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    Mongabay, a leading resource for news and perspectives on environmental and conservation issues related to the tropics, has launched Tropical Conservation Science - a new, open access academic e-journal. It will cover a wide variety of scientific and social studies on tropical ecosystems, their biodiversity and the threats posed to them. Tropical Conservation Science - March 8, 2008.

    At the 148th Meeting of the OPEC Conference, the oil exporting cartel decided to leave its production level unchanged, sending crude prices spiralling to new records (above $104). OPEC "observed that the market is well-supplied, with current commercial oil stocks standing above their five-year average. The Conference further noted, with concern, that the current price environment does not reflect market fundamentals, as crude oil prices are being strongly influenced by the weakness in the US dollar, rising inflation and significant flow of funds into the commodities market." OPEC - March 5, 2008.

    Kyushu University (Japan) is establishing what it says will be the world’s first graduate program in hydrogen energy technologies. The new master’s program for hydrogen engineering is to be offered at the university’s new Ito campus in Fukuoka Prefecture. Lectures will cover such topics as hydrogen energy and developing the fuel cells needed to convert hydrogen into heat or electricity. Of all the renewable pathways to produce hydrogen, bio-hydrogen based on the gasification of biomass is by far both the most efficient, cost-effective and cleanest. Fuel Cell Works - March 3, 2008.


    An entrepreneur in Ivory Coast has developed a project to establish a network of Miscanthus giganteus farms aimed at producing biomass for use in power generation. In a first phase, the goal is to grow the crop on 200 hectares, after which expansion will start. The project is in an advanced stage, but the entrepreneur still seeks partners and investors. The plantation is to be located in an agro-ecological zone qualified as highly suitable for the grass species. Contact us - March 3, 2008.

    A 7.1MW biomass power plant to be built on the Haiwaiian island of Kaua‘i has received approval from the local Planning Commission. The plant, owned and operated by Green Energy Hawaii, will use albizia trees, a hardy species that grows in poor soil on rainfall alone. The renewable power plant will meet 10 percent of the island's energy needs. Kauai World - February 27, 2008.


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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Branson sees future in African biofuels; regrets investments in U.S. corn ethanol


Billionaire biofuel investor Richard Branson has admitted that his investments in U.S. corn ethanol may have been a mistake, both financially and environmentally. The fuel is not very efficient, results in food price increases and cannot compete with far more efficient biofuels made in the South, unless it is heavily subsidized.

Instead, Branson is now looking at Africa, citing the example of a country like Mozambique, where sugarcane can yield up to 7 times more ethanol per acre.

Biopact is pleased to see an investor like Branson looking at the potential of Africa, instead of sticking to inefficient corn ethanol. Bioenergy and agricultural experts have repeatedly said the continent is waiting for courageous entrepreneurs to help kickstart the Green Revolution there.


Map of long-term sustainable bioenergy potential, based on the QUICKSCAN model; the potential is that obtained after meeting all food, fiber, and forest products needs of local populations first, and without cropping on forest land or protected land (conservation areas).

Africa is the continent with the largest sustainable bioenergy potential. It can produce more bioenergy than all the oil currently consumed world-wide, while providing enough food, fiber and forest products to its growing populations, and without negative impacts on the environment. In fact, bioenergy can help stimulate food production and conservation, by making African agriculture more efficient and productive.

Experts of the IEA Bioenergy Task 40, drawing on a model now also officially used by the FAO, have shown that the region can produce around 350 Exajoules of bioenergy by 2050, if modern agricultural techniques are utilized (see map, click to enlarge; and see previous post). That is around 50 percent more than all oil currently consumed on the planet. Next-generation biofuels produced in Africa can be highly sustainable and reduce emissions substantially (e.g. when based on polycultures of grasses, high yielding woody crops like eucalyptus, or even on first generation crops like sugarcane or sweet sorghum).

On the basis of these findings, Biopact has been trying to convince investors, non-profits, civil society and governments that we can create a win-win situation between the West and the South, by allowing farmers in Africa and Latin America to bring their efficient biofuels on the market (first their own, then global markets). This could help rural development in the poorest regions of the planet, and would be far more efficient than relying on low yielding biofuel production systems like U.S. corn ethanol.

However, this win-win idea requires major policy initiatives, trade and subsidy reform, and investments in modern agriculture and infrastructures in Africa. Perhaps Richard Branson could help kickstart this transformation?

Video: BBC News, February 12 [entry ends here].
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Researchers develop model to show impacts of government policy, oil prices on ethanol costs

The recent boom in production of ethanol from corn grain has tightly linked America's agriculture and energy sectors in an unprecedented fashion. Purdue University researchers developed a model, based on a range of possible oil prices, that predicts impacts of federal economic policies on future consumer and government costs, ethanol production and many other aspects of the two sectors.

Wally Tyner, a Purdue professor of agricultural economics, presented his results at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston. "The U.S. is living through a revolution in American agriculture," he said.

Tyner said the prices of corn and crude oil, which prior to 2007 fluctuated almost independent of one another, have become more closely linked thanks to the use of massive quantities of corn to make ethanol. This year that's about one-third of the total national harvest. Now, oil and ethanol are both big players in agriculture. In the future, they will march together, and their march will depend upon government policies.
In the past, when you asked people what policies were important for agriculture, they would talk about target prices, loan rates and efficient payments. For now all of these are gone, inoperative with high corn prices. It's a whole new paradigm. - Wally Tyner, professor of Agricultural Economics, Purdue Univeristy
Four policy options
Tyner analyzed how ethanol fares under different policy options and oil price levels, and who carries the burden of any "externalities" (hidden costs, subsidies). The model includes four of these options - (1) the current 51-cent fixed subsidy, (2) a variable subsidy, (3) no subsidy and (3) a renewable fuel standard (RFS) - at oil prices ranging from $40 per barrel to $120 per barrel. (Figure shows profitability of a typical ethanol producer with and without the 51 cents ethanol subsidy for different combinations of corn-crude prices, click to enlarge).

Regardless of the policy, results become similar at high crude oil prices where the market dominates; under several scenarios, ethanol does not need subsidies. At low oil prices, however, government policies have huge effects, and all the results are enormously different. The policy choices made will therefor be critical.

The model shows that the fixed 51-cent per gallon subsidy paid to ethanol producers will become increasingly expensive for the federal government as oil prices - and levels of ethanol production - rise.

One alternative policy option, a variable subsidy that changes relative to crude oil prices, would only be paid by the government when crude oil sinks to less than $70 per barrel. When oil prices are higher, ethanol production should be profitable and would not need to be subsidized:
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The renewable fuel standard contained in the 2007 Energy Act mandates that energy companies purchase 35 billion gallons of ethanol by 2022, with a maximum of 15 billion gallons coming from corn.

With oil at $40 per barrel, for example, ethanol production is not profitable without a subsidy or higher fuel costs. With a fixed or variable subsidy in effect at this oil price, the government spends $5 billion per year to subsidize ethanol production. Ethanol is considerably more expensive than fuel made from petroleum in this scenario, but with the renewable fuel standard in effect, fuel companies are required to buy 15 billion gallons of corn ethanol per year. At $40 crude, the standard would cost consumers an extra $12 billion per year at the pump.

Subsidies are paid out of taxpayer dollars by the federal government, while the renewable fuel standard costs consumers at the pump.

Therefore, the standard does imply costs at low oil prices, when buying ethanol would otherwise be uneconomical. His model calculates the hidden cost of the standard, which tacks on an extra $1.05 per gallon when oil is $40. In such a situation, in other words, ethanol costs $1.05 more per gallon to produce from corn grain than gasoline costs to produce from crude oil, and the consumer indirectly makes up the difference.

If oil surpasses $100 per barrel, however, the renewable fuel standard costs consumers little or nothing extra. That's because at this price, ethanol production costs are very close to gasoline production costs.

With today's oil greater than $90 per barrel, $40 oil might seem unlikely. In the last two decades, however, oil has only surpassed $40 since 2004 and cost an average of only $20 per barrel for most of that period. Reduced oil demand, global recession or any number of factors could cause oil prices to sink to $40 once again.

Corn use under different options
One of the most dramatic aspects of the ethanol "revolution" is a ballooning percentage of corn crops being made into ethanol, which prior to 2004 had always been lower than 10 percent. This year, for the first time, ethanol replaced exports to become the second largest use of the grain behind that of domestic animal feed. With a fixed subsidy in effect, the amount of corn used for ethanol increases from 12 percent for $40 oil to 52 percent for $120 oil, the model predicts. With the renewable fuel standard, the ethanol share is quite stable, ranging from 44 percent for $40 oil to 47 percent for $120 oil.

With the fixed subsidy in effect, ethanol production ranges from 3.3 billion gallons a year at $40 oil to 17.6 billion gallons with $120 oil. The variable and no-subsidy policies yield 6.5 billion gallons at $80 oil and 12.7 billion for $120 oil.

The renewable fuel standard seems to guarantee ethanol's future, but further decisions need to be made to develop a "bridge policy" to spur investment in cellulosic ethanol. Cellulosic ethanol - derived from grasses, waste materials and agricultural residues - has potential to be more efficient than ethanol from corn grain.

Cellulose, a complex carbohydrate present in all plant tissues, is more abundant in plants than starch. The renewable fuel standard mandates that fuel companies purchase 20 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol by 2022. But exactly how this will be achieved remains to be seen, and future policies need to take into account the newly emerged oil-corn link, he said.

Predictions from Tyner's model point to a time in the future, roughly 2020, when gasoline and ethanol pricing follow a more stable long-run pattern.

Ethanol has potential to reduce America's dependence on foreign petroleum and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are goals that cannot be fixed by the market alone. Economists call these "externalities" and suggest fixing these market failures through taxes, subsidies or some form of regulation. In this work, Tyner has focused on subsidies or regulations because taxes have not generally been used in this situation in the United States, he said.

Tyner's paper will be published this year in the Review of Agricultural Economics, co-authored by Purdue researcher Farzad Taheripour. The authors evaluated two future scenarios: one assumes that fuel standards will increase sufficiently to reduce oil demand while the other assumes global oil demand will grow faster than oil supply, resulting in what economists call a demand shock.

References:

Wallace E. Tyner and Farzad Taheripour, "Policy Options for Integrated Energy and Agricultural Markets" [*.pdf], Purdue University - Paper Presented at the Transition to a Bio-Economy: Integration of Agricultural and Energy Systems conference on February 12-13, 2008 at the Westin Atlanta Airport planned by the Farm Foundation.

Purdue Univeristy: Agricultural Economics Papers.


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Friday, February 15, 2008

Syntec Biofuel achieves yield of 105 gallons of synthetic alcohol per ton of biomass

Syntec Biofuel Inc, a company developing biomass-to-liquids (BTL) conversion technologies, has achieved a yield of 105 gallons (397.5 liters) of alcohols (ethanol, methanol, n-butanol and n-propanol) per ton of lignocellulosic biomass - a milestone. In 2006, the company had targeted a yield of approximately 113 gallons (42.8 liters) per ton, and achieved 73 gallons (27.6 liters) last October. With the new yield achievement and Syntec's projections showing high commercial feasibility for its process, the food versus fuel dilemma is set to end soon, since the process can use any type of biomass.

The Syntec B2A technology, initially developed at the University of British Columbia, is focused on second-generation cellulosic ethanol production via a process that parallels the low-pressure catalytic synthesis process used by methanol producers. The company has a specific focus on non-precious metal catalysts to synthesize specific alcohols (schematic, click to enlarge). High pressure catalytic synthesis requires substantial energy to operate and the risk associated with the high pressure is significant. Syntec Biofuels utilizes more energy efficient low pressure catalytic synthesis instead (previous post). Using this technology, it has now broken the 100 gallon per ton of biomass barrier for the first time.
This level of achievement makes the B2A process profitable in relatively small scale facilities using a wide variety of waste biomass feedstocks in any combination. - Michael Jackson, President of Syntec Biofuel Inc.
Syntec’s synthetic biofuel technology uses any renewable waste biomass such as hard or soft wood, sawdust or bark, organic waste, agricultural waste (including sugar cane bagasse and corn stover), and switch-grass to produce syngas.

This syngas, comprised of carbon monoxide and hydrogen, is then scrubbed and passed through a fixed bed reactor containing the Syntec catalysts to produce ethanol, methanol and higher order alcohols. The Syntec technology can also produce alcohols from biogas ("biogas-to-liquids"), such as biogas sourced from anaerobic digestion of manure and effluent, landfill gas or stranded methane:
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According to Syntec, the 105 gallon per ton yield marks a major milestone as it is equivalent to revenues in excess of $27 million per year for a 300 ton per day biomass processing facility.

In October 2007, Syntec calculated that the variable cost per gallon alcohol on then current yield (approximately 73 gallons per ton) was C$0.48 per gallon, which it expected to shrink to C$0.37 per gallon on reaching a targeted yield of 113 gallons per ton. Current dry mill production of corn ethanol yields approximately 100 gallons per ton of corn (2.8 gallons/bushel corn grain, 1 bushel = approximately 56 lbs).

Syntec is continuing to optimize its catalytic technology, and projects reaching the 113 gallon per ton yield this year.

References:
Syntec Biofuel: Syntec Biofuel achieves yield of 105 gallons of alcohol per ton of biomass - February 14, 2008.

Biopact: Syntec Biofuel acquires catalyst technology for biomass-to-liquids production - October 02, 2007




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New study shows stabilizing climate requires near-zero carbon emissions now - boosts case for carbon-negative bioenergy


Now that scientists have reached a consensus that carbon dioxide emissions from human activities are the major cause of global warming, the next question is: How can we stop it? Can we just cut back on carbon, or do we need to go much further? According to a new study by scientists at the Carnegie Institution, halfway measures won't do the job. To stabilize our planet's climate, we need to find ways to reduce emissions to near-zero, immediately.

This means carbon-negative bioenergy becomes the key technology, as it is the only energy system that allows societies to function normally while actively removing CO2 from the atmosphere. Carbon-negative bioenergy with its negative emissions is obtained by coupling carbon capture and storage (CCS) to bioenergy production - by either storing biogenic CO2 in geological formations or as biochar in soils.

Ordinary renewables like wind, solar, or hydropower - which all add new CO2 to the atmosphere over their lifecycle - can play a role, but do not go far enough, especially given the enormity of the task of countering emissions from fossil fuels. Take photovoltaics: per kilowatthour of electricity produced, around 100 grams of CO2 equivalent is released over the entire lifecycle of the solar energy system. Wind power comes in at +30grams, as does biomass, while hydropower and nuclear add between 10 and 20 grams. Carbon-negative bioenergy on the contrary can yield up to -1000 grams (that is: minus a thousand grams per kWh). In short, the emissions generated by classic renewables and fossil fuels, must be counter-acted by carbon-negative bioenergy if we want to reach a level of near zero new emissions.
What if we were to discover tomorrow that a climate catastrophe was imminent if our planet warmed any further? To reduce emissions enough to avoid this catastrophe, we would have to cut them close to zero - and right away. - Ken Caldeira, Stanford University, Carnegie Institution, Department of Global Ecology
In the study, to be published in Geophysical Research Letters, climate scientists Ken Caldeira and Damon Matthews used an Earth system model at the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology to simulate the response of the Earth's climate to different levels of carbon dioxide emission over the next 500 years. The model, a sophisticated computer program developed at the University of Victoria, Canada, takes into account the flow of heat between the atmosphere and oceans, as well as other factors such as the uptake of carbon dioxide by land vegetation, in its calculations.

This is the first peer-reviewed study to investigate what level of carbon dioxide emission would be needed to prevent further warming of our planet.

Most scientific and policy discussions about avoiding climate change have centered on what emissions would be needed to stabilize greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. But stabilizing greenhouse gases does not equate to a stable climate. The scientists studied what emissions would be needed to stabilize climate in the foreseeable future.

They investigated how much climate changes as a result of each individual emission of carbon dioxide, and found that each increment of emission leads to another increment of warming. So, if we want to avoid additional warming, we need to avoid additional emissions. With emissions set to zero in the simulations, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere slowly fell as carbon sinks such as the oceans and land vegetation absorbed the gas. Surprisingly, however, the model predicted that global temperatures would remain high for at least 500 years after carbon dioxide emissions ceased.

Just as an iron skillet will stay hot and keep cooking after the stove burner's turned off, heat held in the oceans will keep the climate warm even as the heating effect of greenhouse gases diminishes. Adding more greenhouse gases, even at a rate lower than today, would worsen the situation and the effects would persist for centuries.

Global carbon dioxide emissions and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations are both growing at record rates. Even if we could freeze emissions at today's levels, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations would continue to increase. If we could stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, which would require deep cuts in emissions, the Earth would continue heating up. Matthews and Caldeira found that to prevent the Earth from heating further, carbon dioxide emissions would, effectively, need to be eliminated:
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While eliminating carbon dioxide emissions may seem like a radical idea, Caldeira sees it as a feasible goal. It is just not that hard to solve the technological challenges, he says.

Ken Caldeira is a climate scientist in the Carnegie Institution Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University. Damon Matthews is a climate scientist in the Concordia University Department of Geography, Planning, and Environment in Montreal, Canada.

Going negative
In 2005, a group of scientists obtained a mandate from the G8 to study ways to drastically reduce and even eliminate carbon emissions on a global scale. This group, called the Abrupt Climate Change Strategy group (ACCS), found that carbon-negative bioenergy can be implemented on a global scale and would allow societies to function as normal. If implemented widely - replacing all fossil fueled power stations with biomass+CCS - we can even bring back atmospheric CO2 levels to pre-industrial levels by mid-century (2060), they found.

Carbon-negative bioenergy production is the only feasible geo-engineering type of intervention. Not only is it a very low risk strategy to eliminate emissions, it is commercially and economically manageable.

Negative emissions from bioenergy can be obtained both in electricity production as in biofuel production: in both cases, the biomass is decarbonised and the CO2 sequestered safely. Leaks from CO2 storage sites would not be problematic since the CO2 is biogenic in nature.

In power production, the biofuel is turned into hydrogen (a decarbonised fuel) in integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) power stations, after which the CO2 can be captured and stored. Other options exist, such as capturing emissions from existing power plants that have switched from coal to solid biomass or from natural gas to biogas. In biofuels for transport, the biomass is turned into hydrogen via gasification or biological fermentation, with the carbon dioxide again captured and sequestered.

Finally, negative emissions energy systems can be created by coupling bioenergy to biochar production. Part of the biomass is turned into an inert form of carbon (biochar or agrichar), which is then sequestered into soils (which boosts crop production). The rest of the energy is used for the production of power and heat. This way, energy can be generated while establishing a manageable carbon sink.

Only biomass-based systems can result in negative emissions energy that removes CO2 from the past and cleans up the atmosphere. In the event of "abrupt climate change" or when a radical transition to "zero emissions" is needed, which is the case according to Caldeira and Matthews, they are the key technology to achieve the goal.

References:

Matthews, H. D., and K. Caldeira (2008), "Stabilizing climate requires near-zero emissions", Geophysical Research Letters, doi:10.1029/2007GL032388, in press.

Eurekalerts: Stabilizing climate requires near-zero carbon emissions - February 14, 2008.

Scientific literature on negative emissions from biomass:
H. Audus and P. Freund, "Climate Change Mitigation by Biomass Gasificiation Combined with CO2 Capture and Storage", IEA Greenhouse Gas R&D Programme.

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.

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

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

Further reading on negative emissions bioenergy and biofuels, and carbon capture techniques:
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.

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

Biopact: Commission supports carbon capture & storage - negative emissions from bioenergy on the horizon - January 23, 2008

Biopact: The strange world of carbon-negative bioenergy: the more you drive your car, the more you tackle climate change - October 29, 2007

Biopact: "A closer look at the revolutionary coal+biomass-to-liquids with carbon storage project" - September 13, 2007

Biopact: New plastic-based, nano-engineered CO2 capturing membrane developed - September 19, 2007

Biopact: Plastic membrane to bring down cost of carbon capture - August 15, 2007

Biopact: Pre-combustion CO2 capture from biogas - the way forward? - March 31, 2007

Biopact: Towards carbon-negative biofuels: US DOE awards $66.7 million for large-scale CO2 capture and storage from ethanol plant - December 19, 2007

Biopact: Biochar and carbon-negative bioenergy: boosts crop yields, fights climate change and reduces deforestation - January 28, 2008



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German group invests €50 million in 20 biogas projects in France

German bioenergy group BKN BioKraftstoff Nord AG has announced its subsidiary BIOSTROM Energy Group AG has created a joint venture with BEE Beteiligungsgesellschaft Erneuerbare Energien mbH to invest €50 million (US$73.05mln) in 20 biogas projects in France's Alsace region. The new company, France Biogaz Valorisation, based in Haguenau, will build biogas plants with a capacity of at least 500 megawatts annually.

Leading development company Sterr-Koelln & Partners will assist the planning and construction of the anaerobic digesters, which will primarily cater to customers from the foodstuffs industry. BIOSTROM and BEE both have a 50 percent stake in France Biogaz Valorisation, with the first €50 million investment being part of a strategy that will be expanded to a nine-digit sum when the first plants are online. The consortium will plan and develop projects and organise investment, with finance being provided by institutional investors and food processors.
This joint venture is of great importance, because there are only a few biogas facilities in France so far, with a combined output of 60MWel, even though the potential is enormous. Demand for biogas technologies is huge and our business model is unrivalled in meeting it because we aren't a biogas plant manufacturer, but a general project developer who succeeds in covering the entire project and value chain: from the location search, to long-term operational and financial management. This model has proved to be highly successful elsewhere. - Guenter Schlotmann, COO of BKN BioKraftstoff Nord
The venture targets France because biogas production potential was found to be very large there and renewable energy regulations favorable. In France, renewable energy use receives incentives that compare favorably to Germany's Erneuerbare Energien Gesetz (Renewables Law), in that a fixed amount of support is guaranteed independent of the scale of the project and the raw materials used.

Furthermore, France's biogas market is very underdeveloped compared to Germany, where thousands of farmers have built small and larger plants to generate extra income by feeding green electricity into the grid or renewable gas into the natural gas pipelines. According to BKN, independent studies expect annual growth in this market segment in France to be between 30 and 60 per cent until 2020:
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The new consortium plans to produce biogas mainly from waste streams from the food processing industry. According to BKN, French food processors currently have to pay to remove large amounts of waste materials such as potato peelings. This waste is a free feedstock for the production of biomethane, which can be generated profitably.

Biogas is obtained by fermenting organic material - either agricultural, industrial or municipal waste or dedicated energy crops - under anaerobic conditions. Biogas can be upgraded to natural gas quality by scrubbing out corrosive residual gases, to obtain almost pure methane. This gas can then be used locally for the production of heat and power, or fed into the natural gas grid.

Germany is world leader in biogas development, but the sector is expanding rapidly throughout Europe. According to the latest "Biogas Barometer", in 2006, around 5.35 million tonnes of oil equivalent (mtoe) was produced in the EU, an increase of 13.6% compared to 2005. The production of electricity from biogas grew by 28.9% over the same period. Germany remains European leader and noted a 55.9% growth in 2006 in electricity generated from the renewable gas (previous post, and map, click to enlarge).

According to a study commissioned by the German Green Party, Europe has a very large biogas potential, so large in fact that it could replace all Russian natural gas imports by 2020 (more here). A short overview of some of the recent technological developments in biogas production can be found here: Experts see 2007 as the year of biogas; biomethane as a transport fuel.

BKN BioKraftstoff Nord AG has specialised itself in biogas project management after abandoning biodiesel projects, following a collapse of the industry in Germany mainly because of taxes on biofuels. BIOSTROM Energy Group AG functions as the company's operational subsidiary which plans and builds concrete projects.

References:
BKN BioKraftstoff Nord: Joint Venture für Frankreich gegründet, 50 Mio. EUR Projektvolumen gesichert - February 15, 2008.

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

Biopact: Report: biogas can replace all EU natural gas imports - January 04, 2008

Biopact: Experts see 2007 as the year of biogas; biomethane as a transport fuel - January 09, 2007



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Lanworth tailors its satellite-based tools to estimate biomass potential

A growing number of remote sensing service companies is finding opportunities in the emerging bioenergy sector, by providing detailed data about the availability of biomass in a given region and the feasibility of harvesting it for commercial use. Similarly, several governments and international organisations are drawing on earth observation data that drive GIS-tools which allow policy makers and investors to assess biofuels potential, make investment and management decisions and allow for estimates of impacts on local economies, ecosystems and populations.

Such tools - which often come in the form of an interactive GIS-based biomass atlas - can be as simple or as complex as one wants them to be, depending on the types of data that are connected to each other (environmental, social, infrastructural, etc) and on the desired level of detail. They can be static or dynamic and allow projections well into the future. Ultimately, a global biomass atlas of sorts should emerge, that can be used as the basis for discussions about the long-term sustainability of the sector (previous post on the FAO's recently unveiled bioenergy assessment tool).

An Illinois-based company has now joined the growing group of data providers who may contribute to the creation of such an atlas, by tailoring its satellite technology to help clients figure out how much woody biomass is available in a given area. Lanworth Inc. is an information technology company that specializes in the application of aerial and satellite remote sensing for natural resources management.

For the past seven years, Lanworth has enabled companies in the forest products industry to estimate pulp and timber volumes. Now, it has added another module that will help clients figure how much woody biomass can be extracted beyond sawmill and pulp extractions.
It has been a natural extension for us to deploy our tools to organizations pursuing wood-pellet plants, biomass boilers, cellulosic ethanol or other woody biomass-based facilities. - Shailu Verma, vice president of Lanworth
Lanworth has records of global forest covers that date back to the 1970s. It tracks growth of forest covers and is able to put the trajectory of growth of any forest in the world.

On the basis of these EO data, it then builds proprietary models that can tell how much woody biomass is available. The models use soil, elevation, slope, wetlands and other data layers to estimate extraction costs, as well as the total delivered cost of fiber to a processing site. The models also show the environmental impacts of additional biomass harvesting:
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I believe we can help make these significant investment decisions, which not only have an important impact on the economics of fiber supply in a region, but also help manage the region’s environmental balance. - Shailu Verma
Lanworth also performs similar analyses for crops. It assesses how many acres were planted, and how much yield would come out of corn, soy and wheat across the world.

The company's presence right now is largely in the United States, but it also has clients in Brazil and Argentina. Very soon, it will be working in the Baltic states, where a large bioenergy potential exists. The imaging is also used by clients to understand acreage and yield expected in the palm plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Verma said the woody biomass technology is used by pellet manufacturers, while the crop technology is utilized by large agribusinesses and hedge funds that are actively trading commodities.

Image: On multiple sites in Brazil, Lanworth analyzed satellite and aerial images to identify conflicts between planned and actual harvest zones. Additionally, conservation plots were examined to detect illegal logging. Also in Brazil, an appraisal project involved the verification of Eucalyptus harvest. Credit: Lanworth, Inc.

References:
Biomass Magazine: Satellite-based tools estimate woody biomass supplies - February 12, 2008.

Biopact: FAO unveils important bioenergy assessment tool to ensure food security, shows global biofuels potential - February 11, 2008

Biopact: India prepares 'Biomass Atlas' to map and tap bioenergy potential - November 26, 2007

Biopact: India to roll out real-time data on all standing crops - towards 'planetary biomass management' - October 02, 2007

Biopact: Satellites play vital role in understanding the carbon cycle - April 26, 2007



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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Breakthrough in selective CO2 capturing materials; could make bioenergy carbon-negative


Chemists from the University of California - Los Angeles (UCLA) have made a major advancement in the development of CO2 capturing materials, which they report in the Feb. 15 issue of the journal Science. The scientists have demonstrated that they can successfully isolate and capture carbon dioxide with a class of new materials known as zeolitic imidazolate frameworks (ZIFs). Their findings could lead to power plants efficiently capturing the greenhouse gas without using toxic materials, after which it can be stored in geological formations. The new materials make carbon capture less energy demanding, and can store up to five times as much CO2 than porous carbon materials being designed for the same task.

When carbon capture and storage (CCS) is coupled to biomass energy production, negative emissions are the result. Such carbon-negative bioenergy systems - which actively remove CO2 from the atmosphere - are the most radical tool in the climate fight. They come in the form of decarbonised bio-electricity or biohydrogen. Ordinary renewables like solar, wind, non-CCS bioenergy or hydropower are all 'carbon-neutral' at best, that is, they do not add new or only modest amounts of CO2 to the atmosphere, but they do not take the greenhouse gas out if either. Bioenergy with carbon storage does. The difference can be very significant: whereas the lifecycle carbon emissions of ordinary renewables and nuclear range between +10 to +100 grams of CO2eq per kWh, bioenergy coupled to CCS can yield as high as -1000gCO2/kWh (that is: minus 1000 grams, hence "negative emissions"), and thus clean up the atmosphere by removing CO2 from the past.

Efficient and affordable CO2 capturing technologies are needed to make such carbon-negative bioenergy systems feasible (see list of references below for an overview of developments). The UCLA breakthrough, made at professor Omar Yaghi's lab, goes a long way in meeting this need:
The technical challenge of selectively removing carbon dioxide has been overcome. Now we have structures that can be tailored precisely to capture carbon dioxide and store it like a reservoir, as we have demonstrated. No carbon dioxide escapes. Nothing escapes — unless you want it to do so. We believe this to be a turning point in capturing carbon dioxide before it reaches the atmosphere. - Omar M. Yaghi, UCLA's Christopher S. Foote Professor of Chemistry and co-author of the Science paper
The carbon dioxide is captured using a new class of materials designed by Yaghi and his group called zeolitic imidazolate frameworks, or ZIFs. These are porous and chemically robust structures, with large surface areas, that can be heated to high temperatures without decomposition and boiled in water or organic solvents for a week and still remain stable.

Rahul Banerjee, a UCLA postdoctoral research scholar in chemistry and Anh Phan, a UCLA graduate student in chemistry, both of whom work in Yaghi's laboratory, synthesized 25 ZIF crystal structures and demonstrated that three of them have high selectivity for capturing carbon dioxide (ZIF-68, ZIF-69, ZIF-70).

The selectivity of ZIFs to carbon dioxide is unparalleled by any other material, said Yaghi, who directs of UCLA's Center for Reticular Chemistry and is a member of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA. Rahul and Anh were so successful at making new ZIFs that, for the purposes of reporting the results, Yaghi had to ask them to stop.

The inside of a ZIF can store gas molecules. Flaps that behave like the chemical equivalent of a revolving door allow certain molecules — in this case, carbon dioxide — to pass through and enter the reservoir while blocking larger molecules or molecules of different shapes:
We can screen and select the one type of molecule we want to captureThe beauty of the chemistry is that we have the freedom to choose what kind of door we want and to control what goes through the door. - Anh Phan, a UCLA graduate student in chemistry, developer of selectiv ZIFs
In ZIFs 68, 69 and 70, Banerjee and Phan emptied the pores, creating an open framework. They then subjected the material to streams of gases - carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, for example, and another stream of carbon dioxide and nitrogen — and were able to capture only the carbon dioxide. They are testing other ZIFs for various applications:
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Currently, the process of capturing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants involves the use of toxic materials and requires 20 to 30 percent of the plant's energy output, Yaghi said. By contrast, ZIFs can pluck carbon dioxide from other gases that are emitted and can store five times more carbon dioxide than the porous carbon materials that represent the current state-of-art. For each liter of ZIF, you can hold 83 liters of carbon dioxide.

On a fundamental level, the invention of ZIFs has addressed two major challenges in zeolite science. Zeolites are stable, porous minerals made of aluminum, silicon and oxygen that are employed in petroleum refining and are used in detergents and other products. Yaghi's group has succeeded in replacing what would have been aluminum or silicon with metal ions like zinc and cobalt, and the bridging oxygen with imidazolate to yield ZIF materials, whose structures can now be designed in functionality and metrics.

Banerjee and Anh automated the process of synthesis. Instead of mixing the chemicals one reaction at a time and achieving perhaps several reactions per day, they were able to perform 200 reactions in less than an hour. The pair ran 9,600 microreactions and from those reactions uncovered 25 new structures. The scientists say they keep producing new crystals of ZIFs every day.

Co-authors are Bo Wang, a UCLA graduate student in chemistry in Yaghi's laboratory; Carolyn Knobler and Hiroyasu Furukawa of the Center for Reticular Chemistry at the UCLA's California NanoSystems Institute; and Michael O'Keeffe of Arizona State University's department of chemistry and biochemistry.

BASF, a global chemical company based in Germany, funded the synthesis of the materials, and the U.S. Department of Energy funded the absorption and separation studies of carbon dioxide.

Image: The single crystal x-ray structures of ZIFs. (Left and Center) In each row, the net is shown as a stick diagram (Left) and as a tiling (Center). (Right) The largest cage in each ZIF is shown with ZnN4 tetrahedra in blue, and, for ZIF-5, InN6 octahedra in red. H atoms are omitted for clarity. Credit: Yaghi Lab.

References:
Eurekalert: New materials can selectively capture carbon dioxide, UCLA chemists report - February 15, 2007.

The reference to the Science article was not yet available at the time of writing; we will update this article as soon as it does.

Yaghi's team did publish about ZIFs earlier:

Hideki Hayashi, Adrien P. Côté, Hiroyasu Furukawa, Michael O'Keeffe & Omar M. Yaghi, "Zeolite A imidazolate frameworks" [*.pdf - at Yaghi Lab], Nature Materials 6, 501 - 506 (2007), Published online: 27 May 2007 | doi:10.1038/nmat1927

Omar M. Yaghi, et. al. "Exceptional chemical and thermal stability of zeolitic imidazolate frameworks" [*.pdf - at Yaghi Lab], PNAS, July 5, 2006, vol. 103, no. 27, 10186-10191, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0602439103

Yaghi Laboratory.

Scientific literature on negative emissions from biomass:
H. Audus and P. Freund, "Climate Change Mitigation by Biomass Gasificiation Combined with CO2 Capture and Storage", IEA Greenhouse Gas R&D Programme.

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.

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

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

Further reading on negative emissions bioenergy and biofuels, and carbon capture techniques:
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.

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

Biopact: Commission supports carbon capture & storage - negative emissions from bioenergy on the horizon - January 23, 2008

Biopact: The strange world of carbon-negative bioenergy: the more you drive your car, the more you tackle climate change - October 29, 2007

Biopact: "A closer look at the revolutionary coal+biomass-to-liquids with carbon storage project" - September 13, 2007

Biopact: New plastic-based, nano-engineered CO2 capturing membrane developed - September 19, 2007

Biopact: Plastic membrane to bring down cost of carbon capture - August 15, 2007

Biopact: Pre-combustion CO2 capture from biogas - the way forward? - March 31, 2007

Biopact: Towards carbon-negative biofuels: US DOE awards $66.7 million for large-scale CO2 capture and storage from ethanol plant - December 19, 2007

Biopact: Biochar and carbon-negative bioenergy: boosts crop yields, fights climate change and reduces deforestation - January 28, 2008




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First datasets for U.S. "National Biomass and Carbon Dataset" now available; useful tool for bioenergy sector

Scientists at the Woods Hole Research Center working to produce America's "National Biomass and Carbon Dataset" for the year 2000 (NBCD2000) are releasing data from nine project mapping zones. All NBCD2000 data products are being made available for download on a zone-by-zone basis and free of charge from the NBCD2000 project website. The datasets are of interest to natural resource managers, especially those in silviculture and the bioenergy sector.

Through a combination of NASA satellite datasets, topographic survey data, land use/land cover information, and extensive forest inventory data collected by the USDA Forest Service - Forest Inventory and Analysis Program (FIA), NBCD2000 will provide an invaluable baseline for quantifying the carbon stock in U.S. forests and will improve current methods of assessing the carbon flux between forests and the atmosphere.
The availability of a high resolution dataset containing estimates of forest biomass and associated carbon stock is an important step forward in enabling researchers to better understand the North American carbon balance. - Dr. Josef Kellndorfer, project leader
As part of the NBCD2000 initiative, begun in 2005 and funded by NASA's Earth Science Program with additional support from the USGS/LANDFIRE, mapping is being conducted within 67 ecologically diverse regions, termed "mapping zones", which span the conterminous United States. Of the nine completed zones, 5 were finished during a 2-year pilot phase. Work on the remaining zones will be completed at a rate of roughly one zone every seven days. The project is scheduled for completion in early 2009:
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Wayne Walker, a research associate at the Center who is also working on the project adds, that the data sets that are now available should be of interest to natural resource managers across the U.S. For the first time, high resolution estimates of vegetation canopy height and biomass are being produced consistently for the entire conterminous U.S.

Within each mapping zone data from the 2000 Shuttle Radar Topography Mission are combined with topographic survey data from the National Elevation Dataset (NED) to produce a radar-based map of vegetation canopy height. Subsequently, the map is used to generate estimates of actual vegetation height, biomass, and carbon stock using survey data from the U.S. Forest Service - FIA program and ancillary data sets from the National Land Cover Database 2001 (NLCD2001) project.

The NLCD2001 data layers are crucial inputs to the NBCD2000 project as they provide land cover and canopy density information used in the stratification/calibration process.

Because this is the first systematic, regional-scale study that uses radar data to quantify carbon storage in vegetation, the end result will not only provide valuable information on how well we can do with existing data, but will allow us to see how we might improve and refine requirements for future, more capable missions like DESDynI, which has been recommended by the National Research Council Decadal Survey on Earth Observation. - Diane Wickland, program manager for NASA's Terrestrial Ecology Program

The project website will be updated regularly as mapping zones are completed.

Forest resources and bioenergy
State forest services across the U.S. have been launching initiatives to tap forest resources as a source of bioenergy that can help overcome serious risks, including forest fires. Forest residues as a feedstock for cellulosic ethanol were left out of the recently approved Energy Bill, which requires 21 billion gallons of ethanol to be produced from biomass, including cellulosic materials, by the year 2022.

The provision doesn't limit using wood waste from national forests but it will not count toward the increased renewable fuels standard target in the energy bill. There is one exception in the definition: biomass from federal forests in the immediate vicinity of private homes qualifies for the renewable fuels standard. Several forestry services and policy makers have expressed their dissatisfaction with this measure and have stepped up efforts to get forestry residues included under the RFS.

A joint study by the US Departments of Agriculture and Energy (USDA and DOE) earlier concluded - in a report titled Biomass as Feedstock for a Bioenergy and Bioproducts Industry: The Technical Feasibility of a Billion-Ton Annual Supply - that the land resources of the US could produce a sustainable supply of biomass sufficient to displace 30% or more of the country’s present petroleum consumption.

The study found that just forestland and agricultural land alone have a potential for 1.3 billion dry tons of biomass feedstock per year: 368 million dry tons from forestlands, 998 million dry tons from agriculture (table, click to enlarge).


The Woods Hole Research Center is dedicated to science, education and public policy for a habitable Earth, seeking to conserve and sustain forests, soils, water, and energy by demonstrating their value to human health and economic prosperity. The Center has initiatives in the Amazon, the Arctic, Africa, Russia, Asia, Boreal North America, the Mid-Atlantic, and New England including Cape Cod. Center programs focus on the global carbon cycle, forest function, landcover/land use, water cycles and chemicals in the environment, science in public affairs, and education, providing primary data and enabling better appraisals of the trends in forests.

Map: progress toward completion of the National Biomass and Carbon Dataset for the year 2000. Credit: Greg Fiske, Wayne Walker, Josef Kellndorfer, Woods Hole Research Center


References:

Woods Hole Research Center: The National Biomass and Carbon Dataset 2000 (NBCD 2000).

Eurekalert: First datasets for national biomass and carbon dataset now available - February 14, 2008.

USDA - DOE: Biomass as Feedstock for a Bioenergy and Bioproducts Industry: The Technical Feasibility of a Billion-Ton Annual Supply [*.pdf] - April 2005.


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DuPont and BP targeting multiple bio-butanol molecules; biofuel allows for higher blending ratios

DuPont and BP have announced that their partnership to develop and commercialize biobutanol (previous post and here) is targeting advanced metabolic pathways for 1-butanol as well as other higher octane biobutanol isomers. The companies also announced vehicle testing results demonstrating these advanced biofuels can increase the blending of biofuels in gasoline beyond the current 10 percent limit for ethanol without compromising performance. Furthermore, a full environmental lifecycle analysis of the targeted biobutanol production process has been commissioned.

Speaking at the Agra Informa Next Generation Biofuels conference in Hamburg, Germany, DuPont Biofuels Venture Manager David Anton and BP Biofuels Business Technology Manager Ian Dobson disclosed that the partnership has been developing biocatalysts to produce 1-butanol as well as 2-butanol and iso-butanol – higher octane biobutanol isomers that are of increased interest and utility from a fuels perspective.


Fuel testing conducted over the last 12 months by BP demonstrates that high octane biobutanol can deliver the exceptional performance characteristics (table, click to enlarge) the partnership has previously communicated (including improved energy density/fuel economy compared to current biofuel blends and use in existing fuels infrastructure) at fuel blends greater than the current 10 percent ethanol blend limit.
DuPont and BP were the first players in the area of advanced biofuels to announce our intent to not only improve the bio-process to produce commercial volumes of biobutanol, but also to pursue an integrated commercialization strategy that incorporates building pilot and commercial scale facilities, a complete fuel evaluation, and a full environmental life cycle analysis. - David Anton, DuPont Biofuels Venture Manager
Under the partnership, there currently are more than 60 patent applications in the areas of biology, fermentation processing, chemistry and end uses for biobutanol. The program is designed to deliver by 2010 a superior biobutanol manufacturing process with economics equivalent to ethanol:
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DuPont disclosed that those patents cover the higher octane isomers as well as the previously announced 1-butanol. According to Anton, this places the BP/DuPont partnership in a strong intellectual property position in the butanol areas of greatest interest.

Vehicle testing

Ian Dobson shared new BP engine and vehicle testing data that demonstrated high octane biobutanol at concentrations of 16 percent delivers similar fuel performance compared to current 10 percent ethanol blend gasoline fuels which importantly means that butanol can help achieve higher biofuel penetration without compromising fuel performance. BP has completed a testing program of 16 percent high octane butanol covering fuel formulation, short-term engine performance impacts and long-term, no harm and durability vehicle fleet trials.

Laboratory and vehicle assessment of butanol blends greater than 16 percent also have produced favorable test results. The results show that 16 percent high octane butanol blends have the added advantages of vapor pressure behavior and distillation curves comparable to regular gasoline and, unlike 10 percent ethanol, do not phase separate in the presence of water.

DuPont and BP have commissioned a full environmental life cycle analysis of the proposed biobutanol process that will utilize actual manufacturing design models to guide the process design.

On the basis of the vehicle test results they are now sharing, they believe that high octane butanol offers a way to break through the 10 percent constraint with ethanol in the current vehicle fleet, said Dobson.

References:

Dupont: DuPont and BP Disclose Advanced Biofuels Partnership Targeting Multiple Butanol Molecules - February 14, 2008.

Biopact: DuPont outlines commercialisation strategies for biobutanol, cellulosic ethanol - February 22, 2007

Biopact: Fuel testing shows biobutanol performance similar to unleaded gasoline - April 20, 2007

Biopact: ABF, BP and DuPont in joint venture to build $400 million bioethanol, biobutanol plants in the UK - June 26, 2007


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Quantum Group to invest US$250 million in 4 ethanol plants, 100,000ha in Sumba; 60,000 jobs for poor local farmers

According to the Jakarta Post, the Quantum Group of Australia will invest up to US$250 million to develop 100,000 hectares of land in East Nusa Tenggara to grow cassava, as well as to set up four ethanol processing plants. The project is expected to provide employment to as many as 60,000 local farmers in one of Indonesia's most impoverished and underdeveloped regions. A memorandum of understanding between Quantum Petroleum, a subsidiary of Quantum Group, and the Southwest Sumba administration was signed Wednesday.

Quantum chief executive officer Ralph Michael said the firm would start building the first plant in the fourth quarter of this year, while construction would commence on the other three by the middle of next year. The firm will invest around US$200 million for building the four plants and US$50 million for the plantations.

The 100,000 hectares of plantations would produce at least 20 million tons of cassava, or five million tons of sweet potato. From that yield, a processing plant could produce 100,000 metric tons (approximately 132 million liters/33.1 million gallons) of bioethanol per year.

Cassava, or manioc, is a starch-rich tuber crop that thrives well in relatively poor soils and requires modest inputs (water, fertilizer). Ethanol made from the crop has been found to be a fuel with a favorable energy balance, making it an efficient biofuel (earlier post).

Poverty alleviation
According to the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), one of the CGIAR institutions, a cassava-based ethanol industry could, with a combined effort from the science and policy community, launch a rural renaissance that would benefit the poorest people across Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa (previous post). Likewise, the UN's FAO and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) think developing countries could be ripe for a 'cassava industrial revolution' yielding vast new market and employment opportunities (more here).

It seems like Quantum's project is proving this, at least when it comes to job creation. According to Michael, the venture will employ around 60,000 local farmers to work on the plantations and expects to spend at least US$5 million for their wages each month. The Sumba administration is said to be very supportive, because this project will create employment for the local community.
We will support [the project] by providing the facilities they may need. This project will have a positive effect on the local economy. - Emanuel B. Eha, regent of Sumba
East Nusa Tenggara is one of Indonesia's poorest provinces. According to the World Resources Institute and the World Bank, the incidence of poverty on the island group was between 40 and 60 per cent at the beginning of the decade (map, click to enlarge).

The island of Sumba counts around 550,000 inhabitants, with the majority of the labor force employed in agriculture. The 60,000 projected jobs in the new biofuel venture could offer opportunities for 20 per cent of all of Sumba's farmers. The project is therefor seen as having a potentially major beneficial impact on poverty alleviation:
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In a bid to streamline business activities in the underdeveloped province, Quantum suggested the local administration improve infrastructure. Yoseph Wijaya, commercial director of PT Anugrah Kurnia Abadi, Quantum's Indonesian partner, has asked the local administration to develop necessary infrastructure such as expanding the airport runway. Anugrah has only a 5 percent share in the joint venture.

Sumba regent Emanuel B. Eha said the administration would fully support the business, and pledged to improve business infrastructure. Aside from biofuel business, Quantum is also planning to plant vegetables and breed Australian cattle.

Indonesia is the second country after Bulgaria where Quantum has invested in bioenergy development projects. Quantum is also interested to take over palm oil plantations and oil palm processing plants from other local companies.

Quantum originally planned to invest in the bioethanol project in Malaysia six months ago. However, the company decided to shift its operations to Indonesia because of unfavorable regulations set out by the Malaysian authorities.

Map: Indonesia and East Timor - incidence of poverty (2000). Credit: World Resources Institute.

References:
Jakarta Post: Quantum to invest US$250 million on biofuel developments in Sumba - February 14, 2008.

Biopact: First comprehensive energy balance study reveals cassava is a highly efficient biofuel feedstock - April 18, 2007

Biopact: CIAT: cassava ethanol could benefit small farmers in South East Asia -
September 24, 2007

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The bioeconomy at work: Finnish Centre for Nanocellulosic Technologies created

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Helsinki University of Technology TKK and forest products group UPM have today established an internationally unique Finnish Centre for Nanocellulosic Technologies. It aims to create new applications for cellulose as a raw material, substance and end product. Cellulose-based nanofibres can be used to alter the structure of materials and create products that better correspond to future market needs.

Cellulose, the most common organic compound on Earth, is also the raw material for next-generation biofuels. In the future, integrated biorefineries will combine the production of advanced fuels, fibres and other renewable products in a cascading strategy in which one product's residues become feedstock for the next.

The Finnish Centre for Nanocellulosic Technologies will start operating on 1 March 2008. Its operations will be centralised in Otaniemi, Espoo. The Centre will employ around 40 researchers. It is an equal consortium of three partners with operations being financed by public and private investments.

Cellulose fibres (30 micrometres wide, 2-3 millimetres long) consist of nanofibrils that are about one-thousandth of the dimensions of a cellulose fibre. One of the challenges in research is to produce large quantities of nanofibrils of even quality.

Nanofibrils can be released from cellulose by a range of conversion technologies: acid hydrolysis, multiple mechanical shearing or enzymatic hydrolysis (schematic, click to enlarge).

Nanofibrils provide a number of possibilities for treating wood fibre materials and adding completely new properties to them. The mechanical properties of raw materials can be improved, their moisture behaviour controlled, electrical properties changed or optical properties adjusted:
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Applications include special papers, paper coating, packages and building materials. In addition to the paper and packaging industry, the construction, vehicle, furniture, electronics, food product and cosmetics industries can create added value for their products using tailored fibre materials.

The forest industry is going through a major transition, and the utilisation of new technologies will provide a means for strengthening the competitiveness in the sector. By combining basic research, applied research and productisation and business competence, the partners aim to speed up the launch of new profitable products on the world’s market in the near future.

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland is the third largest contract research organisation in Europe. Its objective is to develop new technologies, create new innovations and value added thus increasing customer's competitiveness. With its know how VTT produces research, development, testing and information services to public sector and companies as well as international organisations.

The Helsinki University of Technology TKK is the leading technological university in Finland. TKK’s four faculties have 15,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students. Every year, about 1,000 students and more than 150 doctors graduate from TKK. This year, TKK will celebrate its one hundredth anniversary as a university.

UPM is one of the world’s leading forest products groups. The Group's sales in 2007 were EUR 10 billion, and it has about 26,000 employees. UPM's main products include printing papers, label materials and wood products. The company has production units in 14 countries and its main market areas are Europe and North America. UPM's shares are listed on stock exchange in Helsinki, and the company has an ADR programme on the OTC market in the United States.

References:
VTT: VTT, Helsinki University of Technology and UPM to establish an internationally unique Finnish Centre for Nanocellulosic Technologies - February 14, 2008.

VTT: webcast - Finnish Centre for Nanocellulosic Technologies.


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FAO: significant increase in world cereal production forecast for 2008, but prices remain high

Early prospects point to the possibility of a significant increase in world cereal production in 2008, but international prices of most cereals remain at record high levels and some are still on the increase, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said in a new outlook. Farmers are responding to higher prices by planting more. High prices are caused by high oil prices, adverse weather last year, first-generation biofuels and low stocks. To monitor the global food market, the FAO also launched a new web portal: World Food Situation.

The FAO forecasts a significant increase in production, which follows expansion of winter grain plantings and good weather among major producers in Europe and in the United States, coupled with a generally satisfactory outlook elsewhere, according to FAO’s latest Crop Prospects and Food Situation report.

With dwindling stocks, continuing strong demand for cereals is keeping upward pressure on international prices, despite a record world harvest last season, the report said. International wheat prices in January 2008 were 83 percent up from a year earlier (graph, click to enlarge).

Although prices are high, total world trade in cereals is expected to peak in 2007/08, driven in great part by a sharp rise in demand for coarse grains, especially for feed use in the European Union, according the report.

Imports down, food bill up for poorest countries
Cereal imports for all Low-Income Food-Deficit countries in 2007/08 are forecast to decline by about 2 percent in volume, but as a result of soaring international cereal prices and freight rates, their cereal import bill is projected to rise by 35 percent for the second consecutive year. An even higher increase is anticipated for Africa. Prices of basic foods have also increased in many countries worldwide, affecting the vulnerable populations most, the report said.

In order to limit the impact of rising cereal prices on domestic food consumption, governments from both cereal importing and exporting countries have taken a range of policy measures, including lowering import tariffs, raising food subsidies, and banning or imposing duties on basic food exports:
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New portal
“High food prices and market uncertainties have become major global concerns, and wide access to up-to-date information and analysis is becoming critical,” said Henri Josserand of FAO’s Global Information and Early Warning system. To address this need for information and facilitate analysis on current developments in world food markets, FAO also announced the launch of a new web portal bringing together relevant FAO studies and data on the world food situation.

2008 cereal prospects

In North Africa, early prospects for the 2008 winter cereal crops are mixed, but in Southern Africa the overall outlook is satisfactory, despite severe localized floods. In several countries of Eastern Africa, another bumper cereal crop was gathered in 2007, but poor secondary crops are expected in Kenya and Somalia, according to the report.

In Asia, early indications point to a 2008 aggregate wheat crop around last year’s record level.

Overall prospects for the 2008 maize crop are satisfactory in South America, although the outlook remains uncertain in Argentina.

Flooding in southern Africa and South America
Heavy rains have caused severe flooding in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi. Farmers in affected areas are in urgent need of seeds and other inputs for replanting during what is left of the main cropping season, which runs from October to April, and to prepare for the next planting season.

FAO and its humanitarian partners yesterday launched an appeal for $87 million for emergency assistance to flood-affected populations in the four countries. Of this, over $9 million will support FAO’s agricultural relief activities aimed at improving food security in flood-hit regions.

In Bolivia, severe floods have adversely affected over 42 000 families, who are in need of emergency humanitarian assistance, with numbers on the increase. Large cropped areas have been partially or totally lost.

Extreme cold weather in central Asia

Exceptionally low temperatures in several central Asian countries, in particular China, Mongolia, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, have caused human casualties and resulted in crop and livestock losses.

Worldwide, 36 countries are currently facing food crises, according to the report. Civil strife, war, political instability, refugees, internally displaced people, and adverse weather are the main causes of these crises (table, click to enlarge).

References:
FAO - Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture: "Crop Prospects and Food Situation", N° 1, February 2008.

World Food Situation portal.


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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Norbord opens biomass power plant at Scottish fibreboard factory - bioenergy meets almost 70 percent of company's total energy needs

UK Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks has opened a multi-million pound biomass unit at the European headquarters of wood-products manufacturer Norbord, near Stirling in Scotland. The company will use the green energy to power its Cowie factory, drastically cutting the level of emissions from the power unit. Renewable biomass now meets more than 65 per cent of the multinational company's total energy needs and has cut emissions nearly by half over the past five years.

The bioenergy plant will utilize abundant residues from the Cowie factory: bark and wood residue from the manufacturing process. The total amount of biomass now used in green power plants at Nordborg's factories is 1 million tons, equivalent to two million barrels of oil per year.

The company said it had invested £2.5 million (€3.4/US$4.9 million) in new environmental protection measures, including this new biomass power and heat generating unit. By using biomass, emissions were greatly reduced over the last five years: from more than 420,000 tons of CO2 per year in 2002 to 261,000 tons in 2006. The new green energy facility will push these reductions further.

Norbord has been able to slash its reliance on fossil fuels by relying on waste biomass instead. The use of fossil fuels dropped by 40 per cent over the last five years, and now makes up only a fifth of all energy used at the company's mills and factories. Biomass contributes 67 per cent (graph, click to enlarge).

Energy Minister Wicks congratulated Norbord on its impressive green efforts.
Using biomass in this way will reduce carbon emissions and thereby play an important role in tackling climate change. The new plant at Cowie is a real success story, utilising waste wood and residues that would normally end up in landfill. The investment they have made, and commitment shown, is commendable. - Malcolm Wicks, Great Britain's Energy Minister
Steve Roebuck, director of health, safety and environmental affairs at Norbord, said it was time biomass material was diverted from landfill sites. At present there is a huge amount of available biomass currently going to landfill that is being ignored. This waste degrades and generates harmful greenhouse gas emissions, while it can be used for the production of green electricity and heat:
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Waste should only go to landfill after all recyclable parts have been recovered and then the rest burned to produce energy, Roebuck said. He added that this source should be used in preference to virgin biomass material, which should be used and then recycled, only being combusted for energy generation when it has reached the end of the recycling chain.

The biomass to be used in its factory will come from bark and wood residue in the manufacturing process with none being purchased from outside sources.

Rapid growth
Biomass is a rapidly growing energy sector in the UK, mainly because it is the most competitive of the renewables and relies largely on existing infrastructures. The world's largest biomass plant is under construction in the country: a 350MW power facility that will provide energy to not less than half of all homes in Wales.

The £400 million plant to be located in Port Talbot will meet the electricity needs of around 1.5 million people in a sustainable, renewable and carbon-neutral way. When completed, the 350MW biomass plant will produce about 70% of the Welsh Assembly Government's entire 2010 renewable energy target. This makes it the region's single strongest weapon in the fight against climate change.

Energy giant E.ON runs several biomass co-firing operations, is building a 44MW plant in Lockerbie, capable of providing energy to 70,000 homes in Scotland, while another one, rated at 25MW is in the pipeline and to be build near Sheffield. It will power 40,000 homes. The renewable energy plants burn a combination of recycled wood and specially grown energy crops such as willow or tropical elephant grass (Pennisetum purpureum). E.ON operates three coal fired power stations in the UK (Ratcliffe, Kingsnorth and Ironbridge), and in al three of them biomass is co-fired. The type of fuels that are being burnt include waste cereal pellets, olive cakes and wood.

Scottish and Southern Energy plc, the UK's second largest power company, recently completed the acquisition of Slough Heat and Power Ltd from SEGRO plc for a total cash consideration of £49.25m. The 101MW CHP plant is the UK’s largest dedicated biomass cogeneration energy facility fueled by wood chips, biomass and waste paper.

Sembcorp Industries (Sembcorp) brought a 30MW biomass power plant online in November last year. The £64 million (€90.7/$132.5 million) plant utilizes no fossil fuels at all and generates green energy for industries located at the manufacturing site in Teesside, in the Northeast of England. Feedstocks range from waste wood to biomass obtained from dedicated energy crops.

Many other, smaller biomass power initiatives are underway, with companies using the resource to lower their emissions footprint. A recent example would be British Sugar's multimegawatt biomass cogeneration plant, used to power its sugar processing operations.

According to the recently published UK Biomass Strategy, the total amount of virgin wood available to England, Scotland and Wales for use as fuel is set to increase by 55% over the next decade, from 1.1 million oven dry tonnes to 1.7 million oven dry tonnes per year. Waste wood and biomass resources are larger still.


Norbord Inc. is an international producer of wood-based panels with assets of $1.5 billion. The company has 15 plant locations in the United States, Europe and Canada and is one of the world’s largest producers of oriented strand board (OSB). In addition to OSB, Nordbord manufacture particleboard, medium density fibreboard (MDF), hardwood plywood and related value-added products.

References:

Norbord: environmental policy and data.

BBC Scotland: Company opens new biomass plant - February 13, 2008.

Biopact: UK approves world's biggest (350MW) biomass plant: will power half of all homes in Wales - November 21, 2007

Biopact: UK's largest biomass plant approved, biomass task force created - June 16, 2007

Biopact: E.ON UK submits application for 25MW biomass plant - July 20, 2007

Biopact: UK outlines Biomass Strategy: large potential for bioenergy, bioproducts - May 28, 2007

Biopact: UK opens first large scale 30MW biomass power station - November 13, 2007


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MIT physicists make breakthrough in understanding superconductivity

MIT physicists have taken a step toward understanding the puzzling nature of high-temperature superconductors, materials that conduct electricity with no resistance at temperatures well above absolute zero. If superconductors could be made to work at temperatures as high as room temperature, they could have potentially limitless applications and help solve part of the energy and climate crisis. But first, scientists need to learn much more about how such materials work.

Using a new method, the MIT team made a surprising discovery that may overturn theories about the state of matter in which superconducting materials exist just before they start to superconduct. The findings are reported in the February issue of Nature Physics.

Understanding high-temperature superconductors is one of the biggest challenges in physics today, according to Eric Hudson, MIT assistant professor of physics and senior author of the paper. Most superconductors only superconduct at temperatures near absolute zero, but about 20 years ago, it was discovered that some ceramics can superconduct at higher temperatures (but usually still below 100 Kelvin, or -173 Celsius).

Such high-temperature superconductors are now beginning to be used for many applications, including cell-phone base stations and a demo magnetic-levitation train. But their potential applications could be much broader. If you could make superconductors work at room temperature, then the applications are endless, said Hudson.

Superconductors are superior to ordinary metal conductors such as copper because current doesn't lose energy as wasteful heat as it flows through them, thus allowing larger current densities. Once a current is set in motion in a closed loop of superconducting material, it will flow forever.

In the study, the MIT researchers looked at a state of matter that superconductors inhabit just above the temperature at which they start to superconduct.

When a material is in a superconducting state, all electrons are at the same energy level. The range of surrounding, unavailable electron energy levels is called the superconducting gap. It is a critical component of superconduction, because it prevents electrons from scattering, thus eliminating resistance and allowing the unimpeded flow of current.

Just above the transition temperature when a material starts to superconduct, it exists in a state called the pseudogap. This state of matter is not at all well understood:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The researchers decided to investigate the nature of the pseudogap state by studying the properties of electron states that were believed to be defined by the characteristics of superconductors: the states surrounding impurities in the material.

It had already been shown that natural impurities in a superconducting material, such as a missing or replaced atom, allow electrons to reach energy levels that are normally within the superconducting gap, so they can scatter. This can be observed using scanning tunneling microscopy (STM).

The new MIT study shows that scattering by impurities occurs when a material is in the pseudogap state as well as the superconducting state. That finding challenges the theory that the pseudogap is only a precursor state to the superconductive state, and offers evidence that the two states may coexist.

This method of comparing the pseudogap and superconducting state using STM could help physicists understand why certain materials are able to superconduct at such relatively high temperatures, said Hudson. Trying to understand what the pseudogap state is is a major outstanding question, he added.

Lead author of the paper is Kamalesh Chatterjee, a graduate student in physics. MIT physics graduate students Michael Boyer and William Wise are also authors of the paper, along with Takeshi Kondo of the Ames Laboratory at Iowa State University and T. Takeuchi and H. Ikuta of Nagoya University, Japan. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Research Corporation.

Image: Electrons, when scattered by static random disorder, form standing waves that can be imaged using scanning tunneling microscopy. Such interference patterns, observable by the recently developed technique of Fourier transform scanning tunneling spectroscopy (FT-STS), carry unique fingerprints characteristic of the electronic order present in a material.

References:

Kamalesh Chatterjee, M. C. Boyer, W. D. Wise, Takeshi Kondo, T. Takeuchi, H. Ikuta, E. W. Hudson, "Visualization of the interplay between high-temperature superconductivity, the pseudogap and impurity resonances", Nature Physics, 4, 108 - 111 (01 Feb 2008) Letters

Eurekalert: MIT reveals superconducting surprise: A better understanding of material could bring 'endless applications' - February 12, 2008.



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Ethtec begins construction of integrated cellulosic ethanol biorefinery

Australia’s EthTec (Ethanol Technologies Limited) has begun work on a A$20 million (€12.2/US$18 million) pilot cellulosic ethanol plant in New South Wales that will use wood residues (including pine), bagasse and other lignocellulosic materials as feedstock. The company is 51% owned by Willmott Forests Ltd.

Ethtec has a world-wide exclusive licence from Apace Research Limited to further develop and commercialize technologies developed by Apace for the production of cellulosic ethanol. In collaboration with the University of Southern Mississippi, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the University of New South Wales, Apace has developed and demonstrated its cellulosic ethanol technology at laboratory and mini-pilot plant scale.

Willmott Forests made its investment in Ethtec in 2007. It sees this as an opportunity to add value to the traditionally lower value wood products from both the forest floor and at the sawmill, such as mill residues, wood waste, woodchip and potentially pulpwood logs. The company has access to abundant feedstock to assist in the commercialisation of the pilot plant which, if this technology is proven, will bring benefits in the form of additional revenue to both its forest operations and its timber processing operations.

Ethtec’s larger-scale pilot plant is a four-phase project to further develop and commercialize the Apace Research technology. The individual new technology processes and the associated phases of the pilot plant project are:
  • Phase one (late 2008): hydrolysis of lignocellulosics. This phase involves a new hydrolysis process that converts the hemicellulose and cellulose components of the fiber to sugars at a significantly lower cost than competing methods, according to the company. These sugars have a ready market in the production of renewable chemicals and bioplastics, and as an alternative in some traditional sucrose markets.
  • Phase two (mid 2009): alternative sugars and lignin production; sulfuric acid production
  • Phase three (early 2010): fermentation.
  • Phase four (late 2008 - early 2010): simultaneous ethanol recovery and liquid effluent treatment. Phase four of the pilot plant project can be undertaken at the same time as phase one, and involves a new process of simultaneous ethanol recovery and liquid waste treatment. If successful, this new process will eliminate the liquid waste stream and thereby significantly reduce the environmental impact of ethanol distilleries, according to the company.
By using induced phase separation, the ethanol recovery essentially eliminates the need for the conventional distillation technology, thus significantly improving the energy balance of ethanol production, with accompanying reduction in greenhouse gas emissions:
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The new integrated process is expected to have immediate application world-wide in all new and existing ethanol distilleries that utilise traditional sugar, corn or starch feedstocks. There are more than 300 of these plants worldwide, either in operation or in the final stages of construction. The current annual global production of ethanol using traditional methods is approximately 50 billion litres.

Willmott Forests is an integrated company that plants, manages, harvests, processes, supplies and replants softwood resource for a commercial benefit in a sustainable manner. It has been committed to the establishment of Pinus radiata for over 25 years, and has established itself as a market leader in the proven and recognisable long term softwood plantation industry. Willmott Forests is the largest developer of newly established softwood pine plantations in Australia. It owns Ethec, Bioforest Ltd and Bioenergy Australia Ltd.

References:

Transport & Logistics News: Patented fibre-to-ethanol technologies in AU$20 million trial - February 12, 2008.

Willmott Forests: WFL takes strategic stake in Ethanol Technologies [*.pdf] - March 16, 2007.


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Anthropologists caution against essentialism in discussion about social sustainability of biofuels

A group of environmentalists has published a report in which they say palm plantation companies in Indonesia are "tricking" people who live "close to nature", into giving up their land. "Happy natives" who, paradisiacally, live off the "bounty of the forest", are being "cheated" on by outside forces and end up in misery as a result. Social negotiations are not part of the process, we are only witnessing a clear-cut battle of powerful outside forces versus passive "victims". This is the undertone of the text titled "Losing Ground", by Friends of the Earth, Sawit Watch, and LifeMosaic. With its usual histrionic language, Friends of the Earth says the EU's biofuel policy is fueling a human rights "disaster" in Indonesia.

Biopact's cultural anthropologists warn that this way of representing a complex social process is in danger of being deeply essentialist, exoticist and ultimately paternalist. It could do a great disservice to the very people the environmentalists are writing about. Friends of the Earth reduces the density of social negotiations, there in Indonesia, to a clear-cut battle of powerful agents versus weak, passive "indigenous" natives "without history" who live "in sync with nature", who cannot speak for themselves and have no agency of their own. This discourse full of binary oppositions must be deconstructed. After this exercise, the anthropologists instead call for a deeper debate about modernity, globalisation, agency and social change - the fundamental forces in which the drive towards biofuel production must be placed.

They also urge researchers to inform a more genuinely critical analysis by data obtained from research that relies on a stronger analytical framework and on the techniques of ethnography, which are most suited to assess the complex social effects of biofuel production on people in an objective way. Journalism, anecdotal evidence and simple interviews - as used by the authors of "Losing Ground" - will not suffice and merely result in representations that confirm the underlying views of the analyst.

Participants in this debate need a broad view on the history of modernity, the politics of representation and a self-reflexive attitude. They need to ask basic questions about themselves: who is talking, in whose name? Are we really representing the deeper views and desires of the people we are writing about? Is a discourse based on the modernist and universalist principle of "human rights" the best framework to assess the social impacts of an economic activity (leading philosphers doubt this; see e.g. Zizek on the "Obscenity of Human Rights" or Bricmont's "Imperialisme humanitaire")? How can we ensure that the people who are affected - both positively and negatively - by the biofuels industry are heard in an objective way? Do the negative effects of the social transformations brought about by modernity outweigh the positive effects? Is activism in favor of the environment and human rights really as good for nature and society as is often believed (again, scientists are not so sure; they even find the contrary)? What are the ideological underpinnings of our own discourse on social and economic change in the developing world?

It is important to understand, from the start, that biofuels as such are neither bad nor good. They are merely a material product that can be used by societies to perform useful tasks and services. It is the way in which biofuels are produced that needs be scrutinised. And here, a wide range of ideological perspectives emerges.

Biofuels can be produced within the framework of a modernist, capitalist system, and contribute to the perpetuation of that system which thrives on affordable energy and transport. This production method involves intensive monoculture and profit-driven agriculture that leads to a concentration of power in the hands of those who control the means of production. This model leads to great technological and social transformations, such as the ones reported by Losing Ground: local populations are dislocated and become part of an abstract universe called "modernity"; migrations from rural to urban areas take off; people become part of a more complex, globalised society.

This socio-economic paradigm has the potential to fuel social inequalities and considers people to be abstract "free labor", part of an anonymous labor market. Local people undergo a process of alienation and are forced to cope with new views on work, leisure and life. However, modernity also brings economic, social and cultural services many people appear to be aspiring to all over the world: it offers opportunities for social mobility, "modern" health care, education, and economic prosperity.

When modernity arrives, local lifeworlds are "deterritorialised" - quite literally in this case - and consequently "reterritorialised" by new perspectives on life, dominated by consumerism, individualism and the abstract forces of capitalist economics and modern representational politcs.

However, researchers analysing this process often make the mistake of looking at the people who undergo it, as passive subjects who are incapable of interpreting what is happening to them; incapable of making their own version of modernity, of acting upon and transforming the forces they encounter into a socially manageable system. This mistake then often leads to outside analysts and activists thinking they need to "protect" and "represent" these passive subjects - the "victims" of modernity. There are many instances in which this role is legitimate, but just as many in which it says more about the "defenders" than about the people they claim to be representing:

A more robust, critical and objective analysis of the transformations brought about by modernity consists of relying on analytical techniques developed by ethnography and anthropology. This social science has itself gone through a process of intense self-reflection and self-questioning:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The history of anthropology is tightly linked to the very transformations it now analyses: from being a social science in the service of empire and colonies (used to investigate the lives of local populations, with the intent of using the knowledge to subject them), to a modern science with methods and techniques that allow for an objective representation of what people in other cultures really want, think and feel when confronted with modernity and globalisation.

The value of anthropological analysis precisely lies in the fact that it continuously questions its own methods of questioning, while it performs its tasks. This "feedback" mechanism is at work during the ethnographic phases and during the analytical phases. Anthropology works in several research rounds: learning the cultural codes and language of the people being researched, questioning them via careful and intensive participant observation, then retreating to analyse the ethnographic data and screen them for bias, and finally repeating the process several times over.

It has been shown that these techniques lead to representations that capture local realities in all their complexities. Very seldom do they result in the simplistic, black and white stories such as the one found in Losing Ground or in mainstream media. The far more complex and nuanced findings obtained by anthropologists explain the fact that they do not easily "take sides". It is also explains why they have begun to analyse precisely those organisations and activists who do take sides. They are often found to be representing everything except the views of the people they write about and whose interests they claim to be defending. Instead, when activists are analysed, anthropologists uncover a reality which shows that they are part of a very particular universalist deeply modernist process themselves.

Earlier we referred to an interesting anthropological analysis of the way in which farmers in India cope with genetically modified seeds. In this debate, activists and media reduce a complex reality to simplistic stories about "good" farmers versus "bad" multinationals. The farmers are victims of evil outside forces and completely passive, dominated subjects. End of the story. Or so the activists thought. Enter the anthropologist, who spent five years amongst the farmers and found a world in which they suddenly appear to be highly active, well organised individuals who understand what they are doing perfectly well; instead of a black and white story, he "discovered" an intense process of continuous social negotiations, smart grassroots politics, unexpected coalitions between farmers and multinationals, and so on. Obviously he also found many negative aspects of the farmers' new relationship with the multinationals, but he refused to depict his research subjects as naive, passive victims who are incapable of defending their own interests.

This type of analyses is urgently needed in the discussion about the social effects of the emerging biofuels industry in the developing world. Biopact urges social analysts interested in participating in the debate to use ingredients that are needed for a genuine critique of biofuels: self-reflection, a broad perspective on the history of modernity, and the use of robust anthropological analytical frameworks with which to gather and analyse the views of the people affected by the sector.

Modernity as a development pathway is certainly up for debate. There are other ways to produce biofuels and to use them (if any are needed at all): strategies which stress local control over resources and a socially corrected distribution of their benefits without falling into a naive ideology of autarky; strategies which empower local communities economically and enhance their capacity to cope with the forces of globalisation. But part of this quest to transit towards more post-modern, smart way of organising modern societies and their energy habits, is the need for a more critical analysis of the broad forces that are at work, and of the way in which local populations really cope with them. Reducing this debate to a moralistic story of good and evil, does a disservice to all those involved, including the people in Indonesia who are negotiating their way through this jungle of new opportunities and perils.

Picture: Kelbung is a little village in the western interior of Madura, an island near Java. The village is inhabited by people who used to live in Kalimantan but were moved from their land and brought back to the island of their ancestors in Java.

References:
Friends of the Earth: EU fuelling human rights disaster in Indonesia - February 11, 2008.

Slavoj Zizek, "The Obscenity of Human Rights: Violence as Symptom" - Lacan.com, 2005.

Jean Bricmont, Impérialisme humanitaire. Droits de l’homme, droit d’ingérence, droit du plus fort? (Préface de François Houtart), Octobre 2005, 256 pages.

Biopact: Scientists: environmental crises do not lead to conflict - neomalthusian theory challenged - December 13, 2007


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Researchers propose system to capture vehicle CO2 emissions by on-board fuel processing


Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a strategy to capture, store and eventually recycle carbon from vehicles to prevent the pollutant from finding its way from a car tailpipe into the atmosphere. They envision a zero emissions car, and a transportation system completely free of fossil fuels but powered by renewables instead. They compared their concept with other proposed mobility concepts, in particular electric cars and hydrogen vehicles, and found it to have a range of advantages.

Technologies to capture carbon dioxide emissions from large-scale sources such as power plants have recently gained some impressive scientific ground, but nearly two-thirds of global carbon emissions are created by much smaller polluters — automobiles, transportation vehicles and distributed industrial power generation applications (e.g., diesel power generators).

The Georgia Tech team’s goal is to create a sustainable transportation system that uses a liquid fuel and traps the carbon emission in the vehicle for later processing at a fueling station. The carbon would then be shuttled back to a processing plant where it could be transformed into liquid fuel. Currently, Georgia Tech researchers are developing a fuel processing device to separate the carbon and store it in the vehicle in liquid form.

The concept is outlined in a paper in Energy Conversion and Management. The research was funded by NASA, the U.S. Department of Defense NDSEG Fellowship Program and Georgia Tech’s CEO (Creating Energy Options) Program.
Presently, we have an unsustainable carbon-based economy with several severe limitations, including a limited supply of fossil fuels, high cost and carbon dioxide pollution. We wanted to create a practical and sustainable energy strategy for automobiles that could solve each of those limitations, eventually using renewable energy sources and in an environmentally conscious way. - Andrei Fedorov, associate professor in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech and a lead researcher on the project.
Little research has been done to explore carbon capture from vehicles, but the Georgia Tech team outlines an economically feasible strategy for processing fossil or synthetic, carbon-containing liquid (bio)fuels that allows for the capture and recycling of carbon at the point of emission. In the long term, this strategy would enable the development of a sustainable transportation system with no carbon emission.

Georgia Tech’s near-future strategy involves capturing carbon emissions from conventional (fossil) liquid hydrocarbon-fueled vehicles with an onboard fuel processor designed to separate the hydrogen in the fuel from the carbon. Hydrogen is then used to power the vehicle, while the carbon is stored on board the vehicle in a liquid form until it is disposed at a refueling station. It is then transported to a centralized site to be sequestered in a permanent location currently under investigation by scientists, such as geological formations, under the oceans or in solid carbonate form.

Note that if biofuels are used in the system, a carbon-negative cycle emerges that actively removes CO2 from the atmosphere. The more one were to drive the car, the more one would be cleaning up the atmosphere and fighting climate change (previous post).

In the long-term strategy, the carbon dioxide will be recycled forming a closed-loop system, involving synthesis of high energy density liquid fuel suitable for the transportation sector:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Georgia Tech settled on a hydrogen-fueled vehicle for its carbon capture plan because pure hydrogen produces no carbon emissions when it is used as a fuel to power the vehicle. The fuel processor produces the hydrogen on-board the vehicle from the hydrocarbon fuel without introducing air into the process, resulting in an enriched carbon byproduct that can be captured with minimal energetic penalty. Traditional combustion systems, including current gasoline-powered automobiles, have a combustion process that combines fuel and air — leaving the carbon dioxide emissions highly diluted and very difficult to capture.

The researchers had to look for a system that never dilutes fuel with air because once the CO2 is diluted, it is not practical to capture it on vehicles or other small systems, said David Damm, PhD candidate in the School of Mechanical Engineering, the lead author on the paper and Fedorov’s collaborator on the project.

The Georgia Tech team compared the proposed system with other systems that are currently being considered, focusing on the logistic and economic challenges of adopting them on a global scale. In particular, electric vehicles could be part of a long-term solution to carbon emissions, but the team raised concerns about the limits of battery technology, including capacity and charging time.

The hydrogen economy presents yet another possible solution to carbon emissions but also yet another roadblock — infrastructure. While liquid-based hydrogen carriers could be conveniently transported and stored using existing fuel infrastructure, the distribution of gaseous hydrogen would require the creation of a new and costly infrastructure of pipelines, tanks and filling stations.

The Georgia Tech team has already created a fuel processor, called CO2/H2 Active Membrane Piston (CHAMP) reactor, capable of efficiently producing hydrogen and separating and liquefying CO2 from a liquid hydrocarbon or synthetic fuel used by an internal combustion engine or fuel cell (schamtic, click to enlarge). After the carbon dioxide is separated from the hydrogen, it can then be stored in liquefied state on-board the vehicle. The liquid state provides a much more stable and dense form of carbon, which is easy to store and transport.

The Georgia Tech paper also details the subsequent long-term strategy to create a truly sustainable system, including moving past carbon sequestration and into a method to recycle the captured carbon back into fuel. Once captured on-board the vehicle, the liquid carbon dioxide is deposited back at the fueling station and piped back to a facility where it is converted into a synthetic liquid fuel to complete the cycle.

Now that the Georgia Tech team has come up with a proposed system and device to produce hydrogen and, at the same time, capture carbon emissions, the greatest remaining challenge to a truly carbon-free transportation system will be developing a method for making a synthetic liquid fuel from just CO2 and water using renewable energy sources. Renewables can be biomass, wind or solar. The team is exploring a few ideas in this area.

References:

David L. Damm and Andrei G. Federov, "Conceptual study of distributed CO2 capture and the sustainable carbon economy", Energy Conversion and Management, Article in Press, Published online doi:10.1016/j.enconman.2007.11.011

Georgia Tech: Carbon Capture Strategy Could Lead to Emission-Free Cars - February 11, 2008.

Biopact: The strange world of carbon-negative bioenergy: the more you drive your car, the more you tackle climate change - October 29, 2007



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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

European Parliament ENVI Committee organises workshop on sustainability criteria for biofuels

Late last year, the European Parliament's Environment Committee adopted a first-reading report on the Commission's proposal to review the Fuel Quality Directive, which is aimed at lowering transportation fuels' environmental and health impact as well as to take into account new EU-wide targets on biofuels and greenhouse gas emissions reductions. On March 3, the European Council is likely to achieve a political agreement with regards to the revision. A week later, March 10, a first reading vote in the Parliament's plenary could see the adoption of the Directive if MEPs and member states succeed in agreeing on a common text.

European Parliament rapporteur MEP Dorette Corbey and shadow rapporteurs for the Fuel Quality Directive have decided that it is indeed worth the effort to enter into these first reading negotiations with the European Council. There is, however, one political issue that deserves full attention of the different committees, they feel: sustainability criteria for biofuels.

Recent scientific evidence suggests that the CO2 efficiency of some first generation biofuels is problematic, in particular if land use changes are taken into account (previous post). The vote in the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) approves sustainability criteria, including land use changes. Meanwhile the European Commission has presented its own proposal on renewable energies which contains sustainability criteria, although they are less stringent than the ones included in the ENVI-decision.

The European Parliament ENVI Committee, the TAUW Consulting and Engineering Company together with the EP's ENVI Committee Secretariat and the EP's Policy Department A will therefor be organising a workshop on "Sustainability criteria for biofuels".

The event is set to take place Tuesday 4 March 2008 in the European Parliament, Brussels. Participation in the workshop is free of charge and open to all, but requires registration beforehand. The programme looks as follows:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Part 1: The Institutional context
15:10 - Representative of the Slovenian Presidency
15:20 - Representative of the European Commission

Part 2: Panel of experts

General introduction - Technical aspects of sustainability criteria
15:30 - Greg Archer (LowCVP - Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership)

Criteria related to CO2 efficiency/saving and land use change
15:40 - Robert Edwards (Joint Research Centre, Italy, speaker to be confirmed)
15:50 - Bas Eickhout (MNP, Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency)
16:00 - Debate: Questions and answers session

Criteria related to biodiversity and water
16:30 - Ms Berien Elbersen (Wageningen University and Research Center, Netherlands)
16:40 - Rothamsted Centre for Bio-energy and Climate Change, UK (to be confirmed)
16:50 - Debate: Questions and answers session

Criteria related to social issues
17:20 - Neil Judd (ProForest, UK)
17:30 - Debate: Questions and answers session

Part 3: Conclusions
18:00 - Closing remarks – Rapporteur MEP Ms Dorette CORBEY and Shadow Rapporteurs

Registration ends by Tuesday 26 February 2008. Interested parties that do not have a permanent entrance accreditation for the European Parliament should contact TAUW's organisers (address below) and provide them with your date of birth and nationality.

For further information and registration, please contact:
Jurgen Ooms
TAUW
P.O. Box 133
7400 AC Deventer
The Netherlands
Jurgen.Ooms [ at ] tauw.nl
Tel. +31 570 699 808
Fax +31 570 699 666

References:
EurActiv: The review of the EU's Fuel Quality Directive - Link Dossier.


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Malaysian-Japanese joint-venture to invest $308 million in 100,000ha plantation for biodiesel, biogas in Sarawak

Malaysia's state news agency Bernama reports that Carbon Capital Corporation Sdn Bhd will join hands with Japan Carbon Mercantile Co. Ltd to develop a multi-feedstock biodiesel plant in Tanjung Manis in Sarawak, as part of a major, US$100 billion energy and infrastructure development program for the state that aims to churn out 20GW of low carbon power by 2030. The plant will utilize jatropha curcas and palm oil for biodiesel and power production. The crops are to be established on 100,000 hectares of plantations. Besides biodiesel, a biogas plant will be build to utilize waste streams from the crop processing operations.

The project was announced at the launch of the "Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy" (SCORE) in Bintulu yesterday, which saw commitments for investments totalling RM 500 billion (€105.7/US$154.3bn). Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said the proposed investments - amongst them commitments by mining giant Rio Tinto - were made in 24 memoranda of understanding (MOUs) signed during the launch.

SCORE is a large development project supposed to help reduce poverty and improve income distribution among the people in Sarawak by stimulating economic development in key sectors. It would add value to existing heavy industries, focus on development of natural resource-based industries (see overview below) and emphasise research and development capabilities the economic benefits of which should trickle down to local populations across the state.

The focus of SCORE is on the optimal utilisation of natural energy resources through the development of energy-intensive industries. Its goal is to establish power plants capable of generating 20 GW in as efficient a way as possible, preferrably by drawing on bioenergy, hydropower and natural gas. By concentrating energy-demanding activities in a single project, synergies are supposed to be developed that would lead to cleaner, more efficient and more sustainable production processes.

SCORE covers a geographic area of 70,000 square kilometers and will affect an estimated 600,000 people. The proposed investments announced at the opening of the project have exceeded the RM 334 billion (€70.6/US$103.1bn) that the Sarawak Government said was required to fully develop the corridor by 2030.

The Malaysian-Japanese biofuel joint-venture in Sarawak is part of SCORE's renewable energy focus. It covers five years and involves an initial investment of RM 1 billion (€212/US$308 million). The multi-feedstock biodiesel plant would have an annual capacity of about 240,000 tonnes per year and bulking facilities in Tanjung Manis while the jatropha curcas and oil palm plantations would cover an acreage of 100,000 hectares.

As for the biogas project, it would be undertaken under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) program in Sarawak, Carbon Capital. Both companies signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) at the inauguration of SCORE:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Carbon Capital, a Malaysian based company with offices in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Kuching, New Delhi and Tokyo, provides end-to-end multi solutions in establishing CDM projects in Malaysia.

The CDM is an arrangement under the Kyoto Protocol allowing industrialised countries with a greenhouse gas reduction commitment to invest in projects that reduce omissions in developing countries as an alternative option to undertake expensive emission reductions in their own countries.

JCM, with its office in Nagoya, is a wholly owned member of Magna International Co. Ltd Japan, with its key businesses comprising trading in carbon credits and investment in CDM projects.


SCORE attracted both local and foreign investments in a range of sectors, including oil and gas, bioenergy as well as hydro resources, infrastructure, transport and communications - all sectors that require large investments to take scale advantages. Amongst the energy-intensive industries to be set up within the corridor are at least two aluminium smelters.

Sarawak Energy Bhd, Cahya Mata Sarawak Bhd (CMS) and Rio Tinto Aluminium Ltd inked a RM 5.25 billion deal for the supply of 1100MW of energy. Other deals signed included:
  • Sarawak Energy and Press Metal Bhd for the supply of 510MW worth RM 2.5 billion
  • Sarawak Energy and Sime Darby Bhd for 2,400MW from Bakun and undersea transmission line worth RM 22.5 billion
  • Sarawak Energy and Tenaga Nasional Bhd to analyse energy options, develop coal potentials and infrastructure worth RM 50 billion
  • Konsortium Galdasar Sdn Bhd and Yuh Yow Fisheries Taiwan for a 800ha aquaculture project worth RM 100 million
  • Konsortium Galdasar and Shei Chui Oceanic Enterprise Taiwan for shipbuilding worth RM 40 million
  • Bintulu Development Authority and Zinc Ox Resources England for zinc electro refinery plant worth US$350million
  • Sarawak Energy and a consortium of banks for RM 3 billion to RM 20 billion in financial deals
  • CMS and Rio Tinto on training for its aluminium smelter
  • CMS and Rio Tinto and Aluminium Pechinery for the supply of technology to Salco aluminium smelter
  • CMS, MMC Corp Bhd and Pan Kingdom Investment Co for financial deals worth US $1.5 billion
In terms of area of coverage and monetary investment, the Sarawak regional development corridor has topped the other development corridors in the country. SCORE stretches alongside Sarawak's coast, and has a total area of hinterland measuring 70,000 sq km is expected to be developed, affecting more than 600,000 people.

According to the development blueprint, the core projects would involve the setting up of power generation plants to churn out at least 20,000MW of electricity.

High priority sectors have also been identified for development – petroleum, aluminium, metal production, glass production, tourism, palm oil plantations, livestock, fishing, timber plantations, aquaculture and marine engineering which includes ship-building and ports construction.

Sarawak is Malaysia's province on Borneo Island, one of the world's most biodiverse regions, home to unique tropical forest ecosystems (map, click to enlarge). It is to be expected that SCORE will, despite its name, run into major environmental problems. Mining, metal processing, aquaculture, forestry, and palm oil production are all heavy industries with a problematic environmental footprint. Bioenergy plantations located in this region may lead to deforestation, even if they are based on a crop like jatropha which thrives well in poor, semi-arid zones.

Map
: Major vegetation types of Borneo. Map modified from WWF's "Borneo: Treasure Island at Risk" report. The map is based on Langner A. and Siegert F.: Assessment of Rainforest Ecosystems in Borneo using MODIS satellite imagery. Remote Sensing Solutions GmbH & GeoBio Center of Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich, in preparation, June 2005. Based on 57 single MODIS images dating from 11.2001 to 10.2002 with a spatial resolution of 250 m. Credit: Mongabay.

References:
Bernama: Malaysian-Japan JV In RM1 Bln Biodiesel, Jatropha & Biogas Deal In Sarawak - February 12, 2008.

Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy - website.

The Star: Sarawak corridor draws RM500bil - February 11, 2008.

The Star: SCORE set to make Sarawak a powerhouse of growth - February 12, 2008

TradingCharts: Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy to Help Reduce Poverty - February 11, 2008.



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A closer look at Direct Carbon Fuel Cells: the ultimate biomass conversion technology?


Last year, the director of the Department of Colloid Chemistry at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, Prof Dr Markus Antonietti, developed an innovative technique with which any type of biomass can be converted into renewable and climate friendly 'designer coal'. Uses for the carbon are plenty, but professor Antonietti confessed that he and his researchers are part of a growing group of scientists who dream of a Direct Carbon Fuel Cell (DCFC) and a green carbon economy. As its name implies, a DCFC converts elemental carbon into electricity directly, and in a hyper-efficient way - the cells have almost twice the efficiency of most other types of fuel cells and double that of fossil fuel power plants.

What is more, the only byproduct of a DCFC's operation is very pure CO2 which can be contained in a concentrated stream and easily captured for downstream use or disposal. Because of the purity of the CO2 stream, capturing it would be far more cost-effective and efficient than capturing CO2 from conventional fossil fuel plants. Moreover, if the carbon feedstock for the fuel cell were to be derived from biomass, and the CO2 captured and sequestered, super-efficient carbon-negative electricity would be generated. That is: electricity the use of which results in the active removal of CO2 from the atmosphere (contrary to ordinary renewables like wind or solar, which merely prevent new emissions but don't go further than that). Quite a radical energy concept.

Now Prof Antonietti's dream is steadily becoming a reality, as a number of research institutions and companies are speeding up research and development into DCFCs. Let's have a closer look at these developments, which remain in their infancy.

A fuel cell is an electrochemical device that efficiently converts a fuel's chemical energy directly to electrical energy without burning the fuel. However, instead of using gaseous fuels, as is typically done, DCFCs use aggregates of extremely fine (10- to 1,000-nanometer-diameter) carbon particles distributed in a mixture of molten lithium, sodium, Yttria-stabilized zirconia or potassium carbonate at a temperature of 600 to 850°C. The overall cell reaction is carbon and oxygen (from ambient air) forming carbon dioxide and electricity (schematic, click to enlarge).

The reaction yields 80 percent of the carbon–oxygen combustion energy as electricity, yet no burning of the carbon takes place. DCFCs for stationary applications provide up to 1 kilowatt of power per square meter of cell surface area — a rate sufficiently high for practical applications. Some developers are designing DCFCs for mobile applications that can deliver energy densities in the range of 1,000–2,000 Wh/kg, far higher than any advanced battery.

Benefits

DCFC technology has several potential benefits over other fuel cells. First, it can use a wide variety of very abundant low cost carbonaceous fuels including coal, coke, tar, biomass and organic waste. Conventional fuel cells typically operate on gaseous fuels. The fuel (natural gas, propane, ethanol, etc.) is reformed to a hydrogen syngas, which is fed into the fuel cell stack. The DCFC, however, can operate directly on solid carbon fuel, which is stable, easy to store, handle and transport. DCFCs don't require the construction of an entirely new and expensive infrastructure - which is the case for hydrogen - nor do they lose the energy needed to turn fuel into gas.

Secondly, unlike hydrogen or methanol fuel cells, DCFC use no catalyst or costly noble metals like platinum. This cuts costs, and should increase reliability. The design of several fuel cell stack types is relatively simple, with costs expected to be $250/m2 of cell area depending on manufacturing components. Together with the balance of the system, researchers and companies put the total projected cost at a target of around $1000/kW. Given the abundance and low cost of the fuel, operating DCFCs would be by far the least costly of all fuel cell systems. In a carbon constrained world, with incentives to capture and store CO2, and with a carbon price, capturing and storing CO2 from DCFCs would be far less costly than doing the same at conventional fossil fuel plants.

Thirdly, DCFC are much more efficient than any other type of fuel cell and power plant. At high temperatures (more than 600 °C), the carbon fuel is electro-oxidized to CO2 at the anode compartment creating electricity. The benefit of converting solid carbon directly to electricity enables the efficiency to be around 80 percent - experimentally verified -, well above that of other fuel cells, and double that of conventional steam power plants. Routinely, a DCFC converts 80% of the heat that would have been liberated by combustion into electric power instead. This increased efficiency results in a beneficial payoff for DCFC development, as well as a reduction of CO2 emissions to about one-tenth of that of a modern coal firing power plant. When biomass is used as the feedstock, CO2 emissions are close to zero, and if the greenhouse gas is captured and stored, the energy becomes carbon-negative.


Table 1 outlines the operating characteristics of conventional fuel cells versus DCFCs (click to enlarge).

Biomass as an ideal feedstock

DCFC's can use a large number of carbon-rich fuels, but organic waste and biomass are at the center of the attention because they are renewable and clean, but also because they can be turned into the purest carbon fuel. The overall process of producing electricity in a DCFC from biomass gains efficiency by its simplicity. It involves only two steps: (1) drying (and/or pyrolysis, or hydrothermal carbonization) to obtain char, and (2) feeding the resulting fuel directly to the DCFC. Drying and/or pyrolysis or conversion into char via hydrothermal carbonization is required to create a carbon-rich particulate solid that can be fed to the DCFC fuel cell to produce power:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The choice between drying or pyrolyzing the biomass before feeding it to the DCFC will depend on whether the energy contained in the waste gases resulting from the conversion of the dried biomass within the DCFC can be recovered efficiently, and whether the DCFC can be designed in a manner so that it is not fouled by the light gases and tars generated.

As a fuel, char produced from biomass and waste materials offers many benefits. It is inexpensive to produce and easy to store. Char is readily available to consumers worldwide from compacted beds with high-energy density particles. When combusted correctly, charcoal does not burden the atmosphere with CO2 emissions, and does not contribute to climate change. In contrast with fossil fuels, charcoal has no mercury, almost no sulfur, low nitrogen, and produces very little ash. It has high electrical conductivity, a large surface area, and many bonds that enable it to be very reactive at relatively modest temperatures.

DCFC developers favor fuels that are essentially pure carbon particles, with little inherent moisture, ash, sulfur, and nitrogen. Biomass from energy crops, waste paper products, structural wood, and a fraction of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) can be converted into the type of fuel most highly valued by DCFC vendors by drying and pyrolysing.

DCFC Types
Several approaches to the development of DCFCs are underway. These can be grouped into three broad categories, depending on the type of electrolyte used.

DCFCs with a Molten Carbonate Electrolyte
Molten carbonate electrolytes are very good for DCFCs because they are highly conductive, have good stability when CO2 is present, and have an appropriate melting temperature for this application. The cell voltage is formed at the anode side and consumed at the cathode side, and there is an influence on the cell voltage by this partial pressure. Simulations have given results showing the system to be able to reach a net electrical efficiency of up to 78 percent.

DCFCs with a Molten Hydroxide Electrolyte
Molten hydroxides are very beneficial as electrolytes. They have a higher ionic conductivity and a higher activity of the carbon electrochemical oxidation. This results in a lower overpotential and a higher carbon oxidation rate, as well as a much lower operation temperature of about 600 °C. This decreases the cost as it allows the use of less expensive materials.

During carbon electro-oxidation in this type of fuel cell, there is the formation of carbonates. They undergo both a chemical process and an electro-chemical process. This fuel cell uses a pure graphite cylindrical rod, which acts as the anode and the fuel. It is immersed into molten sodium hydroxide and is served at the same time as the cathode. The cell is fed humidified air through a gas distributor in the bottom of the container.

To optimize the performance of the cell, one must look at the cathode material, air flow rate, operating temperature, and fuel cell scale. They system can be further optimized by changing the cell design, the electrode material, and the operating conditions.

DCFCs with YSZ-based Solid Electrolyte
The Yttria-Stabilized Zirconia (YSZ) design combines advances in the solid oxide and molten carbonate fuel cell technologies. Their components include a U-tube consisting of a metal mesh cathode current collector, a cathode layer, an electrolyte later, and a metal mesh anode current collector. This structure is immersed into a liquid anode made of a mixture of molten elements and carbon particles. When this mixture is stirred causing a flow mode, the fuel cell operates better since there is an increase contact between the carbon particles and the anode current collector, which enhances mass transport.

Current research
Around seven teams in the U.S. are actively investing in DCFC research and development. European and Japanese researchers are doing so as well, but information is limited.

Amongst the U.S. teams can be found researchers from Akron University, CellTech Power, Contained Energy, Direct Carbon Technologies, Scientific Applications & Research Associates (SARA), SRI, and the University of Hawaii.

The following table summarises their approaches to DCFC development (click to enlarge).

The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) has a development program for the DCFC and recently made a breakthrough. The technology was the result of a two-year study funded by the Laboratory Directed Research and Development Program, and led to a DCFC that pushes the efficiency of using fossil fuels for generating electricity far closer to theoretical limits than ever before. Rights to the patented LLNL process have been acquired by Contained Energy.

The following are schematic illustrations and explanations of different DCFC types currently under development.

Early laboratory configuration of Contained Energy's fuel cell, based on LLNL's design

Contained Energy has exclusively licensed the DCFC technology developed by John Cooper at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). The cathode in this technology is essentially a molten carbonate cathode, while the anode is a slurry of disordered carbon fuel and a carbonate eutectic. Under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), Contained Energy engaged LLNL to develop the initial prototypes of its generation design; a single cell of 15W–30W output, and a five-cell bipolar stack of 75W–150W output.

This design has an area-specific resistance (ASR) of 0.69 Ω/cm2, which corresponds to a maximum theoretical power density for the cell of 280 mW/cm2. However, with variances in individual cell performance in the stack, and with realistic losses from interconnects, Contained Energy is targeting a maximum gross power density of 140-200 mW/cm2. Such a cell has operated for a period of 7 days.

In early development work at LLNL, the cathode was identified as the rate limiting subsystem. Under the work during the CRADA, the cathode has been improved with new materials and a proprietary activation procedure. Having improved the cathode, the separator is now the limiting constraint in the system, apparently due to a change in the chemical composition of the fabric YSZ separator produced by the supplier. The supplier is working to correct the problem. Meanwhile Contained Energy is also developing alternative separators that should have the same or superior performance characteristics.

Contained Energy is transferring the results of this CRADA to their devel-opment facility in Cleveland, OH. Contained Energy is simultaneously developing a different design for mobile applications that can deliver energy density in the range of 1,000–2,000 Wh/kg.


Akron University's fuel cell

All of Akron University's work described to date has been carried out on button cells lo-cated in a tubular apparatus. Most of the effort has been to test various combinations of anode and cathode catalysts. Typical experiments consist of placing a small amount of either raw coal or devolatilized coal on the button cell and either heating it up or dropping coal directly into a pre-heated cell. Test temperatures are normally in the range of 750–850 °C.

Power densities in the range of 50–150 mW/cm2 have been obtained during the relatively short test duration of a few hours. Ash build-up on the surface of the button cell reduces power density, but removing the loose ash from the cell surface and allowing fresh carbon to reach the surface restores power density to previous levels.

Direct Carbon Technologies DCFC

The first experiments with a fluidized bed of solid carbon fuel (i.e., synthetic carbon, coal and almond shell) particles provided peak power out-puts of 1-2 mW/cm2 at 900 °C with a flowing CO2 or He atmosphere. These experiments were done with an initial charge of 30 grams of solid carbon fuel and ran for more than 20 hrs. In some cases, erosion has been observed with delamination of the platinum anode.

Benchmarking experiments done for comparison reasons with gaseous fuels (3% H2 and 100 percent CO) in the absence of solid fuel in the bed and using the same cells similarly gave peak power densities of 1-2 mW/cm2. In both solid and gaseous fuel cases, the fuel cell behavior was dominated by ohmic loses due mostly to the high resistance of the thick partially sta-bilized zirconia (PSZ) tubular electrolyte employed in these experiments.

In contrast, experiments at those same conditions in the tubular reactor, with the synthetic carbon placed on button cells (featuring thin yttria sta-bilized zirconia ([YSZ] electrolyte wafers with Ni/YSZ cermet anodes) provided by Ceramatec (Salt Lake City, UT) and agitated by a flowing CO2 stream produced a peak power density in excess of 140 mW/cm2, which deteriorated in time due to sulfur interaction with the Ni anode. Similar experiments using fluidized coal in flowing He gas with other button cells gave peak power densities in excess of 40 mW/cm2, which also decayed in time. Again, benchmarking tests on these same button cells using gaseous fuels only gave comparable power densities. These results pointed to the importance of the microstructure, stability, and catalycity of the anode and its impact on cell performance.

In all cases, gas analyses of the reaction products verified oxygen balance around the cell, and indicated that all oxygen, supplied electro-chemically through the solid electrolyte into the solid fuel bed, is ac-counted for in the form of CO and CO2 in the flue stream. These prelimi-nary results demonstrated for the first time that one can electrochemically convert solid carbonaceous fuels into electricity in a single step inside a fluidized bed reactor.

Celltech DCFC

CellTech Power is developing a technology that uses a liquid tin anode in a solid oxide fuel cell. This system oxidizes molten tin (Sn) to tin oxides (such as SnO2) in the anode layer by oxygen ions produced in the cathode. The ions transit a typical Yttria-stabilized Zirconia (YSZ) electro-lyte to reach the anode such that electrons are released. Electricity can be produced directly by oxidizing Sn like a battery.

The SnO2 can be reduced back to Sn by carbon-containing solids or any reducing gases consisting of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and sulfur that enters the anode. During the Sn regeneration, the device operates like a fuel cell. The Sn anode is not poisoned by sulfur. With a cell open circuit voltage (OCV) of 0.8V, the CO/CO2 ratio is 0.2 in the anode effluent gas. Maintaining cell voltage (OCV) above 0.8V keeps the dissolved SnO2 concentration in the molten Sn at a level where precipitation of the oxide does not occur. This means that the CO-containing gaseous effluent that leaves the cell must be oxi-dized to complete the conversion of CO to CO2.

Several years ago, with $15 million raised from venture capital and private sources, CellTech built two 1 kW Gen 2 units fueled by natural gas, which operated for more than 2000 hrs continuously. In those Gen 2 units, the natural gas was conditioned to a stream also containing CO and hydrogen and fed to the Sn anode. During 2005-2006, with Defense Advanced Re-search Projects Agency (DARPA) funding, CellTech developed Gen 3.0 cells and stacks allowing direct conversion of waste packaging materials and JP-8 into electricity. Before 2005, the key limitations of this system had been low power density (with levels of 40 mW/cm2 with hydrogen fuel and 20 mW/cm2 with carbon/JP-8 fuel) and difficulty in manufacturing. These power densities had been deemed too low for portable and mobile power generation. With support from DARPA/Army recently in place, CellTech is developing a Gen 3.1 (2007) cell architecture for direct JP-8 conversion with improved power density. They have modified the porous media to allow higher mass transfer rates of heavy fuel molecules flowing to the anode and are developing a high electrical conductance tubular cathode.

In 2006, CellTech demonstrated power densities of 160 mW/cm2 for hydrogen and 80 mW/cm2 for JP-8. The Gen 3.1 design is expected to provide approximately four times reduction in weight and volume over the previous Gen 3.0. Gen 3.1 is projected to become competitive for number of portable and mobile applications such as military field battery chargers. The mid-term power density target for direct JP-8 conversion is 200 mW/cm2 (2008-2010); at this level the direct JP-8 conversion liquid Sn system becomes a formidable competitor for kilowatt or sub-kilowatt applications.

CellTech Power has several concepts of how to generate power from coal with this system, but has not completed a detailed flowsheet analysis. One approach involves feeding coal to a molten Sn bath anode to reduce SnO2 to Sn, then transferring the molten Sn to the cell arrays for oxidation to SnO2 and power production. Another concept is to use a fluidized bed of coal to take advantage of volatiles in coal, in which carbon in the coal is reacted with hot recycled CO2 and water to produce a CO-rich gas, which is then fed to the cell array to produce power.

University of Hawaii's DCFC, designed for use with charcoal

Charcoal has been used as the feedstock for a low temperature aqueous carbonate fuel cell that has operated as high as 245 °C. At this temperature the cell offered an open circuit voltage of 0.57 V and a short circuit current of 43.6 mA/cm2. At 220 °C, the power density was 6.3 mW/cm2. One possible explanation for the relatively low open circuit voltages resulted from the formation of carbon oxides on the anode that were accompanied by the release of CO2.

Thermodynamically, oxygen reduction at the cathode is more favorable at temperatures below 200 °C, however, improved anode performance could result from a higher temperature that could combust the carbon oxides ac-cumulated on the bicarbon anode material. Therefore, performance could be markedly improved if a split cell could be developed in which the cathode could be operated at below 200 °C and the anode at above 240 °C.

SARA's DCFC

SARA has evolved a new concept that uses different salts in two chambers separated by a porous separator plate. The cathode chamber contains molten potassium (KOH) or sodium hy-droxide (NaOH). Better results have been obtained with KOH. Moist air is bubbled into this chamber where the oxygen picks up electrons, resulting in the formation of OH- ions, which then transport through the separator membrane to enter the anode chamber. A basket of solid fuel particles is suspended in molten metal carbonates in the anode chamber. The OH- ions react with the solid fuel to produce CO3-2 ions and electrons. The CO3-2 ions also react with the coal to produce CO2 and electrons.

SARA recently observed that the electrolyte was stable over the course of a 500-hr experiment. A stackable design concept has been developed. They stated that the major challenges are the separator material and design, corrosion, and operating temperature. Power density numbers for this system are difficult to compare to the other systems reviewed because those numbers are based on the area of the separator rather an anode or cathode area.


Finally, one company, SRI has developed a concept based on feeding coal (as well as other carbon sources such as tar, biomass and waste paper/plastic) as a carbon rich solid fuel to a flowing molten salt, such as alkali metal carbonates. That mixture forms an electrically conducting anode when the carbon concentration reaches a value between 30 and 40 percent. Air is fed to a conventional SOFC cathode (typically strontium-doped lanthanum manganite [LSM]) which provides the oxygen ions that migrate through a solid oxide electrolyte (typically YSZ) and react with the solid fuel to produce electricity and CO2. SRI currently is operating a batch system which has up to six cathode/electrolyte tubes inserted into a single molten salt bath. Three types of tubes are being used: simplified, sub-scale, and full-scale

For the experiments conducted to date, the solid fuel is mixed with salt powder and the dry mixture is then dropped into the apparatus, which is then heated to its operating temperature of 800-950 °C. Power densities of approximately 300 mW/cm2 have been achieved. Lifetimes in excess of 1200 hours have also been demonstrated. A design for a 40 kW power system has been completed.


Integrating biomass pyrolysis and electricity production

As outlined above, there are several techniques for the production of a solid, carbon-rich, particulate fuel from various carbon-rich biomass and organic waste resources. These processes themselves generate heat and gases that can be utilized for the production of power. The question now is whether to integrate this operation with the DCFC's operation into a continuously operating system or to disperse the fuel preparation and electricity production functions to separate locations.

In the integrated case, it is necessary to transport the fuel to a central location and then transmit and distribute electricity from that location to a variety of users. The integrated approach offers an opportunity for maximum energy efficiency as a result of integration between the fuel preparation and fuel consumption operations as well as the opportunity to use that waste energy (thermal and methane) in other buildings or processing plants that could be co-located with the integrated unit.


Figure 2 (click to enlarge) shows a system with the potential for the highest energy efficiency and best opportunity for energy integration with co-located facilities. In this concept, feed material is dried at about 149 °C to drive water off from the wet biomass/MSW feed material. The dried feed is then pyrolized at 371 °C to drive off methane and carbon dioxide and produce char which is fed to the DCFC. Hot, CO2-rich anode product gas is recycled from the DCFC to the fuel dryer and pyrolyzer to provide the heat energy needed for those operations.

Excess energy in the pyrolyzer waste gas and in the CO2 rich anode-off gas can be used for steam generation and perhaps used in co-located energy consuming facilities.


Overall process efficiency

In a recent overview of DCFC technologies, researchers at the ERDC-CERL Fuel Cell Program of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers undertook a basic calculation of the overall efficiency of the process to go from raw carbon-rich, biomass to electricity. Since the work of all the teams involved in developing DCFC technology is at very early stages of development, it is not likely that a fully integrated stack and fuel cell power plant will achieve the maximum theoretical efficiency of 80 percent that occurs in a single cell.

The researchers therefor assumed that the efficiency of converting the chemical energy (Higher Heating Value or HHV basis) in the dry carbon in the fuel to AC electricity in the DCFC is 65 percent. (Typical pulverized coal power plants convert the chemical energy in coal (on the same HHV basis) to electricity at 30–35 percent efficiency.)

Wood received in a power plant is assumed to contain 45 percent moisture. The typical carbon composition of dry-wood is assumed to be 50 percent. The heat of combustion of carbon when CO2 is the only product is 14,087 Btu/pound. Therefore the amount of pure carbon required to produce 1 MWH of electricity is 372 lb. If dry wood contains 50 percent carbon, then 372 lb of carbon is contained in 744 lb of dry wood.

Assuming that wet wood contains 45 percent moisture, then the amount of wet wood required for 168.7kg (372 lb) of carbon or 337.5kg (744 lb) of dry wood is 613.7kg (1353 lb). It follows that the amount of water contained in the wet wood is 276.2kg (609 lb). Drying wood by evaporation requires approximately 1000 Btu of heat per pound of water evaporated. Removing 276.2kg (609 lb) of water from wet wood requires 642.5MJ (609,000 Btu) of energy.

Converting 168.7kg (372 lb) of carbon into 1 MWH of electricity in a DCFC liberates 1,939 MJ (1,838,000 Btu) of waste heat in the fuel cell. The amount of energy contained in 1 MWH of electricity is 3,599,851Kj, from which it follows that the waste heat available is 1,939,192.9 kJ/MWH.

To maintain the fuel cell at its constant operating temperature of approxi-mately 760 °C (1400 °F), this waste heat must be removed from the DCFC system both by heating up the reactants that are fed to it, and cooling and recycling the gas product from the cell.

The waste heat available of 1,939 MJ/MWH (1,838,000 Btu/MWH) is far more than the 642 MJ/MWH (609,000Btu/MWH) required for wet wood drying. It can therefore be used to supply the heat needed for evaporation of the water from the wet wood.

The pyrolysis step also liberates a significant amount of methane. A reasonable assumption is that 10 percent of the mass of dry wood fed to a pyrolysis reactor will be produced as methane. Therefore, 613.7kg (1353 lb) of wet wood containing 744 lb of dry wood will yield about 33.7kg (74.4 lb) of methane. This amount of methane contains about 2,110 MJ (2,000,000 Btu’s) of energy, which could be used for drying or pyrolysis, or which could be exported for external uses.

Capturing CO2: green extreme

Countries with extensive coal reserves will continue to use coal as their primary source of electricity for many years to come. Biomass will be co-fired or used in dedicated power plants more often, but coal is set to remain the most widely used fuel. However, today's coal-fired power plants convert coal into electricity with relatively low efficiency, often not higher than 30 to 35 percent. In addition, coal is a source of toxic emissions, greenhouse gases and heavy metal pollutants when used in traditional combustion power plants. For coal dependent countries to enter a more environmentally sustainable and economically feasible way, a clean, efficient and direct process to convert coal into electrical energy is needed. This is where the DCFC can play a major role.

The CO2 from conventional fossil fuel power plants can be captured via a range of processes - pre-combustion, oxyfuel or post-combustion capture - but separating the gas from other flue or process gases is complex, energy demanding and requires expensive membranes or adsorption technologies. Nonetheless, large funds are being poured into such carbon capture and storage (CCS) research projects.

DCFCs have the major advantage that the CO2 stream they generate is extremely pure, allowing the climate destructive gas to be captured with ease. Legislation allowing CCS and a carbon price would give DCFCs a competitive advantage because they significantly lower the CO2 capture cost. If carbon-dioxide-capturing costs are included, DCFC system costs are estimated to be up to 50 percent less than those of current fossil fuel plants.

What is more, the fact that DCFCs can operate on the carbon contained in biomass, allows for the development of the most radically green type of energy system imaginable: one that results in negative emissions.

This is possible because as biomass grows it sequesters atmospheric CO2. When this gas is captured at the DCFC and then stored in geological formations such as depleted oil and gas fields or saline aquifers, the biomass actively removed CO2 from the atmosphere. Instead of being merely carbon-neutral (as other types of renewable energy are), the energy thus obtained would be carbon-negative.

Biopact readers are aware of research which shows that when biomass is burned in integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) plants, with the CO2 captured and stored, that negative emissions as high as minus 1000 grams of CO2 per KWh can be obtained. Solar photovoltaic (+100grams), wind (+30grams), non-CCS biomass (+30grams) and nuclear (+10-20 grams) are all carbon positive (graph, click to enlarge). Biomass burned in an IGCC coupled to CCS goes way beyond that and removes historic CO2 from the atmosphere. It is thus by far the most radical tool in the climate fight.

However, IGCCs are only moderately efficient, because they rely on the combustion of fuels; a considerable amount of the energy generated would be needed to capture the CO2, thus lowering the overall systems efficiency of IGCCs + CCS. DCFCs in contrast are up to twice as efficient and would thus allow the capture of CO2 in a far more efficient manner still. There are no calculations showing the overall efficiency of capturing CO2 from biomass by using part of the electricity generated in a DCFC, but it can be safely assumed that the process would be far more efficient than the same operation performed in a IGCC.

In short, the confluence of different factors in operating direct carbon fuel cells - the purity of the CO2 stream and the efficiency of the electricity generating process - makes it possible to imagine what is possibly the cleanest and greenest form of electricity production imaginable: efficiently generated negative emissions energy. Efficient DCFCs could help clean up the atmosphere and help us prevent climate change in the most drastic way.


References:

A large number of older, but key articles can be found online at the National Technology Energy Library: Direct Carbon Fuel Cell Workshop.

University of Hawaii; Hawaii Natural Energy Institute - Renewable Resources Research Laboratory: Biocarbon Fuel Cells.

Ronald H. Wolk, Scott Lux, Stacy Gelber, and Franklin H. Holcomb, Direct Carbon Fuel Cells: Converting Waste to Electricity [*.pdf], U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: ERDC-CERL Fuel Cell Program, September 2007

Antal, Michael J, Performance of a First Generation Aqueous Alkaline Biocarbon Fuel Cell, Ind. Eng. Chem. Res., 46 (3), 734 -744, 2007. DOI: 10.1021/ie061202s S0888-5885(06)01202-4

Cao, D., Y. Sun, G. Wang, Direct Carbon Fuel Cell: Fundamentals and Recent Developments, Journal of Power Sources, vol 167, No. 2, pp 250-257, May 15, 2007.

Hackett, Gregory A., John W. Zondlo, Robert Svensson. “Evaluation of Carbon Materials for Use in a Direct Carbon Fuel Cell,” Journal of Power Sources, vol 168, No. 1, pp 111-118, May 25, 2007.

Heydorn, Barbara, and Steven Crouch-Baker, “Direct Carbon Conversion: Progressions of Power,” The Fuel Cell Review, 2006.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory: Direct Carbon Fuel Cells.

SRI International: SRI International Presents Novel Direct Carbon Fuel Cell Technology at Industry Event - November, 11, 2005

SARA: Direct Carbon Fuel Cell.

Biopact: Back to black: hydrothermal carbonisation of biomass to clean up CO2 emissions from the past - May 26, 2007


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Georgia Power to purchase 50MW of biomass electricity from Greenway Renewable Power

Georgia Power and Greenway Renewable Power LLC, an affiliate of bioenergy company Rollcast Energy Inc., announce they have penned a 15-year deal for electricity that will be generated from environmentally-friendly biomass. The 50MW of power will come from a waste wood fueled facility to be located near Franklin in Heard County. The material used to make electricity will come from timber harvesting residuals and collection of non-commercial tree species, tree-thinnings, lumber scraps and wood waste reclaimed from landfills.

The contract comes less than a month after Georgia Power's deal with Yellow Pine Energy Company, under which it will buy another 50MW of biomass power from a 100MW plant (previous post).

The Greenway facility is scheduled to go into operation in 2010 and will produce 50 megawatts of renewable energy. Under the contract, Georgia Power will purchase 100 percent of the plant's capacity. One megawatt is enough energy to supply a Wal-Mart store or approximately 250 Georgia residences.
Wood waste is both plentiful and readily available in Georgia so it's a logical renewable energy choice for us. It's important that we continue to look for ways to expand the diversity of our generation mix by providing our customers with a cleaner form of energy with lower emissions. - Jeff Burleson, director of Resource Policy and Planning
With the addition of this contract, Georgia Power's energy portfolio includes contracts with six qualified biomass and renewable facilities throughout the state that generate 130 megawatts, or enough renewable energy to power more than 32,000 homes. These contracts include electricity generated from wood waste, landfill biogas and hydro. Georgia Power also buys energy from eight other renewable sources when available:
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Rollcast Energy develops, owns and operates clean renewable power plants that use wood or biomass for fuel. The company seeks to provide customers with low-cost, environmentally benign electricity that reduces the nation's dependence on imported energy and provides sustainable jobs in local communities. This mission is accomplished through Rollcast's team of experts in independent power, its current pipeline of projects in development, and its relationship with customers.

The deal with Greenway Renewable Power comes after Georgia Power's recent contract Yellow Pine Energy Company, LLC, which operates a biomass-fired facility to be located near Fort Gaines, Ga. It signed a 20-year contract for electricity that will be generated from environmentally-friendly wood waste.

The Yellow Pine facility is scheduled to go into operation in 2010 and will produce 110 megawatts of renewable energy. Under the contract, Georgia Power will purchase almost half of the plant’s capacity, or about 50 megawatts.

Georgia Power is working to increase its renewable energy portfolio both through the purchase of energy from renewable generators and through investments in self-owned renewable generation. Additionally, Georgia Power will invest $43 million annually in 18 different demand response and energy efficiency programs, including six new programs recently approved by the Georgia Public Service Commission. These programs are expected to reduce electricity demand by 1,000 megawatts by 2010.

Georgia Power is the largest subsidiary of Southern Company, one of America's largest generators of electricity. The company is an investor-owned, tax-paying utility with rates well below the national average. Georgia Power serves 2.3 million customers in all but four of Georgia's 159 counties.

References:
Georgia Power: Georgia Power Seals Deal for Additional Power From a Renewable Generator - February 11, 2008.

Biopact: Georgia Power signs contract with biomass plant to buy output from 50MW - January 16, 2008

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GreenWood Resources in long-term agreement to supply poplar feedstock to ZeaChem's next-gen biorefinery

ZeaChem, Inc. and GreenWood Resources, Inc. (GWR), on behalf of GreenWood Tree Farm Fund, LP (GFTT) have announced the signing of a non-binding Letter of Intent to supply poplar tree (Pacific Albus) feed stock under a long-term agreement to support the operation of ZeaChem's cellulosic biorefinery. The biorefinery will initially produce 1.5 million gallons (5.7m liters) per year of next-generation biofuels based on ZeaChem's hybrid thermochemical and biochemical conversion process.

The biorefinery will be located near GTFF's Boardman, Oregon Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified Pacific Albus tree farm in the Columbia River Basin. Additionally, ZeaChem and GWR agreed to explore increasing the scope of the relationship to accommodate additional capacity at this biorefinery and other future sites through the potential development of short-rotation poplar biomass energy tree farms integrated with ethanol conversion technology.

ZeaChem will be responsible for financing, constructing and operating the Bio-Refinery. The Bio-Refinery will be located at the Port of Morrow near GTFF's existing Pacific Albus tree farms. Initial engineering for the site has already begun.
We are pleased to have the opportunity to utilize a portion of the existing residual fiber from the GreenWood Tree Farms, and to bring our expertise in silviculture, germplasm, irrigation technology and global organizational reach together with ZeaChem's novel approach to producing cellulosic-based chemicals and ethanol. We look forward to working with ZeaChem as it commercializes its process and believe it sets the stage for the development of future short rotation poplar biomass energy tree farms integrated with emerging technologies for converting to ethanol. - Jeff Nuss, President and CEO of GWR
ZeaChem's approach to biorefining uses a combination of biochemical and thermochemical processing steps (previous post). The hybrid process improves yield by making more efficient use of biomass than conventional techniques do. It first breaks down cellulose into sugars, which are fermented by a highly efficient bacterium called Moorella thermoacetica (found in termite guts). Instead of producing ethanol, the microorganism generates acetic acid, a process that releases no carbon dioxide.

To convert acetic acid into ethanol it is first converted into ethyl acetate. This solvent is then reformed into ethanol with hydrogen. To get the hydrogen, ZeaChem lignin left over from the process that converts biomass into sugars. This material can be converted into a hydrogen-rich mixture of gases by gasification. The hydrogen is then combined with ethyl acetate to make ethanol, while providing power for the entire process. Zeachem's new hybrid processing technology has shown more than 40 percent better yield compared with conventional approaches, and it sees a theoretically possible improvement of 50 percent:
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The Zeachem process allows the use of a wide range of lignocellulosic biomass feedstocks and allows both the fermentable and non-fermentable fractions to contribute chemical energy to the ethanol product.

Poplar trees have received much attention by the bioenergy community because they are fast growing and robust energy crops, that can be worked with in short rotation schemes (more here). The tree was the first to have its entire genome sequenced (earlier post).
Today's announcement is a win-win for both companies. It allows GreenWood to benefit from the development of the growing market demand for cellulosic-based chemicals and ethanol, while providing ZeaChem with a dedicated long-term cellulosic feed stock source from the leader in intensively-managed hybrid poplar trees for our planned initial 1.5 million GPY Bio-Refinery and other future sites. - James Imbler, President and Chief Executive Officer of ZeaChem, Inc.
GreenWood Resources(GWR) is a global leader in the development and management of short-rotation, high yield hardwood tree farms for a range of products and end uses.

The GreenWood Tree Farm Fund, LP, a $175,000,000 fund organized by GWR, has invested in the consolidation of existing high-yield, fast-growing tree farm assets in the Pacific Northwest. GTFF currently owns 35,000 acres of sustainable tree farms certified under FSC in the Columbia Basin in Oregon and Washington. Investment management for the GTFF is provided through GreenWood Capital Management North America, LLC (a majority control subsidiary of GWR).

GWR also provides tree farm property and irrigation management for GTFF. GTFF has also organized to capture unrealized value from its tree farms, by developing value-added processing with The Collins Companies of Portland, Oregon, to move logs into solid wood products markets. Collins provides management to the mills planned by GTFF, and marketing and sales activities for the FSC-certified Pacific Albus wood generated from the manufacturing. Please visit for more information.

ZeaChem Inc. builds and operates bio-refineries for the conversion of biomass into next-generation cellulosic ethanol fuel and cellulose-based intermediate chemicals. ZeaChem's hybrid bio-refining technology overcomes yield and emissions problems associated with the traditional biofuels business by using unique hybrid fermentation and chemical processes for the conversion of biomass to cellulosic-based chemicals and ethanol. ZeaChem's platform has the highest carbon and energy efficiency results of any known process, allowing the company to become the lowest cost producer of ethanol. Incorporated in 2002, ZeaChem is headquartered in Lakewood, CO with a laboratory and pilot plant in the San Francisco Bay Area.

References:
Biopact: ZeaChem uses termite gut microbe for ethanol: up to 50% yield increase -
February 07, 2008

Biopact: Virginia Tech researchers receive $1.2 million to study poplar tree as model biomass crop - June 26, 2007

Biopact: The first tree genome is published: Poplar holds promise as renewable bioenergy resource - September 14, 2006


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Monday, February 11, 2008

WMO: La Niña conditions strengthen, expected to continue


The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), drawing on data from a large number of scientific organisations and the international climate forecasting community, has released an El Niño/La Niña update, showing that the current La Niña event is stengthening. During a such an event, sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern Equatorial Pacific become cooler than normal. Such cooling has important effects on the global weather, particularly rainfall. While sea surface temperatures cool in the central and eastern Equatorial Pacific, those in the west remain warmer. This is associated with increases in the frequency of heavy rain and thunderstorms in surrounding regions.

The event has already influenced climate patterns over the last six months across many parts of the globe, including in the direct vicinity of the equatorial Pacific, as well as more widely, across the Indian Ocean, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Many economic sectors - from mining and forestry to agriculture, bioenergy, fisheries and transport - can be affected by La Niña. During cold La Niña episodes the normal patterns of tropical precipitation and atmospheric circulation become disrupted (map, click to enlarge).

La Niña conditions, which started in the third quarter of 2007, continue across the central and eastern Equatorial Pacific, the WMO says. Basin-wide features are now typical of the mature stage of a La Niña event, including in the western Equatorial Pacific. The magnitude of the event continues to be in the middle range of those observed in the historical record.

The La Niña event is expected to continue at least through the first quarter of 2008. Many La Niña events in the historical record are found to decay rapidly during the March-May period, but it cannot be determined at this time whether or not this event will decay during the same period. By the middle of the year, La Niña and, what is referred to as ‘neutral conditions’ are considered to be about equally likely, with El Niño continuing to have a low likelihood of occurrence at this stage. Long-term statistics indicate neutral conditions should currently be considered a more likely outcome for the latter part of 2008.

Over the last three months, La Niña conditions have matured and become slightly stronger. Sea surface temperatures are now about 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius colder than average over large parts of the central and eastern Equatorial Pacific. The local atmosphere is strongly coupled to this SST situation, with trade winds strengthened and cloudiness reduced in central and eastern equatorial Pacific region. However, in the far eastern equatorial Pacific near South America, the La Niña conditions are not as strong in the last few weeks.

In 2007, when the La Niña became established, conditions in the western equatorial Pacific, were initially not typical of a La Niña, but over the last three months, they have also become generally consistent with a La Niña event, and sea surface temperatures surrounding northern Australia and into much of the Equatorial western Pacific are about 0.5 degrees Celsius warmer than normal. Basin-wide conditions are therefore now reflecting a La Niña pattern.

There is good agreement amongst forecast models and amongst expert interpretations that the current event is well established and should continue at least through the first quarter of 2008. There is more uncertainty over conditions for the second quarter of the year. However, a rapid decay of the event during March-May, while still possible, is not considered likely, given the current strength of the prevailing ocean sub-surface and atmospheric patterns that are reinforcing La Niña.

Most models indicate a more gradual decay that starts early in the year, but still leaves substantial coolness in the central and eastern Equatorial Pacific during the second quarter of the year. Thus, most interpretations suggest that the likelihood of La Niña conditions remains heightened through the second quarter and, at a lower level of confidence, into the first part of the third quarter of 2008. Some models suggest that it is possible that a temporary weakening of the event may begin in the next few weeks, associated with a temporary reversal of atmospheric conditions, but this is not expected by model interpretations to lead to a substantial rapid decay of the event:
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At this time, longer-lead seasonal forecasts for time periods beyond the third quarter of 2008 are not considered to contain useful information on the occurrence of La Niña or El Niño. It should be noted that very rarely, a La Niña event will persist for two years or slightly longer, such as occurred from early 1998 to early 2000. However, the likelihood of such a situation developing in this case will remain unclear for some months to come, but will be closely monitored. At this point of time, based on long-term statistics, neutral conditions should be considered a more likely outcome for the latter part of 2008.

This La Niña continues to be in the middle range of La Niña events found in the historical record, although the slight further cooling in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific in the last couple of months will likely place it on the stronger side of the middle range. The event has already influenced climate patterns over the last six months across many parts of the globe, including in the direct vicinity of the equatorial Pacific, as well as more widely, across the Indian Ocean, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

Users and decision makers in areas with a tendency for anomalous climate patterns during such events should be aware of the expected continued presence of La Niña, but should also continue to recognise that other factors influence seasonal climatic patterns as well. They are therefore encouraged to consult the climate forecasts for their location and consider the appropriate risk management strategies.

The above observations illustrate the need for detailed regional assessment of prevailing conditions and combining expected El Niño/La Niña influences with influences from other geographic regions, to anticipate likely weather patterns regionally and locally over the coming months. Locally applicable information should be consulted in detailed national/regional seasonal climate outlooks, such as those produced by National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) and Regional Climate Outlook Forums (RCOFs).

The situation in the equatorial Pacific will continue to be carefully monitored. More detailed interpretations of regional climate fluctuations will be generated routinely by the climate forecasting community over the coming months and will be made available through National Meteorological and Hydrological Services.


El Niño/La Niña Background

Climate Patterns in the Pacific
Research conducted over recent decades has shed considerable light on the important role played by interactions between the atmosphere and ocean in the tropical belt of the Pacific Ocean in altering global weather and climate patterns. During El Niño events, for example, sea temperatures at the surface in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean become substantially higher than normal.

In contrast, during La Niña events, the sea surface temperatures in these regions become lower than normal. These temperature changes are strongly linked to major climate fluctuations around the globe and, once initiated, such events can last for 12 months or more. The strong El Niño event of 1997-1998 was followed by a prolonged La Niña phase that extended from mid-1998 to early 2001. El Niño/La Niña events change the likelihood of particular climate patterns around the globe, but the outcomes of each event are never exactly the same.

Furthermore, while there is generally a relationship between the global impacts of an El Niño/La Niña event and its intensity, there is always potential for an event to generate serious impacts in some regions irrespective of its intensity.

Forecasting and Monitoring the El Niño/La Niña Phenomenon
The forecasting of Pacific Ocean developments is undertaken in a number of ways. Complex dynamical models project the evolution of the tropical Pacific Ocean from its currently observed state. Statistical forecast models can also capture some of the precursors of such developments. Expert analysis of the current situation adds further value, especially in interpreting the implications of the evolving situation below the ocean surface. All forecast methods try to incorporate the effects of ocean-atmosphere interactions within the climate system.

The meteorological and oceanographic data that allow El Niño and La Niña episodes to be monitored and forecast are drawn from national and international observing systems. The exchange and processing of the data are carried out under programmes coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization.


Map 1: Current La Niña event. Credit: WMO.

Map 2: During cold La Niña episodes the normal patterns of tropical precipitation and atmospheric circulation become disrupted. Credit: NOAA.


References:

WMO: La Niña Conditions Strengthen, Expected to Continue - February 11, 2008.

WMO: La Niña Update - detailed [*.doc] - February 11, 2008.


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FAO unveils important bioenergy assessment tool to ensure food security, shows global biofuels potential


An international team of scientists under the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has unveiled a much needed planning tool that allows countries to tap their bioenergy production potential while ensuring food security. The decision-support tool is based on mathematical models often referred to by Biopact. Peru, Thailand and Tanzania will try it out first, before it is released to the international community. The tool makes the discussion about the biofuels potential and the food versus fuel debate far more rigorous.

Scientists know that the technical potential for the sustainable production of bioenergy and biofuels is very large. Under the QUICKSCAN model, developed by the University of Utrecht's Copernicus Institute, used by the International Energy Agency and now also by the FAO, this potential is estimated to be maximum 1545 Exajoules per year by 2050, the bulk of it found in Africa and Latin America. 1545 EJ is more than 6 times the current amount of petroleum used by the entire world (total global energy demand today is 420EJ/yr, of which around 220EJ comes in the form of oil products).


The QUICKSCAN model, widely recognised as being the most robust and complete analytical framework, takes a bottom-up approach (schematic, click to enlarge) to estimate the sustainable bioenergy production potential. It first calculates and projects all food, fiber, fodder and forest product needs of growing populations, under different population growth scenarios. It then looks at the amount of land left for biofuels and bioenergy. This land base is explicitly taken to be non-forest land (no deforestation allowed) and sets aside land that is protected. It then allocates different crops to different types of land after which a scenario component is introduced reflecting potential yield and land availability increases resulting from agronomical changes.

The end result of the projections is an amount of bioenergy that a given region can produce sustainably over time, while meeting all needs of growing local populations and without damaging the environment. Maximum potential for sub-Saharan Africa is 347 EJ per year by 2050; for South America and the Caribbean 279 EJ, for the C.I.S. and Baltic States 269 EJ (map, click to enlarge). Biopact has consistently based its discussion of the regional and global biofuels opportunity on these assessments and the research papers developed from it (see references).

The tool now developed by a team of economists from FAO, Utrecht University’s Copernicus Institute and Darmstadt’s Oeko-Institut, is based on coupling QUICKSCAN to COSIMO, which models the agricultural sector in a large number of developing countries. The result is the new analytical framework, unveiled at a two-day experts’ meeting of FAO’s Bioenergy and Food Security (BEFS) project, which must make it possible for countries to develop strategies to tap the technical potential and turn it into real potential in a socially sustainable way.

The three-year project, funded by Germany, is aimed at making sure that bioenergy does not impair global food security. The analytical framework allows governments interested in entering the bioenergy sector to calculate the effect of their policy decisions on the food security of their populations.

Bioenergy can affect food prices and rural incomes and thus has important implications – both positive and negative — for food security. Potential negative effects are increased food prices for poor urban populations. Positive effects are the new market opportunities for vast poor rural populations and the increased income derived from these new markets; the capacity to strengthen rural development; and the opportunity to make developing countries less dependent on imported food and petroleum products, which both affect local food production:
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Applying the analytical framework will enable national policy-makers to minimise negative consequences while maximising positive outcomes. A prerequisite for running the framework is the establishment of a bioenergy development scenario, a process in which FAO helps government clearly define their bioenergy policy options and the various possible strategies to achieve those options.

The analytical framework then makes it possible, through five steps, to assess: technical biomass potential; biomass production costs; the economic bioenergy potential; macro-economic consequences; national and household-level impact and consequences on food security:

Analysis of the results will make it possible to determine actual bioenergy potential and which households are most vulnerable and thus at risk of food insecurity.

The model draws on existing mathematical modelling tools such as QUICKSCAN, which calculates global bioenergy potential to 2050, and FAO’s COSIMO, which models the agricultural sector in a large number of developing countries.

The framework will be field-tested in three countries – Peru, Thailand and Tanzania – before the analytical framework methodology is made available to the international community at large.

Alexander Müller, FAO assistant director-general for natural resources and the environment, said FAO would make every effort to ensure that food security issues are on the table when a successor to the present Kyoto Protocol is negotiated.

Müller said climate change could reduce yields from the main crops in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa by up to 40 percent in the next 25 years, notably in Southern Africa. In other parts such as Eastern Africa and the Sahel yields could increase by up to 20 percent. But food security is not part of the negotiations road map adopted at last December’s UN Conference in Bali, and this hiatus must be taken into account.

The challenge will be huge for sub-Saharan Africa, Mr Muller said, adding that according to experts the development of the bioenergy sector in Africa could help mitigate the effects of climate change there.

FAO is organizing a High Level Conference on World Food Security and the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy in Rome from 3 to 5 June.

References:
FAO: FAO unveils new bioenergy assessment tool - February 11, 2008.

FAO Natural Resources Management and Environment Department: FAO Climate Change and Bioenergy Unit.

IEA Bioenergy Executive Committee: Potential Contribution of Bioenergy to the World's Future Energy Demand - September 2007.

The Quickscan model has resulted in a large number of important research reports and papers about the global and regional bioenergy potential. The model is widely applied by researchers who work for the International Energy Agency Bioenergy Task 40, which analyses global biomass potential and trade.

Some of the most widely quoted (only from the Copernicus Institute's researchers) are:

Edward M.W. Smeets, André P.C. Faaij, Iris M. Lewandowski, Wim C. Turkenburg, A quickscan of global bio-energy potentials to 2050. Progress in Energy and Combustion Science, Volume 33, Issue 1, February 2007, Pages 56-106

Andre Faaij (2007), Global Outlook on Development of Sustainable Biomass Resource Potentials [*.pdf], First Conference of the European Biomass Co-Firing Network, Budapest, Hungary, July 2007.

M. Hoogwijk, A. Faaij, R. van den Broek, G. Berndes, D. Gielen, W. Turkenburg, Exploration of the ranges of the global potential of biomass for energy. Biomass and Bioenergy, Vol. 25 No.2, 2003, pp. 119-133.

Hoogwijk, M., Faaij, A., Eickhout, B., de Vries, B. and Turkenburg, W. 2005a. Potential of biomass energy out to 2100, for four IPCC SRES land-use scenarios, Biomass & Bioenergy, Vol. 29, Issue 4, October, Pp. 225-257.

C. Hamelinck, A. Faaij, H. den Uil, H. Boerrigter, Production of FT transportation fuels from biomass; technical options, process analysis and optimisation and development potential. Energy, the International Journal, Vol. 29, No. 11, September 2004, Pp. 1743-1771

Carlo N. Hamelinck, Geertje van Hooijdonk, André P.C. Faaij, Future prospects for the production of ethanol from ligno-cellulosic biomass. Biomass & Bioenergy, Vol. 28, Issue 4, April 2005, Pages 384-410

Carlo N. Hamelinck, Roald A.A. Suurs, André P.C. Faaij, Techno-economic analysis of International Bio-energy Trade Chains. Biomass & Bioenergy, Vol. 29, Issue 2, August 2005, Pages 114-134

Monique Hoogwijk, André Faaij, Bas Eickhout, Bert de Vries, Wim Turkenburg, Potential of biomass energy out to 2100, for four IPCC SRES land-use scenarios, Biomass & Bioenergy, Vol. 29, Issue 4, October 2005, Pages 225-257.

André P.C. Faaij, Bio-energy in Europe: Changing technology choices. Energy Policy (Special Issue on Renewable Energy in Europe), Vol 34/3, February 2006, Pp. 322-342

I. Lewandowski, A. Faaij, Steps towards the development of a certification system for sustainable bio-energy trade, Biomass & Bio-energy, Volume 30, Issue 2, February 2006, Pages 83-104

Bothwell Batidzirai, André Faaij, Edward Smeets, Biomass and bioenergy supply from Mozambique, Energy for Sustainable Development, Vol X. No.1, March 2006. Pp. 54-81

Andre P.C. Faaij, Julije Domac, Emerging international bio-energy markets and opportunities for socio-economic development, Energy for Sustainable Development, Vol X. No.1, March 2006. Pp. 7-19

K. Damen, A. Faaij, A Greenhouse gas balance of two existing international biomass import chains; the case of residue co-firing in a pulverised coal-fired power plant in the Netherlands Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change (Special Issue), Volume 11, Number 5-6, September 2006, Pp. 1023-1050.

Junginger, M., Faaij, A., Rosillo-Calle, F., Wood, J., The growing role of biofuels - Opportunities, challenges and pitfalls, International Sugar Journal, Volume 108, Issue 1295, November 2006, Pages 618-629

C. Hamelinck, A.Faaij, Outlook for advanced biofuels. Energy Policy, Vol. 34, Issue 17, November 2006, Pages 3268-3283

M. Junginger, E. de Visser, K. Hjort-Gregersen, J. Koornneef, R. Raven, A. Faaij, W.C. Turkenburg Technological learning in bio-energy systems. Energy Policy, Volume 34, Issue 18, December 2006, Pages 4024-4041

V. Dornburg, J. van Dam, A. Faaij, Estimating GHG emission mitigation supply curves of large scale biomass use on a country level (In Press: Biomass & Bioenergy, 2006)

E. Smeets, A. Faaij, Bioenergy potentials from forestry to 2050 (In press: Climatic Change, 2006).

J. van Dam, A. Faaij, I. Lewandowski, G. Fischer, Biomass production potentials in Central and Eastern Europe under different scenario’s. (In Press: Biomass & Bioenergy)

Martijn Verdonk, Carel Dieperink, André Faaij, Governance of the emerging bio-energy markets (In Press: Energy Policy)


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Indian sugar producer cogenerates 56MW of biomass power; obtains carbon credits under CDM

One of India's largest sugar producers, Dwarikesh Sugar Industries Ltd, has announced it started producing electricity from biomass at two plants in Fardipur in Bareilly district, and in Afzalgarh, Bijnore District, Uttar Pradesh. As a result of a €39/$56.7 million investment, the company will be able to supply more than 24 MW of green power to the Uttar Pradesh Power Corp Ltd (UPPCL), and fully meet its own power requirements. Besides sugar production, Dwarikesh now has a capacity to generate 56MW of renewable energy as well as 10.95 million liters/year of ethanol from molasses. The cogeneration project is registered under the UN's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).

By diversifying into green energy and biofuels, the project is seen as a major strategy to combat adverse cyclic conditions and uncertainties impacting the sugar industry. So-called 'flex-factories' (precursors to full fledged 'biorefineries') allow for the utilization of residues in the most optimal way, depending on prevailing market conditions, and guarantee multiple revenue streams.
The commencement of the cogeneration plants and their registration with UNFCCC adds an exciting dimension to the growth story of our group. The past one year has been very difficult and it required concerted effort on the part of all concerned within the organization and support and help of all our business associates to survive and beat the adversity. However the worst is behind us and we look forward to sustained growth and exciting times in future. - Vijay S Banka, CFO, Dwarikesh Sugar Industries
Announcing the start of the project today to the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE), the company said the cogeneration project was brought online on the 3rd February, when at its Dwarikesh Puram (DP) plant in Afzalgarh, Bijnore District, the power generation turbine was synchronized with the grid of UPPCL.

Power evacuation is 20 megawatts initially and will be gradually stepped up to achieve its rated capacity of 24 Megawatts. Power generated will be renewable and carbon neutral, as it will be generated from bagasse, the abundant biomass residue obtained from processing sugarcane. The project is registered with UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its CDM for the generation of Carbon Emission Reductions (CERs), which the company will now be able to sell.

The Dwarikesh Dham plant in Fardipur, Bareilly district is an encore of the DP plant in Afzalgarh and will also use biomass for power generation. It is equipped to supply more than 24 megawatts of green power to the grid of UPPCL. Power purchase agreements (PPA) are already executed with UPPCL for power supplies from these units for the next 20 years:
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The company is now equipped to export 56 megawatts of green power besides meeting all its captive requirements. Commencement of these projects are seen as 'giant steps' in the direction of optimizing use of byproducts and in combating adverse cyclic conditions impacting the sugar industry.

In the execution of above projects high pressure boilers & sophisticated turbines involving the latest technology and investment in excess of INR 225 crores (€39/$56.7 million) were deployed. The commencement of these projects would usher in a new era in the history of the company as new dimension will be added to the business model based on multiple streams of revenue, each contributing significantly to the top-line and the bottom-line. The move is paradigm shift in the business model of the company: from a business entity that originally made only sugar it has now transformed in to an entity producing fuels and green energy.

The company now has state of art facility to crush 21,500 metric tons of sugarcane every day, export 56 megawatts of power every hour and produce and sell 30,000 liters of ethanol/industrial alcohol everyday.

India is the second largest sugar producer in the world, with the state of Uttar Pradesh taking the bulk of the share (map, click to enlarge). The country has a substantial potential for the production of green electricity from bagasse and agricultural residues. Under its 11th Plan period (2007-2012), the government of India recently announced it aims to add 1,700 MW capacity through biomass and bagasse cogeneration in various states, including Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The target consists of 500 MW from biomass projects and 1,200 MW from projects based on utilizing bagasse (previous post).

The total technical bioenergy potential from residues and energy crops in India is estimated to be around 66,880MW, more than wind, solar and small hydro combined (table, click to enlarge). In order to turn this potential efficiently into energy, an inter-ministerial initiative was recently launched: the production of a detailed atlas to accurately asses the nation-wide biomass resource base, including agricultural residues suitable for conversion into energy, which must allow the planning of the most optimal use of the resource (previous post).

Dwarikesh Group is a fast growing industrial group consisting of companies having a strong presence in diverse fields such as sugar manufacturing, financial services and information technology. The group's flagship company, Dwarikesh Sugar Industries Limited, is headquartered at Mumbai. The company's plants are located in Bijnor district of Uttar Pradesh, at Dwarikeshnagar (Najibabad) and Dwarikeshpuram (Afzalgarh). The company expects to commission its third plant by the beginning of the sugar season of 2007-08.

References:
Dwarikesh: Giant steps in the direction of power generation - February 11, 2008.

Biopact: India to add 1700MW of biomass co-generation by 2012; 18,000MW potential from agro-residues - December 07, 2007

Biopact: India prepares 'Biomass Atlas' to map and tap bioenergy potential - November 26, 2007


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U.S. EPA raises biofuel target for 2008 to 7.76 percent

The United States' Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is raising the 2008 renewable fuels standard (RFS), which determines how much non-petroleum fuel will power America's vehicle, to 7.76 percent. The move is in response to the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), which President Bush signed in December (previous post). The target for 2008 is considerably higher than that set by the EU for 2010 (5.75 percent).
The RFS program creates new markets for farm products, increases energy security, and promotes the development of advanced technologies that would expand the production of renewable fuels. - U.S. Environmental Protecion Agency
Last November, EPA announced a RFS of 4.66 percent, based on previous law, that mandated at least 5.4 billion gallons (20.4bn liters) of renewable fuels be blended into the nation's transportation fuels this year. However, EPA is now increasing the standard to 7.76 percent to comply with the new minimum of 9.0 billion gallons (34bn liters) of renewable fuel that EISA requires.

EISA increases the overall volume of renewable fuels that must be blended each year, reaching 36 billion gallons (136bn liters) in 2022. To achieve these volumes, EPA annually calculates the percentage-based standard, which applies to refiners, importers and non-oxygenate blenders of gasoline.

Based on the standard, each of these parties determines the minimum volume of renewable fuel that it must use:
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Last December, the U.S. chose to become a biofuel nation, by approving a bill that increases the RFS to 36 billion gallons (136 billion liters) by 2022, roughly the equivalent of between 1.8 and 2 million barrels of oil per day. Of that, corn ethanol production is capped at 15 billion gallons per year starting in 2015 (56.8 billion liters), a three-fold increase of current production levels; the remainder is expected provided by 'advanced biofuels', the majority of which are cellulosic biofuels. In the final year of the standard (2022), cellulosic biofuels should contribute more (16 billion gallons) than does corn ethanol (15 billion gallons) (graph, click to enlarge).

The law assigns minimum lifecycle greenhouse gas improvements, measured against a baseline of the lifecycle emissions from gasoline or diesel (whichever is being replaced) on sale in 2005. The minimum GHG improvement is 20%; biomass-based diesel must deliver a 50% GHG improvement, and cellulosic biofuels must deliver a 60% improvement in lifecycle GHG emissions.

The European Commission for its part proposes a biofuel target of 10 percent by 2020, as presented in its recent climate and energy package (previous post).

References:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: More Renewable Fuel Headed for Your Tank - February 8, 2008.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Renewable Fuel Standard Program.

Biopact: US becomes biofuel nation as Congress approves Energy Bill - December 19, 2007

Biopact: EU Commission presents climate and renewable energy package - January 23, 2008


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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Second International Biochar Conference announced, to explore carbon-negative bioenergy and biofuels


The International Biochar Initiative (IBI) has announced its Second Annual International Meeting will take place at the Newcastle Civic Centre, Newcastle, UK, September 8 to 10, 2008. The conference will feature the results of the latest scientific research on biochar, and developments in policy and education. Producers of pyrolysis technology will be providing information on their units and organisations and individuals will be presenting case studies of the use of biochar in different agricultural systems.

Biochar or agrichar is a fine-grained charcoal substance made from biomass that has been heated in the absence of air. When used as a soil amendment in combination with sustainable production of the biomass feedstock, biochar effectively removes net carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while providing energy. It is thus a carbon-negative energy system. Nuclear power and renewables like solar, non-biochar based bioenergy, wind or hydropower are at best carbon-neutral, resulting in small to no net changes to atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Biochar can remain in the soil for several hundreds to thousands of years, creating virtually permanent soil sinks. Biochar and bioenergy co-production from urban, agricultural and forestry biomass can help combat global climate change by displacing fossil fuel use, by sequestering carbon in stable soil carbon pools, and by dramatically reducing emissions of other greenhouse gases from soils, such as N2O (Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen recently hinted at the possibility that N2O emissions from agriculture and biofuel production may have been underestimated; biochar based bioenergy systems would radically slash these emissions).

Biochar in soils has been shown to:
  • Improve soil health
  • Increase crop yields and productivity (by up to 800% when combined with mineral fertilizer in highly weathered acidic tropical soils; by 200 and 300% in advanced agricultural systems that are already at the limit of intensification)
  • Reduce soil acidity; acid soils make up about half of the world's potential arable land
  • Reduce N2O emissions from soils
  • Improve water quality
  • Reduce nutrient and chemical leaching and run-off, and
  • Reduce the need for chemical and fertilizer inputs
Biochar production systems can be developed as mobile or stationary units. Smallscale systems can be used on farm or by small industries, and are commercially available for biomass inputs of 50 to 4000kg/hr (dry basis feed input). The bioenergy produced from these biochar production systems, which can be in the form of a synthetic gas, or syngas, or bio-oils, can be used to produce heat, power or combined heat and power.

Smart synergetic systems based on biochar production can slow down deforestation dramatically by limiting slash-and-burn expansion, enhance food production amongst poor communities in the tropics and subtropics, provide access to rural energy thus solving one of the great problems of our time, and mitigate climate change by establishing stable and manageable carbon sinks:
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The Second Annual International Meeting will be useful for scientists and researchers in the fields of soils, agronomy, climate change, and bioenergy, and for policymakers, agricultural producers, commercial interests, and anyone interested in learning about this carbon negative method to combat global warming, described as "revolutionary" by the IBI.

The conference will present the latest updates on biochar production and application methodologies, and highlight how biochar production processes can benefit industrialised and developing country situations.

Keynote speakers at the conference include Tim Flannery, author of The Weathermakers:
How Man is Changing the Climate, and What it Means for Life on Earth, and Ron Oxburgh, Department of Earth Sciences, Cambridge, Chairman of D1 Oils and formerly Chairman of Shell Transport and Trading

Registration will be limited so registering in advance is advised.

The International Biochar Initiative (IBI) was formed in July 2006 at a side meeting held at the World Soil Science Congress (WSSC) in Philadelphia, PA. At the 2006 meeting, individuals and representatives from academic institutions, commercial ventures, investment bankers, non-governmental organizations, federal agency representatives, and the policy arena from around the world acknowledged a common interest in promoting the research, development, demonstration, deployment (RDD&D) and commercialization of the promising technology of biochar production.

An international conference was organized and held in New South Wales, Australia, in April/May 2007, and attracted the participation of 107 participants from 13 countries, also representing a spectrum of backgrounds. By unanimous consent at the 2007 Conference, the International Biochar Initiative is being established as a non-profit in the US, and will focus on information sharing, coordination, and seek fundraising opportunities to advance the RDD&D and commercialization of this compelling technology.

References:
International Biochar Initiative: Announcing the 2nd Annual International Meeting
of the International Biochar Initiative (IBI)
[*.pdf].

Biopact: Biochar and carbon-negative bioenergy: boosts crop yields, fights climate change and reduces deforestation - January 28, 2008

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Analysts predict coal prices to double - would open the gate for biomass

A surge in global demand for coal, a persisting power crisis in South Africa, ever lower inventories in China and supply constraints in key producing areas (Australia, Indonesia) have ignited prices, with some analysts now predicting coal prices to double over the coming two years. If that happens, biomass - which in some cases is already competitive with thermal coal today - would gradually shift from being an opportunity fuel to a young competitor.

The coal sector was shocked on rumours that an Asian steel company had recently paid US$275 a tonne for hard coking coal, almost triple last year's price. But record prices for thermal coal were observed too, with some European importers paying more than US$130 on the spot market. Last week, the Asian thermal coal price index broke the psychological barrier of US$100 for the first time ever.
Spot thermal coal prices have soared in the past few weeks in response to severe coal production and transportation constraints in Australia, China and South Africa at a time when power utilities are holding critically low inventories of coal. [...] We believe that the factors that have driven thermal coal prices higher in recent weeks will have a profound impact on 2008/09 contract negotiations. - Malcolm Southwood, Goldman Sachs JBWere's resource analyst
Our analysis points to a continued tightness in seaborne thermal markets extending to 2010. - Alan Heap, lead author, coal price outlook, Citigroup
Leading analysts now predict a 50% increase up to a doubling of prices, for the coming years. Note that coal markets are complex and prices reflect regional realities, so the following are mere indicators of a trend, mainly focused on the Asian market:
  • Most conservative is UBS AG, Europe's biggest bank by assets, which issued a report in which it increased its price forecasts for coal used in power plants in 2008 and 2009 as China's demand rises and supplies from Australia face disruptions. Thermal coal will average $100 a metric ton this year, and $130 a ton in 2009, up from previous estimates of $90 and $110.
  • JP Morgan has forecast 2008 thermal coal contract prices between Australian miners and Japanese utilities will jump by over 60 percent, citing Indian coal demand and global infrastructure constraints. It raised its contract price forecast to $90 a tonne, a 61.7 percent increase from last year's agreed price of $55.65 and a 28.5 percent increase from its earlier forecast of $70.
  • Citigroup also revised its outlook upwards to $100 a tonne and said strong demand from India, which will depend on coal-fired power generation to power its economic growth, will soak up supplies from Indonesia.
  • Goldman Sachs raised its contract price forecast for thermal coal to $110 a tonne, a 98 percent increase from last year's agreed price of $55.65 and up 22 percent from its earlier prediction of $90.
  • Barlow Jonker, a leading international coal market analysis company, went further and predicts a doubling of the price of Australian coal. Analyst Marion Hookham says that price rises across the board should drive more expansion in the coal industry and a big increase in government royalties, currently worth one and a half billion dollars.
  • Finally, a spokesman at Indonesia's largest coal miner, PT Bumi Resources Tbk, said record high coal prices could still rise almost 50 percent to as much as $150 a tonne due to a global supply squeeze. Indonesia is the world's largest thermal coal exporter.
Currently, biomass is traded in limited amounts as an opportunity fuel. Low prices for plantation residues, such as palm kernel shells or densified coffee husks, which can be readily co-fired with coal, have attracted attention of some power utilities. However, international biomass trade remains in its infancy, because the market is still too fragmented, undeveloped and inefficient to pose a real threat to coal markets:
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Nonetheless, with a new benchmark for thermal coal prices ranging between $125 and $150, that could change relatively quickly with investors waiting to enter the sector receiving a clear signal that the time to do so has come.

Good opportunities exist in several areas that already have an established biomass resource that can be brought to market readily. One example would be found in Namibia, where a huge amount of biomass comes in the form of invader bush. Researchers from the VTT have estimated that the overgrowth of bush greatly affects an area of about 10 million hectares in northern parts of central and eastern Namibia, of which a total of 125 million tonnes can be harvested commercially and sustainably.

This equates to around 500 TWh worth of energy. Total consumption of energy in Namibia is less than one twentieth of that, much of it derived from imported coal. The researchers found that local use of this densified biomass, replacing coal in a medium sized power plant (in Windhoek) , was competitive with 2006/2007 coal prices.

A thermal coal price twice as high would probably make it possible to export this biomass in a densified form. The invador bush would be harvested and densified in a decentralised manner, then brought to the railway that transects this region and brings it to port (Swakopmund) (map, click to enlarge; map shows density of bush per zone).

Over the medium term, dedicated biomass plantations could be established with high yielding tropical crops like eucalyptus and acacia, or short rotation crops. Recent analyses by a EU project into green steel production, show that there is vast potential for the creation of such plantations to generate wood that can replace coking coal (after pyrolysis). An estimate suggests that some 46 million hectares of land are suitable in Central Africa alone. In Brazil, another 46 million hectares are suitable. The land in question can sustain eucalyptus plantations without any major negative environmental footprint (previous post).

Besides dedicated biomass plantations, a more likely form of trade is to emerge from relationships established directly between power producers in the North and biomass producers in the South. One example comes from the Netherlands, where Essent Energie recently agreed to purchase several thousand tonnes of coffee husks from Brazilian coffee producers, to co-fire the biofuel in one of its large coal power plants in the Netherlands and to sell the electricity under a green label (previous post). However, it is not clear which factor was more important for Essent: the creation of a 'green' corporate image or the fact that biomass has become competitive with costly coal?

Making supply chains more efficient, creating market instruments for biomass trade and establishing sustainability criteria remain major stumbling blocks to the emergence of a global biomass market.

References:

ABC Rural: Coal price set to double - February 7, 2008.

Reuters: Goldman, Citigroup raise coal price forecasts - February 5, 2008.

Daily Reckoning: New Bull Market for Coal - February 7, 2008.

Reuters: JP Morgan raises 2008 coal price forecast - January 29, 2008.

Bloomberg: UBS Raises Coal Price Forecasts on Shortages in China - February 1, 2008.

Forbes: Asia coal price index jumps to record above $100/T - January 29, 2008.

Biopact: Coal's deep trouble makes biomass highly attractive - January 25, 2008

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

Biopact: World first: fair trade founders team up with Brazilian farmers to sell coffee husk pellets to Dutch energy company - October 26, 2007


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