Why Capturing Renewable Natural Gas Has Legs in the Climate Conversation

RealClear Energy
By Mike Butler

When many people think of renewable energy, they think of modern wind, solar and hydropower resources. When they think of natural gas, they think of it as a traditional, finite source of energy – something that’s used and then gone.

But there’s another form of renewable energy that many have overlooked as an option to help meet some states’ emission reduction goals in regulatory actions like New Jersey’s Energy Master Plan and the Garden State’s larger climate conversation. It’s called Renewable Natural Gas or RNG inside the energy world.

RNG combines the strength and benefits of two forms of energy – renewable energy and natural gas – and it turns out it’s been around for as long as humans have been farming. Some might even refer to it as biogas, a byproduct of organic materials mixing with oxygen. RNG in this case comes from multiple sources of organic leftovers and waste.

Methane is the key molecule that makes up natural gas and found in the prolific energy basins across the country that we use to produce, transport and sell energy. Natural gas has many benefits, too. It’s clean, affordable and plentiful here in the U.S. Gas is able to be safely transported in pipelines and is used every day in our homes, businesses, transportation systems and power grid.

But traditional exploration for natural gas isn’t the only way to capture and harness methane – a chemical compound that occurs abundantly in nature does as well.

Besides being found underwater, in wetlands, and from naturally occurring seeps, methane is also released in landfills, water treatment plants, and in agriculture. The same methane that comes from oil and gas production also comes from four-legged creatures that dot the plains and fields of America’s farms and ranches – cows. There are an estimated 95 million cows in America and the small amounts of methane they release can really add up, and if uncaptured, that methane escapes into the atmosphere anyway where it has a significant impact on emissions.

If we effectively collect that waste, and process it, it can become a usable fuel that fits our existing infrastructure for power and home heating needs. And because this resource can be produced over and over, it makes for a great renewable source of energy from our livestock that also reduces harmful air emissions.

While the renewable gas utility market in Canada appears to have a more mature market, the U.S. is catching up quickly with California, New York, Colorado, Oregon and Hawaii all making strides to help utilities incorporate RNG into their energy mix.

For example, promising projects from agribusiness companies like Smithfield Foods will result in enough renewable natural gas to power more than 2,700 homes and business and brings the company closer to its goal of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 25 percent by 2025.

The traditional natural gas industry is also committed to capturing more methane – after all, that’s the primary fuel source they are trying to sell, and every molecule going into the atmosphere is a dollar lost. Since 2000, the industry has invested more than $108 billion in technologies to help capture these “fugitive emissions” which can escape during production and operations.

That money is in addition to the $151 billion the federal government has invested in research and development programs primarily run though the Department of Energy and Argonne National Labs. On top of that, satellites, airplanes and helicopter sensor technology are all helping to detect and reduce methane from entering our atmosphere.

While RNG only makes a small percentage of our energy make-up today, the opportunities are tremendous and should be a part of the clean energy future New Jersey is pursuing. The more solutions we have to meet both our energy needs and environmental goals the better. Plus, consider the significant benefits that will be achieved by removing waste from our agriculture operations and the benefits for rural America. Over time our best minds will continue to advance and refine technology to help costs come down for RNG – just look at the cost of solar panels 10 years ago to today.

So while it may be early, the idea of capturing renewable natural gas definitely has legs for New Jersey’s energy future energy solutions.

Sunflowers offer cheerful blooms and tasty seeds, too

Flowers conjure a variety of emotional and sensory responses as well as memories. Loving sentiments are often attached to roses. Violets are sometimes associated with youthful sweetness and a bouquet of daisies brings cheer into any room. Gladiolas often appear in funeral arrangements and the scent of lavender might stir memories of fields of flowers on a hot summer day. A sunflower’s appearance literally fills the space with sunlight.

Though the sunflower, Helianthus annus, has been widely cultivated to produce flowers with different colors, shapes and sizes, the basic structure of the inflorescence continues to be reminiscent of the sun.

Most varieties maintain an attraction to sunlight with heliotropic buds that move to follow the sun and mature flowers that face the rising sun in the east. The botanical name Helianthus is derived from the Greek words helios for sun and anthos for flower.

Sunflowers are members of the largest family of flowering plants, the Asteraceae family. Like most family members, sunflowers have composite heads consisting of hundreds of tiny flowers clustered in the center of rays of petals that can vary in size and color depending on the cultivar. The flowers on edible varieties produce delicious seeds when pollinated. Many ornamental cultivars have been bred for their long-lasting beauty as cut flowers.

The original sunflower was an oilseed plant native to temperate North America. It was transported to Europe in the 16th century and nearly 100 cultivars, including many ornamental varieties, have since been developed.

Several edible varieties are recommended for West Hawaii gardens. The most popular, and the largest, is the Russian mammoth. Russian breeding in the 1800s produced this giant with bright gold petals and heads that reach 10 to 12 inches across on 8- to 10-foot stalks. The flowers that make up the head result in gray and white seeds.

The edible snack seed hybrid is somewhat smaller, reaching about 6 feet. This variety produces deep golden petals and heads that produce plump seed kernels.

Supreme Court rules for Monsanto in genetically modified soybean case


The Supreme Court agreed with Monsanto on Monday that an Indiana farmer’s un­or­tho­dox planting of the company’s genetically modified soybeans violated the agricultural giant’s patent.

The court unanimously rejected farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman’s argument that he was not violating Monsanto’s patent because the company’s pesticide-resistent “Roundup Ready” soybeans replicate themselves. Justice Elena Kagan said there is no such “seeds-are-special” exception to the law.

“We think that blame-the-bean defense tough to credit,” Kagan wrote. “Bowman was not a passive observer of his soybeans’ multiplication; or put another way, the seeds he purchased (miraculous though they might be in other respects) did not spontaneously create eight successive soybean crops.”

She added: “Bowman devised and executed a novel way to harvest crops from Roundup Ready seeds without paying the usual premium.”

While the case was about soybeans, the broader issue of patent protection is important to makers of vaccines, software and other products. Corporations were worried about what might happen if the decision had gone the other way.

But, as the justices had indicated at oral arguments in the case, they believed Bowman’s practices threaten the incentive for invention that is at the heart of patent law.

If someone could copy Monsanto’s product, “a patent would plummet in value after the first sale of the first item containing the invention,” Kagan wrote. “And that would result in less incentive for innovation than Congress wanted.”

Biofuels become a victim of own success – but not for long | Damian Carrington

Biofuels have become a victim of own success, it appears: for the first time in a decade global production has dropped. Production in 2011 dropped a touch from 1.822m barrels a day in 2010 to 1.819m in 2011, according to IEA statistics (p30) highlighted by the Financial Times.

The key reason has been the rising cost of the feedstock for most biofuels, corn, sugar and vegetable oil. And the main reason for the rising food prices is, many argue, the huge quantity consumed by biofuels. It’s a big business. The global biofuels business would, if a nation, rank 16th in the world for oil production, just above the UK and Libya and a bit below Norway and Nigeria, all major oil producers. In the US, 40% of the corn crop now gets diverted into fuel tanks, giving the US 50% of global biofuel production.

On top of the peaking of production, the US has just phased out some fat subsidies and tariffs protecting the domestic biofuel industry from international competition. So is the biofuels boom over?

In a word, no. The key driving factor is the price of ordinary oil. In the medium and long term, crude prices seem very likely to remain high and vulnerable to shocks, such as the current Iranian situation. “Once oil is over $70 a barrel, conventional and new generation biofuels become cost competitive, certainly with tar sands and shale, and with oil from much of the Middle East and Brazil’s new offshore fields,” said Jeremy Woods, at Imperial College, when I spoke to him in March. Today, Brent crude is at $113. The IEA predicts a 20% rise in biofuel production to 2.2m b/d by 2015, although that is a slower rise than in the past.

This brings us to the environmental crux. “The less biofuel you have the more gasoline you need,” Amrita Sen, oil analyst at Barclays Capital in London, told the FT.

Locally made biofuel to power airport emergency generator

Hawaiian Electric Co. has selected Pacific Biodiesel Inc. to supply locally produced biodiesel for an emergency power generation system at Honolulu International Airport.

Maui-based Pacific Biodiesel will provide HECO with at least 250,000 gallons of made from locally recycled cooking oil under the three-year contract, the companies said. The biodiesel will be burned in an 8-megawatt generating station scheduled to be completed in October 2010.

The four generating units at the facility will feed electricity into the HECO grid during normal operations, but will be isolated to power the airport exclusively during an emergency, HECO said.

Locally made biofuel to power airport emergency generator – Hawaii News – Staradvertiser.com

Senate vote to repeal ethanol tax credit fails, but some in GOP break ranks

A majority of Senate Republicans appeared to break Tuesday with two decades of GOP orthodoxy against higher taxes, voting to advance a plan to abruptly cancel billions of dollars in annual tax credits for ethanol blenders.

The measure, offered by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), fell short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster threat. But it had the support of 34 of 47 Republicans, most of whom have signed an anti-tax pledge that specifically prohibits raising taxes by any means but economic growth.

Coburn has argued forcefully that Republicans must abandon that pledge if they are serious about tackling the spiraling national debt. Though the Senate turned back his measure, he said the vote nonetheless marks the beginning of the end of GOP tolerance for wasteful giveaways through the tax code.

“You’ve got 34 Republicans that say they’re willing to end this, regardless of what Grover says,” Coburn said, referring to pledge creator Grover G. Norquist, the founder of Americans for Tax Reform. “That’s 34 Republicans that say this is more important than a signed pledge to ATR.”

HC&S: Sugar ‘at the top,’ can anything knock it off?

PUUNENE

Researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Hawaii will arrive on Maui this summer to work with Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. to study crops, growing conditions and other issues in developing biofuels on the island.

The 130-year-old plantation is working with federal and state partners to help determine not only its own future, but also the future of growing biofuel crops in Hawaii to power both the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet and private vehicles across the state. The end result could be the development of a biofuel refinery for HC&S, said company General Manager Rick Volner Jr.

The goal is to transition HC&S into a leading “energy farm,” and develop the resources to sell commercial jet and diesel fuels to the government and private consumers.

Success could guarantee that the company would continue to employ around 800 people, and perhaps even more, company officials said.

“There are no firm deadlines for this project, but the sooner we can decide, the easier it will be for the board of Alexander & Baldwin (HC&S’s parent company) to fund some of these products, and obviously we will need to make some capital investments,” Volner said last week. “But we’re more interested in making the right decision than when we make it.”

Kona company starts algae-to-oil production

Cellana Inc. said it has begun producing oil from algae grown at its Kona facility and is on track to begin commercial production by 2014.

The Big Island company is harvesting up to one ton of algae a month in ponds at its 6-acre facility at Keahole Point. The company estimates it will be able to grow up to 60 tons of algae capable of producing 3,800 gallons of oil per acre per year.

The oil can be refined into a variety of products, including biodiesel for automobiles and power generation plants. Other uses include animal feed, cosmetics, nutritional oils and industrial chemicals.

Oil-rich algae is considered an attractive crop for biofuel production because of its relatively high yield compared with other crops. Algae can produce up to 11 times more oil per acre than the oil palm nut, the next-highest yielding feedstock, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Algae yields are as much as 145 times higher than soybeans, the department said.

“Over $100 million has been invested to date in our Kona demonstration facility, our algae strains and the process we use to grow, harvest and separate our algae biomass, which puts Cellana on a very short list of leading companies in the emerging algae-based biofuels and bioproducts industry,” said Martin Sabarsky, Cellana’s chief executive office.

Algae producer Cellana gets $5.5M to develop animal feed

Kona-based Cellana LLC has received a $5.5 million federal grant to develop animal feed from algae grown at its facility at Keahole Point.

The grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be combined with $1.6 million raised by Cellana for the project titled “Developing a new Generation of Animal Feed Supplements,” according to a news release from the office of U.S. Sen Daniel Inouye. The project began May 1 and runs through April 30, 2014.

In addition to animal feed, algae can also be used to produce oil that can be refined into a variety of fuel products, including biodiesel that can be burned in automobiles and power plants.

“By developing a cheaper form of animal feed from marine algae we allow our livestock and dairy industry to remain competitive by reducing the amount of revenue they direct to feeding their animals,” Inouye said in the release.

“I would like to laud Cellana’s efforts to move Hawaii away from the use od imported fossil fuels while developing innovative new products form one of our most readily available resources,” he said.

Algae producer Cellana gets $5.5M to develop animal feed – Hawaii News – Staradvertiser.com