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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, September 27, 2006

Cellulosic ethanol residues can be turned into valuable bioproducts

The massive increase in the production of biofuels raises the question of what to do with byproducts like glycerine (from biodiesel) and fermentation residues (from ethanol). Many scientists are finding ways to convert these left-overs into useful green products, ranging from diet supplements to bioplastics and resins. Glycerine is probably the byproduct that has received most attention as a feedstock for specialty chemicals (earlier posts, here and here).

Paul Weimer, a research microbiologist at the USDA-ARS Dairy Forage Research Center and associate professor of bacteriology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, took a closer look at the fermentation residue left-over from 'second generation' ethanol produced from the enzymatic breakdown of cellulose, and found a useful application in the form of adhesives. This is especially important because cellulosic ethanol remains a costly biofuel and finding value in byproducts could make its economics more viable.

So rather than dwelling on finding ways to squeeze extra ethanol out of biomass from crops such as switchgrass, Weimer is concentrating his research on the leftovers. He thinks that the large heap of fermentation residue from the ethanol-making process — what many people consider a byproduct — could be far more valuable than the ethanol itself.

"A lot of people want to do the same thing with biomass material that we've been doing with corn," says Weimer. "They want to hit it with enzymes to break it down into sugars, and ferment those sugars into ethanol. The problem with this is that the enzymes needed to break down celluose biomass are very expensive, and they don't work nearly as effectively as the enzymes used to convert starch." In fact, Weimer adds, both corn and cellulosic biomass must be subjected to costly pretreatment to maximize the ethanol yield. "Our philosophy is a little bit different," Weimer says. "We think that the fermentation residue may actually be more valuable than the ethanol. And it may mean that we can do without pretreatment."

He came to this conclusion as he took a closer look at the residue — the fermentation leftovers. He determined that the organisms that he uses to convert biomass do their job by sticking to the cellulose fibers with a glue-like substance called a glycocalyx. "Because glycocalyx works so effectively at holding organisms to cellulose material, we found that we couldn't get the glue off of the fibers without destroying the glue," Weimer says. "So, we took the entire fermentation mixture — the glue, plus the bacteria, plus the rest of the cellulosic biomass — and used it as an adhesive." Specifically, they used it as wood glue:

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To explore the glue's potential as value-added product for biomass crops, Weimer set out to test it by enlisting help from a research team at the USDA Forest Products Lab led by adhesive scientist Chuck Frihart. Their primary performance concerns were pressure and durability in wet conditions.

"One of the biggest drawbacks of any bio-based adhesive is that it will stick stuff together well but falls apart once it gets wet," Weimer says.

While Weimer's bio-based adhesive does have this problem if used as a standalone product, it works well when mixed with another adhesive, a commonly used petroleum-based resin. In some applications the researchers have successfully used a mix in which up to 73 percent of the resin was replaced with the bio-based adhesive.

Although the adhesive appears to have great potential, there are still a few hurdles. For one, it's quite viscous. For use in an industrial application, the glue would need to be made easier to apply. A second challenge is to bring the process to a larger scale. A third is to develop formulations that incorporate the bio-based glue into other types of adhesive mixtures. These challenges, says Weimer, will simply take time.

Weimer hopes to get the wood products industry interested in replacing half of the phenol formaldehyde (PF), a petroleum-based adhesive now used to make plywood, with the biomass-based adhesive.

"The PF that the fermentation process would partially replace sells for considerably more that ethanol, and the fermentation would still generate ethanol on the side," he says.

But the economic incentive is only part of the picture, according to Weimer.

"We'd like to keep alfalfa on the landscape because it has a lot of environmental benefits," Weimer says. "It's a good cover crop, it's drought-tolerant and fixes nitrogen. But because farmers are moving away from it as a dairy feed, we're trying to find another use, and we think this glue might be a solution."

More information:

P. J. Weimer, R. G. Koegel, L. F. Lorenz, C. R. Frihart, W. R. Kenealy: Wood adhesives prepared from lucerne fiber fermentation residues of Ruminococcus albus and Clostridium thermocellum, [*.pdf] Appl. Microbiol. Biotechnol. (2005) 66: 635–640.

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Peugeot to launch flex-fuel models in Europe, via used car market in Africa

Quicknote biofuels technology
Peugeot SA said it favours the French government's efforts to promote the use of flex-fuel motors, and will introduce next year two models able to run on gasoline as well as E85, a biofuel consisting of 85% ethanol. Peugeot already produces flex-fuel versions of its cars in Brazil, which represent 80% of its total sales in the country. The Peugeot 307 and the Citroen C4 will be offered with flex-fuel motors from mid-2007 throughout Europe, a company spokesman said.

Peugeot considers that a widespread introduction of small quantities of ethanol in gasoline, which could be done without changing existing engines, would be 'the most efficient and least expensive' option for increasing biofuel use, the spokesman said. Standard Peugeot engines in Europe can already accept up to 10 pct ethanol in gasoline, while its diesel engines can run on a mix of up to 30 pct biofuel made from rapeseed, a combination known as 'diester'. The French government wants biofuels to represent 5.75 pct of total consumption at filling stations across France in 2008, two years ahead of a deadline called for by the European Commission.

Via a detour, this news is important to people in francophone West and Central Africa, where the vast used car market, which is many times bigger than the market for new cars (earlier post), is dominated by french brands Peugeot, Citroën and Renault. (For an anthropological study on this fascinating market, see "Cotonou's klondike : a sociological analysis of entrepreneurship in the Euro-West African second-hand car trade" [*.pdf], by economic anthropologist Jan Joost Beuving). Most car owners in this part of the world drive second hand cars and no major car manufacturer has production plants on the continent. Given this reality, the introduction of flex-fuel cars in Africa will happen via the European used car market. Flex-fuel cars are expected to capture a significant market share of European car sales over the coming years. It then takes between 5 and 10 years before these used flex-fuel cars would appear in French speaking West and Central Africa. [entry ends here].
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Neste Oil aims to become the world´s leading 2nd generation biodiesel producer

Neste Oil's Board of Directors has approved a strategy aimed at making the company the world's leading producer of second generation biodiesel. The Finnish company has developed a refinery-based proprietary technology it calls NExBTL ('Neste Next Biomass-to-Liquids') for the high-pressure hydrogenation of fatty acids [white paper, *pdf]. The process can use a flexible input of any vegetable oil or animal fat and produce a product with characteristics similar to, but different from Fischer-Tropsch output.

The NExBTL process differs from the classic transesterification process used to produce fatty acid methyl ester (FAME, biodiesel) and Fischer-Tropsch conversion used in biomass-to-liquids projects. It is similar to Brazilian state oil company Petrobras' H-Bio fuel (earlier post), in that the production uses a process called hydrogen hydrogenation under high pressure at the end of a refining stage where petroleum distillates are mixed with vegetal oils:
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The foundation of Neste Oil's strategy will remain based on the company's ability to use its unique refining know-how to produce high-quality fuels for cleaner traffic from a variety of lower-cost raw materials. Neste Oil expects to invest several billion euros in growth projects over the next 10 years.

Neste Oil’s President & CEO, Risto Rinne communicates the company's vision in the following words:

"The central message that we want to communicate is that we have both the will and the financial resources to invest in growth in the areas where we are strong. By following our strategy, we will make the best use of our know-how. We are aiming to be the world's leading biodiesel producer, which means production volumes of millions of tons annually. Our proprietary biodiesel, which is based on a long-term R&D effort, can be produced from a variety of vegetable oils and animal fats – and is a premium-quality fuel that clearly outperforms both the vegetable oil and crude oil-based diesel fuels currently on the market."

The company will build several biodiesel production facilities in various market areas, either alone or with partners, in the years to come. In addition, it will be more active in research and development in the biofuels area to utilize different renewable raw materials – while continuing to invest in new conversion capacity at their refineries in Porvoo and Naantali.

Neste Oil's largest-ever investment, in a new diesel production line at the Porvoo refinery, is due to be completed this winter, and will enhance the company's performance and cash flow significantly.

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Brazil biofuel investors not worried about falling oil prices

Malaysia's biofuels industry recently said palm biodiesel investments are not threatened by falling oil prices because the longterm outlook for biofuels based on tropical crops is very positive. Today, biofuels investors working in Brazil say more or less the same thing.

Oil prices having been testing new lows all week, and Nymex crude oil prices had fallen below $61 per barrel in Tuesday afternoon trade. "Oil is a big player in the entire world push for biofuels. It's the benchmark," says David DeWind, one of the lead investors in Brasil Eco Energia, a new biofuel company forming in Brazil.

"But you have to look at the global situation. You have increases in population, you have increases in energy consumption and even if they discover an oil field off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, you're looking at years before that oil comes on line. It' years before you have fuel cells. And even when you have that, biofuels will still be big because of global warming concerns and that is not going to go away" he adds.

DeWind, two Brazilian businessmen and a couple of U.S. funds are involved in the 600-million-real ($273.9 million) investment to create Brasil Eco Energia. Their goal is to build the world's largest biodiesel plant, capable of producing 835 million liters of biofuel annually. The current largest biodiesel plant currently produces over 500 million liters and is located on the Poland-Germany border:

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Biodiesel is a mix of biofuel, usually from a vegetable oil stock, with traditional diesel oil. Brasil Eco Energia will use soybeans as its feed stock, with purchases of 3.5 million metric tons of soybeans expected annually.

One of the investors - Jose Americo Ribeiro dos Santos - is a Brazilian business owner of Latin America's largest grain storage facility, capable of storing 405,000 tons of grains. By 2008, that storage house will be full of soybeans, waiting to feed a massive biodiesel and soy crushing plant in Sumare, Sao Paulo. Construction begins in the first quarter of 2007, with the facility fully operational by 2008, the year Brazil mandates a 2% mix of biofuel in all diesel fuel, DeWind said.

"All of our fund investors are stable funds. None of this is hot money. A lot of the companies and investors that are talking about building biodiesel plants and ethanol plants will fall by the wayside because many of them won't have the serious money to continue," he said.

The Brazil biodiesel market will consume some 800 million liters just to meet the 2% mix rule. That mix could increase to 5% by 2010, according to government estimates.
DeWind says that demand from the local market will grow mostly because Brazil burns two and a half times more diesel than ethanol, currently Brazil's No. 1 renewable fuel source. Brazil's energy giant, Petroleo Brasileiro (PBR), or Petrobras, says Brazil imports about 30% of the diesel it consumes, adding to overhead costs in the country's agricultural sector.

Demand for cheaper diesel is what led Brazil to adopt the diesel mixture in the first place. Moreover, Petrobras is creating its own diesel mixture called H-Bio, to meet projected demand. Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) is also planning to build a biodiesel plant in Mato Grosso, which will produce all of its fuel from soybeans.

"ADM's plant isn't going to be as big as ours. That they are coming here, too, is just a validation of the size of this market. Everybody knows that reducing carbon dioxide emissions is important and no one believes oil prices are going to fall to where they were two years ago," DeWind said, adding he suspects international oil prices to be between $55 and $60.

"OPEC has that as their floor price. They now know that the world economy can handle prices even higher without coming undone, so I think they will keep those prices as their benchmark. Thirty-five dollars per barrel is no longer in the cards," DeWind said.

"The long term trends are in favor of biodiesel," DeWind said.

Brazil's agro-energy market has taken off following the success of its sugarcane ethanol market. According to industry estimates, some 75% of new car sales in August were flex fuel cars that are powered on both ethanol and traditional gasoline, even though ethanol prices have risen this year and made gasoline more attractive at the pump.

DeWind said the company is currently discussing long-term biodiesel supply contracts with distributors. Brasil Eco Energia is a privately held company. DeWind owns Brasil Bio Energia, a eucalpytus and reforestation company serving the paper and pulp industry, located in Piaui state in northern Brazil.

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Port of Antwerp wants to become Europe's largest 'bioport'

Quicknote bioenergy infrastructure
Earlier we wrote about 'bioterminals' in the Benelux, showing that the ports of Rotterdam and Eemhaven in the Netherlands, combined with those of Antwerp and Ghent in Belgium are working to become a vast logistical hub for the nascent global bio-economy.
Officials from the Antwerp Port Authority now tell the Flemish Information Centre for Agriculture & Horticulture [*Dutch], that even though the port is already Europe's largest petrochemical hub, they want to turn Antwerp into the continent's largest biochemical cluster as well.

Xavier Vanrolleghem, spokesperson for the chemical cluster in the port, explains the advantages of the port of Antwerp and why the idea of a bioport is feasible:
"The port is centrally located in Europe, directly connected to the UK, France and Germany. The logistical infrastructure is world class with both dedicated waterways, railways and highways linking the port to the entire continent. These advantages, added to the fact that the European market for biofuels and bioenergy feedstocks is growing rapidly, make it both necessary and feasible to create a bioport."
For the establishment of bioprocessing clusters, so-called 'greenfields' of about 15 to 25 hectares are required. Petrochemical giants like Bayer and Monsanto, who own huge swathes of the harbor's real estate, have said they are willing to make such fields available to other companies active in the emerging bio-economy, Vanrolleghem added.

The Port of Antwerp currently imports raw biomass for energy from all over the world, ready to be distributed across Europe. It has one operational biodiesel factory, owned by firm Dow Halterman, which produces for the German market. The Belgian government has so far received 32 applications of companies wanting to establish bio-ethanol and biodiesel plants in the country, most of them in Antwerp and Ghent.
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