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    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.

    The J. Craig Venter Institute, leading the synthetic biology revolution, is expanding its Bio-Energy Program, seeking a senior scientist to head the new dedicated department. With ongoing research in biohydrogen, cellulosic ethanol, microbial fuel cells, and bacterial nanowires, the Environmental Genomics and Plant Genomics groups within JCVI are working on active components related to bio-energy. NatureJobs - August 5, 2007.

    Polish power and heat firm Praterm has decided to invest 50 to 100 mln zloty (€13.2-26.4 /US$18.1-36.4 mln) by 2013 in biomass production. The company has already bought Bio-Energia, an operator of four biomass heating plants with a total capacity of 14 MW. Wirtualna Polska - August 5, 2007.

    Brazil and Mexico will sign a cooperation agreement to collaborate on the production of ethanol from sugarcane, Gonzalo Mourão of the Brazilian chancellory's Departamento do México, América Central e Caribe said. Brazil's President Lula is on a tour of Central America and is currently in Mexico, after which he will visit Honduras, Nicaragua, Jamaica and Panama. He is set to sign several bilateral agreements on energy and biofuels with these countries. Reuters Brasil - August 4, 2007.

    Evergreen Pulp Inc. announced that it and Diversified Energy Corp. have been selected by the state of California for a $500,000, 36-month renewable energy project that aims to dramatically reduce natural-gas-use residue and natural gas at its Samoa mill. The Public Interest Energy Research Natural Gas Program, a part of the California Energy Commission, awarded four contracts for research, development and demonstration of technologies to replace natural gas with renewable resources, to four applicants from among a pool of 25. The state’s focus for the contracts was for biomass-to-gas and/or hybrid projects specifically addressing industrial and commercial process heating or combined heat and power needs. Eureka Reporter - August 4, 2007.

    Greenline Industries, which designs and builds biodiesel production facilities, and ULEROM, one of Romania's largest agri-business corporations, today announced the formal opening of their largest facility in Vaslui, Romania. The plant will produce some 26.5 million liters (7 mio gallons) per year. The Romanian facility is the 17th example of Greenline's technology featuring waterless wash, computerized, continuous flow and modular construction. PRNewswire - August 1, 2007.

    US Renewables Holdings announced today that it has successfully closed on $475 million of third party capital commitments in its most recent private equity fund, USRG Power & Biofuels Fund II, LP and related vehicles (collectively, "Fund II"), ahead of the fund's original target of $250 million. PRNewswire - August 1, 2007.

    Malaysian palm oil company Kim Loong Resources Bhd has secured European energy trading group Vitol as buyer for all its carbon credits from its planned biogas plant in Kota Tinggi. The biogas facility generates methane from palm oil mill effluent, a waste product. The project is expected to generate over RM2 million (€423,000/US$579,000) of earnings annually. The methane capture and power generation project was registered and approved by the Clean Development Mechanism. The Edge Daily - July 31, 2007.

    GreenHunter Energy, Inc. announces that its wholly-owned subsidiary, GreenHunter BioFuels, Inc., located in Houston, Texas has successfully acquired Air Emission Permits from TCEQ (Texas Commission of Environmental Quality) under TCEQ's Permit by Rule (PBR) programs. These permits open the way for construction of a 105 million gallon per year (mgy) biodiesel facility including a separate but related methanol distillation facility. PRNewswire - July 30, 2007.

    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.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Plastic membrane to bring down cost of carbon capture

Coal-fired power stations are acknowledged as major contributors to global carbon dioxide emissions. Research efforts and investments are underway aimed at developing techniques to reduce these emissions by capturing the carbon before it enters the atmosphere and sequestering it. However, such carbon capture and storage (CCS) systems are in an experimental stage and several hurdles remain. Capturing the CO2 is expensive and there are concerns about the safety of storing the gas in sites such as depleted oil and gas fields or saline aquifers. One of these problems has now been tackled by Australian PhD researcher Julianna Franco, who developed a cost-effective CO2 capture system based on the use of inexpensive plastic.

CCS systems can be applied to the use of biofuels in which case the energy generated in a power plant becomes carbon-negative. Contrary to quasi 'carbon-neutral' energy technologies (such as wind, solar or nuclear) which merely prevent the addition of new greenhouse gases in the future, Bio-energy with Carbon Storage (BECS) actually takes emissions of the past out of the atmosphere. It is because of this potential that we track developments in CCS technologies. Moreover, by testing CCS with biofuels instead of fossil fuels, risks can be reduced (previous post).

Several techniques currently exist to capture carbon dioxide. Broadly speaking, two categories can be distinguished: either the CO2 is captured before the fuel is combusted (pre-combustion capture), as would be the case in CO2 separation from biogas and in systems that first convert fuel into a synthesis gas; or the CO2 is captured from flue gas after the fuel has been used (post-combustion capture). Within the latter category several options are available, such as absorption with solvents, calcium cycle separation, cryogenic separation, membrane separation or adsorption by the fixation of CO2 molecules on a surface. Most of these are currently too expensive to make CCS systems commercially feasible.

The latest edition of Ecos Magazine, Australia´s most authoritative magazine on sustainability in the environment, industry and community published by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) reports [*.pdf] that University of Melbourne doctoral student Julianna Franco has developed a CO2 separation membrane made from inexpensive polypropylene. The development is set to bring down the costs of CO2 capture.

The plastic membrane can replace proposed CO2 capture systems based on expensive membrane materials such as Teflon. In this membrane gas absorption (MGA) system, the porous plastic acts as a semipermeable barrier, allowing CO2 gas on one side to come into direct contact with an aqueous solvent on the other, without the gas or liquid dispersing into each other:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

MGAs are commonly used to remove gases from, or dissolve them into, water. For an MGA to be effective, however, the membrane must be water-repellent on one side to prevent the water from passing through the pores into the gaseous side of the membrane.

According to Franco’s supervisor, Professor Geoff Stevens, past research on the use of polypropylene as a membrane for CO2 capture concluded that it was unsuitable for MGA use. The plastic’s pores were observed to ‘wet’ in the presence of the aqueous solvent used to absorb CO2 from the gaseous phase, allowing the two phases to mix.

However, Franco has now modified the surface properties of the polypropylene to make it as water-repellent as Teflon. This allows the CO2 to selectively pass through the membrane and be absorbed on the other side by a widely available solvent (20–30% methylethanolamine dissolved in water).

The membrane can be deployed in the form of hollow fibre units that provide an order of magnitude more surface area than those available in conventional CO2 capture columns. ‘MGA units can separate carbon dioxide using three to four times less space than processing towers, making carbon dioxide capture more efficient and economical,’ says Franco.

Franco’s research follows on from earlier research that resulted in the construction of a pilot-scale membrane gas absorption plant – incorporating Teflon as the membrane material – for separation of CO2 from natural gas at Kårstø, Norway.

Australia, too, has natural gas reserves with high CO2 levels, such as those at the Gorgon gas field on the north-west coast of Australia. According to Stevens, a polypropylene MGA system would make new natural gas fields with high CO2 content more economically – and environmentally – viable.

Global interest in this research is demonstrated by the list of universities collaborating with the University of Melbourne: Canada’s Regina University, the University of Trondheim, Twente University in the Netherlands, and the University of Texas.

However, it’s still early days. Stevens says the polypropylene carbon capture system is due to be tested next year at a pilot plant that will process 25 tonnes of CO2 per day.

The pilot plant is being built at Hazelwood, one of Victoria’s oldest – and its most greenhouse-polluting – brown coal-fired power stations. The trial is being funded by the Australian and Victorian Governments.

Depending on the outcome of that trial – in particular, how the economics of this technology stack up against competing technologies – the most optimistic date for the full deployment of commercialscale carbon dioxide capture systems in Australia is 2015, although other sources put the date at 2020.

Photo: Researcher Julianna Franco working on a laboratory scale membrane-gas absorption unit for the separation of CO2 at the University of Melbourne. Courtesy: Cooperative Research Centre for Greenhouse Gas Technologies.

Mary-Lou Considine: "Plastic membrane to bring down the cost of CO2 capture", ECOS Magazine, Issue 137, June-July 2007, pp. 32-32

Julianna Franco, Sandra Kentish, Jilska Perera, Geoff Stevens, "A Solution to Climate Change?" Chemistry in Australia, Issue 4, (2005), page 8–10.

Julianna Franco, Jilska Perera, Geoff Stevens, Sandra Kentish, "Membrane Gas Absorption using a Chemically Modified Polypropylene Membrane" [*.pdf/abstract], The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia, The Cooperative Research Centre for Greenhouse Gas Technologies, Proceedings for the 8th International Conference on Greenhouse Gas Control Technology (GHGT-8), Trondheim, Norway, 19–22 June 2006.


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