BioCycle July 2006, Vol. 47, No. 7, p. 4
AFTER YEARS of focusing newsroom staff on operations of major oil companies and nuclear power sources, the major media are at last discovering the energy in biopower. In a front-page story (6/29/06), The Wall Street Journal announced: “Big Players Join Race to Put Farm Waste Into Your Gas Tank.” In laboratories run by DuPont Co. and other competing labs, tiny organisms are generated that hold the keys to U.S. alternative fuel sources like cellulosic ethanol which can be made from “crop residues, wood chips and even municipal garbage.”
Its backers see the potential to reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil, cut emissions that cause global warming, and support the nation’s rural economy. Big names are attracted to the concept: Archer-Daniels Midland Co. (ADM), Royal Dutch Shell Group and Goldman Sachs Inc. “Suddenly, there is a race out there to develop a new source of energy,” says Thomas Connelly, DuPont’s chief innovation officer. The search, says the Journal, is leading scientists to explore the dung of elephants and the guts of cows. The U.S. Energy Department has $160 million to spend on a competition to back three plants. Each candidate must have a pilot plant showing a process that can be successful once scaled up. At least 30 companies are competing – including Iogen Corporation, a biotech company based in Ottawa that says its pilot plant can produce cellulosic ethanol at a starting price of $1.35/gallon – far cheaper than current gas prices.
ADM wants government help to build a $50 million to $100 million plant, and another contender – a U.S. subsidiary of Abengoa BioEnergy – would open a pilot in the Midwest to make ethanol from wheat straw and corn stalks, while Cargill has licensed to Abengoa a microorganism it discovered for ethanol production.
A few days after the The Wall Street Journal’s coverage (7/4/06), The New York Times headlined an article: “Tapping the Latest Power in that Powerful Barnyard Smell.” Cows, hogs and turkeys generate a steady stream of manure, “one of nature’s richest sources of natural gas,” reports the Times’ article on farm waste. Brown energy – or what we’ve called BioCycle Energy in these pages – has led more utilities to buy the gas. For example, Pacific Gas & Electric has agreed to transport gas from a Microgy digester in California since it provides pipeline-quality gas and reduces carbon emissions. At least 70,000 dairy and swine farms are estimated to be large enough to support a commercial digester. As reported in recent BioCycle articles on digestate, other by-products of digestion are used for compost, bedding and odor control.
A 900-cow dairy – Five Star in Wisconsin – expects to profit from its $1.2 million digester as Dairyland Power Cooperative pays about 5 cents/kilowatt hour for energy, plus it saves money on bedding and compost. These changes are leading companies to rely more on digesters for significant income. One company that sells digesters in the Midwest, GHD, is cutting back on its business of cleaning up spills from underground gas tanks to concentrate on its anaerobic digestion patents. And Intrepid Technology and Resources in Idaho will focus on its digester processes collecting manure from 100,000 cows on 50 farms and generating enough gas to serve 40,000 homes.
And finally, biodiesel also came into its own with an article in the Times (7/5/06) that explained how the renewable fuel is made by a chemical mixing of alcohol and fats, greases or oils from animals or vegetables. Says Bob King, president of Pacific Biodiesel: “Our largest plant will produce 8,000 gallons of biodiesel per day. That comes out to more than two million gallons annually.”
You’ll hear about all these developments at the BioCycle Sixth Annul Renewable Energy From Organics Recycling Conference coming up in Minneapolis, October 31 to November 1, 2006. See the program outlined on pages 26 and 27 of this issue. You’ll get a clear idea of renewable energy feedstocks – and the complete connections that are being made with organics recycling.