Biomethane for Energy and Fuel

Biomethane for Energy and Fuel

Bowerman Landfill Biomethane to LNG

Bowerman Landfill Biomethane to LNG

By John Addison (7/24/09) OK. I admit it. I am writing this article from a Summit about cow poop. No, this isn’t a joke to get 8-year olds rolling on the floor with laughter. This is serious.

I am reporting from the inaugural National Biomethane Summit, in Sacramento, California, where over 300 attendees including elected officials, government agencies, farmers, ranchers, landfill owners, facility owners and operators, technology leaders, researchers, regional planners, and carbon trading experts.

Biomethane is renewable natural gas because it is from biological sources. In some areas, biomethane is called renewable gas. Biomethane is a low carbon fuel – CH4. John Boesel, President of CALSTART, calls biomethane “Our lowest carbon fuel.” Just like the fossil fuel version of natural gas, biomethane can be converted into electricity or fuel.

Making money from meadow muffins is helping dairy farmers stay in business. Among the Western United Dairymen, 18 projects that capture biomethane from manure are generating 4.425 MW of electricity. Hilarides Dairy also converts enough biomethane into fuel to power two of its heavy-duty and five pick-up trucks. Michael Marsh, CEO of the Western United Dairymen quipped, “This smells like an opportunity.”

Dallas Tonsager, Undersecretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), is a former dairyman who sees big economic opportunity in methane from manure. Since 2003, USDA has helped 121 projects with co-funding and/or loan guarantees. These projects have generated 449 GW hours/year of electricity, reducing emissions 384,664 metric tons of CO2e and displacing 8 million gallons of oil.

The 121 projects include WI 24, PA 18, CA 14, NY 14, and VT 7. There are opportunities in every state. USDA is encouraging the growth of biomethane for energy and fuel. This is definitely a “shovel ready” opportunity to create green jobs.

Across the nation, ranchers, farmers, landfill operators, and all that generate agricultural waste, forest residue, and municipal waste can increasingly become energy independent. Through anaerobic digestion much of their biological waste can be converted into biogas which can run electrical generators, turbines, or fuel cells to generate electricity. Biogas can also be converted to cleaner biomethane for cleaner electricity and renewable fuel. These operations can generate their own electricity and fuel their own vehicles. Increasingly, excess electricity and fuel can be sold as added revenue streams.

A growing number of our nation’s buses, refuse trucks, delivery vans, airport and port equipment has been converted from diesel to natural gas. Michael Gallagher, CEO of Westport Innovations, has already sold 20,000 engines for such applications. He estimates that 20 percent of our nation’s diesel vehicles could be running on biomethane produced in the United States.

Nations like Russia and Iran that control the largest reserves of natural gas may not like this trend of making our own natural gas, but if we want energy independence then we need to follow W.C. Field’s advice, “Take the bull by the tail and face the situation.”

Before our growing population with its output of waste puts us hip deep in this slop, we want to do something useful like make money converting all this waste into energy and fuel. Currently, as the waste decomposes, a greenhouse gas twenty times more destructive than carbon dioxide – methane – goes into the stratosphere, putting our future in a pressure cooker. The whole thing stinks.

There is a climate payoff as well as help with energy independence. California with its Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) has put teams of scientists to work calculating well-to-wheels, or in this case waste-to-wheels, lifecycle emissions using the newly developed GREET 1.8 model. Biomethane has 4 times less lifecycle emissions than gasoline in the LCFS analysis. Because biomethane avoids release of the destructive greenhouse gas, biomethane into an internal combustion engine vehicle shows fewer emissions than electricity into a far more efficient electric vehicle.

In transportation, we will see the growing use of renewable electricity powering everything from city light-rail to city cars. We will also see the growing use of biomethane powering buses and the vehicles used by the biomethane producers. In Orange Country, California, where thousands of electric vehicles are used, there are also several hundred refuse trucks and public transit buses using biomethane from the nearby Bowerman Landfill where biogas is converted into liquid natural gas (LNG).

The Orange County Sanitation District is bringing online a combined heat and power plant developed by Air Products and Fuel Cell Energy that converts municipal waste into electricity, heat, and hydrogen fuel. In the county, hydrogen vehicles are in use by city fleets such as Santa Ana, the University of California, Irvine, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, and even individuals that drive Honda Clarities and GM Fuel Cell Equinoxes. This breakthrough innovation results in record toilet-to-tank efficiency. Orange County Register Article

Texas, of course, thinks bigger than California. In Dallas, the McCommas Bluff Landfill will achieve 95 percent methane recovery from 30 million tons of waste. Output will scale from 35,000 gasoline gallon equivalents (GGE) per day to 122,500 GGE. Using a novel leachate recirculation process for early capture of biomethane would shrink the landfill growth by 3 feet per day, adding years of life to the landfill.

Summit attendees had mixed reactions about the idea of using biomethane as a vehicle fuel instead of the more common approach of making electricity by running biogas in large ICE gensets. Renewable electricity is in big demand as utilities across the nation struggle to meet renewable portfolio standards (RPS). Natural gas prices, however, are down 70 percent from their peak, making biomethane for fuel a losing proposition unless there is government funding or carbon credits to sell at a significant price.

But new ICE gensets increasingly cannot be permitted. Regulators have greatly tightened standards on emission of health damaging criteria pollutants and greenhouse gases. In California, air quality regulations are forcing farmers, landfill, and waste operators to spend more on clean-up of biogas. Turbines, fuel cells, and conversion to fuel are becoming more promising options. Regulators are also helping with selective co-funding of some projects.

Biofuels have gathered significant opposition in much of the world. Biomethane has avoided the food for fuels controversy associated with ethanol from corn and biodiesel from soy and palm oil. Biomethane is normally processed from waste. Biomethane has over four times the energy production than corn ethanol from an acre of land. Clean Fleet Biofuels Reports

These challenges are also opportunities for Waste Management Inc (WMI). Of their 370 landfills, 33 percent already produce methane for energy, the rest flare the gas due to economics or regulatory difficulty in using ICE gensets to produce electricity. About 1,000 of Waste Management’s fleet of trucks run on either LNG or CNG creating the opportunity to produce their own fuel. 2,500 trucks run on diesel with WMI plans to hybridize.

Waste Management landfills contain significant organic waste which is suited for anaerobic digestion. WMI also captures significant waste that is lignin which is appropriate for its waste-to-energy plants. In the long-term it may be economical to convert the lignin to biofuel in a gasification process.

Can biomethane scale to a size that will impact United States needs for energy and fuel? Yes. Sweden has been an early leader in using biomethane. Over half of their natural gas for transportation vehicles such as buses and cars comes from biomethane sources such as municipal waste and agricultural waste. Biomethane is part of Sweden’s strategy to be petroleum free.

In 1970, 77 percent of Sweden’s energy came from oil, but by 2003 that figure had fallen to 32 percent. In 2006, about 40 million cubic meters of renewable biomethane, “enough to support 1,000 buses and refuse trucks and 9,000 light duty vehicles.” In Sweden, light-duty vehicles cost an average of 70 percent of the cost of a petrol fueled vehicle. The opposite occurs in the United States, with the Honda Civic CNG being the only available CNG passenger car.

Biomethane is also important to Sweden being energy independent. Russia has famously flexed its political muscle by temporarily cutting-off the natural gas pipeline supply that is critical to Europe’s energy and heating. Sweden already has 230 biomethane plants build including 138 from sewage waste water and 60 from landfills. Some Swedish dairy farmers are making more money from manure than from milk.

A decade from now, cost effective large-scale plants have the potential to produce multiple outputs include electricity, heat, natural gas transportation fuel, algal fuel utilizing CO2, biofuels from lignin, biomaterials, and fertilizer. Production could be accelerated if cap-and-trade carbon credits are produced.

This potential is part of the reason that Summit attendance is double what was expected and that this became an international summit with delegates from Sweden, UK, Spain, Canada and other countries. We do not need to dispose ever increasing quantities of waste. We do not need bigger landfills. The vision is a zero-waste society where anything no longer used is converted into something valuable, be it recycled paper, building materials, electricity, heat, fuel, etc.

We can achieve energy independence and avoid a climate crisis with a portfolio of solutions leading us to a near zero-emission future. Yes, the Prius, solar power, and eating tofu make a difference. Energy efficient buildings, transportation, and sustainable living make bigger differences. Now, we must put on our boots and roll-up our sleeves and give a whole new meaning to the mantra “reduce, reuse, and recycle.”

Balqon Offers BEV Hostler

Balqon Offers BEV Hostler

Balqon Corporation is now offering for sale a battery-electric tow tractor for moving semi trailers around port yards and distribution warehouse centers.  115 kWh in the lead acid battery pack is enough energy for 30 to 50 miles and one whole shift of yard operation under 25 mph.  The electric motor, controller, electric compressor, and hydraulic pump replace the diesel engine in the Capacity half cab glider delivered to Balqon.  The transmission and electric drive components are mounted on a cradle that drops into the frame rails and is installed in less than 4 hours.  Add the 330 volt battery packs on each side and you’re ready to go.
Eliminating the idling, diesel fuel and engine related maintenance costs results in considerable savings over the life of the vehicle.  A Li Ion battery pack with twice the energy storage will be offered in the near future to extend the operating time and range between battery charges.
Ottawa and Capacity are the major suppliers of the half cab hostlers (also known as yard tractors) used in trucking distribution centers through the country.  Port of Los Angeles has about 600 of these vehicles, the Port of Long Beach about 400 and the Port of San Diego 15.  CARB is continuing their efforts to clean up the emissions from these normally powered diesel tractors.

U.S. Agencies Report: More Drought and Less Food Due to Greenhouse Gas Emissions

U.S. Agencies Report: More Drought and Less Food Due to Greenhouse Gas Emissions

New U.S. Climate Report

New U.S. Climate Report

A new science report representing a consensus of 13 agencies developed over a year and half and focused on potential climate change impacts on the United States.

It’s the most comprehensive report to date on the possible impacts of climate change for everyone across America, and begins an important process of redefining the sort of information we need in order to deal with climate change at national and regional scales. Effectively managing our response to a changing climate falls into two general categories:

1)      Implementing measures to limit climate change and therefore avoid many of the impacts discussed in the report. These measures must reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and might include increasing our reliance on clean energy, and developing energy efficient technologies
2)      Reducing our vulnerability and increasing our resilience to ongoing climate change in pro-active, community-based ways. Examples of this include such measures as developing more climate-sensitive building codes to keep people out of harm’s way, or planting more drought or heat tolerant crops, for example.
As a first step in reducing the impact of climate change, we need to know what impacts we must avoid in the future, and this report, “Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States”,  does just that– outlining the possible direction of climate change under two broad scenarios: the first if we reduce greenhouse gas emissions aggressively, and the second, if we are less aggressive. These are neither the highest or lowest possible scenarios but begin to compare the possible futures for the U.S.
An important element of this new report, apart from that it is deliberately written in plain language so we can all read and understand the science in it, is that it dives down in the various regions of the U.S. and provides much more regional detail about possible impacts than ever before – critical information for an effective response. It also breaks down the potential climate change impacts by economic and social sectors, most of which transcend regional boundaries, such as water, energy, health, transportation, and agriculture – all vital components of a healthy and stable society.
The report notes climate change impacts that we are already seeing across the U.S. as well as those that will soon emerge or become more intense if action is slow to occur. Some of the impacts that the report mentions are:
·         More rain is already coming in very heavy events, and this is projected to increase across the nation. This would have impacts on transportation, agriculture, water quality, health, and more;
·         Heat waves will become more frequent and intense, increasing threats to human health and quality of life, especially in cities;
·         Warming will decrease demand for heating energy in winter and increase demand for cooling energy in summer. The latter will increase peak electricity demand in most regions;
·         Water resources will be stressed in many regions. For example, snowpack is declining in the West, and there is an increasing probability of drought in the Southwest, while floods and water quality issues are likely to be more of a problem in most regions;
·         In coastal communities, sea-level rise and storm surge will increase threats to homes and infrastructure including water, sewer, transportation and communication systems.
Through identifying the climate change impacts we are experiencing now, as well as those that are emerging faster than we thought, and those projected to increase in the future, the report clearly highlights the choices we face regarding possible response options to reduce the impacts of climate change across the United States.
Responses to climate change impacts in the United States will almost certainly evolve over time as we learn through experience. Determining and refining the responses will involve partnerships between scientists, policymakers, the public, private industry, communities, and decision-makers at all levels. Implementing these response strategies will require careful planning and continual feedback on the impacts of policies for government, industry, and society.
More of the report’s findings are located at , which is the new home of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the interagency Government program that commissioned the report. The report was led by NOAA.

Americans Use Aftermarket Products to Fight Rising Gas Prices

Americans Use Aftermarket Products to Fight Rising Gas Prices



In the past few months, oil prices have soared from $32 to over $70 per barrel. Americans are being hit with the double whammy of reduced income and increased fuel costs. Many vehicles are built to go fast and built to outlast their warranties. Cars and trucks must outlast their warranties under a wide range of conditions, including extreme heat and cold. Vehicle electronic control units are compromises and not optimized to get the best fuel economy for any one specific drive cycle and weather. This creates an opportunity for a variety of fuel saving aftermarket products.

Aftermarket products and service is big business. In 2007, aftermarket product U.S. sales were $285.5 billion. Sales in the automotive aftermarket (cars and light trucks) totaled $211.4 billion and sales in the heavy duty vehicle aftermarket totaled $74.1 billion.  The current recession has caused a modest decrease in revenue; rising fuel costs are now increasing revenue. AAIA

Tommy Guilbeau puts on 35,000 to 40,000 miles a year driving his 2006 Dodge Ram Hemi. Working for R.E. Michael Company, he delivers building air conditioning, boilers and heaters over a wide area. I talked to him while he was on his way to deliveries in Birmingham, Alabama. Tommy uses two after market products that save him thousands of dollars per year by boosting his mileage from 17 mpg to 26 mpg – impressive mileage for a pick-up carrying loads.

How did Tommy Guilbeau save over $2,000 in annual fuel cost? Tommy explained to me that he picked-up one mile per gallon by adding Tornado, a $70 device which is designed to improve air flow to an engine’s combustion chamber. It works with either a carbureted or electronic fuel injected engine. It gets its name because it delivers air in a vortex, instead of static air flow.

Tommy said that he gained a massive 7 mpg by installing Supercooler – a $699 device that improves mileage by delivering cooler air to the engine’s combustion chamber. Supercooler includes a thermal jacket installed around the vehicle’s air conditioning systems accumulator. Supercooler’s patented system also includes a liquid coolant, ColdPump, and IceBox. Supercooler installed his system in one day. Tommy stated, “Supercooler is great, especially if you do a lot of freeway driving.”

Products like Supercooler can save thousands per vehicle annually if you are located in a hot climate where the air conditioning is running most of time. If you are located in a colder northern climate, it may not pay for itself.

Aftermarket products are not for everyone. People with new vehicles are concerned that automakers will not honor warranties if they see ad-on products. Fleets with trained mechanics are more comfortable installing and maintaining the devices. Individuals often want experienced mechanics to install and set-up devices.

Many drivers would prefer to adjust vehicle characteristics for fuel economy, rather than acceleration, or for towing when they never tow. The new 2010 Prius, let’s drivers pick on of three settings. Most vehicles offer no choices, so drivers are attracted to aftermarket products.

Chris Fitch has been dealing with accessories for years. Chris sees big mileage gains with chips and software that give more control to drivers. He recommends products like Bully Dog,  Superchip, and Hypertech.  These devices let you set your performance/mileage preferences, get more data from gauges, allow fleet managers to download data, and give drivers realtime feedback to improve mileage. Devices are available for a range of gasoline and diesel cars, SUVs, and trucks. Many devices reprogram your vehicles computers to better mileage or performance settings. For warranty work, some can reprogram to manufacturer defaults and be removed.

Living in Florida, Chris always uses air conditioning and has Supercooler installed on his 2006 Toyota Tundra Force V8. His mileage took a 25 percent hit, when his girl friend ran the truck without running the air conditioning and therefore not running Supercooler. Chris states that his weekly gas savings pays for the system in months.

Only some aftermarket products boost mileage. Other products are for performance, looks, and convenience. Many products have not been put through rigorous testing on the same drive cycle under the same conditions as unmodified vehicles to verify improvement claims. Fleet managers can test one modified vehicle with an aftermarket product for a period of time, before installing the product on a larger percentage of the fleet. For individuals, aftermarket products are often leaps of faith.

One vehicle expert told me, “I find this hard to believe without certified test data. All this stuff reminds me of PT Barnum. It will most certainly void the OEM warranty unless the manufacturer has approved the device and installation.” An even bigger concern is that some of these devices are illegal in some states without EPA and ARB certification.

Yet it is hard to believe that the $285 billion per year spent on aftermarket products is all wasted money. This article does not begin to cover all the alternative products for boosting mileage, nor when they get results. It does demonstrate that fleets and individuals do not always settle for generic vehicles when a big part of their budget – fuel costs – gets hit. From tuners to tires, programmers to plug-in hybrid conversion kits, from cold air to exhaust heat, fleet managers are using hardware and software to go farther with less money.

As gasoline and diesel prices gyrate upwards and fuel budgets run on empty, more drivers and fleet managers are taking charge of engine performance to meet their specific duty cycles, hauling and cargo weight demands, and take advantage of local temperatures.

Hybrid Truck Convoy in Washinton DC

Hybrid Truck Convoy in Washinton DC

Hybrid Trucks and Green Jobs

Hybrid Trucks and Green Jobs

CALSTART, along with its Hybrid Truck Users Forum (HTUF) showcased the emergence of fuel-saving hybrid technology for the nation’s biggest vehicles and unveiled  a new study from Duke University that finds hybrids provide the US with a strategic opportunity in competitiveness, green jobs and reduced pollution. “Even in the midst of the economic downturn, American truck and system makers are poised for a break-through in producing hybrid technology, leading to reduced fuel use and emissions and creating ‘green tech’ jobs,” says Bill Van Amburg, CALSTART senior vice president.  “But to succeed, the industry needs support to help fleets purchase efficient trucks and a long term program to grow the technology.”  Hybrid on the Hill Day featured 17 medium- and heavy-duty hybrids from five major truck makers and six driveline suppliers, showcasing the world’s most advanced trucks.  During a morning briefing, industry experts – from environmental, military and commercial fleet backgrounds – outlined the status and benefits of hybrid technology, and provided highlights from a new study that identifies the early growth of an American technology edge. Congressmen Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) and Charlie Dent (R- PA) also spoke in support of the industry. Marcy Lowe, a research associate at Duke’s Center on Globalization, Governance & Competitiveness, presented the results of a Duke study which underscores the value of hybrid technology to the country. “The United States is proving a global leader in this sector,” Lowe said, “and with the right policies in place, U.S. firms could expand market penetration, add jobs, and increase environmental benefits.”  The report, Hybrid Drivetrains for Medium- and Heavy-Duty Trucks, indicates that more than 30 states are home to truck and component manufacturing and development in the clean truck sector, and that the growth of the industry offers solid economic opportunities for the whole nation.  The study was commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund and CALSTART’s Hybrid Truck Users Forum Incentives Working Group.