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    Mongabay, a leading resource for news and perspectives on environmental and conservation issues related to the tropics, has launched Tropical Conservation Science - a new, open access academic e-journal. It will cover a wide variety of scientific and social studies on tropical ecosystems, their biodiversity and the threats posed to them. Tropical Conservation Science - March 8, 2008.

    At the 148th Meeting of the OPEC Conference, the oil exporting cartel decided to leave its production level unchanged, sending crude prices spiralling to new records (above $104). OPEC "observed that the market is well-supplied, with current commercial oil stocks standing above their five-year average. The Conference further noted, with concern, that the current price environment does not reflect market fundamentals, as crude oil prices are being strongly influenced by the weakness in the US dollar, rising inflation and significant flow of funds into the commodities market." OPEC - March 5, 2008.

    Kyushu University (Japan) is establishing what it says will be the world’s first graduate program in hydrogen energy technologies. The new master’s program for hydrogen engineering is to be offered at the university’s new Ito campus in Fukuoka Prefecture. Lectures will cover such topics as hydrogen energy and developing the fuel cells needed to convert hydrogen into heat or electricity. Of all the renewable pathways to produce hydrogen, bio-hydrogen based on the gasification of biomass is by far both the most efficient, cost-effective and cleanest. Fuel Cell Works - March 3, 2008.

    An entrepreneur in Ivory Coast has developed a project to establish a network of Miscanthus giganteus farms aimed at producing biomass for use in power generation. In a first phase, the goal is to grow the crop on 200 hectares, after which expansion will start. The project is in an advanced stage, but the entrepreneur still seeks partners and investors. The plantation is to be located in an agro-ecological zone qualified as highly suitable for the grass species. Contact us - March 3, 2008.

    A 7.1MW biomass power plant to be built on the Haiwaiian island of Kaua‘i has received approval from the local Planning Commission. The plant, owned and operated by Green Energy Hawaii, will use albizia trees, a hardy species that grows in poor soil on rainfall alone. The renewable power plant will meet 10 percent of the island's energy needs. Kauai World - February 27, 2008.

    Tasmania's first specialty biodiesel plant has been approved, to start operating as early as July. The Macquarie Oil Company will spend half a million dollars on a specially designed facility in Cressy, in Tasmania's Northern Midlands. The plant will produce more than five million litres of fuel each year for the transport and marine industries. A unique blend of feed stock, including poppy seed, is expected to make it more viable than most operations. ABC Rural - February 25, 2008.

    The 16th European Biomass Conference & Exhibition - From Research to Industry and Markets - will be held from 2nd to 6th June 2008, at the Convention and Exhibition Centre of FeriaValencia, Spain. Early bird fee registration ends 18th April 2008. European Biomass Conference & Exhibition - February 22, 2008.

    'Obesity Facts' – a new multidisciplinary journal for research and therapy published by Karger – was launched today as the official journal of the European Association for the Study of Obesity. The journal publishes articles covering all aspects of obesity, in particular epidemiology, etiology and pathogenesis, treatment, and the prevention of adiposity. As obesity is related to many disease processes, the journal is also dedicated to all topics pertaining to comorbidity and covers psychological and sociocultural aspects as well as influences of nutrition and exercise on body weight. Obesity is one of the world's most pressing health issues, expected to affect 700 million people by 2015. AlphaGalileo - February 21, 2008.

    A bioethanol plant with a capacity of 150 thousand tons per annum is to be constructed in Kuybishev, in the Novosibirsk region. Construction is to begin in 2009 with investments into the project estimated at €200 million. A 'wet' method of production will be used to make, in addition to bioethanol, gluten, fodder yeast and carbon dioxide for industrial use. The complex was developed by the Solev consulting company. FIS: Siberia - February 19, 2008.

    Sarnia-Lambton lands a $15million federal grant for biofuel innovation at the Western Ontario Research and Development Park. The funds come on top of a $10 million provincial grant. The "Bioindustrial Innovation Centre" project competed successfully against 110 other proposals for new research money. London Free Press - February 18, 2008.

    An organisation that has established a large Pongamia pinnata plantation on barren land owned by small & marginal farmers in Andhra Pradesh, India is looking for a biogas and CHP consultant to help research the use of de-oiled cake for the production of biogas. The organisation plans to set up a biogas plant of 20,000 cubic meter capacity and wants to use it for power generation. Contact us - February 15, 2008.

    The Andersons, Inc. and Marathon Oil Corporation today jointly announced ethanol production has begun at their 110-million gallon ethanol plant located in Greenville, Ohio. Along with the 110 million gallons of ethanol, the plant annually will produce 350,000 tons of distillers dried grains, an animal feed ingredient. Marathon Oil - February 14, 2008.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Carbon sequestration in deep coal seams feasible, but with risks

Deep coal seams that are not commercially viable for coal production could be used for permanent underground storage of carbon dioxide (CO2) generated by human activities, thus avoiding atmospheric release, according to two studies published in the International Journal of Environment and Pollution. Ground water contamination by toxic metals released during the process entails a risk, the researchers found. On the positive side, they confirmed that useful coal bed methane can be recovered from the technique.

Finding ways to capture and sequester the carbon dioxide (CCS) emitted by power plants, indefinitely, is one approach being investigated around the world in efforts to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels and so help combat climate change. CO2 can be sequestered in two broad ways: either terresterially (for example by storing biochar in soils, or by growing biomass), or geologically by pumping into oil and gas reservoirs to extract the last few drops of fuel, in deep saline formations, such as brine aquifers, or unmineable coal seams (illustration, click to enlarge).

If applied to power plants that burn biofuels, CCS results in a system that yields carbon-negative energy. Such 'Bio-Energy with Carbon Storage' (BECS) systems present one of the most feasible concepts to take large amounts of historic CO2 out of the atmosphere. No other energy system is carbon-negative (previous post).

Large potential
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory have carried out initial investigations into the potential environmental impacts of CO2 sequestration in unmineable coal seams. The research team collected 2000 coal samples from 250 coal beds across 17 states. Some sources of coal harbor vast quantities of methane, or natural gas. Low-volatile rank coals, for instance, average the highest methane content, 13 cubic meters per tonne of coal.

The researchers found that the depth from which a coal sample is taken reflects the average methane content, with much deeper seams containing less methane. However, the study provides only a preliminary assessment of the possibilities. The key question is whether methane can be tapped from the unmineable coal seams and replaced permanently with huge quantities of carbon dioxide; if so, such coal seams could represent a vast sink for CO2 produced by industry. The researchers point out that worldwide, there are almost 3 trillions tonnes of storage capacity for CO2 in such deep coal seams:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

To replicate actual geological conditions, NETL has built a Geological Sequestration Core Flow Laboratory (GSCFL). A wide variety of CO2 injection experiments in coal and other rock cores (e.g., sandstone) are being performed under in situ conditions of triaxial stress, pore pressure, and temperature. Preliminary results obtained from Pittsburgh No. 8 coal indicate that the permeability decreases (from micro-darcies to nano-darcies or extremely low flow properties) with increasing CO2 pressure, with an increase in strain associated with the triaxial confining pressures restricting the ability of the coal to swell. The already existing low pore volume of the coal is decreased, reducing the flow of CO2, measured as permeability. This is a potential problem that will have to be overcome if coal seam sequestration is to be widely used.

The research team has also investigated some of the possible side-effects of sequestering CO2 in coal mines. They tested a high volatility bituminous coal with produced water and gaseous carbon dioxide at 40 Celsius and 50 times atmospheric pressure. They used microscopes and X-ray diffraction to analyze the coal after the reaction was complete. They found that some toxic metals originally trapped in the coal were released by the process, contaminating the water used in the reaction.

"Changes in water chemistry and the potential for mobilizing toxic trace elements from coal beds are potentially important factors to be considered when evaluating deep, unmineable coal seams for CO2 sequestration, though it is also possible that, considering the depth of the injection, that such effects might be harmless" the researchers say. "The concentrations of beryllium, cadmium, mercury, and zinc increased significantly, though both beryllium and mercury remained below drinking water standards." However, toxic arsenic, molybdenum, lead, antimony, selenium, titanium, thallium, vanadium, and iodine were not detected in the water, although they were present in the original coal samples.

Illustration: different options to store carbon dioxide released from power plants. Credit: Energy Information Administration.

Sheila W. Hedges, Yee Soong, J. Richard McCarthy Jones, Donald K. Harrison, Gino A. Irdi, Elizabeth A. Frommell, Robert M. Dilmore, Curt M. White, "Exploratory study of some potential environmental impacts of CO2 sequestration in unmineable coal seams" [*.abstract], International Journal of Environment and Pollution, 2007 - Vol. 29, No.4 pp. 457 - 473, DOI: 10.1504/IJEP.2007.014232

Thomas D. Brown, Donald K. Harrison, J. Richard Jones, Kenneth A. LaSota, "Recovering coal bed methane from deep unmineable coal seams and carbon sequestration" [*.abstract], International Journal of Environment and Pollution, 2007 - Vol. 29, No.4 pp. 474 - 483, DOI: 10.1504/IJEP.2007.014233

U.S. Department of Energy carbon sequestration programme website.

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Scientists launch fundamental study of plant roots, may yield drought-tolerant crops

At a time when a major U.N. analysis on desertification identifies the phenomenon as one of the greatest environmental challenges of our times, a new £9.2 (€13.6/US$18.4) million research centre at the University of Nottingham will break new ground in our understanding of plant growth that could lead to the development of drought-resistant crops for developing countries.

The Centre for Plant Integrative Biology (CPIB) will focus on cutting-edge research into plant biology — particularly the little-studied area of root growth, function and response to environmental cues.

CPIB brings together experts from four different Schools at the University — Biosciences, Computer Science & IT, Mathematical Sciences, and Mechanical, Materials and Manufacturing Engineering. They will create a 'virtual root' of the simple weed Arabidopsis, a species of the Brassica family routinely used for molecular genetic studies. Expertise in Arabidopsis research is already well developed at the Nottingham Arabidopsis Stock Centre, which integrally linked with CPIB.

Virtual root
A greater understanding of plant roots, particularly how they respond to different levels of moisture, nutrients and salt in the soil, could pave the way for the development of new drought-resistant crops that can thrive in arid areas and coastal margins of the developing world.

Because it is difficult to study roots — as all their growth occurs below ground level — scientists will develop a 'virtual root' using the latest mathematical modelling techniques. By developing computer models of the root that exactly mimic biological processes, they will be able to observe what is happening at every stage from the molecular scale upwards.

Research in this area is crucial because the roots dictate life or death for a plant through uptake of water and nutrients, and response to environmental factors:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Professor Charlie Hodgman, Principal Director of the CPIB, said: “CPIB aims to set a prime example of how multidisciplinary teams can bring novel ideas to and discoveries in crucial aspects of plant science.”

The expertise obtained from the research will be broadened into different crop species. CPIB researchers ultimately aim to integrate their 'virtual root' with those of other international projects that model shoot and leaf development, leading to a generic computer model of a whole plant which will again be used to advance crop and plant science.

The CPIB, which is based at the University of Nottingham's Sutton Bonington Campus, has its official opening on July 2, 2007. It is funded by the Systems Biology joint initiative of BBSRC and EPSRC, which has provided £27M for six specialised centres across the UK.

The initiative is part of a larger research effort by the global science community to develop climate-resilient crops (earlier post).

Illustration: a laser-scanned cross-section of Arabidopsis root. Credit: Duke University.

University of Nottingham: Getting to the root of plant growth - June 27, 2007.

Wikibook on Arabidopsis root development.

Biopact: Climate change threatens wild relatives of key crops - May 22, 2007

Biopact: CGIAR developing climate-resilient crops to beat global warming - December 05, 2006

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UOP to develop biofuel technology for military jets

UOP LLC, a Honeywell company, announced [*.pdf] today it will accelerate research and development on renewable energy technology to convert vegetable oils to military jet fuels. UOP developed a technique based on hydroprocessing that may yield fuels that meet the stringent requirements.

The goal of the project, which is backed by US$6.7 million in funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is to develop and commercialize processes to produce a bio-based Jet Propellant 8 (JP-8) used by U.S. and NATO militaries.
The focus of our renewable energy efforts has been to develop technologies that align with today’s standard refinery practices, but allow a broader range of feedstock options. We are confident that we have assembled a strong team of experts that will be successful in proving the viability of biofeedstock technologies for JP-8 and other jet fuels, while offering the U.S. military another option for sustainable liquid fuels critical to their programs. - Jennifer Holmgren, director of UOP’s Renewable Energy and Chemicals business unit.
Bio-jet fuels, seen as the last biofuel frontier, have received a considerable amount of interest lately, with major aerospace manufacturers, airlines, biotech companies, universities, and governments (Argentina, US) participating in research to produce viable fuels for use in jet engines. Last year DARPA launched its BioFuels BAA (Broad Agency Announcement) aimed at exploring a wide range of energy alternatives and fuel efficiency efforts in a bid to reduce the military's reliance on oil to power its aircraft, ground vehicles and non-nuclear ships.

Under the BAA, DARPA funds research and development efforts to develop a process that efficiently produces a surrogate for petroleum based military jet fuel - JP-8 (properties *.pdf) - from oil-rich crops produced by either agriculture or aquaculture (including but not limited to plants, algae, fungi, and bacteria) and which ultimately can be an affordable alternative to petroleum-derived JP-8. Approximately 4.5 billion gallons of JP-8 fuel are used by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army and NATO annually.

Current commercial processes for producing biodiesel such as transesterification (schematic, click to enlarge) yield a fuel that is unsuitable for military applications, which require higher energy density and a wide operating temperature range. Subsequent secondary processing of biodiesel is currently inefficient and results in bio-fuel JP-8 being prohibitively expensive.

The goal of DARPA's BioFuels program is therefor to enable an affordable alternative to petroleum-derived JP-8. The primary technical objective of the program is to achieve a 60% (or greater) conversion efficiency, by energy content, of crop oil to JP-8 surrogate and elucidate a path to 90% conversion:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Proposers were encouraged to consider process paths that minimize the use of external energy sources, which are adaptable to a range or blend of feedstock crop oils, and which produce process by-products that have ancillary manufacturing or industrial value. Current biodiesel alternative fuels are produced by transesterification of triglycerides extracted from agricultural crop oils. This process, while highly efficient, yields a blend of methyl esters (biodiesel) that is 25% lower in energy density than JP-8 and exhibits unacceptable cold-flow features at the lower extreme of the required JP-8 operating regime (-50F).

Potential approaches to produce a surrogate fuel for JP-8 may include thermal, catalytic, or enzymatic technologies or combinations of these. It is anticipated that the key technology developments needed to obtain the program goal will result from a cross-disciplinary approach spanning the fields of process chemistry and engineering, materials engineering, biotechnology, and propulsion system engineering. The key challenges are to develop and optimize process technologies to obtain a maximum conversion of crop oil to fuel.

JP-8 is a kerosene-based, high-performance fuel that is less flammable and less hazardous than other fuel options, allowing for better safety and combat survivability. In addition to jets, JP-8 is also used to fuel heaters, stoves, tanks, and other vehicles in military service. Commercial airliners use Jet A and Jet A-1, which is also kerosene-based.

UOP's process
UOP's bid was selected and the company will now work with Honeywell Aerospace, Cargill, Arizona State University, Sandia National Laboratories and Southwest Research Institute on the project, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2008. Fuel produced by the new process will have to meet stringent military specifications and is expected to achieve 90 percent energy efficiency for maximum conversion of feed to fuel, reduced waste and reduced production costs. UOP expects the technology will be viable for future use in the production of jet fuel for commercial jets.

UOP, formed its Renewable Energy & Chemicals business unit in late 2006 to commercialize solutions for production of renewable biofuel energy. At that time, UOP announced it has developed, along with European energy company Eni, a hydroprocessing technique to convert vegetable oils and waste into a high-cetane green diesel fuel with low emissions and high efficiency. The process, called UOP/Eni Ecofining, uses existing refinery infrastructure and technology. Earlier this month, UOP announced Eni will build the first Ecofining facility in Italy. The facility is projected to start up in early 2009 (earlier post).

DARPA is the central research and development organization for the Department of Defense (DoD). It manages and directs selected research and development projects for DoD for the advancement of military roles and missions. This is UOP’s first project with DARPA.

UOP LLC is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Honeywell International, Inc. and is part of Honeywell’s Specialty Materials strategic business group. Based in Phoenix, Honeywell’s aerospace business is a leading global provider of integrated avionics, engines, systems and service solutions for aircraft manufacturers, airlines, business and general aviation, military, space and airport operations.

UOP: UOP and Italy's ENI S.p.A. announce plans for facility to produce diesel fuel from vegetable oil- June 19, 2007.

Amar Anumakonda, PhD, Bio-Renewable Fuels: Green Diesel [*.pdf], Renewable Energy and Chemicals Business Unit, UOP LLC.

Strategic Technology Office: DARPA, BioFuels program.

Biopact: Eni to produce green diesel from vegetable oils based on UOP's hydrogenation technology - June 20, 2007

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Foss and DuPont launch analytical instrument that estimates ethanol yield potential of grain

DuPont and Denmark-based FOSS today announced an agreement that will help farmers and ethanol producers in North America better understand the ethanol yield potential of grain corn being delivered to ethanol plants. The launch of a new instrument will inform farmers which crop variety to grow when, and may increase the efficiency of feedstock production.

Under terms of the agreement, DuPont business Pioneer Hi-Bred, which develops corn hybrids for ethanol, is providing to FOSS proprietary Ethanol Yield Potential calibration technology for use in FOSS grain analyzers. The technology provides estimated ethanol yield in terms of gallons per bushel.

The upgraded FOSS instrument now gives ethanol producers a quick, uniform and extremely accurate reading of the starch content (and thus the potential alcohol yield) in a shipment of corn, wheat or other grains.
This technology is a big step in helping increase ethanol output per acre. When used in FOSS instruments, it gives farmers and ethanol producers nearly instant ethanol yield results on each load of grain brought to an ethanol plant. - Dean Oestreich, vice president and general manager of DuPont and president of Pioneer
The technology allows ethanol producers to use real-time data to manage the grain feeding their ethanol production process. Farmers will be able to take this information and combine it with their on-farm agronomic performance data to tailor the corn hybrids they plant to maximize their ethanol yield on every acre.

Pioneer has already evaluated all of its hybrids for ethanol yields and has identified over 180 hybrids that produce higher than average amounts of ethanol. These high total fermentable (HTF) ethanol hybrids are being positioned with farmers near ethanol plants:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

FOSS will be installing the Pioneer Ethanol Yield Potential calibration into its Infratec 1241 Grain Analyzers and marketing them to dry-grind ethanol plants in North America.
When installed on our instruments, this calibration technology will allow ethanol producers to work with farmers to increase the amount of ethanol they produce. This is truly exciting technology that will help make the most of every bushel of corn harvested. - Christian Svensgaard, President of FOSS North America
FOSS grain analyzers measure several parameters (such as protein, moisture, gluten, colour, starch, hardness, etc...) for a wide range of grains and flours (barley, canola, corn, rice, soybean, wheat, malt, grreen malt, wheat flour, rye flour, durum flour, etc...).

The instrument has the following properties and advantages:
  • Enables the grain trader to specify and control product characteristics exactly with clear segregation for each specific purpose, achieving accurate and optimal payment for each purpose.
  • Just pour the sample into the hopper, press the button and, in less than a minute, read the results on the large color display.
  • The huge Infratec database comprises over 50,000 cross checked samples – calibrations building on a wide sample range from over 20 years of harvests. No surprises – you are prepared even for unexpected harvesting conditions.
  • State of the art performance with transferable calibrations and true transparency between instruments reduces cost of ownership.
  • Accuracy during all conditions - results are independent of sample and ambient temperature giving the right result whether on a hot summer day or in the cold depths of winter.
DuPont is a leader in the biofuels industry and has developed a three-part strategy to increase grain ethanol yield per acre; develop technology to convert cellulose to biofuels; and develop and supply next-generation, improved biofuels.

As the industry leader in NIR/NIT technology, FOSS provides and supports dedicated analytical solutions for the food and agricultural industries. From raw material to finished product, FOSS instrumentation provides precision and control at any stage of the production process including on-line, at-line and bench analysis.

Today over 80 percent of the world's grain is tested on a FOSS solution. The FOSS Infratec 1241 is officially approved and established worldwide as a standard for determining protein, moisture, oil, starch and other parameters essential to optimum ethanol yield.

Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont business, is the world's leading source of customized solutions for farmers, livestock producers and grain and oilseed processors. With headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa, Pioneer provides access to advanced plant genetics in nearly 70 countries.

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Suez Energy International to build sugar cane biomass plant in Brazil - applies for carbon credits

Suez Energy International, a subsidiary of Suez, one of Europe's largest energy companies, has announced that it is to build a new cogeneration plant fuelled by sugar cane biomass at São Jõa da Boa Vista, in the State of São Paulo, Brazil.

The São João thermo-electric power plant, with an installed capacity of 70 MW, will be constructed in partnership with Dedini Açucar e Álcool, one of Brazil's leading agro-industrial groups active in the bioenergy and ethanol sector. Dedini will consume 47 MW of electricity and the steam produced by the plant.

Tractebel Energia, SUEZ Energy International’s Brazilian generation company, will have a 63% stake in the project, the remainder being held by Dedini Açucar e Álcool. The project will begin operations on January 1, 2010.

The plant will produce energy sold by Tractebel Energia during the first alternative energy sources auctions organized in Brazil. Tractebel Energia sold 23 MW at 141.16 reais/MWh (€55.3/MWh) to a pool of Brazilian distributors under a 15-year Power Purchase Agreement.

BNDES, the development bank of Brazil will finance up to 70% of the 155 million reais (€60 million) total investment cost of the plant, through its special credit line for biomass projects.
The São Jão plant represents SUEZ’s first investment in the largest energy consumption market of the country, the State of São Paulo, where many of its industrial customers are located. The project will further diversify Tractebel Energia’s sources of thermal production, and will apply for carbon credits in the Carbon Development Mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol. - Dirk Beeuwsaert, CEO of SUEZ Energy International.
Tractebel Energia, Brazil's largest private power generator, operates in the States of Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul, Paraná, Mato Grosso do Sul and Goiás (map, click to enlarge). It manages 13 power plants, 6 of which are hydro and 7 thermal plants:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Its installed capacity totals 6,870 MW of which 79% is hydro. The company owns the biomass Lages cogeneration plant in Santa Catarina and has cogeneration projects using sugar cane waste at an advanced stage of development.

Suez Energy International is the business line of Suez responsible for the Group's energy activities outside Europe. Its mission is to develop and to manage electricity and gas projects and to offer tailor-made energy solutions to industry and commercial customers. The company generates and transports electricity, produces and distributes steam, desalinated water, transports gas through pipelines, manages gas distribution systems and is active in liquefying, shipping, storing and regasifying LNG.

Map: Tractebel Energia's power plants in Brazil. Credit: Suez Energy International.

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POET produces cellulosic ethanol from corn cobs

POET, the largest dry-mill ethanol producer in the U.S., announced that they have produced cellulosic ethanol from corn cobs. The company announced the results of the successful test today along with their intentions to make cobs and corn fiber the feedstock for their commercial cellulosic ethanol production facility that will be jointly funded with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

Formerly known as Broin, the 20-year old company currently operates 20 production facilities in the United States with seven more in construction or under development. The company produces and markets more than one billion gallons (3.785 billion liters) of 'first-generation' corn starch based ethanol annually.

The cellulosic project that POET is now jointly funding with the DOE will convert an existing 50 million gallon per year (189 million liters) dry-mill ethanol plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa into a commercial cellulosic biorefinery. Once complete, the facility will produce 125 million gallons per year (473 million liters), 25 percent of which will be from cellulosic feedstock. By adding cellulosic production to an existing grain ethanol plant, POET will be able to produce 11 percent more ethanol from a bushel of corn, 27 percent more from an acre of corn, while almost completely eliminating fossil fuel consumption and decreasing water usage by 24 percent. Last week, POET announced that Jim Sturdevant, a 22-year veteran of the US Geological Survey, will serve as director of the project:
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Besides using corn cobs, POET has also succeeded in producing cellulosic ethanol from fiber, the husk of the kernel, which is extracted through its proprietary 'BFRAC' fractionation process.

Dr. Mark Stowers, VP of Research & Development for POET said the cob has several advantages from an ethanol production perspective. The cob has more carbohydrate content than the rest of the corn plant, giving the ability to create more ethanol from it. In addition, the cob has higher bulk density than the other parts of the corn stalk, so it is easier to transport from the field to the facility.
For a host of reasons, POET is focused on corn fiber and cobs as the first cellulosic feedstock for our production facilities. First, the fiber that comes from our fractionation process will provide 40 percent of our cellulosic feedstock from the corn kernels that we are already processing in our facility. That means that nearly half of our cellulosic feedstock comes with no additional planting, harvest, storage or transportation needs. - Jeff Broin, CEO of POET
The rest of the cellulosic feedstock will come from corn cobs, which will expand the amount of ethanol that can come from a corn crop with minimal additional effort and little to no environmental impact. There is no major market for cobs, so POET will be producing cellulosic ethanol from an agricultural waste stream. Because the cob makes up only 18 percent of the above ground stover, it will not adversely impact soil quality.

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Novozymes enters development cooperation on cellulosic ethanol in China

At the end of this week, industrial enzyme producer Novozymes expects to sign a research agreement with state-owned China Resources Alcohol Corporation (CRAC) on the development of cellulosic biofuels in the People's Republic.

CRAC operates China's only pilot plant for the production of cellulose-ethanol, located in Zhaodong in Heilongjiang province, which already hosts a full-scale first-generation ethanol plant supplying the local biofuel market. The technology for the demonstration plant was provided by the SunOpta BioProcess Group. CRAC's plant is the first facility in the world to produce ethanol from cellulosic biomass (local corn stover, stalks and leaves) on a continuous 24-hour basis.

Novozymes will now help develop and improve the necessary cellulase enzymes for the bioconversion process that is still in an experimental phase (schematic, click to enlarge). During the three-year development phase Novozymes and CRAC will form a joint research team, which will work at the pilot factory in Zhaodong. At a later stage other partners may be brought in to add additional competences to the project.
With our knowledge of enzyme technology we can help CRAC to develop commercially viable processes for producing second-generation biofuel. At the same time, the project is important because the whole of this industry is still in its infancy. A project as comprehensive as this one will have good prospects of leading to new technologies within the whole area, which is engaged in converting cellulose-based biomass. I am sure that the cooperation between two such important players will lead to fruitful experiences within these critical production processes. And for Novozymes the cooperation will take us a good deal further in our general ‘biomass-to-ethanol’ research. - Humphrey Lau, Marketing Director at Novozymes.
Over the long term Novozymes expects China to become an important biofuel market. The consumption of fuels for transport has increased significantly in recent years in line with the rapidly growing number of cars (earlier post). This has meant intense focus on sustainable energy, especially biofuels, by the policy makers of the People's Republic (more on the PRC's national bioenergy and biofuel strategy).

Novozymes envisages that the production of ethanol based on food grains – so-called first-generation biofuels – will not grow as strongly in China in the coming years because the country is a net importer of these feedstocks. Moreover, China is considering to phase-out the production of biofuels from such sources and intends to focus on non-food crops such as sweet sorghum, cassava, sweet potatos and jatropha instead (earlier post). The production of second-generation biofuels based on agricultural residues and dedicated energy crops will supplement this development path:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

CRAC is an important player in China's alcohol market and possesses important technologies for the production of biofuels. It is a subsidiary of the state-owned China National Cereals, Oils & Foodstuff Corporation (COFCO), which is one of the largest companies in the country and is involved in several different industries.

COFCO is a leading manufacturer of both biodiesel and ethanol and has already begun utilizing non-food crops such as cassava (previous post). The company currently has stakes in three existing ethanol plants and is building another four of its own, located in the autonomous regions of Inner Mogolia and Guangxi Zhuang, and in the provinces of Hebei and Shandong.

COFCO hopes to acquire a 70 percent share of the Chinese ethanol market within three years.

Novozymes has a dedicated website on its involvement in biofuels, here.

The following are presentations of the company's R&D progress into cellulosic ethanol:

Advancing cellulosic ethanol [*.pdf], Presentation at World Biofuels Markets 2007, Brussels - March 6, 2007

The next generation of fuel ethanol - March 15, 2007

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Thai surplus ethanol to be exported - negotiations over tank farm lease

Thailand's ethanol producers are currently facing a surplus and want to export their biofuel (earlier post). They plan [*cache] to hold talks with the country's largest company, state-owned oil and gas holding PTT Plc, and with Thailand's leading petrochemical company IRPC Plc to provide chemical storage tank leases as mutual facilities to support the exports. According to Sirivuthi Siamphakdee, chairman of the Chamber of Ethanol Producers, individual exports will not cover the cost of each small shipment which is why a pooling system must be organised.

The planned talks come after the government relaxed regulations permitting ethanol exports last month to ease the surplus. The producers, each processing ethanol at between 200,000 and 500,000 litres per day, need to store ethanol in tanks until the volume is large enough to meet the loading capacity of vessels, which have a capacity of at least five million litres. Seven ethanol plants nationwide are operating at a combined capacity of 955,000 litres per day, and Thai ethanol demand for the manufacture of gasohol (E10) is currently only 450,000 litres per day. This leaves 18 million litres in stock. New ethanol output from two plants will raise total capacity to 1.6 million litres per day soon.

The producers earlier asked the Energy Ministry to help remove export barriers, but the institution replied that it could not become involved in private-sector business. Ethanol manufacturers now face the difficult calculus of deciding whether or not to put up substantial investments to build new tank farms. Local ethanol demand could grow quickly, making such dedicated infrastructures unnecessary.Leasing storage tanks on an ad-hoc basis from the large oil & gas and petrochemical companies offers a way out to tackle the ethanol surplus immediately. But this comes at a premium:
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Some ethanol producers have meanwhile ceased production to wait and see how the domestic market evolves. But meanwhile, another seven new plants with a total capacity of 2.1 million litres per day will start operations over the next two years. In short, by 2009, total ethanol output could reach 3.7 million liters per day, more than a billion liters per year. The question is whether this amount will be taken up by the local market soon enough. Thai ethanol is primarily made from cassava.

The reasons behind the Thai surplus can be found in a combination of factors: lack of planning, weak policy frameworks, and a steep learning curve to understand fundamental market drivers. But the military coup which ousted PM Thaksin Shinawatra threw plans in disarray too.

The former PM actively encouraged investment in ethanol plants and feedstock production, telling the industry it intended to stop sales of premium gasoline, which would result in much higher demand for E10. However, after the military coup last year, the interim government said octane 95 gasoline would remain on the market as long as there were cars that could not use E10.

The producers failed to succeed in convincing the new Energy Ministry to mandate the 10% ethanol blend. Its refusal is based on the fact that car manufacturers have not yet given guarantees that the blend does not harm older car engines. Flex-fuel cars, which make up 75% of all new cars sold in biofuel leader Brazil, have not yet penetrated the Thai market either. The Ministry said it does not want to take the risk of causing damage to Thailand's car fleet by mandating the blend.

Image: tank farm at the Rayong refinery, owned and operated by a subsidiary of PTT Plc, located in the southern province of Rayong. Credit: PTT Plc.

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