<body> -------------------
Contact Us       Consulting       Projects       Our Goals       About Us
home / Archive
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

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Why electric cars and plug-in hybrids mean a boost to bioenergy

At some point in the past, someone, somewhere, 'killed' the electric car and with it the dreams of efficiency afficionados who wanted clean and lean vehicles. Since its death, the electric car has become nothing more than an urban myth and hobby object for battery-obsessed people with a large garage and a lot of spare time. But now the e-vehicle is being resurrected by major car manufacturers. Maybe, this time, it is here to stay.

French automaker Renault announced yesterday that it will roll out an electric vehicle in 2010 aimed mainly at European fleet markets. The automaker said in a statement that "the project has reached an advanced stage" and that "It is already working on all the future vehicle's components."
The company follows in the footsteps of Nissan Motor, which earlier said it would bring an all electric car to market before the end of the decade. Besides this project, Nissan has also launched a series of programs aimed at speeding up the introduction of 'plug-in hybrids'. GM and Mitsubishi are going electric too, as are a whole series of small manufacturers who are producing electric specialty vehicles, such as light-duty vans, urban mini-cars or heavy-duty trucks.

Electricity, an energy carrier
Despite marketeers' insistence, none of these vehicles are "zero emissions" per se, for the obvious reason that electricity -- just like hydrogen -- is merely an energy carrier, not an energy source. You need a primary energy source to produce the electricity these vehicles' batteries will consume. At the 'tailpipe', electric cars are clean, but this doesn't hide the smokestacks that pump out CO2 at the point where the electricity they use is generated.

So where will the power for these plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars come from? If it is generated from fossil fuels, these vehicles would be very dirty and they would contribute massively to dangerous climate change. This is a real risk. But luckily, we have renewables - wind, solar and bioenergy - which offer the alternative. The question then becomes: which of these clean primary energy sources is most viable over the long-term?

Biomass, fuel of the future
Renault, for one, considers bioenergy to be the most versatile, most competitive and most universally applicable source for power generation (click image). Biomass is solar energy converted into plant matter that can be transported, distributed and managed in a flexible manner:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Unlike photovoltaic and wind power, biomass can be used everywhere and 24 hours a day. A staggering diversity of energy crops exists that can be used to grow biomass adapted to local agro-ecologic circumstances: from drought-tolerant perennial crops in semi-deserts and grass species in the subtropics, to trees in peri-arctic environments.

The electric car implies a boost to solid biomass. Many studies and analysts have indicated that it is more efficient to use biomass to generate power in highly optimal plants (such as combined heat-and-power plants with efficiencies of up to 90%) than to transform this biomass into liquid fuels for use in inefficient internal combustion engines. A German scientist working for the IEA's Bioenergy taskforce on Biomass Combustion even calls first generation biodiesel 'economic nonsense' [*German]; better use the land where rapeseed or soybeans grow, to cultivate solid biomass crops for electricity.

Of course, ordinary diesel and gasoline ICE vehicles will dominate the car fleets of this world for a very long time, which is why liquid biofuels will be produced on a vast scale.

Over the very long term and only if electric cars were to capture a huge market share, would solid biomass as an energy source for transport take over from liquid transport biofuels.

Final blow to the hydrogen economy?
But the increased attention for electric cars may also signal the final blow to the much hyped 'hydrogen economy'. Let us compare the electric future with the hydrogen future. Which one would be most efficient and cost-effective? We can do this in a systematic manner by looking at two phases: a first phase aptly called the "well-to-tank" phase, which analyses how much energy, CO2 emissions and money goes into transforming the primary energy source into hydrogen or electricity, and how much it takes to get this power to the "tank" of the vehicle (to its fuel cells, ICE or its batteries, respectively). In a second phase, one looks at the "tank-to-wheel" efficiency and costs. Which technology is most efficient in transforming the hydrogen/electricity into traction? Fuel-cells, batteries or hydrogen ICEs?

Answers to these questions can be found in detailed studies, and they all seem to point at the fact that hydrogen production (well-to-tank) and its use in fuel cells (tank-to-wheel), is not really more efficient than other fuel production and utilisation paths (such as biomass-to-electricity for use in battery electric vehicles) (see a recent well-to-wheel study made by the EU, which we referred to earlier).

The main reason why hydrogen is such an unfeasible option for the future, is that it has the disadvantage that the gas is costly to produce, difficult to store and not easy to transport or distribute. The hydrogen economy requires the construction of an entirely new, trillion-dollar infrastructure consisting of pipelines, storage facilities and special hydrogen stations where end users can refill their gas-tanks. This may take ages to build. The electric infrastructure on the contrary already exists. To function as the power instructure for transport, all it needs is some grid-extension and the construction of public recharging outlets.

Trading biomass
The advantage of biomass as the primary energy source for electricity generation is the fact that it can be traded internationally, unlike photovoltaic and wind-power which are locally rooted and can be used economically only under optimal conditions (strong winds in specific locations or ample sunshine). If you want to transport solar energy over long distances, you can only do it by embedding it in biomass; that way, you can ship it over oceans to markets where it fetches the best price. This is impossible with electricity derived from wind or photovoltaics.

The IEA Bioenergy Task 40 group, which analyses sustainable international biomass trade, has carried out many studies which show that it is cost-effective to grow biomass in the tropics, where ample land, sunshine and water are available, and to transport it over long distances to markets. The energy balance and greenhouse gas emissions balance of such long-distance biomass trade remains very favorable (see the IEA Task 40 studies on International bioenergy transport costs and energy balance).

In this sense, the development of electric cars would once again mean a boost to the bioenergy industry in developing countries. It doesn't really matter in which form these regions' biomass potentials come to market (liquid biofuels for ICEs, or liquid and solid biomass for the production of electricity for battery cars), the main point is that they have a competitive advantage over biomass producers in the North.

Article continues

The bioeconomy at work: flexible bioplastics

Develop a plastic that can withstand high temperatures, that is flexible and that can be bended 10,000 times without showing any cracking. Not an easy task. Now add the following command: don't use any petroleum in the process, because petroleum is expensive, it doesn't bio-degrade, it contributes to climate change and it pollutes the oceans and enters the food chain.

Well, Japanese engineers succeeded in the task. Fujitsu has developed a bioplastic based on Arkema’s Rilsan biopolyamide material that can withstand repeated bending. The Japanese teletronics group said it is considering using the new bioplastic for small components in notebook PCs and mobile phones, such as connector covers.

Fujitsu has been a pioneer in developing and using bioplastics in applications such as the housing of notebooks made from a blend of around 50% PLA (polylactic acid, the lactate of which is derived from starch obtained from for example corn or cassava) with an amorphous plastic. Despite this earlier project, it said it wanted a new bio-based polymer with a higher bio-content that features superior flexibility and is suitable for mass-production.

Fujitsu worked with Arkema in developing the new bioplastic that has as its principal component Rilsan PA-11, which is derived from castor oil. This plant oil is made from the beans of the Ricinus communis plant [crop file], a shrub grown mainly in Brazil, China and India but originating in East Africa:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Castor oil has an unusual composition and chemistry, which makes it quite valuable. Ninety percent of fatty acids in castor oil are ricinoleic acid. Castor oil and its derivatives already have found applications in the manufacturing of soaps, lubricants, hydraulic and brake fluids, paints, dyes, coatings, inks, cold resistant plastics, waxes and polishes, nylon, pharmaceuticals and perfumes.

The new highly flexible, heat tolerant plastic was made by “weakening the interaction of the chain molecule in PA-11 and relaxing the stereo-regularity of their organization, the resulting new material has sufficient flexibility to withstand repeated bending without causing the whitening that often occurs when such materials are strained.”

Fujitsu has created a prototype notebook PC-cover whose components now have a very high bio-content of 60-80%. “Even after adding high-density fillers to increase strength, the polymer maintains good impact-resistance and thus it is hoped that the material could eventually be used in PC chasses and other larger components,” it said.

The company plans to continue research into castor oil-based plastics (as well as PLA) and is aiming to manufacture small components for notebook PCs and mobile phones by 2008. Its research will also focus on use of the new bioplastic in larger components.

Article continues

Biofuel superpower Papua New Guinea signs first ethanol plant deal

The vast island state of Papua New Guinea (PNG) has long been identified as one of the true 'Biofuel Superpowers' of the 21st century (earlier post). The tropical country's estimated sustainable bioenergy production potential is in the tens of Exajoules per year (1 Exajoule equals around 164 million barrels of oil). PNG's agro-climatic conditions favor the cultivation of biomass and biofuel crops with very high yields - from grass species such as sugar cane and miscanthus, to tree species such as eucalyptus, or starch and sugar-rich crops such as cassava, nipa and sago.

PNG is still very much an agrarian society, with over 85% of all Papuans making a living in agriculture. Poverty levels are very high, and aside from a few large plantation estates, modern agriculture is virtually non-existent on this vast island.

The country now has signed its first agreement on a €39/US$52 million ethanol project to be implemented in PNG's Central province. Signed in the capital Port Moresby, the project paves the way for the development of a genuine biofuels industry in the country. The signatories included the Changhae Group of South Korea, landowner representatives, the Central provincial government and the State.

The ethanol will be made from cassava which will be grown on 20,000 hectares of land in Launakalana, Rigo district. Cassava is a starch-rich root crop that requires limited fertiliser and water inputs, that thrives on poor soils and withstands moderate droughts. Under optimal conditions, it yields some 30 to 35 tonnes of roots per hectare, which, at a 25% starch content, can be fermented into 5000 to 6000 liters of ethanol (for an interesting introduction, see the FAO's Ag21 Magazine issue devoted on cassava starch). In several other countries, including China, Thailand and Nigeria cassava is planned to be used or already being utilised on a large scale for the production of the gasoline substitute. The production capacity of the plant was not disclosed, but taking a cassava yield of 25 tonnes on 20,000 hectares, we estimate the plant's annual capacity to be around 85,000 tonnes of ethanol.

John Lim, Changhae Group chief operating officer, said that the company had a vision of making Papua New Guinea a leading production base of biofuels, and of helping local farmers become the new "biofuel sheiks" of this century.

"The biofuel industry is growing worldwide due to environmental and political concerns. PNG has the right natural resources to be an important player in these growing concerns," Mr Lim said. He said Changhae, while securing international markets for the products from PNG, would provide the necessary push to develop a new agricultural-based industry.

Social and economic benefits
Mr Lim said he was happy to see the people of Central province taking the lead in the venture, which hopefully would expand across the country and put PNG on the regional and international map as biofuel super power:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Department of Agriculture and Livestock Secretary Anthony Benjamin said the project would provide an adequate level of investment capital of 46 million kina (€11.7/US$15.5 million) spread out over two stages of the project.

The first – worth US$6 million – will be invested in commercial cultivation of cassava under a nucleus and out-grower arrangement. Stage two will involve the creation of the bioethanol plant at a cost of US$26 million.

Mr Benjamin added that the project would play a key role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto protocol.

Moreover, the minister estimated that 5,000 jobs would become available once the project is fully implemented and that there would be huge benefits to the people of Rigo and Central provinces as the project would bring much needed infrastructures such as better roads, schools and aid posts.

The minister also announced that the Papuan government intends to promote biofuels as the alternative source of fuel for the manufacturing industry as a whole, due to its long-term economic viability and the country's positive experience with the use of biodiesel derived from coconut oil.

More information:
FAO's Ag21 Magazine: Spotlight: Cassava starch (with a look at cassava ethanol), 2006

Cassava.org: Overview of the technical potential of ethanol production from cassava (case-study on Thailand) [*.pdf].

Article continues