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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, August 26, 2007

Report: large scale imports and co-firing of palm oil products can be sustainable

Northern European countries import significant quantities of biomass for energy production, among which palm oil has been used increasingly for co-firing in existing gas-fired power plants for renewable electricity production. However, imported biomass is not automatically a sustainable energy source. The production and removal of biomass in other places in the world result in ecological, land-use and socio-economic changes and in greenhouse gas emissions (e.g. for transportation).

The International Energy Agency's Bioenergy Task 40, which analyses the technical opportunities and challenges for large-scale international bioenergy trade, refers to a new report which looks at the conditions that have to be met to make such imports sustainable.

To find out, Dr Veronika Dornburg, Dr André Faaij, Birka Wicke and Dr Martin Junginger of the Department of Science, Technology and Society at the Copernicus Institute (Utrecht University) used a set of strict sustainability criteria developed by the Cramer Commission in the Netherlands. This commission has formulated (draft) criteria and indicators for sustainable biomass production, taking into account social, environmental and emissions factors (earlier post).

In their study titled A Greenhouse Gas Balance of Electricity Production from Co-firing Palm Oil Products from Malaysia [*.pdf], the scientists applied these stringent criteria to a specific bio-electricity chain: the production of crude palm oil (CPO) and a palm oil derivative, palm fatty acid distillate (PFAD), in Northeast Borneo in Malaysia, their long-distance transport to the Netherlands and co-firing with natural gas for electricity production at the Essent Claus power plant in the province of Limburg.

The Cramer Commission sets a (very) high target for greenhouse gas emission reductions: a biofuel used for electricity production must reduce GHG emissions with no less than 70% compared to fossil fuels in order to be called green. The scientists found that for PFAD this target can be reached (graph, click to enlarge). For CPO, the picture is more complex. Only when palm oil plantations were established on degraded land, a reduction of well over 100% could be obtained. In that case, such plantations act as carbon sinks. When established on logged over land, the bio-electricity chain only reduces GHG emissions by more than 70% if specific plantation management improvements have been made; for plantations without such interventions, a reduction of more than 50% will only be obtained when compared to coal:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The bio-electricity chain is based on the co-firing of natural gas (NG) with palm fatty acid distillate (PFAD) and crude palm oil (CPO) at the power plant. CPO is the main product of an oil palm plantation, while PFAD is a by-product of CPO refining. Due to this difference (main product vs. by-product), two separate bio-energy chains are defined and their emissions are calculated independently.

The GHG emissions of by-products are calculated on the basis of system extension. This approach assumes that the by-product generated can replace the same or a similar product that was produced from another feedstock. Due to this replacement, an emission credit for the avoided GHG emission from the original production of the product can be determined. Allocation of emissions to by-products will be based on market prices when system extension is not possible.

The concept of GHG emission reductions from co-firing biomass, i.e. CPO and PFAD, for electricity production compares the emissions from this bio-electricity chain to a fossil reference system. The functional unit of this comparison is defined as producing 1 kWh electricity. The overall emissions of the whole electricity production chain, both fossil- and bio-based, include all emissions occurring anywhere during resource extraction, treatment, transport, and power production.

The three most important greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), are accounted for. For comparing the emissions of these three gases, the concept of global warming potential (GWP) is applied by which the radiative forcing of the different gases can be compared.

Investigating the overall emissions for different land types, CPO production on peatland and natural rain forest was found not to be an option for producing sustainable electricity as its emission reduction potential is negative compared to fossil reference systems. Moreover, it was found that CPO production on logged-over forest also does not meet the Cramer Commission criterion of 70% emission reduction compared to various fossil reference systems and that the 50 percent emission reduction target can only be reach when compared to electricity production from coal.

However, when CPO is produced on degraded land, GHG emission reductions of well over 100 percent may be reached, indicating that oil palm plantations may serve as carbon sinks.

The study also investigated potential improvement options in the management of the oil palm plantation and the mill and their effect on the GHG emission reductions.

This investigation resulted in three options that can have large impacts on the emissions, with the largest effect being caused by planting oil palm on degraded land. Also, a fourth option (applying more organic fertilizer) was examined but it showed only very little effect on the GHG balance.

Together the four options cause the overall emissions of the CPO-based electricity chain to become negative so that the oil palm plantation may actually serve as a carbon sink.

The second source of bio-electricity that was investigated in this study is palm fatty acid distillate, a by-product of CPO refining. It was found that PFAD has a very positive GHG balance and compared to the fossil reference systems it can reduce GHG emissions by over 70 percent, meeting the Cramer Commission criteria in all cases.

Discussion and Conclusions

The study found that the land use conversion for oil palm plantation makes up a very large share of the overall emissions and, due to this significance, may not be neglected in the overall GHG emission calculations for palm oil-based electricity or, in fact, for any other biomass-based electricity.

However, especially this aspect has shown to be difficult to analyse because the conversion of specific land types to oil palm plantation and the quantities of land converted specifically for oil palm are not well studied.

The sensitivity analysis of the GHG emissions from CPO production illustrates how the emissions can vary when different values for CPO production parameters are assumed. This points out that the actually level of emissions depends largely on the local settings, the specific management of the plantation and the particular production methods.

The study has established further that methodological choices can have large impacts on the results and on whether the GHG emission reduction targets of the Cramer Commission may or may not be reached. Especially significant is the decision of the time period for which land use change emissions are accounted for. With respect to the allocation of emissions to by-products, the results have shown much less variation, even though a difference in results could be found between system extension and market price allocation.

PFAD-based electricity was found to have very small emissions, both compared to fossil reference systems and to CPO-based electricity production. The most important reason for why PFAD has such small emissions and so large GHG emission reduction potentials is that PFAD is treated as by-product so that, according to the Cramer Commission methodology, only those emissions need to be accounted for that are generated in direct connection with PFAD processing and use.

While, based on the mass balance of a refinery (where PFAD is a by-product produced at a rate of less than 5 percent by weight), this is a valid assumption, the choice to treat PFAD as a by-product may be debatable when considering that PFAD is a valuable product for the oleochemical and animal feed production industries.

Moreover, one might not want to consider PFAD sustainable just because the GHG balance is positive, especially when it comes from unsustainably produced CPO. It needs to be discussed again when a product is considered only a by-product and how to account for the possibly un-sustainability of the CPO that is used for PFAD production.

Based on the results of the calculation a simple decision tree for determining whether the Cramer Commission criteria on GHG emissions can be reached was made (schematic, click to enlarge). It must be noted that this decision tree is simple and crude, and that actual compliance with GHG emission criteria depends strongly on the local conditions.

The study demonstrates that it is possible to calculate the GHG emissions of a specific bio-electricity chain with an extended version of the Cramer Commission methodology for GHG emissions. While GHG emissions can vary strongly for different land use changes and methodological approaches, many of the chains studied were found not to be sustainable according to the Cramer Commission GHG emission criteria.

However, if CPO production takes place on previously degraded land, the management of the production of CPO is improved, or if the by-product PFAD is used for electricity production, the criteria can be achieved, and palm oil-based electricity can be considered sustainable from a GHG emission point of view.

If bioelectricity is to be produced from palm oil and its derivatives, these sustainable options should therefore be focussed on.

Picture: worker in Malaysia carrying fresh fruit bunches from the plantation. A new study by the Copernicus institute analysed the GHG balance of co-firing palm products in the Netherlands and imported from Malaysia.


Birka Wicke, Veronika Dornburg, André Faaij, Martin Junginger, A Greenhouse Gas Balance of Electricity Production from Co-firing Palm Oil Products from Malaysia [*.pdf], Department of Science, Technology and Society, Copernicus Institute, University of Utrecht, May 2007.

IEA Task 40: Sustainable International Bioenergy Trade.


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