Archive for the ‘Energy’ Category

“E15 increases consumer choice”

By MCGA Agvocate Kevin Welter

July 18, 2008, for many of you this day does not have any significance. For me, this is a day that changed my life as I had previously known it. July 18th was the day I passed my driver’s test. I remember that day like it was yesterday. Holding the keys in my hand for the first time was the greatest feeling in the world, even if the keys were to an ’89 Chevy Cavalier. Looking back on that day I gained many of freedoms and expenses. The greatest expense was gas, which made me very interested in gas mileage.

In high school, I had the opportunity to be one of four students at my high school to help start the Supermilage Challenge at Stewartville. For those of you that are not familiar with the competition, a group of high school students build a one person vehicle from scratch to achieve the highest gas mileage. The first year we competed in the stock class where your vehicle runs on unleaded gasoline. Three of the four team members grew up in a farming background, which lead to our interest in renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel. The next two years we decided to compete in the E-85 class. Before officially switching classes, we did a lot of research on ethanol and the benefits it has not only for the environment, but also for the saving in consumers wallets. Many researchers agree that ethanol provides about thirty to sixty percent more energy than what is required to make a gallon of ethanol, meaning ethanol has a positive net energy. Compared to gasoline, ethanol reduces CO2 emissions.

One thing we had found from our experiences and research is that all engines can run on a blend of ethanol and gasoline. The tricky part is getting the correct blend for your engine. All passenger vehicles are approved to run up to a blend of 10% ethanol or E10. Over the past few years there has been a lot of research and tests conducted to find out which blend will perform well in vehicles currently on the road. The results of the research and tests caused the recent approval of the EPA for E15 in passenger vehicles 2001 and newer. In January 2011 about 60% of the vehicles driven in the US are 2001 and newer. With more than half of the vehicle on the road with the ability to run this blend of fuel you would think we would see an E15 option at every gas station. The issue is there are laws and regulations in 36 states that inhibit the sale of E15. These laws may take a while to be updated to include the demand for E15.

As a consumer, I hope in the future that more tests are conducted to check the performance of high blends of ethanol. In the future, I feel like there will be many different blend options available for consumers. The approval of E15 is a step in the right direction for consumer choice and for the growth of the domestic renewable energy industry. I currently drive a vehicle manufactured in 2006. Next time I fill up at a gas station with an E15 option, I will be choosing this higher blend of renewable energy.

Minnesota: the bioeconomy’s “Get it Done, Make it Happen State”

What is in the water up in Minnesota? Partnership seems to have become part of a new hybrid DNA, the Digest discovers in its special report on the state’s progress in biobased fuels, chemicals and materials.

There seems to be some confusion at the state level as to exactly what Minnesota’s nickname is – official publications refer to “the North Star State” while the US Mint put “Land of 10,000 Lakes” on the back of the Minnesota commemorative quarter. Since alternatives seem to be generally acceptable, we propose the “Get it Done State” for your consideration.

You see, other states can match Minnesota for its wealth of agricultural and forest resources (though ample they are), or its foundational base in agriculture and energy (via giants like Cargill, CHS and EcoLab) and for its highly-trained workforce (though more skilled they rarely come). But for per-acre yields of moxie and gumption, it would be hard to find a match.

Get it Done, Make it Happen

Leadership seems to be available as a low-cost residue up there, we’ve not yet exactly figured out how or why. Want to push through the transformative Farm Bill through the 2008 House Agriculture Committee? Minnesota’s Collin Peterson took the reins. Help push through the Algae Biomass Organization from great idea to great organization? Minnesota’s Mary Rosenthal, Tom Byrne, and Todd Taylor have been amongst the drivers. Innovative leaders in first-gen fuels like Brain Kletscher at Highwater Ethanol and Steve Christensen at Granite Falls Energy. Academic leaders such as Brendan Jordan, Director of Bioenergy at the Great Plains Institute, and legendary UMinn chemical engineer Lanny Schmidt; innovative venture capitalists like First Green’s Doug Cameron and Tom Erickson; perceptive analysts like Piper Jaffray’s Mike Cox and Mike Ritzenthaler; Luca Zullo, whose VerdeNero consultancy was on the of the first to focus on opportunities in green-black technologies. Just to name a small handful.

See the rest of the article at:

Our Take:
Minnesota’s step-ahead position in the development of renewable energy started with our corn farmers, who believed that we could source our transportation energy in the Midwest instead of the Mideast.

This article is a great tally of all the impressive vanguard efforts rolling out here in Minnesota.

The one miss is to take as accurate recent newspaper reporting on the state of the Minnesota’s corn ethanol industry. Yes, the industry has hit a speed bump with the narrowed margin, but there is unsuspected strength in the farmer-owned LLC ethanol companies (which are not under obligation to publicly report their financials). These companies benefit from not only good timing but also a conservative ethic that favored reducing debt load over increasing profit sharing. Volatility in all energy markets will continue, but these companies will be able to weather the storms.

And the imminent birth of advanced biofuels and biorefinery products will take place among these farmer-based companies as much as any other participants in renewable energy production today.

Yes, Minnesota is a center for innovation. But don’t count the farmers out—they are right in the center of that pioneering spirit.

High MPGs offer supercharged learning

24th annual SuperMileage Challenge gives kids chance to shine in the “green” arena

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

On May 14 and 15, ultralight gas-powered vehicles took to the 6-mile course at Brainerd International Speedway for the 24th year of the Minnesota Technical Educators Association SuperMileage Challenge. Teams made up of middle school and high school students had constructed the vehicles around Briggs and Stratton small engines, and achieved results in the hundreds of miles per gallon of fuel.

In the largest turnout ever, 105 vehicles passed the technical inspection and competed. Most vehicles made multiple runs, and the teams fielded vehicles for mileage runs 1,007 times. Of those, 697 runs were completed—one every 53 seconds of the 15 hours of competition. But it’s not a race in the strict definition of the term—the vehicles maintain their speed within a specific window and compete to see which one can achieve the highest gas efficiency.

Four liquid fuel vehicle categories include one specifically for E85. The other vehicles utilize E10 fuel. For the first time this year, teams fielded electric vehicles. Alden Conger, a long time participant in SMC, won the E85 category with 535.65 mpg. However, when you realize that only 15 percent of their fuel was gasoline, and you want to measure how far a gallon of gasoline will take you when you are using more than six times as much ethanol fuel, this vehicle traveled at an astonishing fuel efficiency rate of 3,571 miles for every gallon of gasoline required.

Here are this year’s results

1st        Willmar                                                 644.30 mpg
2nd      Chisago Lakes                                     594.91
3rd       Eden Prairie                                         397.80
4th       Stillwater                                              349.92

1st        Minnetonka                                          579.51
2nd      Water Town Mayer                            512.99
3rd       Chisago Lakes                                     437.75
4th       Alden Conger                                      422.21

1st        Alden Conger                                      535.65
2nd      Chisago Lakes                                     365.16
3rd      Stewartville                                          178.47                              
4th      Fergus Falls                                         156.26

1st        Alden Conger                                      489.84
2nd      Minnetonka                                          320.
3rd      Pequot Lakes                                       128.42
4th      St. Michael/Albertville                   101.48

1st        Eden Prairie                                         32.91 watt/hours
2nd      Grand Rapids                                       37.27  
3rd       Grand Rapids                                       38.08
4th       only three vehicles had 6 or more runs

Minnesota Corn Growers Association, longtime sponsors of the event, fielded volunteers and staff to help make the day a success. It was the culmination of many months of preparation and work by the student teams and their advisers.

“SuperMileage is such a great event and learning experience for everyone involved. It’s fun to see the cars these teams design and build each year and to watch them work together as a team to accomplish their goals,” said Jenna Kromann, outreach and communications specialist for Minnesota Corn Growers Association. She attended the event along with MCGA regional representatives Tim Dolan and Dottie Smith-Jacobs. “You can tell a lot of time and effort was put into each car and it’s very enjoyable to witness what these students have been working towards all year.”

Smith-Jacobs noticed that family and community are a central feature of the SuperMileage Challenge and that the pride of the students, their families and their teachers in the accomplishment of these young people makes it an intense and memorable experience, and incredibly valuable to everyone involved.

“Tim and I took a lot of students and teachers around in the MCGA ethanol-powered golf carts,” said Smith-Jacobs. “One teacher went around with us videotaping the students–they were so proud of their students. All the teachers really care about their students and what they were doing. There were a lot of grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters of the kids racing the cars. You could see the competing students smiling when they saw their parents and their grandparents.”

Kromann spent a day helping spread the word about the value of ethanol. In addition to offering informational brochures, Kromann played Plinko with many of the spectators, giving them a chance to have fun while learning from the quiz-show format questions about farming and ethanol.

Smith-Jacobs spoke at length with the teams running E85 vehicles and was impressed at the depth of their knowledge about this cleaner-burning, farm-based biofuel.

“The ethanol class–the students learn about the fuel, and see firsthand how the vehicles run on it,” said Smith-Jacobs. “The kids know a lot more about it, about how clean and cool it runs, and it’s neat to see kids being more environmentally aware and using our resources to the best that they can be used—the SuperMileage Challenge teaches all these kids about how we impact the environment. Whether they are running electric, ethanol, biodiesel or even regular gas vehicles, all these students are trying to be “greener.” With ethanol in there—even the regular gas has ten percent ethanol just like most of the gas in Minnesota—and they can see for themselves that it’s a good, high quality, high performance fuel.”


The next big revenue stream for biorefineries–carbon dioxide?

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

From the very start ethanol companies have produced co-products that are essential to the bottom-line. It began with distillers grains, which has grown to a major animal feed industry in its own right. Lately, many ethanol plants have retrofitted equipment to extract corn oil from the distillers grains, for use as a value added feed, industrial or energy product. On the horizon, a new market is developing that could turn one of ethanol’s waste products–one that is accounted a liability by some ethanol critics–and turn it into a new source of cash: carbon dioxide.

A white paper from the National EOR Initiative–a joint effort of Minnesota’s Great Plains Institute and Washington DC-based Center for Climate and Energy Solutions–makes the argument for an incentive to help build an industry around the capture of carbon dioxide for use in what is known as enhanced oil recovery. The gas can be injected into geological formations that hold oil that cannot be captured by conventional well drilling technology. The EOR Initiative brought in oil and coal industry representatives, ethanol producers, electric generation utilities, labor and environmental groups–who all see a win-win in the use of industrial waste carbon dioxide for enhanced oil recovery.

“The best estimate I’ve seen is that 26 to 61 billion barrels of oil could be economically recovered with today’s EOR technology,” said Brendan Jordan, director of Bioenergy and Transportation Programs for Great Plains Institute. “That would more than double America’s proved reserves. Next generation EOR technology could bring that up to between 67 to 137 billion barrels of oil.

Oil companies are already paying cash on the barrel to major CO2 producers to capture, purify and pipeline the gas to oil fields where it can be used in EOR.

“From an environmental perspective, where there’s concern about an industry’s carbon footprint, all of the CO2 used in EOR remains permanently sequestered deep underground in a properly managed project,” said Jordan.

This has implications for ethanol opening markets where carbon intensity of fuel is a factor. California’s low carbon fuel standard has been suspended, pending a court case, but British Columbia and European Union both have rules in place that either require reduced carbon intensity or pay a premium for fuel produced with less net carbon released to the atmosphere.

“The ethanol industry’s interest in minimizing its environmental impact has always gone hand-in-hand with a natural interest in efficiency and profitability,” said Greg Schwarz, chairman of Minnesota Corn Growers Association. He is a corn, soybeans and turkey producer as well as a longtime investor/leader in farmer-owned ethanol production. “The CO2 market may not be economical for Minnesota ethanol producers to participate in next year, but it’s possible that the transportation infrastructure could develop quickly, and when it does, it will be one more way that our homegrown energy production companies can contribute to Minnesota’s economy and help the environment at the same time.”

According to Jordan the limiting factor for ethanol companies’ participation in this emerging industry is the economics of developing a pipeline over any distance in order to get the CO2 to market. Electric generation utilities produce enough CO2 to justify the expense, but ethanol companies produce far smaller quantities of CO2.

Currently, one ethanol company, Arkalon Energy in Kansas, has installed carbon capture and transport infrastructure. Its location fairly close to Oklahoma oil fields makes the move economical. Jordan observed that as the industry develops, particularly if an incentive is put in place, major CO2 producers will have major pipelines crossing territories close enough to ethanol plants to justify building trunk lines between the ethanol plants and the main CO2 pipeline, in a set up somewhat analogous to how electricity and natural gas are transported.

“We were able to organize a bipartisan press conference in Washington announcing the recommendation of the National EOR Initiative–a bipartisan press conference is a rare thing these days, so we were proud to get to that point,” said Jordan.

Senators Max Baucus, Kent Conrad, John Hoeven, Richard Lugar, and Congressman Rick Berg, Congressman Michael Conaway all issued statements of support for the concept. The National EOR Initiative is now working on introducing a bill to create the incentive.

“(Using CO2 for EOR) is great from an environmental perspective, but it is also great from the perspective of increased domestic oil production–that’s why the concept attracted broad support and we are hopeful that we can create a policy around this use for carbon dioxide which succeeds both economically and environmentally.”

ENERGY: Ethanol blender pumps growing in numbers

Blender pumps offering consumers a variety of ethanol-blend fuels are growing in numbers across the Dakotas and Minnesota.

By: Loretta Sorensen, Prairie Business Magazine

We’re very satisfied with the progress of blender pump sales in North Dakota,” Tom Lilja, North Dakota Corn Growers Director, says. “In the past, a few stations may have had a pump dedicated to E85 in the corner. Now, blender pumps are right next to standard gasoline pumps and consumers are using the blended fuels.”

North Dakota just surpassed installation of 200+ pumps at more than 50 locations across the state. The majority of pumps are found in the eastern two-thirds of North Dakota. Blends vary from E10 to E30 to E85.

“There are a few stations that offer an E20 blend,” Lilja says. “Most of the pumps didn’t start going in until the 2010 construction season. The North Dakota legislature initiated the blender pump program during the 2009 session. In 2009, average monthly sales of ethanol blends were at 23,000 gallons. In 2011, sales of ethanol blends averaged 112,000 gallons per month and surpassed a million gallons in the first nine months. Our sales reports don’t currently break ethanol sales out into the different blends so it’s all reported as E85. It all comes down to access. If it’s available, consumers are choosing it.”

Funding for installation of additional blender pumps in North Dakota is available to station owners through spring 2013. The state provides a $5,000 grant toward purchase of a pump. North Dakota Corn Growers Association offers an additional $2,500. The typical cost of a blender pump is $20,000.

To read the full article go to:

Our Take:
We’d love to see this kind of investment program in every one of the 18 major corn growing states—certainly every one with an ethanol plant. Blender pumps are just one more way to get homegrown, cleaner-burning fuel into American motorists’ gas tanks.

With proposed CAFÉ and greenhouse gas rules making their way through EPA, blender pumps could be THE method for America to meet all of its goals for transportation—lowering carbon emissions, increasing mileage—Detroit engineers say they could take current technologies that combine direct injection and turbo-charging to a new level of efficiency and low emissions by using high-octane E30 (96 octane could really put a tiger in Detroit’s tank), especially if they optimized vehicle engines and fuels systems for the midlevel blend. We think blender pumps could be the wave of the future—helping America reduce its petroleum imports, lower carbon emissions and enjoy cleaner air.

Minnesota Biofuels Association promotes, educates and advocates on behalf of farm-based energy

By Jonathan Eisenthal

It’s a three-pronged strategy to assure the strength and continuing growth of Minnesota’s biggest homegrown energy source, farm-based biofuels.

“We’re looking at promotional media efforts, educational projects for the schools and advocacy projects to fight for good energy policy in Saint Paul—with these three simultaneous approaches we’re aiming to make a positive impact on economic, environmental, educational and public policies regarding renewable, farm-based energy,” said Tim Rudnicki, who became executive director of the newly created Minnesota Biofuels Association on September 1.

At a billion gallons of annual production, employing 18,000 Minnesotans and bringing $6 billion dollars of economic activity each year, ethanol is a dynamic and important industry in Minnesota. And yet, it’s still plagued by public misperceptions and the potential for misinformation in the halls of the legislature is an ongoing risk. So the seven founding ethanol companies came together to create the Minnesota Biofuels Association to help ensure the future of ethanol and other biofuels in our state.

The eight producer members at this time are: Al-Corn Clean Fuel, Claremont; Central Minnesota Ethanol Coop, Little Falls; Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company, Benson; CornPlus, Winnebago; Granite Falls Energy, Granite Falls; Guardian Energy, Janesville; Heartland Corn Products, Winthrop; and Highwater Ethanol, Lamberton.

The organization plans to create new membership categories, to allow other organizations and individuals beyond the ethanol producers themselves to join MBA.

“When it comes to promotion we’re talking about raising awareness through advertising,” said Rudnicki. “We recently launched ads that are appearing in local theaters. The message is that we do have a solution to our energy needs in hand, available right here and right now. We don’t have to wait for some grand magic. We have this fuel now. Our 30-second ad features visual motion and music and a voice over and comes on as a leader before the previews begin. We’re running this in a pilot phase in Minneapolis, where we are expecting 80,000 to 100,000 impressions. Next, we are going to be launching some ad campaigns for radio around the beginning of the year. We are targeting both metro and rural areas, and we anticipate reaching 400,000 listeners a week.”

Rudnicki praised Minnesota Ag in The Classroom, a curriculum program from Minnesota Department of Agriculture, which has long received significant support from Minnesota Corn Growers Association. The Minnesota Bio-Fuels Associationplans to support further development of modules that offer the latest information about ethanol and biodiesel.

At the level of secondary education, it’s important to share with students the broad variety of jobs offered by Minnesota’s renewable energy sector. Rudnicki likes to give the example of a recent University of Minnesota-Morris graduate in biochemistry who is now employed in the research laboratory at an ethanol facility. She is working on cutting edge technology with the potential to increase the efficiency and yield of the ethanol process.

“You’ve got all these different positions on the production side, instrument technicians, maintenance workers, team leaders, microbiologists, controllers in these operations, plant managers, general managers, to mention just a few of the types of jobs ethanol creates,” said Rudnicki. “When people pass by an ethanol plant what do they see? We want to say there’s no need to guess what’s happening in there, we will inform you. Once we get our web site up and running we will be a clearing house, not just for what type of positions are out there, but a whole spectrum of information and resources – for the general public, for policy makers and for industry producers.”

Minnesota Biofuels Association will concentrate its efforts on creating a groundswell around the notion that consumers should have expanded fuel choice options that include E85 as well as E15 and E20.

“The old shorthand about what farmers produce is three Fs—food, fiber, fuel, but I add that four more have become a vital part of what farmers offer us: Freedom From Fossil Fuels,” said Rudnicki. “If people have the choice, why not feel good about what you are putting in your fuel tank. If consumers have the choice of using homegrown, renewable biofuel, or finite fossil fuel, I think most people would choose using more homegrown, renewable motor fuel.People would feel good about what they are doing for the environment by using clean burning fuel and feel good about what they are doing for the economy.”

Rudnicki comes to role of executive director at Minnesota Biofuels Association having spent the last 15 years as an energy and environmental attorney, during which time he focused on using the law and the legislative process to find solutions for clients. His specialty has been working on policy issues to promote homegrown, renewable energy. Rudnicki has served as executive director in previous advocacy, promotional and educational efforts launched by businesses and non-governmental organizations.

“For a long time it’s been my passion and what I have been talking about continually–seeing renewable energy as a solution to our economic, environmental and national security problems,” said Rudnicki. “So when this position at MBA became available, it was a perfect fit.”

E3 posters provide forum for MCGA-sponsored research

Project to increase ethanol yield, value of DDGS “comes at the perfect time”

By Jonathan Eisenthal

While we worry about the general public getting the facts on distillers grains—namely that ethanol plants make feed as well as fuel—the E3 conference provides a great forum for sharing information and creating excitement among renewable energy scientists and entrepreneurs about MCGA-sponsored research in the biofuels field, including an exciting project that promises to enhance ethanol production profitability.

The kind of exposure found at E3 can leverage additional funding, and help make matches that will lead to commercialization.

The annual E3 Conference on Renewable Energy Innovation, which took place last week Monday, brought together hundreds of scientific researchers, graduate students and private industry representatives at the University of Minnesota to share the latest developments. A key medium for this information exchange is the display of research project posters.

Among those presentations getting attention was the poster of Dr. Pavel Krasutsky, who leads a team at University of Minnesota Duluth that is developing technology that separates the oils from distillers grains and processes them into ethanol and biodiesel while it renders the distillers grains a more purely high-protein feed. Economic analysis of the technology estimates a significant return.  Their project is called Development and Commercialization of a Biorefinery for Processing DDGS in Biofuels and Other Value-Added Products.

The technology can be bolted on an existing plant or included in new construction, at a cost of about $30 million. Using this technology, an acre of corn would produce 440 gallons of ethanol–a ten percent increase—and in addition it would yield 35 gallons of biodiesel. The resulting distillers grains offer a higher protein concentration, from the current industry standard of 28 percent, up to 40 percent. The process also removes water from the distillers grains, making transport more economical. An additional high value product, corn zein, could be derived—this is a clear substance that can be sprayed on fruits and vegetables to enhance their appeal and preserve them during transit and on the store shelf. The value of these products would repay the investment in about two years, according to Krasutsky, who noted that agribusiness giant ADM has approached the team and expressed interest.

“With the blender’s credit likely going away, this model of ethanol production becomes very important,” said Riley Maanum, MCGA Research and Project director. He pointed to an economic analysis that found that this technology could increase the returns to an ethanol plant by approximately ten percent.

Throughout the day, conference participants view the posters, and have the opportunity to chat with the researchers, who stand beside the posters, ready to offer additional information. Five research projects sponsored by MCGA were displayed.

The E3 conference is put on by University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, IREE, along with supporters like MCGA.

IREE explicitly offers the forum to help funders and high quality projects find each other. The conference program noted that IREE “seeks out promising new renewable energy ideas and provides them with the resources needed to bring them to life. Since 2003, IREE has invested nearly $37 million in more than 240 promising research projects. This investment has not only enhanced our energy security, but also generated jobs and more than $69 million in additional funding.”