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    The Royal Society of Chemistry has announced it will launch a new journal in summer 2008, Energy & Environmental Science, which will distinctly address both energy and environmental issues. In recognition of the importance of research in this subject, and the need for knowledge transfer between scientists throughout the world, from launch the RSC will make issues of Energy & Environmental Science available free of charge to readers via its website, for the first 18 months of publication. This journal will highlight the important role that the chemical sciences have in solving the energy problems we are facing today. It will link all aspects of energy and the environment by publishing research relating to energy conversion and storage, alternative fuel technologies, and environmental science. AlphaGalileo - December 10, 2007.

    Dutch researcher Bas Bougie has developed a laser system to investigate soot development in diesel engines. Small soot particles are not retained by a soot filter but are, however, more harmful than larger soot particles. Therefore, soot development needs to be tackled at the source. Laser Induced Incandescence is a technique that reveals exactly where soot is generated and can be used by project partners to develop cleaner diesel engines. Terry Meyer, an Iowa State University assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is using similar laser technology to develop advanced sensors capable of screening the combustion behavior and soot characteristics specifically of biofuels. Eurekalert - December 7, 2007.

    Lithuania's first dedicated biofuel terminal has started operating in Klaipeda port. At the end of November 2007, the stevedoring company Vakaru krova (VK) started activities to manage transshipments. The infrastructure of the biodiesel complex allows for storage of up to 4000 cubic meters of products. During the first year, the terminal plans to transship about 70.000 tonnes of methyl ether, after that the capacities of the terminal would be increased. Investments to the project totaled €2.3 million. Agrimarket - December 5, 2007.

    New Holland supports the use of B100 biodiesel in all equipment with New Holland-manufactured diesel engines, including electronic injection engines with common rail technology. Overall, nearly 80 percent of the tractor and equipment manufacturer's New Holland-branded products with diesel engines are now available to operate on B100 biodiesel. Tractor and equipment maker John Deere meanwhile clarified its position for customers that want to use biodiesel blends up to B20. Grainnet - December 5, 2007.

    According to Wetlands International, an NGO, the Kyoto Protocol as it currently stands does not take into account possible emissions from palm oil grown on a particular type of land found in Indonesia and Malaysia, namely peatlands. Mongabay - December 5, 2007.

    Malaysia's oil & gas giant Petronas considers entering the biofuels sector. Zamri Jusoh, senior manager of Petronas' petroleum development management unit told reporters "of course our focus is on oil and gas, but I think as we move into the future we cannot ignore the importance of biofuels." AFP - December 5, 2007.

    In just four months, the use of biodiesel in the transport sector has substantially improved air quality in Metro Manila, data from the Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) showed. A blend of one percent coco-biodiesel is mandated by the Biofuels Act of 2007 which took effect last May. By 2009, it would be increased to two percent. Philippine Star - December 4, 2007.

    Kazakhstan will next year adopt laws to regulate its fledgling biofuel industry and plans to construct at least two more plants in the next 18 months to produce environmentally friendly fuel from crops, industry officials said. According to Akylbek Kurishbayev, vice-minister for agriculture, he Central Asian country has the potential to produce 300,000 tons a year of biodiesel and export half. Kazakhstan could also produce up to 1 billion liters of bioethanol, he said. "The potential is huge. If we use this potential wisely, we can become one of the world's top five producers of biofuels," Beisen Donenov, executive director of the Kazakhstan Biofuels Association, said on the sidelines of a grains forum. Reuters - November 30, 2007.

    SRI Consulting released a report on chemicals from biomass. The analysis highlights six major contributing sources of green and renewable chemicals: increasing production of biofuels will yield increasing amounts of biofuels by-products; partial decomposition of certain biomass fractions can yield organic chemicals or feedstocks for the manufacture of various chemicals; forestry has been and will continue to be a source of pine chemicals; evolving fermentation technology and new substrates will also produce an increasing number of chemicals. Chemical Online - November 27, 2007.

    German industrial conglomerate MAN AG plans to expand into renewable energies such as biofuels and solar power. Chief Executive Hakan Samuelsson said services unit Ferrostaal would lead the expansion. Reuters - November 24, 2007.

    Analysts think Vancouver-based Ballard Power Systems, which pumped hundreds of millions and decades of research into developing hydrogen fuel cells for cars, is going to sell its automotive division. Experts describe the development as "the death of the hydrogen highway". The problems with H2 fuel cell cars are manifold: hydrogen is a mere energy carrier and its production requires a primary energy input; production is expensive, as would be storage and distribution; finally, scaling fuel cells and storage tanks down to fit in cars remains a huge challenge. Meanwhile, critics have said that the primary energy for hydrogen can better be used for electricity and electric vehicles. On a well-to-wheel basis, the cleanest and most efficient way to produce hydrogen is via biomass, so the news is a set-back for the biohydrogen community. But then again, biomass can be used more efficiently as electricity for battery cars. Canada.com - November 21, 2007.

    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.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

AAS director-general looks at pros and cons of biofuels for developing countries

In June of this year, Dr. Shem Arungu Olende, secretary-general of the African Academy Of Sciences, delivered a lecture on the benefits and risks of biofuels for developing countries at a Kenya National Academy of Sciences workshop in Nairobi. In it, he writes that biofuels offer 'huge potential', but pose challenges best countered with strong and coherent development policies.

In the lecture, Arungu Olende focuses on first-generation biofuels only, while the development of the next generation, which uses any type of biomass, is meanwhile making progress. The text is part of SciDev's dossier on the science and technology challenges in developing countries that wish to participate in the biofuels sector.

Global production of biofuels is growing steadily and will continue to do so, the secretary-general writes. Biofuels offer greater energy security, reduced emissions of greenhouse gases and particulates, rural development, better vehicle performance, and reduced demand for petroleum.

But they also raise pressing issues that need addressing before biofuels become widespread around the world, and in Africa in particular. These relate to land requirements and availability, policies, knowledge, standards, awareness, participation and investment.

Africa has relatively little biofuel development, except in South Africa, and more information on the few activities that are underway is urgently needed.

Across the world, but particularly in Africa, policymakers and researchers need to:
  • better understand how biomass production affects food production; and
  • identify suitable feedstock for biofuels
  • research the most appropriate production and processing procedures, environmental impacts and the potential for domestic, regional and international trade in biofuels.
Biofuels offer many benefits. By reducing demand for petroleum, biofuels could make energy supply more secure. Their use would also reduce import bills for energy-deficient countries and offer improved balance of trade and balance of payments. All these developments would unfreeze scarce resources for other pressing needs.

Emissions of greenhouse gases, carbon monoxide and particulates could all be significantly reduced. And biofuels also improve vehicle performance — biodiesel lubricity actually extends the life of diesel engines.

There are potential benefits for agricultural and rural development, including new jobs and income generation, which would undoubtedly help meet the Millennium Development Goals:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Moreover, the move to biofuels will create new industries and bring increased economic activity. It should also provide opportunities for carbon trading for many African countries.

Biofuels are renewable, and bioethanol and biodiesel are clean burning. Importantly, they may be easier to commercialise than other alternatives because they can be stored and distributed using existing infrastructure.

Biofuels should have a significant role in climate change policies, and this will certainly open up opportunities for biofuel development in developing countries, including Africa.

The situation in Africa
Worldwide, there have been major strides in producing and using biofuels, especially in Brazil, China, India and the United States. Yet there has been relatively little action in Africa, except for South Africa.

Countries growing sugarcane, mainly for sugar production, could with minimum effort either expand their activities in bioethanol production or initiate bioethanol production projects. These include Angola, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Of these, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, South Africa and Zimbabwe have all at one time or other used bioethanol as a transport or domestic fuel.

The potential for increasing ethanol production from African sugarcane is high; it is simply a question of redefining strategies to factor in large-scale ethanol production for domestic use, and in the longer run, for export.

Several factors will determine the economics of moving to biofuels, including economies of scale and national policies for using ethanol in transport.

Africa's biofuel activities are concentrated in South Africa, where a 'white paper' has been prepared for government discussion. It proposes government actions and investment opportunities to foster biofuel development. Bio-diesel One, a South African company, has installed a test processor and has shown that a blend of five per cent biodiesel and 95 per cent petroleum diesel improves engine performance, offers enhanced lubricity and some reduction in emissions. Other projects include a 45,000 hectare nursery with an initial planting of four million jatropha curcas trees, the seeds of which will be used to produce biodiesel.

In Kenya, the government plans cooperation with Japan to produce biofuels.

In central Ghana, Ghana Bio-Energy Ltd is constructing a plant for processing jatropha oil into biodiesel.

Malawi's biodiesel association has contracts for a jatropha curcas planting programme, while Uganda plans to be the first African country to operate a biodiesel plant, with an estimated investment of $30 million. The project is the brainchild of BIDCO Refineries Ltd, which operates a vegetable oil plant in Jinja.

Pitfalls to avoid
Before biofuels become widespread, we must tackle several pressing issues. Biofuels still need research to identify suitable feedstocks, the most appropriate production and processing procedures, environmental impacts, potential land use conflict with food crops, and international trade opportunities.

Land requirements and availability
Producing biofuels on a large scale could require huge tracts of land. Many countries cannot afford to divert land away from food production.

The 'food versus fuel' controversy is complex. Food and biomass require the same resources for production — land, water and agrochemicals. Food and fuel need not necessarily compete, particularly when there is careful planning for ecological conservation and sustainable production methods. But the real situation is less clear cut.

Worldwide, many studies on land availability give wide-ranging results, depending on their data sources and assumptions. And I am not aware of any such studies in individual African countries.

Policy issues
Few countries have comprehensive biofuel policies, and where present, they are often driven largely by agricultural considerations. Policies are urgently required to:
capture a wide spectrum of activities involving energy, environment, land use, land-use change, forestry, agriculture, water resources, transport; and address the economic, social and environmental implications of widespread production, use and trade in biofuels. Successful policy development and implementation requires a robust legal, regulatory and institutional framework. Legislation would guide regulation, management and development of biofuels by creating an administrative framework and procedures for managing projects and programmes.

Informed and effective policymaking needs reliable data and information. Information is most useful when it has been painstakingly collected, processed and analysed, and for biofuels, relevant information from the transportation, forestry, energy, agriculture, and environment sectors will be required. We still need to develop accurate ways to estimate and project biofuel demand in domestic and global markets.

Certainly, information on biofuel demand in African countries is inadequate. So is knowledge of biofuel resources and production, including the most appropriate feedstocks — all of which are critical in formulating a viable policy. These must be properly assessed. This could be done by developing a resource database and building the capacity to manage such a database.

Another factor limiting biofuel development and trade is the lack of standards for the sector in Africa, and indeed in many countries elsewhere in the world. There are no international standards either, making it difficult for biofuels to reach the global market.

Awareness and participation
Experience from a number of countries shows that active government involvement is important for developing biofuel programmes. Valuable lessons can be drawn from Germany, Brazil and the United States.

Germany has become a leader in high-technology biofuel production, due to strong government commitment, viable policy and solid collaboration from the private sector. This positive environment has in turn unleashed innovation.

The United States, too, has been active for some time. Congress and a number of States have provided robust support for biofuel development.

So has Brazil, especially for bioethanol. Biofuels are near the top of development agenda in the country.

But despite these lessons, African countries will still need to consider their own situations, since the experiences of others may not be easily replicable where conditions may differ.

Large-scale biofuel development needs financial resources. Worldwide, interest in biofuels is certainly growing, which will hopefully spur investments.

Many developing countries could obtain funding from international financial institutions and regional and sub-regional development banks. Other development partners are also ready to participate in viable projects.

But a crucial first step will be government action to create a favourable environment for domestic, as well as international, investors. Initiatives must forge partnerships between the public and private sectors.

Scientific prospects
Worldwide, large-scale production of biofuels is growing fast. Further research and developments are expected in several areas: continuous fermentation and immobilised cells; developing organisms with increased tolerance to alcohols, wider substrate ranges and higher temperatures; and lower energy requirements for recovery of alcohols. In some regions with high agricultural productivity and no petroleum resources, carbohydrates are already converted into alcohols. This trend will probably become more widespread over the coming decades with technical progress.

Producing ethanol by breaking down cellulosic materials, such as switch-grass or fast-growing trees like hybrid poplars, with enzymes is promising. And work is also underway to genetically modify crops and plants for higher energy yields.

Big challenges in world energy
Energy's critical importance in socio-economic development and environmental protection is now universally recognised. But the way energy is used currently is unsustainable. The challenge facing the international community is how best to move towards developing and using energy sustainably.

The potential contribution of renewable energy sources and technologies, particularly in developing countries, is high. A number of factors have hindered their development — including inadequate policies and limited access to existing technologies and investments. Development must now be speeded up to help solve the critical issue of inadequate primary energy sources in many areas.

We must encourage massive investments in energy resource development and use, and put in place mechanisms to build capacity in the energy sector.

: jatropha farmer in Mali. Credit: ICRISAT.

SciDev: Biofuels: benefits and risks for developing countries - December 5, 2007.


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