Tax Credits and Other Legislation: Miller Keeps Industries and SERC Current
with Federal Initiatives
By Kristen Dechert
Corey Miller helps keep industries up to date on policy changes as they arise by providing them with the most current information when they approach SERC about specific feedstock and biofuel options.
To stay informed, Miller consults a variety of sources, including the federal agencies, which are required to provide updates on their programs; the Congressional Research Service, which periodically provides reports on energy legislation; and industry publications and news Web sites, which can provide leads and current policy developments.
Specifically, Miller’s research focuses on advanced biofuels, a term that, depending on type of legislation, can have different meanings. Miller states, “The 2008 farm bill defined advanced biofuels as those made from renewable biomass other than corn-kernel starch,” while “the 2007 energy bill stipulates that advanced biofuels must have a specifically lower level of greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline or diesel.” Most current research is focused on cellulosic ethanol, a material commonly made from switchgrass. When Congress passed legislation for cellulosic ethanol production in 2005 and again in 2008, many researchers expected development technology to be produced quickly. Unfortunately, that has not been the case: “The commercial production of advanced biofuels on a large scale is something many observers anticipate, but as of yet has not taken off,” states Miller.
At the close of 2009, the Federal biodiesel-production tax credit expired, and Miller claims that “without the $1.00-per-gallon tax credit for biodiesel, production in the U.S. has essentially come to a halt.” This legislation included credits for different types of biodiesel and biodiesel mixtures in addition to credits for small agri-biodiesel producers. Miller asserts, “Currently, without the credits, firms don’t have the necessary incentives to produce biodiesel, which could complicate SERC efforts in developing this particular type of fuel.” Industries are hopeful that Congress will reinstate the tax credits later this year.
Although these tax credits are not currently available, funding of a different form came through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, commonly known as the “stimulus bill.” This research funding is available “to increase the capacity of biorefineries and for the development of algal biofuels and advanced biofuels other than cellulosic ethanol, such as ‘green’ gasoline and diesel.”
One possible policy change related to the biofuels industry is an increase to 15% ethanol in gasoline. “This change is somewhat controversial, but the industry has petitioned EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] for the change because it maintains the federally mandated usage requirements of the Renewable Fuel Standard will not be met otherwise,” remarks Miller. EPA seems favorable to the change but is still investigating the potential effects of a 15% gasoline blend.
Miller notes that SERC research is closely tied to legislation because changes affect funding, which can alter where the center focuses its research efforts. In addition to funding, research is also affected by these legislative changes “because of the relationship SERC has with firms interested in biofuels.” “[SERC] can drive how researchers work with the industry,” claims Miller. Industries may approach SERC with questions about biofuels made from specific feedstocks and what types of policy ramifications they may encounter.
“Because SERC is investigating the development of fuels made from woody biomass, legislation that includes wood as a feedstock eligible for production incentives could go a long way to increasing the utilization of fuels made from woody biomass once the commercialization stage is reached,” says Miller. While SERC scientists study these feedstocks and fuels, Miller helps keep the industries current on legislative mandates and changes; his work proves a vital link between these industries and SERC’s innovative research.
A report “Summary of Federal Biofuels Incentives,” co-authored by Miller, is publicly available for download at http://www.agecon.msstate.edu/what/policy/bioenergy.
What’s the Big Deal about Giant Miscanthus?
Baldwin (left) and Jennings
A man known as the “Sodfather,” a Mississippi State plant and soil science researcher and a university technology transfer specialist have partnered on a product that might just be called “freedom” from foreign energy.
Phillip Jennings, a Georgia turf grass expert and entrepreneur, learned about the potential of a highenergy yielding biofuel while at Mississippi State learning about other grass research. Dozens of phone calls and many visits later, Jennings, along with MSU researcher Brian Baldwin and university technology transfer specialist Chase Kasper, have built a relationship that led to an agreement pairing MSU research with Jennings’ entrepreneurship, leading his company to grow giant miscanthus in large-scale production in Georgia for next year.
The three men have what they anticipate can move the Southeastern United States closer to energy independence from foreign oil and an environmentally sound way to grow new jobs in rural areas.
Baldwin has spent over ten years developing a product they call “Freedom,” a tall grass that can be transformed
into biofuel to power automobiles and other gasoline-powered vehicles.
Jennings has licensed the giant miscanthus, while MSU continues to own the materials and future intended
Major farming equipment companies, including John Deere, have already inquired with Jennings about partnering to harvest, transport and plant the giant miscanthus, a grass that has never been developed in commercial markets.
“We’re certainly attracting a lot of interest,” Jennings said. “Word is beginning to leak out that we have something exciting.”
Baldwin’s new product excites Jennings for many reasons. First, Jennings’ research shows a strong market for commercial biofuel with high energy rates to be viable as a business without government subsidies. Second, he wants to see the United States less dependent on foreign resources.
“The quickest way to allow the U.S. to recover from the recession is to have a good energy policy,” Jennings said. “I’m certainly interested in a country that’s energy independent.”
Baldwin, one of many MSU researchers associated with the university’s Sustainable Energy Research Center, said one key factor that distinguishes giant miscanthus from other grasses is its seed-sterile nature, meaning the grass doesn’t spread seeds and lead to aggravating weed issues.
Having grown and researched a variety of grasses as part of his alternative crops biofuel research, Baldwin said prioritizing biofuels makes sense from an environmental perspective. He supports commercially viable alternative crops processed for biofuel.
“Regardless of the price of oil, you have to do something about the carbon dioxide in the air,” Baldwin said of the need to produce “greener” fuels.
The process of finding the right high-yield grass and turning it into a product ready for sale takes planning and time. During 2010, Jennings plans to sublicense about 200 additional growers of giant miscanthus throughout the Southeast, a total of about 1,500 acres.
“We feel that we can get a harvest at the end of the first year,” Jennings said. In late 2009, the grass will be sold in limited quantities to small nurseries, while Jennings’ company will produce the bulk of the grass. Next, the company will sell the grass to refineries, where it will be turned into “tank ready” fuels, used for diesel and gasoline.
While Jennings has worked with companies and researchers in other parts of the country on many projects, he
gives special praise to MSU.
“I’ve never worked with a group of people more willing to try to help and work with you to promote a product as much as Brian Baldwin and Chase Kasper,” Jennings said.
Reprinted with permission from MSU’s Office of Technology Commercialization’s
Winter 2010 newsletter.
New Engine Brings Continued PERC-SERC-CAVS Partnership and High Hopes of a Propane-for-Diesel Conversion
By Kristen Dechert
The Biomass Utilization thrust area, led by Dr. Kalyan Srinivasan, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Mississippi State University (MSU), has a significant new development that could impact the fuel efficiency in large trucks.
A state-of-the-art, new engine is the key to this project's success. This 6-cylinder, 12.9 liter diesel engine, which will be formally donated to the dynamometer facility in the Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems (CAVS) in July 2010, is designated as EPA 2010 compliant, a marker that the engine meets the necessary environmental standards and will be environmentally sound for several years to come. Not currently in production, this engine is a major breakthrough for MSU which Srinivasan notes as "the only research group in the country currently working on this specific heavy-duty engine platform for alternative-fuels research. "
With this engine and the equipment already in use, the thrust-area researchers will be able to perform advanced studies using propane. "We will investigate smart injection strategies that utilize [an] optimized combination of multi-pulsed injections of small amounts of diesel fuel to ignite a propane-air mixture," says Srinivasan. The team has a goal of eventually being able "to substitute propane as an alternate to diesel"for use in large engines, a change that would greatly improve fuel economy and environmental emissions because it will "decrease emissions while maintaining high fuel-conversion efficiencies."
When asked about specific benefits of propane, Srinivasan replied that propane is a much more cost-effective option than diesel and an "added advantage is that propane is a simpler hydrocarbon than diesel...therefore, combustion of propane is relatively cleaner."
The Propane Education and Research Council (PERC) was impressed with the first phase of diesel-propane research that was performed at the CAVS dynamometer facility and initiated partnership on this project as well . In order to complete the collaboration, an industrial partner was needed, and a prominent heavy-duty engine manufacturer stepped up to the plate with the donation of the state-of-the-art engine.
Srinivasan and his team are anxious to get this new research underway and are currently confirming details and determining long-term goals for the project. In February, Srinivasan will travel to Denver, CO to deliver a presentation to PERC personnel in hopes of securing a contract with the Council in July 2010.
Sundar Krishnan, Ph.D.
Department and semester/year of hire:
Mechanical Engineering, August 2008
Year of graduation and institution:
- Ph.D. 2005 University of Alabama
- M.S. 2001 University of Alabama
- B.E. 1998 Bharathidasan University, India
Please tell us about your work prior to coming to MSU.
Prior to joining MSU, I worked at the Center for Transportation Research in Argonne National Laboratory from August 2005 to July 2008. At Argonne, my research was focused on developing advanced technologies for next-generation internal-combustion (IC) engines. In particular, I was involved in research on laser-ignition strategies for natural-gas-fueled engines and advanced low-temperature combustion concepts for automotive diesel engines.
Please discuss your areas of specialty.
My specific areas of specialty include: (1) Advanced IC engines, (2) Novel combustion concepts, (3) Renewable alternative fuels, and (4) Thermodynamic simulation of engine combustion processes. My research combines experimental and computational approaches to understand engine combustion and devise strategies for improving engine efficiencies and reduce harmful exhaust emissions.
Please tell us about some of the courses you have taught and/or developed at MSU.
I have been teaching ME 3513 (Thermodynamics I) over the last few semesters. ME 3513 is a foundational course in engineering thermodynamics designed for undergraduate students (mostly sophomores and juniors). In Fall 2010, I am scheduled to teach ME 4743 LabVIEW Programming and Data Acquisition, a technical elective course for mechanical engineering seniors. I also have plans to offer graduate courses in combustion and IC engines.
What research projects are you involved in at MSU?
I am involved in the following research projects:
1. SERC – Biomass Utilization
2. Micro-CHP and Biofuels Center – Demonstration and Outreach Activities
a. Optimization of fuel efficiency in natural-gas-fueled engines
b. Investigation of a multi-fuel compression ignition engine (natural gas, propane, biofuels)
3. “Analysis of Irreversibilities in Combustion Processes and Their Impact on Fuel Efficiencies” – a Research Initiation Project funded in the 2009 calendar year by the Office of Research and Economic Development (ORED) at MSU
Please further discuss the research involving SERC.
With SERC, I am involved in the following tasks/projects in the Biomass Utilization thrust area:
1. Engine combustion experiments with biodiesel and diesel-biodiesel blends
2. Phenomenological engine-combustion simulation development
3. Evaluation of biodiesel-ignited-syngas low-temperature combustion
Please tell us about any recent or upcoming conferences and/or publications in which you discuss this SERC research.
Last summer, I presented a paper on ignition modeling in pilot-ignited natural-gas engines at the 2009 ASME IC Engines Division Spring Technical Conference in Milwaukee, WI.
Along with my colleague Dr. Kalyan Srinivasan and several of our graduate students, I will be co-authoring two more conference papers on the outcomes of our SERC-related research efforts at the 2010 ASME IC Engines Division Fall Technical Conference in San Antonio, TX. One paper will focus on experimental results obtained with diesel-ignited propane and diesel-ignited methane dual-fuel-combustion concepts. The other paper will present simulation results from our new ignition model for advanced low-temperature combustion strategies.
Please discuss your upcoming research projects.
We are anticipating research projects in a few different areas related to engine combustion. These projects will focus on adapting advanced engine combustion strategies for renewable alternative fuels and existing hydrocarbon fuels. Also, these projects will have both experimental and computational components.
1. Low-Temperature Propane-Diesel Dual-Fuel-Combustion for Heavy-Duty Truck Engines
2. Adapting Low-Temperature Combustion Strategies to Available Fuels for Best Tradeoffs in Fuel Efficiency, Power Density, and Emissions
3. Effects of Renewable Alternative Fuels on Current and Future IC Engines