M O R
N T H E S U B J E C
T O F A L T E R N A T I V
E F U E L S A N D H Y D R O
F R A C K I N G
WHO DON'T MUSH NEED HELP PAYING FOR FUEL TO RUN
Weston, Connecticut and Seattle and Whidbey Island, WA (checking out
hybrid car on the main drag in Coupeville) some folks are into
it (photos above).
Trash Into Gas, Efficiently? An Army Test May Tell
By PAUL TULLIS, NYTIMES
August 17, 2013
THERE is an indisputable elegance to the idea of transforming garbage
into fuel, of turning icky, smelly detritus into something valuable.
But big drawbacks have prevented the wholesale adoption of trash-to-gas
technology in the United States: incineration is polluting, and the
capital costs of new plants are enormous. Gasification systems can
expend a tremendous amount of energy to produce a tiny amount of
electricity. Up to this point, it hasn’t seemed worth the trouble.
Mike Hart thinks that he has solved those problems. In a former Air
Force hangar outside Sacramento, his company, Sierra Energy, has spent
the last several years testing a waste-to-energy system called the
FastOx Pathfinder. The centerpiece, a waste gasifier that’s about the
size of a shower stall, is essentially a modified blast furnace. A
chemical reaction inside the gasifier heats any kind of trash — whether
banana peels, used syringes, old iPods, even raw sewage — to extreme
temperatures without combustion. The output includes hydrogen and
synthetic natural gas that can be burned to generate electricity or
made into ethanol or diesel fuel. The FastOx is now being prepared for
delivery to Sierra Energy’s first customer: the United States Army.
Ethanol has long been promoted as an alternative fuel that increases
energy independence, and federal law requires the use of greater
amounts of it. But most ethanol in this country is produced from corn
or soybeans, and many people worry that the mandate is pushing up food
prices. Ethanol produced from trash — or agricultural waste, as others
are trying — would allay such concerns.
Ineos Bio, a Florida company, announced last month that it had produced
ethanol from gasified wood waste, using a method that it expects to be
commercially viable, and KiOR Inc. will make one million to two million
gallons of diesel and gasoline this year from wood waste at its plant
in Columbus, Miss., according to Michael McAdams, president of the
Advanced Biofuels Association. Mr. Hart said Sierra Energy’s technology
should be complementary with the Florida company’s; the FastOx turns
all municipal waste, not just wood scraps, into a gas that Ineos Bio
could then transform into ethanol.
The FastOx gasifier is the brainchild of two former engineers at Kaiser
Steel, patented by the grandson of one of them and commercialized by
Mr. Hart. “It’s a modular system that can be dropped into any area,”
Mr. Hart said, “using waste where it’s produced to make electricity
where it’s used.” Once it’s off the ground, he said, “garbage will be a
From concept to construction, the story of the FastOx is of one
fortuitous accident after another. And while Sierra Energy has not yet
proved to be a successful company — it will be a long while before your
garbage is shoveled into a FastOx — its system has become the first
waste-to-energy technology acquired by the Defense Department, which
paid $3 million for it through an environmental technology program.
(The California Energy Commission, which supports renewable energy
development in the state, also gave Sierra $5 million, to cover the
portion of Sierra’s costs that the Pentagon couldn’t.)
The military is looking for ways to reduce its oil consumption, and to
make it easier to supply the front lines with the fuel it uses in all
its vehicles and generators. “These days, the supply lines are in the
battlefield,” said Sharon E. Burke, the assistant secretary of defense
for operational efficiency plans and programs. “And we consume a lot of
fuel, which makes us a big target.”
MIKE HART got into the energy business by way of a train. In 1993, he
bought the Sierra Railroad, a small freight and tourism line in
Northern California. During the California blackouts of 2001, he had an
idea: “As the lights were going out, I realized every one of my
locomotives creates 2.1 megawatts of electricity,” he said — enough to
power many hundred homes. “It’s a rolling generator, and inexpensive.”
The train-as-power-generator idea never really left the station, but it
got Mr. Hart thinking about alternative energy. Then, as part of a
settlement after a fuel spill from one of his trains, he promised to
convert his trains to nonpolluting biodiesel.
Biodiesel, however, proved hard to find, and Mr. Hart started looking
for new ways to source it. In 2002, he was asked to judge an annual
business plan competition called the Big Bang, at the University of
California, Davis. That’s where he met Chris Kasten.
Mr. Kasten came to the competition with an idea to use a modified blast
furnace to turn waste into fuel. His grandfather, Bruce Claflin, a
retired chief industrial engineer at Kaiser Steel in Fontana, Calif.,
had given him the idea.
Kaiser used blast furnaces to make steel, and Mr. Claflin and a
colleague, John Jasbinsek, were tasked with finding “a way to make the
blast furnace more efficient and less polluting,” said Mr. Jasbinsek,
who is now 86.
Like all blast furnaces, Kaiser’s emitted a flue gas out of the top. It
occurred to Mr. Clafin and Mr. Jasbinsek that this gas might have
value. The two came up with the idea of injecting oxygen, instead of
the atmospheric air that steel makers had always used, to create the
chemical reaction that heats the inside of the furnace. This would cut
pollution while raising the energy content of the flue gas — in
essence, giving the steel maker a second product. But pure oxygen made
the system too hot, so they added steam. This gave the furnace a third
product: hydrogen, which can be used to produce electricity in fuel
After Kaiser decided to close the Fontana plant in 1983, workers were
told to toss all demolition debris into the blast furnace. It was then
that Mr. Jasbinsek and Mr. Claflin realized that the furnace could take
garbage, too. “No matter what they put in, the furnace melted and
gasified it,” Mr. Kasten said. This meant a potential fourth revenue
stream — from taking municipal waste that would otherwise go to
When Kaiser wasn’t interested, Mr. Jasbinsek recalled, “we took the
idea to other steel companies, too.” But “nobody gave a damn!” he said.
“Now there are hardly any steel companies left in the U.S.”
Kaiser Steel went bankrupt in 1987, so the idea belonged to Mr.
Jasbinsek and Mr. Claflin. They were nearing retirement, though, so Mr.
Claflin told his grandson about it. (Mr. Claflin died before the idea
could be commercialized.)
Mr. Kasten’s first fruitful step in developing his grandfather’s idea
was meeting with Chris Soderquist, founder of Venture Lab. “When you
run a technology incubator, you see a lot of crazy and half-baked
ideas,” Mr. Soderquist said. But Mr. Kasten’s was different; Mr.
Soderquist could see right away the value of multiple revenue streams.
Gasification is more efficient than incineration and eliminates toxic
byproducts that come from burning trash. But it was especially
appealing from a business point of view because it relied on a proven
technology and used materials in wide abundance: blast furnaces being
abandoned as the American steel industry was collapsing.
“What was compelling from the start,” Mr. Soderquist said, “was
repurposing existing infrastructure into a generator of clean energy,
with a second revenue stream from people paying you to take their
Mr. Soderquist helped Mr. Kasten prepare for the Big Bang competition.
“For a grad school business plan competition, it was quite a plan he
presented,” Mr. Soderquist said, and the judges agreed: Mr. Kasten, now
43, won a $2,000 prize.
Mr. Hart, 51, as a competition judge and a serial entrepreneur, was
intrigued. He had started his first business at 12, operating a string
of candy machines in high schools throughout what would become known as
Silicon Valley. Next, while still living at home, he opened a sort of
temp agency for teenagers doing odd jobs. There were a lot of other
businesses from the late 1970s to 1993, and stints as a developer for
Steve Jobs’s company Next, and for Apple. Mr. Hart also did some
consulting until he realized that he would make more money buying
whatever devalued company he had been hired to help, and turning it
around himself. That was when he bought the Sierra Railroad.
Mr. Hart checked out Mr. Kasten’s gasifier and decided to buy the
patents. Then he applied to a Pentagon program established to shepherd
proven concepts to the production stage. Results at the Defense
Department’s testing facility near Sacramento have been promising;
after about four hours, one ton of waste creates enough gas to produce
1,580 kilowatt-hours of electricity, which would power an average home
in the United States for about a month and a half — at one-third the
emissions of coal — and 42 gallons of renewably sourced fuel. And
that’s with a 12-ton-a-day gasifier; existing blast furnaces can handle
as much as 2,000 tons a day.
Now that the Pentagon is convinced that the FastOx will work as
advertised, the system should be providing electricity later this year
at Fort Hunter Liggett, a small training base in Monterey County,
Calif., and fuel for vehicles and generators in early 2014.
“California produces 30 million tons of garbage a year,” Mr. Hart said.
“If it decided to turn its waste into clean fuels, at that rate it
could meet all its oil consumption needs and still export more fuel
than some OPEC members.” That is, if the FastOx can do what no other
waste-to-energy gasification technology has done before: take any kind
of trash, in any succession, without additional separation or
Sierra plans to license its technology and to sell systems to make
electricity or ethanol from the synthetic natural gas produced by the
FastOx. The first will be small and cost about $3 million. But Mr. Hart
said he expects to sell larger systems to municipalities and biofuel
makers that will go for much more.
Any waste-to-energy plan, however, must overcome a major hurdle: the
wild inconsistency of the waste stream. “Until you’ve demonstrated that
you can handle it all, nobody’s interested,” Mr. Hart said. “I can
understand it; they’ve heard similar promises before. We’ve got 150
cities, communities and businesses lined up to be Serial No. 2. Nobody
wants to be No. 1.”
NOBODY, that is, except the Pentagon. The Defense Department is the
country’s largest single consumer of energy, spending $15 billion a
year just on fuel.
“The mission drives this,” said Ms. Burke, the assistant defense
secretary, “and the mission is inherently energy-intensive.”
The FastOx could reduce the military’s reliance on oil overseas and the
grid at home. “I have a $24 million-a-year electric bill at Camp
Pendleton” in Southern California, said that Marine base’s commander,
Brig. Gen. Vincent A. Coglianese. “If I can reduce that cost, that’s
more money I can put into training Marines and sailors.”
Ms. Burke added, “Something for military operations has to be really
rugged, deployable, simple to use — all of those things.”
Consultants and municipal sanitation officials who’ve looked at the
FastOx say it meets those criteria. John Conger, the acting deputy
under secretary of defense for installations and the environment, who
oversees management of military bases in the United States, says Sierra
Energy’s technology should provide energy security for the military in
the event of a blackout and provide budget savings as well.
The military’s cost of petroleum, when the costs of transporting and
guarding it are factored in, can run as high as $50 a gallon. Moreover,
about half of United States casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan between
2003 and 2007 were of servicemen and servicewomen moving and protecting
fuel convoys, according to an Army report.
The appeal of Mr. Hart’s Pathfinder system is that it would produce
fuel on site, eliminating the need to truck in fuel to dangerous
military outposts. It would also reduce the need for trash-burning on
bases, which creates pollution and noxious odors that have contributed
to locals’ distaste for the American presence in Iraq and
Afghanistan. As a result, United States forces in Afghanistan are
working to close burn pits.
“Waste is a problem,” Ms. Burke said. “So if we could dispose of waste
and create energy at the same time, that would be a silver bullet.”
IN THE BATTLE OF THE
COMES FIRST, FARMERS OR THE POWER COMPANIES?
"We wanted to put forth language in the Comprehensive Energy
Strategy to make anaerobic digestion more available and more feasible,"
says the governor's office. How to do this? Sit down with
farmers. "We want to get the solutions to why they can't move forward
with anaerobic digestion or any energy processes for their
So what is the science on this, now that the federal position has been
ED ANDRIESKI /
ASSOCIATED PRESS ARCHIVES 2009
Anadarko Petroleum Corp. drills a series of wells on a pad on a Weld
County farm near Mead, Colo., in the northeast part of the state. The
drilling process, hydraulic fracturing or "fracking," is sending
tremors through world energy markets because it produces such abundant,
cheap natural gas.
Surge of US natural gas production rattles Russians
America won't need to import if
fracking brings self-sufficiency.
Anchorage Daily News
By KEVIN BEGOS
PITTSBURGH -- The Kremlin is watching, European nations are rebelling,
and some suspect Moscow is secretly bankrolling a campaign to derail
the West's strategic plans.
This isn't some Cold War movie; it's about the U.S. boom in natural gas
drilling, and the political implications are enormous.
Like falling dominoes, the drilling process called hydraulic
fracturing, or fracking, is shaking up world energy markets from
Washington to Moscow to Beijing. Some predict what was once
unthinkable: The U.S. won't need to import natural gas in the near
future, and that Russia could be the big loser.
"This is where everything is being turned on its head," said Fiona
Hill, an expert on Russia at the Brookings Institution, a think tank in
Washington. "Their days of dominating the European gas markets are
Any nations that trade in energy could potentially gain or lose.
"The relative fortunes of the United States, Russia, and China -- and
their ability to exert influence in the world -- are tied in no small
measure to global gas developments," Harvard University's Kennedy
School of Government concluded in a report this summer.
MORE GAS, LOWER PRICES
The story began to unfold a few years ago, as advances in drilling
opened up vast reserves of gas buried in deep shale rock, such as the
Marcellus formation in Pennsylvania and the Barnett, in Texas.
Experts had been predicting that the U.S. was running out of natural
gas, but then shale gas began to flood the market, and prices plunged.
Russia had been exporting vast quantities to Europe and other countries
for about $10 per unit, but the current price in the U.S. is now about
$3 for the same quantity. That kind of math got the attention of energy
companies, and politicians, around the world.
Some European governments began to envision a future with less Russian
natural gas. In 2009, Russia had cut off gas shipments via Ukraine for
nearly two weeks amid a price and payment dispute, and more than 15
European countries were sent scrambling to find alternative sources of
The financial stakes are huge. Russia's Gazprom energy corporation,
which is state-controlled, had $44 billion in profits last year.
Gazprom, based in Moscow, is the world's largest producer of natural
gas and exports much of it to other countries.
But last month Gazprom halted plans to develop a new arctic gas field,
saying it couldn't justify the investment now, and its most recent
financial report showed profits had dropped by almost 25 percent.
CANDIDATES HAVE NOTICED
The U.S. presidential campaigns have already addressed the strategic
A campaign position paper for Republican Mitt Romney said he "will
pursue policies that work to decrease the reliance of European nations
on Russian sources of energy."
In early September, President Barack Obama said the U.S. could "develop
a hundred-year supply of natural gas that's right beneath our feet,"
which would "cut our oil imports in half by 2020 and support more than
600,000 new jobs in natural gas alone."
Poland's Ministry of the Environment wrote in a statement to The
Associated Press that "an increased production of natural gas from
shale formations in Europe will limit the import via pipelines from
Algeria and Russia."
The issue has reached the highest levels of the Kremlin, too.
Hill, of the Brookings think tank, heard President Vladimir Putin speak
in late 2011 at a Moscow gathering of academics and media. She said in
a blog post that "the only time I thought that he became truly engaged
was when he wanted to explain to us how dangerous fracking was."
But one top Gazprom executive said shale gas will actually help the
country in the long run. Sergei Komlev, the head of export contracts
and pricing, acknowledged the recent disruptions but predicted that the
U.S. fuels wouldn't make their way to Europe on any important scale.
"Although we heard that the motive of these activities was to decrease
dependence of certain countries on Gazprom gas, the end results of
these efforts will be utterly favorable to us," Komlev wrote in an
email to the AP. "The reason for remaining tranquil is that we do not
expect the currently abnormally low prices in the USA to last for long."
In other words, if the marketplace for natural gas expands, Russia will
have even more potential customers because it has tremendous reserves.
Komlev even thanked the U.S. for taking the role of "shale gas global
lobbyist" and said Gazprom believes natural gas is more environmentally
friendly than other fossil fuels.
"Gazprom group generally views shale gas as a great gift to the
industry," he wrote. When natural gas prices rise, "it will make the
U.S. plans to become a major gas exporter questionable."
NUMBERS VERSUS HYPE
Whether exports happen involves a dizzying mix of math, politics and
marketplaces, along with the fact that U.S. natural gas companies --
and their shareholders -- want prices to rise, too.
James Diemer, an executive vice president for Pace Global, an
international consulting company based in Virginia, believes that shale
gas costs more to extract than the current market price. Pace, which
recently released a report called "Shale Gas: The Numbers vs. The
Hype," has been studying shale gas for Gazprom and other clients.
"The capital will stop flowing" to U.S. shale gas, and the price will
go up, Diemer predicted. He would not divulge the kind of work Pace is
doing for Gazprom. Pace is owned by Siemens, a German company.
Pace's work for Gazprom has raised some eyebrows in Washington, and
Hill noted that industry watchers in Europe already believe Russia is
bankrolling environmental groups that are loudly opposing plans for
fracking in Europe, which could cut down on Russia's natural gas market.
"I've heard a lot of rumors that the Russians were funding this. I have
no proof whatsoever," she said, noting that many critics give the
rumors credence because Gazprom owns media companies throughout Russia
and Europe that have run stories examining the environmental risks of
Gazprom dismissed such conspiracy theories, saying that "nothing could
be more out of touch with Gazprom's inherent interests," because the
shale boom promotes gas as an abundant, affordable energy source.
Many U.S. media outlets, including the AP, have run stories about shale
gas and the environment. Regulators contend that overall, water and air
pollution problems are rare, but environmental groups and some
scientists say there hasn't been enough research.
BIG BARGAINING CHIP
U.S. energy companies are eager to export natural gas products. The
issue is sensitive enough that the Obama administration has delayed a
decision on export permits until after the election. In April, the
Sierra Club sued to block one plan for exports, saying it would drive
up the cost of domestic natural gas and lead to environmental damage.
But just the potential for exports could allow others to seek lower
prices from Russia, said Kenneth Medlock III of the James Baker
Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in Houston.
"It changes the position at the bargaining table for everybody,"
Medlock said. "You stack all that up, and you start to realize, 'Wow.'"
There's one enormous unknown with the shale gas bounty in the U.S.,
Hill said. Unlike in Russia and some other countries, neither the
government nor any one private company can really control or direct it.
"The question is, can the U.S. do what the Russians do, which is use
this as a political tool?" she said.
Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack
Lame frack attack by
By JON ENTINE
Last Updated: 11:27 PM, March 30, 2012
Posted: 10:22 PM, March 30, 2012
New York Times natural-gas reporter Ian Urbina last week launched
another salvo in his crusade against the shale-gas industry and the
“fracking” method that’s opened up new vistas of gas exploitation. And,
yet again, he screwed up.
In a March 18 article, Urbina reported that the Agriculture Department
was about to require expensive and extensive home-by-home environmental
reviews before issuing mortgages to aspiring rural homeowners who may
want to lease out the natural-gas rights on their property.
But his main evidence was a few internal e-mails from lower-level
regional administrators. For example, Jennifer Jackson, a junior
program director for rural loans in the Ag Department’s New York
office, had written: “We will no longer be financing homes with gas
We don’t know how Urbina got access to those internal e-mails — but
it’s a good bet he was leaked them by sources who wanted this to be the
He also cited an Agriculture congressional liaison’s e-mails to a few
anti-fracking Democrats, which said the agency would consider revising
current policies, but lacked the money for such a review.
His story notes that he couldn’t get comment from top Agriculture
officials; I’m told there’s little trust in the department for the
More important: A bit more reporting — or, perhaps, more honesty about
the biases of his sources — would have revealed that what was really
going on was a campaign by activists pushing to use obscure
environmental rules to scuttle shale-gas extraction.
The Agriculture Department has provided more than $165 billion in loans
and guarantees under the Rural Housing Service Program, which helps the
poor and small businesses almost exclusively. Activists hoped to see
the National Environmental Policy Act applied to the program, further
slowing (and stigmatizing) natural-gas exploitation.
But Urbina failed to note that NEPA, a vague 42-year-old statute that
in limited cases requires environmental reviews before federal money is
spent, had never covered any aspect of the rural aid —and that, were it
applied, it would bring the whole program to a halt.
For that reason, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack sent out an e-mail rebuke
just hours after Urbina’s tale was published: “As indicated in previous
statements, USDA will not make any policy changes related to rural
Even Mother Jones, no friend to fracking, called out Urbina the day
after Vilsack’s e-mail. “According to sources who have been following
the issue in Washington,” the magazine wrote, “the possible change to
require NEPA reviews was only a discussion draft and had not been
approved by senior officials.” Indeed, the policy reversal “would have
made it more difficult — if not impossible — to obtain these rural
In other words, what Urbina reported as a fait accompli was really the
unlikely agenda of his sources.
And not for the first time. Last summer, the Times’ public editor,
Arthur Brisbane, wrote two columns sharply rebuking the reporter’s
attacks on fracking. “My view is that such a pointed article needed
more convincing substantiation, more space for a reasoned explanation
of the other side and more clarity about its focus,” Brisbane wrote.
Undeterred, and apparently unrestrained by the Times’ news editors,
Urbina subsequently dredged up a 27-year-old incident to claim that
hydraulic fracturing fluids contaminated a well in West Virginia. That
turned out to be false, too. With more than 1 million gas wells having
been fracked in this country, there is still not a single documented
example that the drilling has polluted groundwater.
What’s the take away? To anti-gas campaigners, and apparently Urbina,
truth and the fate of poor rural Americans trying to buy homes or keep
businesses afloat are acceptable casualties in the drive against
Jon Entine is a senior fellow at
STATS and the Center for Health & Risk Communication at George
gets a clean bill of health
By KAREN MOREAU
Last Updated: 12:34 AM, October 18, 2011
Posted: 10:37 PM, October 17, 2011
Back in April, anti-drilling Chicken Littles gleefully cackled and
clucked about a massive “blowout” at a Pennsylvania natural-gas well
and speculated that “thousands of gallons of frack fluid” were
poisoning water wells and contaminating a tributary of the Susquehanna
River, which flows into Chesapeake Bay. The Maryland attorney general
threatened to sue the drilling company, with New York’s attorney
general, Eric Schneiderman, chiming in.
Well, there must be plenty of rejoicing over saved salamanders now that
a report has found “no environmental impact” from the Luther Township,
PA, gas-well malfunction, which accidentally released well fluids.
The 179-page report, which was prepared by SAIC, a firm that
specializes in working with governmental agencies, contains extensive
water-sampling and other data collected in conjunction with the
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the US
Environmental Protection Agency. It shows no lasting effect on the
environment as a result of a surface release of well fluids from
Chesapeake Energy’s “Atgas” well site.
Chesapeake funded the study, which was conducted according to DEP
protocols and accepted by the agency and presents the large set of data
and technical tables. Based on the information gathered during the
first two weeks after the incident, the review has produced several
important conclusions. Most important: The discharge of well fluid from
the event caused only minimal environmental impact. The impacts that
did occur were localized, of short duration and confined to surface
waters surrounding the site. There was no harm to a nearby unnamed
tributary or its watershed and the Towanda Creek, and there was no
effect noted about nearby or regional water wells.
This accident was among the most serious that can happen during the
completion of an onshore shale-gas well. Yet nobody was injured, the
public was never in danger, and there was no lasting impact on the
environment, as the analysis shows.
New York’s DEC referred to the incident in its revised Supplemental
Generic Environmental Impact Statement and has recommended procedures
to ensure public safety, while concluding that fracking can be done
safely in most areas of the state.
But don’t expect the anti-fossil-fuel crowd to let scientific evidence
get in its way. After all, this is the group that ignited public fear
through the film “Gasland,” with its now infamous scene of a Colorado
homeowner lighting his faucet on fire and claiming gas drilling was the
Never mind that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission
investigated and found no indications of oil- or gas-related impacts to
the featured water well.
Dissatisfaction with state-level regulation is common among critics of
drilling, who want to see more federal EPA regulation. Even EPA
chief Lisa Jackson, however, testifying this year before a US House
Oversight Committee, acknowledged that the environmental risk of
hydraulic fracturing was practically nonexistent.
“I’m not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has
affected water, although there are investigations ongoing,” she said.
The safety of hydraulic fracturing is well-documented, with zero
confirmed cases of groundwater contamination in 1 million applications
over 60 years.
And as the new report shows, that record remains intact -- despite the
supposed big blowout in Luther.
2013, the answer is ...nope.
Could Connecticut be on the biofuel frontier?
Christine Woodside, CT MIRROR
March 11, 2011
STORRS--Think of biofuel, and what comes to mind is vast acres of
Midwest corn for ethanol, or a hobbyist fueling his tractor with old
French fry fat. But in a lab at the University of Connecticut,
researchers are looking into commercial-scale biofuel manufacturing
using cooking oil, switchgrass and--perhaps most intriguing--algae.
The UConn team has received a $1.5 million federal energy grant they
will use to transform a tiny lab where the dining halls' used cooking
oil bubbles into fuel and runs the campus buses. This small room will
become the test site for an industrial scale production of biofuels.
They believe this could be the basis of a solid, local fuel economy.
Biofuels can be made of many things, from cooking oil to plants.
Producing them requires relatively little space and leaves little
environmental impact, said Richard Parnas, professor of chemical
engineering at UConn, pointing to a cone-shaped container smelling like
French fries in his campus lab.
Connecticut began to make small steps toward a biofuels industry six
years ago, by classifying biofuel as a renewable energy resource. The
UConn venture is one result, along with another biofuel producer and
several biodiesel distributors.
For a few years now, Parnas has been producing biofuels in his own
reactor on campus to help power the campus buses. The operation uses
waste oil from the dining halls and will aim to use waste oil from
restaurants around the region. But the big possibilities for biofuels
remain the growing of algae, he says.
One acre of algae can produce about 20,000 gallons of fuel, compared
with the 18- to 20-gallon yield from an acre of corn, making commercial
production feasible for a densely-populated state like Connecticut. But
the work with algae remains experimental: Parnas said he has witnessed
some tests with algae so far only in Rhode Island. A colleague will be
experimenting with other plants on the Storrs campus.
Biofuel research, nationwide, is still in its early stages. The federal
government concluded after a research symposium a few years ago that
even if plant-based fuels can be produced, it's not clear that they
will find market demand.
Connecticut could take a leading role in biofuel research, said Fred V.
Carsensen, director of its Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis and
another partner in the UConn biofuel enterprise.
Five years ago, he noted, Connecticut committed itself to becoming a
leader in stem cell research with an initial $20 million investment and
a pledge of continued support. That effort, he said, "attracted world
"Here's the analogy: If we did in biofuels or in alternative energy
what we did in stem cells, the potential is enormous," Carstensen said.
But last year, he noted, then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell tried to cut the fund's
allocation in half, to $5 million, though she was overruled by the
"The problem is that Connecticut does not have a tradition or a
commitment to these kinds of well-designed, collaborative frameworks
which are sustained," he said. "What was so scary about Rell proposing
to cut the commitment to $5 million, it immediately calls into question
the entire commitment."
The UConn biofuels project, RPM Sustainable Technologies, is an
expansion of a consortium that has been producing biodiesel from waste
cooking oil for the university's bus fleet. Boosted by the grant, and
looking for investors, five partners will test a larger reactor that
produces biofuels out of waste oil and study the potential of growing
cellulosic plants and algae here.
Parnas is the main partner behind this project. He said that he is a
"biofuels fanatic," and won an environmental award from the university
in 2007 for his biofuel research. Biofuels can become part of the
solution to the nation's energy problems, he believes, with more
research, investment, and state policies to help those along.
Right now, with a $3.7 billion deficit, the state can't commit to
incentives, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said. He said, though, that biofuels
"I'm all ears, very interested in it," Malloy said "I'm also interested
in different waste sources for the creation of fuel." But for the next
five or so years, Malloy said, the only strategic investments the state
can afford are those "that are not going to drive costs substantially
higher. This is not a time to drive costs substantially higher."
But Connecticut already has a nascent biofuel industry and policies in
place to help it grow. The state's first commercial biodiesel refiner,
BioPur, moved from a goat-farm garage to a factory in 2006 and began
producing 400,000 gallons a year from waste vegetable oil to blend with
car and truck fuel and home heating oil. Other refiners have opened in
Southington and Waterbury and one is planned in New Haven.
Starting next year, state law will require a minimum of 2 percent of
biodiesel in home heating oil sold in the state. The percentage will
increase to 5 percent by 2012, 10 percent by 2015, 15 percent by 2017,
and 20 percent by 2020.
Michael Devine, a consultant who promotes biodiesel in heating oil,
said that if Connecticut accelerates the move to 5 percent biodiesel in
heating oil, local small businesses could produce and/or sell the
roughly 32 million gallons of biodiesel that would represent.
Devine said he started his company, Earth Energy Alliance in Westport,
after selling home heating oil for two decades and deciding that it is
"a lousy product"--expensive and subject to supply uncertainties.
He thinks that the small group of distributors selling biodiesel now
would grow to perhaps hundreds, since home heating fuel must be
delivered by truck. "It allows entrepreneurship to flourish," he said.
"It takes a marketing quandary and replaces it with local fuel
Alaska Waste turning food grease
fuel: Biodiesel plant to be used for truck fleet
Anchorage Daily News
By ELIZABETH BLUEMINK, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Anchorage area's private trash hauler is making a
multimillion-dollar investment to transform food grease into fuel for
its fleet of garbage trucks.
Alaska Waste unveiled its new $3 million biodiesel plant in South
Anchorage on Thursday. The company is collecting waste fryer oil from
240 local restaurants, groceries, hotels and hospitals from Girdwood to
Wasilla. Last week, the plant churned out its first batches of
Executives said the fuel is being tested and gradually will be used by
the company's truck fleet, blended with varying amounts of
The advantage of biodiesel is that it creates much less greenhouse gas
emissions than regular diesel, said Jeff Riley, Alaska Waste's chief
Before Alaska Waste joined the biodiesel bandwagon, most of the greasy
goo produced in the Anchorage area had been barged to the Lower 48 to
be converted for other uses, or was tossed into local trash bins and
landfills. However, a handful of people in Southcentral Alaska also
collect used veggie oil for use in their vehicles and home heating.
These home brewers were worried at first, but it doesn't look like
Alaska Waste will drain the supply of oil in town, said Will Taygan, a
Peters Creek resident who owns Arctic Vegeworks.
"(Alaska Waste) has targeted more large-scale waste-oil producers," he
He said home brewers still have a more than adequate supply from
Biodiesel was a big fad a few years ago when gasoline was fetching
record prices, but Taygan said the fad ended when petroleum prices
"Everyone who was (brewing it) five years ago is still doing it, but
the other folks have quieted down," he said.
Riley, of Alaska Waste, said the company built the plant to capitalize
on a useful product, reduce air pollution and keep grease out of the
landfill. In the future, he said, Alaska Waste might team up with local
fuel distributors to enable Anchorage residents to purchase some of the
The roughly 3,000-square-foot plant occupies a large dirt lot behind
the company headquarters off Dowling Road on Rosewood Street, just
south of the city's recycling center.
Last year, Alaska Waste began installing storage tanks at local
commercial kitchens. The tanks store used fryer oil until the company's
small tanker trucks arrive to pick it up.
"It's a win-win situation," said Greg Todd, the franchise owner for
Dairy Queen Grill and Chill, whichhas five restaurants in the Anchorage
He said it saves restaurant employees time and effort handling the
waste, and the tanks are much less "nasty" than trying to put the oil
in a trash bin or in a steel drum for collection.
Other suppliers include the Fred Meyer, Safeway and New Sagaya grocery
stores, McDonald's, Carl's Jr., Walmart, the Lucky Wishbone and the
Alaska Mill Feed & Garden Center collected used fryer oil from
local restaurants and sent it to customers in the Lower 48 until last
year. That's when Alaska Waste bought the company's equipment and took
over the supply route.
Mark Goodman, a manager at Mill Feed, said he is pleased with how
things worked out because the new plant allows the waste oil to be put
to a good use in Alaska.
The biodiesel plant was finished in April, and it didn't need any
government funding, according to Riley.
He said the project's financial support came from JL Properties, a
large real estate firm in Anchorage that partially owns Alaska Waste.
At least one other Alaska business -- Juneau's Baranof Hotel --
collects used restaurant oil to turn into fuel. The Baranof uses the
oil in its heating system.
Airlines Seek to Boost Market
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 11:54 a.m. ET
December 15, 2009
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Fifteen airlines say they've signed memorandums of
understandings that could lead to the purchase of hundreds of millions
of gallons of fuel made from either coal or camolina, a weed that's a
cousin to canola.
The agreements were announced Tuesday by Air Transport Association.
United Airlines Chairman Glen Tilton -- who is also chairman of the
airline association -- said the agreements show airlines are actively
working to stimulate competition to jet fuel made from oil.
Airlines from the United States, Canada, Germany and Mexico have signed
memorandums with AltAir Fuels LLC of Seattle to produce fuel from
camelina and Rentech Inc. of Los Angeles to produce fuel from coal or
THE CT MIRROR 2 PART STORY HERE
remnant donated to UConn
Kate King, Stamford ADVOCATE
Updated 10:03 p.m., Friday, March 23, 2012
STAMFORD -- More than a year after the Water Pollution Control
Authority's Board of Directors halted her efforts to build the nation's
first full-scale bio-solids gasification plant in Stamford, former WPCA
Executive Director Jeannette Brown oversaw the transfer of the
project's leftover equipment to the University of Connecticut.
who retired in June after 36 years at the helm of the WPCA, helped
orchestrate donation of the equipment to UConn's Storrs campus and may
participate in the university's upcoming waste-to-energy research.
On Thursday, Brown was at the Harbor View Avenue sewage treatment plant
as the gasification equipment, which had been sitting unused on a
trailer for 17 months, was hooked up to the back of a university pickup
truck. She declined to comment.
The equipment, built in 2008 by Waterford-based Carlin Contracting, is
a prototype gasifier capable of transforming feedstock into synthetic
gas. It will be an integral part of the university's research on
integrating gasification with solid oxide fuel cell technologies, said
Radenka Maric, a Clean Energy Fund professor in sustainable energy for
UConn's Chemical, Materials and Biomolecular Engineering Department.
"Wastewater residuals, as well as other carbon-based waste products,
contain chemical energy, which, with the appropriate technology, can be
captured and used to replace fossil fuels for the generation of
electricity," Maric said Friday.
Maric said researchers plan to use Stamford's prototype to turn
wastewater residuals, feedstock and agricultural waste into synthetic
gas, which will then be cleaned to remove significant quantities of
contaminants, such as tar and halides. Once cleaned, it will be entered
into a fuel cell reactor to create "highly efficient, environmentally
friendly, economically competitive and fully sustainable heat and
electrical generation," Maric said.
"If successful with future funding, we are planning to design
educational programs to inspire and educate the public and students
about sustainable living, environmental impacts and technologies with a
focus on energy-related processes such as gasification and fuel cells,"
"We will invite Stamford high schools to participate in our program and
also (the) UConn Stamford campus."
Maric said Brown contacted her in April 2011 about donating Stamford's
gasification equipment to UConn. In June, Brown and Carlin Contracting
Senior Project Manager Jeffrey Fournier visited UConn to present
information about gasification technology and Stamford's gasifier.
Brown is listed on the UConn CMBE department's website as a senior
scientist, but Maric said she is participating in the research as a
graduate disposition and is not a paid UConn employee. Brown, the
2011-12 president of the Water Environment Federation, is an adjunct
professor of environmental engineering at Manhattan College in New York.
Fournier, whose company built the WPCA's $105 million plant upgrade in
2006, said he plans to participate in the UConn research project as a
volunteer because he is passionate about renewable energy and believes
it is the future of wastewater management. His main contribution will
be to teach the UConn researchers about the gasifier prototype, he said.
"They will take that and expand upon it," he said. "They will find out
how to make it better, how to generate more hydrogen. My involvement is
really education with respect to how it functions and how it operates
and the various ways we had set it up for different testing."
The donation has been in the works for nearly a year; the final seal of
approval is still pending. Several members of the WPCA Board of
Directors remember voting to donate the equipment to UConn at a meeting
sometime between April and June of 2011, but the official vote is not
reflected in the board's minutes.
In August, former WPCA Chairman Lou Casale wrote a letter to Maric
confirming the donation and suggesting she contact WPCA Administration
Manager Rhudean Bull to arrange the transfer. Officials at the
Government Center, however, wanted to make sure the donation was
approved by the federal Department of Energy, which provided grant
money to Stamford for the waste-to-energy project.
In February, Mayor Michael Pavia received a letter from the energy
department, which said the gasifier could be donated because it was
valued at less than $5,000. Stamford still is in possession of two
pieces of analytical instrumentation, which are leftover from the
waste-to-energy project and worth roughly $100,000. WPCA Laboratory
Director Marie Sabo said she is working with the city's grants office
to determine what to do with the equipment.
Pavia said this week he supports the transfer of Stamford's
gasification equipment to UConn.
"The only thing I can say about a donation of a piece of equipment, no
matter what it is, is if it can be reused in one way or another that
provides some productivity then I think there is some redemption to the
overall expenditure," Pavia said. "I support its productive use so the
money spent isn't a total waste."
WPCA Board Chairman Ernie Orgera said he supported the donation. The
Board of Representatives Operations Committee approved the transfer at
its March 21 meeting.
"I think we should partner with an educational system like the
University of Connecticut for educational projects," Orgera said. "But
it's up to the Board of Representatives if they want to continue with
the donation or not."
The donation is in line with Stamford's asset disposal policies, but
will not be finalized until the Board of Representatives votes to
approve the transfer at its April 3 meeting, Interim Director of
Administration Pete Privitera said. The equipment is "on loan" to the
university until the April vote, he said.
Stamford's waste-to-energy project was the brainchild of Brown, who had
envisioned a groundbreaking renewable energy facility designed to power
the sewage treatment plant through gasification of dried wastewater
Former Stamford Mayor Dannel P. Malloy, who is now governor, championed
The public balked at the project's $40 million price tag, and the WPCA
board voted to kill the venture in early 2010 after losing faith in its
technical and economic feasibility.
step closer to waste-to-energy plant
By Devon Lash, STAFF WRITER
Posted: 08/05/2009 09:35:09 PM EDT
Updated: 08/05/2009 09:35:09 PM EDT
STAMFORD -- The Water Pollution
Control Authority has hired a Canadian biomass energy company to
develop a plan for the facility's long-awaited waste-to-energy plant.
The WPCA's board voted, with one
abstention, Monday night to hire Vancouver-based Nexterra for $45,000
to detail the logistics, process design, engineering, construction,
cost and time line for the first phase of the project, which ultimately
aims to power the city's water treatment facility through the
gasification of dried wastewater sludge.
Half this cost will be funded
through a federal Department of Energy grant, Ben Barnes, the city's
director of operations and the WPCA board chairman, said.
A loosely organized group of
Stamford residents believing the WPCA's waste-to-energy goal is not
feasible or economically solvent, expressed concern that the agreement
with Nexterra was approved before an independent financial and
technical audit the board voted for in April was completed.
The nine voting WPCA board members
voted to pursue the audit after a public uproar condemned the $40
million allocation. The board also withdrew the two-year funding
"What happened to the outside
feasibility study?" resident Louis Basel asked. "This is a complete
waste of taxpayers' money."
Barnes stressed the city was not
entering into a contract with the company to execute the entire plan,
rather availing itself to a detailed blueprint.
"Before we pull the trigger and
enter into a deal to
implement the system, we will have a detailed, fully formed transaction
to review," Barnes said.
In May, the city shipped dried
sludgewater pellets to Nexterra and testing showed the company produced
a higher quality gas from incinerating the dried pellets than two other
companies in the running -- Kopf, a German company, or Prime Energy of
Oklahoma, WPCA Executive Director Jeanette Brown wrote in a board memo.
Two aspects made Nexterra stand out
to the WPCA -- its use of wood fuel to power the gasification system
and its partnership with General Electric and the company's Jenbacher
engine, which is made to run on non-traditional fuel, Barnes said.
Nexterra did not return calls for comment.
The city now pays about $43 per ton
to get rid of wood now, Barnes said, which costs about $258,000
annually. Stamford could recycle some of this wood through the
treatment plant, he said.
Basel, however, said the Nexterra
gasifier is designed to run on 3-inch pieces of wood without chemicals,
paints, nails, other metals, rot and leafy greens. In other words, he
said, not what the city hauls away after a storm or receives from
But Barnes said even with the
processing costs, wood fuel -- a "tried and true technology" -- would
be fairly cost effective and the fuel can contain up to 10 percent
The unusually lengthy two-and-a-half
hour meeting answered many concerns, board member Louis Casale said.
Initially worried about the delay in
choosing an auditor, board member Alan Barnett said it has turned out
to be beneficial, because now auditors will have access to Nexterra's
The audit is proceeding, albeit
slowly, Barnett said. The board's selection committee will meet Tuesday
to vet the first round of companies, which, if selected, will then have
about three months to complete a report.
Barnett said board members were also
initially troubled that Brown "only presented what she had determined
as the best choice."
"What she didn't do -- and which
during the course of the meeting she explained -- is the process she
went through to get to that one choice," he said, adding the board
asked Brown to send a list of the other 18 companies in running and the
reasons she discounted them.
Yet, the group of residents is far
from pacified and haven't changed their stance of the usefulness of the
Test data from a shipment of
Stamford's dried wastewater pellets to Nexterra still show the project
will need additional energy to power the plant, resident George Stadel
"We all agree the plant should be
disassembled and sold," Stadel's colleague Bruno Valenzisi said.
The city had previously anticipated
the energy produced by incinerating pellets could power the process to
dry the next round of wastewater and possibly even take the water
treatment plant off the electrical grid.
Barnes said the city believes it can
amass the necessary energy by supplementing with inexpensive wood waste
or natural gas.
"The Nexterra folks are not
satisfied they had an opportunity to maximize control of gasification
process, and they believe they can, with more time, further optimize
that," he said.
Big trash-to-energy plant
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Updated: 05/06/2009 08:40:00 AM EDT
WATERBURY -- A Massachusetts company wants to build a plant here to
process garbage into electricity.
Chestnut Hill BioEnergy has signed an agreement to buy the site of a
former factory in Waterbury and convert it into what it says would be
the nation's largest food-waste-to-energy plant.
The company says the plant would be able to produce electricity for
Chestnut Hill representative toured the site Tuesday and say they are
awaiting approvals from state and local officials.
The plant would accept 625 tons of garbage a day and generate 12
megawatts of electricity, which it would sell to Connecticut Light
The company says the plant would also create 40 to 50 jobs.
Alaskans learn how to make
their own fuel
BIODIESEL: It's not
easy, but the result is a $2 a gallon alternative.
Anchorage Daily News
By RINDI WHITE, email@example.com
Published: June 22nd, 2008 12:22 AM
Last Modified: June 22nd, 2008 04:34 AM
PALMER -- Two bucks a gallon to make your own biodiesel sounds like a
bargain compared to $5 to pump a gallon of gas or heating oil. But
operating a processing plant in your garage might be more of a hobby
than you're willing to take on.
Sandi Wilson heats her Knik-Goose Bay home with heating oil. At about
$5 a gallon for a 500-gallon tank, a full tank runs $2,500. Ouch.
What's not to like about cutting that to $1,000?
So with that idea in mind, Wilson joined 18 other students for Will
Taygan's Backyard Biodiesel class June 14 at the Spring Creek Farm
north of Palmer.
Taygan has taught the benefits of biodiesel for three years.
"This is almost like a chemistry class. It sounds a little more
complicated than I was thinking," Wilson said after class started.
Lined up on the table she shared with two others were one-liter soda
bottles, graduated cylinders, syringes, chemicals, safety goggles and
gloves. Class members prepared first to calculate how much lye or
potash they would need to convert the warmed vegetable oil in front of
them into fuel. Lye and potash act as a catalyst for the required
Taygan explained that vegetable oil, salmon oil and other oils used to
make biodiesel are triglyceride molecules, a chain of three fatty acids
attached to a glycerin molecule. The chemical reaction involves
separating the fatty acid chains from the glycerin.
"It's a big, heavy molecule. It makes the oil sticky and thick. We want
to replace it with a lighter molecule, methanol," Taygan said.
Taygan explained how to use methanol to split the glycerin molecules
off each molecule of vegetable oil, using lye or potash as a catalyst.
Following the reaction the liquids separate into a glycerin layer and
so-called "fatty acid methyl esters," the chemical name for biodiesel,
which floats on top of the glycerin.
A clear two-liter bottle of biodiesel that Taygan obtained from salmon
oil showed about one-fifth of the bottle filled with a dark liquid that
looked like cola, topped by what looked like orange soda. The dark
stuff was glycerin, the light stuff biodiesel. Burn it and it smells
like cooked salmon, Taygan said.
But getting to that point involves several steps that determine just
how much catalyst is needed to separate the glycerin from the
biodiesel. Too much and the fuel turns to sludge, too little and the
conversion is incomplete.
"I don't think people knew this was going to be a chemistry class,"
Taygan said while the students pored over their calculations a second
Over four hours, the students made a few liters of purposefully bad
batches so they could tell the difference between good fuel and bad.
After waiting an hour for the reaction to occur, the students poured
off the glycerin and added water to wash the remaining impurities out
of their fuel. After drying, the biodiesel is ready to be poured
directly into a fuel tank.
Although glycerin is a waste product in Taygan's class, some people
refine it through a still to separate the methanol. The most costly
ingredient in the refining process, the recovered methanol can be used
for another batch of fuel. The glycerin can be sold or used as
degreaser or homemade soap.
After the class, Wilson said she didn't foresee making the fuel on her
own, although she might buy fuel made by other class members if they
have extra. She planned to keep the biodiesel portion of her heating
oil to 20 percent. Anything higher and the fuel tends to gel in low
"If you use it in a vehicle it's great, but to use it as heating fuel,
it's a lot of work," she said.
The Backyard Biodiesel class was the largest of its kind held in
Alaska, Taygan said. He's gearing up to teach salmon fishermen later
this year how to turn salmon oil into fuel for their boats. He'll give
a biodiesel overview Aug. 9 at the Alaska Renewable Energy Fair at
Delaney Park Strip in Anchorage and plans to offer another hands-on
tutorial in November.
Tim Smith, a Navy recruiter who took the Saturday class, said he was
glad to learn hands-on a process he has been reading about online for
Smith is eager to start using biodiesel and already has what's called
an appleseed processor set up in his garage. It's a unit he crafted out
of a used water heater, a few recycled barrels, some hoses, fittings
and pumps to make things flow smoothly from one process to another. He
figured he has about $200 into the setup.
"It's all about being an Alaskan and scavenging parts," Smith said.
He said he plans to perfect his brewing process and, eventually,
process enough to drive his 1998 Dodge pickup to visit family in
Wisconsin entirely on biodiesel.
Making biodiesel is a lot more work than pulling up to a gas tank and
swiping a credit card, but Smith said he's committed to the effort on a
moral level. It's a meaningful way to buy local and supporting American
farmers, he said.
"If it costs me 50 cents more a gallon to make biodiesel, I would
because I could do it locally. It's not just about money, it's about
people standing up and paying for something made in the U.S. again," he
Find Daily News reporter Rindi White online at
www.adn.com/contact/rwhite or call her in Wasilla at 907-352-6709.
JOIN THE CLASS: Will Taygan will teach Backyard Biodiesel to small
groups for $40 per person. Call him at 688-5288 or e-mail him at
NATIONAL BIODIESEL BOARD:
WILL TAGYAN's site:
Q. What is biodiesel?
A. The National Biodiesel Board defines biodiesel as a "domestic,
renewable fuel for diesel engines derived from natural oils like
soybean oil, and which meets the specifications" of the federal
biodiesel standard. It can be used in compression-ignition, or diesel,
engines "with little or no modifications" and is biodegradeable,
nontoxic and "essentially free of sulfur and aromatics."
Q. Can I dump a jug of canola oil in my fuel tank?
A. Biodiesel and so-called SVO or straight vegetable oil are different
liquids. Biodiesel is vegetable oil that has been refined to remove the
glycerin molecules. SVO users must convert their engine with heat
exchangers, filters, insulated fuel lines and other parts to burn the
Q. Does it have to be mixed with diesel fuel?
A. It can be blended or used straight. Biodiesel promoter and
instructor Will Taygan powers his Volkswagen Jetta with 100 percent
recycled and processed vegetable oil. The federal government calls any
fuel with at least 20 percent biodiesel an alternative fuel.
Q. Does it provide as much power to the engine as diesel fuel?
A. More, Taygan says, because biodiesel has more oxygen than diesel and
provides a cleaner burn. Biodiesel made from virgin soybean oil
provides 3.2 units of energy for every single unit of fossil fuel.
Using restaurant waste oil, Taygan said, more than doubles that energy
balance. Ethanol, comparatively, is one unit of energy to one unit of
Q. Will burning biodiesel void my vehicle warranty?
A. According to the National Biodiesel Board, "most major engine
companies have stated formally that the use of blends up to 20 percent
will not void parts and workmanship warranties."
-- Source: National Biodiesel Board and Will Taygan
these issues, the herd faces upwind of E.P.A.
Lash Out at E.P.A. Rule
By Kate Galbraith
May 7, 2009, 2:10 pm
A proposed emissions standard from the E.P.A. would
“cause a significant failure in the biodiesel industry,” said Joe Jobe,
the chief executive of the National Biodiesel Board.Like their ethanol
counterparts, biodiesel producers are chafing at the Environmental
Protection Agency’s proposed methods of calculating their fuel’s
greenhouse gas emissions.
The E.P.A.’s proposed rule, released on Tuesday, finds that biodiesel
made from soybeans (the predominant feedstock in this country)
produces, under one scenario, 22 percent fewer emissions than
That is well short of requirements in 2007 energy legislation, which
states that biodiesel must produce 50 percent fewer emissions than
petroleum (though the rule proposed on Tuesday could nudge that
requirement, which allows for some flexibility, down to 40 percent).
“It is just inaccurate to call what the E.P.A. is using here as
science,” said Joe Jobe, the chief executive of the National Biodiesel
Board, an industry body (click here for a related press release).
“It’s a guess, and it’s a bad guess at that because it absolutely
defies common sense,” Mr. Jobe added.
Biodiesel producers led by Mr. Jobe are particularly incensed about how
the E.P.A. accounted for “indirect land use changes,” a subject that
has generated controversy in the ethanol industry as well.
The idea is that growing soybeans in the United States to make
biodiesel could displace cropland for growing food. Crops for food
would then theoretically relocate to places like Indonesia, where
clearing the land to make way for the crops might involve cutting down
the carbon-digesting forests.
The E.P.A. proposal calls for including emissions associated with such
potential land-use shifts when measuring the overall emissions profile
of biofuels and ethanol.
“We clearly disagree with first of all their hugely broad
interpretation of this indirect emissions,” said Mr. Jobe. “We also
disagree with their assumptions and we disagree with their
Mr. Jobe said that, without the indirect emissions taken into account,
his industry accounted for 80 percent fewer emissions than conventional
diesel in the United States.
Like the ethanol industry, he argued that petroleum producers ought
also to be held to account for their indirect emissions, in a spirit of
fairness. The accounting for future international land-use changes
resulting from biodiesel production, he said, is simply “hypothetical.”
Should the E.P.A.’s proposed rule go through, Mr. Jobe warned, “It
would cause a significant failure in the biodiesel industry.”
The E.P.A. proposal is the latest in a wave of troubles battering the
biodiesel industry. Europe has slapped a tariff on American biodiesel
exports; the price of regular diesel has fallen below that of
biodiesel; the credit crisis has harmed new plants; and a tax credit
set to expire in December has not (yet) been extended.
Major refiners like Imperium Renewables in Washington State have
suspended production, and the National Biodiesel Board has estimated
that production could fall by half this year compared with last.
“It’s been blow after blow,” said Mr. Jobe.
Ethanol Surplus May Lift Gas Prices
By MATTHEW L. WALD
March 15, 2013
WASHINGTON — A glut of ethanol in
the gasoline supply is threatening to push up prices at the pump and
may have exacerbated the growing cost gap between regular gasoline and
premium, some oil experts say.
Refiners have been trading so-called
ethanol credits furiously in an effort to meet federal environmental
mandates, helping to significantly push up the cost of those credits —
a jump to more than $1 from a few pennies in the last several days, and
drivers are feeling the effects, experts say.
Prices for premium gas are now about
30.2 cents over the price of regular, according to Trilby Lundberg of
the Lundberg Survey. That is up from 24.1 cents in 2010 and 18.2 cents
in 2000. Any increases could affect about a third of this year’s car
models, because premium fuel is required or recommended for them,
according to Edmunds.com.
Experts disagree on the reasons for
a widening gap between the costs of regular and premium gas. Reasons
for the ethanol surplus are even more broadly in dispute, between
producers and the oil companies. Gas companies are required under
federal law to blend a certain number of gallons of ethanol into the
fuel. But refiners argue that some cannot reach that requirement
because they are nearing or at the so-called blend wall, the maximum
percentage of ethanol in gasoline that most gas stations can handle, 10
percent. They also note that is the maximum level recommended by auto
manufacturers for most cars.
Refiners blame Congress, arguing
that the ethanol quota was set at a time when gasoline demand was
expected to rise steadily. Instead, demand has declined, and refiners,
obligated to blend more ethanol than they can actually use, have
resorted to buying a lot of ethanol credits, known as renewable
identification numbers (or RINs), to meet the mandated levels.
Ms. Lundberg described this as
“buying forgiveness from the government.” The credits’ popularity has
driven up the price nearly tenfold since January.
On the other side of the debate are
the ethanol producers, who say prices are pushed lower because their
product is cheaper than gasoline. This is true on a gallon-per-gallon
basis, although ethanol provides less energy per gallon.
The argument over ethanol and gas
prices highlights the politics of the Renewable Fuel Standard, set by a
2007 law. The ethanol lobby accuses the oil companies of ratcheting up
the demand for fuel credits as a way of applying pressure on lawmakers
to reduce the alternative fuel mandates. Congress could change the
rules, or the Environmental Protection Agency, which set up the
electronic marketplace where ethanol credits are traded, could adjust
The ethanol credits, like some other
kinds of environmental credits, can be banked as well as bought and
sold. Some companies have a surplus. But those without them have rushed
into a market that is thinly traded, driving the spike in prices,
according to the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, a trade
“The market’s broken, because the
Renewable Fuel Standard has been broken since the day it was enacted,”
said Charles T. Drevna, president of the group. The refiners rely on a
certain amount of ethanol as a way to increase octane, but they have
been fighting the standard since it was created, partly because it
requires them to use advanced biofuels that are not actually in
Oil refiners also warn that higher
prices for the credits will encourage fraud, something the ethanol
trading system has encountered in the past.
There are two ways the ethanol
credit issue could drive gas prices higher. Mr. Drevna said that
refiners would probably seek to recover the cost of the credits, which
were a mere seven cents or so at the beginning of this year, in the
prices they charge. And Eric G. Lee, an analyst at Citi Research, said
that some refiners might seek to avoid the ethanol requirement by
exporting their gas, which could tighten supplies in the United States.
According to Mr. Lee, large refiners
spent $100 million to $300 million each for credits in 2012, when
prices were about 4 cents. “At $1 a gallon levels, the numbers become
astronomical very quickly,” he said Wednesday.
But at the Renewable Fuels
Association, Bob Dinneen, the president, said that the refiners were
the sellers of the credits as well as the buyers, so that it was a flow
of money among the oil companies. Ethanol companies make the fuel, he
said, and sell it to refiners, who either use it themselves to meet
their obligations, or use it but spin off the credit for sale to
“When I see volatility like that in
any market, it’s not market fundamentals at work, it’s probably
something else all together,” he said. “It’s more like the oil
companies trying to create a little hysteria to support the notion that
the Renewable Fuel Standard is broken, but I think it’s working just
He said oil companies should be
investing in stations so that they can sell e85, the blend that is 85
percent ethanol and 15 percent gas, which millions of “flex fuel” cars
can use, or e15, the 15 percent blend. The E.P.A. has approved e15 for
most cars but the manufacturers advise against using it, and most
service stations would need substantial investments in new equipment to
Using ethanol once was a cheap way
to increase octane to make premium fuel, said an oil expert, Lawrence
J. Goldstein, of the Energy Policy Research Foundation, because it has
an octane of 113. But refiners have reached the limit of the amount
they can blend, he said.
In addition, he said, an increase in
American oil production, mostly from shale, allows refiners to use
domestic crude instead of imported crude, but some of the new domestic
supply has fewer high-octane ingredients than the African crudes it is
replacing. And some refiners may increase their exports of gas in
response to high credit prices, experts said. If the gasoline is
exported, it does not have to meet the American ethanol requirement.
The long-term outlook for premium
fuel is uncertain. Auto companies can build cars that get more miles
per gallon if they use high-octane fuel, and the auto companies have
agreed to double the average fuel economy of their cars and light
trucks by 2025.
At Edmunds.com, analyst Bill Visnic
said the demand for premium would be higher except that carmakers had
learned to use an alternate technology, direct injection of fuel,
combined with turbocharging, to get higher mileage.
But the number of cars that use
high-octane fuel is substantial.
Michael Webber, of the Center for
International Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of
Texas at Austin, said he asked his students how many of them drove cars
that needed premium fuel. “Out of 100 people, 10 hands went up,” he
said. These were probably not mostly luxury cars, he said. “Grad
students normally aren’t rich,” he said.
15% Solution Raises Concerns
By CHRISTOPHER JENSEN
May 10, 2009
The Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to make an important
and far-reaching decision this year that will affect more than 500
million gasoline engines powering everything from large pickups to
family cars to lawn mowers: whether to grant the ethanol industry’s
request to raise the maximum amount of ethanol that can be added to
That request has engine manufacturers and consumer advocates worried
about possible damage, service station owners in a tizzy over the
financial and legal implications and a leading petroleum industry group
saying the move is unwise and premature.
Specifically, ethanol producers are asking that the maximum ethanol
content in the most common blend of gasoline be increased from 10
percent — a limit set about three decades ago — to as much as 15
percent. The blend the industry hopes will become common is known as
E15, but the E.P.A. could approve a blend between E10 and E15.
Last year, nearly three-quarters of the gasoline sold in the United
States contained some ethanol, according to the American Petroleum
Institute. E10, which is 10 percent ethanol, is by far the most common
fuel, though the E.P.A. has approved the use of ethanol blends up to 85
percent — but only for the limited number of new and late-model cars
and trucks certified by manufacturers as “flexible fuel vehicles.” The
ethanol industry wants E15 to replace E10 as the standard fuel found at
The issue came before the E.P.A. in early March when Growth Energy, an
ethanol lobbying group, and 54 ethanol manufacturers asked the agency
for a waiver of the Clean Air Act so that more ethanol could be added
Although the request went largely unnoticed by the public, it got the
attention of anyone who makes or sells gasoline engines, as well as
some environmentalists and consumer advocates.
E15 would have a huge impact on consumers, said Clarence Ditlow,
executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, and could cause
problems including the voiding of car warranties. “There’s a lot to
worry about,” he said. “All a consumer has to do is look at the fuels
section of the owner’s manual, which says that the use of fuel above 10
percent ethanol may result in denial of warranty claims.”
Nearly 250 million cars and light trucks are registered in the United
States, according to Experian Automotive. But the impact would be even
broader. Kris Kiser, executive vice president of the Outdoor Power
Equipment Institute, a trade group, estimates that a change would
affect 300 million engines in everything from chainsaws to weed
The National Marine Manufacturers Association says 12 million boat
engines would also be affected.
Growth Energy, whose co-chairman is Wesley K. Clark, the retired Army
general and former Democratic presidential candidate, has told the
E.P.A. that it has proof from several studies that E15 will not damage
engines and will result in cleaner air while reducing the nation’s
reliance on oil.
The studies were done by groups including the federal Energy
Department, the State of Minnesota, the Renewable Fuels Association,
the Rochester Institute of Technology, the Minnesota Center for
Automotive Research and Stockholm University in Sweden.
Michael Harrigan, a former Ford Motor Company fuel-system engineer who
is now a consultant to Growth Energy, said automakers had been doing
enough testing that there should be no problems using E15.
And Tom Buis, the chief executive of Growth Energy, said, “We are
confident in the science we prepared.”
But confident or not, Growth Energy has plenty of opposition from
groups that say some of the studies it cites are inconclusive. The
critics also say its assertions are unproved and in some cases
While automakers generally favor wider use of biofuels, Charles
Territo, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a
trade group representing 11 automakers, said Growth Energy had failed
to prove that E15 would not damage vehicles engineered to run on a
maximum of 10 percent ethanol. More testing is needed, he said.
“We are not asking for this to be delayed forever,” Mr. Territo said.
“We are asking for this to be delayed until the testing is complete.”
Mr. Kiser, of the outdoor power equipment group, said some initial
tests already indicated that E15 could cause serious problems —
including safety issues — with some small engines.
At Honda, which makes a wide range of engines for products from
minivans to power generators, the concern is that the effects of a big
increase in an additive like ethanol are unknown, said Edward B. Cohen,
vice president for government and industry relations at American Honda.
“The impact can be on the emissions system, like the catalytic
converter,” he said. “It can be on the various tubes or couplings that
are part of the fuel system, and it could affect the performance of the
vehicle, particularly cold starting.”
Honda can design engines to run well on new gasoline blends, Mr. Cohen
said. The issue is the legacy fleet, whose engines were designed over
two decades for varying requirements. There is no single answer, Mr.
Cohen said, to the question of how E15 would affect them.The American
Petroleum Institute is also concerned, said Robert Greco, the group
director of downstream and industry operations. He said more research
was needed — probably several years’ worth — before the institute would
be convinced that E15 was safe for so many different kinds of engines.
“We think that the current waiver request is premature,” Mr. Greco
said. “The science isn’t in yet.”
And Jeremy Martin, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned
Scientists, an environmental advocacy group based in Cambridge, Mass.,
said there was simply not enough solid information on which to make a
decision that would have such a broad impact.
“We shouldn’t just look at a little data and extrapolate,” he said.
“There are rules here, and there are procedures. And there is a proper
engineering way to come to this determination. One can guess about the
most likely outcomes, but that is not sufficient to put all the fleet
Wendy Clark, group manager and principal researcher in the fuels
performance group at the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy
Laboratory, said a lot of credible organizations were studying E15. But
she said it was too early to know for sure how engines would be
affected. One question is how many of the studies will be done before
Dec. 1, the date by which the E.P.A. is required by law to make its
Mr. Ditlow of the Center for Auto Safety said: “What the ethanol people
are asking the consumer to do is bear the risk. If only 1 percent of
the vehicles on the road today had E15-related problems, that would be
about 2.5 million vehicles.”
Among those concerned about the proposed change are service station
owners, many of whom fear that their pumps and fiberglass storage tanks
would need to be replaced. They also fear legal problems including
lawsuits from customers claiming their vehicles were damaged by the
“It is a horrible thing for our members,” said Carl Boyett, president
of the Society of Independent Gas Marketers of America.In their March
request to the E.P.A., proponents of the waiver said E15 would provide
“increased energy security, enhanced economic development, creation of
American jobs, reduced transportation costs and environmental
benefits.” The ethanol manufacturers contend that the increase is
necessary because of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.
That act includes a renewable fuels standard that requires a steady
increase in the use of biofuels in the United States — to 36 billion
gallons in 2022 from 11 billion gallons this year. To meet the goals,
refiners must add biofuels to gasoline.
The industry has been meeting the requirements. In 2007 , it was
required to use 4.7 billion gallons of ethanol and it actually used
6.85 billion, according to the petroleum institute. Last year, when the
requirement was 9 billion gallons, the industry used 9.6 billion.
But Americans are now buying far less gasoline than was expected when
the law passed. That decline has the industry worried that as early as
2011 or 2012 it will be impossible to meet the renewable fuels standard
with a 10 percent limit, Mr. Greco said.
Mr. Buis of Growth Energy said: “We are up against a blend wall. That
cap needs to be raised.”
While adding more ethanol would help refiners meet the law, it would
not improve fuel economy. An October 2008 study for the Energy
Department tested 16 late-model cars and found, on average, that
mileage dropped 5 percent with E15 compared with gasoline that
contained no ethanol.
In deciding whether to raise the cap, the E.P.A. says it must consider
not just emissions, but also vehicles’ durability and drivability “over
their useful lives.” The agency has acknowledged that E15 is a complex
issue, given that engines vary widely in their age and sophistication.
Some might run fine on E15 while others might be susceptible to
The E.P.A. says one possibility is that it could approve the use of E15
for some vehicles or engines but not for others.
Mr. Martin of the Union of Concerned Scientists says tests may show
that vehicles produced starting with 2004 models could run safely on
E15. That year, more sophisticated engine controls were required,
making it more likely their systems could detect and compensate for
fuel variations. About 79 million cars and light trucks have been
produced since the 2004 model year, Experian Automotive says.
Mr. Buis of Growth Energy said that the advantages and safety of E15
were clear and that allowing higher ethanol content would help to make
the nation less dependent on petroleum. He said there was no reason to
“You know, some people don’t want to do anything — they just want to
test, test, test or study, study, study,” Mr. Buis said. “You know,
this nation has been stalling for 30-some years from becoming energy
Don’t Single Out
Ethanol on Land-Use Changes, Says Trade Group Chief
By Kate Galbraith
May 7, 2009, 7:45 am
Bob Dinneen, the president of the Renewable Fuels Association, said
ethanol is uniquely saddled with measuring the indirect land use
changes associated with its production. Bob Dinneen, the president of
the Renewable Fuels Association, an ethanol trade group, stopped by our
New York offices today to discuss recent moves by the Obama
administration that offer both good and bad news for the industry.
On Tuesday, the administration moved to provide loan guarantees and
other financial help to struggling ethanol producers. At the same time,
the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a more comprehensive way
of measuring the carbon impact of ethanol that that puts the industry
in a lesser light.
According to Lisa Jackson, the E.P.A. administrator, the ethanol
industry currently produces 16 percent fewer emissions than gasoline —
short of a requirement of 20 percent. This 16 percent tally factors in
“indirect land use,” in accordance with the 2007 Energy Independence
and Security Act.
That means that in addition to weighing the carbon emissions from
fertilizer and tractor fuel, the E.P.A. accounted for the idea that
corn grown for ethanol in this country displaces food crops, driving
the expansion of agriculture — and the loss of precious,
carbon-capturing forest land — elsewhere on the planet to compensate
for the lost food and feed supply.
Mr. Dinneen emphasized that his group was perfectly willing to factor
in such indirect land-use changes. But he expressed concern that
biofuels are the only industry for which this calculation is made.
Petroleum, for example, does not factor in land-use changes — and
besides, he said, “Where’s the carbon impact associated with
development in suburbia?”
“They can’t just do it to us and not to everyone else,” he argued.
Mr. Dinneen welcomed the comment period that will follow the E.P.A.’s
proposals, and said that the ethanol industry believed that adjustments
on the land-use front are needed.
“Right now, I think the model is too uncertain, the assumptions are out
of whack and it needs to be promulgated more fairly,” he said.
On the subject of cellulosic ethanol — a fledgling but more
climate-friendly type of ethanol made from non-food sources like stalks
or switchgrass — Mr. Dinneen expressed doubts that federal requirements
for the country to use 100 million gallons of the fuel next year would
be met. No commercial-scale plants are currently in operation in this
country, though a few are being built, with a Range Fuels plant in
Georgia being perhaps the furthest along.
“One hundred million gallons in 2010 is going to be a challenge,” Mr.
Dinneen conceded. The 2011 target of 250 million gallons, he said, is
“probably also going to be hard to meet.”