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    Together with Chemical & Engineering News' Stephen K. Ritter, the journal Environmental Science & Technology sent Erika D. Engelhaupt to Brazil from where she wrote daily dispatches of news and observations about biofuels research. In particular she focuses on a bioenerrgy research partnership between the American Chemical Society, the Brazilian Chemical Society, and the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA). Check out her blog. Dipatches from Brazil - July 28, 2007.

    Consultation is under way on a £50 million (€74/US$101million) renewable energy plant planned for the South Wales Valleys. Anglo-Dutch company Express Power plans to build a wood-fuelled biomass plant on Rassau Industrial Estate in Blaenau Gwent. The plant will generate an annual 160,000 MWh (Mega Watt hours) of green electricity for Wales from forestry, recycled wood and wood derivatives. ICWales - July 27, 2007.

    The price of New York crude leapt to 77.24 dollar a barrel on Thursday, marking the highest level since August 9, 2006, as keen global demand and tight supplies fuelled speculative buying, traders said. On Wednesday, the US government had revealed that inventories of American crude fell by 1.1 million barrels last week. France24 - July 26, 2007.

    Arriva, one of Europe's largest transport groups is trialling B20 biodiesel for the first time on 75 of its buses. The company is aiming to reduce total carbon emissions by around 14 per cent by using biodiesel as a 20 per cent blend (predominantly be a mixture of sustainable soya products, along with used cooking oil and tallow). The 75 buses in the innovative trial will carry around 130,000 passengers every week. Minimal engineering changes will be required to the fleet as part of the scheme. Arriva - July 26, 2007.

    Marathon Oil Corporation announces that it has completed two more projects adding biodiesel blended fuel at its Robinson and Champaign terminals in Illinois. The terminals now feature in-line ratio blending in order to provide soy-based B-2 (two percent biodiesel) and B-11 (eleven percent biodiesel). Marathon Oil - July 25, 2007.

    Norway-based renewable energy firm Global Green One has agreed to set up a € 101.6 million bioethanol plant in Békéscsaba (southeast Hungary), with more facilities planned for Kalocsa, Szombathely and Kõszeg, the latter of which was already a target for a €25 million plant in May this year. The Békéscsaba plant would process 200,000 tonnes of maize per year, employing around 100 people. The logistics part of the facility would also create 100 jobs. The company expects the factory to generate €65 million in revenues each year. Portfolio - July 25, 2007.

    A Canadian firm, Buchanan Renewable Energies, is to begin an investment into Liberia's biomass industry that will grow to US$20 million in October and offer 300 jobs by end of the year. The company will start shipping 90 major pieces of equipment to Liberia by the end of August. Daily Observer (Monrovia) - July 24, 2007.

    KNM Process Systems Sdn Bhd, has secured a RM122 million (€26/$36m) order to build a biodiesel plant in Pahang, Malaysia, for Mission Biofuels Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary of Australian biofuels company Mission Biofuels Ltd. The plant will have a biodiesel output of 750 tonnes per day and glycerine output of 82 tonnes per day. Malaysia Business Times - July 24, 2007.

    AlgoDyne Ethanol Energy Inc. confirms that its retail partner, Canadian Green Fuels, has entered into an agreement with Cansource BioFuels to open a new biodiesel production facility in Mayerthorpe Alberta. The deal will see the construction and development of a community based, integrated crushing and biodiesel facility to process 10 million litres of ASTM certified canola based biodiesel which will be scaled up to produce 40million litres by 2010. BusinessWire - July 23, 2007.

    The Center for Management Technology announces the second Biomass-to-Liquids Technology conference will take place in Vienna this year, from 12 to 13 September. The current state of BTL-technologies will be presented and discussed. Biomass-to-Liquids conversion pathways are seen by many as promising avenues into the world of second generation biofuels that relies on the use of a broad variety of possible biomass feedstocks. CMT - July 23, 2007.

    Gulf Ethanol Corporation, a Houston-based energy company, announced today that it has initiated negotiations with representatives of government and industry in Uruguay. Discussions, coordinated by the U.S. Department of Commerce, centered on the synergy between Gulf Ethanol's interest in exploiting the potential of sorghum as a non-food fuel stock for ethanol production and the ideal conditions for growing the crop in Uruguay. The company criticizes the use of food crops like corn for ethanol in the U.S. and is seeking alternatives. Yahoo Press Release - July 20, 2007.

    Dutch company Capella Capital N.V. announces its investment in BiogasPark N.V. and acquires a 20 % stake upon the foundation of the company. The remaining shares are held by the management and strategic investors. BiogasPark N.V. will invest in the field of renewable energy and primarily focuses on financing, purchasing and the maintenance of biogas plant facilities. Ad Hoc News - July 20, 2007.

    Bioenergy company Mascoma Corp. is to build the world's first commercial scale cellulosic ethanol plant in Michigan where it will collaborate with Michigan State University. The $100 million plant will rely on the biochemical, enzymatic process that breaks down biomass to convert it to sugars. One of the factors that attracted Mascoma to Michigan was the recent $50 million federal grant MSU received to study biofuels in June. MSU will help in areas such as pretreatment technology for cellulosic ethanol production and energy crops that can be utilized by the plant. The State News - July 20, 2007.

    PetroChina, one of China's biggest oil companies, aims to invest RMB 300 million (€28.7/US$39.6m) in biofuel production development plans. A special fund is also going to be jointly set up by PetroChina and the Ministry of Forestry to reduce carbon emissions. Two thirds of the total investment will be channeled into forestry and biofuel projects in the provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan and Hebei, the remainder goes to creating a China Green Carbon Foundation, jointly managed by PetroChina and the State Forestry Administration. China Knowledge - July 19, 2007.

    Netherlands-based oil, gas, power and chemical industries service group Bateman Litwin N.V. announces it has signed an agreement to acquire Delta-T Corporation, a leading US-based bioethanol technology provider, with a fast growing engineering, procurement and construction division for a total consideration of US$45 million in cash and 11.8 million new ordinary shares in Bateman Litwin. Bateman Litwin - July 18, 2007.

    TexCom, Inc. announced today that it has signed a letter of intent to acquire Biodiesel International Corp. (BIC), and is developing a plan to build an integrated oilseed crushing and biodiesel production facility in Paraguay. The facility, as it is currently contemplated, would process 2,000 metric tons of oil seeds per day, yielding approximately 136,000 metric tons (approximately 39 Million Gallons) of biodiesel and 560,000 metric tons of soy meal pellets per year. Initial feedstock will consist mainly of soybeans that are grown in the immediate area of the proposed production plant in the Provinces of Itapua and Alto Parana. MarketWire - July 18, 2007.

    Spanish power company Elecnor announced that it will build Spain's biggest biodiesel production plant for €70 million (US$96.48 million). The plant, in the port of Gijon in northern Spain, will be ready in 22 months and will produce up to 500,000 tonnes of biodiesel a year from vegetable oil. The plant will be one of the world's biggest. Spain has decided to impose mandatory blending of biofuels with conventional fossil fuels as part of European Union efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Elecnor [*Spanish] - July 18, 2007.

    The University of North Dakota Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) conducted a feasibility study to determine the most economical solutions to provide biomass energy to the isolated Chugachmiut Tribal Community in the village of Port Graham, Alaska, located on the Kenai Peninsula about 180 miles southwest of Anchorage. The village is only accessible by air or water, making traditional fossil fuel sources expensive to deliver and alternative forms of energy difficult to implement. The case study based on decentralised bioenergy offers interesting parallels to what would be needed to provide energy to the developing world's huge population that lives in similarly isolated conditions. EERC - July 18, 2007.

    According to a basic market report by Global Industries Inc., world biodiesel sales are expected to exceed 4.7 billion gallons (17.8 billion liters) by 2010. Though Europe, with a share estimated at 84.16% in 2006, constitutes the largest market, and will continue to do so for the coming years, major growth is expected to emanate from the United States. The automobile applications market for biodiesel, with an estimated share of 55.73% in 2006 constitutes the largest as well as the fastest growing end use application. Other applications independently analyzed include the Mining Applications market and the Marine Applications market. PRWeb - July 18, 2007.

    O2Diesel Corporation announced that it has received the regulatory approvals necessary to start delivering its proprietary diesel ethanol blended fuel, O2Diesel, in the French market. The approvals pave the way for O2Diesel to move forward into the next stage of its European market development strategy by commencing deliveries to a number of targeted fleets in France. MarketWire - July 17, 2007.

    The BBC World Service is hosting a series of programmes on the global obesity pandemic. Over the coming two weeks a range of documentaries and discussions will be held on the obesity time-bomb that is growing all over the West, but also in the developing world. In North America, a quarter of people are now morbidly obese, 60% is overweight, and one in three children will become obese. The epidemic is spreading rapidly to China and India. BBC World Service - July 16, 2007.

    A new report from Oregon State University shows the biofuels industry is on track to be a $2.5 billion chunk of the state's economy within 20 years. The study identifies 80 potential biodiesel, ethanol and biomass facilities which could produce a combined 400 million gallons (1.5 billion liters) per year of ethanol and another 315 million gallons (1.2 billion liters) of biodiesel. On an oil equivalent basis, this comes down to around 38,000 barrels per day. Oregon State University - July 16, 2007.

    Jatropha biodiesel manufacturer D1 Oils has appointed a leading plant scientist to its board of directors. Professor Christopher Leaver, Sibthorpian professor of plant science and head of the plant sciences department at Oxford University, has joined the Teesside company as a non-executive director. Professor Leaver, who was awarded a CBE in 2000, is a leading expert in the molecular and biochemical basis of plant growth and differentiation. D1Oils Plc - July 16, 2007.

    Panama and South Africa are set to cooperate on biofuels. A delegation consisting of vice-minister of Foreign Affairs Azis Pahad, of Finance, Jubulai Moreketi and of Finance, met with Panama's vice-chancellor Ricardo Durán to discuss joint biodiesel and ethanol production and distribution. Panama's goal is to become a hub for internationally traded bioenergy, making use of the strategic position of the Canal. La Prensa Gráfica [*Spanish] - July 14, 2007.

    Spanish investors are studying the opportunity to invest in agro-industrial projects in Morocco aimed at producing biofuel from the Jatropha plant. Morocco’s Minister for Energy and Mines, Mohammed Boutaleb, said Moroccan authorities are willing to provide the necessary land available to them, provided that the land is not agricultural, is located in semi-arid regions, and that the investors agree to use water-saving agricultural techniques, such as drip-feed irrigation. Magharebia - July 14, 2007.

    Philippine Basic Petroleum Corp. plans to raise as much as 2.8 billion pesos (€44.4/US$61.2 million) through a follow-on offering and loans to finance a 200,000 liter per day bio-ethanol plant in the province of Zamboanga del Norte. The move into biofuels comes in anticipation of the implementation of RA 9367 or the Philippines biofuels law. RA 9367 mandates five percent bioethanol blending into gasoline by 2009, and 10 percent by 2011. Manila Bulletin - July 14, 2007.

    The Michigan Economic Development Corporation last week awarded a $3.4 million grant to redevelop the former Pfizer research facility in Holland into a bioeconomy research and commercialization center. Michigan State University will use the facility to develop technologies that derive alternative energy from agri-based renewable resources. Michigan.org - July 13, 2007.

    Fuel prices increased three times in Mozambique this year due to high import costs. For this reason, the country is looking into biofuels as an alternative. Mozambique's ministries of agriculture and energy presented a study showing that more than five million hectares of land can be used sustainably in the production of crops that would produce biodiesel fuels. The first phase of a biofuel implementation plan was also presented, identifying the provinces of Inhambane, Zambezia, Nampula and Cabo Delgado as the first to benefit. News24 (Capetown) - July 12, 2007.

    The Malaysian Oleochemical Manufacturers Group (MOMG) has urged the government for incentives and grants to companies to encourage the development of new uses and applications for glycerine, the most important byproduct of biodiesel. Global production of glycerine is currently about one million tonnes. For every 10 tonnes of oil processed into biodiesel, one tonne of glycerine emerges as a by-product. Bernama - July 12, 2007.

    BioDiesel International AG has acquired 70 per cent of the shares in Lignosol, a Salzburg based company that is making promising progress in Biomass-to-Liquids conversion techniques. The purchase price is in the single-digit million Euro range. ACN - July 10, 2007.

    Gay & Robinson Inc. and Pacific West Energy LLC announced today a partnership to develop an ethanol plant in Hawaii based on sugarcane feedstocks. The plant's capacity is around 12 million gallons (45 million liters) per year. The partnership called Gay & Robinson Ag-Energy LLC, will also ensure the continuation of the Gay & Robinson agricultural enterprise, one of the oldest in Hawaii. Approximately 230 jobs will be preserved, and a large area of West Kauai will be maintained in sustainable agriculture. Business Wire - July 10, 2007.

    Water for Asian Cities (WAC), part of UN-Habitat, is extending partial financial support for the construction of several biogas plants across the Kathmandu valley and develop them as models for municipal waste management. The first biogas plants will be built in Khokna, Godavari, Kalimati, Patan, Tribhuvan University premises, Amrit Science College premises and Thimi. The Himalayan Times - July 09, 2007.

    EnviTec Biogas's planned initial public offering has roused 'enormous' interest among investors and the shares have been oversubscribed, according to sources. EnviTec has set the IPO price range at €42-52 a share, with the subscription period running until Wednesday. EnviTec last year generated sales of €100.7 million, with earnings before interest and tax of €18.5 million. Forbes - July 09, 2007.

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

New biogas reactor for energy crops cuts energy costs, increases productivity

Researchers from the Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering Potsdam-Bornim (ATB), Germany, have developed [*German] a novel process for the production of biogas which they describe as an 'up-flow leach-bed' system. It allows for higher reactor loading rates, consumes less energy, is considerably less sensitive to overloading and, thus, increases economic efficiency of biogas production from dedicated energy crops.

Farm-based biogas digesters of today are generally designed for the fermentation of liquid manure. Their use for energy crops is questionable, since these fibre-rich materials tend to build up a persistent float layer. In order to prevent flotation, agitation and stirring has to be intensified to a level where it demands up to 10% of the electric energy produced. Too intensive mixing can also affect the substrate decomposition process negatively. Moreover, when fermentation residues are discharged, the bacteria which stick to the biomass get lost as well, further reducing efficiency.

The new up-flow leach-bed process developed by the Leibniz agricultural engineers follows a completely different strategy by stimulating flotation in order to increase not only energy efficiency but biogas production rates as well.

The key component of this two stage process is a novel anaerobic leach-bed reactor (schematic, click to enlarge). Plant raw material is continuously fed to the reactor bottom and, after fermentation, removed from the top as solid residue. Gas bubbles generated by bacteria adhere to plant particles and thus, naturally induce floatation like in common digesters. Due to missing agitation inside the leach-bed reactor a liquid phase is formed and used as leachate. This leachate circulates upwards through the leach-bed reactor and downwards through a high rate anaerobic digester with immobilised bacteria. Volatile fatty acids are leached from the solids and efficiently converted to biogas in the high rate reactor. Excess bacteria are transferred to the leach-bed reactor enhancing solid degradation as well.

Experiments at laboratory scale (see below) reveal that compared with common farm-based digesters the reactor loading can be increased by at least factor two to three while yielding the same amount of gas. At significantly reduced energy demands the up-flow leach-bed process promises considerably increased productivity and stability as well as an uncomplicated and precise process control. The risk of overloading is practically eliminated:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

As a next step testing of the patent pending system at pilot-scale (10 m³) is projected.


Typical biogas digesters in use today can only deal with energy crops under certain conditions and often in an inefficient way. But precisely the use of dedicated energy crops such as specially designed maize or grass hybrids has become important for the production of renewable biomethane. When fermented in classic digesters, energy crops need continuous stirring, which takes up a considerable amount of energy. A 2005 study by the German Agency for Renewable Energy indicates that this may run up to as much as 10% of the energy produced by the plant.

Too intensive mixing can also affect the substrate decomposition process negatively. When fermentation residues are discharged, the bacteria which stick to the biomass get lost as well, further reducing the efficiency. As a consequence, a classic reactor digesting energy crops can only handle around 3 to 4 kilograms of organic dry matter per cubic meter of working volume and per day. Higher reactor loads lead to an inhibition of the decomposition process because of the build-up of volatile fatty acids.

The goal of the research at the Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering therefor was to design a system that reduces the loss of bacterial biomass and increases the stabilty and efficiency of biogas production from dedicated energy crops. The researchers modified existing high-power fixed bed or mud bed reactors commonly used for the treatment of organically highly loaded industrial waste water.

In order to make such reactors suitable for the fermentation of renewable crops the organic materials must be liquefied first. Thus a two-stage and at the same time two-phase procedure was developed. An appropriate system, consisting of a fixed bed reactor in combination with 4 intermittently operating solid reactors was already developed and has found practical agricultural applications.

While such an intermittent fermentation process with a separate solid and liquid treatment phase is state of the art, the Leibniz Institute wanted to develop a continuous system for energy crops, which did not yet exist. The novel approach allows for a continuous mode of operation and offers substantial advantages. When the conditions inside the reactors are kept constant, a better adjustment of the micro-organisms becomes possible which results in an increased biological conversion efficiency by the bacteria. The new process also allows for much higher loading rates. Finally, a more balanced and continuous methanation simplifies the use of the biogas.

Laboratory tests

The emphasis of the lab research was on testing and improving the efficiency of the up-flow solids reactor (AFR) which had a volume of 26.5 liters, while the fixed bed reactor with 78 liters was very generously dimensioned (schematic, click to enlarge). The addition and withdrawal of the solids took place by hand. To enhance separation of the liquid phase the solids reactor was equipped with a funnel from overlapping ring elements at the upper end. The exchange of the process liquids between the reactors took place continuously with the help of a hose pump.

The process temperature was kept in the entire system to a thermophile 55°C. As substrates two different types of silage maize were used successively: Maize 1 ( dry matter = 33.1 %, organic dry matter = 96.7 % of DM) for 27 days, followed by Maize 2 (dry matter = 34.9 %, organic dry matter = 95.9 % of DM). In addition, to increase the fibrous nature of the substrate, barley straw was added (2 to 5 % of the total substrate mass).

On the basis of batch fermenting tests the methane-production potential of the organic matter of Maize 1 was put at 415 liter/kg-1, that for Maize 2 was 364 liter/kg-1 and that of the straw 334 liter/kg-1. During the tests the reactor load of the solids reactor was increased gradually, with the organic dry matter being increased from 6,3 to 16 gram/liter/day.

Besides other process variables, the most important parameter that was focused on was the generation of methane.

The increase of the reactor load led to a rise of the total production (see graph, click to enlarge; AFR = 'up-flow reactor', FBR = 'fixed bed reactor'). The methane yield of the maize-straw mixture went from 409 liter/kg-1 with an organic dry matter load of 6,3 to 332 liter/kg-1 with an organic dry matter load of 16. Methane yields of pure maize decreased only from 98 to 91 %, clearly a much smaller decrease.

After the addition of the substrate on day 60, a brisk decrease in methane production was observed. The allocation of the methane yield to the two reactors changed fundamentally when reactor loads were increased. The share of methane coming from the fixed bed reactor rose from an initial 10 % to 75 %. From this it is to be concluded that the solids reactor can handle a load factor of 6.3gram/liter/day organic dry matter without the need for a high-power reactor. For higher loads the use of a high-power reactor is essential.

On basis of these results, it is assumed that the high-power reactor can be reduced to a size 30 % smaller than that of the solids reactor. The fermentation speed of the solids with a hydrolysis constant of 0.14 day-1 was about 5 times higher than that observed during the fermentation of silage maize in traditional fully mixed, mesophilic plants.

The Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering Potsdam-Bornim (ATB) is one of the leading European research institutes in the field of agricultural engineering. Production and use of biomass - not only for CO2-reduced energy production but also for material exploitation - including economic and ecologic assessment, are long term research issues at the ATB. Complete value creation chains are taken into consideration: from raw material to product i.e. from field to tank.

Graphs and schematics: translated and adapted by Biopact. Courtesy: Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering Potsdam-Bornim.

Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering Potsdam-Bornim (ATB): Neues Hochleistungsverfahren zur Vergärung von Nachwachsenden Rohstoffen - Versuchsdurchführung, (text on the laboratory tests).

Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering Potsdam-Bornim (ATB): Neues Hochleistungsverfahren zur Vergärung von Nachwachsenden Rohstoffen, (intro).

Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering Potsdam-Bornim (ATB): Neues Hochleistungsverfahren zur Vergärung von Nachwachsenden Rohstoffen - Ausgangslage, (background).

Linke, B., M. Heiermann und J. Mumme (2005), "Ergebnisse aus den wissenschaftlichen Begleitungen der Pilotanlagen Pirow und Clausnitz." In: Trockenfermentation - Stand der Entwicklungen und weiterer F&E-Bedarf, Band 24, Hrsg. Fachagentur Nachwachsende Rohstoffe e.V. Gülzow, S. 95-102

Linke, B. und P. Mähnert (2005), "Biogasgewinnung aus Rindergülle und nachwachsenden Rohstoffen" [*.pdf],Agrartechnische Forschung 11 (5), S. 125-132


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