US – University of Illinois associate professor and Extension specialist Tom Voigt says that he feels “fortunate and happy” to be involved in EBI’s research activities that include bioenergy and traditional Midwest crops, but it’s collaboration that makes the difference.
“One of the main studies we have out there uses replicated plots of Miscanthus x giganteus, switchgrass, a recreated tall grass prairie, and a corn-corn-soybean rotation, ” he said. “We have five replications of each of those plots. We are comparing yields of those plants, we’re looking at the crop development from initial planting to maturity and how the yields change, how the crops change, and how the populations may change over time.”
Other EBI groups are looking at different questions related to these crops. Ag engineers under the direction of professor and head of agricultural and biological engineering K.C. Ting have a large presence at the Energy Farm. They are working with different methods of harvesting, storing, and transporting the crop, using systems approaches to find the most efficient method of getting a crop to the processing facility.
Mike Gray runs the pest program. He and plant pathologist Carl Bradley are identifying the pests and pathogens that could pose significant threats to biofuel feedstock.
Evan Delucias’s environmental group studies nitrogen and carbon cycling and looks at the balances of these two elements. They are trying to identify all the nitrogen inputs and outputs for biomass feedstocks by monitoring nitrous oxide gases being emitted by the different cropping systems. With other researchers, they are looking at carbon dioxide movement within the canopy and above the canopy.
Perennial grasses are not the only potential feedstocks of interest. There is also ongoing research on woody plants and on forbs, which are broadleaf, herbaceous crops and include late goldenrod, cup plant, giant ironweed, and the sun-tooth sunflower. Associate professor of crop sciences Gary Kling is leading the forb research in collaboration with Voigt and crop sciences assistant professor D.K. Lee.
Voigt says that one of the more interesting projects is work with Virginia fanpetal. Several years ago, a researcher on the east coast called him about the plant.
“I didn’t know anything about it,” he said. When the researcher told him that the plant, which is native to the United States, was being grown as an energy crop in Poland and Russia, he was intrigued.
“So I got on the Internet and started digging around,” he said. He found information about companies in Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe that are growing it, and other companies that are promoting it, as an energy crop.
“One of our colleagues at EBI found some seed, and we started growing it and it may have some potential,” he said.
They have gone from small-block plantings and are now looking at the how planting density affects the yield. The seed is not commercially available, so they have harvested their own and will be doing additional agronomic work on issues such as fertilizing and weed control.
In addition to their work in Urbana, researchers with the various projects are involved in collaborations that go well beyond the boundaries of the Energy Farm or the University of Illonois. A Department of Energy-funded project involves identical plantings at the University of Nebraska, the University of Kentucky, Rutgers University, and Virginia Tech. An EBI M. x giganteus and switchgrass project involves collaborators in South Dakota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ontario, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Kentucky.
Outreach is also becoming increasingly important.
“We’ve had people from all over the world tour the Energy Farm,” said Voigt.
“Last year, we had 200 Argentinian farmers tour the farm on a Saturday morning. They were here for the Farm Progress show in Decatur that was held earlier in the week, and they made the Energy Farm one of their tour stops.”
Voigt says that he’s happy to be doing research that could lead to producing some energy domestically.
“I’m pretty sure I’ll be driving a car with gas as at least as part of the energy source until I’m done driving,” he said. “But future generations may not have that luxury.”
Tom Voigt is a specialist in turf, landscape, and biomass grasses and is the principal investigator for EBI’s Feedstock Production/Agronomy Program at the Energy Farm.
TheBioenergySite News Desk
US – The US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Pacific Southwest Region has launched an online “waste to biogas mapping tool” to support the use of organic waste for energy projects.
“This innovative mapping tool, the first of its kind in the nation, helps restaurants, hotels and other food waste generators to connect with large energy producers,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “Harvesting this energy prevents waste from ending up in landfills or clogging sewer lines.”
The tool is an interactive map created to link food and other biodegradable waste sources with facilities such as wastewater treatment plants that can enhance energy production with their existing infrastructure. Wastewater treatment plants and some dairies manage waste with anaerobic digesters, which produce methane-rich biogas as a natural byproduct.
By adding food scraps or fats, oils, and grease to an anaerobic digester, facilities can increase biogas production to make money while providing a renewable energy source, reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These business and environmental opportunities may present a largely unrealised potential.
The tool is designed for decision-makers with technical expertise in the fields of waste management, wastewater treatment, and renewable energy. This includes businesses, state and local governments, and non-profits. The tool allows users to determine the types of facilities in their area, where clusters are located, and the distance between a waste producer and an anaerobic digester. The tool also functions in reverse – allowing generators of organic waste to find partner facilities that will accept it.
A study performed by the Northern California Power Agency in 2008 determined that agricultural, wastewater, and food processing wastes could be digested to obtain 453 megawatts of energy – enough to run a utility-scale power plant while also preventing 3.7 million dry tons of organic material from ending up in a landfill. This use of biogas to displace natural gas would have a climate change abatement potential equal to taking approximately 160,000 cars off the road.
A prime example is in Millbrae, California. Grease is collected by a licensed material hauler, transported to the wastewater treatment facility in 3,000 to 5,000 gallon tanker trucks, and added to a FOG-condition system, where it is converted into biogas used to meet 80 percent of the facility’s needs. Millbrae has increased biogas production by nearly 100 percent, reducing their utility energy bill by 75 to 80 per cent, preventing some 589 tons of green house gas from being emitted into the atmosphere annually, and reducing annual dewatered bio-solids hauling by 35 per cent.
Wastewater treatment plants in the region’s four Pacific Southwest states are co-digesting more than FOG. Organic materials – including food waste, yard trimmings, soiled paper, and green waste – comprise two-thirds of the solid waste stream. According to the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), food waste has up to three times as much energy production potential as biosolids. An EBMUD demonstration project indicated that 100 tons of food waste digested per day produces enough energy to power up to 1,400 homes.
Financial assistance provided by federal, state, and private sources can make on-site generation affordable and practical. The federal government provides grants, loans, and rebates. State agencies also provide grants, loans, rebates, renewable credits, and stand-by rates for energy generation. Local utility districts provide private sources of funding as do private third-party leasing arrangements and pooled bond financing.
The mapping tool is found at: www.epa.gov/region9/biogas .
TheBioenergySite News Desk
US – Recent investments by Cargill at its Fort Morgan, Colorado, beef processing plant, amounting to approximately $1.8 million, have increased the facility’s energy efficiency and reduced the use of electricity, natural gas and associated costs.
High efficiency florescent lighting was installed through the entire plant and a new, higher efficiency, boiler was recently installed. These, and other, energy efficiency improvements have resulted in a 10 per cent reduction of natural gas use over the past three years, a five per cent decrease in electricity use and an 8 per cent increase in biogas recovery.
“I grew up on a small farm in Minnesota and know how important it is to properly manage every resource and waste nothing,” said Nicole Johnson-Hoffman, assistant vice president and general manager at the Fort Morgan plant.
“Managing a large beef processing facility means that we do the same things that are done on small farms or small-scale beef processing operations, only we do it on a much larger scale. Because we focus our attention on doing both small and large tasks well, we have been able to achieve a high enough level of energy efficiency whereby every fifth head of cattle we harvest for beef is done so using renewable energy resources, and we’re proud of that fact.”
Cargill was able to capture greater energy efficiency through a holistic approach. An example Johnson-Hoffman points to is the 10 per cent reduction of natural gas use that came about from the combined effort involving the installation of a new, more efficient, boiler; increased biogas recovery from the facility’s water treatment operation; and implementation of an energy management system. More than 30 per cent of the fuel used by the facility is from renewable sources, while more than 23 per cent of the total energy used (fuel and electricity) comes from renewables such as biogas.
Biogas is generated when methane is created using anaerobic digesters to break down organic material in the plant’s wastewater. The gas is then used as a fuel source, which prevents it from being released into the atmosphere. Capturing the methane from biogas significantly reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, while also serving as a valuable fuel source. The plant’s biogas recovery system reduces demand for natural gas equal to the amount consumed annually by more than 2,700 residential users, which is approximately 2/3 of the residential houses in Fort Morgan. In 1995, Fort Morgan became the first of Cargill’s 10 North American beef processing facilities to install a biogas recovery system.
“Our boiler efficiency increased 5-7 per cent to approximately 85 per cent by purchasing and installing a new unit that is heated using biogas and natural gas fuel,” explained Johnson-Hoffman.
“We also reduced our cost of electricity by nearly $300,000 annually as a result of installing new lighting. The electricity savings equates to 3.4 million kilowatt hours annually, which is enough to supply power to 244 homes for a full year, based on US Department of Energy calculations. Because of these improvements, Fort Morgan is now better positioned to meet the needs of our customers going forward.”
The return on investment from this expenditure is due to reduced utility costs and improved energy and production efficiency, which justifies spending such as this from a business standpoint, while also supporting Cargill’s efforts to be a good citizen and improve communities where it has operations.
“It is important that we respect and conserve the natural resources we use to produce beef that feeds millions of Americans and many others overseas, and we will never take those resources for granted,” said Johnson-Hoffman.
“We firmly believe it is our responsibility to be stewards of all resources used in beef production, and that we must do all in our power to ensure the sustainability of our business for future generations of Americans that deserve freedom of choice to select safe, nutritious and affordable beef as part of their diet.”
Cargill’s Fort Morgan beef processing facility is where more than 2,000 people work daily, five-days-per-week, processing approximately 1.2 million head of cattle annually, supplying much of the nation’s beef.
TheBioenergySite News Desk
US – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken action to establish the amount of bio-diesel products required to be included in diesel fuel markets in 2013. Bio-based diesel products are advanced bio-fuels that are derived from sources that include vegetable oils and wastes oils from renewable sources.
“This action, which meets goals designated by Congress, is another step that strengthens America’s energy security by reducing dependence on foreign oil,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P Jackson.
EPA’s action sets the 2013 volume at 1.28 billion gallons under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) which established the second phase of the Renewable Fuel Standards programme.
EISA specifies a one billion gallon minimum volume requirement for the biomass-based diesel category for 2012 and beyond.
The law also calls on EPA to increase the volume requirements after consideration of environmental, market, and energy-related factors.
This final action follows careful review of the many comments and additional information received since EPA proposed the volume in 2011.
TheBioenergySite News Desk