Northwest Renewable News

Your Daily Source for Renewable Energy News in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana & Northern California

Despite possible suit, canola project continues in Ore. February 10, 2010

Filed under: Biofuels,Farm/Ranch,Legal/Courts,Oregon — nwrenewablenews @ 5:02 pm
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An economic development grant approved by Josephine County officials last year has hit a snag, but Commissioner Dave Toler said that the project remains worthwhile and has benefited the community.

The $85,000 grant was approved by the board of county commissioners on Jan. 13, 2009 by a 2-1 vote, with Sandi Cassanelli dissenting. It was awarded to the Josephine County Soil and Water Conservation District (JCSWCD), which was charged with administering the grant in cooperation with the Eugene-based firm, N.W. Seed Crushers.

At the time, it was hoped that canola could be grown by area farmers, which could then be crushed, with the resulting oil used for biofuels. The growing of canola is prohibited in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, but not in the southwest portion of the state.

However, the partnership between N.W. Seed Crushers and JCSWCD now appears to be dissolving, and could end up in litigation.

Toler addressed the issue during the Wednesday, Feb. 3 meeting of the Josephine County Renewable Energy Task Force, held at the courthouse in Grants Pass.

Only half of the grant allotment has been spent, Toler said, meaning that the other half is still available.

Toler touted certain aspects of the grant allocation. He said that more than 300 acres of canola have been planted throughout the county as a result, with several growers participating.

Kit Doyle has taken the lead on the project, Toler said, and has created partnerships with many growers. Doyle also has a waiting list of other growers hoping to become involved, Toler said.

A production facility for the crop may be established somewhere in the county soon, Toler said, adding that the Applegate Valley is becoming the local “epicenter” of canola growing.

Once the canola seed is crushed, around 70 percent of the product can be used as an agricultural feed product, Toler said, and the rest can be used as a biofuel.

He said that a new state mandate requires that 3 percent of the diesel consumed in Oregon come from renewable energy sources. There is currently an inadequate supply of such renewables in the state right now, he said, so it is being imported from Montana.

“This is definitely growing,” Toler said.

The grant was intended to stimulate the growth of biofuels crops, Toler said. Unless the commissioners vote to pull the remaining funding back, he said, it can go to a local contractor to continue the project.

“I think it will have a long-term impact in terms of agriculture,” Toler said. “With $43,000, we stimulated part of our agriculture sector. That’s great bang for our buck.”

Doyle will be scheduled to make a presentation to the commissioners sometime in mid-February about the canola project, Toler said.

Scott Jorgensen, Illionois Valley News –


Is Biomass the Brave New World of Energy? January 27, 2010

It was an idea hatched in algae. Now its creators believe it could grow into a better way to power the West, and possibly beyond.

First things first, the scientists at Whitefish-based Algae Aqua-Culture Technologies (AACT) must put their idea into action and test its efficiency. And they have found a willing partner in the F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Co. of Columbia Falls.

Scientists at AACT have a vision to use woody biomass and algae to produce both heat and commercially viable organic compounds for use in fertilizers. In the process, the system would create methane to be converted into electricity while also capturing and utilizing carbon dioxide, rather than releasing it into the atmosphere.

A team of engineers and scientists is currently working on a model biorefinery for Stoltze. It will be implemented at Stoltze’s mill site over the next couple of months and, if it proves efficient, a much larger full-scale biorefinery will follow. Mike Holecek, a project leader, said the system’s pyrolytic boiler can handle a range of biomass, but initially woodchips will be the primary fuel.

The project, called the “Green Power House,” has already garnered investors and a range of supporters, including retired Air Force Lieutenant General Richard Swope, who now works as a consultant for the U.S. Department of Defense. He has been part of multiple alternative energy projects.

Swope said the Defense Department has steadily increased its desire to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and pursue alternative energy resources. The Air Force, Swope said, is the Defense Department’s largest consumer of fuel.

“There have been a number of flight tests conducted with military aircraft with a mix of biomass-derived jet fuel,” Swope said.

Current research, on behalf of the Defense Department, is seeking ways to “convert biomass specifically into feedstock or fuel,” Swope said. Keeping his eye out for groundbreaking alternative energy projects, Swope happened to find one in his own backyard. Swope, who lives in Whitefish, said AACT’s project could have influence far beyond Stoltze’s mill site.

“Absolutely, something like this could help at the national level,” Swope said. “It could help with the Defense Department.”

In December, Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. announced the closing of its linerboard plant in Frenchtown, ending employment for 417 workers and raising serious questions for an already beleaguered timber industry in western Montana. Smurfit-Stone was the state’s biggest buyer of slash, small trees and sawmill residuals. Many in the logging industry relied on the mill.

The linerboard plant’s closure triggered discussions about the potential of biomass-derived energy in Montana. With such a major wood consumer gone, folks in the state’s timber industry were left grasping for new uses for forest products. Biomass energy began to dominate headlines throughout Montana.

Furthermore, NorthWestern Energy announced in early January that it’s in discussions with Smurfit-Stone officials about the possibility of turning the shuttered linerboard mill into a biomass power plant. When in operation, the mill already functioned as a biomass cogeneration plant, burning wood products in a boiler to produce energy used at the facility, as well as excess electricity put back on the power grid.

NorthWestern is also working with the Montana Community Development Corporation to study the feasibility of turning other mills into cogeneration biomass power plants.

On Jan. 21, Stoltze hosted a biomass energy forum as part of the “Re-Powering the Flathead” community dialogue series at Flathead Valley Community College. One of the speakers was Dr. Evan Sugden, a member of the AACT team. The event was heavily attended.

Amid all the biomass headlines, AACT’s proposal is particularly striking, primarily, because the ball is already rolling and, secondarily, because it’s such a foreign concept to most outside of scientific circles.

At its core, this seemingly brave new world is actually rooted in two familiar standbys: warm water and old friends. Several years ago, Holecek, who has a background in biochemistry and environmental design, was asked by his friend Paul Stelter to research new approaches to utilizing the geothermal qualities of Alameda’s Hot Springs Retreat, located in the town of Hot Springs. Stelter is part owner of Alameda’s.

From that initial research came the creation of Algae Aqua-Culture Technologies, a partnership between Stelter, Holecek and Michael Smith, who, like Holecek, lives in Whitefish. Sugden, a scientist and professor at the University of Washington, joined the team later. And Swope came on as a chief strategist and promoter, while numerous other people lent their support, through money and otherwise.

In Hot Springs, the AACT team launched a project using low temperature geothermal water to grow algae. The algae are fed into geothermal-heated bioreactors, or digesters, which are essentially sophisticated composters. Sugden calls the Stoltze project’s digester an “algae-eating, mechanical cow.”

The bioreactors consume the algae, along with some cellulose, to produce methane, which is converted into electricity. The Flathead County Landfill installed a system last year that takes methane emanating from trash and turns it into electricity.

But what really caught the scientists’ attention wasn’t the methane produced by the digesters; it was the waste product the digesters spit out. That waste product turned out to be a substance ideal for use in soil amendments such as organic fertilizer.

Also, the scientists discovered that their project’s control system is intelligent enough to manage any type of thermal energy, including heat at sawmills. That discovery led to discussions with Stoltze. And while the AACT team is now focused on the Stoltze project, it hasn’t abandoned its geothermal research, Holecek said.

Sugden, emphasizing the difference between “hot” and “warm” water, said there are numerous warm springs scattered across the West that could be utilized to run algae-based systems like AACT’s.

At Stoltze’s model biorefinery, bioreactors will digest algae – grown on site in a greenhouse – and produce organic compounds for fertilizer, similar to the Hot Springs geothermal project. But it will also incorporate a high-tech pyrolytic boiler. The boiler will generate heat to dry lumber in Stoltze’s kilns, as well as steam to run the rest of the system.

The boiler serves another important function – it produces biochar, or charcoal. The biochar can then be combined with the other organic compounds produced by the system for use in organic soil amendments. The organic fertilizer market, the AACT team points out, is growing rapidly.

With the system, Smith said carbon is sequestered and used to make a substance that could be valuable for agricultural purposes. He sees both commercial and environmental potential. So does Swope.

“The beauty is that there is an enormous amount of intellectual energy coming together to try to solve and resolve energy issues,” Swope said. “It is very exciting.”

Meyers Reece, Flathead Beacon –


WSU Scientists receive $1.1 million for biofuels research January 14, 2010

Filed under: Biofuels,University Research,Washington — nwrenewablenews @ 3:19 pm

WSU scientists based in the Tri-Cities and Pullman are getting a combined $1.1 million for biofuels research from the U.S. Department of Energy.

DOE announced $80 million for biofuels projects, split between three consortia. WSU is one of several groups involved in the consortia and will receive funding as part of the two groups co-led by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which is getting $14 million. For more details, see the DOE press release.

For WSU Tri-Cities, this means $620,000 of research funding as part of the National Advanced Biofuels Consortium. The work will be done by the WSU Center for Bioproducts and Bioenergy team based at the Bioproducts, Sciences and Engineering Laboratory (BSEL) on the Richland campus.

“This is only the start of more great things to come in the BSEL building,” said Birgitte K. Ahring, director of WSU’s Center for Bioproducts and Bioenergy and Battelle Distinguished Professor. “This opportunity lays the groundwork for amazing partnerships nationwide and will help us find new ways to make fuels from non-food plants.”

The BSEL opened in May 2008 on the Richland campus. Construction of the $24.8 million facility was a partnership between WSU and Battelle, which operates PNNL for the U.S. DOE. The building allows the organizations to work together to develop solutions to some of the nation’s largest energy problems, to strengthen opportunities to move technology into industry and to provide students with a hands-on educational experience.

For the Pullman campus, $495,000 from the National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts consortium is for algae research to be conducted in the WSU College of Agriculture, Human and Natural Resource Sciences, under Professor David Kramer with the Institute of Biological Chemistry.

Kramer is a WSU “innovator” whose research focuses on increasing plant productivity and redirecting photosynthetic energy toward new and efficient biochemical pathways in effort to harness bioenergy.

More details on Kramer’s research can be found here.

By Melissa O’Neil Perdue, WSU Tri-Cities –


Boardman biofuel plant gets $25M federal grant December 11, 2009

ZeaChem Inc. on Friday said it has been awarded a $25 million federal stimulus grant it will put toward its cellulosic ethanol plant under construction in Boardman.

Lakewood, Colo.-based ZeaChem announced last month that it had started construction on the 250,000-gallon-capacity plant, which will be capable of converting organic material such as forest waste and wood pulp into fuel.

The company’s core technology, which will result in a chemical called ethyl acetate, will be online by 2010. The $25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy will be used to build and integrate additional components that will enable final production of cellulosic ethanol.

ZeaChem was one of 19 organizations to be selected for a total of $564 million in stimulus grants targeted for advanced biorefinery projects.

The roughly $34 million biorefinery will use poplar trees as its principal feedstock. The trees will be supplied by GreenWood Resources Inc., a Portland company that operates a 17,000-acre tree farm near Boardman. If successful, the company hopes to expand the Boardman plant to commercial-scale production in the range of 25 million to 50 million gallons of fuel annually.

Portland Business Journal –


Commercial Wood-to-Biofuel facility planned for Boardman, Ore. November 18, 2009

A Colorado company that has developed a process to convert wood to fuel is starting construction of what will eventually be a commercial-scale production plant.

Lakewood-based ZeaChem Inc. is working with Hazen Research of Golden to build the first units of its biofuels refinery. ZeaChem President and CEO Jim Imbler says the company will transfer the modular units to Boardman, Ore., where it will eventually run a commercial refinery.

ZeaChem plans to start production at a demonstration facility in Oregon by the end of next year.

ZeaChem uses a bacteria to break down the cellulose in wood to make fuel. Imbler says the process, unlike traditional fermentation with yeast, produces little carbon dioxide.

The company raised $34 million earlier this year to help build a refinery.

Gazette Times –


Montana Sawmills Set to Create Biomass Fuel October 18, 2009

Filed under: Biofuels,Biomass,Montana,Wood Products — nwrenewablenews @ 5:31 pm
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Montana sawmills are working with Montana’s power company to create biomass fuel. Eight sawmills are partnering with NorthWestern Energy and the Montana Community Development Corporation. The goal is to create wood-fueled power across the state. It’s partially funded by a $125,000 grant from the State. The combined effort hopes to help address the pine beetle problem and diversify the State’s electric supply.



Brothers Turn Cow Manure into New Source of Electricity October 5, 2009

Filed under: Biofuels,Methane Digesters,Washington — nwrenewablenews @ 1:08 pm
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Dairy cows make milk, and they make poop — 30 gallons a day. Now farmers can send the cow waste to machines that will convert it to electricity. Washington Governor Chris Gregoire will visit one of those electrical plants in Skagit County today (Monday).

Daryl Maas owns the plant with his brother Kevin.

Maas: “Doesn’t everyone always dream of working with manure their whole life?”

He says they got into renewable energy when they tried to build wind turbines on their grandfather’s farm. That didn’t work out. But they heard about machines called manure digesters. And they decided to get into it. He says the hardest part isn’t the smell. It’s convincing farmers that it’s a good idea.

Maas: “Farmers in Western Washington are just allergically scared of regulation, of environmental issues. And if they feel like getting involved in the project is gonna make their life more complicated and give them more scrutiny, that’s really tough for them.”

But Daryl and Kevin Maas convinced two farmers in Skagit County to pipe their manure to their new power plant. The digester extracts methane from the manure and burns it in a generator to make electricity. Daryl and his brother sell the electricity to Puget Sound Energy.

This is kind of gross, but what’s leftover are solids and liquids. Daryl and Kevin give them back to the farmers, because they can actually use them. Daryl says the solids are a good replacement for sawdust in cow bedding. That can save a farmer $10,000 to $15,000 a month. Farmers can use the liquid as fertilizer — and Daryl says it’s better than raw manure because it’s so thin it can run through a hose.

And to Daryl, the whole thing smells like money. He and his brother paid over $3 million to build the digester. But he says they’ll make the money back in six years. He plans to build three more in Western Washington.

Phyllis Fletcher, KUOW News