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BP targets availability of two new biofuels by 2014

by Bloomberg

BP Plc (BP/) is testing two advanced biofuels that could be commercially available by 2014, said Philip New, chief executive officer of the U.K. petroleum company’s biofuels unit.

The company is planting energy grasses to feed a 36 million gallon-a-year cellulosic ethanol plant planned in Florida, he said in an interview in London today. A demonstration biobutanol plant in Hull, England, is operating, New said. A bioethanol plant in the same location should be producing by the end of this year, he said.

Biofuels could account for 9 percent of global transport fuels used by 2030, up from 3 percent now, according to BP. Drivers include climate-change targets in the U.S. and Europe, energy security concerns and the possibility the fuels may be a lucrative crop for ailing rural communities, New said.

“If you believe that demand for transport fuels is going to grow significantly, if you believe that for the foreseeable future we’re going to carry on using internal combustion engines and liquid fuels, then biofuels are going to be the only complement to crude oil that’s out there,” he said.

Cellulosic ethanol uses micro-organisms to break down fibrous plants, making it possible to produce fuel from energy grasses. Unlike sugar cane, which flourishes around the equator, the grasses can be grown anywhere.

Biobutanol is produced by fermenting plant sugars and can be blended with gasoline at higher concentrations. Existing bioethanol can be retrofitted to produce biobutanol, New said. Biobutanol is a type of alcohol that’s used as a fuel.

BP is looking at sites in Texas, Florida and Louisiana where it could farm energy grasses and build new plants, he said. The company is targeting a cost of $60 to $80 a barrel by 2024 from $140 to $150 a barrel today, New said.
The two fuels and a new sugar-to-diesel product will be trialled in 100 vehicles during the London Olympic Games.

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Oil Refiners Launch Counter Offensive on Obama’s ‘War on Fossil Fuels’

By Felicity Carus
Published: June 12, 2012

America’s oil refiners are preparing to intensify efforts to press the federal government to drop mandates to encourage the development of advanced biofuels and counter the Obama administration’s “war on fossil fuels.”

The Renewable Portfolio Standard requires that 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel be blended with petroleum-based products by 2022 under the Bush-era Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

Five years can be a very long time in US energy politics, said Charles Drevna, president of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, whose members include oil supermajors such as Shell, BP and Chevron.

“RFS2 was really conceived at a different time in the nation’s history even though it was only a few years ago. There was a thought permeating through Congress that we were eventually going to run out of natural resources.

Policy Tools not keeping Pace with Shifting Market Dynamics

“Since then, as a nation we fully understand we’re not an energy poor nation, we’re an energy rich nation with the advent of fracking and horizontal drilling.

“We’ve had this 4-5 year experiment going on which we believe has proved to be a failure.”

The RFS2 demonstrates how quickly the dynamics of the energy industry can outgrow policy, said Drevna, in an exclusive interview with AOL Energy.

“Policymakers haven’t kept pace [with change in the energy industry] and that’s always a problem when you have new technology and entrepreneurship being developed but when you’re forced to apply mandates and uneconomic solutions once they’re passed they’re very difficult to get amended.

“One of our major goals at AFPM is to have Congress and whatever administration it is to take a long hard look at the RFS and come to the epiphany that if we want to limit our reliance on foreign sources of crude oil the best way to do it is to develop our own resources and forget this totally anti-consumer anti-environment anti-common sense approach to national security which is mandating biofuels and renewables.”

At the end of May, Drevna warned the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform: “The policies of the administration and EPA continue to support a war on fossil fuels that ultimately harms consumers, workers, the economy and our country’s national security.”

AFPM is a 110-year-old trade association which represents 98% of US oil refiners that process 18 million barrels of oil a day with a combined annual revenue of $725 billion.

In April, the US Energy Information Agency forecast that US gasoline demand this summer – usually a peak period – is expected to be the lowest in 11 years, partly due to rising gasoline prices at the pump and more fuel efficient vehicles.

Next month, Sunoco‘s Philadelphia refinery will become the latest in a number of refinery closures which have resulted in a 4% decline in refining capacity in the US since last year.
Overall, gasoline demand in the US declined since the 2008 spike at $147 a barrel and flattened since the subsequent global economic recession, said Drevna.

Biofuels Seen as a Small but Growing Threat

Although advanced biofuels are at de minimis levels of production this year, Raymond James equity research analysts forecast 800 million gallons of production by the end of 2013.

Meanwhile, the 133.93 billion gallons of gasoline consumed in the US last year contained about 12.87 billion gallons of ethanol, accounting for 9% of each gallon pumped into tanks.

Advanced biofuel and ethanol production are unlikely to make too much of a dent in the US liquid fuel market which is expected to sell 186 billion gallons of gasoline and diesel this year.
But AFPM sees mandates on alternative sources of liquid fuels for transportation and chemicals as a direct threat to the industry – and the American economy.

“We don’t think [biofuels] should be mandated whether it’s corn ethanol, biofuels or biodiesel until such time as those products are as efficient, reliable and abundant as gasoline and diesel produced from petroleum,” said Drevna. “Until they are able to compete head to head then let the free market decide, let the consumer decide.

…E15 goes way beyond what makes sense.” – Drevna

“The RFS was based on ideology and political science rather than reality and real science. We believe it needs to be significantly modified to prevent harm to American consumers and the economy.”

But the RFS2 has not been without its problems. Earlier this year, the EPA had to revise down its quota for cellulosic ethanol from 500 million gallons to 10.5 million gallons as advanced biofuels are still at zero commercial production. But refiners were still fined $6.8 million by the EPA – part of what Drevna said was a “hidden tax” for the consumer as costs were transferred to the consumer.

US ethanol producers last year reached saturation point of production for its domestic market as a 10% blendstock in gasoline. EPA’s decision to raise the maximum percentage blend to 15% is potentially dangerous, said Drevna.

A recent Coordinating Research Council (CRC) study found that there are at least 5 million vehicles on American roads which are at risk of failure with 15% ethanol blended fuel.

“We don’t think the EPA has the authority to bifurcate the fuel system. How much corn are we going to use to blend when we have enough oil under our own feet and off our own shores? We’re not anti-ethanol but E15 goes way beyond what makes sense.”

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Current and Projected Costs for Biofuels from Algae and Pyrolysis

The presentation explored the question of whether the U.S. government is spending money on the right technology pathways. Costs were presented for biofuel produced from pyrolysis, algae, Fischer-Tropsch (FT), and methanol-to-gasoline (MTG) routes.

Read more: The Oil Drum | Current and Projected Costs for Biofuels from Algae and Pyrolysis.

Biofuel mandates could close more refineries, officials warn

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WASHINGTON, DC, Apr. 27
04/27/2012
By Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

Philadelphia area refinery closures will be only the beginning of shutdowns nationwide if the federal government does not change several key regulations, two oil industry officials warned on Apr. 26. Ethanol mandates in the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act pose a particular threat, they told the US Senate-House Joint Economic Committee.

“The recent refinery closures that have occurred or are currently pending are the tip of an iceberg,” said Thomas D. O’Malley, chairman of PBF Energy Co. LLC, which operates refineries in Delaware City, Del. (190,000 b/d), Paulsboro, NJ (180,000 b/d), and Toledo, Ohio (170,000 b/d).

“If the fuel substitutions from 2012 to 2022 mandated under [EISA] are maintained, we will lose over that time period an additional 10% minimum of US capacity and the thousands of jobs this important industry provides,” O’Malley said.

Bob Greco, the American Petroleum Institute’s downstream and group director, said refiners face an impending “blend wall” where mandates to blend ethanol into gasoline will soon exceed motorists’ ability to safely use the fuels in existing vehicles.

“Moreover, refiners are also required to blend into the gasoline supply advanced biofuels that do not yet exist, or pay a fee when they cannot meet the mandates,” he noted. “This policy is regulatory absurdity, and effectively amounts to a hidden tax on gasoline manufacturers.”

Tier 3 as well

O’Malley said the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Tier 3 gasoline proposal also will close more US refineries. Refiners, including independents that control 60% of US capacity, will need to spend billions of dollars to lower sulfur content from 30 ppm to 10 ppm, he said.

“Under this plan, the total sulfur removed from PBF’s gasoline production of about 4.5 billion gal/year would less than one eighth of what one 300-Mw coal-fired power plant emits in a year,” O’Malley said.

Greco said EPA has yet to demonstrate any air-quality benefits from adopting Tier 3 limits. He cited an analysis by the Baker & O’Brien consulting firm, which API commissioned, that found that implementing the new requirements could increase refinery greenhouse gas emissions because of the use of energy-intensive hydrotreating equipment to remove sulfur from the gasoline.

“Existing refinery regulations and fuel requirements clearly contribute to a cleaner environment and safer workplace,” Greco said. “Unnecessary, inefficient, and excessively costly requirements hamper our ability to provide and distribute fuels to America, while also employing hundreds of thousands of people and enhancing our national security. We have already seen some refineries close, at least in part due to the cumulative impact of government controls.”

O’Malley said, “Refineries in Pennsylvania closed because they didn’t make money. The federal government took away some of their market and gave it to the agriculture industry. The insanity of cellulosic ethanol will take away another 10-15% and make refiners pay $120 million in indirect taxes. This whole system is a house of cards that’s collapsing. Unfortunately, it’s collapsing on the men and women who work in refineries.”

Market concentration

A third witness, Diana L. Moss, vice-president and director of the American Antitrust Institute, said more refinery closures in the US Northeast could result in a market where three refiners accounted for 93% of capacity changing to one where two refiners represent 86%. More products coming by pipeline from the Gulf Coast could replace much of what is lost from closed plants, but proposals to convert some installations to terminals could raise new ownership concentration questions, she said.

The fourth witness, Michael Greenstone, an environmental economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the federal government should encourage policies that recognize the health, environmental, and security costs associated with each form of energy. If this isn’t feasible, he said, research suggests that natural gas should be put on the same footing as renewable fuels under any federal standard and subsidies equal to those for electric vehicles should be offered to those using compressed natural gas.

Others submitted written statements. US Rep. Donna M. Christensen (D-VI) noted that Hovensa LLC’s chief executive, when he testified before the Virgin Islands legislature, said low demand and competitive disadvantages, such as having to fire its units with oil instead of gas, led to the decision to close the 500,000-b/d facility. “Our neighbors in Puerto Rico remain concerned about where they will be able to secure jet fuel that was supplied by Hovensa,” Christensen said.

Industry witnesses kept returning to regulatory problems refiners face. “The ethanol and biofuel mandates need to be adjusted to reflect what the vehicle fleet can use,” API’s Greco said. “As it is, even if E15 became widely used, it would extend the blend wall by only 1-2 years.”

EISA and its mandates were a bad idea in 2007, and a worse one now, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers Pres. Charles T. Drevna said following the hearing. “We’re seeing unintended consequence of rushing something through Congress without considering the impacts,” he told OGJ. “Keep corn on people’s tables, and gasoline in their vehicles’ tanks.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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Navy Buys Biofuels for $15 Per Gallon From Stimulus-Linked Firm

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Lachlan Markay
December 13, 2011 at 11:00 am

A California company has been hired to provide 450,000 gallons of advanced biofuels to the U.S. Navy – the “single largest purchase of biofuel in government history,” according to the Navy – at $15 per gallon, or about four times the market price of conventional jet fuel.

The Institute for Energy Research unearthed the purchase in a recent post on its website:

Last week, the Navy signed a contract with two biofuel companies to purchase 450,000 gallons of advanced biofuels at $12 million to assist in President Obama’s goal to establish a domestic biofuels industry and to advance it in ways that do not require Congressional approval. Of course, given the Navy’s mission, they claim to be pursuing biofuels to ensure adequate fuel in the future without relying on crude from the Middle East or other overseas sources that may be a threat to our national security. While this purchase is only a drop in the bucket compared to the Navy’s annual usage of more than 670 million gallons, their goal is to fuel a normal Navy mission with a 50-percent blend of biofuels and gasoline by 2016.

The company selling the fuel to the Navy is called Solazyme. The company’s corporate board includes “strategic advisor” T.J. Glauthier, who “advises companies dealing with the complex competitive and regulatory challenges in the energy sector today.”

Glauthier was the Deputy Secretary and Chief Operations Officer of the Department of Energy from 1999 to 2001, meaning he has experience dealing with energy issues on both sides of the regulatory equation.

Also of note: Glauthier served (pro bono) on President Obama’s White House Transition Team, where he specifically worked on the energy provisions of the stimulus package, according to Solazyme’s website. Solazyme itself landed a $21.8 million stimulus grant to build a biofuel refinery.

Now the company looks to have scored big once again. But the benefits extend beyond the immediate profit to be made from the sale. As Wired Magazine noted, “the often-struggling biofuels industry will be a lot closer to proving its viability” with Solazyme’s massive Navy contract.

“Our use of fossil fuels is a very real threat to our national security,” the Navy insisted in defending the purchase, apparently in reference to the supposed limits on fossil fuel availability. But as IER noted, the United States sits on enough oil and natural gas to power the country for hundreds of years – if only the federal government would permit expanded exploration and development.

The administration seems to be looking for ways to push alternative fuels without congressional action, and the military is the logical place to start. Heritage research fellow Jack Spencer noticed the trend earlier this year: “The Pentagon and the environmental movement seem to have found common cause by linking America’s national security to the basic tenets of the President’s green agenda,” Spencer noted. “Unfortunately, there are real costs for national security, energy technology, the taxpayer, and the American consumer.”

Government efforts to prop up favored industries also tend to benefit the politically connected. Solazyme certainly fits the bill.

(h/t J.E. Dyer and Whitney Pitcher)

Posted in Energy and Environment, Featured, Scribe

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Feds to invest up to $510M in biofuels for military, commercial uses

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August 16, 2011 at 11:41 am by Brett Clanton

The U.S. government will invest up to $510 million over  the next three years to develop advanced aviation and marine biofuels for military and commercial transportation, President Barack Obama announced today.

Under the plan, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Energy and Navy will partner with private industry to jointly construct or retrofit existing biofuel plants and refineries, with the goal accelerating output of renewable jet and diesel fuels, the White House said.

The administration touted the plan as a way to enhance both energy security and national security, while also helping domestic farmers.

Biofuels are an important part of reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil and creating jobs here at home,” Obama said in a statement. “But supporting biofuels cannot be the role of government alone. That’s why we’re partnering with the private sector to speed development of next-generation biofuels that will help us continue to take steps towards energy independence and strengthen communities across our country.”

In the U.S., biofuels are largely derived from corn and vegetable oils. But producers are trying to develop “next generation” fuels from non-food crops, agricultural waste, wood chips, algae and other feedstocks that don’t impact the food supply. However, costs are high and technology hurdles remain.

The White House plan calls for the production of “drop in” biofuels that can be made in the same facilities as petroleum-based fuels and be transported through existing pipelines.

Original Article

Rush to Use Crops as Fuel Raises Food Prices and Hunger Fears

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By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL

Published: April 6, 2011

The starchy cassava root has long been an important ingredient in everything from tapioca pudding and ice cream to paper and animal feed.

But last year, 98 percent of cassava chips exported from Thailand, the world’s largest cassava exporter, went to just one place and almost all for one purpose: to China to make biofuel. Driven by new demand, Thai exports of cassava chips have increased nearly fourfold since 2008, and the price of cassava has roughly doubled.

Each year, an ever larger portion of the world’s crops — cassava and corn, sugar and palm oil — is being diverted for biofuels as developed countries pass laws mandating greater use of nonfossil fuels and as emerging powerhouses like China seek new sources of energy to keep their cars and industries running. Cassava is a relatively new entrant in the biofuel stream.

But with food prices rising sharply in recent months, many experts are calling on countries to scale back their headlong rush into green fuel development, arguing that the combination of ambitious biofuel targets and mediocre harvests of some crucial crops is contributing to high prices, hunger and political instability.

This year, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reported that its index of food prices was the highest in its more than 20 years of existence. Prices rose 15 percent from October to January alone, potentially “throwing an additional 44 million people in low- and middle-income countries into poverty,” the World Bank said.

Soaring food prices have caused riots or contributed to political turmoil in a host of poor countries in recent months, including Algeria, Egypt and Bangladesh, where palm oil, a common biofuel ingredient, provides crucial nutrition to a desperately poor populace. During the second half of 2010, the price of corn rose steeply — 73 percent in the United States — an increase that the United Nations World Food Program attributed in part to the greater use of American corn for bioethanol.

“The fact that cassava is being used for biofuel in China, rapeseed is being used in Europe, and sugar cane elsewhere is definitely creating a shift in demand curves,” said Timothy D. Searchinger, a research scholar at Princeton University who studies the topic. “Biofuels are contributing to higher prices and tighter markets.”

In the United States, Congress has mandated that biofuel use must reach 36 billion gallons annually by 2022. The European Union stipulates that 10 percent of transportation fuel must come from renewable sources like biofuel or wind power by 2020. Countries like China, India, Indonesia and Thailand have adopted biofuel targets as well.

To be sure, many factors help drive up the price of food, including bad weather that ruins crop yields and high oil prices that make transportation costly. Last year, for example, unusually severe weather destroyed wheat harvests in Russia, Australia and China, and an infestation of the mealy bug reduced Thailand’s cassava output.

Olivier Dubois, a bioenergy expert at the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome, said it was hard to quantify the extent to which the diversions for biofuels had driven up food prices.

“The problem is complex, so it is hard to come up with sweeping statements like biofuels are good or bad,” he said. “But what is certain is that biofuels are playing a role. Is it 20 or 30 or 40 percent? That depends on your modeling.”

While no one is suggesting that countries abandon biofuels, Mr. Dubois and other food experts suggest that they should revise their policies so that rigid fuel mandates can be suspended when food stocks get low or prices become too high.

“The policy really has to be food first,” said Hans Timmer, director of the Development Prospects Group of the World Bank. “The problems occur when you set targets for biofuels irrespective of the prices of other commodities.”

Mr. Timmer said that the recent rise in oil prices was likely to increase the demand for biofuels.

It can be tricky predicting how new demand from the biofuel sector will affect the supply and price of food. Sometimes, as with corn or cassava, direct competition between purchasers drives up the prices of biofuel ingredients. In other instances, shortages and price inflation occur because farmers who formerly grew crops like vegetables for consumption plant different crops that can be used for fuel.

China learned this the hard way nearly a decade ago when it set out to make bioethanol from corn, only to discover that the plan caused alarming shortages and a rise in food prices. In 2007 the government banned the use of grains to make biofuel.

Chinese scientists then perfected the process of making fuel from cassava, a root that yielded good energy returns, leading to the opening of the first commercial cassava ethanol plant several years ago.

“They’re moving very aggressively in this new direction; cassava seems to be the go-to crop,” said Greg Harris, an analyst with Commodore Research and Consultancy in New York who has studied the trade.

In addition to expanding cassava cultivation at home, China is buying from Cambodia and Laos as well as Thailand.

Although a mainstay of diets in much of Africa, cassava is not central to Asian diets, even though the Chinese once called it “the underground food store” because it provided crucial backup nutrition in lean harvest years. So the Chinese reasoned that making fuel with cassava would not directly affect food prices or create food shortages, at least at home. The proportion of Chinese cassava going to ethanol leapt to 52 percent last year from 10 percent in 2008.

More distant or indirect impacts are considered to be likely, however. Because cassava chips have been commonly used as animal feed, new demand from the biofuels industry might affect the availability and cost of meat. In Southeast Asian countries where China is paying generously for stockpiles of cassava, farmers may be tempted to grow the crop instead of, for example, other vegetables or rice.

And if China turned to Africa as a source, one of that continent’s staple food crops could be in jeopardy, although experts note that exporting cassava could also become a business opportunity.

“This is becoming a more valuable cash crop,” Mr. Harris said. “The farmland is limited, so the more that is devoted to fuel, the less is devoted to food.”

The Chinese demand for cassava could also dent planned biofuel production in poorer Asian nations: in the Philippines and Cambodia, developers were recently forced to suspend the construction of cassava bioethanol plants because the tuber had become too expensive.

Thailand’s own nascent biofuel industry may have trouble getting the homegrown cassava it needs because it may not be able to match the prices offered by Chinese buyers, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Biofuels development in wealthier nations has already proved to have a powerful effect on the prices and the cultivation of crops. Encouraged by national biofuel subsidies, nearly 40 percent of the corn grown in the United States now goes to make fuel, with prices of corn on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange rising 73 percent from June to December 2010.

Such price rises also have distant ripple effects, food security experts say. “How much does the price of corn in Chicago influence the price of corn in Rwanda? It turns out there is a correlation,” said Marie Brill, senior policy analyst at ActionAid, an international development group. The price of corn in Rwanda rose 19 percent last year.

“For Americans it may mean a few extra cents for a box of cereal,” she said. “But that kind of increase puts corn out of the range of impoverished people.”

Higher prices also mean that groups like the World Food Program can buy less food to feed the world’s hungry.

European biofuels developers are buying large tracts of what they call “marginal land” in Africa with the aim of cultivating biofuel crops, particularly the woody bush known as jatropha. Advocates say that promoting jatropha for biofuels production has little impact on food supplies. But some of that land is used by poor people for subsistence farming or for gathering food like wild nuts.

“We have to move away from the thinking that producing an energy crop doesn’t compete with food,” said Mr. Dubois of the Food and Agriculture Organization. “It almost inevitably does.”

( Original Article )

nytimes.com

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