<body> -------------------
Contact Us       Consulting       Projects       Our Goals       About Us
home » Archive » Bioenergy_science
Nature Blog Network

    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.

Creative Commons License

Friday, October 06, 2006

Biofuels and the phosphorus end-game

In a recent essay, engineer Robert Bullard argues that biofuels may drain phosphorus resources. Oil, gas and coal may be finite resources, but so is phosphate rock, from which the key plant nutrient phosphate is made as a fertilizer. Bullard claims these resources are becoming 'scarce' and that a global phosphate 'end-game' will soon unfold. We agree with the fact that phosphate is a finite resource, but not that it is becoming scarce.

Phosphate rock resources are finite, but there are vast deposits left, enough to last for centuries. Let's have a look at the consumption and at the recoverable resources. We use the statistics from the FAO's The Use of Phosphate Rock for Sustainable Agriculture, 2004.
  • In 1999, total world production of phosphate rock was 145.5 million tons (most recent firm figure).
  • From 1975 onwards, phosphate consumption in the form of direct applications in agriculture has steadily declined, from 5.6% of the nutrient base, to a mere 1.4% in 1998. The trend is downward and expected to reach a mere 1% within a few years. So the growth rates in consumption as a percentage of the nutrient basis of crops, is downwards.
  • The total world rock phosphate reserve base is estimated to stand at between 37 billion and 112 billion tons. Of this amount, 2.2 to 7.8 billion tons are of high commercial value because their P2O5 concentration soluble in neutral ammonium citrate (NAC), is higher than 5.9%. At current consumption rates this easily recoverable resource is enough to last us between 15 and 54 years. Once the high concentration resource base is depleted, there is an amount of low-concentration phosphate rock left that will cover the same needs for between 127 and 386 years.
  • In the past 100 years, phosphate has been discovered at a rate that exceeds the rate of consumption.
  • Vast unexplored phosphate deposits can be found offshore. Deposits of this type occur along the southeast coast of the United States of America, on the Peru-Chile shelf, off the coast of Namibia, on the Chatham Rise off New Zealand, off the coast of Baja California, Mexico, and off the Congo River delta. None of these offshore deposits is being mined, and they will probably not be mined while ample reserves exist onshore.
These figures allow us to conclude that only the high-concentration phosphate rock reserves are limited, but four factors assure the continuity of supply: (1) phosphate application rates are continuously declining (2), vast recoverable reserves with low to medium concentrations have long been identified, (3) historically, new phosphate deposits have been discovered at a rate that exceeds consumption and (4) vast (moderate to high-concentration) resources exist off-shore. These resources are currently not exploited because there are ample onshore deposits.

We do want to present Bullard's case, because he is correct about the limited amount of easily recoverable high concentration resources, which may, in the medium term, influence prices. Bullard: Tom Friedman's recent op-ed piece, "Brazil's ethanol lesson: Barrels from bushels works," was uncharacteristically simplistic. The title should have included, at least, "for now." The use of agricultural resources for energy production does nothing more than buy a little time, much as the farmer who has a couple of bad years and jacks up his mortgage to cover acute losses by incurring an addition to his already burdensome long-term debt.

The ultimate folly in bioenergy sources as a significant solution to our energy needs for many years to come lies not so much in the resulting devastation of terrestrial and aquatic natural ecosystems or the urgent need to deal with global warming by going beyond "carbon neutral" to "carbon reduction," rather in the fact that civilization is not energy or water-limited, but is phosphorous-limited.

There are no substitutes for phosphorous in organisms, albeit, some need only very minute amounts. The vast majority of food produced for humanity depends on our agriculturists adding phosphorous (fertilizer) to the cultivated land:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The bad news is this phosphorous is mined from rather accessible, but not very numerous, ore deposits throughout the world, a significant one of which is nearing depletion down Interstate 4 from Daytona Beach in Polk and Hillsborough counties. The really bad news is that, except for a rather small fraction of the applied phosphorous that ends up as recyclable in the residues and waste products associated with cultivated plants, most applied phosphorous is either locked up chemically by soil reactions or, as it is released over time, is leached by rainfall or irrigation to deep soil beyond the reach of plant roots.

What all this means is that, as we deplete the minable phosphorous, as we are surely doing for oil, gas and coal, but for which there is virtually endless alternative energy from the sun, increasingly and unrelenting, human effort will be directed toward growing whatever can be grown on whatever phosphorous can be had from wherever.

Conceivably, that human effort at phosphorous production will involve the use of energy in an amount far greater than any produced by the ethanol end-game. For the doomsdayers, the last wars on our planet, not so long after we are gone, will not be fought over energy sources or ideology, but for the control of phosphorous, unless, of course, we can re-engineer the DNA of virtually everything on the planet to not need phosphorous for life.

Bullard, R. Biofuels drain phosphorus supply, Community voices, Daytona Beach News Journal Online - Oct. 6, 2006.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home