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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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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Net energy of biofuels made from crops grown in the North comes at a high cost - study

A new economic analysis by Oregon State University once again (earlier post) confirms that large-scale production of biofuels made from crops grown in temperate climates (North America, Europe) comes at a high cost. Results of the study suggest that the “net energy” of those biofuels is expensive when all costs of their production and delivery are taken into account. Biofuels should be produced in the tropics and the subtropics instead, where they yield low-cost fuels with a very positive energy balance.

The study [*.pdf] was released this week by a team of economists in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences that included William Jaeger, Robin Cross and Thorsten Egelkraut. By subtracting the energy spent to produce raw materials and to process and transport the biofuel, the researchers found that the cost of the net gain in energy for these biofuels may be more than seven times higher in some cases when compared to gasoline.

The economists examined three biofuel options for Oregon: ethanol made from corn, ethanol made from wood cellulose, and biodiesel made from canola (rapeseed).

For each option, the researchers examined the cost of production, its contribution to energy independence and its environmental impact in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. They calculated “net energy” as the amount of energy in the biofuel minus the amount of energy it takes to produce, process, and transport the biofuel. Another term often used to express this value is "Energy Returned on Energy Invested", or 'EROEI'.

Their results suggest the following:
  • ethanol made from wood cellulose produced the greatest net energy, netting 84 percent of its energy after production fuel costs were subtracted (EROEI: 1.84 to 1).
  • biodiesel made from canola netted 69 percent of its energy after subtracting production fuel costs (EROEI: 1.69 to 10)
  • ethanol made from corn netted a mere 20 percent of its energy after subtracting the energy spent to produce it (EROEI: 1.20 to 1).
  • compare this with ethanol made from sugarcane in Brazil (EROEI: 8.3 to 1 up to 10.2 to 1) (earlier post); if this ethanol were to be exported to the US, that is transported in tankers over the Atlantic, the EROEI would only be marginally affected and remain many times higher than that of any biofuel made in the U.S. (earlier post).
The economists combined net energy calculations with estimates of production costs and greenhouse gas emissions and compared the results with similar calculations for gasoline and diesel. They found that each of the three biofuel options would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but at a significant cost. For example, the cost of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by switching to corn-based ethanol was calculated to be more than 200 times higher than other existing policy options to reduce greenhouse gas emissions:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

A number of factors limit the economic viability of biofuels in Oregon, Jaeger explained. For example, relatively little corn is grown in Oregon compared to the Midwest, so corn for ethanol would need to be imported from other parts of the country. Canola and wood-based cellulose are both available in Oregon and Washington; however the production of canola is limited and the production of wood-based ethanol is not yet commercially viable.

The co-products or byproducts created during biofuel production add another variable to the economic picture.

“Many of these products – meal, glycerin or lignin – have energy and market value in their own right,” Jaeger said. “Canola meal left over after extracting the oil can be fed to livestock. But, if canola were to contribute just one percent of Oregon’s current petroleum energy consumption, enough canola meal would be produced to feed five times the number of cows we currently raise in the state.”

Better alternatives
Besides importing energy efficient biofuels from the South, the authors showed there are other alternatives that make more sense than relying on inefficient biofuels made in the North. They calculated that the net energy benefits from increasing automobile fuel efficiency by one mile per gallon would be equivalent to three or four corn ethanol plants or 13 biodiesel plants like those evaluated in their report.

The study focused on three large-scale biofuels options, but did not evaluate on-farm or small-scale production and distribution. The authors point out that their estimates are based on current technologies and prices, and that future trends could shift the prospects for these biofuels positively or negatively.

Based on their analysis, the authors concluded that these three biofuel options appear to be a costly way to achieve limited progress toward energy independence or reduce greenhouse emissions in Oregon.

“Biofuels and bioproducts have an important role to play in Oregon’s future, but Oregon’s approach will be different than the Midwest’s,” said Bill Boggess, executive associate dean of OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences. “We need to carefully consider what bioproducts make sense in Oregon for the long-term and focus research on economically sustainable bio-based energy systems.”

More information
Oregon State University, Agricultural and Resource Economics: “Biofuel Potential in Oregon: Background and Evaluation Options” [*.pdf]

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EU to introduce stricter fuel standards to combat climate change and reduce air pollution

As part of its series of initiatives aimed at creating a low carbon economy, the European Commission has proposed new standards for transport fuels that will reduce their contribution to climate change and air pollution, including through greater use of biofuels. In the new initiative, the emissions caused during the entire life-cycle of the fuel is taken into account.

The changes underscore the Commission's commitment to ensuring that the EU combats climate change and air pollution effectively. The proposed standards will not only make the fuels themselves 'cleaner' but will also allow the introduction of vehicles and machinery that pollute less.

"High biofuel content"
A key measure foreseen is that, to encourage the development of lower-carbon fuels and biofuels, suppliers will have to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions caused by the production, transport and use of their fuels by 10% between 2011 and 2020.

This will cut emissions by 500 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2020 - equivalent to the total combined emissions of Spain and Sweden today. A new petrol blend will be established allowing higher content of the biofuel ethanol, and sulphur levels in diesel and gasoil will be cut to reduce emissions of dangerous dust particles.
"This is one of the most important measures in the series of new initiatives the Commission needs to take to step up the fight against global climate change. It is a concrete test of our political commitment to leadership on climate policy and our capacity to translate political priorities into concrete measures. It will further underpin Europe's shift towards the low-carbon economy that is essential if we are to prevent climate change from reaching dangerous proportions. These proposals will also help achieve a significant reduction in the noxious pollutants from transport that can harm our citizens' health, as well as opening the way for a major expansion in the use of biofuels, especially second generation biofuels." - Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas.
With the new standards, the Commission hopes to achieve the following:
  • A reduction in EU greenhouse gas emissions of 500 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2020
  • An improvement in the quality of transport fuels and promotion of "second generation" biofuels that will bring bigger emission savings
  • Better public health through a reduction in noxious pollutants, in particular due to lower sulphur content of diesel.
Importance of fuel quality specifications
The 1998 fuel quality directive sets common EU specifications for petrol, diesel and gasoil used in road vehicles, inland waterway barges and non-road mobile machinery such as locomotives, earth moving machinery and tractors. Its aim is to protect human health and the environment and ensure a single market in these fuels. The Commission's proposal to revise the directive reflects developments in fuel and engine technology, the growing importance of biofuels and the need both to meet the air quality goals set out in the 2005 Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution and to further reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Proposed changes
The revised directive will introduce an obligation for fuel suppliers to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that their fuels cause over their life-cycle, ie when they are refined, transported and used. From 2011, suppliers will have to reduce emissions per unit of energy by 1% a year from 2010 levels. This will result in a 10% cut by 2020.

This obligation will promote the further development of low-carbon fuels and other measures to reduce emissions from the fuel production chain, and will help ensure that the fuel sector contributes to achieving the EU's greenhouse gas reduction goals.

To enable a higher volume of biofuels to be used in petrol, a separate petrol blend will be established with a higher permitted content of oxygen-containing additives (so-called oxygenates), including up to 10% ethanol. The different petrol blends will be clearly marked to avoid fuelling vehicles with incompatible fuel. To compensate for an increase in emissions of polluting vapours that will result from greater use of ethanol, the Commission will put forward a proposal for the mandatory introduction of vapour recovery equipment at filling stations later this year. These vapours, known as volatile organic compounds, contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone pollution, which can cause premature death in people with breathing difficulties or heart problems.

From 1 January 2009 all diesel fuel marketed will have to have an ultra-low sulphur content (no more than 10 parts per million). This will cut pollutant emissions, primarily of dust particles ('particulate matter'), the air pollutant most dangerous for human health. This sulphur reduction will in particular facilitate the introduction of new pollution-control equipment such as particle filters on diesel vehicles. From the same date, the maximum permitted content of another dangerous substance in diesel, poly aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), will be reduced by one-third. This may reduce emissions not only of PAHs, some of which may cause cancer, but also of particulate matter.

The permitted sulphur content of gasoil for use by non-road machinery and inland waterway barges will also be substantially cut. This too will reduce emissions of particulate matter and allow the introduction of more advanced engines and emission control equipment.

The costs of the different elements have been assessed and the Commission thinks that, overall, the changes proposed are justified on a cost-benefit analysis.

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