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    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.

    Analysts fear that record oil prices will fuel general inflation in Kenya, particularly hitting the poorest hard. They call for the development of new policies and strategies to cope with sustained high oil prices. Such policies include alternative fuels like biofuels, conservation measures, and more investments in oil and gas exploration. The poor in Kenya are hit hardest by the sharp increase, because they spend most of their budget on fuel and transport. Furthermore, in oil intensive economies like Kenya, high oil prices push up prices for food and most other basic goods. All Africa - September 20, 2007.

    Finland's Metso Power has won an order to supply Kalmar Energi Värme AB with a biomass-fired power boiler for the company’s new combined heat and power plant in Kalmar on the east coast of Sweden. Start-up for the plant is scheduled for the end of 2009. The value of the order is approximately EUR 55 million. The power boiler (90 MWth) will utilize bubbling fluidized bed technology and will burn biomass replacing old district heating boilers and reducing the consumption of oil. The delivery will also include a flue gas condensing system to increase plant's district heat production. Metso Corporation - September 19, 2007.

    Jo-Carroll Energy announced today its plan to build an 80 megawatt, biomass-fueled, renewable energy center in Illinois. The US$ 140 million plant will be fueled by various types of renewable biomass, such as clean waste wood, corn stover and switchgrass. Jo-Carroll Energy - September 18, 2007.

    Beihai Gofar Marine Biological Industry Co Ltd, in China's southern region of Guangxi, plans to build a 100,000 tonne-per-year fuel ethanol plant using cassava as feedstock. The Shanghai-listed company plans to raise about 560 million yuan ($74.5 million) in a share placement to finance the project and boost its cash flow. Reuters - September 18, 2007.

    The oil-dependent island state of Fiji has requested US company Avalor Capital, LLC, to invest in biodiesel and ethanol. The Fiji government has urged the company to move its $250million 'Fiji Biofuels Project' forward at the earliest possible date. Fiji Live - September 18, 2007.

    The Bowen Group, one of Ireland's biggest construction groups has announced a strategic move into the biomass energy sector. It is planning a €25 million investment over the next five years to fund up to 100 projects that will create electricity from biomass. Its ambition is to install up to 135 megawatts of biomass-fuelled heat from local forestry sources, which is equal to 50 million litres or about €25m worth of imported oil. Irish Examiner - September 16, 2007.

    According to Dr Niphon Poapongsakorn, dean of Economics at Thammasat University in Thailand, cassava-based ethanol is competitive when oil is above $40 per barrel. Thailand is the world's largest producer and exporter of cassava for industrial use. Bangkok Post - September 14, 2007.

    German biogas and biodiesel developer BKN BioKraftstoff Nord AG has generated gross proceeds totaling €5.5 million as part of its capital increase from authorized capital. Ad Hoc News - September 13, 2007.

    NewGen Technologies, Inc. announced that it and Titan Global Holdings, Inc. completed a definitive Biofuels Supply Agreement which will become effective upon Titan’s acquisition of Appalachian Oil Company. Given APPCO’s current distribution of over 225 million gallons of fuel products per year, the initial expected ethanol supply to APPCO should exceed 1 million gallons a month. Charlotte dBusinessNews - September 13, 2007.

    Oil prices reach record highs as the U.S. Energy Information Agency releases a report that showed crude oil inventories fell by more than seven million barrels last week. The rise comes despite a decision by the international oil cartel, OPEC, to raise its output quota by 500,000 barrels. Reuters - September 12, 2007.

    OPEC decided today to increase the volume of crude supplied to the market by Member Countries (excluding Angola and Iraq) by 500,000 b/d, effective 1 November 2007. The decision comes after oil reached near record-highs and after Saudi Aramco announced that last year's crude oil production declined by 1.7 percent, while exports declined by 3.1 percent. OPEC - September 11, 2007.

    GreenField Ethanol and Monsanto Canada launch the 'Gro-ethanol' program which invites Ontario's farmers to grow corn seed containing Monsanto traits, specifically for the ethanol market. The corn hybrids eligible for the program include Monsanto traits that produce higher yielding corn for ethanol production. MarketWire - September 11, 2007.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Scientists propose artificial trees to scrub CO2 out of the atmosphere - but the real thing could be smarter

Some scientists suggest the threat of climate change has become so great, that we must begin to consider 'geo-engineering' the planet to mitigate global warming. Several futuristic proposals are on the table, but many of these have been dismissed as too risky (previous post). Two broad categories can be distinguished: geo-engineering 'mirrors' that reflect sunlight back into space to cool the planet, and options based on capturing and storing CO2.

Amongst the first series the following ideas have been suggested: emulating the cooling effects of a large volcanic eruption by filling the atmosphere with sulphur particles (dismissal here), making clouds more reflective by pumping fine salty water particles into them, and building a giant space mirror by launching billions of thin glass plates into space to reflect sunlight away from Earth (which would be absurdly costly).

Carbon capture ideas include the proposal to 'fertilize' the oceans with iron to induce algae blooms that capture CO2 (critique here), and building 'synthetic trees' that suck CO2 out of the atmosphere with the gas consequently stored deep under ground (earlier post).

Artificial trees
The latter idea is now becoming a reality. Frank Zeman at Columbia University believes CO2 could be efficiently extracted from the atmosphere using a relatively simple chemical process involving pumping air from the atmosphere through a chamber containing sodium hydroxide, which reacts with the CO2 to form sodium carbonate. This carbon-containing solution is then mixed with lime to precipitate powdered calcium carbonate – a naturally occurring form of which is limestone. Finally, the 'limestone' is heated in a kiln releasing pure CO2 for storage.

The 'artificial tree' concept is discussed in an article in the current online edition of Environmental Science & Technology. Zeman calculates that one carbon atom would need to be expended as fuel – to pump air and heat the process – in order to capture four carbon atoms from air.

Zeman has no commercial plans for his idea, but Klaus Lackner, a former colleague at Columbia who originally developed the concept, has meanwhile set up a private company called Global Research Technologies to explore the possibilities of making money out of it.

Real trees and carbon-negative energy

According to Jon Gibbins, an expert on energy technology at Imperial College in the UK, Zeman and Lackner's idea faces two major problems: (1) it could provide a justification for continuing to burn fossil fuels, and (2) it does not present a clean energy system as it merely removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. There is however a concept that performs the same function as Zeman's idea but delivers renewable, ultra-clean carbon-negative energy at the same time, which allows us to move away from fossil fuels. This concept, known as 'Bio-energy with Carbon Storage' (BECS) is based on real trees designed to capture and store more carbon, and on advanced bioconversion concepts:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Gibbins believes it makes more sense to use carbonaceous fuels to generate electricity, capture the CO2 at the power plant, and use the resulting electricity to power cars and trains.
Is it better to burn fossil fuels and capture the carbon dioxide from air, or to decarbonise the power first and put that into transport? If we bite bullet and move on to electricity then we can use electricity from anywhere, including renewable sources. - Jon Gibbins, Imperial College
If the fuels in question are renewable biomass - real trees - the electricity produced becomes carbon-negative. Such BECS systems perform the same function as Zeman's idea, but are more efficient and allow us to make a transition towards carbon-negative electricity for transport, away from fossil fuels.

Zeman claims that his process does not use any more energy than decarbonising emissions straight from power plants. But Gibbins points out that much of Zeman's process is run on electricity, while carbon capture at (biomass) power plants relies on waste heat, making the system potentially more efficient.

The BECS concept offers the possibility to couple biomass production and trade to a global transition to carbon-negative electricity. Unlike other renewables like wind or solar - which are carbon-neutral and merely prevent emissions from occuring in the future - BECS systems take emissions from the past out of the atmosphere and can take us back to lower CO2 levels far more quickly.

Scientists who developed BECS concepts within the context of 'Abrupt Climate Change' (ACC) scenarios, project that the systems can reduce atmospheric CO2 levels rapidly, safely and without the need for alternative and risky geo-engineering interventions. If implemented on a global scale, BECS can bring atmospheric CO2 back to pre-industrial levels by mid-century (earlier post and especially here).

The prospects for BECS systems are looking good. Recently the UNFCCC announced it would include carbon storage into the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), but only in developing countries where more than 50% of all electricity is generated by coal. Many of these countries have a large potential to produce sustainable biomass close to geosequestration sites. Its inclusion into the CDM means the BECS concept will be eligible for carbon credits which would make it more feasible.

Moreover, recent advances in plant biology have seen scientists designing fast-growing trees with enhanced carbon capturing capacities. A hybrid larch tree with 30% greater carbon sink capacity was developed (previous post), as well as an eucalyptus with 15% increased carbon capturing capacity (more here). Such trees would be used as primary carbon capture 'machines', then transformed into bioenergy (bio-electricity or biofuels) and the carbon captured and geosequestered.

Finally, a major advantage of BECS is that it can be implemented in a decentralised way, increasing its safety (one of the major risks with geosequestration is the potential for CO2 leakage). Geosequestration sites can be selected far away from inhabited regions; there, biomass would be grown and converted into the carbon-negative biofuel, which would then be shipped to power stations there where electricity is needed. If the biomass is converted by using synthetic fuel production methods (gasification coupled to Fischer-Tropsch synthesis), the carbon-negative fuels later used in cities would be ultra-clean and emit virtually no harmfull emissions. Recently a project in this sense was started, initiating the transition to BECS. It is based on producing synthetic fuels from a mixture of coal and biomass, with CO2 emissions sequestered (earlier post). When the coal is left out, a full BECS-system emerges that results in ultra-clean, carbon-negative fuels that can be used for transport, or for the production of electricity.

Image: rendering of a synthetic tree used by the BBC in a documentary about geo-engineering options, which included a discussion of Lackner's idea. Credit: BBC.

Frank Zeman, "Energy and Material Balance of CO2 Capture from Ambient Air", Environmental Science & Technology, ASAP Article, September 26, 2007, doi:10.1021/es070874m

Biopact: Capturing carbon with "synthetic trees" or with the real thing?- February 20, 2007

Biopact: A closer look at the revolutionary coal+biomass-to-liquids with carbon storage project - September 13, 2007

Biopact: Carbon-negative energy gets boost as UNFCCC includes CCS in CDM mechanism - September 19, 2007

Biopact: Japanese scientists develop hybrid larch trees with 30% greater carbon sink capacity - October 03, 2007

Biopact: Scientists develop low-lignin eucalyptus trees that store more CO2, provide more cellulose for biofuels - September 17, 2007

Biopact: Simulation shows geoengineering is very risky - June 05, 2007


Clean Development Mechanism said...

This stuff is great. Thanks for sharing. It is a nice theory but I doubt it can be achieved.

4:03 PM  
Anonymous said...

Well, as a clean development mechanism broker, you should know that this will work. Did you know the UNFCCC will include CCS in the CDM?

6:21 PM  

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