Biofuel News Roundup

The blog is accumulating a lot of biofuel news for the past month.

Last week, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the first application submitted  for registration of E15 ethanol (a blend of 15% ethanol and 85% gasoline). Registration is a prerequisite to introducing E15 into the marketplace.

Biofuel advocates are currently pushing for E15, which if approved by the EPA, would allow producers to expand production to keep pace with the Renewable Fuel Standard’s (RFS) 15bn gal/year cap on ethanol derived from corn starch.

E10 (a blend of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline), which is currently distributed at the majority of gas stations in the continental U.S., is fast approaching a “blend wall,” in which production exceeds the volume of fuel that can legally be blended into the U.S. gasoline market.

Before E15 can be sold, however, manufacturers must first take additional measures to help ensure retail stations and other gasoline distributors understand and implement labelling rules and other E15-related requirements, the EPA said.

ICIS colleagues who attended the American Fuel & Petrochemicals (AFPM) event in San Antonio, Texas, last week, tried to get some reactions on this recent news. According to one ethanol broker, the E15 approval will unlikely increase demand for the biofuel because of concerns about liability.

One liability is that drivers could mistakenly put the E15 fuel in automobiles made before 2001 and service stations could be potentially liable if those automobiles are damaged. E15 is not permitted for use in motor vehicles built before 2001 model year and in off-road vehicles and equipment such as boats and lawn and garden equipment.

In addition, relatively few service stations can handle the E15 blends making it unlikely that they will purchase the fuel, the broker said.

The AFPM association, meanwhile, noted at the conference that the EPA decision is “irresponsible” claiming E15 blend could “endanger the safety of US consumers and severely damage vehicles and gasoline-powered equipment.”

With gasoline at around $4/gal, the ethanol industry claims the need for more affordable alternatives to foreign oil. The Renewable Fuels Association also released its “E15 Retailer Handbook” to provide fuel retailers with regulatory and technical guidance in order to legally store and sell E15 ethanol blends.

According to Pike Research’s latest report Biofuels Markets and Technologies, U.S. ethanol production in 2011 reached 13.6bn gal/year (BGY), up from 13.2 BGY in 2010.

Another consulting firm, Clean Edge Inc., estimated global biofuels production and wholesale pricing of ethanol and biodiesel reached a record $83bn in 2011, up from $56.4bn the prior year. The increase was mostly due to a rise in ethanol and biodiesel prices, the result of higher costs for feedstock commodities – mainly sugar for ethanol and rapeseed and other vegetable oils for biodiesel.

In the meantime, here are more big biofuel news piled up in the blog’s inbox:

  • Virent and Virdia (formerly HCL CleanTech) successfully converted cellulosic pine tree sugars to drop-in hydrocarbon fuels within the BIRD Energy project, a joint program funded by the US Department of Energy, the Israeli Ministry of National Infrastructure and the BIRD Foundation.

  • Neste Oil joins aireg, Aviation Initiative for Renewable Energy in Germany, which promotes the development and deployment of biofuels in Aviation. Neste Oil also said that it has quadrupled its use of certified raw materials in terms of tonnage in producing its renewable diesel in 2011. Neste Oil aims to increase its usage of certified raw materials a further 10 percentage points on the 2011 figure during 2012.

  • Mascoma and Lallemand Ethanol Technology have entered into a commercial agreement with Pacific Ethanol Columbia for the use of MGT Grain Technology (MGT) yeast in Pacific Ethanol’s 40m gal/year facility. The MGT product is a bioengineered drop-in substitute for conventional fermenting yeast that lowers costs for corn ethanol producers

  • The Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division in China Lake, Calif., has awarded a manufacturing contract to specialty chemical firm and catalyst supplier Albemarle to complete its first biojet fuel production run based on biobased n-butanol provided by Cobalt Technologies. For this production run, Albemarle will utilize NAWCWD alcohol-to-jet (ATJ) fuel technology to convert Cobalt’s biobased n-butanol into biojet fuel at its Baton Rouge, La., processing facility.

  • Celanese has received key government approvals necessary to proceed with its previously announced plans to modify and enhance its existing integrated acetyl facility in China at the Nanjing Chemical Industrial Park to produce ethanol for industrial uses. The unit, based on Celanese TCX® ethanol process technology, is expected to startup in mid-2013.

  • Mendel Biotechnology and BP Biofuels have signed a four-year agreement to conduct a demonstration field trial of Mendel’s PowerCane™ Miscanthus and evaluate its performance as feedstock for biofuel production at BP Biofuels’ demonstration plant at Jennings, Louisiana. A total of 100 acres of PowerCane™ Miscanthus will be planted in early 2012 near BP’s Jennings facility and the first biomass harvest from these fields is expected in 2013.

  • Cool Planet Biofuels announced its use of REPREVE® Renewables’ FREEDOM™ giant miscanthus to manufacture tank-ready gasoline. REPREVE Renewables provided feedstock to Cool Planet Biofuels for testing in its process. Cool Planet reported that they were able to achieve a 4,000 gallons/acre conversion rate, which the company said outperforms other feedstocks such as corn, switchgrass and wood on yield.


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