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    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.

    The Cypriot parliament has rejected an amendment by President Papadopoulos on the law regarding the use of biofuels that contain genetically modified substances. The amendment called for an alteration in the law that currently did not allow the import or use of biofuels that had been produced using GM substances, something that goes against a recent EU Directive on GMOs. Cyprus Mail - May 18, 2007.

    According to Salvador Rivas, the director for Non-Conventional Energy at the Dominican Republic's Industry and Commerce Ministry, a group of companies from Brazil wants to invest more than 100 million dollars to produce ethanol in the country, both for local consumption and export to the United States. Dominican Today - May 16, 2007.

    EWE AG, a German multi-service energy company, has started construction on a plant aimed at purifying biogas so that it can be fed into the natural gas grid. Before the end of the year, EWE AG will be selling the biogas to end users via its subsidiary EWE Naturwatt. Solarthemen [*German] - May 16, 2007.

    Scania will introduce an ethanol-fueled hybrid bus concept at the UITP public transport congress in Helsinki 21-24 May 2007. The full-size low-floor city bus is designed to cut fossil CO2 emissions by up to 90% when running on the ethanol blend and reduce fuel consumption by at least 25%. GreenCarCongress - May 16, 2007.

    A report by the NGO Christian Aid predicts there may be 1 billion climate refugees and migrants by 2050. It shows the effects of conflicts on populations in poor countries and draws parallels with the situation as it could develop because of climate change. Christian Aid - May 14, 2007.

    Dutch multinational oil group Rompetrol, also known as TRG, has entered the biofuel market in France in conjunction with its French subsidiary Dyneff. It hopes to equip approximately 30 filling stations to provide superethanol E85 distribution to French consumers by the end of 2007. Energy Business Review - May 13, 2007.

    A group of British organisations launches the National Forum on Bio-Methane as a Road Transport Fuel. Bio-methane or biogas is widely regarded as the cleanest of all transport fuels, even cleaner than hydrogen or electric vehicles. Several EU projects across the Union have shown its viability. The UK forum was lauched at the Naturally Gas conference on 1st May 2007 in Loughborough, which was hosted by Cenex in partnership with the NSCA and the Natural Gas Vehicle Association. NSCA - May 11, 2007.

    We reported earlier on Dynamotive and Tecna SA's initiative to build 6 bio-oil plants in the Argentinian province of Corrientes (here). Dynamotive has now officially confirmed this news. Dynamotive - May 11, 2007.

    Nigeria launches a national biofuels feasibility study that will look at the potential to link the agricultural sector to the automotive fuels sector. Tim Gbugu, project leader, said "if we are able to link agriculture, we will have large employment opportunity for the sustenance of this country, we have vast land that can be utilised". This Day Onlin (Lagos) - May 9, 2007.

    Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva meets with the CEO of Portuguese energy company Galp Energia, which will sign a biofuel cooperation agreement with Brazilian state-owned oil company Petrobras. GP1 (*Portuguese) - May 9, 2007.

    The BBC has an interesting story on how biodiesel made from coconut oil is taking the pacific island of Bougainville by storm. Small refineries turn the oil into an affordable fuel that replaces costly imported petroleum products. BBC - May 8, 2007.

    Indian car manufacturer Mahindra & Mahindra is set to launch its first B100-powered vehicles for commercial use by this year-end. The company is confident of fitting the new engines in all its existing models. Sify - May 8, 2007.

    The Biofuels Act of the Philippines has come into effect today. The law requires all oil firms in the country to blend 2% biodiesel (most often coconut-methyl ester) in their diesel products. AHN - May 7, 2007.

    Successful tests based on EU-criteria result in approval of 5 new maize hybrids that were developed as dedicated biogas crops [*German]. Veredlungsproduktion - May 6, 2007.

    With funding from the U.S. Department of Labor Workforce Innovation for Regional Economic Development (WIRED), Michigan State University intends to open a training facility dedicated to students and workers who want to start a career in the State's growing bioeconomy. Michigan State University - May 4, 2007.

    Researchers from the Texas A&M University have presented a "giant" sorghum variety for the production of ethanol. The crop is drought-tolerant and yields high amounts of ethanol. Texas A & M - May 3, 2007.

    C-Tran, the public transportation system serving Southwest Washington and parts of Portland, has converted its 97-bus fleet and other diesel vehicles to run on a blend of 20% biodiesel beginning 1 May from its current fleet-wide use of B5. Automotive World - May 3, 2007.

    The Institut Français du Pétrole (IFP) and France's largest research organisation, the CNRS, have signed a framework-agreement to cooperate on the development of new energy technologies, including research into biomass based fuels and products, as well as carbon capture and storage technologies. CNRS - April 30, 2007.

    One of India's largest state-owned bus companies, the Andra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation is to use biodiesel in one depot of each of the 23 districts of the state. The company operates some 22,000 buses that use 330 million liters of diesel per year. Times of India - April 30, 2007.

    Indian sugar producers face surpluses after a bumper harvest and low prices. Diverting excess sugar into the ethanol industry now becomes more attractive. India is the world's second largest sugar producer. NDTVProfit - April 30, 2007.

    Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his Chilean counterpart Michelle Bachelet on Thursday signed a biofuel cooperation agreement designed to share Brazil's experience in ethanol production and help Chile develop biofuels and fuel which Lula seeks to promote in other countries. More info to follow. People's Daily Online - April 27, 2007.

    Italy's Benetton plans to build a €61 million wood processing and biomass pellet production factory Nagyatád (southwest Hungary). The plant will be powered by biogas. Budapest Sun - April 27, 2007.

    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.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Offenburg students test world's first ethanol powered fuel cell vehicle

Finding the most efficient and climate-friendly propulsion technology for vehicles is not easy. The calculus requires a full life cycle assessment that looks at the 'well-to-tank' and 'tank-to-wheel' efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions for different fuels or energy carriers (hydrogen, electricity, biofuels, fossil fuels, synthetic fuels, biogas, natural gas...) and propulsion concepts (electric motors powered by fuel cells, direct battery-electric motors, internal combustion engines either using gaseous or liquid fuels.)

Many experts would agree that, as such, (solid) biofuels are most efficient when burned or gasified in power plants for electricity generation, and not in their liquid form as transport fuels. The electricity from this biomass could then possibly be used to power electric vehicles. Hydrogen for its part is often associated with highly efficient fuel cells (even though the gas can be burned in ICE's). On the other hand, the clean gas is merely an energy carrier and so a primary energy source must be used to convert water or hydrogen-rich gases into H2. If fossil fuels are used for the generation of the gas, then hydrogen loses its 'clean' credentials.

Now suppose you could join the best aspects of both the biofuels and the hydrogen economy: use a liquid biofuel like ethanol in combination with a highly efficient fuel cell that powers an efficient motor. This would make for a very intersting concept, but would require a dedicated fuel cell that can handle biofuels. Luckily, a handful of researchers are working on this kind of 'direct-alcohol fuel cells' (DAFC).

Earlier we referred to Acta Nanotech, an Italian catalyst developer, which developed such a fuel cell and demonstrated its reliability when used by a range of fuels, from hydrogen and methanol, to more complex hydrocarbons including ethanol and ethylene glycol (previous post). The Acta fuel cell relies on the company's Hypermec catalysts which are highly active because of their very small particle size and exceptional controlled dispersion. They are active below freezing (with ethylene glycol fuel) and are stable to over 800°C.

Most importantly, the catalyst is platinum free, which offers the potential for low cost mass production, but does generate comparable power to conventional platinum/ruthenium catalysts. The catalysts are selective and so they are not affected by fuel crossover and can work with novel stack designs. They are also unaffected by carbon monoxide poisoning.

Acta Nanotech supplied fuel cell components to power the world's first fuel cell demonstrator vehicle that was fuelled directly by bio-ethanol. The components were delivered to a team from the German Hochschule Offenburg (University of Applied Sciences) which demonstrated the direct ethanol fuel cell vehicle at the Shell Eco-Marathon race, held in France on 13 May 2007.

The vehicle was originally designed to work on a hydrogen fuel cell and came in second out of eight in the fuel cell category under this configuration, achieving a mileage of 2716 kilometres(6,491 miles per gallon). After the event, the team used the same vehicle to test the DAFC with ethanol (see picture, click to enlarge). Since the Eco-Marathon does not have a category for this new concept yet, the vehicle demonstrated the technology as a side-event to the official race:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The team from Offenburg chose to use Hypermec catalysts and electrodes to allow their demonstrator vehicle to run directly on ethanol fuel. In so doing, they also built the first 50W ethanol fuel cell stack to use Hypermec and anion exchange membranes.

At the 2007 European Shell Eco-marathon, 65 vehicles used alternative energy sources during the event – an increase of 36% over 2006. These included 31 teams using biofuels, 26 using hydrogen cells and 7 teams that relied solar power. The most significant increase was in the use of hydrogen fuel cells, up by 50% over last year.

Last year, an ethanol vehicle made by students from the French Lycee La Joliverie won the competition and beat the fuel cell cars running on hydrogen, as well as ICE-powered cars running on other fuels.

Image: the team from the Hochschule Offenburg after the test-drive with the DAFC. Courtesy: Boris Kubrak.

EDIT: this article was edited on May 20, 2007.

More information:
Shell Eco-Marathon competition: The 2007 European Shell Eco-marathon – efficiency at its best [*.pdf] - May 13, 2007.

Acta Nanotech: Practical fuel options for new fuel cell applications.

On last year's ethanol victory: Environment News Service: Ethanol Car Beats Fuel Cells to Win European Eco-marathon - May 22, 2006.

Fuel Cell Today: Bioethanol fuel cell vehicle in Eco-marathon - May 15, 2007.

Hochschule Offenberg: FH-News Januar/Februar 2007 - Schluckspecht soll Ethanol schlucken [*German], February 2007.


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