Sunday, April 11, 2010

Ethanol policies "essential to U.S. economy"; beetle-pine butanol

ethanol energy

Study: Ethanol production essential to U.S. economy


A new economic study prepared by IHS Global Insight finds that maintaining policies that encourage domestic ethanol production and use are essential to the U.S. economy.

Undermining the U.S. ethanol industry by eliminating import tariffs and increasing the tax on domestic ethanol would have severe economic consequences for American corn farmers. Dropping the current import tariff on ethanol would create a negative ripple effect, causing corn prices to drop by 30 cents per bushel and eliminating as many as 160,000 full and part-time jobs. Unlike other energy subsidies, incentives for biofuels are scheduled to end this year.

In Nebraska, ethanol production has had another record year, with 1.4 billion gallons of ethanol produced despite plant shutdowns and falling fuel prices. Ethanol plants used 525 million bushels of corn, about one third of Nebraska's record corn crop, in 2009. Nebraska's ethanol production capacity will likely exceed 2 billion gallons per year by the end of 2010.

Todd Sneller, administrator of the Nebraska Ethanol Board, said that increased production and plant reopenings confirm the viability of the ethanol industry and its positive impact on the state.

"The ethanol industry has created thousands of good-paying jobs in Nebraska," Sneller said. "Elimination of the ethanol tariff and biofuel incentives would be a misguided policy considering the significant economic impact generated by this domestic industry. The current policies help create jobs, they keep a domestic industry more competitive and they reduce fuel costs for consumers."

Most ethanol plants that have been idled in the past year have resumed production or restarted construction. The plant in Cambridge began operating again last month after acquisition by Zeeland Farm Services, and Aventine announced that construction at its Aurora West plant has resumed. The plant may be producing ethanol as soon as September.

"Many economists say that the ethanol industry has largely kept the Midwest's economy afloat during the recession," Sneller said. "We need to retain policies that help keep the ethanol industry healthy and our economy strong."

April 7, 2010 2:04 PM PDT

A forest epidemic turns into energy opportunity

Colorado has been particularly affected by the pine beetle epidemic with entire pine forests being killed completely. (The trees in red are dead.)

(Credit: Office of Congressman John T. Salazar, D-Colo.)

Fuel start-up Cobalt Technologies has figured out a way to use trees poisoned and killed by pine beetles to make biobutanol, the company announced Wednesday.

Cobalt develops biofuels that can be mixed with gas, diesel, or jet fuel, as well as used to make plastics. Up until now, the company has used forestry byproducts that originated from healthy trees to make its n-butanol. The result is a gasoline blend made up of 12 percent biobutanol, which the company has claimed can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 85 percent when compared to conventional gasoline. It's been touting the fuel as an alternative to ethanol, and in January launched a California plant with the support of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The company's process for making biofuel from the unhealthy wood is quite similar to the fermentation procedure Cobalt has used on other nonfood biomass. It applies its own proprietary strains of bacteria to ferment the biomass and convert it to n-butanol with one important exception. Because the sap from the beetle-killed trees is a toxin, the scientists first apply a "pretreatment process" to extract the sap from the dead pine before breaking it down. The heat given off from that pretreatment is directed toward the fermentation process to further save energy, according to Helen Allrich, a spokeswoman for Cobalt.

Colorado State University has agreed to partner with Cobalt to test how well gasoline blended with the biobutanol will perform in engines.

"If Cobalt can convert beetle-killed wood, it's likely that the company can make biofuel from almost any cellulosic feedstock," Ken Reardon, professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Colorado State University, said in a statement.

As it's been widely reported, the Mountain pine beetle and other pine beetles have been a nuisance to forests across the U.S. and Canada, particularly in Colorado and British Columbia. If testing goes well, it could offer a significant opportunity to turn a negative situation into a useful one.

"If we use only half of the 2.3 million acres currently affected in Colorado alone, we could produce over two billion gallons of biobutanol--enough to blend into all the gasoline used in Colorado for six years," Rick Wilson, chief executive officer of Cobalt, said in a statement.

Candace Lombardi, a freelance journalist based in the Boston area, focuses on the evolution of green and otherwise cutting-edge technologies, from robots to cars to scientific innovation. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET. E-mail Candace.

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Biofuels are a wide range of fuels which are in some way derived from biomass.

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