Thursday, November 19, 2009

What flavor is your biodiesel? Renewable Energy Group Releases "Feedstock and Biodiesel Characteristics"

Feedstocks for biodiesel can come from a wide range of agricultural sources.  The unique  properties of the feedstocks result in many different biodiesel products. 

This has implications for fuel use but also chemical manufacture from biodiesel byproducts (e.g. glycerol), so I was interested to come across a new survey characterizing typical and exotic feedstocks for biodiesel.

Yesterday, Renewable Energy Group (Ames, IA) released a report that documents the tested properties of common and uncommon feedstocks and the biodiesel produced from these samples.  It is a big data-rich report and I am just paging through it, but it is interesting enough to share, in hopes that many people will have a chance to read it.

This graphic from the report shows the wide range in cloud point for the tested biodiesels, an example of the diversity of products all known as biodiesel.

The feedstocks tested were algae, babassu, beef tallow, borage, camelina, canola, castor, choice white grease, coconut, coffee, distiller’s corn, Cuphea viscosissima, evening primrose, fish, hemp, hepar, jatropha, jojoba, karanja, Lesquerella fendleri, linseed, Moringa oleifera, mustard, neem, palm, perilla seed, poultry fat, rice bran, soybean, stillingia, sunflower, tung, used cooking oil, and yellow grease.

The feedstocks were tested for moisture, free fatty acid, kinematic viscosity, FAC color, saponification value, moisture and volatile matter, insoluble impurities, unsaponifiable matter, oxidation stability, sulfur, phosphorous, calcium, and magnesium.

The biodiesels were tested for cloud point, cold filter plugging point, cold soak filtration, fatty acid profile, relative density, kinematic viscosity, sulfated ash, carbon residue, water and sediment, visual inspection, free and total glycerin, flash point, copper corrosion, phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, total acid number, moisture, sulfur, and oxidation stability.

Go to the Renewable Energy Group website for the report.

I also have my ear to the ground about the Renewable Energy Group and Elevance Renewable Sciences proposal to build an integrated biorefinery in Newton, IA.  I'll let you know when I know more.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Want to grow renewables? Weed early and often.

The blogger I follow the most on renewables is Robert Rapier.  He is experienced and skeptical, but still in the business himself. 

Here is a typical plum from his recent post "Slides from the Pacific Rim Summit"       

As one cellulosic ethanol executive commented this past week, "These things don't scale like you think they should." That's right, they don't. That's why most technologies don't make it out of the lab. Always better to make conservative claims and then deliver beyond expectations than to make wild claims and fall short.

He doesn't spell out why it is better to advance cautious claims.  But I think it bears discussion. 

Beyond the ethical problems of deception (and self-deception), I believe there are practical dangers.  The good will go down with the bad if there is a broad retreat from the high-risk bio-based technology sectors.  We all lose if we fail to resist nonsense.

Innovation must flourish, but saying "yes" to every new scheme is a foolish approach to the unknown.  Poor ideas, no matter how sincere, must be weeded out, to give tender seedlings a chance at survival.

While others drive the plow, I adopt the symbol of the hoe to represent my contribution.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Metabolix Debt: $158 Million

Yesterday's prospectus from Metabolix puts it very plainly.
Our future profitability is uncertain, and we have a limited operating history on which you can base your evaluation of our business.
We have had net operating losses since being founded in 1992. At September 30, 2009, our accumulated deficit was approximately $158 million. Since 1992, we have been engaged solely in research and development and other pre-commercial and early-stage commercial activities. As a part of our strategic alliance, ADM Polymer is constructing the commercial scale Commercial Manufacturing Facility for Mirel.We expect that initial fermentations will be conducted in December 2009, with recovery operations to immediately follow, and we expect that it will require an additional period of time to ramp up production. Until such time, Telles will not have significant revenues from sales of Mirel. No Telles profits will be distributed to us until ADM's cost of constructing the Commercial Manufacturing Facility and any negative net cash flow of Telles funded by ADM have been returned to ADM. Because we have a limited history of commercial operations and we operate in a rapidly evolving industry, we cannot be certain that we will generate sufficient revenue to operate our business and become profitable.
Others following in their footsteps should look upon their example as a cautionary one.  This is not a get-rich-quick industry.

Lamb plugs: new end use for biodegradable plastic.

Bioderived plastics are showing up in all sort of products.

Normally, I don't care to propogate press releases, but this one caught me by surprise.
MELBOURNE, Australia — 6th November 2009 — Adept Limited, New Zealand’s leading plastics product development and manufacturing company in the meat industry, has introduced new biodegradable lamb plugs, made possible through the advanced biopolymer technology of Plantic Technologies Limited. 

The press release goes on to say nice things about Plantic and Adept, but avoids elaborating on lamb plugs.  Go figure!

You probably don't want to know, but if you do want more info, it is here.

To be fair, single use products in animal husbandry and agriculture are a good example of where biodegradables make sense.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

New Bioplastic Data Less Crazy than Some

An update to my project to track the oddsmakers on bioplastic growth.
I added the new data (marked NEW below) I pulled from the brochure for a new $6000 bioplastic forecast from unnamed source #4.

The purple line (NEW) is much less insane than the red and the green, pretty much in the same neighborhood as the blue.

Explosive growth and strong steady growth now each have two sets of numbers.  It would be exciting to think of this as a showdown, but I'm afraid that we must wait five years to declare a winner.

In an upcoming post, I'll go fishing in the memory hole to reminisce about the bioplastic factories announcements of yesteryear; plants that were projected to open, but have yet to pan out.


Greenwash, green-wish, or greenwtf?

I mentioned yesterday that I had just received word of a new off-the-shelf report projecting bioplastics demand.  I have only seen a few figures and a prospectus, and my feelings are mixed.

The good news is that the numbers are unhysterical; conservative, even.  I'll update the graph to refect the new figures. 

The flyer forecasts Brazil as the top producer of bio-based polymers in 2013.  That is a possible development.  But, in support of this, the flyer says something dumb.
"Furthermore, once the planned bio-based polyethylene, polypropylene and polyvinyl chloride plants come online, Brazil will become the world’s leading producer of bioplastics in 2013."

Green polypropylene?  Braskem did run a pilot plant that made bio-based polypropylene, and got some PR out of it, but Braskem CEO Bernardo Gradin is on record saying the process is not commercial. 
"In addition, Brazil is probably the most effective and productive producer of ethanol and we think that will be the case for some time. Being positioned in Brazil with such technology can be really good in strategic and in operational terms for Braskem. The polypropylene you mentioned was also a breakthrough but it is not in a viable route so far. We are concentrating on polyethylene and we have a team that is developing green polymers. We are looking for international alliances." - Knowledge@Wharton Dec 2008

It was a grant-supported proof-of-concept, if I recall correctly, and should not be used as a marker on a trendline leading to a product in the marketplace any time soon.  Commercial renewable production of polypropylene is a distant prospect at this time, lurking in the uncharted future with lignocellulosic ethanol and other nice ideas. 

Distortions like these are annoying enough when press releases echo through twitter and the blogs, but I expect more from the analysts at top research firms.  Somehow the green polypropylene factoid was promoted to fact by researcher and editors.  It isn't greenwash; too ignorant for that.  I can't call it greenwishing, the bias toward hope that springs renewable.

I'm calling it greenwtf.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Predicting the Future is hard: Episode 1 - Bioplastics

In my last post, here, I decided it would be fun to put the prognosticators head-to-head, as it were.  Here's what I came up with for bioplastics.

In order to avoid giving out free publicity, I have disguised the studies.  Feel free to write if you want to know what they are.

These three sets of data come from different sources and may have different definitions, but the most striking result among the sets is the extreme outlier of series HK up to 2015.

I bet you can guess which report has had its forecast repeated in the most press releases in the past year!

What industry predictions should I graph next?  Cellulosic ethanol?   Wind or solar?  I'd like your help making up my mind!