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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.

    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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Monday, December 10, 2007

Scientists find global warming intensified El Niño in the past; provides clues for the future

Scientists from France and Chile have found [*French] that the climatic phenomenon known as El Niño intensified significantly because of global warming in the past. Their results offer a new starting point to investigate whether the extreme El Niño events that occured at the end of the 20th century were due to (anthropogenic) climate change, and whether they are a first signal of ever more intense extreme weather events in the regions hit by the phenomenon. The findings are published in Geophysical Research Letters.

El Niño ('Child Jesus') got its name because it generally occurs at the time of Christmas along the Peruvian coasts. This mode of variability of the climate, also called ENSO (El Niño-Southern Oscillation), results from a series of interactions between the atmosphere and the tropical ocean. Its effects are drought in otherwise humid areas and, vice versa, precipitation and even floods in arid zones (schematic, click to enlarge).

Scientists qualify this phenomenon as 'quasi-cyclical' because its periodicity, which varies from 2 to 7 years, does not have a strict regularity. Drawing on research carried out for over 25 years by oceanographers, climatologists and meteorologists, the mechanisms driving El Niño events are becoming known better and better. However, it has been difficult to include and understand the influence of other modes of climate variability on the ENSO subsystem. More precisely, until now it was not known whether the intensity and the frequency of the phenomenon is undergoing changes because of planetary global warming.

Now a team made up of Chilean scientists and researchers from France's Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD) sheds new light on the question. The researchers took sediment cores, going 80 metres deep, in the bay of Mejillones, located in the north of Chile, and analysed the geochemical data contained in the samples. In particular they zoomed in on the by-products of the decomposition of diatoms - unicellular planktonic algae - which allowed for a precise determination of the changes of ocean surface temperatures in this area between 1650 and 2000.

The researchers found a sea temperature drop of more than 2°C between 1820 and 1878. The same decrease was detected in two samples collected near the South American coast more than one thousand kilometers north and south of Mejillones. The findings prove the ocean temperatures observed since 1820 affected the entire coastline of western South America, from central Chile to the north of Peru. The entire stretch of ocean where the Humboldt current can be found was thus the theatre of a significant cooling during this period.

However, this conclusion is paradoxical because the beginning of the 19th century coincides with the end of the 'Small Ice Age' which was accompanied by a reheating of the planet. In order to supplement and double check the data, the scientists studied minerals contained in the sediment samples, which made it possible to confirm that these minerals were transported by the winds from the continent. From this they concluded that the dominant trade winds in the region were strengthened at the time, pushing back the layer of warm surface water towards the west, resulting in an upwelling of cold water found usually in the deep along the Pacific coasts of South America:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The assumption was confirmed by the measurement of the organic carbon flow which is directly related to an increase in the concentration of nutrients in the surface water. The increase in this flow, consistent with the observation of a 'cold phase' between 1820 and 1878, proves that the rise in the concentration in nutrients is the consequence of an upwelling of cold water.

The researchers then put forth the assumption that, in a climatic context of warming like the one which followed the end of the Small Ice Age, the important variation in temperature between the continent's land mass and that of the ocean would be responsible for this strengthening of the trade winds.

Whereas the coastal desert of Atacama was heated quickly during this period, the temperature of sea water would have increased much more slowly. Because this difference persisted and even grew, dominant winds intensified. By pushing back surface waters towards the west, these winds would thus have allowed the cooling of coastal water, modifying the normal mode of El Niño, which is usually characterized by a heating of the water.

Between the end of the Small Ice Age and the onset of the warming effects caused by anthropogenic climate change, the ENSO changed its mode.

These historical climatology studies also explain the observations made by chroniclers at the time who describe floods and an abrupt change in El Niño's behavior, occuring around 1820, along the peaceful coasts of South America.

Since the beginning of the 19th century, from the end of the Small Ice Age onwards, the ENSO has been characterized by abnormal rains occuring at in central Chile during the southern winter and on the northern coast of Peru during the next southern summer.

The new results underline the complexity of the interactions between global changes in the climate, the particularities of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation and regional climatic changes.

Now it remains to be determined whether the very strong intensity of the two extreme El Niño events occuring at the end of the 20th century, in 1982-1983 and again in 1997-1998, are also related to the recent intensification of the warming of the land mass caused by global warming. If that were indeed the case, El Niño could then become increasingly intense and have destructive impacts on the coasts of South America, but also in other areas of the planet.

The research was undertaken by the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement in collaboration with the Universities of Chile and Concepción. They follow upon the doctoral thesis of Gabriel Vargas supported at the University of Bordeaux I and financed by the IRD.

(Note, Chilean universities recently launched a bioenergy program based on drought-tolerant energy crops to be planted in the arid zones along the coast. The project will have to take into account potential for more extreme El Niño events in the future.)

Translated for Biopact by Laurens Rademakers, 2007, CC.

Vargas G., Pantoja S., Rutllant J. A., Lange C. B., Ortlieb L. "Enhancement of coastal upwelling and interdecadal ENSO-like variability in the Peru-Chile Current since late 19th century", Geophysical Research Letters, 2007, 34 (13), doi:10.1029/2006GL028812

AlphaGalileo: El Niño affecté par le réchauffement de la planète - December 10, 2007.

IRD: Les recherches sur le climat à l'IRD - dossier [*.pdf] - 2007.

Biopact: Chile and the U.S. to cooperate on biofuels development - July 14, 2007


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