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    Spanish company Ferry Group is to invest €42/US$55.2 million in a project for the production of biomass fuel pellets in Bulgaria. The 3-year project consists of establishing plantations of paulownia trees near the city of Tran. Paulownia is a fast-growing tree used for the commercial production of fuel pellets. Dnevnik - Feb. 20, 2007.

    Hungary's BHD Hõerõmû Zrt. is to build a 35 billion Forint (€138/US$182 million) commercial biomass-fired power plant with a maximum output of 49.9 MW in Szerencs (northeast Hungary). Portfolio.hu - Feb. 20, 2007.

    Tonight at 9pm, BBC Two will be showing a program on geo-engineering techniques to 'save' the planet from global warming. Five of the world's top scientists propose five radical scientific inventions which could stop climate change dead in its tracks. The ideas include: a giant sunshade in space to filter out the sun's rays and help cool us down; forests of artificial trees that would breath in carbon dioxide and stop the green house effect and a fleet futuristic yachts that will shoot salt water into the clouds thickening them and cooling the planet. BBC News - Feb. 19, 2007.

    Archer Daniels Midland, the largest U.S. ethanol producer, is planning to open a biodiesel plant in Indonesia with Wilmar International Ltd. this year and a wholly owned biodiesel plant in Brazil before July, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. The Brazil plant is expected to be the nation's largest, the paper said. Worldwide, the company projects a fourfold rise in biodiesel production over the next five years. ADM was not immediately available to comment. Reuters - Feb. 16, 2007.

    Finnish engineering firm Pöyry Oyj has been awarded contracts by San Carlos Bioenergy Inc. to provide services for the first bioethanol plant in the Philippines. The aggregate contract value is EUR 10 million. The plant is to be build in the Province of San Carlos on the north-eastern tip of Negros Island. The plant is expected to deliver 120,000 liters/day of bioethanol and 4 MW of excess power to the grid. Kauppalehti Online - Feb. 15, 2007.

    In order to reduce fuel costs, a Mukono-based flower farm which exports to Europe, is building its own biodiesel plant, based on using Jatropha curcas seeds. It estimates the fuel will cut production costs by up to 20%. New Vision (Kampala, Uganda) - Feb. 12, 2007.

    The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has decided to use 10% biodiesel in its fleet of public buses. The world's largest city is served by the Toei Bus System, which is used by some 570,000 people daily. Digital World Tokyo - Feb. 12, 2007.

    Fearing lack of electricity supply in South Africa and a price tag on CO2, WSP Group SA is investing in a biomass power plant that will replace coal in the Letaba Citrus juicing plant which is located in Tzaneen. Mining Weekly - Feb. 8, 2007.

    In what it calls an important addition to its global R&D capabilities, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) is to build a new bioenergy research center in Hamburg, Germany. World Grain - Feb. 5, 2007.

    EthaBlog's Henrique Oliveira interviews leading Brazilian biofuels consultant Marcelo Coelho who offers insights into the (foreign) investment dynamics in the sector, the history of Brazilian ethanol and the relationship between oil price trends and biofuels. EthaBlog - Feb. 2, 2007.

    The government of Taiwan has announced its renewable energy target: 12% of all energy should come from renewables by 2020. The plan is expected to revitalise Taiwan's agricultural sector and to boost its nascent biomass industry. China Post - Feb. 2, 2007.

    Production at Cantarell, the world's second biggest oil field, declined by 500,000 barrels or 25% last year. This virtual collapse is unfolding much faster than projections from Mexico's state-run oil giant Petroleos Mexicanos. Wall Street Journal - Jan. 30, 2007.

    Dubai-based and AIM listed Teejori Ltd. has entered into an agreement to invest €6 million to acquire a 16.7% interest in Bekon, which developed two proprietary technologies enabling dry-fermentation of biomass. Both technologies allow it to design, establish and operate biogas plants in a highly efficient way. Dry-Fermentation offers significant advantages to the existing widely used wet fermentation process of converting biomass to biogas. Ame Info - Jan. 22, 2007.

    Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited is to build a biofuel production plant in the tribal belt of Banswara, Rajasthan, India. The petroleum company has acquired 20,000 hectares of low value land in the district, which it plans to commit to growing jatropha and other biofuel crops. The company's chairman said HPCL was also looking for similar wasteland in the state of Chhattisgarh. Zee News - Jan. 15, 2007.

    The Zimbabwean national police begins planting jatropha for a pilot project that must result in a daily production of 1000 liters of biodiesel. The Herald (Harare), Via AllAfrica - Jan. 12, 2007.

    In order to meet its Kyoto obligations and to cut dependence on oil, Japan has started importing biofuels from Brazil and elsewhere. And even though the country has limited local bioenergy potential, its Agriculture Ministry will begin a search for natural resources, including farm products and their residues, that can be used to make biofuels in Japan. To this end, studies will be conducted at 900 locations nationwide over a three-year period. The Japan Times - Jan. 12, 2007.

    Chrysler's chief economist Van Jolissaint has launched an arrogant attack on "quasi-hysterical Europeans" and their attitudes to global warming, calling the Stern Review 'dubious'. The remarks illustrate the yawning gap between opinions on climate change among Europeans and Americans, but they also strengthen the view that announcements by US car makers and legislators about the development of green vehicles are nothing more than window dressing. Today, the EU announced its comprehensive energy policy for the 21st century, with climate change at the center of it. BBC News - Jan. 10, 2007.

    The new Canadian government is investing $840,000 into BioMatera Inc. a biotech company that develops industrial biopolymers (such as PHA) that have wide-scale applications in the plastics, farmaceutical and cosmetics industries. Plant-based biopolymers such as PHA are biodegradable and renewable. Government of Canada - Jan. 9, 2007.

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Biohydrogen, a way to revive the 'hydrogen economy'?

Ever since Joseph J. Romm wrote The Hype About Hydrogen, more and more scientists have spoken out against the gas as a viable carrier for energy, and attention has radically shifted to biofuels. It looks like the 'hydrogen economy' has died, at least as a scientific concept. The main drawback with H2 is that it must first be produced, requiring a primary energy source, and this is where scientists see major obstacles: when fossil fuels are used, hydrogen is no longer a clean fuel and causes greenhouse gas emissions; when environmentally friendly wind electricity is used to generate the gas, only one-quarter of the energy generated by the wind turbine is eventually used to move a car. The rest is lost during transport and energy conversion; via solar power, the final yield is even lower.

There might however be a more efficient way to produce the gas, in such a way that the stages of the conversion process reinforce each other, instead of working against each other with energy losses as a result. We are talking about the production of hydrogen from biomass -- biohydrogen -- in a process that is being designed by several science institutions in a joint EU program called 'Hyvolution' that was launched at the beginning of this year.

Hyvolution fits in a futuristic vision of small-scale sustainable energy production from locally produced sources, in this case biomass. The end goal is to deliver prototypes of process modules which are needed to produce hydrogen of high quality in a bioprocess which is fed by multiple biomass feedstocks. As such, it is envisioned that small-scale modules can be used in a decentralized energy production structure, which makes them interesting for remote regions in the developing world (an ideal system for energy leapfrogging).

Bacteria do the work
But how does the biohydrogen process work? In principle it comes down to producing pure hydrogen from biomass in a non-thermal process, through the combination of a thermophilic fermentation stage with a photoheterotrophic fermentation stage. In the first fermentation thermophilic bacteria are used to start the conversion of biomass which offers two important advantages. First, thermophilic fermentation at ≥70°C is superior in terms of hydrogen yield as compared to fermentations at ambient temperatures. In thermophilic fermentations, glucose is converted to, on average, 3 moles of hydrogen and 2 moles of acetate as the main by-product. In contrast, in fermentations at ambient temperatures, the average yield is only 1 to 2 moles of hydrogen per mole of glucose and butyrate, propionate, ethanol or butanol are the main by-products. The second advantage is the production of acetate as the main by-product in the first fermentation. Acetate is a prime substrate for photoheterotrophic bacteria. Through the combination of thermophilic fermentation with photoheterotrophic fermentation, a complete conversion of the substrate to hydrogen and CO2 can be established:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The Hyvolution program is structured around this core issue with a design aimed at closely associating the events in the chain from biomass to hydrogen. The process starts with the conversion of biomass to make a suitable feedstock for the bioprocess [see picture) (work package 1 / 'WP1'). The ensuing bioprocess is optimized in terms of yield and rate of hydrogen production through integrating fundamental and technological approaches, addressed in workpackage 2 and 3. Dedicated gas upgrading is developed for high efficiency at small-scale production units dealing with fluctuating gas streams (WP4). Production costs will be reduced by system integration combining mass and energy balances (WP5). The impact of small-scale hydrogen production plants is addressed in socio-economic analyses performed in work package 6.

Ten EU countries countries collaborate on the Hyvolution program, with Turkey and Russia joining as well with prominent specialists from academia and industries. Six small and medium sized enterprises are represented as well. The participants in Hyvolution have a complementary value in being biomass suppliers, end-users or stakeholders for developing specialist enterprises and stimulating new agro-industrial development.

Hyvolution is part of the European Union's efforts on biohydrogen, which comprise several other research programs.

Disadvantages remain
However, many factors still plead against hydrogen as a viable energy carrier, even when derived from an efficient process using biomass as feedstock: after it has been produced, the gas is unstable and thus requires storage under high pressure which in itself costs energy. Biofuels are much more easy to handle and the hydrogen contained in them comes in a stable form. Speaking in terms of net efficiency, from a raw stream of biomass, roughly 40-50% can be thermochemically converted into a liquid fuel through steam reforming; the percentage is even higher for hydrogen, 50-60%, but after the compression phase, biofuels come out on top as the easiest and most efficient way to store hydrogen in a fuel ready to be used by consumers.

In short, why make the detour via hydrogen, when biomass can be turned into stable, easy to handle biofuels? Wim van Swaaij, professor of thermo-chemical conversion at Netherlands' Twente University, thinks that even the most efficient biohydrogen production process can never achieve the conversion efficiencies found in ordinary biofuel production.

Moreover, producing hydrogen, either through electrolysis using nuclear or renewable electricity, or refined from biomass or fossil fuels, requires massive amounts of water. One kilogram of hydrogen requires nine litres of water. The production of ordinary first generation biofuels is much less water intensive.


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