Aemetis Building Major Plant To Handle Biomass

Synthesis Gas Plants Better Than Biomass Electrical Plants

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

Biomass electrical plants are shutting down in California. Eric McAfee, Executive Chairman, CEO, President and Co-founder of Aemetis Inc., is a company using biomass technology to create ethanol. Due to government incentives, some forms of energy are less expensive to operate.

Aemetis is constructing a 45 million-L-per-year cellulosic ethanol facility outside Modesto. 

“The problem we have is that the biomass to energy business makes electricity, and that electricity is being replaced by solar energy and wind energy, which is funded by a 30% federal tax credit,” McAfee said.

The Biomass energy producers have a hard time competing with the reduced prices because the government has support.

Biomass electrical plants have closed, and more will follow.

“About 60% of the plants in California already shut down, and it’s estimated that over 70% are going to be shut down by the end of this year,” McAfee said.

Orchard and forest waste is very valuable.

“Biomass in the form of orchard waste, vineyard waste, even forest waste has a very valuable opportunity to become the fuels that can go directly into California,” McAfee explained.

What we have been lacking is turning biomass into fuel for automobiles rather than biomass into electricity.

Biomass can be synthesized into fuel. McAfee and his team were able to make the molecules in orchard wood and put them into a synthesis gas. They then put those molecules back together and fed them to a microbe that, in turn, produced ethanol.

“We are taking orchard woods, and we are producing liquid fuels that are very valuable in California because they are high in oxygen, so they burn more cleanly than gasoline, and they’re high octane, so they make the engine perform,” McAfee said.

Sustainability is Focus of Solutions from the Land

Solutions From the Land Focuses on Sustainability

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

Many California farmers are working toward a more sustainable future, according to Ernie Shea, president of Solutions From the Land.

“We are a North American climate-smart agriculture alliance that has come together with others,” Shea said.

Solutions from the Land, which has partnered with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, is the continental platform for farm and conservation groups that are looking at ways these landscapes can deliver solutions.

Solutions from the Land has been getting a lot of support from California.

“We’ve had the right enabling policy, and you’ve got a lot of that in California,” Shea said.

There have also been significant investments in technology and infrastructure that have allowed systems to deploy at scale. Solutions from the Land is producing wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, biofuels, or types of sustainable, domestically-produced energy sources.

“When we started, we were at about five percent renewables. Today, we’re in the twelve percent range. Twenty-five percent by 2025 is the new target that we established,” Shea explained.

Ernie Shea

“We have to be able to produce food and fiber with less water and with erratic conditions. There is a lot of conversation about how to adapt to these realities when you are right in the epicenter of drought, fire, and floods,” he said.

“Everything has become less predictable. Solutions From the Land is sponsoring state-level conversations around how to become more sustainable, resilient, and how to participate in the low carbon economy, biofuels, and renewable energy,” Shea added.

Carbon sequestration is one of the more exciting new areas of opportunity that are coming for agriculture. The focus is on farmers and what they care about.

“They care about resiliency, profitability, sustainability. An example of one of the pathways that we work on: initiatives like soil health programming,” Shea said.

This helps farmers realize that by improving the health of their soil and the organic content, the crops are doing a better job of soaking up whatever water does fall.

“They’re reducing the need to provide some inputs. They’re sequestering greenhouse gases. They’re delivering global solutions,” Shea explained.