<body><script type="text/javascript">//<![CDATA[try{(function(a){var b="http://",c="news.mongabay.com",d="/cdn-cgi/cl/",e="img.gif",f=new a;f.src=[b,c,d,e].join("")})(Image)}catch(e){}//]]></script> --------------
Contact Us       Consulting       Projects       Our Goals       About Us
home / Archive
Nature Blog Network



    Taiwan's Feng Chia University has succeeded in boosting the production of hydrogen from biomass to 15 liters per hour, one of the world's highest biohydrogen production rates, a researcher at the university said Friday. The research team managed to produce hydrogen and carbon dioxide (which can be captured and stored) from the fermentation of different strains of anaerobes in a sugar cane-based liquefied mixture. The highest yield was obtained by the Clostridium bacterium. Taiwan News - November 14, 2008.


Creative Commons License


Saturday, June 23, 2007

German consortium starts production of ultra-clean synthetic biofuels

A group of German research organisations has begun [*German] producing the primary feedstock for high-quality synthetic biofuels from different types of biomass. The process to obtain such 'biomass-to-liquid' (BtL) fuels was named 'bioLiq' and consists of two steps: a decentralised phase in which raw biomass is transformed close to the source of harvest into an oil with a high energy density via fast-pyrolysis. The resulting bio-oil can then be transported economically to a central facility where it is gasified and liquefied via Fischer-Tropsch synthesis into a range of finished fuel products. The process allows for the production of fuels with properties similar to diesel or gasoline, with the difference that the synthetic biofuels are ultra-clean and renewable.

The Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe (FZK) and Lurgi AG have been designing and building the fast-pyrolysis pilot plant for the past two years. During the inauguration last week (June 20) both organisations signed an agreement to build the gasification and liquefaction plant needed to perform the second stage of the production. The work is being supported by the Fachagentur Nachwachsende Rohstoffe (Agency for Renewable Materials, of Germany's Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Consumer protection).

The fast-pyrolysis plant can transform 500 kilograms of biomass per hour. It is a test-bed for commercial plants which will convert up to 50 tons per hour. Part of the second-stage of the process (gasification into synthesis gas) is carried out by a third partner, Future Energy in Freiberg.

Synthetic biofuels are based on renewable biomass, which is why they do not add CO2 to the atmosphere when they are combusted. But aside from their carbon-neutrality, they also have properties that far surpass those of petroleum based fuels and other biofuels: they are sulphur-free, low aromatic and odourless fuels that significantly reduce regulated and non-regulated vehicle pollutant emissions (NOx, SOx, PM, VOC, CO). They can be readily used in existing fuelling infrastructures and engines, but they also enable the development of a new generation of internal combustion engine technologies with improved engine efficiency and further reduction of vehicle pollutant emissions. Synthetic biofuels are readily biodegradable and non-toxic.

Decentralised production
The two-stage bioLiq process developed by the FZK is a first step towards the large-scale adoption of synthetic biofuels in Germany, where they are estimated to have the potential to replace up to 15% of all transport fuels by 2015 and 35% by 2030 (estimates by the German Energy Agency - earlier post).

The main bottleneck in the production chain of BtL fuels is the low energy density of biomass feedstocks such as wood chips, straw, paper, pulp and other residues from agriculture, forestry and industry. By placing fast-pyrolysis plants near the biomass source the residues can be transformed into bio-oil (pyrolysis oil) the energy density of which is 13 to 15 times higher. Transporting raw biomass over distances larger than 25 kilometres is economically unattractive, with bio-oil the range can be extended by a factor of 10 and more.
This decentralised concept makes it possible to transform biomass into a bio-oil while using existing agricultural production chains and structures. Part of the added value chain is thus kept local, close to the biomass source. - Dr. Ludolf Plass, Chief of Technological Development of Lurgi AG
The decentralised fast-pyrolysis step consists of heating the biomass in the absence of air to a temperature of 500°C after which pyrolysis oil and tar is obtained. Both materials are then mixed into a liquid suspension ('bioliqSyncrude') ready to be shipped to the gasification and Fischer-Tropsch plant:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Central facility
There, the bioliqSyncrude is gasified in an entrained flow gasifier at temperatures of up to 1200 °C and pressures of 80bar to obtain a tar-free synthesis gas, which consists mainly of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Future Energy based in Freiberg has tested and improved its 5MW gasifier over the past years in such a way that it has become possible to transfer the high pressure synthesis gas directly to the next synthesis steps. An intermediate compression step - which is costly and risky - is thereby avoided.

The synthesis gas can be converted into a broad range of platform chemicals. Via the Fischer-Tropsch process it can be transformed into synthetic fuels. A process to convert the gas into methanol, an intermediate material for other fuels, was developed as well. This way, a series of 'designer fuels' can be made with properties similar to fuels from the entire spectrum of middle distillates found in traditional oil refining. The synthetic biofuels are much cleaner, less damaging to the environment, and emit far fewer of all the common emissions. Synthetic biofuels are also cleaner than first generation types of biodiesel and bioethanol. They promise to allow countries to reach their targets for the use of low-carbon fuels, part of the effort to mitigate climate change.

Background
The technology to transform synthesis gas into liquid fuels - the Fischer-Tropsch process - was developed in the 1930s in Germany, when oil was scarce. Coal was used as a feedstock, but that would be problematic today. Renewable biomass can readily substitute coal, but it has taken a while before researchers found the most optimal ways to use different types of it as a feedstock. It is important to know and standardize the properties of the primary bio-oil (bioliqSyncrude) obtained from many different sources of biomass, because once this oil has been produced there is no way back and it will be used 'as is' in the gasification and liquefaction stage.
This is why the fast-pyrolysis pilot plays such a crucial role in the entire project. It allows us to test and optimize the transformation of different types biomass. With Lurgi AG we have found a partner who has been developing the technology for years and who has made several key innovations - Professor Dr. Eckhard Dinjus, Director of the Instituts für Technische Chemie, part of the Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe.
Lurgi AG began experimenting with the fast-pyrolysis of coal and petroleum products in the 1970s. Today it is a leader in the use of the same process on biomass. The same company has also been instrumental in the growth of the biodiesel and bioethanol industry and has built a large number of plants throughout Europe.

The two-stage bioliq process has received a lot of attention from the political, industrial and business communities. Besides the German auto-industry and players in the petrochemical sector, investors from across Europe and beyond have shown interest, partly because the bioliq-concept received the prestigious "BlueSky Award" from the UNIDO, in 2006. The UNIDO is a UN agency that deals with industrial development; the award is given to organisations which develop breakthrough technologies that might benefit mankind as a whole.

The award points to the fact that the technology can be used in the developing world, where large streams of unused biomass are available. Transforming these raw resources into bio-oil allows for the creation of an export oriented biofuels industry, in which the Global South benefits from its competitive advantages in the agricultural sector.

The costs for the production of these next-generation synthetic biofuels is estimated to be around 50 eurocent. To this must be added the costs for the raw biomass which are estimated to be slightly lower but in the same range. This way, the total costs for the high-tech fuels will be below 1 Euro per liter.

The Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe is a member of the Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft, an organisation uniting 15 of Germany's top research institutions. Its annual budget is around €2.1 billion, making it the largest scientific organisation in the country. A total of 24,000 scientists, researchers and other staff work for the Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft in fields ranging from materials sciencies, the environment and Earth sciences, transport, health, energy and new key technology fields such as nanotechnology.

Translated and adapted by Jonas Van Den Berg and Laurens Rademakers

Image
: the fast-pyrolis plant at the FZK in Karlsruhe. Courtesy: Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe.

References:
Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe in der Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft: bioliq® – Stroh im Tank! - June 20, 2007.

Lurig AG: Lurgi making fuel from biomass - June 21, 2007.

Biopact: German Energy Agency: biomass-to-liquids can meet up to 35% of Germany's fuel needs by 2030 - December 15, 2006

Article continues

Oman Green Energy Company makes ethanol from date palm, plans large refinery, 100 ethanol pumps by 2010

Entrepreneurs based in the city of Sohar, Oman, want to turn the sultanate and oil producer into the first Arab country to use biofuels on a large scale. Mohammad Bin Saif Al Harthy and his partners at the Oman Green Energy Company claim they have been successfully producing and testing ethanol from biomass obtained from the abundantly present date palms for the last 18 months.

In an interview with Gulf News Al Harthy said that the production method does not affect the date crop nor does it require the removal of palm trees. Instead, cellulose biomass will be extracted from around 80,000 date palms in a 'non-intensive' way. The description of the process remains vague and could involve tapping glucose-rich sap from the tree, a technique which would however be very labor-intensive (see here for an Algerian biotech company that simply uses the sugar-rich fruits).

Sugars in dates consist of a mixture of sucrose, glucose and fructose. Traditionally, dates have been used more to make date palm wine, alcohol, syrup and liquid sugar than as fruits. Dates belong to the sweetest of all fruits, with a sugar content ranging from 45 to 85% on a dry weight basis (table, click to enlarge). So in principle, they make for an interesting biofuel feedstock.

The Omani company sees an opportunity and immediately thinks big:
  • over the next 10 years, it wants to establish plantations with a total of 10 million date palms
  • a biofuel refinery will be set up in Sohar and will have an annual capacity of 900,000 tonnes for the first two years, to be increased to 4.8 million tonnes within four years
  • it wants to open 100 ethanol stations across the country by 2010
  • large-scale production and marketing of the biofuel will begin by 2010
  • the biofuel project is expected to generate employment for over 3,500 Omanis in the first five years
Date palms (Phoenix dactylifera L.) thrive in Oman's hot and arid climate. They require temperatures of around 40°C but quite some water, which is provided by irrigation systems (some of which are millenia old). The palm is the sultanate's the primary crop where it represents 82% of all fruit trees. Soil and water salinity, pests and diseases, increased production costs as well as limited market outlets led to a decline in date production in recent years. In 2005, Oman harvested some 238,000 tonnes of dates, grown on 34,000 hectares, yielding an average of 7 tonnes per hectare - down from 2001, when the country's date palm production reached a highpoint with 298,000 tonnes harvested (FAOstat). Apparently, biofuels may revive the sector.

Even though it is not a member of OPEC, Oman is heavily dependent on oil production. The sultanate derives over 90% of its export revenues from the 700,000 barrels of petroleum it produces each single day:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Al Harthy claims his company has acquired a licence to set up the biorefinery in Sohar, the northern town in Oman that has become a hub of petrochemical industries. The entrepreneur and his partners at the Oman Green Energy Company are also hoping to raise 55 million Omani riyals (€106.3/US$142.8 million) capital from European countries.

Talking about the experiment of running his own car on biofuel, Al Harthy said: "All small cars can run on biofuel without any problems and it is much cheaper compared to conventional petrol and also helpful for our environment." Al Harthy also said that the prime target would be automobile users but they would also supply ethanol to power stations.

He claimed that Oman would be the first country in the world neither to cut trees nor to use waste, chip wood to extract cellulose ethanol. "We plan to use the enzyme that we have developed to extract the biomass from palm trees," he said, admitting that they are also seeking collaborations with laboratories in the West.

It is unclear whether Al Harthy's company has developed any innovative technologies either for the harvest of primary feedstock or for its conversion into ethanol. But the production of ethanol from date palm fruits is not unfeasible as such. The oil-producing sultanate may well have cars running on biofuel in the near future.

Table taken from: Date palm products, Agricultural Services Bulletins - 101, 1993, T0681/E

References:
Gulf News: Tapping green alternative - June 23, 2007.

R. Al-Yahyai, "Improvement of date palm production in the Sultanate of Oman", ISHS Acta Horticulturae 736: III International Date Palm Conference, February 2006.

The FAO has an interesting overview of the date palm's cultivation and uses: Date palm products, Agricultural Services Bulletins - 101, 1993, T0681/E


Article continues

University of Georgia and Mexican universities team up to produce bioenergy from livestock waste

The University of Georgia and a group of Mexican universities have formed a new research partnership to share expertise in generating biofuels and bioenergy from waste materials generated by the livestock sector. Funded by the United States Agency for International Development, the partnership will initiate training, internships and exchanges between UGA and a wide array of academics and professionals in Mexico.

The program is designed to provide Mexico's agricultural professionals the skills needed to analyze and support sustainable management of resources at the interface of agriculture and the environment.

The UGA partnership with the Universidad Autónoma de Coahuila, Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León, Universidad Autónoma Agraria Antonio Narro and the Ecogenics Center for Study of Alternative Solutions of Sevierville, Tenn., will sponsor a demand-driven, integrated and interdisciplinary program of training and technical support to the livestock industry in the Laguna region of Mexico. The program will provide scholarships for 18 students from Mexico and sponsor faculty exchanges of 12 Mexican faculty visiting the U.S and 10 UGA faculty visiting Mexico over a two year period.

The program will target technology and business policy relating to integrated waste management that is cost-effective and will provide additional income through co-product generation from waste treatment. One aspect of the grant will integrate new innovations in animal waste treatment with the production of biofuels and bioenergy. In addition, the program will develop and analyze public policy, with a goal of regulatory regimes that improve productivity and competitiveness in the livestock sector:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Under this research partnership, students will come here to gain insights and training in engineering technology connected to managing and converting waste to energy in the livestock sector. I am excited about it - the project will support education of graduate and undergraduate students at UGA and training of research and outreach faculty in Mexico and at our institution. - K.C. Das, UGA engineering professor, project director for the U.S.
Joint training programs and workshops in the partnership will be organized by UGA-Mexican partner universities for students, faculty, government officials and regulatory board officials, as well as livestock industry personnel. Participants will focus on animal waste - using it to grow algae in the production of biodiesel, or anaerobically digesting it to produce methane, for example - and the fuels that can be generated from waste materials.

Livestock production worldwide has grown rapidly in light of increased demand for meat in developing countries. The potential for rural economic development and threats of environmental degradation alike have grown alongside the need for new sources of bioenergy. Finding new energy sources from waste streams within the industry is one way engineers have determined to fuse these three aspects into one route for competitive advantage and sustainable growth. The confluence of engineering technology with agricultural economics is a UGA strength that created the context for the new partnership.

The UGA Faculty of Engineering was established in 2001 to advance comprehensive engineering at the University of Georgia. With over 100 members from twenty-four departments in nine schools and colleges across campus, the Faculty of Engineering provides an entrepreneurial setting for engineering academic programs in the unique environment of UGA.


Article continues

Alstom signs contracts with E.ON, Statoil and AEP to trial chilled ammonia carbon capture technique

At the Biopact, we keep track of advancements in carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies, because they can be applied to power plants no matter which fuel they burn. This includes solid biomass (co-fired with coal), liquid biofuels and biogas.

When a power plant utilizes such biofuels and captures the carbon dioxide released from them to sequester the gas, the useful energy obtained from such a facility in fact becomes carbon-negative. That is, the more you use of it, the more CO2 gets taken out of the atmosphere. No other energy system can become carbon-negative (other renewables like wind and solar are slightly carbon positive or carbon neutral at best, CCS with fossil fuels remains a largely carbon positive system).

CCS power plants burning biofuels are called 'Bio-Energy with Carbon Storage' (BECS) systems and are seen by scientists to be one of the only few feasible options to mitigate climate change in a serious way and on a large scale, without drastically cutting the power supply to societies (earlier post).

There are some risks involved in CCS, though, like potential leakage of CO2 from the sequestration site. For this reason, some think the safest way forward is to start large CCS trials immediately with biofuels. In case CO2 leakage were to occur, the escaping gas would only be carbon neutral. But when fossil fuels like coal and natural gas were to be used, the leakage would result in a net increase in CO2 in the atmosphere.

But the main bottleneck for CCS (with biofuels or not) to become commercially feasible is the lack of efficient carbon capture techniques. Several options are available. CO2 can either be removed from the fuel before it is burned ('pre-combustion capture') or from the flue gases after combustion ('post-combustion capture'). An overview of these different techniques can be found here.

French multinational Alstom now announces it has signed contracts with energy giants E.ON, Statoil and American Electric Power to test its chilled ammonia carbon capture technology on both coal and natural gas (schematic, click to enlarge).

With E.ON
Jointly with E.ON, Alstom will implement the chilled ammonia process as a 5MW demonstration plant at the Karlshamn Power Plant in southern Sweden and is expected to begin operation in 2008. The companies plan to introduce the technology in other Swedish power plants after technical evaluation:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Because CO2 is recognised as the main greenhouse gas contributing to global warming, development of this technology is an important milestone towards reducing power industry carbon emissions. Alstom’s chilled ammonia technology uses ammonia to capture CO2 emissions that would normally escape into the atmosphere and holds great promise for achieving CO2 capture economically and with low energy loss.

According to Alstom, research suggests that chilled ammonia-based CO2 capture can remove up to 90% of the CO2 from flue gases. Although there are several proposed techniques that can separate carbon dioxide from the other gases, Alstom’s chilled ammonia process greatly reduces the amount of energy used to capture CO2.

This energy is referred to as the 'energy loss' because the plant’s energy output is reduced by the amount of energy needed to remove the CO2. Studies demonstrate that Alstom’s technology results in an energy loss of approximately 10% versus other methods of post-combustion CO2 separation, which result in losses of nearly 30%.

The Alstom/E.ON contract follows a similar agreement made between Alstom and AEP (American Electric Power) in the U.S. to develop a demonstration plant at a coal-fired power plant in West Virginia and has a start date of 2008. A full scale CO2 capture demonstration plant is scheduled to follow at an AEP site in Oklahoma in 2011.

The Alstom chilled ammonia CO2 capture technology will also be demonstrated with We Energies at a 15,000 tonnes per year pilot plant project at its Pleasant Prairie plant, Wisconsin, in the US.

With Statoil
Alstom's cooperation with Norwegian gas and oil company Statoil is aimed at testing the same post-combustion capture technique to remove CO2 from flue gases particular to natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) power plants.

The objective of the agreement covers the design and construction of a 40MW test and product validation facility at Statoil’s Mongstad refinery in Norway. This facility will be designed to capture at least 80,000 tons per year of CO2 from flue gases from the refinery’s cracker unit or from a new combined heat and power plant being built by Statoil and scheduled to be in operation by 2010. The test and product validation facility is expected to enter operation by 2009-2010 with the first operation and testing phase to last 12-18 months.

It is the intent of both parties that this facility will lead to technical advances and the construction of a larger CO2 capture unit that may eventually capture over 2 million tons per year of CO2 at Mongstad.

Alstom and Statoil have been cooperating, in addition to other parties including the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), in the development of the chilled ammonia CO2 capture technology since 2005.

With American Electric Power

The Statoil deal follows an agreement made between Alstom and AEP (American Electric Power) in the US to develop the technology for application on utility coal-fired boilers and to carry out a pilot. Initial research and development of the Alstom chilled ammonia CO2 capture technology has been jointly funded by Alstom, EPRI and Statoil.

Alstom and American Electric Power (AEP) earlier signed a Memorandum of Understanding to bring Alstom’s chilled ammonia process for CO2 capture to full commercial scale of up to 200 MW by 2011. It is described as a major step in demonstrating post-combustion carbon capture. The technology has the great advantage versus other technologies of being fully applicable not only for new power plants, but also for the retrofit of existing coal-fired power plants.

The project will be implemented in two phases. In phase one, Alstom and AEP will jointly develop a 30 MWth product validation that will capture CO2 from flue gas emitted from AEP’s 1300 MW Mountaineer Plant located in New Haven, West Virginia. It is targeted to capture up to 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year. The captured CO2 will be designated for geological storage in deep saline aquifers at the site. This pilot is scheduled for start-up at the end of 2008 and will operate for approximately 12-18 months (overview of the plant, first image, click to enlarge).

In phase two, Alstom will design, construct and commission a commercial scale of up to 200 MW CO2 capture system on one of the 450 MW coal-fired units at its Northeastern Station in Oologah, Oklahoma. The system is scheduled for start-up in late 2011. It is expected to capture about 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 a year, commercially validating this promising technology. The CO2 captured at Northeastern Station will be used for enhanced oil recovery.

CCS elsewhere
CCS is being developed in response to demands for the coal industry to clean up its act because it is the biggest emitter of climate destructive greenhouse gases. A United Nations expert group has called for more investments in CCS, a top NASA scientists has called for a moratorium on coal that should be lifted only when CCS techniques have become feasible, and the EU recently launched a public consultation on CCS because of growing concern amongst Europeans with climate change and the role of fossil fuels.

Actual CCS trials and projects are currently underway in Germany, France, the UK, the Netherlands and Australia.

Besides bioenergy with CCS, there is another, low-tech approach to creating carbon-negative biofuels. This involves the conversion of biomass into pyrolysis oil and biochar ('agrichar'). The bio-oil is used as a biofuel, whereas the biochar is sequestered in agricultural soils, which boosts the health of these soils and increases crop yields (more info in this text, and the further references there).

Image 1: Footprint of AEP's chilled ammonia process plant. Credit: AEP, Michael G. Morris: presentation of CCS technologies at the Morgan Stanley Global Electricity & Energy Conference, March 15, 2007, New York.

Image 2: Schematic of the chilled ammonia process. Credit: AEP, Michael G. Morris: presentation of CCS technologies at the Morgan Stanley Global Electricity & Energy Conference, March 15, 2007, New York.

References:
Alstom: Alstom signs contract with global company E.ON to build chilled ammonia based CO2 capture plant in Sweden for oil and gas - 21 June 2007.

Alstom: Alstom and Statoil to jointly develop project for chilled ammonia-based CO2 capture for natural gas in Norway - 21 June 2007

Alstom: Alstom and American Electric Power sign agreement to bring CO2 capture technology to commercial scale by 2011 - 15 March 2007


Article continues

Friday, June 22, 2007

Presenting the Global Renewable Energy Policies and Measures Database


Investments in the renewable energy sector are growing at an unprecedented rate, as was recently observed in a report by the United Nations Environment Programme. Last year, over US$100 billion of new money went into the green and the clean. One of the key factors determining the success and feasibility of such investments is the local policy climate, specific rules and regulations and possible government incentives. However, finding your way through the dense forest of national and regional policies for this gradually maturing sector can be time-consuming and complex.

Help is on the way, though. An excellent resource on renewable energy policies in different countries is currently being compiled by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the Johannesburg Renewable Energy Coalition and the European Commission.

The initiative is building a database that features over 100 countries and offers renewable energy market and policy information in one format in one location for countries that together represent almost the total global renewables supply.

The Global Renewable Energy Policies and Measures Database is freely accessible online and offers a wealth of information for energy analysts, policy makers, investors and the interested individual. Visitors can search for information according to to country, policy instrument and type, renewable energy technology, renewable energy target and other criteria such as technology market leaders. Additional IEA energy data per country are included as well.

This online searchable database is part of a continued effort by the IEA to contribute to the international dialogue on renewable energy by providing unbiased information and analysis for the use by decision-makers, policy experts, researchers and industry, as well the broader public [entry ends here].
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::


Article continues

UK government proposes new measures to encourage sustainable biofuels

The UK's Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander underlined the British government's commitment to sustainable biofuels, as he launched a consultation on an environmental reporting system for this type of fuel and a package of measures to complement the reporting requirement.

The consultation is a key part of work on the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO), which means that by 2010, 5% of all the fuel sold on UK forecourts should come from biofuels. This is expected to save 1 million tones of carbon a year, the equivalent of taking 1 million cars off the road.

In addition to the consultation, the Secretary of State today announced that:
  • from April 2010 the government aims to reward biofuels under the RTFO according to the amount of carbon they save. This will be subject to compatibility with EU and WTO requirements and future consultation on the environmental and economic impacts;
  • from April 2011 the government aims to reward biofuels under the RTFO only if they meet appropriate sustainability standards. This will be subject to the same provisos as above and subject to the development of such standards for the relevant feedstocks.
  • the government will ask the RTFO Administrator to report every three months on the effectiveness of the RTFO's environmental reporting system, and on the carbon and sustainability effects of the RTFO;
  • the government intends to set challenging targets for: the level of greenhouse gas savings we expect to see from biofuels used to meet the RTFO, the proportion of biofuels from feedstock grown to recognised sustainability standards and the amount of information we expect to be included in sustainability reports;
  • the government has asked the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership to explore the feasibility of a voluntary labelling scheme, allowing responsible retailers to show that the biofuels they supply are genuinely sustainable. Any scheme would need to be compatible with WTO rules.
Note that the references to the WTO rules imply that such sustainability criteria can not become a new set of protectionist trade barriers blocking the import of competitive biofuels produced in the developing world. Moreover, it is to be expected that very few biofuels produced in either the US or the EU can conform to a criterion that requires these biofuels to reduce carbon emissions. There is as yet no scientific consensus on the greenhouse gas balance of these fuels. Some scientists have found first generation biodiesel and ethanol made from rapeseed and corn to be net carbon contributors or to have very weak balances (here for rapeseed, and for corn).

On the other hand biofuels made from tropical crops, like sugarcane and cassava-based ethanol and sustainably produced biodiesel from palm oil, have a very strong carbon and energy balance, but they may fuel deforestation and partly offset these advantages. Alternative crops like new varieties of sweet sorghum and jatropha curcas, which thrive in non-forest, semi-arid lands may offer the perfect compromise. Other tropical grass and tree species might do so as well and prove better feedstocks for second-generation biofuels than the ones currently used in the UK. There is a large potential for sustainable biofuel trade (earlier post).

The British government has often stated that without bioenergy imports it will not be easy to achieve its biofuels targets. Moreover, it has been investing (together with Brazil) in a few developing countries to help them produce biofuels for export. But amongst key stakeholders there is now a consensus that a comprehensive set of sustainability criteria for all biofuels should be introduced:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

A large number of existing agri-environment and social accountability schemes have been benchmarked against a set of core environmental and social principles, to allow the government to propose a list of "qualifying standards" for RTFO purposes. These are standards that deliver an acceptable level of sustainability assurance. The consultation document suggests that the following standards should initially count as "qualifying standards", although the list will be revised as suitable new standards are developed for different feedstocks:
On launching the consultation Douglas Alexander said:
Biofuels present an opportunity to address the climate change impact of transport. But we must ensure appropriate safeguards are in place. The UK is leading international debate on this issue. We are one of the first countries to develop a detailed methodology to allow transport fuel suppliers to report in detail on the carbon and sustainability impacts of their biofuels. And the comprehensive package of new measures we are proposing today only strengthens this global leadership role, by making clear our determination to put in place a mandatory sustainability framework for biofuels, putting us at the forefront globally of tackling this important issue.
To receive certificates under the RTFO scheme from April 2008, it is intended that transport fuel suppliers will have to complete a report on the carbon savings offered by their biofuels, as well as on the wider sustainability impacts associated with them. The RTFO Administrator will publish information on the environmental impacts of the RTFO. The consultation sets out the detail of the proposed requirements for these reports.

The consultation closes on 13 September. The RTFO Administrator will publish the final version of the reporting requirements as soon as possible after the RTFO Order has been made.

The approach will be piloted with a number of transport fuel suppliers alongside the public consultation.

The British consultation comes after the Netherlands created a first proposal for a set of biofuels sustainability criteria, earlier this year, the so-called Cramer Criteria. On a conceptual level, some researchers have designed a kind of Green Biofuels Index, measuring the greenhouse gas and energy balance of particular biofuels.

Note that none of the proposals takes social justice nor historical justice into account. Developing countries have often said that the US and European countries have deforested their own forests long ago, which allowed them to create a modern agricultural base which they now might use to grow energy crops - as if this past doesn't count.

This historic deforestation burden not only contributed massively to past greenhouse gas emissions, it also allowed rapid industrialisation. Developing countries think it is unfair that the US and the EU impose criteria on them today, whereas these very countries have a tremendous historic deforestation burden. In fact, the West has become so wealthy because of this highly carbon intensive industrial development, that it has broken the trend of increasing deforestation. In the EU and the US, forest cover is for the first time in centuries increasing again (more here).

A more just proposal for sustainability criteria would add carbon emitted from deforestation in the past, to the actual carbon balance of biofuels produced in the present. On the historic carbon burden of highly industrialised countries, see here.

References:
The consultation documents, including further information on the proposed targets, can be found on the UK's Department for Transport website, here.



Article continues

Northern forests less effective carbon sinks than tropical forests

Researchers have found that forests in the United States and other northern mid- and upper-latitude regions are playing a smaller role in offsetting global warming than previously thought. They publish their study in this week's issue of Science. Tropical forests on the other hand were found to sequester much more carbon dioxide than thought. This confirms recent findings by other teams (here) and updates the status of tropical forests from net carbon source to sink.

The Southern Ocean remains a strong carbon sink, even though its capacity to sequester the greenhouse gas is weakening (earlier post). A second study in Science shows carbon dioxide is taken up more by the Southern Ocean, but less by tropical land areas, than previously thought.

Both findings on the role played by different ecosystems in the global carbon cycle have consequences for the design of strategies aimed at reducing tropical deforestation and for the urgency of implementing policies such as 'compensated reduction' in the forest-rich countries of the tropics.

The study on forests, which sheds light on the so-called 'missing carbon sink', concludes that intact tropical forests are removing an unexpectedly high proportion of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, thereby partially offsetting carbon entering the air through industrial emissions and deforestation.

The Science paper was written by a team of scientists led by Britton Stephens of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
This research fills in another piece of the complex puzzle on how the Earth system functions. These findings will be viewed as a milestone in discoveries about our planet's 'metabolism. - Cliff Jacobs, NSF's Division of Atmospheric Sciences.
Stephens and his colleagues analyzed air samples that had been collected by aircraft across the globe for decades but never before synthesized to study the global carbon cycle. The team found that some 40 percent of the carbon dioxide assumed to be absorbed by northern forests is instead being taken up in the tropics:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

"Our study will provide researchers with a much better understanding of how trees and other plants respond to industrial emissions of carbon dioxide, which is a critical problem in global warming," Stephens says. "This will help us better predict climate change and identify possible strategies for mitigating it."

For years, one of the biggest mysteries in climate science has been the question of what ultimately happens to the carbon emitted by motor vehicles, factories, deforestation and other sources.

Of the approximately 8 billion tons of carbon emitted each year, about 40 percent accumulates in the atmosphere and about 30 percent is absorbed by the oceans. Scientists believe that terrestrial ecosystems, especially trees, are taking up the remainder.

The missing sink
Computer models that combine worldwide wind patterns and measurements of carbon dioxide taken just above ground level indicate that northern forests are taking up about 2.4 billion tons. However, ground-based studies have tracked only about half that amount, leaving scientists to speculate about a "missing carbon sink" in the north.

To test whether the computer models were correct, Stephens and his collaborators turned to flasks of air that had been collected by research aircraft over various points of the globe.

The air samples had been collected and analyzed by seven labs, where they were used to investigate various aspects of the carbon cycle, but this is the first time scientists used them to obtain a picture of sources and sinks of carbon on a global level.

The research team compared the air samples to estimates of airborne carbon dioxide concentrations generated by the computer models. They found that the models significantly underestimated the airborne concentrations of carbon dioxide in northern latitudes, especially in the summertime when plants take in more carbon.

The aircraft samples show that northern forests take up only 1.5 billion tons of carbon a year, which is almost 1 billion tons less than the estimate produced by the computer models.

From net source to sink
The scientists also found that intact tropical ecosystems are a more important carbon sink than previously thought. The models had generally indicated that tropical ecosystems were a net source of 1.8 billion tons of carbon, largely because trees and other plants release carbon into the atmosphere as a result of widespread logging, burning and other forms of clearing land.

The new research indicates, instead, that tropical ecosystems are the net source of only about 100 million tons, even though tropical deforestation is occurring rapidly.

"Our results indicate that intact tropical forests are taking up a large amount of carbon," Stephens explains. "They are helping to offset industrial carbon emissions and the atmospheric impacts of clearing land more than we realized."

Most of the computers models produced incorrect estimates because, in relying on ground-level measurements, they had failed to accurately simulate the movement of carbon dioxide vertically in the atmosphere.

The computer models tended to move too much carbon dioxide down toward ground level in the summer, when growing trees and other plants take in the gas, and not enough carbon dioxide up from ground level in the winter.

As a result, scientists believed that there was less carbon in the air above mid-latitude and upper-latitude forests, presumably because trees and other plants were absorbing high amounts.

Conversely, scientists had assumed a large amount of carbon was coming out of the tropics and moving through the atmosphere to be taken up in other regions. The new analysis of aircraft samples shows that this is not the case.

Southern Ocean strong sink, but weakening
Based on observed atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration and an inverse method, a team of researchers led by Corinne Le Quéré of the Max Planck Institut für Biogeochemie, estimates that the Southern Ocean sink of CO2 has weakened between 1981 and 2004 by 0.08 petagrams of carbon per year per decade relative to the trend expected from the large increase in atmospheric CO2.

The researchers attribute this weakening to the observed increase in Southern Ocean winds resulting from human activities, which is projected to continue in the future.

Consequences include a reduction of the efficiency of the Southern Ocean sink of CO2 in the short term (about 25 years) and possibly a higher level of stabilization of atmospheric CO2 on a multicentury time scale.

References
Eurekalert: Northern forests less effective than tropical forests in reducing global warming - June 21, 2007.

Britton B. Stephens, et. al., "Weak Northern and Strong Tropical Land Carbon Uptake from Vertical Profiles of Atmospheric CO2", Science 22 June 2007: Vol. 316. no. 5832, pp. 1732 - 1735, DOI: 10.1126/science.1137004

Corinne Le Quéré, et. al, "Saturation of the Southern Ocean CO2 Sink Due to Recent Climate Change", Science 22 June 2007: Vol. 316. no. 5832, pp. 1735 - 1738, DOI: 10.1126/science.1136188

Article continues

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Latest Doha talks collapse again, agriculture remains stumbling block

Talks between trade powers to salvage global trade talks collapsed today, throwing the future of the World Trade Organisation's struggling 'Doha Development Round' deeper into doubt. The Doha round's original aim was to adjust the global trade regime in such a way that it helps lift millions out of poverty through more trade. Doha has faced problems from the start, mainly over agriculture, a highly sensitive political issue for both developing as well as wealthy nations.

Trade and agriculture ministers from the 'G4' - the EU and the US, representing rich nations, and India and Brazil, for the developing world - had been meeting in Germany to find a new breakthrough but talks collapsed and the parties blamed each other for the failure. Brazil and India said the EU and US did not offer enough concessions on agricultural subsidies and trade barriers. The EU and the US in turn blamed their counterparts for not going far enough on opening markets for manufactured goods. The wealthy countries try to secure export opportunities for their own corporations. However, the crux of the matter is that trade barriers and subsidies remain much higher for agriculture in the EU/US than for manufactured goods in the Global South. Also consider that 70 percent of people in developing countries depend directly or indirectly on agriculture, so they are the losers under the current trade regime.
  • The EU's latest offer was to eliminate export subsidies by 2013 and cut trade distorting domestic farm subsidies by more 70%.
  • EU officials told journalists the sort of tariff cuts being offered by Brazil in return would not have led to any additional exports from companies from the developed world.
  • the US offered to cap its overall spending on trade-distorting domestic support at $17 billion. But as leaders of the G20, the coalition of developing countries which also includes China and Argentina, India and Brazil are pushing for an annual US spending limit of no more than $15 billion.
The Doha round is seen by many as an opportunity for the developing world to gain access to agricultural markets in the West, while it would protect their markets from being flooded by heavily subsidized farm products. As such, a deal that cuts farm subsidies and trade barriers in the EU and the US would be important for the development of a global bioenergy industry in which the Global South would have clear competitive advantages that should be consilodated by classifying biofuels in a new way (an analysis of this complex matter).

Several people, including Nobel-prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz (earlier post), Ted Turner (previous post) and C. Boyden Gray, ambassador to the EU (more), have even suggested that the global biofuel revolution may hold the key to revive the Doha talks. The latter said that continuing demand for corn for the production of ethanol could make it easier for the US to cut the enormous amount of subsidies US farmers receive. However, the idea met heavy resistance from Big Corn:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

In a recent essay, Stiglitz illustrated the Doha deadlock with the example of Brazilian ethanol, which can be produced far more efficiently than biofuels in the North:
Perhaps the most outrageous example is the US$0.14 per liter import tariff on ethanol in the US, whereas there is no tariff on oil, and only a US$0.13 per liter tax on gasoline. This contrasts with the US$0.13 per liter subsidy that US companies (a huge portion of which goes to a single firm) receive on ethanol. Thus, foreign producers can't compete unless their costs are US$0.27 per liter lower than those of US producers.
Sitglitz added that "Developing countries cannot, and should not, open up their markets fully to the US' agricultural goods unless US subsidies are fully eliminated. To compete on a level playing field would force these countries to subsidize their farmers, diverting scarce funds that are needed for education, health, and infrastructure".

Now in Potsdam, Washington has demanded that any deal that significantly cuts US farm subsidies must open new export markets around the world in agriculture, manufacturing and services. But Brazil and India said Washington was not prepared to go far enough to warrant additional concessions on their part in manufacturing goods or in lowering barriers to imports of U.S. farm goods.

"If the round is to move forward, there will have to be a substantial attitude change," said India's Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath.

In a letter to Schwab and Mandelson on Wednesday, leading U.S. and European manufacturers warned they could not support an agreement that did little to open developing countries to additional exports. This dashed hopes of a breakthrough.

Without an agreement between the four powers at this meeting in Potsdam, diplomats and trade officials had warned that it would be difficult for the full 150-member state WTO to strike a deal as hoped by the end of July.

Some non-governmental organisations, altermondialists and civil society groups think the collapse of Doha is not necessarily a bad thing. Such a crisis of the formal trading system would open a new era in which developing countries can push for a new model that benefits poor societies and the environment more than the current WTO regime does today.

More information:
World Trade Organisation: Statement from Director-General Lamy concerning Potsdam outcome - June 21, 2007.

BBC: Latest world trade talks collapse - June 21, 2007.

Reuters India: G4 talks collapse, throw trade round into doubt - June 21, 2007.

Bloomberg: WTO Talks Break Down; EU and U.S. Blame India, Brazil - June 21, 2007.

Biopact: Stiglitz explains reasons behind the demise of the Doha development round - August 15, 2006

Biopact: Discussion text: global biofuels trade and WTO's role - October 21, 2006.


Article continues

Caribbean states urged to invest in biofuels to cut high oil import bills

With the right reforms and investments, Guyana, Jamaica and Barbados, could substitute at least ten per cent of their current gasoline consumption with domestic ethanol fuel, the President of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Luis Moreno has said.

Moreno spoke at the first ever high-level Conference of the Caribbean that united heads of state from fifteen Caribbean nations and the U.S. who gathered in Washington to examine the growth and development of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) from a regional perspective. The three day summit was hosted by the World Bank, and co-hosted by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Organization of American States (OAS).

Noting that with the exception of Trinidad and Tobago (an oil and gas exporting country) energy has become a critical issue for the Caribbean with the cost of their dependency soaring, he cited Jamaica's energy cost as growing by 41% in 2005 and 30% in 2006. It is now projected to pass US$2 billion this year. This is almost as much as the total amount of the country's exports.
The good news is that the Caribbean had significant potential in biofuels and wind power. Now more than ever, the Caribbean needs a bold energy strategy that combines energy conservation and efficiency with investments in renewable resources. - Luis Moreno, president IDB president Inter-American Development Bank.
Funds lost to expensive oil cannot be invested in much needed social and economic development programs. But biofuels can be produced efficiently from an abundance of tropical energy crops that thrive in the Caribbean, and replace fossil fuels in a competitive way. The region's technical exportable bioenergy potential over the long term (2050) is projected to be amongst the highest per capita (earlier post).

Quoting from a study the IDB financed in collaboration with Caricom (Caribbean Community) Moreno said that if Guyana, Jamaica and Barbados adopt the latest technology these three countries could also co-generate a total of 100 megawatts of electricity by burning sugarcane bagasse. The study, on expanding biofuel opportunities in the three Caribbean countries and which was conducted earlier this year, showed the potential that exists. Recently the IDB also published 'A Blueprint for Green Energy in the Americas', a major overview of the potential for biofuels in the Western Hemisphere:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Moreno noted that the IDB has an active programme which grants technical assistance to help member governments determine the feasibility of renewable energy in the production of ethanol, biodiesel, biomass and other renewables.

In addition to a US$3 billion investment planned for private sector biofuel projects (here), Moreno announced that the IDB's private sector department was also preparing to launch a green energy programme that would provide at least US$300 million in loans for projects in energy efficiency and renewable energy in small developing countries.

He said the issue of energy was one of three priority areas that the IDB considered challenges for the Caribbean. The other two he described as competitiveness and "initiative opportunities for the majority."

More information:

Stabroek News: IDB president urges Caricom to look inwards for renewable energy - June 21, 2007.

Inter-American Development Bank, Environment Division (Sustainable Development Department): Issue Paper on Biofuels in Latin America and the Caribbean [*.pdf].

Article continues

Genencor introduces more efficient enzyme for corn ethanol

Genencor, a division of Danisco A/S, has announced it introduces a greener, more efficient enzyme for ethanol production. The new 'Maxaliq ONE' product significantly improves process efficiency in production of biofuels from corn and complements Genencor's growing range of dedicated enzymes for the ethanol industry (table, click to enlarge).

The enzyme optimizes the process of converting corn to ethanol by increasing throughput and the value of its by-product, known as distiller’s dried grain with solubles (DDGS) used as a component in formulating animal feed.

The Maxaliq ONE blend contains a novel thermostable enzyme that is used as a processing aid to efficiently reduce the viscosity of the liquefact and break down phytic acid in grains to create a higher value by-product DDGS:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

According to Genencor, the Maxaliq ONE blend used in conjunction with its Phytase Amylase Liquefaction System (PALS), reduces viscosity and reduces mash phytic acid in the dry-mill process. The addition of a simple step at the beginning of the process therefore results in efficient liquefaction. It thus improves the sustainability values of two industries, ethanol and animal nutrition [entry ends here].

Genencor enzymes and biotechnology solutions are aimed at improvements in several bioconversion steps for first generation ethanol production, notably:
  • Improving production efficiency
  • Increasing fuel volume produced
  • Reducing manufacturing costs
  • Decreasing waste products and gas emissions


Article continues

EU eases OPEC's fears of biofuels at 4th EU-OPEC Energy Dialogue

The 4th ministerial-level meeting of the energy dialogue between the European Union (EU) and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was held in Vienna today. Ahead of the meeting the EU tried to ease fears by the OPEC on the rise of alternative energy sources in Europe. The EU-OPEC Energy dialogue, established in 2004, focused on OPEC's work on carbon-dioxide capture and storage, energy policy but also on the impact of financial markets on oil prices as well as improving market transparency and predictability. Biofuels remained a key point of debate.

German Economics Minister Michael Glos, serving as president of the EU Energy Council at the high-level meeting, said before the summit that burning of fossil fuels must be restricted for climate reasons. However, he reassured OPEC biofuels would be "introduced as a supplement" to fossil fuels. "We do not want to restrict OPEC," he told journalists at the outset of the meeting.

Earlier this year, the European Commission set out its strategy to turn the EU into a low carbon economy. It contains the ambitious target to source 20% of its overall energy mix from renewable energy by 2020. The European Council later translated this in an agreement amongst EU member states to set a 10% minimum target on the use of biofuels in transport by 2020 (earlier post).

OPEC warned earlier that in case of a long-term boom in biofuels it could cut down on investment in oil production, and that in turn a fuel shortage could be the result if biofuels ran into supply problems. The announcement was immediately countered by the chief of the International Energy Agency, who stressed that oil is in no way threatened by biofuels (earlier post).

EU experts reiterated ahead of the meeting that even if biofuels were increasingly used in Europe in the next years, the demand for oil would remain stable. Around 40 per cent of the EU's oil imports come from OPEC countries, and this share will only grow.

Crude oil prices have been hovering below the 70-dollar barrier for a while. Analysts believe that if this barrier is breached prices can climb a lot higher, into the mid-80s range. Glos warned that current prices were "the upper level of what will be tolerable for consumer countries," adding the OPEC had a shared interest in avoiding a global economic slowdown.

El-Bardri indicated earlier this week that OPEC was not considering raising its output at the moment. One reason is that increased input would go into stockpiles, as there is not enough refining capacity, OPEC argued:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Among the participants in the meeting were EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, Mohamed bin Dhaen AL Hamli, President of the OPEC conference, Abdalla Selem El-Badri, OPEC Secretary General and Michael Glos, German Minister of Economics.

The EU and OPEC representatives welcomed the progress that had been made since the third meeting of the energy dialogue in Brussels, Belgium, on 7 June 2006. This included: a roundtable on carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS), held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in September 2006; a workshop on the impact of financial markets on oil price and volatility, held in Vienna in December 2006; a roundtable on energy policies, held in Brussels last month; the launch of a joint study on refining; and other meetings and discussions. The representatives expressed their appreciation for the constructive exchanges of views in all these activities.

The first session of today’s meeting featured presentations by the EU on its recently adopted energy policy and by OPEC on oil market developments and prospects.

The EU presented the energy policy and action plan adopted in March 2007 by the European Council, focusing on sustainability, security of supply and competitiveness. This policy aims to enhance cooperation with key energy producers, transiting countries and major consumers, and calls for further development of bilateral and multilateral energy negotiations and agreements on energy. In addition, climate change is a key driver of the intimately combined EU energy and environment policy. And finally, energy technology becomes increasingly instrumental in improving efficiency and renewable energy sources for addressing climate change, by promoting clean fossil fuel and carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. With regard to oil market situation, the EU expressed its concern about expected seasonal increase in demand coupled with possible supply disruptions over the next few months which could lead to tightening in the oil market.

OPEC reiterated in its presentation that the present oil market remains well supplied, with commercial crude oil stocks above five-year average and an increasing level of upstream spare capacity. However, in addition to geopolitical constraints, tightness in the refining sector, which has been recognised as a matter for concern since the second EU-OPEC meeting in December 2005, continues to increase volatility and exert pressure on crude and product prices, in particular, on gasoline prices. OPEC reaffirmed its longstanding commitment to ensuring sound supply fundamentals at all times, and to offering an adequate level of spare capacity, for the benefit of the world at large.

Both sides emphasized the importance of continuously monitoring oil market developments and taking appropriate actions if necessary.

Participants expressed once again their mutual interest in stable, transparent and predictable oil markets, with reasonable prices that are consistent with the need for healthy world economic growth and steady revenue streams for producing countries, and that are conducive to the expansion of capacity to meet rising oil demand. They recognised the importance of secure future demand for crude and products in spurring timely investment both upstream and downstream, thus contributing to greater security of supply.

The two parties believed that the world is becoming increasingly interdependent, with a complex energy system that is steadily developing into a more global and interconnected one, through physical infrastructures and markets. Dialogue, partnerships and transparency were, therefore, considered essential in addressing the world’s energy needs, in a predictable, stable and harmonious manner.

In this connection, they reaffirmed their recognition of the reciprocal nature of energy security, with security of supply and security of demand being two faces of the same coin. It was, furthermore, emphasised that every effort should be made to minimise uncertainties along the supply chain, in order to reduce investment risks and support long-term market stability.

In noting that oil will remain the world’s leading energy source for the foreseeable future, the meeting agreed that, in the long run, on the basis of present information, there are enough conventional and non-conventional oil resources globally to meet the expected significant growth in demand. At the same time, however, both parties welcomed the growing diversity in the energy mix, including renewables. With regard to biofuels specifically, their sustainability was discussed, especially the many potential impacts of their large-scale trade and use for energy purposes. The EU highlighted the scope to tackle such problems through an appropriate policy framework.

The meeting also addressed the current shortages in skilled labour, equipment and services, both upstream and downstream, and rapidly rising costs, which the industry is currently facing, as well as the issue of human resources. A shortage of skilled labour for drilling, engineering, procurement, construction and other services and a downturn in the number of students in energy fields were seen as hampering the industry’s orderly expansion, and thus constituting a serious reason for concern. The meeting, therefore, decided to address this issue in the energy dialogue. It also reiterated the importance of energy technology and its decision to set-up a task force for examining the establishment of an EU-OPEC energy technology centre.

The two parties noted the big contribution that the EU-OPEC energy dialogue could make to broader-based challenges facing mankind, notably environmental harmony, sustainable development and the eradication of poverty. They agreed that cleaner fossil fuel technologies should be promoted, to help foster economic growth and social progress, while contributing to the protection of the environment. They stressed, in particular, the need for the further development and deployment of CCS technology, since this would have a key role in reducing net emissions of greenhouse gases. Both sides recognised once again the essential nature of the Millennium Development Goals and the fact that access by the poor to modern energy services facilitated the achievement of these goals.

Accordingly, they agreed upon the following specific joint actions:
  • A workshop on the oil refining sector, including the implications of biofuels, to take place in Brussels end 2007 or early 2008.
  • A study on the impact of financial markets on the oil price and volatility, with the terms of reference to be developed jointly in the coming months.
  • An enhanced discussion on CCS cooperation, leading up to a roundtable in the first quarter of 2008.
  • The development by the task force of the concept and operations of an EU-OPEC Energy Technology Centre, including the cooperative framework on education and training in the energy sector, with a report to be presented to the next annual meeting of the EU-OPEC Energy Dialogue.
The fifth meeting of the EU-OPEC Energy Dialogue will be held in Brussels, Belgium, in June 2008.

More information:
EU-OPEC Joint Statement: Further significant developments in the EU-OPEC Energy Dialogue - June 21, 2007.

EUX.TV: EU to ease OPEC fears of alternative fuels - June 21, 2007.

Petroleumworld: OPEC might not increase production in coming months: Badri - June 21, 2007.

EurActiv dossier: Geopolitics of EU energy supply - updated June 19, 2007.

Article continues

Diversa and Celunol merge to become Verenium

Diversa Corporation and Celunol Corp. announced today that they have completed their previously-announced merger [*.pdf] transaction to create Verenium Corporation. The new company possesses a growing portfolio of specialty enzyme products and technical and operational capabilities designed to enable the production of low-cost, biomass-derived sugars for a multitude of major industrial applications.

The most significant near-term commercial opportunity for Verenium will be the large-scale commercial production of cellulosic ethanol derived from multiple biomass feedstocks. Verenium's first jointly released enzyme product is 'Fuelzyme', a novel alpha amylase enzyme assembled from genes found in extremophiles, that allows for more cost-effective production of ethanol from corn.

Verenium begins operations with numerous unique attributes, including:
  • fully-integrated, end-to-end capabilities in pre-treatment, novel enzyme development, fermentation, engineering, and project development;
  • an operational cellulosic ethanol pilot plants in the United States;
  • a 1.4 million gallon-per-year demonstration-scale facility, currently under construction, to produce cellulosic ethanol from sugarcane bagasse and specially-bred energy cane
  • a diverse and growing portfolio of commercialized industrial enzyme products
  • over 300 issued or in-licensed patents for its technologies and processes, as well as over 450 pending patents.
Verenium will be structured and managed as three distinct, but interdependent, organizational units:
  • Specialty Enzymes Business Unit: currently generates commercial revenue from multiple sources, including industrial enzyme product sales, technology licenses, strategic partnerships, and government grants. The unit harnesses the power of enzymes to create a broad range of specialty products to meet high-value commercial needs. It has capabilities in the rapid screening, identification, and expression of enzymes-proteins that act as the catalysts of biochemical reactions.
  • Biofuels Business Unit: will be primary focused on the commercial-scale production and sale of cellulosic ethanol from company-managed production facilities throughout the US, as well as strategic partnerships and related revenue arrangements around the world.
  • Research and Development: the organization's primary goal will be to support both Verenium Business Units, as well as various existing strategic collaborative partners.
Verenium recently completed a significant upgrade of one of the nation's first operational cellulosic ethanol pilot facilities located in Jennings, Louisiana and expects to achieve mechanical completion of its 1.4 million gallon-per-year, demonstration-scale facility to produce cellulosic ethanol by the end of 2007.

In addition, the company's process technology has been licensed by Tokyo-based Marubeni Corp. and Tsukishima Kikai Co., LTD and has been incorporated into BioEthanol Japan's 1.4 million liter-per-year cellulosic ethanol plant in Osaka, Japan - the world's first commercial-scale plant to produce cellulosic ethanol from wood construction waste:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

As of March 31, 2007, the company had cash, cash-equivalents, and short-term investments on hand of approximately $125.5 million, which, together with approximately $20 million received in early April from the exercise of an over-allotment option related to the recent convertible notes offering, it believes to be sufficient to fund operations through at least 2008.

Verenium's Board of Directors will initially consist of nine members, six from Diversa and three from Celunol, including Mr. Riva. The non-employee Board members are: Dr. James Cavanaugh, who will serve as Chairman of the Board of Directors; Peter Johnson; Fernand Kaufmann, Ph.D.; Mark Leschly; Melvin Simon, Ph.D.; Cheryl Wenzinger; Joshua Ruch; and Michael Zak.

The company's executive management team is being led by Carlos A. Riva, President, Chief Executive Officer, and Director, and John A. McCarthy, Jr., Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer.

Verenium will be headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts and have research and operations facilities in San Diego, California; Jennings, Louisiana; and Gainesville, Florida. Due to the complementary nature of the two companies and the level of development activities being pursued, the company anticipates increasing its staff in Cambridge and Jennings, as well as building additional staff over time in San Diego to support the growth of the enzyme business and research and development efforts of the company.

In connection with the merger, Diversa will issue 15 million shares of common stock in exchange for all outstanding equity securities of Celunol, which includes shares issuable under Celunol options and warrants that will be assumed by the Company. As a result of the merger, former Celunol security holders will own approximately 24 percent of the company, while Diversa shareholders will own approximately 76 percent. Immediately following the merger, the Company will have approximately 63 million shares outstanding.

More information:
Diversa Celunol merger: Making Cellulosic Biofuels a Commercial Reality Creating - the First Company with Integrated, End-to-End Technologies to Convert Biomass into Fuel Ethanol [*.pdf], June 21, 2007.


Article continues

'Biomass Nippon': a look at Japan's national bioenergy strategy

Anxious to protect its islands against urban pollution and to reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels, Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) has launched a national programme to study the potential and promote the use of local bioenergy resources. The project is dubbed 'Biomass Nippon' and aims, for the first time, to analyse the local availability of biomass from all existing economic sectors.

The programme will actively engage in strengthening research capacities (with the establishment of experimental biorefineries), create an institutional structure and carry out policy work to facilitate the use of biomass. Because of their decentralised nature, bioenergy systems are often strongly rooted in local communities. For this reason, a comprehensive social framework will be crafted that will assess the impacts of biomass power generation on these communities.

Background
Japan is the world's most energy efficient society, with an industrial sector that generates fewer greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per unit of GDP produced than any other country (earlier post). But the island state wants to go further, because being a highly industrialised country, its total GHG emissions are still quite high and Japan is very dependent on imported energy.

Biomass Nippon, which receives 265 million Yen (€1.6/US$2.1 million) annually, thus aims to contribute to the creation of a low-carbon and 'circular' economy that utilizes renewable resources in a highly efficient manner. The main reasons behind the programme are:
  1. the prevention of climate change (to which Japan is highly vulnerable): to promote the use of 'carbon-neutral' biomass which will lead to the replacement of energy and products derived from fossil fuels with alternatives, and thus to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions
  2. the creation of a recycling-oriented society: to use limited resources in an effective manner by utilizing renewable biomass, thus accelerating the process of shifting society toward one which develops in a sustainable manner
  3. fostering new strategic industries: to restructure the industrial competitiveness of Japan by creating biomass-related industries as a strategic sector that develops new products, uniquely made in Japan
  4. activation of agriculture, forestry, and fishery, as well as associated rural communities: the utilisation of national biomass resources will re-activate the primary sector, as well as stimulate the rural communities involved in the sector
Analyses by researchers who are part of the IEA's Bioenergy Task 40 study group - which assesses bioenergy trade, economics and potentials - show that in principle Japan has the smallest long-term (2050) biomass production potential of all global regions. However, the MAFF itself estimates that the country currently has around 1,300 Petajoules of renewable energy embedded in its available biomass resources (graph, click to enlarge). This is equivalent to around 35 billion liters of oil per year (roughly 600,000bpd), or 33 million tons of carbon (equivalent to 3.3 times as much as the total amount of carbon contained in all plastic materials produced in Japan).

Renewable resources
Biomass Nippon distinguishes different kinds of sources from which this biomass can be obtained and has outlined a utilisation scenario for each of them:
  1. 'Waste streams': an increased utilization of paper waste, livestock waste, food waste, construction-derived wood residues, black liquor, and sewage sludge can be promoted relatively quickly
  2. 'Unused Biomass': by around 2010, the utilization of biomass which has never been used before will become quite visible: unused portions of farm crops such as rice straw or rice husk, and forestry residues left unused at sites will be converted into biofuels and bioproducts
  3. 'Dedicated Energy Crops': by around 2020, energy crops will be widely cultivated so that they can be utilized as an energy source and for bioproducts
  4. 'New Crops': by around 2050, newly developed crops such as marine plants and genetically modified crops will contribute to an increased production of biomass
 In order to assess the potential of these resources in-depth, Japan has been divided into 9 large regions that will each host a study cell, with a national bureau centralising the data. The national office will then map resources and install 'biomass professionals' in the different regions and per sector (biomass production through forestry and agriculture; conversion into liquid, solid and gaseous fuels and bioproducts...).

Bioconversion strategies
When it comes to strategies to develop technologies to convert biomass into finished products, Biomass Nippon envisions the creation of biorefineries and of a 'cascading' strategy for the use of raw biomass:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::


  1. Biorefineries: will integrate technologies in a highly efficient manner and result in the production of a diverse range of fuels and useful materials starting from a given stream of raw biomass.
  2. Cascading strategy: alongside the development of individual relevant technologies, a 'cascading' (multi-stage) use of biomass is required for the purpose of utilizing biomass resources to the fullest, by using them repeatedly, as many times as possible, from the top end to the bottom in terms of product value, and by burning them at the end of the cascade to generate energy, in as efficient a manner possible.
More specific goals for the materialization of 'Biomass Nippon' consist of setting specific goals for the parties involved so that they can promote the utilization of biomass effectively.

The MAFF will set up certain goals from technological perspectives (energy conversion efficiency, cost target of process equipment/systems, etc.), from the point of view of the local communities (such as an increase in the number of communities which utilize biomass more than a certain level), and also from the nationwide viewpoint (such as posting a clear target level of biomass utilization).
 
Nationwide targets have been proposed as follows: to aim at 80% or higher for the utilization of waste biomass and 25% or higher for 'unused biomass', in terms of their carbon equivalent.
 
Policy, promotion and institutional frameworks
The basic strategies that must make 'Biomass Nippon' a success are divided into several groups, ranging from nation-wide awareness campaigns ('sensitizing the nation', 'boosting local ingenuity'), the creation of clear definitions of the roles taken by various stakeholders (private sector, communities, government) and the design of a negotiation and debating routine amongst the stakeholders. A framework to boost competitiveness within the sector of biomass technologies will be developed as well.

Finally, 'Biomass Nippon' will set up an institutional structure and carry out policy work:

  • the establishment of the "Biomass Japan Comprehensive Strategy Promotion Council" in order to facilitate a solid promotion of the relevant strategies.
  • the establish a "Biomass Information Headquarters", which works as the central base for information
  • to study new laws needed for promoting the Biomass Nippon Strategy
  • to undertake research and development for designing a social system in which an efficient utilization of biomass is encouraged, and to conduct a demonstration test for the envisioned outcomes
  • to implement a comprehensive package of measures in model communities under a coordinated program headed by relevant government offices
 Revisions of existing legislation for several energy and waste-treatment sectors and products are needed, as well as a new look at current energy production and distribution practises. Biomass Nippon will:
  • investigate a handling procedure to be applied to bioplastics as specific procurement items covered by the Green Purchasing Law
  • arrange matters so that power generation from biomass can be handled in the same manner as other kinds of new energy under the New Energy Law
  • promote the kind of agriculture which is oriented toward environmental conservation
  • facilitate power supply by means of locally distributed power sources, including biomass power generation
  • undertake quality evaluation of biomass-derived automotive fuels, assess their safety and environmental performance, and conduct driving tests on those fuels as well as evaluate the merits and demerits of their introduction into Japan
More information:
Ecologie Caradisiac: L'empire du Soleil levant embrasse la biomasse - June 15, 2007.

Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries: Outline of the Biomass Nippon Strategy.

Article continues

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Engineers develop higher-energy liquid transportation fuel from sugar

Plants absorb carbon dioxide from the air and combine it with water molecules and sunshine to make carbohydrate or sugar. Variations on this process provide fuel for all of life on Earth. We are in the first stages of tapping into that mechanism to create a 'carbohydrate economy' that replaces petroleum. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison now announce they have come a step closer to making such a sweet world more viable by developing a liquid transport fuel from sugar that has an energy density similar to gasoline.

Reporting in the June 21 issue of the journal Nature, chemical and biological engineering Professor James Dumesic and his research team describe a two-stage process for turning biomass-derived sugar into 2,5-dimethylfuran (DMF), a liquid transportation fuel with 40 percent greater energy density than ethanol.

The prospects of diminishing oil reserves and the threat of global warming caused by releasing otherwise trapped carbon into the atmosphere have researchers searching for a sustainable, carbon-neutral fuel to reduce global reliance on fossil fuels. By chemically engineering sugar through a series of steps involving acid and copper catalysts, salt and butanol as a solvent, UW-Madison researchers created a path to just such a fuel.
Currently, ethanol is the only renewable liquid fuel produced on a large scale. But ethanol suffers from several limitations. It has relatively low energy density, evaporates readily, and can become contaminated by absorption of water from the atmosphere. It also requires an energy-intensive distillation process to separate the fuel from water. - James Dumesic, lead author and Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
Not only does dimethylfuran have a higher energy content, it also addresses other ethanol shortcomings. DMF is not soluble in water and therefore cannot become contaminated by absorbing water from the atmosphere. DMF is stable in storage and, in the evaporation stage of its production, and only consumes one-third of the energy required to evaporate a solution of ethanol produced by fermentation for biofuel applications.

Dumesic and graduate students Yuriy Román-Leshkov, Christopher J. Barrett and Zhen Y. Liu developed a new catalytic process for creating DMF by expanding upon earlier work. As reported in the June 30, 2006, issue of the journal Science, Dumesic's team improved the process for making an important chemical intermediate, hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), from sugar (earlier post on another, more recent breakthrough on HMF production):
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Industry uses millions of tons of chemical intermediates, largely sourced from petroleum or natural gas, as the raw material for many modern plastics, drugs and fuels.

The team's method for making HMF and converting it to DMF is a balancing act of chemistry, pressure, temperature and reactor design. Fructose is initially converted to HMF in water using an acid catalyst in the presence of a low-boiling-point solvent. The solvent extracts HMF from water and carries it to a separate location. Although other researchers had previously converted fructose to HMF, Dumesic's research group made a series of improvements that raised the HMF output and made the HMF easier to extract. For example, the team found that adding salt (NaCl) dramatically improves the extraction of HMF from the reactive water phase and helps suppress the formation of impurities.

In the June 21, 2007, issue of Nature, Dumesic's team describes its process for converting HMF to DMF over a copper-based catalyst. The conversion removes two oxygen atoms from the compound lowering the boiling point, the temperature at which a liquid turns to gas, and making it suitable for use as transportation fuel. Salt, while improving the production of HMF, presented an obstacle in the production of DMF. It contributed chloride ions that poisoned the conventional copper chromite catalyst. The team instead developed a copper-ruthenium catalyst providing chlorine resistance and superior performance.

Dumesic says more research is required before the technology can be commercialized. For example, while its environmental health impact has not been thoroughly tested, the limited information available suggests DMF is similar to other current fuel components. Some challenges remain to be addressed, but his work shows that it is possible to produce a liquid transportation fuel from biomass that has energy density comparable to petrol.

More information:
Yuriy Román-Leshkov, Christopher J. Barrett1, Zhen Y. Liu & James A. Dumesic, "Production of dimethylfuran for liquid fuels from biomass-derived carbohydrates", Nature 447, 982-985 (21 June 2007) | doi:10.1038/nature05923

George W. Huber, Juben N. Chheda, Christopher J. Barrett, James A. Dumesic, "Production of Liquid Alkanes by Aqueous-Phase Processing of Biomass-Derived Carbohydrates", Science 3 June 2005: Vol. 308. no. 5727, pp. 1446 - 1450; DOI: 10.1126/science.1111166

University of Wisconsin-Madison: Engineers develop higher-energy liquid-transportation fuel from sugar - June 20, 2007.

Biopact: Breakthrough in biorefining: scientists obtain high yields of HMF from sugar - June 14, 2007.


Article continues

TU Munich and ATZ to cooperate on research into biomass conversion and combustion

The Technische Universität München (TUM) and the Applikations- und Technikzentrum (ATZ) in Sulzbach-Rosenberg (Bayern), have signed [*German] a cooperation agreement for research into new biomass combustion and conversion technologies.

A new dedicated development and test center that took 9 months to build - the Verbrennungstechnikum für Biomasse und Reststoffe - was opened today by the Minister of the Economy Erwin Huber. It hosts a series of experimental and modular pilot plants to test combustion techniques, to develop novel and efficient ways to use generated heat and to study processes to clean emissions and combustion gases of different types of solid biofuel. This way the center can directly develop and test new bioenergy technologies without having to go through the stage of developing project-specific pilot plants.

The agreement between TUM (the 'MIT' of Europe) and the ATZ was signed by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang A. Herrmann (rector of the TUM) and Prof. Dr. Martin Faulstich and Gerold Dimaczek (both of the ATZ). It creates a synergy between the TUM's strong position in the field of fundamental research, and the ATZ's leading capacities in pilot-scale testing. Seven young engineers of the TUM will work at the ATZ to obtain their PhD's in the field of bioconversion. A new post-grad curriculum based on the new research capacities is in the works.

The ATZ was created as a combustion and energy research center at a time when Germany's steel industry was in full bloom, but gradually it was transformed into a leading research institute with a focus on decentralised energy production from biomass and waste materials.

The center's new impulse is spread over two common pathways for the conversion of biomass into energy:
1. One department studies thermochemical transformation processes: combustion, gasification and pyrolysis (overview of projects). Key objectives of the research are:
  • the development and optimisation of integrated biomass power plants
  • the development and optimisation of new combustion technologies
  • research on the treatment, scrubbing and purification of process gases
  • the development of new burner technologies
A modular pilot facility (440kW, with process gas cleaning tools) allows researchers to test and discover the properties of different biofuels and their residues.

2. The department that studies the biochemical conversion of biomass, organic waste streams and water (overview of projects) has the following objectives:
  • develop and optimise anaerobic conversion processes (for the production of biogas and bioethanol)
  • improve and develop microbiological purification of biogenic gases (such as the upgrading of biogas to natural gas quality biomethane)
  • the creation of innovative pretreatment processes for organic waste, specifically the continued development of the trademarked ATZ-TDH technique (a pretreatment technique that optimises the anaerobic fermentation of waste streams), developed in-house
Part of the research of this track focuses on finding new applications for residues obtained from the biochemical conversion ('biorefining'). The center is home to a series of experimental digesters and fermenters of different scales :
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The ATZ center houses around 40 researchers. The institution was created by the Ministry of Economic Affairs of the state of Bayern, as a public venture. It has a long list of innovations on its name and has collaborated with some of Germany's leading heavy industry enterprises.

Prof. Martin Faulstich, Ordinarius for Raw Materials and Energy Technologies at the TUM and founder of the Wissenschaftszentrums Straubing für Nachwachsende Rohstoffe (Straubing Science Center for Renewable Energy) becomes scientific director of the new cooperation, whereas Gerold Dimaczek is responsible for the operational management of the venture.

An earlier EU-funded cooperation between ATZ, the Wissenschaftszentrum Straubing and Hans Huber AG resulted in the construction of Europe's largest and most high-tech pilot plant to test the conversion of sludge to energy (see Sludge2Energy).

The new TUM-AZT center has already created several partnerships with third parties: Tyczka Energie AG will develop biogas networks for industrial zones, whereas a project for the thermochemical conversion of lignocellulosic biomass is under negotiation with a major industrial conglomerate .

More information:
Informationsdienst Wissenschaft: TU München unterzeichnet Kooperationsvertrag mit ATZ Entwicklungszentrum in Sulzbach-Rosenberg - June 20, 2007.

Technische Universität München: Ohne Ingenieure keine bessere Umwelt - June 20, 2007.

Sludge2Energy homepage.

ATZ Entwicklungszentrum homepage.

Article continues

UNEP report: investments in renewables leap to record US$100 billion in 2006

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has issued an in-depth analysis of global investors' unprecedented rush to fund the development of sustainable energy. Renewables have completely shed their fringe image with transactions leaping to a record $100 billion in 2006 and rapidly transforming the future of the world's energy landscape.

Climate change worries coupled with high oil prices and increasing government support top a set of drivers fueling soaring rates of investment in the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries, according to the trend analysis from the UNEP.

The report titled 'Gobal Trends in Sustainable Energy Investment 2007' [*.pdf], says investment capital flowing into renewable energy climbed from $80 billion in 2005 to a record $100 billion in 2006. As well, the renewable energy sector's growth - although still volatile - is showing no sign of abating.
One of the new and fundamental messages of this report is that renewable energies are no longer subject to the vagaries of rising and falling oil prices - they are becoming generating systems of choice for increasing numbers of power companies, communities and countries irrespective of the costs of fossil fuels. - Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director.
Among the report's key points and conclusions:
  • Renewable energy and efficiency markets are growing more global and enjoying easier access to capital markets
  • Capital is coming from the venture investment community, the stock markets and internal refinancings, signaling the sector's a shift to a more mainstream status
  • Risk and uncertainly can be reduced through diversification across technologies and geography
  • Energy efficiency is a significant but largely invisible market, attracting increasing attention as investors realize its important role in meeting rising energy demand
  • Capital investors are now more closely aligned with industry proponents in their views of expected growth.
The report offers a host of reasons behind and insights into the world's newest gold rush, which saw investors pour $71 billion into companies and new sector opportunities in 2006, a 43% jump from 2005 (and up 158% over the last two years. The trend continues in 2007 with experts predicting investments of $85 billion this year). In addition to the $71 billion, about $30 billion entered the sector in 2006 via mergers and acquisitions, leveraged buyouts and asset refinancing. This buy-out activity, rewarding the sector's pioneers, implies deeper, more liquid markets and is helping the sector shed its niche image, according to the report.

While renewables today are only 2% of the installed power mix, they now account for about 18% of world investment in power generation, with wind generation at the investment forefront. Solar and biofuel energy technologies grew even more quickly than wind, but from a smaller base. Renewables now compete head-on with coal and gas in terms of new installed generating capacity and the portion of world energy produced from renewable sources is sure to rise substantially as the tens of billions of new investment dollars bear fruit.

Wind, solar, biofuels attract greatest investment dollars
Renewable energy sectors attracting the highest investment levels are wind, solar and biofuels, - reflecting technology maturity, policy incentives and investor appetite - according to the report, adding that the NEX index of clean energy stocks increased 64% in the 15 months to April:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Stock market investments in technology development, commercialization and manufacturing firms leapt 140% in 2006 compared with 2005, while venture capital and private equity investments jumped 163%. Financings of energy generation assets and capacity grew at �a more sedate 22.9%,� the analysis says.

Asset financing of new generation capacity, the largest single source of renewable energy investment, accounted for nearly 40% of the $70.9 billion invested in 2006, a reflection of the sector�s coming of age, the report says. The trend continues in 2007. Most asset financing deals were in the relatively mature wind sector, with biofuels (which experienced a surge of interest in 2006) in second place.

Venture capital and private equity investors in 2006, meanwhile, poured $2.3 billion into biofuels, $1.4 billion into solar and $1.3 billion in wind, much of it to increase manufacturing capacity.

Around 40% of the capital invested in solar went towards new technology development. In biofuels, the proportion was about 20%, reflecting a surging corn-based ethanol industry in the U.S., as well as research into second generation biofuels, including cellulosic ethanol.

Renewable energy investment is almost evenly split geographically between United States and Europe. U.S. companies receive more technology and private investment (with high profile investment interest shown in biofuels during 2006 by entrepreneurs such as Vinod Khosla, Bill Gates and Richard Branson), whereas Europe's publicly quoted companies attracted the most public stock market investment dollars: $5.7 billion compared to $3.5 billion in the U.S.

The pattern reflects the earlier arrival of enthusiasm for renewable energy in Europe and its ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, unlike the US and Australia. As well, government support is particularly strong in some European countries.

The European markets' relative maturity also helps explain its dominance of merger and acquisition activity in 2006, with deals worth more than $20 billion in 2006 compared with $8.8 billion in the U.S., many of the corporate acquisitions being made by investors from developing countries, notably India.

Comparing the renewable energy and dotcom booms, the report says the former is "underpinned by real demand and growing regulatory support (which the dotcom boom did not enjoy), considerable tangible asset backing, and increasing revenues."

Most energy efficiency investment has been in early-stage funding. Venture capital and private equity investment rose 54% between 2005 and 2006 to $1.1 billion. Some merger and acquisition activity also occurred in the energy efficiency industry, notably the Australian Bayard group�s $705 million acquisition of US smart-metering company Cellnet in December.

Key messages
A key message of the report is that this is no longer an industry solely dominated by developed country industries. Close to 10 per cent of investments are in China with around a fifth in total in the developing world. We will need many sustained steps towards the de-carbonizing of the global economy. It is clear that in respect to renewables those steps are getting underway.
As governments prepare to launch a new round of post-2012 climate change-related negotiations later this year, the report clearly shows that, amid much discussion about the 'technologies of tomorrow', the finance sector believes the existing technologies of today can and will 'decarbonize' the energy mix provided the right policies and incentives are in place at the international level. - Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Climate Change
The report represents a strategic tool for understanding the energy sector's development in both OECD and developing countries, says Michael Liebreich, CEO of New Energy Finance Ltd, a leading provider of research and analysis on the clean energy and carbon markets, which prepared the report for UNEP's Paris-based Sustainable Energy Finance Initiative.

The report attributes the sector's boom to a range of global concerns - climate change, increasing energy demand and energy security foremost among them.

It credits as well the November 2006 U.S. mid-term elections, which confirmed renewable energy as 'a mainstream issue', moving it up the political agenda.

Also spurring the sector's growth has been the persistently high price of oil - averaging more than $60 a barrel in 2006 (although one report conclusion is that the sector is becoming more independent of the price of oil):
"Growing consumer awareness of renewable energy and energy efficiency - and their longer term potential for cheaper energy, and not just greener energy - has become another fundamental driver. Most importantly governments and politicians are introducing legislation and support mechanisms to enable the sector's development."
Geographic distribution and scale
Other insights show some trends about where the investments are taking place:
  • Investment in sustainable energy is still mostly in OECD countries, with the US and EU together accounting for more than 70% in 2006. However, investment in developing countries is growing quickly: 21% of the global total in 2006 occurred in developing countries, compared with 15% in 2004;
  • A healthy 9% of global investment occurred in China, helped by significant asset financing activity in wind and biomass as well as the waste sectors. Investments in China came from across the spectrum, from venture capital through to public markets, "reflecting the country's increasingly prominent position in renewable energy";
  • India lagged a little behind China but was the largest buyer of companies abroad in 2006, most of them in the more established European markets;
  • Latin America took 5% of global investment, most of which financed Brazilian bio-ethanol plants;
  • Sub-Saharan Africa notably lagged behind other regions;
  • Global government and corporate research and development spending rose 25% to $16.3 billion;
  • Investments in small-scale projects rose 33% from an estimated $7 billion in 2005 to $9.3 billion in 2006.
Small-scale projects attract growing interest, driven partly by opportunities in developing countries, which stand to benefit most from small-scale installations (e.g. solar roof panels and micro turbines).
The finance community has been investing at levels that imply expected disruptive change is now inevitable in the energy sector. This report puts full stop to the idea of renewable energy being a fringe interest of environmentalists. It is now a mainstream commercial interest to investors and bankers alike. - Eric Usher, Head of the Energy Finance Unit at UNEP's Paris-based Division of Technology Industry and Economics.
This is a powerful signal of the arrival of an alternative future for today's fossil fuel-dominated energy markets, Usher adds. Signals move markets and the signal in these investment numbers is that the sustainable energy markets are becoming more liquid, more globalized and more mainstream.

This is full-scale industrial development, he added, not just a tweaking of the energy system. Growth is underpinned by a widening array of clean energy and climate policies at the federal, state and municipal levels.

With respect to the energy efficiency sector, the investment trends are harder to identify but the impacts of improving energy efficiency can be valued economically, notes Virginia Sonntag-O'Brien of UNEP's Sustainable Energy Finance Initiative (SEFI). Investments in supply side and demand side efficiency have been helping decrease global energy intensity, which on average has been dropping 1% to 1.5% per year.

Since 1990, energy efficiency has met one-half of all new demand for worldwide energy services. These savings - 3 billion tonnes of oil equivalent - have a value of $6 trillion if an average oil price of $27 is assumed. The challenge is to accelerate energy intensity improvement to levels of 2% or above, which compounded to 2030 would mean a 61% improvement from today.

Says Mohamed El-Ashry, Chair of the Renewable Energy Global Policy Network REN21: "The findings in this report are adding to the mounting evidence that renewable energy is going to play a far greater role in the energy mix than many expected."

NOTE: the full report was not yet online at the time of publishing, check back often.

More information:

UNEP: Global Trends in Sustainable Energy Investment 2007. Full report [*.pdf], June 2007.

UNEP Sustainable Energy Finance Initiative

UNEP Finance Initiative

New Energy Finance Limited

UN Foundation

Article continues

Chemists make important discovery on how enzymes work

University at Buffalo chemists report the discovery of a central mechanism responsible for the action of the powerful biological catalysts known as enzymes. They published their results in an open access article in the journal Biochemistry. The findings surprised many enzymologists.

The UB research provides critical insight into why catalysis is so complex and may help pave the way for improving the design of synthetic catalysts. Such catalysts are expected to be used widely in the production of cellulosic biofuels and in biorefining. In one such example, showing what the future may hold, scientists recently designed synthetic enzymes from scratch and found they were highly efficient in the catalytic conversion of starch and sugar (with water) into biohydrogen (previous post). The new discovery about the essence of enzymatic catalysis may spur the development of similar applications.
Enzymes are the products of billions of years of cellular evolution. Attempts to replicate evolution and design catalysts of non-biological reactions with enzyme-like activity have failed, because scientists have yet to unravel the secrets of enzyme catalysis. The more that is known about catalysis, the better chances we have of designing active catalysts. - John P. Richard, Ph.D., co-author and professor of chemistry at the UB College of Arts and Sciences
Together with Tina L. Amyes, Ph.D., UB adjunct associate professor of chemistry, Richard thinks the discovery will have the potential to transform the chemical industry in processes ranging from soft-drink manufacturing to the production of ethanol and countless other industrial processes.

While attempts to design catalysts have been somewhat successful, the catalysis that results is far less efficient than that produced by reactions with enzymes.

Non-reactive substrate portion key
Protein catalysts are distinguished by their enormous molecular weights, ranging from 10,000 to greater than 1,000,000 Daltons, whereas a synthetic molecule with a weight of 1,000 would be considered large. The recent results by Richard and Amyes provide critical insight into why effective catalysis requires such large molecules. Catalysis starts with molecular recognition of the substrate by the catalyst.

The so-called "catalytic" recognition is limited in man-made catalysts to several atoms that participate in the chemical reaction. Amyes and Richard have provided compelling evidence that interactions between enzymes and non-reacting portions of the substrate are critical for large catalytic rate accelerations:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

These findings demonstrate a simple principle of catalysis that is important for many enzymes that catalyze reactions of substrates containing phosphate groups and which can be generalized to all enzymes.

The chemistry between a catalyst and substrate occurs where groups of amino acid residues interact with the substrate. But enzymes also have domains that interact with the non-reacting parts of the substrate.

A flexible loop on the enzyme wraps around the substrate, burying it in an environment that is favorable for catalysis. In order to bury the substrate, certain interactions are necessary that allow the loop to wrap around the substrate and that is what the phosphate groups on the substrate are doing.

The UB research demonstrates just how important this process is to catalysis. Richard and Amyes discovered these interactions are critical to the process of making reactions faster.

Experimental method
The critical experiment by the UB researchers was to clip the covalent bond that links the phosphate groups to the substrate. "We have found that the interactions between phosphate groups and several enzymes are used to promote the chemistry even in the absence of a covalent linkage," said Richard. "These results have surprised many enzymologists."

To conduct the research, Richard and Amyes developed a specialized and technically difficult assay for enzyme activity that uses nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to detect chemical reactions that would normally be invisible.

Image: Nature breaks and forms the strongest chemical bonds with incomparable efficiency using enzymatic catalysis. In living cells enzymes catalyze, for instance, the synthesis of proteins and DNA, the cleavage of carbohydrates and proteins and the transformation of toxic side products of the respiration cycle into harmless compounds. In each case the chemical transformation occurs with high selectivity and at an exceptionally high rate under physiological conditions. The major source of the catalytic power of enzymes is the stabilization of the transition state relative to the reactant and in certain cases and to a smaller extent an increase of tunneling effects. The combined catalytic effects lead to rate enhancements of up to 1019 relative to the uncatalyzed reaction in solution. The image shows the structure of an enzyme, endoprotease thermolysin. The active site is depicted in stick and ball representation. Thermolysin catalyzes the cleavage of peptide bonds by 5-7 orders of magnitude relative to alkaline hydrolysis in aqueous solution.

More information:
Tina L. Amyes and John P. Richard, "Enzymatic Catalysis of Proton Transfer at Carbon: Activation of Triosephosphate Isomerase by Phosphite Dianion", Biochemistry, 2007; 46(19) pp 5841 - 5854; (Article) DOI: 10.1021/bi700409b

University at Buffalo: How Enzymes Work: UB Chemists Publish A Major Discovery - June 20, 2007.

Article continues

Students patent biopolymer made from biodiesel and wine byproducts

A team of undergraduate engineering students at Oregon State University has discovered that blending byproducts from biodiesel production and winemaking produces an environmentally friendly, biodegradable polymer that could one day replace polystyrene foam. It may also be valuable in the manufacture of furniture, particle board, fire logs, insulation and even hair gel.

The process is so unique and potentially marketable that the students have applied for a patent to protect their intellectual property, said David Hackleman, the Linus Pauling Chair at the OSU College of Engineering.

Christen Glarborg, Patrick O’Connor, Heather Paris and Alana Warner-Tuhy – all seniors studying chemical engineering – delved into combining glycerin, a byproduct of biodiesel production, and tartaric acid, an organic crystalline byproduct of wine production used widely as a food additive. The production of biodiesel produces a lot of glycerin (glycerol), which is why researchers are looking into using it for new applications and products (earlier post and references there).

When put together, glycerin and tartaric acid make a hard, bubbly polymer. The material biodegrades in water. Dr. Hackleman suggested the students try to mold it into a tray, to make a product similar to the polystyrene foam trays used to pack meat, as you find them in the supermarket.

But their first experiments resulted in a rock-hard mess: think of cooking taffy too long, so that it sticks so hard, you have to throw the pot away. The young researchers persevered until they produced a more manageable glue, which they decided to try mixing with other byproducts such as sawdust and woodchips.

A material that was moldable, though somewhat tacky came out of it. After heating eat in an oven to see if it would firm up, it seemed they were possibly onto a particleboard for “green” building. They found that at 600 degrees, the polymer vaporized. This brought them to consider its use as ash-free logs or pellets for heating:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

While the students continued exploring possibilities, Hackleman knew enough about entrepreneurship to realize they should begin the process of protecting their intellectual property. He steered them to OSU’s Office of Technology Transfer, where their invention disclosure was brought to the stage of “patent pending.”

The students are now focused on testing and refining the polymer for strength and biodegradability. While it is not yet clear whether or not the technology will make it to commercialization, it’s certainly a boost for the students, Hackleman said.

The team won "Best Chemical Engineering Project" and was runner-up for "People’s Choice Award" at OSU’s eighth annual Engineering Expo in May. The team members displayed their research among more than 100 student design projects and product prototypes.

"I’m delighted, but not totally surprised, that they can now add to their report the words ‘patent application pending,’" Hackleman said.

Image: glycerin settles at the bottom of a tank of biodiesel. For each tonne of biodiesel produced, some 100kg of glycerin becomes available as a byproduct.

Article continues

Eni to produce green diesel from vegetable oils based on UOP's hydrogenation technology

UOP LLC, a Honeywell company, and Italian oil and gas company Eni SpA announced [*.pdf] that Eni will build a production facility using 'Ecofining technology' to produce second-generation diesel from catalytic hydroprocessing of vegetable oils. The advantage of the technology is that it can be integrated into existing petroleum refineries, thereby reducing costs. The resulting bio-based diesel's fuel properties are superior to biodiesel based on the transesterification of plant oil.

The new facility, to be located in Livorno, Italy, will process 6,500 barrels per day of vegetable oils to supply European refineries with a high-cetane green diesel fuel, to meet growing demand for high-quality, clean fuels and biofuels throughout Europe.

It will be the first facility to use the Ecofining technology developed by UOP and Eni. UOP has already completed the basic design for the first unit, which is expected to come online in 2009. Eni, a leading European oil company with operations in 70 countries and 2006 revenues of more than €86 billion, also plans to install several additional Ecofining units at its other wholly-owned and affiliate refineries throughout Europe.
This project is part of Eni’s overall commitment to sustainabilityThis facility will both provide significant value to Eni’s refining operations by producing an ultra-high-quality diesel and fulfilling the proposed European target to grow the renewable energy supply to 12 percent by 2010. - Eni CEO Paolo Scaroni
UOP announced its efforts to develop commercially viable solutions for renewable energy in refineries with the creation of its Renewable Energy & Chemicals business unit in late 2006. The Ecofining process for green diesel is its first renewable technology offering.

The Ecofining process uses catalytic hydroprocessing technology to convert vegetable oils to a green diesel fuel. The product, a direct substitute for diesel fuel, features a high cetane value (the measure of the combustion quality of diesel) of approximately 80. Compared to diesel or first generation biodiesel found at the pump today (table, click to enlarge), which ranges from 40 to 60 cetane, green diesel offers value as a blending stock for refiners seeking to enhance existing diesel fuels and expand the diesel pool:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The hydrogeneation technology is similar to the second-generation biodiesel production process developed by Brazil's Petrobras ('H-Bio') and is attracting increasing interest from oil companies (amongst them Portugal's Galp Energia, earlier post). The process for green diesel production uses existing refinery and fuel distribution infrastructure [*.pdf] while at the same time producing a high-quality renewable fuel, says Jennifer Holmgren, director of UOP’s Renewable Energy & Chemicals business unit.

UOP LLC, headquartered in Des Plaines, Illinois, USA, is a leading international supplier and licensor of process technology, catalysts, adsorbents, process plants, and consulting services to the petroleum refining, petrochemical, and gas processing industries. UOP is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Honeywell International, Inc. and is part of Honeywell’s Specialty Materials strategic business group.

More information:
Michael J. McCall, T.L. Marker, J. Petri, D. Mackowiak-UOP LLC
S. Czernik-NREL D. Elliott-PNNL D. Shonnard-MTU, "Opportunities for Biorenewables in Petroleum Refineries" [*.pdf], 2005.

Biopact: GALP Energia invests €225 million in 'H-biodiesel' - March 16, 2007


Article continues

Software company profits from ethanol boom in the U.S.

Large companies are the driving forces in the biofuels sector. Both agribusinesses and oil companies have a big stake in the production of feedstocks and their conversion into liquid fuels. But what often goes unnoticed is the large number of small and medium enterprises that are benefiting tremendously from the global expansion of biofuels. Ethanol and biodiesel stimulate development and innovation in engineering, logistics, agronomy, biotechnology, consulting and a range of other services.

Over at Ethablog, Henrique Oliveira shows how in Brazil SMEs are flocking around the sector and thriving because of its expansion. Another example comes from the U.S. where Pavilion Technologies, a developer of model-based control software, has enjoyed a surge of new customer wins for a package that predicts and monitors the process flow of ethanol production. Its sales in the sector have grown 300% year over year.

Pavillion's ethanol market share has increased to more than 20 percent of all ethanol plants that are operational in the U.S. today. Producers including East Kansas Agri-Energy, VeraSun Energy, Mid-Missouri Energy, Quad County Corn Processors and Yuma Ethanol have selected its 'Ethanol Solution' to increase production, improve yields and reduce energy costs. Pavilion’s model-predictive control (MPC) solutions are now used by 25 leading manufacturers in the production of more than a billion gallons of ethanol per year.

The software optimizes plant performance by tracking the fermentation, dryer, evaporator, thermal oxidizer, mole sieve and distillation processes, as well as full plant-wide deployment. Reduced energy utilization and increase ethanol yield across the plant is the result. Specific results include:
  • Increased ethanol production by two to 10 percent
  • Increased ethanol yields by 2.5 to five percent
  • Reduced energy costs by three to six percent
  • Reduced product quality variability by 50 percent
  • Reduced air emissions by up to 20 percent.
The suite of control, environmental compliance and performance management applications across all key areas of the ethanol production process – fermentation, dryer, evaporator, thermal oxidizer, mole sieve and distillation – is increasingly being picked up by green fuel producers:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The package is a modular software platform based on a modern Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) and a predictive modeling analytic engine. It combines powerful technology for modeling, control, monitoring, analysis, warehousing, visualization and integration to provide ethanol solutions with fast time-to-value and high sustained value to capitalize on dynamic market opportunities.

“Biofuels is an arena that is seeing tremendous innovation. We are thrilled to be a part of that innovation by providing ethanol manufacturers with leading-edge technologies that enhance profitability today. Pavilion’s commitment to delivering financial and environmental benefits to our customers is evidenced by our 300 percent year over year sales growth in the ethanol industry,” said Ralph Carter, CEO, Pavilion Technologies.

The success of Pavillion Technologies is just one example of how the biofuels sector is boosting innovation and development that leaves room for smaller, highly specialized service providers. The fact that bioenergy and biofuels production is in principle ubiquitous (all countries with an agricultural potential can participate in the sector) but highly site-specific (rooted in local agro-ecological conditions) creates a series of specific niches (e.g. plantation management software for a specific crop).

At the same time, the production of green energy has an impact on a range of broad economic sectors (from agriculture, transportation and logistics, to the automotive industry and biotechnology), all of which stand to benefit from the 'bioeconomy'.

Article continues

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Tanzania to become first African member of the UN's Global Bio-Energy Partnership

Quicknote bioenergy policy
Tanzania is set to become the first African country to join the Global Bio-Energy Partnership (GBEP).

The partnership is a multilateral body with a mandate to facilitate a global political forum to promote bioenergy and to encourage the production, marketing and use of green fuels, with particular focus on developing countries.

Currently the GBEP includes 10 national member-states (Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, the United States) and leading international institutions such as the FAO, IEA, UNCTAD, UN/DESA, UNDP, UNEP, UNIDO, UN Foundation, World Council for Renewable Energy and the European Biomass Industry Association.

Tanzania would be allowed to join as a national member-state. "Tanzania has principally been accepted to join the GBEP with the condition that it agrees to adhere to the terms of reference of the global body," says Arcado Ntagazwa, executive director of Kitomondo Plantations Ltd.

The executive director was quoted by Dar-Es-Salaam based This Day newspaper as saying that bio-energy farming in Tanzania currently involves plantations of oil-producting perennial crops such as jatropha, neem, moringa and pongamia pinata. He said that the seeds of these plants would not only provide efficient biofuels like biodiesel but also environmental-friendly and sustainably produced fuels.

Next month (30-31 July 2007), the GBEP will launch a dialogue with African Countries in Addis Ababa [entry ends here].
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::


Article continues

The 'Canal of the Savannah': colossal biofuel project in Brazil's semi-arid northeast

Earlier we mentioned a public-private partnership between the Japanese trading company Itochu and Brazil's state-owned oil firm Petrobras, aimed at producing biofuels in Brazil's poorest and most arid region, the so-called Nordeste. More details have now emerged and the dimensions of the project are being described as 'truly colossal'. It is part of the old dream of developing the 'Canal do Sertão' ('Canal of the Savannah') that brings water for irrigation to the dry interior. The global transition to biofuels makes the visionary project a reality.

'Canal of the Savannah'
Because of its arid climate, Brazil's Nordeste has traditionally been the poorest zone of the vast country. Millions of mainly black rural families have steadily migrated away from the region over the past decades to settle in the rapidly growing mega-cities to the North and the South, where they often end up in slums. For a long time, promises to build the so-called Canal of the Savannah - a vast irrigation project aimed at tackling deep-rooted rural poverty - kept the 'Nordestinos' dreaming of a better future. Even though several projects have been underway, progress has been slow (see the overview of the Projeto Canal do Sertão Alagoano at the Ministry of National Integration).

The agreement signed between Itochu and Petrobras is now seen as leap towards making the vision finally a reality. The 500 kilometer irrigation network will connect 16 municipalities in the State of Pernambuco, cross the state of Alagoas and link up with Lake Sobradinho, in Bahia (map, click to enlarge). Not less than 150,000 hectares of energy plantations will be established alongside the canal, with sugarcane for ethanol and oleaginous plants such as castor beans and jatropha for biodiesel as the main crops. It will be the largest irrigation work ever undertaken in northeastern Brazil. The vast project will offer direct employment opportunities to 50,000 of the region's rural poor. Over the long-term it will boost agriculture in the region that was long seen as 'lost'.

According to Pernambuco's Minister of Regional Development, Geddel Vieira Lima, the total cost for the construction of the Canal of the Savannah is estimated to be around US$ 1.2 billion:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The memorandum of understanding for the Canal, signed in Tokyo (June 8), shows an initial series of investments of 56 million Brazilian reais (US$ 29.3 million), that break down as follows: Itochu and Petrobras, of 20 million reais (US$ 10.4 million). The public-private partnership also counts on the participation of the São Francisco and Parnaíba Valley Development Company (Codevasf), which contributes 16 million reais (US$ 8.3 million), and from the state and federal governments, who will contribute another 20 million reais from the Growth Acceleration Program (PAC) of the Brazilian government.

According to the president of the Union of the Sugar and Alcohol Industry of the Pernambuco State (Sindaçúcar-PE), Renato Cunha, after the implementation of the irrigation project, the state will have an additional production of 10 million tonnes of cane. Presently, all of the 16 million tonnes produced come only from coastal areas.

To Cunha, bioenergy is a highly promising sector and with the Canal, the state is now entering a new phase. "Being able to use cane bagasse to produce ethanol and biodiesel is a great opportunity, because this way we are managing to attract foreign capital,” he said. According to him, Itochu is interested in the project because Japan intends to increase the share of clean fuels in its energy matrix and it wants to import the biofuels from countries where they can be grown sustainably.

Economic and social devlopment
To the engineering director at the Codevasf, Clementino Coelho, the aim of the project is to make families of small farmers benefit. 50,000 direct jobs will be created, and later on, the canal will boost agriculture further. "We will map the appropriate areas for each type of specific culture. There is lots of fertile land in conditions of serving the agricultural sector, but it is not explored due to lack of water,” he explains.

Under Brazil's President Inácio Lula da Silva, the country launched a new Pro-Biodiesel plan, analogous to the Pro-Alcool programme that was introduced in the 1970s. The difference is that this time accompanying legislation has been adopted that makes social inclusion of small farmers and poor rural families a reality. The so-called 'Social Fuel' legislation is explicitly aimed at providing poverty alleviation in the Nordeste. It contains a range of incentives that make it feasible for biofuel producers to source their biomass from small producers.

Applying the legislation in practise, and to set an example, Petrobras has been experimenting with the production of biodiesel feedstock by such cooperatives of small farmers - with success. The farmers not only enjoy a boost in income security, their food security is enhanced as well, because food and fuel production are integrated.

The Social Fuel policy will form the basis for the projects alongside the Canal. According to Cunha, finally the interior of the state of Pernambuco - long seen as lost for development - will become viable for agriculture and capable of attracting investment from the public and private sector, while boosting social development.

Exports to Japan
The project provides that the 150,000 hectares will be turned to the planting of sugarcane for production of alcohol fuel, and of other cultures for production of biodiesel. Of this hectarage, 115,000 will be found in the state of Pernambuco, and the remainder in the north of the state of Bahia. The production of ethanol and biodiesel will cater to the expanding Japanese market.

Annually, Japan consumes 400 million litres of alcohol, with a 3% rate of addition of the fuel to gasoline. The Japanese law forecasts that the rate should increase up to 15%, due to international commitments for reducing emission of pollutant gases into the atmosphere. Thus, alcohol consumption will rise to 1.5 billion litres. Itochu, also in the field of fuel supply, currently operates 2,200 stations in Japan.

More information:
ANBA: Agreement ensures alcohol and biodiesel production in northeastern Brazil - June 19, 2007

IPCDigital: Japoneses e Petrobras serão sócios no “Canal do Sertão” - June 13, 2007.

Programa Parcerias Publico-Privadas de Pernambuco: Petrobras investe no Canal do Sertão - Estatal aplicará R$ 20 mi em estudos atenta à exportação de biocombustíveis - January 16, 2007.

Biopact: An in-depth look at Brazil's "Social Fuel Seal" - March 23, 2007

Article continues

China's oil majors launch new biodiesel projects, energy plantations

All of China's oil giants are currently vying for a leading position in the development of biofuels, which are considered the most viable alternative to fossil fuels, according to industry insiders who attended an industry forum over the weekend, Chinese state media reported. China has set an ambitious biofuel target of 12 million tons by 2020 (earlier post).
An official recently said China may consider reducing the use of food crops to achieve that goal in a sustainable way (previous post). Even though this is not yet an official policy, China's oil majors have understood the message and are investing in several biodiesel projects based on non-food feedstocks for which they are establishing energy plantations. Meanwhile, four new non-grain based ethanol plants have been approved by the state.

The projects were announced in a report released at the China-ASEAN Forum on Developing Petrochemicals and Biomass Energy Resources. An overview of the new initiatives.

Biodiesel
China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC), the country's third largest oil company:
  • location: a biodiesel refining facility in southern China's island province of Hainan will be established by the end of the year; the new facility will be located in Hainan's Dongfang City
  • capacity: 50 million liters (13.2 million gallons) of biodiesel annually in its first phase
  • feedstock: initially to be fed with palm oil sourced from Southeast Asia
  • energy plantation: 6,666 hectares (16,470 acres) of Jatropha curcas in Hainan Province; once large scale production of the nut is achieved, it is likely to replace palm oil as the raw material for the Hainan facility
China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC), the country's largest oil company plans to construct two sets of experimental, next-generation biodiesel production facilities:
  • location: one set of facilities in the city of Nanchong in Sichuan Province, another set with a in Shandong Province.
  • capacity: the Shandong plant will have an annual capacity of 100 million liters (26.4 million gallons); the Nanchong project will initially produce 10 million liters (2.6 million gallons) of biodiesel a year, with production expected to grow 10 fold to 100 million liters annually by 2010
  • feedstock: for the Nanchong project initially locally sourced Jatropha curcas oil, later on vegetable oils from other regions in Sichuan, notably Panzhihua; for the Shandong plant, CNPC signed an agreement with the provincial government to develop bioenergy feedstocks
  • energy plantation: CNPC's Southwest Oil and Gas Field Branch has signed an agreement with the municipal government of Panzhihua to earmark RMB 2 billion (US$262.5 million) for the plantation of 120,000 hectares (296,500 acres) of Jatropha curcas near the city by 2015.
China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. (Sinopec), the country's second largest oil company, is not far behind in the race to secure a share of the biofuel market:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

  • location: one plant in Sichuan province's Panzhihua region, anothe in northern Hebei Province
  • capacity: the Panzhihua plant will have a capacity of100 million liters of next generation, synthetic biodiesel annually; the Hebei plant wil have an output of 2000 tons per year
  • feedstock: woody biomass
  • energy plantation: 26,700 to 33,300 hectares (65,980 - 82,290 acres) of energy forests intended for use as raw material


In another development, UK biodiesel producer D1 Oils plans to invest up to 700 million yuan (€68.5/US$91.2 million) to construct a biodiesel refinery in southwestern China's Guangxi region with Jatropha curcas oil as its feedstock.

The plant will be set up in a new petrochemical industry park in Baise city in northwestern Guangxi. Scheduled to be completed by the end of next year or early 2009, it will have an initial processing capacity of 10,000 tons, rising to 100,000 over five years.

At present, China has around 3 million tons of annual biodiesel production capacity under construction or in various stages of planning, according to the report. The country aims to have biofuels account for 15 percent of its total transportation fuel consumption by 2020. By comparison, the European Union has set itself a target of 20 percent for the same period.

Ethanol
Meanwhile, four new ethanol plants that use non-food feedstocks have been approved by the State. The combined capacity is an impressive annual production of around 7.5 million tons by 2015, according to an expert from a State food watchdog.

The projects are located in the autonomous regions of Inner Mogolia and Guangxi Zhuang and the provinces of Hebei and Shandong.

They boast an ample supply of cassava and other biomaterials, which can be manufactured into ethanol with less cost and little environmental impact, according to experts at a food seminar held in Kunming in April.

China National Cereals, Oils & Foodstuffs Corp (COFCO), is building the four new plants. It also has a stake in three of existing grain-based ethanol plants. "COFCO will hopefully get 70 percent market share of ethanol production within three years," Yang Hong, manager with the department of wheat under COFCO, said. According to Cao, with the operation of the new plants, the proportion of corn in ethanol-production will drop from the present 90 percent to 70 percent after 2009.

More information:
China Securities Journal: Overseas food not China's staple - April 26, 2007.
Interfax China: China's oil giants vying for bio-diesel market - June 18, 2007.
Forbes: UK's D1 plans 700 mln yuan China biodiesel investment - report - June 17, 2007.

Article continues

Report: biofuel distribution remains a bottleneck in the U.S.

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released [*.pdf] an small report on its experience with utilizing biofuels in its fleet. The document shows some of the bottlenecks that must still be removed before the green fuels can penetrate the market on a large scale. It also provides some policy recommendations.

The GAO was asked to describe the status of and impediments to expanding biofuel production, distribution infrastructure, and compatible vehicles as well as federal policy options to overcome the impediments. The organisation was also asked to assess the extent to which the US Department of Energy (DOE) has developed a strategic approach to coordinate the expansion of biofuel production, infrastructure, and vehicles and has evaluated the effectiveness of biofuel tax credits. GAO interviewed representatives and reviewed studies and data from DOE, states, industry, and other sources. It also did some tests with its own fleet.

Especially the logistics and distribution of finished biofuel products remains a problem:
Existing biofuel distribution infrastructure has limited capacity to transport the fuels and deliver them to consumers. Biofuels are transported largely by rail, and the ability of that industry to meet growing demand is uncertain. In addition, in early 2007, about 1 percent of fueling stations in the United States offered E85—a blend of about 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline—or high blends of biodiesel, such as B20 or higher.
Increasing the availability of E85 at fueling stations is impeded largely by the limited availability of ethanol for use in high blends. Several policy options, such as mandating their installation, could increase the number of biofuel dispensers in stations. However, until more biofuel is available at a lower cost, it is unlikely that more fueling stations would lead to significantly greater biofuels use.

When it comes to the end user and his car, the hurdles are high but can be taken because of a commitment by major car manufacturers to offer biofuel capable vehicles:
In 2006, an estimated 4.5 million flexible fuel vehicles (FFV) capable of operating on ethanol blends up to E85 were in use — an estimated 1.8 percent of the nearly 244 million U.S. vehicles. The number of FFVs may increase substantially because of a recent commitment by DaimlerChrysler, Ford, and General Motors to increase FFV production to compose about 50 percent of their annual production by 2012.
Several policy options, such as a tax credit for FFV production, could increase the number of FFVs, the GAO says, but this would likely have little impact on biofuel use until E85 is less expensive and more widely available:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The GAO thinks the US Department of Energy has not yet developed a comprehensive approach to coordinate its strategy for expanding biofuels production with the development of biofuel infrastructure and production of vehicles:
Such an approach could assist in determining which blend of ethanol — E10, E85, or something in between — would most effectively and efficiently increase the use of the fuel and what infrastructure development or vehicle production is needed to support that blend level.
In addition, DOE has not evaluated the performance of biofuel-related tax credits, the largest of which cost the Treasury US$2.7billion in 2006. As a result, it is not known if these expenditures produced the desired outcomes or if similar benefits might have been achieved at a lower cost.

The GAO recommended that:
  1. the Secretary of Energy collaborate with public and private sector stakeholders to develop a strategic approach that coordinates expected biofuel production with distribution infrastructure and vehicle production, and
  2. the Secretary of Energy collaborate with the Secretary of the Treasury to evaluate and report on the extent to which biofuel-related tax expenditures are achieving their goals.
The US DOE reviewed a draft of this report and generally agreed with the findings and recommendations.

More information:
U.S. Government Accountability Office: Biofuels: DOE Lacks a Strategic Approach to Coordinate Increasing Production with Infrastructure Development and Vehicle Needs - June 2007.

Article continues

CFM successfully tests 30% biofuel in jet engine

Another major milestone for aviation biofuels has been announced by CFM International. The company has successfully carried out an initial test of a CFM56-7B engine using an ester-type biofuel at Snecma's Villaroche facility near Paris.

The CFM56-7B turbofan is the exclusive engine for the Boeing Next-Generation Single-aisle airliner. Over 4000 of them are already in service in airplanes such as the Boeing 737-600/700/800, the 737-900, the P-8A, the Boeing Business Jet and numerous other (military) aircraft. Boeing is very active in developing biofuels for aviation, and recently announced it aims for a target of blending 50% biofuel with jet fuels (earlier post). CFM56 engines are produced by CFM International (CFM), a 50/50 joint company of Snecma (Safran Group) and General Electric Company.

The biofuel used for this test is 30 percent vegetable oil methyl ester blended with 70 percent conventional Jet-A1 fuel. This test was designed to check the operation of a jet engine using a fuel made from biomass, without making any technical changes to the engine. With this type of biofuel, the target is a net reduction of 20 percent in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions compared with current fuels.
Our goal is to support the industry in identifying replacements for traditional hydrocarbon-based fuels, including synthetic fuels that use a mixture of biofuels and jet fuel. - Pierre Thouraud, Snecma Vice-president engineering.
CFM is running engine tests to develop solutions based on mixtures of jet fuel and second-generation biofuels. For instance, it is currently focusing on the evaluation of alternative fuels made using biomass (offering properties closer to those of jet fuel), which also offer better environmental performance. Along with its parent companies, CFM International is participating in a number of emissions-focused initiatives, including the U.S. CAP (Climate Action Partnership), French Calin, and European Alpha-Bird programs.

For alternative fuels to be used in the aviation industry, there are a number of major technology challenges that must be met, including energy density, thermal stability (avoiding coking at high temperature), use at very low temperatures (freezing) or high temperatures, lubricating effect with materials used, and the availability of mass production facilities worldwide:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

"CFM International is satisfied with this first CFM56 engine test using a biofuel, another major step towards an ecologically friendly Jet engine delete economy," said Eric Bachelet, president and CEO of CFM.

The engine
The CFM56-7B is the exclusive engine for the Boeing Next-Generation Single-aisle airliner: 737-600/-700/-800/-900. Thrust ranges from 18,500 to 27,300 lbs.

Over 4,000 CFM56-7B engines are in service as part of the most popular engine/aircraft team in commercial aviation. The -7, with it's swept fan and advanced compressor is among the most modern, efficient and reliable turbofans ever. More than 500 airlines fly CFM56-7B-powered 737s and, since entering service in the mid-90s, they have accumlated over 50 Million flight hours. All CFM56-7B engines delivered beginning in mid 2007 will be compliant with future CAEP/6 environmental requirements.

The CFM56-7B also powers the Boeing/GE BBJ (Boeing Business Jet) and 737 military variants including transports special mission aircraft.
CFM has long been a leader in working to reduce fuel consumption, greenhouse gases, polluting emissions and noise and pioneered new technologies to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), hydrocarbons and visible smoke.

Article continues

Monday, June 18, 2007

Report: Arctic spring comes weeks earlier than a decade ago


The harsh winters of the High Arctic are giving way to spring weeks earlier than they did just a decade ago, researchers have reported in the cover story of the June 19th issue of Current Biology. The finding in the Arctic, where the effects of global warming are expected to be most severe, offers an early warning of things to come on the rest of the planet, according to the researchers.

Despite uncertainties in the magnitude of expected global warming over the next century, one consistent feature of extant and projected changes is that Arctic environments are and will be exposed to the greatest warming. Dr. Toke T. Høye of the National Environmental Research Institute, University of Aarhus, Denmark, observed the early arrival of spring at a study site in Zackenberg, northeast Greenland (see map, click to enlarge). The study confirms what many people already think, that the seasons are changing and that it is not just one or two warm years but a strong trend seen over a decade.
We were particularly surprised to see that the trends were so strong when considering that the entire summer is very short in the High Arctic - with just three to four months from snowmelt to freeze up at our Zackenberg study site in northeast Greenland. - Dr. Toke T. Høye, National Environmental Research Institute, University of Aarhus.
To uncover the effects of warming, the researchers turned to phenology, the study of the timing of familiar signs of spring seen in plants, butterflies, birds, and other species. Shifts in phenology are considered one of the clearest and most rapid signals of biological response to rising temperatures, Høye explained:

:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Yet most long-term records of phenological events have come from much milder climes. For example, recent comprehensive studies have reported advancements of 2.5 days per decade for European plants and 5.1 days per decade across animals and plants globally.

Using the most comprehensive data set available for the region, the researchers now document extremely rapid climate-induced advancement of flowering, emergence, and egg-laying in a wide array of High Arctic species. Indeed, they show that the flowering dates in six plant species, median emergence dates of twelve arthropod species, and clutch initiation dates in three species of birds have advanced, in some cases by over 30 days during the last decade. The average advancement across all time series was 14.5 days per decade.

They also found considerable variation in the response to climate change even within species, he added, with much stronger shifts in plants and animals living in areas where the snow melts later in the year. That variation could lead to particular problems by disrupting the complex web of species interactions, Høye said.

Toke T. Høye's research team included Eric Post of Pennsylvania State University in University Park, PA; Hans Meltofte of the University of Aarhus in Roskilde (NERI), Denmark; Niels M. Schmidt and Mads C. Forchhammer of the University of Aarhus in Roskilde (NERI), Denmark and the Centre for Integrated Population Ecology.

The researchers were supported by the the Danish Environmental Protection Agency for their monitoring programmes at Zackenberg Research Station, and by the Danish Agency for Science, Technology and Innovation.

Image: Spring at the Zackenberg Research Station, northeast Greenland.

More information:
Høye et al., "Rapid advancement of spring in the High Arctic", Current Biology 17, R449-451, June 19, 2007 [reference to article not yet online at the time of writing].

Article continues

U.S. push for biofuels causes oil industry to scale back refinery expansion

A few days ago, OPEC threatened consumers and governments that green fuels will push prices for oil products even higher, because the global rise of biofuels may make OPEC countries decide to slow down their oil production expansion. The announcement was seen as scare-mongering by many and condemned by the chief of the International Energy Organisation, who said biofuels do not have that large an impact as OPEC thinks. He urged OPEC countries, who have been making gigantic profits, to do their duty and to invest in increased production (earlier post).

Now, a similar tone is being used by the oil industry in the US, equally enjoying windfall profits. Oil executives warn that America's very ambitious proposed legislation on biofuels - currently being debated in Congress - might make oil refiners decide to scale back their expansion plans. This could keep gasoline and diesel prices high for years to come.

The irony of these statements is that communities and governments have been investing in biofuels precisely because oil prices and refined products have been at record highs. Oil companies have been making monster profits, and should be using this money to invest in expanding production and refining capacity. But they don't, and now they blame biofuels instead. Oil companies already have scaled expansion plans back by nearly 40 percent. They threaten with more cancelations if Congress passes the legislation now before the Senate.
All the talk about biofuels threatening gasoline production is the latest attempt to blame ethanol on Big Oil's failure to meet our energy needs. The ethanol industry continues to grow while oil refiners continue to make excuses for maintaining their profitable status quo. - Ron Lamberty of the American Coalition for Ethanol
The U.S. Senate is currently debating the major new Energy Bill, which contains proposals for huge increases in ethanol production. The latest (of over 100) amendments include a call for an expansion of the renewable fuels standard (RFS) to 44 billion gallons by 2022, with 30 billion of that coming from advanced biofuels. The current language in the bill proposes a 36 billion gallon RFS by 2022, with 21 billion of that coming from renewable fuels. A three-part list of these ongoing discussions and amendments can be found here (part1, part 2 and part 3).

Given this radical effort to promote biofuels in the U.S., oil companies see growing uncertainty about future gasoline demand and little need to expand refineries or build new ones. Oil industry executives no longer believe there will be the demand for gasoline over the next decade to warrant the billions of dollars in refinery expansions - as much as 10 percent increase in new refining capacity - they anticipated as recently as a year ago:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

This shortage of refineries frequently has been blamed by politicians for the sharp price spikes in gasoline, as was the case last week by Republican Sen. James Inhofe during the debate on the senate Energy Bill: "The fact is that Americans are paying more at the pump because we do not have the domestic capacity to refine the fuels consumers demand", Inhofe complained as he tried unsuccessfully to get into the bill a proposal to ease permitting and environmental rules for refineries.

This spring, refiners, hampered by outages, could not keep up with demand and imports were down because of greater fuel demand in Europe and elsewhere. Despite stable - even sometimes declining - oil prices, gasoline prices soared to record levels and remain well above $3 a gallon.

Consumer advocates maintain the oil industry likes it that way: "By creating a situation of extremely tight supply, the oil companies gain control over price at the wholesale level," said Mark Cooper of the Consumer Federation of America. He argued that a wave of mergers in recent years created a refining industry that "has no interest in creating spare (refining) capacity."

Only last year, the Energy Department was told that refiners, reaping big profits and anticipating growing demand, were looking at boosting their refining capacity by more than 1.6 million barrels a day, a roughly 10 percent increase. That would be enough to produce an additional 37 million gallons of gasoline daily. But now the expansion has come to a halt, and the oil industry says it may cancel even more expansion plans if Congress approves the Energy Bill's ambitious targets for biofuels.

"These (expansion) decisions are being revisited in boardrooms across the refining sector," said Charlie Drevna, executive vice president of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association.
With the anticipated growth in biofuels, "your getting down to needing little or no additional gasoline production" above what is being made today, said Joanne Shore, an analyst for the government's Energy Information Administration. In 2006, motorists used 143 billion gallons (541 billion liters) of gasoline, of which 136 billion was produced by U.S. refineries, and the rest imported.

Drevna, the industry lobbyist, said annual demand had been expected to grow to about 161 billion gallons (609 billion liters) by 2017. But Bush's call to cut gasoline demand by 20 percent - through a combination of fuel efficiency improvements and ethanol - would reduce that demand below what U.S. refineries make today, he said.

"We will end up exporting gasoline," said Drevna. Asked recently whether Chevron Corp. might build a new refinery, vice chairman Peter Robertson replied, "Why would I invest in a refinery when you're trying to make 20 percent of the gasoline supply ethanol".

Valero Corp., the largest U.S. refiner producing 3.3 million barrels a day of petroleum product, recently boosted production capacity at its Port Arthur, Texas, refinery by 325,000 barrels a day. But company spokesman Bill Day said some additional expansions have been postponed.
"That's not to say we've changed our plans," Day said in an interview. "But it's fair to say we're taking a closer look at what the president is saying and what Congress is saying" about biofuels. He said there's a "mixed message" coming out of Washington, calling for more production but also for reducing gasoline demand. "It's something that we have to study pretty carefully," said Day.

Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan said consolidation of the oil industry into fewer companies has left them with no incentive to expand refineries. "It's a perverted system that does not act as a free market system would act," said Dorgan. "If you narrow the neck of refining, you actually provide a greater boost to prices which is a greater boost to profitability. Richard Blumenthal, the attorney general of Connecticut, wants Congress to require refiners to maintain a supply cushion in case of unexpected outages.

In the 1980s, Blumenthal said at a recent hearing, refiners were producing at 77.6 percent of their capacity, "which allowed for easy increases in production to address shortages. In the 1990s, as the industry closed refineries, ... (that figure) rose to 91.4 percent, leaving little room for expansion to cover supply shortfalls."

More information:
Forbes (AP): Gasoline Refinery Expansions Scaled Back - June 18, 2007.

GreenCarCongress: Update on the US Senate Energy Bill, part 1, part 2, part 3.

Reuters: U.S. law to spur new oil refineries a bust so far - June 15, 2007.

Article continues

Study: greenhouse gas balance of different energy cropping systems

In a recent open-access study published in Ecological Applications, Paul Adler from the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and colleagues compare the net production of carbon dioxide and two other greenhouse gases (GHG) associated with producing biofuels via different pathways from several bioenergy crops. Since a GHG balance includes the emissions from energy used during farming, transporting and converting the biomass into biofuels, the study also offers an energy balance of the different biofuels.

The results of the life-cycle analysis show that of all bioenergy pathways studied, the gasification of hybrid poplar and switchgrass for the production of electricity reduced GHG emissions most. A conventional-till corn–soybean–alfalfa rotation the biomass of which is converted into ethanol had the smallest potential. If the biofuels replace gasoline and diesel, the resulting reduction of GHG emissions for corn rotations was 50–65%, for reed canarygrass 120%, and about 145% and 165% for switchgrass and hybrid poplar, respectively (figure 1, click to enlarge).

Interestingly, the author briefly analyses the GHG-reduction potential of using biomass in so-called carbon capture and storage systems (CCS). Such 'Bio-Energy with Caron Storage (BECS) systems offer carbon-negative energy and could take historic GHG emissions out of the atmosphere (earlier post and references there).

Grasses and trees

Ethanol and biodiesel from corn and soybean are currently the main biofuel crops in the United States, but the perennial crops alfalfa, hybrid poplar, reed canarygrass, and switchgrass have been proposed as future dedicated energy crops. Rotations of annual and perennial crops are common and the diversity of individual crops will affect greenhouse gas (GHG) fluxes of the cropping system. Corn–soybean and corn–soybean–alfalfa rotations are common cropping systems in Pennsylvania. Crop residues have also been proposed as a current source of biomass for energy production including corn stover (leaves and stalks of corn), although this practice is not without controversy (earlier post).

Adler and his team looked at the GHG balance of the conversion of biomass into two types of energy. For the perennial grasses and hybrid poplar into liquid biofuels such as (celluosic) ethanol and biodiesel, and into electricity via the gasification of biomass. For the rotation crops corn, soybean and alfalfa into ethanol or biodiesel. They used the DAYCENT model to simulate the net GHG fluxes of bioenergy cropping systems in Pennsylvania for inclusion in a full assessment of GHG emissions associated with energy production from crops.

Five bioenergy cropping systems were compared:
  1. switchgrass
  2. reed canarygrass
  3. corn–soybean rotation (2 years of corn followed by 1 year of soybeans),
  4. corn–soybean–alfalfa rotation (3 years corn, 1 year soybeans, followed by 4 years of alfalfa)
  5. hybrid poplar
Conventional and no tillage were compared within the corn–soybean and corn–soybean–alfalfa rotations. All simulations were for 30 years. Adler used two scenarios: a short term scenario based on the capacity of soils to naturally store soil organic carbon (SOC); and a long term scenario based on the observation that over the course of time, soils lose some of this capacity if farmed continuously.

Crop and biofuel yields
The results show that hybrid poplar and switchgrass had the highest harvested biomass yields. Corn scored lower because it is typically grown in rotation with soybean, which is much lower yielding.

Biofuel production is directly related to crop yield but not linearly because biomass composition affects conversion efficiency. Ethanol and biodiesel yields for the individual crops ranged from 1.8 to 7.5 MJ/m²/year; corn (grain plus 50% stover) had the highest biofuel yield, hybrid poplar and switchgrass were similar but about 10–15% lower than corn, reed canarygrass was around 40% lower, and alfalfa stems and soybean grain had about 75–85% lower biofuel yields (figure 2, click to enlarge):
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The pattern between crop and biofuel yield among cropping systems was similar, with hybrid poplar comparable to switchgrass, and corn–soybean rotation, reed canarygrass, corn–soybean–alfalfa rotation having progressively lower yields. The electricity yields from gasification of biomass for cropping systems were highest for hybrid poplar and switchgrass, and reed canarygrass was around 20% lower.

The quantity of gasoline and diesel displaced by the production of ethanol and biodiesel from cropping systems followed the same pattern as ethanol/biodiesel yields, but values were lower because although the energy content of biodiesel and diesel are similar, ethanol has about two thirds the energy content of gasoline. The quantity of coal displaced by the production of electricity from gasification of biomass from cropping systems ranged from 14.7 to 18.4 MJ/m²/year for the perennial crops.


Greenhouse-gas sinks
So which factor and cropping system avoided most greenhouse gases? Displaced fossil fuel (Cdff) was the largest greenhouse gas (GHG) sink; hybrid poplar and switchgrass displaced the most fossil fuel. Hybrid poplar stored the most carbon followed by switchgrass, reed canarygrass, corn–soybean rotation, and corn–soybean–alfalfa rotation. No-till corn–soybean and corn–soybean–alfalfa rotations had higher carbon sink than conventional tillage. The amount of CO2 equivalents (CO2e) emitted from fossil fuels used in feedstock transport to the biorefinery, conversion to biofuel, and subsequent distribution was negative for the perennial grasses and hybrid poplar and positive for the grain crops when both biomass and grain were converted to ethanol or biodiesel.

Methane uptake (CCH4) was the smallest GHG sink. Hybrid poplar had the highest CCH4 at −3.98 CO2e-Cg/m²/year, the other cropping systems increased in CH4 uptake from −1.41 to −1.57 in the order of switchgrass, conventional tillage corn–soybean and corn–soybean–alfalfa rotation, reed canarygrass, and no-till corn–soybean–alfalfa and corn–soybean rotation. High CH4 uptake by hybrid poplar compared to the other systems is consistent with data from various global sites showing that mean CH4 uptake rates by deciduous forests exceed those in grasslands, cropped soils, and non-deciduous forests by a factor of 2 or more. Feedstock conversion to biofuel was a net source of energy for hybrid poplar and the perennial grasses.


Greenhouse-gas sources
The CO2e–C of N2O emissions estimated by the biogeochemical model DAYCENT were the largest GHG source. The corn–soybean rotation had the highest emissions followed by reed canarygrass, corn–soybean–alfalfa rotation, switchgrass, and hybrid poplar. As expected, estimated N2O emissions were driven largely by N inputs from fertilizers and fixation. Corn rotations under conventional tillage had slightly higher direct CN2O (CN2O Dir) than under no-till.

The relationship of direct soil N2O emissions between cropping systems calculated with the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2000) protocol differed from those predicted by DAYCENT. The N2O emissions calculated from IPCC were highest for the corn–soybean–alfalfa rotation, followed by the corn–soybean rotation and reed canarygrass; N2O emissions from hybrid poplar and switchgrass were much less. The difference between IPCC (2000)-calculated N2O emissions and DAYCENT were less than 20% for hybrid poplar, corn–soybean rotation, and reed canarygrass. However, the IPCC (2000)-calculated N2O emissions for the rotations that featured N fixers were significantly higher than DAYCENT (almost 40% and more than 50% for the corn–soybean–alfalfa rotation under conventional and no-till, respectively).

IPCC (2000) estimates of N2O emissions from switchgrass are around 35% lower than DAYCENT. Indirect N2O emissions differed widely among crops (combined with direct N2O emissions in Fig. 2d). NO3 leaching, the major source of indirect emissions in this case, ranged from ∼0.5 g N/m²/year for switchgrass, to ∼1 g N/m²/year for hybrid poplar, to more than 2 g N/m²/year for reed canarygrass and the corn rotations.

Emissions from chemical inputs were low for hybrid poplar and switchgrass and somewhat higher for the other cropping systems. Emissions from chemical inputs were high for reed canarygrass and the corn–soybean rotation largely because N fertilizer inputs are high for these crops.

Energy used for farming
The energy required for farm operations varied widely, with CO2 emissions ranging from 128 kg CO2-C ha/year for corn to to less than 20 kg CO2-C·ha−1·yr−1 for established alfalfa and switchgrass. Differences are a result of the frequency of farm implement use, the load the equipment was under during operation, and the required crop-specific equipment. These data are similar to those collected by others, but the integrated farm system model (IFSM) allowed comparison of current energy use from agricultural machinery between all farm operations under standardized conditions. (The exception was for hybrid poplar; since IFSM does not include forestry operations, data from separate sources were used.)

Perennial cropping systems can have lower agricultural machinery inputs than annual systems. The exception to this trend is hybrid poplar because energy costs of harvesting are high. Propane was used to dry corn and usually accounted for about one third of the C emissions for the corn rotations. Tillage accounted for almost 30% of the C emissions in the corn rotations but less than 10% in the switchgrass and reed canarygrass and less than 2% in hybrid poplar, where tillage was only used the first year. Harvesting was responsible for the majority of emissions for the hybrid poplar and perennial grass systems and at least 30% for the corn rotations.

Energy used for feedstock conversion

Feedstock conversion to biofuel was a net consumer of energy for all the corn, soybean, and alfalfa rotations and was also a net consumer when the grasses and hybrid poplar were gasified for electricity generation.


Net greenhouse-gas flux

Hybrid poplar and switchgrass provided the largest net GHG sinks with both systems having net CO2 e-C fluxes of less than −200 g/m²/year for the near term scenario when biomass and grain are converted to ethanol and biodiesel. The sink for reed canarygrass was about −120 g/m²/year and the sink for the conventional-till corn–soybean–alfalfa rotation was the smallest at about −50 g·m−2·yr−1 for the near-term scenario. Trends among the different cropping systems for the long-term scenario were similar, but the sinks were smaller because C storage in soil and belowground biomass was considered negligible in the long term.

The sinks were even greater when biomass was converted to electricity by gasification at the power plant, and there was a similar relationship among cropping systems. On a unit-area basis of crop production, gasification of the grasses and hybrid poplar yielded more than twice the GHG reduction than did converting these crops to ethanol. Net GHG emissions were from about −8 to −9 g CO2e-C/MJ ethanol for corn rotations, but about −18 g CO2e-C/MJ for reed canarygrass and less than −24 g CO2e-C/MJ for switchgrass and hybrid poplar. This resulted in a reduction of GHG emissions for corn rotations in the near term of about 50–65%, reed canarygrass ∼120%, and about 145% and 165% for switchgrass and hybrid poplar, respectively, compared with the life cycle of gasoline and diesel.

In the long term, where soil C sequestration was assumed to no longer occur, this resulted in a reduction of GHG emissions for corn rotations of ∼40%, reed canarygrass ∼85%, and ∼115% for switchgrass and hybrid poplar compared with the life cycle of gasoline and diesel. The GHGnet reduction from gasifying biomass instead of coal was about −64 to −70 g CO2e-C/MJ, an 85–93% reduction in greenhouse gases compared with the coal life cycle.


Conclusion
The near-term scenario used by Adler (one in which soil organic carbon (SOC) levels stay at their natural level) combined all the GHG sinks and sources evaluated in this study, and considered how using biofuels would reduce GHGnet compared to continuing to use fossil fuels in the near-term.

The displaced fossil-fuel C (Cdff) was the dominant factor in determining GHGnet. In general, switchgrass and hybrid poplar had higher yields, greater soil C sequestration, reduced GHG emission from feedstock conversion, reduced soil N2O emissions, and reduced GHG emissions from chemical input manufacture and agricultural machinery operation.

The long-term GHGnet assumed that SOC was zero because soils were equilibrated and no longer sequestering additional C. This scenario considers how using biofuels would reduce GHGnet compared to continuing to use fossil fuels in the long term. All cropping systems were still GHG sinks compared to their fossil fuel counterparts. Biofuels have been considered to have a near-zero net emission of greenhouse gases. However, coproducts such as lignin and protein, along with soil C sequestration, can reduce GHGnet, making these system sinks, and when compared with the life-cycle GHG emissions of the displaced fossil fuel, Adler's analysis shows biofuels having net GHG benefits.

Producing energy from crops is a land extensive approach to energy production. In addition to having metrics that allow easy comparison across technologies (such as GHG emissions per megajoule of fuel), to evaluate land-use implications of bioenergy cropping systems, a metric expressed in terms of policy impact per unit land area is needed. In the study cellulosic crops had higher biofuel yield and lower GHG emissions per unit land area than corn rotations. Cellulosic crops also had a greater reduction in GHG emissions per unit biofuel produced than corn rotations, resulting in greater reductions in GHG emissions associated with energy use compared with fossil fuels.

Carbon capture
Capture of CO2 from fuel production and energy generation would further increase the impact of biofuels on reducing GHGnet. Only a portion of biomass C is retained in ethanol and biodiesel. In an ethanol conversion facility for corn stover, about one third of the biomass C is converted to ethanol, the remainder of biomass C was emitted as combustion exhaust and fermentation-generated CO2. Similar proportions of biomass C were converted to ethanol in this study. Two thirds of the C could be captured at a biorefinery and nearly 100% could be captured at a biomass-gasification power plant. Spath and Mann have quantified the impact of CO2 capture for both coal and biomass-gasification systems. They found that even with CO2 capture, fossil-based systems still have greater GHG emissions per kilowatt-hour of electricity than for biomass power-generation systems without C capture.

Carbon credit markets associated with GHG mitigation strategies have been developed. Short-term strategies for mitigating greenhouse gases using biofuels include soil C sequestration. However, displacement of greenhouse gases associated with the use of fossil fuels is the only long-term mitigation mechanism when using biofuels and would be easier to track for carbon markets.

In short, the use of biofuel could reduce the net GHG flux of energy use, whether from production of liquid fuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, or generation of electricity from gasification of biomass. The choice of crop and management practices will affect the net GHG fluxes of energy use from biofuel. Cellulosic energy crops such as switchgrass and hybrid poplar have the greatest potential to reduce net emissions of energy use in the near- and long-term.

Figure 1: Comparison of the life-cycle greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions associated with the quantity of gasoline and diesel displaced by ethanol and biodiesel produced from the cropping systems (displaced fossil-fuel C [Cdff]) with the quantity of GHG emissions associated with the life cycle of biofuel (ethanol and biodiesel) production (feedstock-conversion C [CFC] + CCH4 + direct CN2O + indirect CN2O + chemical-inputs C [CCI] + agricultural-machinery C [CAgMa]); near-term includes change in system C [ΔCsys]). The percentage reduction in GHG emissions was calculated as the difference in the biofuel emissions and fossil-fuel emissions displaced from biofuel produced by a given crop expressed as a percentage of the displaced fossil-fuel emissions.

Figure 2: Crop and fuel yield from bioenergy cropping systems. Yields are expressed either as crop component (a, b) or system (c, d) yields. Corn yields assumed that only 50% of the corn stover (leaves and stalks) was harvested; alfalfa yields only contained stems, 50% of the total yield. (a) Component yields are presented; the 2-yr corn and 1-yr soybean (c2b1) rotation and 3-yr corn, 1-yr soybean, and 4-yr alfalfa (c3b1a4) rotation yields are from the conventional-tillage system. (b) All crop components were converted to ethanol except soybean grain, which was converted to biodiesel. (c) System yields were combined from crop rotations and annualized over the rotation cycle. (d) Crop component fuel yields of ethanol and biodiesel were combined to give system yields.

More information:
Paul R. Adler, Stephen J. Del Grosso, and William J. Parton, "Life-cycle assessment of net greenhouse-gas flux for bioenergy cropping systems", Ecological Applications, Volume 17, Issue 3 (April 2007), pp. 675–691.


Article continues

China EnerSave retrofits coal plants to burn biomass

As we read the depressing stories about China building a new coal-fired power plant each week, a more optimistic trend is emerging that builds on old coal plants and turns them green. China EnerSave, a company that entered the power and energy sector in 2004, apparently has found the right investment strategy: making money with a large conventional coal plant, using the profits to attract funds to build medium-scale biomass power facilities and retrofitting many small coal plants that dot the country into facilities that burn local, carbon-neutral plant matter.

Writing for Singapore's Business Times, Teh Hooi Ling explores this cascading strategy and sees that it works well. China EnerSave currently operates a 270 MW coal-fired power plant called Henan Yima Jinjiang. It acquired a 51 per cent stake in Yima in mid-Sept 2006 for US$45 million. And in the last three months of 2006, that 51 per cent stake contributed $6.3 million or 76 per cent to the group's 2006 full-year operating profit. In essence, Yima helped increased China EnerSave's 2006 net earnings to $4.8 million, from $1.1 million the year before.

Just over a month ago, China EnerSave entered into another agreement to buy over the remaining 49 per cent of Yima for US$20 million. The deal will be completed by end-July. This means the group will get 100 per cent of Yima's revenue and earnings for four months this year.

China EnerSave is also a major partner in the 2004 joint development of a greenfield project to develop a waste-to-energy plant. The 12 MW plant in Huizhou, in which it has a 71 per cent stake, started operating late last year. It will make its maiden contributions in the current financial year.

But the group's biggest bet is in biomass energy projects. It is now building three 24 MW biomass power plant projects in China. The first two - in Chengdu County and LongChang County, in Sichuan province - are scheduled for completion in 2008, while the third, in Changyi County in Shangdong, should be ready in 2009. Tay Wee Kwang, China EnerSave's executive director, said the group has managed to negotiate with the exclusive right to run a biomass plant in each of the above counties.

EnerSave's biomass power plants typically have the following properties:
  • Operational life: 30 years
  • Feedstock: agricultural waste - bamboo, rice stalks and corn stalks, with an average heating value of 3600 kcal/kg
  • 2 x 300MT direct steam biomass-to-energy system
  • generating 24 megawatts of electricity
The company has signed more than 10 exclusive memorandums of understanding to develop such biomass plants with various provincial authorities in China and is carrying out feasibility studies.

To accelerate its entry into the power industry, China EnerSave is looking into opportunities to acquire small coal-fired power plants that are suitable for conversion into biomass power plants:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

According to Mr Tay, to build a new 24 MW biomass plant, investment of 250 million renminbi (S$50 million) and a time frame of 20 months are required. Retrofitting a coal-fired power plant into a biomass plant needs half of that investment and takes only a year.

The AIM is to have 20 biomass power plants in China by the end of 2010.

The Chinese government gives a 0.25 renminbi subsidy for every kwH of electricity generated by biomass plants. Assuming that remains, and that China EnerSave can obtain the feedstock for its plants at the prices it expects, each plant can generate net earnings of about US$3.6 million, according to analysts' estimates. This includes carbon credits of US$1.1 million a year.

As the investment will be 40 per cent funded by equity, the return on equity works out to a decent 28 per cent.

Dedicated biomass plants
Biomass power plants burn plant matter such as trees, grass, agricultural crops or waste, or other biological material in a boiler to produce high-pressure steam. This steam rotates a turbine and generates electricity. Next to hydropower, more electricity is generated from biomass than any other renewable energy resource in the United States now. And China is stepping up its efforts in the sector too.

Because of the low energy content of biomass compared to coal, biomass plants are slightly less efficient because feedstocks have to be stored and handled in more complex chains, just like the waste products, such as biomass fly ash of which greater quantities become available. But the lower efficiency is easily offset by the environmental advantages of green power. Biomass does not add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere because it absorbs the same amount of carbon in growing as it releases when consumed as fuel. Its low sulphur content means biomass combustion is much less acidifying than coal combustion, for example. Also, the ashes from biomass consumption are very low in heavy metals and can be recycled on soils, or used as a feedstock for a range of construction materials.

In China, a small subsidy is available for biomass generated electricity to make it competive with coal, still by far the cheapest feedstock in the country. A biomass plant must also ensure it has sufficient feedstock available nearby at an economical rate. An efficient collection and storage system must be in place.

Assuming the design and engineering of the plant is fine, a profitable biomass operation must also make sure the cost of getting its electricity on to the grid is not exorbitant. According to Mr Tay, China EnerSave has located its plants between 800 m and 8 km from the nearest connection points. Also, a biomass plant must have access to water.

Prospects
In a 26-page report on China EnerSave released last month, research firm Standard & Poor's forecast that the group will make a net profit of $18.6 million this year, or almost four times its earnings last year. But this assumes a 51 per cent stake in the Yima coal power plant. And 2008 will be the year when the biomass projects start to chip in to the bottom line. S&P, whose report is paid a fee by China EnerSave, reckons the group could rake in $24.5 million.

At $18.6 million forecast earnings for 2007, China EnerSave is trading at about 10 times that. And for 2008, the multiple is 7.6 times.

However, to fund its aggressive expansion, China EnerSave has had to raise funds. Earlier this year it completed a $30 million convertible note issue to Value Capital Asset Management. All the Notes have since been converted to shares.

And currently, it is in the process of issuing a $50 million convertible bonds. Four months after the completion of the issue, the bonds can be converted at a 10 per cent discount to the then-traded price of the shares. So the lower the share price, the more shares the bond holders will get. However, there is a minimum conversion price.

S&P said that despite the large share issuance, China EnerSave's new projects should generate enough profits to more than make up for the dilution. 'Although its new business is not without risks, we believe the favourable medium- to long-term demand for energy in China should help mitigate some risks. While returns should converge to more normal levels of around 12 per cent internal rate of return for most power assets in China, this should be supported by stable utilisation rates and generally stable cash flow,' it said.

So on the whole, it appears that China EnerSave is worthy of closer attention, concludes Teh Hooi Ling. The Dubai Investment Group and Hong Kong-based Private Equity firm Energy Partners seem to think it's a worthwhile bet. Each owns about 11 per cent of the company. Meanwhile, one director, Tan Choon Wee, has been accumulating the shares in the open market.



Article continues

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Biogas Nord to make biomethane from bagasse in India

German biomethane company Biogas Nord AG has received [*German] its second order from a large sugar mill in India's Maharashtra state. An Indian delegation led by Suryakanta Patil, the state's Agriculture Secretary, visited the company in Bielefeld to sign the €1.8 million deal. In March of this year, Biogas Nord received its first major in India while on tour in the country with Christina Thoben, Minister for Economic Affairs of the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen (earlier post).

Operational Biogas Nord plants are located predominantly in Northern and Eastern Germany but demand from oustide the country is growing rapidly. The listed company's innovative technologies have allowed it to build a portfolio that includes large-scale plants in Thailand, Cuba, Chile and Peru.

Large potential
In Maharashtra, Biogas Nord will start construction of four anaerobic digesters that will convert sugarcane bagasse - the crushed canes from which the juice has been extracted - into the carbon neutral gas. Work will start next month.

India has the world's second largest sugar industry, producing some 14 million tonnes per year grown on 3.6 million hectares of land. A total of 165 sugar mills are located in Maharashtra alone, more than half of all large facilities in India (map, click to enlarge). The state also hosts the largest number of sugarcane ethanol plants.
Not only is the sugar industry a symbol of national pride in India, it is an economically vital sector. Large numbers of rural people make a living from growing sugarcane to supply the large sugar factories of the country. We are pleased to have built trust amongst the stakeholders in the sector in Maharashtra. This may open a series of offers to us. - Gerrit Holz, CEO of Biogas Nord AG
The planned biogas facilities will process around 100 tonnes of organic waste per day. Four digesters will ferment the processing residues into biogas, that will be upgraded to natural gas quality bio-methane. This fuel will then be used to power CNG vehicles. Traditionally, bagasse is burned as a solid biofuel for power and electricity, but converting it into biogas allows the energy contained in it to be used as a transport fuel.

The sludge from the biogas digesters will in turn be used as an organic fertiliser on the sugar plantations that supply the mill. The biogas plant will both power the sugar mill as well as vehicles used by the factory, replacing all its fossil fuel needs. This is possible because the production of sugar yields such a large stream of residual biomass that contains a lot of energy. Biogas Nord delivers, installs and operates the entire facility.

Optimized technology
Large-scale biogas technology is in its infancy in India but is finding a growing interest in several industrial sectors. "Besides our strong portfolio in Europe we see the Indian market as one with a lot of growth potential. More orders are on the table", says Dr. Holger Schmitz.

The biogas plants installed by Biogas Nord are based on a flow-storage process (chart, click to enlarge). This involves the operation of several tanks with substrate continuously flowing through them:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The addition of substrate into the fermenter (first tank) raises the level of the sludge and the putrefied sludge flows through the overflow into the next tank. This process is repeated if there is another tank connected to the second tank. The tanks we build are upright, cylindrical tanks made of reinforced concrete. The size, number and equipment of the tanks/fermenters depends on the type and amount of substrate to be treated. Where possible, existing tanks are integrated into the plant design.

A sump is installed in order to mix the individual substrates and ensure that the fermenter is continuously filled. Here, too, existing sumps are incorporated into the planning of the plant.

Pumps, screw conveyors or similar conveying equipment is used to feed the raw materials into the fermenter. The choice of conveying equipment depends on the type and amount of substrate to be fermented. Most of the biogas plants are equipped with a separate solids feeder.

Some substrates have to be sanitised before being spread onto agricultural land. For this purpose the substrate (prior to fermentation) or the entire digested sludge is heated to a specified temperature for a certain period of time.

All tanks can be fitted with up to four mixing devices depending on the type and amount of substrate to be treated and the size of the tank. Fermenters and secondary fermenters are fitted with double-membrane roofs for gas storage. The inner membrane serves as a gas holder and the outer membrane as protection against the weather. Between the two membranes a slight pressure is built up with a compressor, which gives the outer membrane its dimensional stability while at the same time applying pressure to the gas holder.

At Biogas Nord the second tank is called a secondary fermenter if it is fitted with a double membrane for gas storage, otherwise it is a storage tank. As a rule, wall and floor heating is installed in fermenters and secondary fermenters. The heating tubes are laid in the concrete. The outer walls of the fermenter and secondary fermenter are heat insulated and, as a final step, clad with trapezoidal panels.

The hydrogen sulphide content in the biogas produced is normally reduced with an integrated desulphurisation unit in the gas holder. At the request of the customer Biogas Nord can also install our specially developed external desulphurisation system.

After purification, the biogas is converted into electrical and thermal energy in a combined heat and power plant (CHP). Some of the electrical energy is used to cover the electricity requirements of the biogas plant. Some of the thermal energy generated is used as process energy for heating the fermenter and secondary fermenter. The surplus can be used to heat dwelling houses and stables as well as for agricultural and industrial processes with a particular requirement for heat.

In Europe
The past few years have brought a very rapid development of the biogas sector in the EU, especially in Central Europe. There the gas is being fed into secondary natural gas grids (with the option of feeding it in the mains being studied by the EU), used increasingly as a clean transport fuel, and positioned as a starting point for the creation of biorefineries. Dedicated energy crops are being developed. The gas is also being used on an experimental scale in highly efficient fuel cells. An overview of these developments can be found here (a search in the technorati search engine will reveal several newer developments).

The green gas has a very large potential in the EU, with some estimates indicating that it could replace all imports of Russian natural gas by 2030 (earlier post). If burned for the generation of electricity in power plants with socalled carbon capture and storage (CCS) infrastructures, biogas can become radically carbon negative. This means its use can take past CO2 emissions out of the atmosphere (earlier post).

Map: sugar mills, ethanol plants and cogeneration units in Maharasthra. Courtesy: Indian Sugar Mills Association.

More information:
Raffeisen: Biogas Nord erhält weiteren Auftrag aus Indien - June 15.

Article continues

Study: soil maintenance needed to ensure sustainability of cellulosic biofuels

Producing energy and bioproducts from crops may well hold the key to a sustainable future, but the transition towards such a biobased economy should be approached with care. A complex set of agro-ecological resources interacts and needs to be kept in balance in order to make the bioeconomy last. Ensuring the health of soils is crucial because soils are the nutrient factories that feed crops. Moreover, soils store vast amounts of organic carbon and thus play an important role in the global carbon cycle. Bioenergy production can only be green if it doesn't distort the soil organic carbon (SOC) cycle (image, click to enlarge).

An ongoing, five-year study by the Agricultural Research Service analyses how much residues can be removed from fields for the production of cellulosic ethanol, without reducing too much soil organic matter. Energy crops such as switchgrass, willow, and poplar, are targeted as sources of bioenergy, but crop residues, especially corn stover and wheat straw, have been identified as a source of cellulosic biomass as well.

The amount of crop residue needed to protect soil from erosion and to sustain soil organic carbon stores constrains residue removal for bioenergy. The researchers now made a first estimate of just how much residues must be kept on the field in order to ensure soil conservation: the U.S. at best has to cut in half the amount of cornstalks that can be harvested to produce cellulosic ethanol in a sustainable manner.

Research over the past century has shown conclusively that crop production practices result in loss of SOC. Typically loss of SOC has detrimental effects on soil productivity and quality. The objectives of the research - part of the Renewable Energy Assessment Project (REAP) - are to determine the amount of residue needed to protect the soil resource, compare economic implication based on the value of stover as bioenergy and carbon source, and provide initial harvest rate recommendations and guidelines.

Jane Johnson, a soil scientist with the ARS North Central Soil Conservation Research Laboratory in Morris, Minnesota, found that twice as many cornstalks have to be left in the field to maintain soil organic matter levels, compared with the amount of stalks needed only to prevent erosion.

This doesn't mean harvesting cornstalks for cellulosic ethanol isn't feasible - just that when you add soil organic matter concerns to erosion concerns, it reduces the amount of cornstalks available for conversion to ethanol. For example, 213-bushel-per-acre corn yields leave farmers an average of 4 tons per acre of cornstalks after harvest. Farmers could then harvest about 2 tons of cornstalks per acre for conversion to ethanol - but only from land with low erosion risks, using little or no tillage:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

If the same farmers rotate with soybeans as recommended, they can remove half again as much biomass for ethanol production, or just 1 ton per acre, to compensate for the lower biomass left by soybeans.

Johnson also explored the use of a byproduct of ethanol fermentation as an organic additive to soils. This is an example of the innovations needed to support residue removal.

The estimates are part of the Renewable Energy Assessment Project, formally created in 2006, although she and a core group of colleagues worked on these measurements for several years prior. REAP was formed to ensure that cellulosic ethanol programs will be sustainable. Most participants work with corn, but others work on switchgrass for cellulosic ethanol. When cellulosic ethanol is made from corn, it uses cornstalks as well as grain. Nine ARS locations are participating in REAP in eight states, from Alabama to Indiana to Oregon.

Products from the current program on sustainable residue removal will be:
  1. guidelines for management practices supporting sustainable harvest of residue,
  2. algorithm(s) estimating the amount of crop residue that can be sustainably harvested, and
  3. decision support tools and guidelines describing the economic trade-off between residue harvest and retention to sequester soil C.
Delivery of this knowledge and these products to farmers and the biomass ethanol industry will promote harvest of stover and crop residues in a manner that preserves the capacity our soil to produce food, feed, fiber, and fuel.

Meanwhile, other scientists analysing the feasibility of the production of carbon-negative biofuels, are discovering that storing agrichar or biochar (obtained from the pyrolysis of biomass) in soils can boost their health (earlier post). Contrary to conventional agriculture which depletes SOC, 'terra preta' farming techniques increase carbon matter in soils. However, the long-term effects of the practise are unknown, and much research remains to be done on the commercial feasibility of this form of agriculture.

More information:
Jaradat, A.A., Johnson, J.M., Karlen, D.L., Wilhelm, W.W. 2006. Sustainable Production of Crop Residue as a Cellulosic Ethanol Feedstock. REAP - Renewable Energy Assessment Project sponsored by USDA & DOE. Oct 10-12 2006, St Louis, MO. Meeting Abstract.

Detailed project description: IMPACT OF RESIDUE REMOVAL FOR BIOFUEL PRODUCTION ON SOIL - RENEWABLE ENERGY ASSESSMENT PROJECT (REAP), Location: Agroecosystem Management Research, Project Number: 5440-12210-009-00, Start Date: Jun 01, 2006 - End Date: May 31, 2011

Maps on SOC can be found at the US Geological Survey: Assessing Carbon Stocks in Soils

Article continues

The bioeconomy at work: book looks at current state of biorefining

The scientific community is making the transition from a hydrocarbon (oil) based economy to a carbohydrate (biobased) economy. It is one of the great transformations of our time. These ongoing efforts are for the first time described in a comprehensive, systematically composed and clearly structured book about the processing of biomass in the form of whole crops in biorefineries. The 900-page two-volume set titled Biorefineries - Industrial Processes and Products focuses on the technological principles, as well as the economic aspects, green processes, plants, concepts, and current and forthcoming biobased product lines.

In the preface, Hennig Hopf (University of Braunschweig, Germany), president of the Community of German Chemists, makes it clear that the great challenge to chemistry and chemists is establishing interdisciplinary cooperation in this field. Paul Anastas, director of the Green Chemistry Institute, emphasizes that the enthusiasm of the best scientists and engineers is essential in order to develop a bioeconomy with biobased raw materials, processes, and products.

The book, which contains 33 articles by 85 authors, is essentially a survey of current biorefinery research and industrial implementation strategies, particularly in the chemical industry. Thereby, the first volume is divided into four, the second into three main chapters.

Bioconversion processes
Volume 1 begins with a review of the history of carbohydrates and the beginnings of integrated biobased production, followed by the definition of the term biorefinery and a brief description of the biorefinery-systems in research and development. Next, it covers the global, technological, and economic dimensions of biomass refining:
  • Biomass Refining Global Impact - The Biobased Economy of the 21st Century
  • Development of Biorefineries - Technical and Economic Considerations
  • Biorefineries for the Chemical Industry - A Dutch Point of View
The remainder of the volume is devoted to the different technologies available, including biorefineries for large-scale industry, lignocellulosic-feedstock biorefineries, whole crop biorefineries, fuel-oriented biorefineries, sugar-based biorefineries, biorefineries based on thermo chemical processes, green biorefineries, and bio catalytic processes to synthesize bulk chemicals. The following sections are included:
  • The Lignocellulosic Biorefinery - A Strategy for Returning to a Sustainable Source of Fuels and Industrial Organic Chemicals
  • Lignocellulosic Feedstock Biorefinery: History and Plant Development for Biomass Hydrolysis
  • The Biofine Process - Production of Levulinic Acid, Furfural, and Formic Acid from Lignocellulosic Feedstocks
  • A Whole Crop Biorefinery System: A Closed System for the Manufacture of Non-food Products from Cereals
  • Iogen's Demonstration Process for Producing Ethanol from Cellulosic Biomass
  • Sugar-based Biorefinery - Technology for Integrated Production of Poly(3-hydroxybutyrate), Sugar, and Ethanol
  • Biomass Refineries Based on Hybrid Thermochemical-Biological Processing
  • The Green Biorefiner Concept - Fundamentals and Potential
  • Plant Juice in the Biorefinery - Use of Plant Juice as Fermentation Medium
A section on biomass production and primary biorefineries located at the farm is covered as well as one dealing with specific bioconverion processes and technologies:
  • Biomass Commercialization and Agriculture Residue Collection
  • The Corn Wet Milling and Corn Dry Milling Industry - A Base for Biorefinery Technology Developments
  • Enzymes for Biorefineries
  • Biocatalytic and Catalytic Routes for the Production of Bulk and Fine Chemicals from Renewable Resources
Products and markets
The second volume focuses on biobased product family trees and the primary feedstocks for the bioeconomy; biobased industrial products, materials, and consumer products. Finally an assessment of the economics, commercialization and sustainability of the bioeconomy is presented:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Essays on primary feedstocks:
  • The Key Sugars of Biomass: Availability, Present Non-Food Uses and Potential Future Development Lines
  • Industrial Starch Platform - Status quo of Production, Modification and Application
  • Lignocellulose-based Chemical Products and Product Family Trees
  • Lignin Chemistry and its Role in Biomass Conversion
  • Industrial Lignin Production and Applications
  • Towards Integration of Biorefinery and Microbial Amino Acid Production
  • Protein-based Polymers: Mechanistic Foundations for Bioproduction and Engineering
  • New Syntheses with Oils and Fats as Renewable Raw Materials for the Chemical Industry
  • Industrial Development and Application of Biobased Oleochemicals
  • Phytochemicals, Dyes, and Pigments in the Biorefinery Context
  • Adding Color to Green Chemistry? An Overview of the Fundamentals and Potential of Chlorophylls
Green specialty products and consumer products obtained from biorefineries are described in the following sections:
  • Industrial Chemicals from Biomass - Industrial Concepts
  • Succinic Acid - A Model Building Block for Chemical Production from Renewable Resources
  • Polylactic Acid from Renewable Resources
  • Biobased Consumer Products for Cosmetics
The economics of the bioeconomy as a commercial industry aiming for sustainability is presented in a final section titled:
  • Industrial Biotech - Setting Conditions to Capitalize on the Economic Potential
The book uses the principles of logic and efficiency of petrol refineries, to assign product lines and product family trees to biomass. Both volumes should be incorporated into the education of chemists, biotechnologists, and engineers. The book also makes an excellent encyclopaedia (partly due to its very good index) for professionals in the field of biobased raw materials, technologies, and products.


Article continues