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    South Korea plans to invest 20 billion won (€14.8/$21.8 million) by 2010 on securing technologies to develop synthetic fuels from biomass, coal and natural gas, as well as biobutanol. 29 private companies, research institutes and universities will join this first stage of the "next-generation clean energy development project" led by South Korea's Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy. Korea Times - November 19, 2007.

    OPEC leaders began a summit today with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez issuing a chilling warning that crude prices could double to US$200 from their already-record level if the United States attacked Iran or Venezuela. He urged assembled leaders from the OPEC, meeting for only the third time in the cartel's 47-year history, to club together for geopolitical reasons. But the cartel is split between an 'anti-US' block including Venezuela, Iran, and soon to return ex-member Ecuador, and a 'neutral' group comprising most Gulf States. France24 - November 17, 2007.

    The article "Biofuels: What a Biopact between North and South could achieve" published in the scientific journal Energy Policy (Volume 35, Issue 7, 1 July 2007, Pages 3550-3570) ranks number 1 in the 'Top 25 hottest articles'. The article was written by professor John A. Mathews, Macquarie University (Sydney, Autralia), and presents a case for a win-win bioenergy relationship between the industrialised and the developing world. Mathews holds the Chair of Strategic Management at the university, and is a leading expert in the analysis of the evolution and emergence of disruptive technologies and their global strategic management. ScienceDirect - November 16, 2007.

    Timber products company China Grand Forestry Resources Group announced that it would acquire Yunnan Shenyu New Energy, a biofuels research group, for €560/$822 million. Yunnan Shenyu New Energy has developed an entire industrial biofuel production chain, from a fully active energy crop seedling nursery to a biorefinery. Cleantech - November 16, 2007.

    Northern European countries launch the Nordic Bioenergy Project - "Opportunities and consequences of an expanding bio energy market in the Nordic countries" - with the aim to help coordinate bioenergy activities in the Nordic countries and improve the visibility of existing and future Nordic solutions in the complex field of bioenergy, energy security, competing uses of resources and land, regional development and environmental impacts. A wealth of data, analyses and cases will be presented on a new website - Nordic Energy - along with announcements of workshops during the duration of project. Nordic Energy - November 14, 2007.

    Global Partners has announced that it is planning to increase its refined products and biofuels storage capacity in Providence, Rhode Island by 474,000 barrels. The partnership has entered into agreements with New England Petroleum Terminal, at a deepwater marine terminal located at the Port of Providence. PRInside - November 14, 2007.

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) kicks off the meeting in Valencia, Spain, which will result in the production of the Synthesis Report on climate change. The report will summarize the core findings of the three volumes published earlier by the separate working groups. IPCC - November 12, 2007.

    Biopact's Laurens Rademakers is interviewed by Mongabay on the risks of large-scale bioenergy with carbon storage (BECS) proposals. Even though Biopact remains positive about BECS, because it offers one of the few safe systems to mitigate climate change in a drastic way, care must be take to avoid negative impacts on tropical forests. Mongabay - November 10, 2007.

    According to the latest annual ranking produced by The Scientist, Belgium is the world's best country for academic research, followed by the U.S. and Canada. Belgium's top position is especially relevant for plant, biology, biotechnology and bioenergy research, as these are amongst the science fields on which it scores best. The Scientist - November 8, 2007.

    Mascoma Corporation, a cellulosic ethanol company, today announced the acquisition of Celsys BioFuels, Inc. Celsys BioFuels was formed in 2006 to commercialize cellulosic ethanol production technology developed in the Laboratory of Renewable Resources Engineering at Purdue University. The Celsys technology is based on proprietary pretreatment processes for multiple biomass feedstocks, including corn fiber and distiller grains. The technology was developed by Dr. Michael Ladisch, an internationally known leader in the field of renewable fuels and cellulosic biofuels. He will be taking a two-year leave of absence from Purdue University to join Mascoma as the company’s Chief Technology Officer. Business Wire - November 7, 2007.

    Bemis Company, Inc. announced today that it will partner with Plantic Technologies Limited, an Australian company specializing in starch-based biopolymers, to develop and sell renewably resourced flexible films using patented Plantic technology. Bemis - November 7, 2007.

    Hungary's Kalocsa Hõerõmû Kft is to build a HUF 40 billion (€158.2 million) straw-fired biomass power plant with a maximum capacity of 49.9 megawatts near Kalocsa in southern Hungary. Portfolio Hungary - November 7, 2007.

    Canada's Gemini Corporation has received approval to proceed into the detailed engineering, fabrication and construction phases of a biogas cogeneration facility located in the Lethbridge, Alberta area, the first of its kind whereby biogas production is enhanced through the use of Thermal Hydrolysis technology, a high temperature, high pressure process for the safe destruction of SRM material from the beef industry. The technology enables a facility to redirect waste material, previously shipped to landfills, into a valuable feedstock for the generation of electricity and thermal energy. This eliminates the release of methane into the environment and the resultant solids are approved for use as a land amendment rather than re-entering the waste stream. In addition, it enhances the biogas production process by more than 25%. Market Wire - November 7, 2007.

    A new Agency to manage Britain's commitment to biofuels was established today by Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly. The Renewable Fuels Agency will be responsible for the day to day running of the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation, coming into force in April next year. By 2010, the Obligation will mean that 5% of all the fuels sold in the UK should come from biofuels, which could save 2.6m to 3m tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. eGov Monitor - November 5, 2007.

    Prices for prompt loading South African coal cargoes reached a new record last week with a trade at $85.00 a tonne free-on-board (FOB) for a February cargo. Strong Indian demand and tight supply has pushed South African prices up to record levels from around $47.00 at the beginning of the year. European DES/CIF ARA coal prices have remained fairly stable over the past few days, having traded up to a record $130.00 a tonne DES ARA late last week. Fair value is probably just below $130.00 a tonne, traders said. At this price, some forms of biomass become directly competitive with coal. Reuters Africa - November 4, 2007.

    The government of India's Harayana state has decided to promote biomass power projects based on gasification in a move to help rural communities replace costly diesel and furnace oil. The news was announced during a meeting of the Haryana Renewable Energy Development Agency (HAREDA). Six pilot plants have demonstrated the efficiency and practicability of small-scale biomass gasification. Capital subsidies will now be made available to similar projects at the rate of Rs 2.5 lakh (€4400) per 100 KW for electrical applications and Rs 2 lakh (€3500) per 300 KW for thermal applications. New Kerala - November 1, 2007.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

EU launches DECARBit project to research advanced pre-combustion CO2 capture from power plants

The EU kicks off a major research effort to study advanced pre-combustion carbon capture technologies for coal and gas-fired power plants. The DECARBit project [*.pdf] will be coordinated by Norway's SINTEF Energy Research, will last for four years, and has a total budget of €15 million (NOK 120 million), of which €5.6 milion (NOK 45 million) will go to research at SINTEF and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim (NTNU). The project involves 14 partners from eight different countries.

Biopact tracks the latest developments in carbon capture technologies, because they can be applied to biomass to yield negative emissions electricity and fuels. The economics and carbon reduction potential of pre-combustion capture (and consequent storage of CO2) has been studied for biomass by different researchers. In one study, for the Interntional Energy Agency's Greenhouse Gas R&D Programme, scientists found the technique, when coupled to biomass (eucalyptus/acacia) used in Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) plants, could result in electricity with a negative carbon balance of -1030 grams of CO2 per kWh. In short, each time you were to use this electricity, you would be taking CO2 out of the atmosphere. Such negative emissions systems, also called 'bio-energy with carbon storage' (BECS) are the only concept that can achieve this. All other renewables and energy sources (nuclear, solar, wind, etc) are all 'carbon-neutral' at best, that is, they do not add new emissions (0 emissions per kWh). BECS on the contrary goes much further and effectively takes emissions from the past out of the atmosphere.

Ultimately, the commercial feasibility of BECS depends on fossil fuel and carbon prices, and on the emergence of a global carbon market. Obviously, the higher the market price for CO2 emissions and fossil fuels, the bigger a winner bio-based negative emissions energy becomes. Many different projections have been made but they date from before the recent surge in fossil energy prices.

The EU's DECARBit project will deal with next-generation technology for CO2 capture in IGCC plants and will contribute to making future technology very much cheaper than the technology that is available for use today. The most mature technology for CO2 capture at coal- and gas-fired power stations utilises scrubbing of the flue-gases by means of chemicals to separate CO2 - socalled 'post-combustion' capture.

DECARBit deals with the challenges that arise from techniques to remove the carbon in carbonaceous fuels before they are sent to the power plant. If this 'decarbonisation' fuel route is chosen, the coal, natural gas or biomass will go to the processing plant, where it will be gasified into syngas, a hydrogen and carbon monoxide rich gas. The carbon monoxide is traditionally turned into CO2 via the water gas shift reaction (WGS), so that it can be captured and stored. The hydrogen rich fuel is then sent to the power plant and used as the fuel to generate electricity. The EU project will allow the SINTEF and NTNU scientists to contribute to new technologies that will cut the costs of separating out these components of the gas mixture (schematic, click to enlarge).

DECARBit consists of five stages:
  • In a first phase of the project, system integration and a techno-economic analysis will be carried out, alongside an assessment of operational requirements.
  • The second phase consists of developing advanced pre-combustion technologies on the basis of membranes, CO2 sorbents and novel sorbent systems.
  • Thirdly, advanced oxygen separation technologies will be created, further developing oxygen transfer membranes, hybrid membranes and advanced sorbent based technologies.
  • In the next phase, the other enabling processes will be tested to make pre-combustion capture a reality: H2-combustion itself (which delivers the energy for electricity), CO2 processing and compression, and fuel system integration. Handling and combusting hydrogen rich 'decarbonised' fuels is the key to zero emissions IGCCs
  • The final phase of the project consists of testing the technology in a pilot plant.
DECARBit is the first CO2 handling project in the EU’s 7th Framework Programme for research and development, which was launched in 2007:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The news about the EU contract for SINTEF arrived just a week after a proposal for next year’s Norwegian national budget was presented to the country's parliament. The proposal made it clear that the Norwegian government intends to freeze funding for research on CO2 handling at NOK 48.5 million. DECARBit's funds are three times as large - a major boost to SINTEF.

In the course of the next six years, the EU will invest no less than €390 million (about NOK 3 billion) in research and development on CO2 capture and storage – so called CCS technologies.
The initiative for this project came from us and this shows that we enjoy the confidence of Europe and confirms that SINTEF and NTNU are among the world’s leading centres of research in CO2 handling. - Nils A. Røkke, SINTEF’s director of gas technology research and Professor Olav Bolland, NTNU
DECARBit is the latest in a long series of EU projects that SINTEF and NTNU have joined during the past few years in the field of CO2 handling. SINTEF and NTNU lead five of these projects.

The Norwegian success within the EU research in this topic can partly be attributed to a “national team” spirit. The co-operation with StatoilHydro - which has developed large experience with carbon-capture from natural gas - is important, as is the CCS track-record of Norway - most recently added to this is the Snøhvit CCS operation.

Biopact wishes to add in this context that there is a much simpler way of capturing carbon dioxide from biomass, without the need to make the detour via gasification and complex high-temperature gas shifting and separation. The concept consists of capturing CO2 from biogas obtained from anaerobic digestion of biomass. Contrary to the gasification route, which involves high temperatures and the need for complex shift reactions and robust gas separation technologies that withstand the high temperatures (e.g. new membranes), CO2 capture from biogas is basically a 'cold process' and can rely on a range of existing gas separation technologies (add that new, highly efficient membranes have meanwhile been developed that would allow such a cold process - more here).

So why hasn't this 'cold' separation technique been used to capture CO2 from raw natural gas? The answer is simple: natural gas only contains small amounts of CO2, making pre-combustion capture from the raw gas futile. Biogas on the contrary contains up to 40% of CO2. The rest is methane and trace gases. Because of this large amount of CO2, cold carbon capture would be feasible, provided a large stream of biomass is available that can easily be digested in ultra-large facilities. Mind you, this concept is new and has not received much research yet.

Alternatively, carbon can be captured from ethanol production, which yields a pure stream of CO2 during the fermentation stage. But this CO2 makes up only a fraction of the carbon contained in the initial biomass feedstock. This means one would not obtain a carbon-negative fuel, but only an ethanol with a lower carbon footprint. And here again, coupling CCS to ethanol production would require ultra-large production facilities to legitimize the investment in carbon capture technologies for a relatively small stream of CO2.

Finally, and this concept has received much more attention, biomass and coal can be co-fed as feedstocks to produce synthetic liquid fuels with a zero-emissions footprint. Depending on the ratio of biomass versus coal, such 'coal+biomass-to-liquids' fuels coupled to CCS could once again become carbon-negative. On these ultra-clean, low carbon fuels, see a recent study conducted by the USAF and NET.

In the future, carbon-negative hydrogen from decarbonized biomass will be used in the hydrogen economy. Biomass is gasified, the CO2 captured and stored, and hydrogen with a negative emissions footprint is obtained that can be used in fuel cells and power plants.

European Commission, DG Research: DECARBit project.

SINTEF: SINTEF to lead major EU project on the CO2 technology of the future - November 19, 2007.

On carbon-negative electricity from biomass used in a IGCC coupled to CCS, see:
H. Audus and P. Freund, "Climate Change Mitigation by Biomass Gasificiation Combined with CO2 Capture and Storage", IEA Greenhouse Gas R&D Programme.

James S. Rhodesa and David W. Keithb, "Engineering economic analysis of biomass IGCC with carbon capture and storage", Biomass and Bioenergy, Volume 29, Issue 6, December 2005, Pages 440-450.

Noim Uddin and Leonardo Barreto, "Biomass-fired cogeneration systems with CO2 capture and storage", Renewable Energy, Volume 32, Issue 6, May 2007, Pages 1006-1019, doi:10.1016/j.renene.2006.04.009

Christian Azar, Kristian Lindgren, Eric Larson and Kenneth Möllersten, "Carbon Capture and Storage From Fossil Fuels and Biomass – Costs and Potential Role in Stabilizing the Atmosphere", Climatic Change, Volume 74, Numbers 1-3 / January, 2006, DOI 10.1007/s10584-005-3484-7

Further reading on negative emissions bioenergy and biofuels:
Peter Read and Jonathan Lermit, "Bio-Energy with Carbon Storage (BECS): a Sequential Decision Approach to the threat of Abrupt Climate Change", Energy, Volume 30, Issue 14, November 2005, Pages 2654-2671.

Stefan Grönkvist, Kenneth Möllersten, Kim Pingoud, "Equal Opportunity for Biomass in Greenhouse Gas Accounting of CO2 Capture and Storage: A Step Towards More Cost-Effective Climate Change Mitigation Regimes", Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, Volume 11, Numbers 5-6 / September, 2006, DOI 10.1007/s11027-006-9034-9

Biopact: Pre-combustion CO2 capture from biogas - the way forward? - March 31, 2007

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

Biopact: New plastic-based, nano-engineered CO2 capturing membrane developed - September 19, 2007

Biopact: Plastic membrane to bring down cost of carbon capture - August 15, 2007

Biopact: Pre-combustion CO2 capture from biogas - the way forward? - March 31, 2007


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