic biofuels for imported petroleum, the United States would pay less for imports overall and receive higher prices for exports, providing a gain for the economy from favorable terms of trade. Improved technology and increased investment would enhance the ability of the U.S. economy to expand," the report said.

The program is good news for the likes of Sacramento, Calif.-based Pacific Ethanol Inc., which announced this week that it would reopen its Stockton ethanol plant in the next couple of months. California's new budget provided an incentive program that also may allow Pacific Ethanol's Madera County plant to reopen if market conditions allow, said Neil Koehler, president and CEO.

The USDA move also should provide a boost to cellulosic ethanol, algae and other processes under research and development.

Will Xtreme enzymes reach the gas pump?


Xtreme Xylanase could change the world, or at least the prospect of cellulosic ethanol.
That's the take from the Idaho National Lab, which supports the U.S. Department of Energy.

"This enzyme is a highly acid and thermostable xylanase enzyme from a microbe originating in Yellowstone National Park," a research fact sheet on the enzyme says. "It is capable of efficiently converting the hemicellulose and cellulose components of biomass into energy rich sugars. These sugars are building blocks used in place of petroleum to make fuels and high-value chemicals."

Sounds promising. Such breakthroughs bolster a study by Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research which reported last month that energy generated from agriculture waste, manure and other wastes and feedstocks should reach a market value of $53 billion by 2020.

The big question is whether Xtreme will reach market. It needs to be embraced and developed successfully by private enterprise.

Pike Research cited "significant investments" in biomass research and the pace of commercializing new technologies. Advances in cellulosic ethanol and algae also were noted.

Earlier this summer, ZeaChem Inc. opened a plant in Boardman, Ore., which initially will produce ethyl acetate, a precursor to cellulosic ethanol. company officials said in a statement. ZeaChem intends to add cellulosic production next year, using a U.S. Department of Energy grant.

Cellulosic is the next step in biofuel movement. The technology extracts and ferments sugars from such sources as trees and grasses to produce the alcohol. Commercial production of the more traditional ethanol -- made from corn -- has suffered some recent swings in the market.

Idaho National Labs estimates 1.3 billion tons of sustainably available biomass in the United States. This would come from forestry wastes, agricultural residues and more from "energy" crops.

But cellulosic currently faces an economic problem. It costs prevent it from competing with refined gasoline and other petroleum products or corn ethanol. Lab officials say breakthroughs like Xtreme Xylanase could reduce high pretreatment costs through enzyme treatment and fermentation of the feedstock material.

"This allows the potential elimination of the extreme temperatures and expensive materials that make current dilute acid pretreatments so costly," lab officials said. "As a result of this innovation, biorefineries may be competitive with petroleum much sooner than with current technologies."

According to the DOE Energy Information Administration, by 2030 U.S. consumption of gasoline will be more than 200 billion gallons annually. Lab officials believe Xtreme Xylanase can help supply more than 60 billion gallons of that by 2030 through cost-effective ethanol production.

Xtreme Xylanase was developed by researchers at Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls and isolated from the microbe Alicyclobacillus acidocaldarius. According to rdmag.com, the microbe was cataloged in 1971. In 2006, the magazine named Xtreme an R&D 100 award winner.