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    Cargill is to build an ethanol plant in the Magdeburger Börde, located on the river Elbe, Germany. The facility, which will be integrated into existing starch processing plant, will have an annual capacity of 100,000 cubic meters and use grain as its feedstock. FIF - April 26, 2007.

    Wärtsilä Corporation was awarded a contract by the Belgian independent power producer Renogen S.A. to supply a second biomass-fuelled combined heat and power plant in the municipality of Amel in the Ardennes, Belgium. The new plant will have a net electrical power output of 3.29 MWe, and a thermal output of up to 10 MWth for district heating. The electrical output in condensing operation is 5.3 MWe. Kauppalehti - April 25, 2007.

    A Scania OmniCity double-decker bus to be deployed by Transport for London (TfL) will be powered by ethanol made from Brazilian sugar cane, TfL Coordinator Helen Woolston told a bioethanol conference in London. The bus will join a fleet of seven hybrid diesel-electric buses currently running in London, where TfL plans to introduce 50 more hybrid buses by the end of 2008. EEMS Online - April 24, 2007.

    Virgin Atlantic plans to fly a 747 jumbojet on a mix of 60% biofuel and 40% kerosene in 2008. Sir Richard Branson is collaborating with Boeing to achieve this milestone in aviation history. He already hinted at the fact that the biofuels "it was possible the crops could be grown in Africa, thereby helping to alleviate poverty on the continent at the same time as safeguarding the environment." More details to be announced soon. Telegraph - April 24, 2007.

    A top executive of General Motors, vice-chairman Bob Lutz, says the US should launch a 'Manhattan Project' for biofuels to make a 'wholesale switch' within five years. Kentucky.com - April 24, 2007.

    Canada's new government launches a C$200 million 'Ecoagriculture Biofuels Capital Initiative' aimed at helping agricultural producers construct or expand transportation biofuel production facilities. Government of Canada - April 24, 2007.

    Russian oil company Lukoil reportedly installed production facilities for obtaining biofuels in its refinery Neftochim in the coastal city of Bourgas. Lukoil has over 2500 oil stations in Europe, the largest number of which are located in Bulgaria, which joined the EU this year. Sofia Echo - April 22, 2007.

    The government of the Indian state of Haryana approves three small-scale (1MW) biomass gasification projects, while the Haryana Renewable Energy Development Agency (HAREDA) identifies seven industrial sectors it will help to adopt the biomass gasification technology to meet their captive thermal and electrical requirements. Economic Times - April 21, 2007.

    The Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) is planning to build a coconut oil biodiesel plant in Ivisan, Capiz (a province in the Western Visayas region) by the middle of this year in response to the growing demand for biodiesel. News Today (Iloilo City) - April 20, 2007.

    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.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

The end of a utopian idea: iron-seeding the oceans to capture carbon won't work

For a while, some scientists thought they had found a simple 'quick fix' to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere via a biological process. The idea was to seed iron into the oceans to stimulate the growth of algae. The phytoplankton trap carbon dioxide via photosynthesis, and store it in their cells. After a while, the algae drop down to the ocean floor and take the carbon with them, where it remains for a long time. However, earlier experiments and economic studies showed that this 'geo-engineering' strategy doesn't pay off; large quantities of iron are needed to result in a small effect, making the technique too expensive.

By comparing the natural process with the artificial iron-seeding technique, scientists from France's leading research institute, the CNRS, have now been able to show exactly why the mimicked process is not efficient. At the same time, they found clues to a question that has been debated for a long time amongst paleoclimatologists: that of the role of iron circulation in the oceans during the climate changes observed in the period between glacial and interglacial eras.

A 47 strong research team of French, Belgian, Dutch and Australian oceanographers and biogeochemists from the international oceanographic mission KEOPS ('KErguelen Ocean and Plateau compared Study') set out in 2005 to analyse the process as it occurs near the Îles Kerguelen in the Southern Ocean. They published their results in the April 26 issue of the journal Nature and found that a much more complex stream of nutrients released according to a specific timing pattern is needed to trigger algae bloom formation that effectively captures and transfers carbon to the ocean floor, than merely adding iron. They conclude that geo-engineering the oceans won't work.

Two ocean pumps
Oceans are the most important carbon sinks on the planet. Two major mechanisms allow these vast reservoirs to extract carbon from the atmosphere: the 'physical pump' and the 'biological pump'. The 'physical pump' is a mechanism that, because of the natural ocean circulation, gradually forces carbon-rich surface waters to the deep, where the carbon remains locked. In the 'biological pump' (image, click to enlarge), carbon gas is taken up via photosynthesis into the cells of micro-organisms or in the calcium carbonate shells of sea creatures, which sink to the ocean floor as waste or when they die.

For more than a century already, a third of the anthropogenic carbon emitted into the atmosphere has been taken back by the oceans. Surprisingly, this work is done exclusively by the 'physical pump'. The 'biological pump' does not contribute to this process and simply continues its old cycle as it existed before the industrial age. However, the biological system is not operating at its maximum capacity. In vast parts of the world's oceans, the biological pump even works in slow motion, because of a lack of micro-organisms. The Southern Ocean in particular is poor in phytoplankton, despite the fact that the waters there consist of very nutrient-rich salts. So what exactly is holding the micro-organisms back from proliferating there? This was the crucial question for the research team:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

It is a question of major importance, because if we could tap the potential of these oceans to store more carbon via the biological cycle, then we could help fight global warming.

Between 1993 and 2005, around 12 oceanographic expeditions have allowed scientists to ascertain that phytoplankton in the great seas, and particularly in the Southern Ocean, lacked iron and started blooming when more iron was artificially added to their environment. However, the hypothesis that there is such a thing as a top-down transfer of carbon from the micro-organisms that thrive on the surface and that sink towards the bottom of the ocean, has so far not been proved.

Mother nature knows best
The KEOPS mission sailed out to find out. Contrary to the previous campaigns, this mission focused on the natural processes that drive phytoplankton blooms in the nutrient-rich waters near the Îles Kerguelen. This location was not chosen randomly: satellite images revealed that each year in the summer a very localised algae bloom emerges, a phenomenon that can only be explained by the presence of iron. Would this region of the Southern Ocean be a privileged zone for the 'biological pump' to operate?

The KEOPS researchers found that, indeed, the occurence of these blooms is the result of a continuous and natural flow of iron in the surface waters: via a series of complex steps, this iron is pumped up from deep water layers to the surface. This natural fertilisation process was then compared to artificial fertilisation campaigns. The result: the carbon transfer from the surface to the bottom of the ocean was found to be twice as large in the natural process. The total efficiency of the fertilisation - defined as the relation between the quantity of carbon transferred to the bottom of the ocean versus the amount of added iron - was at least ten times higher than artificial iron seeding.

Answers to old questions
The researchers found that this huge difference is due to the fact that a far wider range of natural nutrients are involved in creating algae blooms and carbon transfers than was previously found. It also answers the question asked by other scientists as to why iron seeding is not cost-efficient. For the time being, we cannot mimic the complex flow of nutrients needed to drive the process.

These discoveries have important repercussions in the quest to validate a paleoclimatic scenario which says that a part of the variations in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere between the Ice Age and interglacial periods was caused by modifications in the processes by which iron circulates in the oceans.

The findings also shed new light on the impacts of climate change on the important 'biological pump' that continuously traps and transfers carbon gas.

The end of the iron-seeding idea?
Finally, the researchers think their results mean the end of the 'geo-engineering' utopia that consists of artificially seeding the oceans with iron: the very intricate and slow but highly regulated process of iron addition as it occurs in the natural process, combined with the complexity of the composition of nutrients, make it almost unreplicable. For the process to occur, each location has its own interaction of different nutrient flows and a finetuned timing, which make it impossible and even unwarranted to try to replicate it in a standard way elsewhere.

The effectiveness of artificial iron-seeding as a way to induce carbon trapping algae blooms is put into question. But more importantly, the secondary effects of such a geo-engineering strategy on other marine creatures are not yet known.

The iron seeding idea is made impossible by a catch-22: on the one hand, the results from small-scale experiments cannot be extrapolated to proposed large scale efforts, precisely because of the intricacies and complexity of very localised circumstances that determine the effectiveness of the effort, whereas on the other hand, skipping small scale tests and immediately implementing large scale campaigns poses the risk of unwanted secondary effects on the biodiversity of vast swathes of the oceans.

The KEOPS mission was supported by the Institut national des sciences de l'Univers (INSU/CNRS), with the logistical support of the Institut polaire français Paul-Émile Victor (IPEV). Working on board of the Marion Dufresne, the science team was headed by Stéphane Blain, researcher at the Laboratoire d'océanographie et de biogéochimie de Marseille (LOB/COM, CNRS / Université Aix-Marseille 2).

Translated and adapted by JVDB from CNRS: Fertiliser les océans : la fin d'une utopie? - April 26, 2007.

More information:
Stéphane Blain et al., "Effect of natural iron fertilization on carbon sequestration in the Southern Ocean", [*abstract], Nature, 446, 1070-1074 (26 April 2007) | doi:10.1038/nature05700

Nature: "Only mother nature knows how to fertilize the ocean - Natural input of nutrients works ten times better than manmade injections" - April 23, 2007.

The Scientist: "Iron Seeding Just Doesn't Pay" [*abstract], The Scientist, 5 July, 2004, 18(13):26

Sixteen laboratories from across the world participated in the KEOPS mission, which has its own website.


rufus said...

Stanford Professor Tied in with EXXON!

"I'm Shocked, Shocked," I tell you.

5:13 AM  

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