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    Czech brown-coal-fired power plant Elektrárna Tisová (ETI), a unit of the energy producer ČEZ, could co-fire up to 40,000 tons of biomass this year, the biggest amount in the company’s history, said Martin Sobotka, ČEZ spokesman for West Bohemia. ETI burned more than 19,000 tons of biomass in the first half of 2007. The company’s plan reckoned with biomass consumption of up to 35,000 tons a year. Czech Business Weekly - August 27, 2007.

    PetroSun, Incorporated announced recently that it has formed PetroSun BioFuels Mexico to establish algae-to-biofuel operations in the State of Sonora, Mexico. PetroSun BioFuels Mexico will enter into joint venture agreements to develop algae cultivation farms and extraction plants in Sonora and southern Arizona that will produce algal oil, algae biomass products and excess electricity for the Mexican and U.S. markets. MarketWire - August 27, 2007.

    China's Yunnan Province hopes to reach an annual output of 2 million tons (approx. 417 million gallons) of fuel ethanol by 2010, according to the province's fuel ethanol industry development plan released recently by the Yunnan Economic and Trade Commission, state media report. Interfax China - August 23, 2007.

    Seven companies have teamed up to create Kazakhstan's first Biofuel Association. Its aim is to integrate interested parties for creating favorable conditions to have the country’s biofuel industry developed. An initiator and coordinator of the Association is the National Holding KazAgro, the Agriculture Ministry’s press service informs. KazInform - August 23, 2007.

    Canadian forest products company Tembec today announced that it has completed the acquisition of the assets of Chapleau Cogeneration Limited located in Chapleau, Ontario. The transaction closed on August 15 and includes a biomass fired boiler and steam turbine with an installed capacity of 7.2 megawatts. Consideration for the assets consists of a series of future annual payments to 2022, with a present value of approximately $1 million. Newswire Canada - August 22, 2007.

    Taiwan's representative to Brazil, Chou Shu-yeh, is urging Taiwan's government and private enterprises to invest in Brazil's biomass energy sector. Chou was speaking at a workshop on global investment and trade opportunities in Taipei. RTi - August 22, 2007.

    An algae-to-biofuels startup by the name of Inventure Chemical has raised about $1.5 million to continue its development of a chemical process that turns algae into biodiesel and ethanol. One of the biggest backers of the company is Imperium Renewables, a biodiesel producer. Seattle Post Intelligencer - August 22, 2007.

    The government of India's Karnataka state has approved the blending of six million litres of ethanol with diesel for use as fuel in State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) vehicles. Automotive World - August 21, 2007.

    VeraSun Energy Corporation, one of America's largest ethanol producers, announced that it closed on its acquisition with ASAlliances Biofuels, LLC for three ethanol plants with a combined annual production capacity of approximately 330 million gallons (1.25 billion liters) per year. VeraSun - August 21, 2007.

    Fujitsu develops a biodegradable laptop chassis from corn-starch bioplastic. The material reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 15% compared to a chassis made from petroleum-based plastics. CNET Asia - August 20, 2007.

    India's Rana Sugars Ltd has decided to set up a new plant for producing ethanol in Uttar Pradesh with an estimated investment of €9 to 10.9 (US$12.2 to 14.7). The facility will have a capacity of 180,000 liters per year and will generate, besides ethanol, 26MW of carbon-neutral power from bagasse. Economic Times India - August 20, 2007.

    Prominent pro-democracy activists staged a rare protest in Myanmar's biggest city Sunday, marching against a massive recent fuel price hike. "We are staging this performance to reflect the hardship our people are facing due to the government's fuel price hike," said Min Ko Naing, a leader of the 88 Generation Students' Group. Myanmar's ruling military junta imposed a surprise 100 percent hike on fuel at state-owned gas stations on Wednesday. The move was followed by increases in bus fares and commodity prices. The Star - August 19, 2007.

    Canada's Cavendish Farms, one of the country's largest food processing companies is to build a biogas plant to recycle spent cooking oils, starch and sludge from its waste-water plant to fuel its potato processing operation. Use of the carbon-neutral biofuel will limit the amount of bunker C fuel oil currently in use by the company. The plant, expected to be ready for operation by next fall, has received a $14-million loan from the Province of Prince Edward Island. CBC - August 18, 2007.

    Basin Electric Power Cooperative told a U.S. Senate Energy Appropriations subcommittee that it is looking into capturing carbon dioxide from its Antelope Valley Station and sell it for enhanced oil recovery in the Williston Basin. Carbon capture technologies have not yet been applied to a power plant that uses lignite, or even subbitumious coal. The trial would be the first one to do so in the Midwest. Bismarck Tribune - August 17, 2007.

    The BBC World Service's current 'One Planet' programme focuses on revolutionary technologies and research that uses a next-generation of GM crops as factories for the production of new pharmaceuticals, green products and alternatives to petroleum-based chemicals. One Planet - August 16, 2007.

    Germany's Biogas Nord has been commissioned to construct a large multi-feed biogas plant with a capacity of 2.8 MW of electrical power in Romania. The value of the order is approximately €3.5 million. The plant will be built in the Transylvanian region close to the county town of Oradea. Interestingly, a synergy will be created by coupling the facility to the construction of a biodiesel plant. In so doing, the waste products resulting from the production of biodiesel, such as rapeseed pellets and glycerin, will be brought to the biogas plant as substrates. Ad-Hoc News - August 16, 2007.

    The University of Western Ontario's Research Park at Sarnia has received $10-million in funding for the development of biofuel technologies. The funds will be used for the creation of the 'Ontario Bioindustrial Innovation Centre' at the University, including the addition of a commercialization centre with incubator suites, laboratory equipment, pilot plant space and space for startup companies. The Observer - August 16, 2007.

    Philippine Bio-Sciences Co., Inc. (PhilBio) and its Clean Development Mechanism subsidiary in Cebu, has told the Central Negros Electric Cooperative (Ceneco) that it will soon open a 10 megawatt biogas plant in Cebu. According to the company, under current conditions electricity generated from biogas is around 20% less costly than that generated from fossil fuels. Philippine Bio-Sciences - August 15, 2007.

    Scientists, economists and policy experts representing government and public institutions from more than 40 countries will exchange the latest information on economic and technology opportunities at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "Global Conference on Agricultural Biofuels: Research and Economics", to be held Aug. 20-21 in Minneapolis. USDA ARS - August 14, 2007.

    A company owned by the Chinese government has expressed interest in investing up to 500 million US dollars in a biofuel project in Indonesia. The company is planning to use jatropha as its raw material and is targeting an annual output of around 1 million tons. Forbes - August 13, 2007.

    Virgin Atlantic, Boeing and General Electric are within weeks of selecting the biofuel for a flight demonstration in the UK early next year. The conversion of biomass via the Fischer-Tropsch process is no longer amongst the biofuel candidates, because the process has already been demonstrated to work. Ground testing of the chosen fuel in a development engine at GE is expected to begin in October-November. The limited flight-test programme will involve burning biofuel in one GE CF6-80C2 engine on a Virgin Boeing 747-400. Flight Global - August 13, 2007.

    Japan's Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry said Saturday it plans to introduce a new preferential tax system in fiscal 2008 aimed at promoting a wider use of biofuel, which could help curtail greenhouse gas emissions. Under the envisaged plan, biofuel that has been mixed with gasoline will be exempt from the gasoline tax--currently 53.8 yen per liter--in proportion to the amount of biofuel included. If blended with diesel oil, biofuel will be free from the diesel oil delivery tax, currently 32.1 yen per liter. Daily Yomiuri - August 13, 2007.

    Japan's Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry said Saturday it plans to introduce a new preferential tax system in fiscal 2008 aimed at promoting a wider use of biofuel, which could help curtail greenhouse gas emissions. Under the envisaged plan, biofuel that has been mixed with gasoline will be exempt from the gasoline tax--currently 53.8 yen per liter--in proportion to the amount of biofuel included. If blended with diesel oil, biofuel will be free from the diesel oil delivery tax, currently 32.1 yen per liter. Daily Yomiuri - August 13, 2007.

    Buenos Aires based ABATEC SA announces the release of a line of small biodiesel plants with modular design, high temperature reaction for the best yield, to produce from 50 to 1000 gal/day (190 to 3785 liter/day) of high quality methylester and valuable glycerol. PRWeb - August 10, 2007.

    Vegetable growers in North Queensland are trying to solve the problem of disposing of polyethylene plastic mulch by using a biodegradable, bioplastic based alternative. Trials are a collaboration of the Queensland Department of Primary Industries with the Bowen District Growers Association. Queensland Country Life - August 8, 2007.

    Hawaii's predominant utility has won approval to build the state's first commercial biofuel plant. It is the first substantial new power generator that Hawaiian Electric Co. has added in 17 years. HECO will build the $142.3 million facility at Campbell Industrial Park on Oahu beginning early next year, and expects to begin commercial operation in mid-2009. It will run exclusively on fuels made from ethanol or biodiesel. Star Bulletin (Honolulu) - August 8, 2007.

    PetroSun Inc. announced today that it conducted its initial algae-to-biofuel program held at Auburn and Opelika, Alabama. The company intends to hold a series of these programs during August and September with biodiesel refiners and firms that are researching the use of algal oil as a potential feedstock for jet fuel production. MarketWire - August 8, 2007.

    To encourage Malaysia's private sector to generate energy from biomass resources, national electricity company Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) has increased the purchase price of electricity produced from palm oil biomass waste to 21 sen per kilowatt hour from 19 sen now. According to Minister of Enegry, Water and Communications, Datuk Seri Dr Lim Keng Yaik the new price structure, under the Renewable Energy Power Purchase Agreement (REPPA), will be implemented immediately. Such projects are eligible for the Clean Development Mechanism. Under the 9th Malaysian Plan, the country's government aims to achieve the installation of 300MW and 50MW of grid-connected electric power from renewable energy sources in Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah, respectively. Bernama - August 7, 2007.

    Aspectrics, which develops encoded photometric infrared and near infrared spectroscopy, will be launching a new range of biofuels analyzers designed to meet the demands of scientists and analysts to carry out biodiesel quality control and analyze biodiesel blend percentages in real time. Bioresearch Online - August 7, 2007.

    Irish start-up Eirzyme has secured a €10m investment from Canadian company Micromill System. The new company will produce low-cost enzymes to convert biological materials such as brewers' grains into bioethanol and biogas. RTE - August 6, 2007.

    Imperium Renewables says it has a deal to provide Royal Caribbean Cruises with biodiesel. The Seattle-based biodiesel maker, which is scheduled to inaugurate its Grays Harbor plant this month, will sell the cruise line 15 million gallons of biodiesel in 2007 and 18 million gallons annually for four years after that. The Miami-based cruise line has four vessels that call in Seattle. It is believed to be the single-largest long-term biodiesel sales contract to an end user in the U.S. Seattle Times - August 5, 2007.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

EU research project looks at feeding biogas into the main natural gas grid

The biogas sector is undergoing a rapid transformation in Europe. Whereas green gas production used to be an activity associated with individual farms and community waste management programs, it has been scaled up to become an industry that produces quantities large enough to be fed into the main natural gas grid. More and more, dedicated biogas crops (such as specially bred biogas maize, exotic grass species such as Sudan grass and sorghum, or new hybrid grass types) are being utilized as single substrate feedstocks for large digester complexes, and biogas upgrading to natural gas standards is becoming more common.

Research indicates that the potential for biogas to replace natural gas is very large in Europe. Some studies in fact estimate that by 2020 the EU could replace all gas imports from Russia and produce some 500 billion cubic meters (17.6 trillion cubic feet) of gas equivalent biogas per year. The idea is to build 'biogas corridors': energy farms, biogas plants and purification installations would be established close to Europe's central gas pipelines (map, click to enlarge) so that the energy crops can be digested locally and injected into the grid without going through complex logistical chains (earlier post). Because biogas made from energy crops is a highly efficient biofuel (it yields far more energy per hectare than liquid biofuels) and has very low lifecycle CO2 emissions it is receiving substantial political support.

In this context the natural gas industry in Europe knows it must prepare for the advent of an era in which it will have to partner with many different biogas producers. After all, there is already a European legal framework (Directive 2003/55/EC *.pdf) which aims to open the existing grid for gas from sources other than natural gas, including biogas. It states:
"Member states should ensure that, taking into account the necessary quality requirements, biogas and gas from biomass or other types of gas are granted non-discriminatory access to the gas-system, provided that such access is permanently compatible with the relevant technical rules and safety standards. These rules and standards should ensure, that these gases can technically and safely be injected into, and transported through the natural gas system and should also address the chemical characteristics of these gases" - European Directive 2003/55/EC
A European research project led by the European Gas Research Group (GREG), a pan-European consortium of major natural gas organisations and universities (see below), and GasUnie Engineering & Research, a division of the Nederlandse Gasunie, one of Europe's leading gas infrastructure companies, is now examining this future and aims to assess the challenges ahead. 'BONGO' as the project is called ('Biogas and Others in Natural Gas Operations') is a proposition filed under the 7th European Framework Program (FP7) and will run for 5 years. The motivation behind the project can be summarised as follows:
As the initial composition, and consequently the physical and chemical properties, of biogas differ significantly from those of natural gas, the organizations involved in the chain of transmission-distribution-end user should be prepared to cope with biogas. In order to be able to use biogas widely in domestic, residential and industrial applications, the technical consequences and, in particular, the safety and pipeline integrity aspects related with the addition of biogas to natural gas need to be addressed. As biogas will be an increasingly important fact of life in Europe in the near future, and as the potential problems associated with it are very complex and broad, it is in the interest of the European natural gas industry that this issue be tackled jointly and in strong collaboration with all stakeholders.
With networks becoming increasingly interconnected, a pan-European approach and a common position on the definition of technical rules and safety standards for biogas injection is required.

Upgrading biogas to NG quality
A key technology for injection of biogas into the natural gas grid is upgrading of the biogas to natural gas quality after which it can be compressed to transport grid pressure. Biogas consists of around 50 to 65% of methane, small fractions of other compounds and 50 to 35% of carbon dioxide, which has to be removed before injection. (Earlier we pointed out why this large CO2 fraction makes pre-combustion carbon capture from biogas an interesting option in the context of carbon capture and storage, which results in the concept of a radical carbon negative energy system - previous post).

Four main technologies are currently in use to separate the methane from the CO2:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Membrane separation technology: commonly used in the petrochemical industry, membranes can separate methane and carbon dioxide because of the different sizes of the molecules of both compounds. However, because the difference is rather small, the separation is not absolute and part of the methane contained in the raw biogas is lost.

Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSA)
: this technique makes use of the different adsorption capacity of methane and carbon dioxide in fluids. Under pressure raw biogas is pushed through an adsorber which captures the carbon dioxide but allows the methane to pass through. Once the adsorber is saturated, carbon dioxide begins to pass through, a moment at which the adsorber's operation is halted and the carbon dioxide removed under a vacuum. This vacuum pushes the methane simultaneously through another adsorber (hence the 'swing'), after which the cycle starts again. PSA is very effective at separating both compounds completely.

Cryogenic separation: a promising technology that is based on the different boiling points of methane and carbon dioxide. By cooling raw biogas, its carbon dioxide becomes solid (through sublimation) and methane of a high purity is obtained. The byproduct of the cryogenic operation - solid carbon dioxide, also called 'dry ice' - has useful applications in industry and a value as a commodity. However, the cryogenic separation technique is currently in a demonstration phase and not applied to biogas on a large scale yet.

Gas scrubbing systems or absorption: based on the way gas compounds phase change into a liquid, which is dependent on their solubility in the fluid. By adding chemical compounds to the washing fluid, the solubility of the gases to be separated can be enhanced. Carbon dioxide can be scrubbed by water, while methane can be washed by methanol or monoethanolamine (MEA).

Upgrading on digestion gas has been practiced since 1935 and, in Germany, there was large scale injection into the gas grid between 1982 and 1999. Since 1992 there has also been injection into the gas grid in Sweden, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Injection currently only occurs in local distribution gas grids, though. In these cases, relatively small volumes are added, at low pressures, mostly for domestic end-users. As far as is known, no major problems have been reported related to the addition of biogas to natural gas.

However, biogas has never been injected in the main transmission grid. Since working pressures are much higher, the types of pipeline materials are different and the variety of end-users is much bigger; consequently the requirements on the composition of the biogas must be much more stringent.

BONGO will therefor address questions that are of major importance for industrial end-users, such as:
  • what happens with the microbiological components in the biogas when the gas is not burned?
  • how do these components affect the pipeline integrity?
  • how are flame temperature and combustion influenced by different components?
The further goals of the BONGO project are to define quality specifications for biogas access to the gas transport system. This is done by performing risk assessments in order to fill the gaps in knowledge concerning the addition of large volumes of biogas in the existing natural gas system, in order to ensure that:
- the system entry;
- the storage;
- the transmission and distribution;
- the utilization; can be performed safely and with acceptable consequences for:
- the integrity of the existing natural gas grid;
- operational, safety, health and technical consequences for the end user (systems);
- the value of the product as a feedstock;

Meanwhile, since the FP7 program will not start until 2007, preliminary ‘short-term’ studies will support activities. In particular, gas distribution companies find themselves faced with solving urgent problems regarding the injection of biogas. These studies will be performed under the name of BINGO, 'Biogas In Natural Gas Operations'. The focus will be on anaerobic digestion gases and end-use applications, not on pipeline integrity. There will be a strong connection with state-of-theart injection sites in distribution grids in Sweden, Switzerland and the Netherlands to learn from their experiences, to perform measurements, study requirements, etc. These actions are to be supported by national grants.

The project will be managed by the Gasunie, which leads a consortium from representatives from the European natural gas industry, research institutes and universities, Marcogaz and GERG. The partners of this consortium include Advantica (UK), European Environmental Consortium (Belgium) North Energy (UK), DEPA S.A. (Estonia), GasNatural (Spain), National Technological University of Athens, DGC (Denmark), Gasunie (Netherlands), SVGW (Switzerland), DVGW (Germany), Gaz de France (France), Synergrid (Belgium), Enagas (Spain) GERG (EU), TAGUS Gas (Portugal), EnergieNed (Netherlands), (Portugal), University of Warwick (UK), E.ON-Ruhrgas (D), Marcogaz (EU).

In the same context, the Dutch research organisation SenterNovem recently published a study on the potential to feed biogas into the natural gas mains of the Netherlands. It indicates that by 2020, the natural gas producing country can replace 10% of its gas consumption by green gas.

Image: freshly harvested energy crops await their entry into the large biogas digesters seen in the background. Credit: Der Standard, Austria.

More information:

Van Burgel, M., O. Florisson, D. Pinchbeck, Biogas and Others in Natural Gas Operations (Bongo), [*.pdf] presented at the 23rd World Gas Conference, Amsterdam.

SenterNovem: Groen Gas: Gas van aardgaskwaliteit uit biomassa ('Green Gas: Gas of Natural Gas Quality From Biomass') [*Dutch, .pdf], January, 2007.


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