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    Kazakhstan will next year adopt laws to regulate its fledgling biofuel industry and plans to construct at least two more plants in the next 18 months to produce environmentally friendly fuel from crops, industry officials said. According to Akylbek Kurishbayev, vice-minister for agriculture, he Central Asian country has the potential to produce 300,000 tons a year of biodiesel and export half. Kazakhstan could also produce up to 1 billion liters of bioethanol, he said. "The potential is huge. If we use this potential wisely, we can become one of the world's top five producers of biofuels," Beisen Donenov, executive director of the Kazakhstan Biofuels Association, said on the sidelines of a grains forum. Reuters - November 30, 2007.

    SRI Consulting released a report on chemicals from biomass. The analysis highlights six major contributing sources of green and renewable chemicals: increasing production of biofuels will yield increasing amounts of biofuels by-products; partial decomposition of certain biomass fractions can yield organic chemicals or feedstocks for the manufacture of various chemicals; forestry has been and will continue to be a source of pine chemicals; evolving fermentation technology and new substrates will also produce an increasing number of chemicals. Chemical Online - November 27, 2007.

    German industrial conglomerate MAN AG plans to expand into renewable energies such as biofuels and solar power. Chief Executive Hakan Samuelsson said services unit Ferrostaal would lead the expansion. Reuters - November 24, 2007.

    Analysts think Vancouver-based Ballard Power Systems, which pumped hundreds of millions and decades of research into developing hydrogen fuel cells for cars, is going to sell its automotive division. Experts describe the development as "the death of the hydrogen highway". The problems with H2 fuel cell cars are manifold: hydrogen is a mere energy carrier and its production requires a primary energy input; production is expensive, as would be storage and distribution; finally, scaling fuel cells and storage tanks down to fit in cars remains a huge challenge. Meanwhile, critics have said that the primary energy for hydrogen can better be used for electricity and electric vehicles. On a well-to-wheel basis, the cleanest and most efficient way to produce hydrogen is via biomass, so the news is a set-back for the biohydrogen community. But then again, biomass can be used more efficiently as electricity for battery cars. Canada.com - November 21, 2007.

    South Korea plans to invest 20 billion won (€14.8/$21.8 million) by 2010 on securing technologies to develop synthetic fuels from biomass, coal and natural gas, as well as biobutanol. 29 private companies, research institutes and universities will join this first stage of the "next-generation clean energy development project" led by South Korea's Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy. Korea Times - November 19, 2007.

    OPEC leaders began a summit today with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez issuing a chilling warning that crude prices could double to US$200 from their already-record level if the United States attacked Iran or Venezuela. He urged assembled leaders from the OPEC, meeting for only the third time in the cartel's 47-year history, to club together for geopolitical reasons. But the cartel is split between an 'anti-US' block including Venezuela, Iran, and soon to return ex-member Ecuador, and a 'neutral' group comprising most Gulf States. France24 - November 17, 2007.

    The article "Biofuels: What a Biopact between North and South could achieve" published in the scientific journal Energy Policy (Volume 35, Issue 7, 1 July 2007, Pages 3550-3570) ranks number 1 in the 'Top 25 hottest articles'. The article was written by professor John A. Mathews, Macquarie University (Sydney, Autralia), and presents a case for a win-win bioenergy relationship between the industrialised and the developing world. Mathews holds the Chair of Strategic Management at the university, and is a leading expert in the analysis of the evolution and emergence of disruptive technologies and their global strategic management. ScienceDirect - November 16, 2007.

    Timber products company China Grand Forestry Resources Group announced that it would acquire Yunnan Shenyu New Energy, a biofuels research group, for €560/$822 million. Yunnan Shenyu New Energy has developed an entire industrial biofuel production chain, from a fully active energy crop seedling nursery to a biorefinery. Cleantech - November 16, 2007.

    Northern European countries launch the Nordic Bioenergy Project - "Opportunities and consequences of an expanding bio energy market in the Nordic countries" - with the aim to help coordinate bioenergy activities in the Nordic countries and improve the visibility of existing and future Nordic solutions in the complex field of bioenergy, energy security, competing uses of resources and land, regional development and environmental impacts. A wealth of data, analyses and cases will be presented on a new website - Nordic Energy - along with announcements of workshops during the duration of project. Nordic Energy - November 14, 2007.

    Global Partners has announced that it is planning to increase its refined products and biofuels storage capacity in Providence, Rhode Island by 474,000 barrels. The partnership has entered into agreements with New England Petroleum Terminal, at a deepwater marine terminal located at the Port of Providence. PRInside - November 14, 2007.

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) kicks off the meeting in Valencia, Spain, which will result in the production of the Synthesis Report on climate change. The report will summarize the core findings of the three volumes published earlier by the separate working groups. IPCC - November 12, 2007.

    Biopact's Laurens Rademakers is interviewed by Mongabay on the risks of large-scale bioenergy with carbon storage (BECS) proposals. Even though Biopact remains positive about BECS, because it offers one of the few safe systems to mitigate climate change in a drastic way, care must be take to avoid negative impacts on tropical forests. Mongabay - November 10, 2007.

    According to the latest annual ranking produced by The Scientist, Belgium is the world's best country for academic research, followed by the U.S. and Canada. Belgium's top position is especially relevant for plant, biology, biotechnology and bioenergy research, as these are amongst the science fields on which it scores best. The Scientist - November 8, 2007.

    Mascoma Corporation, a cellulosic ethanol company, today announced the acquisition of Celsys BioFuels, Inc. Celsys BioFuels was formed in 2006 to commercialize cellulosic ethanol production technology developed in the Laboratory of Renewable Resources Engineering at Purdue University. The Celsys technology is based on proprietary pretreatment processes for multiple biomass feedstocks, including corn fiber and distiller grains. The technology was developed by Dr. Michael Ladisch, an internationally known leader in the field of renewable fuels and cellulosic biofuels. He will be taking a two-year leave of absence from Purdue University to join Mascoma as the company’s Chief Technology Officer. Business Wire - November 7, 2007.

    Bemis Company, Inc. announced today that it will partner with Plantic Technologies Limited, an Australian company specializing in starch-based biopolymers, to develop and sell renewably resourced flexible films using patented Plantic technology. Bemis - November 7, 2007.

    Hungary's Kalocsa Hõerõmû Kft is to build a HUF 40 billion (€158.2 million) straw-fired biomass power plant with a maximum capacity of 49.9 megawatts near Kalocsa in southern Hungary. Portfolio Hungary - November 7, 2007.

    Canada's Gemini Corporation has received approval to proceed into the detailed engineering, fabrication and construction phases of a biogas cogeneration facility located in the Lethbridge, Alberta area, the first of its kind whereby biogas production is enhanced through the use of Thermal Hydrolysis technology, a high temperature, high pressure process for the safe destruction of SRM material from the beef industry. The technology enables a facility to redirect waste material, previously shipped to landfills, into a valuable feedstock for the generation of electricity and thermal energy. This eliminates the release of methane into the environment and the resultant solids are approved for use as a land amendment rather than re-entering the waste stream. In addition, it enhances the biogas production process by more than 25%. Market Wire - November 7, 2007.

    A new Agency to manage Britain's commitment to biofuels was established today by Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly. The Renewable Fuels Agency will be responsible for the day to day running of the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation, coming into force in April next year. By 2010, the Obligation will mean that 5% of all the fuels sold in the UK should come from biofuels, which could save 2.6m to 3m tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. eGov Monitor - November 5, 2007.

    Prices for prompt loading South African coal cargoes reached a new record last week with a trade at $85.00 a tonne free-on-board (FOB) for a February cargo. Strong Indian demand and tight supply has pushed South African prices up to record levels from around $47.00 at the beginning of the year. European DES/CIF ARA coal prices have remained fairly stable over the past few days, having traded up to a record $130.00 a tonne DES ARA late last week. Fair value is probably just below $130.00 a tonne, traders said. At this price, some forms of biomass become directly competitive with coal. Reuters Africa - November 4, 2007.

    The government of India's Harayana state has decided to promote biomass power projects based on gasification in a move to help rural communities replace costly diesel and furnace oil. The news was announced during a meeting of the Haryana Renewable Energy Development Agency (HAREDA). Six pilot plants have demonstrated the efficiency and practicability of small-scale biomass gasification. Capital subsidies will now be made available to similar projects at the rate of Rs 2.5 lakh (€4400) per 100 KW for electrical applications and Rs 2 lakh (€3500) per 300 KW for thermal applications. New Kerala - November 1, 2007.


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Monday, December 03, 2007

The bioeconomy at work: researchers develop 'nanohybrid' bioplastic that biodegrades much faster

Scientists in New York are reporting the development of a new biodegradable 'nanohybrid' plastic that can be engineered to decompose much faster than existing renewable plastics used in everything from soft drink bottles to medical implants. The study appears as an open access article in the journal Biomacromolecules, a publication of the American Chemical Society.

The plastic is a modified form of polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB), a promising biodegradable thermoplastic produced by the fermentation of renewable biomass by bacteria (previous post) that has been widely hailed as a 'green' alternative to petroleum-based plastic for use in packaging, agricultural and biomedical applications. Although commercially available since the 1980s, PHB has seen only limited use because of its brittleness and unpredictable biodegradation rates.

In the new study, Pralay Maiti, Carl Batt, and Emmanuel Giannelis from Cornell University's Department of Materials Science and Engineering compared the strength and biodegradation rates of raw PHB to a modified form of PHB that contains nanoparticles of clay or 'nanoclays'. One advantage of clay nanocomposites is their improved barrier properties while retaining the flexibility and optical clarity of the pure biopolymer. The use of such particles has been reported in biodegradable aliphatic polyester nanocomposites, but this is the first time they were introduced into PHB/layered silicate nanocomposites:
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The main objective of the researchers was to study the effect of nanoclays on biodegradation. Although the biodegradation of neat PHB enzymatically and in seawater was already studied, this is the first report of biodegradability of PHB nanocomposites.

Biodegradation tests were carried out at room temperature (20 C) and at 60 C. The scientists found that the modified PHB was both stronger and decomposed faster than regular PHB. The nanohybrid PHB decomposed almost completely after seven weeks, while its traditional counterpart showed almost no decomposition (image, click to enlarge). They also showed that degradation could be fine-tuned by adjusting the amount of nanoparticles added.

The study is the first report of the biodegradation of PHB nanocomposites and could lead to wider use of PHB plastics, the scientists say.

Nanotechnology and the field of nano-enhanced bioplastics is having concrete results. Recently a specialty chemicals company announced that it succeeded in embedding dispersible nanoparticles into polylactic acid (PLA) based bioplastics which makes them considerably stronger and less hazy (previous post). This is a much needed improvement, overcoming one of the key weaknesses of PLA bioplastics.

Picture
: Polarizing optical images of the virgin bioplastic (PHB) and the 'nanohybrid' (PHBCN2) before and after 8 weeks of biodegradation. The samples were crystallized at 125 °C prior to composting.

References:
Pralay Maiti, Carl A. Batt, Emmanuel P. Giannelis, "New Biodegradable Polyhydroxybutyrate/Layered Silicate Nanocomposites", Biomacromolecules, 8 (11), 3393 -3400, 2007. 10.1021/bm700500t S1525-7797(70)00500-7

Biopact: Nanoparticle additive makes PLA based bioplastics stronger - July 23, 2007

Biopact: Notes on biopolymers in the Global South - March 11, 2007


Article continues

Bioprospectors identify new biohydrogen and ethanol producing bacteria in Iceland's hot springs

A bioprospecting expedition to Iceland's famed hot springs has yielded new strains of bacteria with potential of producing biohydrogen (H2) and ethanol (EtOH) fuels from biomass and waste materials containing carbohydrates. The report about the discovery of the new thermophilic microbes appeared online as an open access article in Energy & Fuels, a bi-monthly journal. This is yet another illustration of how investigating life in extreme environments may yield applications in the emerging bioeconomy.

In the study, Perttu E. P. Koskinen and colleagues point out that ethanol and hydrogen are two leading eco-friendly candidates for supplementing world supplies of oil, coal, and other conventional fuels. Research suggests that there would be advantages in producing those fuels by fermentation with bacteria capable of withstanding higher temperatures than microbes now in use.

Knowing that thermophilic, or heat-loving, bacteria inhabit Iceland's hot springs, the scientists bioprospected scalding-hot geothermal springs in different parts of the country for new ethanol and hydrogen-producing bacteria. After screening samples, including those from springs that approached the boiling point of water, the scientists enriched promising microorganisms that can produce the compounds from glucose or cellulose at high temperatures. The enrichments included those with unusually high yields of hydrogen or ethanol from carbohydrates.

Hydrogen- and EtOH-producing enrichment cultures were obtained from various hot spring samples over a temperature range of 50–78 °C. The temperature dependencies for the most promising enrichments were determined with a temperature-gradient incubator. One of the enrichments (33HL) produced 2.10 mol of H2/mol of glucose at 59 °C. Another enrichment (9HG), dominated by bacteria closely affiliated with Thermoanaerobacter thermohydrosulfuricus, produced 0.68 mol of H2/mol of glucose, and 1.21 mol of EtOH/mol of glucose at 78 °C:
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Hydrogen and EtOH production by 9HG was characterized further in a continuous-flow bioreactor at 74 °C. The highest H2 and EtOH yields of 9HG were obtained at pH 6.8 ± 0.3. Lactate production decreased the H2 and EtOH yields in the continuous-flow bioreactor, and the yields were lower than those obtained in the batch fermentations.

In conclusion, the thorough batch screening of Icelandic hot spring samples indicated promising enrichments for H2 or H2 plus EtOH production from carbohydrate materials.

References:
Perttu E. P. Koskinen, Chyi-How Lay, Steinar R. Beck, Katariina E. S. Tolvanen, Anna H. Kaksonen, Jóhann Örlygsson, Chiu-Yue Lin, and Jaakko A. Puhakka, "Bioprospecting Thermophilic Microorganisms from Icelandic Hot Springs for Hydrogen and Ethanol Production", Energy & Fuels, ASAP Article, October 18, 2007, DOI: 10.1021/ef700275w

Eurekalert: Bioprospectors identify hot new biofuel-producing bacteria - December 3, 2007.

Biopact: Investigating life in extreme environments may yield applications in the bioeconomy - July 05, 2007

Article continues

Report finds revenues from deforestation are small compared to potential carbon credits - but does not take into account carbon negative bioenergy

Deforestation in tropical countries is often driven by the economic reality that forests are worth more dead than alive. But a new study by an international consortium of researchers has found that the emerging market for carbon credits has the potential to radically alter that equation. By putting a price on carbon sequestered in forests, they would be worth more intact than the profits from the products generated from deforestation.

However, the study did not take into account the emergence of carbon negative bioenergy production, which complicates the calculation even further. But then, the concept of negative emissions energy remains abstract, while deforestation is extremely concrete and must be tackled now. The 'virtual threat' of carbon negative bioenergy to any scheme aimed at compensating avoided deforestation, should remain virtual. It should not be seen as a barrier to policy makers who want to incorporate such avoided deforestation schemes within the new, post-Kyoto framework on strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The new study, which was released this week at UNFCC Conference of Parties (COP-13) in Bali, compared the financial gains generated by deforestation over the last 10 to 20 years in areas of Southeast Asia, Central Africa and the Amazon Basin - most of it driven by a desire for farm land or timber - to the amount carbon that was released by the destruction. That comparison has become critically important because many industries in developed countries are set to spend billions of dollars to meet new requirements for curbing greenhouse gases by purchasing carbon credits tied to reductions elsewhere.

Reason and the need to reward avoided deforestation
The researchers - who conducted the study under the Partnership for Tropical Forest Margins (ASB) - found that in most areas studied, the various ventures that prompted deforestation are always the result of a rational calculation. But when the prospect of a carbon price attached to the forests is taken into account, these ventures rarely generated more than $5 for every ton of carbon they released and frequently returned far less than US $1. Meanwhile, European buyers are currently paying 23 euros (about US $35) for an offset tied to a one-ton reduction in carbon.
Deforestation is almost always driven by a rational response to what the market values and for some time now, it has just made more financial sense to many people in forested areas to cut down the trees. What we discovered is that returns for deforestation are generally so paltry that if farmers and other land users were rewarded for the carbon stored in their trees and forests, it is highly likely that a large amount of deforestation and carbon emissions would be prevented. - Brent Swallow, leader of the study and Global Coordinator of the Partnership for Tropical Forest Margins
Developing new incentives for reducing carbon emissions stemming from deforestation is high on the agenda in Bali. Deforestation is rampant in places like Indonesia, the Amazon and the Congo. Currently, confusion over how to value and monitor the large amounts of carbon stored in tropical forests has prevented the inclusion of forests in the carbon offset market that is mainly dominated by reductions achieved in the industrial sector, even though deforestation is responsible for some 20 percent of the world's carbon emissions.
We understand that allowing people in forested regions of developing countries to participate in carbon markets presents major challenges, but it�s naive to think that conservation is going to occur absent a market incentive. Everyone has a stake in finding a way to make it work because it's hard to see how any global effort to combat climate change will succeed if it ignores a major source of the problem. - Meine van Noordwijk, Southeast Asia Regional Coordinator of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF)
Van Noordwijk and his colleagues arrived at their conclusions on the economics of deforestation after examining the trade-offs between carbon and financial returns in three areas in Indonesia, and one area each in Peru and Cameroon, all of which have undergone extensive deforestation:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

They found that in most instances at the sites in Indonesia, deforestation returned less than $5 per ton of carbon released and in some areas, less than $1. For example, in forested areas rich in peat, which is particularly efficient at trapping carbon, the figure was about $0.10 to $0.20 per ton.

Meanwhile, an analysis of deforestation in the Amazonian forests of the Ucayali Province of Peru produced similar results. Most of the deforestation, which was mainly driven by a desire for crop land, generated less than US $5 per ton of carbon released. The Cameroon study sites produced a better return. Deforestation returns about US $11 per ton of carbon emissions, which is mainly due to an increase in secondary forest and the fact that in Cameroon, cocoa production - which elsewhere has decimated tropical forests - has tended to occur within forests, and resulted in more in forest degradation than outright deforestation.

The report notes that offering economic rewards for carbon storage could be effective not only at encouraging conservation but also at encouraging activities in deforested areas that can recoup at least some of the lost carbon. For example, research shows that agroforestry, which encourages a broader use of trees on farms, can offer a win-win situation of improving smallholder incomes and absorbing carbon.

Dennis Garrity, Director General of the Nairobi, Kenya-based World Agroforestry Centre said that, not only does agroforestry have the potential to store carbon, it also addresses the need for alternative livelihoods amongst populations who currently benefit from deforestation.

Researchers caution that despite the clear benefits to be derived from assigning carbon credits to conserving forests, implementing a forest-based carbon market will be complicated.

The challenge will be to ensure that payments for maintaining forests actually reach local people, and do not end up in the wrong pockets. For the system to be effective, we will need new mechanisms for allocating payments that are efficient as well as fair. - Frances Seymour, Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) based in Indonesia

Carbon Negative Bioenergy
Biopact has however added an entirely new perspective to the discussion of the value of forests when they are seen as carbon sinks. The new report shows that keeping forests intact brings in more potential revenue from carbon credits than revenues obtained from products generated on the basis of deforestation.

But this equation changes dramatically when the same logic were to be applied to the potential for the production of carbon negative bioenergy and fuels. Carbon negative bioenergy takes far more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, than intact forests ever can.

To understand this, one has to look at the concept in its most radical form: suppose one deforests an area to grow energy crops on them. These crops are then utilized to generate electricity, in biomass power plants. But when the carbon dioxide released during this process is consequently captured and stored (CCS) in geological formations (such as depleted oil and gas fields, or saline aquifers), you generate "negative emissions". In such a system, you actually take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

How much? Researchers have found that in a Biomass Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (BIGCC) plant, one can generate minus 1030 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour of electricity thus produced with the CO2 sequestered underground. Electricity from coal generates around 800 grams per kWh - the difference thus being around 1830 grams.

One hectare of high carbon storing eucalyptus trees yielding 15 dry tons per hectare per year over a rotation period of 3 to 5 years, with an energy content of 17 GJ per ton, utilized in a BIGCC coupled to a CCS system with an overall efficiency (from plantation to sequestration) of 33%, would offset around 45 tons of CO2 compared to electricity generated from coal.

Per year, the carbon negative energy system would sequester around 24 tons of CO2 per hectare (or 6.5 ton of C). A mature rainforest only sequesters about 0.5 tons C per hectare per year (1.8 ton of CO2 equivalent).

If the original forest that were to be cleared, were to be used as a biomass feed for the production of carbon negative electricity, the advantage of such a system would be immediately present from year zero. If the forest is burned without the energy being used for the production of electricity, as is currently done in deforestation operations, it would be releasing all of its carbon into the atmosphere (250 tons of C per hectare or around 916 tons of CO2 per hectare). It would then take around 20 years of operating the carbon negative energy system to break even.

When sugarcane is used and fermented into biogas, more carbon dioxide can be captured in a far less costly way compared to utilizing woody biomass in a BIGCC (because capturing CO2 from biogas is much more straightforward than via the gasification and gas shifting process).

Many other future concepts are thinkable, with the most radical being the production of carbon negative hydrogen from biomass, which would be a transportable fuel that yields high amounts of negative emissions each time it is used.

So what does all of this mean? It implies that there are land use strategies - such as the production of energy crops for the production of negative emissions energy - that could compete with any scheme to avoid deforestation, purely on economic terms.

Biopact was interviewed about the threats posed by this alternative land use strategy for 'compensated reduction' or 'avoided deforestation' schemes. In the interview, we advocated the inclusion of other compensation schemes for communities willing to protect their forests: the biodiversity and ecosystem services of forests need to be expressed in monetary terms too, and must be made bankable. Otherwise, merely putting a price on the carbon sequestered in forests might not suffice.

However, it must be said that the production of negative emissions energy is, for the time being, only a concept. The 'virtual' value of this form of energy should be part of the discussion of the value of forests and of how to calculate it in a context of an emerging global carbon market, but it should not be a barrier to the implementation of avoided deforestation schemes.

Biopact is currently helping write a paper about the topic, to appear in a major energy journal next year.

In conclusion, nobody in his right mind can advocate deforestation for the production of food, forest products or energy when the prospect of a 'compensated reduction' scheme based on a carbon price is so close at hand - and certainly not now that the research discussed above so clearly indicates that avoided deforestation would be more profitable. Policy makers and delegates in Bali must succeed in approving a framework that compensates communities and nations willing to avoid deforestation. The "threat" of carbon negative energy to such schemes remains purely abstract, while deforestation is extremely concrete and needs to be tackled now. The fact that the countless ecosystems services and biodiversity provided by tropical rainforests are not 'bankable' yet - which would be a requirement if compensated reduction schemes want to be able to compete with carbon negative bioenergy -, should not be seen as a barrier to implementing such schemes.

About the study
The study was conducted by the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF), the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), and the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), four of the15 centers of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), and their national partners.

The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), established in 1971, is a strategic partnership of countries, international and regional organizations and private foundations supporting the work of 15 international agricultural research Centers. In collaboration with national agricultural research systems, civil society and the private sector, the CGIAR fosters sustainable agricultural growth through high-quality science aimed at benefiting the poor through stronger food security, better human nutrition and health, higher incomes and improved management of natural resources.

The World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) is the international leader in the science and practice of integrating 'working trees' on small farms in rural landscapes. The Centre works in more than 20 countries across Africa, Asia and South America.

Headquartered in Indonesia, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) is a leading international forestry research organization established in response to global concerns about the social, environmental, and economic consequences of forest loss and degradation.

References:
Eurekalert: Report finds deforestation offers very little money compared to potential financial benefits - December 3, 2007.

Mongabay: Carbon-negative bioenergy to cut global warming could drive deforestation: An interview on BECS with Biopact's Laurens Rademakers - November 6, 2007.


Article continues

Tallgrass Prairie Center to study polyculture prairie hay for bio-electricity: combining conservation and restoration with bioenergy

The University of Northern Iowa's Tallgrass Prairie Center is conducting a five-year project to research how prairie hay can be used to generate electricity, partnering with Cedar Falls Utilities, Soil Tilth Lab at Iowa State University and the Black Hawk County Conservation Board. In July, the Iowa Legislature awarded the Tallgrass Prairie Center $330,000 to conduct research on the feasibility of utilizing prairie hay for electrical generation. The study will look at ways to integrate conservation and restoration of grasslands with bioenergy production.

Michele Suhrer and Cassy Bohnet who are working on the project, say they will plant four different mixtures of prairie species on 100 acres of land rented from the Black Hawk County Conservation Board. The research will determine which mixtures produce the most energy efficient and sustainable prairie hay. Suhrer says the prairie hay can be grown on marginal land, possibly saving Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land from being turned back into row crop production.

Dave Williams, project manager at the Center, says that by planting a diverse mix of tall perennial prairie grasses around row crops, soil erosion, runoff of pesticides and fertilizers can be reduced. Wildlife habitats can be restored or improved along with delivering other environmental benefits.

Last year, the bioenergy community was given a boost by the results of a study in Science on polycultures of multiple grass, wildflower and prairie species. The researchers, led by David Tilman, found that such plantations of mixed native energy crops can be carbon-negative, restore biodiversity, can grow on degraded land, and provide substantially more biomass for biofuels than the most promising monocultures. A bioeconomy based on mixed prairie grasses can restore the beauty of a lost landscape and helps soak up the vast amounts of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution.

Known as the 'Tilman study' on 'low-input high-diversity grassland bioenergy systems', the findings showed that the polycultures yielded not less than 238 per cent more useable biomass than a single crop of switchgrass (long seen as the leading energy crop in the U.S.). Biofuels derived from the colorful fields resulted in 51 per cent more energy per acre compared to corn, the most widely used biofuel crop. Inputs of energy, fertilizer and herbicides were much lower as well. And because the perennial species store atmospheric carbon deep in their roots, they become part of a carbon-negative energy system (previous post).

The Tallgrass Prairie Center's bioenergy project will draw on the results of this study to see whether they can be replicated:
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The various mixtures of perennial prairie species to be test planted by the Tallgrass Prairie Center will take about three years to mature, after which they are ready for harvesting. Then two years will be devoted to research optimal harvesting techniques, and to interpret agronomic data.

According to Suhrer and Bohnet, most farmers already have the basic haying equipment to harvest the biomass, so that will be the least problematic area of study. Comparing and analysing productivity of different grass mixtures and their combustion characteristics will require more intensive work.

Cedar Falls Utilities will test burn the prairie hay to analyse its suitability as a biomass feedstock for the production of green electricity.

The Tallgrass Prairie Center is a strong advocate of progressive, ecological approaches utilizing native vegetation to provide environmental, economic and aesthetic benefits for the public good. The center is in the vanguard of roadside vegetation management, native Source Identified seed development, and prairie advocacy.

The center primarily serves the Upper Midwest Tallgrass Prairie Region, but is a model for similar efforts nationally and internationally.

The TPC aims to develop research, techniques, education and Source Identified seed for restoration and preservation of prairie vegetation in rights-of-way and other lands. The center was stablished at the University of Northern Iowa in 1999 as the Native Roadside Vegetation Center.

The center has some major programs running: the Prairie Institute, the Integrated Roadside Vegetation Management Program and the Iowa Ecotype Project.

References:
University of Northern Iowa: Researching the use of prairie hay to generate electricity - November 28, 2007.

Biopact: Tallgrass Prairie Center to implement Tilman's mixed grass findings - September 02, 2007

Biopact: Carbon negative biofuels: from monocultures to polycultures - December 08, 2006

Article continues

Bionor to invest $200 million in jatropha plantations in the Philippines

According to the Philippine Department of Agriculture, Spanish biodiesel firm Bionor Transformacion S.A. is to invest US$200 million to develop at least 100,000 hectares (247,105 acres) of land into jatropha plantations. The company disclosed its plans to invest in the Philippines through a memorandum of agreement signed recently between AME Bionergy Corp. and the country's Agricultural Development and Commercial Corporation (PADCC).

Madrid-based AME Bioenergy Corp. is appointed as the key integrator for Bionor in the country, and will conduct feasibility studies on the jatropha project, identify suitable jatropha plantation sites, organise and train farm labor, and install plantation infrastructure.

Agriculture Secretary Arthur C. Yap told local media the PADCC will cooperate to facilitate the project. PADCC will assist AME to mobilise the Department of Agriculture's (DA) agencies and bureaus, as well as financial institutions, to help realise Bionor's investment plans.

The project is part of Bionor's strategy to develop plantations on biodiesel feedstocks that do not compete with the food sector or contribute to deforestation. Bionor is currently operating two biodiesel plants in Spain and Italy with a combined output of 125,000 tonnes (137,750 tons). It is constructing five more plants in Spain and Brazil, which will add 900,000 tonnes (990,000 tons) of capacity in 2008.
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The Philippines has been listed by Ernst & Young as one of the most attractive developing countries for investments in first generation biofuels (see Q1 report and Q2 report). Its geographical location at the center of the rapidly growing South East and East Asian region, its biofuels legislation and incentives, and its relative abundance of natural resources are key factors determining this attractiveness.

The Philippines' biofuels sector got a fresh impetus earlier this year after President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo passed the much-awaited Biofuels Act. The new act mandates minimum 1% biodiesel blending into all diesel from May this year and minimum 2% biodiesel blending from mid-2009. It calls for minimum 5% ethanol blending in gasoline from mid-2009, rising to 10% from around mid-2011. The Act also set up mechanisms to encourage investments in the local biofuels industry.

References:

EnergyCurrent: Bionor mulls Filipino jatropha investment - December 3, 2007.

Visayan Daily Star: Spanish firm to invest $200M for RP biofuels - December 3, 2007.

Inquirer: Madrid-based firm investing $200M in biofuel sector - December 3, 2007.

Biopact: Biofuels and renewables 'Country Attractiveness Indices' for Q1 2007 - May 24, 2007

Biopact: US tops Biofuels Country Attractiveness Indices for Q2 2007 - September 18, 2007

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Ceres funds SDSU research to improve switchgrass for biofuels

Energy crop company Ceres, Inc. announced today that it is sponsoring research at South Dakota State University in Brookings to develop improved switchgrass for the northern Great Plains. Switchgrass is a native species of North America's tallgrass prairie and is widely considered an ideal raw material for a new generation of biofuels made from non-food crops.

The cooperative, multi-year program will focus on developing higher-yielding cultivars adapted to production in northern latitudes, often called upland types. South Dakota State University (SDSU) plant breeder Arvid Boe, Ph.D, will lead field and greenhouse research, which will involve cross breeding and selections supported by Ceres technology that makes the process more efficient and predictable. University researchers will also study genetic diversity in this perennial grass species, among other objectives.

A diverse species, switchgrass is a major part of the prairie that once dominated the landscape of North America. Depending on the seed variety and climatic conditions, switchgrass can grow nine feet tall with deep roots that reduce erosion and increase soil carbon levels, among other benefits.

South Dakota has been a key supporter of cellulosic biofuels, and switchgrass, in particular. Improving yield and plant composition will have a significant impact on the economics for farmers and biorefineries as the industry expands.

A veteran breeder of perennial grasses, Dr. Boe believes switchgrass can be competitive with conventional crops, especially on the semi-arid land of South Dakota and Nebraska. Switchgrass is tolerant of a wide range of environmental conditions, and compared with many other perennial grasses and conventional crop plants, it produces relatively large amounts of biomass under both good and poor growing conditions. To maximize performance, he noted that cultivars intended for biofuel production on the northern Great Plains must be highly productive and able to persist in cold climates. For sustainable production of biomass feedstock in the northern Great Plains, cultivars developed from strains of switchgrass indigenous to the northern and central Great Plains will likely have a long-term yield advantage over non-adapted strains from outside of those regions:
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Dr. Boe has decades of experience in switchgrass and is regarded in the industry as a leading expert in upland types. This joint product development program allows us to expand our existing switchgrass breeding efforts for what we believe will be an important biofuel production region. - Peter Mascia, Ceres vice president of product development
SDSU Vice President for Research Kevin Kephart said South Dakota State University has been making strategic decisions regarding biofuels and cellulosic feedstocks for over 20 years. As a consequence the university has one of the most advanced programs for switchgrass breeding, genetics and agronomy. Creation of an efficient feedstock production system must begin with the best possible genetics and an effective seed delivery system. Work with Ceres is seen as a critical step in the right direction for this exciting new industry.

Gary Lemme, dean of SDSU's College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences, said Ceres' decision to partner with SDSU helps keep South Dakota at the forefront of the biofuels industry. The partnership with Ceres positions South Dakota State University grass plant breeders in a leading role of developing improved cultivars of locally adapted native and introduced grasses for the cellulosic fuel industry. Ceres' position as a energy crop company both stimulates SDSU research through additional funds and establishes commercialization channels for the distribution of the seed to South Dakota producers.

In October, Ceres announced a multi-year collaboration to develop high-biomass sorghums with Texas A&M University. The company’s research and development efforts also cover miscanthus, energycane and woody crops. Early products will include high-yielding switchgrass cultivars scheduled for release in 2009 and sorghum hybrids scheduled the following year (earlier post).

Shortly before starting its sorghum research, Ceres raised $75 million through a private offering of convertible preferred stock (previous post).

Ceres, Inc. is a leading developer of high-yielding energy crops that can be planted as feedstocks for cellulosic ethanol production. Founded as a plant genomics company, Ceres holds one of the world’s largest proprietary collections of fully sequenced plant genes. The privately held company also licenses its technology and traits to other organizations.

Picture: Ceres CEO Richard Hamilton (right) and Dr. Richard Flavell, chief scientific officer, evaluate improved switchgrass plants in a Ceres greenhouse. Credit: Ceres.

References:
Ceres: Ceres Funds Switchgrass Development in South Dakota - December 3, 2007.

Biopact: Ceres and TAES team up to develop high-biomass sorghum for next-generation biofuels - October 01, 2007

Biopact: Ceres raises $75 million to develop dedicated energy crops - September 27, 2007


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