Energy and Global Warming News for February 17: Cellulosic fuel gets cheaper; GM push for E85 pumps

Cellulosic Fuel Gets Cheaper, Companies Say

Two of the world’s leading companies in the enzyme business, Novozymes and Danisco of Denmark, announced this week that they had found a way to produce enzymes that could reliably and affordably convert agricultural waste into so-called cellulosic ethanol.

The term cellulosic ethanol is a reference to cellulose, an energy-rich molecule in plants that scientists say can be converted to fuel. The term was coined to contrast this type of fuel with ethanol made from the simpler starch molecule in grains like corn. The developments at Novozymes and Danisco are being touted by the companies as a way to avoid using food feedstocks like corn in the creation of plant-based fuels.

Both companies are presenting the news at a biofuel conference in Orlando, Fla.

“We have been working on this for the past 10 years and promised our customers and the market to be ready by 2010,” Steen Riisgaard, the chief executive of Novozymes, said in a news release. “I’m extremely pleased to announce that we’re ready. The enzymes are ready. Biofuel producers now have a critical component to turn agricultural waste into a competitive alternative to gasoline.”

To find stations that sell E85 in your state, go to:

General Motors to push for more E85 pumps

General Motors is spending $100 million each year to build vehicles flexible enough to run on E85 fuel — yet most drivers don’t live near a gas station that sells the ethanol-gasoline blend, a top company executive said Monday.

Tom Stephens, General Motors vice chairman for global product development, is calling for more E85 pumps across the country. He said the nation needs to add 10,000 ethanol pumps to the roughly 2,000 already in place.

“I think it would be very helpful if we could get government assistance. But I really want the oil industry, I want the people who are at this conference, I want the government and I want us to just work together to make ethanol a reality,” Stephens told reporters at the Renewable Fuels Association’s National Ethanol Conference in Orlando. Stephens was slated to speak Tuesday at the convention.

GM expects that over half of the vehicles it makes by 2012 and beyond will be able to run on E85, which is a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline.

Stephens said two-thirds of the E85 stations are located in 10 states that have just 19% of the flex-fuel vehicles on the road. About 90% of registered flex-fuel vehicles are in zip codes without an E85 station, according to GM.

Slow Trip Across Sea Aids Profit and Environment

It took more than a month for the container ship Ebba Maersk to steam from Germany to Guangdong, China, where it unloaded cargo on a recent Friday “” a week longer than it did two years ago.

But for the owner, the Danish shipping giant Maersk, that counts as progress.

In a global culture dominated by speed, from overnight package delivery to bullet trains to fast-cash withdrawals, the company has seized on a sales pitch that may startle some hard-driving corporate customers: Slow is better.

By halving its top cruising speed over the last two years, Maersk cut fuel consumption on major routes by as much as 30 percent, greatly reducing costs. But the company also achieved an equal cut in the ships’ emissions of greenhouse gases.

“The previous focus has been on ‘What will it cost?’ and ‘Get it to me as fast as possible,’ ” said Soren Stig Nielsen, Maersk’s director of environmental sustainability, who noted that the practice began in 2008, when oil prices jumped to $145 a barrel.

“But now there is a third dimension,” he said. “What’s the CO2 footprint?”

Traveling more slowly, he added, is “a great opportunity” to lower emissions “without a quantum leap in innovation.”

In what reads as a commentary on modern life, Maersk advises in its corporate client presentation, “Going at full throttle is economically and ecologically questionable.”

Transport emissions have soared in the past three decades as global trade has grown by leaps and bounds, especially long-haul shipments of goods from Asia. The container ship trade grew eightfold between 1985 and 2007.

US Moving Slowly on East Coast Exploration

The Obama administration has laid out a relatively slow timeline for reviewing the terms of possible exploration and production of oil and natural gas in the Atlantic Ocean.

In a letter to Congress, the Interior Department said it will complete the necessary steps to plan for the possibility of “multiple geological and geophysical activities” in federal waters off the East Coast in two years.

The department plans to hold environmental reviews, scoping meetings, and public comment periods before issuing a final decision on offshore energy activities in the Atlantic by April 2012. Any exploration drilling would not occur until at least 2014.

The announcement builds on President Barack Obama’s recent hint that his administration is considering “opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development” and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s plans to review applications to shoot seismic tests off the East Coast.

At present, offshore access is mostly limited to the western two-thirds of the Gulf of Mexico and offshore Alaska. The oil and gas industry is particularly interested in gaining access to the Atlantic because of its proximity to major northeast cities.

However, industry groups and some policymakers from coastal states accuse the Obama administration of moving too slowly on offshore leasing following the expiration of longstanding moratoria on offshore drilling that lapsed in 2008

In a study released Monday, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) said the economic impacts of maintaining the moratoria would be significant and would drag down US economic growth over the next two decades.

Governors to come together over wind energy

Gov. Bob McDonnell and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar don’t have much in common when it comes to offshore drilling, but wind energy may be another story.

Later this week, McDonnell and other mid-Atlantic governors will go to Washington to discuss how states can proceed in a “coordinated” fashion to access wind energy off the Atlantic coast.

Last summer, federal authorities granted clearance to permit offshore wind projects along the coasts of New Jersey and Delaware. There’s also a tower off Massachusetts’ coast gathering wind data. And federal officials are reviewing applications for projects off Florida and Georgia.

To speed along the process in Virginia, several lawmakers have filed bills this year to establish a state wind energy authority.

Among them is Sen. Frank Wagner, a Virginia Beach Republican who plans to join McDonnell on Friday at the meeting with Salazar.

Wagner said now is the time to act if Virginia hopes to draw federal renewable energy dollars. He cited a recent analysis by the Virginia Coastal Energy Research Consortium, which found that a wind farm of about 200 tall turbines could produce electricity and generate roughly 1,000 jobs.

The Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club also wants to see action soon, arguing that Virginia is one of 10 Eastern states with enough offshore wind to meet its entire energy demand.

“If we get started right away and choose our sites responsibly, in 10 years we could be producing 20 percent of the state’s electricity needs from offshore wind turbines. Our wind resource vastly exceeds the energy potential of all the oil and gas thought to lie off our shores, without the huge risks to the environment and Navy and NASA operations that would accompany offshore drilling,” the group said in a statement.

State regulators doing ‘good job’ overseeing hydrofracking — EPA

A senior U.S. EPA official said yesterday that state regulators are doing a good job overseeing a controversial natural gas production technique called hydrofracking and there is no evidence the process causes water contamination.

The comment comes amid a push from environmentalists and some lawmakers to give EPA federal oversight of the drilling method out of concern that it leads to contamination of water supplies. The process, used by companies including Range Resources Corp., Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Chesapeake Energy Corp., involves blasting water, sand and a small amount of chemicals into natural gas reservoirs to multiply reserves.

“I have no information that states aren’t doing a good job already” with regulating it, Steve Heare, director of EPA’s Drinking Water Protection Division, said on the sidelines of a state regulators conference. He added he had not seen any documented cases that the process had led to water contamination.

State regulators and the natural gas industry have been fighting against federal regulation, saying it could prevent or delay development of trillions of cubic feet of new resources.

In its 2011 budget, EPA is seeking to spend $4 million to study the environmental effects of the process.

Even if EPA were given oversight of the process, Heare said, states would still have the right under the Safe Drinking Water Act to use their own regulatory standards so the change would not have a large impact on regulation

13 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for February 17: Cellulosic fuel gets cheaper; GM push for E85 pumps

  1. slanted tom says:

    Does anyone have any information about a rumor that I’ve heard that ethanol blends of gasoline are killing back vegetation along roadways? Please post a link.

  2. Roney Reis says:

    Using ethanol for internal combustion engines creates CO2. Pollution.

  3. Wit's End says:

    Slanted tom,

    I am concerned that ethanol blends are killing back vegetation, EVERYWHERE.

    Please check my blog. I can supply you with links to scientific research about the effects of ethanol emissions on vegetation. Please tell me the source of your “rumors”!

  4. Doug Bostrom says:

    Skeptical Science iPhone app generates howls of indignation from contrarian community:

  5. slanted tom says:

    Witsend: I looked at all of your New Jersey photos and see the same sorts of damage here in NE Georgia. Where I live backs up to about 3000 acres of what was farmland before 1950 and is now woods where only deer hunters go in the fall (without vehicles). During the past 15 years I’ve noticed that what had been dense undergrowth and towering pines with many vines is now clear and open. Twenty years ago it would take a machete to hack through these place and now it’s just a casual walk. I put it off to the pine bark beetles and fungus killing the pines and deer eating the lower understory and the severe drought of a few years ago. But there’s more to it. Atmospheric mercury, ozone and other pollution seem to be the culprit. I have 3 very old large white oaks which could easily be more than 200 years old in the yard. They show the kinds of damage that you have photographed.

    I hope some researchers get grants to find out why so much vegetation is dying back. I was hoping that our formerly human friendly environment could be saved by the massive planting of billions of mixed species trees. This won’t work if they can’t grow because of what our civilization has put in the air.

    So the pollution problem which is killing back foliage and trees must be far larger than just using methanol/gasoline blends for fuel.

    Thanks for the link.

  6. Nick Palmer says:

    Roney Reis:
    The CO2 from the ethanol is not from a fossil fuel (discounting any used in the growing of the ethanol base material). Pollution is too much of something that then causes undesirable effects. CO2 from suitably created ethanol cannot be regarded as adding to the greenhouse gas burden of the atmosphere. The use of ethanol will displace fossil carbon from use.

    Ethanol created from corn grown by conventional agricultural methods is, of course, a very bad idea.

  7. Using cellulosic ethanol reduces CO2 significantly, virtually all studies agree. This includes land use impacts. Burning it releases CO2, but the equivalent is being soaked in new plants growing to supply it.

  8. Wit's End says:

    It’s not CO2 from ethanol that is the problem, it is peroxyacetyl nitrate from acetaldehyde. See this study:

  9. Wit's End says:

    Slanted Tom, how amusing that the analogy you use is precisely the one I have employed to describe the former condition of the woods around my farm – so dense you had to have a machete to walk through it!

    Now, it’s still difficult to walk not from the thick understory but any path is interrupted by falling tree trunks.

    So, the decline commenced at least a decade or more ago, that is evident from the literature in the 80’s and 90’s about acid rain.

    However, at least in New Jersey and the states surrounding, the decline has really accelerated in the past couple of years. Extraordinary and unprecedented things have been occurring. I suppose it could be synergistic effects of many harmful substances coming together in a crescendo of intolerable levels of atmospheric toxins – or, it could be the relatively recent large-scale change, which would be the EPA mandated addition of ethanol to gasoline.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly, on two key points.

    One, some qualified scientists need to research and determine what is killing trees, shrubs, and other vegetation and Two, we need to fix it so we can start planting trees that will be able to grow.

  10. Sam says:

    The CO2 emission from factories and from vehicles is one of the prominent cause of the global warming. The CO2 forms a layer which is commonly known as the green house. This green house traps the sun raise. This raises the temperature of earth.

  11. Andy says:

    Hopefully folks will take a closer look at harvesting prairie hay for cellose as an ethanol source. Native prairies not only produce large amounts of biomass each year, they pump carbon into the soil via the deep roots of grasses.

    Farm waste could be problematic in the long run as this material is now plowed back into the soil each year and keeps it from depleted of organic matter. Likewise, switchgrass farms may require fertilization to work. Whereas native prairies are able to use complex biological reactions to essentially make their own fertilizer.

    Native prairies in SE Texas have been harvested for hay well over 100 years now and are still in great shape. I believe that one of the reasons that local prairies that are regularly harvested are more diverse than others is that the removal of hay takes away excess nitrogen that is now widely deposited throughout the world as a waste product of combustion. Prairies make their own fertilizer and decline when it is introduced artificially.

    A number of universities have looked at potential ethanol yields from prairies.

    Tall grass prairie is the most endangered ecosystem in N. America. Their use as a biomass source would be carbon negative and would conserve and cause a dwindling habitat to be restored.

  12. Leland Palmer says:

    That’s good news about the cellulosic ethanol.

    While ethanol from corn has been questioned because of net energy concerns, cellulosic ethanol has a net energy gain of something like ten times, I think.

  13. One of the consequences of global warming is an increase in temperature and the polar ice caps melting, both of which will cause future global devastation.