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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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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Generating drinking water from the atmosphere using biogas

European engineers have created a technology that extracts water from the atmosphere, and that is powered by biogas or biomass. Similar machines working on solar power already exist, but they tend to be expensive. Making them work on biomass - used daily by millions of poor people - changes the equation in such a way that the system could tackle the lack of access to drinking water for many of the world's poor.

More than a billion people living in rural areas in the developing world do not have access either to electricity or to clean drinking water. The results are well known: epidemics, high child mortality and general under-development. According to the UN's Millennium Statement this number of people will only increase. That is why access to clean water is one of the Millennium Development Goals.

Until now, providing clean water and electricity to areas like the African Sahel, the jungles of Laos or the steppes of Turkmenistan has been both technically difficult and economically unrealistic. German engineer Ingo Herr has been working on the problem for many years. Together with Austrian engineer Leopold Ritter they created a compact container unit that produces clean drinking water extracted from the atmosphere.

The patented system, named AguaSolara, operates as a portable biogas or photovoltaic power station and efficiently extracts water from the atmosphere simply by tapping into nature's continuous cycle of evaporation and condensation. At any given moment, the earth's atmosphere contains 4,000 cubic miles of water, which is just .000012% of the 344 million cubic miles of water on earth. Nature maintains this ratio via evaporation and condensation, irrespective of the activities of man. Humidity and temperature drive the machine.
As it extracts water, it sterilises each drop within a few seconds of its formation by exposure to ultra-violet light. UV light waves fracture the DNA strands within bacteria, virii, and other micro-organisms which kills them instantly. This sterilised water is then passed through a unique patented 1-micron activated carbon water filter. (The average size of bacteria is 5 microns). This filter removes any possible solid particles, toxic chemicals, volatile organics, and other contaminates as well as any odors, taste, or discoloration. This filtration is followed by a 2nd UV exposure and sterilization. The system maintains an enclosed sterile environment throughout its water treatment, from the first drop in to the last drop out - into a water tank or removable container. Besides delivering electricity and clean water, the system also functions as a cold storage room (8C°).

The system is particularly effective in areas often regarded as arid, but where there is actually a lot of moisture in the air. In those climates the machine can charge all day in the sun, and produce water all night when the air is moist.

Since the units are small, not too expensive and can operate on easily produceable biogas, they are ideal for use in remote rural sites and could bring two essential goods to millions: water and electricity.
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Elevated CO2 enhances growth of energy trees

Quicknote energy crops and CO2 mitigation
Scientists in Italy working on an EU project called the 'European Free Air Carbon dioxide Enrichment experiment on Poplar plantations' ('POPFACE', now 'EUROFACE' > new website) grew three well-watered and adequately fertilized poplar species for energy - Populus alba L. clone 2AS-11 (white poplar), Populus nigra L. clone Jean Pourtet (black poplar), Populus x euramericana clone I-214 (robusta poplar) - for three years at the POPFACE facility in Central Italy near Viterbo, where the air's CO2 concentration was increased by approximately 180 ppm in half of the experimental plots, after which the trees were coppiced (cut to the bases of their stems some 5-8 cm above the ground) and allowed to sprout and grow again for another three years under the same, but even better fertilized, conditions. The results of the first 3-year growth period and of the second 3-year period are as follows:
  • fertilization did not affect the growth of the second-rotation trees, "likely because of the high rates of fertilization during the previous agricultural land use," according to the 14 researchers involved with the experiment.
  • "In contrast," in their words, "elevated CO2 enhanced biomass production by up to 29%, and this stimulation did not differ between above- and below-ground parts." the net rate of carbon assimilation was "on average for all species stimulated up to 30% during the third year of the second rotation"
  • "after 6 years of fumigation, measurements of photosynthetic parameters along the canopy profile could not detect any clear sign of acclimation to elevated CO2" for the three species.
What it means
The scientists conclude that "poplar trees are able to optimally profit from future high CO2 concentrations, provided that they are intensively managed, planted in regions with high incident radiation and supplied with sufficient nutrients and water." Such "high-density poplar coppice cultures," in their opinion, "offer possibilities to mitigate the rise of atmospheric CO2 by producing renewable bioenergy in an economically feasible way, whereby the elevated CO2 stimulation might sustain over several rotation cycles.

The EUROFACE project aims at carrying out the following tasks:
  • Coordination of a trans-European research effort in the field of global change interactions with a forest plantation ecosystem.
  • Improvement of existing Free Air CO2 Enrichment facility and granting access to a wider scientific community.
  • Development of remote sensing technology to assess water consumption and energy balance of plantation forestry systems under present and future climatic conditions.
  • Evaluation the amount of carbon being sequestered in the biomass and in the soil of intensive bio-energy forest plantation in relation to various management regimes (coppice vs. single stem, fertilisation, species choice)
  • Assessment of relative contribution of increasing atmospheric levels of CO2 and N fertilisation on increased C sequestration in surplus arable land planted with woody crops.
The question now is whether similar research in the tropics on fast growing energy tree species like Eucalyptus will yield similar results. If this is the case, then planting trees for energy is rapidly becoming one of the most straightforward and efficient ways to combat CO2 in the long-run.

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France to use miscanthus to clean up polluted urban sites

Quicknote bioremediation through energy crops
Energy crops do not enter the food chain. That is why scientists are looking into using them as plants to clean up polluted sites such as 'brownfields' or mining sites, or during extractive activities such as coal gas mining, in a process called 'phytoremediation'. This kind of research is still young, but in France things are speeding ahead.
The French Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) has carried out test trials with Miscanthus giganteus, an energy crop being used already on a commercial scale, and confirms the fact that the tall grass tolerates high levels of heavy metals in the soil, while only accumulating low levels of cadmium in its leaves as it grows.
Given this profile, miscanthus is now being used in a project to clean up ancient industrial sites in the Parisian suburbs. The project is part of an effort of re-greening the capital and of gradually integrating 'urban agriculture' into its fabric. The research is carried out in the middle of Paris (Ile-de-France) at a cost of €750,000 for a period of five years (2006-20100). Miscanthus is only one of the energy crops being tested, with others including several species of wheat and fast-growing energy trees such as hybrid poplar. The stated objective of the phytoremediation effort is "to create a new system of sustainable agricultural activities on polluted sites, aimed at generating non-food products such as fuels and biomaterials for industry."

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Making biofuels out of rice straw - 10 million gallon cellulosic ethanol biorefinery

Earlier we mentioned German engineers who redesigned a 'circulating fluidized bed combustion' system that unlocks the vast potential of rice hulls, an abundant waste product - to be used in Vietnam.
Today news arrives of a company called Colusa Biomass Energy which is building a cellulosic ethanol plant with a capacity of 37.8 million litres (10 million gallons) and that will use rice straw as its feedstock.

Even though the biorefinery is to be located in a prime rice producing area of the Sacramento Valley in the United States where rice producers plant approximately 243,000 hectares (600,000 acres) of rice annually, the technology could obviously be applied in other rice producing countries as well. The primary feedstock for the second generation biofuels will be rice straw, which is a post-harvest residue with no commercial value to the rice farmer. Of the approximately 1.3 million tons of waste rice straw residue produced annually in the Sacramento Valley, the company will need 120,000 tons as its feedstock in the production of the 10 million gallons of ethanol.

In an earlier post, we presented an overview of different biomass residues from agriculture, and the 'residue-to-product' ratio of rice varies between 0.42 and 3.96. This means that for each ton of rice grain produced, between 420 and 3960 kilograms of straw waste becomes available. In 2005, 618 million tons of rice were produced in the world (FAOstat). Many other agricultural biomass residues can be used as second generation biofuel feedstocks, so the potential is indeed enormous.

The plant is based on patented and proprietary technologies [abstract] that converts waste biomass into ethanol for use in transportation fuels. It is important to note that the technology takes nothing from the food stream but only consumes waste biomass such as straws, wood chips, forest slash and orchards trimmings.
The Colusa process ferments both 5-carbon and 6-carbon sugars to ethanol using an existing closed-loop fermentation system employing genetically-engineered thermophilic bacteria—Bacillus stearothermophilus—developed by Agrol, Ltd. in the UK. Colusa developed its own set of physical and chemical treatments to release the sugars from the lignocellulosic material for fermentation.

Besides liquid fuels, Colusa will produce, silica/sodium oxide and lignin from the waste biomass, including the waste rice straw, waste rice hulls and other cellulosics. Silica/sodium oxide is a widely used ingredient with applications in the paper industry, by detergent and soap producers and for the production of gels, catalysts and zeolytes. It is because the production of second generation biofuels is integrated with the production of specialty biochemicals that Coluse can genuinly use the words 'biorefinery of the new generation' to describe its project.

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700,000 hectares of oil palm for biofuels in Liberia

Nardina Resources PLC, an extractive industries group, has announced that it has agreed to buy Liberian Forest Products [no website], a group that holds permits covering not less than 700,000 hectares of tropical land in Liberia with commercial agricultural potential, for £400,000 (€590,000/US$750,000) and 300million shares.

If the move is approved by investors the company plans to change its name to Equatorial Biofuels. (Similar biofuels companies with the name 'equatorial' or 'equator' are sprining up elsewhere, such as Equator Energy, a biofuels consulting firm focusing on the tropics - it seems like the developing world is indeed becoming a future investment zone for the green revolution).

Nardina wants to develop a large scale, vertically integrated oil palm and biofuels project. The land has an existing established oil palm plantation of over 8,000 hectares. 'The project provides the potential for Nardina to develop into a significant vertically integrated producer of biofuels with a competitive advantage through controlling its own feedstock,' chairman Michael Frayne said in a statement. 'The outlook for the rapidly growing global renewable energy sector is very positive, driven by high energy prices, government incentives and environmental initiatives.'

The company said it will work closely with the new government of Liberia and international donor groups, in the development of the project, which it claims has the potential to make a significant economic and socio-economic contribution to the African country. A further 100 million shares will be issued on the performance milestones of the production of 40,000 tonnes of biodiesel or 200,000 tonnes of oil palm fruit.

We will be monitoring the developments surrounding this company, with a critical eye on how it implements measures to ensure the social and environmental sustainability of its projects. The palm oil industry is not a sector where companies can quickly 'greenwash' themselves; on the contrary, in order to be sustainable, a whole series of quite stringent criteria have to be fullfilled. The same applies to the social conditions under which the production of palm oil and palm biofuels takes place.
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