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America’s First Cellulosic Biofuel Plant To Use Corn Waste Is Open In Iowa

Posted in Main Blog (All Posts) on September 4th, 2014 11:08 pm by HL

America’s First Cellulosic Biofuel Plant To Use Corn Waste Is Open In Iowa

The $275 million Project LIBERTY plant is the second cellulosic plant to begin operation in the U.S., and the first to use corn waste as its feedstock.

The post America’s First Cellulosic Biofuel Plant To Use Corn Waste Is Open In Iowa appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Guests tour the POET-DSM cellulosic ethanol plant on September 3, 2014.

Guests tour the POET-DSM cellulosic ethanol plant on September 3, 2014.

CREDIT: AP Photo / Charlie Neibergall

This Wednesday, a cellulosic ethanol plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa opened for business. It’s the second cellulosic plant to begin operation in the United States, and the first to use the waste from corn crops as its feedstock.

The $275 million plant — dubbed “Project LIBERTY” — is a joint project between South Dakota-based ethanol producer POET, and the Dutch science and chemical company Royal DSM. The facility is expected to produce seven to twelve million gallons of cellulosic ethanol this year, but should be able to scale up to its total capacity of 25 million gallons annually after that.

The significance of cellulosic ethanol is that it’s made from the tough, fibrous, inedible parts of plants — as opposed to standard biofuels, which are traditionally made from corn. This allows it to avoid the two pitfalls that tend to plague biofuel production. First off, it avoids the risk of driving up food prices because it doesn’t compete over the same products people are purchasing to eat. And second, because it uses waste from agriculture that would’ve occurred anyway, it avoids driving up demand to change more virgin land into cropland — a shift which reduces the land’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide, and thus exacerbates the very climate change biofuels are meant to combat.

For instance, the United States’ other cellulosic ethanol plant — which started up in August of 2013 in Vero Beach, Florida — is producing around 8 million gallons a year through a gassification process that uses vegetable, lawn, and wood product waste. Meanwhile, the POET-DSM plant uses the stalks and husks left over from corn harvests.

According to the Sioux City Journal, the POET-DSM plant will take in 770 tons of biomass daily, and will pay farmers $65 to $75 per dry ton of corn waste. POET founder Jeff Broin also told the Journal that the plant should hit sales of $250 million in 2020 from its cellulosic ethanol and associated licensing, assuming continued support for biofuels from the government’s Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

The RFS is a federal mandate originally passed in 2007 requiring a certain amount of biofuel be mixed into the nation’s fuel supply each year, with the overall number broken down into different requirements from traditional biofuel, advanced biofuels, biodiesel, and cellulosic biofuels specifically. The initial goal was to ratchet the numbers for each category up higher each year, thus increasing market demand and driving the technology forward. But after that, the RFS hit a series of massive speed bumps.

Cellulosic biofuel technology, it turned out, was proceeding much slower than anticipated. So the original law’s goals for 2010 and 2011 had to be massively scaled back, and then revised all the way to zero for 2012. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been slowly trying to scale the requirements back up, but even its initial hope for 6 million gallons in 2013 had to be dropped to around 800,000 gallons. The RFS’ cellulosic goal for 2014 is currently 17 million gallons, though that rule remains in flux.

The RFS total mandate for all biofuels in 2014 also took a hit, when EPA proposed cutting it from 18.15 billion gallons to 15.21 billion — the first time the total mandate had ever been reduced. Finalization for that decision is still pending, and EPA has pushed the deadlines for meeting the 2013 numbers back multiple times.

This gets especially thorny because — along with the challenges facing cellulosic technology and concerns about traditional biofuels’ effects on food prices and land use — pressure from the oil industry has been instrumental in pushing EPA’s revisions. Their claim is that American infrastructure currently can’t handle a mix of biofuel beyond a certain percentage. But oil producers and refiners also have a vested market interest in preventing biofuels from pushing out their own product. Meanwhile, the cellulosic ethanol industry is deeply intermingled with traditional biofuels — POET itself owns 27 other standard corn ethanol plants. So while many policymakers, environmentalists, and other activists would like to try to cleave off cellulosic ethanol as worth promoting, and leave the rest of the biofuel industry behind, the fight between the oil and cellulosic industries themselves tend not to differentiate between the two.

Beyond the RFS, the state of Iowa pumped around $20 million into the POET-DSM plant through tax credits and job training programs, and the U.S. Department of Energy also provided the project a $100 million investment grant to support its research into enzyme-based cellulosic ethanol production.

Iowa’s government estimates the plant will add $24.4 billion to the state’s economy over the next two decades and create thousands of jobs.

Beyond the POET-DSM plant and the Vero Beach project, there are several other cellulosic ethanol plants are expected to open soon. Abengoa Bioenergy is expected to start operations at its 25-million-gallon plant in Hugoton, Kansas, later this year. And DuPont is building a plant in Nevada, Iowa, that should be able to pump out 30 million gallons a year when its fully up and running.

So the hope is that commercial production of cellulosic ethanol my finally have found its footing in the United States.

The post America’s First Cellulosic Biofuel Plant To Use Corn Waste Is Open In Iowa appeared first on ThinkProgress.

September Climate Summit In New York City Will Be Missing Key Leaders

The leaders of China and India are not planning to attend this month’s U.N Climate Summit in New York City.

The post September Climate Summit In New York City Will Be Missing Key Leaders appeared first on ThinkProgress.


CREDIT: Shutterstock

On September 21st, what is being promoted as the “largest climate march in history” will take place on the streets of New York City. But no matter how many concerned citizens show up to express their support for climate action, the absence of two world leaders at the daylong U.N. Climate Summit two days later will be felt throughout the week of climate-related activities.

The leaders of China and India are not planning to attend this month’s summit, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. President Xi Jinping of China and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi oversee the first and third-leading greenhouse gas emitting countries on the planet and their decision to refrain from attending the high-profile meeting is troubling for the prospects of a new climate agreement coming together by the end of 2015.

In late July, the White House confirmed that President Obama, leader of the second largest GHG emitter, will attend the summit. While the U.S.’s carbon footprint has leveled off, China and India’s continue to increase as the demand for power in those countries increases along with economic growth.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is hoping to use the summit to galvanize the ongoing effort for a global climate deal to follow the Kyoto Protocol. While the Sept. 23 summit is not an official negotiating session it will bring together world leaders, business executives, and activist groups to push the discussion forward and generate stated commitments and “ambition announcements.”

The next official negotiating session will be at the U.N. climate conference in Lima, Peru in December. Leaders hope to reach a global agreement a year later, at the session in Paris.

Qin Gang, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, told Bloomberg Businessweek that the country wasn’t ready to confirm who would attend the summit and said it’s “biased” to suggest that who attends the meeting sends any signal about China’s commitment to protecting the climate.

In a joint op-ed in the Guardian on Thursday, Christiana Figueres, executive secretary UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and Mario Molina, a Nobel Prize-winning chemist, write that the summit offers “a moment in time for heads of state, cities, organizations, and companies to announce bold new initiatives to address climate change in the short to medium term.”

They also write that this needs to coincide with a long-term view that extends 50 years or so. They call that view one of ‘climate neutrality’ — “i.e. not putting in more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than natural processes take out:”

Let us be clear. Climate neutrality is not nirvana or an alternative universe — it is about dramatically reducing current emissions to the point where we reach a balance between those emissions entering the atmosphere and the capacity of the Earth to absorb them.

This will require charting the path from the high emission society we have today — including initially through some level of certified carbon offsets — to a deep, decarbonization of the global economy before arriving finally at a climate neutral family of nations.

China and India together represent a significant chunk of the makeup of that family of nations. They are both struggling to provide more energy to demanding citizens while also fighting to reduce hazardous levels of air pollution found in many of their urban centers. While coal use continues to grow, both countries have made headway recently in a push for renewable energy sources. India’s newly elected PM, Modi, has focused on solar power as a clean, cheap, and distributed way to bring power to the hundreds of millions who lack it in the subcontinent while China is experimenting with pilot carbon markets in an effort to curtail pollution.

Population growth in China and India also means food and water will be in higher demand than ever in the coming decades. With climate models predicting changing rainfall patterns and melting freshwater glaciers, the less proactive these countries are in mitigating their emissions the more domestic security issues they stand to face.

However, even if the top Chinese and Indian leaders are absent at the summit they are still engaged at a high level on climate negotiations. There is no doubt they will be paying close attention to the commitments and cooperation put forth by major developed countries. If the summit yields some tangible and promising results it could still lead to meaningful action from all nations at next year’s conference in Paris.

“I think the important issue for us is really on the commitments that countries will bring,” Ban Ki-moon’s spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said on Wednesday. “And the Secretary General expects every member state to come with strong and bold commitments on climate change.”

The post September Climate Summit In New York City Will Be Missing Key Leaders appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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