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    Scientists working for Royal Nedalco (involved in cellulosic ethanol production), the Delft University of Technology and a firm called Bird Engineering have found a fungus in elephant dung that helped them produce a yeast strain which can efficiently ferment xylose into ethanol. The researchers consider this to be a breakthrough and see widespread application of the yeast within 5 years. More info to follow as details emerge. Scientific American - April 19, 2007.

    As part of its 'Le dessous des cartes' magazine, Europe's culture TV channel ARTE airs a documentary about the geopolitics of sustainable transport tonight, at 10.20 pm CET. Readers outside of Europe can catch it here. ARTE - April 18, 2007.

    Spain's diversified company the Ferry Group is investing €50 million into a biomass plantation in new EU-memberstate Bulgaria. The project will see the establishment of a 8000ha plantation of hybrid paulownia trees that will be used for the production of fuel pellets. Dnevnik, Bulgaria - April 18, 2007.

    Bioprocess Control signs agreement with Svensk Biogas and forms closer ties with Swedish Biogas International. Bioprocess Control develops high-tech applications that optimise the commercial production of biogas. It won Sweden's prestigious national clean-tech innovations competition MiljöInnovation 2007 for its 'Biogas Optimizer' that accelerates the biogas production process and ensures greater process stability. NewsDesk Sweden - April 17, 2007.

    A joint Bioenergy project of Purdue University and Archer Daniels Midland Company has been selected to receive funding by the U.S. Department of Energy to further the commercialization of highly-efficient yeast which converts cellulosic materials into ethanol through fermentation. ADM - April 17, 2007.

    Researchers at Iowa State University and the US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Services (ARS) have found that glycerin, a biodiesel by-product, is as effective as conventional corn-soymeal diets for pigs. AllAboutFeed - April 16, 2007.

    U.S. demand for uranium may surge by a third amid a revival in atomic power projects, increasing concern that imports will increase and that limited supplies may push prices higher, the Nuclear Energy Institute says. Prices touched all time highs of US$113 a pound in an auction last week by a U.S producer amid plans by China and India to expand their nuclear power capacity. International Herald Tribune - April 16, 2007.

    Taiwan mandates a 1% biodiesel and ethanol blend for all diesel and gasoline sold in the country, to become effective next year. By 2010, the ratio will be increased to 2%. WisconsinAg Connection - April 16, 2007.

    Vietnam has won the prestigious EU-sponsored Energy Globe award for 2006 for a community biogas program, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development announced. ThanhNien News - April 13, 2007.

    Given unstable fossil fuel prices and their negative effects on the economy, Tanzania envisages large-scale agriculture of energy crops Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, Mr Christopher Chiza has said. A 600 hectare jatropha seed production effort is underway, with the seeds expected to be distributed to farmers during the 2009/2010 growing season. Daily News (Dar es Salaam) - April 12, 2007.

    Renault has announced it will launch a flex-fuel version of its Logan in Brazil in July. Brazilian autosales rose 28% to 1,834,581 in 2006 from 2004. GreenCarCongress - April 12, 2007.

    Chevron and Weyerhouser, one of the largest forest products companies, are joining forces to research next generation biofuels. The companies will focus on developing technology that can transform wood fiber and other nonfood sources of cellulose into economical, clean-burning biofuels for cars and trucks. PRNewswire - April 12, 2007.

    BioConversion Blog's C. Scott Miller discusses the publication of 'The BioTown Source Book', which offers a very accessible introduction to the many different bioconversion technologies currently driving the bioenergy sector. BioConversion Blog - April 11, 2007.

    China's State Forestry Administration (SFA) and the China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs Import & Export Corp., Ltd. (COFCO) have signed a framework agreement over plans to cooperatively develop forest bioenergy resources, COFCO announced on its web site. Interfax China - April 11, 2007.

    The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock of El Salvador is speeding up writing the country's biofuels law in order to take advantage of the US-Brazil cooperation agreement which identified the country as one where projects can be launched fairly quickly. The bill is expected to be presented to parliament in the coming weeks. El Porvenir - April 11, 2007.

    ConocoPhillips will establish an eight-year, $22.5 million research program at Iowa State University dedicated to developing technologies that produce biofuels. The grant is part of ConocoPhillips' plan to create joint research programs with major universities to produce viable solutions to diversify America's energy sources. Iowa State University - April 11, 2007.

    Interstate Power and Light has decided to utilize super-critical pulverized coal boiler technology at its large (600MW) new generation facility planned for Marshalltown, Iowa. The plant is designed to co-fire biomass and has a cogeneration component. The investment tops US$1billion. PRNewswire - April 10, 2007.

    One of India's largest sugar companies, the Birla group will invest 8 billion rupees (US$187 million) to expand sugar and biofuel ethanol output and produce renewable electricity from bagasse, to generate more revenue streams from its sugar business. Reuters India - April 9, 2007.

    An Iranian firm, Mashal Khazar Darya, is to build a cellulosic ethanol plant that will utilise switchgrass as its feedstock at a site it owns in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The investment is estimated to be worth €112/US$150 million. The plant's capacity will be 378 million liters (100 million gallons), supplied by switchgrass grown on 4400 hectares of land. PressTv (Iran) - April 9, 2007.

    The Africa Power & Electricity Congress and Exhibition, to take place from 16 - 20 April 2007, in the Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa, will focus on bioenergy and biofuels. The Statesman - April 7, 2007.

    Petrobras and Petroecuador have signed a joint performance MOU for a technical, economic and legal viability study to develop joint projects in biofuel production and distribution in Ecuador. The project includes possible joint Petroecuador and Petrobras investments, in addition to qualifying the Ecuadorian staff that is directly involved in biofuel-related activities with the exchange of professionals and technical training. PetroBras - April 5, 2007.

    The Société de Transport de Montréal is to buy 8 biodiesel-electric hybrid buses that will use 20% less fuel and cut 330 tons of GHG emissions per annum. Courrier Ahuntsic - April 3, 2007.

    Thailand mandates B2, a mixture of 2% biodiesel and 98% diesel. According to Energy Minister Piyasvasti Amranand, the mandate comes into effect by April next year. Bangkok Post - April 3, 2007.

    In what is described as a defeat for the Bush administration, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled [*.pdf] today that environmental officials have the power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions that spur global warming. By a 5-4 vote, the nation's highest court told the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its refusal to regulate carbon dioxide and other emissions from new cars and trucks that contribute to climate change. Reuters - April 2, 2007.

    Goldman Sachs estimates that, in the absence of current trade barriers, Latin America could supply all the ethanol required in the US and Europe at a cost of $45 per barrel – just over half the cost of US-made ethanol. EuroToday - April 2, 2007.

    The Kauai Island Utility Cooperative signed a long-term purchase power agreement last week with Green Energy Team, LLC. The 20-year agreement enables KIUC to purchase power from Green Energy's proposed 6.4 megawatt biomass-to-energy facility, which will use agricultural waste to generate power. Honolulu Advertiser - April 2, 2007.

    The market trend to heavier, more powerful hybrids is eroding the fuel consumption advantage of hybrid technology, according to a study done by researchers at the University of British Columbia. GreenCarCongress - March 30, 2007.

    Hungarian privately-owned bio-ethanol project firm Mabio is planning to complete an €80-85 million ethanol plant in Southeast Hungary's Csabacsud by end-2008. Onet/Interfax - March 29, 2007.

    Energy and engineering group Abengoa announces it has applied for planning permission to build a bioethanol plant in north-east England with a capacity of about 400,000 tonnes a year. Reuters - March 29, 2007.

    The second European Summer School on Renewable Motor Fuels will be held in Warsaw, Poland, from 29 to 31 August 2007. The goal of the event is to disseminate the knowledge generated within the EU-funded RENEW (Renewable Fuels for Advanced Powertrains) project and present it to the European academic audience and stakeholders. Topics on the agenda include generation of synthetic gas from biomass and gas cleaning; transport fuel synthesis from synthetic gas; biofuel use in different motors; biomass potentials, supply and logistics, and technology, cost and life-cycle assessment of BtL pathways. Cordis News - March 27, 2007.

    Green Swedes want even more renewables, according to a study from Gothenburg University. Support for hydroelectricity and biofuels has increased, whereas three-quarters of people want Sweden to concentrate more on wind and solar too. Swedes still back the nuclear phase-out plans. The country is Europe's largest ethanol user. It imports 75% of the biofuel from Brazil. Sveriges Radio International - March 27, 2007.

    Fiat will launch its Brazilian-built flex-fuel Uno in South Africa later this year. The flex-fuel Uno, which can run on gasoline, ethanol or any combination of the two fuels, was displayed at the Durban Auto Show, and is set to become popular as South Africa enters the ethanol era. Automotive World - March 27, 2007.

    Siemens Power Generation (PG) is to supply two steam turbine gensets to a biomass-fired plant in Três Lagoas, 600 kilometers northwest of São Paulo. The order, valued at €22 million, was placed by the Brazilian company Pöyry Empreendimentos, part of VCP (Votorantim Celulose e Papel), one of the biggest cellulose producers in the Americas. PRDomain - March 25, 2007.

    Asia’s demand for oil will nearly double over the next 25 years and will account for 85% of the increased demand in 2007, Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) officials forecast yesterday at a Bangkok-hosted energy conference. Daily Times - March 24, 2007.

    Portugal's government expects total investment in biomass energy will reach €500 million in 2012, when its target of 250MW capacity is reached. By that date, biomass will reduce 700,000 tonnes of carbon emissions. By 2010, biomass will represent 5% of the country's energy production. Forbes - March 22, 2007.

    The Scottish Executive has announced a biomass action plan for Scotland, through which dozens of green energy projects across the region are set to benefit from an additional £3 million of funding. The plan includes greater use of the forestry and agriculture sectors, together with grant support to encourage greater use of biomass products. Energy Business Review Online - March 21, 2007.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Biomass gasification to power rural India out of energy poverty

Energy experts and development economists understand the detrimental socio-economic effects of the lack of access to modern energy in the developing world. Half the world's population lives in rural areas, where more than 2 billion people are not connected to the grid. Taking electricity from the central power grid to bring it to these isolated communities is costly and unreliable because of heavy transmission losses and poor load demand.

The consequences of this situation perpetuate a disastrous cycle: lack of access to electricity sustains poverty, which in turn condemns people to rely on time-consuming and primitive forms of energy (dung, fuel wood), which results in environmental degradation, low economic (agricultura) productivity and further poverty; poverty is in turn correlated with increased fertility, which fuels a population increase that results in even more pressures on the environment, and ultimately to ever deeper poverty... Neither the State nor the private sector sees the poor as viable consumers worth the investments needed for rural electrification. And so the cycle perpetuates itself.

Amongst many organisations, the International Energy Agency and the World Energy Council studied the matter in depth and found a very strong positive correlation between underdevelopment and lack of access to energy (the UN's Human Development Index and the IEA's Energy Development Index neatly overlap). For this reason, addressing the question of rural energy poverty is crucial to achieve the Millenium Development Goals.

Even though there is no magic solution to the age-old development problem of bringing electricity to the rural poor, some elements and factors have been identified as key: decentralisation, reliance on locally available energy resources (water, wind, the sun or biomass) and, crucially, the need for low-cost systems.

Biomass gasification - the way out?
Experts from India think these principles and requirements converge in a technology known as biomass gasification, in an electrification concept that has become commercially feasible and reliable (in-depth discussion of the technology, here, or see the image showing a downdraft biomass gasifier, click to enlarge). The energy system may be applicable to rural areas in the developing world at large because it is the least costly of the common alternatives. Depending on local circumstances, it is estimated to be between 15 and 20 times less costly than photovoltaics.

Several community-operated experiments with decentralised biomass gasification and electrification are now underway in India, and it looks like the technology can literally turn marginalised communities into thriving and prosperous societies (see the case-study below). Drawing on this success, an ambitious initiative by science institutes and the private sector has been launched aimed at mass-producing efficient small to medium-scale gasifiers:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

India's rural settlements produce an abundance of agricultural waste streams, such as bagasse, rice and wheat straw. Indian researchers estimate that the energy contained in these resources is sufficient to meet all the energy needs of India's rural population with capacity left to grow.

According to the country's Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources (MNES), there is more than 1,700 MW potential for producing gas from biomass, including agricultural residues, enough to power the 125,000 villages that are yet to be electrified.

Biomass gassification technology, which has been around for more than three decades, now has proved to be a cost effective, ecofriendly system to meet the rural energy requirements. In fact, biomass gasification, a process that results in 'producer gas' — a mixture of carbon monoxide, methane, hydrogen and carbon dioxide - is already picking up in India as a major alternative energy source.

Case study: cooperatives in the Sunderban area of West Bengal
Hitofumi Abe did fieldwork [*.pdf] for the Japan International Cooperation Agency, and research current biomass gasification projects in India. He was surprised to find very positive outcomes of the system. One of his case-studies focused on a pilot plant operated by a rural cooperative on Gosaba Island in the Sunderbans. The farmers' success was soon replicated by other communities.

About three million people inhabit the Delta Region of Sunderbans, West Bengal State. Two million of them do not have access to electricity. It is not economically feasible to extend grids to many islands wide spreaded in the Delta Region. The 500 kW (5 x 100 kW) biomass gasifier duel fuel power generation system (70% biomass + 30% diesel) was installed at Gosaba Island, Sunderbans in June, 1997. Gosaba Island located about 80 km south west of Kolkata. It takes 1.5 hours by boat from the nearest port of mainland. There were only 16 customers when the operation started because people did not believe the system really works. But the customer base increased very quickly and currently 1150 households are connected. The plant is operating 15 hours a day (10:00 am to 1:00 am next day).

The island developed dramatically since the power station was installed. There are many new commercial stores and more than 10 hotels, and people from near by islands come to Gosaba for shopping. A bank (State of India Bank) opened and supports economical activities. A telecommunication system has opened its doors, internet is now available and there is a PC training centre. The hospital can now conduct basic operations. The electricity is also used for public purposes such as street lights, school lighting, drinking water supply and irrigation.

The project is 100% funded by government since this is a pilot project but it is operated by the Gosaba Rural Energy Cooperative. The cooperative owns a 75 hectare energy plantation. Biomass fuel is supplied by both from farmers and the plantation.

Drawing on the success of this pilot program, another 500 kW biomass gasifier duel fuel power generation system was commissioned in the remote Island of Chhotomollakhali in the Sunderbans in June 2001. Since then, numerous smaller-scale biomass gasifier electrification units has been installed in West Bengal State.

New efficient gasifier systems of a slightly larger scale are under development that use the waste heat from the unit, resulting in efficient co-generation concepts. Co-generation is feasible in the sugar industry, rice mills as well as paper and textile mills. For instance, by upgrading the steam generation capacity of sugar mills, steam produced in excess of their process heat requirement can be utilised for power generation.

Mass production of gasifiers
Meanwhile, in a development of significance Cummins India and the Bangalore-based Indian Institute of Science (IISc) have gone in for commercial tieup aimed at promoting the biomass gassification system designed and developed by IISc. According to Prof P.J. Paul of IISc who is one of the architects of this biomass gasification system, “our technology package known as Open Top Reburn Downdraft biomass gasifier generates gas from a range of biomass that comprises forest residues and agricultural wastes" (earlier post). Indeed, as pointed by Paul, the cost of energy generated through biomass is reduced substantially through the gassification route.

Pampraveen Swaminathan, Vice-President of power generation business at Cummins India, drives home the point that the biomass gassification provides a significant life cycle cost advantage over hydrocarbon and ultimately leads to the development of a sustainable energy system.

It has been estimated that biomass gasification generates 1 MW of power at around 20 to 30 million rupiah (€353,000/US$481,000 to €530,000/US$721,000). Solar energy costs between 15 and 20 times more, at about 350 to 400 million rupiah (€6.2/US$8.4 to €7/US$9.6 million) per MW .

India’s first community based biomass gasifier power plant at Kabbigere, 30 km from Tumkur in the state of Karnataka, is generating 0.5 MW of power to feed the central power grid and ensure round the clock, reliable power supply to five villages for both irrigation and domestic purposes.

Vast potential
As pointed out by Anil K. Rajvanshi of Nimbalkar Agricultural Research Institute (NARI), which operates a biomass gassification plant working on agricultural residues such as sugarcane leaves and wheat straw, India produces an estimated 600 million tonnes of agricultural residue per year.

He points out that if all this waste were to be gasified in the latest generation of gasifiers, it can produce a total of 79,000 MW of power — about 60 per cent of the total power available in the country. Rajvanshi thinks “it is feasible to set up a biomass based power plant of 10-20 MW capacity to cater to the needs of about 100 villages. In this way rural energy needs in India can be fully well met.”

Image: 5 x 100 kW biomass gasifier at Gosaba Rural Energy Cooperative, West Bengal State. Courtesy: Hitofumi Abe.

More information:
Tribune India (Radhakrishna Rao): Biomass gasification - April 20, 2007.

World Energy Council: The challenge of rural energy poverty in developing countries - s.d., a basic introduction.

International Energy Agency: Energy and Development [*.pdf] (Chapter 10 of the IEA's World Energy Outlook 2004), which contains the Energy Development Index.

International Energy Agency: Biomass and the Millenium Development Goals - 2006.

Hitofumi Abe, Summary of Biomass Power Generation in India [*.pdf] - Ecosystem Research Group, University of Western Australia, October 2005.

Andreas Gantenbein, "Validation Report of a Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Biomass Gasifier Power Plant Project in the north-Indian State of Bihar" [*.pdf] - Centre for Energy Policies and Economics (CEPE), Department of Environmental Sciences (D-UWIS), Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich, October 2005.


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