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    Spanish company Ferry Group is to invest €42/US$55.2 million in a project for the production of biomass fuel pellets in Bulgaria. The 3-year project consists of establishing plantations of paulownia trees near the city of Tran. Paulownia is a fast-growing tree used for the commercial production of fuel pellets. Dnevnik - Feb. 20, 2007.

    Hungary's BHD Hõerõmû Zrt. is to build a 35 billion Forint (€138/US$182 million) commercial biomass-fired power plant with a maximum output of 49.9 MW in Szerencs (northeast Hungary). Portfolio.hu - Feb. 20, 2007.

    Tonight at 9pm, BBC Two will be showing a program on geo-engineering techniques to 'save' the planet from global warming. Five of the world's top scientists propose five radical scientific inventions which could stop climate change dead in its tracks. The ideas include: a giant sunshade in space to filter out the sun's rays and help cool us down; forests of artificial trees that would breath in carbon dioxide and stop the green house effect and a fleet futuristic yachts that will shoot salt water into the clouds thickening them and cooling the planet. BBC News - Feb. 19, 2007.

    Archer Daniels Midland, the largest U.S. ethanol producer, is planning to open a biodiesel plant in Indonesia with Wilmar International Ltd. this year and a wholly owned biodiesel plant in Brazil before July, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. The Brazil plant is expected to be the nation's largest, the paper said. Worldwide, the company projects a fourfold rise in biodiesel production over the next five years. ADM was not immediately available to comment. Reuters - Feb. 16, 2007.

    Finnish engineering firm Pöyry Oyj has been awarded contracts by San Carlos Bioenergy Inc. to provide services for the first bioethanol plant in the Philippines. The aggregate contract value is EUR 10 million. The plant is to be build in the Province of San Carlos on the north-eastern tip of Negros Island. The plant is expected to deliver 120,000 liters/day of bioethanol and 4 MW of excess power to the grid. Kauppalehti Online - Feb. 15, 2007.

    In order to reduce fuel costs, a Mukono-based flower farm which exports to Europe, is building its own biodiesel plant, based on using Jatropha curcas seeds. It estimates the fuel will cut production costs by up to 20%. New Vision (Kampala, Uganda) - Feb. 12, 2007.

    The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has decided to use 10% biodiesel in its fleet of public buses. The world's largest city is served by the Toei Bus System, which is used by some 570,000 people daily. Digital World Tokyo - Feb. 12, 2007.

    Fearing lack of electricity supply in South Africa and a price tag on CO2, WSP Group SA is investing in a biomass power plant that will replace coal in the Letaba Citrus juicing plant which is located in Tzaneen. Mining Weekly - Feb. 8, 2007.

    In what it calls an important addition to its global R&D capabilities, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) is to build a new bioenergy research center in Hamburg, Germany. World Grain - Feb. 5, 2007.

    EthaBlog's Henrique Oliveira interviews leading Brazilian biofuels consultant Marcelo Coelho who offers insights into the (foreign) investment dynamics in the sector, the history of Brazilian ethanol and the relationship between oil price trends and biofuels. EthaBlog - Feb. 2, 2007.

    The government of Taiwan has announced its renewable energy target: 12% of all energy should come from renewables by 2020. The plan is expected to revitalise Taiwan's agricultural sector and to boost its nascent biomass industry. China Post - Feb. 2, 2007.

    Production at Cantarell, the world's second biggest oil field, declined by 500,000 barrels or 25% last year. This virtual collapse is unfolding much faster than projections from Mexico's state-run oil giant Petroleos Mexicanos. Wall Street Journal - Jan. 30, 2007.

    Dubai-based and AIM listed Teejori Ltd. has entered into an agreement to invest €6 million to acquire a 16.7% interest in Bekon, which developed two proprietary technologies enabling dry-fermentation of biomass. Both technologies allow it to design, establish and operate biogas plants in a highly efficient way. Dry-Fermentation offers significant advantages to the existing widely used wet fermentation process of converting biomass to biogas. Ame Info - Jan. 22, 2007.

    Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited is to build a biofuel production plant in the tribal belt of Banswara, Rajasthan, India. The petroleum company has acquired 20,000 hectares of low value land in the district, which it plans to commit to growing jatropha and other biofuel crops. The company's chairman said HPCL was also looking for similar wasteland in the state of Chhattisgarh. Zee News - Jan. 15, 2007.

    The Zimbabwean national police begins planting jatropha for a pilot project that must result in a daily production of 1000 liters of biodiesel. The Herald (Harare), Via AllAfrica - Jan. 12, 2007.

    In order to meet its Kyoto obligations and to cut dependence on oil, Japan has started importing biofuels from Brazil and elsewhere. And even though the country has limited local bioenergy potential, its Agriculture Ministry will begin a search for natural resources, including farm products and their residues, that can be used to make biofuels in Japan. To this end, studies will be conducted at 900 locations nationwide over a three-year period. The Japan Times - Jan. 12, 2007.

    Chrysler's chief economist Van Jolissaint has launched an arrogant attack on "quasi-hysterical Europeans" and their attitudes to global warming, calling the Stern Review 'dubious'. The remarks illustrate the yawning gap between opinions on climate change among Europeans and Americans, but they also strengthen the view that announcements by US car makers and legislators about the development of green vehicles are nothing more than window dressing. Today, the EU announced its comprehensive energy policy for the 21st century, with climate change at the center of it. BBC News - Jan. 10, 2007.

    The new Canadian government is investing $840,000 into BioMatera Inc. a biotech company that develops industrial biopolymers (such as PHA) that have wide-scale applications in the plastics, farmaceutical and cosmetics industries. Plant-based biopolymers such as PHA are biodegradable and renewable. Government of Canada - Jan. 9, 2007.


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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Green steel and the rise of charcoal

In the race to slash greenhouse emissions from making iron and steel, charcoal is making a come-back.

Wood has been used to make iron for more than 3300 years and steel for almost 1000 years, and in the 21st century its time may have come again. Iron and steel consume a whopping 19 per cent of the world’s industrial energy and generate 26 per cent of industrial greenhouse emissions, representing six per cent of total anthropogenic greenhouse emissions. So the hunt for alternative processes and cleaner fuels is accelerating.

Japan’s low-temperature compact blast furnace and Europe’s ULCOS (ultra-low CO2 steel) [*pdf > zip] nitrogen-free furnace are among the radical approaches being trialled to lower the carbon intensity of ironmaking. Australia has the HIsmelt continuous ironmaking process undergoing promising commercial trials.

The quest for cleaner fuels and reductants (reducing agents) has thrown the spotlight on a major new resource: oil mallee trees or other native hardwoods, grown in plantations and turned into charcoal. Western Australia alone is expected to produce 10 million tonnes of wood a year in the longer term as the battle to save the landscape from salt escalates.

Among the many products of oil mallees – oils, solvents, particleboard, quality timber, electricity and activated charcoal – a major opportunity appears to exist in producing charcoal for making iron and steel, say Dr David Langberg and Roy Lovel of CSIRO Minerals.

“Charcoal is highly reactive and very low in pollutants such as sulfur, nitrogen and ash, compared with coke,” says Mr Lovel, who has been involved in testing charcoal for sintering iron ore. It burns faster, making the sintering process more productive, so enabling sinter plants to keep pace with the hunger of ever-bigger blast furnaces.

Best of all, it is greenhouse neutral: CO2 liberated in the sintering process is absorbed by the next crop of growing trees:

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“Charcoal production used to be thought of as a dirty industry, but nowadays it can be produced hygienically in as little as five minutes,” Mr Lovel says. “Wood char can be used directly in sintering, where our research indicates it can be more effective than coke.”

Oil mallees are not the only sources of char for making metal – farm and forestry wastes of various kinds, sawmill waste, paper and cardboard, biosolids, weeds and scrap building materials are all possibilities. And char can be used as an alternative to coke and coal in a range of metallurgical processes such as slag fuming, bath smelting, synthetic rutile production and ore sintering.

“We’ve found that mallee charcoal performs as well as coal as a reductant in small-scale tests simulating the molten metal and slag bath process such as that used by HIsmelt,” Dr Langberg says. “It has the same advantages as in sintering – low sulfur, nitrogen and less ash.

“Even when you take account of the energy used in growing, processing and transport, you still produce around 65 per cent less CO2 for every tonne of iron. Potentially, bath-smelting processes for ironmaking could run entirely on charcoal as the fuel and reductant and achieve a dramatic reduction in the environmental impact of ironmaking.”

The idea of using the answer to one environmental threat – salt – to help mitigate another – greenhouse – has a certain elegance that appeals strongly to the CSIRO team.

“The chief obstacle is cost,” Dr Langberg says. “Two years ago charcoal was more than twice the cost of coal. But coal prices have risen and as mallee plantings grow, the price of char may fall. Also, we are now using ‘cheaper cuts’ – the leaves and twigs of mallee trees – to reduce the cost.”

The work on mallee charcoals has been a collaborative effort between CSIRO Minerals, Ensis (a joint venture between CSIRO and New Zealand’s Scion), the Centre for Sustainable Resource Processing, the WA Department of Conservation and Land Management and the Cooperative Research Centre for Plant-Based Management of Dryland Salinity.

While WA is the heart of the oil mallee action, similar opportunities are also opening up in New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria – and throughout the Murray-Darling Basin. Regional centres such as Port Pirie, Werribee and Port Kembla are being scrutinised by the CSIRO team as potential sites for charcoal metallurgy, as they combine local agriculture and forestry industries and smelters that can use the char.

Another opportunity for charcoal lies in the compound pellets of iron ore and carbon that are the ingredients for the new direct-reduction ironmaking processes. It can also be used as an additive in electric arc furnaces. By injection as a pulverised fuel, it can even replace up to 20 per cent of the coke used in a blast furnace, in order to reduce greenhouse emissions from conventional ironmaking.

Iron and steel are not the only opportunity for biomass char, Dr Langberg says. “We’ve also found considerable advantages in using charcoal as an iron reductant in the rotary kilns used for processing synthetic rutile.

Besides being clean, the charcoal should enable the furnace to operate at a lower temperature and achieve a higher throughput, which are positive advantages.”

Despite 3000 years of ironmaking, people are still finding new ways to combine carbon and metal. The latest revolution, with Australia at the forefront, uses renewable sources and promises to be the cleanest and most efficient yet.

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Palm biomass power plants in Malaysia

Quicknote biomass residues

Elaeis guineensis, the African oil palm, is the world's most productive energy crop. Not only does its fruit bunches yield vast amounts of oil that can be used to make biodiesel, a plantation also delivers ligno-cellulosic biomass that can be used as a feedstock for second generation ethanol, and the oil-production process yields copious amounts of residues that find use in biogas production, as a bioenergy feedstock for co-firing with coal or as base chemicals for the production of bioplastics and a series of highly valuable biomaterials.

A Japanese company has now announced plans to use one such biomass stream in two biomass power plants in the eastern province of Sabah, Malaysia. The plants operate on empty fruit bunches which, when disposed as waste, release methane, a global warming gas. Per ton of palm oil produced, about 1 ton of empty fruit bunches becomes available.

The new biomass plants have an output of 10,000Kw each, which makes them rather small, but they're meant for local use, in an area that is not connected to the main grid.

Interestingly, the palm biomass power plants will fulfill CO2 emission trading standards, guidelines set up by EU in 2002 for a trading system for greenhouse gas emission allowances (falling under the Kyoto Protocol's so-called Clean Development Mechanism). It is estimated that the CO2 reductions will amount to 2 million tons annually, for which the company receives carbon credits which it can trade on the market.

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