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    Spanish company Ferry Group is to invest €42/US$55.2 million in a project for the production of biomass fuel pellets in Bulgaria. The 3-year project consists of establishing plantations of paulownia trees near the city of Tran. Paulownia is a fast-growing tree used for the commercial production of fuel pellets. Dnevnik - Feb. 20, 2007.

    Hungary's BHD Hõerõmû Zrt. is to build a 35 billion Forint (€138/US$182 million) commercial biomass-fired power plant with a maximum output of 49.9 MW in Szerencs (northeast Hungary). Portfolio.hu - Feb. 20, 2007.

    Tonight at 9pm, BBC Two will be showing a program on geo-engineering techniques to 'save' the planet from global warming. Five of the world's top scientists propose five radical scientific inventions which could stop climate change dead in its tracks. The ideas include: a giant sunshade in space to filter out the sun's rays and help cool us down; forests of artificial trees that would breath in carbon dioxide and stop the green house effect and a fleet futuristic yachts that will shoot salt water into the clouds thickening them and cooling the planet. BBC News - Feb. 19, 2007.

    Archer Daniels Midland, the largest U.S. ethanol producer, is planning to open a biodiesel plant in Indonesia with Wilmar International Ltd. this year and a wholly owned biodiesel plant in Brazil before July, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. The Brazil plant is expected to be the nation's largest, the paper said. Worldwide, the company projects a fourfold rise in biodiesel production over the next five years. ADM was not immediately available to comment. Reuters - Feb. 16, 2007.

    Finnish engineering firm Pöyry Oyj has been awarded contracts by San Carlos Bioenergy Inc. to provide services for the first bioethanol plant in the Philippines. The aggregate contract value is EUR 10 million. The plant is to be build in the Province of San Carlos on the north-eastern tip of Negros Island. The plant is expected to deliver 120,000 liters/day of bioethanol and 4 MW of excess power to the grid. Kauppalehti Online - Feb. 15, 2007.

    In order to reduce fuel costs, a Mukono-based flower farm which exports to Europe, is building its own biodiesel plant, based on using Jatropha curcas seeds. It estimates the fuel will cut production costs by up to 20%. New Vision (Kampala, Uganda) - Feb. 12, 2007.

    The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has decided to use 10% biodiesel in its fleet of public buses. The world's largest city is served by the Toei Bus System, which is used by some 570,000 people daily. Digital World Tokyo - Feb. 12, 2007.

    Fearing lack of electricity supply in South Africa and a price tag on CO2, WSP Group SA is investing in a biomass power plant that will replace coal in the Letaba Citrus juicing plant which is located in Tzaneen. Mining Weekly - Feb. 8, 2007.

    In what it calls an important addition to its global R&D capabilities, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) is to build a new bioenergy research center in Hamburg, Germany. World Grain - Feb. 5, 2007.

    EthaBlog's Henrique Oliveira interviews leading Brazilian biofuels consultant Marcelo Coelho who offers insights into the (foreign) investment dynamics in the sector, the history of Brazilian ethanol and the relationship between oil price trends and biofuels. EthaBlog - Feb. 2, 2007.

    The government of Taiwan has announced its renewable energy target: 12% of all energy should come from renewables by 2020. The plan is expected to revitalise Taiwan's agricultural sector and to boost its nascent biomass industry. China Post - Feb. 2, 2007.

    Production at Cantarell, the world's second biggest oil field, declined by 500,000 barrels or 25% last year. This virtual collapse is unfolding much faster than projections from Mexico's state-run oil giant Petroleos Mexicanos. Wall Street Journal - Jan. 30, 2007.

    Dubai-based and AIM listed Teejori Ltd. has entered into an agreement to invest €6 million to acquire a 16.7% interest in Bekon, which developed two proprietary technologies enabling dry-fermentation of biomass. Both technologies allow it to design, establish and operate biogas plants in a highly efficient way. Dry-Fermentation offers significant advantages to the existing widely used wet fermentation process of converting biomass to biogas. Ame Info - Jan. 22, 2007.

    Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited is to build a biofuel production plant in the tribal belt of Banswara, Rajasthan, India. The petroleum company has acquired 20,000 hectares of low value land in the district, which it plans to commit to growing jatropha and other biofuel crops. The company's chairman said HPCL was also looking for similar wasteland in the state of Chhattisgarh. Zee News - Jan. 15, 2007.

    The Zimbabwean national police begins planting jatropha for a pilot project that must result in a daily production of 1000 liters of biodiesel. The Herald (Harare), Via AllAfrica - Jan. 12, 2007.

    In order to meet its Kyoto obligations and to cut dependence on oil, Japan has started importing biofuels from Brazil and elsewhere. And even though the country has limited local bioenergy potential, its Agriculture Ministry will begin a search for natural resources, including farm products and their residues, that can be used to make biofuels in Japan. To this end, studies will be conducted at 900 locations nationwide over a three-year period. The Japan Times - Jan. 12, 2007.

    Chrysler's chief economist Van Jolissaint has launched an arrogant attack on "quasi-hysterical Europeans" and their attitudes to global warming, calling the Stern Review 'dubious'. The remarks illustrate the yawning gap between opinions on climate change among Europeans and Americans, but they also strengthen the view that announcements by US car makers and legislators about the development of green vehicles are nothing more than window dressing. Today, the EU announced its comprehensive energy policy for the 21st century, with climate change at the center of it. BBC News - Jan. 10, 2007.

    The new Canadian government is investing $840,000 into BioMatera Inc. a biotech company that develops industrial biopolymers (such as PHA) that have wide-scale applications in the plastics, farmaceutical and cosmetics industries. Plant-based biopolymers such as PHA are biodegradable and renewable. Government of Canada - Jan. 9, 2007.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

C4 plants do respond to atmospheric CO2 enrichment

Earlier we referred to some recent studies into the ways plants adapt to climate change and increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations (here and here). CO2science reports that in a new study, scientists counter the historically accepted idea that C4 plants are less responsive than C3 plants to experimentally-induced increases in the air's CO2 concentration. At times these C4 plants have been found to be almost totally unresponsive, in terms of both their photosynthetic and biomass production rates.

But Tang et al. carried out an experiment - conducted under conditions of low soil phosphorus (P) content - and grew a group of three C4 grasses and three C3 grasses. They found the C4 species to respond better than their counterparts.

'C3' and 'C4' refer to different strategies with which plants fix carbon (binding the gaseous molecules to dissolved compounds inside the plant) for sugar production through photosynthesis. Evolutionary speaking, the C3 photosynthetic pathway is the oldest and covers approximately 95% of the world's plant biomass. Most grass species in temperate climates belong to this group.

The C4 strategy is younger and more efficient, resulting in higher biomass productivity (see image, click to enlarge). Many promising (tropical) energy crops follow this pathway. They include sugarcane, sorghum, and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum).

The three researchers from China's Zhejiang University grew the three C3 grasses (Poa annua L., Lolium perenne L., Avena fatua L.) and the three C4 grasses (Echinochloa crusgalli var. mitis (L.) Beauv., Eleusine indica (L.), Setaria glauca (L.) P. Beauv.) from seed to maturity under well watered conditions within controlled-environment chambers (maintained at a mean atmospheric CO2 concentration of either 350 or 700 ppm) in pots containing 2.5 kg of soil that was low in extractable P content. Under these conditions, total aboveground plus belowground plant biomass was enhanced by an average of 9.92% due to the doubling of the air's CO2 concentration in the group of C3 grasses, but by an average of 12.27% by the doubling of the air's CO2 concentration in the group of C4 grasses.

So how did it happen that the CO2-induced growth response of the C4 grasses was nearly 25% greater than that of the C3 grasses:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Tang et al. report that the C3 grasses they studied had low mycorrhizal colonization and that atmospheric CO2 enrichment did not significantly enhance this beneficial symbiosis, whereas injecting extra CO2 into the air did enhance mycorrhizal colonization in the C4 grasses. (Mycorrhizae are the result of the colonisation of the roots of the plants by a fungus, in a mutually beneficial relationship (either inside or outside of the root cells); the fungus survives by tapping energy (sugars) from the roots, but in exchange it allows the plant to make use of the fungus' tremendous surface area to absorb mineral nutrients from the soil.)

In addition, they say they observed "a positive correlation between mycorrhizal colonization rate and shoot P concentration, and between the increase in mycorrhizal colonization rate and the increase in total P uptake under elevated CO2," which findings they interpreted as suggesting that "mycorrhizae might enlarge P uptake for plants that have high mycorrhizal colonization and then promote host-plant growth response to elevated CO2." Or as they describe the situation in another place in their paper, "the C4 grasses ... used in our experiment were also significant mycorrhizal hosts and their mycorrhizal colonization was significantly stimulated by elevated CO2," which suggested to them that this situation may "promote the total P uptake of the C4 grass in low P soil and enhance the C4 grasses' response to CO2 enrichment."

As an added "bonus," so to speak, Tang et al. had also included three C3 forbs (Veronica didyma Ten., Plantago virginica L., Gnaphalium affine D.Don.) in their study, as well as three legumes (Vicia cracca L., Medicago lupulina L., Kummerowia striata (Thunb.) Schindl.), both of which plant groups responded better to the researchers' enriching of the air about them with CO2 than did the two groups of grasses. The C3 forbs, for example, exhibited a mean biomass increase of 35.61%, while the legumes exhibited a mean biomass increase of 41.48%. Of these latter champion responders, the researchers wrote that they too "had high levels of mycorrhizae, and their mycorrhizal symbionts were stimulated greatly by CO2." And they again noted that the "higher enhanced total P uptake of legumes under elevated CO2 concentrations implies that mycorrhizae may facilitate P uptake and enhance legume response to elevated CO2."

More information:
Tang, J., Chen, J. and Chen, X. Response of 12 weedy species to elevated CO2 in low-phosphorus-availability soil. Ecological Research 21: 664-670.

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NASA scientist thinks salt-tolerant crops have large biofuel potential

Dennis Bushnell, chief scientist at NASA's Langley Research Center, where scientists test emerging technologies, is confident that within five years commercial aircraft could be powered using a type of biofuel derived from saltwater plants, or halophytes, grown in desert areas and irrigated using sea water. While the concept may sound far-fetched, engine manufacturer General Electric says it is following developments in this area "with interest". The chief scientist claims that an area smaller than the Sahara desert could yield enough biomass to replace the world's total fossil fuel requirements.

Bushnell says 22 countries are carrying out small experimental activities into the cultivation of halophytes for use in food production, although he admits "nobody is doing this type of biomass for aircraft" at this time. Nevertheless, Bushnell sees "no stoppers" to augmenting halophyte-derived biomass to produce biofuels capable of powering aircraft.

"This is far from evolutionary, it's just outside people's radar screens and the usual human reaction to this is to say that it's impossible," says Bushnell. "What's nice about biofuel is that it can use the existing infrastructure used by the oil companies and can be available much sooner than hydrogen, which would require changes to infrastructure and is, therefore, much further into the future."

Plant-based fuels such as biodiesel, ethanol or biogas can be produced from biomass ranging from cow manure and grass to wood chips and root crops. The advantage of developing biofuel from halophytes as opposed to other types of biomass is that saltwater plants are not dependent on fresh water, which is in increasingly short supply, and can instead be irrigated using plentiful sea water supplies. Bushnell notes that, following irrigation, the salt from the sea water "should leach back into the ocean" without causing problems to agriculture. Other scientists have found there to be a definite potential for 'saline agriculture' in the developing world.

Suitable areas around the world for cultivating halophytes include the Sahara desert and the Sahel, Western Australia, south-west USA, parts of the Middle East and parts of Peru. Scientists claim that an area smaller than the Sahara desert could yield enough biomass to replace the world's fossil fuel requirements.

Wetter deserts
Furthering the case for halophyte production, Bushnell says that, as these plants are grown in the desert, they will produce a cooler, wetter land surface, which could lead to rainfall in areas of the world where rainwater is in short supply:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

GE Aviation manager of advanced combustor engineering Timothy Held believes some progress can be made within five years on testing biofuels derived from halophytes for use in commercial aircraft engines, but he says that the entire process of developing and producing the fuel will take longer. "It seems plausible that some amount of suitable fuel could be made available for testing purposes in the five-year timeframe," he says.

"However, the steps of establishing suitability for use in flight gas turbines, obtaining approval from the engine manufacturers, incorporation of the new fuel into a specification and developing large-scale production capacity are quite time-consuming," Held says. While biodiesel has been used by GE to operate marine gas turbines, it is not suitable for aircraft engines because of its poor low-temperature properties, but he believes a fuel derived from bio-oil by conversion to a paraffin-based product has a significant chance of becoming a viable aviation fuel.

NASA's Bushnell believes the argument in favour of biofuels for aviation is being reinvigorated by "the incipient demise of cheap oil" and increasing evidence of global warming due to the burning of fossil fuels. "This is the only easy solution I know of, both in terms of economics and timescale, and we do not need major capital investments to do this. It is definitely worth a serious look," he says.

Bushnell brainstorms
We found an interesting (and very enthusiastic) stream of thoughts of the chief scientist on salt-tolerant crops and their biofuels potential. In the process of researching future technology/future warfare for the Military and Intelligence Communities, he ran across the following:

:: "The 'Bio Revolution' is developing plant life which is not only tolerant of brackish water but even thrives on seawater. I [Bushnell] understand that seawater-irrigated tomatoes are quite tasty."

:: "The Department of Energy (DOE) has the enzymes to convert such bio mass into petro-chemical feed stock, enabling biomass energy, including hydrogen, production on a MASSIVE SCALE. And this is in previously underdeveloped areas, in essentially a CLOSED [overall] CO2 cycle, using non-fresh water."

:: "Such an approach changes, on a global scale, nearly everything, including much of energy-related economics. [What would happen] should we no longer need to use fossil fuels for energy or conventional agriculture? And, such biomass also could be used for food and plastics, etc.. The resultant evaporation of seawater on these land masses could also produce terraforming, putting rainfall back into the Middle East, and reversing the desertification of the sub-Sahara and similar areas."

:: "Such an approach, enabled by the "Bio Revolution", could enable MASSIVE changes in agriculture, land use, and global economics and potentially aleviate the fresh water, global warming, land and food shortage problems while providing a CLEAN (closed CO2 cycle) energy source (with MANY ways to distribute the energy,including H20."

:: "In addition, the resultant mineral layer after evaporation is rich in MANY useful materials. Its use could obviate several currently polluting "mining" activities. Also,the Scientific American article argues that the soils in these areas are such that much of the salt would leach back into the ocean."

:: "The Indians (on the Indian sub-continent) utilize, and have utilized, existing plant stocks/species which were naturally adapted to brackish/salt water." Bushnell notes that he has several such growing in his backyard, on the York River in Virginia, a tidal estuary. The National Academy report mentioned above documents all this: some food utilization, much animal feed, etc. The key, evidently, would be to increase yet more the salt tolerance/processing bits and, for energy biomass, to increase the growth rate.

:: The Scientific American article notes that "Yields of salt-tolerant crops grown using seawater agriculture are comparable to freshwater-grown alfalfa". And this is BEFORE anybody might muck about with the genomics, etc.

:: MSNBC ran an article on 7/31/01 entitled "GM Tomato is the first to grow in salty water and soil" - indicating a beginning of the genomic "Salt-Transformation", albeit on a "back-burner" basis.

:: People are seriously looking into CO2/Carbon sequestration, and all sorts of expensive projects/approaches just for attacking global warming. According to Bushnell, the seawater cost approach "mitigates most of the major current human/species/planet ills" and it has tremendous potential geo-political impacts. "Simplistically, the oilmen become "farmers", but still stay in the Chemical Engineering business. The winners are the Australians, the North Africans, the Navaho and Hopi Indians in the American southwest, the Saudis and other desert-near-ocean owning groups, although pumping seawater inland is not that much of an issue."

:: Could this approach mitigate global warming (plants take up the CO2), provide a new source of Energy (just the Sahara may be enough to produce current energy requirements), and provide unlimited sources of fresh water?

:: Although there are alternatives for the energy and global warming isuees, says Bushnell, including "the wastly less expensive than current silicon Nano-PhotoVoltaics and H-B11 aneutronic fusion. An additional "gleam-in-the-eye" is Tapping Zero Point Energy, which some are seriously working on, has largely passed the giggle-factor stage. However,the seawater agriculture is doable NOW, is INEXPENSIVE, and has a large number of anciliary benefits. Conventional wisdom has it that Biomass is limited by conventional/arable land and fresh water limitations/scarcity. Seawater Agriculture removes these limitations. This is, of course, SOLAR!"

More information:

Edward Glenn, Jed Brown, and James O'Leary, "Irrigating Crops with Seawater",[*.pdf], Scientific American, August 1998.

"Saline Agriculture: Salt-Tolerant Plants for Developing Countries", U.S. National Academies of Science Press, 1990.

Stanford Solar Center: Ideas on the Use of Seawater Irrigation/Agriculture for Energy, Global Warming, Land, Fresh Water, Food & Minerals.

Flight Global: Making the desert bloom - with fuel-yielding plants, Jan. 16, 2007.

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Dynamotive introduces higher energy content type of bio-oil for heavy and intermediate fuel market

Dynamotive Energy Systems Corporation, which develops and markets biomass-based biofuel technology and products based on its advanced fast-pyrolysis process (earlier post), today announced the introduction of ‘Intermediate BioOil,’ a higher energy grade of bio-oil aimed as an alternative fuel for the intermediate and heavy fuel oil markets and as a higher energy source for production of synthetic fuels from biomass.

The fuel was developed at Dynamotive’s West Lorne facility and has undergone combustion, emission and certification tests throughout 2006.

The heat output of the 'Intermediate BioOil' averages 14% higher than the company’s standard bio-oil. Developed to compete functionally and on price-performance with commonly used industrial fuels such as No. 2 and No. 6 heating oil, it is a blend of 80% bio-oil and 20% char ground to under 8 microns.

'Intermediate BioOil' produced at West Lorne recently received EcoLogo certification, having met stringent environmental criteria for industrial fuels as measured by Environment Canada’s Environmental Choice Program. EcoLogo signifies that the manufacturing process of the product and its production facility has been audited by a third party sanctioned by Environment Canada, and supported by empirical data on combustion tests conducted by both the company and authorized third parties.

“This new product and the EcoLogo certification are important developments in Dynamotive’s drive to offer competitively priced, environmentally friendly, renewable fuel alternatives for conventional fuel and heating oils, as well as an economical feedstock for conversion into synthetic fuels, including syn-diesel. Dynamotive’s BioOil and Intermediate BioOil can be used in burners, furnaces, and the BioOil also in gas turbines. By varying the carbon content, customers requiring higher thermal outputs can now have a renewable fuel choice to meet their needs and reduce costs" -- Dynamotive President and CEO Andrew Kingston stated.

Dynamotive also disclosed that this fuel grade can be produced at its new Guelph, Ontario, plant and that it would seek certification for fuel from this plant once it is in operation. Construction of this plant is forecast to be completed in the spring. The new 200-tonne-per-day plant, located about 40 miles west of Toronto, is the company’s second bio-oil plant in the province:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Both bio-oil and char are produced simultaneously during Dynamotive’s proprietary fast-pyrolysis process (see image, click to enlarge, or flash animation), which creates a usable source of energy from cellulosic biomass. Fast pyrolysis is a carbon/greenhouse-gas-neutral technology that rapidly heats biomass in an oxygen-free environment to turn dry waste and energy crops into bio-oil and char for power and heat generation.

The fast-pyrolysis process involves the followin steps: prepared feedstock (<10%>

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Zambia Sugar plans major expansion, to produce ethanol

Zambia Sugar Plc, the country's largest sugarcane plantation and processing company, plans to raise sugar output by almost 70% to 440,000 tons by 2011 to meet rising local demand, to supply exports to the EU and to produce ethanol.

Zambia Sugar [*no website] said in an environmental assessment report submitted to the Environmental Council of Zambia (ECZ) that it planned to increase sugar production to 440,000 tons in 2010/11 from 260,000 this year. The firm also plans to start producing bioethanol at its Nakambala Estate plantation in Mazabuka, 125km south of Lusaka, once permission is granted for its expansion programme.

Zambia Sugar did not indicate how much it would spend to expand its mill and area under cultivation to reach its new production targets. The report said the firm would increase its hectarage from its current 11,050 hectares to 16,995 hectares to lift cane production to a peak of 3,25-million tons by 2010/11 from 1,8-million tons currently.

Even though no details were released on how much ethanol the company will be producing, we can more or less deduce the potential, by looking at the feedstock. "It is envisaged that molasses produced at Nakambala will be used as a source for conversion to ethanol," said the report.

If 3.25 million tons of sugarcane yield 440,000 tons of white sugar, then Zambia Sugar has a cane conversion rate of around 7.4%. Molasses (all grades) has a residue-to-product ratio of around 0.2, meaning that for each ton of sugar produced, some 200kg of the feedstock becomes available (see FAO); in total, some 88,000 tons. At an average ethanol conversion ratio of around 35% (for all grades of molasses), the total biofuel production potential from the byproduct in 2011 would be around 31,000 tons. The company did not disclose whether bagasse, the major byproduct of sugarcane processing, would be used to generate electricity.

Maximizing the technology mix and taking a high input scenario, Zambia has some 9.5 million hectares of land suitable for rainfed sugarcane:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Zambia Sugar, majority owned by SA’s Illovo Sugar, currently exports 10% of its white sugar to the European Union under a preferential sugar export treaty, while 50% is consumed within Zambia and the rest exported to other southern and east African countries. The company said it would start to produce ethanol from sugar by-product molasses.

Mollasses was currently sold to farmers for stock feed and also exported to SA, it said. Zambia Sugar, which is listed on the Lusaka Stock Exchange), employs a total of 5 102 workers, about 3 346 of them as seasonal workers during the cane cutting peak period.

More information:
On land availability, see the data at the Global Agro-Ecological Assessment for Agriculture in the 21st Century, produced by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and the FAO. Inside the website (optimized for Internet Explorer browsers), check under spreadsheets > additional > sugarcane.

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