Tag Archives: biodiesel

Collective Biofuels, Visitors, and Production Intelligence

I find it hard to believe that we are already in the midst of summer. It has already been a tremendously eventful year at Promethean, and it seems that we need to pick up the pace.There have been so many changes in such a brief period of time. Some of the changes were made by choice; there was at least one occasion where the choice was made for us.

At any rate, change is essential for progress and progress is exactly what we are making.

Repetitive and, one can easily argue, often tedious data collection requirements resonate through the core of our fuel-making process; the legacy of instituting a quality management system. But the system is phenomenal. We are working on ensuring that process redundancies are curbed, that the data we are collecting can be easily interpreted and will ultimately yield meaningful and utilitarian production intelligence.

We are preparing for a multitude of visitors at this year’s Collective Biofuels Conference (http://collectivebiofuels.org) in Temecula, CA this year. It is being held August 17th – 19th, 2012. I will have more to say about this stupendous event in an upcoming entry, but the current confirmed speaker list includes Dr. Jon Van Gerpen (amongst other things the author of the Biodiesel Handbook), Dr. Virginia Gordon (Bonanza Labs’ President and Founder), Don Scott (Sustainability Director for the NBB), Graydon Blair (Utah Biodiesel Supply), Jason Burroughs (Diesel Green Fuels), Dr. Jonathan Meuser,… Well, we’re very excited!

We are also in the midst of making some minor adjustments to our process lines based on the changing nature of the feedstock we have available to us for conversion. We are on a very tight schedule to implement these changes, since the fire earlier this year, among other things in the key of life, resulted in a less than average production start for this year.

As a final ramble for this entry, Joe Spatafore of Extreme Biofuels in Corona, CA stopped by to see us today. Joe has had a standing invitation to come by since we broke ground in early 2008. He lives relatively close to the plant, but never had the time to come by. I was glad he did. We spent some time talking about surviving in this industry. If anyone knows about surviving in the biodiesel business it’s Joe. I wish him the best of luck.

Make it a better place!

Todd

Hyper consumerism is a plague.

Hyper consumerism is a plague sapping the strength from our beautiful nation.

Many argue that our consumer culture is the root of our current military conflicts; our need for foreign oil, amongst other things, grows every day. Our political representatives in dissonance to their actions proclaim their dedication to all things “green”. Meanwhile we see investment in our schools and roads, the future brains and arteries of America, suffer from year after year declines even as the banking industry has arisen from the brink of failure.

China is currently the world’s largest consumer of energy. The United States is second. The Indian economy is growing rapidly as well, and their prodigious acquisition of gold is one of the reasons that they are the world’s largest consumer of the nigh-indestructible stuff in 2011.

The economists of international consultancy PwC predict, along with many others, that the GDP of China will be larger than that of the US by 2025, with India surpassing the U.S. by 2050.

It may be the case that in 2050 the financial house of the United States of America will be in better order. But the oil markets, such as they may be at that time, are likely to be far more competitive than they are even now, and the pressure for conflict an inevitable consequence.

A movement can change the world one person at a time, but the person has to be willing to change. Social change on the scale we are advocating cannot be forced; only discovered and adopted as a way of being.

What we do  here at the plant is often difficult. Making biodiesel from used cooking oil is not an easy craft. Our form of energy is not derived from pristine sources. We make liquid beauty by eradicating chaos.

We are humble in the practice of our alchemy, and increasingly conscious of the operational precision required to ensure quality product that can power the community.  Many of the founding fathers of chemistry, including the man who is largely regarded as the first modern chemist, Robert Boyle, had their foundations in the noble pseudoscience that is alchemy.

I must admit that I realize that this particular entry is more opinion piece than factoid. I will not apologize for sharing my point of view.

I say it because I care. And if you have dared to read this far I know you care too.

Make it a better place!

Todd

Collective Biodiesel Conference 2011

I will be participating in a Collective Biofuels Conference this summer on Vancouver Island and Jessy Bradish, one of the conference organizers, requested that I pass along the details. If you believe anyone you know might be interested in attending please spread the word. I would really appreciate it!

The conference lasts a weekend and consists of workshops about biofuels, with a focus on sustainable biodiesel production and community case studies.

Several  industry stars have been recruited to speak and present, including Lyle Estill of Piedmont Biofuels and Josh Tickell, the director FUEL. You can see the full lineup on the CBC website.

Feel free to email jessicabradish@gmail.com with questions, and please pass this along to your contacts!

More information about the conference can be found below.

Make it a better place!

Todd

http://events.linkedin.com/Collective-Biofuels-Conference/pub/723192

Collective Biofuels Conference
Fri, Aug 05 to Sun, Aug 07
Queen Margaret’s School, Duncan, BC, CA
Keywords: biofuel, biodiesel, biodiesel processing, biodiesel production, straight vegetable oil, ethanol, jatropha, algae, energy, advanced biofuels, sustainable energy, alternative energy, biomass, Vancouver Island, Canada, British Columbia, Duncan, Cowichan Vall
The Collective Biofuels Conference brings renewable energy experts, enthusiasts and interested beginners together to discuss all things biofuels, with a focus on biodiesel.

This year’s Collective Biofuels Conference features 20 workshops on sustainable community-scale biofuels – from grass-root…

Our mission may not suit you.

WE ARE GOING TO RAISE OUR PRICES.
WE HAVE TO RAISE OUR PRICES.
EVERY CONVERSATION I HAVE WITH ANYONE INTERESTED IN USING OR PROMOTING BIOFUELS ALWAYS IS ACCOMPANIED WITH A BRIEF SEGMENT RELATED TO PRICING. USUALLY THE
PROBLEM STARTS AFTER I HAVE NAMED THE CURRENT PRICE AND I RECEIVE A LOOK OF HONEST SURPRISE FOLLOWED BY A STATEMENT AKIN TO “I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE CHEAPER THAN DIESEL”.
IN MY HEART OF HEARTS I ALWAYS WANT TO REPLY “IF YOU CALL THE TRAGEDY OF 9/11, THE IRAQI WAR, THE SIEGE OF AFGANISTAN, AND THE LOSS OF OUR ABILITY TO BOARD A PLANE WITHOUT THE NECESSITY OF A THOROUGH SEARCH CHEAPER
THAN PAYING AN EXTRA $1 AT THE PUMP, OUR SORT OF REVOLUTIONARY GAME CHANGING APPROACHES TO SOLVING SOME OF AMERICAS ENERGY PROBLEMS MAY BE LOST ON YOU.
IF YOU CALL 4,400 FALLEN SOLDIERS AND AN ADDITIONAL 31,929 WOUNDED LESS EXPENSIVE, OR CONSIDER THE 1 TRILLION DOLLARS WE AS A NATION HAVE SPENT, MUCH OF IT BORROWED
AGAINST OUR CHILDRENS FUTURE, AN INEXPENSIVE ROUTE TO THE CONTROL OF OUR ENERGY DESTINY, OUR MISSION MAY NOT SUIT YOU.
I WISH I COULD TELL OUR MEMBERS THAT THEY WOULD BENEFIT FROM A TAX DEDUCTION, OR SOME OTHER VALUE ADDED OPTION TO MAKE UP FOR THE OBVIOUSLY DIFFERENT AMOUNT YOU PAY FOR OUR BIOFUEL.
I CAN TELL YOU THAT I BELIEVE PROFOUNDLY THAT IT IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO.

It’s October.

Oh my how the time has flown.

There have been so many changes on project the last two months. We have been working all hours of the day and night.

The plant has become my surrogate home.  I’m sure more than a few of us feel the same.

Overall as an industry we have been waiting for a variety of factors to make the biofuels sector a sustainable industry. The list is long: congressional and legislative support of our true costs, RINS (renewable identification numbers), state and local mandates, as well as a change in the tone of consumer thinking.

Of course the waiting is our problem. In many cases for our brothers in arms, the waiting has been terminal.

WE ARE GOING TO RAISE OUR PRICES.

We have to raise our prices.

Nearly every conversation I have with anyone interested in using or promoting biofuels always is accompanied with a brief discussion related to pricing. Usually the opportunity starts after I have named the current price of fuel and I receive a look of honest surprise followed by a statement akin to “I thought it would be cheaper than diesel.”

In my heart of hearts I always want to reply by saying, “If you call the tragedy of 9/11, the Iraqi War, the Siege of Afghanistan, and the loss of our ability to board a plane without the necessity of standing in line for the privilege of a thorough search cheaper than paying an extra $1 at the pump, our sort of revolutionary game changing approaches to solving some of America’s energy problems may be lost on you.”

If you call more than 4,400 fallen soldiers and an additional 31,929 wounded less expensive, or consider the $1 trillion we as a nation have spent, much of it borrowed against our children’s future, an inexpensive route to the control of our energy destiny, our mission may not suit you.

I wish I could tell our members that they would benefit from a tax deduction,  or some other value-added option to make up for the obviously different amount paid at times for our biofuel.

I CAN TELL YOU THAT I BELIEVE PROFOUNDLY THAT IT IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO.

Only time will tell.

Make it a better place!

Todd

Producers must re-register plants under RFS2

Buried in the middle of the RFS 2 regulations published in February by the EPA are the new requirements for producer program registration. The rules as posted are only the proposed modification to 40 CFR 80, pending publication of the final regulations in the Federal Register, a legal requirement for final adoption.

If you are not already aware, even if your facility was registered under the first version of RFS, it must re-register prior to July 1, 2010 to participate under the auspices of the new program.

The new producer registration requirements are detailed in a densely packed section of the 120 page document.

Occupying roughly four (4) pages, the requirements include a description of the type of fuels produced at the facility (or possibly produced with little modification to the production process),  feedstock used in the production process, the co-products produced with each fuel type,  and the submission by a state licensed, third party, chemical engineer the results of a careful review of your facility process and capacity expectation.

These requirements come at a time when producers are particularly sensitive to issues surrounding cash flow and operating costs, and expenses like a third-party engineering review may seem ill-timed.

RFS 2 participation is important to us here at Promethean. It is a personal initiative for me and I am focused on preparing us to meet the July start date.

There still exists a subset of mysteries whose answers are yet to be revealed by the EPA regarding what the EPA will specifically require as an ultimate demonstration of conformance.

I hope clarity is imminent.

Make it a better place,

Todd

Uncertainty Surrounds Biodiesel Tax Credit Renewal for 2010

The biofuels sector is becoming increasingly skittish about the status of alternative fuels tax credit extensions for 2010. For the biodiesel and ethanol sectors, these credit offsets currently equate to $1.00 per gallon (U.S.) and are seen by the majority of producers as essential for the continuance of their respective industries.

The timing here is especially critical, since the credits expire at year end. With Congress currently fully engrossed in the universal healthcare debate, every day that passes seems to herald that the credit extensions will not happen this year. Most of the people I have spoken to regarding this issue, as well as some of the folks at NBB, seem to agree that it is unlikely that an eleventh hour credit extension will occur. Some offer that it is more likely that some sort of retroactive extension will pass through the halls of Congress in the first or second quarter of the 2010.

Of course, a passage of a retroactively applicable credit extension may not heal the wounds inflicted to the industry in todays economic climate.

Some producers may not be able to raise sufficient capital to survive to see the first quarter and may be forced to cease production permanently as their credit problems worsen or their principal investors seek the certainty of taking a known loss today versus increasing the amount of capital they have at risk for the future prospect of a retroactive extension.

And of course, even the extension of the future may change as current proposals seek to make the biofuels producer eligible for the credit and not the blender, as is currently the case in the biodiesel sector.

We shall all just have to wait and see what happens next.

Make it a better place.

Todd

The new Renewable Fuel Standard

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing revisions to the National Renewable Fuel Standard program (more commonly known as RFS).  The proposed rule is intended to address changes mandated by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA).

The recently legislated requirements establish, and in some cases adjust, specific volume standards for cellulosic biofuel, biomass-based diesel, advanced biofuel, and total renewable fuel that must be used as, or in, transportation fuel each year.

The requirements include new definitions and criteria for renewable fuels and the feedstocks used to produce them. The EPA has also proposed new greenhouse gas emission (GHG) thresholds for renewable fuels.

Importantly, these new RFS requirements will apply to producers and importers of renewable fuel that are both foreign and domestic.

The passage of EISA expanded the coverage of the RFS program beyond gasoline to broadly cover all transportation fuels, including diesel fuel used in highway vehicles and engines as well as offroad, marine and locomotive engines.

Mirroring the same approach adopted to implement RFS 1, the EPA believes these provisions should be applied to refiners, blenders, and importers of transportation fuel with the designated percentage standards applicable to the total amount of gasoline and diesel produced.  Some special caveats exist for small refiners which are intended to decrease the administrative burden these rules create.

Ultimately RFS under the new act is expected to reduce American reliance on foreign oil sources, increase the domestic production of energy, foment the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) , and diversify the American renewable energy portfolio.

The increased use of renewable fuels like biodiesel may also expand the market for agricultural products used in fuel production and accelerate the growth of new markets focused on the development of cellulosic feedstocks and production technologies.

The volumes of renewable fuel are specified by statute and will ultimately affect the price of fuel paid by the consumer.

In my next few posts I will discuss various aspects of RFS2 as the EPA approaches its final decisions on implementation. The discussion will include the topic of Renewable Identification Numbers (RINS), fuel quantity targets, and compliance issues that directly affect small producers like Promethean.

Make it a better place.

Todd

Make it so….revisited.

Energy. Clean. Renewable.

Fuel that can be produced in the midst of the community that uses it.

The opportunity to create a model for localized energy independence was one of the things that inspired me beyond the simple set of environmental ideals that motivate me.

There are other fuel technologies out there, with varying levels of sustainability and environmental impacts both positive and negative. There are new technologies on the horizon that both imitate current technologies and, in some cases, bear the potential to supplant them.

Time will tell. In the short term anything we do collectively that lowers the amount of waste we put back into the environment, reduces our carbon footprint, and helps us as a society strive to make the world a better place for our children to inhabit is worth pursuing.

Biodiesel beyond being a cleaner alternative to diesel fuel is a living, breathing, vibrant example of what we can potentially do as a society to effect change. Biodiesel presents us with an opportunity to effect change rapidly and meaningfully. The part biodiesel has to play in moving us as a society towards energy independence is readily achievable.

The challenge for us is spearheading the definition of biodiesel’s specific role within our legislation, our fuels markets, and with the original equipment manufacturers of our diesel-powered vehicles, electrical generators, and heating devices.

Any new technology introduced must overcome challenges before it gains acceptance and mass adoption. Biodiesel is not new in the sense that it is not a recent discovery, but it is undergoing a transformation as it is recognized as a potential neat fuel and fuel additive. It is undeniably viable for inclusion in the suite of energy solutions that will arise to address our need to find alternatives to petroleum-derived fuels.

All that is left is for us to make it so.

Make it a better place.

Todd

Big Sustainable Business in Biodiesel.

I am a serial entrpreneur like many of those involved with the commercial biofuels industry.

I am also an environmentalist.

Although entrepreneurship and environmentalism are far from mutually exclusive in concept, there are times I must admit that the choices I am faced with can seem to not permit compromise, forcing me to live in a kind of existential opposition.

These are hard times for biodiesel producers, both large and small.

Margins are slim, and depending on the feedstock cost, may be non-existent. California has banned biodiesel in underground storage tanks. Some producers think that this ban has reduced demand for biodiesel in the state by 75%.

Of course some additional factors at work might be recent declines in the retail price of petrodiesel, the California Air Resources Board and Air Quality Management Districts’ historic disdain for biodiesel based on the results of NOx testing, and rumors of bad batches that propagate like wildfire amongst the biodiesel-aware community.

And yet, even under the additional burden of an economy in malaise, I here word of plant expansions in the West Coast, our own plant mere days from going on-line, and an economic stimulus package that includes biodiesel by name.

I spoke to someone today who works for a larger biodiesel producer/marketer. He intimated that I as a smaller producer would have a more difficult time than larger producers who had the benefit of “economies of scale”.

Of course this is standard “big business” thinking, but I think there is an argument for this sort of thinking being wrong in a sense for biodiesel producers . For producers focused on recycling waste oil to produce their product local “mining” of the oil can be more cost effective than purchasing large quantities of oil from a renderer. In this case, the size and scale of the plant you build to produce biodiesel is not necessarily helped by building a tremendous amount of excess capacity.

Imagine if you will that I decide that one four-story McDonald’s will better serve the community than four (4) single-story restaurants that are geographically dispersed throughout my town. As a business owner this does help me, since I only need to deliver my product to one location. The problem is that this model fails to serve the core McDonald’s customer desire of convenient access to food as well as allowing competitors to occupy more space and attract customers away from the one large central location.

But perhaps most importantly, our approach is not an economy of scale approach. Our approach is a service and product quality approach. I believe that the smaller producer cannot attempt to compete with “big business” economy of scale until they have grown the business through service and high quality product distribution. The small business must perform in such a way that it is driven to, or forced into, further expansion.

Make it a better place!

Todd