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    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.


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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Danish researchers look at seaweed for biofuels

Denmark currently makes a small amount of liquid biofuels, mostly from locally produced grains and oilseeds. But given its very small agricultural potential, the Nordic country will have to import the bulk of its green fuels from abroad. That is, unless another source of abundant biomass can be found within Denmark's territory. Researchers from the University of Aarhus think they have found just that. They are looking at (*Danish, or *French) a species of seaweed known as 'sea lettuce' (Ulva lactuca) as a potential feedstock for the production of ethanol.

The aquatic plant is a large, fast growing green algae that can be found near shores (profile at the AlgaeBase; image, click to enlarge). It thrives in nutrient-rich zones, especially there where water is contaminated by nitrogen runoff from agriculture. Interestingly, its sugar content is relatively high, making it a potential feedstock for cellulosic ethanol production.

Michael Bo Rasmussen of the National Institute of Environmental Research at the University of Aarhus has already carried out two tests with the algae and thinks harvesting them as a biomass source might make sense. The species grows fast, doubling its biomass every three to four days. Rasmussen estimates the theoretical yearly yield to be between 200 and 500 tons of wet biomass on a 'hectare' basis (even though comparisons with terrestrial plants are difficult). Denmark's total potential would be an annual production of around 80,000 to 100,000 tons. Importantly, the algae doesn't need fresh water to grow and it occurs near shores, making it accessible. The seaweed could be harvested in its wild form, and thus contribute to re-oxygenating zones that have been invaded by the algae.

Large scale cultivation
Like Japanese researchers, the Danish scientists are thinking of cultivating the algae on a large scale. Traditional seaweed cultivation techniques, refined in Japan, could be modernized and applied to a modern aquacultural biomass industry. Ulva lactuca thrives when fed with liquid fertilizer and carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas. Denmark's economy generates an excess of both these nutrients. Rasmussen estimates that an optimal production process based on feeding the algae the right amount of fertilizer and CO2, could yield up to 500 tons of biomass per hectare. But for the time being, such a high-tech form of aquaculture would be prohibitively expensive, the researcher says:
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Rasmussen's project is one of the proposals selected for funding by the Aarhus Research Foundation, which is freeing up 48 million kroner (€6.4/US$8.8 million) for 16 different projects over the 2007-2011 period.

The idea of harvesting algae from the open ocean keeps popping up each time oil prices reach records. In the 1970s, several similar ideas were launched and received modest funding, both in the U.S., Japan and the EU. Scientists can now pick up on the research of their older collegues. Recently, a company that used to work on micro-algae production in closed photobioreactors decided to do just that and started looking at harvesting biomass from algae blooms found in the open ocean (previous post).

Some of these aquacultural projects may make sense over the ultra-long term provided major R&D breakthroughs are made. However, ideas like growing algae in closed photobioreactors are not feasible (more here) because uncompetitive; likewise, growing the micro-organisms in open ponds requires serious advances in biotechnology to bring costs down by at least a factor of 20.

Picture: Ulva lactuca Linnaeus. Photographer: Katrin Österlund © Katrin Österlund. Oliveira, E., Österlund, K. & Mtolera, M.S.P. (2005). Marine Plants of Tanzania. A field guide to the seaweeds and seagrasses. pp. 267. Stockholm: Botany Department, Stockholm University. Credit: AlgaeBase.

References:
Futura-Sciences: Une idée danoise : le biocarburant à base de laitue de mer - July 25, 2007.

University of Aarhus: Stort potentiale i biobrændstof fra havet - June 222, 2007.

AlgaeBase: Ulva lactuca Linnaeus profile.

Biopact: Scientist skeptical of algae-to-biofuels potential - interview - July 18, 2007

Biopact: Harvesting algae blooms from the open ocean - March 01, 2007


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Ceramic tubes could cut greenhouse gas emissions from power stations


Researchers from Newcastle University and Imperial College have developed tiny tubes made from an advanced ceramic material that can be used to control the combustion process in power plants in such a way that it could reduce greenhouse gas emissions to almost zero. If the technique is applied to gaseous biofuels (biomethane, gasified biomass), the generated electricity could effectively become carbon-negative.

The material, known as LSCF, has the remarkable property of being able to filter oxygen out of the air. By burning fuel in pure oxygen, it is possible to produce a stream of almost pure carbon dioxide, which has commercial potential for reprocessing into useful chemicals.

LSCF is not a brand new material - it was originally developed for fuel cell technology - but the engineers have developed it for potential use in reducing emissions for gas-fired power stations and possibly coal and oil-fired electricity generation as well.
The cheapest way to dispose of waste carbon dioxide from combustion is to release it into the atmosphere. We have been doing this since humans first discovered how to make fire. The technology we have developed may provide a viable alternative, although whether it is economical to introduce it will depend largely upon the carbon credit system that Governments operate in the future. - Professor Ian Metcalfe, School of Chemical Engineering and Advanced Materials at Newcastle University
Capturing CO2
Conventional gas-fired power stations burn methane in a stream of air, producing a mixture of nitrogen and greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which are emitted into the atmosphere. Separating the gases is not practical because of the high cost and large amount of energy needed to do so.

However, the LSCF tubes would allow only the oxygen component of air to reach the methane gas, resulting in the production of almost pure carbon dioxide and steam, which can easily be separated by condensing out the steam as water.

The resulting stream of carbon dioxide could be piped to a processing plant for conversion into chemicals such as methanol, a useful industrial fuel and solvent. Alternatively it could be sequestered.

The new combustion process has been developed and tested in the laboratory by Professor Ian Metcalfe, Dr Alan Thursfield and colleagues in the School of Chemical Engineering and Advanced Materials at Newcastle University, in collaboration with Dr Kang Li in the Chemical Engineering Department at Imperial College London. The research has been funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Details of the research and development project are published on 3 August 2007 simultaneously in two technical publications - Materials World and The Chemical Engineer. A series of research papers have also been published in academic journals as the project has developed.

How the tubes work
The LSCF tubes look like small, stiff, drinking straws and are permeable to oxygen ions — individual atoms carrying an electrical charge. Crucially, LSCF is also resistant to corrosion or decomposition at typical power station operating temperatures of around 800C:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

When air is blown around the outside of the tubes, oxygen is able to pass through the wall of the tube to the inside, where it combusts with methane gas that is being pumped through the centre of the tubes.

The oxygen-depleted air, which consists mainly of nitrogen, can be returned to the atmosphere with no harmful effects on the environment, while the carbon dioxide can be collected separately from the inside of the tubes after combustion.

An alternative would be to control the flow of air and methane so that only partial combustion took place. This would result in a flow of 'synthesis gas', a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen, which can easily be converted into a variety of useful hydrocarbon chemicals.

The tubes of LSCF, which stands for Lanthanum-Strontium-Cobalt-Ferric Oxide, have been tested successfully in the laboratory and the design is attracting interest from the energy industry. The Newcastle team is now carrying out further tests on the durability of the tubes to confirm their initial findings that they could withstand the conditions inside a power station combustion chamber for a reasonable length of time.

Although it has not yet been attempted, it should be possible to assemble a power station combustion chamber from a large number of the tubes, with space between them for air to circulate.

In theory the technology could also be applied to coal and oil-fired power stations, provided that the solid and liquid fuels were first converted into gas. This operation is simple in theory but would add to the cost and complexity of running a power station.

Government statistics suggest that the UK energy industry produces over 200 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, which is more than one-third of the country's total carbon dioxide emissions.

LSCF is a relatively new material and over the past ten years or so been the subject of research in many countries, mainly into its potential use as a cathode in fuel cells.

Picture: Professor Ian Metcalfe with the ceramic tubes in his laboratory at Newcastle University, England.

References:
Newcastle University: Ceramic membrane could cut greenhouse gas emissions from power stations - August 3, 2007.



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The bioeconomy at work: Green Toys makes colorful classics from bioplastics


Combine biodegradable, low-carbon bioplastics, with bio-based colorants and a good slogan - "no planets were hurt in the making of this product" - and you may have a hit. Especially if the target group is environmentally conscious young parents with a particular future - their kids. Green Toys announces it is launching a new line of classic toys made entirely from renewable, bio-based raw materials.
As the mother of two young children, I understand parents wanting to do their part to improve and preserve our world for our children. Additionally, by offering children toys that send a positive message about protecting our planet helps to educate the younger generation about how to make good choices for our environment. It may even create young ambassadors for Mother Nature. - Laurie Hyman, co-founder of Green Toys Inc.
The feat is unique in that the toys bring together together some of the most advanced materials and technologies in the bioplastics industry. The raw material is produced by Cereplast, a leading manufacturer of proprietary bio-based plastics. Cereplast's plastics are made from polylactic acid (PLA), soy proteins, PHA, PHBs, or starch from corn, wheat or potatoes, which are then combined with other bio-based materials to reinforce the base-material's molecular structure. In a final step, the blend is then polymerized and treated with nano-composites for surface optimization and further reinforcement (schematic, click to enlarge).

In addition, the biopolymer used for the toys relies on a special type of biodegradable colorants made by PolyOne Corporation. Dedicated, bio-based colorants for bioplastics are a fairly new development. In this age of stringent rules to protect children against chemical contamination, these colorants have a strong advantage over alternatives (e.g. recently a series of Chinese toys were taken out of the EU market, because the colorants used in them contained high levels of lead, more here).

Green Toys has also extended these efforts into its packaging using only recycled paper products with no traditional plastics or films:
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Green Toys brand toys products will be available in retail stores starting in the Fall 2007, and will include the Green Toys Tea Set, Green Toys Indoor Gardening Kit, Green Toys Cookware and Dinning Set and the Green Toys Sand Play Set.

Green Toys Inc. was created to provide consumers with an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional plastic toys while making an effort to improve and preserve the world around us.

By marketing sustainable toys for kids and the environment, Green Toys offers classic toys derived from a new generation of environmentally friendly bioplastic material from annually renewable, sustainable resources like corn and other starch materials. Green Toys’ approach will in its own way help to reduce fossil fuel use and CO2 emissions, and increase the overall health and happiness of the planet.


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Friday, August 03, 2007

Berkeley Lab tests ultraclean combustion technology with hydrogen

Biohydrogen, biomethane and biomass based syngas may soon be burned in an experimental gas turbine simulator equipped with an ultralow-emissions combustion technology to yield extremely clean renewable electricity. Called LSI, the technique has been tested successfully using pure hydrogen as a fuel – a milestone that indicates a potential to help eliminate millions of tons of carbon dioxide and thousands of tons of NOx from power plants each year.

The LSI - low-swirl injector - technology (more here and here) was developed by Robert Cheng of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and is seen as one of the most promising combustion technologies around.

The LSI holds great promise for its near-zero emissions of nitrogen oxides gases that are emitted during the combustion of fuels such as natural gas during the production of electricity. Nitrogen oxides, or NOx, are greenhouse gases as well as components of smog.

The Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability initially funded the development of the LSI for use in industrial gas turbines for on-site (i.e. distributed) electricity production. The purpose of this research was to develop a natural gas-burning turbine using the LSI’s ability to substantially reduce NOx emissions.

Cheng, Berkeley Lab colleague David Littlejohn, and Kenneth Smith and Wazeem Nazeer from Solar Turbines Inc. of San Diego adapted the low-swirl injector technology to the Taurus 70 gas turbine that produces about seven megawatts of electricity. The team’s effort garnered them won them a 2007 R&D 100 award from R&D magazine.


Right: A prototype of the low-swirl injector. Fuel flows through the openings of the center channel. This simple design creates the low-swirl flow, with lower emissions of NOx the result. Left: A cutaway view of Solar Turbines' Taurus 70 engine. The research team has adapted the low swirl injector for use in this technology, which is similar to a jet engine, but is used to generate electricity in power plants on the ground (click to enlarge).
The team is continuing the LSI development for use with carbon-neutral renewable fuels such as biomethane, biogas, biohydrogen or (bio-based) syngas, and other industrial processes such as petroleum refining and waste treatments.

DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy is funding another project in which the LSI is being tested for its ability to burn syngas (a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide) and hydrogen fuels in an advanced IGCC plant (Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle) called FutureGen, which is planned to be the world’s first near-zero-emissions coal power plant. The intention of the FutureGen plant is to produce hydrogen from gasification of coal and sequester the carbon dioxide generated by the process. The LSI is one of several combustion technologies being evaluated for use in the 200+- megawatt utility-size hydrogen turbine that is a key component of the FutureGen plant.

The collaboration between Berkeley Lab and the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) in Morgantown, WV, recently achieved the milestone of successfully test-firing an LSI unit using pure hydrogen as its fuel.

Ultra-clean gas combustion
Because the LSI is a simple and cost-effective technology that can burn a variety of fuels, it has the potential to help eliminate millions of tons of carbon dioxide and thousands of tons of NOx from power plants each year:
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In a letter of support to the R&D 100 selection committee, Leonard Angello, manager of Combustion Turbine Technology for the Electric Power Research Institute, wrote: “I am impressed by the potential of this device as a critical enabling technology for the next generation coal-based Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle power plants with CO2 capture…This application holds promise for the gas turbines in IGCC power plants that operate on high-hydrogen-content syngas fuels or pure hydrogen.”

How the technology works
The low swirl injector is a mechanically simple device with no moving parts that imparts a mild spin to the gaseous fuel and air mixture that causes the mixture to spread out. The flame is stabilized within the spreading flow just beyond the exit of the burner. Not only is the flame stable, but it also burns at a lower temperature than that of conventional burners. The production of nitrogen oxides is highly temperature-dependent, and the lower temperature of the flame reduces emissions of nitrogen oxides to very low levels.

“The LSI principle defies conventional approaches,” says Cheng. “Combustion experts worldwide are just beginning to embrace this counter-intuitive idea. Principles from turbulent fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, and flame chemistry are all required to explain the science underlying this combustion phenomenon.”

Natural gas-burning turbines with the low-swirl injector emit an order of magnitude lower levels of NOx than conventional turbines. Tests at Berkeley Lab and Solar Turbines showed that the burners with the LSI emit 2 parts per million of NOx (corrected to 15% oxygen), more than five times times less than conventional burners.

A more significant benefit of the LSI technology is its ability to burn a variety of different fuels from natural gas to hydrogen - all fuels that can be made from renewable biomass - and the relative ease to incorporate it into current gas turbine design. Extensive redesign of the turbine is not needed. The LSI is being designed as a drop-in component for gas-burning turbine power plants.

Top image: Robert Cheng views an LSI flame. He is touching the burner, demonstrating that it stays cool because the flame is completely lifted from its body.

References:
Berkely Lab: Berkeley Lab’s Ultraclean Combustion Technology For Electricity Generation Fires Up in Hydrogen Tests - August 1, 2007.

Berkely Lab Technology Transfer: Ultraclean Low Swirl Combustion.

Berkely Lab: Low-swirl combustion information page.

The U.S. DOE’s FutureGen initiative.


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European heat waves double in length since 1880

The most accurate measures of European daily temperatures ever indicate that the length of heat waves on the continent has doubled and the frequency of extremely hot days has nearly tripled in the past century. The new data show that many previous assessments of daily summer temperature change underestimated heat wave events in western Europe by approximately 30 percent.

Paul Della-Marta and a team of researchers at the University of Bern in Switzerland compiled evidence from 54 high-quality recording locations from Sweden to Croatia and report that heat waves last an average of 3 days now—with some lasting up to 4.5 days—compared to an average of around 1.5 days in 1880. The results are published 3 August in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres. The researchers suggest that their conclusions contribute to growing evidence that western Europe's climate has become more extreme and confirm a previously hypothesized increase in the variance of daily summer temperatures since the 19th century.

The study adds evidence that heat waves, such as the devastating 2003 event in western Europe (map, click to enlarge) and the current heat wave in Southern Europe, are a likely sign of global warming; one that perhaps began as early as the 1950s, when their study showed some of the highest trends in summer mean temperature and summer temperature variance.
These results add more evidence to the belief among climate scientists that western Europe will experience some of the highest environmental and social impacts of climate change and continue to experience devastating hot summers like the summer of 2003 more frequently in the future. - Paul Della-Marta, lead author, Institute of Geography, University of Bern, Switzerland.
The authors note that temperature records were likely overestimated in the past, when thermometers were not kept in modern Stevenson screens, which are instrument shelters used to protect temperature sensors from outside influences that could alter its readings:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The researchers corrected for this warm bias and other biases in the variability of daily summer temperatures and show that nearly 40 percent of the changes in the frequency of hot days are likely to be caused by increases in summer temperatures’ variability. This finding demonstrates that even a small change in the variance of daily summer temperatures can radically enhance the number of extremely hot days.

"These findings provide observational support to climate modeling studies showing that European summer temperatures are particularly sensitive to global warming," Della-Marta said. "Due to complex reactions between the summer atmosphere and the land, the variability of summer temperatures is expected to [continue to] increase substantially by 2100."

The research was supported by the European Environment and Sustainable Development Program, the Swiss National Science Foundation and the National Center for Excellence in Climate Research (NCCR Climate).

Image
: temperature anomalies occuring in July 2003 over Europe, a heat wave that persisted for weeks during July and August, and claimed possibly as many as 35,000 lives. Credit: Nasa Earth Observatory.

References:
Della-Marta, P. M.; Haylock, M. R.; Luterbacher, J.; Wanner, H. "Doubled length of western European summer heat waves since 1880", J. Geophys. Res., Vol. 112, No. D15, D15103, 10.1029/2007JD008510, August 3, 2007.

Eurekalert: European heat waves double in length since 1880 - August 3, 2007.


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Agrivida and Codon Devices to partner on third-generation biofuels

Biotech company Agrivida, founded in 2002 by researchers from MIT, has announced that it has entered into an agreement with Codon Devices, a synthetic biology company, for the discovery, development, and commercialization of engineered proteins for use in so-called 'third generation' biofuel applications. Under the terms of this agreement, Codon Devices will deliver to Agrivida optimized enzymes to be embedded in crops for biofuels production.

Biofuel production techniques can be loosely divided into three generations: the 'first generation' consists of utilizing easily obtainable sugar, starch and oil resources (seeds, grains, roots) from crops to convert them into biofuels like biodiesel and ethanol; a 'second generation' relies on the conversion of entire crops via biochemical and thermochemical pathways (biomass-to-liquids, pyrolysis, enzymatic conversion of cellulose). This allows for the use of a broader variety of biomass feedstocks. The 'third generation' would consist of engineering crops in such a way that their very properties are tailored to particular conversion processes to yield fuels and bioproducts. Examples of this are engineered trees with a low lignin content (see here and here).

Agrivida, an agricultural biotechnology company, is developing such third generation biofuels by creating corn varieties optimized for producing ethanol. First generation methods for manufacturing ethanol make use of the corn grain only, leaving the remaining plant material, such as the corn leaves, stalks, and husks in the field. Central to Agrivida’s ethanol-optimized corn technology are engineered cellulase enzymes that are incorporated into the corn plants themselves (more here). These enzymes will efficiently degrade the entire mass of plant material into small sugars that can then be readily converted to ethanol (schematic, click to enlarge).

Under the agreement with Codon Devices, the latter company will utilize its BioLOGICTM Engineering Platform to develop enzymes optimized for use in Agrivida’s proprietary ethanol production technology. The optimized enzymes that Codon Devices will develop will incorporate Agrivida’s GreenGenesTM technology, allowing Agrivida to dramatically enhance cellulose degradation.
This collaboration underscores the value of our BioLOGICTM Engineering Platform for the rapid development of superior proteins with desired properties, such as enzymes with highly specialized functions. With traditional approaches to developing such enzymes, this would be a one to two year project with no certainty of the outcome. In contrast, using our BioLOGICTM Engineering Platform, we expect to be able to deliver these optimized enzymes to Agrivida in six to nine months. - Brian M. Baynes, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer of Codon Devices
The agreement further represents the unveiling of Codon Devices’ BioLOGIC Engineering Partnering Program under which partners can gain strategic access to the Company’s proprietary development technologies. The BioLOGIC Engineering Platform combines sophisticated design algorithms with advanced assay and protein engineering capabilities to result in a revolutionary system for the rapid design, discovery and optimization of proteins for specific applications.

An integral component of the BioLOGIC Engineering Platform is Codon Devices’ BioFAB Production Platform which produces high quality synthetic genes at a lower cost and quicker turn-around time than ever before available:
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If successful, Agrivida and Codon's collaboration will usher in a new era for efficient biofuel production that may be transferred to other crops and processing technologies.

The new age of biotechnology has witnessed rapid increases in both the efficiency with which crop genomes can be sequenced, in the speed with which genetic manipulation can be achieved as well as in the preciseness with which new rapid breeding technologies can be implemented. Added to this come rapid advances in the field of protein and enzyme development, partly driven by the search for enzymes to be used in bioconversion processes for biofuels. Finally, the era of synthetic biology has arrived, which promises to create an entirely new universe of highly efficient bioconversion in which crops, micro-organisms and biocatalysts are designed from scratch to yield a whole range of bioproducts driving a true 'bioeconomy'.
We have been working with Codon Devices over the past several months and we are thrilled with this new opportunity to partner with Codon and leverage its BioLOGICTM Platform in our own research and development. Codon Devices’ development of these enzymes will help advance our development and commercialization of technologies that will dramatically improve ethanol production. - Michael Raab, Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer of Agrivida.
Codon Devices, Inc., based in Cambridge, MA, is a privately-held biotechnology company focused on enabling commercial applications of synthetic biology. Codon Devices' proprietary synthesis and design technologies improve the productivity of its industrial, pharmaceutical and academic customers in a paradigm shift to what the Company calls Constructive Biology. The Company's focus is on developing and delivering high-value products and design services in a variety of application areas, including engineered gene libraries, engineered cells that produce novel pharmaceuticals, improved vaccines, agricultural products, and biorefineries for the production of industrial chemicals and energy. Codon Devices' BioFAB platform uses sophisticated informatics, robotics and sequencing technologies to accurately synthesize genetic codes orders of magnitude more rapidly and cost-effectively than other currently available technology.

Agrivida is an agricultural biotechnology company focused on creating renewable, biomass-based alternative fuels and raw materials. We are developing corn varieties that are optimized for producing ethanol from corn stover, otherwise known as "cellulosic" ethanol. Corn stover is, collectively, the leaves, stalks, and husks of corn and it is an inexpensive route to increase yields of ethanol per bushel of corn.

References:
Bibliography of scientific articles from Codon Devices' researchers and on findings used by the company for the development of its proprietary protein design platforms, here.

Biopact: Third generation biofuels: scientists patent corn variety with embedded cellulase enzymes - May 05, 2007

Biopact: Scientists take major step towards 'synthetic life': first bacterial genome transplantation changing one species to another - June 29, 2007


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Lula: Global South to unite and cooperate on biofuels

Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva is the president not only of Brazil, but of the largest black community living outside the African continent. The Latin American nation has profound cultural and social links with the continent at the other side of the Atlantic that go back centuries. President Lula is undoubtedly the first Brazilian leader to revive these relations and to see them as a great opportunity for cooperation. Under his time in office, Brazil for the first time became a net donor of development assistance to Africa.

Recently, Brazil was invited as the sole non-African government at the first high-level conference on biofuels in Africa, organised by the African Union. The country has also established a center for agricultural and technological outreach to African countries in Accra, Ghana, from where EMBRAPA helps transfer Brazil's biofuel technologies. Clearly, Brazil is very much present in Africa and succeeds in giving the continent hope for a brighter future, fueled by green energy sources that bring wealth, energy security and rural development.

In a recent letter to the media, entitled Biofuels Can Allow All Humanity to Prosper, Lula expressed his views on how biofuels may help 'humanity as a whole', but Africa in particular. As he often does, he urges people to look at the issue from the point of view of 'world citizens', - with history, solidarity, economic justice, and sustainability in mind. If it is up to the Brazilian leader, Africa stands to play a key role in our biofueled future.

It was clear from the discussions during the recent G8 Summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, that issues like climate change, sustainable development, new and renewable sources of energy, and development financing are global matters that the countries of the South must have a say in, Lula writes.

Ultimately, it is our populations that are directly affected. Moreover, our countries are generating innovative and creative proposals to resolve the problems. The contributions of leaders from South Africa, Brazil, China, India, and Mexico during the Broader G8 Summit made the importance of real North-South dialogue clearer than ever.

Africa has a central role to play in this debate. The continent is undergoing profound transformations that are laying the groundwork for a new cycle of political stability and economic dynamism. With 53 countries, vast natural resources, and a young population, it is anxious to realise its full potential for development and prosperity. This Africa, which I have visited five times during my first term and will certainly return to, is strengthening its economic, trade, and political ties with Brazil.

In the Africa-South American Summit in 2005, and in the two sessions of the Brazil-Africa Forum, we explored in depth the great potential of this alliance, which can be further strengthened and improved by biofuels.

Brazil has over 30 years of success in its production of fuels that combine energy security and broad economic, social, and environmental benefits. The one-quarter ethanol and three-quarter gasoline mix used by regular cars and the use of alcohol by flex-fuel cars, made it possible for Brazil to cut the consumption and imports of fossil fuels by 40 per cent. Since 2003, we have reduced our carbon dioxide emissions by over 120 million tonnes, thus helping slow global warming:
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But the potential uses of biofuels go far beyond providing a new source of clean and renewable energy. The ethanol industry has created 1.5 million jobs directly and 4.5 million indirectly in Brazil. In its first phase, the biodiesel programme created more than 250,000 jobs, especially for small-scale farmers in semi-arid areas, generating income and helping to settle people on the land.

It is also important to point out that biofuel production does not threaten food security, because it affects only 2 per cent of our agricultural land. Moreover, by generating new income that can be used to buy food, it helps combat hunger.

These programmes also put a damper on chaotic migration, staunching the exodus from rural to urban areas, reducing the pressure on major cities, and providing a disincentive to small-scale miners and farmers to raze forests.

In addition, the expansion of sugar cane production has helped restore overgrazed pasture land that had little or no potential for agriculture.

Developing countries thus stand to benefit significantly from biofuels.

Given their enormous potential for creating jobs and generating income, they offer a real option of sustainable development, especially in countries that depend on the export of scarce natural resources. At the same time, ethanol and biodiesel open up new paths of development, especially in the bio-chemical industries, in the form of social, economic, and technological alternatives for countries that are economically poor but rich in sun and arable land.

FOR A world facing environmental degradation and the increase of energy prices, biofuel offers real promise. It can help poor countries combine economic growth with social inclusion, and environmental conservation. In short, it is a valiant ally in the fight against social and political instability, violence, and migratory chaos.

However, this revolution can only occur if the rich countries open their markets to the poorest and eliminate agro-subsidies and barriers to the import of biofuels.

It is a win-win situation. Developing countries will generate jobs for marginalised populations and funds to energise their economies, while developed countries can tap into a source of competitively-priced clean energy instead of investing in massively expensive innovations to make conventional fuels more green.

Biofuels offer us a way to allow all humanity to prosper without mortgaging the future of generations to come. This is the message I will carry to the World Conference on Biofuels that Brazil is organising for 2008. Together Brazil and Africa can help forge a global solution to the challenges of the 21st century.

Reference:
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva: Biofuels Can Allow All Humanity to Prosper, The East African (Nairobi) (via AllAfrica), - July 31, 2007.


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University of Leicester team develop way of purifying biodiesel made from vegetable oils

A group of Chemists from the University of Leicester have developed a way of purifying biodiesel made from vegetable oils, which is cheap, simple and low in toxicity.

The team, led by Professor Andrew Abbott is able to remove glycerol, the main by-product of vegetable oil-based biodiesel, using ionic liquids made in part by vitamin B4 (choline chloride).

If left in biodiesel, glycerol (a syrupy sugar alcohol) would damage engines but this technique simply washes it out of the fuel. The ionic liquid developed by Professor Abbott uses a complex of choline chloride with glycerol to extract more glycerol out of the biodiesel.

The Leicester process is greener than the traditional process, which involves as many as 8 successive water washings of the raw biodiesel. This transfers water soluble impurities soap, catalyst, glycerol, methanol, and some biodiesel to the water. The result is a large amount of organic and catalyst contaminated wastewater:
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The Leicester process lets the biodiesel flow through a tank of a special ion exchange resin. The resin readily removes the glycerol, soap, and catalyst, all corrosive to diesel engine components, and water from the raw biodiesel. It can take the glycerin from 500 ppm down to less than 10 ppm. This is significantly below the standard of 200 ppm. This potentially allows for higher concentration of biodiesel in blends with petroleum diesel.

Professor Abbott's team hopes that further research will optimise the ionic liquid recycling and recovery of the glycerol. We are hoping to collaborate with a biodiesel producer to test this technology further.



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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Global Brassica research community receives major boost as Canada donates DNA sequences

The National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) announce they have released the single largest number ever of DNA sequences for Brassica napus (rapeseed, canola) and related species. 437,000 Brassica Expressed Sequence Tags (ESTs) generated at NRC-PBI and 160,000 ESTs generated at AAFC-SRC have been donated to the global Brassica research community. These sequences have been added to the global repository for DNA sequence information - the GenBank.

Not only does this mark a significant contribution to the international science community, it also positions Canada as a centre of excellence in the areas of environment, natural resources and health - priorities identified in Canada's New Government's new Science and Technology Strategy. With this contribution, the world is one step closer to creating an improved generation of versatile Brassica crops with multiple health, environmental and industrial benefits.

As a major contributor to Canada's agri-food industry, canola, an oilseed Brassica, accounts for an annual economic value of approximately $11 billion. The benefits of canola are far reaching; not only does it currently supply a high quality and healthy vegetable oil, it has also gained prominence as a potential source for manufacturing a wide variety environmentally-friendly products such as bioplastics and biodiesel.

In a world concerned with renewable fuels, Brassicas like canola and its derivatives present an interesting opportunity to address the pressing issues of climate change. This vital crop is particularly well-positioned to serve as a feedstock to fulfill the targets of Canada's pending Clean Air Act that will require two percent biodiesel blends in diesel and heating oil by 2012.

Boost to genetic research
As part of a long-standing cooperative research effort between the AAFC Saskatoon Research Centre (AAFC-SRC) and the NRC Plant Biotechnology Institute, Canadian researchers have been working with Expressed Sequence Tags (ESTs) to understand how specific genes within Canola react to their environment and create compounds important in biofuels and healthy oils for foods.
This research focuses not only on an area of strategic importance to Canada but raises our profile in the International community. This latest accomplishment reinforces Canada's position as a leader in agriculture science and provides an enabling tool which will contribute to the development of a more prosperous and sustainable agriculture sector that will benefit farmers, industry, and all Canadians. - Dr. Isobel Parkin, AAFC research scientist and current Chair of the Multinational Brassica Genome Project
Rather than using traditional time-consuming methods to isolate genes, ESTs provide researchers with a quick and accurate view of fragments of a DNA sequence - the 'functional' parts of a genome where gene expression takes place. By using ESTs to study how genes are expressed within Canola, it is then possible to determine ways to manipulate these genes in order to improve crop yields and produce stronger and more-resistant seeds for food and industrial applications:
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In conjunction with two Genome Canada projects, 'Enhancing Canola through Genomics' (managed by Genome Prairie) and 'Designing Oilseeds for Tomorrow's Markets' (managed by Genome Alberta), NRC and AAFC have been using ESTs to examine how gene expression is involved in Canola seed development.

With 437,000 Brassica ESTs generated at NRC-PBI and 160,000 generated at AAFC-SRC, the submission of this joint collection marks the most significant DNA sequence contribution to the global Brassica research community representing nearly 90% of all submitted Brassica ESTs. The contribution of the EST collection is especially timely since it will be a valuable tool in annotating the Brassica rapa genome, which is being sequenced as part of an International community effort.

In order to respond to emerging global challenges and enhance the value and production of crops such as Canola, it is essential to develop methods to improve seed quality and yield through the application of the latest genomics technologies. By sharing these technologies, the global research community will be able to work together to harness the full potential of this vital crop.
Genome Canada is enthusiastic about the results of this genomics research, which will bring improvements not only to Canada's food and agriculture industry but to every citizen as an end result through health and economic advancements. - Dr. Martin Godbout, President and CEO, Genome Canada.
"Canola is 'Canada's plant'. The long-standing partnership between AAFC and NRC has been vital to the development of Canola. It is a vital part of our economy and it will be even more valuable in the future. Maintaining a scientific leadership position with this plant is critical to providing our industry with the knowledge base necessary to improve yields and diversify the applications towards which Canola can be applied", says Dr. Coulombe, NRC President.

Genome Canada
is a not-for-profit Corporation that acts as the primary funding and information resource relating to genomics and proteomics in Canada. Its main objective is to ensure that Canada becomes a world leader in genomics and proteomics research. The Corporation is dedicated to developing and implementing a national strategy in genomics and proteomics research for the benefit of all Canadians.





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Report: biofuels key to achieving Millennium Development Goals in Africa

If it exploits its enormous biofuel potential fully and effectively, Africa can defeat poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a team of experts underscored at the first high-level biofuel conference organised jointly by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), the government of Brazil and the African Union (AU). The meeting was held at the headquarters of the AU in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The eight MDGs – which range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015 – form a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s countries and all the world’s leading development institutions. They have galvanized unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world’s poorest. Biofuels can contribute to achieving these development goals in a major way, the expert panel says.
"Promotion of the biofuels industry in developing countries has the capacity to propel such countries to achieve the MDGs through poverty reduction (especially job creation and economic enhancement), health impact and climate change".
The forum is deliberating on the effective and enhanced utilization of biofuels to tackle poverty in Africa. The experts drawn from various African Universities indicated that Africa presents significantly higher biofuel potentials than Europe and even North America and can aid farmers in the continent to earn better income for their produce due to the expanded biofuel markets. Biofuels are an engine for rural development and bring numerous added benefits, from investments in infrastructure to access to new markets and agricultural technologies.


Africa's sustainable bioenergy production potential under four scenarios by 2050, as compared to that of other regions. Source: Faaij, Smeets, Lewandowski (2004).
Experts working for the IEA Bioenergy Task 40 study group estimate that Africa's sustainable biofuel potential may reach 350 to 410 EJ under a high-tech scenario by 2050, when populations have increased considerably. This projection only looks at the explicitly sustainable potential, that is, production of biofuels after all food, fuel, fiber and fodder needs for local populations and livestock are satisfied and without deforestation.

To get a grip on the scale, consider that the entire world currently consumes around 400EJ from all sources (oil, gas, coal, nuclear, renewables) (earlier post). Of all global regions Africa ranks first when it comes to the long-term sustainable bioenergy production potential (map, click to enlarge).

Disastrous impact of expensive oil
According to the report, the majority of African countries that are oil importers can avoid their expenses on oil by utilizing their biofuel resources. Biofuels can reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels and increase energy security. There is a growing realization in the Africa that high dependency on imported fossil fuels is having a negative impact on the continent's economic development, the report said.

Some African countries are now forced to spend twice as much on importing oil than on health care. According to the experts, estimates show that recent changes in the price of oil caused, in some cases, losses as high as 3 % of GDP for energy intensive oil importing African countries:
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According to available information, out of 47 of the world's poorest countries, 38 are net oil importers and the majority of them are from Africa. A total of 42 countries in Africa are net oil importers vulnerable to the adverse macro-economic (particularly balance of payments) of high oil prices.

This is particularly true as economies of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are oil-dependent, according to the report.

According to the same report, biofuels use in Africa is expected to remain very modest, reaching only 3.4 million tonnes of oil equivalent by 2030. The report further recommended future policies of Africa to be designed to meet not only the domestic needs but also the growing international biofuels market. "The AU should be the coordinating body in implementing a common policy for biofuels in Africa," the report added.

FAO estimates that there are 379 million hectares of potential arable land available, of which only 43 million are utilized for food production in the countries forming the 'Pan-African association of Non-Oil Producing Countries' alone and varied nature of the feedstock's available in Africa to produce biofuels.

Map: Global bio-energy potentials by 2050 under four scenarios. Source: Smeets, Faaij, Lewandowski.

References:
Daily Monitor (Addis Ababa): Experts Highlight Role of Bio-Fuel in Achieving MDGs - August 1, 2007.

Edward Smeets, André Faaij, Iris Lewandowski, A quickscan of global bio-energy
potentials to 2050. An analysis of the regional availability of biomass resources for export in relation to the underlying factors
, Copernicus Institute - Department of Science, Technology and Society, Utrecht University, March 2004,

Smeets, Faaij and Lewandowski's report is part of the IEA Bioenergy Task 40's Fair Biotrade research program.

Biopact: A look at Africa's biofuels potential - July 30, 2006

Biopact: A closer look at Africa's 'Green Opec' - August 02, 2006

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Indonesian NGOs want biofuels policy to side with farmers

Indonesia is set to become one of the leading biofuel producers, with a variety of crops being promoted - from sugarcane and cassava, to jatropha and palm oil. Biofuels and bioenergy offer the country the opportunity to substantially reduce reliance on extremely expensive oil and to bring millions of jobs to the poor. Technically this may be possible, but success will depend on carefully crafted policies and legislation (previous post). Local NGOs support the transition towards the green fuels, but call on the government to do more to ensure that the poverty alleviating potential for smallholders - who are feedstock producers - fully materialises.

The Indonesian government has so far invested US$1.42 billion in the sector, with more than 67 projects for the production of liquid biofuels signed so far, and with 114 biomass power plants under construction across the archipelago (earlier post). The country plans to inject a total of US$ 12.4 billion over the coming 3 years (more here). The program is presented by the government as a way to alleviate poverty and to generate employment, as it expects some 2.5 million jobs to be generated in the sector (earlier post).

Istowo Setyandito, head of a group of small jathropa farmers said yesterday during a discussion on biofuel policy that a law and presidential decree on biofuels do exist, but there is yet to be a real and comprehensive implementation of the regulations:
"We have reliable and skillful farmers, but the government's policies are not siding with them, despite the fact that the agricultural sector is an important pillar of our country's economic development."
Deputy director Abet Nego Tarigan of NGO Sawit Watch shared the same view, saying that even though the agricultural sector had created new jobs for villagers, the government did not pay attention to their welfare:
"Indeed, the sector has reduced unemployment, but in fact more than 50 percent of plantation labors only get their daily wages without any insurance or social security scheme."
Darmawan Triwibowo from the Indonesian Biodiversity Foundation Kehati said the group doubted that the current policies to promote biofuel use would have a direct impact on unemployment and poverty.
"The government assumes it's the perfect situation in every area. But in fact, it won't be that easy to employ workers, increase their welfare and solve their poverty problems. It really depends on the development scheme of the plantation industry. The situation will be worse if a land dispute occurs. [...] Farmers should have the right to cultivate their land without losing their ownership. On the other hand, they should also benefit from the biofuel business."
Many smallholders in Indonesia are leasing their land to biofuel and plantation enterprises and feel they are benefiting. An example of the often-quoted indirect effects of the arrival of plantations comes from Mangat Nuan, a small farmer in central Kalimantan:
"This used to be my land. But I rented it to a plantation company a little while ago. It was a good price - all the landowners round here did the same. Life before was difficult. [...] I couldn't even feed my family, not to mention send my kids to school. After the plantation took over, more people came and suddenly we had roads and schools. We've also opened a small shop, so it's improved our income significantly."
But not all Indonesians may be as lucky as Mangat Nuan, and after all he merely refers to his direct benefits, not to potentially negative indirect impacts on the environment. Moreover, Kehati's Darmawan Triwibowo said disputes over land ownership, either between farmers and the government or farmers and plantation companies, remain common:
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However, Evita H. Legowo, the first secretary of the National Biofuel Development Committee at the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry said that the policy on national energy development, which includes the promotion of biofuel, has drawn a clear target for providing more job opportunities and reducing poverty.

"By 2010, we expect that biofuel industry will have provided 3.5 million job opportunities for villagers and increased their wage at least up to the regional minimum wage by developing 5.25 million hectares of plants, which are sources of biofuel," she said.

"But the target should also be followed by a proper pricing policy that will benefit farmers."

Currently, the ministry, together with the Coordinating Ministry for the Economy and the Coordinating Ministry for People's Welfare, is working on a regulation that would make the use of biofuel mandatory in the hope that it would encourage the use of the environmentally friendly fuel.

The first areas to test the regulation will be Java and Sumatra, where there are several biofuel projects.

Indonesia mainly produces biodiesel, with more than 11 government-supported biodiesel plants under construction (earlier post), but the country wants to replace gasoline with ethanol as well. Its ethanol program is based on sugarcane and cassava.

To achieve its goals, Indonesia will be planting 2.25 million hectares to grow the crops, out of a total of 6 million that have been allotted for energy crops (see here).

Picture: workers load oil palm fruit bunches into a truck. Credit: Reuters.

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Energem acquires jatropha biodiesel project in Mozambique

Vancouver-based Energem Resources, an Africa-focused natural resources group, announces [*.pdf] that it has acquired a 70% controlling interest in a jatropha based biodiesel venture in Mozambique, one of the emerging 'biofuel superpowers' (more here, here and especially here). Furthermore, the company has taken on a senior management team with extensive experience of plantation management and biofuels in the region. This management team will retain a 30% interest in the venture.

The venture, which was initiated some three years ago, now renamed Energem Renewable Energy Limited, forms part of Energem's recently established Biofuels division. The venture has established jatropha seedling nursery facilities, and has commenced the clearing and planting of 1000 hectares of land in Mozambique. Core to the project is three years of research and development into the use of jatropha in Mozambique as a crop to produce oil for transesterification and further refining to biodiesel.

Energem has acquired its 70% equity interest in the venture in exchange for a commitment to fund the further development of the project for an amount of up to US$5.5 million. This amount is expected to be required over the next year to fully plant the initial 1000 hectares, clear and commence planting on a further 5000 hectares, acquire additional land of up to 60,000 hectares (presently under application from the Mozambiquan Government), and produce a first crop of unrefined jatropha seed oil to confirm expected yields and oil quality.

This acquisition is consistent with Energem's recently announced, redefined strategic focus, primarily on the mid-stream oil and gas infrastructure and biofuels sectors. As part of this process, the Company has established a new operating division, Energem Biofuels, with the Kisumu Ethanol Plant in Kenya at its core.

The company believes that these core sectors have enormous potential and scalability across the African continent - an assessment echoed by, amongst others, Mozambique's Minister of Energy, Salvador Namburete (see his presentation at the landmark International Conference on Biofuels organised by the EU and held last month in Brussels). Researchers have put the country's annual sustainable biomass production potential at around 7 Exajoules (map, click to enlarge), an amount of energy roughly equivalent to around 3 million barrels of oil per day:
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Jatropha is a hardy plant which produces high yields of oil suitable for refining into biodiesel. Jatropha is not suitable for either human or animal consumption and will not compete with food crop production, as the land to be used is not suited to the growing of food crop, the company says. The land to be used does not require the clearing of any indigenous forest.

Energem Resources Inc. is a natural resources company listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange with projects in the energy and mining sectors in a number of African countries. Energem is committed to developing niche high margin natural resource projects in Africa and is currently active in 16 countries. Ventures encompass diamond mining and mineral exploration, mid- and up-stream oil and gas projects, energy and mining related manufacturing, trading and trade finance businesses operating off a common logistics platform and infrastructure. The company has offices and/or logistics and support infrastructure in Johannesburg, London, Beijing and a number of African countries.

Energem is not the first company to invest in Mozambique's biofuel potential. Others include the Dutch ESV Group (earlier post) and Chinese and Portuguese companies (previous post). Italy's ENI group is collaborating with Brazil's stat-owned oil company Petrobras in Mozambique, in a typical South-North-South type of cooperation (here).

Finally, Mozambique also signed a biofuel cooperation agreement with India, aimed at using green fuel production as a lever for poverty alleviation (more here).

References:
Salvador Namburete: Mozambique's Experience on Bio-fuels [*.pdf], Minister of Energy of the Republic of Mozambique, presentation at the International Conference on Biofuels, Brussels, July 5-6, 2007.

Batidzirai, B., A.P.C. Faaij, E.M.W. Smeets (2006), "Biomass and
bioenergy supply from Mozambique"
[*abstract / *.pdf], Energy for Sustainable Development, X(1),
Pp. 54-81

Faaij, A.P.C., "Emerging international biomass markets and the potential implications for rural development" [*.pdf], Development and Climate Project Workshop: Rural development, the roles of food, water and biomass; opportunities and challenges; Dakar, Senegal, 14-16 November 2005.

Biopact: Journal "Energy for Sustainable Development" focuses on international bioenergy trade - November 05, 2006 (has a case study on Mozambique's potential).


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Dynamotive and Mitsubishi Corporation sign cooperation agreement

Dynamotive Energy Systems Corporation, dedicated to producing second-generation biofuels from cellulosic biomass via fast pyrolysis, and Mitsubishi Corporation, Japan's largest general trading and investment company, signed a letter of agreement whereby development and strategic opportunities for cooperation are identified and protocols are established to jointly advance them.

The comprehensive agreement between Mitsubishi’s New Energy Business Unit, Business Innovation Group, and Dynamotive lays out the framework for exploring areas of cooperation in project development, finance, technology development, product research and application, and fuel supply and trading. It also recognizes Dynamotive's market potential in the field of cellulose based biofuels providing it and its partners a unique opportunity for growth.

The companies have worked cooperatively for the past 18 months, having previously signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Mitsubishi Canada Ltd., and have identified projects and commercial opportunities that are earmarked for early development. Each opportunity described in the letter is subject to negotiation of a definitive agreement between Dynamotive and the corresponding business unit of Mitsubishi.
  • Biofuel production: included in the project opportunities are Dynamotive's current development in Argentina where it is building 6 pyrolysis plants (earlier post) and other projects in Latin America, project development in China where Dynamotive has worked in cooperation with the National Development and Reform Commission, project opportunities in the US where Dynamotive has an operating subsidiary and new project opportunities in Japan and South East Asia, among others that are introduced by Mitsubishi.
  • Project finance: in addition, the agreement envisages project finance and supply of equipment by Mitsubishi in line with the previous MOU signed between Dynamotive and Mitsubishi Canada. Specifically, the Companies have agreed to initiate preliminary discussion for the refinancing of Dynamotive’s current plant and equity participation in West Lorne. This plant has an asset value of approximately U.S. $18 million, with the full output of West Lorne contractually committed (earlier post).
  • Fuel supply and trading: the agreement framework establishes parameters for the possibility to supply BioOil from Evolution Biofuels (Guelph Plant, previous post) to Mitsubishi for testing and market development purposes as part of an overall expansion strategy. This plant's production capacity is rated at 50,000 tonnes annually.
  • Technology licensing: Mitsubishi has requested the licensing of Dynamotive’s technology for small plant capacity (20 tonnes and under) for fabrication and marketing in Japan. Dynamotive is evaluating, as a result of this request, the opportunity to deliver a 15 tonne per day plant to Mitsubishi. Dynamotive currently has a plant of this capacity that could be refurbished for this purpose.
BioOil or pyrolysis oil is an industrial fuel produced from cellulose waste material, such as wood chips. The company's fast pyrolysis technology heats dry biomass to medium temperatures in oxygen-free conditions, turning it into pyrolysis oil. When combusted this oil produces substantially less smog-precursor nitrogen oxides (‘NOx’) emissions than conventional oil as well as little or no sulfur oxide gases (‘SOx’), which are a prime cause of acid rain:
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BioOil and Dynamotive's 'BioOil Plus' (more here) are price-competitive replacements for heating oils #2 and #6 that are widely used in industrial boilers and furnaces. They have been EcoLogo certified, having met stringent environmental criteria for industrial fuels as measured by Environment Canada’s Environmental Choice Program. BioOil can be produced from a variety of residue cellulosic biomass resources and is not dependent on food-crop production. The product can be further refined into liquid fuels for transportation.

Mitsubishi Corporation is Japan's largest general trading & investment company (sogo shosha). Together, with its over 500 group companies, Mitsubishi employs a multinational workforce of approximately 54,000 people. Mitsubishi has long been engaged in business with customers around the world in virtually every industry, including energy, metals, machinery, chemicals, food and living essentials.

Its new Energy Business Unit, Business Innovation Group, works on the development of new energy to supplement and replace fossil fuels, such as solar batteries, fuel cells, and biomass fuels. In addition, the group finances a variety of businesses by creating a clean energy fund.

Dynamotive Energy Systems Corporation is an energy solutions provider headquartered in Vancouver, Canada, with offices in the USA, UK and Argentina. Its carbon and greenhouse-gas-neutral fast pyrolysis technology uses medium temperatures and oxygen-free conditions to turn dry, waste cellulosic biomass into BioOil for power and heat generation. BioOil can be further converted into vehicle fuels and chemicals.

Earlier this year, Dynamotive announced it was going to test biochar soil sequestration, which results in carbon-negative biofuels (previous post).


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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

EU emission trading scheme faces revolt in Eastern Europe

The EU's Emission Trading Scheme is facing a revolt by Eastern European countries who claim their carbon allowances, set by the Commission, are too low. Six member states are considering taking legal action against the executive branch of the Union. If they win, the European carbon market and the scheme to make it work would end up in ruins.

The European Union Greenhouse Gas Emission Trading Scheme (EU ETS) is a unique instrument aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions from industry. Put in simple terms, the system works on the basis of national allocation plans, which set the amount of carbon dioxide a country's industry is allowed to emit and which determines the basis of the market price for carbon. Some 12,000 large industrial plants in the EU are then able to buy and sell permits to release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The EU ETS enables companies exceeding individual CO2 emissions targets to buy allowances from 'greener' ones and thus help reach the EU targets under the Kyoto Protocol. The national cap is calculated by the member state, but the Commission makes its own assessment of the proposal and if necessary corrects it, downwards.

Even though analysts see the ETS as a model scheme for tackling climate change (previous post), the first trading phase, which ran from 2005 to 2007, completely failed because allocations were set way too high. Some say these over-allocations were the result of governments succumbing to industrial lobbies. In any case, the excess led to a crash of the price of carbon and with it the incentive for industry to invest in cleaner technologies.

Revolt in Eastern Europe
A repeat of that scenario during the second phase (2008-2012) is now looming. Latvia is the latest country to join Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Estonia in challenging the trading scheme, after the Commission ordered [*.pdf] it to lower its proposed cap to 3.43 million tonnes annually rather than the 6.25 million it had asked for.

The Eastern European countries are arguing that the strict limits imposed by the EU executive are too low and will hurt their economies at a time when they are still playing catch-up to the rest of the Union. Latvian Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis announced his government's decision to take the Commission to the European Court of Justice to fight the cap:
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But the Commission appeared undaunted. "We are confident that our decisions that have been challenged will stand up in court", said environment spokeswoman Barbara Helfferich, insisting that the Commission had "applied the rules fairly" and had not "discriminated in any way".

Decisions in the six cases could take up to two years, but if the Commission does lose and has to increase member states' CO2 allowances, experts predict it would throw the entire carbon market out of balance.

The first phase of the EU's ETS, from 2005 to 2007, was already seriously undermined because governments grossly over-estimated the amount of pollution credits required by their industries. This vast over-allocation sent carbon prices crashing, and a repeat scenario is feared if the countries win their case.

The legal battle highlights growing tension in the EU over the sacrifices needed to fight climate change ahead of a tough debate between governments, due this autumn, over how the 27 member states should share out the burden of cutting CO2 emissions by 20% by 2020 – a target agreed by EU leaders at the March European Council.

References:
European Commission: EU ETS website.

European Commission: Webpage on national allocation plans.

EU ETS: Questions & Answers on Emissions Trading and National Allocation Plans.

European Commission: Emissions trading: Commission adopts decisions on amendments to five national allocation plans for 2008-2012 - July 13, 2007.

Euractiv: EU Emission Trading Scheme, link dossier (permanently updated).

Biopact: Review of EU Emissions Trading Scheme finds it to be successful, key to climate change policy - June 01, 2007

Biopact: European utilities fail to reduce emissions - report - November 24, 2006

Biopact: The 'obscenity' of carbon trading - November 11, 2006


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Scientists discover key mechanism with which plants cope with stress

Crops are facing a growing number of problems: too much water, too little sunlight, droughts, a changing atmosphere... In short, they are suffering from all kinds of stress. Climate change may make things worse by transforming certain regions into becoming high stress environments, whereas in others conditions will change in a more beneficial way, but requiring plants to adapt just as dramatically. In order to develop climate-resilient plants and to create robust energy crops, more insight is needed into how plants cope with stress.

Scientists from the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology (VIB), associated with the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (K.U.Leuven, Belgium), have revealed a new mechanism demonstrating the intricate ways in which plants do just that. They found a crucial metabolic process which regulates the fine line between life and death. They publish their results in the advance online publication of Nature. The newly discovered control system has a remarkable way of orchestrating the activity of hundreds of genes, forcing plants into 'safety mode'; the consumption of energy is contained while the organism is stimulated to mobilize reserves. This may have a negative impact on growth, but it allows the plant to temporarily safeguard itself against pernicious stress conditions.

Photosynthetic plants are the principal solar energy converter sustaining life on Earth. But despite its fundamental importance, little is known about how plants sense and adapt to darkness in the daily light–dark cycle, or how they adapt to unpredictable environmental stresses that compromise photosynthesis and respiration and deplete energy supplies. With that most intricate of biochemical processes, called photosynthesis, plants catch sunlight and use it as an energy source to produce sugars from CO2 and water. In doing so, they are at the very basis of the food and energy chain of the planet. Without plants, life as we know it today would simply not be possible. So what if things go wrong when there is too little sunlight, for example? And what with other stressful conditions for plants, such as droughts or floods? Environmental changes can compromise the crucial engine of photosynthesis and exhaust energy supplies, simply leading to death.

Plants manage their own energy balance
Fortunately, plants have developed different mechanisms to detect and cope with these multiple forms of stress. Together with his American colleagues at Harvard Medical School (Boston, USA), VIB scientist Filip Rolland, associated with the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, is uncovering a new system of detection and control.

It is driven by kinases 'KIN10' and 'KIN11'. These kinases, which are also found in human beings, react to energy shortages, when, for example, there is too little sunlight or too little sugar production. They control the activity of a broad network of genes, promoting the release of energy (catabolism) from alternative sources and blocking its assimilation (anabolism). In this way, the plant protects itself against stress conditions:
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The key players: KIN10 & KIN11
The model organism for this study was Arabidopsis thaliana or thale cress. For decades, this small weed has been used as a model in molecular and genetic plant research. The scientists have tested numerous stress conditions that affect photosynthesis and energy production, such as darkness, herbicide treatment and flooding (lack of oxygen). By overexpressing the KIN10 gene, causing the plant to produce more of this protein, stress tolerance is increased and plants survive longer. By switching off these genes, their control function is eliminated.

With this research, the Flemish and American scientists have succeeded for the first time in attributing KIN10 and KIN11 a key role in the control of the plant energy budget and metabolism and thus the fragile balance between growth and survival; in short, the choice between life and death.

Interestingly the new insights gained by this study are not limited to the functioning of plants; they may also be important for human beings. KIN10 and KIN11, as 'fuel gauges' controlling the expression of a whole set of genes, are also found in mammals. The results with plants, therefore, may play a pioneering role in discovering new functions of these proteins in disorders such as diabetes, cancer, obesitas, and aging.

VIB, the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology, is a non-profit scientific research institute. Using advanced gene technology, VIB studies the functioning of the human body, plants and microorganisms.

Image: Arabidopsis thaliana, a model crop frequently used in plant biology research, with a growing part of its genome being sequenced and made available to the science community. Credit: The Scientist.

References:

Elena Baena-González, Filip Rolland, Johan M. Thevelein, & Jen Sheen, "A central integrator of transcription networks in plant stress and energy signalling", Nature advance online publication, doi:10.1038/nature06069; 1 August 2007

Eurekalert: Plants and stress -- key players on the thin line between life and death revealed - August 1, 2007.



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Automotive X Prize gathers steam: 30 teams ready to compete

The Automotive X PRIZE (AXP), a competition designed to inspire a new generation of viable, super-efficient vehicles to help break America's addiction to oil and stem the effects of climate change, announced today that over 30 teams have signed a letter of intent to compete once the prize is officially funded and launched.

The international competition, in which qualified teams will compete head to head, aims to dramatically increase consumer access to ultra-efficient, clean, affordable and desirable vehicles. The 30 plus teams include diverse groups from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and Switzerland. More than 300 additional teams have inquired about joining and are actively considering entry.

The independent and technology-neutral AXP competition is open to teams from around the world to prove they can design, build and bring to market 100 miles per gallon (2.35liter/100km) or equivalent fuel economy vehicles that people want to buy. Industry experts will scrutinize team plans. Those that qualify will race their vehicles in rigorous cross-country stages that combine speed, distance, urban driving and overall performance. The winners will be the vehicles that exceed 100 mpg equivalent, fall under strict emissions caps and finish in the fastest time.
In just a short time, we have seen a tremendous enthusiasm for the Automotive X PRIZE. We believe this enthusiasm reflects the strong interest among the car-driving public for new options of super-efficient vehicles. It is clear energy legislation in Congress will fall far short of encouraging the type of breakthroughs that are needed to provide a new generation of ultra-efficient vehicles. We have designed AXP to be a technology-neutral competition to help provide this new generation of vehicles, and we are pleased that the fairness of our competition guidelines has been ratified by the interest among a wide variety of teams and technologies. - Donald J. Foley, executive director of the AXP.
The competition is expected to travel through multiple cities while broadcast to a global audience in 2009 and 2010, building consumer demand for vehicles in the competition and demonstrating many practical, clean and affordable vehicle options. Cities involved in the competition route have not yet been chosen:
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Reflecting the nature of the non-partisan effort, two leading members of Congress on energy issues, Senators Richard G. Lugar (R-IN) and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), have expressed their support for the AXP.

The AXP has also received support and encouragement from several government agencies that will help the privately-funded organization conduct the competition and test vehicle compliance, including the U.S. Department of Energy and Argonne National Laboratory; the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway, Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Federal Highway Administration (FHA); the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Transportation and Air Quality (OTAQ); and the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

In addition, non-governmental organizations supporting the AXP include the National Resources Defense Council, Union of Concerned Scientists, the Apollo Alliance, the Consumer Federation of America, Global Green USA, CALSTART and Greenpeace among others.

The AXP has recently finalized a supporting sponsorship from Adobe. Other early AXP sponsors and donors include Idealab, Ray Sidney of Big George Ventures, the Elbaz Foundation, and the Jack D. Hidary Foundation.

Once fundraising for the prize purse and administration is complete, the AXP will officially launch. "We are seeking assistance from major foundations, corporations and philanthropic individuals to help bring about this revolution in transportation," Diamandis said. "Visionary individuals and organizations have risen to this type of challenge before by backing the Ansari X PRIZE for personal spaceflight, and the Archon X PRIZE for Genomics. We're confident we can build a financial base for this competition as well, and expect one or more heroes to rise to this challenge."

The following 30 teams have signed a letter of intent signaling their intent to apply for the AXP competition:
It will be interesting to see how different propulsion technologies (combustion engines, hybrids and plug-in hybrids, fuel cells, battery-electric systems) will be coupled to different fuels and their production paths (e.g. over 70 possible combinations have been identified and studied for their well-to-wheel efficiency in a recent EU-report). Radically new designs and materials will be used and all this with saleabilty and commercial viability in mind. A tall, but exciting order.

Volkswagen's 264 mpg concept
Many who have followed the creation of the Automotive X Prize have pointed to Volkswagen's 1 liter concept, developed back in 2002. So we will do here too, because it remains a classic example of what is possible in principle: 264 miles per gallon!


Some specifications of this ultra-efficient car: an unusually narrow and very flat body form, a necessity for a small frontal area. The body was developed in a wind tunnel, is 3.47 metres long, but just 1.25 metres wide and just over a metre in height, and is made completely of carbon fibre composites. To save weight, it is of course not painted. The carbon-fibre-reinforced outer skin is tensioned over a spaceframe that is not made of aluminium, but rather of magnesium, which is even lighter.

The 1-litre car is powered by a one-cylinder diesel engine, centrally positioned in front of the rear axle and combined with an automated direct shift gearbox. The crankcase and cylinder head of the 0.3-litre engine are of an aluminium monobloc construction. The naturally aspirated, direct-injection diesel engine employs advanced high-pressure unit injection technology to generate 6.3 kW (8.5 bhp) at 4,000 rpm. This gives the vehicle, which weights just 290 kg, an astonishingly lively temperament.

Fuel consumption is a mere 0.99 litre per 100 kilometres. With a 6.5-litre tank, this gives a range of some 650 kilometres (404 miles) without refuelling.

Picture: Volkswagen hyper-efficient 1-litre (264mpg) car, developed in 2002.

References:

Automotive X PRIZE: Automotive X PRIZE Announces First 30 Teams in Multimillion Dollar Competition for 100 MPGe Vehicles - August 1, 2007.

Serious Wheels: Volkswagen 1-Liter Car - s.d. 2002.

Biopact: EU study looks at pros and cons of 20 most promising alternative fuels - July 25, 2007

The study showing the WTW efficiency of 70 fuels and propulsion technologies can be found here: Biopact: Hydrogen out, compressed biogas in - October 01, 2006



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Agricultural Research Service scientists study peanuts as energy crop

At the Exposition Universelle of 1900 in Paris, Rudolf Diesel demonstrated his revolutionary engine by using pure peanut oil as fuel. The most efficient combustion engine was even explicitly designed to run on plant oil and not on petroleum. Back then, the German genius made the visionary remark that one day, when petroleum resources run out, all cars would use plant oils grown by farmers in a decentralised manner and to their great benefit (earlier post). To some, we may be closing in on that day. Will the humble peanut make Diesel's prediction a reality? If it is up to researchers in the US, the answer is yes.


Land-suitability for rainfed cropping of groundnut under high inputs. Source: FAO, Land and Water Development Division; land suitability database for 30 crops.
Groundnuts or peanuts (Arachis hypogaea L.), a nitrogen-fixing legume, are cultivated in over 100 countries in the global south (overview at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics). A look at a world map showing the most suitable areas for growing the crop reveals that there are vast stretches of land on the globe where groundnuts can be grown in optimal conditions. Interestingly, these suitable areas are situated in countries that currently belong to the poorest of the world - most notably in the Sahel (map, click to enlarge). Earlier, we had an in-depth look into this potential (here). To summarize that overview, we list a quick scan of the available hectarage per country. Let us take America, where peanut-oil biodiesel is gradually getting off the ground (previous post), as a reference case: United States: 23.8 million hectares of 'very suitable' to 'moderately suitable' land, with an average potential yield of 1.57 tons/ha.

Compare this with a few selected poor countries of the Sahel (in fact countries in Eastern Africa have an even larger potential):
  • Sudan: 65.2 million hectares of 'very suitable' to 'moderately suitable' land, with an average yield of 2.1 tons/ha.
  • Central African Republic: 28.2 million hectares of 'very suitable' to 'moderately suitable' land, with an average yield of 2 tons/ha.
  • Benin: 9.2 million hectares of 'very suitable' to 'moderately suitable' land, with an average yield of 2.7 tons/ha.
  • Burkina Faso: 14.6 million hectares of 'very suitable' to 'moderately suitable' land, with an average yield of 2 tons/ha.
  • Chad: 24.6 million hectares of 'very suitable' to 'moderately suitable' land, with an average yield of 2.1 tons/ha.
  • Mali: 17.5 million hectares of 'very suitable' to 'moderately suitable' land, with an average yield of 1.8 tons/ha.
In short, there is enough non-forest land and technical potential to expand the cultivation of this biofuel feedstock which has many benefits over other energy crops grown in semi-arid regions (see below). Optimitistically, we foresee a day when poor countries in the developing world will supply specially designed groundnuts that do not compete with food, to local biorefineries and biofuel world markets. Scientists from the United States Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) are contributing to this future by researching economically feasible peanut varieties for that very purpose.

Agronomist Wilson Faircloth at the ARS National Peanut Research Laboratory at Dawson, Ga., and Daniel Geller, a collaborative engineer at the University of Georgia, are testing a peanut called Georganic. It's not suited to current commercial edible standards for peanuts, but is high in oil and has low production input costs:
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Georganic — or similar varieties — will likely be the future of peanut biodiesel because it can be planted and grown with just one herbicide application for weed control, compared to the three to four applications typically sprayed during a growing season for edible peanuts. Additionally, these fuel peanuts are grown without fungicides, which are the greatest input cost in traditional peanut production.

To further reduce production costs and increase yield, the research team is also studying technology such as conservation tillage and selection of varieties with high tolerance to multiple diseases. Currently, there are 24 peanut varieties being scrutinized in this biodiesel screening project, including Georganic, which was developed by ARS breeders in Tifton, Ga. Promising varieties also include DP-1 and Georgia-04S, a new high-oleic-acid, Spanish-type peanut.

Many old and new peanut varieties are being tested for field performance, and their oils are being analyzed for diesel performance characteristics. It has been found that high-oleic-acid peanuts—a quality desired for extended shelf life of food products—also make the best biodiesel fuel.

Today, soybean oil is the primary oil used in the United States for biodiesel fuel production. Soybeans produce approximately 50 gallons of fuel per acre, while traditionally grown peanuts can produce approximately 120 to 130 gallons of biodiesel fuel per acre.

Groundnut is an interesting energy crop for several reasons:
  • it grows well in semi-arid regions and requires limited fertilizer and water inputs
  • therefor it does not cause any pressures on rainforest ecologies, a critique often raised against other tropical energy crops (most notably palm oil)
  • the regions where groundnut thrives are populated by the world's poorest people (especially Sahelian countries, like Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Chad, the Central African Republic, Sudan -- who all rank at the bottom of the scale of, for example, the Human Development Index)
  • many non-commercial and non-edible varieties with high yields can be developed and improved
  • in contrast to other energy crops which thrive well in semi-arid regions, such as the perennial shrubs jatropha curcas and pongamia pinnata, groundnut can be harvested mechanically
All of the crop's parts can be used as bioenergy feedstocks:
  • the nuts themselves have a high oil content (around 50%) and one hectare of groundnut yields around 1000 litres of oil; the oil has a relatively low melting point, a medium iodine value and a high flash-point - characteristics which make it a suitable oil for biodiesel production
  • the groundnut has a residue-to-product ratio of around 0.5-1.2 for pods and 2.2-2.9 for straw; this means that for every ton of nuts produced, 500 to 1200kg of shells become available and 2.2 to 2.9 tons of straw residue are harvested; in total groundnut yields between 3.7 and 5.1 tons of biomass per hectare
  • these residues offer an interesting solid biofuel, with a relatively high energy content of 16Mj/kg for shells and 18Mj/kg for straw - with advanced bioconversion technologies (cellulosic ethanol or pyrolisis) this 'waste' biomass can be turned into liquid fuels and bioproducts; alternatively, it could be densified and used in biomass (co-firing) power plants
References:
USDA ARS: Peanuts Studied as Source of Biodiesel Fuel - July 30, 2007

Biopact: US firm Perihelion to use peanuts for biodiesel - January 30, 2007

Biopact: The spirit of Rudolf Diesel: peanuts and socialism - September 19, 2006

International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics: Groundnut (peanut), profile.

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The bioeconomy at work: green chemistry manufacturers buying biodiesel by-products

The idea of an integrated 'bioeconomy' is becoming ever more tangible. With oil prices at new records and climate change requiring stronger mitigation efforts, virtually all industrial sectors are searching for alternatives to petroleum. Manufacturers are gradually making the transition towards relying on bio-based resources to make everyday products such as bioplastics or clean solvents. Even though the sector of 'green chemistry' is in its infancy, some interesting developments are underway.

International Oil & Gas Holdings Corporation (IOGH), for example, announced today that chemical industry manufacturers have begun purchasing biodiesel production by-products from its Oklahoma plant, which recently announced it has achieved a 6,000 gallon-per-day biodiesel production milestone.

The company reports that bio-chemical manufacturers plan to market green specialty products such as cleaning solvents, surfactants, additives for two-cycle engine oils, and marine fuel replacements. IOGH biochemical by-products, such as glycerin (glycerol) will replace the petroleum-based chemicals commonly used for these products, creating new categories of green and renewable products for consumers.
The chemical industry has been under increasing pressure to find bio-chemical raw materials for their end-product production. We are opening a new supply line for green industry equivalents that manufactures have traditionally drawn from feedstock supply lines. - Rick Graves, President of IOGH.
In the future, green chemistry and biofuel production will be integrated in biorefineries which are based on complex cascading strategies designed to obtain an optimal use of biomass resources, residues and conversion processes (an in-depth look at this concept):
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“We feel that our proprietary process for producing biodiesel and green energy by-products comes at a key time when America’s committed to achieving energy independence,” said Mr. Graves. “With sales underway for our biodiesel and now our biodiesel production by-products, IOGH is moving in the right direction at the right time for America’s future.”

International Oil & Gas Holdings Corporation is a diversified holding company, managing assets in the energy, biofuel, bio-chemicals and renewable technologies markets. IOGHC focuses on high-growth potential early-stage companies and existing profitable companies to build value from synergies and new market opportunities.

IOGHC leverages its know-how, relationships and technology to build energy-efficient production plants to produce competitive fuels, chemicals and energy from renewable resources as well as help remediate problematic environments.

IOGHC technology and production processes aim to have positive economic and environmental impact by relying on renewable non-food feed stocks instead of petroleum, while producing only clean chemicals and electricity as by-products.


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New Zealand launches commercial ethanol, made from milk by-product

Gull New Zealand announced [*.pdf] today the launch of 'Gull Force 10' which is the first time a biofuel for everyday transport use has been made commercially available to Kiwi motorists. The biofuel is a blend of premium gasoline as a base fuel and 10 percent bioethanol. The ethanol is supplied by leading dairy producer Fonterra, a cooperative which makes the fuel from whey, a natural by-product of milk processing (earlier post).

Gull will introduce the blend to three of its New Zealand sites and is looking to extend the product offering to most of its 30 sites over time. The Gull Force 10 blend will be included in Foodtown, Countdown and Woolworth’s grocery fuel discount programme.

In February New Zealand's government set a national target of 3.4 per cent for the biofuel component of petrol and diesel in 2012. Oil companies will have to start offering biofuels from April 1 next year, and the government has said there will be no excise tax charged on the ethanol. Prime Minister Helen Clark – who has previously announced that New Zealand has the potential to lead the world in renewable energy – formally launched the Gull product today at North Harbour stadium. The official first fill-up occured at Gull's Greville Road petrol station in Albany.

Fonterra's Edgecumbe dairy factory in the Bay of Plenty successfully tested petrol mixed with 10 per cent ethanol in a 1.8-litre car, in a blend approved by the Environmental Risk Management Authority. The Edgecumbe plant produces 30,000 litres of ethanol a day and over five million litres in a dairy season. Fonterra also produces ethanol at other plants, including Reporoa and Tirau, for use in industrial cleansers, vodka and gin:
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Gull – a family-owned operation with 30 petrol stations in the North Island – signed on Fonterra in 2004 to produce ethanol to be added to "premium" petrol. Blending of petrol and ethanol will take place at Mt Maunganui. The small player has outwitted large oil companies by entering the market first, giving a major boost to its brand recognition.

The General Manager of Gull New Zealand Dave Bodger sees the bioethanol launch as an example of Gull setting the pace for the market in New Zealand and showing its commitment to Kiwi motorists, sustainability and a cleaner environment.
The launch of Gull Force 10 comes significantly ahead of the mandatory biofuel sales targets set by the Government for April 2008. Once again Gull is at the forefront of innovation and change in the motoring and petroleum industry, and today’s announcement is continuing the industry leadership that we’ve always demonstrated. - General Manager of Gull New Zealand Dave Bodger
Wayne Ferrell, Gull Petroleum’s CEO explains the reasons why Kiwi motorists should switch to the more eco-friendly Gull Force 10 bioethanol: not only is the blend cleaner for the environment by ensuring lower emissions and overall cleaner burning, but it will also give Kiwi motorists more power and a higher performance whilst actually cleaning their car’s fuel system.

Four of New Zealand’s major vehicle manufacturers, Honda, Ford, Volkswagen and General Motors / Holden all offered their congratulations and support to Gull for building a sustainable environment for motorists with the introduction of Gull Force 10 by supplying their cars for the official ‘first pour’.

Gull started operations in New Zealand with the building of a state of the art terminal in Mount Maunganui in 1998. Tanks were relocated from Marsden Point by barge, a feat the opposition said was “impossible”. Gull made the first retail sales of petrol in 1999 and has grown the network to 30 branded sites. Gull was the first company to introduce low sulphur diesel to the New Zealand market bringing environmental benefits well ahead of the opposition. Gull is the only independent oil company operating in New Zealand and is credited with keeping the fuel market competitive and giving savings to the Kiwi motorist

Fonterra is the world’s largest dairy exporter and the fifth largest dairy company in the world, with annual turnover in excess of NZ$13 billion. As New Zealand’s largest and truly multinational business, Fonterra trades in 140 countries. Its portfolio includes dairy ingredients, liquid and powdered milks, cultured foods and yoghurts, butter, cheese, specialty foodservices products and ethanol, now also as a biofuel.

Picture
: Prime Minister Helen Clark filled up with Gull's Force 10 Bio ethanol fuel at an Auckland Gull station at the launch of the new milk-derived ethanol-petrol blend. Credit: John Selkirk / Fairfax Media

References:
Gull: Gull first to launch biofuel to Kiwi motorists [*.pdf] - August 11, 2007.

Stuff NZ: Kiwi-made milk-based biofuel on the way - August 1, 2007.

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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

EU project: long-distance hydrogen transport and trade feasible

Is it economically viable and sustainable to produce hydrogen outside the EU from clean and renewable sources (biomass, wind, solar, hydro, geothermal), and then import it over very long distances to consumers in the Union? The answer is yes, according to ENCOURAGED, an EU-funded project, which released its summary report.

Funded under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), the ENCOURAGED project ('Energy Corridors Optimisation for the European Markets of Gas, Electricity and Hydrogen') analyses the technical, commercial and geopolitical complexities of long-distance trade and imports of natural gas, electricity and hydrogen. The project assessed the optimisation of future 'energy corridors' between the EU and neighbouring countries.

Extending the benefits of the Internal Market is part of actions of the EU to integrate the energy markets of surrounding countries. These current and future neighbouring countries will play a vital role in the development of the EU, as they are the main suppliers and transit countries for oil and natural gas. That role will grow significantly will be extended in the next decades with electricity trade and later possibly with hydrogen supply from neighbouring countries. The goals of ENCOURAGED were:
  • To assess the economic optimal energy interconnections and network infrastructure for electricity, gas and hydrogen of EU with and through neighbouring regions (North Africa, Middle East and Turkey, Central and Eastern Europe, Russia and Iceland) connecting EU with key producers in next decades.
  • To identify, quantify and evaluate the barriers and potential benefits of a large European “energy connected area”.
  • Propose necessary policy measures to implement the recommended energy corridors with a focus on investment and the geopolitical framework.
  • To recommend the necessary measures to be adopted to ensure, realize and implement these energy corridors and realise a high-level of network security and organise workshops and a final stakeholders conference to assure consensus among scientists and other stakeholders to validate the results.
The ENCOURAGED project now published its summary report titled Energy corridors: European Union and Neighbouring countries [*.pdf]. We focus on the findings concerning long-distance hydrogen trade.

Hydrogen trade feasible
Concerns over energy supply security, climate change, local air pollution, and increasing price of energy services have a growing impact on policy decisions throughout the world. Increasingly, hydrogen is seen as offering a range of benefits with respect of being a clean energy carrier, if produced by clean, safe and renewable primary energy sources, such as biomass, wind, solar, geothermal or hydro. But since EU domestic energy resources are limited the question can be raised whether it is an economic efficient as well as sustainable option to produce hydrogen outside the EU and import it over very long distances to consumers inside the EU.

To answer that question first potential hydrogen demand in the EU in the very long term was projected. Next the potential cheapest hydrogen production centres were identified including the costs of producing the hydrogen there. These 12 centers outside Europe were Morocco, Algeria, Iceland, Norway, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey and the Ukraine, where the clean gas can be made from renewables (map, click to enlarge). As a next step the total costs of selected hydrogen pathways are compared (graph, click to enlarge).

The project's study found that together the production centres could meet Europe's total projected hydrogen needs of the lowest hydrogen penetration scenario (400 terawatt-hour by 2040) and half of the highest scenario (over 1,000 Twh). North Africa has the largest technical potential (wind and solar) but production costs would be very high, followed by Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania (biomass) with a big potential and low costs, but where biomass may find more attractive, competing uses (combustion, methanation, liquid fuels). Norway, drawing on hydropower, has the third largest technical potential:
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In summary and on the basis of the analysis of the potentials and the economic feasibility of different hydrogen corridor options with sources in the neighbouring countries, including a cost comparison with domestic hydrogen production in the EU25 (as benchmark), the following conclusions can be drawn:
  • Hydrogen import supply routes are particularly attractive in the very long term, if based on renewable energy sources and can significantly contribute to the EU policy goals of securing energy supply and reducing greenhouse gas emissions if sustainability is the key objective.
  • Importing renewable hydrogen could start first with some selected corridors after the introduction of hydrogen as a transport fuel, expected from 2015 onwards. Sources for this first phase could be found in Norway and Iceland.
  • When a significant level of hydrogen demand (as a transport fuel) is reached. i. e. more than 10 % hydrogen vehicles in the total vehicle stock around 2030/2040, a wide supply portfolio is possible.
  • Even when renewable feedstock is used, the supply cost (without tax) of many pathways is within a range of double the current cost of gasoline and hence only economically viable under similar terms as presently applied to bio-fuels.
  • Due to the relevant influence of transport costs on the economics of hydrogen corridors, it is important to consider only large-scale production sources in order to exploit economies of scales to lower the relative high specific costs today.
  • Of all corridor options analysed, hydrogen from hydro or geothermal power from Iceland offers the cheapest hydrogen and the lowest barriers with respect to competing with alternative use of it. This is followed by hydrogen from hydropower in Norway and Romania. The following corridors are promising but have certain limitations, e.g. hydrogen from wind power and solar radiation in North Africa (high potential, but also relative high cost) and hydrogen based on biomass from Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey - comparatively cheap, but biomass meets various alternative and very competing applications.
It should be noted that many uncertainties are surrounding the main conclusions regarding economic, feasibility and assumptions underlying the recommendable corridors for the three types of energy carriers. Nevertheless the authors think that the suggested energy corridors with neighbouring countries are robust options to be further investigated in more detail.

To lower costs, the ENCOURAGED study recommends considering only large-scale solutions in order to exploit economies of scale. Of all the hydrogen corridors analysed, hydrogen or geothermal power from Iceland offers the cheapest hydrogen and the lowest barriers with respect to competing alternative use of it. This is followed by hydrogen from hydropower in Norway and Romania, and hydrogen from biomass in Turkey:

Hydrogen could therefore be imported first from these selected corridors and used as a transport fuel. Once the demand for hydrogen (more than 10% of vehicles running on hydrogen by 2030) increases, then a wider portfolio may be considered, says the study. It concludes by underlining the need for further research on these hydrogen corridors to weigh up the pros and cons of them.

References:
ENCOURAGED project: Energy Corridors Optimisation for the European Markets of Gas, Electricity and Hydrogen, homepage.

European Commission, Directorate-General for Research, Directorate Energy: Energy corridors: European Union and Neighbouring countries [*.pdf], Sustainable Energy Systems - July 2007.


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DuPont and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory team up in crop genetic research

DuPont and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory today announced they have entered into a multi-year research collaboration for crop genetics research on yield enhancement and development of enabling technologies in corn, soybeans and other important agricultural crops.

Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont business involved in agricultural plant genetics, and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), an internationally recognized research institution focusing plant biology, have collaborated on individual projects over the past decade. This multi-project, multi-year effort will allow for a deeper sharing of information that aims to facilitate unique approaches to long-term agronomic challenges.
Increasing crop yields is critical to meet growing global demands for food, feed, fuel and fiber. The collaboration will develop technologies that accelerate the rate of yield increase, as well as traits that will bring value to farmers worldwide. - William S. Niebur , vice president – DuPont Crop Genetics Research and Development.
Several teams of researchers from both organizations will make use of extensive genomics data, trait information and germplasm resources from Pioneer in the discovery research collaboration. Pioneer also will have responsibility for bringing innovations and technologies resulting from the collaboration to the marketplace.

The collaboration is expected to accelerate the contributions of plant biology and bioinformatics research to improve global agriculture. The fusion of academic and industry research strengths may produce unique approaches to advance plant science:
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Founded in 1890, CSHL is a private, non-profit research and education institution with programs in cancer, neuroscience, plant genetics, genomics and bioinformatics. The transposable genetic elements, or “jumping genes,” discovered in the middle of the 20th Century at CSHL by Nobel prize winner Barbara McClintock, are the building blocks of plant genetics research today. CSHL is at the forefront of research to isolate plant genes and unravel the genomic sequences of plants such as Arabidopsis, maize and rice.

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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Report: biofuels may lead to gasoline oversupply, lower prices by 2010

Growth in supply of oil products from outside the refining system, that is biofuels and oil products supplied from Natural Gas Liquids (NGLs), will lead to a potential oversupply situation in 2010. This is expected to reduce gasoline prices and impact on refinery utilisation rates concludes oil & gas consultancy Wood Mackenzie in its latest downstream research report Global Refining in 2010 – Out of Balance.

The central conclusion — that a glut of fuel supply from outside the conventional refining system could depress gasoline prices — differs considerably from the consensus amongst other energy experts, which holds that the supply impact from biofuels and other sources will be limited between now and the end of the decade. The report comes amid an industry-wide reevaluation of refinery expansion projects that were once considered likely to be online by 2010 (see the IEA's latest assessment, and OPEC's analysis).
Non-refinery supply is forecast to grow by just over 80 Mt between 2006 and 2010 due to increased NGLs production and from the drive to increase biofuels consumption. While rising refinery project costs (80-100 percent higher since 2002) have led to significant delays and cancellations of a number of key projects post 2010, this reduction in new refinery capacity alone is not enough to counter the oversupply issue. Large clean product surpluses emerging in the Middle East and Asia Pacific are projected to affect utilisation rates in the East of Suez region. - Aileen Jamieson, Downstream Research Manager for Wood Mackenzie
The report states that the impact of the ethanol mandate in the US, and its potential future development, has led refiners to raise doubts about adding refining capacity. As a result, the gasoline deficit in North America will continue to grow by 2010, contrary to an industry expectation that this deficit will be reduced in the short-term. This will provide an outlet for Europe’s gasoline surplus, which is expected to continue to grow.

In fact, Wood Mackenzie anticipates that almost 50 Mt of ethanol will be used globally by 2010, while just less than 20 Mt of biodiesel will be consumed. Brazil and the US are projected to account for 75 percent of global ethanol consumption, while the European Union accounts for almost two thirds of biodiesel use:
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The growth in NGLs production will also lead to a growing surplus of LPG at the same time as a large and growing deficit of naphtha, due to strong demand for petrochemicals. Hence the report also notes that feedstock flexibility will be key for petrochemicals manufacturers in the Middle East and Asia Pacific, where the greatest LPG/naphtha imbalances occur.

Meanwhile, overbuild of refinery upgrading units such as cokers and FCCs is leading to a global oversupply of gasoline and a growing shortage of fuel oil. Despite expected changes in refinery utilisation and yield patterns, as refineries are re-optimised to meet changing demand patterns, gasoline remains with an incremental surplus of 16 Mt, while fuel oil is incrementally 16 Mt short, globally, leading to downward pressure on the gasoline price and an upward pressure on fuel oil price.

References:

Wood Mackenzie: Wood Mackenzie Sees Global Oil Products Oversupply by 2010 Leading to Gasoline Price Reduction - July 31, 2007.

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Study looks at opportunities and effects of using biofuel co-products as livestock feed

By-products from biofuels could help beef up livestock feed in the future, according to a study completed by environmental research group ADAS UK in collaboration with the School of Biosciences at the University of Nottingham's Division of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Rising animal feed costs – partly driven by the demand for biofuels – have caused alarm in the meat production industry recently. But over the long term, biofuel by-products may slow down this upward trend. The study, funded by the Home-Grown Cereals Authority (HGCA), British Pig Executive (BPEX) and English Beef and Lamb Executive (EBLEX), looks at the possibility that co-products from both biodiesel and bioethanol could be used to feed livestock. Some of the findings echo earlier assessments made by the EU (previous post).
It is estimated that, by 2010, there will be an additional 150,000 tonnes of rapeseed meal (RSM) and 10,000 tonnes of glycerol from UK crushed oilseed rape. Predicting wheat distillers’ dried grains with solubles (DDGS) is more difficult but, based on current planned production, some 940,000 tonnes may be available for use as animal feed. - Dr Bruce Cottrill, report author
These large streams of co-products result in a considerable potential for inclusion in livestock feed formulations for cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry. Table 1 outlines the projected inclusion rates for rapeseed meal and for DDGS in different compound feeds.

Key-findings of the report titled Opportunities and Implications of Using the Co-products from Biofuel Production as Feeds for Livestock [*.pdf], include:
  • In the short term, co-products from biofuel production from oilseed rape (and other oilseeds) and sugar beet are likely to have a similar nutritional value to existing co-products. DDGS resulting from bioethanol production could be very different nutritionally to that of DDGS produced from the current potable alcohol production, but this will depend on methods of production used.
  • In the medium term, pressure to reduce green house gas emissions is likely to result in lower protein content feedstocks produced through lower fertiliser use and the development and use of new varieties. This will result in a lower protein content in the co-products. The effects of this on total or digestible amino acid content, or on rumen degradability, are unknown, but will need to be assessed in order to optimise the use of the co-products in livestock diets.
  • Glycerol (glyerin) a co-product of biodiesel is a high energy feed, which can be fed to both ruminants and monogastric animals, although there is relatively little experience of its use as an animal feed. Further research in the UK is recommended to assess maximum inclusion rates in livestock diets.
  • Based on current estimates of production, it seems likely that the livestock industry could absorb all of the additional RSM and glycerol produced. Their use would displace other feed materials currently imported into the UK.
The report further notes that variability in the composition of co-products between different biofuel producers does occur, and can be a major issue for feed compounders. However, variability is likely to become less as technology develops and biofuel producers adopt the most efficient methods of production:
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Increasing global demand for biofuels will affect feed prices primarily as a result of the increase in demand for the raw feedstocks (wheat, maize, soyabean and oilseed rape). In the UK it is anticipated that cereal prices will rise, and as a result overall feed prices will increase. If significant supplies of RSM and DDGS become available in the UK, protein sources used in compound feed formulations may change, and this will be reflected in changes in the total protein and amino acid profiles of rations. As a result, there could be increases in the amounts of N and P excreted by livestock. Concentrate feeds used in the UK are subject to world feed prices, and as a result, increasing supplies of RSM, DDGS or glycerol would be most likely to replace imported feeds.
The amount will fluctuate as the biofuel market matures but this is undoubtedly an opportunity for the British pig industry and manufacturers will be including significant amounts of these in diets. - Mick Sloyan, BPEX chief executive
Methods of energy generation from biomass are likely to change rapidly over the next few years. Lignocellulose sources are likely to become the major feedstocks for bioethanol plants, while there will be increasing attention on the development and use of alternative oilseeds for biodiesel production. These developments will have an impact both on crop and livestock producers in the UK, and they will need to react rapidly to changes in the supply of feed materials.

EBLEX chief executive Richard Ali said: "What shines through in this report are the linkages between energy and agricultural policy and I have no doubt that the livestock sector will become increasingly active in analysing the effects of proposed changes in those regimes."

Photo: distillers’ dried grains from corn in a U.S. ethanol plant. Courtesy: USDA ARS.

References:
Bruce Cottrill, Claire Smith, Pete Berry, Richard Weightman, Julian Wiseman, Gavin White and Mark Temple, Opportunities and Implications of Using the Co-products from Biofuel Production as Feeds for Livestock [*.pdf], ADAS UK, University of Nottingham - April 2007.



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South Africa threads carefully with biofuels: sector must benefit smallholders

South Africa is threading carefully towards a biofueled future. More thorough policy work and consultation are underway to ensure that the sector benefits smallholders first and that regulation is based on a realistic assessment of South Africa's (relatively small) technical potential. The country's Science and Technology Minister, Mosibudi Mangena, said legislation will not be finalized by the end of this year.

The idea that biofuels may serve as an engine of rural development combinded with the prospect of 'peak oil' have made the case for biofuels all the stronger though. South Africa now has one of the most ambitious proposed targets, wanting 75 percent of its renewable energy needs by 2013 covered by biofuels as it seeks to create new markets for its ailing agricultural sector.

Meanwhile, the debate over whether to promote sugarcane over maize as ethanol feedstock continues. And importantly, it has become apparent that South Africa is unlikely to introduce subsidies to support biofuel producers. The country's farming sector underwent a massive cut in state subsidies in the post-apartheid era which is why subsidizing biofuels producers would spark an outcry from farmers.

Mangena was speaking at the 26th annual International Society of Sugarcane Technologists' congress in Durban. The minister said that the contribution of carbon emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels and the fact that global demand for crude oil was consistently outstripping its supply meant that alternative supplies for the world's fuel needs would have to be found.

Small farmers first
The government has suggested that the biofuels industry would be considered as a market for subsistence farmers who would produce feedstock to produce bioethanol. Mangena acknowledged, however, that South Africa is a water-stressed country and the use of valuable land for fuel feedstock production would have to be carefully weighed against food security.

The biofuels industry in South Africa currently remains small, although the country exports about 45% of its sugar crop, which is a potential source of ethol. The South African sugar industry produces roughly 2.5 million tons of sugar a year:
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Until now, the government's focus in agricultural development was largely on transformation through agrarian reform. In this the sugar industry had contributed widely by helping to establishing communities of small growers. However, Mangena was not yet able to comment on the degree of support the government was considering providing to emerging and subsistence farmers for the production of biofuel feedstock. He said various stakeholders from the departments of minerals and energy, agriculture and land affairs, and from environment and tourism were still making inputs. The parliamentary subcommittees on biofuels were expected to report by the end of the year.

Peak oil
Earlier in the congress, which is being held under the auspices of the South African Sugar Association, biologist and biofuel entrepreneur Paul Zorner said that recent year-on-year demand for crude oil had been growing at 2,2% against a historical demand of 1,6%. The demand for transport fuel was expected to be 50% greater by 2030 that what it was today:

Zorner quoted Jeffrey Currie of U.S. financial services consultancy Goldman Sachs as saying that a price of $95 a barrel of crude was likely this year, unless the Opec oil cartel unexpectedly lifted production. 'Oil production is past its peak, though', said Zorner.

Apart from fuel prices, the economic viability of a biofuels industry would depend on the cost and availability of raw feedstock, government regulation and the efficiency of conversion technology. Zorner said that at an oil price of $40 a barrel (a price not seen for years), biofuel market penetration of 10% could be expected. At $50 a barrel the penetration of 30% could be expected. "However, a price of more than $60 a barrel for the next three decades is likely."

Zorner said the U.S., which was by far the world's biggest fuel consumer, had passed legislation last month that would see the use of ethanol for transport fuel increase sevenfold. That would increase world consumption of ethanol three times.

Maize versus sugarcane
Mangena said officials had started to question the wisdom of using maize as a major source for renewable energy. Land officials offered biofuels as part of a rescue plan for maize farmers two years ago when a surplus maize harvest pushed prices to four-year lows. But since then, prices have picked up and for the second consecutive season, South Africa faces a poor maize harvest, raising fears of food security, Mangena said.

Zorner added that biofuel produced from maize provided no carbon dioxide mitigation relative to that of petrol. However, cellulosic and sugar-cane based ethanol reduced carbon dioxide emissions 80% relative to petrol.

The debate about whether SA should favour maize-ethanol production over sugar-ethanol production was not settled, Mangena said. Maize ethanol was considered as an option because of its accessibility to small and subsistence farmers.

Ethanol has been presented as one of several alternative fuels that would reduce the world's carbon emissions, which are largely deemed responsible for global warming and an expected climate change.

Zorner proposed the production of sugar cane for its biomass qualities, rather than for sugar, to produce ethanol from cellulose. This would require a high level of technology, using enzymes to break down cellulose.

He said that in biomass production, sugar cane was the most productive crop on the planet which, through indirect fermentation using enzymes produced by termites, for example, could be converted into energy. Zorner said the technology to transform biomass into fuel existed and that it was about six to eight years away from commercial viability.

Although none of the economic models Zorner developed for this production process depended on subsidies, it would require "heavy global investment" to drive innovation. The biggest hurdle was financing the initial large refineries, he said.

Subsidies unlikely
South Africa's biofuels programme may become a lifeline for the struggling farming sector, but Mangena said that it is unlikely that subsidies will be introduced.

The Southern African Biofuels Association says it needs between 2 billion rand and five billion rand a year from the government to get a capital intensive industry off the ground. Mangena said lending support to the renewable energy industry might spark an outcry from farmers, whose fortunes have waned after a massive cut in state subsidies in post-apartheid South Africa.
My suspicion is government will not give support but will give guidance as to what is desirable and what is not desirable. [...] In the South African environment there are all sorts of factors to be considered. For example... the farming community has been asking for subsidies for quite a while now and you know there are no subsidies. - Mosibudi Mangena, Science and Technology Minister
The minister's statements square with broader free-market economic policies that have taken hold under President Thabo Mbeki, who has also made a tight fiscus the hallmark of his rule since 1999.

Picture: sugar cane fields in Kwazulu Natal.

References:
All Africa: Government Seeking Biofuels Clarity - Mangena - July 31, 2007.

Reuters: S.Africa biofuel subsidy unlikely, says minister - July 30, 2007.


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Monday, July 30, 2007

Oil spill clean-up agents threaten coral reefs

One of the main advantages of biofuels and bioproducts is their biodegradability. Especially in marine environments this is an important benefit (more here and here). A biofuel spill would not have the disastrous consequences seen when an oil tanker breaks and releases petroleum into the sea.


Oil-spill clean-up agents are more lethal to coral reefs than the oil they are supposed to clean-up
There is no easy fix to clean up sticky black crude oil once it has been released into the marine environment. What is more, researchers from the National Institute of Oceanography in Israel now report a major setback for efforts to protect endangered coral reefs from such spills: oil dispersants - the best tool for treating oil spills in tropical areas - are significantly more toxic to coral than the oil they are used to clean up. Their study, which urges caution in the use of these materials, has been released as an open access article in Environmental Science & Technology.

Called the 'rainforests of the sea', coral reefs are an endangered ecosystem and are disappearing at an alarming rate due to numerous threats, including over-fishing, global warming and pollution, particularly oil spills. Besides hosting a rich diversity of marine organisms, these habitats are also potential sources of life-saving medicines and food for humans. Scientists looking for better ways to protect this important habitat have recently focused on the environmental impact of oil dispersants, detergents used break down oil spills into smaller, less harmful droplets.

In the new report, Shai Shafir and colleagues evaluated the effects of both crude oil and six commercial oil dispersants under laboratory conditions on the growth and survival of two important species of reef corals. The dispersants and dispersed oil droplets were significantly more toxic to the coral than the crude oil itself, the scientists report. The dispersants caused significant harm, including rapid, widespread death and delay in growth rates, to the coral colonies tested even at doses recommended by the manufacturers, they add.
In this broader study, we employed a "nubbin assay" on more than 10 000 coral fragments to evaluate the short- and long-term impacts of dispersed oil fractions (DOFs) from six commercial dispersants, the dispersants and water-soluble-fractions (WSFs) of Egyptian crude oil, on two Indo Pacific branching coral species, Stylophora pistillata and Pocillopora damicornis. Survivorship and growth of nubbins were recorded for up to 50 days following a single, short (24 h) exposure to toxicants in various concentrations. Manufacturer-recommended dispersant concentrations proved to be highly toxic and resulted in mortality for all nubbins.
It is estimated that 40% of global crude oil transport is conducted offshore with much of the traffic, taking place in tropical, coral reef-rich areas. This heavy maritime traffic of crude oils and their products is prone to accidents, resulting in major or minor spillages. Although the number of major oil spills has decreased in the past decade it is still, by far, the most serious threat to the marine environment:
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Of the three major ways for treating marine oil spills (chemicals, mechanical containment booms, skimmers and sorbents, biological-biodegrading microorganisms), chemicals, mainly oil dispersants, are probably the most commonly used, the scientists say.

Dispersants are chemicals that contain surfactants and/or solvent compounds that break down floating oil into small droplets within the water-column, which makes the spill less likely to reach shore. Dispersed oil is subjected to natural forces such as waves and currents that promote dissolution of oil droplets.

Use of dispersants for treating oil spills is governed by local and national regulations determining, for instance, distance from shore and depth at which treatment is allowed. However, since most oil-tanker accidents occur near the shore, it is essential to evaluate the impacts of oil dispersants on organisms that live on the seabed, including sea grass populations and coral reefs.

Given that manufacturer-recommended dispersant concentrations proved to be highly toxic and resulted in mortality for all nubbins and that they were significantly more toxic than crude oil, the scientists rule out the use of any oil dispersant in coral reefs and in their vicinity.

The authors therefor urge decision-making authorities to carefully consider these results when evaluating possible use of oil dispersants as a mitigation tool against oil pollution near coral reef areas.

Image: Oil-spill clean-up agents are a threat to coral reefs, researchers say. Courtesy: Shai Shafir, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

References:
Shai Shafir, Jaap Van Rijn, and Baruch Rinkevich, "Short and Long Term Toxicity of Crude Oil and Oil Dispersants to Two Representative Coral Species", Environ. Sci. Technol., 41 (15), 5571 -5574, 2007. 10.1021/es0704582 S0013-936X(07)00458-0, Web Release Date: June 26, 2007, scheduled print edition August 1, 2007.




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New aerogels could purify hydrogen for fuel cells

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory have identified a new technique for cleansing contaminated water and potentially purifying hydrogen for use in fuel cells, thanks to the discovery of a innovative type of porous material. Given that one of the most feasible ways to produce renewable and climate-neutral hydrogen is via biomass (overview), the research into purification techniques is of obvious interest to the biohydrogen community.

Argonne materials scientists Peter Chupas and Mercouri Kanatzidis, along with colleagues at Northwestern and Michigan State universities, created and characterized porous semiconducting aerogels (image, click to enlarge) at Argonne's Advanced Photon Source (APS). The researchers then submerged a fraction of a gram of the aerogel in a solution of mercury-contaminated water and found that the gel removed more than 99.99 percent of the heavy metal. They publish their findings in an open-access article in the July 27 issue of Science. The researchers believe that these gels can be used not only for this kind of environmental cleanup but also to remove impurities from hydrogen gas that could damage the catalysts in potential hydrogen fuel cells.
When people talk about the hydrogen economy, one of the big questions they're asking is 'Can you make hydrogen pure enough that it doesn't poison the catalyst?' While there's been a big push for hydrogen storage and a big push to make fuel cells, there has not been nearly as big a push to find out where the clean hydrogen to feed all that will come from. - Peter Chupas, Argonne National Laboratory
The aerogels, which are fashioned from chalcogenides — molecules centered on the elements found directly under oxygen in the periodic table — are expected to be able to separate out the impurities from hydrogen gas much as they did the mercury from the water: by acting as a kind of sieve or selectively permeable membrane. The unique chemical and physical structure of the gels will allow researchers to "tune" their pore sizes or composition in order to separate particular poisons from the hydrogen stream:
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"You can put in elements that bind the poisons that are in the stream or ones that bind the hydrogen so you let everything else fall through," Chupas said. For example, gels made with open platinum sites would extract carbon monoxide, a common catalyst poison, he explained.

The research team had not intended to create the aerogels, but their discovery proved fortunate, said Kanatzidis. Originally, the researchers had used surfactants to produce porous semiconducting powders instead of gels. When one of the researchers ran the synthesis reaction without the surfactant, he noticed that gels would form time after time. "When we saw that these chalcogenides would make a gel, we were amazed," said Kanatzidis. "We turned the flask upside down and nothing flowed."

Generally, such reactions produce only uninteresting precipitates at the bottom of the flask, he said, so that in this case, "we knew we had something special."

Kanatzidis and his co-workers recognized that aerogels offered one remarkable advantage over powders: because the material maintained its cohesion, it possessed an enormous surface area. One cubic centimeter of the aerogel could have a surface area as large as a football field, according to Kanatzidis. The bigger the surface area of the material, the more efficiently it can bind other molecules, he said.

Previous experiments into molecular filtration had used oxides rather than chalcogenides as their chemical constituents. While oxides tend to be insulators, most chalcogenides are semiconductors, enabling the study of their electrical and optical characteristics. Kanatzidis hopes to examine the photocatalytic properties of these new gels in an effort to determine whether they can assist in the production, and not merely the filtration, of hydrogen.

Unlike periodic materials, which possess a consistent long-range structure, the gels formed by the Northwestern and Argonne researchers are highly disordered. As a result, conventional crystallographic techniques would not have effectively revealed the structure and behavior of the gels. The high-energy X-rays produced by the APS, however, allowed the scientists to take accurate readings of the atomic distances within these disorganized materials. "This is where the APS really excels. It's the only place that has a dedicated facility for doing these kinds of measurements, and it allows you to wash away a lot of old assumptions about what kinds of materials you can and cannot look at," Chupas said.


The initial research into porous semiconducting surfactants was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation. Use of the APS was supported by DOE, Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences.

Image: (A) Different building blocks used in chalcogel formation (blue spheres, metal centers; red spheres, chalcogenide atoms). (B and C) Monolithic hydrogel before (B) and after (C) supercritical drying, showing very little volume loss.

References:
Santanu Bag, Pantelis N. Trikalitis, Peter J. Chupas, Gerasimos S. Armatas, and Mercouri G. Kanatzidis, "Porous semiconducting gels and aerogels from chalcogenide clusters", Science 27 July 2007: Vol. 317. no. 5837, pp. 490 - 493, DOI: 10.1126/science.1142535

Argonne National Laboratory: New aerogels could clean contaminated water, purify hydrogen for fuel cells - July 27, 2007.



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Evergreen BioFuels starts offering competitive biomass pellets for utilities

Montreal-based Evergreen BioFuels (EBF), a developer of sustainable and carbon-neutral bioenergy fuels for powering utilities, announced today the availability of its 'Power Pellets' biofuel. Power Pellets are clean-burning solid biomass fuels that drastically reduce carbon dioxide output without costing billions of dollars in installation and lost revenue. EBF is introducing Power Pellets at a time when U.S. federal and state legislators are looking to restrain the growth of greenhouse gas emissions.

In the U.S. thirty percent of carbon dioxide emissions are generated by utilities and industry. Many researchers see biomass co-firing as the most feasible answer for radical reduction of industrial CO2 output.

The pellets made by EBF consist of condensed wood, agriculture crop and industrial fibers and can be developed and manufactured without relying on government subsidies or driving up the market value for food commodities due to the current diversion of food crops such as corn to liquid biofuels.

Substituting a portion of carbon emitting fuels like coal with Power Pellets and co-firing them together will allow utilities to see an immediate reduction in their carbon footprint. Co-firing – the combined combustion of coal and biomass – and can work within existing plant infrastructure without the need for replacement or retrofit of current technology and equipment thus directly reducing net CO2 emissions (more on co-firing here, and the numerous references there). EBF Power Pellets are available in three different formats: bulk, one ton sacs, or on pallets of 1 ton or 1.5 tons containing individual Power Pellet branded bags.

According to EBF, energy generated from the fuel is currently highly competitive with coal, natural gas and fuel oil (table, click to enlarge). These cost-estimates are roughly consistent with independent analyses which show that of all fuels and energy systems, co-firing biomass currently and in the future offers the least costly way of generating energy:
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In addition to making its Power Pellets available to the industrial marketplace, EBF is currently working directly with plants and utilities on developing and implementing sustainable and clean-burning alternative fuel.

EBF is also piloting innovative research studies into progressive bioenergy sources for its suite of Power Pellets products including switchgrass, fast-growing willow and agriculture byproducts, ultimately resulting in future environmentally-conscious alternatives to current fossil fuel technology.

"Current carbon reduction solutions for utilities which include carbon sequestration, are at least 15 to 20 years away from being feasible, while state and local legislators vigorously push for mandates and limits on carbon dioxide emissions," says Dr. Janusz A. Kozinski, Dean, College of Engineering, at University of Saskatchewan and International Chair of Bioenergy Europe, Institute for Advanced Studies, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. "Large power plants need a viable carbon-reducing solution that can be quickly implemented without disrupting day-to-day plant operations."

But even though carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies may be a decade away, if biomass is used in such systems, the resulting energy becomes carbon-negative, further reducing greenhouse gas emissions radically. This makes biomass a highly attractive fuel, because no other energy system yields carbon-negative power. Scientists have found the use of 'Bio-energy with Carbon Storage' (BECS) to be one of the only cost-effective ways of mitigating global warming if the planet were to face an 'abrupt climate change' scenario. According to some, we are already nearing such a dangerous future.

References:
Biopact: Quick comparison of renewable energy and fossil fuel prices - February 26, 2007.

Biopact has been writing numerous pieces on carbon-negative bioenergy. A starting point would be a recent article: Policy and regulatory framework crucial for CCS success, and the references and links there.


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EU to free up set-aside land to ease cereal prices

Mariann Fischer Boel, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, recently announced her intention to submit to the Commission a proposal to set at 0 % the obligatory set-aside rate for autumn 2007 and spring 2008 sowings, in response to the increasingly tight situation on the cereals market.

In the EU-27, a lower than expected harvest in 2006 (265,5 million tons) has led to tightening supplies at the end of marketing year 2006/2007 and to current historically high prices. Intervention stocks have shrunk considerably, from 14 million tonnes at the beginning of 2006/2007 to 2.5 million tons now, mainly composed of maize held in Hungary. This year, initial results of the barley and wheat harvests are moderate, except in Spain, and the wet weather continues to disrupt or delay the harvests in western Member States.
The proposal should be seen as an answer to the present tight market situation covering autumn 2007 and spring 2008 sowings. Farmers can still continue to set-aside voluntarily a part of their arable area. This initiative should not be seen as an attempt to pre-empt the 2008 Health Check of the Common Agricultural Policy. In that context a review of the cereals policy will take place, including the issue of set-aside. - Mariann Fischer Boel, EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development
EU farmers currently set aside about 4 million hectares — or close to 8 percent of arable land — under a mandatory system set up in the early 1990s to eliminate a glut of E.U. grain supplies.

US corn ethanol snowball effect
At global level, closing stocks in 2007/2008 are expected to fall to their lowest level in 28 years, at 111 million tons, including only 31 million tons in the five major exporters. Exceptionally high prices are likely to persist due to a combination of bad harvests in important cereal producing countries as well as growing demand for cereals and in particular maize for the production of bio-ethanol. In particular the strong development of the ethanol industry in the United States is having a snowball effect on the price of other cereals.

According to Commission estimates, a 0 % set-aside rate could encourage European Union farmers to produce an additional quantity of about 10 to 17 million tons in 2008, which could contribute to easing market tension:
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The proposal will concern only autumn 2007 and spring 2008 sowings. A decision on a permanent basis would require a global grain policy review and an analysis on how and by which means we can address the positive environmental side effects of set aside, which will be conducted during the CAP health-check review.

Background
Set-aside was introduced to limit production of cereals in the EU and applied on a voluntary basis from 1988/89. After the 1992 reform, it became obligatory i.e. producers under the general scheme were required to set-aside a defined percentage of their declared areas in order to be eligible to direct payments. With the 2003 reform, they received set-aside entitlements, which give the right to a payment if they are accompanied by one ha of eligible land put into set-aside.

The rate of obligatory set-aside was initially decided every year but in 1999/2000 it was set permanently at 10 % for simplification purposes. In the new Member States that opted for the Single Area Payment Scheme (SAPS), farmers are exempted from the obligation of set-aside (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Cyprus). In the EU, the current area under obligatory set-aside amounts to 3.8 million hectares.

Setting the set-aside rate at zero does not oblige farmers to cultivate their lands. They can continue to set them aside on a voluntary basis and to apply environmental schemes. Cross-compliance applies on all arable lands.

Biofuels minor impact on EU food prices
According to Jean-Francois Loiseau of Passion Cereales, a French trade association, the establishment of biofuels will only mobilise five per cent of agricultural surfaces in Europe.

Increased cereal prices have in large part been a result of growing demand from Asian giants China and India, along with droughts in Australia and eastern Europe, two major cereal producing regions, says Loiseau.

But compared with countries such as Mexico, where the price of corn determines in large part the cost of staple foods like tortillas, in Europe cereal prices weigh little in the final cost of items such as French bread or Italian pasta.

According to Loek Boonekamp of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an increase of 20 per cent in the price of basic agricultural products results only in a rise of 1.0 per cent on store shelves.


Reference:

European Commission: Cereals: Proposal to set at zero the set-aside rate for autumn 2007 and spring 2008 sowings - July 16, 2007.

Herald-Sun: EU to free up land for biofuel crops - July 29, 2007.

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Malaysian plantation company tries to add value with bioenergy and bioproducts

According to Credit Suisse Research, Malaysian company TSH Resources Bhd’s earnings will be given a boost from rising crude palm oil (CPO) prices, but also by new refining capacity and by maiden profits from a biomass power project and from bioproducts and carbon credits. The company is trying to green its image and tries to squeeze profit out of waste.

Plantation-based TSH, with a market capitalisation of 1.2 billion ringgit (€253/US$346), had planted 20,500 hectares of oil palm trees (9,000ha matured and 11,500ha immature) and it has another 43,500ha of new landbank in Indonesia for future expansion.

Its plan is to plant 10,000ha to 15,000ha per annum. The management has indicated its Fresh Fruit Bunches (FFB) output will grow at 20% per annum over 2006-2010, as 56% of its plantations will mature in stages over the next three years.

Credit Suisse remarks that TSH has embarked on a series of 'value-added' projects, giving it an 'environment-friendly' image, which is quite a rarity in Malaysia. The projects include a biomass power plant fed by palm residues, a biogas project utilizing palm mill effluents, green paper made from empty fruit bunches (EFB), and fully certified carbon credits. The company has now made a 'waste is profit' philosophy a core value:
It is known that only 20% of the biomass in oil palm trees is utilized. We foresee huge potential for commercial application of the remaining 80% deemed as 'wastes'. Thus, we are pioneering a fully integrated bio-integration complex, with biomass power plant, biogas power plant and palm pulp and paper plant.
The vast biomass residue stream from palm plantations can be used in many different ways for the production of solid, gaseous or liquid biofuels as well as bioproducts ranging from paper to bioplastics (earlier post). THS has chosen for a straightforward and currently commercially feasible approach by building 14MW biomass power plant using mainly fiber-rich EFB as fuel. It also built a large biogas power plant to channel methane gas from palm oil mill effluents expected to come online in the second half of 2007.

On the cards is a plan to make 'EkoPaper' from empty fruit bunches, with a pulping plant scheduled to come online in mid-2008. The paper will be based on totally chlorine free bleaching of EFB. THS says that the economic value of 1 tonne of EFB as mulch is low, but that as a raw material for paper making, the return is more than 10 times:
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Further TSH has teamed up with Wilmar in a 50:50 joint venture in a 800,000-tonne refinery in Sabah, which has been operational since January 2007. Current utilisation is 50% and it will be ramped up to 75% by year-end. "Management has indicated that the refinery was profitable from the first day of operations," it said.

On the carbon credits, Credit Suisse said TSH expected to start earning fully certified carbon credits through the biomass project in the second half 2007. Although profits from its carbon credit are not significant relative to the group’s total profits, TSH is taking the sustainability issue seriously. It has committed half of its carbon credits to the Swiss Foundation.

TSH, through its brand Ekowood, sells engineering hardwood timber flooring. These products are environmental friendly, with certification from the Forest Stewardship Council, and 85% of the products are exported.

Another core business is trading in cocoa butter, cocoa powder, and cocoa cake to multinational corporations such as Hershey and Cadbury. Credit Suisse said for FY07, management indicated the strong profit increase of 60%-75% would be driven by rising CPO prices and this would see the palm division becoming more dominant in 2007 and 2008.

Picture: palm plantations yield a large amount of biomass currently not being used for products. One 'waste product' is derived from the 'fresh fruit bunches' (top), which, after the palm fruits which contain the palm kernels are removed, results in fiber and cellulose-rich 'empty fruit bunches' (middle), which can be defibrized (bottom) and used to make, for example, paper. Credit: Tanaka Ryohei - Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute, Japan.

References:
The Edge Daily: TSH rides on rising CPO prices - July 30, 2007.

THS: Why waste the waste?

Tanaka Ryohei, Mori Yutaka and Kosugi Akihiko, "Utilization of oil palm empty fruit bunches as 'solid materials' " [*.pdf], Third Biomass Workshop, Japan - November 2006.



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Economists: current biofuel potential in Oregon may be costly and limited

With current technologies, the adoption of biofuels in Oregon could reduce the state's fossil fuel use by less than one percent, but at a much higher cost to society than more direct approaches such as a gasoline tax or raising fuel economy standards. That is the conclusion of a basic study [*.pdf] published this week by the Oregon State University Extension Service. The results are more widely applicable to other regions in the US. The findings strengthen the case for those who press for international trade in biofuels based on interdependence instead of 'resource nationalism' and energy 'independence'.

The study, by OSU economists William Jaeger, Robin Cross, and Thorsten Egelkraut, compared three types of biofuels — corn ethanol, canola biodiesel, and wood-based (cellulosic) ethanol. They examined their commercial viability, potential production scale, and cost-effectiveness for achieving energy independence and reducing greenhouse gases.
The promotion of biofuels is a public issue. Would a shift to biofuels achieve energy independence and a reduction of greenhouse gas? To answer this, we need to compare the cost for different approaches. Especially in terms of energy independence, these biofuels represent a costly and inefficient method compared to other approaches the government might take to achieve the same goal. - William Jaeger, Oregon State University economist
The researchers estimate that to achieve a given improvement in energy independence, biofuels could be 6 to 15 times more costly than other policy approaches such as raising fuel economy standards for vehicles.

When looking exclusively at reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, however, their analysis suggests that both canola biodiesel and wood-based ethanol may be cost-effective ways to achieve that goal.

Subsidies
The results are also mixed in terms of commercial competitiveness (graph, click to enlarge). The study finds that corn ethanol and canola biodiesel are currently commercially viable in Oregon, thanks in part to lavish government subsidies and regulations that have increased demand and lowered the cost of production. However, current production costs are still too high to make wood-based ethanol commercially attractive:
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How can these biofuels be commercially competitive yet represent very high-cost ways to achieve energy independence? The authors explain that in addition to subsidies that lower the cost of production while adding cost to taxpayers, there are large differences in the amounts of fossil-fuel energy required to produce each fuel, and there are large differences in the amount of energy contained in a gallon of each fuel. In other words, the energy balance of the different fuels varies considerably.

The OSU study looked only at large-scale commercial production of these three biofuels. The authors acknowledge that local or on-farm production may offer other advantages in some cases. They also caution that their estimates are subject to future changes in prices, technologies, or other developments.

The authors find that the potential scale of production for these biofuels in Oregon is limited. They estimate that these biofuels could contribute no more than a fraction of one percent of Oregon's current energy use.

"The main results of our analysis do not depend on our regional focus," Jaeger said. Although the scale of production of Midwest corn ethanol and soybean-based biodiesel is much larger than Oregon biofuels, the cost and cost-effectiveness of their production is not much different.

International trade
The results of the study differ considerably from earlier (technical) assessments made by the United States Department of Energy, especially in its 'Billion Ton' report which determined that the land resources of the United States are capable of producing a sustainable supply of biomass sufficient to displace 30 percent or more of the country’s present petroleum consumption.

More careful analyses like those made by the OSU scientists show that a case can be made for international biofuels trade. In the Global South cost-competitive fuels can be made without subsidies and in a much more energy efficient way while reducing greenhouse gas emissions more substantially. There is no reason why American tax payers should not import these fuels, instead of subsidizing their own 'national' biofuels that are not competitive and (in the case of first generation fuels) do to reduce greenhouse gases much.

References:
Oregon State University Extension Service: Biofuel Potential in Oregon: Background and Evaluation of Options [*.pdf], Special Report 1078 - July 2007.

U.S. DOE: Biomass as Feedstock for a Bioenergy and Bioproducts Industry: The Technical Feasibility of a Billion-Ton Annual Supply [PDF, 5.5 MB] - 2005.


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Sunday, July 29, 2007

New biogas reactor for energy crops cuts energy costs, increases productivity

Researchers from the Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering Potsdam-Bornim (ATB), Germany, have developed [*German] a novel process for the production of biogas which they describe as an 'up-flow leach-bed' system. It allows for higher reactor loading rates, consumes less energy, is considerably less sensitive to overloading and, thus, increases economic efficiency of biogas production from dedicated energy crops.

Farm-based biogas digesters of today are generally designed for the fermentation of liquid manure. Their use for energy crops is questionable, since these fibre-rich materials tend to build up a persistent float layer. In order to prevent flotation, agitation and stirring has to be intensified to a level where it demands up to 10% of the electric energy produced. Too intensive mixing can also affect the substrate decomposition process negatively. Moreover, when fermentation residues are discharged, the bacteria which stick to the biomass get lost as well, further reducing efficiency.

The new up-flow leach-bed process developed by the Leibniz agricultural engineers follows a completely different strategy by stimulating flotation in order to increase not only energy efficiency but biogas production rates as well.

The key component of this two stage process is a novel anaerobic leach-bed reactor (schematic, click to enlarge). Plant raw material is continuously fed to the reactor bottom and, after fermentation, removed from the top as solid residue. Gas bubbles generated by bacteria adhere to plant particles and thus, naturally induce floatation like in common digesters. Due to missing agitation inside the leach-bed reactor a liquid phase is formed and used as leachate. This leachate circulates upwards through the leach-bed reactor and downwards through a high rate anaerobic digester with immobilised bacteria. Volatile fatty acids are leached from the solids and efficiently converted to biogas in the high rate reactor. Excess bacteria are transferred to the leach-bed reactor enhancing solid degradation as well.

Experiments at laboratory scale (see below) reveal that compared with common farm-based digesters the reactor loading can be increased by at least factor two to three while yielding the same amount of gas. At significantly reduced energy demands the up-flow leach-bed process promises considerably increased productivity and stability as well as an uncomplicated and precise process control. The risk of overloading is practically eliminated:
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As a next step testing of the patent pending system at pilot-scale (10 m³) is projected.

Background

Typical biogas digesters in use today can only deal with energy crops under certain conditions and often in an inefficient way. But precisely the use of dedicated energy crops such as specially designed maize or grass hybrids has become important for the production of renewable biomethane. When fermented in classic digesters, energy crops need continuous stirring, which takes up a considerable amount of energy. A 2005 study by the German Agency for Renewable Energy indicates that this may run up to as much as 10% of the energy produced by the plant.

Too intensive mixing can also affect the substrate decomposition process negatively. When fermentation residues are discharged, the bacteria which stick to the biomass get lost as well, further reducing the efficiency. As a consequence, a classic reactor digesting energy crops can only handle around 3 to 4 kilograms of organic dry matter per cubic meter of working volume and per day. Higher reactor loads lead to an inhibition of the decomposition process because of the build-up of volatile fatty acids.

The goal of the research at the Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering therefor was to design a system that reduces the loss of bacterial biomass and increases the stabilty and efficiency of biogas production from dedicated energy crops. The researchers modified existing high-power fixed bed or mud bed reactors commonly used for the treatment of organically highly loaded industrial waste water.

In order to make such reactors suitable for the fermentation of renewable crops the organic materials must be liquefied first. Thus a two-stage and at the same time two-phase procedure was developed. An appropriate system, consisting of a fixed bed reactor in combination with 4 intermittently operating solid reactors was already developed and has found practical agricultural applications.

While such an intermittent fermentation process with a separate solid and liquid treatment phase is state of the art, the Leibniz Institute wanted to develop a continuous system for energy crops, which did not yet exist. The novel approach allows for a continuous mode of operation and offers substantial advantages. When the conditions inside the reactors are kept constant, a better adjustment of the micro-organisms becomes possible which results in an increased biological conversion efficiency by the bacteria. The new process also allows for much higher loading rates. Finally, a more balanced and continuous methanation simplifies the use of the biogas.

Laboratory tests

The emphasis of the lab research was on testing and improving the efficiency of the up-flow solids reactor (AFR) which had a volume of 26.5 liters, while the fixed bed reactor with 78 liters was very generously dimensioned (schematic, click to enlarge). The addition and withdrawal of the solids took place by hand. To enhance separation of the liquid phase the solids reactor was equipped with a funnel from overlapping ring elements at the upper end. The exchange of the process liquids between the reactors took place continuously with the help of a hose pump.

The process temperature was kept in the entire system to a thermophile 55°C. As substrates two different types of silage maize were used successively: Maize 1 ( dry matter = 33.1 %, organic dry matter = 96.7 % of DM) for 27 days, followed by Maize 2 (dry matter = 34.9 %, organic dry matter = 95.9 % of DM). In addition, to increase the fibrous nature of the substrate, barley straw was added (2 to 5 % of the total substrate mass).

On the basis of batch fermenting tests the methane-production potential of the organic matter of Maize 1 was put at 415 liter/kg-1, that for Maize 2 was 364 liter/kg-1 and that of the straw 334 liter/kg-1. During the tests the reactor load of the solids reactor was increased gradually, with the organic dry matter being increased from 6,3 to 16 gram/liter/day.

Besides other process variables, the most important parameter that was focused on was the generation of methane.

Results
The increase of the reactor load led to a rise of the total production (see graph, click to enlarge; AFR = 'up-flow reactor', FBR = 'fixed bed reactor'). The methane yield of the maize-straw mixture went from 409 liter/kg-1 with an organic dry matter load of 6,3 to 332 liter/kg-1 with an organic dry matter load of 16. Methane yields of pure maize decreased only from 98 to 91 %, clearly a much smaller decrease.

After the addition of the substrate on day 60, a brisk decrease in methane production was observed. The allocation of the methane yield to the two reactors changed fundamentally when reactor loads were increased. The share of methane coming from the fixed bed reactor rose from an initial 10 % to 75 %. From this it is to be concluded that the solids reactor can handle a load factor of 6.3gram/liter/day organic dry matter without the need for a high-power reactor. For higher loads the use of a high-power reactor is essential.

On basis of these results, it is assumed that the high-power reactor can be reduced to a size 30 % smaller than that of the solids reactor. The fermentation speed of the solids with a hydrolysis constant of 0.14 day-1 was about 5 times higher than that observed during the fermentation of silage maize in traditional fully mixed, mesophilic plants.


The Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering Potsdam-Bornim (ATB) is one of the leading European research institutes in the field of agricultural engineering. Production and use of biomass - not only for CO2-reduced energy production but also for material exploitation - including economic and ecologic assessment, are long term research issues at the ATB. Complete value creation chains are taken into consideration: from raw material to product i.e. from field to tank.

Graphs and schematics: translated and adapted by Biopact. Courtesy: Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering Potsdam-Bornim.

References:
Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering Potsdam-Bornim (ATB): Neues Hochleistungsverfahren zur Vergärung von Nachwachsenden Rohstoffen - Versuchsdurchführung, (text on the laboratory tests).

Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering Potsdam-Bornim (ATB): Neues Hochleistungsverfahren zur Vergärung von Nachwachsenden Rohstoffen, (intro).

Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering Potsdam-Bornim (ATB): Neues Hochleistungsverfahren zur Vergärung von Nachwachsenden Rohstoffen - Ausgangslage, (background).

Linke, B., M. Heiermann und J. Mumme (2005), "Ergebnisse aus den wissenschaftlichen Begleitungen der Pilotanlagen Pirow und Clausnitz." In: Trockenfermentation - Stand der Entwicklungen und weiterer F&E-Bedarf, Band 24, Hrsg. Fachagentur Nachwachsende Rohstoffe e.V. Gülzow, S. 95-102

Linke, B. und P. Mähnert (2005), "Biogasgewinnung aus Rindergülle und nachwachsenden Rohstoffen" [*.pdf],Agrartechnische Forschung 11 (5), S. 125-132



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Policy and regulatory framework crucial for CCS success

In a world that continues to rely on coal as an energy source, carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) has been embraced by many as a promising option for reducing rising CO2 emissions and combating global warming. Yet use of CCS on a large scale raises a mountain of legal and regulatory questions. New research published in the latest issue of Environmental Science & Technology suggests that these issues need as much attention as the technology itself and puts forth several areas where the scientific underpinnings of regulatory and legal decision making can be strengthened.


Potential leakage routes and possible countermeasures for CO2 injected into saline aquifers (click to enlarge). Source: IPCC.
At the Biopact, we track technological and policy developments on CCS because the technique can be applied to bioenergy, in which case radically carbon-negative energy systems emerge that take historic carbon dioxide emissions out of the atmosphere. Such systems are obviously much safer than CCS used on fossil fuels (because if CO2 leakage were to occur on gas originating from carbon-neutral biomass, there would be no net contribution of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere; leaks of CO2 from fossil fuels would be highly problematic). It is interesting to see how the legal and regulatory question marks surrounding CCS - and especially those dealing with the management of leakage risks - would change if the technology were to be applied to biofuels.

More importantly, in order to promote carbon-negative energy systems, proactive policy initiatives and even lobbying are needed. Else, CCS will only be looked at in the context of fossil fuels. During a recent EU public consultation on CCS, Biopact suggested EU decision makers look at 'Bioenergy with Carbon Storage' (BECS) as the safest way forward for large-scale initial tests with the technology (quicknote on the issue here).

Currently there is only one organisation working towards the development of concrete policies for the implementation of BECS, namely the 'Abrupt Climate Change Strategy' (ACCS) group, which grew out of the G8 climate change initiative of 2005. ACCS is designing a precautionary strategy based on bioenergy to be prepared for potential abrupt climate change becoming imminent. The associated Bioenergy Future Group is devoted to developing action-oriented steps to implement BECS.

In any case, according to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers, the science, technology and policy communities must urgently enter into a dialogue on CCS.
If there is a real conversation between people on the policy side and people on the science side, then we can begin to develop some guidelines for these relatively new, large-scale CCS projects. Holding off addressing the policy issues until the science is set is going to hold up the process. - Julio Friedmann of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
The concept behind CCS is simple, the authors write: capture CO2 emissions and inject them in a supercritical state into deep geologic formations, where the carbon is likely to stay put for hundreds of thousands of years. Reservoirs for such geologic sequestration are plentiful throughout the world; the best injection spots are deep saline aquifers, depleted oil and gas formations, and coal seams.

Yet an abundance of legal and regulatory issues arise from the many phases of a CCS project, which include capturing, transporting, and injecting the CO2 and closing a site. Issues also include responsibility for possible, but not necessarily likely, CO2 leakage if the original injecting company has shut down, ownership of the land and minerals in the land above a reservoir, and ownership of the pores filled by injected CO2. Guidelines for monitoring leakage and accounting for the gas in a regulatory emissions cap-and-trade program need to be hashed out, the authors say. These types of issues are compounded by varying state rules governing underground rights and injection. Before CCS can be used on a broad scale, investors and the public need certainty and assurances that CSS will be done safely and efficiently.

Managing leakage risks
In the new ES&T paper, the authors focus on two areas of research: surface leakage of CO2 and groundwater quality. They present two case studies of analog sites in which an injection well or abandoned well failed in conjunction with a large volume of naturally occurring CO2. Leakage can occur, notes coauthor Elizabeth Wilson of the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, when CO2 migrates to the surface through abandoned well bores or through faults or fractures in the rock. Yet current regulations don't cover human and ecological risks from this leakage:
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Ensuring that protocols are in place to deal with such an event is key to CCS's success. "CCS must be integrated into a larger regime, where public perception is very important," Wilson says.

John Venezia of the nonprofit think tank World Resources Institute (WRI) agrees, saying, "What we don't want to do is to start off with a project without having uniform standards. If there is some leakage down the line, it will generate a very bad perception about CCS, and people won't trust it." WRI is working with a diverse group ranging from academics to insurers to devise uniform protocols for the many stages of CCS. Although CCS is a very promising technology, it is just "one of many arrows in the quiver" that can be used against global warming, Venezia adds.

Biopact would stress that - again, if used on carbon dioxide from carbon-neutral biomass - CCS becomes one of the most powerful weapons in the fight against climate change. Not just "one of many arrows". It is for this reason that, a few years ago, some scientists have called for it within the context of the potential threat of 'abrupt' and 'dangerous' climate change, which would require a complete moratorium on the use fossil fuels and a radical switch to carbon-negative systems. On the basis of more recent research, some are meanwhile warning that we may actually already be facing such a dark scenario (earlier post). Thus, BECS systems are more needed than ever. A major effort is needed to get this message across to decision makers.

When it comes to CCS policies as they are looked at in the context of fossil fuels: several government agencies are already working on incorporating science into policy development. Sean Plasynski of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) National Energy Technology Laboratory notes that DOE's 10-year-old program, funded at $100 million for the current fiscal year, has several small CO2 injection pilot projects in place. The DOE has seven regional partnerships in its Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnerships program that involve 350 state agencies, universities, and private companies spanning 41 states and 4 Canadian provinces. The observations from these pilots will support policy and regulatory issues, Plasynski says.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a smaller yet significant program dealing with the permits needed before a new injection site begins operations, the authors note. EPA staff are developing permits for DOE's CO2 injection pilots using the long-standing underground injection well program developed for hazardous and other wastes; this might be expanded nationally to include CO2 geological sequestration, Wilson says.


References:
Elizabeth J. Wilson, S. Julio Friedmann, and Melisa F. Pollak, "Research for Deployment: Incorporating Risk, Regulation, and Liability for Carbon Capture and Sequestration" [*abstract], Environ. Sci. Technol., ASAP Article, Web Release Date: July 25, 2007, DOI:10.1021/es062272t S0013-936X(06)02272-3

Peter Read and Jonathan Lermit,"Bio-energy with carbon storage (BECS): A sequential decision approach to the threat of abrupt climate change", Energy, Volume 30, Issue 14, November 2005, Pages 2654-2671, DOI:10.1016/j.energy.2004.07.003

Environmental Science & Technology: Linking science with new policies for CCS - July 25, 2007.

Abrupt Climate Change Strategy
group.


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