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    Record warm summers cause extreme ice melt in Greenland: an international team of scientists, led by Dr Edward Hanna at the University of Sheffield, has found that recent warm summers have caused the most extreme Greenland ice melting in 50 years. The new research provides further evidence of a key impact of global warming and helps scientists place recent satellite observations of Greenland´s shrinking ice mass in a longer-term climatic context. Findings are published in the 15 January 2008 issue of Journal of Climate. University of Sheffield - January 15, 2007.

    Japan's Tsukishima Kikai Co. and Marubeni Corp. have together clinched an order from Oenon Holdings Inc. for a plant that will make bioethanol from rice. The Oenon group will invest around 4.4 billion yen (US$40.17 million) in the project, half of which will be covered by a subsidy from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. The plant will initially produce bioethanol from imported rice, with plans to use Hokkaido-grown rice in the future. It will produce 5 million liters per year starting in 2009, increasing output to 15m liters in 2011. The facility will be able to produce as much as 50,000 liters of bioethanol from 125 tons of rice each day. Trading Markets - January 11, 2007.

    PetroSun, Inc. announced today that its subsidiary, PetroSun BioFuels Refining, has entered into a JV to construct and operate a biodiesel refinery near Coolidge, Arizona. The feedstock for the refinery will be algal oil produced by PetroSun BioFuels at algae farms to be located in Arizona. The refinery will have a capacity of thirty million gallons and will produce 100% renewable biodiesel. PetroSun BioFuels will process the residual algae biomass into ethanol. MarketWire - January 10, 2007.

    BlueFire Ethanol Fuels Inc, which develops and operates carbohydrate-based transportation fuel production facilities, has secured capital liquidity for corporate overhead and continued project development in the value of US$15 million with Quercus, an environmentally focused trust. BlueFire Ethanol Fuels - January 09, 2007.

    Some $170 billion in new technology development projects, infrastructure equipment and construction, and biofuel refineries will result from the ethanol production standards contained the new U.S. Energy Bill, says BIO, the global Biotechnology Industry Organization. According to Brent Erickson, BIO's executive vice president "Such a new energy infrastructure has not occurred in more than 100 years. We are at the point where we were in the 1850s when kerosene was first distilled and began to replace whale oil. This technology will be coming so fast that what we say today won't be true in two years." Chemical & Engineering News - January 07, 2007.

    Scottish and Southern Energy plc, the UK's second largest power company, has completed the acquisition of Slough Heat and Power Ltd from SEGRO plc for a total cash consideration of £49.25m. The 101MW CHP plant is the UK’s largest dedicated biomass energy facility fueled by wood chips, biomass and waste paper. Part of the plant is contracted under the Non Fossil Fuel Obligation and part of it produces over 200GWH of output qualifying for Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs), which is equivalent to around 90MW of wind generation. Scottish & Southern Energy - January 2, 2007.

    PetroChina Co Ltd, the country's largest oil and gas producer, plans to invest 800 million yuan to build an ethanol plant in Nanchong, in the southwestern province of Sichuan, its parent China National Petroleum Corp said. The ethanol plant has a designed annual capacity of 100,000 tons. ABCMoneyNews - December 21, 2007.

    Mexico passed legislation to promote biofuels last week, offering unspecified support to farmers that grow crops for the production of any renewable fuel. Agriculture Minister Alberto Cardenas said Mexico could expand biodiesel faster than ethanol. More soon. Reuters - December 20, 2007.

    Oxford Catalysts has placed an order worth approximately €700,000 (US$1 million) with the German company Amtec for the purchase of two Spider16 high throughput screening reactors. The first will be used to speed up the development of catalysts for hydrodesulphurisation (HDS). The second will be used to further the development of catalysts for use in gas to liquid (GTL) and Fischer-Tropsch processes which can be applied to next generation biofuels. AlphaGalileo - December 18, 2007.

    According to the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE), Brazil's production of sugarcane will increase from 514,1 million tonnes this season, to a record 561,8 million tonnes in the 2008/09 cyclus - an increase of 9.3%. New numbers are also out for the 2007 harvest in Brazil's main sugarcane growing region, the Central-South: a record 425 million tonnes compared to 372,7 million tonnes in 2006, or a 14% increase. The estimate was provided by Unica – the União da Indústria de Cana-de-Açúcar. Jornal Cana - December 16, 2007.

    The University of East Anglia and the UK Met Office's Hadley Centre have today released preliminary global temperature figures for 2007, which show the top 11 warmest years all occurring in the last 13 years. The provisional global figure for 2007 using data from January to November, currently places the year as the seventh warmest on records dating back to 1850. The announcement comes as the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Michel Jarraud, speaks at the Conference of the Parties (COP) in Bali. Eurekalert - December 13, 2007.

    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.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

Exxon Valdez oil persists after 16 years

Quicknote environment & ecology
The oil era was fantastic for many people: it allowed unprecedented mobility of goods and persons on a planetary scale, and it made globalisation and the development of modern industrialized societies possible.

That said, petroleum is also a very nasty product: its use is responsible for an era of really dirty politics (energy imperialism, war, terrorism, mass poverty, underdevelopment, oppression and mass corruption - earlier post) and for a great deal of environmental destruction. Oil exploration and production is not a clean affair, the use of petroleum-based fuels is largely to blame for potentially catastrophic climate change, and products derived from crude oil (such as plastics) pollute our oceans and environment, and everything that lives in it for hundreds of years (earlier post).

The Exxon Valdez disaster has become the symbol capturing these darker sides of oil: the dirtiness of petroleum and the pristineness of a unique ecosystem never clashed so tragically as on March 24, 1989. Researers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) now show that, long after the disaster, the dirt still has the upper-hand over nature's capacity to restore itself...

Oil from the spill persists in an only slightly weathered form below the surface at some beaches along the Gulf of Alaska after 16 years and may persist for decades, the researchers conclude in a new report [*.html version or *.pdf version]. The study is scheduled for publication in the Feb. 15 issue of Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal.

Jeffrey W. Short and colleagues analyzed subsurface oil from the spill at 10 beaches, selected at random from among oil-contaminated areas included in their 2001 and 2005 studies. Earlier research demonstrated that buried oil could retain toxic components for years if buried in anoxic (oxygen-depleted) sediments where little decomposition from weathering occurs. The new study identified a different mechanism in which oil can be preserved in sediments that do contain oxygen. The oil persists because it exists in a thick, emulsified form sometimes termed "oil mousse" that resists weathering.

"Such persistence can pose a contact hazard to inter-tidally foraging sea otters, sea ducks, and shorebirds, create a chronic source of low-level contamination, discourage subsistence in a region where use is heavy and degrade the wilderness character of protected lands," the researchers conclude.

The advent of the bioeconomy might present environmental dilemma's of its own, but it is fundamentally based on far more elegant principles, in tune with nature: renewability and biodegradability. In the green economy, an Exxon Valdez disaster is unthinkable [entry ends here].
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Indonesian agro-industrial firm to invest in three bioenergy plants

As we transit towards the bioeconomy, land becomes a valuable resource. Asian plantation companies have singled out Indonesia as one of the countries with a lot of spare land capacity. They are massively investing in the island state (earlier post).

But on the home-front, domestic companies are equally active within the context of the country's ambitious €9.5/US$12 billion bioenergy plan (earlier post). Indonesia's state-owned agroindustry firm PT Rajawali Nusantara Indonesia (RNI) is now planning to develop three bioenergy plants worth €45/US$58 million to produce bioethanol and renewable electricity by 2009, while expanding its rubber plantations.

RNI's director for business development, Son Ramadir, describes the capacity, investment and location of the bioenergy plants:
  • the first plant would be constructed at the company's Jatitujuh sugar factory in Cirebon, West Java, and would produce 100,000 liters of ethanol per day. The cost of the development would be €15.5/US$20 million, and it would be undertaken in cooperation with private-sector firm PT Indo Acidatama. The project is at the feasibility-study stage and will be completed by December 2008.
  • another bioethanol plant, with a capacity of 100,000 liters per day, will also see a €15.5/US$20 million investment and would be built at the company's Kebon Grati Agung sugar factory in East Java in cooperation with PT Choi Biofuel Indonesia, which is owned by a South Korean firm. The plant is slated to start operations in April 2009.
  • the third plant would be constructed at a cost of €14/US$18 million at the Jatitujuh sugar factory, and process the factory's sugarcane waste for the generation of electricity. It would have a capacity of 20 megawatts. RNI is collaborating with PT PSA Automatika of Russia on the pre-feasibility, with the feasibility study expected to be completed in June 2008.
Beside the bioenergy projects, the company also plans to increase the processing capacity of two sugar factories in Malang, East Java, expand its rubber plantations in South Sumatra, and construct a new sugar factory in Garut, West Java:
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The two sugar factories' processing capacity will be increased from 8,000 tons of sugar per day to 11,500 tons, and the project will entail an investment of 205 billion rupiah (€17.5/US$22.5 million)

The expansion of the South Sumatra rubber plantations from 1,000 hectares to 16,000 hectares will require an investment of 400 billion rupiah (€34/US$44 million), while the new sugar factory and its associated sugarcane fields in Garut will be developed on a 12,000-hectare site, and will cost some 1.2 trillion rupiah (€102.5/US$132.5 million).

RNI has 54,600 hectares under sugarcane and 11 sugar factories with a total production capacity of 235,000 tons of sugar and 140,000 tons of molasses per annum.

In 2006, the company made 149 billion rupiah (€12.7/US$16.5 million) in net profit, a figure that is forecast to increase by 40 percent this year. (05)

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A closer look at Gynerium Sagittatum: a new plantation crop?

Earlier we reported on an interesting project in Peru, where a company will be using a wild but highly productive grass species for the production of bio-oil (previous post). The crop, Gynerium Sagittatum, known locally as 'caña brava', 'bitter cane', 'wild cane' or 'uva grass', is a potential plantation crop that may be established in tropical and subtropical areas in the future and serve as an energy crop.

The company in question, Samoa Fiber Holdings, has worked with the Peruvian Government for the creation of a Growers Association as a mechanism to allow indigenous peoples already familiar with the crop to harvest it from the wild to supply the pyrolysis plant.

Samoa Fiber claims that if the cane (which it calls 'Samoa Fiber') is established as a plantation crop, it yields an average of 50MT/ha of dry biomass per year. This is more than three times the average yield of switchgrass, which is often used as a reference biomass crop (see table, click to enlarge). With the advent of a new generation of biochemical and thermochemical bioconversion technologies (cellulosic ethanol, biomass-to-liquids), biomass yields have become the single most important factor determining the viability of biofuel production. Applying highly efficient technologies on low yielding crops results in a low overal energy balance and makes the effort futile; starting out with abundant biomass resources results in the opposite equation.

Let us have a closer look at the cane, several properties of which might make it an ideal new energy crop for the tropics:
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General description
Gynerium Sagittatum is a giant reed, a member of the grass (Poceae) family that grows naturally and abundantly along the banks of tropical rivers in Latin America. Its culms are usually 5 or 6 m in height and 2 or 3 cm in diameter but may reach 10 m in height and 4 cm in diameter in Puerto Rico. The species varies from 5 to 14 m in height in the western Amazon Basin.

The culms arise from underground rhizomes which also produce weak and flexible lateral roots, mostly 1 mm or less in diameter. The culms have closely imbricated woody sheaths around a hard, woody exterior, and a fibrous interior. They are usually unbranched and taper little except near the top. The older leaves are shed, leaving a plainer, fan-like group near the apex. The leaf blades are 1 to 2 m long and have sharp serrulate margins. The clonal groups of plants are dioecious. The grayish-white plume-like terminal panicles are large, up to 2 m long. The male and female inflorescences are similar in appearance, but pistillate plants have a slightly fuzzy appearance because of hairy lemmas. The fruits are brown and about 1 mm long.

Wild cane is native to the West Indies except the Bahamas, and from Mexico through Central America and South America to Paraguay. It is not known to have naturalized elsewhere. Two types coexist in the western Amazon Basin: a “small” and a “large” type that differ considerably in physical form and mode of reproduction.

Wild cane grows on sites with moist soils, usually high in organic matter, often with the water table near the surface. These sites are seasonally flooded areas such as lake shores, swamps, river flood planes, or sand bars. The species grows at elevations from 10 to 1,600 m above sea level in Costa Rica. Wild cane resists damage from moderate flooding and sprouts after being covered with sediment. “Large type” stands in the western Amazon region vary in density from 0.6 to 2.6 culms/m2. Forest edges “shade out” portions of wild cane stands, and occasional trees grow up through stands and eventually suppress culms growing under their crowns. The species affects the course of forest succession. Apparently, disturbance that creates bare, wet soil is necessary for seedling establishment.

In some environments flowering occurs throughout the year, in others it occurs near the end of the low water period. The species is apparently wind pollinated. There are 1.67 million seeds/kg, and they can be expected to germinate between 3 and 7 days following sowing at temperatures between 20 and 30 °C.

Almost all the seeds of the “short” type from the Amazon Basin germinated within 3 weeks, and 0 to 2 percent of the “large” type germinated. Seeds are dispersed by wind and water. Vegetative propagation is also important, both for expanding colonies and establishing new ones.

Horizontal runners or rhizomes, surface or underground, are constantly active and establish new plants or clumps as far as 20 m from the parent plants. Segments of culm or rhizome, carried by floodwaters and covered with soil or debris, sprout and start new colonies.

Growth and Management
Growth of wild cane is rapid. Nursery seedlings reached 20, 30, and 50 cm after 1, 2, and 4 months. How long seedlings take to reach maturity and how rapidly suckers grow is unknown. Theoretically, baring catastrophes and invasion and shading by trees, clones can endure indefinitely. Culms of Amazon Basin plants produced close to 200 leaves during their lifetimes, having from 19 to 28 living leaves at a time.
Unbranched culms die after flowering, but only the branches of branched culms die. If not controlled, wild cane slowly invades wet bottomland pastures and eliminates forage plants. Periodic mowing appears to be adequate for control of advancing clumps.

Benefits and traditional uses
Wild cane provides cover for wildlife and protects stream banks from erosion. Its culms lack the strength and toughness of hardwoods and bamboo but still are used in rude construction, drying racks, vegetable stakes and fruit props, and for weaving mats, baskets, and hats. In the Amazon area, arrow shafts are made from the
dried culms. Plumes are used for dry floral arrangements.

Plantation potential
The seeds of the cane are sterile which makes it “non-invasive” when planted in plantations. Spread is easily controlled by monitoring the plantation perimeters. In addition, in the wild the cane exhibits “self thinning” over time.
Large plantations may be developed either with planting of stem pieces containing nodes or with seedlings produced by micro-cultivation techniques depending on size and relative labor costs. Further, unlike wild cane which is subject to alternate flooding and dry seasons, optimal hydration strategies can be worked out depending of the type of land.

More information:
John K. Francis, Gynerium sagittatum (Aubl.) Beauv. wild cane (POACEAE) [*.pdf], International Institute of Tropical Forestry.
Samoa Fiber Holdings: What is Samoa Fiber?

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Thailand encourages biogas production from cassava and palm oil waste

During the production of palm oil and tapioca (starch from cassava), a large stream of effluents from mills gets released into the environment. This liquid residue ('palm oil mill effluent', or 'POME') contains considerable quantities of biomass that are currently not used efficiently. Instead, the effluents are considered to be a waste stream that poses serious environmental management problems. In principle, the waste could be used as a biogas production substrate (earlier post).

In order to encourage tapioca and palm-oil processors to utilize the resource for energy production, Thailand's National Energy Policy Council has now increased its purchase price of electricity generated from biogas made from POME and cassava processing effluents, from 2 baht per kilowatt/hour to 2.30 baht:
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The price increase is an incentive to invest in so-called 'very small power producer' (VSPP) projects, which are integrated into palm oil and cassava processing units, and which generate up to 10 megawatts of electricity.

Energy Minister Piyasvasti Amranand said many factories had the capability to utilise their waste water and produce biogas to generate electricity. The ministry wants to raise the amount of electricity generated this way from biogas to 30 MW by 2011. Currently, a mere five megawatts are produced in VSPP projects.

The incentive is also important in the context of liquid biofuel production. Both palm oil and cassava can be used as a feedstock for biodiesel and ethanol respectively. If harvesting and processing residues were used for additional energy production - biogas in VSPP projects being just one example - the overall energy balance of these biofuels can be strengthened considerably (earlier post).

Thailand produces some 685,000 tons of palm oil per year, and 22 million tons of cassava dedicated to tapioca production (on tapioca statistics, see the Thai Tapioca Development Council, on palm oil data, see FAOSTAT).

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