Obama Bets Big on Biofuels in Georgia

3 02 2009

Ben Mack | Wired

Plug-in hybrids and electric cars get all the love in Detroit these days, but Washington isn’t giving up on biofuel. Uncle Sam is spending millions of dollars to find ways of turning everything from algae to lawn trimmings into fuel as President Obama promises to invest heavily in alternative fuels.

The departments of energy and agriculture will award $25 million to advance development of “technologies and processes” to produce so-called “next generation” biofuels that aren’t refined from food crops like corn. The announcement follows an agriculture department  promise to loan $80 million to Range Fuels, a Colorado company that produces ethanol from wood chips, so it can build a refinery in Georgia.

“A robust biofuels industry – focused on the next-generation of biofuels – is critical to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing our addiction to foreign oil and putting Americans back to work,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement.

The $25 million will finance projects focused on feedstock development, biofuel and biobased product development and biofuel development analysis. The goal is to create a wide range of “economically and environmentally sustainable” sources of renewable biomass that can be turned into fuel and cut greenhouse gas emissions at least 50 percent compared to fossil fuels, officials said.

“These grants will help support the development of a sustainable domestic biofuels industry by broadening the nation’s energy sources as well as improving the efficiency of renewable fuels,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.

The production of ethanol derived from corn, soybeans and other crops has been blamed for everything from spiraling food prices to clear-cutting in the Amazon. But there is great hope for cellulosic ethanol and other fuels refined from non-food biomass because they nullify the food vs. fuel debate and other criticisms. Several airlines are developing algal fuels, each of the Big Three automakers offers “flex-fuel” cars that can run on ethanol and even super-luxury automaker Bentley is promising a biofuel-burning car.

Washington is funding more than R&D, however. During the last days of the Bush Administration, Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer announced an $80 million loan to help Range Fuels build a new refinery. It is the first time the agency has guaranteed a loan to a commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol refinery.

Range Fuels, which Obama visited in October, uses a thermo-chemical process called gasification to convert cellulose to ethanol. Production is slated to begin next year and will be ramped up in three stages, company CEO David Aldous told Ethanol Producer magazine. During the first stage, the refinery will convert 125 tons of woody biomass into fuel each day. That will climb to 625 tons daily and then 2,625 tons – at which point the refinery will produce 20 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol annually. All of the biomass will come from the surrounding timber industry.

“It’s located in the Milion Pines area of Georgia,” Aldous said of the refinery. “There is a very significant supply of wood waste in that area, hundreds of years supply for our plant.”


Rabun Gap plant to add green power to Georgia EMC grid

26 01 2009


Consumers in Middle Georgia interested in using green power will soon have more available to them.

Green Power EMC, a partnership of 38 of the state’s electrical membership corporations, announced recently that it has agreed to purchase 17 megawatts of biomass energy from Multitrade Rabun Gap.

That electrical power, in turn, will be available to customers of the 11 area EMCs that are part of the Green Power partnership – Altamaha EMC, Central Georgia EMC, Flint Energies, Little Ocmulgee EMC, Middle Georgia EMC, Ocmulgee EMC, Oconee EMC, Southern Rivers Energy, Tri-County EMC, Upson EMC and Washington EMC.

Green power is electricity generated from renewable, environmental-friendly technologies such as solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and low-impact hydropower. Biomass includes landfill gas and agricultural wastes.

The $21.5 million Rabun Gap facility will use woody waste from Georgia’s forestry industry as the primary fuel in a conventional boiler for generation of steam to power a steam-turbine electricity generator.

The North Georgia plant is expected to produce 17 megawatts of electricity when it goes online in August. That is enough electricity to power about 10,000 homes. A megawatt is 1 million watts.

Michael Whiteside, Green Power’s president, says the Rabun Gap project is “renewable” in several other ways, in addition to its use of woody waste as fuel.

The facility is adapting an existing power plant, including its boiler, in a former Fruit of the Loom factory that closed in 2006, with a loss of 900 jobs. The Rabun Gap power plant will employ only 20 people, but another 75 jobs will be needed for people to gather and transport the biomass to the facility.

The Rabun Gap electricity will be added to about 8.3 megawatts now available through the Green Power EMC partnership — 5 megawatts produced in two landfill methane gas operations in Taylor County and in Fayetteville, 2.3 megawatts from the Tallassee Shoals low-impact hydroelectric plant on the Middle Oconee River near Athens and 1 megawatt from an experimental wind power operation of Oglethorpe Power near Rome.

Green Power EMC also expects to add 20 to 23 megawatts of power later this year from Plant Carl near Carnesville, a biomass facility using poultry waste as fuel.

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Georgia utility to build biomass-fueled power plants

18 09 2008

Dave Williams | Atlanta Business Chronicle

Oglethorpe Power Corp. will invest up to $1 billion building two power plants fueled by biomass, the Tucker-based utility announced Thursday.

The two 100-megawatt plants, powered by woody biomass from South Georgia’s vast forests, are due to begin production in 2014 and 2015. The company also may decide to build a third facility, which also would go online in seven years.

“With our abundant biomass resources, Georgia has the unique opportunity to expand our use of alternative energy, grow our economy and transform the way we provide energy to our citizens,” said Gov. Sonny Perdue, who unveiled Oglethorpe’s plans during his annual Governor’s Environmental Address hosted by Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful in Duluth.

“Oglethorpe Power’s pioneering investment in alternative energy is consistent with our goal to grow, convert and use biomass energy to power our homes and businesses.”

Utilities across the country are stepping up their commitment to less-polluting renewable sources of energy, both in response to public demand and because of market conditions. The costs of coal and natural gas, the most widely used fuels for producing electricity, have been on the rise, while no nuclear plants have built in the U.S. for decades.

The state Public Service Commission will hold public hearings in November on plans by Georgia Power Co. for two new nuclear power generating units at Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro, Ga.

The two Oglethorpe biomass plants will represent a significant increase in Georgia’s biomass-fueled generating capacity. The plants will provide electricity to the utility’s 38 member cooperatives across the state, which serve nearly half of the Georgia population.

“We’re pleased to find an environmentally friendly way to help meet some of our members’ growing demand for electricity,” Oglethorpe president and CEO Tom Smith said.

Fuel for the plants will consist of a woody biomass mixture, including chipped pulpwood and wood waste left over in sawmills and in forests after clearing. The plants also will be designed for co-firing of other types of biomass, such as pecan hulls and peanut shells.

Ceres Trials Energy Crops at Georgia Biofuel Facility

9 09 2008

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif., Sept. 9 /PRNewswire/ — Energy crop company Ceres,
Inc. announced today that it will trial improved switchgrass cultivars and
high-biomass sorghum hybrids with Range Fuels, Inc. as part of a cooperative
field trialing program at the site of Range Fuels’ commercial-scale cellulosic
ethanol plant, now under construction near Soperton, Georgia, about 150 miles
southeast of Atlanta.

While wood residues will be the primary feedstock for this first-of-a-kind
biorefinery, Ceres said that Range Fuels is also interested in better
understanding the economic, environmental and logistical attributes of
non-food, low-carbon grass species in the production of cellulosic biofuels.
These grass species have a number of advantages: they have relatively rapid
breeding cycles, they are highly efficient at storing sunlight in the form of
carbohydrates, and they are widely adapted. Last spring, Ceres provided seed
of new, high-yielding varieties that was planted in demonstration plots on
Range Fuels’ Soperton Plant site. The crops will be assessed for several years.

“The goal is to determine the best crop management, storage and handling
practices for Georgia, and just as important, the performance of herbaceous
biomass in Range Fuels’ conversion process,” said Anna Rath, Ceres vice
president of commercial development. She noted that grass species, including
both annuals and perennials, can provide a flexible and reliable supply of raw
materials for fuel and power. “This is an important step in demonstrating that
energy crops can be successfully and sustainably grown in the area surrounding
the Range Fuels Soperton Plant site,” she said.

Mitch Mandich, CEO of Range Fuels, said this project will inform future
expansion decisions by the green energy company. “As we think about expanding
production beyond our Soperton Plant, which will use woody biomass, we need to
start understanding how a variety of high-yield, minimal impact biomass
feedstocks, such as those being explored by Ceres, can assist in our expansion
efforts. Our relationship with Ceres will be invaluable in this process.”

Ceres recently announced that it will commercialize its first seed
varieties under the trade name Blade Energy Crops. Rath said that the company
will begin booking seed orders this fall for the 2009 growing season. “We are
getting calls from agricultural producers interested in putting 10 or 20 acres
in the ground to gain a better understanding of these crops. Some are located
near existing or planned biorefineries, while others are looking to attract
biorefineries to their area,” she said. Rath noted that grass crops appear to
be well suited to both thermochemical conversion systems as well as
biochemical processes that utilize enzymes in the production of biofuels.