News and Events April 26, 2013
Energy Department Announces Projects to Develop Innovative, Advanced Drop-in Biofuels
The Energy Department on April 22 announced nearly $18 million in four innovative pilot-scale biorefineries that will test renewable biofuels as a domestic alternative to power cars, trucks, and planes, and that also meet military specifications for jet fuel and shipboard diesel. These biorefineries will be in in California, Iowa, and Washington.
The projects selected for funding include Frontline Bioenergy of Ames, Iowa, which will use an innovative new pilot scale reactor and new gas conditioning processes to produce biofuel from woody biomass, municipal solid waste, and refuse; Cobalt Technologies of Mountain View, California, which will operate a pilot-scale integrated biorefinery to convert switchgrass to bio-jet fuel; Mercurius Biorefining of Ferndale, Washington, which will build and operate a pilot plant that uses an innovative process that converts cellulosic biomass into bio-jet fuel and other chemicals; and BioProcess Algae of Shenandoah, Iowa, which will evaluate an innovative algal growth platform to produce hydrocarbon fuels meeting military specifications using renewable carbon dioxide, lignocellulosic sugars, and waste heat.
The pilot-scale biorefinery projects selected will use a variety of non-food biomass feedstocks, waste-based materials, and algae in innovative conversion processes to produce biofuels that meet military specifications for jet fuel and diesel. The projects will demonstrate technologies to cost-effectively convert biomass into advanced drop-in biofuels and assist these organizations to scale up the processes to commercial levels. Recipients are required to contribute a minimum of 50% matching funds for these projects. See the Energy Department press release.
Energy Department Highlights Nissan’s Better Plants Challenge Project
The Energy Department on April 17 recognized Nissan’s participation in the Better Buildings, Better Plants Challenge and its showcase project at the company’s new energy-efficient paint plant in Smyrna, Tennessee. The 250,000-square-foot Smyrna facility, which opened in January, is expected to cut energy use by almost a third compared to its predecessor.
As a partner in the Better Buildings, Better Plants Challenge, Nissan North America has committed to reducing energy use in its three U.S. plants by 25% by 2020, affecting 12 million square feet of plant space. Better Buildings, Better Plants Challenge participating organizations receive technical assistance from the Energy Department and share best practices on industrial energy efficiency with other Challenge partners.
Each year, the United States spends about $200 billion just to power commercial buildings and another $200 billion to power industrial facilities. Together, commercial and industrial buildings account for roughly half of the nation’s energy use and more than 40% of U.S. carbon emissions. The Better Buildings, Better Plants Challenge serves as the industrial component of President Obama’s broader Better Buildings Challenge, which was launched in December 2011 to help America’s commercial and industrial buildings become at least 20% more efficient over the next decade. See the Energy Department press release and the Better Buildings, Better Plants Challenge website.
EIA: 2012 Home Energy Bills Lowest Percentage in 10 Years
U.S. consumers spent 2.7% of their household income on home energy bills last year, which was the lowest percentage in 10 years, according to a U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) analysis released on April 18. Also, aggregate home energy expenditures by U.S. households fell $12 billion in 2012 from the 2011 level. Warmer weather contributed to lower energy consumption in 2012, and because household energy expenditures reflect both prices and consumption, these changes resulted in lower household energy expenditures.
On average, households spent $1,945 on heating, cooling, appliances, electronics, and lighting in 2012. This total includes home use of electricity, natural gas, fuel oil, propane, kerosene, wood, and coal, but excludes fuels used for transportation. It also excludes other household utilities such as water and telephone services. Using EIA projections for 2012 based on household data from the U.S. Census Bureau through 2010, $1,945 is the lowest level since 2002. The percentage of household income spent on home energy bills peaked at 4.3% in 1982 and steadily declined until it reached its lowest level since 1973—2.4% in 1999. See the EIA’s Today in Energy.
Walmart Announces New Goals for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
Walmart on April 15 announced the company’s next step on the path to achieving its goal of being 100% supplied by renewable energy. The company committed to achieving the production or procurement of 7 billion kilowatt-hours of renewable energy globally every year by the end of 2020. That would mark a 600% increase over its 2010 levels. The Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer will also seek to reduce the energy intensity required to power the company’s buildings during the same period by 20%.
Walmart expects its six-fold increase in utilizing renewable energy projects to be equal to eliminating the need for roughly two U.S. fossil fuel power plants. Based on external estimates of projected energy costs and other factors, the two new commitments are anticipated to generate more than $1 billion annually in energy savings once fully implemented. The company also expects to avoid 9 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent of taking 1.5 million cars off the road.
In the United States alone, Walmart plans to install solar power on at least 1,000 of its rooftops and facilities by 2020, an increase from just over 200 solar projects currently in operation or under development. According to the Solar Energy Industry Association, the company has more solar power capacity and number of systems than any other company in America. It has also been cited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as America’s leading user of onsite renewables, using more onsite renewable power than any other company in the United States. In addition to onsite solar, the company will continue to develop projects in wind, fuel cells, and other technologies. It will also procure offsite renewable energy from utility-scale projects, such as large wind, micro-hydro, and geothermal projects. See the Walmart press release.
On the Path to Low Cost Renewable Fuels, an Important Breakthrough
by Leslie Pezzullo, Technology Manager, Bioenergy Technologies Office
America’s homegrown fuel resources—from wood chips to the leaves and stalks of corn plants—are plentiful. Research finds that these resources could produce enough clean, renewable fuel to replace about 30% of the nation’s current petroleum consumption. Still, on the path to creating a strong, thriving biofuels industry, there are challenges we continue to address. That’s why the Energy Department is working with researchers, industry, and other partners to increase the reliability and cost-effectiveness of renewable fuel production.
The good news is we are making progress—particularly when it comes to cellulosic ethanol. For the uninitiated, cellulosic ethanol is fuel produced from the inedible, organic material abundant in agricultural waste—including grasses, farm waste, and virtually every type of plant. While cellulosic ethanol represents a huge opportunity for the renewable fuels industry, the high costs and inefficiencies associated with the technology are barriers to its commercialization. However, with major technology milestones met by researchers at our national labs and industry partners, that’s all starting to change.
Last fall, scientists at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) successfully demonstrated the technical advances needed to produce cellulosic ethanol cost competitively at $2.15 per gallon—a process that was modeled at $9 per gallon just a decade ago. For the complete story, see the Energy Blog.