Department of Energy Features One of Its Biomass Success Stories

The Department of Energy published an update on one of their successful projects within the Biomass Energy Technology Office’s (BETO) Feedstock Supply and Logistics Program Area. The Self Loading/Unloading Trailer designed and built by Kelderman Manufacturing is the featured topic. Its initial development was co-funded through a cooperative agreement with BETO.  A modified trailer design is currently being produced to transport biomass supplies for Abengoa’s Cellulosic Biorefinery in Southwest Kansas.

Self Loading Unloading Trailer

Figure 1: The Self Loading/Unloading Trailer Preparing to Load

“We are excited to announce that one of the technologies, the self-loading trailer, has been purchased by biofuel company Abengoa for use at its biorefinery. The Abengoa Bioenergy Biomass of Kansas biorefinery uses corn stover to produce cellulosic ethanol. Abengoa plans to order 40 more of these trailers, which will help to streamline the moving of truckloads of baled corn husks, stalks, and leaves (the non-food parts of the plant, called corn stover) from the field and temporary storage sites to the biorefinery. The trailers were developed by Kelderman Manufacturing (Oskaloosa, Iowa) in partnership with BETO funding recipient, FDC Enterprises (Columbus, Ohio).” –

This trailer was designed to load, transport, and unload baled biomass feedstocks more efficiently than conventionally available equipment.

ANTARES was an active participant in the project that supported these developments. Our staff organized the project team, developed the proposed approach and strategy, led the proposal efforts, and led project management and reporting efforts under direction of FDC Enterprises, the prime contractor.  Antares Group specifically worked with Kelderman Manufacturing, FDC Enterprises (the prime recipient for the DOE cooperative agreement), and other project team members to arrange demonstration activities and to monitor and record the trailer’s performance during development. Early demonstrations have indicated that these trailers could drastically reduce loading and unloading times, reduce the number of trailers and trucks required for hauling operations, and reduce the costs of delivering biomass feedstocks. Newer versions of the trailers are being tested and improved currently. The results of these tests will be included in the BALES Database that Antares Group is building. The trailer is highlighted along with other equipment innovations in this project summary video.

Innovation in the form of advanced equipment like these trailers is vital to a successful and sustainable bioenergy infrastructure, and we at Antares are proud to have had a hand in its success.

State of the US Solar Industry: SPI 2015 Wrap Up

There is a lot going on in the solar industry right now. Here is just a taste of some of the hot topics we heard about at the Solar Power International (SPI) held in Anaheim, California last week.

Just about everyone was talking about the pending expiration of the federal investment tax credit (ITC) at the end of 2016. If it is allowed to expire, it will reduce the existing tax credit incentives for commercial solar projects from 30% down to 10%, and the residential tax incentive will be completely eliminated. There is concern that this will have significant impact on the solar industry, leading to reduced momentum in project development and job losses.  Based on previous experience from the wind industry I think we can expect some slowdown in projects, although existing renewable energy mandates from state and federal mandates will help keep things moving on larger-scale projects at least.  However, there could definitely be a pretty big reduction in residential PV projects until the market adjusts.

On the plus side, the federal Clean Power Plan, which set standards for carbon dioxide emissions reductions from power plants, is expected to have a positive impact on renewable project development, especially solar and wind. This will firm up some of the existing markets and open up new markets for implementation. One speaker stated that the CPP is expected to drive an incremental increase of 20 GW of utility scale solar, not to mention impacts in community solar projects and distributed generation resources.  While this will clearly help push solar project development, many states may not have a significant ramp up of activity until the 2019 time frame.

Here in California, SB 350 was just passed on September 11, which increases the state RPS from the current target of 33% electric generation from renewables by 2020, to 50% by 2030.  There is also a requirement for a 50% increase in energy efficiency for existing buildings.  According to a utility representative, about 20% of the current California electric supply comes from renewable energy, and the state is on track to meet the 2020 goal.  California also has a Grid Energy Storage Mandate (CPUC Energy Storage Decision D.13-10-040), which requires 1,325 MW in operation by 2024.

Grid integration will continue to be an important consideration with an increased penetration of intermittent renewables and distributed generation resources. One way the solar industry is dealing with this is though smart inverters, which can have advanced functions such as Volt/VAR control, voltage and frequency ride-through, and reactive power control. Such functions can be helpful to improve grid stability, and can allow increased capacity on feeder lines to support distributed generation resources. In order to take advantage of these benefits, utilities need to have control and communication capabilities, which is a work in progress.

Energy storage is another way to support grid flexibility, as it can be used as a generation source as well as a load.  As stated by SEPA: “photovoltaic electricity storage technologies can be deployed in two ways—1) directly with a specific solar installation to manage its particular output or maximize benefits, or 2) within the distribution or transmission vicinity of one or more solar installations to manage the localized or system level impacts.” When grid-connected, energy storage technologies can provide ancillary services for utilities such as frequency regulation, spinning reserves, Volt/VAR support, voltage regulation, as well as cost benefits to consumers through arbitrage, peak shifting, and demand reduction. Energy storage systems can also be used for backup power or to support off-grid projects.  It is important to note that energy storage technology selection will ultimately depend on the project goals; there is no one size fits all, and no single project can provide all these different types of services effectively.

Overall, the solar power industry faces the challenges of maintaining its momentum in the light of potentially significant policy shifts, while continuing to develop new pathways for converting an intermittent, small-scale energy generation technology into large-scale dispatchable power. The past decade has been an exciting time for renewable energy, but perhaps the next decade will truly define how the US will deal with bulk power delivery for the next 100 years.

Carbon Sequestration Benefits of Biomass

Antares has long been at the forefront of developing the next generation of Bioenergy Projects (Power and Fuels). Throughout our corporate history, we have recognized that the benefits of biomass energy must be weighed against any potential environmental impacts and it has been our privilege to participate in discussions on this topic for more than two decades.

One specific and recurrent discussion surrounding the use of biomass is its potential benefits for carbon sequestration. This blog is not the forum for a full discourse on this topic and it is undeniable that some of the issues raised are complex and have important implications on how valuable a player bioenergy can be in meeting climate change mitigation goals.

The Biogenic Carbon Cycle

Unlike fossil fuels extracted from geologic formations, biomass is harvested from living or recently deceased organic matter that can be regenerated on forested and agricultural land. As such biomass is part of a biogenic carbon cycle.[1] This has a number of important implications, but importantly, this means that biomass production from forest or agricultural activity can be managed for increased productivity and to improve the value of the supporting land base.  In other words, there is a direct economic motivation to preserve the carbons stocks in the supply shed through managed regrowth. This is in contrast to the economic drivers for fossil fuels. One cannot practically “make more” coal or oil. In our current economy, carbon from these resources is on a one way trip out of the ground at a time and place that maximizes the economic return of its removal/sale. There is no “replenishing” these resources and efforts are instead focused on managing the impact of their use. This is an important difference that has motivated Antares’ interest in bioenergy.

The Importance of DG Technologies

Energy conversion efficiency and proximity to supply also have multiplier effects on all the benefits of biomass energy production and especially on the GHG reduction benefits. Advanced power cycles and the development of distributed generation networks are providing opportunities to further drive down the GHG impacts associated with bioenergy production. While improvements in conversion efficiency directly increase the ratio of energy produced for each BTU of biomass energy input, strategically sited distributed generation reduces the amount of energy needed to move biomass from its source to the production facility, further reducing energy inputs and GHG emissions. Although Europe has sourced a significant portion of its biomass supply internationally[2], the business model in the U.S. has favored local production and use of biomass resources. We still believe this model is the most sustainable approach for the long term.[3]

Sustainability, Stewardship are Key

Biomass production facilities have made steady gains toward requiring that all wood harvests be performed using best practices for environmental stewardship. The trend in the bioenergy and wood products industry is moving toward acquiring certification for acquisition of sustainably produced fuels/fiber.[4] In the U.S., sustainability certification is provided by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). FSC recently stated “There is an increasing interest in claims that biomass used for energy production has substantial greenhouse gas emission-reduction results and no negative impacts on (forest) biodiversity.  FSC certification of such biomass can play an important role in delivering the second objective. In particular, where the use of biomass for energy production leads to intensified harvesting of forest materials, FSC certification can be an essential tool to prescribe and verify practices that protect the forests’ ecosystem services and biodiversity. With regards to the carbon impact of biomass production, FSC is working on the implementation of its new ‘Principles & Criteria’. These will give more specific details regarding the carbon balance in forests used for biomass production.”[5] Ultimately, systems for measuring carbon stocks on forested and agriculture land will provide timely and comprehensive means of validating bioenergy carbon benefits for both facility owners and the public.

Landscape Design

We understand the full equation from supply logistics and sustainability (Exhibit 1).  In fact, under a recent award from DOE, Antares will be leading a team of experts to enable more stable and diverse future feedstock supplies by incorporating a broad range of conservation practices, developing and validating advanced landscape management tools, and collecting data on key sustainability indicators and feedstock logistics performance. In other words, we will be working to demonstrate the carbon benefits of an optimized production system that will set the stage for future generations to take bioenergy to its fullest potential.

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Exhibit 1: Landscape Carbon Flows – EPA Framework*

*See definitions for exhibit attributes here.

[1] “A particularly important foundation of the (EPA) framework is the distinction between modern biological materials (e.g., non-fossil) that circulate carbon on policy-relevant time frames and materials such as fossil fuels or peat that circulate carbon on much longer geologic timescales. A key implication of this distinction is that the production and use of biogenic feedstocks and subsequent biogenic C02 emissions from stationary sources will not inevitably result in an increased net flux of biogenic C02 to the atmosphere within a policy-relevant time scale, unlike C02 emissions from combustion of fossil fuels.” Framework for Assessing Biogenic CO2 Emissions from Stationary Sources, United States Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Air and Radiation, Office of Atmospheric Programs, Climate Change Division, November 2014.

[2] The proposed Teesside Biomass Power Plant (300 MW capacity) in Britain plans to procure most of its biomass pellet fuels from sources certified for sustainability in the Southeastern U.S.

[3] Pelletized fuel (dry compressed biomass) has made it possible to ship biomass fuels to European markets. Technologies are being developed to process feedstocks into energy dense intermediate products which make longer distance transport possible. However if the value of biomass fuels were on par with Europe in the United States then local and regional users will again be the most competitive buyers and the local and regional use model will predominate.

[4] The Gainesville Renewable Energy Center (GREC), a 102.5-megawatt (MW) biomass power facility located in Gainesville, Florida maintains certification from the Forest Stewardship Council, affirming that GREC’s purchase procedures for its waste wood fuels conform to the FSC Chain of Custody standard.

[5] “Clarification: FSC certification and carbon claims”, Forest Stewardship Council, Technical Update, 2013

Virginia Rooftop Solar Hits New High

Dominion Virginia Power unveiled its most recently finished project last month in Sterling, Virginia just a stone’s throw from Dulles International Airport. This is the utility’s most recent project as part of their Community Solar Partnership program. At roughly 750 kWDC, this marks the largest rooftop installation in Virginia to date. ANTARES has assisted in the due diligence and development of similar projects, including site assessment, RFP assistance, design review, and project inspection.  For help on your next solar project, give us a call.

Sustainability in Bioenergy

The US Department of Energy recently released a short documentary titled “Sustainability in Bioenergy: A Nation Connected” that examines the bioenergy industry in regions across the nation. Through the video, the U.S. DOE Bioenergy Technologies Office hopes to provide the public with an insight into how the bioenergy industry unites the nation. Interviews with farmers, researchers, and business-owners highlight the efforts being made to produce bioenergy in an environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable manner.


In particular, the video features an interview with Bill Belden (click here to jump to his interview), our Senior Agriculture Specialist. He speaks about the transition Midwest farmers have to make in order to supply the bioenergy industry:

“Here in the upper Midwest, our core business model is either growing corn and soybeans that are to be sold into the refining market, or, into the export market, or into the feed market. Now, we’re asking and telling our growers, we want a long term stable supply of biomass material that can be fed to a biorefinery.”

This transition, he says, is presenting the industry with new challenges. The main concern he cites is producing bioenergy in a way such that “it can be carried on year after year, generation after generation, and not negatively impact the soil, the air, or the water around us.”

Through the BALES project, the Department of Energy, Antares Group, and our partners are working hard every day to tackle these challenges.

Japan Completes Large Offshore Wind Turbine Project

Japan recently completed the installation of the world’s largest offshore wind turbine, with plans for it to be operational by September 2015. The 7 MW wind turbine is located 12 miles off the coast of Fukushima, and is designed to withstand 65-foot waves. This project will join the 45.6 MW of offshore wind capacity that is already installed, with several hundred additional megawatts planned.  Additional information on the planned offshore wind projects is located here.


One of the floating turbines at Fukushima.

Are you considering a wind installation project?  ANTARES provides wind resource assessment services to assist in evaluating the potential of large, utility-scale wind farms as well as small, community- or facility- scale wind projects.  Don’t hesitate to contact us today.

Installing Wind Turbines in Viaducts Have Potential to Produce Electricity

Researchers in Great Britain have determined that wind turbines installed between the pillars of viaducts have the potential to produce electricity.  See the full press release here.  Their analysis was based on the Juncal Viaduct, which is located on the island of Gran Canaria.  The results of the study showed that although a variety of turbine configurations are possible, the most viable configuration would be two 0.25 MW turbines placed next to each other.

This application may be beneficial in areas where traditional wind turbine configurations are not possible due to geographical constraints or existing development.

wind turbine in viaduct

Conceptual drawing of two turbines installed in a viaduct.

Thinking about installed a wind turbine?  We can help you!  Our staff includes professional engineers, project managers, and analysts who have supported the development of over 450 MW of operational utility-scale wind power, and includes many gigawatts of projects in various stages of early development.

Why you may want to consider installing a VSD

Why should I install a VSD?

Motors that are used to operate fans, pumps, and air compressors typically operate at a constant load.  To control air or fluid flow, you can either mechanically throttle the motor—for example, a valve or damper—or you can electronically reduce the speed or frequency of the motor using a variable speed drive (VSD) or a variable frequency drive (VFD).

When you mechanically limit the output of a motor in these applications, the motor is still operating at full load and consuming the same amount of electricity, even though the amount of work that you get from it is being reduced.

However, when you electronically limit a motor, the resulting power consumption of the motor can be drastically reduced, benefiting from favorable scaling offered by fan and pump affinity laws:

vsd 1

Which can be rearranged to make the calculations easier when you’re trying to calculate the new demand of your motor:

vsd 2

So, if your existing motor is operating at 90% loading and has an electric demand of 5 kW, reducing the load down to 50% will reduce the motor’s kW down to 0.86 kW:

vsd 3

This is an 82% savings on electric load over the existing case!  So yes, adding VSDs or VFDs to existing motors has the potential to save you a lot of energy at your facility.


vsd 4 vsd 5


VSDs on Pumps

Many facilities are interested in replacing their constant speed pumps with either a two-speed pump or a VSD controlled pump.  But which one fits best? To demonstrate the difference between a dual speed pump and a pump with a VSD, the graph below displays a demand curve over a 20 hour period.  Both are providing the same total flow of water (in gallons), but the two-speed pump is cycling between high/low and on/off as a way to control the overall flow, whereas the variable speed pump adjusts its flow automatically according to the system’s demand.

vsd 6

The Short Answer

Two speed pumps are appropriate if you have large amounts of storage available or your water demands are fairly constant or predictably at a ‘low’ or ‘high’ flow periods.  If you have a varied water demand or little to no buffer storage, a pump equipped with a VSD may be the best solution for you.

The Long Answer

The type of pump and controls that are most effective for your system depends on your water demand profile.  For example, conventional pump stations control their pumps by using high and low level tank controls.  When the tank water level reaches its low set point, the pumps initiate full speed operation to fill the holding tank until the water level reaches its maximum set point.  If there is enough water storage, the pumps may only operate for a few hours a day or intermittently throughout the day.  In this case, the best option may be a two speed pump.  The benefit of operating the pumps is found by working with pump suppliers to determine the make and model with best fit impellor size to find pump curves that maximize the efficiency of the two proposed flowrates with your system curve.  The idea is to operate at the best efficiency points (BEP) of the pump versus the best flowrate for your facility, which is possible if the required flowrates are predictable and there is enough storage room as a buffer.

A pump station that serves a receiving tank with a low amount of storage, or that has demands that range widely may benefit from a VSD-controlled pump.   With a small storage buffer, the pumps have to react quickly to meet demands or slow down to prevent overflow conditions.  The VSD would prevent excessive on/off cycling of the pump motor and decrease power demand (through the affinity fan laws) by automatically varying its flow to meet the requirements of the system.

VSDs on Air Compressors

A lot of the compressed air projects that we look at involve the replacement of a constant speed air compressor with a new comparable VSD unit.  But how do you know if your facility would benefit from a similar replacement project?

The Short Answer

Again, it depends on your compressed air demands.  If your existing air compressor is consistently loaded and your compressed air loads are fairly high and don’t vary much throughout the day/week, then you’re probably better off sticking with your constant speed unit.  If your existing air compressor is frequently switching between being loaded and unloaded, this could indicate that your compressed air loads have a lot of variation throughout the day/week, and switching to a VSD unit may be beneficial to you.  We usually put a data logger on the air compressor in question to see what it does when no one’s watching.

The Long Answer

VSD air compressors do save you energy—but only up to a certain point.  Below I’ve graphed the average electric demand for two air compressors: one 200 HP VSD compressor, and one 200 HP constant speed compressor.  They both have the same max flow rate (1,115 CFM), but the constant speed compressor must switch between operating at full load and then idling to meet any compressed air demands that are less than the maximum rated flow, whereas the VSD compressor is capable of easily modulating itself to meet lower compressed air demands.  As you can see, at very high loads, the VSD air compressor actually consumes a little bit more energy than the constant speed air compressor.  This is why if your compressed air loads are already near the peak flow capacity of the air compressor, you’re better off sticking with your constant speed unit.

Many facilities choose to have a constant speed air compressor as their base-loaded unit, with an additional VSD unit being used to meet their swing demand.  This arrangement capitalizes on the advantages that are offered by both the constant speed and VSD units and has the potential to save them a significant amount of energy.

vsd 7

Need Help?

Energy efficiency projects such as VSD installations are some of the easiest ways to reduce your facility’s overall energy consumption.  To date, ANTARES has performed over 100 energy audits for a wide range of commercial and industrial clients.  The results of our studies have helped clients to identify areas of their facility that could benefit from efficiency projects, and help them prioritize their project implementation.

2014 Energy Flow Charts Released by LLNL

The first time I saw one of these charts, I was a senior in high school in a Southern state where coal was king.  It was revolutionary to me: how very much energy we were using!  And how much of it was just wasted!  That moment was one of the reasons I went into energy engineering, and I’ve been keeping an eye on these charts ever since.


Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) just issued the most recent chart (above; press release here), which had some promising news.  LLNL points out that solar energy generation increased 33% and wind energy generation increased 8% versus 2013, and natural gas continued to displace higher carbon-intensity coal in electricity generation and petroleum in the transportation sector. These are small changes — I would love to see more than a pencil width shift in the lines on that chart – but they are in the right direction.  What is not so promising is that increases in wind capacity have slowed down versus previous years (see our blog post here about one of the reasons why), biomass contributions are almost unchanged, and geothermal is still only a drop in a bucket.

If you want to make your own changes to this chart, whether by improving your energy use efficiency or generating your own energy, please don’t hesitate to contact us.  We would love to help.

PepsiCo Converts to Biomass Energy in Brazil Plant

A PepsiCo oat processing facility in Brazil has converted their natural gas and diesel-powered steam boilers over to biomass boilers that run on oat hull waste.  See their full press release here.


Prior to the switch, the facility was milling the oat hull waste and selling it for livestock feed.  Now they will use 1,440 tons of oat hull waste for the biomass boiler, and sell the remaining for feed.  The project will reduce the facility’s overall energy consumption by 41%.

Are you looking to install a biomass project?  Our feasibility studies provide all the information you need to confidently decide whether or not a biomass-fueled project is the best investment for your needs.  Contact us here!