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    Biopact is moving to a new server this weekend, so at times the site may be difficult to access or temporarily offline. We should be up and running again on Monday. Biopact - October 27, 2007.

    U.S. oil prices and Brent crude rocketed to all-time highs again on a record-low dollar, tensions in the Middle East and worries over energy supply shortages ahead of the northern hemisphere's winter. Now even wealthy countries like South Korea are warning that the record prices will damage economic growth. In the developing world, the situation is outright catastrophic. Korea Times - October 26, 2007.

    Ethablog's Henrique Oliveira, a young Brazilian biofuels business expert, is back online. From April to September 2007, he traveled around Brazil comparing the Brazilian and American biofuels markets. In August he was joined by Tom MacDonald, senior alcohol fuels specialist with the California Energy Commission. Henrique reports about his trip with a series of photo essays. EthaBlog - October 24, 2007.

    Italy's Enel is to invest around €400 mln in carbon capture and storage and is looking now for a suitable site to store CO2 underground. Enel's vision of coal's future is one in which coal is used to produce power, to produce ash and gypsum as a by-product for cement, hydrogen as a by-product of coal gasification and CO2 which is stored underground. Carbon capture and storage techniques can be applied to biomass and biofuels, resulting in carbon-negative energy. Reuters - October 22, 2007.

    Gate Petroleum Co. is planning to build a 55 million-gallon liquid biofuels terminal in Jacksonville, Florida. The terminal is expected to cost $90 million and will be the first in the state designed primarily for biofuels. It will receive and ship ethanol and biodiesel via rail, ship and truck and provide storage for Gate and for third parties. The biofuels terminal is set to open in 2010. Florida Times-Union - October 19, 2007.

    China Holdings Inc., through its controlled subsidiary China Power Inc., signed a development contract with the HeBei Province local government for the rights to develop and construct 50 MW of biomass renewable energy projects utilizing straw. The projects have a total expected annual power generating capacity of 400 million kWh and expected annual revenues of approximately US$33.3 million. Total investment in the projects is approximately US$77.2 million, 35 percent in cash and 65 percent from China-based bank loans with preferred interest rates with government policy protection for the biomass renewable energy projects. Full production is expected in about two years. China Holdings - October 18, 2007.

    Canadian Bionenergy Corporation, supplier of biodiesel in Canada, has announced an agreement with Renewable Energy Group, Inc. to partner in the construction of a biodiesel production facility near Edmonton, Alberta. The company broke ground yesterday on the construction of the facility with an expected capacity of 225 million litres (60 million gallons) per year of biodiesel. Together, the companies also intend to forge a strategic marketing alliance to better serve the North American marketplace by supplying biodiesel blends and industrial methyl esters. Canadian Bioenergy - October 17, 2007.

    Leading experts in organic solar cells say the field is being damaged by questionable reports about ever bigger efficiency claims, leading the community into an endless and dangerous tendency to outbid the last report. In reality these solar cells still show low efficiencies that will need to improve significantly before they become a success. To counter the hype, scientists call on the community to press for independent verification of claimed efficiencies. Biopact sees a similar trend in the field of biofuels from algae, in which press releases containing unrealistic yield projections and 'breakthroughs' are released almost monthly. Eurekalert - October 16, 2007.

    The Colorado Wood Utilization and Marketing Program at Colorado State University received a $65,000 grant from the U.S. Forest Service to expand the use of woody biomass throughout Colorado. The purpose of the U.S. Department of Agriculture grant program is to provide financial assistance to state foresters to accelerate the adoption of woody biomass as an alternative energy source. Colorado State University - October 12, 2007.

    Indian company Naturol Bioenergy Limited announced that it will soon start production from its biodiesel facility at Kakinada, in the state of Andhra Pradesh. The facility has an annual production capacity of 100,000 tons of biodiesel and 10,000 tons of pharmaceutical grade glycerin. The primary feedstock is crude palm oil, but the facility was designed to accomodate a variety of vegetable oil feedstocks. Biofuel Review - October 11, 2007.

    Brazil's state energy company Petrobras says it will ship 9 million liters of ethanol to European clients next month in its first shipment via the northeastern port of Suape. Petrobras buys the biofuel from a pool of sugar cane processing plants in the state of Pernambuco, where the port is also located. Reuters - October 11, 2007.

    Dynamotive Energy Systems Corporation, a leader in biomass-to-biofuel technology, announces that it has completed a $10.5 million equity financing with Quercus Trust, an environmentally oriented fund, and several other private investors. Ardour Capital Inc. of New York served as financial advisor in the transaction. Business Wire - October 10, 2007.

    Cuban livestock farmers are buying distillers dried grains (DDG), the main byproduct of corn based ethanol, from biofuel producers in the U.S. During a trade mission of Iowan officials to Cuba, trade officials there said the communist state will double its purchases of the dried grains this year. DesMoines Register - October 9, 2007.

    Brasil Ecodiesel, the leading Brazilian biodiesel producer company, recorded an increase of 57.7% in sales in the third quarter of the current year, in comparison with the previous three months. Sales volume stood at 53,000 cubic metres from August until September, against 34,000 cubic metres of the biofuel between April and June. The company is also concluding negotiations to export between 1,000 to 2,000 tonnes of glycerine per month to the Asian market. ANBA - October 4, 2007.

    PolyOne Corporation, the US supplier of specialised polymer materials, has opened a new colour concentrates manufacturing plant in Kutno, Poland. Located in central Poland, the new plant will produce colour products in the first instance, although the company says the facility can be expanded to handle other products. In March, the Ohio-based firm launched a range of of liquid colourants for use in bioplastics in biodegradable applications. The concentrates are European food contact compliant and can be used in polylactic acid (PLA) or starch-based blends. Plastics & Rubber Weekly - October 2, 2007.

    A turbo-charged, spray-guided direct-injection engine running on pure ethanol (E100) can achieve very high specific output, and shows “significant potential for aggressive engine downsizing for a dedicated or dual-fuel solution”, according to engineers at Orbital Corporation. GreenCarCongress - October 2, 2007.

    UK-based NiTech Solutions receives £800,000 in private funding to commercialize a cost-saving industrial mixing system, dubbed the Continuous Oscillatory Baffled Reactor (COBR), which can lower costs by 50 per cent and reduce process time by as much as 90 per cent during the manufacture of a range of commodities including chemicals, drugs and biofuels. Scotsman - October 2, 2007.

    A group of Spanish investors is building a new bioethanol plant in the western region of Extremadura that should be producing fuel from maize in 2009. Alcoholes Biocarburantes de Extremadura (Albiex) has already started work on the site near Badajoz and expects to spend €42/$59 million on the plant in the next two years. It will produce 110 million litres a year of bioethanol and 87 million kg of grain byproduct that can be used for animal feed. Europapress - September 28, 2007.

    Portuguese fuel company Prio SA and UK based FCL Biofuels have joined forces to launch the Portuguese consumer biodiesel brand, PrioBio, in the UK. PrioBio is scheduled to be available in the UK from 1st November. By the end of this year (2007), says FCL Biofuel, the partnership’s two biodiesel refineries will have a total capacity of 200,000 tonnes which will is set to grow to 400,000 tonnes by the end of 2010. Biofuel Review - September 27, 2007.

    According to Tarja Halonen, the Finnish president, one third of the value of all of Finland's exports consists of environmentally friendly technologies. Finland has invested in climate and energy technologies, particularly in combined heat and power production from biomass, bioenergy and wind power, the president said at the UN secretary-general's high-level event on climate change. Newroom Finland - September 25, 2007.

    Spanish engineering and energy company Abengoa says it had suspended bioethanol production at the biggest of its three Spanish plants because it was unprofitable. It cited high grain prices and uncertainty about the national market for ethanol. Earlier this year, the plant, located in Salamanca, ceased production for similar reasons. To Biopact this is yet another indication that biofuel production in the EU/US does not make sense and must be relocated to the Global South, where the biofuel can be produced competitively and sustainably, without relying on food crops. Reuters - September 24, 2007.

    The Midlands Consortium, comprised of the universities of Birmingham, Loughborough and Nottingham, is chosen to host Britain's new Energy Technologies Institute, a £1 billion national organisation which will aim to develop cleaner energies. University of Nottingham - September 21, 2007.

    The EGGER group, one of the leading European manufacturers of chipboard, MDF and OSB boards has begun work on installing a 50MW biomass boiler for its production site in Rion. The new furnace will recycle 60,000 tonnes of offcuts to be used in the new combined heat and power (CHP) station as an ecological fuel. The facility will reduce consumption of natural gas by 75%. IHB Network - September 21, 2007.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Avantium tests new generation of high energy density biofuels: 'Furanics'

Royal Dutch Shell spin-off Avantium has announced results of the first engine tests of a next generation of biofuels it calls 'Furanics'. Avantium targets the development of fuels with superior economics and properties in comparison to current biofuels. The fuels which are being developed can be derived from carbohydrates (sugars). Moreover, the production technique can also be used to make starting chemicals for bio-based plastics, and bulk and specialty chemicals.

The recently patented biofuels are based on 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) derivatives, in particular 5-alkoxymethylfurfural ethers manufactured by reacting a glucose-containing starting material with an alcohol in the presence of a catalytic or sub-stoichiometric amount of acid catalyst. The catalysts can be heterogeneous or homogenous and may be employed in a continuous flow fixed bed or catalytic distillation reactor. The resulting ethers can be used as a fuel and as starting material for the synthesis of monomers for polymerisation reactions.

The conversion of sugars or sugar (hexoses) containing biomass into more economically useful compounds is of increasing interest. Current fuel activities are mainly directed towards ethanol from sugar/glucose. Typically, sucrose and glucose are fermented into ethanol. One glucose molecule is converted into two molecules of ethanol and two molecules of CO2. This conversion has drawbacks especially in view of atom economy, the low energy density of ethanol (7.7 kWh/kg or 6.1 kWh/L) and its relative low boiling point (78,4 degrees Celsius).

Another application area of interest of both the scientific and industrial community involves the conversion of sugars such as fructose into hydroxymethyl furfural (HMF) in the presence of an acid catalyst. HMF is then obtained as a potential starting material for obtaining bio-based monomer such as furandicarboxylic acid which can be used for bioplastics (polyethylene terephthalate (PET) type polyesters). However, when under these conditions sucrose or glucose was used as a feed, no conversion to HMF is observed, which is a distinct disadvantage given the low price and abundant availability of sucrose and glucose. Only in the presence of ionic liquids or in a sub- and supercritical mixture of acetone and water reasonable HMF yields from starting materials other than fructose can be obtained.

Fructose as feed is undesirable given its high price compared to glucose and/or sucrose. Therefore, so far, no process for the synthesis of HMF has been developed on an industrial scale.

In short, current methods for the synthesis of HMF mostly start from fructose and typically do not give a high yield, partly attributable to the instability of HMF under the acidic reaction conditions. In most acid-catalysed water-based reactions, the further reaction to levulinic acid and humins has been reported, making this a less attractive alternative.

Avantium has overcome these disadvantages. Its researchers have found that the conversion of glucose-containing starting material that may be derived from biomass in the presence of a catalytic or sub-stoichiometric amount of acid in the presence of an alcohol with or without the presence of one or more additional diluents leads to the formation of the corresponding HMF-ether in good yield and selectivity.

Avantium's HMF chemistry prevents the occurrence of the onward and undesired reaction towards levulinic acid and humins, thus leading to an efficient procedure for the conversion of glucose-containing material into HMF derivatives.

High energy density
The energy density of ethoxymethylfurfural (EMF, a Furanics example) is 8.7 kWh/L. This is as good as regular gasoline (8.8 kWh/L), nearly as good diesel (9.7 kWh/L) and significantly higher than ethanol (6.1 kWh/L). This means that with a full tank of Furanics you can drive almost as far as as with a full tank of traditional fuels. The high energy density of EMF, the fact that these HMF derivatives can now be obtained in high yields, in one step, from very cheap hexose or hexose containing starting materials such as sucrose and glucose, and as these ethers are, in contrast to HMF, liquids at room temperature, make these very interesting biofuels:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The acid catalyst in the production method can be selected from amongst organic acids, inorganic acids, salts, Lewis acids, ion exchange resins and zeolites or combinations and/or mixtures thereof.

The glucose-containing feedstock can be obtained from a wide variety of biomass sources. In general any feed with a sufficient high glucose content can be used. It is preferred that the glucose-containing starting material is selected from the group of starch, amylose, galactose, cellulose, hemi-cellulose, glucose-containing disaccharides such as sucrose, maltose, cellobiose, lactose, preferably glucose-containing disaccharides, more preferably sucrose or glucose.

Engine tests
The company successfully completed engine tests to demonstrate the potential of these novel biofuels. The tests were carried out by Intertek, in Geleen, The Netherlands, an independent test center. Using a Citroën Berlingo with a regular diesel engine, Avantium tested a wide range of blends of Furanics with regular diesel. The test yielded positive results for all blends tested. The engine ran smoothly for several hours. Exhaust analysis uncovered a significant reduction of soot (fine particulates). On top of this, Furanics do not contain any sulphur, a significant environmental benefit compared to oil-based fuels.
The significant reduction of soot in the car exhaust is encouraging, as soot emmissions are considered a major disadvantage of using diesel today, because of its adverse environmental and health effects. We are developing a next generation biofuel that has superior fuel properties and process economics compared to existing biofuels. The production process of Furanics has an excellent fit with existing chemical process technology and infrastructure. Ultimately our ambition is to develop biofuels that are competitive with fossil based fuels. - Tom van Aken, Chief Executive Officer of Avantium
The company plans to undertake an additional, comprehensive engine tests in 2008 to study engine performance and long terms effects of Furanics.

Avantium also announced the filing of over a dozen patent applications on the production and use of Furanics as part of the company's strategy to build an extensive patent portfolio for its biofuels program. In September 2007, the first two key patents were published, that claim amongst others the use of furanics as a biofuel and its production routes from sugars.

The company recently appointed Dr. Ed de Jong, a well-known and highly respected biomass expert. Previously, he worked at Wageningen University & Research Centre.

Given that Avantium's Furanics are products derived from carbohydrates such as sugars, the company stands to benefit from the efficiencies of an existing market for these feedstocks. Carbohydrates are globally the most abundantly available biomass feedstock.

Avantium is a leading technology company in the area of advanced high-throughput R&D operating in the energy, chemicals and pharmaceutical industries. The company develops products and processes in the area of biofuels, bio-based chemicals and novel crystal forms of existing drugs by applying its proprietary, high-throughput R&D technology. Avantium has demonstrated the potential of this technology by providing R&D services and tools to more than 70 companies worldwide, including many of the world's largest energy, chemicals and pharmaceutical companies. Avantium has approximately 100 employees; its offices and head quarters are based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Image: sucrose, a disaccharide consisting of two monosaccharides (glucose and fructose), is one of the carbohydrates that can be converted into the high energy density Furanics.


Avantium: Avantium steps ahead with its Biofuels program - Engine test demonstrates potential of "Furanics" - October 22, 2007.

Avantium: Avantium intends to list on Euronext Amsterdam - Positive results with next generation biofuels trigger IPO plans - October 22, 2007

European Patent EP 1834950: Method for the synthesis of 5-alkoxymethylfurfural ethers and their use [*.pdf] - September 19, 2007.

European Patent EP1834951: Method for the synthesis of organic acid esters of 5-hydroxymethylfurfural and their use [*.pdf] - September 19, 2007.


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