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



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


Creative Commons License


Saturday, August 11, 2007

Germany considers opening natural gas network to biogas - major boost to sector


Germany's Federal Ministry for the Economy and Technology is considering [*German] opening the country's natural gas network to feed in biogas. Under the proposal made by minister Michael Glos, gas network operators will be mandated to blend a certain percentage of bio-based methane into the pipelines. Interestingly the new policy will break with the current renewable energy law, which gives producers of green power a fixed price. The biogas mandate instead will be based on real market prices. The sector sees Glos' proposal as a major boost.

According to the ministry, by 2030, locally produced natural gas from biomass would supply up to 10 percent of Germany's total gas consumption and reduce, without extra costs, around 22 million tons of carbon dioxide. This comes down to around 2.5 per cent of Germany's projected greenhouse gas emissions for that year.

The ministry will instruct natural gas network operators "to give biogas producers priority access to the network as well as to feed in biogas", even though a target has not been disclosed. If needed, compensations for the effort will be paid at actual market prices.

Such a policy would differ from Germany's current Renewable Energy Law ('Erneuerbare-Energien-Gesetz' - EEG), which applies to electricity generated from renewables such as biomass, solar, hydro and wind power. Under this current system, producers of green electricity receive a fixed price which is set each year and which often is well above prevailing market prices. It is basically a subsidy. Last year, this subsidy ran up to a net sum of €3,2 billion. The costs are carried by the consumer. From an environmental perspective, the EEG can be called successful because it has brought the share of renewable electricity in Germany to 13 per cent - one of the highest shares in the industrialized world:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Currently, biogas is Germany's fastest growing renewables sector, and energy from biomass has taken the second largest overall share of the renewables mix (22%, against 4% for solar; wind remains by far the largest player). According to a recently released Eurobarometer for biogas, the country is Europe's largest producer, generating approximately 40% of all biogas produced in the Union in 2006 (more here).

Biogas is currently being fed into the natural gas mains in Germany only on a trial basis. But feasibility studies show that the technical barriers to couple purified biogas to natural gas networks can be overcome. A European Union funded project has made this clear (previous post).

The total energy potential for biogas has been the subject of several projections and scenarios, with the most optimal setting it at a total replacement of all European natural gas imports from Russia by 2020 (more here).

The Federal Ministry's proposal is welcomed by the German biogas sector which sees it as a major boost.

References:
Markenpost: Glos will Einspeisung von Biogas ins Erdgasnetz - August 10, 2007.

Biopact: Study: Biogas can replace all EU imports of Russian gas by 2020 - February 10, 2007

Biopact: Study: EU biogas production grew 13.6% in 2006, holds large potential - July 24, 2007




Article continues

Petrobras reaffirms its biofuels and energy partnership in Mozambique

Executives of Brazil's state-owned oil company Petrobras have visited Mozambique to reaffirm their commitment to cooperate with the country on energy and biofuels. International Area director, Nestor Cervero, and executive manager for Business Development, Luis Carlos Moreira da Silva, were received, last week, by Mozambican President Armando Emílio Guebuza. The courtesy visit reiterates Petrobras' willingness to work jointly with Mozambican companies in oil and gas prospecting and in the biofuel area.

The executives visited Mozambique's Ministry of Energy and its National Oil Company. During the meeting, the possible partnership between Petrobras and Petromoc, the Mozambican company equivalent to Petrobras Distribuidora in Brazil, was reaffirmed. The idea is to operate in the Mozambican biofuel market and, possibly, in fuel exports.

President Guebuza is expected to visit Brazil next September, when he will meet his Brazilian counterpart, president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and Petrobras' president José Sergio Gabrielli de Azevedo, to sign an agreement between the two governments in the energy area.

Petrobras is already in business in Mozambique with the Empresa Nacional de Hidrocarbonetos (ENH), that country's national oil company, since last year. A memorandum of understandings was signed on that occasion for oil and natural gas exploration and for biofuel research and production in Mozambican territory (earlier post). The company also has a partnership with Petronas, from Malaysia, to work in an exploration block in the mouth of River Zambezi, in Mozambique.

Mozambique is receiving considerable interest from biofuel investors, because of its stable economy, attractive investment climate and above all, its major technical biofuel production potential:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Experts working for the International Energy Agency estimate that Mozambique alone can produce nearly 7 Exajoules worth of liquid biofuels for exports, without threatening food supplies for its rapidly growing population or biodiversity and protected conservation areas (more here).

This amount is roughly equal to a production of 3 million barrels of oil equivalent per day (and given its renewability, this 'green reserve' lasts for decades). In order to actualise the potential, the country does need an influx of investments in agronomic knowledge and skills, logistical infrastructures and biofuel production plants. On all these fronts, the Lusophone world is offering assistance, either trilaterally or bilaterally, in purely private or in public-private ventures.

Mozambique's Minister of Energy, Salvador Namburete, has frequently pointed out that the country vast potential to cultivate first generation biofuels based on oilseed, sugar and starch crops in an initial phase, whereas when technologies mature, it can become a major producer of biomass.

Besides investors from Brazil, several initiatives from Europe, India and China have been launched in the country's biofuels sector (earlier post and here). Amongst them is a typical South-North-South exchange which sees Italy and Brazil cooperating on biofuels in Mozambique.

References:
Petrobras: Petrobras reaffirms its partnership in Mozambique - August 8, 2007.

Biopact: Mozambique-India partnership: biofuels for poverty alleviation - July 03, 2007

Biopact: Lusophone world and China join forces to produce biofuels in Mozambique - May 19, 2007


Article continues

Sweden calls for international biofuels trade

Sweden is seen by many as a European leader in efforts to tackle climate change and to transit towards a low-carbon, post-oil economy. The country is a staunch advocate of internationally traded biofuels, because they allow developing countries to participate as producers in a new market that offers major opportunities for economic and social development. Sweden's minister of foreign trade Sten Tolgfors writes a piece for Project Syndicate in which he explains why trading biofuels between the North and the South is the way forward.

There is rightly growing concern among the public and policymakers about climate change and its consequences, Tolgfors writes. Combating climate change is an enormous and truly global challenge, requiring local, national and international action. We must tackle it both effectively and urgently.

A key part of meeting our climate objectives is to minimize the harmful effects of transport on the environment. So-called "biofuels" such as bioethanol and biodiesel, as well as developing the next generation of biofuels, must play a part in this. After all, every liter of petrol that is replaced with biofuel benefits the environment.

Many countries around the world are producers or are emerging as producers of biofuels. Global production is rapidly increasing. World production of bioethanol, for example, doubled between 2000 and 2004. A further doubling is expected by 2010.

As output of biofuels increases, policymakers must ensure that global supplies are allocated effectively and smoothly between countries that produce and consume them. Free and open conditions for international trade are the most efficient way to allocate global resources, fully exploiting individual countries' comparative advantages. This principle also holds true for the emerging biofuels market.

Today, however, trade in biofuels is limited. According to the UN Conference on Trade and Development, global trade in bioethanol accounted for less than 10 percent of global production in 2004, suggesting the existence of a large untapped trade potential. Part of the explanation no doubt lies in the presence of significant trade barriers.

For example, high tariffs are often placed on biofuels and biofuel feedstock -- in some cases as high as 55 percent for bioethanol. At the same time, subsidies are widely used to encourage domestic production. Tax incentives are employed to stimulate use, as are mandatory blending requirements. In addition, different standards and certification requirements are applied.

While many of these measures are implemented for legitimate environmental policy reasons, they do pose challenges for trade in biofuels. As a first step toward eliminating unnecessary barriers, we must deepen our understanding of the effects on trade in biofuels of measures to promote their production and use.

Sweden and the Netherlands recently took the initiative in further analysis of this issue by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Sweden's starting point is the conviction that a more liberal trade regime, coupled with global standards, is needed. As a first measure, Sweden argues for the elimination of all tariffs on ethanol:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Apart from environmental considerations, there are other important benefits of expanding world trade in biofuels. Generally, international trade is a strong instrument for development. Several developing nations have a comparative advantage in producing ethanol - and other biofuels, for that matter. Brazil, which is now the world's largest producer and exporter of ethanol, is a case in point.

But there are other developing countries that are exporters of biofuels, and still others that view it as an important source of future income. Trade policy should support, not undermine, these countries' ambitions.

Of course, some have raised concerns about the possible economic, social and ecological repercussions of a strong increase in demand for biofuels, and not least in developing countries. For example, diverting too much land from food production to biofuel crops would risk sharp increases in food prices, while adequate environmental standards must accompany large-scale production use of biofuels.

Such concerns also matter to consumers of biofuels, who will ultimately determine the demand for them. Appropriate national policies, as well as strong international cooperation, will be necessary to minimize the risks and exploit the benefits that biofuels markets imply for developing countries.

Creating an efficient market to expand world trade in biofuels is a policy for the future, one that is good for the environment and good for development. Increased trade, protection of the environment, and poverty reduction can, and must, go hand in hand.

Sten Tolgfors is the Swedish minister for foreign trade.

Copyright Project Syndicate.

Article continues

Friday, August 10, 2007

Climate change and permafrost thaw alter greenhouse gas emissions in northern wetlands

Permafrost – the perpetually frozen foundation of North America and Siberia – isn’t so permanent anymore, and scientists are trying to understand the pros and cons when terra firma goes soft. Permafrost serves like a platform underneath vast expanses of northern forests and wetlands that are rooted, literally, in melting permafrost in many northern ecosystems.

But rising atmospheric temperatures are accelerating rates of permafrost thaw in northern regions, according to research by Michigan State University's Merritt Turetsky. This great thaw has some surprising consequences, such as a boost to biomass productivity of new types of vegetation, which store carbon dioxide. On the other hand, new methane emissions may negate this apparent 'benefit'.

In their article 'The Disappearance of Relict Permafrost in Boreal North America: Effects on Peatland Carbon Storage and Fluxes' in this week’s early online edition of Global Change Biology, Turetsky and others explore whether melting permafrost can lead to a vicious feedback of carbon exchange that actually fuels future climate change.

The loss of permafrost usually means the loss of terra firma in an otherwise often boggy landscape. Roads, buildings and whole communities will have to cope with this aspect of climate change. What this means for ecosystems and humans residing in the North remains of the most pressing issues in the climate change arena.

Working closely with researchers from Southern Illinois University, Villanova University and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Turetsky, assistant professor of crop and soil sciences and fisheries and wildlife, found that permafrost degradation has complex impacts on greenhouse gas fluxes from northern wetlands.

Their study focused on peatlands, a common type of wetland in boreal regions that slowly accumulates peat, which is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation. Today, peatlands represent a massive reservoir of stockpiled carbon that accumulated from the atmosphere over many thousands of years. Peat blankets the permafrost and protects it like a thick layer of insulation:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

“We find permafrost in peatlands further south than in other boreal ecosystems due to the insulating qualities of peat. So we have argued that these ecosystems serve as a very sensitive indicator of climate change,” Turetsky says. “What will happen to peatlands when climate change disrupts these frozen layers, or perhaps more importantly what will happen to all of that stored carbon in peat, have remained big questions for us.”

New vegetation
Their results were surprising. Turetsky and her colleagues studied areas affected by permafrost degradation across a large region of Canada. They initially expected to find that the melting ice would trigger a release of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, as previously frozen plant and animal remains became susceptible to decay. “This could serve as a positive feedback to climate change, where typically warming causes changes that release more greenhouse gases, which in turn causes more warming, and more emissions, and so on,” she says.

But what the researchers actually found is not such a clear-cut climate story.

Permafrost collapse in peatlands tends to result in the slumping of the soil surface and flooding, followed by a complete change in vegetation, soil structure, and many other important aspects of these ecosystems, Turetsky said. The study showed that vegetation responds to the flooding with a boost in productivity. More vegetation sequesters more carbon away from the atmosphere in plant biomass. “This is actually good news from a greenhouse gas perspective,” Turetsky says.

Methane time-bomb?
However, the report also cautions that this flooding associated with collapsing permafrost also increases methane emissions. Methane is an important greenhouse gas, which is more powerful than carbon dioxide in its ability to trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere.

Turetsky said it seems the permafrost degradation initially causes increased soil carbon sequestration, rather than the large releases of carbon to the atmosphere originally predicted. But over time high methane emissions will balance – or outweigh – the reduction of carbon in the atmosphere.

“Not all ecosystems underlain by permafrost will respond the same way,” Turetsky cautioned. “It will depend on the history of the permafrost and the nature of both vegetation and soils.” What is clear, she said, is that not even northern ecosystems can escape the wide reach of climate change.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Canadian NSERC, and the Society of Wetland Scientists. Turetsky’s work also is supported by the MSU Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station.

Picture: Thawing permafrost in the peatlands of boreal forests in North America. Credit: Merritt Turetsky.

References:
M. R. Turetsky, R. K. Wieder, D. H. Vitt, R. J. Evans, K. D. Scott, "The disappearance of relict permafrost in boreal north America: Effects on peatland carbon storage and fluxes", Global Change Biology (OnlineEarly Articles), doi:10.1111/j.1365-2486.2007.01381.x

Michigan State University: Climate change and permafrost thaw alter greenhouse gas emissions in northern wetlands - August 8, 2007.

Article continues

Belgian-Dutch partnership to develop 5MW biocoal project

Belgium's Thenergo, a leading European combined heat-and-power (CHP) clean energy company, announces [*.pdf] that it is developing a 5MW electricity and biocoal plant, or 'E-park', in northern Holland. In partnership with Eclair-E, a Dutch CHP sustainable energy supplier and Venture Kapitaalfonds III BV a 100% subsidiary of NV NOM, the investment and development agency for the Northern Netherlands, the E-park will generate annually up to 42,800MWh of power and 75,000 tons of biocoal pellets.

Biocoal pellets are made from thermally processed biomass either from dedicated energy crops or from wood debris, forest residue and chippings. In pellet form it is a multipurpose clean burning fuel, easy to store and handle. This green 'designer coal' can be obtained by carbonizing biomass, with new techniques under development (previous post). Compared to wood, coal and biomass pellets, biocoal contains a far lower amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), no water, and is fully carbon neutral (graph, click to enlarge).

Since biocoal pellets are water resistant they can be stored for many years without decay. The higher energy density allows for up to 25% savings on transport and storage compared to ordinary biomass pellets. Biocoal pellets enable large scale co-firing of biomass in existing coal-fired power stations, with virtually no additional investment or handling.

Located on the Dutch-German border near Coevorden, the project will begin construction in April 2008 and is expected to be fully operational within 18 months. The development and building costs will require an investment of €30 million (US$41 million). Thenergo will have a majority interest in the project.

In this first truly cross-border bioenergy project, electricity will be sold to German grid operators, while biocoal pellets will supply Dutch and German coal fired power stations. The E-park will generate average annual sales of up to €13 million (US$17.7 million). The E-park’s primary fuel will come from regionally sourced forest debris and pruned wood from public land (225,000 tons per year):
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The announcement of Thenergo’s first E-park comes shortly after Thenergo revealed that it has begun work on a 3.2 MW CHP agri-waste to electricity facility, or E-farm, in West Flanders (Belgium) (earlier post).

Founded in 2002 and based in Antwerp, Belgium, Thenergo is one of Europe’s leading independent developers and operators of sustainable energy projects using biomass, biogas and natural gas. Thenergo designs, builds, finances, operates and sells energy from Combined Heat and Power (CHP) projects for its own account and on behalf of its clients. It has proven expertise in European energy trading markets as well as in green power and CHP certificates. To date, Thenergo has a gross installed capacity of 33MW for an annual electricity production capacity of 135 GWh. Since 14 June 2007, Thenergo has been listed on Alternext, Paris.

Eclair-E Energie NV is a Dutch independent power producer and supplier, dedicated to production of 100% sustainable power and heat. This differentiates Eclair-E from other power companies in The Netherlands. Eclair-E develops sustainable power and heat from decentralised biomass CHP units, fired with forest residues, herbaceous biofuels and energy crops.

The Investment and Development Agency for the Northern Netherlands, N.V. NOM, is the active promoter of economic development in the Northern Netherlands. NOM has a wide range of activities and objectives: it participates in companies in the Dutch provinces of Groningen, Friesland and Drenthe, it provides backing in investments, locations, and initiates projects that enhance the competitive edge of regional trade and industry.

Graph: basic comparison of water, volatile organic compounds and carbon content of coal, wood, wood pellets and biocoal. Credit: Biocoal.net.

Article continues

Steps to biorefining: new products from biofuel leftovers

The vision behind the emerging bioeconomy is the creation of integrated biorefineries that turn any given stream of biomass into an optimal range of finished products, green platform chemicals and specialty chemical compounds. The goal is to make the processing steps as efficient as possible, and to have them 'cascading' so that one bioconversion step's 'waste' stream becomes an input for a next step. Ultimately, biofuels will be just one of the many renewable, low-carbon products and compounds manufactured in the biorefinery.

Many researchers are pursuing on this concept, and the most common approach is to utilize currently available byproducts from biofuels - distillers’ dry grain from corn ethanol, lignin from cellulosic ethanol or glycerin from biodiesel - as a starting point for research. But some sciensists are going further already, and are adapting the biofuel production process itself in such a way that it may yield more interesting co-products (overview of some potential biobased products, schematic, click to enlarge). This is the way forward to genuine biorefining.

Here are some of the latest developments.

Using current byproducts
Several scientists are working with glycerol (glycerin), the main byproduct of biodiesel. Each batch of vegetable oil yields around 9 parts of biodiesel and 1 part of glycerol - currently in over-supply. Low-value uses are burning the glycerol as an energy source, using it as a substrate for the production of biogas (previous post), or as an animal feed (for poultry and cattle). The goal is to find products with a higher value.
  • Ronald Holser, research chemist at the United States Department of Agriculture’s research center in Athens, Ga., and Steven F. Vaughn, a plant physiologist, at the department’s National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Ill., are instead using the product to create biodegradable weed barriers and sticky films intended to hold grass seeds on the ground long enough to germinate.
  • Peggy M. Tomasula and her colleagues at the Agricultural Research Service's Eastern Regional Research Center's Dairy Processing and Products Research Unit in Wyndmoor found that combining the milk protein casein with water and glycerol, produces a water-resistant biodegredable film that can be used as an edible coating for food products (previous post).
  • Ramon Gonzalez, William Akers Assistant Professor in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and team recently identified metabolic processes and conditions that allow a known strain of the E. coli bacterium to ferment glycerin into ethanol under anaerobic conditions. The process is highly efficient, with the scientists estimating the operational costs to be about 40 percent less than those of producing ethanol from corn (more here).
  • Dow Chemical Company recently reached a significant milestone in its pursuit of plant-based chemistries, with the development of propylene glycol (PG) derived biodiesel's glycerin. PG will be used in such applications as unsaturated polyester resins (UPR) for boat hulls and bathroom fixtures as well as aircraft deicers, antifreeze for automobiles, recreational vehicles and marine and heavy-duty laundry detergents (more here).
Another currently available biofuel byproduct is distillers’ dry grain (DDG) — a main byproduct of corn ethanol that is largely sold as animal feed (previous post) or alternatively used as an organic fertilizer and herbicide (more here). Several researchers think DDG can be used for a range of more valuable products.
  • Robert C. Brown, a lab researcher in Iowa, is using it to produce hydrogen and a compound called polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA). The PHA family of compounds is used for the production of biodegradable plastics. For PHA bioplastics to become competitive, they must be produced from a cheap and abundant feedstock - DDG is one such feedstock.
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::
  • Working with DDG as well is Steven F. Vaughn, of the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research. He is looking at making a methylester biofuel from it. DDG contains more than 10 percent oil, and one ton of it can yield 30 gallons (113 liters) of the fuel.
New bioconversion techniques, new bioproducts
Ultimately, in the biorefineries of the future, traditional biofuel production techniques are up for redesign. They will be finetuned or if necessary radically altered in function of finding the most optimal mix between fuel production and the creation of green products. Two examples of this type of developments, that come closest to genuine biorefining:
  • Colorado-based PureVision Technology is making lignin, the natural compound that helps provide strength and rigidity in plants, lignin makes up 15 to 25 percent of most plants. Most plans for cellulosic ethanol processing call for burning the lignin to generate steam and heat to run the process. As a fuel, lignin is worth around $40 a ton. PureVision' Ed Lehrburger has devised a way to make a different form of lignin — one with a molecular composition that makes it an attractive material for a variety of green industrial products like glues, sealants and detergents. This type of lignin could sell for $300 a ton or more. According to the scientist, lignin is going to be one of the big drivers of the switch from oil-based to biobased products.
  • Dr. Victor Lin, chemistry professor and the associate director of the Center for Catalysis at Iowa State University and founder of Catilin, and George Kraus, a professor of chemistry at Iowa State, where he is director of the Center for Catalysis, have created a technology that changes the production process for biodiesel. Among other attributes, Lin’s invention yields a higher quality form of glycerol, which could be more easily converted into useful industrial materials. The new production process utilizes a catalyst that is safer and easier to use and reduces impacts on the environment. Lin and his colleagues are trying to use the higher-quality glycerol from their new process as a starting point for the production of 1,3 propanediol (PDO) the base material for a substance used in upholstery, carpets, clothing and other applications. If Lin succeeds, glycerol could become 15 times more valuable than current projected prices.
Image: PureVision’s chief executive Ed Lehrburger, showing his new form of ligning, which he thinks could sell for $300 a ton. Credit: New York Times.

References:
New York Times: Cooking Up More Uses for the Leftovers of Biofuel Production - August 8, 2007.

Biopact: An in-depth look at biorefinery concepts - July 10, 2007


Article continues

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Researchers: cellulosic biofuels already cost-competitive

So-called 'second generation' biofuels – made from lignocellulosic feedstocks like straw, grasses and wood – have long been touted as the successor to today’s grain ethanol, but until now the technology has been considered too expensive to compete. However, recent increases in grain prices mean that production costs are now similar for grain ethanol and second generation biofuels, according to an open access paper [*.pdf] published in the first edition of Biofuels, Bioproducts & Biorefining - a scientific journal launched to explore the emerging bioeconomy.

The switch to second generation biofuels based on biochemical and thermochemical conversion processes will reduce competition with grain for food and feed, and allow the utilization of materials like straw which would otherwise go to waste. The biorefineries will also be able to use dedicated lignocellulosic energy crops: short-rotation trees like poplar, eucalyptus or willow, and grass species such as miscanthus, switchgrass or sudan grass, which can be grown on land less suitable for farming than traditional row crops.

These findings should be a boost to companies hoping to establish themselves in this emerging field, the researchers say. Moreover, the fact that cellulosic biofuels may reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80% compared to gasoline and diesel, implies that the world may be looking at a highly feasible and cost-effective way of mitigating climate change.

Two researchers working at the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Iowa State University set out to compare the capital and operating costs of generating fuel from starch and cellulose-containing materials in biorefineries.


They showed that the capital costs for 150 million gallon gasoline equivalent capacity range from around $111 million for a conventional grain ethanol plant to $854 million for an advanced (Fischer-Tropsch) plant (table, click to enlarge). The difference in the final cost of the fuel, however, was less severe, being $1.74 for first generation grain ethanol when corn costs $3.00 per bushel and $1.80 for cellulosic biofuel when biomass costs $50 per ton:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The authors compared biochemical and thermochemical approaches to biofuels. They showed that both have much higher capital costs than conventional grain ethanol plants, but that neither had a significant cost advantage over the other.

Comparing the costs of biofuels is complicated by the fact that most studies rarely employ the same bases for economic evaluations. Differences in assumed plant size, biomass costs, method of project financing, and even the year in which the analyses are performed can skew comparisons.

“Although the costs of production are comparable for grain ethanol and cellulosic biofuels, the much higher capital costs of the cellulosic plants will be an impediment to their commercialization,” says ISU graduate student Mark Wright, one of the paper’s authors.

References:
Mark M. Wright, Robert C. Brown, "Comparative economics of biorefineries based on the biochemical and thermochemical platforms" [*.pdf], Biofuels, Bioproducts & Biorefining, Volume 1, Issue 1, September 2007, DOI: 10.1002/bbb.8

Eurekalert: Biofuel economics. Production costs of advanced biofuels is similar to grain-ethanol - August 8, 2007.

Biopact: An in-depth look at biorefinery concepts - July 10, 2007


Article continues

Expert: 'net energy' - a useless, misleading and dangerous metric

Even though we often use the concept of the energy balance of fuels to compare different biofuels, taking this metric of 'net energy' further for comparisons with other transport and energy options is not a good idea according to an expert. Years ago, a Biopact member came to the same conclusion, criticizing the value of the concept, which is profusely used in a wholly unscientific way by some environmentalists, peak oil 'analysts' and journalists alike.

As new fuel options develop we need means of assessing which are most effective at replacing petroleum, - on this most of us would agree. So far many have used the measure called ‘net energy’, often to argue against biofuels. However, Professor Bruce Dale from Michigan State University claims, "Net energy analysis is simple and has great intuitive appeal, but it is also dead wrong and dangerously misleading – net energy must be eliminated from our discourse." Dale’s perspective is published in the first edition of Biofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining, which was recently launched to make the debate on the nascent bioeconomy more scientific and rigorous.

In his article titled "Thinking clearly about biofuels: ending the irrelevant net energy debate and developing better performance metrics for alternative fuels" professor Dale recommends comparing fuels by assessing how much petroleum fuel each can replace, or by calculating how much CO2 each produces per kilometer driven.

A fuel’s 'net energy' is calculated by attempting to assess how much energy a new fuel supplies, and then subtracting the energy supplied by fossil fuels needed to create the new fuel. The calculation is often carried out in a way that leaves corn ethanol with a net energy of -29%, giving the impression that it uses more fossil fuels to produce it that the new fuel supplies. Dale claims that this figure is then used by opponents of biofuels to pour scorn on the new products.

The problem with net energy, says Dale, is that it makes an assumption that all sources of energy (oil, coal, gas etc) have equal value. "This assumption is completely wrong – all energy sources are not equal – one unit of energy from petrol is much more useful than the same amount of energy in coal, and that makes petrol much more valuable," says Dale.

For evidence, he points to the markets, where a unit of energy from gas, petrol and electricity are worth 3.5, 5 and 12 times as much as a unit of energy from coal, respectively.

"Clear thinking shows that we value the services that energy can perform, not the energy per se, so it would be better to compare fuels by the services that each provides... not on a straight energy basis, which is likely to be irrelevant and misleading," says Dale.

For example, biofuels could be rated on how much petroleum use they can displace or their greenhouse gas production compared with petroleum. His calculations indicate that every MJ of ethanol can displace 28 MJ of petroleum, in other words ethanol greatly extends our existing supplies of petroleum. Using corn ethanol provides an 18% reduction in greenhouse gases compared with petrol, while sugarcane based ethanol gives an 80% reduction and cellulosic ethanol is expected to yield an 88% reduction compared to petrol:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

“As we embark on this brave new world of alternative fuels we need to develop metrics that provide proper and useful comparisons, rather than simply using analyses that are simple and intuitively appealing, but give either no meaningful information, or worse still, information that misleads us and misdirects our efforts to develop petroleum replacements,” says Dale.


Note that several years ago, a Biopact member made a similar argumentation saying that the concept of 'net energy' (EROEI - energy returned on energy invested) may be useful for comparisons of one particular biofuel with another, provided clear system parameters and boundaries are defined, but that beyond such comparisons, the concept becomes wholly inadequate. EROEI says nothing about the complex social, economic and environmental services of different energy, transport and fuel production concepts.

Moreover, 'net energy' calculations have no fixed starting and end point, they suffer under poorly defined 'horizons' and can be extended indefinitely to become absurd. For example, debates went so far as to ask whether, in a calculation of the EROEI for oil, the energy spent on food consumed by oil exploration workers had to be factored in (for biofuels, some argue that you should include energy inputs in the laborers who harvest, e.g. jatropha seeds); or that the energy needed to produce the cotton used in the clothes of Siberian oil drillers needed to be taken into account; for wind power, do you need to factor in the energy put into cleaning up the copper mining sites where the copper used in the turbine is mined? Do you need to take a generic type of copper? Or do you factor in the energy needed to protect the copper mines in Congo, where the UN has its largest peace-keeping force, which, in turn, spends huge amounts of energy on doing its job? Clearly, this is problematic.

EROEI can be used to compare different biofuels produced in relatively similar ways, when comparable boundaries are set for the production steps of each fuel, at the beginning of the calculus. Using the concept to make comparisons of entirely different energy systems, is often not possible.

Back then, his criticism infuriated some members of the Peak Oil community, who often (ab)use the concept of EROEI to make a case against all alternatives to the petroleum based economy. They do so to push an unnecessary, apocalyptic message of doom and global societal collapse, which stiffles all attempts to create a new future. Obviously, not all people involved in studying the decline of oil resources are that fanatic, but the EROEI concept keeps getting used in unscientific ways by many people, including environmentalists, journalists and Peak Oil amateurs.

References:
Bruce E. Dale, "Thinking clearly about biofuels: ending the irrelevant net energy debate and developing better performance metrics for alternative fuels", Biofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining, Volume 1, Issue 1, September 2007, DOI: 10.1002/bbb.5

Eurekalert: Net energy - a useless, misleading and dangerous metric, says expert - August 9, 2007.



Article continues

Jamaica ethanol exports earn $120 million in revenues

A joint-venture ethanol project between Jamaica's state-owned oil refinery Petrojam and Brazil's Coimex Group has generated some US$120 million (J$8.16 billion) in revenues since it began operation two-years ago. The Coimex Group says the plant had exported 250,000 cubic metres or 66.05 million gallons of ethanol to the United States over the period, representing 65 per cent of total ethanol exports from Jamaica to the United States (U.S).

The Coimex Group has described the joint-venture as very successful. Manfred Wefers, head of Coimex's Alcohol Business Unit, says the Brazilian company was encouraged to consider new investments in that country. The impressive numbers have also prompted Brazil's Ministry of Foreign Affairs to invite representatives of the project to join President Lula during his biofuel diplomacy tour, currently underway in Central America.

The 150 million liter (40 million gallon) per year ethanol dehydration plant, which is run by Petrojam Ethanol Ltd. (PEL), was rehabilitated at an estimated cost of US$10 million shared between Petrojam and Coimex. The venture represents the single largest investment in the Caribbean by the Brazilian group, which trades coffee, sugar and ethanol in the European Union, Asia, Japan, U.S., Middle East, Canada and the Caribbean.

PEL exports ethanol to the USA under the Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act (CBERA) of 1983 which provides exemption of duty for fuel grade ethanol up to a quota of 7% of US domestic production. Exporters not falling under the CBERA are faced with an ethanol tariff of US$0.54 per gallon:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The initial shipments to the U.S. consisted of hydrous ethanol from Brazil dehydrated at the Jamaican plant. The plan is to increase production to 250 million liters, relying on locally produced ethanol.

In 2006, Petrojam Limited and PEL also embarked on a program to introduce ethanol in gasoline for local use. The first phase of the program included a pilot study of the E10 blend (10% ethanol, 90% gasoline) in a variety of cars over a period of six months. The objective was to validate existing data on E10 blend and this was successfully completed at the end of October 2006. The second phase is to introduce the E10 in all blends of unleaded gasoline in Jamaica. Assessment of infrastructural work for the refinery, loading terminals and service stations along with the reliability of supplies are currently in progress. The outcome of this assessment will determine the actual date of roll out to the consumers.

PEL continues its effort to partner with investors in the development of the local sugar cane industry for the production of fuel ethanol to export and for local consumption.

Partnership extended
Coimex said a study being conducted in collaboration with Petrojam to double production capacity at the dehydration plant was at an advanced stage and noted that it has extended its partnership in the facility to 2011. Petrojam's managing director Winston Watson disclosed recently that the refinery was currently searching for a suitable location to build a new 60 million gallon dehydration plant to expand local ethanol production.

This, according to Petrojam, would require the planting of 9,000 additional hectares of sugar cane. "We welcome this, but we will, of course, have to wait until they actually start using local feedstock so that any further planting can begin. We are certainly anxious," said chairman of the All-Island Cane Farmers Association, Allan Rickards.

Coimex also said it was collaborating with the Government in its plan to replace 10 per cent of the MTBE in gasoline with ethanol. It said it has been facilitating the training of Jamaican technicians in the use of the technology that was developed in Brazil to blend gasoline and ethanol.

The 59-year-old Coimex Group is among the top 100 businesses in Brazil. Last year the group recorded revenues of US$1.1 billion. The company currently operates businesses in logistics, infrastructure development and foreign trade. It is presently involved in the construction of a US$500 million port - the largest privately-owned port facility in the country.

Coimex is also among the nine companies recently shortlisted by the Government to bid for the assets of the Sugar Company of Jamaica, which owns and operates the five state-owned sugar estates.

References:
Agrosoft: Coimex Trading responde por 65% das exportações de etanol da Jamaica para os Estados Unidos - s.d. (August 8, 2007)

Gazeta Mercantil: Brasil aposta na exportação de álcool via Caribe - August 8, 2007.

Jamaica Gleaner: Ethanol exports earn US$120m in revenues - August 9, 2007.

Jamaica Gleaner: Ethanol plant opened in Jamaica - Will supply an initial 150 million litres to US - November 24, 2005


Article continues

Sweet potato shows strong growth under high atmospheric CO2 concentrations

Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are set to play an important role in the emerging 'carbohydrate economy' (previous post). The starch-rich root crop is already being used for the production of liquid biofuels and biogas as well as for bioplastics.

The Chinese government, which recently put a moratorium on the use of corn for biofuels, has officially named sweet potato as a crop of preference for the production of ethanol instead (more here). Auto manufacturer Toyota has a large plantation of the tuber in Indonesia to make bioplastics from it. Researchers are also looking into using the crop for the production of biohydrogen.

The starchy batatas may help us manufacture carbon-neutral bioproducts that replace petroleum, but in any case carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels are expected to keep increasing for decades to come. For this reason, scientists find it important to understand the effects of these emissions on the growth of plants (earlier post). As they have done for many other crops, researchers are trying to find out what will happen to the metabolism of sweet potatos under increased atmospheric CO2 conditions.

Writing in the Journal of Plant Biotechnology, Teixeira da Silva and team report results of trials with the tuber. They found significally increased biomass growth in the crop when it was exposed to increased levels of CO2.

The authors grew single-node explants of sweet potato (cultivar Naruto Kintok) for five weeks in vitro within special culture vessels supplied with a 3% sugar-containing agar, during which period the vessels were maintained at atmospheric CO2 concentrations of either 400 ppm (ambient) or 1000, 2000 or 3000 ppm, after which the plants were transplanted into soil and grown ex vitro for three additional weeks.

Relative to the plants exposed to ambient air, those exposed to air of 1000, 2000 and 3000 ppm CO2 produced 20%, 20% and 65% more total biomass, respectively, after having been grown for five weeks in vitro, while they produced 20%, 32% and 82% more biomass, respectively, after having been grown for three additional weeks ex vitro:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

According to CO2 Science, the results mean that for sweet potato plants, as well as many other plants that have been similarly studied, several-fold increases in the atmosphere's CO2 concentration appear to pose no problem to the plants' growth and development. In fact, the more CO2 there has been in the air during these studies, the more biomass the tested plants have typically produced.

Sweet potatoes are good starch producers and may yield some 40 to 50% more of it than corn, white potatoes and wheat. Per hectare, starch productivity can be 3 to 4 times higher than corn, and twice that of cassava. In short, sweet potatos are set to become important sources of industrial starch, needed to drive the bioeconomy. This carbon-neutral economy is aimed at replacing petroleum products, which contribute to climate change because of their carbon dioxide emissions.

References:
Teixeira da Silva, J.A., Giang, D.T.T. and Tanaka, M. 2005 "The Growth Response of Sweet Potato Plants to Very High Atmospheric CO2 Concentrations Reference. Microprogation of sweetpotato (Ipomoea batatas) in a novel CO2-enriched vessel." Journal of Plant Biotechnology 7: 67-74.

CO2 Science: The Growth Response of Sweet Potato Plants to Very High Atmospheric CO2 Concentrations - August 8, 2007.

Biopact: Japan's Cosmo Oil plans biofuel plants in Philippines - range of tropical feedstocks - June 13, 2007

Biopact: Sweet potatoes and the carbohydrate economy - January 07, 2007



Article continues

IDB, IICA, OAS, and Government of Guyana sign MoU to promote renewable energy projects in the Caribbean

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Government of Guyana have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to promote projects on renewable energy, energy efficiency and bioenergy in the Caribbean. The agreement was signed in the context of the seminar “Expanding Bioenergy Opportunities in the Caribbean” that took place in Guyana August 6-7 (earlier post).

This high-level seminar sought to formalize regional efforts towards the development of the Caribbean Renewable Energy, Energy Efficiency and Bioenergy Action Program (CREBAP), initiate a dialogue on agro-energy strategy for the region, and foster partnerships among public and private sectors, including private investors, carbon financiers, and project developers interested in the Caribbean bioenergy industry.

Under the MoU, the parties agree to explore ways in which sustainable energy and biofuels projects can be promoted and financed in the Caribbean; seek opportunities for public-private partnerships and private investments on renewable energy, energy efficiency and bioenergy; develop an agro-energy strategy to be used by CARICOM member states; and help CARICOM member states access the biofuel world markets.

"This MOU is very important because it creates a framework to coordinate our efforts in creating sustainable renewable energy for the region and it allows us to receive assistance from international institutions, especially the the IDB," President Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana, who delivered the keynote speech at the seminar.

IDB President Luis Alberto Moreno highlighted the unique circumstances that the nations of the Caribbean face: that they have had a long history of cultivating sugar cane, the world’s most cost-effective feedstock for ethanol; that, with the exception of Trinidad and Tobago, they are almost totally dependent on imported fossil fuels; and that the reduction of preferential prices for Caribbean sugar by European buyers is forcing sugar producing countries to find new sources of revenue:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

"These three factors make a very compelling case for creating ethanol industries to meet domestic fuel needs in the Caribbean," said Moreno. "Biofuels represent a uniquely attractive opportunity for the region."

Ambassador Albert Ramdin, Assistant Secretary-General of the OAS, applauded the inter-agency relationship between IICA, IDB and the OAS and the longer-term commitments they agreed to under the MoU.

“These commitments are a reflection of the reality that no one agency has all the resources or the capacity to support the needs of the Caribbean in this emerging sector, and that acting together a lot more can be achieved than by acting alone,” said Ramdin.

Participants at the seminar include Guyana’s Minister of Agriculture, Robert Persaud; Caricom Secretary General Edwin Carrington; IDB President Luis Alberto Moreno, IICA Director General, Chelston Brathwaite; OAS Assistant Secretary General, Surinam Ambassador Albert R. Ramdin; and Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago and Caricom Prime Minister with lead responsibility for energy, Patrick Manning.

Event organizers included the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat, the Government of Guyana, the Caribbean Renewable Energy Development Program (CREDP), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), and the Organization of American States (OAS).


Article continues

BioDiesel Technologies supplies processing unit for Brazil's first jatropha project

Brazil’s first commercial jatropha biodiesel project goes into operation this month following the delivery of BioDiesel Technologies’ (BDT) processing unit. BDT will deliver an additional four processing units to increase the plant's annual capacity to 40,000 tonnes by the end of 2007.

The Compact Production Unit (CPU) 1000, which is installed in a 20-foot ISO container, is designed to use oils and fats of vegetable and animal origin, or used edible oils. It produces 1,000 liters of biodiesel per hour (8 million liters per year).

Project operator Companhia Productora de Biodiesel de Tocantins has formed agreements with local cooperatives and small farmers in the state of Tocantins to supply the biodiesel facility with the required feedstock under the 'Social Fuel Seal' policy. This has led to the establishment of 48,000 hectares of jatropha plantation. The drought-tolerant shrub, known locally as pinhão manso, thrives in poor soils with relatively low inputs of fertilizer and pesticides.

The multi-feedstock technology provided by BDT will also allow the use of animal tallow for the manufacture of biodiesel. This could prove to be a significant source of income to the large slaughter-house industry within the Tocantins state, which has more than 6 million head of cattle.

'Social fuel'
This operation, bringing local agricultural communities into the biofuel production process, is the model upon which future Biodiesel operations in Brazil will be constructed; hence President Lula will show his support when he inaugurates the project in September. Under Brazil's Pro-Biodiesel plan the country introduced mandatory blends of 2% by 2008 and 5% by 2013.

Under the 'Social Fuel Seal' policy Brazil has implemented numerous tax incentives for biodiesel producers that source their feedstock from local farming communities. The system already brings increased incomes and food security to some 60,000 rural households and ensures that biodiesel is produced in a socially sustainable way:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The 'Social Fuel Seal' is tied to Brazil's National Biodiesel Program, and was crafted precisely to break with the problems inherent in the older Bioethanol Program. The Seal is quite refined and directly intervenes in the most crucial aspect of biodiesel production: feedstock costs and modes of production. The system takes into account regionally determined social inequalities and the geographically specific agro-ecological potential for biodiesel feedstock production. It can become a model for other developing countries aiming to launch biofuel programs (earlier post).

Compahnhia Productora de Biodiesel de Tocantins is examining project sites for a further two projects within the region, taking total regional production to more than 120,000 tons of biodiesel per year.

BDT, a biodiesel equipment manufacturer and project developer based in Austria, has 17 multi-feedstock projects operating in 10 countries worldwide.

References:
Greencarcongress: BioDiesel Technologies Launching First Commercial Jatropha Biodiesel Project in Brazil - August 8, 2007

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


Article continues

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Biopact to chair Sparks & Flames conference panel on carbon-negative biofuels

Biopact has been invited to chair a panel at the Gas Storage & Trading Summit that will take place during ICBI's Sparks & Flames energy conference to be held in December in Amsterdam. The three-day event brings together Europe's energy experts to discuss the long-term security of energy supplies, future fuel mix paradigms in light of climate change, as well as topics dealing with investments in infrastructure assets to overcome uncertainty in Europe’s gas and power markets. Over 70 representatives of Europe's nuclear, coal, gas and bioenergy sectors will be speaking.

CCS and carbon-negative bioenergy

Biopact chairs a panel on 'Sustainable Energy and Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)' at which BP Alternative Energy, RWE npower, Forum for the Future and the Carbon Trust will participate. The panel will be assessing the eligibility, risks and security of geologically stored CO2, the technological and regulatory developments needed, and the ways in which CCS systems can be implemented within the EU's emissions trading scheme and future climate change policies.

Biopact chairs because of its exploration of the field of the large-scale production of carbon-negative bioenergy tied to CCS, seen by us and a growing group of scientists as one of the most feasible strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power generation in a safe and cost-effective way, while allowing the fossil fuel based energy sector to 'hybridize' itself and to transit towards cleaner production.

Such carbon-negative bioenergy systems (also called 'Bioenergy with Carbon Storage' or BECS) operate at the interface of dedicated biomass production and CCS technologies. They open a new, unexplored spatial dimension of CCS and power generation, they alter production, logistical and process flows, both up and downstream, and they present new perspectives on the risks associated with CCS. In short, BECS systems form the basis of an entirely new paradigm for research into the potential of carbon capture and storage technologies.

We will be presenting, amongst other topics, results of research on the creation of synergies between existing LNG infrastructures, local and large-scale production of biomethane coupled to site-specific CCS opportunities. These synergies may open perspectives on mixing carbon-negative and ultra-clean methane derived from renewable biomass with existing natural gas supplies.

Biochar and carbon-negative biofuels in the developing world
Biopact's Laurens Rademakers will also participate in a panel on 'Kyoto and Biofuels', at which he will give a presentation titled 'Exploring the potential for the production of bioenergy: access to energy, energy security and sustainability in the developing world', dealing with the technical, environmental, social and economic complexities of the production of bioenergy in the developing world, particularly in sub-Saharan and Central Africa, with special focus on the impact of rising energy prices on developing country governments and societies.

Developing country positions on trade reform in light of the emerging global bioeconomy will be discussed. Finally, Rademakers will present an overview of the potential of low-tech routes to carbon-negative biofuel production - via the sequestration of biochar in soils - and of how such production techniques could fit into a post-Kyoto universe.

For further information on ongoing research into both low- and high-tech BECS systems, contact us [entry ends here].
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::


Article continues

World Meteorological Organization reports on 2007 extreme weather and climate events

According to the United Nations' World Meteorological Organization (WMO), weather and climate are marked by record extremes in many regions across the world since January 2007, which reflects the reality of climate change.

In January and April 2007 it is likely that global land surface temperatures ranked warmest since records began in 1880, 1.89°C warmer than average for January and 1.37°C warmer than average for April. Several regions have experienced extremely heavy precipitation, leading to severe floods.

The Fourth Assessment Report of the WMO/UNEP Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) notes an increasing trend in extreme events observed during the last 50 years. IPCC further projects it to be very likely that hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation events will continue to become more frequent (previous post).

WMO and the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services of its 188 Members are working with other UN Agencies and partners towards the establishment of a multi-hazard early warning system. Furthermore, they are putting in place sustainable observation systems needed for monitoring and assessing the impacts of climate change and determining the adaptation priorities for the most vulnerable countries.

Heavy rainfall, cyclones and wind storms

During the first half (June-July) of the Indian summer monsoon season, four monsoon depressions (double the normal frequency) caused heavy rainfall and floods in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Many stations reported 24h rainfall exceeding 350 mm. These monsoon extremes and incessant rains caused large-scale flooding all over South Asia, a situation that continues even now, resulting in more than 500 deaths, displacement of more than 10 million people and destruction of vast areas of croplands, livestock and property:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Cyclone Gonu, the first documented cyclone in the Arabian Sea, made landfall in Oman on 6 June with maximum sustained winds near 148 km/h. Gonu moved through the Persian Gulf making a second landfall in the Islamic Republic of Iran. In Oman, the cyclone affected more than 20,000 people and was responsible for more than 50 fatalities.

Heavy rains during 6-10 June ravaged areas across southern China. Flooding affected over 13.5 million people with more than 120 fatalities due to floods and landslides.

In England and Wales the period May to July in 2007 was the wettest (406 mm) since records began in 1766, breaking the previous record of 349 mm in 1789. The extreme rainfall in June, with 103.1 mm of rain recorded in 24 hours during 24-25 June in northeast England, was followed by a similar event with 120.8 mm of rain on 20 July in central England. Both events resulted in extensive flooding across parts of England and Wales. At least nine people have died and damage is estimated at more than US$6.00 billion.

With 126 mm (normal for 1961-1990: 71 mm], Germany experienced its wettest May since country-wide observations started in 1901. In sharp contrast, the previous month was the driest April since 1901 with an average of 4 mm (7% of the 1961-1990 normal).

A powerful storm system affected much of northern Europe during 17-18 January 2007 with torrential rains and winds gusting up to 170 km/h. There were at least 47 deaths across the region, with disruptions in electric supply affecting tens of thousands during the storm. Initial estimates of losses were reported as 3-5 billion Euros.

The worst flooding event in 6 years hit Mozambique in February. An estimated 30 people were killed and 120,000 evacuated from the central Zambezi basin. Additional flooding and loss of life was attributed to the landfall of tropical cyclone Favio on 22nd February.

Abnormally heavy and early rainfall in Sudan since the end of June has caused the Nile River and other seasonal rivers to overflow, resulting in extensive flooding and damaging more than 16,000 houses.

In May a series of large swell waves (estimated at 3-4.5 meters) swamped some 68 islands in 16 atolls in the Maldives causing serious flooding and extensive damages.

In early May, Uruguay was hit by the worst flooding since 1959. Heavy rainfall in portions of Uruguay produced floods that affected more than 110,000 people and severely damaged crops and buildings.

Heat Waves
Two extreme heat waves affected south-eastern Europe in June and July, breaking the previous records with temperatures exceeding 40 °C. Dozens of people died and fire-fighters worked around the clock fighting blazes devastating thousands of hectares of land. On 23 July, temperatures hit 45°C in Bulgaria, setting a new record.

In May a heat wave affected areas across western and central Russia breaking several temperature records. In Moscow, temperatures on 28 May reached 32.9°C, the highest temperature recorded in May since 1891.

In many European countries, April was the warmest ever recorded with the temperatures reaching more than 4°C over and above the long-term mean in some areas.

Recognizing the severe health impacts of heat waves, the WMO and the World Health Organization (WHO), are at an advanced stage of preparing Guidance on the implementation of Heat Health early Warning Systems (HHWS).

Climate Change and Extremes
According to the most recent climate change scientific assessment reports of the joint WMO/UNEP Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the warming of the climate system is unequivocal. Eleven of the last twelve years (1995-2006) rank among the 12 warmest years in the instrumental record of global surface temperature. The 100-year trend (1906-2005) is 0.74°C. The linear warming trend over the last 50 years (0.13°C per decade) is nearly twice that for the last 100 years. Paleoclimatic studies suggest that the average Northern Hemisphere temperatures during the second half of the 20th century were very likely higher than during any other 50-year period in the last 500 years and likely the highest in the past 1,300 years.

IPCC further notes that there has been an increasing trend in the extreme events observed during the last 50 years, particularly heavy precipitation events, hot days, hot nights and heat waves.

Climate change projections indicate it to be very likely that hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation events will continue to become more frequent.

Additional facts:
An unusual cold winter season brought winds, blizzards and rare snowfall to various provinces in South America with temperatures reaching as low as -22°C in Argentina and -18°C in Chile in the beginning of July.

On 27 June a winter weather front moved across South Africa bringing the country’s first significant snowfall since 1981 (25 cm of snow in parts of the country).

In India, a heat wave during mid-May produced temperatures as high as 45-50°C.

Many European countries had their warmest January on record. January temperatures in The Netherlands were the highest since measurements were first taken in 1706, averaging about 7.1°C (2.8°C above 1961-1990 average) while in Germany the temperatures were 4.6°C above the 1961-1990 average.

An increase in intense tropical cyclone activities in the North Atlantic since about 1970 has been observed.

This information is based on inputs received from several WMO Members and with the collaboration of the NOAA National Climatic Data Centre (NCDC), USA, Germany's National
Meteorological Service, the Deutscher Wetterdienst (DWD) and the Met Office, UK. It includes an indicative but not exhaustive coverage of the observed weather and climate extremes. More comprehensive information on weather and climate anomalies observed in 2007 will be provided towards the end of the year.

WMO is the United Nations’ authoritative voice on weather, climate and water

Article continues

Abengoa Bioenergy enters Brazilian market via acquisition of Dedini Agro

In a major development, Abengoa's subsidiary Abengoa Bioenergy has signed an agreement to acquire one hundred percent of the capital of the Dedini Agro group of companies for €216/US$297 million. Dedini Agro is one of the major companies in the Brazilian bioethanol and sugar market. In addition, the operation includes Abengoa assuming a debt of €281/US$387 million.

The acquisition is highly important for the global biofuel sector because Abengoa's cellulosic ethanol technologies will now be applied to sugar cane husks and to the processing byproduct bagasse, to yield a fuel the energy balance of which may come close to or even surpass that of petroleum based fuels.

Dedini Agro is one of the major companies in Brazil dedicated to the cultivation and processing of sugar cane and the production of bioethanol and sugar with two production facilities in the State of São Paolo. These two facilities currently operate with production costs that are among the most competitive in Brazil and the world thanks to their location, the experience of their human teams and the fact that they have direct control of a significant part of the crop lands via long-term contracts.

With this acquisition, Abengoa Bioenergy becomes the only company in the world to be present in the world's three major bioethanol markets: the United States, Brazil and Europe. Following the integration of Dedini Agro, Abengoa Bioenergy expects to attain significant increases in production at the existing facilities in Brazil, develop a new facility, and achieve more effective international marketing of the bioethanol produced in Brazil thanks to Abengoa Bioenergy's existing trade networks.

International significance
Importantly, Abengoa Bioenergy will be able to apply the cellulosic bioethanol technology it is developing to the sugar cane husks to achieve a medium-term increase in production and more efficient cost reduction. Combining both companies' technologies and resources, Abengoa Bioenergy could soon be producing the world's most energy efficient, cleanest and competitive fuel. The company currently operates the world’s first commercial scale cellulosic biomass-to-ethanol in Babilafuente (Salamanca), Spain, which processes 70 tonnes of agricultural residues each day to produce over 5 million liters of fuel grade ethanol per year (process overview, click to enlarge).

Moreover, the combination of Abengoa Bioenergy's international marketing and cellulosic bioethanol technology capacities and the local agricultural, production and marketing capacities will result in very significant synergies that will allow the attainment of important growth levels in the world's bioethanol market together with the technology that will allow the achieving of lower costs per liter of bioethanol:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Eventually, technologies and processes developed by Abengoa Bioenergy as they are applied to sugar cane, could be transferred to developing countries with a large bioenergy production potential, to meet a large part of the world's rapidly growing fuel needs.

Brazil is the world's major bioethanol market with an annual production of 17,5 billion liters in 2006. The consumption of bioethanol is expected to continue to grow strongly thanks to the success of the flex-fuel vehicles that represent 90% of the number of vehicles sold in Brazil and that allow the use of gasoline or bioethanol without distinction.

Abengoa Bioenergy is the first European, fifth in the U.S.A, and the only worldwide bioethanol manufacturer, with more than 1000 ML/year of total installed capacity. In Spain maintains three production facilities with a capacity over 500 ML/year.

Abengoa is a technology company applying innovative solutions for sustainable development in the infrastructures, environment and energy sectors. It is a listed company with treasury stock of €3.166 billion and is present in more than seventy countries where it operates with its five Business Units: Solar, Bioenergy, Environmental Services, Information Technologies, and Industrial Engineering and Construction.

Article continues

Thenergo to develop new 3MW CHP biogas project in Flanders

Antwerp-based Thenergo, a developer of combined heat-and-power (CHP) clean energy solutions announces [*.doc] it will develop a 3.2 MW CHP biogas facility or 'E-farm' in West Flanders (Belgium). The project will be operational for up to 8,000 hours per year, generating annually 24,000MWh of clean power, enough to supply around-the-clock electricity for up to 6,000 households.

Thenergo E-farms will produce energy from organic waste produced by agricultural businesses, ranging from livestock smallholders to industrial–scale farmers and processors. E-farms are a waste solution – avoiding the need for landfill and incineration – and a source of much needed renewable energy for Europe. E-farms will assure agricultural businesses of reliable and cost-effective on-site energy while also providing surplus renewable energy to the local and national electricity grids.

Construction of the E-farm will begin in October 2007 and is expected to be operational within 15 months. The development and building costs represent an investment of €20 million. Thenergo will hold a 75% stake in this project.

The facility will generate power from animal manure (60,000 tonnes per year) and food processing waste (60,000 tonnes per year). Long term contracts with local suppliers will ensure delivery over the 20 year life of the plant. The facility will generate average annual sales of €6 million.

Since Thenergo’s IPO in June 2007, total installed capacity has risen to 33.4MW up from 25.2MW, while projected capacity has risen to 25.5MW up from 19.7MW:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

E-farms bring into focus all the components of Thenergo’s business model. From procurement, concept engineering and operational management to electricity trading, certificate and by-product sales, Thenergo will draw on its industry knowledge and engineering expertise, enabling it to extract full value from every step of the chain. Together with the Valmass E-farm project, a 1.6MW CHP E-farm also under construction in West Flanders, Thenergo today is becoming an influential player in this fast developing sector. - Kurt Alen, Thenergo CEO.
Founded in 2002 and based in Antwerp, Belgium, Thenergo is one of Europe’s leading independent developers and operators of sustainable energy projects using biomass, biogas and natural gas. Thenergo designs, builds, finances, trades energy and operates Combined Heat and Power projects for its own account and on behalf of its clients. To date, Thenergo has a gross installed capacity of 33.4MW for an annual electricity production capacity of 135 GWh. Since 14 June 2007, Thenergo has been listed on Alternext, Paris, where it raised a record €70 million.

Article continues

FAO Chief: climate change likely to increase risk of hunger

Climate change is likely to undermine food production in the developing world, while industrialized countries could gain in production potential, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said in a speech at the M.S. Swaminathan Foundation Conference in Chennai, India.

"Crop yield potential is likely to increase at higher latitudes for global average temperature increases of up to 1 to 3°C depending on the crop, and then decrease beyond that," he said. "On the contrary, at lower latitudes, especially in the seasonally dry tropics, crop yield potential is likely to decline for even small global temperature rises, which would increase the risk of hunger."

Greater frequency of droughts and floods would affect local production negatively, especially in subsistence sectors at low latitudes, Dr. Diouf added.

"Rainfed agriculture in marginal areas in semi-arid and sub-humid regions is mostly at risk," he explained. "India could lose 125 million tons of its rainfed cereal production - equivalent to 18 percent of its total production."

The impacts of climate change on forests and on forest dependent people are already evident in increased incidences of forest fires and outbreaks of forest pests and diseases. Climate change adaptation will be needed in a variety of ecosystems, including agro-ecosystems (crops, livestock and grasslands) forests and woodlands, inland waters and coastal and marine ecosystems, according to Diouf.

Using new biotechnologies
Science and technology must spearhead agricultural production in the next 30 years at a pace faster than the Green Revolution did during the past three decades, Dr. Diouf asserted.

"Exploiting the new biotechnologies, including in particular in vitro culture, embryo transfer and the use of DNA markers, can supplement conventional breeding approaches, thus enhancing yield levels, increasing input use efficiency, reducing risk, and enhancing nutritional quality," he said.

But, he cautioned, most genetically modified (GM) crops being cultivated today were developed to be herbicide tolerant and resistant to pests. Development of GM crops with traits valuable for poor farmers, especially within the context of climate change - such as resistance to drought, extreme temperatures, soil acidity and salinity - is not yet a reality, even though scientists are working on this (earlier post and especially here).

"I cannot sufficiently underline the need to also address the needs of resource poor farmers in rainfed areas and on marginal lands," said Diouf. "Ensuring that new biotechnologies help achieve this goal, in full awareness of biosafety, socio-economic and ethical concerns associated with the use of some of these technologies remains a challenge for the entire scientific community," the FAO chief added:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

In India, successes and shortfalls
Noting that the theme of this year's World Food Day (15 October) is "The Right to Food," Diouf praised India for playing a pioneering and model role in implementing this right with contributions from all parts of society.

In particular, he highlighted the country's Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme, which provides millions of mothers and children with health, nutrition and hygiene education, preschool education, supplementary feeding, growth monitoring and promotion, and also links to primary healthcare services like immunization and vitamin A supplements.

FAO's chief executive also lauded India for its national Midday Meal programme, which provides lunch free of cost to school children, and for tackling issues of rural poverty via its National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.

Yet despite these successes, Diouf also noted that challenges remain.

"The genuinely impressive success story of Indian economic growth and its emergence as a global powerhouse is also confronted with a more pessimistic picture as a large proportion of the Indian population has yet to benefit from the dynamic changes underway in the country," he noted, citing statistics from India's National Family Health Survey which show that 40 percent of the country's adults are underweight and that 79 percent of Indian children between three months and three years suffer from some type of anaemia.

“No state in India is free from iodine deficiency disorders, and Vitamin A deficiency continues to be a public health problem among pre-school children. In a country with 348 million people aged under 14, these are alarming levels of child malnutrition,” Dr Diouf said.

References:
FAO: Climate change likely to increase risk of hunger - August 7, 2007.

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


Article continues

French aerospace organisations launch aviation biofuels research project

Major aerospace manufacturers, governments, airlines, research organisations and service companies are currently researching the use of bio-based fuels for aviation, to mitigate the effects of increasing fuel prices and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from air transport. Emissions from aviation currently account for about 3% of total EU greenhouse gas emissions, but they are increasing fast – by 87% since 1990 – as air travel becomes cheaper without its environmental costs being addressed.

A French alternative-fuels project is joining efforts to green the industry, by laboratory-scale testing of blended fuels, second-generation biofuels and other candidates. The project, known as CALIN is being initiated by a conglomerate of research organisations consisting of France's aerospace research agency ONERA, propulsion company Snecma and members of the country's Aerospace Valley group.

CALIN is to be launched by the Aerospace Valley group of businesses from the Midi-Pyrenees and Aquitaine areas of south-west France, and will improve the understanding of the different fuels' kinetic properties, emissions and combustion characteristics to help computer modelling. The Aerospace Valley group unites most of Europe's leading aerospace manufacturers, including EADS, Airbus, Air France Industries, Alstom and Dassault.

Even though are no demonstration engines or flight trials involved, Snecma recently succeeded in testing a CFM56-7B jet engine with an ester-based biofuel at a Snecma site in Villaroche. The engine is produced by a joint venture between Snecma, CFM International, and General Electric Company. The fuel used was a methylester derived from plant oil, mixed with 70% Jet-A1 kerosene. The successful test with the unmodified engine reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 20% (earlier post and here).

Snecma research and technology vice-president Serge Eury says the next step after CALIN is the European Union funded Alfa-bird project. Alfa-Bird ('alternative fuels and biofuels for aircraft development') is a planned EU Seventh Framework research project to investigate the economic and industrial consequences of switching from today's kerosene-based jet fuels to biofuels and other alternatives:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

CALIN is part of the Aerospace Valley's energy and propulsion activity, which in turn is one of nine areas of aerospace research and development the group has under way.

The Aerospace Valley is Europe's leading employment pool in the fields of aeronautics, space and embedded systems, with 94,000 jobs in industry and services, 1,300 establishments, and 8,500 people employed in research. All major European aerospace manufacturers form part of the cluster.

The biofuels project is part of a larger vision to ensure that Europe's aviation industry remains world leader in renewable energies and in cleaner air transport. The Aerospace Valley cluster is world leader in civil aircraft design, luxury business aircraft, low- and medium-power gas turbines for helicopters, landing gear, aircraft batteries.

ONERA (Office National d’Etudes et Recherches Aérospatiales) is the French national aerospace research center. It is a public research establishment, with eight major facilities in France and about 2,000 employees, including 1,500 scientists, engineers and technicians.

Snecma, a SAFRAN Group company, designs, develops and produces engines for civil and military aircraft, launch vehicles and satellites, either alone or in partnership.


References:
Snecma: CFM Successfully Tests Ester-Based Biofuel on CFM56-7B Engine - June 15, 2007.

Flight International: French alternate aviation fuels research to begin in December - August 8, 2007

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

Biopact: Syntroleum to deliver bio-based synthetic jet fuel to U.S. Department of Defense - July 09, 2007

Biopact: Boeing to fly aircraft on 50% biofuels blend - June 14, 2007


Article continues

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Decade-long experiment suggests limitations to carbon dioxide 'tree banking'

Scientists recently found that forests in mid- to upper-latitude regions are less effective carbon sinks than previously thought, while others have stressed that many commercial carbon offsetting schemes based on tree-planting campaigns are often not effective - much depends on the type of trees, local ecosystem characteristics and the location of the site (earlier post). The results of a 10 year experiment in the U.S. now suggest that there are indeed clear limitations to carbon dioxide 'tree banking'.

While a decade of bathing North Carolina pine tree stands with extra carbon dioxide did allow the trees to grow more tissue, only those pines receiving the most water and nutrients were able to store significant amounts of carbon that could offset the effects of global warming, scientists told a national meeting of the Ecological Society of America (ESA).

These results from the 10 year-long Free Air Carbon Enrichment (FACE) experiment in a Duke University forest suggest that proposals to bank extra CO2 from human activities in such trees may depend on the vagaries of the weather and large scale forest fertilization efforts.
If water availability decreases to plants at the same time that carbon dioxide increases, then we might not have a net gain in carbon sequestration. In order to actually have an effect on the atmospheric concentration of CO2, the results suggest a future need to fertilize vast areas. And the impact on water quality of fertilizing large areas will be intolerable to society. Water is already a scarce resource. - Ram Oren, FACE project director, professor of ecology, Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences.
In a presentation delivered on Tuesday, Aug. 7 by Heather McCarthy, Oren's former graduate student, eight scientists working at the FACE site reported on the daily administrations of 1 1/2 times today's CO2 levels and how it has changed carbon accumulations in plants growing there.

The Department of Energy-funded FACE site consists of four forest plots receiving extra CO2 from computer-controlled valves mounted on rings of towers, and four other matched plots receiving no extra gas.

Trees in the loblolly pine-dominated forest plots that were treated produced about 20 percent more biomass on average, the researchers found. But since the amounts of available water and nitrogen nutrients varied substantially from plot to plot, using averages could be misleading:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

"In some areas, the growth is maybe 5 or 10 percent more, and in other areas it's 40 percent more," Oren said. "So in sites that are poor in nutrients and water we see very little response. In sites that are rich in both we see a large response."

The researchers found that extra carbon dioxide had no effect on what foresters call "self thinning" -- the tendency of less-successful trees to die off as the most-successful grow bigger.

"We didn't find that elevated CO2 caused any deviation from this standard relationship," said McCarthy, now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Irvine.

Also unchanged by the CO2 enrichment were the proportions of carbon atoms that found their way to various components of plant systems -- wood, leaves, roots and underlying soil. Only a few of those components will store carbon over time, noted Oren and McCarthy.

"Carbon that's in foliage is going to last a lot shorter time than carbon in the wood, because leaves quickly decay," McCarthy said. "So elevated CO2 could significantly increase the production of foliage but this would lead to only a very small increase in ecosystem carbon storage."

Other FACE researchers contributing to the ESA report were Kurt Johnsen of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service, Adrien Finzi of Boston University, Seth Pritchard of the University of Charleston, Robert Jackson and Charles Cook of Duke and Kathleen Treseder of the University of California, Irvine.

Picture: At FACE, computer-controlled valves on rings of towers are administering carbon dioxide to stands of loblolly pines. Credit: Chris Hildreth, Duke University.

References:
Eurekalert: Experiment suggests limitations to carbon dioxide 'tree banking' - August 7, 2007.

Duke University FACE research site.

Brookhaven National Laboratory FACE site.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory FACE site.


Article continues

China's Dragon Power to raise US$2 billion for 100 biomass power plants

According to information obtained by the South China Morning Post, Dragon Power, a Beijing-based company that generates power from biomass, plans to raise as much as 15 billion yuan (€1.45/US$2bn) from an initial public offering in Hong Kong next year to build not less than 100 biomass power plants across the People's Republic.

China last month increased its targets for bio-power and biofuels (earlier post), and launched an ambitious bioenergy program based on forestry, which, amongst other benefits, helps fight desertification, will reduce coal consumption by 10% and is expected to bring large-scale employment opportunities to the country's vast rural population (previous post). Under the new vision, bioenergy will make up almost 25% of the nation's energy consumption by 2020. As China has become the world's largest emittor of greenhouse gases from fossil fuels (especially coal), development of the biomass sector is seen as a top priority to limit the country's contribution to climate change (an overview of China's biomass power plans and plants here, and here).

Dragon Power this year began generating energy at biomass power plants in Hebei and Shandong provinces, according to a June report in the mainland magazine New Economic Guidance (map), run by the information centre of China's State Council Development and Research Centre.

The alternative power producer started a 50-50 joint venture called National Bio Energy in 2005 with Shenzhen State Power Scientech Development, a subsidiary of the State Grid Corporation, the nation's largest power transmission company. In april of this year, the companies surpassed a symbolic mark when they produced more than 100 million kWh of carbon-neutral electricity. Further, the joint-venture recently started cooperating with bioenergy companies in Sweden to build integrated green power plants there.

Now Dragon Power and National Bio Energy plan to open more than 100 biofuel power plants across the mainland by 2010, generating more than 200 megawatts of capacity, according to the report which cited Jiang Dalong, the president of Dragon Power and a vice-president of National Bio Energy.

The government has so far approved the construction of 29 electricity generation plants driven by biomass, said another executive cited in the report:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

US Citibank invested US$150 million in Dragon Power earlier this year, a source said. Citibank declined to comment.

Dragon Power has a distribution contract with State Grid, which made the company attractive to foreign investors, the source said.

State Grid is the country's largest electricity distributor and operates in 26 provinces. China Southern Power Grid distributes energy in five provinces.

The mainland's power grids are required to buy all available power generated from alternative sources from September 1, the State Electricity Regulatory Commission said on its website this month.

The government plans to have 16 per cent of total electricity supply generated by renewable sources by 2020, at a cost of US$198 billion in investment. Coal generates 78 per cent of all mainland-produced electricity.

Beijing in June stopped approving new corn-based fuel ethanol plants amid fears rising grain prices would boost inflation. Ethanol is most commonly used as a car fuel.

Dragon Power uses straw and wood chips to make the fuel used in its power plants, it says on its website.

China Agri-Industries Holdings, which raised HK$3.2 billion in its listing on the Hong Kong stock market in March, had planned to build four corn-based fuel ethanol plants with an annual capacity of 900,000 tonnes. It said it was now switching to sweet potatoes as a biofuel source.

Non-food crops such as sweet potatoes and wood are not affected by the new rule. The four plants are due to begin producing energy this year.

Shares of China Agri, a subsidiary of state-owned Cofco, have risen 27 per cent since listing in March.

Gushan Group, a mainland producer of biodiesel, had planned to raise up to US$200 million from a share sale in Hong Kong last year. That plan was dropped because of uncertainties after new mainland regulations made it more difficult to incorporate assets overseas, although a source said the firm was considering reviving the deal. Biodiesel is a clean-burning fuel produced from animal fats and vegetable oils.

References:
South China Morning Post: Dragon Power plans IPO to raise US$2b for biofuel plants [subscription req'd] - August 7, 2007.

Biopact: China announces 'Agricultural Biofuel Industry Plan': new crops, higher targets - July 04, 2007



Article continues

Expert: biofuels will help fight hunger

It has become a bit of a nuisance to read commonplaces about biofuels, such as the idea that they push up food prices or that they are not energy efficient. A more in-depth look at these important issues reveals a far more complex reality. But despite scientists' efforts to bring more nuance into the debate, some myths persist.

One of those is the food versus fuel debate. Biofuels may temporarily increase food prices but this doesn't imply people will starve. On the contrary, higher agricultural prices reduce poverty, boost incomes and thus strengthen the food security of the vast majority of the world's poor, who live in rural areas. Moreover, the question is not whether biofuels make food more expensive, the real thing to ask is: what would happen if we were only to rely on ever more costly oil? The answer is very straightforward: everything would become more expensive, not only food. For the poorest countries the effects are more poverty, hunger and underdevelopment, while the rest of the world may suffer the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change. Biofuels help counter both these dark prospects. Recently, African scientists even went so far as to conclude that biofuels may be key to achieving the UN's ambitious 'Millennium Development Goals' (previous post).

Antonio José Ferreira Simões, director of the Department of Energy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Brazil - a country with vast experience on the social and economic effects of green fuels - writes an interesting essay in the International Herald Tribune, in which he explains why he thinks biofuels will help fight hunger. In an argumentation that resembles our own, Simões takes a broad perspective on the matter:

The first decades of the 20th Century heralded the automobile era. At the time, it was said that it would not be safe to trade the reliability of a horse for the uncertainty of an automobile. After all, the horse was always available and ran on alfalfa, clearly an abundant raw material. It was then too risky to trust gasoline, some argued, since it could become scarce in a few years.

Today, as we are again facing the challenges of changing our energy matrix, it is important to clearly establish what is reality and what is myth regarding biofuels.

The reality is that if we maintain the current rate of oil consumption without major reductions in carbon emissions, we will surely be heading in the direction of unprecedented climate change and natural disasters. It is also a fact that if oil demand continues to increase, prices will skyrocket, terribly affecting poor countries. The International Energy Agency itself admits that increasing demand and irregular supply will impose additional pressure on prices, which in turn will also be affected by higher extraction costs of new reserves (deep waters, heavy and extra-heavy oil). Additionally, the increase in oil prices will have serious consequences on the price of food products. More expensive fertilizers will become less accessible to farmers in poor countries. Sharp increases in transportation costs will reduce the access to food for millions. Therefore, higher oil prices will surely mean less food consumption.

One of the most common myths is that biofuels will necessarily compete with food production. Nowadays, the largest food producers are the developed countries that strongly subsidize their agriculture. In developing countries, with few exceptions, large scale food production does not occur: They simply cannot compete with rich countries' agricultural subsidies. It is more cost-effective to import products offered as food aid from developed countries, or sold at subsidized prices, than to produce locally.

Production of biofuels in developing countries would change this picture. Large extensions of unutilized arable land in the Southern Hemisphere would be employed for highly profitable biofuel-oriented crops, restructuring the agricultural sector. Millions of jobs would be generated, thus increasing income, exports and food purchasing power of the poorest. Furthermore, production of biofuels in the South would help avoid redirecting the use of food-producing land in the North for this purpose:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

In Brazil, biofuels production has grown alongside with increasing food crops. It is lack of income that fuels hunger, not the use of biofuels. Experience has proven that biofuels production generates income, increasing food consumption. The Brazilian ethanol industry generates one million direct jobs and up to six million indirect jobs. Biodiesel benefits 224 thousand low-income families.

Another myth is that the production of biofuels threatens the Amazon rain forest. It should be noted that between 2004 and 2006, a period of strong growth in the Brazilian biofuels production, the Amazon rain forest deforestation rate was reduced by 52 percent. Also, large sugar cane plantations are located at least 1,000 kilometers away from the Amazon region, where it is not possible to efficiently grow sugar cane, due to the high humidity, which prevents saccharose from forming.

Biofuels also could contribute to reduce carbon emissions through the use of degraded lands. In the case of Brazil, we use less than 10 percent of all arable land for sugar cane cultivation. There are, however, 150 million hectares of degraded pasture land that the Brazilian Government is working to recover. This land will receive a vegetal cover from sugar cane, thus contributing to reduce carbon emissions.

In order to ensure that the development of biofuels production takes place while contributing to the improvement of social and environmental conditions, as announced by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil will organize a national technical, social and environmental certification system. This will allow us to constantly verify the sustainability of our production.

Nowadays, world energy resources are concentrated in 20 countries. Biofuels will allow a true democratization of the international market, as over 100 countries will be producing energy for the world. There is no doubt about the fact that this is a great change, maybe as revolutionary as the one that began in the early 20th Century. After all, the transition from animal traction to petroleum was antipodal to environmental sustainability. Today, we can correct this and, at the same time, contribute to the generation of employment and wealth in the countries of the South - much to the benefit of the global community.

Picture: castor oil farmer in Brazil's arid Nordeste region, where the new biodiesel program currently benefits 60,000 poor rural families. The energy agriculture program boosts both the income and food security of the households. Courtesy: German Agency for Technical Cooperation.

References:

International Herald Tribune: Biofuels will help fight hunger - August 6, 2007.


Article continues

Renewable energy jobs calculator

The International Energy Agency's bioenergy program has released a handy tool that calculates the numbers of jobs created by a typical renewable energy project. The 'new jobs calculator' can be found at the Bioenergy Task 29 website, which looks at the socio-economics of biofuels and bioenergy (earlier post), and which contains an educational section. The data and methodology for the calculator are based on work by the Sustainable Energy Ireland initiative. Earlier we compiled our own estimation of 'jobs per joule' generated in different energy sectors, with more details on particular biofuels.


Number of jobs generated for a typical 5MW project initiated in 2007 with an investment worth €2 million, taking 48 months to build and install, with a life-time of 15 years and operating 3600 hours per year. Source: New Jobs Calculator, IEA Bioenergy Task 29
The argument that renewable energy projects often result in a substantial number of jobs for the local economy is important, because it counters the idea that such projects are 'too expensive'. If one goes beyond purely commercial perspectives and one looks at the many indirect socio-economic benefits of renewables projects (their contribution to mitigating climate change, jobs generated, energy diversification and security, etc), then a strong case in their favor can be made and, if necessary, they deserve state support.

Task 32's interactive renewable energy calculator allows the user to give input on the scale of the investment, the construction and installation period, the amount of megawatts installed, the life-time of the plant, the year of installation, ect... These inputs are then used to estimate the equivalent of full time jobs generated in construction and installation as well as in operation and maintenance.

It seems like the ratio of jobs generated in different sectors (solar, wind, hydro, bio) remains fairly constant across parameters: liquid biofuel projects and the production of fuel from dedicated energy crops result in the largest number of jobs (as can be seen in Brazil, where the biofuel sector has generated more employment than any other economic sector over the past few years in the state of São Paulo - more here). Bioenergy made from residues involves no construction and installation phase (the residues can be harvested as such) and thus result in fewer employment opportunities. Other renewables and bioenergy from gasification, combustion and biogas production are somewhere in the middle [entry ends here].
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::


Article continues

Monday, August 06, 2007

Scientists develop more efficient biorefining process to make ethanol from wheat

In a finding that could help put wheat alongside corn on the menu of biofuel sources, researchers in Greece and the United Kingdom report the development of a new method for producing ethanol from wheat. The technology - potentially cheaper and more efficient than conventional methods for producing wheat-based biofuel - has been published as an open-access article in Biotechnology Progress.

As oil prices soar, demand for bioethanol to stretch out supplies of gasoline has increased dramatically, along with frenzied research efforts to find the best raw materials and conversion processes for its economical production.

Cereals and sugar crops are currently the preferred raw materials for bioethanol production due to availability and low processing cost. In the EU, wheat is more widely cultivated and could be regarded as the preferred cereal grain for bioethanol production. The predominant process for wheat conversion into a fermentation feedstock begins with a simple dry milling stage leading to the production of whole wheat flour. The starch content in whole wheat flour is then hydrolyzed into glucose by commercial enzymes. The resulting glucose solution is fermented into ethanol after the addition of nutrient supplements. This process finally leads to the production of only one coproduct (Dried Distiller's Grain), which has a low market value as animal feed.

In the new study, Apostolis Koutinas and colleagues describe a simplified biorefining method that uses fewer steps and less energy and generates fewer waste products but more valuable byproducts (schematic, click to enlarge). The economics and efficiency of bioethanol production from wheat could thus be improved by fractionating the grain into the fermentable fraction and several nonfermentable fractions, including bran, germ and protein, that have a wide spectrum of end-uses.

The main differences between the proposed and the traditional dry milling of wheat are:
  • Wheat components that are not fermentable during Saccharomyces cerevisiae cultivations for bioethanol production are separated prior to fermentation. In this way, two coproducts are produced (bran-rich pearling and gluten) with current and potential market outlets that could improve process economics. In addition, the removal of non-fermentable solids from yeast fermentation leads to the production of pure yeast cells that have a much higher market value and diversified market outlets as compared to Dry Distillers Grains (with solubles) produced by traditional wheat dry milling.
  • Hydrolysis of starch or any remaining protein and phytic acid is achieved by consortia of enzymes that are produced by Aspergillus awamori fermentation on wheat flour. Simultaneous gelatinization, liquefaction, and saccharification is achieved at temperatures less than 70 C because the crude filtrate used from fungal fermentations contains all of the enzymes required to hydrolyze wheat components. Fungal cells were grown on exactly the same medium to produce enzymes that led to complete hydrolysis of wheat starch and protein during fermentation. Depending on plant capacity, this processing scheme leads to lower energy requirements and capital investment as compared to traditional processing that uses separate liquefaction and saccharification stages.
  • Wheat is the sole raw material used throughout this process. A minimum amount of waste is produced by regenerating nutrients consumed during A. awamori fermentation via fungal autolysis. Fungal autolysates are used to supply additional nutrients for yeast fermentation.
In the process presented by the scientists, starch hydrolysis and fungal autolysis are carried out in separate reactions. However, the operating conditions employed for starch hydrolysis (60 C and uncontrolled pH) and fungal autolysis (55 C and uncontrolled pH) are very similar. This creates the opportunity to integrate these two unit operations in a single batch unit operation leading to lower capital investment and processing costs:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The study then presents experimental results that justify the feasibility of integrating starch hydrolysis and fungal autolysis in the same unit operation for the production of a nutrient-complete medium for bioethanol production.

The feedstock production process including continuous operation for fungal fermentation and combined hydrolytic/autolytic reaction has been cost-optimized by the scientists by nonlinear programming. A continuous scheme for starch hydrolysis is proposed where initial gelatinization and liquefaction is carried out at significantly lower temperature (68 C) and faster reaction rate (up to 10 min residence time) as compared to the conventional process due to the utilization of the enzyme consortium produced from fungal fermentation. Subsequently, starch saccharification is carried out together with fungal autolysis at 55 C in the same unit operation.

Depending on the selected combination of physical and biological treatment, the optimized process yields various fractions enriched in bran, wheat germ and proteins that could be sold or utilized for the extraction or production of value-added products, boosting income of biorefineries, the scientists say.

This process could substitute for the conventional wheat dry milling process that is currently employed in industry. The most important unit operations of the proposed continuous scheme are a fungal fermentation producing enzymes and fungal cells and a combined hydrolytic/autolytic reaction producing a nutrient-complete medium.

References:
Najmul Arifeen, Ruohang Wang, Ioannis Kookos, Colin Webb, and Apostolis A. Koutinas, "Optimization and Cost Estimation of novel Wheat Biorefining for Continuous Production of Fermentation Feedstock", Biotechnol. Prog., 23 (4), 872 -880, 2007. DOI: 10.1021/bp0700408 S8756-7938(07)00040-9



Article continues

Scientists look at preventing 'tipping points' in agriculture

Growing food, fuel and fiber entails the use of fertilizer and irrigation systems and results in land-use changes. These ‘side effects’ of agriculture can lead to regime shifts or ‘tipping points’ which include desertification, salinisation, water degradation, and changes in climate due to altered water flows from land to atmosphere. But paradoxically, these very ecosystem services also hold the keys to ecosystem restoration.

So say researchers who will participate in a symposium titled “Tipping points in the biosphere: Agriculture, water, and resilience” during the Ecological Society of America’s Annual Meeting. The theme of the meeting is “Ecology-based restoration in a changing world” and some 4,000 scientists are expected to attend.

As human populations shift to more meat-heavy diets, trade of agricultural products increases, and as demand for biofuels grows the pressure on some agricultural systems is mounting. The challenge is to figure out how to meet these demands while at the same time keep the ecosystem functions that underpin productivity working.

Tipping points occur when an ecosystem is overwhelmed by the demands placed on it and can no longer function the way it did before. In other words, it loses its resiliency which ultimately can lead to land that is rendered useless for growing crops.

Elena Bennett (McGill University), organizer of the symposium, says that we need to better understand large scale regime shifts in order to develop policies that sustain, rather than degrade, the very systems upon which humanity depends.

One of the reasons current agricultural landscapes are so prone to regime shifts is that prevailing management of them has tended to focus exclusively on improving one type of ecosystem service (e.g. food production, fiber production, biofuels production) at the cost of others, explains Bennett:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

She notes that agriculture is now one of the main driving forces of global environmental change. Bennett and other presenters in this session have identified potential tipping points related to water and agriculture that could have major global consequences.

No human activity has so large an impact on water systems as does agriculture, according to Johan Rockstrom (Stockholm Environment Institute, Sweden). He notes that the future will bring an even greater demand on fresh water for food production — by 2050 global water use for food production alone will need to double.

Line Gordon (Stockholm University, Sweden) will examine the redistribution of vapor flows brought about by irrigation. Gordon notes that the pattern of change varies and identifies the mid-United States, the Amazon, the Sahel, India, and Northern China as the most likely areas to undergo climate change, driven by these altered continental vapor flows.

Ellen Marie Douglas (University of Massachusetts) will focus on potential impacts on India’s Monsoon Belt, home to a large part of the globe’s population. India has the largest irrigated agricultural area in the world, with more than 90 percent of the country’s water supporting irrigated agriculture. Vapor fluxes in India’s wet season are up by 7 percent and are up 55 percent in the dry season. Douglas and her colleagues attribute two-thirds of this change to irrigated agriculture.

Drawing from research examples in the Mississippi River, Simon Donner (Princeton University), will discuss the role of nitrogen fertilizer in the health of downstream ecosystems, in particular their potential sensitivity to climate change.

Navin Ramankutty (McGill University) likens land use changes to fuel emissions in their potential to drive climatic changes. According to Ramankutty, local land cover changes may very likely generate changes elsewhere by altering the general circulation of the atmosphere. He points to Canada, Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, Mexico, and Central America as places where land clearing for cultivation may have inadvertently decreased suitability for growing crops.

Brandon Bestelmeyer (USDA-ARS Jornada Experimental Range) will examine tipping points in rangelands and will explore various socio-economic factors contributing to rangeland degradation.

Others presenting at the session are Garry Peterson (McGill University), Lance Gunderson (Emory University), and Max Rietkerk (Utrecht University, The Netherlands).

“Our hope is that if we can identify potential regime shifts, we can alter our management to avoid them,” says session organizer Bennett.

Picture: 'terra preta' or 'dark earth' soils offer an example of an agricultural system that withstands the test of time. The technique is based on sequestring biochar (agrichar) in soils to make them more fertile, to improve their water retention capacities and to boost agricultural output in a genuinely sustainable way. Left: a nutrient poor oxisol, right: a biochar-enriched, fertile oxisol. These soils are now being looked at in the context of carbon-negative biofuels, which could help restore degraded soils. Courtesy: Bruno Glaser.

References:
Eurekalert: Tipping points - August 6, 2007.


Article continues

Shell and Virent to cooperate on production of hydrogen from biomass

Shell Hydrogen LLC and Virent Energy Systems announced (*.pdf) a while ago a five-year joint development agreement to develop further and commercialize Virent's BioForming technology platform for hydrogen production.

Virent’s technology enables the economic production of hydrogen, among other fuels and chemicals, from renewable glycerol and sugar-based feedstocks. The vast majority of hydrogen today is produced using fossil fuels, including natural gas and coal, making it a dirty fuel that contributes to climate change. One of the most promising paths for clean hydrogen production relies on biomass and carbohydrates instead. Other production techniques based on the electrolysis of water by electricity obtained from renewables like solar or wind remain far more costly.

The collaboration is based on Virent’s BioForming process, which is the first commercial application of Aqueous Phase Reforming (APR), an innovative pathway to biofuel and bioproduct production (top image, click to enlarge). This catalytic, low-temperature thermochemical route to biofuel production is superior to the well-known fermentation and high-temperature thermochemical routes such as pyrolysis. It is scalable, cost-effective, and produces more net energy than existing methods.

The BioForming process can economically utilize many types of carbohydrates from cellulosic and biomass-derived feedstocks. These include:
  • Glycerol (by-product of biodiesel production)
  • Glucose and Sucrose (from sugar crops)
  • Starches (glucose containing polysaccharides)
  • Long-chained glucose contained in cellulose (plant cell walls)
  • C5 and C6 sugars such as xylose, arabinose, and glucose contained in hemicellulose (part of the protective covering around cellulose)
Since the process is feedstock flexible, it enables the use of the lowest cost biomass sources available in each location.

The versatile technology platform converts the carbohydrates in biomass into liquid fuels, fuel gases, and many chemicals, all products most commonly made from fossil fuels. The end products can be used as transportation fuels, in industrial applications, or as components of goods currently made using non-renewable resources. Current research efforts are focused on developing production capabilities for biogasoline, sugar-based biodiesel, hydrogen, and propylene glycol (image, click to enlarge).

Virent and Shell will collaborate on the development and testing of hydrogen systems targeted for fueling station applications at Virent's facilities in Madison and the Shell Westhollow Technology Center in Houston. If research and development goes to plan, initial deployment of the new technology at a Shell hydrogen fueling station could follow within several years:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The worldwide market for distributed and centralized hydrogen is estimated at approximately 45 million tons each year. In addition to its use as an energy carrier in transportation applications, hydrogen is a key chemical building block used in many chemical processes, predominately ammonia fertilizer production and, in oil refineries, to upgrade lower quality oil fractions into gasoline and diesel and to remove sulphur contaminants. Other applications include the manufacture of glass, vitamins, personal care products, lubricants, refined metals, and food products.

References:
Virent: Shell Hydrogen LLC and Virent Energy Systems, Inc. Announce Agreement to Manufacture Hydrogen Using Biomass [*.pdf] - May 24, 2007.



Article continues

Worldwatch Institute: biofuels may bring major benefits to world's rural poor

The increase in world agriculture prices caused by the global boom in biofuels could bring major benefits to the world’s rural poor who have been suffering under low prices for decades, according to the Worldwatch Institute. This is a conclusion of a major study titled Biofuels for Transport: Global Potential and Implications for Energy and Agriculture, co-ordinated by the German Agency for Technical Cooperation and published by Earthscan this week.

If implemented in smart ways on the basis of strong policies, hundreds of millions of the world's poorest people, the majority of whom live in rural areas, stand to benefit massively from the global biofuel transition, which will result in reduced food insecurity and increased incomes. The report confirms many previous scientific assessments on the poverty alleviating potential of bio-based energy and products, and strengthens the Biopact's case further.
Decades of declining agricultural prices have been reversed thanks to the growing use of biofuels. Rural farmers in some of the poorest nations have been decimated by U.S. and European subsidies to crops such as corn, cotton, and sugar. But today’s higher prices may allow them to sell their crops at a decent price. However, major agriculture reforms and infrastructure development will be needed to ensure that the increased benefits go to the world’s 800 million undernourished people, most of whom live in rural areas. - Christopher Flavin, president of the Worldwatch Institute
Biofuels for Transport, undertaken with support from the German Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Consumer Protection, assesses the range of 'sustainability' issues the biofuels industry will present in the years ahead, ranging from implications for the global climate and water resources to biological diversity and the world’s poor. The report finds that rising food prices are a hardship for some urban poor, who will need increased assistance from the World Food Program and other relief efforts.

But, as many experts have stressed, a far larger group of poor people stands to benefit from biofuels, namely those who live in rural areas (previous post). The researchers stress that the central cause of food scarcity is poverty, and seeking food security by driving agricultural prices ever lower will hurt more people than it helps.

In fact, rising agricultural prices may have major economic benefits, especially to the vast mass of the rural poor. Biofuels can, for the first time, bring increased incomes and boost the food security of these people. In Sub-Saharan Africa more than 60 per cent of people make a living off the land (map, click to enlarge) and low agricultural prices as well as trade barriers and subsidies in the wealthy West have kept them in dire poverty. Biofuels offer a unique opportunity to break this lethal status quo, according to the report.

Moreover, the tripling in oil prices since 2002 has been an economic disaster for poor nations which in the future may be able to purchase fuel from their own farmers rather than spending scarce foreign exchange on imported oil. Of the 47 poorest countries, 38 are net importers of oil and 25 import all of their oil. The result of this disastrously costly dependence is a potential collapse of poverty alleviation, health, education, hunger and development efforts that are felt by all the weakest segments of society. The UN recently found that some of the poorest countries are already forced to spend twice as much on oil imports, than on health care. Biofuels can overcome this catastrophic situation:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Since the Biofuels for Transport study was researched, biofuels growth has skyrocketed. According to the latest estimates, world biofuels production rose 28 percent in 2006 to 44 billion liters, with fuel ethanol increasing 22 percent and biodiesel rising 80 percent. Although biofuels comprise less than 1 percent of the global liquid fuel supply, the surge in production of biofuels in 2006 met 17 percent of the increase in supply of all liquid fuels worldwide last year.

This rapid growth is having unintended impacts. Large-scale biofuels production can threaten biodiversity, as seen recently with palm oil plantations in Indonesia that are encroaching on forests and edging out the endangered orangutan population—worrying European consumers who have begun importing palm oil from Southeast Asia.
It is critical to the stability of the climate that we prevent biofuels from expanding at the expense of rainforests and other valuable ecosystems that store carbon and provide other ecological services. Energy crops should instead be established on the millions of hectares of degraded land that can be found around the world. - Suzanne Hunt, directed the team of 15 researchers from four countries
“Current biofuels production methods place a heavy burden on land and water resources, due in part to the fossil fuel and chemical intensive corn that is used to produce over half the world’s ethanol,” says Hunt. “Farming practices need to be reexamined if agriculture is to provide energy as well as food for a rapidly growing global population that is hungry for both.”

The book concludes that the long-term potential of biofuels is in the use of non-food feedstocks, including agricultural and forestry wastes, as well as fast-growing, cellulose-rich energy crops such as perennial grasses and trees. Following the model of Brazil’s sugar cane-based biofuels industry, cellulosic ethanol could dramatically reduce the carbon dioxide and nitrogen pollution that results from today’s biofuel crops.

“The question is not if biofuels will play a major part in the global transportation fuel market, but when and at what price,” says Flavin. “The first priority should be to ensure that the industry develops sustainably—so that the problems of an oil-based economy are not replaced by another socially and ecologically bankrupt industry.”

The book recommends policies that protect natural resources, support a speedy transition to cellulosic technologies, and facilitate a sustainable international biofuels trade. Freer trade in biofuels should be coupled with social and environmental standards and a credible system to certify compliance.

“Biofuels alone will not solve the world’s transportation-related energy problems,” concludes the report. “Development of these fuels must occur within the context of a transition to a more efficient, less polluting and more diversified global transport sector. They must be part of a portfolio of options that includes dramatic improvements in vehicle fuel economy, investment in public transportation, and better urban planning.”

References:
Biofuel Review: Agricultural price hike could benefit rural poor - August 3, 2007.

Worldwatch Institute: Biofuels for Transportation: Global Potential and Implications for Sustainable Agriculture and Energy in the 21st Century.

EarthScan: Biofuels for Transportation: Global Potential and Implications for Sustainable Agriculture and Energy in the 21st Century, Publication Date: July 2007



Article continues

U.S. House passes Energy Bill: boost to biofuels, CCS and renewables

Declaring a new direction in energy policy, the U.S. House of Representatives on Saturday passed the Energy Bill titled 'The New Direction for Energy Independence, National Security, and Consumer Protection Act'. In it, the American legislators approve US$16 billion in taxes on oil companies, while providing billions of dollars in tax breaks and incentives for renewable energy, biofuels and conservation efforts.

The bill establishes a renewable power standard requiring all electric utilities to produce 15% of their power from biomass, wind, solar or other renewable sources by 2020. It also contains strong support for research and development of biofuels, including new approaches such as the use of biogas in transport. A range of studies and research programs on biofuels infrastructure, biorefineries, the effects of biofuels on engines and new bioprocessing technologies will be carried out.

The development of technical biofuel standards is mandated, as is a study of the effect of oil prices on the feasibility of the renewable fuels, as well as feasibility studies on ethanol pipelines, the adequacy of railroad transportation of biomass and biofuels, and other logistical and infrastructural challenges.

The legislation further releases vast funds for the study of carbon capture and storage systems (CCS), which can in principle be used with biofuels to yield carbon-negative energy. So-called 'Bioenergy with Carbon Storage' (BECS), seen by scientists as one of the only feasible and effective systems to tackle climate change in drastic way, are the only radically carbon-negative energy systems - all other renewables as well as nuclear are all carbon-positive and thus contribute to climate change (previous post). For this reason, we track CCS developments.

Finally, the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 is amended to contain a large section on energy, tying the development of bioenergy strongly to agricultural policy and legislation. New loan guarantees are established and inter-agency cooperation is enhanced. The section no longer speaks of 'commodities' used in the production of bioproducts and biofuels, but broadens the scope to 'feedstocks', in order to include all sources of biomass which can be converted into bioproducts by new technologies. It launches new research programs on biomass and forestry-based bioenergy.

Some highlights of the bill include the following:

Assistance to developing countries [Title II, Subtitle B, Sec. 2202]
The bill notes that more than $16 trillion needs to be invested in energy-supply infrastructure worldwide by 2030 to meet energy demand, and almost half of total energy investment will take place in developing countries, where production and demand are expected to increase the most.

The United States Agency for International Development will therefor support policies and programs in developing countries that promote clean and efficient energy technologies:
  1. to produce the necessary market conditions for the private sector delivery of energy and environmental management services;
  2. to create an environment that is conducive to accepting clean and efficient energy technologies that support the overall purpose of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, including: (a) improving policy, legal, and regulatory frameworks; (b) increasing institutional abilities to provide energy and environmental management services; and (c) increasing public awareness and participation in the decision-making of delivering energy and environmental management services; and
  3. to promote the use of American-made clean and efficient energy technologies, products, and energy and environmental management services.
To carry out this section, the United States Agency for International Development is authorized to spen $200 million for each of the fiscal years 2008 through 2012.

Biofuels [Title IV, Subtitle E, Sec. 4402 - 4416]
Biofuels and biorefinery information center
The Secretary of Energy, in cooperation with the Secretary of Agriculture, shall establish a technology transfer center to make available information on research, development, and commercial application of technologies related to biofuels and biorefineries, including:
  1. biochemical and thermochemical conversion technologies capable of making fuels from lignocellulosic feedstocks;
  2. biotechnology processes capable of making biofuels with an emphasis on development of biorefinery technologies using enzyme-based processing systems;
  3. biogas collection and production technologies suitable for vehicular use;
  4. cost-effective reforming technologies that produce hydrogen fuel from biogas sources;
  5. biogas production from cellulosic and recycled organic waste sources and advancement of gaseous storage systems and advancement of gaseous storage systems; and
  6. other advanced processes and technologies that will enable the development of biofuels.
Biofuels and advanced biofuels infrastructure
A program of research, development, and demonstration will be carried out as it relates to existing transportation fuel distribution infrastructure and new alternative distribution infrastructure for biofuels. The program shall focus on the physical and chemical properties of biofuels and efforts to prevent or mitigate against adverse impacts of those properties.

Biodiesel: 2.5%
Biodiesel Study: a report on any research and development challenges inherent in increasing to 2.5% the proportion of diesel fuel sold in the United States that is biodiesel.
Materials for the Establishment of Standards: physical property data and characterization of biodiesel will be made publicly available in order to encourage the establishment of standards that will promote their utilization in the transportation and fuel delivery system.

Biogas for transport: 5%
A report will be produced on any research and development challenges inherent in increasing to 5% of the transportation fuels sold in the United States fuel with biogas or a blend of biogas and natural gas.

Bioresearch centers for systems biology
At least 5 bioresearch centers of varying sizes will be established that focus on biofuels development on the basis of fundamental biological research, of which at least 1 center shall be located in each of the 5 Petroleum Administration for Defense Districts, which shall be established for a period of 5 years, after which the grantee may reapply for selection on a competitive basis:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Grants for biofuel production R&D
Grants worth a total $25 million for each of the fiscal years 2008 through 2010 will be given to eligible entities for research, development, demonstration, and commercial application of biofuel production technologies in States with low rates of ethanol production, including low rates of production of cellulosic biomass ethanol.

Biorefinery energy efficiency
A program of research, development, demonstration, and commercial application will be lauunched for increasing energy efficiency and reducing energy consumption in the operation of biorefinery facilities; another research program will be aimed at developnig the application of technologies and processes to enable biorefineries that exclusively use corn grain or corn starch as a feedstock to produce ethanol to be retrofitted to accept a range of biomass, including lignocellulosic feedstocks.

Study of increased ethanol consumption
The Energy Secretary, in cooperation with the Secretary of Agriculture, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Secretary of Transportation, shall conduct a study of the methods of increasing consumption in the United States of ethanol-blended gasoline with levels of ethanol that are not less than 10 percent and not more than 40 percent. This study will include:
  1. a review of production and infrastructure constraints on increasing consumption of ethanol;
  2. an evaluation of the environmental consequences of the ethanol blends on evaporative and exhaust emissions from on-road, off-road, and marine vehicle engines;
  3. an evaluation of the consequences of the ethanol blends on the operation, durability, and performance of on-road, off-road, and marine vehicle engines; and
  4. an evaluation of the life cycle impact of the use of the ethanol blends on carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions.
Study of optimization of flex-fuel vehicles
A study will be carried out on whether optimizing flexible fueled vehicles to operate using E-85 fuel would increase the fuel efficiency of flexible fueled vehicles.

Study of engine performance with biodiesel
a study will be initiated on the effects of the use of biodiesel on the performance and durability of engines and engine systems, with tests using 5% to 100% biodiesel.

Study of optimization of biogas in natural gas vehicles
a study of methods of increasing the fuel efficiency of vehicles using biogas by optimizing natural gas vehicle systems that can operate on biogas, including the advancement of vehicle fuel systems and the combination of hybrid-electric and plug-in hybrid electric drive platforms with natural gas vehicle systems using biogas.

Algal biomass
a report on the progress of the research and development that is being conducted on the use of algae as a feedstock for the production of biofuels. This report shall identify continuing research and development challenges and any regulatory or other barriers found by the Secretary that hinder the use of this resource, as well as recommendations on how to encourage and further its development as a viable transportation fuel.

Carbon capture and storage [Title IV, Subtitle F, Sec. 4501 - 4416]
We track developments on carbon capture and storage (CCS), because they can be applied to liquid, solid and gaseous biofuels, in which case they result in carbon-negative energy systems that are seen by scientists as the most feasible and effective large-scale approach to mitigate global warming in case we would be facing an "abrupt climate change" scenario. So-called 'Bio-energy with Carbon Storage' (BECS) systems are the only carbon-negative energy systems in existence. All other renewables and nuclear are all carbon positive and contribute to climate change.

CCS R&D and demonstration program
An existing CCS program will be expanded with efforts to expedite and carry out large-scale testing of carbon sequestration systems in a range of geological formations that will provide information on the cost and feasibility of deployment of sequestration technologies.

Fundamental science and engineering R&D
Science and engineering research will be carried out (including laboratory-scale experiments, numeric modeling, and simulations) to develop and document the performance of new approaches to capture and store carbon dioxide, or to learn how to use carbon dioxide in products to lead to an overall reduction of carbon dioxide emissions.

This program will be integrated: to include (1) development of new or advanced technologies for the capture of carbon dioxide; (2) development of new or advanced technologies that reduce the cost and increase the efficacy of the compression of carbon dioxide required for the storage of carbon dioxide; (3) modeling and simulation of geological sequestration field demonstrations; (4) quantitative assessment of risks relating to specific field sites for testing of sequestration technologies; and (5) research and development of new and advanced technologies for carbon use, including recycling and reuse of carbon dioxide.

Field validation and testing: in order to promote, to the maximum extent practicable, regional carbon sequestration partnerships to conduct geologic sequestration tests involving carbon dioxide injection and monitoring, mitigation, and verification operations in a variety of candidate geological settings, including: (1) operating oil and gas fields;(2) depleted oil and gas fields; (3) unmineable coal seams; (4) deep saline formations; (5) deep geologic systems that may be used as engineered reservoirs to extract economical quantities of heat from geothermal resources of low permeability or porosity; (6) deep geologic systems containing basalt formations; and (7) high altitude terrain oil and gas fields.

The objectives of tests conducted under this program are:
  1. to develop and validate geophysical tools, analysis, and modeling to monitor, predict, and verify carbon dioxide containment;
  2. to validate modeling of geological formations;
  3. to refine storage capacity estimated for particular geological formations;
  4. to determine the fate of carbon dioxide concurrent with and following injection into geological formations;
  5. to develop and implement best practices for operations relating to, and monitoring of, injection and storage of carbon dioxide in geologic formations;
  6. to assess and ensure the safety of operations related to geological storage of carbon dioxide;
  7. to allow the Secretary to promulgate policies, procedures, requirements, and guidance to ensure that the objectives of this subparagraph are met in large-scale testing and deployment activities for carbon capture and storage that are funded by the Department of Energy; and
  8. `(viii) to support Environmental Protection Agency efforts, in consultation with other agencies, to develop a scientifically sound regulatory framework to enable commercial-scale sequestration operations while safeguarding human health and underground sources of drinking water.
Large-scale sequestration testing
Not less than 7 initial large-volume sequestration tests will be carried out, not including the FutureGen project, for geological containment of carbon dioxide (at least 1 of which shall be international in scope) to validate information on the cost and feasibility of commercial deployment of technologies for geological containment of carbon dioxide.

A variety of geological formations across the United States will be studied, and require characterization and modeling of candidate formations.

Large-scale sequestration demonstration
In the process of any acquisition of carbon dioxide for sequestration demonstrations preference will be given to to purchases of carbon dioxide from industrial and coal-fired electric generation facilities. To the extent feasible, test projects from industrial and coal-fired electric generation facilities will be selected that would facilitate the creation of an integrated system of capture, transportation and storage of carbon dioxide. Until coal-fired electric generation facilities, either new or existing, are operating with carbon dioxide capture technologies, other industrial sources of carbon dioxide should be pursued.

'Large-scale' means the injection of more than 1,000,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, or a scale that demonstrably exceeds the necessary thresholds in key geologic transients to validate the ability continuously to inject quantities on the order of several million metric tons of industrial carbon dioxide annually for a large number of years.

Large scale demonstration of carbon capture technologies
At least 3 and no more than 5 demonstrations will be carried out for the large-scale capture of carbon dioxide from industrial sources of carbon dioxide, at least 2 of which are facilities that generate electric energy from fossil fuels. Candidate facilities for other demonstrations include facilities that refine petroleum, manufacture iron or steel, manufacture cement or cement clinker, manufacture commodity chemicals, and ethanol and fertilizer plants. Consideration may be given to capture of carbon dioxide from industrial facilities and electric generation carbon sources that are near suitable geological reservoirs and could continue sequestration.

Technologies: carbon capture technologies are precombustion capture, post-combustion capture, and oxycombustion.

These demonstration programs will receive the following amount of funding: $100 million per year (2008-2011) for the general program, $140 million per year (2008-2011) for carbon sequestration and $ 180 million per year for carbon capture.

Safety and review of large-scale programs
a review and research program will be carried out to determine procedures necessary to protect public health, safety, and the environment from impacts that may be associated with capture, injection, and sequestration of greenhouse gases in subterranean reservoirs. This receives $5 million for each fiscal year (2008-2011).

Training and university research
An interdisciplinary science & research training program will be established that unites the fields of geology, engineering, hydrology, environmental science, and related disciplines. This will be offered as undergraduate and graduate education, especially to help develop graduate level programs of research and instruction that lead to advanced degrees with emphasis on geological sequestration science. The development of this program receives $1,000,000 for fiscal year 2008.

Agriculture and Energy [Title V]
Amendments to the Biomass Research and Development Act of 2000
New provisions include measures to enhance cooperation and coordination in biomass research and development between the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Energy, in order to promote the production of biobased fuels and biobased products. Both departments will each designate an officer as a point of contact between the departments.

Biomass Research and Development Board
A new Biomass Research and Development Board will be established to supersede the Interagency Council on Biobased Products and Bioenergy, to coordinate programs within and among departments and agencies of the Federal Government for the purpose of promoting the use of biobased fuels and biobased products.

Biomass Research and Development Technical Advisory Committee
This new advisory committee that will inform the agriculture and energy secretaries as well as their contact points will consistt of a large range of stakeholders (a representative of the biofuels industry, of the biobased industrial and commercial products industry, of an institution of higher education who has expertise in biobased fuels and biobased products, two prominent engineers or scientists from government or academia who have expertise in biobased fuels and biobased products, a representative affiliated with a commodity trade association, two individuals affiliated with an environmental or conservation organization, an individual associated with State government who has expertise in biobased fuels and biobased products, an expert in energy and environmental analysis, an individual with expertise in the economics of biobased fuels and biobased products, and an expert in agricultural economics.

Biomass Research and Development Initiative
The Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Energy will establish and carry out a Biomass Research and Development Initiative under which competitively awarded grants, contracts, and financial assistance are provided to, or entered into with, eligible entities to carry out research on, and development and demonstration of, biobased fuels and biobased products, and the methods, practices and technologies, for their production.

The objectives of the Initiative are to develop:
  1. technologies and processes necessary for abundant commercial production of biobased fuels at prices competitive with fossil fuels;
  2. high-value biobased products: (1) to enhance the economic viability of biobased fuels and power; and (2) as substitutes for petroleum-based feedstocks and products
  3. a diversity of sustainable domestic sources of biomass for conversion to biobased fuels and biobased products.
The purposes of the initiative are:
  1. to increase the energy security of the United States;
  2. to create jobs and enhance the economic development of the rural economy;
  3. to enhance the environment and public health; and
  4. to diversify markets for raw agricultural and forestry products.
The research will be directed towards the following technical areas:
  1. feedstock production through the development of crops and cropping systems relevant to production of raw materials for conversion to biobased fuels and biobased products, including: (1) development of advanced and dedicated crops with desired features, including enhanced productivity, broader site range, low requirements for chemical inputs, and enhanced processing; (2) advanced crop production methods, (3) feedstock harvest, handling, transport, and storage; and (4) strategies for integrating feedstock production into existing managed land;
  2. overcoming recalcitrance of cellulosic biomass through developing technologies for converting cellulosic biomass into intermediates that can subsequently be converted into biobased fuels and biobased products, including: (1) pretreatment in combination with enzymatic or microbial hydrolysis; and (2) thermochemical approaches, including gasification and pyrolysis;
  3. product diversification through technologies relevant to production of a range of biobased products (including chemicals, animal feeds, and cogenerated power) that eventually can increase the feasibility of fuel production in a biorefinery, including: (1) catalytic processing, including thermochemical fuel production; (2) metabolic engineering, enzyme engineering, and fermentation systems for biological production of desired products or cogeneration of power; (3) product recovery; (4) power production technologies; and (5) integration into existing biomass processing facilities, including starch ethanol plants, sugar processing or refining plants, paper mills, and power plants;
  4. analysis that provides strategic guidance for the application of biomass technologies in accordance with realization of improved sustainability and environmental quality, cost effectiveness, security, and rural economic development, usually featuring system-wide approaches.
Funding for this program looks like this: $25 million for fiscal year 2008; $50 million for fiscal year 2009; $75 million for fiscal year 2010; $100 million for fiscal year 2011; and $100 million for fiscal year 2012.

Forest bioenergy research program
The Secretary of Agriculture, working through the Forest Service, in cooperation with other Federal agencies, land grant colleges and universities, and private entities, will conduct a competitive research and development program to encourage new forest-to-energy technologies. The Secretary may use grants, cooperative agreements, and other methods to partner with cooperating entities on projects that the Secretary determines shall best promote new forest-to-energy technologies.

Priority will be given to projects that:
  1. develop technology and techniques to use low value forest materials, such as byproducts of forest health treatments and hazardous fuel reduction, for the production of energy;
  2. develop processes for the conversion of cellulosic forest materials that integrate production of energy into existing manufacturing steams or in integrated forest biorefineries;
  3. develop new transportation fuels that use forest materials as a feedstock for the production of such fuels; or
  4. improve the of growth and yield of trees for the purpose of renewable energy and other forest product use.
Funding: $4 million for fiscal year 2008; $6 million for fiscal year 2009; $7 million for fiscal year 2010; $9 million for fiscal year 2011; and $10 million for fiscal year 2012.

Ethanol pipelines [Subtitle C, Part 2, Sec. 8311]
Feasibility studies
The energy and transportation secretaries will conduct feasibility studies for the construction of pipelines dedicated to the transportation of ethanol.

Feasibility studies funded under this part shall include consideration of
  1. existing or potential barriers to the construction of pipelines dedicated to the transportation of ethanol, including technical, siting, financing, and regulatory barriers;
  2. market risk, including throughput risk;
  3. regulatory, financing, and siting options that would mitigate such risk and help ensure the construction of pipelines dedicated to the transportation of ethanol;
  4. ensuring the safe transportation of ethanol and preventive measures to ensure pipeline integrity; and
  5. such other factors as the Secretary of Energy considers appropriate.
These studies receive $1,000,000 for each of the fiscal years 2008 and 2009, to remain available until expended.

Renewable Fuel Infrastructure
Several initiatives and mandates for studies are included in the bill that speed up the analysis of infrastructural, logistical and technical barriers to the large-scale use of biofuels for transport.

When it comes to the distribution of biofuels, it is now prohibited to restrict franchise agreements related to renewable fuel infrastructures; likewise, there is a prohibition on the restriction of the installation of renewable fuel pumps.

A study analysing the adequacy of railroad transportation of domestically produced biofuels will be launched.

Grants for concrete cellulosic ethanol production projects will be increased to $500 million for fiscal year 2009 and $500 million for fiscal year 2010. In awarding grants, priority will be given to applications that promote feedstock diversity and the geographic dispersion of production facilities.

Amongst several other studies and initiatives, the Secretary of Energy will conduct a study to review the anticipated effects on renewable fuels production if oil were priced no lower than $40 per barrel.

Image: the U.S. House passes a new energy bill, focusing heavily on the promotion of the bioeconomy. Idealized representation of the bioenergy and bioproducts cycle.

References:
H.R.3221: Moving the United States toward greater energy independence and security, developing innovative new technologies, reducing carbon emissions, creating green jobs, protecting consumers, increasing clean renewable energy production, and modernizing our energy infrastructure. Sponsor: Rep Pelosi, Nancy [CA-8] (introduced 7/30/2007), 8/4/2007 Passed/agreed to in House. Status: On passage Passed by recorded vote: 241 - 172.


Article continues

Sun Biofuels invests $20 million in Tanzania jatropha project

Tanzania has landed a 25.3 billion shilling (€14.3/US$20 million) biofuel processing project that will see large-scale planting of jatropha oilseed crops for the production and distribution of crude and refined products. The biofuel project would catalyse the local economy and give villagers a new cash crop, which allows them to diversify their portfolio. In a first phase around 1000 jobs will be created in a region populated by 11,000 people.

According to a recently released study "Prospects for Jatropha Biofuels in Developing Countries: An Analysis for Tanzania with Strategic Niche Management" by the Eindhoven Centre for Innovation Studies, jatropha cultivation may have several beneficial social and economic outcomes in Tanzania, but there are still many obstacles in the country's prevailing energy regime which must first be overcome. Jatropha based biodiesel and biogas production yields a series of byproducts and processes that offer valuable niches in themselves (chart, click to enlarge).

Land negotiation
Sun Biofuels Tanzania Ltd, in which Britain’s Sun Biofuels Plc has an 88 per cent controlling stake, has already applied for 9,000 hectares of land in Kisarawe district in the Coast Region, some 70 kilometers from Dar es Salaam.

The process of land acquisition for the project is at an advanced stage, awaiting President Jakaya Kikwete’s assent. This will see 11 villages of one of the oldest districts in Tanzania bring in a total of 9,000 hectares of land to the investor.

Leo Rwegasira, Land Officer for Kisarawe district, said that 800 million (€453,000/US$632,000) shilling has been earmarked by the investor as compensation to 2,840 households.

The University College of Land and Architectural Studies (UCLAS) carried out the crop and land evaluation for purposes of compensation, Mr Rwegasira said:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

According to the 2002 population census, there are a total of 11, 277 people residing in the 11 villages. The villages are Mtamba, Muhaga, Marumbo, Paraka, Kidugalo, Kului, Mtakayo, Vilabwa, Mitengwe, Mzenga ‘A’ and Chakaye.

Sun Biofuels had applied for 20,000 hectares in 2005, but authorities were able to offer just 9,000. The investment has already been registered by the Tanzania Investment Centre (TIC), which has given the firm Certificate of Incentives number 010176.

Under the certificate, the investment implementation period is expected to be between September 25, 2005 and August 2009, and the operative date is September 1, 2009.

But owing to the existing land regulations, the investors can only get a title deed — which is being processed— after the villagers have been compensated.

Apart from Sun Biofuels Plc of the UK, the company’s shareholders are a British national, Julian Ozanne (10 per cent) and Daudi Makobore and Herbert Marwa, Tanzanian nationals who own one per cent each. The TIC requires that any changes in shareholding, project activities and level of invested capital be notified to the centre.

If the investors fail to start up the project within two years, the certificate will become invalid and the investors will need to apply for a fresh one.

Boost to local economy
Omar Dibibi, Kisarawe District Council Chairman, said the jatropha biofuel project would catalyse the district’s economy and give Kisarawe residents a new cash crop. Traditionally, cashewnut and coconut have been the major cash crops in the district.

He said the arrangement between local residents and the investors is that the former will also be given expertise and seeds to grow jatropha and sell it to SBC.

The investment is expected directly or indirectly to employ about 1,000 local people for a start, a figure that could rise as the project expands.

Experts say that while jatropha curcas seeds can be used as fuel for any diesel engine without modification, they are also used in manufacturing of varnishes, illuminants, soap, pest control and medicine for skin diseases.

Dark blue dye and wax can be produced from the bark of the jatropha curcas, its stem is used as a poor quality wood while the leaves help in dressing wounds and the roots produce a yellow dye.

Experts say the annual yield per hectare is up to 8 tonnes of Jatropha seed, which contain over 30 per cent oil. At $320 per tonne, this will translate into production of jatropha crude oil worth $768 per hectare per year.

Of potentially equal or greater value is the yield from jatropha seeds of glycerin. Up to 7 per cent of jatropha seeds are made up of glycerin, which sells for up to $2,000 per tonne, translating into glycerin sales of up to $1,120 per year per hectare, or total sales of up to $1,888 per year per hectare, experts say.

It is understood that the University of Dar es Salaam through the Energy Department in the Faculty of Engineering, along with the Tanzania Industrial Research Development Organisation, Kakute Ltd Tanzania and the Seliani Agriculture Research Institute of Arusha, are involved in research and development of the crop.

References:
Janske van Eijck, Henny Romijn, "Prospects for Jatropha Biofuels in Developing Countries: An analysis for Tanzania with Strategic Niche Management", Diligent Tanzania and Eindhoven Centre for Innovation Studies, new version of a paper presented at the 4th Annual Globelics Conference “Innovation Systems for Competitiveness and Shared Prosperity in Developing Countries”, Thiruvananthapuram, India, 4-7, October 2006.

The East African: UK firm invests $20m in Tanzania biofuel farm - August 6, 2007.


Article continues

Sunday, August 05, 2007

German consortium to push for mass adoption of ethanol fuel cells

Often a step ahead in green technological developments, a consortium of leading German research groups is set to cooperate [*German] to promote the usage of bioethanol in fuel cells for power supply and heating.

Mannheim-based CropEnergies AG, the research and development department of major biofuel producer Südzucker AG, and several institutes of the Fraunhofer-Society, Europe's leading applied science research organisation, will collaborate on developing highly efficient direct ethanol fuel cells (DEFC, alternatively 'direct alcohol fuel cells', DAFC) that work on the liquid biofuel instead of hydrogen. The cells under development work on ethanol without the need for prior reforming of the fuel.

Fuel cells are seen by many as the future technology for the power supply of electrical appliances. They have crucial advantages compared to competing technologies, such as their high operating efficiency even at partial load, the marginal noise and pollution emissions, the long operational life thanks to energy-rich fuels, the ease with which they can be refilled, and the independence of power and energy content. Therefore, forecasts show high growth rates in the fuel cell market in the next few years.

Earlier we referred to several research initiatives related to the use of ethanol in DEFCs (here, here and in the U.S., here), including its first-ever test in a small vehicle (earlier post). The areas of application of bioethanol fuel cells range from portable appliances such as mobile phones, on-board energy supply of trucks, busses or automobiles and leisure/ camping appliances to block heat and power plants which – among other things – can supply houses with energy.

Bioethanol is well suited for being used in fuel cells and is much more likely to see a wide-scale adoption than hydrogen, the gas that is difficult to produce, store and distribute. Made from renewable resources, ethanol it is climate friendly and a sustainable energy source that can be traded physically on the international market. Furthermore, considerable experience in handling bioethanol as well as the existing supply chain can help to establish fuel cells in mass markets permanently.

Central to the development of the DEFC is a membrane that should be impermeable for ethanol molecules, but that has to be able to allow the protons that are needed for the reaction with oxygen to pass through. Unwanted cross-over effects occur during this proton exchange: part of the ethanol does penetrate the membrane at the cathode and can thus no longer be used for the reaction. The Fraunhofer Institute's goal is now to develop special anorganic components in the membrane that will block the ethanol, without stopping the flow of the necessary protons. New catalysts that are adapted to the properties of ethanol are the main focus of the research. The design of the DEFC cell must also ensure that these new catalysts and membranes function optimally under the high temperatures that arise during the reaction.

So why do the researchers focus on ethanol and not on hydrogen as a fuel? "Ethanol is a much more versatile and better energy carrier [than both hydrogen and methanol]", says Michael Krausa who heads the research at the Fraunhofer Institute's dept. for Chemical Technologies:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Ethanol has a higher energy density than methanol and is already widely used and accepted in numerous industries and by the public at large. In contrast to methanol, it is also non-toxic. Ethanol is being produced more and more from biomass, with the industry becoming a global market. Moreover, DEFCs can be used as mobile energy systems or in decentralised concepts.

As one of the biggest European bioethanol producers, CropEnergies AG will actively participate in the further development of these bioethanol fuel cells. To this effect, a research cooperation with the Südzucker AG and several institutes of the Fraunhofer Society which are the Fraunhofer-Team Direct-Ethanol-Fuel-Cell, the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE) and the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems (IKTS) has been started.

CropEnergies AG produces bioethanol from local renewable resources which is used as fuel for automobiles and in this way guarantees lasting mobility and at the same time contributes to the climate protection.

The Fraunhofer Society is the leading organisation for applied science in Europe. Its science is application-oriented to be used directly in companies and for the benefit of the society.

Südzucker AG Mannheim/Ochsenfurt specialises on the large-scale manufacturing of agricultural products and their commercialisation. The research activities are concentrated on the development of high- quality food products and technical applications.

Picture: the key to the successful development of direct ethanol fuel cells is in the special membrane. Credit: Fraunhofer IGB

References:
CropEnergies AG: CropEnergies AG, Südzucker AG und Fraunhofer-Institute entwickeln Bioethanol-Brennstoffzellen - May 3, 2007.

Biopact: Interview: University of Offenburg demonstrates world's first 'Direct Ethanol Fuel Cell' - May 28, 2007

Biopact: Fraunhofer scientists develop ethanol fuel cells - October 11, 2006

Biopact: Direct Alcohol Fuel Cells - past the hydrogen economy? - February 18, 2005

Biopact: U.S. scientist and army working on direct ethanol fuel cells - October 15, 2006


Article continues

OAS, IDB support bioenergy development in the Caribbean

The Department of Sustainable Development of the Organisation of American States (OAS) together with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) are to contribute to the first high level seminar "Expanding Bioenergy Opportunities in the Caribbean". The OAS supports an Inter-agency initiative to design and implement a "Renewable Energy, Energy Efficiency and Bioenergy Action Program" (CREBAP) in the region.

The IDB recently launched a US$3 billion program for the development of biofuels and bioenergy in the Western Hemisphere (previous post), whereas at the recently convened 37th General Assembly of the OAS, leaders of the Americas stressed the need to implement plans to develop alternatives to oil in the Declaration of Panama.

At the first ever high-level Conference of the Caribbean that united heads of state from fifteen Caribbean nations and the U.S. who gathered in Washington to examine the growth and development of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) from a regional perspective, biofuels topped the agenda as well. Oil-dependent CARICOM states were urged to invest in green fuels to cut costly oil imports which have seriously negative economic effects (earlier post).

The OAS-DSD and the IDB partner with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), the CARICOM Secretariat, the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) and host government, Guyana, in organizing the seminar that will address the economic, social and environmental aspects of agro-energy development in the Caribbean.

The August 6-7 event will bring together public and private sector representatives from CARICOM member states, Brazil, Colombia, and the USA, to examine the technical and financial feasibility of establishing a viable and environmentally-sustainable agro-energy industry in the region. Key objectives of the seminar are:
  1. To disseminate the results of recent studies on bioenergy in the Caribbean, including the potential for regional carbon finance opportunities under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM);
  2. To convey and formalize the regional efforts towards the development of the Caribbean Renewable Energy, Energy efficiency and Bioenergy Action Program (CREBAP);
  3. To initiate a dialogue towards the organization and preparation of regional agro-energy strategy, including bioethanol, biodiesel, and bagasse cogeneration opportunities;
  4. To facilitate dialogue between the public sector, private investors, carbon financiers, and project developers interested in the Caribbean bioenergy industry.
Almost 90 percent of the Caribbean Region’s energy matrix originates from fossil fuels; an alarming statistic in the face of high volatility in the price of petroleum. Growing concerns about global warming, and the resulting need for reductions in green house gas emissions and also increasing concerns on the environmental impacts of fossil fuel use is causing governments to explore this avenue of energy generation.

Biofuels and bioenergy can be produced efficiently from an abundance of tropical energy crops that thrive in the Caribbean, and replace fossil fuels in a competitive way. The region's technical bioenergy potential over the long term (2050) is projected to be amongst the highest per capita (earlier post).

The seminar will receive presentations from experts on wide-ranging studies and examples of best practice in bioenergy development in the Hemisphere. It will also facilitate dialogue towards the adoption of a bioenergy strategy for the region, which is expected to identify, among other things, institutional roles and responsibilities as well as resource requirements for the development of a viable biofuels and agro-energy industry in the Caribbean region:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

To this end, representatives of CARICOM, IDB, IICA, OAS and the Government of Guyana will sign a Memorandum of Understanding committing to collaborate and share resources in support of the design and implementation of a Caribbean Renewable Energy, Energy Efficiency and Bioenergy Action Program.
I see this initiative as an ideal complement to moves by CARICOM Heads of Government towards the adoption of a Regional Energy Policy, as well the full operationalization of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy - Ambassador Albert Ramdin, OAS Assistant Secretary-General
Ramdin who will be leading an OAS Delegation to the Seminar believes the bioenergy initiative is a timely one that can have a positive impact on the development prospects of the Caribbean.

Ambassador Ramdin is among several dignitaries who will address the opening of the Seminar. Addresses will also be delivered by the President of the IDB, Luis Alberto Moreno, Director General of IICA, Dr. Chelston Brathwaite, Guyana’s Minister of Agriculture, Robert Persaud, and CARICOM Secretary-General, Dr. Edwin Carrington. The Feature Address will be delivered the President of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo.

The seminar will look at the entire Biofuels portfolio, of which sugar/ethanol is a major focus to explore economic opportunities, including seeking synergies between the sugar cane industry and the energy sector in Caricom member states.

The event is being organized by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat and the Caribbean Renewable Energy Development Program (CREDP), in collaboration with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), with support from the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Government of Guyana.

References:
IDB: IDB sponsors First High Level Bioenergy Seminar in the Caribbean - August 2, 2007.

IDB: First High Level Seminar on Expanding Bioenergy Opportunities in the Caribbean - August 6-7, 2007.

Caribbean Net News: OAS supports Caribbean agro-energy push - August 4, 2007.

Caribbean Press Releases: Guyana To Convene High-Level Bio-Energy Seminar - June 27, 2007.

Article continues