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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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Monday, January 08, 2007

Syngenta and Diversa create partnership to discover enzymes for second-generation biofuels

Syngenta and Diversa Corporation announced today a new 10-year research and development partnership focused on the discovery and development of a range of novel enzymes to convert pre-treated cellulosic biomass economically to mixed sugars – a critical step in the process of 'second generation' ethanol production.

The new agreement allows Diversa to independently develop and commercialize fermentation-based enzyme combinations from its proprietary platform. Syngenta will have exclusive access to enzymes from Diversa’s platform to express in plants for enhanced cost-effective production.

Converting ligno-cellulosic biomass to biofuels requires breakthrough developments in three areas:
  1. chemical preparation of the cellulosic biomass (pre-treatment)
  2. conversion of pre-treated cellulosic biomass to fermentable sugars by combinations of enzymes (saccharification)
  3. the development of novel micro-organisms to ferment the sugars to ethanol or other fuels (fermentation)
Developing cost-effective enzyme systems is essential to economically converting biomass to biofuels:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Under the terms of the new agreement, which replaces the companies’ prior agreement, Syngenta will pay Diversa €12.3/US$16 million of guaranteed research funding in the first two years. Diversa is eligible to receive certain milestone and royalty payments aligned to product development success:

Previous breakthrough
As one result of their earlier partnership, Syngenta, a global agribusiness and third in the high-value commercial seeds market, is developing a genetically modified strain of corn that expresses high levels of alpha amylase—a thermal-tolerant digestive enzyme developed by Diversa that turns the corn’s starch into sugar for ethanol.The engineered plants are designed to reduce costs by eliminating the need for mills to add liquid enzymes. The Amylase-T seeds do not increase the yield, rather they make corn easier to process.

Amylase is a digestive enzyme (present in saliva, for example) that breaks down long-chain carbohydrates (such as starch) as an initial step in the production of ethanol from grain starch.

Very broadly, in this type of production, corn or starchy grain is ground into flour (“meal”), which is then slurried with water to form a mash. Enzymes are added for the conversion of starch to sugar, the whole mash is processed in a high-temperature cooker and then transferred to fermenters where yeast is added and the conversion of sugar to ethanol and CO2 begins.

The starch is usually heated at around 105°C or higher in the presence of thermostable alpha amylase, and then liquefied further at a lower temperature (around 90ºC). The high temperatures help reduce bacteria levels in the mash (high bacteria levels reduce yield).

Another key factor in the outcome of the process besides temperature is pH.

The pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a solution expressed on a scale of 1-14. Neutral is pH 7, pH 1-7 is acid, and pH 7-14 is alkaline. Yeast will grow only in a slightly acid solution (and the growth of harmful bacteria is further retarded by the slight acidity).

Conventional alpha-amylase enzymes, however, function best in a slightly alkaline environment.

As a result, ethanol producers spend time and material managing the pH of the mash to optimize the different stages of the process. And as a further result, producers have been seeking an enzyme that works well in a lower pH environment for years. As late as 2000, low pH-high temperature amylases were one of the top research requests from the industry.

The new Diversa research “Ultra-Thin” enzyme appears to meet that need. Capable of operating robustly at pH 4.5—the same pH of the production process—it reduces the cost associated with managing the mash pH.

Picture: modified Amylase enzyme.


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