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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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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Fraunhofer scientists develop ethanol fuel cells

The hydrogen economy has been on the back burner for quite a while now, mainly because producing, storing and distributing the clean gas is problematic (earlier post). Moreover, when biomass-to-hydrogen is used as a production path, well-to-wheel analyses show that the biomass can be used more efficiently for other fuel paths (earlier post).

One element of hydrogen systems that remains on the radar of research are fuel cells which convert the hydrogen contained in gaseous or liquid fuels into electricity that can be used for stationary or mobile applications. Earlier, we reported about an Italian group of researchers who have developed cheap non-platinum catalysts for fuel cells that can work on a range of fuels (including biofuels, and probably on butanol too). And now, researchers from one of Europe's main R&D institutions, the Fraunhofer Institute, are working on direct-alcohol fuel cells (DAFC, also known as direct-ethanol fuel cells: DEFC).

The cells work on ethanol without the need for prior reforming of the fuel. Instead, the alcohols are directly converted into energy via the cell's membrane [picture] and catalysts under development. The advantage of DAFCs is that they use fuels that are easy to produce, store and distribute and which have a higher energy density than hydrogen.

The development of such a DAFC is in its infancy, says Michael Krausa who heads the research at the Fraunhofer Institute's dept. for Chemical Technologies: we are in a phase where research into direct-methanol fuel cells (DMFCs) was about 10 years ago. In DMFCs, methanol reacts directly with oxygen from the air at the membrane, with the reaction delivering electricity. But because ethanol differs considerably from methanol, the DAFC has to be built from scratch. The main challenge lies in the fact that ethanol consists of two strongly bonded carbon atoms, that have to be broken down. Methanol only contains one such an atom.

Central to the development of the DAFC is the membrane: it should be impermeable for the ethanol molecules, but has to be able to allow the protons that are needed for the reaction with oxygen to pass through:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

As with the DMFC, so-called unwanted cross-over effects occur during this proton exchange: part of the ethanol does penetrate the membrane at the cathode and can thus no longer be used for the reaction. The Fraunhofer Institute's goal is now to develop special anorganic components in the membrane that will block the ethanol, without stopping the flow of the necessary protons. New catalysts that are adapted to the properties of ethanol are the main focus of the research. The design of the DAFC cell must also ensure that these new catalysts and membranes function optimally under the high temperatures that arise during the reaction.

So why the choice for an alcohol-fuel cell? "Ethanol is a much versatile and better energy carrier [than both hydrogen and methanol]", says Krausa and adds that the concept of ethanol fuel cells holds tremendous potential. Ethanol has a higher energy density than methanol and is already widely used and accepted in numerous industries and by the public at large. In contrast to methanol, it is also non-toxic. Ethanol is being produced more and more from biomass, with the industry becoming a global market. DAFCs can be used as mobile energy systems or in decentralised concepts.

More information:

Fraunhofer-Institute: Fraunhofer-Forscher entwickeln Ethanol-Brennstoffzelle - Oct. 10, 2006


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