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    Portugal's government expects total investment in biomass energy will reach €500 million in 2012, when its target of 250MW capacity is reached. By that date, biomass will reduce 700,000 tonnes of carbon emissions. By 2010, biomass will represent 5% of the country's energy production. Forbes - March 22, 2007.

    The Scottish Executive has announced a biomass action plan for Scotland, through which dozens of green energy projects across the region are set to benefit from an additional £3 million of funding. The plan includes greater use of the forestry and agriculture sectors, together with grant support to encourage greater use of biomass products. Energy Business Review Online - March 21, 2007.

    The U.S. Dep't of Agriculture's Forest Service has selected 26 small businesses and community groups to receive US$6.2 million in grants from for the development of innovative uses for woody biomass. American Agriculturalist - March 21, 2007.

    Three universities, a government laboratory, and several companies are joining forces in Colorado to create what organizers hope will be a major player in the emerging field of converting biomass into fuels and other products. The Colorado Center for Biorefining & Biofuels, or C2B2, combines the biofuels and biorefining expertise of the University of Colorado, Colorado State University, the Colorado School of Mines, and the Colorado-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Founding corporate members include Dow Chemical, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Shell. C&EN - March 20, 2007.

    The city of Rome has announced plans to run its public bus fleet on a fuel mix of 20 per cent biodiesel. The city council has signed an accord that would see its 2800 buses switch to the blended fuel in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions and local air pollution. A trial of 200 buses, if successful, would see the entire fleet running on the biofuel mix by the end of 2008. Estimates put the annual emission savings at 40,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. CarbonPositive - March 19, 2007.

    CODON (Dutch Biotech Study Association) organises a symposium on the 'Biobased Economy' in Wageningen, Netherlands, home of one of Europe's largest agricultural universities. In a biobased economy, chemistry companies and other non-food enterprises primarily use renewable materials and biomass as their resources, instead of petroleum. The Netherlands has the ambition to have 30% of all used materials biobased, by 2030. FoodHolland - March 19, 2007.

    Energy giants BP and China National Petroleum Corp, the PRC's biggest oil producer, are among the companies that are in talks with Guangxi Xintiande Energy Co about buying a stake in the southern China ethanol producer to expand output. Xintiande Energy currently produces ethanol from cassava. ChinaDaily - March 16, 2007.

    Researchers at eTEC Business Development Ltd., a biofuels research company based in Vienna, Austria, have devised mobile facilities that successfully convert the biodiesel by-product glycerin into electricity. The facilities, according to researchers, will provide substantial economic growth for biodiesel plants while turning glycerin into productive renewable energy. Biodiesel Magazine - March 16, 2007.

    Ethanol Africa, which plans to build eight biofuel plants in the maize belt, has secured funding of €83/US$110 million (825 million Rand) for the first facility in Bothaville, its principal shareholder announced. Business Report - March 16, 2007.

    A joint venture between Energias de Portugal SGPS and Altri SGPS will be awarded licences to build five 100 MW biomass power stations in Portugal's eastern Castelo Branco region. EDP's EDP Bioelectrica unit and Altri's Celulose de Caima plan to fuel the power stations with forestry waste material. Total investment on the programme is projected at €250/US$333 million with 800 jobs being created. Forbes - March 16, 2007.

    Indian bioprocess engineering firm Praj wins €11/US$14.5 million contract for the construction of the wheat and beet based bio-ethanol plant for Biowanze SA in Belgium, a subsidiary of CropEnergies AG (a Sudzucker Group Company). The plant has an ethanol production capacity of 300,000 tons per year. IndiaPRWire - March 15, 2007.

    Shimadzu Scientific Instruments announced the availability of its new white paper, “Overview of Biofuels and the Analytical Processes Used in their Manufacture.” The paper is available for free download at the company’s website. The paper offers an overview of the rapidly expanding global biofuel market with specific focus on ethanol and biodiesel used in auto transportation. It provides context for these products within the fuel market and explains raw materials and manufacturing. Most important, the paper describes the analytical processes and equipment used for QA testing of raw materials, in-process materials, and end products. BusinessWire - March 15, 2007.

    Côte d'Ivoire's agriculture minister Amadou Gon has visited the biofuels section of the Salon de l'Agriculture in Paris, one of the largest fairs of its kind. According to his communication office, the minister is looking into drafting a plan for the introduction of biofuels in the West African country. AllAfrica [*French] - March 13, 2007.

    Biofuels and bioenergy producers in Ireland, a country which just recently passed bioenergy legislation, are allocated excise relief for imported biomass. Unison Ireland (subscription req'd). - March 13, 2007.

    EDF Energies Nouvelles, a subsidiary of energy giant Electricité de France, has announced a move into biofuels, by sealing a preliminary agreement with Alcofinance SA of Belgium. Upon completion of a reserved issue of shares for €23 million, EDF Energies Nouvelles will own 25% of a newly formed company housing Belgium-based Alcofinance's ethanol production and distribution activities. Alcofinance's projects are located in the Ghent Bioenergy Valley. BusinessWire - March 13, 2007.

    Fuel Tech, Inc., today announced a demonstration order for its 'Targeted In-Furnace Injection' program, part of a set of technologies aimed at controlling slagging, fouling, corrosion, opacity and acid plume problems in utility scale boilers. The order was placed by an electric generating facility located in Italy, and will be conducted on two biomass units burning a combination of wood chips and olive husks. BusinessWire - March 9, 2007.

    At a biofuels conference ahead of the EU's Summit on energy and climate change, Total's chief of agricultural affairs says building environmentally friendly 'flexible-fuel' cars only cost an additional €200 (US$263) a vehicle and that, overall, ethanol is cheaper than gasoline. MarketWatch - March 8, 2007.

    During a session of Kazakhstan's republican party congress, President Nursultan Nazarbayev announced plans to construct two large ethanol plants with the aim to produce biofuels for exports to Europe. Company 'KazAgro' and the 'akimats' (administrative units) of grain-growing regions will be charged to develop biodiesel, bioethanol and bioproducts. KazInform - March 6, 2007.

    Saab will introduce its BioPower flex-fuel options to its entire 9-3 range, including Sport Sedan, SportCombi and Convertible bodystyles, at the Geneva auto show. GreenCarCongress - March 2, 2007.

    British oil giant BP plans to invest around US$50 million in Indonesia's biofuel industry, using jatropha oil as feedstock. BP will build biofuel plants with an annual capacity of 350,000 tons for which it will need to set up jatropha curcas plantations covering 100,000 hectares of land, to guarantee supply of feedstock, an official said. Antara [*cache] - March 2, 2007.

    The government of Taiwan has decided to increase the acreage dedicated to biofuel crops -- soybean, rape, sunflower, and sweet potato -- from 1,721 hectares in 2006 to 4,550 hectares this year, the Council of Agriculture said. China Post - March 2, 2007.

    Kinder Morgan Energy Partners has announced plans to invest up to €76/US$100 million to expand its terminal facilities to help serve the growing biodiesel market. KMP has entered into long-term agreements with Green Earth Fuels, LLC to build up to 1.3 million barrels of tankage that will handle approximately 8 million barrels of biodiesel production at KMP's terminals on the Houston Ship Channel, the Port of New Orleans and in New York Harbor. PRNewswire - March 1, 2007.

    A project to build a 130 million euro ($172 million) plant to produce 200,000 cubic metres of bioethanol annually was announced by three German groups on Tuesday. The plant will consume about 600,000 tonnes of wheat annually and when operational in the first half of 2009 should provide about a third of Germany's estimated bioethanol requirements. Reuters - Feb. 27, 2007.

    Taiwan's Ministry of Economic Affairs has announced that government vehicles in Taipei City will begin using E3 fuel, composed of 97% gasoline and 3% ethanol, on a trial basis in 2007. Automotive World - Feb. 27, 2007.

    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.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

The bioeconomy at work: hemp industry expanding globally

The 4th International Conference of the European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA) revealed a globally increasing interest in hemp raw materials due to worldwide raw material shortages. Hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) is grown in a wide variety of climates, from the humid tropics to temperate zones, in more than 100 countries. The EIHA has an interesting pictorial overview [*pdf] of the ecology of the plant, traditional cultivation techniques, yields, harvesting techniques, research efforts, and contemporary applications. The crop is expected to play a major role in the growing bioeconomy, as it offers many substitutes for fossil-based and petrochemical products (from industrial fibers, to liquid and solid biofuels and green chemicals).

In November last year, 90 hemp experts from 23 countries and five continents met in Hürth in the Rhineland (Germany) to exchange views on the current status and future trends of the global hemp industry. Special highlights of the conference were the manifold industrial applications of hemp in China, the interest of the wood materials industry in hemp as alternative raw material for board materials, and the use of hemp fibers in the bioplastics and automotive industry (see our short overview of how car manufacturers are increasingly embedding bio-based products into the vehicles of the future).

Michael Carus, managing director of the German Nova-Institut and president of the EIHA revealed the background of the increasing interest in hemp. The transition from fossil to renewable resources (the 'raw material shift' ushering in the era of the 'bioeconomy') leads to a shortage and price increase of biomass and particularly wood. That makes a fast growing, high-yielding and mechanically strong plant such as hemp interesting for many branches: the plastics and composite, automotive, furniture, building, paper and textile industry. Economist Sven Ortmann, also of the Nova-Institut, presented the price developments of mineral oil and plastics as well as competing natural fibres on the world market over the past years [*.pdf]. Considerable price increases can be found everywhere. European natural fibres such as flax and hemp are more and more becoming competitive – although in the next five years, they surely still will be dependent on certain EU subsidies.

An overview of regional developments and applications in the industrial hemp industry, as they were reported at the conference:

Erik Shi of the Chinese hemp company Yunnan Industrial Hemp Inc. (Kunming City/China) reported on large growth rates in the Chinese hemp industry. Hemp fibres are used in the paper and automotive industry, but also as reinforcement of plastics for window frames and floor coverings for the interior and exterior. These products shall be used on a large scale also at the Olympic Games 2008 in Beijing. Furthermore hemp hurds are processed into lightweight boards that are exported as agroboards to South Africa, for example.

In Europe, a large number activities are going on that give reason to expect a rapid expansion of the meagre areas currently under cultivation (16,000 ha). For example, Bengt Svennerstedt of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (Alnarp, Sweden) reported on the interest of the Swedish companies IKEA, Volvo and Saab in hemp fibres and hurds. Exceptional growth rates can be found in the Czech Republic, where hemp cultivation has been rediscovered in recent years, today already amounting to more than 1,000 ha. The development of new harvest and separation techniques was presented at the conferecence by Jaroslav Skoumal, the managing director of CANABIA (Hodonin, Czech Republic).

In Italy, the Gruppo Fibranova (Perignano) is planning considerable investments to reintroduce hemp fibres to the Italian textile industry. For this purpose, the hemp fibres are to be separated into high-grade long fibres (price 2.5 to 3 €/kg) by means of enzymes (bio-degumming) and wet spun, as reported by Cesare Tofani, managing director of Gruppo Fibranova and member of the board of directors of the EIHA. For the simultaneously accumulating short fibres, technical applications are aimed at, such as the reinforcement of plastics:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Another project bringing hemp back onto the textile market is underway in the"region "Euregio Rhein-Waal", where a German-Dutch project team has been examining the textile value-added chain from cultivation to hemp jeans for years. Here the hemp fibre is separated by means of steam explosion, a technique that was developed already in the eighties at the IAF in Reutlingen (Germany). Project leader Marcel Toonen of Plant Research International (Wageningen, Netherlands) is convinced that the first hemp jeans from respectively Germany and the Netherlands will be available on the market within the next years – at prices merely slightly higher than those of other brand jeans. Participants from Asia pointed out that they are also about developing hemp textiles as alternative to cotton textiles.

Automotive applications
Michael Karus, managing director of Nova-Institut and EIHA, as well as Dirk Fischer of the mechanical engineering company for natural fibre press-moulded parts, R+S Technik GmbH (Offenbach/Germany, ), gave an overview of the use of hemp and other natural fibres in the automotive industry. According to Carus, in the year of 2005, for the first time 19,000 tons of natural fibres were used in the German automotive production, mainly press-moulded parts, but also in injection moulding and press flow-moulding parts. In recent years, his company has been delivering respective facilities to Iran, India and China – and right now, several new projects are about to begin. In the new Chinese medium-class limousine “Brilliance” that has been available also on the German market since December 2006, 80% of the interior parts were realised based on natural fibre materials – a new record.

Other projects dealt with the advancement of separation techniques; here chemical and enzymatic techniques are examined, or also the processing way of hemp silage which is especially interesting in case that the final products can be produced directly from the wet silage. Such a process chain was shown for different building products by Ralf Pecenka of the Institut für Agrartechnik (Potsdam, Germany). The University of Leeds is doing basic research that was presented on the congress by Tony Blake.

The new economic interest in hemp is not restricted to the paper industry. Also the wood material industry is suffering from the high wood prices and deteriorated availabilities – also due to the energy sector`s demand for wood. It is therefore searching for alternative raw materials. Different companies from Canada and Europe for the first time in decades showed concrete interest in large-scale hemp cultivation for the production of lightweight boards. Since last year, the Kosche company from Munich (Germany) has been the first to offer hemp lightweight boards that are particularly suitable for the use in lorries, camping vehicles and the shipbuilding sector.

Natural fibre-reinforced bioplastics
Jörg Müssig of the Faserinstitut Bremen (Germany) introduced a seminal combination in theory and practice: natural fibre reinforced bioplastics. Especially the properties profile of the bioplastics PLA which is commercially available on the market can be improved by means of hemp and other natural fibres, becoming more attractive in terms of prices at the same time. Müssig showed own attempts and examples from Japan, a kenaf reinforced polylactic-acid (PLA) handy housing as well as one from Germany, a PLA hemp fibre jewel case. Frank Otrember of M-Base (Aachen/Germany) gave a comprehensive overview of the properties of polypropylene natural fibre granulates for injection moulding applications compared to talcum-filled and glass fibre reinforced PP as well as PC/ABS. Otremba said that there were ‘many interesting properties’, such as the high form stability under pressure and temperature.

The Dutch company NPSP Composieten BV (Haarlem, Netherlands) is manufacturing diverse products using the RTM technique. Managing director Willem Böttger calls his material ‘Nabasco’, if the reinforcement is done with natural fibre nonwovens. The nonwovens come from Germany, as fibres, hemp and flax are used. Examples of application are mushroom-shaped guideposts for bicycle paths, housings of radar units (glass fibres do disturb the radar rays), boats, furniture and loudspeakers. At the end, NPSP presented wall elements with long hemp fibres in which the embedded fibres are not only used for reinforcement, but also for a 3D design effect.

North America
In North America, hemp so far has been cultivated mainly for the food industry. The Canadian hemp industry can look back on successful years and has cultivated almost 20,000 hectares of hemp exclusively for seed use for the first time in 2006, with the hemp seeds going into the US food industry for the most part. The USA are amongst the small number of countries worldwide in which industrial hemp cultivation still is forbidden – to the Canadian farmers’ delight. Right now some projects are going on in Canada in order to utilise hemp fibres and hurds as well; amongst other things, they are about the reinforcement of Polylactide (PLA) with hemp fibres to extend the field of applications of this bioplastics. But interest is shown also by the chipboard industry that is in search of new raw materials due to wood shortages, definitely considering larger hemp projects.

The mood at the 4th EIHA Conference was substantially different from previous years. One could sense the shift on the raw material markets, the shortages and price increases particularly of wood. For the first time since the nineties, there was a real interest, a real demand – although still noncommittal – for large amounts of industrial hemp for different branches. One could sense a new interest in hemp. This became clear also through a large number of new projects and investments, ideas and products as well as a couple of new actors.

More information:
European Industrial Hemp Association, homepage.

Article continues

National survey in the U.S. reveals lack of knowledge about ethanol among consumers

The results of a newly released consumer survey commissioned by Pavilion Technologies and conducted by Harris Interactive, states that many drivers are uneducated when it comes to biofuels. Despite a surge in production and government support, only a fraction of adult drivers in the United States (5%) currently use biofuels such as an ethanol-blend fuel or biodiesel. Education and availability prove to be stumbling blocks on the road to making ethanol a market staple.

The survey found that not only do drivers lack awareness about biofuels, many are misinformed on the subject. Forty-four percent of drivers agreed that they do not understand the difference between biofuels and conventional gasoline. One in four drivers who do not use a biofuel (25%) indicated that they do not know what it is. The overall survey results suggest that many consumers are not aware that ethanol is cheaper and better for the environment than traditional gasoline and that many cars on the road today can run on ethanol blends without modification.

Common perceptions and misconceptions that inhibit demand for alternative fuels include:

Fifty-seven percent of drivers are not sure whether biofuels are more, less, or equally as expensive as traditional gasoline or diesel fuel.

Like traditional gasoline, ethanol-blend prices fluctuate and vary from region to region. However, at the time of this release, a non-scientific sampling of fuel stations across the U.S. found E85, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, priced lower or the same as regular unleaded gasoline. In some areas, E85 was as much as $.30 per gallon less than regular unleaded.

Fifty-seven percent of drivers who do not use a biofuel say it is because they do not think their car can run on it.
Ethanol-blended fuels are approved under the warranties of all auto manufacturers marketing vehicles in the U.S. Any gasoline-powered car manufactured in the U.S. after 1982 can run on a 10 percent ethanol/90 percent gasoline blend, or E10. More than six million flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs) currently on the road in the U.S. can use E85. Seventeen million more FFVs are expected on the road this year. Furthermore, any diesel vehicle or diesel engine can run using biodiesel.

Nearly half (47%) of drivers who do not use biofuels say they do not know where to buy them.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, most gas pumps in America do not carry ethanol-blended gasoline today, making it inaccessible for the vast majority of consumers. While the exact number of gas stations that carry some blend of ethanol is unclear, the Renewable Fuels Association indicates less than 1,200 retail gas stations, or 1% of U.S. gas stations, offer E85:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Motivations for Change
Of drivers who currently do not use biofuels, the overwhelming majority (95%) indicated that they could be encouraged to make the switch. When asked what would encourage them to start using a biofuel in their vehicle, the most common response (72%) was a lower price than conventional gasoline or diesel fuel. Convenience was the second most cited response, as about six in ten (61%) said that they would switch to biofuels if they were sold at their local gas station. However, proximity is critical: 63% of drivers overall indicated that they would not be willing to drive farther to a gas station that sells biofuels.

Drivers who do not currently use biofuels also weighed in with a variety of other responses, most notably: about six in ten (59%) cited the desire to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and nearly half (48%) would switch if they were offered a tax credit or other financial incentive from the government. In addition, despite the fact that three out of four drivers (75%) agreed that they typically opt for the cheapest solution when purchasing fuel, 47% indicated that they would pay a premium price for biofuels if they were proven to be better for the environment than conventional gasoline.

“There has been tremendous innovation within the ethanol industry and manufacturers are using leading-edge technologies to produce more energy-efficient ethanol than ever before,” said Matt Tormollen, chief marketing officer, Pavilion Technologies. “The results of this survey demonstrate the critical need to make consumers aware of the benefits of ethanol—and then to actually make those alternatives available—in order to ensure the new supply meets demand at the local pump.”

Article continues

Kenya's jatropha initiative and the Millenium Development Goals

Kenya joins the flock of countries that are investing in Jatropha curcas as a crop for the production of biodiesel. It has introduced the plant in various parts of the country, with some 500,000 seedlings having been transplanted in Eastern, Rift Valley, Coast and Nyanza Provinces.

The government has licensed a Kenyan, farmer-driven environmental conservation organisation — Green Africa Foundation (GAF) — to provide technical support for the project. The GAF is collaborating with the Hiroshima University in Japan.

According to GAF, the economic implications of the project are in line with the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDG), which are aimed at eradicating hunger and combating poverty, because the following benefits are associated with the Jatropha Curcas production system:
  • Increasing soil fertility by use of press cake as fertilizer
  • As per Millennium Development Goals (MDG) no.1 Eradicating Extreme Poverty and Hunger, Jatropha will provide local jobs, lessening the need for Rural – Urban migration for employment opportunities. Millennium Development Goals (MDG) No. 7 Ensure Environmental Sustainability, Jatropha helps in Vegetation cover, increasing rainfall infiltration, resulting in less work / irrigation water needed for local gardens
  • Reducing crop losses caused by wandering livestock or wind damage
  • Increasing use of inexpensive local resources rather than expensive external resources
  • Reducing disputes between farmers and livestock owners regarding crop damage, as well as among farmers themselves regarding the boundaries of their fields
  • Jatropha production system lends itself to a variety of cropping systems which are adaptable to majority of farming communities such as intercropping with yams and undercover crops (pulses and grain legumes, sweet potato etc.) - thereby enhances food security.
The origin of today's interest in Jatropha takes us back to Mali, where in 1987, the German Technical Assistance (GTZ) started a renewable energy project with poor farmers. The production system was based on the cultivation of the plant that farmers used to grow to as hedges to protect their fields and gardens against grazing animals. Jatropha was also seen to reduce soil erosion, and since the shrub thrives well in harsh conditions (poor soils, low rainfall), it attracted considerable interest from the researchers. Jatropha nuts were already used locally to produce oil from which soap is made, and as a source of traditional medicine:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The German project resulted in an energy production system that fits nicely into local rural conditions. The Malian project is still operational, and shows how the crop can be used to produce oil for cooking, lighting, running diesel engines for grain mills, water pumps and power saws.

Energy experts say that jatropha oil is an environmentally safe, cost-effective renewable source of non-conventional energy, and a promising substitute for diesel, kerosene and other fuels.

The plant is meanwhile become a commercial source of biodiesel feedstock production in several West-African (Senegal) and South- and South-East African (Zambia, Tanzania, Namibia) countries, as well as in Asia (Philippines, and especially in India, where state governments are actively promoting its introduction). Several major development institutions are now involved in studying and promoting the potential of jatropha in the developing world (earlier post).

Jatropha curcas is a perennial, monoecious shrub growing to about six metres high when mature and is pale brown in colour. Its leaves exude a watery latex that is slippery soapy to the touch, but turns brittle and brownish when dry. Being monoecious means that the plant’s flowers are uni-sexual and are not pollinated, but occasionally hermaphroditic flowers occur. The tree thrives under a wide range of climatic and edaphic conditions, but is particularly hardy at medium altitude and humid zones. It adapts to arid climatic conditions by shedding its leaves during the dry season. Its productive life span is estimated to reach 50 years without replanting or tending. The more oil produced by the jatropha plants the higher the food production, because its oil cake is turned into organic fertiliser, with a mineral composition comparable to guano or bird manure.

The plant produces yellowish ellipsoid capsule like seeds, measuring 2.5 to 3 centimetres long. The capsules contain two black triangular convex seeds per cell.

Kenya's initiative
According to the chairman and founder of Green Africa Foundation, Isaac Kalua, once a steady large-scale production is achieved, the farmer groups will start processing the fuel for commercial purposes. Mr Kalua said preliminary scientific tests show that one litre of clean purified fuel can be extracted from every two kilogrammes of jatropha seeds.

“The extracted oil burns without emitting smoke, thus being friendly to the environment,” he said, adding that there is a need to promote the crop among Kenyans to maximise its benefits, especially vulnerable groups.

Green Africa Foundation, the first farmer-driven organisation to embark on production of this fuel, is working closely with experts from the Hiroshima University in Japan to ensure that the simple manual oil squeezing machines are readily available to help poor farmers crush the jatropha seeds.

Prof K. Nakane, head of the centre for eco-biotechnology at the University of Hiroshima, said the advantage of bio-fuel is that the emission of carbon dioxide does not increase the amount of the gas in the atmosphere.

“The use of bio-diesel contributes greatly to the reduction and slowing of global warming,” said Prof Nakane.

Mr Kalua added, “With the cost of energy escalating beyond the reach of many poor Kenyans, we are going to redouble our efforts to ensure that attractive, clean fuel can be manufactured right on peoples’ homesteads.”

Kenya’s Environment Minister Prof Kivutha Kibwana, while on a tour of the jatropha farms in Eastern Province districts of Kitui and Makueni, said jatropha growing will play a big role in checking the encroaching desert and also assist in reforestation initiatives.

“Our rural energy deficiencies are going to be significantly alleviated through this initiative, besides other potential benefits of creating employment and income generating activities,” the minister said.

More information:
The Mali Folkecenter was the first to establish a jatropha based energy production system, in collaboration with the German Technical Assistance.

For an in-depth look into the system, see Reinhardt Henning's jatropha website. Henning, the pioneer behind the GTZ project, is now somewhat of a legend in the biofuel community.

The Green Africa Foundation's work on jatropha.

The East African: "The Wonder Shrub", Jan. 22, 2007.

Article continues

Nitrogen study may improve climate change predictions

The pattern of nitrogen release from decaying plant material is remarkably similar and predictable across the planet, researchers have concluded in a new study, which should make it easier to understand nutrient dynamics, vegetation growth, estimate carbon release and sequestration, and better predict the impacts of climate change.

The findings, to be published in the journal Science, are the results of one of the largest and longest studies ever done on nitrogen release during plant decomposition, involving dozens of researchers working for 10 years in 27 sites, ranging from Arctic tundra to tropical forests of North and Central America.

"The availability of nitrogen is one of the key factors limiting vegetation growth around the world, but its release from plant litter can be very slow," says Mark Harmon, a professor of forest science at Oregon State University and the coordinator of the study. "For the first time, we studied this process at enough sites and over a long enough time period to really understand what's happening."

The surprise, researchers said, is that the basic pattern of nitrogen release is pretty much the same wherever it occurs, and is driven primarily by the initial concentration of nitrogen present in the decaying plant material. It has little to do with location, soil types, microbes present, or other factors. The speed of the process is affected by climate, particularly temperature and precipitation, the study concluded. But the overall pattern, or "trajectory" of nitrogen release remains much the same regardless of the site.

There is significant interest in the way that nitrogen recycles in the ecosystem, scientists say, because it plays such a critical role in the growth of almost all vegetation – grasses, shrubs, trees and agricultural crops. The presence or absence of adequate amounts of nitrogen can often dictate what types of vegetation are able to survive in a certain area, and how quickly it grows. Very little of this nutrient is made available from geological sources (illustration: the nitrogen cycle - click to enlarge).

Plant growth, in turn, is one of the main factors that affects the input or removal of carbon from the atmosphere – an issue of growing importance during an era of global warming. Plant decomposition releases more carbon each year than all of the fossil fuel combustion produced by humans, the researchers note in their study:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

"If we hope to better predict carbon dynamics, climate change and other issues, we first must understand these basic ecological processes," Harmon said.

In plant decomposition, it's not unusual for the microbes which are decomposing the plant matter to first retain nitrogen from the dying plants and other sources, until they have all they need for the decomposition process, Harmon said. This "immobilization" of nitrogen can actually cause a reduction in available soil nitrogen for an extended period of years, until at some point the plant material is sufficiently broken down that nitrogen in excess of decomposer needs becomes available. It had been thought that this process might be highly variable, depending on several interacting factors. In fact, the study found that it is pretty predictable, affected primarily just by the initial nitrogen concentration in the plant material which is decaying.

"It was really surprising to see how similar these processes were across wide geographic and climatic scales," Harmon said. "The basic trajectory is much the same regardless of many variables. A fairly simple model can accurately predict it."

The overall decomposition process, he said, does speed up in warmer or wetter conditions, which many anticipate as a result of climate change and global warming. In that event, nitrogen should more rapidly be made available to plants, at least initially spurring increased vegetation growth and offsetting carbon losses from increased decomposition.

Less clear is the overall long-term impact on carbon sequestration and storage, Harmon said. That may depend on whether the growth that occurs is in the form of vegetation parts that quickly die, such as leaves, or in wood that lives much longer. So whether increased vegetation growth on a global basis will increase enough to offset global warming is still uncertain, he said, and requires further study.

The research, called the Long-Term Inter-site Decomposition Experiment, or LIDET study, was funded by the Long Term Ecological Studies program of the National Science Foundation. Participants included OSU, Colorado State University, University of California/Berkeley, LSI Logic, University of Michigan, University of Minnesota, Northern Arizona University, and 23 other institutions that conducted the field work.

A wide range of "biomes," or general types of ecosystems, were included in the research to increase its applicability on a global scale. Among the sites was the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest in the Cascade Range of Oregon, one of the state's leading programs of long term ecological research.

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Green biologics awarded €855,000 to boost biobutanol fuel development

An Oxfordshire-based biotechnology company is set to develop biobutanol, a new low-cost 'next generation' biofuel, with £250,000 (€382,000/US$493,000) funding from the British Department of Trade and Industry-led Technology Programme and £310,000 (€473,000/US$612,000) from shareholder investors and business angels.

Green Biologics Ltd (GBL) plans to develop a way of manufacturing biobutanol, identified as a superior 'next generation' biofuel for transport, which will slash the cost of production by up to a third. Biobutanol is currently used as a chemical feed for stock but high production costs have prevented it being widely used as a fuel.

Biobutanol is produced by the clostridial fermentation of starch and sugars, a process first commercialised in 1916 to produce acetone for munitions for the war effort but which was displaced in the 1950s by a cheaper petrochemical method. GBL's butanol producing microbial strains were made using genetic engineering and will be integrated into a novel fermentation process. This technology advance should result in a step change in the economic viability of the fermentation (see flowchart, click to enlarge).

Butanol is a liquid fuel that can be readily integrated into the existing fuel infrastructure, it has a high energy yield, low vapour pressure and can easily be stored, handled and transported via pipelines.

Biomass Hydrolysis and thermophiles
GBL has isolated a cocktail of thermophiles for rapid enzymatic hydrolysis and release of fermentable sugars from biomass. Thermostable enzymes offer a faster, cleaner and more efficient process for biomass hydrolysis resulting in cost savings. GBL plans to integrate its patented hydrolysis technology with its prorietary biofuel fermentation process offering a reduction in both feedstock and manufacturing costs.

Thermophiles generate heat and thrive at elevated temperatures (50 to 70°C) in organic matter and are usually found in solar-heated soil or sediment, warm process effluents and biologically self-heated compost, the most familiar of which is the garden compost heap. GBL is particularly interested in the isolation of thermophiles from compost environments because of their high metabolic activity, fast growth and robustness.

Thermophiles produce a wide range of enzymes and metabolic products that have numerous applications in biofuels, chemical feedstocks, biomass hydrolysis, enzyme technology and biocatalysis:
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Thermophiles and thermostable enzymes possess many useful features for exploitation that include:

* fast growth and high productivity
* utilisation of a wide range of sugars derived from inexpensive feedstocks
* low nutritional requirements
* safe cultivation in large volumes, non-hazardous and non-pathogenic

High temperature fermentation and enzyme processes are faster, more efficient and ultimately cheaper than conventional processes.

Tackling climate change
Minister for Science and Innovation, Malcolm Wicks, said: "The development of biofuels is expected to play a major part in reducing transport emissions post 2020. We need companies like Green Biologics to work on developing the technology now needed to make new types of biofuel to help meet our future goals.

"Tackling climate change is a huge global challenge. We believe the UK must put its best efforts towards developing the new technologies we need to help cut carbon emissions. There's also a great economic opportunity for UK businesses in investing in this area."

Green Biologics Founder & CEO, Dr Edward Green, said: "Biofuels, such as biobutanol, are sustainable and environmentally friendly 'next generation' fuels that will extend, and ultimately replace, fossil fuels such as petrol and diesel. Although butanol is not currently used as a biofuel, it has a number of properties that make it extremely attractive. It is a renewable liquid fuel, produced from the fermentation of sugars, which can easily be integrated into the existing fuel infrastructure by blending with petrol. Unlike bioethanol, it offers similar energy per litre to petrol, has low vapour pressure and is easy to store, handle and transport via pipelines."

BP has recently announced a collaboration with Dupont and British Sugar to manufacture biobutanol using conventional technology in the UK. BP provides a route for butanol into the transport fuel market and aims to blend butanol with petrol at its 1200 filling stations. In addition, in an attempt to curb C02 emissions, the EU has suggested that biofuels should account for 5.75% of total fuel sales by 2010. More recently the Commission has proposed that biofuels should make up 10% of total fuel sales by 2020 which represents a huge increase in the market for biofuels.

Within the UK, the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation will, from April 2008, require fuel suppliers to ensure that an increasing percentage of their total fuel sales are made up of biofuels by 2020. The Government intends that biobutanol should count as a renewable transport fuel under the RTFO. The Government is due to consult on the details of the RTFO very shortly.

Green Biologics is partnering with EKB Technology, a specialist in innovative process technology, to develop an advanced fermentation process for butanol with improved yields and productivity and to demonstrate lower production costs for its Butafuel(tm) product.

Dr Green explained: "The major barrier to butanol production has been the high cost of the conventional starch fermentation process. Our expertise in microbial strain development, together with EKB's innovative process technology and the use of non-edible food stocks, should lead to a step change in the economic viability of the manufacturing process - we are aiming for a two to three fold reduction in cost. We are effectively using our knowledge of enzymology, microbial physiology and fermentation to optimise and 're-commercialise' the butanol fermentation process."

Green Biologics is also expanding its staff numbers as it moves from a research to a development phase and Dr Green added: "New investment, together with significant grant funding, our collaboration with EKB Technologies, and the strengthening of our board with the appointment of Andrew Rickman OBE as Chairman are exciting developments. Dr Rickman founded Bookham Technology Inc, the world's second largest fibre optics telecom component producer and brings substantial management expertise and a hands-on approach that will be particularly valuable as we move to the next stage of demonstrating that we can produce our own Butafuel(tm) product."

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