Biofuels (January 2011)

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Biofuels Handout by Darcy Juday (with endnotes)

Biofuels: green, local, but perhaps unsustainable? A short intro to the questions farmers need to consider in order to make bioenergy part of the solution, not part of the problem. And will it work in Colorado?
Landscape Vision for Production Agriculture

This article (3)piqued my curiosity. Steve Ventura studied the effect of removing sufficient crop residues (corn stalks, woody debris) from agricultural plots to supply a plant to heat the entire campus of UW-Madison. Alternatively, non-food crops such as switchgrass could be planted. Which, if any, ag areas would be adversely affected by removal a corn stalks and woody plant debris? How much can be removed without harm? What areas are more susceptible to harm? Would non-food crops be economic?

Knowing that crop residues are replacing food crops as the feedstock for bio-ethanol production, that led me to wonder whether CO is (1) producing biofuels and (2) considering the consequences.

I knew that using biomass for fuel requires balancing these tensions: using vegetable matter vs than petroleum for fuel; Using v.m. for fuel rather than food; using v. m. for food or fuel rather than replenishing the soil; maximizing planted acreage for current yield vs using restraint for future production.

Biofuels terminology
1. Biofuels definition, major types(1) and their feedstocks. Products marked (CO) are or will be produced in Colorado (see section 5).

First generation biofuels
Liquid (For transportation)
Bioalcohols – ethanol
Green diesel
Biodiesel (CO)
Vegetable oil
Bioethers
Biogas
Syngas
Technologies:
Distillation
Fractional distillation
Trans-esterification
Partial combustion

Solid (raw or pellets)(for heating)
wood(CO)
sawdust
grass cuttings-switchgrass
non-food energy crops
manure
Technology:
?

2nd generation biofuels
Liquid (For transportation)
cellulosic ethanol from crop residues including: stalks (stover) of corn, wheat or wood, or non-food crops (proposed for CO)
Technology:
Various, under development, difficult

Third generation biofuels
Come from algae, a low-input, high-yield feedstock – no commercial production yet. Fourth generation biofuels come from advanced biochemical and thermochemical processes like pyrolyis, gasification, solar-to-fuel, and genetic manipulation of organisms to secrete hydrocarbons.
Bioethanol is the most common biofuel worldwide, and is widely used in the US and Brazil. Biodiesel is the most common biofuel in Europe.

2. Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (2) (Clean Energy Act of 2007) focused on automobile fuel economy (35 mpg by 2020), development of biofuels , and energy efficiency in public buildings and lighting (dropped the attempt to cut subsidies to the petroleum industry to promote petroleum independence; and alternative energy.biofuels: increase amount of biofuels (biodiesel and ethanol) added to gasoline to 36 billion gallons by 2022, from 4.7 billion gallons in 2007, with taxpayer funding.
a. Apparently, more recent amendments changed goals to cellulosic biofuels from corn.
b. CO’s PUC vote to retire some coal plants, upgrade emissions controls at others and switch others to natural gas hasn’t got anything to do with biofuels(3).

3. Use of non-food biomass for Cellulosic ethanol and heating(1)
a. In the current alcohol-from-corn production model in the United States, considering the total energy consumed by farm equipment, cultivation, planting, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides made from petroleum, irrigation systems, harvesting, transport of feedstock to processing plants, fermentation, distillation, drying, transport to fuel terminals and retail pumps, and lower ethanol fuel energy content, the net energy content value added and delivered to consumers is very small. And, the net benefit (all things considered) does little to reduce un-sustainable imported oil and fossil fuels required to produce the ethanol.1. Making energy from corn or soy has not proved to be very energy or land efficient(8).
b. “Federal energy policy calls for it. Farmers are ready to haul corn stover and switchgrass into plants to make it. So when will cellulosic ethanol come about? Cellulosic ethanol apparently is not quite ready for prime time, since there may only be one commercially viable plant currently in operation, and researchers are feverishly working to perfect the process and make it economically successful. Currently the US policy is for 16 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol to be produced by 2022 to meet the federal biofuels mandate. It can come from dedicated energy crops, such as switchgrass, crop residues, such as corn stalks, or woody plant byproducts, such as wood chips from sawmills. While those feedstocks might be plentiful, an ethanol plant must be able to accept them. Currently, corn is about the only feedstock from which ethanol is made, but to increase the current level of production would be problematic… To achieve the national goal of 36 billion gallons of ethanol by 2022, would require 14 billion bushels of corn, .., and that leaves none for any other use.”
c. “Good locations are the Midwest (near corn stover) and the Northwest (near woody feedstocks). Transportation costs are high…For 100 million gallons per yr of ethanol, need 1.1 to 1.7 million tons feedstock per year. With 17-ton truck capacities & yr-round, 24-hr/day operations, need one delivery every 5-8 minutes.(12)
d. WI UW-Madison campus heating plant by 2013 (13). Collect corn stover, plant switchgrass, need 250,000 tons per year.

4. Effect to consider when removing “agricultural waste”
a. Soil & wind erosion
b. Decrease in soil organic carbon – form soil aggregates, retain/cycle nutrients, hold water, support microbes, sustain biomass yields. Decrease nitrogen
c. Effect varies by soil type (clay vs sand), by topography, and by climate, and effects are apparent only over time.
d. For erosion, use harvesting strategies – don’t harvest from slopes; do harvest from swales or flats – use GPS-guided harvesting system. For soil carbon, need 4-10x more residue than just to prevent erosion. Plant cover crops, add compost. Appropriate for Midwest & other humid regions. But in arid regions where water conservation is of concern, risk of removing residues is > benefit.
e. Instead, sow dedicated energy crops, especially on marginal lands not under cultivation. Use warm-season grasses, fast-growing woody species like willow & polar, and deep-rooted perennial grasses like switchgrass to decrease erosion, store soil carbon, filter pollutants from runoff, improve wildlife habitat. Marginal lands are too steep, too wet or dry, or have too shallow soil for row crops – so take care to manage well for erosion, carbon loss, and wildlife habitat. Row crop to permanent grass cover is habitat gain; fallow land to switchgrass monoculture is habitat loss. Many marginal lands are in the Conservation Reserve Program – farmers are paid not to cultivate these highly erodible lands; but CRP terms are expiring & prices are up so farmers might opt to put them back into row crops – energy crops might be a good alternative.
f. Call this “landscape vision agriculture” – ag systems designed to work more closely with the natual environment, rather than trying to force everything into the same mold. Willow along streams to cut erosion, intercept nutrients, provide revenue. Switchgrass on steep slopes; corn on flats but with cover crop to add N & preserve water

5.Colorado Biofuels initiatives
a. Governor’s Energy Office supports the Governor’s Biofuels Coalition4
b. C2B2 is the Colorado Center for Biorefining & Biofuels, a clearinghouse for biofuels research and manufacturing support (CU, CSU, Mines, &NREL for research)(5) (10)
c. The paper “Standing@ the Crossroads” (6) says “CO Biofuels industry is faring better than elsewhere in the country, thanks to local entrepreneurial spirit, area universities, NREL, & Ritter’s early leadership” 2/1/2010.
d. Wood-to-energy projects received funding to make biofuels from beetle kill in 2008 7,8. CO’s 1st cellulosic ethanol plant (Lignol & Suncor in Grand Junction) will use hard&soft woods and ag residues such as straw & corn stover beginning 2012, $30 million from DOE?, $300k from USDA8 (9).
e. In 2011 Broomfield-based cellulosic Biofuels producer Range Fuels laid off employees at Broomfield HQ & production facility in Soperton, GA (uses wood chips)(9).
f. Biodiesel in San Luis Valley from rapeseed (2005); in NE CO from mustard seed (2004)(11)
g. Western and central Colorado are appropriate for biofuels from wood products. Eastern Colorado is appropriate for plants using crop residues and non-food crops such as switchgrass. The Landscape agriculture style of farming would be beneficial to arid eastern Colorado, in my opinion(see the article about Steve Ventura). It calls for planting row crops only on appropriate landscapes, while using fast-growing woody species along creeks for bank stabilization and to provide biofuel feedstocks, as well as non-food perennial crops like switchgrass to be grown on marginal soils and steep slopes, to provide revenue but preserve both soil and habitat. It provides “an integrated system [that] could meet multiple goals at once: generate revenue, produce biofuels and food, protect water quality and soils, and improve wildlife habitat.

6. References
(1)Biofuels in Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biofuel
(2)Energy Independence Act in Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_Independence_and_Security_Act_of_200...
(3)Western Resource Advocates on PUC decision to reduce coal use http://www.westernresourceadvocates.org/energy/index.php#CACJvote
(4)Governor’s Biofuels Coalition http://rechargecolorado.com/index.php/programs_overview/renewable_energy...
(5)www.c2b2web.org Center for Biorefining & Biofuels, CU, CSU Mines, NREL
(6)Assessing Co Biofuels Market 2 Standing at the Crossroads The Biofuels Industry in Colorado http://coloradoenergynews.com/2010/02/cen-white-paper-standing-at-the-cr...
(7)Assessing CO’s Biofuels Market-Breakout or Breakdown? http://coloradoenergynews.com/2009/06/assessing-colorados-biofuels-marke...
(8)Converting Beetle Kill to Fuel
(9)CO Ethanol Plants Colorado Cellulosic Ethanol Plant Confirmed
http://domesticfuel.com/2008/08/28/colorado-cellulosic-ethanol-plant-con...
Colorado Plant Would Make Fuel Through Cellulosic Ethanol http://www.thedailygreen.com/environmental-news/latest/cellulosic-ethano...
NW cellulosic-ethanol plant breaks ground
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2012016210_cellulose03.h...
Range Fuels lays off workers in Colorado, Georgia
By Kris Bevill | January 11, 2011 http://www.ethanolproducer.com/articles/7388/range-fuels-lays-off-worker... Ethanol Produce Magazine
(10)NREL Research Advances http://www.nrel.gov/biomass/pdfs/40742.pdf
(11)Biodiesel feedstocks Blue Sun http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0KFU/is_6_71/ai_n8709859/
http://www.wapa.gov/es/pubs/esb/2004/april/apr048.htm
(12)Biofuels plant raw materials requirements Cellulosic Ethanol: How and When? from CSU Extension Energizer Newsletter 8/30/2010 http://www.ext.colostate.edu/energy/100830.html Their source was: www.farmgate.illunois.edu
(13)Sustainable Bioenergy, CSA News October 2010 www.agronomy.org/publicatyions/csa-news
by subscription only? Crop Science Society of America v.55 No. 10 Oct 2010 Madeline Fisher writes about research by Steve Ventura, soil science professor at UW-Madison. Ask me for a copy.

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Ellen
Ever learning, Everlasting