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).” – Energy.gov

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.

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.

gray blog picture

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

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.

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.

2014_us_energy

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.

oathull1

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!

Section 1603 Grant Limited for Biomass Cogeneration Facility

In January of this year, the Court of Federal Claims issued an opinion that upheld a substantial reduction in grant payments owed to W.E. Partners II (a biomass energy project) under Section 1603 of the Treasury Grant in lieu of tax credits program. The ruling was significant in a variety of ways, but most importantly it signals that some biomass energy projects that include heat and power may be treated unfavorably in this, and possibly other related federal incentive programs.  For an excellent treatment of this particular case, Hunton & Williams has posted a brief on their website.

While ANTARES is not a law firm and does not provide legal advice, we are regularly engaged with clients who rely on policies that offer financial benefits to improve the viability of renewable energy projects. If you are looking to develop a project, or have a project that you need help with, please let us know. Energy efficiency and renewable energy projects are all that we do and even if we can’t help, we probably know someone who can.

The BALES Database – A Look at How ANTARES is Tracking the Cost of the Biomass Supply Chain

harvesting corn stover

Figure 1: FDC Enterprises harvesting corn stover with a Vermeer 605SM Round Baler

The BALES Database

ANTARES continues to work within the bioenergy industry to help develop a more efficient, lower cost biomass supply chain. Our previous blogs shed light on the kind of work we have helped lead in the past to overcome challenges and reduce costs in the herbaceous biomass supply chain. We continue that work today through the Biomass Alliance for Logistics Efficiency and Specifications (BALES) Project. In this collaborative effort, ANTARES is working with stakeholders throughout the supply chain to develop the methods, tools, and equipment that will sustain a healthy bioenergy economy.

We are fortunate to partner with industry and research leaders, including the Department of Energy, FDC Enterprises, POET Biomass, Vermeer Corporation, Kelderman Manufacturing, Idaho National Laboratory, Monsanto, and many others on this project. The overarching goal of the project is to reduce the cost of biomass to end users. In the BALES project, the primary end user is POET-DSM’s Project LIBERTY, a cellulosic ethanol facility (Learn more about Project Liberty) in Emmetsburg, IA. ANTARES and other team members are working with POET and biomass harvesting and logistics contractors to fully document and understand the costs of biomass procurement, in order to reduce them moving forward. Our team’s hope is that these efforts will help farmers and supply chain service contractors to operate more profitably while moderating costs and future cost increases to biomass end users.

Over the past 2 years, ANTARES has monitored harvest operations in 5 states on various crop types and equipment combinations. We have been able to build an extensive database of biomass harvesting costs from this data. Currently, the database holds the cost and performance data associated with over 50,000 tons of baled herbaceous biomass. It includes harvest data from operations in energy crops, such as switchgrass and warm season grasses, as well as corn stover and wheat straw harvests.

Map of Corn Stover Harvest Operations

Figure 2: Map of two crew’s harvest operations during the 2014 Corn Stover Harvest. The location and key characteristics of each biomass field is cataloged with extensive data collected during harvest.

The BALES database is vital to our cost analysis of the supply chain because it is an accumulation of real-world data for a variety of crops, geographies, and equipment types. By building this database, we are able to provide realistic and detailed historical data and confidently model the effects of manipulating key variables such as increased machine productivity, the bale format used (round or square), machine selection, increased machine durability, or the impacts of moisture and ash in order to project the supply chain impacts.

Baling Operations: Bale Production and Fuel Consumption for Corn Stover Biomass Supply

Figure 3: Chart of biomass production and fuel consumption, by baler

As a simple example, the chart above summarizes the productivity and rate of fuel consumption from 17 different tractor-baler combinations. This data was compiled from over 30,000 tons of corn stover, representing ~33,000 acres. It demonstrates how fuel consumption is roughly proportional to the amount of production, which should be expected. There are many variables that impact the productivity of these operations, and the BALES Database allows examination of and quantifies those that can be controlled.

Fuel consumption data from each machine and harvest area in order is used to assess the carbon footprint left by biomass supply operations. Bioenergy has a very low carbon footprint relative to fossil fuels, but the environmental impacts of collecting, harvesting, and transporting need to be accurately characterized throughout the supply chain. The BALES database allows us to identify the most carbon intensive operations at the machine-level and the field-level. Accurate carbon accounting will become a necessary part of the biomass supply chain as the industry grows. ANTARES is utilizing the data in order to help build a sustainable biomass supply accounting system.

ANTARES is currently expanding the database to include detailed biomass transportation costs, which makes up a significant fraction of the supply chain cost, along with production data gathered from the operation of newly developed advanced biomass logistics equipment. While the BALES Database is not available to the public, results and analysis from it will be provided to DOE’s Bioenergy Knowledge Development Framework (KDF) for researchers and industry stakeholders to utilize at the conclusion of the BALES Project in 2016.

Biomass harvesting and logistics is just one part of the complex series of operations and variables that drive the costs of biomass feedstocks. ANTARES is working with other project partners on many other components that will continue to reduce feedstock costs, including: evaluating impacts to soil sustainability & farm economics, biomass quality monitoring with new near-infrared spectroscopy devices and methods, and development and demonstration of advanced biomass harvesting and processing equipment.

2014 Farm Bill to Implement Energy Efficiency Systems for Small Businesses and Agriculture Operations

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack recently announced resources for farmers and small business owners to install energy efficiency and renewable energy systems as part of their business strategy.  These provisions are part of the 2014 Farm Bill and could provide economic opportunities for many in rural America, especially through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).

These resources are available either through direct project funding or loan guarantees, which will help reduce our dependence on fossil fuels while improving the economic viability of rural families and businesses.

If you are a small business or a farmer check out our extensive experience in solar PV, wind, anaerobic digesters, geothermal and biomass systems.  You can take advantage of the knowledge and skill sets we offer our clients to implement energy savings systems in a smart way.

Renewable Energy Tax Incentives – 2015 Update

The start of a new year always generates lots of questions on the current state of renewable energy tax incentives. This is particularly true for the Tax Increase Prevention Act, which was signed into to law on December 19, 2014. In a move that has become all too familiar to anyone working in this industry, the Tax increase Prevention Act took many of the biofuel and renewable energy tax credits that had previously expired at the end of 2013 and retroactively extended them through the end of 2014. It is important to note that as of January 1, 2015, these affected incentives have expired once again, and that their ongoing status for the 2015 year has not yet been addressed. This post will review what was changed by this legislation, and highlight the gist of some important incentives that are still available.

Biofuels

Some of the biofuels tax credits that were affected include the Second Generation Biofuel Producer Tax Credit and the Alternative Fuel and Alternative Fuel Mixture Excise Tax Credit, among others, which were retroactively extended through 2014, but not otherwise modified. The full list of extensions is rather long, and can be found at the Alternative Fuels Data Center.

Production Tax Credit (PTC)

The Section 45 Production Tax Credit (PTC) was also retroactively extended through the end of 2014. This is excellent news for the 4,859 MW of wind generating capacity that was installed in the US in 2014. This is four times as much wind as was installed in 2013, although far short of the record 12,000 MW of capacity installed in 2012. For more discussion on the PTC, background information, and the terms of its expiration, please see my post from January 2014.

Investment Tax Credit (ITC)

No legislative changes have been made to the Section 48 Investment Tax Credit (ITC) since the last update I posted. In summary, it is still available through the end of 2016 for the following technologies:

  • Solar, fuel cells, and small wind turbine are entitled to a credit equal to 30% of expenditures.
  • Geothermal heat pumps, microturbines, and CHP are entitled to a credit equal to 10% of expenditures.
  • At the end of 2016, the credit for solar will reduce to 10%, the credit for geothermal electricity production will remain at 10%, and the credit for all other technologies will expire.

Section 1603 Grant

The Section 1603 Grant, which was created by the American Reinvestment and Recovery act of 2009, is a close relative of the PTC and ITC.  Many people do not realize that although the deadline for submitting new applications for the Section 1603 Grant was October 1, 2012, the “placed in service” deadline associated with this grant is not until January 1, 2017, for several renewable energy technologies. Projects that applied for the Section 1603 Grant must be placed in service before the credit termination date, located in the table below by technology, and in the Treasury Guidance Document.

Section 1603 Grant summary

Renewable Energy Tax Incentive Summary Table

As always, DSIREUSA.org is a great place to seek out basic information on local, state, and federal incentives. If you have more complex questions, please give ANTARES a call. We have helped a variety of clients evaluate their opportunities for bringing alternative funding to their projects, including tax credits.

What’s in a Sustainable Biomass Certification?

Biomass Sustainability Standards
Sustainability standards (also known as “sustainability guidelines”) are agreed upon principles, criteria, and indicators which industries utilize to meet economic, environmental, social, or other values in the market place. Third-party verified Sustainability Standards (Certified Sustainability Standards) are often an industry’s response to the inability of government agencies to hire sufficient qualified inspectors for areas like food safety or to reliably assess fair labor practices and farm working conditions. [Read more…]