<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


    According to Dr Niphon Poapongsakorn, dean of Economics at Thammasat University in Thailand, cassava-based ethanol is competitive when oil is above $40 per barrel. Thailand is the world's largest producer and exporter of cassava for industrial use. Bangkok Post - September 14, 2007.

    German biogas and biodiesel developer BKN BioKraftstoff Nord AG has generated gross proceeds totaling €5.5 million as part of its capital increase from authorized capital. Ad Hoc News - September 13, 2007.

    NewGen Technologies, Inc. announced that it and Titan Global Holdings, Inc. completed a definitive Biofuels Supply Agreement which will become effective upon Titan’s acquisition of Appalachian Oil Company. Given APPCO’s current distribution of over 225 million gallons of fuel products per year, the initial expected ethanol supply to APPCO should exceed 1 million gallons a month. Charlotte dBusinessNews - September 13, 2007.

    Oil prices reach record highs as the U.S. Energy Information Agency releases a report that showed crude oil inventories fell by more than seven million barrels last week. The rise comes despite a decision by the international oil cartel, OPEC, to raise its output quota by 500,000 barrels. Reuters - September 12, 2007.

    OPEC decided today to increase the volume of crude supplied to the market by Member Countries (excluding Angola and Iraq) by 500,000 b/d, effective 1 November 2007. The decision comes after oil reached near record-highs and after Saudi Aramco announced that last year's crude oil production declined by 1.7 percent, while exports declined by 3.1 percent. OPEC - September 11, 2007.

    GreenField Ethanol and Monsanto Canada launch the 'Gro-ethanol' program which invites Ontario's farmers to grow corn seed containing Monsanto traits, specifically for the ethanol market. The corn hybrids eligible for the program include Monsanto traits that produce higher yielding corn for ethanol production. MarketWire - September 11, 2007.

    Ethanol Statistics, a new industry information resource, reports that U.S. petroleum refiners Citgo and Valero are the top 2 ethanol importing companies in the United States in the first 6 months of 2007. Overall imports were up 7.64% compared to the same period in 2006, from 193,620 gallons to 208,404 gallons. Chevron imported 43% less, whereas Noble and ConocoPhilips' imports were up 255% and 372% respectively. Data are reported in 'The United States Ethanol Market 2007’, which also provides a breakdown of U.S. ethanol production costs and a detailed analysis of U.S. consumption and production. Ethanol Statistics - September 10, 2007.

    The government of British Columbia launches a $100,000 study into the production of biogas, heat, power and clean water from household waste streams. Raw sewage water can be cleaned by microbial fuel cells that deliver electricity as they clean the water; other technologies include classic anaerobic fermentation. Canada.com - September 10, 2007.

    Saudi Aramco in its Annual Review 2006 said that last year the company's crude oil production declined by 1.7 percent, while exports declined by 3.1 percent, compared with the previous year. Crude oil production in 2006 averaged 8.9 million barrels of oil a day (b/d) and exports 6.9 million b/d. Saudi Aramco - September 9, 2007.

    Chinese packaging manufacturer Livan Biodegradable Product Co. Ltd. will build plants in Alsozsolca and Edeleny in eastern Hungary at a combined cost of €18 million by 2009, the Hungarian economics ministry says. The plants, which will employ 800 people, are planned to produce initially 50, 000 metric tons a year of environmentally-friendly packaging material, and double that amount by a later date. Livan will use corn to manufacture biodegradable packaging boxes with similar properties to petroleum-based plastic boxes used in the food industry. Dow Jones Newswires - September 7, 2007.

    South Korea aims to raise biodiesel content in domestic diesel to 3 percent from the current 0.5 percent by 2012, Seoul's energy ministry said today. The government was initially set last year to impose a mandatory 5 percent blend, in line with the level targeted by the European Union by 2010, but the country's powerful refining lobby opposed the move, forcing it to push back the target, according to market sources. Reuters - September 7, 2007.

    Virent Energy Systems, Inc. announced today that it has closed a US$21 million second round of venture financing. Investor interest in Virent was driven in large part by the Company’s continued development of its innovative BioForming process beyond its traditional hydrogen and fuel gas applications and toward the production of bio-based gasoline, diesel, and jet fuels. Virent Energy Systems - September 6, 2007.

    The U.S. National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition (NEVC) announces that 31 models of motor vehicles will be offered in the U.S. with an E85 capable engine in 2008. Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Nissan and Mercedes Benz will all offer flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs) in the coming year. The NEVC expects 750,000 such FFVs will be produced in 2008. National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition - September 5, 2007.

    GreenHunter BioFuels, Inc., has begun commercial operations with the start-up of a 1,500 barrel per day methanol distillation system. Methanol is an alcohol used to transesterify vegetable oils into biodiesel. The methanol production facility is a key element of GreenHunter's 105 million gallon per year biodiesel refinery, the largest in the U.S., slated for initial operations during the first quarter of 2008. PRNewswire - September 5, 2007.

    GreenHunter BioFuels, Inc., has begun commercial operations with the start-up of a 1,500 barrel per day methanol distillation system. Methanol is an alcohol used to transesterify vegetable oils into biodiesel. The methanol production facility is a key element of GreenHunter's 105 million gallon per year biodiesel refinery, the largest in the U.S., slated for initial operations during the first quarter of 2008. PRNewswire - September 5, 2007.

    Spanish renewables group Abengoa released its results for the first half of 2007 financial year in which its consolidated sales were €1,393.6 million, which is a 27.9 percent increase on the previous year. Earnings after tax were €54.9 million, an 18.6 percent increase on the previous year's figure of 46.3 million euro. Abengoa is active in the bioenergy, solar and environmental services sector. Abengoa - September 4, 2007.

    Canadian hydro power developer Run of River Power Inc. has reached an agreement to buy privately owned Western Biomass Power Corp. in a $2.2 million share swap deal that could help finance development of new green sources of electricity in British Columbia. The Canadian Press - September 4, 2007.

    As of Sept. 1, a biodiesel blending mandate has come into force in the Czech Republic, requiring diesel suppliers to mix 2 per cent biodiesel into the fuel. The same rule will be obligatory for gasoline starting next year. In 2009 the biofuel ratio will grow to 3.5 percent in gasoline and 4.5 percent in diesel oil. CBW - September 3, 2007.

    Budapest's first biofuel station opens on Monday near the Pesterzsébet (District XX) Tesco hypermarket. This is the third station selling the E85 fuel containing bioethanol in Hungary, as two other stations are encouraging eco-friendly driving in Bábolna and Győr. Caboodle - September 3, 2007.

    Canadian forest products company Tembec announced that it has completed the acquisition of the assets of Chapleau Cogeneration Limited located in Chapleau, Ontario. The transaction 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. Tembec - September 1, 2007.

    Innovative internet and cable/satellite channel CurrentTV is producing a documentary on Brazil's biofuel revolution. Biopact collegues and friends Marcelo Coelho (EthanolBrasil Blog), Henrique Oliveira (Ethablog) and Marcelo Alioti (E-Machine) provided consulting on the technical, economic, environmental and social aspects of Brazil's energy transformation. ProCana - August 31, 2007.

    Oil major BP Plc and Associated British Foods Plc won competition clearance from the European Commission on to build a plant to make transport fuel from wheat in Hull, northeast England. U.S. chemical company DuPont is also involved. Reuters UK - August 31, 2007.

    The government of the Indian state of Orissa announced its policy for biofuel production which includes a slew of incentives as well as measures to promote the establishment of energy plantations. The state aims to bring 600,000 hectares of barren and fallow land under Jatropha and Karanj. At least 2 million hectares degraded land are available in the State. The new policy's other objectives are to provide a platform for investors and entrepreneurs, market linkages and quality control measures. Newindpress - August 29, 2007.

    Brazil's state-run oil company Petrobras said today it expects to reach large scale cellulosic ethanol production in 2015, with the first plant entering operations as early as 2011. Lignocellulosic biomass is the most abundant biological material on the planet, making up the bulk of the structure of wood and plants. In a first phase, Petrobras intends to use bagasse as a feedstock. Reuters / MacauHub- August 29, 2007.

    Seattle based Propel Biofuels, is announcing a $4.75 million first round of capital from @Ventures and Nth Power. The money will be used to help Propel set up and manage biodiesel fueling stations. BusinessWire - August 29, 2007.

    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.


Creative Commons License


Saturday, September 15, 2007

Yam bean: forgotten crop being improved to yield quality food in resource-poor countries

We often write about the biomass and biofuels potential in developing countries. Projections show it is very high over the long term - with some putting Africa's sustainable potential by 2050 at around 400 Exajoules per year, more than the total amount of fossil fuels consumed by the entire world today.

But these opitimistic projections are based on a great variety of assumptions about population trends, demand for food, wood, fiber and feed, about technological advancements and agricultural and biotech breakthroughs. To arrive at the high estimates, one of the assumptions is that food production and the livestock sector's output will become far more efficient. With improved food and feed production (higher yields) and improved feed conversion, more land becomes available for energy crops.

The question is: will these breakthroughs and improvements actually occur? Researchers from the International Potato Center and the Centre Songhai in Porto-Novo (Benin) offer us an example showing that this is indeed the case: they report how a forgotten and underutilized crop is being improved to yield more robust and efficient food production systems, especially suitable for resource-poor countries. Results from their study will be published in the July-August 2007 issue of Crop Science.

The Yam bean (Pachyrhizus genus) is the focus of their efforts. The crop originated where the Andes meets the Amazon and is locally grown in South and Central America, South Asia, East Asia and the Pacific. Yam bean is produced in three species which are called the Amazonian, Mexican and Andean. Interbreeding of the bean has resulted in fertile and stable hybrids. This gives it potential to be reclassified as a single species, provide high quality food production and offer a sustainable cropping system that could find its way in the drier regions of Africa.

Researchers believe they have now discovered a protein-rich starch staple in the yam bean in Peru. They were previously considered a root vegetable due to the high water content; however this ‘Chuin’ type has lower water content. Families living in the area have been producing it as flour. The crop has extremely high seed production, but its seeds contain high concentrations of rotenone. This toxic compound has been used for reducing fish populations and parasitic mites on poultry. Seeds are never consumed since they are mildly toxic to humans and other mammals. If the rotenone was removed from the seeds, they could provide a strong protein source as well as seed oil profitable in the food industry.

Séraphin Zanklan, a scientist at the Centre Songhai in Benin, has investigated the yam bean for its potential to grow and produce food under West African conditions. The study was funded by a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). Thirty-four yam genotypes were grown with and without flower removal at one droughty location and one irrigated location:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Of the 33 traits that were measured, nearly all showed large genetic variation. This and the easy spreading of its seeds, make the crops very desirable to breeders.

The study identified genotypes with high storage root production. Flower removal increased storage root production by 50 to 100%. Several yam bean genotypes showed very low reduction in storage root and seed production under drought stressed conditions. As expected, the storage roots did show high protein and starch contents. They have as much as three to five times more protein than potatoes or yams. Most importantly, it was found that storage roots can be processed into ‘yam bean gari.’ This is similar to the current staple of West Africa, ‘cassava gari,’ a granular flour.

The bean could make a significant contribution to the improvement of food support, especially where resources are poor. The research is ongoing at the International Potato Center, which has a mandate for the bean in the frame of Andean Root and Tuber Crops. Further evaluation is needed on the range of yam bean variations under different conditions. More information on where they can be grown, their agronomic potential and genetic diversity is important to determine the types of breeding programs necessary for yam beans.


Picture: Researchers think the small Yam bean has great potential to provide high quality food production and offer a sustainable cropping system that could boost food and biofuel production in Africa. Credit: Wolfgang Gruneberg.

References:
Eurekalert: Yam bean a nearly forgotten crop - Interbreeding may produce quality food source for resource-poor countries - September 15, 2007.

Article continues

European car manufacturers support 120gCO2/km target, car technologies alone insufficient, call for integrated approach and more biofuels

At the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA), the CEOs of the main European car manufacturers have jointly expressed the industry’s support to reduce CO2 emissions from cars to 120 grams per kilometer. They reinforced their call on EU governments to embrace a cost-effective integrated approach towards cars and CO2, which would result in larger environmental gains and safeguard investments and employment in Europe.

The CEOs say the EU objective to bring carbon emissions from cars down to 120 grammes per kilometre is achievable through an integrated approach [*.pdf] and they fully support that route. Improved car technologies alone are insufficient and too costly to reach the target, which is why other key elements must be considered: infrastructure changes, a more efficient driving style, CO2-related taxation and the greater use of biofuels.


Societal costs to reduce CO2 emissions compared. Improved car technologies alone are insufficient (click to enlarge).
The car industry needs sufficient lead-time to prepare for specific legal requirements to reflect the long development and production cycles of the car industry. Sufficient lead-time is indispensable ahead of legislation that is this important. Possibly, a phase-in could be considered. Lead-time is a common practice around the world. The Government of Japan has agreed on new CO2 requirements with the car industry last year resulting in average emissions of 138 grammes CO2 per kilometre from 2015:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The CEOs explained that, within a future policy framework, cars should stay accessible to consumers to ensure fleet renewal. The effect of possible legislation would have to be neutral as far as competition between manufacturers is concerned. CO2 reductions from cars should be related to the differentiation in the car portfolio of the EU manufacturers with a parameter based approach, and manufacturers should be able to average the CO2 performance of their fleet.

The European automotive industry is key to the strength and competitiveness of Europe. The ACEA members are BMW Group, DAF Trucks, DaimlerChrysler, FIAT Group, Ford of Europe, General Motors Europe, MAN Nutzfahrzeuge, Porsche, PSA Peugeot Citroën, Renault, Scania, Volkswagen Group and Volvo Group. They provide direct employment to more than 2.3 million people and support another 10 million jobs in related sectors. ACEA members yearly invest €20 billion in R&D, or 4% of turnover.

References:
European Automobile Manufacturers Association: European Passenger Car CEOs jointly express resolve to further cut carbon emissions from cars - September 14, 2007.

European Automobile Manufacturers Association: Frankfurt Motor Show, presentation of CO2 reduction strategy [*.pdf] - September 12, 2007.

Article continues

Report: biomass fastest growing renewable in EU, largest potential

The European Biomass Association (AEBIOM) has released its overview of the state of bioenergy in the 27 member states of the EU and presented it to European Commissioner for Energy Andris Piebalgs. The document contains scenarios showing the roles different biomass fuels and technologies will be playing in the longer term and which developments should be given priority for research and funding. Recommendations for the upcoming Renewable Energy Sources Directive are included as well.

The report shows that biomass is by far the fastest growing renewable energy source and that it has the largest potential for clean energy generation within the Union. Biomass covers about two thirds of all renewables and plays the crucial role in meeting the 20% target for renewables by 2020 and in the future reduction of CO2 emissions in Europe.

A variety of different biomass raw materials from forestry, agriculture and waste is being used for energy purposes. Different conversion technologies are available to transform primary energy from biomass to heat, electricity or liquid and gaseous biofuels. All these technologies result in the production of carbon-neutral energy. In the near future, carbon-negative bioenergy will be produced in systems that couple the utilization of biomass to carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies.

Forestry the basis, heat the biggest market
In 2004, woody biomass covered 85% of the total biomass supply in Europe. So far, wood and by-products of the forest and wood industries are the main source for bioenergy followed by waste (10%) and by agricultural based biomass (5%). 66% of the biomass was used to deliver heat, 31% for electricity and cogeneration and 3% for liquid fuels. Heat generation is currently the most important market for biomass (figure 1, click to enlarge).


In absolute terms, biomass is by far the fastest growing renewable energy source in the EU as is shown by the figures in table 1 (expressed in Mtoe = million ton oil equivalent). In the period from 1995 to 2004 the contribution of biomass to the energy supply grew by 27.5 Mtoe, that is 78% of the total growth in renewables and corresponds to an increase of 61% in 9 years. Yet, the annual growth rate of wind energy was larger.

The 'huge potential' of biomass
AEBIOM estimates that the contribution of biomass for energy can be increased from 72 Mtoe in 2004 to 220 Mtoe in 2020; the biggest potential for growth lies in biomass coming from agriculture (figure 2, click to enlarge). In the 27 EU Member States, 20 to 40 million hectares of land can be used for energy production without harming the European food supply:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Land reserves are available: set aside land, the use of so far unused land not part of the set a side program, less exports, continuation of plant breeding progress, better management of arable land, especially in those parts of Europe with low yields.

This land will be needed not only for production of liquid fuels but also for the production of solid biomass for heat and electricity. Additional biomass can also be produced by better use of by-products such as straw, manure and a better mobilization of woody biomass.

C02 reduction
To reach the targets of the spring Council of 2007 - which aim for a reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by 20% -, the emissions have to be reduced by about 840 million tons of C02 corresponding to 300 Mtoe fossil fuels. Biomass can substitute about 150 Mtoe of fossil fuels, if efficient biomass to energy chains are favoured.

The efficiency in the conversion of biomass to final energy varies widely between different technologies. This efficiency can be above 90% (biomass to heat) and below 40% (biomass to electricity only, stand alone second generation fuels).


The energy output per hectare varies between 1 toe up to 5 toe depending upon the energy crop cultivated and the conversion technology chosen. Specific high yields per hectare can be attained by growing perennial energy crops such as miscanthus, short rotation coppices or energy grass used to produce combustibles or maize for biogas production (table 2, click to enlarge).

Uneven use of biomass for energy in Europe

The share of biomass in the energy mix differs widely from member state to member state :
From 1.3% in the United Kingdom to 29.8% in Latvia, in the average 4.1%.

Typical biomass to energy chains are only used in a few countries as the following examples show:

Pellets: In 2005 in Europe about 6 Mt pellets were used, roughly 50% for residential heating and 50% for thermal power plants. 95% of these pellets were used in only 7 countries : Sweden, Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Austria.

Biomass for district heating: on average, in Europe only one per cent of the heat demand is covered by district heat coming from biomass, yet in a few countries like Sweden, Finland, Denmark, the Baltic countries and Austria this share lies between 5 and 30%.

Land requirement for transportation fuels
In 2006 about1.5 Mm³ ethanol were produced in Europe, the needed raw material corresponds to about 2% only of the total wheat and sugarbeet production of a year.


Targets of biomass deployment
The AEBIOM sees the main targets to promote biomass as being (1) the reduction of C02 emissions in the EU, (2) improving the Union's security of energy supplies, (3) delivering competitive energy prices.

Following these targets the following scenario for the contribution of biomass to the different energy markets has been development by AEBIOM for 2020.

Principles for biomass deployment
The report also contains a list of priorities that must be considered when promoting, funding or analysing biomass.
  • priority to technologies with high efficiencies
  • priority to biomass-to-energy chains with high energy output per hectare
  • preference to energy chains with competitive cost
  • sustainable production of biomass for energy
  • preference for decentralized solutions
  • preference for biomass from Europe – security of supply issue (note, the EU itself is favorable to biomass trade with countries outside of the EU)
In applying these principles the ranking for the further promotion of biomass appears as follows: (1) biomass-to-heat, (2) biomass for combined heat and power, (3) biomass for biogas, and (4) biomass for liquid fuels.

Biomass for heat
Additional 70 to 80 Mtoe biomass should be used for the heat supply, this requires a restructuring of parts of the European heat supply systems: more district heating systems, more biomass fuelled heating installations instead of fossil fuel systems or electrical heating systems. A European fund for renewable heat (biomass, solar thermal, geothermal) is proposed to support the member states in financing the necessary investments.

Biogas
A concept to further develop biogas for transport but also for electricity and heat should be developed in all member states, given the high yields per hectare of this technology.

Transportation fuels
Bioethanol and biodiesel will remain the main biofuels until 2020. Biogas as transportation fuel should be promoted considering the high yields per hectare. The research and demonstration work on 2nd generation biofuels is important, but a specific priority for 2nd generation fuels as compared to other biofuels is not recommended. A protection of the ethanol market against cheap imports from abroad is as necessary as a certification system concerning the import of vegetable oil.

Efficiency
It is not enough to substitute coal by biomass in inefficient thermal power plants. In the future biomass should be used in plants with efficiency higher than 60%. Therefore a restructuring of the heating system and the systems to generate electricity will be necessary in order to reduce the transformation losses. The future lies in a more decentralised energy system, where electricity production follows the demand for heat.

Mobilisation of agriculture and forestry
Rapid actions are proposed to better use the potential of agriculture for energy. More than 10 Mha land for new perennial crops are necessary to comply with the targets. New incentives and stable conditions for farmers are required to develop this new production. But also new programs to better use the by-products of agriculture and forestry will be necessary. Besides this, the improvement of the agronomic techniques would lead to better yields in regions where they are at present far below the current average.

Recommendations RES-directive
The upcoming RES directive and its implementation will play a decisive role in achieving the EU targets. Concerning the biomass sector the Directive should contain the following elements:

Targets
Besides the binding targets such as 20% RES until 2020 and 10% biofuels by 2020 the directive should also contain an indicative target for heat: 25% heat from RES by 2020.

Principles for biomass implementation
The above mentioned principles for biomass implementation should be part of the directive.

National RES strategy
Each member state should be obliged to elaborate a national RES-strategy. This development strategy should present the national sub targets and measures on how to reach the allocated RES target of the directive. Concerning the heat sector this national strategy should contain technology targets for: heat from biomass, cogeneration with biomass, development of DH and also detailed instruments how the member state is operating to reach these targets.

Monitoring
A regular monitoring should be foreseen to see how the member state is moving towards the targets.

Trade
The trade of biomass between member states will be necessary in some cases to reach the national targets, but there should not be a possibility to trade RES obligations. The global trade especially concerning commodities for transportation fuels or biofuels should not be completely liberalized due to concerns about the food supply and environmental risks in some exporting countries.

On the latter point, Biopact, like many other organisations and governments, strictly disagrees: biofuels should be produced there where they can be made in the most efficient, competitive and sustainable way, and there where they yield large social benefits and reduce greenhouse gas emissions most. That is not in the EU, but in tropical and subtropical countries. Therefor, trade must be liberalized fully, provided a biomass and biofuel certification instrument is put in place that ensures sustainable production. This is an ongoing debate, but more and more EU countries are becoming favorable to the idea of free bioenergy trade.

References:
AEBIOM: Biomass: the renewable energy source with the biggest potential and fastest growth in Europe [*.doc] - September 13, 2007.


Article continues

France's INRA focuses on Miscanthus agronomy, genetics

Relatively unknown in Europe, Miscanthus giganteus is now in the European spotlight as a biofuel crop. It is high yielding, rich in lignocellulose and requires little agricultural inputs. Growing this crop on a large-scale in France will involve developing cropping systems that seek to optimise energy balances and minimise environmental impact. Several teams from the INRA - the French National Institute for Agricultural Research - have therefor joined forces with other research teams to combine the adaptation of crop management sequences with genetic improvement of the plant. INRA is Europe's largest agricultural science institute.


Miscanthus trial on an INRA test field. Credit:INRA/S.Cadoux
Miscanthus x giganteus is a perennial grass originally from Asia. It boasts two particularly interesting qualities for biofuel production: it produces a large amount of biomass and requires few inputs.

The exceptionally high yield of miscanthus is due to its "C4" carbon metabolism, which is similar to other plants of tropical origin such as sugarcane and sorghum. This type of metabolism means it can more efficiently capture carbon gas and transform it into organic material.

Moreover, miscanthus is a perennial plant, coming back every year based on rhizomes that it has developed underground. After being planted, it will produce crops for more than 15 years. The first year is delicate because it is the time during which the plant establishes its root system. Plant growth is slow and competition with weeds is steep. The use of herbicides allows the plant to establish itself satisfactorily. At the end of the first year, the crop is ground and returned to the soil, thus creating a surface bed that limits weed growth. In the following years, the crop grows quickly and does not require herbicides. Nor does miscanthus call for the use of fungicides or insecticides.

Adaptation of crop management sequences

Optimal crop conditions are required for miscanthus to express its full potential. In 2006, INRA researchers set up experimental miscanthus plantations as part of the REGIX project ('Référentiel unifié, méthodes et expérimentations en vue d'une meilleure évaluation du gisement potentiel en ressources lignocellulosiques agricole et forestière pour la bioénergie en France', or 'unified references, methods and experiments to enable improved evaluation of potential agricultural and forestry lignocellulosic resources for bioenergy in France').

These trials began simultaneously with seven potentially attractive species for energy production. These included three "C4" species (miscanthus, switchgrass and sorghum, the first two of which are perennial), three annual "C3" species (triticale, alfalfa and fescue) and plantations of poplars as short-rotation coppice (SRC).

Researchers will measure the quantity and quality of the biomass with respect to each species and for varying crop conditions. INRA researchers from the Joint Research Unit for Fractionation of Agricultural Resources and Packaging (INRA, Université de Reims) will study the quality of the biomass for its transformation into fuel : depending on whether the conversion of lignocellulose into ethanol or wood is based on a biological or thermochemical method, the crucial parameters are (i) the content of minerals, such as silica or chlorine, that are undesirable in the thermochemical method, and (ii) the water content and lignin/cellulose ratio, which influence the fermentation yield in the biological method.

Ideally, miscanthus should be harvested in the months of February and March, when the leaves have fallen and restored nitrogen levels to the soil. It is, however, possible to harvest earlier in order to use the leaf biomass. In this case, it is necessary to carry out nitrogenous fertilisation in order to provide for the following year's needs. It is also important to consider the risks involved in soil compaction due to winter harvesting in moist soil. Researchers will analyse all these crop conditions and their consequences on long-term soil development, as well as the physical and organic state of the soil.

Genetic improvements
In addition to these studies, a project was initiated in 2007 to study the genetic variability of miscanthus for agriculturally valuable traits, including production of above-ground biomass, traits associated with flowering biology and physiology of nitrogen metabolism. The project titled "Picardie Espèces Ligno-cellulosiques" (lignocellulosic species in Picardy), involves the Joint Research Unit for Abiotic Stress and Differentiation of Cultivated Plants, INRA (Université de Lille, Université d’Amiens and UNISIGMA):
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

This research is the first step in studying the genetic determinism of miscanthus biomass production under abiotic stress (nitrogen availability, temperature conditions of the air and soil, water availability, etc.) in view of creating varietal innovations designed for Northern Europe and for use in bioenergy:

Within the framework of the French 'Pôle de Compétitivité' 'Industries et Agro-ressources' situated in the Picardy and Champagne-Ardenne regions, the entire inter-disciplinary programme involves, on a local level, the agronomists and geneticists from INRA, Lille and the Estrées-Mons agro-environmental platform, and on a regional level, the biologists from Université de Lille and the physiologists of nitrogen metabolism from Université d'Amiens as well as specialists in biofuels from INRA-Reims.

More broadly, all the agronomic and genetic research falls under the 'Renewable Carbon Resources' topic, which INRA seeks to expand by recruiting additional researchers. This research will be conducted in collaboration with other INRA teams and, at European level, with the leading agronomists and geneticists specialising in miscanthus (e.g. BBSRC, Wageningen University and Research Centre, Bioenergy NoE).

References:
Bioenergy Network of Excellence: New miscanthus R&D projects at INRA - s.d. 2007.

INRA, REGIX project: Evaluation of cellulosic biomass sectors for the production of second generation biofuels - February 14, 2006.

Article continues

Blue Sun Biodiesel proposes biorefinery based on Jatropha biodiesel and synthetic diesel from biomass to the U.S. DOE

Blue Sun Biodiesel, LLC announces a proposal for a US$42 million, four-year Jatropha biodiesel and synthetic diesel project to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The proposal is in response to a $200 million DOE request for proposals to demonstrate the commercial viability of an integrated biorefinery utilizing non-food based cellulosic feedstocks.

If funded, the project will capitalize on an innovative approach to utilize domestically produced Jatropha feedstock grown in southern Texas. The farm will be co-located with a biorefinery with a leading-edge biomass-to-liquids (BtL) thermochemical processing system.

The fully integrated development will generate all of its own electricity and heat, producing 100% renewable biodiesel and synthetic diesel fuel from biomass (syndiesel). The biorefinery will be self-sufficient, consume zero-fossil-fuels, and will be carbon-neutral. Blue Sun is teaming with Global Clean Energy Holdings, Community Power Corporation, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory of Golden, Colorado on this project proposal.

Blue Sun’s mission is to produce the lowest-cost, highest-quality diesel fuel possible from biomass. Synthetic diesel can be obtained from biomass by gasifying the feedstock and then to liquefy the gas via Fischer-Tropsch synthesis. Jatropha biodiesel production relies on the more traditional transesterification process.

Jatropha development in Texas is consistent with Blue Sun’s immediate and long-term strategic plan:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::
Since its inception, Blue Sun has focused on distributing premium biodiesel fuel with warranted industry-leading specifications. Although Jatropha needs years of development work, the success of this project will help Blue Sun secure a continuous supply of biodiesel feedstock that meets our stringent quality requirements. We expect this four-year project to fully validate the potential for producing over 200 million gallons of Jatropha biodiesel and syndiesel per year. - Jeff Probst, Blue Sun CEO
Blue Sun Biodiesel is a leading supplier of premium biodiesel fuel, made from pure vegetable oils. The company develops and produces biodiesel energy crops such as canola-type oilseeds grown by Blue Sun farmer cooperatives, and is currently implementing advanced production and distribution facilities. Blue Sun markets through an authorized distributor and retail network and focuses on quality management. The company currently markets its branded and high-performance Blue Sun FusionTM B20 diesel fuel throughout the western U.S.


Article continues