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    Covanta Holding Corp., a developer and operator of large-scale renewable energy projects, has agreed to purchase two biomass energy facilities and a biomass energy fuel management business from The AES Corp. According to the companies, the facilities are located in California's Central Valley and will add 75 MW to Covanta's portfolio of renewable energy plants. Alternative Energy Retailer - May 31, 2007.

    Two members of Iowa’s congressional delegation are proposing a study designed to increase the availability of ethanol across the country. Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Ia., held a news conference Tuesday to announce that he has introduced a bill in the U.S. House, asking for a US$2 million study of the feasibility of transporting ethanol by pipeline. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Ia., has introduced a similar bill in the Senate. Des Moines Register - May 30, 2007.

    A new market study by Frost & Sullivan Green Energy shows that the renewables industry in the EU is expanding at an extraordinary rate. Today biofuels and other renewables represent about 2.1 per cent of the EU's gross domestic product and account for 3.5 million jobs. The study forecasts that revenues from renewables in the world's largest economy are set to double, triple or increase even more over the next few years. Engineer Live - May 29, 2007.

    A project to evaluate barley’s potential in Canada’s rapidly evolving biofuels industry has received funding of $262,000 from the Biofuels Opportunities for Producers Initiative (BOPI). Western Barley Growers Association [*.pdf] - May 27, 2007.

    PNOC-Alternative Fuels Corporation (PNOC-AFC), the biofuel unit of Philippine National Oil Company, is planning to undertake an initial public offering next year or in 2009 so it can have its own cash and no longer rely on its parent for funding of biofuels projects. Manila Bulletin - May 27, 2007.

    TMO Renewables Limited, a producer of ethanol from biomass, has licensed the ERGO bioinformatics software developed and maintained by Integrated Genomics. TMO will utilize the genome analysis tools for gene annotation, metabolic reconstruction and enzyme data-mining as well as comparative genomics. The platform will enable the company to further understand and exploit its thermophilic strains used for the conversion of biomass into fuel. CheckBiotech - May 25, 2007.

    Melbourne-based Plantic Technologies Ltd., a company that makes biodegradable plastics from plants, said 20 million pounds (€29/US$39 million) it raised by selling shares on London's AIM will help pay for its first production line in Europe. Plantic Technologies [*.pdf] - May 25, 2007.

    Shell Hydrogen LLC and Virent Energy Systems have announced a five-year joint development agreement to develop further and commercialize Virent's BioForming technology platform for the production of hydrogen from biomass. Virent Energy Systems [*.pdf] - May 24, 2007.

    Spanish energy and engineering group Abengoa will spend more than €1 billion (US$1.35 billion) over the next three years to boost its bioethanol production, Chairman Javier Salgado said on Tuesday. The firm is studying building four new plants in Europe and another four in the United States. Reuters - May 23, 2007.

    According to The Nikkei, Toyota is about to introduce flex-fuel cars in Brazil, at a time when 8 out of 10 new cars sold in the country are already flex fuel. Brazilians prefer ethanol because it is about half the price of gasoline. Forbes - May 22, 2007.

    Virgin Trains is conducting biodiesel tests with one of its diesel engines and will be running a Voyager train on a 20 percent biodiesel blend in the summer. Virgin Trains Media Room - May 22, 2007.

    Australian mining and earthmoving contractor Piacentini & Son will use biodiesel from South Perth's Australian Renewable Fuels across its entire fleet, with plans to purchase up to 8 million litres from the company in the next 12 months. Tests with B20 began in October 2006 and Piacentinis reports very positive results for economy, power and maintenance. Western Australia Business News - May 22, 2007.

    Malaysia's Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Peter Chin Fah Kui announces he will head a delegation to the EU in June, "to counter European anti-palm oil activists on their own home ground". The South East Asian palm oil industry is seen by many European civil society organisations and policy makers as unsustainable and responsible for heavy deforestation. Malaysia Star - May 20, 2007.

    Paraguay and Brazil kick off a top-level seminar on biofuels, cooperation on which they see as 'strategic' from an energy security perspective. 'Biocombustiveis Paraguai-Brasil: Integração, Produção e Oportunidade de Negócios' is a top-level meeting bringing together the leaders of both countries as well as energy and agricultural experts. The aim is to internationalise the biofuels industry and to use it as a tool to strengthen regional integration and South-South cooperation. PanoramaBrasil [*Portuguese] - May 19, 2007.

    Portugal's Galp Energia SGPS and Petrobras SA have signed a memorandum of understanding to set up a biofuels joint venture. The joint venture will undertake technical and financial feasibility studies to set up a plant in Brazil to export biofuels to Portugal. Forbes - May 19, 2007.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Finnish oil major is considering jatropha oil for next-generation biodiesel

Finnish oil major Neste Oil, in which the government of Finland holds a majority stake, is looking into using Jatropha curcas oil as a feedstock for its innovative second generation biodiesel. The announcement came as representatives of the company visited India.

Jatropha needs no introduction to our readers, but a quick reminder of some facts: the crop is a perennial shrub that thrives in semi-arid and poor soils, and requires relatively little water and fertiliser inputs. Yields vary but under optimal conditions may reach up to 1500kg/ha upon maturity (harvests commence after the third year). As they grow, the small trees become carbon sinks with a life of up to 30 to 50 years, after which their woody biomass can be used as a bioenergy feedstock. Many developing countries (from Senegal and Kenya to Ghana, Zambia, China, Burma and Indonesia) are studying the use of the shrub, the seeds of which contain around 35 to 40% oil, as a raw material to supply a global nascent biodiesel industry. However, jatropha is not an ideal crop, because seeds have to be harvested manually, which requires considerable inputs of labor (earlier post). Mechanisation efforts are under way though and consist of trials with and designing of equipment similar to olive harvesters (personal communication from a jatropha expert).

Neste Oil - Finland's third largest company - is looking into the crop because feedstocks from Europe (rapeseed, sunflower oil) are considerably more costly. During his visit to India, president and CEO Risto Rinne said the company is continuously looking for ways to expand its raw material base for NExBTL ["Next Generation Biomass-to-Liquid", the second-generation bio-diesel developed by Neste], and in this search the non-edible jatropha is very interesting, certainly given its potential to boost rural livelihoods since the crop will be cultivated mostly by smallholders.

Second generation biodiesel
In a first phase, Neste Oil will import jatropha oil from the developing world to feed its first full scale NExBTL plant that is slated to come on-stream next month in Porvoo, Finland. "More than 50 percent of new European Union (EU) cars are diesel cars and so we want to gear up to produce more diesel," says Osmo Kammonen, senior vice-president and chief of communications. With the NExBTL process, Neste Oil aims to emerge as the world's leading biodiesel company besides running its traditional oil refining business. Earlier this year, the company started cooperating with Stora Enso, one of Europe's largest forestry and biomass firms, to innovate towards 'third generation' biodiesel (earlier post and see below).

NExBTL is a biodiesel production process that differs from classic transesterification but also from second generation biomass-to-liquids processes used to obtain synthetic biodiesel (which is based on the gasification of biomass, with the gas being liquefied via the Fischer-Tropsch process). NExBTL is similar to the second generation biodiesel developed by Italy's ENI and Brazil's Petrobras ('H-Bio'): it consists of hydrogenating fatty acids under high-pressure. The process can use multiple plant oil feedstocks and results in a product with characteristics similar to ultra-clean synthetic biodiesel (see properties in the table, click to enlarge).

The advantage of NExBTL and the similar H-Bio technology is that it can be fully integrated in existing oil refineries. Such refineries already have hydrogenation facilities, which is why these biodiesel units can be smoothly bundled alongside them, without the need to build an entirely new, dedicated plant (earlier post).

After trials with the jatropha oil for the production of NExBTL biodiesel in Europe (there are plans to introduce the process at Neste Oil's Naantali refinery too, which, together with the facilities at Porvoo have a combined refining capacity of about 14 million tonnes a year), Neste Oil may look at establishing a presence in India:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The sub-continent, with its vast population and proactive bio-fuel targets, "is an attractive future market opportunity for Neste Oil's NExBTL renewable diesel," Kammonen told reporters. "India is a rather new thing for us but we can buy Jatropha curcas from India to begin with," he added.

"India has potential to be a market and for sourcing our raw material. I am sure that our people are looking at the Indian market. We need to find a good supplier. New diesel vehicles are better than gasoline ones. For producing bio-diesel we use animal fat and vegetable oil as feedstock and jatropha is a good option," Neste Oil's vice-president said.

On to the 'third generation'
"Neste Oil is involved in developing third generation bio-diesel technology. Though it does not significantly differ from NExBTL, the technology enables one to exploit the whole plant (biomass) and thereby widens the feedstock base since Finland is the most extensively forested country in Europe with 86 percent of its land area falling under forests," a Neste Oil official added during the delegation's visit.

In 2006, the company supplied 8.1 million tonnes of petroleum products to Finland and exported 6 million tonnes. It imports crude oil mainly from Russia (48 percent in 2006).

Neste Oil has some 900 Neste service stations, diesel fuel outlets and other sales points in Finland, and some 240 Neste stations and outlets and diesel fuel outlets in the Baltic states, Russia and Poland.

Jatropha's benefits
During the visit of the Neste Oil delegation, jatropha experts were questioned about the benefits and problems associated with jatropha cultivation in India. According to Abhishek Maharishi, CEO, Centre for Jatropha Promotion and Bio-diesel, Rajasthan, the crop can help to alleviate soil degradation, desertification and deforestation and can be used for bio-energy to replace petro-diesel besides for soap production and climatic protection.

Maharishi thinks that if the Indian government implements its policy on jatropha cultivation in right earnest the country could be a leading exporter.

"Since 2003, the policy has been adopted to promote the cultivation, yet there are hurdles. A bio-diesel board formed in Rajasthan is yet to function. We think that if at least 10 percent of the 33 million hectares of wastelands in India is made available for jatropha, it could turn the fortunes of the rural poor and work wonders," Maharishi told reporters.

More information:

Neste Oil: Overview of the NExBTL production process [*.pdf] and the qualities of the ultra-clean biodiesel, presented during the California Energy Commission's Workshop on Bioenergy, March 9, 2006.
On the problematic labor inputs currently associated with jatropha, see: Biopact: Jobs per joule: how much employment does each energy sector generate? - September 01, 2006


colinF said...

This looks exciting - a great place to start may be Australia.

It is starved for water now, has huge tracts of arid land, the Government is on the ropes with water depletion, it is a developed country and with resources to develop such technology - why not?

Please read my blog from an old Kiwi campaigner:


12:14 PM  

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