The Iowa Renaissance

March 16, 2015 |

iowaThe Advanced Bioeconomy is on view in Iowa.

New technologies, new wealth, new jobs, falling emissions, a new energy security, bipartisanship, new hope — Communities of Progress are building.

But will the presidential candidates see it?

This week a report in Yahoo News suggested that Jeb Bush has been “critical of an energy policy that prioritizes corn-based ethanol over second-generation fuels from algae, woods, grasses, plants, and other secondary sources,” and that “the former Florida governor’s past involvement with the issue that may cause him a headache as he seeks to court Iowa corn growers.”

Bush’s problem, the report contends, was made more difficult after “the head of a key second-generation ethanol producers industry group said publicly, without qualification, that the law is not working.”

Yahoo’s Jon Ward suggests that “The dispute may put Bush in an uncomfortable position, caught between his desire not to alienate Iowa farmers if he pursues the Republican presidential nomination, and his own past enthusiastic support for advanced biofuels.”

But is there really such a conflict between support for Iowa farmers and advanced biofuels as Yahoo News supposes?

Two must-knows for newer readers and media on advanced biofuels

Everyday Digest readers can skip this section — but here’s some necessary background on advanced biofuels for reporters and other readers dipping in to the issue between now and the Iowa caucuses in January 2016.

1. Advanced biofuels can include any qualifying fuel that generates a 50% savings in greenhouse gas emissions (including both direct and indirect effects) compared to 2005 baseline gasoline. Brazilian sugarcane ethanol qualifies, as does biodiesel, and virtually all of the modern “drop-in fuels” including renewable diesel, renewable gasoline and renewable jet fuel, and newer fuels like DME and compressed natural gas made from landfill methane.

As it happens, about 1 in 6 members of the Advanced Biofuels Association are “second-generation ethanol producers” — most make drop-in fuels.

2. Advanced biofuels can’t be made from corn starch, but they can be made in Iowa, and from the corn plant as a whole. In fact, Iowa is a leading US state in the production of advanced biofuels.

Iowa and advanced biofuels

Iowa is well known for its farm products — perhaps more famously its corn, and also as a leader in soybeans — but today, Iowa’s advanced biofuels capacity includes 298 million gallons of biodiesel capacity, and 20 million gallons of cellulosic fuels capacity (that is, POET-DSM’s Project Liberty in Emmetsburg).

Steel-POET-DSM

Cellulosic fuels from agricultural waste – it’s happening — here are the three new projects

In addition to Poet-DSM’s Project LIBERTY, which is already mechanically complete and is in the commissioning process, the state is also home to Quad County Corn Processors, a 35 million gallon per year capacity ethanol production facility in Galva, QCCP’s Adding Cellulosic Ethanol (ACE) process uses corn kernel fiber to produce an additional 2 million gallons per year of cellulosic ethanol. QCCP broke ground on the $8.5 million upgrade in July 2013 — the new process also boosts corn oil production by about 300%. Enhanced by Enogen corn enzyme technology, the project represents a collaboration between Syngenta and Cellulosic Ethanol Technologies (a subsidiary of Quad County Corn Processors).

Iowa will also become the first state in the country, later this year, that is home to three commercial-scale cellulosic biofuels plants when DuPont opens its 30 million gallon plant in the town of Nevada. When completed, the DuPont project will be the world’s largest cellulosic fuels facility. The state also has been a proving ground in the collection, storage, shipping and pre-treatment of cellulosic biomass — primarily excess corn stalks and cobs known as “stover”.

Back to the Future! Iowa and renewable fuels made from municipal solid waste

Later this year, the state is also expected to see the debut of Fiberight’s cellulosic ethanol plant in Blairstown. Start-up is planned for the first quarter of 2015. The ANDRITZ technology will be used for continuous pre-treatment of municipal solid waste feedstock which will then be converted into cellulosic ethanol using Fiberight’s existing fermentation and distillation processes. ANDRITZ’s technology utilizes a unique steam heating concept to continuously preheat and cook the feedstock at elevated temperatures, producing an average of 200 bdmt/d of pretreated material. A second facility using the Fiberight technology is under investigation for Iowa City.

In 2013, the state’s economic development authority has awarded EcoEngineers a grant to conduct a waste-to-energy feasibility study for the state, look at technical and economic feasibility of biogas and other processes for producing energy from agricultural, livestock and industrial wastes as well as and MSW. Biogas can produce RINs under the RFS if used as transportation fuel.

Advanced fuels that blend at higher levels — Iowa and bio-based butanol

Green Biologics has completed and is operating a demonstration-scale biobased n-butanol project in Emmetsburg that is producing renewable chemicals replacing fossil-fuel based equivalents. The projedct incolves converting over a traditional corn ethanol plant by introducing a new production organism. Generally the plants will use corn starch for cost reasosn, but can utilize cellulosic sugars made from corn stover, MSW, waste wood or other residues.

Green-Biologics

Meanwhile, Butamax has enrolled 11 ethanol plants in its early adopters program — which also would ultimately feature conversion from the production of ethanol, and five are in Iowa, incouding Big River Resources of Iowa, Corn, LP (Goldfield), Lincolnway Energy (Nevada); Platinum Ethanol (Arthur) and Little Sioux Corn Processors (Marcus).

Ultra-innovative feedstocks — Iowa and algae-based projects

Iowa is home to two super-forward algae-based technologies. The first includes a pair of projects using Solazyme technology at plants owned by Archer Daniel Midland and the other by American Natural Products, will be producing tailored oils including lubricants and personal-care oils using Solazyme’s technology. The plants are expected to scale up to 20,000 metric tons within the next 12 to 18 months, perhaps even reaching 40,000 metric tons per year by the second half of 2015.

The state also hosts the Green Plains / BioProcess algae demonstration project in Shenandoah, which produces nutraceuticals, chemicals (and can produce fuels) from waste CO2 captured from the Green Plains corn ethanol plant.

BioProcessAlgae

Speaking on new feedstocks, something that’s transforming biodiesel is corn oil extracted by the ethanol plants that are abundant throughout the State. 7 Iowa plants (within the POET fleet alone) have now installed POET’s patent-pending corn oil technology, at Ashton, Coon Rapids, Corning, Emmetsburg, Gowrie, Jewell and Hanlontown.

Iowa and advanced biofuels research

One of the world-class centers of excellence for what are known as pyrolysis-based fuels (these result in a bio-oil upgradable to a drop-in diesel or jet fuel, plus bio-char soil supplements and natural gas) is at Iowa State in Ames.

Iowa and the new biomass harvesting

The Iowa economic success story wouldn’t be complete without a mention of some of the biomass harvesting technologies, for next-gen fuels, that have developed in the state as it turns towards the next generation.

Two are of special note. FarmMax’s Residue Recovery System is a cost-effective, single-pass biomass harvesting system. FarmMax has been hard at work developing a combine that can really do it all – adds the cob collection and processing right into the process – a single-pass system, as opposed to the two-pass systems that are being deployed by POET Biomass, which goes after the cobs and stover once the corn is picked up.

Meanwhile, Iowa-based Kelderman Manufacturing has built the largest bale picking truck (BPT) in the world for the Kansas Alliance for Biorefining and Bioenergy in an attempt to reduce biomass transport costs to make cellulosic ethanol production more profitable. The KABB thinks that by reducing supply chain costs, production can fall by 30 cents a gallon. The 600-horsepower BPT can collect nearly three semi-loads of square bales per hour.

Ames also hosts the Landscape Biomass Project. Researchers are studying how to strategically integrate second generation bioenergy crops, such as triticale, switchgrass and trees, with food and feed crops to provide marketable products as well as ecosystem services. Highly erodible, sloped fields could be planted, for example, with the deep-rooted bioenergy crops.

How it all comes together in making Communities of Progress

As we observed in 2012:

“Take Nevada, Iowa for an example. For years, its been most widely known as the nearby support town to the sprawling Iowa State University complex at Ames.

But it has become a little titan, home to a first-generation ethanol plant (locally-owned by central Iowa citizens), the next-generation DuPont Cellulosic Ethanol plant (under construction), and Thesis Chemistry. Jill Euken, Deputy Director, at the ISU Bioeconomy Institute in AMex has become a big fan of the town as a success story in renewable fuels and economic revival.

“The community has built a reputation for its ability to provide infrastructure, investment and debt capital, linkages to State of Iowa services,” she noted for the Digest. For her, it has all the elements working together that make economic revival and growth possible:

Leadership. A committed group of local leaders staff and volunteer (in Nevada’s case, at the Nevada Economic Development Council.

Producer partners. Agricultural producers who are intimately involved in community development efforts.  Many producers are not only investors in the first generation ethanol facility, but are involved in designing best management practices for the feedstock supply chain for the DuPont plant.

Partnerships. The community helps industries build partnerships with Iowa State University (ISU) faculty and the ISU research park to support R&D.”

The Bottom Line

Several years ago, Jeb Bush observed, “Our current ethanol policy is in essence, in my opinion at least, an agricultural policy. It’s not an energy policy and it is certainly not an energy strategy. We need to change our policy as it relates to ethanol away from an agriculture policy towards an energy policy. Diversifying the feedstock that we use to produce ethanol is just as important as diversifying our energy portfolio. Right now the nation depends primarily on corn to produce ethanol. While expanded production of ethanol is in our best interest, relying on a single feedstock produced in one region of this large great country of ours is risky.”

Over the seven years or so since those remarks — indeed we’ve seen a major diversification of feedstock, not only embracing virgin oils used to make biodiesel, but waste fats, oils and greases; cellulosic residues; muncipal solid waste; and the dread CO2 itself, used to make algae.

We’ve seen a diversity of products as well — not only fuels, but chemiclas, nutraceuticals, and the investion of new agricultural processing technologies than can be exported around the globe.

And, we’ve seen a diversity of processing technologies — including traditional corn fermentation, but extending to biodiesel transesterification, enzymatic hydrolysis used to make cellulsoc fuels, algae fermentation, algae grown in semi-open ponds, yeast fermentation used to make isobutanol, clostridia fermentation to make n-butanol, and even a technology to grow enzymes used to process corn inside the corn kernel itself, using the sun’s free solar energy in the process.

These years have brought not only an intensification of agricultural innovation, but an intensification of yields — more products from the field — food, fiber, feed, fuel and essential nutrients. The pace of innovation has made American agriculture a stand-out leader, and is prompting a revival in Ameican manufacturing.

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