<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, November 17, 2007

IPCC scientists call on bioenergy and biofuels to help combat global warming

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) today released the Summary for Policy Makers of its long-awaited Synthesis Report. In it, the IPCC synthesises the conclusions contained in the three previous reports of the Fourth Assessment, namely those that deal with the scientific evidence for climate change, its likely impacts and possible mitigation and adaptation options.

The UN's climate panel states that climate change is 'unequivocal', man made and - this is new - may bring 'abrupt and irreversible' impacts. This means that the window to mitigate and adapt is closing quickly. It also implies that strategies that were specifically designed to deal with the eventuality of 'abrupt climate change' will now have to be implemented.

These strategies draw on carbon-negative bioenergy and biofuels, specially designed for the worst case scenario of abrupt climate change. The IPCC therefor explicitly recognizes the concept of 'bio-energy with carbon storage' (also known as BECS, negative emissions energy or as 'biomass coupled to CCS') as well as techniques aimed at increasing soil carbon storage. Through biochar and terra preta systems, the latter objective can be coupled to the production of carbon-negative biofuels, which effectively store carbon in soils.

The IPCC says that without extra measures, carbon dioxide emissions will continue to rise; they are already growing faster than a decade ago, partly because of increasing use of coal. The IPCC's economic analyses say that trend can be reversed at reasonable cost.

In the section on mitigation, the scientists of the IPCC present key mitigation options per economic sector. The bioeconomy is called on to play a major role in all of the sectors contributing to global warming - from the use of energy crops to replace fossil fuels, over biofuels for transport, to biogas production from manure and to biomass coupled to carbon capture and storage. An overview:

For the energy and transport sector, bioenergy and biofuels are set to play a key role. The IPCC suggests the use of renewable heat and power, from bioenergy, and combined heat and power (CHP) obtained from integrated biomass power plants as key options to replace fossil fuels and to make heating and power generation more efficient. In the transport sector, the use of liquid renewable fuels and second generation biofuels is encouraged. Likewise, hybrids and a gradual move to electric vehicles is proposed, which would blend in well with carbon-negative bioenergy.

Biofuel blending policies and CO2 standards for road transport are seen as policies that have shown to be environmentally effective. Likewise, a reduction of fossil fuel subsidies and taxes or carbon charges on fossil fuels are instruments that can contribute. For renewable power and heat, feed in tariffs, renewable energy obligations and producer subsidies have been shown to work to promote their uptake.

Most importantly, the IPCC scientists finally recognize carbon-negative energy, also known as 'biotic CCS', 'bio-energy with carbon storage' or 'negative emissions energy'. This most radical of emission reduction concepts is based on coupling bioenergy and biofuel systems to carbon capture and storage (CCS). Nuclear power, ordinary biofuels or renewables like wind and solar power are all 'carbon-neutral' at best, that is, they do not add new CO2 to the atmosphere. Carbon-negative bioenergy and biofuels go much further: they take historic emissions out of the atmosphere.

Scientists have been calling for equal opportunities for biotic CCS and negative emissions biofuels. See for example Stefan Grönkvist, Kenneth Möllersten and Kim Pingoud's article: "Equal Opportunity for Biomass in Greenhouse Gas Accounting of CO2 Capture and Storage: A Step Towards More Cost-Effective Climate Change Mitigation Regimes" published recently in Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change. The IPCC scientists have finally taken their collegues' call to heart:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The agriculture, forestry and waste management sectors offer major opportunities for the bioeconomy to help cut back greenhouse gas emissions.

In agriculture, improved crop and grazing practises to enhance soil carbon storage are called on. One of the prime techniques to achieve this is to convert energy crops into biofuels while retaining part of their biomass in the form of biochar which is then sequestered in soils. This is an effective technique not only to add carbon to soils, but to strengthen their capacity to retain organic carbon.

Morever, these carbon-negative biofuels and their biochar component have shown to reduce fertilizer needs for crops, to result in more efficient utilization of fertilizers and to improve the efficiency of water use in agriculture. These two demands - improved efficiency in the use of fertilizers and water - are seen by the IPCC as important instruments to reduce the carbon footprint and inefficiency of agriculture.

Livestock and manure management to reduce methane (CH4) levels too forms an important mitigation strategy, which implies, amongst other things, applications for the production of biogas from manure.

Finally, the IPCC scientists also call for the production of dedicated energy crops to replace fossil fuel use. A lot of work from the scientific community is going into the development of next generation energy crops. And many energy plantations aimed at producing biomass as substitute for fossil fuels are being established.

In the forestry sector, the IPCC again sees the utilization of forestry resources for bioenergy as a key global warming mitigation strategy. It specifically points at the development of tree species with improved carbon storage capacity. The first of these special trees have meanwile been engineered - Eucalyptus (previous post), a prime tropical energy crop, and Dahurian Larch, found in Northeastern Asia and Siberia (more here). When such trees which take more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere are coupled to carbon-negative bioenergy and biofuel production, a giant leap towards radically negative emissions energy and fuel systems can be obtained (and the era of fourth generation biofuels would be opened.)

Last but not least, the bioeconomy is set to play a key role in the waste management sector. Biogas from landfills is seen as a mitigation option, as is controlled waste water treatment, which allows the use of bioenergy production by means of Microbial Fuel Cells (MFCs) which purify water while generating energy from the waste it contains. Finally, the use of biocovers and biofilters is encouraged to optimise CH4 oxidation.

In the buildings sector, lots of improvements can be made by drawing on bioproducts and bioenergy. The IPCC calls for more efficient heating and cooling systems, which opens a specific role for bioenergy based polygeneration systems. Improved insulation of buildings can be achieved by, amongst other options, a greater reliance on wood in the construction of homes. An example of such a green wood-based building would be Britain's 'most efficient' and cleanest public building, the Dalby Forest visitor centre in North Yorkshire, which is entirely built from wood and heated by biomass (previous post).

Turning to the developing world, improved cooking stoves are seen as key to reduce the contribution of poor households to global warming. Biopact reports regularly on this subject: the replacement of open fires by efficient biogas cooking systems or improved stoves for the use of modern biofuels (such as ethanol gelfuels, biopropane, or biokerosene) could make a direct difference in improving the health of millions of women and children in poor rural households, as well as reducing the unsustainable use of forest and wood resources, and the emissions generated by these primitive forms of energy use.

In the industrial sector, two main suggestions imply a role for the bioeconomy. First and foremost the substitution of carbon-intensive materials by more renewable ones (e.g. biopolymers for the production of plastics, instead of petroleum).

Secondly, and this is a field of growing interest to the bioenergy community, the replacement of fossil fuels by biofuels in the large industrial sectors like the cement, and iron industry. Major initiatives are underway to utilize biomass instead of coal in these sectors, with the added advantage that if their CO2 emissions are captured and sequestered (CCS), negative emissions energy becomes possible once again. For examples of the substitution of coal by biomass in the cement industry, see here and here. For a large EU-funded research project into the use of biomass for the production of green iron and steel, named ULCOS (Ultra Low CO2 Steelmaking), see this previous post.

The IPCC thus sees an important role for the bioeconomy to contribute to a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, in all economic sectors held responsible for climate change.

The panel's scientists say the reversal to a low carbon economy needs to come within a decade if the worst effects of global warming are to be avoided.

The findings will now feed into the Bali talks on the UN climate convention and the Kyoto Protocol which open on 3 December.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: Summary for Policymakers of the AR4 Synthesis Report [*.pdf] - November 17, 2007.

The three previous Fourth Assessment Report publications by the IPCC's three working groups are discussed here:
Biopact: IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: climate change 'very likely' caused by humans - [Working Group I], February 02, 2007

Biopact: IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: current and future impacts of climate change on human and natural environments - [Working Group II], April 06, 2007

Biopact: IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: mitigation of climate change - [Working Group III], May 04, 2007

On carbon-negative biofuels and bioenergy, see:
The studies by the Abrupt Climate Change Strategy (ACCS) group.

Peter Read and Jonathan Lermit: "Bio-Energy with Carbon Storage (BECS): a Sequential Decision Approach to the threat of Abrupt Climate Change", Energy, Volume 30, Issue 14, November 2005, Pages 2654-2671.

Noim Uddin and Leonardo Barreto, "Biomass-fired cogeneration systems with CO2 capture and storage", Renewable Energy, Volume 32, Issue 6, May 2007, Pages 1006-1019, doi:10.1016/j.renene.2006.04.009

Stefan Grönkvist, Kenneth Möllersten, Kim Pingoud, "Equal Opportunity for Biomass in Greenhouse Gas Accounting of CO2 Capture and Storage: A Step Towards More Cost-Effective Climate Change Mitigation Regimes", Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, Volume 11, Numbers 5-6 / September, 2006, DOI 10.1007/s11027-006-9034-9

Christian Azar, Kristian Lindgren, Eric Larson and Kenneth Möllersten, "Carbon Capture and Storage From Fossil Fuels and Biomass – Costs and Potential Role in Stabilizing the Atmosphere", Climatic Change, Volume 74, Numbers 1-3 / January, 2006, DOI 10.1007/s10584-005-3484-7

David Tilman, Jason Hill, Clarence Lehman, "Carbon-Negative Biofuels from Low-Input High-Diversity Grassland Biomass", Science, 8 December 2006: Vol. 314. no. 5805, pp. 1598 - 1600, DOI: 10.1126/science.1133306

James S. Rhodesa and David W. Keithb, "Engineering economic analysis of biomass IGCC with carbon capture and storage", Biomass and Bioenergy, Volume 29, Issue 6, December 2005, Pages 440-450.

Further reading:
Biopact: IPCC to warn of 'abrupt' climate change: emergency case for carbon-negative biofuels kicks in - November 16, 2007

Biopact: Carbon-negative bioenergy is here: GreatPoint Energy to build biomass gasification pilot plant with carbon capture and storage - October 25, 2007

Biopact: A quick look at 'fourth generation' biofuels - October 08, 2007

Biopact: Green steel made from tropical biomass - European project - February 08, 2007

Article continues

Brazil's CTC releases third generation of sugarcane varieties that yield up to 38 percent more profit

Brazil's universities and scientific organisations are world leaders in researching, developing and breeding sugarcane varieties. It was Brazil that first sequenced the energy crop's genome, and the country plants more of the genus than any other country. It also houses the world's largest library of genetic information on different sugarcane species. Now six new varieties have been developed [*Portuguese] by the Centro de Tecnologia Canavieira (CTC), which yield around 20% more biomass and contain higher levels of saccharose - the disaccharide that ends up as table sugar and ethanol. This results in increased profits per hectare of between 12.5 and 38 percent.

Breeding a sugarcane variety merely for increased biomass productivity does not suffice, says Marcos Casagrande, coordinator of plant breeding at the CTC. What use is a 20 percent increase in biomass when the variety has low levels of saccharose, cannot be harvested mechanically or is susceptible to diseases? To make a new variety worthwile for the production of sugar, bioenergy and ethanol, all of these factors must be targeted and combined in such a way that the new crop improves on all of them. A tall order indeed.

But the CTC delivered when it launched its third generation of sugarcane varieties for producers of different regions in the country's Center-South. The new varieties are called CTC10 through to CTC15, yielding more biomass with a higher saccharose yield.

The CTC's new varieties of the grassy crop are suitable for a specific region of the large country, known for its varied regional climatic conditions, its different soils and its different planting and harvesting seasons. The key to increased productivity is to develop varieties with the precise genetic material to match best with a specific region, and to plant them in the correct place. If this condition is not met, basic actions like correct fertilisation and cutting the cane at the optimal moment of maturation are in vain.

But what matters most, says Tadeu Andrade, director of Research & Development at the CTC, is the question as to whether a new variety will net more profits. And indeed, CTC 10 to CTC 15, bring in considerable more profits because the 'liquid margin' (margem líquida de contribuição) is much higher than current varieties.

According to Rubens Braga Júnio, statistician at the CTC, the 'liquid margin' represents the net profits generated by a given amount of sugar-rich juice harvested per hectare that can be processed into finished products like ethanol or sugar, after all costs for farm inputs (preparation, plantation, treatment, harvest and transport of the cane to the processing plant) and processing inputs have been subtracted. The liquid margin is averaged over a five-year period, the ideal life-cycle of sugarcane, which is a semi-perennial.

For CTC10 to CTC15 the liquid margin is between 12.5 to 37.85 percent higher than the conventional RB and SP varities that were developed by Brazilian universities and the Institute Agronômico de Campinas (IAC), which cover half of the sugarcane planted in the country:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

An example, CTC11 yields an average of 8.43 percent more biomass per hectare compared to existing varieties, but the liquid margin is R$539 (€210/$308) or 37.85 percent higher than the average. This is due because of a better performance on all parameters that count in sugar and ethanol production: higher saccharose content, better harvesteability and processing and improved tolerance to diseases, reducing the risk of losing harvests - a factor against which producers hedge, which costs money.

For the CTC, the success can be measured by the growing number of distributers and producers that join its program and offer its new varieties to planters. In 2004 the Center had 73 associates. Today the number has reached 163, which results in the CTC's sugarcane plants covering 54.4 percent of the total harvested in Brazil.

The Centro de Tecnologia Canavieira is the leading sugarcane research institute in Brazil, developing new varieties with improved processing efficiency and yield. It is further involved in phytosanitary research, biotechnology, agronomy, agricultural and industrial mechanisation as well as sugar, bioenergy and biofuel production itself.

The CTC is a non-profit whose aim is to disseminate knowledge, best practises and inputs to the sugarcane sector in Brazil.


EthanolBrasil: Novas variedades de cana rendem 38% mais - November 8, 2007.

Article continues

Friday, November 16, 2007

IPCC to warn of 'abrupt' climate change: emergency case for carbon-negative biofuels kicks in

In a very important development, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is finalising its landmark synthesis report on global warming, is set to warn of the threat of 'abrupt' climate change. The wording by the UN's climate advisory panel is highly significant because it implies that radical strategies to mitigate the worst effects of these 'abrupt' shifts must now kick in.

These emergency strategies, developed specifically for the grim scenario of 'Abrupt Climate Change' (ACC) consist of systems based on carbon-negative bioenergy. The Abrupt Climate Change Strategy Group (ACCS), whose mandate is to study ACC and its mitigation, writes that this concept, also known as 'bioenery with carbon storage' (BECS), is one of the few cost-effective and safe geo-engineering options that can be implemented at once and globally. If applied widely, BECS systems can radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and bring back atmospheric CO2 levels by mid-century.

The ACCS was launched in the wake of the G8's Gleneagles Summit in 2005, to study strategies to cope with "abrupt" forms of global warming. The IPCC's new wording gives credence to the ACCS concepts. This is what ACCS scientists said in one of their papers:
Abrupt Climate Change (ACC - NAS, 2001) is an issue that ‘haunts the climate change problem’ (IPCC, 2001) but has been neglected by policy makers up to now, maybe for want of practicable measures for effective response, save for risky geo-engineering. A portfolio of Bio-Energy with Carbon Storage (BECS) technologies, yielding negative emissions energy, may be seen as benign, low risk, geo-engineering that is the key to being prepared for ACC.

Under strong assumptions appropriate to imminent ACC, pre-industrial CO2 levels can be restored by mid-century using BECS.
- Peter Read and Jonathan Lermit
So how do carbon negative bio-energy and biofuels work? They are easy to understand. Bioenergy and biofuels production is coupled to soil sequestration of biochar or to geosequestration of carbon dioxide. As biomass grows, it takes up CO2 from the atmosphere, as a carbon capturing machine. When this biomass is then used to replace fossil fuels, and burned in power plants or transformed into liquid fuels, and at the same time the carbon contained in it is captured and stored underground (either in geological formations or in agricultural soils), the net result is negative emissions.

Ordinary biofuels, nuclear power or renewables like solar or wind can never become carbon-negative and do not suffice to tackle 'abrupt climate change'. They are 'carbon-neutral' at best. Negative emissions are only achieveable with biomass coupled to carbon capture and storage (schematic, click to enlarge). By now, Biopact readers are familiar with the concept.

The fact that the IPCC has uttered the most dreadful words imaginable in the context of global warming, namely 'abrupt climate change', means carbon-negative bioenergy now has implicit backing from the leading authority on global warming. Biopact is developing a leaflet introducing BECS to wider audiences who are still not familiar with the concept. It will be available before the end of the month. The case for BECS has finally arrived.

Meanwhile, check out the following introductory scientific sources to learn more about the concept:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

And the introductions at the Abrupt Climate Change Strategy Group.

Further references:
Biopact: Carbon-negative bioenergy is here: GreatPoint Energy to build biomass gasification pilot plant with carbon capture and storage - October 25, 2007

Biopact: A quick look at 'fourth generation' biofuels - October 08, 2007

Article continues

Zimbabwe opens first biodiesel plant to ease catastrophic fuel shortages in farm sector

High oil prices are disastrous for poor, oil importing agrarian countries, because they limit the production and marketing of food and drive up prices of all other products and services. Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe therefor commissioned the first biodiesel production plant in the oil-starved country, vowing that because of biofuels, Zimbabwe would "never collapse." The biodiesel plant's output is primarily intended to ease dramatic fuel shortages in the farming sector. Agriculture is an energy intensive economic sector and thus the project makes sense. In a country like Zimbabwe, biofuel production boosts food production instead of limiting it.

The country's dependency on imported fuels is a major constraint to virtually all economic activities, particularly the agrarian reform programme as the Zimbabwean government drives a rural modernisation programme whose success hinges on fuel availability. The biodiesel project is a culmination of years of research. In 2004, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe commissioned a biodiesel project at the Harare Polytechnic under which it procured a test vehicle, bio-reactor chemicals and other logistical support facilities, culminating in the "convincing" certification that biodiesel was a feasible option for Zimbabwe (previous post). The project will not just benefit the fuel sector, but is expected to have a positive impact on the rest of the economy as well through the creation of synergies.

Besides reducing fuel costs for farmers, Zimbabwe's peasants are set to benefit in a second way as a new and ready market for oil seeds emerges. Industry in general and the motoring public are also expected to operate better after the launch. The plant is being commissioned just in time for the festive season and the beginning of the summer cropping season, periods during which demand for fuel is very high.
As a nation we have once again demonstrated that the ill-fated sanctions against the innocent people of Zimbabwe can never subdue our resilience and inner propulsion to succeed and remain on our feet as a nation. Soon, our economy will be paying us back the dividends of the seedlings of progression we are planting across different productive sectors. - Robert Mugabe
The Transload biodiesel plant, located 15 kilometres (10 miles) northwest of Harare, is a joint venture between a Zimbabwean and South Korean firm. The plant has a capacity of 100 million litres of biodiesel annually. The main feedstocks are cotton seed, soya beans, jatropha and sunflower seed.

Zimbabwe imports some 4.7 million barrels of oil per year. Of this, the biodiesel plant would replace more than 630,000 barrels, roughly 13 percent, and save the country 80 million US dollars per year directly. Indirect savings due to smoother food production and lowered inflation have not been disclosed.
As a people, we have demonstrated that the dark clouds of our hard times, particularly those sown by Western destructive forces, have their silver lining by way of not just strengthening our resilience, but also of deepening our scientific research and stimulating our innovativeness. - Robert Mugabe
Zimbabwe is in the throes of an unprecedented economic crisis characterised by high inflation perched at nearly 8,000 percent, mass unemployment and chronic shortages of fuel. Fuel stations often go for months without deliveries while long queues form at the few that do receive supplies.

Mugabe's fusion of a discourse on energy security and political independence is not that far fetched: high oil prices and fuel dependence can literally destroy the economies of energy intensive, poor, oil importing countries like Zimbabwe. These developments are "exogenous" factors to which only biofuels offer an "endogenous" antidote. This is why the green fuels are often put in the ideological and geopolitical framework of economic independence and energy security.

The effect of high oil prices
More fundamentally, in least developed countries, record oil prices affect all sectors of the economy, but in particular the argricultural sector. In Zimbabwe, more than 65 percent of all people are employed in this sector. For the wealthiest countries (non-oil producing OECD), oil imports make up less than 2% of GDP, whereas for African oil importing nations this was more than 10% of GDP in 2006 (more here *.doc). In poor oil importing countries, oil price rises of the current magnitude imply a significant reduction of economic growth rates, an erosion of trade balances, rising unemployment, the destruction of the effects of debt relief efforts, and a hike in inflation rates. Of the 47 poorest countries, 38 are net importers of oil, and 25 are fully dependent on imports (more here). Zimbabwe belongs to the latter group. But there is more:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

If coupled with low foreign reserves some of the effects of current high oil prices are: decreased import capacity, lower consumption and investment, lower production and employment. And as always, the poor are hit hardest as they face lower employment prospects, higher inflation (fuel, transportation, basic goods), and cuts in government spending on social services (in a recent report, when oil stood at around US$ 60 per barrel, the UN found that some of the poorest countries are already forced to spend six times as much on imported oil as on such fundamental social services as health care and education (earlier post). According to an African Development Bank document on the effects of high oil prices on African societies:
Lower employment prospects and the higher inflation rate will lower the purchasing power of the poor who have fewer (if any) instruments to hedge against the oil price increase. The biggest impact will be through higher price of kerosene which is used for cooking and lighting. The poor will also be affected by higher transportation costs. Clearly, higher petroleum costs will increase commuting costs and, especially in the case of agricultural economies, the cost of getting the crops to the markets.
Given the limited availability of foreign exchange, these poor oil-importing countries face a number of options. Consumers and firms could decide to reduce their oil consumption but since the demand for oil is highly inelastic in the short-term, they may be compelled to reduce their consumption of other imported goods. Doing so could undermine economic growth especially if capital goods imports are affected.

Alternatively, countries could try to access foreign currencies to fill the gap and finance the energy bill. However, obtaining funds from private markets, bilateral and multilateral sources must be consistent with medium-term sustainability and sound debt management. In highly indebted poor countries, the only solution to fill the financing gap, and not to weaken growth, is to obtain grants or highly concessional loans. More importantly, governments will have to consider sustainable financing plans as all evidence points to oil remaining at high prices.

High oil prices will also exert a heavy toll on the budget both on the revenue and expenditure sides. On the revenue side, the tax base will be eroded if the profitability of oil-consuming companies is adversely affected and if unemployment increases. Expenditure could increase wherever governments subsidize oil products, or programs, which make intensive use of petroleum products. In that regard, an important question is if there should be complete pass-through of the oil price increase.

Governments are under heavy pressure to intervene to cushion the effect of the oil price increase. If the price of oil is not mean-reverting, price controls will lead to ever increasing losses which will ultimately be borne by current or future tax payers.

Subsidies to public utilities can also worsen the consolidated government budget deficit. In many countries electricity is produced using oil and is sold by law below its cost of production. In this case, the government will have to bear the additional expenditure from a higher oil bill. If the government does not have the resources to do so (for instance, if foreign reserves are too low), it may have to resort to rolling blackouts which have very adverse effects. Moreover, governments will themselves face higher energy bills through their own activities and that of state-owned companies.

Central banks may be tempted to tighten their monetary policy in reaction to the increase in inflation. Previous oil price shocks have produced significant increases in real interest rates which undermined domestic investment, pushed countries deeper into recession and produced stagflation. Furthermore, a rising fiscal deficit, combined with increasing public expenditures due to petrol consumption by public entities, can prompt the authorities to use monetary creation to finance the additional expenditures. As the increase in the price of oil is akin to a supply shock, an accommodating monetary policy would contribute to inflation. Non-inflationary policies are needed to avoid hyperinflation and to maintain monetary credibility.

Zimbabwe hopes that by relying on locally produced biofuels, which are expected to be less costly than imported refined petroleum products, some of the potentially disastrous effects of these many problems can be averted.

Mugabe blames the economic collapse of his country on targeted sanctions imposed on him and members of his ruling elite by the European Union and the United States following presidential polls in 2002 which the main opposition and Western observers say were rigged.

: soldiers guard the Transload biodiesel plant on the outskirts of Harare. Credit: AFP.

Agence France Press: Mugabe commissions Zimbabwe's first biodiesel plant - November 15, 2007.

The Herald (via AllAfrica): Zimbabwe: Government to Launch Biodiesel Plant Today - November 15, 2007.

Biopact: High oil prices disastrous for developing countries - September 12, 2007

Ralf Krüger: Impact of high oil prices on oil-importing countries in Africa [*.pdf], UNECA Project LINK meeting, Fall 2006, Geneva.

African Development Bank Group: Can Struggling African Economies Survive Escalating Oil Prices?

African Development Bank Group: High Oil Prices and the African Economy [*.doc] - Concept paper prepared for the 2006 African Development Bank Annual Meetings Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

Biopact: Zimbabwe's jatropha project receives US$11.6 million - May 18, 2007

Article continues

World's largest ethanol producer switches from natural gas to cleaner, cheaper biomass

Some biofuel skeptics have said that the production of the fuels requires large inputs of fossil fuels, and that rising energy prices will therefor severely impact profitability. Others have said biofuel production can just as well become entirely green, when fossil inputs are replaced by renewables, some of which have become competitive with fossil energy. In Brazil this is already being done routinely by utilizing waste biomass as the primary energy source for powering the ethanol factories.

Now the world's largest ethanol producer, South Dakota based POET, announced it is switching from natural gas to biomass to power the fuel production process at one of its plants. The switch will allow the facility to double its ethanol output without increasing fossil fuel usage. This intervention doubles the renewable energy balance of the biofuel and shrinks its overall carbon footprint since biomass is cleaner than natural gas.

What is more, with rising crude oil and natural gas prices, the switch represents a 'huge savings' POET officials said.

The POET Biorefining plant in Chancellor, South Dakota, is undergoing an expansion that will increase production capacity from 50 to 100 million gallons per year. The expansion includes construction of a solid waste fuel boiler that will use woody biomass as an alternative energy source that will generate enough steam to produce more than half of the expanded plant's power needs. The boiler system is expected to be operational by the third quarter of 2008. Mueller Pallets of Sioux Falls will supply the woodchip fuel for the boiler.

Poet's Chancellor plant plans to use 150 to 350 tons of waste wood per day, which it will store in one of two onsite storage bins. A reclaiming system will pull it out of the silos and into the solid waste fuel boiler, a box measuring about 70 feet tall, 20 feet wide and 15 feet deep. The heat will be used to boil water to make steam. The steam travels through a pipe into the plant, where it will replace up to 60 percent of the natural gas previously used to power the production process.
The solid waste fuel boiler will allow us to double our production capacity without increasing our natural gas usage. We will be reducing our operating costs by using a green fuel source to produce a domestic, green transportation fuel for America. - Rick Serie, General Manager of POET Biorefining - Chancellor
Waste wood from pallets, construction sites and area landfills will be the primary biomass fuel source for the solid waste fuel boiler. POET Biorefining - Chancellor has contracted with Mueller Pallets of Sioux Falls to provide the 150-350 tons of wood per day. The company, long a recycler of used transport pallets, has increased operations to accommodate POET's woodchip needs. Not only has Mueller begun acquiring and grinding waste wood from area landfills, but the company is also reaching out to tree services companies, contractors and other private sources to acquire and re-cycle waste wood at no charge to the providers.
It's a win-win situation. By recycling instead of disposing of waste wood, companies, cities and towns in the region will together save hundreds of thousands of dollars in landfill costs yearly. And while saving raw materials from disposal, the fuel product we process will help reduce the need for natural gas. - Margie Mueller, president of Mueller Pallets
POET Alternative Energy Engineer Jim Geraets said the solid waste fuel boiler will be outfitted with state-of-the-art pollution control equipment that exceeds state and federal standards and continuously monitored. Ethanol is one of the best tools we have to fight pollution from vehicles, Geraets says, and at POET we're always looking for ways that we can make the ethanol production process even more environmentally-friendly:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Poet will evaluate the pilot project and says it would expand it to its other plants if it is proven to be successful.

POET Biorefining - Chancellor started operations in March, 2003. Last year, the facility produced 51 million gallons of ethanol and 160,000 tons of Dakota Gold Enhanced Distillers Nutrition products. The facility is in the midst of an expansion that will increase the production capacity to 100 mgpy. Construction on the expansion is expected to be completed in Q1 2008 and the solid waste fuel boiler is expected to be complete in Q3 2008. The construction will necessitate the hiring of approximately 20 additional employees for the facility, which is already the largest employer in the town.

POET, the largest ethanol producer in the world, is an established leader in the biorefining industry through project development, design and construction, research and development, plant management, and marketing. Formerly known as Broin, the 20-year old company currently operates 21 production facilities in the United States with six more in construction or under development. The company produces and markets more than 1.1 billion gallons of ethanol annually.

Picture: waste wood from the local industrial and forestry sector will be the biomass source used to power POET's Chancellor biorefinery. Credit: POET.

POET: POET to power ethanol plant expansion with alternative energy source - November 15, 2007.

Article continues

Eco2 Biomass to build 40MW biomass power plant in the UK

Renewable energy company Eco2 Biomass has submitted a planning application to the North Kesteven District Council in Linconlnshire to develop a new 40 MW straw fired renewable energy plant near the town of Sleaford. The £80 (€112/US$164) million station would generate enough climate friendly power for 90,000 homes each year and create 80 jobs in the Sleaford area. The project would save 250,000 tons of CO2 each year and create a market for straw worth £6million a year. The ash from the plant would be recycled for fertilizer.

Public consultation
Two public exhibitions held at the end of July, showed considerable support for the project. Surveys revealed that almost 90% of people were concerned about the effects of global warming and felt that action needed to be taken. In reference to the project itself, over half of those who attended the public exhibitions, were in support of the plant, while 22% were neither in favour nor against the project. Two thirds of all who attended believed that the project would have significant environmental benefits.

However, the BBC reports that a 'not in my backyard' sentiment, that plagues so many renewables projects, has now emerged. Some local citizens fear lorries bringing the straw to the plant would clog local roads. Moreover, the main building would be built close to the local football club's ground and would be the equivalent of a 12-storey block of flats. The station's architectural and landscape design has been conceived in such a way that it blends in with the environment, using 'sympathetic' materials, layout and colors - the developers say.

Wind turbines, biomass power plants and nuclear facilities - renewables and clean energy sources that can help tackle climate change - increasingly face tough questioning from locals whose immediate environment is often impacted by such facilities. However, a public consultation process often succeeds in convincing the citizens of the benefits of the project and of the larger context in which it must be placed. Still, public consultations and thorough social impact assessments remain a sine qua non for the long term success of any type of large industrial project.

Andrew Toft, commercial director for Eco2, said he welcomed tough questions being asked:
This is part of the democratic process that we have to go through. We submitted our proposals in July and an online poll showed 77% in favour. The difficulty is that as time goes on the people who think it's a good idea fall away and those who are against it come forward.
The public exhibitions gave members of the community the opportunity to ask Eco2 Biomass’s project team questions about the project and have a look at the proposed plans for the plant:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Many who attended felt that their questions had been answered and that they had a better understanding of the importance of the project, ECO2 says. From its perspective, it learned a lot about what concerns the community have about the project and the developers are confident that the planning application deals with those issues fully.

The plant will would be built on Boston Road, to the east of Sleaford in Lincolnshire, and will be designed to generate renewable electricity by burning straw in a highly efficient, clean combustion process. Operation will take place continuously throughout the year and is expected to export over 300,000 MWh of green energy into the local grid.

The fuel supply chain for the plant is expected to inject over £6m a year into the region, and the plant will create approximately 80 jobs - 30 of which will be created in the direct running of the plant and a further 50 in regards to fuel supply.

This biomass plant is the flagship development for Eco2 Biomass. Considerable effort has been put into the design of the plant, which features a high quality architectural treatment using sympathetic materials enhanced by landscaping and extensive planting of indigenous species.

The application for planning permission was accompanied by a full environmental statement covering all aspects of the plant including transportation, landscape and visual impact, ecology and nature conservation, noise, air quality, archaeology and heritage.

Eco2: Planning application submitted for new biomass renewable energy facility in Sleaford - September 11, 2007.

BBC: Straw power plant sparks dispute - November 16, 2007.

Sleaford Renewable Energy Plant, dedicated project website.

Article continues

U.S. and China working on biofuels pact

The United States and China are working on a pact to promote the use of biofuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and strengthen energy security. They could announce the agreement as early as next month, an American official said today in Beijing. It would be Washington's first such pact in Asia, following similar agreements with Brazil and Sweden.

The agreement would call for cooperation in research, producing crops for fuel and other areas, said Alexander Karsner, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. He was in Beijing for talks with officials from the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), China's top economic planner, to discuss the promotion of renewable energy sources.
We have concluded an agreement for exchanging expertise, technical assistance and technology development on energy efficiency. That agreement is mature and we are now moving to implementation. [...] Through our agreement with China, we hope to transfer this knowledge and expertise. [...] We had a very productive, lengthy and engaging dialogue on a wide range of issues, things of mutual concern like energy markets, global climate change, price of oil and studies of science and technology between the two countries. - Alexander Karsner, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
The United States and China are the world's biggest oil consumers and producers of carbon dioxide and other gases that scientists say trap the sun's heat and are raising global temperatures. In its latest World Energy Outlook, the IEA said the People's Republic will become a larger emitter than the U.S. this year. The agency also projects that in a business as usual scenario, global CO2 emissions will jump from 27 gigatonnes in 2005 to 42 Gt in 2030, with China alone accounting for 42% of the increase. In a high growth scenario, this share will increase to a whopping 49%, more than the rest of the world combined (except India) (graph, click to enlarge and previous post).

Karsner said he and Chinese officials talked about a meeting next month in Indonesia of environment officials from 80 countries to discuss a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol on emissions reductions. He said he did not bring up Washington's insistence that Beijing, a major emissions source, accept binding limits. China has rejected emissions caps, saying it prioritises economic development and poverty alleviation, but says it remains committed to trying to curb greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible (earlier post):
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

A biofuels agreement could be announced at the Dec. 12 meeting of the Strategic Economic Dialogue, a high-level U.S.-Chinese forum on trade and other issues, Karsner said. He declined to give details, saying they still are being discussed.

"China is a natural, as would be India, to enhance cooperation on biofuels," he said.

China has promoted wind power, biomass, biogas, biofuels and solar energy in hopes of reducing environmental damage from heavy use of coal and oil to fuel its booming economy. The communist government also wants to curb reliance on imported energy, which it sees as a strategic weakness.

China already is the third-largest producer of biofuels after the United States and Brazil, which account for 80 percent of global production, according to Karsner.

Recently the country announced a new plan to boost international cooperation in the development of renewables (earlier post). The plan is part of its $256 billion development strategy for renewable energy launched earlier this year which aims at increasing the proportion of renewable energy to 10 percent of total consumption by 2010, and to 15 percent by 2020. Renewables currently account for just 1 percent of China's total primary energy production (previous post).

Xinhuanet: U.S. energy official: Sino-U.S. biofuel agreement in the works - November 16, 2007.

Associated Press: US, China Working on Biofuel Pact - November 16, 2007.

Biopact: IEA WEO: China and India transform global energy landscape - demand, emissions to grow 'inexorably' - November 08, 2007

Biopact: China unveils $265 billion renewable energy plan, aims for 15% renewables by 2020 - September 06, 2007

Biopact: China: poverty reduction, energy security more important than capping emissions - November 12, 2007

Biopact: China launches project to enhance international cooperation on new and renewable energy - November 14, 2007

Biopact: Brazil and U.S. sign biofuels cooperation agreement - March 09, 2007

Article continues

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Large European ethanol maker hit by cheap Brazilian imports

German bioethanol producer Verbio says a combination of cheap imports from Brazil and high grain prices means commercial production of bioethanol in Germany is hardly possible. In a sense, this is good news, because it clearly demonstrates the need for and benefits of a 'Biopact' - a win-win strategy that allows developing countries to make use of their comparative advantages at producing efficient, sustainable and affordable biofuels, and European citizens to import them instead of making their own highly unsustainable and inefficient biofuels from grains, which drives up food prices.

Under such a Biopact, poor countries with large land and labor resources and urgently in need of economic and agricultural opportunities can help lift millions of the rural poor out of misery (previous post). Objectively speaking, they have all the resources needed to produce a very large amount of biofuels, in an explicitly sustainable manner (more here and here). With good policies and trade reform, such a mutually beneficial exchange relationship is possible. Important think tanks and international organisations - the FAO, the IEA (and here), the Global Bioenergy Partnership (and here), the UNIDO, the WorldWatch Institute and many others - have called for such a win-win situation. What is more, it would make an end to the unnecessary 'food versus fuel' debate, which is precisely driven by the fact that EU/US producers use grains like corn and wheat to make ethanol, while blocking far more efficient and less costly biofuels from the South.

Verbio posted [*German] a €600,000 net loss in January-September 2007 against a €25.7 million net profit in the same year-ago period. Nine month 2007 sales fell to €307.1 million from €325.7 million. The company said it had only produced on average about 50 percent of its total 300,000 tonnes annual German bioethanol production capacity in the first nine months of 2007. Bioethanol was produced at a loss because it could not compete with imports from Brazil and because its grain feedstock had reached record prices - the result of Europe's very own biofuel sector which utilizes grains instead of efficient tropical energy crops.

Brazilian ethanol thus pushes inefficient biofuels out of the European market, despite a high import tariff and despite massive subsidies for European producers:
Brazilian bioethanol is currently available in Germany at around 55 cents a litre but we need at least 80 cents a litre to cover our production costs using grain. - Verbio statement
Brazil's ethanol is highly competitive - currently about a third to fifty percent less costly than oil - and made from sugarcane, grown in the South of the country (more here). The International Energy Agency analysed the way in which the fuel is produced and deemed it to be largely sustainable (previous post). Sugarcane ethanol also has a much stronger energy and greenhouse gas balance than ethanol made from corn or wheat. Whereas corn ethanol reduces carbon emissions by only a fraction compared to gasoline (some say it can even add more), sugarcane ethanol reduces emissions by up to 80 percent. Likewise, whereas the energy balance for corn ethanol is barely positive (1 to 1 / 1.2), that of Brazilian ethanol is very strong (between 1 to 8 and 1 to 10).

What is more, according to the FAO's latest Food Outlook sugar prices have actually declined during 2006 and 2007, despite a record output of ethanol (more here). All other major agricultural commodities have seen their prices increase, partly because US/EU producers use them to make inefficient biofuels. In short, ethanol from wheat and corn pushes up food prices, ethanol from sugarcane does not:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

In September, Verbio had said it was cutting bioethanol production at its 200,000 tonne plant in Schwedt in east Germany because of high grain prices and low bioethanol demand. The spokesperson declined to say how much the Schwedt plant was now working under capacity but it was less than 50 percent. But she said Schwedt will continue some production.

The company also has a second bioethanol plant in Zoerbig in east Germany producing about 100,000 tonnes annually which is not affected by the decision to run down output at Schwedt. Verbio has also been hit by rising prices for German grain which it uses as feedstock for both plants.

Verbio has successfully tested use of untreated alcohol, sugar syrup and sugar molasses as alternatives feedstocks to the grain currently used. The problem is that the major oil companies do not really want to use bioethanol and that the compulsory blending quotas are so low, the spokesperson added. This meant it was not worthwhile changing to new feedstocks.

German biofuel industry associations are pressing the government to raise minimum 2008 blending levels to 2.6 percent from 2 percent. If demand is increased the German ethanol industry could produce the fuel using alternative raw materials.

Verbio: Biodieselgeschäft profitabel, EBIT-Marge 5,9% – Ethanol weiterhin deutlich unter den Erwartungen – Ausblick bestätigt - November 14, 2007.

Guardian: German bioethanol firm hit by cheap Brazil imports - November 14, 2007.

Biopact: Worldwatch Institute: biofuels may bring major benefits to world's rural poor - August 06, 2007

Biopact: Brazilian ethanol is sustainable and has a very positive energy balance - IEA report - October 08, 2006

Biopact: Nature sets the record straight on Brazilian ethanol - December 09, 2006

Biopact: FAO forecasts continued high cereal prices: bad weather, low stocks, soaring demand, biofuels, high oil prices cited as causes - November 07, 2007

Biopact: NREL: Brazilian ethanol does not harm the Amazon - July 12, 2007

Biopact: Worldwatch Institute chief: biofuels could end global malnourishment - August 23, 2007

Biopact: FAO chief calls for a 'Biopact' between the North and the South - August 15, 2007

Biopact: Report: biofuels key to achieving Millennium Development Goals in Africa - August 02, 2007

Biopact: IEA chief: Europe and United States should import ethanol from developing world - October 16, 2006

Biopact: IEA chief economist: EU, US should scrap tariffs and subsidies, import biofuels from the South - March 06, 2007

Biopact: Stiglitz explains reasons behind the demise of the Doha development round - August 15, 2006

Article continues

CARMA: website reveals emissions from more than 50,000 power plants worldwide

A very interesting project, the Carbon Monitoring for Action (CARMA) database, offers the first global inventory of emissions from more than 50,000 power stations on the planet. Its data is compiled by the Confronting Climate Change Initiative at the Center for Global Development (CGDev), an independent and non-partisan think tank located in Washington, DC. CARMA offers a perfect starting point for conducting comparative studies on local, regional and global emissions generated from the power sector.

CARMA's database includes more than 50,000 power plants of different sizes, 4,000 power companies, and nearly 200,000 geographic regions in every country on Earth. Users can view carbon emissions data for the year 2000, the present, and future plans. And all of CARMA’s data is updated quarterly to reflect changes in plant ownership and planned construction. The maps and database show each power facility in a region and give the plant its own page that reveals its location, ownership, power production, and CO2 emissions. Users can select individual plants from interactive maps or lists, search for specific plants, or filter and sort the data in multiple ways. The data also show which type of fuel or primary energy input the power facility utilizes to generate electricity.

CARMA thus provides the world’s most detailed and comprehensive information on carbon emissions resulting from the production of electricity. Judging by the sheer number of red dots on the maps, the database shows that a transition to a cleaner, low carbon future is a tall order indeed. On a lighter note, CARMA, with its satellites and eyes in the skies, also offers the perfect place to indulge in power plant voyeurism.
We hope that CARMA will equip millions of concerned global citizens – consumers, investors, political leaders, managers, professionals, and community organizers – with the information they need to take action and build a low-carbon future. - CARMA
The initiative is based on the notion that public disclosure of critical information can have powerful effects on environmental performance. CGDev believes that the time is ripe for rapid reduction of carbon emissions, and CARMA is intended to be its contribution to this effort. As a think tank involved in addressing development questions, the CGDev is particularly concerned because global warming threatens to undermine the poverty-reduction efforts of many developing countries.

First results: Australians worst emitters

A first study based on CARMA has already yielded interesting results. It shows the extent to which developed countries produce more carbon dioxide per head than emerging economies. Australians were found to be the world's worst polluters per capita, producing five times as much CO2 from generating power as China. The US came second with eight tonnes of the greenhouse gas per head - 16 times more than that produced by India. The US also produced the most CO2 in total, followed by China:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

CARMA points out that while US power plants emit the most CO2, releasing 2.5 billion tonnes into the atmosphere each year, Australian power stations are the least efficient on a per capita basis, with emissions of 10 tonnes, compared with the US's 8.2 tonnes.

China's power sector emits the second-highest total amount of carbon dioxide, pumping 2.4bn tonnes of the gas into the atmosphere annually. However, its emissions are only one fifth of Australia's when measured on a per capita basis.

CARMA's carbon worries
The bulk of humanity’s energy needs are currently met through the combustion of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas. About 60% of global electricity generation relies upon fossil fuels to generate the heat needed to power steam-driven turbines. Burning these fuels results in the production of carbon dioxide (CO2) – the primary heat-trapping, “greenhouse gas” responsible for global warming.

Over the past two centuries, mankind has increased the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere from 280 to more than 380 parts per million volume, and it is growing faster every day. The atmospheric concentration of CO2 has not been this high for at least the past 650,000 years. As the concentration of CO2 has risen, so has the average temperature of the planet. Over the past century, the average surface temperature of Earth has increased by more than 1.3°F (0.74°C). If we continue to emit carbon without restraint, temperatures are expected to rise by an additional 6°F (3.4°C) by the end of this century.

Climate change of that magnitude would likely have serious consequences for life on Earth. Sea level rise, droughts, floods, intense storms, forest fires, water scarcity, and cardiorespiratory and tropical diseases would be exacerbated. Agricultural systems would be stressed – possibly decimated in some parts of the world. A conservative estimate suggests that 30% of all species are at risk of extinction given current trends. It would be the greatest extinction of life on Earth since the K-T extinction event that destroyed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. No one can imagine, never mind predict, the ecological consequences of such a radical loss of life.

Despite mounting evidence of the dangers posed by climate change, efforts to limit carbon emissions remain insufficient, ineffective, and, in most countries, non-existent. If the world is to avert the worst consequences of an altered climate, the status quo must change quickly. Given current trends and the best available scientific evidence, mankind probably needs to reduce total CO2 emissions by at least 80% by 2050. Yet each day emissions continue to grow.

In the absence of action on the part of governments, hundreds of millions of increasingly climate-conscious citizens can promote low-carbon alternatives by changing the ways they purchase, invest, vote, think, and live. CARMA thinks all we need is timely, accurate, publicly-available information about the choices we face. The Carbon Monitoring for Action website offers this information.

CARMA project.

Center for Global Development: Confronting Climate Change Initiative.

BBCNews: Australians named worst emitters - November 14, 2007.

Article continues

The bioeconomy at work: Dow successfully completes testing phase for biobased polyols

In September, Dow Polyurethanes, a business group of The Dow Chemical Company, successfully completed preliminary development of natural oil based polyols (NOPs) for urethane formulations and will begin product sampling with a select group of customers immediately. Dow plans to begin market development scale production of the next-generation biobased polyols before the end of the year. The green polymer compound is made from soy oil, even though other natural oils will be used later on. Its production is based on a novel process dubbed RENUVA, which is carbon neutral and reduces fossil fuel inputs by up to 60 percent.

Polyols are compounds with multiple hydroxyl functional groups available for organic reactions. A molecule with two hydroxyl groups is a diol, one with three is a triol, one with four is a tetrol and so on. The main use of polymeric polyols is as reactants to make other polymers, such as polyurethanes. These materials are ultimately used in a wide variety of applications such as rigid and flexible foams, adhesives, sealants, coatings, elastomers and more. The biobased polyols made with RENUVA technology will help manufacturers of commercial and consumer products in the furniture and bedding, automotive, carpet and CASE (coatings, adhesives, sealants and elastomers) markets to more effectively differentiate themselves and meet their customers' growing demand for finished products that are both high quality and environmentally sound. With this polyol, the bioeconomy has now developed plant-based, renewable alternatives for most commonly used petroleum based polymer groups.

Producing polyurethanes from natural oil sources isn't a completely new concept, but Dow's approach is. The company developed a distinct, multi-step process - 'RENUVA' Renewable Resource Technology - to break down and functionalize the vegetable oil molecules, then reconstructs them in combination with traditional polyurethane molecules to achieve quality and consistency (schematic, click to enlarge). RENUVA creates polyols with a reduced impact on the environment. Life-cycle analysis done by researchers shows the technology is greenhouse gas neutral and uses 60% fewer fossil fuel resources than the conventional polyol technology. This technology enables products with high levels of renewable content and without the odor often associated with bio-based polyols.

Since first announcing its intention to conduct small-scale product testing of NOPs with select customers in June of 2005, Dow has continued to invest in further advancing the technology and capabilities of these next generation products. The company has now achieved the performance milestones necessary to support moving ahead to the market development scale production phase.
Our developmental work has reached the point where we are now able to produce natural oil based polyols that can match or exceed the performance of hydrocarbon-based products, and at fairly high levels of natural oil polyol content. Dow’s continued work in developing NOPs illustrates our continued commitment to pursuing practical technology options for small scale, economical and enviromentally advantaged feedstocks where they make sense, support our business strategies and, most importantly, meet the needs of our customers. - Pat Dawson, business vice president, Dow Polyurethanes
Early developers of NOPs experienced several performance challenges when incorporating NOPs into formulations such as retaining tensile strength, resiliency, and compression set. And, as they increased the level of NOPs in formulations, the processability of the foam was often compromised:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Dow’s mastery of polyurethanes chemistry enabled it to make significant progress on many of these critical performance issues. The company achieved this improved level of performance by creating optimized blends of NOPs and propylene oxide polyols. By working with a select group of customers during this next phase, Dow will continue to refine the performance attributes of these products so that they meet specific customer needs.

To enable more extensive product sampling and scale-up of small, beta projects, Dow plans to begin market development scale production of soy-based polyols in 2007. Meanwhile, the company is exploring various production options to support additional capacity as customer demand for the products grow. Based on progress in this second phase, Dow will evaluate options for this new line of natural oil based polyols, which includes bringing on additional capacity and expanding into new applications and geographies.

Dow’s investment in natural oil based polyols is consistent with the company’s recently announced 2015 Sustainability Goals, one aspect of which calls for investment in products and technologies that will help reduce industry’s dependency on non-renewable resources. Natural oil based polyols can be made from soybeans, sunflower seeds or rapeseeds, although Dow’s technology currently focuses on a polyol that contains a significant percent of oil extracted from soybeans.

Dow’s intention is to ultimately develop a NOP-based multi-generational product line that provides customers with superior solutions to meet their needs in applications such as flexible slab, molded, and some CASE applications. In addition, other Dow businesses, such as Dow Automotive, are working with their customers to introduce natural oil polyols into automotive applications.
We now have the technology, the results and the capabilities to take the first step toward providing a full line of natural oil based polyols to customers around the globe. - Pat Dawson, business vice president, Dow Polyurethanes
Dow is the world’s largest producer of polyether polyols, a leading producer of quality aromatic isocyanates, such as MDI and TDI, and a major supplier of propylene oxide, an essential component of polyether polyols. Dow’s polyurethanes products and formulated systems are used in rigid foams, flexible foams, adhesives, sealants, coatings, and elastomers, as well as many other applications. Dow also offers the latest in polyol technology with its VORANOL VORACTIV polyols, part of an ongoing initiative by Dow to lead the industry in providing high-performance products with reduced VOC-emissions.

Dow Polyurethanes: Cleaner, Greener, Performance Polyols - Enabled by Breakthrough Technology from Dow [*.pdf].

Dow Polyurethanes: Natural Oil-based Polyols for C.A.S.E Applications [*.pdf].

Dow Polyurethanes: Breakthrough Technology from Dow Polyurethanes Promotes Sustainable Chemistry and Excellent Product Performance - September 25

Dow Polyurethanes: Dow Polyurethanes Successfully Completes Testing Phase for Natural Oil Based Polyols - September 25

Article continues

GreenShift Agrifuels and Global Ethanol form corn oil biodiesel joint venture

GreenShift Agrifuels and Global Ethanol, LLC have announced the execution of agreements to extract about 10 million gallons (37.8m liters) per year of crude corn oil from the distillers grain co-product of Global Ethanol’s 100 million gallon (378.5m liters) per year ethanol facility in Lakota, Iowa and 57 million gallon (215.8m liters) per year ethanol facility in Riga, Michigan, and to convert the extracted corn oil into biodiesel at Global Ethanol’s Lakota facility.

Under the terms of the agreements, GS AgriFuels Corporation and Global Ethanol formed a jointly owned company called 'GS Global Biodiesel', LLC to build, own and operate the Lakota, Iowa-based biodiesel facility. The GS Global Biodiesel facility will be initially sized for 10 million gallons of biodiesel production per year but will be designed to scale up to 30 million gallons (113.6 million liters) per year in coordination with the onset of production of nearby corn oil extraction systems that are installed by GS AgriFuels’ parent company, GS CleanTech Corporation.

GS CleanTech’s patent-pending corn oil extraction system is designed to extract crude corn oil out of the distillers dried grain co-product of the dry mill ethanol production process (previous post, schematic, click to enlarge). This crude corn oil has been proven to be an excellent biodiesel feedstock with the proper processing. GS CleanTech executed a development agreement with Global Ethanol and GS Global Biodiesel to build and install corn oil extraction systems at Global Ethanol’s Lakota and Riga ethanol facilities and to design and build the GS Global Biodiesel facility.

GS AgriFuels will raise and provide the financing for the construction of the corn oil extraction systems at Global Ethanol’s Lakota and Riga ethanol facilities, as well as the financing for the construction and operation of the GS Global Biodiesel facility. Global Ethanol will manage and operate the GS Global Biodiesel facility and market all of the biodiesel produced. GS AgriFuels has recently engaged an investment banker to raise the estimated $35 million needed for the project. The parties expect that the first tranche of financing, which will support the construction and installation of two extraction systems in Lakota and one extraction system in Riga, will close in December 2007. The GS Global Biodiesel facility is expected to be commissioned beginning during the fourth quarter of 2008:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::
In addition to converting the 10 million gallons of corn oil that we extract from Lakota and Riga into biodiesel, we plan to ship an additional 20 million gallons of corn oil as we bring extraction systems online at nearby ethanol facilities to GS Global Biodiesel for conversion as well. Global Ethanol’s team will run the facility and market the biodiesel and their expertise in commodities management and operations will make a facility of this scale an exciting and successful project. - Kevin Kreisler, GreenShift’s chief executive officer
GS AgriFuels draws on its proprietary process intensification techniques developed by its subsidiary NextGen Fuel Inc. to accelerate and enhance traditional biodiesel reaction kinetics, thus decreasing process time, reducing energy and raw material needs, and increasing product quality. These benefits translate to reduced up-front capital and ongoing operating costs by as mush as 50% versus traditional technologies. Additionally, NextGen's systems can be manufactured and shipped to customers in as quickly as 12-18 weeks from the time of order. NextGen currently offers turn-key biodiesel production plants rated for 5 million gallons per year and 10 million gallons per year, but the modular and continuous-flow aspects of the technology make scaling plants up or down easy and cost-effective.

NextGen employs a number of chemical and physical processes (permutations and variations of chemistry, temperature and pressure) – in real time – to convert fats and oils at greatly reduced reaction times (minutes as compared to hours and days) in a true continuous flow operation. With the NextGen technology, the fats and oils noted above simply move through the process with no need to linger at any particular stage while a reaction is allowed to complete. In other words, the targeted fats and oils are reacted as they pass through the system.

This has several compelling implications for developers and operators of biodiesel production facilities:
  • Greatly reduced equipment and related infrastructure needs – reacting the fats and oils as they move through the system versus at several stops along the away simply reduces the amount of tanks, pumps, controls, pipes, utilities, and square feet of floor space required to produce biodiesel.
  • Process time – intensifying the chemical reactions involved in biodiesel production accelerates reaction rates. Increased reaction rates correspond to less time required to complete the process, less equipment to manage raw materials as reactions are completed, and overall less labor and other operating and maintenance expenses.
  • Greater Native Feedstock Tolerances – standard biodiesel processing will require feedstocks to comply with a range of relevant material specifications – the chemical reactions involved in a conventional process will not produce the desired product quality if feedstocks are out of specification. Intensifying the relevant chemical reactions increases the tolerance of the process to a wider array of feedstocks and enables more liberal material specification requirements.
  • These benefits translate to reduced capital and operating expenses and a broader feedstock market for the client – and equate to reduced financial, operational and market risk for the client and its stakeholders.
The Benefits of Modularity
Concentrations of risk in the feedstock markets correspond to concentrations of financing and operational risk for developers. These risks increase dramatically with the size of the production facility. Smaller plants simply have smaller risk profiles and are inherently easier for entrepreneurs to finance and operate.

The modular aspect of the NextGen technology allows developers and their financing sources to incur less financial and operating risk as they initiate production at, for example, a 5 or a 10 million gallon per year production facility, and then leverage their free cash flows to scale plant sizes up into their desired markets. An additional 10 million gallon system can simply be plugged into an existing plant with reduced balance of plant costs.

Most standard technologies, regardless of size, are designed to process a specific feedstock at any given time. The modular aspect of the NextGen systems allows operators to dedicate process lines to specific feedstocks or blends of feedstocks (for example, the first 10 million gallon line would process fat based feeds while the second processes oil based feeds).

When a standard processing facility needs to be shut-down for maintenance or has a process upset, the operator’s whole business stops. Modularity enables operators to keep their business operating as lines are iteratively shut-down for maintenance or the like. Standardization with a modular process technology also has compelling regulatory permitting and other operating benefits.

Finally, modularity and reduced equipment and infrastructure needs also translate to rapid delivery cycles (12-18 weeks) and quicker site development (6-9 months) as compared to conventional technologies (18-24 months).

Global Ethanol, a Minneapolis based company was established in 2006 and currently employs 140 employees in three locations. With operating plants located in Lakota, Iowa and Riga Michigan, Global Ethanol is turning fields of corn into clean-burning ethanol. In Lakota it produces 34 million bushels of corn into 100 million gallons of ethanol annually. Another 57 million gallons are produced in Riga from 19.9 million bushels of corn.

GS CleanTech Corporation provides applied engineering and technology transfer services based on clean technologies and process innovations that make the use of natural resources more efficient.

GS AgriFuels was founded to produce and sell clean fuels from agriproducts in innovative ways. GS AgriFuels’ business model is based on the manufacturing and sales of proprietary biodiesel equipment and the use of new technologies to produce biodiesel and ethanol from non-traditional feedstocks such as corn oil and cellulosic biomass through the utilization of several new proprietary technologies, including innovative desiccation, process intensification, gasification, and catalytic technologies, synergistically at small-scales to enable the refining of many forms of biomass into clean fuels at Integrated Multi-Fuel (“IMF”) production facilities.

Biopact: GS CleanTech to produce biodiesel from corn ethanol co-product - October 23, 2007

Article continues

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

First North America carbon cycle report: continent responsible for 27 percent of global emissions, carbon sinks can't cope

For the first time, the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) has published a report that quantifies North America’s net contribution of carbon to the atmosphere and catalogues sources and sinks of carbon on the continent. It finds a troubling imbalance: the continent’s carbon budget is increasingly overwhelmed by human-caused emissions. North American sources release nearly 2 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year, mostly as carbon dioxide (graph 1, click to enlarge). Carbon 'sinks' such as growing forests remove less than a third of this amount, and may turn into new sources as climate changes. The findings have implications for the future of bioenergy on the continent.
This report serves an important function beyond being a critical part of the CCSP’s synthesis and assessment structure. It is also the first interagency State of the Carbon Cycle Report, which is a broadly conceived activity designed to provide accurate, unbiased, and policy-relevant scientific information concerning the carbon cycle to a broad range of stakeholders. It provides a baseline characterization of the North American carbon budget upon which future research and reports can build and refine. - Tony King, report team lead and staff scientist at the Energy Department’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory
The report titled The North American Carbon Budget and Implications for the Global Carbon Cycle analyzes the amounts of carbon emitted in the U.S., Canada and Mexico by industry sector, the amount absorbed naturally and how these amounts relate to the global carbon budget influenced by other regions of the globe, with particular attention given to characterizing the certainty and uncertainty with which these budget elements are known.

The report finds North America’s fossil fuel emissions represent approximately 27 percent of global emissions. The conversion of fossil fuels to energy, such as electricity generation, is the single largest carbon contributor, with transportation second but growing faster. The report details how the growth of vegetation blanketing North America absorbs carbon from the atmosphere.

Large imbalance between sources and sinks
The analysis points out a greater than three-to-one imbalance between the fossil fuel sources and the ability of vegetation to absorb carbon. This results in the large net release to the atmosphere (over one gigaton of carbon per year in 2003 - table 1, click to enlarge), but there is still some uncertainty in quantifying the North American sink compared to the carbon emission sources.

The carbon absorption by vegetation, primarily in the form of forest growth, is expected to decline as maturing forests grow more slowly and take up less carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Report authors find it unclear how rapidly this carbon storage 'sink' will decline and whether it might potentially become a source since changes in climate and atmospheric carbon dioxide could affect forest growth differently in different regions. Further warming, for example, could exacerbate drought, increasing carbon release through vegetation dieback and increased fire and insect disturbances:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

A variety of local, regional and national policy approaches could affect the overall North American carbon contribution. These include changing the rates of emissions through energy efficiency improvement, fuel switching to low carbon fuels (biomass), enhancing sinks in vegetation and soil, and implementing carbon capture and geological storage (CCS).

United States
Total United States emissions have grown at close to the North American average rate of about 1 percent per year over the past 30 years, but United States per capita emissions have been roughly constant.

Carbon intensity
The carbon intensity of the United States economy, which is the amount of carbon emitted per dollar of inflation adjusted GDP, has decreased at a rate of about 2 percent per year. The decline in the carbon intensity of the United States’ economy was caused both by increased energy efficiency, particularly in the manufacturing sector, and structural changes in the economy with growing contributions from sectors such as services with lower energy consumption and carbon intensity. The service sector is likely to continue to grow. Accordingly, carbon emissions will likely continue to grow more slowly than GDP.

Sectoral breakdown
The extraction of fossil-fuels and other primary energy sources and their conversion to energy products and services, including electricity generation, is the single largest contributor to the North American fossil-fuel source, accounting for approximately 42 percent of North American fossil emissions in 2003.

Electricity generation is responsible for the largest share of those emissions: approximately 94 percent in the United Sates in 2004, 65 percent in Canada in 2003, and 67 percent in Mexico in 1998. These are the latest years for which data are available.

More than half of the electricity produced in North America is consumed in buildings, making that single use one of the largest factors in North American emissions. In the United States, 67 percent is used in buildings.

In 2003, the carbon dioxide emissions resulting from energy consumed in United States buildings alone were greater than total carbon dioxide emissions of any country in the world except China. Energy use in buildings in the United States and Canada, including the use of natural gas, wood, and other fuels as well as electricity, has increased by 30 percent since 1990, corresponding to an annual growth rate of 2.1 percent.

In the United States, the major drivers of energy consumption in the buildings sector are growth in commercial floor space and increase in the size of the average home. Carbon emissions from buildings are expected to grow with population and income.

The report also characterizes in detail the uncertainty associated with these findings. Variability in physical processes, measurement error, and sampling error all contribute to uncertainty in quantifying elements of the North American carbon budget.

About the report and the CCSP
Authors were drawn from the broad scientific community and included scientists and researchers from academia, not-for-profit organizations, and governmental agencies. In addition, the process of developing this report involved stakeholders from various sectors who have an interest in managing carbon in the future.
Through this process, we are striving to ensure that the most relevant information about the carbon cycle is presented in a useful format for decision makers. - Lisa Dilling, assistant professor at University of Colorado, Boulder, and co-lead of the author team
All CCSP synthesis and assessment products are written as reports to U.S. Congress. Members of Congress have been briefed on the findings in Synthesis and Assessment Product 2.2. Also, all finalized synthesis and assessment products are signed by the secretaries of commerce and energy, as well as the president’s science advisor. National Air and Space Administration, NOAA, Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and U.S. Geological Survey provided funding for the report and/or support for federal agency authors in the development of SAP 2.2.

NOAA served as the lead agency for 2.2 for CCSP and administered the review, publication, and release of the report.

U.S. Climate Change Science Program: North American carbon budget and implications for the global carbon cycle [Prototype State of the Carbon Cycle Report (SOCCR) focused on North America], Final Report, Synthesis and Assessment Product 2.2 [scroll down for chapters in *.pdf format] - November 2007.

Carnegie Institution for Science: First-ever State of the Carbon Cycle Report Finds Troubling Imbalance - November 14

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Government Science Panel Publishes Report on North America’s Carbon Budget - November 13, 2007

Article continues

Africa Development Indicators 2007: continent achieving healthy and steady growth rate

After years of stop-and-start results, many African economies appear to be growing at the fast and steady rates needed to put a dent on the region’s high poverty rate and attract global investment. The encouraging trend is shown in the World Bank Africa Development Indicators 2007 (ADI) [*.pdf] released today. The report is based on more than a thousand indicators covering economic, human and private-sector development, governance, environment, and aid.
Over the past decade, Africa has recorded an average growth rate of 5.4 percent which is at par with the rest of the world. The ability to support, sustain, and in fact diversify the sources of these growth indicators would be critical not only to Africa’s capacity to meet the MDGs [Millennium Development Goals on poverty, health and other issues], but also to becoming an exciting investment destination for global capital. - Obiageli Ezekwesili, World Bank Vice President for the Africa Region
Solid economic performance across Africa in the decade 1995-2005 contrasts sharply with the economic collapse of 1975-1985 and the stagnation experienced in 1985-95. The ADI indicates that spreading and sustaining growth going forward can be achieved by accelerating productivity and increasing private investment. Accomplishing this will require improving the business climate and infrastructure in African countries, as well as spurring innovation and building institutional capacity.

In 2005 [the latest year for which ADI 2007 posts data], the performance varied substantially across countries, from -2.2% in Zimbabwe to 30.8% in Equatorial Guinea, with nine countries posting growth rates of near or above the 7% threshold needed for sustained poverty reduction.

African countries fall into three broad categories along this continuum (map, click to enlarge):
  • The first group of seven countries comprises the region’s seven major oil exporting economies, home to 27.7% of the region’s population.
  • The second grouping of 18 countries, home to 35.6% of the region’s population, show diversified, sustained growth of at least 4%.
  • The third grouping of 17 countries, home to 36.7% of the region’s population, is characterized by their resource-poor nature, their strong volatility, are conflict-prone, afflicted or emerging from conflicts or just trapped in slow growth of less than 4%.
Greater integration with the global economy especially through export trade, are characteristics common to all African countries that have recorded sustained growth. These according to the ADI largely explain the aggregate efficiency levels and investment volumes – comparable to India and Vietnam – recorded by these countries. Overall investments in Africa increased from 16.8% of GDP to 19.5% of GDP between 2000 and 2006.

A revenue bonanza linked to skyrocketing oil prices especially helped Africa’s seven biggest oil economies. Rising prices of precious metals and other commodities have also benefited many other resource-rich African countries. Biopact and others think many large non-oil producing countries can now become bioenergy producers and exporters, driving a more diversified export growth.

In the high growth countries, ADI 2007 finds, policies have gotten better thanks to the reforms of the last decade, inflation, budget deficits, exchange rates and foreign debt repayments are more manageable; the economies are more open to trade and private enterprise; governance is on the mend and more assaults on corruption. These better economic fundamentals have helped to spur growth, but equally important to avoid the growth collapses that took place between 1975 and 1995.

The group of 18 resource-poor countries – home to 35.6 percent of Africa’s population – have done as well as some oil-rich countries, if not better, sustaining growth of more than 4 percent over the last decade:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Only politically turbulent Zimbabwe among Africa’s 17 slowest-growing economies posted negative growth.

The slowest-growing economies – home to 36.7 percent of the region’s population – are getting more fundamentals right, ADI 2007 found. These include better macro-economic management, greater investments in human resource development, and improvements in institutions and in the performance of the public sector.
[Past pessimism about Africa’s ability to grow and compete with the rest of the world] does not arise from the failures of Africa enterprise and workers. [It] arises from the fact that the continent faces an infrastructure gap and a level of indirect costs that are anywhere from two to three times as high as those in competing economies in Asia. - John Page, World Bank Chief Economist for the Africa Region
While ADI 2007 reported significant long-term gains for Sub-Saharan economies, it warns that the region remains more volatile than in any other region. That volatility, it says, has dampened expectations and investments:
ADI 2007 finds that avoiding sharp declines in GDP growth was critical to Africa’s economic recovery. Indeed, it was crucial for the poor who suffered greatly during the declines. Avoiding growth collapses is key to accelerating progress towards the MDGs in Africa. - John Page

More exports needed
The report identifies stronger and more diverse export growth as a key factor needed to sustain growth and reduce volatility. The study laments the higher indirect costs of exporting in Africa (18% to 35% of total costs) compared to indirect costs in China – a mere 8% of total costs. As a result, while efficient African enterprises can compete with Indian and Chinese firms in terms of factory floor costs, they become less competitive due to higher indirect business costs, including infrastructure identified by ADI 2007 as an “important emerging constraint to future growth”.

Sub-Saharan Africa lags at least 20 percentage points behind the average for poor developing countries also funded by the World Bank’s concessional window (IDA) on almost all major infrastructure measures – pushing up production costs, a critical impediment for investors. Africa’s unmet infrastructure needs are estimated to total around $22 billion a year (5% of GDP), plus another $17 billion for operations and maintenance.

Despite the negative impact of poor infrastructure, 38 African countries increased their exports as the region as a whole saw its exports rise in value from $182 billion in 2004 to $230 billion in 2005. Exports were fuelled by growing pockets of non-traditional exports (such as clothing from Lesotho, Madagascar and Mauritius); the successful connection between farmers and buyers (such as with the initiative which boosted Rwanda’s coffee exports to the USA by 166% in 2005); and the aggressive expansion of successful exports (such as cut flowers whose exports from Kenya more than doubled between 2000 and 2005, making cut flowers the country’s second export earner, after tea).

Finding an appropriate balance between investments in human capital and investments in physical capital will help sustain steady progress towards the MDGs and closing Africa’s infrastructure needs, the report said. The infrastructure gap is estimated at $22 billion a year or 5 percent of the region’s GDP.

Besides infrastructure, accelerating and sustaining growth requires improving Africa’s investment climate, spurring innovation, and building institutional capacity to govern well, ADI 2007 said.

Drawn from the World Bank Africa Database, the ADI 2007 publication includes a pocket edition, the Little Data Book on Africa, the Africa Development Indicators 2007 – CD-ROM, and the new ADI family member, the Africa Development Indicators Online. ADI Online contains the most comprehensive database on Africa, covering more than 1,000 indicators on economics, human development, private sector development, governance, environment, and aid, with time series of many indicators going back to 1965. The indicators were assembled from a variety of sources to present a broad picture of development across Africa. ADI Online offers the ADI essay, the Little Data Book on Africa 2007, Country at-a-Glance tables, maps tools, technical boxes, and country analyses.

Map credit: World Bank, BBCNews.

World Bank: Africa Development Indicators (ADI) 2007.

World Bank: Africa Achieving Healthy And Steady Growth Rate - November 14, 2007.

World Bank [press release]: Spreading and Sustaining Growth in Africa - November 14, 2007.

World Bank: 50 Factoids about Sub-Saharan African - Africa Development Indicators 2007.

World Bank: The Little Data Book on Africa 2007 [*.pdf] - quick reference guid for the ADI 2007.

Article continues

Inniskillin Wines and StormFisher Biogas to turn grape pomace into electricity for homes

Canada's Inniskillin Wines and StormFisher Biogas announced a partnership today to create renewable electricity from the winery's grape by-products. This is another illustration of the diversity of bioenergy feedstocks and of how this type of renewable energy can blend in with existing food processing sectors, be they olive oil producers, breweries, citrus fruit processors, or cheese makers.

Inniskillin's grape pomace, which is comprised of grape skin and seeds, will be used to generate biogas used to produce clean, renewable electricity. About 1,000 to 2,000 tonnes of by-products that were previously destined to a landfill will be given a new use as a fuel. As such, the methane gas that is produced by the decomposition of grape pomace will now be captured and used to generate power for homes in the Niagara region.

This partnership is seen as a win for residential power consumers, a win for Inniskillin, a win for StormFisher and a win for the environment. The partnership demonstrates how sustainable business practices can benefit the environment and communities while improving the bottom line by giving new use to what was once a waste product.

Vincor Canada, Inniskillin's parent company is committed to sustainable business practices and was eager to play a role in renewable energy productio. Vincor Canada and StormFisher are exploring potential expansion of this arrangement to Vincor's other winemaking facilities on the Niagara Peninsula.

StormFisher produces renewable energy from food and beverage processing by-products when it is digested in industrial tanks and either used to generate electricity or processed as natural gas. Much of Europe's food and beverage processing by-products are already used to generate biogas, and the process is rapidly gaining favour in North America:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

StormFisher Biogas is an Ontario-based biogas developer and operator developing biogas installations across North America. Its biogas plants will produce electricity, natural gas (biomethane) and heat while reducing waste and greenhouse gas emissions, including highly polluting methane emissions. Biogas production facilities, called anaerobic digesters, accelerate the decomposition of organic matter to create a combination of methane and carbon dioxide. Digesters can produce energy using a wide range of feedstock materials, from used cooking oils to cow manure.

StormFisher's operations will reduce farm and food processor disposal costs, divert valuable organic materials from landfills, and help to combat climate change by reducing emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas that is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Inniskillin Wines, established in 1975 by co-founders Donald Ziraldo and Karl Kaiser, is Canada's premier estate winery producing truly distinctive and elegant wines from premium grape varieties grown in Canada that rank among the world's finest. Inniskillin has vineyards in the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario and the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. Inniskillin has gained international recognition for its award winning Icewines, which, as the number one selling wine in duty free stores, can be found in over 40 countries around the world. Inniskillin's parent company, Vincor Canada, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Constellation Brands, Inc.

: wine-making results in a large waste stream of grape pomace, which contains skins and seeds. Credit: Winemaker Magazine.

Article continues

China launches project to enhance international cooperation on new and renewable energy

China has launched a science and technology project to boost international cooperation on the development of renewables. Under the 'International Science and Technology Cooperation Program on New and Renewable Energy', China will develop new patterns for international exchange and cooperation, encourage countries to complement each other with respective technological strengths and set up a platform for technological cooperation.

The initiative was presented at an international forum in Beijing on renewable energy, organized by the Ministry of Science and Technology and the National Development and Reform Commission who will jointly implement the program:
The Program has great bearing on the energy restructuring, energy security, energy efficiency, greenhouse gas emission reduction, low-carbon economy, and sustainable development.
Government support will prioritize research into five types of renewables and energy forms: biomass fuels and biomass power, wind power, solar power, hydrogen energy and fuel cells, and natural gas hydrates, of which there is a large reserve in the South China Sea and which China recently succeeded in tapping.
Through international cooperation, China will demonstrate to the global community its determination to explore new and renewable energy sources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build an environment-friendly society. - Cao Jianlin, vice-minister for science and technology
The announcement comes just a day after China hinted at the fact that it gives priority to energy security and poverty alleviation over reducing greenhouse gas emissions (previous post). In its latest World Energy Outlook published last week, the IEA warned that China's energy demand and consequently its emissions of greenhouse gases will grow 'inexorably'. The People's Republic is set to become the world's top greenhouse-gas producer and will be accounting for 42% to 49% of global carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, more than the rest of the world combined (except India). That is, unless it aggressively invests in efficiency, renewables and conservation (previous post).

The new S&T cooperation program identifies six major tasks, namely basic research, commercialization demonstrations, scaling applications, 'phase-out' strategies for fossil fuels, international exchanges, and nuturing high-caliber professionals. The international cooperation could facilitate China’s efforts to introduce advanced technology, innovate in energy technology, and set up a batch of industrial demonstration projects so as to meet the strategic goal of developing its new and renewable energy sector:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

It is hoped interaction with the international community will highlight key areas and help introduce advanced technologies, core technologies in particular. Given China’s vast territory, unbalanced distribution of resources, and the to-be-improved market mechanism, the government will step up macromanagement, lower the cost through expanding scales so as to bring order to the development of new energy.

Vice-minister for science and technology Cao said the Chinese government is committed to identifying and developing new energy sources and finding practical applications for them. It wants to promote international exchanges via forums, seminars and joint research centers, and work with foreign counterparts to train high-level professionals.

Under the 'International Science and Technology Cooperation Program on New and Renewable Energy', invitations will be sent to new and renewable energy experts from around to the world in a bid to establish a committee to outline key tasks and suggest areas for cooperation.

As part of its $256 billion development plan for renewable energy launched earlier this year (previous post) the government will provide additional funding for research projects and offer preferential tax rates for those involved in the development and use of renewable energy.

The international initiative will help implement the renewable energy plan, which aims at increasing the proportion of renewable energy to 10 percent of total consumption by 2010, and to 15 percent by 2020, Cao said (figure, click to enlarge). Renewables currently account for just 1 percent of China's total primary energy production.

According Shang Yong, another Vice Minister of Science and Technology, equal efforts will also be given to soliciting private capital and investment from the business sector, especially the international energy giants, to enhance international cooperation on new and renewable energy.

Ministry of Science and Technology: Press Conference of “International S&T Cooperation Program on New and Renewable Energy” - November 12, 2007.

Biopact: China: poverty reduction, energy security more important than capping emissions - November 12, 2007

Biopact: IEA WEO: China and India transform global energy landscape - demand, emissions to grow 'inexorably' - November 08, 2007

Biopact: China unveils $265 billion renewable energy plan, aims for 15% renewables by 2020 - September 06, 2007

Article continues

Argentina export tax hike seen as strong incentive to biofuels

Leading agricultural exporter Argentina has added another major incentive to the booming biofuel industry by increasing the export tax on soybeans, soy-based products, and corn, but not on biofuels, according to analysts. The government raised the export tax on soy to 35% from 27.5% and the tax on soymeal and soyoil exports to 32% from 24%. The export tax on soy-based biodiesel was left at 5%, with a 2.5% tax credit - an effective export tax rate of 2.5%. The measures are part of Argentina's ongoing policy efforts aimed at preparing the country to secure a share of the international biofuels market (earlier post).

Argentina is expecting to quadruple biodiesel production next year from 200 to 800 million liters (graph, click to enlarge), and by the end of the decade will be making 10 times the amount it produced in 2007, according to a recent report [*.pdf] on the sector by the USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service.

The export tax structure is the key to making the industry profitable and able to compete with fossil fuels, Renova SA Director Diego Mejuto said recently. Last month Renova, a joint venture between local grain exporter Vicentin SAIC and Glencore International AG, cut the ribbon on a $20 million biodiesel plant on the banks of Argentina's La Plata River, the first of a wave of major projects slated to come online in the next several months.

The company expects the European Union and U.S. to be the primary markets for the soy-based biodiesel it produces, Mejuto said.

Even before the new tax incentives, Argentina was on track to produce 1.5 million metric tons of soy-based biodiesel in 2008, according to Lorena D'Angelo, of the economic studies department of the Rosario Grain Exchange.

Most of the other major grain exporters are also racing to take advantage of the tax and other incentives designed to spur on the sector. Aceitera General Deheza and Bunge Ltd. (BG) are working on a $40 million plant, Louis Dreyfus Group is investing $45 million to get into the game and Repsol YPF SA (REP) has a $30 million project in the pipes, according to the Rosario Grain Exchange.

In addition to the federal tax incentives, the province of Santa Fe has provided a host of tax breaks and financing schemes to ensure that biofuel production is concentrated in the province, Gov. Jorge Obeid said recently. Santa Fe already boasts the majority of the nation's soy processing and shipping capacity.

Investment in the sector is expected to reach $1 billion over the next four years, according to a recent report by Abeceb Consultancy:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

President Nestor Kirchner approved the nation's biofuel incentives law in March. In addition to the export tax breaks, the law mandates a 5% content of biodiesel or ethanol in the nation's fuel by 2010 and provides tax breaks and incentives for projects aimed at supplying the domestic market that are at least 50% owned by Argentines.

Meeting the biofuel needs mandated by the law will use 8% of the soy grown each year and 3% of corn, based on current output, Miguel Almada, director of Argentina's biofuel program at the Agriculture Secretariat, said in a recent interview.


The government also raised the tax on corn exports, to 25% from 20%, while corn and sugar-based ethanol exports are taxed at an effective rate of 1%.

Although Argentine ethanol production pales in comparison to the rush toward soy-based biodiesel, companies are also starting to convert sugarcane grown in the north of the country and corn to fuel.

Last year, Argentina produced 200,000 tons of ethanol at more than a dozen plants in the northwest of the country, and producers are eying increasing production using corn.

In addition, the government introduced a bill this month to modify this year's biofuel law, extending incentives to the nation's sugar industry.

Biopact: Argentina's government amends biofuels law to include incentives for sugarcane ethanol - October 12, 2007

USDA Foreign Agricultural Service: Argentine Bio-Fuels Report [*.pdf], GAIN Report, June 6, 2007

Article continues

The bioeconomy at work: Teijin presents lightweight car that contains bioplastics and biofibers

GreenCarCongress reports that Japanese textile producer Teijin Ltd. unveiled a lightweight concept car, the PU_PA, made from materials including carbon fiber, bioplastics and fibers made from polylactic acid. The effort is aimed at demonstrating that renewable and new materials can greatly reduce the weight of cars, and thus increase their fuel economy.

The firm plans to advocate the use of advanced materials, and predicts it can lighten a 1-tonne small to 500kg in five years, a move that will greatly improve fuel efficiency. Teijin also promotes materials that have a smaller environmental impact to produce.

Teijin materials in the PU_PA include a carbon-fiber backbone; a roof and exterior window of polycarbonate resin; heat-resistant bioplastic (Biofront); an artificial leather dashboard; a polyester film for the plated front grille; and tire cord fabric.

Teijin introduced the BIOFRONT bioplastic, which it developed with Mazda, in September (previous post). The plastic will be used initially for the manufacture of a high-quality, highly durable car-seat fabric made of 100% BIOFRONT fibers, and was featured in the new Premacy Hydrogen RE Hybrid vehicle that Mazda premiered at the 40th Tokyo Motor Show 2007:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Although bioplastics have attracted much attention due to their environmentally friendly nature, polylactide and other bioplastics currently on the market do not offer the same level of performance as oil-based plastics in terms of heat and shock resistance. Accordingly, the use of bioplastics has been limited so far.

In 2004, however, Teijin began researching bioplastics with Musashino Chemical Laboratory, Mutual Corporation and Professor Yoshiharu Kimura from the Kyoto Institute of Technology. The result was the development of an all-new type of heat-resistant bioplastic that was officially introduced in March 2006.

BIOFRONT incorporates technologies developed at Teijin Fiber's Matsuyama plant, including those to combine polymer from non-oil materials, such as starch, and those related to yarn production, such as fiber spinning and drawing.

The melting point of BIOFRONT fibers is 210ºC, significantly higher than the 170ºC melting point of polylactide fibers. As a result, BIOFRONT readily accepts high-temperature, high-pressure polyester dyeing. Such improvements have brought BIOFRONT to the same level of performance of PET (polyethylene terephthalate).

Fabrics for car-seat skins must satisfy stringent conditions demanded by automotive makers. As a result, polyester fibers have been used as the main material for car-seat skins, since conventional plant-based fibers are not capable of meeting all demands sufficiently.

Thanks to the convergence of the Teijin Group's polymer technologies and Teijin Fiber's yarn-production know-how, however, BIOFRONT fully satisfies the requirements for high quality and durability, including high heat resistance. Moreover, surface-treatment technologies for car-seat skins developed with Mazda have made it possible to develop a car-seat fabric that is 100% bio-based fibers.

Fiber, film and plastic resin applications
Teijin Group companies are focusing on additional applications for BIOFRONT fibers, films and plastic resins, where the heat-resistance of BIOFRONT is expected to be particularly useful in meeting demanding requirements for fabrication and actual use.

The following applications are envisioned in fields such as automotives, industrial materials and apparel textiles:
  • Fibers: In-vehicle products, interior products and materials requiring heat-resistant, dye-affinity and anti-bacterial properties
  • Films: Optical applications requiring transparency and heat resistance
  • Plastic resins: Electric/Electronic parts and chassis requiring heat resistance and molding
Teijin expects BIOFRONT production to reach several hundred tons in fiscal 2008 (ends March 31, 2009). The company plans to increase production at its Iwakuni plant in Yamaguchi Prefecture in 2008, as part of raising output capacity to several thousand tons.

GreenCarCongress: Teijin Introduces Concept Car Made From Lightweight Materials - November 14, 2007.

Teijin: Teijin Launches BIOFRONT Heat-Resistant Bio Plastic - 100% BIOFRONT car seat fabrics developed with Mazda - September 12, 2007.

Biopact: The bioeconomy at work: Mazda develops 100% PLA based biofabric for vehicle interiors - September 12, 2007

Article continues

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Union of Concerned Scientists warns for pollution from liquid coal fuels; new biofuels way forward

Heightened concern about oil dependence is generating growing support for alternative transportation fuels, but some fuels, like liquid coal and gasoline from tar sands would emit significantly more global warming pollution than gasoline or diesel, according to a new report issued today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). In Biofuels: An Important Part of a Low-Carbon Diet, the UCS offers an overview of the lifecycle emissions of different alternative fuels, and two scenarios for their future role in America's transportation fuel mix. It also stresses the importance of comprehensive lifecycle analyses (LCAs) to take into account the entire emissions profile of alternative fuels.

Transportation is responsible for two-thirds of US oil consumption and nearly 40 percent of the country's global warming pollution on a life cycle basis. To dramatically cut emissions from this sector, a comprehensive solution must include improved vehicle fuel efficiency, smart growth policies that reduce vehicle miles traveled, and clean fuel alternatives.

Liquid coal, for example, can release 80 percent more global warming pollution than gasoline, the report found. Corn ethanol, conversely, could be either more polluting or less than gasoline, depending on how the corn is grown and the ethanol is produced. On average, corn ethanol can reduce emissions about 20 percent, though there is uncertainty due to differing land use practices. The cleanest alternative, cellulosic ethanol from grasses or wood chips, could reduce emissions by more than 85 percent (graph, click to enlarge). (Note that the study did not look at first generation biofuels made from tropical crops like sugarcane or sweet sorghum which reduce emissions far more than corn ethanol; for sugarcane ethanol, the reduction is as large as that of cellulosic biofuels, earlier post.)

Biofuels can quickly become a staple of a low-carbon fuel diet because they integrate well with the existing fuel distribution infrastructure and offer potentially abundant domestic supplies with significant opportunities for growth, the report says. But not all biofuels are the same. There is a wide range in the estimated heat-trapping emissions and other environmental impacts from each biofuel over its life cycle (i.e., from farm to finished fuel to use in the vehicle), depending on the feedstock, production process, and model inputs and assumptions. There are also concerns about emissions and impacts from land conversion and land use associated with biofuel production.

New rules are being developed that will require fuel providers to account for and reduce the heat-trapping emissions associated with the production and use of transportation fuels. For example, both the U.S. Congress and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are considering strategies to promote low-carbon and renewable transportation fuels (including biofuels). California, the nation's largest market for transportation fuel, is developing a Low Carbon Fuel Standard that will require fuel providers to demonstrate reductions in global warming pollution per unit of energy delivered, regardless of fuel source. More state, regional, and federal rules will undoubtedly follow, the UCS writes.

The purposes of the report are two-fold:
  1. To ensure that we “count carbs” accurately, by explaining why we need a comprehensive accounting system for carbon emissions—one that measures global warming emissions over a transportation fuel's entire life cycle. An effective accounting system will not only need to be robust enough to encompass the fuel life cycle, but also address uncertainties and allow for changes over time as better assessment tools and methods become available.
  2. To “make carbs count” by describing performance-based policies that will reward low-carbon transportation fuels for their performance and help them compete against highly polluting fuels such as liquid coal (gasoline or diesel made from coal). For example, low-carbon fuel standards require a reduction in the average amount of global warming pollution per gallon of fuel.
A market for low-carbon fuels can produce a rare convergence of business, agricultural, and environmental interests that, if pursued wisely, could represent a “win-win-win” opportunity. But the promise of a lower-carbon transportation future can only be realized through federal and state policies that “count carbs and make carbs count.”

Two scenarios
The report evaluated two scenarios for alternative fuels, one carbon-intensive — meaning that it would produce significantly more global warming pollution than burning gasoline - and the other low-carbon — meaning that it would produce significantly less. The analysis assumed that alternative fuels will replace 37 billion gallons of gasoline, about 20 percent of the fuel UCS projects Americans will consume in 2030.

In both scenarios, conventional biofuels would meet 25 percent of the demand for alternative fuels. In the carbon-intensive scenario, the remaining demand would be met by liquid coal. The carbon-intensive scenario would increase emissions by 233 million metric tons — equivalent to adding about 34 million cars to the road, the number of new cars and light trucks currently sold nationally over a two-year period. By contrast, the low-carbon scenario relies on advanced biofuels to meet 75 percent of the demand. That would cut global warming pollution by 244 million metric tons, akin to taking 35 million of today’s cars off the road:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::
The report calls for a national low-carbon fuel standard that accounts for alternative fuels’ global warming emissions over their entire life cycle—from till to tailpipe — and requires them to emit less pollution than today’s petroleum-based fuels.

At the tailpipe, gasoline, liquid coal and biofuels release about the same amount of global warming pollution. But there are dramatic differences in the amount of pollution emitted by extracting a raw feedstock and refining it into a finished fuel. Biofuels can have an advantage over liquid coal and gasoline because plants capture carbon dioxide, the most common global warming gas, as they grow. But producing biofuels will generate emissions, which at the farm will vary depending on tilling practices, fertilizer use, previous land use, and the fossil fuels used to power farm equipment. At the ethanol plant, emissions will depend on the efficiency of the manufacturing process and the fuel used to power the facility. All of these factors must be considered in a full life cycle analysis.

Life cycle analysis for alternative fuels could help farmers and the biofuels industry, according to Gregg Heide of the Iowa Farmers Union.
Farmers want to help get the country off of oil. Give us some guidelines, tell us where to cut pollution, and we can do it. The coal lobby is active everywhere, even here in Iowa. It would be counterproductive if dirty fuels like liquid coal started muscling out biofuels in the alternative fuels market. - Gregg Heide, Iowa Farmers Union
Congress is now considering an energy bill that includes a renewable fuel standard giving the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to develop life cycle analysis guidelines. To date, the federal government has been promoting both cleaner and dirtier fuels. For instance, Congress has approved funding for research into next-generation ultra-clean biofuels, but it also is subsidizing research into liquid coal processing technology.
Government policies and high oil prices have whetted our growing appetite for all alternative fuels, good and bad alike. With the wrong policy, liquid coal could displace cleaner alternatives. Biofuels can be a staple of our low carbon fuel diet, but only if policies are in place that ‘count carbs’ and ‘make carbs count.’ - Eli Hopson, Washington representative for Clean Vehicles at UCS
At least one state is addressing the problem. In January, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued an executive order calling for establishing a state low-carbon fuel standard. The California Air Resources Board is currently developing regulations that would require manufacturers of transportation fuel sold in the state to reduce per gallon emissions of global warming pollution by at least 10 percent. Arizona, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington State are considering similar policies.

Counting carbs
To fully assess the global warming impact of transportation fuels, we must measure their full life cycle emissions per unit of energy delivered. This poses an analytical challenge for a number of reasons. For example, plants capture carbon dioxide (CO2, a potent heat-trapping gas) from the atmosphere during photosynthesis, but the impact of this carbon capture on biofuel emissions varies by feedstock. The global warming pollution produced by farming varies depending on the farming equipment, fertilizers, tillage practices, and perhaps most important, whether forests and grassland are converted into cropland. Even the refining process used to convert biomass into biofuels produces varying amounts of heat-trapping emissions.

Emissions may vary depending on the feedstock and refining process. Liquid coal, for example, can increase emissions more than 80 percent compared with gasoline. Gasoline produced from tar sands can increase emissions about 14 percent. Corn ethanol, depending on how it is processed, can produce higher emissions than gasoline or cut emissions more than 50 percent. Cellulosic ethanol, which is made from woody plants, may be able to reduce emissions more than 85 percent.

Life cycle analysis tools such as the U.S. Department of Energy's Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy Use in Transportation (GREET) model have been critical in building understanding of the full impact of transportation fuels. But there is currently no scientific consensus on a single analytical approach, particularly for biofuels. Key areas of debate include the impact of land use changes, fertilizer use and emissions, coproducts, process emissions, and uncertainties or poor data.

While life cycle models typically estimate that today's average corn ethanol cuts global warming pollution about 20 percent compared with gasoline, some researchers estimate that it may actually increase global warming pollution. Similarly, biodiesel is generally credited with a 50 percent reduction in global warming pollution, but there is also research indicating that it may increase emissions as well. In addition, biofuel production could exacerbate deforestation, generating more global warming pollution and a host of concerns about the industry's sustainability.

The key to improving our understanding and quantification of life cycle emissions is to hold transportation fuel providers responsible for their global warming pollution. Our current system provides no incentive for fuel providers to accurately measure or minimize their carbon emissions. In contrast, a system that requires providers to account for their emissions would spur increased research into life cycle analysis and provide a public process for evaluating the benefits and limitations of different analytical methods. By developing emissions standards that are periodically updated using the best data available, the market can steer fuel production toward lower-carbon pathways.

Making carbs count
Without a framework in place to lower the carbon intensity of our transportation fuels, we risk losing a precious opportunity to cut our global warming pollution substantially. We therefore need smart fuel policies such as California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard, which is slated to take effect as early as 2010. This standard does not “pick winners” by focusing on specific fuels, but instead relies on performance criteria that require each gallon of fuel (on an energy-equivalent basis) to meet a standard for global warming pollution that becomes more strict over time. The standard encompasses the fuel's entire life cycle, promoting carbon reduction along every link in the fuel supply chain.

Low-carbon fuel standards would also create market certainty for cleaner fuels and complement existing vehicle standards by ensuring the fuel industry does its part—along with automakers and consumers—to reduce transportation-related emissions. Other states considering such regulations include Arizona, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington.

At the national level, efforts are under way to incorporate heat-trapping emissions requirements into the current Renewable Fuel Standard, and several bills have been introduced in Congress that would establish a separate low-carbon fuel standard. The Bush administration is also preparing rules for reducing gasoline use that would include a low-carbon fuel component.

Patrician Monahan, "Biofuels: An Important Part of a Low-Carbon Diet - An Important Part of a Low-Carbon Diet", - November 13, 2007.

Union of Concerned Scientists [press release]: When Carbon Counts, Biofuels Beat Liquid Coal - New Report Details Importance of Life Cycle Analysis for Alternative Fuels - November 13, 2007.

Union of Concerned Scientists: Smart Bioenergy - dedicated webpage on the UCS's take on this type of renewable energy.

Article continues

Researchers develop efficient biohydrogen production technique based on microbial electrolysis cell

Scientists from Penn State University have developed a technique to efficiently produce hydrogen from biomass via a process based on the way microbial fuel cells (MFCs) work. Bruce E. Logan, the Kappe professor of environmental engineering, and Shaoan Cheng, research associate, report the method in today's early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The report titled 'Sustainable and efficient biohydrogen production via electrohydrogenesis' is an open access article.

The new biohydrogen production method is considerably more efficient than the electrolysis of water, which, in order to produce renewable and clean hydrogen would have to rely on electricity from solar, wind, biomass or nuclear power plants.

The new technique is capable of directly generating renewable hydrogen in an environmentally friendly way from cellulose and other biodegradable organic materials. The researchers state that, contrary to cellulosic ethanol production which makes use of agricultural residues or dedicated non-food energy crops but which is at least a decade away, the biohydrogen production method can use this abundant source of biomass already today. They suggest blending the biohydrogen with methane from natural gas or biogas as a transport fuel.

The researchers used naturally occurring bacteria in a microbial electrolysis cell (MEC, picture, click to enlarge) with acetic acid – the acid found in vinegar. Acetic acid is also the predominant acid produced by fermentation of glucose or cellulose. The anode was granulated graphite, the cathode was carbon with a platinum catalyst, and they used an off-the-shelf anion exchange membrane. In other words, they basically set up a microbial fuel cell (more about MFCs here). The bacteria consume the acetic acid and release electrons and protons creating up to 0.3 volts. When more than 0.2 volts are added from an outside source, hydrogen gas bubbles up from the liquid.

The process produces 288 percent more energy in hydrogen than the electrical energy that is added to the process. Water hydrolysis, a standard method for producing hydrogen, is only 50 to 70 percent efficient. Even if the microbial electrolysis cell process is set up to bleed off some of the hydrogen to produce the added energy boost needed to sustain hydrogen production, the process still creates 144 percent more available energy than the electrical energy used to produce it:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

For those who think that a hydrogen economy is far in the future, Logan suggests that hydrogen produced from cellulose and other renewable biomass could be blended with natural gas for use in natural gas vehicles.
We drive a lot of vehicles on natural gas already. Natural gas is essentially methane. Methane burns fairly cleanly, but if we add hydrogen, it burns even more cleanly and works fine in existing natural gas combustion vehicles. - Bruce E. Logan, lead author
The range of efficiencies of hydrogen production based on electrical energy and energy in a variety of organic substances is between 63 and 82 percent. Both lactic acid and acetic acid achieve 82 percent, while unpretreated cellulose is 63 percent efficient. Glucose is 64 percent efficient.

Another potential use for microbial-electrolysis-cell produced hydrogen is in fertilizer manufacture. Currently fertilizer is produced in large factories and trucked to farms. With microbial electrolysis cells, very large farms or farm cooperatives could produce hydrogen from wood chips and then through a common process, use the nitrogen in the air to produce ammonia or nitric acid. Both of these are used directly as fertilizer or the ammonia could be used to make ammonium nitrate, sulfate or phosphate.

The researchers have filed for a patent on this work. Air Products and Chemicals, Inc. and the National Science Foundation supported the research.

According to large well-to-wheel studies, the production of hydrogen from biomass is the most efficient and cleanest production pathway out of 28 options, including hydrogen from wind, nuclear, and electricity mixes (previous post and here for a large EU-funded WTW study). For this reason, some have suggested that biohydrogen is the most feasible way of reviving the idea of the 'hydrogen economy' (earlier post).

: A microbial electrolysis cell (MEC) shown with the power source used to augment the voltage produced by the bacteria. Bacteria grow in the anode chamber, forming a biofilm on graphite granules, while hydrogen gas is released at the cathode and bubbles up and into the tube on top of the reactor. Credit: Photograph by Shaoan Cheng, Penn State University

Shaoan Cheng and Bruce E. Logan, "Sustainable and efficient biohydrogen production via electrohydrogenesis" [open access], Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 10.1073/pnas.0706379104, Published online before print November 13, 2007

Penn State Live: Clean, carbon-neutral hydrogen on the horizon - November 12, 2007.

Biopact: Microbial fuel cell development speeds up: from biopower in space to the developing world - September 30, 2007

Biopact: Biohydrogen, a way to revive the 'hydrogen economy'? - August 20, 2006

Article continues

GBEP calls for a Biopact: US/EU must open markets for biofuels from the South

The Global Bioenergy Partnership (GBEP) which released its comprehensive report on the current status of bioenergy today, says the conflict between growing crops for food versus biofuels is artificial and can be resolved if the United States, Europe and other rich countries drop protectionist policies and work with developing nations to increase the use of the eco-friendly fuels. The GBEP thus joins a growing group of organisations calling for a win-win 'Biopact' between the wealthy and the developing countries.

Fears that the rising demand for biofuels is contributing to a global surge in food prices are founded, but such pitfalls can be avoided if top energy consumers invest in efficient crops grown in tropical nations, promote research and encourage the biofuel trade, said Corrado Clini, chairman of the GBEP.

FAO Assistant Director-General Alexander Muller joined Clini in pinpointing the core of the problem:
In Europe and the United States the production of biofuels is only possible because there are tariffs. What data shows us is that the biggest potential is in the developing world. - FAO Assistant Director-General Alexander Muller
Indeed, both Africa and Latin America have a vast potential to produce biofuels sustainably. These data are well known by now. According to the International Energy Agency's Bioenergy Task 40, these two regions alone can produce more than 500 Exajoules of bioenergy for exports by 2050, in an explicitly sustainable way; that is, after all the food, fiber and fodder needs for rapidly growing populations are met, and without any deforestation (previous post, here and a look at Africa's sustainable potential). In theory, there is no reason whatsoever for a conflict between food and fuel production.

Internationally shared rules on production could thus ensure that biofuel crops do not damage the environment by substituting forests and other sensitive ecosystems, Clini said at the World Energy Congress in Rome, a brainstorming forum that runs through Thursday. With oil prices soaring, biofuels from corn, palm oil, sugar cane and other agricultural products are increasingly seen as a cheap and cleaner alternative to fossil fuels.

Clini said that food prices are rising in part due to unfavorable climate conditions, an increasing population and a growing demand for meat and animal feed. Biofuels also are contributing to the hikes but mainly because the EU and the United States are subsidizing domestic production of crops like corn that offer low efficiency when turned into fuel and compete with other foodstuffs for large swathes of land in these already densely populated areas, Clini said.

Sugarcane-based biofuel, an approach favored by other big biofuel producers like Brazil, offers greater energy efficiency and is made with a crop that can be grown in unused lands in many tropical countries, contributing to their development, he told reporters. "It takes four times more maize than sugar cane to produce the same amount of energy," the GBEP chairman added.

Trade barriers key problem
Rich countries should invest in biofuel production in developing nations and liberalize the international trade, which is still burdened by high tariffs put in place to protect European and American farmers from the cheaper fuel produced abroad, the chairman said:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The United States and the EU are blocking attempts to significantly reduce tariffs on biofuels by including them among "environmental goods" as part of the stalled Doha round talks at the World Trade Organization.

Amid stiff opposition from farmers, American and European officials have rejected the proposal, saying that the special environmental tariff rules were reserved solely for industrial goods, and not agricultural products.

Clini noted that the EU and the United States will need imports if they are to meet ambitious goals set for biofuel use as part of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The U.S. Congress is examining a proposal mandating the use of 35 billion gallons, or 132 billion liters a year of "alternative" fuels, mostly ethanol, by 2017 and European leaders have decided that at least 10 percent of fuels in the bloc will come from biofuels by 2020.

Clini heads the GBEP, a group that works to develop bioenergy in G-8 countries and in five other big producers. On Tuesday, the group presented a joint report on the state of bioenergy with the Rome-based U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, one of the most vocal agencies in calling attention to the potential downsides of biofuels.

"In Europe and the United States the production of biofuels is only possible because there are tariffs," said FAO Assistant Director-General Alexander Muller. "What data shows us is that the biggest potential is in the developing world."

Clini said that besides opening up to trade, rich countries should invest money used for subsidies in research on so called second-generation biofuels. He said these cellulose-based fuels can be made with a variety of plants and organic waste, eliminating at the root the conflict with food production.

International Herald Tribune: Bioenergy group criticizes U.S., European approach to biofuels - November 13, 2007.

Biopact: FAO chief calls for a 'Biopact' between the North and the South - August 15, 2007

Biopact: IEA chief economist: EU, US should scrap tariffs and subsidies, import biofuels from the South - March 06, 2007

Biopact: IEA report: bioenergy can meet 20 to 50% of world's future energy demand - September 12, 2007

Biopact: IEA study: large potential for biomass trade, under different scenarios - May 13, 2007

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

Article continues

UK opens first large scale 30MW biomass power station

Sembcorp Industries (Sembcorp) has officially opened the UK's first large scale biomass power plant. The 30MW station is the first to produce renewable energy using naturally sustainable biomass without any input of fossil fuels. UK Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks, who oversees energy policy in the UK including sustainability and the environment, presided over the opening ceremony for the £64 million (€90.7/$132.5 million) biomass power station located at the Wilton International manufacturing site in Teesside in the Northeast of England.

The opening strengthens Sembcorp’s position as a first mover in green energy, as it is the first Singapore company to own and operate a biomass power plant in the UK. The plant is itself also the UK’s first large scale wood burning power station, and will use 300,000 tonnes of sustainably harvested biomass a year to generate 30 MW of electricity – enough to power 30,000 households. Moreover, the plant is the UK’s first power plant entirely fuelled by a renewable energy source, without any inputs of fossil fuels.

The biomass for the power station comes from four separate sources:
  • Recycled wood (80,000 tonnes) - this is received, stored and chipped at the UK Wood Recycling site at Wilton
  • Sawmills (80,000 tonnes) – the wood comes to the site already chipped as offcuts from sawmills
  • Managed forests (880,000 tonnes) - Sembcorp is working with the Forestry Commission of Great Britain and leading forestry company UPM Tilhill to utilise small roundwood logs from north east forests – items sometimes left on forestry floor after normal tree felling operations
  • Specially grown energy crops (55,000 tonnes) - Sembcorp is working with farmers and other landowners locally for the supply of energy crops, specifically a type of willow known as short rotation coppice. The plant would eventually require the growth of around 7,500 acres (2830 ha) of coppice in the region.
The fuels are mixed together to create hot gases, which are then passed over water to produce steam which turns a turbine to create 30MW of electricity a year to be sold to power giant EON, the UK's largest energy company.

With the plant, Sembcorp will save an estimated 200,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year compared with a conventional power station – the equivalent in greenhouse gas reduction terms of taking 67,000 cars off the road. The plant’s operations will also be classed as carbon neutral and will hence avail Sembcorp of unused carbon allowances to trade as carbon credits:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

In addition to carbon credits, Sembcorp’s biomass power plant is also set to generate a fresh stream of revenue for Sembcorp from the power sold, as well as from Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROC’s) and Levy Exemption Certificates (LEC’s).
This new biomass power plant strengthens our capabilities in producing power using different fuels. With this plant, Sembcorp now has 3,382 MW of power worldwide in operation and in development. This investment is also in line with Sembcorp’s push to provide innovative solutions to serve our customers’ utilities needs, while delivering value to our shareholders. - Tang Kin Fei, Sembcorp’s Group President and CEO
Sembcorp’s intention to build the UK’s first 100 per cent wood-to-energy power station was formally announced in March 2005. Work on the station began later that year and following commissioning, full commercial production has commenced.

The electricity generated by the plant is being sold to E.ON – the UK’s largest integrated energy company.

Sembcorp Industries: UK Energy Minister opens Sembcorp's new woodburning power station - November 12, 2007.

Article continues

Global Bioenergy Partnership issues report on current state, challenges and benefits of bioenergy

The Global Bioenergy Partnership (GBEP) has presented its report, A review of the current state of bioenergy development in G8 +5 countries [*.pdf], today during the 20th World Energy Congress (WEC) in Rome. The analysis provides a survey of the production of energy and fuels from biomass in G8 +5 countries (Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa), highlighting the benefits and challenges of "one of the future’s most promising alternative energy sources". The report looks at the current level of production, at policies, the market situation, trade and standards. Finally, it analyses the urgent need for the development of mechanisms to ensure sustainable production.

Interestingly, the GBEP notes that the case for a 'Biopact' remains strong:
International trade in biofuels and related feedstocks may provide win-win opportunities for some countries: for several developed countries imports are a necessary precondition for meeting the self-imposed blending targets; for several developing countries producing and exporting biofuels may provide new business opportunities and new end-markets for their agricultural products. For small and medium-sized developing countries, export markets may be necessary to initiate their industries, however, tariffs and other barriers are currently restricting trade.

This can offset lower production costs in producing countries, represent significant barriers to international trade, and have negative repercussions on investments in the sector. A more liberal trade regime would greatly contribute to the achievement of the economic, energy, environmental and social goals that countries are pursuing.
Bioenergy has rapidly emerged as a top priority on the international agenda. The GBEP builds its activities upon three strategic pillars: energy security, food security and sustainable development. It was established to implement the commitments taken by the G8 +5 Countries in the 2005 G8 Summit in Gleneagles, and was recently invited by the G8 Summit in Heiligendamm to “continue its work on biofuel best practices and take forward the successful and sustainable development of bioenergy”.

The GBEP's first comprehensive report finds that the reasons to promote the rapid growth of the sector are shared by most countries (table, click to enlarge):
  • rising oil prices and energy security considerations are forcing countries to look for alternative fuels;
  • biofuels can play a role in rural development, providing energy access to remote communities and creating employment;
  • last but certainly not least, climate change benefits that can be realized through reduction of GHG emissions
Bioenergy thus sits at the intersection of three of the world’s great challenges - energy security, climate change, and poverty reduction - and has received an enormous amount of attention in the past few years. Joint work on these issues is vital considering that together, the G8 +5 Countries account for about 55 percent of the world’s population, 70+ percent of global GDP, and about 72 percent of world energy-related and industry CO2 emissions.

According to the best data available, bioenergy provides about 10 percent of the world’s total primary energy supply (47.2 EJ of bioenergy out of a total of 479 EJ in 2005, i.e. 9.85 percent). Most of this is for use in the residential sector (for heating and cooking) and is produced locally. In 2005 bioenergy represented 78 percent of all renewable energy produced. A full 97 percent of biofuels are made of solid biomass, 71 percent of which used in the residential sector. Biomass is also used to generate gaseous and liquid fuels, and growth in demand for the latter has been significant over the last ten years (graph, click to enlarge):
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Biomass provides a relatively small amount of the total primary energy supply (TPES) of the G8 Countries (1-4 percent). By contrast, bioenergy is a significant part of the energy supply in the +5 Countries representing from 5-27 percent of TPES. China with its 9000 PJ/yr is the largest user of biomass as a source of energy, followed by India (6000 PJ/yr), USA 2300 PJ/yr, and Brazil (2000 PJ/yr), while bioenergy’s contribution in Canada, France and Germany is around 450 PJ/yr (graph, click to enlarge).

The share of 'primitive' bioenergy use in India, China and Mexico is decreasing, mostly as traditional biomass is substituted by kerosene and LPG. However the use of solid biomass for electricity production is important, especially from pulp and paper plants. Bioenergy’s share in total energy consumption is increasing in the G8 Countries especially Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom.

The production of liquid biofuels - both biodiesel and ethanol - for transport is increasing rapidly in all countries. Brazil is leading the production of ethanol, mainly from sugarcane, whereas Germany is at the forefront of biodiesel production (graph, click to enlarge).

There are four key factors driving interest in bioenergy: rising prices for fossil fuels, in particular oil prices; energy security; climate change; and rural development. Bioenergy markets are largely policy dependent in most of the world, as the production of biofuels in most countries is not at this point competitive with fossil fuels. Nearly all countries reported that energy security and climate change are the most important drivers of their bioenergy development activities.

Policy measures
Overall there are few differences between the policy objectives of G8 Countries and the +5 Countries. Rural development is more central to the +5 Countries’ focus on bioenergy development, and this is often aligned with a poverty alleviation agenda.

Feed-in tariffs, taxes, guaranteed markets (i.e. renewable energy and fuel mandates, and preferential purchasing), compulsory grid connections, other direct supports (i.e. grants, loan guarantees, subsidies, construction incentives, etc.), and R,D&D are the principal policy mechanisms being deployed by the G8 +5 Countries to encourage bioenergy development (table, click to enlarge).

Bioenergy markets are further influenced by general energy, agriculture and forestry, climate change, and environmental policies.

Feed-in tariffs are currently the world’s most widespread national renewable energy policy and are in use in over half of the G8 +5 Countries. They are often crafted for renewable energy generally but are sometimes directed at bioenergy specifically. The feed-in tariff is the policy tool that has been most effective in stimulating renewable energy markets, however feed-in tariffs need to be differentiated by technology and biomass treated individually, in order to specifically boost bioenergy.

A variety of tax incentives and penalties are used by governments to foster bioenergy development and they are one of the most widely used support instruments. Taxes affect the cost-competitiveness of bioenergy vs. substitutes and therefore bioenergy viability in the marketplace.

National targets and public incentive systems have been effectively used in many countries, in particular for liquid biofuels for transport. Among the G8 +5 Countries, only Russia has not created a transport biofuel target. Voluntary quota systems or targets are common for biomass energy for heat, power and transport fuels in the G8 Countries, however, blending mandates enforceable via legal mechanisms are becoming increasingly utilized.

Blending targets are less established in the +5 Countries but they are under discussion or awaiting approval. Preferential purchasing by governments can also be a powerful tool when effectively implemented. In policies relating to biofuels for transport, there is a trend towards policies such as blending mandates which don’t require direct government funding, although publicly financed support remains significant.

Most countries use some form of direct loans or grants. The G8 +5 Governments are conducting research and development in their own laboratories and institutes and many are supporting public private partnerships and various forms of demonstration projects. Direct supports and R,D&D are being used in a number of G8 Countries to accelerate the commercial development of second generation biofuels for transportation.

A few governments are moving towards performance focused policies. Rather than mandate an amount of fuel to be consumed, these governments are mandating the amount of GHG reductions required. This strategy to harness market forces is rapidly gaining interest in Kyoto signatory countries that are looking for the most cost-effective GHG emission strategies.

There is a growing recognition that not all biofuels are “green.” New schemes are under way to promote sustainability as well as link funding to sustainability. The European Union and some of its member states are working toward sustainability standards to attach to mandatory targets. Brazil has created its “social seal” and has tied it to its blending mandates.
No international sustainability assurance system exists for biofuels or bioenergy more broadly. Several international processes to create such a system are underway, however, even these do not deal with all concerns due to the potential for impact shifting. This occurs when feedstock from existing fields/plantations is used for biofuels that was originally used for other applications which leads to unsustainably produced feedstocks being used, or to new plantations/fields being created, to supply these other applications. The fungibility of feedstocks, land, and other inputs for feed, fuel, and food is leading some to call for a universal framework for sustainability requirements.

Enforcement is critical to the functioning of any of these schemes. While a discussion of enforcement strategies is beyond the scope of this summary, it must be acknowledged as central. The capacity of countries to enforce protections, or even to enact them in the first place, is highly variable. In many developing countries, where much of the investment interest is focused, the pressure to reduce regulations and oversight in order to attract foreign investment is an additional challenge. These factors point to the need for international assurance systems.
Ultimately, the GBEP says, sustainability requirements will need to be agreed upon internationally, applied locally, and applied to all biomass regardless of end use if leakage effects or impact shifting is to be avoided.

Trade and standards
There is a move towards harmonization of technical standards regionally and internationally. This is vital for quality assurance, equipment compatibility, and the facilitation of trade. Historically, biomass and biofuel trade flows have been limited, as most of the production has been for domestic consumption. However, in the coming years, international trade in biofuels and feedstocks is expected to escalate rapidly to satisfy increasing worldwide demand.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) does not currently have a trade regime specific to biofuels. International trade in biofuels falls, therefore, under the rules of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT 1994). In addition to the WTO, several regional and bilateral trade agreements, mostly involving the United States and the EU, currently regulate biofuels trade.

International trade in biofuels and related feedstocks may provide win-win opportunities for some countries: for several developed countries imports are a necessary precondition for meeting the self-imposed blending targets; for several developing countries producing and exporting biofuels may provide new business opportunities and new end-markets for their agricultural products. For small and medium-sized developing countries, export markets may be necessary to initiate their industries, however, tariffs and other barriers are currently restricting trade.

The GBEP concludes that government policies play a key role in influencing investment in bioenergy. When carefully balanced with environmental and social conditions, such policies will also determine the long-term viability of this important emerging opportunity.

In February 2007, the Global Bioenergy Partnership recommended the preparation of this Report on the current state of bioenergy development in G8 + 5 Countries as a reference platform for future work of GBEP towards the sustainable development of bioenergy. Development of the Report was guided by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), under the coordination of Gustavo Best and Jeff Tschirley with the support of Astrid Agostini and Maria Michela Morese (GBEP Secretariat). The lead author of this Report is Suzanne Hunt with supporting inputs from Rudi Drigo and staff contributions on the country summaries from the Italian Ministry for the Environment Land and Sea, and UN Foundation.

Global Bioenergy Partnership: A review of the current state of bioenergy development in G8 +5 countries [*.pdf] - November, 2007.

Article continues

Lula: new oil find will have no impact on biofuel investments in Brazil

Last week, Brazil's state-owned oil firm Petrobras announced the discovery of a large offshore oil province stretching from Espírito Santo, Campos, and Santos Basins, in ultra-deep horizons, and in pre-salt rocks. Petrobras analyzed and tested the ultra-deep Tupi area in the region and said it has a recoverable reserve of between 5 to 8 billion barrels of light oil and natural gas.

According to Petrobras' president Sergio Gabrielli, the oil and natural gas field will put Brazil among the world's ten leading oil producing countries. However, some in the 'Peak Oil' community have downplayed the importance of the find, saying it only constitutes around 70 days of global oil consumption. The number of similar finds has declined steadily over the past years, and the Tupi field lies under 2,140 meters (7,060 feet) of water, more than 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) of sand and rocks, and then another 2,000-meter (6,600-foot) thick layer of salt. Getting the oil out will be a formidable challenge. And it will take years because the petroleum is so deep under the earth's surface, meaning any impact on oil prices will not come soon. Nonetheless, for Brazil the new reserve signifies a boost to its economy.

At the same time, Brazil is also the largest producer of biofuels, with Petrobras planning to play a key role in the sector. Its ethanol industry, located in the South of the country, produces a highly efficient fuel from sugarcane, which reduces carbon dioxide emissions by up to 80 percent compared to gasoline. The question now is: will the Tupi oil field alter Brazil's biofuels investment pattern?

Answering the question during his address at Radiobrás, president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said this is out of the question:
On the contrary, the matter of biofuels plays two important roles. The first one is to increase the importance of Brazil to the global energy matrix that we wish to build, in order to fight pollution in the planet. We all are aware of global warming, and we all know that petroleum is one of the causes of this problem. Therefore, we will keep on investing in biofuels. - President Lula
So how many hectares of land would Brazil have to devote to growing sugarcane if it wanted to match the energy contained in the large Tupi oil field? Let's assume 7 billion barrels can be recovered. A hectare of sugarcane yields around 6000 liters of ethanol with current conversion methods - roughly equivalent to 23 barrels of oil. Assuming that the cane fields remain productive for 50 years, Brazil would have to grow sugarcane on 6.1 million hectares of land, or 0.7 percent of the country's total area. With second generation biofuel conversion techniques, about half that area would be required.

The president referred to this logic of renewability - the fact that cane remains highly productive for decades - when hinting at Brazil's biofuel plans, which will not be slowed down. He pointed at the fact that despite the oil find, the country will also step up its efforts to lead further biofuel development in Latin America and Africa:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::
The world will inevitably need to adopt a mix of biofuel into oil. We have already been mixing ethanol into it, a 25% mix is already used in Brazil. Europe has decided to mix 10% by 2020. And in January we will start mixing 2% of biodiesel into diesel oil. Afterwards, we are going to increase to five, then ten, and by the time everyone is doing it, then we will be able to reduce carbon emission, and generate millions of jobs in Brazil, Latin America and Africa, which has a huge area available for planting, and we will also help family agriculture. - President Lula
Just before the major oil find, Petrobras announced its long term strategy, which included a shift to biofuels. In a first phase, it will start approving five joint venture projects worth US$1 billion to produce ethanol from the Goias and Mato Grosso states this week, with the aim of getting 20 ethanol projects going by 2012 (previous post).

The company's strategic and business plans for the coming years include the aim to produce 4 billion liters of ethanol (equivalent to 50,000 barrels of oil per day) by 2012 for which it needs at least another 15 projects (besides the five already selected). Petrobras has been studying around 40 sugar mill projects for exports mainly to the Japanese market since early 2007.

Petrobras has also signed a series of collaboration agreements on biofuels with other (oil) companies, including Norway's Statoil (here), with India's state-owned Bharat Petroleum (here) and with Portugal's Galp Energia (earlier post).

: the Tupi oil field, located offshore in ultra-deep waters. Credit: BG Group.

Agência Petrobras de Notícias: Petrobras discovers Brazil's biggest oil-bearing area - November 8, 2007.

Agência Brasil: País não deixará de investir em biocombustível por causa de nova reserva, afirma Lula - November 12, 2007.

Biopact: Petrobras starts approving joint ventures worth $1 billion to set up 20 new ethanol plants - September 27, 2007

Article continues

Global warming is melting soft coral: extinction could mean a worldwide catastrophe impacting all marine and terrestrial life

Tel Aviv University (TAU) Professor Hudi Benayahu, a marine biologist in the Department of Zoology, has found that soft corals, an integral and important part of reef environments, are simply melting and wasting away because of climate change. He believes this could mean a global marine catastrophe. Benayahu is pessimistic and urges decision makers to make sure that attempts at saving the soft corals do not come too late. The news is yet another serious warning on how global warming and fossil fuel use is destroying reef ecosystems (previous warning on the Great Barrier Reef).

Environmental stress is damaging the symbiotic relationship between soft corals and the microscopic symbiotic algae living in their tissues. There is no doubt that global warming is to blame, warns the marine biologist, explaining that this symbiotic relationship is key for the survival of most soft corals.

Benayahu, who is also head of TAU's Porter School of Environmental Studies, explains soft corals help maintain the health and balance of reef ecosystems and provide protection to numerous animals. They are also a rich and promising source of life-saving drugs against cancer and deadly infectious diseases.
It's too late. We have now actually missed the boat in finding some key pharmaceuticals. There is a huge gap in our knowledge of soft corals in the reef environment, and with the rate of extinction, we have lost certain species forever. - Prof. Hudi Benayahu
We may never recover certain therapeutic drugs, and humans could not live with a wide-spread extinction of marine life, he points out. Life as we know it could not exist if the marine environment, an important producer of oxygen, continues to follow this course.

Unlike their harder brethren, soft corals have no stony calcified outer skeleton to protect them. When they die, they are gone for good, leaving no trace of their existence. Where soft corals were once found in about 50-60 percent of Prof. Benayahu’s study sites around the globe, a few years later he is finding that only about 5 percent remain:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Earlier this year, Prof. Benayahu observed of a Japanese soft coral reef, “There was a massive disappearance of soft corals. You can't imagine this was the same site. Just two years passed and the entire area was deserted, lifeless."

But there is still hope. Prof. Benayahu recently returned from Phuket, Thailand, where he gave a training workshop to international students on the biology of soft corals. Future marine biologists from countries such as Australia, China, India, Malaysia, Israel and Thailand participated. The workshop was intended to increase awareness of what could be a global environmental catastrophe. “I am hoping that these young scientists will take what they learned to better understand how they can save soft corals back in their home countries,” says Prof. Benayahu

With more than 35 years experience in the field, Prof. Benayahu is one of a handful of world experts who devotes his life to the taxonomy, ecology and biology of soft corals. He has discovered dozens of new soft coral species across the entire Indo-Pacific region, and he carefully studies with his students the role these species play in the reef environment. He has received numerous grants to support his work, including one from the National Geographic Society to study marine life and soft corals on shipwrecks.

: Cladiella, a common soft coral found on reefs. The photo shows a colony that, suffering from high temperatures, has partially lost its symbiogic algae and is in danger of disappearing. Credit: Tel Aviv University.

Tel Aviv University: TAU Professor Finds Global Warming Is Melting Soft Coral - October 18, 2007.

Biopact: Scientists warn for acid oceans - could erode Great Barrier Reef - October 17, 2007

Article continues

Monday, November 12, 2007

Scientists discover record-breaking hydrogen storage materials - absorb 14% by weigth at room temperature

Scientists at the University of Virginia (UVa) have discovered a new class of hydrogen storage materials that could make the storage and transportation of energy much more efficient — and affordable — through higher-performing hydrogen fuel cells. The news is important for the bioenergy community, because, on a well-to-wheel basis, biohydrogen used in fuel cells is the most efficient and cleanest form of hydrogen utilization out of 28 generic fuel production and propulsion options for the gas (see earlier discussion of a large EU well-to-wheel study on hydrogen production, or see graph, click to enlarge).

Bellave S. Shivaram and Adam B. Phillips, the UVa physicists who invented the new materials, presented their findings today at the International Symposium on Materials Issues in a Hydrogen Economy.
In terms of hydrogen absorption, these materials could prove a world record. Most materials today absorb only 7 to 8 percent of hydrogen by weight, and only at cryogenic [extremely low] temperatures. Our materials absorb hydrogen up to 14 percent by weight at room temperature. By absorbing twice as much hydrogen, the new materials could help make the dream of a hydrogen economy come true. - Adam B. Phillips
In the quest for alternative fuels, UVa's new materials potentially could provide a highly affordable solution to energy storage and transportation problems with a wide variety of applications. They absorb a much higher percentage of hydrogen than predecessor materials while exhibiting faster kinetics at room temperature and much lower pressures, and are inexpensive and simple to produce.

The challenge of hydrogen storage is finding a way to store enough of it to make it worthwhile — enough to fuel a vehicle for its required driving range, within the constraints of weight, volume, efficiency, and cost. Current technologies — and their downsides — include:
  • Compressed gases in pressurized tanks, like the ones that transport today's propane and natural gas — which could require large-volume tanks
  • Metal hydrides — which are very heavy and thus reduce a vehicle's driving range.
Hydrogen is a poorly compressing, low-density gas, difficult to liquefy. A storage medium would need to be small, lightweight, and provide a high concentration of hydrogen to the weight of the storage material.

For the automotive industry, this medium also needs to be on board the vehicle, providing sufficient fuel to travel a range of 300 miles on a single tank— without sacrificing space, lifestyle or price. The primary goal is to get the largest amount of hydrogen into the smallest volume.

Yet another important feature is the ability to put hydrogen in the medium and take it out again without expending too much energy. Finally, it also has to be inexpensive, not too sensitive to impurities, and safe. This is a very tall order indeed.

The three most basic approaches to a storage solution are the following:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::
  • Physical storage: developing tanks for either compressed hydrogen gas or liquid hydrogen;
  • Reversible chemical storage: storing the hydrogen in solid materials so it can be released and refilled without physically removing the storage medium from the vehicle
  • Irreversible chemical storage: releasing hydrogen via an on-board chemical reaction with the storage material and replenishing the hydrogen off-board.
The new materials fit in the second category and are based on carbon/metal hybrid materials.
These materials are the next generation in hydrogen fuel storage materials, unlike any others we have seen before. They have passed every litmus test that we have performed, and we believe they have the potential to have a large impact. - Bellave S. Shivaram
The inventors believe the novel materials will translate to the marketplace and are working with the UVa Patent Foundation to patent their discovery.

The U.Va. Patent Foundation is very excited to be working with a material that one day may be used by millions in everyday life, said Chris Harris, senior licensing manager for the UVa Patent Foundation. According to him, Dr. Phillips and Dr. Shivaram have made an "incredible breakthrough" in the area of hydrogen absorption.

Phillips’s and Shivaram’s research was supported by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy.

We will report back as more details about the materials become available.

A quick note on biohydrogen: it may be the cleanest and most energy efficient way of producing hydrogen, the problem is that biomass can be used more efficiently still for the production of heat and electricity. For this reason, some bioenergy advocates are more in favor of a transition towards electric vehicles, because these would allow just as large a range of primary energy sources (including biomass, solar, wind, nuclear, etc...) and are surprisingly efficient and clean compared to hydrogen used in fuel cells. But then, such a transition requires major breakthroughs in battery technology. The jury is still out.

UVa Today: University of Virginia Scientists Discover Record-Breaking Hydrogen Storage Materials for Use in Fuel Cells - November 9, 2007.

Biopact: Hydrogen out, compressed biogas in - October 01, 2006

Article continues

Dutch partners agree to build commercial scale biomass torrefaction plant

The Energy Research Center of the Netherlands (ECN), sustainable energy consultancy Econcern and engineering and industrial investor Chemfo announce they have agreed to build a first commercial scale biomass torrefaction plant that will produce second generation biomass-based pellets for multiple applications: BO2pellets.

The three partners bring together an extensive expertise and track record in the development and commercialisation of biomass technologies. The BO2-technology, developed by ECN, produces pellets of so-called torrefied biomass. It is considered a key technology that enables a broad range of biomass streams, such as wood chips and agricultural residues, to be converted in an upgraded sustainable solid biofuel with a high energy density. This type of pellets is sometimes called 'biocoal' (earlier post).

Current first generation pellets have a limited energy density which drives up logistics costs, requires indoor storage and brings difficulties with pulverization. These issues are all solved with the new pellets, which have a higher energy density, can be stored outside and can be pulverized directly in coal mills.

These BO2pellets can thus be used for electricity and heat generation in large-scale coal-fired power plants, in biomass CHP plants or in domestic pellet boilers and stoves. They also have high potential as a feedstock for gasification-based production of transportation fuels.

Torrefaction is a mild pre-treatment of biomass at a temperature between 200-300 °C in the absence of oxygen (schematic, click to enlarge). During torrefaction the biomass properties are changed to obtain a much better fuel quality for combustion and gasification applications. In combination with pelletisation, torrefaction also aids the logistic issues that exist for untreated biomass.

Torrefaction by means of the ECN process leads to an energy dense fuel pellet with a typical bulk density of 750 to 850 kg/m3, a net calorific value of 19 to 22 MJ/kg (as received) and a volumetric density of 14 to 18.5 GJ/m3 (bulk):
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Typically, the torrefaction process has a thermal efficiency of 96% and the total production costs amount 40-50 € per ton of pellets. The logistics costs can be reduced to 50%-66% of the costs involved for first generation wood pellets.

Econcern and Chemfo now join ECN to bring the BO2 technology to market through their joint-venture BO2GO b.v., by agreeing to build a commercial scale plant.

Econcern’s mission is to ensure ‘a sustainable energy supply for everyone’ and consists of companies Ecofys, Evelop, Ecostream and Ecoventures. Together they deliver unique projects, innovative products and services for a sustainable energy supply. The Econcern Group employs about 900 professionals in 19 countries.

The Energy research Centre of the Netherlands concentrates on themes that contribute to a globally sustainable use of energy. This includes the development of technologies for the use of renewable energy, energy storage and energy conversion, including low-emission combustion. ECN can optimally employ the multi-disciplinary nature of its research potential and its particular expertise, experience, and professionalism in the construction and operation of complex research installations. With a staff of over 600 people and an annual budget of € 60 million, ECN has developed a portfolio of proprietary technologies and patents of which some are ready to be commercialised through spin-out companies.

Chemfo BV is the holding company of Mr. Paul Hamm. He is active in international engineering and industrial investment activities, and currently the President of the Dutch Energy Transition Platform for Green Feedstock, a platform initiated by the Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs.

Recently, Belgium's Thenergo, a leading European combined heat-and-power (CHP) clean energy company, announced 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 (previous post).

Earlier we reported that coal prices in Europe have skyrocketed to levels higher than $100 per ton. The situation has recently changed with several contracts for European DES/CIF ARA coal now reaching $130 per ton. If this trend continues (and energy specialists recently surveyed think this will be the case), torrefied biomass pellets, which will receive green electricity credits when burned (at least in many European countries), could soon become directly competitive with some types of coal in Europe.

: the torrefaction process developed by ECN. Credit: ECN.

Energy research Centre of the Netherlands: Econcern, ECN and Chemfo agree to build commercial scale biomass torrefaction plant - November 8, 2007.

Patrick C.A. Bergman, Jacob H.A. Kiel, "Torrefaction for biomass upgrading" [*.pdf], ECN, Published at 14th European Biomass Conference & Exhibition, Paris, France, 17-21 October 2005

Patrick C.A. Bergman, "Combined torrefaction and pelletisation: The TOP process" [*.pdf], ECN Biomass, July 2005.

Biopact: Belgian-Dutch partnership to develop 5MW biocoal project - August 10, 2007

Biopact: Coal prices hit records too - time for biomass? - October 03, 2007

Biopact: Centre for European Economic Research survey: experts see rising prices for all energy commodities over the next five years - October 06, 2007

Article continues

Syngenta to trial third generation biofuel crop that grows its own bioconversion enzyme

Syngenta, the Swiss seeds and crop protection group, has made a technological breakthrough that could significantly improve the economics of biofuels by streamlining the way corn is converted into ethanol. Michael Pragnell, chief executive, says the company has developed a corn seed that incorporates a key enzyme used to produce ethanol.

The corn amylase enzyme has received US Food and Drug Administration approval for bulk trials after pilot projects showed it could eliminate the need for the enzyme to be added separately in making ethanol.

In short, Syngenta's crop grows its own bioconversion enzymes (schematic, click to enlarge). This is an example of 'third generation' crops and biofuel processes. Earlier, researchers at the University of Michigan achieved a similar feat by embedding cellulase enzymes into corn (previous post).

Syngenta, however, is the first to actually trial the new biofuel crop.
What we've done is to grow the enzyme in the corn. That will accelerate manufacturing by removing the need for enzyme deliveries to biofuel plants. We are now in our first month of bulk trials. - Michael Pragnell, CEO Syngenta
The company says it would take about nine months for tests to prove the seed performed to expectations and the company hoped to have a product on the market for the 2009 growing season.

John Urbanchuk, an agricultural economist with the LECG consulting group, said that when you look at what's happening to world oil prices because of supply and demand, and at increasing environmental concerns, biofuels offer immense potential. This new technology will make the production process much more efficient.

Bulk trials will focus on ensuring the seed has at least similar yields to existing varieties and can function across the range of ethanol production processes:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Other seed and chemical groups, including Monsanto and Du Pont, have been pursuing ways to streamline ethanol production, but Syngenta is the first to win FDA approval.

So far, all the pilot trials have shown a positive yield increase. The seed has been developed using genetic and conventional hybridisation techniques in a process described as "precision hybridisation".

Syngenta is already looking beyond its new seed to scientific advances that could revolutionise biofuel economics further

About 35 per cent of each year's corn harvest is wasted as so-called corn stover. The real holy grail is to identify an enzyme that can convert the waste from the corn crop.

Syngenta calls the "real prize" the development of an enzyme that could also be grown in the crop and that would allow us to convert all that waste into ethanol.

This is where Syngenta faces competition from synthetic biology company Agrivida, which is precisely designing a crop that already contains its own bioconversion enzymes capable of degrading the entire biomass of plant material, including the lignocellulose, into small sugars that can then be readily converted to cellulosic ethanol (more here).

Checkbiotech: Syngenta in biofuels breakthrough - November 12, 2007.

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

Biopact: Agrivida and Codon Devices to partner on third-generation biofuels - August 03, 2007

Article continues

China: poverty reduction, energy security more important than capping emissions

People in the wealthy post-industrialised world tend to forget that for developing nations access to abundant and cheap energy resources is crucial in the fight against poverty. Westerners often hope these countries can somehow skip the polluting fossil fuel path which turned Europe, the US and Japan into prosperous regions, 'leapfrog' into a greener, far more efficient and low carbon future, and fight poverty in the process. But is this is a highly idealistic, very tall order indeed.

The economies of developing countries are energy intensive, and without energy security and affordable fuels, all efforts at social development are in vain. We are already seeing the truly catastrophic socio-economic effects of high oil prices on the poorest countries, some of which are now forced to spend up to six times more on importing oil than on health care and poverty alleviation (previous post). Asking such countries to make energy even more expensive by putting a carbon tax on fossil fuels or by capping emissions in order to fight climate change would be unacceptable to many of them. In fact, some energy experts have warned that in the medium term, high energy prices could indeed be more threatening to societies than climate change (more here).

A Chinese top official, Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui, made this crystal clear by saying Beijing will reject binding caps on greenhouse gas emissions at the UNFCCC's global meeting in Bali next month, because developing countries must be allowed to use more energy and consequently raise emissions to fight poverty.
Climate change is caused mainly by developed countries. They should have the main responsibility for climate change and to reduce emissions. [...] Most developing countries are in the process of industrialization and urbanization, and they face the arduous task of poverty reduction. This is why they need a large period of time for continuous energy demand growth with the growth of greenhouse gas emissions. - Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui
China is about to become the world's top greenhouse-gas producer, even though its per capita emissions are still only 35% of the OECD average. However, the People's Republic's stunning economic growth means it will be responsible for the major share in emissions growth over the coming decades, the International Energy Agency said in its World Energy Outlook released earlier this week. The agency projects that in a business as usual scenario, global CO2 emissions will jump from 27 gigatonnes in 2005 to 42 Gt in 2030, with China alone accounting for 42% of the increase. In a high growth scenario, this share will increase to a whopping 49%, more than the rest of the world combined (except India) (graph, click to enlarge, and previous post).

Succesfully fighting climate change will obviously be impossible without China committing to major cuts in emissions. This is why the country is under immense pressure to accept binding limits at a meeting in Indonesia of environment ministers from 80 nations to discuss a possible replacement to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on emission reductions. Nations agreed in Kyoto to cut output of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases to below 1990 levels by 2012. But China, India and other developing economies are exempt:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Vice Foreign Minister Zhang did not say directly what Beijing's position would be at the key meeting in Bali, and he did not take questions from reporters. But a European Union official who met this week with Chinese leaders said they told him in private meetings that Beijing could not accept any binding obligations.

Zhang was speaking at a ceremony to launch a fund to channel money from emissions-reduction credits into environmental projects. The fund will collect a share of Chinese companies' revenues under a system that allows industries in developed economies to offset pollution by paying others to reduce emissions. Beijing has promoted that system among its companies while resisting emissions caps.

Despite its refusal to back binding reduction targets, China has also announced an ambitious plan to promote low carbon renewables, with the bulk of the proposed funding going to hydropower projects. These remain controversial. Biomass and wind power receive a far smaller share. The overall aim of the plan is to meet 15 per cent of the country's energy demand by renewables in 2020 (earlier post).

However, given the sheer pace and scale of China's growth and the coal intensive energy mix which drives this development, such an ambitious renewables policy would have only a marginal effect on offsetting the vast amounts of greenhouse gases it will be releasing over the coming decades.

Economic growth and poverty alleviation versus the fight against climate change. The wealthy countries, whose economies have become less and less energy intensive and who can afford the cost of reducing emissions, do not think there is such a dilemma. But for developing countries, and for China in particular, there is indeed a sharp conflict between these two demands. China has decided to prioritize the first over the latter. And the consequences of this choice will affect all of us.

Perhaps there is only one development on which the world can pin its hopes for turning this situation around, and that is a dramatic increase in prices for both oil and coal, followed by a long and global economic slowdown, and a massive, fast, radical and continued investment in renewables, conservation and energy efficiency.

Graph: projection of China's increasing share in the growth of greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 to 2030. Credit: IEA, World Energy Outlook 2007.

Associated Press: China Signals Rejection of Emission Caps - November 10, 2007.

Biopact: IEA WEO: China and India transform global energy landscape - demand, emissions to grow 'inexorably' - November 08, 2007

Biopact: China unveils $265 billion renewable energy plan, aims for 15% renewables by 2020 - September 06, 2007

Biopact: High oil prices disastrous for developing countries - September 12, 2007

Biopact: Energy experts: high oil prices bigger threat than climate change - October 29, 2007

Article continues

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Kids and biochar: Charcoalab brings terra preta to the classroom

Conventional bioenergy offers a sustainable road to clean and renewable energy. But creative minds take things a step further and have found ways of making bioenergy a tad more radical by tapping its negative emissions potential. The Charcoalab is an initiative aimed at introducing kids and young students in a practical way to the benefits of adding biochar to soils - one of the techniques used to generate carbon-negative bioenergy. With the lab's charcoal kit, teachers from across the world can help their students conduct experiments on biochar in a fun way, and compare data online. The project thus offers an interesting context for lessons about climate change, the carbon cycle, agriculture, soils, and biology. Moreover, it may help in getting international recognition for the technique of storing charcoal in soils as a method for carbon sequestration.

Ordinary biofuels, nuclear energy and renewables like solar or wind power are 'carbon neutral', that is, they do not add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. But bioenergy with carbon storage (BECS) goes a step further: not only does it not add CO2, it actually alters the carbon cycle by taking the greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere.

There are two main pathways to achieve this: a high-tech and a low-tech route. The technology intensive strategy consists of coupling biofuels and bioenergy production to 'carbon capture and storage' (CCS) techniques in which CO2 is captured from a point source and then sequestered in geological formations like depleted oil fields, unmineable coal seams or saline aquifers. The low-tech track consists of pyrolysing biomass and storing part of it directly into agricultural soils. As the charcoal is stored in an inert form, the soils become carbon sinks that can keep the compound locked up, potentially for centuries.

The technique is actually thousands of years old and sometimes called 'terra preta' (dark earth), referring to the fertile, man-made soils found in the Amazon. These dark soils were discovered by archaeologists who found them to be the key that allowed a civilization to flourish in a region in which agriculture would otherwise have been difficult (previous post). Today, they are of interest again because they could become one of the most effective ways of sequestering carbon and thus help mitigate climate change.

By adding biochar to soils, they have been shown to boost crop yields. This is due to a number of factors, amongst which are the better retention of moisture, a boost to cation exchange capacity and aggregate formation, and, in some cases, an increase in soil pH (earlier post). But researchers are still trying to find out how the old carbon-rich terra preta soils were created precisely. One way to do so, is simply by simulating the technique in modern soils and by measuring the effects of different biochar applications.

The Charcoalab now takes these experiments to the classroom in a fun and hands on way. The initiative was recently launched by Christelle Braun, Phd student in bioenergy at the Technical University of Dresden, who thought terra preta deserved attention from a wider audience. Young people can test the effectiveness of the technique with a kit that contains samples of charcoal, a set of pots with soil and seeds, and instructions on how to conduct trials. Like real agronomists, the 'certified charcoal testers', set up experiments and compare plant growth in charcoal-amended soils versus unaltered, ordinary soils.

The Charcoalab has created a database to which school children from across the world can upload their results and compare their data with those of others online. As the number of experiments grows, the global database will yield interesting scientific results:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Several schools are already participating in the project, amongst them 20 institutions in New Zealand. The Charcoalab offers teachers a range of educational materials, which allows them to create and illustrate lessons on the carbon cycle, climate change, the substitution of fossil fuels, the history and principles of biochar, and much more.

Getting international recognition for charcoal as a method for carbon sequestration has yet to be achieved, although many publications are available which indicate that the presence of charcoal in the soil (which has improved soil fertility), extends beyond 1000 years.

A key challenge is to get research institutes around the world to elaborate on these findings and push this information forward to governments to get policy, implementation and support for the application of charcoal agriculturally. Several initiatives are underway, bundled in the International Biochar Initiative (IBI). In the U.S., first steps towards legislation encouraging trials and research on biochar have been taken (more here).

Developed countries should also be encouraged to support the renewable production of charcoal in the developing world. Several categories of biomass available in poor regions could indeed be used as feedstocks for charcoal production. Positive results already exist for the agricultural application of biochar from bamboo, coconut shell and agricultural residues such as rice husks, corn stover, nut shells or cotton gin waste.

The Charcoalab thinks that if it can get children around the world to conduct the same simple pot trials with the same charcoal and submit their findings, this will result in a much faster indication of whether there is any potential negative effect of using charcoal in soil or if it is at all beneficial.

The simple submission of a pH measurement of the soil at the start and the end of the experiment, complemented with weekly measurements of the height of the plants and, if possible, with pictures showing the differences between the test and the control plants could give a clear indication on the impact of using charcoal.

The Charcoalab is a non-profit and will be financed by the use of free space for advertisement on the packages of the kits and on the website, sold to private companies or NGO's supporting the project. This could provide the opportunity for foundations and academic institutes to send a message to a mass market, not only for children, but also their parents and the wider public and through associated advertising in media channels.

In many countries, the charcoal kit would be eligible for environmental education grant funding. The kits could well be adopted and supported by government departments, with the task of promoting environmental awareness, sustainability or simply encouraging kids to pursue careers in the field of science.

: children from the Matapihi school in Tauranga, New Zealand, conducting their first trial. Credit: Charcoalab.

Charcoalab website.

Biopact: Research confirms biochar in soils boosts crop yields - June 01, 2007

Biopact: Towards carbon-negative bioenergy: U.S. Senator introduces biochar legislation - October 07, 2007

Biopact: Terra preta: how biofuels can become carbon-negative and save the planet - August 18, 2006

Biopact: Terra preta and the future of energy: the Secret of El Dorado - August 19, 2007

Article continues

World ethanol organisations issue joint statement on the biofuels future

In conjunction with F.O. LICHT´S World Ethanol 2007 conference being held in Amsterdam this week, leaders of the world’s largest ethanol production and trade associations issued a joint statement on the necessity of developing a robust and vibrant renewable biofuels industry around the globe.

The following statement was issued jointly by Gordon Quaiattini, President, Canadian Renewable Fuels Association, Canada; Robert Vierhout, Secretary General, European Bioethanol Fuel Association (eBIO), European Union; Bob Dinneen, President, Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), United States; and, Marcos Jank, President, Sugar Cane Industry Association (UNICA), Brazil:

"Renewable fuels must be a central component of a global strategy to lessen reliance on fossil fuels, to mitigate the impacts of global climate change, and to provide real economic opportunity for rural residents in every country on Earth.
  • First, as oil prices soar to US$100 per barrel and declining petroleum reserves become ever more costly to extract, it is vital that we move quickly to expand the production and availability of biofuels such as ethanol. A renewable biofuel, ethanol contributes to global fuel diversity and security, particularly when considering that the current alternatives are fossil fuels from the wartorn Middle East and other dangerous regions of the world.
  • Second, today’s global ethanol industry is contributing to a more sustainable energy future unlike any other fuel in history. The use of renewable fuels such as ethanol significantly reduces the emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants that lead to global warming.
  • Third, ethanol will continue to create economic opportunity for farmers in developed and developing countries and who are often most affected by low world agricultural prices. Enhanced rural development means improved income, less pressure on urban areas, and greater opportunities to the world’s poorest who often pay the greatest penalty for high energy prices.
The success achieved by the world’s ethanol industry is in and of itself a good story. But the narrative does not stop here. The rapid evolution of the world ethanol industry is quickly yielding new technologies that are improving production efficiencies at existing biorefineries and introducing diverse new feedstocks such as grasses, bagasse, straw, wood chips and other biomass into the ethanol and bioelectricity generation production process:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

By continuing to work together and sharing ideas, these new technologies promise not only to increase ethanol production where it already exists but to make the benefits of ethanol production available in more countries.

Together with the world’s farmers and entrepreneurs, we can continue to feed as well as begin renewably fueling humankind.

Through cooperation and technology, we can responsibly and sustainably increase the production and use of renewable fuels and encourage others to take the essential first steps toward a more secure and stable energy and environmentally sensible future."

RFA: World Ethanol Industry Speaks Out: Ethanol Key to Energy Security, Environmental Future - November 8, 2007.

Article continues