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    BioEnergy International, a science and technology company committed to developing biorefineries to produce fuels and specialty chemicals from renewable resources, announced today the closing of a major US$61.6 million investment that will provide funding for the Company’s three strategic initiatives: generating secure cash flow from its conventional ethanol platform, product diversification through the introduction of novel biocatalysts for the manufacture of green chemicals and biopolymers and the integration of its cellulose technology. BusinessWire - August 28, 2007.

    German company Verbio Vereinigte BioEnergie, the biggest biofuels producer in Europe, says it is considering plans to invest up to €100/US$136.5 million in a biofuel production facility in Bulgaria. The company wants the new facility to be located close to a port and Bulgaria's city of Varna on the Black Sea is one of the options under consideration. If Verbio goes through with the plan, it would produce both biodiesel and bioethanol, making Bulgaria a major source of biofuels in southeastern Europe. Verbi currently produces around 700,000 tonnes of biofuels per year. Sofia News Agency - August 27, 2007.

    Czech brown-coal-fired power plant Elektrárna Tisová (ETI), a unit of the energy producer ČEZ, could co-fire up to 40,000 tons of biomass this year, the biggest amount in the company’s history, said Martin Sobotka, ČEZ spokesman for West Bohemia. ETI burned more than 19,000 tons of biomass in the first half of 2007. The company’s plan reckoned with biomass consumption of up to 35,000 tons a year. Czech Business Weekly - August 27, 2007.

    PetroSun, Incorporated announced recently that it has formed PetroSun BioFuels Mexico to establish algae-to-biofuel operations in the State of Sonora, Mexico. PetroSun BioFuels Mexico will enter into joint venture agreements to develop algae cultivation farms and extraction plants in Sonora and southern Arizona that will produce algal oil, algae biomass products and excess electricity for the Mexican and U.S. markets. MarketWire - August 27, 2007.

    China's Yunnan Province hopes to reach an annual output of 2 million tons (approx. 417 million gallons) of fuel ethanol by 2010, according to the province's fuel ethanol industry development plan released recently by the Yunnan Economic and Trade Commission, state media report. Interfax China - August 23, 2007.

    Seven companies have teamed up to create Kazakhstan's first Biofuel Association. Its aim is to integrate interested parties for creating favorable conditions to have the country’s biofuel industry developed. An initiator and coordinator of the Association is the National Holding KazAgro, the Agriculture Ministry’s press service informs. KazInform - August 23, 2007.

    Canadian forest products company Tembec today announced that it has completed the acquisition of the assets of Chapleau Cogeneration Limited located in Chapleau, Ontario. The transaction closed on August 15 and includes a biomass fired boiler and steam turbine with an installed capacity of 7.2 megawatts. Consideration for the assets consists of a series of future annual payments to 2022, with a present value of approximately $1 million. Newswire Canada - August 22, 2007.

    Taiwan's representative to Brazil, Chou Shu-yeh, is urging Taiwan's government and private enterprises to invest in Brazil's biomass energy sector. Chou was speaking at a workshop on global investment and trade opportunities in Taipei. RTi - August 22, 2007.

    An algae-to-biofuels startup by the name of Inventure Chemical has raised about $1.5 million to continue its development of a chemical process that turns algae into biodiesel and ethanol. One of the biggest backers of the company is Imperium Renewables, a biodiesel producer. Seattle Post Intelligencer - August 22, 2007.

    The government of India's Karnataka state has approved the blending of six million litres of ethanol with diesel for use as fuel in State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) vehicles. Automotive World - August 21, 2007.

    VeraSun Energy Corporation, one of America's largest ethanol producers, announced that it closed on its acquisition with ASAlliances Biofuels, LLC for three ethanol plants with a combined annual production capacity of approximately 330 million gallons (1.25 billion liters) per year. VeraSun - August 21, 2007.

    Fujitsu develops a biodegradable laptop chassis from corn-starch bioplastic. The material reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 15% compared to a chassis made from petroleum-based plastics. CNET Asia - August 20, 2007.

    India's Rana Sugars Ltd has decided to set up a new plant for producing ethanol in Uttar Pradesh with an estimated investment of €9 to 10.9 (US$12.2 to 14.7). The facility will have a capacity of 180,000 liters per year and will generate, besides ethanol, 26MW of carbon-neutral power from bagasse. Economic Times India - August 20, 2007.

    Prominent pro-democracy activists staged a rare protest in Myanmar's biggest city Sunday, marching against a massive recent fuel price hike. "We are staging this performance to reflect the hardship our people are facing due to the government's fuel price hike," said Min Ko Naing, a leader of the 88 Generation Students' Group. Myanmar's ruling military junta imposed a surprise 100 percent hike on fuel at state-owned gas stations on Wednesday. The move was followed by increases in bus fares and commodity prices. The Star - August 19, 2007.

    Canada's Cavendish Farms, one of the country's largest food processing companies is to build a biogas plant to recycle spent cooking oils, starch and sludge from its waste-water plant to fuel its potato processing operation. Use of the carbon-neutral biofuel will limit the amount of bunker C fuel oil currently in use by the company. The plant, expected to be ready for operation by next fall, has received a $14-million loan from the Province of Prince Edward Island. CBC - August 18, 2007.

    Basin Electric Power Cooperative told a U.S. Senate Energy Appropriations subcommittee that it is looking into capturing carbon dioxide from its Antelope Valley Station and sell it for enhanced oil recovery in the Williston Basin. Carbon capture technologies have not yet been applied to a power plant that uses lignite, or even subbitumious coal. The trial would be the first one to do so in the Midwest. Bismarck Tribune - August 17, 2007.

    The BBC World Service's current 'One Planet' programme focuses on revolutionary technologies and research that uses a next-generation of GM crops as factories for the production of new pharmaceuticals, green products and alternatives to petroleum-based chemicals. One Planet - August 16, 2007.

    Germany's Biogas Nord has been commissioned to construct a large multi-feed biogas plant with a capacity of 2.8 MW of electrical power in Romania. The value of the order is approximately €3.5 million. The plant will be built in the Transylvanian region close to the county town of Oradea. Interestingly, a synergy will be created by coupling the facility to the construction of a biodiesel plant. In so doing, the waste products resulting from the production of biodiesel, such as rapeseed pellets and glycerin, will be brought to the biogas plant as substrates. Ad-Hoc News - August 16, 2007.

    The University of Western Ontario's Research Park at Sarnia has received $10-million in funding for the development of biofuel technologies. The funds will be used for the creation of the 'Ontario Bioindustrial Innovation Centre' at the University, including the addition of a commercialization centre with incubator suites, laboratory equipment, pilot plant space and space for startup companies. The Observer - August 16, 2007.

    Philippine Bio-Sciences Co., Inc. (PhilBio) and its Clean Development Mechanism subsidiary in Cebu, has told the Central Negros Electric Cooperative (Ceneco) that it will soon open a 10 megawatt biogas plant in Cebu. According to the company, under current conditions electricity generated from biogas is around 20% less costly than that generated from fossil fuels. Philippine Bio-Sciences - August 15, 2007.

    Scientists, economists and policy experts representing government and public institutions from more than 40 countries will exchange the latest information on economic and technology opportunities at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "Global Conference on Agricultural Biofuels: Research and Economics", to be held Aug. 20-21 in Minneapolis. USDA ARS - August 14, 2007.

    A company owned by the Chinese government has expressed interest in investing up to 500 million US dollars in a biofuel project in Indonesia. The company is planning to use jatropha as its raw material and is targeting an annual output of around 1 million tons. Forbes - August 13, 2007.

    Virgin Atlantic, Boeing and General Electric are within weeks of selecting the biofuel for a flight demonstration in the UK early next year. The conversion of biomass via the Fischer-Tropsch process is no longer amongst the biofuel candidates, because the process has already been demonstrated to work. Ground testing of the chosen fuel in a development engine at GE is expected to begin in October-November. The limited flight-test programme will involve burning biofuel in one GE CF6-80C2 engine on a Virgin Boeing 747-400. Flight Global - August 13, 2007.

    Japan's Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry said Saturday it plans to introduce a new preferential tax system in fiscal 2008 aimed at promoting a wider use of biofuel, which could help curtail greenhouse gas emissions. Under the envisaged plan, biofuel that has been mixed with gasoline will be exempt from the gasoline tax--currently 53.8 yen per liter--in proportion to the amount of biofuel included. If blended with diesel oil, biofuel will be free from the diesel oil delivery tax, currently 32.1 yen per liter. Daily Yomiuri - August 13, 2007.

    Japan's Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry said Saturday it plans to introduce a new preferential tax system in fiscal 2008 aimed at promoting a wider use of biofuel, which could help curtail greenhouse gas emissions. Under the envisaged plan, biofuel that has been mixed with gasoline will be exempt from the gasoline tax--currently 53.8 yen per liter--in proportion to the amount of biofuel included. If blended with diesel oil, biofuel will be free from the diesel oil delivery tax, currently 32.1 yen per liter. Daily Yomiuri - August 13, 2007.

    Buenos Aires based ABATEC SA announces the release of a line of small biodiesel plants with modular design, high temperature reaction for the best yield, to produce from 50 to 1000 gal/day (190 to 3785 liter/day) of high quality methylester and valuable glycerol. PRWeb - August 10, 2007.

    Vegetable growers in North Queensland are trying to solve the problem of disposing of polyethylene plastic mulch by using a biodegradable, bioplastic based alternative. Trials are a collaboration of the Queensland Department of Primary Industries with the Bowen District Growers Association. Queensland Country Life - August 8, 2007.

    Hawaii's predominant utility has won approval to build the state's first commercial biofuel plant. It is the first substantial new power generator that Hawaiian Electric Co. has added in 17 years. HECO will build the $142.3 million facility at Campbell Industrial Park on Oahu beginning early next year, and expects to begin commercial operation in mid-2009. It will run exclusively on fuels made from ethanol or biodiesel. Star Bulletin (Honolulu) - August 8, 2007.

    PetroSun Inc. announced today that it conducted its initial algae-to-biofuel program held at Auburn and Opelika, Alabama. The company intends to hold a series of these programs during August and September with biodiesel refiners and firms that are researching the use of algal oil as a potential feedstock for jet fuel production. MarketWire - August 8, 2007.

    To encourage Malaysia's private sector to generate energy from biomass resources, national electricity company Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) has increased the purchase price of electricity produced from palm oil biomass waste to 21 sen per kilowatt hour from 19 sen now. According to Minister of Enegry, Water and Communications, Datuk Seri Dr Lim Keng Yaik the new price structure, under the Renewable Energy Power Purchase Agreement (REPPA), will be implemented immediately. Such projects are eligible for the Clean Development Mechanism. Under the 9th Malaysian Plan, the country's government aims to achieve the installation of 300MW and 50MW of grid-connected electric power from renewable energy sources in Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah, respectively. Bernama - August 7, 2007.

    Aspectrics, which develops encoded photometric infrared and near infrared spectroscopy, will be launching a new range of biofuels analyzers designed to meet the demands of scientists and analysts to carry out biodiesel quality control and analyze biodiesel blend percentages in real time. Bioresearch Online - August 7, 2007.

    Irish start-up Eirzyme has secured a €10m investment from Canadian company Micromill System. The new company will produce low-cost enzymes to convert biological materials such as brewers' grains into bioethanol and biogas. RTE - August 6, 2007.

    Imperium Renewables says it has a deal to provide Royal Caribbean Cruises with biodiesel. The Seattle-based biodiesel maker, which is scheduled to inaugurate its Grays Harbor plant this month, will sell the cruise line 15 million gallons of biodiesel in 2007 and 18 million gallons annually for four years after that. The Miami-based cruise line has four vessels that call in Seattle. It is believed to be the single-largest long-term biodiesel sales contract to an end user in the U.S. Seattle Times - August 5, 2007.


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Monday, August 27, 2007

Major breakthrough: researchers engineer sorghum that beats aluminum toxicity

In a development of major importance for world agriculture and the bioenergy sector, an international team of scientist has succeeded in cloning an aluminum-tolerance gene in sorghum, promising a boost to crop yields in vast parts of the developing world. Soghums are crops that can produce both food, feed and fuel. The new crops can be grown in the huge expanses of land plagued by aluminum toxicity. When soils are too acidic, aluminum that is locked up in clay minerals dissolves into the soil as toxic, electrically charged particles called ions, making it hard for most plants to grow. In fact, aluminum toxicity in acidic soils limits crop production in as much as 50% the world's arable land, mostly in developing countries in Africa, Asia and South America.


Acidic soils worldwide: aluminum toxicity in acidic soils limits crop production in as much as half the world's arable land
The scientists from Brazil's Embrapa, the US Plant Soil and Nutrition Laboratory (US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service), the Institute for Plant Genomics and Biotechnology (Texas A&M University), and the Department of Plant Pathology (Kansas State University) cloned a novel aluminum-tolerant gene in sorghum and expect to have new genetically-engineered aluminum-tolerant sorghum lines already by next year.

The research [*abstract], to be published in the September issue of Nature Genetics, provides insights into how specialized proteins in the root tips of some cultivars of sorghum and such related species as wheat and maize can boost aluminum tolerance in crops.

Sorghum is an important crop in Africa, Central America and South Asia and is the world's fifth most important cereal crop. Scientists also see the plant as a major energy crop and have received serious funding to develop drought-tolerant sorghums for biomass production (more here, here, here and here) as well as varieties that boost both food, fodder and fuel production all at the same time (earlier post, here and especially here). The new aluminum toxicity resistant plant could make sorghum a robust crop that can drive the bioeconomy forward.
My lab has been working to identify the physiological mechanisms of plant aluminum tolerance as well as its molecular basis. The reason this is significant is there are extensive areas of the earth's lands that are highly acidic, with pH of 5 or below [pH below 7 is considered acidic]. Most of these areas are in the tropics or subtropics, where many developing countries are located. - Leon Kochian, Cornell adjunct professor of plant biology and director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture -Agriculture Research Service (USDA-ARS) Plant, Soil and Nutrition Laboratory at Cornell; lead author
Kochian's research shows that in aluminum-tolerant sorghum varieties, special proteins in the root tip release citric acid into the soil in response to aluminum exposure. Citric acid binds aluminum ions very effectively, preventing the toxic metal from entering the roots:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Kochian and colleagues, including the paper's first author, Jurandir Magalhaes, who received his Ph.D. from Cornell in Kochian's lab and now directs his own lab at the Embrapa Maize and Sorghum Research Center in Brazil, used genetic mapping to identify a single gene that encodes a novel membrane-transporter protein responsible for the citric acid release. The gene, they discovered, is only turned on to express the protein and transport citric acid when aluminum ions are present in the surrounding soil.

The researchers have now used the sorghum gene to engineer transgenic aluminum-tolerant Arabidopsis thaliana (a small mustard plant used in plant research because of its small genome and short life cycle) and wheat plants. Sorghum is harder to genetically transform, Kochian said.

The map-based cloning of this agronomically important gene in sorghum is helping advance this species as a model for further exploring the mechanisms of aluminum tolerance and discovering new molecular genetic solutions to improving crop yields, Kochian said.

"This research also has environmental implications for badly needed increases in food production on marginal soils in developing countries," said Kochian. "For example, if we can increase food production on existing lands, it could limit encroachment into other areas for agriculture." Alternatively, it could free up land for energy crop production.

The research is supported in part by the McKnight Foundation Collaborative Crop Research Program, the Generation Challenge Program, the National Science Foundation and the USDA-ARS.

Map: Aluminum toxicity in acidic soils limits crop production in as much as half the world's arable land, mostly in developing countries in Africa, Asia and South America. Credit: Cornell University Chronicle Online.

References:
Leon V. Kochian et. al., "A gene in the multidrug and toxic compound extrusion (MATE) family confers aluminum tolerance in sorghum", Nature Genetics, advanced online publication, 26 August 2007 | doi:10.1038/ng2074

Cornell University Chronicles Online: Cornell researchers clone aluminum-tolerance gene in sorghum, promising boost to crop yields in developing world - August 27, 2007

Biopact: ICRISAT harnesses ethanol from drought tolerant sweet sorghum - January 25, 2007

Biopact: Sun Grant Initiative funds 17 bioenergy research projects - August 20, 2007

Biopact: Joint Genome Institute announces 2008 genome sequencing targets with focus on bioenergy and carbon cycle - June 12, 2007

Biopact: ICRISAT's pro-poor biofuel projects provide livelihood and food security to landless farmers in India - August 13, 2007

Biopact: Researchers and producers optimistic about sweet sorghum as biofuel feedstock - July 27, 2007

Biopact: Mapping sorghum's genome to create robust biomass crops - June 24, 2007

Bipact: ICRISAT launches pro-poor biofuels initiative in drylands - March 15, 2007

Article continues

NASA finds long-term increase in rainfall in tropics

NASA scientists have detected the first signs that tropical rainfall is on the rise with the longest and most complete data record available.

Using a 27-year-long global record of rainfall assembled by the international scientific community from satellite and ground-based instruments, the scientists found that the rainiest years in the tropics between 1979 and 2005 were mainly since 2001. The rainiest year was 2005, followed by 2004, 1998, 2003 and 2002, respectively.
When we look at the whole planet over almost three decades, the total amount of rain falling has changed very little. But in the tropics, where nearly two-thirds of all rain falls, there has been an increase of 5 percent. - Guojun Gu, research scientist at Goddard Space Flight Center, lead author
The rainfall increase was concentrated over tropical oceans, with a slight decline over land. Climate scientists predict that a warming trend in Earth's atmosphere and surface temperatures would produce an accelerated recycling of water between land, sea and air. Warmer temperatures increase the evaporation of water from the ocean and land and allow air to hold more moisture. Eventually, clouds form that produce rain and snow.

"A warming climate is the most plausible cause of this observed trend in tropical rainfall," says co-author Robert F. Adler, senior scientist at Goddard's Laboratory for Atmospheres. Adler and Gu are now working on a detailed study of the relationship between surface temperatures and rainfall patterns to further investigate the possible link. The study [*abstract] appears in the Aug. 1, 2007, issue of the American Meteorological Society's Journal of Climate.

Obtaining a global view of our planet's rainfall patterns is a challenging work-in-progress:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Only since the satellite era have regular estimates of rainfall over oceans been available to supplement the long-term but land-limited record from rain gauges. Just recently have the many land- and space-based data been merged into a single global record endorsed by the international scientific community: the Global Precipitation Climatology Project, sponsored by the World Climate Research Program. Adler's research group at NASA produces the project's monthly rainfall updates, which are available to scientists worldwide.

Using this global record, Gu, Adler and their colleagues identified a small upward trend in overall tropical rainfall since 1979, but their confidence was not high that this was an actual long-term trend rather than natural year-to-year variability. So they took another look at the record and removed the effects of the two major natural phenomena that change rainfall: the El Niño Southern Oscillation and large volcanic eruptions.

El Niño is a cyclical warming of the ocean waters in the central and eastern tropical Pacific that generally occurs every three to seven years and alters weather patterns worldwide. Volcanoes that loft debris into the upper troposphere and stratosphere create globe-circling bands of aerosol particles that slow the formation of precipitation by increasing the number of small cloud drops and temporarily shielding the planet from sunlight, which lowers surface temperatures and evaporation that fuels rainfall. Two such eruptions - El Chicon in Mexico and Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines - occurred during the 27-year period.

The scientists found that during El Niño years, total tropical rainfall did not change significantly but more rain fell over oceans than usual. The two major volcanoes both reduced overall tropical rainfall by about 5 percent during the two years following each eruption. With these effects removed from the rainfall record, the long-term trend appears more clearly in both the rainfall data over land and over the ocean.

According to Adler, evidence for the rainfall trend is holding as more data come in. The latest numbers for 2006 show another record-high year for tropical rainfall, tying 2005 as the rainiest year during the period.

"The next step toward firmly establishing this initial indication of a long-term tropical rainfall trend is to continue to lengthen and improve our data record," says Adler, who is project scientist of the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM), a joint mission between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The three primary instruments on TRMM are currently providing the most detailed view of rainfall ever provided from space. Adler's group has been incorporating TRMM rainfall data since 1997 into the global rainfall record.

NASA plans to extend TRMM's success of monitoring rainfall over the tropics to the entire globe with the Global Precipitation Measurement mission, scheduled for launch in 2013. This international project will provide measurements of both rain and snow around the world with instruments on a constellation of spacecraft flying in different orbits.

Image (click to enlarge): 6-year TRMM climatology, precipitation January 1998-December 2003. Credit: Nasa TRMM.

References:
Gu, G., R.F. Adler, G.J. Huffman, and S. Curtis, 2007: "Tropical Rainfall Variability on Interannual-to-Interdecadal and Longer Time Scales Derived from the GPCP Monthly Product" [*abstract], Journal of Climate, 20, 4033–4046.

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center: Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission website.

The Global Precipitation Climatology Project (GPCP)

Article continues

U.S. DOE to provide $33.8 million to support enzyme development for cellulosic biofuels

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today announced a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) that will make available up to $33.8 (€24.7) million to support the development of commercially viable enzymes - a key step to enabling bio-based production of clean, renewable biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol. The announcement comes after the DOE awarded $385 (€282) million to six cellulosic ethanol projects earlier this year (previous post), part of a US$1.2 billion (€907 million) investment in biorefineries.

This latest FOA is focused on the development of hydrolytic enzymes and enzyme system preparations that can effectively saccharify pretreated lignocellulosics to produce fermentable sugars under process relevant conditions. The enzymes or enzyme systems must be able to survive a wide range of environmental conditions and be stable to denaturing conditions typically found in lignocellulosic processing.

DOE expects that applicants will be willing and able to take the enzyme or enzyme systems to a commercial scale and have a sound business strategy to license and market them. For the purposes of this FOA, 'commercialization' will be defined as the transition from research to routine operational application. This implies the orderly sequence and implementation of actions necessary to achieve market entry and general market competitiveness of the enzymatic systems.
These enzyme projects will serve as catalysts to the commercial-scale viability of cellulosic ethanol, a clean source of energy to help meet President Bush’s goal of reducing our reliance on oil. Ethanol from new feed stocks will not only give America more efficient fuel options to help transform our transportation sector, but increasing its use will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. - Andy Karsner, DOE Assistant Secretary
With a minimum 50 percent industry cost-share, the funding will total nearly $68 million to further enzyme commercialization efforts. By harnessing the power of enzymes, which are responsible for many of the biochemical processes in nature, biorefineries can more efficiently use cellulosic (non-food) feedstocks for biofuels production. The funding thus aims to further reduce costs of enzyme system preparations in process-relevant conditions.Since 2000, DOE enzyme development advancements have yielded thirty-fold cost reductions mainly on enzyme production:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

This biofuels effort focuses on production from non-food materials and agricultural waste – such as corn stover, switchgrass, and prairie grass. This FOA focuses specifically on systems to hydrolyze and saccharify cellulosic biomass feedstocks. Saccharification enables the biorefining process by breaking down pretreated cellulosic material into more simple sugars, allowing them to be further processed through fermentation and ultimately turned into biofuels such as ethanol. Enzymes developed under this FOA must prove durable and effective in process-relevant conditions.

As part of the President Bush's "Twenty in Ten Plan", DOE is pursuing a long-term strategy to support increased availability and cost-effective use of renewable and alternative fuels. Twenty in Ten seeks to displace 20 percent of U.S. gasoline usage by 2017 through diversification of clean energy sources and increased vehicle efficiency.

Image: cellulase enzyme attacks cellulose. Credit: NREL.

References:
U.S. Department of Energy: Department of Energy to Make Available up to $33.8 Million to Support Commercial Production of Cellulosic Biofuels - August 27, 2007

U.S. Department of Energy: Development of Saccharifying Enzymes for Commercial Use.

U.S. Department of Energy: Development of Saccharifying Enzymes for Commercial Use [*.pdf] - full announcement.

Biopact: Bush's State of the Union: "twenty in ten", biofuel imports - January 24, 2007

Biopact: U.S. Dept. of Energy awards $385 million to 6 cellulosic ethanol plants, out of $1.2 billion - March 01, 2007


Article continues

Biogas from dairy farms in California: report looks at regulatory issues

Biogas is rapidly becoming one of Europe's most important biofuels, with the sector scaling up to produce the alternative to natural gas on an industrial scale. Last year, thousands of plants produced an estimated 5.3 million tonnes of oil equivalent energy from biogas (overview). The developments in the EU are such that experts are looking at ways to open the main natural gas grids to feed in biomethane. Some estimate that biogas can replace all of the EU's natural gas imports from Russia by 2020. On the continent, the gas is increasingly produced from dedicated energy crops and used as an efficient transport fuel in CNG vehicles (overview here and here).

In the U.S., the sector is in its infancy. But the outlook for biogas is very good (previous post), which is why analysts there are proactively researching regulatory issues. A new report released by the Energy Policy Initiatives Center (EPIC) at San Diego University examines these regulatory challenges as they relate to biogas production and use on California's Dairy Farms. California is home to about 1,800 dairies that represent over 1.7 million dairy cows (graph, click to enlarge), which produce a significant amount of biomass that can be converted to biogas by anaerobic digestion. California dairies have a methane production potential of about 40 million cubic feet per day (1.1 million cubic meters) or 14.6 billion cubic feet/year (413 billion cubic meters). But the state currently has only 22 biogas-producing digesters located on dairy farms.
Biogas production via anaerobic digestion has attracted significant attention as a viable greenhouse gas reduction strategy, largely because methane is a potent greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. But regulations related to biogas are still evolving as the industry grows, so it is important to identify current regulations that might create disincentives and to identify issues that need further attention to ensure that biogas can play a vital role in our greenhouse gas reduction strategy. - Scott Anders, EPIC’s director and author of the report
The report titled Biogas on Dairy Farms: A Survey of Regulatory Challenges [*.pdf] provides background information on how biogas is produced and used; identifies challenges or issues of uncertainty related to air quality, water quality, solid waste management, electricity, and natural gas regulation; and recommends ways to encourage biogas production in California:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Biogas is produced through a biological process called anaerobic digestion, in which bacteria convert organic materials into biogas in an oxygen-free environment.

Converting cow manure and other agricultural wastes to a clean and useful energy sources helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by capturing methane that would otherwise have been released into the atmosphere. It also creates a renewable gas that can replace traditional natural gas for electricity generation and, because other organic wastes can be mixed with manure, biogas production can help to divert organic materials away from our landfills.

EPIC is an academic and research center of the University of San Diego School of Law that studies how energy policy issues affect the San Diego County region and California. EPIC integrates research and analysis, law school study and public education, and provides legal and policy expertise and information about efficient and environmentally responsible solutions to our future energy needs.

References:
Energy Policy Initiatives Center: EPIC Releases Paper on Regulatory Challenges Related to Biogas - August 21, 2007.

Scott J. Anders, Biogas Production and Use on California’s Dairy Farms. A Survey of Regulatory Challenges [*.pdf], Energy Policy Initiatives Center, University of San Diego, August 2007

Biopact: Germany considers opening natural gas network to biogas - major boost to sector - August 11, 2007

Biopact: EU research project looks at feeding biogas into the main natural gas grid - April 08, 2007

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


Article continues

Radar partners with New Energy USA for solid biofuel technology based on recovered coal slurry

Radar Acquisitions Corp. announces it has signed an arm's length joint venture agreement with New Energy USA to establish a joint venture to utilize New Energy's Re-Fuel technology process to develop engineered solid fuel products using a combination of reclaimed coal slurry pond waste and biomass. The Re-Fuel technology is a patent pending process that combines a coal waste product with biomass to produce an engineered solid fuel product. The Re-Fuel technology has been licensed for use on three project sites in the United States to date.

Coal mining generates enormous amounts of solid waste in the form of rocks and dirt. This refuse is used to create a large pond or a dam. After this reservoir is built, the void is typically filled with millions of gallons of waste slurry from a coal preparation plant. This impounded liquid waste can sometimes total billions of gallons in a single facility.

According to the published patent application New Energy's technology taps into these vast black lakes, by making:
burnable renewable fuel (RF) briquettes from recovered coal from coal slurry ponds, biomass, and a binder. The briquettes may be augmented with one or more of recovered environmental burnable fraction from municipal solid waste (MSW), agricultural livestock waste, lumber processing residue, solid wood waste material, agricultural by-products and crops, and like burnable waste material. Accordingly, the method for making burnable renewable fuel (RF) briquettes includes the steps of recovering coal from coal slurry ponds; recovering biomass; adding a binder to said recovered coal and said biomass; and forming solid burnable RF fuel briquettes therefrom.
Re-Fuel briquettes will benefit the environment through the reclamation of this type of coal slurry in the production phase and cleaner stack and ash emissions in the power generation phase. Production of Re-Fuel can qualify the producing joint venture company for a variety of tax credits while providing coal waste owners/suppliers with a significant benefit by decreasing site reclamation costs. According to Radar, users of Re-Fuel will benefit from a competitively priced, cleaner, more efficient product that may also make them eligible for substantial carbon credits:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The JV agreement sets out terms whereby Radar, through the ownership of 50 percent of a legal entity created for each of the projects, will acquire a 50 percent interest in each of four coal slurry pond briquette projects, as well as the option to participate in additional projects, for consideration of US$1.0 million in common shares of Radar.

Three quarters (75 percent) of the shares will have performance escrow restrictions such that one quarter (25 percent) of the shares will be released upon the commencement of production of engineered solid fuel from each of projects 1, 2 and 3. New Energy will have no voting rights to Radar shares while they are held in escrow. Any shares remaining in escrow after three years will be cancelled.

In addition, the Joint Venture Agreement contemplates payments by Radar of US$150,000 to secure and maintain ownership of the Projects and begin a budgeted work program for the Projects. Such payment will be made to RPS Fuels, LLC, a company created to develop, market and pursue the business of developing Project 1. A sum of US$2,250,000 will be paid to RPS Fuels upon Project 1 reaching the feasibility stage and provided the payment is used for the total project financing needed for Project 1 and to maintain property ownership for the Projects. US$2,250,000 will be paid to RPS Fuels or a second JV Entity, provided that such payment is used to complete the total project financing for Project 1, and provided that the payment is used to maintain ownership of the Projects, and to develop the Projects or any additional projects.

With regards to the option to acquire additional projects, a JV Entity will have a right of first refusal to purchase up to 100 percent of any Additional Project staked, acquired or otherwise obtained by New Energy and/or Radar. The establishment of the Joint Venture is subject to final TSX Venture Exchange approval and the consideration is being held in trust, accordingly.

Radar is a diversified natural resource development company focused on growth through the acquisition, exploration and development of resources and resource related technologies. The company is focused on a joint venture agreement it has with New Energy USA, LLC, to develop engineered solid fuel products (Re-Fuel) using a combination of coal slurry pond waste and biomass.


Image: Marfork Coal's Brushy Fork coal slurry impoundment, which, at its final stage, will hold 8 billions of gallon of coal waste sludge. The impoundment partially lies over old underground mines and is directly upstream from the town of Whitesville, West Virginia. Credit: Vivian Stockman.

References:
MarketWire: Radar Enters into Joint Venture with New Energy USA, LLC, for Engineered Solid Fuel Technology and Coal Slurry Pond Projects - August 27, 2007.

USPTO: Fuel pellet briquettes from biomass and recovered coal slurries - January 11, 2007


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Kenyan farmers see hope in Virgin's bio-jet fuel test

According to the chief of the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), to African scientists and to global natural resource think tanks like the Worldwatch Institute, biofuels offer a historic chance to tackle global poverty and to reach the Millennium Development Goals. If biofuel policies and trade reform are implemented well, the world's poor - the bulk of who can be found in the vast rural areas of the Global South - can benefit by producing fuels for local and international markets.

This opportunity does not go unnoticed in Africa. In Nairobi, Kenya's capital, the local Business Daily pins its hopes on Sir Richard Branson and his Virgin Fuels venture. It writes:
Virgin Atlantic's quest to become the first commercial airline to use biofuels to power its aircraft could be the catalyst needed to realise the potential in Kenya's alternative energy sector. The airline has scheduled a test flight on biofuel early in 2008, less than a year since June when Virgin Atlantic owner Richard Branson committed Sh210 billion towards research into environmentally-friendly energy resources for the next 10 years.
Virgin has been testing different bio-jet fuel types and indicated that in the future biofuel feedstocks may well be sourced from Africa as a way of combining poverty alleviation and greening the airline industry (previous post). The money for the bio-jet fuel, which will come from Branson's airline and rail businesses, is to be invested through Virgin Fuels, a new arm that is focusing largely on biofuel innovations.

The Nairobi based newspaper continues:
Local farmers have started growing biofuel-producing crops like jathropa and rapseed and a breakthrough for Virgin would mean new markets for them. Ms Lorna Omuodo, the director of the Vanilla Jathropa Development Foundation, said it would be an opportunity to improve rural incomes if Virgin pioneers foreign market opportunities for biofuel.
Quoting the director of the Vanilla Jathropa Development Foundation, the potential to engage many farmers in the sector becomes apparent:
Jathropa does well in arid and semi arid areas and this will be a good opportunity to offer those people alternative income. The local industry has potential to benefit at least 12 million people, six million of them directly and the other half indirectly.
If Sir Richard couples the idea of greening the airline industry to sourcing biofuels from the South, he could do more to alleviate poverty than all of the UK's development assistance programmes combined. The Global South has vast untapped resources needed to make biofuels in an efficient and cost-effective manner: land, labor and a suitable climate for a range of promising energy crops (map: land suitability for jatropha, click to enlarge). Of course, such an initiative would require a strong set of social and environmental sustainability policies, investments in research and development in biofuels and African agronomy, and a change in the current trade regime. But in principle these requirements can be met:
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Virgin's decision to trial bio-jet fuel comes at a time when the local Kenyan biofuel industry, which is still at its budding levels, has shifted its focus from the basics of growing the raw materials into market opportunities ranging from searching for possible industrial users to how farmers can earn from international carbon trade.

Jathropa, which grows in marginal areas, is the best bet for Kenya as a biofuel raw material. A recent biofuel industry meeting in Nairobi agreed that focus should also be directed to looking for export opportunities.

Virgin has been very active in the biofuels sector. Recently it launched the first biodiesel train in regular operation (earlier post). Virgin Atlantic plans to fly the 747 on biofuels in early 2008 (more here). In an interview, the technical director for the project excluded synthetic biofuels for the trial, because they have already shown to work.

Map: land suitability for rainfed jatropha cropping in Africa - some 1.5 billion hectares are highly to moderately suitable; the bulk of the countries with jatropha potential currently utilizes less than 30% of its potential arable land. Credit: Fair Trade Biodiesel.

References:
Business Daily (Nairobi): Virgin Bid to Use Biofuel Could Boost Energy Sector - 27 August 2007

Biopact: Virgin launches first biodiesel train in Europe - June 07, 2007

Biopact: Virgin Atlantic to fly 747 on biofuels in 2008 - looks to Africa - April 24, 2007


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New Zealand biofuel plant on hold because of Brazilian competition

An interesting example of how the global biofuel market works when there are no trade barriers or subsidies comes from New Zealand. There LanzaFuels Limited today announced that it has put its plans for a local biofuels production plant on hold because of competition from the tropics. LanzaFuels has been investigating the feasibility of ethanol produced from locally grown maize (corn) in response to the 3.4% biofuel sales obligation announced by the country's government in February this year.

LanzaFuels spokesman Howard Moore explained the reasons behind the decision:
"Brazilian prices for fuel ethanol are currently at historically low levels and so, combined with the strong New Zealand dollar, the cost to import ethanol is now lower than it can be made locally. This situation has developed recently, and until future prospects become more encouraging, the Company considers it is unwise to invest further in the project".
LanzaFuels has been planning to build a large-scale ethanol production plant using locally grown maize, and powered by wood waste. It planned to target land currently used for beef and sheep farming. This would have provided higher returns to farmers who are not benefiting from current high dairy prices. Moore says "this would have had a double benefit for the environment by both reducing fossil fuel use and reducing agricultural methane emissions".

The low prices for sugar cane based ethanol are the result of a record sugar crop in both Brazil and India (previous post). In May, ethanol prices in Brazil recorded their lowest level in 2 years, making the government consider an increase in the blending rate by 2% (from 23 to 25%). At the same time, crude oil prices have risen to new records. The advantage of sugar cane based ethanol has never been this great (earlier post).

Besides a record crop, Brazilian farmers, sugar processors and ethanol producers can draw on vast experience resulting in steep efficiency increases, which lowered their production costs for ethanol by 75% over 25 years (earlier post), further strengthening their natural comparative advantages:
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Industry analysts and agronomists think this trend is far from over: Brazilian ethanol can become even more efficient and double or even triple its output per hectare, as both processing technologies progress and biotechnological advancements are made (earlier post).

In this case it will become nearly impossible for biofuel producers relying on crops like corn to compete. At least not in a free trade environment.

Both the European Union and the United States heavily subsidize their farmers and protect their markets against more efficient fuels by imposing import tariffs that can be as high as US$0.54 per gallon. For the U.S. alone, these biofuel subsidies were estimated to be as high as $5.1 billion in 2006 for ethanol alone (earlier post).

But resistance to this state of things is growing. Brazil recently initiated a WTO case against U.S. ethanol and farm subsidies (earlier post). Likewise, the governments of Sweden and the Netherlands have launched a formal request for a study to be performed by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to assess the damages brought about by farm subsidies and biofuel trade barriers both in the U.S. and the EU (earlier post). Sweden, one of Europe's leading green nations, wants all barriers for biofuels removed, so that a global trade can emerge that allows countries in the South to make use of their comparative advantages (more here).

References:
Scoop: LanzaFuels Biofuels Plant On Hold - August 27, 2007.

Biopact: Brazil initiates WTO case against U.S. ethanol and farm subsidies - August 20, 2007

Biopact: Subsidies for uncompetitive U.S. biofuels cost taxpayers billions - report - October 26, 2006



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