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    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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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Carbon-negative bioenergy recognized as Norwegian CO2 actors join forces to develop carbon capture technologies

Great news for the bioenergy community: carbon-negative biomass energy is beginning to penetrate the minds of some leading energy and engineering companies as well as scientists. Norway's SINTEF (Scandinavia's largest independent research organisation), Aker Kværner (a leading energy engineering firm), and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) have announced they are to cooperate on the development of new amine based CO2 capture technologies. The scientists say the new agreement could produce cuts in emissions that would make a real difference on a global scale. They explicitly focus part of their research on capturing flue gases from biomass power plants, which opens the era of carbon-negative energy.

The institutions compare their efforts to a Norwegian version of the Apollo Program. They have received support from the Norwegian state, which is investing part of its oil & gas money into the project, and massive backing from the Norwegian Industry employers organisation, the Norwegian Federation of Trade Unions and the country's environmental organisations. The market for CO2 capture technologies is potentially so large, that a one percent share would mean a turnover of NOK 240 billion (€30.9/US$44.2 billion) by 2100, which is why Norwegian society would be well repaid for these investments.

We have written extensively about so-called 'bio-energy with carbon storage' (BECS) systems, which consist of capturing and sequestering the carbon not from coal and gas, but from biomass used in power stations and fuel production plants (more here). Scientists who developed the BECS concept within the context of 'abrupt climate change' scenarios, see it as one of the few realistic geo-engineering options to reduce greenhouse gas emissions drastically and globally. If negative emissions systems were to be implemented on a global scale, we could bring back atmospheric CO2 levels to pre-industrial levels by mid-century and largely prevent the potentially catastrophic impacts of climate change.

Carbon-negative energy can only be obtained from biofuels and biomass. Renewables like solar, wind or even nuclear power are all 'carbon-neutral' in theory, slightly 'carbon-positive' in practise (schematic, click to enlarge). That is, over their lifecycle they add few or no emissions to the future. But this may be too weak an offer as global emissions are growing more rapidly than expected and are already exceeding the IPCC's worst-case scenario (earlier post). This means we will need energy systems that can begin to capture and remove emissions from the past. BECS systems do exactly that: as biomass grows, it takes CO2 out of the atmosphere; if this carbon-neutral fuel is combusted and its carbon emissions captured and then locked up permanently, we have a system that takes historic emissions out of the atmosphere. In short, most renewables prevent new emissions from occuring, but BECS systems effectively clean up our dangerous and dirty past.

For BECS systems to become feasible two main developments are in order: an efficient global biomass market will have to emerge which will require the establishment of vast energy plantations with high yielding biomass crops which act as carbon capture machines, planted at strategic locations (hence the 'geo-engineering' label), and secondly, efficient and cost-effective carbon capture technologies will have to be engineered.

The Norwegian research agreement will focus on the latter, important need. A central aspect of their cooperation is a plan for SINTEF and NTNU to develop and test more efficient chemicals - amine mixtures - for scrubbing CO2 from flue gases. The chemicals will be specially adapted to Aker Kværner’s concept for CO2 capture from coal- and gas-fired power stations, which is called 'Just Catch' technology. This technology will be able to reduce emissions by up to 90%. However, for the revolutionary carbon-negative bioenergy power systems, the company is developing 'Just Catch Bio'.

Breaking a monopoly
Nils Røkke, director of gas technology research at SINTEF, and Hallvard Svendsen, a professor of chemistry at NTNU, say that by signing a contract with Aker Kværner on the chemical side, they are helping to qualify the company to supply CO2 capture plants to the world market, on which there is virtually a monopoly today. With its cost-effective technology the Norwegian company will be able to force prices down and ensure that CO2 capture is adopted more rapidly:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The calculations made by SINTEF and NTNU show that the world will need about 7,500 capture plants for coal- and gas-fired power stations by 2100, as well as greater use of biomass, and more efficient energy utilisation, if we are to prevent the world’s annual mean temperature from rising by more than two degrees.

According to figures from SINTEF and NTNU, annual cuts in the CO2 emitted by 2.5 percent of these plants would be equivalent to total current Norwegian CO2 emissions as well as the annual CO2 emissions produced by our oil and gas exports at present.

Røkke and Svendsen believe that the potential for Norwegian industry to make a contribution to efficient CO2 capture technology is not being paid enough attention in the national debate about environmental matters. “Of course we should also be implementing measures that will reduce this country's own emissions. But it is as a technology supplier on the world market that Norway can contribute to CO2 cuts that will make a difference on a global scale,” say the two.

Scrubbing flue gases
Today, only a few international companies are capable of supplying plants that capture CO2 from coal- and gas-fired power stations. These are solutions that are based on 'scrubbing' CO2 out of the stations’ flue gases, using water-soluble chemicals called amines.

SINTEF and NTNU are to develop similar and alternative chemicals for Aker Kværner in the course of the new cooperation agreement. The plan is to develop new chemical systems that will be more efficient, more stable and less damaging to nature than the amines in current use.
We have a very good point of departure. Thanks to strategic long-term research funding from the Research Council of Norway and Gassnova, as well as our participation in several EU projects, we have built up a high level of expertise in this field at SINTEF and NTNU. We have sown a lot of seed, which we hope will contribute to what we see as Norway’s equivalent of the USA’s moon landing, and our vision of Norwegian technology leadership in climate technology.- Nils Røkke and Hallvard Svendsen
Spin-off chemical company
The agreement signed with the two reseach institutions and Aker Kværner includes plans for establishing a jointly owned company that will own the rights to the new chemical systems and sell them to Aker Kværner and other users.

The agreement also includes plans for further expansion of the laboratories that SINTEF and NTNU use in their CO2 capture research. This will strengthen the global toolbox for developing efficient, new and cheap climate technologies, claim the two research institutions.

SINTEF and NTNU have also been estimating the value of a future market for CO2 capture plants. The point of departure for their calculations is that around 7500 such plants could be constructed by 2100.

A one percent share of such a market would mean a turnover of NOK 240 billion (€30.9/US$442 billion) by 2100, so Norwegian society would be well repaid for its investments in research in this field, say Røkke and Svendsen.

The 'Just Catch' technology
Aker Kværner has been developing its own CO2 capture technology since 1991, and has been an active driving force behind efforts to develop new green power generation solutions. In 2005, the company decided to go in for Just Catch technology in a big way. Aker Kværner has established a major development project in collaboration with 12 industrial partners and Gassnova.

That project has enabled the company to identify several technical improvements that would be capable of reducing both the construction and operating costs of such CO2 capture plants, says Oscar Fredrik Graff, gas technology director at Aker Kværner.

According to Graff, the technical improvements identified by the company can be summarised as follows:
  • Development and testing of optimum amine mixtures for different CO2sources
  • Efficient integration of heat into the process
  • Selection of new types of pumps and heat exchangers
  • More compact and efficient plants
  • Minimising the environmental impact of the plant.
It is on the first of these items that Aker Kværner is about to expand its ongoing cooperation with SINTEF and NTNU.

Great expectations
In the course of the past six months the company has considered a number of different partners in amine development. It analysed several international players in this field, and finally came to the conclusion that SINTEF and NTNU could offer the best support in this task. Choosing the best amine mixture is vital in plants of this sort. The right choice will offer stable operating conditions, and reduce energy requirements and other operating costs.

Aker Kværner already has around 40 engineers working on the development of the 'Just Catch' technology, in addition to partners and other suppliers engaged by the company.

Carbon-negative bioenergy: 116% scrubbing
Aker Kværner is developing a special version of its 'Just Catch' technology that uses biomass to produce the energy needed for CO2 capture.

The scrubbing plant would normally use energy from the power station. By scrubbing both the power station’s flue gases and those from the bio-energy plant, the scrubber will also remove 'natural' CO2, that is the CO2 that the woody biomass fuel would otherwise have released in the course of its natural breakdown. This solution, known as 'Just Catch Bio', is thus potentially capable of removing 116% of the CO2 emissions from a gas-fired power station.

This is only the first step towards full blown BECS systems, because the 'Just Catch Bio' capture technology can be further modified to work on power plants that run entirely on biomass. Over their entire lifecycle - including the production of the biomass fuels -, such carbon-negative energy systems may produce energy which removes up to 150 per cent of CO2 (see the Abrupt Climate Change Strategy group's analyses of BECS).

One advantage of 'Just Catch' technologies is that they can be retrofitted to existing power stations, including biomass plants. If the cuts in CO2 emission that many countries are aiming for are to have any credibility, they will require flue gases from existing plants to be scrubbed on a large scale. This will open up a large market for this technology, says Graff.

The 'Just Catch' technology can be adapted to be utilized on a wide range of sources of CO2, such as those from gas- and coal-fired power stations, biomass, refineries and the cement industry.

Schematic: credit Biopact, CC.

SINTEF: Norwegian CO2 actors join forces - October 24, 2007.

Aker Kværner: Just Catch technology.

Biopact: Growth in carbon emissions accelerating; exceeding worst case scenario - October 23, 2007

Biopact: A quick look at 'fourth generation' biofuels - October 08, 2007

Euractiv: 'Carbon-capture trials safest way forward' - Laurens Rademakers, Biopact - April 3, 2007.

Abrupt Climate Change Strategy group: overview of studies on carbon-negative bioenergy and its potential to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels.


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