November 30, 2006

November 2006 Digest

Broadening the Scope - Focusing on Potential

The BIOconversion Blog - while keeping an eye on biofuel and biomass conversion technologies, facility deployments, and international issues - welcomes two new siblings! The BIOstock Blog covers biomass feedstock questions - what feedstocks are being used, how they are being transported, and what pre-processing technologies are being developed. The BIOoutput Blog focuses on the output of biomass conversion technologies - emissions, biofuels, electricity, green chemicals - and new uses for them.

The Digest will list the titles from all of them so don't worry about receiving 3 digests per month (whew!). However, those who use newsfeed software should link to all three because, in general, the articles will not be duplicated between sites. Here are this month's articles:

General Topics--------------
Forest Industry: Bio-Solutions to Climate Change
Harvesting Green Power
Forests: Carbon S(t)inks?
Investor's Roundup of Leading Cellulosic Ethanol Companies
Expanded Recycling - a Key to Cutting Fossil Fuels and Global Warming
Cellulosic Ethanol RD&D - Mascoma Corp. Raises $30 Million
The Social Costs of the Status Quo
U.S. D.O.E.: 5-year Plan for Biomass Conversion
Renaissance of the Forest Products Industry
Cellulosic Ethanol – Snake Oil for the new millennium?
Upgrading Existing Plants for Biomass Conversion
BIOplastics: BIOdegradable by-products of BIOconversion
Colusa Completes Successful Rice Straw Harvest
Cellulosic Ethanol from Woody Biomass
Green Chemistry from Sugar Cane

Around the Nation--------------
California Energy Commission PIER Grants for Biofuels RD&D
CALIFORNIA: Cities favoring Gasification over Combustion
CALIFORNIA: Enforcing Greenhouse Gas Emissions Limits

Around the World-----------------
BIOstock of the Southern Hemisphere
Impact of Global Growth on Carbon Emissions

Please forward a link to this digest to anyone you know who would be interested in keeping track of change that will affect us all. They can add their name to the mailing list on the BioConversion Blog.

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November 29, 2006

Green Chemistry from Sugar Cane

Petroleum has so dominated the chemistry landscape that virtually every possible chemical need has been supplied by a petroleum bi-product. Why is this true? Probably because there was a high value in finding a conversion option to the refinery residue and well-funded labs ready to comply.

Solvents, nutrients, plastics, fertilizers, pesticides - all tap the seemingly endless potential of hydro-carbons (fossil fuels). But why couldn't the same be true for carbo-hydrates (biomass)? And what could research labs invent from the residues of conversion technologies if we devoted the same one hundred years to the exploration (see also side-stream chemicals)?

Mining the web for articles about biomass bioproducts I found this gem on the BioPact blog. See the original article for the unedited version:

Sugar cane has "enormous potential for green chemistry"

With high oil prices, alternatives for petro-chemicals are being sought, urgently, and sugar cane might bring us a far way.

Surprisingly, top work is coming from the tiny Indian Ocean island of Réunion, where researchers from the Centre d’Essai, de Recherche et de Formation pour la Canne à Sucre (CERF), are working on a program aimed at valorising the many interesting molecules contained in sugar cane. According to Laurent Corcodel, who is leading the research, "these molecules have an enormous potential as building blocks for organic chemistry aimed at displacing countless petro-chemical products". The program is part of the island's ambitious target of building a first biorefinery in the next four years, that will produce bio-plastics, detergents, tinctures, drugs, glues, gels, and even bio-polymers resembling nylon from which clothes can be made... all from the humble grass known as sugar cane.

Leading the list of interesting molecules is aconitic acid (C6H6O6), a white, crystalline organic acid abundantly found in sugar cane. Laurent Corcodel:

Aconitic acid has never before been used on an industrial scale [unlike lactic acid, a building bloc for polylactic acid from which bioplastics are made]. Its potential is great, though. It has the same characteristics as certain molecules derived from petroleum that are used for a variety of products.

Since the molecule is so versatile, we can work in a systematic manner: first we decide which products we want to make, then we work out the technical procedures. In all likeliness we will start by manufacturing tensio-actifs (a kind of specialty glue), but it could just as well be bioplastics. Whichever products we make, one thing is certain: our biorefinery will reduce the importance of petrochemistry and shift the future towards green chemistry.

Sugar cane, the humble grass, is thus rapidly becoming an extremely versatile crop: vinasses, juice, fibres, molasses, bagasses and specialty molecules, - the cane can be used to make plastics, liquid fuel, feed, food, fibre, even paper, furniture and clothes. "People have been talking about green chemistry for years, but now the work is really starting. High oil prices and the prospect of depleting resources have opened a new era", affirms William Hoareau, who works for the CERF, analysing the potential uses of bagasse.

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November 24, 2006

BIOplastics: Biodegradable by-products of BIOconversion

Biomass conversion can be used to produce biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel, isolate hydrogen, and produce charcoal. But just as the growth of the oil industry led to the rapid development of the petroleum-based plastics industry, a huge industry in BIOplastics is expected to be developed from the by-products of biomass conversion. These products are especially attractive because of their ability to sequester carbon and biodegrade as soil nutrients.

Europe is leading in this field. With few landfills and high population density, the motivation to produce new products from biorefinery output is strong. At a recent European Bioplastics Conference in Brussels last week, Heinz Zourek, Director-General of DG Enterprise and Industry of the European Commission, emphasized the significance of bioplastics for sustainable development.

"Bioplastics contribute to climate protection, save fossil resources and create jobs in future-oriented sectors", stated Zourek. "We hope that bioplastics can increase their market share in Europe". Biobased and biodegradable plastics are among the most promising lead markets for innovations in Europe.

For more information on biodegradeable Bioplastics, refer to this article on the World Centric website.

Here are some excerpts from a recent article on Biopact Blog regarding the benefits of bioplastics...

A closer look at bioplastics
Biopact, 11/24/06

Bioplastics offer roughly the same advantages as biofuels: they are made from renewable agricultural feedstocks, they offer a direct alternative to their fossil fuel based counterparts (which have become expensive), and they are more or less carbon-neutral. Moreover, as with biofuels, bioplastics can be used to enhance the agricultural productivity of soils where growing crops is difficult. In principle, the use of bioplastics allows for an entirely closed loop and cradle-to-cradle design: when a bioplastic product is discarded as 'waste', it becomes 'food'(fertilizer) for new biomass from which new products can be made.

The first European Bioplastics Conference 2006 which took place this week in Brussels and which attracted considerable interest, offers an opportunity to focus on the green plastics a bit more in-depth.

Bioplastics represent a relatively new class of materials which have much in common with conventional plastics. What differentiates them is the use of renewable resources in their manufacture and the biodegradability and compostability of many bioplastics products.

Plastics, with their current global consumption of more than 200 million tonnes (EU approx. 40 mill. t) and annual growth of approx. 5%, represent the largest field of application for crude oil outside the energy and transport sectors. This 5% crude oil consumption may appear comparatively small, however it does emphasise how dependent the plastics industry is on oil.

The principle of sustainable development and the missing landfill in Europe are reasons for the introduction of the closed loop economy in the European Union. Products have to be produced and used resource conserving and have to be recovered after use, if they cannot be avoided at all. Landfill of waste is not allowed anymore. Therefore the question of disposal already comes up during the development of a product. If easy to dispose materials are used for the production, the disposal cost will decrease and in consequence also the over all product costs.

Short characterisation of recovery options for bioplastics:

• Thermal recovery: Using the high calorimetric value of the substance to produce heat and electricity (criteria of the legislation have to be met)
• Organic recycling (composting): The resulting compost is used to improve the soil quality and as a replacement of fertilisers
• Chemical recycling: Can be an option especially for polyester types like PLA or PHA. By chemical treatment the polymer chain can be de-polymerised, the resulting monomers can be purified and polymerised again. Sufficient amounts of source separated collected plastic waste is a pre-condition to apply this method. The same arguments apply for recycling back to plastics.

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U.S. D.O.E.: Strategies for Reducing Greenhouse Gases

On September 21st the U.S. Department of Energy released their Climate Change Technology Program (CCTP) Strategic Plan which describes broadscope measures that the D.O.E. should pursue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The publication of the study confirms that the U.S. Department of Energy considers "climate change" to be a pressing issue:

As a party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the United States shares with many other countries the UNFCCC’s ultimate objective, that is, the “…stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in Earth’s atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system . . . within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened, and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.” Meeting this objective will require a sustained, long-term commitment by all nations over many generations.

Technologies emphasized for development are hydrogen extraction, biorefining, renewable power generation, clean coal and carbon sequestration, nuclear fission and fusion. Of these, biomass conversion is applicable to all but nuclear fission and fusion.

To read the rest of the article on the BIOconversion Blog, press HERE.

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Impact of Global Growth on Carbon Emissions

"Business as usual" could could have serious long-term consequences for global energy consumption and carbon emissions. According to a report released by PriceWaterhouse-Coopers (PwC) last month, global carbon emissions from fossil fuels are going to more than double by the year 2050 unless a number of significant policy changes are enacted soon to deploy technological emission reduction measures.

In March 2006, PwC published a report, The World in 2050: How big will the emerging market economies get and how can the OECD compete?, on the rapid growth of the "E7" emerging economies (China, India, Brazil, Russia, Mexico, India, and Turkey). They project the combined economies of these countries could be 25-75% greater than the G7 countries (U.S., Japan, Germany, UK, France, Italy, Canada) by 2050.

The questions unaddressed by that report - what consequences on global climate will that growth cause? What is the need for change?

These questions are covered in a follow-up study, The World in 2050: implications of global growth for carbon emissions and climate change policy released in September. In it, the author provided a baseline estimate of carbon emissions with the current rate of energy efficiency. He then developed five different scenarios incorporating more successively aggressive measures.

To read more of this article on the BIOconversion Blog, press HERE.

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Enforcing Greenhouse Gas Emissions Limits

The real, gritty work involved in carrying out what is probably the biggest project in the history of state regulation has begun.
- Daniel Weintraub

Here's a challenge that may put a practical halt to the enforcement of the far-reaching Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.

The legislators who passed the bill are displeased with how Governor Schwarzenegger intends to bring companies into compliance with its carbon caps. In short, the Democrats and their environmentalist allies want to force companies within each industry to comply across-the-board with the limits contained in the bill.

The Governor, who signed the bill, sees using a carbon credit program as being a more practical way to implement the bill's provisions. Daniel Weintraub of the Sacramento Bee describes it as " a market-based system that allows companies to buy the right to pollute from others who have done more than their share to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The idea behind such a market is to achieve the desired amount of reduction without crippling a particular industry or company."

It is incumbent upon drafters of the legislation to realize that resistance to change by those who will have to pay for it will ultimately delay its implementation. Imagine the lawsuits that could pit major industries and utilities (electricity generation, oil and gas extraction, oil and gas refineries, cement production and landfills) against the State. They are trying to comply with the provisions of the bill but are prevented from implementing solutions because of failure of the State to reform antiquated regulations and permitting legislation.

To read the rest of this article on the BIOconversion Blog, press HERE.

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November 22, 2006

Hybrids Plus claims 100+ MPG

What is the most direct way to decrease our reliance on gasoline? Create vehicles that achieve very high mileage on little or no gasoline. One company, Hybrids Plus, is converting off-the-shelf Toyota Priuses into plug-in versions that demonstrate how close we are to greatly multiplying vehicle MPG.

James Fraser of The Energy Blog ran a story recently about the delivery of a plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV) to the Colorado Governor's Office of Energy Management.

Taking a stock HEV-2 Prius (see below) and converting to a PHEV-30 rated Hybrids Plus Prius broadens our concept of what can be accomplished with emerging car technology. If a normal Prius gets 50 MPG, a plug-in version of the same car gets over 100 MPG. It is my view that all cars should be made flex-fuel compatible, including PHEVs. If a PHEV-30 was operating as a FF/PHEV on E85, it could reach approximately 500 miles for each gallon of gasoline that it consumed (blended with 5 gallons of ethanol).

Typically it takes 40 months for a car to go from concept to release (the Pinto is an example of what happens if you try to rush that schedule). If it takes 3 years to realize these obvious benefits, let's start building demand for production of FF/PHEVs NOW!

Here is some background information - courtesy of the Hybrids Plus website:

All HEVs (Hybrid Electric Vehicles) presently produced are ultimately just gasoline cars. They do reduce emissions, and they may improve fuel efficiency (compared to an equivalent, non-hybrid car). However, they are fueled exclusively by gasoline.

A Plug-in Hybrid car, in contrast, can also be fueled by electricity from an electrical outlet. Initially, a PHEV uses less gas than an HEV, because it can draw energy longer, from its larger battery. For example, a Toyota Prius' 50 mpg efficiency can be improved to about 100 mpg when operated as a PHEV. Eventually, when that storage of electrical energy is depleted, a PHEV is no more efficient than an HEV.

EV distance
HEVs and PHEVs are rated by how far they can go just on electricity stored in their batteries. For example, a stock Toyota Prius is an HEV-2, meaning that its battery holds enough energy for about 2 miles. A Hybrids Plus Prius conversion is a PHEV-30, meaning that its battery holds enough energy for about 30 miles.

Note that a Prius PHEV must still use some gasoline because, by design, its gas engine must operate when going 35 mph or more.

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Ford Should Build Flexible Fueled, Plug in Hybrids

From the Ford Bold Moves: Documenting the Future of Ford website comes a point/counterpoint set of two articles soliciting reader opinions on whether Ford should focus its immediate attention on developing flex-fuel, plug-in hybrid technology or fuel cells and hydrogen.

If you read an article posted here April 3, titled Plug-in Partners National PHEV Initiative you'll already know this blog's answer to that question. It is good to read an expert's opinion on the subject. Below are some excerpts:


Ford Should Build Flexible Fueled, Plug in Hybrids
by David Morris

When Ford introduces its flexible fueled Escape hybrid, two-thirds of the technological foundation for an oil free future will be in place. The final piece? Enabling the grid system to recharge the hybrid's batteries.

Today's hybrids reduce gasoline consumption by 25-30 percent. That is a worthy achievement in its own right. But plug-in hybrids could decrease gasoline consumption by 50-80 percent. Why? Because electric motors are inherently more efficient than internal combustion engines, and because only 4 percent of our electricity is generated by oil.

Add an engine powered by biofuels and Ford could virtually eliminate the use of oil in its vehicles.

Biofuels have their own Achilles heel. The planet could grow only enough plant matter to supply 25-30 percent of our transportation energy, no matter what the feedstock.

A plug-in hybrid with a biofueled engine overcomes this shortcoming. Electricity will become the primary propulsion force. The amount of engine fuel can drop by two-thirds, or more. Sufficient land area is available to grow the biomass needed to supply 100 percent of this reduced consumption, without diminishing our food supply.

A flexible fueled, plug-in hybrid strategy could yield dramatic short-term results. The electricity distribution system is in place. The nation has sufficient off-peak electricity capacity to power more than 20 million vehicles without building a single new power plant. Converting a Ford Escape to a plug-in hybrid does not require technological breakthroughs.

Six million flexible fueled cars are currently on the road. The incremental cost to Ford of making a flexible fueled car might be as little as $100. Such a tiny cost should encourage the government to require all new vehicles be flexible fueled starting in 2009.

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PHEVs storm Capitol Hill

Kudos to CalCars on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. for upstaging the Big Three automakers while they met inside with congressmen to discuss the challenge before them.

My question remains - are there plans to make the hybrids flex-fuel compatible so that when they run on liquid fuel, that liquid fuel has as little gasoline in it as possible? That would quadruple their already high (100+) miles per gasoline gallon.

Check out the picture album at the link below. Many recognizable faces are seen photo-opting with the prototypes.


PHEVs on Capitol Hill
May 16-18, 2006

On May 18, CEOs of the Big Three automakers came to Washington DC to meet with Congressional leaders and discuss the industry's woes. We saw an opportunity to introduce Congress to a solution using existing technology that can make a big dent in our oil dependence and also help Detroit back to prosperity -- should it choose to take the opportunity. After a whirlwind fundraising campaign CalCars flew in one of its plug-in Priuses from California, and the journey began. This was the first time plug-in hybrids were seen in public in our nation's capitol.

Set America Free and CalCars partnered on a three-day series of events in and around Capitol Hilll, joined by co-sponsor, the Plug-In Hybrid Consortium. CalCars' white Prius (built by EnergyCS with lithium-ion batteries) was joined by Connecticut battery maker Electro Energy's silver bullet (built by EEEI and CalCars with nickel-metal hydride batteries). The two vehicles caused quite a stir on the Hill, as everyone including Senators, Representatives, staff, reporters, builders, tourists and, unforgettably, the Capitol police, took interest in what could be America's route to energy security.

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Plug-in Partners National PHEV Initiative

Flex-fuel vehicles can run on gasoline or ethanol or any blend in between. But the liquid fuel MPG is not very good. Hybrid cars can extend the MPG of an automobile by substituting electricity generated within the car in place of liquid fuel - but you need to run the car on fuel to build up the charge. Plug-in cars run on electricity alone without fuel and can be recharged overnight - but their range is not very good.

Why not build and buy Vehicles that are Hybrids that you can Plug-in for an Electric charge, but that are flex-fuel compatible? The consumer can then choose between the greatest range of options. That's the vision of a group called Plug-In Partners and they are mounting a National Campaign to get automobile manufacturers to build the PHEV cars. Read their Campaign Overview below.


Plug-In Partners National PHEV Initiative - Campaign Overview

Plug-In Partners is a national grass-roots initiative to demonstrate to automakers that a market for flexible-fuel Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV) exists today.

Our National Campaign will demonstrate the viability of this market by:
• Garnering support in the form of online petitions and endorsements by cities across the country
• Procuring “soft” fleet orders
• Developing rebates and incentives

Who Are “Plug-In Partners”?

The partners envisioned in this campaign are local and state governments, utilities, and environmental, consumer and business organizations. These entities can Become a Plug-In Partner and join the Founding Plug-In Partners in support of the national campaign.

Online Petitions

All Plug-In Partners are invited to participate in petition efforts. Petitions are a way for individual citizens and organizations without fleets to make their voice heard in demonstrating a PHEV market among individual consumers. The national campaign will track signatures accumulated from programs across the country through reporting to the Plug-In Partners web site. A template petition form is provided in the Plug-In Partners Packet.

“Soft” Orders From Government and Business
A template “soft” fleet order form is provided in the Plug-In Partners Packet. The Plug-In Partners National Campaign will track vehicle commitments through a Reporting option, so to be added to this web site. This will allow us to present automakers with a “soft” order for sedans, vans, SUVs and other vehicles by specific governmental and business entities. Those making fleet order will agree to strongly consider purchasing flexible fuel plug-in hybrids if they are manufactured. There is no financial commitment involved in making a "soft" fleet order.

Endorsements also lend a voice by demonstrating organizational support for the commercial production of PHEVs and promoting plug-ins to its membership.
An endorsement could be several forms:

• City Council or County Court resolutions
• Legislative resolutions
• Statements of support from local or national environmental, consumer or other groups

Endorsements will be reported to this web site, where a list will be maintained along with membership totals of the endorsing organizations. To date, the production of flexible fuel PHEVs is widely supported by a large number of national groups—environmental and consumer— as well as groups focused on the national security and economic viability of our country.


General Motors - Live Green/Go Yellow Campaign

General Motors is beginning to promote E85 (a blend of 15% gasoline and 85% ethanol) and their line of Flex-Fuel vehicles in their advertising.

It is estimated that about 4 million vehicles in the U.S. are already E85 compatible. Many owners of certain models of major manufacturer cars and trucks don't realize that their vehicles are already capable of running on ethanol. To remedy this situation, the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition has published a website listing all E85 compatible vehicles.

GM will be sending yellow fuel caps to the existing owners of E85 compatible vehicles. Later this year, all new GM FlexFuel vehicles will be equipped with yellow fuel caps at the factory.

The National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition also has a listing of all the E85 refueling stations in the nation. Expect this number to grow rapidly as E85 develops more awareness in the marketplace.


GM Announces E85 Awareness Campaign
announcement from the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition

General Motors announced January 8, 2006 a significant E85 awareness campaign at the Chicago Auto Show. The Live Green Go Yellow campaign kicked off during Super Bowl XL in ads promoting the use of the clean, alternative fuel in GM’s flexible fuel vehicles.

Several major Chicago buildings will be illuminated in yellow lights during the show symbolizing the corn used in creating the ethanol in the E85 fuel. Other outreach for this campaign will include GM “street teams” reaching out to Chicagoans in February with giveaways and a major presence in the 2006 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and promotions with 2005 NASCAR Nextel Cup champion, Tony Stewart.

“GM is pursuing gasoline-savings solutions on many fronts on the way to our ultimate vision of hydrogen fuel cell-powered transportation,” said Elizabeth Lowery, GM vice president of environment and energy. “E85 ethanol burns cleaner than gasoline and is a renewable, domestic fuel that can enhance the nation’s economy and energy security.”

GM now has nine 2006 models that are compatible with E85: Chevy Impala and Monte Carlo; Chevrolet Silverado, Avalanche and GMC Sierra; Chevrolet Tahoe; and GMC Yukon, Yukon XL and Chevrolet Suburban. The automaker plans to add 400,000 of these vehicles to the fleet in 2006.

Ford Unveils Flex-Fuel Hybrid Research Vehicle

The push is on for more gas efficient, flexible-fuel vehicles. Below is a recent article from Green Car Congress about a car that sports not only hybrid level gas efficiency but also the multiplying benefits of running on E85 ethanol blended gasoline (85% ethanol multiplies by 5 the mpg of gasoline alone). Modifying existing car models (standard or hybrid) is not difficult or expensive so expect more manufacturers to follow suit.

Question: Where will the ethanol come from? Answer: I believe the it will come from locally produced biomass conversion of waste into cellulosic ethanol.

E85 availability will be a limiting sales factor (except in the Midwest), but there is no reason for cars not to be flex-fuel equipped. An estimated 2 million non-hybrid automobiles are already running the roads of the U.S. without their owners necessariy knowing it.

There is speculation that the next generation of hybrid, flex-fuel cars will include electrical plug-in adaptability which will enable even more mileage per fossil fuel gallon and lower emissions.

Excerpts from the article appear below...

Ford Unveils Flex-Fuel Hybrid Research Vehicle
25 January 2006

Escape Hybrid E85
At the Washington Auto Show, Ford unveiled the Ford Escape Hybrid E85, a version of its Escape hybrid with a flexible-fuel engine capable of running either gasoline or ethanol blends of up to 85% (E85).

The research vehicle is the first from a major car company to actually mate the two technologies (flexible-fuel engines and hybrid powertrains) together, although the potential of the combination is being increasingly mentioned by policymakers.

As a leader in both hybrid vehicles and in vehicles capable of operating on ethanol-based fuels, Ford is the ideal company to bring both technologies together for the first time.

This innovative research program could lead to breakthroughs to significantly reduce our nation’s dependence on imported oil while also helping to address global climate change.

—Anne Stevens, EVP, Ford Motor, and COO, The Americas

The Ford Escape Hybrid would produce about 25% less carbon dioxide if operated exclusively on E85 fuel instead of gasoline, according to the company.

Ford engineers working on the Escape Hybrid E85 research project are seeking not only to optimize the efficiency of the new powertrain, but also to resolve some emissions issues.

Ford researchers also hope to apply a number of proprietary engine technologies being developed for future application that could further increase the fuel economy performance of a hybrid FFV.

Ford has two full hybrid electric vehicle models on the road today—the Ford Escape Hybrid and the Mercury Mariner Hybrid—with more models on the way and a targeted increase in hybrid production capacity to 250,000 hybrid vehicles a year globally by the end of the decade.

The company will also produce up to 250,000 flexible-fuel vehicles (FFVs) this year, including the Ford F-150 pickup truck, as well as the Ford Crown Victoria , Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car large sedans.

High Noon – E85 Hybrids versus Hydrogen

Chris Ellis, Chief Engineer of the PowerBeam Company Ltd, based in England, wrote an article that was picked up and distributed by the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition. He explains the mileage and environmental benefits of E85 hybrids (especially when running on cellulosic ethanol) over fuel-cell vehicles and EVs. Below are some excerpts from his compelling arguments and crystal ball gazing.


High Noon – E85 Hybrids versus Hydrogen
by Chris Ellis

This paper indicates why neither battery electric nor fuel cell vehicles will take over the U.S. car and light truck fleet, for at least the next 20 years. The probability is increasing that, by 2015, most new cars and trucks bought in the U.S. will be hybrids capable of running on a liquid fuel similar to gasoline but derived mainly from material such as corn stover and switchgrass. Much earlier, certainly by 2008, the first production 'flexible fuel hybrids' will begin to demonstrate why biofuel hybrids will eventually dominate the U.S. vehicle fleet...

Let's now consider the decision process many of California's affluent 'early adopters' are likely to follow as they consider their options over the next ten years. This particular group is especially influential, because they have already made all the major car manufacturers take hybrids seriously, essentially by buying Toyota Priuses and Honda Civic Hybrids in much larger numbers than most marketers had expected...

Given the high proportion of 'early adopters' who bought hybrids for additional reasons beyond simple savings in fuel costs, many of them will probably use E85 if they can. One motive will be to help reduce CO2 emissions. For example, the official Swedish figure for the flexible fuel Ford Focus is only 32 g/km (51 grams per mile) running on E85. The Swedish figure for the current Prius is over three times as high (104 g/km). The conventional gasoline version of the Focus produces 161 g/km. Those governments already taking Climate Change seriously are beginning to put the appropriate tax and other incentives in place to encourage the accelerated purchase of flexible fuel vehicles...

Because a car running on E85 made with cellulosic ethanol produces much less CO2 than conventional vehicles and those consuming electricity from the grid, it makes excellent sense for federal and state authorities to offer cellulosic ethanol strong support...

According to the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Energy, America can meet all its future needs for biofuels without impacting food production, provided there is a radical improvement in the fuel consumption of the vehicle fleet. Hybridization will help make this happen; combined with E85 it sets a benchmark which calls into question the strategic case for fuel cell vehicles. From now on, we need to focus on this winning combination, because it is uniquely capable of rapidly freeing most of the world from the threat of over-dependence on imported oil, with all its economic and military consequences. ..

General Motors - Marketing Flex-Fuel Cars Nationwide

There are two articles that indicate that General Motors (GM) is getting serious about marketing Flex-Fuel Vehicles (FFV) in the U.S.

FFVs are cars that have been modified to run on both gasoline or ethanol. They feature stronger fuel lines (ethanol is more corrosive than gasoline) and a device that can differentiate the particular blend of ethanol/gasoline in the tank to adjust carburetion. The upgrade cost to GM to produce a FFV from a normal model is surprisingly cheap (a few hundred dollars), particularly when compared to the upgrade cost of hybrids or EVs. They have been manufacturing and marketing FFVs in Brazil for years (where all new cars will be FFVs beginning in 2007).

The first article from Treehugger Blog details a joint initiative made by GM, the State of California, Chevron, and an alternative fuel company called Pacific Ethanol (which Bill Gates has invested in through his personal investment company).

The second article comes from a press release (1/4/2006) by the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition concerning GM's "First E85 National Ad Campaign". It is reprinted here in its entirety.


GM Serious About Ethanol And Flex-Fuel Vehicles?
January 5, 2006 06:07 PM - Michael G. Richard, near Ottawa

Excerpts from the GM press release...

General Motors will help lead a joint demonstration project along with the state of California, Chevron Technology Ventures, and Pacific Ethanol to learn more about consumer awareness and acceptance of E85 as a motor vehicle fuel by demonstrating its use in GM’s flexible-fuel vehicles. The announcement was made as a result of a non-binding understanding made public today at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

GM intends to offer between 50 to 100 of its E85-capable Chevrolet Impala passenger cars and Silverado pickup trucks for consideration in the state’s annual competitive bid process. Flexible-fuel vehicles will be used by the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) at various operations in Northern California and the state’s Central Valley. Chevron Technology Ventures intends to work with CalTrans to provide E85 fuel and install the necessary refueling pumps in these locations. Pacific Ethanol, a California-based ethanol production and marketing company, intends to provide the ethanol to Chevron Technology Ventures for the project.

GM’s environmental consultant has assured us that GM is aware of the problems facing corn ethanol production and that, while the fuel may initially be made from corn, that cellulosic ethanol is a potential choice for the future. Apparently, GM does have a relationship with Iogen, a leading Canadian cellulosic technology manufacturer (see this press release). We'll have to wait and see where that goes, but the quicker the public stops to think that ethanol equals corn, the better.


First E85 National Ad Campaign

Jefferson City, MO – The first flexible fuel vehicle/E85 national advertising campaign has been kicked off by General Motors. Advertisements in the January 4, 2006 editions of the USA Today and Wall Street Journal describes the new GM 2007 E85 Chevy Tahoe.

The full page ads includes statements regarding the ability of the Tahoe to operate on the clean, renewable product. It also directs individuals to the NEVC website,, to locate availability of E85.

“To my knowledge, this is the first time that any automaker has included a reference to the FFV capability of a vehicle in a national advertisement,” stated Phil Lampert, Executive Director of the NEVC. “While I obviously only have access to regional versions of these two very large circulation papers, we are very pleased that GM has included information in these ads acknowledging the E85 capability of the new Tahoe!”

The 2007 Tahoe will be available January 10. Different from the 2006 Tahoe, the new model will offer a feature called Active Fuel Management™ where the engine will provide power to all eight cylinders when needed and only four when not needed.

General Motors has been a long time supporter of E85 and a member of the NEVC.

ISAF 2005: Alcohol Fuel Flexibility - Progress and Prospects

NOTE: The International Symposium on Alcohol Fuels held its 15th annual meeting Sept. 26-28, 2005 in San Diego, CA. There were many important and timely papers and presentations delivered at the event for which I will provide abstracts.

Thomas MacDonald of the California Energy Commission provided evidence that "alcohol flexible fuels vehicles" (a.k.a., Flex-Fuel Vehicles - FFV - that run on blends of gasoline and ethanol) "represent a mature, low-cost technology option for reducing reliance on petroleum transportation fuels." Should FFV development and infrastructure continue and expand, "alcohol fuel flexibility offers an achievable and inexpensive means of adding motor fuel supply diversity and of substituting alcohol fuels for gasoline."

The most obvious evidence of this is taking place in California. Pollution considerations in metropolitan areas of the state created substantial interest in additives that would oxygenate gasoline to combust more of each gallon while reducing harmful emissions. MTBE's were the initial additive backed and implemented by the petroleum refiners. However, MTBE's could not be stored without leakage, which fouled water resources - the cure being worse than the disease. At the end of 2003, California banned MTBE's in favor of more plentiful and benign ethanol. As a result 5.7% of all gasoline sold in California is actually ethanol as mandated by regulations, approaching one BILLION gallons per year. Currently 99% of this ethanol is imported into California from other states. This E6 (6% ethanol) gasoline runs without modification in all gasoline engines as would for any blend containing up to 10% ethanol (E10).

How costly would it be to modify current models of automobiles to make them FFVs? MacDonald states that "the incremental cost to the industry of producing full model lines of FFVs has been reduced to a very nominal amount, $100 per vehicle or less by some industry estimates." Because of FFV demand in Brazil and the Midwestern U.S., most major manufacturers of automobiles (including Ford, GM, Chrysler, and Volkswagen) offer FFV versions of their most popular automobiles.

He offers Brazil as an example of a society that has made a commitment to a fully ethanol/gasoline FFV fleet after 30 years of ethanol and infrastructure development. In Brazil, the average price of gasoline is 1.66 times the average price of ethanol. By 2007, all new automobiles sold in Brazil will be FFVs.

He concludes that "further national initiatives and investments aimed at expansion of FFV production and E85 fueling infrastructure need to be part of a clear overall national agenda for petroleum reduction and a specific straegy for the role of ethanol as a transportation fuel."

Developing Ethanol's Side-stream Chemicals

Who will be the George Washington Carver of the developing ethanol industry? Carver is best known as the inventor of over 300 uses for peanuts during the late 19th century - but that is probably the least of his accomplishments. This slave orphan broke racial barriers to persevere as a student, scientist, and Tuskegee Institute educator for all Southerners who struggled to survive the post-Civil War era. He developed crop rotation techniques for investing depleted soil with soil-enriching crops like peanuts, sweet potatoes, and pecans and then extended their marketability by inventing new recipes for their use.

The current ethanol challenges? New agronomy techniques will have to be developed to reduce the use petroleum-based fertilizers while improving the soil sustainability and cultivation of ethanol feedstocks. To make biorefineries more self-sufficient, there is a great need for the industry to implement developing pre-processing techniques for sorting feedstock and making new side-stream chemicals. As the industry grows, new products will come from ethanol itself and the purges that are the byproducts of each feedstock's processing.

In an press release posted on the Georgia Tech Research News website, Professor Charles Eckert provides insight into efforts being made to make the ethanol industry more viable. He describes coordinated and cross-discipline approaches being pursued by him and his colleagues.

Leveling the Playing Field: High-Value Chemicals Produced from Ethanol Feedstocks Could Boost Biorefinery Economics

Biorefineries developed to produce ethanol from cellulose sources such as trees and fast-growing plants could get a significant economic boost from the sale of high-value chemicals – such as vanillin flavoring – that could be generated from the same feedstock. Revenue from these “side stream” chemicals could help make ethanol produced by biorefineries cost competitive with traditional fossil fuels.

“It seems unlikely that fuel from a biorefinery – at least in the beginning – is going to be as cost-effective as fuel from traditional fossil sources,” said Charles Eckert, a professor in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “To make the biorefinery sustainable, we must therefore do everything we can to help the economics. If we can take a chemical stream worth only cents per pound and turn it into chemicals worth many dollars per pound, this could help make the biorefinery cost effective.”

To help make that happen, Eckert and collaborators Charles Liotta, Arthur Ragauskas, Jason Hallett, Christopher Kitchens, Elizabeth Hill and Laura Draucker are exploring the use of three environmentally-friendly solvent and separation systems – gas-expanded liquids, supercritical fluids and near-critical water – to produce specialty chemicals, pharmaceutical precursors and flavorings from a small portion of the ethanol feedstock. The green processes could produce chemicals worth up to $25 per pound.

“These are novel feedstocks for chemical production,” Eckert noted. “They are very different from what we’ve dealt with before. This gives us different challenges, and provides a rich area for interdisciplinary research.”

Using near-critical water and gas-expanded liquids, Eckert and his colleagues have already demonstrated the production of vanillin, syringol and syringaldehyde from a paper mill black liquor side stream. They have also proposed a process that would generate levulinic acid, glucaric acid and other chemicals from the pre-pulping of wood chips. That process would use an alcohol-carbon dioxide mixture, followed by depolymerization and dehydration in near-critical water.

Research aimed at producing high-value products from cellulose feedstocks is being done through the “AtlantIC Alliance for BioPower, BioFuels and Biomaterials,” a coalition of three research institutions in the United States and the United Kingdom. The alliance, which includes Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Imperial College and Georgia Tech, seeks to solve the complex issues involved in economically producing ethanol fuel from cellulose materials such as wood chips, sawgrass, corn stovers – and even municipal waste.

“The feedstock would likely be different in different geographic locations, depending on what was readily available,” Eckert noted. “In the Southeast, we have abundant forest resources. In the West, sources would include sawgrass, corn stovers and similar plant materials. In the United Kingdom, there is strong interest in producing fuels from municipal wastes.”

The Alliance is taking a comprehensive approach to the biorefinery, conducting studies of how to maximize plant growth through genetic engineering, developing new microbial techniques for digesting cellulose, and applying environmentally-friendly chemical processes for reactions and separations. The organizers decided to pursue only non-food sources as their feedstock.

Using tunable solvent systems in the biorefinery would avoid the generation of wastes associated with processes that depend on strong acids – which must be neutralized at the end of the reaction.

For instance, near-critical water – familiar H2O but at 250 to 300 degrees Celsius under pressure – separates into acid and base components that can be used to dissolve both organic and inorganic chemicals. When the pressure is removed, the water returns to its normal properties.

Gas-expanded liquids, such as carbon dioxide in methanol, provide a flexible solvent whose properties can be adjusted by changing the pressure. When the reaction is over, the pressure is released, allowing the carbon dioxide to separate from the methanol.

Supercritical fluids, such as carbon dioxide under high pressure, simplify separation processes. Separation of the carbon dioxide from chemicals dissolved in it requires only that the pressure be reduced, allowing the CO2 to return to its gaseous state.

Though many challenges remain before biorefineries can be designed and built, Eckert says it is important to invest now in this renewable source of energy and chemicals.

“To make the biorefinery work will require a major effort that must be well coordinated among everybody working on it,” he said. “The biorefinery is one of several answers that we need to pursue as part of a national energy strategy. Our future economic well-being requires us to deal with the energy issue.”

Eckert described the green processes Sept. 10 at the 232nd national meeting of the American Chemical Society. The presentation was part of a session “Green Chemistry for Fuel Synthesis and Processing.”

In 2004, Eckert and Liotta received a Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award for their development and promotion of benign tunable solvents that couple reaction and separation processes.

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Forests: Carbon S(t)inks?

Biopact reports that research on the carbon sequestering capacity of forests is challenging long cherished beliefs that they are 'carbon sinks" that suck more carbon-dioxide out of the atmosphere than they emit. The idea that planting or retaining more trees will automatically compensate for greenhouse gases released elsewhere is apparently a myth.

Still, the net CO2 contribution of forests is far lower than that of simply burning fossil fuels, so planting new energy trees (either as part of a re- or afforestation effort) to use them as bioenergy feedstocks to be used instead of coal, gas or oil, remains a good strategy to tackle climate change.

This means that the real impact of forests on global warming is the risk they pose when consumed in fires - during which they expell huge amounts of carbon, particulate matter, NOx, and SOx into the atmosphere.

For the full story, click the title link below to the Biopact site. Excerpts of their article are below:

Idea that forests are 'carbon sinks" no longer holds

New research now shows that instead of carbon sinks, some forests emit more carbon than they store. Forests can do little to improve the future climate or to lower the atmosphere's carbon levels. What they can do is make global warming worse.

This is the conclusion of a Canadian and American team of forest scientists that went into the woods in northern Manitoba to measure the carbon cycle of a forest ecosystem. They wanted to measure carbon going into and out of a living forest, to learn how effectively the forest was sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and storing it.

The results of this scientific work are congruent with research done in other forest types, most notably in tropical forests where the same observation was found: forests contribute more CO2 to the atmosphere than they store.

The consequences of these scientific results are manifold: forest nations will not be able to enjoy the benefits brought by the United Nations Framework on Convention on Climate Change because forests can no longer be filed as 'carbon sinks'. Re- and afforestation efforts are no longer a certain quick fix to climate change (they do have many other benefits, though), and large fossil fuel burning utilities who now often contribute financially to such efforts to appease their conscience, must rethink their strategies.

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Terra Preta: Black is the New Green

In August I cited an article on Terra Preta that focused on an organic method of sequestering carbon in the soil.

On the World Changing website, I recently ran across an article and a conversion technology animation involving pyrolysis and the generation of charcoal for the production of a high carbon fertilizer. Such a process would not only add to the sustainability of soil for the cultivation of healthy crops, but also provide a carbon sink alternative to geosequestration methods.

Terra Preta: Black is the New Green
by David Zaks and Chad Monfreda

Carbon sequestration faces some major hurdles. Technical geosequestration methods could pump large amounts of CO2 deep underground but are still under development. On the other hand, natural methods that store carbon in living ecosystems may be possible in the short term but require huge swathes of land and are only as stable the ecosystems themselves. An ideal solution, however, would combine the quick fix of biological methods with the absolute potential of technical ones. Terra preta may do just that, as a recent article in the journal Nature reveals.

The difference between terra preta and ordinary soils is immense. A hectare of meter-deep terra preta can contain 250 tonnes of carbon, as opposed to 100 tonnes in unimproved soils from similar parent material, according to Bruno Glaser, of the University of Bayreuth, Germany. To understand what this means, the difference in the carbon between these soils matches all of the vegetation on top of them. Furthermore, there is no clear limit to just how much biochar can be added to the soil.

Claims for biochar's capacity to capture carbon sound almost audacious. Johannes Lehmann, soil scientist and author of Amazonian Dark Earths: Origin, Properties, Management, believes that a strategy combining biochar with biofuels could ultimately offset 9.5 billion tons of carbon per year-an amount equal to the total current fossil fuel emissions!

Biofuels are touted as 'carbon neutral', but biofuels and biochar together promise to be 'carbon negative'. Danny Day, the founder of a company called Eprida is already putting these concepts into motion with systems that turn farm waste into hydrogen, biofuel, and biochar.

The Eprida technology uses agricultural waste biomass to produce hydrogen-rich bio-fuels and a new restorative high-carbon fertilizer (ECOSS) ...In tropical or depleted soils ECOSS fertilizer sustainably improves soil fertility, water holding and plant yield far beyond what is possible with nitrogen fertilizers alone. The hydrogen produced from biomass can be used to make ethanol, or a Fischer-Tropsch gas-to-liquids diesel (BTL diesel), as well as the ammonia used to enrich the carbon to make ECOSS fertilizer.

Terra preta's full beauty appears in this closed loop. Unlike traditional sequestration rates that follow diminishing marginal returns-aquifers fill up, forests mature-practices based on terra preta see increasing returns. Terra preta doubles or even triples crop yields. More growth means more terra preta, begetting a virtuous cycle. While a global rollout of terra preta is still a ways away, it heralds yet another transformation of waste into resources.

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CALIFORNIA: Gov. Schwarzenegger's Biofuels Executive Order

Conversion technologies (CTs) promise to solve both environmental and fossil fuel problems by completing the cycle between waste and energy. With this Executive Order (S-06-06) issued April 25th, Governor Schwarzenegger clearly understands the link. Furthermore, he is ordering his state agencies and commissions to meet specific targets in the production and use of biofuels.

This important message is not getting print space in California newspapers nor other media. Why? As a culture have we become numb to solutions as we stare into the headlights of problems?

I invite other bloggers to comment - and get the word out.


by the
Governor of the State of California

WHEREAS, abundant biomass resources from agriculture, forestry and urban wastes can be tapped to provide transportation fuels and electricity to satisfy California's fuel and energy needs; and

WHEREAS, ethanol is a renewable transportation biofuel that California consumes more than 900 million gallons a year which is approximately 25 percent of all the ethanol produced in the United States; and

WHEREAS, California produces less than five percent of the ethanol it consumes; and

WHEREAS, biomass fuels, including ethanol produced from cellulose and bio-diesel produced from a variety of sources, can reduce the state's reliance on petroleum fuels and work to lower fuel costs for consumers; and

WHEREAS, in the Hydrogen Highway plan, the state has invested $6.5 million to support a network of more than 16 filling stations and a growing fleet of cars and buses that run on this clean fuel of the future; and

WHEREAS, biofuels can be a clean, renewable source for hydrogen; and

WHEREAS, biofuels offer greenhouse gas reduction benefits; and

WHEREAS, biomass as a source of energy has the potential to power more than three million homes or produce enough fuel to run more than two million automobiles on an annual basis; and

WHEREAS, biomass is a renewable resource which currently contributes two percent of the state's electricity mix, or nearly 1,000 megawatts of the state's generating capacity and is one of the options needed to achieve the State Renewables Portfolio Standard requirements; and

WHEREAS, improvements in the use of waste and residues from forests and farms for energy production can actually decrease the greenhouse gas emissions associated with biomass decomposition that otherwise would occur; and

WHEREAS, harnessing California's biomass resources to produce energy and other products is good for the state's economy and environment and contributes to local job creation; and

WHEREAS, the increased use of biomass resources contributes solutions to California's critical waste disposal and environmental problems, including the risk of catastrophic wild fires, air pollution from open field burning, and greenhouse gas emissions from landfills; and

WHEREAS, sustained biomass development offers strategic energy, economic, social and environmental benefits to California, creating jobs through increased private investment within the state.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, ARNOLD SCHWARZENGGER, Governor of the State of California, by virtue of the power invested in me by the Constitution and the statutes of the State of California, do hereby order effective immediately:

1. The following targets to increase the production and use of bioenergy, including ethanol and bio-diesel fuels made from renewable resources, are established for California:

a. Regarding biofuels, the state produce a minimum of 20 percent of its biofuels within California by 2010, 40 percent by 2020, and 75 percent by 2050;

b. Regarding the use of biomass for electricity, the state meet a 20 percent target within the established state goals for renewable generation for 2010 and 2020; and

2. The Secretary for the California Resources Agency and the Chair of the Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission ("Energy Commission") shall coordinate oversight of efforts made by state agencies to promote the use of biomass resources; and

3. The Air Resources Board, Energy Commission, California Environmental Protection Agency, California Public Utilities Commission, 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 shall continue to participate on the Bioenergy Interagency Working Group chaired by the Energy Commission; and

4. The Energy Commission shall coordinate with other responsible state agencies to identify and secure federal and state funding for research, development and demonstration projects to advance the use of biomass resources for electricity generation and biofuels for transportation; and

5. The Energy Commission shall report to the Governor and the State Legislature through its Integrated Energy Policy Report, and biannually thereafter, on progress made in achieving sustainable biomass development in California; and

6. The California Air Resources Board is urged to consider as part of its rulemaking the most flexible possible use of biofuels through its Rulemaking to Update the Predictive Model and Specification for Reformulated Gasoline, while preserving the full environmental benefits of California's Reformulated Gasoline Programs; and

7. The California Public Utilities Commission is requested to initiate a new proceeding or build upon an existing proceeding to encourage sustainable use of biomass and other renewable resources by the state's investor-owned utilities; and

8. As soon as hereafter possible, this Order shall be filed with the Office of the Secretary of State and that widespread publicity and notice be given to this Order.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF I have here unto set my hand and caused the Great Seal of the State of California to be affixed this the twenty-fifth day of April 2006.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Governor of California