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September 30, 2008 | By Elise Schafer
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Producing Energy Efficiently

The EPA honored two ethanol facilities in Iowa and Kansas with Energy Star Awards for excellence in efficiency.

To an untrained eye all ethanol plants look identical. They’re usually surrounded by corn fields and all have storage vessels, grain receiving equipment and boilers that are nearly indistinguishable from one facility to the next. However, all plants are not created equal. Some operate far more efficiently than others.

The EPA presented East Kansas Agri-Energy (EKAE), located in Garnett, KS, and POET’s Ashton, IA facility with the Energy Star Combined Heat and Power (CHP) Award for achieving excellence in energy efficiency in a ceremony at the 2008 Fuel Ethanol Workshop in Nashville.

POET Biorefining–Ashton and EKAE use turbines to produce heat and power, which, according to their data, reduces emissions by more than 15% in both facilities and reduces operating costs, as well.

East Kansas Agri-Energy

East Kansas Agri-Energy is a dry grind ethanol plant whose Dresser-Rand-built steam turbine generates roughly a third of its electricity needs. The system uses nearly 23% less fuel than typical on-site thermal generation and purchased electricity.

EKAE uses all of the energy its turbine produces in-house, but installing a turbine can present other opportunities for financial gain. “I would encourage any operation that has the capital available to invest in a turbine,” says Doug Sommer, plant manager. “You can use some of it in-house and sell the rest to the power grid.”

EKAE’s location near the local wastewater treatment facility allowed it to take advantage of another money-saving opportunity. The treatment plant pumps the recycled water into the ethanol plant where it’s used for cooling. This process saves them approximately $30,000 a month in water expenses and allows them to produce a gallon of ethanol with only 1 1/2 gallons of water, about half the amount it normally requires.

Sommer expressed how thankful EKAE is for the arrangement. “The wastewater treatment facility provides 75% of our water,” Sommer says. “Without that water we may not be here because the city wouldn’t have been able to support our cooling needs.”

Sommer says plant managers interested in employing a CHP system such as theirs should first contact an engineering firm, such as ICM or CPT, to help reach efficiency goals.

POET Biorefinery

Although POET is immensely proud of their Energy Star Award, the motivation was never to gain bragging rights or glory. They simply had the same goal as countless other facilities: to produce ethanol more cost-effectively.

“The largest cost in operating an ethanol plant is feedstock, followed by energy costs,” explains Nathan Schock, director of public relations at POET. “We can’t use less feedstock because then we’d lose capacity; so we sought out to use less energy.”

They achieved their goal by installing a natural gas-fired turbine to generate the plant’s electricity. The energy needed to fire the boilers requires approximately 16% less fuel than typical on-site thermal generation and purchased electricity systems. The system reduces carbon dioxide emissions by an estimated 18,900 tons/year, the equivalent of removing the annual emissions from 3,100 vehicles.

Although POET’s Ashton facility was originally built with the turbine, made by Solar Turbines, Schock says it is possible that existing ethanol plants could retrofit their electric powered boilers to use heat generated from a turbine instead.

He recommends joining the EPA’s CHP program to gain helpful resources and contacts that can help you get the ball rolling in your plant’s quest to reach higher efficiencies.

Combined Heat and Power Award

Schock described winning the CHP Award as a recent milestone in POET’s history. “It was gratifying to be recognized for something we care deeply about,” says Schock. “This achievement doesn’t mark an end to our innovation. We will continue to make the process more efficient and environmentally friendly.”

If your ethanol facility already uses an efficient CHP system, similar to ones these award-winning facilities operate, you may be eligible for a CHP award. Any ethanol facility that has a year’s worth of data proving that it reduces emissions and uses at least 5% less fuel than comparable, state-of-the-art, separate heat and power generation systems, and 5,000 hours of measured operating data, can submit an application. The EPA’s website has more information about the CHP program and award.

Biofuels in the News

Tennessee biofuels project to expand local farmers’ opportunities

DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol LLC (DDCE) will partner with the Tennessee Biofuels Initiative led by the University of Tennessee Research Foundation to construct a pilot-scale biorefinery and state-of-the-art research and development facility for cellulosic ethanol. The facility, to be built in Vonore, TN, will process two nonfood feedstocks — corncobs and switchgrass — from local farms. The 250,000-gallon/year biorefinery is expected to give Tennessee farmers additional market opportunities.

Site preparations are scheduled to begin this fall, and ethanol should be available from the pilot plant by December 2009 .

“Obviously, the cost of energy has gone up, and shows little sign of retreating,” says Doug Lawyer, the Knoxville Chamber’s director of economic development. “The Innovation Valley is uniquely positioned to lead the way to the commercialization of new technologies. The region’s assets will also help the companies that develop those technologies become successful.”

FoodPriceTruth.org reveals smear campaign against ethanol

The nation’s largest food companies, all members of the trade group Grocery Manufacturers of America, have recently been accused of funding a public relations smear campaign to blame biofuels for rising food costs. Now, a new analysis by FoodPriceTruth.org reveals that the corporate profits of these same giant food companies have soared during the past 12 months as much as 121% in the case of the Campbell Soup Company.

“Food corporations would rather spend millions of dollars on an ethanol smear campaign than explain to consumers why their food prices are so high,” said Brooke Coleman, a FoodPriceTruth.org spokesperson. “Blaming biofuels for high food prices is a great trick for these large food corporations. They get to raise their prices, increase their profits and not worry about how it affects American families.”

BioFuel reports hedging losses

Biofuel Energy Corp. announced that it had realized approximately $36 million of hedging losses resulting from closing out various corn, ethanol and natural gas hedges. All of the related contracts were entered into with Cargill, Inc. Cargill has not yet been paid for approximately $22 million of these amounts and the parent company currently does not have sufficient liquidity to retire these obligations. Cargill delivered a notice of default with respect to certain contracts to the company, and exercised its right to liquidate those contracts (approximately 60% of the company’s hedge position), resulting in the associated losses.

As a result, BioFuel Energy Corp.’s operating subsidiaries, which own and operate the Wood River and Fairmont ethanol plants, amended their credit agreement to permit them full access to their $20 million working capital facility and permits daily access to their revenue account, solely for the purchase of corn, natural gas, chemicals, enzymes, denaturant and electricity. The operating subsidiaries now appear to have sufficient liquidity to complete the commissioning of the ethanol plants.

The amendment still will not permit it to completely meet its obligations to Cargill. The company indicated it intends to continue to review possible solutions with Cargill and its operating subsidiaries’ lenders. However, there can be no assurances these efforts will prove successful.

Miscanthus can meet U.S. biofuels goal using less land than corn

In the largest field trial of its kind in the United States, University of Illinois researchers have determined that the giant perennial grass Miscanthus x giganteus out-performs current biofuels sources by a significant amount. The new findings were published in the journal Global Change Biology.

Using corn to produce enough ethanol to meet the current White House goal would take 25% of current U.S. cropland out of food production. The same amount of ethanol from miscanthus would require only 9.3% of current agricultural acreage. Miscanthus can generate enough biomass to produce two and one-half times more ethanol than can be produced from corn.

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