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March 2006

March 31, 2006

Ethanol Producers to Go Public in $200M Worth of Offerings

Ethanol producers VeraSun Energy Corporation and Aventine Renewable Energy plan to go public in offerings that could raise $200 million or more. The companies have filed their S-1 registration statements with the SEC.

VeraSun, which recently has closed deals with Ford and GM to expand E85 fueling stations in several states, filed the larger of the two, expecting to raise $150 million. Aventine expects to raise $50 million.

VeraSun is the second-largest ethanol producer in the US, and has two operational production facilities in Aurora, South Dakota and Fort Dodge, Iowa and is constructing a third facility in Charles City, Iowa. The company intends to use the net proceeds from the offering, together with cash generated from operations, to finance construction of two additional ethanol production facilities in the upper Midwest.

VeraSun reported net income of $253,000 on revenue of $236 million in 2005, compared to net income of $14.8 million on revenue of $194 million in the prior year.

Aventine produced and distributed 529.8 million gallons of ethanol in 2005 (13.4% of the total), and has a capacity of 150 million gallons per year from its own two facilities.

The company reported total net income of $32 million on revenue of $935 million in 2005, up from net income of $29 million and revenue of $859 million in 2004. On Dec. 30, the company raised $256 million in a private offering of 21 million shares at $13 a share. Those shares, combined with the new shares issued, could give the company a market capitalization of around $450 million.


March 31, 2006 in Ethanol | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Report: Toyota Plans Gasoline-Electric Hybrids for All Vehicle Classes by 2012

Japan’s Nihon Keizai Shimbun reports that Toyota Motor plans to offer gasoline-electric hybrid versions for all vehicle classes to meet its target of quadrupling annual worldwide hybrid sales to 1 million vehicles by 2012, representing 10% of total annual new vehicle sales.

Toyota will replace vehicle platforms as the models are redesigned to provide compatibility with hybrid drive systems. The paper reports that Toyota plans a new hybrid version of its Crown luxury sedan in 2008 and its Vitz subcompact in 2010 or later. (Toyota currently offers a mild-hybrid version of the Crown in Japan.)

Toyota also is working to reduce the production costs for hybrid systems to enable their application in lower-priced models. The company would like to lower the cost by more than 30% through improvements to the battery and by reducing the size of parts. The size of the system itself is also to be halved by switching from nickel metal hydride to lithium-ion batteries.

Honda last year said that it will cut the extra cost of hybrid powertrains on the Civic by a third within 5 years and possibly will begin to phase out the gasoline-powered version in some markets, including Japan. (Earlier post.)

While Toyota’s hybrids now cost about ¥500,000 (US$4,248) more than gasoline-powered versions of the same model, the new system is expected to reduce the cost delta to less than ¥300,000 (US$2,549)—a 40% reduction.

March 31, 2006 in Hybrids | Permalink | Comments (24) | TrackBack

Microchannel Device for De-Sulfuring Military-Grade Fuel

The military is exploring the field use of hydrogen fuel cells to power electronic gadgets and facilitate communications, thereby avoiding use of generators that are noisy and create heat signatures. One barrier to that approach, however, is the source of the hydrogen.

The military has no current plants to add hydrogen to the strategic and tactical operations logistics burden, and therefore the challenge is the on-board reforming of the existing prevalent JP-8 military fuel to produce hydrogen. JP-8, however, can be high in sulfur—specifications allow it to contain up to 3,000 ppm. Neither catalysts used in reforming nor fuel cells are tolerant of sulfur.

Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) are developing a compact microchannel distillation unit to create a light fraction of JP-8. The JP-8 light fraction is then reacted in a catalytic process called hydrodesulfurization (HDS) to remove the sulfur from the fuel—similar to the approach refineries take to produce low-sulfur fuel.

Conventional technology utilizes hydrogen as the co-reactant with JP-8 to power the process, but, again, hydrogen is not available in the field. Instead, the PNNL process uses syngas generated by the steam reforming of the de-sulfurized JP-8 to drive the process.

Most of the syngas is further purified for use by the fuel cell, but a fraction of it is diverted to the hydrodesulfurization unit. The use of syngas creates some challenges, but it appears that they have been mostly overcome in the PNNL process, and syngas performs almost as well as pure hydrogen.

The HDS process is operated in the gas phase at low or moderate pressure and high space velocity, in contrast to the conventional operation in a three-phase trickle bed reactor under high pressure.

The research team was able to reduce the JP-8 sulfur content to 5ppm or less when starting with 320 ppm sulfur fuel, using several different catalysts. (Samples of JP-8 in use in Iraq in 2004 found sulfur concentrations ranging from 2,000 ppm to 200 ppm, with 67% of the sample ranging from 1,500 ppm to 500 ppm.)

David L King and Xiwen Huang form PNNL presented the work at the 231st American Chemical Society National Meeting in Atlanta.


March 31, 2006 in Fuel Cells, Fuels, Hydrogen | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Modifications on 125hp Rand Cam Sliding-Vane Rotary Engine Nearing Completion

Ebco Industries, under contract to REGI US, is implementing the same set of modifications done on the 42hp Rand Cam sliding-vane rotary engine on the diesel, 125hp version of the Rand Cam. (Earlier post.)

The modifications include vane design to eliminate sealing and six additional cam designs with a special coating to ensure durability. The company expects these to be complete within 30 days, and will then begin an engine testing program to assess endurance, maintenance factors and fuel efficiency.

The 42hp version earlier entered testing for a genset application for a series hybrid vehicle and for an unmanned aerial application.

Invented by James McCann in 1983, the Rand Cam uses a disk-shaped rotor with two or more axial vanes mounted perpendicular to the direction of rotation. The vanes slide back and forth against cam surfaces to alternatively expand and contract the chamber volume.

Through the process of these sliding vanes, combustion chambers form between the rotor, stator walls and vanes where the fuel/air mixture is injected, compressed, combusted and exhausted. (Sealing is an issue that Rand Cam is working to resolve with the modifications.)

Increasing the number of vanes increases the number of combustion events throughout a revolution. The original Rand Cam had two; the current version has 12.

The engine operates at lower speeds than a typical Wankel engine (less than 2,000 rpm) and at higher compression ratios: 15 and 20 to 1.

The engine is compact (the 42hp diesel is 6" in diameter and 6" long), and offers 30% volume efficiency, according to the company, compared to the Wankel engine’s 10% volume efficiency.

March 31, 2006 in Diesel, Engines | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

BP Australia to Provide More than Half of Country’s Target Biofuel Requirement by 2008

BP Australia has signed two contracts and a Memorandum of Understanding to provide more than 200 million liters of biofuels to Australian consumers per annum by 2008—more than half of the Federal Government’s national target of 350 million liters.

BP is undertaking a number of actions to deliver on that promise. These include:

  • Investment to allow production at BP’s Bulwer Refinery in Queensland of 110 million liters per annum of synthetic diesel by an internally-developed technology that hydrogenates a tallow feedstock. (Similar in approach to that taken by Neste Oil with NExBTL—earlier post.)

    The resulting bio-derived diesel will be blended into petroleum diesel at a 5% ratio to produce 2 billion liters of fuel which will be made available to the market from 2007. The biomass feedstock has been secured through a contract for supply of tallow from Colyer Fehr Tallow Pty Ltd.

  • A Memorandum of Understanding with Primary Energy Pty Ltd to purchase the entire output from a new ethanol plant to be constructed by Primary Energy in Kwinana, Western Australia. This would see the production of 80 million liters of ethanol per annum to be sold across Australia as E10 from 2008.

    The ethanol produced at the new plant in Kwinana will use approximately 200,000 tonnes of Australian wheat as a feedstock. WA currently exports approximately six million tonnes of wheat. The Kwinana plant will also generate renewable electricity from biomass as an integral part of its process. Together, the renewable fuel and renewable electricity will result in a reduction in greenhouse gases to the order of 200,000 tonnes per annum.

  • A contract for purchase of 23 million liters of ethanol from CSR over 2 years. The ethanol will be purchased from CSR’s Sarina distillery near Mackay and blended to produce E10 that will be sold into the Queensland market later this year.

March 31, 2006 in Australia, Biodiesel, Biomass-to-Liquids (BTL), Ethanol | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

March 30, 2006

Rapid Temperature Rise Above the Antarctic

Launch of a radiosonde balloon.

A new analysis of weather balloon observations from the last 30 years reveals that the Antarctic has the same global warming signature as that seen across the whole Earth—but three times larger than that observed globally.

The major warming of the Antarctic winter troposphere is larger than any previously identified regional tropospheric warming on Earth. (The troposphere is the lowermost portion of Earth’s atmosphere.) The data show that regional mid-tropospheric temperatures have increased at a statistically significant rate of 0.5° to 0.7° Celsius per decade over the past 30 years.

The results by scientists from British Antarctic Survey are reported this week in Science. The researchers can not unambiguously assign a cause to the tropospheric warming at this stage.

Although the rapid surface warming in the Antarctic Peninsula region has been known for some time, this study has produced the first indications of broad-scale climate change across the whole Antarctic continent.

The warming above the Antarctic could have implications for snowfall across the Antarctic and sea level rise. Current climate model simulations don’t reproduce the observed warming, pointing to weaknesses in their ability to represent the Antarctic climate system. Our next step is to try to improve the models.

—Dr John Turner, lead author

Daily launches of weather balloons have been carried out at many of the Antarctic research stations since the International Geophysical Year of 1957-8. The balloons carry instrument packages called radiosondes that measure temperature, humidity and winds up to heights of 20 km or more. Recently many of the old radiosonde records have been digitized and brought together in a project funded by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research.

Analysis of the radiosonde data showed a winter season warming throughout the troposphere, which extends up to about 8 km, and cooling in the stratosphere above. The largest warming of almost 0.75 º C per decade was found close to 5 km above the surface. This is more than three times the rate of warming observed for the world as a whole.

The warming has occurred across the whole of the Antarctic and is apparent in the balloon data from Amundsen-Scott Station at the South Pole to the many stations along the coast of East Antarctica. The data are temporally homogeneous.

Although climate change at the surface of the Earth receives wide attention, the atmosphere in recent decades has in fact warmed most some 4-5 km above the surface, with the stratosphere cooling above. There is increasing evidence that levels of greenhouse gases have provided a blanket above the Earth trapping heat at lower levels and giving cooling in the layers above.

Air temperatures in the Antarctic Peninsula region have risen by over 2.5°C in the last 50 years, about 5 times faster than the global mean rate.


March 30, 2006 in Climate Change | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

New Pre-Treatment Process for Corn Stover Could Advance Cellulosic Ethanol

Researchers  at Virginia Tech have developed a pre-treatment process for biomass that promises to reduce the processing cost of cellulosic ethanol.

The challenge in using corn stover—the most abundant agricultural residue in the US—as an ethanol feedstock is in separating the sugars (that will be fermented into ethanol) from the lignocellulose—the combination of lignin, hemicellulose and cellulose that form plant cell walls.

Technologies are available to convert lignocellulose to sugars, but the costs are still high and sugar yields are low.

Y.H. Percival Zhang at Virginia Tech developed a pretreatment process that integrates three technologies: cellulose solvent pretreatment, concentrated acid saccharification, and organosolv.

Instead of a high pressure system that operates at between 150º and 250º  C, Zhang’s reaction operates at atmospheric pressure and 50º C (120º F) to pre-treat residue to free the solid polymeric sugars.

In a several-step pretreatment system, Zhang uses a strong cellulose solvent instead of highly corrosive chemicals, high pressure, and high temperature to breakup the linkages among lignin, hemicellulose, and cellulose. There is no sugar degradation and inhibitor formation.

In the following step, he uses a highly volatile organic solvent to precipitate dissolved cellulose, extract lignin, and enable effective chemical recycling. After pretreatment and reagent recycling, lignocellulose can be fractionated into four products: lignin, hemicelluose sugars, amorphous cellulose, and acetic acid.

Co-products can generate more income, making biorefinery more profitable, and enable satellite biorefineries that fully utilize scattered lignocellulose resources. For instance, lignin has many industrial uses, from glue to polymer substitutes and carbon fiber; and xylose can be converted to a healthy sweetening additive – xylitol, or to the precursors for nylon 6.

—Prof. Zhang

Zhang presented his paper on the process, “Novel lignocellulose fractionation featuring modest reaction conditions and reagent recycling, ” at the  231st American Chemical Society National Meeting in Atlanta.

Zhang and co-developer Lee Lynd have filed for a patent on the pretreatment process, which has been licensed to an ethanol start-up company, Mascoma.

March 30, 2006 in Biomass, Ethanol | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

UMaine Starts $10M Research Project on Integrated Forest Biorefinery

The American Forest & Paper Associations’s concept of a forest biorefinery.

The University of Maine is embarking on a $10.35-million research project to develop an integrated forest biorefinery—one that allows mills to create new, high-margin revenue streams while maintaining their traditional production. This could be the first integrated forest biorefinery in the country.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded the university a grant of $6.9 million for the project; UMaine is investing a 50% match ($3.45 million) through the Main Economic Improvement Fund.

Discussion of forest biorefineries focuses on three stages:

  • Sustainable forest productivity

  • Extracting value prior to pulping; and

  • Developing new value streams from residuals and spent pulping liquors.

UMaine’s method of biorefining entails extracting chemicals from wood chips or shavings before the wood is further processed into pulp or oriented strad board (OSB), preserving the quality of the wood for further processing.

The chemicals extracted could be sold as new feedstocks or used on-site to manufacture materials such as fuel ethanol, plastics and specialty chemicals such as coatings—virtually everything currently made with oil.

UMaine’s laboratory research will help make this process viable on a commercial scale, and it will help determine what kinds of products could be made from the material and how to make them. It will also explore new products never before considered from wood, including nanotechnology components.

By taking this holistic approach, Maine has the opportunity to build on our current knowledge and history in forest-based industries to build a vibrant, globally competitive, brand new industry that’s more efficient, high-valued and also environmentally cleaner.

—Hemant Pendse, UMaine chair of the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering

Earlier this year, The Fractionation Development Center (FDC), a Maine non-profit group, released a plan detailing how the state could turn its vast quantities of forest waste into a range of biofuels and chemicals, providing up to 50% of the state’s annual energy needs. (Earlier post.)


March 30, 2006 in Biomass, Biomass-to-Liquids (BTL), Ethanol, Power Generation | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

GM Collaborates with Abengoa Bioenergy And Kroger Stores To Bring More E85 Stations to Texas

General Motors announced plans to add E85 fuel pumps to approximately 20 Kroger fueling sites throughout the Houston and Dallas area through a collaborative partnership with the retailer and Abengoa Bioenergy.

The collaboration is part of a broader, ongoing national GM campaign to boost the use and awareness of ethanol-based E85 fuel in the United States. E85 FlexFuel vehicles can run on any combination of gasoline and/or E85, a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline.

As part of the partnership, GM will promote the availability of the fuel with consumer and dealer outreach. The partnership is similar to those GM entered into with VeraSun Energy last May in the Sioux Falls area and more recently in the Chicago and Minneapolis areas, as well as earlier this year in California with Chevron Technology Ventures and Pacific Ethanol. (Earlier post.)

Abengoa Bioenergy will be the principal supplier of E85 ethanol fuel to Kroger retail outlets in Dallas and Houston. Kroger plans to begin introducing the alternative fuel at selected pumps in May of this year.

GM also announced that it would extend its partnership with the Governors Ethanol Coalition (GEC)—a bipartisan group of governors devoted to the promotion and increased use of ethanol—to provide new E85-capable vehicles for use in GEC member states.

Last year, GM loaned E85 flex-fuel vehicles to Texas and 27 other states and organizations in order to demonstrate its commitment to ethanol, educate the public and promote the benefits of using E85.

GM’s Arlington plant is one of its largest producers of E85 flexible fuel vehicles and Texas has the highest number of GM alternative fuel vehicles in the country, with more than 258,743 E85 vehicles on the road today. The state of Texas currently has 300 GM flexible fuel vehicles in its fleet, with plans to add several hundred more later this year.

March 30, 2006 in Ethanol | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Russian Buses Orders 278 Cummins Westport CNG Engines; CARB Certifies Westport HPDI LNG Engines

C Gas Plus engine

Russian Buses, of Moscow, Russia, has ordered 278 Cummins Westport C Gas Plus natural gas (CNG) engines for use in its LiAZ-5256 (250hp) and LiAZ-6212 (articulated, 280hp) buses.

These buses will exclusively transport workers to and from the AutoVAZ car manufacturing plant located in Togliatti, Samara region, 1,000 km from Moscow. AutoVAZ is the largest car manufacturer in Russia, and the plant in Togliatti produces more than 700,000 cars annually.

This is the first major order of Cummins Westport natural gas engines by a CIS Original Equipment Manufacturer. The first prototype natural gas engine was delivered to the OEM, LiAZ in 2003. Currently, there are 7 prototype buses of various models which will be operating in a number of Russian cities.

—Alexei Ustinov, Cummins Russia ABO Head

This marks one of the largest orders for Cummins Westport, and the largest yet in Europe.

Russian Buses is the largest manufacturer of buses in Russia. It manufactures buses under the LiAZ, PAZ, GoIAZ and KAVZ brand names. It is a division of RusAutoProm, a conglomerate whose businesses are engaged in manufacturing of buses, small and large trucks, cars, road-construction equipment, loaders, diesel and gasoline engines, and fuel instrumentation.

The C Gas Plus engines are certified to Euro-3 standards.

Separately, Westport Innovations announced that it has received California Air Resources Board (CARB) Certification for its High Pressure Direct Injection (HPDI) LNG technology (earlier post) adapted to the Cummins ISX heavy-duty truck engine.

The Executive Order from CARB certifies the HPDI system to 1.2g/bhp-hr [NOx + NMHC] and 0.02g/bhp-hr Particulate Matter (PM).

CARB certification represents the major milestone required for us to make the heavy duty Cummins ISX HPDI LNG (liquefied natural gas) engine and fuel system available to commercial fleets in California for deployment in 2006.

—Michael Gallagher, President & Chief Operating Officer of Westport

The ISX HPDI engine will be offered in two ratings, 400 horsepower with 1,450ft-lbs torque, or 450 horsepower with 1,650 ft-lbs torque, matching the diesel-fueled base ISX engine.

HPDI allows a diesel engine to operate with over 90% replacement of diesel fuel by natural gas. By directly injecting the natural gas at high pressure in the engine, HPDI reproduces key benefits of diesel engines: high efficiency over the speed and torque operating range, high torque capability and robust reliability.

The use of pilot diesel provides powerful ignition and contributes to the reliability and durability of the system. At the same time, the properties of natural gas contribute to a significant reduction in combustion by-products: nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and greenhouse gases are all significantly reduced as the engine operates under the same performance as the base diesel engine.

March 30, 2006 in LNG, Natural Gas | Permalink | Comments (27) | TrackBack

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