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    Côte d'Ivoire's agriculture minister Amadou Gon has visited the biofuels section of the Salon de l'Agriculture in Paris, one of the largest fairs of its kind. According to his communication office, the minister is looking into drafting a plan for the introduction of biofuels in the West African country. AllAfrica [*French] - March 13, 2007.

    Biofuels and bioenergy producers in Ireland, a country which just recently passed bioenergy legislation, are allocated excise relief for imported biomass. Unison Ireland (subscription req'd). - March 13, 2007.

    EDF Energies Nouvelles, a subsidiary of energy giant Electricité de France, has announced a move into biofuels, by sealing a preliminary agreement with Alcofinance SA of Belgium. Upon completion of a reserved issue of shares for €23 million, EDF Energies Nouvelles will own 25% of a newly formed company housing Belgium-based Alcofinance's ethanol production and distribution activities. Alcofinance's projects are located in the Ghent Bioenergy Valley. BusinessWire - March 13, 2007.

    Fuel Tech, Inc., today announced a demonstration order for its 'Targeted In-Furnace Injection' program, part of a set of technologies aimed at controlling slagging, fouling, corrosion, opacity and acid plume problems in utility scale boilers. The order was placed by an electric generating facility located in Italy, and will be conducted on two biomass units burning a combination of wood chips and olive husks. BusinessWire - March 9, 2007.

    At a biofuels conference ahead of the EU's Summit on energy and climate change, Total's chief of agricultural affairs says building environmentally friendly 'flexible-fuel' cars only cost an additional €200 (US$263) a vehicle and that, overall, ethanol is cheaper than gasoline. MarketWatch - March 8, 2007.

    During a session of Kazakhstan's republican party congress, President Nursultan Nazarbayev announced plans to construct two large ethanol plants with the aim to produce biofuels for exports to Europe. Company 'KazAgro' and the 'akimats' (administrative units) of grain-growing regions will be charged to develop biodiesel, bioethanol and bioproducts. KazInform - March 6, 2007.

    Saab will introduce its BioPower flex-fuel options to its entire 9-3 range, including Sport Sedan, SportCombi and Convertible bodystyles, at the Geneva auto show. GreenCarCongress - March 2, 2007.

    British oil giant BP plans to invest around US$50 million in Indonesia's biofuel industry, using jatropha oil as feedstock. BP will build biofuel plants with an annual capacity of 350,000 tons for which it will need to set up jatropha curcas plantations covering 100,000 hectares of land, to guarantee supply of feedstock, an official said. Antara [*cache] - March 2, 2007.

    The government of Taiwan has decided to increase the acreage dedicated to biofuel crops -- soybean, rape, sunflower, and sweet potato -- from 1,721 hectares in 2006 to 4,550 hectares this year, the Council of Agriculture said. China Post - March 2, 2007.

    Kinder Morgan Energy Partners has announced plans to invest up to €76/US$100 million to expand its terminal facilities to help serve the growing biodiesel market. KMP has entered into long-term agreements with Green Earth Fuels, LLC to build up to 1.3 million barrels of tankage that will handle approximately 8 million barrels of biodiesel production at KMP's terminals on the Houston Ship Channel, the Port of New Orleans and in New York Harbor. PRNewswire - March 1, 2007.

    A project to build a 130 million euro ($172 million) plant to produce 200,000 cubic metres of bioethanol annually was announced by three German groups on Tuesday. The plant will consume about 600,000 tonnes of wheat annually and when operational in the first half of 2009 should provide about a third of Germany's estimated bioethanol requirements. Reuters - Feb. 27, 2007.

    Taiwan's Ministry of Economic Affairs has announced that government vehicles in Taipei City will begin using E3 fuel, composed of 97% gasoline and 3% ethanol, on a trial basis in 2007. Automotive World - Feb. 27, 2007.

    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.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Hydrogen infusion could boost synthetic biofuel yields

Seeking ways to improve biofuel production, researchers at the University of Purdue predict that an infusion of hydrogen during the gasification of biomass may increase final fuel yields by up to 30%.

Gasification involves the partial combustion of the biomass material, converting it into biofuel, as well as the byproducts of hydrogen, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. The synthetic gas can then be liquefied via a Fischer-Tropsch process to yield 'synthetic' biofuels (this production path is often described as 'biomass-to-liquids'). In current gasification processes (diagram, click to enlarge), approximately two thirds of the carbon energy in the biomass is lost in the form of CO2 and CO (earlier post).

Professor of Chemical Engineering Rakesh Agrawal and his team now postulate that additional hydrogen introduced in the gasification process would combine with the carbon dioxide to produce more carbon monoxide. That CO would then react with extra hydrogen, creating more biofuel and water.

The ability to make three liters of fuel from the same amount of biomass that currently produces only two liters would be an impressive feat. It would considerably reduce the amount of biomass feedstocks needed and the land required to grow them. However, the Purdue team's plan is only feasible if a plentiful source of relatively inexpensive hydrogen can be secured:
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To solve that problem, Agrawal is working with fellow Purdue Professor Hugh Hillhouse, an expert in developing nanomaterials for photovoltaics and thermoelectric energy production. in a recent interview with New Scientist Magazine, Agrawal said that he and Hillhouse are developing low-cost "spray-on" solar cells that could provide a cheap source of energy for making hydrogen.

Last month, the team successfully tested the spray-on nanomaterial, which produced an electric charge when exposed to light. Details of the Purdue team's findings are due to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

An apparent contradiction then opens up: if the energy carrier known as hydrogen can be produced efficiently using clean energy sources, then why would biofuels be needed at all? The contradiction is solved by the fact that liquid biofuels have the advantage that they can be used directly in existing fuel distribution infrastructures and automotive technologies, whereas hydrogen needs trillions worth of investment in this regard.

Likewise, using the hydrogen generated by the efficient solar cells, to produce electricity that would then be distributed over the grid to power battery driven cars, is a detour that makes little sense. It would obviously be easier to use the electricity generated from such solars cells directly.

But instead of representing the two different fuel paradigms - liquid biofuels and hydrogen - as opposites or rivals, it is more interesting to look for synergies between them. The researchers at Purdue are doing exactly that.


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