Still in its early stages in North America, the harvesting and processing industry for cellulosic ethanol now has something to show for years of research and planning in the form of three new cellulosic ethanol plants.
Bill Levy, chief executive officer of PacificAg, believes the North American biomass industry is poised for growth. “Over the next decade or so, it will become a major market,” he says.
Two of the three new cellulosic plants are in Iowa—one operated by DuPont in Nevada; the other in Emmetsburg is run by South Dakota-based ethanol producer POET/DSM—and both process corn stover. The other facility—located in Hugoton, Kan., and run by Abengoa Bioenergy Biomass—uses some wheat straw in addition to corn and milo stover, all of which is supplied exclusively by PacificAg.
For every 180 bushels of grain, the average producer will have about 4.3 tons of stover. To maintain sufficient organic matter in the soil and to prevent erosion, the USDA advises leaving an average of 2.3 tons per acre on the ground. Studies have shown that leaving too much residue can increase the likelihood of disease the following spring, make planting more difficult and use up nitrogen.
“The biggest benefit we bring growers is an alternative method for managing high residue,” says Denny Penland, business development manager for DuPont Cellulosic Ethanol. “And it also produces a platform for producing next year’s crop of corn.”
In Canada, there are currently no biomass plants online or in the works, but Charles Lalonde, a project manager with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, says he expects that’s going to change in the next few years. He says there will soon be demand for corn stover and wheat straw inside Canadian borders.
“With corn stover, we’re trying to develop a market for it in bioprocessing,” Lalonde explains. He anticipates that facility will focus on using cellulosic material to produce sugars for use in various biochemical productions.
U.S. plants making ethanol from grains, mainly corn, are currently at capacity, producing 12 billion to 13 billion gallons annually. “Right now, the industry is waiting for the cellulosic side of these projects to get up and running,” Levy says. By comparison, it’s estimated that the new plants will be able to produce around 75 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol a year.
Plans for seven new cellulosic ethanol plants have been announced by the USDA, three of which will use agricultural waste, while the others will use resources like wood chips, wood waste and municipal solid waste.
And while the bulk of the U.S. market now is corn stover, Glenn Farris, AGCO’s manager of segment strategy for biomass/industrials, expects a market for dedicated energy crops to emerge, such as Miscanthus and switchgrass.
Farris says he believes that by 2030 more producers will see 300 bushels of corn per acre. That means 8 to 10 tons of stover per acre on the ground within the next 15 years.
Says Levy, “I think we’re going to see a revolution in the biomass market in the years to come. As the world turns to renewable energy, agriculture is going to be a direct benefactor.”
PacificAg operates the largest agricultural residue and forage harvesting business in the U.S., and also maintains the country’s largest fleet of biomass harvesting equipment. That equipment includes one of the largest collections of Hesston large square balers in North America.
“The Hesston baler has been a staple of our program for 16 years,” says PacificAg CEO Bill Levy. That’s in large part due to comparisons with other brands that found the Hesston large square baler’s performance to be superior. “It runs more consistently with fewer breakdowns than any other large square baler,” he adds.
Charles Lalonde, with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, agrees. “AGCO has upgraded the baler to improve efficiency and dramatically reduce downtime,” he says. “You don’t have to stop to replace parts. It runs continuously.”
Another critical upgrade, says Lalonde: “Four years ago, the baler could handle bales weighing 800 to 900 pounds; today, we have balers handling 1,300 pounds. The Hesston 2270XD large square baler … achieves the greatest amount of density per cubic foot.”
That density, says Glenn Farris, AGCO’s manager of segment strategy for biomass/industrials, has its definite advantages, resulting in lower transportation costs and fewer bales being shipped, no matter the material being handled.
“What has been important has been AGCO’s understanding of this emerging market,” Levy says of the biomass industry. ”They’re much more accessible than other manufacturers and offer more attention to customer service.”
In an attempt to harness the potential of the growing biomass industry, AGCO launched its first marketing group specific to this area of agriculture. The biomass marketing group is led by its marketing manager, Glenn Farris, and his business equipment and development specialist, Ken Wagenbach.
Ken leads biomass harvesting equipment design improvements and helps partners set up, maintain and operate equipment for optimum productivity, efficiency and reliability.
Q&A with Ken:
What are some of the advantages of biomass energy production?
Biomass energy is renewable and environmentally sustainable; it reduces our dependence on fossil fuels and our carbon footprint at the same time. In biomass energy production, the agriculture sector has a way to reduce production cost while increasing yields and revenues.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned about biomass since joining the AGCO Biomass Solutions team?
Biomass hits at all the core competencies of AGCO products. Properly managing crops/land and soil/water, be it purpose grown or crop residue, and renewable energy political policies have equal impact on the economy of the producer.
What is some good advice for a farmer who is interested in incorporating biomass into his or her operation?
Regardless of one’s current opinion on government policies on renewable fuels, meeting the world demand for food and fiber in 2020 and beyond will require higher yields. With higher yields and the genetics needed to get there, crop residue in the future will require very heavy tillage, new equipment design and/or removal of it entirely. As farmers/producers, we WILL need the cellulosic outlet that biomass provides.
Have a question for Ken? Email him your question here: AGCO_Biomass_Solutions@AGCOCorp.com.
For additional information on AGCO Biomass Solutions, please visit: http://bit.ly/AGCOBiomass.
Biomass solutions are making news in Scotland as the Balmenach Distillery in Speyside receives funding from the UK Green Investment Bank (GIB). The £5M in funding from the GIB is part of a larger project to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and cut fuel costs from distilleries in the Scottish Highlands. The Balmenach Distillery in Speyside will use the £1M of funds allocated to their improvements to replace the distillery’s current oil-fired boiler with a biomass boiler. Two other distilleries, Tomatin Distillery near Inverness and Aberfeldy Distillery in Perthshire, have already benefited from the £5M in funding announced last month from the GIB.
Whisky is one of Scotland’s best-known manufactured products. The Scotch Whisky Association is striving to reduce energy costs as part of its goals for going green.The Balmenach Distillery is the producer of Caorunn Gin, known as a super-premium small batch Scottish Gin infused with handpicked botanicals inspired by the Celtic tradition. As one of the oldest distilleries in Speyside, the Balmenach Distillery can trace back its roots to 1824. While closing its doors in 1993, the Inver Distillers Group — owned by ThaiBev, a leading Asian drinks business — bought the distillery in 1998 to reopen it for business.
The installation of the new biomass boiler at the Balmenach Distillery will reduce energy costs to a third of current energy costs as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5,000 tons a year. The reduction in greenhouse gas emissions at the Balmenach distillery is the equivalent of taking over 2,200 cars off the road. The new biomass boiler will allow for cost-effective renewable energy and will produce steam necessary for the whisky production process.
The installment of biomass boiler systems at the Tomatin Distillery and Aberfeldy Distillery has already seen an 80% reduction in greenhouse emissions and fuel costs.
Rob Cormie, group operations director of the GIB, said, “…Projects like this provide a sustainable supply of renewable energy; save distilleries money and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. With limited capital investment, distilleries can save money from day one while also helping to meet the industry’s ambitious green targets.”
Read more about AGCO Biomass Solutions by visiting: http://bit.ly/AGCOBiomass.
On July 29 and 30, 2014, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) hosted its seventh annual conference — Biomass 2014: Growing the Future Bioeconomy. As in past years, Biomass 2014 brought together top government officials and members of Congress — with industry leaders and experts from across the bioenergy supply chain — to continue the ongoing dialogue about the critical challenges and key opportunities for the industry.
AGCO Biomass Solutions Marketing Manager Glenn Farris sat on a panel discussing “Advances in Bioenergy Feedstocks — From Field to Fuel.” This session focused on the critical importance of feedstocks, their impact of the bioenergy supply chain, and the challenges facing OEM’s such as AGCO in this growing market. Joining Mr. Farris on the esteemed panel was J. Richard Hess, Director of Energy Systems & Technology Division at Idaho National Lab, and Allen Julian, Chief Business Officer at MBI. The panel was moderated by Alison Goss Eng, Acting Program Manager of Feedstock Supply and Logistics at BETO.
To learn more about opportunities for new feedstock technologies, please email: AGCO_Biomass_Solutions@AGCOCorp.com.
Watch Glenn’s presentation here:
For additional information on AGCO Biomass Solutions, please visit: http://bit.ly/AGCOBiomass.