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As 2013 dawned and Americans went about their holiday traditions on New Year’s Day, thoughts of fiscal drop-offs, higher taxes and less spending money were on the minds of many. In the late hours of Jan. 1 though, Congress passed the fiscal cliff bill, in which the $1 per gallon biodiesel tax credit was nestled retroactive back to Jan. 1, 2012, through Dec. 31, 2013. Clearly most people I’ve talked with this morning are grateful the tax credit was reinstated retroactively; however, it is clear that an on-again, off-again tax credit does little for long-term stability and investor confidence in the biodiesel industry.
Fuels made from sources as diverse as plant waste, chicken fat, and old french-fry oil have been successfully used in diesel cars and trucks around the world. Soon, they may become a regular part of the fuel mix for U.S. fighter jets, tanks, and ships. The Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines have ambitious plans to wean themselves from oil and gas and trim the $14.5 billion they pay for fuel every year. “Reliance on fossil fuels is simply too much of a vulnerability for a military organization to have,” says U.S. Navy Secretary Raymond Mabus.
The U.S. Air Force is on track to certify its 40-plus aircraft models to burn fuels derived from waste oils and plants by 2013. “If the fuel is available, whether it’s in Afghanistan or it’s in Kentucky, we want to be able to use it,” says Air Force Deputy Assistant Secretary Kevin Geiss. The Navy and Marines aim to shift half their energy use from oil, gas, and coal by 2020. And the Army expects to get a quarter of its energy from renewable sources by 2025.
Producers of biofuels believe interest from the military will boost their industry by creating a reliable pool of buyers. That’s what’s needed to help drive prices for biofuels from their current $10 per gallon to the $3 to $4 needed to become commercially viable, says James Rekoske, vice-president of renewable energy at UOP, a subsidiary of Honeywell International (HON) that has developed biofuels for jets. With steady demand, he says, more companies will be willing to invest the $300 million-plus required to build refineries. “You can’t take a 10-year contract from an American airline to the bank and get the financing that you need,” says Rekoske, whose company expects to deliver about 800,000 gallons of jet biofuel from 2009 to 2012 for military tests. “You can if you have a 10-year contract from the U.S. Navy.”
President Barack Obama in August announced that the Navy and other government agencies would plow $510 million into the commercial development of biofuels by 2014. The Navy expects to ramp up its biofuel use to 3 million gallons in 2016 from 900,000 gallons next year. “The U.S. military is by far the largest user [of fuel] in the country, so we can create a market for it,” Mabus says.
The military’s drive to reduce dependence on fossil fuels goes beyond transport. The armed forces are developing wind and solar farms to power U.S. bases and is looking for a way to use renewable sources of energy in combat zones such as Afghanistan, where a study last year showed that one Marine is killed or wounded for every 50 fuel and water convoys. Under a 2005 law, federal agencies must obtain at least 5 percent of their electricity from renewable sources in 2010-12, and at least 7.5 percent afterward.
The Air Force has worked with plane manufacturers Boeing (BA) and Lockheed Martin (LMT) and engine makers Rolls-Royce Holdings, General Electric (GE), and Pratt & Whitney in testing the biofuels, which don’t require any modifications to existing equipment. The fuels used were made by UOP, Sustainable Oils, and Dynamic Fuels, a venture by chicken producer Tyson Foods (TSN) and Syntroleum (SYNM), an alternative fuel maker in Tulsa. The results of the military tests have been shared with commercial airlines, many of which have carried out their own trials.
Major Aaron Jelinek, the lead solo pilot in the Air Force’s Thunderbirds flight demonstration team, in May flew an F16 fighter jet powered by a fuel made from camelina, an oil-bearing plant that’s drought- and freeze-resistant. Flying over Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, Jelinek performed loops, rolls, and other aerobatic maneuvers with no problems. “It was a normal demonstration,” Jelinek says, “doing the exact same maneuvers and the exact same show sequence as any other day.”
By 2016 the Air Force wants to be able to get half its fuel from alternative sources, equivalent to 400 million gallons of biofuels or other combustibles. “You can’t tell the difference,” says Jeff Braun, director of the Alternative Fuels Certification Office. “Whether you’re burning a camelina blend, a tallow blend, or another fuel that’s made up of a bunch of waste greases.”
U.S. biodiesel producers today thanked a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate for introducing legislation to extend the biodiesel tax incentive for three years, a move that would support thousands of new U.S. jobs and spur economic growth across the country.
Sponsors of the Senate bill introduced Thursday are Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.; Charles Grassley, R-Iowa; Roy Blunt, R-Mo.; Al Franken, D-Minn.; Tom Harkin, D-Iowa; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; and Patty Murray, D-Wash. Reps. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., and Collin Peterson, D-Minn., introduced the bill in the House.
“These lawmakers should be applauded for recognizing the value of this incentive. It is critical for the continued growth of our industry, which is producing the first and only EPA-designated advanced biofuel being used today on a commercial scale across the United States,” said Gary Haer, chairman of the National Biodiesel Board, the industry’s trade association.
“If Congress is serious about digging our way out of this recession and creating good-paying jobs, this bill is a no-brainer,” Haer said. “It will help us create thousands of new jobs while improving the environment and displacing foreign oil with a renewable, low-carbon fuel that’s produced in virtually every state in the country.”
The legislation – the Biodiesel Tax Incentive Reform and Extension Act – would extend the $1 per gallon tax credit from 2012 through 2014, giving producers and investors critical market certainty to move forward with expansion plans. In addition, the bill would reform the biodiesel tax incentive from a blenders excise tax credit to a production excise tax credit. This common-sense change will focus the incentive on domestic biodiesel producers, make the tax program easier to administer, and help protect against waste, fraud and abuse.
A new economic study commissioned by NBB released earlier this month found that renewing the tax credit – along with the regulatory framework established last year by the EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard program – would spur the industry into supporting more than 74,000 jobs by 2015, generating some $4 billion in household income circulating throughout the economy and $7.3 billion in GDP.
Already this year, with the tax credit renewed in December after lapsing in 2010, the industry is on pace for record production, supporting more than 31,000 jobs, with income of nearly $1.7 billion and more than $3 billion in GDP, according to the study, conducted by Cardno ENTRIX, an international consulting firm that specializes in environment and natural resources economics.
That’s an extraordinary turnaround from 2010, when the tax credit’s expiration resulted in a steep 42 percent drop in production, causing nearly 8,900 job losses, a $485 million drop in household income, and an $879 million reduction in GDP.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have to speculate about what would happen to our industry if this tax incentive goes away. We saw the fallout last year when the incentive temporarily expired. Plants closed and thousands of people were laid off. It would be a terrible mistake if Congress allowed that to happen again,” Haer said. “We are poised for a record year of production this year, and this bill would provide the market and investor certainty that the industry needs to continue building on that progress.”
Biodiesel is America’s first advanced biofuel – a renewable, clean-burning diesel replacement that can be used in existing diesel engines and meets strict specifications of ASTM D6751. Made from an increasingly diverse mix of resources such as agricultural oils, recycled cooking oil and animal fats, it is produced in nearly every state in the country and is the only commercial-scale U.S. fuel to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s definition as an advanced biofuel.
The NBB is the national trade association of the biodiesel industry and is the coordinating body for biodiesel research and development in the U.S.
With the latest shale gas discovery in Texas (Eagle Ford Play) low cost natural should exist in the US for a long time. With the widening gap between crude and natural gas prices the time has come to build Fischer-Tropsch plants in the US that can produce naphtha, diesel and wax at a significant cost savings.
COSTELLO obtained the air permit for the biogas plant at Shiner Beer in Shiner, Texas.
According to current US legislation, biofuels will play a major role in our transportation future. By 2022, the Energy Independence and Security Act dictates that over 10 percent of our current petroleum consumption be replaced by biofuels, with over half that quantity coming from something other than corn. Although ethanol produced from the cellulose in plant waste and dedicated biofuels crops is already in use, many are looking further ahead at biofuels made from algae, which have some distinct advantages. Yesterday, some researchers at the Department of Energy released a study in which they describe a model that can help us determine just how much biofuel we might be able to squeeze out of algae.
At least for the first run, however, they used some pretty unrealistic starting points to just get a sense of how various assumptions influenced productivity. But the model produced some eye-popping numbers: if we maxed out algal productivity, we’d need to use several times the US’ annual irrigation water consumption to do so, but we could replace half of our current petroleum imports.
As pointed out by the authors, algal biofuels have several distinct advantages. The microorganisms have a short life cycle and grow and reproduce rapidly, so their productivity is significantly higher than that of most crop- or vegetation-based biofuels. It’s also possible to harvest fats and lipids from them, which can be efficiently converted into biodiesel—the process requires less energy, and the fuel can be used in existing vehicles. Finally, algae have adapted to just about any water condition imaginable. We can choose species that will grow in saltwater, fresh water, agricultural runoff, municipal sewage—you name it.
That said, we’re still not sure about how best to grow them. For efficient growth, temperatures would need to be held within an optimal range (including during winter), and water evaporation and use in metabolism would require a constant supply. Closed systems can minimize these problems, but they have much higher energy and maintenance costs. Figuring out what future productivity could look like depends a lot on what assumptions you make regarding choices like siting, type of facility, etc.
The authors have created a model that lets some of those choices be tested. Their system can let a user select a specific type of land (flat land that is not in use for agriculture, for example) on which to locate a facility. Thirty years of weather records can be used to estimate how often the facility would need to heat the water the algae are growing in, how much sunlight would be available for growth, how fast water might evaporate from open ponds, and so on. Based on all of these parameters, the model can produce figures like water requirements and productivity.
It sounds like a very useful tool, but its output is necessarily going to be sensitive to various input parameters, which will ultimately mean that it can be used to produce radically different figures. For example, it’s easy to focus on the half of oil imports figure, which is an estimate of how much we can get from the model if we try to maximize production of algal biofuels. That figure, however, is derived from some very specific assumptions that are, in many ways, unrealistic.
Even for the more realistic scenarios, the list of caveats is pretty extensive: water and nutrients are unlimited, only evaporation is considered, only open ponds are used, and the authors ignore the energy demand involved in keeping the ponds from freezing or processing the algae into fuel. The authors also go exclusively with open ponds instead of closed systems. These are simpler to build, but have their own difficulties: they are harder to maintain at appropriate temperatures, they lose lots of water to evaporation, and they need to be built where it’s relatively flat.
By using the geographic data, the authors were able to find areas in the US that were appropriately flat, sparsely populated, and not currently being used for agriculture or protected as part of a park; that turned out to be over five percent of the continental US, largely in the Southeast, along the Great Lakes, and scattered throughout the West. The most productive areas were where the sun is brightest, in the desert southwest of Arizona, New Mexico, and West Texas. If all the appropriate land in the US were given over to biofuels, the weather would allow it to produce 220 Gigaliters/year, about half of our current oil imports. However, we have nothing like the freshwater needed to do that.
So the authors balance productivity against water requirements, and that rules out some of the most productive areas, given that evaporation in the desert is very high. In this analysis, the areas around the Great Lakes do well even though they aren’t very productive, since the cooler temperatures cut down on the evaporation; the Southeast’s Atlantic seaboard also does well due to high humidity. Given a reasonable water use cutoff, these areas could produce the equivalent to 17 percent of our current oil imports, while using only a quarter of our current irrigation water.
That’s still quite high, but remember that this assumes unpolluted freshwater. The areas along the Gulf and Atlantic cost could easily use a combination of saltwater and municipal waste. The latter source could potentially provide for facilities in some of the areas in the Southwest that are otherwise ruled out due to their high water use.
These latter points are, by the authors’ own admission, beyond the scope of the paper. The degree to which these approaches have a return on energy use will also be a critical factor to consider. But the authors actually indicate that they hope others will use their models to do more detailed analysis with alternate water sources and algal growth methods. Ideally, if they’re taken up on this offer, we’ll have a clearer picture of the potential of algal biofuels.
NEXT time you fire-up a barbecue at a public park you may be helping fuel a council truck.
The fat that drips off your steaks and snags will be collected and sent to a biofuel plant where it will be turned into biofuel which will then be pumped into light trucks owned by Mackay Regional Council.
It may sound like a novel idea, but Year 11 and 12 engineering students at Mackay’s CQ TAFE campus are building a biofuel plant which will do exactly that.
The portable biofuel plant will be built to Australian standard to produce 3500 litres of biodiesel a week.
About 200 litres of biodiesel would be needed to run four light council trucks a week.
The biofuel plant will cost about $60,000 and take a year to build and already many businesses have pledged support.
Hahn Environmental Services are about to set up in Mackay and will distribute cooking oil bins at takeaway shops to provide students with cooking oil to process at the plant.
Fat from barbecues in parks will also be collected.
Co-ordinator of the program and CQ TAFE teacher Paul Kelly said the project provided the students with the skills they needed to land an apprenticeship.
“There’s a huge shortage in tradespeople so we went to industry and said ‘what do you want your first year apprentices to have learnt’?
They want them to have basic workshop skills and to have done project work. It helps with the skills shortage – everyone wins.”
Councillor Karen May said the project was also great for ratepayers.
“For council, there are two wins – we’re not paying for disposal of barbecue fat and there’s the cost saving on hundreds of litres of diesel per week.”
Mr Kelly said no modifications needed to be made to trucks – in fact, they actually ran more efficiently on biodiesel than regular diesel.
Cr May said council had sponsored about $7000 worth of equipment for the plant and would continue to offer health, safety and environmental advice.
Mr Kelly said businesses had already expressed interest in putting on the students as apprentices next year.
He said 85% of students who completed a Certificate II in Engineering at the TAFE over the last two years had got an apprenticeship.
COOKING COUNCIL FUEL
Cooking oil bins are distributed to Mackay businesses, including takeaway shops. The bins collect used oil. Barbecue fat is stored in a container
Hahn Environmental Services collects the bins and takes them to the biofuel plant
The fat/oil products are treated and refined at the biofuel plant and are turned into biodiesel
The biodiesel is pumped into the council truck
After stopping the leak of highly radioactive water from a crippled nuclear plant north of Tokyo, Japanese authorities have begun injecting nitrogen into part of the facility in order to prevent a hydrogen explosion.
Workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant began pumping nitrogen gas into the area surrounding the No. 1 reactor around 1:30 am (1630 GMT) on Thursday, said Makoto Watanabe, a spokesman for the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.
The nitrogen injection was the latest in a series of efforts to prevent another nuclear catastrophe in Japan, which has already been hit by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and a devastating tsunami on March 11 that left tens of thousands dead and severely damaged the Fukushima Daiichi, causing a radioactive leak that forced the government to evacuate citizens 20 kilometers away from the plant.
A March 26 internal report from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission warned of the possibility of explosions at the plant, where superheated fuel rods that the government is desperately trying to cool are pulling hydrogen from the water and causing the gas to mix with oxygen seeping in through cracks in the plant.
The large explosions that rocked the Fukushima Daiichi in the early days of the crisis were caused by the buildup of hydrogen gas around the reactors.
Radioactive particles have settled in the area around the plant, contaminating water, vegetables, dairy products and other food. More explosions could spread the poisonous material farther.
But the nitrogen injection itself carries risk, since it could disperse radioactive vapour into the environment.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters on Wednesday that the government was still trying to come up with a “clear safety standard” and might expand the evacuation zone around the plant, which lies roughly 220 kilometers northeast of Tokyo.
Workers on Wednesday succeeded in halting the flow of highly radioactive water into the ocean near the plant by injecting a mixture of liquid glass and a hardening agent into the cracked storage pit beneath the reactor.
But the stoppage creates its own problem: finding more space to store 60,000 tonnes of radioactive water.
Workers will need to continue to pour seawater over the reactors to cool them, and authorities have said they will need to pump 11,500 tonnes of low-radiation water back into the sea.
The salt from the seawater that has been used to cool the plant is probably blocking circulation pathways, particularly in the No. 1 reactor, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission report said.
As the reactors’ structures fill with more and more water, the increasing pressure on their walls makes it likelier they could break in the case of an aftershock, the report said.
The radioactive water being pumped out of the plant could spread to nearby fishing communities and lead to a government ban on sales from the areas, effectively wiping out incomes.
The Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), which owns the plant, has begun funding local governments to pay those who have been forced to evacuate due to the radiation crisis.
The company will also face an enormous compensation bill.