New Mexico Leaders Take Step in Developing Sustainable Biofuels Industry

By Tina Caparella


New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and the state’s congressional delegation launched an initiative in early December to develop a statewide strategic plan to make New Mexico a national leader in the emerging biofuels industry.

The initial meeting for the initiative, “Toward a New Mexico State Plan for Biofuels Leadership,” brought together more than 50 national and state experts from industry, science, education, agriculture, nonprofit, and government to begin development of a comprehensive roadmap for sustainable, economically feasible, and cost-competitive biofuels that capitalizes on the state’s human and natural resources.

Richardson and Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall joined Representatives Harry Teague, Martin Heinrich, and Ben Ray Lujan in signing a letter of invitation to experts who will be the architects of the plan. Earlier in 2009, Teague introduced the Biofuel Engineering Training Act and the Algae-based Renewable Fuel Promotion Act of 2009 to support the growth of the biofuels industry in New Mexico.

The December 9, 2009, kick-off meeting was coordinated by the Southwestern Biofuels Association (SWBA), a nonprofit organization that promotes renewable biofuels through strategic partnerships between the Southwest’s universities, national laboratories, state agencies, agriculture, energy industry, and consumers.

Participants planned to meet over the winter months to develop specific recommendations and strategies focused on sustainable feedstocks, energy markets, science, research and development, production and distribution, jobs, education, and outreach. The public will be invited to attend workgroup sessions and comment on elements of the plan as it develops. An advisory panel, including representatives from the state’s biofuels industry and supporting organizations, also will provide input to the plan that will be unveiled April 13-14, 2010, at the SWBA Biofuels Policy Summit in Albuquerque, NM. The plan will be open for public comment until May 30, 2010.

Plan documents, meeting dates, times, and locations, along with other information, will be posted on the SWBA Web site at www.swbiofuels.org. Interested parties can post comments via the Web site as documents become available for review.

“The extraordinary level of cooperation between policymakers, industry, scientists, and farmers is a major step forward for the timely development of next-generation biofuels with low energy inputs, large production potential, and easy distribution,” said Tim Zenk, SWBA chairman and vice president of Sapphire Energy. “We look forward to working with this distinguished group of experts on viable solutions to achieving energy independence.”

Animal Fats and REG Victorious Again in Hawaiian Electric Bidding

Hawaiian Electric Company has signed a contract with a subsidiary of Iowa-based Renewable Energy Group (REG) to supply three to seven million gallons of renewable biodiesel per year for two years to be used for Hawaiian Electric’s new 110-megawatt combustion turbine generator unit at Campbell Industrial Park Generating Station (CIP GS).

REG, which won an earlier bid to supply 400,000 gallons of biodiesel for emissions testing in the unit, emerged as the winning bidder from among eight companies seeking to fill the two-year contract. As in the earlier contract, the new agreement calls for REG to supply high quality biodiesel processed from used cooking oil and waste animal fat.

As with all Hawaiian Electric fuel contracts, this contract has been submitted to the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for approval, with input from the Hawaii Division of Consumer Advocacy, before the contract can be included in Hawaiian Electric fuel costs. Delivery of the biodiesel could begin within about four months of PUC approval.

“This contract is an important step forward in our efforts to create a clean energy economy for Hawaii,” said Robbie Alm, Hawaiian Electric executive vice president. “We must pursue every renewable resource available – the sun, wind, our land, and oceans – and take advantage of our unique ability to substitute green fuels in place of black oil-based fuels in our generating units.

“We are glad to continue working with Renewable Energy Group on this essential step in meeting our commitment to the PUC and Consumer Advocate to power the new CIP GS unit with renewable biodiesel,” Alm continued. REG operates a national network of biodiesel production with the capacity to produce more than 300 million gallons of biodiesel per year.

California City Begins Grease Collection

The city of Santa Monica, CA, has launched a program to collect fats, oil, and grease (FOG) free of charge from city restaurants and turn them into biodiesel. Partnering with GeoGreen Biofuels, the city is providing 50-gallon drums in various downtown parking structures where restaurants and residents can deposit their FOG. GeoGreen will then collect the containers and process the waste oil into biodiesel. Wes Thompson of the City of Santa Monica said Darling International, Inc., collected the drums previously but the city turned to a contractor that will convert the waste grease into biodiesel. The city will not be providing any collection service to area restaurants, which are responsible for transporting and disposing of their waste cooking oil into the drums.

Canadian Renderer Honored as a Pioneer

The Canadian Renewable Fuels Association recently honored pioneers in the development and commercialization of low carbon renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel in Canada. Among the 2009 Green Fuels Award recipients was Maple Leaf Foods, Inc., which received the Fuel Change Award for achievement in promoting the use of renewable fuels in Canada. Maple Leaf’s subsidiary, Rothsay, operates a biodiesel facility that converts animal fats and recycled cooking oil into an alternative fuel that reduces harmful greenhouse gases, and can be used in all diesel engines.

Below are other 2009 Green Fuels Award recipients that produce biodiesel.

• The New Producer Award went to Bio-Diesel Quebec, Inc., which began producing biodiesel in its 10 million liter (2.6 million gallons) per year facility in Saint-Alexis-des-Monts, QB, and Milligan Bio-Tech, Inc., which started producing biodiesel from canola at its 25 million liter (6.6 million gallons) per year facility in Foam Lake, SK.

• The Green Fuels Industry Award 2009 for outstanding dedication to the advancement of renewable fuels in Canada was given to Mark Stumborg, an engineer at Agriculture Canada’s Swift Current Research Center who played a critical leadership role in formative years of ethanol and biodiesel in Canada.

Feedstock Comparison Study Released

Renewable Energy Group (REG) recently released Biodiesel and Feedstock Characteristics Report that outlines the results for biodiesel made from more than 30 commercially available and unique feedstocks. REG’s analysis utilized lab-scale pretreatment and production that mimic today’s commercial biodiesel processes.

The report showcases benchmarks for traditional and unique oils and fats and, for the first time, makes available side-by-side comparisons of the feedstocks’ fatty acid profiles and resulting biodiesel characteristics. Samples tested in the comparison study include already-commercialized oils and fats such as soybean, canola, used cooking oil, poultry fat, and tallow, and some novel, global feedstocks, such as coffee, rice bran, and jatropha, that are typically difficult to acquire and have not been widely studied or cited in industry literature.

Biodiesel was produced from each of the feedstocks and tested for compliance with ASTM D 6751 specifications for transportation fuel. To produce the biodiesel, REG designed a uniform method for pretreating the crude feedstock, esterifying the free fatty acids, transesterifying the triglycerides, and filtering the finished methyl ester.

The production method used in the study was based on a literature review and REG’s extensive knowledge of biodiesel production techniques. Eliminating the variables of pretreatment and production allowed for a more direct comparison of the feedstocks. The entire process is detailed in the report, which is available free of charge at www.regfuel.com.

The study was funded in part through a grant by the Iowa Power Fund administered through the Iowa Office of Energy Independence.

Grants Awarded for Biorefinery

The Iowa Power Fund Board has approved a $3.9 million grant and final contract terms that will help transform the Renewable Energy Group (REG) biodiesel facility in Newton, IA, into an integrated biorefinery that will produce high-value specialty chemicals and jet fuel from renewable fats and oils.

According to the Office of Energy Independence, the collaborative effort between Elevance Renewable Sciences, REG, and Technochem will demonstrate the ability to convert existing biodiesel facilities with bolt-on technology to produce diversified biochemical product streams. The Power Fund grant provides incentive to secure the demonstration project being built in Newton, creating 40 to 50 positions this year. The investment enables the use of existing biodiesel plant infrastructure that allows for expedited commercialization versus building new facilities, said K’Lynne Johnson, Elevance’s chief executive officer.

The biorefinery will be based on Elevance’s novel technology olefin metathesis, which won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2005, to convert soybean oil, inedible corn oil, animal fats, and other raw materials into jet fuel, high-value specialty chemicals, and biodiesel. The plant will be used to evaluate a variety of renewable feedstocks, produce products for market development, and develop data that can be applied in the design of a commercial scale unit.

In early December 2009, Elevance was awarded a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to fund preliminary engineering design for the biorefinery. According to the company, the DOE grant framework focused on “inedible, domestically produced, high-impact and high-volume feedstocks,” of which poultry fat meets the criteria. Elevance also received $109,500 from the United Soybean Board to enhance the use of soybean oil as an ingredient in naturally-derived petrolatum alternatives.

Using its technology, Elevance creates high performance waxes, functional oils, antimicrobials, lubricants, additives, and other chemicals.

Imperium Renewables Suffers Explosion

In early December, a glycerin processing tank in the glycerin refining section of Imperium Renewables’ Grays Harbor, WA, biodiesel plant ruptured as a result of over-pressurization due to an oversupply of sulfuric acid into the glycerin neutralization tank, which caused an unexpected exothermic reaction. There were no injuries or fire.

Imperium’s glycerin neutralization process is a secondary and wholly separate chemical process from the transesterification facility that is used to produce biodiesel. According to the company, in order for glycerin, a by-product of biodiesel, to be marketed to end users, it must have a neutral pH level. Typically, sulfuric acid is mixed with glycerin to neutralize the pH level. When mixed in the recommended ratio, the chemical reaction does not pose a safety threat.

On December 2, 2009, Imperium personnel mixed sulfuric acid in a much higher ratio, which created the exothermic reaction. Personnel were unaware of the potential for such a reaction, and the processing equipment was not designed with physical or mechanical safeguards to prevent an oversupply of sulfuric acid.

“We are taking steps to make sure this cannot, and does not, ever happen again,” said Imperium Chief Executive Officer John Plaza.

After consulting with chemical, mechanical, and industrial engineers, Imperium is replacing the glycerin neutralization tank with a complete new system equipped with stringent safeguards to prevent an oversupply of sulfuric acid. The company has also instituted new employee training and safety programs on-site. Imperium will also be working with industry trade groups to increase the awareness among biodiesel producers about the potential for hazards in the glycerin neutralization process. The facility will restart once damage is repaired and the new equipment has been installed and tested for safety.

ISO Standard to Make Bioenergy Sustainable

The International Organization for Standardization, or ISO, will develop an international standard to address sustainability issues linked to bioenergy. The standard will be produced by a new ISO project committee, ISO/PC 248, Sustainability Criteria for Bioenergy.

The committee will bring together international expertise and state-of-the-art best practice to discuss the social, economic, and environmental aspects of the production, supply chain, and use of bioenergy, and identify criteria that could prevent it from being environmentally destructive or socially aggressive.

The decision to develop the standard responds to the growing international interest in bioenergy, and the current lack of globally harmonized sustainability criteria. Already some 29 countries are involved as participants or observers, including large markets such as China and the United States. Brazil and Germany will provide the secretariat and leadership of the committee under a twinned arrangement.

ISO/PC 248 will hold its first meeting in April 2010.

National Biodiesel Group Elects Leadership

National Biodiesel Board members selected their trade association leadership last November. Officers elected to lead the board are Ed Hegland, chairman, Minnesota Soybean Promotion and Research Council; Gary Haer, vice chair, Renewable Energy Group, Inc.; Ed Ulch, secretary, Iowa Soybean Association; and Jim Conway, treasurer, Griffin Industries.

Piedmont Biofuels Awarded Research Grant

Piedmont Biofuels Industrial in Pittsboro, NC, will receive a $139,249 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant for innovative clean energy research and development. The company will use the funds to develop advanced biodiesel production processes that will enable biodiesel producers to reduce water usage and waste by-product as well as use lower grade feedstocks, such as poultry fat.

Piedmont Biofuels’ commercial production facility in Pittsboro produces approximately 4,000 gallons of biodiesel a day using waste poultry fat or used cooking oil. The Recovery Act funding is part of the Small Business Innovation Research program, which works to increase the participation of small, innovative companies in federally-funded research and development.

Swiss Commodity Trader Purchases Biodiesel Firm

Switzerland-based Glencore, one of the world’s largest suppliers of commodities and raw materials, has taken a majority stake in Swiss biodiesel producer Biopetrol Industries AG through the acquisition of 50 percent plus one share. The shares were acquired from the previous majority shareholders. In addition, Glencore has the option to increase its holding to a two-thirds majority. The details of the contractual agreements and the acquisition price remain confidential, and completion of the transaction is subject to an approval of the relevant anti-trust authorities.

With its German, Dutch, and Swiss subsidiaries, Biopetrol Industries AG, headquartered in Zug, Switzerland, produces and sells biodiesel and pharmaceutical-grade glycerin. Currently, the company has an annual production capacity in the German towns of Schwarzheide and Rostock of around 350,000 tons (95 million gallons) of biodiesel and 30,000 tons of pharmaceutical-grade glycerin. In Rotterdam, the Netherlands, Biopetrol is close to completion of a facility with an annual production capacity of 400,000 tons (108 million gallons) of biodiesel and 60,000 tons of glycerin.

Founded in 1974, Glencore is a privately held group owned by its manage-ment and employees. Headquartered in Baar, Switzerland, the company employs over 2,000 people in its global marketing operations in some 50 offices in over 40 countries. In its industrial operations, Glencore employs over 50,000 people at 15 plants in 13 countries.

Zenergy Acquires Greenlight Biofuels

Chicago, IL-based Zenergy International, Inc., has acquired Greenlight Biofuels, Ltd., and its assets for $1.5 million. This is the first of numerous planned acquisitions by Zenergy.

In its acquisition of Greenlight Biofuels, Zenergy has taken ownership of the multi-feedstock biofuel plant situated on 40 acres in Littlefield, TX, with a capacity of five million gallons per year. The facility is strategically located on the transport corridor, close to a number of transport fueling depots.

Zenergy has also secured substantial feedstock to continue operations at the Greenlight Biofuels facility, although the company would not disclose amount, source, or type of feedstock. The feedstock purchased will enable the company to restart the plant and begin production, reaching full-scale production by the second quarter of 2010.


Biofuels Bulletin – February 2010 RENDER | back