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    Biofuel producer D1 Oils Plc which has established jatropha plantations on (degraded land) in Africa and Asia, said it was in advanced talks with an unnamed party regarding a strategic collaboration, sending its shares up 7 percent, after press reports linking it with BP. Firms like BP and other large petroleum companies are keen to secure a supply of biofuel to meet UK government regulations that 5 percent of automotive fuel must be made up of biofuels by 2010. Reuters UK - June 15, 2007.

    Jean Ziegler, U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food, told a news briefing held on the sidelines of the U.N. Human Rights Council that "there is a great danger for the right to food by the development of biofuels". His comments contradict a report published earlier by a consortium of UN agencies, which said biofuels could boost the food security of the poor. Reuters - June 15, 2007.

    The county of Chicheng in China's Hebei Province recently signed a cooperative contract with the Australian investment and advisory firm Babcock & Brown to invest RMB480 million (€47.2/US$62.9 million) in a biomass power project, state media reported today. Interfax China - June 14, 2007.

    A new two-stroke ICE engine developed by NEVIS Engine Company Ltd. may nearly double fuel efficiency and lower emissions. Moreover, the engine's versatile design means it can be configured to be fuelled not only by gasoline but also by diesel, hydrogen and biofuels. PRWeb - June 14, 2007.

    Houston-based Gulf Ethanol Corp., announced it will develop sorghum as an alternative feedstock for the production of cellulosic ethanol. Scientists have developed drought tolerant, high-yield varieties of the crop that would grow well in the drier parts of the U.S. and reduce reliance on corn. Business Wire - June 14, 2007.

    Bulgaria's Rompetrol Rafinare is to start delivering Euro 4 grade diesel fuel with a 2% biodiesel content to its domestic market starting June 25, 2007. The same company recently started to distributing Super Ethanol E85 from its own brand and Dyneff brand filling stations in France. It is building a 2500 ton/month, €13.5/US$18 million biodiesel facility at its Petromidia refinery. BBJ - June 13, 2007.

    San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), a utility serving 3.4 million customers, announced it has signed a supply contract with Envirepel Energy, Inc. for renewable biomass energy that will be online by October 2007. Bioenergy is part of a 300MW fraction of SDG&E's portfolio of renewable resources. San Diego Gas & Electric - June 13, 2007.

    Cycleenergy, an Austrian bioenergy group, closed €6.7 million in equity financing for expansion of its biomass and biogas power plant activities in Central and Eastern Europe. The company is currently completing construction of a 5.5 MW (nominal) woodchip fired biomass facility in northern Austria and has a total of over 150 MW of biomass and biogas combined heat and power (CHP) projects across Central Europe in the pipeline. Cycleenergy Biopower [*.pdf] - June 12, 2007.

    The government of Taiwan unveils its plan to promote green energy, with all government vehicles in Taipei switching to E3 ethanol gasoline by September and biofuel expected to be available at all gas stations nationwide by 2011. Taipei Times - June 12, 2007.

    A large-scale biogas production project is on scheme in Vienna. 17,000 tonnes of organic municipal waste will be converted into biogas that will save up to 3000 tonnes of CO2. 1.7 million cubic meters of biogas will be generated that will be converted into 11.200 MWh of electricity per year in a CHP plant, the heat of which will be used by 600 Viennese households. The €13 million project will come online later this year. Wien Magazine [*German] - June 11, 2007.

    The annual biodiesel market in Bulgaria may grow to 400 000 tons in two to three years, a report by the Oxford Business Group says. The figure would represent a 300-per cent increase compared to 2006 when 140 000 tons of biodiesel were produced in Bulgaria. This also means that biofuel usage in Bulgaria will account for 5.75 per cent of all fuel consumption by 2010, as required by the European Commission. A total of 25 biofuel producing plants operate in Bulgaria at present. Sofia Echo - June 11, 2007.

    The Jordan Biogas Company in Ruseifa is currently conducting negotiations with the government of Finland to sell CER's under the UN's Clean Development Mechanism obtained from biogas generated at the Ruseifa landfill. Mena FN - June 11, 2007.

    Major European bank BNP Paribas will launch an investment company called Agrinvest this month to tap into the increased global demand for biofuels and rising consumption in Asia and emerging Europe. CityWire - June 8, 2007.

    Malaysian particleboard maker HeveaBoard Bhd expects to save some 12 million ringgit (€2.6/US$3.4 million) a year on fuel as its second plant is set to utilise biomass energy instead of fossil fuel. This would help improve operating margins, group managing director Tenson Yoong Tein Seng said. HeveaBoard, which commissioned the second plant last October, expects capacity utilisation to reach 70% by end of this year. The Star - June 8, 2007.

    Japan's Itochu Corp will team up with Brazilian state-run oil firm Petroleo Brasileiro SA to produce sugar cane-based bioethanol for biofuels, with plans to start exporting the biofuel to Japan around 2010. Itochu and Petrobras will grow sugarcane as well as build five to seven refineries in the northeastern state of Pernambuco. The two aim to produce 270 million liters (71.3 million gallons) of bioethanol a year, and target sales of around 130 billion yen (€800million / US$1billion) from exports of the products to Japan. Forbes - June 8, 2007.

    Italian refining group Saras is building one of Spain's largest flexible biodiesel plants. The 200,000 ton per year factory in Cartagena can handle a variety of vegetable oils. The plant is due to start up in 2008 and will rely on European as well as imported feedstocks such as palm oil. Reuters - June 7, 2007.

    The University of New Hampshire's Biodiesel Group is to test a fully automated process to convert waste vegetable oil into biodiesel. It has partnered with MPB Bioenergy, whose small-scale processor will be used in the trials. UNH Biodiesel Group - June 7, 2007.

    According to the Barbados Agricultural Management Company (BAMC), the Caribbean island state has a large enough potential to meet both its domestic ethanol needs (E10) and to export to international markets. BAMC is working with state actors to develop an entirely green biofuel production process based on bagasse and biomass. The Barbados Advocate - June 6, 2007.

    Energea, BioDiesel International and the Christof Group - three biodiesel producers from Austria - are negotiating with a number of Indonesian agribusiness companies to cooperate on biodiesel production, Austrian Commercial Counselor Raymund Gradt says. The three Austrian companies are leading technology solution providers for biodiesel production and currently produce a total of 440,000 tons of biodiesel per annum in Austria, more than half of their country’s annual demand of around 700,000-800,000 tons. In order to meet EU targets, they want to produce biodiesel abroad, where feedstocks and production is more competitive. BBJ - June 6, 2007.

    China will develop 200 million mu (13.3 million hectares) of forests by 2020 in order to supply the raw materials necessary for producing 6 million tons of biodiesel and biomass per year, state media reported today. InterFax China - June 6, 2007.

    British Petroleum is planning a biofuel production project in Indonesia. The plan is at an early stage, but will involve the establishment of an ethanol or biodiesel plant based on sugarcane or jatropha. The company is currently in talks with state-owned plantation and trading firm Rajawali Nusantara Indonesia (RNI) as its potential local partner for the project. Antara - June 6, 2007.

    A pilot project to produce biodiesel from used domestic vegetable oil is underway at the Canary Technological Institute in Gran Canaria. Marta Rodrigo, the woman heading up the team, said the project is part of the EU-wide Eramac scheme to encourage energy saving and the use of renewable energy. Tenerife News - June 6, 2007.

    Royal Dutch Shell Plc is expanding its fuel distribution infrastructure in Thailand by buying local petrol stations. The company will continue to provide premium petrol until market demand for gasohol (an petrol-ethanol mixture) climbs to 70-90%, which will prove customers are willing to switch to the biofuel. "What we focus on now is proving that our biofuel production technology is very friendly to engines", a company spokesman said. Bangkok Post - June 5, 2007.

    Abraaj, a Dubai-based firm, has bought the company Egyptian Fertilizers in order to benefit from rising demand for crops used to make biofuels. The Abraaj acquisition of all the shares of Egyptian Fertilizers values the company based in Suez at US$1.41 billion. Egyptian Fertilizers produces about 1.25 million tons a year of urea, a nitrogen-rich crystal used to enrich soils. The company plans to expand its production capacity by as much as 20 percent in the next two years on the expected global growth in biofuel production. International Herald Tribune - June 4, 2007.

    China and the US will soon sign a biofuel cooperation agreement involving second-generation fuels, a senior government official said. Ma Kai, director of the National Development and Reform Commission, said at a media briefing that vice premier Wu Yi discussed the pact with US Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman and other US officials during the strategic economic dialogue last month. Forbes - June 4, 2007.

    German biogas company Schmack Biogas AG reports a 372% increase in revenue for the first quarter of the year, demonstrating its fast growth. Part of it is derived from takeovers. Solarserver [*German] - June 3, 2007.

    Anglo-Dutch oil giant Royal Dutch Shell PLC has suspended the export of 150,000 barrels per day of crude oil because of community unrest in southern Nigeria, a company spokesman said. Villagers from K-Dere in the restive Ogoniland had stormed the facility that feeds the Bonny export terminal, disrupting supply of crude. It was the second seizure in two weeks. Shell reported on May 15 that protesters occupied the same facility, causing a daily output loss of 170,000 barrels. Rigzone - June 2, 2007.

    Heathrow Airport has won approval to plan for the construction of a new 'green terminal', the buildings of which will be powered, heated and cooled by biomass. The new terminal, Heathrow East, should be completed in time for the 2012 London Olympics. The new buildings form part of operator BAA's £6.2bn 10-year investment programme to upgrade Heathrow. Transport Briefing - June 1, 2007.

    A new algae-biofuel company called LiveFuels Inc. secures US$10 million in series A financing. LiveFuels is a privately-backed company working towards the goal of creating commercially competitive biocrude oil from algae by 2010. PRNewswire - June 1, 2007.

    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.

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Scientists debate benefits of low-input high-diversity grassland bioenergy systems

An interesting technical exchange on bioenergy production systems is underway in the top journal Science. Late last year a team of ecologists led by David Tilman, Regents Professor of Ecology in the University of Minnesota's College of Biological Sciences, described a biofuel production system based on polycultures of multiple grass species that can be carbon-negative and may provide a substantial portion of global energy needs in a sustainable and environmentally beneficial manner without competing with food production for fertile lands (earlier post). The system is diametrically opposed to that of monocultures such as corn.

The authors argued that such a 'Low-Input High-Diversity (LIHD)' grassland biomass system needed far less inputs (fertilizers, water) and is far more environmentally benign than monocultures of corn. Moreover, it can be established on degraded land, of which some 710 million hectares are available for biofuel production. In total, roughly a seventh of the world's transportation and electricity needs could be met with such a system on degraded lands.

Another group of researchers led by Michael P. Russelle, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, defends the corn system and recently disputed Tilman's conclusions arguing they were not substantiated by the experimental protocol. According to Russelle's team, Tilman's group understated the management inputs required to establish prairies, extrapolated globally from site-specific results, and presented potentially misleading energy accounting.

Now, Tilman's team replies, defending the research.
Russelle's group raises several technical concerns that lead them to question our conclusions about the energetic and environmental advantages of biofuels derived from diverse mixtures of native perennial prairie plant species over biofuels from high-input annual food crops such as corn. The nature of their comments suggests that research results well known in ecology may be less familiar to those outside the discipline. Indeed, our approach stands in marked contrast to that of conventional high-input agriculture. Each of their concerns, addressed below, is refuted by published studies of the ecology of high-diversity grasslands, and none of them has substantive effect on our original conclusions.
Nutrient inputs
Russelle's team questions the ability of low-input high-diversity (LIHD) prairie biomass to grow sustainably with low nutrient inputs. U.S. corn, in contrast, requires substantial inputs: 148 kg/ha of nitrogen, 23 kg/ha of phosphorus, and 50 kg/ha of potassium annually.

Leaching and erosional nutrient losses are much lower for perennial grasslands than for annually tilled row crops such as corn; hence, much lower inputs are needed. Moreover, Tilman recommended harvesting prairie biomass when senescent in late autumn because this would "both yield greater biomass and decrease ecosystem loss of N, P, and other nutrients".

Replacing nutrients removed by harvesting would require about 4 kg/ha of P and 6 kg/ha of K, should they be limiting. LIHD mixtures needed no N fertilization because N fixation by legumes more than compensated for N exports in harvested biomass. Also, unlike some cultivated legumes, native legumes grow well and fix N on acidic soils without liming.

Moreover, several studies have shown that biomass yields of high-diversity grasslands are sustainable with low inputs. Annual hay yields from high-diversity Kansas prairie showed no declines over 55 years despite no fertilization. Similarly, hay yields increased slightly during 150 years of twice-annual biomass removal in high-diversity unfertilized plots of the Park Grass experiment. In total, nutrient inputs sufficient to sustain LIHD biomass production are an order of magnitude lower than for corn.

Carbon sequestration
Tilman says his team showed that the dense root mass of LIHD prairie led to high rates of soil carbon sequestration. Russelle's team expresses concern that fire may have caused carbon storage through charcoal formation. However, published studies show that annual accumulation of charcoal carbon in frequently burned grasslands was smaller than 1% of the observed rate of soil carbon accumulation. Similarly, fire had no effect on soil black carbon levels in a 6-year study of mixed-grass savanna. The concern about effects of late autumn mowing versus burning is also unfounded. Annual mowing and burning have similar effects on prairie biomass production, and mowing does not cause prairie yields to decrease:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Resistance to invaders and disease
Tilman's group proposed using mixtures of native prairie perennials for biofuels in part because, contrary to the assertion of Russelle, such mixtures are easily established and require low or no inputs for maintenance. Indeed, prairie readily reestablishes itself from seed and displaces exotic plant species during natural succession on many degraded agricultural lands in the Great Plains. Prairie restoration, such as on the 6000 ha restored recently in Minnesota by The Nature Conservancy, is performed using agricultural machinery, not manual labor as Russelle et al. suggest. Our hand-weeding was done to maintain monoculture and low-diversity treatments. In contrast, the LIHD treatment led to rapid competitive displacement of exotic weedy and pasture species. LIHD plots were strikingly resistant to subsequent plant invasion and disease. In portions of LIHD plots for which weeding had been stopped for 3 years, only 1.7% of total biomass came from invaders, which themselves were mainly native prairie perennials, and this invasion did not impact energy production.

Global production potential

Tilman's one-sentence on the "rough global estimate" of the energy LIHD biomass might potentially provide was brief, but well-supported and conservative. As to his estimated land base, 9 x 108 ha of global agricultural lands have been degraded so as to have "great reductions" in agricultural productivity, and an additional 3 x 108 ha are "severely degraded" and offer no agricultural utility. A review of 17 studies found a median value of 710 million ha of degraded land available globally for biofuel production. Tilman's suggestion of 5 x 108 ha is 30% lower and is therefore a conservative estimate.

In the Tilman experiment, severely degraded land planted to LIHD mixtures had biomass production that was 46% as much as its native biome, temperate grassland. To be conservative, they assumed that LIHD mixtures of native species planted on degraded land would produce 20% less than they observed, i.e., just 37% of the average of its native biome. Weighting this LIHD production estimate by the global area for each biome produced our estimate of 90 GJ ha–1 year–1 globally and of degraded lands potentially providing—through the integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC)/Fischer-Tropsch process — about one-seventh of the global transportation and electricity demand. Tilman's group says they stand by that estimate. Further, they urge that the energy and carbon sequestration potential of low-input high-diversity mixtures of locally native plant species be explored for degraded lands around the world.

Tilman's energy accounting was thorough and correct, the group says. They reported actual energy balances for U.S. corn ethanol and soybean biodiesel as currently produced (both of which cause net increases in greenhouse gases), and compared them to three ways that LIHD prairie biomass might be used to produce carbon-negative biofuels (i.e., biofuels that, in total for their life cycle, decrease greenhouse gas levels). They showed that these new carbon-negative biofuels could provide similar or greater net energy gains per hectare than current biofuels.

The concerns of Russelle et al. are refuted by a thorough consideration of the published literature. As to current biofuels, we agree that the energy and greenhouse gas benefits of corn ethanol could be improved, but we disagree about methods. First, burning the high-protein co-product of corn ethanol production to power ethanol production facilities, as Russelle et al. suggest, seems unwise because greater protein production is required to meet global nutritional needs. Burning this protein is not an industry standard, nor is it discussed in any recent ethanol energy balance reviews. Second, harvest and use of corn stover (the senescent stalks and leaves of corn plants) to power ethanol plants would likely cause soil organic carbon levels to fall, and increase both carbon dioxide release and soil erosion. A better alternative would be powering corn ethanol plants with LIHD biomass, likely by gasification. If done properly, the ethanol produced could be carbon-neutral and have a markedly higher net energy gain than current corn ethanol.

Tilman's group concludes:
The world's energy and climate problems are likely to be solved only by a combination of approaches and technologies, including wind and solar energy, increased energy efficiency, and renewable biofuels. Our research found that biofuels from LIHD biomass grown on degraded lands have substantial energy and greenhouse gas advantages over current U.S. biofuels. Moreover, LIHD production of renewable energy on agriculturally marginal lands could help ameliorate what might otherwise be an escalating conflict between food production, bioenergy production, and preservation of the world's remaining natural ecosystems. LIHD biofuels merit further exploration.

Image: test plot of mixed prairie grasses. Credit: Cedar Creek LTER Site.
More information:
The discussion is published in two access articles in Science:

David Tilman, Jason Hill and Clarence Lehman, "Response to Comment on 'Carbon-Negative Biofuels from Low-Input High-Diversity Grassland Biomass'", Science 15 June 2007, Vol. 316. no. 5831, p. 1567, DOI: 10.1126/science.1140365

Michael P. Russelle, R. Vance Morey, John M. Baker, Paul M. Porter, Hans-Joachim G. Jung, "Comment on 'Carbon-Negative Biofuels from Low-Input High-Diversity Grassland Biomass'", Science 15 June 2007: Vol. 316. no. 5831, p. 1567, DOI: 10.1126/science.1139388

The original study
David Tilman, Jason Hill and Clarence Lehman, "Carbon-Negative Biofuels from Low-Input High-Diversity Grassland Biomass" [*.abstract], Science 8 December 2006: Vol. 314. no. 5805, pp. 1598 - 1600, DOI: 10.1126/science.1133306


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